The Mandatory Mercy of Goldman Sachs

You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations
     – Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”
 

The horrid, big, rich scoundrel.
      – Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now

For months, journalists and politicians have heaped indignation upon our nation’s leading bankers for being, as we term it, “tone-deaf.”  Bafflingly ignorant about appearance, colossally indifferent to public opinion, many of our country’s financial directors have awarded themselves and their peers vast sums of shareholders’ and, it may be felt, taxpayers’ money as salary and bonus payments for contributing powerfully to the domestic and global economic collapse.  No one has displayed more ignorance of or arrogance about public reaction than the directors of our society’s most influential and successful bank, Goldman Sachs.  Nor has any other bank received more ignominy.

Goldman reserved from its earnings nearly $17 billion for compensation during the first three quarters of 2009.  The bank’s solvency was protected – was made possible – by previous taxpayer-funded government payments and loan guarantees.   Taxpayers’ outrage and politicians’ incensed criticisms evidently surprised the bank’s leaders.  Their initial responses, unapologetic, indignant, intractable, were beyond “tone-deaf.”  They were unprincipled, callous, and astonishingly incompetent.

Belatedly, damage-control specialists conceived that a public ignored and a government defied perchance might make for future political complications.  Their most recent attempt at tardy remedy?  Compulsory charity. 

On January 11, 2010, The New York Times reported:    

As it prepares to pay out big bonuses to employees, Goldman Sachs is considering expanding a program that would require executives and top managers to give a certain percentage of their earnings to charity.

The move would be the latest in a series of initiatives by Goldman to soften criticism over the size of its bonuses, which are expected to be among the largest on Wall Street, bringing average pay to about $595,000 for each employee — with far higher amounts for top performers…

While the details of the latest charity initiative are still under discussion, the firm’s executives have been looking at expanding their current charitable requirements for months and trying to understand whether such gestures would damp public anger over pay, according to a person familiar with the matter who did not want to be identified because of the delicacy of the pay issue.

Here’s a wild guess, a stab in the dark.  “Such gestures,” we assert, will not “damp public anger.”  Such gestures may well, though, intensify it. 

It’s not the case that we who abide in the realm of the public despise charity.  We revere it, and we practice it.  However, we do so in emotions of sincere concern and care.  Not to “damp” other people’s anger.  Not to dupe other persons or newspapers or our government into believing we are compassionate or generous.  Not to make any impression whatsoever, but to aid.  Without calculus, to shelter.  Without manipulative intent, to give succor.  

Mercy, which is compassion toward those who are in distress, by its nature cannot be mandatory.  Altruism, which is unselfish devotion to the welfare of others, cannot be obligatory.  Charity, which is benevolent helpfulness for the suffering, cannot be compulsory.  Certainly it cannot be an insidious artful maneuver.

Fool us with mandatory mercy?  Dupe us with obligatory altruism?  Gull us with involuntary empathy? 

Clams clinging to our coastlines have more commonsense than these guys.  But, of course, it’s not that these guys don’t get it.  They just don’t care.  Their avarice is limitless.  It’s confiscatory. 

Greed and indifference on this scale belong to a species other than the normally human.  When the American president proposes to tax this species heavily, he is pressing against the confines of the U.S. Constitution.  Yet we who inhabit the body politic are not likely to think our president has gone tone-deaf or craven when he does this.  We are likely to sing his praises, send him hosannas, and urge our elected representatives to support his indignant initiative.

What Children Need – Part 1

 – I am, a stride at a time.  [James Joyce, Ulysses]

For more than forty years, I have taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in schools and universities.  In the context of these profound and elemental fields of learning, students of all ages often have confided in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

From my students I have learned that nothing in life is more important for human beings than our experience of parenting.  How we are parented almost always determines how we conceive of ourselves, other people, life, and the universe:  how we exist, how we seek, what we achieve, and what we accomplish.

There is no single method or formulaic means of parenting that is suitable for every parent and ideal for every child.  However, children do seem to experience several universal requirements.

