Where did the Drug Crisis Start?

Where did the “Drug Crisis Start?”  Since 1980 deaths from drug overdoses in the USA have steadily increased every year.  In 1999, the per capita rate of drug deaths (Based on 100,000 people) was 6.1 for all drugs while the rate of deaths from opioids was 2.9.  In 2017, the rate was 21.7 for all drugs and 14.9 percent for opioids.

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Why are so many dying from Opioids?

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This article in the Guardian states that the main reason for the increases was the epidemic created by the pharmaceutical industry in pushing drugs for pain relief for very common problems such as arthritis and back pain. 

Thus, while we arrest drug dealers, the real culprits go scott free and become billionaires on the suffering of the US population. 

Certainly there is a causal link between an aging population, increased obesity, back pain, prescription drugs and drug deaths.  But as we should have clearly seen even twenty years ago, the solution is not more PAIN Killers.”

It should have been obvious to the doctors, pharmaceutical executives, FDA and all of our political leaders.  However, truth and reality are too often forgotten when it comes to making profits.  Greed trumps all other considerations and millions of Americans have become hooked on painkillers to alleviate symptoms that can often be treated with much simpler and more effective solutions.

The 2nd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Pleasure without Conscience.

A number of years ago when I first started graduate school, I was talking to a professor who had just purchased a brand new yacht.  This was nearly 30 years ago and I was pretty judgmental (I am hoping I am somewhat less judgmental today). I remember saying to him exactly what was on my mind:  “Don’t you feel guilty with all of the poverty and problems we are facing in this world, to spend your money on such an extravagant purchase?”  To this day (Perhaps, my continued naiveté) I remain both shocked and amazed at his reply.  “John, if I can afford it, I deserve it.”  I was shocked because it seemed so insensitive to the world’s problems and I was amazed because I had expected that someone who had earned a Ph.D. would have had a more reflective and thoughtful reply.  Instead, he simply parroted back to me what I had labeled as the “Protestant Ethic.”  According to Wikipedia:

“The Protestant work ethic (or the Puritan work ethic) is a concept in theology, sociology, economics and history which emphasizes hard work, frugality and prosperity as a display of a person’s salvation in the Christian faith. The phrase was initially coined in 1904 by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Somewhere in the course of the development of American Capitalism, guilt or perhaps conscience was replaced by the moral certainty that if you only work hard enough, you can spend your money as frivolously as you want to.  At least, this was the interpretation I drew and continue to draw from my understanding of the Protestant Work Ethic.  In some sense, I can understand this idea.  If you work hard, why should you not be able to harvest the fruits of your labor?  Why should you be expected to share with those who are less fortunate?  After all, how many of the “less” fortunate are “less” because of their own laziness, stupidity, inertia or lack of ambition?  Should I have to pay more taxes to support people who don’t want to work or whose entire goal in life is to eat their way to obesity, drink their way to liver failure or drug their minds to an out of this world zombie state?  Why should I have to put up with the lack of ethics that it would appear so many of the indigent and poor in this world have?  A study in England in 2009 found that:

Four out of five people see nothing wrong with stealing from their workplace – while more than half think it acceptable for a care giver to persuade an elderly person to rewrite their will, according to a new study.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1211629/How-80-think-OK-steal-work-study-reveals-wavering-moral-compass.html#ixzz2RU850BbL

In some sense, the Protestant Ethic is a direct refutation of the morals that I had been given in my early Catholic school training. Perhaps, that is why Catholics and Protestants did not get along in years gone by.  I remember every lunch break being told by one of the nuns or sisters at my Catholic school to be sure to “clean my plate.”  When queried why this was so important I always received the same reply “Because of the starving kids in India.”  Somehow, I was expected to feel guilty for these starving children in some far away country who did not have enough food to eat.  Was it my fault that they did not have enough to eat?  However, it was okay if I cleaned my plate and did not leave any scraps.  Kind of reminds me of when I go to a Chinese Buffet and it says on the sign posted:  “Please do not take more than you can eat.”  I weight 147 lbs. and scrupulously (well, sometimes) obey this admonition.  I watch the 400 lb. plus people with plates that are stacked higher than the Eiffel Tower and I wonder if they saw the sign or is it simply that they are on a diet?  See, there I go again, being judgmental.

