The High Costs of Ignorance

It is hard to believe that in this day and age there are still people who deny the fact of climate change brought on by global warming, despite virtual unanimity among scientists regarding not only the fact of global warming but also the fact that humans are at least partly responsible.  But a recent study revealed that there is an alarming number of high school teachers of biology (that’s right, teachers) who believe that humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time and, of course, deny evolution. And 60% of Americans do not know that DNA  has anything to do with heredity. And, of course, the majority of Republicans in Congress are climate-deniers as well. So the claims of scientists apparently don’t register with those who don’t have the least idea just what science is, including a disturbing number of high school science teachers. Or, perhaps, people just believe what they want to believe, or are paid to believe. Perhaps that’s closer to the truth.

In any event, it now appears that insurance companies, led by the international reinsurance corporation in Munich, are researching the projected costs of climate change as it increases the risk of record-breaking extreme weather events — such as extreme heat, heavy precipitation, and higher winds in storms. It is sobering to realize that there have been at least 2,941 monthly records broken by extreme events in the past year in the United States alone. Climate scientists are saying that this is “a troubling trend,” which is a masterpiece of understatement.

In spite of the evidence, there are many who live among us who still drive their gas guzzlers, keep the heat at or above 72 degrees in the Winter and the air conditioner at the same setting in the Summer, and want to see any Federal agency that attempts to monitor industry run out-of-town. One suspects that when the cost in dollars finally comes home to roost and individuals have to pay more for fuel oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, and insurance  — not to mention the food on their tables — they might begin to get the idea. One hopes. The question is, of course, whether it will be too little too late.

The response of politicians, even “liberal” politicians like our sitting President, is to call for more nuclear plants. And while it is certainly the case that such plants do not contribute much to global warming, they none the less have serious environmental problems of their own that are a threat to the planet. To begin with we have no idea whatever where to bury the toxic waste, which, as of four years ago, amounted to 62,683 metric tons. Furthermore, there is always the possibility of a nuclear accident, as we were recently reminded when a tsunami devastated the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan causing radiation leakage that still threatens human and animal life and has wreaked havoc in the Pacific Ocean. But the talk about “safe” nuclear power will resume as people forget what happened “over there somewhere,” ignore the fact of accumulating nuclear waste, and start to clamor for ways to maintain their current standard of living. And when it does, those who argue for clean fuel sources, such as wind and solar, will continue to go unheard, or dismissed as nut cases.

I chaired a conference some years back where a spokesman for the Texas Power and Light company argued against alternative energies on the grounds — stated as axiomatic — that nuclear power is the “clear choice for our future needs, since we don’t want to have to alter our lifestyle.”  There are a number of things wrong with this statement, of course, beginning with the fact that our current lifestyle is indefensible, given the genuine needs of others around the globe and the damage we are doing to the planet. In any event, we are not really talking about our “needs” anyway.” We simply want to maintain that lifestyle, and we try to justify that by calling it a “need.” In fact, we don’t need to continue to live as we do; we could live smarter — and be better off. We are very good at disguising our wants as needs in order to make ourselves think we are better people than we are.

Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that the climate scientists are all wrong and that human activity has nothing to do with climate change, as some still insist. And let us further assume that in spite of this we do alter our lifestyles and move in the direction of more environmentally responsible living — we use public transportation; walk, or cycle; drive cars only when necessary (and only fuel-efficient cars); turn the thermostats down in the winter and grab a sweater when cold; support alternate energies; and insist upon stringent standards of compliance from industry which at present is slow to endorse the waste-to-energy technologies that would be of immense benefit to us all. If we do all or even some of these things, and the scientific predictions turn out to have been overly pessimistic, we will have inconvenienced ourselves somewhat while still saving money in the long run —  as well as some of the planet’s finite resources. We will have erred on the side of caution. On the other hand, if the scientists are correct, as the insurance companies are now beginning to believe, and we insist on maintaining our current lifestyle, the results will be a series of catastrophes that will prove to be very costly to us all. Any bets as to which option we will choose?


Co-opting Women

One of the more disturbing consequences of the growth of capitalism and the attendant world view that insists on measuring success in terms of income and possessions is the dissolution of the family. This may seem a strange claim to make, but when one considers the factors involved it will hold up to scrutiny.

