Category Archives: Ideas

Foundation for the General Welfare

What counts as “work”? Or a “job”?

The usual conception of a “job” implies activities that create value for someone else – one’s employer. For doing this, one gets paid… and the employer makes profit by making sure that payment is less than the value of the work.

Many activities, though, that demand time and effort, and that do in fact create value for society, but not for an employer, are not recognized as “jobs.” As social theorist Riane Eisler has pointed out, our economic systems “fail to value and support the most essential human work: the so-called ‘women’s work’ of caring and caregiving.” This includes the work – usually full-time, if not 24/7 – of caring for oneself, one’s family, one’s community, and one’s environment.

In the present debate on healthcare, for instance, conservatives who are trying to dismantle sections of the social safety net are fond of saying that those who may lose Medicaid coverage “can always get jobs,” as White House spokescreature Kellyanne Conway recently stated.

general welfare

Well, okay then.

I propose the establishment of a quasi-governmental foundation, to be called the Foundation for the General Welfare. (As in “promote the general welfare,” one of the stated goals of the United States of America.) This foundation would be funded initially by the government and, increasingly over time, by private donations.

It would hire people, and pay them a living wage to do what they have to do.

This foundation would, for example, hire the chronically ill who do not have insurance. Their job description would be simple: to participate in treatment for their illnesses, and get better if possible. Full insurance would be among the benefits – in fact, it would be the same Federal employee package now enjoyed by our Congresscritters.

This foundation would hire single unemployed parents, especially teenage moms. Their job description: to raise their kids and take care of their households.

This foundation would hire adults who are caregivers for their parents. Their job description: keep their parents as safe, comfortable, and happy as possible.

Get the idea?

Notes for a Manifesto

The mere removal of Donald Trump from office through impeachment as per Article 2 of the Constitution, or even simply relieving him of his Presidential duties as per the 25th Amendment, would be insufficient remedy.

  • The flawed electoral system that allowed him to assume the most powerful elected office on the planet would still be there.
  • The corrupt socio-political-economic system that produced him and made him a “success” would still be there.
  • The cynical power brokers who thought it would be a good idea to install him as President would still be there.
  • The greedy, shortsighted economic interests that thought his Presidency would be a good thing for their bottom lines would still be there.
  • The ideologically driven right-wing media/propaganda system that deceived and beguiled Americans into supporting him would still be there.
  • The deliberately-crippled educational system that produced the people that either supported him or apathetically stayed away from voting would still be there.

They could do it all again. And next time it could be even worse.

They must all be repaired, reformed, transformed, replaced, or demolished.

PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: HEAVY THOUGHTS ABOUT LEITKULTUR

(My column for May 2017)

I have “gone to ground” for the time being in Krefeld, a city of about 225,000, near Düsseldorf in western Germany. I am staying with my cousin and his wife while I figure out what’s supposed to happen next.

Cities like Krefeld throughout Germany have become the endpoints for the journeys of many conflict-displaced refugees (“Flüchtlinge” in German) – around 3500, I am told. There is also a much larger number of economic migrants who have come looking for work, some of whom have set up businesses. Turkish barbershops, convenience stores (“Kiosks”), and pizzerias are everywhere; the latter frequently also serve “Döner,” a halal variation of the Greek gyros.

Döner has become so popular in Germany – as has, say, Mexican food in the US – that one could almost say it’s become part of the culture.

And as you might guess, that kind of development bothers some people.

The German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, set off a bit of a stir here recently with an op-ed in which he attempted to articulate some basic values of what Germans call “Leitkultur.” This word means “leading culture” or “guiding culture” – though sometimes it gets translated as “dominant culture.”

Minister de Maiziere’s essay generally makes unsurprising and not-particularly controversial points about the important roles played by history, philosophy, and the arts in the shaping of modern German society, and the value of hard work and education. (He gives special shoutouts to Bach and Goethe, for example, though not Nietzche or Wagner.) But a couple of his suggested principles seem specifically intended to be direct swipes at certain aspects of Muslim culture. “We are an open society. We show our face. We are not Burka,” he writes.

To this last point, the Gruenen Jugend, the youth wing of the Green Party, responded curtly: “We are not Lederhosen, either.” De Maizere’s piece has drawn similar scoffs and critiques from other politicians and organizations. (If you’d like to explore further, I suggest the English-language website Deutsche Welle, which has many articles on this topic.)

My cousin thinks that the whole kerfuffle is a pre-electoral stunt – there are state elections coming soon, and Federal ones in the fall – and the discussion will wither away thereafter. He’s probably right. Issues of culture and identity are hot buttons, after all, guaranteed to touch a nerve and bring out the voters. But it’s a critical discussion that should not just be kept alive, but expanded.

Part of de Maizere’s problem, I think, is that in stopping at the national level he fails to take the next logical step. He writes, “We remain, non-negotiably, part of the West, proud Europeans, and enlightened patriots,” but it doesn’t occur to him that there might be another layer, a global “Leitweltkultur” if you will, a set of common human values that can guide the relationships between nations, cultures, and individuals alike. This would include not just the already largely acknowledged values of human rights and mutual respect, but a clearer articulation of the rights – and responsibilities – of both “hosts” and “guests.” In the unsettled times to come, as more people are uprooted by cultural and climactic unrest, this will become increasingly important.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re about to go grocery shopping. We’ll pick up some currywurst, maybe… perhaps some hummus and falafel… After all, it’s all good.

