Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #84

Paths and Choices:  Decay as a Failure of Imagination  7.5.5

The question is whether Decay is a purposeful encouragement of vague anxiety, fear, helplessness, ignorance, and irrational hate and vengeance.  Sometimes it certainly is.  Yet sometimes Decay may be a failure of imagination and thought.  We cannot even think of or imagine what might lead to Growth.  Moral Growth means strength based on love of life, love of others, and the courage to be independent.  How can we learn to imagine this?

Citizen Questions in an External Crisis: Thought Experiment  7.5.6

Pick a recent actual physical political or humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world.  This could be an external or internal war, a health crisis, or a natural disaster like drought or famine or earthquake, for example.  Using these questions, think through the scenario you picked.

  • Compared to past similar experiences, what questions should we ask about this conflict?
  • Who or what is the real enemy?
  • Why is this person or thing or group an enemy?
  • Is someone leading the violence and destruction or making it worse?  What is his or her real reason?
  • What concrete action could be taken to prevent future destruction?
  • What concrete action could be taken to change the enemy himself or itself?
  • If the enemy is a person or group, what concrete action could be taken to separate the followers from their leader(s) so that the followers can make better choices?
  • If the enemy is a person or group, what concrete action can be done to encourage love of life instead of love of death in the followers of the enemy?
  • If the enemy is a person or group, what concrete action can be done to encourage understanding and love of others in the followers of the enemy, rather than keeping the focus on group worship of country or leader?
  • What concrete action can be done to support independence and responsibility rather than dependence and fear?
  • What is the first concrete action to take?  Defensively if the danger is real, clear, and present – offensively to serve life, love, responsibility, and individual freedom?
  • What are the concrete actions to avoid?  Cowardice, if courage is needed in defense – foolish or rash actions that serve only death, power, or wealth?
  • Finally, what could we have asked earlier that we didn’t ask about this situation?

These are hard questions for citizens to ask, but in a democracy the people are responsible for thinking and for acting.  Following the leader may be easier, but Growth requires love, care, respect, independence, and wise use of free choice.  Self-examination is a demanding but necessary process.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

” [As] someone often forced to think, I know that often I would not see a thing unless I thought of it first.”  Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It


Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #83

Paths and Choices:  The Military  7.5.4

The American military are trained to be expert killers, but their training always emphasizes service of life and family as well as country.  They represent a country that at its best sees itself as a leader for universal freedom, prosperity, and equality.  Their training emphasizes sacrifice for American ideals and in the service of life and against those who serve death.  As a result when the military is commanded to act in ways that serve death or Decay, the conflict with their personal reason, duty, love, and belief becomes unbearable.  Loyalty must be transferred to the small group, fighting for “my buddies,” or even each one defending himself or herself in order to get back to the “real world,” to “life.”  Fighting for a friend or a tight group is important in this utmost crisis.

In the Vietnam Conflict the confusion of the leaders, their love of power or fear of loss of power, became clear.  Then the military, especially those who were drafted, often subverted the “plan.”  They saw that they were not in a war to defend freedom, independence, justice, or equality.  They did not imagine themselves serving life.  They knew that prosperity, if any, would go to the few.  They knew that the enemy guerrillas  saw themselves as defending their own country.  They saw that at least some of the leaders of their local allies were self-serving, greedy, cowardly, or weak.  These conflicts put those who thought about it in an impossible position and rewarded those who didn’t think about it or who concentrated only on themselves.

With the change to a professional military, rather than either universal service or a drafted military, most Americans separated themselves from the realities of danger and war that the military and their families understand too clearly and too well.  If leadership encourages and rewards this separation from reality, it creates both ignorance and dependence in the average citizen.  Moral Decay means that fear and anxiety are encouraged among passive but dependent followers.  Cynical leaders manipulate the followers to focus on blind revenge or vague fears.  Of course, this works very well as long as the people can be discouraged from using their reason and productive powers.  As long as the focus is on vengeance and fear, and not on doing anything specific or concrete for Growth, Decay increases.  The people, trusting the leaders, allow themselves to be manipulated.  The leaders too often are focused on power and money.  Or perhaps, they actually cannot imagine what they could do to make a positive difference.  Either way, the citizens are lead into cycles of violence, fear, and dependence.

