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Monday, September 10, 2018

It's About Time!

It’s About Time!

Is time real or an illusion? And who gives a damn?

Physicist Lee Smolin does, and he asks about it in his book:Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe. After reading it, I care about it too as a philosopher who believes that philosophy, informed by science, is a way of life. How I answer the question of time as real or illusion makes a difference in my approach to world. I consider that this meditation on time is an exercise in spiritual growth.

Smolin first presents the case for time as an illusion from modern physics which seeks invariable truth underlying the world we experience. Modern science from Newton to Einstein discovered the laws of matter and motion both at the macro astronomic and the micro quantum levels of nature. Now the universe of space-time can be explained by understanding initial conditions and the timeless and universal laws of everything that is. Well, not everything.

Not everything yet; for the search is still on for the Theory of Everything that would include dark matter and gravity and the initial conditions of the universe itself. String theory, many physicists conjecture, may be the provenance of this unified field theory that combines the Standard Theory with Quantum Gravity to reach, as Stephen Hawkins called it (metaphorically), the very mind of God.

Here the objective of the pure unlimited desire to know reaches towards the timeless, eternal, absolute reality—the Transcendentals, the One, then True, the Good beyond the transitory things of our ephemeral world. Time is relative and therefore a mere shadow of the timeless realities of the universe.

Or so goes the drive to know from the lovers of wisdom Plato and Aristotle to Hegel and Heidegger.  Then Heidegger, who proclaimed all philosophy a footnote to Plato, began to center in on the Dasein (being-there) of human consciousness as Zeit (time) through which Sein (Reality) reveals itself.

New science, according to Smolin, and especially the new formulation of quantum mechanics, comprises a new moment that succeeds the proven Standard Theory by considering time, not only as real, but as the fundamental reality from which even space emerges. Smolin’s physics resonates with Nobel Prize winner Ilya Prigogine’s chaos or complexity theory of an open universe of diverse possibilities. Science and philosophy converge on the fundamental reality of time. 

Smolin argues that “time and its passage are fundamental and real and the hopes and beliefs about timeless truths and timeless realms are mythology.” Reality, he says, “consists only of what’s real in each moment of time. This is a radical idea, for it denies any kind of timeless existence or truth—whether in the realm of science, morality, mathematics, or government. All those must be reconceptualized to frame their truths within time.”
Uh, oh—postmodern relativity! There goes truth in morality, in politics, religion. No timeless laws of nature? Does that mean that the Constitution, the rights of humanity, the tenets of virtue, the divine truths of religion, the invariable laws of science; and does this mean that transcendent values and beings do not exist? “Truth is not truth,” said the President’s attorney. “Alternative facts,” said his publicist. 

Not so! In earlier writings, by rejecting the delusion of the absolute and of determinism that I discovered in science and philosophy, I assumed the mantle of a postmodern thinker. However, I argued that there were two postmodernisms—one of which I reject. That is the thinking that would replace the unconditional absolute of modernity with relativity. This means that there is no firm basis for the knowledge of reality and for judgment as to what is true. (Ironically, the relativity so deplored by conservatives returns us to the fallacy of the objective and the illusion of the absolute—the what to which truth is relative.)

Rather, I accept the postmodern thinking that would assert not the relativity of things, but their relationality. Every reality can be understood in terms of its internal and external relations; that is, how its components are related and how it is related to all other things. Smolin expresses that a relational universe is a corollary of the proposition that time is real and fundamental to all that there is. Another way of saying this is that all things can be explained, and can only be explained, in the moment in which they are—a moment of the ongoing flow of time which is a succession of moments.

This, however, begs the question (not raised by Smolin) as to what a moment is and how it becomes a moment in time. I suggest letting a line represent the arrow of time from past to future. And let points on the line represent its moments starting in the middle with the present moment and then positioned before and after to represent past and future moments. The universe and all things in the universe exist in the present moment and can be explained in this moment by those minds, natural and artificial, with capacity to understand. 

