Class Warfare Blog

July 11, 2018

It Figures

When the Trump tax cuts were imposed (you remember don’t you: the small temporary tax cuts for us and the large permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy) it was claimed by the Repubs that the money saved by the corporations would end up spurring growth, even result in raises for workers. (Right, those results were to be delivered via unicorn, I believe.)

It was pointed out that the last time such a tax cut was implemented, corporations spent the bulk of the savings in buying back shares of their own companies. Well, surprise, surprise, the same thing happened this time. (Who’d have known it could be this complicated?) In a post on the Naked Capitalism web site (Michael Olenick: Update Confirms That Share Buybacks Are Still Corporate Suicide) extensive studies on the effects of such buybacks show that “not only do buybacks not lead to growth in a company’s market value, they are strongly correlated to a declining market value.”

In other words, the effect of their behaviors is not to “grow” the companies but actually to “shrink” them! To quote from the piece:

Corporate executives and directors are apparently bereft of ideas and the confidence to make long-term investments. Rather than using record profits, and record amounts of borrowed money, to invest in new plants and equipment, develop new products, improve service, lower prices or raise the wages and skills of their employees, they are “returning” that money to shareholders. Corporate America, in effect, has transformed itself into one giant leveraged buyout….

And since “everyone” is doing it …

The most significant and troubling aspect of this buyback boom, however, is that despite record corporate profits and cash flow, at least a third of the shares are being repurchased with borrowed money, bringing the corporate debt to an all-time high, not only in an absolute sense but also in relation to profits, assets and the overall size of the economy.

This not only burdens those corporations, but also drags down the entire economy.

So, if these buybacks are not what anyone might call the best use of those tax savings, why are they being done?

Okay, boys and girls, whenever anything political happens what are we supposed to do? (Follow the money!) That’s right! So, who benefits from these buybacks the most? It turns out that … wait for it … it is the corporation executives who actually benefit the most. You see the buybacks inflate the prices for the corporation’s stock. CEO’s and their ilk are now being remunerated largely via stock options. And, corporation executives constitute the largest segment of the 0.1% of “earners.” And that class of “earners” is the one making the bulk of political contributions currently. Does the picture now come together for you?

Think of the corporation executives as sort of modern pirates. (Can you see the eye patches and hear the “aaaarghs”?) These executives started out as treasure ship captains but, well the temptation was too great, and they stole their own ships. Well what is the government’s politicians to do? When they sailed into action to recapture the ill gotten gains, they received handsome “gifts” from the pirates to the extent that they have become dependent upon those “gifts” and now seek to facilitate the pirate’s behaviors. The government stopped pursuing the pirates for taxes and actually invited them to submit their ideas on how the government could be run better.

And all of the rich assholes lived happily ever after.

When are we going to wake up? Stock buybacks should be illegal or strictly regulated (as they used to be). They are tools to manipulate the stock market by insiders, for Pete’s sake! But when we ask our politicians what the intend to do all we get is “Arrgh!” and a wink from under an uplifted eye patch.

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July 10, 2018

How Stupid Are We?

Are teachers taking “penny wise, pound foolish” to a new extreme? Not long ago we were treated to a display of anti-worker politics in the state of Wisconsin by its newly elected Republican governor and its republican dominated state houses. According to OurFuture.org, there were consequences for state workers “One Wisconsin labor organization representing teachers lost 60 percent of its members. Overall in Wisconsin, the percentage of union members in the workforce declined from 14.1 percent in 2011 to 9 percent in 2016. Simultaneously, pay and benefits declined. For teachers, salaries sank 2.6 percent and benefits dropped 18.6 percent.”

Now, consider that union dues are somewhere around $100 per month, working ten months per year so the total cost is about $1000. By “saving” that money by dropping their union membership or refusing to pay “fair share fees” (which BTW by law cannot include charges for political representation, which makes the SCOTUS ruling based upon free speech a farce), this is what the total cost was: apparently those unions lost $3000 per year in fringe benefits right away (https://money.cnn.com/2017/11/17/news/economy/wisconsin-act-10-teachers/index.html) and then they lost even more in salary reductions and missed salary increases. Save $1000 to lose $6000-$10,000 or possibly your job! What a bargain! Sign me up … not!

Boy, all of you teachers fleeing your unions or refusing to pay fair share fees are really showing them!

