Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beyond pleasure and pain

I think I have discovered an interesting constant (k) in literature.
A circle of thought lies unbroken across the millennia and the cultures, roughly from Leucippus and Democritus through Nietzsche and beyond. Reformulating the world anew at its periphery, arguments go back and forth. Yet, the centrality of the thought remains fixed. This is the materialistic conception of the cosmos: The world is made of matter, and there is nothing else besides matter.
The conception is complex. Nothing is firm in it. The arc of this thought, at times concave and at times convex, changes in details from writer to writer. The constant is that it starts from materialism and ends with extolling the principle of pleasure.
This vortex of words seems to enjoy a steady, and lately increasing, readership. Who can resist the allure of pleasure? Who can resist the allure of pleasure, especially when it is accompanied by the implicit or explicit promise that any such system of thought has the power to destroy the scourge of pain from the earth?
It is extraordinary how many authors in this series of writers leave you with the impression they have discovered the world anew—and rarely do they acknowledge the debts they owe to each other. I do not know for sure, because I have not been more than a superficial student of their systems of thought, but the lack of acknowledgment of the debts to each other seems to me symptomatic either of pride or ignorance, or both pride and ignorance.
Pride and ignorance are two vices. So you will immediately know why it has lately occurred to me that I might be able to accomplish what seems to be an impossible dream. Might we take the discussion beyond the confines of pleasure and pain?
Make no mistake. The “principle” of pleasure and pain seems to be so self-evident as to have gradually come to dominate the culture of our world.
This principle has even made God good! What does this mean? It means that God is acknowledged only when he gives us pleasure.
And when he does not give us pleasure? Off with his head; the mechanism of the guillotine is always available to the self-seekers of power. God is dead.
No sooner had I put these words down that, as if in confirmation, I ran across these lines by Jonathan Wallace at http://www.spectacle.org/1095/intro.html:
“Charles Darwin travelled to the Galapagos aboard the HMS Beagle, and the divergence of species that he observed in the isolated islands helped set him on the path to the theory of evolution. He was still a religious man then, but, over the years, as he worked out his theory, there was less room for God in his cosmos, and finally none at all. He said later in life:
I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [digger wasps] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars...
(Quoted in Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, 2d ed., p. 284.)”

The reason why many of us deny the existence of God is our inability to believe that God could create such a thing as pain.
I have a simple announcement to make: We need to get over it. We would not know pleasure, if we did not know pain.
And then we would be zombies.
These are the alternatives: either human beings or zombies.
The alternatives are that stark. In order to get a better grip on how we can rid ourselves of this poison, we have to dig deeper into history, philosophy, and common sense of the principle of pleasure.
The existence of pleasure and pain was elevated to the status of “principle” by Jeremy Bentham. We know what a principle is. A principle is something universal: true in itself everywhere and every time.
And there we have the first hurdle. We have to swallow a first inner contradiction of this conception: Pleasure is not a term uniquely understood in itself everywhere and every time. In order to define pleasure we have to define pain.
Just because it is not a true principle, axiomatic and valid at first sight, the statement has imperialistic tendencies. The attempt to establish this proposition as a universal entity creates havoc. It destroys everything it comes across.
The first assumed obstacle that perishes is religion. With Nietzsche God is dead.
Comes Freud: Love is dead. Long live sex!
This is our culture today.
Only one problem. A huge one. Our culture is not producing happiness.
Our culture is producing only opportunities to spend money to purchase happiness.
We have a sexual dysfunction? God forbid! We must get rid of it! But how? We must visit a psychiatrist.
Oh, wait. Now that we have discovered the many moral and intellectual fallacies of psychiatry, we go a step farther. We go directly to the source of pleasure: we buy a chemical pill. We buy Cialis.
I can not stop being astonished at the list of symptoms to be aware of when using Cialis. This advertisement reaches all of us throughout the evening news.
I guess if I were to use Cialis I would have a heart attack just listening to that ad.
Benjamin Franklin, one of my heroes, knew the perpetual story well: a fool and his money are soon parted.
Along with money here come the most insistent peddlers of pleasure; the merchandisers. Just like motorcycles, they are everywhere!
Stop. How do we get rid of this nefarious infestation of our culture by the principle of pleasure?
It really does not take much of an effort to realize the fundamental weakness that stands at the root of this conception of life. The bottom-line belief is that life is made of material atoms—and nothing else. Inadvertently, materialists have carried over from the inception of this conception a subtle inner contradiction that explodes in the end into a leap of faith. They attribute to matter the ability to feel pleasure or pain.
A simple query, by the way. Who is sure that caterpillars do not enjoy being eaten by digger wasps?
In the end, materialists do not look for explanations. They generally look for a cure to soothe their existential pains.
This is the prescription I offer without claiming originality or asking for financial compensation: Practice the virtues.
Practice any virtue “remorselessly” and you will, first, encounter all other virtues along the way; along this WAY you will also overcome many causes of pain.
And you will reach your nirvana.
Mr. Gorga would like to acknowledge the invaluable editorial assistance received from Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise.
Carmine Gorga, a former Fulbright Scholar, is president of The Somist Institute, a research organization in Gloucester, Mass. Through The Economic Process, To My Polis, and numerous other publications in economic theory and policy, he has transformed economics from a linear to a relational discipline. Dr. Gorga blogs at  http://me-a-new-economic-atlas-and-you/

