Free Will?


The question, do we live in a determined universe, and if so do we have free will, is frequently asked and one I have often wrestled with. My conclusion is yes, the universe is determined and, yes we do have free will but, it is limited. I call this limited modified free will. This idea is best illustrated by the following analogy. We are like an ant traveling down a rushing stream of water on a leaf. The ant can turn the leaf a bit this way or that way, but it cannot change the direction of the traveling leaf or its final destination.
Because we are men and women and not ants, we have a bit more control of our lives, and can make choices which creates causes. As the world operates by cause and effect these causes can change the course of lives. But some circumstances are beyond our control and are indeed determined. Such as when and where we were born, who our parents are, our genetic makeup, our intelligence, and the color of our skin. All of these things play a role in determining our existence in spite what free choices we make.
And then there is the question of fate. Sometimes, it seems, no matter how hard we try, no matter what choice we make, we still cannot avoid what seems to be our fate. I am reminded of the story of the servant who had an appointment in Samarra. There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?” “That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”



As a labor relations manager, I have been on the opposite sides of many labor disputes. I have often been toe to toe with union presidents and once accused of trying to steal daylight past a rooster. I have been charged with drawing up yellow dog contracts and had fingers wagged in my face. I have turned a poor labor climate into a good labor climate. Yet, throughout it all I have never been anti-unions. I have always thought that unions have an important role to play and a significant place to hold in the history of the American workforce and labor market. Unions provide workers protections and wages that they never would have had otherwise. And I have always believed that a rising tide lifts all boats.

I think the right’s plan to kill unions is a misguided effort by the 1% to to dominate the American workforce to keep wages and benefits low and maximize control of the means of production.

Small Town Blues


When I moved to the North East from the Lone Star State to take a job in South Jersey, I took the opportunity to reside in the Great American City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. When my co-workers asked me why I moved to Philly instead of Salem, I announced I wanted to live in a small town. Philly’s not small, they cried in amazement. It’s smaller than Houston, I retorted.



Jungle Boogie


So I had Jungle Boogie on the player at full blast. Rain and I had just had an argument and I was trying to get her attention. But she was just ignoring me and dancing in wild gyrating undulating moves across the living room floor of the loft apartment I occupied on Washington Street. I lithely stepped over to the music box and turned it off. Silence. A look of amazement came over Rains face. “Why’d you do that, Frank?” she asked, “all I wanted to do was dance to Jungle Boogie.”

The Lesser Evil


I just read a review of The Lesser Evil: Diaries 1945-1959, by Victor Klemperer. The review first appeared in the Atlantic in December 2004 and was written by Christopher Hitchens. The review I read appeared in Hitches’ book of collected essays published in 2011 entitled, Arguably. The Lesser of Two Evils follows Klemperer’s two volume magnum opus, I Will Bear Witness.

Victor Klemperer, a German Jew who converted to Protestantism, kept a diary throughout the Nazi era. He was a professor and taught literature at Dresden Technical University. He thought by converting to Protestantism he would escape the racial persecution perpetuated by the Third Reich. He was wrong. In his diary Klemperer provides an account of day-to-day life under the tyranny of the Third Reich. He and his wife Eva barely escaped being transported to a concentration camp to endure the final solution when allied bombers appeared overhead and completely destroyed Dresden. Klemperer and his wife also narrowly escaped immolation in the flames that consumed the German city by the firebombing conducted by allied forces. After the war he chose to stay in East Germany.

Klemperer’s diary chronicles the daily life of restricted Jews during the Nazi terror. He chronicles in minute details the regulation by the Nazi’s of all aspects of everyday life including many petty humiliations such as being first restricted to riding at the back of the bus and then to not being allowed to ride the bus at all. These small humiliations reminded me of what Hannah Arendt described as the “banality of evil.”

One particular petty humiliation struck me as especially cruel. German Jews were not allowed to keep pets. Only those of the pure Aryan stock were thought to suitable for such a privilege. Jews were ordered to turn in their pets to be euthanized or to kill them themselves.

Klemperer and his wife had a tomcat they adored named Muschel. He describes in painful details in his diary the final acts of preparing and delivering the beloved cat to be euthanized. His wife Eva gave Muschel a special veal treat as a kind of last supper which came from their own food ration. This story is just heartbreaking and illustrates the pettiness and the banality with which the Nazis would stoop even in the middle of wartime to perpetuate their madness. The euthanasia of pets cannot be far removed from the depravity of the wholesale slaughter of human beings by gassing them to death in the gas chambers in German concentration camps.

Living in East Germany after the War Klemperer continued to keep his diary. This resulted in the book released for publication in 2004 called, The Lesser Evil: Diaries 1945-1959.