Two men without masks scream into the face of a person wearing a mask; a man without a mask comes up behind a masked man in line for coffee and standing inches away breaths loudly on him; a man without a mask punches a grocery store worker who asks him to please put on a mask. You have heard of these and many similar incidents. What is this all about? It’s about freedom of course.
There have been more opportunities than usual to contemplate the meaning of freedom in these not-so-United States in the last year, and people calling their refusal to wear masks during the pandemic exercising their right to be free is just the latest manifestation.
It was not always like this. Freedom, the word and the concept, have changed. They have been co-opted and purposely redefined and politicized. When I grew up, sometime between the invention of fire and the creation of the internet, we didn't talk about freedom much, and when we did it meant something quite different.
Freedom meant freedom for community and for country. Freedom was why we fought WWII; freedom meant never again to the holocaust; and freedom meant helping other people to be free, to be safe. Now people make it individual - freedom for them but not necessarily for you. Freedom is a right at least for them. They demand their freedom even if it is at your expense. How else can you view freedom to make other people sick, to put health care workers, grocery clerks and care givers at risk, to seemingly not care if your actions result in other people dying.
In the Declaration of Independence it says "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Notice that life comes before liberty. The pursuit of happiness for most people does not include being seriously ill or dying. Without life neither liberty nor happiness have much meaning.
I think it started with the guns. Guns used to be something that lots of people I knew used to go hunting. They were mostly for procuring food to eat and for some sport. They were not political weapons. No one ever mentioned anything about their right to have a gun and if it symbolized anything it was self sufficiency.
As late as 1968 the NRA supported a federal Gun Control Act which created a system to federally license gun dealers and established restrictions on particular categories and classes of firearms. But in concert with the political move to "law and order" by Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan and finally Bill Clinton, the NRA found it much more profitable to make guns not just a political issue but a cultural one. Guns joined the cultural parade along with abortion, welfare, immigration, gays and religion. The drive to make guns a personal right culminated in a group of "conservative" judges overturning 200 years of judicial precedent so that guns were not a right limited to "a well regulated militia" but an expression of personal freedom. When coupled with stand
your ground and similar state laws, guns brought the "freedom" to kill people you didn't like.
Freedom of religion has been similarly perverted. It was once assurance that no one, especially the government, would prohibit you from the exercise of your religion. Now it has become the freedom to discriminate against those who do not believe as you do, or who you just don't like, and increasingly, again thanks to more "conservative" judges, enforced by the government. Freedom to not bake a wedding cake for a gay couple turns into the freedom and the power to deny health care and employment to people who offend your beliefs and your religiosity, even if flying in the face of the real teachings of most religions. If this trend continues the Christian right would have the US governed by a religious leader in much the same way that Iran is.
It goes beyond simple hypocrisy that some people, who proclaim themselves as pro-life and will lecture you on the sanctity of all life even the unborn, claim the freedom to endanger the health and very lives of other people. The state motto of New Hampshire proclaims "Live Free or Die". Now some seem to be saying live free and die at least if it impinges on their rights as they define them.
In 1941, when FDR gave his famous four freedoms speech, one of those freedoms was the freedom from fear. Today we have to fear people exercising their freedom to make you sick, to threaten or kill you, to decide if you can receive health care, with no sense of community, no commitment to anything beyond themselves. This is a definition of freedom that would make George Orwell wince.
This is not community. This not freedom.
When I posted my last blog I said I was not going to write about the coronavirus pandemic but due to popular demand I have relented. Actually only one person asked me to write about the pandemic but it was someone from the select group of folks who have acquired great wisdom and is counted among those "who must be obeyed". So credit or blame for this goes to Gini.
Many of us who are sequestered at home (shut ins as my friend Gary Paul calls us) are experiencing a mixture of anxiety, boredom, and cabin fever so this is a time of coping. Coping can take many forms. In the face of uncertainty here are some I'm using.
Have ice cream for breakfast, why not? Drink the good bottle of wine first, just in case - hey even atheists sometimes say a little prayer. Be comfortable - I tend to wear old ratty T shirts so I decided I would wear my favorite T shirt. Turns out its the same shirt.
The sequestering is making me more creative. Now that I have time for those projects I've been putting off I realize why I was putting them off. The creative part is finding completely new reasons to put them off again.
When I thank people in grocery stores and pharmacies now I REALLY mean it.
Doing lots of cleaning, sorting and organizing - is this what they mean when they tell you to get your affairs in order? Feels slightly ominous.
Unexpectedly I miss the gym. I never was a big fan of going to the gym but have gone 3 days a week (back issues) for many years. Hard to replicate the exercises at home.
Art matters. Favorite paintings from Julio Grande, Lynn Horton and Carol Turner still delight and the many sculptures around our home are bright spots.
