Ethical Authority

2,500 years ago, Aristotle had it right. There are several ways to make a point and move opinion. At one end of the list is reason. At the other end is passion. And this has been how it has been all this time.

Reason tries to get at the truth, because truth like justice should be the best of all conclusions. To get there, the reasoner puts together all the available facts, the evidence. He then presents these facts that anyone can see for themselves in an order that shows how one fact leads to the next and finally gets us to the truth of the point. However, this process takes time, even a lot of time. We have to sort through all these details to get to a point which, if it’s true, ought to seem right on its own. This is where passion comes in.

Passion tries to get at our feelings, because as good and fair people, our feelings should tell us what’s right and what’s wrong. To get there, the empassioner tries to determine what our strongest feelings are. He then lines up his point with those feelings. That point then looks like what is right because it feels right. However, this process does not show anything about how good the point is; it simply ties the point to our feelings about things. That conclusion we blindly take on faith, and faith is good for what is beyond human knowledge. Most of what we make decisions on however is not beyond our knowledge. So, there needs to be another way.

We need something between the pointy-heads’ information-overload and the snake oil salesmen’s slick talk. There is something. In the middle of the making-a-point list is the voice of authority. When we go to a friend we trust, we are going to a voice of authority. When we go to a butcher or grocer who sells good products, we are going to a voice of authority. When we go to a licensed doctor or pharmacist, we are going to a voice of authority. In each case, we go to these people in good faith, knowing about their history or their credentials, and we accept what they say as right. However, authority is power, and it can be misused to deceive or mislead us. There needs to be some way to tell if a voice of authority is really trustworthy.

There are two keys to deciding if a source of advice, a provider of services or a seller of products is deserving: having a good track record and showing little or no benefit to himself.

If the authority has a proven track record, he is more trust worthy. If we’ve done business with him before and the outcome has been good, that’s a good track record. If he has the regular legal certificate or license, and puts it out where we can see it, that’s a good track record. If he’s been around a long time and not received bad reports in the past, that’s a good track record.

If the authority shows little or no benefit to himself in our decision, he is more trust worthy. If the authority offers to share the sources of his information, that shows little or no benefit to himself. If the authority offers ideas on both sides of a question, that shows little or no benefit to himself. On the other hand, if the voice of authority asks us to join him, that shows some benefit to himself. If the authority tell us what we should do, that shows more benefit to himself.

If the supposed authority talks a lot about why we should believe him, we should doubt him. If the supposed authority talks a lot about us rather than someone or something that is neither us nor himself, he may be trying to play on our feelings. If the supposed authority buries us in an avalanche of details, he may be trying to hide something under all that manure.

The voice of authority should sound calm and clear. If it is not, it may be pulling the wool over our eyes or firing us up to do what he wants. An ethical authority tries to help us figure out for ourselves what’s best, because an ethical authority trusts that we can.

 

Trumped? No.

The worse thing has happened, but it’s happened. We feel hurt, depressed, afraid. We have grieved or are still grieving.

When I witnessed my students lose the girls’ basketball quarter finals, I was unhappy too. We grieved, but we all recovered and went back to school. It was a game where both sides played well using similar tactics, and both sides had exactly the same objective: winning the game. Elections are not games. It’s not about win or lose; it’s about what’s next.

The election of Mr. Trump was not a game, and he did not win. He may see a world of winners and losers, but we see a world where all can rise higher. He may believe that the world is all about zero-sums, but we know it’s not. No one has won and no one has lost here, except the gamblers. So what’s next?

Things may get worse, for some very much worse, and those of us who care need to and must help support and shield those we care about, those who are in fear and those who are in danger. Of equal importance is to support and shield those who for whom it has been bad for some time now, and for whom we have failed to be supportive or shielding. Yes, I’m saying that we, whose candidates were not chosen, need to do better about helping those, whose candidate was. I’m not talking about the malefactors and sociopaths who will jump on any excuse to exercise their distorted thinking. I’m talking about people who have been left behind in their work, in their position in the community, in their understanding of what it is to be an American. They didn’t “win” by this election. If any of the campaign promises bear fruit, they may win the jobs and the respect they seek–maybe, but they will certainly be left behind in the frame of the 1950’s white America, because they are more “useful” to some interests in that frame.

