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I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

Book Review of Do No Evil

The following review is from Kirkus, the nation's premier book reviewer:

"An effective integration of ethics, morality and business principles. In a logical progression, Berumen offers a historical review of major thinkers in philosophy and ethics, including John Locke, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes and many others. He develops a framework for universal morality in which moral imperatives--rather than being matters of subjective opinion--immutable. The basis for universal morality, however, must be the avoidance of death and suffering, not just the general pursuit of good--"Being good is not good enough to be moral." The author also dissects current ethical debates, including extensive discussions, of social justice, animal rights and the environment. He explores the free-market economy, acknowledging what he believes to be the superiority of capitalism over socialism--"My theory shows that capitalism is not only ethically permissible, but also that socialism is more difficult to justify on ethical grounds"--and he highlights the principles of individual ownership and property as anchor points in his argument. He balances his argument by noting that the rights to property must be limited, and that morality provides a check on unrestrained capitalist pursuits. In the final section, the author elucidates the many layers of the managerial and corporate environment, deftly analyzing the fiduciary, social and moral relationships between the players in a corporation.

A fresh, convincing ethical examination. "

Selected Links for Reviews/Purchase: 

I Love Rock 'n' Roll

Reprinted from Liberal Resistance 4 August 2019

I Love Rock 'n' Roll
Its Origins, Nature, and Value
by Michael Edward Berumen (July 2019)

Rock ‘n’ Roll has many fathers and mothers---and there are many more opinions about who started it all. It is the subject matter of many an animated conversation. So naturally, I begin with my observations on its origins. One comes across sundry learned arguments about how the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Richard were the major architects of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and how it is an outgrowth of gospel and rhythm and blues. There are going to be inevitable references to the influence of country artists such as Hank Williams and Carl Perkins. And at some point, someone will mention the importance of disc jockeys such as Alan Freed and Dewey Phillips, who introduced and promoted the music in its early days, and of all-the important behind the scenes people such as the famed record producer, Sam Phillips, who discovered and groomed and polished the stylings of several of Rock’s most famous early interpreters. And of course, considerable attention will be devoted to the latter’s greatest find, Elvis Presley, who may not have “invented” the form, but certainly was a principal who packaged it all up, added his unique style to it, and was the first to make it go viral across the world.

But, one might reasonably ask, who influenced all of them? To what extent, for example, did Howlin’ Wolf influence Little Richard; and, in turn, how did artists such as the Mississippi Sheiks and Ma Rainey influence Howlin’ Wolf? Rufus Payne and Jimmie Rogers exerted considerable influence over Hank Williams, and who, in turn, were their influences? Undoubtedly, the Carter Family, the first family of country music,  would have been a profound influence on guitar-based rockabilly music.  Surely the great maker of the Devil’s music, Robert Johnson, via his equally great apostle, Muddy Waters, would have affected the stylings of a young Chuck Berry. We know the gospel music sung at the African-American church young Elvis attended affected him profoundly. Presumably, the parishioners’ styles were handed down from one generation to the next and from neighbor to neighbor. What influence might popular recording artists among African Americans at the time, such as Mahalia Jackson or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, have had on those parishioners or on young Elvis?

We must not leave out the fact that some gospel favorites were composed by people of very different backgrounds, such as the classic “How Great Thou Art,”  composed by a Swede, Carl Boberg, or the gospel standard, “Amazing Grace,” a creation of an Englishman and erstwhile slave-ship captain, John Newton. We might also ask, how did gospel and the blues intertwine with the day-to-day lives of African Americans in various regions of the South, and how did various European and Native American musical forms that they came in contact with affect their music? There is a long history of interaction between Native Americans and African Americans from the early 17th century, and both dance and music were important in the lives of indigenous peoples. Surely slaves overheard music from the nearby white churches and in the houses of the people who enslaved them.  They were prohibited from learning to read, but they had the freedom to sing, dance, and they learned to play instruments or fashioned their own based on those found in their distant homelands. Given the available options, it seems reasonable to assume that music occupied an even greater percentage of the small amount of time available for recreation. It was something that could even be used to pass the time during the drudgery of work.

How and to what extent was the music found in Appalachian hollows and the backcountry of the Deep South influenced by the early Irish, Scottish, French, and British settlers? How did canción ranchera music of Mexico, its precursors, and local Native American music influence musicians in the southwest, strands that would find their way into the work of artists such as the Arizonan of Paiute Indian heritage, Marty Robbins, and the Dust Bowl music of migrants from places such as Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma that would inform the Bakersfield sounds of the likes of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard? What were the effects of Spanish music on the peoples of the Caribbean, many of whom were from various places in Sub-Saharan Africa, and to what extent were these Spanish styles, themselves, affected by the Roman conquerors of Iberia millennia ago, or the Germanic tribes that often invaded the area and, later on, by Roma or Moorish peoples? And how did these Caribbean styles affect the music in the southern states, given the proximity and cross-pollination among these cultures, and particularly in port cities such as New Orleans? How, in turn, was predominately southern music later transformed by inner-city life in places such as Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and Los Angeles after the great migrations that occurred immediately following the Civil War and again later in the 20th century?

Might we also give Marconi, Edison, Tesla, and other inventors of technology their just due for having developed the means of recording, amplifying, and transmitting the music, indeed, even modifying the way it sounds? How might things have been different had the phonograph or the radio not been invented, or had the transistor and integrated circuitry not transformed sound engineering and production techniques and capabilities, not to mention putting miniature sound devices into the hands of teenagers around the globe? And of course, the invention and continual modification of the musical instruments, themselves, have had an obvious influence on music over millennia.

However, technology is not the only thing that has a reciprocal relationship with music in terms of stimulating creativity, and it is not even the most obvious or ancient one. Rhythmic sound, cadences, beats all inform our physical movements, and our movements inform them. Dance styles arise from the music, and the dance styles themselves inform the possibilities of infinite combinations of notes. Take the Cuban cha-cha. The feet move in the cha-cha-cha pattern, which itself informs the patterns of how a composer will conceive and construct sounds from various instruments. Or consider the physicality of the Spanish flamenco with its complex footwork; the sound of the dance itself, of the shoes against floorboards can inspire the handiwork of the composer of guitar music. More to the matter at hand, there’s the dance every teen of my era knew, the twist, where the way and speed with which we swivel our hips are informed by the rhythms of the music, and where it is obvious that visualizing our movements inspires the composer.

One could go on and on with these kinds of questions, observations, and analyses. But it soon becomes interminably pedantic and similar to otiose theological discussions over matters such as the “true” nature of the Trinity, devolving into a species of medieval scholasticism, the kind of disquisition whereby reason turns against itself counting the proverbial number of angels on a pinhead.

Here is my point: the very question of who “invented” any particular genre of music is one that can never be answered fully or satisfactorily without also tracing its multifarious threads to the first human ancestor to have hummed a tune while gathering berries, to whoever first put a melody to words, or to whoever noticed that thumping on an object created a beat pleasing to the ear. Often enough, there is an agenda behind ascribing the invention of a musical tradition to any one person or group of people. It is an exercise that most often occupies those with little or no knowledge of musicology or anthropology, and whose predetermined objective is to claim ownership of something. But music is not a piece of property that can be fenced off in quite the same way as a plot of ground or owned in a similar manner.

