Rudy Giuliani’s most recent bonehead statement, “Truth isn’t truth”, was quickly covered up his subsequent explanation that he was talking about he said/she said situations.  The record of comments by those in the present administration, however, make it clear that, for them, everything is he said/she said, and therefore, in the Trump world, there really is no such thing as truth.  Like Humpty Dumpty, these folks can make words mean whatever they choose them to mean.

There is, however, a deeper bit of insight here.  We often put labels on things to cover up a deeper meaning or a deeper problem.  One of those terms is racism.  When you think about the idea of racism, it is ridiculous on its face.  Who in his or her rational mind would make any decision about the value of a person based solely on the color of that person’s skin?  I get very tan in the summer.  Will anyone in his or her right mind hold me inferior until my tan fades?  Color is, well, skin deep.  Using it as a measure of a person’s quality is as ridiculous as judging people by the color of their eyes or the length of their fingers or the size of their feet.

But if it’s not that, what is racism?  Why would a large part of our population delimit or disqualify another part of the population based solely on skin color?  I suggest that it rests on something someone taught me a long time ago.  There are, my teacher said, two ways to increase your perception of your own self-worth.  The first is to actually do things of merit.  The second is to disparage others so as to put yourself higher.

A comedian who is a recovering alcoholic once told the following story.  He was taken to the hospital in constraints because of his drinking.  He was on a gurney and had straps on his arms and his legs.  While he was in the hospital, the staff brought in a second person, also in the throes of alcoholism, also in restraints.  This second person, however, had five straps, the fifth being around his neck.  The comedian said he looked at this second persona and yelled, “Loser!  You have a neck restraint, and I can move my neck anywhere I want.  I have options!”

I think that’s pretty much it.  We do this a fair amount.  We put people down for some meaningless reason only so we can give ourselves a façade of higher quality.  The other is inferior because of height or weight or perceived beauty or nature of dress or place of residence or level of education.

Or color of skin.  Or religious beliefs.  Or political persuasion.  Nonsense, all of it, but widely practiced because it is so much easier to degrade others than to improve oneself.  Racism isn’t racism.  It is just another aspect of the evils of mindless self-interest.  what a world it would be if we could get rid of that little human flaw.







In these days, when reasoned discussion has given way to name calling, one of the most popular names thrown around is “socialist.”  The word is meant by those who hurl it something equivalent to “Communist”, and it carries with it thinly veiled innuendos of military control and a general suppression of individual human rights.  Most of all it suggests that you are not a real American unless you are a laissez-faire capitalist.

There are many errors in this kind of thinking (if, indeed, we can call it thinking).  The greatest of those errors, however, the one that threatens the very existence of American democracy, is to confuse the difference between economic theories and political theories.  A friend of mine, a good and bright friend of mine, once said that America is a capitalist country.  That statement is absolutely wrong, and it perfectly illustrates the confusion.  He was very, fundamentally wrong, probably even more wrong than is Jeff Session’s hideous statement that America is not an idea but a nation state.  If America is not an idea, it is nothing, and it is doomed.

So let’s revisit our basic civics.  The United States was founded on a set of ideals.  They are:  a) that all human beings are born equal, and b) every human being has some basic inalienable rights.  To be an American is to hold these truths to be undeniable.  If you don’t hold these truths to be true, you are not an American.  So, anyone reading this who does not hold these truths to be undeniable, please leave the room.

These truths are at the core of what it means to be an American.  They define us.  They are our political foundation.  That being true, all the rest of our issues involve the means of best achieving these ideals.  No matter what position I might hold regarding how to run the economy, how to run the military, how to educate our children, how best to provide health care, how best to take care of our elderly, these are all merely discussion among people committed to a common goal on how best to achieve that goal.

So, for instance, here is a question:  how can we best promote the inalienable rights of all human beings in the operation of our economy?  The various answers to that question constitute what we might call a continuum.  Some think that we promote the rights of others best by giving them the greatest possible freedom with respect to what they earn and how they spend or save it.  Others think that we promote the rights of others by having everyone contribute to a common fund to pay for common needs.  Between those two positions there is an endless variety of proposals.  These are, not political positions, but economic positions.  The first economic position is called capitalism, and the second economic position is called socialism.  So socialism is the combining of private funds into one public fund to provide a benefit for all.

