Archive for February, 2016

A Ship of Fools

A Ship of Fools is adrift. The crew is filling the sails with lies, ignorance, and innuendo fueled by religiosity, ignorance, racism, resentment, mysogny, homophobia, hate speech, class discrimination, ethnicity, fear, distrust of government, disparagement of anyone and everyone not like them, and not the least, unbridled political ambition funded by billionaires. No person, no institution is safe from their depredations not even the sitting president. Fear of truth also fuels this taxonomy of disfunction, deception, and destruction. To wit:

The Ship’s Crew at Work

(1) A Texan Republican Representative claims wind is a “finite” resource and using it to spin power generating windmills slows the winds down causing temperatures to go up.

(2) The Republican governor of Louisianna has prohibited state officials and employees from using the term “Global Warming”.

(3) A recent poll shows 57% of Republican primary voters support Christianity as the national religion, clearly advocating, as does ISIL, religious government in a country founded on religious freedom. It should be noted that in this same demographic 66% do not believe in global warming and 49% do not believe in evolution.

(4) In the US Congress 47 members, led by Republican Representative Tom Cotton, wrote to the government of Iran to warn them away from signing a nuclear nonproliferation agreement with the United States and other countries.

(5) The father of US Representative Ted Cruz is quoted in the national media as claiming that LGBT rights will lead to football teams showering with girls.

(6) Rudy Giuliani contributed – “I do not believe that the president loves America.”

(7) In Jackson, Mississippi police officers drew their guns on a six year old child.

(8) The Kochs are offering $889 million to influence the 2016 elections.

(9) In Georgia a Republican legislator is concerned that human embryos might be mixed with jellyfish cells to create “glow-in-the-dark” babies.

(10) Not to be outdone, an Idaho Republican State Representative thinks gynecological examinations for pregnancy can be carried out by having women swallow tiny cameras. 

(11) Also in Idaho another Republican representative believes the state has no right to protect children from parents who refuse them medical treatment in favor of faith healing. 

(12) A Republican legislator in Montana, has proposed a bill to control women’s attire, his bill makes it unlawful for females to sport yoga pants outside their homes and restricts women from wearing apparel that’s overly tight or that shows a lot of skin. The bill also aims to stop men from showing their nipples. Individuals who ignore the guidelines of this proposed law would be subject to fines as high as $10,000 and the possibility of life in prison.

(13.) A wealthy-from-birth candidate for president wants to do away with mandated minimum wage.

The foregoing of course isn’t the entire crew roster and certainly not the entire story but it does illustrate where our present course is leading as we sail into the future of this society, this country.  That we have been spent nearly one trillion dollars on one fighter aircraft that has yet to be cleared for use after at least 10 years of development while education, roads, water supplies, and health care languish is testimony to our values as a nation, as a people. That we have been involved in one war or another for 222 years out of the 239 years since 1776 itself speaks more about our values as a  society than all of our rhetoric. War making and war machines have taken precedence over our development as a civilized people. This seems to me to be an unspeakable travesty of what we, as a nation, represent ourselves as being.

Even education has been transformed from a national treasure into a target. Politicians with no experience or background in education are pushing destructive educational policies like endless meaningless testing and third grade retention for kids who aren’t learning to read on a phony political schedule, all in service to political contributors who are already profiting from privatized public education. Is it paranoid to suggest an uneducated or poorly educated public would be far easier to manipulate and control and, aside from profit, isn’t that what makes this an attractive strategy for some?

   What kind of world do these people envision in the aftermath of their attacks on the social contract? What kind of country will this be when people are without health care, without education, without roofs over their heads, without food, without employment at living wages? Are they imagining with some kind of satisfaction soup kitchens and bread lines? Is this the path they and their politician accomplices are planning to achieve “American Exceptionalism”?

We struggle constantly with the ancient hierarchical social belief system in which some are always “better” than others by virtue of an accident of birth, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any other quality with which they sort the polity. People who operate at this low level of socialization seem incapable of perceiving or admitting to the simple existence of “others” to respect others as when an elected official publicly characterizes women as a “cut of meat”.

Where are we going with all of this? That is the most important question we are compelled to ask and demand answers to from everyone including ourselves personally. Our fate as a society is at stake. Our fate as a civilization is in peril sailing on as we are with a seriously defective moral compass.

The Social Consequences of Injustice

 

Ecologist Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay, “Tragedy of the Commons” inspired a stream of writing by all manner of scholars particularly economists. The essence of Hardin’s thesis is actually a common sense observation that limited resources can tragically be depleted or destroyed when thoughtless unlimited use is made of them. When people disregard the consequences of their use and abuse of limited resources those actions invariably affect others who need or use those same goods. In other words, when people behave selfishly it is essentially anti-social.

