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Free Insight
One of my resolutions this year is to try to know my own limits. I haven’t got the time to do everything, and I need to admit that to myself. Especially now, with the design of my perpetual motion machine nearing completion.

I’ll still have time for these little essays, of course, as long I don’t let them get out of hand. Sometimes a topic will come along, however, that is too broad, too deep, and too hairy to take on in such a small space.

Take calves, for instance. No, not young cows — the rear portion of the lower leg. It is my opinion that this body part has too long been neglected by science, the arts, and yes, philosophy. I just wish I had time to study them more deeply, but I don’t. My only hope is that others will step forward to do this important work.

Did you know that we are the only creatures that have calves? Chimps, our nearest cousins, have only the scrawniest of lower legs. Other bipedal animals, such as kangaroos and birds, have a whole different style of walking, one that does not require a shapely, powerful muscle on the lower limb. Some quadrupeds, such as the elephant and the hippo, certainly have sturdy legs all around, but none has the signature muscular protrusion seen on most humans. Am I the only one whose sense of wonder is piqued by this oddity?

It has been argued, furthermore, that it is not language that separates us from the lower beasts, nor our capacity for reflection, nor even our opposing thumbs — but rather our calves. Surely there is some grant money out there for such a hypothesis, just waiting for the right applicant.

The calf is also the most polymorphous of all body parts. It comes in an astounding variety shapes and sizes. At one extreme are the large, bulging calves sometimes seen on husky folk. These have no apparent connection to athleticism or strength and are clearly over-engineered for any practical use. At the other end of the calf spectrum are those slender, cone-shaped shafts that show no muscle definition at all. It’s a miracle that their owners can manage to stand erect. How is it that such limbs can belong to members of the same species? I implore my fellow scholars — this mystery cries out for research!

Calves, it should be noted, are as individual as fingerprints or faces. There is obviously a place, then, for calf recognition software in our crime-fighting arsenal — and a chance to strike it rich if you can come up with the appropriate technology. I’d develop it myself if I weren’t already booked solid. Do you have the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit?

One might even dare to say that the calf is a lens through which humanity itself — our physiology, our history, our destiny — could be viewed. My cursory review of the literature, however, has found surprisingly little serious thought on this idea. This is a shameful state of affairs, to be sure, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for some young philosopher to till this field’s fertile soil with the Slump-jump plow of his intellect. At the very least, I’ll bet people would pay to see that.

I hope that someone will pursue these challenges. I know my limits, and I cannot. And even if I am able to finish my perpetual motion machine, once I get it started … well, you see how it is.

All that I have time for now is to write this seed of an essay and hope that it finds an open mind in which to sprout, grow, and bear the fruit that we can all eat. How about yours?
I’ve been having some doubts about it recently, and now I’m convinced. Civilization has become obsolete.

Oh, I acknowledge that it has advantages over other forms of group living. The hunter-gatherer system has a certain romantic appeal, but who wants to live like a wild animal? An agricultural society would be placid but numbingly dull. Civilization, on the other hand, gives us plenty of choices. It produces tons of cool stuff. It’s fun, it’s sexy, it’s edgy. Plus, I really believe that this is the kindest, most polite, and least murderous time in human history. On balance, that is, all things considered, relatively speaking.

But look at the downside. Along with that cool stuff created by technology comes more ingenious and deadlier weaponry. Civilization has spurred overpopulation, so that humanity itself threatens to be a plague upon the earth. And now, civilization’s dependence on commerce and consumption has involved us all in a slow motion self-immolation — a long, lingering death for us and half the life forms on earth.

So there’s that. What’s more, my belief that we live in the kindest and gentlest world ever is based on per capita calculations. Since the earth’s population has septupled over the last 200 years, the absolute numbers for these variables have actually been quite horrifying. Civilization, perhaps the greatest invention in human history, looks like it may be on course to self-destruct before the end of this century.

That gives us only eighty-six years to fix it. Or we’re all dead. But hey, no pressure. We don’t have time to invent something new to replace civilization, so we’ll need to do some drastic tweaking on the fly. Here are my top three recommendations:

Cut back. I guess we’re stuck with commerce and free enterprise, but who needs all this consumption? Just a little would be fine — enough to be comfortable, but not enough to tap out the planet’s resources. Violators, I’m afraid, will have to be disciplined.

