Today is the Fourth of July.  Today we celebrate that time, back in 1776, when our country was born.  Its birth was announced by that most precious of American documents, the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration announced the reason for the creation of this new country.  Unique in all the nations of the world, the United States was founded, says the Declaration, on a self-evident principle.  That means that the United States was founded, not as a certain land area with a certain kind of people in it.  Rather it was founded on a guiding ideal so fundamental, so undeniable, that if you don’t believe in that principle, if you are not guided by that principle, you are not only not an American; you are unfaithful to what it means to be a human being.

Here is that undeniable, absolute principle:  all human beings are born equal, and every human being is endowed by her or his Creator with inalienable rights.  Inalienable rights are rights that cannot be denied, cannot even be given away.  Before anything else, first and foremost, to be, not just an American, but a human being, means to recognize and be responsible for the rights of every other human being.  As Patrick Henry said so succinctly, my commitment to that principle is more important than even my own life.

This is the profound, the defining beauty of the United States, the thing we celebrate most today.  Before we are anything, before we are a collection of states, before we are a land area bordered by water and other countries, we are a people dedicated to the most fundamental principle, the defining principle of what it is to be a human being.  Yes, we have, individually and as a nation, failed that principle.  At our very founding, we denied these fundamental rights to whole groups of people, to Africans and others brought here as slaves, to people who lived here long before our ancestors ever came here, even to all women.  But we have worked, and we are working, to correct those failures.  That first principle is an ideal, our ideal, and to be an American is, before anything else, to work toward that ideal.

So today we celebrate, laugh and play and watch parades and fireworks.  Tomorrow, July 5, we go back to the hard work of being an American, that most important work of pursuing that undeniable ideal.  We go back to earning a living, of course, but in doing even that we go back to making that ideal come closer to realization.  We do whatever we can to bring us close to that ideal.  We embrace our fellow humans.  We honor every other human.  We contemplate and discuss the best means of honoring our fellow humans.  We vote for people who are committed to that ideal.  If we have the nerve and the strength, we run for office on the simple ground of wanting to make that ideal a reality.  We object, in every way we can, to the conduct of our people and our government that violates that ideal.

It is a hard thing indeed to be a real American.  It is exactly as hard as it is to be a real human being.  So enjoy the Fourth of July.  We have a lot of work to do tomorrow.













I hold a doctorate in philosophy.  That doesn’t make me a philosopher, but it does give me the ability to play with, and even make a contribution to, the difficult jargon in standard use by professional philosophers.  My one contribution to the field is the invention of that awful bit of jargon used in the title here:  eidetic displacement.

Here, basically, is what this fancy term means.  We humans have a tendency to make symbols to represent our ideals.  We make statues to represent our God.  We create organizations to embody, preserve and pursue our religious and social and political ideals.  And we create flags to symbolize ideals of various kinds:  The Red Cross flag to represent care for the sick and the injured and the poor, state flags to represent the spirit of our individual states, and, of course, the American flag to represent the ideals upon which this country was founded:  that all human beings were created equal, and that every human being is endowed by her or his Creator with certain inalienable rights.

However, we humans also have a tendency to shift our allegiance from the ideals to allegiance to the symbol.  So, for instance, we create a church to embody our dedication to God, and then we gradually begin to worship the church instead of the God it was meant to serve.  Then, instead of supporting and aiding all of the people God sends our way, we oppose and denigrate and sometimes even kill those who are not members of our church.  What we are doing is replacing the reality with the symbol or representation of that reality.

This is a deep, deep tendency of humans.  We do it all the time.  We replace the reality with the form we have shaped to represent that reality.  We judge people, not based on what they are, but rather based on our impression of them.  We judge religions, governments, people of different races or nationalities, not on what they are, but rather on some pattern we have formed of what those people or organizations are.  You can call this prejudice, but it is more fundamental than that:  it is the constant temptation to replace reality with our impression of that reality.  The Greek word for form is eidos, so I invented this term for that tendency:  eidetic displacement.

