Class Warfare Blog

May 20, 2019

A Moral Tale

As I have mentioned I have been working my way through the book The Moral Animal (Why We Are The Way We Are; The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology) by Robert Wright. I was planning to do a book report when done, but there is so much in this book that that is probably futile. If you are interested in where morals really come from, get this book! It is by no means the final word on the topic but it is an excellent start!

What I am writing on now is based upon a comment made in a chapter on ethics. Here it is:

“Why should we have a moral code? Even accepting the basis of utilitarianism—the goodness of happiness—you might ask: Why should any of us worry about the happiness of others? Why not let everyone worry about their own happiness—which seems, anyway, to be the one thing they can be more or less counted on to do?

“Perhaps the best answer to this question is a sheerly practical one . . . everyone’s happiness can, in principle, go up if everyone treats everyone else nicely. You refrain from cheating or mistreating me, I refrain from cheating or mistreating you; we are both better off than we would be in a world without morality. For in such a world the mutual mistreatment would roughly cancel out anyway (assuming neither of us is a vastly more proficient villain than the other). And, meanwhile, we each would incur the added cost of fear and vigilance.”

This resonates on the political stage in current American life. A small minority of wealthy individuals has decided to run this country for their benefit alone and to hell with the rest of us. To claim that legislatures around this country are motivated by expanding the happiness of their constituents is to make a rather bad joke. They seem to be motivated only to please their paymasters.

That issue aside, this quote brings up the utilitarian ideal of each of us treating the others well (not necessarily as well as we treat ourselves, mind you, just well), that this can be a source of greater happiness in all of our lives and that brings me to my tale.

Back in my working days, I was part of a training group. We trained people in our enterprise (a community college district) in the process of interest-based decision making. Our first few attempts at doing these trainings was fraught with anxiety . . . on the part of us trainers; the trainees apparently didn’t notice our discomfort.

To allay these feelings, we spent a great deal of time (a really great deal of time) creating a master training schedule for each training. On this schedule, every presenter, every volunteer, was listed as to time and task, for example: At 10 AM on Thursday Steve goes to Room XYZ and does Task W or on Friday at 3 PM, Steve presents Topic A in the Main Training Room. Every task was supported with instructions; every presentation had a list of key points that was monitored and if any were skipped over, the Monitor doing that task would bring it to the attention of the presenter.

This went swimmingly . . . and then I noticed something happening. Following the master schedule, I (at time X in Room Y) was expected to go set the room up in a particular fashion. At that time, I went to that room, only to find my job already done! This was a gift from an anonymous volunteer. Since I now had nothing else to do, I looked down the list of tasks to find something worth doing and went to do that instead. Before long, in our daily debriefs, we discovered that everyone was doing the same thing, doing someone else’s job for them. When we teased this out we didn’t look at this practice as undermining our Master Plan for our trainings. Instead, each of us felt that we had received gifts, gifts of other peoples’ time and attention and work. This became an unscheduled practice for all of the subsequent trainings I participated in.

Interestingly, the same amount of work got done, but instead of us just wading through mundane tasks, each of us felt like we were giving a gift of our better self, and that we were receiving gifts, anonymous gifts, that left us feeling respected and, well, very happy indeed. In our end-of-training debrief sessions, volunteer after volunteer claimed that this work was the best and most satisfying work they did in their job! It was on their own time and sometimes on company time, but in no case were their job expectations lessened. It turned out that others voluntarily filled in for them while they were away at our trainings.

So, if you take author Wright’s point, that treating each other well is superior (for all) than the libertarian ideal of “every man for himself,” then there is another level of additional happiness available if we treat others more than just “well.” Not oppressing people, or taking advantage of an other, is one form of treating others “well.” But if you go beyond that, as the volunteers in our training group did, and actively treat others very well indeed and we all pay it forward, as the saying goes, a level of happiness unthought of before becomes available to us.

And if you immediately react with “what about the freeloaders” just taking and not giving, read the book. That topic is covered, too.

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May 19, 2019

We Are Using the Wrong Economic Indicators

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

Currently our “news media” (whatever the heck that is now) are trumpeting things like the US GDP (Gross Domestic Product), unemployment statistics, average wages, and Dow Jones stock index levels as indicators of the “health” of the economy. And, boy is the economy strong!

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

These indicators were chosen by the elites to serve the elites.

