Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the tag “liberty”

Egalite: A Qualified Virtue

For years I’ve pondered why the French Revolution devolved into the Terror despite the fact its values (liberte, egalite, and fraternite) paralleled nicely those of the American Revolution (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness). The answer came slowly to me with further reading (Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words We Don’t Know Can Also Hurt Us, or, Jesus Was a Liberalist [March, 2012]).  In a nutshell, the Terror destroyed the idealism of the French Revolution over the “middle” virtue, egalite, or egalitarianism.  Robespierre’s regime began labeling anyone who was different, who stood out from the crowd for any reason (greater skill at something, for instance), as being counter-revolutionary, and, as such, he/she became a potential victim of “Madam” guillotine.  In order to avoid the possibility of the “middle” virtue being elevated at the expense of the other two a la Robespierre and have such a tragic event be associated with the term “liberal,” I suggested in the post cited above the political position of “liberalist,” wherein all three virtues must be held co-equal; one or two cannot dominate at the expense of two or one.

Another horrific example of mutilating the intended meaning of egalite is the history of the Killing Fields of Cambodia, outlined from “the inside,” from personal observation, by Chenda Tom in her book He Knows The Plan, Lulu Printing, 2018, ISBN 978-1-387-47663-3.  In the 1970’s the radical left-wing Khmer Rouge group, led by the despot Pol Pot, suddenly took over Cambodia and destroyed the country’s society in the name of forcing everyone to be “equal.”  The entire population was stripped of professional and occupational designation and forced to live and work in rural camps reminiscent of the Japanese determent camps of WWII.  Khmer Rouge “soldier/overlords” allowed the sick and starving to die, as well as killing indiscriminately at any provocation they imagined, resulting in the filling of mass graves wherein countless skulls began to accumulate; over two million died, one quarter of the entire Cambodian population.  One died in the Killing Fields if one was not judged “equal.”

Over my teaching career of 40 years, both in public and private school, I was fascinated how parents expected their student children to emerge as intellectual equals, as if the high school diploma made a given student equally as smart as the next.  Many schools resisted ranking students academically, though not successfully, as colleges and universities wanted to know how applicants compared with their peers in the classroom.  Though not as egregious as the Terror or the Khmer Rouge, this resistance is also indicative of a misunderstanding of equality in the education of young minds.

So terribly can equality be distorted, George Orwell wrote the book Animal Farm as a satire of egalite and equality well before the advent of the Killing Fields.  This classic is summarized in the phrase “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Clearly, the ideal of egalite or egalitarianism needs to be qualified.

 

Our Declaration of Independence proclaims:

“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are

endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,

Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…..”

Note the Declaration does NOT say that all Men will turn out equal, just that we all START OUT equal.  Thus our society and its sub-units, like schools, are obliged to give all of us equal opportunities and rights AT THE BEGINNING of our citizenship or school, NOT at the end.  How we end up is up to us, and our government will not, presumably, behave to give certain citizens advantages over others in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; in other words, in terms of the French Revolution, liberte, egalite, and fraternite.  Exceptions to both American and French egalitarianism for all citizens are instances when the citizens forfeit their opportunities and rights given them at the beginning by violating the law — committing a crime, say.

It is like a race where everyone lines up at the same, fair starting line understanding there is no assurance that everyone will win; breaking the rules of running etiquette during the race will disqualify a runner or runners from winning the race.  The parents of school students I mentioned above are like spectators of the race expecting all runners or most of the runners to cross the finish line at the same time.  The Terror or the Khmer Rouge is like forcing the entire entourage of racers to step across the finish line simultaneously.  If the race is a metaphor of life, the Terror or the Khmer Rouge prevents the racers from “living.”

So, the United States’ Declaration of Independence and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen give the citizen a QUALIFIED equality — the right not to be handicapped at the start of citizenship and the right to achieve as much as possible without violating the rights of fellow citizens.  Chances are our crossing the finish line — making the most of our citizenship — will be a solitary one, with many ahead of us and with many behind.

Just like liberty or freedom is not absolute (We cannot do anything unlawful and/or at the expense of the liberties of our fellow citizens.), egalite is not absolute (We are equal only in opportunity and rights.).  Take advantage of your egalite if you are a citizen of the United States or France; your rights and opportunities at the start are indeed the same; how and when you cross the finish line is up to you; if you do your best, you can celebrate the finish line regardless of how your finish compares with others’.

