When do black lives matter? or, Dear Fellow White People


In the span of 48 hours, two horrific police killings of black men were captured on camera. 
Rinse. Repeat. 
While details are still forthcoming, specifically the one from Baton Rogue, the situation in Minnesota appears to be nothing more than an impromptu execution. And for the umpteenth time in so many years, we’re left questioning what can be done to stop police violence. It is quite the worthy question and certainly we need a way to stop the killing of unarmed people, especially black men, without compromising the safety of police officers. But for all the rage, the one culprit we don’t want to point to as the cause of these killings is ourselves (white people).
Now I don’t mean we’re personally responsible or that we personally enacted laws that led to such incidents. I’m not even suggesting tacit support of such unfortunate events. Instead, I’m referring to a system that we’ve inherited that, even if we didn’t create it, we are its beneficiaries. Our grandparents may not have benefited from it, but in 2016 we do. 
When my great-grandfather came over from Kiev in 1912, he wasn’t white. That is to say, he had white skin, blue eyes, and probably couldn’t get a tan if he wanted to, but he wasn’t *white.* He was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, a Jew and a Slav. In 1912 that didn’t qualify him to be white. For those of Irish ancestry, the Irish immigrants weren’t white in the 1800s, neither were the Italians. Instead, such races with light skin were brought into the “white” category for various reasons. They were white, but weren’t *white.* All that to say that while my great-grandfather and grandfather didn’t benefit from any system of privilege, by the time I came onto the scene in 1983, I was a beneficiary of a system made for white people. Somewhere between 1912 and 1983, Russian Jews found a way into the white system, as did all those from Eastern Europe, Italians, and the Irish (save for over in the United Kingdom). 
In the modern era, I typically have little to fear when stopped by a police officer (though in New York, unless one is wealthy it’s always good to carry a bit of fear with the NYPD). I also have some form of upward mobility ahead as of me. I work hard, promote myself, and I can move up. If my career stalls, I can go pursue a graduate degree almost anywhere in the world. The fact is, I’m a white American male and while not rich or powerful, I have the world before me. 
The same cannot be said for my brothers and sisters of darker skin. The upbringing of my white niece and nephew is significantly and profoundly different from that of my black friends with children, even those who are middle class. Essentially, we’re raising an entire generation of African Americans to obey the police no matter what, to “accept their role” in society, to dress a certain way, to speak a certain way, to act a certain way. Decades removed from codified segregation and a century removed from slavery, we’ve still made little in the way of progress from a cultural and sociological point of view. The mentality we attempted to instill into slaves is eerily similar to the mentality we attempt to instill into their free descendants. 
So, what do we mean when we say black lives matter? If our utterance of that phrase ends with the intention of stopping police brutality, then we have a very limited vision of equality. We shouldn’t have to fight against police brutality in a free society, especially for any particular race. The right to remain unmolested by law enforcement when innocent is a given, built into our constitution. Fighting for an end to police brutality, especially for black men, isn’t so much a fight for racial justice as it is just a fight for common sense and liberty. 
No, when we say black lives matter we must mean more than, “stop killing black men.” We have to mean more, or we’re merely speaking empty words. When 1 in 3 black children are born and raised in poverty (compared to 1 in 4 Hispanic children or 1 in 10 white children), when there’s study after study showing that African Americans face an uphill battle in obtaining a job and/or education, when there’s proof that upward mobility is almost non-existent in black communities, when all evidence points to the system of Jim Crow still very much alive and active – not a specter haunting us, but a living being behind the scenes and psyche of our leaders and ourselves – we must demand change. When we say black lives matter we must look beyond police brutality cases and peer deep into a system that denies equality to an entire race of people simply because of the color of their skin. 
And we who are the beneficiaries of a system meant to protect white people, we who unintentionally benefit from such a system, are in the best position to eradicate such a system. The Civil Rights movement gained momentum and made the gains it did when white people stood with their black brothers and sisters and said, “enough is enough.” It was pressure from white people, those who benefited from segregation, that helped tilt the battle towards the side of justice. It’s not that we’re the heroes or that we need to save anyone, merely that we benefit from a system of oppression and are therefore in the best position to overturn it. The oppressed can only eradicate oppression through violence; but the oppressors, in peace, can choose to stop oppressing. 
This is not some “white guilt,” nor am I “cuckholded” as the vile and racist alt-right would claim. We owe it to our black brothers and sisters to work for change. Not merely because they’re human or because oppression is a cancer that always spreads to other races, but because we are family. We have a moral obligation to other humans to ensure they receive justice. Not for any utilitarian purposes, but merely because it’s right in its own right. Shall we deny them justice? Shall we deny a good work? Or will we finally rise up and say no more? Will we finally pursue what is right and good? The answer to that question is important, because lives depend on it, especially black lives. 

