Wednesday, January 22, 2014


In 2002, Osama bin Laden wrote in his “Letter to America”: “You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.”

As this quote indicates, what al Qaeda is fighting for is a traditional understanding of the family. This is not a minor part of their program: it is at its heart. The traditional family is built around some clearly defined principles. First, the home is the domain of the woman and life outside the house is the purview of the man. Second, sexuality is something confined to the family and the home, and extramarital, extra-familial sexuality is unacceptable. Women who move outside the home invite extramarital sexuality just by being there. Third, women have as their primary tasks reproduction and nurturing of the next generation. Therefore, intense controls on women are necessary to maintain the integrity of the family and of society.In an interesting way it is all about women, and bin Laden’s letter drives this home. What he hates about America is that it promotes a completely different view of women and the family.

Al Qaeda’s view is not unique to Osama bin Laden or Islam. The lengths to which that group is prepared to go may be unique, but the issue of women and the family defines most major religions.Traditional Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism, and various branches of Buddhism all take very similar positions. All of these religions are being split internally, as are all societies. In the United States, where we speak of the “culture wars,” the battlefield is the family and its definition. All societies are being torn between traditionalists and those who are attempting to redefine the family, women, and sexuality.

This conflict is going to intensify in the twenty-first century, but the traditionalists are fighting a defensive and ultimately losing battle. The reason is that over the past hundred years the very fabric of human life—and particularly the life of women—has been transformed, and with it the structure of the family. What has already happened in Europe, the United States, and Japan is spreading to the rest of the world.These issues will rip many societies apart, but in the end, the transformation of the family can’t be stopped.

This is not to say that transformation is inherently a good idea or a bad one. Instead, this trend is unstoppable because the demographic realities of the world are being transformed. The single most important demographic change in the world right now is the dramatic decline everywhere in birthrates. Let me repeat that: the most meaningful statistic in the world is an overall decline in birthrates. Women are having fewer and fewer children every year. That means not only that the population explosion of the last two centuries is coming to an end but also that women are spending much less time bearing and nurturing children, even as their life expectancy has soared.

It has been generally accepted in recent decades that the globe was facing a severe population explosion. Uncontrolled population growth would outstrip scarce resources and devastate the environment. More people would require more resources in the form of food, energy, and goods, which in turn would lead to a rise in global warming and other ecological catastrophes. There was no disagreement on the basic premise that population was growing.

This model no longer holds true, however. We already see a change taking place in advanced industrial countries. People are living longer, and because of declining birthrates there are fewer younger workers to support the vast increase in retirees. Europe and Japan are experiencing this problem already. But an aging population is only the tip of the iceberg, the first problem presented by the coming population bust.

People assume that while population growth might be slowing down in Europe, the world’s total population will continue to spiral out of control because of high birthrates in less developed countries.In fact, the opposite is true. Birthrates are plunging everywhere. The advanced industrial countries are on the cutting edge of the decline, but the rest of the world is following right behind them. And this demographic shift will help shape the twenty-first century.

Some of the most important, advanced countries in the world, like Germany and Russia, are going to lose large percentages of their population. Europe’s population today, taken as a whole, is 728 million people.The United Nations forecasts that by 2050 it will drop to between 557 and 653 million, a remarkable decline. The lower number assumes that women will average1.6 children each. The second number assumes 2.1 children. In Europe today, the fertility rate per woman is 1.4 children. This is why we will be focusing on the lower projections going forward.

Traditionally, declining population has meant declining power. For Europe, this will indeed be the case. But for other countries, like the United States, maintaining population levels or finding technological ways to augment a declining population will be essential if political power is to be retained in the next hundred years.

An assertion this extreme has to be supported,so we must pause and drill into the numbers a bit before we consider the consequences. This is a pivotal event in human history and we need to understand why it’s happening.

Let’s start simply. Between about 1750 and1950, the world’s population grew from about one billion people to about three billion. Between 1950 and 2000, it doubled, from three billion to six billion.Not only was the population of the world growing, but the growth was accelerating at an amazing rate. If that trajectory had continued, the result would have been global catastrophe. 

