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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

For God's Sake! Get Abortion Out of Politics.

I just read that Democrats are making abortion a litmus test. And we know that Republicans already do. My appeal: get abortion out of the political conversation! Now!

If persons of whatever party or persuasion want to declare their opposition or support of abortion for moral or religious reasons, okay, that's their business. But don't let it make a difference to your politics or theirs. Please!

America is a democratic Republic governed by laws that were adopted through the political process under the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court for our time and place. Our constitution protects freedom for and from religion. Religion in America is a private right guaranteed by the Constitution. Private individuals, when they enter the political arena, are public citizens. Through private individuals religion can influence, but not substitute for the body politic which rests on the consent of the governed, not on any religious doctrine, book, or law.

Abortion, like surgery or any physical intervention, is an act of violence. Violence should be prevented in a just moral and political order. We have laws against violence, i.e. against kidnapping, slavery, and murder, the killing of human persons. However, violence, while not justafiable, may sometimes be necessary. And so, we have exceptions to the laws against violence: self-defense, defense against violence against others, defense of the Republic from enemies, and the defense of all human life and, in some societies, of all life when unnecessary.

The moral principle is that violence can be exerted only when necessary. Who decides when it is necessary in surgery, the patient (hopefully in consultation with loved ones and medical experts). In self defense or defense of others, the person or persons threatened. Abortion is a violation. It should not be done except when necessary. Who decides? The pregnant woman, of course.

But you say: the pregnant woman cannot abort a fetus because it is a human life. Who says so? Not the law, not many citizens, not science, not even many religions. But your religion says that the fetus is a human life because God has infused a soul at the moment of conception. Or because it on its way to become a human being. Okay, you can believe that and the law will protect you in your belief. You do not have to have an abortion even if bearing the child will kill you. You have the right to give or not to give birth for whatever reason. And if you decide to have or not have an abortion, the law will protect you in your belief. But you do not have the right to force that belief on others.

Only after the child is born, when the organism is no longer a dependent fetus, but an infant in interaction with others in the world, does the law recognize the infant as a human being under full protection of the law.

Therefore, traditional Catholics, Bishops and preachers, Bible thumpers, preach in your churches and mosques against having abortion. But take abortion out of the political realm. Keep it out of political platforms, campaign speeches, civil law. It is a private, personal, moral decision by the pregnant person. And never, never vote or promote a vote for or against a candidate because of his/her religious belief--unless that candidate threatens the political right of a pregnant woman to make a personal, religious, or moral choice.



This is not to say that I personally support abortion. I do not. I generally reject violence. But I believe that violence can be mitigated most by taking away all the conditions that necessitate violence. Do you want to lessen the number of abortions? Then make sure that financial support, personal growth, education, medical care, and the ongoing care of the child are not factors in the decision-making by the woman bearing the fetus. Those definitely are political issues that will free people to make proper decisions including the decision to or not to have an abortion. Despite the bumper stickers, pro-choice is pro-life.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hierarchy or Republic


I just read and commented on the recent Bannon interview on 60 minutes.

We have two opposing governing principles demonstrated here. One is the principle of a democratic Republic, the other that of a hierarchy (divine monarchy, plutocratic aristocracy, totalitarian authority). In a democratic Republic, neither culture, religion, life-style, tribe, nor class are relevant to the functioning of government. What is relevant are the decisions of an inclusive, engaged, critically thinking public. In a hierarchy, what is relevant is the unchallenged opinion of a faction (party, class, tribe, religion) as interpreted and coalesced by the One. Bannon and Trump do not even meet the definition of a citizen of a democratic Republic who at least aspires to a unity based not on a specific faction, but the good of the public.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Under God

Under God

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

The principle of unity for the democratic Republic has been our topic. Unity is not religion or culture. It is politics, the willing action of a gathered people. We the People. It is the principle of pluralism. It is the principle of power. It is the power of concerted action against oppression. It is the principle of concerted action that includes all from whatever tribe, culture, origin as equals. It is the principle of human nature and existence.

