I was taking my grandson home from church in suburban Portland Oregon in the late Fall of the year. He had just recently turned seven.  I happened to have the Hallelujah Chorus playing in the CD player of my car.  The choir sang and when they came to the part “and He shall reign forever and ever” repeatedly, by grandson asked me, “Pop Pop, is that an Oregonian song?”

“Why would you ask that” I puzzled.

“Because they say it is going to rain for ever and ever.”

Well, it does seem to rain for ever and ever in Portland in the fall and winter, so I had a little explaining to do about “rain” and “reign”.

Aside  —  Posted: April 20, 2014 in Humor, Religion


Story as Antidote to Dogma

The following story has been shared with numerous clergy.  The general reaction is “That was interesting, but …”.  Generally the “but” relates to the fact that it does not follow traditional dogma about the story.  Originally, this idea was spawned when I learned that the Hebrew that refers to Jacob’s opponent is best interpreted as “a man”, not as an angel or God as many translations use– I think because, once again, dogma from many generations of scholars simply accepted the standard interpretation of the meaning of this story.  So, I present the story, first faithful to the scriptural record and then with another alternative ending not in contradiction to the scriptures.  For what it is worth…

Another Interpretation of the Jacob and Esau Story – Esau’s Trick

By Cecil Denney

The story of Jacob and Esau recorded in Genesis is a story with intrigue and irony. Jacob, who received the undeserved blessing, who had to flee for his life, and who was himself tricked by his uncle Laben finally wins the bribe of his eye. Yet, there may be more to this story than has traditionally understood. We read that Esau was twice tricked by his brother. First Esau is tricked out of his birthright by Jacob, then Jacob steals Issac’s blessing of the first born intended for Esau. In rage Esau swears “…I will kill my brother Jacob” (Gen 27:41) and Jacob must flee for his life. Although Issac did not give his blessing to Esau, he did promise “but when you break loose, you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Gen 27:40) I think he remembered this promise! So we find the “blessed” Jacob fleeing, in mortal fear to his uncle Laben. There he falls in love with Rachel, the younger of Laben’s two daughters. Laben exacts a price of seven years work for the hand of Rachel. But now it is Jacob’s turn to be tricked and he ends up with the elder Leah. Laben then exacts another seven years of work for Rachel’s hand. Jacob appears to prosper with many sons, and he aspires to return to his home country. When Laben objects, Jacob works his own trick with Laben’s flocks. His wives, Laben’s daughters steal their father’s gold and Jacob once again flees, but this time back to Caanen from whence he came. When Laben catches up with him, Rachel manages to hide the stolen gods (gold) and Jacob throws a “hissy fit” and shames Laben into making a peace pack. Now he had to face another possible problem, Esau. So, he sends a delegation ahead to Esau with cattle to assuage and soften Esau. But when the delegation returns, he learns that Esau is personally coming to meet Jacob with four hundred men. In fear of his life, Jacob splits up his band so that if one is destroyed, the other might survive. Having once believed that God had told him to return, he now questions his safety and becomes humble in the face of his impending disaster. He prays for safety reminding God of his promises. He devises a scheme to appease Esau sending successive waves of servants ahead with cattle as presents for Esau. Meanwhile, Jacob stays in the camp sending his wives, maids, and children away, leaving himself utterly alone to contemplate his fate. So far, what is written is reflected in this story. At this point, I will interject my own speculation of the meaning of the rest of the story. Esau, who many, many years earlier was willing to kill Jacob has himself prospered. His anger has diminished, but his sibling rivalry is still active as is reflected in coming with four hundred men. He will not be tricked again. But as the waves of servants and cattle meet him with presents, he realizes that Jacob still fears for his life and he decides Jacob deserves a little trick from his older brother. His spies learn that Jacob is alone, so in the cover of a moonless night, Esau, always the more rugged of the two sneaks into Jacobs camp and wrestles with him. Esau is at advantage since he knows Jacob, but Jacob has no idea that his brother as approached him, thinking he is with the four hundred men. To Esau’s surprise, Jacob has grown strong too, so they struggle through the night until finally, Esau manages to dislocate Jacob’s hip. He now has struck mortal fear and escapes before daylight and without identifying himself leaving Jacob to believe he has struggled with an Angel of God. He is injured, but he feels he won the battle. God has spared him. He has been humbled once again. The next day, Jacob approached Esau realizing it could be his last. He bows and scrapes before Esau and his four hundred men. Esau’s heart melts on seeing his long forgiven little brother humble himself and he is ashamed of his little trick and never tells Jacob. What is there to make of this new possible (not negated by scripture) story line? I think this is the old testament story of the prodigal son, but with a twist. While a father might accept his son without reservation, this is a story of a sibling who in all rights might have rejected his brother for his ill deeds. He did not seek revenge. He did not even accept Jacob’s offer of gifts. He only exacted a small harmless trick that turned out God used to strengthen Jacob’s faith. No doubt, Jacob had to explain his limp to his brother when they met and seeing Jacob’s faith in God, Esau chose not to destroy it with the truth.

