Size Matters

“If you owe the bank ten thousand dollars, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.”
~ attributed to various people

And other variations:

“If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”

“If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”

* * *

“a TEN-YEAR-OLD lad in Indianapolis who was arrested for picking up coal along the side of railroad tracks is now in jail. If the boy had known enough to steal the whole railroad he would be heralded as a Napoleon of finance.”
~ Mother Jones

And another version, also attributed to her:

“I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.”

Or related variants, often misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt:

“The illiterate robs a freight car; the educated thief steals the whole railroad.”

“An uneducated thief will steal a ride on a railroad train. An educated thief will steal the whole railroad system.”

“If a man steal a ride on a railroad, he is called a “hobo;” If he steal the whole railroad his name is emblazoned in history as a financier.”

“Steal a ride and you are a “hobo,” liable to be shot. Steal a whole railroad and you are a financier, eligible to the United States Senate.”

“if a man steals a ham from a freight car, he goes to jail; while if he steals the whole railroad, he goes to the United States senate.”

* * *

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
~ usually misattributed to Stalin

Along with numerous variations:

“The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!”

“If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”

“One Murder made a Villain, Millions a Hero.”

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

“If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a couple persons you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send millions to their deaths you are a hero.”

Occam’s Shadow

Occam’s razor sometimes casts a dark shadow.

“Speaking on the myths and misconceptions surrounding the demise of the video game manufacturer Atari, founder Nolan Bushnell notes that “a simple answer that is clear and precise will always have more power in the world than a complex one that is true.” Bushnell’s observation is not limited to the situation with Atari. When it comes to subjects that are not fully understood, it seems to be a reality of human nature that we have a propensity to prefer easy answers and simple “truths” over more complex—and oftentimes more accurate—explanations. This certainly describes the study of the history of psychology: many prefer simplistic answers that ignore inconvenient facts, rather than explanations that take into account the full range of human experience and all its fascinating complexities.

“People often display a strong preference for simple answers and a compulsion to have everything settled (rather than withholding judgment until more information is available); we seem to have an aversion toward unknowns and ambiguity. Yet subjects that we are not entirely familiar with are generally more complex than we first realize. It behooves us to resist the impulse to make snap judgments and succumb to the illusion of mastery for subjects we don’t fully understand. by prematurely making up our mind about a topic we are unfamiliar with, we risk the tendency to oversimplify and to only seek evidence that confirms our existing beliefs. withholding an opinion on new ideas until we have adequate information to make an informed judgment takes a great deal of effort and self-discipline.”

Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind
Edited by Marcel Kuijsten
Introduction, pp. 7-8

Disturbed Areas

“To be honest, the phrase “disturbed areas” had always bothered me in my occasional searches regarding plant habitat—I really didn’t know what it meant—and yet last night that ambiguity seemed suddenly strange, almost ominous. I could easily imagine the other landscapes offered by the field guide: “moist pinelands,” “meadows,” “thickets,” even the more poetic “rich woods.” And I could see the “ditches” and “roadsides” that some species favored. But the phrase “disturbed areas” was so abstract. If it didn’t include marred ground such as “ditches”—if it meant something more—then I could envision only horribly dug-up places, unearthed and scarred.”

~ Brent Hendricks, A Long Day at the End of the World

Lem On Humanity, Society And Meaning

Below are two passages from Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, a novel by Stanislaw Lem. It is an odd story, but I enjoyed the weirdness. There is plenty of conversation like the following.

* * * *

But I digress . . . Where were we? My field, yes. What does it mean? Meaning. And so we enter the realm of semantics. One must tread carefully here! Consider: from earliest times man did little else but assign meanings— to the stones, the skulls, the sun, other people, and the meanings required that he create theories— life after death, totems, cults, all sorts of myths and legends, black bile and yellow bile, love of God and country, being and nothingness— and so it went, the meanings shaped and regulated human life, became its substance, its frame and foundation— but also a fatal limitation and a trap! The meanings, you see, grew obsolete in time, were eventually lost, yet how could the following generations discard their heritage, particularly when so many of their worthy ancestors had been crucified for those nonexistent gods, or had labored so long and mightily over the philosopher’s stone, phlogiston , ectoplasm , the ether? It was considered that this layering of new meanings upon old was a natural, organic process, a semantic evolution— yet observe how a phrase like ‘great discovery’ is bled of sense, devalued, made common coin, until now we give it freely to the latest model of bomb . . . But do have some more cognac.”

