Vote, Dammit, Vote!

Every person who chooses to dedicate some portion–even a few years–of their life to serve in the United States military takes an oath. An oath was once was considered the most binding of promises, but is not taken very seriously, anymore. It’s kind of like adultery–no big deal.

The oath they take includes this phrase, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Americans do not swear an oath to a person or an organization, they swear to uphold the very idea that has allowed this great American experiment to exist for 231 years. The Declaration of Independence declared our intent, but it was the Constitution that made us who we are. Why is this important? Why an oath?

Those who take the oath have sworn to defend the Constitution in its entirety–every single part. This includes freedom of speech and the press–not just for those with whom they agree, but especially for those whose views they not only disagree with, but may even absolutely abhor.

Military members know that “to protect and defend” may mean that they are called upon to give the “last full measure,” as Abraham Lincoln called it–giving one’s life, if necessary.

I’ve never seen anything that claims that this oath expires at the end of one’s enlistment, retirement from the military, etc. Therefore, my belief is that it does not expire; there is no “use by date.”

It’s interesting that the President’s oath is more casual, he or she says, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

For what it’s worth I respect those who put their money where their mouth is their life on the line for their beliefs.

 

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.

 

Truth

In the movie, Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford–as Indiana Jones–tells his class that archaeology is the search for fact. He recommends the philosophy class for those who are seeking truth.

John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” Truth, like beauty, is subject to interpretation; facts are not.

For example, when it comes to religious beliefs, people rely on faith to find their truth. Their god or gods cannot be proven, yet many view their beliefs as the one true religion. This is no criticism of truth or faith–after all, it would be a fairly pathetic god who could be factually proven to exist or not exist. A leap of faith, which is probably unique to human beings (at least on this planet), is often appropriate and, indeed, justified. My God expects me to walk by faith, not by light.

Facts, on the other hand, must meet more stringent criteria. Ideally, they can be tested and proven with the results subject to verification by others. That’s how science works. Facts are used to this, which is why many scientific and mathematical “facts” are properly referred to as theorems (or, for the popular press, theories). Many  are challenged regularly, perhaps in every high school chemistry class around the world, year after year.

Today, truth, facts, news, fake news, tweets, social media, etc. should all be held suspect instead of being accepted as absolute, irrevocably proven. They must be challenged. There are many things presented as “truth” that are not facts, that are not substantiated by evidence, and cannot be proven.

Maybe you belive I am stuck on this particular subject, which is likely so. However, it was I who carried a lit lamp during the day, searching for an honest man. In fact, I was not searching for an honest person, I was trying to emphasize this very point.

 

Logic Is Hard

It is very easy to limit one’s views to those that one already believes. It is hard to entertain ideas that are in contrast to one’s own. It is an unfortunate–and uncomfortable–fact that all progress for humankind is obstructed by the status quo, but instead dependent upon the ability to entertain ideas that are radically different from one’s accepted notions.

If our preconceived notions were perfect, limiting our viewpoint would be fine. On the other hand we–as humans–are not capable of perfection, so our preconceived notions are, therefore, invariably flawed.

Unless we make an intentionally conscious effort to try to be open to other viewpoints, we remain stuck in one spot–intellectually, culturally, and spiritually.

Our self-imposed intellectual limitations are embarrassing. If an advanced alien species were to view our interaction, they would be well within their rights to either isolate us from the rest of the universe, destroy this planet, or at least remove the human infestation for the benefit of all.

I, Diogenes, died many centuries ago, so I am not at risk. How about you?

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.

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.