Whence then is evil?

To be able to exercise coercion, you need power, and therein we find the source of evil, the power over human beings.

Considering the massive volumes on the nature of good and evil written over the ages the answer to the question posed in the title should be intuitively apparent. However, given so many babbling interpretations of what is evil and where it comes from, much of it theological, we shouldn’t wonder why this is not the case.

What I am proposing is not something new, doesn’t take a leap of faith, or endless dialectic debate. Often human beings make things so overly complicated, even obtuse, when it would serve us better to just listen to a few great minds through history that have, through empirical observation and logic, often building on those who came before them, reached a clarity on the subject that can be comprehended readily.

To understand this on a basic and natural human level we must first put aside theological prejudices that inhibit logical perspective. If you disagree with that premise then answer Epicurus’ riddle, or razor if you prefer, regarding the nature of God and evil: “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” This razor does not discount the existence of God, only the nature of God and of evil. However, to track evil to its core, we need to keep our minds free from doctrines that are not based on empirical reality.

One of the universally acceptable definitions of early philosophers regarding what evil was basically held that it was suffering, sorrow, and distress resulting from wrongdoing, all of which was morally reprehensible. Such Western ancients like Aristotle, Plato, and Epicurus defined it by the process of elimination of what is not good or beneficial.

In the late Roman Republic we have Cicero, considered by many historians as Rome’s greatest political scholar, who wrote “True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting….” Cicero wrote often about what he considered natural or true law, and while he saw many evils perpetrated by his contemporaries like Cesare, Octavian, et al, he also determined what was evil by an elimination of what was good or beneficial, but more often for the state than for people in general.

The late Roman Era Augustine says that evil was not created by God, that it is an accident of creation that corrupts the human will causing suffering. You have to truly make a leap of faith here because if God created all things, but not evil, then as Epicurus asked, where did that come from.

With Early Renaissance Aquinas we get a break through as he holds that existence and truth are interconnected and are good, and those things that are not a natural part of existence and truth are evil. Although still somewhat a process of elimination, it does maintain that human existence is good, as is freedom, self-preservation, marriage, family, etc. and that which harms it is evil. This is important as Aquinas talks to the concept of natural law for human existence, a precursor to the Enlightenment.

So Augustine and Aquinas proposed that evil could not exist within God, nor be created by God. They rejected the notion that evil exists in itself, proposing instead that it is a corruption of nature, implying that good is man’s nature; some very positive thoughts, but still though we are left with the question as to where evil comes from?

Lao Tzu’s concept of evil is very useful for understanding.  He differentiated between casual and consequential evil, the former created by human will, and the later as a consequence of various natural occurrences. Without going into Taoism, impossible in the confines of a blog post, consider an example: cancer is an evil thing as it causes so much suffering, but it is a biological consequence, unrelated to human will; then consider genocide, purely an act of human will. Let’s leave what Lao Tzu meant with these examples for the purposes of this discussion.

What we have with Taoism is that evil comes from two sources, basically human will and natural occurrences, which can at times be interrelated. Natural occurrences bear no moral responsibility, as that is a human issue. Human will, which means from the minds of men, involves moral responsibility. There is the issue of unintended consequences, which in truth can make critical analysis more difficult, but still needs to be addressed.

There has been more recent research done by psychiatrists that suggests that evil is the intentional infliction of harm on others merely for the pleasure of doing so. I find this insufficient logically because it doesn’t address evil resulting from such human conditions like narcissism, where there is an absence of any consideration of the results of ones actions and therefore devoid of any consideration of others. Also rage, where one loses the ability to control emotions, like empathy, disregarding the consequences on others. Then there are instances where great evil was done with the intention of not doing harm or enjoying the harm done, but in the name of some greater good, but has unintended consequences that are patently evil.

There are current political philosophers who propose that evil represents the antithesis of order and peace. Does that make anarchists evil? Were our founding fathers evil for promoting insurrection? Such a proposition could be mere sophistry to support a state whose policy of order and peace is oppression and coercion, things themselves that are evil. Therefore such a thesis is only valid if the order and peace are beneficial to the natural laws of human existence, seldom the case in history, so not a valid foundation of understanding.

Now back to Aquinas in order to proceed to the Enlightenment.  Here we have the development of the antithesis of evil, meaning what is good, as a way to understand better where evil comes from.  We can go through so many philosophers, sociologists and political scientists of the period, but who stands out paramount of all is John Locke. I didn’t include economists as that discipline of study had yet to exist; contrary to popular belief Adam Smith was not an economist but a philosopher and sociologist, who did contribute invaluably to the Enlightenment, but not in the same sense as what we’re looking for.

Locke gives due credit to Aquinas but it should be noted that he was at first not a proponent of religious tolerance, but gradually came to the conclusion that suppression of such was contrary to natural law by repressing freedom. Locke is rightfully considered the founder of modern natural law and rights, and while he was a religious man himself, did not lean theologically for his thesis. Like Aquinas, he maintained that human existence was good and inexorably tied to truth, meaning that which is essential for self-preservation is the true meaning of existence and therefore good, and that these included life, liberty and property. Please note that the last was always a part of Locke’s natural law whereas it was Jefferson who partially plagiarized it with “….life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness….” in the Declaration of Independence.

Locke based these three prime elements of natural law logically, meaning without life, there are no rights, without liberty there is depravation of life, and importantly for clear understanding, without the ownership of the products of life and liberty, providing for its own industry, human life and liberty are diminished contrary to natural law. Therefore, evil comes from the violation of natural law depriving man of these essential rights.

Further, the violation of natural law and rights is only made possible by coercion, and therefore it is existentially necessary to defend against it.  To be able to exercise coercion, you need power, and therein we find the source of evil, the power over human beings.  If history teaches us anything, it is this insatiable hunger for power which drives men to act with malice toward their fellow human beings. Such power requires human effort, depriving men of liberty, often using that power to deprive others of their life and property.

It is not that the earlier philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, and Augustine didn’t see this as it has been the way of mankind for millennia, as they did recognize it by the empirical process of eliminating such things from those that provided good for people; they just didn’t follow the thread of thinking that led to Aquinas and Locke who logically determined through a spirit of benevolence the goodness of human existence and the natural rights that provide for its self-preservation.

Although Taoism, originating in the 6C BCE, was well known by scholars in the West by the 8C CE, and may have had some influence on Aquinas and Locke who were very learned men, the development to the thesis of natural law and rights for human beings, while having many contributors, is principally to their credit.

It is here though where we come to the conundrum about power in human society; essentially, the question arises as to what is reasonable for humanity to invest in the power of governance. If we are to judge solely on the thesis that power corrupts, then we should eliminate all power, including governance.  Anarchists do use that line of thinking in a compelling way, until you then ask who will stand against evil; anarchy doesn’t address this issue as it takes good men to stand together against the evil of power, which is a logical contradiction to the proposition of anarchy.  Understand that the word anarchy itself is misunderstood and abused; it is derived from Greek meaning without government, not meaning chaos and disorder. The problem is that without some societal level of organization, how are the depravations of power to be avoided?

It is to that question that political science is primarily dedicated; how to construct a governance that will defend society against power, the source of evil itself, without empowering that governance to do so? As evil arises not from any consequence of nature, but as the casual will of the human mind, any governance that can be trusted to respect and defend natural law and rights must address the problem of eliminating, or at least limiting to the best of its ability, the will to power. That is a high standard of benevolence for human achievement, and as sacred a matter of trust for people to place in their leaders as there can be; it is not a “necessary evil”, but a necessity of self-preservation, and therefore if achieved, something good.

