Chapter 8. A House of Bondage
He was alive! I was never so glad to see a being come back to life, even if that being was such a strange one. Yes, he was alive! I thought I had killed him!
Though he was standing up, the alien appeared to be lost in thought. He was still in thinking mode, stuck in a classic pose resembling that famous Rodin statue, the Thinker. He needed a few minutes to free himself from his static engagement.
The freakish golem began showing signs of life and began moving around. He was still silent, and I didn’t know how I could help him or get medical help. One thing for sure: Looking at his complicated physique with all those appendages, antennae and vestigial parts, hospitalization here on Earth would have been out-of-this-world expensive and thus out of the question, too.
I don’t think his own doctors under his socialized medical health insurance plan would be willing and able to make house calls from his home planet, either – not from this distance. Now, that would really be science fiction even for humans today on earth. The surgeons wouldn’t be the only ones to keep the patients in stiches. But in terms of health insurance costs, such as those on subspace intergalactic exchanges on the Healthcare.Gov website, the specifics about our two races wouldn’t have made a world of difference.
Though he seemed to me to be socialist, the alien didn’t give any hints whether the people on his home world were as bloody as the iron-rich landscape on Mars, or on our own Earthly Plantagenet Planet whose people had been stuck in a thorny War of Roses or where hotspur revolting people became enraged and engaged in guillotine activity in a reign of terrestrial terror. Oui, the people.
I wasn’t sure if iron was as central to his planet and creatures as it was to ours. That element always seemed to be at the core of our existence ever since we first appeared on this revolving sphere. Human social revolutions have a way of bringing out the iron from the blood of human beings. But industrial revolutions magnify the impact even further. Since the renaissance gave rise to art and design, the acquired knowledge of science had been applied in a technology that designed swords from plowshares, turning them into tools of war and weapons of mass destruction such as artillery, tanks, and warplanes. Ironically, as much ferric material came from the spilt hemoglobin of bloodied victims in these wars as was extracted from under the Earth, closer to its ferocious and furciferous ferrous infernal core of devilishly molten iron. If the alien was a creature of light, he could have secretly been a Lucifer entity of shiny bright molten cast iron material, an out-of-sorts outcast of sorts, cast out of the heavens and into an unenviable ironic environment.
At times I wondered about God’s indictment of Cain after that first-born of humanity killed his brother Abel: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground…which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” Such seems to be the role of iron vis-à-vis humanity: To challenge the animal magnetism of man, who throughout the ages would be tested by that Ferric element “FE” located somewhere on the periodic table between Minnesota and Colorado. Does its characteristic of being the 26th element, with 26 electrons and 26 protons attests to our bloody implementation of that ferric material? Was this God’s ironic challenge to humanity? Could it have been mere coincidence that the number 26 happens to be the Hebrew Gematria value of God’s name from the Tetragrammaton? Why was the Iron-Cross chosen as an icon of battlefield distinction?
Not only in death doth mankind’s blood flow. Between inspiration of the soul into a newly generated body, and the sinspiration that coucheth at the door, we are all targets for ironic temptation. Even Moses was called a ‘bridegroom of blood’ by his wife in a moment of his son’s religious rite of passage. I always wondered about that Biblical story. Perhaps the hidden inference was that without male sperm the females would suffer a monthly wandering men-strual show of hemoglobin, and with sperm the resulting ferric fertility generates men (and more recently women, too) with more pints to be released by the sword on the our battlefields soaked with the red liquid from sustained skirmishes of the Neolithic era to the more effective battles of the iron-age when improved efficient tools of war began to be manufactured. Ironically, those fields are the stained glass windows to our trans-parent existence. They are the fat places of the earth where ironic material gets reabsorbed into a different cycle of life and death. Our wars do seem to bear witness to the claim that hearts were made to be broken.
Why do we humans have to be at each other’s throats? What’s wrong with our heads? Is it the helmets we wear in war? Are we fighting over the best helmet styles in order to get a head-start over our rivals? Are the British so stubborn about their Brodies while the French are fighting for their more chic Adrians? Why were the Germans so obstinate in their use of the Stahlheim helmet with the low angle flap above the ears which Hollywood adopted and exaggerated in the Darth Vader character? While has the American army itself been so insistent on covering combat soldiers’ ears with soup-bowl styled M1 helmets, a protective device which still sports a small upward curl at the bottom? Is it conflicts of style which cause the heathen to rage?
I hoped the alien’s seemingly churlish planet wasn’t an inferno as bloody as our own Earthly history indicated. As its visiting exchange student, the alien didn’t seem the type to participate in a plot to ultimately plunder our world. But despite his appearance as a gentle intelligent creature with a pawky wit and polite demeanor, I had become concerned whether he was actually part of a reconnaissance mission leading to the first wave of a pugnacious invasion force that would decimate our population. Or, in this alien’s case, to hexadecimate it.
Seriously, I began to be a bit concerned. He may have been indoctrinated with the rogue rouge of communist sentiments and could have been a Martian-like Marxist sympathizer. His revolting appearance gave me the idea that he may a revolutionary. But his native hue of revolution wasn’t clear.
Finally he opened his eyes again, or whatever he called those iron-rich ferocious ocular appendages. The lack of light apparently had dilated his pupils as the beams had done mine when this entire adventure began.
He was squinting and getting readjusted to the light. Slowly, and with gleaming fluidity he moved around, appearing to test his parts in a diagnostic check that seemed to last about a minute. “What happened?” he asked, still a bit confused.
“You sort of passed out for a while”, I responded, observing his color which returned as a dull shade of pink, like that legendary panther cartoon character.
“I was thinking about…thinking about…” he stammered, in a lethargic intoxicated state as if he were served a potent dosage of “opium of the people” in some observant religious service.
It was interesting to see him a bit befuddled. I had to bring him back down to Earth even though I was pretty sure he wanted to get away from this paltry planet soon as possible. “We were talking about humanity’s lack of preparation for future disasters,” I said. I knew this was a bit harsh, thrusting him back to our reality. I felt he may need the quick return to our atmosphere to continue his investigation in which his people had invested so much. The question was, would such a jolt cause him to burn up in our atmosphere?
“Oh, yes. Now I remember. Your human lack of interest in the consequences of your actions – or perhaps lack of them – threw me into a feedback loop. I am all right, now.
“Do you need a doctor?” I asked. “I don’t know if we have an expert in alien physiology.”
The alien had been recovering from his momentary hiatus of consciousness and was attempting to return to reality, as insane as that was. “That won’t be necessary, human. I am feeling better. Confused in a world that makes no sense, but accepting the insanity and becoming familiar with it, just like your people have done throughout your earthly existence. Besides, I do not want to get stuck with the doctor’s bill”.
Now it was my turn-I was now stuck, and I sympathized with the alien’s predicament. Although he may have been an ardently furciferous communist, essentially this particular tovarish seemed to share the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us. I responded to my comrade’s latest quip with ironic cynicism: “You have a point. The cost of medical care and health coverage here on our planet is earth-shattering. I guess it’s simply the cost of cost of freedom. In socialism, health care is free, but the people are not. In the free world on the other hand, the people are free and health care is not.”
The alien looked up and seemed to smile, somewhat amused. His skin now turned as red as a republican state. This made me think again how silly the human notions of skin color are. He understood the human condition well, and it didn’t bother either of us that his skin at times had more of a burgundy hue than a Washington Redskin emblem. Interesting how so much attention is focused on the “Redskins” football team’s name after so many years in which the media never brought up the subject. The whole issue of chromosomes and skin color probably began so innocently in Boston as an attempt to attract baseball fans of the Red Sox and the Braves to fill the stands at the football gridiron in Fenway or elsewhere in the Beantown vicinity. Somehow a fuse blew out that short circuited both junior and senior circuits resulting in a fused hybrid name of Redskin. No one was thinking about renaming the team to something like the “Redbraves”, a hybrid name for the Boston baseball teams at the time. After the team moved to Washington, the name remained fused while apparently no one was thinking about the future back then, thinking it would be the future now, decades later. Maybe the future isn’t really now, despite Coach George Allen’s famous quote.
But, then, what’s in a name? Pete Rose by any other name wouldn’t have gotten into the Hall of Fame. And was Amerigo Vespucci’s forename and his namesake continents denote something of a love of riches or a soul of riches? Affluent souls? Bitter wealth? What amazing foresight!
I waited for the alien’s return comment. His ocular protrusions, that I had concluded were his eyes, then seemed to move around the room in the process of becoming readjusted to the light. I noticed his color had changed to a light orange. That wasn’t really important to me, but it could have been a determining factor defined by his very own chromosomes. I wasn’t sure if the alien had any of these or if they were constantly changing like his color was.
He then took issue with my last declaration: “Many of you humans use that word ‘freedom’ freely. You take liberties in using that word so much you have become so used to it, and apply it liberally as well”.
Interesting point. True, the practical practice of freedom has become a social cornerstone that got humanity to turn a critical corner in its civic development. But when one refers to some social concepts too freely and too often, one gets used to it. Especially with certain words and phrases.
I was wondering where this extraterrestrial’s exploration was going and felt intellectually threatened. After all, I was adamant in my support and preference of our capitalist system, and it seemed all too natural to take liberties in expressing my enthusiasm. Our free world was literally the best of all worlds, even if it meant having people go unemployed for so long and burning up cash resources. The alternatives we humans were familiar with were indeed earth-shattering. Health care is simply one of the costs of that freedom.
So, with a surge of unbridled patriotism in which I felt my own colors change, I proclaimed forcefully but perfunctorily, “America is all about freedom.” I really believed this, at least in most cases. Except when it came for the celebrity driven Medal of Freedom, which I felt at time made a mockery of the TRUE freedom fighters who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States. But as the bizarre wizard of odd would have said: “Oprah and Bill and the other celebrities…have one thing these anonymous fighters of freedom did not have: a medal; a testimonial celebratory token.” By the power vested in his wizardry e pluribus Unum, an illustrious head of state somehow ignored those deserving homeless or unemployed veterans who have sacrificed so much fighting every day for survival with FREEDOM in bold letters on their resumes.
The alien noticed my hesitation, then continued: “What do you mean, human?” He asked, calling me by my species name as he had done earlier during first contact. “I understand the cliché slogan of America being all about freedom. But what I do not understand is…freedom from what?”
That was indeed a strange question coming from an even stranger observer. “Freedom from oppression, persecution, intimidation…all of those evils. Do I have to go into detail?” I asked him rather insolently. I was still suspicious of his motives, still aware of the possibility that he was an overt over-the counter-intelligence spy. Or, maybe I had watched too many spy-in-the-sky-movies of the Bond type.
“Oh, why did not you say so?” he asked, again with that annoying syntactical error, but nevertheless rather innocently and with a touch of irony. Perhaps this was because he had more iron in his veins than the planets Earth and Mars combined, including the cores of these spherical orbiters and the earthlings’ hemoglobin. Maybe that’s what made him turn red so frequently.
“I thought the notion of freedom was clear. It is a basic tenet in our society”, I replied. Freedom of the press IS freedom from oppression, repression, and suppression of ideas. The press already is free of these constraints. The problem is, now that our society doesn’t intimidate us for speaking freely.
I still held the notions of free speech and expression of ideas in high regard. But they are important only to the extent where someone pays attention to them. Ideas that are ignored are just as valuable as those that are beaten down by dictators. I suppose that no one seems to pay attention to those who say we should do away with second presidential terms. We have too many lame ducks in a row, and too many lame-duck dynasty administrations. Maybe we shouldn’t have second terms for presidents. And maybe we amend the 22nd amendment to prevent nepotism in which spouses, siblings, children, or other close relatives to run for president or even a senate seat. Such a law would prevent family dynasties, particularly lame-duck ones. The question is, whether anyone is still listening with all the duck-calls drowning out the wise-quacks.
The alien then remarked rather forcefully, “The key word in your proclamation is not the word ‘freedom’, but rather ‘from’. That may very well be the problem here. You talk about America being all about freedom. How can you refer to ‘freedom’ without the word ‘from’?”
Now the questions were getting more and more annoying, and I was beginning to feel like a cantankerous curmudgeon and started to grow impatient with his criticism. His interrogation was poking at details I hadn’t thought of before. “The first amendment mentions freedom of speech, and of the press, peaceable assembly and petition. It’s the first guarantee of the bill of – if you’ll pardon the expression – our ‘inalienable’ Rights.”
“Actually, human” he countered rather abruptly, “the term used in your Declaration of Independence is ‘unalienable’. You need to get this right if you want to argue your case”.
