Aphorisms

I wrote this section as a response to the critique of my long time and much valued friend April, who said (in paraphrase) that I suffered from wanting to first state the problem I was addressing, then lay out the background concerns, only then arriving at some conclusion or recommendation. The result is that the reader does not know where I am going until the end, and there is the danger that they will get weary of following my logical progression and never actually reach the good stuff. She said that I needed to tell them where I was going right at the start, to keep them interested enough to find out how I arrived at that conclusion. 

This seemed like good advice, so I started going through my articles picking out the main conclusions, thinking to add a paragraph to the start of each one. Instead I decided to put them all in one place (here) and link them to the articles showing the argument for each. I have not yet had time to do the linking part, but this at least gives a kind of overview of my socio-political philosophy, and perhaps give the reader an incentive to explore further. Some of these maxims may seem extreme or shocking, and you may find them hard to accept as true; this may be due to my failure to express them optimally rather than to their untruth. It is not my desire to preach to the choir, but rather to stimulate people into considering points of view that may not have occurred to them.

I have expanded this collection beyond the scope of the other articles here, to include many of the brief notes of ideas that I have assembled over the years.

Please do not dismiss everything I say because of any single opinion I express. It is altogether probable that I am wrong in some areas because I have not thought them through adequately, and I am very much open to considering opposing views, as long as they actually address the subject matter substantively. These short statements are not intended to be themselves persuasive arguments in and of themselves, but rather  hooks to get you interested in reading further whether you agree with them initially or not. If you wish to engage in debate, it is not enough to simply quote “everybody knows…” type slogans in response. 

The dictionary defines an aphorism as “a saying that expresses a belief, often true.” These are my beliefs. I hope that they are often true.

Universal

Noblesse oblige: from those to whom much is given, much is expected.

Our faults are our virtues misapplied.

We feel our failures much more keenly than our successes

Everything always seemed as though it would be forever until suddenly it was no more

The opposite of happiness is not sadness, it is apathy. The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.

The natural state of things is that nothing is owned, and there are no laws other than the laws of nature. Any departure from this state must be justified. Justification cannot be based on assertions that cannot be logically supported.

It is not for those who object to an existing law to show that it is bad, but for those who would retain the law to show that it is needed.

Acceptable: I can’t do that because of my religious beliefs.
Not acceptable: you can’t do that because of my religious beliefs.

“You don’t solve problems by throwing money at them.” Neither do you feed people by throwing food at them. Either one must be applied intelligently.

People are potential, and if they are physically, mentally or emotionally undernourished they will underperform. 

The proper understanding of Darwinism is not survival of the fittest, but survival of the fit. Fit does not mean strong, it means appropriate.

An important role of government is to protect the weak from the strong. The strong do not need protection. 

The only socio-political distinctions that matters are that between the owners, the owned and the indigent. It is all but impossible to move to the next class above (though easy to move down). Commentary…

All qualities, good and bad, are distributed more or less equally among every level of society.

There are no good people and no bad people. The line between good and evil passes through every human heart.

Trying to eliminate evil from the world is like trying to remove just the yolk from a plate of scrambled eggs.

We do not generally make decisions rationally, but we believe that we do. We do make decisions predictably, but we believe that we do not. Those who would control society are aware of both facts, and use them to control our behavior.

Human nature encompasses generosity as well as greed; pacifism as well as violence; love as well as fear. All are always present: the question is, which ones do we allow to guide our actions?

Human nature encompasses generosity as well as greed; pacifism as well as violence; love as well as fear. All are always present: the question is, which ones do we allow to guide our actions?

I used to believe that if I could just get past the next three months, everything would be plain sailing. I have never got past those three months.

Human rights

Every child born in the world is entitled to an equal opportunity to participate in what the world as to offer. To the extent that any human law stands in the way of this, that law lacks merit and legitimacy.

Nobody should get seconds until everyone had had firsts.

Under present laws the owners of businesses can seek the cheapest labor regardless of national boundaries, but workers cannot cross national boundaries in search of better pay. To level the playing field, either workers must be allowed to migrate freely or capital must be confined by national borders.

A person may choose to live by the strictures of their own beliefs, but may not impose those strictures on others.

Groups

We are a social species just as ants and bees are social species.

Any group of people is a distinct organism with its own attitudes and rules of behavior that are seperate from, and may conflict with, those of its individual members. 

A large mumber of people together can become a crowd, which has yet another set of unconscious but predictable behaviors, usually completely at odds with the normal behaviors of its individual members. A crowd can be whipped into a mob, and at that point all inhibitions are lost. A mob is capable of almost any behavior.

All organized groups without exception impose limitations upon the freedom of action of their members.

The expression “a free society” is a contradiction in terms. The purpose of society is to restrict the freedom on action of its members.

People are rewarded in our culture in inverse proportion to the amount of useful work they do. (This rule does not apply at the very bottom.)

The deprivation of freedom of movement is the harshest punishment possible short of death. It should be used as a last resort. Even then it should not also be accompanied by harsh treatment while confined.

The question is not is government necessary or unnecessary, government is unquestionably necessary; the issue is what is the proper scope and extent of government.

Whatever we use, we should obtain the most efficient use possible from it.

Money

It is not money that is the root of all evil, it is the love of money.

Money is no more and no less than a scoring system. 

Money is a symbol for value, and is not itself a thing of value. 

The only thing that “backs” money is the combined ability of society to provide a thing of inherent value in exchange for it. Gold is no better a guarantor of money than paper.

Money is an IOU. It is called into existence by the need to record an exchange.

Money is not complex or hard to understand. The apparent complexity is an artificial structure that purposefully obscures what is really being done and provides a cover for criminal behavior.

There should a one single bank, and it should be a community service, like the fire department. The bank is simply the societal scorekeeper. 

