Monday, June 1, 2020

#153 / Remembering The Reichstag Fire

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and Professor of History at Boston College, where she teaches courses on the American Civil War, the Reconstruction Era, the American West, and the Plains Indians. Most recently, she has been writing a daily blog that she titles, "Letters From An American." On May 30, 2020, she had this to say:

It is too early to know what is actually happening inside the protests and riots happening in cities across the country, especially Minneapolis, after the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin there on Monday. That is, we know there are protests and looting and violence, but who is doing what remains unclear, and will stay unclear for a while. There are plenty of videos and tweets, but they can only give us windows into events, not a full picture. 
That being said, there do seem to be some patterns emerging. 
The protests began as Black Americans and allies protested Floyd’s murder, coming, as it did, after a number of similar murders—such as Breonna Taylor’s, shot in her own home during a botched police raid—that illuminated police brutality against Black Americans. Quickly, though, the protests appeared to turn into something else, as more people—possibly (and I would guess probably) from outside the cities—rushed in to create chaos. 
It is not clear who these people are. This morning, Trump tweeted that the protesters at the White House were “professionally organized,” and midday, Attorney General Barr gave a hasty press conference in which he claimed that “outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda.” He said, “in many places, it appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far-left extremist groups, using antifa-like tactics, many of whom travel from outside the state to promote the violence (emphasis added)."

When I read those words, late Saturday night (Richardson's emailed notices almost always arrive quite late in the evening), a chill passed through my body. I was remembering the "Reichstag Fire," of which BBC History Magazine gives this account: 

Portrayed by Adolf Hitler's cabinet as part of a Communist plot to overthrow the state, the fire was exploited to secure President von Hindenburg's approval for an emergency decree - the Decree for the Protection of the People and the State. 
Popularly known as the Reichstag Fire Decree, it suspended freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to assembly, and permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge. 
The fire was blamed on 24-year-old Dutch Communist stonemason, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was arrested at the scene. But while he was initially dismissed abroad as a Nazi tool, post-war historians since the 1960s have largely judged him solely guilty – a lone arsonist exploited by Hitler. 
In his book, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery, professor of history and former trial lawyer, Benjamin Carter Hett, argues it was the Nazis who set fire to Reichstag in order to seize dictatorial power.

Democracy is never inevitable. We must insist upon it, if we want it, even when it seems to be failing.

If we don't do that, if we don't double down on democratic self-government when we are faced with extraordinary and almost impossible challenges, if we "call in the army" to resolve conflicts and to respond to incidents that threaten to upset everything, then.....

We can say, "goodbye" to democracy and must prepare ourselves for what comes next.

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Sunday, May 31, 2020

#152 / One More Time For The Vietnam Generation

If you instantly recognize this picture, you are probably one of the members of the "Vietnam Generation" to whom I am particularly addressing today's blog post. For those who don't recognize the picture, this is Mario Savio, standing on top of a car in UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza. 

As Wikipedia reports, Savio was "an American activist and a key member in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. He is most famous for his passionate speeches, especially the 'put your bodies upon the gears' address given at Sproul Hall, University of California, Berkeley on December 2, 1964." I have reproduced the full text of Savio's speech at the end of this posting. You can also listen to an audio/video recording of the speech by clicking this link

I was in my fourth year at Stanford University when Savio gave that speech. I recognized the picture instantly. Savio's call to "put your bodies upon the gears" was an appeal that spoke directly to me. I heeded that call, four years later, when I voluntarily gave up my then-student deferment and refused induction into the armed forces in Oakland, California. Many in the "Vietnam Generation" changed their lives sometime during this period, from 1964 to 1968. Savio's speech wasn't the only reason, of course; there was a lot going on, but this speech did epitomize the kind of response that many in that "Vietnam Generation" felt was necessary, to stop what one of Bob Dylan's albums called a "World Gone Wrong." 

Some who "put their bodies upon the gears" in the 1960s and early 1970s died or were mangled. Many did not suffer such consequences. I certainly didn't. I came back to law school, got my JD, passed the California Bar Exam, went to Theological Seminary in New York City for a year, became a general practitioner in Santa Cruz, California, got elected to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, served for twenty years in that position, headed up two wonderfrul nonprofit organizations, and then ended up (right now) teaching undergraduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. 

So far, at least, I have not told the students in my classes to "put their bodies upon the gears," but sometimes I am tempted to do that. The world is still going wrong. Really, really wrong! 

Instead of exhorting young students to do something about that fact, I am starting to think that it is really my turn to do something - our turn, really, those who might self-identify as the "Vietnam Generation," as I am calling it here. Savio's speech still echoses for me, and I am thinking that it might be the moment to spend some of my remaining time trying to do what that "Vietnam Generation" did not accomplish before.

Despite our efforts in the 1960s and 1970s, neither racism, nor militarism, nor economic injustice has disappeared. In fact, they are "surging," to use the language of the coronavirus pandemic. In the 1960s there was a "surge" towards racial and economic justice, towards a world at peace, and those who might self-identify as members of the "Vietnam Generation" should be proud of our efforts to confront and counteract the "operation of the machine." 

But... The machine grinds on, and now the entire Natural World is at peril. Our situation is worse than when Savio made his speech. So, pay attention to this, the famous part: 

There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus -- and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it -- that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!!

Every day, I am feeling more and more that way. It could be time for those who can self-identify as the "Vietnam Generation," those who responded to Savio in 1964, and to others like him, to make  one more effort to make the machine stop.


You know, I just wanna say one brief thing about something the previous speaker said. I didn't wanna spend too much time on that 'cause I don't think it's important enough. But one thing is worth considering.

He's the -- He's the nominal head of an organization supposedly representative of the undergraduates. Whereas in fact under the current director it derives -- its authority is delegated power from the Administration. It's totally unrepresentative of the graduate students and TAs.

But he made the following statement (I quote): "I would ask all those who are not definitely committed to the FSM cause to stay away from demonstration." Alright, now listen to this: "For all upper division students who are interested in alleviating the TA shortage problem, I would encourage you to offer your services to Department Chairmen and Advisors." That has two things: A strike breaker and a fink.

