Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Crisis of Faith

                                                    The Crisis of Faith

     In the movie, The Third Man, Holly Martins walks into the Casanova Club where he runs into Crabbin, the man who has invited him to give a lecture at his weekly meeting of local intellectuals. Crabbin reminds him that the talk is scheduled for the next evening. Holly asks him what the topic is. Crabbin replies, “The crisis of faith”. Martins says, “what’s that?” Crabbin answers, “You  should know, you’re the writer.”  The great irony here is that the crisis of faith is what the movie is all about.  In this essay, I wish to examine the crisis of faith, how it undermined and ultimately destroyed what we think of as western civilization, and how to this day it continues to undermine and weaken western societies.
     From the beginnings of western civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire, to the beginning of the eighteenth century, both Europe and the Americas were committed to Christianity as the motive force behind both the maintenance of society and the expansion of Western European Civilization to other parts of the world.  The first rifts occurred between conflicting Christian beliefs.  Early on, an orthodoxy was established and those who deviated from accepted norms, usually had to choose between conformity and extermination.  The great rift in this orthodoxy was the Protestant Reformation.  This was the first time that the established church lacked sufficient force to impose it’s will on those who deviated from its strictures.  This opened the door for a period we now refer to as the “Enlightenment”.
     In the early to mid-eighteenth century, a number of philosophers building on the works of such humanist scholars as Erasmus, began to see the conflicts among the various Christian beliefs as an opening through which they could drive a wedge which would free people’s minds from Christian dogma of all kinds.
     In France this movement was led by such figures as Diderot, Voltaire and Rousseau. In England there was John Locke, David Hume and Bishop Berkeley.  These thinkers questioned the very foundations of epistomology and human existence.  They literally wanted to discard all previous notions of reality and return to first principles.  They tended to view both Christianity and belief in God as straightjackets that imprisoned the minds of mankind.  They wanted men to be free to decide for themselves what constituted moral behavior and not be subject to the authoritarianism of either the church or the state.  (It should be noted that the United States was founded on the ideals of the Enlightenment, and that Enlightenment thinking probably reached its apotheosis in the writings of the American philosopher, Thoreau.)
     The conservative reaction to Enlightenment thinking took place in Germany, where it was led by Kant.  Kant believed that civilization and humanity depended on belief in God.  In this he was in agreement with both the torah and Freud.  All three agree that the locus of morality must be outside the consciousness of the individual, or disaster will ensue.  In the torah God says to the human race that they must obey His law, because if each man follows his own heart and decides for himself what is right and wrong, then the human race will be reduced to the level of the beasts in the field.
     In “The Brothers Karamazov”, Dostoyevsky continued the argument by putting forth the notion that we live in a world that is rife with injustice.  (For those of you who have read the book, the “horror stories” he describes are not works of fiction. They came right out of the Russian newspapers of the day.)  The only way people can bear this is through the belief that the universe is ultimately a just place.  If people lose this belief, they will lose their humanity and ultimately civilization as we know it will collapse.
     The event that marks the end of what is traditionally called; “Western Civilization” was World War I.  Due to stringent censorship, the magnitude of the slaughter was kept secret until after the war ended.  To this day it is almost impossible to comprehend a war in which over a million men were killed in just one battle. (To get an idea of what it must have been like, watch the Lewis Milestone movie of, “All Quiet on the Western Front”.  It contains some of the best battle scenes ever put on film.)  When the staggering number of casualties was finally revealed, it caused people to lose faith not only in God and religion, but also their governments and other social institutions.  Up to this point, the “crisis of faith” had been confined largely to the intelligentsia. Now it became widespread and infected the entire populace of western societies.
     This gave rise to the philosophical creed known as Existentialism.  This is the belief that the universe somehow created itself and that life and consciousness are accidents of chance.  Hence the universe is neither moral nor immoral.  It just is and as such is indifferent to the lives and struggles of the creatures that dwell in it.  Such concepts as truth, beauty, good and evil are merely phenomenological constructs that exist only in our brains and have no objective reality.  Consequently, morality is a social construct used by the elites to maintain control of the masses.  It is clear that this philosophy has permeated western societies with disastrous results.  Let us look at an area where the crisis of faith has had its greatest effects.