Love Is a Virtue

                                                                                         fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
                                                                           ma per seguir virtude…

                                                                                  you were not made to live like brutes,
                                                          but to follow virtue…
                                                                                       Dante Alighieri, circa 1300 AD

Perhaps Plato was right. Poets ought to be banned from the realm. Only this morning have I realized how much damage did Dante do. The initial error was admittedly tiny; but outsized consequences ensued from that. He got carried away. Instead of accepting faithfully the magnificent synthesis operated by St Thomas Aquinas between Aristotle and the Jewish-Christian tradition, instead of remaining satisfied with his magisterial intuition as truncated above, namely, we “were not made to live like brutes, but to follow virtue”, he added: “(e conoscenza) and knowledge”.

Humanity has been on a slippery slope from that instant on.

To see the middle of the story, you have to run all the way to the end of the 16th century and repeat with Francis Bacon: “Knowledge is power”.

From there to the nihilistic Nietzschean delusion of self-power through “will to power”, there is only a swell of the chest.

Let the hot air get out and calmly return to St Thomas. He said, “Virtue is the peak of power”. Do you see the source of the modern confusion? We have objectified (remember the objectivism of Ayn Rand, among others) power. What does it mean? We have separated men and women from power. And we have made power our golden calf, our idol.

And we do indeed get a mountain of gold out of personal power—only to forget the Midas curse. All we touch becomes objectified metal, including our inner self.

If still in doubt, you have to read the work of Philip Mirowski to see that even the power of science can be so corrupted as to be practiced “just trying to make some money”.

Yes, let us return to the safety of St Thomas. He did say virtue is the peak of power (over the perfectibility of the self). He was right.

Love is a virtue.

I am surprising myself these days; I am speaking way too much about love. Before I go one inch farther, allow me to tell you quite frankly, good reader, that I know very little about love.

All I know about love comes from my understanding of justice.

There too I was surprised. It was only after many years of study of political and economic justice that I discovered the essential characteristic of justice. No matter what jurists and philosophers tell you about it, justice is a virtue.

And no matter what theologians, philosophers, and sociologists tell you about it, if they do not tell you that love is a virtue they deceive themselves and deceive you.

Love is a virtue.

That is all I know about love. And since I know that love is a virtue, I also know that justice cannot be practiced without love: love for yourself, and love for your neighbor.

That is what I discovered years ago. Now allow me to expand a little bit on this strange relationship: No love, no justice.

And from there, the issue becomes entirely clear. You cannot practice justice, if you do not have courage. Nor can you optimally practice justice, if you do not know what justice is. Hence, you need to be aided by the three intellectual virtues. If you want to practice justice, you also need to all four cardinal virtues.

And the linkages do not stop there. You cannot practice justice, if you do not have hope and faith. Hope that you and your community have the strength to carry on the works of justice; and faith that you will ultimately succeed.

And there you have it. The four cardinal virtues are prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. The three intellectual virtues are wisdom, science, and understanding. And the three theological virtues are hope, faith, and love.

You cannot properly practice one virtue without properly practicing them all. (Dante was either redundant or incomplete.)

I always said that love is not made on the hearth but in heaven. Now I know it for sure. Love is the ultimate theological virtue; love is a gift from God. (You can make this explanation light and secular, but atomistic and mysterious, by believing in the power of love without believing in God.)
All this is to see the virtues aligned longitudinally, north-south. To have a more complete understanding of the virtues we have also to see each one of them aligned latitudinally, east-west. Here is what happens then.

Love, especially love unrelated to men and women, becomes an ungodly mess, fit only to be revealed by poets and sears. And then see where they get you.

Love in the concrete can be truly understood when it is related to our weaknesses and our vices. Hence love stands “in the golden mean”, as Aristotle—and Confucius—would say, or “at the peak”, as St Thomas would say, of this arc that goes from indifference to hate. (Find for yourself the two extremes within which all other virtues lie.)

John Stuart Mill veered a step away from indifference and put tolerance at the East Side of the chain.

Oh, did I forget Freud? We mustn’t forget Freud. Freud got exasperated with all these nuances: he obliterated them all, and recognized only the Ego at the center of the universe. Thus he reduced love to sex.

Do you see it now? Once you put it at the center of two perpendicular lines, you see how complex love is. Then you see why ultimately love comes from God and wants to return to God.

Thus even love turns out to be one of the things borrowed—just like the earth. Now you can accuse me of having this “feeling”—or worse, perhaps, this opinion—about love. And I cannot empirically, factually, scientifically “prove” (what? the existence of, the validity of) my opinion. But in this Age of Rights, I have the right to my opinion—and I am certainly going to exercise this hard fought right.

And so I repeat. Love is one of those borrowed things—just like the earth. Now there is something I can prove: I did not create the earth; and none of my ancestors did. I do not know about you. But neither I nor my family is that bright. (To borrow from Garrison Keillor, we are just a little bit “above average”.) And I can prove this statement. I have neither fashioned nor inherited any legal document that gives me “proof” that I have created the earth. And neither I nor any one of my ancestors has ever had all that it takes to create a speck of dirt: no genes, no chemicals to create such a “soup”.

I and (I hope) all the members of my family consider ourselves simply guests on spaceship earth.