What is considered by men of good will to be the best instrument of governance in modern times that respects the natural law and rights of humanity is the US Constitution. It has been flawed with the absence of liberty for all by tolerating slavery, even though later amended, and does allow certain things that enable power to the abuse of natural law and rights, but it was intended to be limited in its provision for power in governance. As its prime author, James Madison said “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” He simply understood the dilemma about power in that providing for it presented the possibility for evil, while not providing against it did the same. It was on this basis that he constructed the many separations and balances of power in the effort to limit the government to only expressed powers, depriving it of any rights, and reserving all rights to the people.

While it has worked comparatively well in that regard, meaning relative to other nations, it is indeed a living document providing for amendments, some good and long past due, some bad and contrary to the intent of the original. What Madison and other Founders could not construct against was the potential for that insidious will for power even in the very leaders we may elect to government. Ultimately, plans only work to the extent they are believed in; the question then has to be asked to what extent Americans believe in their government, meaning do we still trust it?

That is a constant reasonable question because of the very nature of governance being empowered. So then, having found the source of all evil, where does America stand today as a society governed by the laws it created to protect its very existence against the depravations of power? If we consider the fact that we have devolved into polarized power camps, competing “democratically” for who’s in charge, and consequently becoming more and more a nation of men and not of law, we are not standing in a good place.

By law here was always intended to mean one law for all, but it now has become laws that favor one group over others, or against one group at the expense of others. Such laws are therefore immoral as they represent the very abuse of power that is the cause of evil. The great French political philosopher Frédéric Bastiat coined the phrase “cruel alternative” when such laws are created, presenting people a dilemma that “When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.” That was never the intent of our constitution, which was the preservation of liberty for each individual in order to best serve natural law and rights.

Why did we the people fall for the same evil as those that govern us? Why did we lose our faith in our own natural human rights to not only be coerced in to the submission to power, but engage by joining the combating power camps? Consider a question asked by the French political scientist who traveled the early 19C US, Alexis de Tocqueville: “If one admits that a man in his full power might abuse his adversaries, why not admit the same of a majority of men?”

The corruption of our political institutions from the limited government of a Republic to the calls for greater “democracy” manifests again this insatiable will for power, the root of all evil. As Tocqueville points out, it doesn’t matter with power if the abuser is one or is many, it is power itself that is evil. Tocqueville was writing from observation, as was Aquinas and Locke. Are we ignoring the obvious because our eyes are wide shut, or because we are drugged with the intoxication of power? Is it us against “them”, whomever they may be, and if we all act together, we will hold the power over others?

We can’t blame the times we are in as an excuse for the reliance on power and the evil it has brought us.  We have the will found in our minds to either embrace the source of all evil and or deny power over our fellow man. Agreed that these are very trying times, and while I can’t recall where I read the insightful observance of Abraham Lincoln, or if I have his words exactly right, but they are well worth considering: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Trust

After all, when you get down to the essential human experience, like Billy Joel said, it’s simply a matter of trust.

“In God we trust, all others pay cash.” Jean Shepherd

I first read this line, not from Jean Sheperd’s famous book, but from a fortune cookie. I thought it was a very humorous and timely coincidence as it was shortly after I came back from Europe during the turmoil created by Richard Nixon when he took the dollar off the gold standard. I was caught with dollar denominated travelers checks in countries whose trust in the dollar was sorely shaken. It seemed that overnight what they perceived as the last great money was divorced from the very source of its being, even though the reality was that it had happened decades before. I paid dearly for that perception as the exchange rates and fees soared. It was not a pleasant experience but a great lesson in the meaning of trust.

My friends told me to read Sheperd’s book, which I did; it wasn’t really all that great, a collection of fictional stories the author had previously told on radio.  I subsequently learned that the title was in fact not original as it was a borrowed phrase commonly used in early 20C America about the lack of trust in credit and checks. It was a play on the words “In God We Trust” found on US currency starting soon after the Civil War, both on coin and paper; it’s still used today, just take out any money on you and there it is.

But what does this word trust actually mean? What is the concept behind a word we use so often in our lives and in so many contexts? What is it about this word that carries such a sacred respect in human relationships, whether personal, commercial or political?

Basically it comes down to faith in someone else to do what they say they will do based purely on what you know from prior experience. This means that trust has to be earned, not taken for granted, but built on actions, not just words. That kind of experience forms a bond, and we call that trust.

This applies in the context of all human relationships, and is the essence of how trust is built. A cop trusts his partner because they’ve been through experiences where they each had each other’s backs, with business partners who have weathered the unknowns of enterprise, of husbands and wives getting through the good and bad times together, and of citizens united in the history of their nation’s trials to survive whatever the world throws at them. The common thread here is that you can rely on each other to remain loyal to one another because you have created a bond of trust.

That is not some vague or esoteric concept, it is an existential reality based on actions, not words.  You know it and rely on it not because someone says so but because someone does so. Nothing is more sacred in human relationships, no matter your race, color, creed, politics or economic class, simply no matter what.

So why is it now that there is so much distrust in our culture and society today? Well think of the opposite of trust, and the logical conclusion is because our faith in each other has been betrayed; the essence of human experience is now fear and hate, hardly conducive in creating good faith in each other, in building that bond of trust. However, it works just fine in polarizing Americans in to opposing camps; the result is the inability to look beyond differences in order to find common cause.  This has happened before in our history, and it ultimately led to the Civil War. 

Up until recently, this was a “culture war”, facilitated my failed politics and news bias, exponentially accelerated by the technology of social media. We drowned out the opposition, even going so far as to violate our own heritage of free speech, casting the “opposition” with toxic labels, drowning out all those who we found tainted with an irredeemable sin of being different.

Then the inevitable happened.  First we saw the destruction of our cities with riots, burning, looting, armed conflict and death. We thought things couldn’t get worse, but then yesterday happened with an assault our own government, the Capital of our country, a violent riot over the outcome of an election.  We are stunned, sickened, confused as to how such a state of affairs in the world’s oldest Republic could come to pass.

I don’t say this callously, but really, what did we expect? If we come to a state of distrust in each other, then we come to a point where hate and fear break the bonds that tie, and that break as we have seen throughout history turns violent. Today we hear all about the search for those to blame.  Trump is an easy target, and despite his empty words today, deserves no respect from any American, as he was the match that lite the fuse.  However, Trump, while the immediate cause with his rants about voting fraud, is not the real cause, but a result of a trust long gone.

It’s like looking at a great tree hundreds of years old felled by lightning, and finding that its heartwood is a rotted core, the lifeblood of its existence succumbed to its own destruction. Think carefully before you dismiss this as anything less than true, and then think of your fellow Americans and ask yourself why, from whatever political or social or cultural beliefs you have, you fear or hate those that don’t share them. Consider if you support any form of censorship against whoever expresses contrary beliefs or repression of any protest against your point of view. If you find that you support such things, then understand you are in breach of good faith and lack the trust in liberty that should be our common cause.

Hopefully the nucleus of your own personal lives remains in a state of faith in that essential trust, but unless you’re living under a rock, you can’t avoid the lack of trust there is in our society, including in our government. The word polarization is more a result than a cause; you have to first define the reasons for such a phenomenon before you can point to the cause, and without doing that, we can’t get back to a union of common cause where we can trust each other regardless of our race, color, creed, politics, economic class, simply no matter what, no excuses, just good faith and respect for each other based on what we do, not what we say.

