Not long before his death, I had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with my favorite author Kurt Vonnegut. It just so happened that his last published work, “A Man Without A Country” was released on that very day.
During the course of our meal, I said to him, “Mr. Vonnegut, I obviously haven’t had the chance to read your new book, but I do understand that it involves a lot of your belief that America has gone in such a poor direction, has become so gluttonous in its consumption of resources, and is generally an embarrassment from a global point of view, that you no longer feel as if you have a country.”
I went on with a certain amount of hopeful trepidation for how my comment was going to be received. After all, I was speaking with Kurt Vonnegut…
I continued, “While I certainly agree with you in this regard, I would like to be able to say that I am a man without a country simply because I would prefer to be regarded as a citizen of the planet earth.”
Vonnegut ignored my thought completely, didn’t seem too pleased with my interpretation of his title, and immediately changed the subject. I certainly didn’t score any points with the big guy with that. So it goes…
But, I do think that many of our human troubles are based on human defined borders.
Think About It…
We all revolve around the sun together on the same planet. We are all stuck on the same rock in a universe that is far too big for anyone of us to fully comprehend. We cannot empirically answer the simplest of philosophical questions.
This should be enough to make us all realize the most common bond we share, that being that we are all in the same proverbial boat, but in our case, we have a paddle.
Humanity is indeed becoming more humane, but the pathway has not yet been linear. We still have so much more to achieve.
I would be so bold as to suggest that when we lose the zeal of patriotism for our country uber alles, when we no longer are so convinced that God is only on our side against the enemy, when we can look at anyone and everyone and realize that they are probably just as confused about things as we are, then, maybe, just maybe, we will begin to live in a better place.
You don’t have to be John Lennon to imagine…
And seriously, to Elvis Costello’s question, what indeed is so funny about peace, love and understanding?
I think it might be prudent to judge our social evolution on how well we interact with our fellow human beings socially and in trade. Interventionist military conflicts would be viewed as failure in regard to the foregoing, obviously. If we are to talk the talk, then we need to walk the walk.
But, on its present course, America is not seeking that world. America is seeking to be an empire. I find that counterproductive and ultimately doomed (as all empires are) to failure…
I would suggest that our individual and personal life experience is far more important than nationalism in the big picture of things. Let’s historically face it, America is much, much more of a philosophy than a country.
Do not think me naïve. What I am suggesting is not realistic presently. But that only makes the need for us to be thinking that way even more important.
I am a resident of planet Earth, as are we all. I have become a free man living in an un-free world.
I just happened to be born in the USA.
For those of my national tribe, I am not disrespecting our country…I am, for fact, trying to expand the principles upon which it was founded.
And I think that Mr. Vonnegut, in his writing, is largely responsible for at least planting the seed of these thoughts in my head. That is something that I will never have the resources to repay.
In the interest of full disclosure, and as a self diagnostic, I must start by saying that I am a pre-disposed individualist, never much of a joiner, always a rebel of the status quo, never politically correct, and always as true to myself as I can be. And in spite of how my perspective may sound, I do not take myself too seriously. Dear Reader, you would be well advised to not take me too seriously either.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect” – Mark Twain
And I must also say that I enjoy freedom of thought and ideas. I believe that diversity is the thing that makes us the strongest. So while we may disagree in our beliefs, I welcome discussion that is contrary to my own values. I am pretty sure that when we interact that way, we are all the better for it.
I was Once a Young Man
While the Vietnam War was going on, I began to suspect that the American ideal I had been trained to believe in was not being practiced. I took particular interest studying the historical pathway of humanity in learning to live together. I realized just how revolutionary the Declaration of Independence was.
What a lucky break for me to be born when and where I was! But when I looked around at my fellow Americans, very few seemed to get it. And “it” can be best described this way:
“There are those who would say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind, is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American dream“- Archibald McLeish
Such a powerful and wonderful thought. How few of us that have ever revolved around the sun on this planet have had this opportunity?