     My wife is currently taking graduate education courses towards becoming a special education teacher.  One day she asked me to read one of the journal articles assigned as part of her coursework.  In one article I came across the following:
     “Furthermore, because the purpose of education is to provide students with the skills that they would need to acquire a job and become independent, productive adults (Margonis,1992)…….”
     George Orwell could not have put it better.  What you have just read is not the definition of education, but the definition of vocational training, which is the antithesis of education.  The purpose of education is to broaden your outlook on life, and to make you a better more moral person; not to help you get a job.  It’s probably just as well that the vocational training model has been adopted throughout our school systems, because our society has become so fragmented that it’s doubtful that we could establish an educational system based on traditional definitions.
     When I was in graduate school, the definition of education that was offered was this: Education is the means by which a society transmits its knowledge, values and culture to its young.
     Let us look at this definition starting with knowledge.  At one time the epistemological thrust of this society was British Empiricism and the scientific method.  There was general agreement about how fact was differentiated from hypothesis and assertion.  As existential thought permeated our society this began to change.  If there is no such thing as “objective truth”, than our criterion for truth can be whatever we want it to be.  As a result, beginning with the feminists, and then being adopted by the gay rights people and now the left and the right, the criterion of truth became, “Does it serve our political agenda?”  The reason feminism has been so successful is because they were using this standard of truth, while everyone else was still using empirical standards.  So when a feminist said that “every six minutes another woman is being raped” the audience did not realize that this was a figure being pulled out of thin air; they thought there must be some evidence for this and reacted accordingly.  Now we have reached a point where people on the left want it written into the history books that the US constitution was modeled on the Iroquois Indian Federation and people on the right want the same books to convey that the Earth is only 5,000 years old.  We have also reached the point where schoolchildren taking math exams can get a higher grade for coming up with the wrong answer than the children who get the right answer.  So we cannot pass on the knowledge of this society because there is no common ground of just what constitutes knowledge.  This society has become so epistemologically diverse it is probably a lost cause.
     Next we have “values”.  In the antediluvian period when I went to school we were taught to have respect for the rights of others and it was drilled into us that we were to behave like little ladies and gentlemen.  How quaint.  Imagine the uproar a teacher would create in today’s society if he or she tried such a thing.  Given what I constantly read about and see on TV, I for one am glad that the schools make no attempt to instill the values of today’s society in our young people.
     As for “culture”, if the America of today has such a thing, I have failed to discern it. Aside from rap “music”? and internet pornography, use of mind altering substances, and sexual deviance I can’t think  of many other activities sufficiently widespread throughout this society so as to constitute a “culture” .
     Probably the crisis of faith has had its most deleterious effects on the upper classes and the elites who actually run this society.  The nineteenth century is known as the “robber baron” era when a relatively small group of extremely ruthless men made fortunes at the expense of the American public as a whole.  There is probably some truth to this but let us look at the whole picture. First of all, they created an industrial infrastructure that for almost 100 years made us the richest and most powerful nation on earth.  Secondly, whether it was because of public relations, personal conviction, or a feeling of connectedness with the country as a whole; these people founded universities, hospitals, museums, opera houses and funded large numbers of institutions designed to benefit the general public.  (True Marxists will argue that they were used to control rather than benefit society at large and there is in fact more than some truth to that argument.)
     Today, we have an upper class that has made fortunes by liquidating the industrial infrastructure created by the “robber barons”; creating massive unemployment and generally lower standards of living for everyone but themselves.  They have altered the tax structure to redistribute massive amounts of wealth from the working poor and the middle-class to themselves, and they use none of their wealth for the benefit of society as a whole.  (In fact, they relentlessly pressure government to reduce or eliminate any expenditures that benefit anyone but themselves.)  Unfortunately, this situation cannot be reversed because they have acquired so much wealth that the government is too weak to resist them.  This is amply demonstrated by the fact that when the swindlers and thieves on wall street were found to have stolen and gambled away so much money that the entire American economy was on the verge of destruction the “government” handed them the keys to the federal treasury so they could use it as their own personal “slush fund”. If this country had a functioning government, these people would have been put in prison; not handed hundreds of billions of dollars from the American taxpayer.  (At this point it should be noted that if current economic policy continues, the end result will be something called a “hyper-inflation”. ) It is clear that these people possess limitless greed and have absolutely no sense of what used to be called, “the common good”.
      The only conclusion one can draw from all this, is that it is very difficult to convince average people that it is worth leading a moral life when they live in a country run by psychopaths.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Death of Joseph Schmidt

                                              The Death of Joseph Schmidt

     Joseph Schmidt was a Romanian Jew who became a cantor in the Czernowitz Synagogue. His talents were recognized at an early age and he aspired to a career in opera.  In 1929 he went to Berlin where he sang on the radio. Because of his short stature, he only appeared on stage for one or two performances.  In 1933, he made a semi-autobiographical film called, “My Song Goes ‘Round the World”.  The movie was a smash hit.  The premiere was attended by a number of high ranking Nazis, including Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda.  The response was overwhelming and when it was discovered that Joseph Schmidt, himself, was in attendance, the audience demanded that he come out on stage and reprise some of the songs from the film.  He did this to enthusiastic applause and when someone pointed out to Goebbels that he was applauding a Jew, Goebbels turned to him and said, “we will decide who is and isn’t a Jew”.
     In 1939 he went back to Czernowitz to visit his mother. When the war broke out he was caught in France. He attempted to get to the United States, and failed.  He did manage to make his way to Switzerland, where he was interned in a labor camp.  While in the camp he complained of chest pains. The Swiss camp guards told him to stop malingering and sent him back to work. He died later that day of a heart attack.

                                  The Myth of Swiss Neutrality

     During the war, the economy of Switzerland was so closely tied to that of Germany, that even though the Swiss did not supply troops to the German army; they were in fact de-facto allies.  During the war, German companies were still doing business with companies under allied control, and Switzerland acted as a clearing house for these transactions.   A good example of this is Royal Dutch Petroleum.  The British part of the company sold oil to the allies, the Dutch part to the Nazis, and they cleared accounts through Switzerland. Swiss banks were also instrumental in helping the Germans launder the gold and other valuables that they looted from the countries they conquered.  Also, at the end of the war, Alan Dulles was sent to Switzerland as the OSS chief of station so he could assist his German industrialist friends in getting their money out of Germany and into Switzerland before the German war machine collapsed completely.  (The post-war “economic miracle” in Germany was largely financed by these funds.)
     Joseph Schmidt was quite fortunate to be interned by the Swiss.  At that time Swiss policy was to relieve Jewish refugees of their assets and then turn them back over to the Nazis.  In fact, it was the Swiss who suggested to the Germans that Jewish passports be stamped with the letter J, so fleeing Jewish refugees could be stopped at the border and handed back over to the Nazis.  As has been well publicized over the years, the Swiss had no problem with accepting Jewish assets as they knew what fate awaited their owners; which meant they would never have to be returned.