The violent riots in our cities and the recent attacks on the nation’s capital with their destruction of life and property attest to this basic lack of trust. This goes back long before Trump.  While he took advantage of this lack of trust, he himself was a result, not the cause. In truth, he is so shallow a narcissistic moron to be the cause of anything, a product of the horrors of distrust developed over time.

Remember Trump’s taunts about the “Deep State” and his pledges to “Drain the Swamp”?  Those are not new buzz words coined by his campaign speech writers; they’re terms used going back at least a century ago. Consider all the lies perpetrated on Americans about why we should get involved in foreign conflicts like the Great War, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya….and who knows what’s next. Consider the fallacies about the creation of the Federal Reserve that funds these atrocities through slight-of-hand financial engineering, defrauding Americans of their wealth.  Consider the great social enterprises of the “New Deal”, the “Great Society” and other such boondoggles that have wasted our resources. Consider the “Quantitative Easing” that financially engineered our wealth to the already wealthy, the cronyism of the marriage between business and government; what betrayals of trust!

No, Trump was a result, a demon created by betrayal, and that demon then played Americans in to believing that he was a savior form all that, while in reality he was just another charlatan selling the same old trash, an elixir to cure all simply because we should trust him; empty words, with the only action being a reaction of violence, and with bad people of both sides.

So how do we fix this absence of trust? No more words, we need action, but before action, we need the right ideas on which to act.  Do we have that, not just in the new administration, but in ourselves to stop doing the same old thing, over and over again, voting in the same kind of politicians who keep selling us ideas that we should know are so ludicrous, so fundamentally flawed and contrary to every tenet of liberty and justice?

It is far harder to build trust after a betrayal than when first starting on any kind of relationship.  Take for instance a fiduciary relationship, such as what the US government is supposed to have with its citizens. It is a unique relationship in that the trustor and the beneficiary are one and the same, i.e. the American people. The trustee is the US government. Without going into all the various facets of this relationship with the Federal Reserve, US Treasury, Congress, etc. suffice it to say that by any standard of performance of fiduciary responsibility that trust has been betrayed.  We, the people of the US, are in debt that exceeds that of any nation in the history of the world. Our currency over the last century has been devalued to the point that it now takes a dollar for what a nickel used to buy. The financial and monetary manipulations of government have created a huge wealth and income gap favoring the elites of corporatism. If such things happened in the private sector, we would see headlines similar to the Madoff scandal.

Take the trust we place in government to act in the best interest and wellbeing of its citizens and in good faith among nations to respect their sovereignty and explain then the endless wars killing so many of our youth and innocent civilians of the countries we attack. How can such inhumanity not be a betrayal of trust?

Consider our constitution and the oath those in government take to support and defend it, and then look at the brazen violations by our elected officials and you should not wonder at the loss of trust Americans fell about their government.

What we need from our future administrations is not just an assurance that we can rely on them to act in good faith to restore our trust in government, but actions that show the character, ability, strength, and perseverance to restore our confidence that each and every individual American, regardless of race, color, creed, politics and economic class, will be treated the same, with respect for the liberties guaranteed them under the constitution; that is the bond that creates the trust needed for a nation to be at peace with itself. After all, when you get down to the essential human experience, like Billy Joel said, it’s simply a matter of trust.

Twisted

“I was educated once; it took me years to get over it.” Mark Twain

I was educated once; it took me years to get over it.” Mark Twain

Back in 1970 Ayn Rand wrote an article that I kept with me for all these years.  In fact it was that article that convinced us to send our children to Montessori nursery schools, and we can thank her for having that influence on our lives, benefitting our children enormously.

The article was published in “The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution”. It was entitled “The Comprachicos”, which was a borrowed term from Victor Hugo’s novel “The Man Who Laughs”. The background to it is very disturbing, recounting the “child buyers” (literal translation) of the 16C to 18C who bought children for the purpose of disfiguring them for the amusement of royalty in the carnival shows of freaks in European courts.

The analogy was to “Progressive” educational methods that do the same to a child’s intellectual and psychological development. The article goes on in a very scholarly and informative manner about child development, and well worth reading for anyone concerned about early child development and education, especially new parents.

It is extremely relevant to today; when you read it, be aware that the terminology may seem current, but this article was written in 1970. While I have enjoyed Ayn Rand’s novels, I find her articles far more informative and inspiring, and this one is really top shelf. I love children more than anything (except my wife of course – just in case she actually reads my blog!); they possess that wondrous spirit of the magical question “why”, as everything is about finding answers because they know nothing, but want to know everything; no filters please, no dogma, no agenda, just existence. What a beautiful human spirit to possess!

Unfortunately that precious human quality of early development is the least appreciated in modern public educational systems. In our schools today, children are not to be educated, but indoctrinated. This move toward political agenda’s is manifested so perversely in the curriculum recently adopted by California for K-12 kids that would teach them such things like capitalism is bad because it is an economic system that provided advantages for Jewish and Irish immigrants at the expense of Native Americans, and other such racial nonsense.

It ignores of course the fact that the reasons for the main Irish immigration, representing half of all immigration from 1840 to 1860, was due to religious persecution, political oppression, and near starvation. For Jews, the major immigration was late 19C and early 20C, the primary cause being religious persecution with horrible pogroms in Eastern Europe, and in post WWII as refugees from the Holocaust and war torn Europe, and some later in 1970-80 due to similar issues in the USSR. That these immigrations were caused by the prospects of the advantages of capitalism is such a twisted racial thesis that should be dismissed as a disgusting product of truly twisted minds.

This new California curriculum has as a core mandate what is referred to as the “Four I’s of Oppression”, i.e. ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized. Its stated goal is to “…build new possibilities for post-imperial life that promotes collective narratives of transformative resistance.” What does that even mean? Such an obvious politicized agenda adopted at the expense of vital early child development is perverse to a benevolent and productive educational experience parents should expect in order that their children are provided the necessary tools to succeed in life. Sorry Mark Twain, but this kind of flagrant indoctrination of children may very well be too much for them to get over. Not only will it deprive them of a sound education, it will mentally debilitate their common sense and ability to reason through the many issues that will arise in their lives.

Aristotle tells us that the purpose of education is to develop reasoning. The new California curriculum is loaded with terms so apparently contrived as to be inexplicable, but obviously intent on blatant indoctrination, sentencing children to an even worse educational experience than California provided previously. Take for instance the fact that the average fourth grader’s reading level is below first grade. Current educational philosophy is to find emotionally safe places free from the curse of logic, an instrument of oppression. Which philosophy would you want the people educating your children to embrace? Common sense tells us why we are where we are, but it takes fear to prevent us from doing something about it, fear that to object will expose us to the thought police and make us a target for ridicule as oppressors, racists, fascists, or whatever verbal weapon of identity politics is the flavor of the month, and eventually we would be “canceled”. 

Consider this one passage of Rand’s article that really informs us of the insidious nature of educational thought like California’s new curriculum: “But the modern heirs of the comprachicos are smarter and subtler than their predecessors: they do not hide, they practice their trade in the open; they do not buy children, the children are delivered to them; they do not use sulphur or iron, they achieve their goal without ever laying a finger on their little victims.”

Remember again that this article was written fifty years ago, but how prescient and applicable to our current dilemma. California’s new curriculum is more obviously twisted that earlier versions with similar intent, but they too had similar results than what the new will undoubtedly produce. Consider as an example a well-known public figure in Congress, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When questioned about how, given the egregious level of debt the US faces, she intends to fund the many social programs she advocates, she proposes the printing press as an unlimited source of wealth. While it only takes common sense and a modicum of historical awareness of where that would lead us, this product of a Boston College education lacks the common sense to understand you can’t spend from an empty pocket. By the way, she received a degree in economics, at a cost of $75K/year; this does not speak well of Boston College’s educational ability to develop reasoning in their students.

