Memoirs of Elihu King

Eli Home | Roots | Childhood | Adolescence | Young Warrior | Imperialist | And After... | Philosophy


The start point of fatherhood is being told that one's spouse/partner/lady is pregnant. For me it was a burst of pride and joy. My next reaction was to peel the onion of my feelings: was my first reaction something I felt I should feel? Was there not also a tinge of fear of consequences, of regret at lost freedom? Yes. But once peeled that far down there was a deeper layer seen, one that again said pride and joy.

What gender? Since I had read of the attachment of girls to their fathers, for me a girl. After my daughter showed me how wonderful a child's love can be, my choice for her sibling before he came was "whatever"....but in the last hours before his birth I was engulfed by longing for a son, a male with whom I could share male things (this was before Womens Lib, in the 1960s).
When he came, I was exultant. But to make it very clear, not more so than at the birth of my daughter. Comparisons are irrelevant. Both times I was filled with wonder and happiness.

My feelings of admiration and affection for my wife, both times, was overwhelming. Remembering those days I still feel that. The last months of carrying, the agonizingly long labor with our firstborn, the fear and lack of confidence in dealing with the tiny thing, the lack of sleep and general fatigue that took months and months to dissolve....I was keenly conscious of these. And the danger that she faced with our second, the long period in bed, the filthy and primitive hospital in Jerusalem, all followed by the ten times harder worker of dealing with two rather than one....these too I remember. I think I may have done more than most fathers, in feeding and changing and washing and being with and fetching and waiting on little children - but it was a miniscule effort compared to the effort demanded of their mother.
Being aware of this distribution of effort is an important part of being a father. It is good to remember the primary source of nurture, good too if one can be conscious of the burden of discipline that typically falls on the mother over the childrens' careers as children. Us fathers have it easy, and can understand when the mothers get pissed off at the discrepancy.

Before our first child was born I was not comfortable near babies. They seemed ugly, smelly, clumsy, dully non-verbal, too fragile - and often burst into tears when I was around. Too loud, man, too piercing! Now, with both children grown and me hoping to see grandchildren, I often feel very warm feelings towards little babies. An admission: these are maternal feelings, it's almost as though milk was flowing in my breasts. Very warm, affectionate longings.

Diana was in labor for about twenty hours. We both got really bored with the whole thing after four or five hours. She had been doing her Lamaze breathing, I had been sitting by and coaching her....nothing. Her obstetrician - chosen because he spoke good English - was not available (away on vacation in Tiberias, so that's why he offered to induce birth earlier, damn his uncommunicative hide!) and his locum spoke only Rumanian or suchlike and a wee smattering of Hebrew. Locumescu gave me to understand that this was a footling breech presentation, and that this had dangers. Did I authorize a caesarian? He asked me what to do, and I decided (did I discuss it with Diana? I hope so. I don't remember) that Diana should go through without a Ceasarian. My consideration was that she was strong and healthy and it would be okay for both. My second consideration was that I was given to understand that while the baby's best interests would be served by a Ceasarian, the mother's best interest would not. I opted for the mother's best interest. My immediate distress right now is that - maybe I did not ask Diana. At one level she seemed so exhausted and out of it, so...... But at another level it suddenly now seems to me that I responded with a classical male assumption of authority and denial of the woman's right to be involved in such a decision. Oh my god! Well, there it is, I can't re-write the past. As it turned out, the decision itself was a good one. Avi came through the breech feet first but okay, and Diana was fine. So that was that.

Went to see Avi in the newborn nursery at the hospital, looked like the others. But a little while later, when she was in bed with Diana - something drew me to her and I picked up this perfect little being, just a double handful but so perfectly formed, breathing - and it was something special. That something grew both steadily and in peaks, the peaks being when I walked her in my arms for a couple of hours when she was fretful at night, mostly. Or on a Shabbat morning when we'd bring her to our bed and all play together, tickling and making funny faces and noises, singing.......ah! And watching Diana feed her, and helping to bathe her, and singing in the car and on walks...ah.

And it was fun and funny - as well as being hard and trying - to bring her up and see her grow and change. Diana and I learned every day, I think.

Then Avi was two and Diana was pregnant again. We moved to Jerusalem. Something was not right about the pregnancy; we were not clear just what it was but believed the doctor when she told Diana to lie down and stay down until she gave birth. We hired a household helper to clean and care for Avi while I was at work, and I took over when I got home. What a hard time for Diana. I tried not to reveal how agonized and frightened I was for her wellbeing.

Then came time for Tani to be born. Carefully Diana to hospital. Friend Abraham came to take care of A while Diana and I were away. Hospital lousy. I was sent away, called in at hourly intervals, finally told it was done. A boy. Both OK. Thanks be to G-d in the highest!

As Tani went through babyhood we learned how different siblings could be. A had always been careful, and stepped delicately and only when she was sure of her footing. Tani lurched every which way, not in the least cautious, from the start.

So at the start, Avi was cautious, like me, and Tani was daring, like Diana. Now, thirty years later, Avi is financially prudent, like Diana, and Tani is a spender, like me. But of course the deeper reality is this: both are themselves, and neither is a replicate of either of their parents.


For most of my life I've been very Jewish; this did not apply in my years in Malaya, but before and after, certainly.