What children need

Children have three fundamental and essential needs.  They need their parents to:

1.      Know their true nature

2.      Love their true nature

3.      Nurture their true nature

The child’s true nature

Children need their parents to know them for who they actually and individually are.  This sounds both simple and evident.  It is neither.

We accept that all of us have unique fingerprint whorls, retina patterns, and speech timbres.  We understand that all of us have singular DNA compositions.  We realize that every snowdrop is distinctive and matchless.  We believe in theory that every human being also is unique, singular, distinctive, and matchless.  In the lives we live, though, we often find it impossible to apply this belief to our children.

Instead, parents vision their children.  Many parents attempt to program their children.  Consciously and unconsciously, we hope and expect – in many cases, we require – that our children will evolve into people who will fulfill our preexisting ideas about them.  Frequently these ideas express one or more paradigmatic but hidden aspects of our negative egotism:

  • Our dreams about ourselves.  We want our children to be the person we wish we had become.
  • Our parents’ dreams about ourselves.  We want our children to fulfill our parents’ expectations about us.  We ask our children to remedy our inability to fulfill our parents’ often unreasonable hopes and requirements.  We require our children to accomplish the inevitably incomplete missions of our childhood.
  • Our ideals about our identity in society.  We want our children to reflect to the world our normalcy, rectitude, and consequence.  We demand our children demonstrate by their commitments, manner, and achievements that we are correct, worthy, responsible, good adults.

We rarely consciously apprehend when we surrender to any of these subliminal impulses.  No doubt we always leaven our irrational and unfair impulses with authentic love.  However, our children invariably discern, fear, and resent our unconscious contortions.  And in their fright and anger about the manipulations we unknowingly impose upon them, they often cannot detect the true love that shapes and informs our behaviors.

What do children do with their frustrations?

How do children express their frustrations with our parenting?

Often they don’t know that they do feel frustrated.  Children rarely understand themselves any better than we parents understand ourselves.

In any event, it might not matter if children could fully comprehend their wish not fulfill our subliminal agendas.  Children rarely can advocate for themselves, and they almost never can acquire advocacy from society.  Society is primarily organized by and for adults.

In time, though, all children discover that they do have abundant power.  Primal, prepotent power.  Later we will talk much more about children’s reluctant discovery and complex, uneager exercise of their unique authority.

The sad struggle

We who parent continuously struggle to impose our unconscious preconceptions and our seemingly all-powerful will upon our children.  But over the course of their developmental years, our children invariably find ways to demonstrate and eventually to embody their inherent character and true constitution.  In every element and aspect of their existence, they express their sensibility and enact their personality.  They display their likes, tastes, wants, and talents.  They indicate their dislikes, disinterests, and disinclinations – the sum of which conveys not necessarily their weaknesses, but rather their own preferences and potential life directions.

All children expect that the parents who birthed them will know them, and will rejoice in their inborn nature.  They expect we will hear them, see them, and revel in their unadulterated actuality.  Not prefer them to be different from who they actively are.  Not require them to fulfill mandates external to their spirit and psyche.  Not oblige them to develop interests and talents they lack.  Not hector and hound them to become replicas of other, somehow more desirable children.  Not yearn or insist that they be thinner, taller, prettier, more handsome, more graceful, smarter, more practical, more spiritual, more this, more that.

Every daughter and every son’s most urgent life need is to become known, accepted, and cherished by other people:  particularly and principally by their own parents.  At one or another level of awareness, every child thinks, always:  I reveal my spirit and my soul to you so clearly.  Please see me, hear me, know me.  Please love me:  “As I am.  As I am.  All, or not at all.” [These lines are spoken by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses.]

Nurturing nature

If we can recognize and love our children’s intrinsic character and consciousness, we can devote our parenting to fostering all the passion, confidence, capability, and creativity with which life or The Divine has gifted them.  We can help them build their own pathways of power.  We can help them incubate, protect, and limitlessly expand their sacred infinite potential for happiness and success.