In geometry, a point has no dimensions. There are infinite points on a line, each of which is infinitely divisible. In cosmology, a moment can be infinitesimally small, a particle in a particle. Or it can be cosmically large—like an era or epoch or age.

Past moments have passed, and the realities of those moments are gone. However, there may be evidence of them in the present moment (artifacts, DNA, recordings) so that the explanation of them might be reconstructed. Dinosaurs are no longer real though, based on what is real in the present, we can affirm that they were real in a past moment and had certain characteristics, diet, behaviors, etc. 

Also, realities (things, events) of the future might be predicted based on evidence in the present. But the future is open. Seemingly invariable laws of nature are subject to unforeseen and chance fluctuations so that predictions can ultimately be falsified or verified by new evidence. Evidence of climate change abounds in the present. Based on meteorological data being collected, synthesized, and formulized, we can make predictions regarding the future effects for the earth and its inhabitants. However, because of fluctuations in the data, partially caused by the accumulation of the change and partially caused by the behaviors of the inhabitants of the earth to the change, those predictions for the future are totally indeterminate.

This is the picture of a cosmology in which time is real and there are no timeless beings, events, places, or anything outside time that is governing or determining what was, is, or will be reality and its formulations into laws of nature.

How do moments of time become? How are these points on the time line put? Points are put on the line by pointing. 

We point by a gesture, e.g. the forefinger extended to something, as a sign to a teammate. Or by a verbal gesture when we name a thing and use it, explore it, dissect it, change it, or exchange it. We point by using a symbol to count it.  We point by using an image as an analogy to classify it. We point by using mathematic and other symbols to conjecture and ultimately affirm its internal and external relationships. 

Time and the realities of its moments became known when humanity on earth (and who knows what else on what other planet) acquired the ability to not only have, but also to use images to tell something to someone.  [I recount this ability to imagine, articulate, express, and shape a world in many of my earlier writings and will not repeat that account here.]  And in the exercise of this capacity to communicate arises the consciousness of self and others interacting to a world in time. The ancients called this sense of self in the world psyche or spirit. Medievalists called it divine image, inner light, or soul. Moderns called it Geist or mind. Contemporary philosophers, like Heidegger and his students, called it time. 

Time is the consciousness of our human organisms as we interact with each other in creating our world, our past and our future. It is the sense of transcendence, moving on from where we are and came to an open, undetermined future. We experience our conscious existence as a drive to know or, as AN Whitehead described it, the Unity of Adventure, the urge to all possibilities. 

The illusion and reality of the self has been discussed by contemporary philosophy informed by biology and neuroscience. The human body is conscious. We human beings feel ourselves in interaction with others as we communicate, use images, words, and symbols, to reach out to our world to understand it and shape it. We are self-conscious. We are conscious of ourselves in relation to other selves, to our environment, to our past and our future. 

Is time real or an illusion. Is the real, the fundamental principle of all that is, outside time in some timeless being, event, place, or law. Or is the real time itself? Time as nature and time as consciousness. 

What difference does it make? If time is of the essence, then nothing is outside or beyond time. Anything that exists is in and of time. Time is the universe of all that is. And the universe is time, the relationship of all things to all things, the progression of moments within which all things are related. If we accept the reality of time and our place within it, we accept our role and responsibility within time. That make a huge difference, if you think about it. It means that what we think and what we do will direct and project our world. 

I suggest that time is both real and an illusion. Through our ability to imagine and express, we humans discover and make things and events in time. At the same time or in the same moment we experience ourselves so doing. We make time, we feel time, we discover ourselves and all things in time.  Most important, we become and shape time. My time is your time and our time is in line with universal time, the flow of the universe whose moments we discover and create as both actual and artificial, real and illusory. The illusion of self-consciousness encounters the reality of a universe. 

Evolution becomes conscious in us, said the poet scientist. The arrow of time achieves meaning and direction in us. Should we accept that responsibility and role? Should we spend our time discovering, making, and joining time with others in our world? This is our vocation. This is the fundamental option of human existence.

Make time for ourselves and for each other. Make time for the world in which we all exist. Make time for the future of our children, our communities, our earth, and our species. This is our time. Let’s use it. 




Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Is the Pope Catholic?

That's a jocular response to a question that has an obvious answer.

But now it's a not so funny response in the light of the priest child abuse revelations that seem to have reached a crescendo. (Maybe?)  So much is being written about it that I cannot resist my urge to express, and thus find, my own views.

Pope Francis, in his recent letter denouncing and apologizing for the abuse of youth by contemporary priests, tries to get to a root cause by highlighting the "clericalism" of the Church. Clericalism is that separate class of special people closer to the Holy One (which the early Jesus people rejected). But it is more.  It is hierarchy in which some persons have authority and control over others which harks back to the patron system of the Roman empire (that the Jesus people fought). And then of course it is the sexism and paternalism of male domination (also rejected by the Jesus people).

The problem is not just the culture of the church as expressed in doctrines and rites. It is how the church is organized as an institution. Moreover, the abuse of clerics, like the abuse of politicians, lawyers, and bureaucrats goes beyond sexual predation. It is the abuse of power. Like rape.

If the Church is to truly root out this abuse, it will get rid of the clerical class, flatten the hierarchy, and renounce paternalism and sexism. Communities will choose their conveners based on agreed upon criteria. And these conveners will choose their overseers or administrators--or at least recommend them to the world church leader (e.g. Pope, President) selected by the overseers.

Leaders will be male and female demonstrating their ability to support their families as good dads and moms and to be leaders with civic virtue in their neighborhoods, cities, and community associations. As for any job, there may be some educational requirements as agreed to by the people in congregation.  No female or married priests. Just no priests!

Time for a Vatican III, Pope Francis?

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

New Great Awakening


My previous reflection (8-4-18) was on culture, especially religion, private and public. The genius of the founders was building a public while distinguishing it from the private. Persons and groups in the private realm could have their own opinions, worship their own divinities, and make their own livelihoods. And we as a people of many households and traditions can enjoy unity from the many, as our coins of the realm say, by sharing common ideas and spaces.

Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Magazine, just wrote another of his great articles entitled In 2008 Americans Stopped Believing in the American Dream. He describes the depression we endure, the disruption of the political order, the mistrust of democratic institutions as I have done earlier in these reflections. He agrees that this depression, disruption, and mistrust was building long before Trump who is merely a symptom, not a cause, of our discontent. He believes that the crash of 2008 was the turning point for the old white men, Trump's base, who bought into the American Dream.

My favorite sentence in Rich's piece is: "Perhaps the sole upside of the 2008 crash was that it discredited the Establishment of both parties by exposing its decades-long collusion with a  kleptocratic economic order." Yes, the American Dream, like all the dreams we have while sleeping, was not real. Like "10 acres and a mule" promised to liberated black slaves, like continuing increase in equality promised to a working class playing by the rules of the free market economy--just pipe dreams sold by the wealthiest of con-men.

Rich is agreeing with the analysis of Streek, Kuttner, Polanyi, Arendt, Harrington and the others I have been citing in my attempt to understand what is happening to our nation. The capitalist economy and its institutions have supplanted the reign of democratic politics and its institutions. Private pleasure of consumption overcomes public happiness through participation.

Economic growth, i.e. product and wealth, has become the American measure of success, the line between "winners" and "losers" in the game of life, and the divine attribute of the American religion. Ayn Rand and Milton Freeman are contributors to the American Dream Bible. Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan are the ordained ministers preaching the Word of the Dream. Increasing consumption of the resources of the earth is not only our human right; it is our religious rite. Be happy. Make money. Go shopping.