There is a tendency to want what we can't have. Never big on eating out, the food is better at home, but now I have a desire to eat at a restaurant. In the meantime in an effort to keep local restaurants in business we are ordering take out from places we seldom bothered to eat at before.
Don't check the news before noon that way you will at least have a shot at a good morning. If anything good happened it wouldn't be on the news anyway.
Getting together via Zoom is a lot like gathering in person, people all talk at once and there are more talkers than listeners but everyone feels better by the end.
Irony - production of Corona beer suspended because of the corona-virus.
It is great to see so many people walking, running, biking. Dogs are getting lots of exercise and kids are actually outside many learning about unstructured play for the first time.
Some people who thought they were pretty important found out they are nonessential.
If they are heroes (e.g. grocery clerks, field hands, truckers, food processors) why don't we pay them like they matter?
Why are some pro-life people ok with people dying so they can get back to "normal"?
The American health care system is the most expensive least effective in the developed world mostly attributable to the greed that we have embraced as capitalism.
Communicable = community. When we live together in society, we depend on each other, therefore we have obligations to each other. We are all "socialists" now.
It makes me profoundly sad to think that not only is our current president incapable of offering words that will bring us together, that will unite us and provide some solace but he does not understand the need to do that. He is devoid of empathy. It is not necessary to agree with a leader's policies to be comforted and inspired by their words. I can imagine Ronald Reagan or Barark Obama speaking to the nation in a way that would help allay the fear and anxiety and let us believe that we will make it through this time of danger.
It is good to reflect that if we are well, have not had friends or neighbors or family fall victim to the health or economic impact of the pandemic that we are very lucky. We, whose worst problem is that we are stuck at home bored and anxious, are the fortunate ones. The New York Times recently printed excerpts from diaries of people under Nazi occupation during WW II. Anne Frank is the most famous of these but thousands of Jews and others went into hiding living often for years in attics, barns, closets, cellars. They often had to remain silent for longs periods to escape detection. Our confinement pales in comparison to the isolation they experienced and they did it without cell phones, internet, TV or Netflix. That does not mean that our situation doesn't pose its challenges or that we should feel guilty about it but ordinary humans like us have come through much worse.
What will we learn from this? If history is any gauge probably not much but that is probably good since we tend to take the wrong lessons from most events. But one thing is clear, leadership matters and when it is lacking people die.
The angel Gabrielle appeared at a press conference today. After blowing his horn he announced that Heaven would be unable to make the payment on its debt due at the end of the month. Heaven would in effect default on its bonds. Gabrielle disappeared without taking questions.
The default came as a major surprise to most casual observers, although experts in the field said they had been concerned about Heaven’s fiscal position for years. The default sent shock waves through world markets as investors scrambled to understand the extent of the problem and, most importantly, who the bond holders are. While virtually everyone around the world had claimed to hold a piece of Heaven it turns out that China and the Cayman Islands hold most of the bonds. Of course, the Cayman Islands declined to divulge where the bondholders actually lived or the origin of the funds.
Evangelical Republicans in the US were particularly upset, both because they abhor debt and because most of them believed that they were headed to Heaven after their time on earth. The pastor of the We Know God Church said “Honestly we don’t have a back-up plan if Heaven closes down. We are hoping that the debt can be restructured so Heaven can continue to operate.”
The director of the Debt Watch Institute, a non-partisan think tank, noted that Heaven may have fallen victim to recent demographic trends. “The world population has risen dramatically since WW II and now all those extra people are starting to show up in Heaven. This puts a lot of pressure on operating costs. If you couple that with the anti-tax movement it doesn’t leave much room to cover escalating expenses.
Gordon Norwich, of the United Taxpayers Union, stated, “I don’t care what their financial problems are you can’t have taxes in Heaven. I mean, its Heaven; need I say more?”
Several commentators suggested funding Heaven through user fees, noting that people not going to Heaven were unlikely to want to pay to support Heaven if they aren’t likely to get in. A spokesperson for Warren Buffet said the problem was brought on by the fact that most rich people, such as investment bankers, hedge fund managers and CEO’s of large corporations, are now going to Hell and no longer provide financial support to Heaven. Buffet did not rule out investing in Heaven if he could get the right deal.
Standard & Poor’s admitted that they were caught off guard by the default. Heaven had always carried a triple A credit rating. A spokesperson said that Heaven was not subject to any regulation or disclosure requirements since it was not part of this world, so obtaining financial data was difficult. “We just knew that there were undoubtedly many financial wizards in Heaven, so we assumed that its fiscal house would be in order.”
There have been hundreds of reports from people of all religious denominations who claim that God has spoken to them about the fiscal crisis in Heaven. By most accounts God has emphasized that he is not directly affiliated with Heaven. They have a long and close working relationship, but God was very clear that he is not responsible for Heaven’s debts and will not be taking any steps to bail Heaven out. In fact, God expressed some frustration that in recent years many of the people admitted to Heaven seem to think that they have it made and no longer need to pray to God or attend any religious services. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that so few religious leaders actually end up in Heaven and there are relatively few churches.
