Life is full of unintended consequences, often as reactions to technological advances or well intended legislation. One glaring example is in the Civil rights arena. That much needed social movement brought with it an explosion in the homeless population because many people suffering from addiction or mental illness suddenly had the right to choose or refuse treatment. To be sure there were the “snake pits” where unfortunate souls were warehoused and mistreated but in this case the baby was definitely discarded with the bath water.

I am beginning to see another unintended consequence starting to manifest itself. The first indication for me, that initial trickling of water down the inside wall of the dike, came in the form of an article in a recent edition of the Houston Chronicle. The column I reference is a regular feature, written by a local practicing attorney who answers readers questions concerning legal matters.

The normal fare is about such things as the neighbor’s barking dog or who is responsible to trim the tree that is encroaching from next door. However this entry concerned a reader who had a practical, as well as moral, dilemma concerning debt.

The person asking the question described himself as a senior citizen subsisting on a small fixed income and due to the rising cost of living barely able to service his outstanding unsecured debts. He wanted to know what would happen to him if he simply stopped making payments and used the funds to enhance his living standards instead.

While not offering advice, the attorney pointed out that “unsecured” meant just that and that the greatest downside consequence would be harassing calls and letters. He also mentioned that he had fielded that question many times in the past few years.

In my mind this is an unintended consequence of the digital age. Banks and other lending institutions, in fact most corporations without regard to the business they are in, have converted us all to being merely ones and zeroes and have walled themselves off any vestige of human interaction.

There was a time when a loan officer was a flesh and blood person, someone you sat across the desk from and interacted with on a personal basis. He or she would get to know you and would be the final arbiter in deciding whether or not you would get a loan. This person’s job security depended on an ability to make good judgments and as a client you didn’t want to disappoint the person who trusted you with their institution’s money.

Today’s “loan officer” is likely to be a clerk who only enters data into a computer. The computer then queries other computers to discover your history and sets up a series of pass/fail gateways. It is the machine that then determines your credit worthiness. As consumers we have little to base moral or ethical conduct on. The machines don’t care about us and we have no reason to care about the machine.

As for the people behind the machines, they have insulated themselves from customer contact and in the final analysis suffer no consequences from having abandoned the human element in the process. The top executives will still get their multi-million dollar salaries, the providers of the goods or services purchased with unsecured debt will have sold a product. The manufacturers of those products will have provided jobs and the only losers might be those holding stock in the lending institutions who could see a drop of a few dollars in their portfolios.

On the flip side, debt collectors will have greater job opportunities.

While most social movements are led by the younger generations, this one, should it gain traction, will be a rebellion of the older retired segment of the population.

Senior citizens living on fixed incomes and seeing their buying power eroded by the rising cost of living, coupled with having their creditors constantly seeking out new and creative ways to nickle and dime them, might come to the conclusion that no matter how good their intentions, they will never become debt free by paying only the monthly minimum due.

Despite the best advice of financial planners, many of these seniors simply cannot afford more than the smallest allowable payments and for them the obvious next step is to realize that some portion of their debts will eventually go into default even if they spend the balance of a lifetime trying to service them.

Given the choice between a life of penury, in service to a faceless, emotionless financial machine or sacrificing a sense of duty in exchange for the ability to squeeze a bit of pleasure out of one’s few remaining years, I would expect some number to choose to default on a loan in favor of a weekend in Dublin.

As computers replace more and more functions that were once person to person, the ease with which we can dismiss responsibility and obligation is sure to increase. Mrs. Smith, the loan officer we dealt with a half century ago, knew us and always asked how the kids were doing but the program that replaced her sees us only as ones and zeroes and is not programmed to care.

The obvious solution is for companies to bring back the personal touch, to add empathy to their business model and to give the public a human face to relate to, to care about and to feel a sense of obligation toward. I doubt that this will ever happen and so I predict that there will be an ever increasing number of people opting to simply walk away from debt should it become inconvenient to continue paying it.

If this debtor rebellion does take place we will never know because it would not be in the best interest of the financial institutions to allow that sort of information to become widespread. To do so would lower the bar for others and possibly create a snowball effect.

And this debtor rebellion will be less a backlash against the actual debt than a repudiation of the client dehumanization that has taken place within most of the corporations with which we have to deal.

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There is a new presence in the woods north of the homestead. A group of coyotes have taken up temporary residence as they move about their territory.

The first sign that they had moved in was that our old yellow cat, a stray who was passing by some three years ago and stayed for the daily feedings, has started spending nights in the rafters of the back porch rather than prowling his “domain.”

We can hear the yelping of pups, a bit early in the season for coyotes, which might indicate the the they are actually “coydogs,” the mother being one of the hundreds of stray dogs that roam this area courtesy of the “city folk” who mistake abandonment for kindness, thinking that the “country folk” will always welcome a few extra cats and dogs that are no longer wanted in town as pets.

The yelping has subsided and the only sound now in my darkened bedroom is from the clock on the wall from which time is relentlessly rushing, second by second, toward an unseen precipice, to fall headlong into the abyss and lie at the bottom, a pool of no longer usable moments.