Eliminate private wealth. It’s also time to admit that large concentrations of money tend to breed all kinds of bad outcomes. People just can’t be trusted with all that moolah. Much better for the greater good to have everyone own everything. All of your other freedoms, of course, would remain intact.

Stop having intercourse. It only leads to more people, you know, and we’re crowded enough already. Fortunately, civilization itself has already provided the answer to this problem. The digital revolution has birthed this weird self-centered universe where we can be alone and all together at the same time. Sure, it’s creepy, but at least people aren’t actually touching each other, and that’s a good thing. Perhaps the development of fully functional robots might also be part of the solution.

Maybe “obsolete” is the wrong word. Clearly, however, civilization needs a serious upgrade. And while we’re at it, it’s also time for us to grow up. If a One World Government is necessary to make all this happen, then that’s what we'll have to create. We can no longer afford to cling to such childish notions as patriotism. To do so would be uncivilized.
Must Wear Corrective Lenses
Yes, I know that bad things happen in the world. I am aware of the dangerous trends that threaten us all. We are all going to die in the end. And yet, even if it turns out that I’m kidding myself, I prefer to be an optimist rather than a pessimist. For me it comes down to this choice: do I want to feel good most of the time, or do I want to feel lousy?

Just don’t call me a cockeyed optimist. I have a slight astigmatism, is all.
A Million Dollar Idea
The fantasy of tax reform is always beckoning to politicians on both the left and the right. They are on high alert now, because a moment is approaching during which something major might actually get done about our current tax system. There will be talk of the flat tax again, and the national sales tax, and its cousin the VAT — all of which will shine briefly then die of suffocation in Washington. It is into this vacuum of hopelessness that I would like to introduce my own humble vision of a kinder, saner tax system.

I call it the Million Dollar Idea. It envisions a system under which individuals would be limited to a net income, after taxes, of one million dollars. To enforce the limit, we’d return to a steeply graduated income tax. I see that sliding scale beginning to slide at about $20,000 then get steeper and steeper until it gets to the million dollar mark and hits 100%.

Deductions would be allowed, but I think this might be a good time to rethink that whole system as well. In my view, charitable contributions, including donations to non-political non-profits, should still be honored. I am open to negotiation on other deductions, but the simpler we keep it the better. We must be very careful, in any case, not to allow any loophole that might undermine our goal of limiting income.

I will also negotiate on the million dollar limit. If our leaders, in their wisdom, wanted to make the limit lower, then they would have my blessing. At a million, I think we’re being quite generous. I’m not rich myself, so my point of view might be skewed, but that seems like a very large amount of spending money to have available over the course of a year. Plus, it’s a nice, round number that would work well on a bumper sticker.

If we even need bumper stickers, that is. I am confident that the wisdom and the moral righteousness of the Million Dollar Idea would be immediately evident to most of us. Not only is a tax-free million plenty of money to get by on, I think a lot of people would say that taking more would be a sinful.

Yes, sinful. Greed is still a sin, isn’t it? We tax cigarettes and liquor and marijuana, why not avarice? The current system encourages and rewards greed; that cannot be healthy for our society, much less our immortal souls. Ask Pope Francis; he knows what I’m talking about.

If you’re concerned about how this unusual stricture might affect our economy, you shouldn’t be. There might be a little chaos at first, but that would be just the kind of problem that markets would actually be good at solving. The only pain caused by the new system would be experienced by the rich, and that would be a refreshing change of pace. I’m not certain, come to think of it, that we could even call it pain; a mild tingling sensation would be more like it.

Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor would narrow, and maybe — just maybe — we might all begin to see that our fate and fortunes really are tied together. And who knows? A greed tax might just head off the coming revolution and save the lives of a whole lot of investment bankers. You see? Everybody’s a winner.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t such a humble vision after all. I want to revamp the tax code, salvage our free enterprise system, and save the soul of capitalism. Not that Washington cares much about humility. Or greed, for that matter. It’s money that gets the most attention there, and with billions of dollars at stake, I guess the Million Dollar Idea has as much chance as any other tax reform proposal — which is close to none.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon