Welcome to Robert Warden's Box-Free Blog: the Psychology of a New World View
A Natural Lefty's 100% Organically Grown Brain Candy -- Here is Psychology in all of its ramifications for Philosophy, Spirituality and all of Science. This is the website that is not only outside the box, there are no boxes.
My name is Robert Warden, and I am a Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of California, Riverside. I currently teach at a local community college. These posts are mostly in the form of progressive series of short essays built around common themes. I also have updates and commentaries about things which are going on in my life or Eunice's (my wife's) life.
Most of these posts are also put on The Thom Hartmann Bloggers Group on Facebook, the Thom Hartmann Community Blog on Thom Hartmann's site. You can leave messages and comments in either of those places.
The Internal Language of Love
By way of one thing leads to another, I wish to discuss the language of our thoughts today -- particularly, the inverse of profanity and its power to shape our lives. I plan this also to be in a sense of preview of my next major writing project, although I will enjoy choosing from a variety of topics for the time being.
You see, the language in my mind, as I suppose it is for everyone, is both a reflection of who I am and a shaper of my reality. The language I use is by and large, the language of love. I suppose that profane people have a profane internal conversation. I certainly have an abundant amount of skepticism regarding that which has earned my skepticism, on the other hand -- even moral indignation and anger -- but my daily language is dominated by that which expresses love, compassion and empathy. Whether I was "born this way," I cannnot say as I have always been like this but I find it very doubtful that people would be born with nasty or nice thinking minds. I suspect that it goes back to my early life decisions as life experiences filtered into my inner being. I have known since my days of high school if not earlier, upon reading Carl Rogers work and his many ideas about self-determination and the human spirit, that personality is a life-long project which allows one's self to be the guide. Thus, in this essay, I will not need to provide links, except to my own thoughts and feelings. However, I did attempt to research this topic on the internet a few days ago, and essentially came up empty, so as far as I can tell, I am treading on new ground here.
I am not talking about the concept of one's mental energies attracting into one's life, what one wishes. I am also not necessarily referring to a placebo effect here, although that certainly exists. I am talking primarily about being one's thoughts and feelings, as the core of one's being and the true source of self-determination, or as it is more commonly referred to, free will. Mental energies are reflected in one's actions, and one's actions have a ripple effect to other beings, and are reflected back to the source. Making one's mental energies postive in the sense of being caring, loving, nurturant, and toward progress, makes one a better person -- a well intentioned person. I have often said that living a life of good conscience transcends other considerations for me. Purity of good intention in thought, emotion, and action reflects a loving, nurturing spirit and motivates us to create a nurturing, wholesome, healthy environment in which we can grow as people and thrive. This is something that I strive for throughout my life, although impossible to achieve perfection in this regard in this imperfect human life in our far-from-perfect world. (I am certain that Carl Rogers would approve of this message, as would the authors of the relatively new Self-Determination Theory, Edward Deci and Richard Ryan. Self-Determination Theory is an intellectual offspring of Rogers' theory, which discusses the importance of 3 basic needs: Competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Mental health depends on satisfying all 3 of these needs, which results in intrinsic motivation and the tendency toward self-actualization. Evidence for this theory which has only been around since 2000 has already garnered considerable support, although interestingly, collectivist cultures put more emphasis on relatedness, while individualistic cultures emphasize the other two basic needs more.)
I believe that our actualization as humans is not an individualistic endeavor, but rather is one of caring for the world around us as well as the people in it. Toward this end, we as individuals ought to apply our own unique talents, so individualism (related to "autonomy") does play a role, as do our competencies and of course our efforts to develop our competencies, but the final payoff is through relatedness, which is where the internal love talk comes into play. Ultimately, I believe it is through caring, concerted action which utilizes our collective and individual talents, that progressive reforms will be enacted together as a society, so yes, this topic for me is instrumental to progressive politics.
People who know me well say that I am "sweet" along with other flattering and endearing terms. That is no surprise to me. Even my mother called me the sweet one in the family yesterday. It's all a reflection of my internal love talk, merely a side effect of my mentality as appreciated by those who perceive it.. (I try to be modest too, but sometimes being modest and honest at the same time conflict, and honesty wins, although I try to be honest about my shortcomings as well.) I often find myself saying loving things to my wife even when she is not there to here them, mentally or even out loud: "I love you, You-Nice" (a nickname for Eunice) or "Wo ai ni, Zunliang" in Chinese, and many other love-talk thoughts in our own little love-language. Since I can't always talk to them, I even say loving things and words of encouragement in my mind to certain close friends as well, who may be unaware of this, as yet. But it does not stop there. I may talk to a worm, a bird, a lizard, a plant, whatever -- my mother swears that plants grow better if one talks to them nicely -- and of course, a cat such as our Gorjilina, even if they do not understand the words. For example, I may pick a lizard which has become stuck in a small pond, out of the pond while saying something like "silly lizard, what are you doing in there?" I may pick a worm off the cement after a rain, and place it back in its home before it dries up and dies, saying "there you go back home, little worm" They may not literally understand, but I believe many animals can understand kind intentions. If I seem silly and childike to some, so be it. I know perfectly well how to act the way an adult is expected to when I need to, but I can also relate to other creatures on a level closer to their own level of understanding. The same is true of relating to children. I also suspect that the flow of energy from our minds may influence our surroundings and have a ripple effect. But for the nonbelievers in such things, belief in them is not necessary. The point is that the empathy, compasson, and love flowing from my being will be fortified with each thought of kindness, and any inclination to act out of selfishness, with disregard for the greater good, thus diminished.
The thoughts and feelings of which I write can also be reflected in prayer, and in my mind, there isn't much difference between such expressions of good intentions, and prayer, unless one believes that the powers that be require a specific format in order to grant prayers, or will not hear one's thoughts unless one "dials the proper prayer number." I obviously don't believe such things, but do suspect that our sheer mental energies may be sensed by entities present in the Universe, or at least send reverberations through our environment. In fact, I also "pray" for something good for another person or people every night as I go to sleep, not to a specific "God" but rather, whatever receptive, creative forces may be present in the Universe which may appreciate my sentiments. I do not know if these sentiments are being "heard" or not have any influence other than on myself, but I suspect they do at least in an incremental way, and if nothing else, it does reinforce my loving mentality.
Life doesn't always make acting from a place of love, or trust, or patience, easy, but it becomes much easier when one's internal conversation is based in love and good-intention, as one's internal becomes one's external. Over time, who we are becomes the kind of thoughts and feelings that we generate, whether loving, or otherwise. Each of us, as individual as the stars in the sky, may generate our own internal terms of endearment and love talk, and that is only fitting. I recall reading about one study of successful marriages -- I forget where now -- which discussed a couple who said "Shmily" to each other to express their love. That meant, "See how much I love you." But this topic is not just about relating to one's mate -- it is about how one approaches the entirety of life from a loving place.
I Swear People Cuss too Much (The Culture of Profanity)
This topic may offend some people, for totally opposite reasons, or it may be funny, but I am being serious as well as tongue-in-cheek at times.
Maybe it is just me, but I have noticed an increase in profanity online, along with an epidemic of... let me call it, cynicism. There have always been cussers around -- you know, people who can't complete a sentence without "fitting" the "f-word" or other expletives into it somehow (generally a very poor fit). I am accustomed to overhearing their conversations at the mall, the park, or other public places. But it's difficult to ignore when it's people you know using these words and you are reading them.
Now for the usual "my nice innocent family" discussion, cussing has been uncommon among all of my family members throughout my life -- not unknown, but uncommon. Perhaps that has something to do with my often visceral negative reaction to cussing. However, I believe that it goes much deeper than that. Consequently, I have been researching the personality traits of people who cuss a lot.
First, let me do an informal comparison of 3 websites with which I am familiar. My brief foray into MySpace found me disgusted at the crassness of the typical language being used there. I also noticed that MySpace users tended to be young and immature -- definitely not a good sign for the future when considering the culture I encountered there, but I believe that MySpace represents a particular youth subculture, and has been declining somewhat in popularity at that. Add to my difficulties relating to MySpace, the fact that I apparently fit some potential-victim-of-online-porn-vixens profile, and that the only people who wanted to be "friends" with me were young women who were trying to sell nude photos of themselves (which I of course declined), I deleted my account and headed for Facebook (at the urging of a friend from the Thom Hartmann Community, who called himself Dissident Priest at the time).
I have found Facebook much more agreeable, more emotionally mature, with smarter people who are willing to engage in deep conversations at times, about politics, religion, philosophy, science, the future of humanity -- you name it. However, relevant to the current topic, there is no lack of profanity on Facebook. In fact, it may just be my perception, but there seems to be an increase in profanity among Facebook users. I have come to expect it from some people -- while not really liking it -- but I must admit it bothers me more when presumably clean-living guy pals, and pretty, feminine, presumably wholesome female friends show an increasing tendency to resort to profanity. I think it may be a bonding mechanism for some people, but at the same time, it may repel other people. (I did see some research to that effect a few days ago, but haven't seen the same sources today.) In any case, it is my impression that along with widespread cynicism, the use of profanity has become a growingly entrenched part of the norm of Facebook language.
The third website is the aforementioned Thom Hartmann Community, which has the least cussing of the 3. However, it is far from non-existant. I in fact recall one of the moderators saying "F*** you" to another one of the moderators on this site. Perhaps the presence of moderators, however, along with the serious political content, and the influence of Thom's (by necessity of course) profanity free show act to squelch the tendency to use profanity, or perhaps people who post on this site are from a different subset of the population who cuss less. Various friends have followed me from the Thom Hartmann Community to Facebook, in fact, and none of them cusses. There are a couple of people who post on the Thom Hartmann Community who we would like to cuss at, but the strongest language we can seem to manage is "poopy-pants" or some such.
Let me explain what I don't like about profanity, before going into the personality research. Aside from my visceral negative emotional reaction to it, I find it utterly ridiculous. I mean, in particular what the h*** does the most common cussword, the "f-word" mean in context? I keep trying to imagine how we get to the point of saying "f this" or "f that." "I couldn't open the "f***ing door." Oh, maybe the door was preoccupied having sex so you should have waited for it to finish before trying to open it. The "f***ing library fined me for the book." So now, the library is having sex too. And so it goes. And then we have the "d-word," the "h-word," the "n-word," a couple of "b-words', and a few more I am sure. I suppose comparing women to female dogs is really appealing to the macho crowd, too. It is estimated the the average person uses cuss words 75 times per day. In contrast, I probably cuss about once every 75 days. Profanity is contrary to what I stand for. I may not always succeed and am not perfect, but I try to live with a purity of heart, mind, body, and spirit, and create a clean, wholesome, healthy environment. The use of profanity runs contrary to my spirit. I also must speak publicly and wish to act as a role model, not only at school, but online. The use of profanity is counter to these goals as well. Of course, I understand that most people use profanities frequently in the course of their lives, but that doesn't mean that I have to like it. I believe that the good use of language can find better ways to express any sentiment without using profanity. The use of profanity is a convenient "cop out" in my opinion.
There are uses of profanity according to online sources, too. In fact, to my disappointment, I found most sources, especially the informally written ones, defending the use of profanity, probably motivated by the authors' feelings of defensiveness regarding their own profligate use of profanity. Research shows that profanity can be cathartic ("blow off steam"), that it can be "funny," that it can help people to cope with pain, that people take profanity laced diatribes more seriously, and that it can act as a bonding device. However, there are counterarguments for even these. Catharsis is one of the most disproven concepts in psychology. Acting out anger only serves to create more anger in the long term. As far as profanity being funny, well, that's debatable and profanity loses its effect after a while. It's difficult to be offended and amused at the same time. Studies of coping with pain indicate that cussing only helps people who normally don't cuss, to withstand pain (http://wwbp.org/how.html). The use of strong language without resorting to profanity, in my opinion, is the best way to be taken seriously. With the bonding issue, of course, while bonding some people, it may be driving others away.
On the negative side regarding profanity, there really is no effective counterargument in favor of profanity, and thus, profanity loses the argument big time in my estimation. Let me give you the information. A Forbes article called "The Case for Cursing" by Victoria Pynchon (http://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2011/09/16/the-case-for-cursing/) cites research showing that cursing is associated with "traits such as extraversion, dominance, hostility and Type A personalities." That doesn't sound like much of a case for profanity, to me. The article from which the above quote was taken, "Why Do We Swear" by John M. Grohol, discusses the reasons that people swear, as I have previously mentioned. The single most enlightening source that I found was an article entitled "Determining Personality Traits and Privacy Concerns from Facebook Activity" by Chris Sumner, Alison Byers and Matthew Shearing (https://media.blackhat.com/bh-ad-11/Sumner/bh-ad-11-Sumner-Concerns_w_Facebook_WP.pdf). While the privacy concerns aspect of the article was also interesting, I will focus on the use of language section.
In terms of the Big 5 personality traits, there were numerous significant findings. Extraversion did not seem to correlate with cussing, although extraverts were more friendly, conveyed more positive emotions and talked more about biological processes, especially eating, compared to Introverts. Next, Agreeableness was associated with positive emotion words such as "love," "nice" and "sweet." Previously, I had seen that Agreeableness is negatively correlated with cussing, but apparently that was not found in this study. More to the point, Conscientious people were found to swear less. The opposite of Conscientiousness would be something like irresponsibility, definitely not a good trait to have. Concientiousness was also correlated with positive emotion, and negatively correlated with anger and language about death. Neuroticism, a basically maladaptive trait, was correlated with the use of more swear words, as well as with negative emotions in general. Regarding Openness to Experience, there was apparently no correlation with swearing. The main finding appeared to be that Open people were more likely to talk about sensitive and potentially upsetting topics such as money, religion and death. It appears that most of my friends as well as myself, are Open to Experience according to these results.
A second Facebook study, sponsored by the World Well-Being Project at the University of Pennsylvania, had similar results, finding in particular that higher levels of swear words were associated with lack of Conscientiousness, and with Neuroticism (http://wwbp.org/how.html).
I suppose that a major cusser might say "What the f***. There is nothing I can do about my personality anyway," or have any number of reasons for defending their cussing. However, personality is in fact pliable; it is not set for life, and research shows that it does tend to shift over time, and that self-determination factors into these changes. In other words, we can to a large degree, become the persons we wish to be, if we care enough to put in the necessary effort. Also, research on the Big 5 traits clearly shows many negative outcomes for people who are low on Conscientiousness and high on the Neuroticism trait, with no compensating positives. Similarly, we know that the Type A personality mentioned earlier, as well as hostility at least, is associated with negative outcomes. Consider these findings the next time you feel like telling someone to "f*** off."
Perhaps those of us who endeavor to use clean language along with a trusting approach to life and a wholesome lifestyle, may have a mark on our backs saying "abuse me" in the eyes of some, but we are not as stupid as those people think, and we at least do not sabotage ourselves with uncalled for negativity, the type which seems to be inherent in the culture of profanity.
The Dust of My Father's Memory
Yesterday, Eunice and I went to my parents' house to celebrate my mother's birthday, which is Tuesday. Eunice brought some of our catch from Friday's fishing trip plus some veggies from our yard, to cook for dinner. After seeing Eunice direct the cooking and dinner process in her usual fashion, and being glad that my mother liked her freshly caught Channel Catfish and Marybel the health care worker liked her fresh Redear Sunfish, we all sat at the dinner table and talked for quite a while.
Amid another distressing family revelation and assorted other topics which slid in and out of my consciousness, the topic of my father's fishing equipment was mentioned. At that point, I felt I had to take a look, and bring some of this memory home with me. I went to the garage, alone, turned on the light, and saw the garage looking uncsutomarily sparse in belongings. There was a familiarity to the tackle boxes and creels on the right side of the room, though, and the closet stuffed with fishing poles on the left. The old equipment seemed to call to me, as though my father was directing me -- first, to the fishing poles. I found several poles which looked as though they had barely been used, nicely set up with line-loaded reels, plus weights and swivels on the end of the lines. There were also two dusty old fly rods, though, in the back of the closet. There was even one of those Zebco childrens' rods with a closed faced reel. When I opened up the reel, there was no line on it. The thing was kept there solely as a momento. I even saw what appeared to be a piece of a broken rod in the closet, surely another bitterwseet momento.
I started checking the reels to see if I could reverse the handles to the other side so I could fish left-handed with them. Two of them were easy transformations, another required a screwdriver to switch, and a fourth, seemed stuck in place even when pressure was applied to it via a wrench. All the while, I could feel my father's approval of my behavior, memories and sentiments; he seemed to be present in the room with me, hovering nearby and enjoying the work of his natural lefty fishing partner son. Having prepared three fishing poles, with ready reels, I turned my attention to the other equipment. There were what appeared to be 3 tackle boxes, but upon opening, two had tools for home use, and only the oldest, familar old blue metal tackle box, with a bit of rust, had fishing equipment inside. However, as with me, my father usually used creels instead of tackle boxes, and I found two creels full of fishing equipment nearby. My bittersweet feeling intensified as I noticed the fishing license pinned to one of the creels. It was from 2007 and was apparently my father's final one. I half wanted to cry, and half wanted to smile. I knew that my father understood.
That's the thing about life in practice; it's so complicated even when things go well, and even when first principles seem clear and simple. My emotions are just as complex. I was reminded of how just on Friday, my highly successful fishing trip with Eunice ended in the laughter of comedic errors, as so often happens in life when we are sensitive to its details. We were using three fishing poles, but one was nearly out of line (but still catching fish that were swarming nearby, using little lures). That one stopped working when Eunice tried to reel it in but the reel jammed and wouldn't budge. Then, as it became dark, the other two lines became tangled together in the aftermath of catching a good size fish, so I had to cut one. Finally, after casting the remaining line out, a tangle ensued, and we couldn't see well enough in the twilight to untangle it. I guess someone was telling us that it was time to go home, so we headed back to the car, laughing.
Now, standing in the garage, I could sense the settling dust of my father's memory surrounding me, enveloping me in its love. Somehow, I knew that I was meant to have this fishing equipment, and all of the luck and blessings that it would bring. I took the 3 fishing poles and the 2 creels to the car, and left the rest -- for a while at least -- to stay in there cozy garage home in the residual energy of my father's memory. I have a feeling my father will be watching over me; after all, I am sure he isn't destined to spend the rest of eternity in the settling dust of his garage.
A Capital Idea part 157: Economic Humanism
The transition would be easy for me. I am not a businessperson; none of my immediate family members are businesspeople. We are all government employees -- combinations of either/or scientists, teachers, and health professionals. I don't depend directly on "customers," "advertising" or any such means in order to earn a living. Paychecks are relatively predictable in timing and amount, if not very large. Going to a resource based economy, working on a better world anywhere from the level of self-sufficiency, to local community, to national true democracy and making fascism obsolete, all the way to worldwide human rights through international humanitarian minded governance. only seems natural to me. However, I wonder about those steeped in business culture. How do we convince these people to change their way of life? How do we convince people who dream of glorious riches, or already have them, that there is such a thing as being too rich, in addition to being too poor, that the money they "earn" is not necessarily theirs, that the business model is not only unfair but exploitative, and that some people have far more than they deserve, while others have less than they deserve?
I keep thinking in terms of a great leap forward, in human consciousness, ethics and action which will overcome the capitalistic mindset. Given the business culture which dominates much of society, it seems unlikely that this large and powerful aspect of society will transform itself spontaneously, but I believe it will eventually occur. Most likely the change in how business is done, will happen because the old business model no longer works -- because it will be unsustainable, unworkable for more and more businesspeople, and because major crises involving the entire world will require people to work together in new ways which reach beyond capitalism in order to solve them. Perhaps crises will precipitate sudden, revolutionary changes by people who are not invested in the capitalistic business model, but those who are indebted to this model have great economic power and will likely resist such changes, perhaps violently. I believe that most likely, a combination of factors will reach a tipping point. Perhaps it will be in some ways gradual, in others, sudden, much as biological evolution itself appears to include both sudden, amazing transformations, and gradual processes.
However, in thinking about this entire series of blog posts, I have come to realize that the revolution of which I have been writing, although it involves the concept of capital, has more to do with my psychological mindset than anything else. It is about a change in culture, a change in people's thinking, emotions and spirit. In other words, it is about psychology. All manner of brilliant technological innovations cannot save us from living in an exploitative and unfair society, and give us the nurturing society we deserve, if human culture does not change.
A few weeks ago, a relatively new friend on the Thom Hartmann site, Hans Nel, wrote a blog post which I think was entitled "Capitalism is a Bad Word." I have been dancing around this topic for quite a while, talking about different types of capital and how it can be used in good ways, in a resource-based economy for example. However, everytime I bring up the idea of having capitalism that works -- that is, operates in a non-destructive, environmentally, morally fair and sustainable way -- friends of mine inform me that they suspect this is not the case and that at the least, they are uncomfortable with that idea. I have come to think that they are correct in a sense -- in the sense that Hans Nel said that capitalism is a bad word. While I still believe that the things I wrote about developing a better economic system and human and political culture are true, I had a sudden realization that I should be focusing not so much on capital or reforming "capitalism," but rather, on creating an entirely new perspective on how humans can fit into the natural world in an economically sustainable and moral way. The term "Economic Humanism" immediately came to mind. It fits everything I have discussed in these many blog posts, and comes from my heart as a social psychologist who identifies strongly with humanistic psychology and finds it to have been a very positive influence on his life and personal evolution.
Why call my approach "Economic Humanism?"
1. It focuses on building a fair economic system, one which is built on ethical basis which upholds the rights of all humans, in keeping with humanistic principles;
2. Much as humanism focuses on nurturing self-actualization among people, my approach focuses on nurturing self-actualization on both the personal and collective levels, as people pursue worthwhile, greater good goals of all kinds;
3. My approach goes beyond humanism -- that is, concern for the welfare of human beings in particular -- by looking at the value of all life and the sacredness of this planet and its environment. Thus, it could be considered "economic environmentalism," "economic earthism," or "economic universalism" instead; however, being humans, our economic system deals with human concerns and wellbeing as it relates to our larger environment. Thus, the term "economic humanism" fits even though larger concerns beyond those of us human beings are relevant. After all, our wellbeing as humans depends upon the wellbeing of our environment.
There may be other reasons for calling my approach "Economic Humanism," as well. Perhaps some of you can think of some. I think I had another reason a moment ago, but my lousy short-term memory combined with self-distraction by other blog-related thoughts, made me forget it, at least for now (confused emoticon).
In short, I have attempted to describe an economic approach that is not only humane, but also nurtures our environment -- that describes a transformation that is not only ultimately practical, but in fact, I consider necessary for the long term success, peace and welfare of the human species. It is not "capitalism" as we know it -- a term whose use has been poisoned by conventional thought, anyway. It involves capital, but it is about much more than the growth of capital. It is about having an economy which serves the people, rather than the other way around. It is about limitless growth in ways that are limitless (our human potentials), and limiting growth in ways in which nature has created limits (our natural resources), and using our human potential for ingenuity and knowledge acquisition to help us effectively deal with the limits to our natural resources. It is ultimately practical, whereas the financial capitalist model is impractical, exploitative, and creates ever-increasing disparities in wealth and power, to no particular end or purpose.
I really don't have any further, pressing topics to write about in terms of my Capital Ideas, so at least for now, this is the end of the series, although new ideas regularly emerge. I will think about transforming my posts into book form, and meanwhile, am thinking of writing another series of blog posts about the impending, interconnected environmental, political and economic crises which I see as likely to catalyze the transformation of our human culture including its economic system, to a wiser, more evolved form.
A Capital Idea Part 156: Recycling the Dead
Aside from apocalyptic visions of the near future, and all the other problems that the 7 billion plus current human beings face as a species, there is the issue of where to put all the bodies. You see, it just so happens that my wife and I have been discussing just such topics lately. My father's passing, including the fact that he was buried in a cemetery plot, has precipitated awareness of this issue in both of us.
We may not like facing the facts, but the physical bodies of each and every of the 7 billion and more human beings alive today, will need recycling someday after the cessation of biological activities. Whether or not souls are recycled or reused, I don't know but I would like to think so. However, I do know for sure that our physical bodies are recycled. In this regard, the tradition of burying each body in a separate plot, and making the burial grounds essentially "sacred" and untouchable, is a poorly thought-out waste of land. It also is less sanitary than cremation. Places where cemeteries have been used for a long time, such as Europe (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1387932/Cemeteries-end-decade.html) and the eastern part of the United States (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/realestate/15cov.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), have already started running out of cemetery space.
In contrast to "Western" cultures, India has a Hindu tradition of cremation, and thus, India does not have the problem of having to set aside perfectly good land to serve as cemeteries. In mainland China, there have been burial plots, but the government is trying to stop this practice in order to save good land for other uses. The new trend in China is burial at sea (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57577964/china-pushes-citizens-to-take-burials-out-to-sea/), or under a tree, as my wife suggests http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-04/02/content_16369158.htm. In England and many other countries including the eastern U.S., cemeteries are running out of burial plots.
My internet searches were unable to uncover exactly how much land per dead person burial plots use, but it is clear that overall, burying people takes up a lot of land -- not just any land, but good land which is conveniently located, and could be used for other purposes such as agriculture, housing or shopping. However, doing a little calculation, if I make a conservative estimate of 100 square feet per burial plot, multiplied by 7 billion, that comes out to 700 billion square feet. One square mile calculates to 27,878,400 square feet. Dividing 700 billion by the number of square feet in a square mile, gives me a figure of 25,109 square miles. This is an area slightly larger than the state of West Virginia, which has 24,231 square miles. Keep in mind that the actual space taken per burial plot is probably a lot more than 100 square feet, and that presuming humanity does not go extinct, people will continue having children, and thus there will be far, far more than 7 billion human bodies to ultimately dispose of -- in fact no known limit to the total number of human beings existing over the millienia. Ultimately, cemetery land, as I have noticed in passing old cemeteries, become lawns with headstones of people who died long ago, and who no living person remembers. In contrast, cremation takes up no land, the ashes can be scattered wherever one wishes, or buried, and cremation prevents the potential spread of infectious diseases. Fortunately, cremation and other alternatives to burial plots in cemeteries are becoming more popular, as they need to be (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cemetery)
Aside from tradition, part of the reluctance by many of us to use cremation is perhaps a feeling of finality in the disintegration of the body, as though a dead body in a coffin might somehow be capable of revival. However, even bodies in coffins decay, and if the spirit does survive death, it clearly is not dependent upon the physcial body anymore. If some creative force of the Universe were to reconstitute our bodies, either in our original form, or recycled in some different body in a different form, such an entity is able to do so without access to the original body. Those who fear the cremation of the body, need to get over this psychologically.
When people are cremated in Taiwan, my wife tells me, prayers are said to the person asking them to release their spirits from the body. In my opinion, any spirit has already been released from the body when the person dies, but telling spirits to release from the body may help our attitudes toward cremation, if nothing else. My wife sometimes tells me that she wants to be cremated and spread on the ground be the Silver Dollar Eucalyptus tree in the backyard on the hill. The same treatment would be fine with me when my time comes as well, or perhaps some beautiful spot in a natural setting. We say these things in a joking way -- much as I joke about the way my wife always tells me to "bury" a plant insead of saying "plant it" -- but really we are being serious. Nothing fancy is necessary -- just give our bodies back to nature and let humanity move forward sustainably, and let us join our spirits with that of the Universe.
I have been thinking about writing a post like this for a long time. With the passing of my father, and the conclusion of the memorial and funeral services, I think the time has come.
I want to talk about my upbringing and how it has affected me, psychologically, and politically as well. I discussed this somewhat in the previous post, but not in detail. I, and I believe my brothers, all feel blessed to have grown up in a family which nurtured knowledge, education, inquisitiveness and curiosity, in the absence of any kind of dogma, whether it be religious, political or whatever. We were allowed to think for ourselves -- to make up our minds, or not make them up, on our own. We were treated with love, nurturance and as much autonomy as my often-worried parents' consciences would allow.
There is a proposed parenting style called Nurturant Parenting, and I always thought that fit my parents. Nurturant parents lead mostly by example, with broad limits but few specific rules. If a child of a nurturing parent does something wrong, the main reaction is disappointment, although there may be some sort of disciplinary action, probably a non-corporal one that suits the situation to be used as a lesson. Nurturant parents are warm and affectionate, and friendly with children, and allow them to develop their own talents at their own pace. It is different from Indulgent Parenting in that Nurturant Parenting provides more modeling and structure, whereas Indulgent Parenting is more akin to spoiling children by indulging their wishes. As a result, children of Nurturant Parents tend to be creative, productive, open-minded and free-thinking adults when they grow up.
That all 3 of my parents' children ended up getting Ph.Ds in scientific fields is testimony to that. One of my brothers, Bruce, is even getting an additional Masters Degree in Hydrogeology (although the degree is work-related for him). All of us are relatively open-minded and free-thinking, respect the scientific knowledge-building process, are willing to admit uncertainty, and have a liberal/progressive worldview. (There is also the interesting fact that all 3 of us are left-handed, of which my parents seemed to be proud.) There is a strongly political connection here too, I think. I believe that the trusting nature of our family of origin gives us a sense that good government can and should be a reality -- that government of, by and for the people through democratic means is not just an illusion or a facade spoken by political manipulators to control people. This is very much in contrast with the hopelessness regarding government that I see in many other people. Psychologically, I have patience, inner peace and confidence, and a sense of resiliency which I think my upbringing imparted to me. I tend to be trusting of other people and my close relationships are loyal and trusting much as my relationship with my parents has been.
So: If I seem like an overly optimistic pollyanna, blame it on my parents.
But also, bear this in mind:
If I am consistent and persistent in my approach -- perhaps to the point of wearing other people out -- you largely have my parents to thank.
If I am a trusting and trustworthy soul -- one who will never put his hand in the cookie jar if the jar says the cookies belong to someone else -- you largely have my parents to thank.
If I behave in a consistently conscientious manner -- with honor and loyalty to my ideals and those I care about -- you largely have my parents to thank.
If I love unconditionally -- or as close to it as I can reasonably manage -- you largely have my parents to thank.
If I am a holistic, open-minded builder of worthy concepts, you largely have my parents to thank.
If I manifest a consummate drive toward social progress, you largely have my parents to for that, too.
I wouldn't say that these traits come exclusively from them, but my upbringing is certainly how they started. I just continued what they started.
I am so glad that I was raised by parents who didn't tell me what to think or how to feel, which is where true freedom comes from, not from freedom of action. When people start letting others dictate their beliefs and emotions to them, they become subject to the mental manipulation of others, and thus become mentally imprisoned or constrained at least, by their thoughts and feelings. One cannot be a genuine person while acting out the deluded wishes of others. Being genuine means thinking and feeling for oneself.
However, I am also grateful that I had good role models in my parents, and good moral instruction from them, as well as good educational opportunities and instruction in school. In an enlightened world, I believe that every person would be raised not only to be well-educated, but also given the cognitive and emotional freedom to be genuine. Of course, we need to instruct people in morals, civics, ethics, and all manner of social, physical and biological science, while nurturing peoples' curiosity drive. We must also teach children to be social and cooperative, and that who we are is not only as an individual, but even moreso, as an interaction among people and with culture. It is about caring for and loving each other and all of life in the world around us (or the Universe for that matter).
I just convinced myself to add one more of my father's poems, although I have already posted it elsewhere:
To This End
to this end what are we here for
and many arguments have been made
about the number of angels
on the head of a pin
let eternal light shine on them
and on us
hear my prayer
and a veiled woman came out of mist
Justice have mercy on us
the world in ashes
to this end what are we here for
is it to love one another
what is hidden will be revealed
the veil of the woman is dropped
into darkness and the light came
we are made white as snow
and a hand has written on the wall
these words are inscribed
call me among the blessed
the answer is before you
in this eternal light
love one another
Call me among the blessed. Thank you, mother and father.
We May Never Really Understand
Warning: Depressing topic follows. Five days ago, I experienced the death of my father. Although his final illness was swift, this was not unexpected as my father had declined to the point of essentially being a complete invalid, although still mentally fairly bright, over about the last ten months of his life, and he was pretty old at 85 years. I think that those of us who were closest to my father, had in a sense, pre-grieved for him prior to his exiting the stage of this life. Nonetheless, I have been emotional about my father's death at times, and yes, it is a big adjustment. It's like feeling the earth move underneath one's feet.
I had a call from my father's doctor on Tuesday evening that he wasn't expected to survive the night, with Dr. Mikhail saying that my father was having great difficulty breathing, and that his liver had failed. Why his liver failed, could have been due to any of several factors or a combination, including his heavy doses of medications over the years, his final illness, or undiagnosed hemochromatosis, a genetic disorder which my brother Bruce has. In hemochromatosis, the person cannot rid the blood of iron, which accumulates and ultimately damages the liver. My father was never tested for hemochromatosis apparently, despite its presence in one of his sons. My wife and I went over to my parents' house quickly Tuesday evening and said our final goodbyes to my father. My wife Eunice the devout Christian was reading to him from the Bible. I only knew to say that I, his son Robert, was there for him. He was making a sound much like his snoring when he breathed, and it was difficult to tell whether he was awake or not, but I think he was awake and sensed that he was dying. When my mother said that she loved him, I could hear my father try to say "love you." After watching a hospice worker try to clear the mucous from my father's throat, about 3 hours after we first arrived, we finally went back home. I had to give an exam the next day to one of my classes and needed to try to rest. Several of my father's caregivers, including the boss, good friend and confidant of my father, Mia, as well as Veronica and Johnathan were there, as well as the hospice worker, Sabrina.
My father had been under 24/7 care since last June when he came home from a stay in the hospital as an invalid. He had gone to the hospital for prostate surgery, but caught one of the superbugs which have been evolving in hospitals, and that had almost killed him. I can't say enough about the dedication and compassion of Mia and her team, which included Maribel, Maribel's daughter-in-law Chellye, Veronica and Johnathan. Nonetheless, the 24/7 care was extremely expensive, so much so that I am afraid only the wealthiest few percent could afford this in the United States. My father, having been a radiologist for about 15 years and subsequently, a Medi-Cal consultant for the state of California for an additional 34 years, had very good salaries while working, and very large pensions which sent monthly checks, plus my parents had stock dividends, etc., so my parents could afford it. Obviously, good care for the wealthy only is not the way a health care system is supposed to operate. Even Mia was complaining to me about this. If my wife or I were invalid, we could never afford to pay for such care, unless it meant spending our inheritance.
I slept well for a few hours, then woke up and felt unable to drift back to sleep again. Around 7 a.m., we had the dreaded call from Mia saying that my father had died a while earlier. After that, I really couldn't sleep. Later that morning, we returned to my parents' house to arrange having my father taken to a mortuary and begin arranging the funeral. By the end of Thursday, my parents' house was crowded with family members awaiting the funeral. (Happily, it has been a good and fun family get-together for us, as I am sure my father would have wanted.) However, the mortuary called on Friday to say that they could not schedule the funeral until April 16. I was expecting to have the funeral this week, which is spring break for me, but as it is, I will have to cancel my Tuesday class on April 16. Meanwhile, all but sister-in-law Rosalie and her daughters Branda and Beverly disappointedly went home, to return closer to the funeral. It looks like even more relatives will show up by the time of the funeral, so many that some may need to stay at my house. My father was a very respected and popular man among my family, which makes his last few years all the sadder.
I have often thought about the kindness, gentleness, patience, loving attitude and philosophical understanding that my father imparted to me, if not biologically, by upbringing. I am grateful to my parents for allowing us children to be ourselves, to learn and make decisions for ourselves, not to be steered into a particular world view or religion, but rather, to approach life open-mindedly and with a zest for learning and understanding. I think that goes a great way toward explaining why all 3 of us brothers wound up with Ph.Ds in scientific fields of one sort or another, and are putting our knowledge to good use. Also, my parents' loving and stable marriage gave us a sense of security and a supportive atmosphere in which to develop our talents. Sometimes I say to myself "God bless my agnostic father and atheist mother." I was lucky to have them.
At the age of 48, my father began writing poetry. The type of poetry he wrote is the modern type in which things such as rhyming, punctuation, or even capital letters appear to be anathema, which doesn't exactly agree with my sense of playfulness with words. Nonetheless, I like reading my father's poetry, and find, as perhaps only I could best understand, a sense of subtlety yet clarity in the way it is presented, which if understood, enhances its meaning. Subtlety of communication combined with clarity seems to be another trait which I inherited from my father, which of course, is often not understood, but when it is, helps me in relationships and communications. My father published 10 books of poetry in all, mostly while he was still working full-time for the state of California. I managed to find 5 of them at my parents' house a couple of days ago, but my eldest brother has all 10 so I am hoping to obtain the rest of the books from him. The first book, Beyond the Straights, was published in 1980 when my father was 53 years old. The most recent book was published only a couple of years ago, I think, but I don't have a copy of it at this time. Surprisingly, Beyond the Straights is in its second edition, so my father must have experienced relatiive success among the modern poetry world. I suppose my father always had the soul of a poet, including the tortured soul aspect of being a poet.
Here is a poem that my father published in one of his most recent books, Canticle III:
A Time of Wonder
there are two times when the world
is full of wonder and beauty
when you are young and when you get older
when you are young you are learning things
when older you are learning how much
you didn't learn
still the idea of the Universe is now larger
the birth of the stars more beautiful
the flight of a crow is now even
as wondrous as the soar of a hawk
friends who are no longer on this earth
have become remembrances without faults
there is startling beauty in the bloom of iris
or in a woman's mouth when she says "Oh"
I chose this poem because it is fairly short, but it talks about aging and remembrances of people who are no longer on this earth, plus in my opinion, it's one of my father's better ones.
My father retired 7 years ago at the age of 78 from his state job. I can seem to trace his psychological decline to that event, although the seeds of it were present throughout his life -- the fear of airplanes and heights, the overworrying about loved ones and lawsuits, the insistance on driving the car rather than letting others do the driving, the pained expressions when wracked with worries or his difficulty in expressing himself emotionally although he could put on a brave face to mask his painful shyness or needless feelings of isolation. My mother always knew about these things, but they were managable until dad retired. Afterward, perhaps having been robbed of his vitality as a very important, Medi-Cal dispensing and money saving doctor in California's state Medi-Cal system, and feeling the increasing effects of age both physically and mentally, my father resorted to heavy use of antianxiety and antidepressants. I suppose that a medical doctor would rely on conventional medicine, even to deal with psychological issues. However, my father was also attending group therapy, which I knew about. I didn't know about the medications until a couple of years ago when I was told that my father had overdosed on antianxiety drugs. Furthermore, I was told that this was the second time that had happened. A third time happened last February 13. Every time he overdosed, he went to the hospital, and came back about a month later, much weaker than before, having spent the entire time pretty much, in bed. After that, he had the prostate surgery last June, and the subsequent infection, which seemed to suck the last of my father's strength from him (and he never was a physically strong man).
But from my perspective, I noticed something was wrong not long after my father retired. I thought he would write massive amounts of memoirs and poetry, and do lots of fishing and yardwork, among other things, but that did not happen. Instead, he did these things occasionally for a while, then seemed to give them up one by one. It reminded me of what is called "Disengagement Theory" that is discussed in some Developmental Psychology textbooks, but is concluded that it is probably a less than healthy way of dealing with aging. Furthermore, even people who are disengaging are not supposed to take overdoses of psychotropic medications. These events were considered suicide attempts by doctors, but neither myself nor my mother could fathom these as suicide attempts. Rather, although we could be in denial here, it seems to us that father simply was so anxious that when he took antianxiety meds, he felt they weren't working, and so took more until they kicked in -- big time. If they were suicide attempts, they are all the more disturbing, as my father was well-loved and respected, with much to live for, and no history of major depression. The kicker is that given my father's mentality -- his diagnosis was a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in which protecting loved ones is paramount -- his suicide would have emotionally hurt those he wished to protect, and thus, suicide would seem to be contradictory to my father's mental condition. There were other signs of psychological trouble, too. I noticed my father start using a walking cane not long after retiring, although he didn't need it. Apparently, he was afraid of falling. Later, he gave up driving when his condition wasn't really that bad, and would only let Mia or Maribel drive him anywhere. Even family members were not allowed to drive him, still.
Contrast this with my stoic and independence minded mother, who still likes to drive, refuses to use a walker, and basically tries to function at the highest level she is capable of. I think my father's neurotic behavior, combined with my mother's stubborness and inability to accept my father's mentality, resulted in a sort of rift between them, although they still loved each other greatly. Nonetheless, my mother had a deep sense of frustration and shame in trying to understand why my father was so unhappy. Could it have been her fault, somehow? No, mother, although we may never understand why my father became the way he did, it was definitely not your fault, or that of anybody else, for that matter. Perhaps it was biological proclivity, fear of approaching death, the medications themselves (my number one candidate), or disappointments in his life including the problems of his children, or a combination of these things, which drove my father over the cliff of despair. I feel badly for my well-intentioned mother, for having had to have gone through this. She has been grieving over my father for several years, already.
As the child who lives near my parents, it has been my duty to check on them regularly and to keep them company, along with my wife Eunice. Eunice is accustomed to dealing with doddering old folks, as she used to run an old-folks home in Taiwan, so she has been very helpful. Nonetheless, in the past couple of years, we and my brothers, have witnessed my father's paranoia blossom to the extent that he expected a 1.5 million dollar hospital bill after returning from the hospital (the actual bill was only fifteen dollars), thought somebody was trying to kill my mother, thought that Chellye had been kidnapped when he couldn't find her, and suffered various other delusions and hallucinations.
However, my father was usually in a good mood when we were there. It seems that it was when family wasn't there, that he suffered. Perhaps that is a reminder of the importance of family, or good friends. But perhaps it is also a reminder of the journey we must make, that travels where others cannot join us. We are trapped in our mortal bodies until we die, and trapped in our limited minds as well, able to communicate but not join our minds with others except in trust and love. My father gave us a sense of trust, love and openness toward life. I only hope he was able to receive the same from us, and that he can still sense our love and gratitude, now that he has gone on to the great recycling center of souls, or whatever it is that awaits us when the final curtain is drawn and we leave the stage of this life.
A Capital Idea Part 155: Can We Have a Zero Waste Future?
Zero waste is an idea bandied about in recycling circles, which represents the goal of not leaving any waste behind from our human activities -- recycling everything, essentially. Considering how much trash we dump in landfills -- hoping, I suppose, that in about 100,000 years, humanity will find some use for all that stuff -- a zero waste future may be more than just a dream, but a necessity. If nothing else, we will probably run out of places to dump our trash after awhile, and our lands will become one gigantic landfill. Of course, landfills are another capitalistic concession to expediency, as are the burning of oil and coal, et cetera, for which we are now beginning to pay. We must face the fact that, while there may be a tremendous amount of energy around us compared to what we use, the size of our planet is finite, and our activities inevitably impact it.
At my house, we always try to reduce waste and recycle as much as possible, but there is still some "house trash" that goes in the big brown container. Today is trash collection day, and as is typical, there is only one smallish bag full of "house trash" to be sent to the landfill. The grey recycling can is about half full with bottles and other containers, and paper. The green plant waste can is abouit 2/3 full, which is more than usual. Most weeks, we simply recycle our weeds and cuttings in the compost or other choice areas in the yard. All of this ordinary recycling is well and good, but in order to get to where we need to be -- zero waste -- we need to employ more recycling innovations.
An article by the New York Times by Leslie Kaufman discusses the growing zero waste movement. This article is over 3 years old, but it already mentions a number of places which are using zero waste innovations. It's surprising to me that we don't hear more about recycling, except that talking about waste products isn't very appealing to most of us. Anyway, the article talks about cups, utensils, etc. at Yellowstone National Park which are made from biodegradable plant materials which easily dissolve, and restaurants which compost all uneaten food, for example (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/science/earth/20trash.html?_r=0). It turns out that uneaten food, which is obviously biodegradable, is a large part of what goes into landfills. The article goes on to discuss the importance of replacing non-biodegrabable products such as plastics, with biodegradable ones. There is also mention that landfills produce a lot of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, but of course, methane can be used as fuel (natural gas) and anyway, compost areas probably also produce methane. There are other noxious chemicals which landfills spew into the atmosphere as well, making this an additional problem with our landfill system.
Wikipedia has an article on zero waste, which discusses the importance of multiple use of containers and such, rather than prducing them -- ever biodegradable ones -- then throwing them away after one use. It turns out that even producing the biodegradable products negatively impacts the environment. The process of making biodegradable products, still requires energy, factories, machinery and raw materials, for instance, although I suppose that is still better than making stuff which will sit in a landfill forever (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_waste).
A more progressive-style and up-do-date website which discusses zero waste recycling is Other Worlds Are Possible (http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/other-worlds/beyond-recycling-road-zero-waste). Many discussions of reducing waste products mention incineration, which is done in some places. However, this is still burning and producing heat and waste products, as well as failing to use what could be useful materials in the trash. (Hey, one person's trash is another person's treasure.) Thus, this site does not recommend incineration. Rather, it discusses the following points:
1. Moving away from waste disposal (buying as few disposible products as possible and disposing of them as seldom as possible);
2. Supporting comprehensive reuse, recycling and organics treatment programs (reusing what we can, recycling what we cannot reuse, and composting organics);
3. Engaging communities (which has already resulted in many successful outcomes around the world as cited on the website);
4. Designing for the future (designing communities to make it easier for people to throw less away, as well as implementing new waste reducing technologies).
I think the issue of community engagement is especially relevant in an individualistic society such as the United States (which I just saw rates as the world's most individualistic society). Come on, people, this affects all of us and we are all in this together. Not surprisingly, San Francisco has had the best waste reduction results of any large city in the United States, reducing its waste to landfills by 77% already, and on track to reduce landfill waste by 90% by 2020. However, most of the more remarkably successful waste reduction programs have been in other nations. India, Belgium, my beloved Taiwan, Spain, the Phillipines, Chile and Argentina are mentioned specifically. The mention of Taiwan's overall success in reducing waste, reminds me that on part of my wife's property in Kaohsiung City, her family has rented the area to recyclers so that it has become a major recycling center. Of course, I am proud of this fact. (Other uses on the property are a retirement home, mental treatment facility, parking and residence for family members; in fact I stayed there with Eunice in August of 2011.)
The Other Worlds Are Possible website has an encouraging description
of the possibility of a zero waste future:
"Zero waste is ambitious, but it is not impossible. Nor is it part of some far-off future. Today, in small towns and big cities, in areas rich and poor, in the global North and South, innovative communities are making real progress toward the goal of zero waste. Every community is different, so no two zero waste programs are identical, but the various approaches are together creating something bigger than the sum of their parts: protection of the earth and the natural riches which lie under, on, and over it."
Of course, what goes down our toilets is also part of the picture. This is biodegradable, fortunately, and in a sense, is already being recycled. Over time, more and more use is being made of, well, recycled sewage solids and sewage water. Actually, it's fertilizer, and I suppose we could do what the Chinese have traditionally done with it, by direct application to crops, but most people these days tend to avoid entertaining such thoughts. People who work at sewage treatment plants, however, have to think about this generally (unless they just dump it into the nearest body of water), and have become more and more sophisticated over time at extracting use from what goes down our toilets and sinks. We need to keep everything in the system, including human waste. After all, over 7 billion people produce an awful lot of collective fertilizer.
My friend Jules Elbeshausen had a post some time ago, which pictured a future house that recycles virtually everything. I cannot find a description of such a house on any website, but basically, my vision for the future is a house that produces it's own electricity, enough to power our vehicles, etc., collects rain water in cisterns (although there is not enough rainwater in many places such as here, to even come close to providing for all of our needs, especially in the summer months), uses only biodegradable products which are composted -- or continues to use those which are not recyclable, indefinitely -- and it can even have its own little sewage plant which purifies the water while growing plants. The pure water can then be recycled to water other parts of the yard. I keep a vision such as this in mind as I contemplate humanity's zero waste, recyclable, sustainable future.
A Capital Idea Part 154: The Future of Energy Capture
I have been checking into, or Facebook friends have been posting, information on growing energy capture possibilities. Meanwhile, I have come across a couple of those personal, interesting tidbits in the process. Actually, one was a fishing reel that my wife and I recently bought. When I took it out for a "spin" for the first time last Friday, I noticed that it had fancy blue and green lights that went on every time the reel spun as I was reeling in the line. Apparently, small magnets were placed in the reel which work to produce electricity much as my battery-less flashlight does. If we can get kids to turn a wheel which pumps water up from a well, as is being done in some places, why can't we get people to generate electricity every time they walk or run, etc.? Alternatively, we could have trained hamsters furiously spinning magnetic wheels as they play on their exercise wheels in their cages. (I am semi-joking here but seriously that would be possible.) Exercise machines for people could actually serve the same purpose.
The other tidbit was about Nikola Tesla and his main backer. He built a large transmission tower in Long Island at a place called Wardenclyffe. I knew that before and thought that was interesting, given that my surname is Warden. But I didn't know until a few days ago that Tesla's backer, who bought the land, was a man named James S. Warden., after whom Wardenclyffe was named. Since I am probably related to a large percentage of people in the U.S. named Warden, there is a good chance that James S. Warden was a relative of mine -- just saying. I tried doing a search but couldn't find that out. As far as Tesla's experiments at Wardenclyffe are concerned, there are mixed and contradictory opinions. Tesla claimed that he could transmit energy underground, without cables as I understand it, and wind up with more than he started with on the other end, hundreds of miles away, somewhat like an underground lightning bolt. Obviously, since matter contains a great deal of energy, this ground of this planet has the potential to produce massive quantities of energy. However, specifically freeing and transmitting that energy is another matter, so I still don't know what to think of this.
Even without resorting to Tesla's original work, there are many smart inventors in modern times who are well-versed in physics, who are in the process of devloping newer, more accessible, cleaner and cheaper energy sources. One website from the UK (http://www.free-energy-info.co.uk/) lists a very large number of such inventions and their inventors, from around the world, in what is called an online book. The proprietor of this website, Patrick J. Kelly, makes the point that these inventions are not making something out of nothing, which is what some of the more far-fetched inventors claim, as well as what critics describe as the impossibility of these inventions working. As mentioned in my previous post, it's not that at all; this is a matter of capturing some of the large quantities of energy which are already present. Think of the Universe as a large energy pool, laced with various energy fields even where no matter is present, and even greater amounts of latent energy where matter (or "dark matter") is present.
At this point, I wish to make clear that this energy issue in no way implies that this planet lacks limits. Even in terms of energy, there is some kind of limit, but it is a tremendous amount, far more than we humans use or could even potentially use. However, this does not change the fact that we live on a finite planet, and human activities inevitably affect our planet. We have no right to destroy the Earth and sea, mother of life on this planet, as capitalism and its free markets have encouraged businesspeople and their government lackeys to do. Ecosystems can sustain a certain amount of growth and productivity, which is maximized in diverse ecosystems rich in life. In fisheries management, for instance, it is known that without adding fish, a lake can naturally sustain a certain number of pounds of fish per acre -- let's say 100 pounds per acre. One can have, say, 1,000 small fish weighing only 1/10 of a pound each, 100 one pound fish, or one 100 pound fish, for the sake of illustration, but without infusing the lake artificially with new fish or fertilizer, which is being subtracted from other places, there will only be 100 pounds of fish per acre. I have seen this principle time and time again in the fisheries I have visited. Wherever the fish are more numerous, they tend to be smaller, and vice versa. Thus, we need to keep in mind that in terms of sustainability, there are ecological limits, and people will always impact the environment, although new technologies may extend our abilities to develop ecologically sustainable cultures and allow the carrying capacity of this planet to sustain human life, to increase. Nonetheless, we have continued to steadily create a massive ecological crisis with human activities. Our activities have long-term effects, which take decades or centuries to be realized. The effects of burning fossil fuels, for example, gradually warm the climate over decades and centuries, which is why it is so important to stop using them as soon as possible, and also one reason why people are resistant to change, since the effects of our actitivies take so long to manifest, as my ecologist brother Bruce recently pointed out to me.
Some of the more promising newer potentially revolutionizing
energy capture technologies which have been pointed out to me, include solar
panel coated roads
curved solar panels or ones arranged like leaves of a tree, which capture more of the sun's solar energy than the flat ones do (http://theenergycollective.com/ecskris/178531/new-solar-technology-may-entirely-change-game);
solar cells which emit as well as absorb light, increasing their efficiency (http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2012/apr/26/quirky-solar-cell-sets-new-efficiency-record);
hydrogen powered fuel cells which use water (http://inventors.about.com/od/sstartinventions/ss/Physics_Illustr_2.htm);
and cold fusion breakthroughs (http://discovermagazine.com/2012/nov/27-big-idea-bring-back-the-cold-fusion-dream).
Also, an extremely effective electricity conductor, Graphene, which is basically an extremely thin layer of simple carbon, has been discovered in recent years (http://www.graphene.manchester.ac.uk/story/).
I am sure that there are many other potentially useful energy technologies being developed, any of which if used properly and not exploited by individuals who hold patents on them, or control their production, may help aid the progressive cultural evolution of humanity.
Ultimately, the effects of technological development will depend on culture and psychology. It may be argued that technological development itself, while it may make life more convenient and transform the way that people live, does not necessarily alter the way that society functions. I plan to write more about this next time, but basically, if we continue to rely on a capitalist model, especially the so-called "free market," new technologies will only lead to new monopolies which will engage in power mongering, or extensions of existing monopolies of the financial elite. What new energy technology can do for us, is to give people the ability to gather their own energy, sufficient for their own use, freeing people of the grip of energy companies, and perhaps more importantly, stopping the widespread burning of fossil fuels and the use of other environment-destroying, non-sustainable products. How expensive these new technologies will be, depends upon whether we work together, hopefully with government help, to make them universally and cheaply accessible. Again, under the current free market model, these will simply become very expensive products with exhorbitant maintenance prices. But that is not necessary. I believe that the widespread realization by people that we need to change our ways, combined with growing ecological crises, will help to unite people globally in the quest to make these technologies work for the people, not for a small group of business owners. As I wrote about in a recent post, this may involve people working outside of the current corporate system, essentially subverting it and making it irrelevant. It may also involve forcing governments to reform their systems -- their way of doing business, so to speak, to serve the public rather than being beholden to big-monied interests. We need democracy which expresses the will of the people in order to accomplish these things, and ultimately, the involvement of democratic government -- not corporate or banking-based capitalistic government -- all the way from the most local of levels to the global level to ensure human and environmental rights. In my opinion, what is needed is the implementation of a paradigm shift which I already see underway in this world -- a shift in human consciousness and spirit -- away from greed, exploitation and the allowing of extreme wealth and power disparities, to one of cooperation, sharing and the nurturing of the environment which sustains us. Otherwise, we will be up the proverbial creek of capitalist domination, without a paddle.
A Capital Idea Part 153: Energy is Everywhere
I am now beginning a discussion of the brilliant future of energy. Due to time considerations and the massive amounts of potential materials on the topic, about most of which I do not know very much in a technical sense, I have decided to proceed in several installments.
I can see my flashlight from here, standing on my desk. It looks a bit unusual in that it is transparent, and a copper coil can be seen inside. I bought it a few years ago, when my wife and I came across these interesting specimens in a department store. The really remarkable thing about it, is that it uses no battery. All one has to do in order to prodcue light, it to wave it back and forth horizontally to the ground, which makes it cross the earth's magnetic field, causing electricity to run through the copper coil, presumably, which can be used to produce light. As long as the structural integrity of this flashlight is maintained, it will continue to work without maintanance and without an external energy source.
My father wrote about his childhood a few years ago, and gave me a copy of the document, which was something like 30 pages long. I think this is where I saw him mention that his father invented a machine to convert wave energy into electricity. This was in the early 1900s. My grandfather's invention was never used as invented, at least, but obviously, hydroelectric energy is widely used, if controversial in its application of dams at times, and wave energy remains a distinct potential, yet largely untapped, energy source. As an aside, my grandfather became a radiologist in the early days of the field, and my father followed in his footsteps. I have been experiencing strange, difficult to explain phenomena from time to time -- such as instruments which suddenly don't work or do crazy things then just as suddenly work normally again, or clocks which suddenly skip forward in time on their own -- seemingly at an increasing rate over time, and I have wondered if this is my grandfather's way of saying hello to me from the great beyond, since he was knowledgeable about such things. According to physicists, most of the matter and energy in the Universe is "dark," meaning that they don't know how to measure it. There is a great deal in the Universe which remains hidden to our senses, even to our instruments. By the way, the fact that my father, and thus myself and my brothers as well as my cousins, are even here at all, is another miracle, as my grandmother survived a bout with tuberculosis which nearly killed her, and she and my grandfather waited many years to finally have my father and his younger brother.
After hearing of my grandfather's invention, the thought occured to me that perhaps, we could put small turbines on every home's water pipes, which could be used to generate some additional electricity. If I, a social psychologist, could think of that, just imagine what physicists, engineers and home inventors could devise. Admittedly, I did used to be a biophysics major, so I took more than my share of physics and math classes in college, but never anything directly related to inventing energy production sources. As a search of the internet will quickly confirm, there have been a plethora of inventions to extract energy from the environment. While many of these have drawbacks which may make them impractical, progress is being made and ultimately practical means of extracting energy are being perfected steadily. The next step, to which their will be likely great opposition from corporations which control current energy sources, will be their implementation.
A great early pioneer in the field of energy extraction was Serbian-born inventor Nikola Tesla, as I discovered from my good friend Eloise Swinbrook (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikola_Tesla; http://fuel-efficient-vehicles.org/energy-news/?page_id=971; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA6Ly-qGYuY). Tesla had an invention using two magnets which repelled each other in order to make energy, and another, more complex one involving what is now called a "Tesla coil" which may ultimately be the more useful one. Tragically, Tesla's more progressive inventions were ignored, and he eventually died a pauper; even now, profit-driven energy companies which are motivated to monopolize and control energy resources, ignore or derogate Tesla's more broadly applicable and progressive inventions, as well as the more modern offsprings of Tesla's inventions. As I discovered in my recent searches of the internet, theoretically, the earth's magnetic field is stationary, so a stationary magnet should not be able to generate any electricity. However, the field does move slightly, but not enough to generate much electricity. This does not preclude creating moving objects, similar to my flashlight, which do intersect the earth's magnetic field, thus generating electricity. Just a while ago, I had the thought that wind turbines, which are generally built in a vertical plane, could be hitched to coils which the wind makes move horizontally, thus generating electricity simultaneously both from the wind energy, and from the earth's magnetic field. Again, if I can think of that so quickly, I am sure that experts in the topic can come up with great applications to harvest the energy which is out there.
A problem which was mentioned regarding magnetic energy, is that producing the magnets in the first place, requires a large input of energy. However, there are naturally magnetic rocks, so that would not always be a problem. Perhaps Tesla's mutually repelling magnets will not turn out to be a great source of home energy that will allow people to generate as much as they need and stop their dependency on energy companies. However, as mentioned, there are a plethora of other possibilities out there. One which you may have heard mentioned, include water (you know, that stuff our bodies are full of) -- obviously, a very common resource which can be made to produce energy -- and potentially even run cars instead of using expensive fuel -- using sophisticated techniques. Another is "cold fusion," which there are at least some recent claims of major breakthroughs regarding. There are also new forms of energy production which involve specially constructed materials made simply of carbon -- you know, that organic atom which is left behind anytime we burn something.
Increasingly common forms of energy production such as home solar panels, or wind turbines, are also a very big part of the home-energy production picture of the future. There is no reason, it seems to me, in places which receive decent year around sunlight, as there is here in California, that we could not generate enough electricity to supply all of our needs and more, using solar panels on the roofs of our houses. Most places where people live, as is true here, also receive a decent amount of wind. Thus, newfangled energy production devices may not even be necessary in order to make us indepdendent of electric companies, or perhaps even to power our vehicles. However, we should pursue new energy capture inventions as we learn more and more about what works the best. I do believe that there are brilliant energy sources everywhere, and that utilizing them is simply a matter of finding proper inventions, especially ones which use relatively common materials, such as water, carbon, or common metals. Just to make it clear, none of this is hocus-pocus about making something from nothing. This is about utilizing energy which already exists in the environment -- energy which exists in electromagnetic (such as magnetic fields or solar energy) , kinetic (such as wind energy), or chemical (such as water or other materials) form, or perhaps even in some other form.
Next time, I plan to look further into some potential applications of energy capture, and then, discuss the synergistic effect of making individuals energy independent, upon cultural evolution.
A Capital Idea Part 152: Small Subversions of the Capitalist System
Today I will engage in a bit of slice-of-life talk about reducing dependence upon the capitalist system.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I went fishing, which is not unusual for me, or us. In fact, I would normally be fishing at this moment, except that we have been having nice, life giving rains today (and yesterday, and last night). Thus, I am taking a weather break from the rain. Fisherpeople are often very generous, which amounts to small subversions of the capitalist system, although few of them ever think of that. There are also treasures to be found in nature, some of them edible. On a trip last August to the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I ate berries that we found, nearly everyday, of several kinds. To get back to the trip a few weeks ago, we went to a place called Dana Harbor, which is on the ocean, and had unprecedented luck with generosity.
As it turns out, I caught several fish while my wife Eunice noticed a type of fruit growing nearby. She asked me if I knew what it was, and I said, yes, my parents used to have one and sometimes I would eat them, although I seemed to be the only person who did. When I looked them up on the internet, I found that they were called Carissa Fruit or Natal Plums, and come from South Africa. Only the fruit is edible while the rest of the plant is poisonous; in fact, they are related to the notoriously poisonous Oleander. Anyway, Eunice picked the fruit while I fished. As I was leaving, I noticed Eunice standing near a couple of fellows with several huge fish -- 4 fish, to be exact. The two largest ones were Yellowfin Tuna, and the other 2 were a lessor known member of the tuna family called Wahoo. Even the smallest Wahoo was around 50 pounds, while the largest Yellowfin Tuna was over 200 pounds. I marvelled at the beauty of the fish, and knowing my wife, had a good idea of what was to come. Before long, she was asking for any scraps these fellows, who had just brought the fish back from a long-range fishing trip into Mexican waters, didn't want as they were cleaning the fish.
They cleaned the fish from the smallest to largest, because they were still partially frozen, and the smaller ones were more thawed than the bigger ones. Thus, we got a couple of Wahoo head and some scraps, as the young fishermen were very nice to us. I was more than satisfied with the Wahoo, but predictably, Eunice wanted to wait out the cleaning of the tuna. She gave the fellows some food and drink, which they gladly accepted, and we ended up staying an extra 2 hours after the end of fishing and fruit picking activities, until the tuna heads and various pieces of meat had been given to us. In all, I believe we brought home around 150 pounds, if not more, of "gifts." There was so much that we had some trouble carrying all of it and putting it in the car, especially the estimated 50 pound head of the largest tuna.
Much of these fish wound up as fertilizer for the yard, the head and bones parts, that is. That in itself is a worthy, organic thing. (I know that sadly, tuna tends to be high in mercury due to human activities, but at least these fish came from relatively clean waters.) I think we still wound up with about 50 pounds of meat. In fact, we ate some tuna or Wahoo everyday after that for about 10 days, and also gave quite a bit away. We just ate another bag full of tuna recently, and still have two more bags in the freezer.
The larger point is, anything people do which avoids spending money, especially money that goes to corporate interests, lightens their pockets and lessens their power, while giving us some measure of self-sufficiency. I have long advocated that we should go to alternative, clean energies. We should have solar, or other clean forms of energy, generated on our own homes, and use this energy to drive our cars. This would go a long way toward reducing our dependence upon corporations and transforming the world's economy to a fairer, more self-sufficient and progressive one. Also, I envision people growing more of their own food, and sharing it, or at least, eating more locally produced food. However, in the meantime, even barring such advances, there are many things we can do to reduce the grip the corporate system and its political tentacles, has on us.
Basically, corporations want people to spend money on their products and services, even if its money that they don't have. In fact, that is probably even better for the corporatocracy, in the short run at least, because people in debt spend more money on debt interest, essentially becoming debt slaves. Aside from fishing, my wife's and my money saving practices, the ones which keep us actually reasonably well-supplied with money, include growing fruit and veggies in the yard, composting, and using rain water for the yard. we try not to buy stuff that we don't need (with some exceptions), and when we do, my wife engages in bargain shopping, which might occur at large chain stores, but usually at little profit for them. Instead of drinking commercial drinks, we usually drink tea made from flowers grown in the yard, such as Rose petals, Geranium, Hibiscus, Christmas Cactus, Dragon Fruit flowers, Jasmine, Osmanthus, Rosemary, Nasturtium, Lavender, Chrsanthemum and Guava flowers, all very tasty (long list after asking my wife for help here). We also have delicious unsweetened Lemon, Lime, Orange and Mint drinks from homegrown sources. Of course, shopping at local stores which are not connected to the corporatocracy is a good option as well. We also have a supermarket nearby, Winco, which is employee owned, as I have written about before. The less money we give to big corporations, the less power they have. The really sad and frustrating thing, is that corporations essentially have monopolies on some products which people need, such as utilities, gasoline, and conventional health care products such as pharmaceuticals. We can use these less, and eventually, maybe do away with them, however. Heating and cooling are huge electric expenses. Since we don't have the solar panels I have wanted, as my wife Eunice has nixed that idea, we never use the air conditioning, and get by quite well. There is no particular need to live in a temperature controlled environment 24/7. It may be more difficult to avoid where the weather is very cold or extremely hot, but at least people can cut down on electricity use as well as the use of other utilities.
Simple human kindness can go a long way, too. Being generous, whether with neighbors or strangers, helps band people together and makes people less dependent upon corporations.
If all people would use means such as these to avoid the corporate system, I have to believe that we wouldn't be in nearly the fascistic state we find most of the world in now. Some people might have a "so what" reaction to these suggestions, but ultimately, the solution to the corporate state, will involve making it obsolete -- finding ways to subvert it. Anything we can do helps and is a good start, in addition to saving money. The little things that we do, add up. Next, I plan to write more about energy self-sufficiency, and the future of recycling.
I Just Discovered that I am "Black"
All one has to do is to pay $99, spit something like 10 cubic centimeters of saliva into a test tube, send it to 23andme, and you too, can discover all the things you are but never thought that you were. I also discovered that I am a Neanderthal (no surprise there), a bit of an Ashkenazi Jew, a mixture of European backgrounds, and to the delight of my Hungarian friend Ria, distinctly part Hungarian although I have no idea how that happened. According to Ria, of course, that is where I got my intelligence, from a small segment of Hungarian DNA on Chromosome 1. Anyway, if I am ever feeling downtrodden and persecuted, I rest secure in the knowledge that I belong to several historically persecuted groups, including Sub-Saharan African, Jewish, and I suppose that Neanderthals were persecuted, too. Plus, I belong to the historically persecuted group known as left-handed people; in fact, I am in the mere 4% of the population who is completely left-handed. (I am also left-footed and left-eyed.) I do intend to write more about the handedness issue one of these days, most likely venturing where no blogger has ever ventured before. But for now, it's about genetics.
Now, speaking of beginnings, let me go back to the beginning. My eldest brother, Craig, is a geneticist. Around Christmas break, he arranged for me to take the 23andme genetics test -- which, being a geneticist, is of great interest to him, and being a scientific-minded psychologist, is of great interest to me as well. The testing kit was sent to me in early January and I promptly gave the saliva sample and sent it back to 23andme. Meanwhile, I fillled out a series of questionnaires on the website -- 42 in all, which was quite a chore. These questionnaires are for the purpose of testing whether different health or psychological traits can be linked to genetics. At this point, there are no conclusions to be drawn regarding the link between these questionnaires and genetics. In fact, I suspect that the genetic links are only moderate in regards to psychological traits, although studies of personlity heritability indicate around 50% heritability. (The studies of adopted siblings may be flawed in that they fail to take such factors as prenatal influences and similarities between adoptive homes into account.)
My brother got his results first. First, he mentioned that he was in the 99th percentile on Neanderthal genes, being 3.2% Neanderthal. Apparently, Neanderthal DNA has been sequenced from Neanderthal bones. Then the main results came in: The real shocker is that my brother was 0.3% "Sub-Saharan African," which means Black. He was also a similarly small part Jewish and part Middle Eastern, although mainly European. Even the European heritage was more mixed than I would have expected, given our family's Anglo background on both sides. We have fairly extensive family histories which have been done, which would lead us to think we have a pretty good idea of where our ancestors came from. We did know that one of our great-grandmothers was part German, and more recently, we realized that another great-grandmother was of French or part French heritage. What I had taken as her middle name, was actually her French maiden name. But where the Scandanavian and Hungarian came from, we have no idea. Perhaps Vikings and a Hungarian immigrant to some other part of Europe?
My genetic results, when they came, showed that I shared 49.4% of my genome with my brother. This is around what I expected, as we are not much alike, but are alike in some ways and siblings usually share around half of the same genome. I didn't get the Middle Eastern genes that my brother did, but I did get the same Sub-Saharan African segment on Chromosome 10, and an Ashkenazi Jewish segment on one Chromosome. I was slightly less of a Neanderthal than my brother, at 3.1%, which is in the 98th percentile. Overall, using the "speculative estimate" in order to have the most complete, though perhaps not totally accurate, picture, I am 50.9% British and Irish, 13.0% French and German, 4.4% Scandanavian, 29.1% Nonspecific Northern European, 0.5% Southern European (Spanish, Italian or Slavic), 1.7% Nonspecific European, 0.4% Sub-Saharan African, and 0.1% Unassigned. I am tempted to say that the unassigned is probably alien DNA, but actually, everybody seems to have some and it is just as human as the rest of the DNA. I just noticed that these numbers add up to 100.1%, by the way -- hmm.
Another analysis showed the distinct Hungarian DNA on Chromosome 1 (same as my brother), as well as some from the United Kingdom, the Nethelands, and Ireland. Genetic analysis is quickly evolving, so basically we are getting different snippets of information from different sources, some of it more specific, some more general. There is also a global similarity map, which puts the person on a map of the world. Surprisingly (and certain to delight my friend Ria), my spot on the map was surprisingly toward the eastern side of Europe for an "Anglo" (near the eastern edge of western Europe), and toward the center from north to south, which would put me right around Hungary. My brother's dot on the map was farther west than mine.
I told one of my classes about my African heritage, and one of my African-American students said in response. "Oh, that explains your style." Maybe it also explains why I wound up with an African-American advisor on graduate school, and the baseball teams I played on where I was the only "white guy" or one of the few on teams with mostly African-Americans. However, it doesn't explain my affinity for Asians or Native Americans, or the fact that most of my friends have always been non-white, most of them being orientals such as Chinese. According to my graduate school advisor, many people with African ancestry passed as white, especially after the Civil War when the slaves had been freed. None of my ancestors owned slaves; they all lived in northern states and they were poor until the past few generations. However, some slaves were largely white looking after generations of miscengenation, so it is my guess that one of them moved to another state after the Civil War and married one of my white ancestors. It's a strange feeling, to tell the truth, to think that I am part "Black," after being "White" all of my life (although not identifying with "White American culture" but rather with other cultures more). I am okay with it, but finding it rather difficult to fathom. None of my grandparents looked part Black, but my paternal grandmother had curly, dark hair I think, and my mediterranean type complexion apparently came from my maternal grandmother. People usually mistake me for Jewish, Italian or Spanish, so maybe those small parts of my heritage shows in my appearance.
There were also many health-related and trait related results. Some of them confirmed what I already knew, such as my O-Negative blood type and my brown hair and eyes, although my DNA information was general enough that it said there was a good chance that I would have red hair and green eyes, which is interesting because my untested brother, Bruce, does in fact have red hair and green eyes. He also has O-Negative blood, and is left-handed as is Craig as well. On health risks, there was a list of estimates on over 100 diseases. I was in the "typical" range on most, above average risk on some, and below average on others. I was glad to see that on a longevity marker, I was above average, with a greater than average chance of living to over 95 or 100 years old. My parents always told me that it seemed to them I would live to over 100, bless their hearts. But they did see something different in me. Both my brother Craig and I have a very low risk of acquiring Alzheimers' Disease, and a below average risk of getting Parkinson's Disease. These results required giving special permission to see, for some reason. There were about 50 specific tests for genetic disesases (either as a carrier or actually having the disease). My brother Bruce has Hemochromatosis, which involves being unable to rid the blood of iron except by bleeding, so I expected to be a carrier, which I am. In fact, I have the main Hemochromatosis gene from one parent, and a minor risk factor from the other. However, most people with Hemochromatosis have the worse version of the gene from both parents -- I don't know yet about my brother's situation. I have long avoided eating much food that is high in iron due to my potential risk factor, as it is, and I show no symptoms of the disease.
On the psychological measures, I was disappointed in the non-specificity of the results. They generally placed a person in an "above average, average or below average" range, or sometimes in a "high" or "low" range. Also, it was difficult for me to respond in a non-biased manner, being a social/personality psychologist, and thus, I tried to be honest and relatively modest, not giving too many extreme responses on the scales given. Here is what I found:
On the "Systematizing Quotient," (the need to do things systematically), I did find a list of scores along with percentages, with my score being 53 out of 150, indicating that I was actually well below average on the Systematizing Quotient, probably around the 20th percentile;
On a test which involved reading emotions from a person's eyes, I got 25 out of 36 correct, which was slightly below the average of 26 correct, but probably about average for a male, who tend to not do as well on such measures. I found this test very difficult, and ironically, racially biased toward Caucasian people as nearly all of the photos were of "white people." As a person who is accustomed to being the only "white person" in a room full of Chinese, and being a husband of a Chinese woman and stepfather to another, I actually find their supposedly inscrutable expressions easier for me to read than those of "white people." The one photo in the test that did look like it showed an oriental guy, I found relatively easy to read. I was also frustrated by the fact that only the eye areas were shown, and frankly, surprised that I got as many correct as I did;
On The Empathy Quotient, I scored 58 out of 80, which was around the 77th or 78th percentile (including both men and women). I think I would have scored even higher, but some of the items appeared to me that what was considered an empathetic response would require lying to spare somebody's feelings. I did not endorse those items as my need for honesty does not allow that;
On Optimism, the very general results placed me in the "average range," although I know that I am a blazing optimist compared to most of my gloom and doom friends. I was included with 55% of 23andme respondents in this average range, with fairly equal numbers above and below this range. Frustratingly, there was nothing more specific in terms of the Optimism results. Actually, being overly optimistic could mean a person is delusional, by the way, while being too pessimistic is a likely sign of depression;
Finally, there was the biggy, the questionnaire based on Costa and McCrae's Five-Factor Model of Personality. It wasn't Costa and McCrae's actual questionnaire, but a shorter version by some other people. I was frustrated once again by the non-specific results given, but here they are, at the risk of seeming to be bragging about my rather ideal personality which I have been working on throughout my life. I was below average but within the typical range on Extraversion (meaning that I am somewhat introverted). Actually, the range given included everything from the 16th percentile to the 50th percentile. Anyway, compared to my rather introverted family, I am probably a veritable social butterfly, being an organizer, community builder and leader type, but still, rather introverted -- or introspetive and insightful, as I prefer to think of it.
On Agreeableness, I was "above average but within the typical range" which was stated as including a range from the 51st to 84th percentiles. The following is a description of Agreeableness from the website, for the sake of clarity: "People who score high in agreeableness tend to be pleasant and accommodating. They are also empathetic, friendly, generous, cooperative, altruistic, and optimistic about human nature. They typically view other people as honest, good-natured, and trustworthy. In contrast, people who score low in this trait may be more competitive, more concerned about their own interests, more straightforward or blunt, and more stubborn."
On Conscientiousness, my score was again between the 51st and 84th percentiles. The 23andme site has this to say about Conscientiousness: "People who score high in conscientiousness are organized, considerate, disciplined, thorough, and dependable. They tend to be hard working, reliable, and goal-oriented. In contrast, individuals low on this trait tend to be more laid back, less driven, and less focused on achieving particular goals."
On Openness to Experience, I was yet again between the 51st and 84th percentiles. The website has this to say about Openness to Experience: "People who score high in openness tend to have active imaginations, are highly curious, appreciate the arts, music, and literature, and seek a variety of experiences. They are comfortable with change and are open to ideas and experiences that are outside the norm. These people may be unconventional, non-conformist, or even rebellious. People who score low in openness, on the other hand, tend to be more traditional and to prefer the familiar to the unfamiliar. They can be seen as more practical-minded."
Finally, on the Neuroticism trait, I scored quite low, somewhere between the 4th and 15th percentiles, meaning that I am quite emotionally stable. The 23andme webstie has this to say about the Neuroticism versus Emotional Stability dimension: "People who score high in neuroticism tend to respond more strongly to stress and minor frustrations. They are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger. They may also be shy, self-conscious, and impulsive. Although high levels of neuroticism are associated with negative emotions, this doesnt mean that people who score high in neuroticism don't experience positive emotions too. Some people high in neuroticism experience high levels of both negative and positive emotions, as if they were always on the proverbial emotional roller coaster. People who score low in neuroticism tend to be more emotionally stable, less anxious or tense, less prone to depression, and are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives."
To add some further clarification, I tended to answer some items as being "unsure" and not very many items in the extreme, thus making it unlikely that I would wind up in extreme high or low ranges on the personality measures. On the Big 5 Traits, it is also likely that it is difficult to be particularly high on some traits simultaneously, as traits such as Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, or Openness to Experience and Emotional Stability, may somewhat oppose each other.
Overall, this genetics testing was an interesting and potentially useful learning experience. All life on the planet came from the same primordial ooze, and all humans came out of Africa, earlier for the Neanderthals, and merely 60,000 years or so ago for other humans. In that sense, we are all Africans. Our genetics reflect a combination of different ancestry and mutations, and over time, as modern life brings peoples of the world closer together, the genome in the melting pot mixes even further. Probably nearly everyone has more mixed heritage than we are aware of, as it is, and that's a good thing -- much better than it is to be inbred. Furthermore, human evolution appears to be accelerating, according to people who study human evolution. We have created a world of great flux. Bringing us closer together as one humanity, and working to overcome our differences, and to defeat those forces of selfishness within us and among us -- forces with such aims as world domination -- should be our common goal.
A Capital Idea Part 151: Capitalism of, by and for the People
As I may finally be approaching the end of this series, having touched upon virtually every topic I can think of (although I am sure that more will occur to me), I feel the need to write about what two divergent visions of what capitalism is. The version we have been brought up with, tells us that capitalism is about individuals using money to "make more money." We do that, capitalitistically, by "investing" our money i.e., "capital" either directly in some business venture or indirectly in stocks which will make the money "grow." This is financial capitalism, which is based on the idea that the economy is about "making money," which makes the economy, "grow." According to this model, we need financial investment in order to make the economy work. This is typical of the mindset of conservatives who talk about "job creators," because they think that it is people with money investing in businesses which create jobs, rather than looking at demand for products. This whole approach is unrealistic in that it postulates perpetual economic "growth," without regard to the proper use of actual resources, and thus fails to take into account the fact that it will result in resources being misused and degraded, undervalued or overvalued (often both on the same day), employees underpaid except for those running the businesses, wealth disparities exaggerated over time, and resources and money hoarded by those with the power to do so. Thus, this approach has been thoroughly discredited not only in these blogs, but by historical and current evidence, and in the writings of many people. Nonetheless, like a religious superstition, backed by the power of wealth, belief in this model continues to be mainstream.
However, there is a growing movement that the basic idea of capital is that it is a resource, not money, which can be used to create something worthwhile -- to make something grow or improve. An economy based on this notion of capital, is called a "resource based economy." These resources do not have to be in the control of individuals. They can be, but probably should not be unless it it something in the way of personal belongings. Thus, the alternative view of capitalism -- my view -- is that people working together for a common good, and learning to do so in harmony with nature, represents the best use of capital. There are various types of both human and natural resource capital, as discussed previously (a long time ago by now). However, the proper use of any human capital depends upon people cooperating in a way that advances a common good, while the proper use of any natural resource depends upon it being used in a way which does not degrade our environment and thus quality of life, and if anything, hopefully can result in protection or enhancment of our environment. There is still a role of money in this system as I see it, but not as the source of capital. Rather, money becomes something used to ensure a decent standard of living for all, and to be bartered for goods, and can take various forms rather than the "almighty dollar" (or whatever nation's form of currency). The way such claims on resources will be used, will be in such a way, accordingly, that the obscene and patently unfair accumulation of massve wealth will not be possible, nor will poverty. The basic source of capital becomes the people's ability to develop and use their skills, through their labor, to create things of value -- such as inventions or creative works -- or do needed work, such as child rearing, yardwork, farmwork, etc. The better people do this in concert with the environment, the better the economy can be, and the more we learn to utilize the possibilities of technological innovation -- such as methods of capturing clean energy from the environment which will free us from depending on businesses to supply these, or more efficient ways of working with the land to grow crops -- the more free people will be to pursue productive interests. It should have a catalytic effect of transforming society -- a remodernization of society, if you will -- which can break us out of the virtual jungle of corporate serfdom which we find ourselves in.
This future beyond financial capitalism which awaits us, is what I refer to as "capitalism of, by and for the people" (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln). This is the negation of capitalism of the wealthy -- of people of financial means using their advantage to take further advantage of society. That is a false capitalism, because rather than building a more complex, advanced, harmonious system, in which all parts work together, it creates the seeds of its own destruction -- wrecking the environment and any semblance of social justice in the process. True capitalism, to me, is capitalism which builds something better, something lasting, something sustainable. It effectively brings new technologies to the people, rather than suppressing their development, which is part of corporate strategy. It serves the people instead of people serving capitalism as we see now: No matter how we tinker with a financially based economic system, I am afraid that it will in the end, serve it's corporate and financial masters, not so much the public good. Thus, true capitalism in my view, is resource based as well as being public good based (a moral basis) and ecologically based (also a moral good) -- either with or without advanced technologies to help us live well while incorporating ourselves into the ecology. All of this may sound like a dream, but the more I hear, the more realistic it seems. We have only begun to tap the possibilities -- possibilities of the unperceived reality around us, and most of all, those of the creative, compassionate human spirit. But this won't happen by itself; it is our choice to collectively use our potential. It is up to us, individually and collectively.
A Capital Idea Part 150: The Hidden Costs of Sexism
I did a post a year or so ago about the correlation of gender equality and economic success, which was clearly quite a strong link (Capital Ideas Part 92). With the encouragement of my friend Zenzoe, I have been thinking about linking gender equality to other measures of a society's success, particularly violence -- measures which impact not only well-being, but also the ability of the citizens to function effectively in the economic system. This turned out to be a difficult task, not surprisingly, as most societies which are misogynistic hide their misogyny by discounting or ignoring the dilemmas of abused women. I found the rape statistics across nations to be, if anything, an inverse measure of actual sexual abuse, as more gender equal societies are far more willing to report and publicize rape when it happens. Also, there don't appear to be good international statistics on domestic abuse of women by men. Next, I tried to relate murder rates to cultural masculinity, using Hofstede's measure of cultural masculinity, and found that murder rates were indeed higher overall in more masculine cultures, but the results were skewed by two nations which were in the highly masculine category. Thus, I wanted something more statistically reliable. Then, I had a "duh" moment a few days ago, when I realized that Hofstede's measure (in addition to not having data for many nations) is based upon workplace attitudes, not actual misogyny. His idea of cultural masculinity is more about corporate competition and "keeping up with the Joneses," which really isn't what I wanted as a measure of gender equality versus inequality. (By the way, Japan ranks number 1 on Hofstede's measure of masculinity, but nowhere near number 1 in the more comprehensive measure that I finally used.) Thus, I went back to the measure of gender equality used in Wikipedia, which includes data on 3 indices: Reproductive Health (good care for pregnant women, not turning women into baby-producing mills from adolescence), Empowerment (rate of women in high positions, and educational opportunites and attainment for women), and Labor Market Participation (work opportunities and pay for women).
What I found regarding murder rates could either be considered absolutely stunning, using this Gender Inequality Index as reported in Wikipedia, or perhaps a statistical artifact if one is being skeptical. As of 2011, the ten most gender equal nations (with apparently there being no nation in which womens' status is better than that of men) are as follows: Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Germany, Singapore, Iceland, and France, in that order. All of these nations had Gender Inequality indices which indicated near-equality between women and men, and have been improving in recent years. The ten worst nations in terms of this Gender Inequality Index as of 2011 were: Yemen, Chad, Niger, Mali, Congo, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Central African Republic, and Sierra Leone, starting with Yemen being the worst (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_Inequality_Index). Fortunately, even in these nations, gender inequality has been decreasing over recent years, but is still very prominant. Looking at murder rates per 100,000 citizens per year, the ten most gender equal nations had an average rate of only 0.9 persons per 100,000. Finland had the highest murder rate among these nations, at 2.2, while Iceland and Singapore had the lowest rates, at 0.3. Averaging the murder rates in the 10 nations showing the greatest bias toward women, the result was 13.23 murders per 100,000 citizens per year, a whopping 14.7 times higher than the rate for the 10 most gender equal societies! The lowest murder rate among these gender biased societies was in Afghanistan, interestingly enough, at 2.4 -- I think they have enough death going on with drones dropping bombs out of the sky, as it is -- while the highest murder rate among these gender unequal nations was in Congo, where the murder rate was 30.8 persons per 100,000 citizens per year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate).
I know that serious people will argue that these results are largely due to the fact that the most gender equal nations are all in Europe with the exception of Singapore, which is in southeast Asia, while the most gender unequal nations are all in Africa or the Middle East. Yes, it is clear from the murder statistics -- especially since regional murder rates are also given, not only murder rates by nation in Wikipedia -- that some regions of the world have much higher murder rates than others, with Africa and the Middle East having relatively high murder rates, while those in Europe and Asia are relatively low. It is also true that there could be other factors, including colonialism by nations in more gender equal parts of the world, which drive the murder rates higher in Africa and the Middle East. However, I would argue that the fact that the more gender equal nations are in parts of the world with lower murder rates compared to the more gender unequal nations, is not a coincidence or statistical artifact, nor a result of some nations foisting their misogyny on other nations, but rather, gender equality is most likely causally linked to lower murder rates; in other words, where women are treated well, men behave more peacefully and civilly, toward both men and women. Even women in more gender equal societies are likely to less violent, as a major cause of violence perpetrated by women, is revenge for abuses by men. In conclusion, we need to empower women worldwide in order to reduce rates of violence, as well as to reduce birth rates which continue to result in a soaring human population which threatens both our planet's ecology and our economy.
Regarding abuses such as rape and domestic violence, it seems clear to me that more civilized, gender equal nations take these incidences much more seriously than those nations which manifest large biases against women. As a result, women in gender unequal nations are far more reluctant to report rape or domestic violence such as wife beating, and also, police are less likely to take reports of such abuse seriously, even when a woman is brave enough to report the abuse. In addition, laws are more liberal regarding what is considered abuse, in more gender equal nations. For example, Sweden's broad definition of sexual abuse includes "sex by surprise," whatever that is (of which Julian Assange is infamously accused of commiting while in Sweden). Another interesting fact that I found during my research is that in terms of prostitition law, 3 Scandanavian nations which are among the world's most gender equal -- Sweden, Norway and Iceland -- all make paying for sex illegal as well as managing prostitutes (i.e., "pimping"), although prostitution itself is not illegal. These are the only nations in the world with such laws, and these laws appear to squarely put the blame for prostitution on the men who are the customers of prostitutes as well as those who otherwise use prostitutes to make a living.
Thus, the hidden costs of gender inequality are multiple and adversely affect people's survival, health, and ability to live happy, productive lives. Men are hurt by misogyny, as well as women, in these various ways. In fact, the large majority of murder victims are men. Misogyny by men against women, is a self-defeating behavior!
A Capital Idea Part 149: Redefining Success
This is a topic which has come up between myself and various friends on the internet at various times in various contexts, moreso lately. Perhaps it is mostly myself that drives these conversations, but other people clearly agree upon the need to redefine what we mean by succcess. Perhaps the reason that it has become a persistent theme for me, is that in a personal basis, I see this as being at the core of the mindset needed for a new, progressive economic system. Perhaps it is also the case that most of my good friends are misfits to the dominant model in one sense or another, and thus find themselves lacking as I do, in objective measures of what others expect of us in terms of success.
This is a rather self-revelatory post, if not a downright confessionary one. I have never been anywhere close to being a "success" by conventional standards, actually. I have never had a full-time job, never had more than a mediocre income, have not won any particular awards, am definitely not living "The American Dream," and there are even more personal heartbreaks, -- flunking out of Biophysics graduate school (of which I wrote in the past) although I later succeeded quite nicely in a good Social/Personality Psychology graduate program, my 10 years of begging and waiting my now-wife to marry me (and thus my relatively late-in-life marriage), our wanting to have a child only to have 2 miscarriages, and now she is apparently too old to conceive. (She was already older than me in the first place.) Meanwhile, I have witnessed the failure of my two older brothers' marriages, and my father's physical and psychological disintegration as he has repeatedly overdosed on anti-anxiety drugs -- for anxiety perhaps compounded by worries over my brothers' frequent requests for money, as well as over their surprisingly unsuccessful marriages. My mother seems okay, until we notice things such as her forgetting that she just bought a new computer, and thinking that she still was stuck with her old, "broken" one. Well, things aren't exactly a bed of roses here, but I believe the problem has more to do with how success is defined, as well as the unrealistically high expectations which modern culture nurtures.
Of course, one could always point to one's conventional successes -- my educational success in psychology, that I have a job which I actually like and which pays well for a part-time job, my marriage which is not in danger of breaking up -- but that is beside the point. The point is that we should be redefining what we mean by success, if we have not already, on both an individual, and a societal level. The point I made in a much earlier, related blog post, is that -- for those of us who are open-minded enough to learn from our mistakes -- failure can lead to success. Perhaps that thought has something to do with what my eldest brother quite correctly observed about me when I was a teenager -- that persistence is one of my key characteristics and strengths: Not persistence as in refusing to change a belief even when it is clear that it is false, but persistence as in adapting and learning from my mistakes, and still persisting in pursuing my most important goals rather than giving up. It also has to do with my sense that life is miraculous, and that I can potentiate wonderful things happening.
Fortunately, I have never defined success by conventional means, although I must admit that my definition of success has strayed farther and farther from convention as time goes on. By my personal definition of success, I actually am successful -- very successful, most probably, although it is difficult to know just how "successful" I am being. Success for me has to do with helping people and helping society move forward in a progressive way. I have helped my parents, sometimes in ways that I cannot disclose here, although I was unable to allay my father's secret anxieties; I have tried to help my brothers, although apparently not enough and not successfully, but one cannot make people listen when they don't want to; I believe I saved my graduate school advisor's career, and so does she; I have helped at least two schizophrenic friends (one a person I made the mistake of dating) or at least tried to, probably with some success; my wife and I love each other passionately and I don't know where she would be without me, but probably a lot less happy than she is; I have been a good, steadying influence on my stepdaugter and my wife's relatives. On the larger, social level, I have my teaching "career" (although I don't think of myself as a career teacher) who imparts psychological and political knowledge and wisdom to my students and act as a role model who is widely recognized around Moreno Valley -- we can hardly go shopping without my being recognized -- and my blogging "career" (for which I am not paid) which includes my network of progressive friends, administering my own progressive bloggers group which seems to be gaining in popularity over time, and of course, my blog posts. (In the future, there may be books too, but I do so enjoy interacting with my friends online, and find editing a book to be a solitary, painstaking process.)
This blog post is not really about myself, however, as much good and not-so-good about myself as I have included. It is about as a society, as a collective, learning from our mistakes and in particular, learning to redefine success so that we can move forward as a society (the entire world's society) in big, humanity-actualizing ways. This is what is needed in order for the larger, more systemic changes that are needed, to take place, in my opinion. This task is probably more difficult in more individualistic societies such as the United States, and compounded by the hubris of American culture along with the notion of "American exceptionalism." However, I see many of my online friends, both American as well as of other nationalities, understanding the need for a change in how we define success, as they have already done personally. I do think that "western," individualistic cultures have a counteracting advantage in this regard, along with the disadvantages, the advantage being that we seem less susceptible to "conditioning" or propaganda, more likely to throw out the conceptual "box," and say things like "to hell with the banksters!" The problem is that we do this on an individual level, those of us who come to this understanding, and getting us together to make systemic changes in the culture, is like "herding cats." And yes, I am a "cat person" myself, and thus, reluctant to joining any "herd," no matter how good the cause.
Eventually, however, we must reach a consensus of sorts, that success is not being a Wall Street CEO, or a rich banker, or being married to a very attractive (to people who judge those kinds of things officially) model, actor or actress, having two or three successful kids while being "superparents" and living "the American Dream," (or whatever one's nationality's notion of success is), or that "failure" is being "jobless" or only having part-time work, or getting divorced, or having trouble "making ends meet," or writing blog posts on the 13th day of the month, or being more interested in looking at attractive persons of the opposite gender than shopping while on boring shopping trips (since such attraction is likely to be met with metaphorical lightning strikes and balls of fire from a wrathful God if not one's spouse). Rather success is something which ultimately depends on each person's conscience -- living a life of good conscience, having the greater good as we see it, in mind and in our actions; such attitudes and actions are what true success consists of. This revoluton of consciousness -- and of conscience -- is what is needed to potentiate the remaking of our economic system to fit both the ecological realities of our planet, as well as allow the blossoming of human potential which remains sadly stunted by the current system.
A Capital Idea Part 148: Thank You Jerry Brown and Voters of California for Supporting Educational Infrastructure
Although this is actually a personal account of my current situation, I am including it as a capital idea, because it also represents investing in the future by building intellectual infrastructure which will improve quality of lives, the quality of the electorate and the economy in the future.
As most of you probably know, Governor Jerry Brown was the mastermind behind a proposition in last November's election, Proposition 30, which proposed raising the tax rate on the wealthiest Californians, plus a 1/4% increase in sales taxes, all to support education from kindergarten through the community college level. (I don't know why the universities, with their rapidly increasing tuitions, were left out.) There was also a competing proposition by a civic-minded group, which relied more on across-the-board income tax increases. As it turned out, Proposition 30 won, and the other proposition lost. Proposition 30 was considered by most people to be the better one, so many voters intentionally voted for 30 but not the other one in order to avoid a conflict in terms of how to implement the propositions. Of course, I was lobbying for Proposition 30 (and the other proposition to a lesser extent), and very happy with the election's outcome. As with most races in California, the media had support for Proposition 30 slipping and it was "too close to call," when in fact, the progressive side won the actual election by a comfortable margin.
Of course, we have our enclaves of conservatism even here in California. I belong to one website where Proposition was very unpopular among its Californian members. I think I and only one or two other people publicly voiced support for it at that site, while many were clearly against the proposition. At least one member I expected to support the proposition came out against it, in fact. But given the macho dominance on that site, and the level of bullying and intimidation that goes on there, I suspect that many people who supported the proposition just stayed silent, as I did about the Presidential race, which I knew Obama would win despite Romney's huge lead among site members. Arguments against Proposition 30 were primarily that "the money would be wasted, like it always is" -- that familiar conservative meme -- in spite of the fact that it is written into Proposition 30 that the money has to be used for education. (Perhaps these troglodytes think that education itself is a waste of time and money.) I doubt any of the members are rich enough to be affected by the upper income tax increase, and there was not as much grumbling about the slight increase in sales taxes as I might have expected.
My winter and spring session teaching schedules were made before the election, in late October. I had no classes in the scaled back Winter Session, which is the new norm, after years of having winter classes was nixed by conservatism-caused budget woes and lack of respect for public education. What really dismayed me, was that I was only scheduled to teach one Spring Semester class (which represented a new low for me). I even wrote a message to the woman who hires adjunct faculty and finalizes their schedules, about my dismay. She didn't answer, but she was probably on vacation, along with most of the other faculty. I mentioned that with the passage of Proposition 30, I thought that the budget would improve somewhat, rather than being worse than ever, and asked if more classes would be scheduled. This Tuesday, three days ago, I got my answer, as Rosario called me and said that 2 classes had been added to my schedule. Since Spring Semester begins next Monday, this is definitely a rush job, but the classes were already listed under my name, and Rosario told me that they were already full. (With the lack of classes, students have to sign up quickly to ensure a space in a class.) I went to the bookstore on Wednesday, and found out that they had already ordered the books. All of this is due to Proposition 30, I believe. Of course, classes are being scheduled for a multitude of faculty throughout California, not just me, as a result of Proposition 30, but I only know the details of my personal case.
In the long run, investments such as Proposition 30 should help California tremendously. I hope that other states follow suit, but I know that there are many states in which I would be consigned to near unemployment by the budget cuts in education. I know that I am a very good teacher, and students eagerly sign up for my classes, but the ironic thing is that I have never considered myself a career educator, or career anything else. I am a social/personality psychologist who happens to teach and uses my personality, intellect, caring nature and experience to the best of my ability as an instructor. I am getting closer by the year to thinking I should find a way to devote myself full time to progressive political change, in fact (and I do mention progressive ideas at times to my classes, which the large majority of my students are receptive to). However, with the economic system we have, especially the for-the-most-part sink or swim system here in the U.S., it seems important to have a decent source of income, which of course, is the dilemma that nearly all Americans find themselves in, even if it means working long hours at unpleasant jobs for which a person is poorly suited. I am fortunate to at least have work that I like, and considerable time left over for other important activities. As long as we can communicate, and educate, we can work on ways to counteract the corporatocracy and undo this odious situation. I do consider Proposition 30 to be an important step forward in this process, and it basically happened through democratic "people power."
A Capital Idea Part 147: Wages and the Economy
I have often wondered about jewels and precious minerals. For instance, why are there so many jewelry stores in areas where a lot of wealthy people live? Obviously, because these pretty little rocks and minerals are so expensive, that only rich people can afford to buy much of it. But why are they so expensive? I look at the size of some of these multi-thousand dollar little gems, and think it's rather pitiful. We have far larger rocks in my yard, natural ones. I keep bumping into them nearly everytime I need to dig a hole. In fact, I think the underlying granite batholith was exposed in our backyard, until the bank that owned the foreclosed home of the previous owner was ordered to dynamite it and build a retaining wall there instead. If any of you want rocks, you can come to my neighborhood. There is a granite mountain behind our house, one that won't be dynamited. It's a nature preserve -- home to Rattlesnakes, Road Runners, Coyotes, Mountain lions, Bobcats, Scorpions, Gophers, Rabbits, Kangaroo Rats and various rats and mice, and flowers such as Golden Hills and Matillaha (spelling?) Poppies, among other things. One can even find some pretty Mica ("fool's gold") and Quartz there. Also, consider how easily jewelry can be lost. My mother had a special wedding ring which had Diamonds from both of my grandmothers plus the one my father gave her. I say had, because now, she "can't find it." I wonder how valuable "can't find it" is on the market? Perhaps someday, some lucky person will find one of those golden circles that people like to put on their fingers, with 3 of those shiny little clear rocks on top of it, and say, "Whoopee! I found something pretty; maybe it's worth something." Gems are pretty, but I don't think they can beat the beauty of living flowers, and hey, you know, dried flowers can be preserved too, or one can take photos of flowers, and these flowery things don't cost thousands of dollars.
