Class Warfare Blog

July 21, 2018

Things to Consider When Selecting Another Supreme Court Justice

This is not yet another post about who should be selected or how, but some background on how the SCOTUS fits into our system of government.

In a quite brilliant post [Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton by Paul Street (July 13, 2018)] at www.counterpunch.org the author points out quite clearly that the Constitutional Authors were more than fearful of popular democracy, that they felt the “natural” leaders were people like themselves, wealthy landowners who had the time and education and sensibilities (Sniff!) to lead well.

Here are a few telling quotes:

At the Constitutional Convention, Madison backed an upper U.S. legislative assembly (the Senate) of elite property holders meant to check a coming “increase of population” certain to “increase the proportion of those who will labour under all the hardships of life, and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings” [emphasis added]. “These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal laws of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former.”

In Federalist No. 35, the future first U.S. secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, argued that the common people found their proper political representatives among the small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of people by persons of each class,” Hamilton wrote, “is altogether visionary.” The “weight and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes,” Hamilton proclaimed.

Mr. Street goes on to say this:

Checkmating Popular Sovereignty
The New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap captured the fundamental idea behind the U.S. Founders’ curious notion of what they liked to call “popular government.” “Let it stand as a principle,” Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, “that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves.”

It wasn’t just about teaching “the people” that they were incapable of self-rule, however. The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could. The rich white fathers crafted a form of “popular government” (their deceptive term) that was a monument to popular incapacitation.

The U.S. Constitution divided the federal government into three parts, with just one-half of one of those three parts (the House of Representatives) elected directly by “the people”—a category that excluded blacks, women, Native Americans and property-less white males (that is, most people in the early republic). It set up elaborate checks and balances to prevent the possibility of the laboring multitude influencing policy. It introduced a system of intermittent, curiously time-staggered elections (two years for the House, six years for the Senate, and four years for the presidency) precisely to discourage sweeping popular electoral rebellions It created a Supreme Court appointed for life (by the president with confirmation power restricted to the Senate) with veto power over legislation or executive actions that might too strongly bear the imprint of the “secretly sigh[ing]” multitude.

It sanctified the epic “un-freedom” and “anti-democracy” of black slavery, permitting slave states to count their disenfranchised chattel toward their congressional apportionment in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. president—even on the limited basis of one vote for each propertied white male. It is still in effect.

U.S. Americans did not directly vote for U.S. senators for the first 125 years of the federal government.  The Constitution said that senators were to be elected by state legislatures, something that was changed only by the Seventeen Amendment in 1913.

It is true that the Constitution’s Article V provided a mechanism technically permitting “We the People” to alter the nation’s charter. But the process for seriously amending the U.S. Constitution was and remains exceedingly difficult, short of revolution and/or civil war.

I know this is a lot to absorb, so I recommend you read the entire article. I will add a couple of comments.

Regarding the quotation from New England clergyman Jeremy Belknap “Let it stand as a principle,’ Belknap wrote to an associate in the late 1780s, ‘that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught…that they are unable to govern themselves (my emphasis).’” I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that a clergyman would oppose people thinking and acting for themselves! Realize that in the New Testament, the only descriptions of how Christians practiced their religion were very democratic. There were no clergy per se, unless you think wandering guides such as “Paul,” qualified. Congregations of Christians met in homes and “shared” with one another with no middlemen involved. But if there are no middlemen, there is no power structure and the early days of Christianity (first three-four centuries) was all about creating a power structure … by those wanting the power.

So, to hear that some clergy, although I suspect close to all clergy, believed that people could not rule themselves is hardly a revelation. In their religion, the people could not govern themselves, they needed “guidance,” otherwise they might believe the wrong things (“wrong” as determined by those in power).

Regarding “The Constitution was designed to make sure the popularity majority couldn’t govern itself even if it thought it could.” This is a stunning revelation to me. I knew quite a bit of this background and the attitudes of the “Founding Fathers,” but I had not had this point made so clearly and forcibly before.

Regarding “The Constitution’s curious Electoral College provision guaranteed that the popular majority would not directly select the U.S. President.” Isn’t it curious that the Electoral College was the instrument that got a populist President elected in 2016. The “best laid plans of mice and men,” indeed!

Oh, and on which side of this argument do you think Judge Kavanaugh is on?

 

 

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July 12, 2018

Randi Weingarten: The Right-Wing Assault on Unions Won’t Win: It Just Makes Us Angrier

We are in a race for the soul of our country. But if we really double down, if we fight not only for what’s right but for what the vast majority of Americans believe, working people—not Janus’ wealthy funders—will emerge as the real winners. Randi Weingarten

Lovely comment by Randi (Randi is the President of the American Federation of Teachers, my old union), but apparently she hasn’t been watching. The union movement has been taking it on the chin for the last 40 years and it has only gotten worse. If the recent offenses are what it takes to get the union movement to wake up, well, “better late than never” comes to mind.

I am fearful that the response will be too little, too late. It is already significantly too late. This feeling of mine seems to be partly due to the current composition of U.S. labor unions. So, who are these union members, now? They are teachers, nurses, “service workers,” and so on. In the hey day of labor unions, the people in unions were iron workers, construction workers, garment workers, auto workers, many, many men and women who worked with their hands. They needed those hands to support their unions because their oppressors brought clubs, knives, even guns to union rallies. There was literally blood in the streets.

The gains made by unions were made by sheer insistence, yes with a threat of violence, but typically in response to violence. A lot of luck was involved. World War 2 happened with Franklin Roosevelt in office was the biggest stroke of luck. (Roosevelt was called “a traitor to his class” for his pro union efforts and high taxes. His “class,” of course, was the “wealthy.”)

From my youth I remember picket lines, strike funds, strike kitchens and food sharing, shoving matches, dirty tricks, and this was well after the major battles had been fought (which were pre-1960). I had colleagues I was trying to recruit into our teacher’s union who told me they could not because they remembered their father coming home from Detroit union meetings bloodied as if from war. There was indeed some memory of what had been fought over and for.

I was anti-union myself until I experienced a work-related problem I couldn’t solve alone and I received unsolicited help from a union member, who was a colleague, not a “union thug.” I decided that something was wrong there, so I read several books on union history and I was stunned at what the union movement was about. The rapacious greed of the “industrialist” class. The disdain they had for working people. The tactics employed by the people in power (got a strike, have your friends in government mobilize the National Guard to protect your company and brutalize the strikers, or if you didn’t have friends in government hire “strikebreakers” who did just what their name implies).

I also found out that every time a state’s unions urged that labor history be taught in high school, an immense backlash from the rich and powerful occurs. They know that if people knew the real story, unions would be perceived very sympathetically. Instead there has been an unrelenting anti-union propaganda campaign resulting in ordinary American workers being quite anti-union. And we in the union movement have allowed this to happen.

It will be a long slog to get anywhere near back to where we were. And I wonder if people who don’t get dirty from their work are up to the task.

 

 

July 11, 2018

Lies, Damned Lies, and History

Filed under: Culture,History — Steve Ruis @ 11:00 am
Tags: ,

I was perusing a book on the history of Australia and it seems that nary a one can avoid mentioning that Australia was “settled” by convicts. Here’s one example:

Digging deep into the dark history of England’s infamous efforts to move 160,000 men and women thousands of miles to the other side of the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Hughes has crafted a groundbreaking, definitive account of the settling of Australia.

Imagine this being read by the guy who does all of the voiceovers for movie trailers. Dramatic, eh?

The facts are that the initial British invasion fleet carried over a thousand “settlers,” including 778 convicts (192 women and 586 men). A few days after arrival at Botany Bay the fleet moved to the more suitable Port Jackson where a settlement was established at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. This date later became Australia’s national day, Australia Day.

What people do not seem to realize is that this took place well after the American colonies were established (we were working on our constitution at this time) but people here rarely comment that England felt that the American colonies served a purpose as they were a place to rid England of their “trash,” also known as “excess population.” At the time, all of Europe was overpopulated and the quality of life for the vast majority was quite low. Consequently the upper crust of society looked down its collective noses at the vast majority of their countrymen. They were expendable.

So, Australia gets labeled with its convict émigrés, seemingly forever, but the U.S. doesn’t get smeared with our beginnings from the poor white trash of England. Could it be that this reticence is fueled by our reputation for invading or ruining the economy of any country who disrespects us? Hmmm.

I think the difference between the “convicts” of Australia and the American “colonists” is a matter of degree, a small matter of degree. And later when we accepted the gift of the Statue of Liberty with the inscription referring to “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” my guess is that this is how a poet describes “poor white trash.”