The Wall Street Journal suggested that Heaven just needs to restructure its business model. It explained that Heaven doesn’t make anything. It is a service business and one of the most recognized brands on the planet. They need to stop giving their services away and capitalize on their near universal name recognition. Millions of people credit angels with helping them with health issues, family problems and money concerns yet they collect no fees for these services. That needs to change. Likewise, every day multitudes pray to heaven for guidance and help and that should not be a free ride either. Heaven needs to adopt a straight forward fee for service model and it will be on sound financial footing in no time.
Numerous sources have speculated about a possible merger of Heaven and Hell but this could not be confirmed. A Wall Street analyst speaking anonymously said such a merger would be bad for both brands. "If Heaven and Hell merge it would be just like living on earth, so what would be the value in that"?
* * * *
This morning the angel Gabriele announced that Heaven had agreed to be acquired by a private equity firm. "As a public entity Heaven has not been able to appropriately monetize one of the best known brands in the universe" he said. "By going private we can leverage our universal brand recognition and develop an unsurpassed revenue stream as the most desirable destination in the universe by catering to a select clientele. We believe this will put Heaven on a firm financial footing for eternity. We regret any inconvenience this may cause to those now unable to achieve Heaven status."
Your Work, Your Job
I do a weekly radio program on a community radio station - shameless plug. The program “Music They Don't Want You to Hear" is broadcast Sundays on KTAL-LP from 6 to 8 p.m. Mountain Time at 101.5 FM in Las Cruces and streamed worldwide at www.lccommunityradio.org.
More than 40 people are involved with the station, hosting programs on a wide variety of topics including culture, politics, education, science and community. Music programs cover a broad spectrum of genres, from jazz to folk to Americana to rock and beyond. This includes the people who do all the technical work: station management, hardware and software support, web streaming, transmitter broadcasting and much more. There are also a myriad of administrative tasks from fund raising to paying the rent and maintaining FCC compliance. There's a lot of work involved to keep a station on the air 24 hours a day 7 days a week, a large part of it with local programming hosted by members of the community.
The interesting, perhaps amazing, part of all this is that everyone involved is a volunteer. It is not anyone's job to do any of these things. No one is paid for all the time and effort that is put in to make this a success and keep the station on the air for two and a half years and counting.
Que Tal Community radio is just one of many not-for-profits in the Las Cruces community and one of millions across the country and around the world which depend upon volunteers giving their time and talents to keep the organization running.
Executives and leaders in the corporate for-profit world will tell you that in order to attract top talent and provide incentives for hard work people must be highly compensated. CEOs and other executives routinely earn millions of dollars per year. Wall Street traders, analysts and managers receive lucrative salaries augmented by bonuses that are often hundreds of thousands of dollars or more per year. We are repeatedly told that all this is required if you were going to get the best people and their best work. Yet the same individuals will do everything possible to ensure that the front-line employees are paid as little as possible.
So Jeff Bezos at Amazon might be worth a hundred-fifteen billion dollars but an Amazon worker in a distribution center might make $15 an hour - and that is considered high by industry standards. The fast food industry is famous for its low pay, in many cases providing only minimum wage, while executives earn millions. These highly compensated executives expect and demand that the lowest paid workers on the front lines of their organizations work hard and do a good job while being friendly and polite to customers. For some reason these workers are expected to give their best without the incentive of high compensation that executives find so necessary.
It's apparent that work and job are not synonymous. I think of the distinction between work and job this way. Work is something that you find meaningful and useful and get a sense of accomplishment from. A job is something to allow you to make a living, the compensation involved being a necessary and critical component. Work and a job, like a classic Venn diagram, often significantly overlap; sometimes not so much. Many people find their jobs provide them with the opportunity to do work that is meaningful and useful. In other cases, people perform the tasks involved in a job primarily to make money.
The amount of overlap between work and jobs varies considerably and is often unrelated to compensation levels. For example, a highly compensated Wall Street broker might not see much very meaningful or useful in buying and selling stocks every day. Corporate executives may find much of what they do tedious, stressful and rewarding only monetarily. On the other hand, someone can feel a sense of accomplishment by mopping a floor and seeing it clean, by creating a satisfying meal or repairing a car.
While some people like or even love their jobs and consider those jobs to be their life's work, for many people their true work is not connected to a paying job. Such work might be coaching a youth sports team, being a volunteer firefighter, being part of a community arts group or helping at a food kitchen. All those volunteers often do work that is the equal of anything that is compensated and sometimes more.
Which begs the question of how we value work. Is the value based on the level of compensation that someone else has established for that job or how useful the work is to society or how meaningful the work is to those who do it. This is a question without a single or simple answer.
