THE GROUP—TO SAVE SPACESHIP EARTH—EPISODE THREE

THE GROUP—TO SAVE SPACESHIP EARTH

INTERNET EPISODE THREE

The Group: To Save Spaceship Earth is a novel work in progress. While settings, plots, theories, objects, and narratives in this novel may be loosely analogous to some actual events on Earth that have happened in various places around Spaceship Earth, the names, actions, and attributions of characters cast herein are fictional. All parts of this novel will be published in the Effective Learning Report at various intervals on the internet, subject to revision at any time, hopefully culminating in a final print edition offered for sale to the public.

Copyright 2020 by Richard John Stapleton, Effective Learning Publications. All rights reserved. No part of this novel may be copied or printed on paper without permission. Share on the internet as you wish.

If you want to refresh yourself about what happened in earlier episodes, go to the following website addresses:

Internet Episode 1, https://blog.effectivelearning.net/the-group-to-save-spaceship-earth-part-1/.   

Internet Episode 2, https://blog.effectivelearning.net/the-group-to-save-spaceship-earth-episode-2/,

SESSION TWO

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

DECEMBER 2019

Rout—“OK, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get down to business.  Whoever The Truther hit last spins it next.  By the way, there is one more rule.  If The Truther stops between two of you and it’s not obvious which one is closest to the line of fire The Truther will be spun again.”

       No one recalled immediately who had been hit last, looking around at one another with questioning looks. Finally someone said, “I think it was that lady over there.”

Julia—“Yes, come to think of it, I think it was me,” so she got up and walked to the center of the room and gave The Truther a spin.

       The Truther rooster crowed and selected Stuart, a college student.

Stuart—“As I understand it we are supposed to bring up some sort of problem and then give what we think is the best alternative for solving the problem, is that right?”

Rout—“Yep, that’s it.”

       Stuart—“Well, I’ll tell you what’s the biggest problem for most college students. It’s college loans that most of us are taking out to go to school to major in something knowing there may not be a job after we graduate, especially a job in the field we majored in.  Most of us are having to work part time to get by, if we can find a part-time job.  You don’t have time to study and you don’t have free time.  It gets to you after a while.  As far as alternatives are concerned, one would be to drop out of school and go to work full time if you could find a full-time job, but what would that lead to?  Everybody knows you can make more money in the long run if you have a college degree.  What would I recommend?  Tough it out and stay in college and hope for the best, I guess.”

       After two minutes elapsed with no one saying anything, Rout told the group he hoped they did not repeat the silent spells of the previous session, that it was their job as individuals to dive in the discussion as soon as the selected leader finished his or her spiel.  He said the time would pass faster if they cooperated.  Again, he said, there could be no holding up of hands.  Just dive in on a first come, first serve basis.  He told them to “just come out with it,” and remember you don’t have to be “right” all the time.  He said it’s almost impossible for anyone to know “right” answers for economic, political, social, and psychological problems.  But he said they should try to be right, saying what they really thought was right, and that it was far better to be honestly wrong than to be dishonestly right, that is saying something irrelevant to please someone for some sort of favor in return.

Barbara—“Well, I’ll say something about this, since I have a daughter in college and I know something firsthand about the predicament this young man is in.  My husband and I have three children, two still in in high school.  My husband earns a good salary but we still have trouble making ends meet.  Every penny we take in is budgeted.  We are not able to save anything and we often have to dip into what meager savings we have to make ends meet. 

       “We help our daughter all we can but she too must rely on student loans.  She’s an English major.  She says she wants to be a writer, but she could teach after she graduates.  We wish her well of course, but we wish she had majored in something more practical.  One thing we have learned is you can’t tell your children what to major in in college.  And here we are with two other children who want to go to college.  I agree with this young man, Stuart, the best thing is to do whatever you can to finish your degree, and deal with the debt as best you can later on.  That is you, isn’t it, Stuart?  That seems to be you according to the seating chart.”

Stuart—“Yes, for sure that’s me, all right, and who are you?  I can’t tell by looking at the chart.”

B—“I’m Barbara.  I sit between Albert and Ron, according to the chart.”

S—“Oh, yeah, I see you now on the chart.  Thanks for your comment.”

Rout—“The more names you get to know the easier it gets to know where people are coming from.  All of you surely know by now my name and the names of the people on each side of you in the circle.  All you have to do to identify someone is count the number of chairs between that person and me on the chart, assuming you are all sitting where you are supposed to be sitting, between the same two people you were sitting between when we established the seating chart in the first session.  Count the number of people between you and me on the chart and make sure you are in the right seat for the afternoon session, if you are not right with the process now. 

       “Since the seating chart was randomly established by going around the room giving one’s name at the start of the first session, this counting spaces process is necessary to make sure you are sitting where you should be so everyone can get to know your name.  As we progress from session to session your group imagoes will become clearer and more accurate as members are differentiated, that is you will learn to see them more as they really are instead of the way you assume they are now.  A group imago is a mental image one carries around in his or her head of what a group is like and how it should be run based on past experience, which most of the time is distorted when one joins a new group.  The more you interact with a new group the more you see the group members for what they really are, not only knowing their names but knowing something about their ego states, scripts, transactional patterns, time structuring patterns, pastimes, Games, and so on.

       “All of you made it back for the December session here in San Diego.  So far we have had no drop-outs.  I’m certain some of you will have to miss a session sooner or later for one reason or another.  If that happens make sure you leave a vacant chair where the absent person would have sat.  That way everyone can still calibrate who everyone is by looking at the chart and would know who is absent.  If someone permanently drops out or is removed we’ll make and issue new charts showing there is one less chair in the room.

       “If you are not familiar with transactional analysis terms such as ego states, scripts, Games, and the like you might want to read Born to Learn:  A Transactional Analysis of Human Learning to learn something about them as they can be applied in learning situations such as this one.You can find a copy of this book by simply typing the title into Google. I recommend you use some of your five thousand per month fee to buy some relevant books.”