And there you have in a nutshell the struggle of the last 800 years. When you put Love, God, and the love of God at the center of the discussion you automatically put man in proper perspective.

The best you can do is to consider the gift of being made a co-creator with God. That’s a full load of responsibility for me, but it is not nearly good enough for those who exalt individualism.

Individualism, by denying the reality of Society and the reality of The Other, had necessarily to hide away the complexity of the virtues. To love means, not only to love yourself and your god, it especially means to love The Other—no matter how despicable s/he might appear to you.

Deep thanks to David S. Wise and Peter J. Bearse for invaluable editorial assistance.

Carmine Gorga, PhD, is president of The Somist Institute and author of numerous publications in economic theory and policy. Mr. Gorga can be reached at cgorga@jhu.edu. He blogs at a-new-economic-atlas/.


A meditation on love

Love is everything.

If love is everything, then all descriptions of life that do not see the world from the point of view of love are somehow incomplete.

At the distance of a few days I have discovered that two of my favorite writers have reached the same compelling conclusion: Billionaires and the current system of market capitalism have extremely negative effects on our children. I fully share their concerns. But they do not allow for love. Allow me to attempt to round out the discussion by offering a few qualifications.

Capitalism is destroying our youth. One description of this act is more horrific and terrifying than the other. One is metaphorical, the other is realistic. Tender ears and tender minds be forewarned. The descriptions are vivid.

To give you short quotations would shortchange the reader and the writer. To gain the full import of their power, the essays have to be read in full. The essay by Jonathan Wallace can be found at http://www.spectacle.org/0811/billionaire.html. The essay by John Médaille can be found at http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2011/07/will-there-be-zombies/.

I am thankful to both authors. They compel me to open my eyes and see what is happening to our youth today. I was only vaguely aware of this process: Who has not heard of latchkey kids—and of the many hours they spend in front of TV sets or playing computer games soon followed by demanding shopping sprees.

Both essays establish a clear cause and effect relationship: Start with modern conditions of capitalism and you end up undermining our youth.

I do not take issue with either essay. They are excellent as far as they go. But, IMHO, they do not go far enough in either direction. Let me start at the beginning.

Both essays lack three specifications. If everything is love, where is love in these essays? Neither essay, it seems to me, gives enough attention to the fact that both the billionaire and the capitalist in general loves himself or herself; loves what s/he does; and is mostly unaware of the consequences of his or her actions.

Besides, the capitalist is fully imbued with the belief that whatever s/he does is for the benefit of everyone. Remember Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations? Remember the expression “The business of America is business”?  If still in doubt about the nefarious consequences of such appealing and apparently innocuous expressions, go to the literature on economic growth or the literature on the merits of Capitalism.

One can attribute ill-will to some individual capitalist, but that does not make the accusation universally true.

The issue goes well beyond economics: It is a moral issue; it is a cultural issue; it invests our whole culture.

Politically, the moral outrage against contemporary conditions can point us in the wrong direction, and thus become ineffective—thus, indeed, unwittingly do the bidding of the forces that stand behind the creation of some of our modern outrageous conditions as the effects of capitalism on our youth.

To be specific, this overall truthful accusation falls pray to the misbegotten belief that the rich are the creators of poverty. Not so, I discovered to my amazement after many years of studying the issue. The blindfold fell off my eyes with the helpful message of the Psalms and I wrote about this discovery in a fundamental essay titled “The Creators of Poverty”. The creators of poverty are not the rich but the wicked! This liberating discovery can be scrutinized at http://www.somist.org/id31.htm.

My second specification about the essays of Wallace and Médaille is the observation that neither author indicates what should the capitalist do. Given the present state of affairs, if they were themselves billionaires, what would they do differently?

My third specification is this. Both authors make the process of undermining our youth so automatic that they neglect to point out that today’s youth—and their families—have at least a residue of responsibility for this state of affairs.

Somehow the phrase conspicuous consumption fills my mind and makes me question whether every penny earned by the parents of latchkey kids is spent for food, clothing, and shelter.

More substantively, my point is this. Even though there undoubtedly are many kids who are zombies, fortunately there is a greater number of young folk who are splendidly adjusted.

Strangely enough, this meditation occurred while reading words of Saint Clare, an early disciple of Saint Francis of Assisi, who like every other writer I have read, emphasizes only the sorrow of Jesus on the cross. It seems to me that those who emphasize only the pain and sorrow of Christ miss the largest part of the message of the Cross. Surely Jesus must have felt deep pain and sorrow, but it seems to me there is something else that Jesus also felt. In addition to forgiveness for his executioners, it seems to me, throughout his sacrifice he felt love for all the people of this earth.

Even more poignantly, Jesus offered his sacrifice as an expression of his love for God the Father.

And it was this love, even love and respect for himself, which destroyed his pain. It was his love that transformed his pain. It was love that made him offer his pain to God the Father.

And when he did that he accomplished the biggest miracle of all, a miracle that touches our daily life every day of our life. The miracle is the destruction of pain through love.

How do I know this? Well, apart from personal anecdotal experience, I believe I have an objective proof of this validity of this assertion. It is reasonable to expect the face of anyone who goes through the agony of the cross to be distorted and contorted by pain. As evidenced by the Shroud, the face of Jesus remained serene and powerful to the end. For a logical proof of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, please see my essay titled “On the Equivalence of Matter to Energy and to Spirit” at http://www.internetjournals.net/journals/tar/2007/July/paper12.php or at http://somist.org/id31.htm.

