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The Closing of the American Mind
5 of 5 stars
Perhaps the most important non-fiction ever written in English. A revealing, penetrating, inspiring text on the state of education and the modern American mind. It was Bloom’s life work - his profession at the University Of Chicago - to ...
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The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion
5 of 5 stars
New and captivating ideas about our past. French thought, killed by Foucault, Derrida, Lacan and the Postmodern gang, appears resurrected by the likes of Gauchet. In physics the most deeply piercing ideas are the simplest, and in the for...
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The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism
5 of 5 stars
Great ZOT, this man can write! At age 90 - and still with us - we hope Peter Gay remains another sixty to seventy years so we might garner another half dozen books from him. While "The Enlightenment" was written in 1966, the ancients of...
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The Power of Myth
5 of 5 stars
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Sex and the Origins of Death
5 of 5 stars
Why we die and how to beat it From the outset what UCLA’s Wm. Clark reports is staggering; Death is “not an obligatory attribute of life” and did not appear with the advent of it. Cellular aging resulting in death may not have occurred...
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Brett's books

The Lonely Man of Faith
really liked it
Remarkable impressions Rabbi Soloveitchik, known as the Rav, presents interesting ideas concerning the dual nature of humans and the status of this nature in modernity. That status, says the Rav, is bleak because the practical self, rec...
On Being: A Scientist's Exploration of the Great Questions of Existence
liked it
Reason at a cost Author Peter Atkins wrote perhaps the most amazing science text ever written, a thriller from start to finish: Physical Chemistry 8th Ed. (Which, by that electrified version of the Pony Express, I received pristine from...
Hypermodern Times
really liked it
Lipovetsky’s mixed bag of modernity Lipovetsky is one of those French philosophers who’ve rebuilt their intellectual tradition after the wreckage of Foucault, Derrida, and the postmodernist gang. This slim book packs a punch, dis...
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
liked it
Comparisons between historical tyrannies and America’s brewing I found this very short book mildly informative (about 14,000 words, 30 pages of regular text, stretched to 126 pages in its pocket format). The author draws parallels betwe...

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Q & A with Brett Alan Williams's bookshelf: read
Q & A with Brett Alan Williams 1 member
Any questions about "The Father" are welcomed, except how it ends. :)


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my read shelf:
Brett Williams's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

Brett's bookshelf: read

The Road to Serfdom
Politics
Second Treatise of Government
The Basic Political Writings
Rights of Man
A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted
The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates
The Federalist Papers
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
A Brief History of Time
Love and Friendship
Giants and Dwarfs: Essays, 1960-1990
Shakespeare's Politics
The Science of Freedom
THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH
The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past


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May 4, 2020: Is God an emergent property?

It was a frosty but luminous evening in Alpbach, Austria. Snuggled in a bowl lifted by the Kitzbühel Alps, Alpbach is a village of 2500 people at 1000 meters above sea level. Scattered about me were traditional Austrian homes like mountainside inserts seemingly assembled from chestnut colored sequoias. These broad wooden structures had low pitched roofs spread wide to shield stories below from heavy snows. So robust, they appeared able to support another building or a planet. Each story was draped in banks of pink and red flowers, four to five feet high, which flattered their way around the full circumference of the house. Appropriate for a place that won the “Most Beautiful Floral Village in Europe” award. [1] While spring had defeated snow in Alpbach, it was king for a while longer another thousand meters above me. Peaks so white against that cobalt sky, my iris exceeded its contraction limit, and I had to look away. Better than most cameras, my eyes had insufficient “dynamic range”—that distance between the darkest darks and lightest lights. I was there for a synthetic aperture radar symposium, and dynamic range was sure to arise as a radar’s response to radio waves, another sibling in the spectrum of light. At that moment, I felt what it meant.

Spiring over my head was the green steeple of St. Oswald Catholic Church. Hugging the church like the mountains hugged Alpbach was an immaculate graveyard and daily reminder of why the church was there. Each grave was capped by an ornate iron cross four feet high. Each held a plaque as identifier for those who once stood in this little town before they lay here. A ground-hugging custodian of chiseled stone enclosed each plot for the safety of more flowers, though these were for the dead.

I’d been anticipating this occasion for a while. To stretch the moment, I surveyed my surroundings, squinted back up at the white-tipped peaks beyond the green spire, then down to a tomb in front of me. Attached to its cross was an addition like no other in the yard. One of the most potent encapsulations of human mental horsepower. It was Schrödinger’s quantum mechanical wave equation, inscribed on a circle of iron. A short reach beneath my feet and two meters ahead lay the mortal remains of Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), tunneler to nature’s unseeable micro world. His famous equation, like a dusty window into the mind of God at his weirdest, bedeviled me as a university student. Perhaps anything so close to creation should. I assumed in those far off years of younger days that quantum mechanics made sense to everyone but me. So I suffered alone, in silence, lest I be discovered a fool (test scores proved it). Years later, I learned that a paragon of physics, Richard Feynman, declared, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” Rehabilitated, I made friends with quantum, and with the aid of engineering pals, produced a few innovations in the field. [2]

Schrödinger’s wave equation is, in the micro-world, the equivalent of Newton’s equations of motion in the macro. Almost. [3] In our everyday Newtonian existence, where something is and how fast it moves can be known with precision. Schrödinger allows only probabilities instead.

Standing before the old Austrian, I held his final book in my hand, My View of the World. [4] I extended my arm, holding its title in Schrödinger’s direction, in case by some marvel beyond me, he might be able to read it. If so, I decided, he’d be a bit happier than his current condition would suggest. Perhaps he’d not mind if I hovered a while. So I did.

I checked the people-less vacuum about me. I opened Schrödinger’s book to page 20. I read what he wrote out loud. “Suppose you are sitting on a bench beside a path in high mountain country. There are grassy slopes all around with rocks thrusting through. On the opposite slope of the valley, there is a stretch of scree with a low growth of alder bushes. Woods climb steeply on both sides of the valley up to a line of treeless pasture. Facing you, soaring up from the depths of the valley, is the mighty glacier-tipped peak. Its smooth snowfields and hard-edged rock-faces touched at this moment with soft rose-color by the last rays of the departing sun…” I peeped overhead and wondered where he sat up there when he wrote this.

“According to the usual way of looking at it,” I read, “everything that you see has, apart from small changes, been there for thousands of years before you. After a while—not long—you will no longer exist, and the woods and rocks and sky will continue, unchanged, for thousands of years after you. What is it that has so suddenly called you out of nothingness to enjoy for a brief while this spectacle which remains quite indifferent to you?”

By then, the sun had dipped beneath the local Alps. Though too early to see the stars, with our solar orb obstructed, lanterns of Venus and Jupiter dimpled the dimming sky. Thanks to a colossal wreck between tectonic plates, those peaks above me got their biggest boost for the heavens about 100 million years ago, less than 1% the age of the universe. Once a seafloor, they were now a mile high, three in some places, and littered with the lives of once-dominant creatures that swam here. Hoisted by the earth, fossil offerings of life’s creative genius seemed tendered to the planets and stars soon-to-shine. So they could see what nature made here: trilobites, corals, snail-like brachiopods. And there I was, in the same line they led ahead of me, just behind Schrödinger. Each in the queue, here for an instant, compared to the cosmos, too small for even quantum mechanics to measure.

What called me out of nothingness may well be discovered by the current scientific revolution in complexity theory. Stuart Kauffman’s At Home in the Universe makes a stunning case for it and what he calls “order for free.” [5] The self-organization of complex molecules, catalytic processes, and self-reproductive systems appear to have given evolution a head start by the laws of physics and chemistry alone. From simple systems emerge new properties not envisioned by their building blocks. One example is wetness. Less than about a million water molecules will feel dry on your hands, dusty, not wet. But from the propinquity of a million such molecules is born the emergent property of wetness.

As Kauffman shows, natural reactions in sufficiently nutrient-rich environs, with disequilibrium energy gradients pushing reactions up or downhill, can find their way to islands of stability in a sea of complexity-collapse. Each isle a different stable molecule, catalyst, cell, or organism on a fitness landscape. Forces self-coordinate blindly toward the boundary between order and chaos. They cross into the oblivion of runaway reactions, fall off fitness peaks into valleys of less orderly arrangements, or tempt fate at the door to one or the other in long term survival. Evolution doesn’t need an eternity to wait on random chance and deterministic selection; the raw materials are already there. [6] (Sorry, Creationists.) Life becomes the expected outcome of fundamental physical laws, with all the implications this has for life in the universe.

What about consciousness? Was it an emergent property, budding from the structure of our brains and its bio-physics? If so, what happened next? One suspects recognition, not only of the external world but of a self, separate from other conscious beings. With a drive to survive pre-dating consciousness, respect for our ending couldn‘t be too far behind. And with that, the ending of others we know. Would grief, then morality, then desires for magic emerge to fix what’s wrong?

That such perceptions sprouted early in living complexity is implied by Neanderthal burials ca. 100,000 years ago. [7] They buried their dead with flowers (pollen remains) and red ochre in their graves. Like a womb, they were placed in fetal position. Facing east and the rising sun, they lay, like a seed or a savior, to be resurrected with the next season, poised for the sunrise of another day in a new life. There’s ample speculation in what they meant, yet the same symbols persist to this day in different parts of the world by a different species—our own. [8]

But is our lineage alone in this emergence? For centuries it was assumed only humans made tools, recognized faces, planned ahead, were self-aware, transmitted culture and ethics among their own kind, and only humans grieved. As primatologist Frans de Waal elaborates, all such assumptions have sunk under the weight of measured evidence. [9] Dolphins, with equal or larger brain-to-body mass ratios than humans, call for their pod, as men carve their live bodies for mercury-rich flesh to put in our mouths. Fur seal mothers cry over remains of snow-white infants ripped free of their skin for the vanity trade—a bloody carcass she labors for three days to feed. Infant rhinos bleat for their mothers, shot for nothing more than her horn (the same protein as toenails), pulverized and added to beer for better sex or miraculous cures—despite the fact it doesn’t work, and the planet doesn’t need more humans. And in 2018, a mother orca carried her dead newborn for 17 days across a thousand miles to prevent it from sinking, nudging it to the surface to breathe, in what the media labeled a “tour of grief.” A tour commenced by human decimation of north Pacific salmon fisheries, the sustenance for orcas. Humans aren’t the only ones conscious of self and others, a reckoning that leads to morality, ethics, and grief.

If consciousness emerged from ordered brains, spawning grief and magic yearnings, what about God? [10] Ignoring elaborations of the idea (scriptures, canon, dogmas), could God be an emergent property of consciousness? Would that mean God is or isn’t real? Will God disappear when humans are extinct? [11]

Reduce the count of water molecules below a million, and wetness goes away. But isn’t the emergence of wetness a physical reality? Try it in your shower. Is faith in water’s wetness, omnipresence, and aid in daily life, unfounded?

Perhaps God’s appearance is a matter of emergent capacity to perceive what’s already there, external, and independent of us. But if God is not external, born only from our brains, does that change anything for humans? Thanks to complexity theory, rather than irrational, God might be—like the emergence of complex molecules, cells, life, and consciousness—among the most rational and expected consequences of physical laws, and being human.

Until next time, July 6, 2020.

[1] Alpbach, Austria. And, Alpbach on Wikipedia.

[2] Specifically in the quasi quantum, quasi-electromagnetic field of plasmonics as applied to antennas and waveguides. See Plasmons on Wikipedia.

[3] Actually, Schrödinger’s equation should be simpler than Newton’s as Schrödinger’s is linear and Newton’s is not. So, for example, one wave will have a solution under Schrödinger as will another and another, as will the sum of those waves and the scaling of either one or both. As for Newton, his equation has a solution for the two body problem (like a planet that orbits a star), but add a third body for the so called “three body problem,” and it has no solution. No one knows what it’s going to do, so its position, velocity and momentum cannot be predicted exactly. Numerical methods come close.

[4] Erwin Schrödinger, My View of the World, Oxbow Press, 1961.

[5] Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1995.

[6] Order for free didn’t happen overnight.

[7] Paleolithic religion: Timeline, Wikipedia.

Michael Marshall, 70,000-year-old remains suggest Neanderthals buried their dead, New Scientist, 18 February 2020.

[8] Genetic markers show we did some mixing with Neanderthals before they went extinct, likely at our own hands. Interbreeding between archaic and modern humans, Wikipedia.

[9] Frans de Waals, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are, Norton, 2016.

[10] The concept of “gods” accompanied the idea of magic early. See Henri Frankfort, Before Philosophy, Penguin, 1960. Our many cosmic bellhops (Sumer even had a god for the pickaxe) were simplified by coalescing the many benevolent or villainous gods down to one with the invention of monotheism, either by Akhenaton (ca. 1350 B.C.) or Zoroaster (ca. 1750 – 760 B.C., his dates vary wildly).

[11] Author and cherished skeptic, Michael Shermer maintains that God and consciousness are “mysterians” that can never be explained. Maybe that’s not so. Michael Shermer, The Final Mysterians, Scientific American, July 2018.



March 2, 2020: Why my old Right-wing tribe betrayed everything it once stood for

I’ve noted how lying for my tribe ended with 2003’s Iraq invasion, a stark contradiction with my pursuit of truth in nature required in the workplace. [1] Get nature wrong, whatever’s built from that analysis won’t operate. The way Right-wing “morality” undermines America today, the cost of nurtured immorality came home to roost for me then as it has now for the U.S., though half the country denies it. [2] “Mass movements,” wrote Eric Hoffer, “interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and realities of the world… [The true believer] cannot be frightened by danger nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.” [3] Like Rome after Republic, the U.S. Senate just completed their impeachment show-trial, which validated Hoffer, and demonstrates how menacing this is. [4] Before our eyes, Constitutional governance is unraveling due to embrace, protection, and celebration of lies and liars.

But professional liars like Trump—who lies as he breathes—and his propaganda networks are different now than I was then and different from Trump’s disciples today. Iraq made me see what I was doing, but for years I thought I was (mostly) telling the truth defined by FOX and radio talker Rush Limbaugh, just as many do among Trump’s GOPP. [5] (How can I know I’m not lying now? Reference [6].) Without too much self-analysis (zero), Trump’s believers think they’re telling the truth when they defend their tribe. As it turns out, what they’re doing is a matter of biological evolution and its emergent psychology roused by recent history. As we’ll see, it’s no different for the Left. First, the biology.

Neurologist Paul MacLean’s triune brain-model subdivides our noodle into three structures that reflect its evolution: the reptile brain capping our spine at the back of our head; its mammal brain overlay; the cerebral cortex with its curvaceous terrain atop that mammal inheritance. [7] Our reptilian structure is the most primitive to ripen in the long line of human mental development. Responsible for feelings of urgency—gag, vomit, defecation, sex, fight or flight—it’s the oldest structure, fundamental to blind survival in a man-eating world, and irresistibly mighty. The mammal brain houses our emotions. The human cerebral cortex handles high-order abstractions like mathematics and religion. Our reptile brain works fast, no thinking necessary (don’t pontificate in a fistfight). The cerebral cortex works slow, rumination required. From these structures emerge primate-human psychology.

For a people too harried for inquiry since Tocqueville said we were in 1840, if one can appeal to our fast-acting reptile brain, they’ve abruptly got our attention. [8] Lace emotional attachments of the mammal brain to our tribe with threats to its survival and we’re supercharged for action. But there’s still that cerebral cortex to protect us from manipulators, right?

Not right.

“Humans are designed to be tribal,” writes Brookings Institute senior fellow, Jonathan Rauch. “We are wired to organize into in-groups…so that our reasoning and even our sensory perceptions support in-group solidarity. ‘Believing is belonging.’” [9] In an individualist nation that evacuated communities along with that belonging, as we’ve found, (human) nature abhors a vacuum. Our backfill is a mostly faceless techno-media-tribe. As an evolutionary survival mechanism, tribes are naturally partisan. But “what if partisanship is not really about anything?” asks Rauch. [10] “What if tribalism, not ideological disagreement, is behind [our] polarization? ...not so much rallying for a cause or party we believe in, as banding together to fight a collective enemy.” [11] But surely that cerebral cortex which put men on the moon honors facts that reveal how dangerous tribal factions are for republics built on compromise.

Surely not.

“Presenting people with facts that challenge a group-defining opinion does not work,” says Rauch, “instead of changing their minds, they [reject] facts to double down on false beliefs…regardless of educational and cognitive firepower. Belonging to a particular political party should distort our reasoning.” [12] As Democrats justified Bill Clinton’s sexual escapades and Republicans justify Trump’s extortion of Ukraine. “Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive,” writes social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. [13] Rationalizing their beliefs gives partisans a hit of dopamine, “Like rats that cannot stop pressing a button, partisans [Left & Right] may be simply unable to stop believing weird things.” [14]

Tribal solidarity also invites flip-flops on long-standing beliefs. “We flip, then rationalize the reversal,” says Rauch. [15] As Limbaugh preached fiscal responsibility for 30-years, ripping Obama for his failures. But with Trump’s populist tactic of spend-everything-now-who-cares-about-the-future, Limbaugh’s tribal-primate-psychology forces him to convert with, “All…this concern for the deficit and budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.” [16]

“[Republicans didn’t] rally to Trump because they embraced his message,” says Rauch, “they embraced his message in order to rally to Trump. Once what ‘we’ believe was redefined, the party preserved its identity by scrambling aboard. Partisans felt no psychological inconsistency or lurch, because, as a result of their ideological somersaults, they continued to be aligned with the same in-group and opposed to the same out-group. The Republican base likes Trump precisely because the Democratic base hates him. Polarization is not a byproduct of his policies and rhetoric; polarization is the product…cravings for shared outrage against a common adversary.” [17]

When it comes to influence, keep that cerebral cortex and its powers of reason out of it. Like the replacement for a dying god, the tribe can do no wrong, is sanctioned for every obscenity, beyond reproach, and must be obeyed no matter how corrupt. [18] Just as Hoffer wrote and our bio-based psychology demands.

With this psychology common to all humans, is it any wonder that conservatives would betray Jesus for political power and material gain, deny manmade global warming yet depend on science in their daily lives, or claim Trump saved democracy as everyday he attacks it? [19] Should we be shocked to find liberals are just as anti-science as conservatives but about different things, or that succeeding where the Klan failed their multiculturalism self-segregates by identity, celebrating every culture but our own? [20] Crazy? Irrelevant. It’s church dogma, defined by tribal priests. Who we hate matters most. True believers fall in line. Echo chambers assure there’s no logic clash, and the dogma is amplified for psychological comforts of belonging. With little effort, no wonder Putin upends nations. Primate psychology performs the heavy lift.

And recent history helps. [21] Snubbing simple-minded apologetics of Obama / Clinton “what aboutism,” examples of the Right’s inducement include a 2013 incident at Florida Atlantic University. A professor assigned students to write JESUS on a piece of paper, put it on the floor, and step on it. [22] One devout student refused, was suspended, and made national news. U.S. college campuses are places where people protest over photos of white girls in sombrero-and-mustache Halloween costumes (imitation is no longer flattery, but “appropriation” of minority culture). [23] However, that this assignment could insult Christians remained a mystery. Would the name MUHAMMAD have been allowed? What could make a liberal want to insult a victim of an imperial power (Rome), wrongly accused of a crime for which he was executed? Isn’t this the very type of minority the Left defends?

Something as innocuous as product advertising shows how ubiquitous this liberal bias is. A Honda SUV commercial shows men lifting their hatchback to grab and open food bags and beer bottles smashed into or poured over their ravenous faces as the scene draws back to reveal a woman with headphones, recording their animal behavior. A white man struggles to cook his breakfast seated on a moving bus as a black woman stands over him, shaking her head with amused disgust, a Kellogg’s breakfast bar in hand. Obese white men clad only in mini-skirts and bikini-tops stumble in their high heels to refuel Danica Patrick’s Formula 1 racecar for Boost Mobile. [24] Funny, were it not that outrage would flood the continent with reversal of race and gender. Advertisers know this, but did they assume “white males” wouldn’t notice, or could it be so ingrained in this society it didn’t occur to them?

These illustrations compare with bigotry witnessed at gun-toting Right-wing rallies against Obama, but not with torch-bearing boys marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, soon to murder with a car, or a white supremacist executing blacks at their church in Charleston, South Carolina. [25] But discharged from their factory jobs exported to China, working-class whites were inattentive. White men took the brunt of the Great Recession, decreasing American life expectancy with their suicides and opioid overdoses. [26] While talk radio reported that illegal foreigners gain driver’s licenses, rent assistance, and in-state tuition in some states, which (surprise) happens to be true. [27] When Obama DOJ AG Eric Holder announced we don’t talk enough about race, these same displaced whites asked, “Is there another topic?” [28] So Putin helped Trump win the last election; to them, it’s all the better Putin help win the next. Facts, truth, morality, the Constitution, and Christ be damned; these people are enraged. And not just at the Left. Immigration reform is stalled because the rich get richer on the backs of cheap-labor-illegals. And it’s not hard labor Americans won’t do, it slave wages they won’t take. Many lost their homes when Wall Street gamblers—saved by taxpayers—tanked the world economy, awarded themselves a $21B bonus for doing so, and not one of them went to prison. [29]

This is how my old Right-wing tribe came to betray everything it once stood for. Recent history ignited primate psychology poised for threats to survival of the clan, biologically hardwired for defense. And their answer? A self-destructive counter-movement led by our newly anointed Emperor and mafia mobster. [30]

Emperor Trump is a carnival barker, but this barker bites. His worldwide criminal network is just what the Right wanted. The more corrupt he is, the more likely he’s to cure the disease by killing the patient as he obliterates the rule of law for personal gain under guise of a despot’s refrain, “For the people!” (But he “promotes ‘conservative’ policies!”) Trump’s hypnotic perversity has seized even those few remaining Republican rationalists (except Mitt Romney and Justin Amash) who can no more ignore him than they can stand still to face a grizzly on a sixty mile per hour charge. They run. And in just the direction Trump knows they will. Onto that terrain of fear and revenge governed by automatic response of their reptile brain. [31]

Does this sound like an “intelligent species”?

Ponder Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Bolshevik Revolution, Thirty Years War, and Crusades in this light.

Could this be symptomatic of that hypothetical PCD (Programmed Civilization Death) we considered? [32] Isn’t including this in the “human definition” a more complete characterization of unstable humans, hinting at proper governance? Enlightenment’s “natural man” never saw this. Could this biologically-based primate-tribalism garner forgiveness? After all, I did it. It’s remarkable that what saved us in the primeval beginning when there weren’t enough humans, could wreck us in the end when there’s too many.

After this 6th-consecutive Trump-GOPP-related posting, a shower is needed, shock therapy, and a passport from another country. On Monday, May 4, 2020, we return to matters more uplifting than America’s moral dive, precursor to all great power endings despite their economic prowess. [33]

[1] Brett Williams, Has America become a nation of liars?, on Goodreads, September 4, 2017.

[2] Trump disciples will claim his immorality works quite well with a boom economy almost as good as Bill Clinton’s who saw a national budget surplus, not already $3T in debt generated by Trump. Recall these same mostly self-described Christians ranked character as their #1 concern during Clinton, not his boom economy. According to Trump’s budget, he’s pushing for $30T in debt after inheriting Obama and his forerunner’s $20T. Trump’s average growth rate in his first 3-years is equal to Obama’s average of 2.1%/yr. As witnessed in Trump’s State of the Union, most of Trump’s historic economic claims are fake. What he calls in his Art of the Deal “truthful hyperbole,” which the rest of us call “lies.”

[3] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Perennial, 1989

[4] With the exception of one moral man in the GOPP Senate, Mitt Romney (R-UT), the U.S. Senate sanctioned Trump’s attempts to rig the 2020 election in his favor through extortion of Ukraine, and thus invited him to continue his corruption. Which he has, with all the levers of governmental power now at his disposal unchecked. This includes DOJ AG Bill Barr’s repeat corruption of justice beginning with his lies about the Mueller Report, to his interference of sentencing for convicted felon and Trump criminal associate, Roger Stone; Pelosi’s correct designation of “Moscow” Mitch McConnell’s blocking of election protections against foreign interference; and coordination with the Putin, FOX and American talk radio propaganda networks. Only an almost impotent Democrat House stands in Trump’s way from rescinding the Constitution as 52% of GOPP “Republicans” hope to do (noted and referenced in previous posts). The Right has decided to kill the patient to defeat what they view as the disease of liberalism. It cannot be repeated enough that these people call themselves “Christians” for whom Jesus said, “What good is it to win the whole world and lose your soul?” as expanded on this blog last time.

[5] Trump’s “GOPP:” Grand Old Putin Party, to distinguish it from Lincoln and Reagan’s GOP: Grand Old Party.

[6] If I didn’t know I was lying (usually) for my tribe when I was a member, how do I know I’m not lying now? There are only two tribes in America. The “Reason Tribe” does not exist, unless we decide most scientists, some sector of philosophers of reason, and true independents are its members, even though they don’t know it, which refutes the idea of a tribe from the start. I didn’t join the Left-wing tribe, so what tribe would I lie for? As I’ll elucidate in a future post, I oppose abortion (with caveats) and support mammal rights (with caveats), both based on the same reasoned argument. Am I a conservative or a liberal? This violates both dogmas, relying instead on reason, thus open to change should superior reasoned arguments warrant. Would that not constitute a “flip-flop”? No, because it’s not a “belief.” Reason is based on facts, data, nature as it is, not how we feel about it. Finding the earth orbits the sun rather than the sun orbits the earth, what is our position on the orbit? “Belief” wanted to ignore reality to keep humans at the center. Reason places truth above dogma. In the political arena, I didn’t join another tribe because based on my own actions I came to suspect I couldn’t tell the truth if I were married to one of them. Now I know why—biology. From that biology is the emergent property of primate psychology. From that psychology springs the need for belonging, and that means a tribe. In pluralistic modernity on a massively overcrowded planet in one of the poorest educated nations in the industrialized world, tribe means cult. However, none of this means I can’t be wrong. Just because I don’t lie for a tribe is not to say I’m not ignorant about something that could change some conclusion based on reason. Tribes make life easier with absolutism, as Limbaugh (whom I listen to daily) proves. Only by knowing the truth can civilization be made to work, like those devices we build that depend on knowing the truth of nature, regardless of how we feel about it. We’re now seeing in real-time the social failures of lying with Trump and his GOPP’s defense against the coronavirus as a “liberal/Democrat hoax.” How to manage reality while simultaneously satisfying Trump’s inferiority disease and keeping him in office (and out of prison) has been an historic example of societal failures when the truth can no longer be spun, faked, or lied about as the corona pandemic spreads and body counts get the attention of all those reptile brains.

[7] Richard Restak, The Brain, Bantam, 1984, pg. 136

[8] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Mentor, 1984.

[9] Jonathan Rauch, Rethinking Polarization, National Affairs, Fall 2019.

[10] ibid

[11] ibid. Our Founders called tribes “factions” and sought to defang them.

[12] ibid. And Steve Rathje, Why People Ignore Facts, Psychology Today, Oct 25, 2018. As an example, and in keeping with Hoffer, recall that in our November 2018 post was noted a man who said, “I’m not going to listen to your facts and data” about manmade global warming. And might I repeat for the n-th time, he’s a devout Christian, for whom Jesus said, “Seek the truth to set you free.” See, Brett Williams, The betrayal of Christ: global warming denial, on Goodreads, November 5, 2018.

[13] Rauch

[14] ibid

[15] ibid

[16] Billy Binion, Rush Limbaugh Abandons Fiscal Conservatism, Reason, 7.18.2019. And for Limbaugh’s flip-flopping and lifetime of lies—a man who claims to live in Realville—he got the Medal Of Freedom (which used to mean something, until now) from Trump as reward for fealty. Hence the value of liars when lies run the country. Talmon Joseph Smith, Rush Limbaugh in His Own Words: A collection of comments from the latest recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, New York Times, Feb. 7, 2020.

[17] Rauch

[18] The “death of god” remark is a direct reference to the last post here as it applies to the descent of religion in America, but tangentially invites a much larger discussion for another occasion in regards to what came first, the God or the tribe. Marcel Gauchet makes a strong case for the latter in his Disenchantment of the World: The Political History of Religion. In that case, the tribe exists, the scriptures are then written as though God precedes the tribe and must be adhered to. In Gauceht’s reading, God then depends completely on the tribe for existence. When the Maya disappeared, so did their gods. For the former reference, see Brett Williams, The Collapse of American Christianity, on Goodreads, January 18, 2020.

[19] A very few examples of Trump and his GOPP’s attacks on democracy, America, and its place in the world are provided here. Others noted are easily Googled. His motivation is trifold: feed his malignant inferiority disease, stay out of prison, and keep fleecing the country and foreign powers for his bank account. On this blog, we’ve discussed how science is the father of modern democracy, as supported by Michael Shermer and Timothy Ferris. Trump inaugurated his term by chasing down scientists who performed climate science research. He’s dismissed science and his intel agencies from the beginning, and now with the coronavirus, he suddenly needs the science and all those he chased out of the Center For Disease Control and National Institutes of Health where’s he’s cut budgets and closed departments meant to manage pandemics. Trump repeatedly assaults the Constitutional guarantee of a free press with his Stalinist claim that the press is “the enemy of the people,” his restrictions on named reporters and media outlets, his discontinuation of press briefings, his support of or silence concerning reporters murdered by his favored despots including his tacit sanction of Putin and MBS assassinations. Trump now interferes with the judicial branch by attacking judges and jurors who threaten his criminal associates with justice, as he seeks to change sentencing and “promises” pardons for convicted felons like Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn after granting clemency to white-collar criminals who were promoted by FOX, and for those who gave him $580,600/couple at a fundraising event. Trump is directing DOJ to kill multiple investigations into his own decades of corruption moving cases from the independent Sothern District of New York to the more compliant Eastern District. Trump’s foreign policy is slave to his business interests in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Russia, etc. The list of corrupted U.S. government institutions by Trump continues to grow: DOJ, State, EPA, and now intel agencies with loyalist installed at their head. He seeks to corrupt DOD, but his success there is as yet unclear to this reader. Trump’s lauding of despots from Kim to Xi and Putin supports the growing worldview that republican democracy and classical Founder’s liberalism is, as Putin said, over. The U.S. now ranks 25th as a “flawed democracy,” with Hungary, Poland, Turkey, and Brazil tied or slightly ahead of us in the global collapse of democratic forms of governance. Trump’s suggestion that NATO be dismantled, his imitation concern for their short defense budgets, which cost the U.S. nothing, and his continued belligerence against Europe and it’s leaders per Putin’s delight make it no surprise that as they laugh at Trump behind his back and turn to China for trade deals (even Italy’s part of China’s Belt & Road), while Europe embrace’s Huawei’s 5G despite pleas from Trump not to. Like Hugo Chavez, Trump interferes with existing contractual agreements not under his auspices (e.g. between Amazon and the USPO), under Constitutional and Congressional controls. Trump has repeatedly noted how collusion with foreign powers that so terrified the Founders—notably George Washington as noted in his Farewell Address—is the right thing to do. It appears that in keeping with Trump’s mafia history since at least 1985 when he bragged about his Russian connections in his Art of the Deal, that and he and his family may be profiting from repeat manipulations of the markets with fake news and exaggerations. A few links illuminating points noted are provided here, recalling that previous posts have shown that Right-wing media is now made up almost universally of liars and that Left-wing media in reagrds to Trump has been validated by our own eyes, the Mueller Report, and its validation by the Republican Senate intel report: Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings, Washington Post, December 9, 2016. Rush Limbaugh, The Four Corners of Deceit : Prominent Liberal Social Psychologist Made It All Up, Rush Limbaugh .com, April 29, 2013. Heather Horn, Is the Right Wing Anti-Science?, The Atlantic, 9.10.2010. Zack Beauchamp, A major democracy watchdog just published a scathing report on Trump, VOX, January 5, 2019. Robert C. Lieberman, Suzanne Mettler, Thomas B. Pepinsky, Kenneth M. Roberts and Richard Valelly, The Trump Presidency and American Democracy: A Historical and Comparative Analysis, Cambridge, January 5, 2019. URI FRIEDMAN, Democrats Have Found Their Battle Cry, The Atlantic, JULY 15, 2019. Alan Crawford, Andre Tartar and Hayley Warren, Europe Has Had Enough of Trump’s Tirades From Trade to Security, Bloomberg, August 19, 2019. David E. Sanger and David McCabe, Huawei Is Winning the Argument in Europe, as the U.S. Fumbles to Develop Alternatives, New York Times, Feb. 17, 2020. Damian Paletta and Josh Dawsey , Trump personally pushed postmaster general to double rates on Amazon, other firms, The Washington Post, May 18, 2018. Justin Baragona, Asawin Suebsaeng, Trump Grants Clemency to Another Round of Crooks He Saw on Fox News, The Daily Beast, Feb. 19, 2020. CHAUNCEY DEVEGA, Are Trump and his circle manipulating the markets for personal gain? Here's the evidence, Salon, JANUARY 26, 2020.

[20] Brett Williams, Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter: Part II, The Left, on Goodreads, January 1, 2018. Brett Williams, Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter. Part I: The Right, on Goodreads, March 6, 2017.

[21] While every social movement is a counter-movement, who started what when is a chicken-or-the-egg question. The Left is now responding to the Right with their own populism in Bernie Sanders. But didn’t the Right respond to the Left’s proliferation of minorities with special rights and privileges as the Left vilified white males as dominant oppressors? But wasn’t the Left’s emphasis on minorities a response to racism in the Sixties, when blacks exercising their Constitutional right to peaceful protest were blown off their feet by water cannons and attacked by white, baton-wielding cops? This could go on for volumes, hence, it is suggested here that the Left started this latest round of tribalism if for no other reason than the Right was so slow to realize that institutionalized lying had real power in a nation that had—by a significant fraction—become a nation of liars. The Left was well on to this thanks to their embrace of 1950s, 60s French postmodernist liars like Foucault, Derrida, and Lacan.

[22] “What aboutism” is American slang adopted from Russian espionage tactics, this time for the mental acrobatics “conservatives” go through to protect Trump and deflect from his corruption. “What about Obama’s whisper to Russia’s Medvedev?” “What about Obama’s debt?” “What about Antifa radicals at Charlottesville?” “What about Hillary’s emails?” Greg Lukianoff, FAU College Student Who Didn’t Want To Stomp On ’Jesus’ Runs Afoul of Speech Code, Forbes, Mar 26, 2013. Avik Roy, FAU College Student Who Didn't Want To Stomp On 'Jesus' Runs Afoul of Speech Code, Forbes, Mar 26, 2013.

[23] There are so many references to "racial appropriation" by Halloween costumes, I picked this, the first to popup on Google: Kirk Johnson, Halloween Costume Correctness on Campus: Feel Free to Be You, but Not Me, New York Times, Oct. 30, 2015.

[24] Boost mobile commercial.

[25] Paul P. Murphy, White nationalists use tiki torches to light up Charlottesville march, CNN, August 14, 2017. Wikipedia, Charleston church shooting.

[26] Erica Meade, Men hit harder during the recession, but are recovering jobs faster than women, Urban Institute, July 11, 2012. Alison Burke, Working class white Americans are now dying in middle age at faster rates than minority groups, Brookings Institute, March 23, 2017. Anne Case and Angus Deaton, Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century, PNAS December 8, 2015.

[27] Wikipedia, Driver's licenses for illegal immigrants in the United States. Housing for Eligible Noncitizens. Assistance for undocumented or illegal immigrants. This site is full of information but no links to the organizations it notes: Housing for Eligible Noncitizens.

[28] ANDY BARR, States remains “a nation of cowards” on issues involving race, POLITICO, 02/18/2009.

[29] Louise Story and Eric Dash, Bankers Reaped Lavish Bonuses During Bailouts, New York Times, July 30, 2009.

[30] Brett Williams, Our Dear (mafia) Leader, on Goodreads, December 24, 2019.

[31] Combine all this (our reptile brain, etc.) with a U.S. primary and secondary educational system ranking near bottom in the industrialized world and it’s no wonder Trump’s Senate tribe would sanction his extortion of Ukraine to rig the next election. The study of Constitutional governance (civics) was killed in states across America decades ago. When Trump’s lawyers claimed impeachment was some alien construct invented by Democrats; that “the people” should decide his impeachment by their vote the way Moscow Mitch McConnell (Pelosi’s correct assessment) said they should for Supreme Court Justice nominee Merrick Garland; that no executive commits a crime by bribing another country to cheat elections if he claims his re-election is in the public interest; most Americans have no more understanding of what Constitutional desecrations these are than Trump himself.

[32] Like Programmed Cell Death responsible for the death of our bodies once our DNA “knows” our reproductive years have passed, instead Programmed Civilization Death has been hypothesized here as responsible for the death of society once some psychological threshold is crossed, perhaps too many of us. Brett Williams, Is PCD an acronym for Programmed Civilization Death?, on Goodreads, November 7, 2016.

[33] Moral depravity is central to Will Durant’s hypothesis for why civilizations fail in his Lessons From History, built on his 11 volume, ~ 10,000 word Story Of Civilization. Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West offers a youth to old age trajectory. Brooks Adam’s Law of Civilization and Decay notes a cyclic process from religious fear and emergent creativity to organization so stifling that society is eviscerated by hyper-economic control and humane debasement in the limit when civilization returns to religious fear. Arnold Toynbee emphasizes incompetent leadership, unable to adjust to rapid change in mature societies as to blame for their collapse.



January 18, 2020: The Collapse of American Christianity

Christianity is under threat in America. Today just half of its young people identify as religious. Over a third of Americans identify as nonreligious, a four-fold increase in 30 years. [1] What threatens Christianity in America is not science, reason, or liberals, but Christians. Widespread pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood, sexual predation against Nuns, and abuse by Southern Baptist clergy are ancillary compared to wanton betrayal by the flock themselves. Betrayal not hidden or embarrassing to a specific sect of American Christians; it is a badge of honor and part of a creed much more inviting than Jesus. Why? Because open infidelity announces membership that provides a sense of belonging in an individualist nation where belonging is as dead as communities that once provided it.

I was born into a conservative Christian family in the Midwest, which in adulthood, having lived across the country, I found different from other places. In the Midwest, believers were devout in a private way that monitored their own behavior, recognized failures, and sought correction, all without an audience. Quite the contrast when living elsewhere, I found the most “devout” Christianity a public performance, though sporadic and impulsive. The audience took two forms: as others one felt a need to impress, or oneself. Both needed convincing. As though the more flamboyant, effusive, and—to a Midwesterner—outlandish, the more firmly doubt could be concealed.

Today, from among these very people, are those most likely to betray their Savior’s teachings, replaced by a new idol. A focus on those verses commonly known reveals the deception. It comes in the arena Mark the disciple said, “false prophets would lead astray the elect.” [2] Through the influence of one whom John claimed, “does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is the father of lies.” [3] An idol who publically lied over 13,000 times in 1000 days, while Jesus preached to “Seek the truth,” and Paul said, “We no longer lie to one another, we only tell the truth.” [4] Rather than “Turn the other cheek,” this idol claims to hit back ten times harder. [5] And though Jesus advises to “Pull the plank from your own eye first,” this idol blames only others for his failings. [6] In that celebrated reference to those things that are Cesar’s and those that are God’s, Cesar’s world is paramount to this idol and his supporters, no matter how immoral, corrupt, or treasonous the means to win it. [7] Yet Jesus asked, “What good is it to win the whole world and lose your soul?” [8] With such teachings conservatism once associated, however imperfectly, to shade its politics with moral guidance. No more.

With repeat displays of mental derangement, this idol proudly parades behavior befitting a malignant juvenile. A testament to the arrested development of an admitted adulterer and draft dodger, a thief who would launder millions in stolen Russian money and rip off thousands of students at his fake university for millions more. [9] A man who has fleeced other nations for his financial gain and that of his family, while fleecing American taxpayers by filling his hotels with administrative staff and military personnel. [10] A man who excluded all Sunni countries (where he does business) from his Shia Muslim ban, said to “keep us safe,” while only Sunnis killed Americans on 9/11. [11] A man who told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that help from foreign entities to rig an American election is the right thing to do, and he’d do it again. [12] Then did when he sought to extort Ukraine into “announcing” an investigation of his political opponent (he didn’t want a real investigation), to be exchanged for Congressionally-mandated military aid to fight our mutual Russian enemy—illegal according to the GAO [13]—followed by a cover-up. [14] A man for whom documented, witnessed, court and congressional evidence has all the markings of a Putin asset. [15] As all the while, his Party, propaganda machine, and supporters promote his lies to ensure belonging, placing their clan higher than America or their Messiah. These people excuse their idol’s sleaze by reference to God’s use of the adulterer King David for good, while Paul said to do evil so good may come is wrong. [16] They even block legislation that makes collusion with foreign powers illegal. [17] Among their rally compatriots: QAnon, the Klan, and Neo-Nazis—fanaticism my father enlisted in the US Army to defend this nation against in WWII, now embraced. As Thomas Paine wrote, “When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind…he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.” [18]

Who could imagine that such an idol risks losing—like some ancient Chinese emperor—“The Mandate of Heaven,” as evangelical Pat Robertson warned for the “chosen one’s” ineptitude in Syria? [19] Prime example of the magnitude to which these people can lie to themselves, and an echo from the 20th century. It was then history witnessed three different ideologies commit the most egregious of crimes. They, too, called it moral. They, too, branded the press “enemies of the people.” They, too, bathed in the kind of conspiracy theories peddled by America’s propaganda networks today. And they had their own idol. Look what happened to them. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

Integrity of the idol’s Christian Right has collapsed. Immorality is not only their identity; it’s now their tool. From a newly “results-only” oriented people touting the economy, for whom moral character was paramount in their abhorrence of Bill Clinton, not his budget surplus and boom economy. Their ends justify any means.

Yet, America’s Founders wrapped morality into our form of governance, where the means were made a moral matter more vital than the ends. Delays, checks, and balances were meant to frustrate tyrants, encouraging moral means to win over corruption. If means don’t matter, why not adopt a more efficient tyranny than the messy nature of republican democracy?

An old story illustrates the moral process of Jesus and the Founder’s: A man can secure a million dollars for his church to feed the poor if only he can win a foot race. Should he cheat? Imagine the benefits his church could provide, while corrupt means corrupt his ends. But supporters of this idol, Donald Trump, say the system is rigged against them, they’re forced to cheat (and forever revive Hillary to hate as though she’s still here to beat). At least immoral action produces positive material outcomes, violating Jesus, and Paul.

So put Jesus in the runner’s place. Knowing his contestants are swindlers, would he practice corruption to win? An individual who stood for truth all the way to the cross when he could have cheated truth and Pilate to save his life. This practice of the Right’s duplicity ignores that immorality has no check and balance. Corruption is unlimited in what it seeks and how it seeks it. What will the Right do when losing the election the corruption they sanctioned turns against them? They’ll be calling for their Redeemer, morality, and justice.

I, too, feel the populist anger, my hometown eviscerated of factory jobs; globalization that gave sovereignty to corporations, not nations; and I bristle at the authoritarianism of political correctness that dictates how I can talk, what I must defend and reject. But character and treason matter to me more. As the Founders knew, ethical actions must be sustained or liberty is lost. To endorse a lawless criminal in violation of the Founder’s and Jesus—both of whom the Christian Right pretend to revere—dooms this republic founded on moral means. [20] What a surprise that immorality would have tangible costs to American Christianity, to America as world leaders laugh at the idol behind his back, to the Middle East as he sparks conflict with his spastic impulses, and the world turns to China.

Part of the appeal of Christianity is its emphasis on ethics in an unethical world filled with habitually unethical humans. While I still pine for Reagan and revere the Teachings, I’m no longer a Christian by traditional definitions, nor would I join associations with people who so zealously vandalize their faith. This degeneracy will only hasten its collapse. Though it’s hard to remember, American Christianity is not a monolith, as evidenced by founder Billy Graham’s Christianity Today when it defined Trump as “grossly immoral,” calling for his removal. [21] Or as Baptist News Global’s Jeff Brumley wrote, “evangelical support for a scandal-ridden [Trump] could spell the end of Christianity in the United States.” [22] Not without rejoinder by evangelical loyalists, including the president of Christian Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr., notable for his alleged nepotistic administration, trafficking in nude photos of his wife, and investments in a Miami brothel. [23] After all we now know, what we’ve seen, and what the world has experienced as a result of Trump’s malevolent seizures, and yet an overwhelming majority of “evangelical” / “conservative” / “Republicans” still support him. [24] This is a cult. As Minister of Church Affairs, Hans Kerrl said in 1937, “True Christianity is represented by the Party, and the German people are now called by the Party and especially the Fuehrer to a real Christianity.” [25] Evidence that in the perennial contest between everlasting salvation and political power, here-and-now wins.

I’ve sparred with people like this for years and frequently learn from them. Their denials, obfuscation, and mental acrobatics prove miracles do happen. Rational analysis, right-reason, and truth are an obstacle to winning their political arguments. Psychological perversions like this have not been witnessed in such breadth and depth in America since Southern Christians justified slavery with Hebrew Scriptures. One would do better to debate democracy with the Taliban. And while much is said about a return to civility in America, when it comes to their sacred dogmas (Left or Right), approaching these people with civility is like taking a Bible to a knife fight. Just what Putin wanted. He won. America was defeated.

And now, thanks to advances in cognitive psychology and a bit of history, we know why. Aside from Putin’s leverage of our gullibility, the Right didn’t betray all they once stood for without help from the Left and primate biology. Next time, after this our 5th of 5 irregular installments portending America’s monarchy, and a return to the bimonthly Monday: March 2, 2020.

[1] Allen Downey, The U.S. Is Retreating from Religion, Scientific American, October 20, 2017. Jana Riess, "Religion declining in importance for many Americans," especially for Millennials, Religious News Service, December 10, 2018.

[2] Mark 13:22

[3] John 8:44

[4] John 8:32, and Ephesians 4:25

[5] Matthew 5:39

[6] Matthew 7:5

[7] Mathew 22:21

[8] Matthew 16:26

[9] Brett Williams, Our Dear (mafia) Leader, Goodreads, December 24, 2019.

[10] Ibid

[11] Wikipedia, Trump travel ban.

Patrick Cockburn, Donald Trump puts US on Sunni Muslim side of bitter sectarian war with Shias, Independent, 21 May 2017.

[12] Lucien Bruggeman, 'I think I’d take it': In exclusive interview, Trump says he would listen if foreigners offered dirt on opponents, ABC NEWS, June 13, 2019.

[13] Emily Cochrane, Eric Lipton and Chris Cameron, G.A.O. Report Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid, New York Times, Jan. 16, 2020.

[14] Elie Honig, The Trump cover-up is unfolding before our eyes, CNN, December 31, 2019.

[15] Brett Williams, America is asking, “Are Trump and his Party, traitors?”, Goodreads, January 6, 2019.

[16] Romans 3:8.

[17] JORDAIN CARNEY, Senate GOP blocks bill to require campaigns report foreign election assistance, The HILL, 06/13/19. Senate Democrats, UPDATED: DESPITE HIS CLAIMS TO THE CONTRARY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL IS BLOCKING ELECTION SECURITY LEGISLATION – PART OF A LONGSTANDING REFUSAL TO STAND UP TO RUSSIAN ELECTION INTERFERENCE, July 29, 2019. SOPHIA TESFAYE, Sen. Marsha Blackburn takes one for Trump, defends flow of Russian money, SOLON, JUNE 14, 2019.

[18] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Prometheus Books, 1984 (1794), pg. 8.

[19] Kim Bellware, Trump ‘in danger of losing the mandate of heaven’ over Syria decision, Pat Robertson warns, Washington Post, Oct. 8, 2019.

[20] While Right-wing radio talker, self-designated Christian, and devotee of our moral process document, the Constitution, Rush Limbaugh asserts “Trump is results oriented…and results mean there’s no need for process.” 1/9/2020 Apparently, Limbaugh’s a Bill Clinton fan now as well.

[21] MARK GALLI, Trump Should Be Removed from Office, Christianity Today, DECEMBER 19, 2019.

[22] JEFF BRUMLEY , Support for Trump could spell end of the evangelical church. But when?, Baptist News Global, MARCH 19, 2018.

[23] BRANDON AMBROSINO, My Weekend at the Falwells’ South Beach Flophouse, POLITICO, August 25, 2017. Frances Robles and Jim Rutenberg, The Evangelical, the ‘Pool Boy,’ the Comedian and Michael Cohen, The New York Times, June 18, 2019. Brendan Skwire, Jerry Falwell Jr. Sends Pictures Of His Half-Naked Wife To His Buddies:, Skwire, Sep 9, 2019.

[24] Philip Bump, A popular theory for Trump’s popularity among Republicans appears to be wrong, Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2020.

[25] William Shrier, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, Touchstone Simon & Shuster, 1990, pg. 239. Likewise, though ideologically different, be they evangelicals or any Trump-idol-supporting Christian, these people hate liberals more than they love Jesus. And what is liberal? Whatever their propaganda machine says it is, from science and scientists to wind power and LED light bulbs.



January 6, 2020: America is asking, “Are Trump and his Party, traitors?”

Just one week after Trump found himself in office, on January 29, 2017, Republican Bush Administration State Department counselor Eliot Cohn wrote his prophetic acid bath blistering in The Atlantic. “Precisely because [Trump’s] problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse as power intoxicates him… It will probably end in calamity. It will not be surprising if his term ends with impeachment… When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. To be associated with [Trump is] an exercise in moral self-destruction.” [1] Prophecy, like Bill Clinton’s philandering, and Weapons of Mass Destruction we knew didn’t exist in Iraq; not hard to predict.

