The Gods Whose Sacrifices We Neglect

The old gods have a lot to teach us.

Sure, we all know that the Greek pantheon – Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hades, Ares, Athena, Artemis, Demeter, Dionysus, and the rest – don’t *really* exist.

But there is a reason people chose these characters to personify their understanding of the world. As psychologist Jordan Peterson points out, each god (in all of his or her power and pettiness) represents some of the fundamental human drives or attributes – sex, intelligence, wrath, independence.

The old Greek pantheon is a sophisticated way for understanding the complex human mind, which is home to many powerful needs and drives that sometimes act like personalities.

Like the gods of legend, these “gods” of our personality don’t like people who spurn them. And it doesn’t take a long look into Greek mythology to know that the gods do awful things to people they don’t like. Afflictions of madness, afflictions of lust, transformation into animals – it’s not pretty.

Aren’t fighting for your rights, your ideas, or your self-respect? You are neglecting Ares (the god of war) and he will exact his sacrifice someway. Usually this will look like a gradual building resentment, with an explosion of anger toward someone who doesn’t deserve it at a time it’s not called for.

Aren’t honoring or expressing your own sexuality? You may be offending Aphrodite (who brought about the downfall of Heracles – so not someone to be messed with). She’ll have her due, in uncontrolled, warped, or frustrated desire.

Aren’t preserving your independence and purity? Giving in to the crowd? Surrendering what makes you unique? In a sense you are offending the virgin goddess Artemis, who is perhaps the scariest of them all (she’ll turn you into a stag and have your own hounds kill you).

It’s all imagination, I know. But I still find it interesting to think of my own drives or needs as personalities. With personalities, at least we can bargain. We can make the sacrifices that all good Greeks knew to make. And we can remember that neglecting any of the gods has terrible consequences.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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How Children Learn the Humanity of Trade

My older children attend a self-directed learning center for unschoolers a couple of days a week. I love to hear the stories they share about what they do during the day. Classes are offered and are generated based on the young people’s interests, but they are entirely voluntary. Kids can attend classes or do their own projects, either independently or collaboratively, during what is known as “open hangout.” No one directs the hangout. Adults are present to facilitate and help if needed, but they don’t orchestrate the children’s work and play. The kids are free to create at will.

One creation that has been ongoing for months during open hangout is the development of a marketplace and its associated currency, known as myafo. It turns out, some of the kids want to tax the businesses in the marketplace “because that is how it is.”The kids create myafo using crayons and hot glue to make colorful, round gems and then use this currency to “buy” items that are produced for sale in the myafo marketplace. It’s been interesting to hear about the evolution of this economy and its unit of exchange, including the successes and setbacks.

Lately, as the marketplace gains popularity among the young people at the learning center, there have been discussions about creating a central bank and the potential issues related to that. There have also been conversations about power and control. Not surprisingly, one discussion that piqued my interest related to taxes. It turns out, some of the kids want to tax the businesses in the marketplace “because that is how it is.”

Forced Generosity

Others have more magnanimous reasons for taxation, such as using the taxes as a method of charity to allow kids who are new to the center, or who attend irregularly, to fully participate in the marketplace by receiving an allotment of myafo out of the collected taxes. It was called a charity tax. Some children disagreed with the tax idea and suggested that everyone be encouraged to voluntarily donate some of their myafo to help the newcomers. After all, forced generosity isn’t charity; it’s coercion.

It will be interesting to see how the myafo marketplace matures and how the kids address conflicts related to their growing economy. The issues they grapple with are big, and even we adults haven’t figured them out in real life. I am glad to see that dialogue and debate are central to the young people’s decision-making and that it is all completely child-driven. Trade is a fundamental process of human betterment.The kids, who range in age from about six to 14, created this project all on their own, with no adult prompting and no adult interference. It reveals how the idea of peaceful, voluntary cooperation through trade is something humans gravitate toward. Indeed, they have for millennia.

The history of trade dates to prehistoric times, as individuals sought to improve their well-being through trade. Someone has something to barter or sell that someone else wants to barter or buy, and both parties are better off as a result of the exchange. Trade is a fundamental process of human betterment. As it has spread during modern times, particularly when unencumbered by kings, dictators, and other central powers, free trade has led to growing global prosperity and astonishing reductions in poverty.

