Part I: Where Do Rights Come From?

Deep question of the day: Where do rights come from? At Starbucks (grande blonde roast)  in San Jose just before work, and finished up a 2-day short thought on rights.

“A right is something that is due to a person by just claim, legal guarantee, or moral principle … A power, privilege, or immunity secured to a person by law … A legally enforceable claim that another will do or will not do a given act; a recognized and protected interest, the violation of which is a wrong.”

Do rights come from God, nature or neither?

It is hard to believe that we live in a country that once approved of slavery and refused to allow women to vote. Despite rights given to minorities and woman in the 20th century, we continue to have pressing issues surrounding human rights. How is a society in 2015 able to decipher what is “right” and “wrong” when it comes to immigration, prison overcrowding, rights of LGBT, and the seemingly never-ending debate on the right-to-life? Consider this: does an 88 year old diagnosed with stage four cancer living in persistent pain be allowed to take medication that will hasten a peaceful death? In the majority of states in the U.S., this patient will be forced to continue to “live” despite their wishes. But is this really “living”? And why is the right to die peacefully not a viable “right” for this patient? Will divine law make this issue clearer?


The history of divine law is a history of repeated corrections of yesterday’s lethal misreadings and misapplications. To be an advocate of divine law is constantly to have to say you’re sorry for the mistakes of your predecessors, as your successors will inevitably have to apologize for the mistakes you are now making when you claim to know God’s true intentions. Divine law has a brutal history of justifying racism, the inquisitions, misogyny, and a multitude of bloody wars. Contemporary apologists for divine law argue that some past claims – especially those of which they disapprove – were misreadings or misapplications of God’s true will. But how can we be sure that today’s “correct” reading will not be subject to tomorrow’s correction?

A great Hasidic rabbi was asked if it is ever proper to acts if there is no God. He replied, “Yes. When a poor man asks you for charity, act as if there is no God – act as if only you can save him from starving.” I would extend the rabbi’s answer to all moral decisions about repairing the world.

In 1873, the Supreme Court, in denying a woman the right to be admitted to the bar, relied on a divine concept of natural law: “God designed the sexes to occupy different spheres of action,” and “It belonged to men to apply and execute the law.” Woman’s divinely assigned role was in the “domestic sphere.” Beyond “the divine ordinance” and “the law of the Creator,” it is “in the nature of things” that women must stay at home. What “things” the High Court never tells us.

Do rights then come from nature? It is interesting how religious fundamentalists credit God with beautiful or positive results of nature, but only rarely blame him for the ugly and the negative. How frequently we have heard survivors of natural disaster credit God for saving them, and how infrequently have we heard them blame God for killing those who did not survive these very same “acts of God.”

“Anyone observing nature with an objective eye will see that it is morally neutral. It is full of beauty and wonder, but it thrives on violence and predation. Nature is a mother animal nursing her helpless cub and then killing another helpless animal to survive. Nature is life-giving sunshine followed by death-dealing floods. Human nature is Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler; Jesus and Torquemada; Kant and Nietzsche; Confucius and Pol Pot; Mandela and bin Laden; the early Martin Luther (King), who reached out to the despised, and the later Martin Luther, who advocated rounding up the Jews and making them “miserable captives” in forced-labor camps.” – Alan Dershowitz

Perhaps rights come from neither God nor nature. If not, then where?

~Wes Fornes


The Jewish Holocaust Is Not Unique

“If the Holocaust is to have any meaning, we must transfer our anger to today’s brutalities.”

Drinking 2 shots of espresso and wanted to express some thoughts on the holocaust. It seems clear to me that the Jewish Holocaust is encircled in barbed wire and isolated from other atrocities in world history. I realized today that I know nothing about the Armenian Holocaust which began around 1915. But ask me, or any just about anyone else about the Jewish Holocaust and most become encyclopedic; recalling the names of camps and key military figures, maybe provide an estimate of deaths, etc. It’s as if there was only one holocaust in world history. Is the Jewish Holocaust unique?

The Jewish Holocaust has been set apart as a unique event in history like no other. Zionists have used the Holocaust, since the 1967 war, to justify Israeli expansion into Palestinian land and to build support for a beleaguered Israel. I recently read how the designers of the Holocaust Museum dropped the idea of mentioning the Armenian genocide as a result of pressure from the Israeli government. The well-known Elie Wiesel, chair of President Carter’s Commission on the Holocaust, refused to include a description of the killings of the millions of non-Jews saying that it would be “stealing the Holocaust from us.”

The Jewish Holocaust is not unique. Since the campaign of the Third Reich, 100,000 lost their lives (20% of the total population of Rwanda) in the Rwanda genocide, about 45 million under Mao Zedong, 7 million led by Stalin, and 1.7 million led by Pol Pot. Ask most (American) college graduates about Mao’s reign in China and you will get blank stares. The term “genocide” and “holocaust” is inextricably tied to Jewish History to the exclusion of millions of other victims.

To build a wall around the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust is to abandon the idea that humankind is all one, that we are all – of whatever color, nationality, religion – deserving of equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When Jews turn inward to concentrate on their own history and look away from the ordeal of others, they are, with terrible irony, doing exactly what the rest of the world did in allowing the genocide to happen.

Instead of setting a part the Jewish Holocaust, let us create a greater solidarity in remembering the numerous other massacres and victims. My goal is not to diminish the experience of the Jewish Holocaust, but to enlarge it. Maybe it’s time we expand our understanding of the words: genocide and holocaust.

Written @ Starbucks in Los Gatos CA on 1/13/15

America’s Propaganda Machine: The Cultivation of Fear

Recently, I have given up on CNN and any other news medium. I have also unsubscribed from my NY Times source. I am tired of the fear mongering and hearing pundits decry injustice in America without providing solutions that unite the country. So here are some thoughts on my view of the propaganda machine that seeks to stir fear inside of us and dictate what I should believe. Let me preface, this is not a Republican/Democrat rant given that both are guilty of manufacturing consent.

Whether its FOX or CNN, the Washington Post or the New York Times, or even the hegemonic forces of corporations and lobbyists on Capitol Hill, the message is clear: Let the people who are supposed to run the show do so without any interference from the mass of the population, who have no business in the public arena. There is a conscious effort in our media that is committed to belief that they must control attitudes and opinions, because the people are otherwise too dangerous.

Take Karl Rove, Bush’s manager, for example. Rove’s goal, he says, is “to shape perceptions of Mr. Bush as a wartime leader and to prepare for the re-election campaign that will start soon as the war ends.” So that the Republicans can push through their domestic agenda. That means tax cuts – they say for the economy, but they mean for the rich – and other programs that are designed to benefit an extremely small sector of the ultra-wealthy and privileged and that will have the effect of harming the mass population.

And the way to achieve that – since people aren’t going to accept it otherwise – is to make people afraid. If people are frightened that their security is threatened, they will gravitate toward the strong leaders. This is what we saw in the justification for the invasion of Iraq. The constant themes used to stir American hysteria were: (1) Iraq was an imminent threat, (2) Iraq was behind September 11, and (3) Iraq is planning new atrocities. Keep in mind, at the time, no other country believed any of this. No other country viewed Iraq as a threat to its security. Kuwait and Iran which were both invaded by Iraq, didn’t regard Iraq as a threat to its security. It’s ridiculous. But the American polls sky-rocketed due to the media’s control over American minds and we took the bait. We demonized an entire country that has the weakest economy and the weakest military force in the region. Its military expenditures are less than half those of Kuwait, which has 10% of Iraq’s population. I wouldn’t say that America is more susceptible to propaganda; we’re more susceptible to fear. Whether its crime, immigration, drugs, you pick – our fears are off the spectrum. The last time America was threatened was during the War of 1812. Since then, America has just conquered others.

The 20th century has seen a bourgeoning propaganda machine that has used language to shape attitudes and opinions and to induce conformity and subordination. The first coordinated propaganda ministry, the Ministry of Information was set up in Britain during the First World War. Its “task,” as they put it, was “to direct the thought of most of the world.” What the ministry was particularly concerned with was the mind of America, and, more specifically, the thinking of American intellectuals. Britain needed U.S. backing for the WWII, and the ministry’s planners thought if they could convince American intellectuals of the nobility of the British war effort, then these intellectuals would succeed in driving the basically pacifist population of the United States – which wanted nothing to do with the European wars, rightly – into a fit of hysteria that would get them to join the war. The Wilson administration reacted by setting up the first propaganda agency here, the Committee on Public Information. This is already Orwellian, of course.

The British plan worked to perfection and within a few months, it turned a pacifist population into raving anti-German fanatics. America was driven into hysteria. It reached the point that the Boston Symphony Orchestra wouldn’t play Bach.

What I find astonishing is how the propaganda machine has its roots in democratic societies. If you can control people by force, it’s not so important to control what they think and feel. But if you lose the capacity to control people by force, it becomes necessary to control attitudes and opinions. Today it’s not so much the government that exercises control, but corporations. Now private tyrannies – corporate systems – play the role of controlling opinions and attitudes. So what now?  I’m trading CNN for the sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

Written @ Starbucks on 1/10/15 in Los Gatos CA

When We Talk About War, Why Not Discuss Collateral Damage?

collateral damage: noun : deaths, injuries, and damage to the property of people who are not in the military that happens as a result of the fighting in a war.

