Inequality and Modernization

Ronald Inglehart

Foreign Affairs — Ronald Inglehart writes: During the past century, economic inequality in the developed world has traced a massive U-shaped curve—starting high, curving downward, then curving sharply back up again. In 1915, the richest one percent of Americans earned roughly 18 percent of all national income. Their share plummeted in the 1930s and remained below ten percent through the 1970s, but by 2007, it had risen to 24 percent. Looking at household wealth rather than income, the rise of inequality has been even greater, with the share owned by the top 0.1 percent increasing to 22 percent from nine percent three decades ago. In 2011, the top one percent of U.S. households controlled 40 percent of the nation’s entire wealth. And while the U.S. case may be extreme, it is far from unique: all but a few of the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for which data are available experienced rising income inequality (before taxes and transfers) during the period from 1980 to 2009.

The French economist Thomas Piketty has famously interpreted this data by arguing that a tendency toward economic inequality is an inherent feature of capitalism. He sees the middle decades of the twentieth century, during which inequality declined, as an exception to the rule, produced by essentially random shocks—the two world wars and the Great Depression—that led governments to adopt policies that redistributed income. Now that the influence of those shocks has receded, life is returning to normal, with economic and political power concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy.

Piketty’s work has been corrected on some details, but his claim that economic inequality is rising rapidly in most developed countries is clearly accurate. What most analyses of the subject miss, however, is the extent to which both the initial fall and the subsequent rise of inequality over the past century have been related to shifts in the balance of power between elites and masses, driven by the ongoing process of modernization.

In hunting-and-gathering societies, virtually everyone possessed the skills needed for political participation. Communication was by word of mouth, referring to things one knew of firsthand, and decision-making often occurred in village councils that included every adult male. Societies were relatively egalitarian.

The invention of agriculture gave rise to sedentary communities producing enough food to support elites with specialized military and communication skills. Literate administrators made it possible to coordinate large empires governing millions of people. This much larger scale of politics required specialized skills, including the ability to read and write. Word-of-mouth communication was no longer sufficient for political participation: messages had to be sent across great distances. Human memory was incapable of recording the tax base or military manpower of large numbers of districts: written records were needed. And personal loyalties were inadequate to hold together large empires: legitimating myths had to be propagated by religious or ideological specialists. This opened up a wide gap between a relatively skilled ruling class and the population as a whole, which consisted mainly of scattered, illiterate peasants who lacked the skills needed to cope with politics at a distance. And along with that gap, economic inequality increased dramatically. (01/16/2016)

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Kenny’s Window: A Book Review

Book Cover

brainpickings — Maria Popova writes: “I don’t write for children,” Maurice Sendak (June 10, 1928–May 8, 2012) told Stephen Colbert in his last on-camera appearance. “I write — and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” Having fallen in love with his work as an adult myself — none of it made it past the Iron Curtain and into the Bulgaria of my childhood — I’ve come to appreciate this sentiment all the more deeply. Sendak was indeed a storyteller who, while enchanting children, very much embodied E.B. White’s dictum that “anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time” — instead, he wrote up to them and made an art of naming what is dark and difficult, then enveloping it in hope.

It’s a craft he began honing in the largely forgotten 1956 masterpiece Kenny’s Window (public library) — his first and, in many ways, most directly philosophical children’s book, written and illustrated when Sendak was only twenty-eight.

Published seven years before Where the Wild Things Are turned him into a cultural icon, this was Sendak’s debut as a storyteller. He was yet to encounter William Blake, who would become his greatest influence. Although he had previously illustrated children’s books by other authors — including the immeasurably wonderful Open House for Butterflies and I’ll Be You and You Be Me by Ruth Krauss, one of the finest children’s storytellers of all time — this was Sendak’s serenade to his own becoming, a creative homecoming into his own voice as an artist of word and image. (01-10-2016)

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What Does a Grateful Brain Look Like?

f MRI

The Daily Good — Adam Hoffman writes: Evidence is mounting that a team at the University of Southern California has shed light on the neural nuts and bolts of gratitude in a new study, offering insights into the complexity of this social emotion and how it relates to other cognitive processes.

“There seems to be a thread that runs through subtle acts of gratitude, such as holding a door for someone, all the way up to the big powerful stuff like when someone gives you a kidney,” says Glenn Fox, a postdoctoral researcher at USC and lead author of the study. “I designed this experiment to see what aspects of brain function are common to both these small feelings of appreciation and large feelings of gratitude.”

