Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

2011.02.12 — Skin aches, chest tightens. (NaSmaStoMo#2-12 & Revised)

When I published this, I wasn't too satisfied with it.
Today, 2011.02.15, I heard a better version:

Skin aches, chest tightens.
Epictetus said 'Submit'
and become alive.

Skin aches, chest tightens.
Epictetus said 'Submit'
to it all to live.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

2011.02.05 — The blueberry tart (NaSmaStoMo#2-5)

The blueberry tart
opened a bistro last night
with coffee and talk.

2011.02.05 — My photo of stones (NaSmaStoMo#2-4)

My photo of stones
was scorned for its waste of film
now hangs out with you.

2011.02.05 — Economics, Society, Greed and ... (from Goodreads)

I am participating in a thread in the Goodreads book/writing based social networking site. It began with a comment by Rose about the generally poor state of education. One thing lead to another, and an ideologue ranted the American dream after I suggested that her comment was logically flawed. It was fun, and even more ideological than her original idealism. At some point, as if to make her argument sound reasonable, she had the acumen to call me dumbo! That was amusing, but the level of delusion she expressed, and the vehemence with which she expressed it, for some reason inspired me to write a satirical poem on the state of the world's wealthiest (but now most indebted) country. (Warning, there is some foul language, for those sensitive to it.)

The Deserving

The tse-tse fly, and malaria mosquitos,
cold viruses, tapeworms, and ticks,
rabies, and skunks, cancer, HIV and Ann Coulter;
gonorrhea, poisonous spiders and snakes,
killer bees, army ants and termintes, too;
mutant bacteria, black flies, horse flies,
athletes foot and herpes simplex;
farting dogs, halitosis and gum disease,
diverticulitis, cholesterol, and pernicious anemia;
all are alive on this planet with me.
Their presence in my otherwise perfect life,
even if kept out there, somewhere, away from me,
away from my perfect hair and manicured fingernails,
gives me indigestion and not just a few sleepless nights.
From the deepest place in the darkest corner of my self serving heart,
I want these things dead, and polio too.
Kill them, I cry, kill them all and make my little life a little nicer.
I even give money to my favorite evil killers
with well deserved pride and hope and pride
that these evils will be extirpated once and for all.

It has never crossed my mind that these malevolences
do not deserve to be alive on this planet with me.
I most certainly don't want them here, with me — especially Coulter!
but given that they are one of nature's natural abominations,
what does my judging them to be undeserving of life mean,
even if I'd thought that way?

As I muddled my way round these thoughts,
I stepped around a beggar, so filthy and foul smelling
I couldn't even tell with confidence his or her sex.
It's hat was between its legs, obscenely half crossed legs,
wherein I could see a few coins.
I spat at it,
and thought,
get cleaned up, you bum;
until you do, you don't deserve my charity, you haven't earned it.
Are you that stupid, you lazy fucking bum, not to realize that
you would get much further ahead by simply getting clean?
Are you so fucking lazy, you fucking bum, that you can't even
keep your lazy, stinking, fucking ass off of my street?
Why would you expect me to give you anything,
you undeserving, lazy, fucking bum, leaching my taxes by
befouling the street my taxes pay to keep clean?

I walked on, annoyed that such an undeserving human remnant
had nerve enough to sit in my city, on my sidewalk.
And I spat again, and thought about all those stupid food banks,
and poor houses, and goodwill charities.
Without them, these fucking ne'er-do-wells would learn their lessons,
the hard lessons, the real economic lessons,
of life or death and economic truth.
And then I realized that the dumbo do-gooders trying to help these wastrels
were just a big waste of human effort squandering
my taxes, and the so-called goodness of Christian charity.
All those fucking liberal do-gooders,
don't they realize that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink?
And if the dumb ass won't drink, then they don't deserve to be alive,
let alone leaching away from me
my — the — American dream,
the dream I have worked hard to get and which effort has entitled me to it.
I spat.