Well, here it is nearly 30 years later and the question I posed to my professor colleague still seems quite legitimate to me.  When is it okay to indulge?  When can I binge? When is it permissible to go buy my brand new Ferrari or brand new yacht?  What would Sister Evangeline say if she knew I was spending $350,000 dollars or more to purchase a new boat that I might only use two or three times per year?  What would Martin Luther say?  I can imagine Luther saying: “Well, John, don’t worry about it. You are supporting the economy. Every boat you buy is a job for some boat builder in India or Pakistan or some other place where the kids don’t have enough to eat.”  “Thank You Martin Luther, now I don’t feel so guilty.”  Hooray for the Protestant Work Ethic!

Here is what the Gandhi Institute has to say about this issue:

Pleasure Without Conscience: This is connected to wealth without work. People find imaginative and dangerous ways of bringing excitement to their otherwise dull lives. Their search for pleasure and excitement often ends up costing society very heavily. Taking drugs and playing dangerous games cause avoidable health problems that cost the world hundreds of billions of dollars in direct and indirect health care facilities. Many of these problems are self-induced or ailments caused by careless attitudes. The United States spends more than $250 billion on leisure activities while 25 million children die each year because of hunger, malnutrition, and lack of medical facilities. Irresponsible and unconscionable acts of sexual pleasure and indulgence also cost the people and the country very heavily. Not only do young people lose their childhood but innocent babies are brought into the world and often left to the care of the society. The emotional, financial, and moral price is heavy on everyone. Gandhi believed pleasure must come from within the soul and excitement from serving the needy, from caring for the family, the children, and relatives. Building sound human relationships can be an exciting and adventurous activity. Unfortunately, we ignore the spiritual pleasures of life and indulge in the physical pleasures which are “pleasure without conscience.”

Fromhttp://www.rabbitadvocacy.com/gandhi_teachings.htm

A person I really admire is the teacher and prophet OSHO.  OSHO also believes that all the violence in the world comes from the need people have to address the boredom and meaninglessness in their daily lives. People who are bored and who feel that their lives have no meaning turn to violence and or drugs in an effort to fill their lives with something that excites them or makes them feel alive. The problem with such stimulation is that it never really fills the void and as with any panacea it is only temporary. The void returns and the need to find new or greater stimulation also returns.  The cycle is not broken by the search for outside stimulation since the only real meaning of our lives must come from within.  No matter how great the wealth we achieve, no matter how many titles we accrue, no matter how famous we become and no matter how many people want our autographs, this kind of stimulation can never fill the void that we have if we do not find real meaning for our existence.

Let us pose the central issue here (Pleasure without Conscience) in the form of series of questions. Each question puts a slightly different slant on the issue:  Here are some ways to reflect on the issue:

  • How much pleasure is it okay to feel before I feel guilty?
  • If I am enjoying my life, should I feel guilty?
  • Do I have to feel guilty if I am feeling great pleasure?
  • Does a sense of conscience have anything to do with my personal pleasure?
  • Do I need to tie the concept of pleasure in with conscience?

Depending on which way we posit the question we will come up with different answers.  Try the exercise yourself and see what you find as your personal answers. For me, I would answer some of these questions in the negative and some in the positive. Nevertheless, such a pedantic method of addressing the issue actually ignores what I think Gandhi was really getting at.  I don’t think this is an issue of us not enjoying our lives or not finding pleasure but it is more of what I have come to think of as a “Happy Days” issue. Do you remember the sitcom that ran from the mid-seventies to mid-eighties?  It featured Ron Howard as a too good to be true teenager and Henry Winkler as a thuggish type of Greaser.   The term “Happy Days” was associated with how many Americans felt about the period of time between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy and the Mickey Mouse Club show were only a few of the sitcoms to depict a happy America where all was right with the world and Americans knew only bliss and prosperity.

