Category Archives: Boston Globe

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way’ (Ancient Chinese, Analects)


I don’t know who may have said this first, but someone (and many others since) has said that you can’t write well about something you don’t know well, but you may write well, although this result is never assured, about something you do know well.


Well, when I look at my own writings, at least the more than 1000 Blog posts during the past 15 years or so, I see right away that either I’m more often than not writing about subjects that I know little about, although probably not nothing. Or that I’m simply citing the words of others, much more knowledgeable than I. So writing well? Well, how would I know since there are few or no readers of my blogs who might tell me?

By the way, the only books I myself read from beginning to end are thrillers, such as those of John MacDonald, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, et al. (just finished Connelly’s The Wrong Side of Goodbye and gave it a 9 out of a possible 10.)These are not books of ideas, but page turners in which the good hero vanquishes the evil one, and at the end we, the readers, walk away, thoroughly  spent but thoroughly satisfied.

On the other hand, the hundreds of works that I never read from beginning to end are works of non -fiction. Hundreds, now nearly thousands of them fill my iPhone library (probably on the Cloud), or are lined up on the IKEA shelves, now pretty much abandoned but still covering nearly all the walls of our home opposite Freedom Park, here in Tampa, the Park that Josée and I call our own Luxembourg Garden, or Luco.

So my reading realm, where I spend most of my time, reading and writing, is the non-fiction world. More and more (if that’s possible because as one grows older there are fewer hours, not more in the day) that’s where I spend my days. Not since learning how to read in school, but since that time, a bit later when I walked away from the undergraduate and graduate classes that in my life were mainly obstacles, not as they were probably meant to be spurs to my own learning.

While I don’t say that the non-fiction world is where I’m most apt to find the truth, or truths, I do say that it’s where the ideas, some truthful, some not, are found in greatest number and abundance. I would ask the paleontologists who may know such things what were the ideas of the hunter-gatherers during the ten thousands of years that preceded the first farming communities of the Middle East. How old, I would ask them, are the first ideas that man ever had. And then how would we ever know them at all if they were never written down? But of course, there are other ways, nature herself and early men being themselves books, as it were, that can also be read.

So long ago I realized that my life, certainly for the past 60 years or so, has been well steeped in an infinite series of ideas many of which have become a part of me. The interesting thing is that many of these ideas, if not most of them, are still very much alive for me. For ideas while they may be placed aside, forgotten, overlooked, don’t ever die. And the good ideas especially will continue to grow, like gravityevolutionrelativity  and  quantum theory, but also, and I take these good ideas from yes, from the TAO of C.S. Lewisthe power to weep is the best part of us;   unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone;   children, the old, the infirm, the poor should be considered as lords of us all.

Returning again to C.S. Lewis who has been much on my mind lately. Lewis of course was a man of ideas. Of the three kinds of “men” he describes in his book,  Present Concerns, where do I fit in? I don’t think I’m of those who live (only) for their own sake and pleasure, nor do I ever submit myself blindly to some higher claim or authority, such as a God, Kant’s categorical imperative, or even the Second Law that holds us all (not willingly anyway). And I certainly have not turned myself over to Jesus (although of course I love the man).

And I don’t for a moment see myself as in a class by myself. For there are many like me (not enough!) who are no less immersed in the life of ideas. But not a day goes by that I don’t look, if not for new ideas (because of these there are very few and I’m certainly not going to discover them myself), I do look for the endless further varieties of ideas that are already in part anyway in my notes and books.

And so it is that for a long time now I’ve known that ideas are like a food that keeps me alive.  In that regard I turn immediately each day to the opinion pages of the daily news publications I read, plus to a good number of Reviews and Journals, such as the NYR, the Boston R, Harpers, the Atlantic, and 10 or 15 others, including the English publication, super rich in ideas, Prospect Magazine, (at least when I’m able to navigate all the obstacles that their subscription services place in the would be reader’s way).

This habit by the way may unhappily put a little distance between me and my wife, say at breakfast in the morning. Had I forgotten, also from the TAO, ‘that one is to Love thy wife studiously, and gladden her heart all thy life long.’ For I come to my first cup of coffee not with my wife’s heart in mind, but with my iPhone in hand and totally without an open mind. But instead I will be full of the words of one or more of the op ed columnists of the Times, Post, or WSJ that I will have just read and won’t hear what my wife Josée will be trying to say about what she has just read herself in Le Figaro or Le Point, perhaps a commentary by Sophie Coignard on Arnaud Montebourg, the Socialist presidential candidate now going about “gonflé a l’hélium.” Now that’s a kind of idea, I suppose, the Socialist candidate blown up like a helium balloon.

I ask myself why is it that I no longer read novels? I grew up with (well no, I was already into my twenties when I was reading them) the great English, French, and Russian works. Now I’d say even, without at the time knowing it, that these books, read for the most part when I was no longer in school or class were my education. And I still have them on my shelves. Perhaps the answer to my “why” question, why I no longer read novels, is because twentieth and now twentyfirst century novelists are doing nothing better, and nothing as good, as the great novelists of the past, although not having read them I really can’t say this.

But it’s also true that the novels that I’ve always enjoyed the most are those with plenty of ideas, the novels of ideas if you will. If there are few ideas in the modern novels it’s perhaps because the modern novelists are writing about people (and usually people, if I ever do get to know them, the people of John Updike and Philip Roth for example, that I care little about). They rarely write about ideas.

You might question whether the op ed writers that I read ever reach the level of real ideas, for often they do seem to be all opinion and commentary. I’ll have to reserve judgement on that. Do even my own ideas reach that level?

In any case the historian Charles Beard tells us that “the world is largely ruled by ideas, true and false.” Most likely the opinion writers want to be a part of this world of ideas, that is, part of something bigger than themselves. I know I do. As for what Charles Beard has to say I would change only his “true and false” to “good and bad.”

I might explore all this a bit further. And I might stop now. But I also might take the one word, education with all the ideas connected thereto. A topic that I myself have hundreds of ideas about.

My own thinking about education probably began, not when I was a student myself, that time  when the E word had absolutely no meaning for me, but much later when my wife and I started our own school way back there when in the seventies people were doing such things, the free school movement in Berkeley for example of which we were a small part. The immediate need for our starting our own school was that we had the four children of our own and ideas about education, our own and those of others, became all important.