The unease I'd felt at seeing that bog of human excrement passed.
I felt again the glow of pride in my accomplishments,
and that settled my stomach, that
and the full knowledge that I had gotten from life what I'd deserved,
by my own efforts, as do all those whining, lazy, stupid, fucking panhandling bums.

And so I walked by,
head held high enough above its self-inflicted suffering
to render it invisible to my eyes, eyes that filled
with the primrose glow of my well deserved moral rectitude.

That night I was pleased that I was able to sleep like a baby,
soundly, deeply and at peace;
I was able to keep the abominations of nature out of sight and out of mind,
and the undeserving, too.
So, a bunch more discussion, and at some point Poppy asked me "... is it different anywhere else? Is this an American problem or a HUMAN problem?
And I found myself unable to not answer verbosely. So verbosely that it wouldn't fit inside the Goodreads' comment window, so I've posted it here. (Those who followed this here from the Goodreads thread, can click the link for From Goodreads continues here to go straight to where it continues.) Anyway, here is what I wrote:

Poppy, you have posed an interesting question, involving philosophy, sociology and history. And I've been thinking about how to answer it for much of the day, between work, making supper, etc. I was kind of hoping someone else would have stepped forward, but since they haven't, here goes.

I would say it is a human problem, but one made by human choices and as such excludes or precludes other choices that may have equal validity. (Kind of like Euclidean vs. non-Euclidean geometry.) Primitive hunter-gatherer (HG) societies do not have the problems within their social organizations that have been discussed in this thread, in our schools or in the media. Their economics is based on an immediate-return (IR) as opposed to delayed-return (DR) dynamic. Money as a medium of exchange is basically meaningless in IR cultures because their members do not delay the satisfaction of wants/needs. Without the delay the need for money is largely precluded.

Likewise nomadic societies. And I'm not saying these are Edenic constructs, they have their own problems but not the economic ones facing the 'affluent developed countries.' Julia Roberts participated in a documentary about Mongol nomads that, when looked at from an economic perspective, is very interesting.

An excellent read about these kind of economic dynamics is Marshall Sahlins' book Stoneage Economics. (For a taste of his argument, see 'The Original Affluent Society' on the web.) You will also learn that HG societies work on average about 2 or 3 hours every second day to meet the nutritional requirements. Agricultural based economies are the ones with brutal work demands. See Margaret Vissar's interesting book on the social and economic history of food in Much Depends Upon Dinner, especially the chapter on rice. And in Daniel Quinn's interesting (not great) book, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit the narrator observes that the book of Genesis is a cautionary tale against forsaking a nomadic life style for an agricultural one: the story of man's expulsion from the garden of Eden is people choosing to turn away from a relatively easy life for one of penury. I was surprised at that observation, because I'd never heard it put that way, but once I did his observation is not easily dismissed.

Both Visser and Quinn infer that the decision to become dependent on cultivated food was a choice; they were not victims of economics, as such, but participants.

Morris Berman explores these ideas from a philosophical/sociological perspective in his excellent book Wandering God, which is the third in his worthwhile trilogy, beginning with The Reenchantment of the World, then Coming to our Senses. Also important is Twilight of American Culture, in which Berman explores the consequences of greed-based economic activities and their inherently societally destructive effects.

Near the end of the very interesting documentary, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, Chomsky is asked for examples of societies that were successfully non-capitalistic. Chomsky suggested that Spain was beginning to achieve that before that movement was killed by the fascists, with the support of Britain and other western powers. He also suggested that the kibbutz model in Israel was also very successful and non-capitalistic. In other works, Chomsky suggested that Nicaragua was having some success that way before the US destroyed their economy and installed a puppet dictatorship there which has since impoverished the population while providing the affluent countries access to cheap food and resources.

Is this a human condition, or social conditioning? An interesting Solomon's-baby split, but one in which choice is involved.

I have come to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that the development of agricultural based societies is the foundation upon which 'greed' based economies in their various political guises, are built. The storage of food that agriculture predicates creates the basic split between those who have and those who have not. Protection is required to keep the outsiders from raiding the stores, and so militaries are built. S/he who controls the military controls the economy. HG societies simply move to find new food sources, and if they cannot find them, die.

Invariably those who control the army succumb to greed's siren call, and increasingly divert the wealth, in whatever form it takes, to themselves at the expense of those who do not have enough. How much is the US spending invading other countries right now — in the name of protecting the demos — while the workless, and homeless and imprisoned continue to grow at an increasing rate? Does this mean give charity? No, I suggest that work is far more valuable, but one that is comprised of building schools, hospitals, educated people, instead of single use bombs, aircraft carriers, Star Wars hardware and prisons. It is simply a matter of how the government chooses to fund the economy — through building armies and armaments, or schools and teachers.

Agricultural based societies eventually fail when the hungry become the majority, and at some point become angry for being dismissed by the usually obscenely wealthy who are the minority. (98% of America's wealth is controlled by 5% of the population.) John Ralston Saul, in his important book Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, provides an interesting short analysis of the French Revolution. When looked at in this way, some of the aggressive World Bank actions in Latin and South America take on an interesting perspective, as these countries struggle to pay the West (via the World Bank) by growing food and flowers and coffee and coco and hardwood that the resident peoples are barred from consuming. In such politico-economic structures a clear split between the haves and the have nots is created. And, oftentimes, like in Chile and Nicaragua and many other places, those structures are achieved with brutal (and underreported) aggression and support from the West because the people do not want to live under an oligarchy.

So is greed the human condition, or conditioned by the society? Well, I suggest both. And as proof I cite that cautions against greed have existed since the very beginnings of the formation of human societal structures and are delineated in all the important religious texts. HG societies do not in any circumstance allow a member of the society to keep more than his/her share. The rules against are very strict, even to the point of banishment and death. Fairy tales, old and modern, warn against both the stupefying effects of greed (Midas, the Golden Goose), and its effects on a society (dragons sleeping on their hoards, while razing the community and eventually killing the humans offered it by their leaders as palliatives for being poor.)

JG called my critical caricature of the method of our societally ignoring the destitute 'disgusting.' Is that, I have wondered, because I used the 'f' word, or because I was describing what I, and the society of which I am part, do everyday — let others die needlessly of exposure, malnutrition, and inaccessible health care as we walk on by with 'diamonds in the soles of our shoes'. How many have died, needlessly in Canada and the USA because of our societal choices to fund war and not hospitals during the course of this thread? That is a choice, in the same way that I have a choice to give or not give money to the two beggars I stumble across regularly. I do not give, with the rationalization that I prefer my charity to be anonymous. But if I am brutally honest with myself, I will notice that I am quite happy to give to the buskers who entertain me, and so see my own hypocrisy. How can that charity be okay with me since it isn't anonymous? As to the beggars whom I walk by, and to ease my own hypocrisy, I add the rationalization that there are too many for me to help, and so I become helpless. That is, again, a choice — my choice, about what I believe is my role, place and power within the society.

Is this new, the starvation within a wealthy country of the undeserving? No, it is happening now (Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, etc.) It also happened just a few centuries ago in what was then the wealthiest country in the world. If JG thinks my little effort was disgusting, I suggest she read Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, with his brilliant solution to the deaths by starvation of the thousands of Irish children in his time as the wealthy were driven by in their horse drawn carriages and accompanying livery. Or read William Blake's descriptions of the brutalization of children who were forced, sometimes naked and with fire burning their feet, into flues as small as four inches in diameter, whose bodies became deformed and often developed melanomas and deadly respiratory diseases.

