Thursday, December 30, 2010

From Boychick to Man

"In a place where there are no menschen,
you be a mensch."

In the past several years, the boy I called Boychick here on my blog has been busy growing up.

After acquiescing to his request to go to high school, I have not featured him here very much, preferring to give him his privacy as he went about this business of learning to be a man. In the process, he went from being my Boychick--my favored (and only) boy-child, to being the Rasta Jew--who was quite enamored with Reggae music and then with trucks and the Dukes of Hazzard.

From the beginning, high school has been a challenge to my young man, who has found great difficulty with academics, and who's talent lies in hands-on subjects such as music, art and sports. And yet he has perservered, and despite finally receiving a formal educational diagnosis of Autism and Specific Learning Disability, he has also made numerous friends who accept his ways as a given. Kids these days do seem to be much more accepting of differences among themselves, even as they navigate a world that seems less and less accepting of them.

From last March until now, as the Engineering Geek and I have been putting into place our plans for Going Galt, the Rasta Jew has been considering his own future as well. It took a good deal of courage to tell me, his scholarly mother, that university studies were not part of his plans.

And it has taken some work on my part to let loose the apron strings and let him dream his dreams. And yet, at the same time, it is immensely satisfying for me to see the changes that his choices has wrought within him. On his IEP in the spring of his freshman year, he said that he wanted to be a Rock Star when he grew up. This seemed like the same kind of starry eyed ambition as the first grader who wanted to be an astronaut or a fireman. But in the past six months, the obsession with trucks has become an obessession with engines and now they work--an obsession that includes a great deal of work and study to understand them in great detail.

When we closed on the ranch in Catron County in August, we began to plan in earnest for the EG's retirement, and for the move. At that time, I gave the Rasta Jew a choice. He could either stay at East Mountain High School and we would make arrangements for him to stay with his sister or friends, or he could move down with us to the ranch. At the time this choice was presented, our young man had seen the ranch just once, and although he loved it, the whole project was not real to him and he seemed inclined to stay at East Mountain. But starting Labor Day weekend, we began spending two or three weekends a month at the ranch, and he began spending time with a genuine Cowboy, Mr. H., and learning some of the skills we all needed to know. He repaired fencing, put in line, chopped wood, built fires, and learned to rope. And his plans began to change.

At the same time, the Junior level curriculum at his college prep high school was becoming quite a challenge. A month in to school, it was recommended that he drop German Language and add a Structured Study Hall in order to focus on two academic courses, as well as his beloved music class, World Rhythm. He still struggled both with the kind of writing that was being demanded in his humanities, as well as with the pace of the work, as well as in math. He began to realize that his talents and the skills he was developing did not lie with academic work in the classroom, but with his ability to take things apart and put them back together in order to get them working--whether it was an electric guitar or a drive-shaft that fell out of his truck.
So in October, when we visited Quemado High School in Catron County, he was far less interested in the Calculus class being taught to students in classrooms in three different schools across 100 miles through the magic of technology, than he was in the fact that the school has an excellent wood shop, metal shop and welding program. Such opportunities are now almost non-existent in the urban schools as kids are pushed toward college whether they have the talent and the inclination for it or not. A discussion of the FFA program and 4-H, both of which take place during the school day, got the wheels turning in his head, and a few weeks later, with the help of his very special Special Education coordinator at East Mountain, he announced that he was going to move with us to the ranch.

Since then, we have seen remarkable peace and purpose descend upon him; he has a vision for his future, and it is very specific. He wants to learn welding and auto-mechanics, and plans to attend a trade school for those skills, and then he wants to open his own business in Catron County, and live at the ranch. A rancher needs to be a master of many of the trade skills, plus animal skills, and the Rasta Jew's ambition is to take over the ranch from us one day. He loves working the cattle, and gets up without complaint of a snowy morning to bring them feed and get wood ready for the fire.

He has begun to study the things he will be learning to fulfill his plans. He has been reading up on horses, to better care for his horse, and he spends as much time working his saddle as he does playing his guitar. He keeps Faye E. Ward's The Cowboy at Work by his bed, as well as the Horseman's Almanac. And he pores over the technical manuals for his Jeep, and has developed innovative ways to replace parts that can no longer be found. Thus has the Boychick cum Rasta Jew become the Cowboy in Training (CIT).

It has been a wonderful transformation to watch, as his purpose unfolds bringing with it a new maturity and sense of responsiblity.
No longer a Boychick, he is becoming a man, and is beginning to show the purpose and the promise that comes when a boy puts away childish things, in order to create a life that satisfies his own desires and understandings. For to be a mensch--a real man, a real human being--is to become a person who does not do what is expected, but what is right. And he chooses his own path, putting away the childish desire to do what he thinks his parents want, or to be like others. And with that choice comes a new sense of purpose and a new responsibility to make of his life something he can truly love.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Yule: A Week Out of Time

Yule, that's what this week is. Since we don't celebrate Christmas, I had not thought of it this way before. But in the days of the Old Religions of Europe, people took this whole week surrounding the Solstice out of their calendar completely. The days were not part of any month, and they had no number except Yule 1, Yule 2, and so forth. It was literally a week out of time. And peculiarly, this week feels much like a week that has been yanked out of the normal flow of time for us, because we are non-celebrators. All of our normal routines and interactions are blown to the wind, and we have no special rituals to replace them.

This year, the sense of dislocation is even greater. The Engineering Geek retired from his employment at Sandia National Labs on December 23, and we are starting a new adventure in independent employment, Going Galt, as it were, and moving down to our ranch in Catron County. And the move is coming soon, as the Catron Kid (a.k.a. the Rasta Jew) will start his new school on January 5.

Never have I been less prepared for an imminent move.

This year, at Erev Shabbat Shemot (Christmas Eve to much of the rest of America), we had a cake and poured Champagne to toast the Engineering Geek's retirement. And the Engineering Geek was finally entirely happy to have retired. And he has finally developed the energy to begin preparing for the move, energy previously being used to reflect on the work he has done and the disappointments of his career, as well as to do the work of actually finishing that work. Although exciting it is also an emotionally laden time.

We went to bed Friday with visions of the work ahead dancing in our heads. On Saturday, however, we woke feeling the need of a leisurely day, for Christmas for the rest of the country is truly a day out of time for us. It is our custom to go to a movie and then have a Chinese dinner. (
A movie and Chinese is the American Jew's way of coping with a day in which everyone else is celebrating and almost everything is closed). This year, December 25th fell on Shabbat, so we stayed home and watched The Frisco Kid with Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford and had homemade stir-fry and egg rolls for Seudah Shlishi --the third meal of the Sabbath, usually eaten as night falls).

But this feeling of time out of time, of dislocation, and the short, winter days all mean that we have not been diligent about getting ready, about packing, about all the repairs the house needs so that we can move. Although we are all exciting about the move, there is some trepidation about the challenges of beginning a new life--at our age!--again. And there are the good-bye's to say, the inevitable sadness and sense of loss that accompany such great change.