What we can do is identify key innovators who make use of the various musical and technological ingredients that obtain at a given time, and who discover new constituents to add to the world’s repertoire, combining them in various ways with the old to produce even newer forms that are destined to inspire yet other innovations. Such people are identifiable, but as Isaac Newton said about himself in relation to physics, they stand on the shoulders of many who went before them. In music, the past is always prologue, and finding a point of origin for every strand of inspiration is nearly akin to grasping hold of water.

There’s much we will never know, of course. For example, who first noticed how sound, rhythm, and cadence inspire certain bodily movements? Who discovered that air could be used to make mellifluous or orotund sounds when forced through natural objects such as a hollow stick or a seashell? Who was the first to create an instrument that was not produced by nature? Who, for example, designed the first simple, stringed instruments? We know the Egyptians used them thousands of years ago, but it seems likely they originated in even earlier civilizations? Who first used symbols to represent notes on a page? The Greeks certainly analyzed the nature of harmonics as early as the 5th and 4th centuries BCE with the systema ametabolon; but did other civilizations have a conception of such things even before them or concurrently in other places? One thing that we do know is that humankind originated in Africa, and it is, therefore, an equally safe bet that music also originated there. That should settle a “who invented music” question: our African ancestors.

We also can assert with confidence that all musical forms since the earliest humans were adopted and then modified as one person, tribe, or clan encountered music from another person, tribe, or clan, thereby creating a trajectory of musical development that expanded with a geometric shape in a multitude of variations as humankind spread across the globe, and in a process that continues apace today among cultures and subcultures in every locale, from person to person, house to house, block to block, and city to city, nation to nation, and so on over the world. In this manner, all music was and continues to be “appropriated”––to use a now commonplace pejorative used rather too loosely by “woke” critics.

Some would have us believe that musical forms are proprietary and belong only to a particular group, as though it emerged endogenously and fully-formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Others would say that once one adopts a style of music, Heaven forbid that one should experiment with another or dare abandon it for a different tradition, for that is apostasy of the highest order. It is an absurd criticism that one hears from the Puritans of musical rectitude. It is not a new thing, at all. Classicists said it about jazz artists, and acoustic mavens said it about electrified folkies, old country lovers say it about new country, and hard rockers say it about popish rock. But artists ought to be free to explore and move along a nearly infinite spectrum of musical and production possibilities without fear of opprobrium or being accused of heresy. Freedom of expression is a sine qua non of art, whereas pandering to orthodoxy and being enslaved to the preferences of the crowd each constitutes a grievous sin against it.

The fact is this: all music is based on what has transpired before it, and it is built on a manifold of borrowed influences. What is more, music has an inextricable relationship with technology, both in its more primitive and modern forms, and technology that is adopted and modified to suit the purposes at hand. Hard and fast bright lines that separate musical genres are impossible to draw. There is always borrowing from and bleeding onto other forms within every major classification of music.

It is easy to show that Rock ‘n’ Roll as a genre is informed by gospel, rhythm and blues, and country; but it is equally influenced by classical (e.g., symphonic music used by the Beatles and Moody Blues); jazz (e.g., as adopted by Jimi Hendrix and The Zombies); the blues (e.g., Rolling Stones); Eastern traditions (e.g., use of the sitar by The Byrds); folk (e.g., Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell); skiffle (e.g., Rory Storm & the Hurricanes and Billy Bragg); and flamenco (e.g., Gipsy Kings). And each of those influential forms, in turn, has had a host of other influential antecedents.

It should be noted, too, that Rock itself has influenced other musical forms since the 1950s, especially more strictly “pop” forms and modern country music, but also even modern orchestral music, jazz, and certainly hip hop in its cadences and beats and with its frequent sampling of Rock recordings.

Also, it is certainly worth observing that Rock both absorbs and informs the broader culture and art outside of the music itself, including fine arts, fashion, language, theatrical performances, sexual mores, dance, and behavior more generally. I would venture to assert that Rock's influence on culture has been more pervasive than any other popular musical form, even more than jazz and swing music, which dominated popular music in western society for about 30 years.

So, who invented Rock ‘n’ Roll? Thousands upon thousands of men and women over a great many generations and in a great many places. When did it become Rock ‘n’ Roll? When someone first called it that and someone else repeated it. The question is simply not answerable in a way that will satisfy those who must have a first cause for things, any more than the so-called “first cause argument” satisfies philosophers who inevitably will ask what caused the unmoved mover, which is to say, “what caused the first cause?”

What is it about Rock ‘n’ Roll with its several derivatives (alternative, metal, grunge, pop-rock, psychedelic, etc.) that defines it as a distinguishable class or genre of music? One might suggest that it is having a snare-driven backbeat or a guitar or two. But there’s plenty of Rock music without drums, e.g., Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” just to name two. A great deal of early Rock was more driven by keyboards and horns. Guitars played a comparatively minor role for the likes of Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, James Brown, Dion, the Coasters, and Phil Spector. There are even bands today, including so-called heavy metal bands, that don’t use a guitar, or that rely on just a bass guitar for strings.

It is true that most Rock artists since the mid-fifties, beginning with Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, and others, have used guitars–––and if they were not used by the principal vocalist, they were used by a back-up musician who represented an essential role in the performance. Rock artists have used driving backbeats as major ingredients to their artistry, certainly before, but perhaps especially since the Beatles, with the snare and kick drums also as standout instruments. But these instruments are not peculiar to Rock and they are used extensively in other genres, as well. It was a central instrument in country long before rock as we know it appeared on the scene. So what, then, is it that more uniquely defines Rock, if anything at all?

Whether or not it is unique, using the word in its strictest, “only one” sense, I submit that there are three major characteristics embedded in the musical styles of Rock and its derivatives, both sonically and lyrically, and that at least one and often enough all three will be observed in the various iterations and styles of Rock. I am referring to Youthfulness, Angst, and Rebellion. In turn, each of these can all be encapsulated within one overarching concept and word, namely, Attitude. Rock is all about attitude. That is its essence, I believe–––what defines it–––and to borrow what Justice Potter said about pornography when he saw it, I know it when I hear it.

I shall now briefly describe what I mean using the three foregoing attitudes to illustrate my point.

Youthfulness is nearly always an attribute of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Brain science teaches what we’ve always known, and that is that young people feel more deeply and they act more impulsively. Our senses are at their height of receptivity when we are young, and our emotions are at their peak response to external inputs and also to the kinds of interior thoughts that most often beset young folks. Love, fear, swagger, rage, excitement, joy, sorrow, self-consciousness, awkwardness, jealousy, and just about any emotion or circumstance one can imagine. When we are young, they are more intensely felt. The central control of emotions and impulse, our amygdala, is not fully developed until we are in our twenties, and the amygdalae of males develop more slowly than females. For most of us, age has a way of calming or containing our feelings, and they are increasingly less likely to instigate the kinds of impulsive responses that often accompany youth. But they do not ever entirely disappear, and shadows of their intensity from the past can be summoned with the sounds of music.