I'd like to say -- like to say one other thing about a union problem. Upstairs you may have noticed they're ready on the 2nd floor of Sproul Hall, Locals 40 and 127 of the Painters Union are painting the inside of the 2nd floor of Sproul Hall. Now, apparently that action had been planned some time in the past. I've tried to contact those unions. Unfortunately -- and [it] tears my heart out -- they're as bureaucratized as the Administration. It's difficult to get through to anyone in authority there. Very sad. We're still -- We're still making an attempt. Those people up there have no desire to interfere with what we're doing. I would ask that they be considered and that they not be heckled in any way. And I think that -- you know -- while there's unfortunately no sense of -- no sense of solidarity at this point between unions and students, there at least need be no -- you know -- excessively hard feelings between the two groups.

Now, there are at least two ways in which sit-ins and civil disobedience and whatever -- least two major ways in which it can occur. One, when a law exists, is promulgated, which is totally unacceptable to people and they violate it again and again and again till it's rescinded, appealed. Alright, but there's another way. There's another way. Sometimes, the form of the law is such as to render impossible its effective violation -- as a method to have it repealed. Sometimes, the grievances of people are more -- extend more -- to more than just the law, extend to a whole mode of arbitrary power, a whole mode of arbitrary exercise of arbitrary power.

And that's what we have here. We have an autocracy which -- which runs this university. It's managed. We were told the following: If President Kerr actually tried to get something more liberal out of the Regents in his telephone conversation, why didn't he make some public statement to that effect? And the answer we received -- from a well-meaning liberal -- was the following: He said, "Would you ever imagine the manager of a firm making a statement publicly in opposition to his Board of Directors?" That's the answer.

Well I ask you to consider -- if this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the Board of Directors, and if President Kerr in fact is the manager, then I tell you something -- the faculty are a bunch of employees and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to be -- have any process upon us. Don't mean to be made into any product! Don't mean -- Don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings!

And that -- that brings me to the second mode of civil disobedience. There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus -- and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it -- that unless you're free the machine will be prevented from working at all!! (emphasis added)

That doesn't mean -- I know it will be interpreted to mean, unfortunately, by the bigots who run The Examiner, for example -- That doesn't mean that you have to break anything. One thousand people sitting down some place, not letting anybody by, not [letting] anything happen, can stop any machine, including this machine! And it will stop!!

We're gonna do the following -- and the greater the number of people, the safer they'll be and the more effective it will be. We're going, once again, to march up to the 2nd floor of Sproul Hall. And we're gonna conduct our lives for awhile in the 2nd floor of Sproul Hall. We'll show movies, for example. We tried to get Un Chant d'Amour and [they] shut them off. Unfortunately, that's tied up in the court because of a lot of squeamish moral mothers for a moral America and other people on the outside. The same people who get all their ideas out of the San Francisco Examiner. Sad, sad. But, Mr. Landau -- Mr. Landau has gotten us some other films.

Likewise, we'll do something -- we'll do something which hasn't occurred at this University in a good long time! We're going to have real classes up there! They're gonna be freedom schools conducted up there! We're going to have classes on [the] 1st and 14th amendments!! We're gonna spend our time learning about the things this University is afraid that we know! We're going to learn about freedom up there, and we're going to learn by doing!!

Now, we've had some good, long rallies.

[Rally organizers inform Savio that Joan Baez has arrived.]

Just one moment. We've had some good, long rallies. And I think I'm sicker of rallies than anyone else here. She's not going to be long. I'd like to introduce one last person -- one last person before we enter Sproul Hall. Yeah. And the person is Joan Baez.

Joan Baez, On The Steps of Sproul Hall, 1964

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

#151 / Sir Roger Scruton, Scrutinized

It wasn't until after he died, and I read an econmium to him in an online post in The American Conservative, that I became acquainted with Sir Roger Scruton. If you click the link to his name, you will find a Wikipedia write-up. If you click this link, you will be transported to Scruton's own website. This link will take you to the salute to Scruton I mentioned above. Rod Dreher, whom I have followed since he was written up, himself, in The New Yorker, called his tribute to Scruton, "The Sacred Roger Scruton." 

Having seen Dreher's column, and not having previously heard about Scruton, I followed up a link in what Dreher had written, and was provided with an opportunity to hear what Dr. Mark Dooley thought about Scruton. Dooley, who is an Irish philosopher and newspaper columnist, loved Scruton. This is evidenced by the fact that Dooley wrote a whole book about him, Conversations With Roger Scruton

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apparently hailed Scruton as “the greatest modern conservative thinker," but Scruton is not universally loved or admired in the United Kingdom. Another commentator from the British Isles, Tom Whyman, who is also a writer and a philosopher, says that "Roger Scruton helped make things worse." 

I enjoyed the learning tour that I have documented above, which I would call: Scruton, Scrutinized! I certainly encourage others to follow my footsteps.

In the end, however, I return to the comment by Dreher that set me off on this adventure of investigation. Dreher quotes Dooley extensively, and this statement (Dooley by way of Dreher) is what made me want to find out more about Scruton: 

As we spoke that weekend, neither Roger nor I had any sense that he was so close to death. Indeed, he was convinced that he was edging closer to remission, and that we ought to plan books and interviews for his YouTube channel. And yet, I was struck by how he repeatedly insisted that his life’s work had been a spiritual endeavour. In all the time I had known him, he had rarely used that word. Was he saying that his copious writings were somehow quasi-religious, or that they offered a mystical vision of the world? In hindsight, I think he was using it synonymously with another term he regularly employed: the sacred. In my books on Scruton, I consistently emphasised this theme of the sacred which has featured, either directly or implicitly, since his earliest works on aesthetics and architecture. But what does he mean by it? The best insight is offered in an essay from 1986, entitled ‘The Philosopher on Dover Beach’: ‘[T]he free being is incarnate, and to see human life as a vehicle for freedom – to see a face where the scientist sees flesh and bone – is to recognise that this, at least, is sacred, that this small piece of earthly matter is not to be treated as a means to our purposes, but as an end in itself’.

I sometimes think we can best understand life by penetrating beyond activity and appearance to what I postulate are fundamental "categories" that allow us successfully to understand and to operate in the world in which we live. These "categories" are something like, but not quite the same thing as, Plato's forms.

I frequently say that my favorite category is "possibility." A close second would certainly be "the sacred." An appreciation for the fact that there is such a thing as the sacred is not bound up with conservatism, either, whether of the political or the religious variety. Jerry Mander is a writer and activist who comes at his commentaries from a distinctly "leftwing" perspective. I know that I have previously written in this blog that my own readers should read Mander's book, In The Absence of the Sacred. I recommend it again, right now.

