Jabberwocky*

In the eighteenth century, 13 North American colonies of Great Britain decided to declare themselves independent. Simplistically, the colonists had gotten used to doing things their own way and hey were determined to continue to do so.

The official explanation, as found in the Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

The colonies traded a monarchy for a confederation, which evolved through various successes and painful challenges into a constitutional federal republic. Is it better? Many believe it is, but in any case, it is safe to say it is most definitely American.

A monarch rules while a president serves.

Throughout history, monarchs have claimed that their power was granted by God, gods, or another extraordinary source. People were convinced of this because the anointed monarch had a trained army with weapons, while the commoners only had farming tools.

On the other hand, Presidents derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, usually through the election process. A successful election process depends on a population that is educated and that makes rational decisions rather than ones that are responding to emotion. Compare the American Revolution, which had (and limited voting to) an educated and prosperous population with the French Revolution, where education was restricted.

So, where are we now? How will history judge the times in which we live?

 

 

*“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”   –   Lewis Carroll

 

Hail, Caesar!

They come, they wreak havoc, they die.

Caesar, the Tsar, the Kaiser–all variations on the same title. Each intending to assume total power and control over a major portion of the world. Unfortunately, we have learned little, so we face the same thing over and over. We do not learn from history, so we are doomed to repeat it. The titles may change, but little else.

One might have thought that modern humans would have learned after dealing with Hitler, Stalin, and Hirohito all at once. Alas, one generation may, indeed, learn. It may even attempt, and occasionally succeed, in teaching the next generation. To expect anything beyond that is folly.

Today, we again are faced with another slate of those who would be Caesar. Vladimir Putin is has unified his power in Russia and already “annexed” parts of Georgia and Ukraine. Xi Jinping has consolidated his power in China and is extending his reach throughout Asia, Africa, and even South America. Kim Jong Un has his little corner of the world, but would gladly, if given the chance, expand his territory.

And, as you know, there are others.

When leaders demand or expect loyalty to themselves, rather than to a higher cause, expect trouble. Unfortunately, the road is dependent on obtaining that which gets the individual into power, not that which is best for the common good.

The good news is that since the twentieth century, most empires arise and disappear within a relatively short time. The bad news is that during that time, great damage and havoc occur, harming millions, and taking many generations to correct.

 

The Ways of Kings

Kings and other high personages have different ways of dealing with their station in life.

Legend has it that Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of  a tumultuous parade, riding in a triumphal chariot with dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning–that he was mortal and all glory is fleeting.

On the other hand, my study of history seems to tell me that most rulers or victors surround themselves with sycophants who whisper how wonderful, brave, and wise they are.

Fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

For much of my life I have viewed this as an admonition to not be afraid–that we can and should resist fear.

Fear is normal and triggers a number of physiological and psychological changes, which is good. Fear compels us to leave a burning building or to choose between fight or flight when faced with a threat. Some fears are totally and logically justified. How we deal with fear is what defines us. Heroes–and I’ve met a few–are just as afraid as everyone else, but they decide to act on what is right. I can tell you, there are far more heroes among us than we admit because most of them do not see themselves as heroes and want no attention. They not only know that what they did was right, but they believe that anyone else who found themselves in the same position would have acted as they did.

Sadly that is not always true. Let’s go back to Roosevelt’s quote. FDR’s advice actually goes deep–probably deeper than Roosevelt himself realized. Fear is such a powerful force that the unscrupulous can use it to bend others to their will. It’s difficult to get people to organize and work together for something ; it’s easy to whip a mob into a frenzy to work against something.

– The Spanish Inquisition
– The Salem witch hunts
– Kristallnacht
– McCarthyism

Today, too many people are either using fear or succumbing to fear, and it bodes ill for all of us. People are afraid of those who don’t match their skin color. People are afraid of those who speak a different language. People are afraid of those who practice a particular religion. We fear those who are not at least 75 percent like us, so in “self-defense” we use deadly force based on a persons appearance rather than their actions. Throughout Europe and the United States, there are many who want to reject anyone from another country who wants to enter their country.

On the other hand, is it a crime to flee your home when it is being bombed? When narcotics gangs rule the streets? When your spouse and children could be senselessly slaughtered.

Unfortunately, there are some who pounce on the opportunity to use these situations to their advantage; to further their own agendas; to gain more power; to bend people to their will. They’re easy to spot–their the ones who stoke the fear in people, but many people prefer not to see, but to be blind.

If more of us were brave, we’d still feel fears–justified, unjustified, real, or imagined–and still make decisions based on what is right rather than out of fear. If more of us had a solid moral compass, we could do this. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to not be brave and not worry about what is truly right or wrong but to choose what’s best for ourselves at a particular moment.

