Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Climate Change

Is there a Morality of Profit? Hrm. I dont think so!

“A society is moral if it both allows man to fulfill his potential and, in utilitarian terms, creates the most good. Fortunately, a society based on the profit motive can achieve both of these factors. By acknowledging the fundamentals of human nature — that man is intrinsically self-interested — and channeling it towards productivity through a system based on such an understanding, both individuals and societies will develop and grow.”

I beg to differ. Under this logic, the unbridled application of the profit motive would create the most moral society — and history shows us instead the Gilded Age. Unrestrained capitalism may produce the most wealth, but the wildly unequal distribution of that wealth guarantees that some will have more opportunity to fulfill their potential than others. The reality is that the more the profit motive rules, the less moral the resulting society.

I would have to be a blithering idiot to ascribe no good to the profit motive, nor acknowledge the multitude of positive human endeavors in which it plays an indispensable part. The transcontinental railroad, for example, allowed for the wholesale destruction of the buffalo, sealing the fate of the Plains Indians. But it also linked two sides of the continent — the epitome of an inevitable development. I would not be writing this without the internet and 10,000 inventions that preceded it — many motivated by the desire to make money. Societies in which there is no profit motive mostly do not work — witness North Korea. (I say “mostly” because many small communitarian societies in which there is no profit motive have worked very well. Native American tribes are a prime example.)

Without the profit motive we wouldn’t have much in the way of mining, oil and gas, skyscrapers, bridges, food production, housing, biotech, retail, fashion, banking and air travel — in short, all the elements of modern industrial society. It is also an indispensable part of any realistic solution to third world poverty — though ironically so, as this poverty is almost always inextricably linked to the legacy of rapacious colonialism.

But the fact is that the best things we do as human beings are never motivated by the desire for profit. Not one poem is written, symphony composed, or masterpiece painted. Miep Gies did not hide the Frank family for money, nor was it the reason Mother Teresa tended the sick of Calcutta. It’s not why 99.9 percent of all athletes pick up a football, swim a mile, or run a marathon. It’s not why you read to your kids at night, tend to an aging parent, or stage an intervention for a drug-addicted friend.

Here are two lists. One denotes 10 things done solely with profit as an overriding motive; the other, 10 things in which the desire for profit plays little or no part. (If there is a related consequence, I put it in parentheses.)

Profit-Motivated

1. The Slave Trade (Civil War)
2. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
3. The Iraq War
4. Sex trafficking
5. Blood diamonds
6. The arms trade
7. The drug trade
8. The genocide of Native Americans
9. The destruction of rain forests
10. Off-shore drilling (The BP Disaster)

Little or No Profit Motive

1. Motherhood
2. Affection
3. Volunteering
4. The Arts
5. Play
6. Twelve-step Programs
7. National parks
8. Exploration
9. The Olympics
10. Education

The profit motive may be necessary, but “moral” hardly seems like the right adjective for it. Loan-sharking is not moral. Strip mining is not moral. Sweatshops are not moral. A world in which making money reigns as a supreme expression of morality would be a sorry utopia indeed. Greed may be inevitable, but the urge to accumulate as much as possible should be far down on the list of traits a society should ever want to anoint as one of its highest values.

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A Comparison of Ancient Rome to the United States:

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Okay, first off, many people incorrectly use the term “Roman Empire” to describe “Rome in general,” but that’s like calling the Germanic statesGermany.” The name is similar, but it’s wrong at its core. For most of its existence, Rome was not an Empire – Rome was the Roman Republic, and that’s what people usually compare the United States to. Probably because the United States has stolen SOOOO much from Rome. The Senate? Yeah, that’s a Roman thing. How about a Republic? Yeah, Rome started that too, right? How about ‘Murica’s favourite symbol? Yeah, Rome started that too! So Rome and the United States are SO similar! Right? Riiiiiight? Well screw you and your cherry picking of history. You know what? I want to compare Canada to China. They both have C starting their name and they both are countries with lots of land and they both have slanty eyed people. Anywhoozles, let’s go into detail on why the US, while similarish to Rome, is nothing like Rome.

First off, let’s put things in perspective. The United States is almost 250 years old. When Rome was 250 years old, it was nothing more than a city. A city embroiled in a conflict that spanned a century with the Veii, but still just a city. The United States started off as a republic, absorbing the ideals of classical nation states to uphold blah blah blah. Rome started out as a monarchy, because FUCK DA POLICE! Depending on what story you’re looking at, it could have been a dude raised by a wolf who decided “ROME BE HERE,” which is considered a legend by most sane people, or you could look at archaelogical evidence that shows that Rome was built over centuries due to it having a fantastic position, both defensively and for trade. Farmers in the area banded together, eventually creating the city.