We find ourselves in such a state of affairs that our governments expect us to accept tribal collectivism rather than developing reasoning and a sense of self awareness in our children. This is a cruelty so perverse as to subject children to indoctrination rather than education. It is presented as a “progressive” agenda by a political class that oddly enough then complains that they are unable to understand why more and more citizens are opting out of public education in favor of private or home schooling, demonizing them as ignorant or narrow minded. It is their miseducation that creates such an elitist world view, denying any support for such options like vouchers and charter schools; you can always count on compulsion as their ultimate resort.

Their behavior reminds me of George Orwell’s adage about such people: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

Debt

“Simply put, unsustainable debt is helping to keep too many poor countries and poor people in poverty.” Bill Clinton

It is remarkable that Bill Clinton, who was feared to be just another tax and spend Democrat, was the last president to lead Congress to enact legislation that not only reduced our debt and balanced the budget, but produced a surplus. When he came to office, few thought he would embrace Reagan’s economic policies, which even Clinton’s immediate predecessor, George H. W. Bush, failed to do. Reagan was not even as successful as Clinton in addressing what was at the time considered to be unsustainable debt and the most pressing existential crisis.

Through tax and welfare reform, free trade policies and deregulation, fiscal and foreign policy restraint, from 1998 to 2001 Clinton’s administrations produced a balanced budget, surpluses and reduction in debt, and not surprisingly, sustained economic growth, increased employment and reduced poverty. The unfortunate but ridiculous episode of his sexual misconduct and impeachment is more representative of political pettiness and tabloid sensationalism than anything else. I do not say this out of partisan loyalty as I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican, just an objective observer of lessons we should learn from history.

Further, considering the fact that Clinton was faced with a Republican controlled congress, the fact that he was able to accomplish these things is also testimony to his trade craft in avoiding gridlock. That has not happened since then, and the lessons learned were all but forgotten as we can see by the various crises that have occurred since.

Since then we have engaged in never ending wars with one ill-conceived military intervention after another, bloated entitlements, regulation of just about every facet of the economy, created the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression, instituted trade wars with tariffs and sanctions, shuttered our economy and increased debt to the worst level of any nation in the history of the world; not exactly a great legacy to leave our future generations who will inherit the sins of their predecessors for many years to come.

The Federal budget deficit for 2019 was nearly a trillion dollars; for 2020 it will be more than three trillion dollars. We can point fingers all we want about things like the pandemic, tax cuts, bloated entitlements, etc. but we elected Trump who spends like a drunken sailor, and we then we elected Biden who promises to spend even more. We did that, not some Russian hackers or a viral disease, we get to empower those that do these things to us; we have met the enemy and it’s ourselves. 

I say that because I suspect the answer to this question is an emphatic no – would the American people elect a politician today who promised to do the kind of things that Reagan and Clinton did?  Would we elect a president who would cut entitlements, pull our troops out of foreign countries, propose a Federal Reserve leader who would reduce its balance sheet, or even better, dismantle that tool of monetary corruption altogether, abolish fiat currency, push for legislation, or even better a constitutional amendment, for a balanced budget and fiscal restraint? Think about that and ask yourselves if Americans today are willing to accept what it takes to get off the addiction of debt.

Clinton knew that debt is the worst poverty and that you can’t spend your way out of a recession or borrow your way out of debt. He rose above partisan politics to do the right thing.  True there were also things he did that caused the housing bubble that some economists say was one of the main contributors to the 2008 Financial Crisis, but the way that crisis was addressed only made things worse; Quantitative Easing is just stealth financial engineering to spend our way out of a recession and borrow our way out of debt, a policy that saw the slowest recovery since the Great Depression; inexplicably, we are still doing it.

Due to the ever expanding money supply with the freakish creation of fiat currency, and the expanding issuance of US Treasuries, much of it held by foreign governments who are not exactly friends of America, the US debt is now approaching thirty trillion dollars. So when you hear that the Federal Reserve intends to keep interest rates repressed for years to come at less than one percent, think about who is really the beneficiary of such accommodation? 

It obviously benefits those in debt, and none more so than the US Government. It also provides the private sector easier access to the credit market by facilitating loans, which in effect increases debt for business and consumers. This is how the financial virus of debt spreads through the economy until we reach a crisis as in 2008 with massive defaults causing credit markets to shut down.  Consider what the government’s solution to that crisis was with Quantitative Easing and other accommodations to actually provide even more liquidity for even more credit availability. In effect, their solution was to do more of what actually got us in to trouble to begin with.

While you also hear that inflation is low, even if you believe the big lie that it’s only two percent, do the math and you know that when the Fed says it will not consider negative interest rates, we are already there. Now consider all those retirees on fixed income from pensions and savings and you have a glimmer of how destructive such manipulations are.

So how is it that we now find ourselves in even a worse situation than what Reagan and Clinton faced, but solved and not that long ago? There was a time when Americans made fun of countries we called Third World and Banana Republics; today we can look in the mirror and ask if we have the hubris to say such things anymore. We have become a caricature of what we used to disdain, yet we are apathetic to the problem and unlike Reagan and Clinton, cowardly avoid the solution; kicking the can down the road will only work for a while and only as long as there is road, but what happens when you run out of road?

Where are the leaders who will get us off the debt addiction and on the path to recovery? No one appears on the near horizon; while Democrats rightfully blame Republicans for their wretched fiscal stewardship of our treasury, they come to power with a platform to do even worse. How is it lately that our political system comes up with a government whose solutions are to expand the problem? Is it the system, or the culture of its participants? I believe it has become more of the later and that presents even a greater problem we need to solve.

So the next time you hear a politician proposing anything that creates debt, remember Emerson’s advice that “A man in debt is so far a slave.” Well what then would you call a nation in debt?

Fear

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tsu

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. Mark Twain

Twain was not saying that we should welcome death, but that obsessing about it to the point of fearing it more than living makes you fear life itself. He encourages us to live life to the fullest so that we have no regrets, not about what we have done, but what we haven’t.

Have we become fearful of living? Is the threat of death that is pushed in our face daily with this pandemic, or the ever present political polarization, identity politics and cultural fragmentation made us so fragile that we rail against anyone who does not think, or even worse, does not act as we are told? Do we place more value on directives issued by bureaucrats, intellectual elitists and media gurus than the right of everyone to express their own opinion, or act in what they consider their own best interests?

Yes, with a pandemic wear a mask in public, keep clean, avoid large gatherings, and do so because it’s hygienically intelligent, but not because of fear. Don’t get caught up in identity politics and cultural right think out of fear, that opioid preventing awareness that you are your own person. This is true regarding all aspects of living, as only you can, or should, make decisions about what is best for you. It is said that love and hate are two sides of the same coin; wrong, its fear and hate. Courage and love are two sides of the same coin, and if you have courage, you will find joy in living, not fear of death. Fearful men live without joy, and therefore without love.

An old Chinese proverb wishes that we live in interesting times, and we certainly are as we have reached a cultural crisis. We are at a point where we need to understand the existential differences between the philosophy of liberty and that of its opposite, the philosophy of fear, and its other side of the coin, hate.