Music has always captivated the young and it is obvious why: music brings out an emotional response, and the young are especially attuned to emotions. It is no coincidence that some of the greatest works in music were created by relatively young artists throughout history. Mozart, for example, composed many great pieces in his teens and twenties. But it is fair to say that Rock was especially entrancing to youth when it arrived on the scene, for it spoke the emotional language of the young perhaps more clearly than ever before. It was loud, intense, dramatic, rousing, sensitive, bumptious, garrulous, sexual, and it inspired unrestrained erotic and sexual bodily movements even more than most other forms of dance.

It is no coincidence that many older people are especially oriented to the music popular when they came of age, for as I have previously averred, that is the time in our lives when we feel most intensely and passionately about, well, just about everything, and the limbic imprint music leaves on us remains powerful over the years as a kind of musical engram. Thus, it is not at all surprising that my elders preferred the big band sounds of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw over the Beatles or Rolling Stones, while today’s youth tend to prefer Nicki Minaj or Greta van Fleet to the hitmakers of my generation. However, with that said, it is not at all uncommon to see older folk taken in by current Rock or its several derivatives when they are exposed to it, sometimes in a format that is more countrified, for example, as with the music of Keith Urban, or more pop-oriented music, such as Taylor Swift’s or Katy Perry’s. It puts them in touch with their prior selves, which never entirely disappears from our consciousness. By and large, though, elders stick with the music of their generation or with music that is like it. 

Newer music that can broadly be classified as Rock will bring out a kind of youthfulness in older people when they give it a chance. I have paid attention to what the young listen to over the years, and throughout, I have found there is much about newer music to enjoy or even love. It does not occupy the same space or have the same emotional impact on me the music of my youth did, but when I analyze its lyrics and the musical composition, I know it is every bit as good as most of what preceded it and it is very satisfying to me. Consequently, as a characteristic, Youthfulness as it pertains to Rock does not suggest that it is only for the young, but rather that it is inspired by the penetrating feelings most associated with youth, granting it is more of a memory of how we felt as we age, but one that music, and especially Rock music, helps us to recollect more vividly, and even to feel a bit of the old intensity, even if it is only fleeting.

Angst has many variations, but its essential features are characterized by a kind of generalized feeling of anxiety and dread. Anxiety entails apprehension and nervousness, whereas dread consists of fearfulness and trepidation. Angst occurs when there is despair or despondency over things that lie beyond our control. The feeling can be found in matters of love, politics, race, environment, or any number of specific things, or it can be non-specific, a feeling that just overwhelms us without a particular object. These emotions are not uncommon among the young, in particular, and especially as they face the unknown future that lies ahead of them. Such feelings can arise at any age, of course, though on average their intensity will diminish with age and they are less likely to compel us to act upon them.

Rock music often evinces angst, and it even plays a central role in entire sub-genres of Rock, such as the punk sounds of the Sex Pistols or Seattle grunge of bands such as Nirvana, not to mention the more blues-based Rock of the early Rolling Stones. But angst also finds its way into mainstream Rock in the tunes such as Crosby, Stills Nash & Young’s politically charged “Ohio,” written in response to the tragedy at Kent State in 1970; Cream’s plaintive lament in “White Room”; Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth,” inspired by the arrests of protestors demonstrating against a curfew and loitering on the Sunset Strip, and the more non-specific angst expressed in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” It can be heard in the lovelorn tunes of artists as different as Janis Ian in the 1960s and Avril Lavigne among contemporary rock artists, and even in the emotion-laden bubblegum Rock appealing to people in their early teen years or even younger.

Rock speaks to the kind of anxiousness that we can feel about unrequited or unreciprocated love, or of jealousy, each occupying a large chunk of romantic songs associated with Rock; the darker forces that we must face in the world such as war, racial hatred or––and especially in the more recent music of the Me Too era––misogyny; or just a more generalized kind of despair, the kind expressed in songs such as the Stones’ “Paint it Black,” a feeling of dread that youth seem especially prone to experiencing.

Rebellion represents a revolt against authority, legitimate or otherwise––raging against the machine, the man, our parents, social conditions, conformity, orthodoxy, constraint, rules, chastity, and expectations. Rebellion is fundamental to Rock ‘n’ Roll music. From the day Little Richard simpered across the stage with mascara and Elvis lustily shook his pelvis; to when Jim Morrison refused to change the line, “Girl we couldn't get much higher” when the Doors did “Light My Fire” live on The Ed Sullivan Show; to Portugal the Man’s anti-religious screed, “Modern Jesus,”–––rebellion has been an essential part of Rock’s nature and it is an important reason for its longevity, for there’s always something or someone against whom to rebel.

The raw sexuality of early Rock was purposeful and deliberate in setting parents everywhere on edge with its primal masculinity and overtly coquettish femininity on full display. This aspect of Rock has never really gone away, though it has been amply punctuated by more saccharine tunes, and has been since the early days when the likes of Pat Boone and Bobby Vee mollified the orthodox with more innocuous tunes. But make no mistake: Rock is very much about sex: wanting it, seeking it, and having it. And that most certainly is a rebellion against what most parents want their children to be doing or what moral scolds of all ages prefer to be hidden away and not mentioned.

The protest folk-Rock of the 60s by Bob Dylan and others questioned authority and orthodoxy, themes that would soon infuse more mainstream music. Then the sounds of psychedelia in bands like the Jefferson Airplane veered into mysticism and invited us to expand our minds, and drug usage often represented the subtext. The punk rock of the 70s said “fuck you” to the world, and the glitz, big hair, and the androgyny of the 80s said, “look at me, I’m not you.” Rebellion came back full force with the Rock-influenced rap of groups like NWA in the late 80s and early 90s declaiming against police brutality in songs such as “Fuck the Police,” and then, after a seemingly interminable period of the pre-pubescent calm of cutesy pop, glee club vocalizing, and lullaby-style music in the mainstream during the 90s and early 2000s, where hitting high notes was esteemed more than musical composition and originality, artists come-a-roaring against bigotry in its various forms in anthems such as Miley Cyrus’ “Mother’s Daughter.”

Attitude. In sum, attitude is what defines Rock ‘n’ Roll. It encapsulates all that is important about it. Whether it is soft, hard, metal, acoustic, electric, or pop-rock, it is all about the attitude that makes it what it is. There are some common elements to be found in the way the music is composed and conveyed, to be sure; however,  none are especially unique to Rock. More central are the way it is presented and the intention behind it, what it is meant to evoke, and then, the feeling it actually does evoke, which is to say, the attitude is in the denotation and the attitude is in the connotation, and the denoted and connoted attitudes consist of one or more of what is evinced by Youthfulness, Angst, and Rebellion.

Why does Rock ‘n’ Roll matter? I will tell you why: it matters because it is the music that can make us feel most alive and young. It is the music that gets us up and out of our chairs and obliges us to desire things and to behave a certain way, whether it is wanting sex, driving a car fast, bobbing our heads, drumming on the table, cutting a rug, or in the immortal words of Howard Beale, “Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell: 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!'” It motivates, invigorates, energizes, sexualizes, challenges, informs, and reforms. It puts you in touch with your younger self,  your inner and primordial lizard brain, and it lets you burst forth unchained from stifling convention. To borrow from English rock star, Billy Idol, Rock embodies "The Rebel Yell." 

