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Here is my treatise on "the way it should be"!

NOTE: The following discussion should be read as a philosophical treatise, not necessarily a historically accurate one.

Life = Suffering

The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. -- Thomas Hobbes

        Forgive me for starting off on such a depressing note, but this is where we need to start. We like to think that life is a wonderful opportunity and can be filled with joy and fulfilling experiences. And it can. However, that is not the way it is in nature. In the natural world life is suffering. Every animal lives at the mercy of the elements and all the competing animals, both of its own species and others. In evolutionary terms we refer to this as "survival of the fittest". In case the overall pattern of suffering isn't obvious to you, some examples will help to clarify.
        I recently attended a lecture on a particular species of turtles. The scientist giving the lecture mentioned that, for this particular species, only 1 percent of the turtles make it through the hatchling stage. 99% of these turtles die from predation or some other misfortune before making to become an "adolescent"! Surprising? Not really. For any species whose population is remaining stable, how many offspring can each female produce that actually make it to in turn reproduce themselves? Assuming a 50-50 male/female population mix, the answer is, of course, two! Any more offspring than that that survive and you will have a burgeoning population that will eventually outstrip its resources and collapse. (A lesson that we humans, at a population of almost 7 billion, of course, still need to get a grip on.) If a fish lays hundreds or thousands of eggs in its life, how many of those eggs can survive and in turn reproduce if the population remains stable? Once again, two. All those others have to die somehow. Whether through predation, starvation, disease, or however it happens, it simply has to be.
        Of course the same is true for human beings. On my website I have posted a brain teaser, All Those People, which asks people to try to guess what the population of the earth would be today if there were two people (Adam and Eve) in the year 4004 B.C. and they reproduced at the very restrained rate of three children per generation. (Actually the question is, What would the mass (weight) of those people be?) To save you the trouble of clicking, I will give you the answer: They would have a mass equal to 1.53 billion billion trillion times the mass of the entire earth! (Such is the power of exponential growth!) Obviously no such thing has happened or ever could. So what has happened to all those people? Did our early ancestors deplore sex and rarely give birth to children? I don't think so. Obviously most of the people who have lived on the earth have not made it! Be it through war, starvation, disease, accidents, death in childbirth or whatever other factor, people have died rather than reproduce at anywhere near the rate that nature would seem to dictate.
        Indeed, this is the way that it has to be. For any species to survive it has to be able to reproduce in numbers exceeding its replacement rate (i.e., two). If it did not reproduce in such numbers, the first calamity that came along would knock the population down and it would have no means to recover. A few more calamities and, you guessed it, extinction! Any species that does not produce "extra" offspring simply doesn't make it. And, of course, those extra offspring must die -- somehow.

