We Just Don’t Know

Like many of you, I suspect, the reality of last Tuesday’s election is slowly sinking in — along with fits of depression. But I have discovered that much of the depression I have experienced is due to imagined scenarios. When it comes down to it, the only things we really know for certain about Donald Trump is that we don’t know much of anything.

Oh, to be sure, he put much, if not all, of himself “out there” during the campaign and it was an ugly spectacle indeed. But we also saw him lie and prevaricate and leap from one position to another as those who doubted him had the audacity to question him. As I have said to one of my favorite bloggers, pinning the man down is like nailing Jello to the wall. There’s simply not much substance there and it is truly impossible to know for sure where he will be standing at the next moment.

Much of my depression, I have come to realize, results from imagined scenarios based on the things he has said and done the past few months. Most of these scenarios are deeply worrisome and I need not mention what they are for the purposes of this post. But I will say that I have worried most about the fact that so many people wanted this man for our president — not a majority, recall, but still a great many people. A great many of them, I suspect simply wanted change, any change. And, as Garrison Keillor recently said in a most eloquent essay, those voters wanted change and they are going to get it. I suspect most of them aren’t going to be happy with the changes. They ignore the obvious fact that all change is not necessarily for the better. But there will be change. That is perhaps the only certainty.

Many others voted for Trump because they “hated” Hillary, even though they knew her not. Many were sincere in their fear of a liberal appointment to the Supreme Court who would uphold the Roe v Wade decision that has made abortion legal. Their faith, which I am not really in a position to question, didn’t allow them to vote for a liberal candidate and they saw Donald Trump as their only viable choice. I have read a blog post or two defending this position and I do believe those people were sincere. From my point of view this seems a bit narrow, since there are so many other huge problems facing all of us, but, again, it is not my place to question.

There are those, many I suspect, who saw Trump as the answer to their prayers, a man who would empower them and make possible the realization of their basest hopes for White Supremacy and the elimination of “foreigners” from this land. There is no question that he hit a responsive chord in the bigoted hearts of a great many people and that is deeply disturbing. But, again, we don’t really know what the consequences of having turned over those particular rocks will be.

We know the man does not favor “big government” and the regulation of greed among those whose lives are devoted to accumulating more wealth than they could possibly spend in their lifetimes. And we know a few other things that are equally disturbing to those of us who care about the planet and struggle to make sure it survives the human onslaught. But, again, we can only imagine how this will turn out in the coming years.

And that is my point. The blend of imaginings and speculation with what we think we know about this man is the basis for most of our fears. And, as we have told ourselves throughout this campaign, fear is based on ignorance. We pointed our collective finger at those on the other side whose hatred is based on their fears, but we must recall that our own ignorance about the future and our fears about what this man will actually do once he takes office is based on just that, speculation and imaginings.

So I will try to find some solace in the fact that I don’t really know what this man will do in the next few months or years and even try to find some solace in the thought that he will almost certainly prove himself totally incompetent and alienate most, if not all, of Congress in the coming months and will not long thereafter face impeachment. I regard this as at least as  likely as any of my other imaginings and it is the one that promises me the most hope.

Appeal To Fear

One of the typical gambits during an election year (or two) is the appeal to raw emotion. Politicians and those who resort to this tactic do not bother with logic or reason; they know the appeal to pride, hatred, or fear works like a charm. We have come to expect this from the Republicans, especially, but recently the Democrats have discovered that it might work to their advantage as well. I have been receiving daily fear-notices from the Democratic big-wigs shouting about the latest atrocity committed at the Republican Convention and warning me of the dire consequences that are certain to follow if Trump is elected president of these United States. I copied one of the latest, which I suspect you have also received:

Are you watching this?!

Mike Pence just officially accepted his nomination to be Vice President — and predicted a TRAGIC outcome:

PENCE: “I know we will elect Donald Trump to be the 45th president!”

We can’t let that happen! That’s why President Obama reached out for your help earlier.

“This convention should be a wake-up call for all of us.” – President Barack Obama

We CANNOT let Trump and Pence get to the White House.

