How Sex, Politics, Money and Religion are Killing Planet Earth

Monday, August 31, 2009

Healthcare - Part I

Americans are conflicted with a glaring cultural ambiguity. On the one hand, 83% of us identify ourselves as Christian. On the other hand, we embrace capitalist economic ideology, which idealizes the amassing of wealth and rabid individual pursuit of personal gain.

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 25:35-40).”

Jesus was a socialist. Repeatedly throughout scripture, he suggests that material wealth should be redistributed among those members of society that need it the most. He suggests that a rich man has as much of a chance of getting into heaven as a camel has fitting through the eye of a needle. He suggests “you cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13),” yet the accumulation of wealth has become a cornerstone of American culture.

“God helps those who help themselves (Benjamin Franklin)”

Many people believe the above quotation actually appears in the Bible. It does not. The sentiment was penned by one of America’s great founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin was a self made man. Through sheer industry and hard work, he raised himself up from being an apprentice in a printer’s shop to developing one of the country’s first franchise businesses (in printing). From humble beginnings, he became one of our nation’s greatest entrepreneurs. Franklin’s story serves as an inspiration and is the epitome of the American Dream. The rags to riches saga is engrained in our collective psyche, and centuries of similar examples have served to strengthen the dream.

For Franklin, and in fact for many of our founding fathers, a strong belief in capitalism did not conflict with religious values because for the most part, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not religious men. The 1700’s when Franklin lived, were penned “The Age of Reason,” and Franklin and his contemporaries embraced reason over faith.

Many Americans; however, should be concerned about the dichotomy and logistically complicated moral implications of espousal of both fundamentalist Christian values and unquestioning capitalist economic ideals. This is exactly the conundrum expressed by the political far-right. Nowhere is the moral contradiction more apparent than with the current healthcare debate where far-right, bible-bashing conservatives decry spending their tax dollars on basic healthcare for those who have none. To these hypocrites I would ask, “What would Jesus do?”

Jesus said, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment (Matthew 10:8).”

Our existing healthcare system is exactly the opposite of what Jesus proposed. Rather than giving and receiving without payment because it is the morally correct thing to do, in the United States, healthcare is ONLY given for payment. Receiving payment for honest work is entirely respectable, and I certainly don’t begrudge anybody working in a medical field a descent, fair salary. However, one must ask the question, “What do insurance companies actually do to earn the 400% profit margins they report?”

The right says, “We don’t want government interfering with our healthcare,” but the government already, very successfully operates Medicare, Medicaid and the VA health system. These government-run healthcare programs are almost universally loved. Most would seek to expand rather than restrict them. We would all hope that healthcare decisions are made thoughtfully by a doctor and the patient, but the status quo of corporate-run healthcare doesn’t allow doctors to make treatment decisions for patients. Insurance companies have reams of staff members whose sole purpose is to deny coverage regardless of what doctors say. We have been trying the capitalist model of healthcare now for some time, and it clearly isn’t working.

“The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results (Albert Einstein)”

The right says, “The federal deficit is already too high. We can’t afford healthcare.” Many Americans cannot afford healthcare and some other Americans like the Wal-Mart heirs and Bill Gates could afford healthcare for thousands of people without making a dent in their bottom lines. The truth is that as the wealthiest nation on earth, we certainly can afford healthcare for all. As Jesus recommends, curing America’s sick would be as easy as redistributing some of that American wealth in a more equitable way. The Wal-Mart heirs certainly deserve to live their American dreams, but is it fair that they have more money than they could possibly spend in their entire lives? The folks who are breaking their backs every day at their menial labor jobs at Wal-Mart, lining Walton family pockets with profits, can barely afford to put food on their tables much less pay for healthcare. It is time to fairly redistribute the wealth.

Every thirty minutes someone in the United States dies of a curable illness because they did not have access to adequate medical treatment. The main cause of all bankruptcy in America is excessive, unpayable healthcare bills. Over 70% of those who file for bankruptcy have health insurance. In the meantime, while Americans are dying and losing their homes, the healthcare industry records record profits.

America’s Christians need to literally put their money where their mouths are.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Fundamental Truth - Part I

This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it (John Adams)

The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines fundamentalism as “a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally translated Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching ”

Contrary to what many fundamentalists may believe, their movement is a relatively new development born in the United States in revival tents on the tongues of charismatic preachers in California and New England around the turn of the 20th century and was a reaction to the newly emergent age of reason that attempted to apply scientific scrutiny to all avenues of earthly affairs including a new critical interpretation of the bible. In Germany in the 19th century, scientific and empirical evidence began to support the theory that long held beliefs about the authorship of the bible were in fact, incorrect. Rather than being the work of one inerrant author (Moses), biblical scholars deciphered strong evidence that the first five books of the Bible were in fact written by several people.

While the new scrutiny offered new and exciting interpretations of biblical scriptures, the practice inflamed Protestant conservatives who maintained that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. The newly proclaimed fundamentalists also introduced a new concept. They reserved the right to view their own interpretation of scripture as the only ‘truth’ with all other understandings being falsehoods in their estimation.

Some of the main doctrines embraced by modern fundamentalists include an unquestioning adherence to the model of creation outlined in the book of Genesis and a strong belief that the ‘end times’ as outlined in the book of Revelation are upon us and that only the faithful followers of Christian fundamentalism will be lifted to heaven in a ‘rapture,’ while the rest of us will be forced to wallow in a hell-like, war-torn quagmire on earth. Other widely held views among fundamentalists include the belief that homosexuality is an abhorrent sin and that human consciousness begins at conception of sperm and egg.

