Archive for July, 2019

An Evil Choice Destroys Freedom

July 29, 2019

In an obscure old text entitled New Seeds Of Contemplation, Thomas Merton considers the ubiquitous term “freedom.” The first paragraph of “What Is Liberty?” starts off inauspiciously enough (page 199):

“The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.”

Well, yes, that seems to resonate even today, over a half century after it was written. No biggie. Most exchanges regarding freedom assume as much. Merton then goes on to write:

“To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom.”

Intriguing. Followed by:

“We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free.”

Cognizant of the incredible morass of philosophic argumentation possible with considering such a provocative position, Analysis would prefer to consider its place in the contemporary interface of current events and “choices.” Merton was primarily interested in the spiritual aspects of liberty and freedom. To channel Robert Mueller, that is not within the purview of this blog. However, curious things unravel and evolve when considering those three paragraphs in light of events and situations that we, as humans and/or citizens, believe we have some say so in today. Belief was Merton’s domain. For the sake of essay, Analysis would like to assume that we have some say in these things, therefore the relevance of freedom and what was written. Global warming immediately springs to mind. “An evil choice destroys freedom.” With regard to the planet, get it wrong and there won’t be the civilization left that we’ve become accustomed to. Other choices that deny this efficacy, appear to promote “we do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so.” Usually this promoted good that elides long term implications is couched in terms of “jobs,” “consumer demand (for central heating or AC, mobility, commerce, etc.)” or “impossibility (unaffordability).” Analysis finds Merton’s insight to be dead on when it comes to what happens to freedom, along with the belief that we have some say, if the wrong choice is made. “An evil choice destroys freedom.” certainly rings true with regard to the outcomes (and inputs) of global warming. Freedom is certainly something assumed, even taken for granted as a necessary component, of democracy. How else could the demos within the polis have a say otherwise? History has repeatedly revealed sham democracy, with sham choice, here in the US as well as internationally. Currently, in various parts of the globe, struggles exist where the demos takes to heart that “An evil choice destroys freedom.” (recent events in Hong Kong, Sudan, Puerto Rico come to mind). Though written in the interest of spiritual matters, Merton’s words have an application, and resonance, with what is currently occurring regarding the governance of the US today. “An evil choice destroys freedom.”




No Collusion

July 18, 2019

When one won’t learn in the school of theory, one is forced to live it in the school of hard knocks. For the nearly two years prior to the release of the Mueller report, Americans were inundated with a “no collusion” branding sales pitch from their president and master jingle-ist (as well as jingoist). After the release of the Mueller report Mr. Jingle doubled down on “no collusion.” Many begged to differ, interpreting the report’s findings otherwise, advocating for immediate action. In the end, the jingle permeated American culture and became one with the jingoist (as well as originating jingle-ist). Sigh. Emboldened by this subtle yet extensive marketing strategy, Dear Leader took a varied track this past week. Going overtly racist, then not backing off but doubling and even tripling down on his attack of four US citizens, the master jingoist, as well as jingle-ist, entered the echo chamber of one of his “re-election” rallies in Greenville NC, 7-17-19 (he’s been officially running for re-election since the day he was sworn in as president). The following day USA Today headlined: Donald Trump blames supporters for ‘send her back’ taunts against black lawmaker (Michael Collins, David Jackson, John Fritze, 7-18-19). “”I didn’t say that,” Trump said, referring to the “send her back” chant. “They did.” Asked why he did not stop the chant, Trump said: “I think I did – I started speaking very quickly.” The chant followed an attack by Trump on Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., early in his rally. The first time the chant broke out, Trump continued his speech and did not tell the audience to stop. The second time supporters began chanting, Trump stood back from the lectern, paused in his remarks and listened as the crowd repeated the words nearly a dozen times.” Analysis finds that the master jingoist has been more than successful with branding his “no collusion” jingle.

“In Greek mythology, Echo was an Oread who resided on Mount Cithaeron. Zeus loved consorting with beautiful nymphs and often visited them on Earth. Eventually, Zeus’s wife, Hera, became suspicious, and came from Mt. Olympus in an attempt to catch Zeus with the nymphs. Echo, by trying to protect Zeus (Zeus ordered her to protect him), endured Hera’s wrath, and Hera made her only able to speak the last words spoken to her. So when Echo met Narcissus and fell in love with him, she was unable to tell him how she felt and was forced to watch him as he fell in love with himself.” (Wiki)

