The Magistrate's Journal - Archives
The argument concerns what motive persons are acting under when they kill. No one on 'Team Theist' has made even the slightest attempt to engage, let alone deny, the fact that a great deal of killing in human history has been done with explicitly religious motives, even to the point of being required as a matter of doctrine taught to believers. The only response has been to claim that atheists have killed a great many people, a plain fact which no one on 'Team Atheist' would think of denying, but in making this response, there has not been, and will not ever be, a successful attempt to demonstrate this is in any way required by atheism, in the same sense that a great deal of killing can be traced directly to actual doctrines and dogmas and ritual practices of various religions.
Communism, and for that matter Anarchism in its late nineteenth and early twentieth century form, viewed religion, specifically locally dominant Christian sects, as a major prop of the Capitalist order, as one of the forces arrayed to keep working people quiescent in the face of the injustice routinely perpetrated against them by an exploitative social order. By and large (there were exceptions) these Christian bodies regarded Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Syndicalists, indeed just about anybody agitating and organizing and acting to end the exploitative economic order in the here and now, as damnable criminals at war with the order God ordained. In short, each regarded itself as at war with the other, and behaved accordingly. Where this war became more concrete reality than metaphoric hyperbole, people were killed, and they were killed in the struggle over what the economic, social and political order of a place was going to be. Where Communists came to power, first in Russia, they did indeed attack religion, just as they attacked aristocracy and property. The Orthodox Church took an active role in the counter-revolution embodied in the Civil War, and clergy looked on the killing of Reds just as enthusiastically as commissars watched their firing squads at work. As matters developed, the clergy came out on the losing end of that fight, and there are consequences for this. The Communist government set out quite conciously to break anything that had taken part in or lent support to or even offered potential grounds for counter-revolution, considering this a necessity for consolidating the revolution and establishing the new Communist order.
Matters in China followed a somewhat different path, and certainly featured a great deal less singling out of religion, as religion occupies a somewhat different space in Chinese society than it does in the West. There was some specific antagonism towards missionaries and Christianity, but this had more to do with long-standing xenophobia and resentments of the privileged position Christians came to enjoy in the latter days of the Ch'ing Dynasty, and whole system of foreign privilege bound up in the 'Unequal Treaties'.
The attempt to link the sentiment to the authority of the revered President Lincoln must be rejected, since he did not say this. The statement must then stand or fall on its own. It is therefore necessary to examine somewhat the actual historical background.
Mr. Lincoln was no particular friend of the large corporation. In the later stages of his career as a lawyer, a large railroad he did some work for attempted to short him on his fee; he sued, and on receiving a judgement of five thousand dollars remarked on the pleasure of having such a corporation put into his hands for the fleecing. Mr. Lincoln also expressed himself frequently on the primacy of labor over capital, and in support of the right of workers to strike.
In regard to the Civil War, the question of Mr.Lincoln's relation to and attitude towards banks and bankers is complex. It is certainly true that some banking and mercantile interests at the North did not wish prosecution of the war, as it interfered with what had been peace-time sources of profit in lending to, and trade with, the South. This was particularly true in New York City, where early in the war there was actually talk of the city seceding. However, the Federal government had no difficulty raising funds for the war, particularly after the Treasury Secretary's early threat to 'print money till it takes a thousand dollars to buy a breakfast' if funds could be got no other way. The money of the north backed the war, and profited from doing so. President Lincoln's administration set up, as a war finance measure, a system of national banks. His administration also sold, through Jay Cooke, a leading banker, tremendous sums of government bonds, bringing in funds essential to successful prosecution of the war. You are free to draw your own conclusions, but it does not seem to me a good case could be made for President Lincoln regarding 'the money power' as a dangerous enemy arrayed against him during the Civil War.
People do not look at the matter of class squarely in this country, and, by and large, also lack any comprehension of what real wealth is. The tale is that this is a society without class boundaries, and that hard work is the respected route to prosperity and wealth: the facts are that this is a stratified society, in fact one in which the stratifications are growing increasingly more rigid; and that work, and the people who do it, are held in contempt, while the sharpster and the grifter are honored; and that damned near the surest way to a life of straitened circumstances, and often outright poverty, is to dedicate oneself to working hard at hard work.
People generally knowing, in their bones if not in so many words, what the actual facts of a society around them are, most are quite reluctant to identify themselves with their actual status as workers, members of the working class, and so the idea that 'middle class' is a measure of income arises, and has a collision, fortunate or unfortunate depending on ones point of view, with a very inaccurate perception of what the actual patterns of income, and its sources, are.
But 'middle class' is actually just a bastardization of bourgeoisie, or persons who make their living from the proceeds of a stock of capital, usually in trade or manufacturing or lending, or a body of knowledge, such as medicine or law or accounting, or even pedagogy. A person who sells labor, however skilled or at however dear a price, is not and cannot be classed as a member of the bourgeoisie.