And he filled my glass.

“And so,” continued Dolt with a thoughtful smile, adjusting his nose. “Where does this lead us? Demisemiotics! It’s quite simple, really, the taking away of meaning . . .”

“Oh?” I said, then bit my lip, ashamed of my own ignorance. He took no notice.

“Yes, meaning must be disposed of!” he said heatedly. “History has crippled us long enough with its endless explanations, ratiocinations, mystifications! In my work, we do not simply falsify atoms and doctor the stars— we proceed very slowly , methodically, with the utmost care, to deprive everything, absolutely everything, of its meaning.”

“But isn’t that really— a kind of destruction?”

He gave me a sharp look. The others whispered and fell silent. The old officer propped up against the wall continued to snore.

“An interesting observation. Destruction, you say? Consider: when you create something, anything, a rocket or a new fork, there are always so many problems, doubts, complications! But if you destroy (let’s use that inaccurate term for the sake of argument ), whatever else one may say about it, it is unquestionably clean and simple.”

“So you advocate destruction?” I asked, unable to suppress an idiotic grin.

“Must be the cognac,” he said, refilling my glass with a smile. We drank.

(Kindle Locations 2035-2053)

* * * *

“You mean, the Building is Nature itself?”

“Heavens, no! They have nothing in common beyond the fact that they are both ineffably perfect. And here you thought you were a prisoner in a labyrinth of evil, where everything was pregnant with meaning, where even the theft of one’s instructions was a ritual, that the Building destroyed only in order to build, to build only in order to destroy the more— and you took this for the wisdom of evil . . . Hence your mental somersaults and contortions. You writhed on the hook of your own question mark to solve that equation of horror. But I tell you there is no solution, no equation, no destruction, no instructions, no evil— there is only the Building —only— the Building—”

“Only the Building?” I echoed, my hair on end.

“Only the Building,” he echoed my echo, shivering. “This is not wisdom, this is a blind and all-encompassing perfection, a perfection not of man’s making but which arose from man, or rather from the community of man. Human evil, you see, is so petty and frail, while here we have something grand and mighty at work . . . An ocean of blood and sweat and urine! One thundering death rattle from a million throats! A great monument of feces, the product of countless generations! Here you can drown in people, choke on them, waste away in a vast wilderness of people! Behold: they will stir their coffee as they calmly tear you to shreds, chat and pick their noses as they outrage your corpse, and brew more coffee as it stiffens, and you will be a hairless, worn-out and abandoned doll, a broken rattle, an old rag yellow and forgotten in the corner . . . That is how perfection operates, not wisdom! Wisdom is you, yourself— or maybe two people! You and someone else, that intimate flash of honesty from eye to eye . . .”

I watched his deathly pale face and wondered where I’d heard all this before, it sounded so familiar. Then I remembered —that sermon, the sermon about choking, evil and the Devil, the sermon which Brother Persuasion told me was intended as provocation . . .

“How can I believe you?” I groaned. He shuddered.

“O sinner !!” he screamed in a whisper. “Dost thou still doubt that what may be a harmless conversation or joke on one level doth constitute , on another, legal action and, on yet another, a battle of wits between Departments? Verily, if thou followest this line of thought, thou shalt end up nowhere, since here anything, hence everything, leadeth everywhere!”

“You’ve lost me.”

“Treason is inevitable. But the Building’s purpose is to make treason impossible. Ergo, we must make the inevitable evitable. But how? Obliterate truth. What’s treason when truth is but another way of lying? That is why there is no place here for any real action, whether legitimate despair or honest crime— anything genuine will weigh you down, drag you to the bottom for good. Listen! Come in with me! We’ll form a secret alliance, a conspiracy of two! This will liberate us!”