 

As we physicists like to say, “That is the theory.”  Often theory and experiment, or theory and practice are far from being the same.  Ideally, the movement of establishing equality in the newly formed United States would begin as soon as the American Revolution ended.  Just look at the history of women and of African-American former slaves in the United States to see how far from ideal was the progress of egalite in our country.  Slavery was not abolished until 1863; women were not able to vote until 1920, after WWI; widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community did not enjoy the protection of law until the 21st century; reparation to Native American communities did not begin until well into the 20th century; women still do not enjoy equality with men in the work force; xenophobia seems to trump xenophilia still as the reaction to immigration into the US.  The road to equality in the USA is still filled with roadblocks of misogyny, racism, sexism, xenophobia, traditional unjust entitlements, and irrational, a-historical nationalism.

As inertia-filled the movement toward equality is, the good news is that there has been reformist progress — the liberal spread of rights and privileges despite conservative resistance — in our country over the last 242 years.  I do not know enough modern French history to know how liberal reform and progress in the brain-child of the French Revolution compares, but I think France can make similar claims.  I am sure that in the long run both countries have avoided the horrors of Robespierre and Pol Pot — avoided the distortions of an unqualified egalite.  Just remember, you two countries, keep all three, liberte, egalite, and fraternite, equally important and equally strong.

RJH

 

Dealing with Donald, or, A Citizen’s Survival Guide for Trump’s Apparent Presidency

As promised, here’s some suggestions that have popped up to use the next four years or so, and, amazingly, the man in these suggestions has not been inaugurated yet. For starters, some preliminary comments:

a) Lest we citizens not exactly thrilled with the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election be accused of being closed-minded, we must perpetually allow for the possibility, no matter how minuscule it may appear, we will need to show support for any actions by the new administration that meet our approval. None such have appeared thus far, in my opinion, but, then, for us eternal optimists, hope springs eternal.

b) Any specific causes or organizations I cite herein are merely personal suggestions that work for me. The reader should substitute and/or add the name or names of his/her preferences for mine, if desired.

c) We must banish thoughts of doing everything we can to discredit Trump, else we become no better than the grid-locking Republicans in Congress and elsewhere who held our nation hostage for petty political purposes during Obama’s two terms. Again, if Trump does well, let’s be supportive. For the good of our country, we must hope he does well.

But the sad reality is, he’s been our President-elect a little over a month now at the time of this writing, and there is little or no encouragement for us to be optimistic. Logically, we need to play it safe and assume the worst, else we are guilty of not being prepared for whatever may come. This is a suggestive guide for being so prepared from my point of view.

The philosophical modus operandi when dealing with Donald is to think of history as a parade of great ideas, not a parade of great men/women. Since none of us, living or dead, was or is perfect, thinking of history this way saves us frustration and disappointment whenever an individual’s imperfections become apparent. As Presidential candidates go, Trump is one of the most imperfect in a long, long time. I’ve not seen one like him since Nixon.

Wielding history in this way, American history is on “our” side. Donald is not only a narcissistic, grown-up, and greedy playground bully, he can be compared to the likes of mega-maniacal Nixon, to past fascist dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, and to present fascist-like dictators like Putin (Apparently now Putin is the richest individual on the planet.). If he (Trump) actually tries out some of his ideas (e.g. the wall) while in office, Dr. Rick Covington’s suggestion that they could be compared to some of Mao’s idiotic and tragic policies would be well taken. Obviously, to use history in this way, we must know our history; we cannot “brush up” on American and world history too much in the days to come.

Nixon was forced to resign when threatened with impeachment for his part in the Watergate break-in; “Tricky Dick” was a criminal and clearly in violation of his oath of office. Trump is already setting himself up to become in violation of his oath of office, in my opinion, by essentially taking the same position as the Russians on the hacking scandal (Can you say “treason,” boys and girls?), and by deliberately clinging to conflicts of interest (refusal to publicly release his taxes, violation of the emoluments clause) once he is in office, in clear violation of Constitutional requirements of the President. If the possibility of impeachment grows after he takes office, we must be patient, for, if I remember my Watergate history correctly, it took months for the pressure on Nixon to build up to where he found himself “painted into a corner.”

