MindOpenWhy

A place to explore life's mysteries and solutions to it's challenging problems

Debates, logic and the value of emotional response

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Too often in discussions (online and elsewhere) involving a hotly debated topic, some of the participants bail on the conversation just as things are starting to get interesting, just as we start to see the heart of the matter right in the midst of all the polarity, and tension, and the downright ugliness of it all – right at the point where we begin to see things a bit more clearly, the tension is too much and the conversation dies.

A lot of this boils down to dissecting what it is that people fear and what it is that drives someone to hold to a seemingly illogical position.

And I think it is fair to say that on both sides, the parties fail to connect, and fail to truly see the other sides position very clearly – in each person’s mind they may have thought so, but as a human being did we really get to the point where we understood where that other person was coming from?  Was the other party just being belligerent in sticking to their guns?  Or is there a real human, emotional reason that they are coming at this with such vim and vigor and what may be perceived (by someone with a different view) as total and complete irrationality?

I tend to try to argue with logic but also recognize that the emotionally charged component of why we act and speak and believe the way we do, is an integral part of the human experience – so much so that often trying to gain a complete understanding of another persons viewpoint, is more than just trying to nail down the logic.

I accept that the emotional component can sometimes get in the way of reaching a purely logical, rational conclusion – but it is no less valid as a part of the human experience of “taking a stance on an issue”.

As Spock would say ““Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”

As messy as that makes debate, it’s just plain a part of reality, but it means that we need to strive to manage that emotional response – not necessarily try to avoid it but embrace it as a valid part of the process, all the while still attempting to engage in debate using the tools of logic and rational thought.

Written by mindopenwhy

April 2, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Mental clutter

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I take in too many inputs and give myself no time for reflection and creative outlets of my thoughts.

I am beginning to feel as if my mind is overwhelmed with all of this.

It is more difficult to form clear, coherent expressions of what I am thinking.

I tend to ramble and jump from one idea to another.

One sentence or paragraph is just a reaction to something I wrote in the previous one.

It is like my thought process is beginning to function like a comment string.

So I need to take a mental vacation from all the inputs, news articles, social networking feeds and other sources of mental inputs.

I need time to process and digest and sort through all the clutter that has been accumulating in my mind.

I almost find myself in a trap where the only things that come to mind for me to write about are a reaction to something else I’ve read.

Current events, debates, controversies, conversations, articles.

Instead I want thoughtful reflective expression to dominate what I write and publish.

No one will probably care to read it because everyone just wants fast food information.

If it supports their predefined views of things, all the better.

What is forbidden is long, wordy expressions of thought.

The world doesn’t have time for this.

We need McInformation.  

140 characters or less preferred.

Can the important things be expressed in 140 characters or less?

Can carefully distilled and refined thought be summarized in this way and still be meaningful and relevant and edgy enough to catch anyone’s attention?

Am I a failure as a human being if I fail to remain relevant to a world that has such a short attention span?

What truly important universal human truths have been Tweeted lately?

Has anything grasped the attention of our collective good will and spurned us to compassionate action?

Have we witnessed any sustained initiative on the part of humankind to collectively solve any single global issue?

Has shallow thought become the norm or has it just always been this way?

Are we more content to distract ourselves with that which is entertaining rather than face the hard realities of the injustices of this world and our own complacency in failing to act?

One thing that I think is important is to not avoid the controversial but to thread between the polarities between which the controversy is defined.

This doesn’t mean to make mushy concessions.

It means to acknowledge the hard truth that these polarities exist and that they will be a persistent part of society.

It means to abandon the warm, fuzzy notion that everybody will someday agree.

It means also to abandon the cold, callous notion that eventually those who disagree will need to be silenced, if they can’t be convinced to see things “the right way”.

I’ve become a man who is overcome with worry for what the future holds for my children.

Is it because I’ve given in to the paranoid hysteria and doom and gloom?