In their experiment—which was partially funded by a grant from the Greater Good Science Center’s Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude project—Fox and his team planned to scan participants’ brains while they were feeling grateful to see where gratitude showed up.

But first, they had to induce gratitude. At USC’s Shoah Foundation, which houses the world’s largest collection of Holocaust testimonies, they poured over hundreds of hours of footage to identify compelling stories of survivors receiving aid from others.

“Many of the survivors talked about receiving life-saving help from other people—from being hidden by strangers during the middle of the Nazi manhunt to being given a new pair of shoes during a wintertime march,” says Fox. “And they also talked about less significant gifts, such as bread or a bed at night.”

These stories were turned into 48 brief vignettes, which the 23 experiment participants read while lying in a brain scanner. For example, one said, “A woman at the immigration agency stamps your passport so you can flee to England.” For each one, participants were asked to immerse themselves in the context of the Holocaust, imagine how they would feel if they were in the same situation, and then rate how grateful they felt—all while the fMRI machine recorded their brain activity.

The researchers found that grateful brains showed enhanced activity in two primary regions: the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). These areas have been previously associated with emotional processing, interpersonal bonding and rewarding social interactions, moral judgment, and the ability to understand the mental states of others. (01/02/2016)

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“Go be reconciled with thy Brother”

Sermon on the Mount

Future Positive — Timothy Wilken writes: In his sermon on the mount, Jesus of Nazareth taught:

“Love our enemies, do good to them that hate us, bless them that curse us, and pray for them that despitefully use us, I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgement. Go be reconciled with thy brother.”

Jesus of Nazareth may have been the first human to embrace synergy. His words seem to capture the very essence of synergic morality.

Synergic morality is more than not hurting other, it requires helping other. Jesus was the first human to state the fundamental law of synergic relationship. It is known as the Golden Rule:  “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law.”

What would you have others do to you? The best one word answer I can find for this question is help. “Help others as you would have them help you.”

Whether you believe Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ foretold in the Old testament, or just a man, his words bring wisdom to all humanity. (12/26/2015)

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What’s wrong with wishing others a Merry Christmas?

CommUnity of Minds — Timothy Wilken writes: Recently it has become politically incorrect to wish your fellow humans a Merry Christmas. We are supposed to use the generic term Happy Holidays to avoid religious discrimination and hurting the feelings of others.

The term Christmas comes from a contraction of two words Christ and Mass. It is believed that the first Christmas was celebrated in the 4th century AD. The term Christ refers to the coming of a messiah to save the Jewish people as foretold in the Old Testament of the Bible. The term Mass referred to a special religious ceremony of the newly created Catholic Church based on the belief that the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was this foretold Christ. The Mass ceremony centers around the sharing of bread and wine of Communion (the Eucharist) which represents the body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation), and Christ is sacrificed (offered up) again at each mass.

Like all new religions, the early Catholic Church began accommodating the pagan practices of that time. The merrymaking and exchanging of gifts came from the festival of Saturnalia (a festival to the god, Saturn) and the date, December 25, was an adaptation of the birthday of Mithra (the sun god). The actual birth date for Jesus of Nazareth is unknown. Christmas trees, mistletoe, candles, carols and gift giving rituals – all of these Christmas traditions are of pagan or non Christian origin.

So who are we offending by wishing someone a Merry Christmas?

There are those Christian religions that are purists. They believe in Christ and Jesus of Nazareth, but are offended by the pagan contamination surrounding Christmas. This includes the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And while the Jews believe in the Old Testament chapters of the Bible, and even in the coming of Christ, they do not accept that Jesus of Nazareth was that foretold messiah so Christmas is out for them. And then there are the many religions who do not accept the Bible so the Old Testament’s foretold Christ has no meaning to them. This includes the Hindu’s, Buddhists, and Muslims. And, don’t forget the Agnostics (the existence of God is unknowable) and Atheists (God does not exist) who naturally don’t believe in Christ, and so therefore might be offended when wished a Merry Christmas. And, I am sure the reader can think of many others who may be offended that I have left out.

I find all of this rather sad. (12/26/2015)

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The Gift: Living a Life of Purpose and Meaning

Stephen Cope

The Huffington Post — Stephen Cope writes: Here is a question I’d like you to ponder: Do you have a clear sense of your purpose in life?

I’m asking all of my friends this question these days. I guess I’m preoccupied with this question because I’m going through a phase — at midlife — of wondering about my own life.

