Uncommon Sense

November 26, 2021

Learning

Filed under: Culture,Education,Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 8:07 am
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I subscribe to a newsletter called “The Daily Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Everyday Life” Written in part by Ryan Holiday, I think, available at dailystoic.com. Stoic philosophy is a very pragmatic philosophy, over 2000 years old, and is quite pertinent today, since academic philosophers seem to have abandoned the public sphere.

Stoicism main concern was and is how to live a good life. Here is an excerpt from today’s newsletter:

“Because, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, those suffering humans are us, and we are them. To allow harm to come to them—through indifference, through callousness—is to allow harm to come to ourselves. It’s why the most magnificent moment of Marcus’s reign was the day he decided to sell off the palace furnishings to keep Rome going—to help those in need. Hierocles was a Roman Stoic who spoke of “circles of concern.” Our first concern, he said, was our mind, but beyond this was our concern for our bodies, for our immediate family, then our extended family. Like concentric rings, these circles were followed by our concern for our community, our city, our country, our empire, our world. The work of philosophy, he said, was to draw this outer concern inward, to learn how to care as much as possible for as many people as possible, to do as much good for them as possible. This is our obligation. It is our duty to help others. To serve others. To illustrate those virtues of courage and justice toward and for and through others.”

Nothing new under the sun, indeed. Obviously, we are slow learners or we have been taught poorly (through lack of recognition of what is really important).

November 24, 2021

Driving the GOP into an Early Grave

The navigator-in-chief of the Republican Party sure seems to be Donald J. Trump. Let’s see how he has prompted the growth of the GOP since his elevation into that position.

  • The GOP has gotten tied ever more closely to Evangelical Christianity.
    • The GOP has become more anti-science based.
    • The GOP has become tied to alternative facts that they just make up
    • The GOP has become tied to news media that are estranged from decent journalism
    • The GOP has sought out voter suppression instead of expanding their base
    • etc.

There are some consequences to this. Here are just a few:
• Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019). There are some that argue that the politicization of churches has accelerated this drop in evangelicalism.
• But supporting anti-vaccination and anti-mask fringe groups, the GOP has put more of its members at risk, especially since currently the GOP constituency is quite old. These policies are disproportionally resulting in Republicans getting sick and/or dying. The GOP is killing off its own members.
• By refusing to expand their bases and focusing on voter suppression more, the GOP is undermining their future. As their membership gets older, whiter, and less connected with reality, joining the GOP seems more and more like joining a cult, so they are losing traction with young people.
• By undermining trust in societies institutions, the GOP is undermining their own ideology. And is members are trusting their doctors, teachers, local officials, etc. less and less, creating more and more disharmony.

As I watched this unfold, I thought Mr. Trump was driving the GOP into a ditch. Now it looks as if, by doubling down, he is driving the GOP into an early grave,

R.I.P. GOP.

Archeology and Propaganda

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:29 am
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I am told, in an article in The Guardian, that a new book telling the story of the painstaking process to preserve the 1,200-year-old Faddan More Psalter is coming out.

Imagine a book dropped into an Irish bog and then being dug up 1200 years later. Yes, it was more than a bit of a mess, but some of it survived, and a conservator took years in finding what could be found. For example, the leather cover had a papyrus lining, which means it was probably created in Egypt.

Not mentioned in the article I read is that this book was a propaganda tool of an invading religion, working to destroy all of the native Irish religions. Not mentioning this is like writing a review of Mein Kampf and not mentioning WW2 or the Holocaust.

Christians have felt justified for millennia in invading foreign countries and “proselytizing,” that is setting up their religion to vanquish the religions already in place. We look at these invaders, who are “on mission,” as being good people doing good things. But ask the Native Americans how they felt about invading “settlers” taking over the land and instituting Christianity in exchange. African Americans were brought to this country in the millions and then systematically stripped of their families, their cultures, their religions, and their dignity, and of course their freedom, and were paid with “the Baby Jesus.” The devotion of present day African Americans to their Christian Churches is perplexing, considering those churches supported their ancestors enslavement (and Jim Crow, and . . .).

As an archeology fan boy, I like to see antiquities recovered from their supposed graves, but they always need to be placed into their contexts, to the best of our ability. That psalter was a weapon of an invading army of Catholic Christians. Tell it like it was, not how it is now.