(Kindle Locations 2333-2354)

Nietzsche & Rand, Sinners & Criminals

“The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly.”

 ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“There’s no way to rule innocent men.
The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals.
Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them.
One declares so many things to be a crime
that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

 ~ Ayn Rand 1905-1982

Death: PKD, WSB, & Derrick Jensen

Fred: D… Substance D. “D” is dumbness, and despair, desertion-desertion of you from your friends, your friends from you, everyone from everyone. Isolation and loneliness… and hating and suspecting each other, “D” is finally death. Slow death from the head down. Well… that’s it.

Why does Control need humans, as you call them?
Answer: Wait… wait! Time, a landing field. Death needs time like a junkie needs junk.
And what does Death need time for?
Answer: The answer is sooo simple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sake.

The conversion of the living to the dead has been converted from a moral, human, question into a technical problem to be solved, and, if at all possible, profited from.
 ~ Derrick Jensen, The Culture of Make Believe (p 568)

New-Path resident: Living and unliving things are exchanging properties.
Second New-Path resident: The drive of unliving things is stronger than the drive of living things.
Freck as New-Path resident: The living should never be used to serve the purposes of the dead. But the dead should, if possible… serve the purposes of the living.

Fred: I saw death rising from the earth, from the ground itself, in one blue field.

Derrick Jensen (& Henry David Thoreau)

Playing for Keeps
By Derrick Jensen

“PEOPLE WHO READ MY WORK often say, “Okay, so it’s clear you don’t like this culture, but what do you want to replace it?” The answer is that I don’t want any one culture to replace this culture. I want ten thousand cultures to replace this culture, each one arising organically from its own place. That’s how humans inhabited the planet (or, more precisely, their landbases, since each group inhabited a place, and not the whole world, which is precisely the point), before this culture set about reducing all cultures to one.”

Endgame, Volume 1‎ (p 56)
By Derrick Jensen

“It is the BLU-82, also known as the Daisy Cutter. This fifteen-thousand-pound bomb, filled with an aqueous mix of ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, and polystyrene soap, is so large that it can only be launched by rolling it out the rear door of a cargo aircraft, the MC-130 Hercules. The slowness of the cargo plane means Daisy Cutters can only be dropped when there are no defenses, in other words, only on those who are defenseless. A parachute opens, then the Daisy Cutter floats toward Earth. The parachute slows the descent enough to give the transport plane time to get away before the bomb explodes. The bomb detonates just above ground, producing what are called overpressure of one thousand pounds per square inch (overpressure is air pressure over and above normal air pressure: overpressures of just a few pounds are enough to kill people) disintegrating everything and everyone within hundreds of yards, and killing people (and nonhumans) at a range of up to three miles. General Peter Pace, vice-chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, put the purpose clearly: “As you would expect, they make a heck of a bang when they go off and the intent is to kill people.” Marine Corps General Trainer was even more specific about the effect of Daisy Cutters on the people of Afghanistan: “Besides the physical degradation, these — along with the regular ordinance dropped from B-52s — provide great psychological punishment, as victims begin to bleed from the eyes, nose, and ears, if they aren’t killed outright, of course. It’s a frightening, awesome assault they’re suffering, and there’s no doubt they are feeling our wrath.””

The Heart of Thoreau’s Journals (pp 83-4; April 11, 1852)
By Henry David Thoreau

“If I am too cold for human friendship, I trust I shall not soon be too cold for natural influences. It appears to be a law that you cannot have a deep sympathy with both man and nature. Those qualities which bring you near to the one estrange you from the other.”

