Saturday, November 26, 2016

On The Passing of Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro overthrew a brutal dictator, improved literacy, and vastly improved health care in Cuba.  For those those things he deserves praise.

He reigned as an oppressive dictator himself, though probably less corrupt than his predecessor, for decades.  For this he should be condemned.

The United States foolishly strengthened Castro's rule by attempting to overthrow him, and then by blockading Cuba for those same decades.  This not only strengthened him as a dictator, but also pushed him into the arms of the Soviets.  Their nuclear missiles in Cuba led to the crisis that almost started a nuclear war.

I believe if we had pressed for commercial relations from the beginning, Cuba would long ago have become democratic. Coca Cola and McDonalds can send ambassadors where mercenaries and the Marines can't go.

I hope that when his brother Raoul passes, as well, President Obama's opening to Cuba can be completed, and in short order we can construct the bases of democracy.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Rising Nationalism Threatens World Peace

The greatest human achievement of the past two generations has been preventing a major war.

Since the end of the Korean War, and really since the end of the Second World War, there has not been a war between major powers.

This is because of the structure of international organizations that we created precisely to prevent another world war, and the web of organic relations of trade and social ties that grew up under that structure.

The most important of these structures, in my estimation, are NATO and the European Union.  Many people take for granted the structure of peace they created.

Nationalism is the substitute religion created by modernity.  It has some good uses in creating group solidarity. But it also has a great and obvious danger in promoting international wars.

The rising tide of nationalism that we see in all countries threatens world peace.  But most dangerous is nationalism in the United States and Europe, which undermines the structures of international order that the world's central powers guarantee.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is the Civil Religion "Holiday Season" For?

The season from Halloween through New Years contain the High Holy Days of the the American civil religion.  The great melting pot of pagan, Christian, and Roman holidays has been Americanized.  And the keystone of the arch of holidays is Thanksgiving.

Each holiday serves multiple purposes, high and low.  Halloween brings out artistic creativity, and lets us serve cute little neighbor kids coming to the door.  New Years is a time for new starts, the beginning of the year, and the beginning of the great quarter of getting down to work.  Christmas, of course, is a significant religious holiday for the Christian majority, but is also a great family holiday, the start of a week of togetherness with which to end the year.

Thanksgiving is also a great family holiday.  More than that, though, it is the moment of greatest moral depth - of reflecting on all that we have to be thankful for.  Of all the actions tied to our holidays, this is the one most likely to bring enduring happiness.  The happiest people show the thanksgiving habit year-round.

To be sure, each of these holidays is also an important commercial day.  All of our civil religion holidays have elements to encourage no-holds-barred spending. The last quarter of the year drives the consumer economy.   Each of these economic customs has the potential to make us more materialistic in ways that produce dissatisfaction and unhappiness.

Still, each of our civil holidays, if approached correctly, can promote happiness and a better civic spirit.  And the greatest of these is Thanksgiving.