In my view, unless and until we can begin to understand that this Earth is sacred, and that every person and thing within it is sacred, too, and until we act accordingly, we will deserve the fate that we can all see, now, is coming so swiftly down upon us

It was fun to scrutinize Scruton. 

But let's start scrutinizing ourselves, too. We need to realize that the "political world" in which we most immediately live has become a world that is ever more dismissive of the sacred World of Nature, the world that surrounds and sustains us, and upon which we are ultimately dependent. Only as we truly come to understand and appreciate this will we be able to do what we must do to allow our own human world to survive. 

We must scrutinize ourselves, and then change our lives, accordingly.

You could start with Mander's book, if you want to take this comment seriously!

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Friday, May 29, 2020

#150 / Twofer

The picture above graces an article published on Medium on May 22, 2020. Here's the title of the article: "It's Not That I'm Negative, America Really is Screwed."

Alternatively, you can get pretty much the same bad news from a May 22, 2020, article in The New York Times. That article is titled, "Another 2.4 Million Jobs Vanish, And Many May Be Gone Forever." 

In my continuing effort to make sure that those who read this blog don't miss any bad news, you can consider today's posting a "twofer."

Looking at our contemporary economic situation, it does seem that things are bad and that we are, to use that technical term, "screwed." Can I just remind everyone, however, that observing all the bad news is only step one. After we assess the territory, we then have the option of changing our situation by taking action. 

umair haque, the author of the article in Medium (and I gather he doesn't use capitals when he spells out his name), actually does admit the possibility - slight though he may believe it to be - that we could escape our current social, economic, and political disaster, and he even points out one way we could do it: 

Give people money. No strings attached, no questions asked, now, on a large-scale, more or less permanently, forget how much needs to be borrowed to make it happen. So people can fund a working society again. Or else. That’s the big question for America. The rest is noise. Until something along those lines begins to take shape — my answer is simple: Americans made themselves too poor to now afford to have the luxury of a functioning, civilized, modern society. Or is all that a necessity?

Quoted above is the conclusion to haque's article. You really do need to read the whole thing to understand exactly where haque is coming from. As for The Times, its article is more reportorial than hortatory, but the economic message is similar. 

As I intimated in my blog posting last Tuesday, there is a way to accomplish what haque is calling for, and something that would probably have considerably more political appeal than just "giving people money." As mentioned in that recent blog posting, the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps was a great success. People got paid, and good work was done. Let me also alert readers to the Works Progress Administration, a more comprehensive example of governmental action based on the same idea: people get paid and good work gets done. 

haque's article is on target in pointing out that the United States has not invested in the kind of physical and social infrastructure needed to maintain a successful society. But.... we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, and we could decide to do something like this: 

  • We, collectively, could decide that we will act as an "employer of last resort." The private market for everything will continue to work, just as it always has; however, we, collectively, will pay any person in this country a living wage, if they want to work for us, and we'll find work that they can do, and that will help build and strengthen the nation.
  • That work can include (as examples only, and not by way of limitation), planting trees, building public works, providing childcare services, taking care of and fostering community gardens to provide low-cost healthy food, acting as home health aids, providng artistic services, including free public music and public art, building houses that the government will own, and then make available to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford a place to live, etc. You get the idea. There is lots of work to be done, and if people need money, they can come work for the community, because we all are, in fact, part of the community. 
  • That plan will do what haque says needs to be done, and that conventional economists at the Federal Reserve say needs to be done; namely, it "gives people money." It also gets good work accomplished. 
Any chance this will happen?

Well, not if we read articles online and in the newspapers and then tell ourselves "we're screwed," and make that determination based on the judgment that what we see right now is the best we will ever get, and that what exists now is the definition of all possibility. 

Sure, our politics is all screwed up, with corporate corruption fully in charge. 

Step one, observe what exists.

Step two, change what is unacceptable. 

In the end, we can be in charge. That was the whole idea of the original American Revolution. 

I think it's about "Time For A Replay," as I said last Tuesday!

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

#149 / No One Knows

On May 24, 2020, the "Sunday Review" section of The New York Times featured this headline on its front cover, along with the image I have put at the top of this blog: 


Mark Lilla's article, which appeared in the center spread, provided this further advice:

We live in a state of radical uncertainty. The first step is to accept it.

The remainder of the "Sunday Review" contained a number of typical "pundits prognosticating" columns, which was pretty ironic, I thought, since the big headline on the first page suggested that predictions are, basically, fruitless. 

Just to reiterate a point I make frequently, sometimes citing to Karl Marx' Theses on Feuerbach, our attempts to "predict" the future are not only fruitless, as Lilla's headline states, but are doubly misguided. Efforts to "predict" the future put us in danger of missing out on what it means to be alive in the first place. The point of life is not to approach life as an "observer," and to try to discern what will happen to us; we must approach life as the "actors" we are, and seek to fashion the realities we create into the future we desire. 

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

#148 / Category Theory

In mid-December of last year, I protested the "equals sign" in a blog posting I titled, "False Equivalencies." The gist of my complaint was that we tend to import what we consider to be mathematical truths into our non-mathematical understandings of the world. When we say that something "is" something, we think of that "is" as an "equals sign," which means that we posit an identity, and an equivalence, and a permanence that are not, in fact an accurate understanding of reality. 

What "is," in our human world, is not, actually, only one thing. Furthermore, what "is," right now, does not mean that our current understanding of the reality we are describing will always be correct. That is because we can change our human realities by human action. 

Using the word "is," as an "equals sign," can deprive us of a full understanding of the complexity and wonder of the world in which we live, and can strip from us the realization of the power we possess to transform existing realities by human action. 

Imagine my surprise and delight when I read an article in Quanta Magazine that proclaims, "With Category Theory, Mathematics Escapes From Equality." 

As I understand the article (which I probably don't, really, but which I recommend nonetheless, especially if you are comfortable with mathematics), the mathematician pictured below, Jacob Lurie, has essentially taken the insight that I suggested applied in the "human world" and has sought to prove that this is an insight that applies within the world of mathematics, too. The "equals sign," even in mathematics, can state a "false equality." 

