Category Archives: Politics & Philosophy

Morality, Survival and Religion

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Morality is a human construct, by and for humans. If not, we’d have to get it from a natural source . . . or a supernatural one. I’m an atheist, so a supernatural source isn’t a serious alternative to me. That leaves one alternative: Nature. But I can’t detect the slightest whiff of morality in nature. Mother nature is red in tooth and claw. She is indifferent to violence, suffering and killing. Survival is her prime directive. So, if there is morality to be found in nature, what else could it be based on? Can the imperative of survival provide an objective moral standard for humanity?

If survival does provide an objective moral standard for humanity, “survival of the fittest” ain’t it. We’re not that cut-throat or indifferent to suffering. We have empathy and a sense of fairness: probably written in our genes. So how could survival serve as an objective moral standard?

I think that survival COULD serve as an objective moral standard if it’s considered at all levels. By this I mean survival at the: genetic, individual, family, group, species and global levels. The idea here is that an act can be judged on its survival value at all these levels: the more value and the more levels that benefit, the more moral it could be considered.

But the problem with the survival-at-all-levels concept of morality is that it suffers the same weakness that all moral systems suffer from: Subjectivity. An objective moral standard is an ideal impossible for humans because humans are not, and can’t be, perfectly objective. We could try to adopt this moral standard but it’s implementation is certain to fail when we interpret survival values.

So morality — no matter where it comes from — will always be a matter of personal beliefs, priorities and biases. Human morality is subjective because humans are subjective.

Assuming a healthy mind, where does morality come from? I think we make it out to be more complicated than it really is. We develop our personal moralities from a combination of just two fundamental human characteristics: empathy and experience. From experience, I know what hurts me. Through empathy, I know the same things are likely to hurt you too. It’s the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because empathy is informed by experience, morality matures as we do. If we’re lucky, life lessons correct or reinforce our morals as we get older. If we’re unfortunate or downtrodden, life lessons can twist and corrupt our moral sensibilities.

The best religion can do with morality is to endorse some morals and condemn others. Historically, this has proven to be more of a hindrance than a benefit. Morality is what we say it is. As humanity advances, so does our morality. By “writing our morals in stone” as religions are wont to do, they fall behind the times. They become antiquated. In the Bible, not even Jesus was aware how human subjugation (women and slaves) is unfair and unkind. His morality was derived from the social milieu of his era and area. Religions don’t define or mold morals: they usurp them.

It’s not a very satisfying answer but there is no objective moral standard that humanity could actually implement successfully. Morality is subjective. It’s an inherent property of the human condition.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.



Morality DOES Have an Objective Basis

I’ve always looked for an objective moral standard but could never find one. This video doesn’t provide a universally objective moral standard but it does come as close as humanly possible. In plain, logical, English, here’s the explanation for a quantitatively and qualitatively objective basis for morality: well-being.

Emergent Properties of the Human Brain

This post revisits arguments related to free will and complexity theory. I’ve recently been focused on newer arguments for self-determinism (a compatibilist form of free will) but an interview of Daniel Dennett, by the Center for Inquiry, has prompted me to revisit “emergent properties”. If you’re not familiar with my explanation for self-determinism, please consult my home page for several posts on the topic.

The basic premise of hard determinism is a false dichotomy. It asserts that you can’t have causality and make choices too. Too many hard determinists are stuck on this false dichotomy and won’t acknowledge that it’s not either/or. They won’t acknowledge that there are alternative possibilities. Self-determinism is one such alternative in which human intelligence, via reciprocal causation, interacts with, instead of merely reacts to, causality.

Daniel Dennett, in an interview for the Center For Inquiry, uses an argument derived from complexity theory. Complexity theory, by the way, is better suited to mind/brain questions than the reductionist approaches favored by hard determinists. For your convenience, I’m including this link to an .MP3 file containing just the section of the interview dealing with free will. The following block quote comes from near the end of the .MP3 file . . .

Most people are quite happy with the idea that things can be colored even though their finest parts aren’t colored. Atoms aren’t colored but things can be red, blue and green — they can really be red, blue and green — it’s not just an illusion that they’re red, blue and green even though the atoms that they’re made of are not any color at all. Things can be alive, like a cell, even though they’re made of parts that aren’t alive. In fact, if it doesn’t work out that way, we’re in deep trouble. So you can make something living out of parts that are not living. You can make something colored out of parts that aren’t colored. You can make something conscious out of parts that are not conscious. Neurons aren’t conscious . . . [and] you can make something free out of parts that aren’t free.