When I’m ready, for regarding any kind of education or learning the readiness is all, I’ll probably have more to say about this subject…

ideas


“I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.” (from the play, Heauton Timorumenos, by the Roman, Terence)

I’m clearly in over my head (without Lewis’s encyclopedic knowledge) but still writing about him. For this I ask your understanding. And now I’m writing about his 1943 book, The Abolition of Man, which has received probably the most attention of all his works. The National Review ranked the book #7 in its 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century list. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute ranked the book as the second best book of the 20th century. In a lecture on Walker Percy, Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College lists the book as one of six “books to read to save Western Civilization,” — yes that’s right, “to save Western Civilization,”— (the other saviors being  Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, The Everlasting Man  and Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.)

In this book Lewis would defend something he calls “objective value” a kind of natural law, and he would defend it from something that seems to be the activity of scientists, which would do away with objective value, by reduction, by reducing men created in the image of God to natural beings created in no one’s image, without chests, without feeling, without hearts.

Lewis elsewhere (in his book, Present Concerns) tells us there are Three Kinds of Men,  “those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them,”  (probably most of us) and then those “who acknowledge some other claim upon them—the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society,—and honestly try to pursue their own interests but no further than this claim will allow,” probably almost as many, and finally a third class of those “who can say like St Paul that for them to live is Christ. That the will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs.” Are there any at all of these? Well there are certainly some who would place themselves in this third class.

What about the scientist? A class of his own? Lewis doesn’t mention him specifically. But he is definitely not of the third class, the class to which Lewis himself would belong, those who have given themselves over to Christ. As for the scientist Lewis’s three types of men don’t seem to include him.

But the abolition of man (resulting as it seems from the activity of science) is not what this book, The Abolition of Man, is most about. Rather it’s the book’s Appendix that gets most of my and probably most of Lewis’ own attention, not to mention the book’s many admirers. The Appendix alone, perhaps, is what makes this book one of those six books that would, or could “save Western civilization.”

Lewis says that the Chinese speak of a great something called the Tao, that which is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge into space and time…. This conception of the Way, or Road in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Oriental alike is for Lewis the Tao, in his view, the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, about what we are, about what the universe is. In fact Lewis throughout all his writing is trying to make a case for the “really true.”

But there are a couple of great ironies here. For one, while Lewis would describe what he sees as the abolition of man he is in fact giving us in this book a man inherently moral, not needing God, evidently much alive on this earth well before the coming of Christ, and showing a highly developed understanding of right and wrong. (The restoration rather than the abolition of man?) I come away from the reading of the book, and most of all the book’s Appendix, and suggest a fourth kind of man, a natural moral man, one who is clearly present in all the earlier civilizations of which we have objective evidence, and one who comes closest to ourselves, to what we are, or would be.

The other great irony is that Lewis himself employs the method of the scientist and/or historian, not the Christian (whatever that method might be?), to tell us what he has learned about who we are. To that end he has collected hundreds, perhaps thousands or more illustrations of men’s natural morality, of man’s awareness of right and wrong, such awareness not coming from the teachings of one or another religion but in this instance from Lewis’ own efforts at gaining knowledge of self through his reading. All of this strongly implying that there is objective value, a moral law out there, coming in multiple representations and accessible to all of us. A widely read individual like Lewis himself would be continually encountering these and similar texts in his reading, and we should not be surprised by the Appendix, only that he didn’t see the full significance of what he had done. I call this the Montaigne effect because Montaigne’s essays while similarly rich in source materials also have much to tell us of the nature of man.

Lewis, no less than Montaigne, makes no pretense of completeness, and we know there is much more of the same to be found if we were ourselves were to read as widely and to look further. The idea of collecting independent testimonies of a natural moral law presupposes that civilizations have arisen in the world, often independently of one another, and that they point to multiple emergences of moral man on the planet. Montaigne knew this, Lewis seems not to have understood its full significance.


Lewis does group his evidence (why?) under such titles as the Laws of General and Special Beneficence, Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors, to Children and Posterity, the Laws of Justice, Good Faith and Veracity, and Magnanimity.

These texts even in these artificial groupings are the evidence of a world-wide moral code that the historian/scientist Lewis himself has brought to our attention. For me, this is enough, the testimonies from so many who have come before us, from men like us. And it is enough to strive to be like them. No God, no religion is necessary.

Below are just a few of the quotations that Lewis has grouped together, presented here in no particular order. From all parts of the known world going back thousands of years the writers of these words are saying pretty much the same things about the nature of man, and in this work of C.S.Lewis, far from being abolished man is restored and reinstated.


‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6)

‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2)

‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17)

‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9)

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7)

‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140)

‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18)

‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)

‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. i. vii)

‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b)

‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9)

‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9)

‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)

‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22)

‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part… and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432)

‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15)

‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels)

‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i)

‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482)

‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15)

‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6)

‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312)

‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless. (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 446)

‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’… ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443)

‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131)

‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180)

‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161)

‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660)

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)

‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890)

‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv)

‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time … let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98)

‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phadeo, 81 A)

‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922)

‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John 12:24,25)


FOUNDING FATHERS: WE ARE NOT A CHRISTIAN NATION

Jeff Schweitzer Scientist, PhD. in neurophysiology, and former White House Senior Policy Analyst;  writing in the Huffington Post, April 28, 2015:

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“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
—John Adams

As we witness yet again the brutal and bloody consequences of religious intolerance in the form of ISIS, we have a majority of Republicans pining for a Christian America. Proponents of converting the United States into a theocracy do not see the terrible parallel between religious excess in the Middle East and here at home, but they would not because blindness to reason is the inevitable consequence of religious zealotry.

Conservatives who so proudly tout their fealty to the Constitution want to trash our founding document by violating the First Amendment in hopes of establishing Christianity as the nation’s religion. This is precisely what the Constitution prohibits:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Back to the Beginning:

How terribly ironic that the louder Christians protest against the excesses of Islam, the more they agitate for Christian excess. We really need to stop this ridiculous argument about being a Christian nation. If there should be any doubt, let us listen to the founding fathers themselves. This from Thomas Jefferson in an April 11, 1823, letter to John Adams:

“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. … But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding….”

These are not the words of a man who wishes to establish a Christian theocracy. Jefferson promoted tolerance above all and said earlier that his statute for religious freedom in Virginia was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammeden, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.” He specifically wished to avoid the dominance of a single religion.

