Monday, August 12, 2019

of Serious Thoughts: Culture of Violence

of Serious Thoughts: Culture of Violence: We have unwittingly produced a culture of violence . . . it bears a relationship to addiction.   No one intended that, it wasn’t consciousl...

Culture of Violence

We have unwittingly produced a culture of violence . . . it bears a relationship to addiction.   No one intended that, it wasn’t consciously willed; it just crept up on us.  Much like in any addiction, there is denial of its danger—the chosen thing seems harmless . . . ‘it’s a stress reliever’, ‘everyone does it’, ‘it is our right’. And excuses abound for supporting its continuation—until something so serious happens the problem can no longer be denied.

A week ago, within a 24-hour period, there were two mass shootings in two different cities leaving 31 people dead.  What words are left to capture the horror of another mass shooting in America? Haven’t all the words already been used for such atrocities?
The first mass shooting of strangers by one person was in 1966 (53 years ago).  Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck of the Texas University clock tower with a rifle and proceeded to pick off passing students.  There were 18 deaths counting the shooter.  The nation was in shock, it was described as ‘the worst mass killing in American history’.  How could such a thing happen? He was an ex-Marine, it was later determined he suffered from PTSD.  That was in the mid-1900; in the 2000’s there has been a steady increase of mass murders—it is said it has become ‘the norm’.

Can a culture or society be addicted?  I believe it can be.  Not every member of that society need be involved and the addiction shows itself in different expressions, but where a majority supports something that is clearly unhealthy, it constitutes a kind of social addiction.  Violence is unhealthy and a continuous focus on it is psychologically damaging.

When we see evidence of this disorder expressed in a mass killer, people strain to find an explanation, a ‘reason’: guns, mental health, childhood abuse, violent video games, divisive and insulting rhetoric, negative rap music, pornography, violence in movies and on TV, radical right-wing ideology, lure of the forbidden . . . and always there is denial that that thing can’t be it . . .  ‘that’s nothing new’, ‘it has always been around’, etc.  But that misses the point, it isn’t any one thing, it’s the repetitive, all-pervasive presence of many forms of violence in our everyday lives that assaults the psyche of people.  Not any ‘one thing’ alone but the cumulative effect of our obsession with violence . . . then someone here or there demonstrates an intense reaction.

Taking some of the violence issues we live with, perhaps first and foremost is the nation’s love of/obsession with guns—it is matched nowhere else in the world.  There is a misinterpreted constitutional amendment with which gun-lobbyists block any attempts to put controls on guns. Centuries ago when the constitution was written the young country was largely lawless and the amendment was meant to give citizens the ability to protect themselves.  At that time there were only muskets, rifles and pistols—that was the ownership that was protected. Over the centuries technical advances brought forth automatic assault weapon for use in war; surely there was not foresight for these weapon and our forefathers would not have protected private ownership of them.  

Currently there are more guns than people in our country, surely that suggests we are a violent culture. Although there are many laws to protect the public from faulty merchandise that may be harmful, yet all attempts to secure protection for the public against assault weapons are blocked. The near-religious fervor to ‘protect our gun rights’ seems as ‘unhealthy’ as any other addiction.

Another thing that is contributing to the demise of our culture and fueling violence is the coarsening of rhetoric.  Not so many years ago, politeness coupled with sensitivity was a desirable virtue. It was considered a sign of maturity to be able to engage in debate without resorting to name-calling and insults. Such restraint is necessary for diplomacy.  That politeness has been in a downward spiral since the 60’s, but has taken a notable plunge since the 2016 presidential campaign.

One more thing I will single out from my list of signs of a disordered culture is the emphasis upon violence in our entertainment industry.  But before going into the violence, consider the fact that the entertainment industry alone is capable of making instantaneous millionaires: sports stars, movie and TV stars, singers with smash hits are materially rewarded far above the norm of society.  It points to something unhealthy about a society in which entertainers are valued more than scientists, educators, researchers, health professionals . . . anyone else except money manipulators who add nothing to the advancement of society; their purpose is to help make the already rich yet richer, and they profit disproportionately doing it.

Back to the point of violence—movies came into prominence in American culture in the beginning of the 1900’s, TV in the 1950’s.  Very soon it became apparent that the most popular themes were sex and violence;  movies attempted to control both with censorship from the early 1900’s to the ‘50s and 60’s when finally censorship was abandoned in 1966.  I don’t argue for the return of censorship but I do want the public to realize that the constant exposure to violence and immorality is damaging to young minds still in the process of forming . . . sex and violence are exciting and stimulating and we seem to be automatically drawn to them, and that is the same problem that occurs with cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Wisdom tells us to approach them with care, using self-control.

