Freemasons, Political Awareness, and Voice

Freemasons, Political Awareness, and Voice

In a recent “Today, Explained” podcast, the narrators were discussing the recent Supreme Court decisions involving arbitration and the American worker. In essence, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a 1925 law that stated that Corporations have the right to force arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 is the name of the law) clauses into many, if not all, types of contracts, including those that involve a contract to work. What this does is overturn a New Deal-Era law (National Labor Relations Act of 1935) that stated that employees had the right to work in concert with each other for their mutual benefit.

What does this mean? No Class-Action lawsuits for employees when wrongfully treated by their employers. For the nitty-gritty details, the podcast is recommended. In general, it means that arbitration clauses can now be put into nearly any contract and are binding. Employees who have been sexually harassed, been denied wages, or otherwise wrongfully treated during employment must now seek arbitration for grievances rather than a lawsuit. Where this has the most implication is when there are many injured in the workplace but have little ability, financially or otherwise, to stop ongoing wrongful acts.

Many people and corporations think this is a good thing; law suits are a burden on more than just the plaintiff or defendant. They are a burden on the taxpayers and the court systems – sometimes causing far more difficulties than they solve. However, taken in the context of several court decisions in recent years, it should give the people of the United States something, perhaps, to consider. This decision, by the Supreme Court, in effect provides corporations with a great deal of power and the individual, the worker, with very little.

Like Citizen’s United, this is an example of corporate legal power leveraging the judicial system of the country to produce vast corporate influence on the American political andimg_0218-1 social landscape; in essence, corporations are circumventing the executive and legislative branches of government, and using the judicial system to create a very corporate-forward, individual-backward landscape.

People are often fond of saying that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, where government is the hands of a few people. What they are really trying to say, though, is that America has become a CorporatocracyEconomist Jeffery Sachs, in The Price of Civilization, stated that America is, in effect, a corporatocracy in which “powerful corporate interest groups dominate the policy agenda.” He gives four reasons for this being the case: 1) weak national political parties, 2) strong political representation of individual districts, 3) globalization weakening the power of employees, and 4) large corporations financing political campaigns for their own agendas.

A moment of reflection will give one enough fodder to at least question corporate influence in America. From sports arenas to libraries and entertainment centers, corporations have lent their funding, as well as views, to what we consume in America. From Citizen’s United ruling (see this well done video on the decision) to the fact that some companies are “too big to fail,” our government has come a long way from its roots of “We the People…”

Is a corporatocracy in keeping with the values of Freemasonry?

One might ask, what would our Masonic forefathers thought of the idea of Government by a small group of corporate entities? John Adams said, “Let us disappoint the men who would raise themselves upon the ruin of our country.” Yet, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: “No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

Presidents over the centuries, Freemasons or not, have had something to say. U.S. President and Freemason Franklin Roosevelt stated, “No business is above Government; and Government must be empowered to deal adequately with any business that tries to rise above Government.” President Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

One might equate the “military-industrial complex” as perhaps a single, corporate power.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote – 

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. …corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

~ (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, in The Lincoln Encyclopedia, by Archer H. Shaw)

Others throughout history have weighed in on the idea of corporations, from writers to inventors to even businessmen themselves.

Commerce is entitled to a complete and efficient protection in all its legal rights, but the moment it presumes to control a country, or to substitute its fluctuating expedients for the high principles of natural justice that ought to lie at the root of every political system, it should be frowned on, and rebuked.

~ James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, 1838.

Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with those institutions.

~ President and Freemason, Theodore Roosevelt, 1901, first annual message to Congress.

And finally, regarding Jefferson –

Thomas Jefferson, the man who wanted an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting monopoly, would be aghast at our billion-dollar corporations. Jefferson, who abolished primogeniture and entail in Virginia in order to prevent monopoly in land, would be appalled by our high percentage of tenancy. Jefferson as the man who dreaded the day when many of our citizens might become landless, would perhaps feel our civilization was trembling on the brink of ruin, if he were to find so many of our people without either land or tools, and subject to the hire and power of distant corporations. If the Jefferson of 1820 could see his name used by men crying `States’ rights!’ in order to protect not individual liberties but corporate property, then he would shudder.

