What the Last Election Means

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The recent election in which the Republicans won a lot of seats has some mixed messages, but the one that stands out is that the Republican strategy has worked. Their strategy has been to block almost anything President Barack Obama has tried to do, then blame him for the results. Of course the other part of that strategy has been propaganda: Obama is a socialist, he wasn’t born in this country, he wants to take away your guns, he handled Benghazi and Syria wrong, etc. The unspoken message (and not all THAT unspoken) is that he’s black. To a certain mindset, the one Republicans predominantly appeal to, that means he’s evil. That part of the electorate already believed that Democrats were evil, so the election of a black president was just the final proof of their evil.
The mixed message part of the election was that a lot of progressive initiatives were passed, even in red states. Several conservative states approved raising the minimum wage. Marijuana was legalized or decriminalized. Those are all progressive results (and more or less what Democrats stand for). So why didn’t Democrats win more offices?
Lots of reasons. One is that mid-term elections have usually have low turnouts, and because of demographics, many of the people who most reliably support Democrats are the ones who don’t turn out: younger people and minorities. The people who do turn out are usually older white people, and more of them vote Republican than Democrat. Voter suppression laws also suppressed more Democrats than Republicans.
Another reason is that many people are having hard times, mostly financial hard times, and when they don’t like what’s going on, vote against whoever is in power. This benefits Republicans, even though they’re responsible for a lot of the bad things going on, because the Republicans have more balls than Democrats. Representing the wealthy class, they don’t see anything wrong with taking as much money as they can get from contributors and saying whatever they think will help them win. They’re better at propaganda too.
Democrats are at a disadvantage because they too get most of their political contributions from the wealthy, and are unwilling to say anything that will make the wealthy mad at them. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren prove that speaking against the interests of the wealthy can work, but most Democrats are too scared to follow their example. It’s still the economy, stupid, but Democrats (with few exceptions) didn’t want to talk about that, so they lost, and didn’t get even a moral victory.
I think one difficulty for many voters is understanding the issues. It seems obvious that it’s wealthy people who start businesses and create jobs, but ultimately it’s DEMAND that creates jobs, and when ordinary people don’t get paid enough there’s not enough demand to make it worthwhile for employers to hire. That’s just one of the things Republicans don’t want ordinary Americans to understand. Giving rich people and corporations DOESN’T necessarily create jobs. What does is supporting SMALL businesses, not big ones, and paying workers enough that they can do more than just survive.
What Republicans don’t want you to understand is that their policies gave big corporations the incentive to send jobs overseas that Americans used to work. That means getting well-paying jobs now usually means getting a college degree, and the cost of that has gone up precipitously in my lifetime. Which also means that even when ordinary people GET college degrees, jobs don’t necessarily follow, and even if they do, the former students owe large debts for their education which can take forever to pay off. That means they can’t spend enough to stimulate the economy much. Why does ANYONE want this state of affairs, including Republicans? The answer seems to be, short-term profit.
Short-term profit is fine for those who benefit from it, which are increasingly a minority. Long-term profit would benefit most, if not ALL the people in the country, but that doesn’t seem to be what the wealthy, including large corporations want.
Consider a few of the things that have happened in the last decade or so. Big banks were bailed out in 2008 and after, because they were “too big to fail”. Maybe that was wise, I don’t know. But the people who lost their homes and money WEREN’T bailed out, and ultimately, THEY’RE the ones who make the overall economy succeed or fail.
The president’s predecessor launched two wars, while simultaneously LOWERING taxes. The result of that was our huge national debt, for which Republicans now blame President Obama, who has managed to lower the annual budget deficit by a large amount, but hasn’t proposed a way to reduce the national debt. Neither have Republicans.
Republicans have been telling us for some time they want to cut spending. The spending they want to cut, has been to cut (and if possible, privatize) Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Exactly what most Americans DO NOT want cut. Republican governors have cut funding for public schools, police, and fire fighters too. I think there’s a pretty solid argument that these are services everybody (or almost everybody) needs. The kind of spending Republicans DON’T want to cut is subsidies for big industries (oil, coal, pharmaceutical) and military spending. How do these subsidies benefit most people?
Almost everyone agrees that our country’s infrastructure needs to be rebuilt. Republicans have blocked that, even though it would create many jobs, which would create more jobs in turn, and benefit us all economically. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it seems their reason is because if it succeeded, President Obama would get the credit.
Republicans have made a big fuss about the Benghazi incident, in which an American ambassador was killed. What they fail to say is that they insisted on cutting the security budget to embassies around the world. So ultimately, they have as much responsibility for what went wrong at Benghazi as anyone. They invite everyone to blame the president, though, and many have.
Immigration is another issue that has many panicked. What few people seem to realize is that several US policies are responsible for a lot of it. NAFTA undercut Mexican agriculture. What are Mexican farmers who can no longer make a living supposed to do? Many of them come to this country (often illegally) to start over.
The War on Drugs has created a lot of drug gangs in various parts of Latin America to obtain the drugs and smuggle them, and there’s enough demand to make these gangs rich and powerful. Some seem to be in the process of taking over governments (if they haven’t already). Those countries are generally poor, corrupt, and violent. Can YOU imagine sending your underage child ALONE to travel a thousand miles (more or less) on the (not very good) chance that they’ll be accepted into a wealthy country more stable than your own where they might have the possibility of building a decent life? What kind of circumstances would prompt YOU to do that?
The arrival of these immigrant children has been met with hysteria (encouraged by the Republican party, which has also blocked meaningful immigration reform). People believe poor immigrants will take American jobs, for one thing. Actually, poor immigrants have been doing work ordinary Americans didn’t want to do for a long time, and their arrival has usually been economically beneficial to the country. People also imagine them to be terrorists, conflating them with radical Muslim groups who don’t like the USA. They also imagine them to be carrying the Ebola virus (mostly confined to western Africa) or other illnesses, for which there is little if any evidence.
The other thing many Americans don’t realize is that US foreign policy has been intervening in the Latin American world for a long time, more often AGAINST democracy than for it. Would you support any other country intervening in OUR nation that way? All those things have influenced the rise in people trying to immigrate to this country. If we were to let our neighbors run their own countries in their own way without intervening in favor of our business interests, the citizens of those countries just might prefer to stay home.
Republicans have been using terror to influence Americans, and that has worked pretty well for them. American voters tend to be impatient, to have poor memories, and not to know a lot of history, let alone economics. And I don’t want to even get started on how they use religion to manipulate.
One of the other reasons the election went as it did was because most of the seats up for election were in red states. That won’t be the case two years from now. Republicans now have the opportunity to make things better for ALL Americans, and not just their wealthy constituents. I hope they take it, but I don’t think they will. I think they’ll continue doing what they’ve been doing, calling for tax breaks for the wealthy, trying to sabotage any initiative that will help the environment, suppressing poor and minority voters (probably another factor in their recent success), and blocking any initiatives that WILL help most Americans. If they do that, I don’t think they’ll be very successful in the election two years from now.
But Democrats need to be more aggressive too. If they want to succeed, they need to learn from the examples of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They also need to use some of the Republican tactics against them: block any attempts to roll back healthcare or Social Security, and expand those programs instead. Emphasize they’ve done things (like healthcare) that benefit a LOT of Americans, and will do more if they get enough support. If Republicans try to do the things they’ve been doing lately, use the filibuster against them. Change the system so Democrats don’t HAVE to depend on big money to get elected. In short, really ATTACK the Republican agenda. I think that’s an agenda most Americans don’t want, and will vote against if they get the chance, and understand the issues. Democrats need to make sure they DO understand the issues.

