Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're not in Kansas anymore!

The headline is an homage to The Wizard of Oz. I mean to convey the irony of thinking we live in a type of society that just doesn't exist anymore. At the time of the Wizard of Oz, we were full of hope, determination, grim entry into WWII, and people coming together for the common good. We've replaced The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with The Patriot Act, The Military Commissions Act, Presidential Signing Statements, The Ministry of Homeland Security (oops, sorry for the Freudian slip) I mean the Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Tasers, The Police State, Blackwater, and possible Martial Law.

In recent weeks, I've tried to extricate myself from all of the negativity of the news items, blogs, and political issues I follow. I've tried very hard to tell myself to just be positive. Things cannot be all that bad. I went and counseled with a couple of mentors recently and they advised that I stop being so angry and just serve at the discretion of the companies who pay my paycheck. What they don't realize is that what we've been called to as "servants" is serfdom. Now before I go too far on this rant, these individuals had the best intentions and I know what they said was good advice for prospering under the current system. And I do thank them for the advice, because it does work. However, for me, it comes with a cost tag attached. Namely, my spirit. Now on to the rest of the rant.

You remember serfdom right? It's that archaic state of being that has been coming back into vogue since the dawn of the industrial age.

Wikipedia defines it well:
Serfdom is the socio-economic status of peasants under feudalism, and specifically relates to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery seen primarily during the Middle Ages in Europe. Serfdom was the enforced labour of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to work on their leased fields.
More and more, this describes the current state of middle class America. When I bought my house, I only bought the right to live in the house. I don't actually own the land underneath the house. The state retained mineral rights to my property. I have to ask permission to dig or be slapped with a fine.

The lack of real choice extends further than any of us realizes. There is a legal tenet known as parens patriae that grants to the state the ability to usurp the rights of the natural parent. Under this theory is born the justification for mass public schooling. Even now, this is being applied to force vaccinations on students under threat of jail for the parents. This is happening in the United States of America. We have a very real class system that determines who will be poor, who will be middle class, and who will be in the elite. Your income determines where you will live and the level of education your children will receive. And worst of all, power is being consolidated into the hands of the twin central power brokers. Can you guess who they are? The Government and the Corporatocracy. In ages past, people feared the Church. What has been proven is that tyranny is no respecter of philosophies. Tyranny is inherent in the size of a ruling body. Such are the problems we are faced with today.

So during my morning news checks I come across the following tidbits. First, I learn that Wal-Mart has pursued and won on appeal a court case to recoup medical costs from a former employee. What did this woman do wrong? She trusted that companies have some kind of moral responsibility not to screw it's workers 10 ways from Sunday. Some of that restraint may have been evident in previous decades, but those shackles were thrown off long ago as greed has worked its way more deeply into our society. I can only wistfully think that Sam Walton is rolling over in his grave today. To think that the legacy he left his children is being usurped by those same children of such unsavory character as to allow a case like this to pass without comment, without compassion.

But the atrocities don't stop with the compromising corporations. Oh no. They learned it first from the new government "above the people, disdaining of the people, and undermining of the people." Yes, our wonderful government might as well just re institute the draft. It would be better than the false promises of bonuses and college educations. What good is a college education if you're not alive to attend? You see here, the good ol' US of A is claiming that since enlistees cannot fulfill their military obligation, they are not entitled to the bonuses that secured their enlistments in the first place. But it's not surprising since many of these men and women are viewed as little more than cannon fodder. And why should the U.S. government worry about good publicity? They don't have to. We are their captive audience and there is no where else we can go to complain.

You see, the moral of this story is that no contract with a large organization is ever going to be in your favor. You have no power. You are a Serf to "them." "Them" includes any organization that has grown large enough to be out of touch with the responsibility and accountability of it's services to those it means to govern or sell products and services to.

It is folly for us to believe that simply "voting with our dollars or votes" will change anything. The economic concept of Economies of Scale dictates that a large enough enterprise can withstand a large amount of disruption without seriously endangering the life of that entity. In layman's terms it means that the U.S. Government and many large corporations such as Wal-Mart have gotten too big for their britches. It's time we do something about it.

I'll bet you think I'm going to advocate a call to arms. Join a militia. Move to Vermont or some such. Are you crazy? Don't you know that Big Brother (read NSA) is monitoring all of our communications? Didn't you see what happened to Ruby Ridge? Waco? New Orleans? No. I'm smarter than to advocate that. But there are some things all of us can do.