Among fundamentalists, actions take a backseat to beliefs. Once one professes his acceptance of Jesus Christ as savior, he is forgiven all sins forevermore. In this context, doing good deeds is irrelevant. Mahatma Gandhi rots in Hell while Jim and Tammy Fae Baker enjoy paradise.

In recent times, fundamentalism has spilled out of revival tents and backwoods churches onto national television stations and into the political arena. The fundamentalist political agenda includes the following targets among others:

• Introduction of the biblical version of creation into school science programs to rival all currently held scientific evidence to the contrary and defying the Constitutionally-mandated separation of church and state.

• Appointment of conservative Supreme Court justices with the expressed ambition of overturning Roe vs. Wade making all abortion illegal including cases of incest and rape.

• An aggressive Middle Eastern policy, which seeks to restore the state of Israel to its biblically-held land areas including Palestine’s Gaza and West Bank areas in order to facilitate the biblically-prophesized Armageddon and thus precipitating end times.

Christian fundamentalism like all fundamentalist dogma, is a movement of exclusionary forces. How can those who profess to believe in a benevolent and loving creator believe that same creator would subject the vast majority of His children and other living creations to a hell-like purgatory on earth while raising a minority to paradise simply based on their beliefs?

Recent polls suggest that over half of the people in the United States regard the Christian Bible as literal truth , although a mere 30% would consider themselves evangelical fundamentalists. These figures contrast starkly with our European counterparts that for the most part have a secular appreciation for the bible and its contents. Perhaps this discrepancy arises from the fact that the European world has already experienced the dominance of a faith-based hegemony during the Catholic Church’s legacy in the Middle Ages.

When asked specific questions such as “Will the end of the world result from an Armageddon-like battle as described in the Bible?” A large majority of Americans answer in the affirmative.

Unfortunately, even in the face of irrefutable scientific evidence, almost half of the population of the United States still believes that the two-thousand plus year old scientific theories found in the bible are literal truth. The earth is not flat, a dome does not encase the sky, the earth and all her wonders was not created six-thousand years ago in six days and women are not ‘born of man.’ That some still maintain these beliefs in modern society should be viewed as a sad failure of our national education system; however, the people who subscribe to these beliefs for the most part are not to blame for their own lack of knowledge. Indoctrinated into religion from birth and forced into compliance with the fear of hellfire and brimstone, many fundamentalist children do not even have the benefit of a well-rounded education that emphasizes critical thought and independent thinking. These children grow into adults that raise their children similarly, so the vicious cycle of lack of knowledge continues.

The Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the world thrive both in terms of power and fortune from this mass-ignorance and therefore pull out all the stops to maintain their ideological empires including dabbling in the political landscape of our precious democracy.

Nothing short of the future of the earth herself is at risk. We must actually care to save the planet. Those looking forward to the rapture tend not to care what happens to the planet, but we cannot take the risk that the rapture will most likely never come. The earth is the only home we have or will ever have. She is the precious only planet of life in the universe that we know of. Ideologies that welcome wars in the Middle East toy with the reality that in today’s world, any war presents the threat of global annihilation, and given the emotional instability of many of the Middle Eastern players, any war in that region is particularly threatening. Armageddon is a bible story. The reality will not be so delightful. Preserving the earth’s resources and using them wisely should be viewed as essential for maintaining the many more generations of human beings on planet earth who should be able to enjoy the reasonable quality of life that Americans have come to expect. We should not be hoping for end times. We should be praying with all our hearts and souls that life on earth will continue knowing the full measure of earth’s abundant life until our own sun burns out and releases its elements onto the stellar winds to begin new possibilities in other corners of the universe.

The universe is not static. Its form is forever reaching outward, expanding and changing. Everything we are was once something else and soon will be again. Stability and permanence are constructs of a human psyche desperate to instill brief existence with meaning and durability. Our religious scriptures allegorically express this most profound of our human fears through mythologies designed to order the unorderable and instill significance to that which we are incapable of understanding. In the same vein, fundamentalist thought clings to the same dogma rather than honestly looking at the dark truth that is clearly spelled out in every myth. Truth is not static or solid only revealing itself through literal words on a page. Truth exists within the metaphorical spaces between the words where our common humanity, fear and brief lives reveal themselves in all their frailty.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In the Beginning - Part I

As far back into the past as human history can be traced, people have pondered the mystery of creation. With only the observable world as their guide, mankind has constructed mythologies since time immemorial in an attempt understand the meaning, or lack thereof, of existence. All creation myths share as a common thread a glimpse of the world as it was understood at the time of the myth’s writing.

Five or six thousand years ago, man observed a flat earth encased in the sky by a heavenly dome and surrounded by a seemingly endless ocean. In antiquity, the flat earth was the center of a universe with a sun and planets that revolved around the earth in concentric circles.

Our forays into space have put to rest any notion of a flat earth. Today, we believe that our current scientific understanding of the universe is relatively more accurate. If our species is fortunate enough to survive another five or six millennia, time will undoubtedly reveal the weaknesses of our current most advanced scientific beliefs.

Our current creation myth suggests that in the beginning, everything that exists was compacted into an infinitesimal point that was so miniscule as to be almost nothing at all. The point of existence was also almost infinitely dense containing the entire mass of the universe within it. 13 to 15 billion years ago, in an instant of cataclysmic explosion the point began to spread out. The matter from the point expanded and expanded reaching out to fill a void of the infinite space of the universe. Eventually the debris from the Big Bang collected together and formed planets, stars, galaxies and solar systems plus a lot of cosmic radiation, dust and debris.

In quantum physics, it has been noted that all things in the universe that appear to be solid matter can also be regarded as energetic entities; thus, waves of energy behave and look like solid particles and vice versa. Known as the theory of particle wave duality, the concept describes the nature of the universe. Energy can be converted to mass and mass to energy. Everything is fundamentally comprised of the same stuff. The light that shines from the sun is the same as the cells of our bodies, the soil of the earth and the waves on the ocean. From a prehistoric universe of infinite energy, one of solidity was born.