Politically teachers need to wake up. The people behind these political moves are anti-union, pro-business plutocrats. They are not your friends. You do not have access to them. Your union, on the other hand, is made up of your colleagues, who you do have access to, and if you do not like the direction your union is going, you can run for office and change it from within!

I learned this lesson the hard way also … but I did learn it.

Support your local union or start counting your food stamps because that is where you are going.

 

 

 

July 4, 2018

Republicans (Gasp!) Tax Churches!

Well, the Tax and Spend Republicans are at it again, this time accompanied by the howling from their evangelical Christian supporters. In their latest omnibus tax bill, you know the one in which they gave temporary small tax breaks to you and me and permanent large tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, they also included this tidbit: churches, hospitals, orchestras and other historically tax-exempt organizations are to begin paying a 21 percent tax on some types of fringe benefits they provide their employees!

I am sure the Republicans will blame this on the Democrats because those organizations don’t pay income taxes, consequently lawmakers couldn’t take away fringe-benefit deductions, so instead they created a 21 percent tax on the value of some of nonprofit employees’ benefits.

The main benefits affected are transportation-related, like free parking in a lot or a garage and subway and bus passes. It also targets meals provided to workers and, in some circumstances, may affect gym memberships.

Apparently this is just the camel’s nose under the tent. Next up the major fringe benefits of parsonages, vehicles, and other benefits provided to clergy. And then, churches will have to pay property taxes because, well, fires aren’t satanic, so there is no freedom of religion distinction applicable to fees needed to support fire departments as well as police departments (needed to protect Christians from atheists and lesbians trying to take away their religious freedoms).

Ah, sweet progress! Let the sacred cow harvest begin!

June 16, 2018

Lies, Damned Lies, and Economics

Apologies to Mark Twain for stealing his phrase and twisting it to make my title. (His line was that their were “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a recent post over at Naked Capitalism:

“A standard recommendation given to late-industrializing economies by the economic advisors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund has been to refrain from imposing regulations on the labor market, or if such regulations are already in place, to abolish them.”

“In this view, labor rights and labor protection are more likely to create additional unemployment and informal-sector under-employment, particularly of unskilled workers or labor force entrants, than lead to higher wages and better working conditions. Right? So, esteemed policymaker, what you should do is simple: reduce already existing employment protection, resist those siren’s calls to higher minimum wages, and curb regulation. Later, once your economy has developed, you can bring back some of those “European-style” luxuries. After all, they are good for social peace.”

“Well, this story is as wrong as it is ubiquitous.”

If you want to learn more see Who Says Labor Laws Are “Luxuries”?

If you want to know who economists serve today, I urge you to follow the political dictum: Follow the Money. As to who the World Bank and the IMF serve, well that has been apparent from the get-go. They are like the charter schools who are saying they are serving minority children when all they are really doing is lining their pockets.

Oh, and while the WB and IMF are prattling their twaddle about the dispensability of labor protections, you might want to take notice that that is the program being executed here in the U.S. for the past 50 years. The abolishing of labor protections is not just for “late-industrializing economies,” it is good for all! Follow the money. The money going into the pockets of economists is coming primarily from one source: those who already have a great deal of money and for whom that is not enough and are willing to step on the necks of anyone in their way to even greater wealth.

 

 

June 14, 2018

What Harm Does It Do?

Often when the topic of religion comes up in online and other debates a point pushed is “It is harmless. What harm does it do?” I mentioned in a recent post that I have been working my way through Jerry Coyne’s Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible (Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition). As to what harm religion does, Professor Coyne offered this rather brilliant quotation:

“John Shimkus, a congressman from Illinois, went even further, quoting from the Book of Genesis when testifying in 2009 before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment:

Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood, and never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the Earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease’ [Genesis 8: 21– 22]. I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be toward his creation. . . . The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood. I appreciate having panelists here who are men of faith, and we can get into the theological discourse of that position. But I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect.

Arrogance on display. I get to punch this punching bag as he is from my home state.

Regarding “The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over.” This is scripture according to this person. Christian scripture says no such thing. And we are not talking about Earth ending, we are talking about leaving enough resources for our children to have lives that are relatively full. If you are religious, do you want your children living in squalor and danger as they await the Second Coming?