If you don’t study history, you may not know the whole story, but there once was a brilliant American general who based his decisions on what was best for him in the moment. You may not know the entire story of how he took Richmond–but you probably know the name–General Benedict Arnold. The troops he led were British, fighting against the Americans.

The Elites

e·lite [əˈlēt, āˈlēt] NOUN; elites (plural noun)–a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.

There have always been elites and always will. In the past, if you read the Bible, the elites such as Moses, David, and the prophets were chosen by God. Through much of history, being an elite was either a birthright or the outcome of a conquest. From the time of the enlightenment until–well, who knows when it ended–elites exhibited special talents or capabilities, such as America’s Founding Fathers, inventors, etc..

Today, being either immensely rich, powerful, or famous is how one becomes an elite. Some are elites because their parents were accomplished (Look at how many actors or musicians are the offspring of parents who succeeded, as opposed to having competed against others on an even playing field). Some elite are elites merely because they are famous for being famous.

The problem is that the Elites achieve their position due to society, and they owe society something in return. Would Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, as creative or brilliant as they are have had the same success if they had been born in rural Afghanistan or Mali? Probably not.

The Robber Barons enriched themselves in the 19th century, however, in the process, they gave the rest of society telegraph and rail systems that connected both coasts and various industries, which provided jobs to regular people. It can be argued that the Elites got the better end of the bargain, however, society benefitted substantially, nevertheless.

Henry Ford, while not the inventor of the automobile, through his invention of the assembly line, changed society. The most radical thing he did–which was condemned by the rich and powerful–was to pay his employees $5.00 per week. Why? Was he beneficent? Was he charitable? No, he was a model capitalist. By paying his employees such an “extravagant” sum, his employees were now able to afford to purchase Ford automobiles.

Not a bad move.

During the twentieth century, elites forgot that they had been succesful and became rich by utilizing the benefits of society–the roads, electricity, clean water, financing systems, etc. They forgot that they owed something back and this tends to lead to disaster. There are some very persuasive arguments that their attitude led to the Great Depression.

The theory continues that people, disenchanted with the Elites in power, turned to the other end of the spectrum. They were not benefiting–in fact they were disadvantaged by the Elites, so they wanted something different–something totally different.

In Germany, their was severe economic hardship. The “different” choice for the citizenry led to the ascendance of Hitler.

Today, many Elites seem oblivious to the plight of others and feel no obligation to contribute to the good of the order. There are exceptions, of course, but for every Bill and Melinda Gates there are a hundred other Elites who lose sleep because their yacht/house/country club is not the biggest and best.

The Elites have their advantage based on what society provides; whether they appreciate it or not, their future depends upon replenishing it.

 

 

 

Law Is Not Justice

The author Anatole France said in 1894, “In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread.” 

Our legal system has nothing to do with justice, it is merely a mechanism for settling disputes. Idealists would like to believe that the law is there to ensure fairness, which is romantic, but totally unrealistic. Any system that human beings devise can–and will–be gamed. Somebody, or worse, many  somebodies will figure out how to make the system work in their favour at the expense of others. These people are very competitive and see every situation as one in which one side wins and the other loses.

Take patents, for example; the original idea for patents was to give inventors an incentive–exclusive rights for a finite period of time (originally not to exceed 14 years, but now allegedly 20 years). After the patent expired, the patent holder no longer had exclusive rights and others could produce the same product without having to pay royalties to the patent owner. Prices were then expected to come down, more options become available, and everybody wins, right?

Let the games begin!

Notice that I did not mention the inventor, who may not even be a player.  Some companies claim the patents for anything their employees produce, which, incidentally acts as a disincentive for the employee to produce.

There are companies that exist primarily (or even solely) for the purpose of taking over other companies strictly to get patents. Once the buyer has the patent rights, the purchased company can be dismantled or discarded.

Drug companies are famous for taking an existing drug, whose patent is ready to expire, and making a minor reformulation so that a new patent can be granted. It’s the pharmaceutical equivalent of painting last year’s car a new color and saying it’s a whole new product, which deserves a new patent. This resets the 20 year clock and is followed, in many cases, by the patent holder raising the price by a couple thousand percent, especially if there are no alternative products.

Instead of rewarding the inventor and making new inventions available for the general good of the population, patent law–like most law–has become a mechanism for certain individuals to obtain unfair profits at the expense of everyone else.

In corrupt countries in which a small group of people control the production and distribution of drugs (e.g., cocaine, opium, etc.) these warlords or drug cartel bosses becomes rich and powerful because others have become addicted and cannot live without the drugs. In a corrupt society, these people are referred to as “the elites.”

In democratic societies, in which corporations control the production and distribution of drugs (e.g., injectable epinephrine to prevent death from allergic reactions) major stockholders and executives become rich and powerful because people with certain medical conditions cannot live without those drugs. In a democratic society, these people are referred to as “the elites.”

Elites don’t have to be evil, but we’ll discuss the role of the elites later.