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Related Words, Beliefs, Background for Choice #32

Worldview Theme #21B: Service to Others                         Worldview Theme #36A: Cynicism

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: public service tradition, humble public servant, volunteerism,  Golden Ladder of Giving, non-profit organizations

for a summary read these 5 entries in order: human imperfection, practice what you preach, cultural pessimism, corruption, corporate crime  

affirmative action -- in decision making related to offering jobs or extending other opportunities to individual applicants, preferentially favoring members of some minority group to make up for this group’s past, unjust exclusion from the chance to have certain employment, educational or other opportunities.

alienated--estranged, the opposite of belonging

altruism -- putting the interests, welfare, happiness, and perhaps even survival of other people or living things above one’s own interests, etc. This devotion often involves self sacrifice. In an extreme case it can even mean giving up one’s own life so that another can live.

ameliorate--to make better or improve the condition of something

American exceptionalism--the belief held by many Americans and repeatedly promoted by its leaders, that the United States is a special nation--superior to others because of its unique heritage.  Many Americans have historically added a religious dimension to this: "It is our manifest destiny," "God is on our side," "We are God's shining city on a hill," etc. With this belief comes what some describe as a duty: to serve as an example or beacon for other nations to follow. Others see it (sometimes arrogantly) as a right. As Howard Zinn describes it, the latter believe that "the United States alone has the right, whether by divine sanction or moral obligation, to bring civilization, or democracy, or liberty to the rest of the world, by violence if necessary."

apathy–characterized by a person’s lack of feeling, indifference, lack of interest, or general unresponsiveness to a situation where a much greater response would normally be expected

behaviorism -- a branch of psychology that restricts itself to considering objective, measurable behavior and modeling it in terms of stimulus and response. Radical behaviorists steer clear of involving introspection, subjective mental states, conscious volition and free will in their explanations of human behavior. Critics charge that they view human beings as unfeeling automatisms.

civic--related to a city, its citizens, government, or citizenship; see also civics

civics -- a social science concerned with the rights and duties of citizens

common good, the–can be defined in various ways depending on one's perspective.  Some define it narrowly as that which is good for every member of the community; others broaden the community here to include all human beings.  While libertarians argue it is a meaningless concept, utilitarians equate it with "the greatest good for the greatest  number of individuals."

conscience--a sense of 1) what is morally / ethically right or wrong, and 2) which actions a) will produce more pleasure and happiness vs. more pain and suffering, b) will be praised vs. blamed, c)  potentially promise benefits vs. involve risks and potential liabilities.  When conscientious behavior and actual behavior diverge, guilt and feelings of remorse can result. H.L. Mencken referred to it as "the inner voice that tells us that somebody might be watching." Some connect conscience with religion: it has been termed "God's voice."  Others make no such connection.

consumer protection movement–involves consumers demanding certain rights and legal protection as they consume goods and services.  Beginning in the mid-1950s in the United States, by 1962 President Kennedy identified certain rights (such as the rights to safe products, and to file complaints, etc) that latter, when expanded, came to be known as The Consumer Bill of Rights.  Parts of it have since become law.  By 1985 the United Nations embraced consumer rights and identified eight basic rights.  A USA government milestone came in 2011 with the establishment of The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

corporate crime–corporations and/or their employees break laws and use their power to ruin lives, endanger public safety, or pollute the environment in their quest for profits.  Its negative impact on US society is great.  In 2008, Russell Mokhiber, founder of the Corporate Crime Reporter, wrote "The losses from a handful of major corporate frauds–Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron–swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined.  Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year.  The savings and loan fraud...cost us anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion..." Of political campaign contri-butions & lobbyists, Mokhiber wrote, "Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live." 2009 brought news of Bernie Madoff's corrupt investment firmthought to have ripped off $50 to $65 billion, and concerns about ripoff of government furnished bank bailout funds. The 2010s began with the continuing  painkiller drug addiction --what one writer referred to as “Pharma and the Poisoning of America”--and speculation as to whether any corporate executives would go to jail over the “sub-prime mortgage crisis” which triggered the “Great Recession” in 2008 (none did). The decade brought a number of major scandals, with these ten ranked the worst by the Wall Street Journal: 1) the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill; 2) Foxconn suicides; 3) Liber scandal; 4) FIFA corruption scandal; 5) Volkswagen emissions cheating; 6) Turing Pharmaceutical HIV drug price gouging; 7) Theranos; 8) Fyre Festival; 9) Mossack Fonseca and the Panama Papers; 10) Wells Fargo account fraud.