“Gird your loins” with the history of elections of Presidents who did not receive a majority of the popular vote. Personally, I think comparing Trump with Rutherford B. Hayes is quiet rewarding. In the election of 1876, Republican Hayes received 47.9% of the vote compared to Democrat Samuel Tilden’s 50.9% (Compare these numbers with Trump’s and Clinton’s percentages, taking into account the third-party percentages.), yet in the shameful “Compromise of 1877” a deal was cut between the two parties wherein Hayes could be President in exchange for the Republicans removing federal troops from the South, thereby ending Reconstruction and ushering in the systematic disenfranchisement of former slaves, the infamous “Jim Crow” laws. Incidentally, as I’ve discussed with Dr. Jon Reese and others, we can assure that the President-elect is always the one who receives the majority popular vote nationwide (without having to amend the Constitution): As several States have already done, have the State’s Electoral College (EC) set of voters pledged to vote for the candidate receiving the national majority vote, a result that can be reliably known today by the time polls close in Alaska and Hawaii. The EC vote would then be a redundant affirmation of the whole country’s choice. Clearly, this would have elected Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Hayes’ administration followed upon the heels of U.S. Grant’s corrupt administration, helping to perpetuate the infamous “robber barons” of the late 19th century (You know, the villains in the newest Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp as Tonto.). These characters notoriously rode tax breaks toward destruction and rape of the environment, all in the name of profit. Sound familiar? Trump appears to be a modern-day version of a robber baron, giving big business in particular and business in general a bad name. He is “in bed” with the huge oil and gas industry (e.g. Exxon-Mobil) so snugly, he clearly is anti-environment. In other words, he not only doesn’t care about our rights, he doesn’t give a crap about our planet. Those who worship at the shrine of money, mammon, and capitalism need to be reminded there are lots of “filthy rich”examples much better than Donald, like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

I’ll always be amazed at the rabble who insist we need a business person in the White House. History doesn’t bear the weight of that argument, in my opinion; greedy capitalists tend to morph into Scrooges. The robber baron lesson means in a Trump administration we must support those from whom the robber barons steal — the poor, the hungry, refugees fleeing one or more of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the infirm. Give to humanitarian and charitable organizations like UNICEF, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, the Clinton Foundation, St. Jude, Shriner’s hospitals, Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity, to name but a few. As individuals, we usually can’t afford to give to all, but at least we can give to one.

Trump is of my generation, so we all need to know how to assess members of my generation, the so-called “Baby-Boomers.” Only part of my generation “took” to the “3-pronged” social revolutions of the 1960’s — 1) the Civil Rights Movement, 2) the Women’s Movement, and 3) the Anti-war Movement. I graduated high school a “male chauvinist pig” in 1964 and emerged from undergraduate school at A&M in 1968 “inoculated” by all three prongs. Another member of my generation, Hillary Clinton, over about the same period of time, morphed from a “Goldwater Girl” to working for voters’ rights for the disenfranchised in far south Texas. But I’m afraid too many of our generation did not “take” to the revolutions, and Donald Trump was certainly one of those. I’m guessing over half of my generation merely replaced their parents and/or grandparents, emerging from the revolutions unchanged and longing for the “good old days” of the 1950’s. We know Trump’s dad dealt with housing for blacks in New York City following Jim Crow laws. Moreover, Trump’s financial successes appear to be the result of “daddy bailing him out,” rather than the result of Trump’s business acumen. In other words, Trump in the 21st century still apparently believes the world is still “ruled” by rich white men, as it practically was back in the 1950’s before the revolutions. So, when dealing with my generation, individually find out if he/she “took.”

As a person “stuck” politically, morally, and socially in the 1950’s, Trump cares for no one’s rights but his own. Consequently, he seems capable of bigotry based solely on xenophobia, in my opinion. Our support of organizations directly defending the rights of us all, especially if we are not white, male, rich, and Protestant, is now of greatest importance. I plan to join and support the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). For women’s right to make their own choices about their lives, I want to support Planned Parenthood. I also want to lend my support to Sanctuary Cities who give succor to desperate immigrants looking to America for their salvation. In all situations wherein anyone’s civil rights are being denied, we must speak up, not tolerating such denial ever. Just the fear of losing one’s basic rights can devastate lives; recently a student I was tutoring spoke of a friend of the LGBT community sobbing in fear over the 2016 election’s outcome.

What about the younger generations than mine, which I will call the generations of my children and my grandchildren? Why would they vote in 2016 against their own best interests, or not vote at all? Many seemed to squander their vote on a hopeless third party (Look where that sort of thing landed Iceland recently in a many-partied election!), or they believed Trump actually cared about the working class. I think these voting patterns showed the inability to recognize propaganda — the inability to not only think critically, but to think skeptically. Even young children can learn to recognize truth not from authority, but from evidence. Basic education should universally include course work demanding critical and skeptical thinking skills, like well-taught science and math classes. I support good strong civics curricula which emphasize the principles upon which our Constitution was based, and I support high school philosophy courses wherein students are taught to question everything they are taught. This is why I feel compelled to support science education groups like the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). Students should not only be able to distinguish between propaganda and political reality, they should also need to distinguish on their own science from pseudo-science.