Lex Luthor vs. Maximus the Confessor: An Apophatic Response to Atheism


Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman

Warning: This Post Contains Spoilers

As nerds around the world fume over, what many agree is “a crime against comic book fans” and “the worst superhero film of all time“, one aspect of Zack Snyder’s controversial new film, Batman vs. Superman, has yet to be analyzed. I am, of course, referring to: (SPOILER ALERT) Lex Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

Moments before the film’s climatic battle between two of the worlds most beloved heroes, the insidious Lex Luthor–portrayed in this film as a sort of morbid cross between Mark Zuckerberg, Victor Frankenstein, and Jim Carrey–delivers a good-ole-fashion super-villain monologue. One that explains his motivation for seeking to destroy Superman (a seemingly all powerful, godlike, being who writes the sports section at a local newspaper) and reveals the movie’s true meaning. That’s right folks, Batman vs. Superman is not merely a superhero flick; it’s an allegory.

Lex Luthor is the personification of New Atheist Post-Enlightenment ideology: a zealous scientist hellbent on proving to the world that God (i.e., Superman) is neither omnipotent nor omnibenevolent and, thus, a sham. Batman represents man’s struggle (unwittingly spurred on by Luthor’s ideology) to overcome and ultimately defeat the God delusion; a delusion that many claim is harmless–and even beneficial–yet has the potential to destroy humanity. In short, Luthor’s speech reveals that the true conflict in this film is not between Batman and Superman; but, between man and God . . . or, at least, a particular conception of God.

As a philosopher, I found this subversive underlying theme intriguing. Not the least of which, because it affords me the shameless opportunity to use pop-culture as a platform for having a serious philosophical discussion. Also, because it affords me the chance to correct several common misconceptions.

Stated succinctly, Lex Luthor’s idea of God is so far removed from traditional Classical Theism (CT) it’s laughable. To demonstrate this, I will contrast Luthor’s conception of divinity with that of one of the greatest ancient exponents of CT: St. Maximus the Confessor. Then I will show how St. Maximus’ apophatic approach to theology provides a powerful response to Luthor’s argument for the nonexistence of God.

We shall begin by examining Luthor’s conception of the divine, and his argument, a little more closely.

God as Man Writ Large

Lex Luthor holds a grossly anthropomorphic view of the Divine Essence. His picture of ‘God’ is simply ‘man writ large’.  In other words, he imagines God is something like a human being; only with unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

These are all attributes Superman appears to possess: he is virtually an unstoppable and indestructible being, he can listen to any conversation, or radio transmission, or TV broadcast, around the world, and has unlimited access to a Kryptonian super computer–containing virtually all the knowledge in the known universe–and seems completely unimpeachable.

Luthor’s conception of God–which I’m going to call the omniGod thesis–entails the Divine attributes are essential properties of the Divine Essence.  In other words, for Luthor, what it is to be God is to have: unlimited power, unlimited knowledge, and unlimited goodness.

Copy of Lex Luthor's God2It is precisely this conception of the divinity (or something like it) that many contemporary arguments for the nonexistence of God are aimed at. One popular line of reasoning goes like this: If we identify something from general experience that conflicts with the notion that a single being possessing one or more of the divine attributes actually exists, then we can show that God (who, just is, a single being possessing all of the divine attributes listed) does not exist.

Atheists, utilizing this type of argument, typically point to the fact of gratuitous evil to demonstrate that no omnipotent and omnibenevolent being actually exits. According to them, if such a being actually existed, it would, necessarily, ensure there was no gratuitous evil. In other words, if the omniGod thesis where true there would be no gratuitous evil. Since, however, we do experience evil, we can only conclude that God–conceived of as an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being–does not exist.