That’s why a group of all-star Democrats has agreed to match every dollar if we get to $1,OOO,OOO by midnight tomorrow.

MILLION DOLLAR MATCH: PENDING

Suggested Support: $1

We have to hand the Republicans a crushing defeat.

Will you chip in $1 now?

They SAY they only want $1.00, but I strongly suspect they will accept more if I were so inclined. And by the way, the note loses something in the translation: in the original it appeared in bright colors amidst the capital letters. And it is just one of the many I have received in the last few  days. Honestly, people, do these folks really want to lower themselves to the level of their opponents? I would like to think that those who fear Donald can do so perfectly well on their own without bright messages shouting at them from their computers. I dare say there have been dozens of phone calls as well. I simply don’t answer the phone these days unless I know the caller.

It is apparent to anyone who has been following the Convention — even from afar, like myself — that there has been absolutely no attempt whatever to deal with the issues of the day. There has only been name-calling and hate-mongering — along with the usual nonsense designed to get Republicans fearful of Hillary Clinton, even to the point of calling for her death!

We can only hope the Democratic Convention will see that this is a terrible mistake and will address the issues that face us all in these Troubled Times — such things as global warming, the vanishing nature of the Middle Class, the growing numbers of poor and homeless, disproportionate taxes that allow the very rich to escape payment altogether, the atrocity that is Citizens United (which Hillary has pledged to help us rid ourselves of), and the like. Heaven knows there are plenty of issues out there that need to be addressed.

But above all else, the Democrats need to show some sense of unity and coherence while they rally behind the woman who can, in fact, get the job done and do it well, in order to lure the disillusioned followers of Bernie Sanders back into the fold and convince others that a vote for a third party candidate (like Jill Stein) — no matter how attractive she is and how she does indeed represent another way of going forward — is idealistic but hopeless, indeed it amounts to no less than a vote for Donald Trump.

When Bernie endorsed Hillary I suspect he saw the handwriting on the wall: she’s the only one that can beat Trump. But in taking him on, let us hope that the Democrats take the high road and not resort to wild emotional appeals.

Nervous Times

The satirist Tom Lehrer once said he felt like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis. We are all learning that feeling as the news keeps getting worse and more and more slugs rise to the top of the mud that Donald Trump has stirred up with his hate and fear-mongering. He seems fit only to lead a mob, certainly not to lead this country. There can be no doubt that (a) the slugs were there all the time and (b) Trump’s rhetoric has given them the courage to speak and act their bigotry openly. These are, after all, the forgotten ones, the ones who find themselves among the discarded of society, the bottom-feeders, unsuccessful and frustrated by a system they blame for their own shortcomings. They see this man as the one who can deliver them from their despair and bring them a brighter day. He gives them license to voice their opinions openly and act out their hatred.  After all, if a “successful business man” says those things, they must be true. He has somehow managed to give bigots the conviction that their way of hating is perfectly acceptable.

There are so many problems with this scenario one hardly knows where to begin. But the extent of this phenomenon must be addressed. It’s easy to say, as I have in the past, that much of it is the fault of a flawed educational system. But that’s only a part off the problem and it doesn’t appear that it will be fixed in the near future — especially since those who can fix it are products of that very system and they see no problem.

The same remains the case with gun control, which is another part of the problem — a large part. There are so many guns out there in the hands of nervous nutters that even if a law were passed today prohibiting the purchase of automatic weapons there would remain a monumental problem, one that law enforcement is probably unable to deal with effectively. And, given that many of those in law enforcement are clearly fearful (and with good reason), one cannot ask those men and women to solve our problems.

Those who might take steps to gain some control of a system that is clearly out of control, the Congress, is paid by monied interests not to think (and they do that very well) and to simply pause in their daily activities from time to time to say a silent prayer for those who have been brutally killed in the name of hatred and bigotry.  They fiddle while Rome burns. But it would take strong laws preventing the sale of all automatic weapons together with a recall of such weapons already sold, coupled with enforcement of those laws by the National Guard, to begin to make inroads against the rising tide of hatred and fear.