Instead, I watched America reverting to a centrally controlled government with aspirations of ruling the world, while subjugating its own citizens.
“Don’t it always seem to go, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” – Joni Mitchell
In the midst of this, I stumbled upon the Libertarian Party.
My first formal exposure occurred when I made an exploratory phone call to the office of the NYC Libertarian Party. It started off this way:
Frankly Francis: “I’m interested in learning about the Libertarian Party. What can you tell me about it?”
Libertarian Representative: “Basically, we want to do some good before we become corrupt.”
I appreciated the forthright honesty.
Actually, I was Intrigued
I learned that libertarians take the Constitution really seriously. Seriously…really seriously.
“We may be tossed upon the ocean where we can see no land – nor, perhaps, the sun or stars. But there is a chart and a compass for us to study, to consult, and to obey. That chart is the Constitution” – Daniel Webster
The Libertarian Party motto is:
The Party of Principle: Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom
This suited me well. Upon further study…
I Became a Libertarian
I remember back, over 25 years ago, when I spoke with people about my libertarian point of view, those little few who knew about libertarian philosophy laughed at me. Those who didn’t laughed at me when I explained its tenets.
I was a real mirth maker back then, spreading joy to all of those around me.
And there is inherent off-beat humor in being of the libertarian persuasion – the Libertarian Party is an oxymoron. As libertarians are, by their very core beliefs, individualists, I think that one of the biggest challenges libertarians face is being part of an organized group, even their own political party.
Some Libertarian Perspective:
If I were to apply Occam’s razor to libertarianism, I would describe it thusly:
“My right to throw a punch ends at your nose”
First and foremost, my life is mine to do with as I please, provided that my actions do not infringe upon anyone else’s rights. Like most of our Founding Fathers, I believe that everyone is better off when the individual is valued over the group.
Government is a Necessary Evil
Libertarians are not as naïve as some claim – I know that there are no utopian solutions, but when government’s purpose is limited to protecting the rights and property of the individual, I believe that humanity will have made the next great leap forward.
“What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” – Elvis Costello
I confess to being an idealist who would rather be considered a resident of planet Earth than an American. But until such time as that is practical, I believe that our military should be so strong that no one would be stupid enough to attack us on our own soil.
“Let my actions speak so loudly that no one can hear my words” – Marv Levy
I don’t think that we need to evangelize ourselves to the world. If we have a compelling way of life, our example will be enough for others to want to adopt it. I suspect that this is where organized religions get it wrong; they spend too much time selling their product rather than living it.
We just need to be what we say we are.
The American Government is the Best Government…That Money Can Buy
We would be so much better off with a free market economy fairly regulated by government. Don’t be deceived however; America has nothing resembling a free market economy. And don’t be further deceived, the government does not fairly regulate the economy – it plays within it and gets bribed by big business.
I Love Competition
An even playing field of fair competition brings out the best in each of us and for each of us. And as a consumer, I love competition because I get the best value for the least price. It leads to new life improving developments…who isn’t in favor of new life improving developments?
Capitalism is the natural by-product of liberty that allows each of us to be whatever we choose to be.
Live and Let Live
And we need to grow-up a bit. While I do not advocate drugs, prostitution or gambling, none of these are criminal acts. Nor is government the authority over marriage or civil unions. Let’s get over it. Government has never been able to legislate morality, nor should it; we each need to do that for ourselves.
In recent times, we have endured the “War on Poverty,” “The War on Drugs,” the government’s intervention into healthcare, the bail-outs of government’s good time business buddies, undeclared wars that clearly violate the Constitution, government openly stealing from us by devaluing the dollar, along with foreign policy actions that breed terrorism, enabling the government to strip us of our essential rights.
“I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy” – Thomas Jefferson
I confess that I am stupefied by the prevailing belief that more government is the solution, based on the actual results of government’s actions.