The entire financial services industry is parasitical.

The ownership class is entirely parasitical.

There is today a global ruling class whose members wield the power of nation states.

Social issues

There are no undeserving poor.

The reason most of the population is kept just above subsistence level is that if people had time to think and organize the system would be overthrown in short order.

If we are to specify how our unborn children must live we are obliged to make it fair on all of them not just some. 

There are only three classes of people: workers, beggars and thieves.

The lower on the social scale the government spends money the greater the efficiency and the economic benefit.

The banks take advantage of the fact that the poor are honest, and believe that they should pay their debts.

As long as having a job is a survival necessity in today’s world, and not having a job is seen as a moral dereliction, employers should not be allowed to fire employees at will, but only for cause.

There are eight times as many empty houses in the US than there are homeless people.

A society will tolerate certain kinds of crime to the extent that they observe that the laws are unfair.

The proper balance between socialism and capitalism is socialism for necessities and capitalism for luxuries.

You cannot eliminate terrorism by killing terrorists. 

We should keep the ban on women in combat but extend it equally to men.

Slavery is still alive and well all over the world, but has become more and more virtual. We have moved from chattel slavery to debt slavery.

Education is not a zero sum game. Teaching/learning benefits both teacher and learner. The student acquired knowledge without depriving the teacher. 

The true teacher is a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.

Society has throughout history been a tool for the wielding and retaining of power. This does not make society harmful, it makes it a tool that has been used for evil ends.

Wars have always been a tool of the ownership classes, and have never benefited the population as a whole. 

Violence can no longer be considered a legitimate means of settling differences in the world.

The laws of nature are absolute restrictions on our freedom of action. The laws of society are an artificial construct that can be changed at will.

Something can be judged as fair if a person with full knowledge and  would agree to it without knowing which side of the question would apply to him.

Uniquely among living organisms in their natural state, as a society we deny resources to the failing and heap them upon the already successful.

The wealthy promote the virtue of personal responsibility yet do not apply it to their own children.

Communism is not an experiment that failed; it has never been tried in the world except perhaps for Cuba, where it was remarkably successful.

The experiment that has now been shown to be on an inevitable path to failure is capitalism.

Ideas

As soon as an idea is expressed in writing, it begins to lose its meaning as the words change their meaning. The longer it is since they were written, the greater this effect.

The first tool of learning is to learn to know what you know, and what is your degree of certainty in that knowledge.

All verbal communication depends on shared understanding of the meaning, both implicit and explicit, of the words used. This understanding is rarely as shared as the communicators believe.

Words can never completely describe any form of reality. The only complete description of something is the thing itself.

You cannot draw conclusions about an individual based on a generalization, or draw generalized conclusions based on observation of an individual.

There can be no absolute certainty, only greater or lesser degrees of probability.

The scientific method is an algorithm; a set of procedures which when correctly applied will yield the best possible approximation to a reliable and repeatable truth.

You cannot make a one in a million chance happen by trying something a million times. It might happen the first time, or it might not happen at all.

It is not for the poor person to explain their poverty, but rather for the rich person to explain their riches.

Poverty is more likely to be a result of virtuous behavior; wealth is more likely the result of socially destructive behavior.

Would you prefer to have your medical decisions made by someone who is paid by an organization you have no control over to deny you care, or by someone paid by an organization you are part owner of to keep you well?

Politics

The Founding Fathers worried about what they called the tyranny of the majority. This has never occurred in the USA. Instead we have suffered from tyranny of minorities.

The observation that power corrupts does not imply that we cannot allow power to be exercised. It means we need to take special precautions to monitor its use and prevent corruption.

The case for the political right is based on pragmatic considerations, that for the left on ethical ones. The right has historically co-opted the ethical arguments of the left and twisted them to justify their own ends.

Expressions that are either nonsense in the form they are generally used, or actually mean something other than what their users think.

The proof is in the pudding
This is more an example of malapropism than a misunderstanding of its meaning. The phrase, as it stands, is meaningless. It is intended to convey a situation where some action is proposed (or has already been taken) whose beneficial results are in doubt. It purports to say that when the results are in fact known, only then will it be possible to make the judgement as to how beneficial the action turned out to be. However it does not actually say that, or at least it says it very obscurely. The correct version of the saying is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which does exactly convey the intended meaning quite clearly.

You cannot have your cake and eat it
This form of the saying is a factual misstatement. You can indeed have your cake and eat it; in fact you cannot eat it without first having it. The having, however, must precede the eating. What you cannot do, and what is the correct statement, is that you cannot eat your cake and have it too. The key to this understanding is the sequential nature of the eating and having.

You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs
This is of course at least partly true in its literal sense; since omelette are made from eggs, and the shells are not used in the omelette, in order to make the omelette one must indeed first break the eggs. However when one examines the situation more closely, one finds that it is only the shell that is broken, as it must be since it is not edible (or, rather it is not palatable since one can in fact eat egg shells without harm.) I suppose one could argue that the yolk is also broken when it is mixed with the white, but but in any case use of the expression is fraught with moral implications. It is most often used to justify the bad effects on some people of policies that benefit others. It implies that in any situation some must suffer so that others may gain. The use of the word “can’t” implies that this is an inevitability, and that it justifies the harm done since the omelette is seen as being of greater value than the unbroken eggs. Again, closer examination reveals a darker side. One is led to speculate on the role that the eggs play in the omelette. The eggs are not broken merely as a side effect of making the omelette, they are incorporated into and form the main ingredient in it. So when a politician dismisses the ill effects of his actions on certain people of actions he proposes (or has actually taken) by trotting out this statement, one might ask just who or what are the eggs, what is the omelette, who is making it and who is eating it? What we will generally find is that this casual dismissal is in fact a handy way to avoid having to actually balance benefits against costs, or examine who receives the benefits and who pays the costs.