Aside  —  Posted: April 20, 2014 in Humor, Morality, Philosophy, Religion
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Jobs and Work

 

What do you do? Where do you work? What’s your job? How do you earn a living? These are some of the ways we ask each other about our livelihoods. We tend to overlook the significant difference between a “job” and “work”.

 

The difference between a job and work by a loose analogy is the difference between duty and passion. A job is something you have in order to do other things that you like to do. You don’t have to like what you do on a job, you just have to perform in order to be paid, preferably fairly with money which you can use to buy the stuff you want to have and live a life, outside of the job, that you prefer to live. Typically, when you have a job, you celebrate TGIF on Fridays and Groan when the alarm goes off on Monday.

 

In contrast, having work you love to do is stimulating, affirming, pleasurable, rewarding with or without a fair compensation. Typically, with work you love, Monday mornings are energizing and having to quit work on a Friday is hard to do. Work gives us self-value. Work has a sense of contribution to the world, to be a worthwhile way to spend your time. Others need not benefit from our work, but we are rewarded when our work is appreciated and adds value to the lives of others.

 

Too many people think they will be satisfied to have a job that pays them enough, no, more than enough to live life outside of the job. Some people realize that satisfaction with life comes from having the right kind of work to do as opposed to having stuff or lots of money. Sadly, some people only discover this after they retire and discover that work that they freely chose to do is more rewarding and life affirming than the job or jobs they had for the past 40 years.

 

If you are one of those lucky ones that has work to do that you love to do with an added benefit that it supplies your needs in life, rejoice. If not, reconsider how you spend your time chasing money in a life-sucking job in order to have the stuff and a life once the job hours are over.


Why I Support Our Table in Sherwood, Oregon
Cecil Denney

 Our Table is a 58 acre small farm located on Morgan Road in Sherwood, Oregon. It is organized as a mufti-tiered cooperative that includes workers, farmers and other producers. The values expressed by those involved both as producers and consumers address a number of issues that impact not just Portland or the Northwest. The following issues are ones that are of concern to me. They are related to why Our Table is an important resource for me to support.

Limits to Growth
There are limits to the resources of planet Earth. They may be large, but they exist. Already, we are beginning to see reduced availability of fresh, clean water. Food is in short supply in some regions due to drought while the population continues to grow. Simple logic tells us that there are limits to the number of people the planet can support if for no other reason, the limits of resources, water, food, shelter. At some point, it is obvious that planet Earth has limits to the growth of its human population.

Impact of Fossil Fuels on the Environment
In the development of the industrial revolution, no one considered the potential negative impact of using fossil fuel. We now know enough about the history and chemistry of global climate variation to see that human use of fossil fuels at their present level have already impacted climate in ways that will be detrimental for years to come. Global use of fossil fuel has supported enormous increases in agricultural production while also contributing to environmental pollution.

Perspectives on Wealth
There are three kinds of wealth. Primary wealth is the raw natural resources of the Earth and those natural resources that can be restored through the capture of solar energy by plants and man’s initiative. Secondary wealth represents the products that we can create out of the natural resources of the earth by adding energy and labor to primary sources. Secondary wealth is subject to decay at varying rates. Tertiary wealth is measured by trust documents (money) as to the value of primary and secondary wealth. It is considered by many as primary because it can be exchanged for primary and secondary forms. But, money is not wealth itself. Land is primary wealth whose value is determined by its use value and whether this use is limited or perpetual. With labor and energy land can be made to generate secondary value. That value can be easily exchanged for other goods produced elsewhere.

Compound Interest
Whether you are a borrower or lender, compound interest is addictive. As lender, we appreciate the idea that a small amount of money can become a large amount of money when left alone to generate compounded interest. Compound interest results in exponential growth. Exponential growth is inherently unstable. Compound interest is an important element of our capitalist culture. The desire to have goods and services now rather than later are the foundation of renting money at compound interest. On the other hand, bartering, saving for future purchases, recycling of usable goods, and sustainability in general can undermine renting money.