Within the substance of massive stars our solar system was born. At intensive core temperatures of millions of degrees, lighter atoms undergo explosive nuclear fusion reactions until they build upon themselves to become the elemental diversity we recognize today upon the periodic table. As the giant stars age, runaway fusion reactions form an inescapable gravitational center until the star explodes into a spectacular supernova that sends shockwaves across entire galaxies scattering celestial dust across space and time. Our sun, our bodies and our earth are comprised of the stuff of radiant stars.

4.5 billion years ago, the gravity of a small star collected into its orbit swirling fragments of matter that eventually formed 8 planets and numerous other planet-like orbs.

Less than one billion years later, on the third planet from the sun, something extraordinary began to take place. The volatile cauldron that was earth’s early environment spewed forth complex molecules that gradually began to develop the capacity to replicate. When molecules began to organize into groups and then into metabolizing energetic systems, life was born. Over the course of the next several billion years, the primitive life forms became increasingly more and more complex. 5.5 million years ago, a large life form decided to stand upright and walk bipedally, then sometime around 100,000 years ago, a species, Homo sapiens, diverged from its genetic ancestors to form the distinct animal that we now call ‘human.’

Our only home is a stunningly beautiful heavenly body dressed in swirling colors of brilliant emerald, sapphire and white. She is Earth, and she is the only known place in a universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies where the miracle of life exists. Her body nourishes trillions upon trillions of organisms each one a unique living soul upon her surface.

Everything that we are comes from her. She nourishes our bodies, provides the air we breathe and the water we drink. We are her children. From her body we are born and to it we return in an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth.

Earth is relatively small by planetary standards. Even within our own solar system, with a diameter of a mere 8,000 miles and a circumference of about 25,000 miles, she is dwarfed by the gaseous giants of Saturn and Jupiter. At just over 1,000 miles per hour, she spins on her axis revolving around the sun at a pace of 67,000 miles per hour making a complete revolution of 93 million miles every 365.25 days.

This is not her only journey. She is but a tiny speck hurtling through space on a galactic arm of the Milky Way known as the Orion Arm . Our bright brilliant sun is one of 300 billion stars in the spiral galaxy, and just as our earth is slave to the gravitational pull of the sun, the sun too is slave to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way’s galactic center completing one complete rotation across the galaxy every 250 million years.

The Milky Way is also entrapped by the expanding forces of the universe that caused creation billions of years ago and is hurtling through the universe at 1.3 million miles per hour .

Given the insignificant space that the Earth occupies in the vast universe, her accomplishments are nothing short of miraculous. She is our home. We have no other. Her fate is our own.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Notes on the Economy – Part II

Much of the world is currently experiencing the “Great Recession.” The standard definition of an economic recession is a period of two financial quarters when the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracts or declines. Recently, economists are adopting a broader definition that defines a recession as the period of time between when the economy reaches its peak and begins to fall and when it bottoms out and begins to grow again, usually lasting about a year. If the GDP declines more than 10%, then the economic downturn is considered a depression.

The above definitions are based on the exclusive factor of “growth” in the economy with GDP representing the magical figure that reveals all. What is this mysterious entity GDP? Politicians and governments are a slave to it, and global economies hang in the balance of its power. In a nutshell, the GDP is a measure of all the goods and services sold in a country during an economic cycle. In this way, GDP is a good measurement of monetary economic activities, but GDP alone fails to address a number of significant issues:

- The GDP does not measure or account for depleted natural resources. For example, the price gasoline sold is counted, but there is no subtraction to account for the barrels of crude oil that no longer exist.

- Depreciation of goods is not included. It only matters if you buy a new car. The old car sitting in your driveway losing value does not factor in.

- The cost of environmental damage sometimes and ironically appears as a positive for GDP as cleanup services are included in the plus column. The Exxon Valdez disaster was a windfall adding $1.28 Billion to the GDP. The ruination of the regional fisheries industry did not factor at all in the math.

- The vast majority of services provided by people on earth, like care giving to children and the elderly by family members and subsistence farming, do not get monetary compensation, so these efforts in terms of GDP have no value.

The prevailing neoclassical economic sentiment is GDP growth is always good and desirable. For much of capitalism’s history, it must be conceded that growth was generally good. Up until the post World War II era most people on a global scale struggled to obtain the basic necessities of life. After the post war economic boom, a burgeoning middle class developed, and for the first time in history, many individuals found themselves with the luxury of disposable income. People were able to spend money on toys and enjoy vacations and fun. Conventional wisdom is that as wealth increases, so does welfare; however, recent studies indicate that once basic needs are met, people are not happier simply by virtue of having more money and stuff. Happiness can increase slightly if you have more toys than your neighbor, but then his happiness decreases, which in turn balances out the overall equation. If getting richer after a point doesn’t improve our overall quality of life, perhaps it is time to review and revise our economic strategy.

Conversely, not having enough to meet basic human needs definitely makes one unhappy, and as a self-proclaimed morally righteous culture, Americans should definitely be concerned that billions of people on earth still fall into this category including some within our own national boundaries. Ensuring the welfare of all people needs to be a large component of the overall strategy.

Neoclassical economists insist that the continued GDP growth of developed countries like the United States will eventually spread the wealth to the less privileged citizens of the world, i.e. a rising tide will lift all boats. However, in recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that this promise is not playing out.

During the economic cycle dating from 2000-2007, GDP increased, albeit at a pathetic 2.85%, but job growth for women and African Americans decreased, real income levels fell for all Americans and 5.7 million Americans fell into poverty. Clearly the rising tide sank a few boats instead of lifting them. Furthermore, the systematic deregulation of the banking and other industries, in the interest of free trade, resulted in the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. Our blind faith in our own economic dogma is offering questionable salvation.