But the growth rate has not accelerated. It has actually slowed down dramatically. According to the United Nations, between 2000 and 2050 the population will continue to grow, but only by about 50percent, halving the growth rate of the previous fifty years. In the second half of the century, it becomes more interesting. Again, the population will continue to grow, but only by 10 percent statistically, according to other forecasters. This is like slamming on the brakes. In fact, some forecasts (not by the UN) have indicated that the total human population will decline by 2100.

The most dramatic effect will be seen in the advanced industrial countries, many of which will experience remarkable declines in population. The middle tier of countries, like Brazil and SouthKorea, will see their populations stabilize by mid-century and slowly decline by 2100. Only in the least developed part of the world, in countries like Congo and Bangladesh, will populations continue to increase until 2100, but not by nearly as much as over the past hundred years. Any way you look at it, the population explosion is ending.

Let’s examine a critical number: 2.1. This is the number of children that each woman must have, on average, in order to maintain a generally stable world population. Anything above that number and the population grows; anything below, the population declines, all other things being equal. According to the United Nations, women had an average of 4.5children in 1970. In 2000, that number had dropped to 2.7 children. Remember,this is a worldwide average. That is a dramatic drop and explains why the population continued to grow, but more slowly than before.

The United Nations forecasts that in 2050, the global fertility rate will decline to an average of 2.05 births per woman. That is just below the 2.1 needed for a stable world population. The UN has another forecast, based on different assumptions, where the rate is 1.6 babies per woman. So the United Nations, which has the best data available, is predicting that by the year 2050, population growth will be either stable or declining dramatically. I believe the latter is closer to the truth.

The situation is even more interesting if we look at the developed regions of the world, the forty-four most advanced countries. In these countries women are currently having an average of 1.6 babies each, which means that populations are already contracting. Birthrates in the middle tier of countries are down to 2.9 and falling. Even the least developed countries are down from 6.6 children per mother to 5.0 today, and expected to drop to 3.0 by 2050. There is no doubt that birthrates are plunging. The question is why. The answer can be traced to the reasons that the population explosion occurred in the first place; in a certain sense, the population explosion halted itself.

There were two clear causes for the population explosion that were equally significant. First, there was a decline in infant mortality; second there was an increase in life expectancies. Both were the result of modern medicine, the availability of more food, and the introduction of basic public health that began in the late eighteenth century.

There are no really good statistics on fertility rates in 1800, but the best estimates fall between 6.5 and 8.0children per woman on average. Women in Europe in 1800 were having the same number of babies as women in Bangladesh are having today, yet the population wasn’t growing. Most children born in 1800 didn’t live long enough to reproduce. Since the 2.1 rule still held, out of eight children born, six died before puberty. Medicine, food, and hygiene dramatically reduced the number of infant and childhood deaths, until by late in the nineteenth century, most children survived to have their own children. Even though infant mortality declined, family patterns did not shift. People were having the same number of babies as before.

It’s not hard to understand why. First, let’s face the fact that people like to have sex, and sex without birth control makes babies—and there was no birth control at the time. But people didn’t mind having a lot of children because children had become the basis of wealth. In an agricultural society, every pair of hands produces wealth; you don’t have to be able to read or program computers to weed, seed, or harvest. Children were also the basis for retirement, if someone lived long enough to have an old age.There was no Social Security, but you counted on your children to take care of you. Part of this was custom, but part of it was rational economic thinking. A father owned land or had the right to farm it. His child needed to have access to the land to live, so the father could dictate policy. As children brought families prosperity and retirement income, the major responsibility of women was to produce as many children as possible. If women had children, and if they both survived childbirth, the family as a whole was better off. This was a matter of luck, but it was a chance worth taking from the standpoint of both families and the men who dominated them. Between lust and greed, there was little reason not to bring more children into the world. Habits are hard to change.

When families began moving into cities en masse, children were still valuable assets. Parents could send them to work in primitive factories at the age of six and collect their pay. In early industrial society factory workers didn’t need many more skills than farm laborers did.But as factories became more complex, they had less use for six-year-olds. Soon they needed somewhat educated workers. Later they needed managers with MBAs. As the sophistication of industry advanced, the economic value of children declined. In order to continue being economically useful, children had to go to school to learn. Rather than adding to family income, they consumed family income. Children had to be clothed, fed, and sheltered, and over time the amount of education they needed increased dramatically, until today many “children”go to school until their mid-twenties and still have not earned a dime.According to the United Nations, the average number of years of schooling in the leading twenty-five countries in the world ranges from fifteen to seventeen.