And that is the point.  We are all socialists in this sense to some extent.  You don’t believe that?  Oh yeah?  Do you agree with using public funds to operate the military?  Do you agree with using public funds to take care of parks and streets?  Do you agree with public funds to pay for education or provide basic care for our elderly?  If you do, you are a socialist, that is, you are willing to contribute to a common fund to provide for a universal need.

There is, of course, an important rational discussion to be had here.  Should we use common funds for health care?  Should we spend more or should we spend less on such things as education?  These, and many more topics, are good and healthy topics for discussion.

All of that ends when, instead of rational discussion, we choose to hurl names.  Even the names themselves lose their meaning.  And this is one of the major sins of our times.  We don’t think, we just accuse.  When we do, we reject even the possibility of rational discussion.  And when we do that, we end up abandoning those precious ideals that should identify us.

So anyway, you’re a socialist.  What am I?































I recently wrote to the president of a local college about the possibility of presenting a course on the foundation of human value.  The college is private and is run by a Catholic religious order.  I am appropriately trained and degreed to teach such a course.

I received a letter back from the president a few weeks later, and I was stunned to learn from that letter that this college, formally identified now as a university, does not teach any courses in philosophy or theology, and that apparently there was no room in its curriculum for a course on human value.  Not long afterward, I received from a friend a magazine article indicating that so-called institutions of higher learning around the country had minimized, or even eliminated, such courses.  The apparent reason was lack of interest.  Fewer and fewer students were signing up for such courses and were instead concentrating on science and technology, particularly digital technology.

There is an old saying:  not to philosophize is to philosophize.  What it means is fairly simple.  We all operate on first principles.  We all, every day, make decisions about how we will conduct ourselves, what goals we will seek and  what means we will use to achieve those goals.  We choose careers.  We choose relationships.  We choose matters of daily health and diet and grooming and other living conditions.  We do all of this on some basis, and that basis constitutes a philosophy, that is, a set of first principles upon which we make such decisions.

One might think that it would be a matter of the highest importance to examine that set of first principles, to identify them and decide what principles will guide us.  After all, these principles are the basis upon which we make the most important decisions in our lives.  What career will we pursue?  Will we raise children?  How will we relate to those around us?  Pretty much every choice we make as to how we live our lives is based on these principles.

Two things are true about the process of examining our first principles.  First, it is a very difficult thing to do.  Why?  Primarily because, to do it properly, you have to put aside all your prejudices, your biases, those unexamined assumptions on which you have previously operated.  You have to, as it were, stand back from yourself, critique yourself, undergo a radical, and often painful, self-examination.  You have, in a sense, to let go of a fundamental anchor in your life, to critique, and perhaps doubt and cast aside, those principles that were likely drilled into you from childhood.  Painful, even dangerous.

Second, and on the more positive side, the vast majority of people operate on first principles that define what is best about being a human.  They live lives of care and consideration for those around them.  They do their best to serve their local communities.  It is for others more insightful than I to determine how they came to such first principles, but by their actions the vast majority of people demonstrate a dedication to the noblest and most truly human of first principles.

If that second point is true, then why undergo some excruciating self-examination?  Why examine our guiding principles when most of us get them right without such an examination?  Answer:  because without such an examination, it is too easy to be led astray.  Rather than undergo such a painful self-examination, it is far easier to simply commit to the thinking and directions of some authority.  It is far easier to accept the directions of a religious authority or a political authority or even a business authority.  Witness, for instance, the sincere commitment of the people of North Korea to their leader or the commitment of Muslim zealots to Osama Bin Laden or the commitment by substantial groups of Christians to bizarre leaders like James Jones.

The grave danger of not examining our first principles is that, instead of that examination, we will abandon reason, abandon that which defines us as human, and we will put in its place blind and truly undefined labels.  We will replace human discourse with name-calling.  We will, for instance, reduce all political issues to labels, terms that have no real meaning except “them, not us.”  My opponent is a “Commie” or a “Fascist”, although I have no real idea what either term really means.  I vote, not for a program but for a person, and those who do not vote for that person are not fellow Americans but enemies.  Most of all, I do not engage in discourse.  Instead I yell, I shout down, I ridicule and condemn.