I think it is interesting to consider how we as consumers view the compensation levels of the people and organizations that provide us goods and services. Do you believe that the quality of services you receive are related to the compensation of the person delivering them? For example, do you select a doctor because he or she makes the most money and therefore you assume must be the best or because you think them to be the most capable, regardless of compensation? Would you choose a stock broker because they make the largest bonus or because they charge the least for a trade? Do you want an auto mechanic who charges the highest hourly rate or who knows the most about your car? And do you think they are one and the same?
Consider the emergency medical technician. The EMT is the person who often shows up first in a medical emergency. If you think you're having a heart attack and call 911 it's likely an EMT will show up at your door and usually very quickly. A friend of mine recently completed EMT training and reported it is a rigorous course that requires study, dedication, and passing a test to receive certification. Despite the knowledge needed and the work put into the training he reported that the EMTs in his area typically are paid about $13 an hour. So when that EMT arrives at your door to save your life do you think that the service would be better if they were with paid $26 an hour? EMTs in many areas are volunteers and are not compensated at all. Do you think that the level of service you receive will be less because they're not being paid? Or might you think that because someone cares enough to do it just to help their neighbors that they might provide a higher level of care?
It all comes down to how we value work and the people who do it. Find work you love and that is useful and good. Make your own decision about what is of value both in terms of what you do and what you value about the work of others. Get a job if you must.
The old adage says "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." It is a bedrock myth of capitalism, but many superior products are not successful and an inordinate number of mediocre or even bad products are best sellers. And then there is the phenomenon of products that seem to explode on the market.
Consider the pomegranate. A decade ago pomegranates were an obscure fruit that you occasionally encountered in a little corner of the produce section. It wasn't clear what you should do with it and when you cut it open it had all those red pulpy seeds to deal with. So the poor pomegranate mostly languished in the US. Then suddenly came the great pomegranate explosion. Now, capitalism would have us believe that this occurred through the invisible hand of the market and the "law" of supply and demand. So apparently millions of us woke up one morning and had to have pomegranate juice for breakfast and pomegranate shampoo and pomegranate infused everything. That invisible hand has quite a sense of humor.
Kale, apparently taking a page from the pomegranate folks, has seen a similar trajectory. I don't recall suddenly having a hankering for kale but there it is in my salad. At more than one dinner gathering I see roasted kale regularly among the snacks and hors d'oeuvres. A restaurant is offering a kale Caesar salad. Romaine is dead apparently. Kale is a lovely dark green but when roasted it has the texture of crumpled up newspaper. Not the attribute that what you might expect in a trendy food.
An historical perspective might be instructive. My wife's book group recently read a book called "Jell-O Girls" and mounted an expedition to the Jell-O Museum (now you know where all those Thanksgiving Jell-O molds her grandmother used ended up). Pearle Bixby Wait trademarked Jell-O in 1897 but sales languished. The brand was sold to Orator Francis Woodward, who devised a marketing strategy that sent armies of salesmen (ah, the good old days when men were not afraid to be selling Jell-O) door to door giving out Jell-O and cookbooks. They then went to local grocery stores and told them to expect a lot of folks to be asking for Jell-O so they better order some. Woodward coupled this with ads in magazines like the "Ladies Home Journal" and the rest is history. Jell-O became a great success and made the Woodward family very rich.
So it seems the key to success is not a better mousetrap or dessert but a better marketing plan. For both the pomegranate and kale the sudden upsurge in these products was accompanied by numerous articles about their health benefits, calling them superfoods and touting their virtues. Interesting that despite this sudden increase in demand there was never a shortage of pomegranates or kale. Now kale I can understand - it grows quickly, like lettuce, so you plant more to meet demand, but pomegranates? It takes at least 2-3 years for a pomegranate tree to even begin to produce fruit, so it would seem that someone had planned ahead and was expecting the surge in demand. All part of a good marketing plan.
But marketing does not just bring to our attention little-known products, it goes further and creates markets for products that do not exist. Think of the waffle machine that graces the breakfast counter at nearly every mid-level hotel and motel. First, enterprising hotel chains decided the way to get more customers than their competitors down the road was to offer a "free" breakfast. I put that in quotes because of course the breakfast is not free, it is paid for in your room charge. In fact, the breakfast is not only not free but you may actually be subsidizing other guests. I realized this as I was sitting and eating yogurt and a banana while a group at the next table was making their third trip for bacon and eggs and waffles. It all has to be paid for, and so those who eat less help pay for those who eat more. I'd like it better if what I didn't eat went to hungry kids.
But I digress. In the beginning of the free breakfast competition the food was mostly cereal and stale pastries. Enter the marketing genius with the self-service waffle machine. With the addition of this simple, low-maintenance machine hotels could (and did) advertise HOT breakfast and the rest, as they say, is history.