Postscript I put the word settled in quotes because I am convinced it is a term created by oppressors. What about Australia or the American West in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was unsettled? There were numerous people living in both places. In our case, our “settlers” were exterminators, exterminators of Native Americans, killing them and stealing the land they were living on. I understand that some of you will say, that I am applying a 21st century ethos on 18th and 19th century people, but I suggest that all of the “ethos” from that time was just window dressing to justify what they wanted to do. The common law of the time allowed for possession of a property and continuous occupation as evidence of ownership (remember the battles over “squatters” in the cowboy movies of the mid-1900s, squatters, if not removed, established ownership). So, since the law didn’t allow for forcible confiscation, we just made the Native Americans non-people, just as we justified slavery by making Africans non-people. As non-people, they didn’t have any rights, you see.

So, “settlers,” my ass.

 

June 21, 2018

Parsing Romans 13

Many people have chimed in on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim last week that separating children from their parents was a biblical gesture, citing Romans 13 of the New Testament supporting his administrations policy of separating parents from children when people cross our border without permission. Some critics claim to prove that Sessions’ use of Romans 13 is theologically incorrect. What most people seem to ignore is the question of why Romans 13 exists at all, being an unnecessary theological statement, and a purely political one.

“Romans” was written in the late 50’s CE as best we can figure such things. This was well before Christianity was adopted as “a” state religion of Rome in the early 300’s CE and then as “the” state religion of Rome in the later 300’s CE. After Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire, the greatest persecutor, by far, of Christians was other Christians. Prior to that point, there were occasional persecutions of Christians by the Romans. These persecutions were exaggerated by the early Christians for effect, but they did occur. (Please keep in mind that the Roman empire was not a glitter and glitz parade that it is often portrayed as in movies, but a rather brutal authoritarian regime, one in which a blow to the face was the expected result of questioning authority.)

So, Christians of the time of the writing of Romans were trying desperately to not be singled out by the Romans for more extensive persecutions, examples of which abounded. So, the attitudes of Christian leaders were basically: keep your head down, obey the rules, pay your taxes, etc. not because the Romans had the right to rule but that they had the might to rule and exercised it regularly.  The only way Christians could be convinced to do this was to establish that they had the right to rule given to them by the Christian’s god, hence Romans 13 (which was a novel invention with no prior support in scripture … and before you start writing comments, consider that the Israelite and Judean rulers were “authorized” on as extensions of their god and only as long as they did God’s will; piss off the priests and you might be an ex-king in just a few days; the Romans were a pagan run civilization). Christians, however, had some real problems trying to fit in under this scheme as their religion forbade them from worshipping the Emperor, pagan cults, etc., all of which made them “trouble makers.”

It is not unfortunate that we are finally beginning to get a real grasp on the well-established conservative Christian view that modern government has outgrown its natural boundaries by usurping both the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency. This is bullshit, of course, because when you look back at how schools developed, they developed out of groups trying to provide a better education for their children than they could provide themselves. The bucolic view of fathers teaching their sons and mothers their daughters is all fine and good as long as all of these people were in the same place, but when fathers started leaving the home for work, as opposed to farming their own piece of land, this system no longer worked. Dad was “at work,” son was at home (and, of course, the girls didn’t count) so how much teaching could be done? So, groups of people, often springing out of church relationships found “teachers” and solved their problem by division of labor. These schools were “government” as much as anything was governmental when they were created but they weren’t governmental as we now look at things. They were merely collective. (This practice continues today, by the way.)

As warm and fuzzy as things sound, this system founded upon “the family’s role as educators and caregivers, and the church’s role as social service agency” would be about as well received today as a fart in an elevator. Basically, this is the libertarian view that we are all alone in this world, that we cannot depend on anyone else. Under this viewpoint, doctors are busybodies who should mind their own business and public transportation (buses, streetcars, trains, run by the government) is anathema. (Hey, if the Koch brothers are against it, you know it isn’t part of the Libertarian future.) Under this viewpoint collectivism is a dirty word.

But, then Christianity isn’t democratic in any way. It is the most authoritarian of systems, and all of the effing plutocrats want in on the power involved as recipients of the authority as middle men.

