Sunday, January 20, 2013

Why Should the Public Pay for Industry’s Costs of Production?

A for-profit business has to figure its costs of production in establishing a price and maintaining a sufficient profit margin to warrant being in business.  This includes all inputs into the production process.  However, for many if not most American businesses, this does not include the costs of rendering all byproduct outputs from the production process harmless to the environment.  

There are certainly measures that are required by regulation, but they are minimal relatively speaking.  When any efforts are made to require more stringent measures, the common outcry from industry is that the measures are too expensive.  And so government typically relents and the pollution or other damage continues, with the environment being damaged, sometimes irrevocably, sometimes to be cleaned up at the taxpayer’s expense.

Before any product is allowed to be processed or manufactured, why isn’t it required that a business provide an environmental impact statement indicating the measures it will take to insure that any potential impact is mitigated to the point that the process is harmless to the environment.  If a business cannot with a sufficient degree of certainty make such a statement, it should not be allowed to proceed.  (The former phrase is in italics because industry routinely makes such bold statements without there being any rigorous research or data backing up the statements.)

The obvious case in point is hydraulic fracking, but the same principle applies to coal mining, electric generating plants, chemical plants, and many other industries where one wouldn’t necessarily think that toxic discharges would be a problem.  No industry should be allowed to despoil the environment.  And the public should not have to pay for mitigation measures that should be considered costs of production.   

If such a system is not put in place and the government/taxpayer ends up paying, then isn’t that a form of socialism that big business and conservatives so abhor?  Why is it only socialism to these people when the government helps those who are in need, but not when government either directly or indirectly subsidizes the cost of doing business?

This is but one more example where corporate interests usually trump all others because of the power they have through the money they donate to politicians and the money they spend lobbying for their point of view.  Those who speak on the public’s behalf are drowned out by the shear magnitude of corporate power over the process.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Insecurity as the Cause of Social Conflict and International War.

In my previous post, I addressed the problems caused by widespread insecurity ... abuse and violence in personal relationships and in social interactions, as well as much unhappiness and stress even without those particular outcomes.  But insecurity also plays a major role in the larger issues of social conflict and international war.

For hundreds if not thousands of years, there has been a divide in most societies between the haves and the have-nots.  Whether we look at the English nobility, or the WASP establishment in the United States prior to 1960, Southern whites, or the caste system in India, the haves put in place a system which protected their interests and kept “others” or the masses from having the power to be a threat.  

The reader might look at these leaders of society and say that they were immensely secure; that this is not an example of insecurity causing conflict.  But I would argue that they were only secure because they had put in place these systems, which they did out of insecurity and fear.  They were at some level afraid of “others” or the masses gaining power.

The English nobility put in place a system where there was little upward mobility, and then only to a certain point.  The English class system ... which was the gate into good schools and good jobs ... was firmly in place until after WWII; many would say it still is.  Politically, even after election reforms in the 1800s which gave a political voice to men who either owned or rented property worth a certain amount, the House of Lords, which was the province of the nobility, had the power to veto what they didn’t like until 1911.  

In the United States, the WASP establishment until around 1960 had a pretty exclusive grip on all handles of power.   Whether someone was Jewish or Catholic, let alone black, all “others” were excluded from the seats of real power, for example, WASP law firms, country clubs, and private clubs.  Representative politics provided a path to elected status for many of the “others,” but real power was reserved for members of the WASP establishment until well after WWII.

In the South, whites from the highest to the lowest socio-economic groups put in place and violently supported a system in which blacks had no rights, or what rights they had were systematically denied them.  The language may have been one of superiority and security, but here more than in the other instances I discuss, the fear of losing control was always close to the surface and apparent.

Today in the United States, while we live in a very egalitarian society in many respects and there are many laws protecting the equality of people, discrimination based on fear and insecurity is still a major issue.  Much has been written, for example, about the vehemence of the Tea Party’s and Far Right’s attitude towards President Obama as being in large part based on their fear of blacks’, and other people of color, gaining more social and political power as the majority status of whites in this country begins to fade away, an opinion with which I agree.

