Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wisdom, Human Nature, and the need for Regulation

Wisdom is ageless. Modern technology such as newly devised inventions for quicker means of communicating and exchanging information, for example, neither reduce its value nor make it obsolete. Indeed with the apparent limitless advancement of our technology, it would seem that more Wisdom is required of us, not less. In that light, it is noteworthy that the Founders of our Nation and the Framers of the Constitution exercised great wisdom with respect to Human Nature and its temptations. They understood that Human Nature has its flaws.

For example, we humans too easily give in to temptation. We tend to choose the easier though misguided path, rather than follow the more difficult but truer path toward our goals. Left to our own devises we tend to overindulge, cut corners, and shrink from responsibility, if and when convenient, and will more readily blame others than ourselves for things gone wrong. And we tend to favor our own interest over that of others when push comes to shove, even if others have more right to a claim than we do.

But it seems that we have reduced the idea of temptation to be nothing more than merely trifling with our chosen lifestyle respecting healthy living: “Oh that piece of cake is so tempting but it will ruin my diet!” Likewise it would seem that we’ve reduced the idea of Human Nature to be nothing more than a mere question of sexual orientation: gay, straight, or bi.[1]

Our Nation’s Founders structured our government with an overarching system of “Checks and Balances.” Why? They understood that Human Nature, being what it is, must not be given free rein to do willy-nilly as it pleases, just because it can. Indeed, being smart, intelligent, well informed and well educated is no guarantee that the flaws of our Human Nature will not surface and get the better of us, wreaking havoc in our relationships or in our business. And so, we Humans need and our nature require that we have checks and balances and applied and enforceable regulation.

Remember the old adage, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”? History has proven over and over again that we Humans tend to get greedy and will abuse and misuse our powers when we get too much of it. Yes, it does go to our head. Be it social, political, economic, religious, or military power, too much in too few hands is more than dangerous. It can be fatal. The Goldman Sachs’ Fraud case is a good example. These men are intelligent, well informed, well educated. You’d think that they’d have known better. What happened? It’s called Human Nature, and the failure to keep appropriate checks and balances over its weaknesses. That’s what happened.

No institution, political or economic, should be given carte blanche freedom to exercise everything it wants within its scope of power and influence. There must be regulatory discipline and limits. Wasn’t it in seventh grade social studies class that we learned about the so called Robber Barons of the 19th century and our need to stop Corporate Monopolies? Do we really think that this impulse toward amassing greater and greater wealth, money, power, and financial control over others, by a handful of a few, at the expense of the little guy, was just a 19th century tendency? Let’s be honest, despite great strides in science and technology in the last two centuries, Human Nature itself has changed very little. We still have the same flaws and weaknesses that our fore parents had ages ago.

We must therefore proactively prevent oversized Mega Corporations and Businesses, Banking or otherwise, from having too much, getting too much, or controlling too much—power, money, and influence. We should not need to relearn what many generations before us have already learned, and sometimes quite painfully. Too much power and influence in too few hands is always dangerous and must always be avoided and checked. And this is true whether it is political power (despots), economic power (Monopolies and/Robber Barons), social power (race, class, or ethnic inequalities), religious power (false gods), or military power (dictators).

And so, failing to implement solid and effective regulation over our Corporate Banking System is a failure to learn from the wisdom of the ages. Human Nature needs its checks and balances. Otherwise it’s tantamount to giving free license to reckless self-gratification in accordance with Human Nature’s baser tendencies toward selfishness and greed, and irresponsible, self-indulgent behavior. (Behold Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme!) After all, Corporations are only human. Aren’t they? What do you think?

1Not a comment on that particular issue.return

Monday, April 26, 2010

Extreme "All or Nothing" Thinking Solves Nothing

EXTREMES!  We hate extremes.  Don’t we?

