Saturday, July 4, 2009

The People

We the People of the United States,
in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The People, thus capitalized, is a powerful two-word phrase rather unique to the United States. Not only is it documented in this Preamble to the Constitution, but also in Lincoln's powerful Gettysburg address when he emplores, 'of the people, by the people, for the people..." Carl Sandburg wrote, "I AM the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass..." La Liberté guidant le peuple, "Liberty Leading the People" by artist Eugène Delacroix, inspired the Statue of Liberty.

There is a delicate dance that must be performed between a democratic government of, by and for The People and other forms of governance. Communism, as history shows, often becomes just as corrupt as right-wing dictatorships. It's much like the Goldilocks tale of balance: "not too hot, not too cold."

It's always difficult to play the middle when the extremes are so much more comfortable. Parenting, for example, is much more challenging from the center than at the two extremes, which is why parents often gravitate to one of the extremes.

So too with governance. Frequently, "The People" become the victims of overarching political schemers. The vision that Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Jay and Washington dreamed for this new nation was pure and unblemished. Surely, they were not altogether ignorant of the possibility and probability that this virgin government would be repeatedly raped by men who had their own personal agendas and ambitions. These so-called Founding Fathers had to know, deep in their souls, that this quest for a government of The People would soon be challenged, compromised, by aggressive men who would use their power for specious purposes.

And so it has been, over these 233 years. Nauseously, every four years, we hear of yet another a new plan, a new set of promises, a new line of verbiage which promises that The People will be better served through this or that set of politicians. We are often hoodwinked. Our dreams deferred.

Perhaps a government of, by and for The People is surreal. It may only exist in theory. The innate human quest for dominance, power and greed may trump this ideal. Fantasy posing as reality.

Friday, July 3, 2009

America as Pimpmobile

The essence of our nation, on this eve of the celebration of our birth, is solid. We were born out of a yearning to be independent of tyrants- huddled masses longing to be free. Our Declaration of Independence says it all; our Constitution defines our essence: an egalitarian self-governing system of social order. Of course, it had to be amended as social ideals and values mollified as our history unfolded.

As a people living in this newly formed, and quite unique experimental vision of governance, it was understood that our Constitution was a dynamic, living document that ought to reflect the common interests and the common good of The People.
The People were to be served. The People ought to decide. Not a tyrant, not a clutch of ideologues. For centuries, our European relatives suffered miserably under both. America was born of a new vision for The People.

Yet, as with all good ideas and good intentions, the miscreants in society saw an opportunity to carve their own agendas and their own personal values into this burgeoning virgin government. And they still do. They have their own pimps in government positions all across this land- shysters who work for an agency, a business, a narrow political agenda. Not for The People.

Presently we see them hard at work in Congress to maintain the current system of medical insurance companies rather than a simplified and egalitarian low-cost insurance plan. We watch them support the oil, gas and coal industries, working against both our environment and our economic welfare. They chip away at the foundations of our public school system. They support the mining and logging companies at the ruin of our public lands. They block environmental safeguards for the benefit of big business. Others are hard at work attempting to instill religious beliefs and values onto The People.

For the past six years, we have witnessed perhaps the most egregious and flagrant imposition of personal-agenda-meddling in our government of all time when the small knot of neocons, with their own vision of World Order, were able to convince an American president to invade a foreign nation on specious allegations. The Iraq War will, no doubt, be chronicled in our history books as the moment when our national Common Good was bastardized. The stain of that highly parochial decision by the President and Congress ought to persist in our collective memory for a while so that we might learn from such a corruption of American idealism.

The People were pimped, plain and simple. Not just pimped, but propagandized with petty Patriotic fervor- a most irreverent blasphemy of our national pride. The flag, symbol of all that we stand for, was waved before our eyes, obscuring the dastardly plans of that small clutch of ideologues, the neocons. We have blood on our hands- a stain that is difficult to remove. We ought not rush to wash it clean lest we wipe our memories in the process.

