Cybernetic Epiphanies: How Philip K. Salin changed my life

Education, Hayek Studies, Memoirs, Objectivism- Ayn Rand

[Although I don’t remember doing this, I might have submitted this piece to the UCLA alumni magazine.   I found it in my e-mails with this heading:

From: “Paul Stephens” <greateco@xxxxx>
To: <magazine@uclalumni.net>
Subject: My UCLA Story
Date: Monday, May 17, 2004 12:26 PM]

Cybernetic Epiphanies

Phil Salin’s legacy

I hadn’t heard from my college room-mate (and fellow econ major at UCLA) for a long time. He had later enrolled in the Stanford MBA program after working for Bechtel for a short time, which was not to his liking, but it probably helped him get into Stanford. Just for the heck of it, I did a Google search on him. Sad to say, I discovered that he had died of stomach cancer in 1992, but not before making a considerable contribution to the realization of science fiction visions which were his passions from boyhood. He wrote a seminal paper, widely quoted, against patents (but not copyrights) in software (in other words, in favor of “open source” programming, and one of his friends and colleagues seems to have coined that term). You can read some of these articles on http://www.philsalin.com.

[Note:  This website is itself a ripoff, created to sell his name in this domain to someone, but I think the texts – there are only a few – are accurate.  I also posted an article on Phil on Wikipedia, which got taken down and changed, but may have been put back, or it is in the archives.   I wasn’t in touch with Phil’s siblings in 2004, but I have reconnected with them c. 2015 via Facebook.  I had hoped that they would edit the Wikipedia post (since I didn’t have much of the statistics or other information about his life).  I’ve also suggested writing a collective memoir and biography with them, but that hasn’t happened yet.  Sierra (George), Patricia, and Doug Salin are all FB friends, and I’ll post this, or the link to it, there. – PHS 4-14-18]

Upon reading some of Phil’s later work, I experienced that rare satisfaction for a hermit-intellectual of having one’s own mindset expanded and elaborated to perfection by one’s (former) friends and colleagues. I was a couple of years older than Phil, and sort of adopted him as a big brother might when he was still just a college freshman. He was a gangly, nerdy science-fiction fan from the backwaters of San Rafael (“Marin County before Marin County was cool,” one might say).

Besides a strong mutual interest in the literature of science fiction and being Econ majors, we developed several further and important intellectual congruencies. One was that both of our fathers were involved in the General Semantics movement, so we were both raised with a heavy diet of Etc. (For those who never knew of this publication, “Etc., A Review of General Semantics”, practically every important ’60’s intellectual got his start, there, or had his or her work recognized by this august group. And who was the “main man?” Would you believe, S.I. Hayakawa, the late and unlamented sleepy Senator from California, and enemy of free speech while president of San Francisco State College — otherwise a hotbed of radical and Marxist thinking.)

Our other common loves or interests were classical music and Ayn Rand’s “vision” — which direct experience with the cult soon dulled or sublimated into better things. But we retained and expanded upon the libertarian ideas of people like Friedrich Hayek and Karl Popper, and this became Phil’s life-work, both intellectually and entrepreneurially. I was the more serious student, and introduced those thinkers to him, although Phil’s grandfather was a famous Swiss (Basel) economic historian, Edgar Salin, and knew Hayek, Schumpeter, and other contemporaries from the German-speaking world as well. The elder Salin was also trained as a philosopher, and was apparently some sort of Platonist. I remember Phil telling me that his grandfather had gone to Karl Jaspers’ funeral (I was then a philosophy grad student). Later, I came to wonder if he had also known Heidigger and Hannah Arendt.

That was the way our academic discourse and development proceeded. We tried to share and learn everything that would be of interest to the other, while constantly advancing the frontiers of our shared awareness. What happened to our friendship, though, was the same as many other great male friendships: he married a woman whose lifelong ambition was to be a Partner at Price, Waterhouse (a goal I see from the UCLA Alumni book she achieved). They did not stay together long, but by that time, I was back in Montana working the logging camps, harvest crews, firewood sales, and other “hardscrabble” occupations, including 90 days in jail for possession of home-grown marijuana. (I was, after all, an economist advocating free trade and minimal government regulations and restrictions on personal freedoms).

That was also the time I began reading Hermann Hesse, eventually completing most of his novels in translation. I thought it must be like Phil’s hereditary culture — the bourgeois Austrian, Swiss and German cultural milieu of the present, past, or future. Neither of us was urbane or socially successful — we were nerds, in the current parlance, although Phil was a much happier and fun- loving person than I was in those days.

The biggest challenge I faced in converting Phil to a more practical version of “the truth” (after our liberation from Objectivism, we had great fun demolishing intellectual authoritarianism) was getting him out of a Platonic mindset, and into Popper and Hayek’s “critical” or “evolutionary” Rationalism. I don’t know if Phil ever read Hayek’s The Counter-Revolution of Science (he doesn’t refer to it in his notes to these articles), but that, to me, was perhaps the most interesting of all Hayek’s works. Phil did read The Sensory Order, though, and he’s the only person I ever discussed it with besides Hayek, himself. (I wrote a paper for one of Hayek’s classes at UCLA on that book). But all in all, his grasp of Hayek and Popper’s thinking finally became exemplary, and I could not improve either on his thinking or on his expression in these articles. I wonder if he ever met George Soros? They would have had a lot in common, Phil’s family background being merchant-banking as well as academics (he was related to Jacob Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb fame).

I once read one of their commissioned family histories which verified that they were brokers for both Allied and Central Powers war bonds in the global markets during World War I. This is a charge which was often levied against “Jewish bankers” by populists and anti-semites of all stripes — that “they financed both sides of every war.” Literally, it’s true. That was their business, and the source (or a consequence) of their political influence. They were also very patriotic for their native countries of Germany and Austria, and often persecuted — both in England and the United States for being “pro-German” — a very different reality than what pertained during World War II. Phil told me that his father, Lothar, spent the (2nd) War in Switzerland with a bomb of some sort under his bed.

For these and other reasons, Hayek should not be thought of as the conservative demon (or saint) he is claimed to be, respectively, by both progressives and conservatives in the English-speaking world. He fled Austria before the Nazis came to power (originally to study and teach at the London School of Economics, then part of the University of London), and sent his kids to live in America “for the duration” of World War II. To us, Hayek should be best-known as the author of The Road to Serfdom (which he was warning against, not advocating!). He also edited John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor’s correspondence — Hayek was a thorough Millian, as well as a great admirer of the Scottish Enlightenment and its leading figures of Hume and Smith. (Hayek would probably not have cared much for Boswell, though, and he occasionally railed against the “immoralism” of people like Russell and Keynes, meaning Russell’s heterosexual promiscuity, and Keynes’s gay liberation, I would imagine. I later learned that Wittgenstein and Hayek were cousins — their mothers were first-cousins, as I recall).

In any case, check out Phil’s quite serious essays entitled “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Kitchens” (apparently written while he was dying of stomach cancer) at http://www.philsalin.com/kitchens/index.html

and “Freedom of Speech in Software” http://www.philsalin.com/patents.html.

The latter pretty much “puts paid” to the whole idea of “intellectual property” in science or nature. It should be entered as an Amicus brief in many cases of this kind. Yet, the “neo-liberals” have seen in his work a justification for every sort of “deregulation” and (corporate) “property rights” fallacy imaginable. I was amazed to find Phil as one of the very few thinkers referenced in the highly-influential “Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age” written by some of the legends in the field. Phil also started a company called American Information Exchange, or AMIX, which seems to have been a precursor of both E-Bay and Google, as well as the Open Source movement.

============

Cyberspace and the American Dream:

A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age

by Esther Dyson, George Gilder, George Keyworth, and Alvin Toffler

Future Insight

Release 1.2 n August 1994

The Progress & Freedom Foundation – Publications – E-Commerce

http://www.pff.org/publications/ecommerce/fi1.2magnacarta.html

[here are the relevant paragraphs]

The late Phil Salin (in Release 1.0 11/25/91) offered this perspective:

“[B]y 2000, multiple cyberspaces will have emerged, diverse and increasingly rich. Contrary to naive views, these cyberspaces will not all be the same, and they will not all be open to the general public. The global network is a connected ‘platform’ for a collection of diverse communities, but only a loose, heterogeneous community itself. Just as access to homes, offices, churches and department stores is controlled by their owners or managers, most virtual locations will exist as distinct places of private property.”

“But unlike the private property of today,” Salin continued, “the potential variations on design and prevailing customs will explode, because many variations can be implemented cheaply in software. And the ‘externalities’ associated with variations can drop; what happens in one cyberspace can be kept from affecting other cyberspaces.”

==========

My narrative, cont.

Phil and I both worked at the UCLA computer center as students (he got me the job, there) at the time which is generally seen as marking the beginnings of the Internet — the delivery of the BBN box from Cambridge, Mass. which constituted the first primitive server (actually, more like a router. There was nothing to “serve” in those days). I also later worked at UC Santa Barbara, which had the first scientific, academic nationwide network of linked computers out of a slightly improved (by California hippies) BBN box. (John von Neumann, as in “von Neumann architecture,” the basis for all digital computers, was the Neumann of Bolt, Baranek, and Neumann).

Over the 2 years or so of daily conversations and shared reading, we covered virtually all this material (in his essays, above) as undergraduates, and it was, as I mentioned, myself who introduced him to the works of Hayek and Popper. Upon further reflection, though, it could have been his family’s intellectual connections that brought Hayek there at that time. I’d already read much of Hayek, and was anxious to take advantage of that opportunity. Many of the other great “Chicagoans” also visited there, and I heard all of them, although I didn’t necessarily take their classes. I loved Milton Friedman’s popular works like Capitalism and Freedom, but in a classroom situation, he seemed an angry, intolerant person — much like the Ayn Rand people, in that respect. They seem to have had some sort of secret, “smart partnership.” If one includes “the other Chicagoans,” the Leo Strauss school of Imperialist Fundamentalism (also labeled “Trotskyist”), the picture becomes much more complete.

Now, from the UCLA Economics website, I see that UCLA is more recently known for something called “Imperial Economics” — a slightly different but related concept which proclaims that the tools of economic analysis are equally applicable to esthetics, social relationships, and other aspects of everyday life — in short, the “kitchen” of Phil’s essay, above. QED

Curiously, I met another libertarian activist at about that time, and he audited the Hayek seminars just by walking in off the street and introducing himself. (I was never able to do that in Missoula, but in Bozeman, while employed as a teacher, I was. I also successfully “crashed” the philosophy department at Colorado, Boulder, after attending a public lecture by John Wisdom, Wittgenstein’s heir at Cambridge.) He was later known as Leif Smith, the creator of the Denver Open Network (of which I am a Founding Member, as well), one of the earliest examples of a cyber-based community network for all kinds of serendipitous purposes. Hayek’s ideas and elaboration of the theory of “spontaneous orders” deeply informed all our work and thinking. Phil and Leif also knew each other slightly, I thought, but upon inquiry, I found that Leif and Phil kept in touch and visited each other when Phil was in Redwood City. They are also mentioned in the same paragraph in one of the articles I found from the Google search.

I thought, what the heck? I’ll check my own name. I’d just as well have checked “John Smith”. There were millions of entries for Paul Stephens, and I couldn’t find anything about me. I guess I’ve become very good at keeping out of the spotlight, which may be a survival trait in this day and age.

Another famous person who preceded Phil and I at the UCLA Ayn Rand Society (and thus missed the Hayek bonanza), but was known by people we knew, is the life-extension guru Durk Pearson. I had a couple of long conversations with him, but I didn’t care much for his personality. An MIT graduate, he seems to have stayed very loyal to the Ayn Rand thinking, as did most of the other people I knew from that time. Charles Ullery, the bassoonist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra since its beginning, was also part of our group, and I talked with him when they played in Great Falls a few years ago. He, too, still seemed loyal to the Ayn Rand movement. Another member I encountered years later was Louisa Poulin, through Mensa in the 1980’s. We exchanged a few letters.

I was the first to totally repudiate Ayn Rand’s capitalist mythology (due mainly to Hayek’s influence), which didn’t make me very popular in Libertarian circles, then or now. I basically confessed my newly-learned doctrinal heresies to the group at UCLA, and resigned my position as Chairman. Basically, a Hayekian criticism of “Objectivism” would be that it’s a species of “constructivist rationalism” and thus non-empirical and intellectually authoritarian, among other things, which it surely was (and is).

UCLA already had the Vienna Circle philosophers, some of whom came as refugees before World War II. And Logical Positivism was considered a precursor of General Semantics. These were logicians and “metamathematicians”, for which UCLA was, for a time, ranked first in the country for graduate study. Every student of logic studies “Church’s Theorem.” Alonzo Church’s office was right down the hall from the Campus Computing Network facilities where Phil and I worked, and I often passed him in the hallway. In general, my contemporary understanding of what was happening in “real time” was very fragmented and convoluted in my mind — even with benefit of hindsight and the subsequent Austrian conquest of the hearts and minds of Californians.

I’m going to write an intellectual memoir about this, and perhaps get it posted on Phil’s posthumous website. I might even offer it to The American Scholar, which should be interested in some other memoirs I have, as well. [Nothing further in those directions to 3-21-18]

On a lighter note, Phil was a great fan of The Lord of the Rings, and an original Trekkie. He knew many of the great science fiction writers and special effects people of the time, and greeted each new film or novel by his California friends like the insider he surely was. And like me, he was stuck on Heinlein, and actually did quite a bit of research in the Heinlein archives at UC Santa Cruz. I’m sorry he didn’t live to see either the New Zealand “Rings,” Heinlein/Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers,” or “Star Trek: First Contact”, with the “Next Generation” cast, featuring the development of the warp drive out of Minuteman missile parts in mid-21st century Montana! Perhaps I could have finally gotten him to visit Montana — a place he probably regarded with some fear and suspicion after knowing me and some of my family.

I have known only a few people on Phil’s level in my lifetime, and I always treasured the experience. When I left “the movement”, I gave him the set of Ayn Rand tapes we’d ordered from Columbia University, my Objectivist Newsletters and journals, and the first 8 or 9 volumes of The Journal of Law and Economics, which was sort of our Bible in those days. After reading over some of the 19 letters I still possess from Phil and his first wife, Barbara, I have to take responsibility for the unraveling of our friendship. I sent him books occasionally, and sort of used him as a focal point for my own growing resentments against the prevailing “MBA culture” which I thought (and still think) is irrevocably destroying the America we knew and loved.

But Phil was not in any sense a dogmatist, or intolerant of my views or revisions, which he knew were very similar to his own. Reading some of his letters from c.1972-75, I am amazed at how much he seemed to respect my advice and and guidance, and how much he valued our friendship — one which I was all too quick to abandon when the going got rough. The real issue for us was politics, and navigating the heavy seas of the late 60’s and 70’s while trying to validate and perfect our own world-views was probably the real “stressor”, here.

Phil was not an academic, yet he was always extremely “academic” in the sense of surrounding himself with a circle of highly creative and original thinkers. When he told me he’d been accepted for the MBA program at Stanford, I suggested he specialize in arts management. He was somewhat puzzled at that suggestion, but I’ve always encouraged people to follow their passions, not seek financial gain. As Joseph Campbell put it, “Follow your bliss.” If science fiction is an art-form, he followed that suggestion to the letter. He was also a comic book collector, and one of his proud accomplishments was finally having acquired the complete Donald Duck — proof, I’d like to think, of latent environmentalist tendencies. (Actually, he told me that his father, Lothar, played a major role in preserving the Pt. Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco.)

I wonder, now, if we would have agreed about the subsequent directions of science fiction films. We certainly would have had a lot to talk about. I think he would have liked Spielberg, but not Lucas — that is my own bias, anyway. But being from the Bay Area, he might have been a Lucasian after all. He had a great love of fantasy of all kinds, whereas I was always a “hard SF” fan, an empiricist, and a student of the philosophy of science, as well. Believe it or not, I’ve still never read The Lord of the Rings, which he had read in its entirety, as I recall, twelve times. He also loved Wagner — one of those strange contradictions which is not all that rare among Jewish people. The origin of the Salin name, he liked to tell me, was Solomon.

There’s something about an economist’s training which sets them apart from other thinkers. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I once described it as being “masters of secondary and tertiary consequences.” It’s like thinking several moves ahead in chess, and being able to make dynamic analyses with many different “colors” and “spins” simultaneously. It begins to sound like particle physics, after awhile. Except that it’s real things we see and deal with in our everyday lives and in our professional exercises. Phil had the “knack” and made a career out of what was, for me, merely an academic exercise, or “platform” for informed commentary of various kinds. And he was a great teacher, apparently — another “latent” capacity which I recognized and encouraged in him early-on. Teachers’ kids and grandkids really have an exceptional advantage over those who are merely “schooled” by “professionals” rather than their own families. But most of us consider every possible alternative before we finally settle on teaching, mentoring, and otherwise advancing intellectual culture. It is only when we learn that following in our parents’ footsteps is easier than breaking a new trail of our own, but the experience of “schooling,” which Hesse described so well in Beneath the Wheel, and Orwell echoed in “Such, such were the joys” still makes me wonder why we do this to ourselves and our children.

I didn’t read Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” when it first came out, but those were my thoughts, exactly, and I welcomed the emerging “free school” and “community school” movements enthusiastically. I have tried teaching in various kinds of k-12 schools, and even the best of them proved unsatisfactory in meeting children’s needs. I’ve always felt that my public school experience was usually not good, and it got worse in junior high and high school. When I later taught high school, I had little consolation to offer the students except to try to stiff it out so they could get into college, where learning and intelligent discourse were valued and encouraged instead of being repressed and often punished. My undergraduate experience at UCLA was all that I could have hoped for. Infinite opportunities without control or externally-imposed structure.

But after a couple of terms of grad school, I knew the academic life wasn’t for me. My aspirations changed to being “a public intellectual,” and that is where I still am, although little-recognized or even able to make a living at it. I still prefer to do physical work to maintain my material needs. It comes from an indefinite number of generations of independent farming, craftsmanship, and organized labor. People who push papers are drones, not real workers. And the “professionalization of knowledge,” I’ve long believed, is responsible for almost every social ill and crisis. The people who really understand things rarely have a lot of academic training. Or if they do, it is because they were already following their “passions”, not because of holding an advanced degree.

I’m glad UCLA was there for both of us. In spite of knowing and having visited many of the greatest universities and liberal arts colleges in the country, I have never regretted my choice of UCLA. It was as good or better than I deserved and could afford, and I was able to fully assimilate and integrate the experience into whatever kind of future life I might have had. But if I were 18, today, and contemplating higher education, I would not go to UCLA. First, I probably wouldn’t be admitted. I would be less than qualified for several different reasons. Even my raw test scores, which make me eligible for Mensa, would not admit me to UCLA, today. And my highschool GPA of 2.8 and no extra-curricular activities (legal ones, anyway) would make you laugh that I had bothered to apply! I’d be lucky to get into an East LA junior college. (My older half-brother, Jon Krug, who eventually got a Ph.D and became Dean of a Vo-Tech, actually started his career at Glendale Junior College in the Valley, but we both graduated from Great Falls High School, Montana.) The 3-tier system has worked well for California, and is widely-imitated, now.

The economic difference between the 1960’s and now is reflected in the distribution of income, and the level of “class consciousness.” Then, students could easily “work their way through college,” working summers and maybe 20 hours per week. This was when tuition cost $80 a quarter, and even that was only “incidental fees”, not tuition charges as such. UCLA professors were paid at the highest level (equivalent to the Ivy League, Stanford, and Chicago), but other wages were higher, too.

There are lots of reasons why we’re nearly all poorer, now. Whether it’s “peak oil,” de- industrialization,” lack of leadership and planning, bad economics, or whatever, we’ve got some tough years ahead of us to even get close to where we were in the 1960’s. Unlike most parts of the U.S., California has boomed ever since the end of World War II. Its present difficulties may best be seen as the result of pillaging and degrading the environment. Montana has much the same problems on a much smaller scale (economically and demographically, at least. We are the next largest state in area after California, and predominantly an agricultural and “resource” economy for urban centers, in spite of the best efforts of economists to declare and enforce our independence.)

Phil didn’t live to see either the dot.com bubble, or the dot.com crash. I think he would have a lot to say about the current state of things. Unfortunately, that cannot happen until our biomedical technics have improved to the point that there is, say, a 90% chance that he can be revived and restored to health. Will his mental capacities remain? Can we experiment on Walt Disney and some other people, first, to make sure the process will be successful?