It is love for our youth, love for their families, and even love for billionaires and capitalists that will generate the transformative power to overcome many intolerable horrors we encounter in today's world.

Deep thanks to Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise for invaluable editorial assistance.

Carmine Gorga, PhD, is president of The Somist Institute and author of numerous publications in economic theory and policy. Mr. Gorga can be reached at cgorga@jhu.edu. He blogs at a-new-economic-atlas/

Originally published at http://www.spectacle.org/0911/gorga.html

Peddlers of pleasure, fearful of pain and without love

The world is full of them, the peddlers of pleasure. You cannot move one inch today without encountering one of them. They assault you from every pulpit they have.

Am I the only one to feel surrounded by them? It seems that no matter where I look these days, I find one of them. I hope this is a temporary affliction.

Yes, I find them even in the church. Whenever they preach the goodness of God, and separate it from the justice of God, be careful. They are selling you the God of Pleasure.

You meet them in the aisles of your supermarket. Merchandisers, of course, sell you very little that does not promise great pleasure. The worst in my book are car salesmen who cannot show you a bare car without a woman wrapped around it.

Why, why women are tolerating such an affront?

You meet them while you are passively watching your very favorite TV program. Yes, I mean all the TV commercials interruptions are all peddling some pleasure or other.

But I do not mean only commercials; I mean also the content of most TV programs. Reality shows, it seems to me, are the most adept at it. Even the pain of the contestants is provided to you as a titillation for your short-lived pleasure.

The show casters soon switch to the image of the grin of the winners. Damned be the losers. They are out of sight in a jiff.

All other shows clearly are shows. Nobody expects anything out of them but light pleasure. And now we even have light beer!

Pay attention to this preference of our world today and you can soon make up your favorite list. Just be aware of this reality, though. They are not innocent peddlers of pleasure. While they pretend to offer you pleasure, they steal away your money and, most of all, your time.

Were this the end of the story, despicable as it is, it would not be worth much attention. There are a few other aspects of this tendency that are really worrisome. Let me first give a look at some political implications.

Peddlers of pleasure are there to distract our attention from, and thus hide away the harsh reality of the life of most people today. The hungry, the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed, those who manage two or three jobs to eke out a living, all become invisible.

Worse than that. Peddlers of pleasure, by hiding the harsh reality not only make reality disappear; they make you feel isolated. You must be the only one to worry. All other people are just enjoying themselves.

But wait. By hiding the reality and making you feel isolated, peddlers of pleasure make you feel impotent at the same time. In the back of your mind you know that there is a circle of corruption enveloping the world today. We have all known of the military-industrial complex ever since President Eisenhower pointed out its existence to us. Politicians who need to be elected accept contributions from members of the military-industrial complex. Can they be expected to break that circle?

“We the people” could and should; but we will not until we reject the feeling of impotence.

The peddlers of pleasure do not do damage only to our social, economic, and political structures. They cut deep into our psyche. And they do that in a hundred subtle ways, even when they are not aware of causing damage.

The first question they raise in our minds is this: What’s wrong with me? Why am I not enjoying myself as all other people do?

And that is the lie to which we succumb. Other people are not necessarily enjoying themselves. It is at this juncture that peddlers of pleasure re-double their efforts.

They not only deny that pain exists. Some go to the extreme of asserting that pain SHOULD not exist. At that moment, from impotent individuals, they transform themselves into all powerful creatures.

They invent a world in which there is no pain.

Worse than that, when they notice the impossibility of their creation, they inveigh against God. God was all wrong in creating the world as it is. What gumption!

Read writers like Nietzsche with this understanding in mind and you realize what stands in the back of the reality they attempt to re-create. At first, one can settle on this explanation: these are people who are afraid of pain.

But even this turns out to be only a partial and charitable explanation. There is a deeper and more painful reality that envelops these people. They are people without love.

Why do we love each other? That is the question that burst into my head the other day when I found myself among a congenial company of people. The answer I gave I find truly interesting. Because we sacrifice for each other, I said.

A still deeper issue arises out of this silly question: and why do we sacrifice for each other? The answer, the inscrutable answer, the mysterious answer is that when we sacrifice for each other out of love, the pain automatically, inscrutably, mysteriously disappears.

Carmine Gorga, PhD, is president of The Somist Institute and author of numerous publications in economic theory and policy. Mr. Gorga can be reached at cgorga@jhu.edu. Warm thanks go to Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise for invaluable editorial assistance.

Disempowerment by Illusion

Peter J. Bearse and Carmine Gorga

The converse of the delusion of self-power by actual or potential tyrants is the disempowerment of the many through illusion. As long as the illusion affects only a relatively small group of people, the negative effects remain largely private and personal. When illusion permeates culture and community, the result may be the collapse of both.

The investigation of human illusion by way of self-delusion is rich and varied. One can go all the way back to Don Quixote by Cervantes, the first modern novel. One can also recall Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life, by George Eliot. Characters in these novels and many others build castles in the air and attempt to live in them. Idealistic and out of touch with reality, they make mistakes that cause them great unhappiness. Eventually their illusions are shattered. Why do people persist in hugging their untenable illusions?

