Sunday, May 27, 2012


Actually, it should be beasts, plural. A while back in a discussion with an otherwise lovely person, the issue of national policy came up, how I cannot remember. I objected to her staunch defense of corporate America and stated that it appeared that corporations and the rich were coming closer to owning the president. Angry, she asked me what would be wrong with that. You know how it feels when something is so obvious that a direct challenge leaves one flabbergasted? Well, that was me. I could think of no response and the group we were in shifted topics. Unhappy, I continued to think of how I might have responded; here it is.
We live in a free society, what is this about “taming beasts?” There are, certainly, laws that constrain our behavior but they exist, at least the ideal is to make it possible to act civilly. I suppose the devil is in the details but there is little chatter about their necessity even though some are wrong and often rectified.
We all have differing motives that guide our behavior so that the over-arching impact on society is diffuse. But, what happens when a person or an organization has only one motive? There is a great potential for misery. Consider Major Hasan, he so imbued with religious zeal that he fired upon American soldiers about to embark for combat. When a person has only one purpose, watch out.
The same is true for a variety of institutions in society; they are defined by the specific purpose for which they exist. The military services for example exist for the specific purpose of killing people. The security of our country depends upon how good they are at doing just that; and we love them. The police, their purpose is to catch and-or control miscreants; we want them to do just that and are happy when they succeed. Large corporations are the same, with their specific motive of earning money.
The problem is that left to their own devices, permitting them to act without restraint leads to a society which all reasonable people decry. Unrestrained organizations are ultimately destructive of their society and their leaders and their leaders, well, they lead to the bottom line.

There are significant restraints on the military, there are significant restraints on police but the argument persists about how much restraint of free trade is appropriate.
Keep in mind that corporate deciders worry about the bottom line, for example they hate to pay wages. They decry unions and prefer to conduct their work outside our country where wages are a pittance compared to ours. They are eager to build but care not a bit for the environmental consequences. In Appalachia, where strip mining is the most efficient way to extract coal whole countrysides were torn to shreds and deserted when the effort was no longer profitable. This, if profit is the only motive makes sense but it does not make sense when considering what they leave behind. They have left behind polluted waters, rivers that burn and environments where the water is so contaminated as to sicken those who move there. Even now, there is the struggle over the pipeline from Canada. From one point of view it will provide jobs. Huzzah! From the other point of view it would destroy the environment; and destroying the environment means damaging our lives.
This is not, I repeat, not, a screed against free enterprise; we need it as much as we need a military and the police. It provides the economic engine which has done so much to advance the American quality of life providing jobs and providing goods which are important to many of us.
Still, unfettered free enterprise has caused and will cause, without regulation, considerable damage to our society. Without proper regulation corporations run wild and damage us all. Those of you who have looked at history know about the “Robber Barons.” From whom did they steal . . . our forbears.
Obviously for the police, the military and corporations, regulation is necessary, but too much stifles their ability to perform their necessary functions. Now we are caught up in a social struggle over how much is too much? Do we have enough regulation or too little? The coming election will decide in which direction our country will go. I hope we get it right.

The urge to amass lots of money
Is surely, not very funny
Corporations are fine
With their wretched bottom line
If you don't give a damn for the country.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