Believing in the physical resurrection is a little different from the spiritual one. Indeed, one wonders, what does the Catholic Church think about cryogenic stasis and restoration after a cure is found for one’s terminal disease? Phil Salin’s legacy will be a long one, and of much interest to scholars for generations yet to come. It must be strange to hear this from someone who has never been able to keep a decent job, or get more than 5% of the vote as a City or County Commissioner in his own home town.

Paul Howard Stephens

Econ, 1969

 

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Alternative High Schools Proposal (1995-96)

Education

 

The following was written when I was working as a substitute in the Great Falls, MT public schools as well as completing the requirements for a State Teaching Certificate.  My “activism” and criticisms of the existing system were not conducive for my finding a job, so I took one with a private academy in Bozeman which was based on many “progressive” or “alternative” ideas, without much understanding of how to implement them.

February 1, 1995 (revised 6-96)

Alternative High Schools Proposal
by Paul Stephens

It seems to me that the perfect solution to your overcrowding problem is to open two or more alternative Class A- or B-size high schools, each with its own emphasis and flavor. It would be nice to have Class C-size schools as well, but apparently they are anathema to those who would have to pay for them, and even to many who attended them, and now feel that they were very much short-changed in their high school educational experience. Subsequent performance at the state universities easily refutes this, but among students who don’t go on to college, it is often the case that large schools provide more courses and better job training opportunities. But academic quality is almost inversely proportional to size, and direcly proportional to student-faculty ratios, which are necessarily best in Class C schools.

The smaller, alternative high schools could be arts-oriented, gifted ed, vocational ed, follow a Native American or multicultural curriculum, and meet the needs of gifted underachievers who are often afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder, come from dysfunctional families, or otherwise are considered to have “special needs” which should be addressed.

The Russell Elementary School on the far west side is available, as is the Lowell Elementary building on the northeast side. Other facilities could be purchased or built as needed. We should also re-convert West Elementary to a Middle School or High School, as needed. Since I believe that we need to involve administrators more in everyday teaching, we should staff them independently with half-time principals and counselors who also teach half-time. Site-based management by administrators who teach and are selected by their peers is an idea whose time has come, with concomitant reductions in central administration. There are very few decisions which administrators really need to make, while routine paperwork is mostly done by office staff, who are paid a small fraction of an assistant superintendant’s salary. Administrators would be much better able to make good decisions if they shared the experience of everyday work with the other staff and students. Of course, building administrators do this now, yet they are often overridden or forced to conform to policies with which they may not agree or identify.

Curriculum is especially important in this regard, and it is essential that the classroom teachers have a large degree of autonomy and choice among methods and materials, so that they may select those which best reflect their own classroom methods and interests, and the experience of the best teachers. We should also offer many more academic electives at the high school level than we do, today. We must maintain the diversity and flexibility to pursue and support the interests of the students who are most interested in learning. To do this, we must considerably enhance the opportunities for teachers to determine their own curriculum, both individually and collectively. It should be possible to arrive at some consensus about what theories or concepts we would like to adopt or learn from in order to improve the quality and efficiency of our educational processes, and thus maximize the utility or value of the services provided. Assertive Discipline, the Jane Shaffer Method (essay writing) and other pre-packaged educational products and methods (purchased and implemented by this District at great cost in dollars and in lost opportunities for alternatives foregone) have not caught on, and may be considered largely unsuccessful in their outcomes.

Let’s make a list of some of the better free, universal, intelligent, and intuitive theories and methods, ranging from Montessori and Steiner to William Glasser’s “Quality School” and some of the state of the art gifted ed programs, which typically encourage the development of autonomous learners, cultivate many kinds of intlligences, and usually support a 30% or more arts-oriented curriculum. The great fallacy, it seems to me, is that such schools need to be much more expensive than what we have, today. There are thousands of gifted teachers, practicing their vocation as a fine art, who would jump at the chance to teach at any school which addressed their intellectual and cultural needs equally or more than their financial ones (which, as in my own case, are really quite small). I truly believe that the clients (students and parents) are best able to identify and select quality educational products and providers, and until we empower them through some sort of market mechanism (the ability to select among competing providers by choosing which ones to patronize and support), we will never have anything close to an optimal allocation of resources in public education.

The imposition of the Jane Shaffer method was not necessarily the best solution to our problem of poor writers (we ranked right at the national average several years, ago, while we were “above average” in every other area of tested achievement). If administrators were more like peers of the regular teaching staff, they would be much more effective. If we need a curriculum coordinator, we should be sure that other, more basic needs are met, first. And the greatest problem, as I see it, is that many people working for the District make much less than is fair, proper, and expedient for all of us. If the public schools are going to be a poverty zone, few young people are going to be impressed by the quality of teachers and other school employees. And if the system is elitist and hierarchical, besides, many ethical people will resist and oppose it on those grounds. We need to support public schools at an adequate level, eliminate waste and pandering to special interests, and separate education funding from all the social welfare services which other agencies are supposed to provide, but which will never be adequately addressed or provided, and have bankrupted the schools in the attempt to provide them.

It has long been my view that Malmstrom Air Force Base constitutes an insupportable (and now, unconscionable) burden and threat to the taxpayers, local education resources, infrastructure, tourism, and preservation of the natural environment. For over 50 years, the well-being of our young people has been held hostage to the next “mission” at Malmstrom, and in the process, we have become a garrison town instread of the free city, known and respected throughout the world, which we had been, before. We are “Occupied Montana, and no other city in our state bears that burden. We have also been a first-strike nuclear target for the past 35 years, and quite unnecessarily so. But whatever one thinks about Malmstrom Air Force Base and its future in this community, it is presently on a short list of unnecessary bases which will most likely be closed. We lack the population and Congressional clout to defend it, and its land-based ICBM mission has been obsolete and a pure “pork barrel” since the 1970’s. The Cold War is over, and unless the military-industrial complex manages to create another set of “enemies” or threats from somewhere (and they are doing their best to do so) we will benefit greatly from the transition to a nuclear-free, de-militarized environment. I think that civic leaders will be surprised at how quickly we recover, and join the economic boom that is taking place in other parts of Montana. Perhaps we will at last see the nuclear weapons as having been a means of keeping Montana poor and dependent instead of “supporting our economy,” as the foolish Chamber of Commerce types have long maintained.

Overcrowding in the schools has again become a problem, and whenever it is, I hope the solution will be seen in small, flexible, and diverse educational facilities rather than in giant, overcrowded, “basic education” schools like we have, today. Many students (perhaps the majority, once they experience the alternatives) would prefer a smaller school, and one which more accurately reflects their personal and community educational needs and interests. Offer more electives and specialized courses, not less, and encourage everyone to study foreign languages, the arts, and humanities rather than rigidly adhering to a curriculum which best serves the needs of business and technology.

It appears we are spending far more now on computers than on library books and periodicals, yet I have seen no indication that all of this technology is improving students’ interest in learning, mastery of any kind of subject matter, or development of creative thinking skills. High school libraries have been significantly “weeded” or dumbed down, but most of the books (at least at CMR) are now found in the classrooms where they are most likely to be used, rather than removed from the premises entirely. Skyline does not even have a school library, although I understand that they will soon have one. Computers, AOL, and even Internet should be available for students to use and play with, but I see no reason to keep upgrading (at tremendous cost) technology which is obsolete within a very few years, and which threatens to take over nearly every part of the curriculum and budget, as though computers were some sort of magical oracle which has precedence over every other educational experience. The lack of a budget line item for digital technology indicates to me that something is wrong, here. There may be a great deal of support for spending less on computers and more on teachers, books, and other equipment and supplies.

I’ve just begun reading The Education of Henry Adams, grandson and great-grandson of Presidents, and after a lifetime of reflection, he observed that all he had needed to learn through high school was French, German, Spanish, and mathematics. Had he mastered those, he claimed he could have learned anything else he needed to know on his own. The Great Books curriculum, combined with science and math, an Asian and a European language, and whatever “hands-on” art and technology classes students want to learn would provide an equivalent education for our time. Today’s high school students are rarely challenged or engaged, but nearly always either bored or overworked with tasks they don’t enjoy or value. Smaller, community-based schools would be of the greatest help in gaining and keeping their interest. Teach students to think, learn, and solve their own problems and the whole society will benefit immeasurably. I have offered to teach philosophy and economics courses (my own academic background) in both existing high schools for several years now, and the (unintentionally) ironic response I have gotten is that you cannot afford them! Obviously, you cannot afford not to teach economics and philosophy, judging from the ignorance of these subjects in the larger community.

High school students, their parents, and teachers should be included in the process of planning for changes in their education. Administrators should invite them to Board meetings and work sessions so that they may offer their views and feelings about the education you are providing for them. Foreign exchange students and our own students who have studied abroad should be most carefully questioned and consulted about their perceptions of our schools, and what we need to do to match the educational standards of other developed, prosperous countries. Right now, we’re dead last among all the developed countries in our educational outcomes, even though we spend more money per student than any country but Switzerland. Less than half of our budgets now go to teachers’ salaries, and that, along with lack of community responsiveness and involvement (lack of diversity and choice), probably best explains our high costs and poor results.

For the past several years, I’ve been advocating gifted education and more elective options in the humanities and social sciences for high school students. Part of my reasoning has been that our high schools are much too large and authoritarian in tone to provide relevant, meaningful, participatory educational experiences for all students. Schools like Cut Bank, Geyser, and Miles City offer philosophy and/or economics courses, while we do not. Electives like Ancient History, Russian History, Latin American History, Peace Studies, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian languages, and the History of War, all of which have been taught here, are no longer being offered — again because of budget considerations which you seem powerless to deal with or overcome. Since nearly all school funding now comes from the State, you need to consider Helena your primary focus for political action. Some of you seem much more concerned about humoring wealthy taxpayers and the anti-intellectual elements in our community than with improving education. Nuclear weapons haven’t improved our economy or our schools. Instead, they have bankrupted us, scared away investors or those who want to live in a nuclear-free Montana, and made us utterly dependent on outside funding we cannot control.

The demand for high-end, multi-cultural, and arts-oriented courses and programs far exceeds the supply, and it is only through the adoption of a philosophy which rewards and encourages excellence that public education can be saved. Students rise to the level of expectation. The most challenging and creative classes are the most interesting and useful to the students. Young people want to learn more than anything else they do, and I’m afraid our present system doesn’t do nearly enough to encourage them and build upon their strengths and interests. Attracting better teachers and empowering them to modify and adapt the curriculum, while selecting or being selected by the students whom they can best serve, will do more to improve the quality of education than anything else we can do.

VENGEANCE IS MINE, SAYETH TELEVISION CITY – A Memoir from the UCLA years…

Memoirs

 

VENGEANCE IS MINE, SAYETH TELEVISION CITY (written c. 1980-83)

In the Summer of 1966,1 came to Los Angeles as a student to attend UCLA. The Summer before, I had visited shortly after the “Watts Riot” — the first of many insurrections in the Black districts of America’s larger cities in the later 1960’s. People were stunned at the sight of National Guardsmen in supermarkets, freeways being closed because of sniper fire, and whole blocks of buildings being looted and burned down – especially because Watts was known to be more prosperous, self-governing, and in other ways more “normal” than other black communities in the country – much different from the ancient, tenement or high-rise public housing ghettos of the East and Midwest. Watts had relatively clean streets with palm trees, yards, and separate houses like other typical Southern California suburbs.

Throughout my experience at UCLA, the spectre of Watts hung over our heads. It was the Liberal Golden Age, and Black students were admitted to the University in large numbers, Black Studies programs were initiated, and there was a continual interchange between the advocates of Black Liberation and the formerly isolated and privileged middle class.

Having grown up in Montana, and having never even spoken with a black person prior to my first year of college in Michigan, I was not especially concerned about the issue, nor did I feel any sort of guilt about the condition of Black people in the United States. At that time, I considered myself to be a Lincoln Republican with tolerent, secular values. Although my name is Paul Howard Stephens, I’d never heard of Howard University, nor did I even know that the Vice President of the Confederacy shared my family name. I discovered both of those coincidences several years after leaving California, in the mid-1970’s, and how important they had actually been to my experiences, there.

It was also about that time that I first read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” which created a telling American stereotype about Montana and its development after the Civil War. My own ancestors were from Kentucky, voted for Lincoln, and fought for the North against slavery — a distinct minority in Montana at one time. I am nearly certain, from family traditions, that none of my ancestors were slave owners.

For whatever reason, the prospect of insurrection or rioting in the streets never particularly bothered me, either. I always assumed that should something like that occur, I could easily go somewhere else and avoid it. And when student riots broke out in my own neighborhood and campus later on, that is precisely what I did, and so I always managed to stay out of those kinds of confrontations. What really worried me and what I assumed I should be worried about was the threat of violent crime.

Since early youth, I had gone to “crime school” along with most of my contemporaries, and much of it was, for convenience sake, set in Los Angeles. Dragnet was undoubtedly the best-known of these “courses,” but there were many others, including feature movies in which murder, arson, rape, vandalism, robbery, and other crimes were described and often glorified in great detail. For less sophisticated minds, there was the violence of cartoons and “Westerns” (which I knew to be almost entirely false, having spent my youth hearing the personal accounts of the kind of people who were supposed to have lived in that “lawless age.”)

But I still feared that I might be subjected to armed robbery or attempted murder at any time while living in Los Angeles, and so I tried to find the safest areas to live, and always kept a loaded gun close at hand. Guns, of course, are simply a tool to rural people like myself – something you use to kill skunks and porcupines, or put food on the table in the form of a rabbit or pesky deer, and in remote areas, it may be that a gun will save your life from a dangerous animal or an outlaw from whom there is no protection when the nearest law officer may be 40 or 50 miles away. Among themselves, rural people are peaceful and tolerent, but when they get carloads of drunken hunters cutting their fences and shooting their cows and horses, even farmers will be upset and possibly shoot back or wreck the culprit’s car.

My attitude was one of caution and prudence. I already owned guns and had done so since the age of seven, and it seemed like nothing but good sense to make arrangements for my own security. When I finally did have occasion to intereact with the police, all of my worst fears were realized. In the battle between good and evil, they were at best neutral, and often seemingly on the side of the malefactors — especially if one were part of a despised minority like Blacks or Hippies.

But while I was still a student, relatively “straight” and a defender of capitalism, the closest I ever came to abusing gun ownership was to consider shooting myself over an unhappy (and unconsummated) love affair. After living in California for a year or so, and finding a room-mate who seemed to share a number of my views and interests, I naively showed him my guns and told him how to use them “should the need arise.” Little did I suspect the consequences. Immediately, rumors spread that I was a hit-man for the mob; that I was a fascist, a militarist, a Nazi sympathizer, and God knows what else. He soon found an excuse to move out, and I was left wondering what was happening, although feeling somewhat liberated in my solitude.

Women of radical intellectual tendencies in whom I expressed an interest were soon informed of my heresies, and even staunch conservatives began to ask me if maybe I didn’t think that banning handguns might be a good thing. It still had not occurred to me that anyone, no matter what his or her political beliefs might be, would hold against me the fact that I was prepared to defend myself against random or purposeful violence, but that was certainly the predominant liberal, urban view of things in the late 1960’s. In retrospect, the difference was one of rural vs. urban values, and especially between my own self-reliance and personal responsibility, and the collectivist ethics of the Welfare (or “Nanny”) State, and the ethics of social conformity and obedience to established authority, to all of which I was then philosophically opposed.

The irony is that at the time, my reliance on guns was probably melodramatic, for the Hollywood jungle I feared did not then exist in the nearly crime-free West Los Angeles neighborhoods where I lived. Now, twelve years later, the very kinds of people who pilloried me for my lack of faith in the police and the goodness of my fellow man are assembling arsenals, joining shooting clubs, and spending thousands of dollars on alarm systems, combat weapons training, guard dogs, and the rest.

I had no way of knowing that the violence of television did not actually reflect the urban scene, but it should have been more obvious that to prepare for the breakdown of urban society could well become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even the Jewish Defense League (and I should say that my liberal detractors were in most cases Jewish) has adopted a stance which now seems to be extreme in its reliance on armed force and revenge, but their situation is no doubt somewhat more desperate than mine has been. What I would now ask them is why they don’t concern themselves more with the causes than with the symptoms of this malaise?

I should also say that I no longer own even one firearm (although I am not opposed to such ownership, provided the use, care, and ethics of gun handling are thoroughly understood and observed), and that I am now a militant pacifist and anti-nuclear activist. As has often happened, before, I converted my adversaries, but not before they converted me.

From what I’ve been reading lately about the crime statistics in Los Angeles, and especially the formerly “safe” areas of West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and the San Fernando Valley, it would appear that I was simply a few years ahead of my time, a prophet without honor in his adopted land, so to speak. I feel badly about that, and I would like to offer a plan for the resolution of this problem and one that is actually no different in principle from the one used in the later 60’s to defuse and pacify Watts.

The answer to crime and social disintegration is community. We must get back to the answers we found ten years ago – re-establish drop-out centers, free schools, community centers, half-way houses, and all the other person-to-person kinds of institutions which are actually capable of changing people’s attitudes and values, and reassuring them that they have not been shut out or forgotten.

Of course, the problems are much deeper than that. A cultural revolution is definitely in order, and it is necessary that it be maintained perpetually so that each generation can build on it and share in its perceptions and procedures. It seems incredible to many of us that only a decade after what we thought had been a final and permanent revolution in our view of government institutions, education, economics, and all the rest that we should be fighting our own younger brothers and sisters, cousins, nieces, and nephews who not only categorically rejected our experience and conclusions, but have asserted a reactionary vengeance that even our parents and the warmongers of the Vietnam era would have been ashamed to enunciate or support.

It is one of those fantastic reversals which no one could have predicted or believed. Most of us cannot believe it, yet. But that is precisely what has happened. And we must face that problem, now, even if it takes another sequence of urban insurrection to bring the message home to those who seem to think that it is up to them to live high off the hog while the remainder of humanity suffers under poverty and oppression.

Los Angeles is, without a doubt, the most privileged and profligate city In the world. [Now, a quarter century later, I would say that it has slipped somewhat in ranking.] If one hasn’t lived there, it is beyond comprehension that any group of people so lacking in any of the gifts which have made other cities great should have prospered so much and at so many other people’s expense. Only Rome at the beginning of the Empire could be considered to have been a proportional kind of center of imperialistic exploitation of its neighbors and the rest of the known world.

Environmentally, it is still a “Cadillac Desert.” Whole rivers are diverted for its thirst, and oil-fields pumped dry to assure that everyone can drive a daily 50 miles in air-conditioned comfort. Electrical consumption must be higher than any other city in the world, what with air-conditioned everything and more electrical appliances than would have been imaginable to the prudent and sensible.

And the worst of it is not what Los Angeles has which other people lack, but the fact that by being the center of film and the exportation of its own unbalanced and perverted ways to all the farthest corners of the world, that everyone has imitated and adopted the short-sighted, Southern California sickness for themselves. One city like Los Angeles is too much, but 20 or a hundred of them may prove to be the end of civilization.

What is the basis of the economic wealth of Los Angeles? Originally,
it was film and a healthy and comfortable place to vacation or retire. When it was noticed that there are more than 300 good flying days a year in Southern California, a number of aircraft companies grew up there. It was not until the Second World War and the massive armaments production that Southern California really began to get out of hand. With the building of the freeway system and the California Aqueduct, its ecological demise was sealed, but still it grew by leaps and bounds.

“Smart people” moved there, and continue to do so to this day. That’s why I applied to UCLA. I wanted to be somebody, and transcend the rural wretchedness of my traditions. If there was one city in the world which seemed to have within it everything which one might aspire to or desire, it seemed to me to be Los Angeles. And by the time I’d left Montana, several of my relatives had already made the move, and some of them live there, still. Don’t ask me why. I’ve tried my damnedest to talk them out of it. But they like the smog, the crowds, and all the horrors that it offers, yet never would attend a symphony or a ballet – the only reasons I would even want to visit such a place, again.

I’m sorry, but the prognosis isn’t good for any of you Angelenos. The factors which gave rise to your existence in the first place are neither permanent nor beneficial to anyone. There is no reason for so many people to live in such a dry and desolate place, where nearly everything must be imported from somewhere else.