Worker Cooperatives Economic Model
It was not long ago that slavery was taken for granted. It was OK for one person to own another. The value of a slave was reflected in the cost of purchase or cost of raising a child slave. The value came from the ability to compel them to labor, to produce goods and services of value to the owner. We got beyond slavery even if we did not get beyond structural indentured services and discrimination.
     It was not long ago when women were also virtual slaves considered to be the property assets of their family or husband. They did not have rights themselves and their labor, their contribution to the sustenance of the family, their value was owned by their spouse. We have substantially overcome that form of slavery today yet criminal elements continue to engage in human trafficking. Discrimination based on sex still exists.
     Generally, we still accept that in exchange for a small sum, one person can own the creative labor if not the body of another person.

(A product or service is produced with raw materials, energy, and labor. A company makes little distinction when calculating the cost of a product or service. This can not be accomplished without workers who dream and design these products and services. Yet, the company typically reaches beyond the concept of labor to ownership of ideas and information produced by a worker, even ideas conceived and developed independently from the workers assigned tasks. It is as if the company owned the whole person, day and night. It is a slave concept. Only the company, not the human source of the idea is entitled to share in the profit that results. )

     People still consider it OK to sell themselves into a kind of wage slavery wherein they have no rights. Commercial enterprises consider human workers to be inventory upon which they can use to deliver a value to an end product. It seems obvious that when a company considers a worker as a piece of inventory the inventory(worker) has no rights to share in the profit produced because of his/her contribution to a product.

Health and Nutrition
Simple facts. Fruits and vegetables are important to our diets for good health. Fresh produce, harvested near its peak maturity is more nutritious. Transporting produce thousands of miles takes not only fossil fuel, but in most cases, it must be harvested before maturity. In many cases the addition of freshness preserving chemicals in the form of pesticides and even chemical fertilizers diminish the nutritional value in order to favor the ability to produce on a large scale.

Sustainable Use of Soil
When produce is grown, the produce extracts chemical nutrients and water from the soil. When the produce is then transported to another location to be consumed, in effect, the nutrients and water extracted from the ground are also transported away. Water is restored either through natural or artificial means to the soil but the nutrients are not automatically replaced. If the wrong kinds of chemicals are used in the production, they can and usually do negatively impact the quality of the soil organisms that differentiate soil from dirt. Over time, the rich soil which contains live organisms is converted into dirt without living organisms.

Value of Shared Risk
Insurance is a commercial financial process for sharing risk. People combine what alternatively could be savings into a common pool and those that incur loss can make withdrawals from the common pool out of proportion to the contributions they made to the pool. When a person purchases a product, it may come with (or without) a warranty that has a limited time duration. Generally, however, when a purchase is made, the purchaser expects the purchase to work as advertised. Corporations may purchase insurance to insulate themselves from risk. Bankers and investors hedge their investments with insurance. The 2008 financial collapse introduced us to Credit Default Swaps where investors and banks attempted to insure each other assuming good times would continue. How does a small farm manage its risk of a crop failure? There are several alternatives.

Metrics in Addition to the one of Financial Profit
Gross Domestic Product; profit; assets and liabilities; average sale price of homes; salary level — measures, metrics we use to determine the economic well being of our society. They do not measure the health of all we value about our society as we have all been lead to believe. The country of Bhutan has an index of happiness, which ‘measures’ spiritual well being. It is an example of metrics that go far beyond the limited dependence on financial status. Of course, having what one needs for survival is essential. But using money based measures in no way guarantees a fullness of life.

======= Conclusions =======

What do all these issues have to do with Our Table?
As a worker cooperative, Our Table offers an economic model that is not based on taking advantage of workers. The worker, in addition to earning an income, has ownership in the venture. Work is not for “the boss”. When work is well done a boss does not expropriate the benefit of profit from the work of someone else, the worker directly benefits. As a cooperative, it is not every person for themselves, but every person for the good of the cause. In a cooperative, one must learn a new paradigm of work relationship, one of cooperation, not competitiveness with the other workers. The worker’s work is owned by the worker, not some other owner. The competition goes beyond rival services. The competition seeks to honor and value work that provides a benefit to the community, not the subtle financial rape of your neighbors. Cooperative enterprises can call on the best of the human experience while expanding the circle of family-ness. Ultimately, the rise of cooperatives challenge conventional wisdom about how an economic system can work – not cut throat competition but competitive cooperation. Competition based on the best contributions to the common good. Only through the experimentation of models like that of Our Table can we find our way out of resource depleting consumerism society that ignores the limits of this planet.