November 21, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse Redux

Filed under: Culture,The Law,The News — Steve Ruis @ 9:28 am
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So, the criminal trial is over and Kyle Rittenhouse is off the hook, right? Well . . .

Mr. Rittenhouse is off the hook for jail time, but now, one would expect, the civil suits should begin. I believe “wrongful death” cases will be brought, one for each victim, and I do not expect Mr. Rittenhouse to win all of these or even one of these.

The penalties in wrongful death suits can sometimes be discharged in bankruptcy courts but that is not a done deal. The amounts of money in such penalties are often tied to the amounts of money the dead people could have made had they lived, so Mr. Rittenhouse is looking at a future of being a very poor person, or . . . if the right wing assholes of this country embrace him, he could have a decent life but, of course, his notoriety will follow him.

November 6, 2021

They Just Don’t Seem to Want to Work

The pandemic has made it obvious and clear that there is a whole stratum of our society composed of individuals who just don’t want to work.

Yes, I am talking about the idle rich.

The idle rich, living on unearned income/capital gains don’t produce anything, and therefore do not contribute to society. Instead they leech off of those of us doing meaningful work.

We need to curtail these sources of unearned income, so that the “job creators” will get back to work producing jobs and goods and services the American people value. Speculative market activities need to be reduced through transaction taxes or some such mechanism to reduce the speculations that are at the core of the incomes of the idle rich. About 100 years ago there was a sentiment that unearned income needed to be taxed at greater rates than income earned via the sweat of one’s brow. That sentiment has been reversed though the machinations of the idle rich by their bribing of politicians to make rule changes on their behalf. These changes need to be rolled back, and unearned income needs to be taxed at higher rates, so the idle rich aren’t being induced to waste their talents outside of the world of work.

Now, I am not going to draw conclusions about the idle rich regarding their behaviors, although some have, calling them lazy and slugabeds. But they have been seduced by easy unearned money and for the good of their souls and our society, that has to be stopped, and the sooner the better.

November 5, 2021

Is the U.S. a Meritocracy?

Filed under: Culture,History,Politics,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
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A couple of episodes ago, Ben Shapiro was on the Bill Maher show, Real Time. (For the life of me why people listen to Ben Shapiro is quite beyond my comprehension. He is a bigger blowhard than I am.)

Mr. Shapiro claimed in that show, and I assume elsewhere, that the U.S. was a “meritocracy” and had been since its inception. A meritocracy sounds like a good deal, people being rewarded on their merits, by Mr. Shapiro’s co-guest wasn’t having any of it. That person, I forget his name, was African-American and, according to him, his great-grandfather was a slave. It should be obvious that slaves were not allowed to participate in any meritocracy, if it indeed existed. And, it is fairly easy to prove that slaves created most of the wealth of the early colonies and the early U.S.

The claim that the U.S. is a meritocracy and has been, is ludicrous from the get-go. This is the claim that is made by people who have accumulated wealth, or personal esteem, or recognition in society, as a way to establish the righteousness of their rewards. They are wealthy because of their great talents, don’t you know. They are valued because of their merits as a whatever.

The classic case I can remember is Mitch Romney, when running for president, claiming that he was a self-made man, that he amassed his wealth on his own. He skipped over the two million dollars his father gave him as seed money to get started in business and the access to his father’s Rolodex, filled with contacts for the rich and famous galore. To put this in context, since Mr. Romney and I are roughly contemporaneous, I made in just less than forty years, as a college professor, about two million dollars. Mr. Romney was given an amount equivalent to my career earnings to “get started.” This is typical of the wealthy, whose parents were often also wealthy and who benefited from private schools, the best colleges, costly vacations, travel, etc. to get a head start on their “competitors.” (My family went on our first vacation when I was nine years old (and I was the “baby” of three children). We went camping in national parks using borrowed camping gear.)

Studies show that Americans rarely transcend the socioeconomic stratum they were born into. We love stories of folks who went from rags to riches and that does happen, just not very often.

You may have many good personal merits, but if others don’t get to see them, then they are hardly going to be rewarded. The aphorism is “it is not what you know, but who you know” . . . still stands. Sometimes it can be the case that impersonal rules affect your outcome. Consider children’s sports in which competitions are stratified by age groups, to provide “fair competition.” Often these groups are two year spans and the placement of kids into the groups is by setting a fixed date and using the child’s age at that date as the placing stat. But there is a problem with this. Kids who have birthdays shortly after the chosen date, will be placed as if they were a year younger and children with a birthday just before the date will be placed as if they were a year older. The kid who turns twelve the day after the placing date and the kid who turned eleven just before the placing date will both be placed as eleven-year olds, except that one has just turned eleven and the other is just turning twelve and is, effectively a year older.