One of the criteria for defining the human being is that it's an animal that thinks about itself and others. There is some very slight evidence that chimpanzees do a bit of such but apparently not so much that it matters. We are the champions of self-reflection. No one knows when we started to think about ourselves; I don't suppose that hunter-gatherers had much time for such a luxury. Perhaps self-reflection started after the agricultural revolution produced enough for leisure time activities. Why does Og act that way? Why do I? Hey, that's the beginning of philosophy.
I know almost nothing about the Greek philosophers, but it is evident they burned with passion to understand the universe and humanity's functioning within it. This essay is about one of them whom I have stumbled across and have come to be in awe of the influence he has had on us all.
Epicurus is the man and surely he is one of those who changed the course of history. His thinking, until monotheism became the fashion, swept the then known world but, two thirds of the monotheists declared a PR war against him and he wound up in the dust-bin of history, crumpled out of shape.
The problem was that he was an atomist. He did not originate that idea, it appeared first in Democritus' writings, but Epicurus developed it and understood its significance for how we orient ourselves to the universe. The ancient Greeks were always trying to get down to the essence of things, IE, what was is matter made of. There were plenty of ideas but Democritus logicked out atoms and Epicurus put intellectual meat on those bare bones.
His idea is simple: everything is made of atoms, tiny, indivisible bits of substance that always moved. The movement was sometimes slow and sometimes fast, but everything ultimately came apart with the freed atoms then capable of forming to make something different. Even the soul was made of atoms, reputedly of a finer sort. Still, with death, like the rest of the body's atoms the soul-atoms also came apart and like them also dispersed.
Do you now have a glimmer of why the monotheists were enraged? If the soul disperses, ceases to exist, there is no afterlife and if there is no afterlife what do the gods have to do for us? Epicurus was very clear, he believed in gods, but asserted they had no interest in us, that prayer was useless because they did not pay attention. This, I suppose is a form of deism and such belief ran smack into the notion of an involved, caring and punishing being, made death final and left us on our own. Thus, death was not frightful; after all without punishing gods what was there to be feared?
Epicurus understood that the purpose of life was enjoyment, that happiness is our best way to find pleasure in living. Remember, the idea of pleasure seeking was anathema to the duty bound Stoics and the monotheists developed ultimately what we laughingly call the pleasure police. Mencken wrote about how one of them could not sleep worried about how someone at that moment might be enjoying him or herself.
So, they deliberately distorted Epicurus teachings. He urged that friendship, human relationships, were the best source of pleasure for all humanity, but this was transformed into unbridled, Dionysian hedonism, pleasure seeking gone berserk. Epicurus said, “All pleasure is good, but not all pleasure is good for you.” They ignored the second part of that aphorism. And, he was a materialist, nuff said.
Even today, the Encyclopedia of Catholicism negatively describes Epicurus and Orthodox Jews have a word, Apikoros to express their displeasure. As far as I know, only Humanistic Jews understand his virtues. We are smart!

An ancient fellow yclept Epicurus
Wrote interesting stuff meant for all of us
Religionists got mad
They said he was bad
Their disdain makes them all seem quite curious

Sunday, May 6, 2012


There are victims everywhere. You probably know some; surely you have heard of some in your social circle. The media devote considerable space to people who have had dire things thrust upon them, often suddenly, but all were powerless to forestall the cruel event. We even know about people who were victims of their own stupidity (lots and lots of them), but this is a special category that seems not to deserve our commiseration. “He made his bed now let him lie in it.” We often look for a victim's foolishness as a way of not feeling bad. “She should have known better,” and we wipe our hands of responsibility.
We have another, a special class of victims in our society who had no responsibility for their plight but who are denied what ethically and morally is a basic right. They are the children of illegal aliens, or undocumented workers if you prefer. Parents would sneak across our Mexican border to try to establish a better life for themselves and drag their children with them. The children had no say in the matter. “Get dressed, we're going to America,” or some such was the instruction and off they went.
Well, the parents were wrong to avoid their responsibility. The Egyptians and other north Africans have revolted and change is their prize. Coming here they strengthen the Mexican government and keep themselves in limbo. But, that's a different issue. Their children grow up in this country, in this society and many of them flourish. Some, clearly a significant number do well in school and have the desire to get a college education. Why not? They essentially American kids. If not born here they yet satisfy the other criteria for an American identity. But, while college is not officially denied to them, they do not qualify as citizens of Colorado, they are here illegally and are deportable at the whim of ICE. They are not eligible for Colorado resident tuition. Their parents typically lack the resources to pay full tuition for their children who otherwise would be desirable college students.
Are they victims? Of course. Through no fault of their own they have become illegal Americans and thus have no legitimate status. But, they are Americans, surely we can pass a law which would de-victimize them. Well, we could, but we don't because there are those who insist they are here illegally and must not be considered human beings. The concern is that providing relief to such kids would entice other parents to sneak into the country and that would compound the problem. We must not, so they argue, give in a fraction of an inch less we encourage an even larger deluge of illegals.
Well, maybe so, but it would be nice if they could provide some acceptable data to buttress their position. They just say “NO,” as if a message received from God has fixed them in their position. But, this is not an issue of data and statistics. We are in a struggle about our humanity. It is inhumane to deny these illegal Americans their basic right to attempt a better future. It is inhumane to insist that they must be punished for the sins of their parents. They surely are not Mexicans, except for a legal fiction; this is their home and how can we deny them that reality?
We are losing the struggle. Water boarding, clearly torture, will never face a legal challenge, the criminals will never face justice. Guantanamo has left us with a blot on our moral stance that will remain in our history . . . unless our history books manage not to tell the stories. The separation between church and state is slowly crumbling and you can win money betting the
Supreme Court will declare the health care bill unconstitutional. And the NRA insists that government wants to confiscate all guns . . . and no one has the courage to laugh at that absurdity.
The last I heard about the Dream Act designed to relieve the victim kids of their illegal American status, it was in the state House of Representatives. What chance is there? None

There was many an illegal kid
Based on nothing that they ever did.
But the inhuman fools
Who keep them out of schools
If only we could them forbid.