It was not based on a traditional Jewish background. There was no hint of religion in my childhood homes. It was a cultural and historical Jewishness, with much involvement in the holidays and in literature. The 1939 English translation of C.N. Bialik's collection of biblical stories "And It Came to Pass" was a very important part of my childhood. And of course I had some three years of living in Palestine, in a milieu that emphasized the cultural heritage. I remember Bezalel, too, who invented Jewish jewelry and associated arts.

This was the tinder in me. The flame was Habonim. Suddenly from being solitary and completely alone - my boyhood friends were not very close, particularly since I was in one place so fleetingly - I clambered into the bosom of a family. These were people like Me! Intellectuals, misfits looking for community, romantically linked to an old and newly resurgent people. Our people was under extreme attack and likely to be destroyed, and we gallant youths were to snatch up the torch and carry it forward to greater glory - or perish in the attempt. Some of the people I met in Habonim were indeed brilliant and creative and brave, others at least seemed so.

We had things to do. First, we had to educate and inform ourselves. Then to mobilize our people. Then to make Palestine the Jeweish Homeland. I read Marx, I read Kautsky, Luxemburg, Goldman, Ber Borochov, Nachman Syrkin, A.D. Gordon, Katzenelson, Brenner. I came in Syrkin's way, from Zionism to Socialism...perhaps the romantic's way rather than the cerebral intellectual's. I came to believe that it was a good thing for the Jewish people, my people, to restore itself to health by manual labor in a framework of social justice and fairness. That's what Labor Zionism meant to me, very simply. The elaborate ideologies were interesting trimming, but it was the essence that got to me and held me and that I held on to throughout my political wanderings. I still hold, but am no longer optimistic about it being useful to us humans as we are. And I no longer am convinced that the survival of the Jewish people as a separate entity has especial social value. It is an interesting artefact, and provides a colorful strand among national cultures.

When I got to Israel in 1948 I was a true follower of David BenGurion and supported his policies and faction. At this remove it seems to me that I was quite right to do that. For all his faults, he was the greatest leader we had since Moses.

When I returned to Israel in 1957-58, things had changed. The idealistic bloom had worn off the new Jewish state, and BenGurion's definition of a Zionist was now: somebody who had immigrated to Israel. I agreed. When I left Israel in 1964, I reckoned that was the end of my being a Zionist. For some years I continued to be in deep sympathy with Israel, and her achievements made me proud and happy. Then came change: the Occupation, the relations with South Africa and other reactionary governments, the election of Menachem Begin and his crowd. Each step was worse than the one before, and my area of sympathy shrank and shrank again until now this is only a little bit. I have only a little bit of sympathy with Peace Now and Yesh G'vul and groups like that, but I see them as I see the progressive element in the USA - an insignificant tincture in a sea of reaction. So I retreat from emotional involvement, it is too painful. I now understand that I do not understand the questions and so cannot advocate any answers, in this area too.


From the Second Aliya, say 1905, until the end of the War of Independence in 1949, the Jewish community in Palestine, the Yishuv, created the culture and society and institutions that were the basis for the State of Israel.

I see four streams, four aspects of that creation, in which we may find a deep understanding of this foundation.

The first stream is: folk songs and popular songs. Mostly derivative of the non-Jewish cultures that surrounded the immigrants in the lands from whence they came, these cultural artifacts reflect such themes as

A second stream is: the Jewish paramilitary organizations. How they were formed, how they were institutionalized, how they behaved, their cultural and moral values, and - most importantly - their parts in creating a society both intentionally and unwittingly are all central to the development of Israel.

A third stream is: the kibbutz movement. Its ideological and tactical roots, how it presented itself, its record of successes and failures - all gave it an importance in the foundations of the State far larger than its statistical share of the population.

And a fourth stream: the life of David BenGurion. In its course, the course of the nascent Jewish state is reflected with particular clarity. His nature as a political strategist, his overwhelming pragmatism, and his stubborn belief in our ability to do the impossible makes him very interesting. Besides his overwhelming influence as the primary leader of the Yishuv, BG's own nature and decisions show cultural biases and initiatives that transcend his own background and may ultimately be seen as manifestations of genius. I will place particular emphasis on three of his initiatives:
the use of the IDF as an educative and integrative social force for new immigrants from widely different cultures,
the insistence on integration and social justice for "the second Israel",
and the thrust for the development of the Negev.

There are of course other streams that would repay exploration. I think of


this version was produced on 22 March 1991

It is inescapable when we look around us: our society is not good. Our poor and helpless lack food, shelter, clothing, education and health care. We lack decent education. Our cultural values are entangled and skewed. Violence is widely seen as an appropriate solution to problems, both by those who break the laws and those who are employed to enforce them. Greed is honored. All of us can point to such severe faults in our society.

We deserve better. How should we identify the The Good Society? What values should we use?

Ethics teach us something about values.

"Autonomy" is a value of our culture, a value involved with individualism. It says: we ought to respect each person as an end in herself or himself, and not treat them as means to others' ends.

"Beneficence" is a value in most cultures. It says: we ought to do things for peoples' benefit rather than harm them. Here we need to beware of paternalism, but the idea is clear.

"Justice", including "distributive justice", is a value in many cultures . It says: burdens and advantages ought to be shared equitably.

My own way of expressing these values is embodied in what I call a system based on mutual respect. My notion is that if we base our actions on respect for each other we will act rightly.