Humans Get Smart

The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us. --Calvin and Hobbes

        So, yes, as nature would have it, life is suffering. However, something happened on our planet that changed things, at least for one species -- homo sapiens got smart. (It remains to be seen whether we got smart enough to solve our problems or only smart enough to create more.) Human beings developed the ability to think and reason, and therefore the ability to say, "We don't want to live by the law of the jungle. We want to do better for ourselves." Thus was born society - people coming together to jointly pursue an existence preferable to each person simply fending for him- or herself against the forces of nature. And since people are a part of nature, this included all the undesirable things that people might do to us as well. By coming together and working together we could not only mitigate the difficulties that nature afforded us, but we could also control those who would take advantage of us or do us harm. In other words, we created laws so that we could all live together in a manner that worked best for everyone.
        So what is it that we want our society to do for us? There are two main categories here. First, we obviously want it to prevent bad things from happening to us. To this end we have a military to prevent bad things coming from the outside of our society and a police force to prevent bad things coming from those within our own society. Secondly, we want society to provide good things for us. We found that the society working as a whole could provide certain things better for us than people working individually. In the modern age, transportation is a clear example. Having government take care of creating and maintaining roadways is a much superior system than if we left each person to build and maintain that portion of roadway in front of his or her house.
        The question then is, What is it that we want our society to provide for us underneath these two general categories? And, of course, this is where a great variety of opinions lie. We all pretty much agree on the need for a military and police force, although we don't agree on specifics such as how big they should be or when they should be used. An even greater variety of opinion lies on the subject of what good things society should provide for us. There are those of a conservative bent who say, "Not much." They believe that people should "stand on their own two feet." Then there are the more liberal types who believe that society should provide lots of services to help people meet their needs. The biggest debate in U.S. society at present is over the providing of health care. Should society (i.e., the government) provide health care for people or should people provide (i.e., pay for) this for themselves?
        On the level of preventing bad things from happening to us, we do indeed need a strong military. The world as a whole has come nowhere near the ideal that I have stated or implied above of coming together to create a suffering-free or harmonious system. There are plenty of "bad guys" out there, and we need to be wary. At the same time, we clearly have by far the most powerful and advanced military on the face of the planet. Do we continue to spend large amounts of resources to create even more powerful and advanced weapons when there are so many other problems that need to be addressed? And it can also be asked if military spending is the best way to ensure security against external threats. Are there better ways to use our resources that would be more effective in ensuring our peace and security? Even more important, in my opinion, than how much we spend on the military is how we use it. Do we aggressively use our military to further our purposes in the world, or is it for defense only? We launched an aggressive war against Iraq which had not in any way attacked or threatened us. Besides killing many thousands of people, we have expended huge resources to do this. I believe the military is for defense. We should not be using it to "push around" the other countries or peoples of the world. Besides being morally wrong, it has been a costly war and has served to enflame hatred against us. A poor use of our military resources, indeed.
        I would suggest that on this level, we are probably spending more than necessary on defense when we already have the best in the world. I believe investment in creating world cooperation, so that we can depend more on joint efforts at security, would be a far more effective investment than spending on military hardware. We are certainly spending too much money on military activities. We should not be carrying on wars in the Middle East, and should be using our resources for more constructive purposes. We also need to take a more realistic view of the world. We invaded a country that we thought might be intending to build nuclear weapons, and yet two of our favorite allies, Israel and Pakistan, have and/or proliferate nuclear weapons. Our concern should be how to deal with these countries who clearly endanger the world with such weaponry, rather than destroying countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. What could we have accomplished with the resources we have wasted in these two horrendous wars?
        On the level of providing good things to our society, I believe that we should care about our neighbors. There is nothing that says it has to be this way. As I have implied above, there is no such thing as right and wrong in any absolute sense. The world and the universe are simply what they are. They have evolved as they have, and this includes the suffering inherent in life. Only because we humans have evolved this ability to think and reason, and therefore to decide that we want something better than what nature provides, do we have a sense of right and wrong. Nature spent billions of years "designing" us to fight and survive as best we could in all this suffering. Only in the last million or so has it evolved the ability to think and reason and decide that we want something better, and, as far as we know, only in one species. The most vicious tiger in the world cannot do anything "wrong", no matter how many people or other animals it kills. It is only when we come together and say, "We want something better", that a concept of right and wrong appear. That does not in any way make it less important. We do indeed want to live better than by the "law of the jungle", and we have created "right" and "wrong" to guide us so that we can do so.