Or is it because I can see the writing on the wall?

I have to return to embracing the polarities of optimism for the future and the gloomy view that history can only repeat itself and that war and famine and despair will only spread like wildfire.

I must embrace the view that while there is nothing I can do to stop that which I can not control, if I fail to act to prevent it I too am culpable.

Take poverty, for example.

I recognize that unless many take action, poverty can not be eradicated.

Yet if I fail to take action, I am culpable for the fact that poverty persists even though I individually can not possible end poverty.

One response to this is to simply say “I am not responsible for poverty”.

“The existence of poverty, and even of any single instance of poverty is not my fault.  I did not cause it and therefore am not responsible for it and have no obligation or duty to attempt to alleviate it.  There are people more able than I who could help end it, and they do nothing so why should I feel compelled.  Poverty is mostly the fault of the poor who are too lazy to take charge for their own situation and make it better.  And charities can’t be trusted so I would be wasting my time, energy and money worrying about it.”

Elements containing truth all stitched together to create own big patchwork doll of a lie.

Written by mindopenwhy

August 4, 2012 at 6:13 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Alan West’s not so “fantastic” comment on the Palestinian-Isreali conflict

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This is in response to an article found here about what Debbie Schlussel labeled as a “fantastic” response from Alan West in regards to President Obama’s recent speech on the uprisings in the Middle East and the ongoing Palestinian-Isreali conflict:

http://www.debbieschlussel.com/37451/great-allen-wests-reponse-to-obamas-palestinian-speech/

Here in brief is what Alan said:

“America should never negotiate with the Palestinian Authority- which has aligned itself with Hamas. Palestine is a region, not a people or a modern state. Based upon Roman Emperor Hadrian’s declaration in 73 AD, the original Palestinian people are the Jewish people.”

Of course I agree that “America should never negotiate” with an organization that has aligned itself with another organization that we consider to be a terrorist organization.  Point well taken.  I mean really “No duh!” is what comes to mind on that point.

Brilliant.  “Fantastic” even. 

I also agree that the American president doesn’t have the right to “dictate” to either the Israelis or the people who live in the area known as Palestine (hmm, can I just call them Palestinians to keep it simple?) where to draw borders and under what conditions they should resolve this conflict.

But with the next two statements the brilliance and fantastic-ness start to fade really fast.

“Palestine is a region, not a people or a modern state.”

“Palestine is a region” – correct, brilliant, fantastic!

And who can argue with the fact that “Palestine is…not a modern state”.

No kidding.  Isn’t that what they just went to the UN about?  They are looking to join that club but aren’t in it yet.  Everybody knows this.  Nothing too brilliant there.

“Palestine is…not a people” – correct, but um not so brilliant.

That’s like saying “Pennsylvania is not a people” it just sounds silly.

So Palestine is not a people, it’s a geographical region.

Okay…but seriously what you mean to imply then, bad linguistics aside, is that the people who currently occupy the region known as Palestine are not “a people”?  Or even more to the point the people of Arab descent who currently occupy the region known as Palestine are not “a people”?

Here’s where I really take issue with this statement.  It’s where Alan West takes the legitimacy of modern-day Palestinians as “a people” and connect this with:

“Based upon Roman Emperor Hadrian’s declaration in 73 AD, the original Palestinian people are the Jewish people.”

The statement itself is absolutely correct!   In 73 AD the people who lived in the area we know today as Palestine were the Jewish people.  Apparently some emperor declared this, then making it official.

I mean really Alan, I thought Roman Emperors ceased to have authority over the region a long time ago.  So while what you say may be historically accurate what relevance does it have to what is happening there today?

I’m sure the Jewish people who lived in the area known today as Palestine were so relieved when Emperor Hadrian made his sweeping statement.  I can hear them saying “WOW!  Thank you Emperor Hadrian for making it all so clear to us!”  I bet they all went home and had a party to celebrate their new-found official status as Jewish people.