Those “Happy Days” for middle class White male Americans were not so happy for the rest of the world never mind the many groups and constituencies in the USA who were denied rights, served excessive prison terms, could not find employment and were often subject to abuse and/or lynching. I refer here to minority groups and women in the USA during our “Happy Days” period.  One could argue that either stupidity or a lack of conscience was a prerequisite for putting on “Happy Days” blinders. Kind of like those folks who miss the “Good Old Days” down south.  Those nostalgic summer days when the happy slaves would sing and dance all day long in the cotton fields.  At the end of the day, they would trudge happily home to their cozy cabins to sit by the fire-place and eat their fill of watermelon, sweet potato pie and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Before going to bed, the young slaves would all have cute stories read to them by Uncle Remus.  Stories that would prepare the young slaves to get ahead in a world dominated by discrimination and non-citizenship.  No doubt migrant workers, women and many other minorities would have their own version of the “Happy Days” fantasy that dominated American Psyche for so long. In fact, there are many Americans who still believe in the “Happy Days” fantasy.

The point I am getting at is that no matter how you look at it, it is immoral and unethical to divorce Pleasure from Conscience.  To do so, is to be guilty of at best a form of benign neglect and at worst, a criminal conspiracy to keep other people degraded and denied the same opportunities as we might have.  Christians should all be familiar with many of Jesus’s teachings on this subject:

  • “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Mark 10:25
  •  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”   Mark 10:21
  •  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”  Matthew 16:26

Clearly anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ could not put profit or pleasure above conscience. Jesus was all about helping others even at the expense of his own life.  His entire mission was to help those who were poor, sick or downtrodden.  Is there anyone who could do this without a conscience?  Perhaps we have focused too much in the past few decades on success and getting ahead.  This intense focus may have allowed many of us to put our consciences aside with the result that they seem to have atrophied or in many cases disappeared.  Too many people now measure success by how much money they have made and not how many people they have helped. Perhaps it is time we start focusing on conscience again.  Pleasure without conscience is simply hedonism.

Ok, time for questions:

What pleasures do you have that you may sacrifice your conscience for?  Do you think it is possible to have both conscience and pleasure?  What does it mean to have an “ethical” conscience?  Can we have too much conscience?  Do you think people should have more pleasure or more conscience?  Why?  What about yourself? Where do you fall on this issue?

Life is just beginning.

I wrote this blog more than four years ago.  Many have read it during the past few years.  With hindsight, I can see that we have gone further down the path.  Our political systems are rife with a lack of conscience.  Furthermore, this lack of conscience is justified by a “Prosperity Gospel” which preaches that:  financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. 

In other words, that God rewards increases in faith with increases in health and/or wealth.  Thus, if you are wealthy, you are a “true believer”, anointed by God and deserving of your wealth.  The poor and sick are not true believers and thus are deserving of their fate and little or no sympathy or help.

Too many of us have given up on conscience and have become more and more Amoral.  We don’t care what we do or the consequences of our actions as long as they are “legal.”  Unfortunately, the law has never been a good barometer for ethics and morality.  The law has too frequently been usurped by the rich and powerful to promote their own self interests.   A history of the Supreme Court decisions in the USA would show this truth as would the Nazi Laws in Germany during the 30’s or the slavery and apartheid laws that existed throughout history in many parts of the world.   Law does not make right.  It never did and it never will.