I pose the question in a variety of ways. Perhaps I’ll ask: “What is it you are Up To — capital U, capital T?” Or, “Is your life driven by some intentionality — some deep meaning and purpose?” And then, of course, the all-important follow-up question: “Do you think this purpose is being fulfilled?”

You’d be surprised at the answers I get. Many of us, it seems, are a little vague about what it is we are Up To. Or even utterly confused.

Okay, I’m obsessed with finding the answer to this question. Perhaps this is because I am currently directing something called the Kripalu Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL). I mean, really: If I’m going to direct an institute with such a name, perhaps I should be living an extraordinary life. What if people found out that my life is as ordinary as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Can we look a little deeper? What, really, is an extraordinary life? And how does it differ from an ordinary one? After looking closely at these questions for a couple of years with my colleagues here at the IEL, I am more confused than ever. I’ve been struck by the ordinariness of most of the so-called extraordinary lives we’ve studied. And the closer we look at “ordinary lives,” well, the more extraordinary they appear. It’s tough being a human being — and I’m impressed by the courage I see in every single life I encounter.

But I persist: What about extraordinary living? Full living? I think that the yoga tradition can help us understand the possibilities. There is one piece of yogic lore in particular that I find very helpful. Yogis believed that every human being is born with a special gift. This gift, for each of us, is the doorway to a fulfilled life. It is the doorway to our own particular path, our vocation, our calling — our sacred duty. Yogis called this vocation our dharma. All of life is seen as an opportunity to realize and manifest this unique calling — this unique dharma.

Early yogis had a beautiful way of thinking about the importance of the gift. For these yogis, the whole world was seen as a vast net woven together in space and time — not unlike our notion of the quantum field. This was called Indra’s Net, and at the intersection of each warp strand and woof strand of this net is a jewel that represents an individual human soul. And it is that soul’s duty — sacred calling — to hold together its particular part of the web by being its own unique jewel-like self. In this way, the whole universe holds together as one great interlocking field, but only if each one of us plays our particular role, enacts our unique dharma. (12/26/2015)

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Were Joseph and Mary Refugees?

Joseph and Mary

The Huffington Post — Andy Campbell writes: Away in a manger was really, really far away.

As we celebrate Christmas amid the biggest mass migration of people since World War II, it’s worth noting how the plight of refugees fleeing turmoil in the Middle East echoes the holiday’s origins.

While the story of Christmas is one of triumph — of angels and wise men celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ — it’s also about Mary and Joseph’s dangerous journey, some 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, to register for a census. In a town too full to house them. With a baby who didn’t exactly have his paperwork in order.

There’s plenty to debate about whether Jesus, Mary and Joseph were actual refugees — but history shows that they certainly followed an arduous path, under government rule, to a place where their child would not be welcome. …

And their hardships were far from over once Jesus was born. King Herod, worried that Jesus threatened his crown, had all of Bethlehem’s children 2 years old and younger slaughtered. Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt, by foot and on a donkey, where they lived in exile for years.

What does it feel like to be forced out of your home under threat of death, travel across nations through unwelcome terrain, only to arrive at your destination feeling helpless, unprotected and vulnerable?

Syrian refugees know, because they’ve made the same journey. (12/26/2015)

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Eight Steps Towards Forgiveness

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The Daily Good — Robert Enright writes: When another person hurts us, it can upend our lives.

Sometimes the hurt is very deep, such as when a spouse or a parent betrays our trust, or when we are victims of crime, or when we’ve been harshly bullied. Anyone who has suffered a grievous hurt knows that when our inner world is badly disrupted, it’s difficult to concentrate on anything other than our turmoil or pain. When we hold on to hurt, we are emotionally and cognitively hobbled, and our relationships suffer.

Forgiveness is strong medicine for this. When life hits us hard, there is nothing as effective as forgiveness for healing deep wounds. I would not have spent the last 30 years of my life studying forgiveness if I were not convinced of this.

Many people have misconceptions about what forgiveness really means—and they may eschew it. Others may want to forgive, but wonder whether or not they truly can. Forgiveness does not necessarily come easily; but it is possible for many of us to achieve, if we have the right tools and are willing to put in the effort.

