Category Archives: Sociology

The Social Reform Candidate

A steampunk like short story exploring the darker hidden motives and attitudes of social and political reformers in an alternative historical timeline..

The carriage came to my office door promptly at eight o’clock. Bennett Wilson was always a prompt man. His driver opened the door of the Clarence coach. The driver showed me, then he opened a Moroccan leather covered box after I seated myself in the back.

“You never know,” he said.

“Yes, it’s true.” Inside the box was a well-polished custom nickel trimmed R Johnson Flintlock Pistol. The detailed engraving on the nickel was superb.

“Already loaded I assume?” I picked it up to admire it, the barrel pointing away from the driver.

“Indeed sir.”

Carefully I placed it back in the black leather burgundy velvet lined box, the barrel facing downward as the box was designed. The driver nodded and closed the door. Quickly he climbed into the driver’s seat and took the reins. I admired the fine leather seating and brushed velvet with the brass trimmed carriage interior as the two horses went into a trot. The wheels rumbled against the brick street boulevard.

The Smog and drizzle hazed around the kerosene-lit streetlights. The moon was barely visible through the brown smog. Factories belched out thick smoke all around us as we passed through the industrial center. The sound of steam engines became louder than the sound of the carriage wheels. Soot from coal furnaces and boilers covered the buildings. You could taste the gritty smoke. On the street, several dirty faced workers were walking home, some of them children.

“Ah, look there. It’s the rich,” I heard one man say. He pointed at the carriage as we passed. His face was dirty with smudges of grease and black dirt. His soot covered denim overalls and leather boots looked as though they would need to be removed before he entered his home.

“Yes, I may seem rich tonight,” I thought to myself as the carriage passed.

Outside the bars, occasional women, overly dressed for the neighborhood, stood in the drizzle underneath the kerosene street lamps. Some had umbrellas to keep from getting wet. Their high society dress in a working-class area made their occupation obvious. They waived at the carriage as we trotted by them, one of them raising her bustled skirt just above the knee.
“Hey give me a ride,” another one yelled. I looked out the window and our eyes met. She flashed a smile as I stared into her big brown eyes. I smiled back.

“Not bad,” I thought.

We approached the west end of town. “Hold steady now Mr. Thompson!” The driver warned me. He brought the horses to a canter. Quickly we passed through the slum district, an area with much less lighting and well-known for crime. The carriage wheels growled loudly along the cobblestone street. We passed two small gangs walking the sidewalks. Would any of them have tried to board the carriage if we were not moving so quickly? Such things made the newspaper headlines weekly.

 

Thirty minutes must have passed. “We have arrived,” the driver said.

The Wilson mansion was well lit with many outside lamps. He must have used a barrel of kerosene every month to keep them lit. The inside was brighter. Wilson had some steam powered Woolrich direct current generators in the back. Most of the mansion was lit by electricity. Only the richest could afford that.

“My labor platform for the Senate will help the workers of this state, and the entire country,” the former governor said. The interview seemed to be going well. I sensed my editor at the Arlington Times would be pleased.

I could not help noticing that his personal library was enormous. Eight rows of seven-foot-high double sided books shelves filled most of the room. In the closest section I recognized some names; Freud, Jung, Pavlov, Klein, Piaget, Asch, Watson, and Milgram. We sat in plush velvet covered chairs at a Horner carved oak winged griffin library table. We sipped on Laphroaig Scotch on ice from elegant French crystal tumblers.

“The hours are entirely too long, Wilson said. “The manufacturers are taking advantage of the workers.”

“Agreed.”

“The ghastly practice of opening the doors fifteen minutes late and penalizing the workers for half a day’s wages must stop. Forcing the worker to stay late for free because of unreasonable quotas is flagrant. A fourteen-hour work day is inhuman. I would never do that to my workers.”

Former Governor Bennett Wilson, the candidate for the U.S. Senate, was an ice baron. He started young. He worked hard and squeezed out his competitors until there was only one other operation left in the Arlington area. Next, he worked his way down the river before widening his territory leaving only one main competitor. Shortly after, the two men became friends and one drunken New Year’s Eve they joked at fixing prices. The rest was history. They bought out companies in other cities and replicated the process eventually forming a trust that controlled eighty percent of the Northeastern seaboard ice market.

