10 Rules: How Closed Minds Become Closed Borders

It is my intention to provide my readers with a very valuable and unique service.  I am a voracious reader and it is my special talent to distill complex subjects down to their simplest parts and principles (if indeed such principles exist).  Much of what is written, past and present, is intentionally obfuscated for political purposes or dishonest gain, whether of the material, intellectual, or emotional varieties.  It is designed to misinform or mislead.  Even when the ideas are simply muddle-headed rather than intentionally disingenuous, there is rarely an understanding of where those ideas originated, or historical consequences of their application.   These observations are particularly applicable to political discussions, but are not uncommon in virtually any serious discourse.

I am driven to know what is.  I grew up in an intellectually closed society, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I left that religious organization in mid-life only to find a whole smorgasbord of other closed societies, whether religious, philosophical, political, or social.  There is a vehemence and even fierceness of advocacy that inhibits civil conversation and betrays intolerance of different life experiences and conclusions.  What is most remarkable about all of these is that either side in any of these debates would passionately agree with my observations herewith stated, but only find them applicable to the attitudes and behavior of those with an opposing viewpoint!

As the polemicists outshout each other in the vain belief that raising the volume of their cranky bombast is the key to recruiting you to the cause or the sale, regard for evidence, logic, scientific method, clarity, and other calm pursuits are left behind like abandoned children.   Defense of our own position usually trumps all other considerations without any awareness whatsoever of the road by which we arrived at our convictions.  My most important takeaway from my own life-altering experience  is that I am the bouncer and doorman to my own mind, and I have sole discretion over what is permitted to enter.  I am the final arbiter of what I accept, because I become what I ingest intellectually.   This is a personal responsibility that I cannot delegate to any other person, institution, or authority. In my opinion, every one of my readers shares this same responsibility for themselves, for the same reasons and with the same rewards. Bitterness and anger about years wasted in misguided belief and defiance of reality are efforts to transfer responsibility for our own past choices onto others, but in every case it was we who negligently invited strangers, in the form of ideas, into our mind unidentified and unchallenged.  Even when we absorb faulty premises in our age of innocence, responsibility to identify and correct these later in life cannot be avoided with impunity.

I frequently include book reviews on this blog, on a broad range of subjects.  All of these book reviews are at least somewhat positive in nature, because I do not waste my readers time on books that are in my opinion without at least some important redeeming values.  I am neither Democrat nor Republican, neither liberal nor conservative, and these days, once you get past the rhetoric, it can be said their distinctions are often without differences.  I have no ideology except the value of the individual human being. Each of us is a minority of one.  Regardless of the comfort we find in each other, there is no collective brain.  Descartes famously said “I think, therefore I am.” What we think determines what we become.

I want to share some rules of the road from my personal experience.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me to eat everything on my plate at meal times.  It was axiomatic that to waste food was wrong, even though our young minds rarely grasped the contradiction in the fact that we didn’t overload the plate with all that food, the grown-ups did.  How could we possibly know that for the rest of our lives other BIG PEOPLE would be filling up our intellectual plates with the impassioned ideas, ephemeral notions, and absolute certainties they insisted we must ingest because it is “good for us.”  As in childhood, we trust the source, the same one we associated with survival itself.

Rule #1 :   The purpose of all propaganda is to become your “trusted source.” Read more..

Everyone, it seems, has the strongest notions of what is best for us, beginning with our immediate families and extending to all the institutions of our culture.  What is accepted and practiced in one generation may be repudiated by future generations.  The philosophy that someone else knows what is best for us is nothing more than delegating to strangers what gets put on our plate.  It makes no difference whether this authority figure or expert comes in the guise of clergy, government, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, media talking heads or television and movie script writers; all of them provide us with generous helpings of their opinions and rules and they expect us to eat it, even if it gives us heartburn.  They do not like to be ignored, and most of them are happy, if given the opportunity, to harness the coercive power of the state to enforce what they know is, if not for our own good, at least for the good of the greatest number.  After all, Daddy knows best.