Consider the Gross Domestic Product, a measure of how much we produce in goods and services. How does that reflect on the welfare of the nation’s citizens? It doesn’t. It indicates how “productive” the economy was . . . but in service to whom? If all of the nation’s output was shipped overseas, the GDP wouldn’t change, but the indicator would indicate how well we were serving overseas customers, not Americans. Shouldn’t economic indicators indicate how well our economy is serving our citizens? (We the people, etc.)

Maybe a Gross Consumption Index would be a better measure. No matter how much we are producing, Americans won’t buy things when they are feeling economically insecure. So, it is more important how much Americans are consuming than they are producing. Is there such an index? If so, you couldn’t tell from the news organizations.

And don’t get me started about unemployment statistics. The number of full-time jobs with benefits is still shrinking, only to be replaced by part-time jobs with no benefits and shit wages. But unemployment is at a record low! Oh, and we don’t count people who have officially stopped looking for a job.

Average wages? Give me a break! Median wages, the wage at the exact middle of the wage spectrum has been decreasing! This means that there are more people making less and just a few making much, much more than that number.

The whole purpose of these misleading “economic indicators” is to convince us that the politicians are doing their jobs. Unfortunately, they are doing it for only the wealthiest among us.

May 10, 2019

You Need to Respect Our Beliefs!

Part of the War on Christianity™ (Fox News) is the much reviled and disdained severe atheistic/humanistic disrespect for the beliefs of Christians! This is abominable! We are told that we should “respect their beliefs.”

Uh, no, just … no.

I accept their beliefs. I even acknowledge them. But respect them, no. Respect is something that is earned. How is it that just because they believe something, it automatically has to be respected? Especially when it comes to batshit crazy notions like the fundamentalists have that the End Times™ are just around the corner (time wise). Really? The forces of good and evil are going to duke it out? On the plain of Armageddon in the Holy Land? Really?

Entities with supernatural powers are going to a place to meet up, a flat place where they can deploy their forces? This is about as realistic as having modern jet fighters having firefights while confined to the ground. (Okay, you can taxi around all you want, but you can’t take off; got it? Go get ’em, tiger!)

And on one side is a god who is “beyond space and time,” which means he cannot be found by his enemies, who can create whole galaxies with mere thoughts, and already knows the plans of all of his enemies, who he can unmake with a mere thought. Uh, who wants to be on this guy’s side? (Me, me, me, me . . .) How can such a battle take place, except in the vivid imagination of an iron age drug addict?

Respect that belief? No, ridicule it, maybe, but not respect it. And please do not think that these are ideas that have been set aside. There are fundamentalist groups currently acting on a political agenda toward Israel, based upon this very scenario. Some Jewish groups are complaining about the activities of some of these fundamentalist Protestant groups, so apparently they are being taken seriously.

Social tools are tools we all use to moderate bad behavior in society. If a member of a social community acts poorly, people talk to him about his behavior. If he persists, then ridicule and public shaming take place. If he still persists, shunning and banning take place. We have talked to theists about their beliefs, but they persist in trying to force those beliefs on the rest of us (We Are A Christian Nation, War on Christmas, War on Christianity, Dominionism, Special privileges for the religious written into law, etc.), so ridicule is next up. Ridicule is appropriate as it is a gentle form of persuasion that no one is immune from. If that doesn’t work, well the tools at hand provide many opportunities to ratchet up the pressure. In more advanced countries, religion is a private matter that doesn’t intrude into the public sphere, happiness results. This state is a worthwhile goal.

 

April 28, 2019

The Purpose of Religion: A Follow-up

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:03 am
Tags: , , , ,

Salon.com recently re-published an article that originally appeared on Raw Story. Here is a taste of that article:

Scientists establish a link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage
Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be
by Bobby Azarian

study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Now, before all of you snarkmeisters (My people, my people!) jump on the obvious points, the point I want to address is not that. It is “They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.” And it is not the “fixed and rigid” part but the “promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group” part.

When humans gathered together into larger than family groups, society was formed in a process I am sure took some time to hammer out. In all herd animals there are behaviors of both the individual and the group that promote survival. Sometimes they clash but if they clash too much, neither the herd nor the individuals survive. We are not herd animals but we are social animals. “Society” exists to get us to conform to rules that result in greater survivability of both us as a group and us as individuals. Once a society is formed, it is not hard to see that it can be hijacked by individuals who mold society more to their advantage, survivability be damned. Books and movies are rife with such scenarios, where groups are betrayed by individuals to their benefit. These betrayals can be direct or through changing the societal rules to benefit just themselves.