Good marketing is much more important and powerful than a good product. Remember telephones? I mean real telephones connected to what are now disparagingly called land lines. You picked up the receiver and talked to someone and, get this, they could hear you clearly with no missing words or static. Enter the cell phone. For years the words most often spoken on a cell phone were "Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?" These were phones with incredibly bad service - you often could not hear the person you were calling, there were (and are) frequent dead spots and even today the normal quality pales in comparison to a phone on a land line. This either demonstrates the power of marketing or the stupidity of the consumer - you decide.
Speaking of the dubious intelligence of us consumers and the power of marketing, think about the rise of Starbucks. By creating a mythology around an existing common product, using exotic names for small, medium and large, and renaming counter staff baristas they were able to triple the price of coffee. Others jumped on the bandwagon in one form or another. For example, Keurig essentially reinvented instant coffee compliments of a hundred-dollar machine instead of a teaspoon stirring in a cup. Marketing genius indeed.
And I cannot close without noting that what marketing has done for so many products of dubious quality it has also done for politics. Every candidate must be the new and improved version, with a beguiling back story, product endorsements and placements, a book for sale and, if at all possible, be a TV star or other celebrity. And, as with the cell phone, we consumers seem more than willing to buy one.
So instead of building a better mousetrap build a better consumer trap. It could make you rich.
Freedom by Another Name
The Tasmanian novelist Richard Flanagan wrote " A happy man has no past, an unhappy one nothing else." A nice turn of a phrase; there is something to it, I'd allow. But I would suggest a different take. A poor man has no future while a rich one buys both the past and the future he wants. Money can do that. It can allow a person to reinvent their past, retrospectively making them popular in high school, turning them into war heroes, giving them previously missing friends and lovers, and converting mean-spirited greed into the braggadocio of business gurus. And, of course, it gives the person the means to buy the future they choose, or at least the material aspects of it.
A meaningful future means being able to chose a path that the person desires. This ability to chose is freedom. The poor have limited choices while people of economic, political and social means get to chose - the best school for their children, a place to live that has little crime or pollution, a prestigious college, a career with a future, not a dead-end job, and activities such as golf or tennis that provide social and political connections. As Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, is reported to have said, "You are your choices." But you are just as surely the choices that are available to you. If you cannot avail yourself of them, they are not choices at all.
It has always been thus. Slaves had no choices; they did only what they were told; all choices were made for them. Since emancipation there has been a steady widening of choices for African Americans but it has happened painfully slowly, with institutional constraints at every turn, from Jim Crow to mass incarceration, from segregated schools to defacto, if not dejure, segregated neighborhoods.
The path for women was perhaps not as onerous but was still slow and laborious. Historically women were legally considered the chattel of their husbands; one of his possessions. Any property she might hold before her marriage became her husband's on her wedding day; she had no legal right to appear in court, to sign contracts or to do business. And, of course, she could not vote. After two centuries of incremental improvement women still have fewer choices than men - they are paid less for the same work, have less access to top level jobs, are underrepresented in political office and do not have complete legal control over their own bodies, usually as a result of decisions made by male-dominated organizations. Woman still have fewer choices. Freedom still alludes them.
The situation for gays and lesbians is particularly interesting. After being hidden and often reviled, with little or no discernable change for virtually forever, amazing progress has occurred in a very short period of time. The freedom to chose marriage seemed well out of reach just a decade ago and now it is happening everywhere. How did this happen so fast? Probably because activists in this community cleverly turned what had been seen as a social issue into a civil rights cause. Americans responded to the appeal to simple fairness and to the plight of the underdog. But just as important was the fact that many of the individuals in this group were not poor, were white, and had the means and connections that provided the power to effect change.
But it is not just groups of people who are seen as "different" or "outsiders" whose choices are limited, it is everyone without means. If you are poor, and increasingly even if middle class, you may not be legally prohibited from buying a house in a desirable neighborhood, but without money the effect is the same. So you are likely to be stuck in a neighborhood with higher crime, more pollution and poorer schools, regardless of what choice you would like to make. Fewer choices equals less freedom.
Money and power are inexorably entwined. Money buys power and power begets money. For many of those with power it is not sufficient that they have more choices and more freedom; they are intent on others having less. Much of that power is directed at limiting the choices of people of lesser means and power. This need manifests itself on many fronts. Take abortion as an example. One could perhaps understand a moral aversion to the practice. But if that was the case such people would be leading the efforts for sex education, family planning and the universal availability of every conceivable type of contraception. Instead, what we see is a concerted effort to prohibit access to women’s health care and to suppress their ability to make their own choices.
Choice is privilege. The more choices a person has available to them typically the more privileged they are, and the more freedom they not only have, but importantly, can exercise.
