Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

God, The Pledge, the PC, and a Poem

The Pledge of the Politically Correct (written during the first Gulf War)

Angry Americans clamor
For Constitutional Changes
To Protect the National Symbol
From Despicable Desecrators
While patriotic Auto Antennas
Proudly display their
Tattered Flag Rags
Flapping fiercely in the wind

©1990 T. McMullen All Rights Reserved

On a “friend’s” Facebook page the following was posted in a graphic:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

…My generation grew up reciting this every morning in school with my hand over my heart. They no longer do that for fear of offending someone.

Let’s see how many Americans will repost and not worry about offending someone.” 
[I might add that the whole thing was in CAPS!]

The first comment, from Jonathan, said,"Under God" was added in the '50s, during the apex of Cold War paranoia and McCarthyism. The original pledge was non-secular. This same hysterical time in our history is responsible for "In God We Trust" used as a slogan, thrown around federal buildings and our currency.

We evolve and shed the bullshit.

People who bitch about PC attitudes do not operate in anyone's best interest. They are haters, with entitlement issues about openly hating.

Jonathan, in a different comment, later asserted, “The Bible is a work of fiction.”

Then Brandon responded:
The Bible like all genuine works of world historical religion are works of the human heart not "fiction". Why do rabid atheist's eyeballs always seem like they are going to pop out? Hating religion, especially Christianity, is an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings.

This exchange prompted the following from me:

Brandon, I am puzzled a bit by the distinction that you seem to be making between works of “fiction” and “works of the human heart.” Are you distinguishing between works of the heart as opposed to works of the “head,” i.e., purely rational, devoid of affective or emotional content? To be honest, I don’t think that I have ever encountered such a thing. Even the most “rational” piece of scientific writing has emotive qualities. It is the nature of written and spoken communication, and it seems unlikely that you are arguing that fiction is exclusively rational, neither inspired nor imbued with emotion; nor does it seem reasonable to assume that you think the sacred works are devoid of all rational thought. If they were, they would be worth very little indeed.

By works of the human heart, do you mean something that is “true” as opposed to fiction, which is “false”? I was faced innumerable times with eager students who, after reading some powerful and moving piece of fiction, would ask, “Is it true?” The need for it to be true in the historical sense gave them a sense of validation that a “made up story” could not. This error can be attributed to the folly and ignorance of youth. The most accurate answer is, of course, “though it may not have actually happened, it is certainly true.” Sadly, this consumer society has created a logical fallacy with their absurd and misleading phrase “based on a true story” or “based on real events” to describe the most preposterous works of supernatural or semi-historical fiction. This distortion of the concept of truth can also be seen in the absurdly ironic misnomer of “reality” TV for the ridiculously foolish and fabricated scenarios from Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to Big Brother and Fear Factor to Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

To argue that the great books of the world’s religions are “true,” in the sense of an accurate, historical documentation of actual physical events that occurred in a real time at a real place, and that they are “true” in their entirety, is also a patently absurd approach. Those fundamentalists who insist that every word of their “holy book” is not symbolic but literal either have no grasp of reality, or they have never actually read the books that they purport to believe.

Perhaps you are getting at the more meaningful distinction between pure literary fiction and mythological works. In this case, it is the motive more than the method that separates the two. Literary fiction is meant to entertain, to delight, to move, to motivate, to challenge, and to explain to the reader. The author may create a setting using verisimilitude or absolute fancy; they may create characters based on archetypes or stereotypes, or they may attempt a complex and nuanced depiction of actual people.

Notice, though, that each of these intentions and techniques can be applied not merely to great works of fiction, but they can also apply to The Upanishads, The Vedas, The Mahabharata and its excerpt The Bhagavad Gita, The Ramayana, The Jainist Agamas, The Tao Te Ching (or The Te Tao Ching), The Sutras, The Old Testament, The New Testament, The Koran, The Nordic Eddas, The Book of Mormon, and many other sacred texts. The difference between these “sacred works” and ordinary works of fiction is that the sacred books offer myths of cosmogony (creation), etiology (tracing of causes), legends and parables, as well as codes of conduct and rules of propriety.