Lex Luthor's God

The argument above is what philosophers call the problem of evil. Interestingly, Lex Luthor utilizes a similar line of reasoning in his climatic rooftop monologue. In this speech, it becomes crystal clear that his stupid-elaborate plan to wrangle Batman and Superman into a gladiator style battle is motivated by his determination to prove the Man of Steel does not posses the essential properties needed to be divine.

If Superman loses, and Batman kills him, he is not omnipotent. If Superman wins, and brings Batman’s head to Luthor, he is not omnibenevolent.  As a backup plan, Luthor also hacks into the source of Superman’s omniscience (i.e., the Kryptonian super-computer) and uses it to create an abomination that will totally obliterate the Man of Steel; thereby proving he is neither omniscient nor omnipotent. No matter what, the outcome of Luthor’s allegorical battle will prove, definitively, that: God is Dead!

St. Maximus and the Apophatic Way

In stark contrast to the omniGod thesis, Classical Theism (CT) has never pictured God as ‘man writ large’. Rather, it says God is so radically distinct, so different, so transcendent, that he is literally beyond understanding. Which is just another way of saying: we have no idea what God is! In fact, because he defies all human categories, and human thought, we can never know what God is. St. Maximus put it like this:

“God is one, unoriginate [i.e., he has no beginning or end or cause or explanation], incomprehensible . . . altogether excluding notions of when and how, inaccessible to all, and not to be known through natural image by any creature.”

When he says God is “inaccessible to all”, he is not claiming it is impossible to have a relationship with God. Remember, he is using metaphysical language. What he means is, ‘God’s Essence’ or ‘Divine Nature’–what it is to be God–is inaccessible to the human intellect. Rest assured, St. Maximus strongly emphasizes the fact that we can enter into a direct personal relationship with God in his other writings. The point, in this passage, is to establish that we have no idea what God’s essential properties are.

He goes on to explain that the Divine Essence stands in marked contrast to created being which, according to St. Maximus, can be understood and lead us to believe God exists:

“Created beings are termed intelligible because each of them has an origin that can be known rationally. But God cannot be termed intelligible, while from our apprehension of intelligible beings we can do no more than believe that He exists. On this account no intelligible being is in any way to be compared with Him. Created beings can be known rationally by means of the inner principles which are by nature intrinsic to such beings and by which they are naturally defined. But from our apprehension of these principles inherent in created beings we can do no more than believe that God exists.”

In other words, creation (which encompasses everything in existence outside of God) is fundamentally intelligible. This means it is possible for the human intellect to grasp it, to define it, and to explain it. The Creator, however, exists outside of the universe; and we simply can not grasp the nature of something outside the universe. We can, according to Maximus, know that the Creator exits; but we can’t say what he is.

Classical Theism: Radical Ontological Distinction Between Creator and Creation

classical theism

 

An Apophatic Response to Atheism

It may have occurred to you, by now, that CT is completely immune to arguments for the nonexistence of God like Lex Luthor’s. Why? Because Lex Luthor style arguments are aimed at the omniGod thesis; which assumes God’s attributes are His essential properties.

According to proponents of CT like St. Maximus, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For him, the attributes are either negative statements (with no positive content) or grounded in God’s energies (i.e., his active presence in the world). For example, to say that God is omnipotent is really just to say: God does not lack power. This is a negative–or, apophatic–statement with no positive content.

Positive statements can be made, but are made in reference to God’s energies (not to His essence). For example, when we say that God is good or just, we are not referring to His essence but to His energies. We come to believe God is good or just because he reveals Himself as good or just through His real presence and interaction, in history, with people and in the world.

All things considered, Lex Luthor is, not only, a disappointing super-villain, but a lackluster philosopher.

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine is Worker Owned (Part 4)


IMG_0039As we’ve seen thus far, the income inequality in the United States (and really, worldwide) is an issue that is leading to stagnating and destructive economic results. One possible solution is to cap the ratio between CEO pay and worker pay. There is, however, another alternative.

 

Worker-owned and operated co-ops, where workers own actual equity in the company and vote on management and executives, have proven to be quite successful worldwide. The best example is the Mondragon Institute where workers vote on their wages, vote on who their managers are, vote on who gets to be CEO, vote on the pay of the CEO, and all worker-owners have a share in the profits generated by the co-op. There are, of course, other examples out there.