Regarding “Man will not destroy this Earth.” Of course not, it is fucking planet. We do not have the means to destroy it. But we can make it almost impossible for it to support a population of people of any size if we keep going in the rapacious manner we have been going. We currently harvest nature’s bounty, for profit, until the harvested resource is all used up, then we go make money some other way. Think about all of the abundant fishing sites that no longer have any fish to catch or lakes that have had all of their water “diverted.” Think about soils so depleted they won’t grow anything any more. There are spots in the Gulf of Mexico that no longer support life (they are called “Dead Zones”) because of all of the agricultural chemical runoff funneled to it by the Mississippi River. None of these actions will “end the Earth” but a few more like them will end life on Earth as we know it.

Regarding “This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.” Scripture doesn’t say anything about destroying half of Florida or the coastal Northeast which will be underwater in less than 100 years. The Earth will not be destroyed, it says, but that claim doesn’t cover just the coastal plains; they can “die” any time.

So, according to this moron, our climate change playbook is to be a 2-2500 year old book that has not a single correct scientific fact in it. Ah, the power of faith, especially in an ignoramus with just enough brain cells to get elected to state office with the help of his Christian friends.

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 25, 2018

Money in Politics … Again

We are less than a year away from a national election, so it is election season again (as if it were ever not election season). As a consequence of the “important” elections (as if they were ever not important), I have been receiving requests for funds from politicians from all over the country.

I must ask, in all seriousness, what right do I have to try to influence elections I do not get to vote in? Why is being a political busybody so acceptable to our system? Since the SCOTUS has declared money to be political speech, I am free to speak, but why am I encouraged to involve myself in determining other people’s representatives through monetary donations?

Would it not be more sensible to leave a state or political district alone while they select the people they want to represent them, while not having to wade through the opinions (aka dollars) of those who are not stakeholders, those who will not be represented by whoever gets elected?

As is often quoted, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one, but why should my opinions have any weight at all in an election in Utah, for Pete’s sake? If I am rich, why should I be allowed to buy amplified speech in a senatorial election halfway across the country? Those who put up the money, and most of it comes from corporations and the wealthy, well, they get served first. In our system, they are currently the only one’s getting served at all.

So, why do we allow money to flow freely across political boundaries? This is not a foreign idea. We do not allow foreign governments or corporations to send money across our national borders into politician’s election coffers. We should extend this to all political districts’ boundaries, not just the country’s borders.

Money is not political speech by definition, it is only when it is used in a certain context that this applies. We are allowed to establish those contexts. We had better do it soon because the wealthy have bought up most of the politicians, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch of the federal government as well as most of the state house representatives. If we cannot do this, then our “votes” merely give cover to the plutocrats running the country for their benefit and we should just stop voting because we are doing more harm than good.

May 24, 2018

Socialism … Bad

We are hearing incredibly bad stories about what is going on in Venezuela, a nominally socialist state. Comments extend about as far as “Socialism … bad!” When anyone brings up the option of socialism as a governing structure in general, opponents bring up the USSR, another failed state. This is clearly propaganda.

Whenever capitalist states experience chaos, no one in this country says “Ah ha, capitalism … bad!” One has to ask whether Venezuela’s current woes are because of socialism or in spite of socialism. I suggest that they are due to bad management, just as our ups and downs are created.

None of socialism’s detractors claim that Venezuela’s fate will soon come to the democratic socialist states in Scandinavia, as in “As goes Venezuela, so goes Denmark!” Socialism has become a “failed ideology” … in the minds of capitalist cheerleaders, aka the wealthy. Neither capitalism nor socialism is a political system complete; they are barely economic systems. Once you get past the basic definitions, disagreements abound. The arguments pro and con rarely get beyond the No True Scotsman Fallacy. The successful socialist states are claimed to have governments that are “not true socialism.” Only the failing or failed states are “real socialism,” according to the dyed in the wool capitalists.

This propaganda campaign is visceral and aimed at making sure that the masses are unaware of any acceptable alternative political systems. It also provides a handy shortcut to smear anything unappreciated by the rich. Whenever Bernie Sanders recommends policy, it is quickly labeled “socialist” so that it receives at least as much negative attention as positive. Well. I hate to tell you, but the post office is socialist, Medicare is socialist, the public schools are socialist, and the military is socialist. The “people” own “the means of production” in each case. Of course, the hidebound anti-socialists don’t hammer away at these things as being socialist, instead they decry “guvmint” as being unfit to operate such enterprises and urge their privatization (for a profit, of course). This is what it comes down to. The capitalists are profiting from almost every possible endeavor, including the acts of people getting sick and dying. They cannot abide the idea that no one (ahem, them) is making a profit from teaching our kids to be good citizens, or from our soldiers making war around the world.