While acknowledging this distinction between fiction and myth (and dismissing the more colloquial and ethnocentric meaning of “myth” as a falsity, fabrication, or false religion),
I fail to comprehend the source of your ire. You did not describe these works as messages from God but as works of the human heart, thus denying them any supernatural standing or sacrosanct authority.

If they are merely manmade, then they are fiction in their storytelling, howsoever wise in their advice and admonitions. As such, why can they not be held up to intellectual scrutiny, just like Hamlet, Tristam Shandy, The Scarlett Letter, The Time Machine, Brave New World, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, Death of a Salesman, The Tin Drum and other great works of fiction or Wealth of Nations, Gulliver’s Travels, “The Declaration of Independence,” Leaves of Grass, Origin of Species, Das Kapital, “Self Reliance,” “Civil Disobedience,” “The Pledge of Allegiance,” Mein Kampf and other works of poetry and persuasion?

You asked, “Why do rabid atheist's eyeballs always seem like they are going to pop out? Hating religion, especially Christianity, is an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings." If something is “an easy, weak target for intellectual weaklings,” what must it be for those with some modicum of intellectual prowess?

No, it is not the ease with which individual inconsistencies, fallacies, fantasies, and absurdities in the religious texts can be identified and ridiculed that causes thoughtful, even spiritually-minded people to hold religion in such contempt. It is the use of religion by its adherents and by those ignorant poseurs who are deluded into believing themselves adherents, who use their understanding (or misunderstanding, distortion, or perversion) of “their” religion to justify their intrusion on the lives of others.

Persecution and subjugation on the grounds of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, and lifestyle; torture, murder and war from crusades to jihads, from occupations to intifadas, from suicide bombers to drone missile strikes (and no, these are not all morally equivalent—an uprising as a means of “shaking off” oppression, for example, is more justified than an invasion or an occupation) but the evil perpetrated from each of these acts of violence is done in the name and on behalf of religion.

When it comes to the original point, the document known as “The Pledge of Allegiance” or the “Flag Salute,” it is a very interesting affirmation, designed in the late 1800’s to bring a sense of patriotism at a time when the rise of capitalism had created slums and wage-slave factories. Bellamy proposed a document that would be recited by school children everywhere as a way of recognizing and encouraging the political and economic aspirations of the people. It said, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The flag was seen as a unifying symbol of the Republic, that is, the representative democracy, and not the corrupt and unscrupulous oligarchy that it was becoming. The term “indivisible” referred to the Civil War and the failure of the Confederacy to dismantle the Union, but it also referred to the economic disparity being created under laissez faire capitalism, the ever-widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots, that was fomenting a disdain for and revolt from the jingoistic “patriotism” of the masters by the working poor. The concluding phrase is, obviously, the heart of the affirmation and the aspiration. It states that this is a democracy with “liberty and justice for all,” with emphasis on “ALL.” When read in this form, it clearly comports with Francis Bellamy’s socialist intent.

Bellamy was adamantly opposed to the change fomented in 1924 by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution. They replaced “my Flag” with “the Flag of the United States” and a year later, they added,  “of America.” Bellamy’s protestations that these changes eroded the universality of his pledge went unheeded.

The crowning distortion, the change that, in fact, completely undermined the very premise of the pledge, was the anti-communist insertion of “under God,” at the urging of the Knights of Columbus during the Eisenhower administration. This absolutely upended an egalitarian statement about a country that protected the liberty of ALL and provided justice for All. The first statement in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights (the document without which the Constitution could not have been ratified and which is directly in line with the Preamble) is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” By changing the Flag Code and declaring this to be “one Nation under God,” Eisenhower and Congress had thoroughly, intentionally, and unconstitutionally undermined and subverted the protection of religious liberty as proscribed in the first amendment.

Put simply, whenever politicians, pundits or partisans use God or religion as a rationale for promoting or punishing behavior, liberty and justice are curtailed, and harm transpires. Complaining about, even railing against those negative impacts, even from something as initially laudable as the “Pledge of Allegiance” seems completely justifiable.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Healthcare and the "It's My Money" Argument

A friend on Facebook posted an article about a chain store, Hobby Lobby, suing the government over the Affordable Care Act because of their religious opposition to contraception. Though the thread got a little off topic, the following reasonable question was raised about another commentator’s suggestion that we should have universal healthcare like 90% of the developed nations.