Having established that some things such as jewelry is overpriced, the next step is how wages can actually be too high as well as too low, for an optimal economy. Consider that, as we well know, certain professions seem to be grossly overpaid, especially in the United States. What effect does that have on the economy? When rich people buy stuff, they are willing to pay far more for it, generally speaking, than would a person of modest means. This causes inflation and thus continues the never-ending cycle of wage wars and "keeping up with the Joneses." Essentially, I am making another argument for greater wage parity here.
Another issue regarding wages, is the utility of a person's work. If a person is being paid to produce or sell a product that makes people sick, and ultimately kills them, that isn't of much value to society, is it? But we wouldn't be so stupid as to do that, would we? Of course we would. Cigarettes, alcohol, and various other harmful or potentially harmful drugs are a huge "market." How about people who pay themselves great amounts of money for moving other people's money around and risking it on investments, ultimately probably losing more money for their clients than they "make?" These "banskters" and financial planners, etc. are the people who have done the most, in fact, to damage the world economy. Perhaps our new slogan should be "make love, not money." And of course, the U.S. is paying huge sums of money to occupy other nations and "root out terrorists," or alternatively, just drop bombs by remote control on places where our government thinks somebody it doesn't like happens to be. Somehow, it doesn't seem to occur to people in positions of power in our government, that this is not the way to build a respectful, loving, peaceful world.
To conceptualize the possibilities for wage versus economy better, let us look at them one by one:
1. Paying everybody enormous amounts of money for doing unproductive work. One economic model -- I forget who it is by -- suggests that an economy would be just as good if we pay people for digging a hole and then refilling it, over and over, as it would if we paid people for actually doing something that helps us. While this worker would have lots of exercise at the job, I don't think it's really going to help us build a better world. What is our perpetual shoveler supposed to spend all those wages on? Perhaps paying another person to endlessly turn pegs all day, as in Leon Festinger's famous cognitive dissonance experiment? Having money is no use, if there is nothing worthwhile to spend it on;
2. The flip side of the endless shoveling model, is the Venus Project model, in which there is tremendous abundance of goods, and nobody needs any money. This could also be termed the "Star Trek" model. We may be heading there eventually, but that would require some means of creating tremendous abundance which is freely available to everybody, such as "Star Trek's" replicator machines. As it is, we need "scorecards" of some sort, and it is important to reward good, productive behavior while punishing poor (counterproductive) behavior. Sadly, our hypercompetitive system does a horrendous job of "keeping score;"
3. The hypercompetitive "free market" system which we have, which rewards people according to "the market value" of their work. Ultimately, it's something of a "winner takes all" model. The abstraction of money and thus value, which take place, serve to exacerbate differences in pay -- by allowing those who control the money to essentially use it as a weapon -- and the accumulation of wealth beyond what is needed for immediate consumption, consequently is exacerbated over time to create enormous intergenerational disparities in wealth -- in other words, the "rich class" and the "poor class" of society. The richest in most cases, continue to exploit their wealth advantage over the rest of us, even the not-quite-as-rich, ultimately rigging the legal and political system, until there is not much left but a few ultra wealthy people and a bunch of "wage slaves," and those jobless people who conservatives so love to label as "parasites," while the real parasites feast on the fruits of others' labor. We are clearly well down this path already, but calls for change are increasing as the damage intensifies and the likelihood of even greater perils become ever clearer;
4. A well-regulated system in which labor which results in some product or service of worth is valued, where wages are set to be not too low or too high, for instance (minimum wages being an example; maximum wages being a never-used possibility). This system could include government price regulation (done with the participation and consent of the public), for example, as well as prohibition of counterproductive or non-productive occupations. Our present system includes some features of regulation, but doesn't go nearly far enough. An increasingly regulated economic system is probably the next step in the cultural evolution of the economy. Also a part of a well-regulated system, are social "safety nets" such as welfare programs, social security and medicare. However, these need to be expanded ("medicare for all" for example) and government involvement to improve our economy increased (infrastructure building projects, for instance);
5. A Resource-Based Economy in which government involvement at various levels still exists, and where the fair and equitable allocation of resources is emphasized. Citizens in good standing may be guaranteed certain resources such as at least adequate and hopefully much better than adequate, housing, food and health care. Different forms of money may be used specifically for each of these different functions. Upper and lower limits on the allocation of money and resources, along with laws against resource abuse or hoarding, and the use of different forms of money for different types of resources, should prevent the excessive accumulation of wealth. Essentially, this system will actually balance wages with the economy in a real and meaningful way. To be in good standing, citizens will need to do something of value to society, for a certain amount of time per week, for example, such as 20 hours per week. This will expand the meaning of the word, "work" so that people will be freed, at least to an extent, to pursue productive activities of their choosing, thus unleashing much of humanity's creative, loving, and intellectual potential in ways never done before. This I see as the next step after a really well-regulated economic system.
The final step in the cutural evolution of economic models would probably be the "Star Trek" model, but that is far, far in our future, perhaps being carried out on some distant, idyllic planet. Even in the "Star Trek" model, I believe there will be a need for good, democratic government and a legal system to help regulate peoples' behavior in prosocial ways.
A Capital Idea Part 146: What Kind of Freedom is Economic Freedom?
My friend Debra Gordon mentioned in a personal message a few weeks ago, that a distinction is made between positive and negative freedom by philosophers. As with so many "postive versus negative" distinctions when applied to abstract concepts, I found this distinction can be confusing upon application when I checked into it; however, eventually, I could find some clear distinctions between the two types of freedom, usually called "liberty" in the sources I saw.
The clearest concise definition of the two that I found was this: "Negative liberty is the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints. One has negative liberty to the extent that actions are available to one in this negative sense. Positive liberty is the possibility of acting or the fact of acting in such a way as to take control of one's life and realize one's fundamental purposes. While negative liberty is usually attributed to individual agents, positive liberty is sometimes attributed to collectivities, or to individuals considered primarily as members of given collectivities" (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/).
In my opinion, this still doesn't capture the entirety of the distinction, however, especially regarding postive freedom. Wikipedia has a definition of positive freedom, fortunately, which does exactly what I would have done on my own: "Positive liberty is defined as having the power and resources to fulfill one's own potential as opposed to negative liberty, which is freedom from external restraint. A concept of positive liberty may also include freedom from internal constraints" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_liberty). Thus, while negative liberty basically refers to freedom from external restraints to act, positive liberty includes both the possibility of taking action to fulfill some potential, as well as freedom from internal constraints.
Thus, negative freedom in an economic sense would include for example, operating a business without any regulation to worry about, such as minimum wages, price regulations, safety or environmental standards, obligation to pay for damages caused by the business, and so forth. Negative freedom as applied to economics is what conservatives are talking about when they advocate for "economic freedom." Conservative think tanks actually measure "economic freedom" in this sense, and publish lists of the results for different places (nations or states, for example), as though being able to exploit society was the key to happiness and social harmony. The "individual agent" referred to in this case, would be government. Negative freedom would also include freedom from interference by other individuals, such as disapproving parents. Positive freedom would include for example freedom from collective cultural biases such as racial, ethnic, gender, religious or other biases. It would also include for example, the availability of educational opportunities or career opportunities. On the individual level, however, positive freedom would include freedom of thought and feeling, which lead to the psychological freedom to make positive choices and actions toward actualization of individual or collective potential.
It is clear to me now, that what I have been writing about in terms of necessary changes in economic systems, relates to a shift from emphasis on negative freedom as applied to economics, to positive freedom, as applied to economics. In fact, without using this terminology, this is a common theme amongst progressive economic thinkers. Again, it comes down to philosophy of governance and differing views regarding what government is actually doing. Conservatives want to keep government "out of their lives," including economically; they abhor any sort of heavy regulation of their business actions. In a libertarian sense, conservatives also want to keep government from restraining people's behavior with too many laws telling us what is legal or illegal to do. There is something to be said for the libertarian sense of personal freedom from excessive lawmaking and consequent selective application of the law, as happens all too often. However, the inadequacy of negative freedom as applied to economics, is abundantly clear by now. Essentially, it vilifies government and results in "free-market" and "trickle-down economics" mentalities, which in turn, lead to the promotion of greed, huge wealth disparities, and ultimate monopolization of entire political/economic systems by a few privileged individuals, sabotaging democracy in the process. Negative economic freedom, ironically, essentially makes the public economic slaves to a few economic elites.
The way forward to a social rebirth (to borrow the name of my friend Jules Elbeshausen's website) and a better future for humanity, involves transforming economics to emphasize positive liberties -- a world with a truly level economic playing field, for instance, for women as well as men, for people of all races or nationalities; a world free from the cultural ills of excessive wealth disparities and their effects; a world in which people are encouraged to pursue their educational, intellectual, creative, artistic, pragmatic and socially philanthropic interests, and be amply but not excessively rewarded for it. Such a world would unleash peoples' human potential to create a more productive, harmonious, enlightened society. However, we will still have to operate within life's constraints with which our environment binds us. This means that necessary to our progress is the unleashing of our potential to understand and work with nature in sustainable ways. No freedom is absolute, but rather, is relative. Being realistic on a collective level, means intelligently understanding the world's environment, determining and implementing ways for humanity to fit into this environment in a beneficial rather than destructive way. Being realistic on an individual level, means understanding our personal limitations as well as strengths, and making sure we fulfill our obligations to self and society before engaging in creative flights of fancy or other such personal enrichment and actualization practices. However, in a properly structured, modern environment, there should be plenty of time for both taking care of life's more odious chores, as well as those value-adding "broaden and build" (to borrow a phrase from psychology regarding the function of positive emotions) activities which we all look forward to so eagerly. In sum, positive economic freedoms allow all of us to fairly share in humanity's collective prosperity and potential. True economic freedom is a positive freedom, not a negative one.
A Capital Idea Part 145: Hidden Psychological Costs of Consumer Culture
Before I ever started blogging, I was thinking of doing a blog post on all the ridiculous time, effort and money it would take in order to fulfill all the recommendations that we are given. We are bombarded, it seems, with recommendations to see this doctor or that doctor -- in our inordinately expensive medical care system, no less -- for this or that possible disease -- whether one really needs to or not -- or to eat this or that food on a regular basis -- because a couple of studies focused on the health benefits of a particular food (wine for instance as sponsored by the wine industry) or check this or that wiring, furnace, and so forth on a certain schedule -- even if one doesn't use it or can easily see that it's fine -- take your car in for a checkup every 3 thousand miles whether it needs it or not, and so forth. When I checked the internet for a list of such recommendations, however, I could not find any, so I gave up on writing the blog post. However, the recommendations are still out there, and still generated by the people who stand to benefit the most by having people follow them. I therefore came to the conclusion that, these recommendations are part of the capitalist model -- a model in which various industries are competing to squeeze every last possible dime out of the consumer, by in this case, creating false senses of obligation in consumers. This is one of the hidden costs of capitalism, but there is more.
The biggest psychological cost of capitalism is the cognitive distraction of people who are enticed into, or compelled into, spending enormous cognitive effort on making relatively insignificant consumer choices. Which washing machine to buy? What type of laundry detergent? Which type of aspirin to buy for the headache you got while choosing which washer to buy (as though there is a real difference between aspirin brands)? Should I buy that toy for my dog/cat (when the pet seems just as happy if not happier playing with sticks and strings)? et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's competition and choice; isn't that what's great about living in a capitalist society? Not when the choices are not really choices but more like advertising driven manipulations, and not when the act of making these choices is distracting us from what is important in life -- hypnotizing the public into a state of consumerism, essentially.
We may choose the slightly cheaper product, as most of us consistently do, perhaps even going to great lengths to find and acquire the cheaper products, even if they might be of lower quality. Alternatively, we may choose a more expensive, higher quality product, after much consideration. Certainly, that is often the case when choosing a car, of which one may tire in a couple of years and trade in -- or which one can no longer afford -- or a house, which one might turn out to be unable to afford and thus have foreclosed. The point is that these consumer decisions, some of which are quite trivial, while others may admittedly be quite important, take an inordinate amount of our cognitive effort, time and money. According to capitalist business people, this choice-making process is a sign of "economic freedom," along with the opportunity for people to run their own businesses relatively free of regulation. It seems to me that, being compelled to constantly make choices as consumers, is more of a cognitive burden which detracts from freedom. Once again, it is only the business owner who really enjoys some sort of freedom, unless the choice between Wheaties or Cheerios for breakfast really gives us a sense of freedom (and the choice of Wheaties or Cheerios is probably dependent upon which type of ad one saw last).
The attempts at health-care reform highlight this consumer's dilemma. As it turns out, all Americans will be required to buy health insurance, or else pay a "tax" in lieu of the health insurance. Efforts are being made to make health-insurance chaeper, but it is still very, very expensive, so expensive that my parents cancelled the insurance they were buying for my wife and I, and we are not sure we can afford to buy it on our own. Yet, we are being bombarded with advertisements -- especially since the entire health care debate began -- for different health insurance policies. Sure, these policies have differences among them; they are different "choices," but none of them is really that much of a choice. (The same can be said regarding most political candidates in modern U.S. politics, as so many distressed voters are apt to point out.) All of the policies are very, very expensive, most of them have very high "deductibles," and they pretty much offer the same services, with some tinkering here or there. At least, that is the way I see it. I think that some people have better coverage, but mostly older people, due to government run medicare. Thus, we are asked to sit down and spend, well, probably days trying to figure out which of these relatively similar policies are best for us, even though they are generally not very different, and we cannot anticipate which medical services we will need in the future. Otherwise, maybe we can just get lazy and buy into the first insurance policy we see advertised, whcih is probably what most consumers do. Surely, all this decision-making -- decision-making which most often will probably be of little consequence -- takes a toll on consumers.
Contrast this with most nations, where people don't really have to worry about choosing a health insurance policy. Health care is just there, and it's not that expensive, relatively speaking. Isn't that the way things should be, so that we can concentrate our efforts on the things we wish to accomplish in life? I certainly think so. The consumer culture regarding automobiles is another example. In the United States, car ownership has practically become a necessity, which is not the case in many other nations which have good public transportation. However, since conservatism has dominated our national politics over the past several decades, and because of the way the United States' history has evolved, we have never built very good public transportation systems, except locally in some places such as New York City. Thus, we are faced with the large and stressful choice of which vehicle to buy and what we can afford. Again, we are bombarded with advertisements for various models and brands of cars, most of which do not represent much real difference in function, unless one buys a hybrid or electric car which at least doesn't burn so much fossil fuel. Shoudn't we be building tremendous public transportation systems? We certainly have the technology needed to do so, and supposedly, this is "the world's richest nation." (That really isn't true, but there is a lot of money in this nation.) With better public transportation, we wouldn't be faced with so much stress in deciding which vehicle to buy, since that wouldn't be necessary for many of us. We also wouldn't be faced with the stresses and expenses of vehicle ownership, which are many, ranging from gasoline prices, to car maintenance, to possible accidents or breakdowns, to traffic citations.
In my opinion, it all comes down to priorities. The goal of "freedom" is to be able to concentrate one's efforts on the important things in life -- what one chooses as important, not what the global corporate cabal tells us is important. Those things which are part of what should be the public welfare -- that which we should all share, known as "the commons" -- in particular, should not be things that are treated as capitalistic privileges over which we must haggle and spend much angst in decision making. Nor should ordinary consumer choices over relatively inconsquential purchases be opportunities for corporations to engage the public in mass hypnosis through advertising and cultural memes. Let us make public, what should belong to all of us, and leave the individual consumer choices of other items to hands-on experience, word of mouth, and public-driven reviews, rather than having to listen to biased, profit-driven recommendations and advertisements.
A Capital Idea Part 144: Iceland Shows the Way
It's been a while since I did one of these travelogue-type posts, so here I go. I have been hearing on occasion of political reforms happening in Iceland -- not just a couple of new laws, but big reforms, like their citizens rewriting their Constitition, on the internet! Today, I did some internet searching to find out more about Iceland's reforms.
By way of background, Iceland is a Nordic nation situated in the middle of the North Atlantic, about halfway between Norway and Greenland. Clearly, it is a cold place, but being quite volcanic, Iceland has much geothermal energy which is put to good use, and some crops can be grown there, if not outside during the summer, at least in geothermally heated greenhouses. There are about 311,000 residents of Iceland, so its population is quite small, perhaps making participative democracy and big reforms more feasible than in most nations. These people are generally descended from what was almost certainly a fairly small number of Norwegian immigrants around 1,000 years ago or so, and there is a large scale genome project which the people of Iceland are doing. In fact, their new Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of "genotype." The recent transformation of Iceland began when neo-liberal (i.e., conservative, "trickle-down," deregulation-oriented) policies were instituted there a couple of decades ago. This resulted in a very hard crash in 2008 for Iceland, as the private banks were playing with everybody's money, and oops! They lost it. Where did it go? Time for a bailout. Well, instead of a bailout, the people of iceland said "No way!" and proceeded to write a new Constitution which (I think but cannot verify) banned banks from playing with people's money as well as instituting various other progressive and transparent, participative democracy type reforms. Meanwhile, many anti-bank, progressive types were elected to Iceland's legislature.
To give a little more personal introduction to Icelandic culture, there is a charming band known as Of Monsters and Men, which at first I thought was from someplace such as New Zealand. It turns out that they are from Iceland, and consists of their leader, the talented Nanna Halmarsdottir (my compliments to Halmar on his lovely daughter) and 5 nice-looking Icelandic male colleagues. In Iceland, you see, females are given their father's given name, plus "dottir" as a last name, and son's are given their father's first name, plus "son." They do not usually have surnames as most people do. I have noticed that in Iceland, women tend to dominate the political and social landscape, and wonder if this naming process has something to do with it. Anyway, it looks like iceland is starting to gain some positive attention. The band's official site is here: http://www.ofmonstersandmen.com/#!/ There are several videos of them playing songs, including their hit, "Little Talks." But I digress.
It's back to politics now. Birgitta Jonsdottir is an Icelandic poet who was thrust into the spotlight by Iceland's recent crisis and transformation. She is now a politician there, and wrote an interesting article on Iceland's reforms (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/15/lessons-from-iceland-people-power). She wrote of the need to create a more transparent government motivating her and her fellow Icelandic citizens to ditch their old Constitution and create a new one. The main objective was to prevent corruption and nepotism in government, industry and banking, by having a people-oriented, openly democractic rule of law. Thus, she writes: "The foundation for the constitution was created by 1,000 people randomly selected from the national registry. We elected 25 people to put that vision into words. The new constitution is now in the parliament. It will be up to the 99% to call for a national vote on it so that we inside the parliament know exactly what the nation wants and will have to follow suit. If the constitution passes, we will have almost achieved everything we set out to do. Our agenda was written on various open platforms; direct democracy is the high north of our political compass in everything we do.
Having the tools for direct democracy is not enough though. We have to find ways to inspire the public to participate in co-creating the reality they want to live in. This can only be done by making direct democracy more local. Then people will feel the direct impact of their input. We don't need bigger systems, we need to downsize them so they can truly serve us and so we can truly shape them."
I find it strange that randomly selected people were used to
write the basis of the new Constitution. Why not let everybody participate?
Well, maybe to prevent a few loudmouths from dominating the conversation. Anyway,
there were means for everybody to ultimately participate. In fact, this is known
as the world's first "crowdsourced" Constitution. According to erasiareview.com,
any Icelander could make comments on the Constitution building process and participate
in its construction through a special website for this purpose, or through Facebook
or Twitter (http://www.eurasiareview.com/22102012-icelanders-back-first-crowdsourced-constitution/).
Details regarding what is in the Constitution are rather sketchy at this time,
perhaps because the process has not been completed, but it includes and extensive
section on Human Rights
( http://www.slaw.ca/2011/06/14/iceland-crowd-sources-constitutional-reform/). It also deeds to the public (as "national property") any natural resources which are not already privately owned. I am not sure how this would change the status of privately and publicly owned lands, except that private interests could never acquire these public resources, which is certainly a very good thing. Meanwhile, there are laws being passed by Iceland's Parliament to prevent banks from using clients' money as "investments" (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-03/post-crisis-iceland-is-test-site-for-too-big-to-fail-prevention.html). What isn't clear to me, is whether or not these safeguards are also being written into the new Constitution, but I should think so. Also, I did not see anything about the creation of a government run bank in Iceland, which would be highly advisable, and in my opinion, should be written into the Constitution. (People of Iceland, are you listening?)
Iceland was already a fairly well-educated and prosperous,
as well as relatively progressive nation, before any of this happened, which
in addition to Iceland's small population, qualifies their dynamic approach
to political reform as perhaps beyond the reach of most nations. However, Iceland
is showing a progressive way forward, and I believe, the efforts of Iceland's
people to reform their system, will prove to be a great success. Certainly,
Iceland can serve as a model of democratic, economic and political reform for
nations around the world. Already, a comment on one of the sites mentions, Morocco
is having internet based people-driven rewriting of its Constitution underway,
just as has happened in Iceland (http://www.slaw.ca/2011/06/14/iceland-crowd-sources-constitutional-reform/).
(See the first comment for the information regarding Morocco.) Eventually, every
nation I believe, will be compelled to make such changes, although it may be
more complex for the larger nations.
A Capital Idea Part 143: Why Not Have Truly Public Government Banking?
The concept of the people owning their own money supply has been a common theme in recent years, and I think, a good one. Unfortunately, most places no longer own their own money supplies. I just did an internet search to try to discover such places, with rather confusing and divergent results. Some sources said that only a few relatively obscure nations -- mostly ones which the U.S. military industrial complex hates, such as Libya, Iraq and Iran -- have their own money supplies. However, the most credible source I found, but still rather suspect, said that 40% of nations, mostly in the "BRIC economies" (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have government run banking. Australia and New Zealand are also mentioned as having government run banking (http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-public-bank-option-for-scotland-ensuring-economic-sovereignty/5314682).
Aside from that, this site discusses a current movement going on in Scotland to have its own public bank, modelled after the only state to have its own public bank, North Dakota. Incidentally, one of my great grandfathers was involved in North Dakota politics in the early 1900s, around the time that its public bank was formed, although I do not know whether he had any role in the bank's formation. North Dakota's bank has been credited for that state's relatively robust and stable economy, and its low unemployment rate (typically the lowest in the United States). However, even in North Dakota, money still ultimately issues from the Federal Reserve, which is really a private bank. Here in California, it has been suggested that much of California's financial woe would be solved by the state having its own bank, which I think is true. Thus, I would wholeheartedly support any movement by the state to create its own bank. However, as far as I know that has not happened yet, although the article cited above, by Ellen Brown, states that such movements are afoot in 20 states. That may be true, but I haven't heard anything about this. Maybe it's being downplayed by the news media. However, that will not stop state legislatures from proceding. We did have good news from Governor Jerry Brown yesterday, predicting a budget surplus this year and in coming years due to a combination of tax increases, improved economy and government spending cuts. However, the spending cuts are likely to hurt many Californians.
In fact, the great majority of nations have what is called a Central Bank, which is really a private bank, which issues and basically controls currency. For the conspiracy folks among us, there is considerable speculation that one family -- the Rothschild family -- controls all of these Central Banks. I wouldn't go that far, but I do know that having our money supply controlled by bankers is not a good thing. I am not very knowledgeable about this topic, but I can give some information and make some speculations regarding the reasons that private money issuing is a bad idea (aside from the obvious fact that we can all see that the system is rigged and the public is "royally screwed"). The website I linked to above states that public banks can do ten times more in terms of lending, with the same amount of cash. Okay, I read the article and still don't quite get the reason for that, but I will take the author's word for it.
Ellen Brown also cites the following information about the
Bank of North Dakota: "North Dakota is currently the only U.S. state to
own its own depository bank. The BND was founded in 1919 by Norwegian and other
immigrants, determined, through their Non-Partisan League, to stop rapacious
Wall Street money men foreclosing on their farms.
All state revenues must be deposited with the BND by law. The bank pays no bonuses, fees or commissions; does no advertising; and maintains no branches beyond the main office in Bismarck. The bank offers cheap credit lines to state and local government agencies. There are low-interest loans for designated project finance. The BND underwrites municipal bonds, funds disaster relief and supports student loans. It partners with local commercial banks to increase lending across the state and pays competitive interest rates on state deposits. For the past ten years, it has been paying a dividend to the state, with a quite small population of about 680,000, of some $30 million (£18.7 million) a year."
Thus, I understand that public banks such as this offer loans at lower interest rates than do private banks, and take less money in fees. In other words, they aren't as greedy! Also, it seems that a public bank is much more civic oriented and concerned with the public good. Thus, they can find ways to help people and alleviate financial problems which private banks are unwilling to do. In contrast, private banks tend to gamble with peoples' money in an effort to acquire even more money, then make the public suffer the consequences when their schemes crash. They also deny loans oftentimes to people who might make good use of those loans. There is the additional advantage of the people being in control of their own money supply, that there can be no artificial scarcity of money or gluts of money based on the whims of bankers. The most obvious advantage of government owned money, however, is that the government doesn't need to borrow the money, and pay interest on it. As it is, all money is essentially borrowed from Central Banks in those nations which have them, including the United States, as though it is the Central Banks' money, not the peoples' money. The bottom line is that it is indeed our money, so it should be in public hands.
I view the development of public banking and government run
money supplies of, by and for the people, to be the likely next step after collective
attempts by citizens to subvert the prevailing economy by such means as printing
their own types of money. The likely response of government once alternative
economies become established, is to eventually develop government run banks
which will control money supplies and government lending, rather than private
banks. Eventually, private banking may be supplanted altogether, as private,
greed-based banking most likely will be unable to compete with peoples' banks.
They will simply cost the customers too much. I look forward to the end of private
money issuance, and even private banking altogether, and hope I live to see
that day, when I can say "good riddance to private banks and their greed."
January 4, 2013
A Capital Idea Part 142: Why Not Print Our Own Money?
A number of posts I have recently read on the internet talk about bypassing the economic system as it exists. In addition, I saw an article yesterday, suggesting that the government print trillion dollar coins to pay down the debt. Earlier posts of mine have dealt with the possibility of creating different types of script for different purposes. These have been used in the past ("company script") and are still being used ("food stamps"). Thus, the thought has recently occured to me: Why not take this a step farther? Why not create an independent money supply? The obvious advantage of this would be that people would not be forced to undergo economic manipulation by banks, corporations and governments. However, the further and more important advantage, would be that it would give groups of people the opportunity to create their own, more enlightened economic systems, which at least, would serve as test cases -- real life laboratories for new and improved economic systems.
This could be a local thing, with different places creating their own money supplies which are dealt amongst themselves. I seem to recall something like this already being done somewhere in Europe, but that is an isolated instance. Now is the time to think more globally, in my opinion, as well as locally. Through the internet, and other means of communication, local monetary movements can share information, coordinate their activities, and spread.
What I am talking about is not a "black market" at all, in which people barter, sell stolen items, or use regular money to buy things "off the books" so they do not have to pay taxes. Bartering items is okay, but dealing in stolen items or avoiding paying taxes one owes, is illegal as it should be in my opinion. However, what I am proposing should not be illegal. It is a matter of economic freedom, or freedom of speech, if you will. No doubt, there would be attempts to make it illegal, and whether or not such attempts to criminalize independent economic activities are successful, will be an important indicator of economic progress. Even if corporate-led governments manage to make such alternate (as opposed to "underground") economies illegal, success in squelching them will also depend upon enforcibility, which I suspect would be very difficult. Ultimately, governments will probably have to recognize such economies.
For example, these economies could include vouchers used to guarantee basic services for all -- such as health care, food, and utilities -- as well as perhaps featuring such properties as minimum and maximum wages, rational pricing through democratic processes, safeguards against the inordinate accumulation of wealth, etc. They should feature public input through democratic processes in every facet of the system. These alternate economies would be a step in the transformation as I see it, of the economy from a money-based one, to more of a resource-based economy. Actually, it would probably be one of the middle steps. The first step would probably involve economic reforms such as meaningful bank and stock market regulation and real application of the justice system to those who abuse their corporate, bank or stock market privileges, as well as shifts in consumer preference toward more organic, green and moral business practices. The later stages would include the spreading of such practices as found in the alternative economy, to the point where they become the norm, on local, national and global levels. However, there is nothing to prevent these different steps from occuring in tandem, and indeed, they probably should be occuring simultaneously to the extent that is possible.
Eventually, perhaps there will come a day when we won't need money at all. As I like to say, when some technologically advanced race of beings from another planet, lands on ours and greets us, I think striving for money will be as alien a concept to them, as their technology would be to us. But for the forseeable future, building an economy which serves the people and environment in a resource-based manner, would be a tremendous goal to achieve.
A Capital Idea Part 141: The Paradigm Shift of 2012
Now that this eventful year is coming to a close, I would like to consider the question I asked at the end of last year: Will 2012 be a year of paradigm shift? When people think of major change, they usually think in terms of revolutions -- political revolutions, technological revolution, or whatever type of revolution that involves a change in outward behaviors. Paradigm shifts, on the other hand, are cognitive revolutions -- changes in the way that people think about things. Paradigm shifts may lead to revolutions in behavior, but are not themselves, revolutions in behavior. I believe that proper thinking leads to proper emotion and proper action, so that the best revolutions are those which are guided by paradigm shifts. Revolutions which are not guided by paradigm shifts, in fact, tend to amount to a bunch of angry people having a temper tantrum, while those guided by solid ideology... well, they lead to things like democracy, a better government and/or a better behaved society. The American Revolution is a good example of a revolution that was guided by a paradigm shift, in fact, although the "founding fathers" were still hypocritical in many ways, and the war they fought was surely unnecessary and destructive in the long run, as they would have had their independence before very long even without bloodshed.
With this understanding of paradigm shifts in mind, I do see signs of an ongoing paradigm shift not only here in the U.S., but around the world. I would say in fact, that in terms of U.S. political history, it is quite possible that 2012 will be seen as a pivotal year in terms of paradigm shift. Why? If we look at what has happened politically this year, it represents a vast departure from past trends, a sort of sea change, if you will. All the forces of the oligarchy were basically aligned, with the help of massive infusions of money, against Obama and against anything liberal in the United States -- and guess what? They lost! Traditionally, those spending the most money win the vast majority of elections -- not so this time. With the unleashing of conservative corporation owners' money due to the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court, conservatives spent vast amounts of money on this election. While the amount of money going to Obama and other Democrats also increased, Democrats were outspent by a considerable margin. This November's election should have been a landslide victory for conservative Republicans, if campaign monies were a deciding factor, but clearly, money was not the deciding factor. Rather, ideology was the deciding factor, favoring the more liberal candidates, or at least, favoring something not so conservative as the government we have. Not only did Obama win, but Democrats, contrary to pundits' expectations, increased their majority in the Senate. The House of Representatives' election was an instructive case study in the dysfunctionality of the U.S. political system. Democrats cut into the Repubicans' majority in the House, but did not regain the majority. However, when the specifics of the election are examined, it becomes clear that the so-called Tea Party revolution of 2010 was a very unfortunate event, especially in the fact that it happened to occur in a year ending in a zero. That allowed Repubicans to redistrict in their own favor in most states, since they had achieved a majority in most state legislatures in 2010. As a consequence, they maximized the number of seats they won in the House of Representatives this year, by manipulating congressional districts so that the Republicans tended to win many close races, while the "Democratic" districts were constructed so that a smaller number of Democrats would win, but win by very large margins. In fact, there were about 1 1/2 million more votes cast for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, than for Republicans -- just another example of Republicans gaming the system to their own advantage. Unfortunately, we are stuck with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives for the next 2 years, and with the current districting until 2020. It is my observation that not only did Democrats have a good election this year, but the more progressive ones in particular (too many specific examples and as yet obscure electees to elaborate much, but Elizabeth Warren, potentially our first female President in the future, comes to mind), in keeping with the ideological paradigm shift which I see occurring.
Another way in which this year's election indicates a paradigm shift, is that it showed that it has become virtually impossible for Republicans to compete with even slightly more liberal ideologies, much less far more liberal ideologies, on a national level. They came at Obama with everything they had, most of which was disingenuous in the extreme, saturating us with their propaganda, and still lost. Basically, there just aren't enough political conservatives left in the United States for them to win a Presidential election anymore, whether that is due to the shrinking demographics of "angry old white men," or as I think more meaningfully, a lasting iedological paradigm shift among most voters. If there were enough conservative voters to elect a Republican, we would be talking about President Romney's inauguration at this time. In fact, Romney was pretty much the candidate that Ronald Reagan was in 1980, when Reagan won against Jimmy Carter. I believe that Romney would have won in 1980, also, but not now. The Republican Party, and along with it, the pull to the right that it exerts on our political system, is in decline. In fact, the Republican Party may be approaching a collapse.