Moreover, we need to keep hammering home the idea of free higher education for successful students in state colleges and universities, just like public education is “free” to the “customer” in the classroom. If lottery, gaming, and horse racing revenues were plowed into higher education, plans such as the one put forth by Bernie Sanders and embraced by HRC could easily be paid for. The idea is admirably based on merit, rewarding successful academic work; whether a student gets funded for the next semester depends upon meeting the standards of success in all courses in the previous semester.

Then there were those “one-issue” voters who voted against Hillary or for Donald as if their “favorite” issue was the only plank in the party’s platform, or the only concern of the party’s policy makers. Many of these myopic voters seemed to me to be evangelical Christians whose one issue was abortion, or the make-up of the future Supreme Court. These voters need some sort of rationality therapy wherein a party’s total platform is scrutinized to produce a “political spectrum average.” This “plank average” comparison, I think, would show any open-minded citizen that for decades the Democratic party’s average is by far more humane, uplifting, Christian, tolerant, safe, and supportive than the Republican party’s. It is part of our job to provide this therapy in elections to come.

To keep, in a Trump administration, our country from being too much under Russian influence, yet not restart the Cold War, we need to foster broader understanding of Russia and of our allies and adversaries overseas. Thanks to the glaze with which the greed of business can coat clear thinking, Trump is rightly already called, in Lenin’s words, “a useful idiot” for Putin’s Russia. It is Russia’s young populace we need to be concerned with. Read in the December 2016 issue of National Geographic about today’s young Russians and how suppressive of young minds Putin is, not only in the best tradition of Stalin, but also of Hitler and Mussolini. If Trump and his cronies continue to act like “Putin’s puppets,” Putin might well get away with his crimes in the Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria. We have to rally citizens to work to strengthen NATO, not undermine it. Germany’s economic and social leadership in Europe today should be a blueprint worthy of our consideration.

In dealing with Russia, we must remember this is a country that did not have a Renaissance, a Reformation, or an Enlightenment, as we had in the West (and which explain our rise toward democratic and universal suffrage). It is too late for Russia to have a Renaissance or a Reformation, but, just like Islam could use a Reformation, Russia could surely use a vigorous, modern version of the Enlightenment. And we cannot be the agents of these necessary changes; Russians have generate their own Enlightenment, just as Muslims have to generate their own Reformation.
We need to make sure our fellow citizens are familiar with the words “kakistocracy” and “kleptocracy.” (Look them up, and thanks to Karolina King for pointing the first out to me.) The gloomiest statement we can make right now about Trump is that he is busy assembling a kakistocracy (of which he is the head) toward a government functioning as a kleptocracy — all to the demise of what most Americans hold most dear. Talk about our Founding Fathers spinning in their graves!

Yet to dwell on this gloom to the point of fear, desperation, and/or resignation is too myopic of us. As I like to remind myself, “We’ve come a long way, baby!” to get where we’ve got to today! Remember things like when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 1908, women could not vote and African-Americans as well as Latinos could not play major league baseball. If you don’t have one yet, develop a perspective both broad and deep; such can be both personally and perpetually enlightening and encouraging.

As Delores Covington has rightly pointed out, we must always remain vigilant. Thomas Jefferson is usually given credit for statements like “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” Moreover, Jefferson also reminded us that one of the most patriotic things we can do is be critical and skeptical of our government, which sounds oxymoronic. But TJ is right on point. WE are the government, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Self-criticism, both individual and public, is vital. One could say the particulars of this “survival guide” are suggestions on how to be critically vigilant, and, therefore, patriotic.

Clearly, the “vigilance point” above applies to ANY Presidential administration. To be vigilant would be just as important if HRC (or anyone else) had won the election.

Speaking of Thomas Jefferson, not only was he one of the first advocates in our country for public education, he was one of the pioneers taking the first steps toward universal suffrage, in the form of being an advocate for the “common man vote,” where a male got to vote regardless of how rich he was and/or how much property he owned. His concern responding to criticism of the common man vote was that an uninformed electorate might vote in an incompetent, dangerous person into public office; hence, his strong advocacy for public education. The 2016 election possibly might be seen as the election of Trump by an uninformed electorate — Jefferson’s fear might have been born out. Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America expressed concern that the United States could be ruled by the “tyranny of the majority,” which is of little concern, in my opinion, if the majority is wise enough to respect the rights of the minority. Given that Trump was elected, however, by a minority of the electorate, uninformed or not, his particular election could also be seen as portending the “tyranny of the minority,” de Tocqueville turned upside down.