What the United States had, for a period of several decades after President Roosevelt's New Deal was a prosperous working class, and large elements of this prosperous working class sold its birthright for a mess of racial and culture war cant sold by propagandists for the plutocrats perched on the pinnacles of wealth in this society. We no longer have a prosperous working class,and on present lines of development, are unlikely to ever see such a thing again.
There are several facts here people need to take notice of.
First, since the end of the Cold War, there has been very little real over-lap between the strategic interests of the United States and the interests of Israel. Support for Israel alienates Moslems, universally and in the region, and thus threatens stable access to fuel resources for the United States. The idea some attempt to sell, that the U.S. uses Israel to maintain access to and control of oil is risible.
Second, support for Israel is, in the domestic politics of the United States, becoming deeply tinged with fundamentalist Christian fanaticism, which leads increasingly to support for Israel being identified, among the general populace, with far right lunacy. It is worth noting many of these fundamentalist Christian supporters of Israel are, in actual fact, profoundly Anti-Semitic, in that they view Jews as having murdered Christ, and believe all Jews who do not convert to Christianity during the 'coming tribulations' will be killed as followers of the Anti-Christ. Their only real interest in Israel is the degree to which its existence is a prop in support of their beliefs in the imminent return of the Christ, and its attendant apocalyptic horrors and millenial reign of Jesus directly and physically over the earth. Israeli leaders who accept support from this element are making a contemptible bargain, that brings them into disrepute by association, rather like a candidate running on a 'law and order' platform would suffer by accepting an endorsement from a local Klavern.
Third, certain elements of cultural over-lap between the United States and Israel are fading away. One of the great unspoken facts of support for Israel here has always been the shared characteristics of a frontier/settlers society: we had Indians, they have Arabs, and expansion into a hostile frontier existence defined self-image of both societies to a fair degree. Fifty years ago popular culture here presented our expansion into the western plains as a fight between good White soldiers and settlers and bad, cruel Indians who above all could never be trusted. Today, these images are pretty much reversed, and the supply of people who grew up taking the former picture as an elemental frame of their moral universe and self-image as Americans is dwindling fast.
Three main factors.
First, racial: backlash against the civil rights movement, which large portions of white working class people saw as solidly against their economic interest, and certainly against their self-image as 'better' beings.
Second, patriotism: left opposition to the Viet Nam war split left activists from white working class people, who saw such opposition as un-patriotic, and as siding with a national enemy.
Third, 'counter-culture' and 'liberation' issues: many white working class people saw the whole counter-culture movement as an offensive display of indolence and parasitism, and reacted to things like 'women's lib' in the same manner as they did to civil rights for Black people.
The unifying element in all this is that, during the sixties and into the seventies, the left in this country ceased to focus on economic issues, on general betterment of working people, and focused instead on promoting things that many white working people were actively repelled by.
"This ignorance has been given larger voice by President Obama's unwillingness (or inability), since coming into office, to vigorously 'Fight the Good Fight' against stupidity, and the relentless use of disinformation by the Corporate Lobbyist party."
It tilts power towards towards the most sparsely populated and politically retrograde areas of our country, and gives an effective veto power over the majority of people in the real centers of the national life. Look at the mischief done in Washington, and at the balking of measures not only a majority of Democrats but a majority of the populace support, and you will see always the sickly pug-marks of mediocrities from wide, empty spaces, who could not manage to get elected to a county commission or state legislature in a populous state, but who can rise to the top of a tiny pool, and then dig in like ticks to national office and the perquisites of seniority. A vote for senator in a state with 600,000 odd persons has twenty times the weight of a vote for senator in a state with twelve millions of residents; each of those six hundred thousands have twenty times the influence of each of those twelve millions in the nation's political life; that is not only wrong, it is the very reverse of democracy, it makes aristocrats of those six hundred thousands, and peasants of those twelve millions.
The governing elite, whether in office or in the board-room, wants to welsh on its markers. It is getting to the point where the Treasury bonds held by the Social Security Trust Fund will need to be redeemed in cash. To do so, there will need to be either some reduction in spending on other items, or some increase in taxes. Neither politicians nor those who purchase politicians in wholesale lots want to do either thing. What they do want to do is continue to use the regressive pay-roll tax as a principal source of general revenue, as they have in effect been doing with the amounts collected by this levy in excess of immediate pay-outs for many decades. The F.I.C.A. tax already amounts to over a third of taxes collected against income by the Federal government. Keep the F.I.C.A. rates going up, as rates on income and capital gains are cut further for the wealthy, and as benefits for Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are reduced, and this proportion will only increase. The aim is to produce a Federal tax system sufficiently regressive as to shock even a medieval cleric.