Everything is based on core premises, and unfortunately these are usually absorbed unconsciously from the Influential People of our childhood and adolescence, parents, teachers, news media, friends, and church.

Rule #2:  At a tender age we are neither equipped nor qualified to evaluate  conceptual content, and we know little or nothing about possible  alternatives. 

Content becomes indelibly associated with the persons and institutions of authority that deliver it.  Because of this early childhood association between content and source, we begin to develop class distinctions based on these associations.  We are more inclined to trust and believe those who dress like we do, worship as we do, get educated where we do, and who earn their living as we do.  At the most mundane level it is often said that the best place for a young man to pick up a date is at a church wedding, because he benefits by association with the joy of the occasion and the trust placed in that institution by its members. A “no” response in a different context might become a “yes” at the wedding.

Rule #3:  As children, content becomes truth when it is delivered by those on whom we depend to survive.

Once imbibed, these childhood-acquired core premises become unchallengeable, eternal truths, the template against which all new information is evaluated.  We quickly learn to block dissonance, any new information that makes us uncomfortable.  As we build the rest of our lives around these core premises, our emotional investment in them becomes such that a challenge to their veracity becomes a challenge to our identity.  There is a crushing need to shut down, shut out, and utterly annihilate such threats, and this need is all the more powerful and insidious because it is experienced subconsciously, as in dis-ease.  We experience anxiety without knowing the cause. 

When you experience something that disturbs you, it may or may not mean it is bad for you.  A bad taste in your mouth may mean a poison mushroom, or it may only mean conflict with the taste of the previous mouthful, in which case you need to cleanse your palate before proceeding.  A mouthful of lemon juice may cure you of scurvy, but it could be intensely unpleasant right after eating a sweet.  Likewise you may have been led to believe that very wise people are looking out for your welfare, and this goes down pleasantly, like a sugar cookie.  You might have had great faith in the honest intentions and competence of Bernie Madoff in handling your life savings, or you may currently be planning an extended retirement on Social Security and Medicare as they currently exist, and it tastes sweet.

Rule #4:  What feels safe and tastes good may be the prelude to the financial equivalent of a diabetic coma.

In every case, we always trusted the source.  The doorman to our mind was sound asleep.  There were red flags about what we believed, but we chose to ignore them.

That’s why I write about labels.  I sit down to lunch with people of all stripes and within minutes I can hear, and feel, the palpable hatred as my temporary companions launch into diatribes about those who think differently than they do.  The emotional intensity and intransigence derives from the speaker’s sense of certainty.  A mere label such as the name of a political party, or particular belief or non-belief excites the passions and invites the derision of the group at the table.  To belong is to share in the laughter.  The opposite is equally true and commonplace; the willingness to blithely accept nonsense if it comes from a trusted source.  We will defend what we have already emotionally invested in.

Rule #5:  It is possible to have a lifetime investment in something that is indefensible by any rational standard.  

How long have we known, and has our government refused to acknowledge, that our Social Security is history’s largest Ponzi scheme ever?

I used to finish reading any book I had started.  Like cleaning my plate at dinner, I felt compelled to finish what I had started.  I don’t always do this anymore.  Life is too short.  I always seek to identify as quickly as possible  authors’ basic premises, and even if I disagree with them, I may continue reading if only because I enjoy the writing style or because an author occasionally drops in a redeeming original thought or new twist on something.  I no longer waste my time filling my mind with garbage, but there is a balance between that and closing one’s mind.  Periodically I have to remind myself to re-evaluate my own core premises to see if they still withstand close scrutiny.  The final questions are always, Who says so? Why?  Based on what?  I am always on the alert for the hidden agenda, the sugar-coated dodge.

If some distinguished authority figure makes claims that appear improbable and  unsubstantiated by the facts as you know them, assuming they know more than you is one possibility.  Another possibility is that they have reasons to be less than truthful on this occasion.

If their explanations more accurately resemble circumlocutions, going round and round in circles and making no particular sense, you could assume that their explanation is too deep for your comprehension, given their special training, or you could also entertain the possibility that their non-answer is because they really don’t have an answer but won’t admit it publicly.

How do you spot obfuscations, disinformation, and hidden agendas?    For starters, unless you’ve taken a serious course in statistics, distrust all statistics.  Most are not scientifically sound and are intentionally manipulated for uninformed public consumption.  I could say there are a thousand ways to do this, but that would not be a scientifically sound statistic.  So we’ll move on.  In commercial matters, follow the money.  In political and institutional matters, follow the power.  Look past the easy answers.  Look past the obvious beneficiaries of a particular group action.  The secondary beneficiary is always the real beneficiary.  The primary beneficiaries receive very diffused benefits.  They are the poster children of the much ballyhooed political action; the orphans, the poor, the children, the unemployed, the elderly, the American middle class, the racial minorities.   The secondary beneficiary receives very consolidated power;  the power to bestow or withhold.   Daddy isn’t interested in your growing up.  Daddy needs you to need him.  Daddy needs to be in control of permissions, punishments and perks.

Rule #6:  If someone is selling invisible clothes, let them run around naked.  

It is better to be underwhelmed by the titles and decorations and positions of power of the so-called experts.  Who even remembers yesteryear’s Nobel prize winners and Treasury Secretaries or Fed Chairmen?  If anyone makes claims that to your mind seem like the Emperor’s invisible clothes, let them wear them.  Plan your personal life and make your financial choices around your own perceptions, not theirs.  They will usually have agendas you will never know about, and disincentives to provide full disclosure or tell the unvarnished truth.  Do they really know better than you how to direct your life?  Most American households’ finances are looking better than the governments, perhaps for no other reason than we can’t print money like the government  does.  We have been acting to correct our balance sheets, to start saving and stop borrowing.  Does that sound like what they have been doing?  Do they care about you, or are they far more concerned about polishing their credentials to the largest blocks of voters?  This goes for anyone who is offering you advice on any subject.  Would you look to the Dalai Lama for guidance on improving your sex life, knowing he is a celibate monk?

In the end it’s the same.  Money is power.  But government is money plus guns.  By guns I mean the police power of the state.  With guns you can seize other people’s money.  If you get enough people behind you, even in a democracy you can decide whose money you will take, and how much of it.  This is REAL power, and this is why groups will spend a billion dollars to secure a position of power that pays only half a million.  The most expensive seats are reserved for those who hold court, who trade in favors and gifts, and who choose the winners and the losers.  These people are not producers; they are looters who talk as if they understand production.

All ideas have a history, and if you follow the thread of an idea back far enough, there are always surprises.  Every opinion, belief, and conviction—indeed every certainty, was arrived at in a certain historical and social context, and made perfect sense to those persons in their place and time, and was almost invariably the partial result of emotional turmoil in the author’s personal life.  In other words, intellectuals, philosophers, clergymen, or brick layers, we are all made of the same dirt.  Ideas all began with real people and every single one of them had problems, issues, and emotional dilemmas.  Some of them were morons.

Rule #7:  Many of the world’s greatest thinkers would be in therapy today.

Ideological sparks at the intersection of the right time and the right population periodically ignited the imagination of masses.   New truths became eternal truths that have often reversed themselves, sometimes over and over again, everyone so preoccupied with the minutiae of their daily routines they fail to notice the intellectual roundabout on which they have traveled for decades or centuries.    The grand ideas  have all come and gone, or splintered and evolved in almost unrecognizable ways, becoming innumerable dogmas and orthodoxies,  and today they make compelling narrative for the history or philosophy buff.  Those who take the time to look more closely are sobered by the awareness that in every time period of history there were those who were willing and eager to kill or enslave those who disagreed with them.    Our current democratic society provides some cultural and legal protections against this, but a basic meanness still often lurks beneath the surface of many human believers.  I hear it in conversations at lunch.

Rule #8:  There’s a troll under many a believer’s bridge.

When belief devoid of thought is extolled as a virtue, doubt becomes suspect, opposing opinions are demonized, dissenters are criminalized, and definitions of the enemy are crystalized.  Hatred is born and mob action is galvanized.  Ascendant mobs become the state. Other groups see opportunities to advance their respective causes by hitchhiking on the coattails of the rising group, with the idea that they will address their important differences after they achieve a more favorable situation in the power structure.   The state attempts to co-opt and harness culturally powerful forces (the most powerful of which is religion) and then moves to consolidate its power by weakening, neutering,  and eliminating competing groups.  There are no enduring loyalties, just the shifting sands of temporarily overlapping interests.

This is why I champion individual rights in my writing.  The individual is the smallest group in the world.  Protect individual rights and you protect the world.  Democracies are the competition and conflict between groups, but history is replete with the horrors perpetrated by one group (even elected ones) on other groups.  Great evil has been done repeatedly in the name of God or in the name of Society.  Even in a so-called free society there is nothing more fear-inspiring than observing an impassioned closed mind reflected in the eyes of another human being, so certain of his ideas in fact, that he will gladly sacrifice your life to prove it.  On their own, they are dangerous and capable of atrocities; organized into groups with their hands on the levers of power (duly elected or not), no one is safe.  Not even the members of their group.  Every group has its purges.

There IS a problem with championing individual rights.  It puts responsibility on the individual.  There is uncertainty, and results are neither equal nor guaranteed.  What is guaranteed is that no group can by itself or backed by the power of the state, make you do or be what you do not believe in.  And you can’t do that to anyone else either.  Not everyone is comfortable with that.

Individual rights are inalienable, meaning you were born with them and do not acquire them by permission from others–no one and no group can morally take them from you, even when those others are infused with certainty about their better idea.   They may seize your property and take your life by force, but they can never do so morally.  Individual rights mean the right to pursue your own life and happiness as your highest values, and you are free to seek and perform work that sustains those values.  This includes buying and selling from whomever you choose, to your own benefit.  Individual rights means essentially the separation of church and state and the separation of economic activity and state.

Individual rights mean the government is there to protect  individual rights of all, and no one is there to serve the government.  Individual rights in practice, of necessity mean small government because there just isn’t that much the government needs to do.  No modern state, including western democracies, will ever pay more than lip service to government based on the sovereignty of the individual because all governments derive their power from the purse, which includes both confiscatory taxation and gross interference with free trade of its citizens.  The power of government is in granting permissions.  That’s where the money is.

Rule #9:  The government’s favorite childhood game is “Mother, May I?”

You can recognize individual rights in action when your government fears to transgress against its citizens.  

Group rights, on the other hand, are acquired by permission from a majority of others in society, and those permissions can be revoked.  The herd sometimes gives little or no notice of intent to stampede.  The primacy of group rights derives from the belief that your highest value as an individual  is not yourself but your contribution to society as a whole.  Individuals can  expect to be sacrificed to the group when the group calls for it. Every single favor demanded of  government by a group always implies a request for the police power of the state to be used against someone else  who doesn’t want to do the group’s  bidding.  Otherwise, if the group could achieve its ends on a voluntary basis, arrived at through negotiation, documented and signed by the parties, why would they need to involve the state?  Groups only need the state to club minority interests into submission.   I use the word minority here in the very literal sense of anyone who does not have sufficient votes to protect their interests. Group rights are the inevitable political legacy of those obsessed with the certainty of their beliefs, so much so that in their minds the ends justify their means.  Sooner or later the means include the confiscation of human life and property by the state–for the benefit of the greater good, of course.  Group rights degrade into group warfare and lead to an indefinitely expanding state, with eventually the state dwarfing all other groups.