Sam—“Before we spin The Truther again I would like to make a comment about the problem of student loans and the problems college graduates are having finding jobs. 

       “I’m a writer and social activist and I read several Internet and print journals dealing with economics and politics, including education problems, and I read recently there are more problems in higher education than student loans and jobs for graduates.  During the last ten or so years colleges and universities have been forced to cut costs and increase tuition to survive.  Students pay more for tuition and professors are paid less to teach.  A much higher percentage of college teachers are now adjunct faculty paid starvation wages with little or job security.  Many are so afraid of losing their jobs they have lowered their standards so as to produce higher grades for students who are learning less.  At the same time colleges have increased the number of fields of study attempting to prepare students for jobs, some of which are very narrow or vocational, and worth little in the job market.  About the only ones coming out ahead in the past ten or so years have been the administrators and coaches. There are now more of them relative to professors and they are paid more. While fewer high school students can now afford to attend college, a higher percentage of students are resorting to student loans with relatively high interest rates, which are profitable for lenders. Some economists are now saying we have an educational bubble, which could burst like the housing bubble of 2008, if more and more students do not repay their loans, in which case student loan rates will increase even more. College enrollments, like housing construction after 2007, could plummet, causing untold problems for college and university budgets.  It’s not a pretty picture.  Assuming this is true, it may be colleges and universities are in about the same position as college and university students, having little alternative but to keep on doing what they have been and hope for a better day.  Like many organizations these days they are caught in a Catch-22 situation .

       “What would I recommend?  Just keep it up as long as possible I guess.  Seems like more and more people are being put in this position.  More and more businesses, governments and everything else for that matter.  All “Earthians” I suppose.”

Rupert—“No doubt about it, the hope for a better day strategy is the number one strategy around the world.  As a banker, I can tell you that’s what most people are using right now.  They come in to our bank and want to borrow money to keep on doing what they have been doing when they can’t pay back the loans they have now.  Very few have viable options for doing anything else.  A lot of people accuse us bankers of not lending money to people who need it and hoarding money the government gave us after the 2008 meltdown.  Well, it may look that way, but that’s not the way it is.  We would be more than happy to loan out all the money we have at decent interest—if we thought borrowers could pay it back. 

       “The housing bubble came about because bankers loaned money to people who could not pay it back, when the loans were sellable to other suckers up the chain, bankers could take a profit on the bad loans and get them off their books, by packaging them and selling them to others. You can’t do that anymore. Bleeding heart liberals in Congress put pressure on Bush I, Clinton and Bush II to create rules so unqualified borrowers, called subprime borrowers, disadvantaged people, could buy houses so they authorized Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy up securitized bad loans, leaving banks with some profit for bonuses for their executives and leaving the loss with the government and US taxpayers after 2007.  

       “Up to 2010 banks could do the same with guaranteed student loans, billions of dollars of which are still unpaid on the books, with decent interest, around 6 percent.  The government quit this program in 2010; now they make direct loans to students, still at relatively good interest of around 6 percent.  About 70 percent of college students have student loans when they graduate.  The average loan is about $30,000, which is not too bad if the student can get a decent job after graduating, about like paying off a car loan.  On the other hand, I heard about some young man who borrowed about $100,000 staying in school long enough to get a doctor’s degree and he couldn’t find a job once he got the degree.  That would be like paying off a starter house you could not live in.  Nobody knows how many of these millions of student loans will ever be paid back.”

Stuart—“Well, I can tell you I intend to pay mine back.  I guess I was one of the lucky ones.  My parents have helped me some.  I have been able to find some part-time jobs and I only owe the government about ten thousand dollars.  I’ll graduate in a year with a degree in electrical engineering, so I ought to be able to get a job; and if I get to keep on coming to this monthly meeting paying me five thousand dollars per meeting just for showing up I’ll pay off my student loan and have some savings in the bank before I graduate.”

Horatio—“You don’t have to have a college degree to get ahead, if you’re willing to work hard and take a chance.  I started out in 1990 flat broke with no college education and no debt working construction.  I learned carpentry, plumbing and electrical on the job and became a contractor, building houses and apartments, owning apartments and renting them out.  I had to borrow a lot of money from banks but I had a good credit rating and I always paid it back.  I worked 14-hour days seven days a week, almost never taking a vacation.  I now own a couple of convenience stores, a couple of restaurant franchises, and rental property all over town.  I don’t think all this government help is necessary for college kids or anybody else.  If the government would just get off our backs and leave us alone we would all be better off.”

Ellen—“With all due respect, sir, I think you’re wrong.  I graduated from college over a year ago with an accounting degree, supposedly one of the best degrees there is for getting a job, with over a 3.5 g.p.a., and I still have not found a job.  I have interviewed over 20 firms, with no offers.  I am beginning to think I am overqualified.  Seems all they want are people who know how to save people money by lowering their taxes. 

       “And about half my friends graduating when I did do not have jobs, and most of the others do not have good jobs in their fields, many just take part-time jobs to get by.  The problem is there are not enough jobs out there.  I heard recently in Washington, DC they opened up a new WalMart with 600 job openings and over 60,000 people applied for them.  That’s one out of one hundred who got accepted at a WalMart, applying for low wage jobs that will not make you a living.  That ought to tell you something.  No matter how hard and long you are willing to work if there are no jobs you are out of luck.”

       Horatio—“I sympathize, my dear, but you are young and beautiful and you have your whole life before you, enough time to get whatever you want.  All you have to do is be patient, and good things will happen for you.”

