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                     Profound Psychological Perspectives and Prescriptions for Trying Times

                                                                               An Earth Manifesto publication by Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

The famous pamphleteer Thomas Paine wrote, during a dark hour of the Revolutionary War in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  In times of trouble we need someone to speak words of wisdom to us, clearly, cogently, truthfully and convincingly.  When we are absorbed in a bubble of fear and uncertainty, we can become paralyzed and lose the ability to rationally gauge our best courses of action.  In hard times we look to supposed experts, political leaders, economists, spiritual authorities, gurus, saviors or philosophers to provide us with guidance, assistance, reassurance and comforting direction and help us overcome adversities and our fears and insecurities.  Or we look to ideologues and demagogues, and this is dangerous.

Modern industrial capitalism is essentially driven by the goal of making profits through the stimulation of resource exploitation and materialistic consumption.  In 2008, a variety of factors got us into an economic crisis that was more severe than any since the Depression of the 1930s.  These contributing factors include bubble economic policies, deregulatory ideologies, and the promotion of debt financing and highly-leveraged speculation.  It would be a good idea, as we recover from this economic malaise, to do so in ways that can be sustained in the long run.  We need to re-orient ourselves, restructure our societies, rethink our national trajectories, and boldly move forward.

When economic growth falters, many social problems intensify and come into clearer focus.  Economic hardships force us to reconsider our personal habits and goals and activities.  We need courage, perseverance, and philosophic equanimity during such times.  And we need to reconnect with healthy aspirations and authentic goals and what truly matters most. 

Our economies are structured to be dependent on increases in consumption and continuous population growth to stoke economic expansion and create wealth and provide jobs for the increasing population.  Yet we are beginning to see that there are limits to the extent we can use up non-renewable resources and over-harvest renewable resources.  There are limits to the damage we can do to natural ecosystems with impunity, and to the amount of garbage and toxic wastes we can produce without causing significant adverse consequences.  There are also limiting factors associated with the burning of fossil fuels and the amount of greenhouse gases we can spew into the atmosphere without exacerbating destabilizing climate change and other unintended adversities.

The purpose of this essay is to delve into the psychological aspects of capitalism, consumerism and human nature, and to seek incisive understandings of better ways forward.  Before this investigation, I turn to the bigger context of these considerations.

The Bigger Context:  Materialism Evaluated

President Obama gave a commencement speech to graduates of the University of Notre Dame in May 2009.  He declared to those assembled at this Catholic university: 

 “Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism.  The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manners of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustices.”

Modern man still has primitive instincts, and human nature has aspects that are both noble and ignoble.  The spiritual sides of our character and selves are the domain of our most noble motives, like aspirations for peace, fairness, compassion, kindness, healthy community and virtuous behaviors such as acting with prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.  Materialistic impulses like greed, envy, acquisitiveness, pride of possession, jealousy, immoderate selfishness and ruthless exploitation of people and natural resources, on the other hand, lie on the ignoble side of the scale.  Even the conservative Pope Benedict XVI occasionally railed against rampant materialism, as has Pope Francis.  Consistent with the philosophies of almost all religious traditions, these Popes have pointed out that worldly goods, money and power are transitory, and that ultimately they are not deeply fulfilling. 

Boethius, an influential Roman consul and philosopher, long ago made a similar argument in his book Consolation of Philosophy.  This was the most widely copied work of secular literature in Europe for many centuries.  Treachery had reduced Boethius from a position of power and wealth to that of a condemned prisoner in 524 CE.  Then, in prison, a vision of ‘Lady Philosophy’ came to him, embodying true wisdom and compassion.  He derived consolation from this vision, and realized that happiness comes from within.  He wrote:

“Understanding of the self only arises in relationship, in watching yourself in relationship to people, ideas, and things;  to trees, the earth, and the world around you and within you.  Relationship is the mirror in which the self is revealed.  Without self-knowledge there is no basis for right thought and action.”

Materialism, self-understanding and proper relationship can be seen from a perspective that sheds light on much of human history.  An age-old battle has been waged from time immemorial between the flesh and the spirit.  All concepts of virtue and vice, of sin, and of heaven and hell originate in this basic dualistic conflict.  Some people seek meaning and fulfillment primarily through material things and pleasures.  Others seek purpose through spiritual practices like worship, prayer, meditation, yoga, and seeking enlightenment and transcendence.  Stoics and ascetics embrace a sense of rigorous propriety and a puritanical denial of pleasures, and they even sometimes mortify their flesh. 

In contrast, Epicurean connoisseurs take a more humane and indulgent approach and seek out the pleasures of delicious food, pleasing beverages, stimulating intercourse, swelling accomplishment, and the satisfaction of yearnings.  Most Americans, it seems, do not live by any particular philosophy, and they carouse at every opportunity, eating and drinking and dancing and flirting and gambling and laughing and loving and singing and striving and struggling and arguing and fighting and such.

Buddhist philosophers say that ‘desire is the source of all suffering’.  Surely there is some truth in that point of view, and there is a kind of merit in detachment from obsessive concerns about outcomes.  Luminous forces have done battle with dark forces from time immemorial, and this is a struggle within us between virtue and vice, ascetic denial and Epicurean indulgences, and the spirit and the flesh.  In thinking about this tension between the spirit and the flesh, a perplexing vision comes to me of the alternating nobility and pathos of people who sublimate their physical desires.  As John Fowles observed, “We are designed to want; with nothing to want, we are like windmills in a world without wind.”

I have a great deal of respect for Buddhists like the Dalai Lama, whose spirituality is not confused with motives for power and control like those of the leaders of established churches.  Unlike some religious leaders, the Dalai Lama does not espouse narrow, parochial or bigotry-prone doctrines that interfere with the otherwise noble aspects represented in many religious traditions. 

Plunged in thought, I reflect on the fact that joys and sorrows affect every one of us, and future joys and sorrows will be felt by each of us, in unknowable measure.  Pleasure and pain are our lot between the moment of our first breath and that of our last.  For some, the joys are sadly few;  and for millions, the sorrows and profound anxieties are many.  Some people seek adventures and new experiences, fresh perspectives, and the road less taken.  Others prefer traditional activities, the reassuring solace of the known, and the comfort of the same old path;  these people tend to oppose change and close-mindedly reject new ideas, and they strive to belong and to conform. 

John Fowles pointed out in The Aristos that one reason there is a such a “great contemporary attraction” of philosophies like Zen Buddhism, and of mind-altering drugs, both of which tend to facilitate the discovery of virgin beauty in familiar objects, is that our search for the new and the virgin is difficult to satisfy.  This puts us in a situation similar to that of Midas:  “Everything he touched turned to gold, and from then on became useless to him.  We crave the virgin beauty, but as soon as we experience it, it turns to gold … or boredom.  We have to move on.  The satisfaction of the desire is the creation of a new desire.”