There’s music to calm you; music to waltz by; music to fall to sleep to; music to entertain; music to make one reverential; and music to be sentimental to–––these are all good and worthy of appreciation. However, no other musical form does quite as much and does so in as many ways as Rock to express our unfettered id and our primal nature. It is a release that no other form duplicates. Like other good musical forms, rock lyrics tell a story. But with the backbeat driving the narrative, they also make you feel more intensely. It is bold and insolent. It subsumes defiance when we are loving or lovelorn, telling others to go fuck themselves when they need to be told to do so, or when we are driving home the unpleasant realities about the society in which we live. Rock enlivens our potential energy and makes it kinetic. It is an attitude that seeks to rouse us from somnolence and gives us the power to face the day, come what may. We will always need that. And, therefore, by any other name or description, we will always need Rock ‘n’ Roll. 


Michael Berumen is a retired CEO and a published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, politics, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness on health insurance reform. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other publications, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. An Army veteran, aviator, kung fu sifu, outdoorsman, music lover, former juvenile delinquent, CSUEB and Stanford alum, and longtime Californian, he and his wife retired to the northern Colorado countryside. He plays around with the piano and guitar. He still takes on speaking engagements on a limited basis.

I'm Not Ready To Make Nice

April 10, 2019

I’m Not Ready to Make Nice
If You Are a Republican, Chances Are: I Don’t Like You
By Michael E. Berumen

For nearly two years prior to the 2016 election, liberal commentators and analysts described Donald Trump’s supporters as disaffected white working-class voters or by similar appellations. These disaffected voters, they would observe, felt as though they had been left behind, that they were effectively disenfranchised and marginalized in society. They would go on to cite various problems with underemployment, lack of skills, the opioid crisis in working-class neighborhoods, and so forth. Liberal politicians averred similar things, though once in a while they would also slip and call some of them “deplorable,” as Hillary Clinton did at one point, echoing Barrack Obama’s earlier characterization of people who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Trump's defenders would quickly pounce on such elitist talk. In more subtle, less incendiary ways, commentators on cable television and in the opinion pages of major newspapers made similar observations. Liberal broadcasters would laud Trump for pinpointing and skillfully exploiting the disgruntlement of many of his supporters. They would admonish anti-Trump forces for ignoring the legitimate grievances of the white working-class at their own peril. Trump was quickly seen as a huge ratings booster, and producers fell all over themselves to give him free air time. Trump played media like a Stradivarius, including several of his most vociferous on-air opponents, today, who facilely now ignore their past fawning over him.

Becoming all the rage among cognoscenti were several books that dealt with the subculture and mores of a browbeaten, downtrodden, white working-class, or as they were sometimes more vividly described, “white trash.” This underclass was stereotyped by media and liberals as Trump’s core constituency–––typified by the pot-bellied, big-haired, tattooed folks in t-shirts and red MAGA-hats who showed up at his rallies and shouted various epithets at Hillary or the media. What many talking heads failed to do was honestly report the principal force that impelled Trumpism among many of these people, namely, racism. Their support was more often than not disingenuously explained away as a reaction to a decline in their expectations. Liberals were doing what we often do: offering fig leaves for evil in the form of sociological explanations, suggesting these manifestations of intemperance and hatred are simply rooted in ignorance, that they were educable and redeemable, and that they only needed our understanding. 

Poppycock. What liberals failed to acknowledge is that these "deplorables" reveled in their white trash, vulgarian ways; they have no interest in what liberals conceive as the good life; and that they have an equal, but just more open and honest contempt for the liberals pretending to respect and care about them. This quest to reform the perverse is reminiscent of the kind of sociological reductionism that led the men of Oxbridge to think that they could reason with a madman from Germany some decades before. The fact is that pure, unalloyed bigotry is at the root of Trumpism, and it is the kind of irrationalism that arises from an amalgam of hatred for “the other” and from rage over their perceived loss of status in society.

And if you want to know why Trump’s various predatory sexual habits and the revelations of his various infidelities and his boorish habits did not play as big a factor as one might have expected, it is simple: add the other obvious, integral part of Trumpism, namely, misogyny. A woman in her proper place represents an important consideration in the ideal Trumpian dystopia, a world where women are submissive and vaginas are available to be grabbed without complaint in a perversion of even middle school male fantasies. In other words, what was really driving much of Trump’s popularity was the perceived loss of standing among certain white males manifested by both disdain for people of other ethnicities and for women whose proper roles are subservience and as objects of gratification.

I am not a politician. I have no desire to appeal to those whose views I deplore. It is an exercise in futility to try and persuade those whose views are not informed by empiricism and logic. We have no common language or agreement on fundamental facts making cogent discourse possible. These are the same people who believe men walked the earth with dinosaurs and who imagine that prayers help them win football games. They are simply stupid people. They imagine that the pompadoured, spray-tanned buffoon featured on The Apprentice exemplifies a successful businessman–––that he is a great negotiator of deals and leader of real corporate boardrooms. They haven’t a clue as what constitutes either thing. They have been conned by a not particularly gifted con man, an obvious charlatan, a salesman of the kinds of nationalistic bromides and ideological potions that appeal to unlettered nitwits. 

With that said, I wish the rubeocracy that is trumpdom no harm. I want laws, programs, and institutions that will protect them, even if from themselves, and notwithstanding the fact they would just as soon have me in a camp somewhere if given the opportunity. But I am not going feign liking them. I will be civil–––even kind when necessary. I will respect their personhood and rights. But that is all, for the fact of the matter is: they disgust me. I want as little to do with them as possible, even erstwhile friends or members of my own family. To boil it down to its essence: I am intolerant of fascists and bigots, and I make no apologies for it.

Not every Trumper is stupid. To be sure, most of them are. But that describes a very large number of people, anyway. A quick examination of the Gaussian distribution of IQs says most of what one needs to know about intelligence in the population as a whole, which is to say, people are not particularly bright, on average. A smaller group of Trumpers consists of those who are not unintelligent, but who are purely nefarious or self-dealers. These are the kinds of people who believe that fascism for personal gain represents an acceptable tradeoff. Caging children, alienating traditional alliances, cozying-up to dictators, the erosion of women’s rights, jeopardizing the climate for generations to come, kleptocracy, obstruction of justice, disregarding the rule of law, coarsening every aspect of life–––these are all okay if in return we get a favorable tax policy or some other advantage such as a judge whom we prefer. These are the kinds of people who might have overlooked the antics of another, earlier vulgarian, Adolf Hitler, whilst appreciating more what he did for the re-industrialization of Germany. 

In many ways, these people, a handful of more perspicacious Trumpers, are even more deplorable than more garrulous and dimwitted supporters in red hats that we see at the rallies. The fact that they do not subscribe to Trump’s obvious racism and misogyny in their ideological forms does not disguise their perfidy, though, for their willingness to ignore Trumpism’s inherent racism and misogyny in order to secure other outcomes, which amounts to facilitating their ill effects, all the same, which is to say, it is essentially a distinction without a substantive difference. They, too, are racists and misogynists by any other name simply from their indifference to it.

