Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

The World’s Most Powerful Criminal Organization

March 17, 2018

The Republican Party has turned itself into the world’s most powerful criminal organization—a criminal organization with a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons. It no longer has any ideology. Its former ideology, which was really only ever egotism, got pushed and pushed to the point that it became total selfishness. And naturally enough, one of the biggest, if not the biggest, egotists on the planet came to lead them. None of this can end well. Evil has to suck away the energy of whatever good there is in order to keep going. At some point, the entire edifice collapses. I watched this get started under Reagan. I kept saying to myself, “this has got to be stopped before it gets really dangerous.” But it never was stopped. And now we’re in what almost seems an unbelievable, unreal situation. I say “almost” because I’ve been predicting it for so long. The only thing different from my vision was the ludicrous, buffoonish aspect of the man who came to lead them. I always pictured it being someone more blatantly sinister, like John Bolton or, say, Mike Pence…

The Problem of the Homeless

February 28, 2016

The City of San Francisco made the news recently by breaking up a homeless encampment on the streets, a long row of tents that Judy and I often drove past on our way to Rainbow Grocery, the store we use. The camp was the subject of a lot of controversy, especially after the CEO of some tech company wrote an open, complaining letter to the mayor, demanding that the mayor do something. The poor guy was sick of having to look at the homeless. It’s commonplace to say that San Francisco has a “serious homelessness problem,” but the entire country does, really. I read recently that my hometown of Vancouver, Washington has homeless camps. The homeless are more noticeable in a place like San Francisco, that’s all. I myself was without a home for 15 years, living on the street in San Francisco from 1973 to 1988. I wasn’t what most people picture when they hear that word, “homeless,” but I was out among the homeless much of that time, and I have a decent idea of what’s going on. When I hear people talk about the problem, I realize that no one even comes close to understanding it, that it’s only going to grow.

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out a simple way of describing what I see, but only recently did I find the words I was looking for: We live in a system that creates homelessness as one of its inevitable byproducts. This society has a near-religious belief in competition, and wherever you have competition, you have, inevitably, winners and losers. You can’t have one without the other. It’s like water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit: It’s the only possibility. The homeless are the ones who have lost the game. As the competition heats up—as it has been ever since Reagan—the winners keep grabbing more and more, so we have more and more losers of the game. People like the CEO of that tech company are either ignorant or arrogant. Or both. Whether he sees it or not, he‘s a huge part of the problem.

When I was on the street I was subjected to all kinds of absurd situations and arrogant treatment. One example is when people become furious with homeless people for defecating on the street. This society gives them no place else to go. There are few public toilets, at least ones that don’t cost money , and restaurants, cafes, and so on don’t want the homeless in their businesses. I never ended up in a situation where I had to do “my business” in public, but I came close a few times. When you are in an absurd situation like that and you’re surrounded by people who can’t understand the most obvious and simple thing, you tend to lose your respect for them. You end up doing whatever you feel like doing.

If we genuinely want to end the problem, we have to abandon the idea that it’s okay to accumulate as much wealth as possible. It’s not okay to be a billionaire. And if we can’t abandon the idea, then we have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable epidemic of poverty. It’s that cut and dried.

My Mixed Response

October 15, 2013

I have a mixed response to the debacle going on in Washington D. C. right now. On the one hand, I don’t think the Tea Party should be given anything whatsoever. They need to be utterly broken—by which I mean exposed. Their illogic has to be exposed and dispensed with. They aren’t right about anything, and it shouldn’t be hard for an adult to get that across to the people. When they say they believe in freedom, what they’re really standing up for is a brutal Darwinian existence where the biggest, most ruthless egotists get to take whatever they can get their hands on. And they don’t really favor small government per se. What they seek is the abolition of all protections for the weak. But also an enormous military and intelligence apparatus to maintain power. They are constantly calling for increased military spending—every single budget, which is insane. But we have rules against speaking these particular truths in this country, so what should happen, won’t. Obama is not going to take the Tea Party on once and for all. We’re going to have these “budget” issues as a continuing problem well into the future.

