Monday, July 13, 2015

Pope Francis on something

He describes unbridled capitalism as the devil's dung and encourages the poor to rise up against neocolonialism.
(CNN) Pope Francis delivered yet another biting critique of contemporary capitalism on Saturday, saying the poor are often sacrificed on the "altar of money" and accusing the wealthy of worshipping a new "golden calf."
So what's new? Certainly not the message... not even for the Catholic Church. It seems the Vatican is carrying on with a strategy initiated under John Paul II of remodeling Catholicism as the global emissary of socialism... but not calling it that.

The main difference I find with this pope is that his conduct and language are more confrontational than that of his predecessors. But is Francis really shaking up the Church, as some seem to think? I don't think so. Has Francis done anything remarkable yet? Well, maybe just one thing... According to The Guardian: "A Bolivian minister said 10 days ago that Francis had told government officials that he would like to chew coca leaves when he visits."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Rainbows and religion

There is a huge gap between morality and law. Morality concerns right and wrong as a basis for personal and social development. Law concerns the prevailing social notions about property rights. With that in mind, no religious or spiritual teacher is or is ever likely to be obliged to officiate at a wedding that goes against her/his religious tenets, but civil authorities may well be so obliged. And, regardless of anyone's personal beliefs, couples in duly recognized LGBT marriages (whether sanctioned by religious authorities or civil authorities) must be accorded the same or similar social and economic rights and privileges as couples in the traditional form of marriage.

Some people complain that the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed sin. The simple fact is that laws invariably tolerate a lot of sins. The moment that legislatures enact laws or that courts interpret laws on the basis of religious notions of virtue and vice, the separation between Church and State is lost; and all of the drawbacks of a religious state (including first- and second-class citizens) result.

Some people argue that allowing LGBT marriages is a slippery slope. What will be next? Well, hypothetically, let's say that a person chooses to change her/his/its species. Instead of transgender, we would have someone who chooses to be transspecies. He says: "All my life, I've felt like a dog in a human body. All I want to do is to hump females of every species. Now that I am a dog, I feel liberated." And let's say that some other person, a woman, likes being humped at any hour of the day under any and all conditions... and let's further say that she wants to marry that once-human-now-dog. If tomorrow a civil rights movement garners support for such type of marriage, then eventually it will be permitted, because law is about society's notions of property rights. And once again, politicians will hail the new civil right as a victory for freedom and love, when all that has transpired is just a reflection of society's degradation.

In the final analysis, law never was and never will be a bastion against social degradation. To use it as such is like trying to stop a tidal wave with a lego. Religion, with all its loopholes and convenient interpretations, also cannot halt social degradation. If it could have done so, it would have happened already. The only way to resist social degradation is to popularize a healthy philosophy like neohumanism.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Neutral pronouns

I doubt that anyone would claim that neutral pronouns will eliminate sexism. However, the simple fact is that it is grammatically unjust – grammatically demeaning - that a male noun or pronoun may signify both men and women, but the corresponding female noun or pronoun may not. If man, men, and mankind can signify both men and women, then why shouldn't woman, women, and womankind signify both women and men? If he can signify either a man or a woman, then why shouldn't she signify either a woman or a man? Justice is an absolute principle that demands strictness. There might be some practical delays in the achievement of justice, but there can be no exceptions in respect to recipients and modes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Netanyahu vs Obama

No doubt Netanyahu gave a rousing speech. But will the speech have as much impact on the prospective nuclear deal with Iran as it will have on US-Israel relations? And will it ultimately help or hurt Netanyahu's re-election bid?

No one questioned Netanyahu's right or even responsibility to comment on the deal. The only thing questioned was the time and place of his remarks. It was a good speech. Who knows... Netanyahu might even be right that this deal is not wise. (Until a world government is established, we will go on walking through the minefield that is internationalism.) But no matter how things turn out, there will be no way to prove one way or the other that the world would have been better off with no deal rather than a bad deal.

A few days from now, Netanyahu's speech before the US Congress will be largely forgotten. In the meantime, Netanyahu returns home to a country with upcoming elections and pressing domestic issues (housing shortage, economic slowdown, and deteriorating medical services). On top of that, conditions with Israel's most reliable ally have now taken a turn for the worse.