I tend to be pessimistic when it comes to the motivation of most of my fellow humans, but I like to think I am being realistic when I say that a solution is possible only if the Congress is radically altered in its make-up and the leaders are courageous enough to take on such powerful entities as the N.R.A. Until that happens, until some sort of leadership and courage are shown at the Federal level, the situation will remain the same or even get worse. There are growing numbers of fearful people who are frustrated by their lack of power and the unwillingness of those in power to take any steps to improve their collective lot and these people are armed and will continue to act in haste and wreak havoc. If cool heads don’t prevail, we may well become an armed camp in which might makes right.

We need to remind ourselves that the appendix can be removed when it is inflamed and the pestilence that pervades this country at the present time can also be rooted out. But it will take decisive and courageous action on the part of those with the power to effect change. Until such people are elected to Congress we can simply expect more of the same. And the appendix may well rupture.

 

Frustration Aplenty

I think, perhaps, the most frustrating thing to me about the triumph of Donald Trump is the inability — or unwillingness — of hordes of people to see through the facade, to the man beneath. It is so painfully obvious to a great many people that he is replete with character flaws despite the fact that he is also a master at channeling human emotions, chiefly fear and hatred, toward a desired goal. In every case the goal is the greater glory of Donald Trump. I don’t think he cares a tinker’s dam about this country or about the well-being of those who adoringly hang on his every word and rush off in whatever direction he points to.

The latest example of this, of course, is the terrible shooting in Orlando where at least 49 people were killed by a madman. Immediately the Trumpet jumped into the confusion calling the event a clear act of terrorism (which it was by any definition of that term) and hastily pointing fingers at the religion of Islam. After hinting broadly that our sitting president was somehow complicit, Trump insisted that the shooter was born in “Afghan” (which I thought was a blanket, but which apparently is a country that Donald Trump invented). In fact, of course, the man was born in New York — not far from Donald Trump as it happens. But this obvious stupidity was overlooked, as it always seems to be, by his purblind minions who are ready to take up arms against the enemy who happens to be anyone who at the moment is irritating Donald Trump.

In the face of this emotional frenzy — which is the sort of situation Trump seems better able than most to make worse  — we hear the calm voice of reason in the form of Hillary Clinton’s urge to calm down and figure out how best to deal with the real enemy and avoid fanning the fires of hatred toward an entire religion that preaches, as it happens, peace and love. As someone recently said, “This act had about as much to do with religion as it had to do with horticulture. The guy was an unstable time bomb who hated everyone who wasn’t him, but who nonetheless had no trouble at all buying an AR-15 rifle and a handgun . . . ” None the less, Trump’s reaction is to refuse all Muslims admission to this country. As Clinton noted in a recent rally in Pittsburg, referring to Trump’s hysterical reaction to the shooting in Orlando:

“We don’t need conspiracy theories and pathological self-congratulations,” said Clinton. “We need leadership, common sense and concrete plans, because we are facing a brutal enemy.”

As Hillary goes on to point out, the Trumpet’s variety of hysterical fear-mongering is the very thing ISIS hopes to encourage in this country and it helps their cause immensely.  Now, I have said it before and I repeat it here: I am not  a Hillary Clinton fan. I think she sails way too close to the wind, has her hand deep within the pockets of the wealthy robber-barons of Wall Street who have so much to say about how this country is to be run, and seems to be every bit as ambitious as is Donald Trump. But as we have been told by the leader of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, who worked closely with Donald Trump in Scotland, our choice is between sanity and insanity in the upcoming election. And that choice forces us, it would appear, to choose the lesser of evils. I say this while realizing that Clinton is politically astute, has wide and deep international experience, and is bright and able — despite her  flaws. She would make a decent president, I believe. But in light of the choice that faces us all, she appears brighter than bright white.

In the end, my frustration over the fact that so many have been taken in by a super-salesman whose main claim to high office is his ability to sell himself to the deluded and mentally incompetent. I will try to keep on an even keel and in doing so will choose to listen to reason, which is the voice Hillary Clinton speaks with most of the time, and to close my ears to the wild exaggerations and hysteria that are all around us and seek to drown us in a sea of hatred and fear. The coming months will test the best in all of us.