But We Digress…
Our founding was labeled “The Great American Experiment” and it did, for fact, produce the best standard of living in recorded history…until we somehow decided that the experiment was no longer worthwhile. We chose the intoxication of other ideals.
We let our government take over the spirit and law of our Constitution. That’s what governments do. I am not saying that it is right; government can’t help it. Like all other biological and social organisms, government lives to grow for its own purposes. Its growth has become cancerous.
Using “The New Deal” of the 1930’s as a baseline, it has taken us about 80 years to clearly devolve from the intent of the Declaration of Independence.
If we could even possibly re-boot America, it might take even longer to dial back what has happened.
But I don’t think that is in the cards for America. America has gone empire, and I am pretty sure that there is no coming back from that. No empire ever has before.
Though humanity is becoming more humane, the pathway has not yet been linear. And it has at times been downright ugly. But if we do not socially evolve through America, I do believe that humanity will utilize American principles in some other place, in some other time in a better way.
But We Go Forward…
“You can say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one” – John Lennon
Unlike decades ago, hardly a day goes by when I don’t run into the word “libertarian” in the media. There are now libertarians hosting national TV and radio talk shows.
Perhaps it’s not too little, too late. In the past, due to the largess of my vanity, I have said that I look forward to saying that I was a libertarian before it was cool to be a libertarian. Maybe I will get the chance. It really doesn’t matter; vanity certainly never does.
So We Close…
But don’t kid yourself, there is a real battle going on right now: Will we be a centralized corporatist state or the land of the free and the brave? Will we continue on our empire course or will we be good neighbors to the rest of the planet? Will the government continue its quest to control every aspect of our lives or will we reclaim our unalienable rights, among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
OK, it’s time for my periodic plea for us to come to our senses when it comes to our never ending “War on Drugs.”
But before I begin, it is essential to state that my beliefs on this topic stem from the knowledge that the right to my life is mine and mine alone. Along with that comes the right to make choices for myself, the consequences of which I also bear full responsibility for.
The Declaration of Independence clearly states that I have inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Most, if not all, of the major religions are based on the concept that people have free will and therefore must make decisions for themselves of eternal consequence, which is a pretty heavy responsibility.
I concur with the words of one of my favorite authors:
Now what I contend is that my body is my own, at least I have always so regarded it. If I do harm through my experimenting with it, it is I who suffers, not the state – Mark Twain
Back in the early 1970’s, I thought it only a matter of time before marijuana was re-legalized. A short matter of time.
A Couple of Serious Facts:
Marijuana has never been proven to be addictive.
There has never been a documented death due to marijuana use.
Could we say the same of widely accepted alcohol use, which is arguably the most dangerous drug of all?
The Social Cost
It has been said that smoking marijuana is a victimless crime.
As I understand criminal acts, there needs to be a perpetrator of the crime and a victim of the crime. This makes sense, right?
So when a person goes to jail for smoking marijuana, then the person is both the perpetrator and the victim. This does not make sense, right?
In fact it makes as much sense as the tabloid headline I once saw in a supermarket checkout line:
Siamese Twins to be Executed for Murder – One Says, “But I Didn’t Do It!”
American jails are filled, and many in them are incarcerated for non-violent drug use or possession.
It’s like sending children to live with pedophiles. They live with and make friends with murderers, rapists, muggers and robbers. They probably forfeited their personal property to the government in the process.
It’s costly to house an inmate in a jail.
And they come out with knowledge and skills they didn’t have when they went in…
As a society we pay a steep price because trading in drugs, due to demand and its illegality, is very profitable. This leads to organized crime syndicates and violence in our communities, along with police and government corruption.
The organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) has this to say:
We believe that drug prohibition is the true cause of much of the social and personal damage that has historically been attributed to drug use. It is prohibition that makes marijuana worth more than gold, and heroin worth more than uranium – while giving criminals a monopoly over their supply. Driven by the huge profits from this monopoly, criminal gangs bribe and kill each other, law enforcers, and children. Their trade is unregulated and they are, therefore, beyond our control.