Oh, pish-posh and tish-tosh you say, what effect can that have? A study of professional European soccer league players showed that close to all of them had birthdays just after the placing date and were effectively labeled as being a year younger than they were when participating in youth soccer play. The older kids are more physically developed, had superior skills and received more attention from coaches, more acclaim, more positive feedback, etc. There is even a name for the phenomenon, the Relative Age Effect; you can look it up.

Meritocracy, my ass.

John Ralston Saul has something to say on whether a meritocracy is even something to desire, in his 2001 book, “On Equilibrium:” (p. 7 of the paperback edition) “A meritocracy, on the other hand, is so busy concentrating on efficiently identifying who is best and pushing him to the fore that it shuts down its confidence in the rest of us – those of us turning our door handles and willing to contribute, each in her own way and at her own level. The whole idea of a society of winners – a place known above all for its best – leads with surprising speed to a narrow pyramidal social structure. And then to division and widespread passivity. That in turn leads to false populism and mediocrity; to a world obsessed by bread and circuses, Heroes and the need for leadership.

So, do you see why the very rich assholes and their front men, like Ben Shapiro, like the idea that we are a meritocracy? It reinforces the very polarized structure they have already created. The one that has them on top of the pyramid.

They have waged a class war . . . and won. Now what do we do?

October 27, 2021

October 22, 2021

You Have to Believe in Something

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:22 am
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Religious people insist that atheists, like me, believe in something. This is true, but before addressing that point I must distinguish between ordinary beliefs and religious beliefs. Ordinary beliefs are based upon evidence and probabilities. For example, I believe the sun will come up tomorrow because, well, it has every day of human history and the probability of it doing so tomorrow is very, very high. Religious beliefs, however, lack evidence of that type and are not based upon probabilities. They are based upon teachings, scriptures, etc. Many Christian apologists deliberately conflate these two meanings.

The claim, everybody believes in something, therefore is true, but most people when they hear that are thinking of ordinary beliefs, while the apologist is trying to make that belief into a religious belief. The apologists insist that atheism is a religion, or that atheists believe in God, but . . . , etc.

I consider most religious beliefs to be childish beliefs, beliefs taught to children, using stories and other devices shaped to appeal to children (Noah’s Ark toys to teach a horrific story of genocide, for Pete’s sake). My hope is that these childish beliefs will fade away or be rejected as I have done.

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 11

Many express fear about what will replace the hole left in their lives when religion falls out of it. Some mock these feelings (“If I forgo Jesus, whose slave will I be?”) but I do not. To fill that hole, claimed to be a desire for a connection to the sacred, we could also possibly be saving ourselves from self-destruction if we were to go back to worshipping Nature. It is Nature that is the source of all life, including us. If we debase Nature, we reduce our ability to survive. Sun worship has been common throughout human history. Many scholars think that Christian halos are the symbol of the Sun added to the characters who sport it. Basically a halo says “I am the Sun god and I approve this messenger.”

Now when I use the word “worship” it is just to hold Nature as a sacred trust, not to imbue it with supernatural powers. (Aren’t the “powers” of Nature amazing enough?) Without the Sun, we definitely do not survive. Without forests, likely the same. Without potable water, the same; without breathable air, the same. Nature grows forests without our help, purifies water without our help, purifies the air without our help but cannot continue to do so in the face of the massive pollution we create.

If we are going to hold something sacred, how about that which provides for us to live?

Every hunter-gatherer society left on this planet has been around for millennia and has survived, mostly upon this basis. They have made do without destructive industrialization and rapacious capitalism. Should not our goals be how to manage these societal institutions to do nature no lasting harm?

For example, cutting down trees to make lumber to build things seems an acceptable practice, until we clear cut all the trees on a continent or island. (Look at what happened to the Easter Islanders when they cut down all of their trees. The same goes for tearing up mountains to reap the coal beneath them. The same goes for pulling all of the fish out of the sea, leaving it barren of ecosystems needed for the health of all. Should not such criteria supersede the one we use now, which is “how much money can I make doing this?”