Emperor Hadrian:  “Yes, yes I noticed that the people living in this area were Jewish, and thought it important to make it official by proclaiming it.” 

Whew!  Good thing the ol’ Emperor made it official because if he hadn’t made that statement…well wait a minute if he hadn’t made that statement it wouldn’t change a damn thing! 

The people living in that area at that time would still have been Jewish.  And I’m pretty sure they didn’t give a rat’s ass about what the emperor had to say about it…

Even worse is suggesting that statements made by dictators (living or dead) somehow gives more legitimacy to someones right to reside somewhere.  This is entirely off-base with American values.

If the argument that “just because you weren’t a recognized people or nation 2000 years ago, you have no right to be here now” is valid, well, let’s just say that a lot of Americans have some soul-searching to do. 

I mean what, do we all now have to move back to whatever region our ancestors lived in 2000 years ago? 

Because that’s the only legitimate place we can call home? 

Applying this logic to just one group of people selectively is just simply not fair.

I mean what if I make a statement today “The people living in the area known as Pennsylvania are (dum, da-da-dum!) the Pennsylvanian people!” 

 I can dress up all pompous and put on a toga first if that helps make it more legitimate.   I can already hear the sigh of relief of all Pennsylvanians, as the anxiety of whether or not they are legitimately Pennsylvanians is lifted from their shoulders.

Or even better what if 2000 years ago some “important official” stated “The people living in the area known as Pennsylvania are the Pennsylvanian people!” 

It’s just total nonsense to go around suggesting that emperors or other so-called “important officials” stating things adds any legitimacy.  The legitimacy of any people to live somewhere is inherent in the people themselves  – statements made by emperors adds nothing to it.

What the Alan West statement quoted above seems to imply is that only the “original” inhabitants of any particular area have a right to live there and the legitimacy of that claim is made on the basis of the “official” autocratic decrees of the current dictator in the region.

This statement isn’t as brilliant, as it is offensive to the innate rights of human beings to live peacefully in the land of their choosing without the threat of violence from others who also lay claim to that land.

Here’s a sad truth about American history that all of us would do well to consider – many of our ancestors failed to respect the right of the “original” inhabitants of this land that we now call “our own”.  They failed to see the native residents of this land we call America as legitimate human beings – many saw them as less than people.

This is what I see as one of the root causes of this conflict.  There are some people on both sides who fail to recognize the legitimacy of those on the other side.  They fail to see them as equally human and equally deserving of dignity and human rights.

Palestinians are people. 

Israelis are people.

And it is PEOPLE that suffer on both sides of this conflict. 

If Alan West has something meaningful to say about finding a way to end that suffering, rather than just try to delegitimize one side or the other than I could agree that he said something “fantastic”.

Here is something I could label as fantastic…sorrowful yes, but far more fantastic as a starting point for talking about solutions to this conflict than some dumb comment about the edict of a long dead Roman emperor:

“But my mother was very moved by the first meeting.  People shared their stories and it was translated into Arabic.  It made her cry all day.  She said that she realized that there was no difference between the Israeli and the Palestinian mother who had lost a child – that they had the same pain.”

If you want a more balanced view of the human side of this conflict and not some baloney argument about a Roman emperor from nearly 2000 years ago having something to say about the situation as it stands TODAY you can read more here:

http://azizabusarah.wordpress.com/2009/11/21/to-fatah-and-back-jpost/

And that my friends is truly something worthy of the label “fantastic”.

Written by mindopenwhy

October 24, 2011 at 12:50 am

How the OWS movement gets teeth – part 2

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More raw thoughts on how the revolution gets some teeth:

Dawn is breaking in my mind on some things and I just realized…all you Starcraft, Warcraft, real-time strategy players out there guess what?

Resource allocation, real-time strategy, we all should be fucking wizards at this shit!

Here’s where I’m going with this.