Is America unusual in this?  Of course not.  This has happened again and again throughout history.  Doing our duty as responsible leaders, as thinking citizens, as courageous humans must go on always.  Moral Growth never ends.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“The government is the strongest of which everyone feels himself a part.”  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #82

Paths and Choices:  The Enemy  7.5.2

When the enemy becomes the Other – vaguely evil and unreal, demonized into inhumanity – or when fear takes over, any of us can kill.  In the absence of a real and present danger, unscrupulous or self-serving leaders incite fears, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.  Generally, when the enemy becomes a real person, those extremes of violence are reduced or come into conflict with our feelings for others as humans like ourselves.  Therefore, the Decayed leader tries to dehumanize an opponent to prevent his followers from seeing the enemy as real and specific persons.  Or else we ourselves try to rationalize our need to kill, either in obedience or for a “larger” cause.  The individual enemy becomes simply a representative of a bad leader or a bad ideology.  The enemy is no longer a person at all.

Inhumanity  7.5.3

Certainly there is such a thing as self defense and a just war.  Certainly there are violent, disturbed, evil people.  There are sociopaths and psychopaths.  But thinking beyond the individual one-to-one problems, we come to Decay that has been deliberately created on a broad scale.

Some teachings deliberately create inhumanity in followers.  Fanatic Islamists are often in this state, and there is no opening or time to counter the indoctrination.  Suicide bombers, like kamikaze pilots, may have been convinced that their deaths will make the world better, and in this way probably they believe that they are in the service of life.  But more likely they have been convinced that they must avenge a past injustice or that their deaths are the will of god or the will of the exulted leader, certainly a service of death.  Whose fault or credit is this?

The leader who sends others on the path of Decay is a fault of course.  But so are the followers who allow themselves to stop thinking and feeling.  They stop reasoning, follow blindly, and are tempted to let others think for them.  They give up personal responsibility.  Of course, it is easy to see the power of the leader, but we have to accept the power of the follower as well.  No leader goes into battle alone, and many don’t go into battle at all.  The follower can reject moral Decay if he or she accepts the reality of personal responsibility.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“Man has always been his own most vexing problem.”  Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941)

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #81

Paths and Choices:  Military  7.5.0

One of the required duties of the national government  is to “provide for the common defense.”  This leads us into a serious discussion of the reasons for and uses of a military system that includes a standing military, a reserve, and a national guard.  These are critical concerns for any modern nation and all of its citizens.

Paths and Choices:  War  7.5.1

Violence is not always caused by the love of death, and it is not necessarily a result of one group’s fanatical leader worship.  In fact, violence in defense of life is the reason most people accept killing and death–self-defense and the just war are crucial issues.

Defending life against the lovers of death and Decay may lead a nation to declare war.  But if a leader lies to the fighters who are willing to defend life, then the use of the military in the service of life and moral Growth (the best reason for a volunteer military) is subverted and destroyed.  The fighters who are willing to defend life are co-opted and their good intentions and sacrifices are turned into a service of Decay and death.  Creating a false threat has been used for political purposes for all of human history.  This works to distract the citizens from real problems that the leader does not want them to notice.  False threats force the nation to band together against an outsider and ignore the problems within.  Lies that mislead the citizens serve hidden motives that are not shared by the people themselves.  Lies destroy trust and create cynicism.

Vengeance is another possible reason for violence, but vengeance is not in the service of present or future life.  It is to “make up for” the past.  Legitimate self-defense can be manipulated into attacking an “enemy” scapegoat. This means crossing into Decay because violence is done for its own sake or for the wealth that it will bring to a few.  War as waged by the Japanese and Germans in World War II, for conquest and power or to revenge old wrongs, comes from leader-worship, masochistic sacrifice for the sacred land or country, and violence for its own sake.  This equates to the service of death because it is founded on a belief that only my country has a right to exist–extreme narcissism.  Dependence on the supreme leader or emperor or the “great man” goes far beyond any objective or concrete sense of love or justice.  Citizens must guard against losing their ability to think and being deliberately mislead through fear and anxiety.