In a commodified culture such as ours where success is measured by buying power, the pressure becomes intense on women to join the work force in order to become empowered  in the only way such a culture knows how to measure power. As an early feminist writer,  Jane Addams, noted as early as 1910, women who stayed at home to raise the family were little more than “parasites, unproductive, consumers upon the state.” If women were to become empowered and free themselves from the chains that bound them to a home and family, they had to go to work and challenge the men on their own ground. The alternative was unacceptable: self-fulfillment could only be achieved in the real world making real money. As Christopher Lasch has pointed out in his disturbing book on the dissolution of the American family (Haven in a Heartless World), “faced with an argument that condemned leisure as a form of parasitism, antifeminists could have insisted on the positive value of leisure as the precondition of art, learning, and the higher form of thought — arguing that those benefits ought to be extended to the American businessman.” And this despite the fact that one of the original feminists, Virginia Woolf, argued persuasively that a woman requires a “room of her own” in order to write fiction — i.e., improve her mind –not make money.

In any event, such an argument in a commodified culture would sound other-worldly and it would never pass muster with women (or men) who have been raised to believe in their heart of hearts that the only things that truly matter have dollar signs attached. Success in our culture is all about money and power and one cannot obtain either of those by staying at home taking care of the kids. The seeds for the idea that emancipation and true self-fulfillment in a consumer society were only possible with increased buying power were sown by the advertising agencies which, in the 20s and 30s of the last century increasingly targeted women, convincing them that their freedom was predicated on buying things they didn’t need. Eventually their message devolved into the slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby!” This necessitated women’s financial independence from their husbands, which, in turn, translated into the urge to leave the household and find work. The assumption here that self-fulfillment and independence, indeed, true success, rest on increased purchasing power, is an assumption that is seldom questioned in our culture.

However, the notion that true empowerment may be a function of the pursuit of goals higher than financial well-being deserves attention, because it is one that goes back at least to Aristotle and the ancient Greeks who treasured their leisure and knew how to make the best of their spare time. A reflective life dedicated to art, literature, and learning was for them one well worth living. But such a life seems unattractive to Americans of both sexes who have been conditioned to believe that such pursuits are frivolous and not worth serious time and attention: we have become an increasingly anti-intellectual society as we have grown older. Further, we have forgotten how to use our leisure time and especially forgotten that for centuries people were convinced that it was during those moments of creativity, contemplation, and reflection that one achieved true success. Our measure has become that of  dollars and cents: success must be measured to be real.

In this process, women have become convinced that real success can only be achieved “out there” in the real world breaking the glass ceiling and fighting for their place at the table of wealth and prestige that our culture blindly insists is the only one worth occupying. The result, of course, is children raised in day-care and the all-too-common phenomenon of the “latch-key” child who comes home each day to an empty home and whose parents are riddled with guilt and determined to make it up to them by spoiling them rotten. As Lasch points out, “Feminists have not answered the argument that day care provides no substitute for the family.” One can hardly argue any more  that children are more well-adjusted and happier today than they were when they were raised by authoritarian parents who attempted in their stumbling ways to instill discipline. As Lasch has argued at length, children desperately need strong authority figures or they conjure up their own and the ones they imagine are much more damaging to their psyches than the real thing and often lead to twisted personalities and violent actions. In any event, child rearing has been taken over by psychologists and social workers and other members of the “helping professions” as well as the schools and television; the parents of both sexes have found that their time is better spent elsewhere.

This is not to say that the urge to empower women is somehow wrong-headed. Clearly, women have been powerless and marginalized for centuries and their time to shine is long overdue. But it is sad that in our culture the only way they think they can shine is in the limelight their male counterparts have stolen and keep to themselves. But it is a pale light indeed. The problem here is the misconception involved in measuring success and power in terms of income and credit card limits. It would be better for us all if it were measured by those things that really matter, those things that make human lives fuller and richer. And this goes not only for the women who have in effect abandoned their families and turned them over to the helping professions. It also goes for the businessman who, as Lasch suggests, could also benefit from a life measured in more meaningful terms than mere financial achievement.  Making a living is necessary, of course. But it shouldn’t be the measure of a man’s worth — or a woman’s either.

Who’s In Charge Here?

You may have heard about the refusal of the football team at Grambling University recently to board a bus to play a football game at nearby Jackson State — the latter’s Homecoming, as it happens. The game was cancelled, though one suspects that the revelry at Jackson State was not put on hold! In any event, the situation raises some interesting questions about our educational priorities and about the willingness of young people, in this case, to accept their responsibilities. After all, these players are on football “scholarships” and made some sort of commitment to the university when they agreed to play football there.