Which brings me to the reason for my mixed response. I believe that if you look to the longterm—the real longterm, not a polite fiction—it doesn’t matter much who wins this fight. What we’re really witnessing is the ongoing collapse of an empire. All empires collapse and ours is in the process of collapse—right now. Our rise was steep and fast, and our fall will be the same. I tend to see it starting with the war in Vietnam. I don’t think we’re good at being imperialists. We’ve always claimed to have ideals, to be a bright shining light, and being an empire is in conflict with our supposed idealism. So the national mindset ends up being a big fantasy. What a perfect representation of that fantasy mind was Ronald Reagan! He glorified greed as a virtue. But greed always undermines those who practice it. That’s as much a universal law as thermodynamics. Our downfall will be our gross materialism and the militarism required to maintain it. I do see hope for the future. But our only hope is to regain our status as a republic. Only when the empire has given way will we have the opportunity to assume the goodwill, calm, and simple contentment that will enable us to begin to create a way of life that makes sense, where wisdom and love have meaning again. There are things we can be doing now, but I tend to think that the great work cannot commence until the monster has given up the ghost.

The Land of Unlimited Opportunity

August 29, 2012

I’m currently reading a book called Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power by Seth RosenfeldIt’s a very good book, an interesting book; but the subject of this post is not the book itself. The subject is an elaboration on something that I read within it, something that deals with a subject I’ve been meaning for some time now to dwell on: money.

The author of Subversives quotes Reagan’s autobiography, Where’s the Rest of Me?, as saying that growing up in Dixon, Illinois had taught Reagan that “America was a place that offered unlimited opportunity to those who did hard work.” This is, of course, a  commonly held sentiment in the United States. For most people, not to believe in this idea makes you some kind of a Socialist or a bum. Probably both. What’s to argue with? Hard work is a good thing. Unlimited opportunity is a good thing. Well, I have plenty of arguments, and on several levels. But here, I’m going to tackle it from just one level because it’s an idea that is seldom raised.

What did Reagan mean by “unlimited opportunity?” I think he meant to make as much money as you can. The sky’s the limit! Opportunity can mean other things—the opportunity to be in a position of power, the opportunity to be famous—but I think most people understand it to mean getting rich. (Let it be said: all three qualities—power, fame, and wealth—are negatives.) Working hard to obtain unlimited opportunity is really just putting a nice shine on greed. People say, “It’s not greed if you earned it.” But making an effort to obtain more stuff than you need is the definition of greed.

My fundamental opposition is the assumption that we should spend all our lives working hard to obtain “stuff.” That’s not what life is about. A certain amount of labor is necessary, of course. The Buddhists have a term I like: Right Livelihood. It means that the work you do for your survival should be seamless with your inner life and contribute to the healthy maintenance of the world around you. But it is, of course, very difficult to find that kind of work nowadays. Society is structured to keep us working at essentially meaningless jobs that benefit only the powerful. A lot of these jobs, if not most, are destructive to the general well-being.

So, if life is not about making money, what’s it about? I believe it’s about the development of the inner self, the solving of the riddles of Life. Most Americans are uncomfortable with this idea. They consider it foreign or New Agey. But, it’s not. It’s in our bones—which is to say, it’s universal and it’s ancient. It’s what Buddha and Lao Tzu and Jesus and all the other true sages taught. (What distinguishes New Age “philosophies” from what’s true is the level of work. Most New Age stuff is about getting relaxed, taking it easy, whereas the real stuff is hard work.) A lot of people believe we can never really understand life—except through science maybe. But the older I get, the more I believe that this kind of understanding—a spiritual understanding, I mean—is possible. To attain it has to be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing one can do. It offers so much relief—relief from the nagging, painful puzzles that constantly wear us down. But the only way we can achieve this kind of understanding is by getting rid of the idea that having lots of money is a good thing. That’s going to be hard to do; but at some point, this way of life will go. It’s become so debilitating that it will collapse of its own accord. It’s harmful even to the rich. (No one really gains anything from being rich. And the rich man is never prepared to die. He finds the moment of death utterly terrifying.)

I know this will sound extreme to some people. But I also know that a lot of people who read me have similar views. The questions are always the same, though: What do we do about it? How do we change this system? And if we can change it, what do we replace it with? I hope to write about my own take on some of these questions in the not-too-distant future.

Peak Oil, Part Two

July 26, 2010

Most Americans—and I have to include myself here—tend to think of oil primarily as a source of fuel—gas for the car, heat for the house. Our food creation and delivery system (a more accurate depiction than “agriculture”) is completely dependent on oil and gas. They power the farm machinery and the trucks and planes that bring the food increasingly long distances to market. In the industrialized world, we use roughly 10 calories of energy for every calorie of food we eat. The way I’ve always received it, modern mechanized farming has blessed us with the possibility of feeding a constantly growing world population. But according to what I’m reading now, the tremendous growth in the planet’s population coincides precisely with our exploitation of fossil fuels. In other words, the increased availability of food has encouraged massive population growth, which is exactly what happens in nature.