Self-defense and the just war need to be thought through with cold reason.  The heat of passion and fear will destroy our ethical thought.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

Confucius (551-479 BCE), when asked what he would do first if he became the head of a government, said:  “I would see to it that things are called by their right names.  For if things are not called by their right names, then the statements would be misleading, and when the statements are misleading, then nothing can be accomplished.”

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #80

Public Policy and the Common Good  7.4.0

Some actions and choices are beyond the resources, skills, or powers of individuals or local or state governments.  In these cases the national government may need to organize or coordinate the projects that need to be done.  In a representative democracy, we elect officials to stand in our stead, to represent us, in order to carry out these actions or make these decisions for the sake of all of us as a union.  We contribute to these efforts through taxes that we levee on ourselves in order to accomplish our common goals.

Thought Experiment:  National Government as it Represents All Citizens   7.4.1

What responsibilities does the national government need to focus on for the sake of all of us together?     What necessary “chores” are required of the national government?     What national laws or policies would support the characteristics of Growth [care for and love of life; care for and love of others; willingness to act based on freedom, responsibility, independence, and conscious choice] in our society?     What national laws or policies would encourage productive and dignified lives for all citizens?      What should the national government oversee for the sake of all of us together?

For example, what do you think about these issues?  Why would you choose specific actions or support specific policies?  What are the short-term and long-term effects of your chosen actions or laws related to issues like these that affect everyone everywhere?

  • Income to the public treasury from publically owned land, leases, and resources
  • Agricultural policies that oversee food safety
  • Health laws and policies that oversee drug and health care efficacy
  • Trade policies that require living wages and safe working conditions
  • Energy or efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances, or housing
  • Educational policy that measures student information and skills nationwide
  • Environmental protection laws to require clean air and water nationwide

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”  Barack Obama

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #79

Priorities Thought Experiment  7.3.2

What would be your personal priorities for a business if you were the president of the company?     If you were a worker in that company?     If you were a shareholder in that company?     If you were a customer of that company?

Where are the conflicts?

What are the commonalities?

How would their priorities change if the people who are in these roles believed that moral Growth was healthy for themselves?     If they thought that moral Growth was healthy for their communities?     If they believed that moral Growth was healthy for their nation?     If they believed that moral Growth was healthy for their world and its natural systems?

Does moral Growth have any concrete value in making our specific choices in attitudes and actual behaviors?

Characteristics of Moral Growth

  • attraction to or love of life and its processes
  • love of others that moves out from the self to neighbors, strangers, and nature or all living things (even to the land itself, the air, and the waters)
  • willingness to risk action based on independence, freedom, responsibility, and personal choice

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“You are cold, but you expect kindness. / What you do comes back in the same form. / God is compassionate, but if you plant barley, / don’t expect to harvest wheat.”  Rumi (1207-1273), Sufi poet, Unseen Rain, trans. Moyne and Barks


Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #78

Economics  7.3.0

Separating the economic system or the market from the human mind and heart leads to moral Decay.  Market economics plays a crucial role in our lives and needs to be thought through carefully.  Human responsibility is a requirement for moral Growth, so corrupt economic systems are both the cause and the effect of moral Decay.  How the risks and responsibilities for moral Growth within our economic systems are distributed and overseen is a central question.

Economic Systems 7.3.1

When we think of economic systems, we have many concerns about the intended and unintended consequences of using resources, trading, and getting and spending money.

A communist system could certainly be based on the idealism of Biblical admonitions to share everything equally, to sell everything and give to the poor, to renounce earthly power, and to create a community of believers who hold everything in common.  But Communism as it has actually worked out in our world has lead to extremes of power and control that have destroyed the very groups and economic classes whom it was ideally or theoretically supposed to protect.  The temptations of total power come to all authoritarian systems, whether atheistic or theocratic, no matter how “pure” their philosophy – the more power, the more temptation, the more corruption.  It is actually true that power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely.