                                           The Allies

     The main reason Joseph Schmidt had to escape from France is that the French had no qualms whatsoever about handing over both Jewish refugees and native French Jews to the Nazis.  Even before the war began, any Jewish refugees who went to France were promptly interned in camps, so that when the Germans arrived, they wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of rounding them up.  The record of French collaboration with the Nazis and their enthusiasm for ridding themselves of their Jewish citizens, speaks for itself.  Like the Swiss, they had no intention of letting survivors or collateral relatives lay claim to assets confiscated from their former Jewish citizens.
     On the other hand the British were far more humane than the Swiss and French. They may have relieved fleeing Jews of their assets, but instead of sending them back to mainland Europe to almost certain death, they simply put them in camps.  Being alive and penniless is much better than being dead and penniless.  (Given British policy, I’m reasonably sure that the reason Jewish refugees weren’t put on boats and sent back to Europe is that they couldn’t afford the shipping, and it would have been rather bad press.)
     Unlike the Americans, I think the British deserve some credit for their lack of hypocrisy.  The British stated in no uncertain terms that so far as they were concerned, “every Jew killed by Hitler means one less refugee trying to get into Palestine when the war ends.”
     In the United States, FDR and the State Department worked together to make sure that almost no Jews would be admitted into the United States.  The few who were admitted were very high profile people in the arts or sciences.  It seems that Joseph Schmidt might have qualified, but although he was very well known in Europe, this might not have been the case in the states.
     When the death camps were first being established in Poland, the Polish underground sent representatives to the allies to inform them about what was going on.  In an interview on film, Jan Karski, one of the representatives, describes his meeting with FDR. In the most contemptuous and cynical manner, FDR made it abundantly clear, that it would never be allied policy to interfere with Hitler’s death factories.
     Since there is a rather exhaustive literature dealing with the topic of “trading with the enemy during wartime”, I am not going to go into the subject in any depth. However, let’s look at some of the highlights:
1)      German rearmament was largely financed by the U.S. One of the key companies in financing German armaments was Brown Brothers, Harriman which employed direct ancestors of two U.S. presidents; George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr.
2)      In the 1930’s, the German establishment tried to bankrupt the Nazis through frequent elections. They succeeded.   The election that put the Nazis in power was financed by the Bank of England with Norman Montague approving the loan.
3)      American companies, most notably Dupont and Esso, supplied the Germans with formulas for the manufacture of artificial rubber, converting coal into gasoline and with direct shipments of tetra-ethyl lead, aviation fuel, and diesel fuel for U-Boats.
4)      During the war, GM owned Opel which made tanks and trucks for the Nazis. IT&T owned factories that made bombers for the German Air Force. (After the war, IT&T actually sued the US for damage done to their German bomber factories during allied air raids. Instead of being executed for treason, they actually collected taxpayer money for this.)  In return for the contracts to supply the German army with communications equipment, IT&T became the largest funding agency for the Gestapo.

     Contrary to the popular mythology of “Swedish Neutrality”, Sweden in fact was another de-facto ally of the Germans.  Although the Sweden never raised an army to fight alongside the German army, the economies of the two countries were very closely tied together and the Swedes did their best to assist the Germans throughout the war.
     The best example of this occurred when Churchill decide to bomb the ball bearing factories in Hamburg Germany.  For some reason, the Swedes seem to have an international monopoly on the manufacture of high quality, stainless steel ball bearings. (Or they did at that time. Whether it is still true, I don’t know.)  The Swedes did not appreciate having their factory bombed, and felt that until they could get it running again, the allies would have an “unfair advantage”. So they informed Churchill and the allies that unless they supplied Germany with ball bearings from factories located in allied territory; they would cut off all shipments of ball bearings to the allies.  As a consequence of this, American workers in Philadelphia manufactured ball bearings which were ostensibly shipped to South America and then rerouted to Germany.
     This brings us to the case of Raoul Wallenberg.  The Wallenbergs were major bankers and industrialists and a very powerful family in Sweden. During the war they engaged in major business dealings with the Nazis.  They also did business with the Soviet Union and thus had influence with all sides.  Raoul was in Hungary during the war, and is justly famous for helping as many Jews as he possibly could escape the Nazi death camps.  After the war he was imprisoned by the Soviet Union and spent the remainder of his life in prison camps.  After the fall of communism, researchers were able to go into Russia and interview former KGB agents about various cold war matters.  One researcher said he was interviewing a high ranking official in the KGB and asked him about Wallenberg. The KGB official said that Wallenberg had been held in Soviet prisons and that on many occasions they offered to exchange him for captured Soviet spies, but the Swedes always refused.  Logically, this only makes sense if he was being held at the request of his family.  It seems quite likely that given Raoul,’s known sympathies for the Jews that his relatives did not want him back in Sweden and finding out about just how much business they had done with the Nazis during the war.


     I think it is safe to say that from a moral perspective the allies were marginally better than the Nazis.  Right now, the United States and Western Europe have in place the same economic system that prevailed in Germany and Italy in the years before WWII; state supported capitalism.  One might call it, “fascism in a velvet glove”.  The western propaganda apparatus is so strong, most people can’t even conceive of how to challenge the system that is currently in place.  In the west, people aren’t taken away in the night, or interned in camps, because it is unnecessary.  If the time ever came when the populace was no longer willing to cooperate in its own economic demise, it would probably be shocking at just how quickly those accouterments of bald power would suddenly reappear.
     I think Arthur Koestler said it best in his description of World War II. “We are fighting against a total lie in the name of a half-truth”.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Precognition and Reality