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5 Things you CANNOT disagree with

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Five things you CANNOT disagree with:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.
2. What one person receives without working for, another must work for without receiving.
3. The government cannot give to anyone what the government doesn’t first take from someone else.
4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it.
5. When half the people get the idea they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them; and the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because someone else gets what they work for, that is the beginning of the end for any nation.

These statements were posted on Facebook by a friend with whom I went to high school, and I managed to disprove the title of the post by disagreeing. Let me explain why.

You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity. No, but you can legislate against the ways wealthy people take advantage of the poor, and legislate to create more equal opportunities. For example, predatory lending. Companies lend against people’s next paychecks or their car titles. They also charge really high interest on the loans, which land poor people in deep debt. One of my coworkers had to have surgery, didn’t heal well, had to have several subsequent procedures, and wasn’t able to work again as soon as expected. Because of that, her paycheck (not high in the first place) got garnished. She was just about to pay off one of those debts when the person she was paying said they had no record of her payments. She had to start all over again, and lost her house and car. Most of us have other options when we need money. She didn’t.

What one person receives without working for, another works for without receiving. That sounds axiomatic, but who does it refer to? Absentee landlords might receive without doing the work of maintaining their properties. Corporations receive subsidies. Do they deserve them? The implication is of the stereotypical poor person receiving welfare, the “welfare queen”. One of my friends, a social worker for 25 years, told me he never met one.

Government cannot give to anybody anything it doesn’t first take from someone else. When I mentioned this one to a friend, he replied, “True, but irrelevant.” Why do we have government in the first place? If government is evil, why would anyone want to have one? Anarchism is a nice fantasy, but history tells it doesn’t work. Governments (according to the Founding Fathers) are supposed to protect ALL their citizens. If they’re too weak, they can’t. Consider Russia, China, and Germany in the last century. They were too weak to keep from being taken over by fanatics. One of the ways government is supposed to represent all its citizens is by providing equal justice. That’s always been a problem in this country, as in the rest of the world. Governments aren’t supposed to arrest, imprison, or kill without good reasons. They ARE supposed to prevent theft and extortion. When elites run a government strictly for the benefit of elites, that’s not good for most. We then get ideas about how certain groups are “unnecessary” or “immoral”. That’s an excuse to exclude them, or worse. I think we all are supposed to contribute something to make the country and government work. It makes sense to me that those who have prospered more because they live in this country ought to contribute more. Many think they should have to contribute less.

You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it. Why not? Is one person supposed to have ALL the wealth? Money will never be divided absolutely evenly in a society, but if more people have it as a resource, more people can contribute to the health and wealth of the society. The question this proposition raises is, should any society be exclusive or inclusive? If it excludes, does it get the best possible contribution from all its members? I think American inclusiveness has generally benefited the whole society. I don’t think it has included ENOUGH.

When half the population gets the idea they don’t have to work because the other half is going to take care of them; and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.

This is the proposition I identify with least. What kind of society doesn’t take care of ALL its members? According to Rick Ungar, in an article in Forbes Magazine, most people who don’t pay income tax are people with disabilities or illnesses, students, soldiers in active duty in a war zone, the elderly, and those who don’t make enough money to pay income tax and raise their children too. Forcing any of these groups to pay taxes would force them to go on welfare. And not paying income taxes doesn’t mean they pay NO taxes. Those able to work can’t choose not to pay payroll taxes. Those buying things pay sales taxes. And there are excise taxes on commodities like gasoline, on which most people rely.
Recent stories have said that Wal Mart employees frequently have to get food stamps to get by, which means that Wal Mart is making its profits from YOUR tax dollar. Do you approve of that?
Do you approve of the government bailing out Wall Street, but not the people who unwisely bought mortgages they couldn’t pay? If the companies selling those mortgages represented them accurately, would people have bought them?
When I express my liberal opinions someone will occasionally accuse me of jealousy. I don’t think that’s true. I live a pretty comfortable life, though I support my stepdaughter and her two children, and sometimes help out friends. If I sometimes don’t feel like working, it’s not because I don’t want other people to live comfortably too. People have helped me when I needed help. Not everyone has people in their lives willing to help, but I suspect many successful people do. For those who don’t, people from broken homes, unable to go to good schools, does it make sense to deny them help? Do that on a large enough scale, and you can foment revolution.
Does it make sense to help people who are already doing well? Corporations can afford to lobby effectively for that help. Those with less money usually lobby less effectively.
Lobbying by various groups has borne some interesting fruit. Industries left a number of large cities for places where they could pay employees less and not have to obey environmental regulations. Their departure destroyed some cities, whose residents now can’t get decent jobs. The companies mistreated employees in other parts of the world, and increased industrial pollution. Are these good outcomes? They’re exercises of power, and many powerful people exercise power for their own benefit, and no other reason.
Other interesting fruits of lobbying include deregulation. In the 1980s that led to leveraged buyouts, where one company would buy another, sell all its assets, and loot its pension fund. They left the employees behind without comparable jobs. I would call that theft. I don’t know what you’d call it. Deregulation also increased industrial pollution. Climate change deniers call the changes advocated to reverse or manage climate change (which, most scientists say, is largely due to human activity) dictatorial. I call polluting and degrading the environment we depend on for life without legal consequence dictatorial. Many will disagree, but I believe this is a place government has let us down.
In the 1990s downsizing became fashionable. I expect companies to downsize when they’re not doing well. They have to reorganize to produce and sell their products more efficiently. In the 90s companies with good, even record profit-margins, would downsize. No doubt they had other rationales, but I see that as depriving employees of the profits they helped to earn. In other words, theft.
Lobbying also presented us with NAFTA, which Ross Perot said would create a vast sucking sound as jobs left our country. Is there any question that he was right? It also, according to news I heard this morning, has created an imbalance of trade between us, Mexico, and Canada. We’re buying much more from them than they from us. Was NAFTA a good idea? If so, for whom?
One comment on my post replying to the above propositions was that the military is what keeps us safe in a violent world, but that the military is the only department of government facing cuts. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that. Republicans are constantly talking about cutting Medicare, Medicaid (if not ending them and Social Security), and have already ended unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed. The latter would make sense if those unemployed were simply lazy. Considering all the jobs sent abroad, does that seem plausible?
On the state level, teachers, police, and firefighters have been laid off to manage budgets. Any responsible person wants the government to cut spending. Does it make sense to cut it there?
A government that serves only the elites (who can pay politicians for services rendered) is not a good government. It’s the kind of government most countries in the world have, but this country started out with a better idea. That idea is familiar enough that I shouldn’t have to quote it for anyone.
The post I’ve been talking about had this for a heading: 5 truths you CANNOT disagree with. Who has the right to tell me, or anyone else, what I can or can’t disagree with?