Group rights lead to totalitarianism, which is sanctioned and even welcomed by the public in the name of efficiency.  When the cacophony of bitterly opposed groups gets too rancorous and the machinery of the state grinds down, someone with the necessary stage presence steps forward and suggests temporary consolidation of power to get through the political impasse.  We all know the rest of that story.

You can tell group rights in action when citizens fear their government.

So what is my point?  Am I advocating political activism in favor of limited government and individual rights?  Not really.  You can, of course, if you want to.  All I am encouraging is to become aware of what is happening around you, and to be aware of the ideas behind the events.  Keep your finger on the pulse of the politics in your community, your state, your nation.  Be more careful what you believe in, and scrutinize documentation with a critical eye.  In almost every location it is possible to exercise a great deal of personal freedom as long as you don’t make too much fanfare about it.  Love your life, keep your mind open and your passport current, and

Rule #10:   Know where the border is.

Closed minds eventually become closed borders.

 

The Allure of a Label (part 1)

Humans are tribal.  We tend to form groups with common interests.  Each of us experiences a life-long tension between our desire to individuate and our desire to belong.  We may form or join a group, and eventually the group will get a name, a label, to distinguish it from other groups.  Thus is born the concept of us versus them. Read more..

We are born into some groups.  Religion, nationality, family, ethnic or racial groups are examples of these.  Our families are given to us, but we choose our friends.  At different times during our lives we may identify more strongly with groups we have joined by choice than those we are in as an accident of birth.  We may abandon family ties, or change religions, or become citizens of a different country.  Such conversions usually include some rite of passage, some ceremony publicly indicating that we are now a part of this group, and have severed our relationship with that group.  There may be a baptism, or a taking of an oath, or even a marking of our body in some way.  We publicly take on the name or label of our group, and we usually want the world to know of our new means of self-identification.

Over many years or generations, our long-standing association with a certain group may become a matter of great pride to us, a time-honored tradition.  We may no longer even know why our ancestors originally joined this group, but our own membership has been integrated into our  sense of self.  For some, the question of why you are a Catholic or a Democrat or Republican may seem incomprehensible, like why is there a moon in the sky?  It just is.  There doesn’t need to be an explanation.   Our membership is marked by certain traditions, rituals, ceremonies, festivals, and of course, friends.  Over time the why of our membership becomes less relevant.

As the traditions and creeds of acceptable behavior and thinking for members of the group become entrenched, they are treated as behavioral norms, and breaches of those norms are considered deviations and their practitioners deviant.  Deviants are treated differently, ranging from reduced status to outright eviction from the group.  In every religion for example, there are the orthodox devout and there are the cafeteria believers, those who pick and choose which of the rules and beliefs they will actually adhere to.  Most groups will tolerate deviant behavior, particularly if the group continues to receive financial support from the slackers.  What cannot be tolerated is assimilation or loss of group identity, any weakening of the us versus them.  Demonizing the enemy builds cohesion in the home tribe.

Sports Brands

In time all groups degenerate into power struggles, and joining a group allows us to participate in the power struggle either directly or vicariously.  Take for example our fondness for identifying with certain professional sports teams.    We may root for the Baltimore Boas because they have an incredible pitcher and a powerful batting line-up.  But if over the years those special players get traded to other teams, our loyalties do not follow the players, but generally remain with the local team.  And if, God forbid, the owner of the Baltimore Boas uproots the entire team and relocates them to Baton Rouge, we will abandon our beloved Boas and switch loyalties to the new replacement Baltimore Pythons.  So what exactly are we doing here?  We have not attached to a coach, or the players, or any specific group of players.  We have attached to a label.  To a brand.  We exult with their triumphs, and we share the agony of their defeats, and we will argue endlessly and passionately about what they could have or should have done.  We belong.  We are a part of things.  This is our team.  As individuals, we are faceless fans; in the aggregate we fill their stadiums.