                                                Precognition  and Reality

     Someone has a vision of a bridge collapsing.  Two weeks later the bridge collapses exactly as seen in the vision.  The question is, “When did the bridge really collapse?”  Was it when the person saw it collapse in his vision or when the people on or around the bridge saw it collapse.  The answer is that it didn’t collapse at either one of these times.
     In Einstein’s theory of special relativity he posits two observers linked to two different inertial frames.  By way of analogy, we can understand what is happening with precognition.
     We live on a timeline that we experience as going from the past to the future.  Let’s   call this inertial frame A.  Parallel to this timeline there is another timeline that from our perceptual framework runs from the future to the past.  Let’s call this frame B.  It is an axiom of physics that all events are unique and can only happen once.  However, the same event can be perceived twice, from different inertial frames.  The event, in this case the collapse of the bridge, occurred between these two inertial frames.  (Like the ball being dropped between the observer on the train and the one on the ground.)  The reason the person with the precognitive experience saw the bridge collapse before the people attached to inertial frame A, is because somehow his consciousness managed to travel to inertial frame B.  When he went to inertial Frame B an d saw the bridge collapse, that became a fixed event that could not be prevented.  What is of interest is that because Frame B travels from our future to our past, what is going to cause the bridge to collapse has not yet been determined.  Consequently, we live in a world where effect precedes cause.  The effect is determined but the cause is indeterminate.  This is why precognition is useless in trying to change the future.  The bridge is going to collapse because it has already done so.  What is unknown is why the bridge is going to collapse.  (There are countless reasons why a bridge might collapse; sabotage, stress fractures, accident, etc. etc.) 
     The reason that this can happen is because the universe and its attributes are inherently discontinuous.  We experience time, motion, acceleration, length, height, width etc. as being continuous functions.  In fact, all of these flow not continuously, but in little spurts like the Quanta in Quantum physics.  To give an example, we never really travel at 60 miles per hour. We have measuring instruments that say we are, but what is really happening is that we are going at a speed that is infinitely close to 60 miles per hour.  The velocity of 60mph should be thought of as a limit that we can approach until we get infinitely close to it, but we never quite get there.  The same can be said of all the other things that we perceive as being continuously distributed.  So the question becomes, “why don’t we experience or perceive the discontinuities?”  There are two approaches to answering this question.  One is supplied by Carlos Castaneda in “The Teachings of Don Juan”.  He points out that we experience the world through our sensory organs and the brain then takes their input and provides us with a coherent picture of the world around us.  The amount of time it takes to do this is finite.  Therefore, we are always seeing the world not as it is, but as it was a moment ago.  If the amount of time it takes is equal to the amount of time it takes the universe to recreate itself, we simply would not perceive the discontinuities.  Another approach is to think of a movie.  We all know that there is a gap between each frame, but while we are watching the movie, it is absolutely        imperceptible.  And so, we experience solid objects, special dimensions, velocities, etc. as existing continuously in nature because the discontinuities are so small as to be imperceptible.
     If what I have said is true, then the last question we are left with is, “just how knowable is reality?”  Oddly enough, the UFO literature provides us with an answer to  that question.  As to whether or not we are currently being visited by alien space ships, I am an agnostic.  I do not know.  However, the UFO literature contains some remarkable consistencies.  If true, it indicates that UFOs come from a number of different places and   all show very similar levels of technological development.  This would indicate that the universe is not infinitely knowable.  It would appear that there are limits to how much can be learned about the universe.  (If true, our best sci-fi seems to be based on faulty
premises.  Such shows as Babylon 5 and Stargate are based on the notion that the universe is infinitely knowable.  Since small increments in knowledge can lead to large differences in technology, they give us a large range of technological development.)  My guess is that space travel is possible and that if we ever reach the point where we can do it,  we will find that all advanced societies operate at roughly the same level of technology. 