And that is why we, perhaps like many life supporting planets in the universe, are reducing our chances for survival. There is substantial evidence that we are destroying both the material, social, and, I would add, religious or spiritual habitat that sustains our life. The recent piece in the NYT by Frank Rich’s son, Nathaniel, make that case quite well.

But again, my invincible hope kicks in. Yes, Frank, 2008 was the beginning of the end of the American Dream and Trump is the clearest harbinger of our loss. But this calls not for a restoration of that Dream, but a revival of the American public religion that can be discovered throughout human existence, enhanced by the great liberators in our own American history whose virtues conflict with the habits of those who depress and oppress the spirit of transcendence within us. Those habits are immediate satisfaction of material needs, choosing sides mine against yours, fear and distrust of strange people and strange ideas, and, above all, disenchantment of the earth and of public space. The Trumpian turn we now experience suppresses the spirit of unity and collaboration.

But it can also recall that spirit of commonality which we have forgotten and neglected. I won’t go so far as to say that Trump is God’s gift to us. Nor do I blame God for famine, blight, and destruction and other evils. I think we generally know what our civil religion is. Most of us welcome immigrants and refugees. Most of us value free speech and press along with honesty. Most of us know that abusing children and women, torture, and other forms of cruelty is wrong. I think we know the meaning of civic virtue because we have so many who have practiced it in our history. 

To restore our democratic republic, we need a revival of our democratic religion--a reaffirmation of the beliefs, attitudes, values, but most of all, the practices and virtues of that republic. I do not think it will be achieved by the printing of a new catechism or by the construction of a new temple. It will not be achieved by governmental, ecclesiastical, or corporate institutions, nor by force of law--though all these could help. 

It will be achieved by people practicing civility, engaging in civil service, and acting for social justice. I see it happening all around us, those “thousand points of light,” the elder Bush called it. Young students organizing to stop gun killing. Athletes taking a knee against racial violence. Women refusing to be groped by men in power. Organizers and leaders now forming community organizations in cities and towns throughout the nation to hold local corporations and governments accountable. Firmly but without violence or rancor. 

This may be an opportunity for a religious revival in America. Not just a Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Islamic, Jewish, Unitarian revival, not just a revival of democratic republican parties, not just a revival of families and neighborhoods—but of all of them working together to revive an American spirit that feeds and is fed by them. The rebirth of the new nation called for by Abraham Lincoln at another time of crisis. The restoration of radical democratic politics in America is concomitant with the renewal of the democratic republican or public religion in America.

On the Bicentennial of the American nation, 1976, the Catholic Bishops called for a movement of renewal called “Liberty and Justice for All.” It was a good idea and some wonderful things came out of it including a strong critique of the fundamentalist free-market economyand major support for organizing publics at the local level.

But perhaps on the 250thanniversary, i.e. 2026, all the churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, labor unions, civic associations, and community organizations will proclaim a new Great Awakening of the enduring values of freedom and justice, life, liberty, and the pursuit of public happiness over egotistic pleasure. It can’t be a Christian thing or a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist thing.  It can’t be a Democratic or Republican thing. It can’t be a Conservative or Liberal thing.  It can’t be a Coast or Heartland thing, a rural or urban thing. It’s got to be all those things.

We don’t have much time so we better start working on this. I want to be around to see it. In the meantime, keep the faith, keep up the struggle.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Tale of Two Cultures


The distinction of public and private, household and polis, gives us some ancient tools to think about the relation between economy and politics. 

But what about culture--the realm of words, values, mores, myth, religion, education, art, philosophy, and science? If symbolic behavior is a defining capacity of being human, the products of symbolic expression, i.e. culture, are what organize our human world. Both in private and in public realms.