Victims & Silence

“If the first rule of a dysfunctional system is ‘Don’t talk about it,’ then our primary goal should be to tell the truth, to be as honest as we can manage to be.  When I read something truthful, something real, I breathe a deep sigh and say, ‘Fantastic — I wasn’t mad or alone in thinking that, after all!’  So often we are left to our own devices, struggling in the dark with this eternal and internal propaganda system.  At that point, for someone to tell us the truth is a gift.  In a world where people all around us are lying and confusing us, to be honest is a great kindness.”

Derrick Jensen quoting David Edwards, The Culture of Make Believe, pp 141-142

Derrick Jensen is one of my favorite authors.  Even though he is quoting someone else here, this basic message runs through all of his writing.  There are few occupations more worthy than simply telling the truth, giving voice to the silence.  Jensen explains this brilliantly in his earlier book, A Language Older Than Words.  It was that book, more than any other, that helped me understand our culture. 

It’s depressing to consider how few people speak up about the atrocities of our society, but it’s understandable.  It’s easy to feel like a powerless victim when faced with such overwhelming suffering and destruction.  Even most victimizers were once victims and still see themselves that way.  We are a culture of victims.  But to refuse the collective agreement to be silenced, even if only for a moment, is to step outside of the role of victim.

JFK: Assassination of a Nation’s Soul

Here is an awesome JFK quote from Matt Cardin’s In serving his vision of truth, the artist best serves his nation:

These may be my favorite words ever spoken by an American President. They come from a speech delivered by John F. Kennedy on October 26, 1963 — less than a month before his death — at Amherst College, in honor of the late Robert Frost. The speech was published the following February in The Atlantic under the title “Poetry and Power,” while the nation was still in shock and mourning.

John F Kennedy

[A]rt establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgment. The artist, however faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an officious state. The great artist is thus a solitary figure. He has, as Frost said, “a lover’s quarrel with the world.” In pursuing his perceptions of reality he must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role. If Robert Frost was much honored during his lifetime, it was because a good many preferred to ignore his darker truths. Yet, in retrospect, we see how the artist’s fidelity has strengthened the fiber of our national life.

If sometimes our great artists have been the most critical of our society, it is because their sensitivity and their concern for justice, which must motivate any true artist, make them aware that our nation falls short of its highest potential.

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth. And as Mr. MacLeigh once remarked of poets, “There is nothing worse for our trade than to be in style.”

In free society art is not a weapon, and it does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology. Artists are not engineers of the soul. It may be different elsewhere. But in a democratic society the highest duty of the writer, the composer, the artist, is to remain true to himself and to let the chips fall where they may. In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation. And the nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man — the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, And nothing to look forward to with hope.”

 – – –

I was just listening to the actual speech that JFK gave that day at Amherst College (also, here is the poem spoken by Robert Frost along with the poem he was going to speak).  I’m not someone who cries easily or often, but listening to JFK brought tears to my eyes.  I’m a Gen-Xer born more than a decade after JFK’s assassination and more important born after Nixon’s demoralizing presidency.  With the CIA’s illegal activities abroad and the FBI’s attack on civil rights through COINTELPRO, everything that was good about America seemed long gone.  Gen-Xers are cynical for a very good reason.  Between the assassinations of JFK (15 yrs after Ghandi’s assassination) and MLK (and RFK on top of that), it feels like the soul of America (the hope of liberal idealism in the entire world) itself had been assassinated. 

The Wikipedia article on the reaction to the JFK assassination:

Around the world, there was a stunned reaction to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

The first hour after the shooting, before his death was announced, was a time of great confusion. Taking place during the Cold War, it was at first unclear whether the shooting might be part of a larger attack upon the U.S., and whether Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had been riding two cars behind in the motorcade, was safe.

The news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered in department stores to watch the television coverage, while others prayed. Traffic in some areas came to a halt as the news spread from car to car.[citation needed] Schools across the U.S. dismissed their students early.[1] Anger against Texas and Texans was reported from some individuals. Various Cleveland Browns fans, for example, carried signs at the next Sunday’s home game against the Dallas Cowboys decrying the city of Dallas as having “killed the President”.[citation needed]

The event left a lasting impression on many Americans. As with the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor before it and the September 11, 2001 attacks after it, asking “Where were you when you heard about Kennedy’s assassination” would become a common topic of discussion.