Dorothea, the central character of Middlemarch, wants nothing more in life than to do good, but she does not know how to do good. Reality eventually shatters her idealism but still does not show her how to do good. Eliot’s Dorothea becomes Disney’s Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who follows the “yellow brick road” and discovers that idealism never dies. So, the problem of how to do good has been chronic through centuries. And yet, notwithstanding centuries of progress in science, technology and prosperity, the socio-economic forces that dominate our own, most advanced century seem all the more directed towards the destruction of idealism and idealists.

A short-cut of more recent years has been: “Do well while doing good.” Yet, this is also an illusion that can lead to many other problems. Why? Because the focus is still on the pursuit of self-interest rather than the building of community. This leads to “other problems” by denying both the “other” and “problems,” and/or vitiating our ability to deal with either. For we can no longer count on Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” whereby the pursuit of self-interest automatically leads to net benefits for others. The essential foundations of an ethical and well-performing market economy -- basic values and vibrant competition -- have been substantially weakened.

Many forces tend to make us weak as we bend to the wind of the last words whispered in our ears. These are the forces of illusion. The fundamental reason is lack of personal empowerment. The antidote, easy to state but hard to effect, is empowerment, not just personal or individual but of “We the People.” As Benjamin Franklin said during the American Revolution, “We can either hang together or hang separately.”

It’s too easy to blame others for the adverse situation(s) we now face. Some oft-cited include “the system”, “financial capitalism”, the President, Congress, the other (political) Party, et al. All of these figure in an overall indictment, but the first source of illusion we need to face is ourselves. We need to look in the mirror like Pogo and say: “We have met the enemy; he is us”. For among its other qualities, the human mind is a bulwark against uncertainty and a filter to cut information overload. We live in a world of increasing uncertainty and analysis paralysis.

What do we do in response? We seek easy answers to complex questions. These support illusions. We tend to filter out contrary opinions. These are primarily those that don’t support our illusions. Some that can afford the privilege build “castles” in the form of “McMansions” in gated communities. Others huddle together with similarly situated and like-minded neighbors. Thus, politics, instead of arising out of a community organized for social problem solving, becomes a game of “us” vs. “them”.

These human tendencies, the problems we face, and our inabilities to resolve them by ourselves, however, are aggravated by those who should know better. These more powerful, better established others use their favored positions to foster illusions, and to mis- or under-inform, de-skill, dis-empower and depreciate whatever we might do or try to do to get control over our own lives, “make a difference” and produce a better world for our children and grandchildren. Who are they? They include CEOs of:

·         Big, Mainstream Corporate Media that, as Mitroff and Bennis, and Boorstin revealed, are into the “manufacture of unreality” and “pseudo events,” respectively.
·         Large, multinational corporations, especially those with significant market power, and including those who think that adoption of “Corporate Social Responsibility Programs” lets them off the hook.
·         Candidates for state and national office who confuse “self” with “public” interest and who use the big-money driven political system to advance their own careers.
·         Political parties who emphasize fund-raising from big donors over people-raising / people’s activism empowerment activities.
·         Major advertising firms, who help their big-corporate clients to increase their market power and maintain their brands and profits but whose “public service advertising” does nothing to empower people to become effective producers in what should be their politics and their government.
·          Financial firms and back holding companies that are “too big to fail” yet, along with their enablers in big government, bear major responsibility for the Great Recession, financial crisis and immiseration of the American Middle Class.
·         The biggest foundations and other “not-for-profit” members of the powerful “3rd sector” of our economy, which fancy themselves as the safety valves for poverty and other socio-economic problems, while officially downplaying their political roles and downgrading ours.
·         And so forth.

The illusions that these forces have fostered and in which we and our “Go-Along/Get-along” neighbors have been complicit include those that lead us to believe that we can have a prosperous economy and a democratic society driven by:

·         Consumerism and “keeping up with the Jones”;
·         A big-money politics that is a pretense of a democratic republic, effectively acing most of “We the People” out of the game.
·         Large, well-established corporations which pretend to be serving Americans while moving jobs out of the country.
·         A desiccated, textbook, Economics 101 “free enterprise” version of economics that maximizes a narrow, desiccated version of “self” interest and amplifies the power of big government by minimizing community and the ability of people to self-govern and help themselves.
·         A “We are the Greatest Nation in the Word” mentality that ignores the fact that we have much to learn from others around the world, while relying too much on American power and not enough on the influence of American values.
·         An assumption that “We the People” are best served by “The Best and the Brightest,” a more than century old canard that has long-since been disproved by Vietnam, a series of financial crises, et al.
There is too little space to do justice to these highlights or even the overall theme of this piece. Suffice to say that in a democratic Republic with a sound Constitution, “We the People” can still hold sway, reinvent ourselves and take charge of what, after all, should be OUR politics and OUR government -- IF We choose to. We can, like so many of the Tea Partiers have done, for example, rise up off our couches, turn off our TVs, get out into our communities, organize, learn the political ropes and begin to take charge of political party committees and local and/or state governing bodies.

For what all the other “forces” a.k.a. “powers that be” fear most of all is the power of people -- attentive, well-informed, involved in electoral politics and well-armed with all the tools of the political trade -- determined to “take back” THEIR politics and THEIR government. Then, the old political aphorism that “money talks” would be replaced by “people decide, and government listens.” A government cannot be FOR the people if it is not first OF and BY the people. Happy Independence (from illusions) Day!