Those of us who believe we are of the “enlightenment” of the 21st century, who look for a better life for everyone in America, for a better world, not just for a better job and a better house–we need to help those who feel left out to see that we can have all of these. We could all be winners. This we must believe. It means we’ll have to actually do something.

We have long and loudly complained about the division and the stalemate that it creates. We need to actually do something different, or we will have the same division and the same stalemate. We will remain a nation of winners and losers trading off our roles in a zero-sum mindset, us and them, always at odds, always at war.

Who will be the better persons; who will be the peace makers? Can we not step forward to say, “I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening, but I want to listen now. Let’s talk. Let’s work together to find solutions.” Coming together doesn’t mean leaders must come to my position. It means I must give up my idea of just my position. I must articulate what my interests actually are. Then I must seek out and listen to the interests of people who feel staked to other positions. And together, we must work to find solutions that help us meet as many of our interests as we can, many of which are likely shared already.

The problem with slogans and donations is that they are surrogates for real action. We can do better for everyone together if we act on things together. We must talk with one another, not at one another. We must open our hearts and minds, not close them. We must seek solutions, not oppose them. And it may be hard.

Let’s get to work.

White Right!

There is something I find intolerable: white nationalist, right wing racists. The very idea that anybody is better than anybody else is simply the arrogance of ignorance. But to compound this perspective with the acceptance of violence as an expression of that blatant distortion is frankly bestial. I have long held an intolerance for the intolerant, but the rise of supremacist organizations and threats to more, and sometimes less, recent immigrant people re-plumbs the depths of inhumanity which genuine Americans and indeed all fully human beings deplore.

Whose place is this anyway? The first whites arrived as invaders to a relatively sparsely occupied continent. Later they were joined by other immigrants, and captive or coerced African slaves and Chinese laborers who were brought here, generally against their will and then nearly universally refused repatriation. Simultaneously, the real original occupants were being systematically exterminated through officially sanctioned genocide, or imprisoned onto reservations.

Using the white nationalists’ argument, white, black and yellow people must all pack up and leave the place to the scant few remaining native Americans. But where should we go? Our original homelands are now overcrowded. I suggest other planets, preferably unoccupied by sentient life, lest we wind up booted off those planets too, in three or four hundred years.

Or we could accept that we are all humans living on one planet which we should all be trying to save before we face global self-destruction.

Divided We Fall

The political expedient of offering a free lunch leads government authorities to make commitments they cannot support in the long term without assessments and tax increases–both political suicide. The get hit in their campaign funds and hit at the polls. The American wealthiest and their corporate empires assume a 19th century uber-privilege, owing nothing to the societies that fed their greed and freely buying the politicians to insure that. American voters meanwhile have been convinced that they deserve to have the amenities but not pay for them.

Then, when the bills come in, the authorities, beholden to their wealthy benefactors, look for excuses and scapegoats rather than biting the bullet, correcting tax law, and convincing tax-payers to pay up or give up the things they’ve come to expect. So the result is that they go after two of their own big expenses–the public workers, who make our society civilized, and the neediest, who don’t pay much tax and often don’t vote. Breaking the life-long promise of a pension to public employees, cutting funding to schools, and reducing the public work force, government chews off its own leg to free itself from the trap of its own design. Cutting off the needy is simply barbaric.

America has been effectively marketed a dream that everyone deserves a life that is fun and feels good. Watch almost any TV ad. Americans are discouraged from thinking about how that could be true when we know that life includes effort and pain. Only when enough of us look around and think will we begin to reverse the seemingly inexorable trend toward a country of 350,000,000 individuals, each at the center of her or his own universe, and start to reestablish America as a united society, who share common needs despite individual differences. If “divided we fall” has not been apparent before, certainly watching the human pieces of our civil society fall away over the years should alert us to the future we will leave our children and grandchildren.

Every thoughtful person must stand up, speak out, help out and vote. 

Gates

The world convulses once again.
Stunned, we watch in horror as
Bloated dragons careen across her flesh.
Homelands are swallowed in hatred and despair,
As All,
The mighty and the frail,
Are devoured in vapors and flames.

Wave after wave of bewilderment
Sweeps toward us and over us,
Crushing our complacency into fear.
We see the monster at our door.
Panic runs like acid through our veins, and yet
We must not hide inside our walls.
We must not shut out the terror and the pain.
We must not close our Selves behind our gates.

