Posts Tagged ‘morality’

Trump’s Moral Confusion

February 8, 2017

I’ve delayed my promised wrap-up of the dangers inherent in artificial intelligence till my next rant to explore a topical failure in human intelligence, or at least human values.


At a gathering this past week I had a conversation with an acquaintance who appeared to share many of my world views. However, when the subject of Israel and the Middle East came up, we had a spirited discussion about equating loss of innocent lives during military action versus the intentional targeting of non-combatants (an argument I’ve heard before). To me, this was an otherwise reasonable man attempting to assert equivalence between collateral damage and terrorism.


Which brings me to President Trump. This past week he took a brief break from tweeting to sit down for an interview with Bill O’Reilly. During that dialog, he was asked if he respected President Putin, and while he acknowledged it remained to be seen if they would get along, he maintained that he respected the Russian leader. When reminded by Mr. O’Reilly that the man was a “killer,” Trump replied, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?”


It behooves all of us, especially our president, to get our heads above the moral fog that seems to have enveloped us over the past few decades. No, we are not perfect; as a nation of human beings we never can be. And we should strive to be better. But even with our mistakes and missteps we’ve come the closest to assuring human rights and dignity of any system devised in the history of mankind. The principles upon which this country is based (and which, paradoxically, seem to foster this moral confusion), have created the most powerful meritocracy the world has ever known. If we lose sight of this, and focus more on our shortcomings than on our successes, as our enemies hope, we will become progressively immobilized as a people by the toxic cloud of moral confusion.


The slogan of Trump’s campaign has been “America First.” If he continues down this road he can join ex-President Obama on the second “Blame America First” tour.



November 6, 2012

Some, perhaps a great deal, of the moral confusion that plagues our culture relates to the failure to recognize the distinction between religion and cultism.

With the expansion of our knowledge base and the rapid progression of technology, a growing segment of the world views belief in an omnipotent and omniscient God as tantamount to superstition. Those most militant cite the abuses in the name of religion committed by the Christians through the Crusades during the Middle Ages and the atrocities in the name of Allah in modern times as evidence of the malignant nature of spiritual belief. John Lennon famously penned the words “imagine no religion” in this vein. In the utopia he imagined, there was no need for religion, because everyone had achieved the state of enlightenment embodied in the basic moral law, “Do unto others,” the underpinning of all mainstream religions.

But the real world is not a utopia. It is a battle of good versus evil. There are those that still cringe at this concept as primitive; no one is evil, only corrupted by society, or bad parenting, or circumstances beyond human control. While well-intentioned, those who subscribe to this ideology will forever be hobbled in the fight. They are also the ones most likely to be confused by the smokescreen the Islamists rely on to achieve their ends.

Religion is only a tool, a path. And there are many. Abuses in its name by those who stray from the path, even so-called leaders of the faith, can only invalidate it if the rank-and-file practitioners refuse to publicly and loudly disown the behavior. Religion is a set of ideas and ideals. Humans are, well, human.

Cultism is also a path—to a belief in God’s diametric opposite. What better way to confuse the righteous and gentle of heart than to use the same terms such as “God” or “Allah” in the practice of satanic beliefs? Moral relativists have an especially hard time standing against this, as devotion is viewed as monolithic. Who is to define good or evil?

Therein lies the core of the issue: Islamism is a cult that cloaks itself in the righteousness of religion. Devoted Muslims in the “Do unto other” sect far outnumber the terrorists, but we can argue all day and get nowhere as to whether the insurgents comprise 3 percent, 15 percent or more of the faithful, because there is no way to do a census. Nor can we see into a person’s heart to learn how many of those who define themselves as Muslims support the cultists without ever acting on their twisted beliefs. Some people use the contradicting passages of the Koran to paint all practitioners with the same brush, but any thinking individual sees through this. What casts a pall over the religion is a perception by many of us on the outside that condemnation of the extremism in many international quarters has been muted. Fear of retribution is understandable, but only a commitment from those inside the faith can prevent this evil from turning into a global bloodbath that will make World War II look like a scrap between a couple of two-year-olds.

Edmund Burke proclaimed, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” Who could say it any better?


January 22, 2012

It bothers me….

This past week I administered care to a middle-aged man who had recently relocated from Las Vegas with his wife with an all-too-familiar tale of a layoff and house in foreclosure. The new job required feats of physical labor beyond the limits of his overweight, deconditioned physiology, resulting in severe stress that produced symptoms that led to a workup he could barely afford. You see, his new health insurance wouldn’t take effect for another 2 months. I wondered whether he’d last in the job that long.

The next patient I saw didn’t have any insurance worries. He is an inmate at a state hospital for individuals that have been diagnosed with mental illness leading to criminal acts. While this man’s particular offense was unknown to me, a great many of the hospital’s denizens are violent sexual predators. Not only is this patient’s cost of care covered in full, he is chauffeured to every visit by two—count ‘em, two—guards. On more than one occasion I’ve had patients from this same hospital brought to our office only to decide after crossing the threshold that they’d changed their minds, and be ushered right back out the way they’d come. This particular fellow wasn’t of that ilk. In fact, the first words out of his mouth were a request for additional testing to screen for a noncardiac abnormality he’d read might be associated with his heart condition.