So that the goal of “Power to the People“ – especially the readers of this piece -- can be advanced, comments and feedback are welcomed by the authors:

Peter Bearse, Ph.D. [pjbearse@gmail.com] and
Carmine Gorga, Ph.D. [cgorga@jhu.edu]

The authors wish to thank David S. Wise for his invaluable editorial contributions.

Delusion of Self-Power

Might makes right is the ancient bane of humanity. There is an expression of might makes right that is much more insidious and much more general than commonly perceived. This is the delusion of self-power.

Allow me to backtrack and indicate how this revelation came to me.

My wife, Joan, and I recently attended a concert conducted by Leon Botstein at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge. There was for us an extra pleasure. There was for us a sense of allegiance to Bard College, where our son Jonathan was a student.

Leon Botstein is not only the president of the college. Among other commitments in the world of music, he is also the music director and principal conductor of the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra. The evening program included Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

I have never been particularly fond of Shostakovich, but that evening I was transfixed. I announced this conversion to Joan, and she impressed upon me the need to read the program notes.

While doing so, many times my eyes welled up. I was mentally listening to the performance with more intense appreciation.

And there it happened. After going through the history of the relationship between Shostakovich and the Communist Party, the notes, written by Peter Laki, Visiting Associate Professor of Music at Bard, pointed this information out about the haunting horn solo of the last movement: “Musicologist Richard Taruskinhas has shown that this section quotes from a song for voice and piano on a Puskin poem (‘Vozrozhdenie’ or ‘Rebirth,’ Op. 46, No. 1) Shostakovich had written just before the Fifth Symphony.”

The program notes went on to give the English translation of the poem’s first line: “Delusions vanish from my wearied soul...”

The word “delusions” grabbed me and threw me into the horrors of the history of Communism. Surely the roots of Communism lie in the conception that might makes right. But while the imagination of atheists can reach all the way to the infinity of God, the imagination of a Communist is firmly rooted in the soil of the earth.

And it does not stop there. The imagination of a Communist pierces the crust of a “materialistic” earth and finds the self as its final reality. In this discovery of the self as the ultimate reality, the imagination of the Communist is akin to the imagination of the Freudian. Or the imagination of the Darwinian, for that matter.

This is the imagination of the super-rationalists who have controlled the world of the intellect since the late Renaissance and have managed to isolate the “individual” from the community and from the universe.

Important differences as to the virulence of the affliction of self-power become evident as one examines the above or other more detailed lists.

But subtle differences can be reserved for later investigations. With the heartbreaking end suffered by the Carmelite nuns at Compiègne in 1794, the horrors into which the delusion of self-power can plunge us should have become clear to all, once and for all. The nuns were happy to stay secluded in their convent to pray. But no. That was not grandiose enough for the members of the French Revolution. The nuns were asked to accept the same “freedom” the revolutionaries enjoyed. Since the nuns refused, their heads fell under the guillotine.

Drawn to its very essence, it is the delusion of self-power that does not allow the Fascist and the Communist to tolerate opposition from other human beings. The opponent does not need to be convinced of the superiority of one’s ideas. (Especially because the validity of might makes right does not stand up to any intellectual or moral scrutiny.) No. The opponent must be eliminated; must be sent to the Gulag.

This psychological mechanism is complex and rather well known, but perhaps one specification needs to be added. It is not power that corrupts. Power is a necessary ingredient of life. What corrupts is the delusion that individuals have power on their own. This is the exercise of rights without any correspondent responsibility. What corrupts is the exercise of power by individuals—individuals who are separate from the community of other human beings, separate from concerns about The Other.

The authors of the American Constitution recognized this essential reality and built government as a system of checks and balances.


A coda. Did not the Greeks enlighten contortions of reason in their time? Did they not make the fate of the believer in the power of self clear? We call it hubris—an understanding in Greek tragedy signifying an excess of ambition and pride, an absence of forbearance that ultimately causes the transgressor's ruin.


There is a thought experiment for the moments this writer feels so self-important as to have any power on his own. He mentally transports himself high beyond the sky. From there he looks at himself down on earth.

Carmine Gorga, PhD, a former Fulbright scholar, is president of The Somist Institute. He is the author of numerous publications in economic theory and policy. Mr. Gorga can be reached at cgorga@jhu.edu. He wishes to gratefully acknowledge the immeasurable assistance he has received from Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise in the preparation of this presentation.

