Karl Marx was an intelligent man, and likely was oriented toward what he thought was the right thing to do, if a bit restricted in his ability to see the inevitable unintended consequences. But so were the philosophies of the book positively motivated; and they ultimately have led to the same result that Marx espoused.
To each according to need and from each according to ability. Makes a lot of good sense, doesn’t it? But what is need and what is according to ability? Sound like a familiar conundrum? In between there is all kinds of incentive to pursue opportunity as it presents itself.
First, need; is there really need in our economy? Yes, there is, but some of it is self-induced. How so? By spending beyond means for things that are not necessary, and incurring unreasonable levels of debt. I had the honor of speaking with a young man yesterday who has been on the job for a month, installing water heaters. He is 28 years old, married with four children, and getting by. He is looking forward to improving his earning capacity with this job, and is making a great start; this was his third installation, and the senior technician who was with him had taken twice the time the job required, to train the him – and this was approved by management, and grudgingly accepted by the customer, my neighbor,who might not have completely understood this scenario,so maybe the job took a couple more hours that he had anticipated.
So how do we define justified need? It depends on who is defining it. Those requesting it define it as earning less than they need “to live” but that means less than they are spending, even if some COULD spend less, because of THEIR inflated definition of NEED, yes, I am generalizing to make a point; that is not universal. Politicians may define need it in terms of votes: I address your needs and you give me your vote; of course it’s not that blatant, but that’s likely what it ultimately comes down to, although partly because of the “power” those who proclaim need, and their advocates, can wield; and of course it is not that simple
So how about according to ability? Again, sometimes a bit murky. What if a young person who could have gained ability squandered the opportunity through lack of effort? How about he who has ability but is not willing to accept work that he considers beneath his level of expectations? What of he who has deliberately invested his ability in training or education with his preference of pursuing unrealistic goals? And what of him who was afforded the opportunity but didn’t put in the effort, and did not achieve levels of qualification, but still retains unrealistic expectations? Then there are those today, as a result of government initiatives, who find they can make more on government assistance than they can working? Wait, you might object, that’s not fair: that’s a cost/benefit decision, and it’s only common sense to go for whatever is in their interest. I need not reply to that, as it’s easy to see what I would say. But, of course, that’s not that simple either.
Then there is something in between, and this is even more esoteric: the opportunity our system provides at the margins to earn money illegally, through whatever means present themselves, and those who opt to pursue such opportunities, as a choice; again, for any number of reasons. Many of those opportunities would have been beyond Karl Marx’s very imagination. Today they may even be outside the understanding of those who have made them possible, and beyond what had been attended in creating them.
That is a synopsis view of the problem with need/ability; in short, it doesn’t work because of human nature. So many fine ideas are defeated by human nature. Cost/benefit is in the mind of he with presumed need and he who sees “ability” as he wishes. And benefit being what it is, the chances of it being fudged to fit opportunity is significant. But then, that is just one of the many things we humans are likely to not be able to agree upon; different viewpoints, and they will always be decided in the mind of the decider in his favor; human nature.
So interesting to sit back and watch people, when self is not emotionally involved. No, they are not all the same – in fact they are almost never the same; but they suffer from similar inclinations – tendencies? temptations. May I refer to it as human nature?
We each have our own understanding of personal reality, and for most of us gets pretty locked in; we believe what we want to believe, often developed over some period of time, reinforcing those beliefs. Our motivation derives from that, motivation being what drives us to do what we do – or not do.
Empathy is ability to see beyond self and try to understand motives of others; something we have great difficulty in doing.
And humility? Let’s defer to Oxford for that. Humbleness, meekness? Humble: “Having a low estimate of one’s own importance.” Not satisfactory for my purpose, so let me apply my own twist: not taking self too seriously. How about attempt to control arrogance? Maybe even seeking to respect. Now I reach: not seeing one’s self as better than others. Oops inconsistency: I argue against egalitarianism, yet suggest that one should not see one’s self as being better than others. Words, words, words. Which is why thinking about it – and in written context, which ties the thinking down, is so useful. What am I grasping for? But as I attempt the grasping, think of how my grasping may appear to the average observer. Now throw in judgmental and opinion and understand how complex human nature is.
Relationships; why do we do what we do, and why do we not do what we choose not to do? Why do we react to others as we do? A starting point would be that we are locked into self; build upon that and the development it represents; and make little effort to go beyond it. Sure, that’s extreme, but a tendency among most of us: we live comfortably in our own bubbles and make inadequate effort to learn enough, or even listen enough to what others may think and say, to be able to do otherwise; so throw ignorance into the mix, which is a strong contributor to lack of empathy.