In WWI there was a ten-to-one ratio of military personnel killed versus civilians, whereas in WWII that ratio became 60 percent civilians, 40 percent military. Since WWII, a vast majority of the people who have gotten killed in wars have been civilians. Gino Strada, the Italian war surgeon who has operated on war victims all over the world these last 10 years, estimates that 90 percent are civilians, and one-third are children.

And by the way, I don’t want to insist on the distinction between innocent civilians and soldiers who are not innocent. The Iraqi soldiers whom we crushed with bulldozers, toward the end of the First Gulf War in 1991, in that way were they not innocent? The U.S. Army just buried them; hundreds and hundreds of them. What of the Iraqi soldiers the United States mowed down in the so called Turkey Shoot as they were retreating already defeated? Who were these soldiers on the other side? They weren’t Saddam Hussein. They were just poor young men who had been conscripted.

I suggest that the history of bombing – and no one has bombed more than this nation – is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like “accident,” “military targets,” and “collateral damage.”

Indeed in both WWIII and in Vietnam, the historical record shows that there was a deliberate decision to target civilians in order to destroy morale of the enemy: hence the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, the B-52’s over Hanoi, the jet bombers over peaceful villages in the Vietnam courtside. When some argue that we can engage on “limited military action” without “an excessive use of force,” they are ignoring the history of bombing. The momentum of war rides roughshod over limits.


Anarchism: A Worthy Consideration?

Written this morning after reflecting on Noam Chomsky’s book entitled Anarchism. While I do not subscribe to anarchism, I do believe it is a topic worth extrapolating for the purpose of questioning our current norms. This is a short 750 word introduction to anarchism without [my usual] verbose arguments.

“Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.” – Edward Abbey

Should the wealthy elite have a vast majority of the power? I wonder what it would be like to live in a truly anarchist country? I understand anarchy in pure form to mean that the individual is at the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life. Of course, this also means that there is no centralized or system of government with rulers. Anarchy thus thrives by maintaining that God, the State, and society are non-existent, that their promises are null and void, since they can be fulfilled only through man’s subordination. Furthermore, anarchism acknowledges that (1) religion is the dominion of the human mind, (2) that property is the dominion of human needs, and (3) that Government is the dominion of human conduct. These represent the stronghold of man’s enslavement and all the horrors it entails. And it must be stated that anarchy is not a proponent of lawlessness and mass chaos where laws are null and void. Rather, anarchy elevates human liberty above absolute power that exists within most, if not all, governments today.

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” -The Lord Acton

In the current American political climate, neither Republicans nor Democrats are the dominate party. This is because the corporate party, encompassing both Republicans and Democrats rule absolutely. And if the American people wish to cast their vote, our representatives will most often ignore us due to the lobbyists who lurk in every corridor on Capitol Hill. Economically, the middle class voice is but a whisper while patrimonialism is reigning supreme as all power flows to and from our top leaders. Did you get to vote on how much our government spends on military defense? You didn’t. $125 billion a year went towards wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Men and woman are fighting in the Middle East for our politician’s quest for expansion of power, not freedom. Just look at the multi-national companies who have profited from the recent wars, especially Halliburton and Bechtel. Moreover, we have a broken healthcare system and educational (K-12th grade) system that show no signs of improvement during the next decade. America, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Indivisible? 

“Government is best when it governs least.” –Thomas Paine

Individualist anarchists believe in mutual exchange, not economic privilege. They believe in freed markets, not capitalism. They defend a distinctive response to the challenges of ending global capitalism and achieving social justice: eliminate the political privileges that prop up capitalists. Anarchism borrows from both classical liberalism and socialism. Classical liberals (a.k.a. market liberals) advocate a free market economy. Socialism seeks a world where the means of production are owned by workers. Many market anarchists believe that freed markets lead to that world. The state-granted monopoly privileges and rents deigned to the purchasers and wielders of political power removed, the amount of economic opportunity available to working class people would outpace the bureaucratic and artificial economies of the existing corporate-dominated marketplace.

In more simplistic terms, within anarchism, the individual is the heart of society, conserving the essence of social life; society is the lungs which are distributing the element to keep the life essence–that is, the individual–pure and strong. “The one thing of value in the world,” says Emerson, “is the active soul; this every man contains within him. The soul active sees absolute truth and utters truth and creates.” In other words, the individual instinct is the thing of value in the world. It is the true soul that sees and creates the truth alive, out of which is to come a still greater truth, the re-born social soul.

While I do not subscribe to anarchism as a political goal, I cannot help but wonder if it is a worthy hypothesis. I do not believe that anarchism will ever be the ideal of an entire country, rather, we could see anarchist movements of protest spawning in rebellion due to suppression. The key idea to remember is: when you centralize power in the hands of the wealthy elite, the middle and lower class will inevitably suffer. This net result is one nation divisible by class.