What was harder to predict was the collapse of the Reagan’s GOP (Grand Old Party) for Trump’s GOPP (Grand Old Putin Party) with their willful participation in Russian Operations to destabilize America and rig our elections; the ever more fanatical lie factories in Right-wing media that rallies their troops to cash in on hatred and provide shelter for Trump; and, most surprising of all, the collapse of American evangelical Christianity in the flock’s betrayal of their Savior through cultic worship of Trump that we’ll look at next time. With witness to this, is it so strange to wonder if Trump and his Party are traitors? Is that a logical extension of their moral self-destruction, or exaggeration? Or are they simply, per conservative Reaganite Max Boot, “the Kremlin’s useful idiots”? [2]

First, a definition. Treason: “disloyalty or treachery to one’s own country or its government, giving aid or comfort to the enemy.” No small offense, punishment for treason, almost universally around the world, is execution by a military firing squad. [3]

During the House Intelligence Committee hearings concerning Trump’s attempted bribery of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and subsequent cover-up, we witnessed former National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian affairs, Dr. Fiona Hill, tutor Trump’s Party face-to-face. “Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves… [Russia] deploys millions of dollars to weaponize our own false narratives to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy… [They] are gearing up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. [Don’t] promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” [4] And what was the Republican response? They handed Hill their report claiming Ukraine was to blame—as though they know what the CIA, NSA, FBI, and 14 other intel agencies do not.

On each day of the hearings, California House Republican ranking member Devin Nunez’s opening remarks were a version of, “What is the full extent of Ukraine’s election meddling against the Trump campaign?” [5] The answer is, there is and was none. Nunez and his comrades are well aware of agency and Senate findings to the contrary. [6] (Nunez was later found to be secretly in Ukraine seeking conspiracy theories against Biden, and suddenly recalled his contacts with Giuliani co-conspirator and indicted Lev Parnas [7].) But each day was another promotion of the Ukrainian conspiracy as part of Russian Ops explicitly traced to Putin by U.S. intel and already briefed to Congress. [8] House Republicans Jim Jordan (OH), Mark Meadows (NC), Matt Gaetz (FL), Doug Collins, (GA), Mike Conaway, Louie Gohmert, and John Ratcliffe, all of Texas, promote this or other Russian propaganda attached to Right-wing hot button issues like guns, Christianity, and abortion. [9] Republican Senator John Neely Kennedy of Louisiana chimed in with his House comrades to assure us it was Ukraine, the next day he admitted it wasn’t, while the day after it was Ukraine again. [10] Soon after, Republican Senator Ted Cruz (whose father, according to Trump, assisted Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK’s assassination [11]) joined the Russian Op encouraged by Trump. [12] There’s an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Notice, this is the same Party for which the Republican Senate Majority Leader—whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed as Moscow Mitch McConnell—repeatedly blocks bills passed by the House that make collusion with foreign powers illegal. [13] Thus making true the fear of foreign incursion George Washington expressed in his 1796 Farewell Address. This is a Party and its supporters who claim to so love the Constitution that 52% of them want it rescinded for authoritarian governance, clearing the way for Trump as dictator. [14] What Max Boot wrote was once “the party of moral clarity,” is now the party where FOX fake-news-generator and conservative patriot, Tucker Carlson says, “Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which I am.” “The Republican Party,” says Boot, “has become all that it once despised.” Cohn’s warning has come true. The GOP’s soul has been evacuated by the Devil that Cohn said they’d sell it to, while that Devil retains his seat with 7 of his minions in or about to be in prison. [15] “Moral self-destruction” complete.

But why blame Ukraine for something Russia did? Will taking the blame off Putin ease the pain of a man who murders people in other countries with Novichok? [16] Could there be a connection with Trump’s soon-to-be-imprisoned National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s promise to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that Obama sanctions would be removed? [17] Could it be the same reason Trump refused to impose Russian election meddling sanctions from a near-unanimous Congress after the election until he was forced to, then missed the implementation deadline? [18] Why did Trump privately discuss destroying NATO and publicly call into question Article 5, that any attack on a NATO nation is an attack on the U.S.? [19] In another of his knee-jerk reactions without consultation with allies, why would Trump dispose of our anti-ISIS allies, the Kurds, after a phone call to Turkey’s Erdogan, (Trump has two towers in Istanbul), then pull all U.S. troops from the Syria-Turkey border where Russia now occupies U.S. bases? [20] Given that the government fiscal year was 5-days away when Trump reversed course on Ukraine extortion after he was caught; given that expiration would have made $391M in Ukraine weapons aid disappear; given this episode has a curious echo in the removal of lethal-weapons-aid-to-Ukraine language from the 2016 RNC Platform, who could be the beneficiary of all this? [21] (For those who think Trump gave Ukraine Javelin missiles, while Obama gave only “pillows and bead sheets,” see the references for a laugh. [22]) Who gains when Trump gives Israeli secrets to Russians in the Oval Office? [23]

Hmm…

Could it be that if Trump, his Party, and propaganda machine convince enough people that Putin is the victim of Russia-bashing liberals, that all Russian sanctions will vanish? Would that effect Russia’s stumbling economy and Putin’s power? Perhaps a bit like Trump’s removal of sanctions on Russian oligarchs that netted one of them hundreds of millions of dollars in a day. [24] And if all this were to benefit America’s enemy, why would Trump want to do that? Is there any connection to Trump’s staff having 140+ meetings with Russians, their agents, or cutouts during his campaign? [25] Why does Trump hold secret meetings with Putin with no Americans present? Why in the last meeting in which an American was present (the translator) were notes seized by Trump with an order not to talk? [26] After 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to aid Trump, why would he ingratiate himself to Putin in Helsinki, validating Vlad’s, “Who, me?” [27]

For the “Republican” Party, it’s a mixed story. They sanction Putin but later parrot his propaganda. They protest Trump’s coddling of Putin, but later protect Trump’s abuse of power that favors Putin. Did it take them three years to make the full conversion from GOP to GOPP-Putin-asset? Their ham-handed rollicking during the House Intel and Judiciary Hearings sure looked like it. For Trump, it’s more clear. What other reason could Trump have for these actions right from the start, beyond treason or blackmail? (See The Asset podcast series by the Moscow Project for details.) Perhaps there are other reasons, but if Trump acts out of blackmail in Putin’s favor, is that not treason?

America needs a lawyer.

But U.S. Attorney General William Barr has proven he works for Trump, not America. He lied about the Mueller Report before its release (did he think we wouldn’t read it?), he tried to bury the Ukraine-extortion-whistleblower notice, he tours Europe in search of conspiracy theories, and he repeated his Mueller gag on the Inspector General’s exoneration of FBI / Obama / Deep-State-alien-impregnators-from-other-planets spying on Trump. The NYC Bar is currently seeking a Congressional investigation of DOJ AG William Bar. [28]

Maybe it’s not that complicated. There’s an old saying in the American Midwest where I was born: If it walks like a traitor and quacks like a traitor, it’s probably a traitor.

How ‘bout a prediction. Given the Steele Dossier appears mixed—some of it corroborated, some not; given the CIA asserts if this kind of raw intel is 75% wrong, it’s great intel; then if Trump loses the next election, of no use to Putin, might we anticipate that juicy video of Trump’s naked abundance mounting prostitutes in a monitored Moscow hotel room after the infamous golden shower? [29] It would be in perfect keeping with the character of our man in the Oval Office. [30] As a game show host and World Wrestling Entertainment imp, he’d be delighted with its ratings. [31 – a video of Trump’s wrestling pranks]

Next time, the 5th of 5 in the irregular series on America’s soon to be Pharaoh, we look at the most base of Trump’s base. Those people who are the only reason Trump is able to continue his mafia ways we examined last time, and why Trump’s GOPP so blatantly lie for him.

[1] Eliot Cohen, A Clarifying Moment in American History, The Atlantic, Jan 29, 2017.

[2] Max Boot, The Republicans have become the party of Russia. This makes me sick, The Washington Post, December 4, 2019.

[3] American College Dictionary, 1969

[4] John Cassidy, The Extraordinary Impeachment Testimony of Fiona Hill, The New Yorker, November 21, 2019.

[5] KATE IRBY, Decoding Devin Nunes’ opening statement at impeachment hearing, McClatchy News, NOVEMBER 13, 2019.

[6] Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election (PDF), U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, October 2019.

[7] ERIC LUTZ, DEVIN NUNES IS HAVING SOME UKRAINE PROBLEMS OF HIS OWN, Vanity Fair, NOVEMBER 25, 2019. DAVID LIGHTMAN, Giuliani aide links Devin Nunes to Trump’s Ukraine effort: ‘He knows who I am’, McClatchy News, JANUARY 16, 2020. KIM WEHLE, Phone Records Drag Nunes into the Ukraine Scandal, The Bulwark, DECEMBER 4, 2019.

[8] Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg Charges of Ukrainian Meddling? A Russian Operation, U.S. Intelligence Says< i>, New York Times, Nov. 22, 2019.

[9] David Kocieniewski, Greg Farrell, Polly Mosendz, Prayer, Guns Paved Path to GOP Influence for Accused Russian, Bloomberg, July 17, 2018. Michelle Goldberg, Are Republicans Covering for Trump, or for Themselves? If the N.R.A. was compromised by Russia, the whole party's in trouble, New York Times, July 20, 2018.

[10] MARIANNE LEVINE and BURGESS EVERETT Folksy John Kennedy gets serious pushback on Ukraine mess,, POLITICO, 12/03/2019. WILLIAM CUMMINGS, 'I was wrong': Sen. Kennedy takes back claim that Ukraine may have been behind 2016 election email hack, USA TODAY, Nov. 27, 2019. DANIEL POLITI, Watch Chuck Todd Challenge Sen. John Kennedy as He Doubles Down on Ukraine Interference Claim, SLATE, DEC 01, 2019.

[11] DAN SPINELLI, Trump revives rumor linking Cruz's father to JFK assassination, POLITICO, 07/22/2016.

[12] Jacob Knutson, Cruz promotes conspiracy that Ukraine "blatantly interfered" in U.S. election, Axios, Dec 8, 2019.

[13] Recall Moscow Mitch McConnell blocked Obama’s release of the 2016 Russian eletion invasion before and after the election. Majority Leader McConnell Blocks Bill That 75% of Republicans Support To Require Campaigns To Report Foreign Interference, Law Works, 2019. Barrett, Manu Raju and Clare Foran, Why Mitch McConnell is rejecting Hill calls on election security, as House Dems plan new push, CNN, June 14, 2019.

[14] Aaron Blake, The GOP has caught autocratic fever, The Washington Post, August 7, 2019.

[15] Tasos Katopodis, Here's a breakdown of indictments and cases in Mueller's probe, ABC News, November 15, 2019.

[16] NIGEL NELSON, Vladimir Putin 'ordered novichok assassin to murder British spy behind Trump sex dossier', MIRROR, OCTOBER 14, 2018.

[17] BEN MATHIS-LILLEY, Report: Flynn Proposed Sanctions Relief Deal to Russia While Working for Trump Campaign, SLATE, DEC 13, 2018.

[18] MAX BERGMANN, JAMES LAMOND, Trump’s Attitude Toward Russia Sanctions Makes a Mockery of the United States, Foreign Policy, MARCH 1, 2018.

[19] Nicholas Burns and Douglas Lute , NATO’s biggest problem is President Trump, The Washington Post, April 2, 2019. ERIC LUTZ, TRUMP PRIVATELY DISCUSSED DESTROYING NATO ALLIANCE, Vanity Fair, JANUARY 15, 2019

[20] JASON MOTLAGH, ‘Trump Is Pleased to Watch Us Suffer’ — Scenes From the President’s Kurdish Betrayal , The Rolling Stone, October 31, 2019. Tracy Connor , Russians Take Over 3rd U.S. Base in Northern Syria, The Daily Beast, Dec. 26, 2019.

[21] R. Jeffrey Smith, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS WORRIED UKRAINE AID HALT VIOLATED SPENDING LAW, Public Integrity, December 21, 2019. Josh Rogin, Trump campaign guts GOP’s anti-Russia stance on Ukraine, The Washington Post, July 18, 2016.

[22] “Republicans involved in the impeachment inquiry have repeatedly touted the Trump administration's sale of anti-tank missiles to Ukraine as evidence the president is supportive of the country against Russian aggression, but they've left out key details in the process. Under the rules of the sale, the Javelin missiles have to be stored in western Ukraine, which is far from the frontlines of the ongoing conflict in the eastern part of the country (the Donbas region) against pro-Russia separatists. In short, the Javelins were essentially provided to Ukraine under the condition that they not be used in the conflict zone.” John Haltiwanger, There's a huge loophole in the GOP's claim that Trump's sale of Javelin missiles to Ukraine shows his support for the country, Business Insider, Jan 23, 2020. “But while there is evidence that the Javelin sale has been a powerful gesture of support for Kyiv, the missiles’ military application has been far more limited. Under the conditions of the foreign military sale, the Trump administration stipulates that the Javelins must be stored in western Ukraine—hundreds of miles from the battlefield. ‘I see these more as symbolic weapons than anything else,’ said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp. Experts say the conditions of the sale render them useless in the event of a sustained low-level assault—the kind of attack Ukraine is most likely to face from Russia.” AMY MACKINNON & LARA SELIGMAN, Far From the Front Lines, Javelin Missiles Go Unused in Ukraine, Foreign Policy, OCTOBER 3, 2019.

[23] Carol E. Lee and Shane Harris, Trump Shared Intelligence Secrets With Russians in Oval Office Meeting, The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2017.

[24] Tom Embury-Dennis, Trump lifts sanctions on Russia oligarch Oleg Deripaska in 'huge gift to Putin', The Independent, 28 January 2019. Karoun Demirjian and Jeanne Whalen, Russian oligarch’s deal for sanctions relief is sweeter than publicly portrayed, document suggests, The Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2019.

[25] KAREN YOURISH and LARRY BUCHANAN, Mueller Report Shows Depth of Connections Between Trump Campaign and Russians, The New York Times, APRIL 19, 2019.

[26] WILLIAM CUMMINGS, President Trump went to 'extraordinary lengths' to hide details of Putin meetings, report says, USA TODAY, Jan. 14, 2019.

[27] Ron Elving, Trump's Helsinki Bow To Putin Leaves World Wondering: Why?, NPR, July 17, 2018.

[28] Recall it took Trump 3 tries to find a loyalist DOJ AG who would so flagrantly betray the Cosntitution. Greg Farrell, NYC Bar Association Asks Congress to Investigate AG Barr for Bias, Bloomberg, January 9, 2020. WILLIAM SALETAN, Barr Is Trying to Erase the Truth: He’s smearing the Russia investigation and covering up Trump’s guilt, SLATE, DEC 13, 2019. Michelle Goldberg, Just How Corrupt Is Bill Barr?, New York Times, SEPT. 26, 2019. Jay Willis, How Bill Barr Turned the Justice Department Into a Cover-up Operation for Trump, GQ, September 27, 2019.

[29] Sarah Grant, Chuck Rosenberg, The Steele Dossier: A Retrospective, Lawfare, December 14, 2018. Erik Wemple, ‘The story stands’: McClatchy won’t back off its Michael Cohen-Prague reporting (8-part series), The Washington Post, Dec. 13, 2019.

[30] Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, Crime In Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump, Random House, 2019.

[31] A special look at 2013 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee Donald Trump: Raw, YouTube, Feb. 25, 2013. EDWIN RIOS, 6 Unreal Moments From Trump’s Pro Wrestling Career, Mother Jones, JULY 4, 2017.



December 24, 2019: Our Dear (mafia) Leader

With Trump’s months-long effort to bribe Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (or attempted bribery, depending on one’s tribe—both acts are illegal [1]), and the resulting House Intelligence Committee hearings which so gripped America, much has been made of Trump’s “pattern of behavior.” [2] As we’ll see here, Trump’s pattern has been documented in court records from over 3500 lawsuits, 1990s U.S. Senate investigations, media tracking, and commercial / intelligence research over three decades. [3] Trump’s pattern we now know well was made clear before the 2016 election by Trump’s ghostwriter of Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz: “So somebody comes after him and says he’s done something...horrible, and he just goes back at them with all guns blazing... And admits nothing, never admit anything, never say you made a mistake... And if you lose, declare victory.” [4] “When Trump is feeling cornered, in business or politics, he has a go-to strategy: He lies, and he just keeps lying.” [5] Trump didn’t divine this pattern by himself.

Trump’s father introduced him to corruption in real estate, but Trump’s personal operations got a boost with his 1973 introduction to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel and eventually disbarred lawyer, Roy Cohn, who gave birth to the pattern Schwartz noted. [6] Cohn also represented mobsters Tony Salerno, Carmine Galante, and John Gotti, who died in prison, of multiple gunshot wounds, and in prison, respectively. [7] In the 1980s, Trump got into the casino business. He sold $675M in junk bonds to complete his Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City. [8] When he failed to make a $47M interest payment, he was forced to turn over half ownership to bondholders and enter bankruptcy. This was Trump’s 3rd casino in Atlantic City after the Castle and Plaza. When Trump finished the Taj Mahal Casino it so cut into Castle and Plaza business that Trump was eventually unable to make a whopping $338M payment on the Castle (there also commenced a recession), hence another bankruptcy; three in the same town at the same time. [9] Costs of the Taj ended up at nearly $1B. [10] It was when the Taj teetered on bankruptcy right from the start that it became the “preferred gambling spot of Russian mobsters,” and “broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s according to the IRS...” [11] With a slap on the wrist, Trump paid the Treasury almost a half million in fines for violation of the Bank Secrecy Act.

By 1992 the U.S. Senate released a report, “Asian Organized Crime: The New International Criminal,” that linked Trump’s businesses to that sector. [12] Trump’s Taj VP for Foreign Marketing was Danny Sau Leung, and according to the Senate report, an associate of Hong Kong-based crime syndicate 14K Triad linked to murder, extortion and heroin smuggling. [13] In this same timeframe, the USSR had collapsed, as oligarchs, Russian mobsters, a broken KGB, and bankrupt government officials clambered to consolidate control over resulting chaos. They did so through the brute force of an amalgamated machine. As Russian General Oleg Kalugin said of the Russian mafia, “Oh, it’s part of the KGB. It’s part of the Russian government.” [14]

“Throughout the 1990s,” writes Craig Unger, “untold millions from the former Soviet Union flowed into Trump’s luxury developments and Atlantic City casinos. But all that money wasn’t enough to save Trump from his own failings... He owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks, with a mind-boggling $800 million of it personally guaranteed. He spent much of the decade mired in litigation, filing multiple bankruptcies and scrambling to survive... Fortunately for Trump, his own economic crisis coincided with one in Russia.” [15] To Western banks, Trump was poison, but not to stolen Russian money.

After multiple attempts at selling and refinancing his casinos, Trump recovered control. That only made things worse, and the Castel was finally sold to Landry’s for a paltry $38M in 2011. Landry’s turned it into a gambling revenue giant. [16]

Trump’s talent for business continued its display through bankruptcy of his airline (Trump Shuttle), his football team (New Jersey Generals), and his part in impoverishing the entire league (USFL). These failures turned Trump’s focus to hotels, condos, and resorts. Things were looking up. As Unger writes, “From the day [Trump Tower] opened, the building was a hit...” [17] But, “During the ’80s and ’90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money,” says Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for international law enforcement, Jonathan Winer. “...it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold, but no one is living in them.” [18] David Bogatin (a former Soviet pilot shooting down Americans over North Vietnam) bought five condos in Trump Tower for $6M (~$15M today). Bogatin pled guilty in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. He fled the U.S. and his Trump condos used to “launder money, to shelter and hide assets” were seized. [19] Vyachelsav Ivankov, “infamous for torturing his victims and boasting about the murders he arranged...oversaw the mob’s growth from a local extortion racket to a multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise. ‘...we found out that he was living in a luxury condo in Trump Tower,’’’ said James Moody, chief of the FBI’s organized crime unit. [20] Ivankov was later gunned down on the streets of Moscow. Another Trump tower resident and diamond dealer from Uzbekistan, Eduard Nektalov, lived “directly below Trump’s future campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.” [21] After rumors Nektalov was cooperating with federal investigators, he was shot in the back of the head on Sixth Avenue in NYC. [22] At least “13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties... ‘They saved his bacon,’ says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration.” [23]

Another hotel property, Trump SoHo, had “multiple ties to an alleged international money-laundering network,” according to the Financial Times. [24] In one case, FT reported a former Kazakh energy minister was sued for conspiring to “systematically loot hundreds of millions of dollars of public assets,” then purchased three condos in Trump SoHo to launder his “ill-gotten funds.” Trump SoHo was the brainchild of two development companies, including Bayrock Group located on the 24th floor of Trump Tower, run by Trump business partner, Felix Sater. It wouldn’t be until 1998 that “Sater pleaded guilty to racketeering...with alleged Russian mobsters that bilked investors of at least $40 million... By 2003, the suit alleges, Sater...proceeded to use the firm to launder hundreds of millions of dollars while skimming and extorting millions more...” [25]

Is this guilt by association? In 2015 a long-running investigation by the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) caught up with Trump in the amount of a $10M fine for “willful and repeated” “significant and long-standing money laundering,” the highest fine ever levied by FinCEN against a casino enterprise. [26]

“My name’s Donald Trump,” Trump declared in his introduction to The Apprentice, “I’ve mastered the art of the deal.” What Trump mastered was the art of laundering billions in dirty Russian money.

“I document something like 1,300 transactions of this kind with Russian mobsters,” said Unger, “...real estate transactions that were all-cash purchases made by anonymous shell companies...obviously fronts for criminal money-laundering operations...” [27] “It’s not as though [Russians] zeroed in on Trump 30 years ago, and only Trump. Russia had hundreds of agents and assets in the US, and General Kalugin, the former head of KGB operations in Russia, told me that America was a paradise for Russian spies and that they had recruited roughly 300 assets and agents in the United States, and Trump was one of them.” [28]

Read those last five words again. How can we believe such spectacular assertions are true? Last time we looked at the proven performance of Left-wing media in regards to Trump (and why he’s forced to call it fake news); the Joseph Goebbels-like nature of America’s Right-wing media that covers for him; our own observations of Trump’s odious character validated by the Mueller Report, which was validated by the Republican Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. But two posts ago I claimed with certainty "U.S. government Deep State impregnates our daughters with illegal aliens from other planets!" Some people took it seriously, despite its thick syrup of irony and closing statement to the contrary. First, like Rudy Giuliani’s hallucinations, it didn't pass the laugh test. Second, my invention of space alien impregnation had as much justification as similar QAnon / 8Chan / 4Chan / Brietbart / Alex Jones / Limbaugh / and FOX-commentator declarations. Passion, intensity, conviction, or flawless delivery by our propaganda networks do not make their claims true. No question, Putin and his U.S. propaganda associates noted here often do better. [29] But the assertions offered above can be tracked, validated, and in some cases pulled from public court and Congressional records as linked here or in the references themselves. And lest we forget, we have three years of Trump's lawlessness, impeachment for international extortion, and 34 indictments with 7 of Trump’s inner circle in prison as supporting evidence for the kind of man he is. Corruption runs in his veins. Again I ask, by now, isn't this plain common sense?

Like Trump’s adultery, this pattern of behavior didn’t end simply because Trump got another wife or executive position. While filling his hotels with U.S. administrative staff and military personnel on taxpayer dollars, it appears Trump extorted Qatar for over $1B to bail out his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his worthless 666 Fifth Avenue tower. Recall, without justification, Trump declared Qatar a terrorist state much to the confusion of the Department of Defense, its largest Mid-East base stationed in Qatar. After months of Trump insults, Qatar was just as suddenly America’s great ally again. Trump’s noise machine flew these stories under the public radar, but not that of Congress currently investigating all of the above. [30]

As Unger remarks, “Russian mobsters and corrupt oligarchs...propped up Trump’s business and enabled him to reinvent his image. Without the Russian mafia, it is fair to say, Donald Trump would not be president of the United States.” [31]

As this post can only scratch the surface of Trump’s corruption, see The Asset podcast series for in-death treatment. But there’s more to being an asset than just a partner in crime. Does Trump answer to Putin?

Next time, in the 4th of these 5 irregular posts before our Senate inaugurates America’s monarchy.

[1] US Legal, Solicitation And Attempted Bribery, “The difference between an attempt to bribe and the actual passage of money or property as a bribe is of little practical importance where the definition of the crime includes an attempt to commit it.”

[2] LISA MASCARO and MARY CLARE JALONICK, President Donald Trump impeached by US House, 3rd in history, AP, December 18, 2019.

[3] NICK PENZENSTADLER, SUSAN PAGE, Exclusive: Trump's 3,500 lawsuits unprecedented for a presidential nominee, USA TODAY, Oct. 23, 2017.

[4] FRONTLINE TRANSCRIPT, President Trump, PBS, January 3, 2017.

[5] David Leonhardt, Donald Trump’s Playbook for Smearing, New York Times, Oct. 17, 2016.

[6] Matt Levine, Fred Trump's Tax Scheme Was Quite Impressive, Bloomberg, October 3, 2018.

MARIE BRENNER, HOW DONALD TRUMP AND ROY COHN’S RUTHLESS SYMBIOSIS CHANGED AMERICA, Vanity Fair, JUNE 28, 2017. Roy Cohn, Wikipedia.

[7] Roy Cohn: Legal Carreer, Wikipedia.

[8] Richard D. Hylton, Trump, $47 Million Short, Gives Investors 50% of His Prize Casino, New York Times, Nov. 17, 1990.

[9] Richard D. Hylton, Trump's Castle and Plaza file for bankruptcy, UPI, MARCH 9, 1992. Trump Castle/ Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Wikipediav\

[10] $1B Taj debt, this included those incurred by its originator, Resorts International, from which Trump bought the unfinished project. Wikipedia

[11] Jose Pagliery, Trump's casino was a money laundering concern shortly after it opened, CNN Investigates, May 22, 2017

[12] Search Trump, Taj Mahal, and his dealings here, Asian Organized Crime: the New International Criminal, The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate. 1992.

[13] Links to organized crime, this included those incurred by its originator, Resorts International, from which Trump bought the unfinished project. Wikipedia.

[14] Sean Illing, Journalist Craig Unger talks Russia, Trump, and “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history”, VOX, Jan 12, 2019.

[15] CRAIG UNGER, Trump’s Russian Laundromat, New Republic, July 13, 2017.

[16] Trump Castle/ Golden Nugget Atlantic City, Wikipedia. By 2014, Trump Entertainment Resorts sought bankruptcy and was eventually absorbed by Ichan Enterprises.

[17] CRAIG UNGER, Trump’s Russian Laundromat, New Republic, July 13, 2017.

[18] ibid

[19] ibid

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] Craig Horowitz, Iced, New York Magazine, Nov. 19, 2004.

[23] CRAIG UNGER, Trump’s Russian Laundromat, New Republic, July 13, 2017.

Linda Qiu, Yes, Donald Trump has been linked to the mob, POLITIFACT, March 2nd, 2016.

[24] Tom Burgis, Dirty money: Trump and the Kazakh connection, Financial Times, OCTOBER 19 2016. And quoted from Craig Unger.

[25] CRAIG UNGER, Trump’s Russian Laundromat, New Republic, July 13, 2017.

[26] Steve Hudak, FinCEN Fines Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort $10 Million for Significant and Long Standing Anti-Money Laundering Violations, U.S. Treasury Department: Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, March 06, 2015.

[27] Sean Illing, Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia go back 3 decades: Journalist Craig Unger talks Russia, Trump, and “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history”, VOX, Jan 12, 2019.

[28] ibid

[29] In one email virus I received during the Obama administration, a slick and we'll polished story complete with media links pushed the perennially popular notion that Obama was out to get our guns. Cunning as Obama was, he found a backdoor way to do that by shutting down all lead smelters to choke off ammo. It took me 5 hours of search and destroy before I debunked all its many claims. Yes, the "primary" smelter in St. Louis had just been closed, by market forces. The company's owner had just built the world's largest "secondary" smelter, because there's no market for mined lead, given 85% of all lead comes from recycled car batteries, which is what secondary smelters do. The law referenced was passed by George Bush, not Obama, with links to WhiteHouse.gov and its link to the law in all its legalese available online. Who's likely to spend 5 hours tracking down what was likely a Putin product? It's much easier to believe what we’re told to believe.

[30] Riley Beggin, The US military may have spent millions to help prop up a Trump resort, VOX Sep 7, 2019.

NATASHA BERTRAND and BRYAN BENDER, Air Force crew made an odd stop on a routine trip: Trump’s Scottish resort, POLITICO, 09/06/2019.

Derek Kravitz, Alex Mierjeski and Gabriel Sandoval, We’ve Found $16.1 Million in Political and Taxpayer Spending at Trump Properties, ProPublica, June 27, 2018.

Roberta Rampton, Trump takes sides in Arab rift, suggests support for isolation of Qatar, Reuters, JUNE 6, 2017.

David Smith and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington and Peter Beaumont in Doha, Gulf crisis: Trump escalates row by accusing Qatar of sponsoring terror, The Guardian, Fri 9 Jun 2017.

Emily Shugerman, Jared Kushner 'tried and failed to get a $500m loan from Qatar before pushing Trump to take hard line against country', The Independent, 10 July 2017.

Dmitry Zhdannikov,Herbert Lash,Saeed Azhar, Qatar admits it unwittingly helped bail out Jared Kushner's skyscraper, The Independent, 12 February 2019.

BESS LEVIN, MIRACULOUS BAILOUT OF JARED KUSHNER, Vanity Fair, MARCH 8, 2019.

EDDIE KRASSENSTEIN & BRIAN KRASSENSTEIN, Bombshell New Allegations: Kushner Appears to be Extorting Qatari Government, The Hill Reporter, March 29, 2019.

Miriam Hall, Brookfield Bails Out Kushner at 666 Fifth Ave. With 99-Year Ground Lease Deal New YorkCapital Markets, Bisnow, August 5, 2018.

[31] CRAIG UNGER, Trump’s Russian Laundromat, New Republic, July 13, 2017.



December 12, 2019: What is “truth” in America’s post-truth fog, and how can we find it?

“Ours is a nation of liars, John. We lie about the big things, we lie about the small, we lie about it all... Why? Because lies elevate our self-esteem, blame somebody else, defend our tribes, and are worth a lot of money.” Such are the words of a fictional character, Morgan Whitaker, spoken to his son, John, ca. 2028. [1] Morgan continues, “Remember, John, America’s most important commodity is doubt. Spawn it, you paralyze correction and get rich. Remove it with dogma, you create impossibly perfect certainty. You’re dealing with cunning primates. Never forget that.”

If the previous 25-years have not proven this is America’s reality, the last three have. But lies and dogma imply conscious knowledge of truth. What is “truth” in a post-truth America, and how do we find it?

Leftist French postmodernists of the 1950s and 60s claimed a paradox: the truth is there is no truth. Then they proclaimed the “truth of relativity” of values, traditions, norms, knowledge. This served to dismantle moral judgment, which requires a footing on social norms of assumed certainty, which was the individualistic utility of this “philosophy.” But postmodernism aimed at much bigger game. Once Marxism failed its meeting with human nature, postmodernism became the radical Left’s tool against the West built on ancient Greek and European Enlightenment foundations of reason. [2]

However, at the root of right-reason is a core of healthy doubt; a recognition of fallibility to preserve open-minded examination in the interest of truth. Postmodernists transformed this doubt from a stimulus for knowledge to paralysis. By the end of the Sixties, French postmodernism infected American universities, which commenced to flush its untreated notions in torrents from academia to literature, media, and policymakers. A public philosophy of relativism began to leach its way through the American psyche. Postmodernists were building a vacuum. But the human psyche abhors a vacuum, especially those losing their traditions. The vacuum was looking for a way to fill.

What the postmodern Left pioneered as doubt in knowledge was eventually embraced as doubt in facts by our political Right. Alternative facts, declared by Trump apologist Kellyanne Conaway, and truth isn’t truth, pronounced by likely-to-be-indicted Rudy Giuliani, were just what the postmodern Left declared under guard of academic freedom. [3] The Right recognized this postmodernist implement for breeding doubt and dogma for political gain through lies, practiced with such alacrity that as Paul Waldman writes, “lying is not only permitted but mandatory.” [4]

These lies, doubt, and dogma are now the grist of Right-wing American radio talkers in support of Trump, like Rush Limbaugh (I listen daily), hatched by removal of the Fairness Doctrine. [5] Just one day after DOJ Inspector General Horowitz released his report exonerating the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s Russia connections but not their FISA procedures, Limbaugh claimed the very opposite of IG findings. "The IG report confirms there was...there is an ongoing coup to get rid of Trump," he said. [6] Limbaugh has even divined that Russians who met Trump’s team over 140 times weren’t Russian, but FBI agents seeking entrapment. Limbaugh’s delivery is masterful. After 28-years of practice, America has no better liar. Thus, a better propagandist than even Sean Hannity on FOX, also a first-rate liar. As 69-year old Limbaugh likes to tell, “I know all about this stuff, my dad was a lawyer.” (Not his strongest moment.) But when confronted with over 30-years of experience in law by Inspector General Horowitz, 8-years as IG, his staff having reviewed almost one million documents, 170 interviews of over 100 people with all the FBI levers at their disposal, who do we believe, Horowitz, or a talk-radio propagandist? Hmm... Let me see... Hmm... Who can say?

Such tools, leveraged by the Right (or anybody: Stalin, Mao, Hitler), are not novel, but their sweeping magnitude is new to this country. The closest example to what our Right-wing has raised to a refined art comes from Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine for the Nazis. [7] And as with 1930s Germany, such machinery is not about tribal turf alone. Moralist Stuart Rachel’s charts a clear path from rejection of truth to loss of trust to despotism. [8]

But there's a problem. Given that virtue so cherished by the ancients and the early Christians is dead in America; [9] given character no longer matters in America; given winning the world while losing one's soul is how things get done, not the starry-eyed preachings applied to daily life by some wandering carpenter, then perhaps Mr. Horowitz, like Attorney General and Trump loyalist William Barr, also an experienced lawyer, is just a partisan liar. How complicated things get in a post-truth country. What did Rachel's say about truth and despotism? What did Trump label such countries? [10]

So, where can we find truth through all this smoke? There’s no better source of truth than science. Nature tells us unconditional truth through measured data with zero concern for human political perversities. Problem is, much of what we deal with is not conducive to scientific measurement. But it is subject to that foundation of science targeted by liberal postmodernists and GOPP conservatives: reason. [11]

Take for example...Trump. Here’s a man who bragged about his adultery and draft-dodging; [12] a man who claimed to raise $6M for veterans (it was $2.8M), found guilty of misusing those funds, fined $2M, and the “charity” dissolved; [13] a man found guilty and penalized $25M for stealing millions of dollars from thousands of students at his fake university; [14] a man found after two years of Mueller’s FBI investigation to have colluded (not “conspired”) with Russia to cheat the 2016 election, obstructing justice 10 times. [15] Notice, the Mueller Report was validated by the Republican Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. [16] Of the thousands of media reports concerning Trump’s corruption from center Left (CBS, ABC, PBS, CNN, WaPo) to Left (NBC, NPR, NYT) to hard Left (MSNBC), all but a handful of their reports have been correct. The mainstream media was validated by Mueller, the Republican Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, our own observations, and Trump himself. I saw and heard Trump deny his payoffs of prostitutes; deny he or his staff had any contact with Russia; deny he had business with Russia; deny Obama was born in the USA, and deny his extortion of Ukraine, to name a very few examples, then admit to all of it. Including his extortion of Ukraine, which he denies, admits, then denies again. [17] After all, who can keep track? Not even a lifelong liar. So if Trump says something and the mainstream media, CIA, NSA, FBI, or any of the other 14 intel agencies contradict him, is the question “Who’s telling the truth?” a hard call to make?

Hmm...

There’s also fact-checkers like Snopes.com, PoltiFact (Pulitzer Prize winner), and bellingcat.com who risk their very lives against Russian assassins for revealing so much murder and corruption by Trump’s best friend, Vlad. [18] Naturally, some sites self-designate as fact-checkers only to hawk their propaganda—be weary. For Trump, PolitiFact has page after page of his “Pants On Fire” lies, and more for “All false statements involving Donald Trump” (pull up a chair). [19] The Washington Post keeps a tally of Trump’s lies, totaling 13,435 after 993 days in office. This doesn’t count the number of Trump lies since birth. Given he’s almost 74; we can estimate (excluding lies in the womb [20]) that he’s lied approximately 365,437 times since he could first babble and drool. If Trump’s luck holds out, he might exceed a half-million lies before he’s hanged. At last, Trump can earn something honestly, without cheating to make up for his defects.

Pause to consider this argument. Right-wing media is composed of Goebbels-like propagandists; Trump has established his place in history as a serial liar and one-man crime wave; the mainstream media has an established track record, validated by the FBI, Republican Senate, and personal observation; all of us have eyes and hears that with simple honesty reveals these truths. Isn’t it plain common sense to look to ourselves and the Left-wing media (with reasonable skepticism) for facts, at least when it comes to Trump? I reference both for just this reason: proven performance.

It seems to me, the only way to find the truth is to be able to tell the truth. To do this—our biggest obstacle in tribal America—requires we divorce our tribe / Party / identity. Otherwise, as “cunning primates” we’re obligated to lie for it, just as I lied for my conservative tribe until the Iraq invasion (though I’m still a Reagan fan). You’ll lose that sense of faux “community” and ersatz-belonging, but you won’t foul your surroundings with devout liars either.

But there’s another problem. We now possess a system solidifying clannism combined with techno-capitalism that kills democracies they spring from. Our impulsive passions support the multi-billion dollar business models of Facebook (Fakebook?) and Twitter that leverage passions for profit and a national meltdown stoked by foreign hostiles. By American business ethics, why should Facebook care? Business in America is about the dollar, not the flag.

First, regulate social media until their ears bleed. Then implement the systemic solutions of Johnathan Rauch. [22] In agreement with our Founders, don’t rely on humans to do the right thing. Rely on their laws and institutions, reasoned, structured, and implemented to save us from emotions we know will betray us when the time comes. Make gerrymandering illegal, as does the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. District voting lines are then not tuned to this or that Party, thus diluting one-sided views. Eliminate primaries begun in 1912. Primaries cater to cranks and force each candidate to outdo the other in their appeal to base radicals, forcing candidates to somehow turn normal in the general election. Thanks to the primaries, we were gifted Trump by a mere 11% of the total national electorate (14M of 129M). [21] Make Congressional votes opaque again so representatives can vote freely, not as a performance for special interest groups tracking their every move. Bring back pork-barrel politics. It was removed by good intentions because it was a waste of money, but now these politicians have nothing to trade in their deal-making. Require by law that all members of Congress must live full time during their tenure in D.C., not renters Monday-Thursday. Bring back the old social gatherings between Parties, when a single Representative would dine with another of the other side to discuss policy. In ways peculiar to humans, under face-to-face conditions, they’ll venture into other matters like family, hobbies, and upbringing. Imagine that. As a Senator once said, “It’s really hard to hate your political opponent when you know his wife and kids.” [23] In short, make the system humane, reasoned, and capable of sustaining civilization, not burning it down the way we’re about to.

So ends this second of five irregular posts before the U.S. Senate takes our first step to monarchy.

[1] Brett Williams, The Worst of Things: America in the 21st Century, Combustible Books, 2019

[2] Postmodernists decided Western reason was responsible for two world wars, so reason was to be replaced by pseudo-reason, by all appearances, on its own terms. Luc Ferry & Alain Renaut, French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism, UMass Press, 1990.

[3] Alternative facts, Wikipedia. Caroline Kenny, Rudy Giuliani says 'truth isn't truth', CNN, August 19, 2018

[4] Paul Waldman, Why the Republican commitment to lying will outlast Trump, Washington Post, December 10, 2019.

[5] The Fairness Doctrine required both sides of an argument be presented to balance naturally unbalanced humans. Dylan Matthews, FCC fairness doctrine, Wikipedia. Matthew Haag and Maya Salam, Everything you need to know about the Fairness Doctrine in one post, Washington Post, August 23, 2011

[6] Rush Limbaugh, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW PODCAST TUESDAY - DECEMBER 10 2019 (DITTO CAM), BIG CHUTE, December 10, 2019.

[7] Joseph Goebbels, Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels, AVON, 1979

[8] Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, McGraw-Hill, 2010

[9] Virtue is a community characteristic, communities were killed by individualism.

[10] If Trump had an operative brain cell, he’d use his term of “shithole countries” on this one. Not a material shithole, a moral shithole. Given morality is outside his purview, no such connection is possible.

[11] GOPP: Grand Old Putin Party.

[12] Max Rosenthal, The Trump Files: Listen to Donald Brag About His Affairs—While Pretending to Be Someone Else, Mother Jones, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016. Trump says sex in the Eighties was 'his personal Vietnam', Daily Mail, video. Steve Eder and Dave Philipps, Donald Trump’s Draft Deferments: Four for College, One for Bad Feet, New York Times, Aug. 1, 2016. Tim Mak, Draft-Dodger Trump Said Sleeping Around Was My ‘Personal Vietnam’, The Daily Beast, Apr. 13, 2017

[13] Merrit Kennedy, Judge Says Trump Must Pay $2 Million Over Misuse Of Foundation Funds, NPR, November 7, 2019

[14] Josh Hafner, Judge finalizes $25 million Trump University settlement for students of 'sham university', USA TODAY, Apr. 10, 2018

[15] The Mueller Report Paperback , The Washington Post, April 30, 2019.

[16] CRISTIANO LIMA, Senate Intel's newest Russia report undermines pro-Trump conspiracy theories, POLITICO, 10/08/2019

[17] Grace Panetta, Watch Trump openly admit on live TV to doing the thing he's accused of in the impeachment inquiry, Business Insider, Nov 22, 2019. Sonam Sheth and Grace Panetta, Trump essentially admitted on live TV to doing the thing he's accused of in the impeachment inquiry, Business Insider, Nov 22, 2019. Conrad Duncan, Fox News host Tucker Carlson admits media is right about Trump’s lying: ‘He’s a full-blown BS artist’, The Independent, 28 November, 2019. Jen Kirby, Donald Trump just tweeted he paid back his lawyer for the Stormy Daniels hush money, VOX, May 3, 2018. Kevin Liptak, Trump now says both China and Ukraine should investigate Bidens, CNN, October 3, 2019. INAE OH, Trump Admits He “Lightly Looked” at Developing a Russian Building Project During the Election, Mother Jones, NOVEMBER 30, 2018. ERIC LUTZ, TRUMP ADMITS RUSSIA HELPED HIM WIN, DENIES IT 20 MINUTES LATER, Vanity Fair, MAY 30, 2019. Merrit Kennedy, Trump admits son met Russian for information on opponent, BBC, 6 August 2018. Glenn Fleishman, , FORTUNE, December 19, 2018. Veracity of statements by Donald Trump, Wikipedia.

[18] Eliot Higgins: Searching for facts in a 'post-truth' world, BBC, HardTALK, 12/11/2019

[19] All Pants on Fire! statements involving Donald Trump, PolitiFACT. All False statements involving Donald Trump, PolitiFACT.

[20] “Excluding lies told in the womb.” Which raises a question: If Trump tells a lie in the womb and nobody hears it, is it a lie?

[21] Jonathan Rauch, How American Politics Went Insane, The Atlantic Monthly, JULY/AUGUST 2016

[22] 2016 United States presidential election, Wikipedia. Results of the 2016 Republican Party presidential primaries, Wikipedia

[23] The Senator’s name is lost to memory.



December 2, 2019: U.S. government Deep State impregnates our daughters with illegal aliens from other planets!

This is not a conspiracy theory. This is a first-hand eye witness account of U.S. government Deep State operators from someone on the inside. From a man of utmost integrity. A moral monitor for Judeo-Christian family values and champion of liberty. A man suspicious of all branches of government, with patients registered at the USPTO.gov. He won Inventor of The Year in 2008 at the world’s largest defense contractor, defending America from communists, socialists, and liberals. Make no mistake, he supports the troops. This man is a front line first responder against government control and regulation. He cherishes the U.S. Constitution, that document of governance and regulation. As one of the forgotten white men (with Cherokee and Blackfoot Native American matriarchs in his bloodline), he has not forgotten that greatest of men, President Ronald Reagan, for whom he has a shrine in...his...home. This “straight-talking,” “no-nonsense,” “get ‘er done” real man even has a soft side as an animal lover.

Who is this man?

Me.

And what did I see? Where I worked was, and remains, Building 59. Like Area 51, with its crash-landed aliens (notice both lead with the number “5”), this building’s only designation is a nondescript number. An integer. A large integer compared to, say, 1, or 2, or other numbers we can grasp less than 10. Building 59 could have been built in any shape. It could have been made spherical, octagonal, or geodesic. But it wasn’t. It’s rectangular, precisely so it won’t stand out from other rectangular buildings, lost in this common design as though strange things don’t go on there. It has four floors, but many have asked, Why not one? What could be so important to require so much space? A space with not one...single...window. Why can’t we see in there? What are they trying to hide?

I know. I worked there.

In Building 59 are dozens and dozens of—brace for it—vaults. One after another, down long hallways as far as the eye can see, just before the restroom. On and around each vault are cipher-locks, spin dials, illuminated numeric touch-pads, and cameras. When I first entered that building, those halls were empty. Was the entire complex built just for me? Was I the only one working on “Black Programs”? This designation has nothing to do with race, and should not be taken as insensitive to people of color or campus snowflakes who cry over exposure to words. It’s merely a long-standing description of what happens there. Every activity, computation, simulation or lab test and their results go dark. No one knows what happens but for a small clique of privileged people chosen by higher powers to be there. They even have an enigmatic designation for programs that occupy those vaults: SAR—Special Access Required. But why don’t they say for what? Why not, Special Access Required for Accounting, or Storage, or what it is—impregnation of our daughters. And by who? Space aliens, illegally escorted by our own government via the UFO super skyway. All coordinated by the CIA and Food Stamp program, because aliens require assistance early in any invasion. This Deep State Black Program uses innocent American girls seized by the U.S. government’s Pizza Parlor Pedophile Syndicate in Washington, DC. Recall this Syndicate was first revealed by a courageous 29-year-old man from North Carolina who—after his arduous 400-mile quest—has been awarded a 4-year rest, in prison. True. Google it. [1]

By now, you must know this is authentic. Like Nobel Prize-winning physicist and manmade global warming science denier, Ivar Giaever (we met him before [2]), I’m a scientist too. I worked for this nation’s defense. This appears in print. It’s on the Internet. I’ll bet anybody 50 cents that QAnon, 8Chan, 4Chan, Breitbart, the Klan, and FOX RT will log this as eyewitness evidence of truth, fact, and justice in support of Our Dear Leader and his mumblings of a Deep State coup. Doesn’t that make it gospel? As radio talker Rush Limbaugh says, “Don’t doubt me!”

Or maybe you do.

Maybe you weren’t raised in America with our rankings in math, science, and reading education near bottom in the world. [3] Perhaps you live in a democracy, while ours now ranks 25th, as a “flawed democracy,” just above “banana republic.” [4] Even the life expectancy of Americans is declining; currently, we’re 43rd. [5] Infant mortality in this “technological powerhouse” is 55th from the best. [6] Trump’s budget staff projects to add $9 trillion to our national debt, the world’s highest, currently at $20T, with a GDP to debt ratio just 8 places better than Greece. [7] So much for Tea Party austerity. “Great again,” we ain’t.

When it comes to the “Deep State,” one might assume it’s that first stat above that leads a sizable fraction of Americans to so effortlessly believe what they’re told to believe. Yet, I count 11 of my friends with university degrees, some with PhDs, who support the sleaze promoted by our current administration. Some of them even parrot Russian Ops promoted by GOPP luminaries witnessed in Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry. (Once known as Lincoln's Grand Old Party, it's now Trump's Grand Old Putin Party). It’s not America’s so-called “educational divide” alone that's responsible for this group (dawning t-shirts reading “Proud to be deplorable!”). Alexander Hamilton warned us about them, as did George Washington in his 1796 Farewell Address when he said partisans holding party over country would embrace foreign powers to take control. It would seem, as we saw with Hitler’s inner circle, that innate primate tribalism is stronger than education or common sense.

Ask any in the GOPP to define “Deep State,” including their Golden Calf himself (orange, actually), and they can’t say. Having served in the “Deep State,” I can attest to the sad reality clear to anyone who worked there, it doesn’t exist—yet. I’m saddened by this because the world would be so much more forgiving with a multitude of covert, nefarious, TOP SECRET schemes running interference against my every move. Such could be my excuse for not having achieved more. But, turns out, so numerous are the compartments, serfdoms, turf wars, and financial buckets from disparate entities, most of them secret from the others, to coordinate on anything but their own efforts would be remarkably difficult and dangerous to their livelihoods. As Jon D. Michaels noted in Foreign Affairs, the term “Deep State” applies in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey where one or a few individuals control all or most of the ministries, and their money. That no such arrangement exists in the U.S. is also why government is so frustratingly inefficient, and safer. “Officials inside these agencies,” writes Michaels, “...can investigate, document, and publicize instances of high-level government malfeasance...in no small part because they are insulated by law from political pressure, enjoy de facto tenure, and have strong codes of professional conduct. [Trump never imagined any of this.] In some ways, the Trump administration—in truth, any administration—is right to see them, collectively, as a potentially dangerous adversary. But unlike deep states in authoritarian countries, the American state should be embraced rather than feared. It is not secretive, exclusive, and monolithic, but open, diverse, and fragmented. Its purpose is not to pursue a private agenda contrary to public will but to execute that will.” [8] Just as those 12 courageous witnesses we saw in Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry. Honest, working people doing their job, having sworn an oath to the Constitution, not Pharaoh.