Take art and religion. There are the household arts, e.g. my meager home carpentry skills, and civic art, e.g. the statues and painting adorning state capitols and art galleries.  In both Rome and other civilizations, there are the household gods which, representing ethnic and tribal traditions, inspired and protected families.  And there are the public gods like Jupiter, Hera, Minerva, Neptune in the founding myths of the Republic, invoked in the public realm. The household religions are the sites of family devotions and mores.  The civic religion, its doctrines, temples, and rituals, comprise the self-understanding, values, and virtues of the community.

The thirteen states which ratified the Constitution of the United States of America recognized a pluralism of cultures in the private realm while working towards a more perfect union in the public realm through universal rights, public education, and democratic republican politics. The Constitution has had to be amended many times in order to achieve the aspirations of a democratic Republic dedicated to ex pluribus unum.

There is no State religion. All natives and newcomers are free to have their own religious opinions or to have no religion at all.  For the household or private realm, all religions, moralities, lifestyles, ethnicities, languages, traditions are permitted.  But in the public realm, there is a civil religion, language, art, morality (civility), custom, and law that all citizens should learn to employ. This is an evolving culture that incorporates new values and modifies old ones through the process of interaction among peoples. 

For example, in Hawaii, men can wear aloha shirts almost everywhere, whether in corporate board rooms or governmental agencies.  But in the legislature and the courts a suit and tie are expected.  In California, nakedness on public beaches and parks (except in certain designated spaces) is forbidden. Almost everywhere, having sexual intercourse, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as long as it is not abusive, is okay in private, but not in public. New citizens, though unrestricted in private, should do well to adopt the prevailing mores, customs, languages, doctrines, attires, and rituals of the public when in public. All residents are under the law unless they judge a law to be unjust, which they break through civil disobedience by accepting the consequences of its enforcement.

Americans accept a secular state that favors no one religion or religion at all.  But sacred places, moments, experiences, and expressions are not confined to the private realm. The civic religion in the public realm the state often supports. This expression of common values is discovered in the founding documents, on historic monuments, and in the speeches of presidents that embrace the equality, liberty, and unity of all citizens though different in tradition, ethnicity, race, and opinion. 

There is a long tradition in political thought from Plato to MLK that extols the role of virtue, e.g. morality and even spirituality, in public life. I like Cicero's expression best: "There is  nothing in which human virtue approaches the divine more closely than in the founding of new publics or the preservation of existing ones." This to me is an expression of the vocation of organizing, leading, and participating in "civic and political associations" (de Tocqueville).

Cicero teaches that virtue is more important than pleasure and that it can only be achieved in the exercise of it. Moreover, civic virtue is the highest of all. It is the “source of piety and religion, of justice, good faith, and equity, of modesty, moderation, and courage.”

The highest of goals is public happiness--enjoyment in the creation and participation of community. This exceeds private happiness or pleasure in attaining wealth and satisfying material needs. Politics is the extension of ethics, the responsibility of and for us all. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Back to Basics

Spence and I are taking a summer institute at Montgomery College entitled Political Philosophy and Democracy.  A good refresher in these Dark Times

The readings for the first day are from Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Thomas Aquinas, and Giles of Rome. My mentor Hannah Arendt in her political thinking referred often to these works to comment on the problems of our own American democracy. The main problem is the collapsing and disordering of private and public realms, i.e. the economy and politics. Other problems that follow this one are truth in politics, politics and violence, politics and culture (including art and religion), politics and labor, and politics and democracy.

The ancients were using observation, thinking, and dialogue or reason in their own historical situation or context, but still have important lessons for us moderns.  They certainly influenced the European Renaissance, the resulting Enlightenment, into modern life, culture, and the political economy. Here are some excerpts from the Politics of Aristotle that are most relevant in our Dark Times.

The city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and man is by nature a political animal.
The household is the community constituted by nature for the needs of daily life.
The first community arising from several households and for the sake of non-daily needs is the village. By nature the village seems to be above all an extension of the household.
The complete community arising from several villages, is the city. It reaches a level of full self-sufficiency, so to speak; and while coming into being for the sake of living, it exists for the sake of living well.
The city is thus prior by nature to the household and to each of us. For the whole must of necessity be prior to the part.
All communities aim at some good, and that the community that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or the political community.