To take the tripe argument that 'government must do its budgeting like your family does' seriously for a moment, what family, faced with expenses greater than income, suggests Dad should ask his boss for fewer hours down at the plant, so he will take home less pay?
No proposal that does not increase taxes, and increase them substantially on the possessors of the bulk of the country's wealth, is a serious proposal for bringing the Federal budget into better balance.
Any proposal which does not do this, and instead introduces structural, long term reductions in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, is not a proposal to bring the Federal budget into better balance, but rather a proposal to sanctify the looting of the Social Security Trust Fund, and turn the regressive pay-roll tax on wages into the chief source of general revenue for Federal expenditures on war and tax credit paid out to big business.
The cold fact is that three things make up the present deficits; revenue forgone by the tax cuts enacted by Bush and preserved by President Obama, the costs of warfare in the Near East and Central Asia, and the loss of revenues attendant on the collapse of employment in our economy over the last three years. Anyone who wants to end deficits must look to raising revenues, curbing wwar outlays, and increasing employment.
At present, people in poverty, and well above the poverty level, pay no federal income taxes. They do, however, when employed, pay payroll taxes, sales taxes, and other regressive levies at federal and local levels. So your purported 'fix' to this national sales tax does not improve matters. By structuring it as a refund, whether monthly or quarterly or annually, you require payment first, which will tend to reduce consumption, and raise the immediate cost of necessities for the less well-off. The end result will be that people who are at the poorer end will have less spending power.
Federal 'hidden taxes' barely exist; the effective federal tax on corporate profits runs at less than fifteen percent, with many business paying nothing, or even receiving payment from the government in accordance with various refundable credits. Note the tax is on business profits, before you run off on the assumption one sixth of prices reflect taxes: business profits run on average between five percent and fifteen percent, so you are speaking of between one and two percent of gross receipts reflecting collection of taxes from consumers. The chief increase in 'prices' owing to federal taxes are the openly stated excise taxes, and the payroll tax, which is a wholly regressive levy, and designedly so. These things, in effect existing consumption taxes levied against the wages of working people, are not addressed by your proposal.
Touting as an advantage that purchase of second-hand goods would be exempt is risible, but does open a window into one of the real motivations behind these 'consumption tax' proposals, which is a feeling that the poorer and less well off spend too much on themselves, try and have more than they deserve, and to live more like their betters. In earlier times, these feelings issued openly in sumptuary laws, which forbid people whose income was below certain levels from purchasing certain items, or wearing certain articles of clothing. It is odd how people who continually chant, when it comes to investment and business activity, that to tax something is to reduce its supply or frequency, turn around and deny that taxing consumption would reduce the amount of consumption in society.
The great favoritism in the tax codes, before which all others pale, is the taxing of income from appreciation of capital assets at a much lesser rate than the rates at which taxes are levied on wage income, and the exemption of the sale of financial instruments from any sales or excise tax at all.
Your line here is a reaction to statement of a fact, variously phrased, that religion has been the motive for the killing of a great many people down the course of human history. Being a religious person, and one who conflates 'religion' with 'good and moral', this troubles you, particularly when it is stated by persons who do not believe there is any Deity, and that all religion is therefore fraud and lies. So you attempt to throw the charge back at them, and claim atheism is the motive for mass murder on a scale that dwarfs killing done from religious motives. In doing this, you engage in a variety of distortions of meaning and shadings of fact. They are pretty obvious, but worth stating openly, as you persist in them so energetically; room must be left for the possibility you really are not aware of what you are doing.
When people say religion has been the motive for killing a great many people, they do not mean that people who hold religious beliefs have killed a great many people, from whatever motive: that would be a wholly unremarkable observation, and hardly worth the typing out. They mean that people have killed other people from motives of religious belief, killed to suppress a dissident sect in their society, or to extend the range of dominion their religion exercises, or killed to enforce a code of behavior inherent to their religion, or killed as matter of religious ritual or rite. And in fact a tremendous number of people have been killed down the course of human history over these directly religious motivations. These are killings which, it could be fairly claimed, would not have taken place without religion, or more precisely, without the religious beliefs the killers felt directed them to kill others as a matter of sacred duty.
When you say in response, 'well, atheists have killed lots and lots of people,' you fail absolutely to tie this into any element of atheist doctrine or belief that requires such killing, and so do not actually mirror the statement you are attempting to defend against, that religion has been the motive for a great deal of killing, that a great deal of killing has owed to the killers subscribing to a religious belief the killing they engaged in was required by their Deity, by their holy law. Since there really is no 'doctrine' of atheism beyond the statement that there is no Deity, it is hard to see how you could tie killings by atheists into some atheist doctrine, in the way that, say, the persecution of heretics or wars of conversion can be tied directly to items of religious doctrine, or the killing of persons on a high altar by priests, or in funerary rites, can be tied directly to requirements of religious ritual or enforcement of a sacred code.
