Posts Tagged 'Supreme Court'

Jazz – A Riff on Integrity

June 30th, 1960, Tanglewood, slipping in a side door and climbing to secluded seats high above the stage. Dave Brubeck, Joe Morello, Gene Wright, and Paul Desmond are warming up ahead of their evening performance. I remember Desmond’s notes rising clear, fully formed, beautiful, intimate, unmistakably Desmond. I experience that perfection still.

May 30th, 1977, Bear Creek, California. Paul Desmond died that day. A San Francisco station playing his music though the night. Pure Desmond – clarity, notes projected with perfect understanding of their shapes and relationships. His music an expression of absolute integrity. I sat up and listened until I fell asleep sometime before dawn. What has always made Desmond’s music beautiful for me is the integrity.

April 3rd, 2014, dense blowing snow out the window, a good fire in the wood stove, Paul Desmond in the background – thinking about virtue and integrity. I’m wondering why so few people, especially in high places, seem incapable of the virtues of personal integrity and intellectual honesty once considered essential to the conduct of a viable civil society. How long does any society have to live I wonder when there are so many liars and so many lies? A society based on lies cannot be viable and 4000 years of history give truth to this. We have always suffered rent-seeking politicians, morally corrupt judges and greedy businessmen but they were not then, as they are now, the dominant minority.

I’m reminded of the Cold War, behind the Iron Curtain, cynicism was the coin of the realm. About the two major Russian newspapers Izvestia and Pravda it was said, “There is no truth in Izvestia and no news in Pravda.” amusing cynical take but not so amusing when applied to courts of law or Congress in a democracy where truth needs to be the vital currency. What happens when the foundational, “All men are created equal” is no longer a belief? When a court, in a God-like gesture, endows corporations with human status? How often can beliefs be disregarded before they are discarded? What replaces abandoned beliefs?

In the commons, integrity and intellectual honesty have all but disappeared, strangled by insatiable unrelenting greed by politicians, business people and judges. A judge excused a jail term for a wealthy man who raped his 3 year old daughter because, the judge said, he wouldn’t “fare well” in prison. Does she make the same allowances for not-wealthy people? Is this judicial integrity? Do society and children deserve this cynicism?

There is a high societal price for deceptive political calculation that highjacks hope but delivers alienation. There was that “hope and change” sales pitch for example that eventually revealed itself as shuck-and-jive-business-as-usual politics, regressive education policies, secret rendition and tapped telephones. Lots of us fell for it. Will we ever again be lured to the rocks of disappointment and cynicism because we wanted to believe? Cynicism is, by itself, likely the most dangerous and contagious disease in any society it undermines everything corroding all that it touches. Cynicism destroys belief, hope, faith, trust – all the necessary components of healthy viable societies, it bleeds any social contract dry.

Brooks Adams in his 1896 “The Law of Civilization and Decay”, speaking of 5th C Rome says, “Wealth is the weapon of a monied society; for though itself lacking the martial instinct, it can, with money, hire soldiers to defend it.” Updated for our times it could read, “… it can, with money, hire politicians and other people of low self-esteem to defend and promote it.” This idea is nowhere more articulately expressed than in the recent 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision allowing even more corporate money into the election process. What will be the ultimate consequences of corporations being made human by the Supreme Court? Where social integrity is absent, social commitment has historically taken its leave because people no longer believe.

When a populace no longer perceives a common good it devolves to everyone for themselves as a matter of survival. This cannot be denied nor, once past a certain point, can it be resisted. There is always a critical point in momentum that is irreversible when chaos supersedes order. If plutocrats think they can easily herd impoverished angry mobs they are paddling against a rip-tide of history. Human beings never long tolerate being treated as serfs when they have tasted better fruit.

From the top of the food chain on down our country is rapidly taking on classic symptoms of a failed society. I never thought the day would come when the UN would cite my country for human rights violations. This is a new aspect of our self-anointed “exceptionalism” wherein we are cited for jailing homeless people, torture and 23 other violations of human rights while berating other countries for doing the same. It must be understood, the social contract is at once experience, perception and belief. How can rational people not look back over 4000 years of one civilization after another rising and then falling to the same causes without seeing themselves? They must ask, where are our virtues? What happened to our integrity?