 

The overall point is that we need a system where workers benefit from their labor. Under our current system workers are merely parts to an overall machine. They are not individuals, they are not important, they do not matter; a factory worker quits one day and is replaced the next, much like if a cog were to break, it would be removed and replaced. There is a dehumanizing aspect to our labor, which is why we pay substandard wages for that labor. Corporations release a constant stream of emails to employees about the corporate success, about how much profit the corporation has earned, about how much the stock has increased, and expect the workers to actually care. But why should they care? The corporation has increased profits off the backs of the workers, profits the workers will not enjoy (though executives will). Why should the workers care?

 

To take the modern system further, even in a system where workers get a small share of the profits, they have no say in how the company functions. While corporations use empty terms like “team members” and tell workers that their feedback is important, the fact is that even if 98% of the workers thought something was a bad idea, the corporation would do it if they saw a chance for a profit. The ever increasing desire to impress stock owners and drive up stock value – sometimes by creating short term gains at the cost of long term consequences – has crashed many companies and continues to harm our economy.

 

So, if setting ratios isn’t your thing, perhaps this is: Worker Ownership. Worker ownership is exactly what it sounds like, where the workers own the corporation. The only equity holders in the firm are those who have not only invested their money into the company, but have also invested their labor into the company. In such an economy, there would be two types of worker-owned companies:

 

Family business/co-ops – small, family run businesses are without a doubt essential to any local economy. A local economy built on family-owned businesses typically has a sustainable economy. One can imagine what would happen in poorer communities, whether urban or rural, if there was more economic development for local businesses. Of course, some family-owned businesses need a support system. This is where co-ops would work in lieu of corporations. The co-op would be composed of different farmers, different distribution companies, and different grocers. They would all work together to provide produce throughout the region (or nation) and could even work with other co-ops around the country to exchange produce. In the co-op, the different businesses within the co-op would all have a vote and a voice on how the co-op would function. Rather than having someone in New York decide what works best for farmers and grocers in North Carolina (as might happen with a major corporation), the business owners and farmers in North Carolina would be able to give a stronger voice for what policies work best in their area.

 

Think of a co-op as a type of confederacy, where there is a union and all the different organizations work together, but all are also at the same time autonomous. All contribute to the profit of the co-op and receive profit dividends from the co-op, but can also act independent of the co-op when it comes to their own store policies.

 

Worker-owned corporations – the family-owned business can only go so far. While I’ll get my food from a mom and pop store, I wouldn’t want that same place making my car. When it comes to cars, major construction ventures, making commercial airliners, and the like, businesses are necessarily large. There are certain endeavors that simply require a large corporation. A small business or even a collection of businesses (co-op) isn’t sufficient or efficient for certain industries. In instances such as these, corporations would be massive, but owned by the workers. Rather than being abstract, let’s use Ford as an example:

 

Imagine tomorrow that Ford was sold entirely to its workers. This would mean that all management and executives would be voted on by the workers. All profits would be distributed to the workers. The company could never move jobs overseas because worker-owners aren’t going to move their own jobs. There’d be no need for unions because the workers couldn’t go on strike against themselves. They’d vote on what wages should be for each position, on their own wages, and so on. It’s a form of direct democracy in the workplace, or democracy on a small-scale (the only place where democracy works best).

 

How both of the above solve for income inequality is that for the majority of workers – not everyone could become a worker-owner, especially at a younger age – would have the right to vote on their own salary as well as the salary of the CEO. If the workers decided to let the CEO earn at a 200:1 ratio, then that’s their choice. It wasn’t forced on them. But more than likely, the CEO pay would be much closer to a manageable rate. Productivity would increase as well due to the simple fact that an increase in profits would be shared amongst the workers. Thus, if workers wanted a bigger bonus each quarter, they’d push harder to increase the profits for that quarter. By actually seeing the fruits of their labor they’d work harder to see bigger fruits.