corrupt--dishonest, unscrupulous, seeking personal gain; see also corruption

corruptiondishonest, unethical, possibly illegal behavior, especially while serving the public in a position of trust, with the motive of personal gain (increase in wealth, power, etc.) / pleasure. Theft through cheating or embezzlement, bribery, conflict of  interest, and unequal treatment of people with favors for  friends / penalties for opponents are examples.

cultural pessimism --shaped by discouraging 20th century developments --political, historical, military, socioeconomic, and environmental--some scholars and critics lament human nature and that the best days of civilization appear to be in the past.  Some with this grim outlook look back historically to a time when people supposedly lived in peace with each other and their environment (the so-called Noble Savage notion).

culture wara cultural battle for dominance between social groups with highly divergent worldviews: different beliefs, values, practices, sources of information, etc. The term was first used in the USA in the early 1990s to describe the cultural divide / widespread societal disagreement between traditional conservative and progressive liberal camps with hot button issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, separation of church and state, gun laws, immigration, multiculturalism, etc. Increasingly the battle lines are between those who cynically don't believe the mainstream media,  buy into charges of "fake news" and "a rigged system," embrace certain (mostly fictional) conspiracy theories to some extent, resent experts and the elite, etc. pitted against  those (many with more idealistic, less cynical outlooks) who are comfortable with a society based on facts, science, professionalism, competence, meritocracy, etc where people compete on a playing field based on these things.  

cynicism--associated with not trusting other people and believing they are solely governed by self-interest

development -- the process of improving the quality of human life, especially in poor countries. Besides targeting raising people’s standard of living, increasing their freedom (in terms of choices available to them) and creating conditions allowing for the growth of their self esteem are major development goals.

egocentric -- the selfish, self-centered viewpoint that narrowly limits a person’s outlook to focus on his or her own feelings, needs, concerns, problems and activities

egoism -- the belief that individual self interest is the basis for all human behavior and that this is how it ought to be

empathy -- concisely it refers to “fellow feeling” , that is imagining that you are in the other person’s shoes and experiencing his or her feelings, struggles, etc.

existentialism -- a philosophical orientation that emphasizes individual choice, decision-making , and responsibility -- including the responsibility to put meaning into a seemingly irrational world that has no discernible purpose.  Existentialist thinking is much concerned with the human condition. One can distinguish between "atheistic existentialism" and "theistic existentialism"--the former having no room for God, the latter perhaps realizing, in the words of Christian author James Sire, "whether or not God exists is a tough question to be solved not by reason but by faith."

extinction -- refers to a biological species ceasing to exist, either because it disappears (perhaps relatively quickly) or slowly evolves into something else. Species can disappear very abruptly in mass extinctions caused by asteroids or comets impacting Earth, or relatively quickly (given that the typical lifetime of past species might be three to five million years) due to negative effects of human activity on the biosphere.

genocide -- the deliberate, systematic mass slaughter of an ethnic, political or cultural group. 20th century examples of genocide include the Nazi perpetrated slaughter of Jews during World War II, and slaughters in Armenia, Cambodia and Rwanda.

gift economy—this is based on people simply freely giving goods / consumer items they don’t need  so that those who do can benefit. It has the benefit of the giver avoiding the guilt associated with being part of “the throw away society.” And older people, who have perhaps accumulated a lifetime of things and perhaps in retirement, where they derive income from state welfare state system programs, are indirectly supported by younger working people, can give something back to less affluent younger folks. Websites such as Craigslist, free cycle, etc. freely advertise the availability of things people are giving away.