A recent news story tells us, in part, the cause of the players’ discontent: “The players are unhappy with [university President] Pogue, the university’s facilities, transportation and the dismissal of coach Doug Williams, a Grambling alum and former Super Bowl winning quarterback with the Washington Redskins.” In recent weeks the players were required to travel by bus to a game 900 miles away, which is a lot to ask of pampered athletes. But the University has fallen on hard financial times and has had to make deep cuts in a number of programs. One suspects that air travel in this case is out of the question. One also suspects that this is what the players were promised and what they have come to expect. At any rate, they refused to play a game that would have involved another bus ride, this time a comparatively brief one, and this has caused ripples at the university and around the country. ESPN loves this stuff! The players have called for the firing of President Pogue who commented that the players should be aware of their responsibilities to the university and aware also of the fact that they are at Grambling to get a “first class education.” Sure. Former Grambling coach Doug Williams recently tweeted “”I am proud of them boys. They took a stand.” So much for the myth of a “first class education” in the case of at least one former Grambling alum. On the other hand, the players claim their uniforms are not cleaned properly and this has brought on a number of of staph infections. If true, this is a serious charge indeed. Time will tell.

The larger question here is not who is right and who is wrong on this particular issue, but whether a struggling university should even try to fund a football team in the first place. Indeed, a number of times I have raised the question whether the tail wags the dog in college athletics at the Division I NCAA level. Who’s in charge? This question keeps coming up. Does the athletics department at those schools rule the roost? In this case do the athletes at Grambling rule the roost? One would like to think that President Pogue is right on: education ought to be the first priority and the athletics department in general and the football program in particular should suck hind tit — if they are allowed any nourishment at all. But that is a pipe dream because there are tons of money involved in large, successful football programs and the universities are willing to do anything (I repeat, anything) necessary to field a successful football team. Witness the Oklahoma State scandal recently, and, of course, Penn State and Ohio State. And the list goes on.

So while we reflect on whether a group of spoiled athletes who may have a legitimate gripe and may or may not have been promised the stars when they were recruited to Grambling ought to be heroes, as Williams suggests, because “they took a stand,” one must ask whether their stand was worth taking and whether or not these young men were standing on principle or whether they were simply put out because they were not treated royally as they have been led to expect. And this may be the root cause of the entire issue: in this age of entitlement the young have been led to expect royal treatment and when they don’t receive it they feel they have legitimate grounds to protest in whatever way seems appropriate — even if it involves ignoring the promises they made and their obligations to a university that is, after all, paying for their education.

Regressive Education

There’s a post going around on Facebook that shows a child sitting on a high chair in the corner with a dunce hat on his head. The caption reads “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in the High Schools to teaching remedial English in the Colleges.” So many items on the internet, and especially Facebook, are mindless drivel, but this one makes a good deal of sense, though it is a bit simplistic. Adopting the model of A.S. Neill’s abortive “Summerhill” project in England, the birth of “Progressive” education in the 1930s in this country — which took the nation by storm in the late 1950s — has resulted in a regression of a system designed to improve young minds to a system designed to cater to the young and leave them pretty much untouched.  From the notion that teachers know best what their charges should learn, we have come to the point where we let the kids pretty much learn what (if anything) they want. And we make sure they have enough toys to make the process as pleasant as possible. Welcome to the age of entitlement! The notion that education is about knowledgeable elders helping young minds grow and develop has been lost in the process; for some reason we are now afraid to even suggest that anyone is smarter than anyone else.

I have blogged repeatedly about this issue and while this may allow me to let off steam, it has certainly not altered the situation one whit. Nor is it likely to do so. I know that. But it is clear that when a small country like Finland can lead all of the developed nations on earth in education and a rich, advanced nation like the United States lags far behind, there is something radically wrong with the system in place in this country. Finland pays their teachers higher salaries than the OECD average — to the point where only 10% of those who apply actually find a teaching position. Teaching is not a chore; it is a privilege. Teachers are themselves educated to the level of a Master’s Degree, and they are not required to take “methods” courses. They are given their heads and allowed to teach as they determine the situation and the children in their classes require. In a word teachers do not have a huge bureaucracy looking over their shoulders, dictating course work and watching their every move to make sure that they do their job as those in the education establishment see fit. Because teachers are not dredged from the bottom of college classes and paid a pittance, as they are in many states in this country, they are bright and deserving of the trust the parents put in them. It works. While our “progressive” education system struggles, kids in Finland, and in most other developed countries, have learned the value of a solid education and they make their parents proud. We, on the other hand, spend most of our time making excuses and apologizing for a system we refuse to acknowledge is broken.