The essence of America, its fight for independence, the visions of the Founding Fathers, the writing and amending of the Constitution, the Flag, and all of the trimmings associated with our American government might be used as a metaphor with a car. I do not wish to trivilize the importance of this message by suggesting that we look at an automobile for comparison, yet that image struck me as to what might happen to our nation, what in fact has happened to our nation, when in the hands of those described above. The attempt to add on layer upon layer of personal belief, parochial thinking, narcissistic ideals and deviant political meddling might transform our nation, that car, into the obtrusive, individualized concoction displayed above.

Of course, everyone has the right to customize and individualize one's own automobile. But not one's own nation. A nation ought to be left unadulterated. Alterations thereof only at the behest of The People, by The People and, most importantly, for The People.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Long-lasting Propaganda Effects

I was in a conversation yesterday with a young teen from Mississippi while the two of us were doing some work for his grandfather here in Toledo. "What did you-all think of the war?" he asked me. "You mean Iraq or Afghanistan?" I questioned. "The one about 9-11, you know, Saddam and all," he said. Puzzled and curious, I asked him, "What does Saddam have to do with 9-11?" His answer should not have surprised me, but it did. He said, "Saddam and that other dude in the mountains planned that attack on us!"

His dad is a Marine Reserve who never traveled much out of Mississippi until he went to Iraq. Obviously, his dad believed all of the Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice propaganda, especially the Iraq/9-11 linkage that was carefully juxtapositioned in each of those speeches as well as those of George Bush. Lots of Americans believed the bullshit wrapped around Patriotism and our lust for vengeance. Emerson warned that when we are blinded by Patriotism we ought to explore the cleanness of our hands and purity of our hearts. I wonder even today whether we have done that.

Most Americans these days have come to realize what some of us knew bang-off: it was a stinking piece of propaganda to convince the citizens of this nation to support the neocon's principle of preemption for a New World Order. The South, on the other hand, has been slow to admit that they were, in fact, bamboozled. Their Patriotism, their love of the military, blinded them. And even today, the residual effects of the propaganda fester, like salmonella on a warm afternoon.

After yet another attempt to set the lad from Mississippi straight on the facts of the Saddam non-involvement, he then asked the most important question, "Then why DID we invade Iraq?"

Yes, son, why did we? The naivete of youth. Surely there were other youth in other lands in other times who asked a similarly pointed question of the elders. No doubt, the German children must have asked in the years following Hitler's demise, "Opa, warum hat das deutsche Volk glauben, Hitler?

Indeed, why?

The answer, my son is because there have always been scoundrels and miscreants and egomaniacal despots who have risen to power, who lacked the wisdom and moral fiber required of them to lead their people carefully. History books detail their bloody misadventures and the subsequent abuse of the young men.

When will we ever learn? Perhaps never.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Evolution of God

The New York Times Book Review featured Robert Wright's newly released book, The Evolution of God. Newsweek's Lisa Miller and Andrew Sullivan in TimesOnline have written other reviews of this book and excerpts of each chapter are found on the website,

'God has mellowed,' begins NYT reviewer, Paul Bloom. He continues, ' The God that most Americans worship occasionally gets upset about abortion and gay marriage, but he is a softy compared with the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible. That was a warrior God, savagely tribal, deeply insecure about his status and willing to commit mass murder to show off his powers. But at least Yahweh had strong moral views, occasionally enlightened ones, about how the Israelites should behave. His hunter-gatherer ancestors, by contrast, were doofus gods. Morally clueless, they were often yelled at by their people and tended toward quirky obsessions. One thunder god would get mad if people combed their hair during a storm or watched dogs mate.'

Bloom goes on, 'In his brilliant new book, “The Evolution of God,” Robert Wright tells the story of how God grew up. He starts with the deities of hunter- gatherer tribes, moves to those of chiefdoms and nations, then on to the polytheism of the early Israelites and the monotheism that followed, and then to the New Testament and the Koran, before finishing off with the modern multinational Gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Wright’s tone is reasoned and careful, even hesitant, throughout, and it is nice to read about issues like the morality of Christ and the meaning of jihad without getting the feeling that you are being shouted at. His views, though, are provocative and controversial. There is something here to annoy almost everyone.'

'To annoy almost everyone.' Excellent! People need to be annoyed, but not preached to. I'm thinking of presenting the topic of this book, God has evolved, to the next session of our book club. Rather than pick a book, as we have always done, at the next meeting we are to present a topic upon which to chew and perhaps find a collateral book to accompany the topic. Apparently this book is high on the list.