Our Table seeks not just a producer-consumer relationship. The worthiness of the cooperative model asks the consumer to share in the risks that go with farming. A crop may fail, a weeks share may be sparse, but with confidence in the cooperative model and the fact that the workers put their own well being at risk, the consumer shares in the risk. It is an affirming, shared trust relationship not normally experienced. It helps even those removed from the primary wealth of the land and secondary wealth created by hard workers on the farm to get in touch again with real wealth and its risks and rewards.

We generally understand the term water-shed. Our Table represents a commitment to the food-shed. Much of the food grown in Oregon is shipped elsewhere while we import food from other areas. Keeping the radius of transportation small, less fossil fuel is required to deliver food. It also means the time between harvest and consumption of the harvested food is shorter and thus the nutrition and flavor is better. Our Table even delivers some of its food via human power (not fossil fuel powered) transportation. This exhibits a value worthy of support.

How long can you farm before you remove all the nutrients? How much fertilizer will be used to substitute for sustainable methods? Our Table farms on land trust that is committed to perpetual health. Our Table works organically to restore to the earth. What it takes out in nutrients Out Table is committed a perpetually sustainable method of farming restoring to the land the nutrients by natural methods. It works to be here not only for you, but your children and grandchildren and their grandchildren. Through its practices and economic model, it works for sustainable operations. The land and its ability to produce high quality food is a source of primary wealth that if nurtured can produce goods and services for many generations to come.

Our Table can and should grow. It is an important model for our age. It should be supported in the face of the limits to growth of our world population and the impacts of climate changes already in the stream of future assured impacts. They are producing good products with the right values and dedication of a committed community of workers invested in its success. They are demonstrating a model of business that can serve as an example. They are not demonstrating debt and consumerism. The are demonstrating mutual sharing, health, dignity of work, economic alternatives. This is why I support Our Table and enjoy their products while doing it.

Aside  —  Posted: March 17, 2014 in Philosophy


How I Interpret the Christian Message

When I understand it as Mythology

 I am sure that some would find it a fundamental mystery how someone could claim to be Christian, to participate and support a local Christian congregation and its work while believing that most of its tenets were founded on mythological stories. Some I am sure will be threatened by the ideas that follow and quit reading sensing that to do so will somehow participate in a heresy. So be it.

I understand the search for meaning, for an answer to the question “Why do humans exist?” has existed as long as written records have been recorded and probably long before, beginning when all knowledge was conveyed in oral form. Written history offers many attempts to answer the meaning of life and an explanation for those out of the ordinary natural happenings, good and bad. We call most of these explanations in our history myths. However, today’s answers we tend to accept as enlightened understandings of truth. In my view, today’s explanations are and will become to be seen in the future as simply a progression of mythological explanations to answer the question.

Yet, buried in progress of myth building are “truths” about the nature of what it means to be human, to long for understanding, to search for truth, and to understand what being human has become over the ages. What we have become and will continue to become is formed in part by the myths and cultures that embody them. I choose to look at all as myth laced with the wisdom of many searching minds. I see the Christian traditions as staggered attempts to understand humanness in relationship to some thing, place, or “person” which Alcohol Anonymous calls a higher power. To me, the higher power is simply the collective knowledge and wisdom of the human race which can be beneficial to humanity or detrimental to human existence.

So how do I participate in Christian worship and practices that I believe are mythological? I do so by interpreting the practices as having useful current day analogs in which I can find solace. Let me take a fundamental Christian belief in the death and resurrection of the one called Jesus or Jesus the Christ. The myth to me is that there was in fact a human resurrection. Furthermore, that this death was in some way a sacrifice of one human/god/person and that by virtue of this sacrifice somehow it will or did save me from an eternal consequence. It has an interesting analog. I am, the physical and thinking individual I am, a result from a dying and resurrection process. For me to be here today, a massive explosion occurred some 13 plus billion years ago as the best minds of the day believe to be true. In that time, numerous stars have formed and then died seeding the existence of other stars and star systems. Our solar system, its sun and planets are the result of this process of death and resurrection. I am therefore a part of this death and resurrection process that will continue for a few more billions of years. So, when we celebrate the mythological resurrection of a historical figure, I understand that indeed, it was necessary for my existence and worthy of my personal reverence and appreciation that whole star systems had to be sacrificed for me to exist. I understand that as a part of the creative process of the universe, the universe has created not just stars and planets, but a replicable form called life that has developed the capacity to understand and revere this universe and its creative, saving cycle of death and resurrection and to carry forward in time the memory as a collective action of many like myself.