Smoke Before Fire

When he first threw his baseball cap into the presidential race I figured that no one would take the Trumpet seriously and that, like a bad odor, he would eventually fade away. But such is not the case. By now one would think the American people would have become aware that the man is a mere wind-egg who is more concerned about staying in the limelight than winning a presidential race. But, not only is he still around making absurd and hateful claims, his popularity seems to be on the rise. And that’s what worries me.

I am aware that experts claim the Trumpet’s racist comments about Muslims have actually fueled the fires in the Middle East and increased the numbers of people who hate and distrust this country. And I was somewhat aware that he was having the same sort of effect in this country, increasing fear and hatred of those who follow the religion of Islam, no matter what sorts of people they happen to be. What bothers him, and increasing numbers of his countrymen apparently, is not the religion that the Muslims follow (I daresay neither he nor his followers have ever turned a single page the Quran). What bothers the Trumpet and others of his ilk is the skin color of those who may or may not follow the religion of Islam who are, ipso facto, terrorists. The point was driven home to me recently when a friend handed me a copy of an open letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune written by Deepinder Mayell, an American citizen who was born  in New York, attended Boston University where he played J.V. football, and now lives and works in Minneapolis. Thinking he might at some future date bring his family, the man decided to attend a Vikings game recently where he was confronted by an angry bully who

“pushed aside other people and pointed his finger in my face, demanding to know if I were a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.”

Of considerable interest in this awful confrontation is the fact that this confrontation was met with silence. No one stepped forth to confront the man and accuse him of racism or simply to tell him to sit down and shut up. Now, granted this was a football crowd, but if we can make the somewhat safe inference that he is not all that different from others around us, we can surely conclude that this man gained the courage to confront a stranger at a football game because he was confident that those around him agreed with him. Such is the climate of present-day America. Whatever he might have meant by using the word “refugee,” it is clear that he was talking about another human being whose skin color and, presumably, religious affiliation, is different from his own. This is what is deeply disturbing about this incident and about the fear and hatred that one of the major players in this presidential race is now inciting in the population at large, not only in the United States but elsewhere as well.

In any event, Mr. Mayell, who is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program in Minneapolis, sought a security guard and confronted the bigot who had, by his own admission, scared him. He was able to get an apology “uttered in an adolescent way” that indicated the man felt “entitled to hurl hatred.” He was hoping to have the man ejected from the stadium, but that didn’t happen. So he returned to his seat and watched the game with one eye on the bully who had confronted him and frightened that the situation might repeat itself, or worse. He reflected on his experience in his open letter to the newspaper:

“I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning to us all. It is like smoke . . . [which may] become an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world and [driven them] to commit horrible crimes.”

Indeed so. We all need to reflect on the words of this man and the fact that we are all, at one time or another, descended from “refugees” many of whom fled their countries out of fear of religious or political persecution. Somehow the smoke needs to be smothered before it becomes the fire that will surely consume us all.

Rhetoric Of Hate

My blogging buddy Keith, who is almost always spot on (I know because I always tend to agree with him), recently responded to one of his readers who was commenting on the awful rise in gun deaths in this country. Keith worried that, given this nation’s proclivity for violence, with the rise in “rhetoric and hate mongering” there would be more hate crimes.

I have commented before about the terribly weak claim of those who defend the widespread sale of all manner of guns on the grounds that this is our “right” as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. This claim is based on a complete misunderstanding of that Amendment which is all about the militia and only tangentially about guns. It defends the right of the militia to their guns because those who wrote the Amendment wanted to have nothing to do with a standing army and thought an armed militia would be sufficient deterrent to those crazies over there in England (or wherever) who might want to once again take over this country. In any event, the sale of automatic weapons to anyone with the money to pay for them is madness and would never have been defended by the founders of this nation. But it matters not, because the “gun control” discussion is not based on reason and historical fact. It is based on rhetoric and hate mongering, as Keith pointed out.