So while the middle class slowly disappears behind a growing mountain of giant corporate interest and a few very wealthy people like the Koch brothers, and our Democracy is being swallowed up by a greedy, self-serving capitalist economy, the young people who might some day figure out a way out of this morass are being cheated by a system that puts them in crowded classrooms with underpaid and exhausted teachers and eventually dumps them out on the streets with no sense whatever which way they should turn because they cannot read the street signs.

Playing With Fire

In the Wikipedia discussion of nuclear weapons, we are told that “A thermonuclear weapon weighing little more than 2,400 pounds (1,100 kg) can produce an explosive force comparable to the detonation of more than 1.2 million tons (1.1 million tonnes) of TNT. Thus, even a small nuclear device no larger than traditional bombs can devastate an entire city by blast, fire, and radiation.” We are also told that there are approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons worldwide.

While you surely know about the concerns world-wide over the leak of nuclear waste from the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan not long ago, you may not have read about the revelation that a near-calamity was avoided when, some years back, a plane carrying two nuclear bombs had engine trouble and had to release its bombs in North Carolina where they fell harmlessly to the ground. Apparently there are three “triggers” that must be tripped before the bomb will ignite but they discovered that two of the three triggers in one of the bombs had tripped leaving only the third one as a last-ditch safety measure against certain calamity. As the Guardian recently reported:

A secret document, published in declassified form for the first time by the Guardian today, reveals that the US Air Force came dramatically close to detonating an atom bomb over North Carolina that would have been 260 times more powerful than the device that devastated Hiroshima.

The document, obtained by the investigative journalist Eric Schlosser under the Freedom of Information Act, gives the first conclusive evidence that the US was narrowly spared a disaster of monumental proportions when two Mark 39 hydrogen bombs were accidentally dropped over Goldsboro, North Carolina on 23 January 1961. The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.

Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.

Goethe's version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Goethe’s version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

You may also have read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein that focuses attention on the determination of one man to create another in his image: Jacques Ellul called it the “technological imperative.” If we can do it we should do it.” This is the reverse of David Hume’s formula for ethical action: “ought implies can.”  If a person cannot do something we cannot say he or she should have done it — save a child’s life if they cannot swim, for example. The technological imperative reverses this formula and tells us that “can implies ought.” If we can do it, we should do it. Ethical questions are simply not raised. Thus is born the determination to create another human being, as Shelly suggests. The genie comes out of the bottle, the sorcerer’s apprentice messes with things he doesn’t fully understand and creates a broom to do his work that goes completely out of control. Things are in the saddle and ride mankind. In a word, we have gone so far down the path toward control of nature and the determination to demonstrate our own technical ingenuity that we are now unable to put the genie back into the bottle. We are very good at asking the question “how?” but we completely ignore the basic question, “why?”

I have always wondered if the story in the Bible about the Garden of Eden was a parable for our times. The earth as we have come to know it is the Garden in all its glory. But we have eaten of the apple of knowledge (technical knowledge) and are about to destroy the beauty around us and ourselves in the process. We will not only be cast out of the Garden of Eden, we will annihilate ourselves in the process. It’s a sobering thought and one that is hard to dodge when we read about nuclear accidents and near-misses like the case of the nuclear weapon that nearly went off in North Carolina not long ago and which would have caused untold human and animal life. And to what end, we might ask? But that is a question that is never asked by the technical experts. They only ask: can we do it?

Bad News, Good News

As I have done in the previous blogs, I want to pass along several bits and pieces of environmental news culled from the pages of the monthly Sierra magazine. I will begin with the bad news first, because there is always some of that, and end with the news that provides a glimmer of hope for the planet.

Under the heading of “so what else is new” we find that 55 percent of the Republicans in Congress still deny climate change — and those people are all heavily supported by Big Oil. In the House, there are 128 climate deniers out of the 233 Republicans; in the Senate there are 30 climate deniers out of the 46 Republicans. Those deniers in the House collect $231,000 in contributions from Big Oil (as contrasted with $69,000 for the non-deniers). In the Senate, the deniers collect $699,000 whereas the non-deniers collect $171,000. I suppose we should be grateful that there are some who collect contributions from Big Oil who are willing to admit the truth that stares them in the face. But the correlation between the amount of money from Big Oil and the denial of the truth about our planet is stunning when seen in such detail.