Many of our grandparents or great-grandparents come from families that had ten children. A couple of generations before, you’d be lucky if three out of ten children survived. Now they were almost all surviving. However, in the economy of 1900, they could all head out and find work by the time they reached puberty. And that’s what most of them did. Ten children in eighteenth-century France might have been a godsend. Ten children in late-nineteenth-century France might have been a burden. Ten children in late-twentieth-century France would be a catastrophe. It took a while for reality to sink in, but eventually it became clear that most children wouldn’t die and that children were extremely expensive to raise. Therefore, people started having a lot fewer children, and had those children   more for the pleasure of having them than for economic benefits. Medical advances such as birth control helped achieve this, but the sheer cost of having and raising children drove the decline in birthrates. Children went from being producers of wealth to the most conspicuous form of consumption. Parents began satisfying their need for nurturing with one child, rather than ten. Now let’s consider life expectancy.After all, the longer people live, the more people there will be at any given time.

Life expectancy surged at the same time that infant mortality declined. In 1800, estimated life expectancy in Europe and theUnited States was about forty years. In 2000 it was close to eighty years. Life expectancy has, in effect, doubled over the last two hundred years. Continued growth in life expectancy is probable, but very few people anticipate another doubling. In the advanced industrial world, the UN projects a growth from seventy-six years in 2000 to eighty-two years in 2050. In the poorest countries it will increase from fifty-one to sixty-six. While this is growth, it is not geometric growth and it, too, is tapering off. This will also help reduce population growth. The reduction process that took place decades ago in the advanced industrial world is now under way in the least developed countries.Having ten children in São Paolo is the surest path to economic suicide. It may take several generations to break the habit, but it will be broken. And it won’t return while the process of educating a child for the modern workforce continues to become longer and costlier. Between declining birthrates and slowing increases in life expectancy, population growth has to end.

What does all this have to do with international power in the twenty-first century? The population bust affects all nations. But it also affects the life cycles of people within these nations. Lower populations affect everything from the number of troops that can fight in a war to how many people there are in the workforce to internal political conflicts. The process we are talking about will affect more than just the number of people in a country. It will change how those people live, and therefore how those countries behave.

Let’s start with three core facts. Life expectancy is moving toward a high of eighty years in the advanced industrial world;the number of children women have is declining; and it takes longer and longer to become educated.

A college education is now considered the minimum for social and economic success in advanced countries. Most people graduate from college at twenty-two. Add in law or graduate school, and people are not entering the workforce until their mid-twenties. Not everyone follows this pattern, of course, but a sizable portion of the population does and that portion includes most of those who will be part of the political and economic leadership of these countries. As a result, marriage patterns have shifted dramatically. People are putting off marriage longer and are having children even later.

Let’s consider the effect on women. Two hundred years ago, women started having children in their early teens. Women continued having children, nurturing them, and frequently burying them until they themselves died. This was necessary for the family’s well being and that of society. Having and raising children was what women did for most of their lives. In the twenty-first century this whole pattern changes. Assuming that a woman reaches puberty at age thirteen and enters menopause at age fifty, she will live twice as long as her ancestors and will for over half her life be incapable of reproduction. Let’s assume a woman has two children. She will spend eighteen months being pregnant, which is roughly 2 percent of her life. Now assume a fairly common pattern, which is that the woman will have these two children three years apart, that each child enters school at the age of five,and that the woman returns to work outside the home when the oldest starts school. The total time the woman is engaged in reproduction and full-time nurturing is eight years of her life. Given a life expectancy of eighty years,the amount of time exclusively devoted to having and raising children will be reduced to an astounding 10 percent of her life. Childbearing is reduced from a woman’s primary activity to one activity among many. Add to this analysis the fact that many women have only one child, and that many use day care and other mass nurturing facilities for their children well before the age of five, and the entire structure of a woman’s life is transformed. We can see the demographic roots of feminism right here.