 

The benefits of this system are as follows:

 

  • Income inequality is no longer an issue. When most workers are also owners, they choose the income that occurs. For family-owned businesses the issue of a wage is no longer an issue.
  • Their jobs would be secure. Worker-owners won’t outsource their own jobs, they won’t lay themselves off to increase profits, they won’t recruit cheaper labor from a foreign nation to drive down wages, and so on. They’ll continue to innovate and improve because when the company succeed, their checkbooks will feel it.
  • They’ll be far more environmentally conscious. Part of the reason these companies have no issue polluting or destroying the environment in rural areas is because the executives and upper management don’t have to live in those rural areas. Worker-owned companies, however, would have owners who live in the local areas, who have to drink the water, who have to breath the air, and have to live with the consequences of their environmental impacts. While none of this promises complete environmental safety and we would still need regulations, environmental disasters or practices harmful to the local environment are less likely to occur because the workers don’t want to see their families harmed.

 

Of course, between the ratio system and the worker-owned system, there are some common themes.

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine Looks at Ratios (Part 3)


DSC02081The Ratio Solution

It’s quite obvious that as CEO pay has gone up, economic advantages have gone down. While we can say that correlation isn’t causation, in this case there’s a distinct cause. While CEO pay has increased, it’s come by cutting into the wages of workers. As pointed out already, this stagnating wages and lack of hope in progression is what’s fertilizing the ground for a growth in fascism. So how do we stop the growth of CEO pay without capping CEO pay?

The problem is ratio; the higher the ratio between Executive pay and Worker pay, the bigger the economic problem. In the 1960s the average CEO (who is typically the highest compensated employee) earned at a 20:1 ratio. That means that it took 20 worker salaries to equal the salary of the CEO. If the average worker earned $7,000 a year, the CEO would earn $140,000 a year. In the modern age, the average salary is about $46,000 (which still accounts for millionaires, yet is still relatively low), with the average CEO earning 200 times what his average worker receives ($9.2 million). Take that $9.2 million and break it down to a 20:1 ratio and the average worker would be paid $460,000 a year; not a shabby income.

Thus, if income inequality is the problem, the solution isn’t to cap CEO pay, but rather tie the company’s effective tax rate to the company’s income ratio. The question, of course, is how do we determine an acceptable income ratio? We want an income ratio that allows the top compensated employee to be a position of wealth, as this provides incentive, but we also want a ratio where the average worker makes a living that doesn’t require survival. Not to mention that the ratio impacts politics – if I earn at a 400:1 ratio to my employees, it would take 400 employees to match what I could donate to a candidate (which would require a lot of cooperation). Thus, the more wealth an individual has, the harder it is for people to gain a voice against his wealth. So whatever ratio we choose it has to not only provide a fair wage to workers and provide an incentive to get better, it also has to be low enough so that no one person obtains enough wealth to overpower the population.

From various views, a 20:1 ratio is the ideal ratio. It’s high enough to provide incentive to work harder, but low enough to prevent our economy from diving into a tailspin. Of course, political realities being what they are and with some differences in companies, we could create an ideal of 20:1 and a maximum of 100:1. Rather than capping CEO pay, the government would instead cap the ratio. Thus, if a CEO earns $10 million, more power to him, but his average worker better earn $100,000 (and the “average” would need to exclude executive pay from the equation).

The negative aspect of government regulation – of capping the ratio – would be on the upper end of 100:1. But I also believe in creating positive reinforcement for companies as it creates more economic freedom. That being said, I’d create the following tax bracket.

70:1 – 100:1: They would pay an effective tax rate of 40%. That means that after deductions, if their rate fell below 40% they’d be penalized until the rate reached 40%. Nothing they do, no moving around in the books, nothing could ever drop them below 40%.

50:1-69:1: They would pay an effective tax rate of 30%. They could take deductions, but could never drop below the 30% mark.

30:1-49:1 Their tax rate would drop to 20%. But notice that this is not an effective tax rate. In this instance, they could take deductions in order to reduce their tax rate, but never below 15% (the bottom effective tax rate).

20:1 – 29:1: This, being the ideal, would receive the best treatment. The maximum they’d pay in taxes would be 15% and there’d be no bottom in terms of their deductions. That is, if their deductions resulted in them paying 0% taxes, then so be it. The fact is, any company that fell in this range would be helping to create a powerful middle class, which would more than make up for any lost revenue from the business.

The only companies this would apply to would be any and all publicly traded companies and companies with 50 or more employees. Small businesses wouldn’t face this law. The reason is smaller businesses tend to have lower ratios by nature of their existence. Likewise, for start ups and other companies that do earn millions, but keep a small staff, the competition of bigger salaries from bigger companies would naturally keep the ratios low.