In the 1950s at the height of the Cold War against "Godless Communism," the phrase was added to the pledge. Now it is often upheld by traditionalist Christians as a reaffirmation in their beliefs in the inerrancy of the Bible and the Christian foundation of the nation as a new Jerusalem or Promised Land. It is used to promote political policies: e.g. prayer in school, teaching of Creationism," condemnation of homosexuality, removal of transgendered persons from the military, party politics from the pulpit, unregulated economy, freedom of businesses to serve or not serve "immoral" persons, opposition to contraception, and the restriction of women to have an abortion.

And so, the new president promises the return to a universal wishing of "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holiday" as an expression of political correctness. It is, after all, the Judeo-Christian God that we mean to be under, not the God of some other religion. Clearly the declaration of independence meant that when it said, "endowed by their Creator" Or is it? 

Atheists, agnostics, and humanists often dispute the addition of "under God" because they believe it restricts their rights to be non-religious and to teach their children to oppose superstition. Some Jews and non-Christian God-believers object because the addition seems to promote Christianity as a standard for citizenship. The US Constitution does not even mention, much less require, belief in God; making clear that the Republic is constituted by "We the People." 

When Einstein, the scientist par excellence, was asked whether he believed in God, he expressed some agnosticism; but he then said that he could accept Spinoza's God. And I maintain he could accept the "God" of Whitehead: God as Nature or the Process or drive of the Universe. Such a God may indeed be a step above the Deists' God of Washington and Jefferson as Watchmaker or Unknowable Force that got it all started and left it unwind. "God" could be a metaphor, as Hawken’s indicated, for the end or purpose of human transcending through knowledge and action. Such a God does not necessitate, and indeed transcends, any religious tradition. 

So it is quite possible for a non-believer to proclaim the "under God" in the pledge without any dissimilation or hypocrisy as simply a way of expressing solidarity with his/her fellow citizens. Just as it would be for a Christian to proclaim the Nicene Creed, with its third century mentality and language, without at all taking literally the propositions of Jesus being a god or the second person of a Trinity, his mother as a virgin, his rising from the dead and so forth. 

Alcoholics Anonymous taught that to break the reliance of the addict on his dependent and imperfect self, he needs a "higher power" in any way he chooses to define it. In other words, the insight of the Twelve Steps is that human improvement, progress, and transcendence requires the humility of interdependence, rather than individualistic independence. Human transcending through knowledge and action requires the recognition of dependency on the higher power. 

In politics, the higher power is not some self-sufficient supernatural power, but the power of the people assembled to determine the good for all. The principle is the public space, the inclusive realm of democracy. The Republic becomes its own principle founded in the very nature of humanity as an interdependent and collaborative being in relationship with all others for the sake of the All. That is what “under God” in the pledge means in a free and open society including all regardless of race, origin, culture, or life-style.


The pledge then becomes not some anti-Communist loyalty oath through a particular cultural meme or creed. The pledge is an expression of faith in the democratic principle which is our means to, and meaning of,  a united citizenship in rich and dynamic diversity.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Whence the Principle

In a preceding article, I stated that the principle of the democratic Republic arises from our human nature and being. In other words, it is ordained by natural and existential law[1]

A democratic Republic is not a hierarchy ruled by God and divine intermediaries. Even if you believe that human nature and existence comes from a divine force, the criterion for citizenship is accessible through our expanding knowledge of nature and existence. We exercise our ability to know human nature and existence primarily through philosophy and science or, better, through thoughtful philosophy informed by science. Not by religion or theology.

It is true that many of the founders of great religions expressed deep insight into the human condition, nature, and being. Many religious teachings are in conformity to natural law and human existence. But still the principle is us as a human community. It is in our understanding of ourselves as human beings—our continuity with and our distinctiveness in nature, our essence as defined by science and our existence as lived, our actuality as developed to the present and our potential for the future in that actuality--our individuality and our relatedness to the universe.

