American Choices

Noam Chomsky once wrote that the United States is a one-party political system called “The Business Party” divided by two factions which we call the Democrats and the Republicans. This Business Party is called so because despite the wide ideological divides concerning many social, political, economic, and philosophical issues, both factions essentially cater to interests that finance them to secure special favors which often times work against the collective benefit. These special interests place profit in the highest of pedestals, far above any other material thing including and especially the environment and, not controversially, life itself.

Although the fringes are easy to identify, it is the conventional that we should be worried about. Not because they make bad choices difficult to see, but because they make them easy to pick. These choices stand before us in the form of our two current contenders for the presidency, the most unpopular in decades.

A few days ago 80 million Americans tuned in to watch the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Although Clinton currently holds a small lead over her Republican rival, the country seems to overwhelmingly disapprove of both by historical margins. But despite American bewilderment as to how we have to come to be in this situation, and the public’s reluctance to elect what they believe is “the better of two evils,” there is a very logical narrative that explains just how we ended up in this debacle.

Unfortunately to say that it’s the work of ‘power’ is too broad an explanation to properly cover the specific complexities that make this system what it is. So to try to understand these choices, I will try to narrow this diagnosis into five main points of contention.

At first it might be difficult to see how this ties to our candidates. But what you must realize is that to understand the background and the motivations behind the systems that cultures these choices, and the systems that benefits from it is to understand the candidates themselves, where they came from, and what they represent. And what they represent is more than the parties they are part of and the people they claim to fight for. The reality is that they are working parts in a dysfunctional system that no one can fix because no one truly understands.

Capitalism and Democracy: A Marriage of Convenience

A good place to start is by defining Capitalism as it pertains to our way of life politically, socially, and economically. Since Capitalism currently controls how we live, perhaps it’s a good idea to properly know what it is and what it does.

Capitalism is a term best defined by comparing it to current competing economic systems, and more importantly against the best elements of itself. Placed in a political context however, it’s easier to see the many ways, and the few important ones, in which the system has influenced, in this case negatively, the politics of a nation.

I am well aware of how socially expensive it can be to talk critically about Capitalism in the United States, especially considering the near-religious fervor it still carries from the days of the Cold War, a time when it was absolutely imperative to defeat Communism, a system just as exalted by the other half of the world. Therefore, to start a conversation about the failings of Capitalism in the context of American politics I ask that you do two things: know that there is a difference between Capitalism and Democracy, and that you suspend your biases and prejudices to allow for a more open and rational conversation.

Having said all that, let it be known that I’m neither a Communist nor a Capitalist. I espouse certain Socialist principles only within the parameters of a free society, such as the one that, admittedly, Capitalism and the Constitutional Democracy in which we live have formed. But I also recognize that Capitalism, like everything else, operated unchecked and without any sort of regulation will eventually turn from a deliverance of tyranny into a tyranny itself by means of economic slavery.

Capitalism is a system of economy that places the means of production in private hands rather than the state. The vast differences between Capitalism and Communism are many and obvious. The main one being that Communism, although logical in theory is impossible in practice. If properly defined, Communism could only work if society willingly agrees to become a united global community in all its aspects. Any other form of Communism that is not its true form will inevitably cause it to become overly restrictive to the point of infringing on personal rights and freedoms. We saw it with Communist Russia in its 70-year failed experiment and we see it now with Communist China where Capitalism in the country has become the de facto economic system while remaining politically Communist.

Although it sounds like Capitalism should be a threat to the state because of its purchasing power, it’s in fact a threat to society itself. Instead of rivaling state power, Capitalism is rather a marriage of convenience between markets and the state. In this union everyone  who can afford to play wins, provided that markets are allowed to operate freely with minimal state intrusion. While everyone else loses.

But given that both Capitalism and Democracy share the ethos of political and economic freedom, to draw a line between the two is a much harder thing to do. The problem is not semantics. It is rather the innate talent of Capitalism to take advantage of the human condition that humans will seek freedom where there is restriction, even if there is a structured system already built in place. The talent here is that it sells economic freedom with the caveat that social freedom should not infringe on markets. This makes “freedom” an expensive proposition–hence the “freedom is not free” apothegm–to the very people who can’t afford it. It’s no surprise to see then than even in Capitalist utopias there have been a variety of labor movements against corporate power and state intervention that have ended up imposing regulations on both corporate power and the state.

Business and Ethics: Incompatible Partners

When I use the phrase “freedom is not free,” my intention is not to conjure images of soldiers fighting off enemy troops in foreign soil to protect our rights. Rather I speak of developing nations whose politics are not fertile enough to accept Capitalism such as we’ve adopted it in the industrialized world, but whom, through coercion, are forced to accept the system to align themselves with the Western-style Democracy. Historically–meaning during the Cold War–this pressure was applied in two forms, militarily and/or economically. But the same meaning can be applied in our own land where citizens have been conditioned to believe that the alternative to Capitalism, whatever that may be, is worse. Ironically the effect is more pronounced in some of the most impoverished communities in the country where local economies are not just lacking, but in some places nonexistent. The pressure in these communities is applied a bit differently though, in the form of politics. But I’ll come back to this.

Due to the nature of free enterprise, profit is the justification for the evils of Capitalism, be it environmental destruction, economic disparity or classism, and even gross disregard for human rights.

In the case of the physical state of the world, the environment is on the brink of collapse. Unfortunately there are very few in positions of power that will touch on the issue head on. As for the rest, this conversation is put in the backburner or not even discussed at all in fear of losing profit and corporate support. In the U.S. is what we refer to as a “football issue,” or an issue that gets passed back and forth without any significant advantage. Despite the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to support the fact that the Earth is warming faster now mostly as a result of human-made causes, this is one of the most controversial subjects to discuss in a legislative capacity. Both Republicans and Democrats, mainly Republicans but also Democrats in a lesser degree, are fiercely adamant to enact legislation to curb greenhouse gases, regulate the fracking and fossil fuels industries, and support alternative-fuel initiatives.

I make a slight distinction between the parties here because Republicans are the main beneficiaries of fossil-fuel money and climate-denying industries and individuals. Their Conservatism, which is aligned with absolutist free-trade philosophies has created a party that is not concerned at all with environmental issues.

If the U.S. is behind most of the industrialized world in the race to slow down global warming is only because fossil fuel industries spend billions yearly in well-crafted strategies to lobby Congress to roll back regulations, while simultaneously preventing alternative-fuel industries from ever developing.

The gist is that dividends will be paid to workers, stockholders, and the local and national economies, in payment of social and environmental deterioration. And in many cases even economic, which is counterproductive to the whole ideal. Basically short-term profit is the end-game.

It’d be fair at this point to note that Capitalism does promote competition and progress. But in the erosion of an equally free society protected by a political system such as a strong Constitutional Democracy, this fair competition will eventually erode into economic feudalism.

Although Democracy encourages change and the adoption of the best principles of economic and social security with the precondition that all members of its society be able to practice their rights freely, in some Democratic countries Democracy itself gets in the way of Capitalism when it is restricted to act naturally. That’s what makes Capitalism, in all its glory, so depressing to accept. In a comical twist of fate, generational ideologies will allow markets, free enterprise, and profit to affect the very freedoms that protect those ideologies to the point that they are limited. And again, it is the ardently loyal who will be the most affected.

In a few words, Democracy is not synonymous with Capitalism. In fact it is in the best interest of Democracy to restrict Capitalism in order to survive in the long run.

I am obviously generalizing and condensing a lot of complexities that go into forming a viable society out of chaos, especially with the fusion of two revolutionary governing and economic systems that sparingly existed in one form or another throughout history, e.g. Democracy and Capitalism.

But strictly speaking  in the context of the second half of the 19th century and all of the 20th century, after regulations were imposed by Roosevelt and subsequent presidents, Capitalism in the 1970s and 80s was given a gift in the form of economic and political deregulationThe erosion of the latter then caused the erosion of the former. A barrier that clearly cataloged and separated political contributions made by corporations was torn down and allowed public servants, who would otherwise be entirely accountable to their constituents, to be accountable only to their financiers.

This obviously added pressure and had an adverse effect on communities, large and small, but mostly on the most impoverished communities I spoke about earlier, by applying a combination of predatory economics, local political forces through vested interests, religious alliances, campaigns of fear, and other political maneuvers.

For example, in the poorest areas in the nation, mainly in the Southern part of the United States (colloquially known as the “Bible Belt”) local Republican policies have decimated the region economically. And yet, despite the damage that the fusion of powerful religious interests that aligned with the party in the 90s and unhealthy free-market and Conservative ideologies astoundingly, the South continues to elect Republican candidates to public office.

Although Democratic-held states tend to fare better socially, Democratically-run cities do see a mixed view of income inequality. Nevertheless, very powerful interests that sell to both parties continue to influence policy at every level of government. At the moment we can see it in president Obama’s push to pass the newest trade agreement, the TPP, which if adopted by all twelve signatories, would give unprecedented power to global corporations. The fact that both presidential candidates, as unpopular as they are, consider the TPP to be a very imperfect form of legislation can tell us that this isn’t just politics, it’s a reflection of the public’s fears.

Adding insult to injury, not only have wealthy donors and individuals been allowed to tip the scales with their contributions, but their industries have been bulking up with the ranks of politicians who act on capacity of mediators between them and Congress, consultants, or executives. Even worse still are the appointments of industrialists and executives as department-heads to regulate the very industries they are part of and lobby for.

One could make the argument that as a free society people can be allowed to serve on public office if they so choose to, if they have the capacity to, and if they are elected democratically. Furthermore, as experts in their industries they add specific inside knowledge. But as it turns out, departmental appointments are not elected by the people and in many cases they present concerning conflicts of interest. And although they are perfectly legal, the guidelines to abide by are not enforced and even less revised.

Over the last four decades the rate of the “revolving-door” phenomenon that exists between corporations and politics has also increased exponentially. The problem is so prevalent that it almost seems as if politicians are being manufactured right out of the conveyor belts of this system to work interchangeably for state and industry, and not specifically in that order. This is where the marriage between Capitalism and Democracy is made. It is this union and the lucrative investments in politics that assure a permanent and endless supply of candidates for hire. Those who toe the line are often rewarded handsomely, while idealists are usually scrapped and replaced.

Keep in mind that as Capitalism grows so does its power to overtake Democracy. When it happens, rule-free enterprise ensures that financial interests water-down regulation and eventually these enterprises begin to grow out of the government’s control. A prime example are the many American companies which have been incentivized by the government to evolve from local enterprises into little nations of their own. Today, with the help of governments, these conglomerates are now edging closer to become autonomous states with economies and rules completely independent of the places in which they operate, mainly through free-trade agreements and tax maneuvers. No borders exist for these pseudo-countries. They exist solely in the virtual space where their money is collected, and coincidentally, wherever their executive boards happen to meet.

These pseudo-nations, with some having economies large enough to compete with actual nations, are still bound to U.S. supremacy through legal and financial obligations, which are then eased by the various personal relationships kept with government representatives. Representatives that rely on corporations and industries to fund their campaigns and political parties.

In the past, regulatory restrictions used to [legally] prevent industries from funding political campaigns by injecting more than the allowed funds. Used to. Today, by allowing corporations to attain personhood and be considered single entities, they can weight in on political matters through their virtually unlimited contributions which have been redefined by the Supreme Court as a form of speech. By this rationale if money is a form of speech, then corporations have the loudest voices.

But personhood doesn’t exactly mean what you think it means in the case of corporations. Because these organisms are composed of tens of thousands of individuals that think differently from each other and share different responsibilities and ideologies, and whose only common trait might be to work as an organism, it’s sometimes difficult to determine individual culpability. Thus, the culture that is built on immoral behavior cannot be equally culpable or financially liable as single individuals might be, and the cycle continues. In the case of high financial crimes where heads of industries have ties to government officials, corporate heads rarely pay their dues or even so much as get their day in court. This is the point where the scales of justice get tipped in power’s favor.

Deregulation makes it easier for corporate investments to be made into politics, and for politicians to deliver on those investments ahead of everything else. This colluding will inevitably result in a conglomerate of power that in all cases will protect its own interests in whatever way they see fit, even at the expense of Democracy itself.

The 2008 financial meltdown is evidence that powerful interests who are allowed to operate as they naturally would in the wide latitudes of Capitalism often go unpunished and continually cause a great deal of harm. In this case when the very system they bet against collapsed nearly bankrupting the entire world economy, and leaving a trail of damage hundreds billions of dollars wide and decades long. Eventually the money provided by Congress through TARP (Trouble Asset Relief Program) was mostly eventually paid back. But not before corporations made off with a profit and high executives gave themselves multi-million dollar bonuses–you know, for their hard work. However, the way things transpired opened up an old precedent that if it’s “too big to fail” it’s also too big to be regulated. And of course there’s also the moral aspect to consider.

The aftermath of the crisis left everyone content, except homeowners and investors of course. And up to this day huge investment corporations continue to gamble away the people’s money in the huge casino that is the world economy with chips provided by the federal government.

This is true of any industry that is too big to be contained. Recently, medical insurance behemoth Aetna threatened the DOJ (Department of Justice) that it would pull out of the ACA, colloquially known as Obamacare, if their merger with healthcare giant Humana was not approved by Congress, a deal that if approved would violate old anti-trust laws designed to break up monopolies. Meanwhile we are still waiting on deliberation.

But Big Pharma is not the only industry that has the power to undermine the government should a collaboration fail, especially one that favors profit over the public interest . This goes for any industry ranging from energy (oil, coal, nuclear, even solar and wind) to information (media, news, satellites, Internet entities) to manufacturing of any kind (weapons, infrastructure, vehicles), banking, and curiously also, religion.

Although the public shares interests in many of these industries it seems that from public-opinion polls and attitudes mapped out over several decades, policy definitely does not match public attitudes.

Of course if we consider the government as an entity struggling for its own survival, it’s entirely logical to assume that as an entity it will protect its interests. But the fact of the matter is that the government is an entity composed of public power. Power shared by the many not the few and privileged. I agree that it’s not the government’s job to advance progress, but it should definitely not be its job to actively impede it.

As I explained before, in the U.S. power is exercised through political pressures. Abroad, a combination of shared interests and diplomacy is used. However, military force is never off the table. A quick Google search on the United Fruit Company will give you a glimpse of how colonialism established a firm bellicose-Capitalist American system in the world at the start of the industrial revolution. It is this trend that developed early when the U.S. was a nascent nation and that continues on to today in some form or another. Slavery, for example, is to this day the great stain in the history of the United States. For even as the American Revolution was raging on in defense of human liberty, our forefathers never got around to discussing the worth of a human being until nearly a century later. The same could be said about the Native American holocaust and the mass deportation of American Indians out of their own lands. And yet, from an economic point of view, without these two events the American economy would not be what it is today. So we are, in one way or another, still reaping the benefits of two of the greatest tragedies in human history.

Of course, from a moral point of view there is nothing beneficial about these two terrible events. Quite the opposite. But it demonstrates from historical accounts, just how power if presented with a dilemma where economic and moral pressures are at odds, it will always choose to resolve the former first.

In the near-past and in the the present, our national shame manifests itself in our interests abroad. In recent history in the shameful alliances throughout the world which suspend Democracy and overlook severe human-rights abuses in favor of national security or profits. In South America and the Caribbean for example, Democratically elected governments were forcibly replaced with brutal dictatorships and Banana Republics with the help of the United States to attain some political, economic, or ideological goal. More of the first two than the last.

These actions decimated entire regions ecologically and economically and displaced millions. In addition it created a deep-seeded anti-American hatred that worked counter to what the United States believed Democracy was, and what it was trying to achieve. Not to mention that the effects of these early interventions are still being felt today in the mass migrations of South Americans, specifically Guatemalans, who have fled their home countries as a result of bloody civil wars in some part perpetuated by American interventionism.