People tend to either figuratively favor the god Dionysus, Greek god of wine and revelry, ecstasy, inspiration, instinct, adventure, intoxication, song, music and dance;  OR, they favor the god Apollo, the god of peace, leisure, serenity, beauty, intellectual contemplation, logic and philosophic calm.  This is another aspect of the conflict between the impulses of the body and flesh versus those of the mind and spirit.  This is a contrast between intention and action that may be related to the dominance of the left-brain over the right-brain;  it’s like the age-old contest for domination either by feelings, emotions and intuitions OR by thoughts and rationality. 

Heroic omnivorous souls like Nikos Kazantzakis’ character Zorba in Zorba the Greek seek ultimate expression through the thorough whetting of appetites in life.  They embrace and exhaust all things with passion, so that when death finally comes, it will find a world-traveling spirit sufficiently spent that it will voice no wild lament, and express no sad regrets, and will instead feel a sense of deep satisfaction at a life well lived.  One could, in contrast, live the life of a saint and embrace visions of a life of eternal glory in Heaven while others supposedly burn in Hell for having believed erroneously, or one could strive to do good, while alive, for reasons unrelated to religious dogmas.  “To do no harm”, is a pretty good motto!

No ultimate right and wrong exists between these alternate ways of being and these differing visions of life.  The best that one can do is to assimilate the best of these contrasting ways of being by living life with moderation, appreciation, respectful awareness, reasonable self-esteem, fair-mindedness and a generosity of spirit.  And every person is well-advised to try to focus on what really matters most in life – our physical and mental health and an affirmative bond with people important in our lives.  Emotional intelligence is a key, and this brings a big smile to my face as I recall Pixar’s film Inside Out and the evoked concept of the emotional control center in each person’s brain, where Joy struggles with Sadness, and Anger blows his top while Fear and Disgust try to grab control to do their thing.  Seek balance, and act with emotional intelligence.

 “Money Makes the World Go ‘Round”

John Fowles also writes in The Aristos:  “Each age has its mythical happy man;  the one with wisdom, with genius, with saintliness, with beauty, with whatever is rare and ‘the Many’ are not able to possess.  The twentieth century’s happy man is the man with money.”  He also notes:  “Much more than we let philosophies guide our lives, we allow obsessions to drive them;  and there is no doubt which has been the great driving obsession of the last one hundred and fifty years.  It is money.” …  “Having, not being, governs our time.” 

Money can, to a certain extent, buy the variety and security that most people strongly desire.  To create a fairer, happier and more secure citizenry, we should make our economic system much fairer by championing middle-out economics instead of buying the Big Lie that we must let trickle down economic policies dominate.  To accomplish this, effective reforms must be made to our political system to make it more just by reducing the unfair influence of Big Money.  The significant increases in disparities of inequalities and wealth that characterize our current neo-Gilded Age are socially undesirable.  Our public policies have stoked the envy of Have Nots, and given greater power to the protective jealously of the Haves.  These policies have powerfully motivated people to indulge in conspicuous consumption.  This state of affairs is cynically unwise and excessively damaging to the environmental commons.

In John Bunyan’s allegorical book The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is To Come, the allegorical characters Christian and Faithful are traveling through the wilderness seeking salvation and entry into the Celestial City of Heaven.  Christian had even abandoned his family for this quixotic quest.  They must pass through the town of Vanity where there is a year-round fair, called Vanity Fair.  Bunyan notes that “… all that is sold there, or that comes from there, is vanity.” …  “This is no newly-begun business, but a thing of ancient standing.”  At Vanity Fair, “there are at all times to be seen” every kind of material thing, and lusts, pleasures and delights of all sorts, as well as “jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues, and that of every kind”.  The religious travelers, striving to remain on the straight and narrow, took no interest in the goods for sale, asserting that, “We buy the truth.” 

The truth?? – Maybe yes, and maybe no, I say!  Myth, fables, simplistic understandings and dogmatic certitudes may be appealing in many ways, but the fullness of nuance and complexity are needed for the best understanding of who we are, and of what our best courses of action should rightly be.  See Inspiration, Imagination, and the Deep Well of Human Impulses in the Earth Manifesto for more information about John Bunyan and the context of his religious perspectives.

The Foibles of a Societal Emphasis on Consuming Things

While industrial civilization relies on consumerism, this strategy is a shortsighted and spiritually bankrupt expediency that serves to disconnect us from nature and the wholesomeness of healthy relationships and communities.  Compulsive consumerism is in some regards a pathetic form of mental disconnection within our souls from our authentic well-being.  It represents a materialistic way of living that is correlated to an oft-bemoaned decline in the standards of our society’s morals, ethics, and levels of happiness and satisfaction.  When people over-indulge in excesses of any sort, they are like addicts who must undergo withdrawal treatments to wean themselves from their addictions. 

Consumerism and advertising equate personal happiness with the purchasing of material possessions.  Consumerism creates a kind of pathology that can produce angst and emptiness.  Some of its primary symptoms are addictive behaviors.  Shopping and buying things have figuratively become preferred drugs of choice.  Addictions to shopping and buying things that we often don’t need are one characteristic of industrial society.  Other similar addictions in our modern world include dependence on alcohol, drugs, anti-depressants, gambling, video games, electronic devices, and a domineering compulsion to try to control everything. 

This pervasive pattern of addictive behaviors strongly influences our economics, our politics, and our interpersonal relationships.  It is a pattern of excesses and out-of-control consumption that results in people in the U.S. consuming 70 times more per person, on average, than a person in India.  Such behaviors are not qualitatively different from well-known behavior patterns of substance abusers. 

A psychotherapist named Sally Erickson, producer of the documentary, What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire, once observed:

“What most of us experience, when it comes to addiction, is a pattern of continually seeking more of what it is we don’t really want and, therefore, never being fully satisfied.  And as long as we are never satisfied, we continue to seek more, while our real needs are never being met.”

Consumerism is a reflection of the fact that in our culture we do not promote authentic forms of deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, not nearly as much as we promote the acquisition of possessions.  Evangelical religions are not honest, relevant or ecumenical enough to propitiously provide for these needs.  Many people try to make up for this sense of hollowness by shopping and buying.  There is overwhelming evidence that people who have materialistic attitudes and values are less happy and more prone to anger, depression and anxiety than those who are less materialistic.  If a survey were done on the Top Ten Most Wonderful things that contribute to well-being in people’s lives, we would find that almost all of them are non-material things. 

The main psychological determinants of happiness include good relationships, strong friendships, meaningful work, a broad education, community connectedness, the positivity of affirmation and recognition, physical health, leisure time undertakings, creative and artistic pursuits, simplicity of living, participatory sports, intimacy, kindness, peaceful coexistence, spiritual practices, and the appreciation of nature. 