So:  Kaepernick.  Colin Kaepernick is a professional football player, a quarterback for the San Francisco Fortyniners.  He has some African-American heritage, and, besides being a very good football player, he is an intelligent human being concerned about contemporary events.  Kaepernick has condemned the racial bigotry that has led, in America, to the mistreatment of the African-American community, and specifically to the deaths of many African-Americans, including the deaths of several unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers.

So, to emphasize his objections to this mistreatment, Colin Kaepernick, before a football game, refused to stand for the national anthem.  And for doing this, for exercising one of those inalienable rights that the American flag and the national anthem stand for, Kaepernick was roundly condemned.  Example:  someone wrote to my local newspaper that Kaepernick should be suspended for not standing up, because by not standing up he was insulting the national anthem.  Get it?  He was honoring the country’s ideals, but he was insulting the symbol.  Eidetic displacement.

What is to be an American?  Is it to live and die for the ideals of universal human rights?  Or is it to belong to a clan opposed to all other clans?  That contrast, so blaringly obvious in the present presidential campaign, is at the heart of our continued existence as a truly great nation.   Either we are a nation committed to the inalienable rights of every human being, whether American or not, or we are just another tribe, another clan identified first and foremost by our commitment, not to ideals, but to the trappings of our clan.  If we are the latter, then all those brave men and women who fought and died for the American ideals fought and died for nothing.  Our brave dead did not die protecting the flag that drapes their coffins, but for the ideals that that flag represents.  One would hope that we all live our lives for the same reason.


There is an odd illogic to the American response to revolutions. America itself was created by a Revolution, one that we hold dear, and justifiably so, for throwing off the reins of a dictator, in this case a monaarchy, and replacing it with a respresentative democracy. That democracy was not quite as representative as one might suspect, restricting participation, as it did, to a tiny fraction of the people it governed, namely the white male adult landed gentry. The ideals stated as the fuel for that revolution, however, have led us on, in fits and starts and with blunders and backslides, to enfranchise minorities and females and the less economically fortunate, and we stand today, despite our present deep political conflicts, a beacon of hope for universal human rights.

The illogic rises from the following question. Why, if our own beginnings lay in revolution, do we so often end up supporting the dictator against revolution? How does it happen that we support dictators like Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and Somoza in Nicaragua and Batista in Cuba? And on what perverted ground did we actually go down and murder the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende in Chile and install the brutal, criminal Augusto Pinochet?

This is not to say that the United States has always opposed revolution or always supported dictatorial regimes. We have, however ineptly, opposed some of the dictatorships in the Middle East, and we have stoutly opposed the Communist dictatorships in Russia and China, and we have done so, in the main, on humanitarian grounds in accordance with the ideals stated in our own Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, we have this odd track record of supporting those in power whose conduct has give rise to popular revolution.

The key to understanding this contradiction in our policies lies, I suggest, in the failure, either by ignorance or intent, on the part of those in power to distinguish between that which is political and that which is financial. Democracy, in its many forms, is at root a political program. Whether representative, as in the United States, or parliamentary as in the United Kingdom and various European countries, it arises from the root principle that every human being has basic and undeniable rights, and the effectiveness of the government is to be meausred by whether that government’s policies are installed to protect and nourish those rights.

Capitalism, on the other hand, is a fundamental economic theory. In its rawest form it holds that the best way to build an economic system is to allow the market place a free hand to set prices and create products. There is no necessary correlation between democracy and capitalism. One may in fact have a capitalist dictatorship, as in China, and one may have a socialist democracy, as in Denmark and the Scandinavian countries.