Shutting ourselves in, to be free of terror and risk,
Is to doom ourselves to the other side of chaos.
Hiding from Grendel has always been an arrogant delusion.
Famine, war, disease and murder are
The rampaging agents of
Vicious persecutions,
Wanton bigotry and
Deranged greed,
And we must sally forth to meet them.

Hiding in our enclaves,
Closing our eyes and ears,
Shutting our lives away
In the illusion of security
Is consigning those lives to
Isolation,
Stagnation,
Desiccation,
Desolation and
The death of the selves we might have been,
Entombed instead in anti-life behind our gates.

Beowulf sought out Grendel and his mother, and slew them.
So we too must come from inside our walls.
We must come out into the light of the world.
We must seek out the monsters and dispatch them.
Then we can join the human festival of the living,
And set aside our lethal fear and crippling timidity.

Our world clamors with exciting diversity.
We must reach out to the teaming dance,
To the brilliant colors, to the ringing songs.
Humanity is a glory, and we must remain part of it.
We must throw open our doors to the vast adventures of living.
We must taste the startling honey and pepper kaleidoscope of life,
Inhale the inebriating fragrance of far ranging gardens, and
Join the choruses of the world’s joyful songs.

We must be our most incredible Selves.
We must throw open the gates and
Be of Our world

July 2106

grendel

The Iconation of Everything

The abuse of the word “iconic” has become absurd. Its overuse indicates either a depth of ignorance on the parts of speakers and writers or a callous corruption of language inflicted on the ignorance of listeners and readers.

An icon is a thing inhabited or imbued with the spirit or meaning of something it represents. As a religious object, it might be inhabited with the saint or god of which it is an image. Thus, to speak to it is to speak to that saint or god directly. In a more mundane life, it may be an image that not only represents an action, but is actually a connection to it. Thus to click on a computer icon actually initiates a process in the computer system, such as starting a program. So an icon is a sort of vehicle or portal showing its purpose in its appearance.

In more recent usage, an icon has come to be a representative of a broader set or greater domain of sense or meaning. Thus Mt. Everest, whether it is the tallest mountain in the world or not, is an icon representing all that is majestic about the Himalayas or about great mountains around the world. Leonardo de Vinci is an icon of the Renaissance man as the ultimate of that ideal. However, all the mountains of the Himalayas or all Renaissance men cannot be icons of what they are. They do not represent anything other than just what they are.

If a thing or person is renowned, it does not make it iconic. If the person or thing does not particularly represent some greater idea, whether a characteristic of a greater set, a spirit of some power, an action of some result, a tradition of some group, or some other greater meaning than the thing itself, it cannot be thought of as iconic.

It is enough that we use Latinate suffixing rules to create trendy lexical redundancies at the expense of enriching our discourse with a powerful vocabulary. It eviscerates a rich language to serve up ground scraps as Salsbury steak. We are turning our prime lexicon into the haute cuisine of a fast food drive thru.

Iconate that Madison Avenue!

The Problem with the “Achievement Gap”

Words carry baggage. A gap in a society has a near side and a far side. We put people on one side or the other. “We” are of course on this side and “they” are on the other. So a gap forms groups, absorbing individuals into one group or another. “Gap” and “group” are constructs imposed on reality, not derived from it.

If the separating measure used in creating a gap is achievement, it ignores the fact that achievement occurs on a continuum. So “gap” is a false construct, which not only does not accurately reflect reality, but which must serve some other agenda as well.

When we align the achievement-gapped construct with the long-standing race construct, we simply reinforce the notion of racial difference. In addition to focusing our attention on achievement, one very impersonal aspect of education’s many acculturating functions, it turns our attention away from the broader cultural and institutional aspects of a society that so stubbornly exclude individuals from opportunity and access to full and equitable participation based on superficial characteristics, such as skin color.

The achievement gap is only a glimpse of the vastly larger culture gap from which we suffer, and for which there is no self-elevated committee, council or cause resourceful enough to correct us, it seems. Even the good news is bad: we are not the only ones. Almost every culture on this planet suffers the same twisted, albeit self-serving, perspective on reality. Markers of “group” difference are plentiful—race, religion, ethnicity—all social constructs that have no basis in essential reality.

The problem, as I see it, is that there may be no solution to a “gapped” world. In the absence of the motivation of six billion plus individuals, there may only be resignation or eternal angst. Given how many of the world’s people will read this article, what are the chances?

Meanwhile of course, we can use “achievement gap” as a political tool for funding and policy decisions, the other agenda.