“What about trusts?” I asked as I pulled out my notepad and pencil to take notes of the interview.

His gray bushy brows raised. His bright blue eyes rounded.

“Some say the larger entities and co-operatives, for example, the sugar trust, the steel trust, tobacco, and farm equipment pick the pockets of the rich and poor alike.” I said.

“Nonsense!” Wilson said. He stroked the hair of his well-trimmed brown beard with his index finger and thumb. I suddenly noticed how young he looked for his age. “That is business, and business is business. What I am talking about is releasing the poor of all those long hours. And the children, don’t forget the children. They belong in school.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “That is a good cause.”

“I’m not saying people cannot work long hours. What I am saying is they should be paid for all of them. An employee staying over for three hours at no pay simply because the management intentionally overschedules the amount of work is not acceptable. Nor shall it be permitted if my legislation is passed.”

“Once again, I agree sir,” I said as I recorded his words. Still, I considered the irony of his position.

“What of the wages of those supplying us with imported goods?” I asked him, testing for a reaction. “Can we stand for such principles when we consume sugar produced by almost slave labor? What about the banana boat worker that gets less than the factory workers? What about rice? The farmers in those countries make pennies per day.

“They are animals!” Wilson’s fist hit the paper tablet on the table in front of him. Our drinks shook. “Those are not civilized persons such as we are! Just look at them. Why you can even smell some of them.”

“But isn’t your platform for the poor? You almost don’t seem to like them.”

“Of course, it is.” Wilson Answered. “My platform is to help them, but I do not have to like them.”

“I see. We support those who exploit workers in other lands while campaigning to protect our own?”

“What goes on in other places is not our responsibility.”

“What about here, in our own country? We both go to Manhattan. Didn’t we purchase Manhattan for less than the price of a poor man’s city block from the Indians?”

“That was not us. That was the Dutch! And what does it matter?”

His shaking eyes met mine. His skin flushed pink against his brown beard and mustache. I feared he might ask me to leave.

“Wait,” he said. Slowly he smiled. “That is brilliant! You are brilliant Mr. Thompson.”

“How is that?” I asked. Although puzzled, I admit I enjoyed the compliment.

“My platform! I can use those things as examples of the exploitation I am fighting!” He scribbled some notes onto his tablet with a pencil, then slid it off to the left.

“But you just said you didn’t care.”

“Well maybe not, but I can act so publicly,” Wilson said. “It will appear more caring and compassionate.”

“That it will.”

“Certainly, you will not report that? You will not mention all I just said.”
Man with beard photo man-beard_zpsyct6ur01.jpg

“No, sir. My job is to report the facts of what you intend to do. I present both sides of the issues objectively. I am not a hack that resorts to trickery and character assassinations. Nor do I attempt to direct the outcomes of any events I cover.”

“Excellent, I knew you could be trusted with off the record remarks. You have an excellent reputation for discretion. Ironic for a newspaper reporter, isn’t it?” Wilson smiled.

“Please continue.”

“Schools need to be improved,” Wilson said. “Government schools need to be established. It is 1972 and the entire world has made little industrial or social progress in the past one hundred and forty years.”

“It is true Mr. Wilson. The French have hardly been leaders.”

“Still, we must admire Napoleon, and credit the French for their contribution,” Wilson said.

Wilson admired Napoleon, the way he defeated the Duke of Wellington and the Prussians. They were no match for his genius. Napoleon could not defeat them at sea, however. Instead, the naval battles went on for almost 20 years until a truce was declared. Both countries were too financially drained to continue.

Shortly after the war, came the fifty-year plague. Starting in Europe and spreading to Africa and the Mideast, it was not long before it crossed the Atlantic. Half the world’s population died in the first 20 years. Industry came to a standstill. By the end, two-thirds of the global population had fallen throwing the entire world into a medieval existence.