In summary, there are two kinds of Trumpers, namely, the stupid and the nefarious. There is undoubtedly also some overlap between the two in the Venn diagram of Trumpism. At this point in the Trumpian era, though, there is not a third, separate category of Trumper. Naiveté or high hopes can no longer be excused as it might have been (one had to have been pretty oblivious, too) as recently as November of 2016, giving some the benefit of the doubt. The bottom line is this: if you support Trump today you’re either a damn idiot or a self-dealing son-of-a-bitch, and I don’t particularly like you in either case. I do not need your vote and I wouldn’t give a bucket of piss for your approval. I am not wasting my time on you. There are too many others who have been on the sidelines in all of this and who can be persuaded to do the right thing, people who are susceptible to reason and who desire a just world: people who are earnest but threw away their vote on a third party; people who didn’t vote at all; or youngsters who will vote for the first time.

The Dixie Chicks had it right back in the Bush-era when they denounced the unnecessary wars of that administration and as a consequence suffered the ignominy of the ignorant tribes wrapped in their flags.  And they’d be right again today in relation to Trumpers.

I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell, and I don't have time
To go 'round and 'round and 'round

As for the rest of you: just get out and vote.

Michael Berumen is a retired CEO and a published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness on health insurance reform. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. An Army veteran, aviator, kung fu sifu, outdoorsman, music lover, former juvenile delinquent, CSUEB and Stanford alum, and longtime Californian, he and his wife retired to the northern Colorado countryside. He still takes on speaking engagements, but on a limited basis.http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/and http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/

The Ontology, Mythology, and End of Race

The Ontology, Mythology, and End of Race
By Michael E. Berumen

There are three major forces of our own manufacture that serve to alienate large swaths of people from one another and engender all manner of evil in our species. These are ancient forces; however, they are neither intractable nor ineradicable. One is the extremes of inequality in wealth (and hence, power), with the correlates of absolute, abject poverty in the worst case, as we find in the so-called “third world,” and relative poverty as we observe in more advanced nations, as well as the concomitant sociological and psychological effects of both kinds of poverty. Another is xenophobia (or jingoism) in its various forms, ranging from primitive tribalism to chauvinistic nationalism, phenomena that are usually accompanied by other factors such as ideological and religious differences, or ambitions for territory or suzerainty over others. And then there is bigotry, more broadly described as bias against or even hatred of peoples of the opposite sex, a different sexual orientation, a different religion or creed, or some other classification of people, such as a racial construct or ethnic grouping, which is to say, racism. No virulent disease or natural disaster has caused as much misery and death as the foregoing manmade maladies throughout the relatively brief history of our species.

I would argue that racial hatred has been a particularly debilitating factor, and it is to no small degree often subsumed under the other two major forces of alienation, namely, economic inequality and xenophobia. The disregard, fear, or hatred of others based on superficial differences in their phenotypical characteristics, what is effectively the denial of their humanity, and it has resulted in more privation through oppression, war, and genocide than any other manmade factor over the course of human history–––even more than our differences in religion and nationality. The genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas over a one hundred year period is estimated to have resulted in the loss of about 100 million lives, roughly 10 times the number lost in the Holocaust genocide of the 20th century. And yet, the differences that obtain among peoples by virtue of so-called racial classifications are quite insignificant from a biological standpoint, which makes the hatred people on the basis of race among of the greatest follies and self-induced tragedies of our species.

The more general term “bigotry” strikes me as superior to racism for describing the antipathy or sense of superiority towards others based on their quotient of melanin, other morphological traits, or their ancestry. This is true because “race,” the root term, is highly ambiguous and possesses virtually no biological or lexical merit. It primarily serves as a clumsy and overly-general description of skin color and other characteristics associated with the geographic distribution (often erstwhile) of various indigenous populations. It is essentially a linguistic or cultural construct used to categorize people into identifiable groups, and often enough in a pejorative way, rather than as a meaningful biological description. With that said, for the last couple of centuries, ideologues have contrived to use science on selective and mistaken bases to bolster a case for a hierarchical taxonomy of race.

In earlier times, race was primarily a term used to designate people into groupings by language and nationality. The idea of classifying peoples by phenotypical types began in the 17th century. In the late 18th century, the German physician and naturalist, Johann Blumenbach, posited five major classifications for humankind in his treatise, The Natural Varieties of Mankind, namely, Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Ethiopians (later renamed Negroid), American Indians, and Malayans. Variations on those classifications have continued up to the present time, notwithstanding the fact they are devoid of any scientific sense. Consider, for example, the fact that there is more genetic and phenotypic variation in sub-Saharan Africa then there is in the entirety of the rest of the world, rendering the classification Negroid virtually useless as a descriptor of Africans from a biological perspective. And, notwithstanding the variation either there or elsewhere, the differences among groups within our species as a whole are relatively inconsequential when compared to the similarities.

Detailed studies of human diversity and genetics have shown there is more variation among individuals within standard racial classifications than there is among the classifications themselves. In other words, two people of Anglo-Saxon heritage might be more different from one another in terms of their genetic makeup than they are from someone who is from, say, Thailand. There is no evidence that the racial categories we commonly use have unifying genetic properties. In fact, the contrary has been shown to be true. If there were biologically separate racial or ethnic groups, we would find common alleles and other genetic properties within a group that we would not be able to find in any other groups. However, an exhaustive Stanford study conducted by scientists in 2002 discovered only 7.4% of over 4000 alleles was specific to a geographical region, and even more surprisingly, when such alleles did appear in a particular region, they were found in only 1% of the people from that region.

The customary categories of race are based primarily on our skin color and other visible characteristics such as height, eyes, and hair. There are a number of environmental factors that account for these variations. For example, skin color evolved from natural selection to control the several effects of radiation from the sun based on geographic location, and it occurred over a relatively short time span in geologic terms. In reality, all of these physical differences are exceedingly superficial and not especially telling when one considers what a small part of the human genome they actually represent. Biologists tell us that as a species we share about 99.9% of our DNA, which is to say, there is only a 0.1% difference. In other words, that which separates us is quite trifling. There is no such thing as a human sub-species, and there is not a competing hominid of the genus homo, as once existed thousands of years ago with the Neanderthals and Denisovans. We are one species: Homo sapiens. And as a species, ours has very little genetic variation when compared to other species, even some of our closest primate relatives with smaller populations.

With the advent of global migration and commerce, along with a concomitant decline in bigotry, there has been an increasing admixture of humanity through the mingling and resultant procreation of peoples of different heritages. As this continues, along with increasingly similar requirements for environmental adaptation and similar dietary and health habits, there will be a greater resemblance to one another in terms of our several gross morphological characteristics, e.g., skin color, height, eyes, and hair, while, at the same time, the overall gene pool of humankind will improve with greater genetic diversity. Put more simply, we will look more alike and our gene pool will be healthier. With greater intermingling, fewer people who are closely related to one another will intermarry and genetic variation will increase, and, as a consequence, our adaptability to changing conditions on Earth will improve through mutations. The many smaller gene pools throughout the world will merge into larger ones, which ultimately will have significant and positive implications on the evolution of our species.