Let's look at what flows from these assumptions. Before we start thinking of how to change things for the better, we need to identify where we want to end up and to specify what is The Good Society. As it is written - I've been told - in the Holy Koran: if you don't know where you're going, all roads are equally good. Let's think about where we want to go.

I propose that we adopt some guidelines for The Good Society, and I present my suggestions here.

If we respect our fellow citizens, including our brothers and sisters and their children who don't have enough to eat or who lack shelter or who need care they cannot pay for - surely we will provide them with these necessities in a respectful way. The present welfare system shows a clear lack of respect for autonomy.

A tax system riddled with inequities and special arrangements that are mainly for the benefit of the rich and powerful is not based on mutual respect at all.

It is more enlightened self-interest than respect which should move us to provide high quality preventive medicine and to stress pre-natal and post-natal care for all, but it would be respectful to do that.

Respect for our children, as well as enlightened self-interest, obviously calls for good schools staffed by good teachers.

Respect for Mother Earth and all creatures who live in her demands that the environment be protected from harms.

Mutual respect suggests that our political system have arrangements that enable voters to see who is supporting whom, so the proper conclusions can be drawn.

Universal national service would contribute to the self-respect of those who do it, and to mutual respect by mixing people together so they get to know each other.

And in foreign policy, the principle of mutual respect is a more honest basis of action than our present sporadic and emotional and self serving fumblings.

That's it!

Since ours is a money society, let's start by looking at finances.

Guaranteed minimum income (GMI)

We deal with our poor people by subsidies of services and by direct payments called, collectively, "welfare". The positive effects are (1) that some - but not all - poor people get some - but not enough - help to buy the goods and services that they need in order to survive, and (2) that a lot of people get employment in the huge bureaucracy that has been created to administer these programs. The negative effects seem to outweigh the positive. The help is not enough to live on decently, the recipients are treated with contempt, and those employed to run the system are brutalized by its brutality. No mutual respect here!

I suggest that assuring all the inhabitants of the USA a guaranteed minimum income is a better way. First, it could be set annually at an appropriate level, so that those who depend on it would have decent conditions of life and nobody would fall through the cracks. Second, we could do without any checks on eligibility or compliance, and accept a modest amount of cheating without much pain; this would avoid undignified prying. Third, the work available these days is less than the workers available, so we could cheerfully accept the notion that many people would opt not to work. Then we would not have to worry about unemployment as a social and economic problem. Finally.....we would be fulfilling the state's moral obligation to sustain and provide for the well-being of its most helpless and needy members.

My best understanding is that such a system would cost no more (probably a lot less!) than the present system, even allowing for the disemployment of the many people employed by the present system. And with the tax system proposed later in this paper, control would be easy and abuse minimal.

A common objection is based on notions that everybody should work and that the poor are poor because they are bad and so we should not coddle them. These are obsolete notions, based on industrial society. We are a post-industrial society, in this country. Technology renders it impossible for everybody to work even if everybody wanted to work. We're getting to a point where it becomes a privilege to work. So let's let those who don't want to work get out of the way, by providing this life raft for them.

Another objection to GMI is that it would make population control even less effective than it is now. But studies show that the birthrate, even in countries with little use of contraceptives, goes down as the standard of living goes us. And we can't use this argument to deny our sisters and brothers a decent standard of living; their entitlement is simply that they are here.

Income tax

The only fair tax is a graduated tax on income. This supposes that all capital gains, as realized, and inheritances, are treated as income.

Our present system of taxation is grotesque. The income tax is rigged to promote social policies and protect the rich. It is the product of years of special interest pleading, each decision overlaying the rest and weakening the system. Enough! We will have one tax only, an income tax that is fair to all.

There will be no deductions, exemptions or allowances.

There will be a simple sliding scale of taxation. For example:

10% of the income between GMI and $49,999
20% of the income between $50,000 and $99,999
30% of the income between $100,000 and $199,999
50% of all income above $200,000.

Tax would be on individuals only, not on corporations. In that way, corporations could not wriggle out of tax obligations. Corporations would have to live in the free market, with no subsidies and taking full responsibility for any of their liabilities that arise from harms to individuals or to society (as in - the environment).

Now let's have a look at health care

Good sense as well as epidemiological evidence says that the well being of mothers-to-be, their care during pregnancy, and the care of newborn babies and of infants is the most cost-effective of all healthcare expenditures. It is also the most humane. It touches all three of the ethical goals: autonomy, beneficence, and justice. So that will be a primary priority.

Another major shift in emphasis would be from heroic end-stage care (neither beneficent nor cost effective) to preventive care and related public policy such as environmental standards, ending support of the tobacco industry, and the like.

A national health service, supported by taxes and open to all, is an essential part of The Good Society. Then we won't have to look at the costs spiral generated by the "creative accounting" response to the stimulus of reimbursement and insurance. The service will be based on small local clinics and local outreach programs staffed with physician assistant and nurse practitioner workers. They will feed patients into general regional medical centers and specialized referral centers, as needed.

This system will be the bedrock. Private services will be developed by and for those with the resources and desire to have them, on a market basis.

The importance of nurses in healthcare systems will be recognized by appropriate salary levels and working conditions.

We may set up a system in which physicians repay the government subsidy part of their training by doing their internships and residencies in underserved locations, with incentives to stay there after that.

Abortion will neither be mandated nor prohibited by the state, but will fall within the field of regular medical practice. Where indicated, it will be provided by the national health service.

