The Secret Plan the Republicans Have to Help the Poor!

tax plan

The Republicans have a secret plan for eliminating poverty.  The basis of this plan is that if you eliminate the unfit you will not have any more poverty.  This strategy derives from theories first formulated in the middle of the nineteenth century.  These theories were subsequently labeled as “Social Darwinism.”  The online encyclopedia Britannica gives the following definition of Social Darwinism:

“Social Darwinism, the theory that human groups and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection as Charles Darwin had perceived in plants and animals in nature. According to the theory, which was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the weak were diminished and their cultures delimited while the strong grew in power and in cultural influence over the weak. Social Darwinists held that the life of humans in society was a struggle for existence ruled by “survival of the fittest,” a phrase proposed by the British philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer.”

Social DarwinismThere have been many theories proposed for the policies held by Trump and his Republican supporters.  They include “Greed Theory.”  The Republicans are held to be greedier than most people and only want to accumulate as much money as they can.  Another is “Hate Theory.”  This theory holds that since most Republicans are White European in ancestry, they loath and detest any people who are different then they are.  This includes Asians, Blacks, Indians, Latinos and any immigrants not from Europe.

The final theory proposed is what I call “Fear Theory.”  This theory holds that the motivation behind Republican policies stem from their innate fear that everything they have will be taken away by those who are less privileged.  Thus, we find Republicans building big houses behind big walls and in gated communities protected by private security police.  In addition, with the help of their friends in the NRA, they stockpile vast array of weapons in case of home invasion or an all-out assault by the underclass of America.

poor-beggar-rich-beggar-cartoon-allegory-illustration-beggars-41645010

The above theories assume a very pejorative and negative rationale for the actions of Trump and his allies in Congress.  I have come to a different conclusion.   Why is my conclusion and theory important?  Most of all because it does not ascribe any negative motivations to the Republicans.  My theory assumes that current Republican theory is derived from a set of basic assumptions first formulated in the late 1800’s.  Thus, Republicans are not greedy or hateful or fearful as much as they are misguided and misinformed.  I came to realize this fact through the intersection of two quite different events.  Here is how it happened.

Four or five times per week, I go for a run.  Down here in Arizona, I have been running in the Casa Grande mountains.  I usually get up in the mountains about the time of sunrise.  My runs are over hilly, twisty, rocky, mountainous and desert terrain.  My only companions this early are the cacti and numerous birds that populate the desert.  Occasionally, I see a coyote, javelina or long eared jack rabbit but mostly it is peaceful and quiet.  As the sun rises over the mountains, the blue sky is colored with red and yellow hues that create a pastiche of colors which are simply breathtaking.  It is hard not to think that I am in heaven when I am running in the mountains in the morning.

mountains in morning

I was on such a run about two weeks ago when I was struck with an inspiration.  I suddenly realized that everything the Republicans have been doing is based on one simple idea.  They want to create a system whereby the “elite” have the benefits of their status as superior beings.  Thus, healthcare should be for the elite and the poor can go to the emergency ward because they will not be able to afford insurance.  More of the poor will die but that is consistent with Social Darwinism.

“Their disappearance from the human family would be no great loss to the world.”
― Henry Clay

Education will become an elite system.  The poor will go to inner city public schools deprived of money and resources where they will be treated more like prisoners than learners and security guards will make sure they behave.  The rich will go to well-funded private academies where they will learn to take high paying jobs as captains of industry.

Social Security will be replaced by an elite system of stocks and bonds whereby the rich can use financial advisers to double and triple their contributions.  The poor with little knowledge or skills in the stock market will lose what they have contributed and soon find they have no retirement money.  More prisons will be built (and ironically will be government funded) to protect the rich and lock up any dissidents who dare to complain or who become public nuisances.