       Ellen—“That’s easy for you to say.  You probably have no idea what it’s like to go around from interview to interview and get rejected time after time, by people who don’t seem to like their jobs but who are afraid of losing them, knowing there are millions of people in the US out there looking for work, nine million I believe it is.  It’s depressing not being able to find a job, but it’s also depressing knowing you probably would not like the jobs you are getting turned down for.”

       Horatio—“You’re probably right about that.  When I started out with no college education I did not interview that many people.  I took the first job I was offered, in construction, about the only job I ever interviewed for, and I stuck with it till I went out on my own.  But I still say you will find a job sooner or later with your education and accounting skills, and all unemployed people if they are willing to apply themselves and build what they now call skill sets can also find jobs.”

       Luke—“Do you pray?  Have you asked the Lord to help you in your hour of need.  Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

       Ellen—“To tell you the truth, no, I have not done that.  If I thought it would do any good, I would do it, but I have never seen anything like that happen for anyone I have known.  If Jesus cared about unemployed people, and if he had the power to do something about it, why hasn’t he already done something about it?  Or is it he wants to force the unemployed to beg him for his help in some sort of prayer?”

       Luke—“The Lord works in mysterious ways.  I will pray for you.”

       Ellen—“Gee, thanks.”

       With that things got quiet again.  About seventy percent of the members agreed with Ellen; about fifteen percent agreed with Luke.  Several thought Luke lacked empathy

       Rout—“Several of you have been engaging in unlawful covert communicating, smirking, grimacing, chuckling, sighing, jerking your heads and necks around, and what have you, letting possible co-underminers and agitators around you know of your surprise, dismay, disapproval or approval.  This process is not like the US Congress or a high school class.  Agitators and underminers will not be tolerated.  Cliques will not be allowed to spontaneously form in this group. If you are not interested in or disagree with the speakers and the proceedings in this process that is your business, but you must keep it to yourself unless you socially communicate such decisions, reactions, feelings, opinions, etc. to the whole group. 

       “It’s ok to daydream to tune out speakers and the proceedings provided you look straight ahead or down at an angle so as not to create distractions around the room, thereby luring your neighbors into joining agitating undermining psychological cliques. 

       “It’s ok to say whatever you want in this group, provided it is not obscene, threatening, or slanderous, so long as it is socially said to the whole group at once; but you cannot say anything unless you say it to the whole group. 

       “Those engaging in unlawful covert psychological communicating today were recorded on tape.  Your fines for today’s infractions will be deducted from your next monthly bank deposit.

       “Ok, let’s break for lunch.”

Just when it seemed the group might have settled in for a spell of normalcy Rout once again destroyed any peace of mind the group might have achieved by telling them certain ones would be fined for covert communicating.  The members again left the room in disgust and dismay wondering what to do about Rout and whether to put up with his rules and procedures.  Several members decided to have lunch with one another.  At least they could clique together outside the group and covert communicate all they wanted to.

Maria—“I was beginning to think Dr. Logger might have some human decency in his soul after all, but then he says he will fine us for merely looking at one another and sighing.  Why I have never heard of such a thing.  It’s atrocious.  Something has got to be done about this.”

Nancy—“But what can we do?  He is probably a total jerk.  I can’t believe he’s got a doctor’s degree.  I just don’t think a professional that cared about people would carry on like he does.  How old would you say he is?”

Ellie—“Probably about seventy I would say.  Old enough to know better than to say and do what he does.  I’m a teacher and I can tell you the man is abusive.  He’s not caring.   He has no regard whatsoever for our feelings.  If I were to do what he does in my classroom I would have parents complaining to my principal in a heartbeat.  And I can tell you parents would be out to get him.  The very idea, telling grown men and women they can’t even laugh or smile when they feel like it.  I’m probably one of the people he was talking about fining for smirking.  You bet I smirked, and I had a right to smirk at some of the idiotic comments that were made in there today.  And the attitudes!  Can you believe how that old man talked to that poor girl?”

Helen—“I agree Dr. Logger is off the charts for arrogance, but, being a nurse, I can tell you most doctors are arrogant.  They all start out idealistic after getting out of medical school, driving a Toyota to work, and that sort of thing, and treating nurses with respect.  But the older they get the more arrogant they get, talking down to people and driving Cadillac’s to work.  I’ve seen it happen over and over, and there’s nothing you can do about it, except quit your job.”

Maria—“I work with doctors myself as a social worker, but I don’t think most of them are like Rout Logger.  Besides that he’s not a real doctor.  He does not have an MD degree.  He has a PhD in management science, whatever that is.  Most real doctors show some respect for their patients and are decent human beings.  This jerk seems sociopathic, devoid of empathy for others.  And this system of his violates basic human rights.  He’s abusive, that’s what he is, and his whole system is abusive.  He thinks he can force you to do things, even force you to talk or not talk, fining you for things.  But the worst part is the system he uses to spy on us and control us.  Can you imagine taping and filming everything people do in that group?  Why it’s about as bad as the US government spying on people collecting emails, telephone calls, and what have you using the surveillance systems of the FBI, CIA, and the NSA, as Edward Snowden pointed out.  In his room you have no freedom whatsoever.  You can’t even use body language to express your feelings.  I think this should be against the law, the real law, the law of the land, not the law of this maniac.”

Nancy—“I would quit right now if I could afford to.  But I can’t.  I don’t make that much money as a hairdresser, and I have a young daughter to look after.”

Maria—“You’re a single mother?”

Nancy—“Yes.  And it’s not easy to make ends meet, especially when the work slacks off.  I’ve had to rely on food stamps at times.”

Helen—“I know of what you speak.  My husband has been out of work for over a year now, and we have three children.”

Ellie—“A lot of people are going through hard times now.”

Maria—“I know that, but we still can’t let this monster get away with his atrocious behavior.  We’ve got to do something.”