SPEAK LOCALLY – WITH A GLOBAL VOICE

The problems that we face – such as climate change, inequality, and the resurgence of authoritarianism, nationalism, and militarism – are global in scope and nature. We may feel isolated in our local struggles, but it is a very powerful thing to realize, as I have in the course of my travels, that there are quite literally billions across the planet who are waging similar struggles, feeling similar feelings, and seeking similar solutions. So when you speak locally, use that global voice, knowing that you are not alone.

My To-Do List

  1. Help establish multi-party democracy in the United States.
  2. Encourage the surgical separation of Christianity and Capitalism.
  3. Help facilitate the transition to
    1. The Next American Republic.
    2. A New Values Economy.
  4. Further develop & expound the philosophy & methodology of “Serious Silliness.”
  5. Finish & disseminate creative works (songs, essays, etc.).
  6. Develop a better relationship with/understanding of mortality; find an opportunity for a good & useful death.
  7. Have fun in the meantime.

Continue reading

TWO NOT TEN

I have never quite understood the emphasis that some American Christians put on the so-called “Ten Commandments,” particularly their insistence that governments should use tax dollars to create displays or monuments of them in courts, schools, and other public places.

Not there is anything particularly wrong with the Ten, mind you… It’s just that one might expect that Christians – especially conservative, fundamentalist Christians – would have a preference for the formulation laid out by Yeshua ben Yosef (a/k/a Jesus of Nazareth) himself, as quoted in Matthew, chapter 22:

The Greatest Commandment

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV; courtesy http://www.biblegateway.com)

I’d say that covers the territory pretty effectively. How many more commandments do we need, anyway? Why the Ten, not the Two?

Besides the fact that this formulation is ever so much shorter, I think it is also much more universal. After all, Jesus says “love the Lord your God,” which could just as well be applied to and accepted by Muslims or Hindus as Christians.

In fact, to me this says: Whoever (or whatever) your God (or guiding principle, or moral code, or object of worship, or purpose in life) happens to be, in short whatever that Most Important Thing in Life is, you should devote yourself to it fully. I think even atheists and freethinkers could get behind an idea like that, semantics nonwithstanding.

There’s your First Commandment sorted out.

As for the Second, I really can’t imagine anyone having a problem with “Love your neighbor as yourself” – unless, of course, one is afflicted with self-loathing or suicidal tendencies…

Well, no, on further thought, let me amend that. Your “rugged individualists” might have some trouble getting their heads around that commandment. I remember a conversation I had with a co-worker one day…

“Skip, what would you do if, after the collapse of civilization, I showed up at your house with my family?”

My response was immediate. “I’d invite you in and share what I could.”

“Right,” he said. “And that is where you and I are different. If our roles were reversed, I’d shoot you immediately – my family’s needs come first.”

He wasn’t being mean about it – indeed, he’s not a mean guy, he’s quite capable of generosity and compassion – but he had obviously thought things through, and made some choices, and those choices didn’t take into account this commandment’s call for community and solidarity.

Well, if these things were easy to do, if they came to us naturally, we wouldn’t need commandments at all, I suppose.

But to get back to the question of why the Ten, and not the Two… I suspect the answer might lie in this: they are two entirely different types of instructions, and those types appeal to different kinds of minds.

Briefly, these two kinds can be called algorithmic and heuristic. Algorithmic instructions are precise, specific, and step-by-step. Recipes calling for exactly two level teaspoons of salt, for example. Follow the algorithm correctly, and you should get the same results every time.

“Add salt to taste,” however, is a heuristic instruction. Heuristics are vaguer, more subjective, and likely to produce different results in different circumstances.

They’re also harder to judge.

If someone violates an algorithm – skips over a step, or doesn’t adhere to the specifications, or eats the wrong food on the wrong day, the error is usually easy to spot – and one can then correct, criticize, punish, or condemn as needed.  But with heuristics, there’s no precise standard, no target to hit or miss – you can only do a better or worse job of trying to follow the guideline.

How can you measure how well someone loves? You can’t – you can only supply feedback, guidance, and encouragement.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the former, in the form of the Old Testament laws, should appeal to fundamentalists, people who generally show a preference for clear, hierarchical lines of authority and enforcement, unambiguous standards for judgment, and strong sanctions for noncompliance.

Oh, and by the way – that thing about public displays? Unconstitutional on its face, and here’s why. Different religious groups have taken the Old Testament list and broken it up in different ways. Specifically, Catholics and Protestants use different numbering schemes. So any monument that lists the “Ten Commandments” using one scheme or the other would thereby be showing a denominational preference, and that would be in direct violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Using the Two instead would skirt that problem nicely. Imagine seeing this on our schoolhouses, courthouses, and prisons:

1. Love your God
2. Love your neighbor

And the details are left up to us.

Epigrams, Slogans, & Bumperstickers

  • The best things in life are messy.
  • A violent revolution is no revolution at all.
    • The real revolution is against violence itself.
  • If you can’t break your chains, use them.
  • Big Brother is watching: KEEP HIM ENTERTAINED.
  • If it’s falling, push it over.
  • When you make a fool of yourself on purpose on a regular basis, it doesn’t matter so much when it happens by accident.
  • Sex:Liberals::Money:Conservatives
  • Every day is a gift – even if it doesn’t fit.
  • Big Brother loves you SO MUCH… he can’t keep his eyes off you.
  • When the dip is gone, the party is over. When the party is over, it’s time to go home.
  • Education should be dangerous.
  • Unity, not uniformity; diversity, not division.
  • We need some new isms.
  • “Mistah Galt, he dead.”
  • Go with the Greatest Common Factor, not the Lowest Common Denominator