Loonies On The Path ….

Remember the Pink Floyd tune, “Brain Damage”?

“And everyday the paperboy brings more.

  • Grant wealthy individuals more votes than the rest of us.
  • Tax the working poor at a higher rate than billionaires.
  • Put undocumented workers in jail for using public toilets.
  • Privatize Social Security, indeed, do away with all social safety nets.
  • Make teachers responsible for failing students.
  • Do away with health care.
  • Permit guns everywhere. South Carolina residents may now carry guns into restaurants. Wait for first shoot-out at a salad bar.

The lunatics are in my hall.”

  • In Chicago a Republican candidate for office told her base autism is punishment by the “almighty” for support of abortion and marriage equality.
  • In Texas, Republican Joe Barton, explained, as wind power is a “finite resource”, harnessing it “would slow the winds down” causing temperatures to go up.  You can’t make up stuff like this.
  • In Georgia a legislator equated women to cows and pigs when it comes to childbirth.

… if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes …”

  • Rick Santorum (Remember him?) declared that only “God” can mandate health care.
  • Republican governors led by none other than Mr. “Ooops” himself, Rick Perry, refused to implement Medicaid. As Rick put it, “I will not be a party to socialize health care.” It’s all about him isn’t it?
  • In Wisconsin a Catholic US Congressman criticized the Pope for speaking out against barbaric treatment of the poor and the “idolatry” of money.

 

The lunatic is on the grass.”

Day after day the news reports one outrageous assault after another against the social contract. Social body blows from politicians, billionaires, and the bankers who bankrupted thousands of small investors and savers with impunity. One of those bankers was recently rewarded with a multi-million dollar raise. Our Citizens United Supreme Court happily awarded a presidential election to the Republican candidate (They knew his Daddy.) and have granted political organizations status as human beings. The Court also decided that it’s perfectly OK for the police to strip search you for jay-walking. Drop your shorts America. Again – this stuff cannot be made up – it has happened, it is happening, and we are living with it. Let’s not even discuss Florida where it seems to be legal open season on black kids.

The lunatic is in my head.”

In light of all this it seems to me reasonable to ask what motivates people to act barbarically. Many of the politicians are self-identified “Christians” whom it is presumed are supposed to integrate the teachings of their deity into their own lives and actions. On evidence, however, nothing could be further from the truth. So, what’s going on here? Why would Paul Ryan object to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance? What moral authority informs his imagination?

Got to keep the loonies on the path.”

Human society has always oscillated between physical and moral challenges; between civilization and barbarity. This cycle has determined the course and ultimately, the fate of all societies. The entire thrust of social evolution we always hope has been about making a more secure, more equitable, and healthier world for more and more people. If that be the case, why the relentless assault on civilization and civilized behavior? Should we not be past that? Well, it seems obvious the barbarians have not gone away, they have not been truly assimilated, humanized, or integrated into the mainstream of human consciousness. The barbarians are still with us, it’s just that they now wear suits not animal skins.

James Davidson Hunter in, The Death of Character, said this: “History and philosophy both suggest to us that the flourishing of character rooted in elevated virtues is essential to justice in human affairs; its absence, a measure of corruption and a portent of social and political collapse, especially in a democracy. … Character matters, we believe, because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” Where lies the character of politicians who would deny school lunches to children? Many “great” societies have come and gone throughout history and when there have been great inequalities in the goods of life as Hunter has indicated, social collapse inevitably follows. What loyalty to the economic and social contract is expected when employees are reduced to poverty wages because entrepreneurs prefer to maximize profit? When employers prefer to provide information about welfare instead of paying a living wage, what are the possibilities?