Outside motivated-reason (otherwise known as lying) and motivated-morality (which isn’t moral), both practiced with adoring care by the GOPP, in the real world of facts the Deep State has collapsed. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is about to absolve the FBI from GOPP claims of abuse of power, finding the FBI met proper legal evidence thresholds for FISA warrants to surveil Trump advisor Carter Page; the Steele Dossier did not open FBI investigations into Trump’s Russian influenced campaign; the FBI did not politicize the investigation; the CIA was not involved; professor Joseph Mifsud was not an FBI informant; there were no planted “spies” in Trump World; and no, Obama never spied on Trump. Sad news for Attorney General William Barr and his Liar in Chief. [9] (UPDATE 12/9/19: And as the IG officially announces all of this, Trump states, "It's far worse than I ever thought possible" [10] Which should have been good for him. 12/10/19: Yet one day later Trump slammed his own appointed FBI Director for agreeing with the IG report. The White House needs a schedule of which Trump split-personality is talking when. [11])

Crash goes the Deep State, alive now only as desperate assertions in the tavern, Trump's Joseph Goebbels Networks, and his GOPP. But as I showed at the top of this post, it's easy to invent another conspiracy theory.

(This irregular post, contrary to the bimonthly schedule, is the 1st of 5 in succession before the U.S. Senate is expected to betray their Constitutional promise for personal gain and the excoriation of history.)

[1] Matthew Haag and Maya Salam, Gunman in ‘Pizzagate’ Shooting Is Sentenced to 4 Years in Prison, New York Times, June 22, 2017

[2] Brett Williams, The betrayal of Christ: global warming denial, Goodreads, November 5, 2018

[3] DREW DESILVER, U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries, PEW, FEBRUARY 15, 2017

[4] Democracy Index, Wikipedia

[5] World Fact Book, Life expectancy by nation, CIA. Michael Devitt, CDC Data Show U.S. Life Expectancy Continues to Decline, CDC AAFP, December 10, 2018

[6] World Fact Book, Infant mortality by nation, CIA.

[7] KIMBERLY AMADEO, Trump and the National Debt, The Balance, November 27, 2019. Debt to GDP Ratio by Country 2019, World Population Review. List of countries by external debt, Goodreads, November 5, 2018

[8] Jon D. Michaels, Trump and the “Deep State”: The Government Strikes Back, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2017.

[9] Adam Goldman & Charlie Savage, Russia Inquiry Review Is Said to Criticize F.B.I. but Rebuff Claims of Biased Acts, New York Times, November 22, 2019

[10] Dave Boyer, Trump says watchdog report on FBI is 'far worse' than he expected, The Washington Times, December 9, 2019

[11] Allan Smith, Trump blasts FBI director Wray for backing IG report that 2016 campaign probe was justified, ABC NEWS, Dec. 10, 2019



November 4, 2019: After five years, my second novel is complete. What I wish I hadn’t learned:

I discovered long ago a common thread in art and science that keeps me coming back to both. Those equations that lift off the page to reveal nature, possessing what physicists call “beauty,” are like the brushstroke that ties the painting together or the stage scene that clicks. They all provide a sense of awe. Writing can be like that. But, like the other forms of art and science, only after colossal exertion, and only on occasion. So it was that my self-imposed schedule of one book every five years has produced a second.

But writing has a dark side. This second book took 2226 hours to write. While I don’t record research time, I estimate approximately another 2000 hours. And that’s where the danger is, which I'll get to in a moment. Funny I didn’t realize that after the first book. Such research is required to predict as accurately and plausibly as possible the future of 2057 when the story in book two commences. Historical, philosophical, and geopolitical facts laced together by the nebulous nature of human psychology make both accuracy and plausibly, 40 years hence, a tall order, and why it took me 4000 hours to do it. Whether I succeeded is up to the reader to decide.

With plausibility of a future America in mind, there are several scenes that make me wonder if the reader may suspect the author as mad. Yet, in each of those acts, a significant or majority fraction of details (depending on the scene) are a matter of yesterday’s news. I even added where possible the place and dates to pique the reader’s memory or offer a reference to check these realities online. The remaining extrapolations are a bare extension from what we already have. Who in America just a few decades ago could imagine we would distinguish ourselves as the mass shooting capital of the world? Where, by late 2019, we suffered more mass shootings than there were days in the year by then. [1] Americans now take this as normal. The people cry for corrective measures and Congress promises to do so. All then returns to normal as we go about our daily lives hopeful our loved ones or ourselves aren't shot today, prepared to shout into the void again tomorrow. What should we expect in four decades when this second novel takes place? While some may find political and social evolution in America addressed in this book as bizarre, disconcerting or offensive, I’m not writing children’s books. I’m striving to make these novels not merely entertaining in whatever way people find the fall of civilization entertaining, but in an attempt to predict the future.

Given that a subtopic of this series hinges on the eventual collapse of planet Earth under human assault, I had to study current calamities around the globe and their cause in detail. Like hundreds of massive fires that torched Alaska and Siberia after a record series of hot years, including 50°F above average during Alaska’s winter (6 years in a row). Soot from those fires blanketed Greenland’s ice sheet to accelerate its loss by elevated solar absorption, expanding disruption of the Gulf Stream with 197 billion tons of melt in July of 2019 alone. [2] The Arctic ice cap continues to shrink to record lows as animals that depend on it blink out of existence due to lost habitat and hunting grounds now too far away to reach. While the lower 48 periodically freezes in another drifted Polar Vortex, then floods much of the country, both the result of a failing Jet Stream. All as human CO2 emissions driving manmade global warming responsible for these disasters reach new highs. [3] After the 5th Great Extinction sealed by an asteroid impact 66 million years ago, the 6th Great Extinction continues unabated in this, our Anthropocene, driven by liars and ineptitude. [4] What I wish I hadn’t learned.

Research into political aspects revealed the now visible retreat of Western Civilization—in America, masked by paper dollars. After three decades of China Shock, I understand the populist motivation but oppose the self-destructive response. For a significant fraction of Americans to endorse a criminal monster in flagrant violation of the Founder’s rules for this republic and the teachings of Jesus many of them claim to follow, is to doom liberty for eventual tyranny and lose the soul of this nation. But as my main character states, “To make things right is not so gratifying as to make things worse.” We’ve seen worse done through daily violation of Western civilization’s fundamental element—the rule of law—with the brazen glee of a thin-skinned 5-year old and his bootlickers holding the highest offices in the land. Who could have imagined in 2016 that conspiracy theorists and sympathizers or affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan and Neo Nazi’s supported by Breitbart News who likewise support Trump and vise versa would be welcomed by the White House? [5] The very Right-wing fanaticism my father enlisted in WWII to defend this nation against, now embraced. If it weren’t enough to witness three years of blatant immorality practiced by a draft-dodging adulterer, malignant liar, and money fleecing thief, we also witnessed the colipase of American Christianity through a sector of it which sponsors all of this. [6] American Christians on the Idol-supporting Right are now Christian by assertion alone. What I wish I hadn’t learned. Though I did find a silver lining: fortunately for them, this subset of true Christianity in America doesn’t read and or believe their scriptures, lest they find what Judas did for his betrayal. All of this informed the book's trajectory, and assists plausibility in those scenes otherwise strained without it.

Added to this chain of real-life calamities was the bombshell work by Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed. Deneen, lauded by opposing camps from The America Conservative to Barack Obama, shows that the seeds of our demise were planted from and within the very Founding itself. A point I’ve tried to make in my own books, though without the more historically traceable, step-by-step coherence allowed by Deneen’s non-fiction. I also wasn't so sure of it until he put all the pieces together for me. Through his analysis, what we see now, Left and Right, are distortions of Enlightenment liberalism’s promise to the point of eviscerating the entire project. Not because something went wrong, but because classical Founding liberalism worked so impossibly well. America’s failure was destiny.

Wonder if I can unlearn that?

Finally, since the main character in my books must discover a more complete definition of humanity, beyond the natural man of Enlightenment approximations (for proper governance), so did I. My investigations into the evolution of human psychology, political philosophy, and the arch of civilizations was more than a revelation, it was horrifying. In one of my earliest blog posts here in March of 2015, I wrote, “...whether it be the miraculous mechanics of the living cell or the brightest shinning quasar, few things compare to the lavish spectrum of marvels that humans produce.” I meant that as a complement. Less than half joking, I think now I was wrong. As a physicist having studied as a hobby the nature of quasars, I feel confident enough in their behavior to say their incomprehensible destructiveness is nothing so dangerous as what our race threatens. It’s no wonder our Founders struggled so mightily to find a form of governance of, by, and for unstable humans. The research I performed for this book, to aid predictions of the future, based on our past and present, changed me. I’ll never view the human race the same again. For those who dare to read this book, I hope they won’t either. Not to decimate their lofty views of America once deserved by the Greatest Generation, now dead, but to contribute, however small, to that call to morality, reason, truth, and justice now emerging around the globe from the miasma of modernity. [7]

From my seat in witness to this spectacle, 2019 caps what appears to have been a fulcrum to lever not the US alone into the gales of a perfect storm of planetary and political meltdown, but the Western world with it. It was in this miasmatic atmosphere that this second novel was completed, The Worst of Things: America In The 21st Century. The intersection of these perfect dual storms is what it’s about. While it is second in The Father trilogy, it can stand alone as a prologue summarizes book one.

Until next time, January 6, 2020.

[1] JASON SILVERSTEIN, There have been more mass shootings than days this year, CBS NEWS, SEPTEMBER 1, 2019

[2] Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow, The Greenland ice sheet poured 197 billion tons of water into the North Atlantic in July alone, Washington Post, August 3, 2019

[3] Eleanor Imster and Deborah Byrd, Atmospheric CO2 hits record high in May 2019, EarthSky, June 17, 2019

[4] Do liars believe they’re free of consequences of their lies and ineptitude?

[5] Dylan Byers, Two Breitbart staffers join Trump administration , CNNMoney, January 25, 2017

[6] EMMA GREEN, Why Some Christians ‘Love the Meanest Parts’ of Trump, AUG 18, 2019

[7] Allana Akhtar and Juliana Kaplan, A world on fire: Here are all the major protests happening around the globe right now, AUG 18, 2019, Oct 22, 2019



September 2, 2019: Patrick J. Deneen’s argument for the collapse of Western Civilization, right now

Patrick J. Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed adds a compelling hypothesis to Western Civilization’s trajectory. [1] While the present with its flood of information overwhelms historians unable to decipher what matters and what doesn’t, Deneen offers a specific cause as an “emergent property.” [2] A property to emerge only recently from Enlightenment ideals evolved and combined over time. Other notables in this arena deal with history, where information is always lacking, and they deal in generalized rules. [3] For them, collapse of the West is an arc; part of a cycle; moral debasement; or blundering leaders unable to innovate social mutations that survive a changing environment. Deneen’s only generalization appears when he asks if America is “approaching the end of the natural cycle of corruption and decay that limits the lifespan of all human creations.” [4]

By “liberalism,” Deneen means “Enlightenment liberalism” employed by America’s Founders. Given liberalism is fundamental to the West, his book is an indictment of not only the outcomes of our constitutional foundation two centuries hence, but of Western Civilization as a whole. It’s a story of patricide without knowing it or wanting it by the very system that Enlightenment provided from the beginning. Per Deneen, “Liberalism created the conditions and the tools for assent of its own worst nightmare, yet it lacks the self-knowledge for its own culpability.” [5] “[It] failed because it succeeded... success measured by its achievement of the opposite of its promise.” [6] In short, liberalism sank not because something went wrong, but because it worked so impossibly well.

Enlightenment’s prioritization of self-interest required an authority to protect it. That authority would be self-governance under rule of law to ensure individual rights allowing self-determination. A free market economy was the natural choice for practical day-to-day practice of it. But as Deneen elaborates, under this dual service to liberty, what began as one, bifurcated as two worldviews: the State to insure liberty, and the Market to exercise it. Once born, both would evolve like a live organism.

More fundamental than politics, the root of this evolution is human innovation, our strongest tool for survival. Humans don’t innovate technology alone, but also social norms, morality, traditions, and religion. Our irresistible urge to innovate breaks the rules, finds workarounds, and through “creative destruction” terminates what gave it life. Often these innovations are a counter-measure, trying to fix what we broke when we fixed something else. We invented agriculture for greater food certainty than hunter-gatherers, but as evidenced in the chemistry of buried bone remains, made humans sicker. [7] With agriculture came sedentary life and large investments in one location as an invitation to war for those built assets. So humans invented cites as protection. But with so many people so close together, never on the move, focused more on each other than the environment, laws were invented to manage behavior as the personal judgement of kin increased its distance and lost its power. Cities became capitals of wealth with still greater invitations to war, so we invented the State. But States, like modern individuals, are their own centrifugal force, casting themselves apart with ambition while struggling to hold themselves together as a result of change brought on by ambition. [8] Liberalism was a counter-measure fix for one set of problems. Like these other measures, it took centuries to reveal that it created a whole new set of problems, those emergent properties Deneen reveals.

Not an indictment of innovation, the point is there will always be unintended consequences no one can predict. James Clerk Maxwell unified electricity, magnetism, and light in 1865. No one could know this would lead to radio, TV, and smart phones that allow people to flash mob, riot, or take over countries. Likewise, Enlightenment liberalism could not foresee what its innovation would lead to, though the Founders expressed fear over aspects of it. Eventually for liberalism, any restriction of State/Market partners in advancing liberty would be seen as arbitrary, in need of erasure to fulfill liberalism’s promise.

But this is based on modernity’s shifted definition of liberty. As Deneen explains, to ancient and Christian understandings, liberty was the condition of self-governance via habits of virtue. Virtue as self-restraint over, and freedom from, base appetites through limits on individual choice. Instead, modernity redefined liberty as the greatest possible freedom from externally imposed boundaries. [9] Like inventing the city, as social restrictions lost control, the State was enlarged through lawmaking to take its place, crossing boundaries of what once were communities of common cause. Simultaneously, sovereignty of individual choice required removal of artificial boundaries to the marketplace, once a delineated space within the city. This “borderlessness” is a shared fundamental, says Deneen, opposed to “arbitrary” restrictions. Expressed in modernity by the Market in which a business has no loyalty to its home or its people. And by the State where, ironically, national boundaries are merely for mapmaking. Even those imposed by biology are to be corrected as legislation “breaks barriers” to gender “preference.” [10] This logic of free choice autonomy eventuates in a mass State architecture and globalized economy. Both set out to liberate the individual, instead leaving them overwhelmed by the machinery of each.

Consider the social elements of custom, tradition, and religion. For generations of Homo sapiens these provided belonging and its consequent meaning. But for today’s political Left these are oppressive of individual free expression. True communities built from these elements are to be opened for State inspection to assure no individual rights are violated, and to insure no coercion exists that conform individuals to community values (though the Amish get away with it). Instead, our replacement for communities of old are the NASCAR “community,” the Facebook “community,” or this afternoon’s mass murder “community.” For liberals, restraint (i.e. virtue) is seen as an assault on the Sacred Self in worship of Free Choice with a minimum of attachments. Hence liberals continue their deconstruction in a quest to tame these social rudiments, disconnecting people from each other in order to expand personal liberty, then wonder why there’s no concern for the poor, why the rich want to keep all they can, and why corporations would place profit above people and the planet. For liberals, belonging is a kind of weakness, an insult to autonomy.

The political Right is just as ruinous. Like the State, the Market couches this program in terms of free choice as “maximized utility.” To Market conservatives, religion’s embrace of modesty or its prohibitions on excess are obstacles to maximized consumption and profit. Ethics stands in the way of eviscerating the environment or some other species for economic return. Markets must be protected from poor, indigenous, or politically weak people in a say to their own lands if resources are discovered under it. Markets that export occupations overseas from the town they came from are simply engaged in standard business practice. The increased purchasing power of cheap goods is supposed to compensate for the absence of high paying manufacturing jobs. Profit is about the dollar, not the flag (except in China), and it’s certainly not about employees who provide return on investment and yet are expendable while investors somehow are not. Laws that allow corporate polluters to poison the very people that work for them—from coal miners with black lung, to America’s cancer alley in Louisiana and Texas—are passed by “business friendly” conservatives. When it comes to cherished families and their values, try killing off a few—a regular occurrence—then see how their traditions stand up to it. [11]

True communities thrived on our sensitivities of connectedness. State and Market society thrives on our disconnectedness. [12] Three hundred million people in America and according to the World Economic Forum (isn’t that ironic?) loneliness is an epidemic in one of the loneliest places on Earth. [13]

That Enlightenment liberalism worked so well is a testament to the match between the practical results of this philosophical system and human nature. These philosophers came closer than anyone in correctly defining humans, and assigning terms to the “Equation of Man” that describes them. But like the mathematical series approximation to any phenomena, they couldn’t include every variable. They were forced to leave out terms they considered less important in their day, and accepted an approximation. Hence, they did not give us a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. What they ignored or assigned less weight, over time evolved to become a predator with its creators as its prey. What began as a society to serve self-interest has become a society of “separate, autonomous, nonrelational selves replete with rights and defined by our liberty, but insecure, powerless, afraid, and alone.” [14]

In posts to follow we’ll test Deneen’s ideas in hopes of locating where we are in that “natural cycle of corruption and decay that limits the lifespan of all human creations,” and ponder solutions.

Until next time, November 4, 2019.

[1] Patrick J. Deneen Why Liberalism Failed, Yale, 2018

[2] Recall that an emergent property is a characteristic that comes about when the right combination of things come together. For example, water feels dry until from a million or so water molecules in contact emerges the property of wetness.

[3] Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West notion is one of arc. Like a person, civilization rises on some idea in youth, advances to middle age stagnation, and decays in elder years. Brooks Adams’ Law of Civilization and Decay roots collapse in cycles. From superstition, disorder, and lack of control, civilizations rotate out of this and into spans of order and control only to be spiritually and socially eviscerated by their own social machine (like many Americans in the workplace, where each day is another lesson in submission), whereupon the civilization heals over into another superstitious phase of the cycle. Will & Ariel Durrant’s Lessons of History blame moral decay. For Arnold Toynbee’s Story of History it’s a failure of leaders to adjust to ever changing landscapes.

[4] Deneen, pg. 4

[5] pg. xxvi. In regards to Deneen’s remark that liberalism fails to see its own culpability, see the blog post Is PCD an acronym for Programmed Civilization Death?, Brett Williams, November 7, 2016

[6] Deneen pg. 3

[7] Spencer Wells, Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization, Random House, 2010

[8] This concept of States that hurl themselves apart as they struggle to hold themselves together comes from Marcel Gauchet and his remarkable Disenchantment Of The World.

[9] Deneen pg. xiii

[10] Deneen uses abortion as corrective to limits imposed on women. The gender preference example is my own and references an actual gender spectrum dictated by biology, not psychological preference as summarized in Radiolab Presents: Gonads , WNYCStudios, June 2018.

[11] As one of countless examples: Miles O'Brien, The danger of coal ash, the toxic dust the fossil fuel leaves behind, PBS Newshour, Aug 14, 2019. As Louis Dumont clarifies in From Mandeville to Marx, economics divorced itself from religion and morality in order to make “rational” numerical judgment without interference. Which reminds me of libertarian guru Murry Rothbard’s notion that freedom is defined for individuals as though each were alone in the universe—which don’t exist. See more on Dumont on this blog at Mount Economics – It Wasn’t Always So Tall, Brett Williams, July 6, 2015, and for Rothbard, Murray Rothbard’s strange and zany world, Brett Williams, September 5, 2016.

[12] Free market economy promoter, Michael Polanyi who schooled Frederick Hayek on this matter, had a brother, Karl, who’s The Great Transformation makes this very point, that the Market embeds society in economy rather than the other (original) way around as modern economy now has it.

[13] Kevin Loria, Most Americans are lonely, World Economic Forum, 3 May 2018. Amy Brannan, TOP 10 LONELIEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD , IMMIGroup, Aug 30, 2017

[14] Deneen pg. 46



July 1, 2019: Confronting the Constitution. Part 5: Utilitarians vs. the Founders. Who was right?

In Joseph Hamburger’s contribution to Confronting the Constitution he looks at debates between the 18th century British utilitarians of Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and John Austin vs. builders of the US Constitution. [1] The utilitarians had great respect for the new Constitution and its creation, but they also had withering criticisms. None of them a secret as The Federalist papers (1787-88) explicitly condemned utilitarians in their written arguments, while utilitarians labeled its authors foolish and ignorant.

It helps to keep in mind the context of the times. Europe was sky high on the new science of Isaac Newton. His method applied to the natural world also penetrated the human realm with a froth of new thinking about a “science of politics.” The Renaissance preceding this Enlightenment had rediscovered and made widely available the findings of Greece and Rome with historic reference to universal human nature. And the Enlightenment itself was frequently hostile to all forms of authority, especially religion as represented by Voltaire and Paine. The utilitarians were more enamored with these movements than the Founders who, while products of the Enlightenment and uniquely crafted by the same forces, where able to retain an even strain between the power of popular fashions and a more practical approach. Religion, for example, would not be crushed by the Founder’s Constitution, but made a right, albeit a right to an opinion, as no religion could among all the others be considered a fact supported by the State.

“North America was ‘one of the most, if not the most enlightened, at this day on the globe,’” claimed Bentham. [2] While, as individualists like me now recognize, Bentham also portentously regarded the US as “unhampered by the weight of tradition.” [3] Tradition had been suffocating for the new individualism and Bentham wanted it ended, that “dead hand of the past... from savage and stupid ages, [that made people] slaves of custom... in the infancy of reason.” [4] Likewise, Bentham dismissed the establishment of traditions through the Constitution’s principles and institutions. Instead he suggested a complete set of statue laws to Madison in 1811, to free the US from “perplexity and plague.” After five years unanswered, Madison replied, No thanks.

Contrary to Alexander Hamilton’s remark that if men were angles, there’d be no need of governance (meaning constraints on the populous and government), “utilitarians were opposed to the very idea of constitutional limitations... It was the character of a sovereign body to be incapable of legal limitation.” [5] “Sovereign” here meaning something like a parliament of Plato’s philosopher kings. Good luck finding one of those. According to Hamburger, utilitarians had “a powerful faith that a science of legislation could be developed,” where Bentham wanted to “play Newton’s role for a science of law.” [6]

It’s ironic that while the utilitarians believed popular power must be checked by a forceful sovereign, they also envisioned an almost unlimited freedom of the people—so long as people behaved in accordance with what I’ll loosely term a scientifically perfected behavior. On the other hand, for the Founders that check was between the people themselves and their self-interests. According to The Federalist, “There is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust... But [and here we see separation from dogma] the supposition of universal venality in human nature is little less an error in political reasoning than the supposition of universal rectitude.” [7]

For the Framers, an iron fist sovereign carried with it an inference “that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.” [8] The Constitution would appeal to our better natures. And yet, the system our Founders built is one of a ceaseless expansion in liberty, crippling our better natures. Ours is now a nation where the self-restraint of virtue for a no-longer-existent common good is an obstacle to not only liberty itself, but the market. Where religious teachings of modesty are obstacles to consumer spending, and ethical treatment of animals or the environment impose production costs that restrain profit. In America, virtue is as dead as the communities from which they emanated. Instead, we have the NASCAR “community,” the latest mass murder “community,” or of all the laughs, the Internet “community.” As Aristotle said, a community is not merely a common location that people occupy to ease exchange, which is exactly how Americans define it. With this evolution our current administration with its tens of millions of supporters indicate “that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government.” Could it be social disconnectedness is what utilitarians sought to avoid by cohesion of a forceful sovereign?

Apparently not. For Bentham, communities are no less oppressive than their traditions, while Tocqueville’s slightly later analysis warned of the “unwholesome condition of isolation that left individuals without attachments to others and to larger communities.” And when this happened, he said, “a society was ripe for despotism.” [9] (Hmm... Fast forward to the 2016 election.) For John Stuart Mill, tradition composed of “religion and the expectations of one’s peers in associations and other groups were oppressive and, in the case of custom, despotic. For Tocqueville these were things that would serve as obstacles to tyranny... What for Mill was an ideally free society was Tocqueville’s nightmare.” [10] The utilitarian’s sovereign was intended to maintain order among disconnected island-individuals—laws alone, not sentiments. It appears the utilitarians would have only accelerated our social / spiritual decline.

The utilitarians also protested the Founder’s separation of powers. Utilitarians warned that with a tripartite system two of the three would combine to dominate the third. As we’ve been recently reminded, this remark might imply the utilitarians failed to notice that 3 could be 4 branches given a bicameral Congress. With a Congress divided between House and Senate, collusion between Congress and the Executive was frustrated by the 2018 vote, thus allowing corruption to be addressed, including potential impeachment expressly provided by the Constitution because so much damage can be done between elections. However, as it turns out the utilitarians did recognize bicameralism and dismissed it because “it caused a delay and checked the power of the more democratically elected House.” By now it might seem the utilitarians were making the Founders case for them. Delays were for the purpose of allowing reason to rise above dangerous passions hardwired into human nature. And who would not want a check on the most populist branch of government? Under the utilitarian’s system the nation would be whipsawed from one idiotic passion to the next.

The judges weren’t safe either. For utilitarians, the power of legislative annulment transferred “a portion of the supreme power from an assembly from which the people had some share in choosing, to a set of men [they didn’t chose].” [11] But rather than create another body subject to the people’s capricious will, the Founders wanted an unelected group steeped in legal philosophy and practice to stand outside the usual fray, with reasoned contemplation unencumbered by political machinations.

Lastly, utilitarians considered the Founder’s checking mechanism of varied self-interests as sinister and divisive. As an example, and harkening back to the ancient’s small republic, John Austin claimed the Reformation was “an evil to mankind” as it popularized theological questions and made people quarrelsome. For utilitarians, stable society seems to have depended on making human political thought robotically uniform. While the Founders saw our race as a spectrum from rational to ridiculous. From those of “reason and good sense” to those with “the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions...sufficient to kindle...and excite their most violent conflicts.” [12] Consequently, “They wanted effective but also republican government, liberty but also stability, energy in the executive...but due dependence on the people.” [13] The Federalist acknowledged their solution was an imperfect contrivance and improvisation. One should not be surprised their solution was forced to adopt “deviations from that artificial structure and regular symmetry [of the utilitarians] which...might lead an ingenious theorist to bestow on a Constitution planned in his closet or in his imagination.” [14]

While understandable with hindsight, utilitarians were overly idealistic about embracing the new science, especially in personal human behavior. Their system of governance seems likely to be short-lived, arriving sooner to where we are now. Utilitarian arguments only strengthen the Founder’s case. The Founders instead accepted human flaws to create a system of, by, and for unstable humans. A system that unleashed human potential like never before in the history of our species. It was also a system that would destroy itself as we’ll see in future posts when we look at Patrick J. Deneen’s alarming work, Why Liberalism Failed. [15] As it turned out, the Founders handed us a time bomb.

Until next time, September 2, 2019.

[1] Allan Bloom Ed. Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990.

[2] ibid, pg. 235

[3] ibid, pg. 235. Italics added.

[4] ibid, pg. 242

[5] ibid, pg. 236

[6] ibid, pg. 237

[7] ibid, pg. 243

[8] ibid, pg. 243

[9] ibid, pg. 253

[10] ibid, pg. 255

[11] ibid, pg. 241

[12] ibid, pg. 244

[13] ibid, pg. 248

[14] ibid, pg. 248

[15] Patrick J. Deneen, Why Liberalism Failed, Yale University Press, 2018



May 6, 2019: Notre Dame, and the religious experience in science

As I write this post on April 15, 2019, Notre Dame in Paris has collapsed into a caldron. The shimmering embers of its delicate spire have tumbled into an eruption of cinders, consumed by billows of incandescent smoke. The visible apse and nave of that magnificent church—one of the world’s greatest architectural wonders—has been lifted to the sky in a column of ash, chaired remains on the ground, and mass converted to energy as photons of light now some six light hours distant, almost to the planet Neptune. While now, here on earth, one of the bell towers is on fire. [1]

Notre Dame was the holiest of holy places I’d ever been. That place which so stirred a hard agnostic like me, 800 years after it was built to inspire. When I walked between those massive bell towers, beneath those many saints on guard at its entrance portal, and looked up at that magnificent North Rose Window, I knew I was in the right place. Kaleidoscopic colors carved the shadows. Sounds were vague and cavernous. Thousands of candles lit fissures otherwise black as pitch. Above me, that vault of heaven dripped with golden shimmers off the boney marrow of stone supports like those other imposing sanctuaries in France: Lascaux, Trois-Frères, and Chauvet. All of it combined to lift me skyward as though an iron man drawn by its magnetic antiquity. A religious experience without the religion. I felt dizzy. I stood in that spot for the longest time, afraid to move and miss something. I walked to the nearest pew and for two hours absorbed the place by every pore on my skin. I was staggered by what humans can do.

It wasn’t the last time I had such a revelation. In a completely different and sterile setting, it happened in Los Angeles.

When I approached LAX from the sky it was just “another day of sun,” as the song by that name sings from the musical La La Land. They don’t call it a Mediterranean climate for nothing. One of just five slivers on planet earth with ideal sun, temperature, and humidity (unlike Florida). Conditions so foreign to the rest of us that after six months of living there I went outside one morning to wonder if I’d ever see another cloud. I became solar powered, an attitudinal boost that must be lived to be understood. Visitors can never grasp it. With all those rays from Ra, how could I have ever felt so down about life, death, corruption, money launderers, adulterers, and criminal presidents above the law? (Actually, the combination of money launderer, adulterer, and criminal president above the law did not yet exist.)

But, sadly, I was flying into Southern California because I didn’t live there anymore. I had moved back to Dallas, leaving behind that celebrated California climate where I could tell what time of day it was by how the air tasted (who needs a clock?), and regularly sat in traffic to turn my wheels over 3 miles in 90 minutes (“relaxation”).

Still relishing the memories from my window seat, I saw what I could of those arousing Sierra Mountains: Kings Canyon, Sequoia, Death Valley, and Yosemite National Parks. Those beaches and islands in the world’s largest body of water where each night after a jog on the Strand I watched that orange, oblate spheroid dive into the Underworld. In Dallas, I had Starbucks. And the most remarkable work of my career in an applied research group of the most innovative, motivated engineers and scientists I would ever have the good fortune to know.

Our group at Lockheed had hired a JPL spinoff called OEWaves in Pasadena. Pasadena lies just below that great telescope where in 1924 Edwin Hubble discovered we live in but one galaxy among billions, each with hundreds of billions of suns. Downhill at OEWaves, the engineers and scientists there were building a microwave photonic receiver born from a design we created, improved by their own intellectual property. The word receiver simply means we were building a radio. The words microwave and photonic means we were leveraging a new technology that unifies radio waves with laser light for all sorts of advantages. [2]

In OEWaves’ clean room I suited up in hermetic attire to look through a microscope at that itsy-bitsy device. Not just any radio, it used something called the whispering gallery mode of a microdisk. “Whispering gallery” gets its name from London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, where in 1878 Lord Rayleigh discovered he could hear a person whisper from the other side of the dome’s gallery many meters away. In that case, sound waves were pressed against the circular dome as they bounced around its perimeter. In our case, light waves made that transit in a miniature disk of something like glass.

As I envision my magnified eye gazing down into that tiny house furnished with dazzling physical phenomena, one in particular deserves embroidery. As far back as Isaac Newton, people knew that when light is shone into a prism there are angles of entry beyond which all light will reflect off the back of that prism with none passed through the other side. A process called—and for once appropriately—total internal reflection. But at the point of reflection, something inexplicable happens. Recall that light photons, be they from your computer screen, lightbulb, or our receiver’s laser, exist in only one state—gliding through space at 186,000 miles per second (3e8 m/s). Photons are always and only on the move. Except when totally internally reflected, from one dense medium to a less dense medium, like the glass of a prism interfaced with air. On the other side of that glass, in the air hugging its surface, is a fuzz of virtual photons. [3] Virtual because they’re not real. Yet, there they are, loitering at zero miles per second.

Weird.

By creating this fuzz of magic light, and only by this means, can those photons be “frustrated” by another dense medium like glass placed within mere nanometers of the prism. Simply intruding upon that ghostly space makes those photons real again. As though they’ve been seen to violate the law and run away humiliated. In our radio, it was the microdisk that so rudely disturbed their peaceful misbehavior. Once revived, those particles of laser light would whiz about its whispering gallery. And do so for long periods of time as we imposed information upon them by the modulation of radio waves applied to the disk. Without elaborating that last process, it’s how we made laser light carry radio waves to then manipulate the result in useful ways.

As my eye peered down into that enigmatic world, we turned on the device, and absolutely nothing happened. No explosions, no fist fights, no car chases. All those circuit elements just sat there. Yet on the spectrum analyzer output, a brassy signal hurled above the noise from our elfin radio. Rock and roll was never so loud. A sorcerer’s brew of Nature’s mysteries and God’s laws swirled in that tiny tabernacle to science smaller than a sugar cube. Those virtual-not-real photons I couldn’t see were resurrected from the dead, right in front of me. It was an epiphany.

Like my elevation at Notre Dame, I felt dizzy. I hunched over that microscope for the longest time, afraid to move and miss something. I walked to a chair. I sat down and tried to absorb what just happened. Overcome with awe, momentarily speechless, I was staggered by what humans can do.

Much is made of the potential for science to steal meaning from our world. But as physicist Richard Feynman said, “I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. Do I see less, or more?” That answer’s easy: much more. I used to watch my advisor and one time astronomy instructor, James Van Allen preach science to students filling the pews in a 300 seat temple to learning. Nary a one came away undazzled. So enthusiastic in his measured way was he for the subject, he seemed like a priest for Truth, possessed by the Spirit, the Salvation of Science.

So, religion and science; are the two aspirations really so different? I don’t mean in how they practice. Religion accepts supernatural cause, and the effects are miracles. Science accepts only natural cause, and there are no miracles. I mean in the way they make us feel. Not small, not insignificant as so many claim, but bigger than life. More expansive than the galaxy we live in and know so much about, while forever more to learn, ascendant by that knowledge.

By the time I upload this post, the final flash from Notre Dame will be over 300 billion miles distant. Far beyond the 13 billion mile boundary of our solar system—which took Voyager 40 years to reach—but still over four years from our nearest stellar neighbor. The marvel of photosynthesis formed into plant cells of wood, carved by craftsman, exalted by art, and part of that church will sail on as the memory of what it was. It’s odd to think that it will do so long after those who saw it are dead. Long after the human race is extinct. Long after earth is vaporized by a dying sun, Notre Dame’s whisper will persist, like a prayer for help from the cosmos. Another prayer unanswered.

Until next time, July 1, 2019.

[1] The bell towers were saved by Parisian firefighters.

[2] Notice that I, like all of us familiar with the discipline use the words “light,” “waves,” and “photons” interchangeably.

[3] Physicists familiar with the term “virtual photon” will protest my use of the word here since it is usually attributed to those photons engaged in force exchange between charged particles, i.e. the particle representation of electromagnetic interaction. A more proper designation would be that TIA produces evanescent waves that fall away exponentially in amplitude from the prism/air interface. But that’s a whole other bag of worms to elucidate.



March 4, 2019: Confronting the Constitution Part 4: Rousseau’s enduring rebuke of Enlightenment governance

In Allan Bloom’s contribution to Confronting the Constitution he depicts the insights of, and threats to Enlightenment political philosophy posed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). [1] Rousseau’s ideas were inspiring and inflammatory to those of his age, and since, though most today don’t know Rousseau as their source. According to Harvard’s Leo Damrosch, while the Founders were chiefly influenced by Locke and Montesquieu, all were moved by Rousseau one way or another, especially Jefferson. [2] While Rousseau’s radical reputation made it imprudent to affiliate, Jefferson’s declaratory line comes directly from Rousseau’s Social Contract: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” [3]

Rousseau’s reach extended past the Counter-Enlightenment, past Romanticism, and into the brains of Hume, Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, Wordsworth, John Stuart Mill, Thoreau, Marx, Freud, Leo Strauss, Goethe, Tolstoy, Schopenhauer, John Dewy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., America’s Right, Left, and me. It was 20 years ago when I first met Rousseau, who puzzled, agitated, and knocked me off my feet. As Allan Bloom tells it, Rousseau “possessed an unsurpassed intellectual clarity accompanied by a stirring and seductive rhetoric.” [4] His reflections “had the effect of outflanking the Framers on the Left, where they thought they were invulnerable.” [5] While the Founders sought to neuter the old European orders of power propped up by the church and monopolizing wealth, their “movement from prejudice to reason, despotism to freedom, inequality to equality [was not meant] to be infinite,” nor driven by a policy of retribution. [6] Rousseau’s philosophy did just that, multiple times through history.

Striking at the heart of Enlightenment philosophy and thus foundations of our Constitution, Rousseau proved to himself that the “attempt to use man’s natural passions as the foundation of civil society fails while it perverts those passions.” [7] “The fulfillment of unnecessary desires, begun as a pleasure, ends up being a necessity... Desire emancipated becomes limitless and calls forth an economy to provide it.” [8] “[This economy] instituted to serve life alters the purpose of life, and the activity of society becomes subservient to it... [while] a prosperous future is always just beyond the horizon. As politics turns into economics... men are abstractions while money is real.” [9] Or, per Louis Dumont, things become more important than people. [10]

What’s created is an economic system that as Brooks Adam’s tells it in his Law of Civilization and Decay will continue to squeeze out efficiency, until it has squashed the last of humane nature from its maker. [11] Man rebuilt by the system he made. An artificial man, whose central interest was once self-preservation becomes “covetous” in theological language. Which rings again the bell of contradiction between the selflessness of religion and the belonging it provides, vs. the selfishness of interest-based economics with its promise of autonomy. Precisely Rousseau’s concern.

Four years ago on this blog we considered Rousseau’s fears realized: “The economic promise to make individuals independent was a resounding success. Compared to the past, we are materially rich, socially and spiritually impoverished. We’ve decided without knowing it to trade one domain for the other. As Michael J. Sandal puts it, ‘Liberated and dispossessed.’ Economics is not merely a tool of analysis to tell us what happened or attempt predictions; it sets public policy to structure the very society we live in. By Dumont’s account, ‘Something that remains opaque in this transition in mental perspective is that the new morality regulates social relationships whether or not goods are involved.’” [12]

It’s a complex social system. The economic model is a consequence of the political philosophy. [13] The political philosophy is a consequence of the human definition. That human definition delineates what moral ethics require—rights or responsibilities? This moral ethic reevaluates others in a world of more than ourselves alone, when it used to be those others in the form of true communities of deep human connection gave us meaning (different from purpose [14]). A meaning once set so high above the self there was no need for an afterlife, as what lived on was the readily visible community on earth in the here and now. [15] But with the inward turn of Axial Age (800 BC – 200 BC) meditation, prayer, and philosophy, the individual ascends and community begins its long decay. Preservation of the self becomes a lot more important when death is psychologically final. An afterlife becomes essential. The new world religions provided it. Individualism that Axial Age gave rise to is how we got on this self-interest track to begin with. It’s what Enlightenment tried to sort out, and what our Founders had to engage. It’s a package deal of historic span. [16]

Like the Founders, Rousseau believed passion must control passion, not unreliable virtue. As his solution, “Rousseau choses patriotism,” writes Bloom, “a motive tinged with fanaticism, [but he does so] because it alone can counterpoise the natural inclination to prefer oneself over everyone else, an inclination much intensified and perverted [by Enlightenment]... Patriotism is a sublimated form of self-love, seeking the first place for one’s country.” [17]

Or maybe not. As demonstrated by the satisfaction of bloodlust in the French Revolution, more than a little tinged by fanaticism and a policy of retribution, “traced, without intermediaries, to Rousseau’s influence.” [18] For all Rousseau’s opposition to Locke’s self-interested system, “Locke was simply right in one decisive aspect,” writes Bloom. “Everybody, not just the rich, gets richer in a system of liberal economy. Gross inequalities of wealth persist or are encouraged by it, but the absolute material wellbeing of each is greatly enhanced.” [19] And as Alexander Hamilton told us in January, “In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few and the many... Inequality would exist as long as liberty existed, and it would unavoidably result from that very liberty itself,” because talents are unequal. [20]

Rousseau’s portentous warnings have arrived, but as we saw back in September, the Founders provided “not the best government they could devise, but the best government the people would accept.” [21] With a level field the Constitution strives to maintain, it’s up to individuals to make the most of a system that frees them to pursue their interests, or be eaten by it.

If not the combat of “just getting by,” most Americans chase primate hierarchies of status, material display for sexual selection (the male purview of most species), possessed by our possessions, with so much stuff we rent storage. A little mediation goes a long way to a life of freedom in pursuit of interests worth pursuing. I know because I did it. I committed to my career for a limited number of years (though up to 98 hours/week). Having learned from my mistakes, I saved all I could, invested wisely, and for a decade and half had little more than a pad to sleep on, a spoon, fork, knife, and two plates—one for the cats. That prosperous future (of freedom) need not be forever “just beyond the horizon.”

I was lucky. For most, each day’s commute is another lesson in submission, where, as Mark Twain said, “All men live lives of quiet desperation.” I relished applied physics in engineering. Yet, despite that fascination, for me there were more important matters that pay nothing. Like painting, writing, the study of history, philosophy, and other sciences on another hike in the Sierras without a deadline. Some young people have figured this out through the Mister Money Mustache movement. [22] I salute them as smarter than I was at their age when I bought into the banality of America’s consumerist society hook, line, and sinker. Sunk into spiritual ruin in short order after my idyllic university experience. Preparation for calamity.

While Rousseau correctly diagnosed the symptoms of modernity, he got the medication wrong. He tried to impose pre-Axial Age community on individualist society, errors Marxism and socialism would repeat with Rousseau’s help. Enlightenment offered the right prescription for post-community modernity. (With caveats. [23]) Most right for those who can turn from those shiny lures modernity also offers that come with a sharp hook.

Aside from his brilliance, which I cannot parallel, Rousseau was able to see the ills because he was an idealist, believing solutions exist. In that regard, Rousseau and I are birds of a feather. For people like this it is their mission to exhume a remedy to civilization’s troubles somewhere in that deepest fissure of the human nucleus where “The Truth” resides. For these types it’s an irresistible quest from the day they realize they’re on one. A quest for salvation. Saved by understanding, and with that, forgiveness for the species we hold liable—our own. But as is said of idealists, “They’re always in a moral huff.” Idealists can’t find the solution because it does not exist. They engage in a tireless fistfight to square the circle in an attempt to make sense of a creature that can’t. An exhumation that unearths not salvation, but damnation of a cerebral sort. Rousseau was damned in this same glorious and inspiring way.

Until next time, May 6, 2019.

[1] Allan Bloom Ed. Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990. Notice that Rousseau was sandwiched between the duos of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) as pioneers in the modern movement, with Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) capping the phase, conventionally closed by 1789, commencement of the French Revolution.

[2] Leo Damrosch, Friends of Rousseau: Some of the people he has influenced don’t even know it, Humanities, July/August 2012, v. 33, No. 4, , Leo Damrosch is professor of literature at Harvard University and author of Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, Houghton Mifflin, 2005

[3] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Oxford, 1994

[4] Bloom, pg. 214

[5] ibid, pg. 212

[6] ibid, pg. 212

[7] ibid, pg. 217

[8] ibid, pg. 217

[9] ibid, pg. 222

[10] Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx: The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology, University of Chicago Press, 1977

[11] Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, Macmillan, 1916

[12] Brett Williams, July 6, 2015: Mount Economics – It Wasn’t Always So Tall

[13] Recall Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations that codified capitalism was first published in 1776.

[14] “Different from purpose.” In keeping with my hypothesis that meaning is externally granted from those who value us, while purpose in internally generated with an endless list of things to do.

[15] Mark W. Muesse, Religions of the Axial Age, The Great Courses, 2007

[16] Recall that Enlightenment philosophy from which all this blooms was built on the fruits of Newton’s Scientific Revolution, with an attempt to apply its kind of thinking to man. Newton was built on Renaissance, which was the West’s rediscovery of ancient Greece, their philosophy, science, and mathematics. It was Thales who ca. 600 BC said, we will—in this new pursuit one day to be called science—no longer accept supernatural explanations. There are no miracles in science. Why? Because the gods are as fickle as the people who invent them. Science accepts only natural causes that bear testable predictions. Now, 2600 years later, planes, trains, internet and automobiles prove his method quite right—The Truth in nature with a capital T. But success in nature does not necessarily make it a discipline appropriate for the mastery of human nature. Except that the Founders tried to do just that with Enlightenment’s new “science of political philosophy.” Could it be, as Marcel Gauchet terms it, an “illogical solution to our illogical condition,” that we exist and that we won’t, would be more appropriate? Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World: A political History of Religion, Princeton, 1997. Furthermore, I hide here in the footnotes a notion that the Axial Age is the second indication of too many humans on earth, the first as a swap in priority from goddess to god. I suggest the goddess with her powers of reproduction were initially paramount as survival of the species depended on it. Once there were too many humans, especially with sedentary agriculture and its highly invested settlements (no more hunter-gatherer wandering), then war gods rise to primacy in order to defend and dispose of threats from all those humans. War gods favor only a chosen people, with little regard for the humans themselves. Dramatic individualization that accompanies the Axial Age occurs (I suggest) not because of increasing change, effects of the State, or Empires and their wars, but one level down: because there’s too many humans that result in all these compensations—social countermeasures as innovations to counter innovations. We just keep trying to fix what we broke. Then break something else.

[17] ibid, pg. 216. Notice Rousseau turns to patriotism, not religion.

[18] ibid, pg. 212

[19] ibid, pg. 223

[20] Brett Williams, January 7, 2019: Confronting the Constitution, Part 3: Has social change made the US Constitution obsolete?

[21] Brett Williams, September 3, 2018: Confronting the Constitution, Part 2: Government of, by, and for unstable humans

[22] Mister Money Mustache

[23] However, as we now witness, self-interest based political philosophy and its resulting economic model come with an unstated assumption, and lethal on a planetary scale: limitless resources. Couple that assumption with massive human overpopulation and we get what we got.



January 7, 2019: Confronting the Constitution Part 3: Has social change made the US Constitution obsolete?

In Nathan Tarcov’s contribution to Confronting the Constitution he argues that American society has changed dramatically in the last two centuries while its political framework barely budged. [1] With a charter toilsome to change the Founders did not, however, “freeze social facts or aspirations,” writes Tarcov, and bound us to no social theory. [2] This was different from ancient or modern sociopolitical founders, “who alike were creators or destroyers of classes.” [3] By design, “the founding tended to leave society free to develop outside the purview not only of constitution making but of government altogether.” [4] The Constitution was to remain largely as it was while society evolved—the abolition of slavery as an example. [5] This is not to say the structure had no social intent. “They gave careful thought to the kind of free society that is compatible with republican government...” [6] Their goal, “That society be made of free [individuals], and that individuals be fit for free society.” [7]

But today, “there is an uneasy sense,” claims Tarcov, “that our inherited political institutions and principles are inappropriate to our new society... Must we abandon our political inheritance...to fit our social practices and goals?” Before we can answer that, he considers what sort of society the Founders thought appropriate for republican institutions. These institutions and their interaction with society were central to the 1787 Convention, and this is where Tarcov dives into the competition of ideas between these statesmen, not politicians. [8]

One perennial problem of civilization has been the tension between the few and the many. The “haves,” which constitute the few, must not be allowed to dominate the “have nots,” which constitute the many. Nor should the “have nots” be allowed to confiscate legal property of the “haves,” with caveats. [9]

At the Convention, Charles Pinckney tried to make the case that America is of one social order with “greater equality than is to be found among people of any other country.” [10] Alexander Hamilton disagreed. “Whereas Pinckney hoped that America could avoid either a dangerously influential rich few or a dangerously poor many, Hamilton declared ‘In every community where industry is encouraged, there will be a division of it into the few and the many... Inequality would exist as long as liberty existed, and it would unavoidably result from that very liberty itself.’” [11] Material inequality characterized a free nation.

Yet the potential for extreme economic inequality was well known in the ancient example of Solon who, in his establishment of direct democracy, engaged in dramatic redistribution to keep the peace in Greece. But as Tarcov elucidates, “The point of republican equality is not an economic notion of just distribution...but a political notion of a social structure suitable to maintaining political equality and liberty.” [12] For the Founders, a level field was fundamental, prior to economic concerns, which would follow and be naturally unequal by talent. (Does political equality render the free speech argument of Citizens United counter to the Constitution by giving the rich more political clout?)

In debates over branches of government, how independent they should be, how long they should serve, and consequences of each on the few and the many, Gouverneur Morris acknowledged Hamilton’s perspective, with caution. “Wealth tends to corrupt the mind, nourish its love of power, and stimulate it to oppression [as] the spirit of the opulent,” he said. [13] Despite Pinckney’s hope that a vast territory would preserve a single class of industrious yeoman, Morris countered, “The schemes of the rich will be favored by the extent of the country... [The people] will be dupes of those who have more knowledge and intercourse. Thus it has been the world over. So it will be among us. Reason tells us we are but men: and we are not to expect any particular interference of Heaven in our favor.” [14] “Pride is,” Morris claimed “the great principle that actuates both the poor and the rich...which in the former resists, in the latter abuses authority.” [15] His social psychology was more political than economic, more concerned with power and freedom than wealth. Republican government was more likely to succeed if it “expressed and arbitrated, rather than repressed or neglected the fundamental [and inevitable] social division between the few and the many.” [16]

It doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves that the sticky issue here is one of balance. Too much inequality leads to social upheaval and/or the immorality of master/slave. Too much equality leads to tyrannical oppression of talent and its reward, commensurate with the least of us. Everyone has different talents and it was just such talents the Founders sought to unleash. Enabled by an arrangement that invited a society suitable to political equality and liberty, not equality of outcomes.