A Simple Man Meets Faust:

In this world of juxtaposition and dialectical opposites, there does not seem to be any two individuals who could be further apart than Ricky Van Shelton’s Simple Man and Goethe’s Faust.  However, looks and paradigms can often be deceiving.

man-sitting-pick-up-truck-camping-holiday-wearing-rucksack-smiling-38632895

A Simple Man (since we don’t know his actual name he will remain a “Simple Man”) is a good old country boy.  We presume he is a blue collar worker, never went to college and probably does some hard manual labor.  He loves to hunt, fish and drink with Bubba, Billy Joe and the other guys.  He is everyman’s down to earth guy.  He does not worry about the future but takes one day at a time.  His thoughts are more likely to meander around his next fishing hole than to try to plumb the meaning of the universe.

faust in study

Faust for all apparent purposes has not a thing in common with a Simple Man.  Faust is complex, morose, introverted, elderly and a true intellectual. No doubt Faust went to Oxford or some high class German Academy.  He ranked not only first in his class but first in every academic endeavor he ever undertook. He went on to become the most esteemed Doctor of Philosophy in German and European history.   He loves to read, write, compose and publish esoteric treatises on the nature of the universe and the meaning of reality.  Faust is first among thinkers and intellectuals.

Well, there you have it. Two diametrically opposed male personalities.  A Simple Man and his mirror image Faust.  But beware!  Appearances can be deceiving. Things may not always be as they seem.  Could it be that Faust and a Simple Man have more in common than you would think?  Follow me as we examine a dialogue between a Simple Man and his wife and a dialogue between Faust and Mephistopheles.  Note similarities.  Note differences.  A Simple Man wants to find peace of mind and his “baby” does not seem to understand his real needs.  Mephistopheles finds Faust also distraught and agitated.  Despite Faust’s soaring intellect, he is unhappy with his life and the success he has achieved.  He responds to Mephistopheles, the devil, who purports to be able to give Faust the happiness he desires.

country guy with woman

A Simple Man: (Lyrics and Music by Ricky Van Shelton)

I don’t know why you wanna start with me

I ain’t done nothin’ far as I can see

And I’m worn out from working too hard

Why don’t you give me a break.

faust with woman 2

Faust:  (Music by Gounod, Lyrics by Goethe)

All to know, all in earth and heaven.

No light illumines the visions, ever

thronging my brain ; no peace is given,

And I linger, thus sad and weary,

Without power to sunder the chain

Binding my soul to life always dreary.

Nought do I see! Nought do I know

  • Both men are worn down and worn out.  Both are feeling hopeless.

 A Simple Man:

I know that lately things ain’t been so good

I’ll make it up just like I told you I would

But I’m tired and I wanna sit down

To ease a sore backache

Faust: 

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  • Both men want peace and rest

frying pan

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

I wanna a job and a piece of land

Three squares in my frying pan

Don’t seem so hard to me to understand

Faust:

Cursed be all of man’s vile race !

Cursed be the chains which bind him in his place!

Cursed be visions false, deceiving!

Cursed the folly of believing!

Cursed be dreams of love or hate !

Cursed be souls with joy elate.

Cursed be science, prayer, and faith!

Cursed my fate in life and death!

Infernal king, arise!

  •  Science, prayer and faith cannot provide the peace each man requires.  Faust has given up on intellectual solutions while a Simple Man still believes in the joys of work, land and food.

 A Simple Man:

You say you got some things to talk about

A lot of problems that we need to work out

But we just end up fighting

Why don’t you give it a rest

I don’t know what else I can say to you

I’m doing everything I know to do

And I can’t give you anything more

When I’m giving my best

faust with woman

Faust:

I sigh for thy kisses,

Its love I demand!

With ardor unwonted

I long now to burn ;

I sigh for the rapture

Of heart and of sense.

  •  What both Faust and a Simple Man really want is love.

country boy in bed

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

I wanna place I can lay my head

Soft woman and a warm bed

A little time off before I’m dead

I’m just a simple man

Faust:

But implore in vain.

Let me thy hand take, and clasp it,

And behold but thy face once again,

Illum’d by that pale light,

From yonder moon that shines,

O’er thy beauteous features shedding

Its faint but golden ray.

  •  Faust is more eloquent but a Simple Man hits the nail on the head.  I just want a soft woman and a warm bed.

 A Simple Man:

You say you’re having trouble figuring me

I don’t believe I’m such a mystery

Baby what you get is what you see

I am a simple man

Faust:

Again the light of a new day !

O death ! when will thy dusky wings

Above me hover and give me rest?

