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On The Matter of Wealth

I was once, a long time ago,  a member of a socialist carpentry cooperative in Wisconsin. Nearly every carpenter in the group had at least one graduate degree—anything from mathematics to history to sociology. You name it. Great conversations and damn good carpentry. We were what was called in the trade “fast framers”. (I wish I could move like that now.) If you couldn’t cut it after a period of coaching, you were out. You had to carry your weight, and for that effort, we all shared equally in the wealth we generated. If we hadn’t outright called ourselves a “socialist” cooperative, all the outside world would have seen was a group of people sharing among ourselves. No hierarchy, no hoarding, no wealth made at the expense of others or disproportionately accumulated.

Massive accumulation and concentration of wealth is one of the most dangerous and destructive dynamics in human history. Among other things, it creates caste. Hierarchy. Delusions of superiority. People with obscene amounts of wealth who don’t have regard for how they made that wealth or its effects on other people, on society. I used to think that ignorance was the biggest social negative influence, but I’ve come in my later years to know that greed is far  worse. Having a lot and always wanting more. No such thing as enough. Certainly no concept of sharing among equals.

Always wanting more. Psychological insecurity lies at the heart of so much of our society’s ills as the wealthy need to control, to suppress, to protect themselves and their wealth from the rest of us. They are the most dangerous people—the insecure who have a lot of power. The people who assume a right to a louder voice based on their greater material holdings no matter how they came by them. 

Capitalism is designed to die of its own wealth, all accumulating to one end of the ship until it sinks – stern first.

On Beliefs — FACTS vs. TRUTH …

FACTS vs. THE TRUTH

I’m told there is an old saying among lawyers: “If you don’t have the facts, argue the law; if you don’t have the law, argue the facts; if you have neither, shout.” In my experience one option has been disingenuously omitted:  If you have neither the facts nor the law, lie. I bring this up to illustrate that we inhabit a house of cards built one belief resting on another and another all the way to the beginnings of human consciousness; or in the words of the lady who famously challenged Bertrand Russell, it’s turtles all the  way down. We live in a Dreamworld not much different from the everywhen inhabited by Australian Aborigines. The brain, as Michael Schermer in The Believing Brain explains, “is a belief engine”, “beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow” in what he terms a “belief-dependent realism”. Beliefs also lead to faiths of all kinds because, as Karen Armstrong points out, we are meaning seeking creatures, we look for meaning or create it as necessary. Its beliefs all the way down, folks. If you don’t like the world the way it is simply believe it to be the way you want it to be. If, for example, you don’t want to accept the corruption that is politics in the United States today all one needs to do is not take in the contradictory information. Simply buy yourself a ticket to Lala- Land, watch a movie, insert your ear-plugs and turn on your portable music player, your game playing device, switch on the TV, shut out what you don’t want to hear about, know about, or acknowledge. Step into your created reality and ignore or deny what doesn’t agree with your belief system.

In a dreamworld truth is whatever you want it or need it to be and there are no facts except as they confirm your truth and if others join you that particular consensual reality becomes a shared world view. Absolute truth has disappeared and facts are generated wholesale to affirm whatever serves the needs of the moment. I have so far collected more than 20 different definitions and beliefs about what truth is and is not. Truth is at best slippery business a bit like beads of mercury on a glass plate, press one here and it goes there, press on it there and it goes somewhere else. How is it that we can  live in such  a world, how can we function without definite fixed truths? Well we’ve been doing so for a very long time and have somehow managed to make it this far with our collective dreamworld. Will time and circumstance run out for this luxury? Has the world become too complex and contradictory for such nonsense to be be sustained? Can a society stand when there is no truth, when no one knows what or whom to believe, when the observable world fails to match the rhetoric? That’s the philosophical and practical corner humankind has painted itself into at this moment in time.