What we fear and hate is almost always what we do not understand. In a word, the root cause of the increase in mass murders can be put down to the fact that so many citizens in this country are simply ignorant of other people and their beliefs, thus they are easily persuaded that “they” are out to get “us.” As long as our politicians, and those who would be politicians, play on our fears and can rely on our ignorance hate crimes will continue and will indeed increase. And this seems to be the order of the day: frantic rhetoric by those who claim to be in the know that appeals to fear and increases hatred of those who are different from us or who practice a different religion.

I must confess that I do not know much about the religion of Islam. That is a gap in my education that I really need to fill in. But I do want to know more about it and what I do know I respect: it is a religion of peace and love — just as Christianity is supposed to be.  The son of one of my friends converted to the religion of Islam and is now living with his wife in the Middle East. He was raised a Lutheran and converted because he decided after considerable thought and research that becoming a Muslim would make him a better person, that there was less hypocrisy in that religion and for the most part those who practice it are loving and decent people — just like him. Now I don’t know whether he is right, though he seems happy to have made that radical change in his life. I do know that the Quran teaches that the purpose of human existence is to worship God. I also know that those who form groups like IS are part of the lunatic fringe, just as those who preach hatred in the name of Christ are part of the lunatic fringe. Of increasing concern in this regard is that, as things are progressing, that fringe seems to be expanding and the rhetoric of hate that issues forth from the lips of political candidates like Donald Trump do nothing less than throw gasoline on a fire that may already be out of control.

The only way to root out fear and eliminate hatred of those who differ from us is to get to know them better, to try to understand where they are coming from and what they most deeply believe. It is one thing to have “gun control” and to try to keep weapons out of the hands of those who are clinically insane and I support those controls. But it will not solve the problem, sad to say. What must happen is that all of us must want to understand things and people we are afraid of. If I know the sound in the other room that scared me moments ago was the cat I will not be afraid. Knowledge is the key to rooting out fear — together with a determination to accept the fact that those who preach hatred must be ignored if they cannot be made to shut up.

Someone’s Been Peeking

Just when I thought that only a few close friends were reading my blog I picked up a copy of this week’s Sierra Magazine and discovered a review of a book by Andrew Hoffman which restates what I have been saying for years. He must have been peeking at my blog! Right? Hoffman’s book, titled How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, maintains that folks who cling to the illusion that climate change is…..an illusion…. are conditioned by their deepest biases and find it very difficult, if not impossible, to abandon them, even if they are shown that they are dead wrong. As the review notes,

“Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan, first lays out the psychological and social biases people bring to the climate discussion and then suggests techniques for making that conversation more productive. (A combination of empathy and clever framing is the key.)”

Leaving aside for the moment the vague aspect of the concept of “framing,” let’s consider the notion that folks cling to their belief systems like a fragile raft in a river of uncertainty and refuse to let go simply because someone points out that they are headed for a waterfall. This is what I have noted in a number of blogs over the years. Lately I have suggested that fear is the basis for those values we hold most dear. Climate change deniers fear letting go of the raft more than they do the coming maelstrom. I still believe this is the case and that Professor Hoffman hasn’t dug deep enough. It is fear that is the glue that holds those values and beliefs together.

In the case of climate change, we are told that in a Pew Research Center poll conducted in June it was determined that

“Americans’ views on whether the planet is heating up have barely changed since 2006 despite growing scientific consensus and an increasing number of climate-related disasters.”

This is alarming, to be sure. But if we accept the fact that beliefs and values are what constitutes the person we can accept the fact that they will not be abandoned readily. In fact, those “climate-related disasters” must come close to home and be repeated, I expect, before most people will accept the fact that they have been living in a dream world. They must actually see and hear the waterfall. As I say, I suspect it will be fear of a greater magnitude than they have experienced thus far, since they can easily regard those climate-related disasters as someone else’s problem. This is the same rationalization folks use when they refuse to use their seat belts or wear helmets when riding their motor cycles —  because they can’t imagine that they themselves would ever have an accident. Some people simply need to be hit over the head. Twice.