  •  Both the opera and the song leave you with the impression that neither Faust nor a Simple Man obtains the life they want to live.  Something is out of kilter that cannot be set right.  Tragic expectations on the part of both a Simple Man and Faust are never fulfilled in the real world.  Neither books nor hunting, nor ideas nor actions enable either man to find what they are looking for. 

A Zen Master happens to be walking by and overhears the laments of both Faust and a Simple Man. He notes the apparent remorse and confusion of their musings.  He is struck by their sadness and attempts to offer some wisdom which he feels might be consoling.

Zen Master: 

Life cannot be lived through others.  The secret of happiness is to let go of your expectations for happiness and to realize that happiness is only obtained through inner wisdom and not through external ideas or things or people.

You Faust thought that ideas and your intellect could bring you happiness. When this mode failed, you gave your soul up for the immediate pleasures of the world.  You failed in both efforts.

You Simple Man thought that you could escape responsibility for your happiness.  You thought your wife would provide you the succor and tranquility which your lifestyle necessitated. You thought she would be the warm pillow and soft bed who would take care of your weary bones.  You have also failed to find the peace you desired.

Faust:  I am half a man.

Simple Man:  And I the other half!

Zen Master:  Perhaps two halves make a whole.

Time for Questions:

What similarities between a Simple Man and Faust did you find?  What differences did you find?  What if anything surprised you about their thoughts and needs?  Do we think focus more on the differences between people than the similarities?  Would it make a difference in how we view the world if we saw more similarities between people?  Do you think you are very different from most people or very similar?  Why?  How have your differences and similarities affected your life?

Life is Just Beginning.

Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

searching_for_truth_preview00

The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

horrible face

I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

quotes-by-martin-luther-king-jr6-min

Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

Old Times There Are Not Forgotten!

The lyrics from the title song above were written by Daniel Decatur Emmett.  One well known verse is:

I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray!  Hooray!

In Dixie’s Land I’ll take my stand

to live and die in Dixie.

Away, away, away down south in Dixie.

Away, away, away down south in Dixie.

Ironically this song was written by a Northerner and first sung in New York City in 1859.  The first shot was not fired in the Civil War until April 12, 1861 when the Confederates attacked Fort Sumter.  I often heard this song when I was growing up since my mother and I were both born in Alabama.

farm roadsI was born in Fairfield, Alabama and my grandparents had a farm in Ensley, Alabama.  Years later and the farm is now ancient history and Ensley is a bunch of suburban homes adjacent to Birmingham.  The cow paths, chicken barn, pig sties and goat pens are long gone.  The rolling dirt road that once led to the Farmers Grain and Feed store is now a paved two lane highway leading to Walmart and CVS.  I remember feed millmany trips down this road beside my grandfather who always had a large quart canning jar full of ice and water and wrapped in a towel.  When we arrived at the feed store, he would go in to purchase his feed and buy me an RC Cola from the metal soda box on the front dock.  I would sit on the side of the feed store loading dock while the workers would pack his pickup truck with bags of grain and other assorted farm essentials.   My grandfather would have a brief chat with the workers and we would be on our way back to his farm.

Old Farm

My grandfather and grandmother lived in a Quonset hut that they purchased after the end of WW II.  The hut was all metal and “rooms” were defined by hanging blankets.  I do not remember any doors in the hut except the single door leading outside.  Beyond this door was the path that would take you directly to the outhouse.  Other paths branched off this main path to the barn and various animal areas.  My grandfather and grandmother always lived frugally but they did not scrimp on the food.  Breakfast would be grits, brains, bacon and eggs.  Lunch would be fried chicken with collard greens and large baking powder biscuits.  Supper would be fried potatoes, green beans and either roast pork or perhaps barbecued goat.  Fridays we would eat catfish and okra.  I never tired of my grandmother’s southern cooking.

blast-furnaces-of-a-steel-mill-light-j-baylor-robertsMy grandfather supplemented his meager income by working at the Birmingham Steel mill.  I remember when we would go to Birmingham at night.  The sky would be full of smoke and sparks from the various steel mills in the city.  The steel mills dominated ingot of steelthe city architecture and they owned the night.  As we came closer to one of the mills, we would soon see the large red hot ingots lying on their side cooling off in the mill yard.  Occasionally, we could see the huge ladles of red hot ore pouring out their contents into the casting molds.  Sparks would fly everywhere and cauldron of steelthe night sky would be lit up with flames streaking hundreds of feet into the heavens.  It was almost like a fireworks show that went on night after night.  I left the mills and Alabama when I left home in 1964 thinking that I would probably never see either of them again.  I was wrong though.