Admittedly, I sometimes use terms such as race, racism, and racist as colloquial appellations. I do so reluctantly. However, notwithstanding the limitations of their denotations, these terms continue to connote in everyday parlance what I wish to communicate about bigotry. Still, they leave much to be desired, for the words imply more than they deserve, which is the falsehood that there are significant biological distinctions to be made between one group and another. That is simply not based on scientific fact, and I look forward to the day when the very concept of race is obsolete, and the term is used only as an artifact of history, and the sooner the better in my view. Race is essentially a bogus concept from the start.

If we do not blow ourselves to smithereens or get annihilated by an asteroid––––that is, if our species survives––––there someday will be fewer superficial physical traits to divide us. This will not happen in the very near future in terms of human lifespans, but in geological terms, it will happen very quickly. After all, anatomically modern humans migrated from East Africa only about 70,000 years ago (some others of our genus migrated earlier, but did not survive), first spreading along the southern coast of Asia and then on to Europe about 40,000 years ago. Generations from now, the present concept of race will be as distant a notion as alchemy and the Ptolemaic solar system are to us today–––mere historical curiosities. The “end of race” will give us one less reason to fear, misunderstand, and hate one another. In the meantime, our best hope is to continue to make bigotry of all kinds an anathema to what we deem as civilized behavior, to eschew hatred and fear of others based on their place of origin and their physical characteristics, and to educate our children about the scientific facts concerning the things that make us much more alike as human beings than the minor differences that separate us.

Michael Berumen is a retired CEO and a published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness on health insurance reform. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. An Army veteran, aviator, kung fu sifu, outdoorsman, music lover, former juvenile delinquent, CSUEB and Stanford alum, and longtime Californian, he and his wife retired to the northern Colorado countryside. He still takes on speaking engagements, but on a limited basis. http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/and http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/

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A Précis on Reparations: A Moral Imperati

Reprinted from 3-31-19 LiberalResistance

We often think of reparations in terms of its juridical denotation, that of a criminal compensating a victim for injuries she has incurred. It is a legal remedy intended as both retribution and as a form of restitution for the victims. Such reparations could be made by an individual or even by an institution, such as a corporation, in order to account for an unjust deed done to another. But there is another kind of reparation, and that is when a person or persons is given recompense for an injustice or injustices at the hand of government. Such was the case with Japanese who were unjustly interned during World War II. When a government pays such reparations, the cost is presumably borne by members of the society raised through various forms of taxation. Reparations become a liability, therefore, a debt to society. This is the kind of reparation I wish to discuss, namely, a social reparation.

Now, it goes without saying that a government often incurs debts paid by the taxpayers, and this is true notwithstanding the fact that some of the citizens paying will not themselves derive any benefits from the original purchase or the largess bestowed. In fact, the debt may even have originated so long ago that many living might not have been around when it was incurred, such as the debts acquired from war, major building projects, aid to other countries, or for incurred but unpaid liabilities for the sick and elderly. Interest payments on old government bonds (which essentially represent a loan) are perhaps the most obvious example. We generally accept these kinds of liabilities as a matter of course and without too much controversy as part of the normal burden of the implied social contract, one that bestows both rights and duties to the members of society. We may quibble over amounts or how to go about paying for them, but it is generally accepted that there are debts that people in the here and now owe for things that were incurred long before, liabilities based on decisions made by people who might be long gone. Then, of course, there are also the kinds of debts that arise from expenditures today that do not have a direct benefit to some or even many of the ultimate payers of the encumbrance, the taxpayers. We might be paying for federal highways or social programs we’ll never use, for example. We are accustomed to many such debts.

Whenever the subject of reparations for African Americans in the United States arises, those who oppose them are wont to argue that they are not responsible for the wicked deeds of prior generations. They tell us they have not enslaved anyone or done anything untoward to African Americans, and therefore, that they should not be burdened by the costs for someone else’s transgressions or because of the past injustices inflicted by society. “Where will it end,” they might reasonably ask, for many have suffered all manner of evil at the hands of prior generations. They will go on to say that those whose ancestors were once enslaved are not any more disadvantaged, today–––at least not in any significant way–––under the law, in places of employment, or by other institutions subject to public accommodation than any other group of people, some of whom were also disadvantaged before or even now, and, therefore, that they ought simply to buck up and deal with it. Of course, the empirical evidence contravenes this latter point quite convincingly by any number of economic and sociological measures. The argument that opportunities are equal --- notwithstanding the intent of the law or the various affirmative measures that have been undertaken --- simply flies in the face of the unvarnished facts. In fact, each of the foregoing arguments in opposition is fallacious.

Let us stipulate that it is true that there are no African American slaves in the United States today. Let us further stipulate that the current generation of people of European ancestry are not responsible for having committed the historical injustices associated with slavery and Jim Crow that were inflicted upon African Americans, a people forcibly kidnapped from their homes; enslaved and robbed of their culture, history, dignity, and independence; separated from their families–––wives from husbands, children from parents, brothers from sisters; brutalized, raped, and often killed; and who, long after slavery ended, were denied justice under the law and discriminated against in nearly every area of public life. The argument is that there should be no moral or financial burden as a consequence of these facts, for the past is the past, we cannot undo it, and current generations did not commit these egregious acts and thusly ought not to be held culpable or penalized for the many regrettable things that were done long ago. But this is not an argument about moral blame, but instead, it is one of moral duty.

If we are going to suggest that the past has no bearing on our present, then it also follows that the present generation of Americans is to no small degree “freeloading” based on the advantages bestowed upon it by its ancestors, a foundation and starting place enjoyed by the present generation in varying degrees, and with no cost borne by its current beneficiaries. They are essentially historical “free riders, to use the parlance of economists. In other words, if we are to say that we do not bear responsibility for the injustices of the past, how then, ceteris paribus, in the same breath, can we also suggest we deserve the benefits that resulted from the toil of our forbearers? Why is it that the benefits of past efforts are assumed to be ours, but the injustices of the past are merely for the history books, when the fact is that these injustices have created very real, demonstrable economic, sociological, and psychological deficits for people in the present time, in the here and now, much as positive things we enjoy today have resulted from the labors of our predecessors? Opponents who base their arguments on the non-transferability of responsibility for social injustices from one generation to the next want to have their cake and eat it too. They are more than willing to accept the advantages given to them from the toil of their predecessors or the good fortune with which they began at birth–––and in both cases through no sweat of their own brow or from any special moral desert.

The African American experience in our country is unlike that of any other post-Columbian immigrant group, notwithstanding the fact that other ethnic or religious groups also have experienced discrimination and inequality under the law, including women or non-heterosexuals of all ethnicities. Theirs is a unique experience. Africans did not immigrate here freely, for one obvious thing, and many who were kidnapped and sent here lost their lives in transit. It is believed that at least 2 million people died while being transported in the infamous Middle Passage. No other post-Columbian immigrant group en masse has sustained nearly the level of systematic legal and institutional oppression for as long a period with as many widespread, multi-generational effects on outcomes, effects that can be observed today, and traceable to miseries sanctioned and even mandated by society at large, indeed, even as recently as little more than a generation ago. All of this is true, notwithstanding the notable exceptions and progress that has been made in the post-civil rights era of the mid-1960s.

