“Against stupidity the gods themselves strive in vain.” F. Nietzsche
“Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the former.” – A. Einstein
What is stupidity and where does it come from? To define stupidity I will use a variation on another famous saying of Einstein’s. “Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” The original was about nsanity, but I think it works even better for stupidity.
And what causes stupidity? One possible answer is fear or the lack of it.
Fear makes people do stupid things. I doubt many people would argue with that, so let’s apply it. For decades we were taught to be afraid of communists. This resulted in gross violations of our legal rights and a serious distortion of our politics for most of the 20th century. McCarthyism and HUAC, the Black List, J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive FBI, the 1920 Palmer raids, and more were the result. The ascendancy of the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about could only have happened in a climate of fear.
After 9/11 we panicked. The results included severe abridgement of our legal rights and two pointless and unwinnable wars that took up the next decade. Those who profit from fear, still the military-industrial complex, needed a new national bugbear to justify itself. This country’s economy is being sucked dry by a bloated defense budget that takes up at least two thirds of federal discretionary spending and in reality runs to about $1.2 trillion per year. We spend more on wars past, present, and future than the next 16 nations. Fiscal discipline and rational programs would probably cut this enough to take us out of the red within a few years.
Our national fear of crime and drugs means that the United States has a larger percent and a larger number of our citizens in the penal system (incarcerated , paroled , probation) than any other nation on the planet. The numbers at the end of 2009 were as follows. “According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2010 – about 0.7% of adults in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or on parole. In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 – about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States
This is not a picture of a healthy society or nation.
The lack of fear where fear would be appropriate also leads to stupidity. The best example I can think of is the economic crash of 2007-8. This was caused by finance institutions gaming our economic system without any regard for consequences to our national economy or the world’s. They made loans that were risky, including those sub-par mortgages. They gambled with other people’s money on schemes that enriched themselves. According to one of my sons, who works in the risk management field, the banks knew that their behavior would lead to a crash, but they kept going anyway because they were making so much money.
We need to heed FDR’s famous warning, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
How can we avoid fear and learn when fear is appropriate? My first advice is to be skeptical and take nothing in government or finance at face value. My second bit of advice comes from the “Dune” series: the litany against fear.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Three years ago a friend and I started a discussion club. It’s purpose is dialogue o important issues across ideological lines. We are now over twenty members and the following is a recently posted essay about our group by my fellow founder, Tony.
From time to time, someone will ask about the Curmudgeon Club. Rather than reinventing a “wheel of explanation”, two discussions are provided below, one each from the two founders.
Rabbi Phil Bentley’s views can be found at his blog, https://pearleafblog.com/; scrolldown to the January 28, 2013, Dialogue: How We Talk.
Tony Jeric’s shared his view in his email of February 14, 2013; see below.
We are all about dialogue by which is meant a civil exchange of ideas, opinions and what we believe to be knowledge. We enter with the conceptual understanding that we are all blindfolded, touching different parts of the cosmic elephant and discussing what we believe to be reality. Sometimes it is not clear we are touching the same animal or are even in the same universe. There is no such thing as a sacred cow that cannot be disputed or more importantly subjected to critical examination. The number one sin that will not be tolerated is a personal attack, i.e. “you are stupid” is not acceptable. “That is a stupid concept” is generally tolerated but becomes infinitely more respectable if followedwith “because of A, B and C”.
The club was intentionally built to be made up of a wide range of varying persuasion by examining letters to the editor in the Times News and offering invitations. Lately membership has grown and without any such overt action but appears to remain balanced.. You will find some members do not fit a classic left right liberal conservative characterization. If you think the club is tilted against your particular beliefs it is most likely because your other associations are comprised of too many people who think like you do. You therefore are not used to your sacred cows being shot at. Get over it.
In any case different crowds show up at different meetings so there will be shifts. One of our objectives is to create (and I am plagiarizing from the former owner of the New Republic) “little mental insurrections”. i.e. bringing in a wide range of knowledge,research, opinion and analysis we may each end up with a reevaluation of what of whatever our own orthodoxy happens to be. Collectively we may stumble into some unique truths found nowhere else. At worst case we will have participated in a civil dialogue that is increasingly hard to come by.
For those among us who are a little more on the timid side – please keep in mind no one is truly an all-encompassing expert on anything so do not be afraid to challenge and ask for verification, substance or proof behind any assertion. Cross examination is a great way to learn more. Do not be afraid to ask questions for clarification such the definition of an unfamiliar term or concept. Most likely half the group would like to ask the same question so you will be doing many a favor. In the same spirit those being asked the question should not take cross examination as a personal attack. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
The club procedures were inspired by meetings previously held by Socrates, Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. A subject and subject leader for the following month is determined at the start of the current meeting. Ideally there is something to read in advance via e-mail sent out by the subject leader. The subject leader gets 20 minutes to present whatever he/she wishes to convey. There are no interruptions except for clarifications such as for a term definition or to better explain a concept being put forth. Each attendee then gets up to ten minutes to agree, disagree ask more questions etc. After all have had their shot at it we might go around again or break down into free for all over an entirely different subject. We don’t have any official officials. Phil and I are the founding fathers if you will, Harold and I share coming up with a suggested agenda and Barry, being the only self-identified moderate ( we sometimes claim wishy-washy moderate because whoever heard of a flaming moderate) handles the timing bell and the best we have for a moderator.
There is a considerable dialogue by e-mail between meetings. It is very ad hoc. All are welcome to get their two cents in or use the delete button. No offense will be taken if any opt out of some or all of it but do watch out for meeting announcements and info.