We come to education.

First of all we must decide what we want the primary educational system to do. Right now we say one thing (teach the three Rs, teach how to think, teach good citizenship) and groan and moan when the system does not succeed in providing it. It seems to me that what we have is a tension between a declared objective (as above) and a secret objective. The secret objective that I see is this: make children compliant members of their group and class. In that, the schools of today succeed.

If we want the schools to teach children how to read, write, calculate and think - we'll have to change the entire system. The first change is to dissolve the dissonance and identify our real agenda.

Good schools can be found in poor buildings and operated with inadequate resources. Throwing money at schools won't improve them. On the other hand IF schools are the sites of an educational system that is of transcendent importance to our society - and they are - THEN their physical plant and appearance should reflect that priority. Excellent facilities in attractive surroundings help stimulate excellent results.

Good teachers are the most precious resource imaginable. Their pay and working conditions will reflect the importance of their task. We value them above, say, data processing managers or plumbers. They are encouraged to stay at their work, particularly in areas of special needs, by splendid incentives (similar to those used to keep corporate executives at their jobs).

Good behavior and manners, self discipline, religious practices and the like are the province of parents, not teachers. Parents will be required to have their children go to school clean and well fed and polite or at least not rude. Teachers will not be held liable for inadequate social training of their pupils, and will be entitled to a decent level of respect.

A system of community colleges will provide advanced education to any graduates of highschools who want it. A system of universities will serve the educational and intellectual needs of students who want to devote themselves to academic pursuits. At the universities, research will be emphasized. Undergraduate work will reflect that, so that those who want a higher level of undergraduate instruction can get it at the colleges.

We need to look to our environment.

Sometimes corporations and government entities cause pollution of the environment. Our current practice is to use mostly public funds to clean up the mess. That's wrong. Those who caused a problem of this sort will have to correct it fully without recourse to public funds. That's only justice. The free enterprise system implies that just as we are entitled to profit from our commercial actions so we must carry any burdens these actions generate.

Furthermore, it is the responsible officers of polluting organizations who will be personally liable and suffer personal penalties including assignment to clean-up crews. The evasion of corporate or personal punishment by means of insurance coverage will not be allowed. That should help discourage pollution.

Thus, for example, cigarette manufacturers would be liable for damages to smokers and their families, as well as claims by employers of those damaged by cigarette smoking for the time lost and replacement costs when those people were out sick or died suddenly. These corporations might well choose to go into other fields and drop such economically undesirable products.

If polluting organizations go broke in making good their damage, so be it.

The task of the government will be to make sure that these rules are in fact fully carried out. In addition, government will organize, coordinate, and where necessary implement measures to repair damages and prevent damages to the environment. The criterion will be respect for the planet and the people who live on it, rather than the current policies to spare any burdens on the rich.

These policies will sharply reduce the incidence of such harms, and make sure that the burdens of correcting them are assigned fairly.

The arena of politics needs improvement.

We see the debilitating effects of corruption by reason of money being the sole motivating force in political life, all around us. Though public financing of political campaigns is one answer, it raises an issue of principle. If we have free speech and I want to buy publicity for a candidate that I support, how am I to be restrained. No, I think there are other ways to get it right.

The British have a system that seems to work better than ours, and we will adopt some of its attributes. First, political campaigns are limited to a short period just before elections. Second, all candidates get equal time on TV and radio, at no cost. (After all, the air belongs to the people despite what the media owners claim). While some inequalities will result from the ability to hire better producers or coaches, the playing field will be only bumpy rather than tilted.

If units of 30 minutes are the only ones allowed we'll be rid of those damned misleading 30 second bites.

Full disclosure of the sources of funding will be compelled, and evasions and concealment of true sources prohibited.

Legislators and public officials will be prohibited from position-related involvement, including representation and "inquiry", in any interest from which they have ever received funding above a modest minimum. Of course outside their work arena they will be free to work for any cause they espouse. This may cut down on political donations. Too bad.

The salaries of legislators and public officials will be linked to those doing similar jobs in the private sector, so that good people will be attracted and the rich have less advantage.

Issues around the criminal and civil justice system.

In the new society, police officers will received solid education and training in sociological matters and relevant psychological and cultural processes. This will improve their professional status, and their behavior will gradually earn them the respect of the community.

The possession of handguns will be utterly outlawed. Police will carry non-lethal weapons except by special permission in special and limited circumstances. Long guns for sport and target use will be closely licensed, and people will keep them stored in their lockers at a local long-gun club and sign them out for each use and then have them receipted back into custody after each use.

People convicted of doing harm to others will have to compensate the victims to the extent of a sizable share of the criminal's future income or in direct services by the criminal to the victim(s). This may be hard to arrange, but we'll find the ways.

Young first offenders will be treated as good prospects for rehabilitation. They will be incarcerated in separate facilities, in which mutual respect is taught by example while they are shielded from the corrupting influences of more experienced criminals (and those who guard them, and their assumptions). We'll keep them busy and work them hard both to expiate and to develop their ethical muscles.

Recreational drug use will be decriminalized. It will be treated as a social and a health problem. Inexpensive production and prescriptions for addictive drugs will minimize the profits that now lead to crime in that area. Since we're talking about a trade that in 1991 will be at $200,000,000,000 level, with the direct cost of law enforcement at another $5,000,000,000 not including the costs of imprisonment - a humungous pile of dollars will be available for more productive uses including education to prevent and therapy to treat drug addiction.