It seems that the problem always arises when those in power confuse the two. The failure of the Soviet Union could comfortably be attributed to this confusion. The Russian Revolution was justified by the brutal treatment being imposed on the people by the czars, but somehow those who seized power did not return that power to the people but rather took it in their own hands, and they made the egregious error of imposing their own dictatorship both om the people and on the economy. Whatever may have been their merits as revolutionaries, and whatever may have been their failures as politicans, they were terrible economists, and the eventual collapse of that economic system was completely predictable. The Chinese, on the other hand, somehow allowed a capitalist economic system to develop within the political dictatorship, and the result has been at least apparently tolerable.

Revolutions arise because of oppression of the people by a government, and the United States has always claimed to oppose such oppression. We ourselves, however, have too often confused the political with the financial, and that, I suggest, is what we did in Cuba. Batista’s dictatorship allowed fortunes to be made while stark poverty and oppression ran amok in the country. Once again, as far too often in American history, American opposition to the Cuban revolution was, in effect, purchased and financed by financial powers, by those who had the most money to lose in the fall of the Batista dictatorship. The political outcry against Cuban Communism was in large part a disguise for the financial outcry against the removal of casinos and resorts and strip clubs.

After fifty years of a rather ineffective policy of embargo based on this confusion, the United States has taken the first steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba. The cuckoos — Rubio and Cruze and Gingrich and the like — condemn those steps as they condemn anything this administration does. For me, these steps are a welcome relief from the illogic of opposing a revolution inspired by ideals so close to our own. The people do deserve basic rights, and the country deserves to function for the good of all and not just the good of the wealthy. It may, in fact, happen that the promotion of that good will best be done by means of a capitalist economy. One can only hope that we will not make the mistake of confusing politics and economics and oonce again allow moneyed interests to override the rights of the people. The price of liberty, said Jefferson, is eternal vigilance, and the object of our vigilance must always and only be the growth of human rights.

The R Word

     A large part of my misspent youth was taken up with the study of Roman and Greek language and culture, their history and their philosophies.  One of the great mysteries of both the Roman and the Greek civilizations is why such civilizations, so carefully grounded and structured, should so completely collapse.  The same question coud be asked, and has been asked by scholars far greater than I, about the many other great civilizations scattered through the pages of history — Egypt, China, India, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incans, and likely a host more. 

     I have no doubt that there is no one easy answer, but I think it likely that there is one element common to all of them.  Each of these civilizations began as a system created to recognize and protect the rights and needs of its citizens, but, as time went on, some group within it gradually modified the system to enrich that group to the detriment of the other members of the civilization.  The privileged group, finding itself successful in so enriching themselves, just continued to thus pervert the system until finally they had so thoroughly alienated the other members of the society that those other members had no alternative but to bring down the entire system. 

     To put that briefly, each one of these once proud and noble institutions were perverted by greed, and each was then destroyed by some form of revolution. 

     This raises an obvious question.  Why would the privileged group let that happen?  Why would that privileged group, in effect, kill the goose that laid the golden egg?  Why would not this group who had figured out how to have the system work to its profit and advantage not have the foresight and prudence to provide at least enough goods and services to those not so privileged to keep the system going?

     There is more than one answer to that question.  The first is the truism that you don’t have to be intelligent or wise to take advantage of others.  You just have to be more powerful.  You have, for instance, to be willing to break the ordinary rules of morals and society.  You have to lie, cheat, steal, bully.  You have, in other words, to violate the fundamental principle of all society, that the rights of each member of a given society are inviolable.

     One other reason stands out.  Greed is an addiction, and, like all addictions, it knows no bounds.  The drunk may know that he or she is destroying himself or herself by continuing to drink, but the addiction pushes the addict to keep doing it.  Greed does exactly that.  The robber baron John D. Rockefeller was asked, when he was in his eighties, when he was going to retire.  He is said to have responded, “I just need a little more.”  When he said it, he was the richest man in the world.  On a lesser scale, that is what happens to everyone who suffers the addiction of greed, who defines himself or herself by the amount and character of his or her possessions.  You have a used Chevy, and you want a new one.  You get a new Chevy, you want a new Cadillac.  You get a new Cadillac, and you want a new Mercedes, then a new Jaguar, then a new Ferrari, a plane, a bigger plane, a yacht, a bigger yacht, a mansion, a bigger mansion.  And, in that mad pursuit of newer and fancier things, you never stop to ask what price others may be paying to feed your addiction. 