Most people seem to have adopted the idea that “they” will figure out something with which to replace oil. Depending on your politics, you might support nuclear energy, or you support development of solar and wind. But petroleum is not replaceable by any single substance or energy source. We tend (I have tended) to not think much about the fact that it’s used for much more than just fuel. We use it to make fertilizer, pesticides, plastics, synthetic rubber, clothing fibers, asphalt, and more. It’s everywhere and it’s in everything. We’ve built our civilization upon it. It’s not really the Information Age. It’s the Age of Oil. And now, after years of the West pushing manic economic growth on the rest of the world, every nation needs petroleum to function. China and India with their billions are hooked on the idea of having the same standard of living that the West “enjoys.” If the Peak Oil hypotheses is correct, we’re entering an era of aggressive competition over a dwindling resource, which will mean higher prices and, of course, more wars. The food distribution system and our electrical systems (and, accordingly, our communication systems) will undergo great stress. Getting our apples from Chile will become a thing of the past.

It didn’t have to happen this way. There’s been no shortage of warnings. But they’ve all fallen on deaf ears. When Jimmy Carter tried to present the facts to the public, he was ridiculed. One of Ronald Reagan’s first official acts as president was to order the removal of the solar power units that Carter had had installed on the White House roof. It was a statement—a foolish one. And we’ve lived under that ever since. The people want to continue the party, and the politicians have learned not to say anything that suggests it’s neither possible nor desirable.

When most people read about Peak Oil they tend to get depressed. But that hasn’t been my reaction at all. Part Three will deal with my personal response.

The Tea Party

February 6, 2010

Conventional wisdom says that Jimmy Carter was a weak president who led the nation into a state of malaise, and then Ronald Reagan came along and made us believe in ourselves again. The conventional wisdom is firmly ensconced. Journalists, politicians, and mainstream historians all spout it. But it’s not the truth.

During the Carter presidency there was a brief moment when the window was open to the possibility of making some much needed change. Vietnam had left the country in bad shape—politically, economically, and psychologically. We were down, but it had nothing to do with Carter. That was already the situation when he came into office. He’s been the only president in my lifetime who said openly that the country ran on some false assumptions. One of the most egregious is the idea that we can constantly raise our standard of living, that there can be endless economic growth. This is an impossibility logically, and he seems to have known it. Carter made some effort to get the country to understand that we were entering an era of limits. He tried to get people to take the energy situation seriously. He was vilified for telling the truth. Reagan came along and undid any progress Carter may have made toward opening up a discussion about reality. One of Reagan’s first acts as president was to take down the solar panels that Carter had had installed on the White House roof—one of the most foolish symbolic moves any American president has ever made. He liked to say that “conservation just means we all freeze in the dark.” It says a great deal about the man. He gave people simple answers and resold the people on the fantasy aspects of the American Dream. The prosperity that followed was all done on credit. As somebody  once said, “we borrowed money from the Japanese and threw a party.” There wasn’t any new era of production, and in the end that’s what creates real wealth. We’ve been living in Reagan’s dream world ever since.

It’s very clear to me that we’ve already reached the end of our ability to raise our standard of living. We’re failing economically. We don’t produce anything anymore. We live in a service economy—a dead end—and we’re never going to get that old economy back. (Personally, I’m fine with it. I see immense wealth as a bar to good character.) There’s a lot of stuff coming down the road that the media and the politicians are paying zero attention to— “peak oil,” for one. Most people I talk to have never even heard of it. It’s probably the most important economic/material plane issue of our time. I’ll be writing about it at some point. I’m still learning.

I know I’ve said much of this before, but I’m bringing it up again because of the Tea Party convention in Nashville. I had an exchange with one of them recently, and I realized that they’re not really bad people. But they do live in a delusion—the Reagan fantasy—and they don’t spend much time being thoughtful. This guy had quite a few hatreds, and he was willing to give up most of them when pressed. But he demanded simple answers. The Tea Party wants the old America back, the America of a constantly increasing standard of living. They seem to see money as the only real pleasure in life. They’re going to be getting angrier and angrier as time goes on. Regardless of what happens in the future—which political party is in charge and so on—that dream is over.