Since women spend less of their time having and nurturing children, they are much less dependent on men than even fifty years ago. For a woman to reproduce without a husband would have created economic disaster for her in the past. This is no longer the case, particularly for better-educated women. Marriage is no longer imposed by economic necessity.This brings us to a place where marriages are not held together by need as much as by love. The problem with love is that it can be fickle. It comes and goes.If people stay married only for emotional reasons, there will inevitably be more divorce. The decline of economic necessity removes a powerful stabilizing force in marriage.

Love may endure, and frequently does, but by itself it is less powerful than when linked to economic necessity. Marriages used to be guaranteed, “till death do us part.” In the past, that parting was early and frequent. There were a great many fifty-year marriages during the transition period when people were having ten surviving children. But prior to that, marriages ended early through death, and the survivor remarried or faced economic ruin. Europe practiced what we might call serial polygamy, in which widowers (usually, since women tended to die in childbirth) remarried numerous times throughout their lives. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, habit kept marriages together for extraordinarily long periods of time.

A new pattern emerged in the later twentieth century, however, in which serial polygamy reasserted itself, but this time the trend was being driven by divorce rather than death. Let’s add another pattern to this. Whereas many marriages used to take place when one or both partners were in their early teens, people are now marrying in their late twenties and early thirties. It was typical for men and women to remain sexually inactive until marriage at age fourteen, but today it is, shall we say, unrealistic to expect someone marrying at age thirty to remain a virgin. People would be living seventeen years after puberty without sexual activity. That’s not going to happen. There is now a period built into life patterns where people are going to be sexually active but not yet able to support themselves financially.There is also a period in which they can support themselves and are sexually active, but choose not to reproduce. The entire pattern of traditional life is collapsing, and no clear alternative patterns are emerging yet. Cohabitation used to be linked to formal, legal marriage, but the two are now completely decoupled. Even reproduction is being uncoupled from marriage, and perhaps even from cohabitation.

Longer life, the decline in fertility rates, and the additional years of education have all contributed to the dissolution of previous life and social patterns. This trend cannot be reversed. Women are having fewer children because supporting a lot of children in industrial, urban society is economic suicide. That won’t change. The cost of raising children will not decline, nor will there be ways found to put six-year-olds to work.The rate of infant mortality is also not going to rise. So in the twenty-first century the trend toward having fewer, rather than more, children will continue.

The more educated segments of the population are the ones where life patterns have diverged the most. The very poorest, on the other hand, have lived in a world of dysfunctional families since the industrial revolution began. For them, chaotic patterns of reproduction have always been the norm. However, between the college-educated professional and business classes on the one side and the underclass on the other, there is a large layer of society that has only partially experienced the demographic shifts. Among blue-and pink-collar workers there have been other trends, the most important of which is that they have shorter educations. The result is less of a gap between puberty and reproduction. These groups tend to marry earlier and have children earlier. They are far more dependent on each other economically, and it follows that the financial consequences of divorce can be far more damaging. There are non-emotional elements holding their marriages together, and divorce is seen as more consequential, as are extramarital and premarital sex. This group comprises many social conservatives, a small but powerful social cohort. They are powerful because they speak for traditional values. The chaos of the more highly educated classes can’t be called values yet; it will be a century before their lifestyles congeal into a coherent moral system. Therefore social conservatives have an inherent advantage, speaking coherently from the authoritative position of tradition. However, as we have seen, traditional distinctions between men and women are collapsing. As women live longer and have fewer children, they no longer are forced by circumstance into the traditional roles they had to maintain prior to urbanization and industrialization. Nor is family the critical economic instrument it once was.Divorce is no longer economically catastrophic, and premarital sex is inevitable.Homosexuality—and civil unions without reproduction—also becomes un-extraordinary.

Friedmen, G. (2009). The Next 100 Years. Doubleday

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

We Have a Serious Income Inequality Problem -- and it's NOT Caused by the Poor

We have a serious income inequality problem -- and it's NOT caused by the poor.