If true, I think this is helpful, since we do tend to believe that we live in only "one" world, which has to have the same "rules" applicable in all spheres. I am still holding out for my "Two Worlds" hypothesis, which says that the "rules" in the World of Nature are different from the "rules" in the Human World, which is the "political world" that we create. I know that this understanding runs against the grain for many. Thus, if my insight about the "equals sign" applies not only within the "human world," but is consistent with a proper understanding of mathematics, too, I am more than happy!

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

#147 / Time For A Replay?

Sierra Club California publishes a regular Desert Report. It is truly an impressive magazine, and the March 2020 issue had a wonderful article entitled, "Not To Be Forgotten: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Death Valley National Park." You can hunt the article down by using the link I have provided to the magazine, and then downloading a PDF version of the March 2020 issue.

I thought there were some good lessons to be learned from the article on the work that the CCC did in Death Valley. We do need to get the nation "back to work," correct? There is a lot to be done, right? Just as one example, we could try to get our nation out of "freefall," and start rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. Or..... we could plant trees, like The Overstory suggests might be appropriate. 

I would like to think that our nation is ready for a whole new approach to politics and the economy. I think the CCC is quite the model. 

Time for a replay!

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Monday, May 25, 2020

#146 / One Poem A Day

I enjoy getting my "poem-a-day" from the Academy of American Poets. These poems come free, too! Click the link if you would like to sign up. 

On Saturday, January 18, 2020, the following poem came into my email inbox. Myra Viola Wilds (pictured below) expresses very nicely, I think, why I write these daily blog postings. 

I find her thoughts appropriate for all of us, bloggers, poets, or not!


What kind of thoughts now, do you carry
In your travels day by day
Are they bright and lofty visions,
Or neglected, gone astray?

Matters not how great in fancy,
Or what deeds of skill you’ve wrought;
Man, though high may be his station,
Is no better than his thoughts.

Catch your thoughts and hold them tightly,
Let each one an honor be;
Purge them, scourge them, burnish brightly,
Then in love set each one free.

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

#145 / Jesus As Sociologist

Most of my friends, I think, find "Jesus" pretty hard to take. I have never actually polled my friends, but I know that many of them do find it quite difficult to get their mind around someone whom many claim to be God himself, rendered in human form, someone who died and then rose from the dead, and who will return at the End of Days to judge the world. Those are, of course, some of the religious claims of Christianity.

Just for this blog post, at least, let's set the religious and theological questions aside, and think of Jesus as a "sociologist," as someone whose observations of how the world works are worthy of attention. The image above is of Jesus giving the "Sermon on the Mount," which is one place where some of Jesus' most pertinent observations were imparted to his followers. 

Jesus reportedly said two things that are rather radical in their implications, but that are "sociological" observations, the way I see it, and not necessarily religious directives. 

First, Jesus said "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." This is, emphatically, not actually a call for you to donate to the church (though you'll hear that phrase, quite often, when the pastor passes the collection plate). What this observation actually tells us (and it is an "observation," not a directive) is that if we invest our time and money in any cause, then we will love and support that cause. 

I, personally, have found this to be quite true. When I donate to "Save The Redwoods," I love the redwoods even more than I did before. And the same is true with respect to all the other causes, including political causes and campaigns, to which I contribute. 

The lesson (not a directive) is that if you would like something to happen in the world, give money! Give the treasure of your time and effort. Properly understood, Jesus' observation is another way of saying that we do not change the world by observation, but by action, and the actions that will most signifcantly change the world (and change us) are the actions by which we give our resources to the causes we support. Jesus tells us that we "support" them because we have given our treasure to them (not the other way around). 

I consider this to be an infallible guide to the kind of action that can change the world. Since I think that the American Revolution was one of the "main events" in human history, I do not think that it is a coincidence that the revolutionaries defined their status as revolutionaries by pledging their "lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor."

Here is the second one of Jesus' sayings I would like to highlight. It is another truth that I would call "sociological": "To find your life you must lose it." 

Life is a supreme and unexpected gift which has been given to us all. I take Jesus to mean that we should appreciate this gift, and let the life we have been given carry us along, instead of thinking of our lives are something that we, personally, create. "Your" life is the life you construct, the kind of life in which we might work for a "good career," for more money, or fame, or for some other accomplishment that we think is important. If we can trick ourselves into losing that focus on "our" life, on our own accomplishments as the definition of our life, if we can respond "to life," instead of presuming to treat life as our own construction project, we will truly find the life that is seeking us. 

I consider this approach to life to be another infallible guide to the kind of action that can change the world. Indeed, this is a revolutionary saying. 

Recently, I said in one of these blog postings that we need to face the challenge of our human-caused global warming crisis with some lessons from Utopia, and to seek out actions that are new, and unexpected. We need to undertake actions that have never been seen or thought of before. 

Giving our treasure to the causes that inspire us, and giving up our own plans and projects, going forward, and counting on life to support us, are "utopian" ideas, indeed. Jesus, as sociologist, tells us that they work!

I consider these observations to be the most reliable guide we can follow, right now, as we consider how we must transform our lives and change the world.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

#144 / Dwight

Dwight Clark is pictured above. NO, he's not the football Dwight Clark. The Dwight Clark pictured was the Dean of Freshman Men at Stanford University when I showed up on campus in 1961. Here is a quick history of Dwight's involvement with Volunteers in Asia, taken from the VIA website and from the website of Learning Across Borders (both organizations that he founded and led):

VIA began in 1963 when Dwight Clark, then Stanford’s Dean of Freshman Men, organized a summer project with Stanford University students. The students assisted programs serving Chinese refugees in Hong Kong through rooftop schools, medical clinics, recreation programs, and road building. The summer reshaped many of these students’ personal and professional goals. They so valued the benefits of their cross-cultural experience that they recruited other students for similar projects. In 1966, the program was incorporated under the name Volunteers in Asia, now VIA.
Dwight Clark ... founded Volunteers in Asia (VIA) and served as its President for 40 years; under his leadership, VIA has sent thousands of American students to volunteer in Asia and has brought thousands of Asian students to Stanford University for a wide range of short-term study programs. Upon retirement from VIA, [Dwight] started Learning Across Borders, a non-profit educational organization which offers experiential programs in Southeast Asia for Japanese and Taiwanese university students. He shares his time between California and Asia.

As it turned out, I was one of those thousands of students sent to volunteer in Asia, thanks to Dwight Clark and VIA. My recruitment, though, was perhaps just a little bit out of the ordinary. I certainly never applied!