As proto-humans on the edge of the African savannah observed distant thunder and lightening, what could they possibly have made of what they saw? Some explanation had to be arrived at because we are meaning seeking creatures and this fundamental aspect of intelligence no matter how primitive means things must somehow be explained even if not properly understood. Perhaps our primordial ancestors, imagined the agency of a powerful being or beings and then believed these as causing the fearsome phenomena and so must be feared, appeased, and appealed to. Over time the same explanations were employed to explain the abundance or lack thereof of game, the fertility of females, and later, and weather conducive to crops. Forces beyond the understanding of observers were at work and those forces had to be respected and were appealed to; entire belief systems of Gods and animate forces of nature were imagined. Imagination and the belief engine were at work providing an orderly system of explanation and understanding necessary to the orderly conduct of life. The invention of primitive religious belief systems arose from explanations of the observable world which ultimately encompassed entire social contracts and thus were not terribly different from today’s world of beliefs and social contracts. The role of imagination looms large in the creation of beliefs it being a more powerful agent than reasoning to this day and what we now call superstition is what gave rise to organized religion.

Beliefs and believing are integral to human experience and are the component parts of the belief systems, they are the bricks and blocks upon which any social contract rests. Objective beliefs generally arise from what are taken to be truths or facts based on observation or deduction and, as such, do not necessarily accord with . Contemporary scientific knowledge is itself built on a foundation of beliefs built over centuries centered on methods of observation and measurement. The accuracy and impartiality of observation and observers is the material out of which arise accepted scientific truths. The questions and the answers orbit each other in a deeply symbiotic relationship. If you believe in the scientific method you are able to believe in the results; if you believe in the results you implicitly accept the methods by which they are arrived at. You must believe there are facts and that truths may be extracted from the results. Each, fact and truth, relies on the other for affirmation. That all facts in all cases are not truth is, we will see, another matter.

South of Moab, Utah you can hike in off the highway to the west and reach an overlook from which you can observe the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. From that vantage these two great rivers can be seen joining in a roiling chaotic fluid mass and becoming one coherent powerful stream which will run through the Grand Canyon and ultimately, what’s left of it after passing through the vast acres of irrigated farmland in California, to the Pacific Ocean. The confluence of belief systems and social contracts works in much the same way as they join with a great deal of turbulence into a stream of ideas and influences propelling human society across time. Much as the Colorado River cuts through the record of time in the layers upon layers of ancient rock formations, carrying and depositing sediments as it flows so too does the stream of civilization and society progress as ideas, practices and beliefs are constantly churned, modified, and replaced. 

While belief systems and the social contract can be and often are discussed as separate entities an understanding of them cannot be reached without understanding the intimate interplay between them in everyday life. Another metaphor appropriately applied here is the Zen precept that one cannot see a flowing stream twice – it is never the same, it is always moving and changing. Whatever we have to say about the relationships between interacting beliefs and social contracts must reflect a similar understanding – we are talking about moments not eternal verities. Yet it is these moments which seem to last for long periods of time that determine the course of events as we experience them. When it comes to fear and religion the universe is complex indeed.  

We live in a world constrained by beliefs and at the same time, propelled by them is an odd paradox. Contentious and contradictory theories of truth and belief come as no surprise and In political and social dynamics all facts are fungible, there are no truths. To wit:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This is, of course, from the American Declaration of Independence and certainly more noble words could not have been penned but they were not true even when they were written which may help explain the endemic cognitive dissonance that has undermined the American social contract from its beginnings. The self-evident truth is that the declarations could not be further from the truth of life as it is lived not in the United States nor in the rest of the world. The political facts, the reality contradict the stated truths. The why of this lies in beliefs and their all-powerful influence on behavior. Facts can and often do lie in stark contradiction to what are believed to be truths. We can as did the founding fathers “hold” or believe certain statements to be true but we cannot make them be facts by saying they are. They can only become facts by force of their necessity and sufficiency and not because we claim them to be self-evident. If self-evident truths are experienced to be true they may become facts but there is no guarantee.

A foreword to accompany the new name.