“Had the French not held the power, who knows what would have happened?” Wilson said. “We might all be speaking Japanese.”

The Japanese aggression started shortly after the plague. They were not as affected by the outbreak as Europe had been. With their superior gunned steam ships and almost endless fuel supply from their conquered lands, they had the world in panic for almost fifteen years. It was the French under Napoleon II who finally defeated them at sea. Next, he conquered their major cities, destroying their technology and stealing the plans.

“The world needs strong resolute leaders,” Wilson continued. “It needs strong iron-clad rules that all must follow. Regulations is the word I mean.”

“But surely Sir, aren’t emperors, kings, and too many regulations a recipe for disaster? Aren’t they a hindrance to freedom?”

“I’m not so sure.” He shook his head and smiled. “Consider the masses. Do you really think they can do anything for themselves?”

“Excuse me?”

“What I mean is, they need to be told what to do. In fact, Mr. Thompson, they want to be told. Most of them tremble at the thought of making a real decision. They need leaders to decide for them. We can make them think they are smart for following us, and they will.

“I suppose you are referring to the laborers and the poor?”

“Oh yes! Especially those, Mr. Thompson. It is up to us, the educated and elite, to plan for them, to influence them, to herd them, to help them get what they need to survive. It is we who know best.”

“I suppose you do not think they are capable on their own? Given a better environment that is.”

“Certainly not! The average one of them is an idiot. Listen to them talk. They are not fit to be more than peasants in a modern feudal society.” Wilson said. “Chattel is what they are, the whole lot of them.”

“Then what is the point of education?” I asked.

“We can convince them it is valuable, convince them it leads to prosperity, that it helps their children. As it will to some degree. Education will also provide an administrative type class to do our bidding and enforce our order, among other things.”

“Such as…”

“Such as a tool to influence them. Years of indoctrination will mold them into what we need from them. In time, they will imagine no other way of life but what government education has taught them. Don’t you see the beauty?”

“Beauty sir?” I asked.

“Education will make them more profitable and productive. Productivity allows us to both profit more and to pay them more. More income allows them to purchase more things. That means even more profit. We can even tax them more. As for the ones left behind, the ones we must carry and support, the worthless despicable ones per say, they will support us with their votes in an exchange for what we provide from the worker’s taxes. Everyone has more goods and we have more power. It’s beautiful!”

“Won’t people see through this eventually?”

“Of course not! We won’t give them the same education as the rich, but rather one more suited for their intellect and our needs. In time, Mr. Thompson, they will defend us and fight for us. They will want us to provide even more education. They will willingly punish their children for disobeying us. It’s in their simple nature.” He raised his arm and extended his hand toward his library’s psychology section.

I looked at the shelves. I wondered what all those great authors might think knowing their work would be used in such a sinister manner. Wilson paused and poured us more scotch.

“Even if they did see through it,” Wilson continued. “They are too disorganized, unsophisticated, and quarrel among themselves too much to ever change things.”

“Are you certain?”

“In my view history proves it. We must save the mongrels from themselves. Such riff-raff need a champion. It is us.”

“Riff-raff sir?”

“Well, they certainly aren’t as educated and astute as we are. Just look at the despicable creatures. They need help and it will benefit everyone. And we, the elite of both parties, will rightfully reign over them.”

“But sir, don’t you see this as a bit like slavery or indentured servitude?”

“Of Course, not!” Wilson hit the table again, this time with the flat of his palm. “Look at them now! Look at the long hours they work and the filth that surrounds them. If we don’t save them, some tyrant will trick them with false promises. Then where will the animals be? Worse off than they are now!”

My interview continued late into the night.

 

As Wilson’s driver took me home, I reflected on the evening. What are the things that motivate men such as Bennett Wilson to be reformers? Is it moral balance – a need to compensate for their evil, crass, or self-serving actions by doing something good? Is it an inferiority complex masked as a superiority complex, the need to manipulate and dominate others to feel any self-worth at all? Is it easier to see the problems on the outside than to have to courage to look within oneself first? Could it sometimes be an attempt to resolve in inner problem externally? Is it simply a deceptive tactic to accumulate wealth? Or is it simply hunger for power, attention, praise, or fame?