I knew Dwight because I came in contact with him during my freshman year at Stanford. As Dean of Freshman Men, Dwight presided over Wilbur Hall, the freshman men's dorm that was my home during my first year at the university. In addition, a few of my friends were among the very first students who went to Hong Kong and to other parts of Asia in the very early days, as Dwight developed the VIA program. I got to know Dwight pretty well, but I was definitely not an "early adopter" into the ranks of VIA Volunteers. In fact, it never occurred to me that I would ever want to spend my summer in Asia, teaching English to Chinese students, or otherwise working in some similar task undertaken by those who participated in the VIA program. 

In 1968, though, I did take on a summer assignment with VIA, to teach English vocabulary at Linson College, located in Macau, which was then a Portugese colony, located on the China mainland, and which was just a forty-five minute ferry ride away from Hong Kong. Here is how it happened.

Perhaps mainly because I was a draft resister, I became a regular Attender at the Palo Alto Friends Meeting (the Quakers) sometime in 1965 or so, and I continued attending Meeting as I went from being an undergraduate to being a student at Stanford Law School. Dwight, too, attended Meeting - another reason I knew him - and one day in the late spring of 1968, as I was sitting quietly in Meeting, "centering down," as the Quakers call it, but before the official beginning of worship, Dwight came in and sat down right next to me. 

Quakers worship in silence, and they only talk (or they are only supposed to talk, at least) when moved by the Spirit. I took the commitment to Silent Worship very seriously, and I did not favor little friendly conversations with others as Friends came in, just before Meeting began. Dwight, however, after sitting down next to me, immediately began trying to recruit me into the upcoming VIA summer program, since the person who had signed up for Macau had unexpectedly had to drop out. Frankly, I was a bit irritated. I remember that. I don't think I was hostile in my response, and I am not sure whether Dwight ever realized I was not at all pleased that he would pull me out of my preparations for the Meeting with this proposition that I should head to Asia in something like three weeks. 

At any rate, as the Meeting came to order and silent worship began, I told Dwight, "thanks," but also, and very definitively, I told him, "no." 

During Meeting for Worship that day (and this kind of thing is exactly what Quakers always expect from Silent Worship), I received a very powerful, and in fact overwhelming, message that I should accept Dwight's offer. At the rise of Meeting, I turned to him, to clasp hands in our traditional end-of-Meeting practice, and told Dwight "yes." 

Another VIA volunteer on that summer trip was Marilyn Dilworth, an undergraduate student who was partial to draft resisters, and we were married in the Palo Alto Friends Meeting in 1969, just about one year and three months after that Meeting in which I got the message to become a VIA volunteer. I probably never properly thanked Dwight for his irritating intervention in my life, but I am pretty sure I did tell him this story. That encounter with Dwight very significantly changed my life - and I am very happy that it did!

Dwight Clark also gave me one other gift, which I received during that summer trip with the 1968 VIA Summer Volunteers. Before we all went to our assignments, the entire group visited Japan, and Taiwan, and we often walked between various appointments as a group. Dwight was there, in charge, with the difficult task of keeping us on schedule, and keeping us together, and keeping us all heading in the right direction. As we sauntered down a lush, tropical path somewhere (it was probably on Taiwan, but I can't remember exactly), I vividly recall how Dwight came trotting up from the back of the group, and gave us all this friendly encouragement and admonition as he moved up past the stragglers to reach the front of the line: 

Feel Free To Jog

To whatever task I have subsequently been assigned, in all sorts of circumstances, I have always found Dwight's suggestion to be good advice! Dwight's suggestion that I should "feel free to jog" has proven to be a very good way to think about life itself!

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Friday, May 22, 2020

#143 / I'm Gonna Sit Right Down...

... and write myself a letter!
Click on the video link to hear Billy Williams sing a song that I think I heard my Dad and Mom sing, back when I was still a kid. There have been a lot of different artists who have covered the song, way beyond Philips and Alma Patton. That even includes Paul McCartney. You can do an internet search and find a lot more links.

As far as I am concerned, this song ought to be listed as an "oldy but goody," though it doesn't seem to have made a 35-song "oldies but goodies" list published in 2017 by the Odyssey website, or a more recent 30-song list published by Spotify. Despite what musical authorities may say, by way of identifying "oldies but goodies," my parents' endorsement is enough for me!

What prompts this blog post, however, is not this song itself, and its romantic conceit, but something completely different. I love the song, but I would like to draw your attention to another "write yourself a letter" idea. 

On Sunday, January 26, 2020, The New York Times Book Review included an essay by novelist Ann Napolitano, entitled, "Dear Me." Here's the story.

When Napolitano was fourteen years old, she sat right down and wrote herself a letter, but that letter was dated and sealed, and was to be opened only in ten-years' time. Napolitano did wait for it, too, so she was twenty-four when she read that letter from the past.

After having read the letter she wrote to herself at fourteen, the twenty-four year old Napolitano wrote another letter to herself, to be opened when she reached the age of thirty-four. At thirty-four, she did it again, and she did the same at forty-four, too. That last letter has yet to be read, since Napolitano has not yet reached her fifty-fourth birthday. 

I was quite struck by this exercise. I think Napolitano's essay is worth reading - and particularly by my younger friends. 

If Socrates was right in claiming that "the unexamined life is not worth living," then this "sit right down and write yourself a letter" idea can be one way to help you discover just how worthwhile your life has really been, and is.

That is always something good to know!

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

#142 / Earthly And Worldly (Two Worlds)

Pictured is Roger Berkowitz, who is the Founder and Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities. The Hannah Arendt Center is associated with Bard College, which is located at Annandale-on-Hudson, in upstate New York. If you click on the following link, you will find that I have made it possible for you to read one of Roger Berkowitz' recent papers, "The Human Condition Today: The Challenge of Science."

I can't really claim to "hang out" with Berkowitz on any kind of regular basis (though I would certainly like to be able to make that claim). I do think I can legitimately assert that I have a kind of personal connection to him. Berkowitz presides over an online Virtual Reading Group on Hannah Arendt, which has regular, scheduled meetings, and which meetings I have frequently attended. Since I consider Hannah Arendt to be one of the most profoundly important thinkers of our modern time, and since Berkowitz is certainly one of the most important scholars who has engaged with Arendt's thinking, it is always a privilege to participate in the online discussions over which he presides. If you are willing to make a rather modest contribution to the Hannah Arendt Center, you can join the Virtual Reading Group. Consider this my encouragement for you to do just that!