Golden Ladder of Giving–As taught by Maimonides (1135-1204), great Hebrew scholar: to give reluctantly, the gift of the hand, but not of the heart; to give cheerfully, but not in proportion to need; to give cheerfully and proportionately, but not until solicited; to give cheerfully, proportionately, and unsolicited, but to put the gift into the poor person’s hand, thus creating shame; to give in such a way that the distressed may know their benefactor, without being known to him / her; to know the objects of our bounty, but be unknown to them; to give so that the benefactor may not know those whom he / she has relieved, and they shall not know him / her; to prevent poverty by teaching a trade, setting up people in business, or in some other way preventing the need of charity  (adapted from Building Your Own Theology, by R. Gilbert)         

grabber -- a derogatory term to be associated with those who succeed wildly in their search for wealth and power (sometimes through ethically questionable means) and, instead of using what they’ve won to help those in need or to make the world a better place, excessively indulge, waste and revel in luxury. It has been charged that their real religion is based on “a gospel of their own wealth”.

greed -- a dictionary definition is "excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness".  Brian Cruver, author of Anatomy of Greed (a book about Enron), argues that greed should be "defined by means, not the end" and adds "It's the behavior that should be tested for excessiveness." He goes on to connect "greedy" with "someone who lies, cheats, and steals in the name of possessing more than they need or even deserve." 

"Greed is Good"--one of several notable quotes from the character Gordon Gekko, a cutthroat businessman and corporate raider in the 1987 movie Wall Street

Hobbesian view of human nature -- According to 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, human beings were selfish, aggressive, fiercely competitive, highly acquisitive creatures who were incapable of self restraint. With this dim view of human nature, he felt that the authoritarian state offered the only way to keep human beings from killing each other in constant warfare and destroying civilization.

human exceptionalism–the belief that humans are special and stand apart from the rest of nature and the universe.  Some claim this for religious reasons–believing God created man to have dominion over nature. Darwinian evolution  challenges this,.  Others cite humans' extraordinary brains and aptitudes to buttress their contention.  .  Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, whose decades of working with those peaceful primates known as bonobos has demonstrated  their language and concept abilities, has challenged human exceptionalism in a different way. “We’re special because we have this ability to speak, and we can create these imagined worlds,” she postulates. “So linguists and other scientists put these protective boundaries around language, because we as a species feel this need to be unique. And I’m not opposed to that. I just happened to find out it wasn’t true.”

human imperfection--To be human is to be: an imperfect creature; unwhole or broken  (original sin?); one who falls short; one who trespasses; one who is rejected by others.   Examples:  1) Jesus' healing around Nazareth was limited by unbelief (Mark 6)   2)  Mother  Teresa doubts and agonizes over God's existence  3) Einstein's put down of quantum mechanics → his being put down. See also original sin.    

humble public servantwhile others of equal talent lucratively cash in the private sector jobs in self –serving fashion, this person—who perhaps has to endure charges of being too much of a saint, too self effacing, self sacrificing, naďve, ingenuous, etc—works year in, year out, in the public sector continuing to believe in the work he or she does for the common good.

humor, social power of – According to Lawrence Robinson, humor can help   1) people form stronger bonds; 2) smooth over differences; 3) diffuse tension; 4) overcome problems and setbacks; 5) put things into perspective; 6) people be more creative. In particular with respect to conflict resolution, it can 1) provide an interruption , cooling off , and reset; 2) help break up rigid  approaches allowing for spontaneity and fostering creativity; 3) help people lower defenses and let go of inhibitions.

hypocrisybasically not practicing what you preach. In equation form, hypocrisy = beliefs (or ideals) – actions

justice -- implementing what is just, defined in various ways as being reasonable, proper, lawful, right, fair, deserved, merited, etc. For some, justice is intimately connected with fairness, a connection with three dimensions: equal treatment, the degree to which exercising freedom and liberty is to be allowed, and reward for contributing to the common good.

