Bad IdeasJune 15th, 2009

We are participants in a national downgrade. Social institutions are failing–education, government, industry, religion–because values have been degraded. Greed and predation became virtues, and war became a sporting event. Liberty became a matter of privilege. Knowledge was discredited. How did this happen? How did this happen so suddenly?

If we look at history, we see that such failures have occurred again and again, here and in other lands. Bad ideas—especially the idea of superiority and the prospect of conquest—are usually at fault. When people go through failure, including catastrophic failure of institutional proportions, they really ought to examine their policies and practices for bad ideas.

Money

Money may be a bad idea. It’s just paper, and we don’t get to decide what it’s worth. Without money, we’d have to trade things of actual value, and that would be inconvenient and it would slow down the economic engine, but that might not be a bad thing. The trouble with money is not having any. Money is for those that have it. The more they have, the more they can get. For the rest of us, it comes in and goes out, and it seems like the harder we work to get it, the more of it we owe to the people who have it. Our debts are all down on paper somewhere, and somebody else gets to say how much our assets are worth. By my reckoning, most of the actual things I own will eventually belong to the people who have all the money, and I’ll have little or nothing.

As bad an idea as money may be, there will always be money. As long as people can read and do math and record their transactions, money—bills of debt—will circulate. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the money is worth, and so you might have to unload your house or your labor at a rate below value, and sometimes everybody loses confidence in the value of money, but debtors have to keep it coming in or starve.

There have been attempts to regulate lending and borrowing so that we can depend on our money—after the crash of 1929, for instance—but the people with money invariably sabotage such efforts and the rest of us have to surrender our property when the balloon deflates. We should understand that money is debt, bringing it into conflict with basic personal and institutional values. It may simply be a bad idea to let it proliferate without limit.

Israel

Israel was a spectacularly bad idea. Yes, it was the duty of mankind in recovering from world war to establish a sanctuary for the displaced peoples of the world, for the surviving victims of would-be conquerors. Mankind should have put it in Arizona or Florida, however, not in Palestine. The world, with the no-establishment-of-religion USA in the lead, created a European religious state smack in the middle of an ancient, mostly peaceful, reasonably prosperous eastern-Mediterranean culture of diverse lineage. Could people in their right mind have thought such an implant could take? It’s been a festering sore ever since, and it seems as if it couldn’t have turned out any other way.

Most of the problem is that the sanctuary given to the victims was transformed into a claim of manifest destiny by their vengeful, sanctimonious issue, now terrorizing the grandchildren of those displaced to make room for the Europeans sixty years ago. Do these arrogant upstarts really believe God gave them land? Do they think I believe it? It’s not just Judaism, but all religion that is discredited by the continuation of this assault on essential values of peace, justice, and equity. Our institutions are at risk until we cut Israel loose and demand that the Jewish state and its conquests be demilitarized and subjected to confederation under international supervision.

The Presidency

The founders didn’t contemplate a world order with the US president at the head of it. Their writings suggest that they envisioned a government controlled by the people acting through Congress. The president would supervise the officers and departments created by Congress to administer the government, always according to rules acceptable to the people, expressed as the will of Congress.

Observers around the world claimed to be startled when the first president George Washington vacated his office in favor of his successor at the expiration of his second four-year term, but locals knew that Washington wouldn’t have dared to assume authority not granted by the Constitution. Neither would Congress ever have permitted such a usurpation.

Right up through Dwight Eisenhower, presidents have been held fairly closely to the rules. Franklin Roosevelt had to wait for Japan to attack before he could join World War II. Truman had to call the Korean War a “police action” to keep it legal, and the courts kept him from taking over private industry. From Kennedy on, there’s been no such delicacy, as successive chief executives simply seized power, putting the country through war, debt and discontent as a result.

Not that presidents before Kennedy did much better. Most presidents have been vain, ingratiating crackpots who have done more harm than good. Our presidents have proved that the ability to get votes is by no means a qualification to govern. We ought to have three presidents–the people’s top three choices–with equal authority, acting by majority. They would check and balance each other and guard against the neo-dictatorial regime we tolerate now, one that conflicts starkly with the fundamental values of republican government.

Three ideas, interacting with each other in a way that destroys our values and threatens our way of life. If you look at conditions and events closely and with an open mind, you discover that It’s not human nature, but bad ideas that have brought us to the brink of ruin. We should be engaged in a critical analysis of all the ideas that govern us and replace the ones that undermine our values.