We need to not only understand this, but to make a choice. You need to be awake to that, but not “woke”, that pitiful zombionic state of “progressive” culture that seeks a “protected space” from anyone who may think or profess ideas contrary to our own, or worse, live them. This is the culture of fear, which leads to the hatred of all those that, for whatever reason, do not share your beliefs, and have the audacity to live their own lives. They are to be called out, ridiculed as ignorant products of an oppressive society, unworthy of consideration and therefore “canceled”. What malicious mind conceived the idea that a human being can be canceled? What ever happened to the love, peace and harmony of the 60’s and 70’s? OK, so I’m showing my age, but at least I’m here to do so.

Please, trust me on this, I’m not pleading that we all just get along, I’m saying we damn well better if we wish to live in liberty and peace. It’s not all that hard, we used to do that. We respected diversity of beliefs, free expression of ideas and alternative life styles. We valued individuality, actually practiced live-and-let-live, be cool, Let’s-Go-Mets!….well maybe not that, after all I’m a Yankee fan.

But seriously, where did we crash over the guard rails of a civil society?  When did we go tribal in our societal behavior? Well ask yourselves this question – are you an African American, a Latino American, an Asian American, a White American….why not just plain American? Are you a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender….how about none of your damn business! Even more, are you a Republican, Neocon, Democrat, Liberal, Libertarian, Conservative, Progressive, Socialist, Green…..how about this one – do you love your country, and the Republic for which it stands?

Who are you anyway? Are you afraid of admitting to any of these labels?  Maybe that’s a good thing; after all if you’re not a can of soup or a box of detergent on a grocery shelf, then who needs labels? Consider what Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.” Well you don’t need to think about the day you were born, you had little to do with that, but do you know why? I think it’s just to be whoever you want to be, not to live life in accordance with the opinions or wishes of others.

The alternative is you become an intruder on the rights of others, a parasite of their industry, a master of whom you make a slave to your own welfare; whichever it is your fear of living on your own brings you to the sociopathic alternative of a culture of fear. Oddly enough, it is a state of mind wherein you are more frightened than you would ever be harmed, more a victim of a fearful imagination than from any injury in reality.

Liberty offers no protected space, no guarantee of success, no avoidance of reality.  It offers only what you already have, and that is yourself. Liberty only guarantees an opportunity, and that is to make the most of yourself as you can.  There is no equality to anyone else (except under the law) as comparisons are not what liberty is about. It is an absolute; you are absolutely on your own to be whatever you can make of yourself.

There is a catch though and that is with liberty comes the responsibility of the consequences of your actions.  Does that put fear in your heart? Why, because you could make a bad decision? Well that’s life, and you have to live it to enjoy it, but so what if you make a bad decision, its called experience; good news, with experience you get to make good decisions. There’s a great life lesson that experience is better than education because with experience mistakes are all your own, but with education you carry the mistakes of others, at least until you get over them. Remember that thing called courage?  Well it’s not the mistakes you make that matter, it’s the courage to learn from them and move on.

Make no mistake about liberty, it’s damn hard to live life being yourself, but understand that the most common cause of depression is not being who you are. Depression is a state of despair, of fear, and that’s no way to live. Some people who suffer from depression do so out of fear of what others think of them, but then consider which would be better, to be hated for who you are, or loved for whom you’re not? What a horror it would be to live your days not knowing who you are.

There’s another thing about liberty and being who you are that may put fear in you, and that’s the fact that there are no guaranteed plans for success since you have no way to know what the future may bring. Man is a social animal and will always have exchanges with his fellow man in all aspects of life, but there’s one immutable guiding ethical principle, and that’s to never initiate aggression. In order to be yourself, you must respect the natural right of all men to own themselves, their life, their liberty and whatever they make through their industry. Everything else comes from this essential natural law, but not a plan for success. Life is a journey in to the future, which by definition is unknown. Funny thing about the future, unlike the past it never ends, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. So be a fearless traveler, you have nothing to lose and all of life to gain.

As Lao Tsu said some two and a half millennia ago “A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

The Politics of Panic

So as we move through these difficult times of our lives, we need to be of a more positive and composed mentality, or as best expressed by Mark Twain, another of my favorite Americans, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

“Security without liberty is called prison.” Benjamin Franklin

My favorite Founder, the author of the above quotation, is perhaps the least appreciated, despite being regarded as the “First American”. He was a man of many talents, not the least of which as a political writer, influencing many colonials against British policies. His sage words about security in regards to liberty are relevant for our time, and the circumstances of our current dilemma with the pandemic.

Our politicians in this dilemma have failed the critical test of leadership by promoting panic rather than composure. Whether that is so because they themselves lack the fortitude to lead rather than compel, or perhaps because they have a more sinister agenda can be debated, but ultimately the draconian dictates practiced as measures for security prove Franklin’s adage.

While we are bombarded daily in the news, as mass media thrives on the negative and promotes a right think mentality, there is good old Ben again wisely advising that “If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” So let us think and practice some composure, which requires a look at the data, most of which is readily available to all of us.

We need to understand some basic data about COVID19.  It is unquestionably a dangerous virus as manifested by about 290K deaths in the US as of today. Given that the vaccine has just been approved, even with aggressive production and distribution, projections for the death toll to reach 400K by Q2 of 2021 are plausible.

However, compare this with the CDC’s original forecasts of the death toll here in the US based on the March 16, 2020 projections from the Imperial College London’s report for 2.2 million deaths in the United States, upon which the CDC based its recommendations for lockdowns, among other measures. True, we need to put our trust in science more than politics, but when these scientists miss by a factor of more than 500%, they should not be surprised that our trust has been understandably shaken; they become suspect to the point of appearing more political than scientific. Any death is concerning, but from a policy viewpoint both the projection and reaction to it are empirically irrational.

Add to this the reports from many doctors regarding the protocols to determine the cause of death in the reported mortality; often it’s reported as “COVID related”, meaning it was a comorbidity to other causes, or even worse reported as a COVID death if pathology determines the person was infected with COVID at the time of death even if that wasn’t the cause. Why would a hospital do that? One incentive for doing so is increased government funding under the practice of back-stopping hospitals stressed with caseloads. Ever hear of unintended consequences?

Clearly hygienic protocols such as masks and hand washing are effective; anyone who questions that is likewise irrational. Given that this virus is now known to be airborne, the efficacy of social distancing is suspect. Note that indoor activity requires the facility to have adequate ventilation filtration and air exchange as a result of this realization about how the virus can spread.  These protocols are simple common sense and should not be politicized either; compulsion again is a poor policy as it engenders negative reactions contrary to intent. Good move by President Elect Biden for backing off the mask mandate, showing his realization of this time proven phenomenon.

It is informative to put this disease in a comparative context, so a look at the CDC’s report on the causes of death in the US gives us a better appreciation for what we are dealing with. The latest data is for 2018 as the 2019 data is still being vetted.  It is appreciated that the CDC is being careful about this and taking the time to get it right, although their reaction to the COVID projections lacked that discipline. Here are the categorical death totals:

Heart disease: 655,381

Cancer: 599,274

Accidents (unintentional injuries): 167,127

Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 159,486

Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 147,810

Alzheimer’s disease: 122,019

Diabetes: 84,946

Influenza and Pneumonia: 59,120

Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 51,386

Intentional self-harm (suicide): 48,344

Please note that there are two critical categories not included in the above that the CDC also records, and that is death from alcohol and drug abuse; for alcohol they estimate about 95K/year, and for drugs more than 67K/year. These numbers are not included in the suicides or accidents noted above, although why they occurred could be related to either.