This brings us to Professor Hoffman’s notion that it is possible to have a “productive” conversation, that the values and beliefs of climate change doubters can be changed by “empathy and clever framing.” I seriously doubt it: this is where I part company with Professor Hoffman. I’m not sure what he means by “framing,” though I suppose it may be the way we put things to those who deny. But no matter how empathetic we appear or how we state our case, those of us who know that climate change is a serious problem will never persuade those who disagree with us by any sort of rhetorical trickery. As I say, those beliefs and values are grounded in fear and it will take a major emotional shock to dislodge them. What might get the process started, perhaps, is the increasing number of weather disasters close to home coupled with steadily rising cost of food in the stores and a ban on watering accompanied by the rising cost of water to drink and even to flush the toilet — not to mention such things as debilitating diseases in the person’s immediate circle of family and friends coupled with rising health costs. But even these measures may not be enough to dissuade the chronically closed-minded. It’s small wonder that very few have changed their minds since 2006. It’s just very sad.

Paranoid Fiction?

Imagine if you will that a group of, say, eight or ten of the wealthiest and most powerful corporate CEOs meets together once a year in Switzerland — or, if their inclination leans toward sunnier climes, perhaps Belize. They have drinks and a bevy of loose women at hand, though they break every now and then for gourmet meals while they discuss the coming year together: how can they maintain their positions of power and keep the money rolling in?

They might decide to gain control of the media, especially television. Then they would make sure that the airwaves are filled with news reports biased in their favor together with sporting events 24 hours a day with plenty of patriotic zeal blended into the mix — fly overs, bands blaring, and plenty of flags waving while men and women in camouflage are conspicuous and constantly touted as “heroes” fighting a war on terror that these powerful men have encouraged (because it’s good for business). This will keep the viewers occupied for much of their free time and convince them that they live in the greatest country on earth. As such, they will be much more willing to believe what they are told — more malleable, if you will.

But to augment this effort, this group decides to make sure that the vast majority of the citizenry is either unemployed  (and thus dependent on the State) or holds mindless jobs for meager wages that lead them toward drugs, drinks, and the entertainment that is always ready at hand. Indeed, they promote inventions that guarantee that these folks can take the entertainment with them wherever they go — even while they drive to work or to the wide variety of recreation made available to them.  Further, the schools will be teaching practical, “hands-on” courses like computer science and various technical skills that might lead the students to whatever jobs that are available and away from any course work that might get them to think – such as history, literature, and philosophy. The idea here is to guarantee that these folks are attending to things that simply don’t matter and, like those watching a shell game, are unaware under which shell the pea is hidden: keep them occupied on mindless drivel. And to put the icing on the cake, they encourage violent television shows that keep people engrossed and on the edge, a bit fearful and better able to control. To add to the mix, through the NRA, which they control, they decide to promote the purchase of hand guns and automatic weapons to guarantee that frequent acts of violence occur that are discussed in the media they own while the Congress, bought and paid for by these corporate giants, debates what course of action not to take. This heightens the sense of danger and the fear in the population that makes it so much easier to control what the citizens do and (more to the point) what they think. And while they’re at it, these men (who make more than 400 times what their average employee makes)  encourage social media that guarantees that these people ‘s attention, such as it is, is turned on themselves so they don’t have the faintest idea where the pea might be hidden.

This, of course, is pure fiction, smacking as it does of a conspiracy theory. It is the fruits of a disturbed mind that borders on paranoia. Wouldn’t you say?

Ignorance and Fear

Socrates famously said the ignorance brings about evil in the world. He put it otherwise. He said knowledge invariably leads to goodness. I stress the obverse, but in either form he was a bit off the mark, it seems to me. I would say that ignorance leads to fear which quite often leads to violence. It is not ignorance, per se, that leads to what Socrates would call “evil.” It leads there through fear. And we are learning all we need to know about fear these days, thanks to the media, prodded by the frenzied right-wing, who have discovered that fear is an excellent way to control the population, to reject any attempts to control the sale of guns, and get such things as increased defense spending in Congress.