~ Henry A. Wallace, November 17, 1937, former populist U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President of the United States.

The United States is a democratic republic, or a representative democracy, a sordid mix of Greek and Roman ideals, thrown together in some kind of weird experiment that has yet to play itself out. Yet, the overt goal in the foundation of this country was that the people themselves should have a say in the government of it – true individual representation – not the boards of directors of a few, extremely large and wealthy corporations. Corporations are not structured to be democratic nor a republic; they are in truth, oligarchies.

So, what is the United States? Is it any better or worse off than anywhere else in the world? Has the grand experiment worked to the satisfaction of our founding fathers,img_0213-1.jpg some of whom held the ideals of Freemasonry? The experiment is still very much a living organism.

Freemasonry itself is not a democracy; it is not a dictatorship, nor a republic. Each Master Mason has a vote, but not all Freemasons have a vote. Majority rules, not plurality. However, the Master of the Lodge is the voice of the Lodge, the final “say,” when it comes to matters of some Masonic jurisprudence – a sort-of dictator.

However, the Master of the Lodge does not always have the final say. He may be a tie-breaker in votes but he typically does not have a vote on general matters. But each Lodge is not an independent body; they tie back to either a Grand Lodge, Supreme Council, or other Supreme body governing the rules and regulations of their order. Each individual Lodge is represented to their Grand Lodge by a single vote made up of the votes of the Lodge. Therefore, the Lodge is a representative to the Grand Lodge for the individual, ergo a republic. If we’re not sure what the United States’ Government is, we may be just as confused as to the government of the system of Freemasonry.

Why bring all this up in a blog on philosophical debates of interest to Freemasons? This is not to stir the passions of partisanship or state that Freemasonry itself should be political. It is simply because Freemasons, especially within the United States, are inextricably linked to government. The motto of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’ are on the lips of every Freemason at one time or another, whether spoken in rote repetition or with true feeling. Freemasons should ask these hard and difficult questions in order to shape the world we live in as well as the groups to which they belong. We should be unafraid to discuss the ideals of government, religion, and all aspects of life.

While it is not within the purview of Freemasonry as an institution to take a political stance, should the Freemason make his individual voice heard, in representation of what he or she feels is liberty, equality, and fraternity?

Global governance is shifting, perhaps trying to find a new way of being. It behooves us, no matter what we believe in keeping, be it a corporatocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, theocracy, democracy, or republic, to be the voices of what the future holds. This is something that perhaps Freemasons should discuss, in educated, philosophical terms, and let the debate ensue. No one creates in a vacuum and no one creates change without speaking up. New ways of thinking evolve from educated, passionate, and respectful debate. If Freemasons are working to be leaders within humanity, these discussions should be on their tongues and not remain in the shadows of their hearts. If those who are working toward the perfecting of humanity don’t speak up, and take responsibility for shaping their nations, then who?

Being Blackballed – Part 1

Being Blackballed – Part 1

It seems that every English speaker is familiar with the term of “blackballing.” While some people associate it to the eight ball in pool or billiards, it really harkens back to Ancient Greece, and became an established part of the English language in 1770. It means the same thing today that it meant in 1770, or in Ancient Greece – to be rejected by adverse votes.

The function of “black balling” actually comes from the societies of Ancient Athens, where citizens were sometimes ostracized. Each year, during the Athenian assembly, the populace was asked if they wanted to perform an ostracism. If a particular city-state felt that a particular candidate for public office was effectually bad in the populace’s eyes (or, in some cases, might be bad), they would cast a secret ballot by writing the names of the person to be ostracized on a piece of pottery (ostraka). It’s speculated that some of the pottery shards were light in color and others dark. Names would be scratched into the shards on the black pieces and cast into an urn. After the balloting was counted, that person with the highest votes (6000 or more were needed) was ostracized for ten years. They could return after ten years with no loss of status, no loss of property, and no stigma. It was seen as a way to neutralize what might be an impending threat without any detriment to any party involved. Of course, the penalty for returning early, if not invited back, was death. Indeed, many were asked back in times of emergency or immediate threat.