I added COVID19 deaths, without exception to comorbidity, to the above in making some comparative contextual observations.  Also please note that while tobacco smoking is the cause for about 480K deaths per year, they are accounted for in the diseases noted above, like cancer and cardiovascular. What stands out here is that approximately 62% of all these deaths are caused by those very diseases, and the majority of those manifest themselves in the senior population, making them that much more susceptible, i.e. at risk to CIVID19, influenza and pneumonia. Now compare the fact that when we include COVID19 in all the death data, it accounts for about 11%, truly awful, but compared to the big killers, fractional.

What is also telling is that the overall death rate has been fairly consistent over the last decade, so it will be informative to look at the 2020 and 2021 statistics to put COVID19 in a context that hopefully will be more informative than what we have currently.

What is also noteworthy is that the non-disease related deaths due to suicides, alcohol and drug abuse (although I would consider those to be psychological and mental disorders) are about equal to COVID19. This is an important consideration as the economic consequences of lockdowns will likely increase those numbers.

While we are told that there is a “second wave” the data does not necessarily support the recent spikes as anything other than just that. What it shows is that testing has increased astronomically, while the death rate has fallen precipitously. That should surprise no one if they understand that the more you test, the more you will find, and as positivity increases, and protocol treatments improve survivability, the mortality rate falls.  Setting arbitrary parameters for lockdowns without a rational consideration of the data is counterproductive.  For instance, Governor Cuomo of NYS recently mandated closing indoor dining in NYC (like outdoor dining in winter is a reasonable option) due to recent spikes in positivity testing. Restaurants were found to be a 1.3% contributor to the spike, whereas family gatherings (like Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season) were 76% contributors. Strange that he did this considering his admonitions to Mayor De Blasio about how schools are the safest place for kids to be, so keep them open. Clearly the Governor needs some math and logic lessons, not to mention better consistency and stronger composure; shoot-ready-aim is not good leadership.

According to the CDC’s records of the seasonal influenza, a virus that has survived and evolved for as long as mankind can recall, we get some interesting takeaways. The first seasonal influenza vaccine was made available in the US in 1930. It did not have an overwhelming reception as few opted in until 1945 when it became broadly accepted. It would be interesting to know why just after the war that happened.  Some have theorized, maybe correctly, that it was because it was the beginning of the Baby Boom.

The flu vaccine has had varying success, but never more than about 68% efficacy, often less, but certainly not up to the 95% reported for the COVID19 vaccine. Excluding the Spanish Flu of 1918 and just looking at the seasonal flu from 1930 to now, the mortality rate is usually in the 60K range, with a high of 116K in 1957, and 100K in 1967; if we ignore those highs, looking at the 90 year period during which we had a flu vaccine, that’s about 5M deaths from seasonal influenza. COVID19 isn’t going away because we have a vaccine, and like the seasonal flu, the virus will, as has already been seen, mutate requiring constant updates to the vaccine; but still, 95% efficacy is a lot better than 68%.

If locking down the economy is the answer to dealing with contagious diseases, then you can make the case that we should have been locking down the economy every winter; even considering the coming winter with even more deaths, the logic for lockdowns fails. Locking down an economy put 30 million people out of work; that’s just not economic stress, that’s increased stress on the health of the entire population. While we have a vaccine starting mid-December for essential workers such as healthcare, those over 65 years old and those at risk due to chronic illnesses, it will not be significantly distributed to the majority of Americans until Q2 of 2021; are we to lockdown until then?

Despite government efforts to counter the effects of shuttering an economy, neither stimulus nor QE have provided a long range solution to even reach the time frame for vaccine viability. Defaults and bankruptcies are at an all-time high and growing. Many small businesses, which account for the majority of US employment, will likely never recover, and many are already gone.

The massive monetary inflation of the US dollar to provide easy credit, i.e. debt, puts it in imminent and understandable danger of losing reserve currency status, a loss of a trading advantage that will further exacerbate its purchasing power; why we are told that will not cause inflation is bizarre. The government’s proposition that stimulus, proverbial helicopter money, will provide growth is at best disingenuous; in reality it’s welfare for Wall Street.  It is not a coincidence that as the likelihood of a second tranche fades, the indices fall, which should inform even the financially challenged what this scheme is all about.

Further, consider the thinking behind lockdowns that COVID19 is “contagious/harmful enough”; at best that is a vague, non-scientific phrase. More telling against lockdowns is that the survival rate according to the CDC for those 69 years old and younger is 98.5%, which is even higher the efficacy of the vaccine. For those older than 69, the survival rate falls to 86.6% mostly due to the decline in resiliency and/or the onset of other ailments.

I understand that there are those that have doubts about a vaccine that was developed in under a year and whose developers negotiated liability immunity while promoting it as safe, clearly a contradiction. While I support getting the vaccine, it is a personal choice. If you force someone to do it against their will while granting immunity to big pharma against any negative side effects, you are creating the very reason for people to be suspicious of it.

So as we move through these difficult times of our lives, we need to be of a more positive and composed mentality, or as best expressed by Mark Twain, another of my favorite Americans, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

What Just happened?

While the minority opinion can be considered one made in good faith, it was indefensible constitutionally.

On 11/25/20, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, decided for The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York in their suit against Governor Cuomo regarding restrictions in places of worship based on the First Amendment rights regarding freedom of religion.

It was as reported a rather bitter split with some telling statements made among the justices, but there are some statements that standout that I find relevant to the issue of the case, those by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch.

First, there is the curious opinion by Chief Justice Roberts. His dissenting opinion in opposition to the majority was ambiguous. He apparently found it necessary to defend the minority opinion based on his belief that the majority voiced harsh criticism of that. He also noted that the lower court ruling was still pending which would indicate that a Supreme Court ruling was not yet required. Further, as Governor Cuomo had just previously lifted the restrictions, this in his opinion made a ruling moot, at least for the time being.

How awkward for the Chief Justice to find himself in such a position. Was it not the decision of the Supreme Court to hear the case?  Yes, by what is called the “Rule of Four”, at least four of the nine justices agreed to hear the case and issued a writ of certiorari compelling the lower court to submit the case to them.  Why do that and then as Chief Justice cast doubts on the court’s proceeding with the case?

That the Governor lifted the restrictions, at least for the time being, doesn’t change the fact that those restrictions were at issue with the Constitution and therefore relevant to what the Supreme Court actually is there for.

As to his defense of the minority opinion, why was that even necessary as all he had to do was provide an opinion in support of it, not to act as if he were defending those who found in favor of the Governor’s restrictions; at least those three other Justices did their job with conviction, something the Chief Justice appears reluctant to do.

Too often Roberts has found it necessary to be more like an apologists than a judge, as he did with the ACA ruling regarding the mandate, manipulating words to provide cover for it under the pretext of a tax versus a penalty; thankfully that sham has been debunked even by Congress itself, the very basis of a defense for the remainder of ACA to continue under the severability doctrine. These kinds of actions diminish the office of the Chief Justice from the seat of high jurisprudence to a disingenuous role of political manipulation.

Then we have Justice Gorsuch who was the most outspoken of the majority and made two clear and thankfully unequivocal statements.  Firstly we have “Even if the Constitution has taken a holiday during this pandemic, it cannot become a sabbatical. Rather than apply a nonbinding and expired concurrence, courts must resume applying the Free Exercise Clause.”; and then “We may not shelter in place when the Constitution is under attack. Things never go well when we do.”