Today this support continues in countries like Saudi Arabia, a nation that is as close as any brutal tyranny can become. Our alliance with the Saudis could not be any more confusing. The official position is that the Saudis provide valuable intelligence to secure the stabilization of the region, which coincidentally was partly destabilized by anti-American, pro-Wahhabi propaganda that is much closer to ISIS than to Democracy. We then purchase billions of dollars worth of oil from the very country who is, in some capacity or other, pushing radical Islamist propaganda and sponsoring world-wide terrorism with our money. Propaganda that fueled terror that culminated in tragedies like 9/11 and which we then fight by invading  and destabilizing the region even further.

To this day, Saudi Arabia continues to be one of the major human-rights violators, and we continue to do business with them.

Of course, in recent history these global pressures can be, and are, explained in some relatable context or other: defense against Communism, regional stabilization, business, etc. As they say, the ends always justify the means.

Education vs. Information: Roots of the Problem

There is little that disenfranchised foreign populations can do against American-style Capitalist hegemony, especially in collusion with their own governments. But in the United States the population still has enough stakes in the Democratic process to hold their government responsible for its failures. That we don’t–or at least that we don’t in large numbers–is a failure of magnifying proportions. I’ll explain why.

The failure starts at several points in the socioeconomic ladder. Disenfranchised and dismayed voters will not commit because they don’t believe in the political and economic process that has eroded the middle class over the decades. Ironically, politicians turn to those who do vote and favor them, which causes those already disenfranchised to become even more so. By way of restrictive voting laws, gerrymandering, and resource allocation, local governments can concentrate power and maintain numbers. While the demand for political participation exists, supply is low or impeded.

But the problem is actually worse than it seems, because most poverty occurs where there is a history of suppression and current limited education. Mistrust brews into hatred for one’s own government, even when economic situations are favorable. In turn, the government, along with other powerful agents, see these areas as economically ineffective and as a result become areas that can be easily dismissed. The issue is that when something is not adding to the pie it’s considered worthless or low priority. While underlying problems like education and the allocation of resources gets lost. As these areas grow, power then becomes concentrated into smaller and smaller circles and a destabilization of justice, accountability, and economy ensues.

It’s not difficult then to turn people against each other. In fact, the old strategy of divide and conquer functions much more efficiently when there’s a scarcity of education than by using violence. Not only does it effectively segregates and subdivides communities and races for generations, but it turns them into surrogates. All without the need to spill blood.

The result is where we are headed as a nation. A modern feudal kleptocracy where the choices and opportunities of the powerless are reduced and where the need for education in all areas of a person’s life become more pronounced. This lack of education among the population is without a doubt the root of the problem.

Although power is the staple of every government however, these American choices cannot entirely be blamed on them or even on the rich.

At a time when political education is a responsibility left more up to individuals rather than news sources, which have become increasingly partisan, people, and specifically the newer generations, now have a great burden to carry, that of searching and making sense of information for themselves. A task that requires an immense amount skepticism and judgement good enough to separate noise from content.

The fact that in this highly competitive world, where the space for information is limited and expensive, even noble pursuits like journalism are starting to become liabilities instead of assets for the consumer, and the opposite for those that own them. Whereas in the past the news were seemingly less biased and more objective, today journalistic integrity can now serve a purpose–profit for the company, a spin for the government. Of course this was always true of the latter. However, it seems that in recent years this old façade has been cynically abandoned depending on who happens to be in power.

It is a sad reality that, in the United States at least, all major news come from privately owned corporations. Corporations that not only compete against each other, but also with information that travels literally at the speed of light. And occasionally against truth itself.

It seems now that independent journalism is set to become the only objective source of unadulterated news for future generations.

The mismanagement of objective news, and the allocation, or rather trickling down, of resources toward education is a major concern in the United States–more than in most industrialized nations. Education in some parts of the country is lacking at best, almost nonexistent at worse. Of course, you can guess which communities are less adept to handle these issues, and which are privileged enough to enjoy the benefits of the best kind of education. This is a problem that affects neither Republicans nor Democrats nor Independents, Conservatives or Liberals or Libertarians, black or white. By virtue of high-quality education communities can be lifted out of poverty, as they reemerge so does the country as a whole.

Today the opposite is true. Educators in the U.S. earn less than in most other industrialized nations. In places like the Bible Belt the problem with education is in the inability for local governments to adopt secular curriculums, especially in the “hard sciences”. In prestigious, mostly Liberal universities, the problem lies in PC (political correctness) culture, which is also a case for concern.  And in the suburbs of major cities, where poverty is rampant, it is in the lack of basic resources such as transportation, school lunches, school supplies, libraries, or even teachers.

As a result of these compounding problems, people have become terribly misinformed about their responsibilities as citizens and that of their government, misinformation that they pass on to their children, mostly those in poor communities, who then grow up ignorant and further disenfranchised.

Political Parties: Divided Loyalty

Taking these factors into consideration we begin to plot a narrative. Suddenly, the names we’ll see on the November ballots are hardly surprising. In part, they are the failure of the American voter to resist the whims of the political machine, which includes loyalty to party rather than nation. But they are also the result of inefficient policy, party bickering, and mistrust in the power of elected officials and outright corruption based on, again, party loyalty. That whole money and politics marriage thing.

