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Biased? Who’s Biased?

“Biased? Who’s biased?  I’m right, you’re wrong. Period.”

Unfortunately, that’s the way a lot of conversations end these days. That is sad. It’s easy, but it’s sad because dialog is the way forward. We learn from each other in conversation. We learn about ourselves from the observations of the people we talk to. It is so much easier to spot a fault in someone else’s thinking than our own. By rational dialogue we not only find out each other’s biases and misguided beliefs, but we establish consensus in a peaceful way.

What is the number one human attribute that has contributed the most to their survival over the past couple million years? We are not the strongest species, nor the biggest, nor the fastest, nor the most aggressive, nor the most prolific, nor the smartest. How do we survive? How do we dominate?

Adaptability. Humans adapt well to changes. Not that we particularly enjoy it, but when we have to, we adapt better than any other species to environmental changes.   If we run out of one kind of food, we start eating something else. If it gets too cold where we are, we move to some place warmer, or we build houses to shelter us. If we lose our jobs, we learn new skills and change careers. If the job market dries up, we move to greener pastures. If we cannot accomplish something by ourselves, we cooperate with others to do it. If this planet becomes uninhabitable, we’ll move to another one. Other species do not adapt as well as we can. Consequently, they go the way of the dinosaurs.

What gives us such a capacity to adapt? Creativity and imagination. Your mind is endlessly creative, curious, calculating, rational, plastic, and unpredictable. But we also have something we share with the rest of the animal kingdom – our survival instincts and emotions. These are biological, habitual, compassionate, needy, risk-averse, self-protective, tribal, and predictable. The human mind is still a mystery to science, but the heart has been well mapped out by behavioral scientists and social engineers in the past century.

In other words, they can manipulate your heart but not your mind. They can predict what your emotional motivations are likely to be, what your biases are, and therefore predict your behavior most of the time. As long as you don’t think for yourself, you can be led where they want you to go. All they have to do is train you not to use your mind, not to think rationally, and make it a little uncomfortable or inconvenient for you to what they don’t want you to do, and what they are left with is a compliant consumer they can predict and control with a fair degree of certainty.

The emotions are deeply ingrained in the biology of the species, learned over eons and passed down by DNA from one generation to the next. Hard-won lessons about survival and danger are hard-wired into your psyche where you cannot easily access them with your conscious mind. Because they are so entrenched and universally held by everyone, they have been studied and categorized by behavior psychologists and used for the advantage of anyone trying to sell a product or service, trying to persuade someone to agree with their opinion, or control someone’s behavior.

The problem is, the more emotionally driven you become, the more habitual, the more predictable you become, the less adaptive you become. And we all know what happens to species that can’t adapt. A successful person is an adaptable person. In this lifetime you can expect to have many jobs in many fields. Gone are the days of the 30-year career at the same company, the gold watch, and 30 more years of drawing a juicy pension. It’s a different world now. If you stay two years at a job, that’s a good run. We need to learn how to market our skills and ideas, learn new ones, and juggle several income streams at once to make ends meet.

Those who can adapt to this rapidly changing social and economic environment will survive and thrive. Those who do not will not. Forget trying to recreate the past. The 50s are not coming back, when Dad went to work for the same factory for life, and Mom stayed home in their little bungalow and raised two or three kids. That’s not coming back – ever. Get over it.

The answer is not looking back and trying to recreate the past, but to look forward and adapt to what is coming. We need to adapt to change, not stop the world from changing just to accommodate us. The universe is designed to constantly change, and we are designed to constantly adapt. And what do you need to adapt? You need to learn, you need to experience, you need to fail, fall down and get back up. You need knowledge and creative imagination. You cannot fall back on your old habits and comfortable patterns of behavior when the world is changing at an ever-increasing rate around you.

One of our biggest biases is our aversion to change. We resist new things, and we hate learning new procedures. Every new software update that changes the way our phone or tablet works is a pain in the butt. Every new rule we encounter at work or in filling out our tax forms is annoying. Why don’t they just stick with what was there? It was working. We want the status quo. We want to set it and forget it. We don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel every time. We want everything to go smoothly and predictably the way we are used to it. Good luck with that!

For example, the climate is changing. So? It has always been changing since Day 1, and we are not going to stop it now, no matter how hard we try. Instead of trying to engineer the climate for our comfort, to keep it where it is now, or roll it back to where it used to be, why don’t we learn how to adapt to what is happening now?   Wouldn’t it be easier for us to adapt than to try to change the world to adapt to us? We are the adaptable ones, remember?

We learn and we adapt. When we stop learning and adapting, we die. We just came through the revolution of the Information Age in the last few decades and now we stand at the brink of another revolution in technology that promises to challenge our adaptability exponentially. The machines we are building now are going to be thinking for themselves, adapting better than we can. They don’t have to sleep. They don’t eat. They don’t need to be paid. They don’t need to be coddled. They don’t need counselling. They will do what they are programmed to do in the most efficient way. How are we going to compete with that?