The first statement makes clear that even during emergencies the Constitution can’t be suspended, and with the second, allowing attacks on the Constitution is always dangerous.  In summary, rights are not something government allows the people, but what the government may not violate even in an emergency.

Now make no mistake, Roberts clearly dissented from the majority opinion, but did so with an obvious attempt to leave the door open with his obfuscation that things may change. What he was defending as “harsh” was the fact that the majority opinion left no doubt that rights that are regulated is an oxymoronic position contrary to what the Constitution says, specifically the First Amendment. While the minority opinion can be considered one made in good faith, it was indefensible constitutionally.

So what just happened? Well, there have been times when the Supreme Court did not always rule constitutionally, and often have appeared as if legislating from the bench. If the appointment of Justice Barrett, a well-known originalist, means that the court is now strengthened in its support of the constitution, it is a welcome development that we can only hope will continue in the future.

So Where Are We?

At last, no more endless analyses of the inevitable, with every morning’s news update showing another percentage point closer to a decision; it’s like ground hog day in journalism. It’s done, Joe Biden wins and Trump is out, even if he doesn’t know or admit it; so goes the greater of two evils. Now all we have to do is bear four years of what hopefully is the lesser of two evils. So where are we?

Is this really what we are celebrating in the streets about? Did we actually vote out a president we didn’t want in order to get a president we didn’t want? Did I actually see crowds without masks, packed together and sharing bottles of champagne? Where are the Fauci fanatics? What exactly are we celebrating? In a way it is understandable; four years of the egregious behavior of a delusional authoritarian is at an end, but what are we getting now?

Still, good riddance to the “reality” (there’s an oxymoron somewhere in that) show host, and let’s hope that what we now have is just not something that looks better than Trump but actually is. We sorely need that, but my suspicion is we may not get it.  Biden is like a pain killer; numbs but doesn’t cure. So while you’re numb, what happens?

Biden, if nothing else, is a clever politician that has found a way to stay in the game for 50 years.  Assuming he means what he says about his mandate for cooperation with a reach across the aisle, especially if the Senate Republican, that will be a disappointment to the AOC camp of progressives more interested in some sort of purge. An administration forced to fight two fronts, one being the Republicans, the other a faction in their own party, will mean more gridlock, although at least that will mean the government will do less harm.

As far as Biden’s vows to fight COVID more aggressively, he recently stepped in a little problem he may not easily get off his shoe; he had discussed mandatory lock-downs, but was advised that doing so could enrage Americans more than gain him any support.  While a V shape recovery is unlikely as we will have a slow slog out of this mess, further restrictions on Americans being able to have a livelihood will only fuel a deepening resentment that could mean a mid-term flip in the House.  So Biden back-peddles and calls it a presidential “urging”; that may have a hollow ring to it, but better that than some draconian dictate. Again, Biden is a survivor and he understands that a 3.4% edge in the popular vote that just managed to flip some key states is hardly mandate territory.

So it all comes down to the Senate. North Carolina and Alaska have provided two more Republican Senators; if Georgia provides one more Republican senator in the January runoffs, Biden will not have a Democratic Senate. However, while the Washington Post ran a very good article showing how the numbers add up in favor of both Republicans, we’re talking about a state that flipped Democratic, which hasn’t happened since 1992, so nothing is a given; if both runoffs go Democratic, we’ll have a split, but with Harris you get the tie-breaker going Democratic, but that also makes for a chaotic situation.

The Georgia senate run-offs have become so critical that you have Schumer of NY calling for a migration of Democrats to Georgia before the December 7th cut-off date to register to vote in order to stack the outcome, something the Georgia constitution does not permit. How is it that the Democrats rage against Trump calling the presidential election fraudulent but then advocate fraud?

The news now is more about the vaccine than voting, and it has been good news, although the famous Greenspan “irrational exuberance” seems to be back in the markets.  The talk about more stimulus will likely play a lot but with unemployment falling, the likelihood of a vaccine next year, a surging market, irrational as it may be, more helicopter money may not happen, or at least be a lot less than Madame Pelosi wants.

Biden is proceeding with his transition team, and well he should as there is likely little to come from the Trump challenges.  True, a state judge has found that the Pennsylvania Secretary of State violated the law with the voting extensions, and some other irregularities have been noted, but likely there’s not enough to change that state’s outcome, or even if there were, that alone will not give Trump a win.

Biden will have little fuel to fire up his thinning edge in the House now that it’s apparent that SCOTUS looks like it’s going with the severability doctrine that will keep the ACA in place, sans the mandate. The abortion issue is likely to become a back page as the mood in the court is to avoid challenging precedent. The same goes for gun control, another issue with little play politically.

What’s increasingly becoming more of an issue is stimulus, and its hangover problem with debt, something we have so much of already that the dollar is falling daily against other major currencies to the point that it may lose its reserve status. In fact, what Biden is facing is something every president dreads – empty pockets and a dead locked Congress. With all that he promised during the campaign regarding huge spending programs, it is increasingly likely he will be a very frustrated president given that the Fed has nearly exhausted its abilities monetarily (other than dangerously exposing itself with QE purchases of more corporate debt), the burden for more stimulus lies with fiscal machinations at a time where only taxation and printing presses are at his disposal.  The former adds to a midterm issue, and the latter to potential Carter like stagflation.

So we seem to be exactly where our enemies would want us, broke, weak, disoriented and disunited; that situation may very well present Biden with some international crises. Hopefully, he will not play into the call for some stupid military adventure like Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq; the last thing this country needs is to get involved in some foreign intervention that would bleed an already hemorrhaging nation.

What we need is leadership away from the bungling of the past and a return to the principles of our Republic, relieving Americans of the burdens of a warfare and welfare state that has jeopardized the future prosperity of our children and grandchildren. The problem is we needed this years ago, but we can’t change the past.  Will Joe Biden be the leader to get us back to having a future? We will soon find out.

Being Yourself

Free speech is the expression of being you, the ability to express your beliefs and aspirations. Now consider what we are being told about being “woke”, a phrase that holds much to be wary of. According to that proposition you apparently are asleep socially and politically, and therefore not really a valid being unless you adhere to what you are told by those that profess to know what existential meaning is; should you deviate from that, you will be canceled; hence the term “cancel culture”.

A critical definition of being “woke” is the act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue. The dictionary definition of pretentious is even more to the point; it is an adjective describing someone attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than they actually possess.

Understanding meaning is essential to knowledge as without understanding there is no knowledge; if that makes sense to you, you are not “woke” and much the better for that. When just being yourself you don’t need a social crutch to help support or limit you, which is the essence of being an individual and capable of independent thought.

The whole point of being an individual is that you’re not just another nothing in some awful collectivist nightmare of non-being; how have we as a society lost that concept? It did not happen overnight, it was a slow but steading erosion of the respect for the individual, a concept called liberty.

Consider the current social stigma free expression may inflame in the polarized world in which we live, especially in this country’s institutions of higher learning where suppression of free expression is so accepted; it seems the more elitist the school, the more prevalent this phenomenon, which then appears to inform the behavior of so many of our other institutions. It is not surprising then to also see a rise in alcohol and drug abuse, depression and suicide among the younger generations. According to the founder of existentialism, Soren Kierkegaard, “The most common form of despair is not being who you are.”

There was a very good reason why the New England states, the birthplace of the American Revolution, insisted on the Bill of Rights being incorporated in to the US Constitution, and the first having to do with various forms of free expression such as religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Thankfully we have those, especially considering what Alexis de Tocqueville observed about American society during his tour of 1831, specifically that “I know of no country in which, for the most part, independence of thought and true freedom of expression are so diminished as in America. In America, the majority traces a tremendous circle around thought.”

