Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liberation Movements a Reflection of Evolving Consciousness

What a wonderful year it has been so far in terms of human freedom—the Middle East is alive with the dream of liberty.

Human history for me is the story of the evolution of consciousness. This story has been told in a number of books, including Ken Wilber's Up From Eden. For example, Wilber asserts that a major advance in human consciousness happened beginning around 500 B.C.E. (lasting for some centuries). This was a time of momentous change: the enlightened saints Buddha and Jesus mark the shift of consciousness, which to the masses of humanity brought a new concept of the individual, among many other changes. But Wilber's book doesn't bring the story up to modern times.

I think what’s happening in the Middle East is a continuation of another advance in consciousness, the beginning of which could perhaps be dated to the Renaissance. This shift in awareness brought about a new concept of freedom of thought, and brought democracy to the United States and revolution to France in 1789. We think of that as so long ago, but in the sweep of history it is just yesterday.

Perhaps that first wave of freedom in the 18th century was small and only washed over a few countries, but it slowly gathered force and size—it widened in this country to embrace people of all color and women by the middle of the 20th century, then it widened beyond the U.S. and Europe in the second half as countries around the world threw off colonial governments, and by the end of the century peoples in the Soviet empire and blacks in South Africa peacefully transitioned to more democratic governments.

Now the people of the Arab Middle East, that part of the world that seemed destined to stay feudal forever, ruled by sheiks and kings and petty tyrants, are engaging in mostly peaceful revolutions. The wave of consciousness is really strong now; its force has grown so that it seems unstoppable. Even in Libya, where Gaddafi seems to think he can still hold on, it has been amazing to see how many high level officials have resigned quickly.

Of course the wave still has a long way to go before we live in a world in which the people truly have power over their destiny. Looking at my country I am disheartened by the extent to which it is a plutocracy, but the wave can only be slowed. It can't be stopped.

Republican Budget Cuts Will Hurt Economy, says Goldman Sachs

The House Republicans have passed legislation cutting $61 billion from the federal budget, trimming programs that conservatives hate, like the SEC, EPA, Head Start, Planned Parenthood, etc. They claim that they are making these cuts to strengthen the nation's finances, but not only are their cuts ridiculously small compared to this year's deficit ($1.5 trillion), their actions will hurt the economy, making future deficits worse. From today's New York Times editorial,"The Budget Fight Continues":

In a recent report, economists at Goldman Sachs estimated that the House cuts would reduce economic growth by 1.5 percentage points to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of 2011. That would devastate employment. As a rule of thumb, each percentage point drop in growth means a loss of 1.2 million jobs.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plutocracy Now!

Mother Jones has an easy to understand set of charts illustrating the widening gap between the rich and the rest of us, "It's the Inequality, Stupid."

The average income for the bottom 90% of Americans is a staggeringly low $31,244. People in the top 1% average $1,137,000. The truly rich are a fraction of that one-percent. The top one-hundredth of a percent average $27 million a year.

Wealth is where the real concentration of money happens: the richest 10% own two-thirds of all wealth in this country. The poorest half of the population own only 2% of all wealth.

Plutocracy means rule by the wealthy, and that is a much better descriptor of our country than "democracy," or rule by the people.

The prank phone call recently made to Governor Walker of Wisconsin by Ian Murphy of the Buffalo Beast clearly illustrates the subservience a politician shows to a rich donor. Walker believed that the caller was David Koch, the billionaire Kansan businessman and major contributor to conservative causes, including the Tea Party and Walker's own gubernatorial campaign. Walker may not have said anything in the phone call that was different from what he says in public, as he defensively claims, but the truly telling aspect of the phone call was not what he said but how he said it. The man posting as Koch barely says anything, and Walker acts like a schoolboy reciting his lessons before the school master. It was clear from who was the boss in that call--it was the money man.

No mere citizen has that kind of power. Only a wealthy man or representative of a powerful organization has that kind of access and power. For the vast majority of us, our pitiful electoral vote once every two years pales in comparison to the power of the dollar-votes the Koch brothers, and those other one-percenters, wield every day of every year.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Consensual Reality Reflected in Plastic Surgery

Every culture or society forms a "consensual reality"; members of the group agree to certain beliefs about reality. Every person has their own individual mind-generated reality, but in order to get along in a culture we assume many of the beliefs of our group.

It's hard to see the consensual reality of our culture for what it is because we think of it as actual reality, as the way things are. History clues us in to the fact that our consensual reality is a system of beliefs because those beliefs change.

For example, in the 1950's plump women were considered beautiful in the U.S., but today Marilyn Monroe would be considered too fat to be a sex symbol.

An article in today's New York Times illustrates the diversity in ideas of beauty across ethnic groups as reflected in plastic surgery operations, "Ethnic Differences Emerge in Plastic Surgery." For example, Latin American women want larger buttocks, a part of the anatomy that most women of European ancestry want to diminish. But in Latin American consensual reality, as one plastic surgeon explained, "they like the curve."

Italia Vigniero, 27, a Dominican patient of Dr. Yager’s, received breast implants in 2008 and is considering a buttocks lift to attain, as she called it, “the silhouette of a woman.”

“We Latinas define ourselves with our bodies,” she said. “We always have curves.”
Plastic surgery has long been used to obscure ethnically-based physical differences and so ease assimilation into the dominant culture. In other words, to fit into the dominant culture's consensual reality about physical attractiveness.