 

Selfish behavior is a moral issue contrary to what two well known University of Chicago economists, S.D. Levitt and S.J. Dunbar claim. Their blunt appraisal is, “.. economics simply doesn’t traffic in morality.”; in their opinion it seems, any resulting inequality from over use of the commons has no moral dimension, an attitude which, in one form or another, seems to have become pervasive in our society and around the world. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nestle, the largest food producing and water bottling company in the world, recently stated: “Human beings have no right to water.” If people want water they must buy it – preferably from him, of course. I suppose it is only fair to ask if is air next? We are living, it seems, in a time of unprecedented venality, an era of social behavior separated from moral consideration and consequence.

 

I believe the commons and the social contract are interchangeable. In a just society there is a relationship between the equitable distribution of wealth, justice, and economic opportunity as essential goods of the commons. Truthfulness and belief are also vital parts of that equation. A healthy functioning social contract cannot be a Potemkin Village of lies, injustice, and public relations flack. The two most corrosive recent Supreme Court decisions, the 2000 coronation of George W. Bush and granting corporations human status in 2010 were poisonous to the commons, to the social contract. As a result of the latter we have a Congress controlled by business lobbyists and not by any measure a Congress of the people. A society in which the wealth of six people in one family is equal to the entire bottom 30% of Americans is not a healthy society. A “Let them eat cake.” mind set didn’t work for Marie Antoinette; ultimately it isn’t going to work for today’s 1% either. Something is going to have to give either as a result of increased political consciousness or other less civil means. If the history of civilization is any guide, a tipping point will be reached sooner or later.

 

What demagogues of all stripes fail to remember is that there has always been a price to be paid when a critical mass of disbelief and inequality is reached. Lies have lasting effect and are inevitably found out either by disclosure or by turn of events. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently stated that voting rights are “entitlements”. Either he is ignorant of the Constitution, he doesn’t grasp the Constitution, or he is a bald face liar. There are no further possibilities and lying seems the most likely based on his presumption of stupidity on the part of the rest of us, or, in other words, his obvious arrogance. “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs.” is how Harry G. Frankfurt puts it in his charming and insightful book, “On Truth”. Lies from the Supreme Court bench indisputably distort the “real state of affairs”.

 

What is the “real” state of affairs in this case? Here is the definitive statement of voting rights which Scalia and John Roberts want us to believe they don’t get:

15TH AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

[Ratified February 3, 1870]

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The Massachusetts Secretary of State, William Galvin, in response to Roberts’ assertion during the trial that Massachusetts had the worst white to black voter ratio turnout in the U.S. gets to the heart of this discussion: “I’m disturbed, first of all, that he is distorting information. You would expect better conduct from the chief justice of the United States. I’m a lawyer, he’s a lawyer, lawyers are not supposed to provide disinformation in the course of a case. It’s supposed to be based on truth.”

 

Of course you would have to be new to the planet of you thought lawyers have a universal commitment to the truth. You might notice in a court proceeding that everyone must take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Everyone that is except the lawyers. I once questioned an officer of the Lawyers Disciplinary Board, a group that is charged with overseeing the conduct of lawyers, about this anomaly. I was told that lawyers may “interpret” in their speech to a jury. This assertion flies in the face of what is called the “Duty of Candor Before the Tribunal” to which all lawyers are required to adhere. Nowhere in the literature of the American Bar Association will you find an exception to this duty. In practice however lying is sanctioned in a Kafka-worthy “interpretation” by regulators. If truth is not the absolute coin of the realm in court where could it ever be? How could there be justice?

 

I agree with the social philosopher, Philippa Foot, who said, “… it makes sense to speak of those who are lovers of justice – as of those who are lovers of truth.” we must then conclude that the lawyering business has a questionable relationship with both truth and justice if their standard for truth is a moveable feast, fabrication in the guise of “interpretation” to suit their needs. As Mr. Galvin cast it, “… lawyers are not supposed to provide disinformation in the course of a case. It’s supposed to be based on truth.” I once conducted a simple survey of lawyers asking the question: “Is your duty before the court to seek justice or to win?” I never did get a straight answer. If the motto is “winning is everything” the corollary must inevitably be, “Society and Justice be damned.” It follows from this that not all people are equal before the law but rather it depends upon who has the lawyer most willing to “interpret” the “facts” in a manner favorable to the client.

 

A society cannot long exist without truth which is the bedrock of justice, it cannot long live a lie. In the final analysis the Social Contract is both a perception and a belief. When the substance of life in a society as it is lived is perceived to fail our natural expectations of truth and justice, our belief in the social contract is betrayed and cynicism follows; with that the commitment to the commons is destroyed. When there is no social contract it becomes everyone for themselves with all which that entails.

 

 

 


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