Over the years of too many Republican administrations, I have been energized by political protest music, like that of our new Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan, and by songs like “Cult of Personality,” by Living Colour and “The ‘Fish Cheer’/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish, as well as the instrumental National Anthem by Jimi Hendrix. All of you, I’m sure, can add your own inspiring music examples.

And don’t forget to be grateful for the great humor that will undoubtedly evolve from the Trump administration, as wonderfully illustrated by SNL. All political comedians and all us wanna-be-comedians are going to have a field day! To quote the Lennon/McCartney lyric from “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, ”A splendid time is guaranteed for all!” Example: Who does Donald Trump think was the greatest job creator ever? Adolf Hitler! Hitler not only gave us the Volkswagen, he eliminated unemployment in Europe for years!

RJH

For Your Consideration, I Give You…….Tom Paine

The U.S. Presidential election of 2012 was believed to be won by the candidate receiving the greater amount of money, not by the candidate better qualified to be the next President. A price has been placed upon public office. One political party blatantly tries to reduce the number of voters, not expand it. Part of that same group has usurped the good title of the Boston Tea Party and besmirched that good name by behaving like the British political merchants against whom the historical Party was held; instead of champions of freedom and liberty, they are champions of limited citizenry and of disfranchisement, especially of those of differing skin color and/or culture.

Most of our Founding Fathers must be “spinning in their graves.” One such “spinner” is not commonly recognized in the illustrious group that includes George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. This is a call to add the name of Thomas Paine to the list of Founding Fathers in our common discourse.  He has been needed as an addition since the beginning of our marvelous republic.

Tom Paine is the author of Common Sense, the pamphlet whose reading, according to Washington “worked a powerful change in the minds of many men” during the dark days for the colonists in the American Revolution.  During America’s struggle for independence, he was a volunteer aide-de-camp for Gen. Nathanael Greene.  From The Crisis, a series of inspiring tracts by Paine, came the immortal words, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  For his service in the American Revolution he was awarded a 300-acre farm in New Rochelle, New York.  He was one of the first to call for a national convention to remedy the ineffectual Articles of Confederation.  Unlike his friend Thomas Jefferson, Paine leaned in his later political philosophy toward a strong union rather than the primacy of states’ rights.  But he was no Alexander Hamilton; his views evolved from advocating minimal government to government mandated as a beneficent agent to the people executing a program of positive humanitarianism.  He helped pioneer political ideas such as a progressive income tax and provisions for the helpless and the aged.

His human foibles were no worse than those of the other Founding Fathers, in fact to me more forgivable than the indiscretions of Ben Franklin, George Washington, or Alexander Hamilton.  Paine’s ideals were as lofty as those of Franklin’s and Jefferson’s, but he was not as patient as he probably should have been dealing these ideals to his fellow human beings; he spoke and wrote out when Franklin and Jefferson held their tongues and pens in discretion.  He was not willing to “fight another day.”

He was a missionary in the best tradition of the Apostle Paul.  In 1787 he went to England, and then to France, to work toward both places becoming a United States-like republic!  He was an apostle of liberty, freedom, human dignity, and humanitarianism — a true child of the Enlightenment.  His “missionary journey” is the stuff of legend; it transcends the legendary stories of the other Founding Fathers, in that it is one of lethal adventure as well as of penning great words, and, apparently, all true.  At the very least, it is “right up there” with Founding Father stories such as chopping down the cherry tree, throwing a dollar across the Potomac, or flying a kite-with-key during a thunderstorm.

In England he wrote Rights of Man, a hard-hitting rebuttal of Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution, Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Paine not only defended the early events of the French Revolution, he promoted the principles of republicanism so well Pitt’s government had him indicted for treason against England, fearing French-style rebellion erupting there.  Paine fled to France to a hero’s welcome — Rights of Man was a natural big “hit” among the French revolutionaries — and was immediately elected to the French revolutionary Convention.  But, he gravitated toward the more moderate revolutionaries, the Girondins, rather than to the more radical revolutionaries, Robespierre’s Jacobins.  He was among those who advocated not executing King Louis XVI; he favored exile instead.  This put him at odds with the Jacobins, and when the Terror ensued, he was imprisoned and scheduled for execution via “Madame Guillotine.”  Those to be guillotined for a given day had notices nailed to or marked upon their cell doors the night before.  On Paine’s scheduled day of execution, he was ill with typhoid and a physician was summoned to attend him in his cell, whose door was left open, hiding the deadly notice against the wall of the hall of cells, or hiding the deadly mark on the door facing when the door was closed for the night.  Those who gathered the unfortunates with a notice or mark on the door to the carts for the public be-headings the next day passed by Paine’s cell, whose notice was hidden from them either by an open or a closed door.  The bureaucracy of the Terror apparently was such that if you missed your day of execution, it was a long time until your re-processing cycle was completed.  A few days later,  when Paine’s cycle was completed, if it ever was, Robespierre was out of power, and Paine was released and readmitted to the Convention.  However Tom Paine’s notice of death was hidden (He was so sick he knew no details of how he was overlooked.), his head was salvaged by a doctor’s “house call!”