. . . Nature is riddled with emergent properties: especially where there is life. Life itself is an emergent property of organic molecules. Self-aware consciousness, intelligence and, yes, self-determinism, are emergent properties of mental feedback (which is, itself, an emergent property of the brain). Because the emergent property of mental feedback must exist before the emergent properties of (1) self-aware consciousness, (2) intelligence and (3) self-determinism can exist, these 3 higher-level phenomena are at least twice abstracted from the brain. They are emergent properties of an emergent property (mental feedback). You can also take the view that human intelligence includes self-aware consciousness and self-determinism but you’d still have a phenomenon twice abstracted from the brain: an emergent property from an emergent property. This feedback loop, in which we think about what we think, is a form of reciprocal causation and, I suspect, is where choice arises from. The theory of reciprocal determinism, developed by renowned psychologist, Albert Bandura, emphasizes the interdependence of person and environment. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it . . .

Reciprocal determinism is the idea that behavior is controlled or determined by the individual, through cognitive processes, and by the environment, through external social stimulus events. The basis of reciprocal determinism should transform individual behavior by allowing subjective thought processes transparency when contrasted with cognitive, environmental, and external social stimulus events.

Actions do not go one way or the other, as it is affected by repercussions, meaning one’s behavior is complicated and can’t be thought of as individual and environmental means. Behavior consist of environmental and individual parts that interlink together to function.

. . . I believe, as I’ve already stated here and elsewhere, that self-aware and time-aware mental feedback is transformative: that’s where the complementary properties of causality and human intelligence interact — that’s where self-determinism emerges.

Human intelligence evolved to interact with causality: it recognizes and anticipates causality. If you consider the properties of causality and of human intelligence, you’ll see how they’re complementary. Causality, in the inanimate world around us, is highly predictable because it unfolds with time and produces repeatable results. It is persistent and consistent: unidirectional and repeatable. Science depends on this fact to formalize empirical observations and experiments. People depend on this fact to interact with the world around them. We influence the external environment as the external environment influences us. Cause and effect, in certain ways, become indistinguishable. This is interaction, not reaction. Human intelligence produces an entirely different mode of response to causality: interaction. Contrast this to the strictly reactive mode of response for inanimate objects.

Free will, as most of us think of it, doesn’t exist. Our intelligent interaction with causality produces a more subtle, nuanced, phenomenon: self-determinism. I think of it, more or less, as “direction” or “purpose”. Because of feedback, we can (with varying degrees of efficacy) distinguish between a good idea and a bad idea or something in between and pursue the one we want. These are options — yes, options dictated by causality (reciprocal causation) but options nonetheless — we choose as self-aware, intelligent, human beings. The brain deliberates. That what it does. It couldn’t without feedback. If you insist on a reductionist philosophy that equates brains to rocks, you will never acknowledge the distinctly different modes of response to causality exhibited by inanimate objects versus animate beings. With reciprocal causation, cause can become effect and vice versa: cause and effect lose their meaning and reaction becomes interaction.

We suspect that abiogenesis somehow transformed inanimate matter into living cells. We haven’t proved it yet. But it’s the best theory we have and most of us are willing to accept it because we know life must have started somehow.

Of course . . . you could say “God did it” and leave it at that. But that’s a cop-out.

In the same way, we know that we are self-aware, time-aware, intelligent human beings who bring purpose and direction to a universe that otherwise has none. Self-determinism provides a theory that uses what we all know to be true to explain how this direction and purpose is compatible with causality. By interacting with causality, human intelligence blurs the difference between cause and effect in a way not possible with inanimate objects.

Of course . . . you could say “The Big Bang did it” and leave it at that. But that’s a cop-out.

The philosophical challenge will remain unsolved if we keep trying to explain the impossible notion of the ill-named “free will”. Instead, turn your attention to what we know and can actually point to as real. The true challenge, in light of causality and reality, is to explain the goal-seeking direction and purpose of human endeavor . . . NOT to fatalistically deny it.