Let us be perfectly clear: We are not now, nor have we ever been, a Christian nation. Our founding fathers explicitly and clearly excluded any reference to “God” or “the Almighty” or any euphemism for a higher power in the Constitution. Not one time is the word “god” mentioned in our founding document. Not one time.

The facts of our history are easy enough to verify. Anybody who ignorantly insists that our nation is founded on Christian ideals need only look at the four most important documents from our early history — the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution — to disprove that ridiculous religious bias. All four documents unambiguously prove our secular origins.

Declaration of Independence (1776)

The most important assertion in this document is that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Note that the power of government is derived not from any god but from the people. No appeal is made in this document to a god for authority of any kind. In no case are any powers given to religion in the affairs of man.

Remember, too, that this document was not written to form or found a government but was stating intent in a way that was meant to appeal to an audience with European sensibilities. Only four times is there any reference at all to higher powers — “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” “Supreme Judge of the world,” “their Creator,” and “divine Providence” — and in all four cases the references to a higher power appeal to the idea of inherent human dignity, never implying a role for a god in government.

Articles of Confederation (1777)

Throughout the entire document, in all 13 articles, the only reference to anything remotely relating to a god is a term used one time, “Great Governor of the World,” and even then only in the context of general introduction, like “Ladies and gentlemen, members of the court….” Unlike the Declaration of Independence, this document did indeed seek to create a type of government in the form of a confederation of independent states. The authors gave no power or authority to religion. And this document is our first glimpse into the separation of church and state, because just as the Articles of Confederation give no authority to religion in civil matters, so too does the document deny any authority of government in matters of faith.

U.S. Constitution (1787)

This one is easy, because the Constitution of the United States of America makes zero reference to a god or Christianity.

The only reference to religion, found in Article VI, is a negative one: “[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” And of course we have the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Federalist Papers (1787-88)

While Thomas Jefferson was the genius behind the Declaration of Independence, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (publishing under the pseudonym “Publius”) were the brains providing the intellectual foundation of our Constitution. And what brilliance they brought to the task. The first time I picked up the Federalist Papers, I intended to scan the book briefly and then move on to more interesting pursuits. But I could not put it down; the book reads like an intriguing mystery novel with an intricate plot and complex characters acting on every human emotion. There is no better way to get into the minds of our founding fathers and understand their original intent than by reading this collection of amazing essays.

As with the Constitution, at no time is a god ever mentioned in the Federalist Papers. At no time is Christianity ever mentioned. Religion is only discussed in the context of keeping matters of faith separate from concerns of governance, and of keeping religion free from government interference.

The founding fathers could not be clearer on this point: God has no role in government; Christianity has no role in government. They make this point explicitly, repeatedly, in multiple founding documents. We are not a Christian nation.

“In God We Trust”

Our national obsession with God in politics is actually a recent phenomenon and would seem completely alien to any of our founders. “In God We Trust” was first placed on United States coins in 1861, during the Civil War. (More about that in a bit.) Teddy Roosevelt tried to remove the words from our money in 1907 but was shouted down. Only in 1956 was that expression adopted as the national motto by the 84th Congress. The clause “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was inserted only in 1954, when President Eisenhower signed legislation to recognize “the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty.” But conservatives, ignorant of our history, or willfully ignoring it, wish us to believe that the pledge always referenced God. Here is Sarah Palin’s take, defending the “under God” clause: “If the pledge was good enough for the founding fathers, its [sic] good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.” One wonders if she thinks the founders were alive in 1954. I guess if Noah could live to be nearly 800 years old….

That we are a secular nation was obvious to past generations, so much so that in the mid-1800s several groups formed to rectify what they considered a mistake of our forefathers in founding our country on principles of reason rather than faith. Perhaps the most prominent was the National Reform Association, established in 1863 for the purpose of amending the preamble to the Constitution to acknowledge God and Jesus Christ as the sources of all government power, because the original document does not.

The National Reform Association believed that the Civil War was evidence that God was punishing the country for their failure to put God into the Constitution (nothing to do with slavery, of course). Also, note that this apparent knowledge of God’s mind is reminiscent of Pat Robertson’s claims about God’s wrath in Haiti, Florida and anywhere else he believes the devil has taken hold. Anyway, in their 1864 convention the National Reform Association agreed on a preamble that would replace “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” with “Recognizing Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government….”

They presented their suggestion to President Lincoln, who avoided it like a dirty diaper. The Congress also dodged the idea but threw the group a bone by agreeing to put “In God We Trust” on our currency, in an act of pure political pandering. So “In God We Trust” was first placed on United States coins in 1861 during the Civil War. From the Treasury we also find out:

The use of IN GOD WE TRUST has not been uninterrupted. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938. Since 1938, all United States coins bear the inscription. Later, the motto was found missing from the new design of the double-eagle gold coin and the eagle gold coin shortly after they appeared in 1907. In response to a general demand, Congress ordered it restored, and the Act of May 18, 1908, made it mandatory on all coins upon which it had previously appeared. IN GOD WE TRUST was not mandatory on the one-cent coin and five-cent coin. It could be placed on them by the Secretary or the Mint Director with the Secretary’s approval.

The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908.

For much of our existence, the United States never included God in its motto, on its currency, or in any document creating the Republic. We were born a secular nation and must remain one to sustain our future, unless we want to go the way of ISIS.

Our founding fathers understood well the extraordinary danger of mixing religion and politics; we forget that lesson at our great peril. If we forget, just glance over to the Middle East. I tremble in fear for my country when the majority of conservatives believe we are a Christian nation; that frightening majority has forgotten our history, ignored our founding principles and abandoned our most cherished ideal of separating church and state. In mixing religion and politics, the religious right subverts both. And the world suffers.


Two guys we’re up against and haven’t a clue (Donald Trump might be a third one?)

Here is one of them, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin a Russian politician and former member of the KGB who is the current President of the Russian Federation.

putin-threat
The words that follow I take from Larry Diamond, who is writing about Putin in the Atlantic Magazine, Dec 9, 2016, —Russia and the Threat to Liberal Democracy:


David Runciman: Education has become a fundamental divide in democracy

David Runciman in the Guardian writes about

How the education gap is tearing politics apart.   (It’s not.)

The possibility that education has become a fundamental divide in democracy – with the educated on one side and the less educated on another – is, according to Runciman, alarming. “It points to a deep alienation that cuts both ways. The less educated fear they are being governed by intellectual snobs who know nothing of their lives and experiences. The educated fear their fate may be decided by know-nothings who are ignorant of how the world really works. Bringing the two sides together is going to be very hard. The current election season appears to be doing the opposite.”