Why, then, is there any need for my appeal?  Why, by the time he died back in America in 1809 was he not “ushered into the ranks” alongside Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams?  I think the answer is linked with the problems of our nation today, with the reasons he is sorely needed today in the ranks of the Founding Fathers (FF).  And the link is summed up in one word — religion.

Born in England (Country of birth no barrier to being listed with the FF; Hamilton was born in the British West Indies.) a Quaker, Tom Paine became, like Gen. Greene, a patriot who renounced his pacifism, a “fallen Quaker,” if you will.  Like so many of the FF, he was a deist and falsely accused, especially by the clergy and by the Federalist political party, of being an atheist (The atheist charge was a political action executed as part of a similar attack by the Federalists on his friend Thomas Jefferson).  Only decades after his death, many of his religious principles and beliefs had profoundly changed the religious landscape of the United States, in the form of the Unitarian movement.  A major part of his enlightened humanitarianism was and is individual freedom from political and religious bigotry.  Such freedom as it exists today is indebted in no small measure to Tom Paine. Yet, ironically, what set him at cross purposes with the orthodox Christian Church at large proved he was more familiar with Christian Scripture than most believers!

About the time he was going into prison at the hands of the Jacobins, he wrote Part i of Age of Reason, a scathing critique of Christian theology and of the Church in general, using the Scriptures themselves as his argumentative tool.  The accuracy of Part i referencing the Bible is nothing short of remarkable; not many had the familiarity of God’s Word to write Part i.  Two years later, after he was released, he wrote Part ii of Age of Reason.  Part ii was a wonderful continuation and supplement to Part i.  Together, both parts make up what I would call a “must read” for every believer and non-believer alike.  Age of Reason and Thomas Jefferson’s The Jefferson Bible together make the most disturbing case by Americans against Christianity as passed down to us by the Apostle Paul as I’ve ever run across.  If it were up to me, I would make these two publications required reading for every public, parochial, and private high school graduate in the nation.  (Also, see my Sorting Out the Apostle Paul [April, 2012] and The United States of America — A Christian Nation? [June, 2012] on this website Beyond Good and Evil, www.ronniejhastings.com .)

Through politics, then, the same kind of religiously-motivated power struggles we see today in big-moneyed, Tea Party, fundamentalist conservatism, Tom Paine was made an anathema and died in obscurity in New York City, his enormous contributions to the birth of our nation conveniently forgotten by most of the nation.  He was not helped by the fact he ad hominum criticized George Washington for not doing more for him while he was in the French prison, admittedly, but that seems small potatoes compared to Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Age of Reason.  Nor was he helped by his tactlessness and drunkenness during bouts with depression in the last seven years of his life, but these foibles seem forgivable in light of how he stirred the hearts and minds of the American cause during the dark days of Valley Forge.

On MSNBC Chris Matthews quotes Tom Paine regarding a people’s power to “change the world” by changing their government, and President Obama quoted Tom Paine in his first inaugural address.  Paine’s words still stir what Jefferson and Adams called the “spirit of 1776.”  We need his words again in our hearts and minds; we need Tom Paine’s courage to stand up for the revolutionary principles upon which our country was founded.

Moreover, we need Tom Paine to remind us of Franklin’s observation — if the Founding Fathers had lost, they would have been hung as treasonous criminals.  We need Tom Paine to remind us that in the day of the Founding Fathers, the group to which he rightfully belongs, the conservatives of the day wore red military coats and spoke with a British accent.  We need a Paine Memorial comparable to that of Jefferson’s.

RJH

 

Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Words We Don’t Know Can Also Hurt Us, or, Jesus Was a Liberalist

The Long List of names I have been called and of labels directed at me for attempted attachment keeps growing.