The country is in the midst of a great struggle, perhaps the greatest since the Civil War, and choice is fundamental to that struggle. It is between the privileged, predominately white males, and the "others" - people of color, people of lesser means, people who are different. Much as the Civil War was started by the southern elites - plantation slave owners - this struggle has been undertaken by the current elite of white people in positions of power in government, business, and the media.
This war is being waged on many fronts: On voters, using voter suppression, gerrymandering, reductions in polling places and times, to reduce participation among non-elites; on workers by destroying unions, driving pay to starvation levels (try living on a minimum wage job, or two or three), outsourcing to minimize those getting benefits, doing away with defined benefit pension plans and creative use of bankruptcy; on students, by privatizing schools, vilifying teachers and minimizing their pay, raising tuition and fees, charging exorbitant interest on student loans and the establishment of a network of private schools and tutoring; on values, by the substitution of money for virtue, integrity and morality by the religions of prosperity, the capitulation of campaign financing to the ultra-wealthy, the maximization of shareholder value at the expense of society, the environment and ultimately our democracy and our future. Each of these efforts limit choices for groups of people and thereby reduce their freedom.
Be not distracted by tweets and outrageous gibberish. It is on these battlefields that freedom, choice and equality will be determined. As Florence Reece famously asked in her song, "Which Side Are You On?'
At some point most people wonder what, if anything, comes after death. Is there another world, another existence? Do we have a soul or some sort of essence that remains? Entire religions are constructed around these issues with often similar conclusions. It is interesting that we are concerned about, and endlessly speculate about, worry about, what comes after death, but do not have the same interest or concern about what comes before birth. They are obviously the opposite ends of the same phenomenon, which is non-existence, oblivion. Life is just this brief interlude between the coming and the going, birth and death. Eternity, if it exists, must extend in both directions.
But what is eternity? Isn't it another word for infinity? And what is infinity? We tend to think of it as something that goes on forever. But to be truly infinite it has to not only go on forever but to have come from forever; it must always have existed. If that is the case, and if some essence of each person is eternal, doesn't it follow that each person must have always existed? If so, then each birth is just the entry of that individual into our conscience, observable world. We have always existed somewhere and we just happen to be here now. Later, upon our death, we will be somewhere else.
Probably the reason that we don't think this way has to do with the advance of medical knowledge. Before humans understood that sex begot pregnancy and babies the subject of female fertility was shrouded in mystery, myth and belief of many stripes. Gods were invoked, prayed to and damned as children were hoped for, conceived, born or lost. Rituals and superstitions were created around the process. When humans can not explain something we fall back on beliefs. That is how it has always been and still is today with death.
Birth, on the other hand, has been explained. Sex: sperm meets egg, pregnancy, birth, life. We now understand in precise detail, and in fact are able to replicate in the lab, where we come from, from the moment of conception. We no longer have to rely on myths or beliefs. Even the most committed right to lifers don't (yet) argue that life begins before conception (OK, there is the joke that life begins at erection but that may just be from guys with exalted egos) but if we are eternal, if our existence is infinite, doesn't it require that we existed in some form before our birth? How can we so easily jettison our existence on one side of the spectrum but so vehemently cling to it on the other? This illustrates humans’ capacity for inconsistency and our ability to hold contradictory opinions simultaneously without much effort.
Atheists tend to deny that there is any existence after death, while many religions contend there is. Before medical science explained the process of conception and birth there were also competing beliefs about that process. So, will science provide an answer about what happens after death? It is much harder to prove that something does not exist than that something does. Also the situation to be addressed is not parallel. Science only explains what happens prior to birth back to the point of conception. It does not nor has
it ever been asked to explain the potential for existence prior to conception. With death, however, there is no known equivalent to conception. Medical science can define death in various ways but not what comes after. And the timeframe for what might come after is, well, infinite, so it probably can never be satisfactorily explained for all time.
However, another branch of science may provide some clues. One of the bedrock principles of physics is the theory of relativity with its famous equation E = mc2. That equation tells us that "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared." meaning that energy (E) and mass (m) are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing. Nothing is ever gained or lost but only changes form. Our physical self's, our bodies, are mass and it is energy that animates us. We consume food for fuel and burn that to produce energy and mass. The mass is our bodies getting bigger as when children grow and adults gain weight. At death we return that mass to energy through incineration (cremation) or decomposition (burial). In the state of Washington bodies can now be composted making literal the phrase "pushing up daisies". If indeed the essence of people is eternal, then prior to bodies having mass, before birth, they would exist as energy or other forms of mass like those daisies. So the next time you pick daisies you might be gathering a future human in your hand.
Why does my credit card categorize my gym membership as entertainment?
Cars are getting smarter but the drivers are not.
Remember when they told us that watching too much TV would warp our brains? Well it happened.
We humans believe our minds make us unique and smarter than all other species, so why do we constantly try to alter or distract our minds with drugs, alcohol and the drivel of entertainment
The reason there are no therapy cats is that cats really want to kill you.