© Copyright 2011

A Bone to Pick: Vegetarian and Vegan Proselytizing


“I was a vegetarian until I started leaning towards sunlight.” ~Rita Rudner

Vegan Proselytizers: Cognitive Dissonance Much?

I’ve grown weary of the growing number of proselytizing tirades from vegetarians and vegans; especially when they try to make eating meat a moral issue. Vegetarianism is a dietary preference . . . that’s all it is. Vegans take vegetarianism to its illogical extreme and invariably attempt to make it a moral issue. When they do, they are, at best, confusing compassion with morality. At worst, they’re food fascists wielding the scepter of moral superiority.

Go ahead and cite all the reasons why humans are herbivores. Yeah, list them to your heart’s content. Done? Now, get in your car, drive around, open your eyes and mind, then soak in the reality: McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, Sizzler, and other chain restaurants that purvey meat. How many restaurants don’t purvey meat? Barbeque, seafood, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Thai, French, Cuban, whatever: they all prominently feature meat. It’s even hard to find an Indian restaurant that doesn’t begrudge meat on their menu. Now don’t you feel silly, standing there with your list of reasons why we’re herbivores? There’s no denying we’re omnivores. Period.

If you’re more of an abstract kind of person, unfazed by practical evidence, maybe physical proof might persuade you. Herbivores are adapted to eat only plants. Omnivores are adapted to eat both plants and animals. Vitamin B12 is produced by bacterial symbiosis in both plants and animals but can only be consumed from meat; not veggies. According to the FDA, the USDA, the CDC and their counterparts in other countries, vitamin B12 is not available from plants: you can only get B12 from meat or from synthesized B12 found in artificially fortified foods and pills. This is proof that we are not adapted to eat only plants: it’s proof that we’re not herbivores. Close, but no cigar. We are not herbivores. Period.

And, by the way, calcium can only be found in a select few dark green leafy veggies, such as: collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens and a few varieties of seaweed. The USDA warns vegetarians that: “Consuming enough plant foods to meet calcium needs may be unrealistic for many.” Humans are, and always have been, omnivores. It’s not a matter of opinion: it’s a simple matter of fact – and thus, not subject to debate. “Humans are herbivores” is a ridiculous claim from the get-go regardless of how many vegan propaganda publications you want to cite to the contrary.

Then there’s the “primates are herbivores” variant of the argument. It’s hard to tell if those who make this argument are ignorant, stupid or lying. The fact is: some primates are herbivores and some are omnivores. Chimps, for instance, will eat meat. More to the point, humans are evolved from a primate species that began supplementing their diets with meat. Homo sapien sapiens have ALWAYS eaten meat: we’ve always been omnivores. It’s in our genes.

Another argument that flies in the face of reality is the “vegetarian diets are healthier for you” claim. I will concede that it is possible to eat a strictly vegetarian diet and remain healthy. But the fact is, you need to eat a wide variety of plants – augmented by B12 and calcium fortified foods or pills – to meet your minimum dietary requirements. And that means you need access to those plants and fortified foods – the full complement of which are only available in well-stocked grocery stores. Even then, doctors recommend dietary supplements to make sure vegetarians get all the nutrients they need. If you’re in the U.S., then you can likely find everything you need at the grocery store (assuming you can afford it). But if you’re in the third world somewhere or in a remote area, you might not be able to sustain a healthy vegetarian diet.

I did try a vegetarian diet, many years ago, when I was young. I never felt satisfied and my jaws frequently ached from chewing, chewing, chewing. Soon meat became too tempting and I quit after about a month or so. There was no sense in denying what I am: an omnivore.

Vegetarian diets are not the healthiest diets. Authoritative dietary experts agree that the healthiest diets include a wide range of foods, including meat and veggies. Research indicates that fish and white meat are normally healthier than red meat but red meat is fine in moderation. Claims to the contrary are pure poppycock.

Many vegetarians started eating a veggie diet because they were turned off by the sight or experience of eating meat. The grease and juices and sinew; the idea that it was alive and kicking just recently. Not much can be said about these subjective reasons. If that’s the way you feel, that’s the way you feel. I don’t begrudge you your vegetarian dietary preference.