Additionally, contrary to the faulty accounting of the current economic orthodoxy, growth does not occur in a vacuum and has consequences. Going back to the limitations of GDP analyses, the Exxon Valdez incident clearly illustrates a glaring problem with neoclassical logic. If unconstrained economic growth across the globe resulted in a series of environmental disasters that ultimately destroyed vast quantities of natural resources costing tax payers trillions of dollars in environmental cleanup costs, adherents to the GDP growth gospel would be convinced the global environmental situation is rosy contrary to all scientific evidence to the contrary. Oh wait, that is what is already happening.

To be continued…

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alternative Interpretations of Serpents and Forbidden Fruit

“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and what never will be (Thomas Jefferson)”

Throughout human history, wisdom and knowledge were revered. Kings paid high salaries to wise men to advise them on politics, finance and other matters of importance. The ancient Greeks wrote extensively about the nature of wisdom and called it “Sophia,” and personified the virtue as the goddess Sophia. Sophia appears in ancient Hebrew and Christian traditions, but the legacy of the goddess Sophia is elusive. While she is absent from Genesis, she makes shadowy appearances in more esoteric biblical texts where as wisdom, she guides the hand of creation.

When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race (Proverbs 8:27-31)

Sophia has also existed throughout human history in multiple forms. Ancient texts unearthed throughout India and the Near East show Sophia was a significant deity thousands of years before the Hebrew religion existed. In Ancient Greece, she was partially embodied by Athena. The ancient Egyptians knew her as the all-seeing Isis, and before much of history was written, she was Ashera, so revered that the Old Testament God jealously seeks her temples for destruction.

Prior to the council of Nicaea and the purging of all scriptures that offered competing views to the prevailing power orthodoxy, Sophia was a principle divinity for many early Christian sects and held a prominent position in a variety of scriptures. The Gnostics, whose name literally means “knowing,” Sophia’s knowledge was the key to salvation.

The Gnostics believed that Jesus brought a message to the world that each of us is divine spark tied to the material earth through our physical bodies. Sophia is the Holy Spirit that exists within us all. Salvation lies in our knowing her and opening ourselves to the wisdom of the universe. We are saved by knowing this sacred truth. In this way Jesus was the savior.

The kingdom of God is among you (Luke 17:21)

Sophia’s wisdom was often rebellious. She encouraged her followers to question authority when it was morally and spiritually lacking. She was the embodiment of free and independent thought. Her wisdom urged followers to constantly challenge the status quo in the quest for higher ground. To the Christian orthodoxy of the day, Sophia’s knowledge was threatening. Truth and morality often stood in opposition to the actions and deeds of the existing power structures. For example, Emperor Constantine, who murdered many of his close family members, declared the Gnostic scriptures heresy and ordered the systematic destruction of every document and the mass genocide of every adherent to Sophia’s way. Constantine’s actions were exactly the tyranny of orthodoxy that Sophia sought to eradicate with wisdom, justice and truth.

Wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her (Proverbs 8:11)

Constantine and the orthodoxy he created managed to keep Sophia’s message under wraps for almost two millennia. For literally thousands of years, she existed in the shadowy recesses of the bible and in the underground crafts of alchemy. The unearthing and subsequent translation of the Gnostic gospels at Nag Hammadi symbolically brought her wisdom again into the light to offer the world a glimpse of a deeper, wiser Christian tradition. With Sophia’s return from exile, she offers a new interpretation of the events that transpired in the Garden of Eden.

God said ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened… (Genesis 3:3 – 3:7)

Eden is described as paradise on earth. All physical needs are attended to and peace prevails among all the creatures contained within its idyllic boundaries. But Eden’s paradise carries a high price. Residents are expected to dwell in ignorance, unquestioning and oblivious to the existence of good and evil.

A common symbol for wisdom during biblical times was the serpent. The cobra bears an all-seeing eye, and Sophia was often depicted as both a dove and a snake. Sophia’s twin Isis bears the insignia of the cobra’s eye of wisdom.

In the orthodox interpretation of the events in the Garden of Eden, the message is clear – good citizens do not question authority or make attempts at free and creative thought. The woman Eve, with her mysterious, lusty desires, seductive feminism and curiosity was responsible for man’s expulsion from paradise. Indulging in such stimulations of the flesh and mind are dangerous and fraught with unintended consequences. Knowledge does not shelter us or give us peace. Frequently, the opposite is true. Ignorance is bliss, and many still chose to dwell in it.

Since the fall of Eve, our male God in heaven has demanded we serve Him with blind faith. In spite of all the scientific evidence to the contrary, He dictates we must accept His word in the Bible as truth. Our reward for adherence to His doctrine is a return to paradise. For many, the promise of paradise is enough to secure unquestioning contrition, but for others, the seductive lure of Sophia still beckons.

Although she has been practically expunged from the bible, the divine spark of wisdom that resides within us all is not so easily silenced. She lurks within the shadows, giving us flashes of insight, gnawing at our conscience, and urging us to wisdom in spite of ourselves. It is time for her return.

The greatest threat to the long-term welfare of planet earth is ignorance. The current issues that face the globe are monumental and complex. The obedient followers of Yahweh have shaped life on earth into a form that is anything but paradise for most of the planet's residents. Issues such as global warming, resource depletion, genetic modification of crops, pollution of air, water and land and all the other problems that plague our existence are part of a political debate that engages the American public and demands our attention. We influence this process and are at its base, as we direct law makers in the policy directions we feel are important. We make our opinions known with our votes.