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me
This one is not so much misunderstood or wrongly used, it is the exact opposite of the truth. We often recover completely from even quite serious physical injury, and we have a very poor memory for physical pain. Try to imagine the pain of a toothache when you are not suffering from one. You can recall being in pain, and the fact that it was a very unpleasant experience, but you cannot experience the actual pain in your memory. Physical pain is not accessible to the mind. Emotional pain, the kind that is often delivered in the form of words, on the other hand, is instantly and vividly accessible to the memory. We remember emotional hurts that we suffered as small children often until the day we die.

Bad apples
The subject of police brutality has been very much in the news of late, and there has been much debate between two competing points of view: those who claim that police forces throughout the country are institutionally corrupt, and should be completely rethought from top to bottom; and those who claim that the problem is confined to a few “bad apples” and the system in general is fine. This phrase, “bad apples” has become so prevalent on this side of the debate that one of the late night shows put together a lengthy presentation of people using it. What the users do not seem to realize is that they are in fact arguing against their own case, and it is frustrating to me that their opponents do not seem to realize this, since it offers them a powerful rejoinder. Their response should be “I am happy to hear you describe them as bad apples, since we all know that, as the complete expression makes clear, one bad apple will spoil the entire barrel. Institutional corruption, even though at first it might be confined to a few, will over time corrupt the entire institution, and that is why we favor completely rethinking our approach to policing.”

Slippery slopes
Proposals for some kind of improvement in social conditions by righting some wrong that is being suffered by a segment of society are often met with the argument that the proposal constitutes a slippery slope. Allowing gay people to marry others of the same gender opens up the door to people marrying their dogs or horses or siblings. Once we start down that path who knows where it will end? What these people do not seem to realize is that, like the bad apple people, they are in fact arguing against their own case. The phrase describes this kind of argument as the slippery slope fallacy, one of a number of kinds of argument that are logically fallacious. Logicians point out that all public policy making involves making distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and that all such distinctions must fall somewhere on a scale between two extremes. In the given case, it is precisely the job of government to determine who should or should not be allowed to marry. If the slippery slope argument were in fact a valid objection, simply allowing men to marry women would already start us down that slope! Saying that something is a slippery slope argument is saying that it is a false and unpersuasive argument, so those who object by describing a proposed policy as a slippery slope are in fact undermining their own case.

Radical
This word, when applied to socio-political views, is generally used to mean extreme. This is not its true meaning. Radical comes fro the Latin work radix, meaning root. A radical idea, though often extreme in the eyes of the world, is one that attacks the very root of the matter. this is by no means the case with most extreme views, which should not therefore be considered radical.

It takes money to make money
First of all, the very concept of “making money” is misleading. What is usually meant by this phrase is actually accumulating money. Leaving this aside, though, the phrase is still not a true statement. What it takes to start a potentially profitable business is resources. Usually the largest and most pressing of these resources is a location to operate the business, which means paying rent, for which you need money. This is also the case for most of the other resources (tools, raw materials, labor etc) that you will need. In the world we live in, these are normally only obtainable in exchange for money. It is important to note, however, that this is not an absolute requirement. The resources themselves are the absolute requirement, but it is not hard to imagine a system under which new businesses are provided directly with the necessary resources without money being involved.

Money does not buy happiness
This is commonly trotted out as a way to make those who lack money feel better about their situation. The truth is, though, that money does indeed buy happiness (or at least removes a major cause of unhappiness). However this only works up to a certain point. If someone has so little that they are unable to afford even the most basic necessities, then giving them enough money to meet those expenses does indeed materially affect their potential for happiness. This continues even above the level of necessity to some balance point that is different for different people where the happiness potential for new goods or services is outweighed by the burdens of dealing with more possessions. More money above this point does not buy more happiness, and at some level the effect is often reversed, and more money for someone in this situation makes them less and less happy. It has often been observed that the very wealthy are seldom content with their lives, whereas often the poor are much happier moment to moment. Since everyone seems to know at least one rich person who is in fact happy, it should be noted that this rule is not absolute, but large scale studies have shown it to be generally true.

Begging the question
This is often used to mean something like “suggests the question.” It does not. Begging the question is a technical term used in logic, and it describes a particular form of logical fallacy, or an invalid form of argument. It means attempting to prove a proposition by assuming the point that you are trying to prove. If I tried to prove the existence of God by saying that he must exist or he could not have written the Bible, that would be begging the question.

The exception that proves the rule
I have often had this experience in the midst of a discussion about socio-political matters: I will respond to some statement of principle with an example of circumstances in which it does not hold true, to be met with the response “Oh, that’s just the exception that proves the rule.” Taken in the meaning that is indicated by the context in which it is used it is complete nonsense. How could an exception prove a rule? This would be to say that a contrary argument strengthens a proposition! If this were true, presumably a further objection would strengthen it further, while a complete lack of objections would invalidate it, clearly the exact opposite of the truth. Some have tried to evade this problem by explaining that “prove” originally meant “test,” so the expression is really saying that the exception tests the rule. This is not the actual meaning, but even if it were, it is not worth saying. It is simply saying “your objection challenges my proposition.” It adds nothing whatever to the exchange, and clearly this is not in fact the sense in which it is offered. It is trotted out instead of an actual response to the objection. So what does the expression actually mean? As it turns out, the “prove” has its usual meaning. It is a legal principle that says that if you declare an exception, this implies (or proves) that there must have been a rule to which the exception applies, even if the rule is not explicitly stated. If I put up a sign saying “No Parking on Thursdays,” this implies that parking is permitted on all other days, the rule that is proven by the exception.