There has been nothing more influential in contemporary society than television—in our homes with 24/7 availability—that was true until the Internet; those two influences supersede all other influences.  The person one become results form a duel interaction of heredity and environment, and the environment of TV and Internet makes violence readily available.

We humans are the only creatures blessed with reflective awareness, the ability to see forward and back so we can plan and choose.  That constitutes our consciousness—it is a huge responsibility—together humanity makes the world to be what it is.  There have been both good and bad choices.  As we expand our consciousness we learn to make better choices.

The cumulative effect of many negative influences without a positive counter balance creates a culture of violence.  For all intents and purposes any concept of a God has been eliminated from our secular materialistic society.  About mid-way into the 1900’s laws were passed to prohibit prayer in schools and all mention of God in public affairs.  

Now I know and don’t deny ‘religion’ is a volatile issue, wars have been fought in its name, but that results from one religion claiming superiority and insisting all others are wrong. God is so far above religions and so beyond our ability to comprehend, any religion insisting upon its exclusive ‘rightness’ is in error.  A ‘God concept’ embodies all that is good: love, mercy, justice, hope, truth, compassion . . . that goodness needs expression.   You can remove from the public specific religious ideologies, but not God. Call God by whatever name or names you choose, or no name other than ‘the good’.  There is a need in any and all societies to hold up before all people—especially children still in a formative stage—an articulated set of values that are regularly called forth.  Does it really matter if God is preexistent or if God is something we strive and hope for?  In our lives we need a ‘God image’ to carry forward the good we long for.

I recommend Marianne Williamson’s book:  Healing the Soul of America

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fourth of July 2019

I write this on the eve of the 4thof July 2019 with a heavy heart.  President Trump has called for an unprecedented change in the holiday of our nation’s birth.  We are a nation that seeks Peace not war, we don’t showcase military might—it seems provocative.  It is Trump alone, not the Pentagon or the Armed Forces who have called for this display of tanks, weapon and armored military vehicles with a fleet of fighter jets to do a fly over.  This is costly to operate and 2.5 million dollars intended for our national parks will be diverted to pay for it.

He has had a stage set up in front of the Lincoln Memorial with a section cordoned off with reserved VIP seats for important Republican donors.  He has arranged this in order to feature himself with a speech.  No other president has used the national holiday for his own political agenda.  The celebration of the 4thhas traditionally been to honor the flag, our constitution and the freedom that this nation promises its citizens. Presidents come and go, this holiday is to celebrate our country and flag—not one man.

Many people will just ‘enjoy the show’ without giving consideration to the cost or the implication of highlighting military weapons and the inappropriateness of Trump making himself the focus.  He has planned the kind of display that thrills dictators with not-so-subtle ‘saber rattling’ to inspire awe and intimidate.

This president is an embarrassment to the country but worse than an embarrassment he is a danger to the world.  His term of office is changing the face and values of our country while breaking treaties, embracing dictators and alienating our allies.

Following are 2 similar words as defined on the internet:
1) Megalomania:   a symptom of mental illness marked by delusions of greatness . . . an obsession with doing extravagant or grand things . . . a mania for grandiose performance.
Related words: selfishness, narcissism, egotism, arrogance, overconfidence, vainglory, self-absorption 
2) Egomania:  is preoccupation with one’s self . . . applies to one who follows his own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation.  One who is obsessively egotistical and self-centerd.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Reparation has become a thorny issue; can it be explored rationally without immediately jumping to one side or the other?  Let’s begin with a simple definition—reparation: making amends for a wrong, by money or otherwise helping (offering assistance).  The question being asked in America: ‘Are members of the black race entitled to compensation for the injustice of slavery’?

Before continuing, I take a brief side trip in history.  For eons slavery was a norm for society, usually a rather local issue.  To quote the International Slavery Museum: “For more than 2000 years people in many different parts of the world forced their fellow humans into slavery.”  

The character of slavery changed as capitalism emerged in Northern Europe in the 16thCentury; it gave rise to the institutionalization of slavery.  Rather than remeining local, vast numbers of people were captured, gathered and shipped far away. 

The majority of those enslaved were from central and western Africa where slavery was historically widespread.  The captives were sold to Western European slave traders and shipped to America under horrible conditions and then offloaded and sold at auction.  This became known as ‘the transatlantic slave trade.’  It went on from the 1600’s to the 1900’s.  Only in the 1800’s in Europe and America did it come into question as a moral and political issue.