Both Aristotle (Politics) and Plato (Laws) warned that too great a disparity in the goods of life lead to disruption of societies. We live in a time of unequal justice when people of color are still singled out for police abuse, when profit motives exceed any sense of economic justice defined as living wages, when the jobless are blamed for their joblessness by elected officials unconscionably neglecting to acknowledge that American jobs and industries have been relocated offshore to countries where a living wage is a fraction of what it is here. Can we escape this defection from civility? Probably not. So, everyday, when the paperboy or internet brings more news of lay-offs, food stamp cuts, denial of medical care and welfare for the disabled, disenfranchised, and the unemployed will “the dam break open many years too soon”? We’ll see.

The lunatics aren’t just on the grass – they’re in high places making decisions that determine the path and, ultimately, the fate of the country – our embattled democracy, our society. If Michelle Bachmann is correct declaring we are at the “end days” perhaps none of this matters. Perhaps the band was right, there’s someone in our heads, but it’s not us.

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.”

Crossroads Series: Kneecapping Democracy

A common thread running through today’s perceived social threats has been otherness. Historically otherness is second only to fear as a means to political ascendency. Exploiting fear and otherness has been an instrument of social control for centuries not limited to nations, but  to almost any polity or organization from religious groups to labor unions. Otherness exploits fear and vulnerability in uncertain times. In a most literal sense it creates isolation and disintegration followed by the dissolution of a functional social contract. Shared sense of community is no longer on the map; it becomes an “everyone for themselves” dynamic that opens a community of common interests to exploitation. Whatever was the initial integrating factor(s) becomes lost and replaced by socially destructive forces which ultimately attain influence and domination. Political and social integrity are exchanged for safety or general affluence. Societies which control themselves, are replaced by systems, which are controlled by overseers. In the final analysis this story has always been about the underlying motive  of greed; the mentality of acquisition of whatever commodity, political or material, beyond the dreams of avarice. There is no “enough”.

 As it was at the time of the Revolution against England, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War 2, and Vietnam, the US is at another defining and evolutionary moment in its history. Each of those junctures set a definitive course in the evolution of the American social contact.  The Revolution inspired the Constitution and Bill of Rights, established our foundational social ideals about individual rights as citizens, as human beings. Those ideas had to be clarified by the Civil War and the Civil Rights movements and remain a challenge to this day. The Great Depression inspired national social programs and the notion that the Federal Government has a legitimate role in defining and underwriting a minimum quality of life for its citizens, another idea that is still being challenged. By itself World War 2 played an enormous role in the process of creating a middle-class through the GI Bill and other social programs. For a while it seemed that America was on its way to becoming an integrated and well educated society at all levels – it was the nascent “American Dream” coming true.

 Of course, the American Dream had limitations and blind spots that led to the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war challenges mostly by middle-class kids in response to Vietnam. The Cuban Missile Crisis gave the nightmare of nuclear war its moment in the spotlight. American society, however, has demonstrated over and over again a short attention span and limited grasp of complex social issues. The latest ball game scores, a Dancing With the Stars contest, or a sociopathic TV series elicits more concentration, conversation, and attention from the public than civil-rights, homelessness, or hunger.  We continue to send young men and women abroad to fight wars in countries where we have no demonstrable legitimate national interests. Other than petroleum and supporting the arms industry in with wars the Middle East what else is there? Adding insult to injury, when these warriors return from the battlefield they are greeted by politicians like Paul Ryan who want to reduce and cut medical and other benefits for veterans. You may have also noticed, I hope, that in the absence of a national military draft anti-war protests have been virtually nil.  In place of “Hell no – we won’t go!” there has been conspicuous silence.

 We live in a country where 65% of adults cannot name one Supreme Court Justice but could very likely name the starting roster of their favorite ball club complete with “stats” for each player. This is a country where 30% of the adult population can’t name the Vice President but can tell you the latest gossip about Miley Cyrus. Then there is the 6% that is unable to find the 4th of July on a calendar but will eagerly give you an earful about why we shouldn’t have health care reform.  The foregoing tells you why billionaires are giving a great deal of money to politicians at the state level to privatize public education – a more gullible, more manipulable populace is in their best interests.