The days of being able to make it with guts, gumption and a good idea are no longer viable for the majority. In this country, the 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the entire bottom half of earners— 150 million Americans— put together. Those who have made enormous amounts of money did not do this without the help of student loans, the employees who create and manage the day-to-day opportunities in their companies, the shareholders who actually invest their own money into the companies, the laws they now write for themselves which include exorbitant tax breaks and loopholes, and of course, consumers, the buyers in the marketplace. Post crash of 2008, we are left with people just like you and me, the middle class who are jobless. The 8.8 million hard working people who lost their jobs are now, many of them homeless too. Their CEOs are still earning 300 times the amount of the average worker who is now without a job altogether. CEOs used to make 40 times what an average worker makes. Their earnings are not supporting the economy. It is pure economics to see the importance of the wealthy re-investing in the economy through JOBS – not handouts -- so that the middle class, the workers, can keep our economy going.So many WRONGLY claim that 50% of us are supporting ~50% of slackers. 
Facts are that ONLY 6.9% of people in the entitlement program (which includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, most Veterans' Administration programs, federal employee and military retirement plans, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and agricultural price support programs) are non-elderly earning under $20,000 a year. There are two primary ways to pay no (or negative) federal income taxes? The first is to be poor, and the second is to be elderly. In 2011, of the 18.1% of American households who paid no federal tax (meaning, no federal income or payroll tax), more than half were elderly, and most of the other half were non-elderly people making below $20,000 a year. 28.3% of the 43% to which you refer pay payroll tax; 10.3% are elderly; and again, only 6.9% are non-elderly with an income under $20,000 annually. OF THAT PERCENTAGE, some ABUSE the system. The ABUSE MUST BE STOPPED by enforcing current laws and putting caps in place. The other thing people forget about is sales tax, phone tax, cable tax, gas tax, sewer tax, etc. The poor pay a lot of taxes (maybe not income tax) and these taxes amount to a lot of their income leaving them very little on which to live. People need to know what entitlements are and whom they serve; they must understand that the greater number of people who benefit from our aid are NOT abusing the system. So many have lost all perspective on this. Do you realize that MOST of the people on aid are middle to lower income families who are elders, children, or military, and those who lost everything in the financial crisis (8.8 million), who had homes and jobs but do not any longer and are now in need ($19.2 trillion lost in household wealth (2011dollars)? Let's never lose site of who gets aid. The wealth gap is NOT what it has been historically. Not only is it larger, but it is growing with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. We have never seen this before.This is the most critical and dangerous wealth gap in our history -- ever. It is moving top UP and bottom DOWN.

As it stands, the super rich are ensuring themselves special treatment by Congress and the IRS that those average workers cannot ensure themselves (See comments on Citizens United and on McCutcheon v. FEC). Instead, the super rich are closing factories that employ entire generations and towns of U.S. citizens and they are moving those factories overseas, ensuring pay (although lower pay)to foreign workers. This in no way helps our economy.

Those folks who lost their jobs, those hard working Americans who lost their jobs and homes, have no way to buy consumer goods – which is the heart of a healthy economy. This big money is not earned by the CEO, without the help average worker – that CEOs lifeline. I posted the facts about the chairman of Merck took home $17.9 million in 2010, as Merck laid off 16,000 workers and announced layoffs of 28,000 more. The CEO of Bank of America raked in $10 million, while the bank announced it was firing 30,000 employees. Even though the rate of unemployment has begun to fall, jobs still remain scarce, and the pay of the bottom 90% continues to drop, adjusted for inflation. But CEO pay is still rising through the stratosphere. Among the CEOs who took in more than $50million in 2011 were Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs ($50.6 million), JCPenney’s Ron Johnson ($51.5 million), Starbucks’s Howard Schultz ($68.8 million), TycoInternational’s Ed Breen ($68.9 million), and Apple’s Tim Cook ($378 million).That’s a great number earning big bucks but not without their lifeline of their business and our economy – the workers.

The Wall Streeters are doing even better. The super-rich are NOT investing in jobs and growth. They’re putting their bonanza into U.S. Treasury bills or investing it in Brazil or South Asia or anywhere else it can reap the highest return. THE AMERICAN ECONOMY IS IN TROUBLE BECAUSE SO MUCH INCOME AND WEALTH HAVE BEEN GOING TO THE TOP THAT THE REST OF US NO LONGER HAVE THE PURCHASING POWER TO KEEP THE ECONOMY GOING.