Judges' salaries will be linked to comparable positions in the private sector (lawyers, for instance) so they are not so tempted to leave the bench or become corrupt. Their income tax returns will be made public.

A lot of this ties up with a concept of national service.

Every resident of this country will have to serve two years in the national service corps, from the 18th birthday to the 20th birthday.

There will be no exceptions or deferrals except for those who are actually hospitalized. Military training will be one of the branches available; others will be the reconstruction of the cities, the national health service, the conservation and wilderness preservation service, a national education service, etc. So conscientious objection or religious scruples will not apply. Physical, emotional and educational handicaps will be accommodated within the corps.

This sort of universal national service has a number of positive outcomes. In time, all people in this country will have made a contribution to its well being. Handicapped people will find acceptance as respected members of the community. The nation's crumbling infrastructure - roads, bridges, public housing, beaches, parks and all - will be rebuilt and maintained at minimum cost. The public health will be improved by the provision of remedial education and therapy for those who need it, during their period of service. Group relationships and loyalties will carry over and enhance civic life in their communities, after people leave the corps.

We need a better foreign policy.

Multi-national agreements towards our best interests in the fields of arms reduction and mutual defence against aggression are good. Similarly defense of the environment, and the promotion of good health on a global scale will be the focus of multi-national agreements through the United Nations or other means.

Our guiding principle in foreign as in domestic policy will be that of mutual respect. We will negotiate for alliances to support our international interests, but will not indulge in bribery or subversion.

Our overseas aid will begin after we've met all our internal needs including paying off our national debt. Then, through the medium of multi-national or international organizations so as to strengthen them and avoid a "rescuer" or interfering posture, we can allocate some proportion of our national income to aid other nations.

We will dissolve the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, and use the billions of dollars now spent there to better purposes. Our military intelligence organs, on a modest and conservative action plan, will keep us up to date on what we need to know in the military sphere. Other non-invasive information gathering operations will be maintained in the State, Treasury, Commerce and Agriculture Departments of the US government, for those agencies' needs.

All this is not to say that we will neglect defence.

We will be vigilant in maintaining an active and effective defense of our country. To be effective we need to avoid the sort of paranoia that sees tiny nations like Nicaragua and Grenada as possible threats to the United States of America. Nor can we afford to try to police the world, or to force other states to conform to our desires.

"Defence" is taken to mean the deterrence of armed attacks on our nation by other nations, and diligent participation in international and multi-national peacekeeping forces as required by treaty and good sense.

The nation's policies for defence will be set by the Legislature and implemented by the Executive. The Legislature, with expert advice, will define a set of policies that will enable us to defend ourselves in a vigorous and prudent manner.

Military personnel will be drawn from volunteers doing their national service, supported and led by a cadre of well trained and well paid career officers and noncommissioned officers. Their training will emphasize the nation's ideals, and the imperative that military policies are decided at civilian level. Veterans will be invited to join a reserve corps and enjoy annual upgrades of their military skills without any financial sacrifice.

Military personnel and supplies costs will be dealt with by the Department of Defence under legislative review. Capital expenditures above a minimal level will be dealt with by a special commission drawn from the Legislative and Executive branches. Members of this commission will have their finances scrutinized annually, and their subsequent employment by vendors will be prohibited.

A few words about art and culture.

Learning from the example of the Soviet Union and other advanced societies we will stimulate the arts and culture by public subsidies of theater, workshops, museums, art education, music education, galleries, concert halls, arts centers and the like. The patterns of funding choices developed in the palmy days of the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and progressive private foundations, will be updated so as to include new and unconventional artistic ventures.

Special consideration for rail transit.

Rail transportation including local trolleys and urban light rail has decided advantages over other means of transportation of goods and people. It pollutes less and uses less fossil fuel per passenger mile/ton mile. It is better for emotional good health than flying, where people are concerned.

So we will subsidize trains at a far higher level than we do now. Municipal rail transit systems will be subsidized at 100% so there won't be any nonsense about buying tickets and making change, and policing so that nobody will cheat. The public will go for a (seemingly) free ride, and we'll all be the better for it.

.....and that's the program. Thanks for getting here.


Many people believe that God tells them how to behave. But I don't believe that, in fact I believe that there is no being or thing or principle that can be called "God". So how do I find my basic ethical principles? By looking at what I know of human thought and human history, and following ideas that I sincerely believe are best.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself" is a Jewish way of saying it all. It seems less graceful to me than the Christian precept, which is "Do to others as you would have them do to you".

Then there are three ethical principles that I believe came from the Greek philosophers: autonomy, beneficence and justice. "Ethics" I take to mean: how we ought to behave.

Let's analyze the second precept. It embodies the first, it seems to me.

  1. To whom is it addressed? It is addressed to all persons. Who or what is a person? A person is a human being - you, me - comp[ete in him/herself (that is, autonomous and responsible for her/his own actions and their consequences) as well as being part of a group. Everyone (except solitary hermits) is part of a number of groups; some of these groups overlap, others don't. To illustrate, here are the descriptives of some groups: family, school, neighborhood, ward, congregation, club, ethnic/cultural, speakers of a common language, political party, city, assembly/senate/congressional district.
  2. It deals with behavior rather than beliefs or feeling. It seems to me that this is very important.