The Ties Of Life

July 12, 2019

“60 channels to choose from and there’s nothing on” was the ironic response to the introduction of cable TV a lifetime ago (now there’s 190!). “Individual choice” was the primary pitch in the marketing campaign to wean Americans off their reliance on antenna TV. Antenna TV was broadcast indiscriminately (and equally) to anyone with, well, an antenna. All were subscribers to what was held in common. Cable TV was selective, discriminating, individualized choice. Subscription established the algorithm of personal, consumer individuality. Or maybe personal, consumer individuality established the algorithm? Either way, cable TV won out in the end. Today, marketing “individual choice” is an assumed, fundamental “bread and butter” of all product and service sales in America. In an interview with George Yancy, Judith Butler reminds us of difference (Judith Butler: When Killing Women Isn’t a Crime, George Yancy, NY Times, 7-10-19). Butler: “Ni Una Menos is a movement that has brought millions of women into the street across Latin America to fight violence against women, trans people and the indigenous. The slogan “not one less” means that not one more woman will be lost to violence. Importantly, this is a call that is uttered by a collective: “Not another one will be lost from the class of women, this expanding collective that resists the violence directed against them.” But also: “As women, we will not lose another life.” The movement is not based on a narrow idea of identity, but is a strong and intensifying coalition that draws support from women and trans people who are workers, who belong to unions and churches, who may or may not have any relation to universities.” “The movement is equally a struggle for freedom and equality, and it struggles for the right to abortion, the right to equal pay and the struggle against neoliberal economics that is intensifying precarity, especially for women, the indigenous and the poor.” “Collectives are formed through a realization of a common social condition and a social bond, one that recognizes that what is happening to one life, whether it is violence, debt or subjection to patriarchal authority, is also happening for others. And though they may happen in different ways, the patterns are there, and so also are the grounds for solidarity.” “But the “me” in #metoo is not the same as the collective we, and a collective is not just a sequence of the stories of individuals. The basis for solidarity, for collective action, requires that we depart from the presumption of individualism; in the United States, the tendency is to reaffirm that tenet of political liberalism at the expense of strong and enduring collective bonds.” “After all, when the lives of women and minorities of all kinds are taken, that is a sign that those lives are not treated as equally valuable. The struggle against violence and the struggle for equality are linked.” “The interdiction against violence is a way of asserting and honoring that bond based on the equal value of lives, but this is not an abstract or formal principle. We require each other to live and that is as true of familial or kinship ties as it is of transnational and global bonds. The critique of individualism has been an important component of both feminist and Marxist thought, and it now becomes urgent as we seek to understand ourselves as living creatures bound to human and nonhuman creatures, to entire systems and networks of life.” “We have to rethink the ties of life to know why we are obligated to oppose violence even when, or precisely when, hostilities escalate.”

Self Driving Cars

July 11, 2019

This week ABC News did a small piece headlined Rapid decline in honey bee population ‘unsustainable,’ experts say (7-10-19). No biggie. We’ve seen articles like this covering global warming, environment, bees, algae blooms, etc. for the past two decades. They are chock full of statistics, projections, interviews with pedigreed experts, dire predictions, and sometimes even politicians. Reading them is almost a kind of perverse rote learning, actually reinforcing learned helplessness in those they intend to inform. In short, they are the norm, as seasonal and uneventful as weather news, school lunch menus, or the local festival calendar. Buried deep in the ABC article was “The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it has suspended data collection for its Honey Bee Colonies survey due to budgetary reasons, just weeks after researchers reported that nearly 40% of managed honey bee colonies in the country were lost over the past winter. “The decision to suspend data collection was not made lightly but was necessary given available fiscal and program resources,” a July 1 statement from the USDA read. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service report is only one of three major bee surveys published each year, Mulica [Matthew Mulica, senior project manager at the Keystone Policy Center, a consulting company that works with the Honey Bee Health Coalition] said. The Bee Informed Partnership and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also file reports that are widely used in the industry, he added.” Same day, different news source headlined Intelligence aide, blocked from submitting written testimony on climate change, resigns from State Dept. (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, 7-10-19). “Rod Schoonover — who worked in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research’s Office of the Geographer and Global Issues — spoke before the House Intelligence Committee on June 5 about the security risks the United States faces because of climate change. But White House officials would not let him submit the bureau’s written statement that climate impacts could be “possibly catastrophic,” after the State Department refused to cut references to federal scientific findings on climate change.” “One of the statements White House officials objected to was this observation: “Absent extensive mitigating factors or events, we see few plausible future scenarios where significant — possibly catastrophic — harm does not arise from the compounded effects of climate change.”” As mentioned repeatedly in previous blog posts, the CDC is forbidden by federal law from tracking gun related deaths and injuries. And we all know what happens with White House administrators, managers and spokespeople whose lexicon strays from “wonderful”, “remarkable”, or “amazing”. The privatization of American Government is becoming akin to a new car dealership –- they are always pitch perfect, or rather, what they pitch is always perfect. Their cars never catch fire or roll over in crashes. Indeed, they aren’t in the business of keeping tabs on car crashes. Bad news can be dismissed as fake news since it can’t be officially sourced. See, no one is keeping track. Are you?

Self Evident

July 5, 2019

“Watch what he does, not what he says.”  This profundity facilitated a byline for many political commentators, pundits and theorists (of all leanings) with the ascendency of the Trump presidency at the end of 2016. 7-4-19 found the POTUS introjecting his by now well established ideology into the nation’s annual founding celebration.  The President chose to speak from the steps of the Lincoln memorial to a crowd divided by a fence erected across even the waters of the reflecting pool. “Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate — a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool — for a mix of invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs. It’s where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, Barack Obama and Trump held inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.” (Trump asks Americans to ‘stay true to our cause’, Darlene Superville, Calvin Woodward, Lynn Berry for AP, 7-4-19) Admission was by authorized ticket only. Of course, in his speech from behind rain drenched bullet proof glass, Dear Leader read the mandatory “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Behind him, in the select “made for TV” entourage representative of his “invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs”, was not a single person of color.