This is what we need to be thinking about, and it poses a much greater threat to our existence as humans than melting ice caps and vanishing exotic species that are not adapting to environmental changes. In our colossal arrogance, we think we can stop the world from turning, think we know best how to manage its resources, and harness the forces of nature for our advantage. In the end, the truth is that all we can do is adapt to what is, but fortunately for us, that’s what we do best!

We adapt by learning, and we learn best by experience. We learn from our mistakes, not by rigging the system so that we avoid mistakes, not by fudging the numbers to make it look like we are not making mistakes, not by ignoring new information that contradicts our former notions, not by clinging to fixed ideas and listening only to those who agree with our ideas.   We adapt and learn not by shutting down dissenting voices, but by engaging in meaningful dialog.

You’ve got your biases and I’ve got mine. Okay? The point is not which one of us is right, but how we can help each other conquer our irrational biases.   This is accomplished in thoughtful conversation. Why should we conquer our biases? Because they are blocking our learning capacity, limiting our adaptability, affecting our ability to think for ourselves and make good choices. Our biases are predictable and therefore controllable. Behavioral psychologists have catalogued some 200 popular human biases which corporations and governments use to engineer the choices you make in everything from the groceries you buy to how you vote.

So, what are your biases? Are you risk averse? Do you tend to go along with the consensus? Do you check out the consumer reports and reviews before you buy something major? Do you grab the first thing on the shelf, or do you read the labels? Do you go along to get along, or are you an opt-out person? Are you a creature of habit? Not me, you say. It is always easier to spot someone else’s biases than to see our own. That’s why we need to talk with each other. We can help each other recognize our faulty biases. Not ridicule each other for them, not condemn each other for them, but realize we all have them and we’d all be better off without them.

The more we play into our biases and let them govern our behavior, rather than discovering and eliminating them, the more divided we become, and the more vulnerable to marketing and social engineering we become. That is precisely why they no longer teach logic and critical thinking in schools. That’s why they want to shut down debate on campus. The end of the conversation is the end of learning and the final step toward total conditioning.

That is why the powers that be want to shut down your rational thinking and condition you to act on your emotional impulses and biases. They know how to work those. They want you to be a loyal, reliable consumer and a dependent and compliant citizen. They play on your biases every day, everywhere you go. A little nudge here and there, subtle suggestions, and soon we find ourselves buying things we do not need, saying things we do not mean, and doing things that make no sense.

We are becoming more and more predictable and controllable by those who figure they are much smarter than us, and know what is best for us, and we are less and less adaptable and able to think for ourselves. Not a good scenario for anyone who likes the idea of freedom. Great for those who crave total control. Not good for humanity in general, though. Don’t you know that the ones who are steering you with your biases have just as many irrational biases of their own? Is this not the blind leading the blind?

So, let’s talk before we forget how. Let’s listen and learn from each other, instead of screaming at each other. Let’s learn about our own biases, and learn to live above them by thinking, speaking, and acting rationally. Because when we run out of words to say to each other, the next thing coming is unthinkable.

PEACE EXISTS

flying high 3Peace exists. “Where?”, you might ask.   It seems we are always at war with something. The Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, cyberwars – that is all they ever seem to talk about on the news. They paint a picture of a world in chaos and conflict. It sells airtime. It motivates people to buy product. Peace, on the other hand, does not sell.

A peaceful person is a contented person, happy with what they have, happy where they are. That’s not a good consumer. So, it is no surprise that the media does not want to encourage peace. They emphasize the chaos and conflict in the world and make you think there is no peace, make you demand peace in the world, but the peace they offer is conditional. You can have peace if you buy this product, if you move to this place, if you buy this service, etc.

Those who look for peace in the world are looking in the wrong place. It’s not out there; it’s in your heart. Peace is a condition, a state of being, not a thing. As such, it is eternal, like love. No one doubts that love exists. We say we are “in love” or “not in love.” Likewise, we are either “in peace” or “not in peace.” Those who try to go out and “find love” somewhere, eventually come to realize it comes from within, and what they are hoping to get from someone else is something they have to give, and in the giving is the experience of love.

When you are in love, you are full of love, you radiate love, you do loving things, you say loving things, you see love all around you in everything. So it is with peace. When you are in peace, you are full of peace, you radiate peace, you do peaceful things, you say kind and peaceful words, and you see peace all around you.

Peace is not a matter of getting other people to see things your way or behave differently. It is about being in peace yourself.   You can’t make someone else be peaceful. You can control their behavior for a while, but they must find their own peace. Your peace cannot depend on external conditions if you want to experience lasting peace.

Lasting peace, like lasting love, is unconditional. The peace exists in you regardless of what other people do and say, just as love exists in you even though there are many people in the world who may not show their love to you. Even if the person you love doesn’t show you love. Love anyway. In the same way, you must be the peace to see the peace. The people out there who are not acting peacefully are not what keeps you from experiencing peace. Love and peace are both generated from within.