Ayn Rand and her philosophy

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Last week I wrote a poem about Ayn Rand and the Randites. I read her two most famous novels in my teens, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. The first I didn’t actively dislike. I could sort of agree with the hero’s point of view, and sympathize with his inability to make a living following his dream. I could somewhat understand his pity for the man who stole and bowdlerized his work, and his eventual unwillingness to allow his work to survive in impure form. But for me there was something off about the novel. For one thing, the sex scenes didn’t seem very sexy to me, something quite important to me then. Was it because they were written from a woman’s point of view? I don’t know if that was it or not.
Atlas Shrugged I more actively disliked. Mainly for its dogmatism, which seemed to me its primary message. I could understand the idea of people who are parasites taking power away from the people who do the really valuable work, but resented the insistence that I had to agree with the thesis.
The books were interesting in a way, but I didn’t find them terribly important. Only recently have I discovered that some prominent people have taken them seriously, have decided they know who the parasites are, and are currently warring against them.
This is part of a greater war, conservative against liberal, which takes place in an atmosphere of distortion. Not all conservatives are inspired by Rand. Her atheism is a turnoff to some, who are traditional conservative Christians, but her narrative seems to fit into theirs: that parasites are poor, usually with dark skins, live on welfare, and vote for Democrats. There’s just enough truth in the stereotype to make it plausible to many.
That greater war has to do with the struggle between Capitalism and Communism. Rand was Russian, had been educated in Russia, and was rather brilliant, speaking several different languages. Her family was Jewish, but non-observant, and she decided in her teens that she was an atheist. After graduating from a university she managed to come to this country in 1926, before the worst of Communist rule there began, but had probably seen some pretty terrible things. Once here, she sought work in Hollywood, where she worked as a screenwriter and costume designer, along with many odd jobs. She sold at least one screenplay, had a play produced, published her first novel, We the Living, in 1936, and a novella, Anthem,before publishing her first bestseller, The Fountainhead.
She endorsed laissez-faire capitalism as the best system for promoting individual rights, including property rights, and defined evil as initiating violence. Her views could be paradoxical, though. She supported Israel’s 1973 war against Arab countries, as “civilized men fighting against savages”. She also approved of Americans taking the western hemisphere from the Indians.
I’ve heard more about Rand in recent years because she seems to have become a conservative icon. Some prominent politicians have said she greatly influenced them, including Paul Ryan, who later tried to back away. He’s Roman Catholic, and she was an atheist who supported abortion. That doesn’t go over well in some conservative circles, but her endorsement of capitalism does.
I, however, have trouble with some aspects of capitalism. I’m not sure Rand ever knew (or acknowledged) the extent to which capitalism has been based on violence. Slavery was capitalistic. The labor movement and Communism were born as a reaction to Capitalism. And it’s not like Communism didn’t try to make a profit. They just denied profit-making to most of their population, forcing it underground.
Capitalism in this country wasn’t quite as overtly brutal, though it’s had its brutal aspects and episodes. Underpaying workers and violently breaking strikes, of course, but that brutality extends to brutality to the earth and its resources too, which I think is going to have even worse repercussions.
Wendell Berry, the fine writer who is also a traditional farmer, farming land his family has owned for 200 years, compared the migration of farmers (in The Unsettling of America) to the city to work in factories with the forced migrations and expropriations of Stalinist Russia. In this country, economic force was used, usually not military, but it was still force. Many farmers were forced off their land because they could no longer make a living if their farms weren’t big enough. They didn’t necessarily like working in factories, but had little other choice if they wanted to make a living. And when they struck for higher wages and better working conditions, they were often met with violence. That’s why unions were formed, and why unions often met violence with violence.
Another problem with the shift of the nature of the country from agrarian to industrial was that many fewer people could be self-sufficient, and capitalism by this time one hundred years ago was discouraging self-sufficiency through advertising to sell more products. As the century went on, more and more family farms disappeared, to be replaced by factory farms, and these farms were industrialized with the addition of tractors, artificial fertilizers, and artificial insecticides. These increased production, but also greatly increased costs, and Berry makes the case that careful farming’s production isn’t that far less than industrial farming, which he says is usually careless. It plants where it ought not to, encouraging soil erosion, allowing fertilizer to be washed into rivers, and is in other ways careless with the land. Planting the same crop on the same acres year after year drives down its fertility, and land sometimes needs to lie fallow for a year or two to allow its fertility to return.
Parallel problems are in animal husbandry. Animals are imprisoned where they can hardly even turn around, and dosed with antibiotics to prevent disease (which may increase antibiotic-resistant bacteria). Male chicks are ground up alive because the farms have no use for them. The chicken we eat is all female. The industrial motto is, Bigger is better. And profit is its only ethic.
Berry says small farmers used to be able to survive in part because they could sell the produce they didn’t need locally. Regulation in the name of sanitation changed that. One such regulation was the requirement to store the milk a farm produced in a tank. The catch was that a farm had to have a herd of at least thirty cows to be able to afford such a tank.
Regulation is an issue in other industries. Coal, oil, and other miners and manufacturers dump their wastes anywhere they please, which is convenient for them, but not so convenient for those who have to drink the water they pollute. Being large enterprises, they’re able to have regulations changed, or prevent them from being enforced. Small farmers didn’t have that power.
Convenience has been a selling-point of capitalism, but capitalists have wanted to make people pay as much as possible for it. Electrification of rural areas was rejected for a long time, because electric companies didn’t believe it could be profitable. When a program was pushed through to provide electricity to a remote area in Texas (where Lyndon Johnson grew up), electricity made the lives of ordinary people immeasurably easier. Before that, the drudgery there had been brutal.
But convenience isn’t always a sufficient justification. That which is convenient isn’t always a good idea. Plastic is an example. We make almost everything out of it, but it doesn’t biodegrade. The impact of this isn’t immediate, so we don’t generally notice, but eventually we will, as the world fills up with trash, which interferes with natural processes.
Reliance on coal and especially oil for energy has also been convenient, while plunging us into several wars to ensure our supply doesn’t get cut off. The air pollution it has produced has been less convenient, but hasn’t been enough to move us to other energy sources.
Coal companies essentially conned people living in the Appalachians out of their property, forced them to work in mines to support themselves, and took the profit made out of the states where it was made. After deep mines (where working conditions have always been dangerous), companies began strip-mining: digging up the land to get to the coal, which destroyed the productivity of the soil. They also began blowing tops off mountains to get to the coal, dumping the waste anywhere they pleased, including rivers and streams, without concern for the health problems that caused people in the area, and potentially further downstream. That’s laissez-faire, and it’s violent.
I don’t see much evidence that Rand was aware of this side of Capitalism. She preferred the system, understandably, to Communism, but didn’t see that both were exploiting natural resources in similar destructive ways, and that Capitalism’s brutality was only less overt than Communism’s.
I find her writing interesting partly because she’s trying to construct an overall philosophy which seems to have no room for families, children, and ordinary people. She has heroes and heroines, and what she calls “second-handers”, who take advantage of the creativity of others. No one else seems to exist.
In her philosophy she opposes all forms of religion or mysticism, and considers all knowledge to be based on the physical senses. I think in doing this she closes a door to other forms of knowledge that others testify do exist, though they’re often misunderstood.
And ironically, though she claimed to be in favor of freedom and human rights, she was extremely dogmatic, as I mentioned above. She founded a movement she called Objectivism to spread her views, and attracted a number of people to it. Nathaniel Branden, with whom she had been very close, she eventually expelled from it. He, in turn, apologized in an interview to Objectivists for “contributing to that dreadful atmosphere of intellectual repressiveness that pervades the Objectivist movement.” Was the repressiveness he mentions what Ayn Rand really wanted?
In some ways I have to admire her. She was a strong woman, who overcame a number of things. She escaped from the Soviet Union, struggled to succeed in this country, and wasn’t successful for some time. When she was successful she had to overcome disdain for her work. Though some, and eventually many liked it, there were from the beginning many critics who thought it badly done and philosophically shallow. It’s possible that she found being a woman in a man’s world difficult, and perhaps being Jewish too.
But I think she got onto a wrong track, that people following her also misunderstood what she was saying, and drew wrong conclusions from it. She was an apologist for laissez-faire capitalism, which is as liable to corruption as any other human endeavor. She opposed “collectivism”, by which she meant Communism, but individualism (which she supported) is too often understood as being allowed to do anything one wishes, regardless of the rights and welfare of others. Capitalism can be as totalitarian as Communism. And in a complex society individuals can’t succeed without at least some cooperation from others.
She said she opposed the initiation of violence, but the system she supported has often initiated it. As have many other systems. She opposed regulation of Capitalism, but Capitalism (like humans in general) doesn’t have a good history of self-regulation.
She was, like many, a paradox unable to live completely up to her ideals. Her ideals weren’t entirely bad, and her insights weren’t entirely wrong, but I find her contribution more negative than positive. Others will surely disagree.