I’ve been thinking about how our economy should work. Also in my mind is Martin Luther’s oft-used metaphor of bowel problems. I think our economy is impacted. Bowels become impacted when nothing moves. There is a Jewish prayer for going to the toilet. In that prayer the blessing of a well-constructed body is praised. “You are blessed, Eternal our God, ruler of the universe, Who formed humans with wisdom and created within us passages and openings. It is well-known before Your glorious throne, that if one of them that if one of them [that should be closed] is open or if [one of them that should be open] is closed, it would be impossible to exist and to stand before You.” What is true of our bodies is, I believe, true of society and of economics in general.
What I see is that corporations and government need each other in many ways. Without going into details (much of which we mostly know anyway) the transcontinental railroad made a lot of our economic growth possible. That was a partnership between government and private spending which benefited American commerce and manufacturing. The fact that doing so was part of why we committed genocide on the aboriginal Americans (I hope Tony is joking about beating them fair and square, because there was nothing fair or square about it). By the same token the railroads also were the occasion for the first regulatory federal controls on interstate commerce:The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. I believe this was also why we created time zones. In the 50s the government created the Interstate Highway System and that was a huge boost for our economy and for our corporations.
Capitalism requires the movement of money and assets. I’ve written this before, but here I am adding a bit of context, I think.
If any of the major segments of our market economy fail to act or are unable to act, the entire economy suffers. Corporations have to invest and government has to spend and consumers have to earn enough money to spend. Over-control of corporate activity stifles economic activity, as the GOP keeps saying, but the failure of government to spend on infrastructure and on needed services to our population and our businesses also stifles economic activity. Failure to pay a living wage with decent benefits also stifles the economy. Government is also responsible for making sure there is a level economic playing field.
It seems to me that our economy is in poor shape and having trouble getting stronger is because corporations are not investing enough in manufacturing here; banks and financial organizations are either sitting on their money or are using what they have (which is often other peoples’ money) instead of financing investments; the governments (federal, state, and local) are now being parsimonious, which slows down needed growth. The real job creators, which is us consumers, are insufficiently funded to spend enough to justify (in the minds of entrepreneurs) investing. Our national infrastructure is an embarrassment and we are seeing increasing failures, especially from our obsolete national power grid and other major systems that are aging and need big funding. Money is not moving enough to sustain economic vitality. Whose fault is that? I place the blame at the feet of the GOP, which seems to understand only what expenditures cost and not what they buy; and our financial institutions and corporations that have gambled with other people’s money and who resist needed regulations to make our system fair and the necessary risks of capitalism real. Corporate board members who pocket the profits instead of investing them in productive investments are a relatively minor prolem, but they do point to the underlying problem: selfishness. Our national motto today ought to be “Ubi Mea.” Romney attacked the 47% for depending on government largess, but he should have been looking in the mirror.
I also blame the Democrats because they have all but abandoned the principles that were their hallmark. They have done so in response to the political climate in DC. From my perspective Clinton and Obama are responsible for that. Obama is often depicted as a leftist or even a marxist (which is just really stupid name calling) when, in fact, he is a moderate a bit to the left of center. I do not have much hope that he will change in his second term despite his rhetoric.
In the end we will need a Roosevelt (Teddy or Franklin) to really shake things up. That was how the Gilded Age ended and the Depression ultimately defeated. Our system must benefit corporations and consumers (all of us) or it will not work. It is government’s responsibility to make that possible. I am always skeptical of government but I believe they can be pushed in the right direction. As it says in the Talmud, “Pray for the welfare of the ruling power, for without it, people would eat each other alive.”
I want to run something by you. This is a response to a letter in today’s local daily which I do not dare submit as a letter there, but which has a question I am asking in earnest. The writer gives several quotes supporting the contention that the public needs to be at least as well armed as the government in case the government turns to oppression. It ends with “Any questions?”
Here’s my question.
I think our government is a tyranny right now. In 2000 the Supreme Court, split along ideological lines, decided a federal election before a needed recount could be completed and in which the state in question had gone to questionable practices (the state official in charge of the election process was state campaign manager for one of the candidates and the voter rolls had been culled almost entirely involving persons who would likely have voted against that official’s preferred candidate). I think that was a coup d’etat.
This new government (that of W) lied to the American people about supposed intelligence and took us into a pointless war that cost us $700 billion so far (and will have cost trillions when all is said and done) plus the lives of 4500 American service men and women and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead.
After 9-11 the government took to itself powers that violate the first, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth amendments to the Constitution. This includes invasive searches without warrant, denying American citizens and others due process of law, restricting protests to so-called Freedom Zones far from where the POTUS or his VOTUS were speaking, the Patriot Act (abridgment of many civil rights), the use of torture (forbidden by Washington, Lincoln and by our military traditions), and the imprisonment of more people than in any other nation in the world. W’s successor seems to have given up none of these powers despite being of the opposite party and supposedly a liberal.
I believe that our government is now a tyranny and that the electoral process has been so tarnished that we cannot expect matters to be fixed at the polls.
Does this mean I should take up arms against the government right now?
My answer is no. I am committed to nonviolence. I do not believe that violent rebellion will achieve anything other than a national bloodbath and I do not believe that a victory by rebels would likely bring anything except even worse and more explicit tyranny. I believe in the power of the people in this country to stand against oppressive government by nonviolent means. That will take longer but the end result will be far better.
There have been several examples in recent times. Most of the Warsaw Pact nations had nonviolent protest movements and the fall of the Communist regimes was without violence in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, the Baltic states, and the USSR itself. Of these only Russia has returned to dictatorship and the rest are functioning democracies. The Marcos regime in the Philippines was ousted by the nonviolent People Power movement after decades of communist insurgency had failed. A nonviolent is demonstrably better than armed revolt.