This is not an easy role, for we often cannot help but respond to our own fierce subliminal drives:  our need to fulfill our parents’ imperatives, our mandate to be perceived in our community and culture as adequate and correct adults, our yearning that our child will evolve into the person we hoped to become.

Our task – this should be a joyful mission – also is challenging because our children may well be different from ourselves.  Radically different.  Am I by birth, predilection, and choice mathematically inclined?  Devoted to and gifted at intellection, cerebration, calculus, the numeric?  What if my daughter in her mind and soul is an intuitive?  What if she possesses the faculty of attaining to direct cognition and knowledge without evident rational thought and inference?  What if she’s an ecstatic, and doesn’t thrill at all to the discipline of numbers and their operations, interrelations, combinations, generalizations, and abstractions, the science of space configurations and their structure, measurement, transformations, and generalizations?  It may be that  my daughter, unlike me, was birthed to become a poet.  Perhaps a savant.  A healer.  My opposite, yet not apostate.  My opposite, but not my opponent.

Our children need from us precisely what we needed from our parents, and most likely did not completely receive.  Our children need us to perceive, treasure, and nourish their genuine essence and identity.  They need us to help that flourish.  Not fear it.  Not dread it.  Not prefer something else to it.  Not improve it.

The social imperative

We want our children to understand, embrace, and develop their full inborn potential.  However, we also want them to comprehend, move fluidly within, and ideally exercise effective and just leadership upon their social and civic surround.  We need them to establish what we have sought to establish:  a suitable balance between their innate sensibility and the civilization that houses their individuality and enables its power.

This is the ultimate project of our children’s selfhood and our parenting:  how to create a middle path between the extremism of unfettered personality and overly intolerant conformism.

__________

We continue this conversation in an essay entitled:  “What children need – 2.”

U.S. Relief Command

The recent events in Haiti demonstrate that the United States must develop a new Military Relief Command. 

The U.S. Relief Command should be modeled on the Marine Corps:  an essentially autonomous, highly trained, pre-equipped rapid response body that swiftly can deliver and operate anywhere in the world:

  • Emergency food, water, shelter, and sanitation supplies
  • Earth-moving equipment
  • Comprehensive emergency and long-term medical care capabilities
  • Emergency and long-term telecommunications services
  • Temporary and long-term government functionality
  • Security for populace and relief workers

The Command should be led by a General George S. Patton of relief. A formidable, indefatigable, entrepreneurial, universally admired and deservedly feared problem-solver with a history of pre-eminent effectiveness in armed services leadership.  A person who will place the urgent humane aid objective before all other goals, constituencies, and practicalities.  A person who enjoys, and who is known to enjoy, the complete confidence of the President of the United States. 

The Command should control its own air, naval, and land transportation assets, its own supply depots, and its own telecommunications systems. These may well be comprised of existing military resources outmoded for modern combat, but well-suited for domestic and worldwide relief needs.

The Command should have at its disposal and be able swiftly to transport, house, feed, and equip a National Reserve of trained human services volunteers who are willing to be called to duty as needed.  

The Command should report directly to the Secretary of Defense, and be deployed at the order of the President. 

By Act of Congress, the Command should have the authority, subject to approval by the President, to impose military controls as needed over domestic and international jurisdictions.  For example, the Command should be able to exercise control over air, seaport, rail, and highway traffic in areas affected by disaster.

Lead From The Heart

“Which way am I heading?

President Obama is a brilliant man, but he delivered a banal State of the Union address last week.  It was a speech shrouded in shrill anger, tedious sloganeering, tendentious posturing.  It was a performance rooted in ritualistic tilts, nods, bobs, weaves.  Our president sounded tired, and looked defeated.  In a Victorian novel, it would be said that he was bilious. 

His audience was worse.  Democrats rising and clamoring with every invocation of 50-year-old clichés.  Republicans refusing to rise, staring grimly at cameras or primly at one another.  Everywhere, for nearly 90 minutes, we beheld every conceivable tepid symbol, emblem, talisman, and totem of old paradigm Capital consciousness.  It looked as it is:  devoid of higher truth, empty and inane, and consciously malignant. 