So, how do you generate peace in the face of turmoil? The Apostle Paul has good advice in in Epistle to the Romans. He was living in a time very similar to our own. He says they did not glorify God, neither were they thankful. They were vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

 “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” -Romans 1 (NIV)

Sounds remarkably descriptive of our contemporary world, doesn’t it? Here’s what Paul says we must do:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” -Romans 12 (NIV)

Peace exists; it always has and always will. It is of God, and therefore eternal.  But it takes a peaceful heart and mind to see it. It takes peaceful speech and peaceful acts to experience it. It is not someone else’s job to be peaceful. It depends on us.

Revisionism

REVISIONISM

Revisionism is rampant in our society. Some call it “spin.” If we don’t like the news, we revise it to fit our narrative. If we don’t like history, we revise it. If we don’t like the Constitution, we revise it. If we don’t like our religion, we revise it. If we don’t like our sexual identity, we revise it.

I cannot determine whether this revisionism stems from the arrogant over-confidence in our ability to change not only the future but the past, or from our denial or inability to take responsibility for our past as it was, or just plain ignorance.

Post-modern philosophy of the 20th century has revised the idea of absolute truth, hard fast rules, the ultimate power and authority of anything above the individual. If there is any meaning to life, it is strictly what we each give it. The statement, “if God didn’t exist, we’d have to create one” implies that God and religion are nothing more than our own imaginary constructs rising out of our psychological need to make sense out of our lives.

“Man is the measure of all things” was the famous declaration of Protagoras in ancient Greece, around 4 BCE. In other words, everyone has their own truth, and one’s truth is as good as another’s. Plato argued back that if that were so, why would anyone go to anyone else for instruction, if each man has his own truth and is the measure of his own wisdom?

Despite Plato’s logical argument against the Sophists of his time, this relativism shows up some two thousand years later in the writings of postmodern philosophers like Luigi Pirandello, famous for his line, “it is so when you think it is so.”

Inevitably we construct ourselves. Let me explain. I enter this house and immediately I become what I have to become, what I can become: I construct myself. That is, I present myself to you in a form suitable to the relationship I wish to achieve with you. And, of course, you do the same with me.” -Luigi Pirandello

It is important to know that these are not the mere musings of some lunatic fringe philosopher, but the prevailing mainstream of thinking of generations of the people who are writing, or rather re-writing, our children’s history textbooks, who are teaching our teachers what to teach, who are trying to rewrite our constitution, fundamentally changing our republic by revising history to fit a specific narrative, namely, that the story of our great country was one not of victory of the individual over the tyranny of a state, not the heroic carving of a nation from the raw wilderness, but one of exploitation and oppression of the poor by the wealthy. So, now we have generations of young people who are ashamed to be called American, who refuse to pledge to the flag or stand and sing the national anthem.

It is time to re-visit the past, not revise it. Just as the Renaissance happened when Europeans revisited the original Greek texts containing the wisdom of Plato and Aristotle, America will see a Renaissance when we start reading the original texts of the Founding Fathers. We are drifting in the undertow of postmodern revisionist thinking, and it is time we found the firm bottom of truth and logic to stand upon before our republic disappears like a dream into the sea of oblivion. As Pirandello further states, “Whatever is a reality today, whatever you touch and believe in and that seems real for you today, is going to be – like the reality of yesterday – an illusion tomorrow.”

We cannot allow our arrogance, fear of responsibility, or ignorance erase or revise the fundamental principles upon which our republic was built. And, by the way, stop calling it a democracy. It never was a democracy. It is a republic – a representative government that is supposed to represent you, to carry out your will, not their will, or what they think is best for you.

This is an example of revisionism. Revisionists keep calling America a democracy. As in social democracy. As in democratic socialism. As if everybody gets to have it their way.  No compromising, no majority rules, but equality of outcome for everybody.  Do you see the difference, the slight-of-hand? Revision happens inch by inch, word by word. The truth gets revised and forgotten, to be replaced with ‘today’s truth’, your truth, my truth. What truth? What is truth? If you don’t know, you have been afflicted with postmodern thought. The truth is, the truth something to be discovered, not invented. The truth is what is borne out by experience, and all experience lies in the past.

For this reason, we need to return to the foundations of Western Civilization, to go back and read the original texts for wisdom. The Bible, for example. And not some modern Revised Edition! The original Greek and Aramaic texts, if you can get your hands on them. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. The works of Plato, Aristotle, Democrates, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius. I will bet most of us have had next to no exposure whatsoever to these authors, and that, my friend, is why we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes of the past.