David writes well but about this he just has to be wrong. The prospect of there being a huge gap between those with more or less education (what is education?) is not at all an “alarming prospect.” In fact it’s just the way things are and always will be. But there are real “alarming prospects,” that could and should have alarmed us much more, and that certainly do need attention. Much more than the gap he refers to between the educated and the uneducated.

Right now one of these truly alarming prospects is the growing, in both Europe and America, “white nationalism.” OK Hitler is dead, happily, but there are arising those who might take his place. Probably not as many would say, Donald Trump, nor even Steve Bannon, or Richard Spencer of the “Hail Trump” salute and get together in Washington last week. Whoever it may be out there assembling the armies of the Whites is, for the moment anyway, not making him or herself known.

What Runciman might have spoken about instead is the very real and much more alarming fundamental divide, that between those with more or less, not education, but intelligence. But he probably knew well that to speak of unequal intelligences, with which we all have long experience, first during our own school years, and then later during our years after school, that to speak, even mention such is taboo. He probably knew that you don’t do so without being severely punished.

But let’s look at the real division among us. And when you do you will quickly see that school dropouts, making up many of the hard core Trump supporters, will have dropped out of school because they didn’t have the smarts to continue, often and especially algebra. For more and more algebra or college track class work has become the ticket to education following highschool. And if you go on that ticket you have to procure.

In high school more than a third of the freshman class will eventually fall behind in the work and eventually drop out being unable to handle the work. Those who stay and finish, first school and later on college, do so because of their ability to do the assigned work. So in this sense the “fundamental divide” is between those with more and those with less smarts, those who can and who cannot do the college prep work. And so far we have provided little or nothing in the way of hope and jobs for the latter. And this should alarm us.

So when Trump says he loves the poorly educated, he has to mean he loves the less intelligent because that’s what’s true of the bulk of the poorly educated. Although to be poorly educated is not necessarily to be less intelligent. For while intelligence doesn’t insure a good education the lack of intelligence, or being low on the intelligence scale, will often result in a lack of what we mean by education, that is, education in school (that which only for a couple of hundred years has been what we mean or at least call education).

Trump himself is intelligent but it would seem very poorly educated. Over and over again during the recent presidential campaign he revealed just how much he didn’t know. (He is beginning a bit to reveal what he does know. Would that he continue, for we do have him for four years as president.) His own ignorance was probably what most accounted for the extravagant and obviously preposterous statements he made, in particular in regard to President Obama, Senator McCain, the GoldStar parents, the Mexicans and the Muslims. Knowledgeable people wouldn’t have said these things. His own ignorance might have been undone by proper schooling, that which is probably not true for many if not most of his supporters, for whom the intelligence divide is real.

If in fact our country faces an alarming prospect it’s not the gap between the educated and the less educated that we should be concerned about. That we can, and have for hundreds of years, lived with. And we can do something about that.

But to repeat the alarming gap is that between us in respect to our widely differing intelligences, that which is not something at all new. While this gap is not new, while it has always been with us, for most of our country’s history, it was never so important as now because the country’s business, the work of the country, the jobs that needed to be done for the country to prosper, could take in and provide meaningful working lives for most all of us, that is, make use of all of us regardless of the smart level of each one of us. For most of our history the fact of our different intelligences was exactly what the different jobs out there most needed.

But for whatever reason up until now we have avoided recognizing the different levels of intelligence among us.  And, heaven forbid, if someone actually dared to actually speak of them, as did Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book The Bell Curve, they would be, and in the case of Herrnstein and Murray were, quickly ostracized, and like the word intelligence itself, made pariahs in the world of ideas.

For in far too many respects, if not the most important, we are not at all equal. But at best, what I mean by the most important, no one of us is less human than the next guy, whatever be his or her color or ethnic origin, or intelligence. Sure there is wide variation (but not a division or real separation) between us, be it in respect to brains, arms and legs, or hair color. And if we could just admit this then our future prospects would be much less alarming. But so far the admission that in spite of our great superficial differences we are all one, as were the Dinosaurs before us, and the Trilobites before them, escapes us.

People in other countries have dealt with presidents like Trump for a long time. Can we handle it? Yes, we can.

William Saletan in Slate Magazine (Nov. 29, 2016 ) writes about Donald Trump:

saletan

“He’s an emotional weakling, and his recent interviews give us models for dealing with it.”

This week, in a volley of angry tweets, Donald Trump ridiculed the “badly defeated … Dems,” claimed he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” and said anyone who burned the American flag should lose their citizenship or spend a year in jail. Trump’s outbursts set off alarms. How could he believe such nonsense about voter fraud? Why would a man who had just been elected president gloat, threaten protesters, and insult half the country? What’s going on in his messed-up head?

To understand Trump, you have to set aside the scripted speeches he gave before his election and the canned videos he has released since. You also have to set aside the caricature of him as a Klan-loving, Nazi-sympathizing woman hater who will deport every immigrant he can find. Instead, look at the four interviews he has given since his election: to the Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and a group of TV anchors and executives. In these exchanges, all of them conducted outside the behavior-warping context of the campaign, you’ll see how squishy he is. Trump did run a despicable campaign, and he’s a menace to the country and the world. But it’s not because he’s a strongman. It’s because he’s a weakling.


That’s the short version. The longer story is more complicated. Here are the various facets of Trump’s personality, how they fit together, and why they make him dangerous.

1. He’s all about reciprocal love. In the campaign, Trump often played on fear and hate. He targeted Muslims, refugees, undocumented immigrants, and any other scapegoat that served his interests. But deep down, what he wanted was the love of his adoring crowds. Emotionally, he’s a child. He can love others, but only if they love him first. And that’s how he sees his presidency. In his interview with the Times on Nov. 22, he explained that his job is “taking care of the people that really have proven to be—to love Donald Trump.”
2. His reflexes are vindictive. When Trump was down in the polls, he railed against Hillary Clinton, the press, and fellow Republicans. On election night, he said those grudges were over. But they weren’t. In post-election tweets, he berated CNN, Saturday Night Live, and the cast of Hamilton. He blasted Democrats for supporting ongoing recounts, even after they conceded the election and said they just wanted to make sure the recounts were fair. He summoned TV executives to Trump Tower on Nov. 21, called them the “dishonest media,” and scolded them for underestimating him. The next day, in his meeting with the Times, he bragged that he had stiffed job requests and pleas for campaign help from two Republican Senate candidates who had failed to support him. That’s how Trump behaves on his political honeymoon. Imagine what he’ll do when the going gets rough.