And then that other keeper of time, the alarming one, signals midnight, time to rise and prepare to trade structured bits of time for monetary gain and a measure of temporary control over the necessities of life.

And the beat goes on. Relentlessly

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For the appetizer,
Breaded, deep fried Descartes

The main course
A honey baked Voltaire with
Steamed Spinoza,
Bacon wrapped Locke and
Rousseau on a bed of rice.

Chilled Schopenhauer, vintage 1818.

Dessert course:
The specialty of the house:
Epicurus, A La Mode.

Bon Appetit.

An excerpt from “A Mixed Bag” by Rick Fontes.
Available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.

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This started as one of those “water cooler” discussions, one in which I was reluctant to participate because I knew that before it was over I would piss off somebody.

The group was multi-ethnic and the subject was should the US government pay reparations to the descendants of former slaves.

In my opinion, reparations is a subject with far too many variables to ever be seriously considered. What of those descendants with mixed race ancestors, do they owe reparations to themselves? Or how about those descended from free blacks who themselves owned slaves? The list could go on and on but I will not pursue it as this was not my sticking point.

Instead I observed that the history of American slavery can not be changed and asked, “how many of us would support slavery today?” And then after the chorus of “of course not,” the follow up question, “do you realize that there are well over thirty million people living in slavery right now?”

In as much as my flip phone does not readily lend itself to web searches I was not able to back up those figures at the time.

My point is this, we have a great many people constantly decrying the abhorrent practice of slavery that ended in this country with the closing of the War Between the States but who never offer up even an opinion on the very real slavery that is being carried out across the globe today, in real time.

And to a greater extent, we are all complicit in perpetuating this slavery. Check the map on the link above (and maps from other sources as well).

Not only do we all purchase goods manufactured in these countries, goods produced by hands held in bondage, but we might also ask how many of the nations shown receive aid from our government? How many are trading partners? Or enjoy most favored nation status?

On a personal level, great prices aside, where is the selective vetting of our purchases? And on a national level where is the outcry from our elected officials?

As long as we and our government can carry on business as usual with nations that allow, overtly or otherwise, slavery to exist withing their borders then the only conclusion that can be reached is that we are de facto state sponsors of slavery.

Maybe your member of Congress can explain why this is so.

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An old western expression that translates to, “we have a passing acquaintance but have never been formally introduced.” On the surface simple enough to be readily understand but I feel that there is a deeper meaning, embodied in the word “shook.”

The handshake was once the traditional way to seal a deal. It did much more than simply signal the end of a discussion and mark the point where the lawyers would begin their involvement. A man’s (generic, women are included) morals, ethics and honor were all tied together in that act of pressing the flesh.

A handshake implied promise, engendered expectation, held the possibility of disappointment and was not to be taken lightly. How things have changed.

A couple of years ago I had two old project cars taking up space in the back of our lot, a ’79 Pontiac firebird and an ’89 Camaro RS. I advertised them on Craig’s List for $500 apiece, hoping for a quick sale.

On the first day a guy showed up with his fifteen year old son in tow. He said that they were looking for a project, something that he and the boy could build together. The lad fell in love with the old Pontiac and a deal was struck. The only glitch was that I would have to wait a week for payment and so I agreed to hold the car.

Later the same day another buyer came by. I explained that the car was sold. His response was to offer $800 cash on the spot if I would sell it to him. He seemed confused and then angry when I said that I couldn’t take his money because I had already shook on the deal with the other fellow.

By no means do I hold myself out to be a paragon of virtue but I do believe that if you can put a price tag on ethics you might be missing out on some very important aspects of human interaction.

I miss those days when a handshake was the seal to a deal, not the arcane language hidden in the fine print of a contract. This computer age has pretty much reduced us all to ones and zeroes in a world where all corporations now hire people for the express purpose of finding ways to increase profitability without resorting to the bothersome task of rendering additional service.

I may be blowing against the wind but each time we shake on something I think that we should ask ourselves, is this a commitment or merely a gesture.

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Anyone still bored?

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The polls open here in six hours. Twenty-four hours from now America will have a new President-Elect. Half of the population will be elated, the other half dejected, and the beat will go on.

Without regard to which candidate prevails we will be witness to the end of this country’s long slide into whatever a representative democracy morphs into when neglected and malnourished by its people.

Roughly half of our electorate is willing to accept openly corrupt leadership in the mistaken belief that endorsing a candidate’s long history of blatant criminal activity does not somehow impugn their own morals and ethics.

The other half will put their trust in an oligarch who claims he will work to overturn the very system that he has embraced for his entire adult life, the establishment that he has worked for his financial gain, all for the good of the people.

Daddy Warbucks without the lovable Little Orphan Annie or Caligula with technology. You choose.

What with low information voters claiming a majority at the polls, massive amounts of money buying politicians at every level, the constitution being shredded by those sworn to uphold and defend its sanctity, even by the Supreme Court, that supposed final arbiter of all things constitutional, our representational democracy has been on life support for many decades.

No matter which lever you pulled, today our democracy dies and America takes her well earned place among the corrupt, self-serving nations of the third world.

To quote Walt Kelly (Pogo Possum): We have met the enemy and he is us.

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