Currently there is a subset of very wealthy U.S. individuals who are reshaping our society for their benefit and their benefit alone, the rest of society left to suck eggs. Religion is a major tool in creating and maintaining a “stable” society. It has lost much of its power in this country over the years and since a power vacuum doesn’t exist long, that power has been sucked up, in this case by wealthy financial types with their own priesthood (economists).

In any society there are those who produce the needs for direct survival (food, water supply, housing, transportation, etc.) and those who produce “other things” (art, politics, music, books, etc.). Those who produce the food, etc. need to have the respect of those who do not and vice versa. In this country, this mutual respect has been lost (not by accident, mind you) as it has been elsewhere around the world. In powerful church hierarchies, the elites offer little in the way of respect for the masses as they “manage their brands” and, they think, husband their power. The same goes on in centers of political power. Studies indicate that a prerequisite for getting any idea through Congress is being rich. If you are poor or middle class your ideas and opinions will be ignored. (Polls? What polls? Polls are “fake news.”) And, monumental issues like climate change are ignored because the wealthy do not want to accept any uncertainty in their wealth accumulation schemes (business opportunities my ass!).

As a consequence, ordinary people, who are engaged in serving the needs of these elites are in various states of rebellion. They are attending church services less. They are voting less. They are paying less attention to those who pay no attention to them or they are attending but responding with anger and resentment.

I thought if we could revive labor unions that they could apply some leverage in the interests of ordinary people, but unions have powerful opponents who have shut that door.

So, what is the way out of this existential problem?

Really, do you see a way out?

April 2, 2019

And Forgive Us Our Debts

Michael Hudson is writing a series of books on the topic of debt forgiveness as a necessary component for capitalism to work. This topic evoked in me a memory of a conversation I had with my mother when I was a lad. She commented in church that the original version of the Lord’s Prayer included the phrase “… and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” but this was not approved of by the wealthy so it was transformed into “… and forgive us our trespasses as we also have forgiven our trespassers.” (By sixteenth century Anglicans?) There are a number of variations of these “translations,” but whatever was come up with (trespasses, sins, etc.), it was to get debt forgiveness (part of Mosaic law) out of that prayer.

A bit of this history is to be had at Naked Capitalism in the form of:

The Delphic Oracle Was Their Davos: A Four-Part Interview With Michael Hudson About His Forthcoming Book The Collapse of Antiquity (Part 1)

Highly recommended.

Some Enticing Teasers:
• “Rome was turned into an oligarchy, an autocracy of the senatorial families. Their “liberty” was an early example of Orwellian Doublethink. It was to destroy everybody else’s liberty so they could grab whatever they could, enslave the debtors and create the polarized society that Rome became.”
• “That’s why you don’t have any history of economic thought taught anymore in the United States. Because then you’d see that Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the “Ricardian socialists” and indeed most of the 19th century had a completely opposite idea of what constituted a free market … (o)pposite from the neoliberal idea that freedom means freedom for the wealthy to indebt and destroy the economy. Opposite from the liberty of Brutus to overthrow the Roman kings and establish an autocratic oligarchy.”

January 10, 2019

They Used to Hijack Airplanes, Now It Is The Government

President Trump is trying to hijack Congress. Congress was given the purse strings of the nation, not the Executive branch. This was one of those old-fashioned “checks and balances” things. But Mr. Trump is telling Congress, pass the legislation I want (authorizing the expenditures I want) or suffer the consequences, Basically he is saying that he won’t do his job (faithfully execute the laws of the US of A) unless Congress gives him what he wants. “So, give me I want or I shut the government down.” <signed> Donald J. Trump If this were being done by a foreign agency, it would be considered an act of war.

I wonder where he got the idea?

Oh, I remember, it was back when the Republican Congress tried to hijack Mr. Obama’s Presidency. Basically they said “give us what we want or we will not extend the national debt limit.” The consequences of not extending that limit was that the government couldn’t pay its bills and employees and could default on the payment of its debt obligations, ruining our credit rating. The final such tantrum by the GOP cost many billions of dollars as I suspect that Mr. Trump’s tantrum will, too.

Does no one else see this as an infringement on the powers granted the Congress by the Constitution? Does no one else see that refusing to “faithfully execute the laws of the US of A” is an offense that could result in the removal of Mr. Trump from office?

