Tommy:  A Boy for all Seasons

This is a story about my best friend in high school.  His name was Thomas Donnelly.  This story took place over fifty years ago.  I still think of the influence that these events have had on my life.  Many of you will be repelled by the story that I narrate.  If you can suspend your morality, you might be able to accept that the culture I grew up in made these events very normal even if you do not consider them to be moral.

Street Corner Gang

It happened one hot Saturday afternoon in the summer.  I was hanging out on our Manton street corner.  As with all Italian teenagers, we hung out in a certain geographic area and this association led to our identity as the “Manton Gang.”  Manton was a suburb of Providence R.I. and a primarily Italian neighborhood.  My father was Italian and my mother was Irish.  It was just the reverse for my best friend Tommy.  His mother was Italian and his father was Irish.  Nevertheless, anyone with Irish or Italian blood was accepted into our street corner gang.

At fourteen to eighteen years of age, few of us were interested in anything except gambling and sex.  Gambling tended to be a regular event on the corner where we hung out but sex was much more episodic.  Good Italian girls in the sixties still did not have sex outside of marriage.  This left us to find those “bad girls” whose discrimination did not tend towards marriage or even long-term love affairs and who were much less choosy in terms of selecting “affairs of the heart.”

1956_Ford_4-Door_Sedan

Tommy and I were sitting on the corner discussing nothing important when a blue and white 56 Ford four door Fairlane pulled up to the curb and started honking.  At first, we did not recognize anyone in the car.  Two guys were in the front seat and no one was in the back seat.  We finally recognized Dave and Bob.  Dave was an infrequent corner member but Bob was a regular.  We sauntered over to the car.  It was always important to look cool and nonchalant when we were growing up.  As we approached the open window on Dave’s side, he yelled out.  “Hey, you guys want to get laid?”

“What’s up” I said.  Dave replied, “Get in and I will tell you on the way.”  Both Tommy and I jumped in the back seat.  Bob already had shot gun.  Dave gunned the accelerator and off we went.  “Okay, so where are we going” asked Tommy.  Bob said, “Well, there is this chick and she is hot to go with anyone who comes over to her house.”  “You mean she will take all of us?  What’s wrong with her?” I wanted to know.  Bob continued, “Who knows.  She is just really open to more than one guy.”  “Well, where are her parents,” I persisted.   “She lives with her dad who is a police chief” said Dave.  “What, are you crazy” both Tommy and I said in synchrony.  “Don’t worry” said Bob, “her dad will not be home.”

new england houseThe idea of sex in our minds easily overrode any caution or concern about getting caught by her father.  We arrived at her house.  She lived out of town somewhat in Scituate which was a more rural area of R.I. in the sixties.  When we arrived, Bob said “I will go in first and check things out.  If it is okay, you guys can come in.  Bob went inside the small average looking New England Colonial house with two upper dormer windows and came out a few minutes later.  “OK guys” Bob said, “She is willing.”  We all trotted inside the house to the first room which was a kitchen with a small table and four chairs.  Dave, Tommy and I sat on the chairs and Bob headed up a small staircase.  “I will go first” said Bob “and Dave is next.  You and Tommy can decide who goes after Dave.”  “Oh”, said Bob, “her name is Barbara and she likes to be called Barb.”  No one challenged this order of affairs as it was taken for granted that since Bob had set this up, he had first dibs.

Bob went up the stairs while Dave, Tommy and I just sat and kibitzed.  I wondered what was in store for me when I went up the stairs.  Bob came down about twenty minutes later looking quite proud and content.  “She likes to talk a little before” said Bob, “so you have to be a little patient.  But be persistent and she will get on with it.”   It was Dave’s turn next and he wasted no time going up the stair case.  Sometime later Dave came down, also looking very proud and content.

Tommy and I decided that I would go next.  Up the staircase I went and into a small bedroom where I found Barb half-dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.  She was a very attractive young girl of sixteen or seventeen years of age.  She had long brown hair and a small frame that was nicely curved.  She had a very pretty face and could easily have been a cheerleader.  She was probably about five feet four inches in height but it was somewhat difficult to tell as she was sitting cross legged on her bed.

sad girl on bed

I introduced myself.  We started some small talk and I learned that her mother had left her father some time ago and that she now lived alone with her dad.  She had no other siblings.  Her dad was very strict and would not let her date.  She said that he scared most of her friends away and was very difficult to live with.  I sensed that her escapades today were a chance for her to rebel against her father’s strict sexual codes.  She was willing to go all out and did not care about any side effects.  No birth control or sexual disease prevention even came up as an issue.

We small talked for about a half hour or so and I sensed that I had better get on with the action or she would talk forever.  A real man talks less than he acts and I had talked longer than most real men would have.  I started to lay Barbara down on the bed.  She put up no resistance and meekly laid back against the sheets.  I placed my body down over hers but before starting to remove any of our clothes, I gazed into her eyes.  They were brown and sad.  I stopped to think.  This poor girl is looking for someone to love her and does not really know how to go about it.  I would just be taking advantageous of her.  I can’t do this.  I lifted her back up and quietly left the room.  She never said a word to me and I left without another word.

Feeling very guilty, I walked back down the staircase.  I did not say much when I met Tommy.  Both Dave and Bob had gone back out to the car and were now playing cards in the front seat.  Hi Low Jack was a popular game on the corner and we played it for money whatever chance we had.  I said to Tommy, “It’s your turn.”  Tommy went up the staircase and returned about thirty minutes later.  We silently left the house and went out the front door to the car.  I never saw Barb or that house again.

guys in car

We piled back in the car with Dave and Bob.  There was some minor discussion about Barbara and how hot she was on the way back to the corner but most of it took place between Dave and Bob.  Neither Tommy or I said I word.  Truth be told, I would never have admitted to either Dave or Bob that I did not have sex with Barb.  Tommy and I were dropped back at the Manton Street corner where our friends all hung out and Dave and Bob drove off together.

Tommy and I sat in silence for a while.  I finally broke the silence and asked Tommy “well how did it go?”  Tommy looked very pensive and replied, “I did not do a thing with Barb except to talk to her.”  I was somewhat stunned as I figured that I had wimped out but that Tommy (who was one of the best-looking guys on the corner) would have scored a home run in sixty seconds flat.  I asked Tom “why?”  I did not tell him that I had also struck out.  At the time, that is how I felt.  Like a batter who comes up to the plate, takes three swings and strikes out.