Another unexpected slap at my reference to the Constitution, and this slap seemed as incongruous as Congress, because the term “inalienable” was the more commonly used expression. I tried to be enlightened, and didn’t consider myself incorrigible. But the constant corrections from this outsider were getting on my nerves. I reconsidered my decision to not correct his syntactical error, but preferred to hear him talk like such a silly foreigner who often asked questions like: “Why cannot you fix things?”
Before I had a chance to recoil, the alien continued his interrogation: “This notion and obsession with freedom is curious. Does that include freedom to break the law?” The alien didn’t wait for me to reply. He continued his probe “And what about freedom to speak things that foment hate crimes and promote violence?” Either he was trying to drive a point “home” like a prosecuting attorney, or he was simply impatient and wanted to get his message across faster.
I was unprepared for this debate, so I answered back simply and without much thought: “Freedom from, freedom to, freedom of…they’re all the same.”
He replied with his proven alien articulation. “Actually, they are not. The root cause of your woes is you prefer to maximise your freedom with no constraints.”
“What sort of constraints do you mean?” I asked, though I think I knew what he meant. Although texting was an expression of free speech, one should not text when driving on the roads or steering around stars when traveling twice the speed of light. It’s easy to get burned. Think of all those accidents caused by people, and perhaps more urgently, of those people caused by accidents.
“I mean anything that enables your freedom without letting it get ‘out of control’. Some regulation is necessary in order to maintain your liberty.” Then he thought for a moment and appeared as if to be accessing some memory bank. He then continued, “You can not have the freedom to engage in fair play without referees or umpires. Likewise, there are no free, open markets without trading rules and enforcement, just as there are no electronic circuits without resistors. These are just some examples of the same idea: Regulation is necessary. There can be no freedom without the law.”
Now he was beginning to sound like Charleton Heston’s portrayal of Moses in the Ten Commandments. But he may have had a point about lawlessness: Could it be a consequence of excessive freedom among those of us who can’t behave in a civil manner? Can too much freedom enable the break-down of organic chemical bonds in our cohesive civilization that bonds us all together? I found myself nodding politely while listening to his deployment of common sense. Was our community unity threatened with mutiny?
Maybe a free democracy should be progressive enough to permit public intoxication. Maybe it should allow debauchery and open orgies, if that’s what the public wants. After all, did the people create the republic to prevent public recreation? Is it that very restriction of freedom which caused the Roman Empire to decline into nothing more than the hangover that followed Roman Republic-intoxication?
“Just to clarify, human: The term ‘freedom’ is meaningless without the word ‘from’. Otherwise, freedom becomes a free-for-all jungle of thieves and bullies, a principle written in bonded lead on paper, given to erasure at a moment’s notice. Regulating society is absolutely necessary in everyday life, and law is essentially the regulating framework – look at resistors in electric circuits as clarified in Ohm’s Law, for example.”
I was not sure what he meant by that particular law, but it sounded familiar and had the sound of something official and legal. Since it seemed important I decided to look up that law later and see how it was relevant. I wanted to keep the conversation flowing, as it was stimulating and energizing and gave me a sense of revived power.
The important thing I guess was that he was referring to laws of nature which limit our freedoms. Perhaps the laws of physics which limit the speed of light also act to regulate and therefore prevent an otherwise free-flow of time. The inability to exceed the speed of light further made me curious as to he was able to get to earth across vast distances. He would have to be like Superman, traveling faster than a speeding bullet or beam of light, no matter how infinite his mass may have been in that case.
It was now apparent that the alien had revived and had gotten his energy back. He stood up tall and paced the room again, continuing to poke and probe, sounding at times like a popular science fiction cyber-being who was laying the groundwork to absorb intelligent life forms into his socialist government collective. “Resistance to the free-flow of crime is seen in everyday life in the enforcement of order by your police. Your law enforcement agencies know this: Resistance is NOT futile.”
Wow, this was truly a relief! I guess this meant that his race was not going to invade our world like some race of screwy predator creatures with cybernetic implants. Coming from an alien of his proportions and features, it was refreshing to hear that resistance was not futile. But if his race ever did indeed decide to take over our planet perhaps we should prepare some resistance before it pillages our villages. Or we could wait only until the need would arise. I couldn’t resist the temptation: “Do you think we will get invaded someday?”
He breathed out again and changed color to a sky-blue, which probably indicated some sort of amusement. “I am sure you are ready to be invaded, and if you do not prepare your society by taking the necessary precautions, it could happen someday,” he said kindly like a giant nine-foot Kanamit from the Twilight Zone who only wanted to serve man – on a platter, that is.
“Monitoring and regulating markets is important,” he continued. “The natural flow generally needs to be regulated - otherwise things can get out of control. That is true whether that flow is water, electricity, money, or freedom itself. Otherwise, people are free to break the law. Look what happened when your own Securities and Exchange Commission – your SEC – failed to regulate and investigate the marketplace. It obviously failed in its duties when it missed the red flag warnings relating to suspicious trade activities such as those of Enron and Worldcom, who were able to engage in financial improprieties unfettered from nagging government scrutiny. Are the regulators any better today than before? Are they doing what they are supposed to be doing – umpiring fair-play in the market place?”
Although I agreed in a larger sense with the alien, I didn’t like the idea of too much regulation, as it was never clear how honest those people who regulated the regulators were. It was too subjective, too dependent on the government, and it was silly to think that an organization could regulate itself like an individual body does. We were people with innate human frailties; imperfect and prone to desire; subjective and not always impartial; at times uninterested, although not always disinterested.
So I decided to voice my opinion on this, be the reaction as it may: “I have to say, I don’t agree at all with your claim that “freedom” requires the word “from”, particularly when it comes to capitalism and the marketplace. There, I have always felt that businesses are free to advertise to suckers, and enable them to see the truth even if it is in very fine print. They and everyone have the right to choose, to do business with snake-oil salesmen, predatory lenders, and electioneers no matter what they are selling, and even if they are lying through their teeth. Regulators should not be able to prevent advertising that is part of free speech, and it is up to the customer to find fault with the claims in a “caveat emptor” buying strategy. If people want to buy for promise rather than for quality, they have that right, and the government shouldn’t be called upon to protect the people from themselves.” I concluded my op-ed with the thought that I was aware that this was one of the big differences in thinking between the Pubbies and the Cratties.
At times it seems to me that the political parties in democracies are like those in dictatorships. They care only about the party and ascending to power as the ruling party. They don’t care about the people. In fact, they are suspicious about the very people they are supposed to represent. The opposition, unfortunately, is no better when they come into power.
After a moment of silence that seemed to last eons, the alien remarked: “It seems rather strange that of all the obvious solutions to human survival, you have found capitalism as the best economic model your people could have thought of.”
“What do you mean?” I protested. “This is the capitalist system which represents freedom in the marketplace. As I said a moment ago, America is all about freedom. And that’s because of our capitalist system. We beat socialism during the cold war, and that shows the superiority of our system,” I said as a true American patriot, even one that was still looking for work.
The alien looked at me again with his flapping ears and beady little eyes, considering carefully the next thing to say. “And you don’t mind that your capitalist system works against free speech?”
I was dumbfounded. And insulted. How could this stranger come in to my capitalist home and tell me my political system works against free speech? Though I appreciated his listening to my unemployment predicament and the ensuing depression, I was now taken aback by this affront.
I exercised me freedom of speech in asserting “What do you mean that capitalism works against free speech? This is America after all. The land of the free and the home of those brave enough to speak out!”
“The two simply cannot work together, neither in theory nor in practice.”
Now I was madder than a mad hatter at a mad tea party. More furious than a tea party, more like a beer putsch. Hotter under the collar than hell’s molten iron core downstairs. While I felt myself turning red-hot, I did pause to wonder what color I myself had changed to.
Then I sounded off: “How can you say such a thing? After everything capitalism has done for our country? It has enabled us to have freedom of speech and has caused the capitulation of socialism, the world’s greatest evil. Why capitalism is at the base of our free society; it is the main beam that holds up our freedom.”
“What I said, human, was that the two simply cannot work together. Capitalism is the cerebral antisocial antithesis to free speech. They can neither coordinate nor cooperate with each other. They can, however coexist together, with one acknowledging the other.”
He sounded to me like a 1970’s political analyst during the period of détente. Except that the word “peaceful” wasn’t used when describing coexistence. Maybe he was a Soviet throw-back. Kruschev and Breznev and Andropov would have been proud. Constantin Chernenko would have acknowledged the breakthrough, too, had he lived long enough. His name was one of my favorites. Said over and over again with emphasis on the “Con” and “nen”, the resulting tempo would sound like a conga dance.
Before I had a chance to volley some intercontinental ballistic missiles, he offered this argument: “Free speech capitulates where capitalism heads. It pulls in the opposite direction. It is a type of antisocial behavior where the few rule the many. Its mom is monopolization and dad is domination.”
I started to get mad all over again. “What do you mean? How dare you attack capitalism in that way?!”
“I am not attacking capitalism; I am just saying it doesn’t work with free speech.”
The alien’s claims really bothered me. True, I had complaints about the media, who claim to be champions of free speech while in truth they have the omni-potential to distract their viewers’ attention. I realized that they can make freedom of speech a costly investment and can devalue it if they wanted to. If a speaker is ignored then everyone must pay. For free speech has no payback if no one is paying attention. It is irrelevant and perhaps non-existent for someone whose voice is being drowned out or ignored. Nevertheless, I wanted to pursue the alien’s claim that freedom of speech doesn’t work with capitalism.
“How can you say that?” I asked, curious and truly interested in hearing what this Bolshevik was going to say.
“I’ll get back down to the humanity-gritty, as you called it before. Can employees of an organization say exactly what’s on their mind?”
“Of course, they can! As long as they don’t say anything that could undermine the mission of the organization.”
“But what if an employee sees something that a supervising manager higher up on the totem pole has done in violation of that explicit mission? Should that person speak up?”
“On what: On whom?”
“On whoever is ready to listen.” What about the consequences if that person does speak up?
“Inside the organization or outside, say to the media?” I asked with careful distinction.
“I see that that can make a difference,” he agreed. Let us say it is a government organization paid for by the taxpayer. If an employee sees improprieties done by management, is he or she free to exercise first amendment rights to go to the media and tell everyone about what happened?”
“Ahhh…that’s what we call ‘whistleblowing’”, I said. “It’s sort of a form of tattle-tailing, something we have been taught as kids not to do. It’s sort of a Brady-Bunch basis for a morality lesson; a Romper Room ‘don’t be’; a notorious no-no.”
“But what if it relates to something that the people should know about, such as mismanagement of funds, lavish parties, retreats and seminars that don’t optimize performance of the government organization? Does an employee with a guilty conscience have a first amendment right to speak out in true – as you so adeptly named it – ‘whistleblower’ fashion? And since the organization is funded by the taxpayers, does such an employee actually have a duty to do so?”
“I suppose so.”
“Then why does the government fire people who express themselves freely, not on sensitive operations, but rather concerning morale?”
“Good point. With the government there may indeed be such a duty to tell. As long as nothing operational or sensitive information is leaked to the public.”
“All right. Now what about non-governmental corporations. Do employees have freedom to speak out about improprieties?”
“Of course they can. They have that opportunity to fill out an employee satisfaction survey.”
“Besides that, I mean. Can the employees do so spontaneously?”
I hesitated for a moment, trying to make sure I had things thought out. Though the alien had been encouraging me to speak freely, I decided I need to started carefully. I didn’t want an insurrection on my hands.
“Well, generally they can. But employees have to be careful what they say at their glass house of employment. They shouldn’t throw stones.”
“What do you mean?” the alien asked, turning now to a light purple color
“There are certain things that one employee cannot say to another, because that would be considered harassment. There are different types of harassment: Sexual, racial, personal, ethnic, just to name a few. If you don’t like someone because of their affiliation to any particular group, you can lose your job. That’s why people don’t just say what’s on their minds.”
“So you understand this example where capitalism works against free speech. For those who need the money, anyway.”
After giving this some thought, I gave some push-back. “The rules of harassment are put in place to protect employees from feeling uncomfortable by their co-workers. They are a special situation, but in a deeper sense they are simply common sense.”
“I see your point. Let us exclude harassment from free speech. Now that the employees feel protected from their co-workers, does the organization nestled within the capitalist system allow the comfort for employees to feel protected from intimidation? Do the employees have freedom of speech to talk about management freely?
“That’s a different situation. If an employee says something against the organization, it could be detrimental to the work-flow of that organization. It could lower morale, and have a negative effect on effectiveness.”