In the case of war making it is “enough profit is not enough.” Even with the excessive billions spent on war making every year, including providing the profits of war materiel manufacturers, think about how much profit could be made if soldiering were contracted out! My favorite example was the contractors for kitchen services in Iraq during our invasion of that country. In one report, the contractors billed twenty dollars a day for a cook’s aide to peel potatoes and whatnot, a job previously done by soldiers, and the contractor hired a local to do the job for a few dollars per day and pocketed the rest. Now think of that kind of practice applied to the entire effort. The opportunity for god-fearing profits boggles the mind! And all of those profits are going to waste because of our commitment to a socialist army!

I look upon the democratic socialist states in northern Europe with envy. I was taught in grade school that our political system was the best of all possible systems. I learned as an adult, that the political parties are “opponents” in name only and that both compete for campaign donations from the wealthy conservatives who provide the bulk of all donations to politicians. Consequently we have a center right political party and a far right political party contesting for the donations from conservative donors. Both parties ignore the desires of the population at large and serve the interests of the wealthy only. I just do not see this as “the best of all possible systems” unless you qualify it as “the best of all possible systems for the wealthy.”

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 3, 2018

First Civilizations—Religion

Filed under: Entertainment,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:56 am
Tags: , , , ,

PBS is airing two new series, one called “Civilizations (BBC created)” and the other “First Civilizations (PBS & BBC created).” I saw fragments of both and programmed my DVR to record episodes. Last night I started viewing an episode of “First Civilizations” with the episode title of “Religion.”  I settled in with a bucket of popcorn looking to become enlightened … which lasted all of ten minutes. I will finish the episode, I guess, but here is some of what I saw in just the first ten minutes.

In the intro they said “When people share beliefs they are more likely to be cohesive … which allows a civilization to form.” This is basically true but is said in such a passive way. It could have been put ‘When people are forced to believe the same things, they are more likely to be able to be controlled … which allows a civilization to form.” Their verbiage makes it sound as if people spontaneously got together and said “Hey, gang let’s share beliefs so we can make a civilization.”

Then they ask a rhetorical question, a rather good one: Religion is the glue that binds us together (they slipped in “religion” to take the place of “shared beliefs”) … but how did people come to this conclusion? Again, this is on the right track but it makes it sound as if “the people,” as in “We, the people, …” were the actors, the deciders here. I think not. I think people are told what to believe and are usually threatened with negative consequences if they do not.

They began their answer to that rhetorical question above with the claim that by and large we were animists for the vast bulk of our existence, that gods and spirits were all around us. This was short but, I think, fairly accurate. They went on to say, “Switching to herding changed the viewpoints of animists. They started building sacred spaces. (Their example is rock jumble in Egypt that predates Stonehenge by a couple of millennia.) By building them, they were saying that the gods were to worshipped in these spaces and only there. They went on to point out that a number of these rocks weighed over one ton, so cooperation was needed to move them into place. They concluded that the stones must have some spiritual significance (emphasis added).

Click. (That’s me changing channels.)

There are more than a few problems with their claims. For one, if there were gods or spirits everywhere, how would anyone be convinced that they could only be accessed in one place? That the stones were moved into place apparently has been established and the conclusion that cooperation of a lot of people was required is valid, but ask yourself, what reason would people have to drop the productive labors they were engaged in (herding, cooking, weaving, etc.) and enter into nonproductive labors, strenuous labors (moving rocks)? The creators of this program are selling these actions as “spiritually motivated,” but in reality this doesn’t play out this way. All religions are based upon threats. That may sound harsh but bear me out. Imagine some shaman of one of the herding clans telling the herders they have to leave their flocks and move some really heavy stones around the desert. Most of the herders would respond with the equivalent of “WTF?” Would the shaman plead or just ask? Would the shaman argue how much better things would be with the rocks moved? I don’t think so, the shaman is in a position of power. To keep it he needs to exercise that power. He would threaten the tribe, as he always had, with the terrible things that would happen if they didn’t do his bidding. Since terrible things happen with some frequency, everyone has these things in mind and the idea of placating the gods for these terrible things has already been established. The shaman has “protected” the tribe in the past and “knows” which gods need to be placated. I am sure this is the variant of the “Elephant Repellent Spray” con. (There are no elephants around here! See, it works.)