Law of the Jungle / Tooth and Claw Ethics --both of these date to the late nineteenth century, the former was made famous by "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Huxley, one of the founders of evolutionary ethics, the latter by Rudyard Kipling (perhaps influenced by the Social Darwinist currents of the time) in The Jungle Book   Earlier in that century, British poet Tennyson had characterized nature as "red in tooth and claw".  The Law of the Jungle is basically "kill or be killed".



laughter and worldviews--laughter results when we find pleasure or amusement in something, or reason to scorn / deride it.  Many have probed deeper into its origin.  Freud viewed laughter as a release of psychic energy that had been mistakenly bound up by false expectations. There is general agreement that laughter can result when some incongruity or incompatibility--a gap between our expectations and the reality we actually encounter-- suddenly becomes evident. Why?  Discovering this gap suggests our worldview is lacking--a potentially disturbing realization that can make us feel that we don't understand the terrain and aren't in control like we thought.  Our mental state has been perturbed, and in the worst case physically we may be in danger as well!   Assuming the latter isn't the case, sometimes we can do something: make mental adjustments to restore our mental state to a more tranquil one.  But other times our discovery is overwhelming: no mental adjustments are possible. Rather than accept the pain, we laugh!  

machiavellian -- an approach to getting what you want summed up in the famous quote, “The end justifies the means”. Specifically, the desired end is increasing power and control. The opportunistic means employed to achieve this are whatever it takes, including deception, deviousness, duplicity, and cunning manipulation of others.

means testing—an approach  to determining eligibility for some benefit, often a payment from a welfare state. It can also help gauge level of assistance offered.  Means refers to income, wealth, resources, support available, and other factors that inform answering the question, “Does this person (or family) need the assistance being considered?”

misinformation vs. disinformation—both refer to false  information, use of the latter term means that the false information is being knowingly spread to deceive others.

noble savage view of human nature -- the belief that people, if they lived in a natural state away from the corrupting influence of social institutions, are fundamentally peaceful, co-operative, and altruistically concerned with each other’s well being -- not aggressively greedy, acquisitive, competitive and merely out to advance their own self interest. This view was popularized by 18th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.

non-profit organizations--incorporated or legally constituted organizations which exist for educational, cultural, humanitarian, religious, charitable or other reasons without any expectations of profiting monetarily or commercially.

original sin --while the concept that  something is wrong or out of order in human existence is found in most religions, the idea of original sin appears to be a uniquely  Christian belief.  That tradition teaches that all people are saddled with this type of sin at birth due to the sinful choice made by Adam in the Garden of Eden.  Such sin is to distinguished from actual sins that people may or may not commit during their lifetimes.  

philanthropy--has general and specific meanings: the former referring to active efforts to promote good will and the quality of human lives, the latter referring to the giving of money, material goods, time, or energy to a charitable organization in support of specific goals or programs that help others or enrich lives.  As the twenty first century began, Americans both as individuals and as members of organizations  annually made nearly $250 billion  in charitable contributions--over $800 / person / year. By 2018 the figure had reached $428 billion / year. 

police—a government department established to maintain order, enforce the law, and prevent and detect crime. The image of USA police department work and those doing it ranges the whole gamut, from smiling easy-going  male and female, racially diverse shirt-sleeved and shorts dressed cops on bicycles joking peacefully with relaxed members of the community, to military style operations (some even are equipped with tanks) and SWAT teams lead by older males in riot gear confronting suspected criminals in tense, often violent situations. Opinions of cops held by those in the communities they operate in span the whole range from mostly good, honest guys, even unselfish public servants, doing what can be a difficult job, to corrupt, inherently violent, trigger happy, bigoted  people—many of whom might otherwise have found themselves on the wrong side of the law but, wanting a sense of power over others, they decided to become cops.  Hopeful—perhaps wishful thinking oriented—people lacking in cynicism felt most cops fit into the first category with only a very few “bad apples”; cynics feared more cops belonged in the second category than the first.  By mid 2020, after a series of highly publicized police operations unfairly and tragically targeted African Americans, USA calls for police reform had never been louder.