It seems that humanity is stuck in a never-ending cycle of enlightenment and depravity, war and peace. Why, in all the centuries, with all of our technologies, have we never learned, never progressed, never grown to rise above our human depravity, our petty jealousy, our greed, our taste for violence and destruction, our thirst for power?  You cannot rise above a past you fail to acknowledge and understand. You cannot just reinvent yourself, pretend the past didn’t happen, burn all the books, knock down all the statues, change all the laws, and not fall into the same traps that others have fallen into since time began.

Know What You Don’t Know

Uncertainty is the beginning of wisdom. The more you learn, the more you know there is so much more you don’t know. Epictetus said, “If a man would pursue philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows.” There is no one more unteachable than the one who knows a little but is convinced he knows it all.  

“Change your mind, change your world” is a popular mantra of the New Thought movement of the Twentieth Century. The operative word in the statement is “your.” Notice the slogan doesn’t say that changing your mind changes the world, but it changes your world. In other words, your perception of the world. What do you know of the nature of the world outside of your perception of it? How much of it have you personally experienced? Very little. And what of the universe beyond this planet? So, what do you hope to change except what is in your personal sphere of experience?

When you change your basic beliefs and assumptions, your world seems to change. You see everything from a new perspective. In this way, the world you see is a reflection of yourself. When you’re in love the world is in love. You notice other people in love. Colors look brighter. Beauty is all around. The world seems a friendlier place. On the other hand, when you are in fear the world seems a dark and dangerous place, everyone is out to get you, life is all pain and struggle.

Neither view is reality. One is as delusional as the other. Reality is all of it, the good, the bad, the beauty, the ugliness, the pleasure, the pain, the struggle, the life, the death. It always has been and always will be. You could think of it as a grand buffet with every kind of food imaginable and you can fill your plate with whatever you choose. You simply can’t eat it all, so you choose those things you like. Other people choose other things and experience a completely different buffet than you do.

Therefore, your world and my world are two different worlds, even though we live in the same world.  Neither of our realities are Reality, but only the part of it our beliefs allow us to see. It would be a mistake for either of us to assume that the world we see is in fact the world everyone else sees.

Just about every class valedictorian speech is about going out and making a difference in the world. Making the world a better place. This from a person who has yet to experience the world outside her academic bubble, her tight circle of family and friends, enough to understand that the world she wants to change is not something she can change, but something that will change her.

So, what can we change? Sure, the world looks different now than it did when I was growing up. Somebody changed that. Although a world without computers and iPhones and cars that drive themselves is hard for some young folks to imagine, people are still much the same. Decade after decade, century after century, after countless graduation speeches, what has really changed? People still lie, cheat, steal, kill, bully other people, enslave other people, exclude other people. Nothing new. Is it even reasonable to aspire to make the world a better place?

The only world we will ever change is the world we personally perceive. And, the only way we can do that is to change our personal beliefs. We judge our experience of the world as good or bad according to how it affects us. If it is good for us, it must be good. If it is bad for us, it must be bad. But everybody is doing this. So, how could we possibly assume that what we, in our narcissistic opinion, think is good for us is also good for anyone else, or that what we think is bad for us is also bad for anyone else? How self-righteous and self-absorbed are those assumptions?

You can take what I have, verbally or physically abuse me, control what I see of the world, imprison me and limit what I experience of the world, but you can’t change my world.   Only I can do that. You can talk about all the things you have in your world, how they make your life better, and try to convince me that I need what you have, but I can be perfectly fine without them. Think about it. It’s only been a century or so since we’ve had indoor plumbing, electricity, lights, cars, and planes. And the majority of people in the world have still never seen a computer or a phone. Yet, there are happy and unhappy people in every place in the world. So, it is not things or circumstances that account for human happiness.

We complain about the money and the privilege some people enjoy, that we don’t. Of course, we don’t envy the diabetes, the heart disease, the cancer, or the thousands of physical and mental disorders that come along with the affluent lifestyle. We don’t want all the worries and responsibilities of the bosses and rulers of the world; we just want the money and the power. We only imagine how much better our lives would be if we had it and avoid thinking through what we’d have to do and sacrifice to get and keep that kind of money and power and the consequences we’d have to live with if we had it.

What am I saying? Should we be happy and satisfied with what we have, our given lot in life? Should we not aspire to be more, to do more, to have more? No, I am not arguing that a simple, ascetic life is better than a complicated affluent one, or that living in a technological society is better than living off the grid and close to Nature. Growth and development are natural human urges. Expansion is the basic urge of the universe, of Life itself. Of course, you want more.

What I’m saying is, ‘your world’, your reality, doesn’t consist of what you have or don’t have, what you experience or don’t experience, and certainly not what others have or experience, but your reality is what you think about what you have and experience. And, that is totally under your control.   No one else can change that for you. Not your mate, not your tribe, not your government. You.

As we said earlier, you don’t perceive all of Reality, only that part of reality your beliefs allow you to see. If you want to perceive a greater reality for yourself, you are going to have to hack your beliefs, which is no easy task. It’s not simply ‘changing your mind.’ You change your mind thousands of times a day and yet your core beliefs about yourself remain deeply embedded. No, your beliefs about yourself, your worth, your place in life, what you deserve, how much you can have, how far you can go, are locked up in a secure place out of the reach of your normal day-to-day awareness.