If you click on the link to Berkowitz' article, provided in the first paragraph of this blog post, that click will take you right to the article. The article is only five and a half pages long, but be advised; it is not exactly what I would call "light reading." The article provides an excellent commentary - very brief, as I have just said - on one of Arendt's most important books, The Human Condition. You don't have to have read the book to be able to understand and profit from the article.

Anyone who has regularly read my postings to this blog (which I now call "We Live In A Political World") will probably remember that the blog used to be called, "Two Worlds." I have a theory, which I call my "Two Worlds Hypothesis," and that theory is briefly sketched at the top of the blog. I have always assumed that this "Two Worlds Hypothesis" is basically my own idea, since I have never come across it anywhere else - at least by that name. The Berkowitz article, when I read it not so long ago, made me see that a lot of what I have called the "Two Worlds Hypothesis" comes right out of Hannah Arendt. This is emphatically not discouraging to me. In fact, it makes me trust my judgment about the importance of the idea. 

If you are willing to spend some time with the "Two Worlds Hypothesis," please read on - and read the Berkowitz article on Arendt's The Human Condition. In what follows, I will comment on what Roger Berkowitz is saying about what Hannah Arendt is saying, and I will also say a few things myself!


Let me start by saying something about what I have called the "Two Worlds Hypothesis." 

It is my idea that we can best understand our situation in the world - what Arendt calls "the human condition" - by recognizing that we live, actually, not in a single, unified, world, but in "Two Worlds," simultaneously. As I am remembering it, I started thinking this when I realized that the word "law" has two, fundamentally different meanings.

The laws that apply in the physical world, the "World of Nature," are statements about what must and will happen. The Laws of Nature are perfectly descriptive, and you can't modify or repeal the Laws of Nature. The "Law of Gravity," for instance, or any other physical law, is not subject to modification or repeal. Thus, physical laws are statements that outline inevitabilities. The Natural World runs on these laws. We are finding this out, to our dismay, as we see the results of our emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. When you add CO2 and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the Earth heats up. There is no way around it; that's inevitable. The Laws of Nature describe just how this works, and our continuing release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is having huge impacts on the natural environment, all of which profoundly affects our own lives and affairs, in our own human world, in ways both large and small.

As a lawyer, I am quite attuned to the fact that human "laws" are not at all like the Law of Gravity. Human laws (same word) are completely different from the laws that operate in and govern the Natural World. Our human laws, above all, do not say what must and will happen. They tell us what we have decided we want to happen. Our human laws do not exemplify "inevitabilities," but make clear our "possibilities." They are not "descriptive," but "prescriptive." Human laws are the way we tell ourselves what we think we should do. They are also the result of a "political process." Click this link for my description of how we govern our human affairs by a formula that begins with "politics." 

Ultimately, we are completely dependent upon the World of Nature, into which we have been rather mysteriously born. If we ignore the laws that govern the World of Nature, we will pay a penalty, and we put our "Human World" in jeopardy whenever we do that. Global warming and climate change are making that abundantly clear. The effects of air pollution and water pollution on our human life are a couple of other examples. What "environmentalists" know (I am one) is that we are ultimately dependent on the World of Nature.

It is easy to forget our dependence on the Natural World, since we live most immediately (in fact almost entirely) in a "Political World," which is a world constructed by human activity, built by human choice and action. In this human world, most often called "human civilization," there is no "inevitability." Thus, our freedom to do "anything" within the world we most immediately inhabit makes us less senstive to the fact that we must ultimately depend upon the laws that govern the Natural World. 

The point of my "Two Worlds Hypothesis" is to remind us of that fact. It is imperative that we recognize that we do live in both of these worlds, simultaneously, even though our most immediate reference is to our own "Political World," a world that we construct for ourselves. I believe that this twofold nature of our existence is the defining mark of what Hannah Arendt calls "the Human Condition."

Most people who regularly read my blog probably skip over the statement that appears at the top of every post. That statement, however, in a very short space, does outline where I think we are: 

We live, simultaneously, in two different worlds. Ultimately, we live in the World of Nature, a world that we did not create and the world upon which all life depends. Most immediately, we inhabit a "human world" that we create ourselves. Because our human world is the result of our own choices and actions, we can say, quite properly, that we live, most immediately, in a “political world.” In this blog, I hope to explore the interaction of these two worlds that we call home.


In his article, "The Human Condition Today: The Challenge of Science," Roger Berkowitz analyzes and explains key portions of Hannah Arendt's wonderful book, The Human Condition. Arendt does not directly say that we live, simultaneously, in two different worlds, in a human, or "political world," and in the World of Nature, but she does say something that is almost the same thing. Here is how Berkowitz reports what Arendt does say: 

Humans are both earthly and worldly. To be humanly conditioned includes the fact that we are born and live on this earth. "The Earth," Arendt writes in her Prologue, "is the very quintessence of the human condition." At the same time, we humans are different from animals insofar as we transcend our earthly existence. She writes, "The human artifice of the world separates human existence from all mere animal environment." 

When I read this statement in Berkowitz' article, I understood, immediately, that my past reading of The Human Condition must certainly have helped me, however unconsciously, develop my "Two Worlds" idea. Our "Earthly" existence is our life on Planet Earth - the Natural World upon which we ultimately depend. However, unlike every other "animal," we "transcend our earthly existence," and we are thus "Worldly," as well as "Earthly."  We live, in other words, not immediately in nature, on Earth, but in an artificial space - our human world - which "separates human existence from all mere animal environment." We are not bound, solely, by the Laws of Nature. We have separated ourselves from Nature, so that our existence is most immediately located within a world of our own making. Berkowitz puts it this way: 

Humans thus are at once created and creating. 

I would say, we live in "two worlds."

Where does "science" come into this equation? Berkowitz, commenting on what Arendt has said in her book, notes that:

The human condition is threatened by the historical advent of modern science, which promises to overcome the split between man's biological mortality and his worldly immortality. The danger posed by science is pictured in the event of the launch of Sputnik, which made palpable that the long-deferred dream of mastering the earth was finally within reach of the human species. It was now possible that humans could leave the earth and build new worlds. We now can build a purely artificial world in a spaceship or on an artificial planet, one in which every object—the water, the earth, and even our bodies—would be artificially constructed and humanly made. Sputnik shows that we have finally acquired the technological means to free ourselves from our earthly home and our biological limits. We are finally free to make our world and ourselves in our image rather than to exist in God's image.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what we, as humans, are tempted to do. However, can we actually do that? Not if my "Two Worlds Hypothesis" is correct. I contend that we are ultimately dependent on the World of Nature, which might also be called "The World God Made." 