Postmodernism -- an intellectual and artistic movement based on the belief that the modern historical period, one built on reason, the reality of objective truth, and an attitude of hopeful progressivism with respect to the human condition, has passed. Postmodernism questions whether these ideals and others still have meaning.  Countering the belief, which dates from the 18th century Enlightenment period, that humans are capable of knowing everything, postmodernists argue that they really know nothing--arguing that the reality humans have constructed is a state of mind contingent upon particular cultural conditions, historical accidents, etc and lacking in objective existence.  They deny the existence of universal truth, promote the common good, tolerance, and a cultural relativism in which different societies' truths, beliefs, values and morals are equally good.  Some link postmodernist cynicism with the steadily increasing grip that media conglomerates and multinational led forces of globalization have on the world.

practice what you preach -- a proverbial admonition that urges you to do yourself what you advise others to do, or more generally to behave according to your otherwise enunciated beliefs and values.  If the gulf between the reality of your behavior and your ideals is great then you may be criticized (by yourself or others) for being a hypocrite, and  your self esteem and / or effectiveness at motivating others may suffer. 

prisoners of consumerism -- a derogatory term referring to those who have unthinkingly succumbed to the all pervasive advertising messages of multinational corporations and adopted a consumerist lifestyle based on wanting, valuing, and continually spending money on things that they don’t really need.

public service, tradition of -- instead of selling their services in the private sector to the highest bidder, some people feel called to work in the public sector, perhaps even in an elected position, and to work for the government for lesser pay. There are various reasons why people might choose to do this. For some, such work is based on professional -- and perhaps family -- tradition in which one takes pride in unselfishly serving the public interest.

pusher–a derogatory term referring to someone who consciously makes an effort to hook someone on an addictive product or behavior–including a consumerist lifestyle.  In this regard, one can argue the most massive pusher effort in history involves the nearly impossible to escape advertising messages of multinational corporations trying to hook individuals on wanting and continually spending money on things they don’t need.   

religion, social function of -- according to Michael Shermer, in his book The Science of Good and Evil, religion is “a social institution that evolved as an integral mechanism of human culture to encourage altruism and reciprocal altruism, to discourage selfishness and greed, and to reveal the level of commitment to co-operate and reciprocate among members of the community.”

repair clinic / “fix it” / troubleshooting  clinics—some communities offer free weekend clinics in which local repair experts / do-it-yourselfers volunteer to help people fix items they bring by that need repair. Some libraries offer a similar service for troubleshooting computer problems; some universities offer free bicycle repair services as part of an on campus bike repair clinic. All of this challenges a “throw away” mentality that drives the need for more mining / resource extraction. Critics point out that consumer spending is the lifeblood of the economy and that jobs will dry up if people fix things instead of buying new ones.

self actualization -- the ultimate personal development state as studied by Maslow and other psychologists. Self actualized people, according to Maslow have achieved, “the full use and exploitation of talent, capacities, potentialities, etc.” They are self confident but also possess humility that allows them to listen carefully to others and admit their ignorance. They see life more clearly than others partly due to a better understanding of themselves. With this superior perception comes a better sense of right and wrong. Among their attributes, Maslow includes “honesty and naturalness, the transcendence of selfish and personal motivations, the giving up of lower desires in favor of higher ones.” Such people feel a strong bond or kinship with the rest of humanity. They typically seek important and meaningful work.

selfish genes–a term linked to natural selection acting through differential survival of competing genes.  Whereas human bodies tend to be short-lived, combinations of human genes passed on from generation to generation can be around much longer.  Associated with heredity, genes can also be thought of as an instruction set--providing instructions for assembling proteins.  In doing so they govern a great deal of the overall development and function of the organism, and, to some extent, shape human behavior.  Richard Dawkins imagines genes instructing the body they reside in to "do whatever you think best to keep us alive."  This selfish orientation can explain altruistic behavior within a family of genetically related individuals.  Thus when a father or brother sacrifices himself so a son, daughter or sister can live,  the "selfish genes" are kept alive.    

shopping as a religion--various books, including Coming of Age in the Global Village and The Sacred Santa: Religious Dimensions of Consumer Culture by Dell deChant, have argued that consumerism is a culture which increasingly meets or replaces religious needs of affluent Western shoppers.  The Christmas holiday season--and the parallels between religious and consumerist aspects--is typically a key part of such arguments.

slavery--describes the status of certain people who have been stripped of the basic human right of freedom of movement, denied certain liberties, and are sometimes subjected to degrading and / or exhausting work.  In being held against their will, they are typically considered (by their captors) to be the property of other individuals.  While many western governments outlawed the institution in the nineteenth century, it continues both within and outside the law throughout the world.  By some estimates, worldwide millions of people (mostly children) live in conditions that essentially represent slavery. 