The More Things Change…

Dickens’ Spirit of Christmas Present said it 170 years ago: if nothing is done to correct it, discrimination and poverty will remain the doom of humanity:

clip_image002“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Some may blame the poor and oppressed for their condition, and thereby justify punishing them further. Or some may use that condition to their benefit, manipulating politics and economics to further separate the victims of poverty and discrimination from resource and power. In just such a way some blame the schools, the teachers and the unions for the outcome of such conditions in education.

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

“Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares,” Motoko Rich, Amanda Cox and Matthew Bloch, New York Times, April 29, 20162

In reality, we have all inherited these poisons to our civilization, and we must all—from the meek and humble to the rich and powerful—join together to rid ourselves from them. We could be the generation of Americans who are truly great enough to face our doom and beat the odds. Yet too often we blame the victims and beat the scapegoats. Meanwhile American’s soul is festering.

_________________________________

1 The online text: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46/46-h/46-h.htm#link11 <

2 The interactive graphics show systems that were studied. Find yours. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/29/upshot/money-race-and-success-how-your-school-district-compares.html <

In Search of Our Dignity

Almost 11 years ago, an Indian Ocean earthquake produced a devastating tsunami that was responsible for roughly 23,000 deaths and 100 millions displaced. Something like $5 billion was needed to provide assistance; $1.8 billion was pledged in emergency aid; and corruption, bureaucracy and nationalism hampered that humanitarian response on the ground and around the world.

Not long after it was clear that the Middle East had moved from unstable to incendiary. Sectarian conflict had been exacerbated, ethnic rivalries had become sharpened, and economic constraints following war in Iraq and sanctions in Iran raised anger as well as vulnerabilities. Once again tens or even hundreds of thousands of innocents have been killed and millions have been displaced. The birthplace of civilization and many of its most important features from ‘0’ to ‘Z’ is being destroyed in in an enormous and ironic gesture of psychotic religiosity. Criminal destruction and sale of antiquities and brutal human trafficking are taking everything from individuals and from the whole of humanity. Ethnic and political conflicts are being exploited in the turmoil surrounding the Syrian/Iraqi free-for-all. Meanwhile, people are robbed and killed by the truckload, babies are drowned and washed ashore, women are given for rape and abuse as religious rewards, and the world largely stands by, slaps a few hands, drops some more bombs, and argues about how it’s a neighbor’s responsibility.

When did we lose our humanity? Humanitarianism is the highest form of human dignity: the belief that we never have too little to share with those in need; a hallmark of humanity. In Guatemala in 1999, a family living in a single room home with little more than the clothes they wore and the tools they worked with offered me, a comparatively rich American, a meal. Theirs was an act of gracious dignity. In France last week, we prided ourselves for awarding medals to three men who jumped to the defense of a train car full of strangers, yet within a week, train cars full of refugees and migrants are being herded like cattle into camps in Eastern Europe. If we recognize dignity, why don’t we recognize indignity?

Perhaps our humanity was never real. Perhaps it was just a carrot, dangling at the end of a stick before our eyes. We are never more than a few steps away from attaining humanity as we trudge along the treadmill of history, reliving one inhumane absurdity after another. We struggle, or think we struggle, to get ahead and prosper, and we confidently accept that destruction, despair and death is the lot of others and must simply be understood to be part of life in this world. These are the words of an egocentric and cowardly fool. There is no guarantee that disaster and strife will not strike any of us. When that happens, will we expect the humanity of others to come to our rescue?

I hasten to add that there have been many, I don’t know how many, who have individually stepped up to provide the help they could in whatever ways they could. It keeps my hope alive. I direct my words at those who have mistaken empowerment for leadership. These are the times when we can distinguish those who are good leaders from those who simply wield power. Those who have stepped up to help I would mark as showing good leadership.

Living in Luxury

The consumer economy is a marvel in con-artistry. No, no, really; it is! Take for example the idea of luxury cars, luxury homes, and other high end neo-con American dreams. These are the bait images taken by the mass market status shoppers who are clawing and climbing their way above their fellow citizens to a luxury life-style, or at least the appearance of one. In hope of a financial nirvana, they faithfully offer up emulative smoke to their financial gods in the upper classes, to whom true luxury is available. These exalted gods of luxury are, of course, as immaterial as any dreams. We do not know these gods; we never even see them through the tinted windows or in cloud raking towers; and they neither see nor hear us. They are a creation of imagination made manifest through the liturgies of marketing priests—ad men. But luxury dwellers are there, above the clouds, and they know luxury we can only imagine. They know how to get milk from the cow without going to the barn. These are not the Wall Street Moghuls or the corporate super-rich. Most of those don’t understand or have access to a life of luxury. Ironic as it is, many super-rich mistake excess for luxury, and we are duped into the same mistake to our expense.