Expecting a sudden shift of policy toward progressivism, however, is not going to happen at this time. The system is too entrenched to allow that to happen. Progressive politics becoming the norm in the United States can happen, but it will take a lot of time and a lot of work, in my opinion. Perhaps Obama isn't all that progressive, and perhaps he believes too much in compromise, but the basic problem is the system, not who is at the top of it, as I see it. I do think he will gradually engage in more progressive politics as he perceives it becoming feasible, but the problem we are facing now, both literally and figuratively, is a massive debt. Even as we face a massive financial public debt and the issue of how to reduce it in the long term, we also face a massive ideological debt from our government buying into conservative political ideas over the years. This leads to great political inertia and obstruction to progress, spearheaded by the likes of Boehner and McConnell on the Republican side. We are not only in a massive financial hole; we are also in a massive, conservative political hole. However, it seems to me, this year has been instrumental in flipping the people's general zeitgeist, from conservative conventionality, and complacency, to a firm commitment to advocating more progressive policies. This is in spite of a relative quiescence on the actual, behavioral protest front as we saw last year with the Occupy Movement. The fact is, the Occupy Movement is still around, but not receiving much press coverage, while most people chose to do their protesting on social networking websites, by campaigning for their chosen candidates, and ultimately, at the ballot box.
Thom Hartmann was basically talking about these same issues on his show yesterday, and coming to the same conclusions, in summing up the past year. According the Strauss and Howe's ideas on the cycle of politics, we are in a revolutionary period ("The Fourth Turning") which lasts from approximately 2005 to 2025. This applies particularly to the United States, but with globalization, as well as the influence of the United States around the world, the revolution is likely to spread far beyond our shores, if not worldwide. Thom was saying that he thought the next few years would be pivotal, and I agree. This is a period of paradigm shift around the world, and that's a good thing, much as when old scientific ideas prove to be false and become outmoded, but even moreso. False political and economic ideas are in the process of being rejected by the general public, all over the world, and are being replaced by newer, more people-and-general-welfare-oriented (as opposed to singular, person-oriented) and environment-oriented, ideas which will serve us better in the future.
A Capital Idea Part 140: Economy versus Environment
This isn't exactly a new topic for me, but I plan to reframe it and look at some details not previously discussed regarding the strained relationship between the economy and the environment.
I recently saw a post by a physicist who teaches at U.C. San Diego, whose name is Tom Murphy, in which he recounted a conversation he had with a relatively conventional, and prominant, economist (http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/). I have discussed some of the biological (species extinction for example) and chemical (non renewable petro fuels for example) ramifications of our capitalist economy, as well as global warming, which is at its heart, a matter of physics. However, physicist Murphy has a deeper understanding of the ramifications of energy usage. For one thing, the laws of thermodynamics, tells us that if energy consumption continues to increase as it has been in recent human history (the past few hundred years) -- by something like 2-3% per year -- within 400 years, the surface temperature of the earth will reach boiling temperature, far too warm for any current lifeform upon the face of the earth. Furthermore, it does not matter what type of energy we are producing, according to the laws of thermodynamics; the same warm up will take place because the planet simply cannot jettison that much excess heat into space so quickly. Talk about global warming!
Clearly, we as a species must in the relatively near future, reach a stable and sustainable level of energy usage, and according to Professor Murphy, this limitation on energy usage includes the sum total of all energy sources, including "green energy" such as biofuels and solar, wind or wave energy. I think this has to do with entropy, the fact that using a more organized, concentrated form of energy, such as photons from the sun, results in the energy being broken down (digested, as it were) into more random forms of energy, especially, heat. Sustainable energies are still necessary for the future, because the non-sustainable ones will run out before long, but they will not solve the global warming problem. The only solution to global warming, according to Professor Murphy -- and I have every reason to believe him -- is to limit humanity's energy usage. Having a stable and sustainable population level will help with that, but we will also have to stop increasing energy consumption per person (especially here in energy hog U.S. of A.). We may have to learn to get by with less; although we can learn to be more efficient energy-wise with our technology, that process has already been taking place, and there isn't that much more energy efficiency we can squeeze out of our machines. Doing things in ways that don't require energy consumption, whenever possible, needs to become the norm; limiting our energy usage is that important. (By the way, to illustrate what I mean about entropy and turning more organized energy into heat as we use it, consider your computer. Feel the hot air coming out of its little fan. That is a by product of the electricity that the computer uses, so in a small, relatively efficient way, even our little computers are contributing to global warming.)
The upshot of the argument between Professor Murphy, and the unidentified economist, is that Murphy asserted that economic growth cannot continue, as long as that means increased energy consumption. At first, Professor Murphy thought that no economic growth could continue, as it seeemed to him that "growth" of the economy requires ever-increasing amounts of energy usage. However, he did eventually realize that there is economic growth of other kinds that are possible, without increasing energy consumption; thus the economist was able to generate this one concession by Professor Murphy, but only this one. The rest of the argument, as admittedly recounted in a one-sided manner by Professor Murphy, was soundly won by him.
What is this economic growth which can occur without increased energy consumption? Well, I discussed this toward the beginning of this Capital Ideas series, and touched upon it from time to time since then. Basically, we are talking about human potential here, AKA "Human Capital," or "Human Resources." This of course does not mean buying and selling of people, which is one of the most egregiously profit-motivated capitalistic behaviors imaginable. Rather, I am talking about something quite contrary to such abuse of humanity: I am talking about developing our minds, our emotions (love, empathy and compassion, for example, and the ability to regulate our emotion in general), and our ability to adapt by creating better technology, art, psychological knowledge, lifestyles, and overall, a culture which encourages people to pursue their higher interests, create a more harmonious, happy and economically productive society, and better strive toward the actualization of our potential, both individually and collectively. There are many things we can do to improve society, as well as our economy, that do not require burning more fuel, or using more electricity. This is where I believe we must go as a global society, in the future. The current economic system of ever-increasing growth, is not only unsustainable, but it limits our growth as people, and as in the title of this blog post, it pits the economy against our natural environment, by relying upon the exploitation of natural resources for the running and growth of the economy. A good way to look at this topic, is to divide resources (i.e., "capital"), into natural resources, and human resources, as I have previously done at some point. Natural resources are limited, and their use in profligate ways amounts to the exploitation and degradation of our environment; the more we have to dig stuff out of the ground, cut down our forests, and dump our industrial waste into our waters, the worse our environment fares, for example. However, there are no known limits to the potential of the human mind. If we all use our minds and work together, there is no telling what is possible, but whatever it is, I know it will be great. However, we must work with, and within the limitations of, our natural environment, and obey the "stop signs" of physics.
A Psychologist's Take on Willful Ignorance
According to a Psychology Today article, there are 3 types of ignorance, only one of which has a negative connotation (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/look-around-and-look-within/201111/willful-ignorance-penn-state-and-dont-ask-dont-tell).
The 3 types of ignorance are, according to Susan L. Smalley, the author of the article, "ordinary ignorance, willful ignorance, and higher ignorance." Ordinary ignorance means that somebody doesn't know something. There is nothing wrong with that, and in fact, being "ignorant" of something commonly serves as a motivation to discover more knowledge. "Higher ignorance," seems to be a kind of extension of ordinary ignorance. Higher ignorance" is lofty in scope and hard to achieveit is a reverence for the unknownfor mysteryor what may be unknowable." It recognizes, for instance, that no matter how much one knows about something, there are still more intricate details that one does not know. It asks the question also, what is knowable, and what, if anything is unknowable?
In contrast to ordinary of higher ignorance, willful ignorance occurs when a person knows the truth but chooses to ignore it, or the person refuses to abandon false beliefs and pursue the development of further knowledge. According to the Urban Dictionary. willful ignorance is: The practice or act of intentional and blatant avoidance, disregard or disagreement with facts, empirical evidence and well-founded arguements because they oppose or contradict your own existing personal beliefs (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=willful%20ignorance).
The urban dictionary gets political after this, which is where
I am going with this. Specifically, it states "This practice is most commonly
found in the political or religious ideologies of "conservative" Americans.
Many times it is practiced due to laziness--people not wanting to have to do the work to rethink their opinions, the fear of the unknown, the fear of being wrong, or sometimes simply close-mindedness.
alt. form: willfully ignorant."
In the Psychology Today article, Susan Smalley gives some interesting examples, although only tangentially political. She mentions the willful ignorance of football fans ignoring the shameful behavior of Jerry Sandusky, as though football is more important than integrity and the issue of sexual abuse. She also mentions prostitution, in which men gleefully engage in sex acts with women they don't even know -- women who are often virtual sex slaves who were forced into prostitution around the age of 12 or 13, as young adolescents. She asks how many men would have sex with prostitutes as they do, if they knew that easily knowable fact? I suspect that a sizeable percentage of men who are callous enough about sex to be patrons of prostitutes still would, even knowing that, but that is beside the point. Smalley also mentions the recently repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law as an example of willful ignorance being encouraged by government. She makes the point that many of our institutions encourage willful ignorance, at least regarding certain issues.
My search for information about willful ignorance, however, was more focused on social or personality psychology research on the topic, especially since I am a social/personality psychologist. I found out that no research has been done on this topic by name. However, I already know of a lot of information which relates to willful ignorance based on psychological research. For example, research tells us that some people are cognitively complex while others prefer cognitive simplicity, some people are open to experience while other are closed minded, and some people are cognively flexible while others are cognitively rigid. I think there is a clear inference that people who are cognitively simple, closed minded and/or rigid are much more likely to engage in willful ignorance. Essentially, these would be "stupid" people, but not necessarily people lacking in the ability to be smart; rather, they are most likely people who would rather be comfortably ignorant rather than smart.
How does this relate to politics? One finding from recent research is that conservatives tend to have lower IQs. Remember, lifestyle and personality can have a huge influence on IQ, so it is likely that conservatives essentially think less than do progressives. They ask fewer questions and engage in fewer truth seeking missions, on the whole. A corrolary to this is my personal, unproven but anecdotally supported hypothesis that conservatives are more likely to develop dementia. Another finding related to politics is the clear finding that the personality trait "Openness to Experience" (one of Costa and McCrae's Big 5 Personality Traits) is correlated with progressive attitudes, as well as with education, intelligence and creativity. I seem to recall further, that research on authoritarianism and conservatism found these traits to be linked to cognitive rigidity or simplicity.
Thus, observations that conservatives as well as people with fundamental religious beliefs tend to be willfully ignorant, are basically accurate. We see the cost of willful ignorance in political discussion as well as policy. Whether it is a person declaring the magical qualities of the "free market" or a belief in the unerring, literal truth of the Bible, whether it is people who think that human activities have no effect on climate and since God will take care of everything, there is no possibility of an ecological calamity occuring, or whatever form willful ignorance takes -- willful ignorance on the part of some, drags us all down. As much as knowledge seekers such as myself find willful ignorance to be utterly contemptible, there are reasons for the phenomenon of willful ignorance, though, as suggested by the Urban Dictionary. One reason is that people tend to be "cognitive misers." Most people tend not to examine things intellectually if they don't feel they have to. Another reason is conformity. People tend to believe what those around them believe, and questioning those beliefs would lead to conflict and likely rejection, and as any inscure adolescent knows, the last thing one would want to happen is to be a social reject (some of whom turn into mass murderers, by the way). On the other hand, there are large social rewards for conformity, even if being a conformist means being willfully ignorant. Conformists have all the greater potential to find a mate, or mates, to climb the social ladder of "success," to have others speak well of them and to enjoy the benefits of a social support system. That everybody who participates in a conformist community, may indeed be willfully ignorant and delusional in their conformity, does not change these facts. A third reason for being willfully ignorant is that we hate to be wrong. Admitting that one is wrong, causes cognitive dissonance, which is something to be avoided. Thus, people are often resistant to any evidence which contradicts their world view or belief system, rather than examine the evidence and modify their positions, which would require the person to experience and deal with cognitive dissonance.
What then, can we do to reduce willful ignorance? One thing we can do is to have a more intellectually oriented, education oriented society. Conservatives, consistent with their positions so often being dependent upon willful ignorance, in my opinion covertly want to make education less available while derogating the concept of a "liberal education." We need to make cheap-or-better-yet-free-education-for-all-at-all-levels, a priority, and nurture a culture of knowledge, intellect and education. This is a point that is so important, actually, that it is difficult to overemphasize. The progressive way forward requires a well educated public and electorate; otherwise, we will likely have a feudal futile future to look forward to. Another thing those among us who are not willfully ignorant can do, is to engage the willfully ignorant intellectually, as difficult and painful as that might be. Learning should be a lifelong process, so we should let all members of society participate in learning through discussions of matters of importance. While it may be difficult to change people's personalities or deeply ingrained willful ignorance, we should never underestimate people's capacity for change.
A Capital Idea Part 139: Owners versus Customers
Now, it is time for me to do an explicit comparison of the needs and wants of owners, workers and consumers. This post is in a sense a follow up to one of my first economics-related posts (before there even was a "Capital Ideas" series). The aforementioned post laid out the inevitable relationship between government power (i.e., democratic power) and corporate power (i.e., fascist power in which big business becomes involved in governing, damaging the democratic process). This previous post was entitled "The Immorality of Capitalism, as I recall, and events over the past few years have made the themes found in that post more prominant over time.
If we look at the issue of owners', workers' and consumers' priorities systematically, we can see the same sort of conflict as we do when the needs of government by the people (literally the meaning of the word "democracy") is pitted against the priorities of mega-business. As it turns out, I thought of 10 different types of priorities to contrast among these 3 factions of society.
First, let us look at business priorities:
Government -- mimimal, with lack of regulation, and where there is government, one that operates in the service of business;
Wages -- the lower the better, except for owners and their top management buddies;
Financial externalities (damages caused by the business) -- denied or if not possible to deny, foisted upon the public and govnernment, to be paid at taxpayer expense;
Prime directive (to use a Star Trek term) -- profits, especially for owners and top management;
Attitude toward environment -- something to be exploited for personal gain;
Future orientation -- winning the gigantic capitalistic "monopoly" game, no other future considerations of note;
Attitude toward workers -- using them to maximize profit, which means paying them the least possible wages and benefits, and getting away with the worst possible conditions without endangering profits or running afoul of regulators;
Materials -- using the cheapest possible materials, again as long as it doesn't endanger profits or get them into trouble with regulators;
Attitude toward financial security -- security for owners and top management, insecurity for workers and consumers;
Attitude toward social stability -- a stable, essentially feudal system with owners in charge of society is the desired goal.
Contrast these profit-motive oriented priorities of business owners and top management, with those of their own ordinary workers who make their profits possible:
Government -- democratically run unions as an important counterbalance to management, moderate democracy in terms of local, state and federal government;
Wages -- as high as possible, even if it means lower profits for the company's owners, investors and top management;
Financial externalities -- foisted upon government and the public just as owners would like;
Prime directive -- secure and lucrative employment;
Attitude toward environment -- if it must be exploited for the sake of the business, then so be it;
Future orientation -- upward social mobility and increasing security;
Attitude toward management -- wanting better working conditions and pay, mediated through unions if allowed;
Materials -- using cheapest possible materials to maximize their profits, as long as it doesn't endanger safety;
Attitude toward financial security -- security for themselves, insecurity for owners and top management;
Attitude toward social stability -- a moderately stable system with room for upward social mobility, technological innovation and political progress using established institutions.
Finally, farthest from owners and top management, are the consumers, which essentially includes all people, working or unemployed, young or old:
Government -- as democratic as possible at all levels;
Wages (for workers, owners and management) -- economically fair wages for all (not too high or low for anybody) but prices as low as possible;
Financial externalities -- make businesses responsible for them in order to eliminate them, or if not eliminate them, pay for them;
Prime directive -- fairness and progress, economically, socially and politically, and ensurance of the public's rights, with maximum variety of available, inexpensive goods and services;
Attitude toward environment -- environmental protection is most important, although compromises may be acceptable for the sake of useful commodities;
Future orientation -- again, fairness and progress in the economic, social and political realms and ensurance of public's rights, with maximum variety of available, inexpensive goods and services;
Attitude toward management -- wanting accountability from and fair treatment (consumer protection) from business people;
Materials -- Wanting best quality materials for the lowest cost;
Attitude toward financial security -- wanting security for everybody through democratically run government institutions, plus social institutions such as charities;
Attitude toward social stability -- stability in terms of peace and harmonious relations among people, but the freedom to make positive change on both personal and societal levels.
My list, as usual, was more or less made on the spot, so it surely contains imperfections and omissions or needless redundancies, but it gives a framework within which to view owner/worker/consumer relations in terms of economic, political and environmental issues.
One point of possible contention is the consumers' prime directive. I was tempted to say it would be "cheep cheep cheep" like a room full of baby chickens, but that is only a shortsighted attitude. I believe that thte public's true priority, is more far-sighted and inclusive than that. After all, people need money (or some type of credit) in order to buy goods and services. Thus, they need economc fairness primarily, in terms of finances, and technological, social and political progress in terms of advancing humanity.
The main point to be made is that the priorities of the owner/manager class clash decidedly with those of workers, and even moreso with those of consumers, yet, we see a business-friendly government here in the United States, and for the most part, business-friendly governments around the world, in which mega-business insinuates itself into the process of government and largely runs the way that government operates, to the detriment of both workers and consumers, and most importantly, to the detriment of democracy. Thus, this is really a revolutionary post in disguise -- disguised as a straightforward, logical analysis of 3 factions in society. We need to fundamentally change the balance between these 3 factions, toward the many instead of the one. After all, as Spock of Star Trek fame often says, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Making such changes will require, at the very least (and best since the least destructive) a series of major government economic reforms oriented toward workers and most of all, consumers as opposed to business owners. It will also require political reforms to allow more populist democratic input into how government is run. Basically, the changes that the people seek, are a matter of reprioritizing government to reflect the wishes and needs of the public.
A Capital Idea Part 138: The Future is Here; How is it Looking?
I have started wondering how our current situation would look to "The Founding Fathers" of the United States. I believe they would be astonished by the technological progress that humanity has made, by the increases in life expectancy and world population, by the amount and variety of both necessities such as food available as well as high tech products and "luxury items" available to consumers. As future oriented as they might have been, and as imaginative as they might have been, it is doubtful that such products as telephones, radio, television and computers would have entered their thought processes. Sure, they probably dreamed of horseless carriages and even flying machines, because they already had horse-drawn carriages and they knew about things that flew through the air, such as birds. But they probably knew little if anything, about the amazing, invisible information carrying waves of energy which permeate our world -- and the entire universe -- or about electrons dashing along metal wires carrying detailed information. We take these things for granted, these forms of energy which make telephones, radio, television, computers and the internet possible, but these all exist in a realm of phenomena which our senses are unequipped to detect. Yet, scientists were eventually able to detect them indirectly using instruments, and learn about how they work. In fact, even our brains' activities send electromagnetic signals into our environment.
Thus, a future they almost certainly never imagined is here. Equally a reality, is a social, cultural and political future that "The Founding Fathers" almost certainly never imagined. I will concentrate mostly on the political realities that "The Founding Fathers" might perceive if they could be transported to the present. In contrast to the wonders of modern technology, I suppose "The Founding Fathers" would find a mixture of progress, stagnation and even regression in the political/economic realm. In terms of social issues, they would find great political progress. No longer are people sold on the open market, no longer are women or minorities denied the right to vote. There are minimum wages and minimum ages for workers, and some safety oriented regulations. Frankly, some of the sociopolitical changes that have taken place might not only startle "The Founding Fathers" but given the ethos of the times, many of them might be disturbed by the equal rights being given to all human beings. But that's progress. People are in large part, products of their times. Culturally, "The Founding Fathers" might find some of our current "free to do as you wish" (especially when it is adolescents doing it) and "melting pot" trends not only startling but perturbing as well. No doubt, for the most part, they viewed a proper society as more restrained and constrained in behavior than what our society has become. Many of them probably would object to the racial intermixing that has been occuring, too. As far as "freedom" is concerned, freedom is good, but it needs to be tempered with self-discipline. The "Melting Pot" of cultures and intermarriages, not only is inevitable in modern society, but it is progress as well.
However, in the economic realm, "The Founding Fathers" would be rightly perturbed. They would note, I think, the rise of corporations and de facto, if not actual, monopolies. More disturbingly, they would be alarmed by the rise of corporate power in government, not only nationally, but globally. Now, every adult citizen in good standing can vote, but what good is that if corporations are running the show? "The Founding Fathers" would most likely be wondering what has happened to our democracy. Not only the rise of corporatism would be a great disappointment to them, but also the relative stultification of the political process itself. There are still differences among politicians and political parties -- important ones, to be sure -- and democracy still lives, but in many ways, the similarities outweigh the differences in ways that the public does not necessarily consent to. Of course, agreement on general principles that serve the democracy is good, such as holding regular elections, but agreeing that money or global military power is more important than the public welfare, are horrible ideas which have come to fruition.
I am sure that "The Founding Fathers" would be happy the the United States still exists and in fact, has thrived, but I doubt they would care an iota about their nation's military might, and in fact, would probably be greatly upset at its military conquests and its global military empire. This is not the America that I suppose the likes of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or Benjamin Franklin had imagined. For that matter, they would probably be very disappointed in the continued occurence of wars in the world, and the escalation of their destructiveness, as they would find the carnage of the Civil War, and the two World Wars appalling, as well as the numerous genocides which have taken place since their time, and no doubt, they would find the United States' role in the carnage, disturbing. They would also note the role of the American military-industrial complex in the process. In fact, war if anything (as groups which study such things have noted), have become less common as humanity has evolved, but there are differences in the types of conflicts that humans now engage in, compared to the time of "The Founding Fathers." One difference is the corporate profit motive, as corporate war profiteers exploit potential conflict in order to translate conflict into profit. Thus, as long as the military-industrial complex remains active, they will continue to stoke the flames of international or civil conflict, stunting humanity's drive toward self-actualization. Second, the weapons and potential weapons have become far more powerful, more deadly, more impersonal and anonymous, and more indiscriminate as murderers of human beings. Also, power differentials between nations or between peoples have increased exponentially. It used to be that although people with better technologies had a military advantage, that advantage could be largely offset. Guns are more effective killers than are bows and arrows, but "primitive" peoples armed with simpler weapons could still defeat those with superior weapons oftentimes. Such is not the case anymore, sparking a global arms race and the absurd lengths the United States goes to, in order to keep its weapons advantage over all other nations -- an advantage which is destined to be short-lived, from a historical perspective. How long do you think we can get away with dropping bombs from drones on foreigners, hoping to kill somebody our government doesn't like, but probably killing innocent families instead? How long will it be until we have to worry about bomb-dropping drones over the skies of the United States, if we fail to repudiate such policies? But I digress.
The larger point is that I think "The Founding Fathers" would find progess in most areas, even if it was not what they had expected or even hoped for, but in terms of economic justice and representative democracy, they would appalled by not only the lack of progress, but even the regression toward a sort of global feudalism run by a small cadre of wealthy individuals, with the nation they founded leading the way toward corporate control. They would also be appalled by the continuation or even increase in real poverty (lack of sufficient resources to take care of even basic needs) even alongside the splendors of wealth and technology available to some. This is not what the children of the enlightenment would have wished for the world. We can, and must, do better, a fact that more and more people around the world are realizing.
A Capital Idea Part 137: Capitalism's Externalities
I am talking about the externalities of capitalism itself here, not the externalities of a capitalistic operation, such as "the oil pipeline destroyed some sensitive habitat, and when it leaked, it caused pollution which taxpayers paid to clean up." Capitalism's losers bear significant human costs, emotionally, physically and behaviorally. Having just celebrated my eleventh wedding anniversary yesterday, I am reminded that such costs include high divorce rates. Seeing my aging parents the previous day, which was Thanksgiving Day, reminds me of capitalism's health problem externalities as well.
There is a very clear link between stress and divorce, just as clear as the link between poverty and stress, or between any type of economic hardship and stress. Similarly, there are also clear links between stress and poor health, and between poverty or economic insecurity and stress. Thus, when we hear people such as Alan Greenspan speaking in coded language about keeping the supply of potential workers high and their security and wages low, such friends of capitalism are also saying, "Let's make the average person insecure and less healthy; let's cause marital stess and high divorce rates." Of course, they would never say that directly, but rather, obfuscate such realities and attempt to negate them, with glittering "capitalism is great" or "capitalism is necessary" talk.
Increased divorce rates and more health problems, however, are only two of the more obvious and objectively measurable effects of capitalism's many losers and few winners system. Additionally, capitalism appears to have a deleterious effect on a variety of other "misery index" measures such as murder, suicide and psychological disorders. We live in a nation virtually secure from invading armies, with only rare incidences of international terrorism to disturb our sense of safety as a nation. Yet, Americans kill each other at high rates, propagate fear of foreign attackers, and often drive drunk, distracted, impatiently or tired, causing a great, never ending toll on the nations roadways. We tend to overwork, voluntarily or otherwise, yet complain about slackers who live on government welfare. Depression rates have been increasing, and probably anxiety rates as well; suicide rates are chronically on the high side, as well as murder suicides. This is despite having more and better treatments over time for depression and anxiety. Similarly, child abuse rates remain stubbornly high despite increased understanding of its causes and how it may be reduced. I suspect that the best treatment for those psychological and social ills will prove to be a progressive, egalitarian society with maximal opportunities for democratic participation and for self-determined productive activities.
Even among those who are not victims of "misery index" ills, the insecurity and stess which most people face under capitalism has a very deleterious effect on happiness, causing people to enjoy what they have less and worry about not having it, more. Perhaps that is why fear-motivated politics and negative campaigning have proven to be so effective over the years, although the public seems to be getting a bit tired of and immune to this approach. By every measure, Americans should be enjoying life greatly. We have toys and gadgets which probably weren't even dreamed of 100 years ago. Most of us have all the food that we want, with greater available variety than ever before. We have comfortable places in which to live -- those of us who are not homeless. Certainly, the first two levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs -- physiological needs and safety needs -- are readily taken care of for the large majority of us. Yet, we consistently have mediocre success on ratings of happiness. Perhaps it is time that we should add a level for "sense of security needs," in between "safety needs" and" love and belongingness needs" in Maslow's hierarchy. Meanwhile, living with constantly high stress levels and pressures has detracted from Maslow's third level, which is "love and belongingness needs." Perhaps we also should add a level to Maslow's hierarchy, for "freedom to pursue interests needs" between his two highest needs, "esteem needs" (the fourth level) and "self-actualization needs" (the fifth level). Most of us under capitalism, even those who are doing well and feeling good about themselves, feel only limited freedom to pursue their interests.
I should point out here that happiness is probably not the best measure of people's overall well-being, unless it is redefined to match something like Maslow's hierarchy better. Happiness, as is self-esteem, too often results from superficial sources, such as the casual feedback of other people, or leisure pursuits which serve no socially useful function and may even be detrimental to the greater good in some cases. However, I do not know of any large studies of self-actualization among representative samples, much less any international comparisons of the measure. There is a measure of self-actualization called a "Q-Sort," developed by a student of Carl Rogers named Stevenson, but its application is either in therapy situations or in specific studies of personality as far as I know. I would be interested in seeing international, or other, comparisons based on measures of self-actualization such as the Q-Sort, and would expect that more competitive, capitalistic cultures would actually stunt self-actualization by producing conditions of economic and social insecurity, and by limiting peoples' ability to pursue their own interests through channelling them into highly specialized careers, often of limited interest, and forcing people to be career focused to the exclusion of most outside interests.
Thus, as I have described, the externalities of capitalism are highly pervasive and detrimental to human well-being in various insidious ways. An economic system will always channel peoples' activities to an extent, but it is not necessary that peoples' lives be so devoted to the system as in the financial capitalism system that we are so familiar with. The economy that we have, is one in which the people serve the economy. The economy that we need, is one in which the economy serves the people -- an economy which serves to give people a sense of security as well as taking care of material needs, and an economy in which opportunities for people to pursue the greater good through their special talents and interests, are optimized. By serving the people, the economy will enhance peoples' well-being and ultimately, their opportunties to make the most of their lives -- that is, the chance to achieve what humanists such as Rogers and Maslow called "self-actualization."
A Capital Idea Part 136: When Environmentalists Collide
Maybe I should call this post "an uncapital idea." In any event, the deal is off. I am talking about the land deal that I have mentioned to many people, the one that kept my wife and I "in the money" since March of last year, while a solar company prepared her large parcel for electricity production.
It turns out that an Environmental Impact Report found that the part of the land was in a sensitive environmental area called the Chukwalla Sand Dunes, which harbors some endangered native species, most notably the Fringe-Toed Lizard. This report is 400 pages long according to the solar company's attorney, and it took from March 2011 until September 2012 to complete. Actually, from the map I was provided, only about 1/3 of the land --- the southernmost part -- is part of the Chukwalla Sand Dune habitat. Yet, the solar company apparently would rather try to scrap the entire deal rather than try to develop the northern 1/2 or 2/3 of the land for solar energy production. The whole situation seems strange to me, although I am not used to dealing with corporations other than as a customer. In fact, my wife and I have driven by the land several times since the deal was made, and I am no expert on sand dunes, but there do not appear to be any whatsoever in the area. We all know what sand dunes are supposed to look like -- big piles of sand that may be blown around by the wind. There is definitely no such thing in the area. All I can see are desert plants such as sagebrush, with pebbles and dirt underneath, gradually sloping upward to the south, toward some steep, rocky desert hills. Anyway, what the solar company related to us is that the southern part of the property is in the Chukwalla Sand Dune habitat that is environmentally sensitive so that they are not allowed to do their project as they had hoped to. I looked at a map of the sand dunes that also showed neighboring properties, and the sand dunes were farther south (away from the freeway) to the east, but the edge of the sand dunes was very close to the freeway to the west of our property.
The solar company did offer us a buyout, but everybody who saw it, had the same reaction: "That's ridiculous." You see, the company lowered its price per acre to about 15% of what it had been. Since the company had already been paying us in increments, the offer meant that they would only pay a little more in order to have ownership of the entire land. In fact, we could have sold the land for its original price from 20 years ago and still gotten more money than the final payment the solar company was offering us. We got our realtor and land attorney involved, and the attorney sent the solar company a letter rejecting their offer. They had a deadline to reply by November 10. Frankly, I was expecting some kind of reply by then, and I know our realtor was, too, since he kept asking us about it. However, there was no reply; we have heard nothing from the solar company since their low buyout offer. In fact, our realtor and attorney set up a meeting with us this Thursday (November 15), and I mistakenly thought that the solar company was also going to meet with us. Thus, I was very disappointed when we only met with our realtor, Howard, and attorney, Edward at 10 a.m. in Edward's office that day.
Edward explained to us that the solar company had abrogated its right to develop the land by its failure to reply by the deadline. They could still make a new deal with us, but we are now free to sell the land to another entity. Edward also explained that he would send another letter to the company, stating the termination of the contract. Thus, the solar company wasted a bunch of money in a deal that it simply walked away from. Not only was the company in the process of planning solar development on my wife's land, but also, various neighboring parcels, so my guess is that they ended up walking away from a bunch of deals in the area. I would be interested to find out if that was the case, but I don't know how to do that. Perhaps Howard will be able to do that. Howard told us that he wanted to relist the property in January, to make sure that the solar company was not going to negotiate with us, and to make sure that the land was legally free and clear to be sold again. According to Edward, the price we were selling the land for was not a problem; it was not that high per acre. What he suspects instead, is that the solar company has been put off by the high price of protecting the habitat and/or possibly having to search for Native American artifacts. I suspect that Edward is correct. In fact, Howard also told my wife that a lot of land in the area has been selling for even more per acre than ours. However, I also suspect that the same thing has happened to most of those other parcels that happened to ours, and I suspect that the same solar company was the buyer in most cases.
Here's the Capital Ideas part of this post. Why do we wait for people to start developing land before environmentalists inspect it and evaluate it for its best possible use or uses? Why not have some sort of process of systematic evaluation of all undeveloped lands for potential uses? That would avoid the sort of mess that we have now, save companies lots of money wasted on abandoned projects, and save land owners from deals gone bad. Meanwhile, scientists could work on developing better ways to provide multiple uses for land. My mother has told me that newspaper articles have described how desert tortoises can co-exist with the solar energy production areas. Why can't something like that be done for the Fringe-Toed Lizards or other species? As an aside, I am sure that there would not be so many endangered species in the first place, if development of lands had been well-planned from the beginning. In the case of the Fringe-Toed Lizard, however, they have probably always been scarce and living on the edge of extinction, since they live in a specialized habitat that humans generally do not find suitable for their own habitation.
We were, and still are, willing to break the parcel into 2 sections, and sell the northern and southern sections separately. We thought that the solar company might want to buy the northern section, which it appears it could use for solar energy production, while leaving the southern half alone. Perhaps some environmental group, university or even government, will want that land as valuable habitat. However, I am fairly discouraged that anybody will want the land now, if solar companies no longer want it, and at least part of it is off limits to building human-made structures. There are no outstanding features making it particularly attractive, so it doesn't exactly look like a tourist destination, although it's close to the growing town called Blythe. It is just scrub-brush, mediocre looking desert land; however, it is in very pristine condition so it offers good habitat and species protection opportunities, and the chance to display and/or study this habitat.
Hopefully, some solar company will still want the northern part of the land, and some habitat-minded group will want the southern part. We may be surprised, as we were in 2010 when we received multiple offers for the land suddenly. If there are any further developments regarding the land, I will post them. I am thinking of asking my environmental scientist brother Bruce for his knowledge and opinion of the situation as well. I don't think he was directly involved in the Environmental Impact Report, though, since he lives in another part of California (Tahoe).