One after another each of the five major steel mills in Birmingham shut down, unable to compete with more modern methods of making steel.  Soon there were only large rusted metal cities looming ominously over the landscape but devoid of soul and spirit.  The smoke and flames were gone from the night sky.  Each of the mills were torn down and replaced by shopping centers or parking lots until finally only one of the old mills

Steel Mills Birmingham

Steel Mills Birmingham

remained.  Civic minded leaders in a spirit of trying to capture history decided to turn this last steel mill into a museum.  Later on in my life, I toured this museum and visited the various plant areas but it was not the same anymore.  The plant that had killed hundreds of men and took my grandfather’s left foot was now lifeless.  In my imagination, I could see shadows of the dead men who had sweated in the heat of the blast furnaces and stoked coal to feed the hunger of the ovens for fuel and a growing nation for automobiles.  A steel mill that had once been a dangerous fiery roaring tiger was now simply a large cavernous rusty building that echoed in my mind with the mute sounds of the past.

Years after my first marriage was over, I took my second wife Karen down to Alabama to visit the remnants of the clan that my mother had belonged to.  By this time, my grandparents were dead and most of my aunts and uncles were also deceased.  I had never gone south with my first wife and so it had been years since I had visited Alabama.  Karen and I had taken trips together to several different countries.  We had been to England, Scotland, France, Germany and China.  I warned her that going down South would be a culture shock.  I was not surprised when she later told me that the “culture shock” she experienced in the South and with my relatives was greater than any she had experienced on our overseas trips including China.

Karen said she had heard that the South was still fighting the Civil War but she could not believe what she heard and saw during the trip.  Numerous bumper stickers, ain'tfergettintattoos, hats and t-shirts proclaiming:

  • Hell no, we ain’t forgettin
  • The South will raise again
  • Long live the Confederacy
  • Nathan Bedford Forest: American Patriot
  • Confederate American and proud of it

And of course, she saw numerous Confederate flags hanging from houses, pickup trucks and motorcycles.  We even found a roadside stand where they were selling Confederate memorabilia and a large sign over the stand proudly proclaiming “Heritage Not Hate” as though the Civil War was about mint juleps and the right of slaves to sing and dance all night long.

red neck shirtIt became apparent to me why I never took my first wife to visit my relatives.  Deep down inside, I was both appalled and ashamed at their ideas and behavior.  During our visit Karen and I listened to more prejudice and bigotry then I had heard in years.  I retreated to an almost catatonic state.  I did not once broach the subject of racism or discrimination despite the abundant evidence of its pervasiveness.  My normal outspokenness for intolerance was stilled in the onslaught of insults and harangues that I heard towards Blacks, Mexicans and other minorities.  It was like a Gordian knot of discrimination and I did not know where to start unravelling it.  On our way home, Karen and I discussed our mutual inability to speak out or take any action in the face of this prolific bigotry.  I perhaps more than Karen was embarrassed that I had said and did nothing.  I had become the silent person who fails to speak out.

We can talk about moving on but I don’t think many of us realize how long it takes to change a culture and to really let go and move on.  There have been and continue to be many changes in the Old South.  Slavery has of course ended.  The plantations are gone and Jim Crow rule is finally over.  The Confederate Flag has even been taken down from most Southern State Capitals.  The symbols and icons of the Old South are fast disappearing.  Nevertheless, in the hearts and minds of many Southerners, you can still hear the refrains from Dixie repeating: “Old times there are not forgotten, Look Away, Look Away, Look Away, Dixie Land.”  When it comes to the South, old times there are still not forgotten.