Ellie—“I hate to say it, but I don’t think there is much we can do about it except grin and bear it for a while, or quit the group.  Maybe he’ll lighten up or something.  If you go to the police and report him, if he is breaking the law, the money will dry up.  They have already paid me ten thousand dollars in two months.  I don’t want to give this up.”

Nancy—“Me neither.”

Maria—“I for one don’t intend to take this lying down.”

Helen—“Well, good luck.  But sometimes you have to let it go, give it up, whatever, and just get along as best you can.”

Back in the meeting room.

Rout—“Have any of you written any poems about the process so far you would like to share?  If you have type them into your computer now and email them to the group.”

       A few members said they had composed a poem about the group process but could not remember it now.  Rout told them they should remember their poems when they happened in their minds.  Several members had trouble finding the power button on their laptop and some had problems opening the email program to type in their poem in the email message block.  Rout told them how to do it and told the group it was ok to show members needing help on your right or left in the circle what to hit on the computer if you knew how to hit something and your neighbor needed your help.

       Everyone learned how to write a poem in the email message block and send it to the group after the initial discombobulation with the computers subsided.  Many of them began to type something into their emails.  Most were happy they were being allowed to play with their computer for a while, having been given some respite from the threat of having to talk if The Truther landed on them.

       After allowing them about thirty minutes to write something, Rout said, “OK, that’s about enough.  Now email your poem to the group.  All you have to do is hit the send button.  The email program already has everybody addressed.  There’s no need to worry about typing anything in the subject line. 

       “All right, it appears everyone who wants to has now sent in a poem.  So now open the email message in your inbox.  You will see the poems everyone just sent.  Read the poems and select the best one in your opinion.  If a few minutes I’ll tell you to vote for the best one.  Once all the votes are in we will recognize the poem receiving the most votes.

After about twenty minutes elapsed,

Rout—“OK, let’s vote.  Just type the name of the best poem in your opinion on your email window and send it in.” 

Rout—“The poem receiving the most votes was composed by Clarence.  Here it is.”

“Unbelievable”

We knew not

What we got

In for

Signing up,

For what this is,

A fiendish trap

Filled with crap,

To warp our minds,

With all kinds

Of tricks and taunts,

Lured from familiar haunts,

Paying us with dope,

With little hope,

Wages five grand a shot,

Which is not so hot.

Rout—“Any questions or comments.  Hearing none, OK, whoever got hit last spin The Truther and let’s move on.”

It landed on Napoleon.

Napoleon—“I can tell you nobody ever accused me of being a poet or knowing anything about poetry, but Clarence’s poem seems OK to me, a good report on our situation.  What are we supposed to do here, anyway, Doctor Logger?  Do you want us to go through your three steps, or what?

Rout—“Include the three steps in your response.”

Napoleon—“The problem is this outfit lacks a clear mission, there’s no chain of command, no assignment of duties, no esprit de corps, and no leadership.  It short it’s a disaster.  There’s only one alternative.  I recommend disbanding the outfit and sending the troops home. How’s that?”

       Another silence ensued.  The members sat there looking straight ahead, apparently waiting for Rout to say something.  After 20 minutes elapsed Maria erupted, leaning forward in her chair, clearly angry, looking directly at Rout:

       Maria—“I think you are trying to drive us all crazy.  You are responsible for this group but you don’t act responsibly.  You abdicate your responsibility as the group leader.  You just leave us hanging.  No structure.  No guidelines. No information.  No support.  Look, I’m a social worker.  I have a MSW, a masters of social work, and I know a thing or two about groups and group dynamics.  I have had courses and workshops in it and I know the first thing a leader is supposed to do is provide psychological protection and safety for all group members.  You are not protecting anyone.  If anything you are exposing everyone by stripping them of their psychological defenses.  What sort of training do you have in group dynamics?”

Rout—“I have had courses and workshops in organizational behavior, group dynamics, psychotherapy, gestalt therapy, neurolinguistic programming and transactional analysis, with over 35 years’ experience teaching and applying techniques from these fields in formal university courses in classrooms and by conducting workshops and consulting programs in small businesses and in large corporations.  Here is an email containing a copy of my vita.  I assure you I am not trying to drive you crazy.  Quite to the contrary, I am trying to drive you sane.   While we are at it, how about the whole group taking a look at my vita.  You will see it in your email inbox.”

Maria—“But what has any of this got to do with the poem?  I thought we were discussing the poem. You know as well as I do the poem was talking about you, so I am talking about the poem.  Everybody here thinks you are some kind of lunatic or fiend.  The poem used the word fiendish, clearly related to you and your behavior in this group.”

Rout—“Of course it does, but so what?  Anyone who has had experience working with organizations and groups knows the formal leader of the group, if he is to be effective, must be capable of enforcing basic rules for the group, and, ideally, the leader will have experience and training exceeding that of the members, and, implicitly if a group is to produce results, that is, productive changes, the leader must know and introduce things considered new and different by the members, which always causes some insecurity and fear in members initially, before they learn how to assimilate and accommodate the new learning.  If the process is effective members in this group will learn something they do not already know, thereby developing better imagoes and personality adaptations as well as more comprehension of states of affairs, thereby becoming more confident, functional, and productive than they were initially.  In the meantime, as anyone who knows anything about organizational life knows, the formal designated leader rules the roost, and it’s my way or the highway regarding fundamental rules and laws.  Once again, if you are unwilling or unable to adapt and flex to my group imago and personality, there’s the door.

       “A group imago by the way is the image someone carries around in her or his head about the way a group or organization should be run.  Both you and Napoleon have group imago conflicts dealing with my group imago.  Since I am the designated leader it’s your job to adapt and flex to me, not the other way around.  Like it or not, students cannot teach the teacher.  This is not a military outfit or a social welfare system.  No one in this group is on welfare and none of you need the protection and commands of a social worker or a drill sargeant.

       “Are there any more questions or comments about the poem? If not, let’s get back to work.

