JR'S Free Thought Pages
Considering the preponderance of stupidity and ignorance on this planet the list that follows could consume volumes ~ so I must restrict myself to a few recent ones
(i) People who respond to assertions with "Absolutely!" There are precious few things in this universe that are absolute - except perhaps death and taxes and statements such as "There are no absolutes!"
(ii) The mind-numbing programs of commercial television including Wrestling, Talk Shows, Soap Operas, Televangelists and programs promoting pseudo-science and the paranormal (The X - Files, Touched by an Angel and Roswell are particularly inane)
(iii) "Salvation plans" and facile solutions to complex world problems, the latest of which is unfettered global capitalism (will it replace God?)
(iv) the outrageous salaries of professional athletes and their hollow, frivolous and mindless post game analysis and product endorsements (Wayne Gretzky's self-indulgence is especially pathetic! - why do so many of our revered athletic heroes such unbearable bores?)
(v) the prevalence of silly "self-help" books such as "Chicken Soup for the _______Soul" and self appointed gurus such as Deepak Chopra who cleverly repackage eastern mysticism in order to make it palatable to the yuppie mentality. See the page on my metaphysics for a philosophical foundation refuting this puerile moronic New Age pabulum.
(vi) Fads, catch phrases, panaceas and salvation plans in the realm of education, the latest of which is the "self-esteem" craze.
(vii) People, particularly professional athletes, who pray for and subsequently thank God for their victories and good fortune. Not a day goes by in the world of sports without some simpleton childishly invoking the name of the Lord in celebration of his victories. Similar sentiments are expressed by people such as those who survive calamities like the World Trade Center disaster. One such person, for example, claimed to have invoked the name of Jesus and subsequently thanked God (surely not Allah) for sparing him while thousands of others perished. I can only assume it was the same omnipotent caring God who was strangely ambivalent or absent with regard to the demise of the others. But God works in mysterious ways! And of course there are those political demagogues, especially the American variety, who babble on about God incessantly. George W. Bush's first act after accepting office was to hold a prayer meeting. Was it not Ambrose Bierce who wrote that it was somewhat pretentious to petition a deity to alter the laws of physics and the Universe for one's own benefit? See my piece on Acts of God and for my compilation of H.L. Mencken's critical essays on religion click here
(viii) Rude insensitive jerks who destroy the serenity of public places such as bookstores and restaurants by bringing in their cell phones. They should have their cell phones rammed up their butts and then permanently welded to their ears. But more importantly, what do we do with these airheads who drive their automobiles with a cell phone in one hand and a coffee cup in the other?
(ix) Mindless patriotism in the form of flag waving, "God Save the Queen", "God Bless America" and other self-serving jingoistic gibberish promoted by political leaders. Patriotism in the form of love of one's country and "my country right or wrong" is a primary factor contributing to War and consequently throughout history has been a major source of human suffering and deprivation. Machiavellian political leaders love to use this mechanism to deflect attention from serious domestic problems. Our war mongering neighbors to the south are especially adept at promoting this pernicious rubbish. Bertrand Russell was right when he said "Patriotism is the willingness to be killed for trivial reasons" and Howard Zinn when he says "patriotism means being true and loyal -- not to the government, but to the principles which underlie democracy." In other words, to criticize the government when you think it is wrong is the essence of democracy and the true meaning of patriotism. Zinn would argue this sometimes means fighting injustice by dissent which may even take the form of civil disobedience as was done during the Vietnam War. The United States is arguably the most notorious purveyor of patriotism in the world today. Howard Zinn recently stated, "The long-term interest of American governments, from the end of the Revolutionary War down to the present day, has been the expansion of national power, first on the continent, then into the Caribbean and the Pacific, and since the Second World War, everywhere on the globe. Each time there was a period of expansion, there was an explanation: "Manifest Destiny," the need to "save Spain," the need to "civilize" and bring Christianity to the Filipinos, to stop the Germans from sinking our merchant vessels, North Korea has invaded South Korea, we've been fired on in the Gulf of Tonkin, we need to stop the spread of evil Communism, we must liberate Kuwait for democracy, we must stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, we must destroy the axis of evil. But behind all those lofty justifications and glorious rhetoric was the urge to expand American economic and military power. The "war on terrorism" is the latest opportunity to expand U.S. political, economic and military power into other parts of the world."
Throughout US history many citizens who even spoke out against patriotism and American foreign policy paid a dear price. Consider Zinn's account of socialist leader Eugene Debs:
"Debs was a leader in the protest against the First World War. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a decision that was affirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court led by the presumed liberal jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes. Debs was sentenced because in a speech in Canton, Ohio, he said that the master classes made the wars, and the working classes fought in them.
He said: "Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. In the Middle Ages, when the feudal lords who inhabited the castles whose towers may still be seen along the Rhine concluded to enlarge their domains, to increase their power, their prestige and their wealth, they declared war upon one another. But they themselves did not go to war, any more than the modern feudal lords, the barons of Wall Street, go to war.
"The feudal barons of the Middle Ages, the economic predecessors of the capitalists of our day, declared all wars. And their miserable serfs fought all the battles. The poor, ignorant serfs had been taught to revere their masters; to believe that when their masters declared war upon one another, it was their patriotic duty to fall upon one another and to cut one another's throats for the profit and glory of the lords and barons who held them in contempt.
"And that is war in a nutshell. The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose -- especially their lives."
Debs rightly saw war in class terms--as benefiting the rich, and killing the poor."
The transcript of Eugene Debs' anti-war speech that earned him a ten year prison sentence can be found at: http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/debs-speech.htm
(x) The Royal Family – Who Gives a Damn?
What is it about the Royal Family that causes people to hold it in reverence? Many people it seems respect power regardless of its source or legitimacy. This is a sad comment on the human race and not very encouraging for the future of democracy. The monarchy is symbolic of an oppressive iniquitous totalitarian system that we should renounce and condemn at every opportunity. Moreover, why should we show approval and adoration for the members of a decadent family and their pretentious, shallow and petty lives, living in ostentatious excess at the expense of the public? I find the whole phenomenon perplexing.
In today’s world wealth is synonymous with power. Hardly a day passes that we find in the corporate controlled media accolades and praise for some aristocrat born into wealth or a business person who has accumulated massive amounts of money often by manipulating lax financial rules and gullible investors. However, the uncomfortable myth about capitalism is that most wealth is inherited, not earned and much of the risk involved is underwritten by the public in the form of tax write-offs and bailouts. And if you push back time sufficiently you will find that most huge concentrations of wealth were originally acquired by raw power – in other words – stolen!
(xi) Endangered Species: Hundreds of animal species are on the brink of extinction by ignorant greedy humans who use them for pets or for bogus medicinal treatments. What is also becoming extinct are human beings with even a most rudimentary understanding of science, reasoning and rules of evidence. Recently there was a disturbing editorial in a major newspaper about the continued trade in contraband animal parts particularly by those from oriental cultures. This segment was about the illegal trade in bear parts in Canada with the argument that this phenomenon was a conflict of cultures.
The use of bear parts by certain oriental cultures to treat disease and sexual dysfunction is not representative of cultural clash as much as it is a clash between science and superstition. The belief that certain animal parts can treat disease has no more or less evidential support than does believing in the efficacy of prayer or faith healing.
There is no scientific basis for these or hundreds of other examples of irrationality that could be easily cited if space permitted. The only difference is the source of the superstition and degree of collateral damage caused by such beliefs. Unfortunately many people continue to embrace a pre-Enlightenment, pre-Scientific world view and there does not seem to be any cure for this disease anytime soon.
“As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities” - Voltaire
(xii) Real Estate Developer as the Anti-Christ
Several years ago I was the spokesperson for a group in the neighborhood that was attempting to block the development of a 1.2 acre parcel behind our property. The developer wanted to hack down 150 year old Douglas firs, re-route a creek and was asking the municipality to sanction 3 lots from a one-half acre zoned residential area. You do the math!
My arguments were two-fold: (1) the legal argument –the developer could only get acceptance for 2 lots or he was in violation of the local zoning restriction, (2) the moral argument – we the citizens live in the community and desire to maintain its integrity and quality and our wishes must take priority over an outsider. My arguments, I thought, were sound but I was somewhat taken aback when the self-satisfied developer made no effort to counter my seemingly airtight case and uttered nary a sound. He obviously knew full well that getting what he wanted was a fait accompli. To add to my consternation, the adjudicator for the municipality was a rather unpleasant Chinese chap who sounded like he just got off the boat from Hong Kong. After it became quite clear we were going to lose, I pointed out that the municipality was in a conflict of interest in violating their own rules to permit the development of three properties when only two are legally permitted. The municipality would obviously generate more tax revenue. This contention basically fell on deaf ears and only aggravated an already visibly annoyed municipal bureaucrat.
Our citizens group did get some important concessions for the trees and the creek. The creek it turned out came under the jurisdiction of the provincial fisheries and the trees were saved from the chain saw. But the predatory developer got his three lots, built three "monster homes" that looked like Baptist churches, made his money, and high tailed it out of the community. From this demoralizing experience, I detest real estate developers to this day - they are greedy bastards who could care less about the communities they invade and decimate. To make matters worse, after the monster homes were built, the Indo Canadian and Chinese residents who moved in butchered the trees by hacking the branches off about fifty feet up from the base of the trees, thus destroying any aesthetic value they originally had.
So yes, you can fight city hall – but if one of the interested parties is a real estate developer you will invariably lose. That was my experience in the “democratic” process and my futile fight for justice. It’s shocking to me that ordinary citizens who live in a community and want to preserve the quality of their habitat should lose a battle to entrepreneurial predators that are only interested in profit and could not give a damn about the impact of their actions on people or the environment. But when governments support pubs, lotteries and gambling casinos, you know they are totally void of any ethical standards or sense of citizenship or community and that we are on the road to eternal damnation.
Assuming that a government bureaucrat who is in the pocket of some business enterprise will listen to citizen appeals of democracy, fairness and common sense is a delusion. One can easily see why ordinary people periodically resort to civil disobedience or even violence if they are pushed far enough. What is so surprising and vexatious is how much it takes to get people off their collective ass. But it did happen in the sixties with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. With the phenomenon we now refer to as "globalization" and the concomitant steadily diminishing paycheck, it’s destined to happen again. Statistics clearly show that wealth is being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and this process has accelerated in the past twenty years. In short, the middle class is in the process of being eliminated. This will ultimately mean the end of "free enterprise" as we now know it. People however are so complacent and credulous with the comforting messages of politicians and the corporate media it takes a grenade under their armchairs to even get them to think.
By the way if you want to get a sense of how the real estate business really works see the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross with Al Pacino & Jack Lemmon. A tennis buddy of mine is a former realtor and informed me that the movie is a fairly accurate depiction of the real estate business. It's an excellent movie in any event with superb performances by Pacino and Lemmon in particular as well as an amazing cameo by Alex Baldwin!!