Most vegetarians believe it is wrong – as in, immoral – to kill animals for food. If they really believe this, they’re confusing compassion with morality. There’s just one thing they need to keep in mind: morality can’t deny reality and remain valid. The indisputable fact that we are omnivores is a fundamental human reality. My morality accommodates this reality. What about yours?

Mother nature is a zombie. She’s red in tooth and claw. Life can be ugly and survival is, more often than not, violent. I don’t feel sorry for livestock because they’ve filled an evolutionary niche, in service to humanity, that has guaranteed their genes will be passed on indefinitely. Livestock are prolific because of animal husbandry – which dates back to the first domestication of animals. Not only are their large populations assured . . . they no longer have to face predators, draughts or famines. When slaughtered legally, a sheep, cow, pig or chicken led to slaughter dies without the panic and adrenaline terror that accompanies the pursuit, capture and tearing of live flesh, by predators. You think the slaughtering of livestock is inhumane? It’s immensely preferable to what Mother Zombie has in store: death by starvation, dehydration, disease or predator.

The most annoying vegan claim is the claim of moral superiority. I am repulsed by claims of moral superiority for the same reasons I’m repulsed by claims of racial superiority: it’s totalitarian, fascist and intolerant. Give me a break! It’s ridiculous to pretend that morality hinges on eating meat. Morality has multitudinous considerations that we adhere to by varying degrees relative to each other and relative to other people. Diet is just one of those considerations. Even if eating meat were a moral issue (and it’s not), not eating meat doesn’t make you morally superior. It’s just one of many facets of morality: are you morally superior in every way? How naive can you get for Christ’s sake!?! Such a clueless claim serves only to reveal a deep-seated insecurity: the same as with neo-Nazis and skinheads. Superior my ass!

The three monotheistic, Abrahamic, religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all claim possession of the one true God and, by extension, the moral truth. Because they worship the one true God, their morality is, naturally, superior to all others. It’s these claims to superiority that has made the Abrahamic religions THE most persistently divisive influence in the history of mankind. By claiming moral superiority, vegetarians and vegans are making the same mistake. Morality doesn’t hinge on which God you worship and it sure as hell doesn’t hinge on what you eat.

Vegetarians and vegans should consider the possibility that they’re confusing morality with compassion. I will readily concede they have more compassion for livestock than I do. But so what? Compassion, like morality, has multitudinous considerations that we adhere to by varying degrees relative to each other and relative to other people. For instance, animal rights and women’s reproductive rights are both embraced by liberal-minded progressives – not that you have to be liberal or progressive to embrace them. It’s been my experience that many of the same liberals who bemoan the plight of livestock also endorse late-term abortions – even up to the end of term.

Now, keep in mind that late-term abortions are abortions performed after fetal viability (i.e. the fetus could survive outside the womb, given appropriate postnatal care). Claiming that reproductive rights trump fetal viability all the way to the end of term is the same as claiming it’s okay to kill a fully viable fetus! A fully viable fetus needs only to be removed from the womb to instantly become a baby: a person. Whether it’s internal or external is a mere technicality.

So what we have here is a person who cries out for the plight of livestock, yet has no problem with killing a fully viable fetus. How, exactly, does this person define words like ‘inhumane’, ‘compassion’, ‘humanity’, ‘morality’, ‘progressive’, or ‘reason’?

Cognitive dissonance much?

And finally, there’s the “toxic to the environment” argument. Well, insecticides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers are also toxic to the environment. They are necessary to protect harvests and feed the world’s 7 billion mouths. It would be more accurate (and less biased) to say that food production – both veggies and meat – are toxic to the environment. But of all the environmentally harmful factors we must deal with, it ranks well below vehicular and industrial pollution (not that this means we can safely ignore the problem). ‘Green’ farming is a nice idea but can’t yet achieve the production levels necessary to meet demand.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot . . . the reason our predecessor species suddenly developed bigger brains is because they began supplementing their fruit, veggies, legumes, tubers, grains, nuts and seeds with meat. It wasn’t just our brains that got bigger; so did our bodies. Vegetarians and vegans need to ask themselves, if a vegetarian diet is so good for us, why did it take meat to make the difference in our intellectual capacity and physique? The switch from herbivore to omnivore is a major milestone in our evolution.