In order to engage effectively in the democratic process, the voting public needs an adequate grasp of the scientific, logical, moral and social complexities of the issues at hand. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us are not up to the task.

It is time for us to worship Sophia again and question the orthodox power structures who like Emperor Constantine, would choose to keep us all naked and ignorant. Do not let Eve’s sacrifices be in vain.

p.s. Yahweh lied. Adam and Eve did not die. The serpent told the truth.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes on the Economy - Part I

In 1776, two events occurred that would change the course of history. On one side of the Atlantic, a growing colony of thirteen territories rose up and declared their independence from the powerful British Empire. That colony became the United States of America and formed a democracy that would become the model for all future democratic governments as they spread across the globe.

On the other side of the Atlantic, a Scottish philosopher named Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, a work that is often cited as the bible of modern capitalism. Among his many premises, Smith contended that governments should allow the market to expand and operate without the encumbrances of regulation and that the self interest of the participants will be a positive driving force in the economy. Rather than a market place bogged down in selfishness and greed, Smith believed that the self interests of the participants would be guided by an ‘invisible hand’ that would direct them towards a greater good.

Our home grown democracy, coupled with Smith’s capitalist vision, has formed the framework of the political and economic development of our country. With globalization, American capitalism (if not democracy) has spread across the entire face of the planet. Unfortunately, when Adam Smith was writing two-hundred and thirty-three years ago, he could not have envisioned the monster he created. A great New World of seemingly endless resources had just been discovered to fuel capitalism’s greed for infinite growth. The world human population during Smith’s time was less than 800 million. Today it is almost 7 billion. Smith’s vision of an ever expanding economy that rained its wealth upon everybody neglected to take into account a finite earth with limited resources and an exploding population competing for those same resources.

Smith’s once revolutionary vision for economic growth is now a scourge upon the planet. Resources are being depleted faster than they can be replaced, unregulated industry has contaminated our water supply, land and air, species are becoming extinct at the fastest rate since the annihilation of the dinosaurs, the planet is warming at a rate that threatens to make the planet uninhabitable and rather than spreading wealth to all, modern capitalism has concentrated wealth (and power) into the hands of a few individuals.

While those who are benefitting the most from our current economic model will continue to sing the praises of the free market consoling us that the market will adjust and take care of all the woes of the world, reality is painting a painfully different picture. Adam Smith’s invisible hand has actually never shown up to play its regulatory role.

If Smith had been a student of nature rather than invisible forces he would have seen that his philosophy was destined for failure. Nature shows us what happens when an organism expands without restraint. Populations that grow unchecked eventually consume all of the resources needed to sustain life and collapse. When business is allowed to grow without restriction, it sucks the resources out of the whole system to fuel its own growth until the resources become scarce and like an unchecked population, business will crash down on to the skeletal remains of its own greed. Adam Smith thought his economic theory could defy the laws of nature. As the world’s economy and the earth’s delicate natural systems begin to implode, we can see that he was wrong.

What can be done?

Over the past several decades, new economic theories based on the laws of nature have been emerging and may represent our only hope for a sustainable future. Nature’s economy is cyclical not linear. The sun shines down on plants (producers) giving them energy to generate biomass that is then used by animals (consumers). The consumers poop and die and the biomass is then recycled back to the beginning of the cycle to be reorganized by the producers into useful products again.

Our current economic consumption follows a linear path. We take raw materials from the environment, mutate the materials into goods that we as humans find useful and when we are done with them, we throw them away in a landfill or sewer. Simple math should tell us that if we are withdrawing from the natural resource bank and not making any deposits, we will eventually bankrupt ourselves, and this is exactly what is happening.

Many of the resources we covet like crude oil and titanium are finite and will never be available again once we use them up or throw them away. Humans have a disastrous record when it comes to consuming non-renewable resources.

In some cases, we can get away with our faulty math. Nature regenerates herself in spite of our meddling as long as we don’t use natural, sustainable, resources like wood and fish faster than they can be regenerated. Unfortunately, as alarming decreases fisheries stocks show, we have not been very restrained in managing the earth’s renewable resources either.
Herman E. Daly, a leading environmental economist, suggests a threefold approach to achieve true environmental sustainability*:

All resources need to be consumed at a rate and in a fashion that does not exceed nature’s ability to absorb the waste and pollutants associated with consumption.
Renewable resource consumption must not exceed the rate at which nature can replenish itself.
Consumption of non-renewable resources cannot exceed the rate that technological advancements can find renewable alternatives for the same resources.

Surprisingly, this seemingly logical approach to economic management is disputed by conventional, neoclassical economists who in spite of all evidence to the contrary, continue to insist that the free market system will resolve all the world’s woes.

To be continued…

*For further reading on the subject see Daly, H., 2007. Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development – Selected Essays of Herman Daly, Edward Elgar Publishers.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


A piece of toast bears resemblance to the visage of Jesus and the devoted, faithful followers of man’s religion flock to Ebay to purchase this small nourishing morsel for a sum that could feed a family for a year or more. They say it is a sign. I agree.

A water stain on a wall under an overpass grows to become the image of the great virgin mother Mary. Contrasted to the musty, cobwebbed, damp backside of man’s automobile express lanes, this new church under the highway attracts the faithful in spite of the offensive stank of urine from passing vagabonds that hangs heavy in the air. Women weep at the image. It is enough to bring one to tears.

The human race it seems is looking for a miracle, a higher purpose, a reason. Are the blood-tears that fall from the statues’ eyes to be believed? Are there divine souls among us, watching out for us and saving a place for us in eternity? We are all looking for proof of a miracle. It is unfortunate that these small tokens are as high as we aspire to reach for our God.