“The forces which are working out the great scheme of perfect happiness, taking no account of incidental suffering, exterminate such sections of mankind as stand in their way, with the same sternness that they exterminate beasts of prey and herds of useless ruminants.”  ― Herbert Spencer,

As much as I liked the above scenario, since it seemed to provide a good fit for the current Trump and Republican policies, there was still something missing.  I could not quite put my hand on it, but it still cast the Republicans as “bad guys” with evil motives.  Why should the Republicans be any more evil than the Democrats?  My theory did not explain this.

helping-othersAbout a week later, I was substitute teaching in a Casa Grande High School.  I drew an eleventh-grade social studies class.  The teacher had left an assignment wherein the students had to find certain terms and concepts associated with the second industrial revolution and write definitions for each of them.  Included among such terms as: robber barons, corporations, patents and trusts was the term “Social Darwinism.”  One of the students asked me to explain it beyond the simple definition she found on line.  I tried to recall my ideas relating to this concept from many years ago.  I gave her my explanation and then later I looked up the definition at Wikipedia.  I was struck at how well my memory had served me.  It was at that point that the proverbial light bulb or blinding light of inspiration hit me.  I suddenly realized that the Republican Party was not just trying to create elite systems but they were also trying to build on the theories of Herbert Spencer.  The following excerpt explains this theory very well as it applies to many current concepts such as: trickle down theory, privatization, corporate welfare and tax reform.

“Social Darwinists took up the language of evolution to frame an understanding of the growing gulf between the rich and the poor as well as the many differences between cultures all over the world.  The explanation they arrived at was that businessmen and others who were economically and socially successful were so because they were biologically and socially “naturally” the fittest. Conversely, they reasoned that the poor were “naturally” weak and unfit and it would be an error to allow the weak of the species to continue to breed. They believed that the dictum “survival of the fittest” (a term coined not by Charles Darwin but by sociologist Herbert Spencer) meant that only the fittest should survive.”  – Social Darwinism in the Gilded Age

social darwinismSo, there you have it.  Trump and the Republican Party are not greedy, hateful or fearful of others, they simply do not believe that you have a right to anything unless you are also rich and successful and White like they are.  Based on the concepts of Social Darwinism, they have the right to whatever you have if they can find a way to take it away from you.  If you cannot keep it, that means you are inferior.  If you are inferior, you have no right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  According to Social Darwinism, the elite will eventually Trump the poor because they are stronger, smarter and more fit.  This will eventually result in a society wherein everyone is fit, and everyone is trying to screw everyone else.

“Truly, this earth is a trophy cup for the industrious man. And this rightly so, in the service of natural selection.  He who does not possess the force to secure his Lebensraum in this world, and, if necessary, to enlarge it, does not deserve to possess the necessities of life.  He must step aside and allow stronger peoples to pass him by.”
― Adolf Hitler

Today we have a Fake President, Fake News, Fake Christians and a divide in this country that rivals the divide that we had prior to the civil war.  We have a nation that has forgotten its roots and that has succumbed to the vilest theory to ever afflict humanity.

Time for Questions:

Do you think it would be better if the poor would just die and save us all the trouble of taking care of them?   What do you think we should do with the disabled and mentally challenged?  Should we start a eugenics program to get rid of them?  Who should help the poor, refugees, immigrants, hungry, sick?  What would Jesus do?

Life is just beginning.

“They said ‘specialist children’s wards,’
But they meant children-killing centers.
They said ‘final medical assistance’
But they meant murder.”  ― Ann Clare LeZotteT4

The Road to Trumps Success Began 4,500 Years Ago

egypt-cairo-pyramids-of-giza-and-camels-2

The journey of Donald Trump from businessman to the head of the largest corporate state in the world did not as many assume start 12 months ago.  In fact, the roots of Trumps ascendancy can be traced back to at least 2,500 BCE.  Never before in history, has anyone with a business background and so little experience in either politics or military become the leader of a major state.  However, we did not see the buildup to this happening because most of the time we are focused on short-view trends and we miss entirely the long term trends that entail even more potent forces at play.

In numerous attempts to explain the election of Trump, most pundits have looked to the micro forces, such as international trade, disillusion among blue collar White males, the Affordable Care Act, distrust of Hillary Clinton, Russian interference in the election, White backlash and rising income inequality.  While these forces might explain Trump’s election they do not explain why America has now seen fit to elect a businessperson with no political experience as its 45th President.

In fact, the election of a person with a business background to run the country represents a major shift in power that has been taking place for nearly fifty years and can be linked to other power shifts since the beginning of recorded history.  In this blog, I will explain how and why we now find America being run by the elite of corporate America.  To do this, we must go back to the ancient Egyptians.