“I see your point. Now what if that employee doesn’t speak publicly? What if the employee tells the boss his or her true thoughts on the boss? That is free speech, right?”
“Yes, it is. Of course.”
“But would YOU do that? Would ANY rational employee do that?
“No, of course not.”
“Why not?” The inquisitor alien persisted in his unparalleled line of questioning.
“Because I want to keep my job, even if the boss is doing a lousy one. I need the money.”
“So you or any rational individual who needs the money would exercise restraint in free speech as part of the capitalistic job.”
Right now I was hard at work trying to defend the capitalist system against his charges. But I wanted to keep my promise to tell the truth. I couldn’t lie to the alien.
The alien noted my silence as a sign of some cognitive dissonance. He continued his questioning apparently not wanting to lose the momentum of his argument which seemed more and more to be gaining the upper hand: “You yourself said earlier that the big boss can sometimes he lose money for the organization. Sometimes the profit & loss statement is negative and the resulting balance sheet shows this clearly. If you knew this, would you make a comment to the boss, even if you thought it was for the betterment of the organization which you are serving as an employee who gets paid by that organization?
After some serious thinking, all I could conclude was: “I guess not.”
“Even if you worked for the ACLU?”
I often got that acronym mixed up with the university whose basketball team set the record for consecutive wins. But I knew that he was referring to some union.
“I would never work for labor unions,” I answered. “I am not a socialist.”
“The American Civil Liberties Union is not a labor organization,” he corrected me. “It is an organization whose mission is to protect the civil liberties of the American people by focusing strongly, albeit at times solely on the first amendment to your Constitution. Are not you familiar with the difference between labor unions and civil liberty organizations?”
I was a little insulted that the extraterrestrial was correcting me on Earthly matters when he still couldn’t get the interrogative negative straight. “Of course I knew about labor unions,” I countered. “I know a lot. At about the time the N.F.L formed a players association in the 50’s, A.F.L. joined the C.I.O. and in order to fight for higher wages among the players. The A.F.L. then decided to form its own football league to rival the N.F.L. and the players’ association union it had recently formed. Neither the C.I.O. nor the C.E.O. had sufficient information to confirm the union or conform to it, so the A.F.L. joined the N.F.L. in a ménage-a-troika. This forced the odd-union to generate football conferences in order to help decide a super-bowl champion. The conferences could also fight for higher wages in the newly expanded players’ association. Since the A.F.L. joined the ménage, the players’ wages have skyrocketed so high even the rocket scientists can’t explain it.”
At this, the alien seemed to turn altogether pale, and I hoped again that he wouldn’t kick the bucket. But he did pique my curiosity as to why he brought up the subject of that civil-liberties union. I wondered what it would be like to work for them, and how like other organizations they needed funding. What would happen if I said something critical as an employee? Would I be threatened with termination?
I answered the alien, after thinking about it for a while. “No, I wouldn’t comment on the organization even in private.”
“Because when all is said and done, it’s the boss who pays me. Whether in a government organization, or in a non-profit; whether in a small business where the boss is the owner, or in a large corporation or government organization, my immediate supervisor is the boss who can decide for whatever reason not to keep me on the payroll. And if I were working, I would be scared to death of not having income.”
“So is the best thing to do to shut up until you are independently wealthy?” the alien asked, zeroing for the kill of a different kind of invasion force.
“I suppose so. It is common sense”. I didn’t add that the other alternative was to somehow gain political access to the large pool of p-money floating out there. As a common creature who lives and breathes v-money, I felt somewhat out of my element. I was a fish out of the pool of p-money in an ether that was totally separate and segregated.
Having thought all this, I felt my capitulation in the capitalist system complete. Even if capitalism were the best system for all, even if capitalism provided the most perfect union, the most perfect civil liberties union we the people would have dreamed up, capitalism does seem to clash with the first amendment.
I then found an argument to get out of the impasse. “The whole idea is to buy my freedom through hard work and building of independent wealth. It’s all about the wealth that capitalism enables. That will secure my blessings of liberty. I would then be free to say what I want.”
“Oh, I see. Then rising against the capitalist taskmaster is like being a slave using all the best years to fight for and eventually buy his or her freedom.”
“Yes, that’s what it’s all about!” I shouted, apparently for joy. I was out of my impasse and once again capitalism was the best of all worlds. It enabled slaves to beat swords into plowshares and their taskmasters to a pulp.
“So let us say,” he impertinently continued, “that you now have all the money you need and that you are independently wealthy. How much do you think that would be?”
“I don’t know. Several billion dollars, perhaps.”
“Why would you need that much to be independently wealthy?”
“Maybe I don’t. I might be just as happy with one billion dollars.” I would actually be as happy as Dagwood Bumstead’s mailman the day email was invented.
“What would you buy with all that money?”
“I don’t know; maybe several yachts, several mansions, several islands, I don’t know.”
“Well, right now you have used up 3 million dollars. What would you do with the rest?
“Whatever I wanted.”
“So, you would buy all these things and have millions left over. Would you say that ten million dollars is enough for you to be happy, do whatever you want?”
“It is a step down from a billion, but let’s say I would be happier with the rest of the money, besides the ten million to be put in investments or at least in the Cayman Islands.”
“So with that ten million dollars, you are now an accomplished capitalist. What do you do now?”
“I buy things.”
“Whatever I want.”
“Would you buy companies?”
“Sure. Why not? With the extra money from the Caymans.”
“Would you run the business?”
“Heck no. I want to enjoy life. I would hire some CEO to do it for me.
“And if that someone were losing money for the company?”
Now THAT’S a good question. We have a lot of examples of CEOs who earn millions of dollars a year in bonuses and stock options, while the company loses money. Watching the decline of a business and the execution of executive inspired ineffective management is like listening to a scratchy violin. So, with that in mind, I asked:
“Would that theoretical CEO we are talking about be losing all the value of the corporation he or she leads?”
“Let us say no, but what if you realized there were people out there who could do the CEO job better? Would you care? Or would it not matter to you because you had hundreds of millions overseas?”
“I guess I could still enjoy life. I wouldn’t feel urged to fire the CEO. After all, he is doing his job and enabling me to enjoy my independently wealthy lifestyle.”
“All right, now what if that CEO said things to your face you did not like? What if he said he felt you were a dirty no-good two-timing double-crossing selfish incompetent? And what would you do if he started getting mean and started to insult you and get you mad?”
“I might consider dumping the guy right back into the sea”, I said, telling the alien the truth, whole and nothing but.”
“Even if the next CEO you hired knew that he or she could not speak their mind because the lost one got fired for speaking out?”
Another good question. I could see where he was going. I had again become a capitulated capitalist. I didn’t want to continue the line of questioning. I looked for an escape from the checkmate, and I thought I found it. I tried a new gambit:
“I see your appoint. Both employee and employer have to use common sense. If I had ten million dollars and didn’t invest in a business, I guess I would be outside of capitalism.”
“So now you would need to keep the remaining unused portion of the ten million dollars in a bank or with a financial advisor. Is that right”?
“Yes that’s right.”
“And what would happen if that banker or advisor said to your face something that insulted you in a personal way. Would not that person be within his or her rights to do so under the first amendment?”
“Yes, but if I decided to take my business elsewhere, I would do so immediately.”
“Because this is a capitalist system?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“And that means you are still in this capitalist system even as an independently wealthy individual sitting on lots of cash, worth say, ten million dollars?
“It’s not a billion, but I don’t need to buy another company or a fourth estate or even a fifth column. I can travel in style, explore strange exotic lands like a Viking or just king, and know luxury all my days with nothing but the ten million dollars.”
“But since you are using money, you are still in the capitalist system.”
“I guess that’s right.”
“And can you think of anyone who is outside the capitalist system?”
“How about the communists of North Korea, or Castro’s Cuba?”
“Good point,” said the suspected communist. It was interesting that he didn’t light up when hearing reference to a Marxist regime. “But let us not include them since it is obvious that their people do not enjoy freedom of speech. These regimes are outside are discussion.”
Then, in thinking very carefully, I found I had to capitulate once again: “I suppose no person in a society that calls itself free is outside the realm of capitalism.”
“And it would seem, he continued driving, “that capitalism does work against free speech.”
That made me think long and hard. I had to find some loop-hole in his thinking. Maybe we DIDN’T really live in a capitalist system. Maybe our system is only nominally capitalist, but in practice is nothing more than…POLITICAL. Were they lying to us all the time? Was this actually NOT a capitalist society?
“I think I may be seeing your point,” I said hesitatingly. “I see where one could say that we are more of a political society than a capitalist one. After all, there is so much nepotism in promotions at work, and often people aren’t promoted based on their skills, but rather on internal politics.”
“That may make sense, human. And I applaud you for saying that. It could not have been easy. However, it seems to me that organizations that promote people based on politics and not ability will eventually be on the decline, while those which promote individuals with talent and abilities will be on the rise. This is how politics could be seen as an integral part of capitalism. That part that erodes growth and transfers it to businesses that are serious in their desire to grow.”
Now THAT was a real transfer of wealth. A re-distribution, you might say. That’s important in capitalism because it enables businesses that engage in political appointments will decay, and those with a sufficient amount of qualification quests can grow. Maybe excessive politics is the reason we got into this economic mess in the first place.
The alien then continued, making a statement in support of what I had just thought: “A capitalist business that relies on political promotions will find itself incapable of solving problems and meeting challenges of a competitive marketplace.”
“That makes sense.” I thought for a moment longer, and it really did. “Some businesses can be in decline while others are on the rise. I guess that’s the nature of true capitalism, of which internal politics play an erosive but integral part.”
“There are many examples of this in your earthy realm. It is how mammals were able to survive the dinosaurs. It also is visible in the building and erosion of mountains by geologic forces over eons of time. Some mountains grow while others erode.”
“I knew mountains did that, but never thought of the connection between capitalism and politics as opposing forces.”
“Of course,” he said. “Your Earth has never been static. The Appalachian mountain range once was the highest in the world. The Aeolian winds have shifted, as the peaks of the once mighty have fallen in the changing sands of time as the hourglass has been turned upside-down. Appalachia is no longer at the top of the world. It has eroded over time and is still retreat. At the same time, the Himalayas are still in the process of being uplifted. Mount Everest and the other peaks are still on the rise. They are a result of the Indian tectonic plate bumping into the Eurasian plate.”
So the Appalachians are in erosive retreat while the Indian plate seems to be a promising investment. That sounded more ominous than a hanging banner-sign in a Final Destination movie just before the sign is about to fall and fulfill someone’s destiny again. I wanted to get back to the subject of capitalism and the alien’s claim that it was at times working in opposition to free speech. I was still having a hard time trying to refute the alien’s claims. His arguments seemed sound and logical, even to myself. Either America was NOT a capitalist society, or if it was, that very capitalism at times did limit free speech. And if it WAS truly capitalist, did it have freedom of speech?
Then I had an idea. A desperate, 11th hour idea, but perhaps a good one to use in this argument:
“The media, particularly the cable news media are in a capitalist society. And they seem to have total freedom of speech. They say provocative things and criticize government and politicians all the time. Though they air the nation’s political dirty laundry on the air, they are fair and balanced, and try to get to the truth.”
I knew well that the media love scandals. What would they do without all the gossip, lies, and alibis? From Watergate scandals about polluted water, to scandals about SEC regulators who are supposed to investi-gate investment scandals. More scandals abound from wiretapping to watergating to online dating; from bridge-gating to tail-gating; from witness-baiting to tattle-tailing.
This should be a lesson to those of the new minority voting class. Don’t rely on campaign propaganda, and on other political advertisements. Votes are an investment and one should investigate before one invests. When one is tired of hibernating like a bear, wants to take the bull by the horns, one shouldn’t go to the market drunk and buy stocks for the intoxicated. Unlike a laughing stock, this type of “shikkur”-stock is like sticker shock once the buyers’ remorse sets in. This happens usually the next day once the voting jury is hung-over and the jurists who voted come to the realization that the only balls the elected candidate has are inaugural.
“Actually, they spin the truth so that it appears a certain way. First you decide you want to affect your audience with positive or negative feelings regarding certain ideas or iconic people. Then you go and extract something either positive or negative that can be spun in the right direction. Then you propagate the propaganda by spinning the yarn into a different type of processed yarn, one that is a story of deceit and fraud performed by your opponents, the ‘bad’ guys.”