Emanuele Corso Good bye to my old stomping ground, “siteseven”, and welcome to the new “Schools and Society”. Perhaps some background about the provenance of “siteseven” is in order. My first assignment as a very young Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force’s, Strategic Air Command was to actually “buy” an Atlas F ICBM silo launch site. That was one heck of an experience for 22 year old. Our crew of five tested and operated each and every system and sub-system short of actually launching the “bird” (as it was known to all). At Cape Canaveral in Florida and Vandenberg AFB in California the test launchings of these liquid fueled ICBMs was attended by small armies of technicians and here in the middle of the Kansas prairie that task was now the responsibility of five men – 2 officers and 3 enlisted. The targets were half way around the planet. That was a long time ago in the early 1960s and marked by the famous “Cuban Missile Crisis”. I had the interesting experience of being on alert duty when President Kennedy made his famous Cuba speech which broadcast was followed immediately by a coded message from SAC headquarters directing us to initiate a countdown to minimum hold. Well, so much for all of that in the past (May it never happen again!) and now we move on as I did when I left active duty and attended graduate school at Madison where I took a PhD in Educational Policy studies and where I taught for several years. Read on! Any all feedback will be appreciated.

What’s In A Name?

In a matter of days the official name of the “siteseven” web site will be “Schools and Society” which better reflects the content. The old name will, for a while, redirect. Since publishing my recent book, “Schools and Society” it became apparent that readers not familiar with the site content would have no way to know the book and blog are related. Also, in an important way, this is a new start and I plan (and hope) to be posting more regularly. The attacks on public education are relentless and are still being promulgated by prominent people who know nothing about teaching and learning (e.g. Donald Trump). People who could do with some learning themselves. Public school teachers and education itself have been politicized not for their betterment but simply because they are a soft target for populist politicians. To the uninitiated reader let me put it this way: How would you approach a classroom of, let’s say 8 or 10 year olds all from different homes, at different income levels, and with parents ranging from indifferent to closely involved? How about teaching reading to kids from homes where there are no books? Not ever newspapers! When I was teaching at Madison a group of grad students learned of homes where not even a newspaper was present so they obtained a grant to have a daily paper delivered to every students’ home. There is also the matter of teachers being sitting ducks absorbing criticism for matters and causes beyond their control. Teachers are the favorite soft-target for populist politicians not just because they tend, as a group, to be generally Liberal politically but because the range of intellectual, emotional, and social ability they have to deal with on a daily basis makes their achievements with each child as an individual an amazing feat and they can’t always win! So, I hope you will find these essays interesting, stimulating, and maybe even inspiring you to support Public Education and teachers.

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Socialism In America Of All Places! (O.M.G.!!!!)

So, you say you are opposed to Socialism? In its pure form Socialism is problematic as it requires that all means of production, distribution, and exchange be owned and regulated by the public in common. In the popular mind Socialism is generally associated with Communism without differentiation and is often used in a derogatory sense. Historically socialism is associated with Karl Marx and Communism as practiced in the Soviet Union, China, and other countries where tight social control is practiced to enforce the economic system. There are, of course, other socialistic manifestations including social democracy on which social control is not necessary and where markets exercise greater degrees of autonomy than Communist Socialism.  

Many, if not most, European countries are governed as Social Democracies. In the United States the terms Socialism, Anarchism, and Communism are commonly used interchangeably and in a negative sense. As a consequence most Americans cannot accept that they live and thrive because of government and private programs and practices that are “Socialistic” in nature simply because they share resources and beneficial programs across the population without much differentiation. Many if not most Americans would argue to the contrary that they receive, by definition, the benefits of socialistic programs and practices without reflection on the truth of the matter. 