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been down South?  What was your experience?  Do you have any roots in the South? If so, what changes have you seen over the years?  What do you think it will take to make the South forget the Civil War and move on?

Life is just beginning.

“In the South, history clings to you like a wet blanket. Outside your door the past awaits in Indian mounds, plantation ruins, heaving sidewalks and homestead graveyards; each slowly reclaimed by the kudzu of time.”  ― Tim HeatonDon’t Be Ugly:

 

 

 

 

The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of attaining a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

screen%20shot%202013-03-08%20at%207.22.04%20pm[1]

government-welfare-TrimTabs-2011-01[1]

tort-1950-2003[1]

The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual. However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for “Instant Pudding” with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W.E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts. Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune. Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens. It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight. All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success. One day Psi was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing on the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is required for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin.”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do. Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers. The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits. With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider. To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need. The United States provides a typical example. The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health. What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing. There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success. The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic. These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around. The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere. You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles. Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage. The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others. The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because or if you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

Is Civility Overrated?

be fucking civil

All the talk these days by political pundits, news reporters, columnists, journalists and of course politicians seems directed towards decrying the lack of civility in politics.  It is common knowledge that there is a war between the Democrats and Republicans going on.  Each side sees the other as bent on destroying democracy, mom, god and apple pie.  They have become bitter enemies, and no one is taking prisoners.

To study this problem more, I decided to invoke Santayana’s famous dictum on “those who forget the past.”  I fired up my trusty time machine and selected four eras and events from the past where it seems civility had also been called for.  As you perhaps know, when journeying to the past, you become invisible and there is no way that you can influence any past events.  This is in accord with Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle.  I report on these events in the following four narratives as I witnessed and remembered the discussions.

Moses and Rameses – 1440 BCE

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:   Not on your life

Moses:  Then I will bring numerous plagues to smite you Egyptians

Rameses:  Go ahead.  See if I give a dam

A few weeks later:

Rameses:  Look Moses, can’t we be civil about this

Moses:  Sure, let my people go

Rameses:  Not happening

Moses:  Then I will bring a new plague that will strike all first-born Egyptians dead

Rameses:  I thought we agreed to be civil.  Can’t we discuss this more?

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  The hell with you Israelites

One week later:

Rameses:  Moses, I thought we agreed to be civil.  Look how many of my people you killed

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  To hell with you, get out and don’t come back.  I hope I never see you again

Moses:  Now that is what I call being civil.  Goodbye!

in pursuit of civility

War of Independence – 1776 CE

King George:  You dam colonists.  Who do you think you are?

Benjamin Franklin:  We are your loyal servants my lord, who merely want to be treated with the same rights as Englishmen in your country

King George:  You are low-lifes with no civility.  I can’t believe you dumped all that tea in the harbor?  Furthermore, you don’t even have tea-time each day like we do.

Benjamin Franklin:  My lord, the customs in our country are very different

King George:  Different my ass, you people are nothing but barbarians

Benjamin Franklin:  All we want is to eliminate taxation without representation

King George:  Do I look like I care what you want?  I’m the king

Benjamin Franklin:  I am afraid we are prepared to go to war over this issue my lord

King George:  We want to have a civil discussion and you dare to threaten me?

Benjamin Franklin:  What does civility mean to you my lord?

King George:  Your people stop whining about our taxes and get their asses back to work

Benjamin Franklin:  I will bring your message to my people your lord, but I don’t think they will agree

King George:  Then we will crush them like we crush all the enemies of the empire.  They will be begging for tea and not coffee.  You are dismissed.

12-years-slave

 

Somewhere in Mississippi – 1860 CE

Plantation Overseer:  How many times Moses have I told you that you can’t run away?  You are going to get another whipping boy

Moses:  Yes, master

Plantation Overseer:  How many lashes do you think you should get Moses?