All of this together has made the 2010 week of time-out-of-time particularly strange. We are all walking around laughing one minute and nearly in tears the next. Moments of panic are interspersed with these other emotions for me, as I look around my house and contemplate just how unready we are to make this move.

Fortunately, for me, when I come back to even keel, I realize that since the house has not yet been sold or leased, and since we want to leave most of our furniture in it while we prepare the house at the ranch for our move, I have some time to get it all going. I really can RESUME. BREATHING. NORMALLY.

Change. It is wrenching, even when it is eagerly anticipated. The adjustment will be made. What I need to do is just allow the whole month of January being about the move.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice: Of a Dark Time and of Clinging to the Edges of Civilization

Today is the winter solstice. Today, in the northern hemisphere, the sun crosses the sky at the southernmost arc, making this the shortest daylight of the year.
We did not see the sunrise, the morning was gray with cloud and white with snow, subdued, except for the stark charcoal bare wood, and the muted ever-greens of the pines and cedars. A rare day in New Mexico, without the southering winter sun in a crystal blue sky, the light, the feel of the cold air, the smell of thawing wood brought me back to my Midwestern childhood. It reminded me of high school, and brought me back to choir and Miss P., who taught us history through the classic Western canon, through the music.

I learned most of my European history through music. I sang in choir and played the flute in band and orchestra. There was something about the music that set the mood of the days and centuries that happened in another place, and another time. I am grateful to this day for this learning of history as part and parcel of the culture of the West.

"Imagine," said Miss P., "That you are an Irish monk, living in a monestary north of 50 degrees latitude, somewhere near the sea. It is December, and it is dark most of the time, and during daylight, snow, fog and clouds make the light gray, and the sky translucent. It is cold, it is dark, and you wonder if the sun will ever return, if the days will ever lengthen, and if you will ever see the light and the growth of spring again. Even though you know it will come, it is hard to imagine it."

And I could close my eyes and see it, feel it, and be there. That imagining let the Senior Choir bring the mood to the music, and to hear the echoes of another time and place, very different in mood and sense from our here and now.

This was one part of European history that I had just learned about that year. After the Roman Empire fell, during the dark ages in northern Europe, when peoples were on the move, and when people exerted all of their energy just to keep the wolves away from the door. And who made sure in those dark times, over those dread winters, that the remnants of that great classical civilization were preserved? In the north, all that was left of the writings of the West was kept by the Irish monks--the ones who in that dark time illuminated the Book of Kells.

And in their religious tradition, they saw themselves as the "remnant of Israel", in exile among the nations, clinging to the edges of civilization. And at this time, during the eight days leading up to the festival of Christmas, their celebration of the return of the light and warmth in the dark, cold of winter, they would gather for Vespers--the evening service--and the hymn chanted then was Veni, Veni Emmanuel. In that dark, cold time of the year, and in those dark and desperate centuries when civilization was nearly lost, they were captive Israel, longing and looking to the light. Waiting for Emanu-El (Hebrew: G-d within us). Here is the hymn, sung acapella, in Latin. (It is here arranged in harmony, not the original chant).

Today, on the Solstice, note especially what is sung here as the third verse that requests the return of sunlight, and the dispelling of shadow and darkness:
"Veni, veni O Oriens,
Solare nos adveniens,
Noctis depelle nebulas,
Dirasque noctis tenebras;"

In English:
"O, Come thou Daystar--come and cheer
Our hearts by thy advent here,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadow, put to flight."

The Latin is simpler, but the sense of it got to the English, though somewhat forced into the rhyme.

If, as a Jew, I would be inclined to see this hymn as another expression of Christian triumphalism, the doctrine of supersessionism writ large, I remember Miss P.'s history lesson, and understand it differently because of her lyric and imaginative telling of the tale. I remember it is not that; it is the same longing that Israel felt, captive in Egypt, remembering and reaching for light in dark seasons and dark times. And that sense come through, down the years, to this American, living in a culture that has little sense of dark centuries (G-d Forbid!). But we do know here the dark of winter, and desire for the warmth and light of spring, and the reasons that people--in their various ways--celebrate the rebirth of the sun, and the turning of the year during the dark season.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Owning Oneself and Loving Life

"Every dollar in your bank account came from some individual
who voluntarily gave it to you--who gave it to you in exchange
for a product he judged to be more valuable than his dollar.
You have no moral obligation to "give back," because
you didn't take anything in the first place."
--Yaron Brook & Don Watkins,
The Guilt Pledge (in Forbes)

When I was a teacher of the intellectually gifted, I used to hear comments about the kids I taught from time to time that implied that because my students were geniuses they therefore had some extra responsibility to "give back to society", a responsibility that did not belong to those blessed with a more ordinary level of intelligence. This well-meaning but poorly thought out type of statement was usually said in order to justify the education dollars spent on special services for the intellectually gifted. But it has a rather ominous ring to it, as if the children I taught had some a priori moral duty to unspecified others because of their intelligence. It was but a small step to saying that highly intelligent children have no right to establish their own life's purpose, and no right to the pursuit of their own happiness.

Recently, I posted a quote from ARI's Yaron Brook on my Facebook Status, a quote that a collectivist FB friend took exception to, and in a series of comments, he tried to show that Yaron was wrong. This man is somewhat of a second-hander, as are most political hacks--their side is right because it is their side--and he is certainly no match for Yaron Brook. But in the course of reading his comments, I found that he promotes the same idea about those who have created great wealth, as people did toward my gifted students. In very nearly the same paragraph that he claimed that the authors of "the Giving Pledge" did not believe that people should do what they do for the sake of others, he also said that "to paraphrase Spiderman, with great wealth comes great responsibility."

The first question that came to mind about this statement was, "Responsibility? To whom?"
I didn't ask it in my reply though because I know the answer would have been that great modern glittering generality: society. But even as I wrote a very short reply, I was thinking about how much that statement echoes the ones I was constantly hearing about my gifted students. And both imply that in some way the success of extraordinary individuals is an unearned gift from society. That somehow, the successful entrepeneur, or the academically successful gifted student both took something from others who are not successful, and that now they owe those people something in return. In fact, in his FB comment, my FB collectivist friend not only implied it, he said it:

"After all, success in business doesn't occur in a vacuum and always depends on the community to some extent. Warren Buffet, Paul Allen, Michael Bloomberg, George Lucas and others know that they would not be where they are today without some pretty significant assistance from others."

"Well, no," I want to reply, "success in business does not occur in a vacuum." But my FB collectivist conveniently ignores the fact that the successful businessman paid those who "assisted" him for that help, and that he earned the money--as Yaron Brook says above--by producing something of value to those who were willing to pay for it. Something of value that those who work for him, and those who benefit from his work did not create. In fact, quite often, the kinds of breakthrough technologies and efficiencies created by the work of entrepeneurs is far more valuable than what people actually pay for them. This is so because technologies and efficiencies cut down on work, and multiply both the power of a person to apply their efforts elsewhere, and they also multiply time. (These concepts: work, power and efficiency are real physical entities that can be calculated). In this way, the entrepeneur has already benefitted others--even those who do not buy his product--through his pursuit of his own happiness. What Yaron Brook was saying in the essay is that this productivity is in itself a great moral good, and it need not be justified by whether or not it benefits others who are not as productive, even though it does that too.