Tommy quietly replied “I did not want to take advantage of her.  She was lonely and scared and needy.  She needed a friend more than she needed getting laid.”  I had felt the same way but many years ago, pride and ego would not allow me to admit that I had also not gone all the way with Barb.  I persisted with Tom “Well, what are you going to tell the other guys.”  Tom then replied with a statement that I have remembered all the rest of my life.  Tommy said, “I don’t care what they think, I have to live with myself.” 

Wisdom-knowing-font-b-Integrity-b-font-Decor-Cute-vinyl-wall-decal-font-b-quote-b

Over the years, I have lost touch with Tommy.  We have traveled very different roads.  Tommy became a minister and works with the poor.  I became an educator and management consultant.  Many years and many different philosophies now separate us.  But I will never forget the lesson that I learned from Tommy that one hot summer afternoon about integrity and being who we are called to be and not who the world wants us to be.

Time for Questions:

Why do I call Tom a “boy for all seasons?”  What does it mean to have integrity?  How do we go about developing integrity?  How do we increase our empathy for other people?  What does it mean to be ourselves?  Are people naturally good or evil?

Life is just beginning.

“That’s what Jamie didn’t understand: it was never just sex.  Even the fastest, dirtiest, most impersonal screw was about more than sex.  It was about connection.  It was about looking at another human being and seeing your own loneliness and neediness reflected back.  It was recognizing that together you had the power to temporarily banish that sense of isolation.  It was about experiencing what it was to be human at the basest, most instinctive level.  How could that be described as just anything?”  — Emily MaguireTaming the Beast

When the TRUTH Will Not Set You Free!  Part 1 of 3 Parts  

Dangerous-LiarsFor the next three weeks, I want to help us find the truth.  Truth has been said to be the most important element in our lives.  Truth is what everyone wants to find.  Thus truth should make a difference in the world, but does it?  We will examine some specific episodes in history in our search for the truth.  I have selected the following ten situations:

  1. The Trial of Socrates
  2. Slavery
  3. The Crusades
  4. The Inquisition
  5. The Extermination of Native and Indigenous Peoples
  6. Reign of Terror
  7. Scottsboro Boys
  8. The Holocaust
  9. The Khmer Rouge
  10. Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Scandals

What do they all have in common?  What does truth have to do with these injustices?  What truths did the perpetrators subscribe to that allowed these travesties of justice to happen?  What truths did the perpetrators fundamentally ignore?  Would the truth even have made a difference?  Are we more liable to listen to “truth” today or is it simply a fiction that we trot out to justify our prejudices, bigotry and murders.  Will it really set us free or is that simply another myth spread by the powerful to emasculate those with less power?  (Listen to in Search of the Truth  by Guy Sweens)

“Historical injustice is ubiquitous in human history. The origins of just about every institution relevant to human political life has a pedigree stained by injustices of various magnitudes. Slavery, genocide, mass expropriation of property, mass internment, indiscriminate killings of civilians and massive political repression are all depressingly familiar features of human history, both in the distant and more recent past.” —- Historical Injustice, Duncan Ivison, University of Sydney in Jon Dryzek, Bonnie Honnig, Anne Philipps (eds) Oxford Handbook to Political Theory (Oxford, OUP, 2006)

I want to briefly explore each of the above injustices.  I apologize for calling these injustices, they deserve a harsher more critical term that that.  For the victims of these “injustices” were slaughtered, maimed, mutilated, tortured, butchered, immolated, hung, gassed, poisoned, executed and stripped of all human dignity.  The words we can use to describe man’s inhumanity to man can never go far enough to convey the “truth.”  I debated whether to start the New Year of 2015 with such a heavy dose of misery and horror but perhaps it is better to start with some thought for creating a better world and recognizing the work that needs to be done.   We are told that all we need is the truth and the world will be a better place. We are constantly urged to seek the truth and to speak the truth.  But what is the truth and what can these injustices tell us about the truth?  Do you dare to see the truth?  Do you have the stomach for the truth?  I have ordered the above list in a rough chronological order.  Let us together examine each one of these horrors to see what truths were behind their execution.  For surely, one fundamental fact is that no human being acts without some truth.  Thus, you may be as curious as I am to see what truths the perpetrators had subscribed to in the implementation of these deeds.  Also, what were the truths that the victims subscribed to?

Keep in mind that we must give perpetrators the benefit of the doubt.  It is possible that they only thought they had the truth and that each of these injustices was not based on actual truth but an incorrect system of beliefs which we shall dutifully avoid calling lies.  Some might say that each of these injustices represented a lapse in truth.  If so, perhaps we can learn the real truth from looking at them more closely and finding out why there was a lapse.

Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.Swami Vivekananda

These ten injustices range from the death of one man to the death of millions of men and women.  They include the deaths of people from every corner of the earth, every tribe that ever existed and every culture that was ever known.  That is a truth.  But I doubt it is the truth that we seek.  Before we proceed with this exploration, let me warn you.  You may find some truths that you do not want to hear.  What if each injustice in this list was the truth?  What would this tell us about human nature?  Could you look at your fellow human beings and live with this truth?  Do not despair yet, for at this point, I have presented no evidence to show that either truth or false beliefs were behind any of these inequities.  Perhaps, we shall find that truth had nothing to do with them.

But I suppose the most revolutionary act one can engage in is… to tell the truth.”  ― Howard Zinn,

The Trial of Socrates:

death of socratesSocrates, the wisest man in the world was tried in Athens, the world’s greatest democracy sometime around 400 BCE.  Socrates was tried for corrupting the minds of the Athenian youth.  The truth for Socrates was that he never taught anything (since he did not know anything) but he loved to ask questions to stimulate the thinking of other people.  Socrates was teaching Critical Thinking skills before they were popular.  The truth for his persecutors was that it was too dangerous for the young people of Athens to be questioning their elders.  Socrates did not mount a defense, did not hire canny lawyers, did not plead “not guilty by reason of insanity” and did not blame Athenian society for his plight.

“At first, they’ll only dislike what you say, but the more correct you start sounding the more they’ll dislike you.”   Criss Jami

Much to everyone’s chagrin, Socrates plead guilty as charged.  One might wonder what fears could have brought about the conviction of a man teaching other people to think.  Was it the potential fall of the Athenian Democracy or the current threats that leaders saw mounted to this democracy?  Was Socrates really a threat to democracy?  Is this possibly a truth we have not admitted in our own zeal to export democracy all over the world?  Truth:  Thinking is bad.  Truth:  Following orders is good.  Truth:  He who is in charge decides what is true.