Los Angeles is like a powder keg, and the fuse is burning short. When the riots broke out in Watts in 1965, there wasn’t anything like the excuse for them that there is, today. Poverty, exploitation in the work-place, an absence of opportunity, a depressed economy, real-estate prices out of sight and going higher, surfing with inflation and most of us being wiped out.

Face it. The end is drawing near. I can tell you; its much harder to live in Montana than it was in West LA, but life is much more certain, here, and the rewards are health, permanence, and a feeling of living in a world that’s real and still within the individual’s control. When I left Southern California in 1971, everyone was thinking about leaving, and thousands of you left for Northern California, Oregon, Colorado, and other parts of the world. Then, we seemed to be in agreement. Of course, those who already lived in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, or even Denver or St. Louis might have thought Los Angeles to be a better place. Certainly the warmth, the tolerence, the freedom to do and be the kind of person one might choose is a very great advantage, and one which other places might well imitate.

For awhile, I thought I was in paradise. I was treated very well in most respects, and those who didn’t like me didn’t like LA or much of anything else. My views were often taken seriously, and always patiently heard even when they weren’t respected. And the women in Los Angeles have utterly ruined me for any others in the world – that much is for sure. How disgusting, now, to meet a small-town woman from Montana with classic looks, confidence, and obvious material advantages, only to find that her knowledge and ideals of love are non-existent, or restricted entirely to the most neurotic, possessive, manipulative attitudes and practices imaginable, and that she no more aspires to a career or any kind of self-realization than her great-grandmother did – probably less so.

That has been my deepest disappointment and source of shame in my traditions after coming home. My only recompense is in the fact that the countries where my ancestors came from generations ago have improved in culture and in the relative status of women so that a modern British or Scandinavian woman is not so different from what I learned to love in California.

If the real problem of California is thought to be that of racial and cultural diversity – the fact that every major race and culture is heavily represented in its population – perhaps that is the place to begin, and the beginning that should be made is that of re-defining social order and obligation so that there is an equality and balance which now may well be lacking. If the source of present Anglo-American supremacy is merely that of military victory or armed might, it is no wonder that all the other groups resent this and will use force or what the Anglos would call “criminal means” to achieve their purposes and ends. That would only be a just and fitting recompense or retribution.

If, on the other hand, the American democracy and its republican ideals is claimed to be a system characterized by tolerence and equal opportunity and justice for all, then there is a similar kind of problem in that it seems to work very well for those whose traditions are democratic and republican, but not so well for people having authoritarian systems, traditions, and inclinations based on status, position, caste, class, or religious beliefs which are alien to the American tradition.

Does a system designed by black slave owners serve the purposes of the descendents of the slaves? Apparently not, and this more than any other question is the one which is unanswered and unresolved up to the present time. Or does the land taken by force from its original Spanish settlers serve the purposes and fulfill the needs of their descendents? Or does the land of the Indians, whose custodianship was exemplary for something like 30,000 years, after the passage of a few short centuries maintain its character and its integrity so that it may support our children and their children indefinitely into the future?

The only people who have even a glimmer of the truth or any kind of answer for the future of California (or, indeed, for any other place) are the ecologists – those who fully understand that life is complex and interrelated, and that to break one link of a fragile chain is to break the entire chain so that the continuities of nature are destroyed. And when nature is destroyed, man must also be destroyed because man is nothing except one small part of nature – even if the most complex and active part in terms of manipulating nature for his own – often mistaken – purposes.

Already, California has the reputation of being the most ecologically conscious and politically-aware state, and one of the most advanced political entities in the world in these respects. Land-use planning, for example, is largely unheard of in Montana, and here, the principle of environmental preservation is largely construed as some sort of forest-ranger function like wild-life management or logging inspection. But it is unclear whether the advanced political mechanisms which exist in California are really serving general and public purposes, or merely providing a kind of palliative against public outrage and total social breakdown.

Los Angeles has yet to undertake the construction of an urban transit system, and even the one it has is increasingly unusable because of strikes, deterioration, and crime. Its city fathers spend millions lobbying for multi-billion dollar “defense” contracts which will serve no useful purpose whatsoever, while the closure of the freeways and establishment of mass-transit links continues to be a political chimera, no doubt at the insistence of the oil and automobile Interests which seem to dominate the California political landscape.

There’s probably not another city in the world so dependent on the automobile as Los Angeles, and so crippled and deteriorated because of it. It is astonishing to those who have suffered from air pollution in other places where it is mlniscule compared to that of the Los Angeles basin how people can survive and flourish there, and yet we know the costs are astronomical in terms of health-care and shortened lives. In a city where a minimum of solar-voltaic panels could charge batteries to power electric vehicles and home appliances, there seems to be no effort to adopt such permanent and healthful technologies.

Surely California is in a position, with its Silicon Valley and massive
technological infrastructure, to develop and deploy these technologies independently, without recourse to the foot-dragging Federal Government. Where is the innovative statesmanship and economic development impetus when it could serve genuine human needs and peaceful purposes? It is precisely this sort of paradox which makes a person like myself prefer the dark ages of bicycles, horses, and wood stoves In the mountains of Montana to a life of comfort and prosperity in California. If all the progress only serves to poison everyone and arm us for a final apocalypse, then what is the point of it?

My ancestors have been pioneers, living off the land and growing food without high technology for hundreds of years. We could go on doing it forever. But what is happening in California not only threatens its own people with self-destruction, but threatens everyone with nuclear anhiliation. Why? Where are the California whiz kids getting their orders? Who wanted this nonsense in the first place? It wasn’t people like us. It was Nazis and Bolsheviks and technocrats and scientific “geniuses” whose basic, practical good sense is totally lost or corrupted.

People wonder about crime? Don’t look in the ghettos or the barrios. Those are just good, simple folks who haven’t anything useful to do with themselves because all their jobs were taken away by machines. The real criminals are to be found In the Pentagon, the aerospace companies, the universities, and the reseearch centers. Bust them. Lock them up for awhile. If my own experience as one whose highest aspiration was once to be an economist for the RAND Corporation is any example, I can assure everyone that being treated like a criminal and knocked around, locked up for a few weeks, and humiliated will definitely produce a change of heart. I’m serious.

Everyone whose life is structured such that he is immune to the consequences of his own work and belief-structure is a danger to the rest of us, and ought to be subjected to a reality so that he or she might see the effects that other people must suffer so that a few can keep their “status,” comforts and privileges.

The experience and wisdom of the Chinese is certainly relevant in this regard. The policies which terrorized the privileged few were actually to everyone’s advantage, and the practice of assigning high-ranking bureaucrats, intellectuals, scientists, and managers to the fields and work-shops for a month or two each year was nothing but sanity, itself. Until the privileged few realize what the average person has to endure just to make ends meet or keep a family together or preserve the simple benefits of health, friendship, and community, there can be no peace or end to crime and deprivation.

Where do we begin? How can we change our own communities so that people feel that they belong, that their needs and wants are being adequately and fairly provided? What can we do to assure that young people get the kind of education and guidance that they need to become useful and moral citizens?

There was a time when I thought I had the answer. It was essentially that of Milton Friedman – the abolition of minimum wages and occupational licensure; a guaranteed annual income; universal vouchers for education, or in the abolition of the public schools, provision of vouchers only for lower income families; an end to military conscription; control of the money supply by a general rule; free trade and open immigration; etc., etc.

Soon after, I would have added nuclear disarmament and the cessation of American imperialistic aspirations in the world. All together, it is a program which might have worked, if promoted and accepted with good will and a sincere desire on everyone’s part to make it work. Now, it would be the rankest kind of folly, and merely to suggest it is tantamount to proclaiming the beginning of a violent revolution. No, the problems we face, now, are the development of a class structure for the first time in American history, the necessity of re-establishing our economic priorities away from production and consumption and into the quality of life and non-material concerns, ending conflicts, preservation of the environment, and developing communities.

Los Angeles must abandon its claim to world pre-eminence as a city of elites and elitist values. That much is obvious and certain. It must spend its own wealth for public purposes, clean up its air, perhaps reducing population, changing the industrial base away from aerospace and manufacturing, and re-designing its infrastructure along the lines of permanence and self-sufficiency.

Los Angeles, a world-city expecting to be treated as a serious and civilized place, is still a raw and savage boom-town, flooded by recent immigrants and based on industries and practices which are neither permanent nor sensible. It must confront these facts and solve these problems rather than attempting, piecemeal, to overcome each riot, crime, or crisis as it appears.

The kind of society created and values propagated and displayed will determine the consequences for everyone. Start out with the abolition of all violent crime and anti-social activity in films and television. That is the most simple and obvious rule imaginable. If people don’t see crime or hear about it, they’ll have no inclination to engage in it, themselves. That’s a rule that has been advocated for at least 50 years, and had it been adopted, then, there wouldn’t be nearly as much crime and violence that we have, today.

What about education? I wish I had the answer. I still believe in de­centralization and community participation – local school boards in which parents of the children in school are responsible participants in the education which their children receive. Any other system is likely to amount to nothing but bureaucracy, oppression, indoctrination, and the cultivation of values, practices, and beliefs which are entirely destructive or counterproductive. Schools as they now exist train us to be obedient and competitive and very little else, unless it would be to lie and cheat.

The successful student is likely to be successful in the business world or government, but will have little in the way of self-reliance, originality, sympathy for the plight of others, or concern about issues other than his specifically assigned tasks and obligations. The school system as it now exists favors conformity, emulation, adherence to the values of success, progression through hierarchies, chauvinism of various kinds (“us” against “them”), and other evils too numerous to mention. It is neither a preparation for life as it should be nor the source of democratic values which it was intended to be.

The student in today’s public high school is likely to be cynical, violent, neurotic, and lacking in patriotism and knowledge of what life is really all about. In fact, on the average we are far beyond the point of diminishing returns. More funds spent on education, in most cases, reduces the quality of life, not because education is bad, but simply because it doesn’t happen in most of the schools as they now exist.

I, for one, see the burgeoning private-school movement as our only source of hope and citizenship in the decades ahead. Even though I disagree with many of the values and beliefs which private schools have fostered, at least they have tradition on their side, and may hope to forestall the destruction which otherwise seems imminent. If only there were more progressive, egalitarian, socialistic, and innovative private schools (something which a voucher system would allow – indeed, encourage – and that is why I still would favor one), we might really hope for positive solutions to our problems rather than merely delaying or postponing the course of events which presently seems to be inevitable.

If I am to be sincere In my prescriptions for the solution to a problem like Los Angeles, though, I really must advocate its abolition. That is to say, several million people have no business whatsoever living packed together in the desert basins of the Southern California coast.

The ideal urban community is known to be of a size something like the city where I now live – Missoula, Montana – which has about 50,000 people In the city and 80,000+ within a proximity of 50 miles. If anything, that is too many. There are four high schools here – three public and one private – and they are good enough to produce Nobel Laureates and Metropolitan Opera stars.

Our university, with less than 10,000 students, ranks 14th in the world in the production of Rhodes Scholars over the history of the program, and three law students recently took the national championship in Moot Court competition, beating out Northwestern in the finals. No California schools even got to the finals, or close to them, including Stanford, or for that matter, Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, or Columbia.

You don’t need a car, here, to go on a hike. The wilderness begins at the city limits, in some directions, and on an acre or so of ground, its possible to be self-sufficient in food – good, healthy food – for a vegetarian, and to buy live and organic poultry, pork, or beef from neighbors. Our life is real and experiential. We’re close to the source. People here are smart enough to outlaw nuclear energy and waste-disposal – the only state so far to do so, and that, in the first election before the nuclear interests outspent us by 100-1, by a vote of 2-1. (In the last election, the initiative against waste disposal barely passed, but it did pass, and it will be enforced).

Compare all of this with life in Southern California, and you may begin to understand why there are already many people here who left there years ago, and why we recommend that others follow our example, not by invading us with refugees, but by changing the circumstances of their own existence so that it might in certain ways resemble ours, utilizing good judgment and the wisdom we have learned or retained and now will gladly share with all.

Ten years ago, when I left California, It seemed to me that its direction had been changed and that the answers had been found, or were in the process
of being found. Instead, I see now that every kind of ignorance and folly has reasserted itself, and taken over so that the idiocy of a Reagan administration, so clearly shown to have failed in California long ago, is now to be inflicted on the country and our would-be friends throughout the world. In its horrifying message of elitist persecution and destruction, we find the end of hope itself, and the destruction of precisely that tradition and American ideal which Reagan and his ilk have criminally usurped and defiled, leaving to the rest of us the role of dissidents and radicals.

It’s tragic that it should be California, the greatest source of progress and enlightenment, which proved to be the staging ground for perhaps the two greatest political failures of the century, possibly excepting Warren G. Harding, who also waved the banner of “conservatism,” “law and order,” and “economic sensibility” only to obscure his own corrupt dependence upon vice and criminality. The solutions they have offered are merely the nth degree of the evils we have already suffered; the affliction itself being offered as the cure; a host of wrongs welded together and proclaimed to be a right – the very essence of truth, justice, and the American way.

The irony is overwhelming. Only in a negative sense, in the possibility that Reaganite repression might unite us all, again, in the common struggle against the things he represents, might we find any solace or consolation in this sad, disgusting turn of events.

Proposal for High School Seminars in Philosophy and Economics (January, 1993)

Education

 

Proposal for High School Seminars in Philosophy and Economics
(January, 1993)

Introduction

Philosophy is the highest form of knowledge and learning, for it deals with the foundations and theory of knowledge, itself, which is called epistemology. It also deals with the nature of reality (ontology), and provides the rationale and methodological foundations for the sciences, mathematics, art, law, ethics, politics, the social sciences, international relations, and the evolution of culture — in short, every area of conscious human endeavor.
In recent years, educators have begun developing curriculum units in philosophy for even the youngest students in elementary school, and philosophical tools, ideas, and methods are integrated into many areas taught in the K-12 structure. Symbolic logic, for example, was once completely absent from the high school curriculum, but now it is integrated into mathematics for many students in the 10th grade or earlier.
In social studies classes, we frequently find philosophical issues discussed in the context of public issues debates, such as civil liberties, the death penalty, abortion, the drug problem, the spread of AIDS, etc. Education itself provides a wide expanse of issues involving freedom of conscience and expression, equality of educational opportunity, student rights and responsibilities, and the ends and means of the education process.

I was disappointed to find that there is no certification in Montana for teaching philosophy, either on the high school level or K-12. However, I was assured by the certification officials that philosophy could still be taught or offered as a course. Since I have the equivalent of a major in Philosophy, and actually began graduate studies in that field, I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of such programs, and hope to assist in developing one for the Great Falls Public Schools. The addition of a high school philosophy seminar would seem to be an excellent choice for gifted, college-bound students, and has already been done in Cut Bank and other smaller Montana systems My other area of certified expertise is economics (along with a broadfield social sciences endorsement), and I have prepared a provisional curriculum for a one-semester high school economics course as well. Superintendent Larry Williams recently addressed a workshop I attended which promoted the teaching of economics on all levels of the K-12 system.

Proposal

In this age of uncertainty, peril, and declining material and social expectations, it seems obvious that the best thing we can do for students is to help them develop their personal interests and passions, teach them critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and give them the experience of having successfully pursued and investigated whatever knowledge is interesting and useful to them. We can help many of them become self-directed, autonomous learners, confident in their ability to master the most difficult areas of knowledge, understanding, and practice.

What follows are outlines for a one-semester Philosophy seminar and a one-semester course in Economics. I have listed topics rather than learning outcomes, because I expect a variety of learning outcomes based on the individual student’s interests and chosen readings and projects. Students will be evaluated on the basis of effort and progress, and not compared indiscriminately with others whose interests and work may be very different. I question the dominant public education philosophy that students should earn grades based on their competitive performance relative to other (different, brighter, less bright, more or less interested) students. It is like an Olympics where everyone is required to participate, and the best are profusely rewarded while the slowest are stigmatized and penalized for the rest of their lives. Education is a natural process in which all young people are likely to succeed if only we can present them with interesting subject matter relevant to their own lives and futures, and not discourage or inhibit them by evaluating their work and interests negatively.

These courses will be characterized by busy, convivial, hard-working classroom environments. There will be groups or teams as well as individuals working independently. At times we will read original texts aloud in class and discuss them line by line. The format of the course will be to focus on particular issues or topics, with students selecting and reading articles, chapters, or passages, and preparing short papers based on their reading for class presentation and discussion. The teacher will lecture or introduce selected readings, and then question students using an inquiry model and the teaching and practice of thinking skills. Students will have ample opportunity to develop and perfect their writing abilities, and to become precise, careful readers and thinkers able to store, recall, and utilize the information and analysis contained in their reading.

 

A HIGH SCHOOL CURRICULUM IN PHILOSOPHY (18 weeks)

The acquisition of some of the basic tools of philosophical analysis is the primary desired learning outcome. Students will be able to explain what philosophy is and what philosophers do. Particular facts about the content and history of philosophy will be retained according to the interests and capacities of the individual student. The purpose of the course is to show each student that ideas are important, that we can learn from great thinkers of any age or culture, and that learning, knowledge, and wisdom are ends in themselves and a source of great personal satisfaction as well as a means to material and social success.

Week 1 Introduction
A. What is Philosophy? Etym. “Love of Wisdom.” Philosophers vs. Sophists. Philosopher role-models — Socrates, Aristotle, Kung Fu (Confucius), Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Erasmus, Hume, Kant, Mill, Wittgenstein, Russell, Arendt, Langer.

B. Branches of philosophy
1. Traditional — metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, cosmology, natural philosophy.
2. Modern — including, but not limited to, philosophy of science, philosophy of education, political philosophy, social philosophy, esthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and metamathematics.

Weeks 2 and 3 History of Philosophy — Ancient Greece
A. Socrates. Read Plato’s Apology, the death of Socrates.
B. Plato. Read one or more Dialogues, perhaps the Symposium.
C. Aristotle, tutor of Alexander the Great. Read excerpts from various works. Aristotle’s role in subsequent philosophy.

Weeks 4 and 5 Epistemology
A. What is knowledge, where do we get it, how do we use it?
B. Logic, syllogisms, basics of logical notation.

Weeks 6 and 7 Ethics
A. What is “the good?” Kinds of ethical theories.
B. The Golden Rule. Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
C. Reason, feelings, and behavior.

Weeks 8 and 9 Political and Legal Philosophy
A. Origins of government and law.
B. Sovereignty, utilitarianism, and the state.
C. Freedom, democracy, and authority.

End of quarter tests, projects, evaluations.

Weeks 10 and 11 Esthetics
A. What is art? Origins, purposes, needs served.
B. The science of artistic meaning and response — visual arts, poetry, music, dance, drama, film, popular culture.
C. Art criticism, commentary, and the teaching of culture.

Weeks 12 and 13 Issues in Philosophy
A. The mind-body problem. The ghost in the machine.
B. Idealism vs. Materialism in Plato, Kant, Wittgenstein.
C. Universals. Cosmology. Space and time. Philosophy of science. Paradigms.

Week 14 Artificial Intelligence
A. The cybernetic revolution. How have computers changed the ways we think and live?
B. Computer/brain analogies. Are computers really “thinking?”

Weeks 15-17 Philosophical Discourse in Social Philosophy
A. Arguments, conjectures, hypotheses, refutations.
B. Verbal and written exercises. Preparing arguments and defending them as a learning process, not a contest.
C. Social justice.
1. What do we mean by a just society?
2. How can we create and maintain a just society?
D. Equality, merit, ethnic and religious identity, conflict resolution, the great humanistic tradition.
E. How philosophy can change the ways we think and live.

Week 18 Review and Overview
Final exams and projects due.

Philosophy Resources

Although a comprehensive textbook could be used, it may be preferable for the instructor to write out and duplicate lectures on each topic, along with excerpts from important essays or books in that area. I am prepared to teach the course without any additional investment by the school district in textbooks, but I will be interested to see what philosophy materials are available and presently in use in the best private or magnet schools.
================================
SEMESTER HIGH SCHOOL COURSE IN ECONOMICS

The following is an outline of the content for an 18 week course in Economics for high school students who have no prior knowledge of the field. It will be assumed that students will already have a knowledge of algebra, including elementary functions and graphing procedures. They should also be good readers and have taken either World History or American History so that the basic facts of economic history will be familiar to them. This course will emphasize the history of economic thought and the application of economics to public policy issues, leading to a measure of economic literacy. Economics is a popular college major, and for many students, this course may provide the introduction to the field which they otherwise would not have had.