Vegetarianism/veganism is not a proper topic for proselytizing. If you prefer to just eat veggies, then good for you. Implying we are less moral or less humane because we eat meat is simply ignoring the facts in a futile attempt to foist your personal preferences on us. We don’t appreciate it. Humans are omnivores: we eat meat and most of us love it. That’s not going to change any time soon.

Get over it.

© Copyright 2012


Moral Issue, My Ass!

ImageThere is no objective moral standard in nature . . . and there sure as hell ain’t none in the supernatural. So morality is subjective. If people had their way, just about anything could become a moral issue: pet ownership, consumerism, relative wealth, divorce, transgender surgery, capitalism, alcohol, tobacco, meat, wool, fur, accommodationism, inoculations, drugs, hunting, firearms, free speech, sexual orientation, on and on. I say, don’t preach to me unless I’m personally culpable . . . and you’re not.

There seems to be many ideas of what constitutes a moral issue. To some, it’s a matter of belief (as opposed to preference). To some it’s visceral: they know it when they feel it. To some, it’s a matter of avoiding harm to others; possibly including animals or even plants. To some, it’s a matter of the greater good. To some, it’s a matter of consensus or majority opinion. To some, it can be any combination of these things.

My own idea of what constitutes a moral issue is personal culpability when it can be reasonably avoided. Could I have avoided causing harm? If so, crossing that line is a moral issue to me if I’ve crossed that line. My reason for this is to preempt being pulled into every personal or political agenda that grabs the fickle limelight of the public. Like veganism/vegetarianism, for instance.

My idea of morality separates moral issues from other kinds of issues: humanitarian issues, political issues, environmental issues, legal issues, health issues, social issues, national sovereignty or security issues, economic issues, personal issues, religious, ethnic or racial issues, or whatever. It’s not a moral issue to me, unless I am personally culpable of reasonably avoidable harm.

World hunger is not a moral issue to me. I’m not personally culpable for it. It’s a humanitarian issue. So is birth control, slavery and overpopulation. Abortion? A legal issue. So is murder and animal cruelty, unless I’m the one committing them. Pollution, strip mining, deforestation and global warming? Environmental issues.

As in murder, other kinds of issues can become moral issues when you are personally culpable. If you dispose of used motor oil in your local lake – knowing it’s illegal and environmentally hazardous – it becomes a moral issue for you as well as a legal and environmental issue.

What I particularly hate is intolerance masquerading as morality – you know, when people turn their personal preferences into beliefs they then foist upon others. These pseudo-issues and their advocates can go to hell as far as I’m concerned. This intolerance is easy to see when it comes to religions. People born into one religion or another often prefer it over others and might even believe theirs is somehow better or more valid. Well, they can believe what they want but as soon as they try to advocate or discriminate against some other religion(s), they are practicing intolerance – not pursuing morality. The same goes for veganism or vegetarianism: as soon as it is wielded as some sort of moral billyclub, it becomes intolerance: and when advocated publicly, it becomes political. A personal preference is not and should never be a political issue: not even if it’s the majority view.

If you’re a bleeding heart charter member of the Moral Issue of the Month Club, I ‘m not interested in your latest cause célèbre.

© Copyright 2012

Ideals and Merit

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone. Uber-liberal leftists across the Internet all seemed determined to put the worst possible face on the U.S. response since that historic day. It was a pathetic display of apologia. It’s rhetoric like that which has led me to become an Independent. I no longer identify with Democrats. I feel pushed, rightward, to the center and now see myself as a moderate centrist. I’m simply appalled at the extremes of the left, just as I am at the extremes of the right.

When we receive new information, the logical response is to adapt, if necessary. As long as we keep it in context, new information should make us better informed. An unbiased person will scrutinize the information for validity and judge it accordingly. A biased person is more likely to spin the data to suit his preexisting ideas or even reject it out of hand. One of the more common sources of bias is ideology. Whether it be political, religious, cultural or whatever: ideology can act like a camera filter through which new information is tinted or even polarized.