Let me attempt that more simply: we don’t understand, make little attempt to try to gain understanding, and don’t give it a great deal of thought; we prefer to just believe what we want to belief, and act upon that. Too judgmental? think about it, and as things progress it is getting worse, for reasons I have attempted to define elsewhere, and won’t attempt to revisit here. Taking ourselves too seriously is my attempt at adding humility; not so much a low opinion of our own importance, but an attempt to not inflate our opinion of self Elevating unrealistically can be as detrimental as putting one’s self down. I keep coming back to this – in my own mind – there IS middle ground, balance, and that is what we should be pursuing – continually. In this context, not taking self too seriously is a comfortable way or viewing it.
Everyone has a point of view, and should, on most subjects about which they have some interest; some are emotionally grasped, others are developed over time. Learning comes through many venues, of which discussion is one, sharing points of view, with an open mind. That doesn’t mean blindly accepting; but it should also not meaning trying to beat the opposition into submission; we, moderns (particularly) have problems with that, not because we have so much knowledge, but because we are exposed to so much information (propaganda) that we accept without thinking much about it, and process as if it were knowledge – and sometimes even (arrogantly) as wisdom. Knowing and appreciating where another is coming from is helpful, but rare, because motivation to make the attempt is often lacking. I call that arrogance, and the flip side humility; but one must WANT not to be arrogant, and willing to have a bit of humility; it is difficult for most to accomplish, particularly when not motivated to do so.
I have been thinking about this for some time, and attempting to use scientific method, beginning with observing, to focus on the various examples that constantly present themselves; I find they are everywhere, and thus intriguing. Motivation, empathy and humility are where that focus has led me. Examples are everywhere: religion is an obvious one, but people have all kinds of opinions to which they have allowed themselves to become anchored, often with relatively little factual information to back them up, which deters them not at all. And that’s where arrogance comes in, where we become over-impressed with self, and take ourselves too seriously. There are many contributors; let’s lump them under the word “success”, success in anything tends to build confidence, which is positive, but can quickly morph into inflated ego – and arrogance. Human nature again? We not only believe what we want to believe, but convince ourselves we are who we think we are, and like to throw our “intellectual” weight around, whether or not it is warranted. Success in what? Almost anything.
So how can this be changed? That takes us full circle: we have to WANT to change it; but to do that we have to recognize it and accept that is something that needs to be changed. From there we just go around again.
Let’s cut to the quick: “ghetto”, as we currently perceive it, or at least as I do, has dramatic impact upon us, individually for those directly exposed to it, and collectively for the rest of us who must deal with the consequences. First let us attempt to put meaning to the word, no, to the concept, of ghetto, at least as I am attempting to discuss it. I do this not to preach, or even to attempt to convince, but to generate some serious thinking on the matter, as I am trying to present it. I wish to explore it, and anyone who might choose to is welcome to stop by and absorb; and think about it.
“Ghetto” is a state of mind; it is also a reality based on the human development that has ensued from many generations of history. There have been many ghettos in many places throughout history, but this essay attempts to address the one we have created in our nation and culture that is perhaps more unique. Many ghettos have resulted from historical occurrences; wars, famines, changes in weather cycles, floods – whatever. Poverty? some, but poverty and ghetto are not quite the same. I would contend our ghetto is largely of our own making. How so? We have culturally brought it upon ourselves.
Our economic and political evolution has contributed; but so has the kind of thinking that has developed since the inception of economic progress since the depression of the mid 1930s and the explosion of affluence since the end of WW II. The thinking that has accompanied is an extension of the liberality – personal rights and privileges – that began with Christianity in the time of Christ. It has to do with individuality, but also with the growing feeling of equality that developed over time with democracy and human rights. Since the beginning of Industrial Revolution, and increasingly with the WWII explosion, it has expanded rapidly, until our current eras when it exploded. Why?
First, whatever seems to be good, eventually gets out of hand; second, the getting good has accelerated rapidly with the growth of prosperity; and third, as it has progressed we began to move away from the local effects of Federalism and toward an increasingly more popular trend toward more centralized government, that has moved inexorably away from individualism and toward increased centralized controls. One can argue that such movement was necessary due to growth, but the point of increased ghetto-ization has been building steam for some time, first with the New Deal, next with the Great Society legislation, and more recently with broad expansion of social benefits, with little slowing down in between. Human nature and response to envy an expectations are clearly a part of that.