These people are dangerous, dangerous to any idea of collective behavior. It is astonishing that they even approve of church bake sales. Basically I think that religion is the horse they rode into town on and they will ride it until it drops, so anything goes when it comes to religion as long as it toes the line with regard to the authority structure in families and society in general (power needle points to men, white men, unquivering).

All hail the Libertarians!

 

 

June 17, 2018

Ignorant or Duplicitous? … You Decide

I ran across the oft repeated quotation from Isaac Newton just now “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” This quotation is from the second edition of Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Latin for Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), one of the most important scientific publications in the entire history of western science.

Like Einstein, Isaac Newton is oft quoted as an example of a scientist who “believed.” Exactly what they believed is often overlooked.

Isaac Newton was notoriously thin-skinned and he received a great many objections and criticisms from the publishing of the first edition of the Principia with dismay (like Michael and Beyonce, the book only needs its first name). One of the criticisms was that Newton’s work explained the motions of the planets so well there was no longer a need for God’s guiding hand to keep the planets moving in their perfect orbits. In a direct response to that accusation, Newton inserted a new paragraph into his second edition making it clear that he still believed all his laws had been created by God. In other words, he didn’t think such a statement was necessary in the first edition!

Make no mistake about it, Newton was a creationist. He did believe in “God,” but this was the mid to late 1600’s and the consequences of not believing were quite dire. Plus, what Newton actually did believe would not pass muster with the theists constantly repeating the quotation above.

From Wikipedia, “According to most scholars, Newton was Arian, not holding to Trinitarianism. In Newton’s eyes, worshipping Christ as God was idolatry, to him the fundamental sin. As well as being antitrinitarian, Newton allegedly rejected the orthodox doctrines of the immortal soul, a personal devil and literal demons.

Now, what do you call someone who rejects the trinity, didn’t hold with Jesus being called a god, didn’t believe in immortal souls (and therefore the afterlife, Heaven, Hell, etc.), the devil, and demons? Is there a Christian sect today which can check off all of those boxes? Like Einstein, Newton was at most a theist viewing nature as the only god worth studying.

Also, Newton’s “daily” Bible studies weren’t exactly orthodox. Also from Wikipedia:

“Newton spent a great deal of time trying to discover hidden messages within the Bible. After 1690, Newton wrote a number of religious tracts dealing with the literal interpretation of the Bible. In a manuscript Newton wrote in 1704 he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible. He estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said ‘This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.’”

So, those who quote the above statement incessantly as an example of a “scientist who believed” thus supporting the idea that faith and reason are compatible, are they ignorant or duplicitous? Personally I think more people grasp upon anything that supports their beliefs out of plain old confirmation bias than there are theists who actually know what is what and who are deliberately obscuring the truth to show The Truth™. This I believe is a consequence of evangelism. Few are equipped to do it correctly.

June 3, 2018

What Did the Romans Want?

Filed under: History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have commented often enough that Christianity getting adopted by the Roman Empire, first as a state religion (in 313 CE according to Roman records) and then later as the state religion of the Roman Empire (in 380 CE according to Roman records), held immense benefits for Christianity and Christians. (Of course this would not have happened unless Christianity endorsed slavery as Rome was a major slave state.) After these dates, the history of Christianity is rife with Christian prelates falling all over themselves to curry favor with the Emperor/Empire and in trying to get Roman state power to enforce their particular beliefs. (Prior to those adoptions the prelates pleaded for tolerance of all Christians, something that vanished thereafter.) If you haven’t read any of this first through fourth century church history a good place to start is the book Jesus Wars.).

I haven’t finished my readings on that era but a question comes to mind for which little in the way of answers has come is: what was in it for the Romans? It was Constantine who adopted Christianity as “a” state religion of Rome and I saw one comment that made sense. Constantine, apparently, admired the control Christian bishops had over their “flocks.” Pagan religions were just rite centered. Other than performing the rites necessary to propitiate the gods (and being paid appropriately for that service), they made no demands upon “believers.” The Christian prelates, on the other hand, organized their communities and demanded behaviors when not performing rites, etc. It makes sense that Romans would appreciate this ability to create order administratively. In addition Christians had been a source of Roman concern for their disdain for the other gods. As part of a polytheistic culture, Roman citizens were supposed to respect the worship practices of all of the other cults. Christians and Jews respected none of them. This respect was a major aspect of Roman foreign policy. When the Romans conquered a people, they allowed them to keep their gods and worship practices. In fact, Romans welcomed the “captured” gods into the Roman pantheon. Sometimes they did this by melding the conquered gods into pre-existing Roman gods and other times they just added them to the list of gods to be worshiped in the Empire. Rome had an official office of Roman cults whose role it was to keep track of all of these accepted cults and make sure they were being worshipped (thus protecting the Empire from angry jilted gods).