It doesn’t take much to alienate the voter as I’ve already said, but parties still rely on votes and a core membership that aligns with their ideologies to survive. However, if voters are able to see past their divisions, it is inevitable that policies that had never aligned with their own views will be questioned.

This stagnation of progress and sincerity in a changing world has begun a mutiny in the ranks of the two main political parties. As a result, both parties have been  forced to adopt and favor outsiders over their rank and file in the form of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic ticket and Donald Trump for the Republican. Under the current system this is a sign of deficient politics. As a whole however, this is more in line with the apparatus of an efficient government. But taking the point the further, this realization of the American voter and its subsequent repercussions, meaning the changing attitudes towards more open candidates, is dialogue between two groups: those in power and those that are not.

Naturally, populist cand  idates will emerge out of this shift. This sends a strong message that since established parties do not carry favorably with the common people, outside parties must be included in mainstream politics. At the moment this is of little consequence to the entities that have built and perfected entire mechanisms to exclude the voter and outside third-parties. Surprisingly, these methodically established systems have met little resistance or have gone entirely unchallenged.

Third-party candidates, treated as a little more than tie-breakers, serve no other purpose in the political arena other than swing votes one way or the other. Or at least that’s how they are seen by mainstream politics and by the majority of people. Most often they are not taken seriously enough to believe they can even come close to winning a presidential election even though their policy alternatives often seriously challenge the views of regular candidates.

Under the current system a third-party candidate has little chance of influencing any national election except to pull a mainstream candidate into the party’s or the people’s ideoleological orbit. Or alternatively to aid the opposition by running a parallel campaign to the party they align with the most.

The parties have been aware of this problem for a long time. Thus, they have mutually deviced ways to legally bar third-party candidates from ever participating in this process, which for many of them is the only way to make themselves and their policies known. One of those is to directly influence the information that is disseminated, literally in the news media. The other is a joint decision between the Democratic and Republican parties to raise a debate embargo to outsiders. The way they do this is by formally requesting that the candidates poll a certain percentage before being invited to a debate. But because third-party candidates have limited means to make themselves known, this is rarely the case.

Bleak as it seems,  the only way to change the game is to change the rules, which can only happen by popular demand.

The Revolutionaries of the new American nation had contrasting views on political parties. Some thought they were inevitable in a free political system, others believed that they would eventually become cause for strife. But everyone agreed that no one’s rights should be infringed upon by the government or the parties themselves. Today’s situation is a sign that old dilemmas die hard. These divisions that are becoming so entrenched into the American psyche are rapidly deteriorating the unity of the nation. We can only hope that the situation that will eventually come to a head will get resolved peacefully rather than not.

Constitutional Requirements vs Political Aptitude: At a Crossroad

As the time comes to choose a new president, there is yet another failure on our part that is more urgent and troubling, that of electing a qualified candidate.

As if the task is not made difficult enough by the issues I mentioned before, it is compounded by the lenient requirements laid out in the Constitution that grants virtually anyone the power to serve the office, provided they are elected democratically.

These outdated requirements complicate the situation further for their leniency rather than their restrictions. They are as follows:

1. Candidate must be at least 30 years of age.
2. Be a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years.
3. Be a natural-born citizen.

There is a logic to this leniency however that the Founding Fathers purposefully allowed when the Constitution was being formulated. They envisioned the new American nation ruled by a government the exact opposite of a monarchy, where just about anyone, provided they had the qualifications, could be elected president. Unfortunately, a current uncompromising complacency to follow a 300-year old document to the letter is deeply concerning for its implications, some of which, in the most extreme scenarios, could end up suspending Democracy for future generations.

The founding fathers were well aware of this problem. Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent for Constitutional revisions. More specifically, he argued that every generation, or roughly every 19 years, the Constitution should be updated for the very logical reason that things change with time, and as a result ancient laws applied to modern times would only hold back progress. Later, these revisions were abandoned in place of the amendment process, which has been used with success and failure throughout our history.

However, considering the choices we have today, if we were to follow Jefferson’s advice, Constitutional amendments to extend the requirements for the presidency would significantly increase the quality of candidates we elect. By explicitly requiring a minimum time of public service and/or verifiable social, political, military, economic, and diplomatic knowledge, at the very least it would leave less of an opportunity for unqualified candidates to make a mockery of the election process; or worse, to allow an unprepared candidate to hold arguably the most powerful office in the world.

As the country has evolved, so has its influence in the world. The role that our country plays in geopolitics is reason enough for the office to demand strict qualifications for any candidate who would fill the seat. The fact that it doesn’t leaves the power to decide the presidency not up to the voters as it should be, but to another obscure system that is now largely useless and ineffective–the Electoral College–but which the founding fathers believed could save the country from, as Alexander Hamilton put it, “the tyranny of the [majority].”

The Constitution of the United States is a near-perfect document unlike any other seen before. It is direct and concise and as least infringing as the framers could make it. However, the framers weren’t naive in their illusions that the presidency would always be occupied by morally incorruptible men. They understood that just as the requirements to occupy the seat were lax, there had to be a system in place to disallow tyrants, even those chosen by the majority, to trade the seat for the throne.