Week 1 Introduction

A. What is Economics? The allocation of scarce resources to their highest-valued uses.
B. The concept of marginal utility. What do we mean by “utility?” What are the advantages of marginal analysis?

Week 2 Methodology
A. Human action — economics studies what people do, not what they think or say.
B. Rational choice, decisions. We assume rationality in order to simplify the model. The decision-making process.
C. Demonstrated preferences. Indifference curves. We attempt to explain behavior in terms of maximizing utility. Opportunity cost as a measure of value.

Week 3 Supply and Demand

A. Supply and demand curves. Graphic analysis with examples, exercises, research project (vary prices and plot changes along demand curves).
B. Shortages and surpluses. The “market-clearing price.” Why wage and price controls don’t accomplish intended purposes.

Weeks 4-8 History of Economic Thought
A. Use Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers or equivalent plus some short excerpts from classics — Wealth of Nations, Proudhon, Marx, Veblen, Keynes, Hayek, Friedman, Thurow.
B. Bring out the differences among alternative economic systems and their rationales — capitalism, socialism, communism, the libertarian right and left, extended families, feudalism, fascism, anarchism, etc.

Week 9 Review and quarter tests

 

Weeks 10-17 Economics of Public Policy
A. Introduction. The uses of economic analysis in public decision-making.
B. Allocating scarce resources among competing uses in order to maximize utility. The difficulties in determining social utility. Are interpersonal comparisons of utility possible?

Week 11 Property Rights
A. Kinds of property rights.
B. The economic rationale for property rights.
C. Ownership, control, and the rights of other interested parties (workers, clients, taxpayers, consumers, neighborhood effects, etc.).

Week 12 Government and the Economy
A. The rationale for government regulation. Problems and objections.
B. Alternative models of the role of government in the economy.
C. The rule-making process in a democracy.
D. What kinds of rules are practical and enforceable? General rules vs. particular interest regulations. TQM in rule-making and enforcment.
E. Rights, rules, and the influence of special interest groups.

Week 13 Economics and the Environment
A. Introduction: the economics of environmental issues.
B. Public vs. private ownership of environmental resources.
C. The tragedy of the commons. Property and conservation.
D. Pollution and depletion. Who will pay the costs?
E. Population, habitat, and food supply.

Week 14 Labor and Welfare Economics
A. The economics of wage determination.
B. Incomes policy — the distribution of income.
C. Welfare economics — Pareto Optimality.

Week 15 Foreign Trade and the Global Economy
A. The balance of trade.
B. Industrial policy and competitiveness.

Week 16 Taxation
A. Principles of taxation: fairness and efficiency.
B. Taxation as an instrument of politics and economics.

Week 17 Public Finance
A. Government expenditures. Fiscal vs. monetary policies.
B. Structuring incentives to maximize social utility.
C. Bureaucracy, public employee unions, and productivity.

Week 18 Review — Final papers and examinations.
Economics Bibliography — Materials Used, Resources

In addition to an elementary economics text suitable for high school use such as E.L. Schwartz’s Our American Economy, the following materials may be introduced. Individual students or teams may wish to pursue a particular work or issue in greater detail.

Books:

Heilbroner, Robert H., The Worldly Philosophers.

Smith, Adam, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

Mill, John Stuart, On Liberty.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friederich, The Communist Manifesto.

Keynes, John M., The Economic Consequences of the Peace.

Harrington, Michael, Socialism: Past and Future.

Hayek, Friederich, The Road to Serfdom, The Constitution of Liberty.

Lovins, Amory, Soft Energy Paths.

Galbraith, John K., The Affluent Society.

Friedman, Milton, Capitalism and Freedom, Free to Choose.

Schumacher, E.F., Small is Beautiful.

Thurow, Lester, The Zero-Sum Society, The Zero-Sum Solution, Head to Head.

Periodicals:

The Economist Newspaper, Ltd. (weekly, published since 1843 in England.) Originally the house-organ of the free trade movement, it was established to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.” Weekly newsmagazine of record for the global economy.

Medicaid Expansion: HELP-Mixed Mission ensures failure  (last edited Aug 1, 2016)

Green Libertarianism, Health Care

The following was an attempt to respond to Sen Buttrey’s “HELP” act to expand Medicaid in Montana.   I’m publishing it now in hopes of maybe somebody who is a “Republican” or “Conservative” will have some inkling of how such principles might be applied to a universal public health care system, or several optional alternatives.  –PHS, 7-14-17.  Bastille Day

HELP-Mixed Mission ensures failure  (last edited Aug 1, 2016)

“The cost of health care will never go down- that’s a given….”

I’ve long maintained that a couple of good economists could, in a matter of days, design an excellent health care system on any scale which would be far less expensive and more comprehensive than anything proposed, today. Medicine is now run as a “business” rather than a public necessity, like police, fire, the military, or whatever – the core “institutional infrastructure” of a humane and sustainable society. And so, it is entirely the business (and even financial interests) of the “stakeholders” which is under consideration.

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I’m watching a rebroadcast of the MT Health Care Forum which took place in Great Falls on Dec 3, 2015.  This is a project of the Montana Health Care Foundation, which is funded by the buy-out of the formerly non-profit Blue Cross-Blue Shield when they were “acquired” (with no objections from State insurance regulators) by a for-profit Chicago outfit which now does business in 41 states, I think they said.

Anyone could have attended this “forum” by “enrolling” at a cost of $65, or some such thing. I had thought of going, and I would have learned a lot, as these rebroadcasts demonstrate. I feared, correctly, that it was basically a PR deal to “explain” the new HELP law which provides an insurance-style Medicaid Expansion for Montanans (or, rather, for the Montana medicine “industry”). And very strangely, the recordings of the proceedings have been considerably edited, in such a crude fashion that most people might suppose it was “technical difficulties” of some sort.

Much of the difficulty was in the convoluted and often contradictory statements and discussions among the participants, which resembled the Legislature hearings we’ve become used to in recent decades, where neither side cares to address the real issues, but instead blames the other party for “obstructionism” or whatever, with a lot of coded terms basically expressing contempt for each other, and for the population in general.

Most of the video was as much as several minutes out of sync with the sound, and large portions of the discussion were available only to lip-readers, which could have been intentional. Most video recorders automatically sync the sound with the pictures – they’re all on the tape or disc as separate “channels” or whatever. So, to create a tape like we were shown had to be intentional. The machines simply don’t work that way, or fail to work with that result.

So, immediately the whole HELP program comes under intense suspicion, as it should have long before someone like the CEO of Benefis, Mr Goodnough, was appointed to chair it. And Mr. Buttrey, whose previous businesses were involved with military contracting, proved himself to be an expert in government-funded bureaucratic protocol, but little else. Most of the same perverse incentives in the welfare system are perpetuated, along with the premise that any low-income person only needs to get a paying job in order to “pay back” whatever welfare services and funds she has received, and thus become “independent.” Good luck with that. The only way for a poor person to be independent is to live on the streets or otherwise outside of “government programs.”

It’s like watching the Regents Meetings or the State Board of Public Education meetings, both of which appear on this same HVCT station in Helena which broadcasts Legislative hearings, the MT Supreme Court, and various other public interest events and programming. To listen to these “legislators,” lobbyists, and corporate stakeholders try to come up with a workable solution is painful beyond description. Sometimes, they have public hearings, or public comment, but that usually amounts to some lesser stakeholder pleading his or her particular interests, not an attempt to actually come up with a workable system.

The Republicans decide everything in caucus, at the behest mostly of ALEC and other monopolists while the Democrats rely on the “professional class” and public emploee unions whose careers and livelihoods are utterly dependent on an expanding state bureaucracy. Therefore, we are presented with plans and “choices” which never amount to more than which of the above will “get the contract” or otherwise reap the fruits of their lobbying and “corporate sponsorships.”

Above all, never allow the “other party’s” plans or policies prove successful. We really have a government of sabotage rather than constructive public policy. We could see this most clearly with the Republican’s visceral hatred of Barak Obama, making sure than nothing he could claim as a “victory” would work, or encourage anyone to vote Democrat in the next election. Seriously, this is the bottom line for nearly everything Congress and our State Legislatures do. They are not parliaments; they are “Legislative Exchanges” where laws are purchased like the sausage they are often compared to.

There is little or no “access” for alternative ideas, policies, or programs, like the Green Party’s Single Payer, Medicare for All programs or some sort of National Health Service which would provide basic healthcare to all at sliding scale fees. Although there is a lot of support for small-scale, cooperative schools and other institutions, the big teacher’s unions, School Board Associations, and even such local businesses as bus contractors retain an iron grip on the large-scale factory-style (and increasingly prison-style) monopoly State Schools.

To call them “public” is laughable. Every year dozens of parents in Great Falls find their kids marginalized, punished, abused, and otherwise treated like they were criminals and prisoners, not young minds being shaped for some sort of healthy and sustainable future – one, incidentally, which does not require a local nuclear strike force to “save the economy.”

If medical products and services were properly priced, without the monopoly protections they now receive, most people would be able to afford them, and “insurance” would be nothing more than a small charge and required examinations and follow-ups to make sure that people were getting the health care they were paying for.

The present disaster is, in part, a legacy of the battle between Church and State. It needs to stop right now. If the State is going to use public money for things like education and health care, which are fundamental to our individual and social well-being, then it must provide fairly and equitably to those who may support differing “education” or health care philosophies and practices.

I’ve long maintained that a couple of good economists could, in a matter of days, design an excellent health care system on any scale which would be far less expensive and more comprehensive than anything proposed, today. Medicine is now run as a “business” rather than a public necessity, like police, fire, the military, or whatever – the core “institutional infrastructure” of a humane and sustainable society. And so, it is entirely the business (and even financial interests) of the “stakeholders” which is under consideration.

These “stakeholders” turn out to be, not the doctors, nurses, and patients utilizing the health care, but some 3rd party bureaucrats and for-profit “insurance” companies as well as huge and powerful Drug Cartels who have no concern with the medical aspects of their “business” at all. They are simply corporations with a lot of monopoly power which is fungible. The more they rip off the customers, the government which funds health care, and anyone else, the more their stock rises, and the more valuable they are as a corporation.

If a small company invents a new miracle drug (as recently happened with a cure for the previously incurable Hepatitis C), it is quickly taken over by a hedge fund or some other non-medical entity which then charges “the market price” for a treatment which costs them $200 to make, for something like $70,000. And this even happens with old drugs which are still under patent, as we learned with an AIDS drug which used to sell for $17, and after being “aquired” by a Hedge Fund (whose manager is now in jail for various financial frauds) now sells for $thousands, and there is no shortage of lawyers and public policy “experts” who will defend this abuse of “property rights” and the totally fictional idea of “intellectual property,” which belongs to those “fictional persons,” corporations, which now own and control practically every part of the government and “the public sector” in general.

When Darwin and Wallace argued over who “discovered” or first enunciated the Theory of Evolution, it wasn’t over “property rights.” It was over intellectual pride, and such “rivalries” rarely resemble the popular dramas based on them. Often, the protagonists are good friends, and freely recognize the other’s contributions. The very fact that there’s a word, “evolution,” indicates that the process was very well-understood since Aristotle, at least..

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HELP is our new state (Montana) Medicaid Expansion program, and it differs significantly from what was envisioned in the ACA which most other states have adopted.

It was Ed Buttrey from Great Falls who actually put the package together and got enough Republicans to support it as a “conservative approach” to Medicaid expansion, meaning it is corporate-run (by the now for-profit “Blue Cross/Blue Shield”), and still maintains the structure of the “insurance model” of micromanaging the cost and appropriateness of every particular drug or medical service being billed. And it includes premiums and co-pays, which are anathema to the whole idea of Medicaid, even if they are quite reasonable, which they are.

Had the HELP program been offered independently of the ACA , it would have been hailed as a major “reform” toward something like the Canadian Single Payer system, which has the highest approval rate in the world, or did until the Neo-cons “introduced” private insurance and other rackets into the Canadian system, plus letting a third or more of their government-trained doctors and nurses move to the US where they could earn 2-5 times more.

Medicare and Medicaid are “socialized medicine”, which is public provision of medical products and services. Medicare and Medicaid are considered “Single-payer” systems, meaning that that the state or other government agency pays the providers, out of general tax revenues or out of some special tax and funding allocated to that purpose.

Although this is often contrasted with “Single-provider” systems (Britain’s NHS) which most developed countries maintain, this is the old view of “socialism” which is centralized and directed by some sort of planning board, rather than being “market-directed.” Medicare and Medicaid are very “market-driven”, or would be if any sort of competition were allowed between the various providers. Wherever there is a healthy multi-provider “marketplace” for medical products or services, prices stay reasonable, but there is a strong financial (and political) incentive to create monopolies and reduce services, while always raising costs which are separated from real costs across the board.

Instead, under our present system, the government reimbursements through Medicare and Medicaid are largely determined by the providers, and the amount of graft and false-billing is huge – not to mention the “false billing” done by every provider for the products and services they provide. The best luxury hotel suites in the world cost less than the typical hospital stay, which can hit a million $ in a few weeks for what used to be considered routine illnesses which simply required long hospital stays.

There is no relationship between prices and costs, and most of the profits are plowed back into corporate deals which further restrict competition and increase costs. Even staff and services are often cut in these “deals” (like the Benefis merger of two century-old community hospitals) – not to improve service, but to cut costs in accordance with the Enron-style Arthur Andersen plan they were sold as Boards, with the support of the School District (probably their largest customer, paying well), the Chamber of Commerce, and the military/retiree communities who need the services the most, but have access to all the VA facilities and Base clinics.

There was a huge organization of all sorts of people to oppose this dastardly scheme. More than 200 doctors testified against it. Everyone I knew in the peace and justice movements opposed it. The only people who favored it seemed to be the Deaconess Hospital Board, chaired by Dr. Gelernter, a psychiatrist known for his use of electro-convulsive “therapy” in the 1970’s and before.

Somehow, Arthur Andersen had gotten in the door, and had a “plan” which promised to reduce health care costs while improving “profitability.” It was a major point of contention, since both hospitals were profitable (how could they fail to be?), low-cost, provided a lot of charity care, etc. But the Columbus, run by the Sisters of Providence, gave much better service – especially to the Native American community.

I’m not even sure that the name “Columbus”, which had become unpopular and a symbol of slavery and oppression, didn’t have something to do with it. Plus, the newly-merged Benefis was actually run, under some sort of contract, by Providence Health Services, the umbrella organization, and still Catholic, so the “threat” of abortions was averted, or moved to a neighboring building. (Another major complaint against the Deaconess was that it provided therapeutic abortions, while the Columbus didn’t, so there was an alliance between the Right to Life evangelicals and the traditional Catholics).

It turned out they were all fooled. After a decent interval had passed, Benefis announced it was pulling out of Providence. OK, so give us the Columbus back. No way! It’s a done deal. We’ve already taken out the ER and OR. It’s an annex with professional offices, now, and a treatment center. Sorry! It went to court or mediation, and Benefis ended up paying the Diocese $10 million (for a facility which the whole Catholic community relied on) to shut up about it. And of course Pope Benedict was happy to sign – it actually goes that high – probably some Vatican functionary, not anyone listening to the local Priests or faithful.

We should all remember that virtually every doctor, every patient, every family who had contributed to the Deaconess and Columbus endowments (now controlled by Benefis) opposed the “merger.” And every clerk and janitor who worked for these hospitals could count on its care for themselves and their families should they fall ill. Not so anymore!

Remember what the word “hospital” is supposed to mean? It was like that. And any sick or dying person could just check in, under a doctor’s care. You didn’t need to prove you had “insurance” – which, if you did, was a sure ticket to getting vastly overcharged. Only the wealthy wanted or needed insurance. The rest got what they needed – health care.

In effect, it was “socialized medicine” in the same sense that the Catholic Church is “socialist.” And one hospital was owned by the Church, while the other was founded by Brother Van (along with 12 others around the state, and more than 100 Methodist Churches.) The main point is that their “mission” was to heal the sick and reduce suffering – “harm reduction” – which is also the first principle enunciated in the Hippocratic Oath – “Do no harm”.

“Obamacare” was attacked as being “Socialist” mainly because people are forced to participate in it, and the workers bear the full burden of a system which costs at least 4 times more than it should. If this is “socialism”, only the insane will want to participate in it, unless they’re Democrats, and told that this is the price they must pay for supporting the first African-American President.

What’s wrong, then, with this “charity” model for health care? The rich would like better quality, so they don’t want to be in “the charity ward”. They want to go First Class. But, no, everyone wants to go First Class. The reality is that NO society, system, “insurance plan” or any other “provider” of health care services is going to pay for everyone going First Class. And since the physicians and other health care managers and providers make the most money off of the present system, it’s not likely to change – especially if you put them in charge of changing the system. How many times have we learned that lesson in Montana (without, however, learning anything)?

 

 

 

 

Before Television – BTV

Green Libertarianism, Young Person's Guide.. chapters

What Have Computers Done to Our Minds?

A brief discourse on technological progress

BTV = Before Television

My own early childhood was part of the last generation to develop its consciousness before the advent of television. I did not experience television until I was six years old, and we didn’t own one in our home until I was nine. More importantly, all of the adults in my life, including parents and teachers, were raised and educated BTV – before television. Television, and then computers, the internet, VCR’s, DVD’s, and the national corporate media have completely changed our consciousness during the past 50 years, and this New Age of electronic media closely parallels the rise of science fiction as literature and the obsession with an alien presence, here. The effects have been highly political, drastically changing the economic, social, and cultural life of nearly everyone in this country who is in any way “plugged in” to them.
Few Americans now in their teens or 20’s, unless they have lived in a remote place, have experienced anything like the personal freedom, connection with nature, and sense of local community which I experienced as a child. Is this really a problem? No, because it has no solution. It is a change which we can make ourselves aware of, and in certain respects compensate for with our personal lifestyle choices. What we need to do is understand both the positive and negative implications of these changes, and attempt to direct our individual and community lifestyle choices in a healthier, freer, more natural and humanistic direction.
Some parents have actually made the choice of having no television in their homes, encouraging reading, crafts, and hobbies of the same kinds which nearly everyone practiced when I was a child. Others have opted for high-tech, internet-based home schooling, intensive sports programs, music, dance, skating, art, and other kinds of private or group instruction, and so forth. Forming an intentional community of some sort (most are religiously based, but that needn’t be the case) is highly desireable, both for the nurturing, health, and sanity of children, and to maintain the sort of lifestyles which are good for people of all ages. But the vast majority of Americans simply haven’t done it, and aren’t about to do it.
If you were raised in the average environment of public schools, lots of TV and video games, computers, Top 40 radio, fads in clothes, cars, hair, and gadgets, you will probably see no reason to make any radical changes in your lifestyle. You are probably interested in having a good job, owning your own home, marrying someone you love and with whom you share many or most interests and aspirations, and raising children to be pretty much like you are. This book might lead you to question some or all of these goals, and to re-think or make some better choices. Whatever happens, I have tried to provide some alternatives to the present assumptions which underlie American society at the beginning of the 21st century. This book is more for those who are unhappy with the current state of affairs, and wish to head out in some different direction. It is only by defining and understanding where we are, today, that we can even think about being somewhere else. These are personal choices which all of us must make for ourselves.

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A Brief Discourse on Technology

We live in a highly technological age, and virtually no part of the world is free of its attractions and liabilities. Even the most isolated and “pre-industrial” civilizations now rely on automobiles, power boats, farm machinery, and now, of course, computers, cell-phones, and every other kind of modern technology. And every nation, no matter how poor or disadvantaged, wants to spend an inordinate part of its national income on military, police, and other repressive and destructive institutions. More than 70% of our “foreign aid” over the past century has been devoted to military and “internal security” purposes.
The U.S. government spends 20% of its budget on direct military spending; another 20% or so on interest on the national debt which is almost entirely attributable to past military spending; and another 10-15% on health care, pensions, and other services for veterans of past wars. At the same time, spending 1% of the budget on aid to families with dependent children was considered to be an unconscionable waste of the taxpayer’s money, and 50 cents per taxpayer spent on support for the arts, and another 50 cents for public broadcasting are under continual attack by “conservative” senators and congressmen.