Reality is like all the hidden files on your computer, the registry, the codes behind all the programs and apps you use every day. The average person cannot mess with those easily. It takes a good deal of specialized training. So does re-programming your mind. Most of us are too lazy to do that. Those that do learn to re-program their minds, though, are the ones who change their worlds.

Shows like the Netflix original series, The 100, question the notion that we humans are more evolved now, more civilized, better people in our modern technological world, less barbaric than we were as cavemen. The story shows that all that sophistication we claim to have because of our knowledge and advances in technology evaporates when that technology goes away and it comes down to basic survival off the grid. What is real is the value of relationships. And, the most advanced and the most primitive people seem to be equally barbaric when it comes down to eating or starving, breathing or not breathing, killing or being killed.

So, if the only world we can change is the world we perceive, and the world we perceive is only that which our beliefs allow us to believe, what does it make more sense to work toward? Changing the world to improve living conditions, to have more money, more things, greater influence, or power, or changing our consciousness to a higher level? Making the world a better place, or making ourselves better people?

 

 

What Really Divides Us?

What really divides us? Why is it that one side of the argument always blames the other side for “dividing the nation”? When you think about it, it is usually the one pointing the finger who is the one doing the dividing.  We often project onto others that which we refuse to see in ourselves or accuse others of doing what we are doing.

Many accuse those who disagree with them of racism, genderism, idealism, elitism, any number of “-isms” you could think of.  At the core of the shame and blame game is the underlying belief that life is a competition, a struggle for survival between classes of people from different social and economic strata, the classic Manichean struggle between good and evil, black hats against the white hats, effectively dividing the population into groups of oppressors and oppressed.

It doesn’t matter if the subject is race, economic status, age, gender, political ideology. The apparent issue is not the issue. The issue is the envy, resentment, and hate arising from the perception that someone else has an advantage over you or has what you want and deserve, and it should be your right to have it. They are the bad guys and you and your friends are the good guys. The injustice of it all, in your mind, justifies your use of any means available to get it.

The problem is our human sense of justice is flawed.   We think that justice is only achieved when everybody has the same thing – a fair share, an equal slice of the pie. “So, what’s wrong with that idea?”, you might ask. “After all, the country was founded on the principle that we are all created equal, why shouldn’t we each get the same benefits and privileges?”

What is wrong with that assumption is the original premise – that all are created equal. The statement doesn’t say everyone is equal. It says we were created equal.  That implies a Creator, who, in his infinite wisdom, created everyone, but each with different characteristics. Not the same, not clones, but equally valuable as expressions of life itself. Not equals, but equally valuable as individuals with unique talents and ideas, each contributing in their own way to the advancement of human existence. Further, the Founders of this nation state that each individual is endowed by God, not by government, with certain inalienable rights. But what are those rights? Not equal pay, equal power, equal influence, equal education, equal healthcare, equal social standing, but simply those laid out in our constitution, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The Founders were talking about the equal intrinsic value of each human life in God’s judgment, not guarantees of equal outcomes according to human judgment. All the finger-pointing and accusations of social justice advocates comes from the envy of those who have by those who do not. That envy arises out of our human tendency to compare ourselves with others.

We judge ourselves, our measure of success, our status, not on our personal triumphs over obstacles in the pursuit of our dreams, but in comparison with others. We resent and grow to hate those who have more than us, and pity and look down on those who have less. It’s all about comparison. Wealth is a relative term. Becoming a millionaire was once considered the ultimate dream. Now, a kid right out of high school with an idea for a new video game or app that goes viral can become an instant millionaire. These days, a million bucks doesn’t go around as far as it used to. A millionaire might not even consider himself wealthy among all the billionaires walking around today.

We hear much talk about income equality, redistribution of wealth, idealizing a world where everyone gets an equal share. But that is not really what we are after. Humans tend not to be satisfied with equality, but seek an advantage, superiority, power. In other words, it is not sweet enough to do well in life, but sweeter to do better than someone else. It’s not enough to keep up with the Joneses. We want to do better than the Joneses.

Our obsessive comparison of ourselves with others, is the divider of the human race. It is the destroyer of unity. To compare yourself with someone else naturally separates you from them. They become the competition. To define yourself by what others have or do not have, instead of simply discovering and developing the God-given talents you have, not only divides, but sets you against everyone else in a race of one-upmanship that destroys any sense of empathy and compassion. In other words, why help someone we are competing with to get ahead of us in the race?