        So then, what is "right" and what is "wrong"? Many will say that that depends on each individual and what his or her moral values are. I would propose, though, that there is indeed a "universal" definition of right and wrong. As I said, we came together because we do not wish to live in a world of suffering imposed by the "law of the jungle." We wished to eliminate, or at least minimize, suffering, at least among our own kind - our own species. What is wrong then is anything that causes suffering. We have to modify this, however, because a tornado obviously can have no sense of right or wrong - it simply exists. We have to limit the concept of right or wrong to those who have the ability to conceive of such a concept and thereby control their actions - human beings. So what is wrong, then, is anything that a person does that causes harm or suffering to others. Conversely what is right is anything that doesn't.
        We could further distinguish between "right" and "alright", with "right" being anything that helps others and "alright" being anything that neither hurts nor harms. This concept may not be particularly valid, though, because everyone and everything are so interlinked that one can scarcely commit any act without it having at least some degree of effect on others. At any rate, my statement above, that I believe we should care about our neighbors, obviously goes beyond just "alright" and reaches the more stringent definition of "right". However, to look at it from a practical viewpoint, the purpose of coming together is to provide a better living condition than we would have otherwise. Therefore we want certain things to be provided that help us all to live better. By caring about our neighbors we are caring about ourselves.
        How do we do this? We have to strike a balance, obviously, between providing for people and holding people responsible for themselves. If we say that we will simply provide food, clothing, housing or whatever needs that people might have, then we are stuck with the question, "Where will these things come from so that we can provide them?" Obviously, we need to have people contributing to society as well as receiving from it. It makes sense then, I believe, to provide for people only if they are doing their part to contribute to the good of society. (This leaves the question of what to do with those who are simply unable to contribute, such as the severely disabled. I will not, however, deal with that question any further than to say that I consider myself a compassionate human being, and feel that we should take care of others who are in need.) We have a system of unemployment benefits that provides money to people simply by virtue of the fact that they became unemployed within a certain time period. Perhaps we should not so easily provide resources to those who are not contributing. A jobs program may be more in order, where we guarantee that any person who wishes to work and contribute may do so, and we then provide enough that they can meet their basic needs. Of course, we don't want people to become permanently dependent on government for their existence, so we need to provide at only a minimal level so that they will be encouraged to go out and find work in the private sector. But more will be said about economics in the next section of this essay.
        For now, I would like to point out that there are some things that society should provide because it benefits all if it does so. I have already mentioned highways as one example. I would like to mention another example here: health care. This is, of course, a very controversial issue in our society today. It seems rather puzzling to me, however, that it should be so. I will use myself as an example here. I am a person with various pain problems that make working very difficult to do. Hence, I have essentially been unemployed for the last ten years. This puts me in a "catch-22" type of situation: I cannot work because I am in pain, but I cannot get out of being in pain because I am not working and able to pay for the medical help that I need. Is it not in the interest of all society to help its people to be better able to contribute to the common good (i.e., work)? If we want people to pitch in and do their part, shouldn't we try to keep them in good health so that they will be able to do so? It does not help our society to have people who are only able to ask for handouts rather than being able to make a contribution. We should at least provide people's needs in as far as it will help them to do their part to contribute to the common good. Obviously, my condition makes me "biased" in this matter. However, everyone is biased. Those in "perfect" health tend to be biased by that fact. My point here is simply, shouldn't we do what we can to help everyone be able to contribute to society's good? While there may be differences of opinion as to how much we should provide food, shelter, etc. for people, it seems that we should always favor helping people to be able to help out. Keeping people healthy is in the best interest of all. A good education system, of course, also falls into this category.
        We have to decide whether we want the "survival of the fittest" or whether we want to continue the process for which we came together in societies in the first place - to make life better for ourselves. I vote for making life as suffering-free as possible.