    Feelings well up inside us, giving flavor and coloring our emotional reactions to sensory input from events or things or other people and giving our own significance and meaning to such input.. (We sometimes become aware of patterns of emotional responses that are irrational and arenot good for us, and can work to change them through a process such as Rational Emotive Training). But mostly we learn to accept our emotional positions. It is my belief that they are less important than our actual behavior. It is our behavior and not our emotions that impinge on and affect other people and define us in society. This is a pretty Jewish idea, I think; I like it. In fact, this notion is the basis for my own precept: behave to each other on the basis of mutual respect.

  3. The rest of the precept seems pretty clear. It tests one's actions (behavior) towards others against one's own values and dignity and wholeness. That which I don't want you to do to me, I won't do to you.


(August 12, 1991)

There is value in reminding myself of what I have achieved in my life. By "achievement" I mean: overcoming difficult obstacles imposed by my own emotional set or existential obstacles to my objective.

This examination serves as an antidote to my old pattern of agonizing over my failures. As with us all, my failures have been caused by inability rather than lack of "goodness", and so can be accepted as legitimate parts of "me". Trouble is, I have found it more difficult to accept my achievements as part of the real "me", and this results in an arid and under nourished persona.

So here goes.


(January 5, 1992)

I rejoiced when, towards the end of my life, I read an essay by Isaiah Berlin entitled "In Pursuit of the Ideal". Here was an authority, a widely respected philosopher, whose conclusions about moral and political philosophy in the broadest and deepest sense support my own which are based on disorganized reading, powers of analysis that I see as less than outstanding, and whatever wisdom I have accumulated in an active and engaged life.

As I understand this essay, Berlin shows that all unified, overarching concepts of absolute values and beliefs in utopian systems that, since they are perfect, are universally static - are wrong and self defeating. Though strongly attracted to such seemingly perfect systems for most of my life and intolerantly devoted to them as the right ideal, in my maturity I see them as fatally flawed.

My basis for this is my notion (not expressed by Berlin, in this essay anyway) that there is no "plan" or "order" for the world or the humans perched upon it. It seems to me that all that has happened and will happen, physically and politically, arises from chance; that essentially there is no overarching reason but rather chaos that swirls into what we see as patterns and it is these patterns (which are real) and their consequences that we see as "order" in the universe that we perceive. The image that I use is that of an adolescent god who made the world - poorly - and has now gone off to other interests. Not that I think there is such a god; it's just an image that I find conveniently shocking.

I see the almost universal need to believe in some sort of order, a need which most commonly expresses itself in religion, as weakness of intellect or spirit, and feel proud and superior that I do not have this weakness. That perception is what I use to comfort myself in the exposed loneliness of non belief.

The second part of my testament is this. I once admired a poem by Walter Savage Landor in which he said:

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved, and next to nature, art.
I warmed both hands before the fire of life;
It shrinks, and I am ready to depart.

Now this seems falsely detached to me, as well as pretentious. I strove with many, and saw many issues and people as well worth my strife. Indeed, accepting what I see as the existential position, engagement has been a constant value to which I have lived and done. Deeming it without extrinsic meaning - though immediate good has often been my aim, and that to me does have meaning - I regard that engagement as in itself giving meaning and dignity and value to my life.

But now the flame does sink, and I am ready to depart.

Some reflections on old age


Now that I'm nearing the age of 65...

and considering the idea that one should reflect on and judge experiences through the filter of one's own understanding rather than just let events slide by like scenes in a train window...

and considering that I have acquired some wisdom from my experiences and my therapy and my reflections over the years...

This wisdom: where and how did I get it? The accrual of pragmatic experience is one major source, of course. Some things worked, some didn't, and after a while I'd get the idea by extending and generalizing. Working with people as I did, there was a constant process almost of abrasion, grinding my perceptions of what was good and right and successful. Developing my moral code, my ethics, almost growing out of practicing what I did but always modified and contained by what I had learned from my father (by his behavior rather than any preaching which never stuck anyhow). Reading as widely as I have and do brought theories and observations of many strong thinkers to my view. Being therapized and doing my own RET did a tremendous amount to save me from going crazy and let me choose some modifications to my perceptions and behavior and to implement them. But I do believe that the most profound influence on acquiring whatever wisdom I have was watching my children grow up and learning from them. While I was not the more preceptive and certainly not the more analytical of their two parents, enough rubbed off to educate me in ways that I applied to my work - management - and to life.

I intend to set down some thoughts and reflections on growing old.

Some areas that may be productive:


So many things have gone wrong! It never occurred to me before that anything would go wrong with me, physically; I just assumed, without dwelling on it, that I would go on as I was until suddenly I would be dead.

Then came diabetes, when I was about 53. At first I practiced denial. Then, after learning about such disgusting manifestations as foot ulcers, I started to deal with it. Exercise and diet were enough, for the first few years. With a self control and inner discipline that I had never credited before - I did what had to be done. Then it became not enough and I had to go on pills. They had an Antabuse effect, and that cut out one of my best pleasures, beer and wine. Alas. At 60, I had to go to injections of insulin despite my belief that I could not handle injections. I did. One a day at first, now three a day and also skin pricks for testing blood sugar. Ugh! But I do it. And now, despite all that (though of course had I not done all that good stuff I might be much worse off), I am getting tingling and numbness in my feet! It ain't fair. Of course, and we knew that. But I still resent having to devote my attention and best energies in the service of this disease.