So, if you have idea that you are just one individual in competition with the seven billion other individuals on the planet, you may understandably feel powerless to make any significant difference in the world outside of your personal sphere of influence. Perhaps, if you could convince some others to think like you, join you, and help you achieve your goals, you could form an alliance and together you could make some difference. Now we are talking politics, group identification, coalitions, class warfare, the breakdown of a free society leading to totalitarian rule, as one class struggles for ultimate power over everyone else. It’s the same game of comparison only on a grander scale.

As we said, we are all born with equal potential, and in a free society, we ideally have an equal shot at developing our unique talents and abilities to achieve whatever we choose to achieve in life. Now, it’s true, some people are born into poverty and some into wealth, some are born male and some female, some with higher IQs, some with lower, some black, some brown, some white. We are not cloned. We are not the same. We are not born in the same circumstances. Some of us start out in more comfortable economic and social environments than others. Some grow up with certain privileges and advantages that others perceive themselves to be lacking. But here we go, comparing ourselves to others again.

So, what is the point of life? Is life just a game where we collect things, gain power and advantage over others until the one who dies with the most power and the most toys wins? Or, is it to develop your own unique qualities and potential to become the best that you can be in your personal set of circumstances with your personal set of talents? Thank God we live in a country where someone born in poverty, from humble beginnings, can rise to greatness with an original idea, a lot of hard work, and dedication.   That’s the American Dream, isn’t it? That you are free to pursue your dreams, as free as anyone else is. Not that you are entitled to everything anyone else has.

But who says that more is always better? Why is it that comparisons are always made in quantity instead of quality? Thankfully, we also live in a free society where, regardless of external circumstances, we can pursue and achieve a measure of personal excellence, success, and happiness right where we are without ever having to achieve fame, fortune, or power over others on a grand scale. There is nothing wrong or insignificant about being the best mother you can be, the best bricklayer, the best baker, the best sanitation worker, the best housekeeper, or the best burger-flipper you can be. All these expressions of individual creativity weave into the tapestry of a great society. All individuals fulfilling their potentials are equally vital parts of the whole, and all contribute to its greatness.

The fundamental flaw in the human idea of social justice is that it is relative, comparing one group with another. We believe everyone deserves equal outcomes, and we spend so much time and money on social programs that try to adjust the distribution of wealth, education, housing, etc. attempting to ‘level the playing field’ for everyone. Only it’s not leveling the playing field we are interested in. The ‘playing field’ is already level. We all have unlimited potential from birth.

What we really want is to change the rules or adjust the scoreboard to show that our team wins. And that depends on your definition of ‘winning’. Does winning mean overcoming your individual obstacles in the chaos of your life to achieve personal success, or does it mean grabbing more money and power than everybody else, beating everybody else in a race to the top? The top of what? The top of the Top Ten List? No one comes to this planet with more than anyone and no one is getting out of here with more than anyone. Death is the great equalizer. Dust to dust. Kings and slaves are buried in the same ground. In a hundred years the richest and the most powerful of us will have been forgotten. Who knows, in a hundred years there may not be anyone left to remember us!

My point is, there is no sense in comparing ourselves with others. No sense wanting to be someone we are not. No sense wanting the things they have, unless we also want to make the sacrifices they have made, to have the burdens, the worries, and responsibilities they have. Of course, we never envision those things. We just envision ourselves enjoying the privileges of wealth – the big house, the luxurious car, the affluent lifestyle without any of the sacrifices and responsibilities that come with them.

It is different if you want to go for it all, knowing full well that you are going to have to make all the sacrifices and bear all the burdens that come with the benefits, and you still think it is worth it. Go for it! There is nothing wrong with becoming better, just don’t make it your goal to be better than, richer than, smarter than, slimmer than, holier than others. It just keeps you divided from everyone else, always comparing, always competing. You’ll never be satisfied. No matter how far you go, there will always be someone with more than you, someone with less. Just think about you and why you are here. What would be the best version of you? That is worth working for. If you must compare, compare yourself to who you were yesterday and improve on that.

Thou Shalt Not Steal

“Hey, Jeff.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m a car thief, and I’m here to steal your car!”
“What?”
“It’s my job. It’s what I do.”
“WHAT?”
“W-H-A-A-A-T!!!!”
“It happens.”

This commercial sickens me. It’s supposed to scare us into buying car insurance, but it is also teaching our kids that it is easy and fun to steal cars. No responsibility, no guilt, no consequences. The thief, “Mayhem”, is brazen, a likable anti-hero, a mischievous nuisance, having a great time doing his “job.” Forget about insurance, I just wanna be that guy! Take whatever I want, whenever I want, and get away with it! “It happens.” Theft is presented as a fact of life, which, sadly, it has become in this country.

No worries, though, the rationalization goes, it’s not really stealing from other people who work hard to make the money to buy things like cars and houses, the insurance company will pay for it all, and those greedy suckers have plenty of money! They’ll never miss it! Yeah, but who pays the high premiums to the insurance companies? And when crime rates go up in your neighborhood, who pays a higher premium for it?

