Saturday, November 09, 2002

"Citizen initiatives violate the concept of representative government. Without proper safeguards, our state is in danger of becoming a pure democracy." ~former majority leader Ken Garn, of Utah

Now, doesn't that just keep you awake at night? The idea that citizens might someday play a part in their own lives?

You better believe it keeps some far-sighted politicians up at night, realizing their influence and control of the law might not be iron-clad in a society where citizens make law by initiatives. Or even expect more input in how the law is handled. Dangerous times, my friends, dangerous times...

Less than three hundred years ago, the most powerful people in the world were monarchs and nobles, in Europe and Asia, who controlled what today would be billions of dollars in land, resources, buildings, and even people. These lucky few lived as the dreams of poorer men died around them, and they enjoyed power, prestige and the fulfillment of nearly every wish.

But despite their wealth, their power, and their position over others these men almost all died before their fiftieth year. Many did not know how to read, or the rules of simple mathematics. Few had seen more than one hundred square miles of the world, and none ever traveled faster than twenty miles an hour. Their wealth and position could not buy them what their society did not know, or had not yet achieved. A lower middle class individual in a industrialized nation in this year 2002 is comparitively more wealthy than the most fabulously rich king fifteen generations ago. Such an individual is afforded more choice in cuisine, a vastly superior education and medical care, more comfortable housing with temperature control, can travel around the world with sufficient preparation and saving, and communicate instantly with people around the world, though telephone and the internet. If this individual envies the past king's great mansion or many servants, they may save their wages for a year, and go check into a illustrious hotel or resort, where even Louis the Sun King would be flattered by bustling servants, beautiful artwork, and sumptious surroundings. Furthermore, our industrious vacationer can exchange one resort for another each year, experiencing new and more novel surroundings, and enriching each experience comparitively; though our king has his palace year round, it remains the same, and will for generations. And to heap insult upon this injurious comparison with the proud King, this man of 2002 will have nearly twice the good King's lifetime to enjoy all these advantages, and will remain healthy and well-heeled for most of his life.

While our King has great personal wealth, he lacks greatly in societal wealth: the relative commons of a society, it's technology, resources, and behavioral norms. Small inequalities in societal wealth can be made up in personal wealth, such as wealthy scions in impoverished nations today, who live quite well, even by American standards. But a great inequality in societal wealth provides our proverbial modern man with things a past King simply cannot have, and never will, thoughout the entirety of his short, if prestigious life.

Real wealth is capability, not resources. We measure men in dollars because in the short term, this determines what you can accomplish. But society changes and evolves, and in the longer consideration, the two are no longer the same.

To maximize your real wealth, a balance must be struck, between advancing your personal wealth, and contributing to societal wealth. Personal wealth provides you with comforts, luxuries, and increased capability. Societal wealth is the marketplace from which these things must be bought. If the marketplace is too poor, no amount of money will suffice to purchase what you desire. Conversely, the richest society in the world does you no good if you do not have sufficient coin to enter in.

Occasionally, the universe has a sale, and it is possible to buy a great deal of societal wealth with less effort than is usual. These moments ring down in history, because they are rich in advancement, and the opportunity for the creation of heroes and grand figures. Sixty years ago, a scientist invested less than 10 years of research and production, and saved future billions of lives, when he discovered a vaccine for the great scourge of polio, now almost unknown. Further in scientific history, a Dr. Nobel, sick at heart for his invention of nitro-glicerine which became TNT, offered up some of his uneasy wealth for the inspiration and reward of scientists who furthered humanity, indirectly contributing to some of the most influencial and beneficial accomplishments of humanity(including the aforementioned vaccine). Not only did these men do their neighbors a great service, they helped themselves by contributing to the society that surrounded them, affording themselves new abilities, and greater wealth.

The most critical point in history is always now, because in this fleeting moment, we have the opportunity to effect change, seize opportunities, and grow as individuals in ways that will never be available again. So, with this knowledge, know that there is no more pressing concern than to contribute to our societal wealth at this moment. Contributing to organizations and projects that advance the case of humanity allows you to increase your wealth, in ways that simply amassing more personal wealth does not. It helps you to build a world where your dollars are worth more. Where you can do things that you cannot do now, with any amount of money. Where you may live to enjoy these things longer.

There is no reliable way to calculate absolutely how much you invest in societal wealth, or what you will recieve in return. In this way it is very similar to business investing. Poor investment in charities, medical technologies, or other contributions to those around you are not any better than investing in poor companies or employees. Finding the right way to contribute to the right causes is paramount in receiving a real and tangible return on your investment.

Archimedes is supposed to have said, "But give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world.". By contributing to efforts to better society, you change the place you live, exchanging it for an improved version, concurrently improving your own station. The accelerating change that our society undergoes ensures that this improvement does not long wait. One thousand dollars buys an ever more capable car or computer, flies you further in a better plane, buys you more competent medical treatment, cooks you safer and more varied foods. Find the right place to be, and the right place to help, and you will make your past self seem a pauper, with a tenth of his gold.

Wednesday, November 06, 2002

"When man first achieved the upright position he looked up at the stars, and he thought they were something to eat. When he was unable to consume them, he decided they must be groceries for a larger animal. And so Jehovah was born."

~ E.K. Hornbeck, "Inherit the Wind"

Athiesm and Morality

For some bizarre reason, I've been running into folks lately who equate Atheism with a rejection of morality in general. I assume this is because people have run to Atheism in the past for horribly wrong and twisted emotional reasons, but I could be wrong. just because morality is associated with a spooky ethereal father figure to one person, does not imply that it is therefore instrinsically tied with such a concept.