Madison offered a third vision distinct from Pinckney’s social homogeneity, or Morris and Hamilton’s laissez-faire acceptance between rich and poor. Madison’s was a regulation by default. Regulation by the structure of the system itself as an expansive republic, in direct violation of the ancient’s goal to keep republics small, thus producing citizens like-minded enough to be stable. An expansive republic multiplies interests, thus diluting their power. Farmers have different interests from fishermen. But there’s a bonus. Rich and poor fishermen have interests different from rich and poor farmers. Interests have an opportunity to unite the few and the many within each interest in competition with other interests. With numerous interests dictated by local environment over an expansive country, Madison expected to weaken any particular one in its potential to constitute a tyranny of the majority. “Not to prevent majority rule,” Tarcov writes, “but [at least the opportunity] to form majority coalitions on principles of justice and the general good.” Assuming a general good exists.

As Francis Fukuyama characterizes America’s current status, “[Our] preoccupation with identity has clashed with the need for civic discourse. The focus on lived experience by identity groups prioritizes the emotional world of the inner self over rational examination of issues in the outside world, and privileges sincerely held opinions over a process of reasoned deliberation...” [17] We now live in an age when identity groups have chosen to be treated not “the same [as] dominant groups” but to “assert a separate identity...[demanding] respect for them as different from mainstream society.” [18] Insisting “not only that laws and institutions treat them as equal...but also that broader society recognize and celebrate intrinsic differences that sets them apart.” [19] This bearing born from the Left, Fukuyama alerts, has now been implemented by the Right, worldwide. Where demagogues pander to groups aggrieved by threats to their identity real or imagined.

As 50 years of Leftist relativism has taught the Right “alternative facts,” fake news, and Rudy Gulliani’s postmodernist impersonation with his “truth isn’t truth,” so too has Left-wing segregation under the politically correct guise of modern "multiculturalism" and "diversity" invigorated the populist Right’s appeal to the “white working class on ethnocultural grounds.” [20] A revival of bigots on the Right, by bigots on the Left.

Is there a common good in this new social theory? Is it “compatible with republican government?” Tarcov makes an unstated assumption that Americans would want such a government in perpetuity. Could it be social change has made the US Constitution obsolete, the people desirous of another form? Perhaps the totalitarianism of perfect equality dreamed of by the Left, so long as each group is regarded in a manner particular to their victim status. Or should it be Right-wing authoritarianism? To “take back America” by force, given that the undereducated many have proven themselves incapable of reasonably disputing intellectual convolutions of those educated few. After decades without civics education in self-governance we Americans don’t know the difference between republican government and any other. How hard can it be to embrace something else? [21] Tarcov doesn’t say. Currently in America, 51% of young people favor the economic-political blend of socialism. [22]

It may be the Founder’s vision has been incrementally corrupted by the interests they aspired to enable, just as they feared. As Ralph Lerner notes elsewhere in the text, they wanted a system that could endure “a thousand daily circumstances [that] drew citizen’s thoughts and energies earthward and inward. Where the enticements of immediate material reward threatened to drain public life of the indispensable involvement of the many and the indispensable contribution of the best.” [23] But, knowing human nature, they feared “A nation of private calculators with short memories would forget the long-term consequences of not tending to the public business.” [24] Thus failing to remind “people of the evils self-governance helps them avoid.” [25]

Until next time, March 4, 2019.

[1] Nathan Tarcov, “The Social Theory of the Founders,” in Allan Bloom Ed., Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990. Tarcov’s remark is not to say America’s politics, and fidelity to the Constitution has remained the same. We now have Gerrymandering, primaries, Senators elected by the people, and an Electoral College no longer the last safeguard against despots given that the Parties take precedence over the country and its Constitution, to name but a few changes.

[2] ibid, pg. 167

[3] ibid, pg. 167

[4] ibid, pg. 167

[5] Recall from a previous post here how Michael Polanyi argues for an open society based on a fixed tradition that nonetheless makes room for and invites change in the interest of justice. Likewise he notes a similar tradition of practice in science inviting the completion of knowledge in the interest of truth. Note also the effort required to change the Constitution as spelled out in that document through the process of Amendment with satisfactory majorities in the House, Senate, and the States themselves. By no means can the Constitution, by its own decree, be adjusted willy-nilly by the latest fool to occupy the White House through an executive order. That Trump could utter such inanity reinforces what we already know.

[6] Confronting the Constitution, pg. 167

[7] Ralph Lerner, “Jefferson’s Pulse of Republican Reformation,” pg. 164, in Allan Bloom Ed., Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990.

[8] Brett Williams, September 3, 2018: Confronting the Constitution. Part 2: Government of, by, and for unstable humans

[9] We should add not only “legal property” but morally acquired, as free from seizure by authorities. An old idea included as far back as the Magna Carta, which gave to the people rights to confiscate the King’s property if wrongfully acquired. American Big Pharma is a shining example in their immoral dumping of harmful and/or ineffective drugs into patients for profit. In some cases these drugs are known to be harmful or potentially lethal and in some cases these drugs are shielded by the FDA, whose charter it is to protect public health, not pad Pharma profits. See Redacted: Is the FDA withholding drug trial data to protect corporate secrets of pharmaceutical companies?, Scientific American, February, 2018, pg. 38-43. Are those profits free from seizure by government fine or public lawsuits? For direct violations in healthcare when FDA does (or did) its job, Google: Haldol and Dementia. You’ll find Haldol, according to NIH the most hazardous antipsychotic among all antipsychotics when used on elderly dementia patients, with tortuous and/or lethal consequences. While Haldol has been shown to have some efficacy on patients with schizophrenia, no benefits have been shown when used on the completely different category of dementia patients. Yet still it’s prescribed despite FDA’s 2008 black box warning against it. As Bernie Sanders noted, hundreds of millions in lost legal cases by Big Pharma is the “cost of doing business” for drugs that earn in the billions. Such is corruption of the Founder’s system, when business buys the representatives that write laws for the business few, not the many.

[10] Confronting the Constitution, pg. 171. Pinkney did however see equality “in the first place legal and political, and only secondarily economic...as every freeman has a right to the same protection and security.”

[11] ibid. pg. 172

[12] ibid. pg. 171, italics added

[13] ibid. pg. 175

[14] ibid. pg. 176

[15] ibid. pg. 176

[16] ibid. pg. 173

[17] Francis Fukuyama, Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2018, pg. 101

[18] Confronting the Constitution, pg. 97

[19] ibid. pg. 98. This is in wonderful agreement with postmodernist self-contradictions infecting the Left. “We demand equality. But treat us differently.”

[20] Eric Kaufmann, Immigration and the Future of the West, Foreign Affairs, September/October, 2018, pg. 224-231

[21] Questioning republican governance, Americans are currently engaged in a low level rebellion, not without cause. As we’ve seen before, the Founder’s enthusiasm for prosperity was not only for taxes to pay defense and law enforcement ensuring liberty and rights, but to gain popular consent for republicanism. Today, after Afghanistan (losing to the Taliban) and the much bigger boondoggle in Iraq to destabilize not only the Middle East but Europe with a total of $5T spent in the Mid-East, and tens of thousands dead, how does government look now? See, Gordon Lubold, U.S. Spent $5.6 Trillion on Wars in Middle East and Asia, Nov. 8, 2017. Add to this the already reeling effects from the China Shock, when Wall Street took down the Western world’s economy only to reward themselves $21B in bonuses with none of them in jail and no laws to restrain elusive CDOs and derivatives that put us there. How does globalism, and capitalism itself, long embraced by representatives—who wrote the laws for banks and corporations that bought them—look to those who lost their jobs, homes, and families? These people can’t afford congressmen. The Founder’s system has been corrupted, in both these examples in ways they feared: foreign entanglements, and the rich few.

[22] Kathleen Elkins, Most young Americans prefer socialism to capitalism , CNBC, Aug 14 2018

[23] Ralph Lerner, “Jefferson’s Pulse of Republican Reformation,” pg. 165, in Allan Bloom Ed., Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990.

[24] ibid. pg. 165

[25] ibid. pg. 165



November 5, 2018: The betrayal of Christ: global warming denial

I get prickly about a few things.

Well… maybe more than a few. But I’m most prickly about liars.

I get prickly when I catch myself lying. My deceit is never so large as to lie about porn star adultery, stealing millions from students at my fake university, Russian money laundering or treason. Nothing like that. My lies are exaggerations fueled by the thrill of talking too much. With time I’ve come to hear a cautionary voice. I halt before the offense, or pause and correct. Rarely now do I get away with it.

That voice came from my parents, still alive in my head. But the teaching came not only from their moral lessons of Great Depression hardship, but from what I learned in Sunday school as a boy. “Jesus said, ‘Seek the truth, and it will set you free,’” I was told, and I never forgot it. [1]

By traditional standards I’m no longer a Christian because I don’t take mythic elements like miracles, virgin birth and resurrection from the dead as real. Almost all gods in antiquity, centuries or millennia before Jesus, performed miracles, were virgin born and resurrected from the dead. For me these are distractions from the teachings of Jesus as one of the great philosophers. And a unique one, hence the designation Chistos, worthy of reverence in another sense. [2]

If there’s one thing I do worship, it’s truth, likely born from those youthful lessons. In those younger days, the political Right in America stood—sometimes—for objective morality based on a version of Natural Law (i.e. human nature). They respected our Constitution and the spirit of compromise our Founders saw as central to republican democracy. They saw science as the Western Way that would defeat Soviet Communism in the space race. Above all, when I was young the Right tried to live by the teachings of Jesus Christ, at least in my house.

I once reported here the penance I served as a four year old, having stolen five 1¢ Tootsie Rolls for the family. [3] I noted how after a series of immoral examples in adulthood I sought to live a more truthful and moral life. I later came to believe that probing the depths of physics in the workplace served this because at its root science is a quest for Truth in nature with a capital T. If you get the science wrong or lie about it or satisfy your politics instead, whatever you build will… not… work. Conversely, this Truth of science is represented by those billions of devices that work just as science said they would. Eventually, with the brazen lies enabling the 2003 Iraq invasion I came to realize I had to divorce my Right-wing tribe perverted after Reagan, and stop lying for it. This doesn’t mean I joined the Left. They lie about different things. But since those younger days the Right has betrayed every ideal they once stood for. Morality no longer matters. [4] The Constitution is too cumbersome for obstructionist governance seeking authoritarianism. [5] Instead of champions for science like the Apollo mission, the Right’s spokesman, Rush Limbaugh, broadcasts anti-science homilies claiming, “Science is one of the four corners of deceit.” [6] A message transmitted over radio waves discovered by science, with electronics built by science. Much like Al-Ghazali’s successful 11th century sermons against rational thought that threatened belief in the Koran, only to destroy the world’s preeminent cultural. [7] But most striking, and wedded to America’s anti-science movement, is the Right’s rejection of Christ’s instruction. Instead of the truth to set them free, truth is willfully abandoned. Notably when it comes to manmade global warming, one of this planet’s greatest threats since an asteroid extinguished 75% of all life 66 million years ago. [8]

After a career where facts are the stock-in-trade I’m still surprised to see what sells in the world outside. Many Americans, perhaps most now, have little tolerance for truth, facts, or morality. All are obstacles to winning their political arguments. As an example, psychologists Boven and Sherman found a majority of Republicans surveyed think manmade global warming is true, but they can’t say so because it violates tribal doctrine. [9] Given that the Left accepts the science, the Right prefers they betray Christ by seeking the lie rather than admit liberals are correct. [10] More than mere adolescent defiance, Right-wing politicians make policy and laws that kill science funding, block solutions, and harass scientists like all despotic regimes that target intellectuals first. [11] Since when did the Right vilify innovators, entrepreneurs, and capitalists who solve hard problems to get rich and create jobs?

I recently witnessed this in a debate about global warming with a conservative man. At first I assumed that as a very devout Christian he sought the truth. “The cost to fix global warming is too high,” he said. “What will it cost to lose Miami, New York, and LA under water?” I asked. [12] For vital interests, like trillions in defense, do we shirk our duty because the cost is high? “It’s been warm before.” “And we know why,” I responded. “Does that make manmade global warming OK?” There have been murders before. Does that justify the next one? “What about CO2 from fires, and volcanoes? There’s always been fires and volcanoes.” Measured in the geologic record, what climate scientists will never find in all earth history is the much larger 30 to 40 gigatons of CO2 jacked into the atmosphere per year by humans—until now. [13] And the comment that verified the source of these remarks, “Limbaugh’s not anti-science. He’s anti-junk-science.” Note Limbaugh’s reference above. What is junk science to Limbaugh is whatever he says it is—whatever violates his dogma. [14]

Despite all this man’s church participation, Christian retreats, and Bible study, what I realized was, he didn’t want answers. He didn’t seek truth. He wanted to win what he viewed as a political argument. His talking points were meant to mint that paramount American political currency of doubt. Doubt in order to deny answers because people like this hate liberals more than they love truth. Since Limbaugh and comrades define global warming as liberal, no logic, no measurements or truth will change the mind of True Believers. Pun intended it was a Revelation: for these types of Christians their political tribe is more important than Christ.

Not only is there no initiative among deniers to seek the truth, as in this instance, but answers provided are labeled junk-science with another red herring lined up to thwart resolution. Instead of sound-bite answers to sound-bite questions, when I offered the climate science, he ended the conversation with, “I’m not going to listen to your facts and data.” The dogma was safe. As Hoffer wrote, “To rely on…reason is heresy and treason… [the True Believer] cannot be freighted by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.” [15] If facts and data are rejected, not only is Christ’s search for truth jettisoned, but we have an entirely different quasi-religious creed to coddle lies. [16] A creed that dare not be challenged lest the Radio Oracle label us liberal.

By the time this conversation was over, I was a little prickly.

But there are more elaborate maneuvers than Limbaugh. A year ago I received a video making rounds on the Internet. It was the Nobel Prize winning physicist, Ivar Giaever who just “proved” global warming a pseudoscience. As a member of the field I watched Giaever’s 30-minute video with interest, then created a 10 slide presentation refuting every one of his deceptions. It wasn’t hard, even for an average hillbilly, hayseed, plowboy like me. Apparently the Nobel doesn’t confer honesty, though it does garner connections to cash as Giaever is paid by global warming deniers: the Heartland Institute in Chicago. Having completed my presentation I blanketed my email list with it. From scientists and engineers I knew would examine its contents with a fine toothed comb, to those deniers I’d received it from. Yet even these Limbaugh disciples were silent. They knew enough about the game not to venture into verifiable measurements and logic. Forget Christ’s instruction. Better to keep their distance from Truth than jeopardize clan affiliation. It’s informative to see just how fraudulent Giaever’s sham is. A link to his video and my presentation is here and in references below. [17]

The science that makes planes, trains, automobiles, computers, TV, and radio work just as science says they will, is precisely the same science that proves manmade global warming a fact—physics and chemistry. No difference. The central quest in science meets Christ’s guidance in complete accord—at the Truth.

It’s remarkable what science can do. [18] Remarkable that while dependent on science in their daily lives Americans can lie about it over the airwaves or right to your face. And remarkable that many of these same people call themselves Christians. [19] Christ’s teachings are a matter of convenience to them, practiced on Sunday morning, or to patch their fears when needed. The ultimate hypocrites, the ultimate liars, and that makes me really prickly. As a non-believer, in practice, I’m more Christian than they are.

But so what if people violate what they once stood for, or if they deny science? One reason is China. China is spending $361B on the science of renewables, creating 13 million new jobs over the next four years. They’ve committed $6T (that’s trillion) to low carbon power by 2040. [20] This deliberately targets American foreign influence with its newfound oil and gas vs. Chinese green power. Meanwhile, America hobbles technology, investment, and policy that would create wealth and jobs with solutions because Americans believe what they’re told to believe by a celebrity on the radio. Another celebrity who wouldn’t know science from a kumquat. Welcome to the Chinese Century.

But another reason to care is deeper in America itself. If, as Trump said, he wants to avoid “shithole countries,” he should leave the one he’s in. Not a material shithole, a moral one. Denial of truth from the man on the street to political leaders speaks to character, a topic Americans no longer raise for obvious reasons. Coupled to this weakness are the moral consequences of science rejection by Right and Left we’ve considered before. [21] The upshot is, when science is ditched, so too is the reason it’s built on, and with reason goes morality. Why? Because morality requires we know what really happened for just decisions to be made—essential for republican democracy.

It’s a malignant moment here in America. We’ve the potential to rival 11th century Islam, or through political pressures bastardize science as communists did with “Proletariat Science” that starved to death 20 to 40 million people. If Americans want America to be “great again” they’ll have to learn how to tell the truth.

Until next time, January 7, 2019.

[1] John 8:32. According to the New Jerusalem Bible (Doubleday, 1985, pg. 1763), what this verse actually says is, “You will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Its context is set by John 8:31: “To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples.” Some religious scholars claim this truth is the truth about God. But if God created the physical universe, and given science is merely how we understand that universe, then is the truth of science not also the truth of God? In Ephesians 4:25, Paul says, “So from now on there must be no more lies. Speak the truth to one another…”

[2] The Greek word “Christos” is translated as “the Messiah” or “anointed one.” While I find the universal nature of mythical elements in religion in regards to human psychology and traditions fascinating, my position on divinity is similar to that of the fictional character I created in The Father, a man named Morgan who debates with his devout son John: “What I believe, John, is that there can be no greater hero than a man who would live by the truth all the way to his doom…If Jesus was God, or a god, where’s the risk in death on the cross? There’s no loss. No permanent consequence to his suffering. But for the man who does this, who knows his life will end if he stands for justice, that is greatness worthy of worship.”

[3] Brett Williams, September 4, 2017: Has America become a nation of liars?

[4] Danielle Kurtzleben, Under Trump, America's religious right is rewriting its code of ethics, NPR, October 23, 2016. Randall Balmer, POLL: White Evangelicals Have Warmed To Politicians Who Commit 'Immoral' Acts, The Guardian, February 18, 2018

[5] Thomas B. Edsall, The Contract With Authoritarianism, New York Times, April 5, 2018.

[6] Rush Limbaugh: "The Four Corners of Deceit are government, academia, science, and the media," in The Four Corners of Deceit: Prominent Liberal Social Psychologist Made It All Up, April 29, 2013. Heather Horn, Is the Right Wing Anti-Science?, The Atlantic, 9.10.2010.

[7] Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle For Rationality, Zed, 1991, pg. 126.

[8] Global warming is but one of earth’s great threats. Others include habitat loss, mostly due to agriculture for almost 8 billion humans. Another is simply eating species into oblivion like the 95% of tuna to vanish in the last 20 years. Another is pollution. Another is the wild animal trade driving species into extinction garnering a bonus with higher prices before they are poached out of existence. See “Loved To Death,” Scientific American October, 2017.

[9] Leaf Van Boven and David Sherman, Actually, Republicans Do Believe in Climate Change, New York Times, July 28, 2018.

[10] My interpretation, not Boven and Sherman’s.

[11] Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe claims global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people.” He’s chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. See, Brad Johnson, Inhofe: God Says Global Warming Is A Hoax, ThinkProgress, March 9, 2012. Texas Republican Representative and science denier Lamar Smith has built his reputation on harassment of climate scientists and attorneys general with 25 subpoenas, from a committee that issued only one since its creation in 1958. Smith is chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. See, Lisa Rein, House science chairman gets heat in Texas race for being a global warming skeptic, Washington Post, November 7, 2016. For harassment of scientists see, Phil Plait, Scientists Stand Up To Congressional Attacks, SLATE, June 2, 2016.

[12] Having listened to Limbaugh for 22 years, I was already familiar with his sound bites, with ample sound bite responses. Jordan B. Peterson would say my response was in keeping with the true cultural warrior by answering a talking point with a talking point, thus denying the potential for resolution, stimulating the next Limbaugh talking point. A more revealing response to “It will cost too much,” may have been, “How much will it cost?” Since that cost would be unknown it could be asked, “Then how can we claim it costs too much?” Thus asking the talking point promoter to ask themselves instead of trying to skewer them, which is a natural bad habit. As Michael Shermer and Steven Pinker have noted, facts and data harden opposing orthodoxy in today’s America. As stated, truth is an obstacle to winning political arguments.

[13] The volcanic effect on climate depends on the type of volcano. Short term effects can cool, not heat, through albedo increase of ejecta (see Toba eruption). Volcanoes place approximately 0.3 gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere per year, or about 1/60th human annual injection according to NOAA, June 15, 2016. At time of writing, 2018 California CO2 output from fires appears not yet available. But 2015 data show about 25M tons of CO2 from California fires: David R. Baker, Huge wildfires can wipe out California’s greenhouse gas gains, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 22, 2017. There are of course fires worldwide. Though forest fire CO2 output is decreasing because the forests are being replaced by CO2 producing farmland. See, Daisy Dunne, CO2 emissions from wildfires have fallen over past 80 years, study finds, Carbon Brief, 7 April 2018.

[14] There’s a parallel between Limbaugh’s anti-science declarations and modern art in an old joke: “A modern artist is anyone who says they are. And modern art is anything they say it is.” Notice, Limbaugh also relishes his iPhone and consumer tech. But as America’s most talented propagandist, he also claims to be a Christian. I did not say he’s not a hypocrite.

[15] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Perennial, 1989. It goes without saying this does not apply universally to all Christians, nor that a single group (like Christians) are subject to this self-deception, which happens to be the point of Hoffer’s book.

[16] One can see a potential flaw in this argument. If any validated science must be treated like gospel lest we reject the teachings of Jesus, doesn’t that mean we’ve traded one dogma for another? Not if we adhere to the practice of science, based on a vital and healthy doubt. A recognition of fallibility that preserves open minded examination in the interest of truth. As science is not a dogma it invites discoveries that expand our understanding of nature, even to the point of upending our current understanding for a better one. (See Michael Polanyi’s Meaning.) We award such rebels with Nobels. Only in the extraordinary case of an Ivar Giaever are such people liars. Science is an open, not closed practice, where lies cannot survive open scrutiny from strangers around the world applying the scientific method.

[17]. 10 slide Giaever rebuttal. The careful viewer will find I violated one cardinal sin in the document: Never fail to provide a reference. See slide 6, lower right-hand corner. It comes from Climate Science. Sin rectified.

[18] When it comes to global warming, climate scientists can even judge the source of individual carbon atoms in carbon dioxide molecules as from living sources or fossil fuels. With radioactive C14 produced daily in the stratosphere, the CO2 molecule with its lone carbon atom from recent emissions like forest fires contain C14 because plants ingest it freshly made. But with a 6000 year half-life, in about 10 half-life cycles, or 60,000 years, C14 produced today will disappear. After millions of years buried underground, how much C14 do fossil fuels have? Zero. With total atmospheric volume and known variation over altitude and region, at 411 ppm CO2, the annual excess matches annual fossil fuel inventories sold. This NOAA site illuminates the matter, with pages navigated before and after the one linked to here, elaborating details and definitions. Written by a student it’s accessible to anybody.

[19] This entire issue is a lesson in motivated-reason, and motivated-morality. Motivated-reason, defined by Michael Shermer, is the acceptance of validated evidence only if it supports what you already believe. Likewise, it rejects validated evidence that refutes what you already believe. What I call motivated-morality follows the same logic. Applying mortality only to the other tribe while allowing our own tribe every vulgarity. This act is pronounced by evangelical Christians who ranked morality as most critical for a president during Bill Clinton’s sexual thrills. Now, under Trump, this same group ranks morality of a president among their least important measures.

[20] China’s $361B green technologies. China’s $6T for low carbon power: Amy Myers Jaffe, Green Giant: Renewable Energy and Chinese Power, Foreign Affairs, pg. 87. Myers Jaffe reports, with China’s push on batteries and electric cars they expect to be gasless by 2040.

[21] Brett Williams, March 6, 2017: Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter. Part I: The Right. Brett Williams, January 1, 2018: Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter: Part II, The Left



September 3, 2018: Confronting the Constitution. Part 2: Government of, by, and for unstable humans

In Confronting the Constitution, David F. Epstein offers his chapter, “Political Theory of the Constitution.” [1] Here we see what range and depth the Founders explored in their mission for the best form of governance. A government guided by self-evident truths about human nature, natural rights philosophy, and the purposes of government arrived at by the power of reason. “The obstacles of prejudice and partiality,” writes Epstein, “did not persuade the Founders that establishing government by consent was impossible, only that it was difficult. [They feared] that a failure to agree on a government at that time would lead to disunion, anarchy, and eventual usurpation… [Success] appeared fragile and fleeting.” [2] It was a government, in Epstein’s reminder of Solon, which was not the best government they could devise, but the best government the people would accept.

In creating a governmental structure populated with unstable humans in service to unstable humans, the Founders set out to use human nature for and against itself in proper measure for each office and their arrangement. While a marvelous balancing act, Epstein warns that without reference to underlying principles, Constitutional institutions can easily be debased, vilified, or disposed of. [3]

Recall, these men were scientists or heavily influenced by European Enlightenment on the heels of Isaac Newton’s scientific revolution. [4] Their philosophic differences were devoted to reason, not tribe. Each had good and bad ideas, but their quest for truth produced practical solutions that satisfied their purpose in the end. It’s informative to note their kind of thinking is practiced today almost exclusively by science, engineering, and the practical arts of medicine and law. [5]

Epstein delineates the logic when it still applied to politics. He begins with the abstract and not entirely accurate “state of nature” hypothesis of self-preservation, where each person takes the law into their own hands. (Notice how our Stand Your Ground laws return to this.) Hence, social instabilities of “dissensions and animosities.” [6] But if self-preservation is of primary importance, the necessity for order and control makes a need for governance obvious. With the Declaration’s enunciation of equality for all men (see last line, first paragraph) and their inalienable rights, government’s purpose is then “to secure these rights.” [7] Foundational to all of it is the source of government’s legitimacy as just powers derived from the consent of the governed. But as James Madison put it in the 1787 debates, “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” [8]

But before that, they had to pay for it. If individuals were going to form a new society, surrendering a portion of their liberty once used to defend themselves, this society’s government, as an enforcer of their rights would need tools to secure them. Laws created, enforced by police, decided by courts all cost money, and that means taxes. “The necessity of taxation alone,” writes Epstein, “means the right to property is not immune to political decision [imposed upon it].” [9] (Take that, conservatives.) And since taxes mean there must to be something to tax, the Founders sought prosperity for all through protection of rights to “honest industry,” not to coddle the wealthy. [10] (Take that, liberals.)

Once paid for, the problem was not only to select but attract meritorious individuals to office. Provide opportunity and motive by catering to human nature, but be careful about it. One motive was the ambition that loves office or honor. Despite this salute to the ancient virtue of honor, “Even Montesquieu suggested virtuous men do not entirely forget themselves.” [11] And as Madison said, “If [patriotism] be the only inducement, you will find a great indifferency in filling your legislative body.” [12] More likely “the love of fame… would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit…” [13] To control that love of fame, “The Constitution,” says Epstein, “not only grants powers [to those recruits] but arranges offices so as to encourage those powers to be used well.” [14] The Founders wanted virtue, but didn’t count on it, preferring to manage self-interest instead.

But how should these representatives be chosen? Should they be selected via indirect elections, for refinement and grasp of governance by knowledgeable electors—at the risk of cabals and horse trading? Or direct elections by frequently ignorant masses, selected from a more accurate representation of the people? The solution was a mix. The House as unrefined populist representatives as witnessed today, and the Senate, which used to be distinguished, though more debased with time. [15]

For the Congress and Executive our Founders believed the people could better control by reward and punishment the personal motives of representatives through elections, rather than hope to “elevate men who do not think of themselves at all.” [16] Though as one Anti-Federalist observed, most elected representatives will be complete strangers to electors. Only those locally familiar in small republics (states) can be properly judged. But Federalists, and ultimately the Constitution, argued otherwise. Resemblance between representative and represented is not so important as the represented being able to choose, second-guess, and depose their representatives. Better that power be in the hands of those likely to be jealous rather than friendly with those elected.

But what the people could do was limited as well. While they would choose from these recruits and judge the outcome of their polices, the people would not create policies. “A noteworthy feature of the new Constitution was its total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity for any share in government [in its direct creation of laws].” [17] That’s the representative’s job, and leaves the people alone to pursue their productive interests.

“The Founders did not bend much effort to conform the principles, morals, and manners of citizens to our republican form of government,” writes Epstein. [18] Because they built one to accommodate “human nature in a rawer, purer form,” one more enduring than what was strived for in strict virtuous republics of old. [19] “Virtue, they judged, was too corruptible to be the main foundation [of government].” [20] Elections were the most obvious way of interesting representatives in preserving the rights of the people.

Though elections could not secure the people in every instance. Corrupt representatives might engage in “harvest as abundant as it was transitory,” [21] employ “concocted deceptions that an inattentive people fail to detect,” [22] or baldly usurp powers. And as John Locke puts it, “for the same Persons who have the power of making laws, to have also in their hands the power to execute them, whereby they exempt themselves from Obedience…is contrary to the end of Society and Government.” [23] So the rule of law would be divided in its execution among the 3-branches of Congress, Executive, and Judiciary.

But even this can be abused by the encroaching nature of power. Witness America’s Executive today as it lauds over a compliant legislature betraying their Constitutional oath to check the president. Hence, the Founders added supplemental separations: the bicameral legislature (each house checks the other), Executive veto over Congress, which can fail if Congress is united enough, impeachment for any public official, and judicial review (see revocation of Trump’s first two Shia Muslim bans [24]).

Judicial review is done with a twist: by deliberation of judges not elected, so not directly subject to the people’s popular, often passionate, will. “Indeed,” reports Epstein, “the people’s original intent can even be enforced against their own later inclinations…” [25] Which implies the written Constitution meant something fixed. (Is this support for originalism?) James Madison and James Wilson even proposed a veto power for the Court, but it was defeated on “grounds that it would make statesmen out of judges, corroding their impartiality,” and role as interpreters of law. [26]

“The Founders expected the president to defend his power because he is ambitious, not because he understands or loves the Constitution.” [27] Hence, judicial review was not merely another competitor in power, but an enforcer of primary law. Yet again, this technique fails to corner every offense. Presidential powers exist that do not depend on legal guidance or judicial review. “As commander in chief of the armed forces, he could suppress an insurrection…” [28] Those killed have no legal recourse. “Corruption or treachery could be quite consequential in the time before the next election, and he might corruptly contrive his reelection, even his initial election.” [29] (Recall, this book was written 28 years ago about insights 202 years before that.) For such cases, control by election is after the fact. So impeachment allows an auxiliary precaution against slow and vulnerable elections without resort to “the Right of Revolution,” thus channeling passions of the people with a rational option. [30] Impeachment gains force by focus on one person. He cannot reasonably blame a council (though we’ll expect it). And to avoid a president beholden to a Congress that can impeach the Executive, the Founders divided this process between the House (impeachment), Senate (conviction), and the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice presiding.

How would all this be tied together to protect people’s rights in an effort to stabilize unstable humans? Anti-Federalists believed the people’s interests would best be secured by small-republic state institutions to defend against national encroachment. But impotence of the Articles of Confederation showed Federalists that states could not be corralled even to pay their own bills. “By denying states the power to issue paper money, impair the obligation of contracts…and allowing the national judiciary to enforce those prohibitions, the Convention reflected Madison’s view that the nation should protect individual rights against the states.” [31] Not the other way around. Natural rights and resulting stability would serve the purposes of prosperity, once again revealing prosperity’s practical utility. The Founder’s structure would encourage “Public attachment by a train of prosperous events,” gaining the people’s trust and thereby consent to federal powers. [32] The enjoyment of rights and prosperity would be “a valuable crutch for government that protects those rights.” [33]

The Constitution is a blend between two opposing political theories: autonomous small-republic state governments as obstacle to national overreach, and a central authority whose components are checked and balanced in arrangements of a large-republic. Though as Epstein cautions, among many other distortions, the state / federal equilibrium has been imbalanced by the 14th Amendment’s 1868 expansion of federal powers in response to Civil War, and by the 1913 17th Amendment that makes senators popularly elected, edging the Senate closer to the populist House.

When Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have we got, a Republic or a Monarchy?” he replied, “A Republic—if you can keep it.”

Until next time, November 5, 2018.

[1] Allan Bloom Ed., Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990. According to this George H. W. Bush era 1990 text, “David F. Epstein is a deputy director of net assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has taught political science as a member of the Graduate Faculty, The New School for Social Research, and is the author of The Political Theory of The Federalist..” Beyond that, he appears invisible.

[2] ibid, pg. 128

[3] We see this in our most recent election, amplified by America’s absence of civics education. From political Right-wing vilification of constitutional guarantees to a free press (what Edmond Burke called the Fourth Estate), to cries from the Left for apportionment of Senate seats by population in response to Trump’s cabinet appointments. Regardless of population, each state gets two Senators, tilting in disproportionate favor to small states, diluting the voice of large ones. The Founders tangled with this question, prioritizing the two seat model because it protected the rights of minority states from majority abuse. Isn’t it precisely this idea championed by our modern Left? This Connecticut Compromise was seen by some Founders as protection of minority population states, while others saw it as a “triumph of extortion by the small states.” Ibid., pg. 117

[4] Ben Franklin is credited with founding electrical sciences. Thomas Jefferson was a naturalist and inventor. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Jon Jay enrich their Federalist Papers with good governance analogies to science. John Locke, who from Jefferson inherited the delineated rights for his Declaration, was a chemist.

[5] Scientific thinking engaged in by the Founders is now rare in politics. While science and its technology are the basis of wealth creation, science is a frequent annoyance to business when it finds negative outcomes of various products, processes, etc. Excluding Trump and Bush-2, the EPA is an example of science obstructing the dollar’s desire for profit over environment.

[6] Bloom, pg. 78

[7] ibid., pg. 78

[8] Federalist 51

[9] Bloom, pg. 84

[10] ibid., pg. 84

[11] ibid., pg. 96

[12] ibid., pg. 96

[13] ibid., pg. 97

[14] ibid., pg. 93

[15] Further examples can be found in actions of Senate Democratic Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, when in 2013 he and the Democrat majority reduced confirmation requirements from 60% to a mere majority. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky now confirms Trump loyalists without check from Democrats. Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa also violated their oaths to the Constitution by their denial of confirmation proceedings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Merck Garland in 2016 because it was a “contentious election year.”

[16] ibid., pg. 97

[17] ibid., pg. 94

[18] Bloom, pg. 98

[19] ibid., pg. 98

[20] ibid., pg. 98

[21] Federalist 72

[22] Bloom, pg. 106

[23] John Locke, Second Treatise, Peter Laslett Ed., revised edition, New American Library, 1965, pg. 410

[24] Note that Trump’s so called “Muslim ban” was in fact a Shia Muslim ban. Only Shia countries were on his list. No Sunni countries were included. Trump established 8 new businesses in Saudi Arabia during his campaign, has a golf course and resort in UAE, and does business in Lebanon, all home to 9/11 hijackers that killed almost 3000 people in the US. No Shia countries have killed Americans on US soil.

[25] Bloom, pg. 109

[26] ibid., pg. 110

[27] ibid., pg. 110

[28] ibid., pg. 110

[29] ibid., pg. 111

[30] Wikipedia on Right of Revolution.

[31] Bloom, pg. 120

[32] ibid., pg. 100

[33] ibid., pg. 100



July 2, 2018: Confronting the Constitution. Part 1: Did the Founders get it wrong?

Around about 1980, Robert Goldwin and Walter Berns persuaded a group of philosophers to celebrate the US Constitution’s bicentennial through an examination of its philosophical origins and eventual detractors. With Allan Bloom as editor of the project, the result was 16 chapters, each with a different author and perspective for Confronting the Constitution. [1] As Bloom puts it, “The Framers challenged the world to meet them on the field of reason. To test their conviction is to honor them.” And so, for that and the thrill of learning, this new themed series of blogs is based.

The text begins with “Philosophic Understandings of Human Nature Informing the Constitution” by Thomas L. Pangle. [2] He reveals that 17th century Enlightenment philosophy was obsessed with governance. After millennia of trial and error civilizations, finally the idea of human dignity, potential for all, coalesced as the purpose of society. Pangle examines the hierarchy of political philosophy that emerged from this realization. Starting with the simple but critical question, What is a human being? What are its motivations, needs, requirements? In short, what is human nature? Once defined, successive levels in the hierarchy are addressed. How do these creatures live as individuals? What is the best way for them to live in groups? How should a state be organized? In what way should a nation be governed? Each answer up the ladder depends on the last one. Since the definition of the human being is the most fundamental, it’s also the most important because from this will rise the hierarchy of social machinery.

Like the mathematical definition of a machine, if you get that definition wrong, whatever you build from it, no matter how carefully, won’t work, at least not well. Consider the sixty year experiment in Berlin, one side capitalist, the other communist. Despite its careful planning, communism was such a mismatch for the human psyche they had to build a wall to keep people in. Marx’s “alienation” turned out to be more like “incentive.”

With Europe’s Enlightenment, the human definition got a new answer just in time for America’s Founding. A human being is, philosophers claimed, a creature that seeks first and foremost to preserve itself from death. Self-preservation is the central human interest. Humans are thus creatures with vital interests. From this emerged human rights to protect those interests for a just society in service to human dignity. “A fundamentally different character from the various sorts of local, traditional, and divinely revealed rights men invoked since time immemorial,” writes Pangle. [3]

From this philosophical foundation America’s Founders determined the Constitution would not be a covenant of devotion and obedience to a tribal god of a chosen people. Pleas to supernatural powers for justice fall outside the realm of reason. In other words, gods are fickle, who knows what they’ll do? And while people worship different gods, they all have a common capacity for reason. Reason became the tool for society building, in Aristotelian terms, because of what it could do verifiably in the here and now material world. Leave that other personally stabilizing force of religion, and a right to it, up to the individual, but don’t run a country with it. History was replete with this folly on national scales, hence the need for separation. [4] By granting a right to religious freedom, without state sponsorship, our Founders reduced religion from fact to opinion. In doing so they sought to defang consequences of the converse.

Likewise, in tailoring our social fabric the Constitution would not repeat the classical Greek notion of a small republic. The ancients believed only small republics could hope to keep every citizen like-minded and virtuous enough to maintain cohesion. It didn’t work. America was already large by comparison, and expected to get larger. Without state religion or patriotic virtue, how could stability be maintained in a large country?

Using the right to interests, Madison would embrace a large republic over the small because different environments spread over an expansive country would generate different interests. Farmers of the land have different interests from fishers of the sea. Different factions spawned from these different interests would then check and balance each other to stabilize the whole.

Furthermore, this idea of interests formed the basis for David Hume’s remark that “modern political economy [showed] natural ends of humanity require active promotion of avarice, private commerce, and extensive manufacture.” [5] “Trade was never esteemed an affair of the state till the last century…” [6] Suddenly economics as an expression of interests would support dignity, and become part of the philosophy of reason. Economics became a route to social justice. Private vice became public virtue.

This new social model was a practical one. Needs of the body came first. Ego second. Character was no longer explicitly part of the plan. But while the government was expected to be morally neutral in private matters, no one expected the people themselves to be morally neutral. With no state faith, George Washington warned, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” [7] Unfortunately, Enlightenment philosophers had not found a reasoned argument for people to be moral. At least not as compelling as an ever watching God with promises of heaven or hell. They also knew the watchful eye of communities could yield to individualism’s trajectory. The best they could do was the Golden Rule beginning at least with ancient Egypt, and implied in the “social contract” (which isn’t social [8]). The Founders realized the new definition and government structure to accommodate it put civilization on fragile footing, just not as fragile as the ancients.

As Pangle notes, Enlightenment’s vision of the human was based on what they called “a state of nature.” A non-historical abstraction as a place to start the study. [9] But since the machinery of civilization emerges from this—from what defines human beings, to interests, to rights, all the way to the structure of nations—are we certain we got the right definition to begin with? What if it’s wrong, or incomplete, or incapable of addressing unforeseen change in the future?

It was the inventor Thomas Jefferson who received from John Locke the chemist his definition of the human being, and Locke’s rights to life, liberty and property, which Jefferson converted to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (He didn’t say amusement.) But what happens when the right to property threatens the right to life for those on the other side of the planet? What happens to rights in support of interests when the 600 million humans alive in 1700 approach 8 billion in 2018? Interests require resources. A simple fact of nature is that there is no infinite material anything. [10] For the industrialized world, self-preservation is no longer threatened by scarcity, but abundance. Are rights narrowed by fundamental changes external to human nature? Does this require modification of the human definition in terms of what’s emphasized and included?

Like the machine defined by math above, what Enlightenment defined as human was necessarily an approximation. In mathematics there’s something called a “series.” The first term in a series is most important. Successive terms have diminishing impact, but as each one is included, their inclusion makes whatever the series describes come closer to reality. Did Enlightenment philosophers fail to include enough terms in their series description of human nature? [11] Could it be the first-things-first material perspective should have included our ethical, communal, and spiritual aspects?

If Enlightenment’s description was truncated, after three centuries of social experiment shouldn’t we see the effects? It’s difficult but doable to isolate cause in laboratory experiments of physical phenomena, much harder to provide more than inference when it comes to human society. The infinity of human foibles suggests cause and effect are not linear, often not even sensible.

That said, if a society is built on self-interest, demoting morality, and religion that once promoted it, at least according to Washington, might we expect an eventual excess, even perversion of self-interest? [12] While not universal, examples in Washington DC, corporate America, Wall Street, and the masses who seek to emulate them enunciate this perversity. But can it really be traced to Enlightenment’s definition? The ancients had despots, abuse, and corruption too.

What the Enlightenment did was remarkable, a moral leap forward. But every human measure creates new problems requiring counter-measures to compensate. Does the old definition of humanity need an upgrade? In future posts we’ll ponder an extended series approximation of human nature.

Until next time, September 3, 2018.

[1] Allan Bloom Ed, Confronting the Constitution, AEI Press, 1990. Robert Goldwin (1922 - 2011), Walter Berns (1919 – 2015, Allan Bloom (1930 – 1992).

[2] Thomas Pangle.

[3] ibid, pg. 10, italics added

[4] “We’ve believed a lie for so long that the church and the state be separated,” said Pastor Elias Lorera of Fresno’s Christian Temple Assemblies of God. In “The Christian Right Adopts a 50 State Strategy,” NYTimes, June 20, 2018. As Trump’s GOPP tries to unify religion and politics.

[5] ibid, pg. 19 David Hume (1711 – 1776)

[6] ibid, pg. 19

[7] George Washington’s Farewell Address

[8] The social contract is not social. It’s an agreement people are born into, then conform to without express agreement. A practical arrangement made for strangers. A requirement for large populations.

[9] Confronting the Constitution, pg. 71

[10] Technology pushes the carrying capacity of nature. In 1940, average US bushels of corn per acre was 40. Today it’s 150, at the expense of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, and the Great American Prairie. Once 370 million acres of natural habitat and its inhabitants, now 370 million acres of biodiversity desert. North America’s Serengeti lost in the length of one lifetime. Factory floor of an agri-planet and the greatest transformation of our natural world by mankind anywhere on earth. (I’m going to enjoy some of its produce for lunch today.) Like the physical limit to the number of transistors on a circuit chip, there’s a limit to how many bushels an acre can be forced to produce.

[11] See the remarkable and useful Taylor Series.

[12] Michael Shermer disagrees with Washington. In his Moral Arc he makes a case for religion producing the opposite of moral action. Scientific thinking and the Enlightenment, he claims, deserve most of the credit for advances in morality and justice, at least since they arrived.



May 7, 2018: America could never become a totalitarian State… Right?

When I was a boy, our home was divided by a sibling in the US Marine Corps and another in marches against the Vietnam War. Significantly younger than both, differences were a mystery to me. But I wasn’t the only one confused. As pressures grew, my parents tried to adjust, though not always sure to what. To many it was a mystery how the Heartland could find itself centered in a firestorm ignited by National Guard murders at Kent State, our university closed by riots and burned buildings. [1] But what was clear even then, and persists to this day, was that our close nit family was a casualty of hostile ideologies that hardened with time. That core of community, where I felt a sense of family belonging with its attendant meaning for the only period in my life, never recovered.

When Ronald Reagan arrived on the scene during my high school years, I was inspired to hear a public figure with a positive message. Finally, I thought, I can stop feeling bad about Vietnam. Whatever Reagan’s policies, irrelevant to a kid, I felt pride in my country instead of disgust. This was Reagan’s talent, the opposite of Trump. Which is not to say Trump’s rhetoric is always wrong.

Stepwise since Reagan, his GOP mutated into neoconservatives powered by Vice President Cheney’s corruption, then the forgotten austerity of an obstructionist Tea Party, and finally absolutist populism with a fondness for America’s enemy and murderer, the Dictator of Russia. [2] All the while as what economists Autor, Dorn, and Hanson label The China Shock inflicted “underestimated adjustment costs and distributional consequences.” [3] Translation: mass unemployment, dislocated families, and “rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” as Trump rightly put it. [4] After Reagan, Republicans ceased to think creatively. [5] Intellectuals who can argue for conservative ideals from the perspective of reason have been vilified by their own Right as not visceral enough. Conservatism is in ruins, but for much bigger reasons than mere incompetence.

Each of these steps was a signal that Arnold Toynbee’s diagnosis was correct: “Civilizations disintegrate when leaders stop responding creatively, [sinking into] nationalism, militarism, and tyranny of a despotic minority… death by suicide…” [6] Because all civilizations are self-destructive. The boon and bane of our species — innovation — is what humans do. But technical and social innovations hurl civilizations apart as they struggle to hold themselves together. Society is a giant machine that humans build. It then acquires a power of its own. A kind of artificial intelligence of invisible hands that will strangle its maker. It takes creative thinkers with counter-innovations to save us from it. To adjust, when most aren’t sure to what.

This devolution of leadership has left the Right with no inspiration beyond their constant revival of evils committed by the Left as sanction for their own. Hence the refrain of Barack Obama (not in office), Hillary Clinton (she lost), and Bill Clinton (gone 18 years). The litany of largely imaginary crimes are the daily fodder of our Joseph Goebbels imitators. As Eric Hoffer showed, true believers first and foremost must deny reality or reinvent it to protect their fragile dogmas, which is all the Right has now. [7]

I’d prefer to label our newsworthy Right and Left as “fringe,” but the fringe has come to dominate America. Thank our Joseph Goebbels imitators; self-reinforcing echo chambers; internet amplification of otherwise unheard cranks; simplistic application of motivated-reason accepting only evidence that makes us feel better, and motivated-morality applying morality only to the other tribe. Add to this, structural flaws like Gerrymandering and primaries, both inciting the least reasoned / most radical to lead the way, and it’s no wonder America is rotting in absolutism laced with its many pathogens. [8]

Absolutism nurtures ignorance, because truth lowers the fever. Our propagandists have fortunes to make by boiling the blood to rally the troops. Inhaling this infected atmosphere produces a kind of delirium that’s easily steered with false promises of salvation. Among the most powerful is something I once had: belonging and its attendant meaning. As a disconnected nation of strangers, more than anything we yearn for belonging. In this Clan Age, absolutism offers an emotionally charged lure: Swear to the creed and your emptiness is filled with a simple act of free will. Choose well the new God.

All this has people asking, could America become a totalitarian state? Like the failed democracy of Athens, the failed Republic of Rome, or today’s Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Egypt, and The Philippines. As Freedom House reports, “For the 12th consecutive year freedom has declined, with 71 countries suffering… This democratic recession is global.” [9] Or as one Latin American so familiar with their many despots put it, “We’ve seen this movie before, just never in English.” [10] The legal scholar Cass Sunstein argues American authoritarianism has commenced. [11] Consider the dictatorial nature of Trump’s actions, or antics, cover up, and institutional assaults by boot likers in Congress like Devin Nunes, Mike Conaway, Mark Meadows, and Jim Jordan. [12] Loyalists are in place. The propaganda arm well established.

Hannah Arendt recalled her own witness to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, when supporters of totalitarian regimes treated evidence “as non-facts…in line with the totalitarian contempt for facts and reality…” [13] This, and the rampant conspiracy theories she chronicles prepared the mental ground for action. Like Stalin’s Great Purge with millions of his own people murdered. “Post-factuality is pre-fascism,” writes Yale historian Timothy Snyder. [14] “When Mr. Trump calls journalists ‘enemies of the people,’ he’s quoting Joseph Stalin.” And trashing our Constitution his supporters pretend to love.

Absorbing the brunt of The China Shock and incompetent leadership, the Right’s anger is as understandable as the giddy thrill of Trump’s assault on political correctness. What’s not consistent is their moral conversion. The new God is not the old God.

Against Trump, one in four Christian evangelicals have been true to the moral teachings of Jesus, while 3 in 4 betray every major verse we know. [15] Trump’s supporters cheer at his pep rallies when he claims to hit back ten times harder, while Jesus counsels, “Turn the other cheek.” Trump and his sycophants blame everyone but himself for his own failings, rejecting “Pull the plank from your own eye first.” For Trump and his followers, only winning matters, no matter how shameful the means. But, “What good is it to win the world and lose your soul?” And while Trump and his propagandists share and defend his liar’s addiction, Jesus said, “Seek the truth to set you free.” [16] Such duplicity is all the more grotesque for the Right’s deception of their own Savior.