History has shown that drug prohibition reduces neither use nor abuse. After a rapist is arrested, there are fewer rapes. After a drug dealer is arrested, however, neither the supply nor the demand for drugs is seriously changed. The arrest merely creates a job opening for an endless stream of drug entrepreneurs who will take huge risks for the sake of the enormous profits created by prohibition. Prohibition costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every year, yet 40 years and some 40 million arrests later, drugs are cheaper, more potent and far more widely used than at the beginning of this futile crusade.
We believe that by eliminating prohibition of all drugs for adults and establishing appropriate regulation and standards for distribution and use, law enforcement could focus more on crimes of violence, such as rape, aggravated assault, child abuse and murder, making our communities much safer. We believe that sending parents to prison for non-violent personal drug use destroys families. We believe that in a regulated and controlled environment, drugs will be safer for adult use and less accessible to our children. And we believe that by placing drug abuse in the hands of medical professionals instead of the criminal justice system, we will reduce rates of addiction and overdose deaths.
This comes from an organization of individuals involved in law enforcement…
I suggest you read it again. And maybe once more.
The Economic Cost
These are tough economic times. Our government has run up debt that our children and grandchildren will not be able to pay back. Some gift to our kids. Cutting expenses and adding income should be of paramount concern. We could achieve significant budget cuts to law enforcement agencies, the courts and the prison system, not to mention increased tax revenues from users and sellers if marijuana were re-legalized.
What About the Trees and Our Environment?
It has been widely speculated that marijuana became illegal at the behest of big business. This is not the result of capitalism; it is the result of corporatism where business connives with government for control of a market segment. I maintain that the American government is the best government…that money can buy.
Jeffrey Blum, an associate professor of law, in response to a request from a federal judge, contends that a significant reason for making marijuana illegal was to protect the interests of the paper and synthetic fiber industries from competition with hemp producers.
It has been calculated that hemp can produce, acre for acre, four times as much paper pulp as trees.
Bye-Bye Trees, Bye-Bye Rain Forests…
Hemp has many uses according to Hemp USA:
Hemp can be used to produce a very large variety of products from clothing to paper to building supplies to cars to fuels to food products to much, much more. Some people have called hemp the plant of 30,000 uses because it combines the utility of the soybean, the cotton plant and the Douglas Fir tree into one green package. Hemp is an environmental, renewable, reusable and recyclable resource.
Notable People Are More Openly in Favor of Re-legalization
While it goes without saying that many in movies, music and the arts, such as Tommy Chong, are publicly calling for the end of pot prohibition, there are a growing number of people, such as television host and activist Bill Maher, former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, mega-businessman Richard Branson, author Stephen King, and congressman Ron Paul, who have joined the ranks.
Eve Conant writes:
Certainly, the Republican Party is a long way from becoming the Pot Party. Although a handful of conservative thinkers like Milton Friedman, George Shultz, and William F. Buckley have argued the merits of legalization over the years (Buckley even mocked those who called marijuana a gateway to addiction, saying it was “on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating”), most Republicans still oppose the idea.
These are influential people even if most Republicans still oppose it. And to be fair, how many Democrats are openly calling for re-legalization? Only the growing Libertarian Party openly supports re-legalization.
Pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck and former judge Andrew Napolitano have also joined in the debate, on the pro-legalization side. “You know what, I think it’s about time we legalize marijuana. Hear me out for a second…” Beck told viewers in April. “We have to make a choice in this country. We have to either put people who are smoking marijuana behind bars, or we legalize it. But this little game we’re playing in the middle is not helping us, is not helping Mexico, and is causing massive violence on our southern border.”
I can’t say I am a fan of Mr. Beck, but he has that right.
We each have a right to what we put into our bodies – will you continue to be told what you can and cannot do with your body?
You can bet that the mob and the cartels don’t want to see marijuana re-legalized – will you continue to support them?