Then came my prostate enlargement, for which I had surgery that showed me that I want to avoid any surgery in the future even if it costs me dear. My recovery was slow and painful. And now the condition has returned, though not to an extent that suggests another surgery.

Then came the coronary artery disease. When first diagnosed I was in shock and panic about money to pay for the procedures I thought were needed. This over a three month period, until I succeeded in (1) getting into the free care cycle at the County hospital and (2) making the decision (since validated in a number of ways) to have drug intervention and not surgery. But my current adequate level of maintenance seems fragile to me, and I am sure that this and not polymyositis is the real cause of my lack of endurance.

Then came the polymyositis, diagnosed only a year after it began, a year in which I floundered through acupuncture and massive literature searches when it seemed that the only diagnosis I could get was chronic fatigue syndrome for which no therapy seemed useful. Once diagnosed I went onto drugs that knocked out the inflammation quickly enough but caused such side effects and are so powerful that balancing has been a trial and error with error predominant. But I may be on the road to recovery or at least equilibrium at very low doses, now. I'm experiencing about 60%-70% of what I see as my normal strength, compared to 30%-50% until the end of February.

My skin seems to be unduly fragile, tearing so easily that my bedsheets are marred with bloodstains and I get sores that don't heal but keep crusting and suppurating....ugh.

Then there is the teeth. I have one lonely and fragile grinding tooth in my lower jaw. When it goes, my options are: have two implants on each side of my lower jaw, to support full permanent plates (the best way, and it would cost about $10,000), or have partial plates (which function at 15% of the efficacy of one's permanent teeth, but cost only about $1,500), or no action (which means I'll be able to rend flesh but not grind, so my dietary options will be limited - but of course there's no money inviolved).

What have I forgotten? Well, this is enough to go on for now.

Now, for the purpose of this writing, the question is: how do I feel about all this? And the answer is: rotten. The physical problems pervade and color all of my awareness. It seems outrageous to me that at the end of a decent life filled with rather good works I should come to this, and have only worse to look forward to. If it wasn't for the love of my family and my friends, I'd kill myself now and have done with it. I am not that upset full time, most of my waking day (and night) I trundle along without misery and sometimes have joy in things around me.

Come now, that is very superficial and trite. (Others, but never I, have dubbed me "an intellectual").

Well, then, at a deeper level, what I want to say is that we elders tend to be preoccupied with our physical processes. I have sworn a mighty oath never to discuss elimination other than with my doctor - but it is an important factor in my day's thoughts and process. Once I was scornful of elders' long and insistent discussion of their bodily ills and functions but now I understand it but do not condone the practice. One ought to struggle against giving that aspect of life so much weight and attention. It is not healthy.


Besides specific bodily system failures, creaks and groans, and disease, us elders have to deal with general physical limitations.

Even at what I consider optimum strength and energy level I am far less potent than I was..and my optimum level will decline over the years.

I can deal with this as a catastrophe and awfulize about it, or I can accept it and find congenial activities within these boundaries. So far, I do both, but mostly the latter. My having achieved the state of being "retired" makes it existentially convenient for me to to do only little and that slowly - and sometimes I even take delight in that. Us elders are not only entitled, we ought to move slowly and sit long and ponder and give reasoned responses when asked to share our wisdom or to get the hell off the bench so someone else can sit down, dammit.



Oh, yeah. Well, I forget what I'm doing and find myself standing in the next room trying to figure out what I came from. How often? Maybe once a week; that's not much but it is a hell of a lot more than once a year, my previous level. And much more often than before, I can't find a word and go rocketing around (internally, of course) banging up against blank walls or rather the one blank wall trying to find it, the word I mean.

Mostly I take this as funny, which it is, and this is the best way to deal with it. I am not ga-ga yet, just crumbling a bit at the edges, and that's not in the least awful. Just so long as I don't wander around lost.....


A Zen precept that I particularly like is: if you're sitting, sit; if walking, walk; above all, don't wobble. I extend this into keeping my belongings in order so I don't wobble looking for things and cursing not knowing where they are.

Example: my keys are always on one of two places, my left hand trouser pocket or on my chest of drawers on my wallet of in the place my wallet is kept. If not, I have forgotten them in the door lock or in the mailbox lock (that's happened two or three times in the past three years) or in the car (never). I put everything away in its place after I use it, hang up my jacket when I come in, put my pen back right away. The dishes are washed before I go to bed; that is done 90% of the time...and I forgive myself when I choose not to do that (sometimes when I'm trembling with fatigue).

This is all good. The immediate effort is far less than scurrying around trying to remember where I've left something. It is a practice I have had since I started living alone again in 1973, but it is particularly useful, I believe, in old age when connections get so tenuous and it becomes irritating and sometimes even frightening to go through one's home looking for something that should be readily to hand.


For one thing, now that I don't feel the pressure of trying to make a good impression on a woman I'm trying to win - I care less about how I am dressed, is the flat neat and clean, do I have ignoble books lying around, are there dirty dishes in the sink, that sort of thing. This is a considerable relief to me. Oh, I could have relieved the pressure by RET perception alteration (and in fact I did that with some success back in my courting days), but that has always required a conscious effort. My point is that now it is almost always operational, this care-lessness. Huzzah!.