  • First point against the similarities. Starting off, they were completely different.

Let’s look at some of the people Rome idolized – one in particular. His name was Cinncinnatus, and he’s commonly compared to the George Washington of Rome. To be fair, he didn’t have anything to do with Rome’s founding, didn’t save the country, didn’t fight in glorious wars or what have you. He fought one battle that he was famous for. But something that might differentiate him a bit from Washington….He was a dictator. To be fair, that word had a completely different connotation to the Romans of antiquity. Cinncinnatus was the model of a perfect Roman. He was conservative, he was an honest farmer who worked just like every man, he was called by his people to take over in time of need (dictator), and as soon as that need ended, he resigned and went back to his farm. He was only dictator for two weeks the first time, and one week the second. So comparable…ish to Washington? But then you realize that while Rome idolized a man known for poverty, Washington was one of the richest presidents of all time. Washington is frequently described as an unattractive man – even the flattering portraits don’t attempt to show him otherwise. He’s always depicted in his full dress clothes. Meanwhile, Cinncinnatus is rarely depicted in his full getup (toga), being more well known for his farming lifestyle – the only physical description we have of him is that he was hardy, but aging.

  • So Rome and America idolize two different caricatures. One is a wealthy aristocrat, fighting against impossible odds, despite his own imperfections. The other is a poor man, coming to his people’s aid in time of need, immediately dropping the power as soon as that time of need expired.

Next – on to the system of governments. They’re both Republics though, right? What could POSSIBLY be different there! Well uh, just about everything, really. Let’s start off with a quick description of the system in the US. We have three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial. They all have checks and balances on each other, and they all get along wonderfully, thanks to the framework of our constitution, etc etc etc.

Well, let’s check out Rome’s system of government. They had a Senate of 900 men, who were “elected” from the Senatorial class of Rome. In other words, you had to be born into the right family to get into the Senate. Now, I’ll know you’re thinking “Well, the US is a bit of an oligarchy too ’cause you have to have lots of money and contacts and stuff to run for office,” but the problem with that is that legally, anyone who meets the age and citizenship requirements can run for office. Not so in Rome. Heading the Senate, they had two consuls who were “elected” (again, mostly from the aristocratic patrician class – though plebians were allowed to run for consul), who were the equivalent of the President. They served one year terms, had the power of veto (including on each other, which made for fun politics, especially when they only served one year terms), they had administrative, legislative, judicial, religious, and military power. They would often lead the armies of Rome in battle, unlike US presidents – it was their duty to do so.

Rome had no “judicial” branch, per se. Heck, you couldn’t even pay someone else to defend you in court. However, someone COULD volunteer to defend you. So you could give them a gift for being such a good, close friend! Or you could give them a loan at 0% interest that they would never have to repay, just because they were in dire financial straits! So Rome had the best judiciary that money could buy – but for big cases (like the Good Goddess scandal), the Senate was the judge, jury, and executioner.

Taxes were also handled differently – I don’t believe the Roman tax system changed over much during the transition from a Republic to an Empire, (but I can tell you about how it was done during the Republic.) Simply put, the Romans used contractors.

There were quite a few different classes in Roman society – plebiansequestrians, the senatorial class, and the patricians.The ones that are involved with Rome’s tax system are the equestrians, who are sometimes called the “knight class” of Rome (The name hints at it a bit) They were also (generally) the businessmen of Rome – essentially the wealthy guys who know they have power, but prefer to remain a bit behind the scenes with it. They don’t need to be involved in political battles, risking their lives (and fortunes) to try to achieve a political position.

Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way! There were a whole BUNCH of different kinds of taxes – and not all of them were money as we might think it (over 300,000 long tons of grain were shipped from Egypt and North Africa to Rome ANNUALLY). The United States has the tribitum capitis, which was a tax imposed on the population of certain provinces. The tax was not equal, and was a tax either from property that wasn’t land or a poll tax levied as acapitatio (taxes paid per head, or per animal – these taxes were only paid by the lower classes who were not wealthy enough to pay taxes on their whole property as assessed by the census. Only healthy men who could work – 14-65 – were assessed, but not in equal measure.) *Remember, this tax was only for the colonies!