My Visit to Washington DC

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I recently visited Washington DC for only the fourth time in my life.

The first time was more than 50 years ago, when several of us went to a vigil outside the White House on the aniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. We all were Quakers, and that’s the kind of issue our variety of Quakers cares about.

My memory of the event is a bit hazy. We were outside the fence on one side of the White House, and I think the area on the other side of the street was residential, not commercial. We had eaten breakfast in a restaurant (an unusual experience for me then) before making our way to the vigil site. I remember our driving past the Pentagon on the way out of town.

I didn’t visit again until the 1980s, when a friend was working at the Smithsonian Institution for awhile. We missed connections the night I got there, so I found a place outside of town to park, and spent the night in my car. Getting into town the next morning was difficult, as the freeways resembled parking lots. Eventually I got there, connected with my friend, and spent time talking and looking around the Smithsonian. I was also surprised, when I found where he was staying, to find iron bars on all the windows and doors. I hadn’t encountered that before, since I had lived in only a few big cities, and those some years before.

Just two or three years later I was there again, but didn’t spend much time in the city. We stayed at my companion’s sister’s place somewhere out in the suburbs.

This time the impression was more powerful than I remember from the first three. Lots and lots of traffic, for one thing. I came in from the south, exiting probably on 14th street, as I drove past the White House on my right and the Washington Monument on my left.

Just beyond that area is real city: all monumental architecture, cars and people all over, and apparently 2-3 parking garages each block. This crystallizes some of my worries for my country and the world: way too many cars, too much high tech, all powered by petrochemical fuel, which I think more and more to be a bad idea.

Most everyone I saw was busy, too. Not everyone looked important. There was a man playing a tiny version of a guitar on a street corner (and quite well too), but many people did look busy and very well dressed.

Washington has existed in my consciousness mainly as an abstraction, and it was intimidating to see it right in front of me, and imagine the many men (and some women) in expensive suits discussing just how things ought to go in the country. It’s a city where it must be difficult to avoid feelings of self-importance if you have any official position at all, and even more difficult as you ascend the ladder of success. I imagine people there talking about meeting challenges “realistically” in an environment that must distort consciousness simply by existing. As a center of power it draws many many people, and the kind of people attracted to power are often not very nice, or so I imagine.