I. The Abuse of Science, Sociology, and Mathematics

In defending a radical, logical opposition to today’s technocracy, it is important to distinguish the human uses of new science and technology from its abuses. Most of the criticism of technology and techno-think is directed towards its rampant abuses, not its utilitarian values.

The primary abuse of physics is the nuclear arms race. The primary abuse of rocket science is an ICBM nuclear arsenal (which I live next to here in central Montana). The primary abuse of economics is its role as apologetics for the multi-national corporate aristocracy. The clearest abuse of mathematics may be seen in the actions of another Montanan-by-choice, Theodore Kaczynski.

If we include theology, then its abuse may be seen in monotheistic fundamentalism, whether Christian, Islamic, or Judaic; and its resulting conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere based on putting one faith above nature, and creation as a whole, in being “the one true faith” and the only accurate representation of God’s scheme of things.
Is it wrong (“Satanic”) to teach children calculus and quantum theory? Evolution? The Marxist theory of historical development? Of course not! Should we attempt to indoctrinate our teachers and schoolmasters in some particular faith or ideology? Or should we encourage diversity and choice? These are the vital issues surrounding another great abuse: the abuse of education by brainwashing, “training for capitalism,” racism, imperialism, genocide, or whatever. Liberal education, it would seem, has suffered even greater setbacks than liberal politics or religion.

What about high-tech terrorism based on our utter dependence on massive, energy intensive machines, buildings, and other accessories of civilization? As this is being written, we have just witnessed the first major, successful attack on the 48 states since the War of 1812, accomplished by 18 men armed with pocket knives, but in control of 4 airliners which were used as guided missiles against some of our tallest and most important government and financial buildings. The death toll is now estimated to be approaching 7000 — more than Pearl Harbor and the Titanic, combined. (A few years later, we know the 9-11 death toll was some 3500, and at least 2 of the four airliners are believed to have been shot down or otherwise disposed of by our own military forces. The strike on the Pentagon is now believed to have been a military aircraft or missile, not an airliner. And instead of 3500 deaths, the number has now multiplied to millions of casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world as a consequence of the U.S. “response.”)

In the 1970’s, a movement known as “appropriate technology” emerged, led by counter-culture leaders such as Stewart Brand, who founded the Whole Earth Catalog and associated enterprises and publications, and E. F. Schumacher, a British economist and former bureaucrat in Britain’s state-owned coal industry who wrote a charming little book called Small is Beautiful which became an international best seller. The gist of this movement was that we need to free ourselves of technological domination by governments and large corporations by regaining control of our economy, our tools, and “the means of production.” Children of the upper middle class “dropped out” to form rural communes, urban collective businesses, schools, community centers, and all sorts of other humanistic, more or less anti-corporate and anti-technological endeavors.

Much of the recent policy debate between advocates of “appropriate technology” and those who believe that no one should attempt to control its development and evolution centers around this question. In the 1930’s, there was an explicit political movement – the Technocrats – who believed that all social problems could be “re- engineered” by science and technology to correct or eliminate them. Much of Nazi ideology had a similar “scientific” aura and rationale. Marxists called their system “scientific socialism” to distinguish it from the softer “social democrats” or “Utopian Socialists” – a term which Marx originated. Yet, his followers would also rely heavily on the French tradition, with its Phalanges and rule by scientists and engineers.

The classical Liberals – the laissez-faire, free trade, rule of law, parliamentary democracy advocates – often had a different view based closely on emerging evolutionary biology. A healthy society must not overprotect its weakest members; captains of industry are like ecologic dominants, evidence of the perfect working of the principle of the “survival of the fittest.” Technology, for them, was just one part of this process. Clearly, we must leave entrepreneurs free to develop and experiment with any and all technology. We must protect their right to exploit their discoveries and inventions, a principle which was later severely questioned by libertarian purists. Since studying their arguments, I have been able to find little social value in granting monopoly protection to most scientific patents and discoveries. Although “trade secrets” and the fruits of well-financed research and development programs are known to be keys to success in the marketplace for new technologies and products, the fact that pharmaceutical companies spend far more on advertising and promotion of their products than they do on research indicates their arguments in favor of monopoly profits resulting from patent “protection” are bogus.

In the United States, the latter position has obviously had the upper hand for the past couple of decades, if not before. Although the American natural environment is less ravaged than Europe’s or the heavily populated parts of Asia, we now lag behind the rest of the world in international initiatives to address global ecologic problems. Indeed, we are as reactionary as the Vatican or Islamic Republics on many of these issues – especially those pertaining to population control.

Clearly, we must begin to address such issues as overpopulation, land use, and non-renewable resource exploitation sooner rather than later. The human species is rapidly approaching some form of negative utopia in which life has lost all meaning, and in which the physical conditions of most people’s existence has again fallen to a level of barest subsistance on a day-by-day basis. All the advances of science and technology, the arts, culture, and human understanding will be swept away in a radioactive holocaust, genocide by genetic engineering, and total management of all information sources and political responses. This happened under Nazism and Bolshevism, and can just as well happen under a theocracy or rule by some other rigid, rigorously-enforced ideology. We may also be reaching the point where for a great many people, violent revolution carried out by small, autonomous groups (AKA “terrorism”) is seen to be the only practical recourse.

Americans have traditionally preferred fighting to switching. We remain an essentially warrior culture – something which all the liberal panaceas in the world will not change. They can weaken us, or deceive us temporarily, but eventually we will rally to face any threat – foreign or domestic. We have finally “met the enemy, and they are us,” as Pogo so cogently put it.

We’ve got a tiger by the tail, to use another metaphor. If we let go, it will turn and rend us. If we hold on, we will be dragged to our death. We can continue the American vision of post-World-War II global supremacy – a program no one understands or wishes to pursue any further – or we can let go, and find ourselves immersed in a seething caldron of nuclear terrorism (which we invented) or the Old World imperialistic struggles for resources and territory, as well as religious wars (which we tried to avoid, but have now finally caught up with us).

We Americans have the distinction of having supplied the nuclear technology to make what has always been a hopeless struggle into one which threatens human civilization, itself. We may, indeed, be recognized by future explorers and archaeologists as the civiliation which destroyed itself – Western, Christian, Scientific, Humanistic civilization. If any people survive, they are likely to be at the very margins of today’s scientific, technological civilization, uncontaminated by its technology and values.

II. What are Computers Doing to Our Minds?

When I first encountered computers on a direct, personal level, I was a graduate student in philosophy, with special interests in what was then called “cybernetics”, philosophy of mind, and the relationship between human and machine thinking – the field now known as “Artificial Intelligence.” Although I soon found myself both out of school and unemployed, the subject continued to interest me. I had been working as a computer operator in a large computing center of a prestigious, research-oriented university – UCLA – where I had recently graduated and was facing the choice of continuing my education there, or moving elsewhere in pursuit of an academic career. The choice I finally made was neither; instead, I quit school entirely and returned to Montana, vowing that I would never again take a course for academic credit.

Part of my revulsion was based on my research in the economics of education, and the seeming counter-productivity of most formal schooling. The rest was based on a then common fear or suspicion of technology, although I was more scientific and better-trained academically than most of the so-called “counter culture.” My newly-acquired knowledge of computers and how they were becoming ubiquitous and essential to the American way of life made me wonder just where we were headed, and as an avid reader of science fiction, I was very future-conscious and future-oriented.
I was especially concerned about the computer’s role in government, for I was also a political libertarian. The libertarian left (much of which is also called “anarchism”) was beginning to shape my thinking about social philosophy. It was just at that time in my life that I was familiarizing myself with that rarified part of the political spectrum where left and right overlap, and for those who find themselves in this territory, the history of our political life can easily seem to have been one long, unmitigated disaster – the gradual erosion of a free society into an empire or other elitist, totalitarian state.
The idea of governments armed with massive, powerful computers regulating, structuring, and evaluating the most minute and private aspects of our lives filled me with horror. I knew that we were living in an age of declining freedom and social morality, overpopulation, environmental degradation, and the imminent danger of complete annihilation from nuclear war. We were losing, or had already lost, the ability to plan and determine the course of our individual lives. It appeared that governments everywhere were becoming totalitarian.

Computers were an obvious tool for oppressive governments, and at this time, governments were the main impetus to computer development. The very first computers in the United States were actually built to do the numerous and complex integrations required for artillery trajectories. Later, they were to be employed in the Manhattan Project in the development of the atomic bomb. The first commercial builders of computers could hardly imagine any business applications, and estimated that only a dozen or so computers could ever be sold — mainly for record-keeping functions, accounting, and the like. Thus, digital technology remained primarily a government domain for a decade or two, where tax collection, the census, and similar functions might provide a likely application for magnetic or other coded information storage, and electronic data processing.

Military applications proceeded apace. It was widely believed in the late 1960’s that the main benefit of the Apollo Program (to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade) was the impetus it gave to computer development and design. Because governments had ordered and paid for their development, generally for purposes of defense and scientific research, engineering of weapons systems and other military and aerospace applications, computers were not yet recognized as a means of personal empowerment.

Those of us who worked in computing centers soon found that we were empowered simply by our access to computers. This was where the really smart people worked, and in order to continue our work, we had to adjust to an authoritarian setting, knowing universities were the least oppressive and most amenable to creative, divergent thinking. We became something like a new priesthood, serving the machine-gods who had become a sort of oracle or Divine Presence. If you’ve seen the original film of “2001, A Space Odyssey,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Although no such computers existed in the late 1960’s, the fear was already there, and by 2001, “virtual reality” and the internet far exceeded those earlier predictions.

If you were an engineering or science type, you designed, built, and thoroughly understood digital technology. If you were a business type, you may have sold computers, programmed them, or otherwise employed them in your business planning and administration. If you were an artist or an academic, you could begin to computers to create new patterns of light, line, or sound; or in research, which might be textual analysis of a great novel, or to decipher ancient, previously untranslated texts.

If you were an urban planner, computers would prove very useful, and economic planning was supposed to have been revolutionized by the development of computers. In short, almost any field was open to the development of computer programs which would inevitably change the ways we worked, solved problems, and carried out the everyday tasks of production, distribution, and the applications of theoretical knowledge and information to our everyday lives.

In the late 1960’s, the personal computer, so far as we knew, did not yet exist — even in the science fiction where most futuristic technology first appeared. Shows like “Star Trek” had a ship’s computer which could answer questions (this was even anticipated in a charming 1957 film called “Desk Set” with Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn). But the impending horror of a totally centralized, computerized and thus “regulated” society seemed to be the real prospect we were facing. In the epic science fiction novel Dune, by Frank Herbert, computers have been outlawed in that distant future, feudalistic civilization, to be replaced by human “mentats” – carefully trained logical thinkers who could evaluate complex data and make probabilistic predictions from it.

Thus, the decade or so before personal computers became widely available was the last time that a principled – if hysterical – opposition to the further development of computers and their intrusion into our everyday lives was expressed. Student radicals had actually taken over university computing centers (including the University of California, Santa Barbara, the year before I began working there) and in one case, totally destroyed a large, multi-million dollar system at a Canadian university. For awhile, working in a computing center could be seen as “hazardous duty” – even on a university campus! Ted Kaczynski’s so-called “Unabomber Manifesto” expresses this period and thinking very well, although in a rather convoluted and distorted fashion, representing the mental state of the author.

The computers we used in those days should be described for the benefit of younger readers who’ve never seen a computer which wouldn’t fit on a small desk or in a briefcase. The IBM 360/91 I operated cost more than $5 million ($35-40 million in today’s dollars), and filled a large room – perhaps 1500 square feet, carefully air-conditioned, and kept immaculately clean. The computer itself (CPU – central processing unit – and RAM, or Random Access Memory) was water-cooled with a radiator system holding more than a hundred gallons of distilled water. RAM then cost about $1.00/byte, so that a 4 MB (4 million byte) memory like we had (one of the very largest in use at that time) cost $4 million in 1969 dollars, and was most of the cost of the entire computer system. Now, it would cost about 10 cents per MB, and a giga-byte or more is commonly found on a chip about the size of a postage stamp inside of a flash drive or on a memory card.

In the 360/91, 4 MB filled several large cabinets roughly the size of supermarket coolers – roughly 4 X 4 X 20 feet. They contained millions of wires and transistors, which had to be hard-wired into place. The original memory location “bit” was a bead-sized doughnut of ferrous metal with three wires going through it. A current along one of the wires would magnetically polarize an individual doughnut either positively or negatively. The other wire would reverse the polarization, changing a 1 to a 0, or vice versa. The third wire was a “read” wire, to tell the CPU whether that location was presently a 1 or a 0. All “binary” digital computers work on the same principle, but today’s hardware looks very different, and billions of such “doughnuts” are microscopically “printed” on a single memory chip.

Similar developments can be seen in graphics, programming, speed, and “user-friendliness.” To use a computer for any obvious task then required hundreds or thousands of hours of “programming”, usually in the form of mathematical symbols or formulas. FORTRAN was the language of choice. Crude word processors, graphics displays, music synthesizers, and remote terminal access were just then being developed. The business “spread sheet” was practically unheard of, but CAD (Computer-Aided Design) was beginning to be used in engineering to do routine and repetitive calculations, and to graphically display drawings of parts or whole systems.
Computers were also used in accounting (payrolls, billing, inventories, etc.). In fact, this last was by far their largest commercial application, usually in banks, insurance companies, and other large corporate enterprises. Soon, very large offices which had once been filled with rows of bookkeepers with adding machines (like Jack Lemmon in the 50’s film “The Apartment”) were replaced by a single mainframe computer and a cadre of keypunch operators.

What is now called a “data entry clerk” was then a “keypunch operator,” for that is exactly what they did. Instead of just “scanning” in data from barcodes or whatever (they were also just then being developed), the “keypunch operator” typed in data or program codes on punched “IBM cards” – something which today’s computer users may have never seen. I still find old ones placed as bookmarks in some of the books I owned at that time. They were also good for taking notes.

As a single line of characters was typed along the top of the card, a coded sequence of holes beneath it translated the characters into “machine language.” This consisted of a set of electrical impulses corresponding to the codes punched through the cards, generated as the cards were run through a “card reader” and thus transferred into computer memory.

All computer programs were at some point “keypunched” on these unwieldy cards. Each card contained a single line of code or data in a computer program, and a typical program might use boxes of them, at 500 to the box. Keypunch machines and card readers were very expensive, and prone to failure. A typical academic computer user might hire both a programmer and a keypunch operator if there was much programming and data to record.

The impact of the Apollo Program could be seen very clearly in the computer center where I worked at UCLA. IBM made less than 20 360/91’s like ours, and NASA owned most of them, and used them in the Apollo Program. In fact, I had the pleasure of watching the live television coverage of the first landing in the Sea of Tranquility from the machine room of our own 360/91. All the rest were bought by large research universities, including Stanford and Princeton. UCLA had two – one for general use, and the other for its large biomedical research facility in the School of Medicine.
Silicon chips were the technological breakthrough which in the early 1970’s made every previous generation of computer immediately obsolete. Instead of being a large bundle of wires and transistors, very slow, and very costly to manufacture, any microprocessor could now be more or less photographically “printed” on silicon wafers at a scale so tiny that powerful microscopes were required to see the circuits and junctions. Random Access Memory (RAM) chips containing 4K (4000) memory locations were soon developed, and reduced in cost to a few dollars apiece. Thus, the greatest expense in making computers was drastically reduced.

By the mid-1970’s there were single-chip CPU’s or “micro-processors” such as the Motorola 6200, the Zilog Z-80, and later, the Intel 8086 – the first processor used in the IBM PC or Personal Computer. RAM chips “grew” every few years by a factor of four: from 4K to 16K to 64K to 256K to 1MB to 4MB, and so on. Now, 256MB costs less than $50 as part of a “memory board” that can be plugged into a personal computer (2006). Today (2017), you can buy a 32GB USB memory stick (“thumb drive”) for about $10.

“Silicon Valley” sprang into being, and beginning with the Apple, the powerful desk- top personal computer became a reality. Since that time, the formula, known as “Moore’s Law” after one of the founders of Intel, has been that each year, a given quantity of computing power and speed will cost 30% less than it did the year, before. This is a rapid rate of development which probably cannot be sustained (they said that ten years ago, too) but it is a tangeable form of “progress” which has never been equalled in all the history of technology. Even Henry Ford’s remarkable reduction in the price and availability of automobiles by mass production pales in comparison.
III. The Idea of Progress in the Evolution of Digital Technology

The Idea of Progress, an issue dear to the hearts of important thinkers in the mid- 20th century, seems to have been stood on its ear in what can now only be called “the Cybernetic Revolution.” It’s already over, or in its final “set a long-term course” phase, and many believe it will almost cease to be an issue in the new Millenium. I concur with this prediction. Technics do, indeed, shape civilization and all its art, culture, and intellectual content and direction. Many seemed to understand this in mid-century. My father read books and journals at that time, when I was growing up, and there were sarcastic references to “an air-conditioned nightmare” and a nation of imbeciles “dumbed down” by television and other commercial mass media.

The same Louis Mumford who wrote The City in History and Technics and Civilization also wrote an impassioned plea for nuclear disarmament, In the Name of Sanity. Bertrand Russell provided a similar humanistic perspective tempered by fears for a future dominated by Stalinesque leaders with nuclear arsenals. Yet, the wonders of technology, exemplified by the slogan “Atoms for Peace,” became a dominant theme in popular and commercial culture during the 1950’s. The United States attemped to become, again, the Empire it had abandoned two centuries before. The “100% American” of the 1950’s took more pride in his nation and its recent victory over tyrants and dictators, even as our leaders were protecting and installing tyrants and dictators around the world. The 1950’s, like the 80’s and 90’s, was an age of upward mobility and professional success – suceess being counted mainly, but not exclusively, in material terms. Much of popular culture was reinforced and enhanced by a Yuppy-esque pursuit of wealth and beauty.

Yet, everyone was not benefitting equally or proportionately. Here are the roots of the Black Revolt in the 1960’s; the peace and social justice movements which accompanied and reinforced a larger Third-world Liberation and anti-colonialist impulse. It is to this post- war period of euphoric ambition – the GI Bill and the amalgamation of the working class with intellectuals – that we can also trace the roots of the Counterculture in the Beats and Jazz scenes who were predominantly ethnic (i.e., of non-British ancestry).

Whenever we visited foreign countries, or listened to fine arts and educational radio and television, we understood how limited American popular culture had become – how the “melting pot” had consistently denied our individual characters and heritage, leaving us a rootless, history-deprived society. In our family, religion got much of the blame for this, even as we respected and encouraged the moral foundations of traditional Christianity and western European civilization.

It was in this context that computers emerged. The classic film “Deskset” (mentioned above) with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn is one of the few brilliant insights into the effects computers were having on our daily lives. The fact that it was made in 1957, which is extraordinary, qualifies it as “science fiction,” for there was then nothing like this computer in existence. Basically, the story describes a computer programmed with all of human knowledge, and thus becomes an infallible source of truth and guidance – a kind of oracle which exposes and makes fun of contemporary American culture. The ironic title, Desk Set (sub-titled “His Other Woman”) reminds us of our own obsession with the latest desk-top computer technology. Although this computer was not a desktop, it became the accessory of a “smart working girl” and her greedy boss.

Now, the Internet has become the oracle for all knowledge and information, the “world-wide-web” which connects all the computers and data-bases in the world! Computers are the one known area where the technology has actually exceeded the wildest expectations and imaginary machines of the most optimistic science-fiction writers. In contrast, we are still far behind the science fiction standards in robotics and propulsion systems – even with respect to what was written half a century or more, ago.

IV. How lives changed at the Dawn of the Cybernetic Age

The largest threat posed by computers was evident to me from the beginning (say, 1970): what would they do to the way we think? Students from “Third World” underdeveloped countries often remarked that computers posed a real dilemma for those of them who were learning science or engineering with the help of computers, but planned to return to their own countries and do their work without computers later on. Even the pocket calculator was yet to be developed, and those who didn’t have computers could only look forward to doing calculations with slide rules!
People in their 50’s and older may remember the large $30-$50 logarithmic slide rule, with 20-30 different scales, and carried in a leather holster like a large sheath knife by the rather awkward-looking science and engineering students. The handwriting was on the wall when I could go to a campus lost-and-found auction and buy as many of these antiques as I wanted for two or three dollars apiece!

