Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Value of Life

Mister Rogers told us we're each valuable, but the people who sign our paychecks make it clear that some of us are more valuable than others.

In the human economy we are developing a scale of monetary value for human life. The way we are treated in the economy makes it clear that our monetary value reflects the value our fellow humans place on us in our various roles.

Sure, some people seem to have beaten the system and gained an unfair valuation. But it isn't a meritocracy. It's just a price tag. If you have X amount of money, you deserve Y amount of indulgence and consideration.

Some valuable roles and professions seem a trifle undervalued. The fact that they are shows that their value is not absolute. Some people would disagree on the fair rate of pay for a teacher, a policeman, a nurse, and many other occupations. Does the monetary value reflect the value of the character? Not always, and maybe not often. And there lies the problem. By giving cash value to people we create a caste system. Low caste wage earners of high character deserve to rise to higher earning status. But if they vacate their low caste job, the next person in it may not do it with the same level of responsibility and integrity as our high-character low-earner brought to it.

Some people will always remain in low caste positions due to certain personal limitations. If we give them services based on their ability to pay they will die sooner, possibly suffering more, than someone who happened to have more money. If they gave faithful service, do they deserve to receive little in return just because they couldn't or wouldn't furnish themselves with money?

Clinically we can say that this is how the game is played and those are the breaks of it. But let's restate them early and often, to make sure we all know them and agree on them. Examine all the consequences of using each other in such a way. We may re-endorse the idea as the best available every time we review it, but it should not go unexamined, unquestioned.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

To kill or not to kill

No one specifically said to me as a child that perhaps the most critical decision growing up is whether you could take another person's life. I think most of us assume we could, given the right circumstances. The most peacenik people I know have certain people they feel the rest of us would be better off without.

I declined to serve in the military because I did not want someone else to make the decision when, where and whom I would kill. My conscience would not be clear just because I had been following orders. I couldn't hand that power to someone else and hide behind that authority.

Over the years I have had the usual human fantasies about beating the blood and brains out of someone who deserved it. But, like all fantasies, it seldom stands up to scrutiny. Sure, we'd be better off without people pursuing certain activities. We each have a different list. But when is it appropriate to interrupt someone else's path to enlightenment? When do we give up and consign them to death?

Some people make the decision easily. Too easily, I contend, but all of human history is more or less endless conflict between groups of people tearing greedily at the Earth's resources to control them. That's a hard habit to break. It takes a level of thought a lot of people don't want to produce, especially since it is unlikely to get them laid or make them rich. It only makes sense to get rid of "the other guys" so "our side" can have everything. Let the good times ROLL, just as soon as we get this last unfortunate war out of the way.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veteran's Day

All wars are not created equal. All soldiers do not come into combat with the same motives. Their differences are masked by uniforms and discipline. They find themselves serving a unified objective. And most of them probably serve for altruistic reasons. So in general it is appropriate to honor the intentions with which they served.

Especially after World War Two, those who served could not be certain they were defending the bastions of good against the forces of evil. War is so chaotic and disruptive, and takes on such a life of its own that many of the casualties simply feed the war itself. The combatants are tools of their political masters.

We should honor the service member's sense of duty, loyalty and sacrifice. Even those who survive have sacrificed a portion of their lives. But at the same time we can despise the conflict in which our service members were used and are used. War is idiotic. It should never break out. Humanity seems unable to outgrow it, but perhaps we're making a little progress. One can only hope.

Conflict is natural. Peace is not. But heinous weapons are not natural either. So our expression of conflict goes beyond our original physical equipment. We can either give way to warfare and see who is the last person standing or we can work on other ways to get along. We can't really have it both ways.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I work with people who are xenophobic. Fortunately they are so superficial that they have trouble perceiving the differences beneath the surface unless those differences are called to their attention.

Their ignorance and bigotry often troubles me, but I continue to work with them in spite of that, because they happen to be an important and necessary force for some good things, even as their personal political beliefs make them into the kind of citizens who would have gone along with Hitler because he was oppressing people they didn't like. They are too spineless to go out and start a confrontation, but they're only too happy to see someone else fight the battle for them. In that vein, they support the war in Iraq, but would never send an immediate family member.

It's hard not to make them sound despicable. In many ways they are contemptible exemplars of political flotsam, pushed by strong currents without ever taking their own helm. And yet, as I said, they accidentally stumbled into activities that help the environment and community health and fitness. By most measures of interest and income they should be liberals. I even refer to them as the communist Republicans, because they do not exploit their employees.