Annie Leonard’s first online video, The Story of Stuff, talks about a crisis caused by our addiction to the growth in consumption, and the dysfunctional and detrimental aspects of consumerism involved in the extraction of resources and the profligate production, distribution, consumption and disposal of goods. The Story of Stuff provides a fascinating perspective on such things as the pathos of a system designed for planned obsolescence and fashion-related ‘perceived obsolescence’.  It concludes with a powerful argument for better ways forward, and for the restructuring of our economy.  And it adduces many ideas on how we could achieve economic justice and ecological sustainability.  I highly recommend watching this short film, and all of her subsequent ones! 

Fulfillment vs. Addiction

Psychologists say that the purpose or function of an addiction is essentially to put a buffer between ourselves and the experience or awareness of our emotions.  Addictions serve to numb us, so that we are out of touch with what we know and what we feel.  This numb buffer zone eventually becomes a habitual coping mechanism.  There are many socially accepted surrogates for genuine well-being and healthy connectedness -- things like alcohol, Prozac, obsessive work, or Jesus -- but these things do not in general truly heal.

Addictions, according to psychologists, often arise as the result of some violation of the self.  This wounding is like a deep trauma that can come from any number of causes:  economic hardship, broken relationships, domestic abuse and violence, illness, the death of a loved one, prejudice, racism, discrimination, hateful feelings, warfare, and even insidiously mundane things like shame, rejection, insecurity or feelings of inadequacy.

Writer-activists like Chellis Glendinning even assert that consumer culture drives a “culture of empire” that is inherently abusive, because this system is built on the exploitation of resources and the subjugation of others.  Those who live under such systems tend to undergo a wounding or trauma that leaves society suffering from a collective form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Glendinning examines the disturbing relationship between addiction and the ecological crisis in her book, My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization.

In an essay on what she calls “techno-addiction”, Glendinning writes about our “primary” and “secondary” sources of satisfaction.  Primary needs are those needs that are intrinsic to human beings and necessary for life:  nourishment, safe shelter, love, awareness, meaning, purpose and spiritual succor.  When primary needs are not met, people sometimes turn to “secondary” sources, which include material possessions, gadgets, electronic devices, pornography or drugs.  Eventually people can become obsessed with secondary sources “as if our lives depended on them.”

It is these secondary sources of satisfaction that our economic and political systems often promote.  In doing so, they reinforce addictive behaviors and help drive the consumer machine.  Businesses stimulate demand with seductive advertising and sly sales tactics that utilize slick demonstrations, persuasive testimonials, sexy user imagery, or amusing parody.  Product advertising exploits people’s unconscious motivations and manipulates hidden psychological desires.  Television and radio ads often appeal to our base instincts for dominance over others.  They titillate us, or urge us to conform.  They generally do not appeal to our higher and more virtuous instincts.  Consumption is promoted not only through persuasive corporate marketing, but also through misguided government subsidies, perverse incentives and the encouragement of consumerism in holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. 

Advertising and the media generally do not contribute to wholesome values.  They help condition people to envy and to be envied.  They use sex and celebrity to sell products, they glamorize youth,  and they divert people’s attention from vitally important things by using sensationalism in the news and shallow distractions like stories of scandal, intrigue and violence.  We are entertained by sports spectacles and vicarious experiences of the glory of victory and the agony of defeat.  A sinister side-effect of these influences is that they encourage winning at any cost.  Slick marketing makes us less aware of positive values such as integrity of character, honesty, thoughtfulness, healthy moderation, genuine connectedness, responsible thrift, generosity of spirit, positive forms of communication, and real civic responsibility. 

I saw a funny Bumper Sticker the other day that read:     Clear the Road.  I’m SIXTEEN!

That spirit of unbridled youthful impetuosity is admirable for its enthusiasm, but not for any kind of untrammeled merit.

Marketing and Consumer Psychology

Our corporate consumer culture is driven by consumers who are rarely satisfied with what they buy.  People are conditioned to always want to buy the newest and the biggest in order to feel like they are somebody.  If more authentic needs were being met, it’s a good possibility that certain markets would contract or collapse.  Knowing this, businesses have in a sense engineered our identities to encourage disposable goods and accommodate planned obsolescence.  We are told that every few years we need an upgrade.  Tellingly, we call it our “new look” or the “new you.”  Whole industries are based on this.

“We can see where consumer psychology has led us,” one observer notes.  “It’s a disaster.  It’s the kind of thing that has caused the human organism and psyche to go so far out of balance.  Marketing to our unconscious leads us down a dangerous path that promises satisfaction and wholeness and a sense of importance and worth, without us having to do anything but spend.  But none of these things come in any real sense unless we work hard at them.”

It is foolishly shortsighted for us to let such pervasive persuasion result in consumerism that threatens the future well-being of life on Earth.  This is especially true in light of heedless resource depletion and stimulated population growth.  Our societies would be better off, in the long run, if we invested more money in well-rounded critical-thinking education, efficient uses of energy, climate action conservation efforts, national infrastructure, fair opportunity, social justice, honest family planning and free contraception.  Instead of doing this, our leaders squander taxpayer funds and borrow money from the future to give generous tax breaks to rich people, and to fund pork barrel projects, increase corporate and citizen “entitlements”, ramp up spending on weapons, warfare, foreign occupations and war reconstruction projects.  Naively, conservatives insist on the teaching of abstinence-only sex education for young adults.  We should change these priorities and alter this paradigm!

Remember the Immediate Aftermath of the Attacks of September 11, 2001

Times of crisis provide our nation with greater opportunities to make significant positive changes for the future.  But in desperate times, our leaders all too often champion shortsighted expediencies.  For instance, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, President Bush urged the American people to go shopping.  He could have instituted a bold program after 9/11 that would have steered us toward energy independence by developing fossil fuel alternatives;  he could have helped wean us from our using polluting non-renewable fossil fuels by encouraging us to use energy more efficiently, and to consume less fuel.  This would have lessened our dangerous dependence on the volatile Middle East for our energy supplies.  The Bush administration could also have implemented a modest tax increase on gasoline to pay for its “war on terror”, instead of financing preemptive warfare with borrowed money that added to the dangerously growing national debt.  This would have represented a small amount of ‘sacrifice’ that would have left our national economy in much better shape.  He could have;  he should have;  but he didn’t.

In the face of the daunting obstacles we face, we must not despair.  After all:

     “Despair is the solace of fools.” 

                                              ---Today’s Special, a humorous film released in 2009

The Implications of Consumerism as a Gambit for Social Control

Making addictions seem natural through strategies that promote consumerism curiously had its beginnings in early 20th century notions of psychology and social control.  The story of how hyper-consumerism and the “consumer self” came into being is the subject of a BBC documentary titled The Century of the Self.  One of the theories that emerged was the brainchild of Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who was a sloganeering progenitor of ‘public relations’.  Bernays helped Woodrow Wilson sell the First World War to the American public by inventing the tag line, “Making the World Safe for Democracy.”  Bernays says in the film, “Public Relations is really just propaganda, but we couldn’t use the word because the Germans had.”

