On the Passing of James Brown and Gerald Ford

“Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title.”

As Thomas Paine says, a title is but a nickname and a nickname a title.

We remember James Brown and Gerald Ford today. At first glance they seem at opposite ends of the pole – one a President of the United States and the other the Godfather of Soul, the hardest working man in show business.

Titles and nicknames. Nicknames and titles. Each one’s legacy can be defined by how they lived up theirs; and Godspeed to both.

Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men

“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

It is well for us to remember Thomas Paine’s words from The Age of Reason. We are but one world, and all divisions, borders, and conflicts are primarily of our own making. We can pursue peace as one people on this earth, or conflict, suffering and strife in a world divided by hatred and fear.

A fanciful and sentimental notion, perhaps, but one that we should remember as a core element in this season of giving and sharing.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Peace from ThomasPaineBlog.org.

On Feeling the Earth Move

“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

While sitting down to write this post in the office of my San Francisco home, a slight tremor shook the building. Nothing much, just enough for the beams of this wooden structure to creak and my chair to wiggle. The first moments of any temblor, no matter how small, give me pause. Nine times out of ten the small shake fades away as if it was never there. But there is that one – October 1989 for me thus far – for which it does not fade away, but grows into a violent assault upon the very ground beneath my feet.

In those first moments time stretchs just a bit as I wait. Wait for what will one day surely come. And there is a reason, I suppose why I wait for it, year after year.

Because this is my home, love is shared here, life is pursued. And the small temblor just felt is a reminder.

Hold dear to what is important. Nothing worthwhile is easily obtained and once so all too easily lost.

On the Legacy of Power

“It could have been no difficult thing in the early and solitary ages of the world, while the chief employment of men was that of ruffians to overrun a country and lay it under contributions. Their power being thus established the chief of the band contrived to lose the name of Robber in that of Monarch; and hence the origin of Monarchy and Kings.”

When Thomas Paine wrote these words in he saw the world on fire with revolution. From Kingdoms and Monarchs came the promise of democracy and the concept of freedom and a self-fulfilled destiny. Paine was aware, as evidenced through his writing, that he lived in a time of significant change in the course of human affairs – a crossroads.

Tom Paine expressed the Enlightened Ideal of the collective will of a people rising up to reject absolute power in the hands of a few; be they kings, fanatics, tycoons, or tyrants.

If Tom Paine were to awake in late 2006, would he see a world at yet another crossroad? And if he did, would he rejoice in the wisdom of the collective will of a united humanity striving towards a better world, or would he give up and watch the latest episode of Survivor on TV?

On Leading Without Introspection

“Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you those honors, in which a savage can only be your rival and a bear your master”

Thomas Paine’s opening salvo in The Crisis, Number Five was aimed directly at Sir William Howe,who led the British forces on the American Continent in the spring of 1778.

Leadership requires bold action. A decisive commitment to carry out the actions necessary to secure – assuming that it is beneficent leadership – the peace and security of those that are led.

The very nature of leadership demands a dance along a fine line of reflection and action. One without the other is not leadership but merely ineffectual or simply intransigent.

To insist on clinging to a course of action without reflection or consideration is to invite disaster as well as new leadership – or, better put, leadership in the first place.

Would Tom Paine see such a situation today if he were alive to take pen to paper?

On Language and Liberty

“The American constitutions were to liberty, what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech and practically construct them into syntax.”

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle talks of how much of the language used in our modern political discourse threatens the very principles of liberty that our nation and Constitution is founded upon – indeed our destiny as a nation.

When language is too often used to deceive and confuse, to say what we do not entirely mean, to marginalize thought and opinion, it eventually erodes the ability to truly understand or believe anything that is said. Faith in government and our leaders – and, perhaps, in anything at all – falls victim to apathy, ignorance, and disbelief. If we can’t be sure if any particular iteration is true, then how can we believe if anything is true? If what is said is actually intended to obfuscate instead of inform, then how are we to truly understand the issues of our day and the right course of action in solving the problems we face?

The article quoted the essay Politics and the English Language by George Orwell:
“Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”…
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were to long words or exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink”.

In making an analogy between constitutions and language as frameworks upon which humans endeavor to live in civilized society, Thomas Paine understood that the two are inexorably intertwined, and that the degradation of one was at the peril of the other.

On Why Being Mean is Stupid

“There is something in meanness which excites a species of resentment that never subsides, and something in cruelty which stirs up the heart to the highest agony of human hatred”

These words, written in Thomas Paine’s The Crisis referred specifically to the British Empire, the tormenter of his place and time. Nonetheless, as with so much of Paine’s writing, his thought applies to all times and all places.

Cruelty merely begets more cruelty in a never-ending cycle of hatred and violence. Attempting to claim a moral high ground while engaging in cruelty, killing, and torture, does not make such actions moral.

Whether it is the Bible, the Koran, or the Constitution of the United States, there is no legitimate cover for unnecessary acts of cruelty.

And in all cases, to put it colloquially, mean people suck.

On War – Good God Ya’ All

“When we take a survey of mankind we cannot help cursing the wretch, who, to the unavoidable misfortunes of nature shall wilfully add the calamities of war. One would think there were evils enough in the world without studying to increase them, and that life is sufficiently short without shaking the sand that measures it.”

There is no shortage throughout history of Man’s folly in the pursuit of bloodshed, violence, and destruction. Nearly a century after the “War to End All War’s”, 65 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the “infamous” day that plunged the United States into the Second World War – a war that brought death to tens of millions of people, an unprecedented genocide in prison camps like Auschwitz, and the dawn of the nuclear weapons – we see few signs yet of Man’s collective wisdom overcoming the propensity toward war.

From religious factions, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, sectarian and tribal hatreds, to misguided super-power megalomania-driven foreign policy, the calamities of warfare continue, seemingly unabated. Even while the sands of time wind down on each of our short lives.

Would Thomas Paine see our world today and marvel? Not at the amazing advances of technology, or even the social progress of women’s suffrage and civil rights, but at how little we have come in ending the scourge of war.

On the Findings of the Iraq Commision

“If there is a sin superior to every other it is that of willful and offensive war”

Thomas Paine’s words written in The Crisis are no less true today than they were two centuries ago.

While the finding released to the public today by the Iraq Commission certainly didn’t characterize our adventure in Iraq as Paine may have if he were witness to it today, it is clear that we have committed sins of needless aggression, arrogance, and incompetence.

It is time for a tragically failed policy to change so that we might “manage the disaster”.

Next time we feel so compelled to bring about unprovoked warfare on a nation, we would do well to remember Paine’s words.