To continue with the bad news for the moment, I shall simply list some of the items Sierra tells us will bring us “Up To Speed” about what’s going on in the world the past couple of months.

Ecuador has abandoned its pledge not to drill for oil in remote Yasuni National Park in the Amazon rain forest.

Fracking is now linked to an increase in U.S. earthquakes — as is geothermal power production.

High fertility rates in Africa have led demographers to revise their estimates of peak world population upwards. They now expect there to be 11 billion people by the end of the century — up from 7.1 billion. (I find this particularly unsettling since, as I have said in the past, I consider the population explosion the fundamental problem facing humankind, and the root of most of our other problems.)

Tons of radioactive water from Japan’s crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant have leaked into the Pacific Ocean.

And now for some Good News!

The United States has installed 10 gigawatts of solar capacity, though it still trails Germany, Italy, and China.

The White House has re-installed solar panels put in place by Jimmy Carter and removed by Ronald Reagan.

The World Bank has declared that it will sharply restrict funding for the new coal-fired power plants in developing countries.

The U.S. Export-Import Bank has declined to fund a huge new coal plant in Vietnam on environmental grounds.

The Bureau of Land Management lease sale for 149 million tons of coal in the Powder River Basin failed to garner a single bid!

So, just when we are about to tear out what little hair we have left, we see faint signs that all humans have not lost their minds. Just remember what Red Green says: “we’re all in this together.” And “Keep your stick on the ice”!

Foreign Languages

Over a year ago I wrote a blog about “useless subjects” that are no longer taught in our colleges and high schools. Following the attack on fundamentals in education during the turbulent 60s, the shift toward practical subjects that could guarantee students jobs began. And it has persisted to this day, even though the jobs just aren’t there when the students graduate from college, and, strictly speaking, colleges have lost their sense of purpose altogether and have no idea whatever how to “sell” their programs to their “customers.” The notion that there are certain subjects that every educated person should know has been lost in the kerfuffle, and probably would be lost on most high school students today. But it deserves a moment’s reflection: what has been given up?

Back in the day (as we say) when I went to high school, two years of foreign language, usually Latin, were required for graduation. Even the tiny high school I attended in Bethel, Connecticut required two years of Latin for graduation. And we diagrammed sentences in English classes, we had to memorize poetry, and we had few, if any elective courses. The idea was that the teachers knew best what their students should learn. Further, all colleges worth their salt required two years of a foreign language for entrance — along with subjects like civics and American history, math and lab science. And in order to graduate from college, I was required to take four years of foreign language in which we studies grammar and syntax, translated from the foreign language (Greek, French, and German) into English, and came to know our own language a bit better. But after the assault on education in the 60s when we began to let the kids decide what they would like to study and basic requirements were replaced by “cake” courses, or those that were largely geared for guaranteed employment after graduation; the notion that certain courses were essential passed by the boards.

If foreign languages are taught any more in college or high school it is usually in the form of “conversational” language– designed to allow the student to get by in a foreign land, find the rest room or the nearest hotel, perhaps. Despite the studies that show that other animals communicate with one another, there is no evidence that any of these animals have a “language” in a formal sense of that term. The notion that one studies a foreign language in order to come to know his or her own language better has been lost in the clouds of rhetoric that have surrounded education in recent years. If we consider that language is perhaps the one thing that separates humans from the other animals  the loss of close studies of English and Latin, at least, may have cost us a great deal.

Much has been said about the dumbing down of the curriculum at the high school, college, and even the post-graduate levels — where remedial courses are now the norm and language requirements have gone by the boards. And it has been said by me in previous posts and by a number of very bright and concerned writers in recent years. But it is a message that falls on deaf ears, in many cases ears of those who have never studied their language very closely and who have no idea what they are missing. How could they? As the downward spiral continues, and we proceed along the path of vocational training and abandon altogether the ideals of educating the young, we will have fewer and fewer voices expressing concern about the things that really matter in bringing up the young and helping them take possession of their own minds. And just as Shakespeare’s English has become a foreign language for the typical college graduate these days, the ability to read and express one’s ideas coherently will be diminished to the point that we are all lost in a sea of mindless babble and we will have become less than human. Or has that horse already left the barn?