Does this make Trump’s Christian supporters, hypocrites? Not to them. For many, Trump is a “gift from God.” [17] Like Cyrus, King of Persia, who freed captured Jews from Babylon, Trump will free Christian conservatives from liberals. [18] King David was a beast too, but God used him as a tool for good. [19] (Recall, Paul condemned this notion as reprehensible. [20])

Similar excuses are given by the morally vacant Flight 93 Election, [21] and those many email viruses the Right bathes in, like the call to arms penned by Livermore, CA Mayor Dr. Marshall Kamena. [22] Except, of course, per usual, it was written by a Right-wing blogger with poor Kamena’s name attached. But never mind. It’s the ignition of emotions that matter, not truth. As Thomas Paine wrote, when a man so “prostitutes the chastity of his mind…he has prepared himself for commission of every other crime.” [23]

And yet, if a Trump supporting Christian could win a foot race and its million dollar prize for his church to feed the poor, would he cheat? Ride a horse, perhaps, drive a car? Isn’t winning for some greater good what matters? Do immoral means to moral ends pervert those ends? Is this why our Founders gave us the Constitution they did, because process is a moral matter?

So far, that Constitution has stopped Trump’s quest to cure his septic inferiority with dictatorial power. But can that document tame the passion of millions, called by their new Idol and his media lairs to destroy the Founder’s creation? Will it be that immoral fraction of once moral Christians who betrayed their God and our Constitution that lead us to tyranny if it happens? If we American’s ever so fancied ourselves to believe this Republic could never become a totalitarian state, we now see how wrong that is.

America is in the grip of hostile ideologies, hardened with time. As the Right continues its tailspin, their yearning for authoritarianism rises. [24] But eras like this are educational tools. For history, for political philosophy, human psychology, and that all-inclusive topic, the rise and fall of civilizations. Which will it be?

Until next time, Monday July 2, 2018.

[1] Student Protests of the 1970s, Library News, University Of Iowa, 5/4/2010

[2] James Kirchick, How the GOP became the party of Putin, Brookings Institute, July 27, 2017

[3] David H. Autor, David Dorn, Gordon H. Hanson, The China Shock: Learning from Labor-Market Adjustment to Large Changes in Trade, Annu. Rev. Econ. 2016.8:205-240

[4] The Inaugural Address, January 20, 2017

[5] One example of Reagan’s creative thinking came out of his response to MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Instead of the assurance of destroying both sides in a nuclear exchange as a deterrent to war, why not seek to eliminate the threat through a defensive shield: his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Even still, pundits claim this was a failure. And yet, the remarkably successful anti-missile missile PAC-3 (in production and fielded for 20 years), and its follow-on THAAD are products of SDI. The PAC-3 scenario was said to be impossible because “It’s like hitting a bullet with a bullet.” Except bullets don’t travel nearly so fast, nor are they self-guided with pinpoint precision onboard radars. Reagan then leveraged SDI with Mikhail Gorbachev at Reykjavik, resulting in a successful Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987 at Geneva.

[6] Wikipedia: Arnold Toynebee

[7] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, January 19, 2010

[8] JONATHAN RAUCH, How American Politics Went Insane, Atlantic Monthly, JULY/AUGUST 2016

[9] STEWART PATRICK, Global democracy retreats as authoritarianism marches forth, The Hill, 03/04/18

[10] Gideon Rose, Is Democracy Dying, Foreign Affairs, pg. 8, May/June 2018

[11] Cass Sunstein, Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America, Dey Street Books, 2018

[12] BRENT BUDOWSKY, Mueller marches on, while the House GOP covers up, The Hill, 3/13/18

[13] Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt, pg. xxxii, 1985

[14] Timothy Snyder, Donald Trump and the New Dawn of Tyranny, TIME, March 3, 2017

[15] Not all Christian evangelicals support Trump. One in four do not. Some are vociferously opposed and practice the teachings they hold dear. Eric Sammons, Christians' Support For Trump Undermines Their Public Witness, The Federalist, October 12, 2016

Neil J. Young, Dear Evangelicals, A “Begrudging” Vote for Trump Is Still a Vote for Trump, Religion Dispatches, October 4, 2016 Russell Mooresept, Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?, New York Times, September 17, 2015

[16] Mathew 5:39, Mathew 7:5, Mark 8:36, John 8:32

[17] Wayne C. Anderson, Reader's view: Trump a temporary reprieve, gift from God, Duluth News Tribune, Jan 13, 2018

[18] Ed Kilgore, Bibi and the Christian Right Agree: Trump Is the New Cyrus the Great, New York Magazine, March 5, 2018

[19] DAVID FRENCH, Imagining Trump’s Evangelicals in King David’s Time, National Review, March 22, 2018

[20] Paul: Romans 3:8, Bible Hub

[21] Publius Decius Mus, The Flight 93 Election, CRB, September 5, 2016

[22] Publius Decius Mus, Democratic Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena on Donald Trump, Snopes, November 22, 2017

[23] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, pg. 8, Prometheus Books, 1984 (1794)

[24] Charles Kaiser, Can it Happen Here? review: urgent studies in rise of authoritarian America, The Guardian, April 8, 2018 Thomas B. Edsall, The Contract With Authoritarianism, New York Times, April 5, 2018

Revised 2/12/19. Added the tasty description of “boot lickers” for the likes of Nunes, Jordan, Meadows, and Conaway. Individuals we should bronze for their exceptional talents.



March 5, 2018: The light, the power, the glory: kids. But can they save us?

During the close comet encounters of Hyakutake and Hale Bopp in 1996 and '97, I had the good fortune of working at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. The word “work” I use here loosely for two reasons. There was nothing work-like about it, and the pay was $3.12/hour. [1] We on the staff labeled ourselves Griffith’s Volunteers, and we relished the mission—to teach.

Built in 1935 on funds bequeathed by Welsh-born industrialist, philanthropist, and attempted murderer (of his wife) Griffth J. Giffith (1850 – 1919), the Observatory is among the two most remarkable Los Angeles attractions including the Getty Museum. The reason Griffith attracts 1.5 million annual visitors is because it appeals to children. [2] More precisely, to child-like curiosity that resides in each of us if we give it a chance to breathe. Griffith Observatory provides the oxygen. When people discover the place you can see color return to their cheeks.

As “Telescope Demonstrator” I held the most coveted position. An endless talker, thrilled to excite others with science, I could not have found a better setting. The dark confines of a 60 foot diameter dome, punctuated by eerie red lights, and a 200-inch streak of telescope lunged at the sky through a gash in the roof. A telescope more people have peered through than any other on earth, 8 million so far.

Both Hyakutake and Hale Bopp, were back-to-back once-in-a-century events. Even the national media descended when I found myself before PBS Newshour cameras. A three minute interview and address to crowds wrapped around the roof was boiled down to a five second sound bite. I called to the people and pointed at the sky, “That comet tail you see now is sixty times longer than a full moon is wide!” Eighteen hundred miles away in Iowa, my mother saw this with expectations a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was soon to follow.

Visitors set record attendance with up to 1500 per night through the dome. More could have passed, but it was hard for people to leave that small space once they glimpsed their place in the universe. The leading enthusiasts were children. It was kids who provoked adults to remember what it was like to wonder, be amazed, and thirst for more. Be they elderly, romantically obsessed, or gangs who strived to impress their brothers, I remember not one to leave without a sense of urgency. Like they’d just this instant, quite unexpectedly, discovered where the real stars were, and they wanted a piece of it.

Throughout the night I’d return from answering questions, sharing enthusiasm, or the regular wrestling match with Creationists, to a reprise of my intro. “Tonight we travel back in time! We’ll do that because even at 186,000 miles per second—or one foot per nanosecond—it takes time for light to travel space. So you see me now as I was 15 or 20 nanoseconds ago. But 1500 light years that way is Orion Nebula. What you’ll see there, right now, happened about the time the Maya invented zero, Barbarians burned Rome, and Christianity became official in Constantinople. But in astronomical terms, Orion’s in your pocket. The universe is so big you can go back in time 14 billion years and not take a step. So come see the sky. It’s yours. Who else could it belong to? Now questions! I love questions.”

As adults hesitated, children raised their hands in unison like salutes to the sky. “Why is the moon round?” “How long would it take to walk to Jupiter?” “What do you put on a hotdog with mustard and onions?” This last question came from a shy four year old whose father responded to my laughter with, “You asked for questions. You didn’t tell him they had to be about astronomy.”

On one special occasion a small boy raised his hand. I bent my 6’2” frame over the little fellow to say, “A question! I love questions. What’s your question?”

“I know something about astronomy,” he said. And rattled off a series of facts as though read from a book.

“Wait. Stop,” I said. “Follow me.”

I walked to the center of the dome. I pointed at him, and then the space beside me. With a quick check of his mother he left her in line to take his station.

I turned to the crowd and said, “I have just been outdone by a five-year-old.”

“Five and one-half,” the boy said.

After the slightest pause, I responded, “Then five and one-half it is.”

“Am I going to be your helper?” he asked.

“No. You stay here. I’ll stand in line with your mom. You’re the astronomer. This is show town. This is your show. Take it away.”

I stood by his mother as he scanned a long line of people, many much larger than he. He said nothing.

I shrugged and said, “We just want to know what you know. Go.”

And he did. With perfect enunciation, but so tenderly, people in the dome fell mute to listen. The only other sound was that quiet hum of German motors still turning their telescope 60 years on.

As he told his story about galaxies that eat each other, suns that blow up so hard they fall down, and stars so heavy a little bit weighs a lot, patrons huddled about him as though sustained by heat of some cosmic campfire. All as that 200-inch tube scooped light from other worlds with no eyes to catch them. That little boy was center of the universe. [3]

After three or four minutes he was done. He walked to his mother’s side. He held her hand for his turn up stairs to the eyepiece. An elderly woman began to clap. As the audience responded, he looked about to see what they were applauding for.

I shook my head, amazed at yet another of Griffith’s many wonders. In the most hedonistic environment on this planet and beneath that ovation I whispered to myself, “It’s not what you show, it’s what you know.”

I hope the remarkable curiosity of that little boy survived these last twenty-plus years. In that time America has cheated our young people through dogmatic doctrines and their necessary negligence. Creationists have long sought to invade science education with religion because they’re unsettled by the facts of nature, and fear skeptical thinking about their beliefs. As China builds its economy on science, Americans seek to “teach the controversy” between biological evolution and biblical creation. There is no controversy. Other than in the fertile imaginations of Creationists and their Intelligent Designers, yet to understand the first fundamental rule of science enunciated 2600 years ago by Thales: only natural causes allowed. Supernatural powers, miracles, and magic bear no testable predictions, provide no reasoned models of nature, and cannot be refuted. Try building telescopes, radios, or aircraft with that.

Likewise, we now find the science of manmade global warming off limits to parents who prefer their children conform to creeds defined by ideologues. States across the country are in another battle of the books to sanitize them of science. In Idaho’s battle, Representative Scott Syme recently said, “I don’t care if the students come up with a conclusion that the earth is flat—as long as it’s their conclusion, not something that’s told to them.” [4] Math and science demand independent verification and proofs by the student as standard practice. But barred from man-centuries of effort completed before us until every finding is personally validated would freeze all advance. I needn’t prove Newton’s calculus or mechanics to use both in engineering with accurate results. Syme would rather children be wrong than know the truth so long as they got the wrong answer on their own. Remember, Syme is a legislator of laws. Such utter ignorance of science is not a disqualification for office in Idaho, or anywhere else, but rather a badge of honor.

But math and science aren’t the only thing we’ve neglected to teach our young people. According to the Educational Commission of the States, only 17 US states are accountable for civics education. [5] Americans graduate high school with no understanding of self-governance. Is the Constitution superior to statue law? Why are there individual rights to begin with? Why are courts and the legal process so slow? So vacuous is our grasp of self-governance that in 2017 Newsweek reported a quarter of Millennials find democracy a bad or very bad form of government, a third support authoritarianism, one in six favor military rule. [6]

Simultaneously, an embarrassing fraction of campus students have been taught so little of history, philosophy, and the examination of ideas they’re terrified of adult issues easily defeated with open debate. They yearn for intellectual sanitation of “safe spaces” where they can hide from imagined “micro-aggressions” as they shed tears for cameras and university administrators petrified of violating politically correct McCarthyism.

Kids are one of the stellar powers in this universe. They’re born curious. It takes years of training to kill that. Now that we have, can they save us from what we did to them?

Until next time, the first Monday in May.

[1] I have my last check from Rick Tuttle, the Controller of the City of Los Angeles under glass on my desk for one hour at $3.12. Void after 2 years, I’ll not be able to cash it if times get tough.

[2] Griffith Observatory, Griffith Observatory. MISSION: Griffith Observatory inspires everyone to observe, ponder, and understand the sky.

[3] It is quite literally true, that little boy was the center of the universe as is every other location. So fond of this little fellow I was that I incorporated this real life experience into my first novel.

[4] Betsy Z. Russell, Rep. Syme: Don’t care if students conclude earth is flat - as long as it’s their own conclusion, The Spokesman Review, 2/1/18

[5] Jackie Zubrzycki, New 50-State Analysis: Most States Don't Include Civics in Accountability, Newsweek, 12/13/16

[6] REBECCA BURGESS, HAVE MILLENNIALS FALLEN OUT OF LOVE WITH DEMOCRACY? , Newsweek, 9/2/16

Nudged 2/17/19. Added a paragraph break, and indulged myself with one tagline for Idaho politician Scott Syme.



January 1, 2018: Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter: Part II, The Left

This time we look at the assault on science from America’s political Left, concluding with consideration of equivalence between Left and Right in this crusade.

Back in March with Part I of this post we looked at several aspects of America’s assault on science from our political Right. We saw the self-contradiction of denying scientific facts while dependent on them in our daily lives. Even broadcasting denials of science over radio built by it. We looked at the coupling between science and morality through their shared requirement for reason, linking these factors with democratic government. When science is rejected, reason goes with it. Without reason, morality is crippled and capacity for self-governance dependent on moral justice cannot last—the moral matter. “Scientific values of reason,” writes Michael Shermer, “are not the products of liberal democracy, but the producers of it.” [1] Science denial is not merely about defiance of the other Party, or lying in order to regain a sense of control over experts labeled as elites. The American Right does now what Islam did in the 11th century when they found rational thought a threat to the Koran. [2] That anti-rational movement won, and Islam lost their place as cultural light of the world for the last 700 years. Sometimes, social movements, no matter how apparently inane, destroy whole civilizations.

But America’s anti-science struggle didn’t start with the Right. It began with 1950s / 60s French academics on the Left who decided after two world wars that reason was to blame, and to be abandoned. With human senses near bottom in the animal world, how and by what means could the very tool that enabled our survival possibly be jettisoned? The answer came in their creation of postmodernism and the relativism it was based on. Michel Foucault argued that rationality was a coercive regime of oppression. Jacques Derrida sought a non-philosophical philosophy. And Jacques Lacan seized a bit of scientific cachet while debasing it with his declaration of equivalence between “the erectile organ and the square root of negative one.” [3]

Hmm.

But nonsensical ideas require protection. So like any fragile belief, quasi-supernatural powers had to be established to build a space free from rational challenge. As Ferry and Renaut write in their French Philosophy of the Sixties, this was done by “accustoming readers and listeners to the belief that incomprehensibility is a sign of greatness,…that the thinker’s silence before incongruous demands for meaning was not proof of weakness but indication of endurance in the presence of the Unsayable.” [4] Humans were to be freed “from any dependence on the concept of objective truth.” [5]

Once done, as David Stone’s critique is titled, Anything Goes. [6] And it did. Foucault claimed: 1) “There are no facts, only interpretations,” 2) what matters most is not what is said or written, but what is not, and who says it, and 3) with the help of Heidegger, the idea that any truth, “is at the same time and in itself a concealment.” [7] Recalling the argument of the cube which hides three sides no matter from where it’s viewed. Analogous to the violation of physical laws and common sense in the question, “If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?” With previous examination, we needn’t simultaneously see the cube’s other sides to know what’s there.

Of course there’s an element of truth in all three of Foucault’s attempts to relativize reason, but in the hands of absolutism, “the democratic project,” writes Ferry and Renaut, is reframed as “ideology…or metaphysical illusion.” [8] Eventually, not only were postmodernists to expunge rational thought, logic, and science, but all Western “bigotries,” including Western traditions, philosophy, religion, and history. Particular hostility was harbored for the majority, as we recall the US Constitution strives to tame its potential ills, but seen by postmodernists as an innate evil. Instead, they favored a “tyranny of the minority,” victims of a majority, real or imagined.

While this movement colonized American universities in the 60s, it seems to have become significant or dominant in sectors of the humanities by the early ‘90s when Marxism’s flaws finally doomed it as a useful ideology against the West. By 1996 Lawrence Levine could brag that Berkeley reversed white student populations from 68% in 1974 to 37% by 1994, while 75% of America was white at that time. [9] Racism as racism’s cure. As Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. elaborates in his Disuniting of America this new mindset lauds a redefinition of multiculturalism with its preservation of ethnic identity, hostile to the old idea of a melting pot. [10] Where dignity becomes a posture of opposition and self-segregation. From the beachhead of our universities these ideas spread to achieve what in part the Klan failed at after a century of intimidation. Since all movements are counter-movements we shouldn’t be surprised to find a majority of US conservatives now view college education as a national threat. [11]

To show how much venom the Left has for science and scientists, consider the award winning UCLA feminist theorist, Sandra Harding. In her popular university Women’s Studies text she writes, “The best scientific activity and thinking about science are modeled on men’s most misogynistic relations to women—rape, torture, [and] choosing mistresses.” [12] For Harding the equations of Newton and Einstein—F=ma, E=mc2—are gender-laden sexism. [13] Echoing Right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s “wizards of smart,” Harding dismisses “practices of science [as]…sacred commandments.” [14] But if this were so, those cell phones, TVs, ships, satellites, and vaccines wouldn’t work as science predicts they will. One wonders if Harding has access to the fruits of science in her daily drive, work, and healthcare. Like Creationists to Harding’s right, she wants a science indifferent to the way nature really is, exchanged for a creed to make her feel better. And for Harding’s support? “Mainstream thinkers,” she writes, like “Derrida, Foucault, Lacan...” [15] In the end, Harding demands science conform to political, social, and gender-based passions (forget realities of nature) to forge a masculine-free “feminist science,” through what she calls “a painful world-shattering confrontation.” [16] It has a familiar ring.

Like Nazi Science made free of Jews. [17] Stalin’s Proletariat Science that led to Mao’s Great Leap Forward, starving 30-40 million people. And Islamic Science, where Pervez Hoodbhoy reports, papers are “accepted for the Scientific Miracles Conference…of the International Islamic University at Islamabad for their theological correctness.” [18] We won’t build working devices with that, or solve global warming, or combat next year’s flu strain, any more than we would with Harding’s feminist science. There is but one science, revealed in the book of nature. And just as we see on the Right, when science is ditched, reason and morality dependent on it, go down with it.

Christina Hoff Sommers documents one thread of this in The War Against Boys. [19] Sommers showed how irrational dogmas become government policies wrecking human lives when she investigated the Women’s Education Equity Act (WEEA) Publishing Center. With $70 million in tax payer funds, this almost 20 yearlong effort pushed postmodernist policy to education departments across the country. [20] Its critical need was enunciated by then director Katherine Hanson when she claimed that in the US alone: Every year nearly four million women are beaten to death; violence is the leading cause of death among women; the leading perpetrators are men at home. [21] Such numbers were used to prod policy makers to take action against the dangerous nature of boys in school.

But instead of pathologizing boys, a bit of the scientific method and simple math could have avoided a lot of wasted money and terrorized children. Divide 4 million by 365 days in a year and that’s almost 11,000 murders per day in just one country. Based on Hanson’s claim, as of 2014 with 125.9 million women in the US, almost none of them would exist. And as reality would have it, in the year she divined these numbers, heart disease was the leading cause of female death (370,000), followed by cancer (250,000). According to the FBI, the number of female victims of homicide that year was 3,631. [22] Without question a tragic number, but short of 4 million by a multiplicative factor of over 1000.

Such anti-rationalist, anti-science doctrines in their varied forms are taught as Cultural Studies, Women’s Studies, branches of literary criticism, sociology, and revisionist history in university humanities departments across this country. Their credibility garnered from campus proximity to science and engineering where they actually test claims against reality, unprotected by pseudo-religious rules of political correctness. For postmodernist liberals, application of critical reason to their self-contradictions is defended against through accusations of insensitivity. Harding explicitly makes this point, as do campus speech-code-supporting students unprepared for exposure to adult life. Thus creating another victim with, as Bertrand Russell noted, “superior virtue of the oppressed.” One dare not challenge that, like they dare not challenge “the Lord thy God.” [23]

Hence the French root of postmodernism, and its upkeep in America as politically correct McCarthyism. This movement is largely why less than half of the American electorate voted for a well-known thief, draft-dodger, and want-to-be despot for 2016 president—as a counter-movement. They hated the Left more than they feared betrayal of their Savior's teachings. And doing so has revealed the Right’s embrace of Foucault’s ideas that helped build our modern Left. Administration advisor Kellyanne Conway’s now infamous remark that lies are “alternative facts” is a restatement of Foucault’s first point. Foucault’s second, with truth-as-concealment, feeds the Right-wing’s conspiracy fetish and propaganda machine. While both sides the other thanks to Foucault’s prioritization of who makes any truth claim.

Little did our modern Right realize how liberal (and 11th century Islamic) they are. And despite their acceptance of manmade global warming as a scientific fact, little did the Left realize how hostile they are to science, and how similar they are to the Right.

So, who’s more radically anti-science, anti-reason, and thus morally compromised, the Right, or the Left’s intellectually sounding assault on the West? It’s a close contest. Considering the current status of our Culture Wars, I wonder if the Left can see the cost of their assault on science and reason now?

Until next time. The first Monday in March, the 5th, 2018.

[1] Michael Shermer, The Moral Arc: How Science Alex Humanity to Truth Justice and Freedom, Henry Holt and Co, 2015, pg. 135

[2] Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle For Rationality, Zed, 1991

[3] Sokal & Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectual’s Abuse of Science,, Picador, 1998, pg. 27, the quote shown is a truncated summary

[4] Ferry & Renaut, French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on Antihumanism, University of Massachusetts Press, 1990, pg. 14

[5] Sokal & Bricmont, pg. 234

[6] David Stone, Anything Goes, Origins of the Cult of Scientific Irrationalism, Macleay Press, 1998

[7] Madsen & Madsen, 1990, Science & Culture, 56, pg. 471-472, appearing in Sokal & Bricmont, pg. 234. From the Sokal’s hoax itself, making his successful attempt to be published in one of the premier sociological journals by imitating their gibberish.

[8] Ferry & Renaut, pg. xvi

[9] Lawrence Levine, Opening of the American Mind: Canons, Culture, and History, Beacon, 1996, pg. xviii

[10] Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society, Norton, 1992, pg. 16, 43, 80, 92, 116, 118.

[11] Chris Riotta, Majority of Republicans Say Colleges Are Bad For America (Yes, Really), Newsweek, 7/10/2017

[12] Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Feminism, Cornell University Press, 1986, pg. 112

[13] ibid pg. 42

[14] ibid pg. 39. And as this weren’t bad enough, “Those wedded to empiricism,” claims Harding, “will be loath to commit…that the social identity of the observer [makes a difference] in research results.” Pg. 26 Imagine observers making different numeric measurements based on their social identity.

[15] ibid pg. 27

Italics added.

[16] ibid pg. 39

[17] Wikipedia, Deutsche Physik

[18] Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle For Rationality, Zed, 1991, pg. 180. Italics added.

[19] Christina Hoff Sommers, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, Touchstone Simon & Shuster, 2000

[20] WEEA funding http://www2.ed.gov/pubs/Biennial/125.html

[21] Sommers pg. 48

[22] ibid pg. 49

[23] Exodus 20:2

Tweaked 2/17/19.Clarified identity between Left & Right in their crusade against science with separate paragraph.



November 6, 2017: Down in the dark, beneath the American psyche, some of it’s not so bad

In the September 18 issue of New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan asks what it must be like to live in a tribal society like Syria, Iraq, or the Balkans where the smallest difference defines friend or foe. [1] But we already know, he claims, as we live in America. Where the 18th century hope was that emotion could be tamed by reason, and deep divides “bridged by a culture of compromise,” he writes. For Sullivan we have regressed to more primitive origins of our evolution. “Tribalism, it’s worth remembering,” Sullivan notes, “is not one aspect of human experience. It’s the default human experience.”

Sullivan maintains this wasn’t a problem, until recently. “Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy… when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole; when it turns rival tribes into enemies.” It’s also easy. “One of the great attractions of tribalism, is that you don’t actually have to think very much. All you need to know on any given subject is which side you’re on.” A condition that Animal Farm and 1984 author George Orwell characterized as a propensity for self-contradiction and indifference to reality. [2]

Today, American tribes are much more about “what we stand against,” than “what we stand for.” As a naturally superstitious species, our polarization is accentuated by a conspiracy theory mindset nurtured by the internet. As Walter Quattrociocch notes, this mindset is a kind of “quasi-religious mentality.” Where we again occupy a mental space, “a bit like the dawn of humanity, when people attributed divinity to storms.” What he characterizes as our Age of Credulity. [3] Fodder for tribes.

In an On Being podcast, The Righteous Mind author, Jonathan Haidt takes the tribal notion a step deeper into the realm of Richard Dawkin’s selfish gene. [4] But with one of two expressions, each having been essential for human survival. Elsewhere differentiated by selection of individual traits favored by Dawkins, or selection of community traits as offered by E. O. Wilson (much to Dawkins’ irritation). For Haidt, liberal or conservative is a function of one or the other of these encoded behaviors. Haidt has even revealed two of their most defining differences with simple tests of imagery. When viewing dots on a screen, his conservative subjects preferred the dots be cast in an orderly fashion. Liberals preferred a variety of distributions. Order for them, it seemed, was equivalent to confinement, hierarchy, and potential abuse of authority.

For Haidt, the more freedom and prosperity people have with markets that cater to wants, including bias-reinforcing media echo chambers, the more our two personality traits will be self-segregated like some chemical distillate. “So progress,” host Krista Tippet remarked, “leads to incivility.”

Haidt’s hope for remediation is a revival of civics education on America’s long history of Left and Right with the pairings each is most concerned with: order or reform; stability or change; belonging or autonomy; freedom or equality; responsibility or rights. Having abandoned civics education, these are mysteries of the dark arts in America.

From the same classical-liberal camp of Europe’s Enlightenment we can dig beneath the psyche's surface to a time when these competing priorities became hostile thanks to divisions created by the 1789 French Revolution. Which allows for an interesting implication: that America’s culture wars are the extension of a 220 year conflict without (fortunately) a winner. Such are the implications of Yuval Levin’s Great Debate: Edmond Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. Per Levin, “If political ideas are applications of philosophical ideas—of some understanding of what is true and good in life—then serious political debates must be rooted in different philosophical assumptions.” [5] Arguments between Burke and Paine that set our modern stage were about the priorities those assumptions warrant. Balance was and remains the hard part. Too much order is authoritarian. Too much change is destabilizing.

While Paine courses through my blood, I found Burke more convincing. Burke is not opposed to reform, but to save tradition he wants change to be gradual. A pace the community psyche can absorb over slow time so as not to threaten personal bonds. Society for Burke is about people living with others, indebted and responsible, not demanding and entitled. Society has been a centuries-long experiment to find the best way to live. (See the evolution of law commencing with Ur Nammu 2100 BC.) For Burke, we should not dispose of that learning for a return to square one based on some abstract proto-society of the individual alone in a hostile wilderness that so enamored Paine.

But if we’re to reference the earliest living state as “natural man” from which to extrapolate society, as Paine seeks to do, then based on what we now know, isn’t the first proto-society mother and child? Before Hobbes, Locke, and Paine were individuals in a struggle with nature, they were utterly dependent on mother for survival. To the infant, she must be something like God, providing not only sustenance for the body, but some form of meaning through the infant’s own value reflected from the mother. Does this fundamental arrangement lead the growing child to a sense of entitlement and rights, or debt and responsibility? With foreknowledge that individualism’s evolution would lead to the former, and a stronger view of indebtedness, our Founders might have given us a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

While Burke is too tolerant of transgressions by those in power, Paine is anything but. And not without cause. Paine’s witness to corrupt power makes justice and equality his central concern with perpetual reform a requirement of moral societies. If government fails to be the guardian of rights, Paine’s urge is to burn it down, reboot from that time before social relations and hierarchies. As though such a clean slate could exist in reality without a multitude of leftover alliances. Paine seeks to apply the scientific method to civilization, but it can seem like a surrogate for an axe to grind. Like the scientist’s mathematical model, idealized by perfect spheres and unperturbed parabolas, in the field the scientist finds his model an approximation. A myriad of unmodeled phenomena, from the winds of change to irrational human behavior, yield a different answer. While the scientist adds those phenomena for a more precise solution, Paine seems little concerned for lessons learned that Burke would rather preserve. Both sides have valid arguments, and each goes too far. But we’re better for having both than only one or the other.

And richer still for the great debates between Plato and Aristotle over many of the same Western dichotomies. While this ancient duo roams over wider terrain and they crisscross with Burke and Paine, their disputes elucidate “what is true and good in life.” Their philosophical ideas converted to application-as-politics were the West’s first contest between pairs of opposing priorities for the same cause: the best way to live.

In Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light we find Plato’s Republic “…is all about raising that collective order to the highest… [making] the individual’s health and happiness dependent on the larger political community.” [6] Like Burke, “Plato’s philosophy looks constantly backward, to what we were, or what we’ve lost…” While, like Paine, Aristotle’s is “a philosophy of aspiration.” “Steadily looking forward, to what we can be, rather than what we were.” [7]

And yet, for Plato, now crossing paths with Paine, our existence is a cave of illusions to be escaped from for higher principles. Plato’s politics was a quest for “a foundation more elevated and certain than custom, public opinion, and majority rule.” [8] But for Aristotle the pragmatist, as for Burke, what’s so bad about the cave? It’s what we have, where we are, in the here and now that matters most. Let’s work with that.

For over 2000 years the West has debated what is true and good in life, and ultimately from this, speculations about the best way to live. I’m struck by the repeating theme of duality, and I wonder, is this an inflection of the old mind-body problem? And is the mother and child its first biological expression? What the body needs as material; what the mind needs as meaning.

Fundamentally different, the two require different things. Our bodies are in constant competition with the world outside, or think they are. Our genes don’t know there’s another meal in four hours, they want to gorge. Hence, America’s obesity epidemic. Our body’s concern is with the material world. But the mind has other worries. Especially once age and experience with The Great Reality is recognized for what it is. When despite our myriad of distractions it finally dawns on us that each is biodegradable. Who wants an early start in the recycle? As pastor Forest Church once said, religions are a result “Of being alive and having to die.” [9] Our mind knows this and demands a solution. Competition between the material world with existential realities, clouded by hormones, and tamed by age is bound to have different outcomes for different people over time, and thus, which tribe they swear by. While America’s current, perhaps permanent political vulgarities could convert the Pope to a nihilist, fortunately, we have the treasures of Plato, Aristotle, Burke, and Paine. Down in the dark, beneath the American psyche where foundations of substance lie, some of it’s not so bad.

Until next time, Monday, January 1, 2018

[1] Andrew Sullivan, America Wasn’t Built for HumansSeptember 18, 2017, New York Magazine

[2] George Orwell

[3] Walter Quattrociocch, Inside The Echo Chamber, Scientific American, April 2017

[4] On Being

[5] Yuval Levin, Great Debate: Edmond Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, Basic Books, 2014, pg. 43

[6] Arthur Herman The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization, Random House, 2014, pg. 62

[7] ibid pg. 52

[8] ibid pg. 28

[9] Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas, Doubleday, 1989

Revised, 2/17/19. Grammar, and mixed up references.



September 4, 2017: Has America become a nation of liars? [1]

In Kurt Anderson’s September 2017 Atlantic article, How America Lost Its Mind, he argues that 1960s Postmodernist relativism served as an assault on conservatives who did not view their religion, traditions, and values as mere subjectivity. [2] Anderson writes, “…by the 1970s [Michel Foucault] was arguing that rationality itself is a coercive ‘regime of truth’—oppression by other means.” [3] Coupled with what Anderson calls ultra-individualism this became pick-your-own-reality and morality. This relativism also served as training-by-example for Right-wing “alternative facts” used to disempower what they view as liberal elites in science, academia, government, and the press. A construction of the Left which years later would invite Rush Limbaugh, global warming denial, and the Creationism of Intelligent Design from the Right. In a society where so many feel they have lost control, lies are one way to get it back.

Stuart Rachels wrote, “Moral thinking begins when we try to see things as they are… Morality is the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason.” [4] But relativism dismisses “things as they are” as unknowable, in proximity with convictions based on claims to truth. I.e. dangerous, allowing judgment and thus discrimination between good and bad. Compare relativism’s dismissal of social judgment from the Left with our Right-wing’s dismissal of science. [5] With alternative facts, otherwise known as lies, conservatives feel they’ve thrown relativism back in the face of liberals. Ironically, with tools of Enlightenment reason the Postmodernist Left warped reason, while soaked in technology we approach a pre-Enlightenment Middle Ages mindset through imitation of the Left by the Right. [6]

Per Rachels’ warning, crippled moral standards release restrictions on immorality. As Anderson’s article implies, this topic has become something of an American obsession. My own observations of this trend began early. Part “loss of innocence,” part witness to history, my starting point commenced with parents who were products of the Great Depression and WWII. Born later in their lives I was raised like an only child. Well cared for, never hungry, I wanted for little.

At ninety-one, my mother still recalls her embarrassment among other girls at school when each day she revealed the quarter stick of butter for lunch her mother wrapped in newspaper that morning. The sole provision all eight children in her home received after a stale slice of bread with coffee poured over it for breakfast. Yet about the same age in my own life I was convinced the reason I received what I did was because I deserved it.

One evening as a 4 year old I stood in the checkout line behind my mother at the local grocer as she and the clerk made small talk. Loitering, I spied 1 cent Tootsie Rolls displayed quite obviously for me. I casually inspected the most desirable of these identical treats and put five in my pocket. Back home I presented my gift to the family: one Tootsie for each. After the inquisition I was marched to convene with the grocer’s manager. He hovered above me. Head down, I thrust out that tiny hand I had then to expose five kidnap victims as proof of my crime. I cried and apologized before an audience of shoppers. Unsure of further consequences, I begged the punishment not be too severe. Not merely at bedtime, but before the Lord himself in his house I had work to do at church on Sunday—pray for forgiveness.

So it was I received my first lesson that I was not deserving, but lucky. Lucky my parents had the hardships they had without having them myself. As Chantel Delsol wrote, “A people are made by hardship. They are also made by its absence.” [7] Hardship provides moral perspective, a kind of conscience fetched from suffering that is anything but relative. When it comes to morality, abundance can be a curse. Such are the teachings of Buddha and Jesus.

My parent’s pointed me toward what the word morality meant. Such lessons notified me of a standard. They instilled a trust of others, high expectations of their moral stance, and mine. Except for the occasional typically-boy fistfight, I remained under this impression well into adulthood. I’m grateful for that upbringing. I consider it healthy, wholesome, and entirely naïve for the America we live in now.

One adult lesson came from a woman with no higher education. It was from her I formally recognized motivated-morality. Wrongs done by her, her friends, family, or political party were excused. Only other tribes received moral judgment. Values were a matter of utility. After she had an affair with a married man, which she held not to be adultery (she too was married), I severed ties and never saw her again. She was a Christian woman. The kind of Christian with four-square-gospel jubilation for every word of Christ, and paradoxically, the Ten Commandments. By then, I’d left the faith unable to square the Bible’s self-contradiction of love and slaughter in violation of its own morality.

My second adult tutorial came from a man I worked with, educated to the highest level with a PhD. He was not a religious man. Our field is one in which the peer review process makes mistakes public, and not infrequently, embarrassing. This man recast those public embarrassments as conquests. He’d then wait to see if I would endorse his lies to patch his ego and satisfy his required loyalty. For a time I practiced diversion. I changed the subject or complemented something else he did. I began to question my own morality in exchange for peace. The work was fascinating, surroundings like an idealized Lyceum, the minds of others in our group, exceptional. But one by one they peeled away because they knew something I didn’t: rarely are we faced with big events to reveal our moral fiber. Minor transgressions are portentous. Midway among the exodus, jolted by external events, I quit, and moved to California. Years later I heard of an international scandal that made front page news of the Houston Chronicle, centered on the man and place I left behind as it imploded.

About this time Bill Clinton was lying about his sexual escapades to a Grand Jury and inquiring about the definition of “is.” Truth revealed, followers rallied: “We all make mistakes,” “Bill and Monica are in love,” “But he’s our first feminist president.” More irony, and motivated-morality as Senator Packwood from the other party was pursued for his own infidelities. Intensified by my experience I recoiled from these people and their excusers. Immorality and its supporting lies were not confined to my small arena, but played on a national stage.

Then came Iraq. I was back in Texas, part of a research group headed by one of the most devout, moral, honest, and truly good men I’ve ever known. But nationally, lie leaders spun a willfully complicit public, yearning for retribution after the 9/11 terrorist attack. [8] Working for the world’s largest defense contractor I was staggered by how many of the most educated people on earth refused to see blatant violations of reason in our march for Saddam. I made it my duty to correct them. Furious and outspoken I felt the need to tell my supervisor I was not a security risk, and did. All this culminated in a realization that childhood lessons were compromised. Not recognizing I had one, I divorced my tribe and stopped lying for it. [9] Evolving fantasies from 500 tons of invisible yellow cake uranium to WMDs never found before or after the ruse were a crash course in worldwide lying, and most Americans embraced it. Then, we gave birth to ISIS, doomed 4500 US troops, 150,000 Iraqis, $2T, and with zero connection to 9/11, Saddam Hussein, a favor for Osama bin Laden who’d been hoping to kill him for years. [10] The power of lies.

Now, fueled by political correctness, valid populist anger perverted by talk-radio propagandists, and horrid political opposition, 63 million Americans preferred a lifelong liar and thief for what historian Tom Ricks notes as, “certainly the worst president in America history.” [11] After seven months of Trump’s attacks on the Constitution his followers claim to love, the stench of Russian money laundering, Trump’s vulgarity, ignorance, incompetence, and clear mental derangement, who are his most ardent supporters? Three quarters of Christian evangelicals who cheer when Trump hits back “ten times harder;” who relish Trump’s caustic blame of others for his own failures; who endorse his lies in order to patch his fragile ego, parading their loyalty because only winning matters. [12] And yet their Savior urged to “Turn the other cheek,” [13] “Pull the plank from your own eye first,” [14] “The truth will set you free,” [15] not the lie, nor the liar, and “What good is it to win the whole world and lose your soul?” [16] Such people failed to ask if Jesus would embrace such an unrepentant beast. Another adulterer, like Bill Clinton whom these people despise for his adultery.

Before our evolution of relativism, lies, and immorality, the presidency came with expectations of moral character. [17] But Trump was never required to return what he’d stolen. [18] With his mental perversions born to excess, our own Caligula has no moral bearing. [19] Nor does his cult, applying motivated-morality only to others. And it’s these people, not Trump, who matter most. We’ve seen to what ends Trump will go to mend his bottomless complex of inferiority. When Trump is impeached or expunged by the 25th, will this minority whom Trump schools at his rallies retain any decency? If, after impeachment, to hoist his ego Trump makes a call to arms under guise of 2nd Amendment protection from tyranny, will they? History shows, zealot minorities trigger revolutions.

With these examples spanning the political spectrum, the gamut of education, gender, class, believers and non-believers, I ask the obvious question: Has America become a nation of liars?

Of course there are millions of Americans who strive to live honest and moral lives. Among the many examples of courage and compassion as I write this, my friend in Houston tries to rescue dogs belonging to a stranger, trapped by hurricane Harvey. While simultaneously from my radio Rush Limbaugh establishes the day’s false premise: humans don’t create hurricanes (ignoring exacerbation), thus any association of Harvey’s record rainfall with the “global warming hoax” is also a hoax. Conflating storm category with rainfall, Harvey “is not unprecedented,” he says. “Everything in America’s been politicized, folks.” [20]

Harvey beat the old record by 4 inches. Liars make every circumstance conform to their distorted morality.

Until next time, the first Monday in November the 6th.

[1] Such a question demands the question, Does this apply to the claimant?

[2]Kurt Anderson, How America Lost Its Mind, The Atlantic Monthly, September, 2017

[3] Relativism might be said to begin with David Hume (1711-1776) who claimed that "reason is slave to passions." A fact that apparently did not apply to him.

[4] Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 6th Ed. McGraw Hill, 2010

[5] Brett Williams, Why America’s anti-science is a moral matter. Part I: The Right, March 6, 2017

[6] Of course, rejection of reason is selective for both sides, depending on convenience and party creed.

[7] Chantal Delsol Icarus Fallen: The Search For Meaning In An Uncertain World, ISI Books, 2003

[8] For a fascinating tour of Iraq War immorality, see PBS FRONTINE, The Secret History of Isis. Corrupted mostly by Vice President Dick Cheney, the scandal took a large step when Cheney swapped a CIA report destined for Collin Powell's UN speech with a fabricated report more incendiary. CIA consensus was that Saddam Hussein had no connection to Al Zarkawi in Iraq whom Osama bin Laden himself disavowed. What Powel read instead was the lie that Saddam and Al-Zarkawi-as-Al-Queda were affiliated, 21 times. As Treasury Secretary and required security meeting attendant Paul O’Neil said, "Taking down Saddam was Topic A ten days after inauguration." CBS News, Bush Sought 'Way' to Invade Iraq, Jan 9, 2004. As the Al Queda connection frayed the mission became to cleanse Iraq of WMDs. But if we wanted to remove such weapons, why not pay a visit to China, Russia, India, Pakistan, or Israel? One: because they can fight back. Two: because that was not Topic A. All to compensate for the humiliation of a desert tribe’s success against the world’s superpower.

[9] As noted in a previous post, my work and its search for truth in nature was the backdrop. Iraq was in the foreground.

[10] Daniel Benjamin, Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda Are Not Allies, September, 30, 2002

[11] On Point with Tom Ashbrook, A Historical Perspective On Trump's White House, August 26, 2017

[12] Not all Christian evangelicals support Trump. One in four do not. Some are vociferously opposed and practice the teachings they hold dear. Eric Sammons, Christians' Support For Trump Undermines Their Public Witness, The Federalist, October 12, 2016 Neil J. Young, Dear Evangelicals, A “Begrudging” Vote for Trump Is Still a Vote for Trump, Religion Dispatches, October 4, 2016 Russell Mooresept, Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?, New York Times, September 17, 2015

[13] Mathew 5:39

[14] Mathew 7:5

[15] John 8:32

[16] Mark 8:36

[17] With five Vietnam deferments, Trump claims to have been a "brave soldier" in his "personal Vietnam" for not acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. He now awards the Medal of Honor.

[18] Except, so far as we know, $25M returned to students defrauded by his Trump University. For which he remarked, "I got a great deal." Either he did and thus defrauded more money than he lost, or this is it another of his automatic lies to patch his inferiority complex. See more here.

[19] Nicholas Kristof, There Once Was Great Nation With an Unstable Leader, August 26, 2017. People Magazine, Trump Boasted of Avoiding STDs While Dating: Vaginas Are 'Landmines … It Is My Personal Vietnam', October 28, 2016

[20] Rush Limbaugh, Monday August 28, 2017. Notice how Limbaugh conflates storm category 4, which the 1900 Galveston hurricane reached, as have others, in order to say there's no global warming influence on Harvey. Hurricane category is defined by wind speed, not rainfall. Harvey is the current record. Galveston is not in the top 10 Texas hurricane rainfall maximums.

Revised 2/17/19. Changed ASCII quote type, and added Mark 8:36. CanNOT believe I missed that opportunity to skewer my old tribe for their betrayal and hypocrisy. And to imagine I once thought this my best written post. Horrifying.



July 3, 2017: I just can't shake that dual nature thing

Sometimes, like today, I ask myself, "Did I do the right thing?" My cats and dogs now own me. My house and yard enslave me. Hundreds of books call me day and night from the shelves for attention. Before that thing happened, I let these matters go. While pressed by schedules, rushed by deadlines, comrades rang my home office to ask, "Does that design work, or not?"

I had excuses for an unkempt house, an unmowed lawn, and why I failed to give Scooby and Tiger their walk as they sat side by side staring at me. And just for emphasis, Cooty, the cat who managed house affairs, sat behind them, adding a pair of eyes to the plea. But I was busy being responsible. They wanted daddy to make money for food and treats, "Right, kitty, kitty?"

But then, a few years ago, that thing happened. It was a decision. Some neurons in my head activated somehow. They began to form new connections, and all sorts of biochemical things commenced that I've yet to read about. This lead to new networks that generated new ideas, and those ideas stimulated emotions, and those emotions told my body to start moving in the outside world.

Now, I'm not so sure those neurons are really my own, but whoever they belong to, here's what they said, "Leave a good paying, highly respected position, where you know and enjoy what you're doing, and go do things that pay nothing, garner no respect, where you know very little." As a founder of artificial intelligence, Marvin Minsky, once said, "Its so thrilling not to know how to do something." My neurons reminded me of that. And so it was, from this strange sequence of events I left my career behind to make time for one of the most impractical endeavors to the American mind: the pursuit of art and the humanities.

What?

Why?

For one, art and science share the same transcendent experience. On those deep dives into reality when its laws become murky, one is filled with anticipation. Until those neurons link, and you're plugged directly into nature. It's electric. Ditto for art. For me it's painting, writing, and studies in history with the philosophy that attends it, as well written books are obviously fine art. Each time I hit that brush stroke that works, craft a line of my own that says it all, or discover history I never knew in a book, I want to jump to the window and shout to the neighbors, "Did you see that?"

"Art," Picasso said, "is the lie that tells the truth." About us. That's why myths work, great paintings, music, novels, sculpture, and high poetry that rhymes, like Pushkin. [1] Science is the avenue to Truth in nature. Art, the avenue to Truth in humans. And that's the other reason I decided to pursue it. It's that nature, human nature, that I decided to focus on because it's so murky, and odd, I can't stop staring at it, filled with anticipation, in wait of that connection that explains us.

At the heart of our oddity is this dual nature thing we pondered last time. Remember E.O. Wilson's hypothesis, that we evolved through natural selection of individual survival traits, and group (community) survival traits. If true, selfishness and selflessness are woven together in the genes.

This dichotomy in humans is reminiscent, only by analogy, of another in physics: wave particle duality in the atomic world. [2] Wave particle duality can be demonstrated by a common college experiment. Cut open two slits in an opaque card. Let the card intercept a laser beam so dim that just one photon of light at a time passes through the slits. Beyond the card place a photodiode array that clicks each time a photon strikes. Let this go on for a while and what shows up on the array? A pattern created by interfering waves. Like the interference of waves off the bow of two boats (by analogy, two slits in the card). If their wave peaks meet in phase, they produce a “freak” wave, added together, twice as big. If they meet out of phase, they subtract to flatten the water’s surface. Yet the photodiode clicked each time a photon hit. It’s a particle. But if so, how can an individual photon interfere with itself from the other slit as though it were a wave? Doesn’t it have to pick one slit or the other to pass through? Dual nature in the quantum world—kooky. Like humans are kooky.

Through human history we see civilizations emphasize one component of human nature or the other, then battle back and forth between the two. The ancient Hebrews chose a stern and ridged spirituality that fostered belonging and survival in a harsh desert surrounded by hostile powers. At the same time, in their own rocky terrain, Greeks lavished their monuments with nude statues, worshiped the power of mathematics, and threatened their own belonging with philosophy that never stops asking if what we think is true is true. To the Hebrews, dogma was to be obeyed. For the Greeks, dogma was to be challenged. It’s the problem of Athens and Jerusalem. Violent collisions between these outlooks are a repeating theme in history. We see this dual nature today in America’s hyper-polarization: belongers vs. individualists, believers vs. skeptics, decisive-seat-of-the-pants-no-nonsense-doers vs. experts.

Michael Shermer and Chantal Delsol-whom we met last time-demonstrate this concerning that fundamental element of Western political philosophy, individual rights. "The Rights Revolution of the past three centuries," writes Shermer, "have focused almost entirely on the freedom of individuals, not collectives... The first principle of survival and flourishing of sentient beings is grounded in the biological fact that the discrete organism is the principal target of natural selection and social evolution, not the group... This drive to survive...and therefore freedom to pursue the fulfillment of that essence is a natural right." [3] While for Delsol, "We suffer from the illusion that democracy's destiny will be fulfilled if we apply its mechanisms on the widest scale possible. We cling to the illusion that this will happen if we expand its founding principles to the utmost...with no exceptions and no limitations, convinced any expansion of rights corresponds to progress." While religious man held each moment of this life as a mold for the next, ideological man thought his work for a "radiant future symbolically inscribed his acts...in an immortal future society," says Delsol. "Contemporary man no longer has at his disposal anything more than his own limited existence, of which his death constitutes the absolute end, not only biologically, but spiritually, socially, symbolically." [4]

I absolutely, positively agree with...

Both.

Central to political philosophy (which is what this blog is supposed to be about) stands the question, What is the right way for humans to live so we might flourish, as Aristotle urged. Two thousand years later with the same concern for our dual nature in mind, Alexander Hamilton asked if societies are capable of "establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend...on accident and force." [5] And still we don't know.

So on days like today, I wonder, should I have stayed with rocket science where problems are easy? Is the study of art and the humanities really going to help answer deeper questions about humans? Maybe that was a rogue neuron.