Jesus healed the sick. It was a miracle, and it still is. The miraculous body of life and all of its infinite varieties gets sick, mentally ill, crazed with depravity, infested with demons of personal or divine origin, plagues, hunger and suffering, and within each and every one of us is the miraculous mechanism to heal and be healed.

It is said that Mary, a virgin, gave birth to a child of God. It was a miracle. It still is. Although it has somewhat been determined that the details of the virgin birth were politically enhanced centuries after the fact, it is truly a miracle that a microscopic parcel of genetic material can combine with another microscopic speck, unite and form a whole new conscious being. There are currently over 6 billion of these miracles walking around on Earth. And those are just the human miracles. Lions, tigers, bears and all the rest of the beasts of the land and air are equally miraculous, and they were begat the same way. Life and birth are miracles.

The sun appears to rise every morning, makes a timeless, repeating arch across the sky and then departs from the world leaving it in darkness. During its illumination, waves of energy expand endlessly from its core bathing the world in light.

This light is literally life-giving. The soft, reflecting, refracting and absorbing of the waves by the leaves of plants excites their metabolism to create carbohydrates, which in turn feed the plants, those who eat the plants and those who eat those who eat the plants, etc. The earth and all of its creatures the elemental basis of nourishment upon which all life on earth is dependent to all life on earth. The sun’s energy feeds the earth. This is a miracle.

These miracles are all around us and seem more inspiring than a piece of toast, yet collectively, we look away. Our species wanders past without noticing these truly amazing miracles every day without giving them the slightest nod or glimpse of recognition. We would rather cry over a water stain in a putrid cesspit than truly connect to the reality in which we live. The Earth and all of her complexities is the greatest miracle of all, and it is the miracle that proves to be true over and over, minute by minute, day after day. Why do we miss that? How do we treat the real miracle? We dump our shit into the oceans and rivers and spew noxious fumes into the very breath of life. Magnificent forests are torn down with thoughtless abandon for the sake of a McDonald’s hamburger or roll of toilet paper. What is wrong with us?

Miracles are everywhere. Devout Christians, Jews and Muslims believe that the words of the divine are contained within books – the Torah, the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. While these may or may not be the actual words of God, it is generally acknowledged that they were written down, copied and published by man and his publishing corporations.

Nevertheless, it is a grave sin to burn, mutilate or otherwise desecrate these books because of the symbolic significance such actions hold. Furthermore, we extend this abhorrence to the desecration of our religious artifacts and even national symbols such as flags. The recent outcry in the Islamic world that resulted from the publication of several cartoons in a Danish newspaper depicting the Prophet in derogatory light illustrates the passion that humans as a species feel for their religious artifacts, symbols, icons and figures.

This takes one back to the original premise. These items which instill such devotion are trinkets made, most definitely, by man. While it has yet to be proven scientifically, the only things in the universe that could possibly have been created by the hand of God (in a physical sense) are the universe itself and all of the mineral, energetic and biological contents contained within it.

We know that the Himalayas, The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, elephants, Old Faithful, moose and trumpeter swans were not created by man in any case. For those who support the promise of a divine creator, these magnificent wonders are offered up as proof of divine brilliance and intelligent design. They are all, along with ever other natural wonder, a miracle in and of themselves.

Do we revere these things as we do the previously mentioned artifacts of man? In some cases, yes. What determines our reverence is purely a concoction of the subjective minds of men, but most are in agreement regarding the greatest of these natural wonders. The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the bald eagle, etc. Although a lot of the reverence for these wonders can be attributed to feelings of nationalism as well as religiosity. The smaller miracles, a flower, a tree, a bird, are not given the slightest nod. Every day, we carelessly clear cut forests and cram animals into unthinkable conditions brutally slaughtering them for our sustenance, and then turning a blind eye to our atrocities by dressing up the carnage in plastic in a grocery store freezer case. These are our God's miracles we treat with such disrespect.

The great irony of man is that we have these miraculous creations right in front of us to admire, experience and even worship if we choose to. We can experience divine creation on a daily and regular basis, but we choose to either ignore or worse desecrate and destroy these wonders. In spite of vocal public outcry, the government continues to call for oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. The air in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is so polluted that people with health problems are advised to avoid the area during the summer months. Great, majestic rivers are dammed or filled with the feces of our bodies, industries and livestock.

We wouldn’t, and if the conservatives in congress have their way, couldn’t burn a flag, but the same ‘religious’ right recommends the desecration of many of our greatest natural miracles for the pursuit of economic gain. Like tragic Greek heroes, we march blindly to our own destruction never realizing this monumental flaw in our misguided values.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Word

The current health care debate has highlighted glaring inadequacies in the American educational system. Those of us who attended elementary through high school during the Cold War period were exposed to a continuous mantra on the evils of our mortal adversaries. The wicked Soviets were our ideological opposites in every respect. Where the United States spread democracy throughout the world, the USSR was a totalitarian regime that subjugated its subjects in oppression. Americans enjoyed the joys of capitalism that ensured a chicken in every pot and a Ford in every garage, not to mention being able to own one’s own home. The communist Russians lived in government-run tenements and lived on rations leading desperate lives of depravity.

The relentless drumming of our education coupled with brilliant big screen sagas between the forces of good (us) and evil (them) created a national sentiment in the United States that equates everything good with democracy and capitalism and everything evil with totalitarianism and communism and its dirty cousin socialism.

Unfortunately, the education that actually explained the details of the terminology was not as forthcoming as the us against them programming we received. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 ushering in the end of the Cold War. Russia is now an ally and trading partner (if not a close one), and all is forgiven.

While we are on the subject, our World War II education introduced us to another currently well used term, “fascism.” As with the intricacies of the economic models of capitalism, socialism and communism and the political models of democracy and totalitarianism, the details of fascism were sparse at best and often confusing. Hitler was a monster, and he was a fascist. That was all we needed to know. The forces of good overcame the forces of fascist evil and all was well with the world once again.