And demanding that someone who has already produced something of value, something others are willing to exchange their own work to procure, must also be responsible to some vague collective (the community, society) for a value so vague that it is essentially a blank check is exactly what that statement from Spiderman means. And it is but a small step from that idea to the idea that individuals do not own themselves and their work, but that they are slaves to some collective--whether that be "society" or some supreme soviet state--and that the harder they work and provide value to others, the MORE they owe the collective. And it is but a small step further to make the claim that a person's existence can only be justified by their use to others, rather than by their ability to provide for themselves and their own happiness. And in the bloody 20th century, we have seen all too often where this leads. Even before the Nazi genocide and Stalin's purges, the Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw said these words on film in the Soviet Story:

"You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yours." (Emphasis added).

The point that my FB collectivist friend evaded, the point that brings the whole house of socialist cards down is that socialists believe that they--by some magic endowment--are the sole arbiters and deciders of the worth of every human being. And as Shaw candidly admitted earlier in the same film: "I don't want to punish anybody. But there are an extraordinary number of people whom I want to kill."

Chilling words, those. And those are the words that will eventually come out of the mouths of those who believe that people owe something to some amorphous "society" beyond the ordinary good will that comes as each individual pursues his own happiness and his own benefit, and in so doing--as an unitended side effect--benefit others as well.

I will take C.S. Lewis over George Bernard Shaw any day. Lewis wrote:

"It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects --military, political, economic, and what not.But in a way things are much simpler than that.The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.
A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub,a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden --that is what the State is there for.And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments,all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time."-- C. S. Lewis

Oh, the collectivists sound like they have the moral high ground, until one considers where such thinking has led throughout time. The Fabians, the Communists, the National-Solcialists--make it sound as if we will all live our lives with great and sacrificial purpose, or we shall not live at all. And they made damn sure that billions didn't.

But I'll take the chat by the fire, that game of darts, that book and that garden--ordinary as they may seem, over all of the high and awful purposes on earth. For they are all symbols of the pursuit of happiness of many people over the generations. They are the more ordinary expressions of the extraordinary pursuits and great achievements of entrepeneurs who have created such value that others willingly exchange their work for that greatness. These are all, great and small, expressions of human individuals loving life.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hanukkah: These Lights We Kindle

These lights we kindle are set apart
for the miracles, the wonders,
that you made for our ancestors
in those days, at this season . . .
--HaNerot Hallalu, Talmud Tractate Sopherim 20:6

"A candle, a flame--
Mirror of our life from within,
Can you see it as it flickers in the wind?"
--L'Eyla (words by E. Barenboltz)

"For all the eight days of Hanukkah, we set these lights apart; we do not use them to illuminate our work, but we gaze at them to remember the miracles and the wonders, the deliverances and the great battles you fought through our fathers and mothers in those days at this season . . ."

We recite the words above, each night as we light one more candle, increasing the light within, even as the darkness outside grows greater as the moon wanes from last quarter to new, and as the earth turns us toward the dark of the winter solstice.

What memories, then do those little, flickering lights evoke? They bring back to us a time when the mighty power of the Syrian Greek Empire under Antiochus attempted to erase an exceptional people from the earth, blurring our unique identity, and forcing us to conform to the sameness required of all the people in the remnants of the Empire created by Alexander the great.

They bring us back to a time when the priests and leaders of our people in Jerusalem were willing, for momentary gain and power, to let go of our exceptionalism, and were only too eager to aid and abet the Empire in its purpose of rendering the whole world as they knew it to sameness and conformity, the better to rule us all, to make us slaves to some higher purpose outside our own.

Who then, would stand up to the tyrants and say, "Thus far shall you go and no further . . ."?

It was also a priest, but not one who stood too close to the dark brightness of the power of Antiochus, who called himself a god. It was Mattiyahu, a priest of the village of Modi'in and his sons. And it did not happen at the beginning of the tyranny. For first they said, you must pay your tax to the Emperor. And then they said, you must be like all of the others in the Empire, and go to gymnasium on the Sabbath. And then they said, no longer will we permit you to study Torah. And then they said, and now you must sacrifice a pig upon the altar of the temple, and swear allegience to Antiochus Epiphanes (a god made manifest). You may not circumcise your sons, or in any way set yourselves apart. This that those Jews at that time could not make themselves holy, for separateness is the meaning of holiness.

And with each step by which the unique identity of the Jews in those days was removed, the High Priest and his sons, and his courtiers in Jerusalem told the people that each step toward total subjugation and the loss of identity was a small sacrifice to make in the name of peace and unity in the Empire. And so the people, lulled by their leaders, almost allowed the light within, the flickering flames of their unique identity, to be extinguished in the name of a unity for which there were no shared values and principles. In the cities, they participated not in high Greek culture, but the debased culture of the eastern edges of one of the three empires left over from Alexander.

But the moment came, when in the small town of Modi'in, when one man, a priest, found the line he would not cross, and developed the spine to stand up as a man for the sake of his identity and his exceptional inheritance. That man was Mattiyahu, and when he was required to sacrifice a pig to Antiochus Epiphanes, he drew his sword and refused to sacrifice anything to Antiochus Epimanes (the fool), for he know it was foolish indeed for a man, a tyrant to present himself as something that he is not, and in the name of that lie, to force him and his sons to give up their identities.

In the face of the Syrian Greeks, Mattiyahu and his five sons and their followers fled to the forests, the deserts and the swamps, and fought a desperate guerrilla-style war against the armies of Antiochus' empire. They were hopelessly outnumbered, and out-classed with respect to fighting skill and weaponry, but they had something else: a belief, a conviction that the unique flame that burned within them could not be allowed to go out, and that they would fight to last breath to defend their right to be Jews. Their rallying cry was: "Not by might and not by power, but by G-d's spirit, shall we prevail." (This echoes the verse from Zechariah that was read this morning as the Haftarah for the Shabbat in Hanukkah).

For three long years, the war between an Empire and some guerrilla upstarts went on. In the course of those years, Mattiyahu and some of his sons were killed. But the banner was picked up by the youngest son,Judah the Maccabbee. And following the end of the war, Judah went up to the Temple in Jerusalem and cleaned and purified it for the unique purposes of the Jewish people, and having missed the eight-day festival of Sukkot in the fall, instituted a festival of rededication that we now celebrate as Hanukkah. And in the dark of the sun and the dark of the moon, we light our lights and remember the miracle of our unique identity that shines forth from the flames.

And we are here to remember because one man, a hero and a sage, took up the challenge to protect who he was, in order to pass that exceptional identity down to his children and his children's children, and finally to us, living in the United States now, during the beginning of the 21st century. And so we celebrate Hanukkah, our rededication to our right to be who we are.