Government of the people by the people for the people
We often hear complaints that we now have government of, by and for the corporations, or the wealthy or some other such. I understand what is intended by these constructions, which is probably the important thing, but nonetheless they do not actually make sense. The confusion here concerns the word “of”, which can have one of several meanings. It often indicates possession, as in the rights of Man, where the rights belong to Man. This is not, however, the meaning here. If it were, the “by” part would be redundant. In this case the meaning of “of” is like the phrase “the driver has control of the car.” In other words, “government of the people” means government over the people, which becomes obvious when we consider it apart from the rest of the expression. The “by” indicates who is doing the governing, and again if we simply consider “government of the people by the people” this becomes obvious. The confusion arises when we add the last phrase “for the people”, which indicates whose interests are served. This would have been avoided if Lincoln had said “government over the people by the people on behalf of the people” but that would have lacked the poetic flow of what he actually said. So if we are to be strictly correct, we would have to say that we now have government of the people by the corporations for the wealthy, or something like that.

Government is not about doing the will of the people

We frequently hear in electoral debates the cry “but that is not what the people want.” In recent debates this cry has been raised concerning both the gun question and the health care question. It supposes that the proper purpose of government is to give the people what they want, or at least what a majority of them want. Opinion polls are therefore taken, and policies advanced which agree with the polls. This is a false and dangerous idea. First of all, polls are only as good as their methodology, and can be easily manipulated by the way the question is framed, and by the choice of people polled and their number. Even more importantly, their validity depend entirely on the state of knowledge about the subject on the part of those polled. This is especially the case when the subject under consideration is one that raises strong emotional reactions, as is the case with the debate about guns.

On a more fundamental level, this forms a part of the wider debate concerning the proper function of government itself. It is often claimed that the best form of government is that most closely resembling direct democracy. Under this theory the ideal form, which is in fact relatively feasible given modern advances in communications technology, would be for everyone to vote directly on every significant measure. Objections are raised to this idea on the grounds of security and accuracy, since many mistrust technology, and consider it too easily manipulated by the technologically sophisticated. There is some merit to this argument, but this is far from being the most cogent objection. For one thing, it implies that if these issues could be satisfactorily overcome then all would be well.

There is, however, a much more fundamental reason why this would be a terrible idea: it is not in fact the function of government to give the people what they want. First of all, this aim cannot be achieved. The best that can be done in this direction is to accede to the perceived desires of the majority of those participating in the election. As has been demonstrated many times, the only electoral system that could even determine the will of the majority of the electorate (as opposed to the majority of those actually voting) would be one which it was compulsory for all eligible voters to cast a vote. Even such a system would suffer from the same drawbacks as opinion polls: it would depend on the way the question was framed, and on the state of knowledge of the electorate, both of which can be manipulated. But this again is merely a surface objection, and leaves open the possibility that such concerns could be overcome if the process could be perfected.

The underlying objection to this approach is that its fundamental aim is wrong, and the proper solution lies in recognizing that government cannot and should not base its decisions and policies on the perceived desires of the people or even of a majority of the people. This is not to say that it should do the opposite, and act automatically in defiance of the will of the people, but rather that this should, if considered at all, be a minor consideration.

This may seem like a shocking assertion, but an examination of the proper nature and purpose of government soon reveals its truth. Part of our fundamental human nature is that we are a highly sociable species. This means that we are driven by our nature to form groups. This is not universal among animals; indeed one of the most intelligent animals we have found is the octopus, yet these animals show no signs of becoming a dominant species. This  is thought to be due to the fact that they are a solitary (non group forming) species. This means that there is little opportunity for the young to learn from their elders, so each generation has to learn everything from scratch. We, on the other hand, have progressed as far as we have largely because our social nature drives us to form groups of all kinds, and one manifestation of this is what we term society or culture. To understand societal behavior and rules we must examine the nature of groups in general. 

The absolute rule of social groups of all kinds is that without exception they put limitations upon the freedom of action of their members. Other than an anarchists club or perhaps a solipsists’ convention, both of which would be self-contradictory, all groups follow this rule. The trade-off is that in return for giving up some of our freedom of action we gain the benefits inherent in being members of the group. It is true that in the case of society itself we do not have a practical choice in the matter; we are automatically enrolled whether we want it or not, and for this reason we need to consider carefully how we set about making the rules of this particular group. If we join a voluntary group and then find that the restrictions are not worth the benefits we can always leave the group, but separating ourselves from society itself is in today’s world almost impossible. 

What is not changed by its involuntary nature is that society will always restrict the freedom of its members. There is no meaning to a society that does not do this. The reason for this uncomfortable situation is that the interests of the group are different from, and usually at odds with, the interests of each individual member. This can be best illustrated by looking at a different kind of group, but one which follows the same principles, namely a sports team. Other than its voluntary nature, we can observe the same tension between the interests of the individual team member and the interests of the team itself. For instance in most cases team members will want to maximize their playing time, and where there are points to be scored they would prefer that they themselves score them rather than their team mates. Frequently however the overall interests of the team might be best served by having others on the field, or by passing the ball to someone better positioned to score. The essence of learning to play on a team, therefore, is learning to subordinate our individual interests to those of the team. 

This is also the lesson of living in a society. We must recognize that we have two separate identities, and that those identities are in conflict. We are each an individual with needs and desires ot our own and at the same time we are members of a group, society, that has its own conflicting needs and desires. This on turn means that when making decisions that affect all of us we must set aside one of those identities, the individual one, and think only of the needs of the group. 

I realize that this is a very high standard of behavior, and that people will always vote at least to some extent by their own self interests, and politicians will always pander to that fact. Probably the best I can reasonably expect is that voters will at least consider the needs of the society when they vote, and accept the fact that it is not in fact, and should not be, the proper aim of government to please you. Its proper aim is to see to the orderly running of society and the protection of the interests of those least able to protect their own interests. 