The study of culture through anthropology, the study of development through history, the study of the body through biology, the study of mind through evolutionary psychology and neuroscience—indeed all the sciences give us data for understanding human nature and so natural law. Good philosophy gathers these findings and, more, reflects on the nonobjective or lived experiences of existence in consciousness to offer an understanding of who we are and of the alternatives for who we want to be personally and collectively.

However, it is in the public realm or politics that we consider our alternatives and choose.  Politics is founded on our evolved (or God-given, if you wish) ability to fashion images (imagination) or symbols (language, art, science) to communicate and so collaborate with one another. The ability to act in concert is the definition of power. Politics is both the expression, exercise, and extension of power. Therefore, another name for the principle of a democratic Republic is “power.”

This principle can be discovered in actual occurrences of history in which people discarded oppression and seized power.  The stories of rebellions and revolutions bring that principle of human nature and existence to light.

The history of slavery in America is filled with rebellions and flights to freedom. The stories of Soujourner Truth, Paul Robeson, Jane Addams, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, Toussant Louverture, Ghandi, Mandela in our time and all the rebels to oppression by Church, State, Culture, Corporation, and Convention in the past are instances not only of personal liberation, but of communal freedom. i.e. assemblies of persons constituting free associations or publics. It is in these stories that the principle of power, liberty, and citizenship emerges and is renewed.

Unfortunately, these stories also illustrate how the principle of democratic republics is often suppressed. For example, the French Revolution was supplanted by the Terror. The power of the soviets in Russia was usurped by the hierarchical force of the Communist Party. The Athenian Polis and the Roman Republic were consumed by the Empire. Populism in many countries is superseded by dictators. And today in America, the principle is once more in jeopardy. Fear of loss, hate of others, and desire for wealth revive tribal instincts, economic nationalism, cultural absolutism.
The principle of democratic republicanism, which is the principle of citizenship, power, and multiculturalism, is found less in broad movements and big organizations than in ordinary people assuming power in their neighborhoods, their housing complexes, their work sites, and their villages and cities. I have personally experienced the spark of rebellion often, not just in marches, demonstrations, and campaign rallies but in local communities organizing themselves to feed, house, school, and provide living wages to themselves and their neighbors.

Again, the principle of the democratic public or the Republic is aspirational and intentional, belonging more to what we call the spirit rather than the matter or body of the organizing people. It may be expressed through a constitution of an organization or in a set of formulated principles. But mostly it is expressed in action and in the narrative that describes the action.

And because, once expressed, it becomes part of the culture and, if successful, part of the status quo, it must be renewed continually. Especially when the expression becomes exclusive, absolute, dogmatic, reactionary, resigned, negative, and lethargic. For when this happens, the people, their organization, their community, and their nation have lost their soul. This is the present condition of America where people have elected a leader without character, without empathy, without a soul.

Now is when citizen leaders must agitate, encourage, challenge, and demonstrate so that people rediscover their soul. It starts with resistance; it moves to rebellion, action, and reorganization. And then renewal is never far behind. All politics is local. It starts here and now.




[1] Natural law is distinguished from positive law which is the law that is promulgated by the state which may or may not be consistent with natural law or the way reality is. Existence is distinguished from essence. Essence is being in nature as defined by objective science. Existence is the human act, including cognition, of being human as subjectively perceived.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trump is NOT a citizen!

The upside of Trumpism is that it pushes us who are concerned with the directions of our nation and world to achieve greater clarity on our values and principles. More than ever.

In my last blog, I argued that the foundational principle of a democratic republic is in politics over culture. We have various expressions of that foundational principle: “We the People,” “liberty and justice for all,” “all men are created equal,” human rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note that the expressions are in culture, the principle itself in politics.

I contrasted this political principle with the principle of cultural assimilation, including language, religion, custom, life-style. The union of a democratic republic is in the public space created by the willing participation of all as equals. The governance of a democratic republic is not by hierarchy with some divine ruler at the pinnacle of power setting the standards of human life and action.