       “But first I want everyone in the group to take a look at my vita that lists my education, training, and experience.  It should convince you I am well-qualified to run this group process.”

After about five minutes,

Rout—“OK, let’s move out.  Napoleon, spin The Truther.”

Adam—“Before we do, Rout, could I make a comment or two about your vita?

Rout—“Ok.”

Adam—“On the whole your vita is an impressive list of accomplishments and it does show you have had relevant education, training, and experience in fields relevant to what we are attempting to do here.  But it seems to me it is not as impressive as most people might think.  Seems to me you are basically an academic and I suppose it’s normal for us academics to list what we have published, including articles and books we have written in our fields, which is fine, but are most of them serious achievements? Most of us merely preach to our own choirs. Here you preaching to people from a lot of different choirs.  I noticed you have published in the Transactional Analysis Journal, which is refereed journal for the TA field, but most of your articles, published in other fields, such as economics and management, have not been in Class A journals.  Also many of your articles were published in Proceedings papers of conferences, which have high acceptance rates, many of which are little more than the equivalent of term papers written by undergraduates, mostly busy work, not read by anyone but the author, the editor, and conference discussants.  While you are successful in your field you are probably not as successful as most people in this room might think you are based on this vita, not being academics and not having seen academic vitas before. Most resumes used in the real world for job applicants do not include jobs completed. They just list the education, job titles, dates of employment, and so forth of the applicant, usually one or two pages long.  Your vita is about twenty pages long, implying you have accomplished a great deal relative to people in non-academic fields.  If a building contractor were to list every house he ever built he too would have a long resume.”

Rout—“You’re right on, Adam, good point.  Maybe it would be a good idea for you to share your academic vita in economics to give the group some perspective on this issue.  You can download it from a memory stick at our next meeting and share it with the group.  On the other hand, I think my overall idea here, that my education, training, and experience should have equipped me to do a better job of deciding what to do here than people not having my education, training, and experience, is valid.”

The Truther selected Hal as the new leader.

Hal—“I must say, this Truther does keep your energy level up and your adrenalin flowing.  You have no idea what is gonna happen next.

       “As to problems, as I think we mentioned in passing during the first session in Louisville, the problem is there are so many darn problems in the world today it’s hard to single one out as the problem you should talk about or try to do something about first.  As Bubba pointed out the first time he got hit it’s hard to know what is the most relevant problem in the whole damn world.  I think most people most of the time visiting with friends or whatever more or less ignore the world’s problems.  I think you actually get looked down on if you bring up a serious problem at dinner, or lunch, or wherever, as if you have broken an ethical rule, so most people have little experience talking about serious problems with groups.  As an attorney I talk with clients about serious problems all the time, damn relevant to their lives, such as not getting screwed in a divorce or land deal or something, but it’s not talking about serious problems affecting the whole world.

       “So a relevant problem for most of us in this group is that we have had very little experience talking about the world’s problems in a serious way with anyone.  Hopefully Rout here can teach us something about how to do this.  But I think he said one of the reasons they decided to set this group up in the first place is that such groups do not naturally happen in the real world.

       “Ok, that’s an aside.  Here goes at talking about the most relevant problem in the whole damn world, right now, taking a wild-assed guess…. 

       “And the problem is—drumroll please—evolution itself.  I happen not to believe in free will.  I think all effects have causes, even effects such as human feelings, thoughts, beliefs, decisions, wants, and actions.  You think you are causing yourself to think and feel and decide as you are now in reaction to what I am saying using free will?  Wrong.  I am causing you to feel, think and decide as you are by what I am saying.  And what has transpired in this group process has caused me to say what I am saying now.  That’s not free will. 

       “True enough, what you are now feeling, thinking and deciding depends on previous facts, theories, beliefs and decisions that came to be recorded in your brain, but I caused you to think about it by what I just said. 

       “And what I have said was caused by what you have said in this group, and by Rout’s rules and procedures, especially his Truther, which required and gave me permission to say something, anything, that resulted in what I said.

       “This not only happened to me, it happens to everyone everywhere.  What you feel, think, say and do depends on causes in your environment, what you are exposed to, and previous recordings in the brain.

       “It not only happens to you but to every man jack, woman and child alive on the planet.  Therefore no one is responsible for what is now going on around the world.  Everybody is just like you and me in the way they are caused.

       “You think you just spontaneously-like feel, think, etc. whatever you feel, think, etc. whenever something happens?  That you just poof as if by magic cause your reactions to happen out of thin air when something happens in your zone of consciousness? 

       “How can a non-caused cause happen?  Think about it.  Nothing causing you to feel or think in your brain what you feel or think?

       “I don’t think it can happen.”

“’Just a minute here Hal!,’ Luke bellowed.

“You are talking heresy. There is nothing in your brain but you and your Lord, who watches over you at all times, who knows your every feeling, thought, and act even before you do.  Nothing is causing you to do anything but you.  You have free will.  The Scriptures are very clear about that.  Almost nothing is more sacred than free will, which our most merciful Lord God bequeathed to us.  As much as Adam and Eve disappointed Him there in the Garden, he never gave up on us, and he is ever hoping that all His children shall repent and worship Him in His heavenly home.”

Rout—“Let it be known Luke is out of order and shall be fined for interrupting the previous speaker.  Let Hal, the previous speaker continue until such time as he decides to stop of his own free will, or until such time as something inside his own head causes him to stop talking.”

Hal—“Well, I guess I was a little long-winded getting to my major point, which is, since I think everything has been caused by evolution, everything that happens is inevitable, or depending on your perspective, accidental, and all species on earth are victims of circumstance.  But I also believe if all people try to figure out answers for problems and tell others what those answers are this could cause things to get better on Earth. Unfortunately there are so few humans doing this sort of thing there is little chance humans alive now can change major causes of things, and the human species is doomed. I’m talking about poverty and income inequality, global warming, and that sort of thing, since most humans will just continue on the evolutionary trajectory fate caused for them through infinite cause-effect chains.