As a final note: I do find it ironic that the quest for "green energy" has collided with habitat and species protection over these lands, and environment-minded "natural lefty" is caught in the middle.
The Human Rorshach Test
This is not an original idea, as I have heard Thom Hartmann refer to Barack Obama as a human Rorshach test, but as a Social Psychologist who has been following the saga of Barack Obama, I would like to explicate on this idea.
I have never heard any person be described so variously and differently than Barack Obama. Surely, if he had been a plumber from Cleveland, a taxi cab driver from Chicago, or a sanitary worker from Seattle, the public would not be so intrigued by the question of who this person is and what his character is. Even if he were still a Senator, there would not be so much obsession over him. But the fact that he is President makes people scrutinze him, and project their hopes and fears onto him, like nobody else. Furthermore, the fact that he is "the first Black President" makes people do so all the more, in my opinion.
There are basically 3 different Barack Obamas that I have been exposed to, including 2 fictional ones and the real one:
1. There is the muslim Kenyan communist fictitious Barack Obama who is on a secret mission to destroy the United States, that a significant portion of conservative America believes in. That is the one that Randi Rhodes refers to as the Barack Obama who was manufactured by the right-wing media pundits and crackpots such as Donald Trump. He has become a projection of all "the angry white conservative man's" most paranoid fears;
2. There is the equally fictional in my opinion, turncoat Democrat who is a secret Bluedog Democrat or even a secret Republican, who promised us all kinds of progressive hope and change in order to get our vote in 2008, then promptly showed his true proclivities once he was free to be himself and boss everybody else around, as President. Something apparently happened to his magic progressive wand on the way to the White House. This is the Barack Obama that I keep encountering among disgruntled fellow progressives, many of whom were never in favor of Obama in the first place, and many of whom are inveterate pessimists. They find any continuation of the bad policies of prior administrations, no matter how little choice Obama has in the matter, to be matters of Obama's choice and signs of his rotten, or worse, character;
3. Finally, there is the real Barack Obama, at least in my opinion and apparently in the opinion of most knowledgeable voters. This is the Barack Obama who has faced stiff opposition like no President ever before has faced, yet accomplished much in spite of that. The Barack Obama that I see believes in compromise and working together, even with his opponents. He probably caves in too much to the right and may compromise with people who refuse to budge in their positions, but his heart seems to be in the right place. He has certainly continued some policies that I and others disagree with, but none of us are in his position, and don't know what sort of pressures and constraints have been placed upon him, especially as the "Jackie Robinson" of politics. He may be a moderate in many areas, but he certainly understands that "trickle down economics" does not work, and has proposed streamlining the military while cutting military spending, and raising taxes on the wealthy, which are exactly the sort of progressive things he needs to do. Meanwhile, he has given us a form of health care insurance reform, even if it's not the type of reform we will ultimately need. At least he is making changes in the proper direction, even if they are only incremental. He is a brilliant man who worked his way up from humble beginnings and a politically disadvantaged background as a "black" man, an iconic symbol of progress and a great speaker. For what he has gone through and what he has accomplished, when it's all over and done, his likeness should probably be on the side of Mount Rushmore next to Lincoln's. That is the Barack Obama that I, and I think a great many fellow Americans, see -- the Barack Obama that we re-elected on Tuesday.
However, conservatives will continue to assail him and try to turn him into some sort of ridiculous caricature of who he really is, and disaffected progressives who aren't patient enough to wait for the revolutionary changes they seek, and which could very well take place in the coming years, will continue to lump him together with all other politicians, except to label Obama as even worse because he promised to be something better. Well, as far as I am concerned, he is something better. However, there is only so much a President can do, especially without the support of the public. We need to keep pushing him to do more, to be more progressive. We must remember that a great deal of power has been delegated, without the consent of the people, to the corporatocracy of America and the world. Therefore, any President who wishes to act progressively, occupies a very uncomfortable position, with the power of the corporatocracy on one side, and the reading of the will of the people, on the other. What was Obama to think when progressives stayed home in 2010 and allowed a bunch of right-wing teabagger nutjobs to be elected to Congress? How is one to fight the corporatocracy in the face of such a passive-agressive, obstructionist assault? We need to elect a better Congress -- a more progressive one -- for our President, whomever he or she may be, to work with before we can expect better results. Otherwise, Obama will continue to be a human Rorshach test who looks like 3 completely different people, depending upon the angle from which one views him.
Fortunately, we made some steps in the direction of giving Obama a better Congress to work with, on Tuesday. However, the sad fact is that the majority of representatives are still Republican, and thus, we cannot expect much other than continued obstruction of anything progressive that Obama might try to do, and continued lousy legislation from the House of Representatives over the next 2 years. Our next chance to rectify that situation will be the midterm elections in 2014.Although it may be too much to expect, let us hope that the House of Representatives over the next 2 years will start listening to the will of most Americans, and also, show a spirit of compromise. They cannot be worse than they were these past 2 years.
What's This I Hear About the Lesser of Two Weevils?
Apparently, Boll Weevils are making a comeback. I have been hearing a lot of talk about them lately. Some people are saying we should choose the lesser of two Weevils, while others say that any Weevil is still a Weevil, so let's just get rid of them all. Personally, I think that any species is a part of an intricate ecosystem and as such, we should try to sustain the species. We are already causing too much of an extinction event as it is.
Okay, seriously, this post is really about "the lesser of two evils" as it relates to politics, or as some people call it, lesser evilism. Perhaps due to my psychologist-type of thought processes, I have my own take on the topic, including the Evil-Weevil-Schneevil, "Whatever" introduction to this essay. The basic reason for my dismissiveness of this phrase, "the lesser of two evils," is that it represents a very negative framing of politics -- a frame that was placed on it by conservatives. Thus, when a progressive resorts to using this phrase derisively, by refusing to vote for "the lesser of two evils," I, well... feel that either the person is being naively influenced by conservative framing (the more likely scenario), or is a secret conservative who passive-agressively is trying to sabotage the chances of progressives really getting anything done. Don't get me wrong; I would not begrudge anybody voting his or her conscience, but if progressives being divided and voting their conscience, in this deeply flawed two party system of ours, results in the greater of two evils being elected, that is a pretty heavy burden for their consciences to bear. But whatever you do, please vote, and remember conservatives may be the loudest elements in society and the biggest bullies, but they are in the minority. It's also worth noting that people who lump all politicians, or at least all Democrats and Republicans -- together are also engaging in stereotyping by failing to recognize the very real differences among politicians.
The fact is, the founding fathers of the United States were travelling without a roadmap when they wrote the Constitution. As remarkable as this document is, it contained -- and continues to contain -- some deep flaws, as history and international comparisons have shown us. The electoral college is at best, a strange way to elect a President, but the bigger flaw is the "winner take all" voting system, which pits candidates instead of ideas against each other. This system makes way for cults of personality, rather than pitting issues and political parties against each other. Proportional representation is the solution that many nations have found, for allowing various parties and viewpoints to be represented in government. What proportional representation means, is that people vote for parties instead of individual representatives in government. Perhaps for their national leader, they still vote for a candidate, but as I understand it, for representation, they vote for parties, which then choose a certain number of representatives from among their members, according to the percentage of people who voted for their party. This allows various parties to achieve true representation in government, and puts the focus on the issues, not on personal attacks of the opposing candidate. Until such a system is finally adopted in the United States, if ever, we will essentially be stuck with a two party system. There is no reason that those two parties have to be the Republicans and the Democrats, of course, although those two groups have had a lock on power for about 150 years. Parties can and do change, and it is quite possible that one party will collapse at some point and be replaced by another. I suspect the Republican Party is already on its way to a collapse, in fact. However, having another party come to power is likely to happen not from the top down, but rather, from the bottom up, with local elections first. (By the way, I filled out a survey a few weeks ago which gave percentage agreement with various Presidential candidates. Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party actually came in first place for me at 91%, but Barack Obama, for whom I intend to vote, was close behind at 87%. Mitt Romney was a mirror image of Obama, at 13%, so yes, the differences on many issues are quite large between Obama and Romney.)
Why not positively frame politics, rather than negatively? Why not vote for the greater of two goods instead of the lesser of two evils? I know that can be hard to do, with all of the negativity and mudslinging we see in our political system, but it is something to strive for. At the very least, we can strive for neutrality, as in "I am voting for the good party and not for the bad party," which is pretty much how I think about voting. As progressives, we should believe in good government, after all.
Let's look at where choosing the better of two alternatives, on a consistent basis, leads us. Whether we frame it as "choosing the lesser of two evils," "choosing the greater of two goods," or "choosing the good one over the bad one," making rational and productive choices on a consistent basis leads to progress. In behavioral psychology, there is a process called "shaping," which consists of gradually training more and more complex and wonderful behaviors through rewarding a series of successive approximations. This is how animal training is done, to use an example of intentional shaping, but human behavior is also shaped oftentimes, albeit unintentionally. Shaping is essentially where consistently choosing the better alternative in a situaton leads us, although this happens in a natural way, rather than being manipulated like one of B.F. Skinner's lab rats or pigeons. Basically, this is an argument for incremental -- but powerful -- changes through the democratic process. If we continue to elect more progressives, and avoid going back to the Republican agenda of political troglodytes and plutocrats, societal progress will happen, and probably much faster than most of us expect. The problem is, all too often, we have setbacks where "the bad guys" prevail, as in the midterm elections of 2010. And why did that happen? Because in most states, progressives and centrists stayed home in droves, and allowed Tea Partiers to elect their representatives and dictate their agenda to the nation. In fact, I will be the first to admit, that most of my life, "the bad guys" have prevailed politically. From 1968, when I was a mere 9 years old, until the election of Obama in 2008 -- a span of 40 years -- we had Republican Presidents for 28 of those years. And yet, I hear many people -- generally people who never gave Obama a chance in the first place -- say that "we have given Obama a chance and he failed, so let's vote for the other guy." Well, "the other guy" has already had far more of a chance to govern and shape policy than have the Democrats in that period, at least as President, although the composition of Congress has varied during that time span -- and it is "the other guy" who is largely responsible for the huge politically driven problems that we face as a nation. Contrary to shaping good government and a society which enhances the greater good, Republicans have been busy unshaping our government and society by slashing programs, shrinking and deconstructing government, deregulating industry, spending like drunken sailors on a bigger, badder military empire and handing as much control of society as they can over to the "winners" of the capitalist system.
What I am really saying, then, is that we need to continue down the path of progress, even if it is incremental at first, so that we can shape a better government. The Republicans are the ones who have really had their chance, and they blew it. Not only did they blow it, but they have dug in their heels, become obstinate sabotagers of the political process, and found their only solace in the extremist, conservative whacko elements of their base. As a result, we have what I feel -- based on opinion polls on various issues -- a center-left nation (regardless of what some right wing pundits may say) that is laboring under a center-right government. At some point, the government and the people need to be brought into alignment, and the way to do that is for the left and center majority to consistently vote for left or at least centrist candidates, throughout government. We cannot afford to go back to rule by conservatives.
Three days from now, we will know the election results by and large. I expect, and have long expected, that Obama will win, but we still need to get out there and vote -- if we haven't done that already. I also expect an incremental increase at least, in the number of Democrats in the House of Representatives, with little change in the party composition of the Senate, but more importantly, it looks like there will most likely be quite a few new progressives in Congress. Shaping a better future means keeping the momentum going. Who knows? In coming years, we may even be talking about the Green Party candidate as a serious contender for the Presidency, if we keep voting in numbers enough to overwhelm the right wing extemist elements of our society. It would be great to finally be talking about "the greater of two goods."
A Capital Idea Part 135: Unions Help Fight Corporate Greed
I just joined the California Teachers Union. Well, I haven't officially joined yet, but I filled out the form a little while ago and it's in my mailbox, so assuming that it will be accepted, I will be a union member soon. It's something I should have done a long time ago, but never did. I let the union take $20 per month from my paychecks as it is. I could have asked to be exempted from paying, but I didn't do that, either. I suppose the reason that I never joined the teachers' union before, is that I have never really seen myself as a career teacher. (That would probably be a surprise to a great many people, but it's true.) I always thought I could be a psychology researcher, a statistician, an author, or maybe something else, but the fact is, I have taught part-time pretty much steadily since 1989, and in the Riverside Community College District since 1995.
Coincidentally perhaps, or perhaps not, in addition to the annual union statement and application form, I received the journal published by the National Education Association, called Thought and Action, a few days ago. Among the interesting, progressive-oriented articles in this issue, are "The Politics of Contingent Academic Labor," "The Anti-Egalitarian Mission to Destroy Public Education in America," and the one which I am data-mining for this post, entitled "Poverty, Productivity, and Public Health: The Effects of 'Right to Work' Laws on Key Standards of Living," by Darrell Minor. According to Minor, "In RTWstates, unions are prohibited from including 'union security clauses,' which are those clauses that require all employees in the bargaining unit to either join the union or pay a portion of its dues as a condition of employment. Thus, RTW laws are generally thought to weaken unions." Where I live, California, is a what Minor calls a "worker-friendly" state, which requires employees to contribute to the union, and allows the union to be the exclusive bargaining agent for employees. I am not sure how the part about asking for a rebate of the fees, fits into the picture, but the form says "I request a rebate of the nonchargeable portion of my fees," so apparently, only part of the union fees are returned in the rebate. In any case, I was going to join the teachers union anyway, but my discovery of the article about "right-to-work" states reinforced my decision and motivated me to join today.
In the article, Minor made a statistical comparison of the 23 "right-to-work" states to the 27 "worker-friendly" states on various key statistics. What follows is a summary of what he found.
In terms of per capita Gross Domestic Product, "worker-friendly" states beat "right-to-work" states, with an average of $41,529.50 for "worker-friendly" states compared to an average of $38,745.50 for "right-to-work" (for less) states. California came in 8th place at $47,067. "Worker-friendly" Delaware came in first place with a per capita GDP of $62,080. "Right-to-work" state Mississippi comes in last place at $29634. The difference between the per capita GDPs of "worker-friendly" versus "right-to-work" states is statistically significant at the .05 probability level.
In terms of poverty levels, "worker-friendly" states again fare better than "right-to-work" states, with 11.9% average poverty rates for "worker-friendly" states to 13.9% for RTW states, which is significant at the .025 level. California does not fare so well on this measure, however, with a poverty rate of 13.3% which ranks 30th among the states. The state with the lowest poverty rate is "worker-friendly" New Hanpshire, at 7.6%, while that with the highest is Mississippi again, at 21.2%.
In terms of health insurance, uninsurance rates tend to be higher in RTW states, at 15.7%, compared to 12.6% for "worker-friendly" states. I do not see any statistical test for this result. Perhaps it was not significant due to the high variability between states in these rates. California, however, does very poorly on this measure, ranking tied for 45th with Nevada at 18.9%. The lowest uninsurance rate is in very liberal Massachusetts, with its "Romney care" at 5.1%, while Texas has the highest uninsurance rate, at 25.5%. I suspect the poor result for California is largely due to the high cost of health insurance in California, as health insurance companies try to fleece us Californians, as well as perhaps the high cost of living in California, or the relatively good provision of healthcare to the uninsured in California, through MediCal, for which my father was a long-time employee.
Minor's analysis did not find any significant differences in unemployment rates, home ownership, or "income gap" (wealth disparity) between RTW and "worker-friendly" states. The fact that unemployment rates showed virtually no difference between RTW and "worker-friendly" states, however, is important, since it is a common contention of conservatives, that businesses are fleeing states with more regulations and stronger unions (such as California) for "right-to-work" states and their lack of business regulation. These findings indicate that is yet another right-wing falsehood.
Minor had one further significant finding, however, which concerns life expectancy. It turns out that people in "worker-friendly" states average a 77.6 year life expectancy, compared to only 76.7 years in "right-to-work" states. This finding is also statistically significant. California does well in terms of life expectancy, at 10th place with an average of 78.2 years life expectancy. The highest life expectancy is in "worker-friendly" Hawaii, at 80.0, while the worst life expectancy is in -- you guessed it -- that third world country within the United States, Mississippi, where the life expectancy is only 73.6 years."
Although the differences between the states are in no way a contolled experiment, the results of this study do show conclusively that "worker-friendly" states, with their strong unions, are doing considerably better than the "right-to--work" states. Thus, the "right-to-work" movement is an utter failure, at least for the workers whom it purports to help. The only people that "right-to-work" laws consistently help, are -- no surprise here -- business owners, who can hire employees for lower wages, with relatively little chance of protest from unions. In my view, this is a major step toward demolishing the middle class, and toward third-world status.
Of course, there are many other factors which could contribute to the measured diffferences between RTW states and "worker-friendly" states. The "right-to-work" states are virtually all "right-wing" states also, with the possible exception of a few "swing states" such as Nevada, Florida or Virginia, or new member Indiana. However, most of these RTW states also have a long history of poverty. Perhaps "right-to-work" laws were enacted in many of these states in a misconceived attempt to reduce unemployment rates there. Either way, it seems pretty clear that union is the way to go. Unions, and "worker-friendly" laws, seem to help states prosper, bolstering the middle class and even helping people live longer.
The $Republican Party's Dismal
Today I want to discuss the reasons I believe that the future of the Republican Party is not bright. A second meaning of the title is that if the Republicans do manage to have electoral success in the coming years, our future will look pretty dismal. I don't expect that to happen, though, for the following reasons.
First of all, demographics do not favor Republicans at all. While the Democratic and the more liberal parties have become more inclusive over the years, the Republican Party (henceforth in this essay referred to as the $Republican Party) has become more exclusive. It has become the $Rich White Business Man's political party, as exemplified by Mitt the nitwit $Romney and his sidekick, Paul $Ryan. Yes, the power and the money have always been with the network of rich white business men, so it made sense that at least one party would gravitate toward this network. Some people think that Democrats are equally indebted to these same people, but the evidence shows that, while money holds way to much sway in Washington, Democrats trail $Republicans in sucking up to rich businesspeople by a wide margin. The large majority of Superpac and other forms of rich people's money -- 70% I heard recently on the radio -- goes to $Republicans, and their policy proposals reflect that, as well as the demographics of their supporters. Plainly put, there just aren't enough people who fit their demographic, which is basically white businesspeople and their spouses, to win any national election, and few other elections as well. This voter deficit is destined to only grow in coming years. Without going through the entire history of voting rights in the United States, it is important to mention here that, in the beginning, the United States only allowed white male landowners over the age of 21 or white males over the age of 21 with sufficient wealth to pay taxes, to vote. Non-white males over the age of 21 only gained the right to vote in 1870, and women, in 1920. The legal voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1971 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_rights_in_the_United_States).
Second, the $Republican Party has gone even farther to the right as time has gone on (http://grist.org/politics/asymmetrical-polarization-the-lefts-gone-left-but-the-rights-gone-nuts/), creating a huge politican schism between the two parties on many issues. Evidence shows that while the official stance of the $Republican Party has become far more conservative, Democrats have moved to somewhat more liberal positions, but have not moved nearly as much as $Republicans have. Thus, the "center" of United States politics, as many of us have long suspected, has moved to the right over the past few decades. The idea of "the political center" as being neutral is a myth, one that we must as a people overcome. For example, if we compare the United States to democratic socialist governments around the world, even the average Democrat resembles what would be considered a right-wing nutcase there, frustratingly to progressives throughout the United States. But the main point here is that while the stance of Democrats and the more liberal parties seems relatively reasonable for the most part, and gives us a path toward the future, Republicans have boxed themselves in, not only demographically, but also policy-wise, committing themselves to positions which just are not politically sustainable -- positions such as banning abortion or gay marriage, advocating the military-industrial complex even when it means unpaid for and totally unjustifed invasions of foreign nations, and most of all, steadfastly defending the disproven theory of trickle-down economics. In short, the $Republican Crazy Train has gone off the tracks.
Third, $Republicans engage in Groupthink, which is when groups of leaders feel a sense of moral invincibility and certainty, that prevents any critical examination of their positions. Consistent with the research which indicates that political conservatism is correlated with lower levels of intelligence, conservatives tend to hold their views religiously despite evidence to the contrary. It is not surprising that this party attracts religious fanatics, given its irrationality. As a result, Republicans are resistant to changing their positions. Chances of any significant shift in party policy in the coming years are dismal. Just take a look at what $Republicans are presenting as their agenda currently, and compare it to the past few decades, dating back to the $Reagan administration. They are basically heading farther down the same path of trickle down economics, brute force, militarism and intolerance that we saw when $Reagan was President. Rather than correcting their flaws, they have only exacerbated them! That is what Groupthink does to people if they fail to snap out of it, and clearly, $Republicans will never snap out of it of their own free will.
This leaves a narrow path to success for $Republicans, politically speaking, just as the electoral picture leaves $Romney a narrow, unlikely possibility of victory. They must either convince enough voters who are not in their chosen demographic -- which is rich white businesspeople -- to support their policies, that they can win elections outright, or... they can cheat! From where I sit, it appears that $Republicans' chances of cheating their way to victory look better than their chances of gaining legitimate political majorities, especially as the voting public becomes more immune to their political arguments. In fact, I suspect that a $Romney-$Ryan ticket would have won a majority of the vote in 1980, when $Reagan was elected, but there is little chance of that occuring now, and none if everybody who was eligible to vote, actually voted. This leaves $Republicans with voter suppression, and even election fraud as their main paths to victory in Presidential races, as well as in many other races. As it is, the fact is that the Democratic candidate for President has had more votes the the $Republican candidate in 4 of the past 5 elections, and we are looking at the likelihood of another Presidential election in which the Democrat wins the popular vote. The only reason we have had 8 years of George "W" Bush as President, during this period, is the election that was handed to him by the Supreme Court in 2000, which he did not win, and the subsequent election, which he never would have won had he not been the incumbent.
What bothers me the most about the election process is that, despite clear evidence of efforts by $Republicans to prevent people likely to vote for Democrats from voting (just saw Greg Palast talking about that on Democracy Now this morning in light of his new book, which I think is called "Billionnaires and Ballot Bandits," and we are talking about people in the millions who are either prevented from voting, or who vote but their votes are not counted), and despite abundant circumstantial evidence of election fraud, such as exit polls having far more people voting for the Democrat in some cases, than the official results, nobody is being prosecuted for these crimes, and these are felony crimes, make no mistake about it. The integrity of our Democracy -- of our nation and the principles upon which it was built -- are at stake, nothing less. Some people would say that this ship has already sailed, but if so, I don't think Obama ever would have been elected, nor would we have people such as Bernie Sanders or any of the Democrats who are actually progressives, in Congress. We need to safeguard our democracy against election fraud and voter suppression, and make serious efforts to prosecute offenders. I know that some people are doing their best in this regard -- Brad Friedman of Brad Blog comes to mind -- but somehow, all that seems to happen is that evidence keeps piling up that cheating is happening, but nobody is ever prosecuted for it. We need to send a message -- speaking of law-and-order messages from right-wing hypocrites -- that election cheating is a serious crime against democracy and the nation!
Fortunately, there are limits to the extent to which $Republican operatives are either willing to go in order to steal elections, perhaps out of fear of being caught, or able to go. Only close elections seem to swing in their favor. Howver, if we fail to sufficiently prevent election fraud or voter suppression, or fail to have a big enough turnout of non-right-wing whacko voters in the coming years, the future of all United States residents will look pretty dismal.
A Capital Idea Part 134: Fighting Inflation
As long as our economic system has depended upon sellers to set their own prices in "the market," the money has tended to lose its value. This is what we call "inflation." I guess that means that prices become inflated. Of course, if there were no money, there would be no inflation, but not having money of some kind is not practical, regardless of what some people such as those behind The Venus Project say. At the same time, none of us likes inflation, especially as consumers, or workers who do not see our wages increase.
In fact, one of the problems for current and former middle class Americans in recent years, is that their wages have stayed about the same while inflation has made their wages worth less. Short of a successful strike, an increase in the minimum wage, or an enlightened management, most workers in today's capitalistic culture are not likely to see their wages increase enough to match inflation. Thus, buying power for most consumers has actually decreased over the past few decades, and consequently, the massive numbers of home foreclosures and the financial crisis. Aside from most Americans falling gradually behind due to inflation, there is a psychological toll of inflation. Feeling that prices keep going up, necessities and wants becoming less affordable, and there is nothing we can do about it, weighs on peoples' minds. It causes relationship strife, unhappy parents who take it out on their kids, and so forth. We are being caught in an inflation squeeze.
Even throughout the housing bubble collapse and economic downturn starting in 2008, I noticed that inflation continued unabated. Food and gasoline prices continued to rise regardless, and certainly prices for other goods as well, as though the economic plight of a significant portion of the population did not matter. Unemployment rates were up, and so were prices. Now, we are supposedly out of the recession, but it seems the only people who have benefited are those who didn't need any help, anyway -- the rich. Unemployment rates have declined but they are still on the high side, and for those with employment, buying power is probably even more limited than before due to inflation.
The latest salient reminder of inflation is the gasoline prices, at least around here. They have gone up drastically in recent weeks in California, due to gasoline shortages supposedly, caused by some refineries being temporarily out of commission. Governor Brown has made provisions to allow the selling of "winter blend" gasoline early, which should ease the shortage and lower prices somewhat, but so far, I do not see any difference in price. I plan to drive my hybrid Honda Insight on its current tank of gasoline as long as I can, hopefully until gasoline prices go down. Meanwhile, gasoline manufacturing companies are making record profits.
I propose here that some things can be done to alleviate, if not end, inflation. One thing that can help reduce inflation is the use of technological innovations. There is one area of the economy where deflation has actually been occuring -- the high tech industry such as computers, cell phones, telephone services and digital cameras. Prices for these items have consistently gone down over the past decade or so even as their capacities have improved. The reasons for the deflation in these items appears to be primarily, better technology allowing better items to be produced more cheaply, and also, competition among high tech companies and fairly new products quickly being pushed to the wayside as newer, improved products join the market. In the case of fossil fuel dependence, high tech advances can make these obsolete as well. When we all start driving solar powered or hydrogen powered cars, you can bet that the price of gasoline will plummet. When our electricity plants are solar, you can bet that coal prices will take a dive. I am sure that there are many other areas in which newer, greener technologies will prove to be helpful in fighting inflation, as well.
Another way to decrease inflation is to limit advertising. Advertising increases inflation in at least 2 ways. First, advertising costs money which could be put into lowering the product's price. Second, because of advertising's effectiveness, it allows manufacturers to further raise prices for its products. I have proposed limiting advertising before, but as far as I can remember, I didn't mention the beneficial effect of reducing advertising opportunities on inflation. I was focusing on the propagandizing and monopolizing effects of advertising then. As mentioned in the previous post, sales techniques also have the effect of creating inflation. If the public becomes better educated regarding sales strategies and citizens are able to innoculate themselves to these manipulation attempts, perhaps we can help ourselves get off this inflation merry-go-round. These are a couple of inflation fighters that can take hold in the near future. A third, more direct approach which is being or has been applied in some settings, is government -- as opposed to corporate -- price setting. I have also proposed creating a committee, probably elected, which determines prices to be asked for as many goods as possible -- a dauting task for sure, but not impossible. One example that is salient to me is the price of medical services in Japan, which I discovered when studying various nations' health care systems. There is a committee which determines the price of each medical procedure in Japan, every year. Doctors have to charge what the committee tells them to charge, and the system works quite well to keep medical costs low and prevent inflation of medical costs, despite some grumbling from doctors regarding the low pay they receive for certain services. Why not expand such a system to include other services and goods? That would certainly put the kibosh on inflation, but more importantly, limit wealth disparities, end monopolies and in general, make society function more effectively, in my opinion. Let's face it, by the way, price fixing occurs one way or another. We can have the government set prices in a democratic and fair way, or let corporations and conglomerates of corporations set the highest prices they think they can get away with. I definitely prefer government setting the prices I pay.
Longer term solutions for the inflation problem involve overcoming financial capitalism altogether. When corporations no longer hold enormous power, inflation will in all likelihood no longer be such an issue. Examples of these includes credits or vouchers which can only be used for certain products, such as food or energy. This would also have the effect of limiting inflation, and hey, even conservatives love "voucher programs."
Inflation is not an inherent aspect of any economic system. It is something that is built into a system which depends on "the market" in which sellers set their preferred prices, however. It's time we take back our economy from price-fixing millionaire and billionaire corporation owners and their conservative politician buddies.
A Capital Idea Part 133: Beyond the World of Salesmanship
This is a topic that is so obvious to me that I must have overlooked it. I have studied, and teach, sales techniques from a social psychological perspective. Of course I know that they apply to economics and capital, but the thought of writing about them had not occurred to me.
I think what reminded me of their importance is an experience my wife and I are going through currently. It turns out that the environmental impact report regarding my wife's land was recently finished, and it was discovered that about 1/3 of the land is in the Chukwalla Sand Dune area which is habitat for various endangered species including the Fringe Toed Lizard, a 6-9 inch lizard that is specially adapted to harsh, sand dune habitat. As a consequence, that part of my wife's land is off limits for solar energy development, although the rest of the land has been okayed for solar energy production. An attorney for the solar company contacted us with this information, and later, sent a proposal which offered a ridiculously low amount, given the previous offer, as a buyout for the land. I clearly consider this a negotiating ploy by the solar company and there is no way that we will accept their offer for about 15% of the originally agreed upon price -- this despite having about 2/3 of the land available for the solar company's intended use, and also, as even the solar company's lawyer mentioned, the sand dune habitat is valuable for environmental reasons as well. While what the solar company is doing, is a buyer's technique rather than a sales techniuque, it reminded me of the importance of sales tricks as well as buying tricks to the corporate world.
Regarding our strategy for the land at this time, we are having our realtor negotiate with the solar company. We also contacted the attorney who wrote the legal agreement for the deal. All 4 of us are in agreement that the solar company is using an unfair tactic, and both our realtor and attorney mentioned that corporations often do such things to individuals. They both intend to be tough negotiators with the solar company, and as far as I am concerned, if the solar company doesn't want to give us a fair price for the land, we are willing to simply keep the land and sell it to somebody else, which will certainly result in more income for us than the current offer would, which would involve only paying a small amount more to purchase the entire land. I am confident that the solar company wants the land, in fact, enough to pay much more than the current offer, since it is a very important part of an assembly of adjoining parcels this company put together for a large solar energy project.
The seller's equivalent of what the solar company is doing, would be something called "low balling." Low balling is when a seller offers something for a very low price, but subsequently changes the terms to make it more expensive by adding other, exhorbitant costs or simply saying that the original low offer was a mistake. Basically, the solar company is low-balling in reverse -- offering to buy the land at a relatively high cost, paying a small percentage of the price in installments, then changing their minds and trying to purchase the entire parcel in one fell swoop at a price that is only about 15% of what they had agreed upon. By the way, my wife often gets mailings from people who are using this same technique in an attempt to buy some other land that she owns in Salton City, offering to buy it for an extremely low price, only $1000 per lot, even though she paid several thousand dollars for each of 6 lots there.
Another common sales technique is called the Foot-in-the-Door Technique (although it may also have some other names as well). This strategy involves getting a person to agree to a small request, such as buying an inexpensive item, then using the cooperative attitude of the customer, to sell more expensive items to. Personally, I think that the Foot-in-the-Door Technique bears considerable responsibility for the trend toward inflation that we see in capitalist economies. There is always a drive to sell more items, at a higher price -- the highest price that the "market" can support -- as free marketers and economists are apt to say. Once salespeople have their "feet in the door," incremental price raises become relatively simple to accomplish. It's just a matter of selling the same thing for a little bit more, rather than or along with something different for a lot more. Of course, there are other factors involved in the inflation trend as well, which I plan to touch on in my next post.
The final sales ploy I will discuss here, is called the Door-in-the-Face technique (although it may also have some other names as well). This trick consists of asking for a ridiculously high price, then negotiating downward, but still getting a good price -- or if the buyer is stupid or naive enough, selling the product at the ridiculously high price. This technique is often used in contract negotiations, such as athletes asking for ridiculous salaries (which they often get), or striking workers asking for much higher yet still reasonable wages from management, which they never get. What the solar company is doing, can also be considered the inverse of the Door-in-the-Face Technique, in that they are offering to buy the land for an extremely low price. Again, the Door-in-the-Face-Technique bears some responsibility for the inflation trend we see in capitalist economies.
All of these techniques have been demonstrated by social psychologists to be highly effective, so there is no doubt that they work. Making oneself "immune" to these techniques, as I have tried to do, involves first of all, being aware of them and when they are being used, which is probably 2/3 of the battle, and also, using couterploys. For instance, my wife and I play a variation on Good Cop/Bad Cop (Good Customer/Bad Customer?) when making a large purchase such as a car. My wife practically walks away from the deal and complains mightily about the salespeople ("Bad Customer") while I act as a go-between, trying to reason with both the salespeople and my wife, until the salespeople bring their price way down, to the point that my wife finds it acceptable. Believe me, this strategy works wonders. It happened more or less naturally in the beginning, due to our personalities and inclinations, but I have realized that this is an actual strategy which is helpful in dealing with greedy salespeople. Similarly, being willing to walk away from a proposed deal, as we are doing with the land deal, is a very effective counter-corporate strategy.
In addition to the sales tricks mentioned above, there are a large number of sales techniques listed in Wikipedia. I suspect that many of them overlap or are synonyms for the 3 I mentioned in this post, but there are certainly more than 3 effective strategies to separate a customer from his or her money. I counted 24 such techniques in the list at the end of the article, which didn't even include the Foot-in-the-Door or Door-in-the-Face Techniques. Here is the link to the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selling_technique
If nothing else, not being fleeced by greedy corporations, is itself a capital idea. But there is more to come...
A Capital Idea Part 132: A Couple Examples of Good Government's Superiority to Corporatism
Well, this post is really about some examples of good government's superiority to corporatism.
The health care debate is well-documented, and international comparisons show the United States' corporate system to be inferior as it leaves a great many people uninsured, is exorbitantly expensive, and produces mediocre results.
However, for some reason, I have never seen internet access discussed as an issue. In my case, I have been exposed to the poor access, high cost side of American internet access way too much to ignore the topic.
Two recent events rekindled my interest in the topic. One was that I heard a radio show guest (whose last name is Johnson, I think) talk about the relatively poor internet access we citizens of the United States have, despite having been the nation whose government funded the research leading to the phenomenon of the internet. He said that the United States ranks 29th (out of 30?) in internet access, and that the ranking has been dropping. I don't know what criteria the radio show guest was talking about, but I did find this on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_the_United_States).
The relevant part of the document is as follows:
Internet use and speed
The United States has over 67.7 million people subscribed to the top broadband providers, which account for 94% of the market. In 2008, over 5.4 million high speed Internet subscribers were added, compared to 8.5 million in 2007. The markets peak subscriber additions were acquired in 2006 with 10.4 million; the slowed growth can be attributed to increased market penetration, according to the Leichtman Research Group (LRG) that has been tracking the broadband industry. In March 2009, broadband penetration in active Internet user US homes dropped to 93.13%, creating the second consistent decrease from its peak of 93.38% in January 2009.
In 2008, the United States ranked 15th out of 30 countries in broadband penetration rates. This low worldwide ranking was surprising to many, as the Internet itself was invented in the United States. The country placed behind most other developed nations, including the UK, Germany, France, Denmark (#1), Switzerland, and Canada.
In measurements made between January and June 2011, the United States ranked 26th globally in terms of the speed of its broadband Internet connections with an average measured speed of 4.93 Mbit/s. South Korea led the list with an average of 17.62 Mbit/s, followed by Romania (15.27 Mbit/s) and Bulgaria (12.89 Mbit/s).
These rankings partly fuel the debate around the need for a national broadband policy, which would strive to provide high speed broadband internet access to all citizens.
This report is a few years out of date, so the United States has probably fallen even farther behind meanwhile. I can attest from personal observation that Taiwan has far better internet access, and much cheaper, than the United States does, yet Taiwan is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article. The same applies to several other asian nations. The guest on the radio show blamed the fall of the United States' internet access on capitaism, basically, as do I. He pointed out that wherever government is allowed to do its job by providing inexpensive, high speed, universal internet access, internet access is excellent. However, wherever corporations are given the reigns of the internet, to dole out to customers for a profit, internet access suffers greatly. Basically, we have the same problem with internet access in the United States, as with health care, even though these are very different issues. In fact, they do have in common that most people -- correctly I believe -- feel that both health care and internet access are basic rights, not privileges.
My personal situation has been one of limited internet access, in fact. While I have been associated with colleges and universities that have good internet access, the same has not been true at my home. Furthermore, the people who are given the nice, snazzy new computers to use at schools are full-time professors or graduate students, and I am neither so I have never enjoyed that privilege.
The neighborhood where I live is next to a mountain park in Moreno Valley, CA, which seems to inhibit the motivation of corporations to provide high speed internet access. You see, it's easier to do in the middle of a well-populated area rather than on its fringes. For many years, I struggled onward bravely, using dial-up access, since any high-speed access I could find was exhorbitantly expensive. Finally, this summer, we found that AT&T was able to give us broadband access for only slightly more than I had been paying for dial-up with Earthlink. The only catch was the installation fees, which amounted to $250. Nonetheless, my wife and I decided to go ahead and order the broadband access.
However, we have not found the broadband access provided to be reliable, so far. Since we had the modem installed around the beginning of August, we have had two modems stop working. The first one lasted about 3 days before it stopped working. As a result, we were sent a new one, but it didn't work at first either. We had some AT&T workers come out here, who found that the modem worked, but it was not plugged in all the way. They charged us $99. Well, as far as I knew, it was plugged in. When one plugs something in, it's supposed to work, but it didn't in this case. A few days ago, this replacement modem stopped working while I was on Facebook. Again, after many attempts to get the modem to work, we called AT&T and had a worker come here. This time he switched the placement of the phone and modem plugs and the modem started working. The guy was very grumpy and seemed to blame me for the modem's problems. All I can say is that I was on the internet, didn't touch the modem, and it stopped working. Any touching of the modem I did was only after confirming that the modem wasn't working, in the process of trying to get it to work again. Apparently, the modem only works when it is plugged into a specific outlet, something which nobody had told us. Furthermore, the grumpy employee told us that he would charge us again, since there was "no malfunction." Later, the grumpy employee decided to send someone else to check all of our equipment. As it turned out, the next employee found out that there was a bad groundwire 3-4 houses down the street at the AT&T control box, which could have been causing the malfunctions. Apparently, we won't be charged the $99 service fee after all because of the malfunction, but that remains to be seen.
In addition to the above fees, we were charged $108.75 for keeping the first modem. We were told to return it, but were reluctant to, because we figured it was damaged, and didn't want AT&T to foist it on another unlucky customer the way it had been foisted upon us. (It clearly was a used modem when we got it.) Eventually, when I found out about the charge, we did return it, however, to the probable chagrin of some other unlucky AT&T "U-Verse" customer. We were told that the charge of $108.75 would be dropped from our bill, but so far, it is still there. In addition to the above charges, there are taxes and fees that we were not told of when we purchased the service. One good thing (probably the only good thing) about our experience with AT&T U-Verse so far is that its telephone operaters have been very cooperative. When I told one of them that we were told we would not be charged for the visit by the technicians to get the new modem to work, they dropped that charge. A few days ago, when I mentioned our troubles, plus the 2 week vacation during which I unplugged the modem, the AT&T employee gave us a free month of service.
By the way, when I went to cancel our Earthlink service, the employee told us that we could get Earthlink cable service in order to have high speed internet access, for not much more than we were paying AT&T, with no setup charges. I have to wonder why, whenever I checked Earthlink for high speed internet access possibilities on the internet, the answer was that it was not available here. We have been on the verge of switching to the Earthlink cable service, but so far have not, although we probably will in the future, or better yet, we will be able to hold on until our government becomes enlightened and gives the citizens of the United States universal high speed internet access, much as we are waiting for that "affordable health care" of the "affordable health care act" to kick in so that we can go to the doctor at last. You see, my parents cancelled our health insurance, so that my wife and I don't have any now, but that is a whole different story.
A Capital Idea Part 131: Purpose Driven Lives
Sometimes illness or other adversity makes people do a better job of focusing and prioritizing their lives. I have been ill since September 2, and even now, still have a mildly sore throat and lingering viral tonsilitis, and am taking some medications, although I am improving. However, this post -- as much as it applies to me -- is not really about me.
This being a Sunday -- and blessedly having had a few weeks off from churches of my wife's choosing -- I was thinking of how Rick Warren pre-empted the idea of living life with a moral purpose. I don't believe one needs religion whatsoever in order to have a purpose driven life. Just wanting to help people lead happier, more productive lives, as so many atheists and agnostics do, is just as good if not better. However, I do think we as a people need to collaborate with more of a greater purpose in mind.
Progressives are a very diverse bunch of people, but there is nothing to preclude them from getting together with purpose and at least working on areas of broad agreement, and even doing so with conservatives and libertarians in those instances where there is agreement.
Some progressives are disillusioned with Obama; others think he is wonderful. Some progressives have special issues of concern, whether it's gay rights, decriminalizing Marijuana and other drugs, civil rights, or whatever, while other progressives take more of a general approach. Some progressives are focused on the here and now, which certainly is something to pay attention to with the upcoming election, while others are more future oriented. Some progressives of course are relatively moderate, others more extreme. Some favor compromise, others not so much. We are indeed a politically polyglot group.
Whatever one's own personal story and sentiments may be, however, each one of us should live a purpose driven life. That purpose has to do with building a better world, a sustainable world that facilitates humanity's personal growth. Perhaps we are all like pieces of a puzzle which fit together beautifully once one knows where they go.
Regardless of our differences, there are commonalities among most of the public which -- if tapped into -- can lead to a more progressive and moral world and human/environment relationship.
Consider these characteristics of a purpose-driven person that lead to progress:
1. A drive to make the world a better place by caring for one's fellow human being, and leaving a positive legacy;
2. An openness to new ideas and to evidence which can refute or confirm one's ideas -- in other words, a scientific perspective;
3. A belief that together, people can accomplish what they cannot by themselves -- in other words, a belief in good government;
4. A belief in the democratic process -- in other words, a belief that government is us;
5. A lack of emphasis on the accumulation of wealth -- wealth is not the measure of a person's worth;
6. A strong commitment to civil rights and equal treatment of both genders and people of all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds;
7. A willingness to move forward and not cling to the past, to try new ideas which our logic and evidence tells us will work;
8. A willingness to learn both from our own mistakes, and the mistakes and successes of others including other nations which have done something better.
Originally, I was not going to include this post as a Capital Idea, but there is so much overlap among moral purpose and economic issues, that I have. By definition, having a moral purpose in life means among other things, seeking economic fairnesss, after all.
I think the Occupy Movement is an example -- not the entire picture but a part of the picture -- of people with a greater moral purpose getting together. And the more we get together, the greater our sense of purpose becomes, and the greater our sense of purpose becomes, the better we become. Whether it's encouraging people to get out there and vote, or to campaign for favored political candidates or issues, giving one's employees a raise in salary, working to educate people politically, psychologically and economically, or working for greater economic fairness as OWS does, or whatever, there are 2 important things that need to happen: One, each of us must live a morally purposful life, and two, we must collaborate democratically with the greater public in order to make something worthwhile happen.
If McCain Were President
During this election season, I think it is a good idea to reflect on where we would be as a nation if John McCain had assumed the Presidency, and to compare that with what would be in store for us under Mitt Romney.
I suppose McCain, having invaded Iran and causing more military turmoil and death as well as several trillion dollars more in military debt, would be running for re-election while touting his record of "defending America" from our "enemies" -- just as George W. Bush did in 2004.
I imagine that, having refused to fund any stimulus packages to employ Americans, we would be in a state of recession if not depression, economically, while the size and scope of government continued to shrink and specialize in military actions.
Having continued the Republican meme of deregulation, wealth disparities would have continued to increase, even faster than they have, and their would be no talk or action on McCain's part aimed at reducing economic inequalities or unfairness.
How McCain would defend his inaction on employment and wealth disparity, I am not sure, but I suppose he would be doing the same things other Republicans do -- changing the topic, distracting the voting public with catchy conservative sound bites, and talking about how the "free market" is going to save us all. Meanwhile, I wouldn't be surprised if his people were rigging the Diebold voting machines or whatever else is used to give official vote counts. Would he be re-elected? Well, like Romney, he would certainly have the money to mount a spirited campaign thanks to wealthy donors and Citizens United -- probably far more money than any Democrat would have -- although it's doubtful he would succeed in being re-elected over whomever the Democrats would have chosen.
I point out my take on what a McCain Presidency would have been like, in part to show the basic simlarity among all Republican candidates for the highest office in the land. A McCain Presidency would have been pretty much a continuation of the George W. Bush Presidency, and more to the point, pretty much what we could expect from a Romney Presidency. There are forces at play in the Republican Party, that transcend the politics or tendencies of individual candidates. With both McCain and Romney, we started out with a relatively moderate Republican, but when the desire to be nominated and elected was added to the radical pull to the right one sees in the Republican Party, we wound up with a hard-line right winger.
Why does the Republican Party pull so hard to the right?
There is not a single answer to that question, but rather, a variety of factors which lead in that direction:
1. The dog-whistle racism and defensive fanaticism of disenfranchised feeling Republican voters;
2. Republican candidates go where the money is, which is supporting highly conservative causes on their side;
3. Citizens United, which has exacerbated number 2 above by infusing more money into the political process;
4. The group polarization phenomenon, which is well-known in social psychology, and tends to make opposing sides more extreme and entrenched in their views over time;
5. The need to please the conservative voting base, especially in order to win the Republican Party's nomination. Obviously, this voting base is far more conservative than the general electorate;
6. The conservative ideologues such as Karl Rove and Grover Norquist who plot strategy and pull the strings of their GOP puppets;
7. Last, but not least, the nature of conservative ideology itself, which tends to be stubborn, self-righteous and averse to compromise. It is an ideology which lends itself to uniformity of thought, including the Groupthink phenomenon in which leadership fails to examine evidence which is contrary to their previously held views, and winds up rubber stamping a pre-planned course of action even if it is of disastrous design.
Some of these factors, including numbers 2-5, also apply to Democrats, but Democrats are not as strongly tied to monied interests as the Republicans (although money obviously influences Democrats' political choices as well), and Democrats are a more diverse and compromising group. It is the tendency to compromise, along with monied interests and Republican take-no-prisoners strategy, which in my opinion leads to the general pull to the right in American politics, absent a populist revolt. When one looks at nations which have gone progressive over the years, it is by popular consent -- a 99%er thing. The public basically threw off the shackles of fascism and told the fascists that they were no longer welcome there. This is what we need in the United States, and we are not going to get this under a Republican President, obviously, but I do believe that Obama is receptive to it. His talk is of rebuilding the middle class and economic justice, even if he is reluctant to alienate the financial powers-that-be in order to do that as is necessary. Eventually, Obama may realize that defying the plutocracy is necessary to our long term well-being. I believe that Obama also supports the eventual scaling back of the U.S. military and its foreign commitments, in contrast to what we see from the Republicans. Obama also supports a balance of government and private employment, unlike his Republican counterparts.
Would other Democratic or progressive candidates match Obama's policies? Probably to an extent as Democrats are also subject to political and financial forces beyond their control and a political system they did not create, but not as much as Republicans mirror each other, due to the aforementioned homogeneity of the Republican Party compared to Democrats or anything resembling progressive politics. However, it is clear to me that the way forward includes having a big "progressive tent" which allows political progress to continue as we elect leaders who at least won't set civilzation back 100 years or so, which is exacly what the Republicans have to offer. I believe our best path forward is to re-elect Obama, push him to be more progressive, elect as many progressives (and as few regressives) to Congress as possble (yes, that does make a huge difference) and continue building a progressively more progressive government in the future.
Where will that leave Republicans such as the Bushes, McCain or Romney? Pretty much with the dinosaurs, where they belong.
Too Many Students for our Classes
When I arrived for the first day of fall semester at 8 a.m. on Monday, August 27, I was greeted by a standing-room-only classful of students. This included my pre-enrolled students, which were maxed out, and about 17 students who were on what is called the "waitlist." This overcrowding has been typical at the beginning of fall and spring sessions the past few years, as many classes have been cancelled while those which remain, tend to have more prospective students than they can fit.
Sometimes I send quite a few prospective students home, and sometimes I am lucky enough to have a large classroom which can accomodate all of the students, but in this case, I had a normal size room and decided to add all of the people on the "waitlist" who showed up and hope for the best. That is not what happened, though. One of the pre-enrolled students took exception to the overcrowding and lack of seats -- she came late and thus didn't have a seat -- and thus complained to the administration on Wednesday, Ausust 29, and threatened to call the fire marshalls. Apparently, there is a rule that there must be a seat for every student according to fire codes, which was news to me and even to the professor who called me. This is a ridiculous situation, since classes are cancelled if they are not full, yet also may be cancelled if they are one person over full. The class is supposed to have 49 students, but with my adding people from the "waitlist," it went up to 65, although I refused to add anyone else after the first day.
Employees at school last week tried to find a larger room for my class, and thought they had found one that seated 70 people, but it turned out that switching classes with the other professor would cause more scheduling conflicts, as this was a longer class that would end later in the morning than mine when another class was supposed to be in the room. Meanwhile, I turned away a lot of people from my other General Psychology class even on the first day, and for some reason, my other, Developmental Psychology class had been underenrolled with a cap of only 43 students even though it was in the same room, and crowding wasn't a problem with that section.
The stress from the situation and the unavoidable yet unjustified feeling that I was being put in the spotlight for not following proper procedures, was so great that I believe it caused me to become seriously infected. I became ill on Sunday, September 2 while my wife and I were having a planned trip to Venice, CA with Isabella, and became worse the next day when we had more plans with Isabella. My infection became increasingly worse over the next several days. For a few days, my throat, lungs, eyes and ears were all badly infected. I managed to attend class and teach at the appointed times, but it was not easy, and I felt so badly last Friday that I cut my final class short. Fortunately, since then, I have consistently improved, although I still suffer a variety of symptoms.
Perhaps it is the unexpectedly successful resolution of my classroom problem that has allowed me to improve so well and led to my improved spirits. Last Friday afternoon, after my classes, I received an email from the Dean of Instruction, who said he would visit my class this Monday morning (September 10) to try to rectify the situation. At the time, the prospect of have the Dean come to my class didn't seem encouraging. Anyway, I sent him an email explaining my compulsion to try to accomodate as many students as I could, and mentioning that if the school had just one more section of Psych. 1, we could probably accomodate all -- or close to all -- the students who wanted or needed to take this course. I didn't think that was a very serious possibility, given the shortage of funding and class sections these past few years, but that is exactly what happened. When Dr. Anderson showed up on Monday, he announced a new, "short-term" section that would last 12 weeks and begin on September 24. He brought a sign-in sheet for students who wanted to switch classes from mine to the new one. Apparently, the school found the money for a new section, Dr. Anderson decided that we needed one, and the head pschology professor, Dr. Gibbs, had a new instructor he wanted to hire. As it turned out, I had about 7-8 students sign up that day for the new class (possibly a few more since then), and I was left with a couple of open seats at last in my room. I was more than happy with the solution and didn't mind students leaving my section at all. In fact, the person who first complained about the crowding was the first to sign up for new class, and another student I had noticed complaining followed her. I figure my class might be better off without malcontents occupying it and I still have plenty of students. Meanwhile, the class will be advertised to "the general public" so more people can add it, and the support and unexpected compliments of the other professors, administration and staff, as well as the overwhelming number of students wanting to take my classes, made me feel appreciated and "popular."
However, looking beyond this relatively rosy outcome, this case illustrates some of the problems with the current college education system in the United States. As everybody around here knows, fees have increased dramatically in recent years, and student debt has reached epidemic proportions. As it turns out, student fees had just doubled in the Riverside Community College District, from $23, to $46 per unit. This semester's overcrowding occured in spite of that. By my calculations, each student's fee is now $138. Multiplied by 65, this comes out to almost $10,000 in student fees. Perhaps the higher fees are themselves pretty much enough to cover the cost of a new section. It is certainly far more than the instructor is paid to teach a class.
Even more disturbingly, it is clear that many students are being denied access to higher education. It is not just a case of students having "difficulty finding classes." Many of them are having to give up on having classes, and having to delay their educations. This has been an increasing problem for many years, but it has only gotten worse over time. Of course, our community colleges and public universities are supposed to provide inexpensive higher education to all qualified students, supported by taxes such as property, sales and state taxes. As it turns out, higher education has become neither inexpensive, nor equally available for all qualified students. Access to higher education has been systematically restricted and had strings attached, which I believe is all part of the corporate plutocracy's larger plan. As I pithily inform my students sometimes these past few years, "We don't have enough classes, so that rich people can have tax breaks and stow their money away in investments and Swiss Bank Accounts."
As far as bereaucratic details such as "waitlists" are concerned, professors such as myself and my professor friend who called me September 5, remain puzzled by their impracticality. Some of the busywork we professors are asked to go through makes me wonder if the people who created these procedures had ever taught a class. Anyway, it turns out we often have as many people on the waitlist, as pre-enrolled in the class, yet we are only officially allowed to fill in those seats which were no-shows among the pre-enrolled students. This is usually only a couple of students -- so what is the point of having a long "waitlist" as well as an equally long list of "add codes" for people who are adding the class? Perhaps if you have a class that hardly anybody signs up for, and all the people who couldn't get another class show up there when they find out it has space...
I have often added quite a few students in the past, and it had always worked out after a few weeks, when some students dropped the class and others didn't attend class regularly. The difference this time is that one student became irate over the situation and complained to the administration. The larger point is the big squeeze that both students and professors are undergoing, something which is the fault of neither the students nor the professors or other school employees. We clearly need to re-prioritize education as a society, and decisively reject the conservative world view in which anything public, including education, is to be spurned, derogated and financially starved into a minimal state if it exists anymore at all. To this point, the conservative world view continues to make progress, despite considerable opposition and blowback from the rest of us, but trying to simply hold off further degradation of the system is no longer enough.
A Capital Idea Part 130: Great Leaps Forward
I recall a hearing that Mao Zedong's Communist Party had come up with a slogan called "The Great Leap Forward" around the 1960s that had to do with the government's plans to modernize China. Just to make it clear, this post has nothing to do with communism or Mao Zedong and has a lot more to do with democracy.
Sometimes, negative associations such as many Americans have with communist China, ruin the postive meanings of the actual wording. I think that is the case here. While there is considerable room for interpretation regarding what a "great leap forward" is, it seems clear that "tinkering around the edges" is not going to get us to where we need to go. What this series of posts has been about, has largely been looking beyond the normal economic thinking and machinations which have been done before, and exposing myself and hopefully other people, to forward thinking ideas which constitute the kind of bold and innovative thinking which will free us of the economic hamster wheel on which we find ourselves -- where the vast majority of us seem to be running in circles in order to pump money up to the top, the financial elites of the world, even as natural resources run scarce and the environment threatens to collapse.
Thus, perhaps raising the top-tier tax rate by a few percentage points could be considered a "great leap forward" and no doubt, is something that sorely needs to be done, but trax rates in the United States have been far higher in the past than they are now. Raising taxes is a necessary, but not sufficient step for fixing what is fundamentally wrong with our economic system. Even as I write this, I face having to drop students that I have already added, from one class because my college's administration has suddenly decided to inform us that there are strict limits on how many students a class can have. I may have more on this in another post, but this is emblematic of how dysfunctional our system has become, in my opinion. Community colleges are supposed to be places where anybody can find inexpensive education, but instead, tuition has been doubled this year, while massive numbers of classes have been cancelled over these past few years, leaving students without needed classes and professors with diminished income. Low tax rates, leaving schools underfunded, have a lot to do with this, but more fundamenally, misplaced priorities are to blame.
Let me try to think of some ways in which we as a society can make that "Great Leap Forward." I was thinking of these as I was at the mall on Labor Day, getting sick, but I forgot them. I tried to write them down yesterday, but couldn't think of any. Perhaps being not just a little sick, but "A Lot Sick" this week, almost certainly due to the stress of my school situation, has something to do with my forgetfulness. Virtually anything that can get infected, did get infected, including my throat, ears, eyes and lungs, and I have been spending hours up an night coughing, as Mucous Man is on the rampage.
Anyway, here I go with my best try.
Great Leaps Forward:
1. Having a moral basis for the economy, one which puts peoples' needs and the economy serving the people ahead of owner's profits;
2. Treating the economy as one would treat an ecological system, with a healthy economy consisting of mutually beneficial, ecologically sustainable interactions -- let us work with nature as well as discovering from nature through the scientific process, how to keep us integrated into a healthy ecosystem;
3. Changing our economic priorities from exploiting opportunities and the environment, to investing in people (education), the future (infrastructure) and the environment;
4. Having the economy be primarily about cooperation and wise use of resources rather than competition and monopolization;
5. Downsizing business -- emphasizing small, local businesses rather than monopolistic megabusinesses;
6. Emphasizing economic cooperatives rather than the private ownership model -- let's make this a peoples' democracy and let's take back ownership of our business as well as government;
7. Using various forms of "money" or currency including those which citizens in good standing are allotted to obtain the necessities of life in keeping with Great Leap Forward number 1 -- let's put the days of debtors prisons and cycles of poverty behind us;
8. Encouraging productive activities and personal well-being by giving people economic credit for them (such as vouchers), whatever they may be -- let us recognize and value all forms of capital according to their true worth rather than the artificial worth of financial capital;
9. Having good, multi-layered government involvement in the economy by increasing democratic input at all levels of the government -- let's never allow selfish or misguided individuals to advertise their hatred for even democratically run government again. That can only lead to dysfunctional government.
Systemic changes such as these are what I see as being necessary to humanity's future progress. The alternative is that for the time being, we will continue find ourselves in a lop-sided economy in which a few people enjoy enormous wealth, a fair number of people enjoy relative comfort and lots of technological gadgetry, yet remain on the brink of economic ruin, while the majority of humanity struggles on in poverty. If nothing is done to stop this tragectory, the increasing concentration of power and money in the hands of the economic elite, along with the gleefully irresponsible exploitation of resources which our system produces, will eventually result in a catastrophic collapse which will be global in nature and include ecological collapse, death of a great many people as our population becomes unsustainable, and economic and social chaos. Let us take these Great Leaps Forward before it is too late.
A Capital Idea Part 129: Overcoming Descartes' Error
I am going to discuss rationality today. I could give some links to this topic, but given that my blog posts have been so delayed by my vacation, and the general clarity (at least to me) of the evidence, I will b," e lazy and not bother with it.
Some people (such as believers in psychodynamic psychology) believe people to be essentially irrational. Others (such as believers in humanistic psychology, or believers in Descartes' philosophy and the Enlightenment) believe people to be essentially rational, while still others (such as cognitive psychologists) are in between. Although I am more a supporter of humanistic psychology, I agree with the cognitive psychologists that humans are partly rational, partly irrational. However, we ultimately are made accountable to reality, and thus, rationality becomes the predominant force. We can see this in the current political situation, in my estimation, when we see polls that indicate that the power of money and messaging, which the Republicans hold the advantage in, are losing their sway with the American public to a degree. Of course, having more ads on T.V. and more catchy sound bites which appeal to our more selfish side, will continue to have some effect as long as people are not totally immune to messaging, but the reality of Republicans' failed policies (moreso than those of the Democrats although sometimes the Democrats aren't much better than their opponents) has made an increasing percentage of voters unswayed by their messages, IMHO, no matter how many times we hear them.
"Descartes error" is the idea that although Descartes believed that people are essentially rational, voters tend to make their decisions based on irrational influences. There is a book by that name by a professor here in California, whose name I forget. I believe he teaches at U.S.C. However, as I have indicated above, I gladly find that his idea is growing a bit out of date, as voters wise up gradually and become somewhat more rational. This doesn't mean that the idea of Descartes' error in terms of voting is no longer an issue. Any irrationality in the voting process is of concern, and certainly there is still a great deal of it to go around, both in the United States and in other democracies. The following may offend some people, but based upon my observations over the years, I believe that California is at the head of the learning curve in terms of voting behavior, among all of the states. Having just completed my tour of "Pacifica" aside from Hawaii, travelling from California to Vancouver, BC and back, I find that other "Pacifica" states such as Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii (been there too 10 years ago) are next, a little behind California. Some nations such as Canada, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and many European nations are probably ahead of even California. In 2010, two Republican candidates for statewide offices, Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, spent enormous amounts of money, outspending their opponents by considerable margins, but lost anyway. Remember, California is the state that made people take Ronny Ray-Gun seriously as a politician in the 1960s, setting the stage for his Presidency, and also produced "tricky Dick" Richard Nixon during that era. Even though there have always been a lot of progressive minded people in California, somehow, the regressive forces of conservative politics managed to have great success during that era, by convincing people to believe in false theories such as trickle down economics, and that "everybody can become rich," if only we allow the "free market" to take hold, and so on, thus resulting in a majority of voters in many elections, voting against their own interests as well as those of the public welfare.
Although the issue of overcoming Descartes' error may possibly ultimately resolve itself due to voters' increasing experience and knowledge base regarding which political policies work or do not work, I don't think any of us should be satisfied with simply letting "nature take its course" in that regard. Irrational voting decisions can always rear their ugly heads --voters' memories can be very short (something which Republicans are betting on) and voters can become complacent, apathetic and naive rather easily.
In fact, psychologists have -- without actually broaching the subject of voting behavior directly -- long been looking at ways to make people act more rationally. In psychological terminology, this is called "innoculation." For instance, people may use a heuristic such as making decisions based upon prototypes -- what something looks like -- while ignoring baserate information. Thus, a description of an actual person that seems to best fit an astronaut results in a disproportionate number of guesses that the person in question is an astronaut rather than a librarian. This turns out to be an error because people are ignoring the fact that astronauts are far less common than librarians. However, with training, people can learn to take into account baserate information and thus, overcome their heuristic error due to their having been "innoculated" to baserate errors. More importantly, people could potentially be trained to overcome irrational thought processes which have very important implications, such as the self-serving bias. The self-serving bias is the fact that most people (especially American males) tend to take credit for any good outcomes they may have, while denying blame for any failures, instead assigning blame to other people or circumstances beyond their control. I am not aware that the self-serving has been overcome in any research. However, cognitive therapies have accomplished the abolition of far more irrational thought processes than the self-serving bias, by essentially reworking people's personalities (with their cooperation), so I see no reason to doubt that when confronted with reality, people can consistently perceive themselves just as they do others, without bias. In fact, some populations, such as Asian women, tend to show a self-deprecating bias, blaming themselves for what in fact is the fault of other people.
The basic approach in innoculation, as I understand it, is simply to make people aware of realities which affect them, and to have them practice being aware of these realities and knowing what to do about them. This is similar to what is done in cognitive therapy, as well. It's a matter of cognizance, which leads people to make rational decisions. Thus, people are essentially rational, after all, but can be led to irrationality when unaware of relevant circumstances and information. Sometimes, the technique involves telling people something which is true, but which people either have not thought about critically or have been led to believe otherwise. An example is when researchers tell people that effort is the key to success, which is done in what is called "attributional retraining," which has been found to be quite effective. It turns out that Americans, for example, tend to attribute academic success to ability, rather than effort. However, this is a dysfunctional form of attribution, which leads to inadequate effort by most students. Asian students, on the other hand, tend to attribute academic success to effort, which is a much more functional form of achievement related attribution. Thus, in attributional retraining, American students have been taught to focus on their efforts and noticing how their efforts are effective in obtaining better outcomes, rather than relying upon ability or "talent" for success. As mentioned previously, this method definitely works, and the differences between Asian cultures and American in terms of academic achievement attributions are thought to be largely responsible for the tendency of Asians and Asian Americans to outperform their counterparts from other backgrounds. Of course, it is an overgeneralization to say that "Americans attribute success to ability," while "Asians attribute success to effort." Thus, I am referring to tendencies only, but these have been found to be relatively strong and reliable, culturally based tendencies. The relevant point here is that, there is no reason why we cannot use similar techniques to those used to help students achieve, to help evolve our political culture as well.
In closing, thought, emotion and behavior ideally should all be rationally linked. As often happens, however, when people pay attention to or are swayed by, unrealistic messages, the rational links between thought, feeling and behavior can be short-circuited, and people may act upon impulsive desires and illogical arguments. Our task here, is to teach people to be reality based, leading to rational thinking, and linking rational thinking to appropriate emotion and behavior. Basically, this simply has to do with pointing out facts and reality to people, something anybody can do, so we can all play a role in overcoming Descartes' error, and most of us probably already are doing so. After all, the facts are on our side. Having programs, such as the universal use of (rather than the occasional "drop in the bucket" research demonstration) school programs teaching critical thinking skills, and more to the point, programs to innoculate people such as voters to irrational arguments, would of course be of the greatest help; this is the next step our culture needs to take in order to make the voting decisions of the public more rational.
A Capital Idea Part 128: What is "Ownable?"
There is a fundamental error in the concept of ownership, it seems to me. The word, "own," implies the ability to control a resource. However, there are many resources which human beings do not control. Specifically, the dictionary defines the word "own" as implying that something "belongs" to a person. "Belonging" to a person, in turn, requires that one be able to control whatever it is that one owns.
Things which are controllable by individuals are essentially inanimate, or formerly living, objects which are manipulable by humans. The primary category of this type are tools, machines, works of art, et cetera which are human made, and food items. These are items which a person can "own" and use to enhance personal wellbeing. These are also things which are the result of human labor, which some have suggested be the basis of capital. Similarly, I have suggested in an earlier post that all money valuations be linked to something of intrinsic value, such as labor or natural resources. However, to claim ownership of natural resources is to "play God," and presume control over things which are either not truly controllable, or which cannot ethically be controlled by others. Live animals, and even moreso live humans, have their own will and lives to live, and thus are not really "ownable." Ask any cat lover if one can really "own" a cat, and they will generally say they all have minds of their own, and any relationship between cat and human is of the cat's own free will. The idea of "owning" a crucial component of life such as a gene, is especially ludicrous. Actually, geneticists don't even understand how genetics works, in terms of translating a sequence of base pairs into a biological characteristic, yet companies such as Monsanto and various genetic engineering enterprises gleefully are advancing toward claiming ownership of lucrative genes.
What I am suggesting here, is that we should make a distinction between those things which a person can individually own, and those which are not ownable by individuals, or perhaps even by a collective. An example of the recognition that some things should not be owned by individuals, counter to the proclivities of business owners, libertarians and conservatives, are a great socialist invention of the United States: National parks. At least one national park, by the way, Acadia National Park in Maine, which my wife and I visited a few years ago, actually consists of land which was donated by land owners. Other national parks consist of public land that was permanently set aside, both for preservation of their special environments, and for responsible public use of these places. I have been to various national parks over the years, and I can vouch that these places are kept in a relatively pristine state compared to other lands. The natural environments found in our national parks benefit us all and will continue to do so. Some of the benefits of having national parks include the preservation of biodiversity and other resources, the enhancement of the overall quality of the environment by reducing pollution, and of course the provision of great vacation spots.
Perhaps we should, in essence, expand the national park concept by putting our shared natural resources, as well as other things which we cannot or should not truly control through ownership, into a public trust. Our water, our air, our land, our wildlife, perhaps even our livestock, plants and pets, all deserve to be considered as belonging to a different classification, other than soulless, objective "commodities" to be "owned." These are nature's wonderful products, not ours, and as such, they deserve our collective respect and thus must be used wisely for the public welfare. This social transformation is part of a "great leap forward" -- the democratic one, not Mao's communist one -- which I envision looming in humanity's future if we are to fulfill our potential as a truly intelligent, creative and wise lifeform.
How this transformation would relate to money, I am not sure, but there are viable possibilities. One is that people would have free access to a certain amount of each resource held in public trust. Another possibility is that people would be given provisional vouchers to be used for access to specific resources held in public trust. A third possibility is that qualified people would be entrusted with the care of these resources, and could profit financially by raising animals or plants for human use, or by using other, inanimate resources as allowed, or even by providing recreational opportunities to other people. Any violation of the public trust could lead to the removal of the privilege of being entrusted with such resources. Of course, this third approach has to do with the regulation of resource use, so that while it might not seem that different from what we now do, it would engender a completely different attitude toward resources, different language regarding resources, and much better regulated practices than the profit motive approach gives us. A current example of this third approach in practice, is the use of catch quotas for people who fish for wild fish or other sea life, to prevent their overharvest. Catch quotas are becoming increasingly necessary and increasingly common. Perhaps a combination of such strategies as described above would work best.
The big point here -- my big idea which woke me up from a dream a few nights ago -- is that we need to make the distinction between "human-made things" or human skills and labor which can be bought and sold by individuals and which fall under the control of individuals, and those things which are beyond the scope of true ownership. We must undo the "Yertle the Turtle" ("Everthing I can see belongs to me") greedy error in thinking which led to the commodification of everything under the sun in our so-called "free market" economic system, and replace it with something which properly represents our collective relationship with, and dependence upon, natural resources.
A Capital Idea Part 127: Cultural Evolution and the Economy
A couple of years ago, I wrote some blog posts about biological, cultural and spiritual evolution. Although all three forms of evolution may be linked, the most quickly evolving form, and that with the most obvious links to the economy, is cultural evolution.
By cultural evolution, I mean the kind of things I have been writing about in terms of where we need to go with the economy in the future, but cultural evolution is much broader than economic issues. It encompasses civility, civil rights, civics, international and interpersonal relations, technology, lifestyles, tolerance, ethics, environmentalism and I am sure a few other important issues which I haven't thought of at this moment.
The broader role of economics in cultural evolution, then, lies in its effects upon issues such as listed above. What will civil relations look like in a reformed economy? How will international relations be affected? What will economic ethics be like? How will we treat our planet, et cetera?
My expectation is that all of the above will be improved, anywhere from moderately to greatly. The general reasons are clear. When people work together as on a common cause, and base their relations on love and cooperation, rather than pride and competition, we begin to treat each other and our environment better. When people are treated more fairly, they will be happier and better able to live productive, creative lives. The Broaden and Build model of emotion is based upon evidence that this is true. Stressed people may want change, but they act out of a place of frustration and desperation. We are seeing some of this type of desperate call for change around the world now. However, it is when people have enough of what they need, and can relax and think productively and creatively about things (called reflective thinking), that they have good ideas and produce useful new items and systems. We must not get caught up in a world of desperation that forgets what progress looks like. "Anything but this" is not a smart mantra to hang onto. Angry people are generally not at their smartest, or best. Rather, they tend to make movements look bad, as the recent vandalism in nearby Anaheim, CA during protests over 2 apparently unjustified police killings of young men shows. Cooler, more ethical heads need to prevail, although we definitely need our movements and our protesters -- peaceful, rational ones.
In conclusion, the financial system of capitalism which the wealthy and powerful have built up over the centuries, is a major force holding back our cultural evolution. In my opinion, mythology-based religion is too, although these religions generally ascribe to a basic set of ethics which can apply to any society, for the most part. These, in my opinion, are the hugest scams ever perpetrated upon the human race -- the propagation of religious myths to the benefit of those in charge of mythological propaganda, and most of all, the rigged financial system which we call "Capitalism," but which, when properly analyzed, is really a particular variant of capitalism called the "free market," in which people compete to raise their prices (and thus the nearly constant inflation we are accustomed to seeing, even in tough economic times and even for basic needs such as food) and sell more goods, while paying their laborers less and foisting the costs of any damage they do to consumers or the environment (the "externalities") upon the public and upon an underfunded, strained government, all in order to maximize profits. Although the players in the financial market have changed over time, and fortunes sometimes -- but usually don't -- rise and fall, the game that is being played remains the same. Wealthy and powerful people have been essentially rigging the system through the ages, for their own benefit and for that of their progeny, usually with the requisite psychological justifications. This is the basic cause of the economic divide between wealthy and poor, the basic cause of most civil unrest and war, the misery index's spark plug, and the basic impediment to social change. This is the truly conservative nature of power and wealth.
Unless they are relatively wise and enlightened -- which many of the rich and powerful but not the majority, actually are -- those who are having their way in life, do not want basic change. They act as a brake upon the progress of appropriate cultural evolution, through the application of their economic system. This is what needs to be overcome in order to advance as a species. We must convince those in power, as well as their supporters among the rest of us, that it is in our ultimate interest to create a new, populist and democratic economic system. Capital and thus capitalism will still exist in the new system, but unlike the current system, the new system will be transparent -- a product of, responsive and responsible to, the collective will of the people.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, cultural evolution is proceding at a relatively rapid rate, in fact. This is due to 2 reasons. The first is that even the rich and powerful want some changes, such as new technologies to enhance their lives and share with other people. The second reason is that no matter how certain powerful people try to stop progress, the wants and needs of the public (the 99%ers) will find a way to bring about some desired change. Powerful conservatives (in the true sense of the word "conservative") are in a position akin to trying to stop water from flowing downhill. However, they may be successful in damming up the majority of human potential as a labor pool for their own benefit, and preventing the kind of fundamental change that we ultimately and truly all need. We must take down the metaphorical dam which society's elite have built, and unlock our human potential -- if not, we are liable to see the collapse of the ecological system upon which we depend, in which case a great many people will die in a short period of time and the world economy will likewise collapse, as a result. Instead, our ultimate success depends upon our ability to create a more just and lasting society which employs an economy which truly serves the people, not the other way around.
As I have mentioned on the thread for my previous post, it seems to me as though the challenges which humanity is facing, are part of a grand design to test our collective wisdom. We cannot succeed or gain the wisdom we need, by allowing an elite few to dictate the terms of our culture -- economically, politically, militarily, or in any other way -- to the rest of us.
A Capital Idea Part 126: What Kind of World Do You Want?
It occurs to me that the differing world views of progressives and conservatives is not only about what kind of world we have, but also, how the world has been, and how we see its future. Conservatives seem to see world history as a series of conflicts, a manly place in which only the strongest survive, or something like that. It is a world which has been, and still is, fraught with dangers and things to fear, a hierarchically structured place in which the only good place to be, is on top. Progressives, on the other hand, view wars throughout history as spectacular failings of humanity, and as aberrations in an otherwise mostly peaceful ascendance of human culture brought about by cooperation, rule of law and intelligent, coordinated action.
This opposing world views map directly onto our future. The conservative vision is what we are seeing played out now, especially with financial capitalism and corporatism in government. Them that's got, they's keepin' theirs and gittin' sommore. Ta hell with "you people," as Ann Romney referred to people who quite reasonably, want to see the Romney's financial and tax records, as Willard's (his real name, which apparently is the name of a prominant early Mormon after whom Willard Bay on the Great Salt Lake is named) father George pioneered. The results of this "greed is good," "trickle down" mindset are disastrous in the long run, as we are seeing play out now. However, the important point is that this is not just an economic philosophy; it is a world view and way of life that we are talking about.
Consider this: The strongest predictor of the future is the past. Thus, what we are doing now, is the biggest influence on what our future will be like. If we allow our world to be a place where the conservative mindset dominates, or for that matter men dominate women , or privilege trumps merit, we are most likely looking at a future in which these destructive trends continue -- trends which are antithetical to proper human cultural evolution, as I see it. If we, on the other hand, as a people insist on equal opportunity, meritocracy, cooperation, education, expanding knowledge, progress, and fairness, then the future for us looks great despite the daunting challenges we will surely face -- challenges such as global warming and environmental destruction, learning to humanely control our population and keep in balance with nature, and overcoming our inevitable disagreements and differences. It really comes down to what kind of world we want our future to look like, even if we, the current generation, cannot be there to see it take shape in the distant future. We owe it to ourselves, if not to future generations, to leave the best legacy we can -- a progressive world.
From my perspective, the history of the world clearly shows a progressive trend. This is true, whether we consider the biological evolution of life on earth, the particular biological evolution of Homo Sapiens, or our cultural and spiritual evolution. However, there have been great failures of evolution before, most famously, the extinction of the dinosaurs, although there have been others. There have also been disastrous failures of cultures, including at least 2 that I can think of which resulted in human populations completely dying out. One was Easter Island; the other, Greenland's colonization by Nordic peoples. (The Nordic people of Greenland brought their pastoral culture with them and failed to adapt when the weather was too cold for their animals to survive. They also failed to learn from the Eskimo people of Greenland, who knew how to fish the oceans to survive. I saw a documentary about this a few years ago. What happened on Easter Island remains more of a mystery, but most likely, power struggles and war had a lot to do with it.) I suppose humanity's greed ultimately could be its own undoing, but only if the conservative world view prevails over the progressive one. We must continually insist on the progressive vision of the future so that the kind of world we want, eventually can become a reality.
Next time, I plan to write more on the relation between cultural evolution and the economy.
A Capital Idea Part 125: What is True Wealth?
I am getting to the point where I am starting blog posts on economics topics, then realizing I have already done a post on that topic, but I did save one really good question for the last stage of my Capital Ideas series: What is true wealth?
Now, that's a question worthy of anybody's consideration. Some people -- stereotypically -- relate wealth to personal relationships. I am quite in favor of that, but this is not exactly what I am talking about here, although it is an important part of the true wealth picture. What I am talking about here, is the corollary of the question "What is money?" I already discussed how money is a claim on resources, which may be obtained through means which are either very abstract, or preferably, not so abstract. Wealth, on the other hand, is the ability to materialize those claims into actual resources.
We can talk about the wealth of individuals, families, nations, or even the world. In any case, true wealth is dependent upon the actual ability to make things happen -- to create or utilize resources. The most obvious pitfall to cashing in one's money, is if the resources one needs, no longer exist. This is the danger of resource overutilization and environmental degradation. In the larger sense, is there really much wealth to speak of in a world whose ecosystem is in crisis -- a world undergoing mass extinctions caused by human activities, primarily driven by the profit motive? Is there a great deal of wealth in a world whose natural resources have been depleted beyond repair, at least for the next geological epoch or so? I should think not -- at least not in terms of natural resources, and like it or not, we are still part of the ecosystem and wholly dependent upon its natural resources in one way or another, for our survival. Whether one is referring to the wealth of individuals, families, nations or the world, a world without natural resources is an impoverished world. The fact that some people have laid greater claim to what little is left, seems superfluous.
Wealth can also consist of human resources, or cultural resources. Technology, art, labor, caring and nurturance, are all part of the humanity-based wealth picture. Actually, relationships would fit into the caring and nurturance categories. However, without those relationships, no such wealth is really possible. Without science and scientific advances, technological wealth is not possible. Without artists, artistic wealth is not possible, and without labor, we cannot accomplish anything. And if there is a revolution, peaceful or otherwise, the larger culture can decide to negate people's financial claim to resources, and take away or abolish the meaning of their money. This has happened before and could happen again, something which I am sure frightens the financial oligarchy of the world greatly.
I think the larger question here is, should we consider these resources "ownable" by individuals, and the general answer is "no." Individuals cannot own a culture. They cannot own the scientific method, or the artistic talent of others, or buy their love. What individuals can do is to buy "things," that is, the products of another person's labor. They cannot buy the actual talents of the person, however. Thus, I suggest that true wealth cannot be expressed in individual terms. Much as a person cannot own an ecosystem, but rather, is a part of the ecosystem, a person cannot own human resources, but rather, is a product of human resources and a part of the human resource pool. True wealth can only properly be measured at the macro level -- cultures, nations and the world. True wealth can increase or decrease as a result of human activities, but ultimately, it is dependent upon living within a healthy ecosystem and a healthy society. Rather than focusing solely on one's own individual wealth, although having the financial resources one needs is important, I propose that we pay the greatest attention to the true wealth of the world.
The world's wealth may be a difficult thing to quantify, but it is not impossible. Natural resources can be quantified, certainly. Human resources and cultural ones are subjective, but reasonable values can be placed upon them in relation to natural resources. Ultimately, true wealth is about well-being, and there are indices which have been developed for various qualities on the national level, including a happiness index. Why not have a True Wealth Index? Of course, happiness would be part of that, so this topic does get back to our the well-being we accrue through nurturing relationships, in the end, but there are a great many things that contribute to well-being, and this is where true wealth lies.
Catering to People's Fantasies
I am straying into a new topic now, but one which as a social psychologist and social critic has always concerned me -- how fictional films cater to people's wishes and fantasies to create an unrealistic world view. My decision to present this topic resulted from some conversations with my good friends Zenzoe and Nimblecivet, on Facebook.
Make no mistake, whether we know that something we are watching is fiction or not, we are still influenced by what we see. If we were not, films would lose much of their appeal. Studies of imitative aggression in children, show that they are influenced by what they see, that these influences are long lasting in some children, and that they imitate cartoon characters' aggression almost as much as they imitate real actors' aggression. However, children imitating observed aggression is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
The movie industry has a reputation for being very liberal, and it is probably true that most actors are indeed on the liberal side in their political views, yet they work within an industry which promotes conservative propaganda and stereotypes -- not to mention having produced Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzeneggar and other noted conservatives yet no liberal politicians -- so I have to question just how liberal this industry really is.
Let's take a look at what the movie and television industry really gives the public.
1. The public wants justified blood and gore; the film industry gives them justified blood and gore. The statistics on film violence are staggering. The average viewer has witnessed literally thousands of fictionalized homicides by the age of 18. Most of these are killings of "bad guys," and thus justified by the plot. The use of threats and other forms of violence are also rampant in film. For some reason, even the movie rating system is relatively lenient with regard to violence, so even children can watch their adult heroes let loose with senseless acts of violence and random acts of vandalism. I am confident that "westerns" have produced more killings and more "bad guys" in concentrated form on film than ever occured in real life throughout the whole of American history, and war movies are probably fast approaching that level.
2. The public male wants hot and heavy sex affairs with beautiful starlets; the film industry gives them hot and heavy sex affairs with beautiful starlets. At first, unnaturally, she hates him, but a few minutes later (movie wise), she is hopping into the sack with him. And I am talking about mainstream movies here. Obviously, porn movies are even more saturated with sex, and much more explicit.
3. The male public wants to save the world; the film industry lets them vicariously "save the world" in action movies. These action movie plots seem like something out of a paranoid schizophrenic's fantasy. "Only he" can save the world for some ridiculous reason most often involving magic. Let's watch "him" (vicariously you) save the world. That sounds worth paying 10 dollars or whatever it is to see, if one is a loser with low self-esteem who wants nothing more than an artificial ego boost.
4. The public wants to see confirmation of their stereotypes as well as world views; the film industry gives them confirmation of their stereotypes and world views. Research has shown that gender and ethnic stereotypes, despite some efforts to counteract them, are particularly prevalent in the film industry, for example. The film industry also reinforces world views such as the belief in "American exceptionalism," or the belief in American military might as a solution to the world's problems, despite the presence of many anti-war films. Some of this is a matter of targeting specific audiences; pacifists can see the anti-war fims, while the neo-cons can see the ones which glorify war, for example.
5. The public wants to live by different rules than other people; the film industry gives them their own "magical" set of rules. In shoot-em-ups, magic guns shoot an endless supply of magic bullets which always seem to find their target, while bad guys' bullets rarely hit their targets, and if they do, they hit disposible characters or fail to kill their intended victim. In sit-coms, people create ludicrous situations by lying or other misbehavior, but never face the consequences. After 1/2 hour, things are always back to normal, as if nothing had happened. Plots are so far-fetched and full of holes, that it even strains the credulity of those who try to put aside their sense of reality and critical thinking while watching.
There are many good shows made, but the bulk of the industry seems to cater to unrealistic fantasies, mostly male fantasies. Perhaps it is the acquiescence of females in "a man's world" that accounts for the dominance of masculine themes in the film industry, or perhaps this is what I see because men's fantasies are so much more pernicious than those of women. Certainly, there is less to object to in "chick flicks," although they have their own set of rules which create their own unreality.
As a consequence of this world of unreality created by film, I suspect that people are made more callous toward violence -- there is pretty good evidence for this, in fact -- and they have more callous and unrealistic expectations of relationships with objects of their sexual desire (less evidence on this but there is some); note how the increase in divorce rate parallels the emergence of the film industry, whether that is a coincidence or not. Certainly, actors are not known for having particularly stable relationships, as a whole. Also, it makes people far more narcissistic (or egotistical if you prefer). There is strong evidence that Americans have become more narcissistic in general over the past several decades, although the research has not linked this trend to film. Perhaps the public's obsession with film stars is related to society's increasing narcissism. Pervasive and damaging stereotypes are kept strong and even strengthened, by the actions of the film industry, when otherwise, such stereotypes would probably be decreasing significantly over time. Perhaps most damagingly, films also short-circuit the public's sense of critical thinking and logic by asking them to put aside their reality detectors for a while and believe these ridiculous fantasies without examining their actual content or subtle messages. It's all about what makes a person feel good -- which is to say, giving people what they want, without the consequences. When people carry these attitudes into their real lives, the result is "bad acting" and trouble for which no fantasy safety net exists.
A Capital Idea Part 124: Tell it to us Straight
I have been connecting some ideas recently. I have sometimes heard Christians cite the similarities among account given in the Bible as proof of their veracity. What they fail to understand, no matter how I try to explain this to them, is that similar accounts are not signs of veracity -- quite the opposite, in fact. Similar accounts are signs of people communicating with each other, which leads to a more consistent story, not a truer one. In fact, when people are too much in agreement, it is a sign of a conspiracy. Witnesses to a crime, on the other hand, should never be allowed to discuss said crime with each other. This only leads to a social consensus about what happened which is likely to be irrelevant to the truth. However, eyewitnesses are both notoriously inaccurate, and tend to disagree on many of their perceptions. This is normal, given the tremendous fallibilities of our memory processes, as well as differences in what people focus on in a situation, and personality driven differences among people. The best we can do in the absence of videotapes or other incontrovertible evidence, usually is to piece together a facsimile of what happened, from what similarities exist in the different eyewitness accounts.
Similar principles apply to politics. When we look at the right-wing messaging which permeates our society, it shows great cohesiveness and similarity. I believe this is because the right-wing messagers communicate to each other behind the scenes, regarding what "talking points" to get out to the public. Republicans in Congress present a united front as well. These observations are evidence of a conspiracy among the right-wing elite. The public, including myself, may not be privy to these proceedings, but the circumstantial evidence that this happens, and in some cases, proof, is more than sufficient to support this conclusion. By and large, I suspect that the same people who are impressed that John, Luke, Mark and whomever seemed to agree in writing the Bible, also find the coherence of right-wing messaging to be evidence that "they know what they are talking about." To the contrary, as a social psychologist, I find the coherence to be evidence that they are not presenting the truth.
Contrast the approach of the right-wing, with that of progressives. Most people had trouble figuring out "what the Occupiers want" last fall. They did not seem to present a unifed message. That is because they were telling it to us straight. Of course there were many different perceptions and perspectives among them, and inevitable disagreements, but they were an honest lot who were earnestly outraged by what has become of our economic and political systems, and the connection between the two. Similarly, progressives on talk radio and their fans, and progressives in Congress, seem to send a muddled set of messages. Certainly, if we talk about Democrats in Congress, although many of them are not really progressives, they do not seem able to send a unifed message. However, progressives, including politicians, do not have a hidden agenda; they are usually giving us their honest opinions. The fact that their opinions vary, is to be expected.
Right-wing messaging, on the other hand, constantly seems to be distracting us from the real issues, and seems to be designed to hide their true agenda. I feel as many have suggested, that the real agenda behind the right-wing messagers, is as follows:
1. To gain access to power;
2. To increase their wealth capitalistically, that is, by using wealth and power to generate more wealth and power;
3. To prevent the public from revolting against them, or their rule once they gain power.
This is the basic agenda of feudal lords throughout the ages. There is no place in it for compassion, or promoting the general welfare of the public. To be too compassionate, would lead them to cede power to the people. To allow the public experience too much progress, would lead both to empowering the public, and likely lead to revolt against the status quo. However, in a place that touts itself as a democracy, in order to gain access to power, enough of the public must be convinced of their good intentions toward the public, that sufficient numbers of people vote for their candidates that they can win elections -- either that, or they can subvert the democratic process by suppressing the numbers who of voters who would vote for the opposition, or by switching votes electronically in our anonymous (thus, lacking in accountability) voting system. It is clear that suppression of the progressive vote is occuring, and it seeems likely that vote switching from more progressive candidates to more conservative ones is also occuring. But these are just two more inconvenient facts to keep from the public, as far as the right-wing messagers are concerned, and they have had lots of practice at that.
Thus, we hear from conservatives, such blatheringly idiotic propaganda such as, people who sit around lounging by the pool, watching their stock dividends pile up, -- or people such as Mitt Romney who fire people for a living -- are "job creators," or people who run businesses such as casinos, or the financial industry, are "producers" in society, while the workers who make them rich, are of little worth, and those who don't work, are "parasites." In fact, the real parasites are the people who rake in obscene amounts of wealth without really working for it. Meanwhile, the right-wing messagers for the Republican Party distract the public from the real issues we face by agressively attacking their opposition with their "talking points," and overhyping any potential scandals against Democratic politicians, while refraining in unison, from criticizing the scandalous behaviors of those within their own party. Meanwhile, they attempt to associate their party with with whatever they think the majority of the public thinks of as "good," by hypocritically talking of "family values," "religious values," and anything else that supports gun-toting, bashes gays, and promotes fundamentalist Christian beliefs in God.
There may have been a time, perhaps 50-60 years ago, when Republican politicians were being honest, but such is the case no more. In my opinion, they have reached a point where they feel that the public would never accept their true agenda. Thus, they must disengage the public from politics, and otherwise, distract the public from their true agenda while subverting the truth. Anytime a group, be it political, religious, or whatever, feels it must prevent letting those recieving its messages from knowing the group's true intentions, this is a very dangerous and destructive situation, and that is what we are seeing in the United States with the current version of the Republican Party, dating back to at least the Reagan Presidency. When the truth is being subverted so consistently, this means that people for whom the ends justifies the means, are pulling the strings. It is time for us to stop this situation and unmask the true agenda of the right-wing powermongers, for all to see. Otherwise, we may find ourselves, serfs in a feudal society. We are already well on the way to that outcome, but whatever the right-wing achieves, it cannot last forever. It probably cannot even last another generation, but that is up to us, the public. Let us tell it straight, and keep telling it straight until we have the honest, progressive society that we deserve.
A Capital Idea Part 123: Are Capitalist Males Stuck in a Childhood Mentality?
I had read before that there was evidence that many men, at least in the United States, are stuck in the fourth stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial developement, called Industry versus Inferiority. In this stage, a kid learns to compete with other kids; in particular, boys learn to compete with other boys, with "winning" and "being the best" being all-consuming passions for many boys. The same does not hold for girls, by and large, although Erikson meant to apply his theory equally to boys and girls. This stage takes place during the elementary school years, essentially, from about ages 6 to 12, according to Erikson. A positive outcome is associated with a sense of competence, while a negative outcome is associated with a sense of inferiority and a feeling of basically being an "outcast."
I don't think Erikson anticipated that this stage would apply much better to boys than girls, much less than that it applies to a large percentage of grown men as well. Neither did he anticipate that competitiveness would routinely be taken too far in many social quarters, apparently, but this seems to be what happens. But then, Erikson was from kindly, happy, friendly, not-so-competitive minded Denmark, so maybe he didn't view the American mind very clearly.
I tried to look up research on this topic on the internet, but couldn't find much that was particularly relevant. However, there was a lot of research about boys, and men, being more competitive than girls, or women. That clearly comes as no surprise. The more relevant information to the present topic is that, as I recall, a large percentage of adult males are found to be in a state of stasis in which they are essentially fixated in this Industry versus Inferiority stage, while a large percentage of adult females are stuck in the next stage, Identity versus Role Confusion. At least the girl stage is a little more advanced than the boy one, relating to adolescence.
It occured to me at some point that capitalism may be related to this phenomenon. If so, there is probably a reciprocal interaction between capitalist attitudes and ideology, and individual men's obsessive competitive strivings. Capitalism is an ideology based on the idea that competition among people for resources (i.e., money) is basically a good thing. It essentially endorses a form of Social Darwinism in which the rich by definition are deserving of their wealth, and thus are justified in holding onto whatever wealth they may have, expanding it, and using it to access power. The wealthy are the winners in a struggle for financial resources. The rest of us can turn into "little fish" who suck up to the "big fish" winners, or die. The "big fish" businesses eat up the "little fish" businesses and grow ever larger. The capitalist model is also based upon a template of ever-expanding wealth, as though resources were limitless. This is relevant to overcompetitiveness as well, because this means that in the mind of a capitalist, there is no limit to the possibiilties of wealth, and thus no limit to the competition among people for wealth. Losing, when more resources may magically appear, does not seem so dire a consequence, either. Perhaps it's not a matter of life and death; it's just an endless game that must go on and on to the delight of successful capitalists.
Of course, the reality of competition among humans for resources, is that it often is a matter of life and death, especially when competition rules, and cooperation and caring are ruled out by the rules of the game. Being a "loser" in the capitalism game does have serious consequences -- probably far more serious than most busniess people realize. The saddest thing about the hypercompetitiveness of the capitalist mentality, is that it denies our empathetic, loving, cooperative nature. Competition is a part of life, but it need not, nor should not, be the main part. In denying "The angels of our better nature" (to quote Lincoln), we are creating a world of strife and unsustainability. In short, the hypercompetitiveness of financial capitalism is heading humanity toward a train wreck of global proportions, at least if David Suzuki (whose interview with Amy Goodman I heard yesterday morning) or just about any other environmental scientist has any idea of what's happening to our world -- and scientists make that their job. Of course, wars are normally the result of overcompetitive males making their way to positions of power, too. Male competitiveness also colors male sexual behavior. Is it any wonder that we find that so many powerful men in politics or business have sexual compulsions, while striving to outcompete other men for sexual conquests. At the same time, a competitive mentality justifies the labeling and treatment of females as "inferior" in the minds of "successful" men. Most often, my judgment tells me, such men are political and social conservatives.
I think this hypercompetitiveness perspective on financial capitalism helps explain why males dominate the capitalist economy. For sure, there are women who are very competitive, and are able to fit well into the "man's world" of big business, but they are the exception. It is men -- whether driven by testosterone, by cultural training, or by personality and personal ambition -- who dominate the great capitalist wealth-accumulation game. We may not be able to do much about men's testosterone levels, but we can alter the cultural training which encourages boys to be hypercompetitive. We can even alter culture to limit men's personal ambitions to more worthy goals than the accumulation of obscene amounts of wealth. Furthermore, we can and should do everything in our power to empower women as well as those men who don't buy into the capitalist mindset, in order to ensure that we are living on a more even playing field, with a premium put on fair outcomes and the commonwealth of the public.
Boys should be taught to cooperate, rather than emphasizing endless competition in games with rules, and when they do play games with rules, they should be taught that it really is "only a game" and that life is not a game and not about outcompeting one's fellow human beings. Revolutionizing our economy to put its emphasis on public capital and cooperatives instead of private capital, will act to limit wealth disparities, as will laws about such. Giving women of the world equal rights, but more importantly, equal opportunities to influence society, will both empower women and reduce the dominance of the competitive, masculine mindset around the world. If we don't take these steps, I am afraid that humanity itself will lose its way in the coming generations.
A World of Superbugs
Here is an update on my 84 year old father's situation. He had prostate surgery a couple of weeks ago, which allowed him to stop using a catheter, but in the process, caught an apparent "super germ" which is antibiotic resistant. Now, he is very ill, but with a new antibiotic cocktail being given to him intravenously, he seems to be improving somewhat. Frankly though, my whole family is worried that he might not recover and this infection could kill him. My brothers both came to Riverside this week, and we all visited my father in Villa Healthcare, but he was quite weak and apparently is not very keen on having visitors at this time, although he did talk to us.
As most of us are at least vaguely aware, modern medicine's overreliance upon antibiotics is causing the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of various bacteria. The problem is only getting worse over time as selective pressures on infectious bacteria increase. This problem is worldwide, not specific to the United States. However, it does show a weakness in our medical philosophy, in particular, the "kill the germs" philosophy.
In fact, a very large new study on non-human organisms inhabiting humans, was just released, and the results are mind-boggling. The study found that the average healthy adult human contains trillions of non-human organisms, more cells than the sum total of our human cells. Moreover, they weigh several pounds in sum, although they must be smaller on average than our human cells. These include aboout 10,000 different species. Only a few of these species are potentially harmful. However, it was found that almost everybody has low levels of disease-causing germs present, apparently kept in check while the person was healthy, by the other germs as well as our immune systems. The rest of the species are actually benevolent and helpful to us in a symbiotic sense, or at worst, are neutral and harmless. In other words, it turns out that our bodies work in synchrony with a large host of smaller organisms. Cooperation trumps competition or "germ warfare." Much as is the situation in terms of the focus of our human attention, upon the negative or competitive events in life, our focus on micro-organisms has been on the occasional harmful outbreaks, while in fact, the norm is to have mutually beneficial interactions between humans and the micro-organisms which share our bodies. We should not think "Ew" when we think of these little critters; our primary affect should be one of gratitude toward these "superbugs."
When people do get sick, it is primarily when we are under heavy stress, which causes the immune system and most likely, the micro-organism system to break down. To this point, the focus has been on the immune system's role in health and disease. However, it looks as though what researchers are finding out about micro-organisms is going to cause a sort of organic "green revolution" in medical thought (or at least it should, although like all systems, the medical system tends to resist change). Future results should find more information about the importance of the interactions among the various micro-organisms which inhabit us. Also, the importance of various psychological factors such as personality and stress, and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, which have already been partially explicated, I expect will become clearer.
Clearly, hospitals are the worst breeding grounds for infectious disease, an irony which has long been known. Sick, stressed people go there, and often catch infections which make them even sicker, or even kill them. Hospitals are dangerous places for doctors, too, but not as dangerous as they are for patients, since doctors are not usually sick or overstressed while on the job, and may have built up immunity to many of the infectious diseases present around them. Procedures such as surgeries are difficult ordeals for a person's body to go through, and tend to act as an open invitation for new, more toxic germs to enter the patient's body. This is what happened to my father, and "toxic" is the word he used to describe his infection. Ironically, he had been reluctant to have prostate surgery and had delayed it several times, but everybody else felt it was a simple surgery and that he was too worried about it (which is the norm for him). It turns out that my father was correct, not because of the surgery itself, but because of the dangerous infection that has resulted from the surgery.
Meanwhile, my father's health care worker, Mia, is trying to arrange to have him come home from the rehabiliation center. Psychologically, having my father away from home is very difficult for both him and my mother. The sooner he can go home, and away from the hospital environment, the better.
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Good Riddance to Bush
The Barnum Effect
Please note that some posts are found under more than one topic.
Links Exchange SitesTemple of Dissidence is from my great friend Dissident Priest in Tacoma, Washington -- awesome stuff, definitely Dolly-Verse worthy!
The Thom Hartmann Bloggers Group is the bloggers group that I formed on Facebook. Yes, it's my own group with much of the same material, but it has lots of other stuff, too, and I do link to this blog from there.
(Regarding the photo: The photograph at the top of the page was taken on Mount Cadillac in Maine, which is said to receive the first light of the day in all of the United States. The pools of water are rain pools because it had rained heavily the night before. The photo was taken by Eunice.)