Below is an outline of the basic steps involved in following a path of forgiveness, adapted from my new book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness. As you read through these steps, think about how you might adapt them to your own life. (12/26/2015)

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Synergic Containment: Protecting Humanity
Timothy_Nov_2015

Timothy Wilken, MD

Future PositiveTimothy Wilken, MD writes: This is not a criticism of the federal officers who were involved in the adversary containment at the Branch Davidian Church. Clearly the members of that church were heavily armed and dangerous. But as a thought experiment, how would synergic containment work differently than adversary containment? …

Those within the compound would then be ordered to put down their weapons and move out to the perimeter to voluntarily enter into protective custody. Those being contained would have a short time to voluntarily surrender. If there was no response, or a hostile response, the Synergic Containment Force would begin Containment Isolation of  the compound. Once Containment Isolation is implemented, nothing goes in. Access to electricity, television, telephone, water, food and all outside supplies are a privilege to members of community in good standing. That privilege is suspended.

Nothing goes in. Every thing would stop! Then the Containment Force would sit back and wait for them to come out. Any unarmed member of the church could leave anytime by simply presenting to the rescue corridor for safe escort to the perimeter where they could voluntarily enter protective custody. Once out, no one goes back in unless and until Synergic Containment is lifted. The compound would not be stormed or attacked in anyway. No barrage of noise, loud music, or teargas. They would be left to themselves without phones, television, newspapers, mail, electricity, water, etc.etc..

They are not being punished. The benefits of community are being suspended until they cease all adversity. I expect that most of the members would have come out and surrendered. Perhaps not all. Once each day, the containment force would explicitly communicate with the contained adversaries, reminding them that safety, food, water, shelter and medical care wait for them at the perimeter. It would be made clear that to exit the containment zone, they need only put down their weapons and present to the rescue corridor, or perimeter. Any individual–adult or child–that did so would be given protection, water, food, medical care and shelter. (12/18/2015)

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America: Home of the wimps?

David Cay Johnston

CommUnity of Minds — David Cay Johnston writes: Listening to Republican presidential candidates on Tuesday night, you would think that America has become a nation of wimps, cowering in fear for no good reason over a murderous band of Middle Easterners with little power to harm us.

Polls show strong support for Donald Trump, who wants to spy on mosques and ban all Muslims from entering the country. Ben Carson fears a Muslim president would follow Sharia, unaware of the most basic principles of our Constitution. Sen. Ted Cruz spreads sophisticated versions of the same un-American rhetoric and calls President Barack Obama “an apologist” for terrorists during appearances on conspiracy theorist Glenn Beck’s show.

All three, along with the other Republican candidates, say if elected they will protect us from “radical Islamic terrorists.” But the reality is that their vile comments threaten America far more than those they attack.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is a pipsqueak. It has no capacity to occupy a single inch of American soil and never will. It is no military threat to America or Europe. All it can do is recruit foolish people to harry us with violent crimes that have no military significance.

Yet under the influence of such political hyperventilating, Americans express their fears to journalists and pollsters about this mouse that cannot even roar. Their anxiety is as ludicrous as the plot of the 1959 Peter Sellers farce about the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick invading Manhattan so that, by surrendering, it could get American aid for its wine industry.

Trump’s remarks inciting hatred of Muslims (and Mexicans) have made him ISIL’s chief recruitment officer. ISIL has no better friend than Trump, though his ignorance and narcissism blind him to this awful reality.

ISIL markets the idea that Islam is under attack, persuading people long on zeal and short on good sense to embrace its apocalyptic fantasies that the end is near. ISIL is an enemy not just of America and the West, but also of any Muslims who do not hew to its vision of religious piety, itself a murderous apostasy that offends the Prophet Muhammad and his teachings.

Carson, Cruz and others help ISIL by encouraging the idea that America and its allies are at war with Islam, something that George W. Bush and Obama frequently emphasized is not the case.

Now the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has joined in. At a town hall last week in Waterloo, Iowa, after the massacre in San Bernardino, California, she pandered, saying, “It’s OK, it’s OK to be afraid.”

No, it is not OK to be afraid. And shame on her for saying that, lending credence to the modern Know-Nothings in the Republican Party.

Being afraid is what ISIL, the remnants of Al-Qaeda and their murderous friends want. What they cannot withstand are smart responses that degrade their capacity and demonstrate American distaste for government violence beyond the minimum necessary in response.

What we should fear are pandering politicians. We should be anxious when politicians promise safety at the price of trashing our Constitution, our values and our history.

Anyone who has read the writings of Osama bin Laden and his ideological spawn knows that their objective is to get America to destroy itself by getting into endless land wars in the Middle East.  (12/18/2015)

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