3. His ego is fragile. After winning the Republican nomination in May, Trump gloated about it for months. Now he’s gloating about the election. In tweets and interviews, he has crowed that he beat Clinton “easily.” On Tuesday, he ran another victory lap, trumpeting the addition of Michigan to his “landslide.” To understand how central this is to Trump’s sense of himself, check out the first 19 paragraphs of his interview with the Times.

US President-elect Donald Trump leaves after a meeting at the New York Times on November 22, 2016 in New York.
President-ellecy Donald Trump leaves after a meeting at the NewYork Times on Nov. 22. TRimothy A. Clary/Getty Images

Invited by the publisher to give opening remarks, Trump spoke at length, not about the future but about his genius and prowess on the campaign trail. In his Nov. 11 interview with 60 Minutes, he bragged about the number of Twitter followers he had gained.

A president-elect who is self-assured doesn’t behave this way. Nor does he snap at a late-night sketch comedy show. Nor does he summon TV executives to complain that particular pictures they have aired are unflattering to him. Trump does these things because he’s deeply insecure and easily wounded.

4. He craves approval. Trump often comes across as indifferent to the feelings of others. That’s misleading. He cares intensely about being respected and loved. Consider his twisted relationship with the Times. For two weeks after the election, he tweeted that the paper was “nasty,” “failing,” and “looked like fools in their coverage of me.” Despite this, he requested a meeting and showed up at the paper’s offices to wag his tail. He promised Times staffers an immigration bill that “even the people in this room can be happy” with. He told them “it would be, to me, a great achievement if I could come back here in a year or two years … and have a lot of the folks here say, ‘You’ve done a great job.’ And I don’t mean just a conservative job, ’cause I’m not talking conservative. I mean just, we’ve done a good job.” Yes, Mr. President. Good boy.
5. He’s easily soothed by flattery. Trump is a champ at nursing grudges when he feels cheated, threatened, or disrespected. But his grudges, like his commitments, can be washed out by small doses of affection. He speaks glowingly of generous post-election phone calls he received from the Clintons and the Bushes. He has praised both families in return. Those threats to prosecute Hillary? Never mind. Trump also can’t stop clucking about his Nov. 10 meeting with President Obama. At least three times, Trump has claimed to have “great chemistry” with the man he had never previously met and had repeatedly denounced as the worst president ever. That’s how easily Trump’s wrath can turn to warmth—and vice versa.
6. He’s a softie. If Trump hurts a lot of people as president, it won’t be out of malice. Calling Clinton a “nasty woman” from the safety of a podium, or threatening a few flag burners with the same jail penalty she supported, is easy. But Trump doesn’t have the stomach to face down millions of angry Americans. On 60 Minutes, he backed away from talk of deportation, criminalizing abortions, and reopening the legal debate over same-sex marriage. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, said Trump, the worst thing women might have to endure is that “they’ll have to go to another state.” As for LGBT people, he pleaded, “I mentioned them at the Republican National Convention! And everybody said, ‘That was so great.’ ” Trump might not understand the effects of his policies or appointments, but he knows what he needs: praise. He’s not an attack dog. He wants to be petted.
7. His emotional softness makes him morally weak. Trump’s critics see him as a thug who will damage the country and the world through aggression. That could happen. But he’s far more likely to usher in bad things by being a lapdog when we need a watchdog. To take a small example: Three men who had partnered with Trump in a real estate project in India met with him after his election, took pictures with him, and posted the pictures to promote the venture. When the Times asked Trump about this, he pleaded: “What am I going to say? ‘I’m not going to talk to you’? ‘I’m not going to take pictures’? … On a human basis, you take pictures.”

Trump was just being nice. But that kind of niceness can cause trouble. During the campaign, Trump said he would keep jobs in the U.S. by threatening companies that plan to move their operations elsewhere. But as president-elect, he’s not using threats. He’s using bribes. He described to the Times one of “numerous” conversations he’s had with CEOs since the election. “We’ll create the incentives for you,” Trump told the executive. “We’re going for a very large tax cut for corporations, which you’ll be happy about.” So the jobs will stay. But they’ll be funded by taxpayers, and employers will control the transactions.

Trump is a patsy for Russian President Vladimir Putin, too. He effused to the Journal about a “beautiful” letter Putin sent him after the election. “I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” Trump told the Times. He claimed, based on reactions at his rallies, that getting along with Russia would also make Americans happy: “I’d say this in front of thousands of people. … ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with Russia? Wouldn’t it be nice if we went after ISIS together?’ … And the people [would] stand up and give me a massive hand.”

Trump treats the presidency the way he treated The Apprentice: It’s all about ratings. There’s no limit to the moral lines he would cross to give the audience what it wants. In the Times interview, he said he might withdraw his support for waterboarding if it were found to be ineffective at extracting useful information. But he added: “If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it. I would be guided by that.”

8. He substitutes popularity for standards of conduct. Trump sees the moral universe in terms of feelings, not rules or reasons. He told the Times he could combine his presidency and his business any way he chose. Anything he did to limit conflicts of interest, he asserted, would be out of the generosity of his heart. He also suggested that he didn’t have to sweat conflicts of interest because voters, by electing him, had shown they didn’t care about them. “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” he tweeted. “Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”

Trump is just as dismissive about financial transparency. “Are you gonna release your tax returns?” Lesley Stahl asked him on 60 Minutes. “Nobody cares,” Trump replied. “Obviously, the public didn’t care, because I won the election very easily.” He gave a similar brushoff to concerns about his scorched-earth political style. The Journal reported that it had asked Trump “whether he thought his rhetoric had gone too far in the campaign.” His answer, according to the paper: “No. I won.” Winning means people don’t mind what you did. And if they don’t mind, then what you did wasn’t wrong.

9. He confuses controversy with mystery. Because Trump deals in emotions rather than facts, he’s easily swayed by intensity. Even in matters of science, he’s more affected by the number of people who believe something than by the evidence for their beliefs. “There are few things where there’s more division than climate change,” Trump told the Times. “There are people on the other side of that issue.” He went on: “My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. … He had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know.”