In approximately 2,500 BCE, the Pharaoh Khufu built the largest of the Pyramids known as the Great Pyramid of Giza as a burial chamber.  The Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for more than 3,800 years.   It was one of three large pyramids built in the Giza complex.  Then as now, humans marked their sovereignty by creating tall structures to show their power and prestige.  This phenomenon has been so consistent that it provides an insight into the sovereign powers that rule that planet and the various power shifts that have occurred throughout history.

sovereign-buildings

I mean to use the term sovereign to express the possessing of supreme or ultimate power.  For nearly 3,000 years, Kings, Pharaohs, Dictators, Emperors and those born of royal blood who were “related to Gods” were the ultimate sovereigns over most of humankind.  The early Romans and Greeks made some attempts to commute the power of their rulers by selecting some representatives of the population but these were generally of royal blood themselves and seldom of plebeian birth.  Julius Caesar who tried to be a “man of the people” was himself born into a patrician family.

Around the fall of the Roman Empire in 400 CE, sovereign power shifted from the nobility to the Catholic Church (at least in Europe).  Bear in mind that the shifts I refer to did not take place overnight.  These transitions in power took place gradually over decades and with many tug of wars between the transitioning sovereigns.  It was Pope Leo (440 CE) who first asserted Papal primacy and he was supported by the Romans because of the political chaos in the West.  Pope Gelasius I (492 CE) declared that priestly power was abpower-of-the-popesove kingly power.  The Pope was supreme and no appeals could be made for his decision.  Sovereign power had now shifted to the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Throughout most of Europe, the clergy and other minions of the Catholic Church assumed roles of leadership and sovereignty.  As the power of the church grew, so did the churches, cathedrals and basilicas which they built.  Each one was larger than the last one and all were designed to be larger than any buildings of the nobility or royalty.  The Church catheldralmanifested its power in the grandeur and elegance of its buildings.

The Catholic Church remained the dominant sovereign power in Europe until the reign of Pope Boniface VIII.  The clash of the Church to remain dominant over the newly emerging nation/state rulers took place in an epic battle between Pope Boniface VIII (1294 734-conflict-church-monarchs-12-638CE) and King Phillip IV of France.  Several other skirmishes had already taken place between Popes and rulers in the decades preceding with the battles seesawing back and forth.  However, the decisive battle for sovereignty was between Pope Boniface VIII and King Phillip IV.  It was vicious and at times bloody.  It saw the end of Church sovereignty and the beginning of the
sovereignty of nation/state rulers.   Boniface was captured by forces loyal to Philip and was beaten and nearly executed.  He was released from captivity after three days and died a short time later.  His defeat marked the end of the power of the Church to rule and the rise of the power of rulers of nation/states.

There are four characteristics of a nation/state.  These are:

  • Defined territory
  • Self-Rule (Sovereignty)
  • Some form of organized government
  • A population of people sharing a national identity

versailles-and-giverny-day-trip-in-paris-115463During the period of nation/state rulers, they built some magnificent buildings such as Versailles in France, Castello Del Valentino in Italy, the Palace of Placentia in London and the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.  If not the largest buildings in each country, they dwarfed in overall grandeur and size the churches that had been built by the clergy.  The period of nation/state rulers lasted from about 1400 CE to the middle of the 19th century.

The power of most of these nation/state rulers (usually with some pedigree of nobility) began to wane as the people in each country demanded more and more input into economic and political decisions.  Eventually, the nobility in most European countries were forced to make concessions to the idea of democratic or at least some form of republican rule.  The transition from rulers to republics was insured by the rise of a new class which we today call politicians or bureaucrats.  In time, these professional politicians became sovereign and replaced the old style rulers by virtue of a concept called elections or voting.  No one voted for Henry the VIII of England or Czar Nicholas II of Germany or King Ferdinand of Spain, but with the emergence of State governments, politicians and bureaucrats would become the new sovereigns.

how-bureaucrats-captured-government

The rise of most modern states started about the mid seventieth century.  Increasingly, although rulers in many nations could still be very powerful and even dictators, there was now some agency in every country that attempted to provide a balance to the ruler’s power.  In England, they established a parliament in 1706 that was later characterized by a House of Lords and a House of Commons.  In France, they created a National Assembly in 1791.  In Germany, they established a parliament in the 1870’s.  By the beginning of the 20th Century, although many nations had still kept their nobility as a form of tradition, most of the reins of government were in the hands of bureaucrats or elected officials.  Prime Ministers and Presidents had replaced Kings and Queens in the political decision making process.