What’s great about this plan is that it literally costs corporations nothing. They don’t have to find a way to increase revenue (as they do with minimum wage), to increase their profits to make up for a loss, or to take a loss. The only thing it does is give back the wealth that the executives took (remember, executive pay jumped 725% from 1970 to 2015, while worker pay increased 5.6%, so this is a matter of giving economic justice and worker’s dues than it is redistributing unearned wealth). The company merely has to rework their payroll and benefits structure. Things such as stock options and profit sharing that add to the overall compensation of an executive would likewise have to be handed down to the workers until the total compensation of the highest earning employee (typically the CEO) matched the total compensation of the average worker.

In this scenario profits aren’t impacted, stock holders aren’t impacted, companies pay no extra money, and so on. All that happens is that executive pay is greatly reduced while worker pay is greatly increased, at least within a 20:1-100:1 range.

Of course, some might argue that production companies will just take their factories overseas or outsource their labor to overseas labor, that way executives can keep a high pay. They’ll just dump the workers. Here is where certain protections would need to be put into place. But again, those protections don’t have to be necessarily arbitrary, such as saying, “You can’t send your stuff overseas.” After all, globalization isn’t entirely bad and can help some struggling economies if handled correctly. How, then, do we handle it correctly?

We apply the same ratio rule to all overseas labor and, by extension, to all outsourced labor to foreign companies. That means if a technology company wants to outsource the production of their products to Foxconn, they’d have to ensure that the executives at Foxconn don’t earn greater than 100:1 compared to their workers. If a company wants to open an overseas factory, adjusting for inflation the same ratio rules would apply. A company could still send jobs overseas, but the advantage of using near-slave labor would disappear, which would protect multiple jobs in the US and possibly bring some jobs back.

The fact is, we have to do something and this is one possible option. It’s revolutionary, but that’s what we need in this moment. We need a revolution that seeks to change the system for the better by seeking a way to help all, not just a few. Of course, there is another possible way of revolutionizing the system in order to fix our economic woes.

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine Provides Solutions (Part 2)


IMG_0031Faced with the onslaught of fascism and nationalism, finding a well fertilized situation in current economic trends, the question arises as to what we should do. Increasing the minimum wage in such a situation seems a bit too little, too late. Increasing the minimum wage would hold the same effect as to throwing a bucket of water onto a home engulfed in flames. Sadly, we do need a revolution to fix the numerous problems in our system. We need an entirely new way of thinking through our economy. We know the problems rest with greedy CEOs increasing their pay while keeping worker wages stagnate. We know the problem is that if the workers threaten to strike or unionize in order to obtain better wages, the jobs will just ship overseas to near-slavery conditions.

Increasing taxes on the wealthy – while necessary – doesn’t promise that we’ll distribute the wages. After all, while increasing taxes in the 1950s worked well the world wasn’t nearly as globalized as it is now. Globalization almost takes away the impact of increasing taxes on the wealthy as jobs can still be sent overseas in order to increase profits, a way to make up for the increase in taxes. Increasing the minimum wage is just ineffective. Capping CEO pay also makes little sense as any cap would be quite arbitrary. Plus, one might be the CEO of a company, but also be the only employee of that company (which can happen if one is a consultant to other companies). So can we really cap that individual’s income? Such an argument makes little sense.

There’s the other issue that while some forms of Democratic-Socialism have shown to lower income inequality, it also creates a high tax burden and does tend to make workers less productive. For instance, Financial Times reported back in 2014 that productivity in the Nordic nations had dropped and that cracks were beginning to show in its welfare state. Part of the problem is that people have such a huge safety net in Nordic nations that there’s little incentive to work harder. It’s why the Nordic nations have some of the highest income inequality in Europe, but also have the strongest middle class – the government essentially props up the middle class with little effort required from businesses. Such a model, while admirable and a good temporary solution, is not sustainable and will eventually need to be revamped.

So what do we do? How do we create a system that averts the problems of nationalism and fascism? How do we improve our economy to the point that people see no need for a revolution or to radicalize? I can see two options. These options presented are by no means comprehensive and are barely an introduction to the two potential solutions. Likewise, these solutions are not mutually exclusive – both could be put in place and I’d recommend both be put in place. They are way outside of the box, but that’s what we need. We need a system meant for the modern era and we have to stop pointing to past solutions for modern problems.