There was that word again: SPIN. I was still dizzy from our mentally paralyzing and polarizing discussion. My magnetic fields were still not lining up. The spin of the electrons in my brain were generating a magnetic field of intense irony. They were still spinning out of sync. I did remember the baseball references to spin, and how you can get a great team like the Yankees look like bums and a hapless expansion team like the Mets of Queens look like Kings of the hill. I did learn that they can turn any spinning streak into a winning streak for their allies. The media can spin any story once it is decided who should be depicted for their audience as hero and who should they should consider too low for zero. They have more spin than a pulsating neutron star, and expect the audience to be as dense as the matter in that pulsar. They spin the audience’s brains in order to rid them of grey matter and live their heads vacuum packed. With such a media spin, type casting is as important as type setting. To adore or to abhor: That is the question.
“I remember our discussion about spin,” I told him. “In fact, I am still reeling from it. But even with the spin, there is opportunity for free speech within the program. Even when someone with different views wants to express an opinion that –“
“- Then the host interrupts the guest,” interrupted the alien. “Much the way I just impolitely stopped you in mid-sentence. On Zatox, we are taught that the host never interrupts the guest. Here I am your guest, and you never interrupted me. I know that a guest should never interrupt a host either, and I hope you will accept my profuse apologies for that untimely illustration. But I do hope it made a point.”
“That’s okay,” I reassured him. “I forgot what I was going to say anyway.”
I understood his point about how spinning a point has many facets, one of them ensuring your guests are on the same page with you. And if they are not, they get interrupted. The spin is how they sell their ideas, and the capitalism idea is relevant when one remembers the role of a cable media propaganda tool which is beholden to a political party or idea with which the audience agrees. Such an audience won’t tune in if opinions expressed by the guests conflict with theirs.
Even if a media wing tells only accurate truths, it is nevertheless telling half of the stories. Though the stories may be true, they are selective to the about the type of news presented. Marshall McLuhan was right: The media really is the message, as both left and right promulgate unbalanced messages using innuendos and half-truths. Each wing selects stories for exposure according to the agenda being pursued and the public which already leans in their direction. Between the two wings, all the people receive half the truth all the time though many may believe only half the wings tell the whole truth. Progressives and cratties would say the left media is the only one to tell the whole truth, and the conservative pubbies would say the right wing is the only one to tell the fair and balanced story. These days, it seems that you CAN fool all the people all the time.
It also seems that whenever someone is making a point that isn’t often heard, the media outlet announces it is pausing for a commercial break. Although I am a staunch capitalist, I can understand why some people would call this a case of capitalism bucking free speech.
I continue to try to find ways that capitalism and free speech work together. But sometimes I feel like the last human alive fighting the beast that had vanquished me and my once-held beliefs.
So I argued: “But despite the spin, opinions are expressed. People can talk. They have been given the time to do so”
“Have they really?” The alien asked, turning now to a golden-brown color. He had responded in a moment-of-truth query that threatened to take down the last beam of my capitalist structure that had supported free speech. How many times have you seen an intelligent debate on cable news being put on hold because it was time for a commercial break? How often does the host have to rush the argument because they have only a few seconds left? What makes sponsors so powerful to be able to put the mighty cable discussions on hold? What makes the cable shows shake when they hear the whip? What makes them rush through the discussions? What makes up almost fifty percent of the news shows?
He was beginning to both look and sound like the cowardly lion from Oz, except that the one word answer of “courage” could have been replaced by “capitalism”.
I understood his point. The commercials that break the news put brakes on further analysis, probing, and any rebuttal. But I had to interject, although I did sound a bit like I was programmed like a robot: “Commercials are important. Advertising is the right to choose. Without it, the people won’t know what products are out there and which ones the corporations feel are worth investing their marketing budgets.”
“So what you are saying is, if a product is not advertised, it cannot be any good. If it is not covered in commercial breaks, then someone with an advertising budget did not think it was worth telling the public about.”
I do agree that commercial announcements can be annoying at times. Between the brainwashing of campaign ads and commercials about heartburn, capitalism has intruded on the time that could have been spent continuing a critical debate. After all the washing and the burning, it’s a miracle that both brain and heart still function. But I still see such commercials are an inconvenience that we have to concede in order to enable free speech.
“Perhaps. On the other hand, if a product is well known already to be a quality item or service that would bring valued utility to the viewers if they were to purchase it, there would be no need to advertise it.”
“You make another interesting point, human. Some things are perceived by advertising executives as necessary to bring to the peoples’ attention, particularly with the advertising budgets generated by campaign contributions. The money is used to finance a congressional, senate, or presidential race, which is why the amounts can run into the many millions. The cable news agencies generate the political sentiment for the people to contribute money to a race. The devilish irony in this is that these campaign funds are used to pay the very same media corporations for the commercial time. And it is that very same commercial that interrupts the flow of intelligent discussion that enables the people to make an informed decision, particularly if that decision concerns their right to choose a candidate for whom to vote”.
Here we go with that ironic bleeding-heart liberal-socialist spin again. The alien made me feel like a whizzer top. It made me wonder who was really pulling the strings.
“Those same multi-millions of precious dollars,” he continued, “that are donated by people and corporations eventually end up in the coffers of the very same media corporation that helped spin the message for the donors’ intent. That is true whether the medium is internet, newspaper, radio, or television. Your own Marshall McLuhan realized this when he said ‘The medium is the message.’ It is unclear what he would think about our media which spins a series of tall tales to seek out the global Potemkin village-idiots of this country's borrowed prosperity, in order to encourage and motivate them to give even more money to a campaign whose dollars ends up back in the media corporation’s own coffers. And who knows what happens to the unused portion of those dollars, and whose pockets they line. Quite a loop in our infinite but closed universe of closed circuit television and universal studio special effects.”
This counter-clock-wise-guy spin was getting on my nerves, and I felt I had the need to counter his argument. “The people have the right to donate money for whatever cause they want. If the political campaigns have collected tens of millions of dollars, it’s because the people felt it important to contribute money to those campaigns. It’s their right to choose.”
“That is true, human. The people have that right. But how could they campaigns have gotten so much money together without the contributions made by corporations? They have much more cash to contribute, and the contributions are tax-deductible, too. It’s business as usual – business before treasure.”
“The Supreme Court came up with a decision,” I told him instructionally, glad that I was able to impart some informative knowledge, “that said that the first amendment doesn’t distinguish between persons and corporations. Freedom of speech thus relates to groups of people as well as individuals, and that includes political action groups, labor unions, and corporations, too.”
I didn’t go into the practical applications of the Supreme Court decision regarding “Citizens United”. It’s just unfortunate that corporations have decided to invest in politicians rather than new hires. And instead of developing new people as a means to grow the business, corporations have spent much of their profits on K Street lobbying. A pitiful end to a promising start.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect the Supreme Court. I respect the notion of separating that Judicial Branch from the Legislative and Executive branches. But sometimes it seems that the Constitution-empowered trio tend to short-circuit the system in a love-triangle ménage party where the parties ensure that independent-minded people are left out of the triumvirate. They aren’t always as clever as Macbeth’s witches stirring the cauldron with spiked Kool-Aid for US voters to drink on our way to the polls. In their infinite wisdom, the branches are dumber than a tree. At times they are each other’s stooge, a brotherhood that can be defined as the BLING brothers: Bungling, Bumbling, and Blundering. It’s easy to get these three confused.
“But corporations are not people,” the alien continued trying to get to the truth about political power on Earth. “True, they have a body which is where the “corp” part comes from. Nevertheless, they have no soul; no valid voice to vote their conscience. What they have is a megaphone, and they can make LOUD electioneering communications freely. True, intimidation has been replaced by keeping people away from beams of propagating light. What they get is propaganda and are kept ‘in the dark’ about what is really going on. What good is freedom of speech without a megaphone? But if I understand your democratic system, groups of people do not have a vote – despite the etymological commonality of voice and vote.”
I felt a bit trapped and didn’t have an escape route. “Anyway,” I said, “That’s what the Supreme Court ruled. The judges are the oracles of justice. In their Solomonic wisdom, they found that even the PAC rats can contribute unlimited amounts of money -”
“- To fight their Rattenkrieg as if this were a siege in the sewers of Stalingrad?” he interrupted. “Is this what the Supreme Court was defending?” The alien interrupted me again sounding like some creature from a peaceful loving planet trying to prevent a savage war between Humans and Klingons.
“No,” I responded. “It’s all about protecting freedom of speech for the citizens, and groups of citizens, too. If you start limiting this for unions or corporations or public affair lobbyists, you have opened the door for someone to begin violating the peoples’ freedom of expression.”
Here I was arguing concepts about freedom with a free radical extraterrestrial. I was thinking about how to formulate something general about the concept of freedom while excluding abuses stemming from freedom of mis-information and political misdirection. This was a grey area of interpretation left open by the framers of the Constitution. At times the Freedom of Information Act is confused with freedom of misinformation. Any mistaken mis-information source can be mis-taken for granted.
“So that means they have freedom of speech, as you say. But how does that relate to campaign contributions? Do not the corporations and unions have a louder microphone that can drown out other voices? Do not they have louder megaphones that grant them prioritized and especially privileged freedoms of suppression that drown out individuals’ freedom of expression? The decision sounds like bending, twisting, contorting and distorting the first amendment to suit an agenda that works against the people, squeezing them from both sides.”
I didn’t know what to say. These days it does seem to cost more than two cents to give your two cents nowadays. Megaphones cost more than that. But the alien did have a point even though he sounded like he held the Supreme Court in contempt. I would be careful about saying such things. For though I knew I had freedom of speech, I would be afraid of being thrown in jail for contempt of court, the highest one in the land. That’s what they do on TV. Perhaps I had been watching too many horror crime shows and that fear was just False Evidence Appearing Real.
“I’d be careful what I say, if I were you,” I said. “Don’t make it a habit of criticizing the Supreme Court and don’t criticize capitalism.”
I was truly afraid of being held in contempt of court. On TV they throw people in jail for disrespecting a judge, even contemptible ones. The justices are often depicted in an arrogant way, and that scared me sometimes. I’ve often found ridiculing remarks towards ridiculous people particularly contemptuous, whether the people were taking part in real small-claims court cases or merely roll-playing parts in dramatic courtroom scenes. The conceited behavior of some of these judges is scary. Nevertheless, sometimes a just is just a just, particularly in the judge-mental case study of the theatrical TV courtroom of Judge Judy. She is not only frightening, but her demeanor sometimes seems meaner than any misdemeanor I could ever think of.
“I was not criticizing capitalism,” he said, sounding somewhat defensive. And as far as the Supreme Court goes, does not free speech rule supreme?”
“That is a good question,” I said, starting to talk like the alien without contractions. “I have no idea what information the National Security Agency is collecting despite my many years of experience in information systems management. I do know that any agent of the NSA with the proper authority can be classify someone as a subversive based on something that person said. Such a classification can be in the form of a single one-bit datum whose status switch can be updated on a judgment call by an official who has the discretion to judge that person as such. The data manipulator could simply have some vendetta against an individual who speaks a certain way, and would have the “power” to spin words and then designate such a person as a danger to national security. This is another example of spinning a web of deceit against someone. That’s why I’m careful what I say.”
“Does that really worry you, human? Are you that sure of your opinions are being recorded by your security agency for future reference in labeling possible threats to national security, foreign or domestic?”
“Yes, it does. Lately, the media have been informing us about this, and it has been worrying me. It is a type of government intimidation I have been worried about. We Americans have a particular sensitivity to bullies. It is mentioned in the first lines of the Declaration of Independence. It follows down to Hitler and Stalin in a schoolyard mentality of bullying everyone else. Often the victims would have no recourse. It is claimed today that the government is the most recent “bully”, and many point to the government that bailed out the very banks that foreclose on peoples, homes and often do this without due process. The people are like sitting ducks with no defense.”
The national-soviet axis of socialist evil between Hitler and Stalin always fascinated me. Here were two evil political bedfellows in a friendship forged in the furnace of hell and culminated in ovens and the incendiaries of sorties. Both sides invaded Poland nearly simultaneously, making that plundering much easier for each other to divide and conquer. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, Hitler then breached Stalin’s trust with the Barbarossa invasion into the Soviet Union. But despite that broken promise, the trust Hitler’s action was firmed-up when it came to the promise of genocide and the threats he made in Mein Kampf years earlier.