In order to do what I suggest in part 1 you need to have access to smart phones, data plans, internet access etc. all of which requires you allocating a portion of your financial assets towards companies that may well be your ‘enemies’.

So you shell out so much of your gold, stone, meat, wood etc. in order to build up your army and defeat the opponent.

In this game most of your purchasing power is spent enriching those you are trying to defeat (namely those specific corporations that put profits before people).

The goal is to shift the allocation of these financial resources towards, specifically, those corporations that put people and the environment before profits.

i.e. fair trade, sustainability etc.

The “blind & ignorant of social impact impulse buy” is your worst enemy, but the friend of those who put profits before people.  They are counting on all of us, to actively or passively or ignorantly (it doesn’t really matter) pass off responsibility and blame to them (it’s not our fault the company I buy from is unethical etc). 

It actually benefits them if we pass off blame to them, because ironically we then feel less or no guilt about the purchase…we get what we want and they get what they want and nobody worries about being accountable to a higher standard because they say “We’re just providing what the customers want” and we say “We’re not responsible for what the companies do with the money they make from us buying their product”. 

We both pass the buck and some poor laborer in a 3rd world country is left holding the bag…and it’s full of disease riddled water and chemical toxins that are poisoning their world at an alarming rate.

I’ve actually seen this flaunted with a perverse pride on rants on amazon.com.  Someone started a thread asking “are amazon products fair trade?”…and more than a few had comments like “Who cares!  As long as I get a product that is what I want at a price that is cheap!  Those people wouldn’t have any work at all – even if they are working for what seems like pennies to me, it is better than the alternative of no income at all!” 

Pretty disgusting….

Is ‘our’ generation up to this challenge? 

First we must embrace that responsibility for the social and environmental impact of our purchasing decisions rest on our shoulders.

Then we must arm ourselves with the tools and information we need to make socially and environmentally responsible purchasing decisions. 

Imagine the power we wield if we do this effectively, collectively, and with consistency?

Who is in charge then? 

The mighty collective of socially and environmentally responsible, informed consumers that’s who. 

The corporations will have no choice but to give in to the pressures of such an empowered collective force for change, else they risk perishing. 

In this connected, technology rich world no corporation can offer any legitimate excuse for not being able to provide the transparency, accountability, and social and environmental responsibility that we as the collective consumers should be demanding (and if we are not demanding it than we are as soulless as those who put profits before people). 

 That being said in this connected, technology rich world no individual can offer any legitimate excuse for not being able to acquire the information necessary to make purchasing choices that are socially and environmentally responsible. 

The gauntlet has been laid down…

Want to prove to me your factory overseas provides safe working conditions, fair wages, etc.? 

Offer transparency and access that the technology rich, digitally connected world can offer. 

Not willing? 

Okay, I take my business elsewhere. 

We need to start demanding, putting our foot down and truly throwing our weight around…but first we need to collectively wake up to the fact that we have that power.

More later…drumming things up, keeping the wheel cogs of my mind turning…

Written by mindopenwhy

October 23, 2011 at 10:44 pm

How the OWS movement gets teeth – part 1

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The middle class in America is about to find it’s power…

And America and the world will be changed for the better because of it.

An example of what I am thinking about:

“You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the iPhone application store…”

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_24171.cfm

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/06/14/why-are-there-so-many-food-allergies-now.aspx

“Description

ShopNoGMO is a shopping guide that helps you avoid GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) in the foods you buy at your grocery store.”

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shopnogmo/id393454798?mt=8

Now my thoughts in raw form:

It is time to leverage the power of social media, mobile technology, and networking to effect real, meaningful change in how we consume.

The problem – too many of the products and services we buy are connected to practices we wouldn’t support (environment, fair trade issues, mergers, job slashing for profits, etc.).

It is our money that feeds the inequity, that fuels environmental destruction, that keeps alive the corporatocracy.