That conclusion is drawn from the political news we all hear. Much of politics seems to be resistance to things that need to happen, like changing our way of life to live in harmony with ourselves, each other, and nature as well. The solution to those problems won’t come from politicians, most of whom are followers of their constituents, who seem to become a narrower and narrower group as money becomes ever more important, and the restrictions on political donations are repealed.

One member of a discussion on the recent Supreme Court decision on political contributions said that the decision was based largely on reluctance of the Court to limit free speech. That sounds fine in abstract, but in practice it means that the speech of those with money gets heard, while the speech of those without does not. That view was ironically echoed on DC license plates I noticed while being frequently lost that weekend: “Taxation without representation”. I was surprised, and looked several times for a “No” preceding that sentence, but couldn’t find one.

I was in town to meet an internet friend who is a prominent poet from Iran, and is currently touring in this country. Since I managed to spend most of the day being lost, we didn’t meet until much later than intended, but she was very kind, giving me several gifts from her country, food, reading some of her work to me, and letting me read some of mine. Regrettably, I wasn’t at my sharpest that evening, and couldn’t intelligently comment on what she read, but am grateful that she was so willing to spend time with a writer much her inferior.

Her name is Rosa Jamali, and anyone interested can find some of her work at Poemhunter.com. I hope some reading this will take the time to do so.

From what she said, I don’t think she cared much for Washington either, saying that she had done previous tours in Europe, where people were more polite, and the tours much better organized. I hope her tour is going better now. The bigness of Washington may not have struck her as negatively as it did me, since she lives in Tehran, which is also a big city.

She told me that when she travels people like to ask her political questions, which she prefers not to answer. Of course our mutual governments dislike each other, but that doesn’t mean that individuals of both countries can’t be friends. So she prefers to talk about artistic matters, which are, after all, her area of expertise, not only as a writer herself, but also as a teacher.

She comes from a oountry with a very ancient history, particularly compared with the USA. She said she’d like to see more attention paid to that history, but wasn’t too specific about in just what way. Iran, as most of the Middle East, had a much higher culture than did our European ancestors in the Middle Ages, and most in this country fail to realize just how much her country and the rest of that region influenced our own history.

Idries Shah, an Afghan writer, traced a number of these connections in The Sufis, pointing out how Muslim thinkers influenced Medieval Christian thinkers partly through the Crusades, when Christians and Muslims came into contact on a fairly large scale (and Christians in general didn’t behave very well), and partly through Spain, much of which was under Muslim control for almost 800 years. Shah cited the Troubadours as a phenomenon originating in Muslim countries, and pointed to Saint Francis as having been directly influenced by Sufis.

But she and I didn’t discuss that in any depth the night we met. I’d enjoy the possibility of meeting her again when I could better hold up my end of the conversation, but I doubt her schedule would allow that, even if she wanted to.

I was fortunate enough to stay with friends in the area–the trip would have been difficult if I’d had to stay in a motel. He and I were friends in high school, though never particularly close, so it was fun to find out more about his life, and to meet his wife for the first time. I greatly appreciated their hospitality and the discussions we had.

Impressions carried away? Washington is a city that seems to live by the idea that bigger is better, which I find dubious. It’s a very American concept, but one that doesn’t necessarily serve us well. One of my concerns is the powering of our civilization by petrochemicals, which are not only a finite quantity, but cause environmental damage both in their mining and in their use. Washington is probably little different from other big cities in their use, but add in its being a political power center, and there’s an electricity in the air that I suspect to be intoxicating and a frequent cause of bad behavior. At one point during the Bolshevik takeover of Russia, Vladimir Lenin remarked, “Es schwindelt,” meaning more or less, “It makes one dizzy.” I suspect many powerful occupants of Washington experience that frequently.

Technology builds on technology, as bureaucracy builds on bureaucracy, and our means of powering technology narrows the foundation on which on our lives depend: the ecology without which we could not live, but recklessly damage for short-term gain. A large majority of scientists agree that climate change, if not directly caused by human activity, at least severely exacerbates it. It’s not hard to extrapolate that it will take catastrophe for us to rethink our way of life, and begin to find a better way to live. The threat, though, is that millions, if not billions, will have to die to make the point clearly enough for people to agree, and try to find that better way.

The Hindu concept of Maya suggests that the world is real, but we do not perceive it accurately. When we base our politics and lives on power and possessions we are not following our best ideals, and that in itself distorts our perceptions. That’s not an easy habit to give up, though, having been the pattern of all human history that we know.

So my trip to Washington was  unusual for me, and interesting both as an experience and philosophically. It is, of course, a city in which power is on display, though much of the behavior associated with power is probably located in the shadows, where few are able to observe. As such, it probably isn’t a lot different from many major American cities, except in being the center of government in this country (not just A center of government).The experience may prompt further thoughts, so thanks to everyone who made my trip possible.

Oil Spills, Etc.

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We just had another major oil spill this past weekend. I remember the Exxon Valdes, and how my meditation teacher said the only way to prevent more of those was to reduce our dependence on oil. Obviously, that’s not the direction we’ve gone.

I read that oil has deleterious longterm effects on fish and other wildlife. I guess these organisms are eventually able to overcome the problems, but the BIG problem is that our technology is poisonous. Destroying the environment that gives us life for money (which I persist in seeing as an abstraction, compared to the natural world) seems to be an obviously bad idea, but almost all of us are connected to that way of doing things. I’m afraid the oil spill and the landslide in Washington state are just small examples of what we’re likely to see in the next years.

We don’t live in harmony with ourselves, let alone our neighbors, let alone the rest of the planet. Until we begin doing so we won’t be able to stop the trend towards destruction, let alone reverse it. Pollution (which includes climate change) I see as a problem that will persist for a very long time.

What will persist even longer is human stupidity. George Gurdjieff, mentioned in these posts before, said that two things are infinite: God’s mercy and human stupidity. Humans seem unable to learn anything much without the house falling in on them. Gurdjieff also said that when civilizations end people go crazy and destroy everything that’s been built up for centuries or even millenia. It looks to me like that’s happening now, which is pretty scary.