Besides not courting, there is another factor at play here: my vanity is altered. Not my disgust at my physical deterioration, that comes but rarely. No, I still am vain about my appearance, but have finally come to a deep realization that good appearance does not depend on and cannot be achieved by meticulous attention to "appropriate" garb. What good appearance ("bella figura"?) I have is intrinsic to the lines on my face more than anything else (though good posture would help), and that is okay with me. I guess it is getting closer to the wonderful "I am what I am". And then there is the vital injunction explained to me by Naomi: wear loose clothes. How ease-making that is. So now, with me, appearance gets even closer to reality. Since I began dissolving the separate personas I employed in various roles, back in the 1970s, more and more what you see is what I am. Now there's the wisdom of eldering for you.


Two sources of the most useful knowledge and skill were group therapy situations. In one I learned clearly and unambiguously that I had not been fooling everybody into thinking that I was a good person. Others saw me as a good person because I am a good person. In the other group, the RET group, I learned from the wisdom of Albert Ellis and the skill of Leo Rubinstein, that:


(October 22, 1993)

It is over three years now that I have struggled with the manifestations of the various diseases that afflict me. I have accepted and pursued the various therapeutic interventions that my doctors have advised, and suffered their effects. There have been some benefits - it is true that the surgical excision of the melanoma was successful, as was the intervention for my heart attack - but there have been many woeful side effects.

During that time I have been able to enjoy some pleasures. Playing with my grandson David. Walking in pleasant surroundings. Reading, listening to music. Enjoying the company of family and friends. Eating food food. Taking an interest in politics and society.

No more.

All I can do with David is sit and watch him play. Rarely do we both want me to read him a story. Not doing things together, our relationship is not dynamic but rather faint and diminishing. This is very painful for me, but I have not the strength to make it otherwise and do not expect to gain such strength in the future.

Walking is getting more and more difficult. My leg gives way, I run out of breath, I start trembling with exhaustion. Without walking my soul withers - and of course the diabetes goes even further out of control than the Prednisone takes it.

My attention span is so limited and my interest so diminished - probably because of the concentration on my physical condition as well as the physical distress itself = that reading and music have lost their attraction.

My fatigue is such that I do not go to be with people or have them come to be with me. And my life is so circumscribed that I have no conversation to share. I am not interested in anything but my physical condition, what sort of company can I be?

Food tastes mostly foul, and makes me sick. Another pleasure gone.

I spend my days weak and nauseated, waiting for the night. I spend my nights restless and nauseated, waiting for the day. I spend my money repaying old debts and buying medicines that do me no good - well, not enough good, anyway.

There is no evidence that I see that gives hope of recovery to a level of health at which the pleasures - those modest, modest pleasures - I have described can be hoped for. And I am tired of struggling, after three years of getting worse and worse overall.

For some time I have hoped that one morning I would not wake up. Killing myself is not my present intention, because of the pain it would cause to those who love me. But - aha! - if it came by itself, now sweet.....not to have to go on enduring and being cheerful about it, and hopeful-seeming.

It is written: "There is no profit in saving the body, if in doing so we destroy the soul".

So this is my new order: I will require of my doctor plan to wean myself from the Prednisone (oh, gradually, of course, as is clinically appropriate) and end it and the sodding Methotrexate even if that means increased weakness. When I can no longer do for myself.........then maybe I will after all take matters into my own hands.

Remembering Grampa Eli

(this is how I think and hope David will remember me)

(August 28, 1993)

..... remember Grampa Eli as a large, warm man singing or laughing and paying close attention. He was bald except for a close-cropped fringe around the side, but made up for it with a large and bushy beard. His eyes were mostly merry except that sometimes when he was at rest one seemed to see some sadness in them.

He was loving and encouraging except when irritated by pulling his beard or pinching or kicking him and then he roared or swatted at bottom in a serious and spontaneously determined way and his energy made a strong impression.

But I could get him to do practically anything when I smiled at him or curled up next to him. He particularly liked talking with me about things that interested me, and showed that he was fascinated by my thoughts and growing understanding. Crazy about puns, he was. Very verbal. Very warble, too; he sang an awful lot in four or five languages, folk songs mostly. When he was taking care of me, about once a week at my house, he'd sing me to sleep after he put me to bed; he clearly liked that...and so did I.

A big part of him was his laughter. He loved to laugh, and many things seemed to make him laugh. I never felt that he laughed at me, but he sure did laugh a lot about things I said and did.

His attention span was not long. He'd have enough of some activity and just "turn off", go inside himself and be still until something else came along to interest him.

He and Mommy always hugged when they parted, even though they'd see each other so soon. Clearly they loved each other a lot. With my Daddy he was warm and friendly, too.

He lived by himself in a nice old apartment, high up among the tops of trees, up a long set of flights of stairs. His place was always neat and I grew to understand that though he was pleased when I played with things he set out for me - pots and pans, wooden spoons, things like that - he was very set in his ways and like his things put back where he thought they should be, afterwards.

He had a weakness in his legs and couldn't walk for more than half an hour or swing me up in the air or play roughly with me, and he told me that he felt very frustrated about that.

But above all he made it clear that he loved me with all his heart, and that I gave him lots of joy.

Eli Home | Roots | Childhood | Adolescence | Young Warrior | Imperialist | And After... | Philosophy