And, in this personal process of re-interpreting the mythological stories of my inherited faith story, I take pleasure in participating in the myths and stories of the struggles of may people who came before me in search of the security of “knowing” the “truth.” I too find truth in myths that make life joyful and rich.

Aside  —  Posted: March 17, 2014 in Philosophy, psychology, Religion, Science
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There are social norms that while not necessarily good for society are never-the-less socially acceptable.  By socially acceptable I mean, these social norms are considered by many as being actions or behaviors that are not radical or out side the bounds of reasonableness.  These social norms are not necessarily ones that have always been acceptable — times change, society changes, people’s attitudes change.  One of the questions is the direction of the change?  Are things getting better or are they getting worse?  It is not surprising that this OPINION is not universally agreed upon even when such policy or standards are widely accepted.

Slavery is a good example.  In most of the world today, the idea that one person can own another person is outside the bounds of social norms. That is not to ignore the active trade in human trafficking. There are people who believe it is ok to buy and sell people.  But, this is not an acceptable standard in the societies of the world today.  It is an idea that used to be a social norm in the United States as recently as 160 years ago by a segment of religiously grounded citizens of this nation.  I would suggest that these people suffered from a kind of mental illness, one that held that their ability to exercise power over others used to force others to work as commanded, to punish by whipping and beating, to use as sex objects, even to execute others was “normal” behavior.  That’s insane!  What was at one time considered within the social norms is today considered way, way outside the bounds of acceptability.

What would happen today if you wanted to own property that someone else had a documented, historical right of ownership and you did this by physically driving them off their property.  What if they resisted and you just killed them, their family including their children.  And what if there were children who survived and you conspired to have them imprisoned in the desert?  Obviously, you would be hauled into court.  I bet you would be found criminally insane.  How is that different than what our forefathers did to the native Americans of this nation?  These Westerners were not judged to be insane because what they did, at the time it was done, it was considered socially acceptable by everyone except the indigenous people who were treated in this way.

I am confident I could come up with other examples if I had more time and allowed my comments to extend to thousands of words.  Hopefully these two examples are sufficient to illustrate that behaviors we consider out of bounds today, bordering on insane behavior, were at one time acceptable behaviors to many.  I bring up these examples to put in contrast conflict over social norms today, ones that in the future might well be considered insane.  I will start with capital punishment.  Much of the world has recognized that the old view “an eye for an eye” is no longer acceptable.  Revenge is never justified no matter how angry we become; it only leads to more violence.  Just because we have a law does not make it sane to kill a person because they have committed the heinous act of killing another person.  It may feel good.  It may make some economic sense.  It may appeal to some sense of justice.  But it is insane to kill a person in the name of justice.

What about the sanctity of life.  Today’s standard of acceptable behaviors are not generally agreed upon, to say the least.  Can one form of life own another form of life by virtue of cunning intelligence?  Is it acceptable for a person to end their own life?  Generally, society agrees that it is not acceptable.  Yet, there are exceptions and in some places, it is permissible for a person to end their life as a result of severe pain or infirmity that reduces life to nothing more than biological survival.  What about the life of an animal?  Do we all agree that intentionally killing an animal for food is OK?  What if the animal is a dog or a horse?  Obviously, the concept of intentional killing of animals is conditional in today’s society.  Are there not some who would extend the termination of life for an entire forest to be out of bounds, a threat to the survival of many animal species, a threat perhaps to human life on the planet?  Indigenous people have understood a relationship to earth that those of us children of “the enlightenment” have lost.  And, we have through our technology, most of which requires some rape of mother earth to exist; we have provided resources to over populate, to exceed the carrying capacity of the earth.  What happens when our systems collapse because we have exhausted the non-renewable resources.  Oh, the misery of it all.

Insanity contains an element of self-absorption, a preoccupation – occupation with one’s self, an ignoring of the way an action might have a negative impact one one or more others.  That is exactly the way people who ignore their impact on the environment act, ignoring the fact that their choices today may adversely affect their children or mine.  Life is about overcoming our collective insanity. It just may be the case that collectively, with exceptions, that we are insane in our actions about life itself for anyone but ourselves, now, during our short lifetime.


How can we find a balance between the government collection of all kinds of data on every person that seems to violate our sense of privacy and a perceived need to collect data for use to reduce the threat of terrorism?  I have an idea of how this could be more acceptable.