We’ve had at least 40 years to get ready for the end of oil and other petrochemicals, and have made what seem to me to be the wrong decisions every time. Our car engines have gotten more efficient, but people still like muscle cars, and we haven’t invested the time or money necessary to develop alternative energy sources. The reason again seems to money: energy companies want to extract the last nickle from oil, natural gas, and coal before considering any alternative energy source. Strip-mining and oil spills have been bad enough. Now we have fracking, which I think is even worse. Not only does it pollute (I don’t know to what extent), but it also seems to produce earthquakes; something I’d been hesitant to believe. I’d have preferred it not to be true.

In fact, our whole society is standing on shaky ground just because of our waste of resources, as if we didn’t have other problems. If we were rational we could decide to change our ways, but we’re not. At the same time that we’re using up our natural resources, we’re also fighting about science and religion, about race and class, and it seems very few people can talk about any subject that’s sensitive to anybody in a rational way. Is it because on some level we know we’re doing wrong, and feel guilty? That would make sense, because in my opinion, we certainly are.

My thoughts on this subject come from various sources. One is a book called Crossing the Rubicon, whose author pointed out that having cars run on electricity instead of gas SOUNDS good, but how is the electricity they run on to be generated? At present, the options are coal, oil, or natural gas. The very energy sources we need to stop using.

Other thoughts come from Wendell Berry, who is worried about our lack of concern for our environment in general, and for our method of food production in particular. Since he’s a farmer (traditional variety, of whom there are now few left), this point of view makes sense.

He says the industrial model of production, largely installed in the late 18th and 19th centuries, came to farms in the 20th. Maybe it was appropriate in other areas (maybe not, too), but it wasn’t appropriate for farms. Small farms, he points out, are generally better taken care of than the large industrial farms, and use much less in the way of artificial fertilizers and insecticides. The small farmer pays much closer attention to the needs of the land he farms than the industrial farmer can, and has more pride in his work. If he doesn’t have pride in his work, he doesn’t continue to be a farmer long.

But small farms started to be crowded out in the 19th century, and the process accelerated in the 20th. That’s a consequence of the idea that Bigger is Better. That’s not what the evidence shows. Bigger also makes for bigger catastrophes.

I visited Washington DC this past weekend, which seems like the epitome of what’s wrong with the country, and I’m not even talking about politics.

I was downtown, where all the architecture is monumental, not even including the monuments, and the traffic is horrible. Even on Sunday. There are cars everywhere, and it seems like about 2-3 parking garages per block. The Pentagon is nearby, and certainly hasn’t gotten smaller in the more than 50 years since I first saw it. Everything is high tech, which makes little sense when we’re actually entering an energy crisis. It doesn’t seem as if we are, since fracking is considered the new miracle technology, but the consequences of that seem horrendous to me. An energy crisis is intimately involved with an ecological crisis, which now seems inevitable. And probably not just one.

Dependence on oil, coal and gas don’t just pollute via the internal combustion engine, but in the form of plastic (and we put plastic, hardly biodegradable into just about everything), and in the forms of artificial fertilizers and insecticides. Those aren’t the only problems, either.

Many natural products are harmless in their natural forms, but when we distill them, they often become harmful. Especially if we overuse them. Gasoline is just one example of this.

Coca is an herb which is said to combat altitude sickness when chewed. It’s also the base from which cocaine is made. Cocaine has a legitimate use in eye surgery, but that’s probably not where you’ve heard of it.

The poppy is pretty harmless in its natural form, but from it opium, morphine and heroin are made, each more powerful than the former, and thus more likely to be abused.

Many grains and fruits produce alcohol, which, in the form of beer and wine are relatively harmless, but in the form of liquor is more harmful. Alcoholics have been with us quite awhile, and have contributed a great deal to societal chaos.

Antibiotics are very useful, but when overused become less effective, and the result is strains of microbes that are more and more difficult to treat.

Artificial fertilizers and insecticides are also made from petroleum, and often overused. Honeybees are dying in great numbers, and various insecticides seem to be implicated. Without honeybees, it will be very difficult to produce enough food.

Is that a big enough list of problems? Don’t count on those being the only ones. They’re merely the obvious ones.

The REAL problem is the way of thinking that makes it to okay exploit absolutely anything to make money. I could put that on capitalism, I suppose, but Communist regimes didn’t treat the environment any better. We’ve gotten into a dead-end street, and are accelerating down it. Almost all of us are implicated. That seems like the definition of insanity.

I think it was Gandhi who said, “Be the change you wish to see.” I can’t claim to have done that to any extent. That there may be people worse about it than I am is hardly comforting.

Money and Technology: The Alternate Worlds

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I tend to think of money as an alternate world, or creating an alternate world. Currency of the old-fashioned sort is derived from natural materials, but I can’t see it as part of the natural world. And now, when money is part of a computer memory as much as it is anything, I find it difficult to see it as anything but an abstraction. A very powerful abstraction, though.

I think money must have come into being with technology, as human societies became more complex. When you have cities instead of just tribes, a medium of exchange becomes necessary. Now it’s evolved into an ideology, and in concert with technology, insulates us from the natural world.

According to Camille Paglia, in Sexual Personae, humans created society to protect themselves from the destructive power of nature. On the one hand we piously talk about how nature gives us everything, but on the other, it can and does take everything away, often with little notice.

Humans have used technology to create worlds that were safer and more secure for themselves. But that effort became unbalanced and metastasized. Nature is the basis of our life, and while it’s legitimate for us to protect ourselves from her destructiveness (notice that nature is always referred to as a woman), the history of the western hemisphere seems to coincide (though the tendency must have started much earlier) with an exploitative attitude towards nature.

Wendell Berry, in The Unsettling of America says that although the exploitative mindset was always dominant in the European conquest of these continents, there was also always a nurturing strain, certainly among the farmers who decided that here was a good place to settle, and entered into a relationship with their land. He’s a farmer himself, farming land that’s been in his family for some 200 years, so he knows something of this from the inside.

But the paradigm of exploitation is dominant in this country and the rest of the developed world, as also in the former colonies. And it has reached the point of serious consequences. It’s more comfortable to deny that climate change is because of human activity as much as anything else. And even less palatable is the idea that climate change is a subset of pollution, which has several other unpalatable booby-traps waiting for us. As  various plant and animal species are driven into extinction, we have less of a foundation on which to live. But we don’t often consider that.