Only one other group of people has sustained similar privation, namely, the Native Americans, the people who discovered and first settled the Americas thousands of years before others arrived. Through theft, expropriation, conquest, or deceit, their land was taken from them by Europeans. Entire nations were wholly or nearly demolished through state-sponsored genocide, and their way of life was all but eradicated. When Columbus arrived on Watling Island in the Bahamas in 1492, it is estimated that there were about 10 million Native Americans in what now constitutes the United States. By 1900, there were only 300,000. Many millions more were killed in other parts of the American continents. Discriminatory and oppressive practices continued long after the foregoing tragedies with the surviving Native Americans. As with African Americans, while there have been prominent exceptions and there certainly are observable areas of progress, the awful effects of this history of genocide, oppression, and discrimination continue today. Moreover, while there certainly have been other instances of discrimination and oppression, whether Catholic, Chinese, Irish, Japanese, Jews, Mexicans, Mormons, etc., no other groups in the United States can make the same claims of sustained and systematic brutality, persecution, and discrimination by the society at large as African Americans and Native Americans.

To be born of European heritage in the United States, indeed, in the Americas as a whole, is an advantage. It is just a plain, empirically discernible fact. This is true in various ways even with poorer Euro-Americans, though it is apparently difficult for some people to comprehend how a rich black man can be disadvantaged when compared to a relatively poor white man. A poor Euro-American does not suffer nearly the same kind of attention or suspicion in public accommodations, even in as mundane an activity as walking through a store, nor do they suffer the same risks in the enforcement and administration of justice as someone of darker pigmentation, all without regard to the latter’s economic or educational background. This creates a constant and very real burden and psychological anxiety from an early age. Some will always point to this or that person who has achieved great success to illustrate the contrary, but the exception, here, does not make the rule.

Put more simply, a lighter complexion in a society whose political, commercial, and cultural institutions are dominated by those of European heritage is a decided advantage in multifarious ways, and one begins his life with a set of privileges that cannot be enjoyed by darker peoples in either the present or the near future, notwithstanding any of the other advantages they possess. What is more, the statistics on average incomes, employment, educational achievement, rates of incarceration, death penalty convictions, morbidity, mortality, and any number of other criteria provide overwhelming empirical evidence of the pernicious effects of centuries of oppression and deprivation. In an effort to provide a just society, we seek to eliminate all of these forced and unnecessary inequalities, but it will take much more effort and time. Reparations certainly are not going to solve all of the problems, but, if handled correctly, it could be a very large step in the right direction.

We are social animals. Each of us depends upon society in a variety of ways to protect our interests and to ensure our well-being. Government is the instrument through which much of this occurs, whether by protecting and defending us against adversaries, through our various institutions of justice, or by providing for the common welfare in accordance with the state’s economic and technological wherewithal. The balance of social support occurs through our various affiliations and associations and, perhaps most importantly, from the family. Even the least social among us has some dependency upon these things. All of us are born into a position of one sort or another without having had anything whatsoever to do with that starting place ourselves, that status being merely a result of the good luck or the bad luck of the draw––genetically, financially, and in terms of our familial circumstances. We may be equal in an abstract, ideal sense under the law or in moral terms, but we most certainly are not equal in terms of our personal advantages and disadvantages out of the gate, advantages and disadvantages over which we had no say. Few who are fortunate to have good families and economic security at birth would be willing to trade their position with those who are not as privileged, and yet, it is not altogether uncommon for those who were so advantaged to imagine their ensuing success was derived solely by their efforts, while simultaneously thinking those who have not had similar fortune are responsible for all of their failures and undeserving of any redress that might come at an additional cost to those who were luckier.

I submit that reparations for the kind of extreme injustice suffered by African Americans and Native Americans over many generations are not only defensible, but morally required. Society has a responsibility to redress these injustices with such profound trailing consequences and to militate against the kinds of disadvantages caused by centuries of oppression without causing concomitant and disproportionate harm to others. I am uncertain what forms these reparations should take, but I believe one place to start–––one that will benefit the direct beneficiaries and society as a whole–––is education. More federal and state dollars directed towards inner-city and tribal schools would be one thing that seems very practicable today. Tuition-free education at institutions of higher learning for several decades would be another. A payment of substance over a period of several years based on per-capita family income might also help to shore up opportunities for better housing, independence, and not inconsequential, greater self-respect, particularly with the children of said beneficiaries who might begin with fewer disadvantages.

The problems of envy and resentment within society, of course, will be issues, and ones that must be handled intelligently. Some will think it unfair that they are not also recipients of such assistance. These unfortunate human character flaws exist in all manner of social settings–––e.g., families, neighbors, and colleagues–––and especially where there are extremes in wealth and privilege. A strong case of historical and moral desert can be made in our civic and educational institutions that will serve to lessen these undesirable feelings on the part of others. We can also promote the value of the satisfaction that comes with generosity, as well as capitalize on the social stigma attached to our more primordial and baser emotions of envy.

Obviously, the devil is in the details with any approach. But we cannot ignore the fact that these two groups, and more than any others in the United States, are deserving of recompense and additional uplift for the harm–––harm that continues even today in various material ways–––that was inflicted upon them by society for many consecutive generations, and that this shoring-up is no less warranted than our freely accepting the benefits created by prior generations through no effort of our own. The fact remains that the extreme damage done cannot be wiped away with just a checkbook. People in their private lives and in our institutions, both public and private settings–––and particularly the various institutions that enforce and administer justice–––must all play a curative role. We have a moral obligation to ensure that we do our utmost today to protect the interests of future generations, and we must carefully consider any action that we undertake today that could have deleterious ramifications beyond our own time. Moral obligations do not end in the present, and they also cannot ignore the past. Morality is about behavior, how we act, and that can affect outcomes in future generations, and also redress the injustices of the past. These are the things a civilized people ought to do. Society has incurred a debt originated by others that is due and payable from past acts with consequences that persist and cannot be settled in a bankruptcy court or erased from the ledgers of justice by a simple stroke of the pen. History will render a harsh verdict if we do anything less. The future depends on what we do today to rectify these profound moral arrears that continue to haunt us.
Michael Berumen is a retired CEO and a published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness on health insurance reform. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. An Army veteran, aviator, kung fu sifu, outdoorsman, music lover, former juvenile delinquent, CSUEB and Stanford alum, and longtime Californian, he and his wife retired to the northern Colorado countryside. He still takes on speaking engagements, but on a limited basis. http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/and http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/
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Kings, Queens, and Jokers

By Michael E. Berumen

There’s something to be said for monarchy. Not the kind that entails absolute power as enjoyed by the likes of Louis IV, Henry VIII, or Catherine the Great. I have in mind something rather different, something that bears greater similarity to what the Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realms has today, that is, a so-called constitutional monarchy, one with limited powers who “rules” in a democratically elected, representative government, and where the day-to-day affairs of state are managed by the elected office holders. In the case of Great Britain, that would be the Prime Minister, various cabinet members, and their appointees. The Devil is in the details, of course, and there are improvements over the British system that one can envision, but in many ways, this makes much more sense to me than the American structure, albeit, the idea of a written Constitution wherein rights are delineated is something I’d want to keep.