       “Therefore the most relevant problem right now on Earth is there is nothing causing right answers to happen for problems such as the population bomb, global warming, environmental pollution, and climate change.  The human race is checkmated as it were. 

       “I must say, I admire Rout and his people for setting up this group and causing us to at least think about and discuss relevant problems threatening all species on Earth.

       “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak my piece.”

Luke—“You, sir, have had your say.  Now it’s my turn.  If there is no free will there is no right and wrong, no sin, no righteousness, no virtue, no real reason to live, nothing to live for of any significance.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if there was no free will?  Why men would live like savages or beasts, satisfying their baser urges and lusts at every whim, murdering without a pang of conscience, since guilt would not exist. 

       “How especially can you as a lawyer not believe in free will?  The entire legal system is based on free will, otherwise how could you ever convict anyone of anything, hold them responsible for their crimes, and send them to prison, to pay for their crimes?”

Hal—“I beg to differ Luke.  You don’t have to have free will to have a legal system.  If anything we have a legal system because free will does not exist.  If we had free will we would have almost no crime, since most people are intelligent enough to know they ought not to commit felonies and serious crimes, especially since they know you will go to jail if convicted of committing them.    

       “No, we have legal systems, purely and simply, to cause people not to commit crimes, which it does, within limits.  Most people have been caused to know they will be punished if they violate laws, and they are aware of most of the criminal laws that can get them sent to jail.  Most of the unknown laws are business laws that result in fines and other punishments where ignorance of the law is no excuse, which is why you need to hire a lawyer. 

       “People who knowingly violate criminal laws do not decide using spontaneous free will to violate the law; a belief, a previous decision, an idea, something, already caused to be recorded in their brains causes them to irrationally react as they do at the time the crime is committed.

       “And something in the environment at the time the crime is committed, an enticement, a threat, an insult, whatever, is the main cause of the act, previous beliefs, ideas, and so forth previously caused to be recorded in the individual’s brain not being sufficiently strong to stop the individual from committing the crime.

       “But for sure a pure spontaneous act of free will did not cause the crime to be committed.

       “The bottom line is it does not matter what the cause of someone committing a crime is; if convicted you go to jail anyway, and this causes less crime to be committed than would otherwise be the case.”

Luke—“If that were true then nobody should be sent to jail, since it’s not their fault if they do not have free will.  That would be unfair.”

Hal—“You’re right it’s not their fault they did what they did, but, unfortunately mankind has learned over millennia that lawbreakers have to be punished to prevent crime, crime being defined as breaking laws.

       “Speaking of unfairness, how fair is it for your God to sentence one of his so-called children to an eternity of torment in hell for breaking his laws or commandments or not living up to his expectations?  Seems to me that’s irrationally harsh, especially when in most cases the miscreant was never arrested or punished at the time of infractions, or even warned he or she had better not do it again?

       “You are a retired minister, aren’t you?”

Luke—“Yes, I am, but my God is a God of love, who sent his only Son Jesus Christ to save sinners, who called men to save other men from hell, which was a merciful act, since God gave men free will and knowledge of right and wrong.  I shall pray for you.”

Hal—“Go right ahead but I personally have not seen one whit of evidence that praying ever caused one single event to happen on Earth that would not have happened anyway.  Something caused them to pray for sake of praying, which produced certain kinds of feelings, which could in some way cause certain behavioral changes, resulting in something, less crime perhaps. But it has nothing to do with free will.”

Ellie then jumped in the fray.

Ellie—“Whether we have free will or not, we teachers are not allowed to discuss religion like this in our classes.  We have something known in this country as separation of church and state, and I think we ought to keep religion out of this group and process, or whatever it is.”

Hal—“I hate to say it, Ellie, but I am afraid this is a symptom of the most relevant problem in this country.  If you can’t even talk about what you think is most relevant what chance is there we shall develop a fair and sane society.  If everyone is afraid to speak out about what is most relevant, what is threatening the future of the country, if they cannot even say what they think ought to be done instead of what is being done by politicians and the government, what chance do we have?

       “There is no doubt religion, or religious beliefs, is one of the worst problems in the world today.  It’s causing us not to deal with real problems threatening our existence.”

Ellie—“How can you say religion is the problem when the whole purpose of religion is to help people cope with the problems of the world?  Religion is here to help people, not make matters worse.”

Julia—“Religion never helped me none.  I could care less about it.  I never talk about it and nobody I know ever does neither.  I do my job and collect my money and I try to be a good person.  Religion as far as I am concerned does not exist.  It always did seem like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to me.  Never could read the bible.  Never did understand any of it. I work hard and I built my business up to where I make a living, and that’s about all I have time to think about.  I ain’t gonna waste my time thinking about no religion.  I can tell you that.”

Another silence ensued.  After about fifteen minutes Rout caught Hal’s eye and looked at The Truther.

Hal got up from his chair, walked to the center of the room, and twirled The Truther. The rooster crowed and Bob got selected as the leader of the moment.

Bob—“Wow, it is hard to figure out what to say when that thing lands on you with the rooster crowing.  I agree the worst problem when you get hit is figuring out what to say about any problem, there are so many of them.  How are you supposed to know which is the most relevant problem economically, socially, and politically?

       “In some ways my job as a physician is easy compared to this.  When I sit down with a patient in most cases it’s easy to diagnose the problem.  The patient knows what it is because something is hurting.  There’s real pain or symptoms easily locatable around the body.  Here’s there’s nobody sitting in front of you and there’s pain everywhere, caused by ignorance, poverty, evolution, genetics, institutions, whatever.

       “No matter what you say you’re apt to make a fool of yourself.  On the other hand, nobody can prove you’re wrong. 