Denmark was the first nation to ban the import of slaves in 1792, becoming law in 1807.  The French colonies abolished slavery in 1848 and in the 1860’s the issue of slavery brought America to the bloody Civil War.  On January 1, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.

The slaves were technically freed, but the injustice caused by slavery continued through decades of segregation and the resulting social inequality has never been directly addressed. The issue of reparation asks that we as a nation address it.  Some point to Holocaust survivors being financially compensated—but that is a different issue, those are individuals who experienced direct suffering whereas there are no longer people alive who experienced direct suffering from slavery.  Yet, just looking around you will see it is indisputable that blacks are still suffering societal injustice.  Some individuals have succeeded against the odds, but the majority has not.  

It does not make sense nor is it reasonable to consider direct financial payment to descendants of slaves from several generations ago, but it would make sense to compensate for the societal injustice with a societal response by providing free education or skills training to any low income black family who requests it.

This is a call for a consciousness change to recognize the decades long injustice and offer assistance—reparation—for the wrong that had been done. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Revisiting the Abortion Issue

Although the question of abortion in the U.S. seemed settled in the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, with conservatism gaining more visibility since the Trump election, the issue of abortion has again become a contentious issue.  It is posed as a Yes or No question and both sides are highly emotionally charged so it is difficult to engage in rational discussions of the issue.

Much of the objection to abortion revolves around the question of ‘when is the fetus to be considered a human being?’ . . . is it as soon as the egg and sperm come together? . . . or is it with the first detectable heartbeat? . . . or is it when the fetus is viable—able to survive on its own outside the mother’s womb?  Law and science alone can’t give a definitive answer.

Another important issue at the core of the debate is ‘who has the right to make the decision concerning the use of a woman’s body?’  The woman? . . . the medical profession? . . . the Church? . . . the government?  The answer to that seems obvious—it is the woman. 

If we give careful consideration to that question, we see it as being influenced by the long-standing patriarchal perspective—a system of society or government controlled by men—wherein women have no voice, and all aspects of their lives are under the control of men.    That attitude can still be seen in the unwillingness to allow women to make their own choices.

More than a yes or no answer to abortion is needed.  Rather, what is needed is a deeper respect for life in general . . . unprotected sex can yield babies and babies are more than just today’s inconvenience.  We are all part of the flow of life and babies are the future generation.  Seen in those terms, abortion should never be a frivolous matter.  Women, being the carrier of life, hold a heavy responsibility . . . yet there are circumstances that can justify a choice to abort. Girls need be educated to protect their life-giving privilege and only in dire circumstances choose to eliminate a developing life in their body—but it is and must be their right to choose.

Let me bring up a point involving males that also concerns the ‘taking of life’.  There is a commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ . . . all of civilization agrees that killing is wrong.  Yet since the beginning of time there have been wars—and they are even glorified in many ways.  It is almost exclusively men who initiate war and men who engage in war.  The world, having developed under patriarchy, has made no outcry—until recently—that war is immoral. 

The point I make here is two-fold: 1) men have not been restricted by law or Church to not engage in the killing of war, they have always been free to choose how to use their bodies; and 2) under a patriarchal system women’s freedom had been controlled by men. Historically, their freedom of movement was curtailed (needing male approval); their freedom to be educated, to choose professions, to own property, to vote, was withheld etc. Slowly women have fought to be free of male control and make their own choices—the abortion issue is part of that fight.  

I want my position to be clear on this issue.  I oppose abortion as simply a way to ‘solve the problem’ of an unplanned pregnancy; I believe it is a moral issue and should be resorted to only in a real crisis, but I recognize that there are circumstances that justify it.  This is a decision that only the one directly concerned can make—as are all moral decisions.  This conflict is a gender-freedom issue.  The long-standing patriarchal control strives to take away woman’s authority in this very sensitive matter—we again and still fight for our freedom.  

I do believe there should be reasonable legal limits to the time allowed in which to abort and a limit to humane methods used, but ultimately the decision pro or con regarding a woman’s choice should be in the hands of the woman concerned.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

For Survival of Planet Earth

There are inherent values to guide human behavior that are essential for human survival on planet earth.

That is a strong sweeping statement.  I wish to unpack it . . . notice there is no mention of God in the statement.  It does not mean that God has been rejected or left out; it means the statement is applicable whether or not one holds a belief in God.