Political Brands

We identify with political and religious labels in much the same way.  For example, am I a Democrat or a Republican?  Suppose for example I see myself as a Democrat.  What exactly does that label mean to me?  Does it mean I espouse every plank in this year’s national or local election?  Maybe, maybe not.  Perhaps I believe a woman should have the right to her own body, but I am fiscally conservative and do not agree with bailouts of the big banks, or of our nation’s myriad undeclared wars and projection of force on people who want to self-govern.  Or vice versa.

A hundred fifty years ago, the Democratic Party politically controlled the South, creating and implementing Jim Crow racist laws to maintain white supremacy in post-Reconstruction.  The Democrats were the conservatives of the era, in the sense that their intent was to preserve the status quo power structure, the aristocracy of the slave-holding South.  The Republican Party as we know it today was formed in reaction to this.  At their first convention in 1880, they stated:  “Resolved:  That in view of the necessity of battling for the first principles of Republican government, and against the schemes of aristocracy [the slave-holding South] . . . . we will . . .  be known as Republicans.”

Over the following century, the Democratic Party did an about-face and became the major political force behind the Civil Rights movement.  Would a 1960s Democrat have been proud to call himself an 1870s Democrat?  Probably not.  By the 1960s the parties had flip-flopped and the Republicans had become the conservatives.  Eventually the Democrats lost political control of the South.  The labels changed meaning.  For some Democrats, nothing ever changed.  They were cafeteria Democrats.  They approved of some things their party stood for, and disapproved of other things.  But they were still Democrats.

The same of course is true of Republicans.  They may see themselves as fiscally conservative, but social liberals.  They don’t care if you are gay or not, but they don’t think their government should recklessly forge ahead with more and more debt.  They may strongly disagree with certain elements of their party platform, but to get their team elected they will have to put up with disagreeable content in their party’s platform.  And of course those wanting to lead the parade have no choice but to pander to all significant subgroups.  After the election is over, let the infighting and the scrambling for positions in the power structure begin.  Again, the group will tolerate dissidence, particularly if the financial support of the group continues.  Leadership of groups comes at a price, and clarity of purpose (other than winning), transparency and integrity are the first values to be sacrificed.  The benefit for members is that they get to belong.  Our team.  Our triumphs and our defeats.   Our iconic leaders.  As individuals we are faceless voters; in the aggregate we put leaders into power.

Labels and Ultimate Truth (Part 3)

Our country was founded more than anything else on the premise of basic individual freedoms, including freedom  of religion, which also had to include freedom from religion, for those so inclined.  Most of those who came to this country were fleeing religious persecution; they were refugees from the moral certainty of their persecutors.  As American educator and historian Arthur Schlesinger stated:  “Those who are convinced they have a monopoly on The Truth  always feel that they are only saving the world when they slaughter the heretics.”  Read more..

Believer is a label.  So is the word heretic.  One indicates belonging and conformity.  The other describes a non-conformist, a deviant from some orthodoxy.  The word heretic has persisted in infamy throughout history, the cause of some of the worst crimes of man against his fellow man.  Groups get very upset when someone deviates from ultimate truth.  In every instance throughout history, the oppressors believed that in their case circumstances justified their behavior.

Among our early forebears, it took almost no time at all for the oppressed to become the oppressors.  Let’s revisit a bit of Americana we may have forgotten.  The Massachusetts Bay Colony was formed by a business that was strongly influenced by Puritan theologians.  About 20,000 folks from England emigrated to this central part of what we now call New England.  In short order the Puritans came to blows with the local Indians because they did not understand their culture.  The leaders of the colony had to pass an examination about their religious beliefs before they could take office.  (Anything sound remotely familiar here, folks?)

One member of their community, a guy named Roger Williams, was banished (excommunicated) on the grounds of sedition and heresy (non-conformity), and the religion-dominated General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony accused Roger of “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.”  In the dead of winter, the sheriff came to pick up Roger (the Church using the police powers of the State).  Roger escaped by hiking through a blizzard 105 miles to an Indian tribe where he was given refuge.  Imagine!  A Christian given refuge by the heathens from his fellow Christians.  Roger and a few of his buddies obtained land from the Indians and called their tiny settlement Providence.  The very next year they decided that in their settlement, government would be restricted to “civil things.”  Unknown to them, they had established the first settlement in modern history with religious liberty and separation of church and state.

