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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ontological error

Treasury Secretary Henry PaulsonMany are the ways to describe the meltdown on Wall Street, and its ripple effect throughout the world economy. I prefer the criminal model.

It has been a gradual process, beginning with the movement towards deregulation of major industries, which started in the 1970s. The deregulation movement grew in popularity and practice during every administration, "Democrat" and "Republican," to this day, regardless of the predicted, and now manifest consequences.

Parallel to the progression of deregulation has been the criminalization of the Federal government, in all three branches - executive, legislative, and judicial. It reached its culmination in the "Republican revolution" of 1994, and the "U.S." Supreme Court appointment of George W. Bush as president in 2001.

The combination of Bush's ascension to the presidency with a "Republican" majority in both houses of Congress completed a dynamic that ensured a steady flow of corporate dollars to Congress members and "Republican" presidential campaigns. The "revolving door" of employment of regulators to private industry and back insured a symbiotic relationship between regulators and corporations.

Under Bush the flow of money also came to mean that government contracts were awarded on the basis of campaign donations and crony relationships, known as pay-for-play.

The proximate cause of the meltdown of our economic system is the collapse of the credit system, which came about largely, but not exclusively, due to the relaxation of loan standards in the real estate market. But focusing on the proximate cause allows us to evade the larger cause, just like blaming Gavrillo Princip for World War I disguises its greater causes.

GreedAn example illustrates the greater cause. I can remember as far back as the early 1980s when early versions of infomercials were trumpeting the easy money to be made in buying and selling real estate. Testimonials were given by gleeful graduates of the various programs, saying things like "it's so easy to buy real estate with no money down;" "When I made my first million..." and "I couldn't believe getting rich would be so easy!"

The schemes were ubiquitous, and some, like real estate get-rich-quick guru Carleton Sheets, are still going strong, the collapsing economy be damned. The promoters of these "education programs" made millions selling their tapes, videos, and books to the naive and greedy.

Business card for Excel Telecommunications independent representativeLess conspicuous, but equally symptomatic, are the myriads of "pyramid" schemes, also known as multi-level marketing. Amway is the most notorious example. The way the pyramids work is to have a product, or collection of products as the basis, or front of the business, and progression of levels of "distributors," or sales "managers," who recruit people to be in their sales groups, or teams. The recruited distributors then recruit people themselves, who in turn recruit more people, creating a pyramid of sales "representatives." Actually, the "representatives," who are also called "managers," are really just customers. The money is made by getting commissions on the "membership" fees and products purchased by sub-representatives down the line of the pyramid.

Amway is known not only for its sales scheme, but for the "right-wing" politics that has permeated the organization. As an outgrowth of the "right-wing" politics, Amway executives have also been involved in dominionist religio-political advocacy, promoting the organization of society to conform with fundamentalist "Christian" teachings. Erik Prince, CEO of crony-capitalist security contractor Blackwater, has strong ties to Amway.

What the real estate schemes have in common with the pyramid schemes is the promise of easy money, of "unlimited income," free of the tedium of hard work for low pay, and of working for a boss. What they don't tell people is that only a relatively few people actually make any money in the schemes, with most people investing large sums of money with little to show for it.

Pyramids and real estate get-rich-quick schemes can be looked at as smaller-scale version of what goes on at the level of large investors in such things as hedge funds, junk bonds, derivatives, mortgage bundles, options, credit default swaps, and forward contracts. On the larger scale, vast amounts of money can be made quickly and with little effort.

Whether on a small or a large scale, the various fast money schemes have this in common: the participants do not actually add any value or provide any needed service to humanity. They live off the efforts and value added by others. Another way of describing their activities is parasitic, feeding on others while offering nothing meaningful in return.

Parasitism has crept so thoroughly into our national psyche that it now permeates our corporate and political infrastructure. Though it exists at every level, it is most advanced, ubiquitous, and pernicious at the national level, focusing in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. Corporations pay "lobbyists" - advocates for legislation and regulatory relief - to give campaign contributions, free vacations, jobs, houses, and other favors to congresspersons, government regulators, judges and Supreme Court justices in exchange for favorable treatment of one kind or another. Lobbyists have even been known to write laws. Virtually the entire "Republican" party, and a goodly part of the "Democratic" party are composed of people who serve as both parasites, and servants of parasites. They receive the money and other gifts, and they give in the form of laws, tax breaks, and at the executive level (the Bush criminal regime), government contracts and regulatory inattention.

Receiving money for doing nothing, or for doing harm, has become our national ethic. It is not universal, and there are still workers, businesses, government employees, and elected officials who have high standards of performance and public service. But the trend for decades has been to feed off the energies of others, to get rich without offering any benefit to the common good, to live based on appearance of wealth and privilege.

At the root of this decline in our national ethical system is what is known as ontological error. It is also known as category mistake. In this sense of the term, wealth, power and privilege are confused with attainment. This kind of confusion is nothing new in the history of humankind, but the rampancy and frenzy in which it is practiced has not been seen before.

Maybe there is a positive aspect to this phenomenon. In the past, a parasitic element in society depended on a critical mass of people doing honest, productive work. Someone has to provide the food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, entertainment, and other goods and services that benefit society. Most people still do this, but now there is a critical mass of parasites - money grubbers, power grubbers, religious poseurs, and hate-mongering demagogues in the mass communications media.

Every phenomenon in physical reality has a beginning, a period of growth, a zenith or peak of existence, and then a decline. Now that our economy faces collapse, runaway parasitism can no longer be sustained.

It's all over but the shouting, so to speak, and there's plenty of shouting going on. A lot of it is filtered through the political landscape, as we are witnessing in the McCain campaign. Here's an example from his visit to Waukesha, Wisconsin today. For some background, click here.

The "Republicans" fully intend to steal the election, it's safe to say. I'm not as alarmed about this as some people are. Again, in terms of Physics, the more criminal our system becomes, the greater the potential builds for a sudden crash. It is in the crash that opportunity lies. The more desperately the parasite class clings to misbegotten gain, the greater the likelihood of genuine, fundamental change. Maybe even, dare I say, revolutionary. The revolution that started this country was in 1776. A mere blip in the life of the planet, it was a long time ago in human terms. If our economic system goes into collapse, we may live to see a second revolution. In human terms, it could be a second coming, a planetary cleansing that ushers in a new era of civilization. Let's hope so, and hope it is peaceful.
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I was going to use the links below in the essay, but it took a different direction. Maybe in the future.

Money creation

Deregulation

Fractional reserve banking

Definition of money

Investors expect volatility

Bank failures will rise
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Here's a song to fit the times.

Here's another.

This song is a theme of sorts.

This song could be a theme.

Here's something new. It's loud, so you might want to turn the sound down a bit.

This is even newer, dedicated to all "Republicans" and greedheads, who have destroyed the country. Nice job, traitors.

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