Economics

We canít solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that we used when we created them. -- Albert Einstein

        So how do we accomplish this? Currently, our society spends more money trying to provide services to people than it takes in, hence running a huge deficit every year and passing on huge debts to our children. And now we are debating whether to add health care to the bill - a huge expense. I would suggest, however, that there is absolutely no need to run deficits. Consider: Does spending extra money somehow magically create more resources? Our society can or does produce x amount of goods and services every year. (x is a measurement in dollars, a somewhat ambiguous measurement of value, but the one that we have to work with.) That is the amount we have to work with. (For the moment, for simplicity I am going to consider our society as a closed system with nothing going out and nothing coming in. This, of course, is far from the reality of things, but it gives a simplified model to start with.) Money is not magic. It does not have any ability to create resources. It is (or at least should be) merely a means of measuring value. Injecting more money into the system does not make us more productive or otherwise create more goods for us. The way we should look at this is that we, as a society, can produce x amount of goods and services. All we need to decide is how much of x we want society (i.e., the government) to provide and how much we want to leave in the hands of private people to spend as they wish. Money is simply the way we go about measuring these things. For instance, let's just pick a nice round, easy-to-work-with number and assume that people of the U.S. produce $10 trillion worth of goods and services each year. At a full or desired level of employment this is what we can do. That is all we have to work with. There is no magic that another trillion or two of dollars can affect. This is what we are able to produce. The question then is, how much of this do we want the government to provide, and how much do we want to leave in the hands of the people to spend as they wish? We might, for instance, decide that we want the government to provide $2 trillion worth of goods and services. Simple! We tax 20% (using whatever graduated tax structure that will average out to 20%) and our government can provide the services desired. We want the government to provide $3 trillion worth of services? Then we simply tax 30%. This is a balance between socialism and capitalism. When the government "takes from people as they are able" (i.e. taxes) and provides to people "according to their needs" we have a socialistic system. The remaining 70%, 80% or whatever level we choose is the capitalistic portion of the system. Neither capitalism nor socialism are bad words. We have always had some sort of balance between the two in our society. The important thing is to use them intelligently to provide for us the kind of society that we want. [Note: The reader may assume from this paragraph that I am proposing producing and consuming the maximum amount of resources possible. Nothing could be farther from my philosophy. We live on a world with limited resources. If we produce, produce, produce and consume, consume, consume to the max, we will deplete the world's resources in a hurry. Indeed, we need to seriously curb our resource use or we are headed for environmental catastrophe and immense human suffering. But that will be the subject of further analysis.]
        Will this result in a tax increase or a tax decrease for most people? I don't know and I don't care. Tax increase or decrease is irrelevant. Using our resources to provide the kind of society that we want is what is relevant. Also relevant is not passing on false debt to our children. Passing debt to our children does not (once again) magically give us more to work with. We have to work with what we have to work with - the resources of 300+ million people. Shoving debt on to our children does not somehow create more.
        The key to all this is to see money for what it really is (or, at least, should be) - simply a way of measuring value. The value that we have to work with is the goods and services that we can produce as a society. If we use money as a way of measuring that value then it will serve us well. However, in our present world money has taken on an essence of its own. It has become something to manipulate rather than simply a tool for measuring value. This manipulation of money led to the economic "meltdown" that we are now suffering from. As long as we allow people or corporations to manipulate money rather than using it for the purpose it is supposed to serve we will continue to have similar problems.
        Of course, the United States is not an isolated society, so the picture is somewhat more complicated than what has been presented here. When we start considering imports, exports and trade balances, things get a bit trickier. In order for this system to work fully we would need to bring every country and peoples in under the same umbrella, the same system, so that we are all working together rather than competing with each other. (Competition is good in some ways, but in this case cooperation would do a lot more toward bringing the world to a more humanitarian and sustainable situation.) This is something that is not likely to happen in the near future. It is, however, necessary to solve the problem in its entirety. I am not in a position to try to sort through the maze of international economics and try to figure all that out - I have trouble enough balancing my own checkbook! I would suggest, however, that this does not detract from the basic message. It is a complicating factor, but does not in any way invalidate the basic message. If we want social and economic justice and prosperity, we need to stop seeing money as value. Money itself has no value. The value exists in the people and natural resources of our society. Money is only a means of measuring value. When we use it that way we will begin to solve the problem.

Summary

        In summary, we need to recognize that the world is, by nature, full of suffering, but, since we have evolved the power of reason, we come together in societies to try to create for ourselves a more desirable situation than that which is afforded us by nature. What we need to do is to decide how our society will best accomplish this, both in terms of preventing bad things from happening to us and of providing good things for us. Preventing bad means a strong military, but one that uses its power only reluctantly. More important to preventing bad than military power, however, is building systems of cooperation between ourselves and the other peoples of the earth. As far as providing good, we need to decide how much the government will provide for us and how much of our resources should be left in the hands of individuals - a compromise between socialistic and capitalistic principles. At a minimum we should provide people with what they need in order to be able to contribute back to the common good; therefore health care should be provided for all. At the same time we want to encourage people to contribute and should not be handing out money to people who are not willing to do so.
        What we need to do is decide what proportion of our productivity we want the government to provide for us and simply tax that amount, regardless of any concept of tax increase or decrease. Passing debt on to our children is completely unnecessary, and it is a crime. The key to all this is to use money for what it is supposed to be - a means of measuring value, not something of value itself - rather than a thing to be manipulated by those who are able. The basis of our decisions is the value of what people can produce, not the supposed value of money.
        Let's create a society with the goal of eliminating, or at least minimizing, the suffering of all its members and providing the opportunity for all its members, both present and future, to contribute and to be the best that they can be.

Now that you've read my philosophy, would you like to read my specific plan for making the world what it should be? That is, my platform for the "Ward Party".