Until next time. The first Monday of September, the 4th, 2017.

[1] Michael Polanyi, Meaning, University of Chicago Press, 1975

Rhyme, says Polanyi, is the intentional separation of words from their factual use in information exchange, converted by rhyme to a transcendent state, toward that of music and myth. While modern poetry is a short story read in staccato cadence.

[2] Despite wild claims and fortunes made by Deepak Chopra, but for devices made from quantum laws, they apply only to the quantum world.

[3] Michael Shermer Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, And Freedom, Holt and Company, 2015, pg.12-13

[4] Chantal Delsol Icarus Fallen: The Search For Meaning In An Uncertain World, ISI Books, 2003> pg. 121, 176

[5] Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist, #1, Random House Modern Library, (1787-1788), pg. 3

Word smithed for clarity, 1/27/19.



May 1, 2017: Shermer vs. Delsol, Liberation or Dispossession?

Rather than continue the examination of moral implications from America's anti-science movement, this time from the Left, I decided to first consider two books stark in their opposition. Their focus is one of two paramount issues of our age: the status of the human condition. Of course this reflects every human endeavor, including that other great issue: planetary assault causing earth's sixth great extinction now underway thanks to human overpopulation, myself included. [1] The books are Michael Shermer's The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, and Chantal Delsol's Icarus Fallen: The Search For Meaning In An Uncertain World. [2] This post serves merely as an introduction to their thought.

Though a very approximate summation, Shermer sees the world materially, practically, quantifiably, like Aristotle. Delsol sees the world spiritually, existentially, qualitatively, like Plato. While Shermer pays lip-service to community, to him we're a species of individuals. For Delsol this outlook comes with negative consequences that permeate and threaten the West. While Shermer acknowledges we have problems, we now know how to solve them with science and reason. For Delsol, the way we solved our problems killed our humanity. For Shermer, reason has come far but remains in dreadfully short supply. For Delsol, the penetration of reason is radical and incomplete only in failing to recognize its own limits. For Shermer Western civilization is more peaceful, stable, comfortable, knowledgeable, richer with more stuff, longer healthier lives, and we have rights coming out of our ears, no longer under the thumb of a despot. We have Enlightenment to thank for a way out of humanity's long bondage to circumstance. While Delsol writes, "Why do people seem so dissatisfied when so many, in the West at least, have acquired everything they reasonably need to be happy?" Rather than bondage to circumstance, it is precisely ancient man's acceptance of both his ineluctable condition (mostly this means death) and his persistent need to escape it that gave meaning through acceptance and hope. Hope not of escape from that ultimate human fate as modernity attempted and failed, but a hope to cope with this first fact of life through traditions built non-rationally, not irrationally. Modernity's intolerance for the realities of life have made us tyrants of another sort for Delsol, determined to torch what gave us meaning because we've decided that conviction to concepts which granted significance are dangerous (religion, patriotism, heroism). Likewise, we have Enlightenment to thank for this mistake.

For Delsol, real life is full of contradictions, some of which are necessary as a state of existence. They cannot be made to universally vanish for utopia unless we do what we did: deny contradictions exist by relativistic means. Like good and evil are merely matters of culture bound opinion, or by creating social tyrannies of oppression like political correctness. Instead, traditional ways established over centuries of trial and error addressed these natural contradictions with countermeasures. "Religious thought," writes Delsol, "explained the permanence of temporal imperfection and thereby legitimized the necessity of a moral code, politics, and all the other structuring antinomies [i.e. contradictions between two apparently correct solutions]..." For Delsol, religion with its promise in the face of despair, politics with its command structure, not perfect equality, and economics with winners and losers are a bit like checks and balances in Constitutional governance. Each branch can step on the other's territory. Battles emerge over important issues as the victors ebb and flow. A messy, but organic not analytical, leveling act that attenuates too much oscillation of naturally unstable humans.

I often challenge the blatant contradiction of those who simultaneously embrace capitalist selfishness, and Christian selflessness. But Delsol says, that's life. And for reasons modern arguments miss. For example, profit is capitalism's reward for hard work, innovation, and service. But along the way to profit, some are inevitably left with less. On a broad scale there will be rich and there will be poor, an apparent injustice. Isn't there some way to fix this? One is, "A kind of happy austerity," writes Delsol, "in which desires would be limited in proportion to available goods, imagining that people would be content with a bare minimum made palatable by the attainment of equality for all." A socialist solution - while far from the only option - that not only ignores the reality of imperfect existence but denies yearning for reward and recognition. It's a flawed definition of human nature, or an expectation that human nature will conform to a higher calling if only ideals of equality could override natural emotions. Here Delsol echoes Michael Polanyi who asserts that only if we manage to abandon moral perfectionism can we come to accept reality. [3]

But moral imperfection is hard for Enlightenment moderns to accept. Enlightenment thought has been so successful in providing solutions for everything from spaceflight to the Founder's Constitution, why would any stone be left unturned if justice is a fundamental human desire? Though patient, Shermer's vision seeks to turn those stones, expanding the moral sphere as dictated by reason wherever it leads. This includes those animals whose brain structure and emotional function science has found to be little or no different from our own. [4] To Shermer, Deslol's non-rational solution looks like a method without a plan, destined for that good old time abuse. For him, our moral gains didn't come from tradition, least of all religion. "Most of the moral development of the past several centuries," Shermer writes, "has been the result of secular not religious forces... The most important of these that emerged from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment are science and reason... The moral universe bends not merely toward justice, but also toward truth and freedom... the product of societies moving toward more secular forms of governance..." His survey of the religious backdrop and participation in "witch" burning 60,000-100,000 women, and the disembowelment of heretics is enough to make even the Internet generation blanch. And must we be reminded of abject immorality in a God who murders first born toddlers and children of Egypt in Exodus? Even first born of livestock. Where's that external objective morality Delsol frees from the flimsy intrusion of reason? For Shermer, these examples show what doesn't work. And regardless of whether or not God exists, humans are not good at practicing what they preach. There's a better way, and Shermer says we know as fact what that is. Time to leave the Middle Ages behind, not go back to it.

Certainly there seems support in Delsol's argument for contradiction in humans themselves. We want love and independence, belonging and autonomy, someone of extraordinary measure to look up to, often combined with insecurity that hopes to pull those people down. If, as E.O. Wilson claims, natural selection filtered us by gene traits expressed through individuals and by group traits expressed through community and culture, then these contradictions are built in. [5] Hardwired to express individualism and selfishness (greed), or community and altruism of selflessness (virtue). In that case, Shermer and Delsol argue for one side or the other of our dual nature. But which way is right for the world we're in? Or is there a solution waiting to be discovered that unifies both? Do humans have a capacity for balance?

Until next time. Monday, July 3rd, 2017.

[1] Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Picador, 2015

[2]Michael Shermer Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, And Freedom, Holt and Company, 2015. Chantal Delsol Icarus Fallen: The Search For Meaning In An Uncertain World, ISI Books, 2003

[3] Michael Polanyi, Meaning, University of Chicago Press, 1975

[4] The Cambridge Statement on Animal Consciousness, in Marc Bekoff, Animals are conscious and should be treated as such, New Scientist, September 2012

[5] E.O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence, Liveright, 2015

Added two word, 1/27/19. I know, it's crazy.



March 6, 2017: Why America’s anti-science movement is a moral matter. Part I: The Right

For half a millennia the many varied nations of Islam were the greatest cultures on earth. Science, mathematics, architecture, and economics all thrived in Islam, while “in the West, Charlemagne and his lords, were dabbling in the art of writing their names.” [1] As tribunals sentenced sixty thousand “witches” drowned or burned at the stake, Islam shined through Europe’s Dark Ages.

But Islam’s Golden Age didn’t last. Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg notes, by the 11th century, extremists opened the door “to complete destruction of science and scientists.” [2] According to Pakistani physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy some in Islam began to proclaim “a holy war against Rationalism… against the upholders of reason and advocates of philosophy and science.” [3] Cultural suicide accelerated when Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) provided political power needed to destroy rational thinking. [4] He won. Islam lost. By 1258 Mongols sacked Baghdad. By 1492 the Iberian Peninsula surrendered. Islam silenced itself when it abandoned science.

But could science really be that important? Or is it related to something more?

Fast forward 500 years to Rush Limbaugh’s own holy war against science and scientists as, he claims, “One of the four corners of deceit.” [5] In Limbaugh’s quest for class conflict we hear scientists belong to those “wizards of smart.” The rest of us are “the hicks, the little people.” [6] This vilification is broadcast to millions over radio waves discovered by science, on electronics built by science.

This hostile paradox is widespread and dominates powerful places. Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe claims global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against the American people.” [7] He’s chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Texas Republican Representative and science denier Lamar Smith has built his reputation on harassment of climate scientists and attorneys general with 25 subpoenas, from a committee that issued only one since its creation in 1958. [8] Smith is chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. The irony.

These are people who fly on jet aircraft, use smart phones, and light emitting diodes not candles to read by. They laud capitalism, innovation, and entrepreneurs dependent on science to create wealth. They favor a strong military, contingent on science and its technology to defend this nation. A nation they claim to love, most notably its Founders, all of them products of Europe’s scientific Enlightenment. The founder of electrical sciences, Ben Franklin; naturalist and inventor, Thomas Jefferson; Hamilton, Madison, and Jay with scientific analogies to proper governance in their Federalist Papers. More irony.

Or is it? Tocqueville found Americans so busy that we’re suspect of elaborate explanations. [9] We prefer quick, easily ingestible answers (sound bites). As a can-do nation from the Frontier onwards, Americans harbored an anti-intellectual posture from the beginning. Hence, America’s science deniers hoodwink a scientifically naive public without much resistance. Such habit and influence opens the door for destruction of science and scientists because reality is more complex than a morsel.

It’s also more interesting. Consider that family of atoms in the form of a molecule called carbon dioxide. This greenhouse gas is made of one carbon, two oxygen: CO2. Atmospheric CO2 rose past 400 parts per million in 2016. [10] Sounds small. Until one calculates the total volume of earth’s atmosphere to find an astounding 40 gigaton CO2 increase per year. [11] And a commensurate decrease in breathable oxygen combined with carbon that takes place when burned. [12]

But how do we know this atmospheric CO2 came from humans? Answer: the type of carbon atom found in that molecule. They’re not all the same. There’s a carbon atom with 12 particles in its nucleus, C12, and another with 14, C14. C14 is created in earth’s upper atmosphere every day when C12 gets stuck with two extra particles it didn’t want. [13] Half the C14 created today will cast out those visitors through radioactive decay in about 6000 years, its half-life. This division by half continues until after 60,000 years no C14 made today will remain. Were today’s excess carbon dioxide from natural sources it would have todays C14 signature. It doesn’t. [14] Under well understood chemistry, millions of years of carbon rich plant burials gave us coal, buried marine plankton gave us oil, and none of it has C14. Just like the dearth of C14 atoms in that carbon dioxide molecule measured from our atmosphere. And what’s more, the weight of all that annually added carbon equals the weight of annual fossil fuel inventories burned the world over. [15] A human imprint on global warming. One of hundreds. On January 18, 2017, NOAA, NASA, and UK’s Hadley Center announced from different data sets our hottest year since 1880 data gathering began. And 16 of our 17 hottest years were since 2000. [16]

If you didn’t know any of this, does that make you “a hick,” a “little person?” I didn’t know it either, until I did. Now I do. So do you. Feel like a “wizard of smart?” I don’t. But once known, plans can be made, policy, action, designs for new industries that turn engineers lose on global warming constraints as an invitation to innovate and get rich. The way China dominates solar markets while America drags its heels because science is evil and nature is a liberal. While Congress remains rooted in old technologies that fund their campaigns, China crafts the Asian Century the same way America crafted the last one—with science. In January 2017, China announced a $361 billion program to build clean energies and create 13 million new jobs. [17]

The same science used to build high-tech society is precisely the same that shows human caused global warming a fact: physics, chemistry, biology. The same science that put man on the moon, made iPhones, and pharmaceuticals. Yet many Americans think global warming science is different from other science. A fallacy facilitated by descendants of Islam’s Al-Ghazali from our own conservative Right with their “alternative facts.” As Voltaire (1694-1778) said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” [18]

As Stuart Rachels wrote, “Moral thinking begins when we try to see things as they are… Morality is the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason…” [19] But rejection of science is rejection of reason. Without reason, moral judgment is crippled. And this is where America’s anti-science movement links to larger issues.

The connection becomes apparent in tight coupling between science and reason with morality and self-governance. From the reasoned basis for moral judgment comes a realization that not only must the ends be rational and moral but the means to an end must be rational and moral. Our Founders implemented a system that placed how we arrive at results on an equal, sometimes higher plain of morality than their ends, which may be merely practical, but no less critical for stable governance. This process depends on right-reason, not motivated-reason which is not reason as we saw last time. Likewise, on right-morality vs. motivated-morality which is not moral. Both require truth. Truth requires reason. But a sizable fraction of America has abandoned truth and reason, and thus the Founder’s foundation that depends on it.

The evolving corruption of this moral package was bound to have effects on the ground. And it did. Thanks to Hillary Clinton’s untrustworthy nature, decimation of American manufacturing, and threatened by politically correct assaults on tradition, Americans abandoned their traditions to choose the liar from a field of 17 Republicans for president. [20] The Republican conservative Right has defrauded everything they once stood for, from Reagan’s capacity for compromise, to the Founder’s scientific thinking, to Jesus Christ himself. For in John, Jesus did not say “Seek the lie and it will set you free.” Nor “Seek the liar.” [21] Trump’s lies were a welcomed insult to facts and experts many Americans have come to hate. As Foreign Affairs contributor Tom Nichols puts it, “Americans have reached a point where ignorance…is seen as an actual virtue. To reject advice of experts is to assert autonomy…and insulate their increasingly fragile egos.” [22] A fascinating confluence between the excesses of individualism and consequent yearnings for a tribe. [23] And should Christians among the conservatives reject our Founders method by deciding that any means justify the ends, they’ve conveniently forgotten it was Paul who condemned “Let us do evil, so good may come.” [24] Trump’s theft of other people’s property, his decades association with the mafia, and his vulgar immoralities complete with the smell of treason were embraced because Trump appealed to emotional excess that irrational populism thrives on. [25] (Which is not to say Trump won’t succeed materially. [26]) All of this exposes moral decay for a party that once referred to itself as the Moral Majority.

But the Right is not a monolith. Even Right-wing Glen Beck labeled Trump a sociopath. [27] And Bush Administration attorney Eliot Cohen wrote in his acid bath blistering of Republicans, they are engaged in “moral self-destruction.” [28]

That Trump is a carnival barker or a hopeful dictator is less important than what this reveals about America. We’ve arrived at an historic moment when a beast is welcomed for leadership by almost half the voting public. The direction of governance that America now moves in is not what the Founders founded. As Michael Shermer notes, they gave us a methodology, not an ideology. The opposite of what we now see as it was a method of scientific thinking. “Scientific values of reason,” writes Shermer, “are not the products of liberal democracy, but the producers of it.” [29]

With Congress already in pursuit, like 12th century Islam, Trump has commenced another witch hunt for scientists. [30] Intellectuals are first to be purged in all authoritarian regimes. A regime welcomed by America’s Right because they have betrayed Western ideals they once championed. It should be no surprise they would imperil the Republic the way Al-Ghazali did his own. The Right’s attack on science is symptomatic of moral bankruptcy, and part of a much larger depravity. If institutions and norms our science-minded Founders founded on reason, truth, and trust don’t survive, it won’t get better.

Until next time, Monday May 1, 2017.

[1] Steven Weinberg To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science, Harper Perennial, 2016, pg. 105.

[2] Weinberg., pg. 120.

[3] Pervez Hoodbhoy, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle For Rationality, Zed, 1991, pg. 120.

[4] Hoodbhoy, pg. 126.

[5] Rush Limbaugh, "The Four Corners of Deceit are government, academia, science, and the media," in The Four Corners of Deceit: Prominent Liberal Social Psychologist Made It All Up, Apr 29, 2013. Heather Horn, Is the Right Wing Anti-Science?, The Atlantic, 9.10.2010.

[6] Rush Limbaugh, Wizards of Smart, Limbaugh Letter, January 1994.

[7] Brad Johnson, Inhofe: God Says Global Warming Is A Hoax, ThinkProgress, March 9, 2012. Wikipedia, Jim Inhofe.

[8] Lisa Rein, House science chairman gets heat in Texas race for being a global warming skeptic, Washington Post, November 7, 2016. Phil Plait, Scientists Stand Up To Congressional Attacks , SLATE, June 2, 2016.

[9] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America, Mentor, 1984 (1840)

[10] Brian Kahn, The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently, Climate Central, September 27, 2016.

[11] Note dates on data as measured CO2 increases over time. See links from this article for the deeper science: Phil Plait, Did I Say 30 Billion Tons of CO2 a Year? I Meant 40.,SLATE, AUG. 20 2014.

[12] O2 decrease with carbon combustion is given in this article which also addresses other proxies including ocean and plant absorptions with some basic accounting. What is causing the increase in atmospheric CO2?, Skeptical Science.

[13] Marshall Brain, How Carbon-14 Dating Works, How Stuff Works.

[14] Solomon et. al., PDF: Are the Increases in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide and Other Greenhouse Gases During the Industrial Era Caused by Human Activities?, IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Richard Hilderman, Fossil Fuel and Atmospheric Levels of Carbon Dioxide, Mother Earth News, 1/9/2011. Prentice et. al., Climate Change 2001: Working Group I: The Scientific Basis, IPCC, 2001. Note the accounting for volcanic and Mid-Ocean ridge CO2, quite natural and also without current C14 signatures. John Cook, Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans?, Skeptical Science, July 6, 2015.

[15] John Cook. See Figure 1 for graphical representation. The human fingerprint in global warming, Skeptical Science, July 2015.

Above references Carbon Information Analysis Center, breakdown by annual output worldwide and by nation. CIACA, Note to get CO2 weight from weight of carbon burned multiply by 3.667 for carbon’s combination with O2.

[16] Chris Mooney, U.S. scientists officially declare 2016 the hottest year on record. That makes three in a row., Washington Post, January 18, 2017. Hottest Years: Instrumental temperature record, Wikipedia.

[17] Reuters, China to plow $361 billion into renewable fuel by 2020, GLOBAL ENERGY NEWS, Thu Jan 5, 2017.

[18] Voltaire , Miracles and Idolatry, Penguin, 2005 (1765).

[19] Stuart Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 6th Ed. McGraw Hill, 2010.

[20] Donald Trump, Donald Trump's file, POLITIFACT. FRONTLINE, President Trump, PBS, January 3, 2017. Donald Trump, Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women, New York Times, OCT. 8, 2016.

[21] John 8:32.

[22] Tom Nichols, How America Lost Faith in Expertise: And Why That's a Giant Problem, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2017.

[23] We might wonder if a psychological feedback mechanism is at work between individualism and dogmas. Evolution of individualism has rendered American’s ever more isolated, stripped of belonging, and hence of meaning. This hinges on an assumption that meaning comes from without, from the value we have to others reflected back at us in face-to-face relations of true communities which no longer exist. Individual purpose, on the other hand, comes from within – we make it up: work, tasks, acquisitions, displays. Purpose and meaning are not necessarily mutually exclusive, one can lead to the other. But with greater isolation, dogma gives us a sense of recovered belonging through a tribal affiliation. In modern America this does not lead to true communities, but to abstract affiliations, usually through the internet, occasionally a temporary interaction between strangers at a protest. So dogma fails to provide community, rigidifies our views, and increases individualistic isolation. Two books related to this matter are Louis Dumont’s Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective, University of Chicago Press, 1992 (1986), and Eric Hoffer’s True Believer: On the Nature of Mass Movements, Harper Perennial, 1966.

[24] Romans 3:8.

[25] Michael Rothfeld and Alexandra Berzon, Donald Trump and the Mob, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 1, 2016.

David Cay Johnston, Just What Were Donald Trump's Ties to the Mob?, POLITICO, May 22, 2016.

David Corn, A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump, Mother Jones, Oct. 31, 2016.

[26] Should we suspend moral appraisal as we await Trump’s material performance? After all, reckless abandon common to populism earns early, costs late as it did Hugo Chavez. Presumably another favorite of Trump, not through imitation alone, but by his stated admiration for despotic murders Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong-un, and Vladimir Putin, who has found no greater alley against the West. Such ethics make the Right no different from the Left they assail for claiming moral relativity as protection from conservative judgment. Despite his national budget surplus, Bill Clinton remains an exhibit for moral degeneracy according to the very conservatives ignoring Trump’s adultery. Motivated-morality judges only the other Party, and gives our own a pass. For Trump’s fondness for dictators see, MEGHAN KENEALLY, 5 Controversial Dictators and Leaders Donald Trump Has Praised, ABC News, Jul 6, 2016.

[27] Tré Goins-Phillips, Glenn Beck explains why he thinks Donald Trump is a ‘sociopath’, The BLAZE, Oct 24, 2016.

[28] Eliot Cohen, A Clarifying Moment in American History, The Atlantic, Jan 29, 2017.

[29] Michael Shermer, The Moral Arc: How Science Alex Humanity to Truth Justice and Freedom, Henry Holt and Co, 2015, pg. 135.

[30] Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, Trump transition team for Energy Department seeks names of employees involved in climate meetings , Washington Post, December 9, 2016. Then Transition pulls back., Jan 24, 2017. Reuters, Trump administration seeks to muzzle U.S. agency employees , Washington Post, ???, 2016.

Alex Kirby, Trump seeks to gag US scientists, Climate News Network, January 26, 2017.



January 2, 2017: Revenge politics: America’s Culture Wars just get hotter

America’s November 8, 2016 presidential election was not a tectonic shift, it was a supernova. From years of wide-ranging observations, wondering where this would end, this essay descends from political philosophy to politics. One thing is clear, both Right and Left find right-reason an obstacle. We live in an age of emotion now, the Clan Age.

Last time we considered systemic flaws in America’s political system. A system incrementally revamped toward direct democracy in opposition to what our Founders created: stable governance of, by, and for naturally unstable humans. Reason will always be in combat with passion because humans are first and foremost emotional creatures, not intellects. Yet we can check emotions with institutional barriers to block us when emotion takes over as we know it will. The Founders invented a system to save us from ourselves.

They knew the difference between right-reason and motivated-reason. Right-reason accepts evidence for reality, regardless of how it makes us feel. It accepts evidence conditionally, as new discoveries can modify understanding, or even upend it. This does not necessarily make what we know incorrect, but incomplete. Newton’s laws were incomplete without Einstein. And yet we use Newton to build devices that work, more today than ever, because his laws apply to our everyday world. On the other hand, motivated-reason in such abundance today, accepts only that evidence supporting what we already believe, rejecting evidence that makes us uneasy. Devices engineered to this standard wouldn’t function. But just such a design now dominates America. Welcome to America’s revenge politics, a reflection of our Culture Wars.

Democratic forms of governance around the world are threatened for the same reasons. The Economist, headlined What’s gone wrong with democracy, blames lost jobs to China, and economic upheaval of the 2007 crash. Since the Great Recession democracies have inched backward as the number of free people declines. [1]

Foreign Affairs journal multiplies our suspects with the rise of authoritarian populism. Populism further stimulated by incompetent leadership, mass multiethnic migrations (too many humans on earth), and destabilizing effects of Internet fake-news. [2] As Fareed Zakaria has it, “All [populist] versions [Left & Right] share a suspicion and hostility toward elites, mainstream politics, and established institutions.” [3] Populism does not want that rational barrier to emotional excess. In the everlasting contest of political philosophies the world is watching. And the last time democracy fell in Athens, it lay dead worldwide for 2000 years.

Populism is the political face of our Culture Wars, with many of its battles over territory that doesn’t exist: Republican President George Bush tried to fabricate an emergency in his waning term to seize dictatorial power, Democratic President Obama established elaborate programs to steal our guns and ammo. Our echo chambers and social media make the old Chinese saying current, “One dog barks at a shadow, and a hundred dogs respond to make it a fact.”

Such thinking cannot survive right-reason, but it thrives on motivated-reason. With its central principle of revenge, populism appeals to our emotions, not our intellect. This is of particular interest to me, not only by its collective impact on the West, but because of the battle I fight with it daily. I come from what we Americans call the blue collar working class. We tend to be emotional about things we don’t understand. Employing a great deal of what I label the 2/98 Rule: 2% knowledge 98% bluster, common in taverns. In argument our pitch elevates in uptalk, the finger wags, and we display what biologists designate the threat face, a snarl that mammals use to intimidate opponents. This behavior was on persistent display during our election, and served to communicate tribal affiliation. It’s also a cover for self-doubt, a diversion as we try to bluff our way to certainty. Deep down it’s a plea, to ourselves. Impossibly complex society makes us feel helpless. We're desperate to convince ourselves that we’re in control when we know we’re not. We are the targets of populism.

I committed to change through higher education, though upbringing is never distant, and much I’d not want to lose. I also got lucky with a career in science and engineering where abstract learning meets practical application. These disciplines require challenge, test, checks and rechecks of every detail, all day every day in search of Truth. Nature passes judgment. Get it wrong and what you build will fail. That career gave me the ability to confront every belief, especially my own, inside or outside the workplace. Eventually, I realized I had to divorce my tribe, because so long as I identified with it I couldn’t stop lying for it. There are other ways to hone critical thinking, but I suggest none better than science. Unfortunately, America ranks near bottom in science education in the industrialized world, and poorly among all nations. [4] This makes us easy marks for emotionally satisfying answers.

Where do these answers come from? First, on the popular, not intellectual, Right: America’s talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh has competition from the Left in MSNBC television, but Limbaugh is the best propagandist we have. Entertaining, endearing (when he talks about his cat), he sounds like a regular guy. His weave of revision, truth, and lie in a single paragraph is a thing of beauty. Punctuated with his signature, “Don’t doubt me.” Republican ex-presidents, ex-vice presidents, presidential candidates, and Speaker of the House have all called into Limbaugh’s show. Certain not to face scrutiny, they curry his blessing and influence in what Limbaugh calls “Realville.”

Realville is a place where good economic news was no thanks to ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), and Limbaugh’s nemesis, Obama, because ARRA money would not be spent for years. Same week, bad economic news. Realville’s response? How could this be, now that we spent all that ARRA money? Frequently, we Americans care very little for truth, but we care very much about winning.

Limbaugh has a dogma to nurture. He knows paper defenses burn easy. Following our election, he provided the best characterization for populist motivated-reason I’ve ever heard him say: “The default reaction to any media story that has anything incredulously stupid, dumb or negative about Trump is to not believe it, folks… The default position has to be—if we’re going to be intellectually honest with ourselves—is rejection.” [5]

Yes, in this explicit self-contradiction, Limbaugh uttered the words, “intellectually,” and “honest.” He told listeners they dare not fact check negative stories they hear, a kind of blasphemy. And while this is listener prep for what’s coming, there’s more to it. As Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer, “Mass movements… interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and realities of the world… [The true believer] cannot be frightened by danger nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.” [6]

Limbaugh’s job is to boil the blood, rally troops, define the creed. It’s the National Conservative Crusade against the National Liberal Crusade. Any waver from purist absolutism wins the label of liberal from the High Priest. Per Hoffer, “All [mass movements] irrespective of doctrine… demand blind faith and singlehearted allegiance.”

Populism is a mass movement, but it’s not a policy. It’s a tool for demagogues to manipulate those who can be. Energized by, “Whites ages 25 to 54 lost about 6.5 million jobs more than they gained [since the recession].” [7] Which explains some of the Right’s enthusiasm for internet conspiracy, hoax, email viruses, and fake-news otherwise known as lies [8]; Christian hypocrisy according to some Christians [9]; embrace of Russia’s hack of the American people, not necessarily their machines, with a Mid-Eastern perspective of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” making Reagan’s GOP read like GOPP, the Great Old Putin Party [10]; and of great significance we’ll examine next time, a 12th-century-Islam-like science denial that’s about more than adolescent defiance of authority. All this from what used to see itself as the “family values” Party.

Influence from the Left begins with some science-free sectors on campus. UCLA’s Sandra Harding claims that Western technocracy is “modeled on men’s most misogynistic relations to women—rape, torture, [and] choosing mistresses” [11]; university postmodernists asserted in 1950s France the persistent notion that the truth is, there is no truth [12], an assault on Western reason and tradition, now embraced by the Right [13]; and wailing students offended by micro-aggressions, soon to be nano, pico, and femto-aggressions serve as fodder for Limbaugh. [14] Where’s the space between these and superstition?

On his last official tour through Europe, President Obama urged nations to resist “crude nationalism that drowns out dissenting views.” Excellent. So too our political correctness. Racist, sexist, and homophobe are cast about with generosity to ostracize and muzzle.

Post-election, PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff said to a guest, “I hear you saying we’ve missed a whole chunk of the county in our effort to be diverse.” Steve Deace responded, lack of diversity was ideological, not ethnic. He added, “Those of us who think that we shouldn’t have men in bathrooms next to our young daughters are called bigots, when we used to just call them parents.” [15] Now, Bernie Sanders and others are at last voicing concerns over identity politics. In America’s constant fear of the tyranny of majority, Democrats fell victim to a tyranny of minority. Modern identity under the flag of diversity looks a lot like tribal segregation with a posture of opposition, not inclusivity. As liberal Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. lamented, our once vaunted melting pot that strived to confer an American character is dead. [16]

Neal Gabler’s assessment asked, “Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities… in seething resentment…” [17] Enunciating utter blindness to liberal bias in popular culture, all the way down to television commercials. Consider the Boost ad as obese white men clothed only in bras, panties, and high heels stumble about to fuel Danica Patrick’s Formula One race car. The white man seated on a bus blundering to make breakfast on a hot plate as a black woman stands over him, looks down, shakes her head, and enjoys her Kellogg’s breakfast bar. Or those three white and one black man, frantic for food from their Honda hatchback, who smash chips in their face, pour beer in their eyes, as a white women records their primate behavior from a forest blind. Imagine gender and/or race swapped. Not about history, the boardroom boys club, or comic book heroes to the contrary, but what the common man who feels discarded by this society receives from it at every intermission. He just voted. Pop culture or politics, it’s the message not the messaging.

Ever vengeful, our sides are now divided more by Culture War than income. After 8-years, 15% of Obama judge appointments remain unfilled by the now standard practice of Republican governance: obstruction. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, denied even to hold hearings on Obama’s final Supreme Court appointment of moderate, Judge Merrick Garland. [18] “These elections are just too contentious. The people should decide our next Justice.” But they already had, in as much as our Founders wanted by distancing the Court from passions of the people, who elected Obama. Given we swap parties every eight years, do Republicans imagine Democrats will forget their blatant abuse of this Republic they claim so much to love? The way Republicans didn’t forget Judge Robert Bork? Tit-for-tat is not governance for long.

So what have systemic flaws and this social miasma produced? The most untrustworthy candidates to simultaneously compete for office. In our hyper-individualist society creating creatures like these, has America finally lost its capacity to produce virtuous leaders? What does this say about us in that cycle of civilization’s rise and fall, or do we even care? Can Americans divorce their tribe to remove that “fact-proof screen”? We are losing the system that saved us from ourselves.

Until next time. Monday March 6, 2017.

[1] What’s gone wrong with democracy, The Economist, March 1-7, 2014, [2] Foreign Affairs, The Power of Populism, November/December, 2016, [3] Emphasis added. Fareed Zakaria, Populism on the March: Why the West In in Trouble, Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2016, [4] Pew Research Center , February 2015, [5] Rush Limbaugh November 15, 2016, [6] Eric Hoffer, The True Believer, Harper Perennial, 1966, [7] Eduardo Porter, We Tracked Down A Fake-News Creator In The Suburbs. Here’s What We Learned, All Things Considered, NPR, November 23, 2016. Note also the man who read an Internet story that led him to drive all the way from North Carolina with his loaded rifle to Washington DC (300 miles). He did this based on fake news that children kidnapped by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s pedophile syndicate were housed at a Pizza parlor, where the man fired one round into the floor to emphasize demands. In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns, Cecilia Kang, Adam Goldman, New York Times, December 5, 2016. Shortly after this: “The son of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, embraced a baseless conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton…” Incoming national security adviser's son spreads fake news about D.C. pizza shop, POLITICO, 12/4/2016, [9] Eric Sammons, Christians’ Support For Trump Undermines Their Public Witness, The Federalist, October 12, 2016, Neil J. Young, Dear Evangelicals, A “Begrudging” Vote for Trump Is Still a Vote for Trump , Religion Dispatches, October 4, 2016, Russell Mooresept, Have Evangelicals Who Support Trump Lost Their Values?, New York Times, September 17, 2015, [10] AP, FBI chief backs CIA’s conclusion Russia interfered with election, December 16, 2016, [11] Sandra Harding, The Science Question In Feminism, Cornell University Press, 1986, [12] Ferry & Renaut, French Philosophy of the Sixties, University of Massachusetts Press, 1985, [13] Erik Wemple, CNN commentator Scottie Nell Hughes: Facts no longer exist, Washington Post, December 1, 2016, [14] Lukianoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, The Atlantic, September 2015, [15] How the mainstream media missed Trump’s momentum, PBS Newshour, November 9, 2016, [16] Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The Disuniting of America, Norton, 1992, [17] Neal Gabler, Farewell, America: No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently, Moyers & Company, November 10, 2016, [18] Malvika Menon, The Republicans’ Rash Rejection of Merrick Garland, Harvard Political Review, April 24, 2016 Revised for the joy of nit-picking word choise. 1/17/19



November 7, 2016: Is PCD an acronym for Programmed Civilization Death?

For some reason unknown to me I’ve always been interested in origins and endings. How something got started, why it stopped. Like all children I incessantly asked, “Why?” As there seemed no end to it, my mother repeatedly invited me to go play in the creek, climb trees, find your friends. Discovery of protozoans in that creek water, or that stars in the sky were like our own sun, only intensified the question. Why did those things exists, how did they get started?

It was years later I came across a magnificent book by William R. Clark, Sex and the Origins of Death. [1] I once asked why people die. The answer, “Because they get old,” didn’t suffice. My parents seemed old, still alive, doing well. But Clark’s book provided an answer, and knocked me off my feet. I was delighted to get up and have it knock me down again, chapter after chapter. “Death is not an obligatory attribute of life,” writes Clark, and did not appear with the advent of living creatures. As he explains, cellular aging which results in death may not have occurred for more than a billion years after life’s first entry on earth. Programmed cell death, PCD, displayed through wrinkles and forgetfulness, seems to have arisen about the time cells experimented with sex. As nature would have it, we die because of the many mechanisms built into us to make sure we do. Death does not just happen, it is worked toward with safeguards to assure our cells don’t backslide into immortality as cancer cells do. Once our DNA realizes our reproductive years are over, the code executes, and one by one our cells receive their command to commit suicide. All the while, as the cell decapitates itself, innocent organelle roam about its cytoplasm, performing their tasks, unaware of doom.

So I began to wonder, by analogy are humans in a society like cells in the body of civilization? Do each of us possess an inner program that commands contribution to a kind of social disorder once a psychological threshold is crossed?

As I made Morgan ask Ne Shoul, “Do civilizations fail, not by chance or circumstance, but because decline is intended, without knowing it? Like William Clark said of our aging bodies, death is worked toward, without wanting to.” [2] All the while as we go about our busy lives, unaware of doom and the part we play in a different kind of PCD.

There seems a similar ignorance of intent to America’s current trajectory, but only if we pause from our busy lives of work to contemplate our status. Otherwise, whatever’s going on might seem like just another of the many oscillations we’ve experienced time and again. And maybe it is. Roman philosophers repeatedly claimed the end of Rome was soon to come. Eventually they were right.

This rise and fall of civilization belongs to those origins, and endings that fascinate me. There have been a great many social advances in our own. And who can argue with the extension to what humans can do through technology? Seated in the comfort of my library with two dogs on their couch and two cats on their (not my) desk, I poke keys destined for a worldwide distribution platform, pretty much for free. Starting with the creation of East African tools 2.5 million years ago, Australopithecus garhi showed that innovation is something humans naturally do (assuming they’re on our lineage), and do well. Science and art are the crown of our innovative achievements, with Newton and Einstein, Michelangelo and Frederic Church as idols in their field. But given all societies eventually fail, that we’ve not been able to hit on a recipe that survives in perpetuity, and that humans are self-destructive, these are evidence that the same cannot be said of civilization. And it makes me wonder, why?

There are a number of hypotheses, not mutually exclusive. Spengler’s ominous work likens the life of civilization to that of a person. [3] Born with curiosity, enthusiasm, and growing strength, new societies forge ahead to become high culture with little concern for consequences. Culture matures, loses strength, begins to regret, and takes its first step toward disintegration. Spirit that once animated society can no longer be recalled as it ages and dies. Spengler’s hypothesis is a trajectory.

President John Adams’ great-grandson, and John Quincy Adams' grandson Brooks Adams, in his astonishing contribution submits the idea of cycles, reinforcing the notion that all great ideas are killed by excess. [4] Adams’ volume led Theodore Roosevelt to a 15 page review in which he wrote, “Few more powerful and more melancholy books have been written.” [5] For Adams, the cycle begins as a superstitious, spiritual phase, where fear and war dominate. There’s also a strong artistic element as an outlet for spiritual impulse. This life of fear is tamed by incremental innovations that lead to advances in economy with greater control and organization. Eventually life becomes confined by work, laws, and demands of economics dominated by greed. Complexities of society sap humans of their humanity. Art dies as a nonessential. People become desperate for salvation. Descent begins with growing fear and a deep sense of lost control. (Sound familiar? 1/17/19)

The Durant’s emphasize the incompatibility of intellect and soul. [6] “As education spreads, theologies lose credence,” they write. “The moral code loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed… An age of weary skepticism and epicureanism followed the triumph of rationalism over mythology in the last century before Christianity, and follows a similar victory today… An unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and the restless disorder of family and morals in all but a remnant clinging desperately to old restraints and ways.”

Where does America reside in this course of function and dysfunction? If we could discover where we are and why, might we prescribe correctives? Comparison is complicated because ancient history suffers a paucity of information, while modern history has too much. As we say in engineering, what is signal and what is noise?

There’s a great deal of noise in America today. But from the hundreds of clattering factors, what better example of dysfunction than the state of our political system? A political system where not so long ago, conservative President Ronald Reagan and liberal Speaker of the House Tipp O’Neall’s legislative acts were hard fought works of compromise. There was frequent acrimony, but compromise was not yet seen as treason. During this time, Reagan held a dinner to raise $1 million for Boston College and its O’Neill Library. And one day Reagan found by his bedside Tip O’Neill praying for Reagan’s recovery after an assassination attempt. Politics is adversarial by nature, but adversarial does not mean bellicose. In those days, opposing party members dinned at each other’s home with their families. As one politician whose name now escapes me said, “It’s really hard to hate your opposition when you know his wife and kids.” Today, dinner with a political opponent is violation of talk radio orthodoxy. In those days the results of presidential elections were accepted by the loser, and no one dare speak on national television of a revolution if their candidate lost, or execution of their opponent. Such vulgarity reveals abject ignorance of our very own history, when the last revolution we had mauled 750,000 men into their graves.

How could so much of what was, unravel so quickly if we didn’t mean to unravel it? Turns out, we did. At least that part responsible for governance. Jonathan Rauch lays out the process. [7] He notes our political machine’s decline in capacity for self-organization by removal of intermediate systems of informal interaction. (I must highlight my refrain of lost community, despite unending abuse of the word.) “For decades, well-meaning political reformers have attacked intermediaries as corrupt, undemocratic, unnecessary, or all of the above,” writes Rauch. “Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties… The middlemen could be undemocratic, high-handed, devious, secretive. But they had one great virtue: They brought order from chaos...” While we should be alert to corruption, over correction has given us the mess we’re in.

For example, the primaries were not always an election process with direct input by the people. Candidates were once decided by legislative conventions, caucus, and insider haggling. Our current system of primary election is decided by a tiny fraction of the electorate most passionate, ideological, and consequently less reasonable. Our Founders tried to distance people from the process by implementing a representative republic to defang those passions, not a direct democracy that exacerbates it.

Open dialogues in closed door sessions, and anonymous votes where only final tallies are announced are now rare. We prefer transparency, sunlight as disinfectant, and gridlock because no one dare speak their mind when records show they said something to infuriate their most radical fringe. This fringe is Congress’s highest concern, thanks to an incumbent’s gerrymandered district—convoluted lines dawn on a map to encircle only the most extreme voters associated with their views—something the UK, Canada, and Australia have wisely made illegal. A single square district would force politicians toward the center as it would include a variety of voter viewpoints. Even King Solomon, “divided his kingdom into twelve districts which deliberately crossed tribal boundaries… to lessen clannish separation of the tribes.” [8]

Gerrymandering created its own problem because same-party competition is now a more radical challenger pandering to fanatics, not to the country, not even to their own state, driving incumbents further Left or Right. And with elimination of pork-barrel spending, what incentive do politicians have to cooperate? We Americans naively expected (as I did) an ideal execution of our politician’s angelic nature of ethical and moral judgment, with nothing to show voters back home for working with the other side.

As Rauch tells it, “Campaign-finance reform did stop some egregious transactions, but at a cost.” The cost was creation of super PACs, 501(c)(4)s, and 527 groups where the money’s harder to track. Now we can’t know if Russia or some other foreign power has influence in our elections, because all a super PAC need do by law is incorporate with an innocuous sounding name and anonymous donors. By diverting money out of the Party, the Party no longer holds sway over candidates. The Party once required character, cooperation with others in the Party, and broad appeal. Instead, outsiders, non-career politicians, and candidates make their name as anti-establishment rebels who smear their own comrades, and shut down the government to gain points for zealotry. “The core idea of the Constitution was to restrain ambition and excess by forcing competing powers and factions to bargain and compromise,” writes Rauch. We’re now caught in a cycle where nothing gets done by virtue of recent sanitations, which lead people to want another outsider, making things worse, whereupon the people want yet another incompetent to break what’s already broken.

As Rauch puts it, “Political reform of the last 40 years [favors] amateurs and outsiders over professionals and insiders; by privileging populism… over mediation and mutual restraint… All the reforms promote an individualistic, atomized model of politics…”

So I come back to the question of why civilizations fail. There is cause, and there is noise. But if failure of self-governance in a Republic isn’t a cause, what is? One thing is clear from all the hypotheses of demise: great civilizations destroy themselves. We can help delay that if we balance human nature through recognition of what it is. But can a nation now so dogmatic perform such magic?

Until next time, the first Monday in January, 2017, the 2nd.

[1] Williams R. Clark, Sex and the Origins of Death, Oxford University Press, 1996 [2] Brett Williams, The Father, Combustible Books, 2013 [3] Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, Oxford University Press, 1991 (originally 1926) [4] Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay,Macmillan, 1916 (1st Ed. 1895) [5] Theodore Roosevelt, Review: The Law of Civilization and Decay, The Forum, January 1897 [6] Will & Ariel Durrant, The Lessons of History, Simon & Shuster, 1968 [7] Jonathan Rauch, How American Politics Went Insane, The Atlantic, September, 2016 A PBS Newshour interview is here. The Atlantic article is here. [8] Will & Ariel Durant, The Story of History: Our Oriental Heritage, Simon & Shuster, 1963 Revised for clarity. 1/17/19



September 5, 2016: Murray Rothbard’s strange and zany world

I sometimes amuse myself by gazing at the brilliant words of Murray Rothbard (1926-1995), framed and hung on my wall: “Every once in a while the human race pauses in the job of botching its affairs and redeems itself by a noble work of the intellect.” I liked the quote so much I bought Rothbard’s book, The Ethics of Liberty. [1] While my review of it was less than warm, as an influence in America’s political arena, Rothbard, an economist and libertarian, deserves a more extensive hearing.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe introduces us to this volume as one that fills a gap between economics and ethics. Rothbard, he says, integrated the two by a concept of property that guides libertarian action. It was Rothbard’s goal to create a “science of ethics” in the face of opposition that denies such a science is possible. Without a science of ethics, they claim, we are left to whims of the State with its limits imposed on the individual. In the text, Rothbard tries to separate man’s political existence from morality, yet the science he strives for seeks to provide a moral logic based on reasoned argument, therefore a moral legitimacy to his ethic.

One opposition to an ethical science comes from relativistic views that allege objectivity in ethics impossible. Since the cultures people are raised in have different value systems and meaning—so relativists claim—there can be no objective truth or human universals, which are in reality a matter of social preference. This is the truth promoted by those who claim there is no truth.

On this matter I side with Hoppe and Rothbard. At the most fundamental level, humans are humans no matter where you go. Of course there are extremes. The Taliban value life in a manner quite different from the Pope. Such differences can be grounds for conflict. But both are born, grow old, die, and most of all have quite similar wiring in the space between their ears, at least since the last forty thousand years or so. Universal, timeless human truths are why we understand Chief Seattle’s lament, Shakespeare’s plays, Biblical cautions, Greek tragedy, and the sad facts of life expressed by Sumer’s Gilgamesh. Such morality tales span five thousand years of different cultures, languages, perspectives, and their own shades of human meaning. Evidence that there exist moral convictions more than mere social preferences particular to each society. Why would thousands perish in attempts to free themselves from tyranny in Babylon, the Roman Empire, America’s slave trade were it not for universal desires for freedom? The inkling of rights and justice can be seen all the back to the first known law code of Ur-nammu, ca. 2100 BC. Despite Rothbard’s lose use of the word science, three cheers for his defiance of social fashion.

With this perspective Rothbard proceeds with a fine defense of natural law - general rules based on human nature and universals. Natural law is agnostic, without need of religion, notes Rothbard. “In natural-law philosophy, reason is not bound, as it is in post-Humean philosophy, to be slave to the passions, cranking out the means to arbitrarily chosen ends.” Somehow, only Hume’s application of reason was except from reason’s impotence. While opponents of natural law ask “who is to establish these truths about man?” The answer, says Rothbard, is not who but what, and that is reason. There is for Rothbard, an objective moral order, much as we moderns prefer otherwise. And just because it may be difficult to deduce, in the words on Allan Bloom, “is not to say it is unavailable.” [2] Though Bloom and Rothbard would not be fellow travelers.

Rothbard then digs into his libertarian thought. He claims legal principles can be established in three ways, “…by slavish conformity to custom [i.e. tradition], by arbitrary whim [what he labels “rule of the State”], or use of man’s reason.” But are these mutually exclusive?

Michael Polanyi offers a reasoned tradition that is anything but slavish. [2] Last time we touched on Polanyi’s idea that societies in the real world must have a traditional framework of some sort or they couldn’t exist. Even Rothbard seeks to establish a tradition of thought with a set of rules, entailing a persistent practice of allowance and restriction. Polanyi’s analogy is science, with a tradition of practice that elevates good science as it seeks to suppress frauds. A practice not so unlike the policing of religious orthodoxy, with exceptions, like encouraging free contributions of creative descent. The highest rewards in science are given to insight that modifies or upends current understanding in the interest of Truth about nature, not maintenance of an orthodoxy. These rules are unwritten, not enforced by a State, and always conditional on our best understanding. Polanyi’s traditional society is not static, without freedom or challenge, but grows through reinterpretation of the same traditional rules. But Polanyi recognizes political persuasion does not operate in the same way as science. People will occasionally engage in deceit for personal gain without open review by others of mutual authority. So institutions are required to keep factions from destroying each other, and this implies the State, with laws and regulations, as America’s Founders envisioned. The establishment of law has more latitude than Rothbard allows.

It becomes clear that Rothbard wants to make all rights subservient only to property. “For not only are there no human rights which are not also property rights,” he claims, “but rights lose their absoluteness and clarity…when property rights are not used as the standard.” This absoluteness becomes Rothbard’s biggest problem. As he tells it, free speech is a right one has only “on his own property or on the property of someone who has agreed…to allow him on the premises.” This perspective denies more abstract rights, like belief. Does someone have a right to hold their religious beliefs only on their own property, or granted access by the owner? While I agree with Rothbard that speech rights do not provide a right to trespass, this recurrent tactic stretches a valid idea (free speech) to absurdity in order to indict something different. The invader still has free speech rights no matter where they are, just as they have a right to their own religious beliefs, but these rights are circumscribed, in this case not to supersede property rights. Society requires a rational balance, not an absolutist dogma that makes all things subservient to Rothbard’s materialist notions.

Repeatedly Rothbard sets the table in terms that satisfy his conclusions. In his chapter “Knowledge, True and False,” we learn that Smith has reported Jones is a homosexual. Again, there are only three possibilities allowed. One reason Smith says this about Jones is because it’s true. “It seems clear then that Smith has a perfect right to [report this fact]…For it is within his property right to do so,” writes Rothbard. “Current libel laws make Smith’s action illegal if done with ‘malicious’ intent, even though [it] be true. And yet, surely legality or illegality would depend not on the motivation of the actor, but on the objective nature of the act.” But aren’t an accidental murder and a planned one of a different sort? In Rothbard’s example, Smith has no right to privacy because there isn’t one he can attach to property. What if Smith lives in a place where his homosexuality would lead to his being ostracized, assaulted, executed? We needn’t climb too far down the social hole Rothbard digs to find it flawed. The “force from disseminating” which Rothbard abhors was once called virtue, attached to morality. For one who supports true community, what does community do when moral judgment says homosexuality is wrong? As Polanyi says, a tradition of truth seeking discovers homosexuality not a free choice or mere preference, but a fact of some human genomes. Hence, human rights. Though this example begs the question of religious community.