We have within our grasp the power to wake up, arm ourselves, and make the necessary changes in our purchasing decisions to radically alter the landscape.

We need to crowd source…use mobile tech to scan products and get info on their ‘status’…crowd source by assigning research to a network of volunteers who will seek out the facts on products with missing or incomplete information…cross reference to verify.

It’s difficult…because of the reality of ministers of misinformation who lurk among us.

We need to gain the upper hand by creating trusted networks…let it start with ‘us’ instead of ‘them’.

This is one arena where the local grass roots media comes into play – people on the ground checking things out – armed with digital technology to reveal what is hidden and bring what is in darkness to light.

What is absolutely fundamental – transparency.  If a company refuses to offer completely and authentic transparency it serves as a black mark that conscientious consumers will see as a sign that all is not well and that they should take their money to a ‘trusted vendor’.

Caution – fake advocacy groups exist, often with names that sound promising – for example, the name may sound like “People for the Responsible Use of the Earths Resources” but they may be a front group for ‘people who use the earths resources for their own personal gain only’.

“Advocate groups have a bad habit of selectively reporting only the information that flatters their causes”

http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/renka/Renka_papers/polls.htm

“Danger Will Robinson!”

Discernment is crucial in the information age.  What sources of information can be trusted?

Again transparency is fundamental?  Are they willing to disclose full and completely accurate info about funding etc?  Who sponsored the study?  Where does the money trail lead?  Does it lead back to some corporate entity with a vested financial interest in the public perception of something?  Or a truly independent consumer group? 

And if the trail is impossible to discern red flags automatically go up.

Written by mindopenwhy

October 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm

The #1 person to blame for the economic disparity in this country is…me

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It is the realization that we the 99% are also to blame for this mess that we are in that will also lead to real meaningful change.

Who rushed out to buy cheap, foreign-made goods with no thought of the social and economic repercussions of doing so? 

I did.

Who stood idly by while the politicians rewrote our laws to favor corporations, giant banks, and reckless Wall Street investors? 

I did.

Who will stand up now to fight against all this and take responsibility for correcting the injustice and inequity that is a result? 

I will.

(disclaimer – the opinions expressed below are solely those of the commenter “Mad Milker” and do not necessarily represent my own view.  I also can not vouch for the accuracy of every fact and figure referenced below.)

Here is an excerpt that tells part of the story:

 http://money.cnn.com/2010/09/07/news/companies/mike_duke_walmart_full.fortune/

“Mad Milker Mar 13 

“It is the aim of good government to stimulate production, of bad government to encourage consumption.” – Jean Baptiste Say

If Retail makes NOTHING….and Government makes only MORE DEBT….the only thing that can have a positive effect on communities is Small Business and companies that make stuff.

The picture of George Washington can float around a town six to eight times before leaving the community but if that dollar is spent inside of a big box store it will leave the same day that it entered.

Big Box stores like Wal*Mart can take in 200,000 George Washington’s a day and that be a lot of “Liberty” “Pride” “Freedom” leaving town each day.

And when one figures into the equation America has a six to one trade deficit with China which means five out of every six George Washington’s that go there will never come back unless the US Government sells bonds(debt) this is what those on Jenkins Hill and Wall Street don’t understand when it comes to local banks not having any George Washington’s to loan out in their communities.

Why is it that people ain’t writing articles about those fifteen cargo ships that pollute as much as 760 million automobiles, T Boone Pickens owning a Texas Water District, Nestle draining the Great Lakes, the disconnect between Coca-Cola and the people of India, Wal*Mart putting less than 5% foreign in their stores in China and Warren Buffett buying a Choo Choo train a few years after Wal*Mart makes a deal on a port in Mexico.

In 1960 U.S. goods manufacturing produced a $5 billion trade surplus – – 2006 merchandise trade had a $836 billion deficit. Today, for some reason, the world thinks the American consumer needs to support what they make….well, it doesn’t work like that even a fifth grader can figure that out.