What expertise did Trump’s uncle have in climate forecasting? Not much, since the uncle specialized in medical and communications technology. What evidence did he have? Again, not much, since he died 31 years ago. But he did have “feelings,” as Trump points out. So do all those “people on the other side.” The only scientific instrument Trump needs is a finger in the wind.

10. He’s obtuse to the pain he inflicts. If Trump cares so much about feelings, why doesn’t he see all the fear and stress he has caused? Because that would require him to accept criticism, and his ego can’t handle it. On 60 Minutes, he batted away questions about his invective during the campaign, insisting that “my strongest asset is my temperament” and that he “can’t regret” anything he’d said. If some folks are upset by his election, that can’t be his fault, so it has to be theirs. “There are people, Americans, who are scared, and some of them are demonstrating right now, demonstrating against you, against your rhetoric,” Stahl told him. Trump seemed baffled. “That’s only because they don’t know me,” he said.

Trump is virtually lobotomized. Unable to acknowledge his role in stirring up hatred and fear, he blames others. When Stahl told him that “African Americans think there’s a target on their back,” and “Muslims are terrified,” he shrugged that such fears were “built up by the press, because, frankly, they’ll take every single little incident … and they’ll make [it] into an event.” In his interview with the Times, Trump claimed that low black turnout showed how popular he was: “A lot of people didn’t show up, because the African-American community liked me.” The vanity of this man is bottomless.

11. He feels the pain of his allies, not the pain of people different from him. Trump sees no need to reassure the ethnic or religious communities he targeted in the campaign. On Nov. 10, when he visited the U.S. Capitol, a reporter called out, “Are you going to ask Congress to ban Muslims from entering the country?” Trump heard the question, replied, “Thank you, everybody,” and walked away. The next day, in his interview with 60 Minutes, he belittled reports of racial slurs from his supporters, calling them “a very small amount.” When a Times staffer asked him about a conference of Trump sympathizers who had “pledged their allegiance to Nazism,” Trump expressed surprise that reporters were still pestering him about such things. “Boy, you are really into this stuff,” he said. He uttered four words of intransitive boilerplate—“I disavow and condemn”—and moved on.

But when people who feel threatened by Trump challenge his friends, he rushes to defend his friends. On Nov. 18, Vice President–elect Mike Pence went to see Hamilton. After the show, the cast delivered a short speech to Pence on behalf of “the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us.” The message concluded: “We truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.” Trump responded by attacking the cast on Twitter, charging that they had “harassed” Pence and violated the theater as “a safe and special place.”

Trump also rose to the defense of his right-hand man, Steve Bannon, after a Times reporter asked about Trump’s appointment of Bannon, “who has been described by some as racist and anti-Semitic,” to a White House job. Trump called Bannon “a decent guy” who had “been treated very unfairly.” The exchange was bizarre in part because Bannon himself, in an interview at the Republican National Convention in August, had proudly declared, “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” Yet Trump assured the Times: “I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of [those] things … I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.” Trump doesn’t fuss about Bannon’s record. He just thinks: He’s my friend, so he’s good, and whatever he said is OK.

12. He’s easily manipulated. Having a fragile, approval-craving narcissist as president isn’t the end of the world. It just means that to get him to do the right thing, you have to pet him. In Trump’s post-election exchanges, we have several useful models. The first is Obama, who gave Trump a tongue bath in their 90-minute meeting on Nov. 10 and may have saved his signature legislative achievement in the process. Three days after that meeting, Trump told the Journal he was reconsidering his pledge to abolish Obama’s health insurance program: “Either Obamacare will be amended, or repealed and replaced.”

The second model is Times columnist Tom Friedman. In the group session at Times headquarters on Nov. 22, Friedman worked Trump like a horndog in a bar, trying to get him into bed on climate change. “You own some of the most beautiful links golf courses in the world,” Friedman told Trump. “I’d hate to see Royal Aberdeen underwater,” the columnist added. When Trump ragged on windmills, Friedman whispered sweet nothings: “General Electric has a big wind turbine factory in South Carolina.” Trump, eager for approval, told the Times staffers about his “many environmental awards” and bragged, “I’m actually an environmentalist.” By the end of the session, Friedman had Trump eating out of his hand.

The third model is a story Trump told about his threat to narrow the First Amendment. During the primaries, Trump had pledged to “open up our libel laws so when [journalists] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” But in his meeting with the Times, Trump said someone had later warned him, “It’s a great idea, softening up those laws, but you may get sued a lot more.” “You’re right, I never thought about that,” Trump recalled telling this person. And that reflection led Trump to assure the Times that on the question of libel laws, “You’re going to be fine.”

That’s how you move Trump. You don’t talk about ethics. You play the toughness card. You appeal to the art of the deal. You make him feel smart, powerful, and loved. You don’t forget how unmoored and volatile he is, but you set aside your fear and your anger. You thank God that you’re dealing with a narcissist, not a cold-blooded killer. And until you can get him safely out of the White House, you work with what you have. People in other countries have dealt with presidents like Trump for a long time. Can we handle it? Yes, we can.


Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Our worst nightmare, Richard Spencer, Our best hope, the Hamilton cast.

 


Trump’s Neo-Nationalists

‘America first’ is not a policy or a motto. It’s an implicit accusation of disloyalty.
By Bret Stephens.  WSJ. Nov. 21, 2016

“I’m an economic nationalist. I am an America first guy. And I have admired nationalist movements throughout the world, have said repeatedly strong nations make great neighbors. I’ve also said repeatedly that the ethno-nationalist movement, prominent in Europe, will change over time. I’ve never been a supporter of ethno-nationalism.”

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Stephen Bannon at Trump Tower, Aug. 20. Photo: Reuters

So said Stephen K. Bannon,Donald Trump’s chief strategist, in a wide-ranging interview with my colleague Kimberley Strassel published in these pages on Saturday. Later in the interview Mr. Bannon inveighed against “the policies of globalism,” which, he said, had “severely hurt” the interests of America’s working and middle classes of every race.

Over the weekend, several friends told me they found the interview reassuring about Mr. Bannon. I found it chilling.

Start with economic nationalism, a shopworn idea commonly associated with Latin American governments such as Juan Perón’s Argentina. In its milder form, economic nationalism means state subsidies for national-champion companies, giant infrastructure projects, targeted tariff protections for politically favored industries, “Buy American” provisions in government contracting, federal interventions against foreign takeovers of “sensitive” companies….