Polis is the Greek name for city, state, political community. It is the place where a human person can achieve and exercise the highest of values: power or, as Arendt defines it, "the ability to act in concert." It is also where a person can pursue and realize the greatest of happiness: public happiness. That is the top rung of Aristotle's and Arendt's hierarchy of needs (pace Mazlow). Mine too.

Economia or economy is the Greek name for household. It is the place where humans secure their basic needs to live. It is the place of private ownership, i.e. property for shelter, security, health, and the production of goods to consume and to market.  It is the place for the management and exchange of goods for life. It is also the place for having and raising children for the continuation of the family and the species. 

Two realms: private and public, each required by the other. Reduce one and reduce the other. The purpose of economy is living and so fulfilling the needs of the organism. It is the realm of necessity.  The purpose of politics is living well and so fulfilling the highest desires of the soul, wisdom, respect, meaning. It is the realm of freedom. In my parlance, "liberty" is the freeing from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. 

Of course, in ancient Greece and Rome and carried down into modern times, barbarians, slaves, women, and children belonged to the household concerned only with the needs of living. Only the freemen, their needs taken care of, could enjoy the public space where the decisions about the city were made, its boundaries, its protection, its monuments, its academies, and its markets. 

According to Aristotle, this distinction of household and city is based on nature in the human capacity to speak, or in modern scientific terms, in the evolution of the organism for symbolic communication and collaboration. This is what defines the human species, unlike all other known species, as a political animal. This distinction and maintaining the priority of polis over household, politics over economy is fundamental. It underlies the problem of our dark times where political freedom is subordinate to economic desires, public welfare to the wealth of the few. 

Next:  How this disorder can be rectified.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Democratic Socialism


Lately we hear candidates within the Democratic Party claiming to be “democratic socialists.” Because of the failure of Communism and the national and international Communist Party which claimed to be socialist, fear is being spread by some Republicans, Democrats, and their pundits that the defeat of oligarchic and plutocratic capitalism by democratic socialism (or “progressives”) would plunge America and the World into Stalinism or Fascism (remember that Nazis were “national socialists”). 

I have always been an admirer of Michael Harrington and read almost all his books. He founded the Democratic Socialists of America as a non-profit, non-governmental, non-party association of people striving for a more social justice-oriented America. You can check the DSA website to understand what they mean by democratic socialism.  But I consider myself a democratic socialist (at least in the economic realm) and will say what I mean as I am growing in my understanding. 

Primarily, I believe that a democratic socialist is a person who advocates and practices the politics of a democratic republic, a politics which promotes its principles and goals for society including the economy and its institutions.  These goals our American democratic republic has named “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” or “liberty and justice for all.”

Democratic socialism is not anti-business, anti-trade, or anti-corporation. Businesses and corporations are great inventions of humankind to grow the economy of the nations of the world, to create what is needed for the increase in the quantity and quality of life for all people. But for that they must be subservient to the principles, values, and rules of the democratic republic. Democratic socialism does NOT mean that government should administer, rule, manage, or own the means of production--except when necessary to ensure that the means of production, including finance, is working for the good of all persons and society as a whole. 

Politics is not to be identified with government. Just as businesses and corporations are the primary institutions of the private sector, government and its agencies are the primary institutions of the public sector. Government in a democratic republic ensures that democratic mechanisms are in place to safeguard not only profits for workers and investors, but also responsibility to society and ecological sustainability. 

Democratic government supports and protects privacy, including personal bodies, property, health and private rights of individuals to pursue personal happiness.  Democratic government protects and supports the public realm, the commons, the open, inclusive spaces where citizens gather, debate, and act in order to pursue public happiness. The public establishes the rules of democratic government to set the limits and boundaries of private, corporate, and governmental institutions so they do not infringe on others and on the rights and happiness of the public.