Too hot, too cold, too long, too short, too big, too small, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears said it well.  So why do we tolerate EXTREME, all or nothing THINKING, and its accompanying attitude in the social political arena?  This type of thinking/attitude goes something like this: “All illegal immigrants are criminals, thieves, rapists, thugs, and drug traders; they should all be tarred and feathered, then hanged; better yet, shoot first, ask questions later.”  Or, “All prison inmates only get what they deserve.  Lock them up and throw away the key; let them rot there.”  All or nothing thinking: all Democrats are this way; all Republicans are that way; all these people are lazy, ignorant; all those people are evil, dangerous, and so-on and so forth.  Why do we allow it?  It’s too easy, and requires very little actual thinking.  Perhaps it’s that it allows us to stay in our comfort zone and demands little concentration.  Perhaps it’s a form of denial, a way to avoid real ownership and accountability, enabling us to believe that the sorry plight of a people, their social and economic hardship, suffering and pain, has nothing to do with us: “Not our fault!  THEY are the problem; we’re just minding our own business, making a living here.”

Is it really that simple that easily understood?  Do we “The People” really have nothing to do with the overcrowding of our prisons, for example, or the continuing outpour of illegal immigrants spilling over our borders, just to name two immediate and pressing social/economic issues affecting this nation?  With regard to the immigration problem, are we really that innocent, in terms of responsibility, cause and effect, given the national/international economic policies we’ve supported in the past and considering the financial weight and impact that huge North American Corporations have had and continue to have in countries all across Latin America?  Am I sounding unpatriotic?  Why should one be accused of being unpatriotic just to ask such questions?  Are they not fair and reasonable questions to ask?  Is it not to our benefit not only to ask but to actually seek to understand the, who, what, where, when, how and why, of these volatile issues?

It’s too easy to scapegoat an offender, using all or nothing thinking as in “ALL illegal aliens are bad people; they are ALL subversive villains, lawbreaking criminals, undermining the very foundations of our free and democratic nation.”  To scapegoat the general population of illegal aliens neither addresses the real issue nor explains the root causes.  Yes, we can say, “It’s not our problem.  They’re breaking the law; they’re in the wrong, not us.”  But deep down inside most of us must know that it’s really not as simple as all that.  What goes around comes around.  There is a reason that men, women, and children are willing to endure so much hardship and tolerate so much pain and suffering just to get to the U.S., knowing that they will be generally despised, shunned, looked down upon, disrespected, and ill-used when they get here.  Yes, they are economically motivated (and we’re not?).  And yes, we are a land of great promise and great opportunity (that’s why we love it here!).  And so they sneak in and we are looking for them, ready to treat them all as criminals and villains of the worst kind!  Why?  Perhaps it’s because it is easier to abuse and mistreat lawbreakers and villains than it is to justify the maltreatment of poor, hard-pressed individuals and/or families whose only real crime is that of trying to survive and make ends meet, i.e., have a better life.

Is it possible, just possible, that our very own North American mega corporate powers and their financial dominance and dealings in Latin America are part of the problem?  And is it also possible that our present and failing approach in dealing with the drug trade is also part of the problem?  In other words, while we are so busy getting up and arms over the many poor suffering men, women, and children who daily make the run across our borders and while we are busily chasing and attacking the little people, is it possible that we are at the same time casting a blind eye to the real powers and forces that are benefiting from the system as it is and has been, the BIG People who are daily raking in billions of dollars, exercising more and more influence and control over our lives, as well as the lives of the little peoples on both sides of the border, while we say, “That’s just Free Trade at work, it’s good business”?

It is the small people who carry the brunt of the load of economic depression and hardship; it is the small people who are desperately looking for ways to break out and make it; it is the small people who are most willing to do what it takes, willing to do the dirty work, to work long and hard, and not ask for special privileges or handouts; yet it is the small people who are the first to be accosted, accused, crossed and double crossed in the name of justice and respect for the law.

Think about it.  Is our immigration problem simply a matter of shoring up our borders and keeping the small people out; is that all we have to do?  Or are there deeper more profound issues and dynamics at play here?  Are the many small, eager but desperate people, who are crossing our borders on a daily basis, are they really the CAUSE/SOURCE of our immigration problem?  Or are they merely a symptom of a greater social/economic problem that we are failing to see or acknowledge, let alone address?  What do you think?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let us be forewarned: "A house divided against itself shall not stand."