The story of Hanukkah, always compelling, is even more so at this time to us as Americans. For we live in a time when there are those who wish to erase American exceptionalism, the unique identity we have, a nation founded on the idea of individual rights. There are those in the world who see our uniqueness as a barrier to a world government to which they desire to enslave all of us to work to fulfill their purposes. They tell us that it is a small sacrifice to make in order to foster peace and unity for all the world. And they conveniently forget to remind us that a sacrifce is always destroying a great value for the sake of something lesser. And we have our leaders and trend-setters isolated in Washington D.C.--that great city--who are only to eager to sell the flame of liberty out for the sake of the idol of peace and unity.

Like the Hasmoneans of Modi'in, we are being asked to give up our rights, our Constitution, and our very identity as a free people, small infringement by small infringement. And like Mattiyahu and his sons, Eleazer, Shimon, Yochanan, Yonaton, and Judah, it seems that we are reaching a point where going along to get along will no longer be an option should we want to retain our unique identity and calling in the world.

Once again, we need a hero and a sage, to cause us to look deep within and see that the same fires burn in our own selves; we need to decide where our lines are, and where our resistance begins. For as our own American hero and sage Thomas Jefferson said:

"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to G-d."

He knew what Judah the Maccabee knew. He knew what we must know: that deep within each of us burns a flame, that flickers in the wind, but that is as mighty and powerful as a star. That flame is the the flame of liberty. And our unique identity is that of a free people who once formed a government not based on power, not based on blood and soil; rather ours is based on the Rule of Law, and the principle of individual rights. Can you see it now?

Keep that flame alive.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Cowboy Country Thanksgiving

"The Eternal has brought you into a good land, a land
with streams and springs that issue forth from valleys
and mountains. . . A land where you will eat bread
without scarcity, where you shall lack nothing;
a land whose stones are iron, and out whose hills
you may dig gold and silver . . . And you shall eat and drink
and bless the Eternal your G-d for the good land..."
--Devarim 8:8-10

We don't think Moses was talking about this land when he told our ancestors that they had been freed from Egypt to work a land flowing with milk and honey, and where their flocks and children and gold and silver would increase by their own hands. But when we traveled to Cowboy Country, and sat down to Thanksgiving dinner on our own ranch, we certainly understood how they felt.

The morning of Thanksgiving brought snowfall, and the Rasta Jew looked out and said, "This is the best Thanksgiving ever!" as he laid a fire in the stone fireplace.

The cabin smelled of the slow roasted turkey, and not having a double oven, of the pies baked the day before. We felt warm, and with a full larder, we felt blessed. The hard work of the spring and summer, finding and buying the ranch, and the fall's labor of beginning to prepare it for our future work, was laid aside for a day, so that we could celebrate that quintessetial American holiday celebrating the fruits of our productive work.

In the late morning, the sky cleared and our customary walk before the feast was spent walking the boundary fences, repaired the day before. The Engineering Geek found the repairs he and the Rasta Jew had made to be sound. The fences must be walked each week this season, as the elk are about, and walk over and through barbed wire as if it did not exist. We walked together, the Engineering Geek and I, talking of the future, while the Rasta Jew held down the fort and played with the dogs.

Returning from a few hours of wind, snow and sunshine, we found a fire had been laid anew, and the Rasta Jew provided us with some music to cook by while we made the gravy and the mashed potatoes, and laid the table for the Thanksgiving feast.

I had brought with us my crystal wedding bowl for the cranberry sauce, my harvest tablecloth, wine glasses and special Thanksgiving tchotkes to make the festive table. The slow-roasted, free-range turkey made the best centerpiece.

The prepared table, minutes before we sat down, a congregation of the three of us, ready to eat and be satisfied, and bless the Eternal for bringing us into this new land of ours, a land that by the work of our hands will become even more productive and beautiful.
Before we said the blessing over the bread, we told the story of the Mayflower Compact, the Plymouth Plantation, and the lesson learned anew of the tragedy of corn collectivism American-style. We ended that lesson with a singing of America the Beautiful: "Oh, Beautiful for Pilgrim's feet whose stern impassioned stress, a thoroughfare for Freedom beat across the wilderness . ."

Any occasion upon which there is singing, blessing and candles bring forth the canine members of the household, because they have come to expect a share of the challah, the bread over which the blessing is said at the beginning of the meal. This night, they had to make do with crescent rolls and turkey, which pleased them as well, and attention all around.

At the ranch, even Lily does well, and Shayna is ranging further and further from the porch. With an invisible fence that covers a good acre of territory, they all get plenty of running space and many interesting places to sniff and explore. Another item on the Thankful List--the ranch has saved Lily's life. A day of ranging through meadow and trees, and she's tired and content. The hierarchy has gotten settled, and the dogs are getting along.

Unlike that of the Pilgrims, our Thanksgiving ends with the Blessing for Food (after eating), as we have been told: "You shall eat and be satisfied and then bless the Eternal . . ." Then dishes, and then relaxing around the fire, talking about the days to come, and enjoying each other--just the three six of us--celebrating Thanksgiving in Cowboy Country.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Authority, Bystanders, and Dehumanization: Why Resistance is Important

This morning, I opened my local newspaper, the Albuquerque Journal, to find a headline that offered a false dichotomy to airline travelers. It read:


The story highlighted the controversy newly set off by John Tyner, who told a TSA screener not to "touch his junk" or he'd have the TSA guy arrested.
And a week before the "don't touch my junk" hero from San Diego, there was Megan McLain. Africana Online writes:

McClain, a radio host for the libertarian leaning show “Free Talk Left”, was one of the people that did not feel comfortable with the invasion of privacy. She told the TSA screeners that she was uncomfortable with the scanner. On a radio interview this week, she explains the humiliation that followed. TSA agents immediately began yelling “Opt out” when she voiced her discomfort. They brought her to an area where they were going to proceed with new pat down techniques. McClain was familiar with this technique and had some questions first. The technique is more invasive than physical molestation. TSA agents actually squeeze and twist breasts.

The agents were not very cooperative when McClain asked some questions. They handcuffed her to a chair and began yelling at her. She was not in a private area and other passengers had to walk around her. The TSA agents called in 12 police officers because McClain asked to speak to a supervisor. They lectured her for 30 minutes on terrorism while she remained cuffed to the chair. By this point, McClain was crying and shaking. She was unable to wipe her face and felt utterly humiliated. The agents and officers would not allow her to touch her possessions. They eventually ripped her airline ticket in half. Four different agents had her ID and were writing down information, presumably to do a back ground check on her. After about an hour of verbal abuse, the police officers escorted Ms. McClain to the ticketing counter where she had to find another way home since she had missed her flight. (Emphasis added.)

According to the grassroots organization We Won't Fly , incidents like this are being reported by airline agents every day now, as the holiday flying season approaches. And it is vitally important that we understand what is going on. These virtual strip-searches are both useless and unnecessary to airline security, and because of the attention "opt-out's" draw from other TSA agents and bystanders, they may be dangerous. So why is Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland (In)Security so determined to publicly invade the privacy of ordinary, law-abiding Americans at our airports by conducting Fourth Amendment prohibited searches that in any other context would be called molestation? Today in a news story about the growing outcry against these practices, Napolitano said:

"It's all about security. It's all about everybody recognizing their role."