Trade

FEE’s Dan Sanchez goes so far as to say trade is what makes us human and quotes Adam Smith, who wrote in The Wealth of Nations of humans’ “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Smith continues:

It is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals, which seem to know neither this nor any other species of contracts. (…) Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.

If you or your children are curious about the history of money and exchange, I highly recommend this Outschool.com class taught by Tom Bogle, as well as the Netflix original series Origins and its episode on “Money, Banks, and The Stock Market.” And definitely check out FEE’s fantastic Common Sense Soapbox episode “Voluntary Trade is Win-Win!

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On Twitter, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

“There continues to be meaningful public conversation about how we think about Tweets from world leaders on our service,” begins a post at the micro-blogging service’s non-micro-blog.

In summary, certain Super Very Important Special People (“world leaders”) are exempt from Twitter’s rules, but henceforth Regular Normal Completely Unimportant People (like you and me) are subject to new rules. We can’t like, reply, share or retweet rules-violating tweets from Super Very Important Special People.

“We understand the desire for our decisions to be ‘yes/no’ binaries,” the blog post continues, “but it’s not that simple …. Our goal is to enforce our rules judiciously and impartially.”

Well, yes, it is that simple. Impartiality in rules is the exact opposite of  dividing Twitter users into two classes, one of  them subject to the rules, one of them not.

In their great and unmatched wisdom, Twitter’s owners have over time moved to police speech on their platform in various ways.

They don’t HAVE to do that, at least in the US — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from legal liability for user-created content under most circumstances.

There’s not even any particularly good reason to police user content, since the service’s “block” option allows users to ignore (by not seeing) content from other users whose opinions or language offend.

But hey,  OK, fine — Twitter is a privately owned service, not a public square, and its owners are entitled to set any rules they care to set for its use.

On the other hand, it’s neither judicious nor impartial to make some rules, then announce exemptions from those rules for Super Very Important Special People while heaping new rules on Normal Completely Unimportant People to keep us from acting like Super Very Important Special People.

Not judicious. Not impartial. In fact, pretty [insert your preferred non-newspaper-safe expletive here] offensive.

The Super Very Important Special People already have their own bully pulpits from which to yell anything they like and be heard and obeyed. We Normal Completely Unimportant People don’t get to hold press conferences in front of news cameras on the White House lawn in Washington, or on the front stoop at 10 Downing Street in London, or on the steps of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Twitter keeps making itself less useful to most of us in order to curry favor with a few. That’s not just injudicious and partial, it’s a bad business plan.

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You Get the Political Circus You Voted On

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, and all the rest of you, too! Welcome to the Big Top. Yes, that’s right: the Impeachment Circus, with its dancing elephants and prancing donkeys, is coming to town.

It has been announced amid much fanfare. The flyers have been tacked to telephone poles all over America and I think I hear the parade of animals coming up the street. Grab your manure shovels from the tool shed and be ready to start scooping.

If only it were this exciting or momentous. I’m already bored with it and it hasn’t even started. It has become a tedious political ritual.

These days the show promises to kick off once per administration or so, but it usually gets canceled for lack of interest. This time it seems it will actually happen.

It would save a lot of time and strife if impeachment proceedings were automatically begun upon each new president’s oath-of-office. This way the opposition party could skip the saber-rattling theatrics and just get on with collecting the president’s offenses as they find (or imagine) them.

Or they could if the theatrics weren’t the whole point. They are performing tricks for their voters. It’s a shame it still works.

Every president does something — and usually many things — the political opposition feels deserve impeachment. So they keep testing the waters, trying to gauge how much support for impeachment they could get from the rest of the congressvermin in their own party and from their supporters in the population.

Unfortunately, before they get so caught up in impeachment fever, they normally manage to pass some new legislation. I’m firmly against this development. Seeing as how there are only two kinds of legislation — the unnecessary and the harmful — I would rather they spend their time trying to politically crucify the president they hate. It’s a much less harmful way to earn political points. Better to sacrifice every president than the people’s lives, liberty, and property.