Every time you see a sunset someone else is seeing a sunrise.
Watching sports on TV is like watching porn; you can see more but it doesn't feel the same
The trouble with public transportation is not the transportation, it is the public.
In these times perhaps the true radical is a moderate.
The fresh meat in the pet food cooler looks better than the meat in the butcher aisle.
I can accept death but not the dying.
It’s not how high you fly, it’s where you land.
The right question is more important than the right answer.
For some people enough is never enough.
I live an Ikea life - I don't understand the instructions and the pieces don't fit together.
When straws are outlawed only outlaws will have straws
Perspective matters; going slow makes everything else seem fast.
Time is like love. There is never enough of it and its gone all too soon.
Predicting the future is for fools and charlatans, meaning pundits and economists.
The smartest people are never the ones who think they are.
Each window you look through is really a mirror. What you see is what you bring with you.
Like a tree, we may bend with time, but deep roots keep us upright.
Equal pay for equal work is an issue discussed almost exclusively related to the pay for women vs. men in the same job. That makes sense given the long history of discrimination against women in compensation, employment and educational opportunities. Despite improvements in recent years the problems continue, to the detriment of women and our society.
However, there is another perhaps even more fundamental aspect of "equal pay." That is the relative compensation level of different jobs. Specifically, how they are valued and who establishes the relative pay levels.
Consider a small thought experiment. Assume you were looking for a job and the following positions were available. Assume you are well qualified for each of these jobs and they were offered to you. Which would you chose?
Refuse/Recyclable Collector $38,920
Airline Pilot $161,280
Farm worker $27,840
Wall Street worker $422,500
Child Care Worker $23,760
Fine Artist $57,520
* Salaries from US Dept. of Labor database
I am willing to wager that not many of you selected Refuse Collector or Farm Worker. I'll also bet that even those who thought that being a librarian would be a good job were put off by the low salary.
So do the experiment again but this time with a change in the salaries.
Refuse/Recyclable Collector $59,055
Airline Pilot $59,055
Farm worker $59,055
Wall Street worker $59,055
Child Care worker $59,055
Fine Artist $59,055
* Average US salary from US Dept. of Labor
Did your selection change when all the jobs pay the same? Did this new equality have a liberating effect? Did you decide to be an artist or to care for children once salary was not a factor?
All this is a way of asking, why do different jobs pay what they do and who decided those relative compensation levels? Capitalists, especially economists, would tell us that the "invisible hand" of the market determines prices for goods and wage levels. If that were true one would expect that the least desirable jobs would be the hardest to fill and therefore would pay the most. Therefore, working in a farm field in the burning sun would pay much more that sitting in a comfortable office on Wall Street. Perhaps the invisible hand is not so invisible and has strings attached to it.
Wages are not established by simple supply and demand but by power. It is not a coincidence that jobs that are most likely filled by the traditionally disenfranchised usually have low wages. Jobs historically seen as "women's" work or for minorities, such as child care or librarian or farm worker have the lowest wages. The fact is that low wage jobs correlate with disenfranchised groups, including women, Blacks, and immigrants. It’s about power.
Why do we accept as "normal" that the hardest jobs pay the least? There is a long cultural and political history that has acclimated us to this situation. For many centuries there was some elite and powerful group that ran things while most of the people were peasants or serfs or slaves, and there often was little to distinguish those categories. Most people were tied to the land and were completely under the control of a lord of one kind or another - political, religious or military. People were not free to move to the next fiefdom to get a better deal. They labored, were flogged and lived at the whim of the lord and master.
In Europe it was the rise of first the age of exploration and exploitation and later the industrial revolution that gave rise to a meaningful middle class of traders and merchants, creating a group with independence, increasing wealth and power. While many prospered, they continued the system within their new "capitalist" domain. They used the cheapest labor possible, including slavery whenever feasible, to maximize their profits. They normalized the exploitation of workers in the new commercial realm, continuing the tradition that the least desirable work received the least compensation.
The entire history of labor has been that the powerful pay as low wages as possible. The only break from this was the rise of unions, which were instrumental in creating blue collar jobs that paid middle class wages. Workers fought and died in strikes and were killed by owner wars in mines, railroads, mills and fields to gain living wages and safer working conditions. It was unions that got child labor outlawed, an eight-hour work day, and most other workplace improvements.
But union membership has plummeted in one of the most successful anti-worker campaigns imaginable. As a result, workers’ wages have been stagnant while incomes for the already wealthy have soared. As the Pew Research Center reported " today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And what wage gains there have been have mostly flowed to the highest-paid tier of workers."