An Easter Meditation

In my heart of hearts I am a political scientist, so my Easter meditation is focused on this question: How can a man, acclaimed by throngs of people on Palm Sunday, be sentenced to die on a cross by those same people on Holy Friday? The stakes must have been extremely high for these complex acts to occur so fast. If you believe, as I do, that this man, Jesus, was also God, these events become even more astonishing.
The stakes were indeed so high that the consequences of that switch are still with us. First of all, it seems we are still confused as to whom to blame. A misguided hurtling about of shame has blinded us to the enormity of that event for the human race. Some people have blamed the Jews. Some people have held the Romans as complicit. This bouncing of the blame has been so steady and so ferocious as to be vicious in its consequences. The fact that no agreement on the ascertainment of a simple truth of this sort has yet developed is proof positive that something has gone terribly awry.
It is not “the Jews”, it is not “the Romans” who have to be held accountable for the fateful events of the Holy Week. By implicating a whole people, the blame is so diluted as to become impossible of clear and definitive assignment. This traditional line of historical investigation leads only to obfuscation of what occurred that sad week.
The facts are clear. On Palm Sunday, the people exulted in Jesus. On Holy Friday, they demanded His death. How was this turn of passions engineered? That is the question.
To answer it, we have to backtrack. We have to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the events of Palm Sunday. Clearly, the Jewish people exulted on Palm Sunday. They laid palms in front of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey. And yet, members of the Sanhedrin, the elite, were so stunned, they were taken over by so much fear as to plot the end of Jesus’ apostolate on earth. One can imagine them looking over the scene from dark chambers. Was it in the middle of that first night that they sent secret messages to relatives and friends among the Jewish and the Roman ruling groups?
The question is: What was their fear?
The political answer that is traditionally given covers the entire gamut of fear of forfeiting their power, prestige, and wealth. And, yet, that is not fully satisfactory to cover the enormity of that tragic event. It is the depth of the gap between their fear and the challenge posed by Jesus that needs to be explained.
The answer resonates loud and clear during an Easter meditation. The powers-to-be discovered that they were not going to lose power and prestige and wealth. Jesus did not appear on a horse, sword unsheathed, and followed by menacing hordes of armed marauders. They discovered a deeper reality; they discovered that Jesus challenged the authority that stood at the foundation of their intellectual and spiritual life.
They believed they had authority by virtue of their institutional position on top of a belief system that granted them the right to command the use of force.  If it can be said that by the time of Moses the elites were exercising rights in the context of well-defined responsibilities, by the time of Jesus they preserved their rights but felt no sense of responsibility – either toward man or toward God. In the end, they believed that might makes right.
Jesus challenged that notion. Even in the case of expulsion of the moneychangers from the Temple, Jesus did not challenge either power in itself nor the forms through which power manifests itself, namely money and armies; He challenged the lack of responsibility through which power is exercised and money is used.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. That is what terrified the elites on Palm Sunday. In Jesus they saw the emptiness – and some might have seen the viciousness – of their lives. And they could not stand the view.
With His actions and teachings, Jesus stripped them of their fig leafs and asked them to put themselves in the presence of our Father in Heaven with only hope, faith, and love in their hearts – with hope and faith, as the apostle Peter said, centered in God, and love for oneself, for one’s neighbor, and for God. They trembled. And plotted for His death. A majority of Jewish and Roman elites tried to deny their nakedness by putting Jesus, the messenger of truth, to death.
Those efforts were in vain. Jesus was resurrected. The spiritual Jesus is still with us. He insists on His request for hope, faith, and love. Hence, He begs us to rely on the power of the Spirit.
We still cannot accept Jesus’ message. How else to explain the horrific events of our days? Do those with power and prestige and wealth behave differently today? If we yearn to avoid the stubborn repetition of the horrid events of the Holy Week, we need to start with a true understanding of Jesus. We need to understand that Jesus did not threaten anyone’s power and prestige and wealth. People with power and prestige and wealth were among His friends here on earth. He simply came to fulfill the Jewish law, the Jewish prophecy, the incredible Jewish insight of the prevalence of the spirit over blind energy and matter as repeated consistently through the ages: “Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel); “Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah); “Atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your prosperity will be long” (Daniel).
There is one more step to take to foster the reconstruction of the New Jerusalem. We have to comprehend the mechanics of the transformation of a loving mob into a hateful mob. Members of the Sanhedrin were able to switch people’s allegiances on the basis on a lie—a bold lie. They told the people that Jesus planned to become their King, to rule over them; hence, they were going to forfeit their political freedom.
Was that not a lie? Jesus did not conceive of taking away from anyone the freedom that God gave to everyone. Jesus asked not even for a prayer for Himself; the prayer He taught us is to Our Father, your father and mine, the father of the Jews as the father of the Gentiles, the father of the Indians of America as the father of the Indians of India, the father of all the people on earth. Just as for the powers-to-be, Jesus came to give everyone hope, faith, and love.
And there is where the throngs of people are conjoined at the hip with the elites; that is why, in the end, the people became so gullible as to believe a bold lie. The majority of the people were not steadfast believers in Jesus’ message of hope, faith, and love. We still do not believe; and if we do, we do so fitfully and hesitantly.
This is the meaning of Easter. This is the meaning of the Resurrection. The Spirit sits in pained judgment. What we do is our test: we can either die or live in the Spirit. It is not power and prestige and wealth that matters; it is how we acquire, preserve, and use power and prestige and wealth that matters. We are free to either die or live in the Spirit.
The apostle Paul got it all – and expressed it tersely: "Acquire a fresh, spiritual way of thinking. You must put on that new man created in God's image, whose justice and holiness are born of truth." 

Peter J. Bearse and David S. Wise have helped immeasurably to clarify the set of interrelated ideas included in this presentation.

Carmine Gorga is a former Fulbright scholar. Using age-old principles of logic and epistemology, in a book and a series of papers Dr. Gorga has shown how to bend the linear world of economic theory into a relational discipline in which everything is related to everything else—internally as well as externally. He was assisted in this endeavor for twenty-seven years by Professor Franco Modigliani, a Nobel laureate in economics at MIT. For details, see www.carmine-gorga.us.