Setting the mechanical principles of governance aside, there are several advantages to monarchy, as silly as the institution might appear to some. There is much to be gained by separating the functions that attend the head of state, a person who is seen to embody the ideals, will, and stature of a country, from the messier business of actually running the government and the process of getting elected, and the unseemly partisanship that accompanies all of it. Thus separated, it allows for someone to handle the matters of state that require dignity and decorum–––something profoundly lacking in the chief executive in today’s America–––and someone who represents the country as a whole, standing above squabbling factions, which is something the Founders and Framers worried about a great deal, and perhaps most notably, George Washington, who eschewed factionalism. Even John Adams, perhaps the single most important, forceful, and articulate advocate for independence prior to the American Revolution, favored having a monarch for reasons such as these. Of course, one doesn’t need a hereditary monarch for such a separation of duties. There are other examples of presidencies that act as head of state for limited periods without being the operational head of government–––for example, in Israel.

With that said, aside from dividing the labor between a head of state and a head of government, there are virtues to a hereditary constitutional monarchy. It provides for continuity of leadership over time, which is important in the sense that people crave a certain kind of permanence and stability, something they can count on every day for the whole of their lives. While it is true that mediocrities will be the order of the day and a clustering around the mean of innate abilities will occur, as is invariably the case in every significant segment of society, there’s evidence to suggest that a first-class education and moral training can produce a sense of duty, reasonable judgment, and common sense even among those with otherwise average minds. In other words, even people possessing the most ordinary of intellects can rise to the role, given the proper tools and motivation. And let’s face it, mediocrities rule the day among elected officials in a democracy, too, whereas, duty and judgment are not always evident in those who are burdened by their ambition, and this stands in juxtaposition with those born into power and reared to manage it. Why, after all, should it surprise anyone that those elected by a majority of their fellow middling folk aren’t any more perspicacious than those who put them there? Still, invoking Lord Acton, the highly corrupting influence of absolute power can affect us all, including superior intellects, making them even more dangerous as history has shown more than once, and that is why the rights and duties of the monarch must be carefully circumscribed.

There is overwhelming evidence that we humans long for heroes to lead us and that we are prone to celebrity worship. Most people–––even the most circumspect among us, including those who imagine themselves to be ruled solely by reason–––have a need to admire and transfer some part of their aspirations to people they consider grander than themselves. Consider how people the world over are fascinated by celebrities in the arts and sports, fawn over prominent intellectuals (yes, even in academia) or business tycoons; or blindly follow charismatic politicians. A monarch can fulfill this need, and perhaps even distract from the dangers of following charismatic, would-be tyrants. In America, there is as much enthrallment with the British monarchy and its trappings as there is among the Brits themselves. A monarch’s family can also provide a useful distraction and entertainment, not without some cost at the public trough, mind you, but within reasonable limits. The benefits of having a head of state and an institution that most people can respect would seem to outweigh the associated and comparatively small financial encumbrances. The British Commonwealth and Japan both provide reasonably attractive and financially manageable examples.

I say all of this only in partial seriousness. I am not proposing monarchy for the United States, which is clearly unfeasible. It is much more likely we will fall into dictatorship with the likes of the current occupant of the White House than what I’m positing here. But, I am not so sure that if they could have known what we know today about all that ensued after 1776, that those Colonists who rebelled against England and King George III would have done the same given the chance. Armed with knowledge of the future, it is conceivable that they would have negotiated a different arrangement with the mother country, one that would have given greater representation and local autonomy. The possibilities are endless: Napoleon might have been defeated much sooner with our assistance; slavery would likely have ended earlier, as it did in Britain (1772) and the Empire (1833); the American Civil War might thereby have been avoided; and, given the overwhelming might of the British Empire, one that included America, the world wars of the 20th century, the Holocaust, and other depredations might never have occurred. There is not a laboratory to test such a thesis, and given the fickle finger of historical fates and unintended consequences, it could well have turned out for the worse for all we know. While Americans are prone to comforting–––and often enough, deluding–––themselves with their self-described “exceptionalism,” there’s considerable hubris in thinking that the rebellious Colonists produced the best of possible outcomes. Quite apart from the special geographic advantages and fecundity that we enjoy, some of the things we single out as great American virtues–––productivity and individualism being among them–––do not seem to have depended upon separation.

It gives one pause to think the Founders might have erred. It must be remembered that historically one man’s patriot is another’s traitor, and one man’s revolutionary is another’s terrorist. The victors are the ones who usually decide the appellation we will use. We prefer to think things turned out for the best, but it cannot be so easily demonstrated when we set aside our grammar school indoctrinations and our primordial tribal sentiments. And then there’s the matter of treason. Consider General Benedict Arnold–––a British citizen who rebelled with his fellow Colonists against the Crown, who undergoes apostasy (with the encouragement of his Tory wife and after becoming aggrieved with his treatment by Congress), who then resumes loyalty to the Crown once again. As a consequence and ever since, in the minds of Americans he’s become the very definition of treason. Did Arnold, an Englishman who fought for England and against those who rebelled against their own country do a greater injustice than, say, a President who cooperates with a foreign power and then lies about it in order to win an election, and who proceeds to denigrate and alter the institutions of his country and coarsen its ethos and enliven hatred and bigotry in the citizenry? It is difficult to argue that the latter is less ignoble than Arnold’s treachery, which, after all, was against those in rebellion, and, at least ultimately, not against his country (one has to imagine the country we now call the United States existed before it did to consider the rebellion anything other treason, whatever its moral merits might have been).

It is easy to poke fun at some of the silliness and pomp surrounding the remaining monarchs in the modern age. But is it any more preposterous than what occurs with the often vacuous personalities celebrated by tens of millions today? I rather think it is less absurd. Unlike the kind of worship directed to celebrities, there is a purpose to having someone embody the values of the nation and someone who is respected by virtue of what she symbolizes, and whose ultimate duty is to serve the nation. This stands in contrast to those to whom no such motive can be ascribed without reservation–––those who aspire to have power over others, or those whose influence is simply due to their having an unusual talent, being extraordinarily good looking, or who have a pile of money. The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to believe that the rest of us jokers might benefit were we the subjects of kings and queens born into their role and groomed for obligation and service, rather than being fawning supplicants of pop stars, moguls of commerce living large, and blow-dried politicians. It is good I have no political aspirations, as I’d be accused of trying to establish a monarchy and becoming king! Alas, no, the unvarnished truth is that I am much more a perennial skeptic and an occasional cynic about human motivations than I am a monarchist or any other kind of true believer. END

Michael Berumen is a retired CEO and a published author on diverse topics including economics, mathematics, music, and philosophy. He has lectured to civic, academic, and business audiences internationally, and testified before the US Congress and local legislative and regulatory bodies as an expert witness on health insurance reform. He has served on various boards of directors. Among other things, he is the author of the book Do No Evil: Ethics with Applications to Economic Theory and Business. An Army veteran, aviator, kung fu sifu, outdoorsman, music lover, former juvenile delinquent, CSUEB and Stanford alum, and longtime Californian, he and his wife retired to the northern Colorado countryside. He still takes on speaking engagements, but on a limited basis. http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/ and http://www.michaelberumen.academia.edu/