Republic Vs Empire

                                                          Republic vs Empire

      The primary difference between a republic and an empire is this: A Republic has Citizens; an Empire has subjects.
     A republic is founded when a number of free and autonomous citizens come together in an effort to regulate relations among themselves and to protect their rights to their persons and property.  In a republic, a crime is defined as “injury to the person or property of another”.  All citizens are expected to participate in the political life of a republic.  To accomplish this, future citizens are broadly educated and exposed to a wide variety of subject matter.  It is to be expected that they will pursue those subjects that interest them, so they can contribute to the general debate on a wide range of issues.  Each citizen is to be considered a valuable member of the community whose concerns and interests must be addressed by the “Body Politik” as a whole.
     Empires are founded on the premise that the state comes first and that “people are the property of the state”.  Consequently,  the definition of crime is expanded to include injury to oneself.  The state has a right to protect its property. Subjects are narrowly educated people who are expected to fill a single niche in society and are actively discouraged from participating in any debate outside their area of expertise. Political participation on the part of subjects is neither wanted nor desired.  The mythos is that, “just as you are an expert in your field, so the politicians and economists are experts in their fields.  So there is no need for you to concern yourself with these kind of issues.” In short, “don’t you worry your pretty little head about it, and just do what we tell you”.
     So, let us take a look at the United States and see which one of these concepts we more closely resemble. And let us begin with the educational system.
     From the post World War II era to the mid 1960’s, the overall effectiveness of the American educational system was probably at its peak effectiveness. (It is true that from  the late 19th century through the earlier part of the 20th century, the elementary curriculum was much more rigorous.  The average high school graduate of today would be very hard pressed to pass what was considered eighth grade English in 1910.  However, most people didn’t complete the 8th grade in those days and high school graduates were unusual.  So overall, the level of education in the 40’s,50’s, and 60’s was higher than in the early part of the century.)  At that time, the teachers believed in educating people to participate in a democratic society and constantly stressed “republican values”. They also placed great emphasis on the erosion of these values and stressed the example of the disintegration of the Roman Republic until it was transformed into the Roman Empire. The message being that unless something was done, the same process would take place here.
     Unfortunately, this generation came of age just as the United States was making the final transition from a republic to an empire.  A whole generation of idealists felt disillusioned and alienated when they found out that not only didn’t their opinions matter, but that their participation in the political process was neither appreciated nor desired. This led to profound changes in our educational system.
     One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the profound confluence of interests between the so-called “left-wing radicals” and the right-wing plutocrats who actually run this country.  In the 60’s and 70’s the cry of “relevance” was heard throughout the land. Somehow it became fashionable to take the position that if a school subject had no immediate bearing on some kind of future employment, it wasn’t worth studying. (It is now possible to turn on the TV and watch parents picketing their local schools wanting to know why anyone should have to pass algebra in order to graduate from high school.  Better yet, a gentleman taking a test for teacher certification asked, “How should I know what an interrogative sentence is?”.   As Dave Barry says, “I really wish I had made that one up, but I didn’t”.)
     Another battle cry revolved around the word, “elitism”.  Anyone who dared to suggest that future students were entitled to an education worthy of the meaning of the word, were immediately denounced as “elitists”.  (After all, who is to say that Botswanian  folklore isn’t just as worthy of study as 20th century American History) 
     On the left, the motivation for this was disillusionment.  Many well educated people were under the illusion that the purpose of education was to make them happier people.  When being relatively well educated didn’t make them happier, they decided that being educated wasn’t worth the effort.  In fact, the purpose of  education is to make you a better person, not a happier one.
     On the right, the motivation was rather forthright and simple.  What education produced was civil disorder, social unrest, protest movements and large numbers of people demanding to participate in the political process.  By eliminating the educational system, they have created large numbers of people who can intuitively sense that something has gone terribly wrong with this country, but they lack the mental tools and conceptual frameworks needed to comprehend and express their feelings in a rational matter. (One thing to keep in mind is that the upper-classes of the U.S. were profoundly influenced by the French Revolution.  They saw just how tenuous their position really is.  So the truly profound problem facing our elite is, “how does a very small number of extremely wealthy people keep control of the other 99.5% of the population”?  The modern answer is by taking complete control over the mass media. Not too long ago some congressman had the audacity to suggest that the rich should have to pay taxes just like the rest of us.  He was immediately denounced in such bastions of liberalism as The New York Times as “fomenting class warfare”.  There has been class-warfare in this country for over 150 years and the rich have been “kickin’ butt and takin’ names” for all of that time.  It’s odd that no-one in the media ever protests against using the tax system to redistribute wealth from the middle-class to the rich.  The rich have also used the media to make this the most “revolution proof” country that has ever existed. There is a complete media blackout on who is really setting the agenda for this country.  The media may tell us who the “front men” are, but not who is behind them. As a result the entire country could rise up, march on Washington D.C., and hang the entire government from lampposts.  We could then hold all new elections.  And within six months or so it would be back to “business as usual”, because the same people would be running things.)
     Sometime in the 1970’s and 1980’s the conceptual framework of public education began to change.  We went from an “education” based theory of schooling to one based on “vocational training”.  Vocational training is the opposite of education.  Education is a broad based process designed to expose a student to a wide range of interests and possibilities in life.  Vocational training is designed to give one expertise in the relatively narrow area  where he is expected to spend his or her life. (I once attended a high school graduation where the message of the guest speaker was that the best you can hope for in life is to become a UPS driver.) 
     Our current system of schooling has some very major problems.
1)      Due to the incredible sense of disenchantment brought about by the social disruption of the 60’s, we now have entire generations of teacher’s who no longer believe in anything. 
2)      As Friedman has pointed out in his latest book, “The Earth is Flat”, we no longer produce enough educated people to maintain a technological society.  Thus we either have to import them, or outsource.
3)      As discrimination against boys increases more and more of them are simply dropping out of the system.  Thus we are losing the most intelligent and creative people we have. (If you don’t believe me, check the neurological evidence.  Boys have far more dopamine receptors than girls.  Girls do not out achieve boys because they are smarter, it is because the boys are no longer competing.)
4)      Thanks to the “American’s with Disabilities Act”, we now spend the bulk of our educational dollars on those students who are least capable of ever contributing to society.  We have managed to achieve the “greatest good for the smallest number”. The mandatory spending on the handicapped has depleted school budgets to the point where there is barely enough money for the normal children, much less specialized courses for the brighter children.
5)      By encouraging children to narrow their focus by using the “vocational training” model, we are almost guaranteeing high rates of future unemployment.  Our future adults will not have the intellectual flexibility necessary to easily change jobs and careers.  Knowing only a narrow specialty, they will need extensive retraining if their jobs become obsolete.
6)      By not making an effort to instill at least a basic education in the poor and 
      underprivileged   we are laying the groundwork for a much more violent future                         society.  One of the few things we have learned from social science research is that there is a strong correlation between reading ability, self-control and violent behavior.  People who cannot read well tend to have less self-control and to be more violent than people who do read well.
         Another problem is that our system of mass higher education has been an abject failure.  More people than ever before have college degrees, yet if any of them have anything resembling intellectual pursuits they manage to keep them well hidden. Not only is our society permeated with trash, but most best-selling books read like they were written for slow reading 6th graders.  It is interesting that the market for quality film has just about disappeared.  People who spent their student days watching DeSica, and Fellini are now watching Tom Cruise movies.
     A college or university education is supposed to be a starting point.  The acquisition of a diploma was never meant to be an end in itself.  If someone were to undertake a survey of people who have graduated in the last 30 years, I wonder what the results would show?  How many of these people continue to read on a regular basis?  Fiction, non-fiction, books connected to their field of study, etc. How many have seen a play, gone to a concert, or participated in some cultural event?  How many have pursued a hobby or intellectual interest?  (My personal guess is, not very many.)