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine Kills Fascism (Part 1)


JPEG image-552A266454C7-1It’s a common argument against socialism (or what is perceived as socialism): “We can’t have complete economic equality because it’d remove all incentive to work harder and be innovative.” And to a certain extent, that’s completely true. Why would I work harder to take on a position of more responsibility and risk if I didn’t make more money for it? Certainly there are some out there who’s egos alone would push for such a promotion, but at some point most people would ask why you’d want to be the CEO when you can make the same amount of money as being the janitor.

Yet, a similar argument that’s rarely brought up is that low wages have the exact same effect. After all, if people on the “fry line” or “flipping hamburgers” sees their managers, even general managers, struggle to pay bills, sees them on government support, sees them struggling paycheck to paycheck, then why work harder to take on that responsibility? If you tell someone who struggles to put food on the table that with 5-10 years of real hard work they can finally break through to the lower-middle class, what incentive is there in working harder? The more the middle class shrinks and the less meaning there is to being middle class (in that it doesn’t really provide as high a standard of living as its used to), the less incentive there is to work harder or be innovative.

Thus, it seems there’s a happy medium to be had, one where wages are staggered enough to provide enough incentive to work harder and be innovative, but pay well enough to provide enough incentive to get to that new position.

And that, kids, is why the minimum wage debate is so pointless. We’re debating over the minimum a person earns, which impacts about 3.9% of the population. Not that I’m against raising the minimum wage – we need to – but that in the best case scenario, raising it will give us one to two years of economic growth. After that, we’re back to debating on raising the wage again. And raising the minimum wage would inevitably send some jobs overseas (jobs that would have gone eventually, but an increase in minimum wage would be the tipping point). It wouldn’t be the doomsday scenario of conservative talkshow hosts, but it also wouldn’t be the economic utopia of liberal think-tanks. Raising the minimum wage, while necessary and overall good (even with some negative consequences), is focusing on the wrong problem.

See, our economic problem isn’t that our minimum wage is too low, it’s that our median wage is too low. Now, ultimately, our problem is greed, but you can’t legislate people to be virtuous and to give up their greed. You can, however, create an environment where they can’t practice their greed, or where you can limit their pursuits in the name of greed. After all, I can’t legislate someone from hating another person, but I can legislate stopping them from acting on that hate. Likewise, while I can’t prevent people having an attitude of greed, I can prevent them from acting on that greed. The reason our median wage is so low is because we’ve allowed people to act on their greed, and it’s time to stop.

When we allow economic inequality to continue, when we allow the poor to become poorer, when we allow the middle class to disappear quicker than the polar bears, we create an environment that inevitably leads to a revolution of sorts. The times we face are hardly unique to world history. Economic inequality preceded many horrible events in history, such as the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. In both cases income inequality erupted into violence. But we often forget that income inequality and its crippling effect on a nation preceded the election of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Both Italy and Germany suffered from high income inequality prior to the rise of fascism, and Germany suffered from a national inferiority complex due to losing WWI (which radicalized their fascists into Nazis, a more extreme version of fascism). A combination of national pride, blaming of the “other,” and workers not making enough to live led to the eventual conquest of fascism.

Fast forward to the modern era and we’re on the brink of seeing a revival in fascism, both in Europe and the United States. In Europe the far-right parties such as UKIP (United Kingdom), Front National (France), Law and Justice (Poland), Danish People’s Party (Denmark), and many other nations are experiencing an increase in nationalistic movements. These movements typically focus on the struggle of the working class, but tend to blame immigrants rather than the ruling elite (though the ruling elite are still blamed, the vitriol is saved for immigrants). Within the United States we have Donald Trump on the verge of victory in the Republican Party and a legitimate shot at winning it all. Fascism is alive and well, but it doesn’t appear ex nihilo. Rational people who lead comfortable lives don’t just wake up one day and go, “You know what, I hate immigrants, the poor, and want a revolution.” Fascism can only find berth in a revolution, and a revolution only arises out of discontent. The breeding ground for fascism – lack of economic growth, stagnation in the real economy, lack of motivation to move ahead, a loss of hope – are real issues. Failing to adequately address and fix those issues will almost always lead to horrible results.