Given the tremendous social upheaval of post McCarthyism America resulting in ever more respect for free expression, it is disturbing to see such a medieval back sliding to the conformity of ideas, and an ostracization of those that don’t comply. Imagine what the “woke” would have to contend with given personalities like Lenny Bruce!

What is it that the “woke” fear about free expression?  How can we have a civil discourse in America without that? The definition of civil discourse is engagement in conversation intended to enhance understanding. The most important requirement for civil discourse is respect for the existential right of everyone to express their own individual thoughts on any subject and therefore does not represent a threat to anyone else’s beliefs. By definition, civil discourse avoids physical hostility as it requires consideration for other ideas.

To take the position that silencing someone because what they have to say is objectionable, and therefore represents a threat or violence against you, is to take the position of every dictator throughout history.  One of my favorite quotes about liberty in regards to free speech is from George Orwell, who said “If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

The benefits of free speech and the attenuation of civil discourse are philosophically known as a heuristic, a technique that enables someone to discover or learn something for themselves. The benefits to society should be apparent to everyone, especially anyone who claims to be an educated and enlightened person.  It will lead to a more objective understanding of ideas divorced from the oppression of feelings that could be harmful to us and others as that may lead to actions detrimental to our wellbeing.

Based on this, psychologically it would be fair to say that being “woke” is actually a contradiction in terms relative to its current meaning as actually that represents a suppression of awareness in regards to others, a lack of empathy, perception of reality and an inability to objectively observe and consider anything outside of yourself; sounds dangerously similar to narcissism.

Politically and sociologically it is corrosive, creating a them-and-us conflict, the very essence of polarization.  If you are not only unwilling to listen to another viewpoint, but willing to suppress it, how would you ever be able to understand it and therefore be able to judge its worth or have a meaningful discussion about it?

I’m sure we have all heard of the famous quote attributed to Voltaire regarding free speech that says “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Maybe the “woke” will wake up and catch up on centuries of the Enlightenment.

Suspension of Belief

“…a choice between the lesser of two evils is still evil.”

Consider for a moment what the real differences are between the two major presidential candidates, ignoring for the moment their personalities and underlying character, and just what they represent politically. That can be difficult given that Trump is such a narcissistic sociopath and Biden lacking in any principle other than how to play political gamesmanship; in fact it’s not difficult, but useless as they both represent egregious authoritarianism.

By all accounts, this coming election is remarkable for a variety of reasons, perhaps the most compelling being the projected turnout. One of the highest turnouts in presidential elections was in 1860 at 81.2%, with Lincoln versus, well a host of others, the complexity of the ticket too much for this post to cover. The highest turn-out to date was in 1876 at 81.8% with Hayes versus Tilden; it was also the most contentious election so far resulting in the Compromise of 1877, with the Democrats conceding the election to Hayes in return for an end to Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South; it was a time when black lives truly didn’t matter, it was all about winning – sound familiar?

Given the huge turn-out so far for the 2020 election with the mail-in option, the likelihood that the count will be more difficult to execute is a given, which will substantially delay the results, and will only add to the contentiousness. Another factor will be Trump’s apparent refusal to unequivocally accept the results should he loose, posing an existential threat to the constitutional imperative regarding the civil transfer of power.

We also have issues with the contentious environment of a pandemic, rioting, vandalism, economic suppression, unemployment, runaway debt, trade wars, seemingly endless military interventionism, cultural tribalism, scandal and investigations, all adding to a polarization obviating civil discourse and creating violent conflicts, and all during an election year; yet all we are offered is the lesser of two evils.

However, the most telling issue, especially considering the turn-out projections, is the lack of belief in the candidates. True, there are zealots for both Trump and Biden, but the apparent environment is one of acceptance of a choice of the lesser of two evils. If belief means trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something, it is sorely lacking in this election. On the Democratic side, we have a sad lost soul who seems to be influenced by whomever he last spoke to, and on the Republican side a delusional snake oil salesman whose only principle is to do and get whatever he wants at any cost, and always with other people’s money.

The American voters should not look at this situation and believe they are obligated in any way to choose the lesser of two evils; they should vote for someone else or abstain.  Either will provide them the dignity of avoiding giving their consent for one of these two clowns to disgrace the office of the President of the United States any further. Yes, one will win anyway, but we should show some level of self-esteem and respect for our right to vote by not supporting either.

Then we have all the noise about election meddling by Russia, but Russia has always meddled with foreign elections, and has been doing what they call “active measures” for centuries and are very good at it.  Social media is just the current tool at their disposal, and what they grasp, even more than current democratic societies do, is that ideas, true or false, when disseminated among the intellectually weak are more powerful than guns; it does not matter to them who wins an election as the distrust of the process is more important than the results.

Neither should we be fooled by doctrinal claims, like Trump espousing capitalism. As Justin Amash observed “For a person who claims to oppose socialism, President Trump spent a lot of time in his SOTU address touting central planning, federal intervention in nonfederal matters, and a big-government spending spree—policies that threaten our rights and undermine our long-term prosperity.” Nor should we be fooled by Biden’s proposed policies as anything more than socialist tax and spend programs with almost heart felt pleads about equality mean he has our liberty in mind.

It is a certainty that one of these two pretenders will be elected, but the reality is that a choice between the lesser of two evils is still evil. True liberty does not mean equality but free will; while that can be chaotic, you either accept that or accept authoritarianism. Trump and Biden are simply two sides of the same counterfeit coin, just different personas. The situation of having to choose between the two reminds me of what F.A. Harper said in 1949 regarding liberty that “It is of little importance whether a dictator gained his power by accident of birth, by force, or by the vote of the people.”

As to which alternative is better, i.e. voting for someone else or abstaining, it depends on what your political convictions are. If you want to vote third party, there are fourteen such candidates on presidential ballots, one with access to all electoral votes, some with half, some with just a few, but you have a wide range to choose from; also consider what message a third party vote will send depending on which of the two major candidate suffers the most in lost votes that were cast for others.

If you want to express your displeasure with a process that provides for only two likely contenders as a choice of the lesser of two evils, then abstain; remember, voting is not an obligation but a right, and also a message, and abstaining is still a message that you reject the premise of choosing the lesser of two evils.

It’s also important to note that no third party was allowed to participate in the debates on the pretext of meaningless qualification requirements, and more likely out of concern that the debates could actually provide meaningful content. The Commission on Presidential Debates is jointly sponsored by the Democratic and Republican political parties since 1987 when they took over from the League of Women Voters in a contentious coup critically denounced for its secretive “memorandum of understanding” that would decide which candidates could participate in the debates, which individuals would be panelists and what questions could be asked. The League rejected these demands and released a statement saying that it was withdrawing support for the debates because “the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter.” That was such a prescient statement of the obvious corruption of the vital role of debates in the electoral process, a shameful suppression of free speech that even Russian meddling would be hard put to effect.

Then there is the question that if a third party candidate were elected, could they be an effective president? The answer to that is difficult as there’s little if any chance of that happening, but if it did, Congress would still be a majority of the corrupt duopoly of Republicans and Democrats who would be so adverse that such a president would be unable to get anything done; on the other hand, at least we would be better off without the government doing more harm.

As the Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen recently said “Some people say it’s too dangerous to vote for anyone but a Republican or Democrat this year, but I ask isn’t this of all years the time you don’t want to repeat the behavior that has gotten us to this dangerous place?” Yes, it is!