Meanwhile, the commodities we know as luxury goods are part of this mythology. They are material goods that represent luxury, much as miniaturized replicas represent the genuine pieces, but they are not the materials of luxury living nor do they provide access to a style of living that is luxurious. The marketplace term of luxury is but a glorification of excessive consumption meant to feed our status vanity, while providing profits for others.

A true luxury car, for instance, is a silver Phantom with a driver. Yes, it costs something like the houses of dreamers who think an E-Class sedan is a luxury. Yet neither such a car nor the way it is used is luxury. Here’s an example: a stay-at-home mom (a bit of a turquoise and coral term in itself) doesn’t drive her kid and a neighbor’s to soccer practice in a luxury car. A driver (the term “chauffeur” is a nouveau riche presumption) delivers a wife from the Waldorf to Saks, actually on Fifth Avenue, in a luxury vehicle, and waits at the curb. The children (truly rich people, unlike goats, don’t breed kids) are at boarding school, and if they go to soccer practice at all, they’ll tell Mother about it when they see her over the holidays. Children have mothers; kids have moms. Moms drop their kids off at practice, and then swing by SuperValu to pick up something in a family pack for dinner before returning to pick the kids up. A forty or fifty thousand dollar car does not make this a luxury Life-style. However, such a car could be used by a high school aged child of a home accustomed to living in luxury, especially if were a convertible.

As another example, a luxury home does not have a cash value. Its possession is simply a write-off. A home of luxury has size, location and amenities. It has servant quarters and back stairways, out of sight of the grand hall, the grand staircase, the library, the grand dining room and the breakfast room, and so on. If it is truly a luxury home, it has a pedigree, such as Lyndhurst. Far from shopping and cooking, the lady of the house (we won’t call her Mom) informs the cook, shortly after breakfast, who will be at which meals, what to prepare and where to have it served. Dressing for meals is probably unnecessary, except for special occasions, or lunching or dining out. This lady seldom goes into the kitchen and never into any other work place in the house. By contrast, our mom has returned to a tract of faux-luxury homes via crowded highways, commonplace streets, and a driveway, parked the faux-luxury sedan in the three car garage, gone directly into the adjoining kitchen carrying her groceries and begun to prepare dinner. She has spilled a milk on her hands.

And the man of luxury? Well, the true man of luxury does require wealth. He may go to an office suite, in a building he owns, or in his home, wherein his advisors—lawyers, money managers, etc.—come to him to offer information and take away instructions. These instructions may include the purchase of new cars, new houses, new companies, or more draconian investments, all expenditures that should yield some form of return. Such regal responsibilities may not take the whole day, and socializing, golf, shooting may fill the rest. To one of these he may drive his new Vanquish Carbon, black of course. Our Dad, on the other hand, may have driven himself to his office in a fuel saving hybrid, because fuel, insurance and the environment are at issue. He is willing to defer some appearance of wealth and luxury in his responsibilities to family, the environment and possibly his insurance company. He would have parked in a lot or ramp in a space reserved for him perhaps, and walked into a tower to take an elevator, but not to the top floor. He would also have people in a position advisory to him, but his would be the advisory position to someone higher up. He would probably work sixty plus hours a week, have weekend meetings and be required to travel from time to time, if not frequently, first class at least in a commercial flight, but not in the corporate jet. That would be real luxury beyond his station.

So how does the family in true luxury get to be there? Well, inheriting wealth helps—and inheritance certainly helps with style. We are led to believe that living in luxury is only about acquiring vastly excessive wealth. If that were the case, then spending lavishly must be an indication of living luxuriously. Luxury, however, is understanding the value of things irrespective of their cost. Marketed luxury is valued primarily on its cost.