     I once saw an interview with Keegan, who had written a book about Eisenhower. He said that Dulles and the generals tried to pressure Eisenhower into launching a preemptive attack against the Soviet Union.  Eisenhower said no because  in order for the Soviet’s to maintain a modern society they were going to have to educate their people and when they did the system would fall apart by itself.  I think the same is true of the United States today.  The powers that be have  gutted the educational system to the point where our society cannot be maintained by ourselves. If  immigration and outsourcing fail to suffice, we will once again have to start educating people, which might cause drastic changes in our current social arrangements. 
     Since republics tend to be founded on the ideals of liberty and justice, they are capable of producing people of great probity, honor and integrity.  The theory being that there will be enough honest people in government and the media so that the corrupt and dishonest will eventually come under their scrutiny.  In a republic people who suffer from injustice will protest and continue their cases until they find someone honest enough to rectify the situation. 
     In an Empire, the willingness to go along with the status quo and fit in with one’s superiors is a necessity for advancement.  Consequently, the system and everyone in it is corrupt almost by definition.  Therefore, protesting against injustice may lead to personal sacrifice and martyrdom, but in the end it accomplishes nothing.  (An ancient Greek commenting on the success of the Roman Republic noted that when a Roman was sent out to the provinces with 5,000 talents with which to build a road, one could be sure that every last talent would go into the building of that road.  If a Greek were given the same amount of money for the same purpose, he would immediately take 1,500 – 2,000 talents for himself, his relatives and his cronies,  and maybe 2-3,000 talents would go into building the road.)
     In the United States today, we have reached a point where members of the government are the criminal element.  And if not actively engaged in criminal activity themselves, they are more than willing to protect those who are.  The system has become thoroughly and unalterably corrupt.  To illustrate my point, I have chosen the following examples:
1)      Occasionally one can pick up a newspaper and see a reference to something called the “S&L Scandal”.  What is never mentioned is that what they are referring to is the largest theft of public funds in the known history of the human race.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-600 billion dollars was stolen from the American taxpayers. What happened is that the S&Ls were looted (possibly by government agents)  and billions of dollars were stolen.  The FDIC, by law, should only have reimbursed depositors for a maximum of $100,000 each.  However, the decision was made to reimburse depositors for the full amount of their deposits.  The only possible reason for this was to protect the criminals who stole the money in the first place.  Obviously, if the large depositors had been told that they were out of luck, they would have been putting extreme pressure on local prosecutors and demanding audits.  They would have demanded to know who stole their money and if they couldn’t recover it by civil suits they would have demanded criminal prosecutions.  By paying them off with the tax payer’s money, the government managed to prevent what would have been a massive outcry on the part of many affluent depositors.
2)      BCCI.  One day I was listening to an interview with a former high level BCCI official.  When discussing how they were able to operate so freely he mentioned that it was rather simple to bribe government officials around the world.  He went on to mention that in different places they wanted different things.  Some people wanted drugs, other jewels, others women, and in the United States it was suitcases full of cash.  What impressed me was the deafening silence that followed this interview.  Not one mainstream media outlet, not one justice department official, not one congressman was the least bit curious about who was on the receiving end of these suitcases full of cash.
3)      Arms for Iraq.  Before the first gulf war we were the major arms supplier to Iraq. The way it was financed was that Iraq was issued agricultural credits which were converted to loans by an Atlanta branch of an Italian bank (that had Henry Kissinger as a board member).  The total amount involved was in the billions of dollars.  When someone discovered that this was “illegal”, the branch manager was deemed to be making these loans on his own say so.  (Oddly enough, no-one in the Department of Agriculture new that these credits were being misused, no-one at the Pentagon knew we were exporting billions of dollars in weaponry to Iraq, and no one at the bank headquarters in Italy knew about this out-of control branch manager who was financing the whole operation.)  60 Minutes actually interviewed the branch manager who pointed out that he made all of about $600 a week and that he did not have the authority to do this on his own.  Mike Wallace asked him if he mentioned this to the prosecutors.  He told Wallace that when he raised the subject he was told he could keep his mouth shut and get a four or five year sentence, or he could keep trying to involve the higher-ups in which case he could look forward to a 30 year sentence.
4)      Citibank.  In an event that received very little media coverage Citibank was involved in selling improperly cancelled stocks and bonds to a mafia owned waste disposal company.  Somehow, these stocks and bonds found their way into the hands of swindlers who took them to Europe and cashed them in at unsuspecting banks.  As a punishment, the SEC sent them a letter telling them not to do it again. (All those who would sell phony stocks and bonds if guaranteed the same punishment please raise your hands.  I can almost guarantee that if a regular person tried it all he’d be able to say is, “ these cuffs are too tight”.)
5)      How to be president.  Jimmy Carter was picked by Brzezinski and David Rockefeller in order to protect Rockefeller’s investments in some banks in London.  Chase Manhattan had substantial equity positions in some London banks that had lent large sums of money to Panama. Panama did not have the money to pay.  If Panama defaulted, the London Banks might go under and Chase would lose its investment.  Carter was put into the White House to sign the Panama Canal treaty which gave the canal revenues to Panama.  As a result the banks got their money and everybody was happy. And since most American taxpayers had no idea of what was going on, they were happy too.
6)      Willie Clinton.  Remember the Iran-Contra “scandal”. It seems that part of what was going on is that plane loads of guns were being flown down to the contras. The same planes were then loaded with cocaine and flown back to the U.S. It seems that one of the major landing strips for this operation happened to be in the State of Arkansas.  Willie Clinton provided security for this operation by using Arkansas State Troopers to keep nosy civilians and reporters away from the operation.  His reward was a seat in the White House.
     Why are drugs illegal?  It would seem that the most basic principle of any so-called free society would be that you own your own body. The answer begins with FDR.
     Historically, in times of stress people have always been willing to trade freedom for security. FDR took advantage of this to convince people that the purpose of government is to function as the “insurance company of last resort”. If you have a misfortune in life and you can’t collect from anyone else, the government is always there to lend a helping hand.  As long as people want and expect the government to function in this manner (remember the social safety net) than the government has the right to minimize its losses.  This means they have every right to prevent you from doing things that are bad for you.
     So if you want to be legally able to take drugs, you must be willing to take responsibility for their effects.  This means no government funded rehab programs, no welfare benefits or unemployment insurance for people who can’t work due to drug use etc.  If drugs were ever legalized, people who took them would have to be made to understand that if they incapacitated themselves to the point where they could no longer support themselves, they would have to find family or friends to do so; or die.
     I have always found it interesting that the government has never used our drug laws to reduce the welfare rolls. Welfare is called Aid to Dependent Children. If someone on welfare is found to possess illegal drugs (or Alcohol or tobacco products for that matter) they could easily be suspended from receiving welfare payments. For there are only a few possibilities, they are appropriating money meant for their children which makes them guilty of embezzlement; they are purchasing these items for their children which would make them guilty of child abuse, or they have outside income not reported to the welfare office, which makes them guilty of welfare fraud.
     By looking at what kinds of crimes are being most vigorously prosecuted, we can see that the system is totally corrupt and that republican values have disappeared. Drug users are sentenced to long terms in prison, while thieves remain unmolested by our system of “criminal justice”. (If you don’t believe me just look at what’s left of your local newspaper. Where I live kids break into stores, homes etc. and steal anything not bolted to the floor and are always put on parole.  On the other hand a man convicted of “the forcible rape of a child” served less than 5 years.)
     Look at the traffic statutes.  In a “free” society a crime does not occur until the person or property of another citizen has been damaged. Laws against speeding, drunken driving etc. represent the imposition of the arbitrary will of the state and if anything should be civil and not criminal offenses.  Of course, if one damages another person or his property that becomes a criminal matter and if one is found to be violating driving guidelines, the penalties should be increased in severity.
     I think I can safely conclude by pointing out that both our system of schooling and our approach to crime is much closer to what would be found in an Empire, than that which would be found in a Republic.