I mean, there is a saying that “all is fair in love and politics,” but it is just a saying. It isn’t the Constitution, for pity’s sake. Mr. Trump seems to think that not paying “his employees” is an ordinary bargaining position. If would be is he were still a scummy slum lord in New York, but now he is playing with the big boys and I hope someone hands his head to him.

They Want It Both Ways

A common trope among the vocal rich is that handing out money to the “poor” will make them lazy. “Handing out” and “handouts” refer to welfare, food stamps, a higher minimum wage, you name it. On the flip side, they also claim that “redistributing” money from the rich to other where through higher progressive taxation will remove all of the incentive to invest and innovate.

So, at one end of the spectrum, allowing the poor to keep more of what they make or bumping their wages up to a bare subsistence level will result in them opting out of their jobs (more money = laziness) but allowing the rich to keep more of their income will encourage them to work harder, innovate more (more money = initiative).

Obviously this is merely a reflection of the class disdain the rich have for the poor. The poor are poor because of character flaws, moral weakness, lack of intelligence. The rich are rich because of their sterling character, moral strength, and brilliance. (Donald Trump … uh, is the exception that proves the rule?)

Also, is there any indication either of these “narratives” has any merit?

There is a well known phenomenon in business that as businesses grow and become larger, they tend to grow stagnant. They innovate less and their managers become more interested in milking the cow they have rather than finding new cows. In the recent tax giveaway to businesses, were the billions saved in taxes used to innovate, used to upgrade production, used to compensate workers, any of the things it was claimed it would do? Apparently, the funds were mostly used to buy back stock, which drives up the price of the stock, enriching shareholders and executives with stock options (you do get what you pay for).

Another economic “natural experiment” was the 1950’s and 1960’s economies. Marginal tax rates were sky high from the necessity to acquire funds to pursue World War 2. President Eisenhower refused to lower them, even in the peacetime following. Unions were empowered and laws were passed to provide some leveling of the playing field between labor and capital. So, were people enjoying the good times on welfare? Was there any laziness to be observed? Was innovation stifled because the rich were starved of the funds they needed to fuel the innovations? I think you know the answers to all of these (no, no, no).

So, what is with these narratives?

They aren’t new, they have been around for a century or more. They are, like religious apologies, arguments that sound reasonable but have no basis in reality. They have become memes among the rich folks, repeated often enough to be transferred from generation to generation. They are even sold to ordinary working people because they do sound reasonable and are repeated over and over. The rich are the job creators! Bah, customers create demand, demand creates jobs, and demand in our economy is mostly domestic demand which is stifled due to wage suppression activities on behalf of the rich.

The code word in use is “redistribution,” by which they mean that the rich are taxed and that money is “given” to the poor. The fact that much of the wealth the rich have accumulated is due to “redistribution” through other means is never mentioned. (Look up the history of the oil depletion allowance to see where the majority of the oil barons in this country came from.) The rich are in the business of bribing their politicians (not ours, we can’t afford them) to pass laws that benefit them. Our “representatives” do favors for the rich and nothing for the poor. For example, President Trump’s lackeys rolled back Obama-era regulations that prohibited coal companies from dumping toxic waste into the streams and rivers we draw our drinking water from, redistributing the consequences from the coal company executives to ordinary people. (1. Don’t get sick. 2. Die quickly.)

January 8, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

I like to watch “reality” TV shows, as opposed to the unreality TV shows marketed as reality TV shows (like The Apprentice, Survivor, etc.). The shows I like are those in which people show off their crafts. I have always enjoyed watching the choreography of a short order cook while in diners, so I like cooking shows. I used to do a bit of wrenching on my own cars, so I like auto repair and customizing shows and I ran across a delightful show the other day, “Barnwood Builders.” This is a work crew, located in West Virginia that fell into the profession of dismantling log barns and houses for reassembly (Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle). These are very likable people. They are hard-working, fun-loving, and honest Americans who refer to themselves as “hillbillies.” And I guess they are, some of them even live in “hollers.” (For the foreign-based readers of this blog a “holler” is vernacular for a hollow in the land, a plot of land with gentle hills around it.) They also show a deep respect for the original builders of these erections, who usually used little more than an axe to shape the logs stacked to make the buildings. The modern crew uses traditional tools but modern ones too.