First let me make a statement about God, as I understand it.  When you think about a consciousness (God) that created life, the world and this vast wondrous universe you necessarily realize it is so beyond our capacity to grasp that you have to know that no group of people—no church, no nation; not theologians nor agnostics--can define or explain the phenomenon, so those insisting they know all the answers and have the right formula are wrong.

From that starting point, I say we can take some tentative steps toward recognizing what a creator (if there was one) who brought forth this beautiful delicately balanced world and life, would want from those creatures displaying the marvelous human quality of reflective awareness (reasoning).  It would surely be to appreciate the wonder and continue to create and flourish, not destroy it all.

Next statement I would make concerns inherent values . . . every society since the beginning of time—no, rather let me say since the beginning of reflective awareness—has looked beyond the immediate seeking answers.  Answers to ‘what is the best way to capture the game?’  ‘How should we protect ourselves?’  And ‘what is out there bringing this all about?’  They come to different answers but the quest is universal.  The desire to know and to understand is simply a part of being human.  In that desire to know and understand, if we look, we will find ways of being that support life and ways that oppose it.

Once we didn’t know how to extend communication beyond speech and writing; now we have phones and computers to instantly convey information.
Once we had only horses, oxen, elephants and camels to transport our goods and us; now we have cars, trains and planes for that.
Once we gave consideration to only ourselves, our family and our nation to prosper; but now we must look beyond that and realize we are one world and we have the ability to destroy it . . . and our lack of foresight has allowed that to become a real threat.

We have thus far ignored looking deeply into ethics and values, but now it is incumbent upon us if we are to avoid self-destruction.

About 125 years ago all the world religions began to dialogue, seeking a common core of values. In 1993 The Parliament of World’s Religions, after years of work, produced the document Toward a Global Ethic that was signed by 200 representatives of all world religions.  That document has been translated into nearly all languages and is available on the Internet.

The fact that all religions could come to an agreement, looking beyond their differences and see that we are all interconnected by common values is amazing!  Our humanness is supported by shared inherent values recognizable by our reflective awareness.

The 5 fundamental ethical demands are:
1.    Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life.
2.    Commitment to a culture of solidarity and just economic order
3.    Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truth
4.    Commitment to a culture of equal rights for all races and genders
5.    Commitment to a culture of sustainability and care for the earth

Only when we come to recognize the truth and necessity of these principles can we step back from the impending disaster we are now faced with.

If there is a God (and I believe there is) I think that God would care less about how people pray or if they pray at all, so much as about how they live their lives in accordance to a moral and ethical order, how they cared for and sustained this wonderful life-giving planet, and how they finally learned to love their neighbor as themselves.

I encourage readers to search the Web for Toward a Global Ethic.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Invasion of Privacy

Uncharacteristic of my usual blog content, I want to say a few words about advertising.  It seems odd to me that so much fuss was made about privacy when the government was searching bundles of phone lines to apprehend connections with potential terrorists—that’s not listening in on private conversations, it was seeking to know about connections with foreign powers—yet there was an outcry in the media.

As for the privacy issue, my privacy is invaded on a daily basis through my house phone and cell phone robocalls; through the internet via uninvited and unwanted ads in email and messages; through the mail with a sea of printed advertising, and through TV which seems to have become devoted more to constant ads than programming—I pay to have TV yet I’m subjected to endless advertising.

I have faithfully watched CBS Morning Show for years.  They have important and accurate news, interesting guests on a variety of topics as well as friendly and humorous banter between their reporters—it’s a well-rounded informative show.  But over the years the advertising has increased to the degree that I estimate equal time is now given to ‘stuff’ other than the show itself.  Many ads are the same ones over and over and they have added   more advertising for their other CBS shows.  In addition to repetitive advertising, time is consumed by long weather/traffic reports repeated every 10 to 15 minutes and between ads they insert shots of the reporters around the table to make viewers think the show has returned in case they zoomed ahead to skip the ads.  I no longer want to watch it on live TV.  The effect of the onslaught of advertising from all directions has alienated me to the extent that I deliberately avoid purchasing things that are over-advertised.  

If the government is to protect our privacy, why is there no effort to protect us from the invasion of unwanted advertising over our phones, the Internet, TV we pay to receive, and the US mail?  Why is it OK for advertising sources to collect data to learn an individual’s preferences and aim specific advertising at them?  Why is there no privacy protection there?

It seems to be a confirmation that our consumerism is out of hand.