When it comes to those unable to cope in Rothbard’s property-centric world, we find little relief. “The parent may not murder or mutilate the child,” writes Rothbard, “But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e. to let the child die.” This also applies to abortion, and marks a departure from typical conservative platforms. Rothbard supports abortion because if the mother decides to abandon her “freely-granted consent…the fetus [then] becomes a parasitic ‘invader’ of her person…[with] a perfect right to expel the invader from her domain.” This transformation of a living creature based on perception is striking. While parasites invade with instinctive intent, humans are created by willful acts. But as Rothbard teaches, the fetus, or any child, is incapable of a contractual agreement in any parental arrangement, so parents owe them nothing. Only the calculus of social contract, no moral responsibility in Rothbard’s world. That the fetus is as dependent on the mother as Rothbard’s idealized man is dependent on his property for life—sacred ground for Rothbard—is ignored.

Naturally, this thinking applies to animals. There can be no moral component to the extermination of eight billion passenger pigeons, the last Yanksee River porpoise, or anything else, because it’s just our nature. “Animals [like children] cannot petition for their rights…,” says Rothbard. While two hundred twenty-seven years ago, Jeremy Bentham asked, “The question is not can they reason, not can they talk, but can they suffer?” In the case of children and animals, Rothbard defends simplicity by forcing requirements of contract and property on those incapable of meeting them, and uses the wrong basis for consideration.

When it comes to the State, Rothbard sounds like talk radio with its invention of matters that don’t exist, or recasting issues in language of the zealot that makes slaughter seem righteous. Instead of a system that surrenders some individual rights to civil authorities as a means of engaging dispassionate third parties, separated from those involved in argument, for Rothbard this is “the State’s control of violence of the police, armed services and the courts….” The “States taxation if theft…on a grand and colossal scale no acknowledged criminals could hope to match…[where] no private competitors are allowed to invade its self-arrogated monopoly to counterfeit new money…[where] the postal service has long been a convenient method for the State to keep an eye on possibly unruly and subversive opposition to its rule…a vast criminal organization.” Even governmental license of radio and television “stations to use frequencies and channels,” is nefarious to Rothbard. But business wants centralized government allocation of bandwidth to avoid unwanted electromagnetic interference. While the consequences of a power to tax or its absence are clearly seen in the American Revolution and founding of the United States, which presumably Rothbard would have rejected. Rothbard would have benefited from reasoned debates of problems in governance by The Federalist and Anti-Federalist.

While some of Rothbard’s claims have been experienced in America from irresponsible taxation and spending to abuses of power (but the post office?), his assertions read like paranoia. Government operation of the Veterans Administration, student loans turned over to private corporations who rape the system, or deregulation of Wall Street with loss of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, all show how government and the private sector can run amok. There are also cases where they work effectively. Otherwise known as the real world.

Rothbard could never unravel our wrinkles because his definition of the human is so flawed. He then struggles to make reality fit his model. Rothbard tries to separate ethics (right action) from morality (right and wrong) with its humane social influence because morality is a community matter individuals submit to as “coercion,” not guidance in Rothbard’s view. Rothbard’s human psyche is alone in the universe. Others are simply perturbations to his formulaic individual. The State is Rothbard’s Boogie Man to blame, inflated to cartoon dimensions. His political philosophy is, as Leo Strauss would say, “engaged in a project to change the world rather than understand it…from the high end of virtue to the low end of commodious self-preservation. Something genuinely human is in danger of being lost.” [4]

Perhaps I should not be surprised when there are adults who believe in Creationism, Postmodernism, and crop circles, but as a relative newcomer to this arena, I must confess a measure of naiveté. This text stunned me. To think there are adults who take this kind of purportedly serious thinking seriously, and in our Congress on this very day. I hesitate to explore what other pseudo-philosophies haunt our halls of governance with a potent foreboding for our future.

Until next time, the first Monday and 7th of November.

[1] Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 2002 [2] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, Simon And Schuster, 1987 [3] Michael Polanyi, Meaning, University of Chicago Press, 1975 [4] Leo Strauss, Straussianism, Mark C. Henrie, First Principles, 2011 Revised the usual dashes and word or two. 1/17/19



July 4, 2016: A little good news about Western instability

Last time, closing remarks on this blog made note of Michael Polanyi’s lamentation, that Western civilization is inherently unstable. [1] In this post we ponder a particular aspect of instability that Polanyi points out in his final chapter, “The Open Society,” and the form of freedom he believes an open society should have.

First, a bit about Polanyi (1891-1976): He was a remarkable fellow, and part of historic irony. A Hungarian physical chemist, it was claimed he was destined to win the Nobel Prize, when instead of completing his scientific work he turned his attention to social issues. His son went on to win the Nobel for chemistry in 1986 ten years after Michael’s death, and two of Michael’s students also took home the award. Rare company. Michael Polanyi was also mentor to Austrian-born Frederick Hayek (1899-1992), another Nobel winner, in economics, and author of The Road To Serfdom. [2] A book with widespread influence that might be called the Capitalist Manifesto. The irony is that Michael’s brother Karl, in a complete reversal from Michael and Hayek, wrote the Socialist Manifesto, The Great Transformation, also influential, both books frequently referenced today. [3]

Michael Polanyi’s book deals with modern society, without defining what modern means. Of course in this context “modern” means as compared to ancient, which was…what? I can’t resist this opportunity to drop in another remarkable fellow to help answer this perennial question, Marcel Gauchet (1946-). Gauchet’s Disenchantment of the World provides a rip-roaring thrill of how he believes we got to the modernity we have. [4]

Gauchet writes that before invention of the State, humans were “Projected into a world in which the order was irrevocably fixed in an earlier time of foundation. Each of us had an assigned place in this order we could not repudiate. In this world, our defining potential [to innovate] was preemptively abandoned. There was no question of who we were and how we fit in; no question on transforming the order of things.” But with invention of the State comes upheaval through State ambition, and a hierarchy where some are closer to the gods than others. Later, with the Axial Age (ca. 800 BC-300 BC) an attempt was made to unify the order of earlier religions under a transcendent and supreme principle: God (prophetic Judaism), Nirvana (Buddhism), the Tao (Taoism, while Confucianism was a century earlier), or Reason in service of the Good (Greek philosophy). Suddenly “order was no longer self-explanatory,” writes Gauchet, “but depended on a higher reality or principle. Growth toward this reality then became possible through devotion or understanding.” In all cases the individual turned inward (prayer, meditation, analysis) to find the way outward. The holy was, “no longer an irrevocable past, and there were now ways of making contact with it,” says Gauchet. “Now we could change our relation to [this higher reality] by becoming servants to God, seeking spiritual Enlightenment, or through reason grasp the Ideas.” The future was no longer fixed, and it acquired a measure of uncertainty. The old notion of a sacred power in things was attacked, and the world was disenchanted by man, with the holy confined to this higher reality alone (passport to modify the planet). This commenced the era when “religion would bring about an exit from religion,” claims Gauchet, and with that the opening of questions that were once closed, i.e. our role, purpose, meaning.

While the ancients expected tomorrow to be like today, we can never know what tomorrow will be. Herein lays an instability inherent in societies that focus forward rather than back. With the old roles lifted, freedom becomes central. Polanyi notes two forms of freedom: one that tends toward an absence of restraint, the other as liberation through submission to obligation. The first form is an individualistic freedom inherited, according to Polanyi, from the Utilitarians who defined the good society as that which creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Rational restrictions dictate that one’s freedom must not interfere with another’s right to the same freedom. Without such limits, absence of restraint leads to anarchy. With priority of the individual this is an anti-communitarian freedom. While rewarding to the individual, this theory of freedom is inspiring at inception, but not in the long run because emancipation from the old chains are forgotten over generations.

Polanyi’s second form of freedom is submission to a “higher ideal.” It fosters community and the inspiration that belonging through submission to the ideal brings. Complete submission is what totalitarian regimes thrive on as witnessed in the first half of the 20th century. In such extremes the old freedom from arbitrary abuse of power is reframed as freedom from circumstance, from want, from fear, or some other universal that the State claims it must enforce. Polanyi proposes a middle road, one that already exists in science and law.

Contrary to modern hostility toward tradition and authority, Polanyi argues that society can be free and open only if it has both. Polanyi notes that during the European Enlightenment, traditional authority had to be rejected because it was opposed to the free pursuit of knowledge. “Once these opponents were defeated,” writes Polanyi, “[this notion] remained, but it came to imply that science required repudiation of all authority and all tradition.” And yet, Enlightenment science requires both.

How? Deeper understandings of reality are not the private conviction of a scientist, but released for open inspection of data, analysis, and conclusions by all others in the field. An iterative exchange eventuates in truth about nature as it is that all can agree on. When that examination arrives at judgments substantiated by a tradition of examination and test, a respect for authority in science results, and real things are built. It is the true nature of nature that science holds as its central concern. Just as justice is the central concern of law. The institutions of law, courts, and enforcement, are composed of traditions and authorities.

But these traditions are not closed or inflexible. “While science imposed an immense range of authoritative pronouncements,” writes Polanyi, “it not merely tolerates descent in some particulars, but grants its highest encouragement to such creative descent. While the machinery of scientific institutions severely suppresses contradictions to accepted views about the nature of things [astrology, Creationism, UFOs], the same authorities pay their highest homage to ideas destined to sharply modify those accepted views [Relativity, quantum mechanics].” Polanyi calls this a “decentralized, free procedure of mutual adjustment.” There’s not only a tradition of practice with a belief this practice is the best one to reveal truth about nature, but there are careers and authority for those who do it well. “All these areas of free interaction operate within a tradition of discipline,” says Polanyi, while still being free to criticize and innovate.

By this analogy Polanyi expands to society at large. “A free society is not simply an open society in which anything goes,” he writes. “It is a society in which people engage in activities considered worthy of respect, with the freedom to pursue those ends…dedicated to various ideals. It cannot be a free society by being open to matters such as these, by being neutral on truth and falsehood, justice and injustice, honesty and fraud.”

A free society exists with traditions that provide a framework within which members make free contributions. “The freedom of mere self-assertion can lead only to disintegration of standards and institutions,” claims Polanyi. “It may lead from time to time in an equalization of interests that mutually tame one another to a point that people can live in a working balance. However, no one who holds the view that freedom is mere self-assertion will be devoted to maintaining such a balance: he will rather be devoted to upsetting it in order to achieve more of his own interests. As Adam Smith foresaw, the chief danger to balance would come from manufacturers, for none of them would have interest in maintaining a free system of competition. Their interests would lie in securing monopolies in order to control their markets.” Hence the need for rational regulations (as Frederick Hayek noted), just as government must be limited because humans are humans no matter where you go.

“Under this system of spontaneous order,” says Polanyi, “individuals are engaged in the competitive pursuit of personal gain. Scientists, judges, scholars, clergymen, et. al. are guided by systems of thought to promote the growth, application, or dissemination of that to which they are dedicated. Their actions are determined by their own professional interests, which do not aim specifically at promoting the general welfare of society.”

Objections to this system are that the public good seems surrendered to the personal motives of individuals, and that society will drift in a direction willed by no one. In a system of spontaneous order the public interest is not controlled by the state, but appears controlled by an irresponsible bourgeois. Polanyi argues that despite all the inheritance, family power, and class differences, oligarchies in societies of spontaneous order do not exercise anything like a controllable plan. With so many moving parts in such complex societies they cannot tell where they are going, nor control the direction of all the players. SONY’s famous 250 Year Plan fell to two boys who invented a company in their garage they later called Apple. “The plain fact is that necessarily man is adrift [in modernity],” claims Polanyi.

If there were a central truth in politics the way there is in science and law, actions in the public interest would be easy. That’s not the case, so persuasion in politics is a matter of one interest striving for as much power as it can get, to survive, and to oppress. Institutions must be built to keep these interests from destroying each other and the whole system. Those intuitions cost money. Hence, why America’s Founders emphasized economic interests, because prosperity pays for national defense and law enforcement to preserve individual rights, as an offset to despotism, not to coddle the rich as some delight in asserting. As Polanyi writes, “A higher level moral sphere exists on the basis of a lower-level sphere of profit, power, and parochialism of interest…crasser interests transformed, in operation, into moral principles like justice.”

“Only if we manage to abandon our deeply ingrained moral perfectionism,” says Polanyi, can we come to accept such a system. But if we let a higher cause, moral as it may sound, take over governance, then “moral inversion” eventually occurs. The State takes charge of morality for a perfected utopia as it did for Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Polanyi’s system is an imperfect moral system that can and sometimes will be immoral, which is paradoxically in service to ideals of truth, justice, and equality that can never be perfectly attained. “The evils which prevent the fullness of moral development,” writes Polanyi, “are precisely the elements which are the source of power that protect moral accomplishments.” Such a system is a bit like the internal combustion engine he writes, “it is noisy, smelly, and occasionally refuses to start, but it is what gets us to wherever we get. We must somehow learn to understand and tolerate, not destroy, the free society.”

Having made a career in pursuit of scientific truths Polanyi writes about, I, and the scientists I know, find politics in practice often unbearable. By Polanyi’s teaching, this is naïve, and it’s some relief to find our views too idealistic. We shouldn’t expect from humans the coherence we find in nature. But there’s just one problem that Polanyi didn’t raise, or likely couldn’t yet see.

Let’s look at that at another time. Maybe the first Monday in September, the 5th, 2016.

[1] Michael Polanyi, Meaning, University of Chicago Press, 1975 [2] Frederick Hayek, The Road To Serfdom, University of Chicago Press, 1994 [3] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time , Beacon Press, 2001 [4] Marcel Gauchet, Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of the World, Princeton University Press, 1997 Revised for clarity 12.5.2018



May 2, 2016: Enlightenment, we owe you, but do those non-believers you made have a future?

When I was a small boy I found myself – not without resistance – in the pews of First Christian Church. For a five year old there was nothing more cruel than to willfully attire a child in his Sunday best. A little boy’s suit to cinch the torso, a colorful noose to restrict blood flow to the brain, and pants that I’d already outgrown. Added to this cotton confinement was the packaging of humans shoulder to shoulder in long wooden pews intended to stifle a child’s need to fidget. Had I known such treatment might be imagined as micro-aggressions, I’d have been well fit for our current campus tantrums.

My imagination cut off from the physical world, I was at times forced to surrender to the sermon. While ours was a church not fond of fire and brimstone, I did pick up bits and pieces of what even to a child seemed like highly contradictory messages: God’s love, God’s slaughter. But I never got much clarity on apparent incongruities. Either adult patience for childish questions was lacking, or adults didn’t have an answer either.

Much later at university, I broke the mental speed barrier of mathematics. Exceeding that boundary hit me like a sonic boom, knocked off my feet by the power of mathematical sciences. Not only to describe the natural world with amazing accuracy, but predict its future actions. Despite hollow assertions by a few postmodernists not yet forgotten in their graves, that mathematical conduit between mind and the physical world reveals Truth about nature. Those planes, trains, and cell phones behave just as scientific prophesy said they would. Science works.

In those far off college years, lingering contradictions about the world expressed by ancient writings of a relatively passive religious upbringing were revived. I’d get to the bottom of those religious riddles the same way I solved physics problems. I decided if God gave man reason, God given reason insisted satisfaction. No equivocations, no excuses, no mysterious ways.

Will and Ariel Durant penned well what I, like others before me, discovered, “Just as the moral development of Hellenes had weakened their belief in the quarrelsome and adulterous deities of Olympus, so too development of the Christian ethic slowly eroded Christian theology. Christ destroyed Jehovah.” [1] Morality evolves. Immoral slaughters in the Bible were not like differences in the comprehension of quantum mechanics between humans and chimps. As though only God could understand his murder of innocents, while mere humans dare not ask. To me, this was mythologized politics, made by people for people. That’s why the gods of every religion I studied, including the Bible, were so suspiciously human in their frailties. Which was not, nor could it be, a denial of higher powers. Rather a denial of human claims about those powers.

Mix this approach with a born iconoclast, socialized in the anti-authority post-Sixties Seventies, and I was primed to embrace goals of European Enlightenment when I finally met it. As Peter Gay (1923-2015) wrote in his National Book Award winning volume, “Enlightenment united on a vastly ambitious program, a program of secularism, humanity, cosmopolitanism, and freedom, above all freedom in its many forms…freedom, in a word, of moral man to make his own way in the world.” It was a Greek revival that in Gay’s gesture to Kant said, “Dare to know: take the risk of discovery, accept the loneliness of autonomy.” [2]

So I did. And was rewarded, materially, as are most of us in the West. With skills refined by Enlightenment’s natural philosophers like Bacon and Newton, one can not only predict the future, but combined with Adam Smith’s economic system from the same era, one can buy it. A period we call retirement. No more begging feudal lords for a portion of the food we grew ourselves to keep us in old age.

As with all social movements, Enlightenment was not without conflict. “The philosophe’s perception of a distinction between mythmaking and scientific mentalities was the perception of a fact,” writes Gay, “but since they came to it first through their position as critics and belligerents, they almost invariably converted the historical fact into a moral judgment, praising, indeed identifying themselves with one mentality, and denigrating the other. They translated their insight into an indictment.”

Likewise, when faced with campus preaching of Creationists, I went on the offensive. Disgusted with their intentional misrepresentations of science; their product of doubt, like the tobacco, lead, and global warming denier industries with word games seemingly plausible to a scientifically ignorant public; their indictment of science as a theory as though that meant a hunch, like cell theory, electrical circuit theory, Newton’s theory of mechanics, and their great nemesis the theory of evolution, all used daily to build real things. By that time I already knew Jesus did not say, “Know the lie and it will set you free.” [3]

Above all, Creationists had no models of nature. All they could do was build glass arguments, or put words in the mouth of scientists, then tell how wrong they were. It was clear that until Creationists were able to provide a more successful model of nature, corporate powers like ExxonMobil, Alcoa, and Cargill would use science to expand their empires. It was also apparent that each time Ken Ham, ICR.org, or the Discovery Institute claimed errors in science in their Creationist “museums,” websites, or books, they showed how enslaved they were to it. Creationists proved to be as wrong as those scientists who fail to realize that the deepest facts of human nature are deaf to scientific explanations.

While my hair still sets fire when I’m within earshot of Creationist propaganda, I’ve softened since those years when I’d drive down to San Diego just to argue with ICR.org. I see that I was just as guilty as Creationists for what Joseph Campbell said was missing the message for the symbols. [4] And I understand more about why believers of any stripe feel the way they do, why they seek comfort that modernity doesn’t provide, why they want to save something of tradition vs. fickle adulation of the new. I understand why they believe, but not yet how. I see this not simply because my own mortality is realized, though surely that contributes, but because I’ve recognized two realms of Truth, nature and human nature. When I replaced religious supports in my life with what could be proven, I was trying to reconcile a much elaborated approach to the human condition as we experience it, with an approach to nature as it is. In Marcel Gauchet’s words, our approach to the human condition in religious form provides an “illogical solution to our illogical condition” (being alive and having to die). [5] Bio-chemistry, physiology, physics provide no satisfactory answer to this problem. As the Durants ask, “Has all the progress of philosophy since Descartes been a mistake through its failure to recognize the role of myth in the consolation of man?”

Hence, Enlightenment and I are not as cozy as we once were. How that shakes out will take years to size up, but Enlightenment has been getting some bad press on this blog. It’s not new. “Ever since the fulminations of Burke and denunciations of German romantics,” writes Gay, “the Enlightenment has been held responsible for evils of the modern age.” While there are plenty of dispersions yet to cast, I will remain grateful for what those Europeans did.

But now that our freedoms have been won, and our “loneliness of autonomy” taken to its extreme, is this what we wanted when we jettisoned those illogical solutions to life’s illogical condition? As Chantal Delsol compares our eras, “Ideological man thought his combat for a radiant future symbolically inscribed his acts in capital letters in an immortal future world. Life had meaning; it stood for something, and could therefore quietly disappear behind its points of reference. Death did not mean an absolute end; it was subordinated to something greater and therefore devoid of any sense of catastrophe.” [6] Enlightenment chastened us with a biological expiration date, forgotten after we hit the dirt.

I’m reminded of a remark my niece once made concerning the age of a relative who was 90 at the time. It was an annual family gathering when she said, “That’s so old. I’d never want to live to be ninety.” I replied, “And you’ll be dead for countless trillions of years. Ninety sounds like a long time?” Half the attendees laughed, the other half, stunned. Leading one to respond, “That’s why we believe in everlasting life through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” And I’ll bet it is. The conception of infinite finality certainly troubles me on those rare occasions I fail to keep myself furiously busy.

I’m not suggesting a return to that good old time religion, but rather a balance of two realities, nature and human. Sadly, societies are like oscillators; they oscillate, forever out of balance. Though idealized harmonic oscillators swing smoothly, real ones, like real civilizations, aren’t so well behaved. They possess nasty nonlinearities, sent on some trajectory by a movement, whipsawed by a counter-movement. It makes me wonder if the arguments of Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, and E.O. Wilson gaining ground in the non-believers direction won’t one day soon be due for a damping theory. A theory of existence that accounts for undeniably rational facts of our natural world, and the irrational human condition as it is, much as some of us wish otherwise.

So what do all these spiritual ponderings have to do with a blog dedicated to political philosophy? Because political philosophy is dependent on a moral base, and morality has been historically dependent on religion or reason. As noted last time, philosophers have never successfully provided a reasoned argument that would bind people to moral rules the way an always watchful God did (a look to history shows this far from perfect). As the Durants wrote, “No reconciliation is possible between religion and philosophy except through the philosopher’s recognition that they have found no substitute for the moral function of the Church.”

As statistics noted in past postings attest, that watchful God is in retreat in the West, which leaves us with questions about the future. As Michael Polanyi has it, “Christian beliefs and Greek doubts are logically incompatible; and if the conflict between the two has kept Western thought alive and creative beyond precedent, it has also made it unstable.” [7]

Personally, internally, maybe so. Externally, in civilization, maybe not. Perhaps the trite nature of our modern disputes is a tolerable outcome compared to what it was when people were so certain of their faith they’d engage in a Thirty Years War. I can see both sides of this coin. But I haven’t given up hope on a synthesis that does what so many have claimed can’t be done. If nothing else, such pursuits keep me furiously busy, concealing that expiration date.

Until next time, the first Monday and 4th day of July, 2016.

[1] Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, Simon and Shuster, 1968 [2] Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: The Birth of Modern Paganism, Norton, 1966 [3] John 8:32 [4] Joseph Campbell, The Power Of Myth, Doubleday, 1988 [5] Marcel Gauchet, The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion, Princeton University Press, 1999 [6] Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: The Search For Meaning in an Uncertain World, ISI, 2010 [7] Michael Polanyi, Harry Prosch, Meaning, University of Chicago Press, 1975 Revised for word choice and clarity, 11/27/2018.



March 7, 2016: Let’s hear it! Three tears for equality!

There’s a dominant storyline in America today: victims. Who knew there could be so many? Not that there aren’t victims. Last year, sixty million people were displaced by wars advanced by despots, and the vacuum created by America’s conquest of Iraq. When Wall Street got the Glass-Steagall Act removed by the congressmen they bought, gamblers speculated with our money to trash the world economy. Immediately after which they gave themselves $18.4 billion in bonuses. Plus they had several trillion in taxpayer dollars in their pocket, and kept their tools of the trashing—CDOs and derivatives—exempt from regulation, so why not get a bonus? Meanwhile the taxpayers, some of whom can share blame along with governmental programs to prod Freddy Mae and Mac, lost their jobs, homes, families. Since taxpayers can’t afford a politician of their own, America is run by people who serve somebody else. We’re all victims of that. But there are even those—like a man on Staten Island—who get strangled by police after failing to give the state its tax for cigarettes sold on the street. After which a man angry about the incident executed two police officers unrelated to it.

There are plenty of victims, but the victims I’m concerned with are those who seem to be pretending. The radio laments an upstart author who was compared to successful, established authors, constituting an insult to her identity. The TV tells me there’s a lack of racial diversity among LGBT characters on television. And some African American leaders claim that multimillionaire NBA basketball players are slaves on a plantation. Had I known as a boy I could be a victim of such inequality, I’d have paid attention during basketball practice.

But did you hear that the Amazon’s golden toad, Yantze River dolphin, Pyrenean ibex, black-faced honeycreeper, and West African black rhino just went extinct? Driven into extinction, forever, by one globally dominant species. Now those are victims. The rhino’s horn was ground up as a beer additive for—among other false claims—better sex, as though the planet needs more humans. Since rhino horn is made of the protein keratin, drinkers could have trimmed their own toenails as an additive and saved the rhinos.

Instead, if you live in America, while these species and 2000 others blinked out of existence last year, you would have heard the sobs of college students. Coast to coast they marched, screamed, and sobbed, until their administrators resigned over hurtful “micro-aggressions.” One micro-aggression occurred when a white student “commandeered” the Spanish word fútbol instead of the word soccer. Another was a photo of two girls with a mustache and sombrero as part of their Halloween costume. Never mind that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it made Hispanics victims of…something. Incredulous? See the link below and its references. [1]

Video of these events garnered all the requisite outrage and media attention meant to imitate community shame, now that communities are dead. There were apologies, contrition, and tears on camera to dramatize the great conversion that perpetrators of micro-aggressions make in their obedience to conformity. Once done, we could all forget about it in time to feign outrage for the next aggression, a kind of American pastime.

Worldwide ecosystems collapse, America continues its slide unabated with what could be our first Emperor in Chief of Pomposity, and 300,000 were killed in Syria, while we hyperventilate about sombreros. As Chantal Delsol tells it, a people are made by hardship. They are also made by its absence. Hence, she notes, we have become a petty people. [2]

Some might see this striving for victim status as one of the sacraments of political correctness (PC): the oxymoronic notion that a common good of group-preferentiality must be obeyed, while simultaneously rejecting that any common good can exist, much less intrude on individual free choice. Every era has its fashions. But there seems something more fundamental to our tantrums than mere PC. I suggest one component is our concept of equality.

Equality was a central support of Enlightenment individualism. Our Founders gave us a Bill of Rights (not a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities) to ensure equality and freedom of individuals (not communities). What was the foundation of equality? Did it mean something? Or did equality evolve from something of substance to something now trying so hard to be taken seriously?

Enter French philosopher, Phillipe Bénéton. [3] Bénéton’s book elaborates how innovative humans are with social structures, norms, and values—something the ancients saw as reckless. We’re never satisfied. Like the latest gadget, there’s got to be a better way, be it phones or rights, computers or equality. According to Bénéton, Enlightenment innovation in equality lacked a solid foundation. As the demarcation between Medieval and modern thought, arguments abound as to its Christian influence. Is Enlightenment equality a Christian inheritance thanks to Christianity’s idea of the person, each endowed with a unique essence? Or, while a Christian inheritance, does modernity make equality practical by transposing it from the spiritual realm to the temporality of everyday life? Or, lastly, is modern sovereignty of the individual something new, no connection to Christianity? (I chafe at these notions of sovereignty as no one is sovereign. At the very least each has been utterly dependent on a mother, without which they would not exist.)

As Bénéton tells it, Christian perspectives promoted rules of life for spiritual salvation, while modernity promotes rules of society through a legal process for what might be called material salvation of peace and prosperity—Plato vs. Aristotle. The Christian model imitated the Aristotelian with its stress on moral education to make humans more than they are. But modernity now tends to leave humans as they are, elevating our flaws as an expression of identity. Early on, equality was expected to play out within confines of Christian morality with its checks and balances on individual excess. “But,” he writes, “the Founders failed to see they were setting a time bomb.”

Not according to George Washington. In his 1797 farewell address he said, “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” But religion defined how? By a loving God of the New Testament, or the same God that kills innocent first born, including infants and toddlers? See Exodus 4:21. God denies Pharaoh a choice, despite sending Moses with His demands, as though Pharaoh could choose.

The result of our more recent procedural society is that, “We no longer engage the heart to create indissoluble bonds,” writes Bénéton. Though he does not note that bonds fostered by common belief are unlikely in pluralistic societies with no state sanctioned religious or moral system. (See The Federalist for Madison’s brilliant but portentous solutions. [4]) Instead, we replace these indissoluble bonds with what we hope to be more dependable laws, procedurally administered by dispassionate third parties. Equality then depends not on common sentiments, but formalized rights.

One can see how we replaced sentiment with reasoned process, but as Michael J. Sandel has it, rights put the individual prior to the social. [5] This puts an important edge on the Self, a preconceived posture in opposition to the social before the social is even recognized. What we give ourselves in one way, we take away in another.

For Bénéton, these evolving ideals have denied us the capacity to share the same elevated essence. All are the same but we have nothing in common except our freedom to have nothing in common. With rejection of a common good and its hierarchy of values, rights float in constant clash, without anchor in nature, authority, or religion. “If rights are no longer based on nature, there is no reason to limit them,” writes Bénéton. “Anything one wants becomes a right.” Hence, there’s now a right to carry guns in University of Texas classrooms, a right to “non-sexed” restrooms in Iowa, autonomous cars reveal a right to drive, and from one presidential candidate, anyone claiming sexual assault “has a right to be believed.” In that case, the 2006 Duke Lacrosse team, and 2014 University of Virginia fraternity pilloried by The Rolling Stone should be imprisoned on false accusations. Human rights which substantiated equality have become particular to groups, not to humanity.

The ancient’s respect for vital distinctions of character is rejected by modern equality as the old view places some above others. Character threatens autonomy through inevitable comparisons, with the potential to create another victim. Today the right to be different applies only to certain insignificant surface features. These differences make no difference, not the way character used to make heroes. And if differences make no difference, distinctions between a host of issues are easy to lose, claims Bénéton: genius vs. farce, profound vs. superficial, decency vs. indecency. Under modernity every dogma is outlawed save relativism. “It is an evil to speak of the Good,” writes Bénéton. Because just what would that be, and who’s going to define it? We no longer have a reference. The modern human is liberated, separated from an order that transcends them, pronouncing a death sentence to meaning.

Part of that old order belonged to institutions Bénéton views as now a loose assortment of functions. Institutions like the family, school, civic associations, political organizations, church, and state, all having lost their forms (think Plato). And all, as Robert Putnum shows, descending in America. [6] Somehow, forms that once animated society held substance for people. Sentiments, not laws.

I wonder if this represents modernity's prioritization of creative innovation of these forms, over and above the forms themselves. Forms that once made the man more than a man: the minister in regalia behind his podium, the judge in gown seated above proceedings. And conjure this: the father as patriarch of the household. These are precisely the forms we relish in dismantling. Even a child of post Sixties America in the Seventies (like I was) could see this dismantling as a means to self-indulgence. I was able to hide behind the latest evolution in equality to demand due consideration with adults, as a child, at the expense of community to demolish traditional restraints on me. Bénéton marks this era of the Sixties as “late modernity,” when final condemnation of the forms take place. Individualism’s battle against tradition won.

Given this evolution, deep down, does equality with our fellow human beings now mean nothing more than a statute? The evolution of equality’s reach has rectified many wrongs, from slavery to women’s suffrage. But today, popular violations of equality sound like pretending. To garner victims special rights and privileges under what Bertrand Russell called, “The superior virtue of the oppressed.” One more factor in the disconnected existence we’ve come to accept as normal. Where does this evolution lead?

Until the first Monday in May, the 2nd, 2016.

[1] Lukianoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, The Atlantic, September 2015 [2] Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: The Search For Meaning In An Uncertain World, ISI, 2003 [3] Philippe Bénéton, Equality by Default: An Essay on Modernity as Confinement, ISI, 2004 [4] Hamilton, Jay, Madison, The Federalist, Modern Library, 1937, (1787) [5] Michael J. Sandel, Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy, Belknap Press, 1998 [6] Robert Putnum, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Touchstone, 2001 Revised for grammar and word choice, 11.22.2018



January 4, 2016: Hedonistic hairsplitting and scientific certainty

Despite all my many efforts to combat daftness, it still visits me. And in the least likely of places, such as this blog where I ponder at length something I’ve read. One presumes that both reading and pondering would ward off daftness. But in real life, and as one learns in engineering, no system is perfect.

Days after posting my last entry on this blog I attempted to fix daft notions it contained, but it’s still a mess. That mess seems to come down to some quite subtle hairsplitting over terms and assumptions. As I’ve found, even defining gets dicey. It’s no wonder political philosophy and politics in general generates so much heat in this country. As the cartoon character, Elmer Fudd, once told Bugs Bunny, “It ain’t science!”

Last time I made reference to Gogdignon and Thiriet’s (G&T’s) assessment of the modern individual's willful obsession with work, and our destiny as hedonists, which didn’t happen. I then submitted their hypothesis applied only to white color professionals, not labor and trades, i.e. hedonism did matter to labor and trades because, “Their action tends not to be rewarding beyond remuneration.”

Well…really? While I maintain that most vocations are no longer in and of themselves inspiring (more on that below), does the domination of our workplace argue for a hedonistic life for anybody? If G&T are right, that we in the Western world now work ourselves to the grave by choice, where’s the hedonism in that? So, in this post, I reject the remark I made last time, and suggest that hedonism is not the goal for almost anyone, professional or labor.

But wait! During arguments with myself about this topic, I was confronted with another fine French philosopher from the same text in which I discovered G&T - Gilles Lipovetsky. [2] Lipovetsky convincingly says the opposite: hedonism has been not only a dominant player in modernity, but surreptitious. For him, a cultural transformation can be pinned down to France, May, 1968 (while similar events were afoot in the US). Lipovetsky submits that student movements of ’68 were unprecedented from previous revolts in their combination of unified action, like all such revolts that deny supremacy of the individual for a cause, but for purely individualistic reasons, like no such revolt. In ’68 there was no plan, no future, only challenge to every form of order, organization, and hierarchy as oppressive of immediate gratification. Students of that period, according to Lipovetsky, denounced capitalistic hedonism through a practice of hedonism in which complete permissiveness was demanded without restraints, reinforced by Freud’s (fanciful) notions of repressed desires.

Lipovetsky writes, “In no way did May announce the restructuring of society; indeed, it signaled the very opposite. It was the psychodramatic and parodic end to the [true] revolutionary age [of Enlightenment]. It augured the victory of individualism, and the irreversible privatization of the social sphere. May ’68 was less an antitechnocratic movement struggling for collective self-determination than a wild moment in our relentless descent into the world of modern individualism and personal autonomy.”

Recall that according to Louis Dumont, this individualist movement has a long evolution; from Greek Cynics to Roman Stoics, absorbed by Christians, changed by the Enlightenment, passed forward and amplified to deafening volumes in the 1960s. [3] This evolution exchanged virtue for liberty, duty for rights, responsibility for choice, belonging for autonomy, meaning for purpose. For Lipovetsky, the hedonistic spasm of the ’60s accelerated hedonistic tendencies common to all democracies, and steepened the tumble of what was already in decline. Social bonds weakened with withdrawal into private life, and people further turned in on themselves becoming indifferent to public life with little interest in ties to the collectivity.

While further hairsplitting might be enjoyed between Lipovetsky’s hedonism as cause vs. G&T’s hedonism as outcome, does hedonism really play a role in either context?

America is today a materialistic society, and I doubt I’ll confess to daftness on that. However, materialism - in its social sense as material possessions superior to spiritual values - is not quite hedonism. Materialism seems to have four causes: survival, sexual selection through display, rank in the primate hierarchy, and hedonism. While materialism is not necessarily hedonistic, hedonism is most definitely materialistic. Though Lipovetsky’s impressions of ’68 are inviting - the faddish character of its motivations and its permanent outcomes - hedonism as the outcome of our fall from belonging or its cause, seems less so. To G&T’s point, hedonism should have been the result of radical individualism, but it wasn’t. Instead, our materialism seems to me less about self-indulgent devotions to pleasure, than backfill. As Morgan Whitaker said, “Once on the material track, people strive for more to fill in for less.” [4]

But less what exactly?

Meaning.

I stated in an earlier blog my hypothetical distinction between meaning and purpose. That meaning is delivered to us from external sources – the loving pet, adoring child, trustworthy spouse, belief in God. While purpose, on the other hand, is up to us, internally determined. We’ve always got something to do. Echoing G&T (and Tocqueville [5]) so long as we stay busy, the realization that we have limited or no meaning whatsoever can be hidden. Hence, the effect of lost community, tradition, and religion, exchanged for the satisfaction of self-interest which our economic machine is built for. Of course there are still believers, and people still have families, both of which provide meaning. Both also took serious injury in the 20th century, and according to surveys referenced earlier, that trend is accelerating. The individualist movement powers forward.

Now we’ve arrived at “(more on that below),” and how I came to wrap this business about work, hedonism, and meaning together: “Work hard, play hard” is a mantra in America. From my own youthful experience in labor, the last half of that mantra was an escape. It was a kind of rebellion against making myself return daily to work I loathed, under the whip of my own needs and desires for income. At that age I could not yet separate need from desire. At one factory I worked in (when America had factories), each night on second shift from 4 p.m. to midnight I was confined to a one square meter space, performing the same repetitive action. Over and over, fast as I could perform it, as I dreamed about mealtime, and hoped my daydream didn’t cost me my fingers or a hand. For a 19 year old boy, I was chained to a dungeon. When the midnight whistle blew, I struggled to contain my euphoria until the freeway entrance a half mile away. There, my shouts through an opened car window echoed off the outer planets as I drove up the ramp. I did this to psychologically cut that chain with the power of audio. I bought a motorcycle to ride on trails as hard as I could ride it. I drove my car as fast as I could drive it. I skied as long as I could stand it. I fought factory confinement with outside activity.

My perception of this vocation is telling in a manner beyond personal idiosyncrasies. During the Great Depression, such employment would have been seen as a gift from God. During World War Two, it was seen as a duty to America engaged in the hoped for salvation of civilization. After the war, factory labor was seen as part and parcel of the good life, a mark of the responsible citizen on their way from deprivation to comfort. Things changed. We changed, and the system we made succeeded. My example as a youth, ignorant of the part I represented in that arc of transforming perceptions was merely one instance of that alteration. My actions were about an ordering of life I didn’t want to conform to.

But this sounds like an argument for Lipovetsky, that my actions were little different from students in ’68. I say, no. My actions were not about pleasure seeking, but the fact I saw no meaning to my labor. My purpose at the factory was clear – the dollar. Meaning experienced by these circumstances in previous generations was gone by the time I arrived because the sanctification of individualism moved past any remaining communal roles and their connections. My world was all about me, not some larger picture of the common good so cherished by the ancients, or more recently, by my parents. Be it labor or professional, how many of us today toil in service to a higher cause, or simply to pay the bills? I wanted the meaning my parents had, but didn’t know it. My rebellion wasn’t going to provide that, it could only be a tantrum for reasons unknown at the time.

What I sought was not pleasure, so it wasn’t hedonism, it was relief from whatever I couldn’t define. Those growing numbers of us today without tradition, religion, and true community, have cast off those anchors as an outcome of the individualist movement. We don’t seek a future of material pleasure in hedonism, but try in the only way we know (individual will) to cover for the loss of a past we don’t even know.

But if we don’t even know it, how can we seek to fill in for whatever it was with something else? Because we feel it. Humans are social creatures, starting with birth to mother that determines our meaning from the outside. She is the first valuation of ourselves. We don’t “know” that as infants either, but we feel it. Anyone who’s been around infants can see the importance of that connection, and we know what psychological mutations occur when this is denied. We moderns live in similar denial, but as adults, willfully detached, then wonder why our societies experience such dis-ease. This is why our so called self-realization is impossible on our own, because ironically it can only be found through proper relations with other humans in those true face-to-face communities that no longer exist.

Sadly, political philosophy, which I find so intriguing, is not physics. The precision with which one argues these topics is not a precision engineers would find satisfactory in making real things real. Devices built with the kind of certainty prevalent in political philosophy might work with better than chance randomness, but in engineering, that’s not saying much.

In science and engineering, nature is the unbiased judge. We test our understanding against it and find we are right, close to right, or wrong. Nature has no concern for us, it is what it is. We either understand it, or we don’t. In the human realm, no longer is there a certain test.

Perhaps this is one reason we so often argue past each other now. Who knows what’s true? For we modern products of that Enlightenment reason I so cherish, neither the Greek Cosmos, nor Christian order in God’s divine plan can result in certainty, and thus we have no reference. These views were once considered objective facts, external to us. Now they’re merely subjective opinions.

In America, our Founders intentionally demoted religion from fact to opinion in order to defang passions. Better peace with ambiguity, than war with certainty. Hence, government (not the people) was to be neutral on matters of morality, while the Founders hoped religion and morality would hold their own. That’s not what happened. Today, truth, values, evil, the good, and our individualistic lifestyles are all relative, chosen by the individual. What we have in common now is not a sacred human essence that the ancients held so dear (at least among non-slaves). As Philippe Bénéton writes, “What we have in common is the right to have nothing in common.” [6] We’re free. But deep down is there a growing sense that we are rudderless, and don’t know why? These authors make it appear that way, and my experience seems to agree, but “this ain’t science.”

Oh well. It’s early morning. The stores are open. I’ll feel better – for a while - if I go buy something.

Until the first Monday in March, the 7th, 2016.

[1] Anne Gogignon & Jean-Louis Thiriet, The Rebirth of Voluntary Servitude, in New French Thought: Political Philosophy, Princeton, 1994 [2] Gilles Lipovetsky, May ’68, of the Rise of Transpolitical Individualism, in New French Thought: Political Philosophy, Princeton, 1994 [3] Louis Dumont, Essays on Individualism, University Of Chicago Press, Reprint 1992 [4] Brett Williams, The Father, Combustible Books, 2014 [5] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Penguin Classics, 2003 [6] Philippe Bénéton, Equality by Default: An Essay on Modernity as Confinement, ISI, 2004



November 2, 2015: Work ‘til you drop – the fruit of independence

Gogdignon and Thiriet wrote, “As a vehicle for self-fulfillment and personal growth, work has quickly become the focus of individual freedom, as its impure origins in physical subjugation and subsistence needs have been forgotten…transforming [work] from a means to an end in itself.” [1] For Gogdignon and Thiriet (G&T) this aspect of self-determination, elaborated by the Enlightenment to circumvent abuse, has become an abuse all its own, against the individual, by the individual. I’m reminded of that old axiom, that all great ideas commit suicide through excess.

Echoing modernity’s lack of orientation in true community and tradition that we saw from them last time, G&T write, “Since [the self] remains entirely undefined, the self becomes nothing but the act of its own definition. This definition immediately resolves into a new one, and so on, into infinity…Self-affirmation can therefore be achieved through pure action. It must take the form of an endlessly self-renewing project, in which we set ourselves new goals…[where] nonstop work becomes the ultimate measure of [our] being.”

By this point it was clear, this was not so much an essay to the world as a letter to me. I fully embraced (for the most part, still do) what G&T denounce, and what author Philip Bénéton labels “late modernity,” when individualism acquired warp speed from the Sixties. [2] I made full use of the new emancipation: rejections of authority, free choice, self-determination, and a level of work effort that would have made the Puritans blanch. From the standpoint of personal achievement, it eventually served me well, albeit not without pain for my parents in the early years. Later, not without some measure of pain for me, having lost those opportunities for connection that can never be recovered. When I left a career focused on the methods of nature for a quest to understand the human condition, I felt a bit like Linus Pauling when he said he was so engaged in his work that he met his son for the first time at his son’s fortieth birthday party. It’s a common ailment of our times. As G&T note, what was once engagement with the social arena is “exchanged for the exclusive relationship of the self to the self.”

“We can now understand why work has become the individual’s most important, all-consuming activity,” writes G&T. “Its exactions constantly feed the willful appetites that haunt the modern world. If freedom must remain permanently unrealized, work is the perfect place to exercise it…We are witnessing a strange reversal of perspective, in which servitude – be it voluntary or forced – becomes freedom in action…If modern consciousness ever pauses to rest, it only finds a void that serves to fuel its own anxieties. We have no choice except activity or void, work or anxiety.” Tocqueville rings in my ears, having pioneered this perspective with his accurate evaluation of Americans already by 1840. [3] But to take the point only slightly farther, G&T write, “Freedom today takes the form of voluntary servitude to an absent master. Modern man is his own master, yet he has all the characteristics of a slave. Although he is hyperactive, excessively vigilant, and extremely driven, it is entirely by choice. He works frantically because he is free; not because he is held in bondage. This is not a sign of madness; it is the logical outcome of modern freedom.”

For those with a career in the sciences or engineering, there are two sides to this. One side agrees with G&T’s assessment. There were those occasions when a 98 hour week would lead me outside a windowless lab building in the midst of darkness. There I could find refreshment under a smog piercing moon, its rays cast upon asphalt and concrete vistas of another American mega city. Schedules imposed on those efforts were grueling, but my brain needed a break. So I stood there in the dark, wondering what life would be like without equations, computer code, and radio frequency circuits.

The flip side of this experience was the awe one discovers with those deep emersions in nature. In my case, they were pierced by those equations, computer code, and radio frequency circuits. The concepts of things we will never see, only calculate and measure, can be very close to the edge of human capacity. So close that losing one’s mental pattern of understanding spells another struggle to get it back. Being in the presence of that understanding was something like a religious experience. To witness those equations lift off the page with a life of their own was the same feeling as the brush strokes that makes the painting, or the scene that clicks on stage. You didn’t want to leave it. What Alasdair MacIntyre extols as private practice that earns satisfaction by doing it to the best of one’s ability. [4] A private satisfaction with no publicity.

There’s also something to be said for all those individualists gathering to complete some great project. While as transient as G&T would decry, who would not want to have been part of building the Golden Gate Bridge, Empire State Building, Apollo moon mission, or Voyager now beyond our solar system’s heliopause. Most great projects can’t be done alone. But are such triumphs only possible by organized individualists within disconnected societies? The Pyramids, Parthenon, and Lighthouse of Alexandria marking the port to their great library provide arguments against this. (Incidentally, slaves did not build the pyramids as Cecil B. DeMille would have us believe.)

“We were mistaken to think that the emancipation of the individual would lead to the liberation of all desires and passions, to hedonistic self-fulfillment,” writes G&T. “Far from responding to the call of pleasure, modern man is entirely focused on the realization of his power to act, which is the sole indication that he is free.” Though one can barely imagine a laborer pining for another hour on, say, a road crew to dig another ditch. For them, in America, hedonism seems to matter. And why wouldn’t it? Their action tends not to be rewarding beyond remuneration. Often it’s “life eviscerating,” as Joseph Campbell coined our modern work. [5] Having toiled in several factories and on a road crew before my college years, I have some experience in these matters. What counted most on the job was lunch. Of course this is my perspective of labor, and surely – hopefully – there are those brave souls who truly do enjoy it, with a touch of MacIntyre’s private practice.

As witness to others still in the grind of whatever sort, my perspective is from the outside in now, and often I see what G&T meant when they wrote, “[Modern man] is no longer curious about the outside world or capable of aesthetic enjoyment. He has no time to wander freely, no time to waste in wonderment, reflection, or diversion. The self has dispensed with the outside world, and its tireless activity has now forbidden any intrusions…[sounding] the death knell not only of dilettantism but also of art.” And if you don’t believe that, consider modern art. Everything from “excremental works” (for $20,000 per can), to shouting until unable to speak, called “performance art.” With modernity’s disengagement from high culture, the replacement is cash culture or pop culture, while art is anything an artist says it is, and an artist is anyone who says they are. As with moral bearings provided by true communities now gone, we have no reference.

With all this in mind, my engagement with the workplace had a happy ending. Somehow, the utilitarian society I live in didn’t rob me of curiosity and that thrill of discovery. I left the workplace, not without reluctance, to expand my horizons. To write, to paint, to study other fields of science, history and philosophy, to reengage photography, hiking, and visits to what’s left of wilderness or antiquities the world over. Admittedly, I, like most Americans, have no community connection. And while G&T would be disappointed in my general lack of longing for those connections, at least I am enlivened by the wider world they advocate. Western civilization makes its rotation from confinement of the individual by someone else, to confinement of the individual by the self. What else can we do but make the best of it?

Until the first Monday of January the 4th, 2016.

[1] Anne Gogignon & Jean-Louis Thiriet, The Rebirth of Voluntary Servitude, in New French Thought: Political Philosophy, Princeton, 1994 [2] Philippe Bénéton, Equality by Default: An Essay on Modernity as Confinement, ISI, 2004 [3] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Penguin Classics, 2003 (1840) [4] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, University of Notre Dame Press, 2010 [5] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, Doubleday, 1987



September 7, 2015: Cerebral Birth Pangs

Godignon and Thiriet wrote, “As the world undergoes what has been called ‘the death of meaning,’ freedom for the [individual] has arrived, since nothing external defines him anymore. He is reduced to timeless, insubstantial, and empty subjectivity. Only two possibilities remain: activity (primarily work), or stagnation (the modern form of hedonism). Any residual ‘self’ resembles any other, and like the world on which it is modeled, this self is [void], insignificant, uncultivated, and without history.” [1] When I read this, I wanted to cry. Not because it was a revelation, but because I was sad to see, yet again, that others felt as I do, or at least as I have begun to feel. This time from the French, who have made epic strides to revive French philosophy since the disgrace of Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan.

I wasn’t born with the insights of a Thomas Paine or a Christopher Hitchens. So, while always curious about the world, I was still a product of my civilization. Hence, I have personally experienced both the incessant activity, and stagnation (though only briefly as a youth) that Godignon and Thiriet note. Our American custom is to attach ourselves to the perpetual present – fads, fashion, thrills, this morning’s hottest celebrity, this afternoon’s latest outrage, and of course today’s emergency at the workplace. Our civilization has become one most responsive to primal urge, because we’re so busy, as Tocqueville could already see 175 years ago. [2] Depth – of any sort, really – is not essential to employment. I feel an absence of real and substantial history the more I learn about it. And the more I learn, the better I understand what Godignon and Thiriet wrote.