     The Roman Republic lasted approximately 400 years and afterwards the Roman Empire lasted roughly another 400 years.  The American Republic lasted 170-180 years (depending on what you take for a starting point) and so far the American Empire has lasted 42 years.  Given the increased rates of change in the modern world, it would seem that the American Empire probably won’t last much longer than another 100 years or so.
     In both cases the transition to empire meant switching from a citizen to a mercenary army.  In the case of the American Empire, economic weaknesses prevent the use of an army containing large numbers of troops, so the army is forced to rely on technological advances and increasingly more powerful weaponry that becomes less and less practical for realistic military application. (As Stalin once remarked, “Atomic bombs are only useful against people who have weak nerves”.)  Given the social, political, and economic weaknesses of the American Empire, I think it will be doing well if it lasts another 100 years.
     After  this discussion of the differences between a republic and an empire I would like to give the last word to Alan Arkin.  He appears in a movie called “Chu Chu and the Philly Flash” and in the movie he thinks he has found some important government documents and is trying to return them to someone in a position of authority.  At one point he goes into a phone booth and after gesticulating wildly for a minute or so, he comes out and exclaims, “What kind of a government is this that won’t accept a collect call from a citizen?”

The Root Causes of War

                                             The Root Causes of War

     Historically speaking, a number of theses have been proposed to explain why  societies go to war with one another.  The reasons proposed can be classified into a number of general categories; i.e. Economics, Nationalism, Social and Cultural, and Religious.  I believe that all of these reasons for warfare are accurate and contain a grain of truth, but taken together they still do not entirely explain why people are willing to kill each other in large numbers and by any means available.  Think of the causes of warfare as a sphere with the aforementioned causes as lying on top of the sphere.  To fully understand warfare, we need to get inside the sphere to ascertain why problems in these areas reach the point where their only resolution is in extreme violence.  I believe that mass warfare comes about when the two sides have fundamentally different beliefs about the nature of reality.  In short, they think differently.  It is these differences in metaphysical perception and epistemology  that lead to a breakdown in communication and thus the impossibility of rationally resolving the differences in dispute.
     If we go back too far into the historical record, it becomes difficult to make accurate assessments, as we simply don’t know how people though in ancient times.  However, we can make some general guesses.  In the Peloponnesian War the conflict was between Sparta, a rigid hierarchical society, and Athens, a somewhat more democratic and egalitarian society.  It is quite possible that these social and political differences are a reflection of a deeper philosophical rift between the two parties.
     The conflict between Rome and Carthage is usually taken to be a war between two expansionist powers fighting over the same territory.  However, the Romans were influenced by Greek civilization and had a certain interest in the arts and the human condition.  The Carthaginians were descended from people who worshipped gods who were almost daemonic in nature and engaged in human sacrifice of children.  It is quite possible that the Romans desire to utterly destroy Carthage was based on their repugnance toward the Carthaginian Weltanschauung.
     In more recent times we have the Thirty Years War.  Although this was clearly a religious war, fought between Protestants and Catholics, it is clear that the world view of Protestantism was rapidly diverging from the world view of Catholicism and it is quite likely that it was these divergences that fueled the extreme violence of the conflict and kept it going for such a prolonged period of time.
     To begin a discussion of modern warfare, I’d like to start with the American Civil War.  From the date of inception, the United States began diverging into two separate societies.  The north was influenced by British Empiricism and capitalist economic theory and developed into a relatively free and egalitarian society based on upward social mobility.  The south, developed into a feudal, agrarian society with a rigid hierarchical structure and a solidified class structure.  The north was increasingly influenced by “enlightenment thought” and thus radically diverged from the south in their perception of reality.  In a recent biography of Alexander Hamilton, the biographer said that towards the end of his life, Hamilton realized that his insistence that everyone participate in a monetary economy was laying the groundwork for a great civil war to be fought sometime in the future.  It may be said that it was the theories of Adam Smith as put into practice by Hamilton that caused the civil war.  This is true as far as it goes and the differences in economic development explain why the north won, but the deeper reason for the conflict lies in the fact that the two sides diverged with regard to their ideas about the fundamental nature of reality.
     World War I stands for the greatest mass slaughter known to the historical records of the human race.  The number of volumes written to explain the causes of this war is probably uncountable.  Of the ones that I have read the causes are usually given can be classified under a number of different headings: Nationalism and the Quest for Colonial Expansion; Economic Competition; Balance of Power Politics; German feelings of inferiority; British smugness and arrogance etc. etc.  (Probably the main proximate cause was the Haber Process of making ammonia.  Without it, Germany was dependent on importing nitrates from Chile in order to manufacture explosives.  Given British control of the seas, this would have made war an impossibility.)
     What I consider the root cause of the conflict, I have never come across in my reading.  If we go back to the eighteenth century and what is now known as “The Age of Enlightenment”, we can see that English and German metaphysics and epistemology were already beginning to diverge.  British philosophy, starting with Hume, Locke, and Berkeley went in the direction of empiricism, utilitarianism, and pragmatism.  The British were not so interested in the fundamental nature of being as they were in finding out how things worked.  As a result the British were much more interested in practicality than in essence.
     On the other hand, the Germans developed a philosophy based on idealism with a touch of mysticism.  Beginning with such figures as Kant, Meister Eckhart, and continuing with Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, German’s became far more interested in the exact nature of being and far less interested in external manifestations of being.  As Kant put it, the Ding an Sich is what was of interest to German philosophy.
     As we can see, these philosophical positions are almost mirror image opposites of one another.  In hindsight, it seems that any rational beings could have solved the problems confronting these two nations without resorting to the wholesale slaughter of millions of their citizens.  I believe that what precluded any kind of rational solution is the fact that these two peoples had entirely different ways of looking at the world.  They had very different fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality.  Since one of the prime definitions of a psychotic is, “someone who’s fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality lie outside the consensus of the society in which he lives”, it would not  be stretching the point to say that both sides viewed their enemy as being swept up in some kind of mass psychosis.  It also gives us some insight as to why the British ultimately prevailed.  Espousing a pragmatic and utilitarian point of view, they were willing to do whatever it takes in order to prevail.  Idealists view their beliefs as an essential part of their being and would rather be defeated than act in a manner contrary to their beliefs. (During World War II Hitler continued his program of Jewish extermination despite pleas from the bureaucracy that they were extremely short of labor.)