Berkowitz seems to suggest it would be possible for us to do what we "want," or are tempted to do, and completely to replace our continued existence within the "World God Made" by a life located completely in a world that we construct ourselves. In other words, Berkowitz seems to suggest that we are not ultimately dependent on the World of Nature, as I would argue we are. Science lets us escape that dependency. Berkowitz quotes Ray Kurzweil to this effect: 

“It would appear that intelligence is more powerful than physics.... Once matter evolves into smart matter (matter fully saturated with intelligent processes), it can manipulate other matter and energy to do its bidding (through fully suitably powerful engineering).... Such a civilization will then overcome gravity and other cosmological forces, and engineer a universe it wants.”

As Berkowitz contemplates this claim that human beings can use their "intelligence" and "science" to escape their dependence on the World of Nature, that claim is shortened to a statement that "intelligence is more powerful than physics." This is a claim that our human "laws" can supercede the "laws" that govern the natural world. I think not!

Ray Kurzweil, a "futurist" who is waiting fror the "singularity," thinks it will be just wonderful when humans are able to subjugate the laws of physics, and the other laws that govern the Natural World, to the unlimited possibilities inherent in human creativity. Berkowitz notes that Arendt, in examining this possibility, argues that we need to think about whether this is really something we want to do: 

"The question is only whether we wish to use our new scientific and technical knowledge in this direction, and this question cannot be decided by scientific means; it is a political question of the first order and therefore can hardly be left to the decision of professional scientists or professional politicians."

Berkowitz reports that Arendt had a name for the projects of human liberation so joyously heralded by Kurzweil and others. Arendt called it, "earth and world alienation." According to Berkowitz, Arendt "does not take a position in the argument." She just urges us all to "think what we are doing."

Sputnik did, as Arendt says, provide us with the idea that we could, as humans, live in a world completely of our own creation, "a purely artificial world in a spaceship or on an artificial planet, one in which every object—the water, the earth, and even our bodies—would be artificially constructed and humanly made."

But is this true? An "idea" is not a fact. It is my hypothesis that human beings are indeed both "created and creating," and any claim that our "creating" selves can somehow trump the fact that we are also "created," and thus subject to the laws that govern the World of Nature, is to deny the reality of our real situation - our "human condition."

If we continue to pursue the idea that we can ignore the laws that govern the Natural World (with Earth itself teaching us more, every day, that we can't), then our dreams of life on Mars, or somewhere else, will end in catastrophe for our human world and human civilization.

Arendt is definitely right in stating that we face "a political question of the first order," but we will get the wrong answer if we act as if all that matters is what we do in the world we build ourselves.

In the end, though we are both "Earthly" and "Worldly," as Arendt says, we ultimately live on the Earth, and that is our only home. We cannot create another Natural World, but must live under the laws that govern the one we have. It is upon the Earth, which we did not create, and into which were so mysteriously born, that we must ultimately depend. To assert otherwise, to suggest that we might be able to live in one world only - a world we create entirely ourselves - is to demonstrate that we are truly lost.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

#141 / Winning Isn't Everything - Is It?

"I don't want everybody to vote," Paul Weyrich, the conservative activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, said at a meeting in Dallas.

This statement by Paul Weyrich, a leader of the religious right, appears in an article that ran in The New York Times Magazine on May 10, 2020. The article, written by Emily Bazelon, is titled, "Can Democracy Survive The Pandemic?" That is the hard copy version of the title. Online, the article is titled, "Will Americans Lose Their Right to Vote in the Pandemic?"

Weyrich's statement, which was immediately offensive to me, was cited in the Bazelon article as a way to shock the reader. At least, I think that is why it was included. This statement, however, taken by itself, taken at face value, is actually a pretty realistic evaluation of the way that most of those involved in actual political campaigns think about voting.

Getting more votes than an opponent is how to win. If you are committed to winning, why should  you want the supporters of your opponent to come out and vote? Clearly, you hope they won't! 

In real world politics, with which I have some extensive experience at the local government level, much of the pre-election work of political campaigns is to identify supporters, so you can then mobilize those voters on election day. Your campaign will repeatedly call them, on election day, "bugging" them if they haven't yet voted, "bugging" them until they do! You may even provide transportation to the polls for those supporters who don't vote by mail, making sure they get there to cast the ballot you want and expect them to cast. No campaign of which I am aware, however, has ever provided rides to the polls for anyone whom the campaign thought might vote against the candidate or cause that the campaign was supporting.

If Weyrich's statement seems offensive to you (as I indicated that it is to me), that is probably because you have some sense that "winning isn't everything," and because you further sense that Weyrich probably doesn't buy into that moral precept. But what about this idea that, "Winning isn't everything?" 

Wikipedia, a fairly reliable guide to the world as it appears to the average person, doesn't even have an entry for the phrase, "Winning isn't everything." The Wikipedia entry is for this statement: 

Something is wrong when the only explanation for the "winning isn't everything" statement suggests that, in fact, winning is everything. My father and mother would not have approved!

In the political context, I would like to suggest that there is a huge difference between trying to win by mobilizing voters on your side, and trying to win by making efforts to "suppress" voters on the other side. 

Voter suppression, in fact, is a very practical way to make the "winning is the only thing" perspective work out in real life political elections. If the idea of voter suppression is offensive to you (as it is to me), then that must mean that you are more committed to maintaining the integrity of our democratic form of government than you are to making sure that your side will definitely win at all costs in the next upcoming election. 

"Bad money drives out good money," says Gresham's Law. Bad politics drives out good politics. You can call that "Patton's Law," if you'd like. I think we can see it happening all around us.

Those wanting to make fundamental changes at the federal government level are going to have to win the next presidential election, but they are facing the Weyrich perspective at every turn. Voter suppression worked for President Trump last time around, and it appears that his reelection campaign has doubled down on voter suppression as a major campaign strategy in the upcoming 2020 election. As I noted yesterday, it appears that the President even wants to get rid of the Post Office as a public institution! Think of that! Voting by mail won't even be possible if there isn't reliably available and universal mail service, and with a global pandemic likely to be in its "second surge" this election season, Weyrich's "I don't want everybody to vote" statement takes on a rather sinister meaning. 