The message is that crime goes unpunished, theft is a fact of life and the solution is not to punish or apprehend the thief, but to buy expensive coverage to replace your stolen vehicle – and that’s another kind of theft, called extortion. Protection rackets date back at least to Roman times and continue bigger than ever today. In the last century, crime families in our major cities extorted big money for “protecting” local businesses from theft and arson. Sounds like a valuable service, until you realize that the thieves and arsons were working for the family!

German philosopher, George Hegel, famously describes how to gain power. He says, to gain power, first you must create a big problem to which only you have the solution. An ethical and successful sales technique would be to find a need and fulfill it, but extortion creates a need and then fulfills it.  You have to make people uncomfortable, scared, panicked, before you can sell them your protection. It happens all the time, all around us. That is how insurance is sold. The threat of what might happen. So, you pay a large portion of your income to protect yourself against things that will probably never happen. That’s theft on a grand scale. And it’s legal.

This scheme has permeated our whole economic system and society. For example, you take your car into a dealership for an oil change. They come to you and say your car needs a new transmission, or engine overhaul, and it ends up costing you a couple thousand dollars if you have the jobs done. So, you buy a separate insurance plan that covers expensive auto repairs that your warrantee doesn’t cover.

You hire someone to fix something in your house, and suddenly they tell you that your house needs all new plumbing, or wiring, or a new AC unit, or a new roof. So when you buy a house, you are encouraged to buy a comprehensive protection plan in case any of these things happen. Contractors are not afraid to charge more because the illusion is that it’s coming from the insurance company, not out of your pocket. But it does come out of your pocket in all the premiums you pay over time.

Your taxes work the same way. If you count all the sales tax, excise tax, state tax, local tax, licenses, permits, and income taxes you pay, you are already paying out more than half of your earnings in taxes. And, how is that money being spent? Do they look for bargains when they buy things with your money? No. The government spares no expense when it comes to protecting you – in military equipment, infrastructure, highway and bridge construction, etc. That is your money they are spending. We can see the necessity of keeping our streets safe, protecting our nation from attack, and making our roads and bridges safe to drive, but why are government contracts always the juiciest to obtain? Do they go to the lowest bidder? Ever?

Why do you have nothing in your savings account? Because, what you don’t pay in taxes, you pay in insurance. In fact, many people see insurance and taxes as synonymous terms. I suppose we could say that insurance becomes a tax when it is mandatory, when you can no longer choose to buy it or not. That is why a mandatory health insurance is a mandatory health tax.

One of the biggest protection rackets today is the food and healthcare industry.   First, they make you sick by selling you deliciously addictive, but poisonous foods that rot your insides. Then you become obese, unhealthy, and contract a variety of terminal conditions for which only they have the cures, but they don’t cure you all at once. Instead, they keep you medicated for the rest of your life, so that you pay and pay and pay. You cannot possibly afford this. A four-hour visit to the emergency room will set you back five or six thousand dollars by the time they run every diagnostic test they can think of on you.

There’s a big problem for you! And you need a solution for it. And guess who is there to protect you from it? There are twenty people running for the highest office in the land who say that healthcare is your right, and they want to give it to everybody free. And, it’s not a gift; it’s mandatory. That’s extortion. That’s a tax.  It’s no longer a right, but a requirement.

In a “single-payer” system, everybody, and I mean everybody, healthy or sickly, pays to one source, the government, for their healthcare insurance. Then, the government pays out to hospitals for services to individuals as it sees fit, approves procedures that it deems necessary, and you won’t always get what you want, neither will you always get what you need when you need it. You will get what they decide you will need, or you will have to go out of the country to get what you want or need. But, then, what will you have paid all that money into the mandatory insurance for, if every time you have some serious medical problem, you need to go out of the country to pay for it?

Some people will argue that it is the cost of healthcare itself that is the problem. Too many billionaires getting richer by running “charity hospitals,” HMOs, and pharmaceutical corporations. If the cost of healthcare was reasonable, and the average person could afford it, we wouldn’t need to have insurance companies pay for our medical care. We could simply start a medical savings fund of our own when we are young, and by the time we need it, we’d have a half a million or so in the bank to cover our medical expenses when we are old. But the cost of medical care has sky-rocketed beyond the reach of the average person, and I say that is not by accident, but by a grand plan.

The Hegelian dialect at work here is creating a problem, namely, healthcare that is impossibly expensive, in order to sell the solution of mandatory insurance to everyone. The insurance industry is the protection racket of the 21st Century. The mob has gone legit. They have a stranglehold on both the healthcare industry, big pharm, and, through strong lobbying, power over the government. Not only are they making egregious amounts of money for providing healthcare, they are making even more selling insurance against the very expensive healthcare they provide. They are stealing your money to protect you from people who want to steal your money. And they are the ones stealing your money in the first place, by over-charging for often unnecessary services and prescriptions.