And this is not just a Western phenomenon. For example, the caste system in India, which until relatively recently was very rigid and still causes many problems, especially for those formerly labeled “untouchables,” was an ancient system devised to keep everyone in their place and protect those with power from those below them.

As to the issue of international war, the issue of insecurity is more visible.  Virtually all alliances and wars have been an effort to make countries feel secure against the threat of enemies, real or imagined.  Even the strong have constantly been worried about attacks on their hegemony.  And understandably so.

Obviously, in the larger social context and international relationships, the problem is not directly that children, spouses, and others are not loved unconditionally.  However, the basic dynamic resulting from this which impacts interpersonal relationships ... a feeling of insecurity, of not feeling safe, of needing to project strength to counter such feelings ... directly impacts  actions in the larger social and world arenas.  If those in positions of power felt love towards and from all, then there would be no need for both the national and international systems that have ultimately caused much suffering in the world.

If everyone were raised with unconditional love, listened to deeply, and spoken to with loving kindness, then man would not grow up to be the way man is now and has been for millenia, at least in so-called “advanced” societies.  

So far I have discussed the impact of man’s insecurity vis a vis others and its impact on his relationship with other individuals or groups.  Another major aspect of man’s insecurity that has affected the course of human development has been his insecurity vis a vis nature, read broadly.  It is this insecurity that resulted in the development of religion, from the earliest to the current leading religions.  

Man formed religions to answer questions of why nature and other aspects of life are the way they are, and most importantly to provide a way for man to impact their course, whether through sacrifice in ancient times or through modern prayer.  And since religion was formed in answer to man’s insecurity, it is not surprising that it was made to serve his other insecurities, whether it was providing a respectable foundation for the continued practice of slavery or lending its authority to a country’s going to war against enemies.  Far from being the bringer of peace and understanding, religion has thus been the hand-maiden of war and untold human suffering.

And so, the book I’ve written which has just been published, Raising a Happy Child, is relevant regarding these larger issues as well.  It is available through as well as through the major online retailers and your local bookstore by special order.  While based on Buddhist principles, the lessons it contains are applicable regardless of ones religious affiliation.  For more information about the book as well as the Table of Contents and sample text, go to the website.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Root of All Abuse and Violence - Insecurity

In the aftermath of the massacre at Newtown, CT most of the discussion has centered around how to lessen the risk of such events happening through better gun control measures, including improved data bases to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally disturbed.  While these are important measures that need to be taken, they avoid the real issue ... why is it that so many people are killed in the United States each year by guns.

In addition to the well-publicized random mass shootings, there is a far greater problem out there.   In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans.  Roughly 20,000 of these were suicides; the rest were intentional homicides.  Only 5% were accidental shootings. In addition, 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2010.  

These numbers are huge.  They evidence a significant problem in the psychological stability of Americans.  I include in this group not just those who perpetrate mass shootings or commit suicide, but also those who commit intentional homicide.  One does not kill another person if one is emotionally stable.   

But the vastness of America’s psychological problem is far greater than evidenced by gun deaths.  If we look at the extent of domestic violence, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that between 960,000 and 3 million people are physically abused by their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend per year.  Other sources report estimates ranging between 600,000 to 6 million women and 100,000 to 6 million men per year.  Even taking the more conservative DOJ figures, the problem is serious.

There are no statistics for those who suffer verbal/mental rather than physical abuse.  But as anyone who has observed friends and family, as well as strangers, the numbers if they were available would be frightening.

Whether someone verbally abuses a spouse or child, or physically abuses them, or commits suicide, murder, or a mass shooting is a matter of degree, both as to the severity and nature of their psychological disturbance.  But in most cases, whether the disturbance is mild or severe, the root of the disturbance is insecurity.