Beginning as far back as high school, I have been called or labeled a progressive, a liberal, a pinko, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi, a Democrat, a secular humanist, a scientific revolution freak, a political revolution freak, an agnostic, an atheist, a Christian, a Texas-phile, a Texas Aggie, a Marxist, a liberation theologian, a Southern Baptist, an anti-cleric, a nuclear physicist, an arrogant high school teacher, a great teacher of math and physics, an unqualified math teacher, a painter of Texas flags on barns and sheds, a history freak, an American Civil War buff, an unintentional expert on Cretaceous fossil fish teeth, a barbed wire artist, a country redneck, a designer and builder of porches and decks out of composite materials, a male chauvinist pig, a land owner, a student of comparative religion, a gadfly, a Teutonic freak, a Napoleonic freak, a lover of ’66 red Mustangs, a coon hunter, a rock mason using only unaltered, natural-shaped rocks, an optimist with rose-colored glasses, a member of a sneaky group of pranksters, an amateur dinosaur track hunter, a militaristic war-hawk, an Obama-phile, a dinosaur freak, a rock-and-roll freak, a painter of the Lake Cisco dam, a heavy metal music freak, a cancer survivor, an anti-creationist, an evolutionist, an anti-intelligent designer, a hippie, a PhD, an absent-minded professsor, an empiricist, a philososphy-phile, an epistemology freak, an incurable screamer of rock songs in karaoke bars, a beer connoisseur, a protester of stupid rules, a feminist, an insatiable reader of non-fiction books, a war gamer, a lover of all things Cisco, Waxahachie, or College Station, an astronomy teacher, a fanatical football and baseball fan, a driver of tractors and trucks, and a writer of “improbable histories.”

To this, since the latest of my Facebook postings and the formation of my website, have been added 1) an intellectual, and 2) an idiot (This last one brings me full circle, so to speak; this is exactly what I was called as a freshman in high school!). I must be doing something right!

Let’s see, today is Wednesday, so if I were to call myself something for the day (for it would change each day, you see), I would say I am a dealer of ideas. (Some of you are old enough to remember the old black-and-white movie and TV series “Dr. Fu Man Chu” — “They say the Devil deals in men’s souls; so does Dr. Fu Man Chu!” They say the Devil deals in ideas; so does Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings!

Let me take one of the ideas suggested by the list above, say, “liberal.” Problems occur right off the bat, because what Americans mean as liberal and what Europeans mean as liberal are slightly different things, and the difference, I think, is crucial. The word “liberal” was first used in reference to the Whig political agenda in Britain in the early 1800’s. It was not incorporated into American politics through the American Whig party, necessarily, but, rather, through American suffrage, grassroot, and populist movements of the 19th centrury.

The original political definition of “liberal” grew, in my opinion, out of the successes of the American Revoluton and the French Revolution, both in the 18th century. There was nothing conservative about these two revolutions! What I would suggest as “liberalism” was actually born out of these two pivotal events, embodied by the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” in the case of America, and “liberte, egalite, and fraternite” in the case of France (liberty, equality, and brotherhood). The Reformation ,the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment had combined to spark the minds of America’s founding fathers (Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Paine) and to set up the political landscape of revolutionary France just prior to 1789, defining the terms “liberal” — those who sat on the “left” side of the chambers in France — and “conservative” (aristocratic) — those who sat on the “right” side of the French chambers. Liberalism, as I will call it, is the equal balance of all three (liberty, equality, and brotherhood [humanity-oriented]) and is the political ideal to which I think history is showing us to aspire. Liberalism has existed in this ideal form in America only in the short interval from Washington’s first term to Jefferson’s first; it existed in France only from the moment the Revolutionary government was formed to the institution of the Terror.

I am not sure we’ve witnessed any equal balance since, at least not in the USA. We have not truly reaped the benefits of liberalism. All systems of government seem to have the three words out-of-balance in some way. Some easy-to-see examples will suffice: the French Terror exalted equality at the expense of freedom and brotherhood; Marxist-Leninist communism exalts an inequality at the expense of freedom and brotherhood, ironically the same as monarchies, fascist-regimes, and “Christian” regimes such as the Papal States and Cromwellian England. Modern-day socialism makes a similar mistake as did the Terror: pushing equality at the expense of individual freedom and of genuine brotherhood – only without the beheading; unfortunately, in my opinion, that is what most Americans today call “liberal.” It is essentially a misnomer. So, to be clear, I am pushing “liberalism,” not whatever is labeled “liberal,” like socialism. Perhaps, to avoid being mired in the prevailing view of “liberal” today, those who are of the persuasion of “liberalism” should be called “liberalists” instead of “liberals.”