So-call cheaper items only breed cheaper wages and this will go on until the rich of the world carry out the manufacturing of ignorance through out the 182 or so counties that will have a chance to make something.

I’m just an O’fart with very little book learning but from what I’ve seen over the past sixty five years in this great union of fifty states has shown me that common sense left in the year 63′ and “my sh!! don’t stink” sense as been here every since.

Sad, those few fat farmers with penmanship of poets holding feather quill goose pens and writing the American dream has today become nothing more than a page within a history book that a bunch of asinine dipsticks are to lazy and ignorant to teach.

Over the past 100 years the Federal Debt has gone from $2.6 billion in 1910 to over $14 trillion today….In that time there has only been one 10 year period that the debt has gone down 1920-1930.

All done by a bunch of elephants and jack@sses acting like turnips. People today still think Clinton balance the budget but anyone knows if they think with an open mind that if the budgets of the Clinton years had been balance the debt would had not gone up.

America is over $57 trillion in debt and it didn’t get there by people using common sense. If the American people don’t wake-up to that fact within another twenty years they will witness Lady Liberty kneeling to her knees in the Hudson and someone in Tiananmen Square holding that tablet from under her left arm celebrating what is written upon it”

 http://money.cnn.com/2010/09/07/news/companies/mike_duke_walmart_full.fortune/

Written by mindopenwhy

October 23, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Accountability

Accountability regarding student loans

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This is in part a response to the following post on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/OccupyPhiladelphia/posts/129579780478231

In this post some share their enthusiasm about the idea of student loan forgiveness and/or a protest involving withholding payment of student loan obligations.  Some share how they have student loan debt totalling over $200,000 and they talk about a desire to have that obligation forgiven and paid by the US government (i.e. the US taxpayers).

To boot, I just received an email from moveon.org asking me to sign a petition asking the US government to forgive all current student loan debt for Americans.  And 600,000+ have already signed. 

Here’s why I said “No thank you” to signing this petition.

This constitutes my case for accountability on the part of all who have contributed to today’s financial situation, and is a warning against the temptation to forgo our financial obligations as a means of “protest”.  I think this is a very bad idea, and if done ‘en mass’ would only contribute to the problem. 

I do feel strongly, that those of us in a position to do so, should use our financial capital to effect positive social and political change.  See my post “How the OWS movement gets teeth” for my thoughts on how this will work.

One thing is clear from reading some of these comments – we owe it to future generations to educate them in a way that gives them the tools to use critical thinking to evaluate the value of any undertaking that involves such a large financial commitment.

I want to be sensitive to the plight of those with the $100,000+ in student loan obligations.  Obviously those who took on such huge financial obligations had high expectations of the future job market, and I can sympathize with their frustration.

My own situation is somewhat different.  I went to a state school and obtained a BS in chemistry.  I took out the maximum student loan that was available to me through the PHEAA program.  My final student loan debt after 4 years of undergrad and 1 year of grad school was only about $30,000.

I did not attempt or need to take out any private loans.  This was not because I was well to do.  It was simply a matter of the fact that the state school option was very economical.  In addition, due to the fact that my parents total income fell technically below the poverty level, I was also eligible for the maximum financial aid at the time (which to be fair was also considerable higher in terms of a percentage of the total cost of my tuition). 

Don’t believe for a second that we were “poor” because my parents were slouches – my Dad worked full-time + OT either in the steel mills, at a quarry, or lumber mill.  Mom was at home doing all the “domestic” stuff plus both took care of our small horse farm, w/chickens, & the occasional steer or pig, plus a sizeable garden (we did a lot of freezing and canning of the food we grew).  While it may sound like I must have grown up in the first half of the last century, that’s not the case – this was the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

My wife came from a similar economic background, and she was even more frugal with her student loans than I was.  She had maybe $13,000 in debt after completing her four-year degree in education at the same school.