But wait.  The story gets even better (and worse).  About four years later the first law was passed to make slavery legal in the English colonies.  And no, it wasn’t in the South.  It was the very same religion-dominated Massachusetts Bay Colony that had made Roger Williams run for his life.  Eleven years after their infamous law was passed, Roger Williams and a colleague spearheaded the passing of a law banning slavery in their new province of Rhode Island.  The pernicious influence of the Massachusetts Bay colony prevailed however, and Roger Williams’s law was ignored and became a dead document.  Seventeen years after his death Newport, Rhode Island entered the African slave trade and remained the leading slave trading center all the way up to the American Revolution.

In one case, persecution was theology motivated, in the other case it was economically motivated.  It never really matters.  When a group wants  something, they will always find the means to justify it.  When a group succeeds in uniting with the police power of the State, minorities will suffer.  Labels are a big part of the propaganda campaigns in advance of misdeeds by isolating the target, portraying them as a threat to the greater community, an instrument of Satan or a danger to society.

Labels become a higher priority in an adversarial or judgmental context.  We know someone or something should be condemned, if only we can get the label right.  What exactly is an atheist?  Indeed, what is a believer?  In what kind of god or God?  Do you believe in an anthropomorphic God, one with human-like characteristics?  Is your God male or female?  Or do you believe in a more ancient model, a pantheistic god, a god who cannot be separated from the universe, that God and the Universe are one and the same?  Or do you subscribe to an Eastern model of God, an infinite force that is everywhere at once?  Or do you simply not know, but in talking about “God” infer something beyond human reference?  There is a continuum between your literalist, fundamentalist believer at one extreme who believes in a personal God who hears and answers every prayer and another believer at the opposite extreme who believes in God as some manifestation of quantum  physics, some indefinable energy field or force stripped of human characteristics–or believers not at all, at least not in any traditional sense.  All of the world’s belief systems fit on that continuum somewhere.  And the vast majority of them have mystical components to their spiritual lives that include good and bad spirits and ultimate rewards.  Even many atheists have churches and services, rituals, liturgies and prayers.

How complicated life can be, when all we want is your basic “us versus them” so it can be clear who has truth and who is sadly in error.  Continuums of any kind have no place in our group orthodoxy, because they introduce uncertainty and ambiguity.  It is the insistence on certainty and final truth that makes any group dangerous to their fellow travelers, whether they are believers of the religious or secular stripe.  Let any group of such believers get their hands on unchallenged power of the State, and we can be sure that whatever is left of the Constitution would be eviscerated overnight.  The primary differences in our political parties today is only which parts of our lives they most want to control.  They have no interest in the individual.  Control of groups is the source of their power.  The laws that are passed and enforced by the State’s monopoly on power are nothing more than the codification of the cultural beliefs of the majority.  As always, behavior considered deviant by that group will be punished.  You are either in or in trouble.

When we feel compelled to impose our sense of superiority or moral rightness on those around us, it is humbling to reflect that it was the Christian world that plunged us into warfare that eliminated 100 million of us during the 20th century.  America is the most religious Christian nation on earth, and we have soldiers in over 170 countries, doing what exactly, other than maintaining our military-industrial complex and doing what empires do?

Bertrand Russell once said:   “Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing.  What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or of ignorance.”  Every group believes their group will be different.  As a matter of fact, they’re certain of it!

The only sure  protection in any society is to enshrine and protect the rights of the individual. Otherwise life is like entering a prison where the only safety lies in quickly being accepted and protected by members of one group from the predations of opposing groups.  The government, as the warden of our society, has little interest in the individual, because what can one person offer the warden that he cannot get in greater abundance from the group?  Is it any wonder then that our Constitution has been under assault almost from the day it was written?