Although the first part of the statement is patently untrue, the second part is telling. We've got to know our role, fellow peons, and give up our rights like good little do-be's, submitting to even the grossest invasion of our privacy for the sake of some higher purpose. And pay for the privilege to the tune of the cost of the airline ticket and our self-respect.

More telling is how those who dare to question the false choice given them are being treated. The TSA Gestapo tactics humiliate the few who have enough self-respect to question their authority, and in the manner of petty power mongers the world over, they do not allow the third choice, the one in which their intended victim is allowed to change her mind and not fly at all. Notice that Meg McClain was reduced to tears, powerless to even wipe her face, and unable to claim her personal possessions.

To submit to the virtual strip-search, or permit oneself to be sexually molested in public, or be reduced to utter humiliation as punishment for refusal, these are all actions that render a human being powerless over her own person and property, and thus are dehumanizing. The purpose of such activities on the part of government "authorities" is to instill fear of ever questioning, protesting, or even so much as stepping one toe across the increasingly narrow line of normal. The fear is meant to be felt by both the victim and the bystanders. During the Shoah, the Nazis and their collaborators raised such tactics to high art in order to control the populations of countries across an entire continent. Make no mistake, these tactics exist to do the same to freedom-loving Americans.

Bystanders. Note that I Ieft out the word "innocent." There are no innocent bystanders. A person standing by, knowing what is going on is far from "innocent." Although we are not perpetrators, we are made complicit by the act of witnessing the dehumanization of others. Our silence in the face of the dehumanization of the victim not only shames us, making us far more likely to remain silent in the presence of even more egregious crimes against our liberty in the future, but that very shame we feel dehumanizes us as well. It breaks the bonds of good will we ordinarily feel toward our fellow countrymen and women, destroying any real community and replaces it with conformity and obedience powered by fear.

This is why resistance is so vitally important.

There are two kinds of peaceful resistance available to us. There is passive resistance. In this case, refusal to fly is passive resistance. By choosing the third option--the one that the TSA, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and my local newspaper--and by choosing it before ever going to the airport, we are practicing passive resistance. Let the airlines* go bankrupt if need be, we say. We will not pay to be virtually strip-searched or groped by some Gestapo pervert.

*And to those who say that the fault does not lie with the airlines, well they take our money and allow our rights to be violated without so much as a whimper. And remember the nickel-and-diming for each additional check-through bag? The long waits without a bathroom on the tarmac? Being packed into planes like sardines and fed peanuts on cross-continental flights? Airlines have not been good to their customers for a very long time. With few exceptions, they haven't earned our money and the goodwill it represents.

The passive resistance shown by a large number of people, like those who are calling the airlines and their trade organizations to communicate their displeasure and refusal to fly, can go a long way. The fact that such passive resistance as that voiced in blogs and on chat rooms and discussion lists is showing up on the front pages of newspapers, and has caused Congress to convene a hearing shows how successful it can be. And more importantly, passive resistance also protects one against the shame and loss of self-respect that goes with the meek bystander syndrome.

Even more effective in this regard is active resistance. I decided not to fly last year, and I drove to Continental Congress. but if I ever have reason to be in an airport, and I saw another human being being dehumanized like Meg McClain was, I have decided that come hell or high-water, I would conquer my fears and begin to chant "This is wrong! This is wrong!" I would do so, not hysterically, but as politely and firmly as I could manage, over and over. I would not expect to stop the petty tyrants of the TSA, but I would let them know that at least one witness knows the truth of what they are doing. I expect that in true Alice's Restaurant* fashion, others would join me. There might be consequences. But as the living heir of men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and braved hanging to bring themselves and their posterity liberty, I ought to be able to take it. And keeping my humanity, my menschlicheit, in a place where there are no human beings is very important to my own self-respect.

*"If one person walks in and sits down and sings 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', they'll think he's crazy, and they won't take him. If two people walk in together, sit down and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', they'll think they're queer and they won't take either one. But if three people--can you imagine, three people?--if three people walk in, sit down and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant', why then it will be a movement! And that's what I'm starting. The Alice's Restaurant Massacre Movement. And all you have have to do to join is wait for it to come around on the guee-tar and sing 'You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant.' In harmony." -- Arlo Guthrie, Alice's Restaurant Massacre.

There are other forms of active resistance. If you are going to be near an airport that has the Porno-Scans on the day before Thanksgiving, be sure to make up a sign and join the protests that are scheduled to occur. And if you are traveling, you can always join in on National Opt Out day, in which you opt out of the scan and elect to suffer the indignity of a molestation pat-down. Remember, during the French Revolution the workers threw their sabots (wooden shoes) into the gears and ground them to a halt before they could grind down the workers. And thus we get the word sabotage. Except opting out in great numbers will not destroy property, but it will slow down the terribly dehumanizing system enough to make a point. And if everybody is being molested together, with bystanders chanting "This is wrong!", as a witness, why then it becomes Civil Disobedience. Thoreau would be proud that some of his spiritual descendants still live and breath under the friendly skies.

Finally a note to those cynics who say: "National opt-out day, protests, and refusing to fly. These will not change anything. It will not make (the ubiquitous) them change the policies. They mean to establish tyranny over us and they will do it."

Well, maybe it will not make them change. There is precious little we can do to change the ubiquitous 'they'. But it will change us. It will change us from shame-faced and culpable little mice, scurrying about with shoulders hunched, afraid of the petty tyrants of the TSA, into proud practitioners of Civil Disobedience. Sure our actions could have consequences. They might not let us fly, or they might call out the riot police and arrest us all. If they do that, then link arms and go downtown singing. I Won't Back Down is a good one.

Read The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. Our ancestors were made of sterner stuff than we, no doubt. But if they could brave British Regulars at the North Bridge, and the winter at Valley Forge, then we can certainly brave the temporary inconvenience of missing a flight, or donning the plastic handcuffs for the TV cameras and the video cams of strategically placed bystanders. If it gets on camera, TSA CANNOT win. It will go viral within minutes on You Tube.

And for those of you who would protest, but you just cannot bear the idea that you might never fly again, Sam Adams had words for you. They're not kind, but they are to the point:

"If ye love wealth better than liberty,
the tranquility of servitude
better than the animating contest of freedom,
go home from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or your arms.
Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
May your chains set lightly upon you,
and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."
--Sam Adams, Speech at the Philadelphia Statehouse,
Second Continental Congress, August 1, 1776.

There is a time for prudence, but that time is not when your countrymen and women are being dehumanized before your very eyes. Those who first dehumanize another will dehumanize you, and when you are no longer human beings in their eyes, then your very life is at stake.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Mark of Cain

"It was after the passing of days that Kayin brought
from the fruits of the soil, a gift to YHWH,
and as for Hevel, he too brought--from the first-
born of his flock, from their fat parts.
YHWH had regard for Hevel and his gift,
for Kayin and his gift he had no regard.
Kayin became exceedingly upset and his face fell.
YHWH said to Kayin: Why are you so upset?
And why has your face fallen? Is it not thus:
If you intend good, bear-it-aloft, but
if what you intend is not good,
at your door is sin, crouching,
towards you he lusts--but you can rule over him.