As we passed by the bars and factories, I stared at the hazy glow of the smog surrounding the kerosene street lamps. Only a few workers heading home from the bars were still on the streets. Their faces were still dirty from the grime and coal of the factories, but they seemed to be smiling after a night of drinking. At least they had souls. They did not hide behind a clean or pious façade, or the name of proper society, to manipulate and benefit from the lives of others.

The brown-eyed woman I saw earlier was gone. I remembered a recent book by J Krishnamurti. He wrote that all a reformer ever really does is to redecorate the prison walls. The problems they create are often worse than the ones they try to solve. Few people ever escape the prison.

Men like Bennett Wilson will always be in power.



Could We Already Be Dead?

“Could we already be dead?”

“Of course not!”

“How do you know? “

So often we fool ourselves when looking at life.

“I have fourteen years of experience in this field,” the applicant said. He was proud and smiling.

Does he really? Does he have fourteen years of experience, or is it the same first year fourteen times over? Perhaps his job was a bit more complicated and he has two years of experience seven times over. Perhaps there were a few procedural changes every couple of years and some occasional training to help promote the illusion of more experience. That is what happens to most of us.

This applicant might be in a rut. The same is probably true for the person giving the interview. We go to work and do the same thing every day. Some people may fool themselves into believing every day is different. Good for them. But it’s only the faces, outer appearances, and circumstances that change. It’s all for the same goal, all to the same end. Sugar and flour combine into many appearances, such as doughnuts, cookies, muffins, and cakes, but underneath it is still sugar and flour.

At best, it is nine to five. Many do not have it so easy. Many salaried workers do considerably more than forty hours. We get up in the morning, commute to work. Lunch is at about the same time every day. We work more, then commute home. Now we have a few hours of personal time spent mostly on other things needed for survival. Sleep and repeat. Pass “Go” on Friday and get the paycheck deposited to the bank.1

Some may protest. “Well, that is your life. Mine is different!” Others will say, “You got a bad attitude, you can change that situation. A person can move up or change jobs.”

Great. I’m glad you brought that up. What the above means is that if a person jumps through the right hoops, they get a different plot on the same farm.

“What to you mean? I work for a different company now!” Someone protests.

Look at the facts. 1% of the world’s population owns 50% of the wealth and the top 10 % controls 85% of the world’s wealth.2 In the US the top .01% owns as much wealth as the bottom 90%.2 So, who are you fooling? The same group owns both plots, It’s the same farm.

“But I own my own business!” Good for you! Now we are getting somewhere. Congratulations, you may be smarter than the rest. Still, let’s ask a few things.

Are you working longer hours? Are you still taking problems home with you? Does the business affect your marriage or relationship with the kids? Are you truly Man in hamster wheelhappy? Do you feel satisfaction or has it become something you have to do? Do you suffer from anxiety? Is it affecting your health? Do you sleep well? Do you love what you do? If you pass this test, you are among the few who have truly succeeded. That, however, is a very small percentage of the world. Even being a business owner does not guarantee happiness. Divorce, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, addictions, suicide, and violence hit all social groups.

Most of us simply fool ourselves as the system has trained us to do. We may convince others we are happy and even believe it ourselves most of the time. We put on a mask that all is well, but deep inside something just is not so perfect. Something inside knows it isn’t happy.

Masking things is our way. It is how we were taught, domesticated, indoctrinated, or educated. Education prepares us to be cogs in this huge piece of the machine which is often a sham of a life. We pursue ideas given to us and programmed into us by others. We accept these things as our own values.

It wasn’t our fault. We were young children conforming so we could be loved. Then we were corrupted and exploited, our dreams hijacked and exchanged for an insane world’s ideas of success, security, and conformity.

When the coroner signs our death certificates, often it is just a formality. Most of us died long ago. We are living out a lie, living our programming, but not our lives. Like robots on autopilot, we did as the world instructed and expected.