If the theists are correct and “we have to believe in something” how about we believe in and protect that which gives us life. Not some indefinable god nobody can find, but Nature, which we can all find and appreciate . . . and need to survive and thrive.

October 21, 2021

Why It Is Better to Be Pissed Off than Pissed On

We possess emotions that were designed to have short-term effects. Stretching them out over long periods of time can have very detrimental effects. This is why I think “happiness” is a bad goal. Happiness is a transitory emotion, not meant to be long-term.

Another emotion designed for the short-term is fear. When we are fearful, we get what is called the “fight or flight” response. We gear up to fight or to run away. But that was never meant to be a long-term effect. A lesson in this comes from human pre-history. When you compare human beings to other predators we come up short, way short. We do not possess speed, like cheetahs, or power like lions and wolves, or the vision and razor sharp talons of an eagle, etc. But we have a super power and that is stamina. We often hunted using this evolutionary advantage. We would, in a small group of hunters, spook our prey, which would run away, but just a short distance. Then we would follow that animal, spooking it again and again, until finally, the poor animal is nervously and physically exhausted from being in this fight or flight situation too long. Occasionally a hunter could walk up to the quivering animal and slit its throat or spears or arrows could easily bring the animal down.

Fear is a powerful emotion and so is anger, again one not intended for long-term use. Both of these emotions are “in the news” because they are playing a role in our politics. The elites running this country for their own personal gain are ruining any chance of us forming a more perfect union. They are very wealthy and have a great deal of power because of that wealth. They are few and we are many which makes them far easier to organize than us, so our power of numbers is muted.

To overcome this handicap, we need righteous anger . . . “I am mad as Hell and I won’t take it anymore!” . . . to get us off of our couches and into the streets. But the elites are prepared for this. They promote fear and anger as if they were daily specials at the supermarket. Fear of Critical Race Theory indoctrinating our students; anger over the stolen election; fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants (legal and otherwise); anger over losing job securities, heck losing jobs.

The result of all of these fears and angers is that we all are experiencing the fatigue of prolonged emotions along these lines. Because of that fatigue we can’t get it, righteous anger, up or if we can, it doesn’t last. And those damned wealthy elites are in the process of politically cutting our throats.

We must stop being riled at the latest “outrage,” (Outrage over Mr. Potato Head for Pete’s sake!) and stick to the agenda. The oligarchs running this country are trying to control you and our governmental process. Whether you are a liberal or conservative is irrelevant. Whether you dwell in the country or a city is irrelevant. Whether you are for or against gun control, abortion, or whatever, is irrelevant. You must learn to discern those fronting for the wealthy elites and oppose them and not be distracted by side issues. If we do not, well the next time we meet will be on the dinner table of the fucking elites.

October 19, 2021

What is a Corporatist Society?

(Sorry this is so long. It seemed warranted. Steve)

If you live in the U.S., just look around, you are living in such a society right now.

This country was founded as a republic, not a democracy, a republic being a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president with powers limited by law rather than a monarch. We created a government in which each of us was no longer the subject of some monarch; we were citizens, not subjects.

That is all fine and well, but we lost all of that a while back. We are now back to being subjects again. While there is no monarch there is a ruling clique of corporatists, meaning that our governments are run for the benefit of those corporations and subject to their desires and whims, rather than our own.

Consider the fact that our national government only pays attention to the needs of what is called “the donor class,” which you and I know as the filthy rich. If you are a substantial donor to a political party, your needs are attended to. If you are middle class or poor, you have zero chance of getting any attention, even from those elected to represent you. And “zero chance” is not hyperbole, that’s what the research showed.

So, the very rich are running the federal government and most of the state governments in the same fashion. So who are these “very rich” people? We used to think of the very rich as those with inherited wealth, but those days are past. Sure, there are a few very wealthy people who inherited their money and they got inheritance taxes reduced to zero so they can pass it all onto their children, but they are a small minority now. The very rich are now typically corporation executives. And they have corporatist mindsets.

A corporatist mindset is believing that corporations are the best structures to govern human activities. Did not a corporation recognize their personal qualities and reward them mightily. How could they be anything but perfect? You will have heard from these people that “government should be run like a business (aka corporation)” and “schools should be run like businesses/corporations,” etc.