So, bringing a conquered cult’s gods into the fold, as it were, was a standard practice. But Judaism/Christianity had somewhat of a checkered past, which resulted in Roman oppression in several short stints. (This oppression was much overblown by Judaic/Christian propaganda. Nobody persecuted Christians anywhere near as much as other Christians.) So, what the Romans wanted was religious peace and the support for their civilization Empire that religions brought. Constantine even tried to help the Christians find their center in the first great Christian get together of their leaders. He took hundreds of them in at one of his plush villas and wined and dined them. He even attended and participated in some of their deliberative sessions and left the conclave thinking that he had helped them find their way (and his way to religious peace). Little did he know that the troubles were just getting started.

So, the Romans were looking to use the authority of the Christian bishops to rein in some of the disdainful behavior of Christians toward other cults and the Christians were looking for … what?

If you find anything in the histories to explain what Christians wanted from the Roman Empire (remember the Romans, the guys who crucified Jesus?) other than state power to enforce their particular orthodoxy, please let me know as I have seen nothing else so far.

This propensity by Christians to seek state power to enforce their religion continues in the U.S. to this day.

May 26, 2018

Very Civilized Don’t You Think?

When we say someone or something is “very civilized,” that sounds like a complement, no? If we look at it objectively, however, such a thing is comparable to saying someone is oppressed. I will explain.

If the venue of major disagreements between scientists and theists, it is biology (actually just evolution) and cosmology that take the brunt of theist’s complaints. The theists apparently have no qualms with chemistry, or physics, or Wi-Fi, per se. But where science disagrees with scripture, there is intense apologetic efforts to either reject the science, or to harmonize it with scripture. There is even a branch of these apologetics called “theistic evolution.” (I am reminded of the old joke of the Russian claiming “we inwented it” for ever scientific discovery. Theists claim every positive scrap of science that supports their viewpoint and claims “God did it.”) The source of these disagreements is the “special nature” of human beings. Apologists don’t have a problem with evolution, full blown evolution, addressing the subject of slime molds or “lower animals,” but when they get to human beings, whoa there, you cannot make human beings subject to basic physical laws (haven’t you heard, we are special!).

In the U.S. our culture is steeped in this “special sauce.” Not only are human beings created in their god’s image (old man, burning bush, pillar of fire, whirlwind?) but, by God, Americans are exceptional among human beings! This general belief has lead to a general belief in the inevitability of civilization (our civilization, of course), I contend. We were destined to end up here, with all of this stuff, behaving the way we do. It was inevitable … and a damned good thing!

When one takes a look back at the historic path of civilization, it is littered with human misery for the majority of us. This, of course, is spun as being due to the sinful nature of man (and the superiority of the white race, and … ), but if you just look dispassionately, it is evidently not so.

We have lived collectively since hominids first evolved (2-4 million years ago). We traveled in family groups, being social mammals, but primarily for safety. (There is safety in numbers, still.) When families became tribes, sometimes the tribes got a little too large and they had to split up. This was because we were hunting and gathering which most people think means we wandered aimlessly. But we did not wander aimlessly, we followed a normal route. Whether this was like the migrations of butterflies or birds or reindeer or something we cogitated, we moved from site to site, harvesting what food there was and moved on to the next stop. When tribes got too large, they stripped too much food from the land and when they came around again, there wasn’t enough food that had regrown to support the group, hence the splits. When the groups were small enough, they could harvest food for many months in some locals, so they tended to build shelters and hunker down for a while and voila, villages were born. As we became quasi-sedentary, we also became open to the idea of agriculture because we were going to be there to harvest what we planted. Thus the seeds of civilization were born. Civilization began when we decided that a large permanent village was in order, a city. But the problem with cities is that there must be some way to store food to get a larger number of people through the rough patches between harvests. It is no surprise then, that the first civilizations happened when the conditions supporting the growing of grain were prevalent. (Grain could be stored by the simple expedient of drying it in the sun.) These conditions were: fertile soil (usually alluvial), a constant source of fresh water (a large stream or river) and bountiful sunshine. There were usually harvestable animals migrating over land and down the river, too.