Healthcare is not the only industry doing this. Education is another example. Why have tuitions skyrocketed in the last couple decades? To make it impossible for you to afford to send you kids to college without going into debt for the rest of your life, paying not only for inflated tuitions, but interest on top of it all. You wouldn’t need to be paying interest on your education if you were able to pay cash for your education, but because tuition is out of reach, you must go into debt.

At the root of all this is a society that from bottom to top lacks ethics. Workers think nothing of stealing a few hours now and then from their employers on their time sheets, adding a few personal expenses onto the company account.  Then, companies think nothing of padding the customer’s bill with a few extra expenses. Then, customers don’t mind slipping a few extra items passed the self-checkout machines at Walmart. Then corporations don’t mind fudging the numbers to avoid paying taxes. Then, the government doesn’t mind reaching into the pockets of the workers for more taxes. A vicious circle.

A republic such as ours that is based on the idea of self-governance also must be founded on solid ethical principles, such as those found in the Bible. “Thou shalt not steal,” one of the Ten Commandments, is a founding principle of a free society, and recognizes the sovereignty of the individual, and his right to have property, and not have it stolen, appropriated, or forcefully redistributed to others.

We need to introduce ethics to our toddlers and young children. A public education system that forbids any reference to religious values lays the responsibility in the hands of parents to teach their children ethics. But how can parents lacking so much ethics teach their children anything but their own bad habits? What ever happened to Sunday schools? Back in the day, our Sunday school was bigger and more well-attended than the regular church services, by children and parents alike. This assured that the values taught at church would be carried out all week with some accountability within the family unit.

Are we too sophisticated for all that religious stuff now in our fast-paced, high-tech society? Where do we get our values from? The atheistic education system? The media? The promotional mouthpiece for the people who want to steal your money? From social media? Other people who have no sense of ethics either? It’s the blind leading the blind.

The cyber world is a world not based on the ethical and moral principles our republic was built upon. There is no personal property there, no sovereignty of the individual, no responsibility, people think nothing of stealing intellectual property, identity – anything you type belongs to the world as shared property.  You can be censored or shut down at any time, with no due process of law. The internet is not of the people, by the people, and for the people. You are its product, its property, not the other way around. They collect your information, track your every move, target you for specialized marketing and sell you to the highest bidder.

If you allow your children to get their sense of ethics from the internet, video games, and media, you are teaching them that it is okay to steal, do violence, shoot people, destroy things, without fear of consequences. What happens when they take these values out into the world you live in? Mayhem.

Wake up and do the right thing.

The Wheat and the Tares

wheat-field-640960__340R. W. Teesdale – Most people interpret the parable of Jesus about the wheat and the tares as a prophesy of the final judgment by God of believers and non-believers.

The story goes, roughly, that a farmer plants wheat seeds in his field.  Then, and evil rival of his comes in the night and spreads the seeds of weeds all over his field.  When they start to sprout, the farmer’s helpers notice the weeds growing up with the wheat, and ask him if they should go and weed the garden.  But at this stage of their development, it is hard to tell the wheat from the weeds.  So the wise farmer tells them to let everything grow together and wait until harvest, when the wheat blossoms and they can easily see the difference between the wheat and the weeds, and then just pick out the wheat.

Later, his disciples ask Jesus, in Matthew 13, the deeper meaning of the story.  “He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is kthe sons of the kingdom. The weeds are lthe sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. mThe harvest is nthe end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds oare gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at nthe end of the age. 41 pThe Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all qcauses of sin and rall law-breakers, 42 sand throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place tthere will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then uthe righteous will shine like the sun vin the kingdom of their Father. wHe who has ears, let him hear. “

This explanation seems clear enough.  But like so many parables and stories in the Bible, the truth is true on many levels.  Consider for a moment, however, that the story may yet hold more wisdom for those with ears to hear than merely a prophesy of what will happen to us at the end of days.  I’m thinking of something of practical use in our daily lives, specifically, how to reasonably distinguish truth from falsehood.

Suppose the farmer is you and you want to grow your “field” of knowledge, increase your wisdom.  You “plant” ideas, premises, which you believe to be true.  You may have gained these ideas from your experience, or learned them from your parents, etc.  Other people, however, may try to plant false ideas in your mind, give you bad information, mix half-truths with truth.  Your mind takes it all in, though, and those thoughts take root and start to grow along with the truthful ideas you had planted.  At this point, you are confused, because you don’t know what is true and what is not true.  The proof will finally come, though,  in the fruits of the ideas, at “harvest”.  In other words, when you try them out in action and find out their consequences.  Then the ideas which were true will be demonstrated by their good results, and the false ones can be easily recognized by their poor results.

In other words, we must put our thoughts to the test with actions.  We can argue all day about which ideas are true and which are not true, but unless we try them out and observe the results, we’ll never know.  Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.”  What they say may sound right, it may be emotionally appealing,  may seem fair and just, but look at the results instead of blindly accepting the fantasy as truth on faith.  Then you will know the truth.