Bernays showed American corporations how to encourage people to buy material goods that they didn’t need.  He did this by connecting those products to people’s subliminal thoughts and unconscious desires and unmet needs.  This made Bernays a powerful man, and he used this influence to propose that similar principles be used in politics to control the masses.  This social-control-through-indulgence model was later excoriated in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, a book that is a critique of consumerism and the vapidity of a culture based too much in the mindless seeking of pleasure.  Brave New World is a “futuristic dystopia” in which freethinking and human attachment have either been outlawed or genetically modified out of most human beings. In its place is an oppressive, dumbed-down hierarchical ‘Big Brother’ society that is pathetically characterized by conformity, dependence, lots of high-tech entertainment, sexual promiscuity, and a powerful, all-purpose narcotic drug called Soma.  This feel-good drug is dispensed to dispel deep thinking and quell unpleasant feelings.  Soma is similar, disturbingly, to the most widespread drugs sold today in the U.S. -- anti-depressants.

We seem to be creating a Cowardly New World by letting our political process be dominated by amoral corporations and concomitant dysfunction that results from heedless diversions and manipulative propaganda.  Our leaders tend to exploit people’s feelings of ethnocentric supremacism to support high spending on the military, and some drugs like alcohol, coffee and nicotine are encouraged while others like cannabis are harshly repressed.  I advocate more enlightened policies, and more progressive ones!

The Epiphanies of Sigmund Freud and John Fowles

To better understand the psychological underpinnings of this situation, it is helpful to examine the insights of Sigmund Freud into the essential nature of the human psyche.  Freud analyzed the mind/self as being governed by three principal aspects:  (1) the ego, which represents the province of conscious desires; (2) the id, which represents the more obscure province of subconscious motivations;  and (3) the superego, which governs the emotional intelligence that strives to balance and control these other two powerful forces in our minds.

Freud contended that each person internalizes the ego values that society regards as being fulfilling.  The nobler aspects of us as individuals seek fulfillment through such things as our contribution to society and our senses of meaning, integrity, connection, love and accomplishment.  Consumerism, on the other hand, teaches the ego to forsake honorable integrity, and to vainly inflate itself with material things, and to associate and confuse self-worth with net worth and material possessions and conspicuous consumption.

Author John Fowles realized that there is also a more subtle force that is growing deep in the modern soul.  This is the ‘nemo’, which represents the psychic force that motivates us to try to be somebody, to be remembered, and to thwart our profound fear of being an insignificant nobody.  The nemo is activated by such haunting anxieties as feelings of psychological emptiness, ephemerality, futility and insignificance.  Nemo feelings are agitated by knowledge of unfairness and inequalities in life.  The idea of the nemo is proposed in John Fowles’ thought-provoking book The Aristos.

Fowles recognized that people seek personal senses of self-esteem and security by trying to either conform, or to conflict.  People conform by striving to obtain the status symbols society defines as hallmarks of success.  For instance, many people obsess over money, or consume conspicuously (Bling!), or seek identity by adopting uniforms of belonging.  Alternatively, to gain attention or a sense of self-importance, people often choose to conflict.  They seek meaning in striving to be unique and embracing countercultural ideals, opposing the conventional, being cool or ‘bad’, seeking liberation, trying to escape by altering their consciousness, or indulging in the allures of the forbidden.  Most people, deep down, want to be respected as “somebody”, or to create some sort of lasting legacy.

Marketing propaganda exploits these conscious and subconscious human impulses by taking advantage of natural drives that help define our senses of meaning and self-importance, especially the drives for security, belonging, social status, and sexual attraction. 

These ideas are being explored because it seems probable that once we more clearly understand the psychological motivations that underlie our actions, we will have a better chance of changing our behaviors and modifying our economic system so that our societies become dedicated to healthier and nobler causes, and to things that really matter the most.  The restructuring of our societies to give people more wholesome purposes and positive potentialities would be distinctly advantageous.  It could help us create saner individuals and healthier communities, and it could motivate us to give greater respect to the biotic health and sustainable well-being of Mother Earth.

I express the opinion in Comprehensive Global Perspective – An Illuminating Worldview that the “nemo of neoconservatives” is driving mankind headlong in the direction of potential calamity.  Nationalistic neoconservative convictions of God-appointed self-righteousness were particularly strong during the George W. Bush presidency.  Such ideas impelled us down an arrogant, ignominious and imperialistic path.  The neoconservative worldview facilitates unjust domination by authorities and serves to promote special privileges for cronies and insider elites.  As a result, our nation indulged in prideful empire building and militaristic world dominion, as well as white supremacy, misogynistic male dominion, social repression, puritanical domestic policies, brutal prisoner interrogation policies, and theocratic Christian hegemony.  Neoconservatism also fervently championed unfettered capitalism and rather irresponsible profiteering.  In contrast, I advocate that we create fairer societies and make more courageous attempts to coexist with others peacefully. And I encourage everyone to wholeheartedly seek more far-sighted ecological understandings!

That paragraph was written years before Trumpism made its ugly advent on the national scene.  I feel very strongly that we need positive change, and that Trump is having a calamitous impact on the world by stoking fear, division, bigotry, sexism and American xenophobia.  Reject that negative ruse!

John Fowles tellingly noted in The Aristos that “we are all psychological dwarfs, and we have the complexes and psychological traits that are characteristic of dwarfs:  feelings of inferiority, with compensatory cunning and malice.”  Yikes!  (Apologies to real dwarfs for this generalization!)

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

                                                                                                                                                 --- Mark Twain

Critical Insights … or Merely Psycho-Babble?

Many of the above psychological insights have been plagiarized from an article by Charles Shaw that was originally published on AlterNet.  I recently found it copied into one of my ‘Germinating’ files.  This essay borrows extensively from Shaw’s valuable ideas.  He pointed out that an activist, preacher and performance artist named ‘Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping’ says that consumerism has become our great national addiction.  The ‘Reverend’ was the star of the film What Would Jesus Buy?  He preaches a gospel of anti-consumerism, saying that if we are ever going to move away from being consumers and back to being good citizens, our society needs “to go into recovery”.  He added:  “I recommend at least 60 to 90 days away from shopping just to detox.  If we don’t repent,” he warns, “then the Shopocalypse is coming!”  Hmmm …

A great dilemma presents itself.  If we were all to do less shopping, the economy would undergo a dramatic contraction.  This, in fact, did happen in 2008 due to a credit crunch and the trend reversal of the “wealth effect” that Alan Greenspan had so diligently and rashly cultivated.  For years thereafter, the faltering economy has been affected by another development:  not only did average Americans spend less money because tens of millions of people were unemployed and almost everyone had lost some of their net worth, but many rich people also began to show a greater sensitivity to ostentatious spending.  What would happen if people stopped acting on materialistic and egocentric impulses to attain higher social status?  Wealthy people might become more mindful of the ecological folly of consuming extravagantly and wastefully.  I mean, maybe they’d feel this way just a little, outside of Texas?  Ha!