Moses:  I don’t rightly know master

Plantation Overseer:  Look Moses, I want to be civil about this, so I am asking your opinion.  I was thinking that since it was fifty last time, we should add ten making it sixty.  That would be ten for each time you ran away – agree?

Moses:  Go to hell!

Plantation Overseer:  Mind your mouth boy.  I thought we were having a civil and friendly conversation and now you go ahead and insult me with your vile mouth.  I am going to add ten lashes to your whipping.  That will teach you to be more civil!

Moses:  Go to hell!

four-components-of-etiquette-33-638

Hollywood Producers Office – March 15, 2018 CE

Producer:  Look Emily, I would like for you to get on the couch and take your clothes off

Emily (Aspiring actress): I don’t understand what taking my clothes off has to do with an audition

Producer:  Well, you have heard of “quid pro quo” right?  Well, I just want you to do me a little favor and then I will do you a bigger favor

Emily:  And what if I refuse?

Producer:  Can’t we be civil about this?  We are both adults

Emily:  I do not plan to screw my way to a role in your production

Producer:  I am tired of trying to be civil, now get your ass on that couch

Emily:  Unlock the door!  Please let go of me!

Producer:  Just relax, you will enjoy it more

Emily:  Get off me, I will scream!

Producer:  Can’t you be more civil Emily?  I am just doing this for your own good

Emily:  Fuck you, get off me!

Producer:  Not until I finish what we started

Emily:  Crying

Producer:  See it wasn’t so bad was it? Maybe after this we can be more civil to each other

Emily:  Screw you!

trump on civility

Well, that is all the time I had for my time journeys. I report the above narratives to the best of my memory.  I was wondering what messages or meaning I could ascribe to these events in terms of the problem of civility that I mentioned earlier.  I know Trump, McConnell, Graham and many others on both sides of the aisle have all called for more civility in politics.

Somehow though, I question when and where civility is appropriate and where a good “Screw you” is more appropriate.  I have no doubt that civility is of value in some circumstances but like any value, perhaps it can be overdone.

death of civility

Webster’s defines the term Civility as: 

1:  Archaic training in the humanities

2a: Civilized conduct, especially COURTESYPOLITENESS

b: A polite act or expression

If we dismiss the first definition, we are left with courtesy and politeness as being the sine qua non of civility.  But I ask, who and when should we be courteous to?  Should we be courteous to:

  • Someone who is robbing us
  • Someone who is trying to kill us
  • Someone who is obviously lying to us
  • Someone who is preaching hate and fear
  • Someone who is taking money from the poor to give to the rich
  • Someone who will deny others the chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

sarahhuckabeesanders1

There is a time for civility.  I have no doubt.  But there is a time for anger and indignation.

It takes more courage to stand up to bullies and wrong doers than to merely stand passively by and acquiesce to calls for civility.  To conclude, I observe this about civility:

  • It is often a call by the more powerful to the weaker to be subdued and humbled
  • It can be used to hide evil of the first order and should be suspect
  • It is of merit only when it is reciprocated

Beware the Trojan horse!  Beware those who want civility without justice, truth and freedom!

Time for Questions:

Are you always civil?  When are you not civil?  Why?  Do you agree that civility is not always a virtue?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“In politics, disagreements between opponents is the sign of a healthy and flourishing democracy. When politicians show too much deference to each other, fundamental ethical questions are likely to get buried and power can go unchecked. Meyer points out that insults are a non-violent way of curbing the excesses of the powerful, and he argues that politics must therefore ‘allow for a boorishness typically at odds with polite society’. Similarly, Kennedy argues: ‘The civility movement is deeply at odds with what an invigorated liberalism requires: intellectual clarity; an insistence upon grappling with the substance of controversies; and a willingness to fight loudly, openly, militantly, even rudely for policies and values….” Meyer, ‘Liberal Civility and the Civility of Etiquette’, 79; Kennedy, ‘The Case against “Civility”’, 85.

The above exercpt is from:  “Six Questions About Civility” by Nicole Billante and Peter Saunders, 2002

 

 

 

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