Ideologies are seductive. Even scientists can have their objectivity compromised by ideology. Confirmation bias is an all too human tendency that can also afflict scientists. Political, religious, philosophical and economic biases can also affect scientists (consciously or not). Within their own disciplines, reductionism, aesthetics, metaphysics and other presuppositions can skew findings or interpretations of them. Fortunately, science has the scientific method (peer review, repeatable experiments, etc.) to weed out such errors.

If even scientifically disciplined professionals are subject to ideological bias, then who is really safe from it? Would less disciplined laymen be even more prone to it? To answer my own question: Yes – judging by what I read, online, from (alleged) freethinkers in blogs and forums.

Politically, freethinkers are predominantly liberal. From what I can discern, they seem no less likely than others to exhibit ideological bias because liberals are, by and large, idealists. They push for change to realize their ideals: how society should or ought to be. One important liberal ideal is equality (inclusion). It was liberals who heralded reforms to include women and minorities (religious, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, etc.) as equals. Idealism can lead to wonderful reforms but not every issue is always amenable to idealism.

If all religions, nations, people, species, lifestyles, etc., are equal and to be included, then values become, in effect, relative. Because of this tendency to ignore or deny differences, liberal thinking leads to accommodationism, multiculturalism and a bias for political underdogs and against the prevailing powers (as we’ve seen during the run-up to the 9/11 anniversary). All too often, decisions aren’t based solely on the available information: instead, they’re filtered through the lens of liberal ideology. Instead of evaluating issues in terms of merit, the idealism of many liberals leads them to evaluate issues in terms of ideals. As thus practiced, the most significant difference between merit and ideals is bias.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more how liberal idealism – being liberal for liberal’s sake – causes bad decisions. It’s why I’ve moved right, to the political center. Differences must be addressed on their real merits. This doesn’t mean you forsake your ideals. It means your ideals will mislead decisions if they take precedence over the merits of political realities. You can recognize when idealism has ignored political realities by the backlash that eventually follows, such as: reverse discrimination and the end of Affirmative Action; multiculturalism and bans on burqas and mosque spires.

As a centrist, I believe there’s a time to be conservative and a time to be liberal and that these times are determined by the merits of the political realities involved. For instance: nobody wants civilian casualties in the pursuit of the war on terrorism. Should we quit the war to avoid such casualties? Of course not! If we value our way of life, there is no alternative but to deal forcefully with terrorists. We can try our utmost to avoid civilian casualties but we need to acknowledge that they will nonetheless occur. It doesn’t help that terrorists use civilians as human shields, so the fair share of blame should go to those who callously endangered the civilians in the first place. The truth is that terrorists have been known to gun down civilians who flee neighborhoods used as human shields. You can’t hide behind civilians who run away from you.

Everything is NOT relative. The deaths on 9/11 are distinctly different from the deaths incurred in the war on terrorism. Civilians are intentionally targeted by Al Qaeda BECAUSE they’re civilians. The U.S. military and those of other countries target combatants only. Collateral damage and civilian deaths are not desirable to us. Let’s get real here. If terrorists stopped trying to destabilize governments by attacking their civilian citizens, the war on terror would be over.

The war on terror is an example of where liberal idealism is not generally a good idea and where harsh realities must be accepted. However, there are times, even in war, when liberal ideals are needed, such as in the treatment of prisoners and the methods used to interrogate them. It’s a matter of balance: moderation in all things. Ideals and merit.

© Copyright 2011

Greed, Wealth, Anger and Envy

“Most people work just hard enough not to get fired and get paid just enough money not to quit.” ~George Carlin

The “Occupy Wallstreet” movement is no longer dominating headlines but I still find people debating the “haves” and the “have-nots” and what to do about them. Like most in the Occupy Wallstreet movement, I’m a political independent. I consider myself moderate: a centrist with beliefs spanning both liberal and conservative ideals. I saw a list of 18 demands allegedly made by Occupy Wall Street but their official website denies there are any demands. I agreed with the 18 demands but I disagree with many of the things I read on the official website.

There has always been and will always be “haves” and “have-nots”. People are born equal . . . in their humanity — but not in their genetic endowments or social status or familial advantages. While I laud the desire to enrich the poor, what I REALLY admire is those who actually work and sacrifice to enrich the poor. If more people would walk the talk, the world would be a much better place.