Allowing hemp to be grown is much better for the planet than cutting down trees – will you continue to support environmental destruction?
American drug policies defy every sensibility when you look at the big picture. They cause so much harm in so many aspects that I think future generations will be puzzled by our point of view.
Let’s change this. Let’s grow-up. It may not be a great leap forward, but a leap forward nonetheless.
There’s much being made about having your privates groped or doing a radiated digital strip tease in order to board an airplane these days. Emotions are running high on both sides of the issue.
Has it really come to this?
So how did it come to this?
Social and political issues are not typically one-offs. They are usually part of an intertwined pattern of events and circumstances… actions and reactions.
This is how I sort it:
America has had its hand in foreign countries for a long while now. Post World War II, American foreign aid in rebuilding decimated nations and economies was certainly noteworthy. America was viewed pretty well throughout the world.
It went to our heads.
We decided that we knew better.
We felt a deep obligation to mold the world in our own image.
America began meddling in affairs of other countries using money to get its way, commencing military affairs and even using black ops assassination teams. We began an all out effort to deploy our military everywhere. We propped up tyrants at the expense of their citizens. We became involved in combat operations all over the place. America made a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. From there we began openly utilizing methods of interrogation that involve torture.
Some people do not like being subjected to the atrocities committed by their puppet government held in place by the Americans. Some people resent the fact that American military actions result in the deaths of their innocent loved ones. Some religious folks truly believe that American presence on their soil is sacrilegious to their beliefs.
Some of all of these types of people had their lives so shattered by American actions in their lands that they vowed to make America hurt. Terrorism resulted.
That’s the way it works – you get in somebody’s face, they get back in yours. Guaranteed blowback.
For the record, I strongly condemn the initiation of violence.
Well as it turns out, we still have this wonderful, if not completely forgotten and misused document known as the constitution which very clearly states that the federal government is responsible to the people for the defense of America – note the word “defense.” It also clearly states that Americans cannot be subjected to unreasonable search.
We the people need to understand that when we gave up our liberty, the terrorists won.
Now try this on:
Isn’t it ironic that when America is the world’s most powerful country, that we are actually more at risk and more afraid to live on our own soil? All of our great power and force has only brought violence directly to us.
Here’s Bill Bonner’s take:
We’ve never been mistreated by an agent of the TSA. Bullied, yes. Threatened, yes. They’ve been impolite on occasion. We’ve been patted down so vigorously we didn’t know whether to leave a tip or lodge a complaint.
But we try to maintain a sense of humor.
“The trouble with you, is you just don’t get it,” said a paranoid friend lately. “Can’t you see? This TSA has nothing to do with keeping out bad guys. It’s about keeping us in. They’re not really there to make the airlines safer. Instead, it is just a preparation. They are getting Americans accustomed to following orders, standing in line, and acting like half-wits. They are also training up a whole class of goons. These guys don’t ask whether it really makes sense to pat down girl scouts and look at old ladies naked. They just do whatever they’re told to do. And they probably enjoy it.
“There are always some people like that – ready to be concentration camp guards and exterminators. The TSA program helps the authorities identify these people.”
“Why”” we asked.
“Who knows…maybe they just want power. Maybe they just want a docile population so they can do what they want.”
A few years back we took a family trip to NYC. We were selected for the enhanced search. As American citizens with no cause for suspicion, I was humiliated when I saw my nearly 80 year old mother-in-law’s arms out in the “airplane” position. I understood how the Nazis pulled off the Holocaust.
I get the feeling that a lot of people are under the mistaken impression that submitting to the government mandates is necessary for the privilege of flying. But Americans never sacrifice their constitutional rights to the government.
As bizarre as it seems today, in truth, it is the government’s obligation to protect our rights – not take them away.
When you board a plane, if you have not given the authorities reasonable grounds to search you, then they cannot legally search you. It’s that simple. It really is. Seriously, it really is.