In France, economic nationalism has meant bailouts for failing industrial giants like Alstom. In Japan, it has meant 800% tariffs on imported rice, decades of blowout spending on airports, roads and bridges, and chronic hostility to immigration. Russia passed more protectionist measures in 2013 than any other country, according to the Moscow Times.

What do these and other countries that practice variants of economic nationalism have in common? France, where the state accounts for 57% of the economy, hasn’t seen annual GDP growth top 3% since the turn of the millennium. Japan, which has the world’s oldest population along with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio, experienced no fewer than five recessions between 2008 and 2015. Russia’s GDP contracted by 40% between 2013 and 2015. Its economy is now half the size of Great Britain’s.

Economic nationalism, in other words, means economic ruin—along with all the political favoritism, crony capitalism and inefficiency that Americans usually associate with Solyndra, the Synfuels Corp., or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Mr. Bannon wants to double down on this winning formula.

Mr. Bannon also says he’s “America first,” which—see if you can spot the difference—either is or isn’t “America First.” Either way, the animating impulse behind “America first” is that there are some Americans who put their country second, or last, presumably behind their ethnic loyalties, ideological affinities or economic interests. America first isn’t a policy program or a political motto so much as it is an accusation of disloyalty. What real American, after all, wouldn’t put “America first” in his political priorities?

Mr. Bannon’s answer, along with that of the alt-right movement he has proudly championed through his Breitbart website, is “the globalists.” ….

As my colleague Bari Weiss pointed out in a recent article in Tablet, the foremost figure of today’s alt-right, Richard Spencer, dreams of “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” …

In “The Second Coming,” Yeats asked, “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” The answer, it may yet turn out, is the likes of Steve Bannon and his ugly litter of neo-nationalists.

Write bstephens@wsj.com.

The gap between us

Is there a gap in our society that needs bridging? Between say the followers of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, between those on the left and those on the right, between liberals and conservatives?

Furthermore do the present country wide demonstrations against newly elected President Trump, mean that the gap is there and still very much alive? Or is it what we would rather be the case, that the recent statements of President elect Trump, as during his talk with President Obama in the Oval Office, imply that the gap, while still there, is less than it was? For it does seem to be that just the fact of being the newly elected president nullifies the irresponsible positions and statements of the candidate who came before.

And what about Hillary? Was she speaking of a gap or separation between us when she said, “You know, to be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?  The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, the ‘you name it.’”

Are there people like that? Are the “deplorables” real? The Blacks will tell you, yes, there are racists out there, as will gays confirm the presence of homophobics, women of sexists, immigrants of xenophobics, and Muslims of Islamaphobics.

So is the principal gap among us that between those of us who are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and those of us who are not? No, I don’t think so. (Also, no one is never just any one of those sorry characters alone.)

The gap, I think the principal one, is as always the gap between the “haves and the have-nots,” these two groups out numbering by orders of magnitude racists, sexists, and the others. In fact, the gap between rich and poor has probably been with us since the advent of civilization some 10,000 or so years ago, that point in our history when wealth accumulation became possible.

Prior to that time in our history there were the so-called hunter/gatherer societies but the anthropologists who study these people have, as far as I know, not yet uncovered among them Hillary’s deplorables and the “you know whats,” nor the legions of the poor and the jobless of today. Was it, perhaps, because the land was only there to use, not to take, as in the time of the native Americans?

But I’ve done it once again, while writing losing my north, my direction. What I had intended to write about was not all the above but the single, and for me most troubling gap of all, that being the ability gap (or gaps). For it is, I believe, differences of ability that most separate us. Even in just one family sometimes these are not easy to overcome.

At one extreme these gaps are huge, that between me and Richard Feynman, or between me and LeBron James, or between me and Beyonce. Take any ability, any one of the seven abilities, or as Howard Gardner called them, “intelligences,”  —musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and an eighth, naturalistic, and then you will see that the distances between us in respect to any one of these is huge.

So we all might on a scale of 1-10, for each of these abilities, place ourselves in respect to the “amount” of the ability in our possession, the one end, a 10, representing respective abilities of Richard Feynman, Lebron James, and let’s say Bach or Mozart (in place of Beyonce), and at the other a 1 representing (there was a point when I wanted to say Donald Trump, but I no longer believe that, because in his  case things are changing, for the better?)…?

If we were to do this, scaling in this manner our own abilities, that which happens in school, almost on the first day, when we begin to compare others to ourselves and see ourselves being compared with others, then almost on that very first day the ability gaps between us are visible to teacher and student alike. When this happens, this kind of learning about our own “worth” compared to others, we may at best be only at a loss for words. If we’re lucky we won’t be at the bottom of the scale in anyone of the seven intelligences. But there may be those who are, and if so these might, and probably are in many countries, labelled à la Hillary the “real” deplorables, (except when it’s much too politically incorrect to do so).

I think it’s clear that everyone knows, if not understands, that abilities are not evenly distributed, and in order to go on living with one another, in order not to be constantly envious of one another, even occasionally coming to blows and doing battle, we have to learn to live with and accept our differences. Most of us probably do. For we have no choice than to accept that we are very different, one from another. In my own case I’ve long accepted a number of big disappointments about myself, that for example I’ll never make it to Master level of chess, or teach classes of differential calculus at MIT, and I know that I’ll never have a role to play in a production of the Metropolitan Opera.

It is on this very point that our public schools have by and large failed. Failed because they have tried to hide the differences among their students, not wanting to admit that their students need individual attention, their abilities varying so widely that it makes no sense to pretend they don’t and keep them all together working at the same task or lesson, and while doing so making little or no progress. (That which we call the failure of our schools.)

Even worse the school people have I think, tragically, because of the lives that are hurt by their doing so, made the goal of a four year liberal arts college education the goal of everyone. It can’t be of course but the school people go on acting as if it were, and as a result they go on neglecting the real abilities of the students, pretending that college is within the reach of their real abilities whereas too often it’s not.

Now I would return to the gap between us that needs bridging. For that gap, I believe, results to a large extent from the huge differences in our abilities. The poor white working classes, many of whom did not attend college and while in school were academically challenged to say the least, during the recent election by and large supported Trump. The college educated, the academically gifted, the members of the country’s elite ruling classes by and large supported Clinton. Different abilities may have brought this situation about, but now the differences seem to be differences of class.

I know of only two methods of closing what I will now call the ability and often resulting wealth gap between us. But the redistribution of the country’s wealth, that remedy for wealth inequality, which has been most often tried by governments, and perhaps even ever so slightly diminishing differences of wealth, is not one of them. Differences of ability are still not within the government’s power to modify, let alone change.