Liberals are often willing to foot a larger tax bill in order to provide programs to assist the poor. This is admirable. But better than higher taxes would be (heavily) increased charitable contributions. Government programs are bureaucratic, wasteful and, effectively, mandatory whether or not you agree with the program(s). Charities also target needs you may or may not agree with but at least contributing to them is voluntary: entirely up to you. In effect, society would “vote”, with their charitable dollars, on which causes have higher priorities.

Which leads us back to walking the talk. Charities can’t do enough because people, overall, aren’t willing to sacrifice enough. Most of us talk a good game but aren’t really willing to do without the nicer things in life . . . like a new car every couple of years or bigger homes or the latest gadgets.

If you want to solve society’s ills, there’s nothing stopping you. If you want government to handle it for you, then just keep in mind: you get what you pay for (if you’re lucky). A total solution would be very expensive and might well lead to ever-greater reliance on government dole.

Personally, I believe government should provide a safety net for those in dire need and should also legislate against all forms of unfair employer practices. Minimum wage, full time, should be enough to live on. Everything, within reason, should be done to ensure the poor have the opportunities they need to rise above their circumstances. The operative word in the prior sentence is “opportunities”. Government should provide a helping hand — not a handout. Poor individuals who have the gumption and wherewithal to benefit from government programs (vocational education and employment assistance, student loans, job programs, low-cost housing, unemployment insurance, etc.) should have those programs available to them.

But what about the half of the population on the low side of the I.Q. bell curve? A significant number of them simply don’t have the wherewithal to enjoy material success. Many are lucky to keep their heads above water. What quality of life should we ensure them? What material considerations (if any) are essential to ensure? This is where things get messy. After providing temporary safety nets (food, shelter, health care) and employment opportunities . . . what else should we do? How much should we sacrifice for the less fortunate?

If we all sacrificed whatever is necessary to ensure the happiness of everybody . . . would the underclass diminish or would it grow? Would we all be richer or would we all be poorer? Would our expectations be realized or would the expectations of the “have-nots” increase as the expectations of the “haves” decrease? Would we prosper?

I suppose arguments could be made for just about any position on this topic. But I assert that human nature is what it is and it’s pointless to pretend it’s something it’s not. We’re lazy. We need incentives to get off our asses. The profit motive works but we need to guard against excessive greed. And it goes without saying that we need to care for those who really need care.

It’s not perfect but who says it can be . . . or should be? I think such a cumbayá utopia would bore us to death.

If only we could all have been trust-fund babies. I certainly wouldn’t complain. But we’re not. Neither should we covet or blame people for their inheritance. I was raised in a poor family. We actually got through our toughest time thanks to a grant from the Red Cross. My father became more successful later in life and has never forgotten the Red Cross. He gave, generously, to them until his death a few years ago. Anyway, he taught us personal responsibility. It’s essential. It’s part of adulthood. He never resented the “haves” for what they have. Their circumstances were irrelevant to his.

And that’s the way, I believe, it should be. But please note that this is a separate issue from caring for the poor. Sure, there are people who get rich off the backs of the huddled masses but that doesn’t mean every well-to-do person is a callous user of faceless victims. Most well-to-do people earned their wealth through hard work, sacrifice and savvy moves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with their wealth. Many (most?) are Democrats, so having wealth does not mean one must be a Republican.

Occupy Wallstreet represents a very vocal rise in resentment against corporate greed — due mostly to the global financial meltdown such greed precipitated. Many of the movement’s followers go further than this and blame or verbally attack wealthy people. I don’t like prejudice or discrimination of any kind. Being wealthy is not a negative or a sin. That kind of loose talk is due to insecurity and envy. Insecurity about one’s own future and envy that hides its covetousness behind cries of “spread the wealth”. I have no problem with punishing those who enjoy ill-gotten gains but I don’t fault anybody for simply being wealthy.

Wealth is not the problem. Excessive greed is. In a capitalist system, the profit motive drives commerce. And commerce makes the world go ’round. There is no other system yet devised that is better able to meet the needs of a burgeoning world population. Money is King.

It’s an essentially flawed system because human beings are essentially flawed. And it can’t be fixed until people care more about others than for themselves. In other words: it can’t be fixed. But thanks to truly caring, liberal-minded, people, we’ll continue to try anyway.

Maybe someday . . .

© Copyright 2012