Kayin said to Hevel his brother . . .
But then it was, when they were out in the field
that Kayin rose up against his brother
and he killed him. . .

YHWH said to [Kayin]:
No, therefore, whoever kills Kayin, sevenfold
will it be avenged. So YHWH set a sign for Kayin
so that whoever came upon him would not strike
him down. Kayin went out from the face of YHWH
and settled in the land of Wandering, east of Eden.
Genesis 4:3 - 8, 15 - 16; The Shochen Bible,
(translated by Everett Fox)

It is hard to understand why a man might rise up and murder one he calls his brother, his friend and companion. Even when both men are flawed, having had run-ins with the law, it is hard to imagine what would impel a man to such anger that he would not stop, that he would beat his friend to death and leave him lying in a pool of blood by the side of the road..

This is the same primeval story that was told first in Genesis, and in its aftermath, the question of what is in those ellipses--what happened that one man would rise up and kill a man that he loved as a brother--this same question haunts me today. It has haunted me since I found out Friday night that the Professional Revolutionary, a man that I knew, worked with, and ultimately had to distance myself from, had killed another young man that I know, the Virtual Artist, who was just pulling his life together after his own troubles with the law.

Nobody knows what Kayin/Cain said to his brother, Hevel/Abel. Nobody knows what Hevel said or did in reply, if anything. The context of the story makes it clear that it is mythos, a story that introduces the meaning of choosing evil over good into the context of a primeval setting after the birth of man as a moral being. No explanations are given, for no rational reason for the murder, the first fratricide, are possible.

What we do know is that a human being can be waylaid by passion, but that the human being can master it. For even though Cain felt the need to compare himself to his brother, and to believe that his brother received favor that he did not, the issue is not that. In the story, G-d makes no mention of that feeling, but tells Cain that the passion he feels can be mastered. This is the difference between an animal and a human being. An animal does what it does based on instinct and not thought. A human being, endowed with the ability to differentiate between good (life), and evil (death), can and must choose actions compatible with life and avoid death. That passion is an animal spirit, "crouching at the door" like a predator, but that the human being can be its master.

In the story, we do not know how that passion was inflamed to the point that Cain could take the life of his brother.That part has been left out, replaced only with the silent ellipses that remind us that there were words between the passion and the action. Although the text is silent on how Cain killed his brother, the midrash and commentary tell us of violent murder: Cain bashed in his brother's head with a stone.

So it is with the death of the Virtual Artist at the hands of the Professional Revolutionary. What words passed between them when the Revolutionary went to visit the Artist? We don't know. Who said what, who did what, and who threw the first punch? We don't know. Only one man is left to speak, and we are not privy to what he has said. We only know the consequences of what was transacted between them: the brutal murder of the Artist in what appears to be the result of passion unbridled by any thought; of rage so great that even after the Artist must have been down, the Revolutionary continued to hit him until near death, the Artist was left alone by the side of the road, awash in his life's blood. Left alone, to be found by a passer-by, he died en route to the hospital.

Even though I hate the sin, the action of a man I know that destroyed the life of another man I knew, I remain haunted. My anger at what happened to the Artist makes me loath the man who did it. My horror at the violence of the death makes me wish that I had never had a conversation or shared a meal with the murderer. I feel tainted.

And yet, as surely as I mourn the death of the Artist, so I find myself filled with sorrow at the unforgivable nature of the act of murder the Revolutionary committed. For in that moment, at that stark point of choice, he gave up his humanity. I am haunted by the unchangable direction of time, by a deed so final that no mending of it is possible. I am haunted because there is no reconciliation possible between the man and the friend he killed. And I mourn for the loss of the Revolutionary, too, and for the loss of any hope of an understanding between us in the fullness of time; I mourn for him as I would for a child of my own, lost to the land of wandering, east of Eden.

For the other part of the story is the confrontation of Cain with the finality of his action. His brother's blood cries out from the ground, and is consumed by the soil. And so the soil will no longer sustain the murderer. He is no longer of the earth, to live among his fellow human beings in peace. Instead, he will wander, an exile homeless to the end of his days, marked by the sign that he has murdered his brother.

The mark of Cain. It is not the punishment for murder. That is the exile and the wandering. But the mark is a sign meant to set Cain apart for all time. The mark is the memory of what he has done, a memory known to himself and to others, so that he wanders restlessly outside the good will one human being has toward another; the murderer wanders outside the very presence of human regard. The mark of Cain is the mark of exile not from the very soil of the earth, but from the regard of every other human being.

When I learned of the Artist's death by the hand of his friend, closer than a brother, I tore at my clothes in anger and cried out: Baruch Dayan Emet! Blessed is the Judge of Truth! And we will mourn for him, and cry out at the horror of his death. We will gather to remember his short life, and to express our unfathomed sorrow that he no longer shares the earth with us, his life untimely taken.

But there will be no such cry, no such mourning together, no such remembering and sending forth for the Revolutionary. My sorrow for him will be expressed in silence, his loss from among us deemed necessary and right. Because he has taken upon himself the Mark of Cain in that one aweful moment of choice, a moment about which the story is silent.
And so in silence will each of those of us who knew him mourn his loss from among human kind.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Back to the Galt Mines

Now that the election is over, we can get back to the work of liberty.
That seems an odd statement to some, but it is true just the same. It is true in that for many people who have woken up in the past two years, the election was somewhat of a distraction.
It was a necessary distraction, to be sure, but a distraction none-the-less.

A few weeks ago I wrote about this, starting with the thesis that taking the red pill, that waking up to the reality of what has happened to our country over the past century, also means that the newly awake sleepers will necessarily go through a mourning process. And that the distraction of the election--although necessary, too--elicits a kind of desperate clinging to the idea that if we can just get the right people or party elected, we can go back to the time before this present Crisis, and even perhaps get a few more winks of sleep in, before facing reality.

Now the election shows us how well all of our hard work pays off. The people who have tried to talk to their representatives, only to be rebuffed with evasions; those who went to town hall meetings, only to be called crazy; those who protested the costly Obamacare bill that would require them by force of law to make certain purchases, and were called racists and rubes; all of those people who were ignored have now had their say at voting booth. The ballot box has prevailed. And it prevailed with a great sea change that left the uncomprehending congress-critters looking like fools. This was a great victory for those of us who have held Tea Parties, networked, spent time and treasure going to meetings and conventions, congresses and Constitution courses.

And we should celebrate it.
I will say that again. Once more, with feeling:

We should recognize what can be accomplished by determined, liberty-loving people. We, who have been ignored, dismissed, laughed at and called names, have by our persistent emphasis on principles and values, been heard. We know we have because even before the returns were in, we heard the self-anointed arbiters of culture on MSNBC and in the halls of power stop using derisive terms and talk to us on our terms. That change--from "tea-baggers" to "the Tea Parties"--tells us we have been heard. And that is what we ought to celebrate.