If we were to become dependent on computers, what would happen if the computers were somehow not available? Obviously, this was a real problem so long as computers filled large rooms and cost millions of dollars. When I returned to Montana in 1972 and lived 30 miles from a city, and the same distance from any usable computer, I called the phone company and asked what it would cost to install a phone line that could handle a remote computer terminal. It would have been necessary to extend a private line (our normal rural phone used a noisy 8-party line not well-suited for modems!) for about 8 miles, at a cost of several thousand dollars per mile – not an economically feasible proposition. In fact, the Mountain Bell representative seemed amused that anyone would even consider such a thing.

Another aspect of this dependency was observable in the computer centers where I worked. Those who were really dedicated to the newest incarnation of the God of the Machine often seemed to lose other aspects of their humanity. Staring fixedly into CRT displays which more resembled oscilloscopes than modern color monitors; forgetting to eat, wash, change clothes, and otherwise interact with friends and families; these “hackers” turned out to be next year’s millionaires or literal “rocket scientists”. Some went mad, or disappeared into the counterculture, never to be seen or heard from again.

We know, now, that this was a form of addiction, or obsessive-compulsive behavior. Denial was a large aspect of the problem. I can still remember a young man, ambitious and clean-cut, who over several months turned into a kind of Dr. Jekyll before our very eyes. On one occasion, his aging father, an immigrant from some European country, came to the computer center to rescue his son from the infernal machines which had somehow captured his soul. All entreaties were in vain, with the old gentleman finally leaving in tears, leaving his son to complete the work of genius he was performing.

Anyone wishing to deal with computers had first to deal with the new priesthood of the Cybernetic Age. They resembled Ross Perot. Even the lowliest technician from IBM wore a three-piece suit and tie to the shop in the back of the machine room, where the coat might be hung on a chair and sleeves rolled up, but vest and tie stayed on. One could have easily mistaken them for FBI agents. They knew nothing about programming or what the computer was doing, but they had the ability to locate, replace, or adjust any defective part or mechanism in what was undoubtedly the most complex machine ever built. Basically, they were glorified mechanics, usually trained in the military or according to a military-style regimen.

One of my friends wrote an article for an underground paper entitled “Cyborgs” in which he “exposed” this new class of machine-bound humans. Even a person driving a car, he maintained, is a cyborg – half human (or less than half), and half machine, plunging headlong into an unknown future which, when contrasted with the “flower children” of the 1960’s, began to resemble H.G. Wells’ future technocracy of Morlocks in The Time Machine. But most social criticism of the dawning Cybernetic Age was restricted to the infuriating unresponsiveness of trying to deal with computers, and the form-letters which they were already generating in a blizzard of meaningless paperwork. Someone would get a bill or other document from a company or the government, and assuming that it was from a real mind and a real person, would call or write to straighten out the problem. Soon, the unwitting customer or client would discover that no person had written or even seen the letter, and that the problem would be identified as a “computer error” for which there was likely to be no redress or adjustment very soon.

“It’s the computer” became everyone’s favorite excuse for mistakes or inaction. This was the time when the phrase “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate” became a cliche’ – not with respect to people, where we sometimes hear it today, but with respect to one’s phone bill or other document, itself a punched “IBM card” which would at some point have to be read at very high speed by a card-reader, the slowest and weakest link in the flow of “information.” Any damage to the card might cause a jam in the card reader or loss of valuable data.

It was at this point that some of us began to see that computers were not just machines, but harbingers of the beginning of a new era in culture and belief; that computers had already become the newest oracles of what we now might call a “virtual” religion; and that we should properly speak of computer theology rather than computer science.

There was also an ecological aspect to all this. The evolution and proliferation of computers constituted an ecological system, subject to most of the same rules identified by the investigators of living systems. There were many extinctions and dead-ends in the evolution of new computer species. And some lay dormant for years or decades until someone figured out a way to utilize them.

The “mouse,” for example, was developed by Xerox in the early 1970’s, but didn’t become a common feature of computers until a decade or so later with the advent of the Macintosh. The punched card technology became entirely extinct, as did many other forms of data storage and retrieval. Dot-matrix printers replaced the costly and complex line printers, only to be superceded by laser and ink-jet printers which continue to become cheaper and better with each passing year.

But it was the advent of the personal computer which totally changed the game from one of centralized authority and superstition to the age-old American ideal of individualism and “do it yourself” technology. Once computers became affordable to the average professional or working person, the mystique was gone. Although computers no longer seemed to pose the same totalitarian threat they had, before, other potential dangers lurked in the shadows.

For one thing, computers in the workplace were not entirely the labor-saving devices they were intended to be. They may have saved certain kinds of labor costs for employers, but they also imposed heavy costs on many of the users, including the still-controversial effects of CRT radiation and the damage to fingers and tendons (carpal tunnel syndrome) from long hours of steady typing, uninterrupted by inserting paper, erasing, or other more natural and spontaneous movements once required of typists.
In terms of labor relations, many once-salaried and low-pressure jobs became piece-work nightmares, in which each worker’s productivity could be precisely monitored and measured. Slower typists were demoted or fired, regardless of their other talents or value to the firm. Those who refused to become “computer literate” found their employment opportunities severely curtailed.

As computers became more and more essential – not only to the completion of repetitious typing or calculating tasks, but to the creative end of business, such as design, layout and typesetting, and the robotics found in manufacturing – the standards for products and productivity improved or increased at what seemed to be an accelerating rate. Those who could use computers effectively had an immediate and enormous advantage over their competitors who could not. Soon, it began to appear as though computers were becoming a kind of magical “answer” for every workplace or industrial problem.

The marketers and vendors of computers and computer accessories became the new prophets of the cybernetic religion. In government and other large-scale institutions, the rate of mechanization and replacement of already advanced and successful technology snowballed, costing hundreds of thousands of jobs with little or no increase in productivity or service to the clients or customers. Somehow, the American way of doing business was no longer proving to be effective, and was being replaced by an attitude which began to see computers and other high technology as ends in themselves, regardless of their negative impacts on the average person.

V. The Idea of Progress – Computers

The message we’ve been sold is that everything is getting better every year – just like the machines, themselves. More computers means a higher standard of living. Ever more costly and complex gadgets are somehow believed to have improved “the quality of life.” Yet, most of us cannot afford to upgrade our equipment every couple of years, and re-learn the software. Most of us couldn’t even figure out how to program a VCR, until screen “menus” (again, based on micro-processors) simplified the process to the level of a complete idiot.

But more love and care is not being put into products, yet. “Quality control” is still seen as primarily a technological or economic issue – not a matter for human aspirations. “Efficiency” is no longer the Puritan virtue it once was. It means, instead, dehumanizing the workers (or the customers) for the sake of corporate profits. It means cutting public services by governments, not improving them. Being “cost-effective” doesn’t mean that we should get maximum value for our money, but that we should spend a minimum of money for anything except our own immediate material desires – the next generation of gadgets, in other words.

Talk to college business students or recent MBA recipients and you are likely to be in for a shock. Not only are most of these people not knowledgeable about philosophy, the arts, or broader community issues; in most cases, they are not the least bit interested, either. They hope to make a lot of money for themselves, so they can then purchase “leisure,” apparently. Or gain power over others, attract suitable members of the opposite sex (as many as possible, it would seem), or perhaps just become “rich and famous” so that they might be featured on some TV “lifestyles” segment.
They’re not actually interested in enriching their lives and minds, or improving their cultural awareness, and certainly not intersted in helping others to do so, or in creating a society in which all may achieve and prosper. In fact, most of them seem to think we’re playing a zero-sum game, in which one person’s gain must necessarily come at someone else’s expense. Our victory must mean someone else’s defeat – hopefully someone of a different race and culture. Ultimately, it become a “casino model of society” or “party culture,” where self-destructive behavior makes a few people rich and comfortable at tremendous human costs to a much larger number of people.

Fortunately, computers are no longer restricted to a wealthy elite. They may, indeed, become the “great equalizers” and the ultimate expressions of an Open Society in which no one group or faction can control the future, or abuse those with less power and influence. Although I am not inclined to use computers more than is necessary and beneficial, I feel fortunate, indeed, to have a small, affordable computer which performs all the functions which are useful and beneficial to me. It is, indeed, an empowerment tool of great flexibility and utility. The fact that civilization reached the high level it did before they were invented is almost more miraculous than the fact that computers were invented at all, and perfected to their present level.

VI. Cyber-linguistic Socialism

How do we explain the fact that the American people and our intellectual and moral leaders have virtually no standing in the policy decisions of this country? If it is truly the case that the most legitimate and pressing issues are not even on the table, or have been long since discarded from active consideration, how do we explain this fact, or maintain our illusions that we live in a society with principles, and that the democratic process actually works to bring forward the best ideas and policies?

Of course, we can admit that we no longer have a democracy, and that the corporate media refuses to consider or discuss the real issues of poverty, racism, sexism, the nuclear threat, envirornmental crisis, or whatever. Even when they do discuss these issues, there is a nearly complete censorship in their reluctance to publish certain writers or schools of thought.

Now, thanks to the internet and a new wave of popular activism bolstered by other telecommunications including public broadcasting, cable, CNN, C-SPAN and various other channels and networks, all of us can publish and read exactly what we like. With all sorts of related progress in the epistemology of political rhetoric and action, a true participatory democracy is beginning to arise. Is it enough, yet, to swing an election? Sometimes, in some places. But more importantly, it is changing the consciousness of the average news reader or viewer; changing the media, itself; and changing the way that elected officials manage or “coordinate” government functions and public policy.

Amazingly, all of this has not much shifted the balance between right and left, which was already very heavily weighted towards a more or less constantly rightward-moving Center. The Internet, itself, is a scientific, academic and political instrument, developed under government contracts in support of defense research and other kinds of academic, scientific endeavors like the National Science Foundation, NASA, and a number of other agencies and institutions. Soon, it would become a library resource, publisher of academic journals, a medical management tool, and so forth. Computers had been developing concurrently to serve all the various academic, scientific, business, consumer, and entertainment functions, and it was a natural development in “cyber-ecology” to expand the WWW to encompass all these applications, and many more, besides.

But few imagined, or had any idea, what the political consequences might be. With the advent of the personal computer, most fears of a computerized dictatorship were tossed out the window. Both Right and Left saw in computers a means of personal and community liberation, and perhaps even the demise of the giant nation-state and centralized governments of all kinds. Legislators could immediately access all the research, news, and opinions they could possibly assimilate, and the public consciousness became a concrete, quantifiable reality which could be “studied” and interpreted with a pseudo-scientific exactness which brooked no argument or refutation.

It is now possible to have national referendums and town meetings to decide every kind of issue, and some progress has been made in that direction, but there is little progress, yet, in actually moving in the direction which socialist or social democratic activists might favor.

The fact is, there is now probably two or three times as much Right-wing activity and propaganda on the WWW as there is Leftist, and the class division, which made computers accessible to the professional class long before working class people hardly knew what they were, has had grim consequences politically.

But it is in education and the media that computers have had by far the greatest social impact. How terribly insecure and impermanent our young people must feel, seeing yesterday’s most glamorous technologies thrown on a junk-heap of the obsolete and over-costly. For the educated and elite classes, it is Brave New World — light, sexy, and scientific. For the working poor, it is 1984 — bleak, frightening, and dictatorial. Meanwhile, there is a growing incidence of irrational violence and other destructive behavior directed not at the system, but at anyone and everyone within reach.

These “flavors” — entirely refuted and unwanted — have nevertheless come to dominate our national consciousness. In spite of all the technological savvy, greed, and ambition, there is very little critical thinking or what the Right calls “Secular Humanism” (academic, scientific, progressive philosophizing) going on in either our public or private media and education systems.

So what is our new paradigm of cybersocialism going to look like? And what sort of education systems and media will it foster and maintain? What I discovered as an economics student (most interested in the history of economic thought and comparative economic systems) is that the science of economics has defined its own boundaries so narrowly that it is up to social philosophers (who hopefully thoroughly understand economic theory) to actually define the ends of human civilization, and the means to attain them. Thus, any sort of economic system is essentially meaningless and irrelevant unless it reflects a deeper set of social values and (natural) scientific understanding. That’s why work of people like Noam Chomsky and other progressive, humanistic Leftists is so valuable, and so under-appreciated in our centralized, totalitarian corporate state.

 

The Alien Contingency (1999, 2001)

Nuclear Issues, Young Person's Guide.. chapters

This essay reflects a lifetime of being interested in science fiction and the possibility that alien species from Outer Space have visited Earth and influenced elections and other human events….   When I started putting together a book, “A Young Person’s Guide to Life, Love, Art, and Philosophy,” this was one of the first topics I wanted to present.  I’ve updated a few of the references in here, but it’s basically the same as what I saved in 2006.   I’m posting individual chapters, here, in case the book is never finished or published….  Paul Stephens, June 28, 2017

The Alien Contingency (1999, 2001)

In arguing with “true believers” about flying saucers, alien invasions, and a future in which intersteller wars between different species and cultures may come to pass, a number of interesting contingencies arise. Personally, I acknowledge the possibility that alien cultures, more advanced in science and technology than our own, have visited earth, and may still be here, observing and altering the course of human history in various ways.
What probability do I place on this being true? At present, I conjecture that there is about a 1 in 7 chance, or 15%, that this is true. There is also the possibility that life on earth was “seeded” here by aliens millions or billions of years ago, rather than having spontaneously evolved from materials indigenous to earth. The second conjecture depends on the first, but the converse is not the case. Life may have evolved independently on earth, and only recently come to the attention of extra-terrestrial species who were attracted by our nuclear explosions or high power radio transmissions (mostly television and radar, which could have already traveled about 60 light years into space).
This estimate, entirely free of scientific evidence, statistical or other mathematical derivation, is a very rough guess based on my reading of science and s+cience fiction, and the credibility of the evidence which various people put forward to “prove” either that aliens are here, or that they couldn’t possibly be here. No doubt the estimate will seem overly generous to many professionals in the field (even those who strongly believe there is life in other solar systems are very doubtful that it could have ever traveled to earth), while it will seem drastically conservative to those who are totally convinced of an ongoing alien presence.
If I had ever personally observed flying saucers, or had the experience of alien abduction, I would undoubtedly give the alien presence a much higher probability, which is why I stress that this is a personal estimate, based upon my own personal experience. Tens or hundreds of millions of dollars are presently being spent on such projects as SETI ( the “search for extra-terrestrial intelligence”), although most of it is now privately funded, since Congress decided this was an unconscionable waste of the taxpayer’s money. It seems unlikely that such projects would continue if it was already certainly known that extraterrestrials are already here, and our government is spending billions of dollars in studying, preserving, and reverse-engineering alien spacecrafts and other technology. Yet, there are many highly educated and experienced people who will claim that this is true. I hope to include some comments or analysis from such people in this chapter. [See attached PDF – AlienConting-ET&Sci-Tech]

What I am wondering, and intend to explore in this essay, is whether or not the alien presence is a contingency which is taken seriously in national security planning. It drastically changes the nature of defense policy, for example, if we are to prepare for an alien invasion, rather than merely an attack from some other human nation – no matter how large and powerful it may be. In fact, it changes the whole picture so drastically that it seems clear either that nothing is being done about this contingency at all, or that it totally overshadows all other defense considerations.
For example, even though space-based defense systems, large nuclear arsenals, and sophisticated laser and other “ray gun” or electro-magnetic-pulse (EMP) weapons are totally useless (and potentially suicidal or “doomsday”) defensive weapons if deployed against other human nations, they may be entirely rational and necessary if deployed against an impending alien invasion. Of course, it would be up to the defense authorities to somehow prove or demonstrate that such an invasion was impending – something they are neither willing nor able to do, at least publicly. Yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if a great deal of military policy and research, development, and procurement of advanced weapon systems is actually based on this idea.
On the other hand, it is virtually certain that we will eventually have a global nuclear war – with nuclear winter, destruction of the ionosphere, a proliferation of mutations and the degeneration of the gene pool (both human and for other species) along with other genuine threats to our very existence as an ecosystem – unless we dispose of our nuclear arsenals before that happens. It is almost as certain that we will have plagues and famines resulting from biological warfare and genetic engineering killing billions of people unless we control these technologies along with nuclear weapons. Further exponential population growth and environmental degradation also threaten our health and well being in a much more obvious and direct way than any potential alien invasion.
Yet, even these more tangible and human-caused threats seem to be largely ignored or denied in our real-world policy-making efforts. And it is a non-partisan or bi-partisan kind of denial. When Democrats controlled the Presidency and Congress, they were no more interested in ending the Cold War, disposing of nuclear weapons, and removing the causes of war than the Republicans are, today. There are too many jobs, corporate profits, and “national security” issues involved to let this happen. Indeed, whatever programs and treaties once attempted to address them have been put on the back burner. They have become politically inexpedient, and any major candidate who focuses on them is likely to lose the next election, largely because of negative news coverage and biased polls which misrepresent the issue and then misinterpret voter interest in it. (See the chapter “Fads and fallacies in the name of Democracy”).
Better, perhaps, that we consider alien invasion as a kind of generic disaster scenario. At least it has a following in Hollywood – something the anti-nuclear movement hasn’t had since Jane Fonda retired. Perhaps, as Jung suggested, alien contact is only a metaphor for a human-caused crisis (the nuclear arms race) or disasters. In a similar fashion, George Lucas’ Star Wars became a generic term for space-based weapon systems and a revival of the nuclear arms race among human nations. As long as we keep thinking in these terms, and each successive generation is imprinted with images of space flight and combat with alien species, we will continue to spend the billions of dollars and risk billions of lives in an enterprise which is so stupid and improbable that we can hardly conceive of its actual costs and consequences.
Whatever the case may be, a 15% probability of an alien presence is not enough to focus a nation’s energies to meet that threat. But it is certainly worth a lot of research and contingency planning. The chances of a serious nuclear accident, in any given year, are supposed to be about 1 in 50 (historically, it has been about 1 catastrophic accident every 10 years, any one of which could have precipitated some larger nuclear exhange in one of many “doomsday” scenarios). The chance of a nuclear war being started more or less by accident is approximately the same. For some of us, this is far too great a risk to take, when the consequences may include the extinction of the human species.
A similar logic could apply to the presence of aliens. Even if there are some, the chances that they are hostile and mean to destroy us are much less than the probability of their existence and presence here. Perhaps there is a 1 in a 100 chance that we are actually being threatened by hostile aliens. Or 1 in 10,000. Without concrete, reproduceable evidence that we actually face such a threat, any calculation of probablilities is sheer guesswork and speculation. If there are such beings, here, it would seem prudent to treat them as though they were welcome, and attempt to establish peaceful relations with them, rather than immediately assuming they are some sort of hostile force. But that would be a strange reversal, at least for American diplomacy and “foreign policy.”
One can’t help but wonder whether the nuclear arms race, itself, has been stimulated by a fear of alien invasion. For those who were fans of the short-lived television series Dark Skies, or more successful series such as The X-Files or Earth, Final Conflict, these contingencies have already been worked out in fiction. Dark Skies interpreted “post-Roswell” history as being largely the consquence of alien infiltration and intervention. President Truman, according to this account, started the war with the aliens by refusing to surrender unconditionally in a meeting at Roswell, and then ordering the alien emissary’s ship destroyed. Thus began an alien infiltration into the highest levels of government, and the show subsequently dramatized the Kennedy assassination as being alien-caused. Finally (the show was cancelled after the first season), they were portrayed as being at large within the government as a kind of CIA-like underground, manipulating government policies at home and abroad. A similar conclusion was reached in the X-files TV series and subsequent feature films.
This is the issue which concerns us, here. What political methods and policy options are available to those who would resist such an alien takeover? In Earth, Final Conflict the Taelons attempt to peaceably acquire a benign and wisely scientific hegemony over earth. Unfortunately, they, too, are threatened by another species in an intergalactic war, and there is much deception and intrigue in the effort to recruit human soldiers and adapt them to warfare in interstellar space. At first, humans are genetically altered to be “companions” to the Taelons. Later, under a secret program which the “good Taelon” Da-an opposes, large numbers are altered or created as warrior clones and other secret operatives. A resistance grows to overthrow the Taelons, leading to a situation where earthlings and resistance leaders are making contact with another alien species at war with the Taelons. A few years later, it is the “Twilight of the Taelons”, who are running out of their vital energy, and threatened by yet another alien species.
All this makes an interesting story, but it is little different from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds written nearly a century ago. It was viruses or other micro-organisms which destroyed the Martians, and we would probably do just as well to rely on such natural obstacles to alien colonization, ourselves. In any case, there is no use planning for such contingencies in the absence of any evidence that they might happen. It all begins to sound like the ritual to keep away elephants, which was later judged a success due to the fact that no elephants have appeared.
If we can solve our very human problems of the nuclear arms race, environmental degradation, plagues (whether human-caused or “natural”), and overpopulation, we will be doing very well, indeed. But it wouldn’t be the first time that preparation for a war which otherwise would never have happened has been the cause of war, genocide, and otherwise undreamed-of devastation and human suffering.