Pay close attention to these names: Partners in private-equity firms like Romney’s Bain Capital don’t risk their own money. They invest other people’s money and take 2 percent of it as their annual fee for managing the money regardless of how successful they are. They then pocket 20 percent of any upside gains. Partners like Romney pay taxes on only 13-15% of what they make—a lower rate than that paid by many middle-class Americans (you, your friends, me) — because of a loophole that treats this income as "capital gains."The ostensible reason capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate than ordinary income is to reward investors for "risking" their money, but private-equity managers don’t risk a dime. In fact, rather than taking any real risks, they get government to subsidize them. Having piled the companies they purchase with debt, private-equity managers then typically issue “special dividends” that repay the original investors. Interest payments on that mountain of debt are tax deductible. In effect, government subsidizes them for using debt instead of incurring any real risk with equity. If the companies are subsequently forced into bankruptcy because they can’t manage payments on all this debt, they dump their pension obligations on the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a federal agency, which picks up the tab. If the PBGC can’t meet the payments, taxpayers are left holding the bag. It’s another variation on Wall Street’s playbook of maximizing personal gain and minimizing personal risk. If you screw up royally, you can still walk away like royalty. Taxpayers will bail you out. Personal responsibility is completely foreign to the highest echelons of the Street. Citigroup’s stock fell 44 percent in 2011, but its CEO,Vikram Pandit, got at least $5.45 million on top of a retention bonus of $16.7million. The stock of JPMorgan Chase fell 20 percent, but its CEO, Jamie Dimon,was awarded a package worth $22.9 million. The higher you go in corporateAmerica as a whole, the less of a relationship there is between risk and reward. Executives whose pay is linked to the value of their firm’s shares get a free ride when the stock market as a whole rises, even if they didn’t lift a finger. On the other hand, to protect their wallets against any risk that their firm’s share price might fall, they can place countervailing bets in derivatives markets. This sort of hedging helped the head of AIG, Hank Greenberg, collect $250 million in 2008, when AIG collapsed.

We need to approach the problem of widening income inequality from 6 different directions. The trick is to understand how they all fit together while choosing manageable actions that make sense to who you are. We may not be able to do everything at once but think of each action you take as an incremental step towards the structural change our economy needs. To get started, tell us who you are or select an issue that matters to you below.

RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE - Help turn the jobs we have into ones that will boost the economy, not bust it. Ensure full-time jobs have wages and benefits for people to afford basics.

STRENGTHEN WORKERS’ VOICES - Don’t let big employers take away the fundamental right of people to stick together to speak up for themselves at work; public policy should support workers who choose to form a union. (Frankly, if measures were in place and enforced to prevent corporate abuses, we may eliminate the need for unions. Some of today's unions have become the bullies they were created to combat).

INVEST IN EDUCATION - Ensure everyone has access to a great education spanning from early childhood to post-secondary.

REFORM WALL STREET - Ensure the financial sector is working honestly and accountably to prevent it from taking over our economy.

FIX THE TAX SYSTEM - Ensure everyone is contributing their fair share; reverse the “great tax shift” – tax policies that shifted taxes from rich individuals and corporations to the rest of us.

GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS - Overturn Citizens United so that corporations can’t spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns, and in return affect public policy and spending priorities.
For more on how we got to where we are and how to get us to a better place, read: 
Beyond Outrage: Expanded Edition: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it by Robert B. Reich


Be the change you seek -- Gandhi

In most organized religions the teachings are based on the originator’s transcendent or mystical experience, which is then transmitted to us. Religious belief is then not based on our personal experience but comes to us second-hand. We have inherited beliefs but may not have experienced these beliefs.

We can consider that we were taught/told that God is always with us. We thereby had faith that God is present in our life, what we have called a second-hand faith. But in some crisis we suddenly feel accompanied; we may experience God in our lives. Now we have first-hand faith. The experiential faith is the equivalent of deeper knowledge, true understanding, complete awareness. It is faith-in-experience, not simply experience because it refers to that which is transcendent of explanation by another or others. Notice that in this instance our faith is in the legitimacy of our experience. Our beliefs can be subject to doubt but our experience is not doubted because it is ours.