       “In my profession if you’re wrong about what to do, especially if you do something wrong and the patient dies, it’s obvious you made a mistake and you might get sued, in which case you had better be able to convince a jury you were not negligent. 

       “Here you can run your mouth all you want with little fear of punishment, as if running your mouth is doing something.  I suppose it is, since it requires you to think some, and figure out what to say if The Truther picks you out. But any pain you might experience as a consequence, such as saying dumb things and making a fool of yourself, is not like the kind of pain I deal with in a doctor’s office.

       “So, to tell you the truth, I do not know what to say.  I was always taught growing up there are two things you should not talk about in public:  religion and politics.  And I took this to heart.  I almost never talked about such things, and still don’t, especially with patients.  Like Julia here I pretty much stuck to the straight and narrow growing up, doing whatever it took to learn math and science and make straight A’s in college and get through medical school. And it never got much better after medical school. About all most doctor’s do is work, spending almost all their time in their offices and hospitals, maybe taking off now and then to go fishing.

       “So for sure, I am no expert on religion.  I have no idea whether it would be better for us to talk about religion in here or not.  I’m sure there are arguments both ways.

       “I do agree with Hal, though, that religion is now a problem worldwide.  All you have to do is watch the evening news now and then to see the horrible effects religion is now having in the Middle East.  You have got religious fanatics over there killing one another because of religion, Sunnis versus Shites, this sort of thing.

       “Thank god we have never had anything like that in this country.  On the other hand, look back in history, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and what have you.   No doubt about it, religion has caused a lot of violence and hatred.

       “Religion is causing about half of our political problems in this country, causing voters to be polarized, Evangelicals vs. Anglicans, or whatever, causing politicians to be polarized in Washington, making it difficult to pass budget bills, making it difficult to pass a jobs bill, and so on.

       “But would I recommend we spend a lot of time in here discussing religion, or trying for figure out how to change it, or trying to create new ways of worshipping or dealing with religion?  I don’t think so.  The probability of us coming up with anything that would change anything in this regard is low indeed, even if you used the Internet. 

       “Religion has probably been one of the most discussed and argued about subjects in human history, and no one has ever proved anything.  The probability of any of us saying anything in this group about religion that has not already been said is near zero.  It’s also impossible to prove anything about religion is wrong, such as whether hell or heaven exist, since no one has ever come back with proof.  You can’t prove or disprove anything about religion.

       “So, I guess I would say that even though religion is one of the most relevant problems in the world today, we might as well go on to something else, since there is little or nothing we can do about it one way or another.

       “Therefore I recommend we move on to another subject.”

Luke—“The Lord works in mysterious ways and He never said religion was provable.  You have got to believe and accept His word on faith, and the word of our Holy Savior passed down to us in Holy Scripture.  In the Day of judgment the wheat shall be separated from the chaff, and the faithful shall receive their reward.  Amen and glory halleluiah.”

Steve—“The problem is we are losing our values in this country.  We all know our values are the most important thing.”

Martin—“I teach religious studies in a college and I can tell you you cannot teach values and religious beliefs to students in a state school as if you know the way the truth and the light.  All you can do is teach the histories of various religions as best you can, based on the few facts that are known, such as when the religions probably started, something about the supposed founders, and so on.  I am a strong believer in the separation of church and state, such as we have here in the United States, at least for now, since evangelicals do everything they can to get rid of it legally.  Americans have argued about religion from the beginning and some tried to force religion on Americans through the constitution, which did not happen.  There has been much religious strife and controversy, but largely thanks to our constitution we have never had religious wars or persecutions, such as they have in the Middle East, Shites vs. Sunnis, or religious wars and violence such as have occurred in France, Spain, and Ireland, Catholics vs Protestants, and whatnot.

       “Most of our founders were deists, meaning they did not believe an anthropomorphic god exists, especially a vengeful, jealous or rewarding god, a human-like god, who looked like a human being, who could create a man and woman in his image in seven days.  Deists believe God is some sort of intelligence permeating the whole universe who set things up with physical laws and processes and did no more, letting evolution take its natural course.

       “I think we should leave it at that and let everyone in this group and everywhere else believe whatever they want, and move on to something else, as Bob recommended.”

Joe—“I ain’t much on ‘goin to church.  My folks never went to church and such and I don’t either. Couldn’t afford fancy clothes for Sunday church goin’. I never sent my kids to church.  But I believe in Jesus and the Fourth of July and them things that made this country great.  I fought in Vietnam and I would do it all over again to protect my country.  I taught my kids that and they believe it.  They work hard like I do and they got pride in themselves and what they believe.  Can’t nobody take that away from us.  God bless America and the American flag.”

Julia—“I’m with you Joe.  My folks was so poor we couldn’t afford to go to church. Didn’t have decent clothes and such to wear.  Rich folks in church would look down on us.  But we had an old Bible in the house and sometimes we said the blessin’ before we ate.  Folks like us needed a savior and Jesus filled the bill.  Made you feel good to think that somebody really cared about you, and you was a’goin’ to heaven after you died.”

Martin—“Yes, of course, that has been the major appeal of Christianity, and most religions, throughout human history, and I would not want to take that solace away from anyone. 

       “But as you pointed out, Julia, and as Joe alluded to, Christianity in the US has often made the poor feel worse socially and psychologically because of not being acceptable in the first churches of the town or city.  In some areas church services provided about the only venue in which the well to do could wear their new suits and ties and frilly dresses.

       “I suppose we’ll have to defer to Dr. Logger about how much we should talk about religion in his “process.”  What do you think about this, Dr. Logger?”