As we fast forward to our current political strife, we find that without well defined enemies, Americans choose to find abject evil in their fellow countrymen. Where that evil doesn’t exist, we seek to create it. As we battle over the contentious issue of healthcare (?), our old formidable foes, the socialists and fascists are apparently out in full force again making the world unsafe for democracy. It is a shame that in most cases the people using such strong verbiage have no idea what those words actually mean.

The rhetoric at town hall meetings has become very heated. Passions are inflamed. People are afraid. Is Obama’s healthcare a socialist takeover? Will the red army be marching down the streets of America taking away the individual freedoms Americans have come to enjoy? Is Barack Obama a fascist? If we let him have his way with healthcare, what is to stop him from becoming an absolute dictator like Adolf Hitler? Before we start arming ourselves for the revolution, people should really get some factual information.

First of all, democracy, totalitarianism, dictatorship and fascism are political models that do not necessarily have anything to do with economic models such as socialism and capitalism. The political models are apples and the economic models are oranges. Some of the greatest democracies on earth, like France, England, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, etc. have economies with socialist elements. Citizens of these countries enjoy the same civil liberties we do, freedom of speech, the right to vote, even private property. Conversely, one of the most successful capitalist economies on earth, China, is currently ruled by an authoritarian regime where individuals are persecuted for freedom of speech and are not really given any choice as to who runs their government.

Wiktionary, an online dictionary, defines socialism as “any of various political philosophies that support social and economic equality, collective decision making, and public control of productive capital and natural resources (.”

Fascism is a difficult word to define because it has taken on various forms throughout history. All fascism, however, contains a common thread of fanatical nationalism and class superiority. Since the image of Adolf Hitler is currently being evoked, the German example of fascism was characterized by a psychotic nationalism that promoted the idea that the Germans (Arians) were a ‘Master Race.” The German fascist model was based on an idea of some people being more superior to others. Social equality was anathema to Hitler’s basic premise. He took his delusions of racial superiority to extreme by brutally exterminating those he felt to be inferior.

Adolph Hitler was anything but a socialist. In fact, he made the Chinese capitalists pale by comparison. In addition to producing munitions to arm the German war effort, prisoners in concentration camps worked on the production lines for over 2000 private corporations including Siemens and even the German branch of the Ford Motor Company. Hitler’s agenda lined the pockets of wealthy capitalists providing them essentially with free labor. Hitler despised any form of socialism because socialism emphasizes economic and social equality among all people (see above), whereas fascism does just the opposite.

To suggest that President Obama is both a fascist and a socialist is a sad testament to the high level of ignorance that pervades American society. The two terms are practically polar opposites and an individual cannot be both. In reality, President Barack Obama is neither. His proposal for a “public option” in health insurance would simply provide a single competitive option in an otherwise thoroughly capitalist health insurance system. If we pass healthcare without a public alternative, our taxpayer dollars will be going into the profit margins of the already rich private healthcare industry rather than to the people who really need help. It is no wonder the insurance companies are fighting so hard to make sure they maintain their monopoly.

Unfortunately, it would seem that the people in the United States who would benefit the most from public healthcare, average working middle class Americans, consistently vote against their own self interest because they are so easily swayed by the emotional propaganda perpetuated by powerful corporations bent on maintaining their vice grip on the multi-trillion dollar healthcare industry.

Even in the face of being confronted with real facts, most if not all of the fear mongers and rabble rousers will continue to misuse the English language to strike fear into the hearts of undereducated Americans. The self-described patriots that appear with firearms at town hall meetings claiming to uphold the Constitution are imposters. Our forefathers envisioned a political process shaped by factual, respectful discourse with hearty debate and civility rather than fear and intimidation. Fear and intimidation are the tools of real fascists. It is the true patriot’s duty to stamp out the scourge of ignorance with truth whenever it appears. Let’s start by learning the meaning of words before we use them.

Discussion on healthcare to be continued...

Friday, August 21, 2009


Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26)

The species Homo sapiens is unique upon the earth. Walking upright, we have the use of our hands complete with the dexterous opposable thumbs that allow us to hold and manipulate tools. The frontal lobe is outrageously large in proportion to the rest of our brain allowing us to reason, examine complex ideas, speak and express deep emotion. Such great gifts have been bestowed upon us as a species, yet we continue to be a difficult enigma upon the planet. We are simultaneously capable of the deepest compassion and the darkest cruelty. Coupled with our fates is a construct of our rational minds, free will. With free will, we have imposed ourselves on every surface of the earth. From the deepest depths of the ocean to the outer reaches of earth’s atmosphere and beyond, we have had dominion.

Like the Old Testament God that imposes His will from a heavenly throne, mankind has set itself apart from nature. As man began to divine the meaning of his own existence, it was humanity that created God in his own image rather than the other way around. With the exception of the possibility of intervention by divine inspiration, the great preachers of all faiths have yet to produce a document that is penned by God himself. The great books of doctrine have been passed down, written and rewritten by the adroit hands of human beings. Yahweh, Elohim and Allah are the constructions of man’s cerebrum and are a projection of our own envisaged superiority over all the species of the earth. We are, above all, an arrogant organism.

Since the birth of the Hebrew faith, a male God in heaven, separate from and looking down upon the earth has dictated from afar the fate of our planet and all her creatures, and being created in His image, humanity has followed suit. Once limited to a small geographic area encompassing areas of contemporary Egypt and Israel, the Judeo-Christian culture has now spread its influence across the globe and with it has spread the male God’s mandate of domination.