Politics really do make strange bedfellows. I always felt it strange that Hitler didn’t invade Moscow or use the Luftwaffe against that capital city in 1941, preferring to turn south and invade the Ukraine instead against the advice of a “good Aryan” general. Could Stalin have preferred to quietly use Germany as an agent to ensure a weakened Ukraine just like it had done with Poland? When Germany was in retreat from across Poland in the last months of the war and pulverized that country once again on the way out, why didn’t the Soviet army answer the calls of the Poles to stop the German carnage then too? Could there have been a parallel between the non-Russian leader of the Soviets who preferred to keep Russia unscathed just as the Non-German born leader of the National Socialists embraced Germany and its third Reich? The way Moscow emerged from the war intact while Kiev and Warsaw were ravaged, invites debate about Stalin’s strategy which seemed to be the deployment of the Wehrmacht as its own war machine.
I used to have a friend who said that the Nazis didn’t keep their wits about them, and that’s why they lost the war. The Soviets and the Americans, on the other hand, used their wits to become rivaling superpowers. Both kept their wits about them: Leibowitz, Abramowitz, Rabinowitz, etc.
Though I appreciated my friend’s attempt at humor, I didn’t find it funny. Particularly, when thinking about the terrible world legacy left behind by Hitler and Stalin. What a horrible course of history to have to follow! Following suit has been difficult on subsequent generations, but if the cards dealt out from previous generations are so bad, and if the resulting hand is week, the progeny is forced to play with whatever cards in whatever suits the dealer has dealt out.
But unlike our own politicians from democratic republics, who have been breaking promises right and left, the promises of Hitler’s own dexterously sinister planned kampf were carried out. Which now begs the question: What happens when we learn to trust a terrorist more than one of our own politicians? Such is the case with the trust of terror we have in Bid Laden’s followers from al-Qaida today.
The damage caused by the Devil in keeping a promise of doom is far less than a saint breaking one of hope. Though presidents and members of congress are no saints, they break more promises than Satan ever made.
To paraphrase Milton more liberally than literally, is it better to rain in hell than burn in heaven? And so, is it more important to lower Abel into the ground in peace than to raise Cain and curse him in the land of Nod east of Eden? The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
“No defence?” the alien responded with that unique Brogue-Stonehenge intonation that I was starting to get used to. Despite his out-of-this-world Druidian Stonehenge-type inflection, his exotic-chaotic wisdom was becoming more familiar to me. He may have kissed the stone and been endowed with the gift of Blarney, but right now I couldn’t tell blarney from baloney anyway.
“That is right,” I said, again sounding like him with his avoidance of contractions. “After all, the Constitution does say that we have a right to remain silent. And when the Miranda rights are given to persons arrested they always add, ‘Anything you say can be held against you in a court of law’. I guess that includes the Supreme Court, too”
“I see your point, human. In fact, organizations such as the NSA, as you call it, probably would not even need data to label a person as subversive. They can just do that based on whatever and whomever they want, while placing any spin they want to as a pretext. They can turn any investigation into fact, whatever fait-accompli they want to accomplish.”
“I suppose that’s true,” I said. “But though they don’t need a pretext, I don’t want to help them by giving them any excuse to do so. The government’s bullies don’t need any prodding from me to label me as an enemy of the state. They can put me on a list for whatever reason they want to spin.”
That got the alien to thinking. His color turned to a burnt sienna, perhaps an indication that I was burning out his circuits. But I had faith in his superior intelligence to overcome the dissonance. He had earned my faith-accompli, as I had come to realize that his knowledge and background were superior to mine. I was about to find out again.
“I see your point, human. During the McCarthy hearings of the early 1950’s, a California senator and his pubby friends were making lists just like Santa Claus. They wanted to know who was naughty and who was nice. The lists were his little black book waiting to be red, and Communism was used as leverage to raise their chances. And it was that same senator who as a twice-elected pubby President Pilkington visited a red-glared Communist China two decades later while people of memory watched in amazement from the window with their eyes wide open as their president and a Peking party premier filled their glasses to the brim in toast of mutual prosperity for the pigs. That should strike you humans as similar to Orwell’s conclusion of Animal Farm, where the faces of the pigs began to resemble the very humans against which they had been revolting. Today, that same China has changed its own rules so much so that it has embraced capitalism even more than the U.S. And they execute this capitalism together with any person who exercises what you call freedom of speech.”
“So, human, how can you say that capitalism works together with free speech?”
“I never really read much about Orwell,” I told the alien, with an apologetic tone. I thought to myself that I was familiar with Orwell having written another book called 1984. Was Orwell something of a historian that was writing about Aristotle’s good old days? Was he referring to aristocracy or democracy? Was this a reference to the New York halls of the Tammany Society, or to the opposition of the good old Aristo-cratty Camelot-type days which twice promoted a Hollywood showman - a Californian right-wing pubby to the red-carpet halls of the White House?
“Sort of,” he responded with what seemed to be a disappointed tone. I wondered what he was disappointed with. Maybe he didn’t like that I called 1984 the good old days. Maybe his socialist leanings didn’t go well with a party that considered itself right-wing.
“Funny you should mention 1984,” the alien continued. “It brings out a parallel between the Big Brother telescreens and posters depicting Big Brother. The resemblance to Santa Claus, the capitalist gift giving symbol is uncanny. Both characters are bigger-than-life symbols of surveillance. Both are described as watching you to see that you are being good. Both knew when you were sleeping on the job and when you were awake. Both knew when you were bad or good. The only difference between the two icons is that television promoted your being good so that you knew that Santa was watching to see that you were deserving of presents, and Big Brother would be watching on the telescreen to see that you had the presence of mind to doublethink before you spoke and not to criticize the regime, and to participate in the two minutes of hate.”
The feeling of being watched is central to the human existence. Some of feel we are always under some sort of surveillance. Perhaps by marketing experts who want to know what we buy and what websites we visit to make purchases. They know well that a fool and his money are soon telemarketed, with the help of telescreens like those in 1984, of course.
Perhaps our feeling of being watched is a matter of conscience. Perhaps it’s guilt. It reminds me of the case in which a person is driving a car and comes to a secluded intersection where there is absolutely no traffic and no cameras. At that point a decision is made. The majority of us would never admit we would go through the red light. But some, if not many of us may consider transgressing the law even with the understanding that if it is technically illegal. I wonder how many of us would even admit we might be tempted to carefully continue on red since there is no one there to monitor us.
You don’t have to be a controversial military general to consider NOT stopping on red, particularly if the adversary is a red army or a sponsored communist battalion. Does someone who makes a transgression by running a red light? Or is it an aggressive action that needs to be punished? If no one sees such a transgression can anyone prove it a case of aggressive driving? It’s like the proverbial tree that falls in the woods with no one to see. Does it make a sound if there’s no one there to hear it?
That’s where the Divine presence comes into the conversation. Though we were taught that God was everywhere in everything, as a child I took that to mean that He was invisible, but could see everything we did. That was a motivating force to stand quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance. Someone was watching. Even if not a teacher wasn’t looking, we could be sure that the Invisible Creator of all things. We were one nation under God-Invisible with liberty and justice for all.
Perhaps other less divinely inspired eyes are watching us. Through telescopes across vast distances alien creatures or other creations of God could be peering at our every move. Or perhaps the eyes of future generations are upon us across time, judging us and our deeds. All they can do is watch us the way we were, because by the time the beams of reflected light get back to their distant eyes, all our deeds will have been done and said. Unless of course, someone discovers a stable worm-hole to take us instantly into the past. But that’s neither here nor there. I assume as much since I never witnessed such an escape route.
The alien’s comparison of Santa Claus with Big Brother did have a rather unsettling effect. So I said, “You’re taking this thing too far, bashing Santa. So many of us would be insulted by such an affront. It would be like my saying that beings from your planet should be heard and not seen.”
I was sorry I said that. I should have been more considerate. I was about to apologize, but once again the alien took me by surprise.
“I understand what you are saying, and I respect your right to say it,” he said without hesitation.
“Now you’re sounding like Voltiare,” I said, wanting to demonstrate my intelligence to the illustrious alien of beaming intelligence whose own arrogance had alienated me at times.
“Actually, the quote relates to Tallentyre’s biographical quip regarding Voltaire.”
Another slap. I decided to shut up for a while and let him talk. Maybe he would forget my error. “It is just that many dissatisfied customers who purchased such a product are later bombarded with more advertising by lawyers who are selling tickets to a class-action suit of some kind, with the intent to sue the lying pants on fire of some lying salesman. It is almost like a secondary reactive cycle to the buyer’s remorse of the first one.”
Though I admit I was amused by his wit and witticisms, I didn’t have much of an idea what he was talking about with the cycles. I was still looking for an opportunity to present him with a fresh idea about something that interested me very much. He didn’t give me a chance at this point, and instead continued his arguments in another direction, across several continents to the straits of the Nile.
“There is a very interesting amazing example of what I am saying, with a fascinating evolution of events which our scholars on Zatox first noticed when we studied the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt and the base of their pyramid schemes.”
I didn’t know these were schemes. They did seem to withhold the test of time, and would have been an excellent land investment for someone who wanted to build, although it was designed for the dead and not the living. No one would want to buy and develop property for dwelling purposes on a burial site today. The alien then continued his metaphoric conquest of ideas in disputed territory, chewing my ear off like a camel chews its cud:
“When the army of the ancient Egyptians was successful in conquering other nations and absorbed the tribes as slaves, the Nile nation took pride in its riparian water rights in times of drought and became the envy of the world, while the Pharaoh rewarded his autocratic politicians and senior officers with ill-begotten booty, lavish parties and excessive gluttony. Eventually that apolaustic despot, full of himself with excessive greed in his conquest of other nations, acquired objects of wealth such as gold and grain. He was in denial on the Nile.”
What cleverly sagacious witticisms! I was enthralled with his excellent oration, as witty and compelling as an oratory from Cicero. O tempora or more; tempus fugit, often leaving morality behind the times.
In his own way the alien epitomized hexadecimally proficient math-like cleverness, as he summarized his estimation of human social development evolved through natural selection. Or perhaps, he was just a wonderful creation of genius proportions. His clear thinking reminded me of the legendary Vulcan who I remember saying that in time, both humans and aliens alike find that “having” something is not as pleasing a thing as “wanting” it. I have found that statement to be true, even if it may be considered illogical.
“But as with humans in general, this was not enough. In the Pharaoh’s nefarious lust for more wealth and power, he acquired other objects such as slaves, and then commissioned the building of store cities to house store the gold and grain and task masters to manage the labor intensive building projects. It never occurred to him that things just did not happen like a magical mystery tour without manpower to do the heavy lifting. Consequently it was no magical mystery either that the narrow straits of the Nile became salted with the slaves’ sweat and tears, then plagued with the red blood of their dire misery.”
The suffering of people I guess can be considered a matter of fortune. We all are subject to the times and places in which we have been placed. An unfortunate victim in one era could have been a hero in another, and vice versa. If a black athlete had been born just a decade or two earlier, he would not have had the opportunity to prove himself in the big leagues. In the 1930’s a Jew born in Poland would have a dire set of circumstances as opposed to one born in New York.
“The Pharaoh apparently was a hoarder and needed a place to put the gold, grain, and other booty,” I added with a human perspective.
“An interesting metaphoric parallel with your current time, human. Many of you humans are like the Pharaoh in their obsession to own property and store away all their possessions like trophies. You humans seem to have a pride just knowing that you own and possess certain items. You feel that by owning an item it becomes a vestigial appendage of your body and soul. Just like the Pharaohs, you have become collectors who define yourselves by what you own, whether this consists of cars, books, antiques, coins, or other collections.”
The alien was focusing laser beams of logic on our existence with punctual punch as straight as an arrow. I realized that here too he had a point. I have observed that people often identify themselves by what they own, just like the sports team they root for with radical fervency. They used to identify themselves by their profession, but now that has changed. Maybe with the employment situation such as it is, and with people working at one multiple jobs just to make ends meet, and for much shorter periods if tune, this personal identification with employer, career, and identity has diminished.
I suppose that pride of ownership has its cost. It made me think about record collections which cannot be played on CD players without converting them over in a costly endeavor. Book collections are the same way. Today we have Kindle and Fire trailblazing a path in the book world, while newspapers and periodicals have now turned to the internet to disseminate their creativity in beams that can enlighten the world like a burned book, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson. The question is, what will we do with all those physical books we have acquired and placed on shelves or in boxes? We can’t simply burn them - history has taught us the consequences of burning books. The philosopher Heinrich Heine said “Where they have burned books, they will end in burning people.” The Nazis proved this to be true.