Their self deprecating humor and pun throwing is quite refreshing in its playfulness (and cleanliness). For example, in discussing finding workplaces for which the directions were a little … vague, shall we say (such as “over thataway a fur piece”), the line is “throwed out” that “Those people believe hillbillies don’t have GPS.”

These folk are typical of the Americans I have run into in my travels. I haven’t been to every state but I have been to the four corners and visited much in between and most of the people I have encountered seemed very likeable, nice people, hard working, honest.

So, what has happened to us? We seem now a nation divided. On the coasts we have pointy-headed intellectuals who don’t have the sense to come in out of the rain and in the middle we have “deplorables,” whatever that means. Why is there all of this misperception and mistrust. I suspect it is because we have all been conned for far too long politically, but still.

Back when I was a youngin’, the nation’s motto was E Pluribus Unum, a lovely Latin phrase that means “out of many, one.” It spoke to the Grand American Experiment in self governance whereby we would govern ourselves, that “we didn’t need no stinkin’ kings or popes” to govern us. And we would do it by forging one will out of many. This was accomplished through disputation and diplomacy politically through the “go along to get along” facility of compromise, thus we could get to a single place for all Americans. That didn’t mean we all got what we wanted, but each component of American society got something close to what they wanted from time to time and not too far from what they were comfortable with most of the time. However, in many conservative circles today, compromise is a dirty word, something never to be entertained and we are now in a win at any cost political culture.

In 1956 we jettisoned E Pluribus Unum, in favor of “In God We Trust” and look at how that turned out. Seems “God’s Children” love making war with one another. Since it has been that way for a very long time I guess that is what we can trust this God fellow for. Maybe we should go back to our former motto. It conveys a goal worth getting.

January 7, 2019

But Who Is the Magician?

Filed under: Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:57 am
Tags: , , , ,

Most people know that performing magicians use gestures with one hand to attract attention from their other hand which is busy doing the trick. In national politics, Donald Trump is the Distracter in Chief, the waving hand that draws our attention away from the Republican machine which is doing its best to eliminate environmental regulations, consumer protections in the law, health insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, miscellaneous favors for the rich, and many of the other gains made by the people over the past forty years or so. Mitch McConnell is doing his best to pack the federal court system with people who are not representative of the people (very, very conservative white guys).

So, if Mr. Trump is the distracting hand, and the GOP usual suspects are doing the tricks, just who is the magician? (Ignore than man behind the curtain!)

Just askin’.

December 27, 2018

Fear Mongering for Fun and Profit

The Atlantic magazine published an article this last April with the intriguing title “The Last Temptation,” subtitled “How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory.”

I didn’t finish the article but it started in the same vein as so many others, with Donald Trump and his high percent of the evangelical vote. The article did suggest, though, that there had been some kind of sea change in evangelical attitudes over the past half century. One paragraph summed up their opinion:

“The moral convictions of many evangelical leaders have become a function of their partisan identification. This is not mere gullibility; it is utter corruption. Blinded by political tribalism and hatred for their political opponents, these leaders can’t see how they are undermining the causes to which they once dedicated their lives. Little remains of a distinctly Christian public witness.”

Finally, we get to the crux of the matter. Things changed when some “elites” decided to convert Christian conservatives into a political force. Believe it or not, early on most American Christians thought that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling was a good thing, that such decisions should be left to families in consultation with clergy and health professionals, that government shouldn’t be involved. Abortion did not become a “wedge issue” until it was forged into one.

Similarly, as in all other political “mood shifts,” the usual motives involved were: money, power, and fear. In the case of mobilization of evangelicals as a political force, fear was the chosen tool. Evangelicals were and are taught that the world is becoming an ever more sinful place, when that conclusion is far from the truth. They are taught that there is a “war on Christianity,” that morals are sinking fast and that something must be done! Older citizens living in suburbs came to fear Black criminals over the much greater threats to their safety.

All of this was perpetrated, of course, by religious and secular elites, to serve their interests, not the interest of ordinary citizens, Christians or not. George W. Bush is famous (infamous?) for brushing off the Religious Right’s demands for “more” from him by saying “those people are never satisfied.” All they had gotten was a paltry office and a president-appointed officer.

The only resolution of this awful set of circumstances is for all of us to admit that we have been “played” by our political leaders. They all need to be replaced, based upon their records. While it may not be possible to expect complete honesty (within some limits) from our leaders, wouldn’t it be refreshing if we got some? Certainly fear mongering and lying continuously need to be shamed out of existence.

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