We were both very fortunate to land jobs within a few years of graduating.  My wife was employed right after graduating, it took me a little longer to get rolling but with her prodding me along, I landed a job within a year of graduating.  It wasn’t the job I dreamed about before and during college, the one where I made $50-$100k a year while creating some new material that would revolutionize life as we know it.  No, it was a humble lab position making ~$13 an hour to start.  That comes to about $27,000 per year if you figure a 40 hour work week times 52 weeks in the year.

I think our combined income in the first year we were both employed might have been in the range of $60-65k/year.  We still, after 10 years, each make less than $50,000/year.

During college and since we never ran up any credit card debt, and even once we were both employed didn’t get bogged down in expensive electronics, or insane monthly cell phone or internet plans.

We both also had small car loans at the time we graduated college or shortly there after.  Combined about $17,000 in auto loans.

So roughly speaking we had about $60,000 in combined auto and student loan debt after college.  Aside from rent, utilities and other basic necessities we made paying off these financial obligations one of our top priorities.  By 2002 (about 4 years after we graduated college) we purchased our first house at $135,000. 

Within about two years we had finished paying off the auto and student loans (we would sock extra payments into the smallest loan, then once one was gone we would take the money saved from not having that monthly payment and put it towards the next).

We now have 3 kids who themselves will be entering college someday.  We are in a position to have what was originally a 30 year mortgage, paid off in about ten years since we bought the house.

I should mention that squeezed in there we did purchase a new vehicle to accommodate our growing family.  That was a five-year interest free loan of about $25,000 that we just paid off this year.  And the ~$400 mo. payment we no longer have for that loan WILL be going towards paying down the rest of the mortgage.

Personally I just don’t buy the financial argument some make about “the money you will save in taxes due to the mortgage interest deduction” meaning you should wait to pay off your mortgage.

I look at the fact that we will easily save about $20,000 in total interest payments on this mortgage by paying it off early.  Not to mention the reduction in financial pressure we will feel when that monthly mortgage obligation is no longer there and we can start putting that money towards our children’s future education.  Anyway that is not really the point of this post…

So counting the mortgage, the auto loans and the student loans our combined debt obligations over the past 10-15 years comes to about $221,000.  And we are currently down to just the mortgage with about $40,000 to go. 

Now we could be like some young couples who are in a financial situation similar to ours.  They go for the much bigger house, much nicer car, fill their house with the finest in home furnishings and electronics, have the fastest internet connection available, have a cable bill that gives them a zillion channels, and probably to boot a cell phone plan in the range of $50-80 per mo. (personally I have a prepaid phone that costs me about $120 for the year!) and stretch their debt obligations to the max. 

But when the unexpected happens where is their financial wiggle room?

Recently I read about a survey where the question asked was “Do you live paycheck to paycheck?” and not surprisingly a large percentage of respondents said “Yes”. 

But there is a big difference between a person or family earning only enough to afford the basic necessities who lives paycheck to paycheck, and a person or family earning considerably more but with debt obligations and luxury amenities pushed to the max and living “paycheck to paycheck”.

I am not saying that those who have posted about what is, from my perspective, huge student loan debt have been irresponsible.  I don’t know the full story behind their situation, what the cost of living is where they are, or other factors that would make a raw comparison between the total $ amounts unfair. 

It is just hard for me to imagine if my wife and I had student loan debt of that magnitude.  Even being both gainfully employed as we are, had we had $200,000+ combined student loan debt, I dare say we would be in desperate financial straits as well!  I consider my wife and I to be very fortunate. 

And I’m not sharing all this to brag or rub it in the face of anyone out there who is struggling under a mountain of debt.  Each person’s situation is different and I don’t consider it my place to judge any person for the choices they made.  I think that each of us, rather, has both the right and the responsibility to be our own toughest critic in this regard. 