We were never free. Our overlords told us when we were allowed to take a vacation and for how long. They even dictated what time we could have lunch, and for how long. In some jobs, they even limited when we could use the toilet and how often. Even after work, our lives were controlled by laws, governments, traditions, expectations, insurance stipulations, our employer’s policies, our customers’ expectations, and society’s conventions. They called it freedom, but it was only a myth.3

The solutions are not easy and vary person to person. Once cast into a hole, there are only two things you can do. The first is to put on blinders and keep digging yourself deeper. The second is to dig smartly and build a ramp to get out.  Until we admit to the problem, however, it will never be solved.

We can start with small steps. We become aware and then examine our simpler values first. Is mowing the lawn more important than spending time with your child if he wants to play? Is getting the house spotless so important that it is worth ignoring your spouse and children or fighting with them? Are you really too busy to spend some time with the dog after you feed him? What is it that is so important that you cannot? Why? Why do you have the dog? By the way, if he is tied outside, why don’t you bring him inside the house? Don’t you realize your pets can be the most loyal, loving and accepting companions you will ever have?

Is serving society’s implied expectations really more important than your family and pets? What about you? Is what you think you are expected to sacrifice worth living a life full of things you don’t want to do? Why are you trying to impress people you do not know, or do not like, with your status or image?

Keep asking questions. What is important to you? Why is it important? Who told you it is important? Was it your original idea? Or was the idea placed in your mind by parents, teachers, and society? Is the idea serving you or helping you? Does the idea or value bring you peace and joy, or is it draining you of energy, making you edgy or anxious? 4

Finally: What do you want? Have you answered that? Truly answered it? Do you even know? The real answer may surprise you. What do you really want? 5

Question everything you were taught; beliefs, preferences, values, and thoughts. Rethink them for yourself. Perhaps you can’t change most of it, but you can rearrange your perceptions. You can become more aware of what you are doing, more aware of when you are a robot and when you are truly living. You can develop a better outlook and happier life, maybe even actually live! Remember the words of Albert Einstein “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Start slowly. Don’t do anything drastic, but start. Quit redecorating the prison. Find the way out of the prison instead.6 Live your own life, not the world’s idea of what it should be.

Footnotes:

1 “Go” is a reference to an American Board game called Monopoly. Every time you circle the board past the initial starting point you are paid $200.

The Wealth Inequality figures quoted are backed up by the following:
Forbes – https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2014/01/23/the-85-richest-people-in-the-world-have-as-much-wealth-as-the-3-5-billion-poorest/#3e50643b1753
http://newatlas.com/go/6571/
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/13/us-wealth-inequality-top-01-worth-as-much-as-the-bottom-90
Washington post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/01/22/10-startling-facts-about-global-wealth-inequality/?utm_term=.8b7c6664212f

3Refernces from Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom 1976

4 Some of these questions posed in the book The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed on Your Own Terms, by Vishen Lakhiani

5 Question posed by Gangaji in chapter 5 of The Diamond in Your Pocket, 2005

6 Refence to J. Krishnamuriti – Reformers and changers often do nothing but redecorate the prison, often arriving at a solution that is worse than the original problem. Think on These Things, 1964

Related Articles:
Gangaji – what do you want?

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The Darker Side of Charity

Is charity a killer in disguise? Here we look at this question, without emotion, from a perspective of mathematics and cause and effects relationships.

Let’s go back fifty-five years. One day, while watching television, we see a clip of several poor, sad, and hungry children that will soon die. Maybe a disease is involved. The scenes on television tug at our hearts and we cannot help feeling empathy since we perceive ourselves as warm and caring human beings.

In the next 20 seconds, we see more images of starvation, disease, war, dictatorship, perhaps even hear references to human trafficking.

We and thousands of others are compelled to help. We send money for food, clothing, and medicine or shelter to the sponsors of the advertisement. All seems well and we feel better. Many sign up to donate monthly.

Soon these children grow to adulthood. Based on world population figures, each child in a poorer nation has four to seven children of its own.