Nazis, Atheists, and the Shoah

December 7, 2010 marks the day in which I was finally able to wrap my mind around the Holocaust. Before that day, my eyes would only well-up at the very mention of the term. I could only shunt aside all information about it. I visited the Ann Frank’s Museum in Amsterdam and peaked into some of her diary, of course. But I could not make myself read anything or see anything related to it.
I could only refuse to see anything else by Woody Allen after he cracked a joke about the Holocaust. How despicable. That was my opinion then, and it still is now.
You might have noticed that I am calling it “it.”
On that December day I began to see the light. Claude Lanzmann, I read in his interview with the New York Times, calls it “the abyss.” That word fully empowered me to value my own reactions. They were telling me that I can only lose myself, if I attempt to look into this unspeakable mark on humans.
Looking at things back now, I feel fully justified in having shunted “Schindler’s List” aside as well as “Life Is Beautiful.”
But now I plan on getting fully absorbed in Lanzmann’s “Shoah.” And I might even be able to set foot on the concentration camps and perhaps thereafter read some descriptions of the indescribable woe.
I fully agree with Mr. Lanzmann that the word “Holocaust,” much used in the United States, is inappropriate: There is no offering to God there.
Shoah is the right word: this was a “catastrophe, a disaster.”
The light shined upon me at Mr. Lanzmann’s reference to Primo Levi’s memory “of the concentration camp guard who brusquely told him, ‘Hier ist kein warum,’ or ‘Here there is no why.’”
That was a lie, I yelled; and things fell into place.
The Nazis knew precisely what they were doing. And why. To tell us that there was no “warum” there is another way of trying to cover themselves in front of the naked truth.
They were atheists battling with God.
They were atheists battling with the God who was in each and every Jew.
They were atheists trying to kill each and every Jew, because they believed they could in this way extirpate the very conception of God from the human soul.
Who would ever want to profess the existence of God after a thousand years of eradication of the Jews from the face of the earth?
Can we ever imagine what they imagined?
How foolish a dream.
Did they not realize that two Jews alone escaping their hold would keep the faith alive?
Did they not realize that the making of martyrs is a sure fire to inflame the ardors of faith?
Goya, the painter, knew: “Dreams of reason produce monsters.” And a monster is the Shoah.
The Nazis were trying to kill each and every Jew, because the Jewish people, above all other people, have believed and proclaimed the presence of God in each and every one of their acts. They discovered the One God, rather than the gods. They have been witnesses to the Living God ever since.
Even when the Jews profess themselves to be atheists, by negating the existence of God they affirm it.
Sartre said it better: “God does not exist—the bastard.”
Hence the rage against our own constitution.
And it is the degree of rage possessed by the atheist that we need to confront. It can simply be an act of vain intellectual snobbery. This is relative atheism: I am better than you because I believe only in things that are proven by science.
But then there is the real dangerous type of atheism, this is absolute atheism.
The abyss of the Holocaust, the abyss of the Shoah is not like a black hole from which no light escapes. The abyss of the Holocaust, the abyss of the Shoah is an abyss filled with monsters. We had better look at each one of those monsters in their face. Only then can we exorcise them.
I am not an expert in these terrible fields. Far from it. And I hope that deep experts will peak into the opening in which I have fallen.
Here is the monster of Absolute Atheism I see.
The Nazis were not killing Jews because they were Jews—and they were Arians. What’s the difference there?
No, that would merely have been an unspeakable act of racism.
The Nazis killed Gypsies and gays and lesbians with equal glee, not because these people were different from them; but because they could not make them “in their own image and likeness.” The Nazi, throughout, were playing God.
Constantly defeated in their aspirations, they hoped that eventually—if only given enough time, resources, and leeway—they could improve on God’s work.
The Nazis were trying to kill each and every Jew, because the Jewish people are a unique personification of God.
What the Nazis were committing was a Godcide.
To succeed in this endeavor is, by definition, the ultimate aspiration of atheists.
The Nazis were absolute atheists, in their mind, killing God in each and every Jew.
The Nazis were atheists who justified themselves by saying, I am killing God because I am God and there cannot be any other God but me.

Carmine Gorga, PhD, is president of Polis-tics Inc. In addition to many publications in economic theory and policy, he is the author of To My Polis, With Love: May Gloucester Show the World the Ways of Frugality.

What is morality?

Much is made of morality. Today, morality is even presented in a variety of flavors. “Ethicists come in all shapes and sizes. There are utilitarians and Kantians and virtue ethicists; medical ethicists and legal ethicists and religious ethicists; and even a few benighted magazine columnists. They all have one thing in common: none of them are morally perfect” says Ariel Kaminer, the ethicist for the New York Times Magazine of April 27, 2012.

To me, morality is the set of relationships that relate the I to the Thou. These relationships, of course, vary from love to hate. The function of morality is to try to reduce hate to zero and expand love to infinity.

Mathematicians, those immensely practical people, know that zero and infintiy are limits. Human beings will never reach them. It is only moralists, those incorrigible optimists, who say: Well, that is true, but we MUST try.

That is the meaning of a civilized life, an examined life.