First, get out of debt. I'm as deep in it as the next person so I feel your pain at the thought of resolving that problem. But the fact remains that the debtor is truly slave to the lender. You have no voice until that happens. Second, learn to live simply and work with your hands. Do you really need that McMansion? Do you really need the new iPhone? Sure it's cool. But do you NEED it?!? There are stories floating around about some people who are protesting the war by paying zero taxes. How do they do it? They have no taxable income. You can read about one of them here.

Next, pull your children out of public schools. They are not there to give your children an education. They are there to inculcate the children with the values of the state, regardless of the wishes of the parents. The children are indoctrinated as much as possible to give allegiance to the state first, God and and Family second. Did you know that our model for public schools comes from the Prussian model of a militarized state? How is it that the American populace was better educated and better informed in the late 1700's and early 1800's than they are today when there were no public schools as we see them today? It's a question worth considering. The school system today is designed to turn out workers for the corporate system. It is clearly not designed to educate. It may be different at the elite Ivy League schools or some obscure Christian colleges, but the great majority are designed for job specialization and indoctrination. I wouldn't really know because I attended a school of military indoctrination known as a Service Academy. It's taken me years to claw my way back to some semblance of critical thinking. For more on the history of our educational system, I highly recommend John Taylor Gatto's book, The Underground History of American Education. You can find it and other information at his website here.

Finally, we need to invest in one another again, without the meddling of a middle man. We need to buy our food locally. Or better yet, we need to grow our own food locally. We need to shop at companies that share our values instead of trampling on them. How can we sleep at night knowing we shop at a company that cares more about money than the life of a human being? We need to know our neighbours. We need to know our merchants. There is an investment idea known as Solari. I haven't really researched it so I don't know exactly what they are selling, but the central idea as I understand it is to invest in one another instead of through the bank. We have power in our local communities if we simply stop giving our money to the "Mega Mega Big ___ You Corporation" and instead use it to invest in each other. I don't know if Solari is advocating this, but why can't we pool our money for local car insurance? Why don't we pool it for local health insurance? What about a community supported farm in the neighborhood instead of just playgrounds? Instead of going to the bank for investment capital, why don't we go to our local community with the business idea that needs some funding? As we re-localize, I believe we can all decide to stop feeding the rat race machine and then decide to get off together.

This is my dream. What's yours? Remember the commercial during the Super Bowl some year ago? You had the ironic children wishing to grow up and be middle managers and "yes" men. Of course, none of us dreams of that when we were children. So why do we settle for it now? As long as we have breath, it's not too late to start making the changes we know we need to make.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Why being rich does indeed buy happiness

Pick any specialty item that requires more research and understanding. This item is safer, longer lasting, and a much better value. Think Volvo instead of Chevrolet. Think toys from high-end toy store down the road instead of lead based toys from China. Think suburban schools instead of urban blight. Since the specialty items require advanced access to information via probably the Internet (since you're not going to hear about it on the news) and the ability to purchase a higher priced specialty item, only the well off middle class and above will be able to afford said specialty item. As soon as you start going down that line of thought, you find all kinds of alarming things that the "rich" have that the common man doesn't:

1. Since I live in the West, I already have better sanitation and access to clean food and water than many in the rest of the world.

2. Since I live in the U.S., I'm not crammed into ramshackle huts of 15 to a hut to live on a dirt floor.

3. Since I'm college educated, I have access to jobs that pay significantly better than those without a degree (but only to a point).

So, at least Im marginally healthy and can choose not to be really poor and I don't live in the slums. But the benefits expand as you enter the next level up:

4. The truly rich can choose to live in more rural areas without the air pollution of the cities.

5. The truly rich can afford to buy organic food (much more expensive) rather than the chemically treated food in the normal supply chain.

6. The truly rich can afford to get a full 8 - 10 hours of sleep a night. The poor often must work 2 jobs (or more) to make ends meet.

7. The truly rich can afford better education for their children through private or home schooling.

8. The truly rich can buy entrance into the Ivy League for their children, effecting a step up for the family

9. The truly rich can afford to live in better neighborhoods that, even if their children don't go to private school, their schools are better, their libraries are better, their community is just safer.

10. The truly rich have the leisure time to exercise and take care of their bodies because they are not stuck commuting 2 or more hours a day to their jobs.

11. The truly rich don't have to pay for health insurance, they just pay as they go and since they are healthier in general, don't have to go to the doctor as much. So they get to save their health insurance premiums. Either I or my company will pay $10,000 per family in premiums every year.

12. Finally, the truly rich have the free time, education, health, creativity, money, and access to opportunities for furthering their wealth through new ventures. This solidifies their status for themselves and their families.

