Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Decline of Richesse.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

A Republican friend of mine, whom I respect greatly for his intellect as well as his congeniality, recently opined that the Democratic propensity is to hate the military. This notion of a Democratic antipathy to the armed forces is supported by his assertion that the military vote ten to one for Republicans. Perhaps they do, although I have not checked the accuracy of that assertion, but it is a misconception that Democrats hate the soldiers, most of whom are volunteers for a duty others will not do. Today’s military is composed of an elite career officer corps and enlisted men who volunteer, often with the idea that service to their country is noble, sometimes because they are escaping poverty, and often for a secure, structured environment. Many of the volunteers are very young, and have not yet learned of the horror of war. George W. Bush, who himself avoided combat, had very little compunction in embroiling our country in two disastrous wars that still have not proven their value.

The fact that these gladiators are supported by war profiteers and legislators both from the Republican and Democratic parties, makes them no less victimized by the illusion that the United States is responsible for making the world safe from rogue governments that spring up around the globe or other threats from amorphous terrorists.

These “threats” supposedly justify a $700 billion defense budget, when we as a nation are struggling with underfunded schools, decrepit highways, and a 19th century rail system.
This idea of an American colossus, a dynamic hegemonic enterprise straddling the globe has vanished with our manufacturing base, a decaying rust belt of post industrial cities, inhabited by the unemployed, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed.

The present Republican leadership believes that fewer taxes on their corporate benefactors will revive our flagging economy, and are busy selling the notion that all Americans will benefit from more jobs created by the effect of the long-discredited “trickle-down” theory. Democrats believe that the government should invest more, publicly fund research, invest in infrastructure and modestly raise taxes to do so. Somewhere between these two increasingly polarized positions should be a solution.

One thing is certain—the United States has neither the economic wherewithal nor the moral ability to police the world. Drunk on oil, hypocritically pious and in hoc, it now must co-exist in an increasingly hostile and threatening world. Faster jet planes and more expensive aircraft carriers are no longer the basis for projecting power. We need to turn inwardly strong. More education, better teachers, faster rail, better research, and energy independence—that is where we should be looking. Congressmen up for sale to defense contractors need to be put on notice that playing on the fears of their constituents will no longer get them reelected.

One would hope that the H.L. Mencken was wrong when he said that “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” So far, unfortunately, he has been right.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Religion in the 21st Century

“In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.”
Thomas Jefferson

Religion, it seems, has not done playing its hand in the affairs of mortals, who, despite accumulating scientific evidence, continue to believe in whatever divinities are comforting to their concept of human existence.

Because of this hope, men strive to gain some illusory reward after they die, including, but not limited to 73 virgins, floating upon a heavenly cloud, life in a virtual paradise, or whatever other notion they can conjure up. Because man is the only beast who knows that he will die, the other products of evolution are not beholding to a religious undertaking or to nature. Lions, for example, feel no remorse when they devour their prey. Snakes do not wilt when they poisonously bite their victims, porpoises do not tarry when they gulp their fish repast.

Man, obsessed with death, believes that if he lives according to the dogma of the church, mosque or synagogue that he will be somehow rewarded in perpetuity. He prays, fasts, renders beseechments, wails, moans, kneels prostrate and goes to confession. He does good turns not for the good in the deed itself, but for the promise of some unearthly reward. This actually diminishes the goodness of the deed, for the deed should, if honestly performed, should be reward enough in and of itself.

In the name of religion, men have killed, maimed, tortured, burned at the stake, and brutalized his fellows. In the name of religion, theocracies and true believers threaten the annihilation of other nations and seek nuclear bombs to do so. Only recently has religious dogma allowed for some toleration of the beliefs of others, mostly as a reaction to the information age and the holocaust. First, the holocaust erased institutional (but not all) anti-Semitism in the west, and second, the general diminution of misinformation that had been generated about contrary belief systems. People are exposed to the ways, in a global environment, of others. Ergo, they are less ignorant. Much of this has happened through the rise of television and of the movies, since many younger people do not read books or even newspapers. Even still, the institutional Church of Rome denies basic human sexuality and the need of men for love, fostering a class of prelate who is frustrated and unfulfilled, propelling them toward abuse and depredation.

Religious fundamentalists, including Hasidim, Islamists, Orthodox Jews, still indoctrinate their children with worthless, anachronistic dogma, dietary laws and fasts. They deny the right to marriage outside their respective faiths, they stone those who violate the Sabbath and who do not obey the precepts of their religion. Islamists execute adulterers and lop off the hands of petty thieves. They degrade and debase women as inferior beings. True believers inculcate in their children a credo that there is something worthwhile in praying to a god who has not the power to change anything on earth, and if he did, should shoulder the blame for the evil that men do, ostensibly in his name. The only thing that occurs as a result of this “educational” enterprise is hysteria and fear among those who have not been taught realistically to deal with the vicissitudes of life, other than doing dances, praying to the spirits, almost like the primitive souls lost and seeking comfort in the African Savannah, 50,000 years ago.