So the tribe’s members are threatened with repercussions if they do not do as the shaman asks. The more “religious,” aka the more fearful, help coerce the less fearful and there you are. The labor was not spiritually inspired, it was coerced through threats of retaliation from gods or spirits.

Another problem is: where would the idea of a scared space come from? These are animists, the gods are all around. Lift up a rock and there is a god there. If the gods are everywhere, you do not need special places. (This same question could be asked of Christians who go to their churches to light a candle and pray, while at the same time arguing their god is everywhere and can hear their voice no matter where they are.)

What might motivate the creation of “sacred spaces?” Here is a counter narrative: when we became pastoral, which is not a sedentary lifestyle like agriculture creates, even so we become somewhat restricted in our movements. Like the skateboarding kid taking selfies, it seems as it he is stationary with the rest of the frame moving (because he is stationary relative to the camera), if you want to find a herder, look for the herd. The herd keeps moving (to find forage) but the herders are always next to the herd, so they are unlike hunter-gatherers in that their movement is more restricted. And herders follow patterns: there is winter pasturage and summer pasturage and the routes in between. They don’t migrate into unknown lands too much, who know what dangers might be there, so they make loops. By the time they get back to a spot they previously inhabited, the grass has had time to grow back, etc.

These pastoralists were not isolated from one another. Groups traded with one another, stole cattle, stole brides, arranged for marriages, etc. There were spaces where these groups met for such transactions and these spaces became “truce” spaces where it became bad juju to pull any fast ones. The shamans in each of these tribes would quickly learn in these trading spaces that they had “competitors” in the form of other shamans. Each shaman, not knowing what bullshit was being purveyed in the next group, was inclined to disparage the other shamans as weak or false. But what if another shaman’s message gets overheard by members of your tribe and they like it better than your spiel, what then? I’ll tell you: trouble in River City.

At some point, as a power ploy, one of the shamans has what he thinks is a good idea, the idea to create “a sacred space.” None of the others would have one of these. But he needs to get his tribe to build one. He does this and other tribes take notice. What is going on over there? Why are they dragging rocks around uselessly. When their own shamans can’t answer the question, the entrepreneurial shaman gains prestige.

Interestingly, the Stonehenge-esque site in Egypt shows a large number of small rings of stones scattered in a much larger circle. Could it have been that when the first tribe built their sacred space, the next tribe built a bigger one? (Sound familiar?) Soon you have a half dozen of the damned things surrounding the former “safe trading space.” The shamans, realizing that if they stay in conflict with one another there will be winners and losers, come to a tacit agreement over what the sacred spaces mean.

Now, I cannot “prove” my narrative, not do I want to try, but which narrative do you think is more likely? The one powered by spiritual feelings of “the people” or the one coerced by shamans seeking power? (In a court of law you can win a case not by proving the other side is wrong but simply by supplying a more likely narrative.)

These programs, at least the ones produced most recently by the BBC, have a reputation for sucking up to the religious. So, they start from “religion is a good thing” and “religions wouldn’t use fear and ambition to shape humanity’s future,” and well, I am sure you get it. So things are framed to cut religion a lot of slack, a whole lot of slack.

In reality, the religions we know are all based upon fear and threats. The Abrahamic religions have a god who says straight out that “I am a vengeful god.” Isaiah 45:7 in the King James Version reads, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” This god is then described as being “all-good” and above criticism.

Believers are to be rewarded, nonbelievers get horribly punished. If you don’t want to be punished, you had better do as you are told. Threats. Many such threats permeate the Bible. (They do not care if you truly believe and will accept you if you fake it. If you think this is harsh just read the stories of people who lost their faith. They lose their faith but nobody notices, as long as they act as they always have. You will see this over and over. Then, if they don’t just run away, if they actually tell their fellow parishioners that they have lost their faith, the threats and punishments begin.)

The role of religion in the creation of civilization is simple. Religions are organized systems of coercion to get the masses to behave so that they serve the interests of the religious and secular elites. Mostly this is in the form of coerced labor. Coerced labor that accomplishes nothing of value to the religious (making circles of standing stones) is a display of power: “See what I can make them do? They placed all of these rocks in a circle at my behest.” It is no mystery that the first three civilizations in the “Cradle of Civilization” that is Mesopotamia, were ruled by religious elite cadres. So were Egypt’s. The earliest story ever recorded is that of Gilgamesh and Gilgamesh was originally ruled over by religious elites.

Fear and threats … coercion … what do you want to bet that these topics are not touched upon in the other 50 minutes of that program?

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