The original definition of conservatism was to work for no change, to keep and defend the status-quo. Those already with power and wealth, the aristocrats, and later, the capitalist rich, had no need for change, for they deemphasized equality and brotherhood; they paid attention only to the “liberty” part. Today American conservatives interpret “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as “my freedom, my entitlement, and who-gives-a-shit about my neighbors.” American conservatives whitewash over this “official” OK for selfishness, greed, and inhumane treatment by appealing to the myth that we are a Christian nation, which, in their myopic minds, means the poor, needy, and working have-nots will be taken care of by Christian charity (remember the solicitors of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and his response to them?) (Incidentally, Christian charity through the organized churches cannot begin to meet the growing need of social services in our country.) Conservatives, as a result, are champions of some form of elitism: the smarter, the richer, the powerful, etc. etc. are better than the others. I know the book was about communism, but the conservatives of today remind me of the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm, remember? — “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Conservatives, in my opinion, give only lip service to liberte, egalite, and fraternite, covering up their treason to the liberalist ideals that our forefathers ingeniously envisioned with feigned Christian piety, which is another treason — the treason betraying separation of church and state and the freedom to worship and the freedom from worship.

The progressive march of history is clear: conservative political philosophy cannot be sustained. With the price of the blood of millions since the 18th century, the imbalance of monarchies has failed and been dismantled, the imbalance of fascism has failed and been dismantled, the imbalance of communism has failed and been (almost everywhere) dismantled, and the imbalance of Latin American regimes of tyranny against personal liberty has failed and been dismantled. Guess what is going to happen in future to the imbalance of dictatorships, kingdoms, and sectarian states that still survive!

Look at this progressive march in the United States: universal suffrage finally became a reality, but it took into the 20th century to achieve it (Now, white males are joined by females and descendents of slaves at the voting polls.). The privileges of US citizenship are given without the shackles of discriminatory qualifications. (It doesn’t matter if you are blue, covered with green polka dots, and worship an anthill in your back yard, you have the same rights, privileges, and opportunities as the rich, powerful, and influential in this country.) For all this, you must pay a price, but a price well worth it, I believe: US citizenship means you have to work, you have to pay taxes, and you have to be a patriot in your new country — and, conservatives tend to overlook this, your freedom is qualified — you cannot climb the ladder of success at the expense of others! Your gain should not be someone else’s loss.

The three-pronged revolution of the 60’s (anti-war movement, Civil Rights movement, women’s movement) is all liberalist in spirit: perpetrated to extend (instead of restrict, as the conservatives want to do) all of the following — 1) power over your personal affairs, 2) influence in the leadership of your country, 3) your rights as a working, tax-paying citizen, 4) your rights not to be victimized by any form of discrimination, 5) your rights to educate yourself as far as your mind will take you, and 6) your grasp upon the promise of the liberalist, revolutionary agenda of our Constitution and Declaration.

So, when I go to the polls to vote for President, I vote for the candidate closer to the ideals of a liberalist, closer to the ideas upon which our country was founded. To vote for a political conservative is to me tantamount to voting against the ideals of the American Revolution; it would be literally un-American!

And, incidentally, to me it would be anti-Christian. Note that all the unflattering references I had above to Christians and Christianity had to do with church and those who attend church. They had nothing to do, in my opinion, with the teachings of Jesus. All those years I sat in Sunday School and in the church pews revealed to me how little emphasis, in the long scheme of things, was placed upon the teachings of the one supposed to have founded the church in the first place! Turns out, when you read the “red letters” of the four Gospels, or, better, the Jefferson Bible, what Jesus is supposed to have said doesn’t have much to do with the church, with organized religion. Jesus spoke in liberalist terms. The Sermon on the Mount translates almost verbatum into liberalist philosophy. Laws were made for people, not people for the laws. What is best for your fellow man trumps all other needs. The Golden Rule — so universal! Principles that can only be called humanistic are our guides, not some theology propping up some social class of clergy and a string of fancy buildings. He was a revolutionary in the truest sense of the word. Jesus’ adversaries were the representatives of the established religion of his day. Any Son of Man can become a Son of God. I have discussed all this with minister friends of mine (names withheld here for obvious reasons), and in private they cannot disagree with me on most of these points.

Jesus was a forerunner of the liberalist principles of our founding fathers. He was a liberalist way before the liberalist “time” in the 18th century. The American Revolution was fought for purely secular, not sectarian reasons; when the French aristocracy fell under the blade of the guillotine, so did the Church and its clergy. One of my favorite quotes from a French film was “There can be no church in a true republic.” I don’t think we should burn down all the churches — I think we should stop giving Jesus credit for them; such credit insults Him.

If all or part of this moves you to do so, get back with me. All I ask is that you try to do a little more than just add to the Long List of names and labels.

RJH

Post Navigation