Purpose

My purpose in these meanderings is to identify the “contact lenses” through which we view reality, by which I mean the rules and assumptions we take so much for granted that we do not even notice them, let alone question them. 

First I will make the case for their existence by describing a time when they did not exist, when everyone wore a completely different set of lenses that they were equally unaware of, so that if you had taken someone from one time and put them down in the other, they would be completely lost and unable to function. If such fundamental social change happened once, it can happen again, and those ideas that replaced the old ideas can give way in their turn to new ideas and ways of living. They may have been useful in their time, and may even still be useful, but we need to pull them out and dust them off and look at them with a critical eye.

I will try to identify and illuminate some of those ideas that we need to let go of, or perhaps understand at a deeper level. I will suggest ways of thinking that might serve us better in ordering our affairs in the future. I will take some of the ideas that underpin our whole structure (such as, for instance, the survival of the fittest) and try to understand them in a new way that open up new possibilities.

I believe in the principle that a problem properly identified is two thirds solved. The reason that we are unable to solve our social problems today is that we tend to deal with each separate problem in isolation, rather than seeing the bigger picture. I believe that if we can examine the true unexamined values and principles that guide our actions and bring them in line with those that we would like to think we are guided by, the proper way forward will become much clearer.

It is not my purpose to propose immediate fixes for the problems that face us. Most of them are so fundamental to the way we live and think that their solutions require a whole new way of thinking. I believe that all of the current strains of political thought suffer from the tendency to take some part of the truth and elevate it into the whole truth. Consequently everyone on each side can stand on his or her own ground, and feel that they are upholding the one true way, and that those people over on the other side are evil and badly intentioned and just completely wrong. But trying to persuade them that they are wrong is futile. They feel the same about their point of view as you do about yours. 

Now this is not to say that everyone does in fact have a little portion of the truth, and all we need to do is get together and figure out how to accommodate everyone’s views in one way forward. It is certainly far from that simple. For one thing our political discourse is contaminated by the fact that moneyed interests have managed to perform a hostile takeover of most of our social institutions, including the political system and all of our mass communication tools, and fed us a steady diet of distraction and falsehood.

One response to all this is to simply throw up the hands and give up. Why even bother to pay attention when the mass of the people are so stupid as to support (insert crazy candidate or insane proposal)? I believe that this is an abrogation of social responsibility. It is simply surrendering without even putting up a fight. In a world of manifest social injustice it is the duty of every person who enjoys a standard of living that is incomparably higher than that of 99% of the world’s population to do whatever tiny thing they can do to make it better. I am not saying that we should all give away all our possessions and feed the hungry, but at the very least we can pay attention to what is going on and participate in our own tiny way. 

How to house the homeless

I grew up in a family of five children, and an important rule of the nursery was “Nobody gets seconds until everyone has had firsts.” This seems to me to be an excellent rule to apply to all necessities, especially to that necessity that is fundamental to any kind of dignified life, housing. It is not as if you can just go out and build a house for yourself and live in it; the authorities will come and bulldoze it (and then send you a bill for the work!). If you deny someone the fundamental right to fend for him or herself (or to band together as a group to do so), then you have an obligation to provide those necessities that you have denied them, not as charity, but as a right. 

So how would we apply these principles to housing? We could perhaps pass a law that nobody could own a second house until everyone had a house to live in, but such a law would be very difficult to enforce, and cause much chaos in the housing markets. I would suggest there is a better way. In its simplest form, it goes like this. First, calculate the total cost of fully housing everyone. Second, calculate the total assessed value of all secondary housing in the country. Secondary housing is any housing that is not somebody’s primary residence. It includes second homes, empty houses, and vacation rentals. Third, calculate the percentage of assessed valuation that will meet the housing costs and impose an annual federal property tax at that percentage rate. 

No doubt an actual implementation would have to be somewhat more complex, but it seems to me eminently fair that the owners of secondary housing should bear the cost of housing the homeless. If there were no such concept as secondary housing, and all housing was available for occupancy, we would be able to house everyone with no difficulty. Indeed, if we simply counted the empty houses there are enough to house all of the homeless eight times over. What prevents people from living in houses is not the unavailability of houses, or even the actual costs of housing them, but rather the price of housing. This is determined by the market as a whole; if more income can be derived from houses by turning them into short term vacation rentals, there will be fewer primary housing units available, and therefore the price will rise. The same argument applies to all kinds of secondary housing. Therefore the exorbitant price of primary housing is a direct result of the existence of the secondary housing market, so it is only fair that that those who benefit from that market (either financially or by being able to enjoy multiple homes) should pay for those who are priced out of the market by these activities.

Patriotism

The political right has been extremely successful at coopting the major symbols of what it means to be American to their own cause. The flag, the national anthem, the US military and indeed the concept of patriotism itself are all heavily used as symbology in advertising and rhetoric by the Republicans and the far right. The constant drumbeat is that those on the right are the real Americans, and those on the left are not. Taking this phenomenon under the general rubric of patriotism it is worth considering the origins and true meaning of this concept.

When we speak of loving our country, the word country can have one of two distinct meanings and it is important to distinguish between them. In Ancient Greek this distinction is illustrated by two word roots that we encounter in modern English, both of which loosely translate as country: patris and ethnos. Though the distinction has been largely lost in English these words carried very different connotations. Ethnos referred to the country in the sense of nation, as distinguished from other nations, including the idea of racial heritage, or ethnicity. Patris, on the other hand, referred to the country as a socio-political institution. So in reference to the USA the ethnos would refer to the country as distinct from, say, Canada our Mexico, whereas patria would describe the country as a socio-political system; our patria is a representative democracy with a written constitution and a certain defined system of government. This distinction, which might at first seem nitpicking, becomes of vital importance when considering government. In this context, loyalty to the ethnos would refer to support for the particular government in power, whereas loyalty to the patris would refer to support for our particular form of government. In other words it is the difference between government as a concept, and the particular government that we have right now. Between the presidency as an institution and the specific president now in office.