national-capitolThe new sovereigns started building.  No more castles or palaces were built to house the new rulers.  Instead, capitals, state houses and mansions would be the new domiciles for politicians and bureaucrats.  Government leaders were no different though than Kings and Clergy when it came to siting their residences.  They also sought the high ground to place their buildings on.  The tallest buildings in the land now belonged to the Government.  This situation would not last very long.  Even more changes were taking place.  In a few short years, nations would no longer have an exclusive on sovereignty.  A new challenger was rapidly emerging.

capitalists

The new challenger started to emerge with the first corporations which began over a thousand years ago.  However, until the power of mercantilism started to become critical to state and military power in the late 16th century, the early corporations were rather toothless.  An excellent book titled Power Inc. covers the rise of the modern corporation in much more detail than I shall go into here.  The book by David Rothkopf is fittingly subtitled:  “The Epic Rivalry between Big Business and Government–and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead.”   

“In his new book, Power, Inc., David Rothkopf sounds an alarm.  He argues that thousands of private actors who he calls “super citizens” now hold greater power than most countries in the world.  He notes, for instance, that corporations have grown to the point where roughly the richest two thousand are more influential than 70-80 percent of the world’s nations. Walmart, for example, has revenues higher than the GDP of all but 25 nations.” — Roy Ulrich, the Huffington Post

The capitalistic industries wasted no time in starting to construct new buildings that would soon dwarf all of the previous tombs, castles, cathedrals and capitals throughout the world.  These buildings are so tall that they have been labeled as “skyscrapers.”  The world’s first skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, erected in 1884-1885.  Its 138 foot peak would be dwarfed by skyscrapers today.  The Flatiron Building in NYC was built in 1902 and is twenty floors high and 307 feet to its peak.  The Empire State Building was built in 1931 in NYC and for many years it was the tallest building in the world standing over 100 stories and 1400 feet in height.

With the rapid economic development of many former third world countries there has been a proliferation of corporate skyscrapers with many countries vying for the honor of having the tallest building in the world.  Searching on Google for the “tallest buildings in the world” one finds the following information for buildings over 300 meters tall:

“As of 2016, this list includes all 135 buildings (completed and architecturally topped out) which reach a height of 300 meters (984 ft.) or more as assessed by their highest architectural feature.”Wikipedia

skyscrapersThe list includes skyscrapers built in China, United Arab Emirates, Dubai, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Russia and several other nations.   Perhaps presaging the emergence of China and Asia as the dominant world economies, Asia is already assuming the role of having many of the largest buildings in the world.  What we are witnessing is a contest of global economies vying for supremacy in terms of world economic sovereignty.  An interesting aside is that the world currency is considered a reflection of the nation that is the most powerful in this arena.  To date, the United States still holds that distinction but many are predicting the demise of the US dollar as the standard for world currency.

tpp-free-trade

But what does this have to do with Trump you may be starting to ask?  What does commercial sovereignty have to do with political sovereignty?  The answer to the second question is everything.  The major reason for the success of the Allied powers in both WWI and WWII was the economic might of the United States.  Economic power translates into military power and military power translates into political power.  This fact has been recognized for over 500 years now.  Spain’s ascendancy to a world power was built on its confiscation of wealth in the New World.  Hitler recognized that Germany could not be a dominant world power without confiscating the wealth of Jewish citizens and also of its neighboring countries.

“Great Britain was once a dominant military force in the World while it had a dominant economy.  At the start of the First World War, it devalued its exchange rate.  By the end of the War, owing to its military expenditure, it had large trade deficits and falling gold reserves.” — Buoyant Economies

The question of Trump brings a larger issue to the fore.  Generally, we have seen that as the dominant world power shifts, the leadership shifts along with it.  The features of buildings as a representation of power has followed these shifts.  However, in terms of the new power of corporations, it would seem that the buildings have been created before the shift in leadership.  That is until Trump became President of the United States of America.

a-corporate-worldIs Trump’s election an anomaly or does it truly represent the emergence of corporate power into the political arena?  My view on this is that Trump’s election is merely the tip of the iceberg.  For over 20 years now the United States has been electing more and more political leaders who are not politicians.  I am considering someone as not a politician if they are people who have not made a career of politics.