In short, giving a helping hand to one’s fellow man seems to have morphed into providing for that same fellow man if he convinces us he cannot provide for himself – adequately. It is the adequately that is making the real difference. And adequately is closely related to the explosion of expectations that has accompanied the explosion of affluence, as might be expected, and how human nature responds to it. It is a short step from equality of opportunity to equality of expectations, particularly when expectations have become so robust. And always when I think of this subject I am reminded of the Chinese proverb: give a man a fish and he lives for a day; teach him to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime, but many may be unaware of such ancient wisdom.
And for me, that’s where “ghetto” comes in and why I call it a state of mind rather than a place. Ghetto, in the social sense, entails a propensity to look for support, as opposed to toward the dignity of self sufficiency, if iti is made available; and that has become possible through the succession of social legislation. It is what that legislation has enabled that has created ghetto mentality, because it has been accompanied by myriad unintended consequences, perhaps not unforeseeable, but unintended. Those consequences have been most obvious in black ghettos, because much of the legislation was racially motivated; that is, based on the assumption that lower income blacks needed more help, that go back in to our history.
That help was centered on aid to unwed mothers, despite the fact that divorce rates among black families before the Great Society legislation were lower than that among other races. But that legislation turned out to be incentive not to be married, to qualify for benefits. As a result, enough took what seemed a logical step, and the number of single mothers with children multiplied quickly, creating a cultural challenge. That challenge was a sudden lack of fathers; not a lack of men, there were plenty who came and went; but a lack of committed fathers, and therefor real family units. I just recently – today in fact – read comparable statistics for other races, and they, at least for lower economic classes, have undoubtedly succumbed to the same temptation, at least a loss of motivation for families to develop as they have. But then as blacks had tended to cluster together the results of single parent incentives from the legislation quickly became more apparent among them, and almost irresistible when added to the rising expectations that begged for more money to provide more – for the children.
So I translate “ghetto” to mean trading family for benefit incentives, made possible by encouraging male relationships with females and children to be extra-familial: if married, to encourage severing the connection; if not married, stay that way. And this has been just another step toward encouraging out of wedlock families to proliferate throughout our culture; but worse in ghettos, particularly black ghettos; it has resulted in part time fathers, or even worse than that, transient “fathers” without commitment, often leaving children not even knowing who their fathers are: to wit, destroying effective family culture. That is the dramatic impact we cannot help seeing; it is cultural and it is devastating.
Our myopic tendency, or course, is to see it as terminal; it need not be; but something must change if it is to be brought back under control. Assistance is one thing, and understandable to most, when it is a last resort; but transfer of motivation from families to almost unconditional state support is quite another. Families with commitment is crucial to our culture; we cannot legislate commitment, but we can incentivize responsibility – through rewarding motivation. There is still pride in the satisfaction of being able to take care of self and family, even if it might have eroded, and it can be restored, if motivation, through incentive, is properly focused; and family is crucial to our culture – to any culture. We have taken a long step in the wrong direction, for reasons probably thought to be compassionate, but they are misguided; instead they have begun to develop entitled dependence.
That is the state of mind I am calling a ghetto state of mind. It is dangerous for all of us; but particularly it is destructive to the individuals that have to endure it, whether they realize it or not.
Reading a book by an Afghani/American by the name of Tamin Ansary, entitled Destiny Disrupted, has opened my mind, something I always welcome. It is an Eastern view of history, and I think I have mentioned it before. The other morning – early – I thought about it and it coalesced with other thoughts I have been having, which I shall attempt to capture; a little deep, not for everyone, but I do what I have to do.
Ansary discusses Islam, but much more; and specifically the evolution of Islam, which (surprise, surprise) is not unlike that of Christianity. I have touched upon how I believe religious beliefs developed, so I will not go into it again; suffice it to say that it has evolved.
What is God? Word, concept, belief, whatever; it is something – philosophy – that, via theology, has taken us from superstition through scientific progress to living in our current and stressful times. It, as everything we humans do, an evolution.
Basically, what has come to me, is that what has evolved is man’s relationship with all that, particularly the man-made bells and whistles that have been added; we do add bells and whistles to almost everything we do. What has not changed much is the basics of what is entailed. That is what today’s babbling is all about.
The basics are essentially dealing with good and evil; that is, what we feel enhances life as opposed to that which undermines it. Both Christ and Muhammad – as well as Moses and many others were “messengers” of this “word from God”, and virtually all were concerned with the challenge of dealing with this dichotomy: good and evil – as have been most of the philosophers that have followed; can they also be considered “messengers”?. What are good and evil?