The decades-long American economic strategy of hyper-stimulating the international economy is creating serious problems.  This strategy creates an economy that is like a proverbial house-of-cards.  By foolishly facilitating consumerism, empowering multinational corporatism, stoking easy credit, cultivating bubble economics, encouraging aggressive borrowing from home equity, and incurring more and more debt, we create an unstable economy.  At the same time that the home appreciation bubble burst and the value of equities fell precipitously (the Dow Jones Average fell more than 50% between 2007 and 2009), we approached levels of consumer and government debt that may have been close to the maximum that is prudent or sustainable.  We should therefore figure out how to restructure our societies in new ways that are productive, ways that create millions of jobs while also taking into account the overarching importance of economic activities that are ecologically sound and sustainable.  Human activities should become restorative of Earth’s ecosystems, rather than being destructive of them.  This is a challenging paradox, but we would be wise to come to grips with it. 

We can do this.  But we need to be honest about all the interrelated aspects of this quandary, which include the adverse impacts of uncontrolled population growth.  When our civilizations were mostly agrarian, it was desirable to have many children because it meant cheap labor and a form of family security for people in their old age.  As the industrial revolution led to rapid urbanization and transformed societies by making it much more costly to feed and educate children, large families became outmoded and “social security” programs became more necessary.  Progress toward more effective and more easily available contraception in the past century has allowed people to better plan the number and timing of their offspring, and this has led to remarkable demographic changes and smaller families.  The average woman of child-bearing age in Mexico, for instance, had SEVEN children thirty years ago, and today they are begetting an average of fewer than THREE children.  The speed with which this demographic change took place is astonishing.

Leading indicators tell us that resource limitations and conflicts over diminishing resources mean that people need to be flexible in adapting to new conditions in which even smaller families make better sense.  The quality of life must take precedence over the quantity of children we have.  But it is unfortunately a truism that religious establishments find it to be difficult to recruit gullible converts to their doctrines, and they know from long experience that when believers have large families the Church automatically has greater success in indoctrinating pliable adherents.  To assure continued growth of their influence, they staunchly oppose sensible sex education and uses of contraceptives, and reasonable prerogatives and reproductive rights for women to choose to terminate a pregnancy an unwanted pregnancy.

But Churches must evolve, and cease their opposition to pragmatic and socially intelligent family planning.  As Mark Twain pointed out, “The church is always trying to get other people to reform;  it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example.” 

A Riff on the Real Population Connection

There is a remarkably simple reason that social conservatives and religious fundamentalists promote the abstinence-only method for birth control.  It is an obvious yet astonishing reason:  it doesn’t work!  This is not just a matter of opinion, it is statistical fact.  And why might these folks champion a policy that doesn’t pan out as advertised, given that non-abstinence is one of the most powerful motivations in relationships between sex-obsessed males and fending-off females?  Again, it’s simple and obvious.  These folks don’t want the approach to work, because in its failure, more children are born who can be persuaded to believe in the religious dogmas of churches, strengthening their power and influence.  This attitude is subtly affiliated with more indirect motives that stimulate consumerism and increased demand and future profits. 

Many religious people have a core conviction that God wants humankind to be fruitful and multiply.  So, to them it is a sin to take any steps to prevent pregnancies.  This is “so yesterday” a position, a yesterday driven by a now-outmoded morality rooted in the desirability of high birth rates to provide cheap labor on the farm and to provide security to parents in their old age.

Today, high birth rates threaten to overwhelm Earth’s ecosystems by speeding up the rate at which we deplete the natural resources that sustain us.  Expanding numbers of needy and greedy people are having the ominous impact of disrupting the global climate and altering normal weather patterns, and of threatening to drive half of all species of life to eternal extinction within the next century or so.  This profound paradox is a conundrum that may confound us, but it is too important to ignore!

Faith, n.  Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things

    without parallel.

                                  -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

This week, the global population will grow by more than 1.5 million people.  As the organization Population Connection points out, that’s like adding a city the size of Phoenix or Philadelphia every week!  One in ten people already lacks access to clean drinking water around the world right now, and one in eight doesn't have enough food to eat, and one in five lives on less than $1 a day.  As we struggle to support more than 7 billion people on Earth, rapid population growth is pushing too many people to the margins.  The quality of life for those alive must begin to receive greater emphasis than the quantity of people we can bring into the world.

One out of every 20 human beings that has ever lived is alive right now.  Such is the result of the sensational longevity revolution and rapid growth of human numbers.  If our growing human population continues to increase, the house of cards we are building will become increasingly unstable.  Such a trend will make an eventual catastrophic crash in human numbers ever more likely and severe.  To improve the quality of life for everyone everywhere, we should resolutely act to reduce population growth and stabilize the number of people on Earth.

Population stabilization is just one facet of the changes we need in our societies.  One of the most far-reaching and positive ways of making this a better world would be to encourage girls and women to get an education.  Empowering women turns out to be positive for society as a whole.  Mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and all female ‘significant others’ in our societies deserve greater respect and appreciation. They also need more clearly articulated rights and civil protections in our patriarchal societies.  This is one of the most profound and courageous undertakings we could commit to, and it would be a definite win/win situation for men as well as for women.  It would likely reduce gender stresses, improve interpersonal relationships, and help reduce the size of families.  It would improve the potential quality of life for most children, and reduce the rate of increase of many of the environmental pressures on our home planet that are being caused by rapid population growth.

Faith that does not admit of doubt is absurd.  As Barack Obama said in a May 2009 commencement address to graduating seniors at the University of Notre Dame:  “This doubt should not push away our faith.  But it should humble us.  It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness.” 

Religious people, as well as those who are not religious, should remember that we need to have respectful dialogues rather than to demonize others.  We need to be able to communicate with a generous understanding to find common ground.  Barack Obama has called for open hearts, fair-minded words, and open minds in the search for common ground in debates over issues like abortion, women’s rights, and stem cell research.  Such sentiments strengthen moderate forces that reside inside established churches, and could mitigate the discord involved in culture wars. They harken back to the noble aspects of religious teachings that say “Love thy neighbor”, and put the spotlight on the fact that right wing and conservative elements have too stubbornly dominated religious debate in recent years.  Moderate and liberal elements must take back their churches from extremists who have had dominion for so many years.

    “True story.”

                      --- Rowbear

Global Recovery

Good reasons exist for humanity to be open-minded enough to consider going into a type of ‘global recovery program’ from our growth-addicted consumerism.  Addictions can be conquered, according to the insightful psychologist Carl Jung, only through a true spiritual awakening.  Likewise, ecologists believe that only a global spiritual awakening will end the cultural consumer addiction that is ravaging the planet, wiping out wildlife and causing a planet-wide ecological crisis.  This is a provocative way of understanding!  For deeper ecological understandings, peruse the aforementioned Earth Manifesto ‘magnum opus’, the Comprehensive Global Perspective:  An Illuminating Worldview.  In Chapter #98 – True Values of this epistle, this observation is expressed:

Television, radio, newspaper and magazine advertising tend to indoctrinate us with false values.  They effectively enshrine the gods of materialism on the highest pedestal of our imaginations.  Above all, the message of advertising is that happiness is found in possessing things.  It subtly preaches that you should get all you can for yourself, and that you should get it all as quickly as possible.  It champions variety, pleasure seeking, luxury, indulgence, and the avoidance of boredom.  Shopping and owning things have become central ways for us to make ourselves feel “cool” and special and more worthy. 