These people have gotten the courts they purchased to establish that corporations have the rights of citizens, making the transition from imaginary person for business purposes only to political person in one court ruling. The rights of “corporations” to donate unlimited funds to political campaigns was established recently. Oh, and if you thought that the employees or even the shareholders of a corporation got to determine where its “campaign donations” went, dream on. Those decisions are made by the executives of those corporation, aka the filthy rich.

Now you may be thinking that this is all a bit much, but if you take a step back and look at the life experience of just any old citizen, you will see what is involved. For example, when a child is born, whether their mother got good medical care depended upon whether they had good insurance. Poor pre-natal medical care is part of a pattern that results in skimpy lives for the children. And good insurance is a fringe benefit associated with a shrinking number of jobs and are controlled by the employers (aka corporatists). So, you are born and grow up and then attend school. So, what are you taught in school? Increasingly, and all the way up and down the ladder, that education is focused on acquiring a “good job” when you become an adult. Recently education reformers wanted you to be asked to read more “informational texts” and less classic literature. My home state of California used to have a series of “readers” for each grade level. The works to be read were challenging and included extracts from Mark Twain, the Bible, James Fennimore Cooper, Nathanial Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and more of their ilk. Obviously those California State Readers tended be supporters of the status quo, patriotic, and so on but none of them, to my recall, involved a shop manual for a Ford pick-up truck or a treatise on writing contracts. But now that the corporatists are in charge they want to make sure you can fix the department’s printer when it jams. They have no need for humanist texts that allow us to see one another more clearly and see the virtues that make a society that makes for happier and safer citizens, no need at all.

The corporatists now in charge have a Taylorite view of humanity that makes each of us a cog in their mechanism. So, if our growing citizen goes to college they will find that more and more the programs there are tailored, pun intended, to jobs they might get. If you ask students what their goals are, the majority will respond with “to get a good job” or “a job that pays a lot of money.” They are not stupid, they got the message.

So, they graduate, or not, and they seek and acquire a job. Who in that job has the bulk of the power: the employer or the employee? Analyzed economically, there should be a 50:50 power balance there. This is what free markets create, or so say the corporatists. The corporatists absolute hate free markets. But they recognize the propaganda power of the word “free.” The markets they like are those they can manipulate and dominate, and dictate to. A “free market” is a level paying field and only chumps play on a level playing field.

The corporatists used their political power to not only expand their own power but to limit the powers of their opposition. Labor unions, for example, were quite powerful after WW2. Have you notice them lately? No? That is because the corporatists used the political power their money bought to crush them. While the private sector used to have about 33% of its jobs covered by a union contract, that is now about 6%. Crushed. The only remaining institutional power that can oppose the wills of the corporatists is government and the corporatists have bought enough politicians to make that source opposition neutered.

So, who has the power in the employee-employer relationship? The employers. And they use it. They arbitrary transform their employee’s pension plans into plans that cost them much less and pay their employees much less in the process. They change work rules as they see fit. They ship entire factories overseas and if they keep you on as an employee, it is only to train your less expensive replacement.

So, you work and you work, then you are fired so they can hire a cheaper replacement. Corporatists are so addicted to that power that they often fire people critical for their corporations or fire so many support staff that their critical people look for other employment because of that. Basically, if they meet their stock market goals and retire before it all falls apart, corporation executives are good with that. Golden parachutes make for soft landings.

So, you skimp along or are “comfortable” in your retirement and are no longer of interest to the corporatist, other than as a voter. Old people vote, so the corporatists have massive propaganda machines that use fear and other levers to get you to vote in alignment with their interests. They also trump up phony issues to keep you riled up and distracted.

Then you die, your whole life having been dominated by corporate interests. You served “your country” well, were a good provider for “your family,” and a pillar of “your community.” Now replace all of the parentheticals in that sentence with “your corporation(s)” and you will have it about right.

Please do not mistake my intent. I am not claiming there is a cabal of corporations or some Big Brother Corp. running the show. No, it is people with corporate mindsets, acting independently and occasionally in concert who are doing this.

And we let them and continue to let them by buying into the way they see the world.

The COVID pandemic is showing the corporatists what is in their future. People are not returning to the bullshit jobs the corporations created. People are figuring out different ways to live. People are starting their own businesses which are not part of the cabal.

It is a start but a lot more needs to be done.

If you are interested in this topic please read “The Unconscious Civilization” by John Ralston Saul. I dog-eared so many pages that I gave up on a book report. I will just weave what he saw into my writing more and more.

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