Social Darwinism -- the application of Darwinian principles (natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc) to social practices as a natural defense of entrepreneurial capitalism

social justice—refers to 1) a relationship between individuals and society in which people have what is just, defined in various ways as being reasonable, proper, lawful, right, fair, deserved, merited, etc; 2) if the condition described above does not exist, then taking steps to make it so. In practice, in affluent Western societies, seeking social justice is concerned with seeking a fairer distribution of wealth and privilege, equal opportunity for all, ending unfair discrimination or exclusion, and providing a safety net for the especially vulnerable. It can also involve recognizing / rewarding those who contribute to the common good more than those who behave in more self-serving fashion.

torture -- severe pain is inflicted on someone in an effort to intimidate, get information from, revenge some past wrong, punish, deter, or simply to be cruel and sadistic. 

trickster, the--from the folklore and mythology of various diverse cultural traditions, the trickster is a spirit or figure who is typically linked with disorder, mischief, and chaos.  Ancient Europeans have linked the trickster with gods like Prometheus, Hermes, and Dionysus, while Native Americans have connected him with foxes, ravens, coyotes, etc. For this latter group tricksters were often clowns who made them laugh--something they deemed a prerequisite before they could properly commune with what they considered sacred.  In general, tricksters have been associated with bringing change--sometimes initially disruptive, painful and unwanted, but ultimately a positive cultural development.  Modern analysts of the civil rights movement in 20th century America have interpreted Rosa Parks' 1955 refusal to give up her seat at the front of the Montgomery bus as a trickster tale.   

trust and distrust--the biochemical basis for --Recent research suggests that the neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin plays an important role in people trusting )or not trusting) other people (including strangers) and co-operating with them. Oxytocin is released in humans by the pituitary gland during breastfeeding,  childbirth labor, sexual and other activities. Lab studies indicate this chemical and a related hormone are important to prosocial / joining behaviors—especially as related to pair bonding and reproduction. Oxytocin has variously been called “the bonding hormone,” “the love drug,” “the cuddle chemical,” etc. But recent research suggests it also has a dark side. Besides increasing a pair-bonding trust—what can be called “in group favoritism”—it also seems to promote “out group derogation” of those perceived as “other.” As one report put it, Human ethnocentrism—the tendency to view one's group as centrally important and superior to other groups—creates intergroup bias that fuels prejudice, xenophobia, and intergroup violence. Grounded in the idea that ethnocentrism also facilitates within-group trust, cooperation, and coordination, we conjecture that ethnocentrism may be modulated by brain oxytocin…” Other research suggests that those who are untrustworthy, or  have difficulty with social interaction, may have oxytocin receptor dysfunction. 

vendetta or blood feud  a feud in which the relatives of someone who has been killed or wronged enact vengeance by killing or hurting those deemed responsible for the initial wrong or their relatives. Such acts are often part of a retaliatory cycle of violence.  Such vendettas continue where family bonds are strong and the rule of law weak.  

volunteerism--the giving of one's time and energy to work on behalf of others, without any expectation of pay or real material gain.  Many volunteer simply because helping others gives them a good feeling and they like the idea of their "giving back" something to society.  Some volunteer both for that reason and to gain experience.  As the twenty first century began, over 40% of American adults were engaged in some type of volunteer work, averaging around 15 hours per month.  

war and ethnocentrism -- According to E. O. Wilson, “War can be defined as the violent rupture of the intricate and powerful fabric of territorial taboos observed by social groups. The force behind most warlike policies is ethnocentrism, the irrationally exaggerated allegiance of individuals to their kin and fellow tribesmen.”


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