What has caused this epidemic of insecurity? The cause lies in the simple fact that children, spouses, parents, and siblings are typically not loved unconditionally, or certainly do not feel so loved. To most people reading this, this will sound like rubbish for a variety of reasons. First, people think that it is quite right not to love people unconditionally; the very idea sounds like nonsense. Second, it sounds like the ultimate example of permissiveness, which rightfully would be viewed negatively.

The first reaction arises because most of us have no experience with, no role models for, unconditional love.  We have not experienced it ourselves, either from our parents or spouses, nor have we seen that trait in others. A recent cartoon in the New Yorker showed a mother with her arm around her young son, saying, ““Heavens no, sweetie – my love for you has tons of conditions”  Take away the hyperbole and that states the basic fact of much child-rearing, at least in America (I can’t speak to other countries), and not just currently but probably for a good century and more. 

This is not a judgment of parents.  Most parent are good people who would never do anything intentionally to harm their child.  But parents are people who are a function of their own upbringing and learned experience. They have their own fears, frustrations, angers, and desires. And they see things through the lens of that experience and those emotions, which in turn impacts how they interact with their children. 

And so, as children we have been exposed to conditional love at home and conditional respect among our peers. The result is an epidemic of insecurity.  And not just among those who receive negative “reviews” from family and peers.  Those who get positive feedback are also insecure because they realize that their approval is based on their status at that point in time; should that change ... whether it’s ones looks, ones grades, ones wealth, ones physical ability, ones talent ... they will lose their position at the top of the social pecking order.  They know that their approval is very conditional and the fact that they have so much to lose makes them even more insecure, which they mask with huge egos and bravado.  This is what accounts for so many people at the top being imperious and often belittling others ... whether it’s “mean girls” in school or financial titans.

As to the second reaction, it stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning of unconditional love.  Unconditional love is a Buddhist concept that pretty much means what it seems to ... that one loves someone, whether child or spouse, for who that person is.  And so regardless what that person does, they are still loved because it does not change who they are.  An example of this are parents who accept a child who turns out to be gay because it doesn’t change who the child is in their eyes and thus doesn’t change their love, as opposed to those parents who ostracize such children because they have committed an abomination or at least unpardonable social behavior.

What it does not mean is that one does not provide direction or criticism to a child.  An important factor in the development of a child is receiving direction on a large variety of matters from its parents.  To love unconditionally means to provide that direction or criticism within the context of such love and when one gives it, to couch it in such a way, to use such words and tone of voice, so that it is clear to the child that the direction or criticism does not impact the unconditional love that they are given.  If one loves a child unconditionally, one never yells at a child or calls them “bad” or other negative labels.  That would be an example of not speaking with loving kindness, which is the opposite of unconditional love.

As an aside I should note that unconditional love also does not mean that if one finds oneself in an abusive relationship that one stays in it.  One may have unconditional love and compassion for the abusive spouse/partner, but if your mental or physical well-being is threatened, one should put as much physical and legal distance as necessary between yourself and the abuser to protect yourself, and if you have children, your children.

Assuming that to some degree at least you agree with my assessment, you may well ask how this problem can be addressed?  If generations of insecure people are raising insecure children in a vicious cycle, how can it be broken? The answer is by making prospective and existing parents aware of this problem and encouraging them to take steps to both raise a happy and secure child and at the same time make their own lives better as well.  Bit by bit we must start with individual parents and have the effect spread outward.

To that end I have written a book which has just been published, Raising a Happy Child. While based on Buddhist principles, the lessons it contains are applicable regardless of ones religious affiliation. It is available through as well as through the major online retailers and your local bookstore by special order.  For more information about the book as well as the Table of Contents and sample text, go to the website.

Next, “Insecurity as the Cause of Social Conflict and International War.”

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Value of Differing Opinions - A Way Back from the Breach

Our democracy and the right of free speech is based on the value the founding fathers placed on differing opinions.  It is by the airing of differing opinions that people are either  persuaded or not, or a compromise is found which while not giving either side everything it wanted provides a way for each side to feel good about the outcome.  But ultimately, of course, the majority rules, which means that there will in most political matters be a large percentage of people and their elected representatives who are not happy with the result.  Such is life in a democracy.