Like the scarecrow of Oz, I was never really afraid of anything – except a lighted match that can kindle a fire resulting in a massive book burning. Something that could burn out our rainforests in the hornless altars of a holocaust that even Heine couldn’t have predicted. In today’s world where books have become electronic and a product called “Kindle” sparked a revolution in book reading with a line called “Fire” leading the way, the age of electronic books has changed things forever. Book disposal now isn’t about censorship limiting free speech or discovery of truth by National Socialists. Today it is about understanding the slave nature of holding onto possessions that take up breathing space for both trees and animals. It’s about the trees, as well as the rainforests of the Amazon, which happens by coincidence to be the name of the company that created the device that could spell the end of books as well as the book-ends to hold them up. The book stops here and the books stop there.
Continuing his observations, the alien interjected “When the slaves tried to revolt against the Pharaoh’s decision to limit the supply straw of raw materials, forcing the Hebrew slaves to produce bricks without straw, the took his wrath out on them. When they came with demands through Aaron their spokesman to proclaim their liberty and to have freedom to worship, the imperious Pharaoh would not let them go free until he was plagued ten times with lots of problems”
I found this parallel most interesting, though I was having trouble connecting the dots from the two lines of thought. Maybe because they were indeed parallel. Now I really felt mentally challenged.
“Hmmm…pride, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath…” I repeated out loud summarizing the main points in a process of moral deteriorations to which he seemed to be alluding. It was a list I had heard before, but wasn’t sure where. These list items sounded familiar as a group, but something seemed to be missing. I was trying hard to think of that seventh humanly characteristic vice without getting my head caught and squeezed in a physical one. Why couldn’t I think of it? Did I become such a lusk from my languorous couch-lying, murcid ways having become indolent and lazy like some leaf-eating folivore looking for excuses to lie down and waste away?
I just can’t figure out what that missing seventh item was, and that started to bother me. Was my brain on a sabbatical? Had I been spending too much time on the couch lollygagging? Had I become nothing more than a soafer, a sort of sofa-loafer bathing in self-pity resulting from my failure to find employment? Was something distracting me from clear thinking was crouching at my door? Why didn’t I have the cerebral-power to think of that seventh bullet point on which I was biting? Had ‘soft living on the house’ been too much of a good thing? Had I become bonded with the couch like a ball and chain? Was I nothing more than a self-defacing injury victim in my own personal house of bondage for whom there was no bandage?”
I had been given an opportunity to take a look at my restive self, how as an unemployed wannabe I had been getting bored with life. Lately I was getting concerned about my idleness, thinking about the adage “idle brains are the devil’s workshop.” True, I had been looking for work, but although I didn’t believe in the Devil, I wouldn’t want him to offer me a job though I knew he was always hiring new talent. Whenever I went soul-searching, I hoped the Devil didn’t find me before I did. Most of all, I didn’t want him to find me desperate for employment. I didn’t want to be an idle-worshiper in Master Beelzabub’s service. No business deals on the fly, and that’s final.
The alien had made me think about how envy, pride, gluttony, greed, lust, wrath, and soft living on the chariot had combined to impale an already hardened heart of the Pharaoh. Baptized with pillars of fire; chastised with insatiable desire, then with horse and rider into the sea with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men before passing through a vestibule on the way to purgatory. All this, with what tradition has claimed to be an Amalek-inspired hot rage and violent heresy leading to the first of four recorded genocides attempted against the Hebrews whom they had been pursuing, with the Pharaoh’s fraud and treachery drving ever deeper, drilling further down the depths of the earth’s core, towards an Amduat equivalent of Dante’s nine circles of Hell while abusing the planet as if it were one giant rotten fruit from the tree of knowledge. Such a piece of spoiled fruit became his empire: rotten to the core. And then, like all such corrupt empires before and since, it collapsed.
Such was the case with one Roman emperor who succeeded to out-herod tyrants like Herod. This last descendant of the Caesar line was Nero, nobody’s hero, a fop of a flop who was rumored to fight fire with fire while he fiddled feverishly on the rooftops of Rome, irreverent to the god Prometheus, who both Romans and Greeks alike believed to be not only the god who first gave fire to mankind, but the creator of the race, too. Maybe this is what Virgil had in mind when he accompanied Dante, going with the flow on the River Styx through the inferno past Hades.
My thoughts of Prometheus made me think of the Alien. Perhaps there really was a connection, not just on a Screen Rant cinema level. In any case, I needed to get back to the interview. My idle brains had been too much in overdrive, and I had been driving myself into some place where I didn’t want to be. Though I wasn’t worshiping idols, my idle brains were being led on a downward spiral out of control, a demonic demonstration of the depths of despair. I needed to be beamed up from out of the nightmarish depths into which I had been momentarily immersed. Oh, Great Scotty!
Meanwhile, back at the surface of the planet, I found myself looking around the room and taking particular notice of the material possessions I had accumulated over the years. The alien had paused for several minutes, seeming to give me time to catch up and evaluate the inadequacies of my personality as these relate to my acquisitions and material possessions. From the material evidence which I could not deny, I guess I was truly a quintessential hoarder, mea culpa. But at least in this sense I really wasn’t alone. There were a lot of materialist hoarders like me who were prisoners of their own possessions. I guess Pogo was right: We have met the enemy, and he is us.
The alien politely waited for my runaway galloping thoughts to slow down to a canter and for me to refocus. He then continued, “We read your Biblical narrative with great interest. It gives us unique insight into the human condition”.
The relevance of the Book of Exodus with what was going on in our society was startling. “I see what you mean”, I responded flatly. “Many of us feel our own government is like a huge empire, getting too large and is bullying the people. Many feel it has become too large and too wasteful just like ancient Egypt.”
The alien looked at me, seeming to nod in short movements. “Do you really feel your government has become too large?”
“Yes, I do. That’s what the political commentators are saying.”
“But some years back, when your democracy was the leading superpower fighting dictatorships, it was your very enemy – the Soviet Union – that criticized the United States and its government. They probably would have said the same thing, that the American government is imperialistic and large. You have met the enemy, it seems and it is U.S.”
It was interesting that the alien knew about Pogo, as if he were reading my mind. The ones who criticized American government shifted from the Soviets to the Libertarians, a group with which I general identified. Undaunted, I felt a need to stand up and fight: “Many people are convinced that government is really too large. We point to our country having such a huge national debt, which is getting larger every day.”
He seemed surprised by my comment, and continued probing: “What do you mean that the national debt is getting larger?”
He was a real task-master in his own right, putting me to the task to answer his questions. A more serious ask-master there could not be in the entire universe.
But it was an issue that I felt I could address more clearly. It was closer to home both in terms of time and space. “It means that not only can the government not help out its citizens, but it too is getting in deeper in debt.” I replied.
“How does the government get deeper into debt?” he asked naively. I could see how the alien was thinking. The president may veto bills, but no one signs more of them than the Secretary of the Treasury. These are the bills that pay the bills.
Nevertheless, I was surprised by his gap in knowledge. He knew so much about our history but very little about our current existence. He continued, “How does it get into debt in the first place? How can it spend money it does not have? How do you pay the politicians and the other government officials if there is no money in the coffers?”
So many “how” questions, they seemed to span light-years and defy logical explanation. His comments were without a doubt far-reaching, but valid. It would indeed make good sense for the elected officials to volunteer their services altruistically until the debt is paid up in full. This would be an excellent example for the people. Many of our politicians don’t talk about their own pay, but continue to emphasize the point that the country is flat broke and the national debt keeps rising. The extraterrestrial’s question about how the government gets into debt seemed easier to answer, so I decided to tackle that issue.
“Very simply, the government offers debt for purchase by anyone with cash. The purchasers buy what are called ‘bonds’ which the government must pay off with a guaranteed interest over time.”
The alien began attempting to problem-solve, turning his head to one side as if consulting some remote wireless informational data base. He was apparently processing what had I told him, but it seemed as though he was having trouble connecting the dots into some coherent picture. Apparently coherency was important to him. Finally he turned back and asked “So if the government sells debt, is it doing so in exchange for money paid to it? Are they trying another ‘innovative’ way to get something from nothing? Getting value without pay is like dividing added value to the organisation by zero. It is impossible. Even your elementary school students know this. Are your leaders not smarter than a fifth-grader?”
I laughed at the rhetorical question, noting only “That’s a good question; maybe I myself am not smart enough to answer it,” I concurred without too much consideration.
All the talk about interest rates couldn’t explain the gap between annual percentage rates and annual percentage yields. I was still looking for an explanation as to why mortgage rates rarely lower than four percent, while the highest CD or savings account rate never transcends two percent. That’s a two percent plan which is as enticingly intoxicating as a two cents plain. I do wish someone would explain the plan in plain language. Their two-cents worth would be more valuable to me than a million tweets to the wind.
The alien thought again for a while, with his head still tilted to one side. This had reminded me of some of our canine earthlings who tilt their heads when trying to figure out something we humans are doing. I remember hearing on a Fringe episode that lizards tilt their heads so that they can adjust the angle at which sound waves hit the eardrum with more stimuli.
This held my interest as an earthling trying to figure out what the non-humans are pondering. He was really trying to think things through with whatever logical tools of deduction he had available in his chest. It appeared as if he were trying to apply all of his apparent vast knowledge by performing a complex investigation on a search engine. At last he continued, “So what happens to the revenue the government brings in, in exchange for selling the debt?”
Now that was another good question – one which really needed an answer. Unfortunately I couldn’t provide one, so instead I decided to simply add my voice to his query. It seems that the media are always talking about the national debt, but they never mention what that money is going to. If the national debt is say, seventeen trillion dollars, then there must be some reserve somewhere with that same amount in it. If it is less, then the question isn’t how the debt got so large, but rather: Who took money from the reserve which should have been built up from the sale of the bonds? Where is the offset from the money? Where is the utility which the people are supposed to have been receiving in exchange?
While I was looking for an adequate answer that would satisfy the both of us, my guest got up off the couch and walked around the room. He was still trying to process the information he downloaded from the computer and trying to reconcile that with what I was saying. He evidently had at least some basic insight into the concept of a balance sheet. It was obvious he was not going to be satisfied with some superficial explanation, however, and I was beginning to feel somewhat inadequately prepared for our discussion. After all, I thought to myself, where DOES the money go? Into what account? Into some federal cash reserve? Why isn’t that money used to help build an economic system that will lead to diversified money? Wouldn’t it be better if more people had money their pockets?
He then looked back at me, realizing that perhaps he was being somewhat rude. Although he had hit some roadblock, he may have come to an understanding that he had to move on, even if there were inconsistencies in the logical structure he was trying to build from the information I had been giving him. So he got back on track: “It seems logical to me that the transactions that built up your national debt should be a point of focus, not the debt itself.”
I wasn’t sure what he was referring to when he mentioned “transactions”, a term used in the banking industry. He realized his remark needed some clarification, so he continued his discourse:
“You had an accountant-philosopher some centuries ago who liked to engage in differential calculus, a chap named Isaac Newton. One of the things he did was to define and clarify some laws of physics, one of which he stated as follows: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ ”
We all knew that. Everyone hired by a large corporation faces the threat of massive layoffs. It’s another example of the action-reaction. No one talks about the tap on the shoulder, but these days it is a concern. I wonder what Newton would have said about that.
“Yes”, I replied. “Sir Isaac Newton is considered one of the great thinkers in modern human development. But I had never thought of him as an accountant before.” I couldn’t imagine him adding up figures with a plume or with a pencil of bonded lead and an eraser, just in case he made a mistake.
Neither Newton nor Leibnitz nor any human for that matter could add up all the incrementally small stairs as their size limits approached zero. Perhaps on the other side of zero incremental calculus becomes excremental. In human terms this puts the onus on the anus, where waste becomes prevalent in our civilization. It so happens that this is the side where we humans excel, most notably since the discovery of the garbage patch swirl in the Pacific. Both extraterrestrials and intraterrestrials have by now recognized our prowess for producing growing waste at an alarming rate as available space approaches the limit of zero. We are successfully approaching an unlimited garbage growth without peer and sometime in the near future - without pier from which to peer.
“We on Zatox see Dr. Newton as one of the great accountants of all times. He understood about actions and reactions long before you humans established a practical application – which you call ‘transactions’. A transaction is a dual action-reaction exchange. It is a principal verified and applied in many branches of physics at the planetary level as well as the particle level. Just as in thermodynamics, the transfer of heat can be compared with the transfer of value.” He then paused, seeming to check and see if I was able to digest the thesis he was advancing with tendentious tenacity.