Of course, living in a civil society there is of course place for expecting accountability and all of us to play by the same rules and at the end of the day to be responsible for the choices we make and the consequences of those choices.

I do believe that it is important for every responsible person to weigh carefully both the risks and responsibility involved in taking on debt.

I wonder what expectations did someone who took on that much debt have about what their financial situation would be after college?  What type of salary did they expect that they would make after college?

Did they consider what they would do, if the “ideal” situation didn’t happen?  What if they made considerably less than what their “ideal” career choice had to offer?  Would they consider taking a job for a lot less than that?

Pause for perspective: I absolutely sympathize with the fact that the job market today is dismal for many of us.  And that in large part this is due to the greed of a variety of different people, perhaps foremost the extreme risk taking on Wall Street (credit default swap etc.) that contributed to the current recession, high unemployment and dismal job market.  Predatory lending to blame as well?  Yes, absolutely.

We should demand accountability for these irresponsible behaviors.

But we must also keep in perspective that another segment of the population did contribute to this situation and that would be the people who took on more credit card debt, more student loan debt, and primarily those who took on more mortgage debt than they could really afford.  Those that bought into the “interest only” home loans so they could get the biggest mortgage and corresponding biggest house possible?  Yes, I think it is fair to say that these folks share some of the blame.

The idea of student loan forgiveness seems nice on the surface.  We certainly seem to need some kind of reset or at least an adjustment to restore fairness.  We know that the financial landscape has been altered permanently for so many, and that the manipulations of the markets on Wall street are in large part to blame for financial loss that has a real, painful impact on the day-to-day lives of so many.

That’s why I fully support the Occupy Wall Street movement and the core of what it stands for.

But forgoing our financial obligations, or expecting someone else to pick up the tab is not in my opinion a real solution.

My wife and I would often toss around the notion of “If we could just win enough from the lottery to pay off our loans…”.  Well now we are in the position to have actually paid them off ourselves, and that feels pretty good. 

If such a government policy were to be enacted, such that current student loan debt was forgiven as the petition I alluded to is suggesting, well it would be just like all those people with student loan debt won the lottery (some big time!) and got a free pass on their student loan obligations.

What those struggling in this position should really want is not an escape from the obligations that they willingly and consciously chose to take on.  Rather what they should demand be restored is the opportunity and the privilege to be able to meet those obligations in a responsible way.

Bailouts of the banks was wrong in my opinion because it was really a bailout of those who took excessive risk, and in the end didn’t have to own up to the consequences of those risks.  Too big to fail, in my opinion, simply means too big to exist and the government was in the wrong for willingly and consciously chosing to allow the dismantling of the regulations that post depression era kept banks in check. 

For the same reason I think it is wrong to give welfare checks to able-bodied citizens who are fully capable of working and contributing to society.

And for this same reason I would object to a bailout for those of us with large student loan debt.   For the same reason that welfare without accountability and bank bailouts without accountability are bad ideas, student loan forgiveness of this kind is a bad idea. 

It will only invite greater excesses and risk taking on the part of those who are considering taking on the obligation of student loan debt.  After all if the government is going to bail me out if I get in over my head, why worry about whether or not I’ll be able to afford to pay of this debt in the future.

We need to fix the problems and demand truly sustainable economic solutions. 

The Occupy Wall Street movement has the power to unite us to effect exactly that type of change from both our government and the corporations and financial industries.

Hold on to hope that real change is coming. 

But first we have to discipline ourselves.

We have to maintain civility. 

Left and right must unite!

We have to resist the urge for quick fixes like expecting someone to bail us out.

Another dangerous path is the one that involves the use of violence.  The fact that this movement is strongly opposed to violence is very encouraging.

The power to take the powers that be (government, corporations, the financial sector) by the balls and see real meaningful change is within our grasp.

And for that we look to things that are already in progress…(see “How the OWS movement gets teeth“)

Written by mindopenwhy

October 23, 2011 at 10:22 pm

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