The fly in the ointment was that agriculture took a lot more work than hunting and gathering. Evidence shows that people did not want this more arduous life and had to be coerced into that labor. The tools of coercion? Physical force and intimidation (“We’ll stay here and ‘guard’ your children while you go out and work in the fields.”) and religion. Since in the early days a hunting and gathering lifestyle was a short walk away, it appears that a great many “early farmers” took this route (they voted with their feet). This lead to more coercion and more defections and eventually to slavery. If you are going to coerce labor, might as well go whole hog and adopt a slave society. Neighboring villages to cities became sources of manpower (and breeding females).

It should not shock you that all of the early cities failed in short order (in nowhere near 100 years of existence) and that new cities were built atop the ruins of the previous one (Remember all of the Troy’s that Heinrich Schliemann found?). Since all of the factors needed to be there for a city, building elsewhere was silly.

The basic concept of “civilization,” that is living in cities, is that the labor of the many provided a surplus that the elite few could live off of … and not have to work as the many did. This “free time” created through the coerced labor of the many allowed the few to write poetry, paint paintings, sculpt sculptures, etc. but mostly they counted their wealth and worried excessively about slave revolts and how to keep them from getting uppity. (The racial resentment against Blacks in this country is based upon this residual fear, in my opinion.)

So, they expanded and fortified their “soldiers” and their “religions” all directed at controlling the system preserving them at the top. As things progressed, soldiers were needed to protect cities from the soldiers from other cities. So, war became possible because of the resources and needs of civilization. In each city, of course, the religious elites told the secular elites that their gods were on their side.

Science now tells us that when agriculture became prominent, “farmers” became physically shorter, weaker, less tall, and more disease ridden. So, what was in it for the “masses?” In a word, misery was what they could expect for most of their lives. I read one estimate that claimed that as late as the year 1800, half of all human beings were in some state of slavery.

But all of this was long ago, surely being “civilized” now is far, far different, you say. Is it? Most of the controls of the elites are now cultural. In this country, if you suggest that capitalism is not the best economic system for us, you will be shouted down or vilified or both. (Damned socialist! Communist! Heathen!) Capitalism is a system which codifies the coercion of labor of the masses to benefit the secular and religious elites. We use terms like “the one percent” and “the 0.1%” now but they really are just the wealthy elites. Our “democratic” government serves the rich and ignores the will of the people on such a regular basis that it has become “normal.” We talk about “wealth inequality” and do not do anything about it. Our system (Capitalism–US Brand™), is designed specifically to concentrate wealth and that is what it does. For short stints “reformers” can get power over the reins of government and roll back some of the systems in place, but by and large the rich use their money to buy power and use their power to get more rich. You may note that this is a positive feedback loop that always ends up in disaster for the masses (investors get bailed out, homeowners do not).

So, when a plutocrat describes something or someone as “being civilized” they are commending that thing or person as being in their “proper place,” either amongst the elites, taking advantage of the situation, or among the masses, whose “surplus labor” is making the elites richer and more powerful. Think of Sméagol saying “Yes, master, good master!” And while we may harbor evil thoughts against the masters, as long as we do not act on them, well, then we are “very civilized, don’t you think?”

 

May 20, 2018

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

I read a comment the other day that set my head spinning. The comment pointed out that up until around 1970, the only way to increase agricultural output significantly was to put more arable land into production. Basically that had been done to all effective extents by well before 1970. We now note how people are trying to put very marginal lands into production with predictable disastrous results. (Hey, let’s cut down that jungle and raise crops! … jungles have notoriously poor soils.)

But right about that time came the Agricultural Revolution, sometimes called the Green Revolution. We managed to increase crop yields for our staple grains (rice, wheat, corn, barley) by the simple expedient of growing these grains on shorter stalks. Shorter stalks are stronger and they can support heaver seed heads without falling over from being too top heavy. We practically doubled our yields per acre of these grains.

This I already knew. What the comment pointed out that the old “acreage limited” model of agriculture, which took about 10,000 years to run out, supported a global population of about three and a half billion people. The Green Revolution doubled our grain supplies and, if you are not aware, those grains also feed our cattle and other livestock, so represent fairly well the entire food supply of the world. (You will find grain of some type in 90% of the foods you can find in a local market.)