Will Israelis welcome Netanyahu home as a hero and re-install him as their prime minister, or will they usher him into political retirement? To the extent that this even matters, we will know the answer in a few weeks. But while this almost certainly was Netanyahu's primary concern while standing before the US Congress, it probably makes little difference for Israelis as a whole or the people of the world collectively. Political democracy is all smoke and mirrors. At the end of the day, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer – elephants romp, and the grass gets trampled.

Monday, February 16, 2015

A surfeit of sages

Has anyone else noticed that there is an abundance of teachers these days? Rather, there is an overabundance. Nowadays, it seems like everyone and their astral or earthly guide is a guru, a healer, a seer, or a sage. One might almost think that this is a good thing... more teachers, less students... if only this were happening in the public school system. Unfortunately, it is not.

With the proliferation of life-teachers comes the notion that there are myriad paths to perfection. Ultimately, it appears that there are as many paths as there are people. If this were true, it would further entrench the individually and socially harmful notion of moral relativism. But is it so? Can there really be more than one true path? Surely, toward the end of the journey... near the peak of the mountain... the paths must merge. If that be so, then why not merge below as happens above?

When teachers have little or nothing to teach and only their inflated prestige to maintain, humanity is in great peril. And so it is rightly said: Beware of false prophets. At this juncture in history where every Dolly and Hari presents as God's gift to the world, what quality should we look for in a guide? Given that any true teacher is one who instructs by example, I would submit that the most important quality should be a readiness to learn something new. Even if a teacher seems to know everything about everything, still that teacher – to be ideal – must maintain the attitude of a good student.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The rich get richer

While politicians mount their soapboxes to discuss the state of the union, and leaders gather in Davos to discuss the state of the global economy, it's a good time for us to consider the problem of an ever-widening wealth gap.

Consider a large family that eats together from a common kitchen. However, in this family one member eats like a king, nineteen more members manage a nutritious diet, and the remaining eighty members struggle to exist from the leftovers of the other twenty. That is what we have in the world today. And the inequities are getting greater, not less.

A 12-page Oxfam report (Wealth: Having It All And Wanting More) issued a couple days ago, describes the current situation as follows: "In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world." The report goes on to predict: "If this trend continues of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years... with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016."

According to the Oxfam report: "The wealth of [the 80 richest individuals] is now the same as that owned by the bottom 50% of the global population, such that 3.5 billion people share between them the same amount of wealth as that of these extremely wealthy 80 people." Figure 4 of the Oxfam report reveals a steady decline in the number of billionaires required to match the accumulated wealth of the poorest 50% of our global population. In 2010, 388 billionaires were required. In 2014, only 80 billionaires could do it. Making the situation even more stark, Oxfam notes in the caption of Figure 3 of their report: "Wealth of the 80 richest people in the world has doubled in nominal terms between 2009 and 2014, while the wealth of the bottom 50% is lower in 2014 than it was in 2009."

The trends noted by Oxfam tend to substantiate December 2014 observations in an article by the Pew Research Center that the wealth gap between the USA's upper-income and middle-income families is also widening. According to the Pew Research Center, that gap is currently the widest on record. Tracking data from 1983 to 2013, the Pew Research Center demonstrates that the median net worth of American upper-income families is currently at least 6.6 times greater than the median net worth of American middle-income families. With the same data from that period, The Pew Research Center goes on to note that only American upper-income families have made wealth gains over the last 30 years. The Pew Research Center speculates: "[This data] could help explain why, by other measures, the majority of Americans are not feeling the impact of the economic recovery, despite an improvement in the unemployment rate, stock market and housing prices."  

Clearly, in wealthy capitalist countries, only the rich are getting richer. But this situation is not inevitable. Human society could ensure that everyone is getting richer, that everyone gets a fair share of our collective pie. However, that cannot be done within a politicoeconomic environment of democracy and capitalism. Those two structures are easily manipulated to increase the wealth gap, and the wealthy elite are expert in that manipulation. As also pointed out in the aforementioned Oxfam report, the wealthy elite know the sectors of the economy where they can maximize their profits (largely finance, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals, all areas of great common concern). To keep open their primary avenues of profit, the wealthy elite pour great sums of money into financing politicians and political lobbying (often on budget and tax issues). From experience, they know that they will reap huge personal profits from such political investments.

So while political leaders are busy posing as saviors of the people, let the humanists of the world remember that the true measure of progress for an economy is the improvement of conditions in the poorest sectors of the economy. Indicators like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may tell us something about the condition of the wealthy elite, but they tell us much less about the condition of the impoverished majority and the true state of the union.