Our nation and society confront enormous problems.  Some are ancient, but many are entirely new.  All are immensely complex, and all are imposing immense injury upon multitudes of individuals, our body politic, and the planet we share. 

Our lawmakers, jurists, military officers, and chief executive sat, stood, sat again, in their mausoleum, clasped in soporific cadences, trapped in morose meaningless jingoisms, locked in scarcely concealed platitudes.  The hundreds of persons preening in that marble chamber style and name themselves leaders.  However, not one living soul in that audience, and certainly not our president who nominally addressed them, manifested any substantial awareness of the true State of the Union.  Nor did one living soul appear authentically to care.

We expect little, maybe nothing, of Senators or Representatives.  But we do count on much from our senior uniformed officers and our senior jurists, whom we want and need to believe are men and women of honor, keen intelligence, and genuinely patriotic selflessness.  We surely expect and need much from President Obama.  Not for four decades have the American people felt so much excited hope for the presidency, and for the president himself.  Agree with him or disagree with him, President Obama has seemed to a large majority of American people and a massive majority of international citizens to be a genius of politics, an intellectual of major importance, and a spiritual presence of the greatest significance.  To a great many people at home and abroad, President Obama has seemed to be a noble human being.  It was for this reason that the American electorate elevated to power.

The broad perception of our president’s distinctness and distinction has not emerged by accident.  President Obama campaigned magnificently for election.  He deployed his extraordinary talents to this purpose, and he did so with unprecedented effectiveness.  He presented himself splendidly as the being whom the world has come to believe he actually is:  a man of the highest intellect and most decent, righteous spirit who acts from his lovely heart.

Where is President Obama’s mind these days?  In what does he believe?  What are his ideals?  What does he seek?  A kaleidoscope of least common denominators, parsed in secret through heinous compromises with ward bosses, venal interest groups, and their wee minions? 

This potentially very great leader was elected to end now a tragic and terrible national tendency toward reductiveness and violence in our foreign policy.  He was elected to end now mindless class conflict and parochial sectarian quarrelsomeness in our domestic affairs.  He was elected to dialogue and discourse with us all on the most elevated plane of reasoned passion.

Yet, two disgraceful wars continue.  The war in Iraq is utterly mindless, and always has been.  The war in Afghanistan is neither sustainable nor winnable.  The cost of these horrid, unnecessary, and unjustifiable battles in lives, welfare, and national treasure is disastrous and heartrending.  And a new war in Yemen is undeclared, and is rapidly spawning. 

Domestic political affairs remain paralyzed in provincial polarity.  Angry unfelt prating passes for dialogue and discourse.  Selfish careless extremism masquerades as thought.  Implacable biases and loud orations impersonate as actions. 

Our economic woes, awful as these are, are but epidermal.  Our nation and many of our people are spiraling into ever more perilous states of confusion, emptiness, and anger.

Where is our president, who believed himself to be and who genuinely was the leader for our times?  And what union was he describing last week?  What state did he believe he was naming, and what conditions did he imagine he was healing?  “It’s not my fault” is a locution that belongs to adolescents.  Tossing imaginary sums of money aloft into the ether is a tactic that belongs to demagogues and miscreants.  Reading a committee’s clichés and inanities from a visible teleprompter is the error of incompetents. 

What has gone wrong? 

Our president has become captured.  He has become incarcerated by his deputies.  He poignantly if subconsciously signaled his awareness of this predicament when, after his speech, as he passed slowly through a throng of acolytes, the network microphones picked up his sad question to the Senate and House ushers:  “Which way am I heading?

A great leader surrounds himself with advisors of exceptional ability and experience.  He listens to them.  He savors learned astuteness.  But he does not yield his essence.  He does not cede his spirit, core, soul, and true meaning.  He remembers, always and deeply, that he and he alone was elected to leadership by the entire nation in its peopled wisdom.  