So, we doubled our food supply starting in 1970 or so and now the world population is about seven billion people. It is an axiom of population biology that organisms expand their populations up to the limits of their food supplies. The fact that our doubled food supply (from 1970 levels) matches our now doubled population (3.5 to 7 billion) supports the idea that we are at the end of the effects of the Green Revolution.  This second phase took less than 50 years. (Think about it! Three and a half billion more people in just fifty years.)

So, what is next?

Since there is no intelligence in charge of humanity, it is likely that corporations that are exploring the genetic engineering of food crops will work up a solution. I have written before that these shortcuts to different organisms have more risks associated with them than the procedures used before (up to and including the green Revolution). But let’s say they whip up something that works and it again doubles the yields of these grains, what then?

Well, history and biology indicate that we will double our population again, this time to 14 billion people. Imagine the impact on food distribution and electricity distribution networks, on transportation systems (cars and roads, subways, air travel, on the lives of us all.

What is really scary is that the reliance on the plants created under the Green Revolution has shrunk the number of species under cultivation to a very small number. When there is a much wider diversity of crops, crop failures are not widely catastrophic, but when they are but a few kinds of crops being depended upon, well, think of the Irish Potato Famine.

Nobody predicted the Bubonic Plague, otherwise know as the Black Death. This disease killed over a quarter of the population of Europe. So, what happens if some new agricultural blight, on the order of a plague, wipes out rice or wheat. Since there are only a few types of rice or wheat under cultivation it means that such a blight may wipe out all of the rice or all the wheat or very large fractions of those crops. The repercussions would not be pretty: massive famines, food riots, insurrections, whole countries destabilized, etc. (Take a look at what is happening in Venezuela currently, being a manifestation of just bad management.)

I guess my question is not “what is next?” so much as “to what end?” We haven’t developed enough political maturity to determine a fair and equitable distribution of resources. We still operate on a “get what you can” basis. (Exhibit No. 1 President Donald Trump) Is there any upside to doubling our food supply again, other than corporate profits for Big Ag Science corporations? Do we need another seven billion people on this planet? Are we prepared to handle the changes associated with such an event?

All of the answers to these questions are, of course, no. Herds of lemmings running off of cliffs is a societal meme we created. Lemmings are not so stupid as to do that. So, basically we, as a people, are projecting that behavior onto those animals. And, we seem quite capable from doing just that.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Note The word stupid is used as a pejorative meaning lacking in intelligence. Rather, it means “slow” as in “slow on the uptake” or slow to learn (it has roots similar to those of stupor). Really bright people can distract themselves in sophisticated ways so that what is glaringly obvious gets missed for a long, long time. That stupid, that’s the one I mean.

May 8, 2018

The Pruning of Christianity

Filed under: History,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 2:25 pm
Tags: ,

Pruning, pruning … now where is The Branch?

I have commented often that in my opinion, religion thrives because it coerces the masses to serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. I have supported this assertion with comments such as: Christianity became a major religion because it was adopted as a state religion of Rome and then later as the state religion of Rome. Had Christianity not endorsed slavery, those adoptions would not have taken place and today Christianity would be a minor, very minor religion or set of sects. Christianity became a major religion because of state power, starting with Rome.

I also continue to insist that religions continue to be supported by states because of the same reason. The effect of this support, though, is a mixed blessing. I have noticed that quite a few elements of Christianity have been pruned away, precisely because they do not support the interests of the secular and religious elites. For example, Jesus said “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) This is hardly ever followed, except by ascetic monks and nuns. If every Christian were to do this, it would collapse the economy. The elites need a low cost, complaint work force and this commandment conflicts with this, so in the main, Christians do not do this. This command (from God!) goes ignored because it conflicts with the interests of the elites.

Just off the top of my head I came up with a short list of the “Ins and Outs” of Christianity, those aspects that are encouraged and those that have been pruned out. I am sure that, if you put your mind to it, you could add to both lists.

Allowed to Stay In

  • Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Matthew 11:24) Note: Don’t ask us for anything, ask Jesus.
  • So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34) Note: Don’t worry, be happy … and show up to work on time.
  • Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:12) Note: Yes, you are oppressed but when you die….
  • For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18) Note: Whatever you do, don’t join a union and don’t ask for a raise. Just shut up and do what you are told. Your reward comes later … much later.