Socrates was given a poison called hemlock and his last words were:  “Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius.  Please, don’t forget to pay the debt.”

“Everyone knows perfectly well what truth is – everyone except Pontius Pilate and philosophers.  Truth is the quality of being true, and being true is what some statements are. That is to say, truth is a quality of the propositions which underlie correctly-used statements.” — Bob Stone

Slavery:

slavery in IslamSlavery has existed since time immemorial.  Slavery was known in almost every ancient civilization, and society, including SumerAncient EgyptAncient China, the Akkadian EmpireAssyriaAncient IndiaAncient Greece, the Roman Empire, the Islamic Caliphate, the Hebrew kingdoms in Palestine, and the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas.  According to Wikipedia:   “Slavery is officially illegal in all countries, but there are still an estimated 20 million to 36 million slaves worldwide.   Mauritania was the last jurisdiction to officially outlaw slavery (in 1981/2007), but about 10% to 20% of its population is estimated to live in slavery.”

Many distinctions and definitions exist regarding types of slavery and conditions related to how slaves were and are still treated, bought and sold.   According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year for the purpose of sex, servitude or pornography.  More than 70% are female and half are children.  Without going into the various categories of slavery, anyone with a smidgen of morality can see that all slavery is immoral and cruel.  But that is a truth for the slaves.  What was and is the truth for the slave owners and slave traders?

Truth:  We have a right to their labor and even bodies

Truth:  Slaves are inferior creatures and do not deserve to be treated as we would want ourselves to be treated.

Truth:  If it is my slave, you have no business telling me what I can do with his/her labor.

Truth:  My slaves may have had different ideas regarding these “truths” but their ideas do not count.

Truth:  Money made by slavery is more important than the morality of the trade.

“So our definition of truth needs to be much more flexible than Plato, Descartes and other philosophers claim. I would say that a pragmatic theory of truth is closest: that truth is the ‘thing that works’; if some other set of ideas works better, then it is truer.” — Andrew Warren

Will slavery ever come to an end?  Is there a truth to slavery that will enable all to see the inhumanity of it?  What about the truths that the perpetrators have?  Is their truth less valid than the truth of the slaves?  Does anyone care about the slaves’ truths?  Which truth is truer?  When will the truth arrive to set the slaves free?

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”  ― Galileo Galilei

The Crusades:

From about 1100 CE to 1300 CE, Europe invaded the Mideast with the purported reason of securing the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims.  Some would say the real reason was conquest while others would say it was purely economic.  According to Wikipedia:

Pope Urban II promised forgiveness of all sins to whoever took up the cross and joined in the war.  While there were additional motivations for taking up the cross—opportunity for economic or political gain, desire for adventure, and the feudal obligation to follow one’s lord into battle—to become a soldier for Christ was to express total devotion to God.”

crusadeWhile I find the arguments for the wars intriguing, I am not as interested in the motives for conquest as I am in the truths that both sides, Muslims and Christians used in their massacres of each other.  As Ulysses S. Grant noted about the southern sharecroppers who supported the Civil War, it is curious that so many Christians could be induced to fighting for goals that had no material or even spiritual advantage for them.  Of course, one could argue that the “forgiveness” of sins was some type of spiritual advantage.  I would counter that there would have been easier ways to attain this goal rather than risking one’s life.  Did not confession as a Catholic sacrament exist in 1100 CE?  No, if there was a real reason for the crusades, I think as usual we will find it in the truths that motivated both sides.

Christians then and now believe that God is our God and not the God of Islam.  Allah is not Jehovah or Yahweh or I Am.  Allah is some foreign and heretical interpretation of the “real” god who belongs to Christians.  “Allah Be Praised” is not the same as “In God We Trust.”  Another truth is that Muslims had no right to the Holy Lands.  God (The Christian God) gave the Holy lands to the Catholics by way of Abraham, David and those other Jews who were known as the Israelites but who no longer existed back in 1100 CE.  Of course, Jews were scattered all over Europe but the world was not yet interested in regaining the Holy Lands for Jews.  In fact, in another one hundred years or so, we would start an institution to get rid of Jews and eliminate the heresy that was associated with Jewish beliefs (More on the Inquisition later).

So what truths motivated the Muslims to risk life and limb to protect the Holy Land and to stop the Infidels from regaining the center of Christian spiritual life?  I think the term “Infidel” easily answers this question.  Translated the word Infidel means:  “A Person who has no religious faith; an unbeliever.”  Thus, to many Muslims then and now, an unbeliever is a Christian or Jew who does not believe in Mohammed or Allah.  That is the Allah of Islam.  The truth to a Muslim is that Christians are unbelievers and not worthy of respect.  Of course, not all Muslims believe this.  Another motivational truth was that many Muslims in 1100 CE thought it was their land.  They were upset that French, Italian and German Knights thought that they somehow had a right to lands that had been occupied by Arabs since Ismael’s time.  The truth that “this is my land and not your land” has always been a powerful motivator for fighting (More will be said about this when we talk about the Extermination of Indigenous Peoples).

“Truth is not constant. Some beliefs which were held to be true are now considered false, and some for which truth is now claimed may be deemed false in the future, and vice versa. Truth is good for helping us decide how to act, because it serves as a standard for making some sort of sense of a world populated also by half-truths and untruths.”  —- Ray Pearce

The Inquisition:

Galloping on through history we now arrive at the Inquisition, another great idea to come from the Roman Catholics.  How can we stamp out lies, heresies and false truths?  Heresy can be defined as:  “My beliefs or truths are different from your beliefs or truths and since you have more power than I do, my beliefs are wrong and punishable.”   Solution:  Let’s inquire as to the beliefs that potential heretics (Jews, Cathars, Protestants, Muslims, Free Thinkers, intellectuals and many others) might have in respect to what are the true beliefs that we know are true.  Any suspects whose thinking deviates from our truth will be punished until they are repentant.

“Wherefore if forgers or money and other evil-doers are forewith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated, but even put to death. “Thomas Aquinas

Inquisition_torture_03This simple inquiry or Inquisition process was complicated by the unfortunate fact that people lie.   Solution:  We will need to torture them to tell the truth.  Complication:  people who are tortured will also lie and tell you whatever you want to hear.  (See the current US Senate Report 2014 on Torture).  Thus, the suspect is dammed if he tells the truth and dammed if he does not, since he won’t be believed in either case.  If he does tell his truth and it is not the right truth he will be burnt at the stake for being a heretic.  Solution:  Burn all suspected heretics no matter what they say.   Is it any wonder, so many people finally left the Old World and when they came to the New World wanted nothing to do with religion, the Pope or the Catholic Church?