 At this crossroads I believe we must decide what it means to be an active participant in this society. We need to define what kind of country this will be for future generations. We must determine what the terms social justice and freedom mean or they will be happily defined for us by powerful financial and political interests. If we continue to allow the NSA to disregard the Constitution and monitor even our mundane conversations in the name of national security, political dissent and our still evolving democracy will be cut off at the knees – we will all have been redefined, not as citizens of a democracy but as a collection of others. If this sounds paranoid to you, you haven’t been paying attention – this is a lesson history has taught over and over again. Democracy must always, it would seem, be a work in progress. 

Crossroads Series / There Be Demons Out There

It is well understood, I hope, that no social problem is just one problem all by its lonesome. If you focus on only one aspect of a problem you will not understand it much less “solve” it. All social problems are complex, made up of many issues, attitudes, interests, hidden agendas, and more influential than any thing else – the demons of belief.  In order to at least try to understand these dynamics it is necessary to separate beliefs from knowledge and experience.  Beliefs are often difficult to identify because they are, but not always, buried and ineffable .  Fear, by itself, is one of the most powerful demons of belief.

Beliefs are the true “ghost in the machine” and are manifest in everyday life. Building on the work of Gilbert Ryle, Arthur Koestler explains in, “The Ghost in the Machine” (1967), that humanity has, throughout history, as much tended towards self-destruction as elevation at one level or another. The “ghost” has been with us a long long time, it has inhabited the human mind from the beginning, layer upon successive layer, exerting its powerful influence – beliefs ranging from the arrangement of the heavens, the supernatural and philosophy to rocket science and racial and ethnic prejudice. The “ghost” can be said to be the author of the human narrative in all of its humanistic grandeur as well as its appalling destructiveness. From art, and medical science to nuclear weapons and suicide bombings these are all the product of interior dialog made manifest. Beliefs are consequential; just think how long it took the Catholic Church to acknowledge Galileo’s truth and even today there remain people who question it.

Beliefs serve to maintain what we agree, in general, to call our consensual reality – the shared and necessary tacit agreement we call our social contract. While not everyone does agree, of course, in general most settle on something we can all work with, something we can all share in a contractual sense as to define a consensual reality, a social contract, a society, a civilization. That, of course, is normal sane behavior but the snakes of doubt, the demons, especially of Fear, have often been set loose in service to destructive agendas, racial and ethnic prejudice, economic control, and territorial conquest. Of the demons and ghosts, Fear directed against minorities, either religious or ethnic, has been one of the most powerful making it the weapon of choice for demagogues throughout history.

Today, in the United States, the consensual reality is under assault, and bit by bit, being destroyed in the name of social conservatism by Tea Party activists and oligarch sponsored politicians who are pandering to the most rabid anti-social elements in the country, the social jihadis who want to tear down the entire edifice of the social contract. Programs like Social Security, public education, and medical care for military veterans are being challenged and threatened. Like 10th C Norse “berserkers” who would use their own severed limbs as weapons, the Tea Party jihadis are on a rampage to savage the foundations of American civilization at any cost including to themselves. What do they believe? Do they see demons in social security, food stamps, health care, in the aged, or in the hungry and homeless? If they prevail will a social nuclear winter visit itself on the country? Will it be everyone for themselves with guns everywhere? Is it going to be back to the trees and caves? What a vision! Sociopathic instincts and self-promotion at the national level by Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Louie Gohmert, and others are driving the legislative agenda away from governance to chaos. Is that their dream, their fantasy world? What do they believe?

A polarized world has been created in the US mostly by pandering politicians supported by sociopathic billionaires funding an antithesis of community using phony “news” outlets and political commentators as propaganda machines addressing the willing gullible. Even the US Supreme Court has contributed to the destruction of the social contract through its Citizens United decision and the coronation of George W. Bush. Thanks to the Supreme Court political power can be bought with PAC funded political campaigns; corporations are now become people walking upon the earth – just like you and me except they have more money and no faces. Offices from governors and mayors on down to aldermen are ripe for the dystopian influence of plutocrats. We are in the midst of the most well financed, well organized attack on American democracy in history.

Throughout world history when belief in a social system was betrayed social collapse followed. It seems now belief in American democracy is being deliberately undermined. Beware, ladies and gentlemen of the Tea Party zealots, you are playing with fire. There be demons out there!

 


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