Adopting the standard you wish to apply to killing by atheists, you would have to accept that every killing throughout human history by a person who held a religious belief was a killing that should be charged up to the account of religion, and that it would owe to religion, regardless of its actual motivation. This would chalk just about every death from human agency since we first appeared as a species to the account of religion; indeed, it would include a great many of the killings you ascribe to atheism on religion's side of the ledger, since the actual agents of death, the guards in the camps, the personnel of the squads that carted away the grain, were as a matter of practical fact shot through with persons who retained religious beliefs; even if they were acting on the order of an atheist, they were the ones actually doing the killing, after all.
When a man says he loves his wife, loves his daughter, and loves a good hamburger, he had better be meaning something different in each instance. 'Value' has a similar variety. The sort of things people value in life, finding them to be reasons to live, are the sort of things indicated by the old bromide 'the best things in life are free', in the sense that they cannot really be bought with money, and so have no price, huge though their worth might be..
Money, in whatever form it exists, has as its value only what it can be exchanged for, and the fact that it can be exchanged for anything depends on a widespread belief that it can be exchanged for things of real utility, now and in the future. When that belief is shaken, or when the utility of the thing desired by a purchaser is obviously greater at the moment than any future exchange likely to be managed with monies proffered might be, it becomes difficult if not impossible to exchange money for anything, and this applies not just to paper but to gold, cowrie shells, or anything else you could name.
Mr. Smith in 'Wealth of Nations' expounds at some length on the falsity of believing gold and silver have inherent value, and that their possession constitutes wealth in and of itself. He roots the real basis of price in grain, the essential foodstuff, reckoning gold or silver to be worth what they will exchange for in terms of grain, and in doing so follows (doubtless unknowingly) the practice of ancient China, in which the salaries of officials under the Han were reckoned in amounts of grain, so that a man was said to hold a 'hundred bushel' office, or a 'thousand bushel' office (the actual unit was the picul, a unit of weight rated at about 60 kilos, deriving from the largest load a porter could hold up under for any distance). There was plenty of coin in circulation at the time, copper cash were plentiful and in general use, and silver by weight as well as gold were used in trade, there was even some paper money issued; this 'weight of rice' standard was not a thing resorted to in the absence of the concept of money. The price of money was known to fluctuate; the amount of grain or of silver a pile of copper cash could be exchanged for was known to vary, year from year or season from season or place to place, but the value of grain was constant, in the number of meals it could provide, the amount of life it could sustain.
What justification could be needed after that?
As someone said back a long time ago 'The trouble with our modern corporations is that they have neither bodies to be kicked nor souls to be damned.' Nothing lacking either of these attributes can be considered a person, in any meaningful sense. The idea that a corporation has rights of political expression, that can be wrongly restricted, is both nonesensical and pernicious. The persons who are shareholders and officers and directors of a corporation can have, and express, their political views, and do so quite freely on their own account. The idea that the corporation itself has political views, and must be allowed their free expression, is just a means to let corporate officers amplify their views using other people's money, often without their consent. No one, after all, polls share-holders concerning whether money should be donated to politicians, or paid out in dividends. All a corporation is, or needs to be, is a legal device that allows contracts to be entered into without being personally binding on the person who signs them, and for shielding the whole of an investor's capital from liens associated with the failure of one business he or she has invested in.
Are instances where private individuals claim for themselves the generally conceded rights of a state to employ violence for a political end. The great distaste for such action expressed by states is, at bottom, a trade guild matter, quite analogous to the reaction of a union carpenter to the sight of someone constructing a new back-porch and steps on a three-flat, without being in possession of a union card.
States generally proceed against such actions using the vocabulary of criminality, and treat them as violations of the state's criminal law, out of a view that this is a superior course politically, because it stigmatizes the persons who have set themselves up as the state's enemies as ,mere felons, and obviates any acknowledgement of their actual political ends and aims. The persons who thus challenge a state frequently insist on being accorded the status of combatants, describing themselves, when under arrest, as prisoners of war, and declaring criminal charges against them have no validity, and criminal courts no jurisdiction over them or their actions, because of their combatant status.
It is certainly possible for a state to make the calculation that its interests are better served by regarding such persons as being just what they themselves claim to be, namely combatants engaged in war with the state. At the price of perhaps according a certain political legitimacy to such persons, the state might greatly simplify the task of dealing with them in some ways. There would be no need for arrest, for instance; no one tries to arrest enemy combatants, they try to kill, maim, or capture them. Incarceration of a prisoner of war is not based on a finding of guilt at a trial, where evidence is presented and cases argued; an enemy combatant if captured is simply held prisoner, until exchanged, or until repatriated at the conclusion of hostilities.
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