Robert commented that greed is the foundation of capitalism. That is a commonly accepted palliative used by the wealthy to assuage their consciences while being the owners of slaves, or when forcing children into flues. But it is actually not the case. Oddly enough, it is trust that is the basic building block of capitalism. Without trust, people will not allow others access to their money for the purpose of capital ventures. Max Weber, in his fascinating book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism suggested that is was the Christian ethics of trust and frugality that built capitlalism, not greed. Frances Fukuyama makes a similar argument in Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. Fukuyama examines societies that had greater or lesser success in developing capitalism with a look at the nature of those society's sense of social trust. And even Adam Smith's much vaunted 'invisible glove' that guides the market to its most efficient distribution of commodities is none other than the Christian values of frugality and integrity. [Side note: The Chicago School of Economics and their ilk cite Smith as the founder of free enterprise, but skip over the observations he made that they didn't like: for example on labour. Both Smith (Bk. I, Ch. 8, “Of the Wages of Labour” par. 12 in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations) and John Stuart Mill (Bk. V, Ch. 10 par 32: Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy) were strong proponents of unions, arguing that labourers were not just without power but frequently subjected to brutal state power. Furthermore, because they had poor access to information it was by necessity and intelligence that they needed to combine their resources in order to ensure that the free labour market did not underpay them for their efforts. Both Smith's and Mill's discussions are very interesting in light of how the corporate press presents itself as being pro-democracy by being anti-labour.]

In Trust Fukuyama cites an interesting study which suggests a clue to how choices are made: choices follow belief. We make choices based on what we believe, and what we believe is dependent on what we are taught and what we perceive. (That is the first lesson of the Buddha, who left his opulent life when he saw the truth of the poverty and brutality outside his castle's walls.) The study was conducted on university students who were asked what they would do with a windfall of $100. The majority would spend most of the money doing something basically altruistic, such as buying gifts for friends or family, or throwing a party for their co-eds and the like. Except for economics students, who chose to spend majority of the money selfishly. They had learned the truths about human nature, and so acted on those beliefs. (I saw this in action when I got my minor in economics as an adult. When I talked with the graduates who had gone straight from high school into economics, they were not open to questioning the validity of their assumptions about human behaviour, or the quality of GDP as a measure of economic well-being.)

And I'll finish up by observing that the USA and Canada are not examples of democracies, but of oligarchies. From Aristotle:
... The words constitution and government have the same meaning, and the government, which is the supreme authority in states, must be in the hands of the one, or of a few, or of the many. The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but government which rules with a view to the private interest, whether of the one, or of the few, or of the many, are perversions. For the members of a state, if they are truly citizens, ought to participate in its advantages. Of forms of government in which one rules, we call that which regards the common interests, kingship or royalty; that in which more than one, but not many, rule, aristocracy; and it is so called, either because the rulers are the best men, or because they have at heart the best interests of the state and of the citizens. But when the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the government is called by the generic name - a constitution. And there is a reason for this use of language. One man or a few may excel in virtue; but as the number increases it becomes more difficult for them to attain perfection in every kind of virtue, though they may in military virtue, for this is found in the masses. Hence in a constitutional government the fighting-men have the supreme power, and those who possess arms are the citizens. Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: - of royalty, tyranny; of aristocracy, oligarchy; of constitutional government, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, the needy; none of them the common good of all (From Book 3 Chapter VII pp69-70). AristotleAristotle's Politics and Poetics.
I highly recommend that at least some Aristotle be read, because it is amazing to think that the issues we're flopping about intellectually today are basically what the philosophers questioned 2000 plus years ago.

So, Poppy, I have no idea if this has truly answered your question. But I hope that it provides some food for thought, as opposed to ideological rants.

The problem is choice, but, more fundamentally, what we believe to be within our power to choose. And the problem of what we believe is that our delusions are hidden from us and completely evident in only our enemies. We cannot change anything, until we see with clear eyes, what is before us. The I Ching puts it very well:

Weakness and impatience can do nothing. Only strong people can stand up to their fates, for their inner security enables them to endure to the end. This strength shows itself in uncompromising truthfulness [with themselves]. It is only we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self deception or illusion, that the light will develop out of events by which the path to success may be recognized. This recognition must be followed by resolute and persevering action. For only those who go to meet their fate resolutely are equipped to deal with it adequately. Then they will be... capable of making the necessary decisions and surmounting the dangers (p.25).

Tuesday, February 1, 2011