“Discovering the truth will be a hurtful and painful experience when the facts or realities turn out to be different from what is expected. Yet there ought to be no grounds for despair if we accept that the ideal of truth, like all other virtues, can be approached rather than attained. This ideal truth can be glimpsed if we manage to be skeptical, independent and open-minded when presented with the supposed facts and realities.”  —- Ian Rizzo

The Extermination of Native and Indigenous Peoples:

Aborigines, Mayans, Native Americans (Indians), Eskimos, Tibetans, Incas, Ainus, Daurs, Bushmen.  All indigenous people.  All subjected to murder, famine and extermination by more powerful invaders who wanted their land or resources.  There is not an inhabited continent on earth where the indigenous people were not persecuted and their rights and even lives forfeit to the invaders.  There is not a time in history where such persecutions have not occurred. From the first historical records to the most recent news reports of mass tribal exterminations in various parts of the world, we see the truth.  The truth of the invaders and the truth of the exterminated though are not the same.

I have listed the Holocaust in a separate category of injustice.  Many historians would see the systematic genocide of the Holocaust as perhaps belonging in my category of Extermination.  We can add numerous examples of genocide to the above list.  The Bosnian Serb massacres, the Rwandan murders, the Armenian massacres, the Cambodian massacres might also fit in the Extermination category but in my scheme of things, I would include them in the Holocaust category since I believe and will show that they are based on a different set of “truths.”  The truths for the extermination of indigenous people as defined by the invaders are:

Truth:  They don’t need the land and stand in the way of progress.

Truth:  Might makes right.  Since we are mightier we can simply take their property.

Truth:  They will never fit in with our way of doing things.

This unfortunate race, whom we had been taking so much pains to save and to civilize, have by their unexpected desertion and ferocious barbarities justified extermination and now await our decision on their fate.”Thomas Jefferson

“The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are.”L. Frank Baum (Author of the Wizard of Oz)

native_american_indian_six06Looking at the truth from the point of view of those due to be annihilated provides a different perspective on the truth.  We see the White truth that Indians are lazy, barbaric and that their culture stands in the way of progress.  A White truth is that the problems with Indian culture far outweighed any inherent value in their way of life.  They are immoral, cruel and uncivilized and worse they refuse to adopt the “White man’s ways.”  Heck, we gave them reservations, taught them to speak English, sent them to schools to learn to read and write and even sold them booze and now they have casinos.  Truth:  Nothing seems to make them happy.

However, the voices from Native Americans seem to present a different truth:

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents.  Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.  We had no locks or keys and therefore among us there were no thieves.  When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.  We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property.  We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth.  We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another.  We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”  —John (Fire) Lame Deer, Sioux Lakota – 1903-1976

“I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right.  Riches would do us no good.  We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches.  We want peace and love.” — Red Cloud

Do Red Cloud’s words sound familiar?  Have you ever heard of a man named Jesus Christ who said:

“Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.” — Luke 6:30

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  — Mark 8:36

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” — John 13:34

It would seem like Red Cloud knew more about the “true” teachings of Jesus then the thousands of Christian missionaries who went to Asia, Africa, South America, North America and elsewhere to teach the pagan barbarian primitives how to be good Christians before they were slaughtered.  Much merit to these missionaries since in the Christian theology, you cannot get to heaven unless you are baptized.  It would be simply awful if these indigenous peoples, whom we planned to rape, rob and murder could not get to heaven.  What do you suppose they will say to their murderers when the murderers arrive in heaven?  Egad!  I just had a terrible thought.  What if all the conquerors and murderers are going to hell?

Let’s wrap this up.  Thanks for your patience.  I never thought this blog would get this long. I suddenly realized it was almost beyond too long and I have decided to break it into two parts.  When I started this blog, it was as much an exploration for me as it may have been for you. I truly wondered if I would find the Truth.  I wondered if a clear set of precepts might emerge which would better help me to understand humanity and how we can allow such injustices to occur.

I thought that by exploring the worst injustices or at least a variety of the worst injustices in history, a light would inevitably shine on the Truth.  Everyone talks about the Truth.  Everyone says they are looking for the Truth.  We all know that the “Truth will set us free.”  Free from what though?  I am more confused than ever.  Thus, the search will continue next week.  You deserve the Truth, if you can handle it.  The problem seems to be in finding it.  In my next blog, we will look at the next five atrocities on my list to see if they will shed more light on the Truth.   We have invested too much time to quit our quest now.

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.”Herbert Agar

Time for Questions:

Have you found the Truth?  What is your Truth?  What keeps us from the Truth?  Is there really a Truth to be found?  How do you know?  What if there was no truth?

Life is just beginning.

“We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.”   ― Albert Pike

What the Hell Do We Need Morality For?

morals and ethicsThis blog is about the subject of morality.  Once upon a time, they taught morality in school and in church.   The first system of morality that many older Americans were exposed to was probably the “Ten Commandments.”   This was a code of rules given to the Israelites by Moses on Mount Sinai.  I have always thought it ironic that a set of morals from the “Old Testament” were supposed to be the foundation for a Christian America.  Even today, advocates of this code of morality want to hang it in town halls, schools, courts and government centers.  This is a part of the Bible that also promoted an “eye for an eye” and stoning adulterers.  Of course, Jesus did say “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  Jesus added at least one commandment to all others that was even more valuable than the ten TenCommandmentsMoses gave.   Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John: 13:34).  I would be much more in favor of seeing this posted in my neighborhood than the Ten Commandments.

Perhaps even more importantly in terms of a system of morality, Jesus gave a sermon where he proposed what has been called:  The Eight Beatitudes:   (Click here to hear the The Beatitudes Song

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  —- Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10

It is my opinion that the Eight Beatitudes constitute one of the greatest systems of morality to come out of the Bible.  Indeed, I would rather see these taught (if we are going to teach a system of morality) than the Ten Commandments.  I would also not mind these being posted in schools and other public places.