Pruned Out

  • For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12) See Exhibit A: Donald Trump
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 23:12) See ‘War on Christianity, War on Christians, War on Christmas, Christian Persecution Complex.
  • In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) Note: There is too much work doing good deeds, besides it takes away business from profit-making enterprises. Faith is enough.
  • I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Note: Rich man good, poor man badshiftless, lazy, etc.
  • Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. Note: The lazy bastards need to get a job!
  • But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6) Note: But who would notice?

April 10, 2018

The Pull of Religious Community

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , , ,

On Quora yesterday the question was asked why Christianity has become the #1 religion in all of the world. My response was that “Christianity” was imaginary. There are tens of thousands of different sects of Christianity, each so defined because they couldn’t find enough common ground to join one of the pre-existing sects. Some of these sects are vehemently opposed to some of the others, to the extent that they do not believe some of the others are Christians at all. If you listed the population of each of these sects individually, few of them would make the top ten list in the world.

This question came close on the heels of my finishing of the book, Sapiens. One of the points made near the end of that book was that the idea of an individual was developed quite recently. Harari claims that the individual was an invention of “governments and markets.” Here he was painting with broad strokes, so don’t think of individual markets but markets as a local and global phenomenon.

You do not have to go back too far to a time in which an individual had almost no chance of surviving without their family. The family provided shelter and food and education. If something was desired that the immediate family could not handle, extended family was brought in, e.g. uncles and cousins would help raise a barn or other building. No pay was provided or expected. If even larger projects were involved, e.g. a large ditch to bring in water from a lake or river, the local community banded together. The key thing was that everyone knew each other and had information as to whether others could be trusted. These values correspond almost exactly to “small town values” even to this day.

There was no government to appeal to, no institutions, like banks, from which to get resources. And this covered almost all of the “civilized” period of humanity, at least until quite recently.

Then governments based upon laws were created and institutions sprung up that provided what families used to provide. The “markets” provided jobs so that we were no longer beholden to family entirely. Banks provided loans to buy houses and start businesses. Police forces and courts provided justice in place of relatives making visits to malcontents with axe handles in hand.

People still talk about times in which they could leave their houses with the doors unlocked in their small town. This, of course, was due to the fact that these small towns were generally agricultural and spread out over quite some acreage. The odds on some stranger walking by your house was close to zero, and the perceived safety was not some moral superiority of their community being enacted, just a manifestation of isolation.

But people still yearn for “community.” We are social animals after all. One institution that provides a link from now to “back then” is the churches. Back then, the churches were part of the intimate community in that everyone who went to a church knew all of the others. So, churches didn’t create community, they were just a manifestation of the community. Today, churches offer community and Community. They offer a community of like minded believers in whatever. Many of the churches, the smaller ones, become intimate in that everyone in the church knows all of the others (fairly well). Lots of the others, especially the mega-churches, are creating imaginary Communities. These institutions talk of “belonging to something bigger.” They spin this to immense proportions when they talk about their religion expanding to cover the entire globe. And, of course, they connect this “belong to something bigger” to include their supernatural entities as well.

Some point to this “ability” of churches, that is to create community/Community, as an indicator of why they will be with us forever. Of that, I am dubious. Humanity creates communities at a bewildering pace. My favorite example is that there is an Association of Playing Card Manufacturers Association Executives. Churches are just what we have been handed down to perform a certain community practice. That this practice can be “played” to include abortions like prosperity gospels or atheist’s churches, shows that there is nothing behind it but inertia (tradition is just a way of saying “we have always done it this way”).

“Christianity” is an imaginary Community including groups of people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room at the same time. Most of the individuals in this community only know their own experience in their intimate community of their local church. This is conflated to include the imaginary group to the extent that when someone criticizes the idiocy of, say, the Biblical Literalists, others declare it to be a War on Christianity.

It has been often said by atheists that if we could only get Christians to read the Bible, half of them would drop out of their religion before they finished reading it. Maybe we need to educate Christians as to their own imaginary community’s history. How the Ebionites, for example, a sect whose beliefs are closer to the teaching of Jesus than any of the others has been declared a heretical cult by orthodox Christianity.

The cracks are already there in the giant edifice of the Christian Imaginary Community. Even small wedges should do the job of breaking it up.

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