Yahweh and His followers have not always ruled over the earth. Prior to the exponential rise of the Judeo-Christian culture, many societies existed that subscribed to a mandate of balance and peaceful coexistence with one another, earth and her species. Many other cultures worshipped Earth herself as Goddess. With few exceptions, these groups formed peaceful civilizations that endured for centuries if not millennia with minimal conflict or strife. Earth’s resources were sustainably managed and equitably distributed amongst all members of society. Scarcity was a hardship shared by all when lean times arose, and abundance was equally enjoyed by all. Such altruistic attitudes resulted in societies with limited military capabilities. Ultimately, the worshippers of Earth were relatively easily overtaken by those with a dogma of domination.

Other societies worshipped both male and female attributes in the divine. As early as the 14th century B.C.E. the ancient Chinese noted the essence of the universe could be described as a unity of opposites and everything in nature, on earth and in the cosmos could be designated as ‘yin’ (feminine) or ‘yang’ (masculine). The polar opposites could not exist independently but together formed a union that created one thing, the entire universe.

In the morning as the sun rose and cast its light (yang) on the world, a peasant worked in the field to earn his subsistence. As the day waned, darkness (yin) fell and people returned to their homes to rest. Thus the natural cycles of light and action followed by darkness and rest are represented by masculine and feminine yang and yin. Water and earth are passive and female, while fire and air are masculine. The universe is one but has its polarities each yielding to the other in a perpetual state of equilibrium.

The Chinese do not ascribe qualities of good or evil to either yin or yang, as the two entities are simply opposite sides of the same whole. Neither is better nor worse than the other. Furthermore, they believe that the two forces need to be maintained in balance. When either yin or yang overwhelms the other, disaster strikes in order to shock the system back into stability.

The ancient Chinese wisdom of the unity of opposites also appears in various other ancient philosophies such as the writings of the ancient Greek Heraclites and is still revered and embraced today by people of all cultures, races and religions. The reasons for universal acceptance of the basic concepts of yin and yang are probably largely due to man’s observance of nature. In the natural world, life is followed by death, which nourishes the ground for rebirth. Day is followed by night and then day again. The male and female of each species must unite to create life. Without the other counterpart both male and female are impotent.

In spite of all logical observation to the contrary, the forces of yin began to lose favor to the forces of yang in human history. The feminine yin attributes came to be seen as inferior, weak and shameful. Darkness became evil as light was elevated to the status of divine all on its own, and the female earth was bowed down by a dominant father in heaven. The earth-worshippers were proverbial sitting ducks, ultimately and easily overthrown by Yahweh’s people whose doctrine preached dominance and subjugation. As the feminine yin was dominated and diminished, so was her divine embodiment, Earth.

We have been obedient servants to our God. We have been fruitful and multiplied, filled up the earth and subdued it. We are now at a threshold where God’s dictate no longer serves our interests or the interests of the earth. If we continue upon our current path of dominance and destruction, we are destined to extinguish ourselves taking numerous innocent bystander species along with us in the process.

Wielding a powerful, masculine hand and running riot over those that dare to be passive, the human species has affected the face of earth more than any other species that has ever existed. With human population numbers steadily increasing and now approaching 7 billion souls, our impact on the planet is greater than ever. Add to this the staggering economic growth of the two countries with the largest populations on earth, China and India, and many environmental scientists believe that our species has charted a cataclysmic course towards our own and Earth’s destruction.

Diminished though she is, our female deity still exerts her presence in our shared humanity. People of the Earth share lives punctuated by hard work to earn a living and a focus on family and community. These themes are universal whether we live in Norway, the United States or Botswana, although the standards of living and quality of life vary greatly for citizens of each of these nations. However, except for a small handful of individuals on the globe who possess great wealth and/or political power, the rest of us for the most part believe we are powerless to change the runaway course of environmental and social destruction. We are all wrong.

People of the earth have much more influence than they realize. Citizens of western nations enjoy all of the benefits of democracy, freedom of speech, private ownership and prosperous economies. This is considerably more than most of our ancestors ever dreamed of. For a large portion of the world’s people, these privileges are still a long way off. Unfortunately, even though on a global scale we westerners are lucky beyond measure simply by virtue of the accident of our geography, we walk around in a trance-like state most of the time feeling exhausted with stress, depression and anxiety about the future. We are lonely and unfulfilled. We crave nurturance but are unable to buy it from a store. The very things that our society tells us make success leave us feeling empty, but we have no societal input about where to turn for relief. By denying and suppressing our feminine values for so long, we are slowly and gradually working ourselves to death. Everything seems out of our control.

We are critically out of balance with the yang forces even overwhelming contemporary Chinese society. We are long overdue for a societal correction.

The simple truth is that our business as usual model in the western world simply isn’t working anymore. Those few individuals with extraordinary wealth and/or power have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It has obviously been working for them. We can no longer count on many of our political leaders to point us in a new, revolutionary direction to save our planet, enrich our lives and provide a safe and secure future for all the citizens of the earth. It is up to us, the little guys and gals.

Every single thing we do in our lives has an impact on the earth, either positive or negative. The choices in terms of what we eat, where we shop, what we wear, how much we buy, how we spend our free time, how we heat our homes and how we heal our bodies are at the base of the global economy and the fate of the earth. When we drag ourselves down to our neighborhood McDonalds after work for a meal for the family, that has an impact, or when we spend our Saturday morning shopping at the local farmer’s market for our week’s food, that has another impact.

As free citizens, we have the right to make choices, and it is these choices that can collectively change everything. We can build stronger communities, repair our broken families, lead healthy, happy and productive lives and yes, save the earth. We can even change how business as usual is conducted. To go forward, we must now go back and rescue the Goddess that we abandoned thousands of years ago. Only by reinstating her in her rightful throne alongside and equal to her male counterpart can we preserve our species and save our beautiful Earth.