He then continued, “In economics, a transaction is a two-way transfer of something of value from one entity to another, one with interest in selling, and the other with interest in purchasing. The action is the transfer of goods, and the reaction is the transfer of money into the seller’s bank account. You can alternatively see the action in reverse from the other side as the money movement and the reaction as a transfer of goods to the buyer. Whatever the vantage point, on Zatox we understand a ‘transaction’ to mean a bilaterally profitable, mirror-like exchange of utility in which both sides have perceived a respective interest in the give-and-take. It is the elementary understanding of the formation of markets, in the delicate balance of supply and demand.”
Wow! This alien was spot on! On the money, that is. Like an international exchange rate he was adapting himself to our human market activity with up to the minute information. Though only a short while ago he knew very little about us, he now seemed to have gained a mastery of the human condition. I again found myself nodding passively at his observation about the nature of transactions, indicating my efforts stay on track and follow his train of thought.
Then I said rather benignly, “This is a very interesting way of putting it.” I made that comment with a somewhat languid tone in contrast with his, but still I was truly impressed with the alien’s lucid choice of words.
The alien was now “out”, momentarily working out some deliberations, and my mind wondered about my next steps in looking for work. He had brought my plight into larger perspective, together with my fellow long-termed unemployed people out there with whom I was not alone. I was in a classless class of talented people in a cast-out caste who wished we could contribute to social growth.
Although he may not have sensed my thoughts I responded solemnly but reassuringly, unsure if he heard me or not: “Don’t be sorry,” I said. “Much of society has experienced burdensome recessions in everyday life. It’s not your fault. It’s just that many of us have worked hard at our jobs, and having been dedicated contributors to our respective organizations. We were never the type to “get wasted”, but we somehow got wasted in a tragically expensive opportunity cost of social arrogance. We wanted to contribute. We had been the living breathing pulse of our respective places of work, and deserve more than to be tossed aside and forgotten.”
I may have been the only one in the room listening to myself, but it seemed to me I was sounding a lot like the doctor in Star Trek Next Generation, who entered another realm and experienced the disappearance of all the people she ever knew, and everyone else in the collapsing universe. Yes, I guess I was a Star Trek fan, mea culpa. I was intrigued by the dream of a hopeful future for humanity, and this alien brought that future alive. I was sorry no one ever wrote lyrics for the Next Generation theme song, so I once tried doing it with the rhythm of the music:
As a kid growing up in the 1960’s, I used to get Star Trek mixed up with Mission Impossible. I wondered what Admiral gave Mr. Phelps his marching orders and mission on some smoking tape recorder: “Your mission, Jim, if you choose to accept it is to seek out new life and new civilizations…this tape will self destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.” Then, of course, the tape recorder would go up in smoke and Peter Graves would someday fly the Mayflower One on a futuristic flight to the moon where William Shatner, another Jim in a previous life, was the base commander.
In early TV, the producers experimented with live broadcasts. They were brave explorers. Young screensters at the spring of their acting careers were given an opportunity to act out scripted fantasies with some improvisation in simple sets, like in the studios of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Only they weren’t acting; they truly enjoyed the opportunity to take on dramatic roles. It must have seemed like a drama-dream come true.
It’s hard to know what’s more scary: The outer limits of the Twilight Zone or the inner limits of reality TV. Going from one realm to the other is always a shock. Like many of today’s baby-boomers, Serling would have preferred the zone to reality. Even the news media have to fake reality to keep their audience turned on or tuned in.
These days it seems like we have lost our imaginative sense of creative adventure. We have lost the nerve to risk creative ideas. Much of the new movies that have been released to theaters are remakes of ideas that were successful in the past. I think that’s the same reason talented people are finding it so difficult to land a new job in this copy and paste society. The question which my alien visitor seemed to be asking is, how can the human species dare to grow beyond what it is? How can it fact the future if it doesn’t dare itself to go past its present? If we don’t believe in our fellow human beings and their potential, and have no confidence in our creativity, how can we expect to develop ourselves as a society? How can we build up a belief system if we already suspect that our fellow humans will most likely commit a breach of trust?
“HELLO!” the alien bellowed, beaming and beeping like that alarm clock, rescuing me from myself. “Is everything all right?!” he asked me abruptly, interrupting my momentary hiatus and jolting me back into reality. Did I just now mention reality?
I looked back at the alien to answer him with something I hadn’t thought of yet, but then I noticed his color was now a bright orange-red, reminding me of the break of dawn or the onset of dusk. Probably the latter was closer, as he did seem like something from the Outer Limits of human imagination.
I answered him with a question pertaining to his current color scheme: “Are YOU all right?”
“I am well, thank you,” he reassured me. “I was just deliberating on the information we were discussing, and I just now finished processing. I noticed you were beginning to look a little dizzy, as if you were lost in a pale cast of thought. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but you looked lost.”
I was lost in space-time. I was as lost as a passenger on flight 815 in a queer reality where, if I wasn’t being pursued by the “smoke monster”, I was being threatened by hostile natives inhabiting my island. The erosion of my faith and trust in our elected officials and the “others” in my reality made me feel like I was a little boy lost in space-time on his own home planet. Only Plato would probably have been able to guess where I was, probably somewhere in the lost city of Atlantis he described. Without that faith and trust I was as removed as anyone could imagine, submerged way down below the other islands on some extensive mountain range near the mid-Atlantic ridge where only those creatures who can take high pressure situations can live, where two gigantic plates are still diverging.
Back at the surface and away from my hellish subconscious realm, I responded to the alien’s concerns. All ashen and dumbfounded as if I were suffering from the bends, I replied plainly: “I’m okay. You okay?” I asked reciprocally, sounding like a classic best-selling title of a self-help book.
“Why do you ask?” he asked me, as if he wanted me to give him a positive bill of health without the bill, of course.
“Simply that your color reminds me of the sun which radiates beams of orange reddish light during a sunrise or sunset,” I said, thinking about edible disk-shaped doughy delicacies of that general shape and orange-red color. The notion of eating food shaped like the sun disk at dusk inspired me to think of an idea which just at that point popped into my head. I was now looking for an opportunity to present the idea to the alien.
The alien didn’t respond. I was going to present him with the brilliant idea I had just received in a flash of brilliance, but he was deliberating with all his memory circuits to bear. He didn’t seem lost, however, and neither was his mind. It was elsewhere, perhaps, like in the sky. No pie, there, I guess, and no pizza here. Not yet, anyway. I was getting hungrier by the minute and becoming a bit delirious.
“There you go again”, he responded insolently, as usual. I didn’t know what he was talking about. It was obviously something I said. “Again, human, you are twisting some very basic concepts. I think you meant to say ‘an orange-reddish light during an earth-set or an earth-rise’. In case you didn’t know it, it is your earth that moves around your sun, and not vice-versa. Did not Philolaus or Copernicus set you straight?”
Another slap. This one at the very English language many of my people speak. Though I was tempted to correct and untie his misplaced ‘nots’ once and for all, I remained focused on the words themselves and the content of their semantics.
At times I was annoyed at the alien’s picking on my every word, like the accepted words ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’. Nobody on earth talks that way. I had never heard of earthrise legal provisions, or of a Broadway hit song from Anatefka with the lyrics “earth-set, earth-rise.” His verbally abusive slaps were most annoying. And here I was concerned about being poked with syringes and picks. I would complain about it, but didn’t know who in the world would know how to send such a subspace message. Someone else should bring up his problem of interplanetary intolerance, though I didn’t really want him to be disciplined. Nevertheless, someone should consider dealing with it at the next United Federation of Planets plenary session.
Despite his creatively potent poetic license with which he used to drive home his exacting points of punctuation and punch, the alien’s demanding attitude was insufferable. For my simple plebian brain, his words were as hard to bear as a pharmaceutical commercial with the annoying disclaimer that starts with “side effects include dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea…” Fortunately I don’t know how that ends because before they get to the end of the disclaimer, I manage to find the mute button on my remote. The alien had no signs of a similar button, or even an off-switch. Besides, most of what he said was intriguing, even if he was not so Nazi a socialist, nor was he a Soviet socialist sympathizer. To borrow from the accusatory and scurrilous words of the old Tass News Agency, malicious hooliganism was something of which he could not be accused.
Nevertheless, I decided to engage in a little cold war provocation and verbally slapped him back in kind trying to make this a battle of wits in a chess style arms race. “No, Copernicus didn’t set us straight. He got us to change course, setting us on a circular orbit around the sun. He essentially removed us from the center of the universe, placing our planet is a pleasant place of peripheral insignificance where it could circle the sun while better avoiding detection from invading aliens such as-.” Then I stopped, sorry I was heading in that trajectory. I was still looking for an opportunity to mention my stupendous idea, and I was still off course.
But the alien wasn’t – his hue changed back to his apparently native bright red, indicating his enthusiastic approval of what I said. Even if he was a revolutionary, I was intrigued that his previous hue of revolution paled by comparison, or at least I had thought so. It now seemed to me that his colors were changing more often than those of the Atlantic Coast Conference. I was about to realize how tough my competition was going to be.
“Actually,” he countered, “Another one of your scientists named Kepler proved that the earth doesn’t ‘circle’ the sun, but rather travels an elliptical path with the sun as one of the two foci.”
Another course correction. I was feeling inferior again. It actually was making my failed job search seem more successful. I think the alien sensed this somehow, and decided on a new flight path.
“But despite that, you stated the case well, human!” He didn’t seem to mind my insolence at all. Quite the contrary, he seemed to enjoy the argumentative banter. I guess that if he were a dog, his tail would be wagging. “But since you now know that the earth is what is rotating, causing day and night, it is time you humans grew up and saw the light as it really is. Your childhood has ended and it is time to make like the earth and move on. You need to spread your wings.”
I would have completed his sentence with “and do a thousand things we’ve never done before” from some movie I once saw, but I was too pleased with myself, one simple human earthly being, rationalizing insane earthly lifestyles. I was glad I could engage in a battle of wits with this being of superior intelligence.
This seemed like an excellent opportunity for me to segue into the exciting and incredible idea I had earlier. I was about to suggest it to the alien, but he continued talking. “Now, what I am having trouble understanding is the creation of your debt by the sale and issue of treasury bonds. I don’t understand the transaction involved. In the specific transaction consisting of the sale by the government of a treasury bond, there must be some federal account into which cash has flowed in a transaction which both sides feel is sufficiently equitable to have initiated the trade.”
He was really stumping me with his observations. I didn’t have a chance to present him with the orange-red disk idea I had a moment ago. He was saying things I had never thought of. It seems like politicians are always talking about the national debt but no one is mentioning exactly what happened to the money made by the government on the sale of treasury bonds. In order to avoid another awkward silence, I interjected a benign statement, saying “Interesting point.”
His holistic view was refreshingly rare, and it seemed to be the hallmark of his sophistication. Consequently, he had seemed to be light years ahead of me, and moving with increasing intellectual acceleration towards some point he was trying to make. “And what about the interest earned on the bond that needs to be paid back to the bond holder in addition to the principal amount? We know about bond yields, but something isn’t at all clear. Even if the money received in exchange for the bond sales remains untouched in some account, where does the government get the money to pay interest on the bonds?”
The alien obviously had a grasp of accounting principles, but was having trouble understanding their day-to-day applications on Earth. All I could say was, “That is why bonds always carry some sort of risk.” Oops. Now I was sorry. I think I may have said too much. I regret not having brought up that intriguing idea I had earlier. I really wanted to suggest it.
He caught me. “What sort of risk?” he rebounded, apparently hoping that he would have more success comprehending the basics of human economics, perhaps with an understanding that if the basics were so complicated then the applications must really be murder.
Trying to make some sense of things myself, I replied: “If the bond issuer, otherwise known as the ‘entity that owes the debt’ cannot pay back the money, it has to default on payment of that debt. This would mean that the entity that bought the bond – or in other words, loaned the money to the government - would never get any money back. That makes future sales of such bonds risky. The bonds become known as ‘junk bonds’.”
Whether this made sense to him was not clear. In any case it was apparent that he wouldn’t give up. It had to make sense to him. “So what then would happen to the U.S. Government’s debt obligations if they are not met?” he then asked.
This would be a serious breach of faith and trust. Such a default is a forfeit of valuable principles of credence held dear for centuries, and would turn promissory notes into something bordering on counterfeit currency. And if fiat money were to die altogether, like the job seeker it could be employed as a double negative and be the true and perfect image of life itself. Maybe this ‘valour’ is what Shakespeare was referring to when he suggested that its better part was discretion. He probably knew that today’s bankers would have to descend to the bunkers discretely if our spurious debt suddenly died and became counterfeit. Whither our faith and trust goest, must we wither too?