So, in Rome the Contractors would hold “auctions.” They would put…say…Gaul or Hispania up on the table and say “Ok! We have Gaul here! Who’s going to get the most money from them?” And the bidding would start off. Whoever promised the most money to Rome from the province was granted tax collecting privileges in that province. As you can imagine, this system was rather corrupt, and people made their fortunes off of it. Tax collectors would take TONS more money than was required of them and pocket some before sending it higher up to the man in charge. He would pocket all the extra and send the required amount to Rome. Tax collectors were Roman officials, so they had the local garrisons of legions on their side – and the subjugated people had generally learned their lesson. These guys were known as the publicani.

The Republic actually made the claim that it raised fewer taxes in provinces than the preceding Hellenistic kingdoms and did not introduce new ones. To be fair, that’s almost true – the poll tax that was started by Augustus was the only significant new tax imposed before the late third century. Granted, that’s not to say that the taxes that were paid were INEXPENSIVE…but hey, you can’t have everything, right?

Ah, but there’s another tax I hadn’t talked about! There’s the tributum soli, which is, in English, the land tax of Rome. They taxed all land, forests, croplands, ships, slaves, animals, and other moveable property. This tax was solid so long as the armies of Rome kept bringing in massive amounts of loot from their conquests, but it proved to be REALLY insufficient later on, when Rome stopped expanding. Later emperors increased taxes on the land, with the result being that farmers abandoned their less productive fields, slashing agricultural output. The emperors increased the frequency of collection, which eventually converted the tax into a sales tax.

Finally, you have another piece to the puzzle that The United States has nothing like. You have the tribunes. The tribunes are considered by some to be one of the major catalysts of the Fall of the Republic, and there are some good reasons for that. The tribunes had the power to veto anything (including each other, including each other’s vetoes), and they were elected by the people to one year terms. The well-known ones were either demagogues or puppets – sometimes they served the Senate’s interests, sometimes they served their own/the peoples’. They could propose laws directly to the people, whipping them up into a mob until the Senate was forced to submit. The most famous ones also had a knack for getting killed off.

  • So, their governmental system was ALSO nothing like the United States. On the surface, maybe. In action? Not so much.

Another thing I want to point out is that the military system for Rome was completely different from the system of the United States, especially after the Marian reforms. Before the reforms, Rome didn’t really have a standing army – it had citizen levies. In other words, a glorified militia. Probably the best militia the world has ever seen, but still… not a standing, trained army (like the United States.) When the Marian reforms happened and the army became a standing army, their loyalty was not to Rome or to the consuls – it was to their individual generals, who were the ones who gave the soldiers their pay, land, rewards, loot, and comforts. Hence the constant string of civil wars, when the generals decided to use that power to their advantage.

Finally…the Fall of Rome. Both the Republic and the Empire. First off, the fall of the Republic. You can analyze the last century of the Republic and point to all the dominoes that fell, and sometimes make comparisons (you can compare the US to the Mongols if you really want to.) However, the last fifty years of the Republic was like nothing the United States has ever seen. It was the equivalent of the US being at war with South America, Europe, and China all at the same time, while being devastated by constant civil war. And when I say constant, I mean that Rome went through six civil wars in about sixty years. Yeah, that’s fucking nuts! The US went through ONE and is still recovering. The people of Rome were GRATEFUL for the centralization of power, just because it was an end to the chaos. Oh right, and Rome was completely bankrupt too – something that the US isn’t anywhere close to.

Now, the Roman Empire’s fall. The Empire had a WHOLE lot more against it than the Republic. First off, it was split in half ’cause it was too damn big. So the Eastern half was too far away to help the Western half when it needed it. And the Western half was facing random civil wars every few years whenever a general felt like being Emperor, revolts all OVER the place by the “barbarians” in those provinces, they cut Briton off because they couldn’t afford to keep it any more, barbarians were invading and plundering everything throughout the nation, AND Rome was so far beyond bankrupt it wasn’t even funny. Oh right, and famines were happening too (on and off from 400 to 800; may have killed 20 percent of the empire’s population.) And plagues (in the 500’s.) And earthquakes.

Yeah, it was way worse than the fall of the Republic, and that was WAY worse than anything the US has ever faced. Ever.