For years I’ve preferred the Durant perspective: “Our capacity for fretting is endless. No matter how many difficulties we surmount, how many ideals we realize, we shall always find an excuse for being magnificently miserable. There is a stealthy pleasure in rejecting mankind or the universe as unworthy of our approval.” [3] With Durant’s evaluation, I could chalk up my attitude to that “stealthy pleasure.” Until about fifteen years ago when I read Allan Bloom’s, The Closing of the American Mind. It was the sad birth of a new certainty and remains the most impactful book I’ve ever read. Bloom’s book was a commercial blockbuster that raised a continental stink in the US, because, in my opinion, it was the first and most courageous modern text to tell the truth about us as we are now. And, as much as can be done in a single volume, the whole truth, not only that half or less that serves our dogma, Left or Right. We American’s are no longer used to that kind of honesty, especially when delivered with such intense clarity. Closing generated mass editorials, conferences, disciples in and out of academia, a book of responses, a 25th Anniversary edition, blogs with later evolution of the Internet, and is still vilified by those who were stung the hardest.

In close competition with Bloom is Delsol’s, Icarus Fallen [4], and Sandel’s, Democracy’s Discontent. [5] I read a number of books to refute these perceptions including Levine’s Opening of the American Mind [6] which quite unintentionally so reinforced Bloom while struggling to refute him, it only made things worse. At the heart of all these works is the state of humanity in modernity, with reference to the ancients, given the colossal adjustment in human life between then and now.

As a result of these studies, my fear grows; that the world we made is an historic mistake. But fears are often fueled by uncertainty. As the opening paragraph above notes, and the thread on this blog indicates, this “historic mistake” appears strongly associated with the modern conception of the individual. While I embrace the individualist solution of busyness as it serves my purpose, it does not address issues of the soul, i.e. meaning, how we got this way, or if there’s a way out.

It’s easy to dismiss modernity for a rosy image of the ancients as I watch whatever I fancy on NetFlix, seated on a comfy couch from Canada, enjoying my one-gallon-of-water-per-almond (a bag full of them) shipped from drought wracked California across an ocean to my local store. (Sounds like Durant’s stagnation.) But the difference between the ancients may be arranged in two categories, material and spiritual. They were materially poor, spiritually rich. We are the opposite. And that’s the problem. We better stay busy.

Most of our success and advancement over the ancients can be placed in material terms – stuff, technology, biological longevity, comfort, convenience, obesity. However, the technology of access can be uplifting. Consider a jet flight to Delphi, Greece, standing amidst all that magnificent history. Or the Internet, a doorway to information and rubbish. And isn’t there a great deal to be said for the abolition of slavery? (Greece had slaves too.) Once a world industry with people stolen from as far away as Iceland for Arab countries, or Africa for America, now gone but for illegal trafficking that still lingers by comparison.

What the ancients had was belonging to true communities. Ours are long since dead, though the word “community” is used hundreds of times per day in the media. (Just listen for reports of next week’s gun massacre.) As Aristotle notes, and I agree, community is not simply a common location people occupy to ease exchange. But that’s what we have. Community was once about “a people” who belonged to a way of life they sought to perpetuate. But for minuscule subgroups like the Amish, Mennonites, or orthodox Jews, there is no community left in America. Having been raised in an individualistic civilization, I would find such subgroups suffocating. But I’ll never experience the deep connections they have. We are a nation of strangers now, more so with time. Independent islands evermore disconnected from our neighbors, often our own family, nuclear or extended, separated by demands of work that limits our time and expands our distance. For a growing number of us, the ancient soul’s peace is replaced by modernity’s purpose.

Enlightenment - that cherished era of scientific and philosophical discovery from roughly 1650 - 1750 AD - sanctified the individual, but at the expense of true community, and thus began the demise of belonging, faith, and meaning. We have emptied our soul once filled by human connectedness, and the meaning that belonging once provided. We as a society disposed of deeper connections in favor of individual independence, for good reasons, but with unintended consequences. We unwittingly damaged ourselves; we jettisoned all the old certainties; we live with eternal doubt about fundamental things. As Michael J. Sandel wrote with one of my favorite lines, “Liberated and dispossessed.”

Once the accepted moral hierarchy, defined as “the common good,” was replaced by individualism, we woke up in a world of self-contradictory dogmas. As a result, in the private sphere we’re confused as to just what is right, true, good, because nobody knows. This does not stop us from staking our flag in claim of certain terrain. But this is bravado to cover for the truth we hide from ourselves – that we are not in control and we don’t understand why. In the public sphere, liberals claim there is no overarching moral code as this is an infringement on individual choice, as they hyperventilate over the latest violation of an overarching political correctness. Conservatives embrace both the Christian morality of selflessness, and Adam Smith’s capitalism of selfishness. No wonder we’re confused.

And still, after all that, despite the current status of Western civilization, I’m not yet convinced that modernity was a bad trade. It’s true, by comparison to the old ways, we are on our own. But that in itself is not always bad. Long ago, trapped in a hyper-dysfunctional relationship, I learned The Great Secret: “It’s better to be alone than wish you were.” I’ll take free choice, independence, unattached to any sort of external objectivity, rather than suffer unending face-to-face combat, any day. Though it must be said, Bloom and the others are concerned with the nature of Western society, its norms and trajectory, more than calamitous intersections between individual men and women, which the ancients had too. Though Bloom et. al. see this as a symptom and/or contributor to our demise.

I’ve benefited greatly from the social movement those Europeans started in earnest with the Enlightenment. I had a career in the sciences they invented that allowed me to leave it to do as “I” wish. It’s a wonderful thing for me, and a slow motion disaster for society. I am both benefactor and hostage to Enlightenment reason’s dispersion of community. My perspective is expanding to others with acceleration, not, I think, for the better. As a result, the soul craves meaning. But blessings of individualism won’t allow its satisfaction. We’ll have to satisfy ourselves with activity instead. At least we’ve got that.

It seems to me the good news is, we now have the freedom through democratic and capitalistic institutions, virtually without constraint, to choose our own path (unlike the ancients). The bad news is, we now have the freedom through democratic and capitalistic institutions, virtually without constraint, to choose our own path. Consequently, I’ll be doing all I can to stay busy with the dual hope that I can keep that purpose train running, and that I am not too severely haunted by an absence of meaning. There’s something to be said for a sober response to the hand life dealt us. If Oswald Spengler [7] and Brooks Adams [8] are correct, there’s no steering the demise of Western civilization anyway, may as well enjoy the ride down.

Of course, if I believed that I’d never read another book on the subject, often as hard to crack as a stone, nor bother with coalescing those thoughts they generate on this blog.

Until next time, November 2, 2015, when we dig more into Godignon and Thiriet, and their take on the state of the modern individual.

[1] Anne Gogignon & Jean-Louis Thiriet, New French Thought: Political Philosophy, Princeton, 1994 [2] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Penguin Classics, 2003 (1840) [3] Will & Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History, Simon & Schuster, 2010 reprint (1968) [4] Chantel Delsol, Icarus Fallen, ISI, 2010 [5] Michael J. Sandel, Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy, Belknap Press, 1998 [6] Lawrence W. Levine, The Opening of the American Mind, Beacon Press, 1997 [7] Oswald Spengler, Decline of the West, Vintage, 2006 (1921) [8] Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, Forgotten Books, 2015 (1896)



July 6, 2015: Mount Economics – It Wasn’t Always So Tall

This time we’ll look a bit closer at that catapult of individualism: economics. Not from the standpoint of supply and demand, efficient markets, or Wall Street gamblers, but the development of economics into an independent ideology. Using Louis Dumont as a starting place, we touch briefly on how modern economics was born, evolved, and became paramount to our definition of the world we made. [1]

Modern perspectives on economics are now fundamental to political philosophy. As Dumont puts it, “Modernity has witnessed the emergence of a new mode of consideration – a carving out of a separate domain evoked by the word ‘economics’ or ‘the economy’ – a separate compartment of the human mind, a paramount value of modernity.” The ancients dealt with economic matters too, but these matters were associated with the public good, not an individual’s self-interest as there was no such thing as “individuals” in the ancient world, only members. With the exception of modern individual rights, economics has since become the very expression of the individualist movement, and this evolution has been of keen interest to this blog.

Modern economics is, among other things, the implementation of practical science as technology, made useful through engineering, taken to the masses by markets. I wouldn’t be writing this blog were it not for every link in that chain. I might not even be alive. We now assume economics is a field all its own, a kind of science of production and consumption. But its liberation from politics and morality is historically recent. Before this transition the concept of wealth was immovable property. Rights were granted by land ownership, enmeshed in the social organization, conferring power over others. Once wealth became autonomous as mobile cash, ownership of property as a form of power over people declined. All the old hierarchies were in flux around the same time, lending greater freedom to the individual. As Dumont writes, “When the authority of holistic hierarchy disappears then authority degrades into power and power into influence.” We have seen the positive and negative effects of this.

The transformation from selfless Christian morality to selfish economic morality was mentioned here last time (May 4, 2015) when we considered definitions of the human being. In that entry we considered how different definitions result in different political philosophies that accord with that definition. These different political philosophies then give rise to different societies people live and die in. It was my contention that Enlightenment definitions (ca. 1700) of the human being, with Enlightenment’s emphasis on individualism, were for good reasons: in response to their times, and also wrong in their fundamentals. Wrong because they established the notion that each human is fully autonomous, free of prior connections – an ideal foundation for consumerism. But biology says otherwise, with the connection between mother and child as the fundamental social unit that expresses what we are: social creatures prior to autonomy, dependent and connected. I submit the success of economics born from Enlightenment, with all of its miraculous benefits, has also saved us the trouble of social interaction. The economic promise to make individuals independent was a resounding success. With abatement of social connections goes traditional morality as a characteristic of groups greater than one. This resulting loss of morality, ethics, virtues, traditions, all as victims of our independence serve to exacerbate our growing sense of disconnectedness, isolation, and emptiness. Compared to the past, we are materially rich, socially and spiritually impoverished. We’ve decided without knowing it to trade one domain for the other. As Michael J. Sandal puts it, “Liberated and dispossessed.” [2]

These mostly European philosophers responsible for acceleration of the individualist movement and economics to service it, stressed sovereignty of the individual to break free of arbitrary power of kings and Popes. By the time these philosophers began to ponder new social systems, the king had been demoted, and the Church was about to be. Almost five hundred years earlier the Magna Carta formally started this long process when King John of England (1167-1216) accepted limitations to his power demanded by the barons he was taxing to pay for lost wars. John had already capitulated to the Pope during an era when the Church had turned its pursuit for heaven into a pursuit for the world. As Dumont clarifies and many have noted, this was in violation to the teachings of Jesus: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” [2] An expression of indifference, which in context makes clear which is superior, thus dismissing Caesar. Or, more accurately, dismissing worldly things like possessions and wealth as distractions from matters of the soul.

But bigger things were evolving for the Church than papal-king jousting. Isaac Newton published his Principia Mathematica in 1687. It extended Johannes Kepler’s Cosmographic Mystery a hundred years earlier (1596), which validated Copernicus and his Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres fifty years before that (1543). What once belonged only to God, man was now in charge of. Some of the shine had been wiped off the mystery and it wouldn’t be the king that posed the greatest threat to Church authority. Even more than the Protestant Reformation itself (1524) that threat would be direct and indirect effects of science. Science is the force behind technology, technology is the power that drives modern economic expansion.

Seventeenth century accentuation of individual autonomy accompanied an often unstated religious and moral sense. Many, though not all (e.g. Voltaire), wanted religion maintained to balance the obvious dangers of individualism: selfishness, greed, hedonism. These men assumed such guidance would always be present. They were wrong, as some did fear and expressed at the time. Individualism and the rights created to sustain it would eventually reach a point where the law would determine one individual able to freely choose to end the life of another incapable of choice. Regardless of one’s political stance on abortion, it serves as a supreme example of modernity when something that has taken place since humans started reproducing, would now become philosophically justified as an individual right. (The reader might recall, this author is agnostic – not atheistic as some are found of confusing.) Such a right, like all rights, sanction the ascendancy of the individual, while simultaneously distancing them from the belonging, reference, and burden of true community.

With Mandeville [4] and Smith’s [5] dissociation of economics from traditional moral restrictions, individuals would be invited to determine their own morality, able to claim that their pursuits of self-interest were distanced from communal judgement as it served the new morality of private vice as public good. As Ernst Troeltsch noted, “Claims are no more proof of validity than needs are guarantees of satisfaction…” [6] And as Dumont points out, “Something that remains opaque in this transition in mental perspective is that the new morality regulates social relationships whether or not goods are involved.”

Economics is individualism in material practice. Economics is the jet engine under the wings of individualism that make individualism palpably sovereign and clearly visible, not merely philosophically held to be true in a political arena. Economic practice is now so refined we require no human interaction as our transactions can be done electronically with delivery to our door by unseen strangers. We’ve come to prefer this lack of interaction. This economic ideology would quite logically commercialize agriculture into the number one planet-wide selective pressure under which complete species now disappear. Often these species and their habitats are an obstacle to efficiency. Such effects are said not to be the proper purview of economics as they are irrelevant to “maximum utility of efficient markets.” All of this, from our growing isolation without moral tradition, to planet-wide modification by just one species was not created by economic perspectives, but accentuated by it, more even than the original philosophy of individualism itself. Economics is not merely a tool of analysis to tell us what happened or attempt predictions; it sets public policy to structure the very society we live in. [6] Are we the masters of our ideas, or do they master us?

But is this the final status for economics? There may be room for more realistic economic models. By “more realistic,” I mean models that take into consideration community responsibilities a bit closer to that home the ancients realized, one closer to a truer definition of the human, with the recognition that every economic decision has a traditional moral element. University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler’s recent book admits that capitalist economics has been overconfident of unrealistic theories. [7] (Incidentally, the University of Chicago has 29 Noble Prize winners in economics, called the Chicago School, which Thaler opposes.) Thaler shows that humans are not rational agents in economic transactions but frequently quite the opposite. The robotic “free agent” may be in for a common sense replacement by people as they really are. Perhaps not far behind is the realization that all economic transactions have a moral component demanding due consideration, and with that a return to a traditional morality of empathy that rejects greed as good.

Until next time: the first Monday in September, the 7th, 2015.

[1] Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx: The Genesis and Triumph of Economic Ideology, University of Chicago Press, 1977 [2] Michael J. Sandal, “Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy,” Belknap Press, 1998 [3] Mathew 22:21 [4] Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, 1705 [5] Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776 [6] Stephen Marglin, “The Dismal Science: Why Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community”, Harvard, 2010 [7] Richard H. Thaler, “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,” Norton, 2015



May 4, 2015: Philosophic Foundations – What Defines “Human”?

Philosophers have spent a great deal of effort attempting to define humanity. It used to be tool use, until chimps were found to use tools. Possessing a moral compass has been a long standing definition, until other primates were found to display morality in their sense of fairness, aid to the sick, and sharing. Language, mathematics, religion, and brain size have all been considered. Though it’s begun to look like other mammals have what might be termed a rudimentary language, and even lemurs can count, though so far as we know, they can’t solve differential equations. Elephants appear to revere their dead in “elephant cemeteries.” Dolphins have the largest brain-to-body-mass ratio of any species on earth. None of this is to say humans and other animals are the same, only that we share the same or similar traits.

For the purposes of this blog – and political philosophy - the question, what defines human? is more about what fundamental characteristics humans do have, regardless of whether other creatures share these or not. From these fundamental characteristics come the kind of society that strives to be in accord with what humans are, a society grounded on a political philosophy built on that definition. If, for example, humans are naturally wicked or unruly, a strong arm model of governance should be employed. So said Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) in his favoring of a monarchy. But if humans are naturally good, then shouldn’t they be able to govern themselves? So asked John Locke (1632-1704) in his preference for democracy with its stress on the individual (individual liberty, rights, equality). Get the definition wrong, and a mess is made – a society that forces real humans into unreal molds.

Until recently, religion, as well as natural law and morality, played such a large role in the human definition, one finds it inseparable in any survey of the past. Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) argued religion is not a requirement to discover natural law, nor then its antecedent, the human definition. [1] Right reason is enough. In Rothbard’s refutation of David Hume’s (1711-1776) “demolition” of any objective capacity to know human nature (the root of modern day social relativity), it becomes clear that, of course, passions command motivated reason, but not right reason. Hume did not distinguish. Maybe he didn’t know when he said reason is slave to passion. (Was only Hume exempt from this “fact”?) Motivated reason – quite popular outside the sciences and engineering – is a type of reason that rejects evidence in disagreement with what is already believed. In other words, lip service as the appearance of reason. American politicians, talk radio, and television are experts in this method. On the other hand, right reason restrains the individual from an act they could otherwise gain from - the application of which had a name called virtue.

However, in Rothbard’s analysis, and my own, there are unstated assumptions: that religion really is separable from the human definition, that “unassisted” reason (without revelation) is possible, that at its heart, right reason differs from motivated reason. While I agree with Rothbard, that religious inspiration is not a requirement for the human definition, these assumptions remain. Historically speaking, this subtraction of religious reference is new. Outside of the invention of agriculture, this separation may be the biggest change in the human condition. And it paves the way for the next biggest change: the separation of morality by modern economics.

In the practical day-to-day arena of America, religion and traditional morality were disconnected from the definition of ourselves along three parallel routes. First, our Enlightenment-influenced Founders demanded government be morally neutral in order to avoid imposing a morality on individuals. Gradually, Americans would assume the people themselves were to be morally neutral. This was not intended, but bound to happen in an individualist State. (Of course, moral neutrality is not neutral as it selects against prevailing moral standards.) Second, and for good historical reasons, America’s Founders expressly parted their government from religion by separating church and a state sponsored faith, though colonies at that time still funded their favored denomination. Third, the Founders demoted religion from fact to opinion, but an opinion that became an individual “right.”

Prevailing moral standards at the time of America’s Founding came from Christianity. According to Louis Dumont (1911-1998), Jesus emphasized empathy as central to humanity. [2] Recognizing the potential for error, we should then strive to be selfless. Jesus placed emphasis on what I’ll term here as spiritual morality, degrading the material world of the here-and-now in favor of a world beyond. “For what has a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” [3] But seventeen hundred years after Jesus, that "next biggest change in the human condition” arrived in the form of Adam Smith’s (1723-1790) Wealth of Nations. [4] Smith claimed that selfishness is central to humanity - a paramount interest in self-preservation, why not give into it? So long as we create a set of rules to play by, each can pursue their own self-interest by a new type of morality, of “private vice serving public good.” Smith reversed the Christian teaching by elevating the material world of here-and-now, seeking physical comfort for the greatest number of people. And it worked. Smith’s capitalist economy thrived in an atmosphere of “moral neutrality” and individualism.

It’s clear that traditional morality and economic morality are in opposition: selflessness vs. selfishness; empathy vs. “greed is good,” as Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) clarifies in his work that so influenced Smith. [5] Hence, the most profound self-contradiction in Western civilization, which is generally Christian and simultaneously capitalistic. (To point this out in public America risks condemnation from our political Right as though it were an assault on Christianity or, perhaps more sacred, capitalism.)

From Smith eventually arrives the notion that material wellbeing is a realization of social justice, not that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This change in the human definition changed our ideology (according to Dumont) and thus our actions from an ideology once based on “man’s relation to men,” now “man’s relation to things.” It might be predictable that at this transition the individual accelerates their separation from others via control of the natural world, achievement, displays of materially defined success, etc. As such, true communities disappear. After Smith, the plodding pace of individualism becomes a sprint, eventually to trample traditional communal life with its many duties and responsibilities that we moderns view as positively stifling.

So what is the fundamental nature of humans? First, we should accept that late modern humans of the West are a walking contradiction. We want love and independence, belonging and autonomy, someone of extraordinary measure to look up to and equality that guarantees no one is better than anybody else. Even our laws represent this confusion. In the US, Affirmative Action favors African American, Hispanic, and Native Americans (one line of my heritage). Simultaneously, Equal Opportunity Employment states no one shall be discriminated against (or favored) for any reason. It’s a recurrent conundrum for those who pay attention at their monthly diversity training when both laws are lauded as pinnacles of American fairness. (To note this contradiction in public America risks condemnation from our political Left, as though it were an assault on political correctness.)

The compensation of these contradictions produce what Chantal Delsol (1947-) terms “black markets.” [6] As Delsol writes, “The figures [our essence] of human existence are again [emerging] in spite of their illegitimacy [by late modern norms]. Ban the economy and the black market will blossom. Decree that religions are obsolete and you will have sects. Deny that human beings seek the good and the ghost of the good will appear surreptitiously under the guise of correct thinking.”

Black markets strive to balance our psyche. Modernity is filled to the brim with just such contradictions. Why? I submit it is because our definition of the human being has been distorted by a natural evolution of ideals born with Enlightenment philosophy of the 1700’s. Those ideals were established to deny arbitrary abuse of power by the king and the Church. What Enlightenment defined as liberty, equality, and autonomy have become something dramatically different.

It serves us well to look back at what the great minds defined as central to us. Socrates emphasized virtue, Plato knowledge, Aristotle our political nature. Kant notes morality. For Kant the source of morality comes from reason. Kant’s is a practical morality applicable to the faceless multitudes of strangers we deal with in business. But biology dictates we are social before we’re born. We don’t choose it. Physically and emotionally we are connected, utterly dependent on that first elemental society, mother and child. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke both had a mother. They did not arrive on earth fully armed in defense of their individual rights. Individuality is naturally secondary, not primary.

This biological determination defines the human as a social being, therefore moral, and echoing Locke, therefore good, with all that implies for governance. (As with Enlightenment offerings, this definition is necessarily brief, begging questions like, Why is there crime? Why are there wars?) It is from nature that the template of humanity is born. We are social, as are other species: flocks of birds, herds of buffalo, schools of fish. Each seeks out others for companionship, safety, resources - society. An expression of social yearning, not social contract, as though we could initiate or dispose of our social nature with an agreement. Compare this to Mandeville, who said the only reason people form society is to satisfy material desires. And - prefiguring Marx – that morality was invented by moralists, philosophers, and politicians to make man social.

Morality, born of social bonds, does not exist in a fictional universe of one. (Take that, Libertarians – for whom I once voted.) In a world occupied by more than ourselves alone, universal moral codes have their place as an obligation on the individual. Aspects of individuality relinquished to the Good, not merely the good of all, but for the Self if that Self expects to flourish. To deny our biologically determined social nature and the morality that comes with it through modern hyper-individualism is to float us on moral water, seen so clearly in America, Left and Right, where erratic indignation and sentimentality serve as guidance.

If human social nature is prior to individualism, not just chronologically, but biologically, shouldn’t we rank aspects of individuality in accord with this reality? Not to make the individual disappear, but to rank the individual in a larger picture. Such an idea might have created a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. The individual dare not be dismantled as the individual is forced to do in totalitarian regimes of socialism, communism, or blind nationalism leading to another “righteous” war. We can’t remake moderns into ancients and expect to make a better world. We’ve got 30,000 years of human examples to examine, with social systems more, less, or not the least in accord with human nature. Like notes that exist but not yet composed into a great musical composition, somewhere out there is the answer we’ve searched for from the moment humans expressed their condition in those ancient caves of France and Spain. By comparison, it’s relatively easy to find errors in a system, much harder to find a solution. If it were easy, after thirty millennia, we’d have found it. “A tall order,” as we say in America. Tall, as in stratospheric. Let’s see what we can find. Until next time: the first Monday of July, the 6th, 2015.

[1] Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press, 2002 [2] Louis Dumont, From Mandeville to Marx, University of Chicago Press, 1977 [3] Mathew 16:26 [4] Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776 [5] Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees, 1705 [6] Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen, ISI Books, 2003



March 2, 2015: Why we are the way we are – some groundwork

This essay prepares the way for an elaboration of powerful nuances in political philosophy that have a deep impact on us. Nuance, philosophy, and politics are on a long list of least concerns to we Americans, but I suggest that with exposure to these ideas, Americans will be as stunned as I was to discover why we are the way we are.

Evolution of these philosophical ideas, born in Europe, have not ceased. Their beginnings are an amazing story. Their development has progressed almost in the dark. We now possess a set of ideas derived from the original that are so different as to be often the inverse of what began. Our views of self and the world were constructed piece-by-piece by these concepts, and we don’t even know it. We built a social system that now builds us. What is it? What should it be? These questions were central to the great political inquires of the West – ancient Greece (ca. 400 BCE), and the Enlightenment (ca. 1700 CE). As we witness the precipitous decline of politics as a worthy endeavor in America; the demise of ethics in every sector; and an acceptance of the hollowness of our principles now paid scarcely lip service, these questions should be asked again.

Political philosophy is at the heart of The Father trilogy. In the first volume of the series, the silent workings of this public perspective results in the Great Upheaval of 2057. In the second volume, with the cheery title “The Worst Of Things,” occasional Socratic debates between John and his followers make the philosophic failings of America and the West more explicit. Hence, the research, and this blog, where every other month I intend to peel back those unrealized matters that make us who we are.

These ideas are not peculiar to America, but they are particular to the West – as in Western Civilization. The Reformation followed by the Enlightenment were the one-two punch that catapulted the West into modernity. Humans left belonging for autonomy; community for individualism; virtue for liberty; hierarchy for equality; permanence for change. Today we take individualism – the basis of all these aspects - so for granted, most of us don’t know there were alternatives. We assume the way we live and see the world to be the way it’s always been, or at least the way it should be. But ideas – like anything humans touch – are never static. Humans are innovators, not just of technology, but of society. What is considered acceptable and taboo; our sense of others and ourselves; beliefs in nationalism and God – all are poked, probed, worn, torn, disposed of and recovered again in new forms. While this implies there are no “societal truths,” I don’t mean to suggest agreement with postmodernist notions of relativity in the root nature of the human being. (See John’s debate on the subject pg. 284-290, of The Father, print version.) In short, there are universal truths common to all humans. What a surprise, given our common biology and brain structure. But it’s not a simple matter. We are also self-contradictory creatures. Our natural yearning for belonging as social beings was emphasized by the ancients through duty and virtue (i.e. self-restraint out of desires for a common good). In opposition to this, our natural longing to be free of restrictions is now elevated by rights of free choice (i.e. satisfaction of desires with no agreement on a common good). That we possess these contradictions is one of those truths that allow us to understand why tensions exist between the system we made and what we are. Of all the Western nations, America - absent of tradition and its limits - now leads the way in this social revolution. What happens here will dictate much of the Western trajectory.

Next in this groundwork, a word about my affiliation to this subject – after all, there is a political element to political philosophy. We’re all affected by where and when we live. I was born, raised, and will likely die in America. I am part of a nation with positive and negative characteristics. A country increasingly dogmatic and polarized, mostly by our ignorance (including my own, thus the quest for coherent understanding). America now appears to be a place where all things are hopelessly politicized by both of our partisan sides, and we have only two. We’re very interested in which political party a person adheres to, such that we can save ourselves the trouble of deciphering whether their arguments have merit or not. Our educational system didn’t teach much, so we’ve got to check with our dogmas before giving a response to anything. We Americans are a people who find it very hard to give a straight answer. I want straight answers.

When education seeks employable people as its sole goal, then the tribal nature of what we created is predictable. Employability is a good first order intention. Saudi Arabia’s politically motivated education of boys in their radical Wahhabi schools, with zero employable skills, attests to the dangers of not satisfying the first purpose in tutoring. But in keeping with Enlightenment philosophy’s emphasis on “self-interest,” our education stops at vocation. We program humans to be mere consumers. The American machine appeals to primal urge with immediate, efficient, low cost satisfaction. An education in higher things, once practiced even here, has been replaced by more materially practical concerns. Deep learning, considered a requirement for understanding ourselves from our past for our future, such as Greek, Latin, and our own Founding Fathers, was discontinued decades ago or warrant barely a mention. We Americans live on a shallow surface. My hope is to dig deeper.

For me, late modern America is a place I neither love nor hate. Representing our opposing views with the words love and hate is not an accident. Ancient Greek support for moderation requires the application of reason, but we are an ever more emotional people. Terms in the extreme are how we announce our affiliations now. Referring to America with, “Love it or leave it,” is a trite expression of our conservative wing. Referring to our Founders as “the dead white males,” is a trite expression of our liberal wing. I adhere to neither, and feel myself as an (almost) outside observer.

All of these aspects of America are rolled up in me and my attitudes in one way or another. All the vital human things I learned – except the secrets of nature and its mathematics - I learned on my own from the Great Books. What I found was that whether it be the miraculous mechanics of the living cell or the brightest shinning quasar, few things compare to the lavish spectrum of marvels that humans produce, joyous and tragic. Political philosophy is among the most vibrant in that spectrum. While there is no such thing as neutral – including government / moral neutrality as these select against something - what I strive for from this study is an honest answer to the truth about us without partisan contaminants; why we are the way we are; ultimately how we might repair it. Now that some groundwork on the subject and my position have been elaborated, those nuances that shape us get underway next time, the first Monday in May: May 4, 2015.



January 5, 2015: My Long Silence

My last entry of September 1 was in appreciation of a Global eBook Award for The Father. At that time I was fully engaged in writing the second volume in this trilogy. Things were looking up. Then two things happened. First, my research of source material for that second volume revealed problems in a deeper study of Western civilization that shocked me. Some of this landscape I’ve walked before, but the big realization was that the ideals I have fully supported – present in the West from its founding - are the very ideals that appear irresistibly fatal to human meaning. Not a secret to philosophers, many have tried unsuccessfully to rectify this for centuries. Most of us are tacitly aware of the social symptoms large and small, like disunity, disconnectedness, isolation, retreats from ethics, monumental greed and common rudeness. Fewer of us – including me – have taken time to dig up the roots of these problems. That’s what volume two was meant to be about. The Father is, in a sense, the symptoms of social decline and their ultimate consequences. The uncovering of more fundamental causes were to be central to volume two, and what John goes off to find at the end of volume one. Hence the research.

And just what are these issues that paralyzed my pen? To be quite approximate, they boil down to one: individualism. Sounds harmless at first glance, and who could be against it? From individualism came the authorization (which became a demand) to question and challenge everything, especially authority outside the individual. The “discovery of individualism,” especially after it took flight with the Enlightenment (1650-1750), created a surge in innovation and personal meaning through exercise of the will in a way never before experienced by humans. People had previously been subservient to their role in a hierarchy determined before they were born. There was no independence, no self-determination, no rights or equality. That anyone would dare consider such ideas would have been revolting to ancient and medieval peoples. Meaning came from belonging to a true community of like-minded people known for life, in face-to-face relations with common beliefs, primarily that of religion. As Pierre Manent put it, in modernity “we are henceforth doomed to confront our autonomy without transcendent foundation.” [1]

In the West, individualism has triumphed in a 400 year battle with religion, tradition, community belonging, and the guiding reference these once provided. We traded virtue (self-restraint for the greater good) for liberty (expression of the will for self-satisfaction), and now live in an era when individual rights, expression, and gratification of every kind are paramount. A perpetual present where “free choice” is king - well suited for consumerism – and disconnected not only from others but from a past that once animated civilizations. I have embraced all these freedoms. But as Morgan states in The Father, “We…invent ourselves. We can just as easily uninvent it all. Problem is, once you know what you’re up to, you can never pretend again.” There comes a time in all our lives when this is a dangerous realization to make.

There is a direct correlation between education and religious belief. The more a population is educated, the less it really believes stories of murderous gods, miracles and resurrections. Be they one of the many resurrections listed in the annals of history, like the Egyptian god Osiris, or other examples that some of us believe are absolutely true. Or do we? There is an ever more strident tone from those appearing desperate to reassure themselves rather than convince others, notably in the battles of Creationism against the proven material success of science. Some of this is a reaction to smug, almost evangelical pronouncements from a handful of atheist scientists who have their share in generating the response. Pointing to atrocities in the Mid-East as the certain outcome of supernatural beliefs only fans the flames, and sounds a good deal like arguments I made at Creationist museums – looking for a fight - when I was younger. But the Enlightenment command to question and challenge everything, so central to individualist states, does not spare beliefs people consider sensitive. Sensitive because those beliefs give their lives meaning. Most on this planet are poor, their lives short, misery a daily fact of life. Belief is all they’ve got. Yet even in America, the most religious of Western nations, religious belief is in retreat. Those considering themselves non-religious were 5% of the population in 1930, 8% in 1990, 20% in 2013, reports UC Berkeley and Duke University surveys. The January 3, 2015 Wall Street Journal noted a front-page story on mass closures of churches across Europe, transformed into clothing stores, skate board play grounds, taverns. Congregations are disappearing. Apparently this is not true of Judaism’s stability and Islam’s expansion in Europe. [2]

As Boston University’s Peter L. Berger notes, it would take something like a genetic mutation to remove the religious impulse from humanity. [3] And there’s the problem. Our own human nature of the heart is denied by a human creation of the mind. Gladly, education continues to expand. Though most of it is utilitarian, avoiding philosophy, the urge to question everything grows more widespread. As a career physicist, I’ve been comfortable with the practice in science. And yet, even as an agnostic, the consequences of it in the social domain terrifies me. (Some presume agnostic equals atheist. Not so.) Our loss in the belief of anything not measurable creates a variety of social strains in modernity that the ancients were free from (they had other problems). Noted symptoms are an example. As Marcel Gauchet writes, “As though society is incapable of supporting its own internal contradictions discovered on the social terrain once religion ceased to conceal them.” [4] It is perhaps the irony of all ironies that, according to Louis Dumont, it was Christianity that had the single strongest hand in transmitting ancient Greek Stoic individualism to the Enlightenment through Christianity’s personal (individual) relationship with Christ. Followed by Calvinism that turned lose the Puritan idea of sanctifying the profane world with tireless, endless, obsessive work as a “calling,” becoming the Protestant ethic. [5]

In America, work is our purpose. Purpose we have in abundance. As Tocqueville noted in 1840, Americans are incessantly busy. [6] We’ve got plenty to do. (Purpose is internal, meaning is external, our value reflected in someone or something else.) On the other hand, meaning is inherent and irrefutable regardless of how bad things are if and only if we can keep our beliefs alive and unquestionable. That is no longer possible for a growing number of people in the modern world. When calling was attached to belief – seen as human participation in a divine plan – purpose and meaning were united. Once Enlightenment reason acted as a solvent on belief, work became a matter of the material world, not salvation in the next. Meaning became isolated from work but survived outside our toils as the longstanding gift of God. But God of the Judeo-Christian world was defined by ancient writings and traditions. It was open season on religion and tradition, targeted with the deepest philosophical scrutiny. Read literally, not symbolically, the beginning of dismissal commenced.

As history shows, the old gods depended on us, our perception of them to keep them alive. Those gods had been absolutely real to those people. They didn’t sacrifice, in some cases, humans, because they thought their gods were myth. They all had their witnesses, and held that their gods existed regardless of belief in them. But when perceptions changed, the gods were buried. Do current trends imply we’re on the same path? Perhaps our beliefs require a new definition – as Karen Armstrong notes, one that can match our scientific prowess. [7] In other words, must humans redefine our beliefs to save our beliefs and thus ourselves? Along the way, on the first Monday of each odd-numbered month, I’ll post to this blog my latest findings on these subjects.

So goes the first of two things that happened to stall this blog. The second occurred just days after I’d had a conversation with my mother, telling her how good things were. How I had nothing to complain about, knowing I would anyway. “It’s times like this,” I said, “I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m awake. But there’s one thing for sure in this life: whatever it’s like, good or bad, it will change.” Change it did. I was preparing for a coffee shop writing session, but running late. The routine was modified, and in the moments of catchup one of my six children was out of his usual place. (Those who are not animal lovers won’t understand, but my children consist of 3 cats, 3 dogs.) This was the cat, Cooty, that tended to everyone else in the house. There to mother any of them; come to me when there was trouble between them; and act as an almost constant appendage of mine. Then Cooty appeared in a panic, running straight for me as he always did when something was wrong. He fell and began to convulse as I hesitated for the longest second, staring at him. I ran to him like a fool, pleading with him to tell me what was wrong, his mouth wide, eyes buldged, already dilating. I could think of no reason for this. Seized with panic I could think of nothing. The best I could do was assume a heart attack, but he was only 12, an indoor cat. My job seemed to be to comfort him, to be there in these last terrifying seconds as oxygen ran out in his brain, hearing me tell him how much I loved him, how everything would be OK. I held him and scratched his head in the way he liked as he stopped moving and I kept talking, telling him what a good boy he was. This happened to me before, in life and in a scene I wrote about, and maybe that was the only thing I had to reference under the circumstances. Later I found he’d chewed off a piece of carpet backing. Online I discovered there are ways to save a choking cat. I didn’t know this. I’d never seen a cat choke. But I was the man with 21 patents. My career was spent thinking of new ways to solve hard problems. I was decisive under pressure. There wasn’t a situation I feared I could not solve. In those few instants on that autumn morning all that changed. Decisive I was not. When faced with someone in their most dire moment, with trust I'd fix any problem, to do nothing feels like betrayal and a guilt hard to shake.

While 52 million people have been displaced by war, the northern white rhino functionally extinct with five remaining, and another Malaysian plane full of people lost at sea, the death of Cooty hardly ranks on a scale outside my home, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still miss him. Tiger (a dog) doesn’t look for Cooty anymore, but Smokey (a cat) still does. Cats have different sounding meows that mean different things – at least to other cats. When I’m in bed at night and hear that meow that would bring Cooty running, it breaks my heart. Smokey seems to recognize Cooty’s photo as he smells the glass and frame, then looks behind it, like he’s going to find where Cooty’s been all this time. It’s surprising to me how large is the space occupied by just one of these creatures. Unlike we humans, they are pure innocence. When the nightly routine has each in their respective places, mostly pinning me to a fixed form and location in bed, then, like the long lost and rather "corny" TV ending of The Waltons, I say goodnight to each by name, including Cooty and two cats I lost long ago, Hawkeye and Sammy. In the world we’ve made where nothing is permanent, I suppose, like meaning, we have to invent it, and tend it to keep it alive.

[1] Pierre Manent, “The Modern State,” in “New French Thought: Political Philosophy,” Princeton, 1994, [2] Naftali Bendavid, "Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale," Wall Street Journal, 1/3/15, [3] Peter L. Berger, Ed. “The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics,” Eerdman, 1999, [4] Marcel Gauchet, “Primitive Religions and the Origins of the State,” in “New French Thought: Political Philosophy,” Princeton, 1994, [5] Louis Dumont, “Essays in Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective,” University Of Chicago Press, 1986, [6] Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America,” Mentor, 1984, [7] Karen Armstrong, “The Battle For God,” Ballantine, 2000

Cooty


September 1, 2014: The Father wins Global eBook Award!

The 2014 Global eBook Awards have been announced, and The Father took home Bronze in the New Adult Fiction category. “As a debut novel, I’m grateful to see this book recognized by the judges,” says the author. “This adds to my excitement for the next volume in The Father trilogy. Thanks to the Global eBook organization, and a salute to all those authors seeking their ideal creation.”



August 6, 2014: Congratulations Goodreads Contest Winners! (Check here for delivery updates.)

Goodreads has selected 50 winners in the free book giveaway of The Father from 740 entries. Check this blog to see when yours have been mailed. Only country or US state will be listed as they are delivered into the hands of the USPO. Deliveries begin 8/8/2014. A book is a serious investment in time. We hope The Father exceeds your highest expectations. Thank you for your interest.

All copies of The Father destined for Australia and Canada were delivered to the post 8/7/14. Watch your mail!

Half of the 22 copies headed for Great Britain are on there way as of 8/8/14.

All remaining UK and all US books were shipped today, 8/12/14. That's it. All 50 books are on there way. Enjoy!



The Dawn of Belief: Religion in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern EuropeThe Dawn of Belief: Religion in the Upper Paleolithic of Southwestern Europe by D. Bruce Dickson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

July 19, 2014: The origin and travels of religious belief

This book is about the remains of ancient man and the varieties of interpretation these remains allow in regards to religious beliefs, while accepting that the interior space occupying skulls of long lost humans (and close relations) are hard to extrapolate. There’s excellent speculation on the subject based on the reasonable assumption that humans share the same wiring with fairly consistent brain volume regardless of timeframe. It’s amazing that different primate lines appear to have ritual, myth, and a sense of afterlife, including Neanderthals, perhaps even Australopithecines 1.7 million years ago. A university text in anthropology and archeology, Dickson’s book joyfully rattles the brain of readers, though in large part it’s written as a “report” on findings and hypotheses. In other words, not a great deal of literary story telling of the facts, as someone like Peter Gay will do (“The Enlightenment”).

Thrilling are findings on the evolution of religious belief. Cultures will inevitably complicate themselves (through innovations – technical & social) and religious practice tracks this complexity from small groups with a shaman early on, to cities with ecclesiastical organizations, creeds, orthopraxy, and orthodoxy as an end state. A survey of many hunter-gather groups (contemporary & extinct) to complex civilizations reveals the process: 1. Gods are gradually withdrawn from the local setting, 2. Anthropomorphism fades, 3. Religion is increasingly separated from everyday affairs (secularism), 4. Homogeneity of belief diminishes, 5. Religious system fragments (e.g. Reformation), poised for cult-state conflict. At least up to the point of codification, humans keep struggling to invent ways to make their gods greater, more distant, unconfinable, undefinable, as growing numbers of people intrude with greater numbers of common sense eyes laid on claims of priests, prophets, and miracle workers. Like the classical question of large vs. small republics in political philosophy - it’s hard to keep everyone thinking the same. Once the ecclesiastical state is reached, the gods – Olympian, monotheistic or pantheistic – gain universal powers, are difficult, dangerous and temperamental.

As Dickson notes, the more control (knowledge) humans have over their actions and future, the less they employ religion. A big step change takes place with the shift from hunter-gather to agriculturalist at the invention of agriculture ca. 10k years ago (see Wells, “Pandora’s Seed”). Notable was the hunter-gatherer’s absence of accumulation, low population density, absence of full time specialization, and feuds but no warfare. (With Ukraine/Russia, Israel/Palestine, Iraq, Syria, China / Japan / the Koreas – maybe we should give that hunter-gather model another look?)

Recalling that this blog illuminates books that assist writing of the next (fictional) volume in “The Father” trilogy, “Dawn of Belief” serves that purpose well. “Belief” provides fodder for a chapter from which the temporary safety of their Arctic Circle hideaway, John and his comrades debate religion, its source, meaning, and place in America now shattered by civil war and foreign exploitation.



Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of EvolutionBlueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution by Maitland Armstrong Edey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

June 20, 2014: Facts of nature can sometimes win

Having this 1989 book on the shelves for so long, I feared its contents may be dated – not so. Why? Because it’s about how the idea of evolution evolved, from the 1700’s to modern times. The authors make concepts clear with good analogies, and periodically segue into conversation between themselves to clarify ideas. It works well, anticipating reader questions. Besides a step-by-step accumulation of evidence that built this theory, what the authors do best is presentation of the personal lives behind this drama. The mountainous insecurity faced by telling truth to dogma; fierce resistance to natural reality; human arrogance and missteps on both sides along the way. Many heroes go unrecognized or ridiculed and ostracized until long after their death. The scene between Archbishop Wilberforce and Darwin’s bulldog, the dazzling and sulfurous T.H. Huxley in a packed public forum of raucous onlookers was a thrill to read three times. The whole story is a prime example of how facts of nature can sometimes win against more comfortable and entrenched ignorance – at least in those nations and those times confident enough in themselves to accept that nature really has no political party.

The evolution of evolution did not begin with fossils of extinct human lineage, but with geology’s requirement of an earth billions of years old (rather than created on October 23, 4004 BC at 9 a.m.), and witness of living animals in constant transition thanks to environmental change (natural selection). Fossils began to echo the same theme. Mendel’s peas pleading for recognition of heritable genes; Darwin’s first flashes of insight on the Beagle; fistfights for the Nobel for being first to decipher DNA’s structure where we find natural selection at the molecular level, and, finally, how species try to stay the same while changing – a story well worth knowing.



May 18, 2014: Congratulations Goodreads Contest Winners! (Check here for delivery updates.)

Goodreads has selected 50 winners in the free book giveaway of The Father from 967 entries. Check this blog to see when yours have been mailed. Only country or US state will be listed as they are delivered into the hands of the USPO - no names or addresses will appear. Deliveries begin 05/19/2014. A book is a serious investment in time. I hope this one exceeds all of your highest expectations. Thanks again to all for your interest. (Once deliveries are complete your information will be deleted.)

5/19/14: Signed books for all winners from Australia, Canada, The UK, and the US states of AZ, CA, CO and part of FL were mailed today, 5/19/2014. US delivers are estimated to arrive no later than 5/27/2014. While overseas deliveries are provided no arrival estimate from the USPO, they suggest 2-3 weeks are typical.

5/20/2014: Signed books for all winners from FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, and MD were mailed today. Delivers are estimated to arrive no later than 5/27/2014.

5/21/14: All signed copies of the The Father were mailed out to the MI, MN, MO, MS, ND, NJ, and NV winners today. USPO estimates deliveries by 5/29/14.

5/22/2014: The final block of Goodreads giveaway copies of The Father went out in today’s post. These include OH, OR, PA, TN, TX, VT, WA, and WI. The USPO claims delivery expected by 5/28/14. Enjoy!



May 1, 2014: Why do we die? Well...It's personal.

Given The Father deals with the trajectory of civilization, I’ll review a number of books I read that helped develop this idea in the story. But civilizations depend on individuals, so before perusing theories on why all societies eventually fail, I’ll start with our own personal demise (recognizing that mortality is very much part of why our social organizations are the way they are). In William Clark’s astonishing book Sex And The Origins Of Death we find death by old age was not a requirement of life, but it wasn't accidental either. Such a fact caused Morgan in The Father to ask, “Do civilizations fail, not by chance or circumstance, but because decline is intended, without knowing it? Like William Clark said of our aging bodies, death is worked toward without wanting to.” In my life, nothing has been more powerful than the recognition of death - not love, sex, money. Here's my view of Clark's book:

Sex And The Origins Of Death

From the outset, what UCLA’s Wm. Clark reports is staggering: Death is “not an obligatory attribute of life,” he writes, and did not appear with the advent of it. Cellular aging resulting in death may not have occurred for more than a billion years after life’s first entry on earth. Programmed cell death (PCD) which we suffer (displayed through wrinkles and forgetfulness) seems to have arisen about the time cells were experimenting with sex.

Sex is an energy costly activity, engaged in because it rolls the genetic dice, inviting variations with each new offspring. An advantage because with environmental change what was well suited in the old world is often not suited for the new. Gene variations result, and through natural selection, a few offspring amongst the dying progenitors may survive to save the species. For example, bacteria reproduce though cloning themselves, and can do so at a rate of 16 million per hour from one parent (take your antibiotics). But when the environment becomes harsh, bacterial parents spontaneously engage in sex, swapping genes with others as a gamble on survival.

In a description of catastrophic cell death, Clark displays a talent to meet or exceed even Sagan’s best – clear, rich, compelling. Here heart attack, and the wonder of cell machinery resist the inevitable as systems and their backups struggle to counter power failures and starvation in a chain reaction of fading miracles. Like a community, some components are wholly unaware of disaster while others sacrifice themselves, transferring energy to last lines of defense - pumps stationed in cell walls countering a siege of water pressing in about to wash them away.

Such stunning, intentioned actions of this tiny, helpless, complex organism, the cell (of which we possess about 100 trillion – as many cells as there are stars in the nearest 400 spiral galaxies including the Milky Way!) is starkly contrasted against our cell’s decision to commit suicide. This happens when life is late, or as early as the womb when ancient relics of evolution are flushed out of us - like reminders of an ocean origin when interdigital webbing of our onetime fins are removed through PCD, leaving what’s left between our fingers. Once the nucleus decides to pull the trigger, one last set of instructions emerge as its DNA begins disassembling. All the while a stack of unread commands are being executed by unwary elements of the cell. The cell detaches from its neighbors, undulates, breaking into globules while still ignorant workers in these blobs work away, floating into a void, devoured by immune systems. Awful…

But there are rays of hope for immortality. “Growth factors” are given to cells like lymphocytes to put a safety on their trigger. And there are executioners in this tragedy, T-Cells. Having spotted an invader they do not murder the foreigner, they command the interloper to kill itself, orders dutifully followed. T-Cells know the security code.

Clarks notes an important difference between us and other “primitive” life forms. For example, paramecium dodge death by letting their macro-nuclei run the show while a micro-version lays dormant. After enough cell splitting, it has sex with another paramecium. Its macro-nuclei suffers PCD and the micro takes over as a newly minted micro-nucleus goes to sleep. Once eukaryotic cells (what we’re made of) became multicellular, reproductive DNA would be not only kept in separate nuclei (as the paramecium) but in separate cells – our germ cells (sperm, egg). The rest of us, our bodies, are their guardians, not only redundant and irrelevant but we turn dangerous with too many divisions. When our germ cells meet others, clocks are reset just as they are for paramecium. Sex can save our germ cells but it cannot save us.

These growth factors, security codes, telemeres or some other mechanism may finally be commandeered to salvage us from oblivion. For now, as Clark writes, we must die and there are many mechanisms built into us to make sure we do. Death does not just happen, it is worked toward, with safeguards to assure cells don’t backslide into immortality – as cancer cells do, a recipe for disaster. The winner is our species because germ cells are immortal through sex as we contribute molecular chains of ourselves to the future and whoever is made of us. Clark reveals this and so much more. A pure joy to read.

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