Surely author Robert Wright has 'annoyed' the funny fundamentalists with his title which includes the ever-volatile word, evolution. Further, and equally annoying, he suggests that the man's concept of 'god' ought to be an ever-changing process. Judas Priest!

The older non-fundamentalist Christians and Jews might wrinkle their noses at this second suggestion- that their 'god' is in flux- and find that idea difficult to grasp. Long ago their idea of who 'god' is and what his characteristics are were solidly cemented in their mind. I feel sorry for these people who have built up a fortress of belief to surrounding themselves and do not wish to entertain anything new or different. I especially think of the old ladies at daily Mass who rattle their rosary beads during the service; who are we to insist that they take a fresh look at the concept of God? If they are happy with all the accoutrement surrounding their religiosity, let them be.

Rather, it would be a worthy task to enlighten the young and those who are open to new ideas as well as the skeptic who long ago walked out of church in disgust and distrust.

Paul Bloom continues, 'Wright makes it clear that he is tracking people’s conception of the divine, not the divine itself. He describes this as “a good news/bad news joke for traditionalist Christians, Muslims and Jews.” The bad news is that your God was born imperfect. The good news is that he doesn’t really exist.'

'Wright also denies the specialness of any faith. In his view, there is continuous positive change over time — religious history has a moral direction — but no movement of moral revelation associated with the emergence of Moses, Jesus or Mohammed. Similarly, he argues that it is a waste of time to search for the essence of any of these monotheistic religions — it’s silly, for instance, to ask whether Islam is a “religion of peace.” Like a judge who believes in a living constitution, Wright believes that what matters is the choices that the people make, how the texts are interpreted. Cultural sensibilities shift according to changes in human dynamics, and these shape the God that people worship. For Wright, it is not God who evolves. It is us — God just comes along for the ride.'

I like that last line, ' is not God who evolves. It is us-God just comes along for the ride.' This is where the fundamentalist gets mired in the past and whose feet become cemented. Their 'god' is the Jewish god of 1000 BCE. He has little or no relevance to the 21st Century. We humans have changed over those three millenia and, as the author suggests, are much more interrelated and interdependent than that provincial, war-like Middle Eastern tribe. The god of the Israelites was a parochial, insular god who 'served' the people of that time and that minuscule spot on this immense planet. To conceptualise that this god, in our time, and in this place, has any relevance to 21st century Americans is at best dim and at worst dangerous- dangerous because it puts the trivial land of Israel as the epicenter of this 21st century world. And we all know what blood and treasure has been spent with that concept.

Bloom goes on, '“When people see themselves in zero-sum relationship with other people — see their fortunes as inversely correlated with the fortunes of other people, see the dynamic as win-lose — they tend to find a scriptural basis for intolerance or belligerence.” The recipe for salvation, then, is to arrange the world so that its people find themselves (and think of themselves as) interconnected: “When they see the relationship as non-zero-sum — see their fortunes as positively correlated, see the potential for a win-win outcome — they’re more likely to find the tolerant and understanding side of their scriptures.” Change the world, and you change the God.'

The John Lennon hymn, 'Imagine' comes to mind, especially when he imagined, 'And no religion too.' and 'the world will live as one.' Wright says that the next step in this evolution of god [following the advice of John Lennon] is for practitioners of Abrahamic faiths to give up their claim to distinctiveness, and then renounce the specialness of monotheism altogether.

Whoa! Can you imagine that? Can you envision a people giving up the 'my god is better than your god' scenario? They'll be lots of kicking and screaming and more lethal forms of resistance to that. Lots of excommunication and expulsions ahead [as if that really matters any longer].

The review ends with this statement: 'Also, it would be a terribly minimalist God. Wright himself describes it as “somewhere between illusion and imperfect conception.” It won’t answer your prayers, give you advice or smite your enemies. So even if it did exist, we would be left with another good news/bad news situation. The good news is that there would be a divine being. The bad news is that it’s not the one that anyone is looking for.'

That's really bad news especially for those launch-pad christians awaiting rapture. There they stand, looking upward, awaiting the UFO that will carry them to Paradise, when, in fact, paradise is under their feet.

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