“Why should I be forced to pay for the irresponsibility of another person? Rights are restrictions on what other people can force upon you. You have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You have the right to believe what you want, the right to go about doing whatever you want without being forced into doing anything with anybody else that you do not wish to participate in so long as you are not effecting there rights. How is it your birthright to take my money and pay for your healthcare if you choose to live a lifestyle that will cause medical problems?"

Granted, it missed the whole religious aspect of the contraception issue, but it asks a question many ask about taxes. What follows is my answer:

Fred, I was going to let this thread about a petty and spurious legal squabble slide since your response to my answer about the religious nature of the lawsuit was not a rebuttal but a complete reframing of the issue that was, again, completely irrelevant to the article. But after your answer to Amy’s question about universal healthcare, I feel compelled to weigh in.

I do not wish to attribute to you any assumptions or views that you do not hold, yet in order to respond to the underlying premises, I find it necessary to make some generalizations. I am not accusing you of or praising you for being a libertarian; however, your line of reasoning is along “libertarian” lines.

People like Ron Paul and Penn Gillette make compelling arguments about the intrusive and/or oppressive nature of government while elevating the rights of the individual over the demands of society. I am guessing that these arguments, if unexamined, have resonance with a majority Americans.

Ayn Rand’s vision of the exceptional, self-made man, the individualistic hero—Emerson and Thoreau’s “self-reliant” individual turned into a morally superior and anti-social megalomaniac—as well as Nietzsche’s “Ãœbermensch” or “Superman,” has also found increasing popularity in an ethical, social, political, and economic milieu where the wages and rights of the worker have been significantly eroded while a new class of corporate mega-millionaires has been created.

Anyone born during or since Reagan’s reign has lived in a society in which “government IS the PROBLEM” has been the “common wisdom”; this is a “consensus” that was carefully designed and executed long before Reagan’s ascendancy, and one that continues to be bought and paid for by billions of corporate dollars spent to perpetuate that destructive falsehood. Government is NOT the problem. However, BAD government is ONE of the problems. Mythical distortions of history and anti-intellectualism are also problematic for a society as is an unsustainable economy predicated on personal greed and perpetual growth.

E.E. Cummings coined the phrase “shrill, collective myth” to describe a “popular” view of history. Our collective myth perpetuates some very powerful and laudable assumptions. You said, for example, “Rights are restrictions on what other people can force upon you.” This point, of course, stems from an assumption of “Natural Rights,” i.e., those rights that are “inalienable” and which apply equally to all humans, as opposed to “Legal Rights,” which are those rights conferred by the laws of a society. Jefferson included the phrase, “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” If, by Creator (with a capital “C”) he meant God, then this very line of reasoning is not self-evident, but pure conjecture. The existence of God (as anthropomorphic being rather than as Tillich’s “Ultimate Concern”) is certainly not self-evident any more than basic rights are self-evident. This, on the other hand, does not mean that these enumerated rights are not good goals.

You also quote the brilliant “Declaration of Independence” directly: “You have the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” Of course, it is important to remember that the men who penned these phrases held and justified the holding of slaves, in essence, instantly contradicting all three provisions as far as slaves were concerned.
John Locke, the philosopher from whom much of the rationale for the “Declaration” was acquired, suggested in “A Letter Concerning Toleration”: “The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.  ¶Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.” Notice that he actually included health as one of these “civil interests.” These sentences were preceded by his analysis and dismissal of the “pretense” of claims by both church and magistrate as an excuse to dominate others. His rational analysis of and call for religious tolerance (which echoes Roger William’s essay “On the Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, 1644) is extremely pertinent and, I think you would agree, comes down solidly on the side of the Affordable Care Act and against Hobby Lobby.
Finally, you suggest the following: “You have the right to believe what you want, the right to go about doing whatever you want without being forced into doing anything with anybody else that you do not wish to participate in so long as you are not effecting there (sic) rights.” This is certainly true in a social vacuum, and as long as one lives completely outside of any human contact (and some would extend this to inter-species contact), such rights can remain sacrosanct. However, as soon as another individual enters the picture, such rights are either lost entirely, in the case of subjugation or domination, or compromised in ways that accommodate both individuals. This is the nature of society. I completely agree with your characterization of lofty goals, and I would tend to agree with Locke and Jefferson (and with you, perhaps?) that governments came into existence to “secure these rights.”