In the early days of the republic, this protective layer between Democracy and bureaucracy was added to quell populists uprisings that might do away with the rights of the minority. The job of the Electoral College was to aid the Constitution to elect candidates who not only met the proper requirements, but who also possessed the constitution and common sense to lead the nation fairly.

Nowadays however the institution is mostly useless. With the advent of high-tech polling methods, and the inability of the Electoral College to look past party lines, it is no longer necessary to have an arbitrary body to weigh in the elections. Most times the commission will vote along with public opinion rather than against it precisely because the EC is there to represent the people. But it is also composed of party loyalists, rather than independent arbitrators. One of the rare instances when the Electoral College did not vote for the most popular candidate was in the 2000 election, when George W. Bush Jr. defeated Al Gore, by a decidedly small margin. And although it has been agreed that Al Gore won the popular vote, we know which of the candidates history favored.

As is explained in this brief article by, the point of the EC is to vote past party loyalty to protect the interests of the nation not that of the state. Today, a country divided presses even harder the question of how we should elect candidates for the presidency. The Electoral College exists to prevent a “tyranny of the majority.” But if the majority is the tyranny, then how best to prevent it?

It seems more apparent now than ever that popularity, not education, plays a more decisive factor in determining a candidate’s political worth. In the majority of cases this popularity is fueled by political contributions that finance “recognition campaigns” that make the candidate known. It is only a negligible percentage of populist candidates that build grassroots campaigns by appealing to the public with sensible policies and public contributions. It’s even rarer for these candidates to receive country-wide public recognition, which hinders the chances of more progressive bipartisan politicians to ever rise in the ranks.

Of course, there are more considerations and unwritten rules that account for a candidate’s competency before being elected to the presidency. But when a population is overwhelmingly under-educated about their role as citizens, the role of their government in relation to them, the social contract to be decent citizens, and the actions, secret or open, that the state contrives, then no amount of preparation will help any leader steer that country in the right direction. This is precisely the kind of tyranny of the majority that Alexander Hamilton wrote about.

There is little however, that any fail-safe system can do against this type of tyranny. Only an overhaul of the educational system to instruct all manners of people can bring about a significant change in any society. This is the reason why there is nothing more threatening to the supremacy of power like an educated population. Our collective national weakness is that we have been convinced that as a society we cannot take care of ourselves and that we require adult supervision from people who know what is better for our future, when in fact this cannot be further from the truth.

But opening our eyes is not merely enough. We must embrace education in its totality to arrive at the best conclusion, and to make the right decisions, and not descend into the pitfalls of past tyrannies.

American Choices: Voting for A Practical Future

If we are to improve the mechanism of the government, we as a coutry must take a very careful look at the ideologies that support these mechanisms and change our way of thinking. Citizens must force elected officials to self-impose regulatory restrictions to limit outside influence. That is to roll-back unlimited campaign contributions and repeal Citizens United. We must forcibly detach by means of civilian regulation the heads of the three branches of government from their party-held positions: the president from his party, the president of Congress and senior leaders from their respective parties, and the Supreme Court justices from their loyalty to their parties.

Capitalism must be held accountable for the irascible focus on its expansion. Production should be limited to a manageable level that the planet itself can sustain. By understanding that material goods cannot ever replace immaterial goods such as knowledge and collaboration, we can limit our consumption. Consumption that also cannot replace the limited amount of resources the planet can provide for us. If we fail in this task, the generations that directly follow us will see themselves regressing to very difficult and dark times.

This is not a plea to change our socioeconomic structure. We must learn to do this without resorting to philosophically and morally corrupt ideas that we do not understand. Democracy has proven to be the best type of government for all citizens. It now falls on us to find an economic system that strikes a balance between a stable government and society, and the environment, so that we don’t bankrupt one or the other.

As a global society, we must advance by adaptation. As a country, we must catch up to the rest of the industrialized world–a term that should change to “technologically advanced world” to signal an evolutionary leap as a global group–in terms of social welfare. By this, I mean that if we have the means, it is our responsibility to raise the means of living for its poorest, most disenfranchised citizens. Not merely because it’s morally correct, but because it will, in time, raise the living standard of the country as a whole and make it a freer, better society.

Ultimately, these choices are ours to make as a free society. If we are to change our way of life for the better, we must first change our political system. By involving ourselves more. By self-educating. By making an honest attempt at understanding the greater social forces that only seem out of our control, but which are intrinsically connected to our reality. There is no need to resort to violent revolution or to wait until that time comes. These are choices that we can make today. But only if we possess the will to do so.




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Sut Jhally “Advertising and the End of the World”

Religio Ad Verbum: How Literal Interpretations of Holy Books are Destroying Our World, Pt. 1

It’s very possible I might be murdered over this post, after all, freedom of expression- as we have seen in the case of Charlie Hebdo- is not a bullet-proof blanket that can protect everyone from the injustice and evilness of others. It’s a fragile intangible thing that under severe pressure can have the potential to become as dispersed as ash or as hard as diamond. It is the intangible nature of ideas, and to some degree also of afforded freedoms, that they are at the mercy of the wielder to shape them at his pleasure.