I said that once upon a time, we taught morality in schools and churches.   Actually, we not only taught morality but morality was imbued in our social fabric by many traditional stories and the media.  Children from an early age were exposed to Fairy tales, Uncle Remus stories, Aesop Fables, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.  These stories were full of morals on how to live and behave properly.  Early TV was also full of morality tales.  Shows like Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver and Andy Griffith each week clearly conveyed stories of morality and what was right and what was not right in terms of behavior.

sin-guilt-causes-body-pain-sicknessSomeplace along the way, we started losing our sense of morality.  Some have blamed it on becoming a multi-cultural environment.  Some have blamed it on the decline of religion and church going.  Some have blamed education while still others have blamed progress and a business culture that has no room for strict morality.  I am not sure what the actual cause was.  I am more concerned that it did happen.  Studies have shown that our culture has become more amoral than moral and that narcissism now plays an increasing role in our society.  People are less moral and more self-centered than ever before in the history of this country.  A book by Joel Marks (Ethics without Morals: In Defense of Amorality -Routledge Studies in Ethics and Moral Theory, 2012) is one of several that makes an argument for amorality:

“In clear, plainspoken, engaging prose, Joel Marks presents the case for abandoning belief in morality. Anyone who wants to defend the practice of making moral judgments will have to confront the issues Marks raises, and the alternative to morality he proposes.” – Mitchell Silver, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA 

In the book “The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality (2009)” the author Hans-Georg Moeller advances the following case for amorality:

“Justice, equality, and righteousness—these are some of our greatest moral convictions. Yet in times of social conflict, morals can become rigid, making religious war, ethnic cleansing, and political purges possible.  Morality, therefore, can be viewed as a pathology—a rhetorical, psychological, and social tool that is used and abused like a weapon.”

In an article “Why Is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?”  by Peter Gray in Freedom to Learn (2014), Gray notes the following:

“For the past three decades or a little more, researchers have been assessing both narcissism and empathy using questionnaires developed in the late 1970s.  Many research studies have shown that scores on these questionnaires correlate reliably with real-world behavior and with other people’s ratings of the individuals.  For example, those who score high in narcissism have been found to overrate their own abilities, to lash out angrily in response to criticism, and to commit white-collar crimes at higher rates than the general population.[1]  Those who score low in empathy are more likely than the average person to engage in bullying and less likely to volunteer to help people in need.[2.]

Over the years, these questionnaires have been administered to many samples of college students, and analyses that bring all of the data together reveal that the average narcissism score has been steadily increasing and the average empathy score has been steadily decreasing ever since the questionnaires were developed [3.]  The changes are highly significant statistically and sufficiently large that approximately 70 percent of students today score higher on narcissism and lower on empathy than did the average student thirty years ago.

What accounts for this historical rise in narcissism and decline in empathy?  There is no way to know for sure, based on the data, but there are lots of grounds for speculation.”

I think we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  I agree we need to keep the State separate from the Church.  I also agree that we don’t need the Ten Commandments as the foundation for moral thought in America.  Nevertheless, I do believe that we all need a code of morality to live by.  Whether it be Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Agnostic, Atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Baha’i, or other, we need a set of morals and a template and foundation for our behavior.  We need a baseline that each of us can start from as we assess what is good and what is right.  We need to have some system of ideas about what is correct behavior and how we should live in a social world.

When I was a kid, (somewhere along the way) I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins.  Sometimes they were called the Seven Deadly Vices or the Seven Cardinal Sins.  I assume that since I attended a Catholic school, it went along with the teaching.  The Seven Deadly Sins included the following:

  • Lust7 deadly sins
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Sloth
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Pride

Some of you might think that this list is old fashioned or out of date.  How could this set of implicit moral values make a difference in our society?  These are so old; do they really have any relevance anymore?  You have only to look at the world today, to persuade yourself that these “sins” are at the top of the list of major problems.  Greed, envy, gluttony and lust appear pervasive in our culture.  TV shows, movies, magazines, radio, supermarkets, superstars, sports, credit services, escort services, pornography, Las Vegas all portray an American brand of materialism that is nothing short of sick.  Get it now, get it fast, and get more and moreMore is better!  Bigger is better!  Shop till you drop!  He who has the most toys wins!

“If necessity is the mother of invention, then surely greed must be the father. Children of this odd couple are named: Laziness, Envy, Greed, Jr., Gluttony, Lust, Anger and Pride.”  ― John R Dallas  Jr.

Black Friday is only a small manifestation of the greed, lust and sloth that has infected our society.  How many Americans have a regular exercise schedule?  How many obese citizens can you count on the street each day?  How many Americans spend more each week then they earn?  How many Americans will go in debt this Holiday Season to spend money that they don’t have on gifts and toys?  Where is the self-restraint that is necessary to push oneself away from the table or shut the TV off and say “Enough.”  It barely seems to exist.  Is it any wonder that so many countries have a very negative stereotype of the “average” American?  We appear to be a group of people who have lost our moral compass.

ARTICLE 29 —  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • You have a responsibility to the place you live and the people around you-we all do. Only by watching out for each other can we each become our individual best.

At this point, you well may be asking “What right does he have to be so damn moralistic?” Didn’t Jesus say “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?”  “Are you so perfect that you have a right to look down on other people?”  “Who does he think he is, Jonathan Edwards?”  “I don’t need anyone telling me my faults.”  “I get enough negativity from work without having to get it from you.”

Please allow me to clarify a few misconceptions.   In some religious circles we are all sinners.  Since I am agnostic, I don’t subscribe to a religious view of sin.  My use of the terminology is borrowed from the religious sphere since I think the concept of sin has a very useful connotation if we can free it from some of the pejorative and negative associations with which it is fettered.  First of all, I do not believe that you will go to hell for committing these Seven Sins.  Second, you will not be a bad or evil person because of them.  Third and accentuating the positive, you may be happier and healthier if you are more aware of these “sins” and can do a better job of examining the role that they play in your life.  My bringing these “sins” out is to help us all become more aware of the morality that we have allowed to become obscured in our daily lives.

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.  —-Buddha

We have had a decline in morality that started over one hundred years ago and it still seems to be declining.  More people are worried about their taxes increasing then the poverty facing many people in this country.  More people are worried about their security then the number of people going to jail every day for victimless crimes.  More people are worried about the price of gasoline then the pollution we send into the atmosphere every day.  Self-centeredness has become a dominant fixture of the American landscape.  “Greed is Good” says Ivan Boesky and everyone applauds.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.   — C. S. Lewis

Why do I think we should care about morality? 

goodevilWithout morality, we are not even as good as animals.  Animals eat, drink, sleep, procreate and fight when they have to.  They do not do it simply to hurt other animals or to wage war against groups or individuals that they cannot tolerate.  Animals care for their young and exhibit many characteristics of moral behavior.  In captivity, animals may display much more aggressive behavior.  For instance, Orcas in the wild have never been observed to kill other Orcas.  This is not the case for Orcas in captivity.  There is no such thing as civilization without a commitment to moral and ethical behavior.  Even animal societies are proof of this.