Democratic politics needs to ensure that all institutions, public and private, are run equitably and fairly for all and promote the public good. There are many strategies, programs, mechanisms, platforms to achieve the correct relationships of public and private, of government and corporation, and of politics with the economy and culture. 

In democratic socialism there is no overarching socialist program, no revelation of the perfect society, no system of ideas (ideology) that is absolute, inevitable, or even correct for all times and places. The overall strategy of the democratic socialist movement is through popular politics (voluntary organizations of residents and workers) to remove structural economic, cultural, and political obstacles to, and guarantee the possibilities for, a social order in which every person has the ability to achieve personal and public happiness. Democratic socialism is not compatible with plutocracy, oligarchy, and authoritarianism.  Nor is it compatible with violence, cruelty, and oppression which turns persons into commodities.

Democratic socialists are progressives in that they recognize that, while no human society has rid itself of all the obstacles and created the means for a totally just society, it is a work in progress. Progress is not guaranteed by History, Science, or God. It is only furthered by the speech and actions of human beings in history, through critical thinking, with values and beliefs that give meaning to their personal and public existence.

And so, we start where and when we are here and now.  We engage others, neighbors and strangers. We feel when and where they are suffering. We work with them to remove the causes of our suffering (especially cruelty, violence, oppression) and create the means for personal and public happiness. No grand plan, no conclusive theory, no enduring ideology—even those are works in progress.

Democratic socialism is a commitment to the future of human beings individually and socially.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Organizing is disorganizing


"All organizing is disorganizing," Alinsky told his young organizers and their community leaders.

If you are in a neighborhood or a city or a country where the order of relationships among residents or citizens is such that some can have life, liberty, and can pursue personal and public happiness and some can not, then the way that community, city, country is ordered needs to be changed. The "cannots" have to organize themselves and change the order of things so that they can be "cans." In organizing themselves, the "cannots" welcome assistance from some of the "cans" who identify with them and their suffering, but the "cannots" themselves need to do it and lead it.

I remember in Chicago living and working in black ghettos becoming slums (first in public housing and then in private housing). And I only began to understand why after many months of talking with residents and with others who helped me understand how the social order of Chicago worked for a few but not for many--both black and white.  That order of things ("res" in Latin) had to be changed radically, i.e. at its institutional roots. How?  By building a public, a res publica, an open place where all could see the hidden patterns of behavior and what they were doing to people.

Only through speech and action in public did the stories of the people and the policies and practices of the social order come to light. By organizing the "cannots"into action the hidden, private behaviors of institutions and the people who headed them became public along with the laws that legitimized them and the religions that blessed them. The studies and experts helped--but it was the people going public that changed the game and its rules.

In following up the footnote to my last post, I want to thank Mr. Trump and his loyal acolytes. In trying to understand how this "wreck of a man," as staunch conservative George Will called him, became President, we have been forced to uncover the habitual patterns of thinking and behavior, supported by Republican and Democratic Parties, that made him possible.

I thank Mr Trump for calling attention to the BLOB (look it up!) who have committed us to neoconservative foreign policy from Yale and neoliberal economic policy from U of Chicago. Even though he is not changing but reenforcing those policies.

I am grateful to realize that I myself am among the "cannots" who feel so powerless in this national and world order today.

But now that we can see the hidden patterns of our rulers and their results, perhaps we "cannots" will organize ourselves as "yes, we cans" and reorganize ourselves to Lincoln's new birth of freedom. It will take a lot of organizing and a lot of action, much tension and conflict probably extending way beyond my death. The oligarchs running the new world order won't go softly into the night. But I take solace in seeing some light.






Saturday, July 21, 2018

What! Is Trump right about Putin?


I've been reading a series of interviews of Paul Jay with Professor Alexandr Buzgalin who teaches political economy and is Director of the Center for Modern Marxist Studies at Moscow State University. 