For such a system to work, for our democracy and representative government to function, it is of critical importance that even though people and their representatives may disagree with others as to a whole raft of issues, that, as lawyers say, “people agree to disagree,” that they understand that “reasonable minds may differ.”  Which is to say that each side respects that the other side came to its opinions honestly and with reason ... they just don’t agree.

When, however, people become so convinced of the rightness of their opinions that they become self-righteous and ideological in their approach to issues ... that is they feel that they are not just right and the other side wrong but that the other side is somehow evil or harmful ... then there can be no compromise, there can be no reasoned discussion, there can be no art of persuasion and the process of our democratic government breaks down.  And that is the state in which we have found ourselves these past few years.

How have we come to this point?  Why has a system that has operated for more than 200 years, with the exception of the Civil War, with widely divergent points of view and often hot tempers reached the current impasse?  Really, what we are seeing now in the posture of the two opposing sides is most akin to that which our country experienced over the issue of slavery and to a certain extent the civil rights movement.  And that’s disturbing.

On the issue of slavery and civil rights, those in the south felt that their whole way of life, their whole world would cease to be if African-Americans were given their freedom and the same rights as white people.  And they were right.  Their world did change.  But life went on, and white southerners changed too; they adapted to the new reality.  And they found once they got over themselves that much about their world did not change.

The same kind of reality check is needed in the current situation in order to progress from the current Congressional gridlock.  Both sides ... which is to say the liberal left and the far right ... need to understand that life will go on, that the country will prosper, that they and their constituents will be ok, even if their view of government does not totally win the day.  This is surely an instance where there is merit on both sides.  

For example, as staunchly liberal as I am, I get livid when I get emails and petitions, or read articles, in which liberal groups refuse to give an inch on entitlement (Social Security and Medicare) spending.  I’m sorry, but the nation’s debt and deficit are real problems and we just do not have sufficient revenue to continue past policies unaltered as our age demographics change.  

There are ways to cut spending without harming those who are truly dependent on these benefits, and that’s what Democrats must make sure of.  As for the starting age of Medicare, that used to be of critical importance because of the cost of medical insurance.  Now with the new Health Care Law, insurance available through the insurance exchanges for those of limited means will probably not be much more than what one currently pays out of Social Security for Plan B.  So it should not be the critical issue it once was.  There’s also a painless opportunity to raise revenues for SS by ending the salary cap regarding the application of the SS tax.

But how do we get both the public and their representatives to get down from these barricades they’ve erected?  How do we get them to go back to the day when each side respected the other side?

As a Buddhist, I find the answer in the teachings of the Buddha.  The Buddha taught that all things are empty of intrinsic existence, that they are of dependent origination.  What that means is that every thought we have, every opinion we hold, all our perspectives are a function of our learned experience, whether within our family, our peer group, or the larger culture.  

As a proposed statement of fact, this statement is unassailable.  And when one truly accepts that fact, there is no way that one can say any more with certitude that I am right and the others are wrong.  Even if one is Born Again, your opinions are based on the teachings of your peer group, your minister, and they in turn were learned from someone else.  They are as dependent as the opinions of a secular humanist atheist.  And if anyone has the hubris to say that God has spoken to them and this is what God says, beware!

There should be only a few universal rules in coming to a compromise on issues.  First, do unto others as you would have them do unto you; love and respect your neighbor as you do yourself.  Second, do no harm to those who are vulnerable and need the protection of the state.  Third, the social contract must be honored by all citizens, part of which entails that those who are better off have a social responsibility as citizens to help those who are not well off ... that’s what progressive taxation is all about.  Fourth, there can be no sacred cows ... neither military spending nor entitlements.

Application of these rules would arrive at numerous ways to cut the deficit and slow the growth of the national debt through a combination of raised revenues and reduced spending without harming either individuals in need, the strength of the economy, or our national security.