Economists profess to be perplexed that despite low unemployment wage growth has continued to be negligible. They obviously have not been paying attention to the successful campaign to eliminate most worker bargaining power. Today only about 10% of private sector workers are unionized. This has been coupled with actions including right to work laws (also known as a right to poverty), no poaching agreements, elimination of class action lawsuits through forced arbitration and legislation, removal of the check off provision to fund unions, and the use of temps, contractors and undocumented workers to assure employees have no clout and work in fear of losing their jobs. In most industries workers have little say or leverage over their wages. Executives remind us that they have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize returns for stockholders. Having no moral or societal responsibility means that they can pay workers as little as possible. In face of this onslaught it is no surprise that wages are stagnant.
Perhaps we should use the free market that economists and capitalists are so fond of lecturing us about to address this situation. Wages for jobs should be determined by a reverse auction, meaning that the low bid is the "winner." For many low paying jobs that is in effect what is happening already but let’s do it for all jobs, starting with CEO's and bankers.
The CEO of Wal-Mart was paid more than $28 million in 2018. I would bid to do that job for $10 million as long as I get to keep the corporate jet. Would you do it for $6 million? Maybe someone else would do it for $250,000. Remember those Wall Street workers noted above making a half million a year? I bet someone would do that job for $100,000, maybe less.
Now I know some will immediately say what about the qualifications needed for these elite positions? Research has consistently shown unmanaged index funds outperform virtually every stock market trader and fund over five or more years. And CEO's? Studies indicate that in ninety percent of the cases CEO's have virtually no impact on company profits or stock performance. The general economy drives most business success or failure. Truth is that pretty much anyone is "qualified" to do these jobs. Let the bidding begin.
What about those less desirable jobs like farm worker or garbage collector. With many more desirable jobs available for everyone to bid on these jobs will see fewer applications/bidders and they can bid higher pay rates.
Utilizing these market forces will foster much greater income equality. Those once elite positions reserved for Harvard and MIT grads will now be available to a much larger pool of candidates, driving pay down, while formally low wage jobs will have substantially higher pay resulting in much greater income equality. Income equality fosters political equality and political equality is the basis for viable democracies. What am I bid for real democracy?
Inequality - god, money and power
In the beginning humans were hunter gatherers characterized by a high degree of gender, structural and economic equality. Scientists tell us that there were no designated leaders, genders operated on an equal footing and there were no rich or poor - everyone shared the available food and resources. Then came, with what we term with a surprising lack of irony, civilization.
So called civilization developed from an agrarian base i.e. the cultivation of food crops which supported settled communities of hundreds and then thousands of people living in close proximity. Large numbers of people required some kind of organizing structure resulting in a hierarchy and inherent in a hierarchy is inequality and a differential in power. Those at the top of the hierarchy have more power than those below. Early community hierarchies were dominated by individuals in two primary roles - warriors or priests. Because of the physical differences between males and females men dominated the warrior or soldier class. This probably began the unequal status of women that persists to this day. It is less clear why men came to dominate the religious role although it may have resulted from collusion with the warriors but the result seems to have been similar.
The common characteristic of these two groups was that they required support from the rest of society since they had neither the time not inclination to grow their own food, hunt, etc. This need coupled with the position of power they occupied led to the first requirement of governance be it religious or civil - taxes. Called by many names tribute, plunder, tithes or the current favorite user fees the general population had to fund the livelihood of individuals in positions of authority. Thus began the intersection of god (religion), economics (wealth) and government (political power).
Over time people have been told or coerced to believe in the divine right of kings, in politics that requires leaders and followers, in dictators of the proletariat, in "representative" democracies and the mechanisms of governance. As Voltaire put it "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." Now we mostly believe in the economy, not the real economy where people grow or build things, just the money part, we believe in greed. Increasingly people don't go to school to be educated, they go to school so they can make money. They don't work to accomplish something, to create something, they work simply to get money and so they can spend it and spend ever more of it. Today's economy is predicated on the requirement that it always expand, that we always need more. As a result we increasingly use up the world that we live in, we dig it up, pump it up, plow it up. To get more, we poison the land, the water and the air until it no longer sustains us, all to get something that we don't really need that we don't really like and that we don't care about. But it's a marker, a symbol that we exist. I consume therefore I am.
The money is the power and the power is the money. It is the power that arises from the money after all that makes us feel good that gives us that rush. The intersection of economic and political power was recently evidenced by the Supreme Court decision that money is speech. Those with the money are the ones who can be heard in politics as they are in the economy. With that power comes the tyranny of the belief that rich people deserve their wealth and are ordained to wield great power. They have in effect been divinely bequeathed wealth and power and through that wealth and power can function as a god on earth. This is the divine right of capitalists.
Economic inequality begets political inequality and political inequality is the very antithesis of democracy. As Gandhi said about democracy it is "clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry masses persists," As we despair of the great political divide in our country it might serve us well to address our growing economic inequality for unless we do a viable democracy and a commonality of purpose are impossible.
One Small Voice
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