So there you have 12 reasons why money does indeed buy happiness, and I'm just getting started! So the rich will be able to afford a chemical free mattress while the rest will die in ignorance.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Christian Perspective on Peak Oil

I've been reading about Peak Oil for the past couple of years. For those of you new to the subject, it simply means we are approaching, or have crossed, the point where the amount of oil we can profitably pull from the ground has reached its highest point. Despite surging demand, there won't be enough oil to meet demand once you've passed the "peak." For further information and analysis, please see the web's best site on these issues here:

What I want to talk about is our response to this issue. Most of the people who are aware of Peak Oil (hereafter PO) don't profess faith in Christianity. As I've been reading volumes of information, the general attitude is one of what we can do here and now to prepare. Yet the articles leave little room for hope. They're negative. Headlines read "Doomsday for the Greenback" or "The End of the World as We Know It (TEOTWAWKI)" or "The Last Days of the Oil Age." While this may be true, the solutions tend toward one of three paths. Either get into community and start preparations, get yourself barricaded in a solitary fortress (equipped with guns, ammo, food, and water), or move to a distant, remote land free of any dependence on fossil fuels.

After reading my daily quota about PO, I often come away depressed. What is missing from the debate is a hope in God, a hope in Christ. Now to most in this community, this idea is laughed off. Many of them really do have an animosity and disdain for the intellect of those who claim belief in God. A favourite quote is "Who the hell are you to say I have to believe in the son of your sky god?" So naturally, this type of person is looking to current man-made efforts for a solution, even if that solution is merely survival.

But what if we have other options to approach the issue emotionally and spiritually? I'm not denying that there is a real problem. Corporatism, the dumbing down of Education, Consumerism, Greed, Apathy, and other social ills plague and threaten us. In the face of these problems, we can still look to God for our salvation and our comfort. When I say "salvation" I mean salvation of our souls, our spirits. I don't mean to imply that we are going to survive physically. Yet, there is a better response than depending on our own efforts and remaining depressed and overcome by fear of what's coming. To prove my point, walk back with me through Christian history and see if our fore bearers have any lessons to teach us.

During and for decades after the Apostolic age, Christians faced persecution, social isolation, and martyrdom. Yet a perusal of Foxe's Book of Martyrs shows that hundreds and thousands willingly died with hope in their hearts for something better. These societies had no oil. Yet they persevered. They didn't have cars and planes, but war and death were much closer to them. They had a correct view of life and death. For the Christian, this life is meant as preparation for eternal life. That we all must someday die, no one would question. How we approach that impending death makes all the difference.

A common fallacy attributed to the Christian faith is that becoming a Christian means that all will be well and you'll live in peace and security for the rest of your life. This is not at all what the Bible teaches. Our purpose is to learn to love God and show that we are good stewards over what little we have here so that we are ready to steward whatever God has for us in the next life. Often, God asks us to give our lives for what is right, not knowing whether He will save us or let us pass on to eternity. I always loved the lesson of the fiery furnace. These men stated their faith clearly: "Our God is able to save us. But even if He doesn't, neither will we bow down and worship." I submit that this is the attitude we should have towards PO.

As I've been reading, I regard my obsession to be an idol. In other words, I'm worshiping at the idol of PO. I believe all of the bad things written and so wring my hands and try to figure out what emergency measures I can take to be prepared. This attitude has led not to action, but to inaction, despair, and apathy. However, when I put my faith and focus on God, He gives me the wherewithal to weather this storm much like any storm.

Is PO going to change our lives? I believe that it will. But I also believe that as Christians, we can depend on God to help us in our planning for this event. We can depend on God to care and sustain us through it if that is His will. If it is not His will, then we can depend on God to see us through death's door. Whether that comes from defending my family, starvation, or work camps, I know that God has a reason in all that He does. Of course, this is a worst-case scenario that I don't believe is going to happen soon, if at all.

I don't believe PO is going to bring a crash quickly. The U.S. is currently the world's number one consumer. I know all the economic theories about why this is a bad thing, but this has been decades in the making and will be decades in the unraveling. Were it to crash suddenly, many fortunes of the elite would be lost and I can't see them allowing that to happen. No, we are going to slowly draw down. Unemployment will increase to as much as 30% to 40%. Fewer people will be able to afford the cars or the fuel to run them. This is actually going to be worse for us as that softens the blow but extinguishes the resources upon which we all depend. Ethanol is already driving up the price of food all along the food chain. So the rich are going to literally be driving our food while many will starve.