Unfortunately, lofty goals aside, the argument nearly always degenerates into an argument about “MY MONEY!” and returns us to the fiction of the “self-made man” and the “self-made money.” I would be happy to address this “we made this” fallacy elsewhere, but here it simply comes down to the simple fact that taxes are not the government stealing from the individual, it is the individual consenting to be taxed as a part of being the governed.

As Locke said in “Sec. 140.” Of the Second Treatise of Civil Government, after spending paragraphs explaining why no person can be legally deprived of property, he avers: “It is true, governments cannot be supported without great charge, and it is fit every one who enjoys his share of the protection, should pay out of his estate his proportion for the maintenance of it. But still it must be with his own consent, i.e. the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves, or their representatives chosen by them: for if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?”

Therefore, roads and schools and military and police and business regulations and health care that the society, through their representative government, deem worthy of securing, is a fundamental part of a societal construct. That our own society has abdicated Locke’s “civil interest” in health is a moral disgrace, and the fact that we have relegated basic health protections to the private profiteers is something that we actually should be up in arms about.

This brings us to your view of “health” and “health care.” You argue, “How is it your birthright to take my money and pay for your healthcare if you choose to live a lifestyle that will cause medical problems?" Are you arguing that all health issues can be avoided through lifestyle choices? Mitigated, certainly, but avoided? Of course not. What of the child born with a disease or who contracts one early in life? Was that a result of the child’s lifestyle? If not, would you admit that this child has a birthright to health care? Or is this individual’s life merely determined by the vagaries of wealth and whether or not the family can afford it? We have a right, as a society, to agree otherwise.

If I knowingly eat spoiled food, I am an idiot. But do we, as a part of our consent to be governed have a right to demand that the government regulate those who make and provide food so that it is not spoiled when we eat it? Do we have a right to demand that corporations not pollute our environment or that when they do, we, as a society, have a right to extract both compensation and punishment for that harm (a basic Lockean premise from the same paragraph of his letter quoted above).

I have no children. You appear to argue that the government taking my money and paying for the education of someone else’s children is inherently wrong. Howard Jarvis, the demagogue who led the “taxpayers’ revolt” with Prop 13 in California is still hailed as a guiding light by many. He stated unequivocally that he did not believe in public education. I believe that Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann were idiots about tax policy (or more likely, knowing con men), sycophants for the corporatocracy parading as “grass roots” organizers, an early example of “astro-turfing,” and direct contributors to our current economic woes.

I, however, would not begrudge their children a public education nor would I deny their fundamental social right to health care. Ironically, Paul Gann contracted AIDS, apparently from a transfusion, and at the end of his life, he was an advocate for AIDS treatment and patient’s rights. The "Paul Gann Blood Safety Act" (California Health and Safety Code Section 1645(b)) mandates that physicians discuss the risks of blood transfusions. Public money well spent on government intervention to protect the health of individuals. Just like public money well spent on public education, fire and safety enforcement, infrastructure, business regulations, and health care—including contraception.

We, as citizens, have every right to demand that our tax dollars are “well spent,” and we have a right to argue about how to spend them, but we don’t have a right to individually withhold it on religious or personal grounds. I, of course, also think that Churches who participate in political activity either in the pulpit or through campaign contributions as well as any “non-profit” (501(c)(3)’s, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, that engage in political activity should also be taxed, but that, again, is a different argument for a different time.

Personally, I sort of like the idea of voters getting to “check off” where their tax dollars will go. I am enraged and outraged that my taxes support the murdering of innocent civilians by “video game” (drone); the protection and subsidizing of irresponsible, criminal, and in some cases, murderous corporations and their management; and myriad other examples of what I see as misuses of government, i.e., tax-payer, funds. But until we, the governed, create such a system, then it is unfair and unreasonable to argue that the government is usurping or commandeering or “stealing” your money simply because you object to how it is used. Lobby to change it, or revolt to change it, but to argue coercion on a particular specific is, at the very least, disingenuous.