A democratic socialist system, while trying to prevent the temptations of authoritarianism, still falls into some of the same economic traps.  Central planning by a few for the good of the masses yields narrow visions and paralyzing controls.  In attempting to prevent abuses of power, it has often led to lack of vital creativity and abandonment of personal responsibility.  When the authority to design life for virtually everyone falls into the hands of those who are fearful, small minded, or self-serving, then life is strangled or slowly starved.  Maybe we need to revisit “swarm theory” again?

Capitalism is often said to be based on greed, fear, and manipulation.  And it often is.  Capitalism doesn’t have to be predatory, but historically, so far at least, it has proven to be ruthless and thoughtless unless overseen by an alert public and by strong laws to eliminate abuses of wealth and power.  Often capitalists really believe that winning wealth means crushing everyone and everything other than themselves.  People cease to be human and become machines for consumption, commodities to buy and sell in a marketplace where human needs, emotions, and intelligence are manipulated.  People are “branded” for life.  Predatory capitalists are ready and willing to use any means, any manipulation, any lie to get to the single bottom line of the greatest profit.

However, capitalism could mean a market full of variety and vitality where creativity and invention are rewarded.  Education and personal care and attention could lead buyers to make wise choices and to make critical demands on manufacturers, suppliers, and sellers.  Capitalist power could come from millions of intelligent and thoughtful purchases.  The people could have some control of the world they live in under capitalism – provided that they are willing to take their responsibilities seriously.  The triple bottom line could include social justice and environmental responsibility as well as economic profit.  Unfortunately, modern capitalism has so far worked extremely hard to create compliant masses – hungry, blind sheep willing to follow wherever they are driven.  Too often, modern consumers want only to feel like an accepted part of the flock, doing what the herder tells them to do and going where the herder wants them to go.

What is acceptable economic policy for the good of individuals, companies, and communities?  What political policies and laws would create a fair and sustainable economic system?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Walden (1854)


Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #77

Paths and Choices: National Leadership and Policy  7.2.3

An “authoritative” leader or national policy would involve specific attitudes and behaviors: . . . . real and engaged caring for and about others; . . . . making the limits of negative behavior known and following through with the clear and natural consequences; . . . . using reason, logic, and appropriate negotiation with both friends and  enemies; . . . . making reasonable and thoughtful decisions and accepting both the efforts and the consequences that are required to follow through.

An “authoritarian” leader or national policy would exhibit these attitudes and behaviors: . . . . bossy and demanding of obedience for its own sake and without questioning; . . . . use of threat and fear of physical, psychological, emotional, or mental punishment and insult to enforce obedience or compliance; . . . . ignoring or dismissing the opinions or feelings of others while demanding acceptance or obedience from others, friend or foe.

A “permissive” leader or national policy would be characterized by these attitudes and behaviors: . . . . paying attention to others to the point of anxiety and a controlling desire to please; . . . . fearing rejection and disagreement from both allies and enemies, including the inability to say no or to disagree and stick to a reasonable point of view; . . . . easily manipulated or intimidated by others, both friend and foe.

A “passive” leader or national policy would include specific attitudes and behaviors: . . . . removed from, ignorant of, or indifferent to what others need or think; . . . . uninvolved in or indifferent to questions of policy or action; . . . . unwilling to state an opinion and defend it logically; . . . . unwilling to resist bad behavior in allies or enemies; . . . . inconsistent and unpredictable.

National Growth and Decay Thought Experiment  7.2.4

So far we have considered the effects of Moral Growth and Decay in individuals and groups of all types.  These are the characteristics of Moral Growth:  attraction to and love of life and its processes;  love of others that moves from the self to neighbors, strangers, and all living things and nature;  willingness to risk action based on independence, freedom, responsibility, and personal choice.  These are the characteristics of Moral Decay:  attraction to or love of death, force, violence,  mechanism, and power and their processes;  absolutism and extreme self-love and self-focus;  authoritarianism, with related parasitic dependence and fear.