The Greek word patriot did not describe someone who supported their ethnos, who might be pro Greece and anti Sparta, but rather someone who interested themselves in the patria, or the affairs of their country in the sense of how the community was organized and run. Such a person might be pro democracy and anti autocracy, for instance. In the sense we use the word (the ethnos sense), the opposite of a Patriot is a traitor. In the Greek sense (the patria sense) the opposite of a patriot was someone who only cares about their own concerns and gave no thought to public affairs. The word for the opposite of a patriot was derived from the word for self, which is id. The opposite of a patriot was an idiot.

This is not a joke or a word trick I made up, it is is true. The word idiot was later adopted by the Romans and its meaning changed to something more approaching an ignorant person, and further changed in English to someone of low mental ability, but this change in meaning is a clear indication of how the Greeks and Romans regarded those who did not participate in public affairs. This is significant today because the Greeks and the Romans were the only major societies we know about that seriously experimented with democracy prior to the founding of the USA. We might do well to return to this understanding of patriotism (and idiocy). Different forms of government make different demands on their citizens. Autocracies offer the perceived advantage that the citizens are relieved of responsibility for the situation they find themselves in. There is nothing you can do about it anyway, so you may as well just get on with your life and not worry about it. Democracies on the other hand are demanding. You are expected to play your part, even if that part is just caring a vote. Government is complicated and messy. You have to decide between competing benefits and harms, and when things do not turn out the way you thought or hoped they would, you have to take (collective) responsibility for the results.

When the country was young and memories of past oppression still fresh, the general population appreciated the opportunity to have a say in their own affairs, but over time memories faded and the people lost interest. This left a power vacuum which special interests were only to happy to fill, and over time our form of government has been stolen from us.

Term Limits

Government at all levels is perceived as being out of touch and inefficient. Elections are bought by incumbents with the power of money provided by special interest groups. Lawmakers we once respected are stripped naked before us, revealed as merely human after all, and not very pretty to look at in the light of day. The ship of state is in sorry tatters. Certainly something must change.

Turning out the incumbents, imposing term limits, that will show them, right? Let’s get some new blood in there, and shake the place up; blow out some of the cobwebs. So why am I not happy at the trend? 

I have three problems with the idea of term limits.

First, I don’t think it will really solve the problem. Already in California I read about state senators running for Assembly seats vacated by those running for the senate! If the purpose is to introduce new blood, I am afraid that instead we will still have the same old faces, just in different places.

Secondly, even if it does work, I don’t think that term limits will have the results expected by most of those in favor of the idea. I see rejoicing among the liberals because they see a lot of wealthy old conservatives getting forcibly moved on out. This should open up opportunities for the liberals to gain ground. Unfortunately many Democrats will also see their terms expire, and they will have to be replaced by new faces too. Here is the problem; a system that requires a constant supply of fresh candidates is going to favor the big money. It is very expensive these days to give a candidate enough exposure to be a serious contender in a major election, so candidates are going to be even more beholden to the special interests. We will have slick, well-rehearsed quickie candidates. We have elevated style so far over substance that we will be sitting ducks for the PR machine.

My third reason is that constantly changing the political officeholders enhances the power of both the bureaucracy and the lobbyists. Our elected representatives may not do too good a job keeping an eye on these people who already have huge amounts of power, but it will be even worse if they have to retire just when they are really getting to know the job. If lawmakers are coming and going the only people who know how things work are the people who are always there, most especially the lobbyists (whose ranks will now be swelled with termed-out former officeholders). Do we really want to increase the power of people over whom we have no control? People who are subject to no term limits, face no elections? 

If all this sounds too amorphous, consider that these bureaucrats run the IRS, the DMV and the Franchise Tax Board. The people we elect to office are a main line of defense against the power of these organizations, frail though that line may be. Term limits demand we lose the best along with the worst. 

I am not saying that everything is fine and that the people who are running things should not be challenged, but it is foolish to get rid of people simply because they have been in office a long time, irrespective of whether they are doing a good job. We are in danger not merely of throwing out the baby with the bath water, but of throwing out the baby and keeping the bath water.

Good And Evil

“We need more good people with guns to protect us from the bad people with guns.” — National Rifle Association.

“There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” — Shakespeare

“The line between good and evil passes through every human heart” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The concepts of good and bad or good and evil are entirely dependent on context. Nothing is good or bad of its nature; the same phenomenon may be good under some circumstances and bad under others; it all depends on what the desired end is. By definition something is good if it leads towards the desired end, bad if it leads away from it. It is possible to derive benefits even from events that seem to be purely evil. We are able to cure neurological diseases today as a result of the ghastly experiments carried out by Dr Mengele in the Nazi death camps. This does not excuse or condone those experiments, but it does point up the difficulties we encounter when we make sweeping moral judgments. 

Good and bad behavior follow the same rule. The same behavior can be considered good or bad according to the circumstances, and the same person can act with good intent or with evil intent at different times and under different circumstances. Mafia leaders who acted with the utmost brutality in their business dealings were often beloved pillars of their communities that local people could go to for help, confident that they would get it. Even describing intent as good or evil is problematic. Everyone at all times wants to do the right thing. Nobody deliberately sets out to what is in his own mind wrong. Whatever he decides to do, he does it because he believes it is right, otherwise he would not do it. This is why appeals to a person’s moral conscience will often fall of deaf ears. An appeal to someone to do what he knows is right depends for its effectiveness on his agreeing with you on what is in fact right. 