Technology hasn’t been content to create just artificial worlds: it’s taken to creating virtual worlds too. Farms are artificial worlds. Barns protect livestock from the weather, so they can be taken care of by farmers and used to produce milk or food. Crops are artificially planted every year and watched over to make sure they grow, insofar as the farmers can control that, so that farmers make a living, and the land continues to be fertile.

Virtual worlds include movies, TV and the internet.The worlds they invent have little to do with the natural world. They may include others, but are largely imaginary, even if based on realistic situations. Artworks aren’t supposed to take all your time and attention, but they become more profitable if they do.  Everyone who sells you something intends for you to keep on buying from them, to become obsessed with their product so that you wouldn’t just buy one time and then do something else. That’s the sense in which addictive drugs are the perfect product: once you’re hooked, no sales pitch is needed.

Berry says the exploiter’s approach is to make a killing, rather than a living, and to do as little work as possible. Work has become devalued, as something we all want to avoid. But do we have a right, he asks, to avoid it? Nature made farms possible, but didn’t provide them fully equipped. Human labor did that, and the farm may be seen as the archetype of how to live in nature: cooperatively rather than exploitatively. If we won’t cooperate with nature, eventually nature won’t cooperate with us.

And making a killing, attractive as it may be, is also a questionable activity. It usually means making a lot of money no matter the consequences to one’s self or anyone else. While capitalism has accomplished amazing things, the temptation to profit at any cost is inherent in it, and is a danger to the world and human society. Money is a very tempting idol to worship.

Maybe we’ve reached the position of the child who wants unconditional love to continue, even though he or she has reached the age of responsibility. If we refuse responsibility, certain things will happen, and we probably won’t like them. An old saying is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. That particularly applies to nature’s laws.

As a species we’ve been refusing responsibility a long time, and the bills are starting to come due. Money may have a certain kind of reality (inflation argues that it does), but it’s also a delirious dream that many of us would do almost anything for, without regard to the ethics or morality of what we do. Just because cyanide separates gold from ore doesn’t make soaking a mining area in cyanide a good idea. And internal combustion engines are among the leading producers of carbon dioxide at the same time that we’re destroying forests that would use the CO2 and provide us oxygen in return. One of the results of this seems to be not only excess CO2 in the atmosphere–one of the leading causes of global warming, but excess CO2 in the ocean, rendering the ocean too acidic to support life as it has in the past. One of many ways of destroying the foundation of life that supports us, as well as other plant and animal species. And what’s bad for other organic life is also bad for us.

These human activities are undertaken primarily for profit. Profit is sacred in the money universe, but in the material world it leaves out other values.

Wendell Berry points out that agribusiness as it is now wants to charge as much as possible for its products, while consumers want to pay as little as possible. Money is the dominant factor in this dynamic, while other values get lost.

Profitablility drives farmers to produce as much as possible, which means that farms have to be extremely large, and to use cruel and short-term strategies to produce as much  as possible. Quantity drives out quality in both the food we eat and the treatment of the land and livestock that produces it.

Traditional farmers came up with the idea of rotating crops and leaving certain areas of land fallow to ensure the land’s continuing fertility. Soil is a very complex phenomenon, and mistreatment can destroy its fertility ought not to be planted all. Profitability is an incentive to plant on such land, and not to rotate crops. It demands more of the soil than the soil should be asked to give. Artificial fertilizers and insecticides are also a bad idea, though they increase yield.They’re bad because they depend on petroleum and power to produce crops, instead of techniques that work in harmony with the natural world. They’re also at least questionable because they introduce chemicals into the environment whose effects we don’t know. That’s at least reckless behavior, and may have negative consequences we have little idea of. Greed prompts these illogical and unthought-out behaviors.

Native Americans had a different view of the land: it belonged to God, and COULDN’T belong to individuals. At least one chief of a western tribe foresaw our mistreatment of the land. Being unable to oppose it, he was resigned to it, but didn’t think it was right.

So money is our obsession, and the main thing we depend on. We would be on firmer ground if we depended on traditional skills to take care of our environment, but blind worship of technological fixes coupled with greed to make ever more profit blinds us to the dangers of our behavior.

Traditional farmers, on the other hand, HAD to have a whole variety of skills. A farm demands that kind of versatility. A farmer has to know how to do many things to take care of animals and crops, buildings, equipment, etc. Specialization has its place in society, but can become too narrow to the point of being unable to see alternative solutions to problems.

Farming was considered a lower-class activity, even though the rest of society depended on what the farmers produced. An innovation in this country was farms where individuals could own their own land, rather than being employees of large landowners. Obviously this wasn’t true in all areas, especially the South, but it was a lot more true than in Europe, where there was a great deal less land, and a formidable establishment that monopolized most of it.

So we now see the United States becoming a similar establishment, in which individual farmers are unable to survive. Berry points out that official thought on this in the 1960s and 70s was that this was good, and conceived agriculture’s productive capacity as a weapon to be used internationally. He doesn’t at all like the idea of food as a weapon, and also sees these officials as not realizing the social dislocations that the loss of family farms produced.

Things haven’t changed much since he was writing this book. There are no more family farms than there were then, and little for people to do in small communities, which is why drug problems are no longer confined to cities. When people feel trapped, drugs are one of the things they’re likely to turn to.

Family farms were once the source of a practical morality. Laziness would be punished in a pretty unmistakable way, so successful farmers weren’t lazy. They also realized that they would need help at times, so they helped their neighbors.

Such areas were the source of community, which is lacking in this country now. Loneliness and alienation have to do with the lack of meaningful community, which may also have to do with lack of meaningful work, but may also have to do with isolating effects of technology. TV, movies, and the internet may give the illusion of community, but not the real thing.

People now routinely leave the areas they grew up in and reinvent themselves elsewhere. That’s not intrinsically bad, but may not provide the sort of deep connection that humans really need. Not everyone wants to live where everyone knows them and everything about them, but may need that kind of environment more than they realize. Not all communities are good, but humans need community, which may have a lot to do with the fear and despair we see in contemporary society. Too little community means little trust, and inability to trust leads to fear, and fear leads to terribly destructive behavior.

Family farms may have provided a corrective to that sort of loneliness. They wouldn’t have prevented loneliness entirely, but they did provide roots that many of us now lack.

They also were units of independence. Traditional farmers had to be able to do many things, and the result of their work was being able to support themselves, with minimal dependence on anyone or anything else.