For the Christian, that does not bring cause for despair. This is the normal state of things in a fallen world! We need to understand that this time in history; this time of abundance and peace (so-called), is an aberration. No matter what our predicament, we should trust God. Prepare as you are being led, but don't let despair or predictions of imminent collapse dissuade you from your work. As for me, I'm going to stop reading about trends and issues I can do little to change. I can't control the fate of the dollar. I can't control the fate of the trade deficit. I can't control who is in which back rooms making secret deals that will wreck me and my family. So why keep reading it? I'm going to stop and put my efforts into productive means. I'm still stuck in suburbia and corporate america, but I'm working to extricate myself. Here are the basics:

0. THROW OUT YOUR TELEVISION!!! Do this before starting anything else. It is the key to putting a halt to the brainwashing in our culture. Psychologically based advertising has been in place for a few decades now and makes us want stuff we don't need, to impress people who don't care. (Don't believe me? What shoes would you rather have? Nike or Trax? Why do you think that is?) Then we put it all in landfills and start the cycle all over again. It's called "planned obsolescence" and is the bane of our society. To quote Neil Postman, we are amusing ourselves to death! I'm serious. Throw out the TV. You won't have time for it anyway if you're serious about preparing for PO.
1. Get out of debt
2. Start buying tools and equipment that you will need post-collapse now. The prices won't ever go any lower than they are right now.
3. Invest in PO. I know it's a bit unsavory; however, stop beating your head against the evil corporate system and use it to profit now while you can. I've read countless books and articles on the terrible corporate system and I'm convinced that no amount of activism is going to change anything. I'm going to stop wasting my time. So, buy oil stocks. If we invade Iran, the price of oil will skyrocket immediately. Sell when it gets to $100 or more after a few days.
4. Build a community around yourself and educate them. Many communities are already starting.
5. Listen and do what God tells you to do. That may be staying in the cities and sacrificing yourself so that someone else might hear the Gospel. That may be staying in your community. In severe circumstances, it is the Christians who make the difference. I don't think God would tell us to hide ourselves in remote places. To do that says that we value this life more than we value other people and God's direction. As one example, it was the Christians who started hospitals in the Middle Ages to care for those suffering from the Plague. This is the example God will want us to set.

In conclusion, PO leads the Christian down the primrose path to despair and inaction. If you're not careful, it could lead you to lose faith. There is little you can do to stop what's coming. Educate yourself on what is happening and why and then get out of that academic pursuit. Spend the rest of your time on preparation and living as God would have you live. That means living simply, working with your hands, doing good to widows and orphans, staying out of debt, not collecting mountains of useless junk, recycling, etc. Steward well what we have because this is the peak of our civilization. But as we are on the downward slope, realize that other Christians in other collapsing civilizations in other ages have gone before you and are the cloud of witnesses spurring us on to our own victories. We are the ones in the arena now. It is our time to shine. Where does the strength come from to see the race to its end? From within. For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Thoughts on Loyalty

After an uneventful 4th of July, I got to thinking about the power of the state and how our loyalties are manipulated for others' interests. I came across this issue a few years ago when reading about the issue of Parens Patriae. Parens Patriae means literally, "parent of the country." It refers traditionally to the role of STATE as sovereign and guardian of persons under legal disability. Parens Patriae originates from the English common law where the King had a royal prerogative to act as guardian to persons with legal disabilities such as infants. Many articles have been written on this issue. The most recent flare-up surrounding Alec Baldwin reflects his frustration towards having to parent in absentia, his daughter having been forcibly removed from his "custody" by the state. But I digress.

The issue is that we are forced to deal with a series of truth and lies as we are born and grow to maturity. The first loyalty is to your biological mother. Then it goes to a combination of your biological mother and father. Of course, this is only if they are not abusing you or have given you up for adoption. Then those children realize sooner or later that they were adopted and that their loyalty should lie with "those who loved them best." That's an interesting conundrum. After that, the child goes to school.

Once at school, the titanic struggle begins to separate the child from the values of their family. The child must decide whether to side with mom and/or dad or with what is being taught at school. Once into the teenage years, the loyalties shift again to siding with your peer group.

Then we either go to college or into the workforce. From here, your loyalties shift to the college, a specific fraternity or sorority, or some new social group that is found.

Then of course we arrive at our employers' place of business. We are told to be loyal to the company or we can't have our house or send our children to the neighborhood school.

From an early age, we are taught to have loyalty to the state. The highest of all ideals being to "die for your country." But what of loyalty to family, friends, or your religion?

My point is that after all of these fights for your loyalty and attention, it's no wonder that people give up and throw all of their identity behind a NASCAR driver or a sports team or their local Moose lodge (if any of those things still exist). I can see where a life of ignorance is can be happier than one of full knowledge.

Does anyone else suffer from such issues? How much better would it be if we only owed allegiance to our family? Or to the church? Or to our brother?