A person’s views on what is right and what is wrong depend on a great many factors. Religion, socio-political beliefs and observations, social class, the views of one’s peers, upbringing all have profound effects upon our ideas of right and wrong. Things were simpler in the days when people looked to religion for the answers to moral questions; today we are expected to work it out for ourselves. Little wonder that cult leaders who proclaim with great conviction a set of beliefs gather great followings. Their adherents are seeking certainty in an uncertain world, and are happy to pass on the burden of decision making to someone else. 

This is the great danger of absolutist thinking and teaching. Someone brought up in a religion that claims that it alone preaches the truth, and that all other religions and philosophies are false, learn two distinct things: first that there can be such a thing as a universal exclusive truth, and second that their particular religion has it. The danger is that they will discover the falsity of the second, while still believing the first. This makes them prime victims for cults and extremist political groups. They simply substitute one false belief for another. In many cases their adherence to the new beliefs, being, as they believe, a conscious choice (though that judgment is highly questionable) will be even stronger than to the old ones.

What all of this means is that there are no good people and bad people, there are just people who act in all kinds of ways under different circumstances. Some of these ways are classified by society as evil because they run counter to the aims of society. All of us have the capability of behaving in these ways; fortunately most of us are not put in circumstances that cause us to do so. People do not like to admit this to themselves, so they Tell themselves that it was caused by something inherent in that person, that they themselves do not have.

Even those of us who do recognize that we all have the potential for such acts often believe that we ourselves have sufficient self-control that we could never actually carry them out. Again, many are right, but even for them there is some set of circumstances under which they will lose control. It will be different for everyone, but we must always be alert to the danger. All of us have the capacity for that great disinhibitor, anger. Our lives these days give us many opportunities for anger, both chronic and acute. We are not good at properly directing our anger at its true cause, so we take it out on often innocent bystanders. When someone displays anger towards us we tend to get angry in our turn, and so the fire spreads. Anger often turns to rage, which enables us to ignore our inhibitions against antisocial behavior.

These are uncomfortable thoughts for many people. They prefer to think of school shooters and the like as “other” in some fundamental way. If we can just get rid of that element, they think, then we can be rid of the problem. Unfortunately it does not work that way. You cannot draw a line to divide the good from the evil; all of us have the potential for either.

Social Justice: Getting from Here to There

Having established the principle that if we are to have a fair and just society we must end the two traditions of being able to grow your money and inheritance, which together underpin the entire enterprise of the ownership class, we are faced with the implementation problem. We are proposing to do away with the ownership class, and it would be naïve to suppose that this class will go willingly. The old revolutionary approach to the problem, involving sharp blades separating heads from bodies, or firing squads or ropes and lampposts are simply not going to happen in present day America, and should not.

There is a better approach, which is to take a lesson from the British in India. They were faced with the problem of a similar class of owners, the Maharajas. They could have deposed and impoverished them, but instead they allowed them to retain their position and wealth, but deprived them of power. I believe a similar strategy is needed today.

The plan has four steps. First, limits must be placed on what personal money can be spent on. The new rule is that you can spend your money on whatever luxuries and services you choose. You can buy cars, yachts, houses, whatever you want to make your life more comfortable or interesting. You can give money to other people, but only as a gift. What you cannot do with your money is to make more money with it. In return for giving up the ability to grow your money, you are guaranteed that it will not shrink either. It will always be there for you to use whenever you choose. We have seen that this situation would benefit the vast majority of people, so if it is properly presented it should command support. The concept of limiting what money can be used for is well established. This is an extension of that principle.

This will eliminate at a stroke the entire financial services industry. Here is where a great deal of opposition will come, both from those who make a very handsome living in this industry, and from those who fear large scale change. The question to focus attention on and insist on a detailed response to is what value does this industry add to the economic system as a whole in return for all of the money they are sucking out of it? I do not believe an adequate answer can be offered.

For those who believe that eliminating such a large industry would cause great social disruption, and be unfair on those thrown out of work, I would point out that such considerations have never gotten in the way of corporate consolidation or workplace automation; somehow when it is mere workers that are affected it does not seem to matter as much.

The second step is to recognize that money is simply a scoring system, and establish a single mechanism for keeping score. We do not even have to call it a bank. Everyone would have a free account, and the balance would show the difference between what they had contributed to the pool of resources and what they had taken from it. This would function exactly like money. You could withdraw it in cash form. The difference from our present system is that money would no longer be a commodity to be traded, but simply a means of facilitating exchange of resources without an actual value of its own.

The third step is to buy out the ownership class at present value. We add up the value of all of their assets, and credit their accounts with the resulting amount of money. The community then takes possession of the assets. The exception would be owner-run businesses, where the owner would continue to own his business, but any purely financial partners would be bought out. It is misleading even to say that the community takes possession, because what is really happening is that ownership ceases to exist. Instead control of organizations is divided between those who make an ongoing contribution to the operation of the business or have an interest in its continued operation. The workers, the managers, the customers, the suppliers, the community at large will all have voices in management. All of the profits will be shared in some measure by all of these interests, some directly, others (like the surrounding merchants) indirectly. The natural format to build on is the worker owned cooperative.

The fourth step is to redefine property rights with regard to land and primary residential housing. It is necessary for the functioning of an orderly society that people be secure in their property, and this will not change. Ownership will still allow you the right to use your property with no greater restrictions than now. However certain rights are removed from the bundle. The most important is that you only own the use and care of the land, not the underlying value. If the value of the land increases because of the actions of society, it is society that should reap the benefit of the added value. The owner will be compensated only for value he has added to the property. You can only own land that you can actually use. If you have no use for land it can be assigned to someone else to use. You do not have the right to make a profit renting the land out to someone. Use of land might include the concept of a privacy zone; even if you do not actually work the land you would be entitled to maintain control of a certain area around your house. 