The Nature of Evil

January 23, 2010

Ever since leaving home at the age of seventeen, I have lived in—have grown up in—what you could call, I guess, a left wing-bohemian milieu. Most people I’ve known in that environment don’t like to use the word “evil.” They don’t believe in evil. But if you point to something that is clearly evil—a government massacre or something like that—they will cop to its existence. The reason most of us don’t like to use the word is because it tends to be owned by right-wingers and evangelists, who often have bizarre notions of what constitutes evil. One thing that I know is evil is egotism.  Yet a lot of people nowadays see egotism as a virtue. Ayn Rand considered it such. The Reagan Revolution was founded on the idea that selfishness and greed are virtues. It was really just the door being opened for egotists to have a free hand. Whether it was my country, my city, my football team, my family, or me, the Reagan revolution said that you are supposed to look out for Number One. They even considered it a moral stance. That’s what I call a biological idea of morality. And it’s not moral at all. To be moral is to restrain your own desires and to safeguard and promote the common good. To deny the truth of that, which is as old as the hills, is really a form of insanity. We are now a nation—with globalization, a world—of hardened, angry egotists. I see the situation growing constantly worse. The egotists are driving the car and the rest of us are their helpless passengers. If we don’t stop them, the car will eventually go over the cliff—which will put an end to their trip, but a lot of innocent people will be harmed in the event. They’re already being harmed.

Some Gloomy Political Thoughts That I Can’t Help But Think

November 28, 2009

After the Vietnam War, America was obliged to pay some karmic debts. One of the things about karma—the law of cause and effect, or “as you sow, so shall you reap”—is that it’s inexorable. You can’t avoid it. You can stave it off for awhile, but eventually you have to pay the price. In Jimmy Carter we had a president who understood, at least to some degree, that this was so. He tried to let the karma fall, and to fall with some grace. But the country refused to deal with it. Instead, it elected and then re-elected Ronald Reagan, who dished up a big fantasy that most Americans were happy to buy into. His two terms put the country through a “paradigm shift.” We are still in the Reagan era. I had some hope that Obama’s election signalled its end, but so far it looks as though he feels constrained to stay the course on the essentials of Reagan’s “vision”—vast military expansion, American exceptionalism, favoritism toward the rich, every man for himself. America is zooming toward hell because of that so-called vision. I don’t see the political will it would take to change course. If we don’t change, we’re going to reap the karma that we deflected back in the early 1980s along with a whole lot of new karma that we’ve been creating ever since. We’re heading into an exceptionally difficult period.

Idealism and Realism

November 17, 2009

One of the biggest differences between the time I grew up in—the dreaded 1960s—and today is the level of idealism. I was particularly impressed by Martin Luther King and his supporters. They were willing to accept beatings, jail, and even death to accomplish their end, which was an end that was good for everybody. I also admired Pete Seeger. People like King and Seeger presented a consistent vision of us all being in this together, and they really inspired me in my teenage years. (I was more a fan of Bob Dylan than of Pete Seeger, but I see now that while he fooled around with idealism at times, Dylan was in it for his own glory.) The hippie commune movement emerged from that same idealism. When I say ideals, I mean universal ideals that go beyond any individual culture and its desires. Some people consider Ronald Reagan an idealist—an absolutely crazy notion. A real ideal is the refusal to opt for violence as a solution to anything, refusing to allow people to starve to death, cheerful renunciation of the pursuit of wealth, and the willingness to see one’s nation as simply one among many nations—no better than any other. There must be justice. For complicated reasons, not all of which are obvious, this kind of idealism has waned. Some say that the old ideals were unrealistic. But it seems to me that, realistically speaking, we either recover those ideals or we do ourselves in. It feels like we’re getting nearer and nearer that point.

Rush Limbaugh Agrees

July 1, 2009

I read the following statement by Rush Limbaugh today. It reinforces one of the central ideas of my June 17 post, Conservative and Liberal.

Michael Jackson’s biggest successes, and as it turns out his final successes, real successes took place in the eighties. That was Billie Jean, Thriller and all this. I mean he was as weird as he could be but he was profoundly, because of his weirdness, an individual. He wasn’t a group member. He reached a level of success that may never be equaled. He flourished under Reagan; he languished under Clinton-Bush; and died under Obama. Let’s hope the parallel does not continue.

It’s a stupid comment, of course. But I’ll write something serious on the danger of this belief in the-individual-over-all-else in a future post.