To achieve the sort of luxury the marketplace offers, aspirants need some form of revenues, and these may be substantial, and since these expectations are market driven, we need only look at how things are marketed to understand how to gain the imageware. In a healthy market, the wealthier, who are already on the luxury ladder, can be gently, maybe pleasantly, bled of some excess wealth. However those aspirants living in the economic suburbs of Luxor must be encouraged to spend big. Bigger price tag items often yield bigger profit margins; luxury goods purchases make the rich richer faster. Those up the ladder, but not at the top, must bleed those beneath them in the economy to afford there faux-luxury goods. Their factories must produce more at less cost; therefore workers must be fewer in number and work longer at stagnant or reduced rates, as they make essential and especially, non-essential goods for the mass-market. Some rungs down, shop owners must put in more time to avoid overhead costs. Hence, we see the stagnation of the middle and lower middle classes at the same time as wealth is diverted from them to buy commodities such as food, utilities and gasoline, and even increasingly, false needs such as lottery tickets, cable TV, trend electronics and other redundant and superfluous technologies. The latter are offered in the name of better and luxury living, leaving out any reflection on the spiritual result of the scramble for luxury. The economic ground dwellers, who are also subject to dream messages, often squanders their resources on non-essential tokens of a more luxurious life. Such strivings hurt those at the bottom materially, while adding no real value to the aspirants’ lives, and not even resulting in true luxury in the super-rich ether at the top.

Here in the middle: is my life better because I have an Apple Watch? The answer is—and we are given this script—“Yes, because it’s so cool.” This is important to understand, because we know the watch would be just as cool whether we paid for one or not, but because the cool thing is now connected with us, we gain that cool. And cool is…well, cool if not truly luxurious. By creating a cool luxury image to which we aspire, promising a reward of acceptance and respect when we meet that aspiration, and providing the materials to do so, at a slightly excessive but just affordable cost, the marketplace has conned us into feeling rewarded for passing wealth up the food chain. Pretty cool, huh? We are being conned into living in faux-luxury, or trying to, which ultimately serves the crust of excessive wealth, where luxury means nothing if it produces no return. Striving for the nirvana of the vane and vexed—economic inequity for the rest.

Yes, these con artists prey on our vane self-interest. How do we get conned over and over? The method is simple. Shape a message that says “This a good thing for you. It will make your life better” Repeat this message over and over in a hundred ways, and it becomes a belief, equivalent to truth, and you have already agreed to this message. After all, life should be fun and feel good. Right? Don’t think about it; just eat your lotus seeds; you deserve it.

Finally, we can perceive some missing pieces to this human puzzle. For millennia, people have seen that life is suffering, and that that suffering is a result of our actions, which are themselves intended to improve our condition. Yet only if we ceased to act in this way can we move away from suffering toward real happiness. We have been convinced that striving for luxury is the thing to do. So our actions are pointed to such an end, but even the end we are aiming for is a mirage. Even if we make it, we will have achieved nothing, “…vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Watching “Downton Abbey,” we may have missed the fairly pedestrian message. Here’s what Bing.com says:

The struggle of the upper classes in contrast to the people in their service pre WW1. We struggle with them as we see their lives take shape and become part of their personal pain, anguish, joy and sacrifice. We see clearly that we are all part of the same human condition whether we are upstairs or downstairs.

Certainly life at Downton defines luxury and the luxury life-style better than any Cadillac commercial. Yet it seems clear, whether you look at it through religion, philosophy, sociology or TV: luxury is not the road to happiness. Luxury is how we live with what we have, not what we have to live with.

Some money is certainly needed in a market based society to avoid undue pain and suffering. However, pushed too far, acquiring the emblems of wealth available in the luxury goods market may be seen as the marijuana of wealth addiction. Rather than leading to a better life with any degree of luxury, it may be leading to an addiction—greed, as it seems to have done for some. These addicts are not only missing the luxuries of life available at the top; they are suffering the constant fear of withdrawal pain as they face increasing competition for wealth—market slumps, corruption in the ranks, government regulations. And they are willing to strip their fellow humans of the means of providing their basic needs, shaping an ironic message that, with your purchase, you can move closer to the life the super-rich get to lead. Really?

These wealth addicts are not living in luxury and they have given up their humanity to be where they are. And this on this basis is the image of luxury living constructed. Can our souls be so easily bought? Is the dollar idolatry so powerful that we would run ourselves and our families into massive debt to attain the appearance of wealth gained at the price of spiritual poverty and moral irresponsibility?

Now when you hear the word “luxury” attached to anything, what will you think about? Are you being conned?

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