And I don’t want to hear that tired line, “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.” The very existence of that line gives one much to fear.
If you believe that the government’s rules and actions are protecting you, I would respectfully ask you to think that through again.
I’ve heard some comments from those in support of cooperating with invasive body inspections that if someone doesn’t want to go through the procedure, that’s OK – they should take another mode of transportation. I would suggest that if you are willing to give up your liberty by complying with unconstitutional actions then it is you who should find another mode of transportation.
Don’t let them touch your liberty.
P.S. I don’t vouch for the accuracy of the following demonstration of the radiation strip scanners, but on the surface it seems reasonable. Be forewarned that it is graphic and should not be watched if you are sensitive to reality.
People can certainly be savage, but there is great nobleness within us as well.
People can certainly do stupid things (re: amending the constitution to prohibit alcohol), but we also do some wonderful things. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “Americans always do the right thing. After they have tried everything else.”
People can actually want to be controlled by authority and be told what to they can do, but even the densest of us knows that this experience, whatever it may be, should be uniquely our own to live our own way.
And I think that if We the People would stop to think about it, we would take cognitive note of the vast difference between Patriotism and Nationalism. Seriously.
Time marches on. In life, the only constant is change.
We have been choosing a growing central authority. I do not think that this is wise.
Kurt Vonnegut, the curmudgeon that he was notwithstanding, was so alienated that his final book was entitled “A Man Without a Country.”
David Bowie wrote the song “I’m Afraid of Americans.”
I certainly understand where they are coming from. As an American, I’m afraid of Americans.
I’m afraid that we are giving up still revolutionary freedom and liberty in exchange for centralized government control, which historically, at best, doesn’t work as well.
It is really painfully obvious that if we don’t remember the mistakes we made in the past, we are likely to make them again.
From my point of view, we are reverting to the very systems that caused our forebears to come to America in the first place. Going full circle, so to speak.
Perhaps we are trying to reach the future through the past.
We are putting out fires with gasoline. It won’t work.
Instead, we must continue the revolution that we were born into. It’s still the best one yet in recorded history.
As my friend Kent says, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
As Frankly Francis says, “Enjoy the moments as they come because there is no rewind button.”
As Marv Levy says, “Where would you rather be than right here, right now?”
We are in a very unique position geographically, economically, historically and politically. Perhaps never before in recorded history has a nation had at its disposal what we have today.
For the most part, it has been handed to us.
Seriously, as far as life as we know it on this planet goes, we have hit the big lottery.
So through apathy and sloth, will we waste what we have been given? Or will we further multiply it?
Social evolution is a non-linear pathway – we tend to get distracted along the way. What can safely be said is that humanity has yet to achieve its full potential.
I have an idea that in the long run, our Founding Fathers will be thought of more as practical philosophers rather than as revolutionaries. How they embraced the potential of mankind is really remarkable, especially in the context of the time that they lived in.
Indulge me and re-read these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Now over 230 years old, what powerful and well chosen words these are.
How symbiotic…first, amongst each other, we are all equal. Because of that, I have the absolute right to my own life. And given that, I have the liberty to live and pursue my own pathway.
Or in regressive terms, I cannot pursue my own happiness if I do not have liberty… and I cannot have liberty if I do not have the right to my life…and I cannot have the right to my own life unless we are all equal.
It all fits.
And it remains revolutionary to this very day.
But that’s not the intriguing part for me. The intriguing part is the glossed over, subtle and almost hidden words “among these.”
“Among These” expands our individual rights beyond the enumerated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
What else does this include? Have you ever speculated?
Could it really, actually play out like this?
I may choose to do whatever I want, so long as I am not infringing on anyone else’s right to do what they want. Simply put, my right to throw a punch ends at your nose. However, if you stick your nose into my business, well then you face the consequences.
I believe that it is our unique individuality that needs to be maximized during the brief time allotted to us. Fight the Power Brothers and Sisters. And teach your children too.