The foundational principle of public space organized by willing people without exclusion is also expressed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment affirms freedom of assembly, of speech, and of religion as the essential tools and rights to build and shape the public space, its contours, rules, and governance.  Public space is not to be confused with government run or owned although government guarantees and protects that space. There are places and organizations that are government run and owned: schools, museums, libraries, enterprises, non-profits, research institutes, theaters, and parks. But government is of, for, and by citizens assembled without discrimination in the public space.

And who is a citizen? Primarily a citizen is any person from any persuasion, origin, culture, and religion who accepts and lives by the foundational principle of the democratic Republic. This principle arises from our human nature and being. In other words, it is ordained by natural and existential (as opposed to positive or essential) law.

Those who believe in a divine Maker affirm that human nature and existence is not (just) the product of evolution but created by Elohim or Yahweh if Jewish, or by Allah if following the teaching of the Prophet, or by Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, or by Krishna, avatar of Vishnu, or by Crow or Coyote in indigenous mythology. The Mosaic, Papal, Sharia, and Vedic codes of laws, holy books, and personal moralities are espoused by individuals and groups who enter the public realm. But the source, foundation, premise, and rationale for the Republic is human nature and being as understood by reason and decided by the will of citizens.

Traditional beliefs, holy books, and behaviors can be cited in public libraries, government funded schools, civic parks and museums as long as none receive particular preference. There is freedom for religions and their codes of behavior in the private and cultural sphere. There is freedom from religion in the public sphere where the understanding of the common good and the rules for governance are negotiated.

The Constitution of a democratic republic is an imperfect human expression that attempts to articulate the foundational principle and set rules and guidelines for its implementation. To say it is divinely inspired, as did Mitt Romney, or to treat it that way, as do fundamentalist jurors, is contrary to the very principle of a democratic republic. If you know the history of the debates and compromises by which the Constitution was written, you know that the principle which it embodied was more aspirational than achieved. It permitted slavery, excluded women and the non-propertied from voting, allowed votes of some to count more than others. But it did not overtly promote these inequities, sinning more by omission than commission.  

And it allowed for interpretation and amendments that did in fact over time reduce these inequities and exclusions. It is still today an imperfect document allowing for gerrymandering by parties, plutocracy through the influence of money in elections, an aristocracy through the electoral college, and populist corruption through bribes and lies. But the promise remains.

Many occasions pushed the nation towards greater implementation of its aspirational democratic principle. The Civil War defeated a Confederacy bent on maintaining slavery and therefore retiring the democratic republican principle. Industrial corporate suppression of workers led to the labor movement. Jim Crow practice furthered the civil rights movement. Discrimination against women advanced the women’s movement first for political and then social and economic equality. Wars have been countered by peace movements. The Trumpian interval is a setback for progress, but it is also an occasion for renewal of commitment to the democratic republican ideal.

In the Trumpian age, a reactionary party and movement, recoiling from the election of the first black president and an African American family in the White House built by African slaves, is negating the democratic republican principle. This party and movement would set a cultural standard for belonging—straight, manly, Euro/Anglo, monied, churched—by enabling white supremacy and immigrant hate groups. Trumpians want to build walls, keep out immigrants, reward the wealthy, punish the unconventional, put religious belief over critical thinking. The Trumpians use tribal fear to blame others for their shortcomings. They want to reduce health care, make poorer people poorer, keep out immigrants, pit race against race, debase the free press, undermine the organization of workers and consumers, put profit for some over safety and health for all, and substitute force for power, punishment for justice. They treat and so make government not of, for, and by the people, but against the people.

A citizen is a person who accepts and lives the foundational principle of a democratic republic. That principle is a safe open space for all without exclusion to live, worship, love, work, worship, and play as they want in private and to speak, decide, and act together as a public. A public--whether a neighborhood, a nation, a region, a world--is the inclusive space where all have the ability, including the resources, to have life, meaning and respect. Therefore, persons intending civil, worker, racial, LGBT, immigrant, income rights and power are citizens whether or not they have legal status. Trumpians, their leader and their enablers, are not.