Our shopping-seduced consumer culture is causing us to fail to appreciate truer values.  We have supersized our meals, our houses and our automobiles.  But these “gains” have come at a high social and environmental cost, and they are arguably diminishing the true quality of our lives.  I have faith in the potentiality of people to develop richer lives without at the same time impoverishing the planet and harming others.

Another aspect of the gross commercialization of our societies is the manipulation of children for marketing purposes.  Using the “Nag Factor”, advertisers exploit the credulity and vulnerability of children to manipulate them into nagging their parents to buy things.  Especially harmful is the marketing of unhealthy junk foods to children, including sugary cereals, candy, soda pop and fast food.  This contributes to obesity and childhood diabetes and other health problems.  Saturation marketing by the toy industry even affects young minds by diminishing the imagination of children through corporate tie-in toys that narrow play activities.  These trends may effectively brainwash children into being good consumers rather than being good citizens and more virtuous human beings.

Mild austerity can actually be a tonic for the character, whereas wild riches quite often prove corrosive.  (“There but for the grace of God go I.” --- Ha!)  The economic hard times of World War II forced people to ride bikes, plant gardens, mend clothes, recycle, reuse, spend more time in cooperative endeavors with neighbors, and cultivate good friendships.  These were fine things.  “Moderation in everything!”

Historical Perspective Is Valuable

It is widely recognized that capitalist economic systems during the past century have out-competed and supplanted centrally-planned ones in countries worldwide.  Ideological arguments have arisen that stubbornly insist capitalism should be allowed to flourish with a minimum of government interference.  But every economic system is structured according to rules and laws and regulations that govern the rights and prerogatives of producers and consumers, and capital and labor.  Our economies simply must be better structured and more fairly designed.  Powerful incentives and disincentives should be instituted to advance the common good and prevent socially harmful activities like wasteful usages of natural resources, worker exploitation, fraud, insider trading, conglomerate abuses, and the unacceptable externalizing of costs upon society and the ecological commons. 

We need to manage our economies much better.  Unbridled competition leads to risky excesses and many forms of unfairness, injustices and increased inequalities.  Such distortions and excesses can create dangerous and highly detrimental hardship and economic bubbles that lead to recessions.  On the other hand, too much bureaucracy and bigger government create excessive red tape and can be wasteful, vulnerable to corruption, inefficient and anti-competitive.  A better balance must be struck between laissez-faire capitalism and overly-regulated capitalism. 

Economic fundamentalists must relent in their stubborn insistence on deregulation and regressive changes in taxation and other policies that serve to concentrate wealth ever more narrowly in the hands of the few.  We can no longer let our politics be dominated by rich people and big corporations.  All Americans should support policies that focus on a fairer balance between the goals of consumers and investors, on the one hand, and differing goals that are consistent with the common good, on the other.  We must transcend hyper-partisanship, and begin to cooperate together to ensure that our political system delivers prosperity that is broadly shared.  We should not lose sight of the fact that we need to strive to make sure that economic and social conditions are consistent with greater good goals in both the short term and the long term.

The ideology of Reaganomics largely opposed public investment, other than ramped-up spending on the military.  Investments in the military can be astoundingly wasteful, yet Ronald Reagan emphasized ‘defense spending’ over all other spending priorities.  This is why budgets were reduced, on an inflation-adjusted basis, for education, job training, infrastructure, and basic research and development during his administration.  George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush pursued some similar targeted tactics and goals.  This may be one reason that Republicans are reluctant to make health care a universal right.  The Republican Party did champion a costly new drug entitlement program in 2003, but this move can accurately be seen as ‘corporate welfare’ for the pharmaceutical industry, not as a true concern for the well-being of older citizens, and certainly not as a wise program from the standpoint of younger people, whose interests are so inadequately represented.

The policies of ‘Obamanomics’, in contrast, are theoretically committed to forms of public investment in people, productivity and innovation.  There is good reason for this, according to economist Robert Reich:  “In a global economy, capital moves to wherever it can get the best deal around the globe.  That means capital and jobs go to nations that can promise high returns either because labor is cheap and taxes and regulations are low, OR because labor is highly productive due to a well-educated work force that is healthy and supported by modern infrastructure.  Which type of nation do we want to be?” 

“For the better part of the last quarter century, our implicit economic strategy has tended toward the first.  But that’s a recipe for lower wages and lower living standards for most Americans, and for widening inequality.  The only resource that is rooted uniquely in a national economy is its people – their skills and insights and capacities to collaborate, and the transportation and communication systems that link them together.  Everything else -- including capital, technology, designs, even factories and equipment – can move around the globe with increasing ease.” 

Let’s support more intelligent policy-making!

We really should engage in more farsighted planning because we are faced with a “perfect storm” of problems, including unfolding shortages of food and water and insufficient energy resources.  These problems make it urgent that we deal boldly with the challenges that confront us.  These shortages will likely unleash more unsettling and risk-laden public unrest and cross-border conflicts and mass migrations as people flee from the worst-affected regions, according to the United Kingdom’s chief scientist, Professor John Beddington.  The world is heading for major upheavals that will come to a head by 2030, says Professor Beddington.  “The growing population and success in alleviating poverty in developing countries will trigger a surge in demand for food, water and energy over the next two decades, at a time when governments must also make major progress in combating climate change.”  NOW is the time to begin coping with these problems!

A Ditty About Thomas Paine

The pamphleteer Thomas Paine was a common sense American hero who passionately advocated for individual freedoms and a fair modicum of social and legal equality for the people in the American colonies, and for democratic representation in a federal government independent from the tyranny of the British Empire.  Paine inspired generations of Americans toward exceptional purpose and revolutionary ideals.

In the Musical Pins and Needles in 1937, the lyrics from the song Status Quo are revealing:

In 1776 Tom Paine was writing books with a might and main
The Tory said “Now man alive
Stop giving out with this here liberty jive”

“Don’t sing of people’s rights that way
They might believe in what you say
So stop your song it’s not polite
Pipe down before you start a fight”

You don’t say, Teacher, is that right?

Aha, but Tom Paine looked ahead
And to those Tories, Thomas said no, no, no, no
When you got to go, you got to go
You can’t stand still on freedom’s track
If you don’t go forward, you go back
You can’t giddyup by saying Whoa
And sitting on your status quo.