The wars the starvation, the disease, and the human trafficking continue. Many of the newborn children die sad and horrible deaths. Those who survive produce more children. The donations keep coming.

IIf each person in a poor country, with no birth control, has 5 to 7 children and we say only 4 live, here is a quick chart of the population increase over the years with only 4 children surviving from each parent.

Cycle 1 = 10,000 times 4 = 40,000 surviving births
Cycle 2 = 40,000 times 4 = 160,000
Cycle 3 = 160,000 times 4 = 640,000 surviving new births
Cycle 4 = 640,000 times 4 = 2,560,000
Cycle 5 = 2,560,000 times 4 = 10,240,000 surviving births

Now let’s consider that for every 4 children that survive only one will die. Keep in mind we started with only 10,000. Please remember that the real the death rate is higher. It is closer to double or even more than the numbers used in this example.

Cycle 1 = 10,000 deaths… Total cumulative deaths so far = 10,000
Cycle 2 = 40,000 deaths… Total cumulative deaths so far = 50,000
Cycle 3 = 160,000 deaths Total cumulative deaths so far = 210,000
Cycle 4 = 640,000 deaths… Total cumulative deaths so far = 850,000
Cycle 5 = 2,560,000 deaths… Total cumulative deaths so far = 3,410,000

The death numbers have now increased exponentially.

Instead of several thousand children starving and dying, now over three million people starve on cycle 5. There are now 30 times more people dying per year than were originally saved.

Every few decades there is a severe global economic downturn. The charity donations drop and people become restless. Studies show that wars break out during these economic downturns. Populations become slain by the hundreds of thousands. People die horrible and cruel deaths. The food shortages from the political strife kill even more.

The horrible truth is that for each person saved, hundreds, even thousands, more suffer and die.

So the huge theoretical question is – Would it have been kinder and more benevolent to have left the few thousand alone to starve, then to create millions and millions, that will now starve instead?

That indeed is a sick question, but the world we live in enables it. It also gives rise to many other questions.

What is real kindness? Is this true compassion? Have our good intentions helped or have they increased suffering? What are the true mathematical cause and effect consequences of our good intentions, our charity, and our compassion?

Currently, over 7,000,000 people  die of starvation annually. In the year 2011, one child died every 10 seconds. Clearly, our current approach is not the best solution. The most important questions follow. Is there a better, yet sustainable solution? If so, what is it? Who is preventing it? Why? Is our world capable of agreeing long enough to carry it out?

 

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Is the World Getting More Violent?

Young child soldier with gun

The Dalai Lama’s book “The Art of Happiness in Troubled World” (the third in a series) has an interesting take on violence in general (and fear). Unfortunately, it more the writing of the psychologist, Howard C. Cutter, backing up the Dalai Lama with scientific studies than it is the Dalai Lama speaking. Therefore, it is a rather tedious book to read, but worth it.

Something I found very interesting was that the Dalai Lama believes we are not violent by nature. To back up his views, scientific evidence stated by the psychologist, H. C Cutter, indicates that violence is on a decline and at a relative historical low. In hunter-gatherer societies, for example, it is estimated there was a 30% death rate by violence among males.

Where they get these numbers I do not know. I was skeptical, so let’s arbitrarily cut in in one-third to 10%. If you are really skeptical cut it down to one-sixth or 5 %, as I did. The study then goes on to estimate the slaughters of the Twentieth Century including murders, all wars and genocides by total population and arrives at less than 1 % of total population. If this is true we really have made progress!  We have more dangerous weapons of destruction, yet we have less violence by percentage of population. That is really quite amazing, and somewhat difficult to believe.

Another study in the book mentions that as violence dropped in the 1980s media reporting of violence increased by over 450%. This is because violent news sells and our brains are more geared to tune into violent news rather than happy news due to our inherited evolutionary tendencies such as fight or flight. Our brains are weird to notice danger and things that are wrong as that is what our predecessors had to do in order to survive. We focus and amplify by nature. In short – as violence has decreased, news reporting on violence had increased exponentially.

Paul Nieto -The Old Dirt Road

Reference: The Art of Happiness in Troubled World

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