That sort of independence is highly praised, but doesn’t actually exist in many places now. Most of us are dependent on the power grid and the mass transportation that brings us our food, our cars, and the fuel for them. Without those things we don’t survive–unless we take the trouble to learn the skills of survival.

Money and technology have transposed survival into a different world from nature. We are dependent on both. And the alternate and virtual worlds are a contraction of consciousness of both our actual condition and how to solve the problems brought about by the very tools (now become idols to worship) that we thought would set us free.

 

A REALLY Free Market

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A lot of people say that the free market would fix most of our problems if it wasn’t restricted. So let’s deregulate it and see how it looks. I think it was Adam Smith who said that competition would make everything come out right for everybody, calling it an invisible hand, or something. Here’s my vision of it.

     If the market is COMPLETELY free, that would mean fraudulent products would be expected, and not punished. A market in which anyone can sell ANYTHING, and anyone can buy, as long as they can afford the product. Would you like your neighbor to have an atomic weapon, or a chemical/biological one? If he can afford it, it’s just a matter of time. How would you defend yourself if he decides to use such a weapon against you? That’s your problem.

     Of course, most of your neighbors won’t be able to afford such things, fortunately or not. One thing they WILL be able to afford is drugs. In a truly free market, none of those will be illegal anymore, nor will you need a prescription to get them. You’ll be able to buy them over the counter, and use them any way you please. You may not want to buy them yourself, but you won’t be able to stop anyone else from doing it.

     And in a really free market, anything is permissable that makes a profit. Pollution is just a side-effect of business, and if you use up resources that might be scarce it’ll be a problem only if you don’t make a profit out of it. In a truly free market you won’t be liable for ANYTHING.

     Since profit is the measuring stick, you can make or grow anything that’s profitable, and why waste your time on something only marginally profitable? Do something to make yourself BIG profits. Whatever the market will bear.

      Since there won’t be any restriction on what you can buy or sell, you may have to make an effort to keep your children out of the hands of kidnappers. Don’t assume they won’t be kidnapped just because you can’t afford to pay a ransom. Without restrictions, slavery will be back in, and your son or daughter might make some owner very happy, depending on how he or she defines happiness.

     You can avoid that problem, of course, if you can afford your own armed guard (or guards), assuming that they’re trustworthy (which may be a function of how much you pay them). What may be more difficult is preventing your children from buying or selling drugs. Of course you may not be concerned about that.

     Since there won’t be any government agencies mandating quality control, you’ll have to be aware who the trustworthy producers are, and be willing to pay more for their services. There will be more products to choose from, but their quality may vary widely.

     And when it comes to food, if you don’t grow your own, you’d better be sure you can trust the people you buy from.

     The same for medical care. If you don’t know the people you’re dealing with, you’re likely to find yourself overcharged and underserved. Unless you can find trustworthy insurance, a really bad illness can destroy you financially. On the other hand, you’ll have a lot more treatments and drugs to choose from, since none will be illegal. But many may be ineffective too. There may well be more illness too. Since pollution is no longer illegal, there will be even more than there is now. What’s going on in West Virginia at this moment will have spread around the entire country. Clean water will be an increasingly rare resource. It would have been anyway, but pollution will make it even more so. Maybe people will decide that selling clean air will be a profitable business too.

     The totally free market won’t have tort law, so you won’t be able to sue anyone you think didn’t treat you right. That’s when a private army might come in handy. If you can’t afford that, you might find that being in one is a good way to make a living. There are likely to be a lot of job opportunities in that field.

     Of course there will probably be a lot of booms and busts. Manipulating the stock market won’t be illegal either, so you’d better buy stock only if you’re very sure you know what you’re doing. That’s another field likely to have job opportunities.

     Being a policeman, fireman or school teacher may be profitable, too, on a lower scale.  Wealthy people will be likely to pay well, if you’re competent. If that’s not your strength, you may be able to make a living from poor people, who will also have to pay for services. But since they can’t afford much, they won’t exactly get the best.

There will certainly still be a military, but it probably won’t be run by any elected government. The probability will be a private contractor, who will be allowed to charge quite a bit for the service provided. The question will be just who he’s going to charge. That service alone could keep most people in the country in debt.

And that may be another area where there will be job opportunities. Not that they’re likely to pay very well. The really high-paying jobs in the field will go to those who satisfy the criteria of private armies, who can afford to pay for the best. Some may be able to work up from the national army, of course.

Keeping the nation’s highways in shape is another thing likely to keep the average citizen in debt. Maybe most roads will become toll roads. Maybe more people will start walking to work.

There are likely to be fewer people, though. Since there won’t be welfare, social security, medicare or medicaid, a lot of people will be unable to survive, but there are too many people now anyway. Get rid of the less useful, and there will be more for those left.

Immigration may possibly go in a different direction than it’s been going since this country began. Maybe Mexico, Canada or other further removed countries will get the poor this country has historically gotten. How that will work out remains to be seen, though. Maybe those other countries will benefit. But it will take awhile to get a correct perspective.

There will probably continue to be a lot of people in prison, though. Such a profitable business can’t be allowed to shut down, even if the justice system is smaller and weaker than before. Prisoners are still needed to keep the profits rolling, so prison sentences may get harsher. Torture may also come back in as a form of public entertainment, from which further profits can be made.

For some reason, I see a really free market as dystopic. In a lot of people’s eyes, that would make me a Communist, or something. But I’m not a fan of Communism either, as it has been manifested in the past century. Something in between the extremes of Communism and Capitalism seems to me to be suitable, when you’re talking political systems. That middle ground would probably be socialism, which is usually a dirty word in this country, at least to a lot of people.

But another point of view would be that no political or economic system will perform well unless people in general become better. That was the point (or one of the points) of the Pharisees trying to discredit Jesus by asking him if people should pay taxes. Rome and its taxes were much hated, but Jesus doesn’t seem to have been worried about which government was in power. He was talking about things much more immediate,over which individuals had some control:: their own behavior. Enough attention was paid to begin a new religion, but not enough to prevent the Jewish people from two rebellions that did little but kill a lot of people.

Since we’re unlikely to get a new religion that will make much difference, and Christianity is unlikely to repudiate the bargain it has generally made with the free enterprise system, I think the above is a possible future. I’d just as soon be wrong, but we’ll see.