We’ve had 30 years of globalization policies that have all but destroyed our economy (as well as many other economies). There’s a popular video going around about a Disney worker losing his job and having to train foreign workers to take over his job, workers hired by Disney because they’ll work at a cheaper rate. Manufacturing jobs lost in the 80s and 90s due to recession went overseas and will never return. Wages have stagnated and fallen. We have an entire generation today that is worse off upon graduating high school and/or college than generations before them, which is a first in American history. A populist backlash – and make no mistake, fascism is populist, as is socialism – was inevitable. That backlash has taken on the form of Trump in the United States, but resembles different leaders and candidates in other nations.

The above are all very real problems. It’s a problem that a job can be sent overseas to near-slave labor (which doesn’t benefit the worker in that country or the worker in the US). The wage gap in America is a massive problem, allowing the super-rich undue influence in politics, which secures their position while lessening the position of the average voter. By ignoring economic justice, by removing our economic policies away from doing what is right, we’ve created a very dangerous situation, a breeding ground for one of the worst political ideologies to come out of the Enlightenment.

What, then, are we to do?

This is Your Place in the Universe: The Tiniest of Kings and Queens


Source: NASA

Source: NASA

It’s popular on social media, notably Twitter and Facebook, to post videos that show how infinitesimally small the earth is when compared to objects inside our universe. They then draw some conclusion of, “See how insignificant we are?” or “So when your problems seem overwhelming, just look at how big the universe is and realize how small your problems are.” Such messages, I guess, are suppose to be inspiring, but ultimately they’re quite nihilistic. It’s like one of those Lisa Frank paintings with nihilistic messages:

tumblr_nuceptJzuw1uegvy1o1_1280

It looks kind, cuddly, and just pukes sentimentality, but the message is pretty dark. And that’s how these videos on the universe are; yes, we’re small, we’re tiny compared to other physical objects in the universe, but does that really mean our problems are insignificant? Just say, “Cry into the night sky, but understand that your sound goes into a void that will not answer back and will not hear you.” It’s atheistic existentialism without the acknowledgement of angst or absurdity, it’s optimistic nihilism, which is to say it’s neither optimistic nor nihilist, but just a logical contradiction.

How non sequitur is it to say, “But the universe is vast and large and we are insignificant” when someone comes to you with a problem? More importantly, why would the size of the earth play into our significance? While the magnitude of a problem experiences some subjectivity – to a three year old, dropping an ice cream cone is an act of supreme evil – it doesn’t mean our problems or even our lives are insignificant. We can’t look at the crisis in the Middle East, the number of orphans, widows, and rampant genocide, we can’t look at the rapes, the theft, the wanton loss of life and go, “Yeah, but VY Canis Majoris is 5,000 light years from earth and dwarfs our own sun! So really, how big can our problems be?” That response is properly received as cold and callous, and that’s because it is, because human lives are significant regardless of their size.

See, while VY Canis Majoris might dwarf our sun, or while the whole of North America might look like a smudge when compared to the size of Jupiter, human lives dwarf absolutely everything else in this universe, including the universe itself. We are the kings and queens of creation, placed as stewards over all that we observe, even if what we observe is bigger than ourselves. Much to the chagrin of atheists or the non-religious, though evolved we are still made in the image of God. And since God is infinite, within that image there is infinity, and infinity shall always remain greater than the finite. And the universe, no matter how vast it is, is still finite. The problems we face, the evil we cause, the good we enjoy, the love we create, and every aspect of our existential lives are not insignificant or small just because the universe is large; these elements echo in eternity and will surpass even the universe itself.

And for those who aren’t religious or are atheists and prefer not to believe that we are in God’s image, I can respect that, but I can’t respect the devaluation of human life. For even the atheist existentialists would embrace the absurdity of treating human life with dignity because, after all, it’s the only intelligent form of life of which we know As small as we are, our intelligence makes us of far greater value than some distant star of mass quantities.

So yes, in terms of physical limitations humans are insignificant. We’re nothing compared to other animals on this planet, if we’re only looking to physicality. But if we’re looking to more, if we’re looking to the intangible, immaterial aspect of our existence (for love, knowledge, and the like cannot be measured and though immaterial, are a vital part of our existence and are what makes us human), then nothing in the observable universe comes close to our own significance.