The extreme makeover is, in many ways, a tradition among the city’s immigrants. A century ago, in the early days of cosmetic surgery, European Jews underwent nose jobs and Irish immigrants had their ears pinned back in attempts to look “more American,” said Victoria Pitts-Taylor, a professor of sociology at Queens College who has written about popular attitudes toward plastic surgery.

“The bulk of those operations were targeted at assimilation issues,” Ms. Pitts-Taylor said.
Perhaps the most sought-after procedure among Asians is “double-eyelid surgery,” which creates a crease in the eyelid that can make the eye look rounder. Some people criticize the operation, which is hugely popular in many Asian countries, as a throwback to medical procedures meant to obscure ethnic features.

“You want to be part of the acceptable culture and the acceptable ethnicity, so you want to look more Westernized,” said Margaret M. Chin, a professor of sociology at Hunter College who specializes in Asian immigrant culture. “I feel sad that they feel like they have to do this.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Military Spending and Dumb Civilians

Pat Oliphant's cartoon eloquently states a fundamental problem--military spending is the largest category of the US federal budget and that is the major reason our country is drowning in debt. The War Resister's League estimates that 54% of the federal spending goes to military-related expenses when a true accounting is made. See my blog post from last year.

Not to mention we've become an aggressive imperial power and this is an impediment to the full expression of democracy in this country.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pre-existing Bias and Political Perceptions

I have recently finished a book entitled "We Are ALL Innocent by Reason of Insanity," which argues that each one of us lives in our own private mind-generated reality. We confuse our mind-generated reality with actual reality and this makes us insane.

I'm always on the lookout for further evidence that preconceptions shape our perception of reality. Princeton professor and political scientist Larry Bartels showed how political beliefs shape our perception of objective economic facts. His abstract reads:

In contrast to the notion of partisanship as a simple 'running tally' of poltical assessments, I show that party identification is a pervasive dynamic force shaping citizens' perceptions of, and reactions to, the political world...I conclude that partisan bias in political perceptions plays a crucial role in perpetuating and reinforcing sharp differences in opinion between Democrats and Republicans. This conclusion handsomely validates the emphasis placed by the authors of The American Voter on 'the role of enduring partisan cimmitments in shaping attitudes toward political objects.'

He goes on to show how self-identification as a Democrat or Republican influences how a person perceives objective economic facts, such as unemployment or inflation.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Time for a Democratic Movement in the United States

Yesterday in my post , "Freedom," I said that we needed a democracy movement in this country. Bob Herbert wrote something similar in today's New York Times, "When Democracy Weakens,"

As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.

Our politicians are corrupted by money: election campaigns and lobbyists mean our representatives' votes are bought. It's the wealthy and the corporations who have bought the politicians. The poor, especially, but also the middle-class don't exist in the politicians' calculations except when it comes time to manipulate us into voting for them.

How many times has Congress voted the opposite of what public opinion polls show the majority of Americans want? A couple of months ago a strong 65% of the population wanted the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% to expire, yet they were extended.

A couple of years ago that same percentage of Americans--two-thirds--wanted the health care reform to be some version of "Medicare for all." A study by Physicians for a National Health Program reported:

We will see that the research demonstrates that approximately two-thirds of Americans support a Medicare-for-all system despite constant attacks on Medicare and the systems of other countries by conservatives. The evidence supporting this statement is rock solid. The evidence against it - the focus group and polling "research" commissioned by the "option" movement's founders - is defective, misinterpreted, or both…The more poll respondents know about single payer, the more they like it.
We seem to have this odd idea that democracy means going to the polls every two years or so and pushing some buttons. Our political system is a major obstacle to the expression of democracy. There are only two political parties, which cannot possibly cover the political spectrum that exists in this country. I think one of the reasons voter turnout is often less than 50% is because many people do not feel like there is anyone who adequately represents their political opinions.

What about per capita representation in Congress? The number of representatives was capped at 435 in 1911, when the population of the U.S. was just over 92 million. In 2000 the population was over 291 million, with the same 435 representatives. In 1911 each Congressman represented about 211,000 Americans, today that Congressperson represents 669,000 people--more than three times as many.

Here are some basic demands for a democratic movement for the United States: completely public-financed campaigns, an end to jerrymandering of congressional districts, major reform of lobbyists--real reform not the pretend reform of the past, and change in the electoral system so more political parties have a chance to gain power.

Peaceful AND Responsible Revolution

The people of Egypt are continuing to inspire the world. After toppling their dictator through a peaceful, nonviolent revolution, they have returned to Tahrir Square today to clean it up.
Photo Moises Saman from the New York Times.

Friday, February 11, 2011


What an exciting day for Egyptians, and for all people who love freedom. I hope this will inspire people throughout the Mideast to throw their dictators out.

A young woman who I am friends with on Facebook wrote yesterday, "I wish I was in Egypt right now." I have felt the same way, and wrote her that I had wished I could have been in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.

As I have thought about that comment today, it's occurred to me that the reason she and I are so wistful is because we would love to be a part of the nobel human struggle for freedom that has been going on for millenia now. We watch other peoples demonstrate for freedom, but we believe that we are free in America, so there's nothing to struggle for anymore.

We have all been brainwashed in this country that we're the "freest country" in the world, the freest that has ever existed, in fact we have arrived at the end of history. There's no where to go from here in terms of being more free or more democratic.

This is a lie. There are many ways in which we could improve democracy, equality, and freedom in the United States, and because we think we're already "the best" we are lulled to sleep. This complacency serves the people in power because they like the status quo just fine.