Many business people are jumping right into the political arena without experience in either local, state or federal government.  The founder of Electronic Data Systems, Ross Perot may be remembered by many voters as the ultimate tycoon-turned-politician.  Perot ran for president in 1992 and 1996 as a third-party candidate.

An article written in 2010 before Trump had become a candidate stated the following concerning the election of corporate people to public office:

“Whoever believes politics is big business must have seen this coming. The high levels of accountability from running a corporation and high expectations of seeking a seat in government have many parallels.  Amid this confluence of business and political streams, Chief Executive magazine dubbed 2010 “a high-water mark for the CEO as candidate.”

More than 40 business magnates – the presidents and founders of banks, restaurants and tech giants – are running for seats on Capitol Hill or for governor’s offices in 25 states. And looking ahead Donald Trump says he is “absolutely thinking about” a 2012 presidential bid.” — Ten Business Leaders with Politics in their Blood, by Bill Briggs

During the Republican runoff to the nomination of Trump, we saw Carly Fiorina who was a former CEO also emerge as a potential candidate.  We now have ten governors with no former elected government service.  Seven former US presidents with business experience have all been elected in the 20th or 21st century.  The following chart shows the net worth of the wealthiest senators in the US. Congress as of 2012.senator-net-worth

The next chart shows the average net worth of 90 incoming freshman representatives to the 113th US Congress

January 3, 2013 to January 3, 2015

Year Number of Freshmen Reports Average Net Worth Change from previous year
2011 90 $7,835,242 —-

More data can be found at Ballotpedia at https://ballotpedia.org/Main_Page

the-50-richest-people-on-earthMy point here is that most millionaires make their money in business.  On the 2016 Forbes lists of richest 400 people in the world, richest billionaires in the world and richest people in the world, the majority (about 2/3) have made their money in business.  Furthermore, they are self-made in that they did not inherit their fortunes.  Perusing Forbes, it is clear that the dominant path to becoming rich is to sell something that people want at a price they can afford.

It is clear that wealth accumulated to a business background has increasingly become a stepping stone to politics and political leadership.  Trumps presidency is the crown on the new sovereignty.  Business leaders are now rapidly replacing politicians and bureaucrats in the area of political leadership.  Already Trump’s nominees include the chief executive of Exxon Corporation; the chief executive of CKE Restaurants; the former chief executive of the World Wrestling Entertainment; a former Goldman Sachs executive; a billionaire investor; a right wing media executive and a former chief executive of Nucor Corporation.  These are only a few of the still to come appointments that Trump will make.

corporate-powerIt is my prediction that business leaders will continue to make the transition to political leadership.  The business model is now the sovereign model for world power.  The power of the state has been usurped by the power of big business.  Global power is corporate power.  The public is sick of career politicians.  The common people bring a (perhaps unfounded) belief in the power of business to save the world.  Considering that we have tried the power of academia, the power of science and the power of big government to save the world, perhaps the power of business can do better.  One might argue that they can at least do no worst.

Conclusion:

From Khufu to Trump, we have now briefly (my apologies for many simplifications and no doubt omissions in history) covered 4,500 years of political and economic history in a short seven or so pages.  I can see the great historians and economists of the world having fits at my narrative. Nevertheless, my thesis remains.  Simply put Trump is now the successor to Khufu, Caesar, Pope Boniface, Henry the VIII, Bismarck, Churchill and Roosevelt.  Big business is now the dominant sovereign power in the world.  How long will it last?  How long will it take all politicians to be replaced by business people?  I have no answers to these questions; but one must assume that somewhere down the road, another sovereign power will emerge or may already be emerging.  Until then, be prepared for most decisions to have a “let’s make a deal” flavor to them.

Time for Questions:

How long will the reign of big business last?  How long will it take politicians to all be replaced by business people?  Will business succeed in making the world a better place?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service . . . And during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

Thus, I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.

I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Our boys were sent off to die with beautiful ideals painted in front of them. No one told them that dollars and cents were the real reason they were marching off to kill and die.”
― General Smedley Butler

“Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism, and the effort to destroy them would be futile unless accomplished in ways that would work the utmost mischief to the entire body politic. We can do nothing of good in the way of regulating and supervising these corporations until we fix clearly in our minds that we are not attacking the corporations, but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them. We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to serve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

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.

 

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