What’s the best way to offend and rile up a person? Simple, ignore them. Act as if they don’t belong or don’t even have a right to exist. Objectify and dehumanize them. Another way is to attack their character, question their integrity, ridicule their beliefs, and laugh at their ideas and make them feel like idiots. In short, treat them like dirt, like something that can be used, abused, tossed-out, and thrown away. What’s the point? Well, every cause or special interest group has its “insiders” and “outsiders.” Those on the INside belong; they are valued as persons, as individuals with considered opinions and their feelings are respected. But those on the OUTside, not only do not count but are sometimes seen as non-human; that is, deemed unworthy of common respect and dignity. In a worst case scenario, outsiders are viewed as trash, less deserving of consideration than even many animals. I wonder, are we in danger of moving in this direction with regard to the way we hold our political, religious, economic, and social convictions against each other?

America was built upon the idea that we are all free to have our thoughts and express them without fear of being threatened, attacked, degraded, or excommunicated from the commonwealth for holding them. We should ask ourselves, “What is the just and respectful way to build and experience positive community within a context of great diversity?” If anything, we want a just society, a society in which everyone gets a fair shake and is justly treated by the “system.” This is the perspective from which this blog will be written. As to the name, I must give credit where credit is due: Eastern University’s motto (St. Davids, PA) inspired the title. Their motto is “Grow in Faith, Learn to Reason, and Help bring Justice.” I’m taking a slightly different direction with these three great dynamics in human interaction to say let us practice our Faith with Reason and engage each other with our differences in humility and with respect, that is, justly. A great prophet of God once put it this way: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

How can we reason together, respecting our Faith(s), or lack thereof, and actually be real and considerate neighbors knowing that we have differing and even sometimes contradictory beliefs, assumptions, and worldviews that shape our thinking on just about every subject, community incident, news event, or decision that our representatives and community leaders make? This blog will ask questions and seek to understand. Is it possible to have a higher level of discourse and embrace a kind of American Unity that rises above and beyond its many differing ideas and opinions? Must every diverse opinion always trigger explosive, hateful reactions? How do we own our deepest values and Faith commitments so as to not side-step or deny them, yet live with each other’s varying and wide ranging beliefs, opinions, and perspectives?

We are all Americans. So what does it mean when a civil or political group says, “We must take back America”? Who took it? And who are America’s “rightful owners”? We are a mixed and diverse people of various faith expressions and definitions of belief, including non-belief. So, what does it mean to be “ONE nation under God”? We all assume that there is right and wrong, the good verses the bad. So what does it mean for one group of citizens to denounce and/or censure another group of citizens because their right is the other’s wrong, or the other’s good is their bad?

How then shall we apply our Faith convictions with measured Reason and respectful Justice? Faith informs our values and gives meaning to our turbulent and often confusing world. But faith without reason can lead to wishful fantasy at best or dangerous and delusional concepts of Reality at worse—possibly resulting in hurt and shattered lives—remember the Jim Jones incident so many years ago? Reason provides the rationale, the logic we use for coming to our conclusions even as we draw from Faith suppositions. But Reason without Faith can lead to intellectual hubris, viewing Believers as poor ignorant fools who are easily duped and led astray by brokers of religious hysteria. Both sides, People of Faith and the Reason Only people, can become dangerously arrogant seeking unilateral dominance and control and engage in destructive power plays, each group hostile and intolerant toward the other.

Living justly and with humility asks whether we are being consistent. Do our actions and attitudes expressed in the public political social and religious arena belie our Faith and Value statements, making us hypocritical? That is, are we desiring productive and fruitful outcomes when we share our disagreement with others or merely seeking to be divisive and destructive because we don’t see things going our way? I would hope that the combination of Faith, Reason, and Justice would lead us toward greater clarity and fruitfulness in our human interactions, not less.

Am I crazy for believing that hateful attitudes (and behavior) toward each other is unnecessary, despite our great divisions in beliefs, convictions, and values? Perhaps I am. But then again, I AM a Believer, and for some, to be a Believer IS crazy. What do you think? Is ONE unified America possible, or are we doomed to be a house divided against its self?