This is, unfortunately, where we are today, and the growing tendency of our educational system to abandon the examination of first principles does not bode well for our future.  Wise old Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  We seem these days determined to prove his point.
































We who are suffering through the various scandals and malfeasances of our executive branch have a great deal to learn from the events traditionally referred to as Watergate.  It is so named because what began to bring those events to the national attention was an incredibly amateur and thoroughly bungled attempt to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee during the campaign to reelect Richard Nixon in 1972.  That little affair led, first by dribs and drabs and ultimately in a raging torrent, to the revelation of criminal misconduct throughout the presidential staff.  It concluded with several prominent figures among that staff being sent off to prison, many lives being irreparably damaged and the president resigning in shame.  The colossally decent Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon, and he began his tenure by giving a talk to the nation.  That talk began with an unforgettable line:  “Our long national nightmare is finally over.”

As we now know, that particular nightmare was over, but the door for others to appear remained, as it likely must, open.  We are, after all, a democracy, meaning that we honor and protect the freedom of all people to speak and act with only modest albeit critical  restraint.  That policy carries with it the inherent danger of allowing freedom even to those who do not care about, or oppose or even plot to destroy that very democracy.  One may reasonably wonder into which category we should place the miscreants in the present administration.

It behooves us all to study the Watergate affair to better appreciate what is happening today.  There are any number of books on the subject.  Among them is Blind Ambition, the first of several recountings by John Dean.  Then, as now, questions abounded.  Who knew what?  Who did what?  Was the president involved?  What did he know and when did he know it?  One question, however, is not much asked, and, for me, it fairly begs an answer:  what the hell were they thinking?  Specifically, why would a person like John Dean willingly commit serious crimes, crimes that would inevitably be revealed and for which he would inevitably throw away a good life and career?

Dean was, by title, counsel to the president.  Raised in the Midwest, he graduated from the prestigious Georgetown Law School, a part of the Jesuit university renowned for it school of law and of international affairs.  He spent a short time in private practice, and joined the White House staff at a very  young age.  He was apparently intelligent, and was also apparently principled.  Yet he willingly involved himself in conduct that a first-year law student would know deserved disbarment.  Why?

Dean does not, at least in this first book on Watergate, either explain or, somewhat to his credit, condone or justify his conduct.  He was knee deep in the cover-up of the grossly illegal conduct of the Nixon White house, and it was only after it became blatantly obvious to all that the axe would fall that he decided to come clean.  Even then he withheld information from his own lawyer until its revelation was unavoidable.

Why?  Why would not the counsel to the president, the one individual whose single assignment was to advise the president as to the legality of his actions, why would that one person not just say the obvious, the blatantly obvious, that paying hush money to criminals is illegal, a crime, not to mention morally deplorable?  Why would a person with a fair share of talent and a huge opportunity to do some serious good throw it away on such cheap and obvious thuggery?

I will ignore the possibility of the kind of condescending response so laughingly typical of East coasters, particularly the adopted ones.  I submit that the real answer is that Mr. Dean, and his co-conspirators, lacked, were fairly devoid of, the moral orientation that defines what it means to be a human being.  Blame his parents, blame his educators, but most of all blame John Dean.  For whatever reason, John Dean succumbed to that greatest and most invidious of temptations.  He put himself first.  He defined good as what served his self-interest.

This is the linchpin of all misconduct, all criminal action, and it is also its fatal flaw.  It is what brought down the Nixon regime, and it is what is bringing down the Trump regime.  Sooner or later, thanks to the efforts of Robert Mueller and his crew but also thanks to the deeper good in each of us, the crimes of the self-absorbed will be revealed and rejected.  Somewhere in such conspiracies there is always a John Dean, some person who realizes, at the very least, that his or her self-interest is actually best served by rejecting the crimes, by confessing involvement, by taking the punishment.   It is up to the John Dean of the moment to say whether he or she had any truly human motivation.    The simple point here is that any human venture — or misadventure — conceived and driven by self-interest is intrinsically and fatally flawed and will collapse.  It might cause great pain and great damage, but it will fail.

Good will out.  Slowly perhaps.  Painfully certainly.  Good, the fundamental commitment to others that is the real meaning of the American ideal, will out.