In a previous blog I quoted the Hanlon’s Razor that tells us “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.” This is a profound adage, if you think about it. It is indeed stupidity that leads to the fear that, in turn, leads to violence. Think about it. Imagine you are in a dark house alone and you hear something drop in the kitchen. You immediately are afraid and you reach for a poker (if you are near the fireplace) or a make-shift weapon of some kind. Then you find out it was the cat who knocked over the sugar bowl and you breathe easier. Your heart stops racing and you calm down. But think about the direct and immediate connection between your ignorance of the cause of the noise and the fear you feel as a direct result of your ignorance. And one can expand on these examples endlessly and continue to imagine what might happen if you had a real weapon, say a hand gun or an automatic rifle in the drawer next to you. You might have shot the poor cat! Or your nephew. Or a neighbor who was watching television in his living room next door. Absurd, you say? Not really. It simply explains how so many violent acts are committed each day by frightened people who shoot first and think later. I say again, ignorance leads to fear which leads to violence. Not always, to be sure. But often.

And when we consider the widespread ignorance in this country fed by the fear-mongers who feed off it, we might want to pause and reflect. Consider, for example, the self-appointed guardians of our southern boundaries who are armed and ready to protect us from the hated immigrants, children though they be, who (they think) will their jobs away and cripple our economy. I have blogged about this, as I have about their conviction that theirs is a right guaranteed by the Constitution to carry those weapons and be ever-prepared to use them — even though (as I have noted in past blogs) the Bill of Rights guarantees the militia the right to carry weapons, not frightened and stupid thugs. But because many choose to read the Constitution through glasses tinted by fear and suspicion, their right is insisted upon even though it is a fiction.

As F.D.R. said long ago: we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Indeed. And its first cousin, stupidity.

Revisiting Joseph Conrad

The following excerpt from Conrad’s The Mirror of the Sea was written in 1906. It deserves re-blogging since it is a powerful piece written by one of the great minds of the late 19th and early 20th century and is timeless in its import, especially since this country spends more on the military than the rest of the nations of the world combined.

“. . .it may be argued that battles have shaped the destiny of mankind. The question whether they have shaped it well would remain open, however. But it would hardly be worth discussing. It is very probable that, had the battle of Salamis never been fought the face of the world would have been much as we behold it now, fashioned by the mediocre inspiration and the shortsighted labours of men. From a long and miserable experience of suffering, injustice, disgrace, and aggression the nations of the earth are mostly swayed by fear — fear of the sort that a little cheap oratory turns easily to rage, hate and violence. Innocent, guileless fear has been the cause of many wars. Not, of course, the fear of war itself, which, in the evolution of sentiments and ideas, has come to be regarded at last as a half-mystic and glorious ceremony with certain fashionable rites and preliminary incantations, wherein the conception of its true nature has been lost.. . .We are bound to the chariot of progress. There is no going back; and, as luck would have it, our civilization, which has done so much for the comfort and adornment of our bodies and the elevation of our minds, has made lawful killing frightfully and needlessly expensive.

“The whole question of improved armament has been approached by the governments of the earth in the spirit of nervous and unreflecting haste, whereas the right way was lying plainly before them and had only to be pursued with calm determination. The learned vigils and labours of a certain class of inventors should have been rewarded with honorable liberality as justice demanded and the bodies of the inventors should have been blown to pieces by means of their own perfected explosives and improved weapons with extreme publicity as the commonest prudence dictated. . .For the lack of a little cool thinking in our guides and masters this course has not been followed, and a beautiful simplicity has been sacrificed for no real advantage. A frugal mind cannot defend itself from considerable bitterness when reflecting that at the battle of Actium (which was fought for no less a stake than the dominion of the world) the fleet of Octavianus Caesar and the fleet of Antonius, including the Egyptian division and Cleopatra’s galley with purple sails, probably cost less than two modern battleships, or, as the modern naval book-jargon has it, two capital units. But no amount of lubberly book-jargon can disguise a fact well calculated to afflict the soul of every sound economist. It is not likely that the Mediterranean will every behold a battle with a greater issue; but when the time comes for another historical fight its bottom will be enriched as never before by the quantity of jagged scrap-iron, paid for at pretty nearly its weight in gold by the deluded populations inhabiting the isles and continents of this planet.”

Amen!