However, we must recognize that being heard is only the beginning of the beginning. It is not even the Churchillian end of the beginning. And being heard does not mean that the action we want will follow. It almost certainly won't. A battle won is not the campaign. And it is certainly not the whole war. The second American R3volution is just beginning. It can easily die aborning if most of those awakened sleepers decide that they have won the whole thing in one easy election, hit the snooze alarm, roll over and go back to sleep.

We're not hardly finished. In fact, we have just begun.
Over the next two years there are two major tasks that we must accomplish. The first is to become educated and principled with respect to the Constitution and to the philosophy of liberty and natural rights that is its foundation. Secondly, we must insist that the people we send to Congress represent our interests.

First Educate Ourselves and Our Children:

The other day I saw a You Tube video that made humor at the expense of a group of lefties who were long on talking points that originated from others, and short on knowledge. A Second City reporter walked through the crowd at the Rally for Sanity with a sign that said: Obama = Keynsian? Another Second City reporter followed with a camera and mike, and got the reaction of members of the crowd. Most of the people were prepared to believe that Keynsian = Kenyan, and rather indignantly and hilariously took off on diatribes against the notion that Obama was not born in the United States. This highlighted the ignorance that is masked in talking points and invective. And Liberty people who know who Keynes is, and what Keynsian economics is, and even who Hayek is and what he wrote, had a good laugh.

But the problem illustrated by this stunt exists among liberty people, too. On a number of occasions, I have heard Tea Partiers and others make statements or advocate positions that sound good on the surface, but that are actually antithetical to liberty and individual rights. Some issues that have been mindlessly supported by different groups within the patriot movement betray an ignorance of the Constitution itself. Almost invariably, when asked the provenance of the idea, I have been told that it was the position of some politician or political party. Talking points will not a revolution make! We must clarify our values, and make sure that positions that we support are in line with our principles. If we are educated in the bed-rock foundation of the Constitution, the idea of natural rights that are inherent to all individuals, then we have no need of talking points. We can speak directly from our understanding of and passion for Liberty.

Secondly, the Congress Must Represent Our Interests:

The majority of the new Congress will not be composed of liberty people. A few have those credentials, but most are politicians. And all of them are walking into a lion's den of corrupted interests. The Republicans are--as a party--no better than the Democrats. We saw that with the collapse of the Republican Revolution from the election of 1994. Instead of honoring their "Contract with America", they became as supportive of tax-and-spend, and grandstanded with a failed and costly (both in dollars and in political capital) attempt to remove the president by impeachment. We saw the same co-option occur with President Bush's agenda, and the loss of the House to Democrats in 1996. While it is true that the Obamaniacs completely mistook that election and the election of 2008 as a mandate to take this country leftward, this does not excuse the Republicans.

Further, a few people of principle elected to Congress can easily be dismissed, as Ron Paul has been continuously over the course of his career in Congress.

In order to prevent the co-option of our new Congress by corrupt and venal forces in government, and in order to prevent the actual liberty people among them from being dismissed and rendered ineffectual, we must do two things.

1. Feet. Fire.
It will be easy enough for this new Congress to take one presidential veto and turn it into an excuse not to buck the system. Therefore we must continually remind them that they DID NOT WIN. Rather, the Democratic Socialists (formerly the Democratic Party) LOST. We did not elect these guys, rather we threw the bums of the other party out. The new Congress has no mandate for their agenda; rather they have marching orders for OURS.
Remember those calls to our Congress-critters during the past two years? They should continue, although perhaps on a more friendly basis. We must let them know we are watching and that they represent us.

We must hold their feet to the fire. We must insist that they propose the bills that we want to be heard, such as a repeal of the egregious and tyrannous Obamacare legislation. We need to remind them that we know that the Senate will likely not go along, and that Obama will likely veto it all. WE. DON'T. CARE. These trials will establish a record for the election of 2012. That record will be the basis of who will get thrown out next time.

To this end, I am sending each of the Congress-critters from New Mexico a simple postcard reading: It's the CONSTITUTION, stupid!
We need to keep the Constitution ever before their eyes, so that they may not stray from the path of Liberty. We must bid them: Remember, remember the 5th of November, election day 2012. We brought them into Congress, and we can take them out.

But we must not only sternly remind them of why we sent them up. We must also provide them with support for doing the right thing.

2. Support the Liberty Reps:

Michelle Bachman is proposing that the Tea Party Caucus become the Constitutional Caucus. She argues that the caucus should be named for the main unifying focus of the Tea Party movement, a return to Constitutional governance. We should urge Congresswoman Bachman to keep the focus on the Constitution, and the limited nature of the government that it created. All other issues, no matter how dear to conservatives or libertarians, should not constrain the membership. Some issues are not federal issues at all and should not be allowed to divide the caucus. If this is done, such a caucus can become a bastion of support for our new-be representatives, and it will give them the get-up-and-go to get up and do what needs doing.

But we should not leave support to the caucus alone. These guys and gals represent US. We ought to pledge ourselves to keep apprised of what our particular representative is doing and saying, and not only hold his/her feet to the fire when needed, but also call or write our support when he/she does the right thing, or makes a good speech. Let them know that we will support the hard actions that are needed to bring Liberty back to the center of our government.

It is time to celebrate. A victory is a victory, and every one of them is important to this ongoing campaign for the peaceful Restoration of the Constitution. But we're not done.
Why, we've only just begun . . .

So after that victory drink or dance or moment, it's . . .

. . . Back to the Galt Mines.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Glenn Beck's Monkey Show: This View of Life

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its
several powers having been originally breathed
into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this
planet has gone cycling on according to the
fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning
endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved."

--Charles Darwin, 1859: On the Origin of Species

In my second entry on the topic of Glenn Beck's misapprehension of the theory of evolution, I discussed the fallacy that he spoke on his radio show; the idea that humans evolved from monkeys, or even from apes. Darwin's theory does not posit this idea at all; rather human beings, as well as the great apes, have descended from some common ancestor that in certain features and functions resembles us both, however remotely. But I am not quite done, because another idea was expressed, later in that same hour of the radio broadcast, that is also fallacious: Glenn Beck's claim that collectivists require Darwin's theory, because they must have a view of human individuals as endlessly malleable and therefore perfectible by other humans or, in the case of socialists and outright communists, by some unspecified "social force" that generally turn out to be a force perpetrated by tyrants.

This idea turns on another common misunderstanding of Darwin's theory, one that became a force in American politics at the end of the 19th century, the idea called "Social Darwinism."
Social Darwinism can be defined as any number of political ideologies that use Darwin's theory to suggest that societies evolve in the biological sense and that certain individuals in society are more "evolved" than others, and that they have an obligation to direct human evolution to specific ends. This ideology has nothing to do with the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection, except the usurpation of Darwin's name. And in Darwin's name, a whole host of fallacies have been developed to limit human freedom: the Nazi concept of the Obermenschen (supermen) is one, and so is the American progressive idea that a better citizen can be bred through eugenics.