I was thinking of offering the alien this riddle: What’s the best thing a bank can do to prevent its panic-filled customers from making a run on its reserves? Or more simply, what’s the best way to prevent a run on a bank? Charge admission.
Instead of the levity, I thought a moment more and replied “Well there are several possibilities. First, the government could pay back the debt it owes by issuing more debt – that means, selling more bonds. Then it could pay back that debt again by issuing more debt, and so on and so forth. Since many people are not paying taxes because they are out of work or are earning a minimum wage, tax revenue cannot be considered enough to pay off the debt. The situation keeps getting worse and worse.”
I felt challenged at trying to explain to the alien the P’s and Q’s of debt. Or should I say, the D’s and C’s From D to C. Some say debt is destructive and credit is constructive, like comparing Devil with Conscience. But it really isn’t all that simple, even for the simple minded…
“And what would happen if the U.S. Government simply defaulted by not paying back the debt, saying it just could not afford to do so? It may hurt its pride, and its trust, too. But trust can be rebuilt over time.”
Though I wanted to present him with the amazing idea I had earlier, the alien didn’t afford me the opportunity. I admired his persistence and did my best to provide him with satisfactory answers, and so I replied, “That sort of default would mean the end of bond selling at the federal level, unless the bonds themselves would be considered risky enough to be considered junk.”
Then I thought of something clever to say, using one of the terms he used earlier. “I am hoping that is not the fate of government bonds. It would not be a very positive fate-accompli.”
“Your Greek Moirai would have agreed with you, human. In particular, Atropos keeper of your mortality, and the time and place of your fateful demise. The junk status of your federal bonds would be a logical consequence to your actions and a fitting conclusion, too. “
I didn’t know what he was talking about, but was glad he didn’t verbally slap me again for making another inaccurate comment. He thought a bit for a while, then nodded as if he understood something he hadn’t before.
“Now I understand! Your statement about junk bonds has cleared up my perceptions, thank you!” he yelped somewhat euphorically as if he just discovered something out-of-this-world exotic such as kryptonite the cure for the Zatoccian flu. He continued with some extraterrestrial excitement reminiscent of Archimedes’ exclamation of ‘Eureka!’ and continued: “After a person in debt sells off the equity value of his or her house, the furniture and personal property inside, there is nothing left to sell off except the junk inside the garbage cans.”
His comparison was interesting. I was glad he was drawing a connection between risky bonds and junk bonds, as it saved me having to explain the similarities. I then added, “If the U.S. were to default on its bonds it would change the entire debt structure. There would be no more backing of the bonds by the good faith and trust of the United States of America.”
Then the alien stopped what he was doing and became very solemn. He stood up as if struck by a wayward comet and peered directly into my eyes. After a moment of silence in which he was thinking about how to express himself, he repeated several times “The good faith and trust of the United States of America…The good faith and trust of the United States of America…That means a lot to you and your fellow residents, does it not?”
“Yes, it does. It’s something my government has always had, and so we the people got used to our government having that trust. We’re proud of it.”
Now the alien looked directly at me with a solemn look of serious contemplation. “That may be just your problem, he said gravely. You are mixing together pride and trust. They are actually worlds apart. You can be proud in your successes, and your diplomas, and your loved ones, but when it comes to true cerebral faith that a promise will be fulfilled, there can be no substitute for the trust that an entity has built up over the years. You may have pride in your country, but not have trust. It can work the other way around, too for an enemy who you fear could carry out threats to strike you and actually do so. This is where trust and pride need to be separated. The former is cerebral and the other is emotional.
“I guess faith is a mixture of the two.” I said rather blandly, trying to keep up my side of the conversation while still looking for opportunities to present my fabulous idea.
“That may be true, human,” he said, surprising me that he didn’t correct me on some technical point. “When a person has faith in some One or something, there is an emotional identity that that person has forged. There is a great deal of animosity that many people have towards others who have not formed such a religious or personal link with that Deity and the organized faith that accompanies that discipline. It is this attachment that has brought so much religious fanaticism over the centuries of your recorded history.”
I never thought of it that way. Identification with a religious dogma can cause a person to break with mainstream thought and look upon everyone who has not adopted the same faith as challengers and then enemies to that person’s religious conclusions and life-decisions concerning their own personal spiritual identification. I didn’t know how to put this in words, and probably not as well as this alien, but the concept itself made sense to me.”
“And yet” he added, returning back to Earth where our economy is based, “where is that good faith and trust now? Didn’t your society and its successive governments promise you in good faith and trust that if you studied hard, worked well, and kept a clean record that you would be able to fit into your society by contributing to it and adding value – all in exchange for a monetary compensation that would provide you with food and shelter, and pay the bills? What about all those broken promises? Look at you! Unemployed for such a long period of time while continuing to look for work to no avail. Look at the broken social promise made to you when you were studying! Where is that good faith and trust now?” He then sat back down on the couch in apparent disgust, leaving me to think about what both he and I had said.
I couldn’t be sure, but I did know that I understood his bewilderment, as I have been living it every day. From my extensive experience at being out of work I often felt as if I were the alien amongst the humans. Now I realized that there were others like me, whether they were looking for work or a worm-hole from which to escape.
Anyway, to his credit I do have to say that I admired the alien’s tenacity. He was now in ‘review’ mode, digesting the new information and taking stock, so to speak, at what we discussed. I hope this experience wasn’t too much for this poor tentacled traveler who appeared somewhat confounded. Maybe he was getting a little homesick; maybe he was having culture-shock.
The alien and I were now more befuddled than ever. Like a bond lien, we were fit to be tied. On the notion of human greed we agreed, but in the meantime we were bound together in a universe with an intergalactic bond of mutual understanding – a veritable house of bondage in which the locally applied rules of the universe just don’t make sense. Things never appeared stranger…to me or to this traveling stranger, with whom I was identifying more and more.
Still wanting to suggest my ingenious idea, I was desperately looking for something to say in response to his remark about the importance of faith and trust, and the effects broken promises have on these. All I could come up with was: “A very interesting paradox.” I said this, sounding to myself like some goofy scientist. He didn’t respond. I was actually trying to think not only about what he said but also what I said, whether it had made any sense. I took a few moments to try to connect the dots between the good faith and trust in government, the money it had in reserve, and the people to whom that faith and trust had significant meaning.
I understood the alien’s frustration at trying to understand the woes at home in our house. Somehow it just was not in order. Our government - intended to be by the people, for the people, designed to establish justice, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty - took too many liberties and unlimited freedoms, which had become unlimited “greedoms”. The lesson learned could perhaps be summarized: Greedy government defeats the purpose – and the people, too. That is, the forgotten people for whom the nation was conceived.
We had been successful in melting its golden resources of energized creativity like gold in melting a pot of hot ideas, and consequently forging a nation by uniting its people particularly in its aversion to tyranny and to dictatorship of ignorance that diverts our attention to the unjust greed of the powers-that-be. Despite all the diversions of the media that focus our attention to other matters, our aversion to greed is the thing that unites our states of mind in the spirit of “sic semper tyrannis.”
True, we the people are not in agreement on basic issues. Though some of us are pro-life and anti abortion, and others emphasize protection and contraception, while expressing their emphasis against certain types of guns. The former group would quote Will Rogers as saying, “The business of government is to keep the government out of business…” and end the quote there. The latter group would be quick to add to complete Rogers' quote with his qualification in the context of a Keynesian spin: “… that is, unless business needs government aid.”
Abortion and contraception are interesting issues. So many people have strong opinions about them. But no one considers that many of the children that are born will have to bear the brunt of poverty. The wealthy politicians tend to simply say “Go away, kid, you bother me!” in typical W.C. Fields fashion. All too often impoverished newborn don’t have the means to suck mother’s milk or formula, and many of them are homeless. By the time the political complex has sucked the money out of the suckers born every minute, there’s no money left to nurture the poor. Then comes the socially tragic part: In line with this complex environment, our politicians take on Fields’ cynical credo of “Never give a sucker an even break”.
At times it seems like it’s the Pubbies vs. the Cratties in some cross-town rivalry across the aisle. In this highly publicized “hate-accompli”, everyone seems to have forgetten that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Whether the partisan infighting is between pubby and cratty, or between putty or crabby, the perilous bashing can strike at the beams of the house which if it doesn’t collapse on top of the people, is in serious danger of becoming a hapless house of bondage. The founding framers designed and approved a house of Constitution, not an imposed tyrannical entity to which they were trying to declare their opposition.
And in that house was a group of representatives, in emulation of that from the British House of Commons, sits in a crowded coach a group of commoners unlike the first-class Senator Lords of the upper house in their ivory tower chamber to the north of the rotunda. The House of Representatives was designated and designed not to be a commonplace house, but rather one to be closer to the people, the only body authorized by the same Constitution to initiate tax increases. It probably was considered the most appropriate chamber to do so, being more closely aligned to what Thomas Paine implied as a house of common sense, a place to find solutions for all the issues we the people would be having in common down through the years.
The problem is that we the people are so divided here that many of US feel it’s US against “them”, but nobody can agree on who “them” is. It seems to be part of the lynch-mob mentality promulgated by the political organs of the slanted mass media news-agencies. It seems that we spend half the time swearing allegiance to the flag and the other half just swearing in anger against “them” with f-bombs bursting in air. Both sides seem at times hopelessly intrigued by conspiracy. Each one blames the other one as the guilty party, the one to be blamed for having hindered that elusive pursuit of happiness, our republic’s raison d’être.
Whoever “they” are, they seem to have amassed a great deal of attention within a society that is more polarized than artic bears and Antarctic penguins, two species which can’t seem to co-exist even though they would never argue over their preference of frigid temperatures. You never see those bears arguing with those birds, perhaps because they don’t have coveted territory to fight over.
That’s the thing about opposition dependent parties like the Pubbies and Cratties. Do they sometimes quietly and subversively join forces to short-circuit the issues and form an impenetrable opposition to the independent? Who’s the mirror image? The independents? Does the party dependence go against our Declaration? The parties declare your dependence in declarations of DEPENDENCE. Like with differential equations, it is the INDEPENDENT variables that make the difference. The dependent and independent parties do sometimes seem like mirror images of each other. Like pros and cons. Like the presumption of innocence for citizens as guaranteed in the constitution as opposed to the presumption of guilt for politicians as learned empirically through trial and error.
The resulting gridlock of the two dependent parties pushing against each other is like two vectors cancelling each other out in a resultant of zero. It’s like when the congressional hot air hits the fan with its numbing, dumbing cold air. The heat and cold cancel each other out. Yet someone has to pay the electric bill. Why have the air conditioned in this way? Why do the vectors cancel each other out in gridlock fashion? It also reminded me of the two-headed beast in a Lucy dream whose heads go in different directions and go nowhere, as vector addition is zero. Are two heads better than one? Are the heads actually working together? Gridlock may be consistent with the excrementally challenged, but why do we have to pay for all this?
Political science is not an exact one. Otherwise things would be on the square and the eigenvectors of square matrices that coordinate the dimensional analysis would be clear to the electorate whose constituents ultimately make their decisions on whom to vote. There is no known eigenvalue that works every time for every matrix condition. That’s because in politics, nothing is on the square. And that includes King Arthur’s round table.
That would be a good question to pose those victims of government incompetence, those who are off the grid and grid-locked-in in a vacant room. That room happens to be occupied by the millions of disenfranchised people whose numbers don’t count in any poll or labor statistic. It is a group of people excommunicated from the sanctity of the civilized world with all its sacred impenetrable institutions. These are the wretched refuse looking for a safe harbor. They are an underground, somewhere off the surface of our planet. Like the extraterrestrial, they are outsiders: Off the grid, out of sight, and out of mind.
Between the talk about foolish political consistencies and the hobgoblin of little minds, I was about to suggest to the alien my revolutionary idea, one which I had been waiting to tell him for a long time, but so far had been unable. I had been looking for creative ways to do this, motivated by its growing urgency. Instead, we had gotten into a profound discussion about the corrosive nature of the nuts and dolts that tenuously hold up the beams our house with the public getting screwed in the process.
Right now, the only pursuit I had in mind was to get my idea across to the alien, as I was hungry to present my fantastic and creative idea, motivated by a different kind of pursuit of happiness. My idea was one which I felt could be considered as thought provoking, something which could make the process of our journey to understanding much more effective.
I was about to suggest it, but he was looking the other way. I tried to get his attention.
“Let me tell you about this idea I have,” I said.
e e e e e e