Now, I ask, is there really something wrong with allowing a person who harms society with unconscionable acts of depredation to die of natural causes? Is my heart hardened because I believe it immoral to ask society to pay for this felon not only in full, but over and above that required for any other citizen, with the intent to extend his life so we can pay even more to incarcerate him at the taxpayers’ expense to protect them from him? All while claiming we don’t have the resources to aid the working poor? Call me judgmental, but I find the brand of false compassion we cower behind extraordinarily hypocritical.

It bothers me.


November 14, 2011

When we think of the rise and fall of empires, Rome comes first to mind, but others have come before and since. The parallels between Rome and the U.S. are best known to me from my studies, and some of the features of Rome’s decline, specifically the overspending and overpromising of the government and the shift of the culture of the people from a state of self-sufficiency to institutional dependence, are strikingly similar to our own. For better or worse, in this digital era of instant communication, change occurs far more swiftly than in the era of chariots. So we have much less time to right the course of this gargantuan ocean liner we call the U.S.A., as the sea of time has become more a lake.

The only encouraging sign I’ve seen is the emergence of a large, vocal segment of society now clamoring for change. Some are calling for the radical realignment we need, and are trying to work through the system, one that has become progressively more divisive and ineffectual. Others have taken a more unfocused and unproductive route, squatting and parading and decrying a corrupt segment of the system without any clear sense of the totality of the problem, or any cogent ideas how to fix it. In any case, a sense of alarm has belatedly surfaced. Whether it’s a case of “too little, too late” remains to be seen through the perfect lens of history’s hindsight, but a best case scenario, in my mind, is five to ten years of recession, or even depression. A worst case scenario is system collapse and social unrest. The veneer of civilization can be thin and the supply lines in our digitalized, electrified and mechanized society even thinner, so the potential for catastrophe is dire. But there is hope.

Out of the ashes of each great civilization something new has arisen. If we don’t have the will, or are simply beyond the point, of being able to take the difficult steps necessary to repair our broken system, no doubt there will be much pain and many lives forfeit. But on the other side of the tunnel is the bright light of rediscovery of the human values that made this nation so exceptional: Morality, frugality, self-sufficiency and a resurgence of the family will be reborn to fill the void artificially occupied by a massive, progressively corrupt central government. When there is no infrastructure of nursing homes and day care, family and friends will need to rely once again on each other. Where there is no government subsidy, charity will need to rise up in its place. On the decimated field of an erstwhile stable currency, fledgling, vibrant local currencies and barter will sprout.

The cycle of rise and fall and rise again will likely continue until we as people change fundamentally, and I don’t see that happening soon. The writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  We do remember; we just can’t overcome our human nature enough to change it.

Until that day comes, keep moving toward the light. If you squint, you can see it. It’s just beyond the end of the tunnel.


November 7, 2010

Two days ago our local newspaper ran an article by Gardiner Harris excerpted from the New York Times. It dealt with a recent study that showed a reduction in risk of death of 20% from lung cancer in current and former smokers with annual low-dose CT scans. In other terms, one of every 300 people screened lived who would otherwise have died during the study. All of the experts are not yet willing to take the leap that this should be the new paradigm, however, and there is still some controversy regarding the statistical methods and financing, with tobacco money in the mix and a clinical researcher who earns royalties from CT machine manufacturers. This researcher is quoted as saying that the study likely underestimated the benefit as the participants were screened only three times, and that 10 years of screening might have averted as many as 80 percent of lung cancer deaths. However, the article goes on to say, it is not known if the cumulative risks of the radiation (equivalent to a mammogram) might offset the benefits.

Regardless of the outcome, one comment in the piece stood out for me: The roughly $300 cost of the CT would likely fall to the patient, as few insurers pay for screening tests of this nature. “The federal Medicare program will soon reconsider paying for such screens, a Medicare official said.”

So, let me get this straight: The financially strapped Medicare program wants to consider taking more of your and my taxpayer dollars to provide free scans to people who voluntarily shell out $5 a day to support a tobacco addiction but don’t want to pay for the scans themselves. Let’s ignore the fact that a quarter of those screened were noted to have anomalies, nearly all benign, that required more CT scans and sometimes biopsies and surgery. Then again, let’s not.

If I sound like I’m seeing red—I am. And my Dad died from smoking-related lung cancer. Those of you who regard people that feel as I do as cynical curmudgeons, don’t make the mistake of thinking we object to paying our “fair share.” It’s just that it’s become increasingly obvious that the people who don’t pay have a grander view of what “fair” is than we do. I have a better plan: Let those who buy the cigarettes pay for the scans. And those nonsmokers who feel others should contribute there “fair share” should voluntarily contribute their own money to a fund set up for that purpose. It’s a revolutionary concept—it’s called charity.