Social 'Darwinism' includes two fallacies that make the ideology foreign to Darwin's theory. The first is that societies evolve biologically, meaning that society is an entity that natural selection acts upon, and that action changes gene frequencies due to various social pressures. The second is that Darwinian evolution is goal directed, and that natural selection is more than a mechanism, that in some way it is working to a specific, predetermined end.

I think the first fallacy is driven by a complete misunderstanding about how Darwinian evolution is defined, and the second by an equally powerful misapprehension about how natural selection works.

A society is nothing more than a grouping of individuals that are distinguished by location, and perhaps by a shared nationality and culture. There may be numerous social groups in that larger amorphous thing that we call society, and those different subsets may very well have their own unique subcultures and value systems. There is not much that defines a society except the obvious: that members of a society tend to socially interact with one another at some level. A society is not some mystical synergistic whole. It has no self-awareness and no will. If societies evolve, those changes are not biological, and they are not driven by natural selection.

Natural selection acts on the relatively fixed phenotype (the way that genes are expressed) of the individual, producing change over time in biological populations. That evolution--for change over time is what the word evolution means--is measured by the change of gene frequencies in a population over time. Individuals do not evolve, but biological populations do. A biological population is not some random group of individuals that interacts socially. Rather it is a group of individuals that can and do interbreed with one another. That they can interbreed means that they are members of the same species, but being a population means that these individuals have access to one another for the purpose of reproduction. Thus alleles (specific forms of each genes) are spread around that population. There are numerous biological populations of human beings on the earth, separated by geography and by culture and by language, which are but different barriers humans have to reproduction with one another. None of these barriers is perfect, and by migration of individuals from one population to another, novel alleles are introduced to populations, changing the gene frequencies in each population. Thus, evolution is always occurring.

When I said above that natural selection acts on individuals, I meant that the genetic traits of an individual vary in expression, creating as many unique phenotypes as there are individuals. Within a given environment, some expressions of a trait will lead to a robustness that allows an individual to survive and pass on those traits, while other expressions of the same trait may--in that same environment--lead to a weakness that means an individual does not live long enough to reproduce, or reproduces less often. Evolutionary "fitness" is defined as the number of offspring an individual has, thus influencing how many copies of the allele is passed on into the next generation, thus spreading through the population in greater or lesser numbers.

It is environment that effects the fitness of a certain trait. A trait that creates an effect that leads to the allele being passed on in great numbers in one environment, may have no such effect in another environment, or may be deleterious to the individual that carries it in a third environment. For example, the recessive allele that blocks the deposition of pigments in the eye, caused the blue-eyed phenotype, has no effect in northern climates, where the solar angle is low, but in equatorial locations, it results in a much greater risk of cataracts and cancer at a younger age. Thus one might expect to find more of the recessive "blue-eye" alleles in northern populations than in equatorial ones. Since there may be more than one direction of pressure on a trait (or suite of traits) at any given time, the end result is a variety of expression, creating those "endless forms most beautiful" of which Darwin spoke. In any given species in any given environment, not all traits are under selection at any given time. It really depends on the variety of alleles, and upon the rate of environmental change that a species may be experiencing. The point here is that fitness is not some fixed array of parameters that have been ranked by some conscious process of choosing. It is simply what variations on a trait, among those present, are most beneficial to the differential reproduction of the individuals within a population that carry them.

And this brings me to the second fallacy held by the Social "Darwinists": the fallacy that evolution has some direction, some predetermined end. Since natural selection acts on the variations of a trait that happen to be present in a given population at a given time, there can be no "goal" for evolution. If, as Stephen J. Gould used to say, we could rewind the tape of the evolution of life on earth and begin it again, we would not see the same movie. Evolution would likely run a wildly different course.

There is a random element to Darwinian evolution, and this is why species eventually go extinct, ending their contributions to the future of life on earth. Sooner or later, a variation on a trait that would allow a species to get through a certain set of environmental changes will not be present in any of the biological populations of the species; or else there will not be time for a beneficial variation to spread through the population, and the species will die out. Just as death is part of every individual life, extinction is the destiny of every species.

I think that this lack of direction, this randomness that exists in our being here at all, in how species come and go upon the earth, is the most unsettling idea about evolution of all for many people. It certainly changes one's view of one's place in a very large and random universe. And yet, it also magnifies the uniqueness of each individual life on earth, and places a premium on human self-awareness, which is what sets our species apart from the other lives that share our planet.

Since evolution has no direction, and since no individuals in a species are "more evolved" than any others, two things are true. One is that there is no perfection awaiting the future of human life on earth. We are what we are, and as human beings we exist within certain parameters that make us human. Although we are all unique, our uniqueness exists as variations on the theme of human being. Individuals do not evolve. Each of us can only play the genes we were dealt. The second truth is that no human beings are wiser than any others in their ability to know how to shape human evolution to certain ends. There are no philosopher-kings who can see outside the cave, and select for certain traits in order to bring the rest of us to what they believe is their level.

The Social "Darwinists", who have arrogantly arrogated to themselves the role of gods and goddesses, do so using a perversion of Darwinian evolution in which selection is anything but natural, and fitness is defined as those traits they most admire in themselves. Traits that may have very little to do with the traits that are actually under selection in different human populations. Unfortunately, there are those--like Glenn Beck--who have so little knowledge and understanding of Darwin's theory, that they equate the unifying theory of modern biology with an ideology that is based on a misunderstanding of evolution by natural selection; an ideology that is as profoundly wrong as are the misperceptions of the creationists. This is what I mean when I say that the leftists and the collectivists are often equally as ignorant of Darwin's theory of evolution as are those on the religious right.

But I believe the collectivists on the left are the more dangerous. The creationists are for the most part reacting to the usurpation of their power to pass their religion on to their children. All of the equal-time debates, all of the legal challenges they make are in response to public education. If creationists were no longer forced by law to pay for their children to be instructed to accept an idea that they believe is against their religion, there would be no debates and no legal battles. But those on the left believe that they have some mandate to act as those who would select out the traits that they believe do not contribute to the perfection of humanity in the next great step of "social evolution." But all such traits originate in the phenotype of individuals, so this means that certain individuals must be selected out. This is what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a notorious progressive, understood his role to be when he ruled that a woman could be forcibly sterilized for the good of the State, saying:

"It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for a crime, or let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind." (Buck vs. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927).

Here Holmes imagines himself to be the agent of selection, a selection that is not at all natural. He further implies that there is some direction to evolution, that a certain kind of human being--his kind--has some destiny that is the pinnacle, the perfect end of evolution. An end that would result in a deadly sameness, in which there would be no variation for natural selection to act upon. An end that would result in destruction and death, as it always does. An end that would result in the ultimate extinction of the human species from the face of the earth.

Nothing could be further from the true nature of Darwinian evolution by natural selection. This view of life predicts infinite variation in infinite combinations developing over time from so simple a beginning. There is indeed a grandeur in it, a grandeur that is missed by all of those who misapprehend the beauty of life on earth in all its wonderful variety.