Aliens, 9-11, and the War on Terror

The text of this chapter so far was written in about 1999. Now, it is September, 2001, and we are experiencing the immediate aftermath of “the attack on America” by 18 Islamic “terrorists” who commandeered four airliners, crashing three of them into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. The film, Armageddon, has been released in the interim, in which a number of asteroids and large meteors hit the earth. In some of the scenes, skyscrapers in New York City are destroyed in a vision so much like what we have just seen in the nightly news that people have remarked about the similarity. This has nothing to do with aliens (we’d have to go back to the War of the Worlds film from the 1950’s in which several Los Angeles landmarks are destroyed by alien ray-guns to make that connection), but the fact remains that science fiction often seems like prophecy when compared with current history.
Nearly every science fiction plot, today, has something to do with aliens. Its the one unifying theme, and the source, perhaps, of most of the popularity of this genre. What is the significance of this fear of aliens? Is it merely a transposed fear of the outsider, the foreigner, and thus a kind of xenophobia? Now, we actually have legitimate sciences concerned with this issue – exobiology, and the like. We routinely sterilize spacecraft and quarantine their crews, lest they bring back some alien microbes which could wreak havoc on our bodies since we have no immunity or resistance to such organisms.
Paradoxically enough, Congress and the Defense Department have eliminated nearly every kind of “Search for Extraterrestrials”, flying saucer research, or whatever. Yet, many professional, experienced and legitimate ex-government or military people claim that “Area 51” in Nevada (said to be the repository of alien remains and technology) exists, and that much of the recent explosion in advanced technology was obtained by “reverse engineering” from flying saucers and other alien machines. The unwillingness of governments to even admit the possibility of this alien presence may be due to political pressures of various kinds, or simply the requirements of mility secrecy. If there actually were such programs and the alien presence they imply, wouldn’t there be widespread panic based on the failure of the government to protect us?
This is one of those issues which will not be resolved by any sort of idle speculation, no matter how sophisticated. Either there is an alien presence and the government knows about it, and is keeping it a secret in order to use these technologies and the threat of hostile alien action to further restrict our freedom and well-being, or it is being made up by some sort of cadre of people, in or out of the government, who hope to stampede the country into war, dictatorship or other harmful outcome. Who knows?
My position, and that of this book, is that we don’t need a “national security state”, and creating one acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy to create the very threats which the national security state is supposed to counter. Whether the imagined “enemy” is aliens, terrorists, or “godless communists,” the consequences are pretty much the same. We lose our political self-determination, our individual rights, our freedom of expression and association, and our national wealth and human resources are channeled into weapons of mass destruction and a militaristic regimentation which has by now become entirely politcally and socially respectable. For the past year or two, and in recent days, especially (following “the attack on America”), I have witnessed an astounding change in young people These changes included a surge in enlistments in the military, a marked tendency to become politically right-wing and nationalistic, and believing implicitly whatever we are told by the media and those in authority.
For those of us who came of age during the Vietnam War and the social revolutions of the 1960’s and 70’s, this is inconceivable, and it is for this reason, primarily, that I have undertaken to write this book. We must continue to “Question Authority!” and otherwise maintain our mental, spiritual, and material freedom and independence from government and the agencies of coercion and repression which are constantly being expanded and marshalled against us. We will have more to say in other chapters about the education system and the co-option of the youth culture, and their roles in creating this vast reversal in youth consciousness.

Law, Legislation, and Liberty: Hayek’s enduring contribution to political sanity

Green Libertarianism, Hayek Studies

What is “legislation”, and do we really need more of it?

Five maxims for state legislators

I was hoping to give some advice to state legislators, who have been fed a toxic brew of corporate lies and propaganda by an organization called ALEC since the 1980’s. These are some of the same people I knew as Young Republicans. I didn’t like them, then, and needless to say, having more wealth and power has not improved the quality of their leadership and “model legislation. ” So, here is the “anti-ALEC”:

1. Even if you run as a Republican or Democrat, do NOT join or participate in your local party organization. You don’t have to. You don’t even have to join your party caucus in the legislature. Call yourself a public servant, and that’s it.

2. As soon as you have been elected, declare yourself free of party influence, and instead, form a local coucil of people from your district who voted for you, and who are known to you as being honest and public-spirited.

3. Learn some basic economics. This is easier said than done. If you’re a “liberal”, you’ll end up thinking that Keynes was God, and that perpetual deficit spending is the only way to prosperity. If you’re a conservative or otherwise “free market,” you’ll be told that welfare is evil, corporate criminals are your only friends, and the only people responsible for “creating jobs” and “balancing the budget”- unless you happen to live in a military town, in which case you’ll be told that the more money spent on weapons and killing people, the better-off we’ll all be.

4. Military people tend to see everything in military terms. They can’t conceive of a society which isn’t dominated by military discipline and “order.” They can’t conceive of a world without “enemies”, and the duty of a soldier is to kill anyone the President and Congress designate as “enemies.”

Congress has abdicated its responsibility, over and over again, to maintain cordial relations with other nations in the world. The President and the “secret government” behind him is totally subservient to military lobbies and “strategic thinking” based on “Mutually Assured Destruction” and “Full Spectrum Dominance”.  And it’s like pro-sports. It’s all about “us vs. them” and maximizing profits. Legislators must take back their constitutional authority in this respect, and refuse to allow state troops (the National Guard) being deployed on corporate missions to loot and destroy other countries overseas. Several states have alreay done this, and there is wide public support for it.

5. Simple sanity. This is another standard which only a few understand, and many misuse or mis-represent. For example, you don’t give psychoactive drugs to school children. If they need drugs, they shouldn’t be in school, and the schools should certainly have nothing to do with cooperating in such a program.

Public Schools and Universities – the importance of choice and moral values

Any group of parents, for any reasons, should be free to educate their own children in their own way,  with the same taxpayer support which the large prison-schools receive. We already reimburse local school districts according to attendance, so we can just as well pay alternative schools for the students who attend them. Whatever “regulation”, testing, or other standards are needed may be applied, to make sure that they are real schools or other learning places, and real learning is happening, with the full participation of the parents and students, themselves.

Although many might object, the decision to give taxpayer money to private, religious schools is “normal” and “reasonable.” Most other countries with large independent school systems also support religious schools, and deciding what are “real religions” and what are merely “cults” is difficult. The large, “consolidated” public schools, although they sometimes work well, only do so if they have the full support of the parents and local communities. In today’s fractious climate of corporate gang warfare and suppression of any and all free inquiry by authoritarians of all stripes, a bureaucratic, centralized, rule-bound public school bureaucracy is nothing less than the final stage of dictatorship.

Health Care and Social Safety Net

One thing that still puzzles me is pricing and other cost-accounting for government, taxpayer-provided services. Like health care, there is no provision for ordinary people purchasing what they need in an open market. It’s all about monopolies, licenses, corporate lobbying and extortion, med school bottlenecks, Federal programs and kick-backs, vast disparities in pay even among those who work in the same fields, etc. How did we ever get to this? Who can possibly believe that this kind of system is workable or good for us?

Basic primary care is very cheap – even if doctors are paid $200K a year. With nurse practitioners, who make somewhat less, but may be better primary care providers, it costs even less. We needn’t get into the thorny topic of medical politics and elitism – apparently, it’s always been that way. But we know that real health care (as opposed to the “health insurance” racket) is charitable, spiritual, and otherwise real medicine and “hospitality”, not some sort of protection racket which says: “Your money or your life.” “No insurance? No credit? No shoes? No service.” “There’s a hospice across the street. They’ll let you die, there.” “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

And with this kind of “system”, we pay anwhere from 2-5 times more in the name of health care (most of which is simply stolen or extorted) than any other country, and we’re the least healthy in the whole OECD (the so-called “developed world”).

=====================

Background: Hayek and the Rule of Law

Friedrich Hayek, who visited my neighborhood for about 5 months in 1968, wrote a very good book at that time called “Law, Legislation, and Liberty,” published in three volumes by the University of Chicago Press. By some dialectical perversity, I actually sat in on and got credit for the initial presentation of that work in a UCLA philosophy seminar. They didn’t even put professor’s names on our transcripts in those days, so everyone here thinks I made it up – obviously I couldn’t have studied under such a famous conservative – or counter-revolutionary, to some of my Marxist friends.

There’s a lot more to it than that, and why Hayek should have been there, doing that, at that time. His title, which no one now remembers, was Visiting Flint Professor (of Law, Philosophy?) I don’t know who Flint was – I should google it, but UCLA was ranked 4th in the country, then, in Legal Philosophy, and there were a couple of professors who also taught in the Law School. I was an economics-philosophy major, and later tried being a grad student in philosophy, which only lasted two quarters, during which time I took psychedelics and became “enlightened”. Professor Yost and other senior faculty actually taught “expanded consciousness” with such texts as William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience as well as the more recent psychedelic literature, which by then inclulded Aldous Huxley, the Beats, etc. Woodstock Nation was being born at that very time, and of course LA and UCLA was one of the hubs of this New Consciousness.

The fact that I used psychedelics AFTER studying with Hayek totally negates his influence, right? The slate was wiped clean. But they don’t really change you that much – especially in an academic setting. We used to say that the only thing psychedelics do is bring out the “real you” – they liberate us from our family and cultural biases and presuppositions, although we quickly learn that most of what is old, is good. Experience matters. So, nothing much really changed except that we became more “old fashioned”, “folksy”, or otherwise “down home,” (and anti-science and technology, in many cases) and those of us closely tied to the land and a particular regional history soon returned home. “All the Buffalo Returning,” so to speak.

About the first thing I did when I returned to Montana in January, 1972, was request a catalog and application from the UM Law School. In part, this was due to my having been “profiled” (as a hippy), arrested, charged with spurious crimes, and otherwise fallen victim to an “establishment” which I had previously thought I was part of. I had been Vice President of the Bruin Young Republicans. I was a libertarian. I read all of Hayek’s books in anticipation of his coming to UCLA. And after these seminars, I really understood what “the Law” is, what is good about it, and what is wrong.

Briefly, Hayek’s view was that there are two kinds of law – Nomos and Thesis. One is “exogenous” or imposed from without by “authority”. The other is “endogenous” or internal, built-in, etc. We come hard-wired with moral principles, which can either be accentuated and reinforced by parental guidance and childhood experience, or negated by that later “training.”

The English Common Law is a good example of how people, over centuries, establish the rules and principles for civilized and harmonious living. This is the real Law. The stuff that legislators do is purely administrative – how to tax, provide public services, “provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and ensure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

The two kinds of law are very different, yet in the American system, they are totally confused and conflated. And “coalitions of organized interests” (Hayek’s expression) control the Congress and State Legislatures almost totally. So, what we needed (and still need) is a Constitution which recognizes these two kinds of law, and keeps them separate.

Hayek proposed a two-house Congress in which the House of Representatives would be the main unicameral “legislature” or Parliament, and another “Upper House” would be something like the British House of Lords, in which members would be elected for life (at the age of 40, and only by their own age-cohort – the other 40 year-olds in that year). This body would deal with broader issues and long-term consequences, creating overall policy and even acting (as the Lords does) as a Supreme Court determining the validity and appropriateness of whatever the main Parliament passes on.

I don’t know if Hayek ever studied the Iroquois Confederation and its system, which our Framers did. They also have a three-council government, with the “fire keepers” being a kind of buffer or referee between the other two (which could easily be geared to gender or other function – labor/capital, military/civilian, or some combination of these). I’ve long believed that we should either have a Women’s House and Men’s House, or else one man and one woman being elected from each district. For some strange reason, I’ve never met a feminst who supports that!

All of these should have been discussed in Montana’s Constitutional Convention of 1972, and I was prepared to go and participate, but not having been elected, and our neighbor Bob Woodmansey having been, I was out. I had been arrested a couple of times as a teen-ager in Great Falls. But I never thought of myself as “an enemy of society” or threat to anyone. Indeed, I was often bullied and punished in other ways for things I had no connection with at all.

By 1972, I was a political radical. But I didn’t consider myself either a Leftist or a Rightist. I was a Survivalist – something I probably learned from Boy Scouts and just growing up in a heavily militarized post WWII environment.

Still, being arrested after earning a college degree and having done some notable, worthwhile things, was a major wake-up call. Suddenly, I became very interested in the plight of the poor and minorities, as well as gays, atheists, and other traditionally persecuted minorities. What the psychedelics had done was to have removed my fears and inhibitions – “the thin veneer of civilization” which had prevented me from violating the delusions of the middle class. Being arrested and getting to hang out with murderers and mafia-types for awhile was worth a law degree in itself, and I didn’t need to go to school anymore.

Like most universities, UCLA had a large pool of acadmic hangers-on who were neither students nor teachers. They used the libraries, visited lectures, and otherwise “crashed” the system which they (correctly) believed, belong to the people. Sometimes they worked for the university (which I did for more than 2 years after I graduated). UC was tuition-free in those days, so there was no need to fight for “scholarhips.” Just having an interest and showing up was sufficient (of course, it was difficult to get admitted to student or graduate status, but not nearly so much so as it is, today. I had excellent test scores – they were APTITUDE tests, in those days, and no one studied for them).

 

 

 

Objectivity… The latest Crisis

Young Person's Guide.. chapters

OBJECTIVITY  The Latest Crisis

(edited 6-26-17)

For anyone possessing a philosophical turn of mind, it is obvious that there is something radically wrong with the way we think about social and political issues. Denial and blame have replaced most enlightened and enlightening discussion in the political realm, while the social sciences, although often sophisticated and meaningful, are rarely applied effectively within the constraints of organized government and the political process which is largely poll-driven and subject to control by a few large media conglomerates.
The fact remains that few people in public life even make the pretense of being fair-minded or “objective” in their thinking and policies. It is as though objectivity, itself, is no longer a valid goal or principle, probably because of the abuses to which this concept or criterion has long suffered. In Soviet Russia, the term “objective” became a kind of buzzword meaning something like “material reality” or “the facts, themselves, independent of analysis.” Something of this idea was imported into American thinking via the emigre novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. Although largely discredited as an academic philosopher, her influence is still pervasive and must be taken into account in any understanding of the contem porary American political/social status quo.
Ayn Rand, of course, is the originator of a copyrighted “philosophy” known as “Objectivism.” After studying and learning the principles of this closed and rigid system, most people found themselves torn between their love of freedom, order, peace and prosperity (all of which, of course, Objectivism promises to deliver) and their distaste for the actual principles and reasoning which Ayn Rand offered them. Objectivism was actually a useful part of many people’s education (myself included), and Ayn Rand was neither a bad thinker nor a bad writer, but only a somewhat warped personality. She lacked the one essential quality of a philosopher — dispassionate objectivity — and with it, some essential human qualities, including simple kindness and some measure of reverence for life, nature and the larger universe. Having grown up and spent her formative teenage and young adult years in the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, her hatred of Marxism and Communism was automatic, and her distrust of government in general followed close behind.
Her anti-authoritarian arguments are as powerful and absolute as any which have ever been made, rivaling John Stuart Mill’s, Kropotkin’s, and in many ways resembling Herbert Spencer’s and the other Social Darwinists. Once convinced of them, as I was in my own formative teenage and young adult years, one is not likely ever to change or abandon them. Much of contemporary libertarianism and even anarchism is directly attributable to Ayn Rand. That she was not an explicit anarchist is most likely due to her experiences during the McCarthy Era, and the fact that she perceived a total breakdown of authority as presaging something like the Russian Revolutionary and the resulting bloodshed and terror. She was already a Republican in the 1940 election, having worked for Wendell Wilke. Yet, if one takes literally her ideas of the sovereignty of the individual, and the necessity of a social contract, renewed and affirmed by each successive generation (and each individual therein), there is really no place for a sovereign state in Ayn Rand’s system. Much of the confusion and distress which her philosophy has caused has been based on that particular contradiction.
In concrete form, we have witnessed since the Nixon Administration the absurdity of an Ayn Rand disciple, Alan Greenspan, advising Republican Presidents and finally presiding over the funny-money system of the Federal Reserve, while Objectivism advocated a gold standard, no central bank, and certainly no Federal Reserve System, as such. How Mr. Greenspan reconciles this particular contradiction in his own mind is, I suppose, his business, but our next President would do well to find someone for these jobs who is not burdened with so many supposed misgivings.
The main issue — the discrediting of the very idea of “objectivity” because of Ayn Rand’s advocacy of it — is a much deeper and apparently insoluble dilemma. Either we dismiss Ojectivism, and with it, objectivity, as being irrelevant or counter-productive, or we “buy into” Ayn Rand’s total world-view, and with it, a total rejection of the Welfare State, welfare as such, and virtually all “interventionist” government, including subsidies for the arts, protection of the family farm, a mercantilist trade policy, the role of the world’s policeman (something which Ayn Rand seemed to support, so long as her former tormentors were still in power in the Kremlin), the protector of the environment, etc., etc.
The peculiar thing about Ayn Rand’s philosophy (and its attractiveness, obviously, for Mr. Greenspan and his ilk) is that it is emphatically pro-business! No other philosophy has so glorified the power of money and the nobility of counting and accumulating it. Ayn Rand explicitly opposed the idea that money or the love of it is the root of all evil. As a novelist, she wrote basically the same book three times, but her heroes evolved from engineers, architects, and creative artists, none of whom cared a damn about money, into the financiers and industrial magnates of the 1890’s, transposed into the 1950’s and beyond. The main hero in Atlas Shrugged, to be sure, was an inventor (a physicist-philosopher of Irish antecedents) who never seemed to want to capitalize on his genius, and thus eschewed conspicuous consumption, but he chose his friends exclusively on the basis of their material success.
For those having some background in Marxist thought, or the persistent Russian view of capitalism, all this fits into place. The real motivation of the Soviet leaders since Lenin’s day has been to make themselves into the “captains of industry” which they imagined Western capitalists accomplished by a similar process — first, by taking over the government, and then by planning (or conspiring, depending on one’s point of view) to make themselves rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else, while at the same time making the country rich and powerful, as well.
The dialectical process is also very evident in Ayn Rand’s life and career, as is the principle that ideology reflects one’s class affiliation. As a poor, struggling writer, Ayn Rand’s heroes were poor and struggling. As a wealthy, upper-East Side “novelist-philosopher” and successful writer of screenplays, Ayn Rand’s heroes tended to occupy a similar territory, and her ideas went from opposing tyranny and oppression to attempting to gain the instruments of tyranny and oppression for themselves and their friends.
I wonder that there has never been a “Marxist Critique” of Ayn Rand. The reason is probably that Marxists were quite happy with her work, while it was the real anarchists, libertarians and advocates of a free society who attacked her most vociferously. The history of this movement and its opponents is a book or two in itself, but much current history is attributable to it, whether or not one agrees with the Objectivist agenda. It is safe to say that the Libertarian Party owes its existence to Objectivism, and so does the transformation of the national psyche into an obsession with economics — the baby-boomers and their “counterculture,” the yuppies with their snobbery and (upper) class-consciousness, and the continuing superstition that the United States is “the greatest country in the world,” “a beacon of freedom and opportunity,” etc., etc. For such a radical individualist, Ayn Rand had a peculiar knack for playing to the crowd.
I hope the reader will understand that I am viewing this with a sense of wonder, not hatred or contempt. Give her credit for beating the game, even while she committed suicide with cigarettes. This is another example of the denial which seemed to dog the footsteps of the Objectivist “inner circle.” She will be remembered, while other 20th century intellectuals — more “respectable,” today — are long forgotten. Many scientists revere her for her advocacy of the scientific method and the purity of scientific knowledge. Most scientists, after all, do profess to believe in an objective reality, and practice a generic form of “objectivism” in their daily lives. Computers are likewise an “objectivist” factor in our cultural evolution — a profound “reality check” for those of us who’ve learned to use them and to think logically.
Has anyone else noticed that Objectivism (the movement) actually may constitute a kind of Marxian synthesis between State socialism and capitalism? The two are actually shown to be the same. Both are “scientific” societies, technological, dynamic, change-oriented, ruled by the strong and able, etc., etc. Both are actually quite “macho” — a rather peculiar position for a woman philosopher to take!
I remember agonizing discussions among college-age disciples of Ayn Rand in the 60’s about whether or not she hated children (since none of her major characters had them), or what the Objectivist position on homosexuality might be. What are now called “family values” got relatively short shrift in the Objectivist system. Intelligence, however, was practically divine, which proved quite an attraction for the highly-gifted who had gotten little recognition or approval, elsewhere. Some of them seem never to have thought they were grateful enough for this special recognition.
At this point, I believe that a new interpretation — a new dispensation, if you will — of the Objectivist faith is in order. We need to talk about concrete social and political principles — methods by which the real-world problems of today may actually be dealt with. Unless we expect to “bottom out” with some total collapse of the government and social order, and then to be led by the wise and good to the foundation of a better State, we’d better start breaking the free-fall and start the climb back out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves over the past 30 years. We’d better figure out who knows what they’re talking about, and listen to them.
Ayn Rand’s stuff is mostly of academic interest, since she didn’t follow her own principles, herself. Like most of us, she was somewhat confused in many ways, and unable to reconcile the reality “out there” with her own finely-developed instincts and prejudices.
It would be easier for us, now, if Ayn Rand had never existed. She actually contributed nothing of value except a vision of what the future might be, and what sort of people might lead “us” (not the masses) there. Political leadership or success in statecraft were not on her agenda, and those who followed her rarely, if ever, changed their mind about the general worthlessness and incompetence of government to serve important human needs and aspirations.
Perhaps that’s the really harmful legacy of Ayn Rand: the conviction that government is “the enemy” and doomed to be the province of the corrupt and incompetent. For those of us raised on the American frontier, with strong traditions of populism and participatory democracy, civic virtue and public recognition and esteem for the virtuous, this is a heresy of unspeakable danger and destructiveness. Our pioneer system was practically anarchism by today’s standards and definitions, but it worked, and we thought of it as “good government” and “reform.” It was the Eastern monied interests who played the bogey-men — the very “heroes” and “heroines” whom Ayn Rand glorified in her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged.
Beyond the idea of community — a concept quite alien to Ayn Rand in any case, although some have considered her positively utopian in her creation of a higher social order based on “reason, purpose, and self-esteem” — there is the international dimension. Ayn Rand seems to have caught on in other countries, too — most notably the Netherlands, Australia, and South Africa. One wonders if she might not have a following, today, in Russia! Or what might have happened to the family of Alicia Rosenbaum in the Stalinist purges? What might be Ayn Rand’s role in (or attitude about) the ending of the Cold War, if she were alive, today?
Or did it end? Are we not about to see a transition to an alliance of the left and right wing nationalists, again? Will the Communist Party have a resurgence, once the bastard form of gangster capitalism which has taken over, there, has run its course. Has everyone unlearned all the Marxist history and theory they’ve been taught over the past 70 years? It seems unlikely. Perhaps we’re still operating under the false assumption that Marxists are stupid, and that all Marxist thought is now discredited and safe to ignore.
In fact, it seems to be thoroughly vindicated in many respects. We needn’t see it as a threat. Marxists aren’t intellectually invincible, but often they are found to be much more liberal and realistic in their thinking than their bourgeois colleagues.
And what about spirituality? Here is another concept which Ayn Rand appropriated and turned to her own advantage. It’s much more common, nowadays, to think in terms of a spiritual dimension than it was 30 years ago. The purely materialistic vision has not been at a lower ebb since 1814. Even scientists have become mystics, if only because life and society are ultimately mysterious. I would venture to say that great scientists are far more playful and imaginative than political leaders, and far more effective, too, in altering the course of history. Like their medical colleagues, they have found it very profitable to be smart and specialized. But there is still plenty of room for the humanistic generalist, or pure research scientist. They are treated with a mixture of awe and wonder.
In short, the scientific community, broadly construed to include such fields as “economic science”, cybernetics, and psychology, has the best hope of saving us — our once peaceful, harmonious society — from self-destruction. Just as democratic values and an international esthetics are becoming universal, we seem to be locked into a paranoia of “us against them.” Who is them? Them are us! “We have met the enemy, and they are us!” as Pogo so eloquently put it.