Today’s conservatives are like Tory loyalists were to the British monarchy during Thomas Paine’s day.  Conservatives have seriously harmed our nation in the past 35 years.  This is astonishingly ironic.  The Party of so-called conservatives threw caution to the wind when they controlled the Executive branch of the federal government from 2001 to 2009.  They gambled wildly and acted very irresponsibly.  They undermined precautionary principles of ecological sanity.  They opposed scientific consensus understandings.  They supported ideological fiscal policies that dismantled proven safeguards against economic depression.  They sought regressive changes in the tax system to make it much less fair for the majority of people, in favor of the wealthy.  They promoted empire-building and U.S. military aggression.  They gave more power to multi-national corporations and business lobbyists and the military/industrial complex.  They struggled against Golden Rule fairness principles and measures that would ensure more social equality.  They strongly opposed change, even when it was smart and sensible, except when they wanted to do such things as reduce regulations on banks and infringe on constitutional rights in the name of national security.  They defended the rights of women to have unlimited numbers of children but opposed women’s reproductive prerogatives.  And they claimed to support human life, but were eager to apply the death penalty and seemed to care more about the quantity of life spawned than the overall quality of life for the general populace. 

As a result of these misguided policies, conservatives lost the national elections in November 2008, and progressives won a great political victory.  At the time, I wrote: 

“It is now time for progressives to demonstrate the integrity of their beliefs by acting in ways that are consistent with creative, humanistic and fair-minded thinking.  Some say that it is our moral obligation to do better as winners than either we, or our political opponents, have done in the past few decades;  that we need to put aside our differences and decline to vilify those who have vilified us.  In any case, we need to build more effective bridges and coalitions to solve the daunting challenges that face us.  And we must not compromise our founding American principles;  instead, we should articulate them more clearly, and work to find win/win solutions that help make our nation a more productive place with more solid foundations.”

Unfortunately, Republicans immediately decided to sabotage all progressive initiatives, and everything the black man in the White House tried to do, in a hard-times-swindle effort to regain power, and they have harmed prospects for the greater good ever since then.

My best prescriptions for healthier societies are detailed in Common Sense Revival and online in three compendiums that can be found in Part Four of the Earth Manifesto: (1) One Dozen Big Initiatives to Positively Transform Our Societies, (2) Three Bills of Right: A Triumvirate of Responsible Actions for the Greater Good; and (3) Progressive Agenda for a More Sane Society.  Check them out!

We should boldly and open-mindedly move forward to create a better future.  One of my pet theories is that a commission of two dozen smart people drawn from diverse backgrounds and independent of partisan political influences could come up with far better plans for a prosperous and propitious way forward than we are currently achieving with 535 members of Congress and our vested-interest-dominated political process.  This commission would be like the impartial panels of ordinary citizens that form Civil Grand Juries in every County in California.  Such groups of people could recommend smarter budgets and better plans and wiser compromises that would be designed to make our world a fairer one.  A commitment should be made to listening to their findings, and to acting upon them!

I have traveled extensively around Europe, North Africa, Asia, the Pacific islands and Latin America, and I can assure readers that there are good people everywhere.  Another of my pet theories is that it’s entirely reasonable to believe that the best strategy for us to adopt would be one in which we collectively choose to make our country and nations worldwide more just, so that inequities do not make stresses worse and cause increasing poverty, violence, insurrections and wars. 

Another Salvo is Lobbed at Extreme Conservatism

Readers will recall the core idea of this manifesto that the education and relative empowerment of women around the globe would likely yield a better overall quality of life for all of humanity.  It is thus a big problem to have politicians strongly oppose fairer treatment of women.

Think about Paul Ryan, one of the “Young Gun” leaders of the Republican Party.  A fair assessment of Ryan’s stances on a long litany of issues reveals him to be an opportunistic politician who is one of the least women-respecting leaders in the U.S.  He admittedly has a lot of company in the ranks of the far right, but he is outside the mainstream of American sensibilities.  Ryan, shockingly, “might just be one of the most anti-woman politicians of all time”, according to MsRepresentation.  Ryan keeps proposing budgets that would undermine the safety nets for low-income women and their children, and wipe out millions of jobs currently held by women.  He often proposes to give big breaks to large companies that compete with smaller women-owned businesses.  He wants to cut both Medicare and Medicaid, programs whose majority of beneficiaries are women and racial minorities.  He has consistently opposed paid parental leave for employees who have newborn children.  And he adamantly proposes to cut budgets for food stamps, childcare, and programs that provide critical care to old people, children and people with disabilities. 

Ryan advocates giving additional big tax breaks to wealthy people.  Ryan voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and he is an anti-choice poster boy who wants abortion rights overturned even though they have been established precedent in national law since 1973, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s fair-minded Roe vs. Wade decision.  Ryan is against the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’), and he vehemently opposes birth control coverage in this legislation.  He actually has asserted that the Affordable Care Act “violates our founding principles” by not letting organizations deny women basic health care needs.  Wrap your brain around the bizarre contradictions in that mind-bending point of view!

Throughout his tenure in the House, Paul Ryan has voted repeatedly to reduce funding for Planned Parenthood, thereby taking money away from efforts to detect cancer in women and prevent sexually transmitted diseases.  He co-sponsored a federal Sanctity of Human Life Act, a type of “personhood” bill that declared life begins at the moment a woman’s egg is fertilized by a sperm.  To give a two-celled union of a sperm and an egg the same rights, or more, than a woman already alive is a concept that was even rejected by voters in conservative Mississippi in November 2011.

Paul Ryan also voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the military and has consistently opposed gay rights and marriage equality and the elimination of workplace discrimination against gay people.  His record on immigration is terrible;  he voted against the DREAM Act and in favor of legislation in 2005 that would have made it a felony to violate immigration laws in Wisconsin.

Paul Ryan’s first name is derived from the Apostle Paul, one of the most influential early Christian missionaries of the first generation of Christian believers.  Paul was certainly no saint with respect to women, for he once declared:  "Women should remain silent in the churches.  They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home;  for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”  Both Paul the Apostle and Paul the congressman apparently subscribe to the school of thought that recommends women be kept silent, subservient, and pregnant.  The persistent power of patronizing patriarchal and antediluvian attitudes is remarkable!

Paul Ryan is reputedly a genial character, so let’s give him credit for this attribute.  But put yourself in his shoes and see how it looks to adopt the positions affecting women that are described above.  The “optics” look exceedingly bad!  And today, by supporting D. Trump, despite that presidential candidate’s many inflammatory remarks, he is being blatantly opportunistic and grotesquely opposed to the common good.

“Before you criticize someone you should walk a mile in their shoes.  That way, when you criticize

   them, you are a mile away, and you have their shoes!”

                                                                             --- Random Thoughts quote by Frieda Norris

Why Don’t We All Do More Good?

Mark Twain regarded himself in his later years as an icon of common sense and public virtue.  He once said, “Always do right.  This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”  Ha! – A good call.