A great leader seeks mentors.  He convenes counselors, he hears them, and he esteems them.  Then he takes himself away for a swim, a walk, basketball, Camp David, am entirely private congress with his sensate self.  He thanks his head very much, adjourns it, and turns to his heart. 

A great leader knows his heart to be his compass tried and true.  He knows his heart’s voice, as no one else does.  He listens, ultimately and finally, to this voice alone.  He hears in its teachings his counselor supreme.  He sees in its teachings his highest truth and his most correct pathways.  He articulates the truths and pathways of his heart to his deputies, and to his fellow-citizens.  And he, they, and we joyfully join minds and souls and follow – into the desert, to the moon, across impossibly yawning crevices and chasms, straight through the most daunting obstacles, clear around and beyond even the most onerous challenges.

President Barack Obama is a person of rare and wonderful brilliance.  He was born to lead himself and our nation well beyond norms now ossified, far above worn destructive paradigms now prevailing.  He has had only one year in presidency, and he visibly has learned much.  He will find his way.

This may be the redeeming gift of his purely terrible first State of the Union address to the Congress and the American people.  Our president’s eyes and his body language expressed palpable anger and marked impatience with himself.  He knows what has gone wrong.  He surely will discover how to relocate his heart, and how to heed it.  This man is a very quick study, and he leads from his heart.

He had best hurry.  The State of the Union is severely imperiled.

Ecole Haiti

 

The terrible tragedy in Haiti cannot be accepted, and it cannot be redeemed. 

The only use the tragedy can have, the only gift it can confer, will be if the calamity leads to fundamental change in the people’s consciousness, capability, and control of their nation.  This can only occur only from upon a platform of universal, locally supported, locally meaningful education.

This site is written by an experienced educator with many trusted friends in key professional fields.  We will use the gifts and experience we have been given in life to create Ecole Haiti.

Ecole Haiti will have many branches, linked to orphanages that own student-developed and student-maintained farms and fisheries.  

In the beginning, there will be no traditional western grade levels or curriculum.  Everyone will live together, study together, work together, and advance together. 

Students will study only what most matters for Haiti’s circumstances and needs.  Initially, remedial literacy in English and French/Creole, foundational mathematics, science principles linked to health, wellness, agronomy, husbandry, and fishery, and essential life skills.  As learners advance in confidence and capability, emphasis will be placed on advanced language, mathematics, science, and history; leadership in community-building and nation-building; business and other life skills; and university readiness.  At all stages, learners will study Haitian heritage, culture, and faith traditions.

Ecole Haiti will operate on an all-year basis.  At the end of the instructional day, students and staff will maintain the school’s farm and fishery.  The yield will feed the community.  Excess production will be sold.  

The schools will operate with minimal equipment in inexpensive, earthquake-safe, easily maintained tents with locally managed electric and septic resources.   

Students will pay no fees.  All staff will be volunteers who will receive compensation only if the school’s finances eventually permit.  Retired international teachers and other retired or active professionals will be welcomed as faculty.

There will be no capital drive plan, although successful athletes and entertainers from Haiti will be encouraged to help.  The Divine will provide.   

A detailed plan design follows in PowerPoint format.

Ecole Haiti.ppt

Signs of the Times

Carlyle-seated 

– There is still a real magic in the action and reaction of minds on one another.  [Thomas Carlyle] 

 

In 1829, a young man from Scotland published an essay entitled Signs of the Times.  Carlyle was unknown, and seemingly ill-equipped for consequence or celebrity.  Yet the essay seemed to all who read it utterly original, acutely prescient, and powerfully persuasive, and it launched a career in authorship of the utmost significance.  Carlyle went on to write numerous essays, biographies, and volumes that strikingly analyzed and influentially criticized the culture and society in which he lived.