The reaction

In the United States, the assassination dissolved differences among all people as they were brought together in one common theme: shock and sorrow after the assassination. It was seen in statements by the former presidents and members of Congress, etc. The news was so shocking and hit with such impact, it was later reported that 99% of the U.S. population knew about his murder within three hours afterwards, an amazing speed of a news item before round-the-clock cable television networks.

Around the world

After the assassination, many world leaders expressed shock and sorrow, some going on television and radio to address their countrymen. In countries around the world, state premiers and governors and mayors also issued messages expressing shock over the assassination. Governments ordered flags to half-staff and days of mourning. Many of them wondered if the new president, Lyndon Johnson, would carry on Kennedy’s policies or not.

In many countries radio and television networks, after breaking the news, either went off the air except for funeral music or broke schedules to carry uninterrupted news of the assassination, and if Kennedy had made a visit to that country, recalled that visit in detail. In several nations, monarchs ordered the royal family into days of mourning. The government of Iraq declared three days of national mourning.

At U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, switchboards lit up and were flooded with phone calls. At many of them, shocked personnel often let telephones go unanswered. They also opened up books of condolences for people to sign. In Europe, the assassination tempered Cold War sentiment, as people on both sides expressed shock and sorrow.

News of the assassination reached Asia during the early morning hours of November 23, 1963, because of the time difference, as people there were sleeping. In Japan, the news became the first television broadcast from the United States to Japan via the Relay 1 satellite instead of a prerecorded message from Kennedy to the Japanese people.

Unofficial mourning

Hastily organized memorial services for Kennedy were held throughout the world, allowing many to express their grief. Governments lowered flags to half-staff and declared days of mourning, and church bells tolled. A day of national mourning and sorrow was declared in the U.S. for Monday, November 25, the day of the state funeral. Many other countries did the same. Throughout the United States, many states declared the day of the funeral a legal holiday.

There has hardly been any kind of positive international response to a US president since that time… that is until Barack Obama.  I’m not saying that Obam is the new JFK, but it sure has been a long while since America has genuinely believed in its own idealism… believed it to the extent that the rest of the world was actually convinced.  (The only killed political leader that has touched the world’s heart since JFK is Princess Diana.)

And out of the ashes JFK’s assassination was born the white supremacy evangelical right.  It saddens me to my bones.  Look at what America has become: Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.  Should I kill myself now or hold onto the hope that America can actually live up to its own idealism?

President Kennedy wasn’t perfect, but it was we Americans who failed him.  That is how I feel.  In listening to JFK shortly before his death, all I can say is, “I’m sorry” (and repeat those words again and again and again).  I feel that somehow I personally failed his dream (and MLK’s dream… not to mention Gandhi’s dream… and John Lennon’s dream… please, let the list end here).  and it feels like America (and the world) has been in a downward descent ever since… with the cynical vision of the Republican party ruling America.  It’s completely understandable that the conspiracy theorists disbelieve the official story (for example, watch these videos and feel the outrage at the deepest level of your heart and soul).  How could a fluke, a random event assassinate the very soul of America (the supposedly greatest nation in the world)?

Let me just say that I take the increase of death threats against Obama very seriously!

In the conclusion of the Wikipedia article about MLK’s assassination:

In 2004, Jesse Jackson, who was with King at the time of his death, noted:

The fact is there were saboteurs to disrupt the march. [And] within our own organization, we found a very key person who was on the government payroll. So infiltration within, saboteurs from without and the press attacks. …I will never believe that James Earl Ray had the motive, the money and the mobility to have done it himself. Our government was very involved in setting the stage for and I think the escape route for James Earl Ray.[46][47]
Has anybody here, seen my old friend John –
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people, but it seems the good, they die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
After the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, commenced an era of political showmanship symbolized by the Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan.
 
The last great speech of the last great politician…
 
 
God save us all!