The same concept would apply to housing. As long as everyone in the community has an adequate dwelling, there is no problem with some having multiple houses, but only for their own use or that of their friends, or as vacation rentals (a legitimate business). They are not allowed to rent out primary residential accommodation for profit. These are not restrictions of natural rights, but redefinition of allowable economic activities. Nobody has a right to make money in any particular way; every occupation is subject to rules, and we are simply redefining the rules in the interests of social benefit.

The end result of this is that nobody’s primary residence is owned by someone else who has the power to turn them out for no particular reason, or raise their rent at will, or any of the other activities that make tenants hate landlords.

In this way we dispossess the ownership class of their income producing assets, while compensating them fairly for them. They still have the money to live their lives in comfort and security, but the social harm they can do with their money is eliminated.

Debate on Medical Ethics

From an online debate on waccobb.net


rhonda741 wrote:

Let’s look at a few FACTS:

The NUMBER ONE KILLER in America is NOT heart disease or high blood pressure, but Iatragenic Disease, commonly known as Medical errors. The number of people who die EVERY DAY from medical related incidence or error is the equivalent to 6 (SIX) jumbo jets crashing and killing everyone aboard. THAT Happens EVERY DAY! That is outrageous!


Where are you getting these numbers? You seem to be saying that there are some 800,000 iatrogenic (sic) deaths in the US every year. (I am assuming that by “America” you mean the US, right? It seems to be a habit in this country to conflate the two, to the disgust of the many other inhabitants of the continent.) This would indeed put it in the number one slot, but with a total of around 2,400,000 deaths a year, of which some 1,400,000 are attributed to heart disease and cancer, it seems unlikely that your number is correct. 

But beyond the accuracy of the numbers, if you are going to use this as an argument for staying away from doctors, you would have to show that a significant number of these deaths would not have occurred had the person not sought medical attention


rhonda741 wrote:

The NUMBER ONE suggestion a medical makes is to take tests, and more tests, and more tests, and then prescribe a drug that they

1. own stock in the producing pharmaceutical company of

2. receive kick-backs & benefits for perscribing x # of _______ within a designated time frame

3. KNOW that the drug will not “cure” anything, but instead create issues that will require more drugs to compensate for the bad side affects of this new drug, which MAY kill the person because their system will not handle the side affects mentioned in pica 4 print on the label inside the box


In any profession, or for that matter any grouping of people at all, you will find some who are dishonest, some who are criminal, some who are honest but deluded, and some who are both sincere and skillful, among many other categories. You will also find that the percentages of these categories are pretty constant in all walks of life, including the “alternative” health business. Your suggestion that all, or even a large proportion, of doctors act as you have described does not look like cynicism, but an extreme form of prejudice. Yes, I am sure that there are doctors who are as you describe, but I am equally sure that they form a tiny minority of the profession. (Nitpicking point: a pica is 12 points, so you described 48-point type, which would be readable at six feet or so!)


rhonda741 wrote:

The Number TWO suggestion by REAL medical doctors is to cut an organ out (for $72,000 +) that will provide a little relief but shorten the expected life span of the individual mutilated by the “expertise” of the surgeon who performs barbaric atrocities to the human body for a “fee” which pays a portion of his malpractice insurance.


Again, surgeons are fallible and sometimes dishonest, but the same applies here. In addition, some forms of surgery are unquestionably beneficial (I hope you would not go to an Upper Cervical pracitioner to treat an attack of appendicitis). And there are plenty of malpractice attorneys ready to pounce on any surgeon who even makes an honest mistake, let alone indulges in the kind of behavior you describe. (That malpractice insurance you mention creates a very tempting deep pocket!)


rhonda741 wrote:

IF YOU WANT to know the truth and really help people, then read the reports of these people who have tried alternative approaches to health and gotten over their debilitating illnesses. Their desire is to help others without expecting a financial gain or showing their excellent knowledge base. Shame on you for putting down members on this group who do not have an agenda or need to perform to your arrogant responses.


No agenda? You are pushing Upper Cervical care. Is this not a profit-making business too? Are you saying that this is the one business that contains no dishonest, greedy or deluded practitioners? I would be astonished.


rhonda741 wrote:

Of course, the Upper Cervical doctor, according to your qualifications is not a REAL DOCTOR because he does not TEST, REMOVE organs or prescribe drugs). That means he is NOT a MD or DO, doesn’t it? Montel goes on to say his MS disappeared after his atlas was corrected. How many modern REAL doctors have patients that say that? We have unlimited testimonies from people saying the same thing on our site.


What defines a “real” doctor is not how he or she sets about diagnosing and treating patients, it is the education and certification that he or she has undergone. “Real” doctors regularly report patients that recover for no discernible reason; no doubt you are familiar with the placebo effect, for instance. This is why medical science is very circumspect about ascribing causes to either illnesses or cures; it takes very careful study and statistical analysis to determine what is really true. Whatever your opinion of the scientific method and the value of anecdotal evidence, you would do well to read Carl Sagan’s book “A Demon-Haunted World (Science as a Candle in the Dark)” which describes many beliefs that were once widely held among even intelligent people that even you would now acknowledge to be mistaken.

So could we not perhaps conduct this discussion on a more intelligent level, and leave out the blanket condemnations of an entire profession, and the unsupported and highly questionable statistics? I am sure that Upper Cervical care has its place as a treatment modality, and in the hands of a skillful practitioner can be helpful in some cases where regular medicine has failed, but I am equally sure that it is not a panacea that will cure all ills, and that there are UC practitioners who are dishonest and greedy and venal in about the same proportion as in all other professions.