Many Americans would experience cognitive dissonance, indigestion, and even angry resistance if you told them they benefit from socialistic government programs and policies. But, of course, like it or not, they do and on a daily basis. To wit:

Fire Departments Medicare

Police Departments Social Security Payments

EMT/EMS Services FEMA

Public Schools GI Bill

Public Hospitals National Parks

Veterans Benefits Food and Drug Safety

National Weather Service CDC

Unemployment Insurance NASA

Drinking Water Sewers

Snow Removal Governmental Road Maintenance

A Standing Military Interstate Highways

NTSA Bank Deposit Insurance

Medicare

Social Security Payments

FEMA

GI Bill

National Parks

Food and Drug Safety

 CDC

NASA

Sewers

Governmental Road Maintenance

Interstate Highways

Bank Deposit Insurance

lAir Traffic Control

Hazardous Waste Disposal Air Traffic Control

The list goes on. The services are ubiquitous and used by nearly everyone at one time or another in their lives and some on a daily basis.

Across the United States grocery stores are organized as membership cooperatives born of the Hippie counter culture. Millions of people shop at these cooperatives and they have become big business with national affiliations and operations from small towns to the largest cities in the nation. In Northern New Mexico where I live, we purchase our electricity and propane from our own cooperative. The profits are shared. Our grocery store is a cooperative and the profits are shared annually. We are not Communists just sensible people with mutual common interests served cooperatively. Will you be able, henceforth, to refrain from using the term “socialistic” in a disparaging manner? After all, it’s as American as apple pie.

Tomb Stone As A Lonely Poem – verse 11 – the last one

verse 11

if   you   want   a   revolution

grow  a  new  mind

&  do  it  quietly

if you can

return  to  your  childhood

and  kick  out  the  bottom

then  become  a  being

not dependent on words

for seeing

whenever  you  get  bored

change headlines

colors   politics   words

change   women

but   if   you   really   want

a    revolution

learn  how  to  change

your   internal   chemistry

the   go   beyond   that

walk   down   the   streets

&  flash   lights   at

yourself

Tomb Stone As A Lonely Poem verse 10

verse 10

be able to change

yr own internal chemistry

walk down the street

& flash lights   in  yr  head

at   children

this  is  not  a  game

your childhood is the foundation

of the system

walk   down   the   street

flash lights in yr head

at children but be wary

of anyone old enough to kill

learn how to disappear

before they can find you

(that is,   if you want to

stay alive)

if you want a revolution 

do it “together”

but don’t get trapped in 

words or systems

people are people

no matter what politics

color  or  words  they use

&  they  all  have  children

buried in their head

Tomb Stone As A Lonely Poem verse 9

Part Three

if  you  want  a  revolution

return to your childhood

and kick out the bottom

don’t  mistake  changing

headlines  for  changes

if you want freedom

don’t mistake circles

for revolutions

think in terms of living

and know

you  are  dying

& wonder why

if you want a revolution

learn to grow in spirals

always being able to return

to your childhood

and   kick  out   the   bottom

This is what i’ve been

trying to say  –  if you

attack the structure –

the system  –  the establishment

you attack yourself

KNOW THIS!

& attack  if  you  must

challenge yourself externally

but if you want a revolution

return to your childhood

&   kick   out   the   bottom

Tomb Stone As A lonely Poem verse 8

you   sat   still

with your deep eyes

afraid   to   look   at  the  sun

you watched yourself

dying   –   grow old

but the greater mystery

to haunt you beyond death

was knowing

in all the years

you   had   been   seen

only   once

perhaps  that  was

the miracle you ha

been waiting for

someone who heard

the unwritten poems,

& then  something  from

a  dream  seemed  to  tell

you  to  move  on

& you grew old trying

to understand motion

Tomb Stone As A lonely Poem Verse 7

you hovered   in  the  darkness

to pretend

just   one   more

its what you wanted

touch her with  a  kiss  of

energy  and  you  know

its just a game you’re

growing tired of

you   drifted   away   looking

frightened that someday

you’d find  it  was  “really

only done with mirrors  &

light”

you drifted away looking

through time  as  if  it  were

only a stained glass window

growing dim in the evening

time    after    time

you never saw

the doorway in yr forehead

was cluttered with words

written  &  unwritten’

– thought forms –

there was once 

a time  when  someone

settled  in  your  head

and  asked  for

“a moments rest”

& you wondered if THAT

was what it was all about


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