The perceived threat for the average Joe is that innocent coincident of data about us can be misinterpreted to point to illegal activity and used in court or a plea bargain to establish guilt for something for which we are not guilty.  Furthermore, because of a need for secrecy, we might be denied access to the full set of data or how it was obtained in order to defend ourselves.  Yet, it is reasonable that the ability to comb through data from many sources can be useful in discovering planning for illegal activities, even to prevent terrorist actions that could harm many people.

The fact is, we have demonstrated over and over that we do not have a problem with collection and mining of data about ourselves.  Most people willingly provide all sorts of data and information about themselves that corporate interests use to market to us.  We are happy enough to get a discount by using a store credit card or the convenience in general of using credit and debit cards.  On line commercial transactions would be nearly impossible without them.  Although we might complain about pop-up adds or Amazon’s analysis of our purchasing habits, for example, we still take advantage of modern technology.  So how could we strike a balance.

I would propose that restrictions on how collected data might be used would go a long way to alleviating our concerns about government being in the data collection business.  The restriction I would propose is to prohibit retrospective data to be presented in a court of law.  If the government wants to collect and use data to prosecute a “innocent until proven guilty” person, they would need to go to a judge or grand jury and get a warrant to prospectively collect court admissible data on  a justifiable basis.  They might use retrospectively collected data to get the warrant, but that retrospective data could not be used in prosecuting a case, only data collected after a warrant was issued.

What this would mean is that you and I need not be concerned about the widespread collection of data in that it could not be used by the government to retrospectively manipulate the information to determine our guilt.  They might use it in an interrogation, but could not use it as evidence in court.  They could not mine collected data to incriminate a person they had in custody as proof of guilt, only data that was collected specifically after an individual, not all of us, was suspected and for which a warrant was granted.

Lets assume for a moment that suspicion develops about one or more people.  Being able to go back and look at data that has been collected can be of great help in assessing a possible threat.  It is this “going back” that seems to me to be most dangerous.  That would mean that all historical data, data prior to a warrant, the data that led to going to a judge would not be admissible.  It would be useful in protecting us, but preserve our innocence until proven guilty.

What do you think?

Cecil

Aside  —  Posted: July 19, 2013 in Economics, Government, Morality, Politics


Social Justice, All About Advantages — Cecil Denney

What does it mean when one says they are an advocate for Social Justice? Surely they don’t mean social equality.

  • People are different.
  • Cultures are different.
  • Localities and their resources are different.
  • Opportunities for achievement are different.
  • Families are different. Etc.

The context in which social beings exist are therefore inherently different. In the historical and cultural systems of the United States, we like to quote such things as “All men are created equal” and in our flag pledge “… with liberty and justice for all.” Unfortunately, these foundational assertions fail to be incorporated into the fabric of our social systems and practices. The more disclaimed “greed is good” is more privately ingrained in us as individuals and our organizations. It seems that our personal well-being tends to trump other considerations. It is not that we are selfish, just that we are fundamentally human, looking out for number one. Total equality in all things does not appeal to anyone who enjoys the vitality of being alive.

Yet, we can not deny the impact of compassion. Confronted with the reality of pain and suffering, the mirror brain neurons experience the pain vicariously. If we see a child about to drown, most of us would jump in to save them at risk to our own safety. There is altruism to consider as well, a sincere interest in the well-being of others and willingness to share what material goods or advantage we possess so that others can be well too.

Contrary to some definitions, social justice is not really about equality or even liberty. Injustice is about advantage. It does not matter if the advantage is based on money, opportunity, intelligence, appearance, cordiality, race, ethnicity, sex, national origin, familial relationships, tribe, or in any other way that people can differentiate themselves from others. Injustice is about the misapplication of advantage or its misuse. Advantage can be written into laws, exist in cultural traditions or be prejudicial habits. Advantage is naturally sought by our competitive human nature, stemming from our historical competition for primary resources, for survival. Advantage is the basis for cultural class structures when consciously or unconsciously utilized for personal or tribal advantage.

So how does one seek social justice in the presence of a multitude of advantages unconsciously used. It begins with a recognition of ones own advantageous characteristics. As with most cultural wrongs in society, it is far easier to recognize injustice in others than in one’s self. (The beam in the other guys eye…) So, overcoming the detrimental side of advantage, whether individually or within a group of affiliated individuals, justice begins with self-awareness. Of course, that does not solve the problems of injustice, but it begins a process of recognition of injustice and being focused on one’s self or group, gives one person or groups of people the easiest place to begin to implement a more just society.