Interpretation, or rather misinterpretation, is perhaps one of the most effective killers in human history. From an evolutionary and behavioral point of view, the way we interpret things can have huge advantages, but interpreted wrong it can also have dire consequences for ourselves, for the people close to us and indeed for the world as a whole, and consequence is not something the universe seems to be lacking, in fact just quite the opposite, it thrives on consequence and it moves forward because of it. How we interpret things can either save our lives or drive us to our own dooms. From a psychological standpoint, interpretation is the recognition of patterns to suit a certain framework in our minds; it is the meaning we give things. And of course, emotional need is one of the driving forces behind how we come to interpret something and what context best to use for it.

But due to the fact that interpretation is a personal thing, not bound by anything other than our own understanding of the input we are receiving, it mostly always lacks a solid base and it is for its lack of rigidity and concreteness that ideas prone to a myriad of meanings are certainly doom to fail one way or another.

To better illustrate how interpretation can have a great impact in our world I will use two different historical documents in comparison to one another and then use different comparisons for the same document.

United States Documents

The Constitution of the United States was written nearly 240 years ago. It is one of the best composed communal documents in the history of mankind put together by philosophers, scientists, politicians, businessmen, religious men, rebels. It is nearly flawless in its dictation of the law that covers not just the rights and freedoms of Americans but comprehensible laws that should be extended to every human. It is the first of its kind to make a clear separation between the church and the government, and in its account of the law is fairly straightforward with little room for interpretation. Yet, being a lawyer in the United States and elsewhere, and perhaps especially a Constitutional lawyer, is one of the most lucrative and competitive careers to graduate from today. It is simply so because even though the laws were written in a manner that is concise and easy to understand, they still depend on the best judgment of those who read them. And sometimes even that is not enough.

In the United States there is still pending litigation over what most people would consider trivial matters simply because there wasn’t a broad enough definition of some specific law. Thousands of lawsuits will arise because different interpretations of the law- at times even by lawmakers- were used in different contexts. Perhaps the most famous example would be the interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which dictates that: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The law seems to be straightforward in this regard, and yet an interpretation of the language used has caused more than a fair amount of controversy regarding what exactly the framers had in mind. As explicit and direct as the law is, there is simply no way to know for sure what exactly the different parts of the amendment mean as it applies to today’s society (i.e. “being necessary,” “Security of a free state,” “shall not be infringed”).

Laws such as this last one are substantial throughout the Constitution and the way these laws are interpreted can sometimes lead to what it may seem as different versions of one single document.

Now imagine documents that precede the Constitution that contain language that is no longer used today or historical details that we may find impossible to corroborate. Imagine trying to make sense of documents written by obscure characters from which we know absolutely nothing about and thus have no basis on how to judge them based on their prejudices, unreliable documents such as the Quran or the Bible before it. These books- or rather a collection of books- that have amassed great power and influence over the centuries have, for so long, been given carte blanche over a great many human elements such as how to live, how to behave, what to eat, what to think, how to act towards others, and certainly over the morality that we are supposed to uphold and pass on to future generations, a morality that has been instilled in us and forced upon us from birth. These documents owe their mysticism to fantastical stories retold over several generations from original versions that were doubtless not as fantastical or as mystical- or indeed as interesting- as the versions we know today. It has been the job of of the ghostwriters of history (some of them illiterate as in the case of Mohammad) to add colorful elements to chapters of known history and compile them into volumes, again, long after the culmination of the actual events- if they happened at all. But the documents that we so venerate nowadays seem to have been inscribed metaphorically, or have been given a varied interpretation that is difficult to discern today; or at least one hopes they are, otherwise only a psychopath could believe half of the things that have been written on them.

A good example of this is in the case of the Biblical story of the virgin Mary. As the writer and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins mentions in his book “The God Delusion”, and from discussions with historical scholars before Dawkins’ time, the word used in the Greek translation of the Bible “almah” literally means “young woman,” not “virgin” as it is usually believed. Provided that this was indeed a clerical mistake, then it seems the “young woman” that gave birth to Jesus was indeed not a virgin but simply a young woman. I don’t need to point out that over thousands of years, people have been mistaken to believe that Jesus was born out of a virgin when in fact it is not so for obvious reasons, not to mention that first-century Christians probably did not even believe that themselves.

Now, that is not such a grave mistake. It is indeed stupid of anyone to think that parthenogenesis could actually happen with human beings, stupid but not of grave consequence. From believing such a thing, it appears the only thing people have sacrificed here is their common sense- or at least one would hope. However, there are passages of much graver importance in the Bible and in the Quran that through a mistranslation, misunderstanding or misinterpretation (from the many they have received) have incited conflict among individuals, groups and countries that at one point of another have had severe consequences for the human race sometimes thrusting whole nations into endless wars.

There is an arrogance here to recognize. This arrogance from blind believers to think they perfectly understand the supposed creator of the universe when most of the time they have a difficult time understanding half of the things their politicians tell them, is not only part of the problem, it is the problem. Blind belief it seems is anything but innocuous, in fact it is more like a grenade without a pin, burning in our hands while we happily go about our lives believing its a water balloon, harmless and even beneficial. At no other point in our lives would we trust blind belief to carry us through any process, why then would we trust it to hold the reigns of the most important part of our lives, morality. One wonders why it was that this obviously bipolar, and apparently misanthropic, creator chose such confusing language to dictate his/her laws to humanity? Why do we hold on this arrogance that we know better than the god we have created?

The question begs, if people still have difficulty avoiding the pitfalls of a near-perfect document such as the Constitution of the United States, then what hope could we have of interpreting books that were conceived centuries ago by men whom we know very little about, and what little we know of them cannot be confirmed by anything other than each other’s account of the “events”?