Do Corporations Have Rights?

There is no mention of corporations in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution of the United States. But as early as 1819 in Dartmouth College vs. Woodward the Supreme Court suggested that corporations were entitled to make and enforce contracts, thus implying early on that they should be treated as persons with rights protected by the Constitution. By 1886 it was simply assumed “without argument” that corporations are persons. The absurdity of this interpretation became glaring clear not long ago when the Supreme Court decided in the “Citizen’s United” case that spending limits should not be placed on corporations under protection of the First Amendment. That is, corporations should be allowed to spend as much on political campaigns as they see fit on the grounds that, as persons, they had a right to freedom of speech. Yes, that’s right, corporations are not only persons, they are entitled to give politicians as much money as they want under the aegis of freedom of speech.

None of these court decisions considered the rather basic fact that if corporations have rights they must also have responsibilities. While fines are levied against corporations in some cases for the atrocities they commit they can be “held responsible” for those acts, but this can hardly be called “having responsibilities.” The only responsibilities corporations acknowledge are to their stockholders and these, too, can hardly be called “responsibilities,” since it is simply what corporations are supposed to do — namely, maximize profits. There is very little, if any, talk about responsibilities to “stakeholders” in corporate inner circles — or about moral or ethical responsibilities, either. Further, it’s never clear just who the corporations are. Are they the CEOs or the boards that govern them? Or are they the stockholders? Or are they the engineer who turns the handle that releases poisonous gas and kills 2500 people? The question threatens to become positively metaphysical. But assigning corporations rights without acknowledging their responsibilities makes no sense whatever. Rights without responsibilities can apply only to children and the mentally challenged, otherwise the notion is absurd on its face. (I hesitate to discuss the question whether corporations can be said to be mentally challenged.)

I have always thought that the concept of balance of powers under the Constitution is one of the most brilliant ideas ever conceived by the human mind. It arose, of course, in a French mind in the person of Montesquieu in the seventeenth century who saw this balance as necessary for the protection of individuals in a political group. Kings are not to be trusted. Presidents are not to be trusted. Those in power in general are not to be trusted. But if we balance the power among the executive, legislators and judges we can control the abuse that nearly always follows from too much power in the hands of one person. That’s the idea.

The United States Supreme Court was the result of this thinking, of course, as it worked its way down through John Locke, Thomas Jefferson,  and James Madison. And it is an inspired notion: a court that would be above political influence since members are not elected but appointed for life. And, indeed, some of the decisions of the court over the years have been brilliant. But the decision in January of 2010 to grant corporations the status of persons with rights under the First Amendment is simply stupid, if not absurd — as noted above. And it certainly does not appear to have been apolitical. Not only are corporations not persons, unlimited donations to a political election clearly do not constitute free speech.

In any event, the concept of “person” is a moral concept fully explored in the ethics of Immanuel Kant and previously used by the Founders to apply to citizens with both rights and responsibilities. As Kant examined the notion, it was held that persons were “ends in themselves,” and never a means to an end. In other words it is morally wrong to use others for one’s own purposes: Kant stressed responsibilities, or duties, over rights. It is precisely because we can recognize our duties to other persons (who are also ends in themselves) that we have rights. Responsibilities are primary; rights are derivative. But corporations are clearly not “ends in themselves”; they are simply a means to an end, namely, profit. Further, as mentioned, they have no responsibilities. The appropriation of a moral concept for legal purposes by the Court in 1819 and applied to an entity that was not even human was inappropriate; extending the notion further as the court did recently borders on the bizarre.

The absurdity of this decision can be seen by considering what other rights are guaranteed to persons under the First Amendment, namely, the right to practice religion as one sees fit, to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances. The Constitution also guarantees every citizen the right to vote and to run for national office. Is the Court now saying that a corporation can run for President if it is thirty-five years old? Nonsense! But just as it would be absurd to think about corporations assembling, practicing religion, running for public office, or voting, it is also absurd to think that “they” have the right to free speech — assuming that this is what giving stacks of money to political candidates amounts to. This has to be one of the worst decisions ever to come from this Court and it deserves to be overthrown by a Constitutional amendment, and a movement to do so is afoot. That movement, however, seems sluggish at best — a reflection, perhaps, of the population’s general indifference to political issues and the unwillingness of those in power to bite the hand that feeds them.