We can’t do away with advantages. We can decide how to ameliorate their impact. Equality is not the goal. Equal opportunity or more precisely balanced opportunity can create a more just social structure. In that structure, self-aware advantages are moderated by compassion, altruism and a desire for justice, a desire that one’s own advantages are not used to the dis-advantage of others. Justice dictates that advantage not be used to enhance ones own life while simultaneously operating to close off opportunities of those with fewer advantages. There is that obvious tendency to advocate that other people change as opposed to accept change in ourselves or our clan.

Sometimes social justice is couched in the cloak of “rights.” People have a right to… you name it. Some definitions equate human rights and social justice. Yet, Social justice is experienced in the context of giving just opportunity as opposed to getting ones rights of opportunity. We might say this or that is not right, but the beginning of social justice is in recognizing our participation in what is not right and sincerely seeking ways to respond accordingly. In the earliest written expressions of social justice in the Western world, the ten commandments, it is clear the emphasis is on our responsibilities, not our rights.

Social Justice is not the same as charity. Social Justice does not yield to quick fixes. It is larger than an individual, a committee, a church, a neighborhood. But, Social Justice can be practiced at each one of these levels to improve the social contract of living together fairly and with compassion for lack of advantage. Experiencing Social Justice comes first in stories, the story of real people and the struggles they experience in an unjust social context. It also comes in personally experienced relationships with the disadvantaged.

Being an advocate for Social Justice is complex and difficult. Yet, social justice is not something abstract, something out there, but something inside of us, reflecting the deep aspects of our spiritual self. We discover how to be a net asset to the world, not just another liability. All of us will have to think more deeply about our advantages and how we use them to dis-advantage others. How do we make unconscious choices, that are seemingly private choices within the social context where many are impacted, maybe not noticing the drowning disadvantaged right in front of us? How do we choose what to do as opposed to just talking about it? How do we organize ourselves to work collectively for a more just society? Where do we put our energy to be most effective?

Then, if we can address this complex topic of Social Justice, just maybe we can find others who also want to engage with us in this complex challenge.


Our Constitution is Not a Religion

The current debates about guns in the U.S. have the flavor of religious believers.  Owning a gun or many guns of any type is a right guaranteed by the second amendment to the constitution.  The U.S. Constitution and its amendments are treated like Holy Writ.  The founding fathers are revered as profits of democracy.  There is even a WWJD, What Would Jefferson Do, attitude.  What is never questioned is whether or not we should change the constitution.  What makes this strange is the fact that the right to own guns was not a part of the original constitution, but in fact one of the first ten amendments, a bill of rights,  to “fix” perceived errors or omissions in the original constitution. It is a fact of record that our Supreme Court has over its existence had different opinions regarding the interpretations of various articles and amendments to the constitution.  Were I a historian of constitutional law, I would have the ability to enumerate the many interpretations given to the constitution and its amendments.  There may be arguments, and some are ongoing arguments, about the meaning of constitutional elements but I want to address some of the more obvious “errors” in the constitution and its amendments.  If you object to the idea that these are “errors”, then you would have to allow that some decisions made in the light of circumstances in the early years of our nation experienced changes in the later years.

In the twelfth amendment to the constitution, it was determined that the framers constructed the election of the president and vice president incorrectly.  The twelfth amendment declared that Article 2, section 1, clause 3 were no longer valid.  They were replaced by a new way of electing the president and vice president in 1803.

Jefferson was known to have slaves.  Yet, in 1865, as an outcome of the Civil War, this was determined to be illegal by the adoption of the 13th amendment.  Here is yet another case where it was determined that the times had changed and a new way of relating was in order.

The 14th amendment declared former slaves, born in the United States were citizens of the United States.  Again, in 1865, the Supreme Court was overruled by the 14th amendment.  Even the Supreme Court can get it wrong and the people rise to change the constitution.  Today, there is another civil action in the works to clarify the 14th amendment because again, the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people on the basis of this amendment.  Many citizens disagree and there is a movement to fix that Supreme Court interpretation.  The constitution is clearly a living document.

When the states were interpreting existing laws to allow them to discriminate at the voting booth, once again, in 1850, our understanding of the constitution had to be altered by an amendment.  Amendment 15 guaranteed citizens of the United States could not have their right to vote abridged.  That women were not considered to be citizens was not addressed, something that today we would consider outrageous.

In 1913 the 16th amendment invented a new power to the federal government, the power to lay and collect taxes on incomes of the citizens of the nation.  Passed by the states, this amendment expanded the sources of revenue, a provision not created by our founding fathers.