Rout—“This is not my process.  I am paid to be here and coordinate the process, but I do not own it. On the other hand, I am entitled to speak my opinion in here just like you are. I think religion has always been a problem and is still part and parcel of major problems around the world. On the other hand, I do not think religion is the major cause of wars. The main cause is most people not having enough and some people having too much. Religion evolved just like everything else. Homo sapiens have been on Earth about one million years. Organized religions only started evolving about five thousand years ago, the religions of Egypt and Assyria being the first, then Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, plus many others at different times.

       “Ever hear of the religion of Bill?  I read about this in the Smithsonian magazine and it really happened.  An American pilot during World War II crash-landed on a remote isolated island in the Pacific.  The isolated natives there thought he was a god since he crash landed in an airplane.  Bill taught them a few helpful things on the island before he finally got discovered by civilized people and was taken back to his country. After he left, a male native declared himself the high priest of the Bill religion, indoctrinating children in it as soon as they could to Bill’s beliefs and teachings.  A major teaching was that Bill would come back some day to save them again.  The priest built a church and conducted regular services and the worshippers of Bill participated in various rituals.  Bill did indeed come back one day on vacation and his worshippers fell at his feet in awe.

       “I suspect most religions got started more or less this way, except nobody crashed landed in an airplane. The bigger, richer and more powerful the country and rulers the greater the number of priests and preachers and the bigger and more elaborate the temples, cathedrals and mosques.  Some religions entailed erecting pyramids and large stone statues, as in Egypt, Druid Ireland, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands.

       “Unfortunately we could spend several months or years discussing religion without creating or discovering useful recommendations or new rituals, so I suppose we should move on.”

After slowing marching to the center of the room with his head bowed, Bob reverently twirled The Truther, and the rooster crowed again.

Dan—“I’m an insurance man and a good Methodist, not an expert on religion by any means, but I would like to say something about it.  For several years now I have been reading stuff on Facebook, and in the last year or so I have seen a couple of posts that made me think.  The first one had to do with the writing of the New Testament.  In this post someone said the Christian bible was actually written by professional writers commissioned by a Roman emperor, Constantine, in the third century after Christ.  According to this story the emperor was worried about the Roman Empire falling apart and he thought if someone wrote a good book on religion he could use it to help hold his empire together, you know, make the population meek and humble, feel guilty for their personal sins, make them more obedient to him, that sort of thing..  The bible quotes Jesus Christ saying people should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, which would have made believers pay their Roman taxes and that sort of thing.

       “According to this story the writers of the bible took stories that had been handed down for centuries about several religions that had saviors born of virgins that rose from the dead, and so forth, and wrote the bible, making it seem the bible and chapters in it had been written by people who knew and worked with Jesus.  Now I have no idea whether any of this was true, but it always did seem strange to me there was nothing written about Jesus by his so-called disciples during their lifetimes preserved on any sort of writing material, such as clay tablets, parchment or whatever.  Also the stories in the bible about Jesus do not agree on certain supposed facts, such as whether Jesus was actually born in a manger.

       “The second thing about religion on Facebook that astounded me is that a few years back this strange monument got erected at Elberton, Georgia with religious carvings on it and instructions for a new religion.  The monument was made from huge granite slabs positioned together with a top slab, kind of like those giant stones at Stonehenge.  In this new religion they recommended reducing the human population to five hundred million people and keeping it at that level forever.  Whoever these people were they believed five hundred million people was all Earth could sustain living in harmony with all other species.

       “Now, how you could ever get the human population back to five hundred million would be a major problem, without dropping an atomic bomb or something.  What is the human population now?  About 7 billion isn’t it?

       “At any rate, I recommend that a new religion be commissioned like the Roman emperor did along the lines of the carvings on this strange monument in Elberton, Georgia, with a required belief that women can only have one child each.  That would cause the human population to peacefully shrink back to five hundred million people in a century or so.”

Tony—“I hear crap like that all the time tending bar.  People talk about religion a lot after they’ve had a few drinks.  I’ve heard both of these stories.  I doubt either one is true, just more made up bullshit.”

Dan—“I know for a fact the story about the monument is true.  You can drive out in the country near Elberton and see it for yourself.  As to the story about the Roman emperor I’m pretty sure you can find sources about it on the Internet.  How about it, Rout, could we look this up on the Internet?”

Rout—“OK, why not.  It’s about time we tried out our Google search system.  Take a look, everyone.  See if you can find proof this Roman emperor actually paid writers to write the Christian bible.”

The group members then began to fiddle with their computers, turning them on, trying to find Google, preparing to make the search.

After giving them a few minutes to read some sources Rout wanted to move on—“That’s about enough time for that.  Dan, how about giving the Truther a twirl?”

It landed on Ron—“I drive trucks.  Religion was always above me.  Never understood it, for sure never studied it.  Always believed in Jesus though.

       “What do you want me to say about this?  I asked Google if a Roman emperor hired people to write the bible and got about 15 million sources of information.  Reading through some of them I saw several mentions of this Roman guy.  I don’t suppose that proves he did it, does it?

       “I have no idea what to recommend about this.”

Luke—“Thank you Ron, for your simple faith, and your testimonial.  May God bless you.

       “I also saw millions of possible sources about this subject, proving how important it is.  I don’t think any of them will change the truth of the matter, that Jesus is lord, and will save you from the fires of hell, if you will but let him.  Amen.”

Maria—“This is nonsense.  You can’t prove anything with the Internet.  Half of it is made up or lies.  Fake news.  Religion is a matter of faith, pure and simple, and you can only know the truth in your own heart.”

Rout—“I also saw millions of possible sources, but it seems Constantine had something to do with the writing of one version of the bible in the 3rd century after Christ. 

       “We could spend hours talking about nothing but this.  How many of you think based on our first Internet search that it is true Constantine influenced the writing of the Christian bible in the 3rd century?  Let’s see a show of hands?”

Almost all members held up their hands.

Rout—“OK, let’s move on.”

END OF INTERNET EPISODE THREE

TO BE CONTINUED