                          Why the West is at War with Islam, and not Terrorism

     Whether we realize it or not, we do not experience the world directly.  Reality is filtered through  perceptual mechanisms known as cognitive structures.  Consequently, what we perceive as reality is a combination of what exists outside ourselves and prior experiences and learning that exists inside ourselves.  In the west, there are a number of  ideas that have so permeated the culture that they can be considered shared perceptual mechanisms.
     Modern cultural ideas probably begin with enlightenment philosophy and humanism.  Today, we are dismayed to realize that a mere three hundred years ago, young children were hung for stealing a piece of cloth.  The west has evolved from hierarchical and authoritarian societies to a state of egalitarianism, and it is through these egalitarian ideas that we now view the world.
     Perhaps the most important and most pervasive filter in western perception is the language of psycho-analysis.  Psycho-analytic concepts and language have become so much a part of the way in which we view the world that it is impossible for us to conceive of how the world would look to someone whose perceptual system lacks these reference points.
     Another pervasive concept is that of Relativism.  Adapted from Einstein, we now take it to mean that there are no fixed reference points.  The concept has now been applied to culture, religion, social structures etc. and has done a great deal to undermine and destroy our notions of hierarchical values.
     Marxist concepts and language also pervade western thought, leaving large numbers of people with the notion that society is at heart a conspiracy of the rich against the poor.
     The cultural filter that probably most distinguishes the west from the rest of the world is that of existentialism.  This is a philosophy developed by Heidegger largely as reaction to the horrors of WWI.  It takes the position that life is essentially random and inherently meaningless and that the universe exists through a random act and is thus morally neutral.  (It is important to keep in mind that Heidegger was a Nazi who believed that the state is the ultimate moral authority.)  This kind of thinking is now beginning to pervade western thought with dire consequences for the moral, social, and cultural well being of Western societies.  If we think of the twentieth century as the age of “nihilistic idealism”, then the twenty-first century may well become the age of nihilism without the idealism.  (“Nihilistic Idealism” may be defined as the notion that the world can be perfected by destroying something, not by offering some positive program for the betterment of mankind.  It really begins with the French Revolution where the revolutionaries decided the world could be improved by killing all the aristocrats. However, the concept reached its peak in the twentieth century when Lenin decided that killing the capitalists would make the world a better place.  That didn’t work, so Stalin said, “let’s kill all the Kulaks”.  Then Hitler chimed in with, “Let’s kill all the Jews”.  Later on in the century the American feminist movement decided that what we really needed to get rid of were masculine values; so they worked on destroying the nuclear family.  In the last part of the century, the Islamists jumped on the bandwagon and decided that what they really needed to do were to rid themselves of Western influence and meddling so they could form the “perfect Islamic State”.  Many years ago a community activist named Saul Alinsky was asked what he had to offer in place of the existing social and political structures that he was working so hard to undermine.  His answer was that when the existing power structure was destroyed, the people would come up with their own program.  In short, these people know what they don’t like and what they want to destroy, but they have no idea of what they would put in its place.)
     People raised in Islamic societies share none of these perceptual mechanisms ands cultural referents.  They are moral absolutists who believe in the rectitude of their cause and their beliefs.  In dealing with malefactors their punishments are untinged by “humanistic softness”. They have an essentially medieval, pre-enlightenment view of the world.  Consequently they view western values with a mixture of contempt and horror.  They have no desire to understand their enemies; only to defeat them.  The west’s unwillingness to punish criminals, the tolerance of any and all life-styles and beliefs, the willingness to embrace one’s enemies, the contempt for authority, and the lack of loyalty towards it’s leaders are all seen by Islamic people’s as weakness and degeneracy.  The existential viewpoint is seen as a sign of moral bankruptcy.
     The perceptual mechanisms and cultural referents of Islam are absolutist.  They believe in God and also believe that they know God’s will.  Their mission is to convert everyone else on the face of the Earth from infidels to believers.  Believers are seen as morally superior to non-believers and since Islam is a masculine religion women are seen as inferior to men.  (Thus in Islamic courts the word of an Islamic man is worth that of two women or three infidels.)  In dealing with non-believers and in spreading Islam all
 stratagems and devices are considered morally acceptable.  Consequently, this is the only religious culture that recommends lying, deceit, treachery and murder as moral methods of dealing with one’s enemies.  At many muslim rallies people can be heard chanting, “Khaibar, Khaibar”.  This refers to a strong city that the prophet’s armies were unable to conquer by force.  So he made peace with the inhabitants and after gaining admittance to the city he ordered his forces to slaughter them all for resisting him. For Islam, peace is a temporary state that exists until they believe they are strong enough to prevail. 
     Given the disparate nature of beliefs of these two peoples, it is doubtful that the Hegelian paradigm will prevail as it has in the west between the United States and Germany.  (Our current economic system can be considered a synthesis of American free market economics and German state capitalism as practiced by the Nazis.  Politically, we have abandoned our libertarianism in favor of a gigantic bureaucracy regulating almost every facet of our lives.  We also have a “top down” versus a “bottom up” political system with those at the apex totally unknown to and unaccountable to the general population.. Instead of the Gestapo and concentration camps the general public is controlled by the mass media.  Should those in control ever feel sufficiently threatened those things could be made to appear rather quickly.)  It would appear that the west is always ready to compromise and “try and work things out” but this time they are up against an enemy that sees this as a life or death struggle.  It may take centuries, but I believe the Islamic peoples will continue the struggle until a final decision is reached.
     The source of this conflict lies in the post war settlements of WWI.  Until that time there was little contact between the Islamic world and the west. It was with the discovery of oil and the western need for it that induced western nations to begin meddling in the Islamic world.  The deeper conflict came about not so much from the political interference as from the cultural contacts.  As Essad Bey points out in his classic volume “Ali and Nino” cultural contact with the west may well be the death of Islamic culture.  Western values are so antithetical to Islamic values that exposure to them may well undermine, subvert, and ultimately destroy Islamic culture.  The thing that they cannot do, is to “modernize” Islamic culture in such a way as to make it “tolerant” in the western sense and thus able to co-exist with other value systems.  (Seen in this context, Islamic hostility towards Israel is not so much racial, religious or economic but cultural. Israel is basically a country of western values and as such is seen to be undermining and contaminating the Islamic world.  If Israel had been created as an orthodox Jewish state, the level of conflict and hostility may well have been the same, but the disputants would  share enough values so that they would be able to communicate with each other at a much higher level of understanding.)
     It appears that this conflict will continue either until the oil runs out, or the west no longer needs what remains.  At that point there will be no need for western nations to interfere in Islamic politics and cultural contacts can be kept to a minimum.