Since it’s a political circus, I’m inclined to say “Not my circus; not my monkeys;” but I know a lot of people are very attached to this circus and to its monkeys — or elephants and donkeys as the case may be — claiming them as their own.

I hope you enjoy the show. As long as you keep buying tickets — by casting votes — you’ll keep getting the government you deserve. It’s what you voted for no matter who you voted for.

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Politicians: A Necessary Demystification

Politicians are people with jobs and with bosses.

On its face that seems like a relatively uncontroversial statement, but I’m always surprised at how much time people spend looking for high principle in the decisions politicians make instead of considering the mundane dynamics of political employment.

In a recent column, I pointed out that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) finally opened a formal impeachment inquiry versus President Donald Trump because she’s good at counting votes, not because  she’s personally keen on the idea. Pelosi wants to keep her party’s top job in the US House of Representatives. Sometimes keeping that job involves running to the front of parades she didn’t plan.

When I write things like this, some accuse me of being overly cynical. Agree or disagree with a particular politician on a particular issue, they’re convinced that politicians in general are more like painters or musicians who create art for the sake of art than like fry cooks or janitors who work for paychecks and in hope of promotion.

I don’t think I’m too cynical. I’m not saying that politicians lack principles or beliefs. I’m not saying they never act on their principles or beliefs. But they’re people with jobs and with bosses.

Many people seek particular jobs out of what we might consider selfless, or at least highly principled, motives.

A kid dreams of becoming a veterinarian because he or she loves animals.

Decades later, is that kid still spaying, neutering, smooshing stool samples, etc., solely from pure love of animals, or does paying the mortgage and building a profitable practice (or remaining employed in one) perhaps also play a role?

The average elected official probably answers to more  bosses than the average American worker. Voters. Campaign contributors. Party officials. Fellow politicians up and down the ladder of power.

Those bosses have conflicting goals and priorities, which means conflicting pressures on the politician. Pressure to move slowly on something he supports. Pressure to move fast on something she has doubts about. Pressure to sacrifice his goals to the group’s goals, just for now, we’ll get to your thing soon, pinky promise.

Politicians aren’t ethereal creatures of pure principle, operating on a higher moral plane than the rest of us. They’re people with jobs and with bosses, just LIKE the rest of us. And that’s more than sufficient reason to not give them much power OVER the rest of us.

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Glad to See Space Escape Government

I admit it: I’ve always been a bit of a space geek. Or, would that be “space nerd?”

Whatever the term, I love space flight, and am especially excited to see it beginning to escape the stagnant, innovation-crushing monopoly of government.

I’ve enjoyed watching the recent rocket launches and the tests of the experimental vehicles. I am pulling for humans to walk on Mars in my lifetime; thinking it’s looking more likely all the time.

I resent government agencies pretending to have some political authority over space flight and the companies practicing it, but the nature of government is to get in the way. Government offices are filled with hordes of people unqualified to do anything but issue or deny permits, and they are going to keep asserting control — fighting the future — as long as they can get away with it.

I also realize when people move to another world — whether a planet or a moon — they’ll probably pollute the place with some sort of government.

I wish they’d establish a society instead, but since most people mistakenly conflate society and government they’ll probably make the wrong choice.

The most foolish thing they might do would be to accept an Earth government’s attempt to govern a colony on another world. And you know they’ll try. Gotta keep milking those “tax cows” and make sure the Earth laws are being enforced. Can’t allow liberty to get a foot-hold anywhere, or it might give Earth inhabitants dangerous ideas.

I’ve thought for decades that unless a new, attainable frontier opens up soon, the human race is doomed. Some people are fine with being jammed together in a politically controlled environment, but some of us aren’t. This is why humans have always journeyed over the horizon.

The first church steeple or courthouse was enough to make some frontiersmen decide it was time to pack up and move to freer spaces. This option has been closed off for too long now, and it’s having dangerous consequences.

I doubt I’d go to Mars or the Moon, even if I had the opportunity. Especially not for a one-way trip. I like uncultivated plants, wild animals and free air too much.

Will space, “the final frontier,” open soon enough to salvage humanity? Will it be a place of liberty or oppression? I don’t know for sure, but it’s finally looking a little hopeful for the first time in decades. We aren’t there yet, but we’re going. It’s just a matter of time.

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