Think about the philosophic aspects of this humorous statement.  Some people say we do not have freedom of will, and that all our actions are determined by inherited propensities or social conditioning.  Others say, in contrast, that we have complete freedom of will.  John Fowles writes:  “Most religions and codes of justice have supposed complete freedom of will in order to make their ethical and punitive systems effective;  and this is more forgivable, if no less undemonstrable, than the determinist reduction of all human behavior to mechanics.” 

While almost every person would say they believe people should do good, few do all the good they could.  This is one of the deep contradictions of human nature.  John Fowles, in his philosophical treatise The Aristos, considers this issue, noting:  “For the last two and a half millennia almost every great thinker, every great saint, and every great artist has advocated, personified and celebrated -- or at least implied -- the nobility and excellence of the good act as the basis of the just society.”

Yet the bulk of mankind seems to apprehend “a perverse but deeper truth:  it is better generally to do nothing than generally to do good.”  Fowles adduces many reasons for this shortcoming.  We are not only seekers of spiritual nobility, we are also eternal seekers of reward for ourselves.  We expect recompense for doing good, and more than just a clear conscience or a feeling of self-righteousness.  We hope to get benefits in return, or approval, or recognition, or personal gratitude, or community esteem, or we seek to assuage a sense of guilt.  John Fowles lists the principal causes that he sees for this failure to do good:  a perception that the action that is contemplated is so small in relation to the final intention that it seems pointless;  an uncertainty of what the outcome may be, or a conflict of intentions;  a fatalistic belief that it is only an illusion that we have freedom of choice in willing an action;  the complex nature of understanding;  a feeling that it is futile to oppose an “evil”;  or a belief that our opposition will give ‘counter-support’ to what is opposed.

If we were to structure our societies so that the incentives for doing good were more attractive, more good would unquestionably result.  We all face a multitude of anxieties in life, from fundamental universal anxieties to special individual anxieties.  These anxieties should unite us rather than isolate us.  When we let them divide us, as John Fowles explains:  it is “as if the citizens of a country would defend it by each barricading himself in his own house.”

In any case, positive attitudes are extremely important in our lives.  Sylvia Boorstein, the prominent Buddhist who also happens to be a Jewish grandmother, has written:  “We don’t get a choice about what hand we are dealt in life.  The only choice we have is our attitude about the cards we hold and the finesse with which we play our hand.”  I say, then:  Let us collectively begin to play our hands with more fair-minded, sensible and visionary finesse!   Mother Mary comes to me, Speaking words of wisdom:  Let it be!

Although there are healthy and valuable aspects to maintaining a positive attitude, my mind wanders to Bill Moyers’ keynote address to the Environmental Grantmakers Association that he made in October 2001.  He observed that he once asked a friend on Wall Street what he thought about the stock market, and the friend replied, “I’m optimistic.”  He then asked, “Then why do you look so worried?!”  And his friend answered: “Because I’m not sure my optimism is justified.”  An existential Ha!

Though perplexity may confront us in many things, transcendent changes are required for our well-being, and for the well-being of our children and their descendants.  Let’s find the areas that we share of common ground, and in this agreeable unity, let us strive to leave a more sensible legacy to the future.  Let us “pay forward” some overarching social good!


           Dr. Tiffany B. Twain     

              Hannibal, Missouri     

      January 1, 2010

        (edited and updated in December 2012, March 2014 and May 2015 and August 2016)



Admittedly, when a person explores psychological insights without being a professional, it makes them vulnerable to a psychoanalytical assessment of all aspects of their own character and persona and motives.  Well, I plunge ahead audaciously anyway.  A popular 1995 ‘New Age’ book titled The Celestine Prophecy asserted that a synchronicity of coincidences can be discovered in events that take place, and that these coincidences have deep meanings and mystical connections.  In attempting to understand the significance of such contentions with my whole soul, I can see the extraordinary import of the unfolding sequence of occurrences in my life, as clearly as if I have been wandering in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights.  Fate! 

A Closed Mind in a Wonderful Thing To Lose    

                                                               --- Bumper Sticker 2009

                                                                      (I’m of two minds about this matter!)


Germinating Observations

An Interlude of Deserved Ridicule

Rising inequality creates a heightened risk of pitchforks symbolically coming out in outrage, and this threat to the established status quo could easily play into the hands of wealthy people who jealously and ruthlessly defend their vaulted privileges by scaring We the People into dutifully supporting conservative law-and-order politicians.  Neither continued increases in inequality nor measures that are overly repressive are consonant with future well-being in a free and fair country.

Watch Professor Robert Reich be darling in his Mini-Me Mini Cooper automobile in the enlightening film Inequality for All, and hear him be heroic in championing more egalitarian national policies in this important documentary film.  His commendable stance is reminiscent of the smart reforms mediated by the wise statesman Solon, who had a much better solution for all concerned when he saved ancient Athens from revolutionary conflict by mediating a far-reaching common sense compromise between the aristocratic hoi oligoi and the vast majority of the hoi polloi more than 2,500 years ago.

Increasing extremes of income inequality and disparities in wealth in the United States are becoming so grotesquely prnounced that even some Republican politicians occasionally mention it and say something should be done about it.  But every one of them pretends to be absolutely convinced that they have a surefire remedy for this risk-laden, divisive and terribly general-Welfare-eroding problem.  First of all, they know exactly who to blame for the problem -- the black guy in the White House!  And, of course, all those people that they regard as being extremely liberal.

Here is the solution they propose and fervently hope to be able to put into effect as soon as they gain control of the Presidency, adding to their majorities in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

What we must do is to slash taxes on the highest levels of incomes and on corporations, and on the two out of every 1,000 people who are so wealthy that they will be required to pay estate taxes on any amounts exceeding $5 million per parent after they die. 

This plan is avowedly dang-blasted certain to diminish that dangerous inequality real soon, just as soon as the beneficient effects of this generosity begin to trickle down to the 98% of Americans who earn less than $250,000 per year.  And with all the gushing good times that these plans will usher in, Republicans triumphally promise to start balancing the budget.

“You must vote Republican”, they chant, “and we will drill-baby-drill into all wasteful government programs and lazy people’s entitlements that are causing such grief in the world.”


I am not naive.  Saving our democracy from the on-going anti-democratic Tea Party-fueled and Dark Money financed rightward tilt in the U.S. will be extremely difficult.  Niccolo Machiavelli, that shrewd, insightful Machiavellian political philosopher, sagely observed back in 1532:

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

However, I recognize an even bigger picture reality -- the Rule of Two Impossibles.  When changing the status quo in a progressive direction is declared politically impossible, but the alternative option to ruthlessly perpetuate the status quo proves to be impossible to an equal or greater degree, the first impossibility curiously becomes much more feasible.  And when reactionary forces strive to change the status quo in retrogressive directions, the heightened risks of pitchforks coming out makes the probability better for us to change our system to make it fairer.


A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion, and sex, and TV

And you think you're so clever and classless and free

But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see


A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top, they are telling you still

But first you must learn how to smile as you kill

If you want to be like the folks on the hill

                                                                --- John Lennon