How would any of these attitudes and behaviors apply to leaders and nations?  Are any of the attitudes and behaviors of Growth useful or reasonable in the real world of global political and economic struggles?   Which ones would you demand from or vote for in the nation’s leaders?  Why would you recommend or vote for them?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”  Hubert H. Humphrey

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #76

Paths and Choices: Realism and Growth or Decay  7.2.0

Is “real-politic” the only way to make choices or do we have another course?  Reality is often defined in terms of money, power, greed, and fear.  Look out for #1 and protect yourself first is the motto.  This form of reality often works out as manipulating everyone else to one’s own advantage, usually an immediate and short term advantage.  Reality is using others for whatever they can give or we can take right now.  Reality is playing our enemies off against each other, using our financial and physical power to bully our way, and saying whatever works.  Does the one who yells the loudest always win?  Is this our only vision of reality?  Should we be sadists?  Do we need to play the authoritarian?

Further, is the only alternative course naïve, rose-colored-glasses idealism?  Should we let ourselves be taken advantage of, bullied by others, and filled with fears?  Maybe we should choose to be sneaky, underhanded liars.  Maybe we should just let others do any heavy lifting.  Maybe we should use our golden tongues to say whatever seems to work for the moment and then conveniently forget or change our minds when the time comes to act on our promises.  Do we  have to choose the permissive or passive stance?  Do we need to be masochists to survive?

Growth and Decay in Stories/Literature  7.2.1

Who shall we be and how shall we be are central questions for literature – the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves show us who we are and who we might become.  One of our most persistent themes is the question of whether Growth can actually “win” when Decay seems to hold all the power and wealth.  Whether the story is The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or Star Wars, the question is central.  Do we have to abandon Growth and “go to the Dark Side” because only raw power can win?  For those who believe in moral Growth – in love, respect, freedom to choose, reason, individual responsibility, caring, and the common good – what are the possibilities?  How can they win? What do they have to sacrifice to beat back Decay – the mind of iron, the love of death and dead materialism, the temptations of power and authoritarianism?

In these stories, everyone who believes in moral Growth must bear some burden.  The young, small, and weak as well as the older or stronger or more experienced must contribute to the success of life over death.  If any choose their own selfish power or ignore the vitality and courage born of love, all will fail together.  This universal story is a powerful one, and the temptations are common to all humans.  Do we have a right to despair?  Do we have hope?  Can love prevail?  Can we make a difference?

Core Principles Thought Experiment  7.2.2

Do we as a nation have core principles that we will not abandon?  What do you think they are?  Why?  Does everyone agree?  How close can we come to a list that all would agree on?

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“But the teachers are not always to be found in school or in great laboratories.  Sometimes what we learn depends upon our own powers of insight.” Loren Eiseley, “The Hidden Teacher,” The Unexpected Universe, 1969

Living As Though There Is a Tomorrow #75

Paths and Choices:  Being Collectively Smart  7.1.1

The keys to being collectively smart are, first, to decentralize control so that each of us is awake and aware and can respond to whatever we personally see.  “Local cues” are around each of us if we pay attention.  Second, each individual must act responsibly and on his or her own initiative.

But smart human swarm behavior can be thwarted.  Individuals may not act responsibly.  They may not make their own decisions.  They may imitate each other or be intimidated.  They may wait for orders rather than deciding what is right because centralized control is so habitual.  They may not base their choice on what they see, understand, and know from their local cues.  But since no one can be everywhere or know everything, to create a smart swarm each person must act on what is needed in his or her place.  Act locally.

The question is how to train ourselves (and our children) to be independent-minded, rational and reasonable, observant, and responsible.  It is easy to be intimidated, to be thoughtless or cynical, to ignore both our personal interest and the world beyond our small circle, and to let someone else think for us.  But that is Decay.  It is easy, but it is death.  How shall we choose life?  We need to create a smart crowd that loves life, loves others, and is willing to take the risk of independence and freedom.

Phyllis Ballata

Without Words We Cannot Think

“If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”  Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)