“I am Envy, begotten of a chimney-sweeper and an oyster-wife. I cannot read, and therefore wish all books were burnt; I am lean with seeing others eat – O that there would come a famine through all the world, that all might die, and I live alone; then thou should’st see how fat I would be! But must thou sit and I stand? Come down, with a vengeance!”  ― Christopher MarloweDoctor Faustus

Without morality, we have no compass to define what is good behavior and what is bad behavior.  We are reduced to the level of opportunists willing to take advantage of anyone and anything that suits our ends.  Listen to the current debate on the use of torture and the recent CIA report and you will find numerous “experts” advocating that the “ends justify the means.”  One man on NPR noted that he thought we should ask the victims of the Twin Trade Towers what they thought about the use of torture to capture Osama Bin Laden.   John McCain said it best when he opined in Congress (12-9-14) that “”Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”  Nevertheless, he is opposed by his own party in his opposition to torture and in fact to even releasing the CIA Tortmoralityure Report.

Many Republicans have argued against releasing the report, especially as the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria grows, and U.S. intelligence officials have warned that its release could cause backlash from nations and groups hostile towards the nation. American embassies in the Middle East have been put on heightened security alert for its release.

McCain replied that “This report strengthens self-government and, ultimately, I believe, America’s security and stature in the world.”  (CNN 12-9-14)

Finally, without morality, there is no way to transmit values from one generation to another.  A lack of morality has led to the increase in amorality that is now symptomatic of our society.  Amorality is a set of beliefs which deny the value of morality or at best are indifferent to morality.  A rock is amoral.  It is neither good (moral) or bad (immoral) but may be used for either purpose.  Anything or anyone without a conscience is amoral.  It is a fine line and one that is very easy to trespass between amoral and immoral.  Many people today may think their behaviors are amoral when actually they could better be described as immoral.  Harken back to the Seven Deadly Sins and ask yourself, how many of these vices are amoral?  Are greed, gluttony, lust and wrath amoral?   Can anyone with a good conscience say it is okay to partake in these vices?

“Seven deadly sins,
seven ways to win,
seven holy paths to hell,
and your trip begins

Seven downward slopes
seven bloodied hopes
seven are your burning fires,
seven your desires…”
― Iron Maiden

Time for Questions:

What is your moral code? What are the three most important morals in your life?  Do you think everyone should have an explicit moral code?  Why or why not?  Do you know many amoral people?  What do you think about amorality?  When is it justified?  What do you think the world would be like if everyone was amoral?  Would it be a better world or worse? Why?

Life is just beginning.

“Remember tonight… for it is the beginning of always”  ― Dante Alighieri

Gandhi’s Sixth Social Sin: Worship Without Sacrifice

I find it surprising that I am writing about Gandhi and his ideas.  Surprising in that while growing up I was as far from a non-violent philosophy as anyone could be.  Sometimes it seemed like my whole life was violence, anger and fighting.  I joined the military out of high school and hoped to kill as many “commies” as I could.  I continued my violent ways for many years and to be honest I am still no pacifist.  I would not turn the other cheek once if you hit me, never mind 40 times. I am still on the border line about capital punishment.  One day I think Capital Punishment is terribly useless institution made even worse by its ineffectiveness at deterring crime. The next day I read of some horrendous crime that I feel can only be rectified by punishments that go well beyond the heinousness of legal murder.  If Gandhi were my father, he would surely disown me. 

Gandhi is one of those heroic icons who cannot be ignored.  Whether you believe in his ideas or not, you cannot deny that he tried to live according to his beliefs.  More important was that he lived to help others have a better life.  Everything Gandhi did paid evidence to his ideology that humans could be better than they were.  I know many people who think that educators, psychologists, social workers and other “human service” workers are just a waste of taxpayer money.  These same people are continually on the front line for more prisons and more military hardware.  It is evident to such people that humans can not improve and thus the only betterment of humanity lies in more weapons, more police, more military and more guns.  Gandhi would have professed the exact opposite and worked to create a world that was non-violent and where disputes could be resolved by civil discourse.

Years ago, I dropped my belief in God and in religions.  I came to the conclusion that the first did not exist and the second was evil. It seemed to me that much of the misery on the earth came from one or the other of the major religions.  The crusades, the inquisition, the Protestant Catholic wars, the wars against “Pagans” all showed me conclusively that religions did more harm than good. When I joined the military, I would not speak to any clergy and when they came around; I always avoided them.  I was even rude to them at times as I regarded them as hypocrites.  My first wife and I did not practice any religion together but I did bring my daughter around to several different religious venues as I wanted to at least expose her to them.  My second marriage was to a more deeply religious woman who practices her faith regularly by participating in church affairs and helping out at many church functions.  I often kid her about some of these events but I have come to a different point in my life regarding their benefit to the world.  I am somewhat less judgmental about religions and people then I was in my younger days. 

What does this mean for me about religions and how I regard them today?  I can say with sincerity that I still see much evil that comes out of religion, not to mention its ongoing hypocrisy (for instance where were all the churches and ministers when we invaded Iraq both the first and second times?).  However, I also see many good things that they now do, from supporting health care for poor people to championing efforts to feed people both domestically and abroad.  There are many other examples of good things that are done by churches and religious leaders.  So what does Gandhi mean by “Worship without Sacrifice?”  Is Gandhi against organized religion?  Here is the description from the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence that summarizes Gandhi’s ideas in respect to his Sixth Social Sin: 

“Worship without Sacrifice: One person’s faith is another person’s fantasy because religion has been reduced to meaningless rituals practiced mindlessly. Temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and those entrusted with the duty of interpreting religion to lay people seek to control through fear of hell, damnation, and purgatory. In the name of God they have spawned more hate and violence than any government. True religion is based on spirituality, love, compassion, understanding, and appreciation of each other whatever our beliefs may be — Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics or whatever. Gandhi believed whatever labels we put on our faith; ultimately all of us worship Truth because Truth is God. Superficially we may be very devout believers and make a tremendous public show of our worship, but if that belief, understanding, compassion, love and appreciation is not translated into our lives, prayers will have no meaning. True worship demands sacrifice not just in terms of the number of times a day we say our prayers but in how sincere we are in translating those prayers into life styles. In the 1930’s many Christian and Muslim clergy flocked into India to convert the millions who were oppressed as untouchables. The Christian clergy stood on street corners loudly denouncing Hinduism and proclaiming the virtues of Christianity. Months went by without a single convert accepting the offer. Frustrated, one priest asked Grandfather: After all the oppression and discrimination that the ‘untouchables’ suffer under Hinduism, why is it they do not accept our offer of a better life under Christianity? Grandfather replied: When you stop telling them how good Christianity is and start living it, you will find more converts than you can cope with. These words of wisdom apply to all religions of the world. We want to shout from roof-tops the virtues of our beliefs and not translate them into our lives.”