Black pottery shards eventually became small balls of stone or wood, colored black and white, and urns became boxes made of wood. Many Freemasons would immediately recognize an early American (U.S.) ballot box as it is strikingly familiar to the ballot boxes used in Masonic Lodges today. The type of secret ballot used by Freemasons today originated in the mid-seventeenth century by not only governmental parties but gentlemen’s clubs, fraternities, and of course societies like Freemasonry. For significant choices facing the groups, such as admittance or expulsion, secret ballots are taken and then counted, the outcome such as rejection on admittance or approval of expulsion were enacted based on a specific count of black balls.

Hence, to be black balled is generally not good.

Balloting, or the original word, ballota comes from medieval Venice, where small balls were used in balloting by citizens (1540). At some point in history, these two terms coincided, ostracism and balloting, and today we have black-balled. Where voting is the raising of hands and out in the open, balloting is secret, hidden, and anonymous. While voting appears to be “light,” balloting implies a heavy judgement. One wonders, then, why we approve of anonymity when balloting? Why not take responsibility for so heavy a decision?

Perhaps it leaves the space for someone to be able to make that decision with a free mind and not be weighted down by the herd response of approval or disapproval. We seem to shun those who speak their minds and stand up for what is just and right. That may be a subject for another blog.

It does seem that one should put some care and thought into how they cast a ballot. We ask ourselves, when would I ever cast a black ball? What reasons could I give for supporting rejection of an applicant or expulsion from a group, rejection of an initiative or stalling someone’s progress in an organization? Who am I to judge? That seems to be a cop out. We are perfectly equipped to judge, as were are either the recipients of or the adherents to a particular group, government or organization. We passed. We were approved, for one reason or another. We are rational, thinking human beings and part of society – we are fully equipped to judge.

But do we judge well? “Justice to the applicant – we are taught to render justice to every man, not merely to Masons – requires that no black cube be cast for little reasons, small reasons, mean reasons,” wrote an anonymous, Ancient Free and Accepted Mason. This thought process should be taken by all humans, not just Freemasons, and in all situations, not just Lodge ballots. I’d say it should also not be for reasons of ego, personal gain, or to inflict punishment. We should be able to justify our ballots by reason, by well-considered examination of the facts, and a stoic assessment of what is better for humanity, the immediate humanity or the larger collective.

Most who cast ballots do not, also, attend to their own part in the process. We seem to cast ballots in a vacuum. Let others figure out the best candidate for the office, let some organization tell me what initiative is best for the way I think, or let others direct who should be included in my organization and who should not be. I trust them. Let them do the work. How infrequently do we actually read through the pros and cons of an initiative on a ballot, consistently – every election? What about reading through the minutes of our elected official’s meetings, or do a background check on an applicant, or better yet, get to know them? How often do we take our own personal lives out of the equation and figure out what would be better for humanity, not just better for our own little personal human?

If we don’t know the reasons for casting a ballot as we do, or cast it out of ignorance, how can we be entrusted with the welfare of humanity? Being a citizen, a legal inhabitant of a country which affords you its protection, requires a payment in return; that payment is to follow its rules and join in a common effort to create a positive, thriving society that creates safety for everyone. Citizenship is a very Western idea, again rooted in Ancient Greece and Rome, the concept is akin to a Freemasons Lodge. Each person who is a Freemason has a responsibility to the Lodge as she does to her own country: to participate in the creation of a positive thriving society of free-thinkers, educators, and promoters of humanity. It seems that the methods of a Freemason’s Lodge are akin to what we would like to see in our societies, our countries. Participation is key – in all aspects of our lives. This is a very practical application of Freemasonry: to learn how to participate fully, judge well, and learn how to improve the world around us. It starts with a Lodge. It can become so much more.


Part 2 will focus on why would we cast a black ball, and what does it mean to be black-balled.