I’m not saying that there were no important similarities between Rome and the United States. Blanket, all-encompassing statements like that are just as bad as people saying that the US is the reincarnation of Rome. However, what I’m saying is that Rome and the United States are not comparable. The thing is, there are comparisons that can be made with any country, time period, government, or situation. That doesn’t necessarily make them accurate so much as it makes them people trying to construct a straw man to prove their point. The reason I explained Rome’s governmental system as I did was because most of Rome’s problems were caused by its government. And that government, strangely enough, was so alien to us that it wouldn’t even be considered a modern democracy. Which debunks most of the points people make right there. One of the few points I can sort of agree with is that many of Rome’s troubles (and downfall) were caused by incessant infighting by their political factions – the Optimates (conservatives) and the Populares (liberals.) However, that comparison can also be debunked a hundred different ways. First off, you’ll note the fact that I said factions rather than parties – there were no political parties. Secondly, Rome had no police force, so gang warfare was a huge element in these political machinations. Thirdly, technology has changed so much that it’s impossible to compare these speakers who could whip a crowd into a mob with their passionate language to “Yes We Can.” And the mob was a HUGE force in Rome, whereas today, you can just get your news from the TV. Of course, who were the ones whipping up these mobs in the first place? Generally, it was the tribunes. A position that the United States does not have.


OH YEAH, remember that time David Vitter f*cked a bunch of prostitutes on the taxpayer’s dime while being a “family values” crusader?

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Senator “Diaperman” David Vitter basically wants Louisiana to be exempt from any EPA regulations. (It shouldn’t take more than a generation for the entire population of the state to die of cancer, before someone in the legislative branch realizes that this isn’t a great idea.) So he wrote a ten point pro-shutdown listicle (Here’s the link: t.co/ujgRIWMndk) on how shutdown was great, because it meant there was no EPA.

Given that disposable diapers are such an environmental problem, isn’t this a huge conflict of interest?

Most of the list mocks the EPA’s inability to enforce Clean Water Act standards and oversee mining and drilling safety, because the agency has been forced to furlough 90 percent or 15,000 of its workforce. The listicle says to be glad that, “Fewer bureaucrats at the EPA makes it less likely that they’ll make up science on new regulations,” and that “World War II veterans have stormed the Normandy beaches again. (Sadly, they had to, in order to gain access to their own memorial).” Diaper Dave’s list also says it’s good news that EPA workers can’t carry out established laws like the Clean Water Act or raid mines that allegedly violate it, that the Interior Department can’t review permits for oil production, and oil and gas drillers can continue on the public lands closed to the public.

It is a good thing we do not need the environment anymore!

Diaper Dave apparently believes it is acceptable to be swimming around in a pool of feces, crude, pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, radionucliotides, breathing sulfur dioxide, NOx, ozone, chlorinated hydrocarbons and on and on. Not to mention that we are already screwed by the amount of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere.

He has unintentionally written the talking points for the Democratic challenger he will face in his next election cycle. It’s always interesting to me when I discover I’m actually smarter than a Legislator because he or she is dumb enough to prove it by either putting it to print or by opening their mouths.

We need to get this man (who has decided to make it his personal mission to be the mouthpiece of every nemesis of Captain Planet) out of the Senate and get someone in there who is willing to defend our human right to live in a healthy and safe environment (by strengthening environmental laws, etc.), as well as acknowledging and confronting the devastation that climate change will bring to our state.

Vitter


BP Oil Spill:

“The sea that bares her bosom to the moon; The winds that will be howling at all hours …For this, for everything, we are out of tune.” 

Currently in the Gulf of Mexico, the most toxic pollutants known to man are being sprayed to disperse one of the most toxic pollutants known to man; unleashed as a result of man’s fallibility, in a near-global addiction to consumerism – it must be an environmental apocalypse now. One dispersant Corexit 9500, is four times as toxic as oil, and also disrupts the reproductive systems of organisms.

Attempting to capture the images, the lens appeared less than clear, then I realized it was not the lens, but the tears streaming down my face, in response to witnessing overwhelming minutes of beauty beyond imagination. Suddenly, was a certainty of feeling blessed, to understand poet John Gillespie Magee’s words : “…in the sunlit silence, put out my hand, and touched the face of God.” Fifty dolphin have so far, been reported found dead. Experts estimate only one tenth of species which die will be washed up. The full toll of big oil’s “collateral damage”, now, previously and in the future, will likely never be known.

Bird species of the region include albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, frigatebirds, cormorants, gannets, boobies, gulls, terns and skimmers. With temperatures of one hundred degrees and birds becoming oil covered, experts warn they are boiling, alive. The thick, tarry oil, absorbs the heat.

The many turtle species lay their eggs on or near the beach where they were born. Conservationists are removing eggs to unpolluted shores hundreds of miles away, where hopefully they will survive but another extraordinary natural miracle will have been severed. Four hundred and thirty two turtles have been found dead since April.

The Gulf’s Loggerhead turtle’s hatchlings follow the light of the moon to reach the ocean and swim to safety, away from land’s predators, when they emerge from the egg. For the tiny moon followers, the ocean itself has become their ultimate predator.