Gandhi’s words remind me of a comment by Sitting Bull. When asked what he thought of Christianity he replied:   “From what I have read it is an admirable religion, however I do not see any white people practicing it.”  From a Native American perspective, the only thing the conquerors religions offered was a destruction of their habitats and lifestyles.  Witness the coming of the Spanish to the “New World” and the systematic destruction of the culture and religions that already existed by the Spanish military and their allied missionaries.  The genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples throughout the world is full of pompous and pretentious efforts to “convert” and save them from their evil ways.  In reality, religion only provided an expedient excuse to separate them from their lands and gold.  We have in much of the history of organized religion a clear example of what Gandhi meant by Worship without Sacrifice.

Perhaps surprising to some though, true Christianity is firm that Worship without Sacrifice is worthless: 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and be well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  

 

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

                    James 2:14-26- New International Version

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for his religious beliefs. This is Worship with Sacrifice.  Going to church on Sunday or simply reading the Bible is Worship without Sacrifice.  When Jesus said that the two most important Commandments were Love God and Love Everyone, he meant you had to practice your faith by helping others who were less fortunate.  This has made it very difficult for most of humankind to be his followers in deed as well as in professed belief.  It is far easier to say “I am a Christian, then to “Sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  It is much easier to pray, worship, and read the Bible than to actually practice what Jesus was saying.  Think for a minute what it would mean if all would be Christians really practiced the “Love Everyone Commandment?  A short list of the consequences of this would mean:

  • No religious wars
  • No Jihads
  • No terrorism
  • No murders
  • No rapes
  • No assaults
  • NO WARS PERIOD

Can you imagine a world without these problems?  This is the world we would have if everyone practiced their religions by deeds and not just words.  However, this would require sacrifice and too many people are not really willing to sacrifice for their religion, for Jesus or for God.  Sacrifice means giving up something to help others, not giving up something to gain something for you.  Those who blow up their bodies to attain paradise with 40 vestal virgins are not sacrificing for others; they are simply trying to take a shortcut to attain what other greedy people already have.  Any religion that terrorizes others in the name of “whoever” or “whatever” is evil regardless of what it calls itself.  This raises the question that might be phased as “What is the purpose of religion.”  Searching the web it is easy to find that many have condemned organized religion because of the atrocities associated with it. Great thinkers from Plato to Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell have had little good to say about religions.  However, I like the following comment from WaheguruNet regarding what positive role religion could and indeed should play in society:

“Religion has and continues to impact almost every aspect of human civilization in both positive and negative ways. The great spiritual masters from all traditions have taught that we need to adopt and develop higher qualities of love, mercy, generosity, kindness and so on. These higher qualities are a natural byproduct of developing a deeper connection with our spiritual nature and so in this respect religion can be thought of as a vehicle to support our spiritual development and our re-connection with divinity.  In this way, human beings will be better at working together to create a better and more harmonious world.”

You will notice that in this purpose there is nothing mentioned about doom and destruction  or about going to hell and suffering for the rest of your life or about your neighbor who is a hypocrite and unlike you is destined for fire and brimstone.  The purpose of religion is to help us become better people. To help us find our connection to our inner spirit and to help guide us in living a more just and moral life.  This purpose must be followed by actions and deeds as well as pious readings and professed beliefs. There is no room Gandhi’s religion or Jesus’s religion for bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, intolerance and destruction of others or their belief systems.   

Time for Questions:

What can we do to practice good deeds as well as good thoughts? What sacrifices are you willing to make to help others?  Are we making a true sacrifice by telling others how hard we worked and that they can be what we are if they only try?  Should we simply tell others to pull themselves up by their boot straps?  Are all people really created equal in the sense that everyone has an equal chance at health and happiness?  Can we help make it so by sharing what we have with others?  

Life is just beginning.

 

 

The 4th of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Commerce without Morality.

Several years ago, a movie was made called “The Corporation.”   It is a documentary film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The film examines the modern-day corporation.   It considers its legal status as a class of person and evaluates its behavior towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person. The films thesis is explored through numerous examples and interviews.  Bakan wrote the book, “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” during the filming of the documentary.  I highly recommend this film.  I have shown it in many of my classes and used numerous excerpts from the film to illustrate key points about corporate behavior and the history of the corporate concept.  If you are interested in watching the film, you can do so on YouTube at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y888wVY5hzw

Most people do not realize it but the modern corporation and rules governing its behavior were not developed until the middle of the 19th century.  True, there were charters and rules governing businesses since the middle ages, but corporate law as we know it today is only about 150 or so years old.  The main point of the film is that despite not being human beings, corporations, as far as the law is concerned, have many of the same rights and responsibilities as people do.  Corporations can exercise human rights against individuals and the state,and they can themselves be responsible for human rights violations. 

However, while people have hearts, emotions, feelings and consciences, corporations do not.  While human behavior and codes of conduct have been developing since the Stone Age, the codes of conduct for corporations are practically non-existent.  Witness how Enron subverted their entire ethics process to allow the company to pursue almost unlimited degrees of immoral and unethical behavior.  In most corporations, the ethics statements are followed only when convenient and never if they conflict with the prime directive: “Make Money.”   Business schools may teach one class on ethics but seldom do students come away with any true sense that there must be an underlying morality to commerce.  Most students yawn their way through ethics since experience has already shown them that business ethics are expendable.  Noted economist Milton Friedman is famous for his criticism of business ethics and social responsibility for corporations.  According to Christine Travis, Friedman makes two key points in favor of his theory.  The first is that there is no uncontroversial morality.   Business owners are not ethicists and thus are not equipped to make ethical decisions.  Secondly, Friedman argues that maximizing long term self-interests will actually bring out the greater good.  (See Travis’s paper Philosophy: Summary and Explanation of Milton Friedman’s Stockholder Theory” for more depth on Friedman’s perspective.)