Any observer of what is happening, politically, would have to wonder, as Bazelon asks, "will Americans lose their right to vote in the pandemic?" The New York Times Magazine was certainly right in putting the question this way, in its hard copy edition: "Can Democracy Survive The Pandemic?" 

If democracy is going to survive, we have got to stop bad politics from driving out the good. That means a much-increased engagement of ordinary people in our political process this November. There aren't any shortcuts!

The use of the post office image that heads up Bazelon's column - the image I have reproduced above - reinforces the point I made in my blog posting yesterday!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

#140 / Oh, Mama, Can This Really Be The End?

Ted Widmer, a professor at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York, wrote a column that appeared in The New York Times on May 16, 2020. As Widmer's headline put it, "The Postal Service Is Not a Joke." That was the hard-copy headline, and it referenced a statement by our president, asserting just the opposite. Our president has claimed that the United States Postal Service is "a joke."

This discussion about the future of our Postal Service brought a Bob Dylan song to mind; namely, "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again." That is a pretty long song, and the oft-repeated chorus is what has furnished my headline for today's blog posting: 

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again

If you are wondering what this Bob Dylan song has to do with the U.S. Postal Service, click the link above, which will provide you with the complete lyrics. Among them you will find this verse:

Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well
And I would send a message
To find out if she’s talked
But the post office has been stolen 
And the mailbox is locked

Dylan and Widmer are both on the same page. Locking up the post office is "no joke." In fact, it is something that can have a catastrophic import and impact, and that might well signify that "the end" has come. 

But the end of what? Here is an extensive excerpt from the Widmer column: 

It would be difficult to think of a time when we have depended more on the United States Postal Service. With tens of millions of Americans quarantined in their homes, the steady delivery of checks, letters, food and medical supplies is a lifeline. 
That goes especially for the elderly, the sick and the poor, the people most affected by the virus. They have limited access to laptops and phones, so Zoom is not an option for them. For these citizens, the sight of a blue uniform six days a week reminds that their government is there for them. 
Strangely, that same government is trying to undermine one of its most effective instruments. President Trump has dismissed the Postal Service as “a joke,” and last week he named Louis DeJoy, a major Republican Party donor with no experience in the agency, as his next postmaster general, replacing a lifelong postal employee. 
The president has also demanded that the Postal Service quadruple its shipping prices, motivated in part, it seems, by the desire to hurt one of its big users, Amazon. Mr. Trump’s drive to raise prices dovetails with the desire by many Republicans to either force the service to privatize or at least undercut it in favor of private shippers like FedEx. 
If prices are quadrupled, it will briefly inconvenience Amazon, which will simply pass on the expenses to its customers. But for the Americans most reliant on home delivery, this will come as a heavy new tax. At the same time, the service is in financial trouble; without major new funding, the service will run out of money in September, well before the November election — whose success may depend on a huge mail-in effort. 
The Postal Service was never supposed to be a moneymaking enterprise, or a political football. The founders understood that the reliable delivery of information was basic to democracy ... 
In 1792, he and James Madison pushed an act through Congress establishing a national system of post offices and post roads. The legislation specifically set a low rate for newspapers, so that Americans could learn about the issues of the day. As Washington wrote in his annual message of 1791, a strong postal system was essential to democracy, and would help to spread “a knowledge of the laws and proceedings of the government.”
In the years that followed, Europeans marveled at the efficiency of the American system. Alexis de Tocqueville noted an “astonishing circulation of letters and newspapers” everywhere he went. In good times and bad, the mail went out, to all of the country’s far-flung citizens. Even after the Civil War broke out, Abraham Lincoln insisted that the U.S. mail be delivered throughout the seceded states ... 
The Postal Service helped to heal the country by uniting North and South into one system again, and the introduction of rural free delivery in 1896 connected farm families to the wider world. The mail even facilitated immigration, allowing young migrants to let relatives know their whereabouts. In 1889, more than 87 million letters were sent between the United States and Europe. Letter carriers delivered the mail through the 1918 flu pandemic, and every other crisis of the 20th century. 
This rich tradition remains a source of pride for postal employees. The Postal Service has also strengthened democracy in a quieter way, through its commitment to diversity — 39 percent of its employees are people of color, and 40 percent are women. 
Americans may be living apart, by necessity; but it does not necessarily follow that we must be so divided. Thanks to our letter carriers, we are not. They show up every day, binding Americans together, as Lincoln hoped they would. Every delivery is a small act of union. 
The slogan on the old Farley Post Office building in New York proclaims these words: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” They were added by one of the building’s architects, William Mitchell Kendall, who found the lines in Herodotus. Awkwardly, they describe the efficiency of the Persian couriers, whose descendants now populate Iran — an argument that may not win friends in the Trump administration. 
But if that inscription does not suit, there is another one close to the White House and the Capitol, easily read from the street, that reminds us of how much we get from our mail. The old Washington Post Office is now the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, close to Union Station. The inscription over its west entrance asserts that a letter carrier is not only the “consoler of the lonely,” but the “enlarger of the common life.” Common life endures, even in a crisis, as Washington, Lincoln and other presidents instinctively understood. Despite the president’s claims, the Postal Service is no joke.

Widmer is asserting, and I absolutely agree, that the Postal Service is central to our democracy. Actually, I think Bob Dylan is worrying about the same issue, although expressing himself poetically. Shutting down the Postal Service would not be a "joke," and it could even be "the end" to our system of representative democracy, something we tend to take for granted. 

I think we need to take this threat seriously. We know that the United States Senate will not hesitate to do virtually anything necessary to maintain the hegemony of the Republican Party, which represents the ultra-wealthy and the military and corporate powers that are seeking to "Rule The World," as Noam Chomsky puts it. 

If we don't have a Postal Service this November, it will be a lot easier to suppress votes, and to make sure that the results of the November 2020, election will return Donald Trump to power. As many of us know, this could "really be the end." 

So, heads up! Mobilizing ordinary people, across the nation, and across every kind of political dividing line, is what we are probably going to have to do, if we want to maintain the United States Postal Service - and, quite possibly, if we want to maintain the United States of America as a still-functioning democracy, and not a dictatorship.

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