Most critically thinking adults will be hesitant about teachings and promises revealed in religion (organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, world views, and dogmas that relate humanity to an order of existence) unless they really feel them in their own spiritual experience. David Richo writes:

When faith remains second-hand— does not become experiential — here is what then may happen to the four components of religion:

·      Beliefs can become dogmatism.
·      Morality can become moralism.
·      Ritual can become rote and empty formalism.
·      Devotion can become superstition.

The challenge for adults with faith is to rekindle the original experience of a religion’s founder or to have a personal experience of the divine. Then the four components describe a faith that is spiritually aware and alive:

·      Beliefs help us structure our lives in accord with a realization in us that a divine plan is afoot in the universe.
·      A moral code becomes helpful in forming our personal conscience so that we become more loving and act with more and more integrity.
·      Rituals nurture us and give us a sense of access to the divine and its graces in our daily life.
·      Devotion warms into a personal relationship to God so that a sense of divine presence happens everywhere and anytime, especially in nature, where the evolutionary plan is most evident.

This is how inherited belief becomes the awakened awareness of adult faith. Spirituality is about God, especially one's own personal relationship with God, and any mysterious encounters or happenings that result from it. Spirituality has ethical components also, such as living a virtuous life by helping others and transcending one’s own selfish interests to seek what is right. 

I identify with “spiritual” not “religious” because to me “spiritual” indicates a more intimate connection with God. To me, religion takes something personal and makes it institutional.

Why do I feel positively about this new Pope considering I have abandoned Church dogma? Because Pope Francis personifies the god within each of us, the god most of us have not had the courage to honor. As the leader of the Catholic Church across the globe, he has opened hearts and minds to the value of first-hand faith, living in a spiritual and ethical manner. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Nation of Sheep Will Beget a Government of Wolves

Sheeple (a portmanteau of "sheep" and "people") is a term that highlights the herd behavior of people by likening them to sheep, a heranimal. The term is used to describe those who voluntarily acquiesce to a suggestion without critical analysis or research.

I spoke with my mom at length yesterday. A long time. She started talking about politics and the things she was saying were so ill informed. She was spouting a great deal of propaganda and misinformation -- some outright lies.

She is not a bad person and was not intentional in her messages of misinformation.

She is simply a perfect example of the extreme groupthink (a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics) that pervades this country. She bases her information off of what “others” say, hearsay -- not on facts. Because of the special interests spearheading media consolidation, the media has shunned their responsibility to afford the populous real, fact-based news. What was once yellow journalism (journalism that exploits, distorts, or exaggerates the news to create sensations and attract readers, viewers, or listeners) is now the norm.

People rarely have the time or take the time to understand the special interests (or money) behind the "news" they see, hear and spread throughout their communities. When I asked my mom where she gets her news she said, "Everybody around here says..."

Watching scream TV, listening to scream radio and then spreading the misinformation you gain from it is a vile and despicable act. Social media has made the spread of viral hate and ignorance far too easy. Those of you sharing lies and propaganda know this is wrong and your actions directly contribute to the negative energy and incivility we experience in our society today. Stop. You know who you are. You know what you are doing. You know it is wrong. It is an immense danger in our society and a lead cause of the greatest era of widespread incivility in our history.

Disagreement and debate are good things. America is well served when political parties represent different viewpoints and then compete vigorously to recruit voters to their side. But the increase in recent decades in demonization that characterizes American political debate, particularly among politicians and in the media is quite disturbing. When disagreements activate the psychology of good-versus-evil, it becomes more difficult to reach agreements that meet each side's key interests; reasoning becomes far less responsive to facts; and combatants begin to believe that the ends justify the means.

When that happens, partisans are more willing to break laws, play dirty tricks, lie, and ruin the personal lives of their opponents -- all in the service of what they think is a good cause. We see this with the fringes and extremists now, and through social media it only gets worse.

Good people are discouraged from entering politics. Good public servants are driven out of public service. Now, good citizens are turning on one another, their neighbors, their family and friends. Stop the ignorance. Stop the spread of lies and propaganda. You are the foolish tool being used by the special interest. What do you gain from such actions? Not only is it an insult to the intellect of those who do actually check the facts and know how policy impacts them personally, it also makes you look ignorant and/or evil.

Why not take the time to share the truth, the facts, and explain in a reasonable manner, how those facts may impact you personally. No one can argue with that; merit can be given to your stand – even if it differs from another’s stand.