We all earn pretty close to the same amount. No one drives home in a luxury car. No one owns waterfront. We're all depressingly close to being among the working poor. So their voting habits seem incongruous. Their political choices are driven by xenophobia and generational habit. While declaring that they don't want some big-government Democrat to tell them what to think, they sit down like a little RCA Victor dog whenever a Republican tells them what to think. It's sad and frustrating. But it's a powerful lesson in cooperation. We work together on the good aims of our business while we argue bitterly about our political differences. If we didn't offer each other something of value we would have parted long ago.

I won't change them. They won't change me. But if we can coexist and accomplish beneficial things without killing each other, that proves America can work. They're bipartisan in spite of themselves. Just don't tell them. It would freak them right out. And they're such a mess when they're freaked out.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


If marriage is just a breeding contract, which would be the reason to restrict it to heterosexual couplings, then childless marriages should be anulled.

Of course there is the religious aspect. In fact, there is primarily the religious aspect. I haven't yet heard of a long-standing religion from any part of the world in which homosexual unions are recognized and always have been. Because such relationships could be assumed to produce no children, there was no particular reason to formalize them. There were no employee benefit plans to qualify for. If property was involved, a will would probaby have covered the conveyance of it. Only as the rules become more numerous do we have to define everyone's status relative to them, such as with hospital visitation or taxation.

When secular governments get into the marriage business the religious side would seem subordinate. To many people, their religion is just some Sunday mumbo-jumbo. Marriage traditions and conventions are just something you do to legitimize getting laid. No one pays close attention to what is said. But of course it is much more than that, whether you romanticize it or not.

It did start as a contract between stud and dam. But it has evolved into a cohabitation contract, generally perceived to have sexual overtones. As such it would seem to apply to any such pairing, regardless of appendages. To have it apply only to male-female relations is unfair unless you stipulate the pair will actively seek to produce children.

The new branch of law enforcement dedicated to this will employ thousands. The cottage industry based on the surveillance tapes will enrich thousands more.


Voters turn out in droves in newly-formed democracies because it is their new toy. The novelty hasn't worn off and they haven't been burned. Naivete, not nobility, sends them to the polls.

The end of voter self-esteem comes with the realization that most of us will never receive the information we need to make a truly informed decision. All the time and effort goes to image building and hype. Substance must be dug for, amid not only vanity and sound bites, but disinformation, distortion and just plain misunderstanding.

Standard of living

A couple of weeks ago I heard Pat Buchanan tell an interviewer (Terry Gross?) that America deserves to have the highest standard of living in the world. This is a relative measure. According to Buchanan's statement, as standards rise elsewhere, America's level of luxurious indulgence must also rise, in order to remain the highest in the world.

This is the philosophy of a dragon curled atop its pile of treasure. In our fiction, we glorify the tiny knight, attacking and slaying the dragon. In our real life, we act like the dragon. We're big and powerful. We incinerate our attackers. We demand our treasure and greedily guard what we have.

We call the knight a hero but express the dragon point of view.


In the war on terror we will get a lot further by opening discussions of the ethics of martyrdom than we will with all the guns and bombs at our disposal. Weapons will never win more than a temporary peace, if that.

In a conflict against martyrous foes, the martyrs always have the upper hand. They simply have to figure out how to get close to their enemies and pull the pin. The only defense is to keep anyone from getting close. There goes compassion and helpfulness, because no one will get close enough to be kind anymore.

Of course we can't become that distant. Some people are already, for fear of lesser consequences than death. A few more will join them out of concern for their lives. It's just too bad that anyone's hopeless agenda has thrown yet another hurdle in front of a society of trust and kindness. We have to be more willing than ever to die for refusing to pursue conflict. Doesn't that just suck?


What part of "individual freedom" don't you understand? In America you are supposed to be free to call God anything you want, including not at all. So whether you call your Almighty Jehovah, or YHWH, Jesus, Allah or BFTSPLXK, you are free to worship as you see fit.

Whovever leads this country should be a person of integrity. Our laws should be formulated from universally agreed principles of behavior intended to keep individuals and groups from victimizing each other. The leader of this country may choose to adhere to a religion or not. What is important is the dedication to integrity and the principles of individual liberty carried down to the lowest citizen. This may mean curtailing the oppressive power of corporations, religions or mobs, purposeful or accidental majorities or pluralities that create an illusion of a power bloc. If we give way to a mob of the so-called "good," we are required by the same principle to give way to a mob of the so-called "bad" when they muster enough votes. That's not how it is supposed to be.

We all tend to vote for people we think will give us what we want. Maybe that just sets us up for the eventual tyranny of the majority, a dictatorship of the proselytariat.