One method to bridge the ability gap is and has been for some time, religion. And in fact one religion, Christianity, for example, came upon the inequality scene among men with the principal goal of encouraging men to love one another, paying no attention to any inequalities, differences of ability, wealth, or class, among them. If I were to love say, LeBron and Beyonce, and love was returned, of what importance would then be our differing abilities? None at all.

So I’m not convinced that religion is not the way to go. It may be, but it is not my way. My way is science, which means looking about one with a kind of skeptical curiosity while wanting to know as much as one can about one’s situation, about one’s surroundings, about the people and the things that one (everyone, regardless of ability level) encounters, about where one is on the earth,… all of this being an attitude requiring no particular ability and to some not small extent being within the power of us all.

And this for some is where science and religion come together. Given a population of Christians (or Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Confucians, Sikhs, et al.) and scientists the gap between people would disappear because neither religion nor science would give importance to skin, surface differences, the very differences that ignorance makes so much of.

In the past religion, forgetting the spirit of the book while being taken up by the words,  has too often failed to be true to itself, while so far, anyway, science has not. Both science and religion point us towards the very deepest possible understanding of ourselves, of the meaning of life, and this understanding, within the power of each and everyone of us, doesn’t depend on any one or more, even on greater or lesser amounts of one or more of the seven abilities, as exceptional or extraordinary as these might be, the logical-mathematical ability of a Newton, the musical-rhythmic ability of a Mozart….

A few first thoughts on the meanings of liberal (really liberalism) and conservative.

The present time is, as Francis Fukuyama has argued convincingly, the end of history and the triumph of liberalism. And he might have said, given the triumph of liberalism, really a kind of liberal democracy, that the left/right, liberal/conservative and other such divisions are no longer valid, and that the world is coming together at the center.

Now there are those, perhaps even a majority of the literate citizens of the world, who don’t swear by what I now choose to call the triumvirate of liberalism: free trade, individual liberty, and the Rule of Law. One of those who doesn’t swear, at least about this, is the present Republican candidate for President, Donald Trump. And this, not his insensitive and bullying behavior regarding women, minorities, and just people different from himself, is the main reason I will not vote for him. In fact I’ve already voted and I voted for Hillary Clinton.

Didn’t we love, and in my own case still love the Wild West for the first two tenants of liberalism, free trade and  individual liberty? And it wasn’t just our own attachment. The West in the form of Western films has conquered the world, and in doing so has taught the world, as well as our children, a good part of what we meant and still mean by individual liberty. But also the West has shaped our thinking about free trade, because the Wild West was a lot about trading, about exchanging goods with the native Americans, about the ranchers and fur traders, and eventually the farmers, making mutually beneficial trade agreements among themselves.

What about the third tenant or characteristic of liberalism, the Rule of Law? For a long time the people of the West were without the Rule of Law. And I’ll admit that much of the attraction of the West came from the absence of law,  and also the absence of that bane of modern life, countless regulations. Sure there were the lawmen of the West, the Seth Bullocks, Pat Garretts, John Hughes, Heck Thomases, Bill Tilghmans, Wyatt Earps, Bat Mastersons, to name just a few  that come to my mind from the thousands of these representatives of the first law of the land.

But the lawmen were not enough. As we have seen it would take eventually the Federal government itself to quiet the fears of the more timid members of society, to secure by the Rule of Law  the lives of women and children, as well as to secure and assure while welcoming the tens of thousands of new immigrants who have always come here for the freedom and opportunity to work, with the result that the wealth of the whole country has grown substantially.

It is ironic that the Tea Partiers who would make a claim for their own higher morality are in fact partnering during the current presidential election  with the altRight, those crazies who among other things are monopolizing the talk on talk radio, talk radio being without a moral standing, and without reason and common sense, as well as partnering, although they would deny it, with the bigots, the racists, the climate change deniers, and partnering also , although they would deny this too, with the Republican candidate for President.

It is ironic that all these groups  calling themselves some kind of conservatives (whatever that means) would hold onto their own individual liberties, even if it means allowing one of their own to carry a concealed gun in a University of Texas lecture hall (why, Wyatt Earp himself wouldn’t have permitted that).

But now, instead of being satisfied with their own freedom, instead of marveling at the degree of freedom which we all enjoy in this country, they are convinced (conspiracy theorists all of them, along with their talk radio partners) that they are being pushed to the side, their own freedom, and jobs, threatened by newcomers to the country (immigrant families with children much like their own ancestors), threatened by the trade deals with other countries that have in fact no less enriched the TeaPartiers than all of us, threatened also as they say by the rule of Law,  threatened by the very  government programs intended to help, everyone of course, but in particular those who for whatever reason are unable for short or longer periods of time to help themselves.

These Tea Party conservatives and altRight talk show crazies would be free themselves to do whatever they wanted, while at the same time not allowing the country to help those in need. In their hands the word welfare, a beautiful word in my opinion, has become a dirty word. Also, and whatever else they may be they are not even true conservatives.True conservatives would always be for helping those in need, and in this regard certainly no less than the liberals. In fact we ought to stop using the names, liberal and conservative, at least until we know what we mean by both.


The following passage, from Foreign Affairs of Nov-Dec 2016, I take from a capsule review by G. John Ikenberry of Duncan Bell’s new book, Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire. This just one more of a spate of recent articles that have got me thinking about the meaning of liberal, liberalism, and conservatism, all three ideas still very much alive and very much in need of clarification. This blog a first attempt. Others to follow.

The liberal tradition has long had a deeply fraught relationship with imperialism. In the late nineteenth century, British liberals embraced free trade, individual liberty, and the rule of law, while also defending the United Kingdom’s empire. In recent decades, liberal internationalist ideas have found their way into arguments in favor of humanitarian intervention, preemptive war, and campaigns to spread democracy—all of which critics often deride as imperialism in new guises. Bell’s masterful study represents one of the best efforts yet to untangle the many ideological and political knots that bind liberalism and imperialism. In a series of rich intellectual portraits of leading Victorian-era thinkers Bell shows that most British liberals at that time saw empire as a necessary—or even vital—part of the liberal project that “civilized” states were pushing forward. Only much later, after two world wars and long struggles against fascism and communism, did the liberal vision became a more universal secular creed whose ideological and political principles could be reliably seized on by opponents of empire.