The election of senators as proscribed in Article 1 of the constitution was considered obsolete and was changed by amendment 17  also passed in 1913.  Times changed, opinions changed, our national agreement about how to go about electing Senators was changed.

One of the more interesting changes to our constitution occurred in the 18th amendment creating a prohibition against all enterprises supporting the use of alcohol.  This occurred in 1919.  It made no changes to prior laws.  It simply attempted to institute a new code of social conduct within the United States. In 1920, women got the right to vote through the inclusion of the 18th amendment.

Since the 15th amendment passed in 1850 former male slaves gained the right to vote.  We changed our minds in 1850.  Now we changed our minds about the right of women to vote.  Neither of these “rights” were considered by our founding fathers to be reasonable things to add to the Bill of Rights amendments to the constitution.  Times changed, our attitudes changed, our laws also changed.

The 20th amendment recognized a weakness in the constitution.  The amendment determined the appropriate time for the President and Vice President to take office.  It dealt with the issue of succession giving Congress authority to make laws.  It was passed in 1933.

The 21st amendment noted that the nation had made an error in passing the 18th amendment.  The 21st amendment was repealed!  Taken off the books, so to speak.  Revoked.  It demonstrated that any part of the constitution could be absolutely changed.

Skipping over several other modifications to our agreed upon laws of civil society through amendments 22, 23, 24, and 25, I note that in amendment 26, passed in 1971 which prohibited states from setting the age for voting to more than 18 years of age.  This was a new understanding that grew out of the Vietnam war activism of citizens that were called to serve in the military but had no voice in their government.

So here is the point.  The Constitution of the United States is not Holy Writ.  It changes in response to changes in opinion.  Sometimes the changes are swift.  Sometimes they are slow.  Sometimes their are significant difference in opinion.  Sometimes the old guard holds on tightly to their power and change is slow and hard work.  But things can change when sufficiently motivated people demand the changes needed to bring civil society into alignment with the significant portions of the citizens.

So, how close are we to repealing the 2nd amendment?  It begins with the idea that we should not be fighting the religious zealots who want to simply interpret the 2nd amendment as an absolute right to own any kind of gun they want.  It begins when we let go of 18th century fear of invasion from the powerful British.   I think now is the time to change the conversation from “THE PERCEIVED RIGHT TO OWN A GUN” to what is the most beneficial, what is the greater good for our society and REPEAL THE 2ND AMENDMENT.  If we begin the movement to repeal the 2nd amendment, the discourse will have to change.  No longer can supporters of the powers assumed under the amendment be defended on the basis of it being in the constitution because that is the discussion itself.  The discussion and arguments will have to be about the merits of having the right at all.  What is the moral and civil society argument in favor of no control over lethal weapons capable of mass killing of each other? Lets get started.  Sounds like an interesting debate when religion and Holy Writ are taken out of the formula.

 

Aside  —  Posted: April 23, 2013 in Philosophy, Politics, Religion


I am not going to beat around the bush.  It is time to repeal the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Why argue about what the original framers of the constitution meant?  Why debate like our founding constitution has never been changed? It is not Holy Writ.  God did not dictate it.  Humans did and we can either repeal the 2nd Amendment or we can simply clarify what most of us want, better control of the instruments of mayhem in our society.  We can fix what is broken.  We can either repeal the 2nd Amendment or create a new one that makes it clear there is no absolute right for anyone to own a weapon capable of mass murder.

I think if we consider the issue of gun control in terms of how to change the constitution instead of how to interpret it, we could have a much more rational debate.  Does giving everyone the right to own guns that have the capacity to kill many people at once what we want for our society?  (Today, that is answered by referring to the 2nd Amendment.  Why aren’t we talking about changing the Amendment?) Do we want a society with more guns, even good guys with good intentions (and you know what they say about the road to hell) owning guns because there are bad guys with assault weapons because there is no way to prevent that in a society full of guns?

You can’t stop insanity by doing the same thing over and over which has never worked.  Lets face it, the 2nd Amendment might have been reasonable for a paranoid nation at its birth.  It made sense in the late 1700’s.  But times have changed, guns have changed, the world has changed.  It is time to replace the 2nd Amendment.  We certainly have made other changes to our constitution to rectify injustices created by our founding fathers.  Lets change this one!

Are you up for that fight?

Cecil Denney

Aside  —  Posted: April 20, 2013 in Philosophy, Politics, psychology