     To succeed in feeding this addiction of greed, you have, at some point, to limit the rights of others.  There is, after all, only so much wealth in the world, and for you to get more than your share, you must assure yourself that others get less and that those others cannot take what you have away.  You have, for instance, to limit their voice in government.  So you would want to limit the right of the people to vote.  You would need to pass legislation, for instance, limiting the hours of voting, and perhaps requiring some kiind of registration process that would make it difficult for the less wealthy to cast a vote.  You would also have to limit the distribution of wealth, and to loudly decry all attempts at such distribution as evil, as, for instance, a communist plot.  You would have to cut taxes and, accordingly, cut the benefits provided by government for such things as health and education.  You would have to limit the ability of the people to organize.  So you would have to pass laws limiting and even prohibiting the right to form collective bargaining units.   Utlimately, you would have to pass laws even limiting or prohibiting the right of the people to assemble and protest.  And you would have to do all of this while convincing the people somehow that it is all in their own interests.

     If you are very good, you can get away with that for a while.  Eventually, however, the people are going to notice that they are being disadvantaged.  The middle class, for instance, might notice that their once prosperous position was slipping, that they were not profiting as much as they once did and that their number was shrinking.  The poor would definitely notice that they were getting distinctly poorer, that their children were going hungry, that their schools were deteriorating or even being closed for lack of funds, that basic health care was too expensive for them, that the cost of even basic goods was rising beyond their ability to pay.

     Like a tree rotting from within, the society would look pretty much intact for a long period of time.  Inevitably, though, the day would come when some event would bring it down.  The power exercised by that privileged group, political, financial, and likely in the end military and police, would fail.  The people would have had enough, and the people would rise up.  Revolution.

     Revolution.  That terrifying word.  It always appears suddenly, as if it were a total surprise.  In hindsight, of course, it is perfectly predictable.  The French royalty knew it.  “Apres moi le deluge,” said Louis XV.  After me the deluge.  The British likely had a sense of it when they responded to the grumbling about taxation by introducing more troops into the colonies.  The czars likely knew it, or at least those around them certainly did.  Nevertheless, history tells us over and over that revolution is the inevitable consequence of the addiction of greed.

     We are, in the United States today, seeing all the signs of the addiction of greed.  Those in power are serving monied interests more than anyone else.  They are limiting the right to vote, the right to organize, the right of access to education and health care.  They are being allowed to give money a greater voice in the legislative and political processes.  And, through all of this, there is no sign whatsoever that those in power see any kind of limit to their accretion of power.  They feel no need to moderate their pursuit of increased advantage of others.  The ruse, they think, is working and will continue to work. 

     It won’t, of course.  Like the Greeks and Romans and all the others, it will devolve into oppression and, ultimately, revolution.  I am not here advocating revolution.  There are a thousand ways to avoid it, and the pain visited on a society by revoluiton is abominable.  I am, rather, stating a fact.  We are witnessing, today, now, right now, all of the signs of the devolution of our society, of that commitment to the rights of every human being that made us unique and admired and respected throughout the world.  We are approaching a point of critical mass, a point of no return, a point at which the people will find themselves so oppressed and so ignored by the system that they have no other option except revolution.

     Call me chicken little if you wish.  Tell me that it is only a pendulum, that we are only in a conservative phase and that it will swing back as it always has.  I will surely want to agree, and I will carry that hope.  I have, however, lived long enough to know what the pendulum feels like, and I don’t feel it now.  I feel the rot inside the tree.  I love my country.  I see no greater ideals than the inalienable rights of every human being on which our government was based.  I feel, however, the hands of greed pressing around the throat of those ideals, and I know too well the madness that that way lies.  Somewhere off in the distance I hear the tramping of the boots of the oppressed.  It is not too late.  It can be stopped.  We can have our country back, but greed will not give it back without a struggle.  Citizens, unite in peace, or you will surely, in some near or distant future, unite in violence, in revolution.