The comparison between these two documents reflects the gap between understanding and interpretation. It is there that we arrive at the logical conclusion that we cannot, and should not, trust with certainty any interpretation. Does it mean that we should disregard them? No, we shouldn’t. But we should look at them with a skeptical eye, indeed a much much more skeptical eye. We should reject illogical arguments, illogical statements, and illogical ideals and embrace what we know in our science to be true, simply because we haven’t seen any different.

Let’s do a small thought-experiment. Imagine you are playing the telephone game with just one rule to follow, and that is that whatever the person before you says, you have to act out. For example if the game begins with “I like to eat a grilled cheese sandwich with pickles” then that’s what you should do. That’s it, you and the people playing the game simply have to act out what they hear. Now, let the experiment run over thousands of years, over several generations, with dozens of languages, and all across the world. You don’t necessarily have to have psychopaths in the game- or be one yourself- for it to go horribly wrong, the law of probability dictates that it just will.

I admit, it’s a bit hard to believe that an instruction as simple as “Eat grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle” can go wrong, even over thousands of years, but if you factor in people’s prejudices, people’s histories, people’s educations, interpretations, fears, and understandings of what a grilled cheese sandwich is, while they add their own personal twist to the story, it wouldn’t be surprising to see people eating other people, if they are in fact still eating.

This is the same game that we have been playing for centuries only the instructions are a bit more sinister and have perpetuated some of the most heinous crimes humanity has unleashed upon itself (slavery, infanticide, genital mutilation, torture, war, racial extermination, etc.); and what’s more, the texts from which these instructions come from have allowed us to look at ourselves in the mirror remorseless.

Members of the Nazi Party and Vatican Officials doing the traditional Nazi salute. photo credit: tortuga767 via photopin cc

Members of the Nazi Party and Vatican Officials doing the traditional Nazi salute.
photo credit: tortuga767 via photopin cc

From the text alone we can infer as to the frame of mind of these ancient peoples or to their way of life. Written instructions on how to maintain, train, and trade your slave- or your daughter for that matter; how to subjugate your wife while claiming that she’s your equal and getting her to believe it; how to become submissive yourself to another human or to a invisible deity- all these instructions were written to guide these ancient societies and to offer some sort of explanation to the way the world was at the time and to offer a theory (although not written as such) of how the world worked. We could very well say that these people were simply speaking in a metaphorical context reflecting on the views of their times, and perhaps that actually is the way it is. But two problems swiftly arise. First, the alternative is much scarier to contemplate. What if- as history strongly suggests- these were actual instructions on how to live a first-century life, much in the way that modern magazines (loosely) portray the our way of living today. I’m sure that one or two centuries from now our magazines will become absolutely irrelevant to the way future Earthlings live their lives. The second problem we come across is that people in religious nations (principally the United States and those in the Middle East) are happily running to the mouth of the mouth of the lion, trying to follow first century rules, 22 centuries later. I cannot much call that progress. The question is simple, why are people so eager to accommodate their modern lives to the way people lived 2000 years ago?

I could see the case that some people might make by saying that these ancient texts provide some very good moral advice, and they’re right, they do. But the moral advice they provide is no more assertive than what humanity has come up with over time. We should strive to create the best moral framework there is, in part by getting rid of old moral rules that are no longer necessary. It is like writing computer code, in order to have an optimal program that always works as it should the code needs to be updated and bad lines of code have to be deleted.  Unfortunately, books like the Bible or the Quran also offer some terrible advise that is still being taken into account today. It is a good thing then that common sense is not entirely lost and that the majority of people can see the obvious distinction between “Thou shalt not kill” and “Five easy steps on how to train your slave”, but there are always those that don’t, or wish not to. Even worse, there are some who not just blur that distinction but that make dangerous conjectures of their own based on these somewhat-direct-somewhat-abstract rules. Of course killing is bad. I’m sure that early homo-sapiens and even Neanderthals (just a couple among many species of bipedals) realized that going around killing one another was a bad thing to do. Let’s remember that these ancient tribes were nomads and started no bigger than your average small family. Imagine if all they did was kill and rape one another because it was simply a fun activity to engage in. There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that they would’ve perished very quickly under their own irresponsibility. We should find it insulting to believe that humanity knew nothing of morality before first century sheep-herders decided to concoct fantastical tales from divine providence to say that killing is wrong and stealing is bad. Has it never occurred to us to think that perhaps early humans understood that killing each other was bad for the tribe, as the number of hunter/gatherers or providers would decrease leaving the tribe to fend for itself? Has it never crossed our minds to think that they too understood emotional and physical pain, or that perhaps they were capable of abstract thought and that they understood morality at least at a basic level? Like Christopher Hitchens once remarked, “…I don’t think humanity would’ve made it that far if they hadn’t known that.” We give ourselves much more undeserved credit by unabashedly believing that because we invented written language that nothing existed before us. This type of Orwellian thinking insults our species and spreads misinformation about our origins, indeed there is more to us than that.


Credit: Tumblr (origin unknown)

Credit: Tumblr (origin unknown)


In part two I will delve briefly and broadly into the “evolution” of Christianity and the threat that radical Islamism poses our world today, as well as our fears of what the future might hold for humanity and for reason.



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