What I have been learning is the role that the US under the influence of American and European capitalists and the new world order intelligentsia won the Cold War with the Soviet Union as its brand of bureaucratic anti-democratic one-party controlling state-socialism collapsed under its own internal contradictions. 

These contradictions came to a head under Gorbachov's reforms and led to mass dissent and disorder. Yeltsin, the chair of the Russian republic, took the reins of power with the support by the leaders of the industries and resources previously owned by the state. They bought and privatized the previous state-owned industries for a dime to a dollar (financed by Western banks) and became billionaires overnight. They are the famed Russian oligarchs who took over before the American oligarchs got there to act fire the spoils. 

Professor Buzgalin said that the oligarchs smartly developed agreements among themselves like barons of a feudal system and chose a king to enforce their rules. Putin, hired by Yeltsin, is not so much a Czar, but a feudal king who administers a plutocracy with the trappings of a democratic socialist state. This system has led to an increased standard of living for the general populace as measured by the enhanced ability to consume.  More consumer products are available in supermarkets, car and TV stores, and vodka shops. 

This is not to say that Putin has no power.  He has tremendous power. But it is based on the oligarchs and his ability to manage them and for them. Like a good executive director, he is also the avenue to the oligarchs, who, like the American oligarchs, want stability and profit in the new order. 

Trump, who is a wannabe oligarch and who has been trying to get into the world system of oligarchs, is right to make nice to Putin. He now finds himself in a great position to do so. And to whose profit?

Both the people of the US and of Russia, of course!! We will do so much better, when the oligarchs of both countries and their international financial institutions do better. 

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A postscript in line with my previous posts:  Is this moment of focus on Putin and Trump and the "new world order," facilitated by both Republic and Democratic Party foreign and domestic policy to save capitalism, an opportunity for us grunts in the work force and welfare system to understand what is really going on and make some different choices? 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Israel is no longer a democracy

The Knesset just passed a bill with constitutional weight that revokes Israel's status as a democratic republic.

Many nations, including our own American, affirm the basic principles of a democratic republic, yet life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are aspirational at most.  But yet they are aspirational at least. One of those principles, according to Jefferson and the other founders, is freedom of and from religion. All men are created equal despite their belief systems and should be afforded the full rights of humanity. The republic is not founded on culture, religion, ethnicity, race, but on the free right to assemble, speak, and act to govern themselves in a way that affords all persons that right. A citizen is a resident who affirms and exercises that right.

The US negated itself as a democratic republic by the Naturalization Act that restricted the vote to white men and then most dramatically by the Dred Scott decision.  These acts denied not only the reality, but also the aspiration for being a democratic republic. The aspiration of government of, by, and for the people was restored by Lincoln's Republican government and then slowly began to be realized by the Abolition, the Women's, the Labor, and the Civil Rights Movements.

The Knesset just passed the Nationality Act making Israel a Jewish State--defined by ethnicity, culture, and religion. This is similar to Ferdinand and Isabella declaring Spain a Roman Catholic State and enforcing it through the Inquisition. Muslims and Jews, no matter their contribution to the nation, must either leave or become Catholic Christians. All in contrast to the Protestant enlightened Nordic nations which were taking then first steps to becoming democratic republics and to which fled the Jewish people who could.

I know so many Jews and Jewish organizations who oppose this horrible Israeli Act. I commiserate with them. Like the Dred Scott decision in the US, it violates the very principles on which the State of Israel was created by their idealistic socialist founders. The Nationality Act, besides adopting the menorah as the state symbol, Hebrew as the official language, and the right of Jews from the Diaspora to settle there, proclaims that Israel will govern itself as a democracy. However, it negates itself as a democracy in the very act.

Some white supremacists linked to Christian evangelicals are now urging that the US declare itself a Christian country. The Trump administration besides restricting new immigrants are deporting naturalized immigrants. Americans, Jews and Gentiles, should condemn these acts in the US and in Israel.