1829 was an important year in England and Europe.  A lengthy era of rural, agronomic civilization was changing precipitously.  Opinions and beliefs that had seemed fixed certainties and were almost universally shared became broadly challenged.  Profound changes in science and technology fostered and fueled stunningly swift changes in the ways in which multitudes of people gained their living, organized their lives, and conducted their experience.  The basis of human existence began to shift from farming in village, estate, and family constructs to working for hire in impersonal, often inhumane factories and cities.  Stratification and conflict replaced previously prevailing systems of seemingly synergistic cooperation.

The preeminent constant in human life was becoming change itself.  The preeminent value was becoming personal gain, measured principally in cash money.  Previous ideas and imaginations about coherence, community, and holism were fracturing.  Beliefs about and communions with God were becoming far more questioned than most individuals could comprehend or readily countenance.  Philosophies about and comfort with society and government were becoming rooted in angry or aggrieved consciousness of economic class, rather than a common awareness of pleased citizenship.  On every front, ideas and ideals seemed under siege, altering, vanishing.

For some, this made a condition for excitement, hope, and confidence.  Perhaps, the optimists believed, human beings now had it in their power radically to improve their existence.  For others, the evolution into the industrial age produced suffering, woe, hopelessness.

Carlyle was one of the first thinkers to recognize and react to the phenomena of change that were transfiguring the polities and psyches of his age.  His generation of contemporaries passionately respected his brilliant analyses of and fervent replies to the transformational changes in human experience and sensibility that characterized his times.

 __________

We inhabit a similar moment in history.  We,too, are living during an era in which a multitude of changes, all mighty, none minor, are altering profoundly the fundaments of human identity and the terms of our existence.  Science and technology have discovered more during our generation than, arguably, all previous peoples ever have learned.   Since 1989, the geopolitical and economic architectures of the world have changed almost entirely.  The mechanisms, modes, and imprint of communication have become revolutionized.  Throughout much of the world, demographics are altering rapidly.  Politics and their poetics are shifting swiftly and unpredictably, with sweeping import.  Many people’s viewpoints and values are undergoing momentous modifications.  Individual and group behaviors are enduring historic adjustment – perhaps actual mutation.  Substantial, seemingly intractable conflicts are appearing among multiple social groups within individual nations and across crucial cultures. Most informed scientists believe our species’ attitudes and behaviors are changing, potentially irreversibly, the nature of nature.  We may well have imperiled the planet that houses and nurtures us.

For some, as during the age of Carlyle, this topos of extraordinary change makes a condition for excitement, hope, discovery, and creation.  For others, the contemporary era is producing disturbance, dislocation, economic and emotional distress.  For a vast, largely inarticulate mass of the earth’s population our times are generating despair.

__________

For all peoples who ever have lived, reasoned conversation among persons of good mind and good always has been important, lively, and lovely.  In eras such as Carlyle’s and our own, reasoned conversation is essential to our power to understand our conditions, and vital to our ability to choose courses of thought, principle, and action in response to them.

This essay is a greeting, and an invitation.  Let those who feel interest in the spirit of our age talk together about the signs of our time and their meanings.  Let us laud what we find praiseworthy in our age.  Let us object gently to processes and products we find dangerous to our dignity and damaging to our happiness.  Let us create means to resist and refute the broad and powerful tendency of our times to isolate and alienate.  Let us embrace our unparalleled opportunities to speak with one another across the reaches of space, time, culture, and generation about our shared humanity, our fondest hopes, and our highest aspirations.

__________

This is the first of a series of ongoing observations and reflections that I will publish about the signs of our times.  I will organize these essays around such key subjects in contemporary life as:

  • Health & human welfare in the modernist era
  • Education & learning in the age of science & technology
  • Parenting in the 21st century
  • Economics & geopolitics:  thought, policy, & judgment across cultures
  • Celebrations of transformative leaders & works in the modernist civilization

I’ve chosen this means of publishing because, in common with so many other paradigms that once seemed absolute, inevitable, even idyllic, we now know that traditional print, television, and radio media are severely compromised and increasingly inaccessible.  The instrument by which we here may speak with one another is owned by no one, is open to all, and need satisfy no imperatives other than candidness, clarity, generosity of spirit, and hunger for truth.