     Some git who is presumably being paid money to do something or other for the American Enterprise Institute, the bastion of pseudo-thought for right wing causes, announced the other day that Pope Francis doesn’t understand the value of “free market capitalism” in creating a “moral society.”  I swear, that is what he said.

     Let us start with the oxymoron, “free market capitalism.”  The correct term is “laissez faire capitalism.”  To call it “free”, you have to seriously abuse the word “free” to mean allowing capitalists to do whqtever they want to do.  What they want to do has nothing to do with freedom in any sense.  The most casual glance at what capitalists have done historically will show that capitalists desire, most of all, monopolies.  The practice of laissez faire capitalism has been to drive out all competition and drive up prices as high as the market will allow them.  I give you, as a trite example, the recent disclosure that the drug companies were charging, five hundred dollars for a drug that, when produced generically, went on the market for eleven dollars.  You might also want to review the “free market” conduct of the mortgage brokers pre-2008 or the “free market” conduct of a deregulated banking industry.  You might also want to look at the marvelous things “free market” capitalism are doing for morality in the emerging nations.  The air quality in Beijing might be a good place to start.   In fact, China is a perfect example of what the “free market” capitalists do to a country.

     Oddly enough, what the AEI guy called “free market capitalism” is quite in sync with a Communist political regime.  These are the same people who use their money to promote the restriction of voting rights and the continuing impoverishment of the lower economic classes for the benefit of the upper one percent.  That kind of elitism is precisely the cancer that pervaded Communist Russia and Communist China.  Laissez faire capitalism is far more compatible with dictatorship than with the American ideal.  Just ask yourselves why it is that the United States has historically supported dictatorships over those who protested the violation of their rights.  Cuba, Argentina, South Africa.  The list is very long, and the story is always the same, capitalists insisting on protecting their property in dictatorships.

     Second step:  Please let us stop confusing capitalism with democracy.  Capitalism is an economic theory, and democracy is a political theory.  American democracy is grounded in the principle of inherent human rights, and I dare you to find in any writing by any theorist of capitalism any mention of inherent human rights.  Capitalism justifies itself in answer to the question:  how is a large money economy best organized and operated?  Democracy justifies itself in answer to the question:  how are a people best served by a government?  Capitalism is a tool in service to a people.  It is not a moral or even a political principle.  If anything, the appropriate model for laissez faire capitalism is war, which is properly defined as the abandonment of morality.

     Final step:  Morality is the overarching question to which all other principles and theories are in service.  Morality is the principle of fundamental human value.  The United States was not founded on capitalism.  It stands, perhaps alone in the history of the world, as a nation founded on a moral principle, on what, in fact, I consider the fundamental principle of all human value:  each and every human being, by virtue of simply being human, has inviolable rights.  To say that differently, my value rests entirely in the fact that I am responsible to every human being.  The American ideal is not contained in the term “laissez faire.”  It is, rather, the over-arching principle by which we judge and control the conduct of capitalists. 

     Ask yourself this:  who are our heroes?  Donald Trump?  Carl Icahn?  Michael Milliken?  No.  Nelson Mandela?  Mohandas Gandhi? Mother Theresa?  Yes.  Why?  Because of their commitment to laissez faire capitalism?  No, more likely because they knew the difference between laissez faire capitalism and morality.  Capitalism, properly regulated and controlled, is an effective tool to be used in service to the rights of human beings.  Laissez faire capitalism, alway hiding behind the term “free” when it is anything but that, is the abandonment of human rights in service to power. 

     I wish someone would explain that to the git from AEI.