It is easy to see that Friedman’s theory has nuances which are valid but that there are gaps in his reasoning that allow too wide latitude of behavior.   If we argue that entrepreneurs, managers and business owners are not ethicists, we may as well allow that most people are not ethicists.  True, there is wide interpretation of what is moral and what is immoral but the same can be said for any system of morality and standards. Nevertheless, we would not want our children to grow up believing that because they were not ethicists they could discard any standards of behavior.  The proof of any theory may be in the pudding.  In this case, we can see the results of 100 years of corporate behavior and I suspect that the results do not portray business people in a very favorable light.  In fact, in terms of most admired and least admired professions, business people usually find themselves ranked among the “sleaziest professions.

20 Sleaziest Ways To Make a Living (http://scientificmarketingandadvertising.com/marketing-articles-least-admired-professions.html)

  1. Drug Dealer (0.61)
  2. Crime Boss (0.99)
  3. TV Evangelist (1.19)
  4. Prostitute (1.24)
  5. Street Peddler (1.45)
  6. Local Politician (1.52)
  7. Congressman (1.58)
  8. Car Salesman (1.59)
  9. Rock Star (1.72)
  10. Insurance Salesman (1.76)
  11. Union Leader (1.89)
  12. Wall Street Executive (1.92)
  13. Real Estate Agent (1.92)
  14. TV Executive (1.94)
  15. Oil Company Executive (1.94)
  16. Lawyer (1.97)
  17. Soap Opera Star (2.00)
  18. Movie Star (2.00)
  19. Broker (2.00)
  20. Prison Guard (2.02)

Real Estate Agent, Wall Street Executive, TV Executive and Oil Company Executive all rank in the list of twenty least admired professions.   If you go to the link above you can also find the 20 most admired professions. There is not one business occupation in the list of 20 most admired.  The article that this list is drawn from explores the question of “What can we learn from this list?”  The answers seems to support the thesis developed by Bakan that businesses do not have an incentive for morality and thus giving them “rights” as human beings poses a threat to our society. 

Let’s take a second to see what the Gandhi Institute says about Commerce without Morality: 

As in wealth without work we indulge in commerce without morality to make more money by any means possible. Price gouging, palming off inferior products, cheating and making false claims are a few of the obvious ways in which we indulge in commerce without morality. There are also thousands of other ways in which we do immoral or unethical business. When profit-making becomes the most important aspect of business, morals and ethics usually go overboard. We cut benefits and even salaries of employees. If possible we employ “slave” labor, like the sweat shops and migrant farm workers in New York and California where workers are thoroughly exploited. Profit supersedes the needs of people. When business is unable to deal with labor it begins to mechanize. Mechanization, it is claimed, increases efficiency, but in reality it is instituted simply to make more money. Alternate jobs may be created for a few. Others will fall by the wayside and languish. Who cares? People don’t matter, profits do. In more sophisticated language what we are really saying is that those who cannot keep up with the technological changes and exigencies of the times do not deserve to live–a concept on which Hitler built the Nazi Party. If society does not care for such people, can we blame them if they become criminals?

One of the key points that I glean from the Gandhi Institute is that Gandhi was against “Profit superseding the needs of people.”  Friedman would argue from the enlightened self-interest perspective that they are the same.  If the corporation takes care of profit, it takes care of people by creating jobs and value for the society.  The proof of value creation is evidenced by the fact that only corporations that make a profit survive.  People are free to choose where and what they spend their money on.  Thus if they support Corporation X over Corporation Y, it is because they perceive more value for their money in doing so.  This argument would have more merit if people had access to perfect information and were perfectly rationale.  However, since people are often deceived and given erroneous information and since Madison Avenue has built up numerous ways to convince people to spend money against their best interests, Friedman’s argument is perpetually, inevitable and indubitably doomed to failure. 

The primary force that protects human existence and all of humankind has been and always will be moral behavior. No amount of police, regulations, lawyers, prisons or inspectors will ever be enough to replace the moral force of human conscience and caring for other human beings.  Corporations have no incentives or mechanism to be kind to anyone unless it somehow provides a path to increased profits.  On the numerous occasions when this is not possible, profit trumps concern for employees, concern for the country, concern for the environment and concern the future of humanity.  The proof of what I am saying has been demonstrated time and time again.  You have only to pick up the morning paper to see yet another example of short-term corporate thinking and focus on greed above the well-being of any other factor.

Just to test my own hypothesis, I turned to CNN Money.  What did the headlines show today?  A list of The Top Twenty Most Profitable corporations in the world!  Would it surprise anyone to find that out of the top ten, there were four oil companies?   The price of gas keeps going up, but our dependency on the gasoline engine driven by the greed of the oil companies insures that there is still a steady stream of profits to the largest oil companies.  Whose well-being is being served by the outlandish incentives that continue to drive the oil industry?  Is the oil industry an example of “corporate morality?”  I doubt few would say yes to this question. 

To conclude, Gandhi believes that Commerce without Morality is a sin or social blunder.  I think it has shown itself to be an unmitigated social evil.  Our present laws do not provide an adequate solution to this problem.  A corporation is not a human being and should not be treated as a human being.  It is time we rethink the laws developed in the 19th century to govern corporate behavior.  It is time to put human well-being as the primary directive for all corporations and not the making of profit.  We cannot be blamed for putting the cart before the horse because we have never really attached the horse to the cart.  There is no mandate for a corporation to be either moral or ethical.  Any statements to the contrary are simply straws in the wind. When the accountants look at the ledgers, profit trumps every other card in the corporation.   Can you imagine if we simply judged people by the same standard?  Those people who made the most money were rated as the most well-adjusted and socially responsible people.  Is this what we want our culture and society to be remembered for?  Simply how much money we made!  I think our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves at the thought. 

Ok, time for questions:

Do you think the Oil Industry is guided by a set of moral or ethical codes? Should it be?  Do you think corporations have an incentive for ethical behavior?  If so, I would love to hear your comments on this question either way.  Do you think we can change our corporate law to make them more responsible? Should we?  Why or why not?  Would you want the caption on your grave stone “I made a lot of money?”

Life is just beginning.

 

The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  I have been teaching in college since 1999 and one question I have routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  Would you be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it?  However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book. 

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking Knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.  The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion is a central part of character development.  Character development stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  However, as Gandhi notes, we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.  

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith noted in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin):

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath noted over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.   Sports and news create 24/7 harmless and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today exhibits a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development. 

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow with some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves? 

Ok, time for questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start? 

Life is just beginning.

 

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