From Objectivism to Technocracy

The impetus to technocracy is still seen to be a threat, and in many respects, it is, leaving us with something like a military-driven economy in every case, whether it be Nazism or Cold War communism mirroring our own military- industrial complex. There must be other ways to do it, and it needs to be decentralized, empowering, humanistic, and even holistic (i.e., respectful of whole systems and interdisciplinary concerns) to be viable. It’s very difficult to run a country, an economy, or an ecosystem by means of “scientific” planning and centralization of control functions. In fact, we can say it is impossible, if our goal is to approach some optimal social model. Total Quality Management and other “excellence” theories. The real-world practices of different kinds of enterprises have clearly shown that the old-fashioned democratic, community-based, cooperative ownership and management systems work the best.
It is important, here, to say something about goals and the kinds of organizations which can meet certain kinds of goals. Nearly always before in history, the ultimate test of a nation-state was its success in military combat. If it defeated its rivals in battle, it could dictate terms, and more or less impose its own vision of reality (and its own form of economic success) on the rest of the world, who might then be robbed of their land and natural resources or forced to pay some other kind of tribute. The ethical principle involved is an abomination: namely, “I beat you up, so now you have to do what I tell you to do.”
Among “civilized” people, the question then becomes, “Who started it?” And this question can go on forever. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the rules, and the responsibility of each nation to police itself so that it doesn’t develop some idea of power and conquest, and march forth to do damage to some other nation.
In reading about the origins of World War I in Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, it seemed to me that the greatest single cause of this (and probably any other) war was the opposition of various absurd notions of personal honor and chauvinistic “team rivalry” — much like today’s high school or college sports teams. One can say that all wars ultimately involve conquest of land (and its redistribution among the victors) and other resources. What was clearly learned from the Treaty of Versailles is that one sophisticated nation cannot morally blame and exact reparations from the defeated one. Its like making the losers pay court costs along with whatever damages or punishments are inflicted on them. Far better to the have the winner pay them, for that nation can afford to do so, and is benefitting in many other ways from the victory. This was our policy following World War II, and in most respects, it was an unqualified success.
The failure of the United States and Soviet Union to maintain their hegemony over the rest of the world is due largely to the fact that both nations are founded on anti-imperialistic principles, and dissidents in either nation would never let their governments forget this basic contradiction in their behavior. If each nation can finally began to look outward and reconstruct itself according to emerging higher standards of planetary consciousness, we might save ourselves, and pool our resources towards positively reconstructing our less fortunate, poverty- and violence-ridden neighbors, wherever in the world they might be.
It is time for a sophisticated ethics of international brotherhood, voluntarism, and mutual aid. Let us be done with the empires, and begin again to live as human beings in a common habitat on planet Earth. These are the “objective conditions” of our present social existence, and when we finally acknowledge and accept them, we may begin to re-think our political and social reality, and alter it to fit the humanistic and ecological imperatives which are becoming ever-clearer. If “human life on earth is the ultimate value”, as Ayn Rand maintained (in the non- gender-inclusive form “man’s life”), then even her version of “objectivity” has something to offer, and we can proceed to work together to improve the quality of life for everyone.
Paul Stephens

From the Nuclear Bantustan…

Nuclear Issues

Nuclear Mafias,  Cyber-nuclear Terrorism, and the limits of Full Spectrum Dominance

How do they figure that a nuclear Doomsday Machine is any sort of “asset?”

A Chinese-Filipino I hung out with for a few months in 1971 – call him Gene – taught me a lot  about the “Outsider’s” point of view. His father, part of the commercial elite of the Philippines (wholesale food production and trade), sent him to California to go to school.

One of the “gems of wisdom” he enunciated (which later proved all too true) was that “military towns are Mafia towns”, citing San Diego (where he was in the process of moving) as an example. The military demands an authoritarian, business-like culture, education system, etc. No room for radicals or independent thinkers, and some sort of “black ops” or contracted Mafia can take care of them, sparing the taxpayers and elected officials from the embarassment and expense.

Since I had grown up in such a town (Great Falls, MT, with a nuclear strike force of 200 Minuteman missiles at Malmstrom AFB, carrying up to 600 nuclear warheads), it was all too familiar to me, but I’d never seen it from “the Outside.” Although many people here opposed the preparations for nuclear war (focussed clearly by “Dr. Strangelove”, “Fail-safe” and other anti-nuclear “survivor” films and even TV shows in the 1950’s and ’60’s), there was little beyond the mainstream Catholic and Protestant peace sentiments, and they were very subdued. Any sort of “demonstrations” were virtually unheard of.  We also later learned that many foreigners (from “communist” or otherwise “hostile” countries) were prohibited from living here, and if they did, they had to register and place themselves under surveillance.  Thus, we had become “a nuclear Bantustan” on the model of South Africa.

We did have a local free press which was highly critical of this “nuclear enterprise” – the installation of the latest solid-fuel “Minuteman” missiles which could be launched to hit targets in the Soviet Union in a matter of minutes. This was 1962, when Montana Senator Mike Mansfield had replaced LBJ as Majority Leader. Perhaps that had something to do with the Minuteman being sited here – a Mission which every Democrat is still taught was a great thing for our local economy and national security.

A couple of years later, the Tribune was sold to Cowles Media (the Minneapolis Star-Tribune), which might have had a more positive view of the nuclear Doomsday Machine, and better connections to the Military-Industrial Complex. The Vietnam War, which was resisted all over the country by every tribe and class and in every imaginable venue, was basically ignored in Great Falls. We believed whatever the government told us, and no one here ever heard that our sainted Senator, Mike Mansfield, was doing all he could to get us out of Vietnam.  He would have been challenged and defeated by a Goldwater Republican if we had known.

The College of Great Falls employed a number of Berrigan-style Catholics – often Jesuits or from the Catholic Workers tradition, but even this caused a scandal. When we later organized a campaign to block new missile systems, CGF was dropped by the Air Force as an “approved” college for Missile Launch Officers to pursue an advanced degree. That was a big hit to the finances of this quiet Sisters of Providence school, and it later re-organized as “The University of Great Falls” with an emphasis on programs like pre-med, pre-law, and Criminal Justice which would fit in with the needs of local Air Force personnel and veterans, a third or more of whom were “missile cops” guarding the nuclear arsenal.

Our local “peace movement” (for a time re-vitalized in the late 1980’s by the World Beyond War campaigns) was often politically conservative and against abortion and other “liberal” causes, but Christianity is ultimately a “peace religion” at its core, and that remained. We also had a great Bishop – Hunthausen – who later became Bishop of Seattle and was reprimanded for his progressive views. Father Gregori and Ron Haverlandt were also notable peace, justice, and indigenous rights advocates in the Electric City, building on the tradition of Sister Providentia, who succorred local Native Americans for many decades, and at a time when there was little support for such activities.

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UCSB in 1971

I was working in the computer center of UC Santa Barbara in 1971, and living in the student ghetto, Isla Vista – the scene of anti-war riots and a Bank of America branch burned the year before. UCSB was the “party school” of the UC system, with beaches on three sides (mostly nude, in those days), and that was a major reason I took a working-class job there. My various attempts to form lasting relationships with accomplished people had generally failed- nearly always in the case of females- and I thought this might be a good place to gain some social skills.

I actually found the job more or less by chance, and since I already worked part-time in the UCLA computer center, it was easy to move to a full-time job at Santa Barbara – where some of the most advanced remote computing systems were being developed – the fabled “BBN Box” which became the first router, which you could “log on” to. The “N” in BBN was von Neumann, who designed the first framework for digital computers which is still used – the “Von Neumann Architecture” of I-O devices, processing, and storage in RAM and ROM form.

So, I was literally present at the birth of the Internet – both at UCLA and then at Santa Barbara, which had an NSF grant (and probably DARPA, or whatever it was called then) to develop a national network of about 10 engineering schools so they could use our relatively large and fast IBM-360-75. Big deal. I had nothing to do with it. But I was an avid Sci-Fi reader and “futurist”, although that term was itself mostly science fiction (or “prophecy”) in those days.

One contemporary film captured this well – “Collossus: the Forbin Project” in which American military computers hook up with Soviet ones and take over the world. And there was also the recent “2001 A Space Odyssey” (1968) where the computer on a space mission to Jupiter kills the human members of the crew. And there were early Star Trek episodes with a similar theme (1966-69 -exactly shadowing my years at UCLA). So, I was already well-aware of all the dangers of centralized computer control systems, and monitoring of everyone’s “transactions” of whatever kind.

It’s interesting to reflect that “machine thinking” applies to politics just as well as computer hardware. But it’s a particular kind of politics – organized, money-driven, corporate – the same structure found in any sort of dictatorial system, criminal or otherwise (and all are ultimately “criminal” in the sense of being destructive of human values).

During the Vietnam War, and in the midst of strikes and mass demonstrations, university computer centers had been taken over by “student radicals” and “peace activists” who accused them of participating in military planning and procurement, along with police state “pacification” projects, supporting Apartheid in S. Africa, or whatever crimes against humanity were being funded. In one case, they totally demolished the tape-drives and other visible stuff, while leaving the expensive “guts” (core storage, which then cost about $1 a byte, as opposed to maybe $1 a gigabyte which we have, today). A large main-frame computer might have as much as 2 megabytes of core storage (like ours at UCSB, and much of it was still the old “donut/3-wires” system – not even transistorized.) Therefore, we “long-haired computer freaks” (later called “hackers”) were in demand if there was a riot, figuring that we could talk our brethren radicals out of doing anything “stupid.”

Fortunately, no such confrontation ever happened to me. At UCSB, the leading hardware guy was right out of the Charles Manson family, but he was the only one who understood the system and could make it work. Maybe I took a hint from that, when I quit the job after less than a year, ostensibly to return to Montana to help my family.

That was when I met Gene of Manila, or maybe it was Leyte, where my father had wanted to return and start a night club after WWII. Gene was one of the most accomplished people I’d ever met – world-class chess player, a fine classical pianist, and a student of culture in general. He spoke several languages, and was an anglophile, besides. He may have been born during the Japanese Occupation, and many people thought he was part-Japanese. He was also looking for economic opportunities, and social advancement in a very strange time and place – Southern California c. 1970.

When I met him, he had already gone over to the Dark Side, joining car gangs (souped-up VW’s), dealing pot, and when I met him, in the process of joining the beach-van culture of surfers and various criminal elements. But he did it all from a very superior perspective – not someone trying to “work his way up” and finally get into “the Mafia”, which many drug dealers were doing at that time. He was trying to “figure out this culture”, which was very unsettling to him. Although he seemed very “corporate” in his thinking – “grow or die,” “expand the business”, “develop a new territory,” etc., most of his mind-set was classical Chinese philosophy and practice – something which was ubiquitous in the I-Ching-throwing counter-culture, as well as the vast proliferation of other Eastern schools of philosophy and spirituality which had found a foothold in California. Soon, Kung-Fu with David Carradine and all sorts of “martial arts” films and TV series would proliferate like another Cultural Revolution. Indeed, we explicitly thought of ourselves as being “culture freaks” rather than political revolutionaries, without any particular attachment to Mao and the Red Guards. I read somewhere that in the 1970’s, there were 100,000 “Maoists” in Norway (out of a population of about 4 million). So, it was a global phenomenon.

This was Gene’s overseas-Chinese family history (“the Jews of E Asia”), and coming from the Philippines, much of it was military and related to US Imperialism. He had come to the source, in order to better-understand how to function in “the Empire.” He had military ID. He could shop at any US base commissary. He had no revolutionary (or even “reformist”) attitudes or values whatsoever, which took me awhile to figure out. He could have been a highly-trained Intelligence officer, or maybe Counter-Intelligence, infiltrating the radical student elements in California, as well as the then-nascent drug cartels and “Counter-culture” – which seemed a real threat to “Authority” in those days. If so, he did it entirely with an “underworld” rationale and style…. like James Bond infiltrating the Mafia.

We’ve been watching gangster movies since the 1930’s. Some of our biggest, most popular movie stars might appear as an Al Capone or some other “heavy.” It tended to legitimize the whole gangster thing, reverting to a simpler boss-driven tribal society, and real-life gangsters had a lot to do with producing and distributing such films. Chinese gangsters (Tongs) and martial arts cults, along with Ninja, the Filipino martial arts (used in the Bourne films) flourished, and most of it goes back centuries, or even millenia – like our Graeco-Roman wrestling, fencing, etc.

This also explains the origins of “identity politics”. Each tribe, race, class, or other “demographic” (an accurate term, for once) is perceived to have particular interests which must be addressed in political campaigns. The Greens, for one, were supposed to have transcended that conundrum. We were for the interests of all – and for the planet and resources upon which all must live for the rest of eternity. No one seems to get this latter point, but it is the essence of all religions, as well as an open and diverse society.

Native Americans and other indigenous people tend to “get it”, or did before they were corrupted by “White Man’s Thinking.” And that is why it is so troubling to see Native Americans running for office on essentially a “White Man’s platform”, wanting nothing but more “welfare” and “federal support” for the very stuff that’s killing us – like a nuclear arsenal and continuing or expanding fossil fuel use – two policies which cost Denise Juneau the election (for Montana’s lone House seat), in my opinion. She certainly couldn’t compete in the military arena with a decorated Seal Team 6 Commander, who was very measured and sane in most of what he said.

Yet, she basically surrendered the contest to him before it had even begun, saying nothing against war or military spending – let alone the prison system, which she should have been “up in arms” about. Unfortunately, she also holds a law degree from what must be one of the worst law schools in the country – the University of Montana – which has consistantly supported all the ALEC policies to create a domestic Police State with the largest prison population (and the most lawyers, cops, and jailers) in the world. And it has expanded 5-fold since 1971.

Denise Juneau also earned Master’s from Harvard’s School of Education – something which former Dem Gov. Ted Schwinden’s son, Mike, also had, and later moved to Boston to live and work. By emphasizing these personal “accomplishments”, I can well imagine that many Native Americans didn’t care to vote for her, or vote at all, since she was still probably the best Democrat running for a major office in Montana. She wasn’t doing much for her people, but she had done a lot for the education bureaucracy and teacher’s unions, who were funding her campaign.

Ultimately, the Dem “strategists” (using the term loosely) didn’t want her to win. Rep. Zinke could do a lot more for their corporate bosses than Denise, who would follow the NEA line to the letter, and perhaps make further claims for the descendents of people illegally massacred by the Feds, in the process of stealing their lands and resources. No matter how much a Native American claims to favor strip-mining, logging, oil drilling, nuclear warfare or whatever, she’s always suspect, because those activities are the ultimate crime or sin – raping and looting our common Mother which sustains us all.

And so, a close race became a rout. Denise just wasn’t addressing the issues of importance to her own people, let alone the rest of us – peace, sustainable economy, loss of national sovereignty through trade deals and NATO, and ending corporate control of our vital institutions – especially the “criminal justice system” and our local utilities and public services (like education, libraries, public broadcasting, etc) which are constantly under assault from out-of-state (and in-state) corporate interests, as well as “government take-overs” from Washington, D.C.

That’s what no doubt “tipped the scales” from a close race to a rout. The Control Freaks always end up at the same point – they want to keep controlling us, no matter what we believe or which office we hold or organization we belong to. Worse, it’s never their fault, and whatever negative consequences follow from their desires to dominate and control us, it’s always safe to blame the victims, or some imaginary “enemies” like Russia or China.

This is, by the way, the essence of Fascism – total control of the economy and the government by corporate interests, usually with a military emphasis and a desire for war and global “Full Spectrum Dominance”, a police state at home, and prisons in place of health care, food, and housing. Amerika Uber Alles is no longer a slogan. It’s our official “Defense Posture”, and well on the way to being fully-implemented in domestic policy as well. STOP NATO. Peace Now.