For me, good can be summarized by the word principles on one side of the dichotomy: integrity, honesty, sincerity, reliability and the like; yes, all words, with varying meanings and connotations – and individual interpretations, but in sum, with a fairly cohesive, if not completely universal, meaning. Much goes into it, and what I deal with day to day in these pages is associated with my interpretations and thoughts about it. On the other, Evil, and this is perhaps a new twist, is human nature. Let me explain. Good is what brings us together and helps us live the kind of lives that are necessary, with all the problems associated, if we can hope to live in some kind of harmony, recognizing that purity can never be achieved. Human nature is why that pure harmony can never be achieved: it is what we do and who we are.
The “messengers” have attempted, best they could, to explain that in ways “we” could understand it. Humans, being as they were, and to a great extent still are, are not particularly adept at dealing with abstraction, thus to be understandable GOD had to be presented in a form that made Him real: that meant in the image of man. Fathers, tribal chiefs, leaders of all kinds led to an ultimate authority: that had to be GOD. But to be meaningful – to each of us – there had to be a connection, a personal connection, and that is what all theology has attempted to create. Prayer is part of that, but we know that to have communication there must be feedback. That, initially, was the role of the early “messengers”. God talked to the rest of us through them. The philosophers stopped short of such claims, but just barely, and that says something about man – and human nature.
Man is full of self, and the more successful, the fuller. That’s the way it is: we are easily impressed with self. So when an important idea comes to us, where does it come from? God? That lent great prestige to the messengers, and that’s a story all by itself, as it has great ramifications with respect to theological evolution. Or are our brains so powerful that we thought of it all by ourselves? Some might prefer to think that is feedback to their prayers, and who is to refute that? Others prefer to take credit themselves, and that is their prerogative, but no man is an island, and I think that is my point. We are a result of nurturing, experience, education, influences and anything else we encounter in our lives that shape the way we think, gives us insight and understanding. It doesn’t really matter how we define the process, since it is beyond our ability to grasp, so perhaps we would be better to just accept that it happens – but begins with principles of good, and human nature – which is what I conveniently and simplistically call GOD, since I cannot offer any further explanation that is satisfactory.
So where do the ideas that pop into our heads originate? What matters is that they do; and our brains process them, however they can. And however they can depends on how we have prepared them to do so, which is all those influences which are provided. I shall make no attempt to elaborate further, so let’s jump to what is important to us: how we deal with what pops into our heads.
How do we? Of course that depends on the nature of the pops; much is routine. But some require response, although sometimes response is not warranted; sometimes we respond when no response would be better. Learning to deal with life as it comes to us, however it comes to us – much popping, after all, can be confrontational – is something useful to learn. And that is particularly the case when we are called on to deal with the popping that goes on in the heads of others, and THEY respond – to us. Popping goes on all around us, and we are often confronted with the response of others to theirs; which is particularly the case when it is accompanied by emotion, aggression and confrontation; many people can’t keep their pops to themselves, and want to push them on others. That is particularly the case when pops have to do with theology, where people feel inspired to want to push them on others; much of religious proselyting falls into that category. And much of the evolution of religion – virtually all religion – is response to pop messaging and how it is propagated and handled through the propagation.
But moving beyond theological aspects, we have to recognize how central to life religion is, IF it is tied back to principles and human nature. Now we move into what is important in life, that of which religion is only a part, but often an important part. Look at all the religious confrontation that has occurred throughout history; but is that so different from other confrontation? Principles and human nature. We are different, think differently, have different expectations and are likely not to agree; and on top of that we have different understanding of reality, much of it only partially understood – differently. That in and of itself is not a problem; what is a problem is when it is pushed, particularly when pushed to the point of confrontation, even violent confrontation. And that also is life.
But is that not what most theology is designed to avoid? Is that not what the principles tell us? And that’s where human nature – the devil – comes in. The devil, our human nature, tells us to do whatever seems good for us, regardless of how it might affect others. Suddenly we are right smack in the middle of life, and relationships of all kinds: individual, group, national, international – all relationships. Good and evil, and the results of the dichotomous effects of the clash, which are inevitable and ubiquitous.
I have gone overly long at this point, but must add one more thing, and that has to do with how we deal with it. We have to WANT to deal with it, and that fact that we don’t often enough, becomes the real problem that is experienced in all facets of life. First we have to develop the process of dealing with it. That starts with building a base of knowledge and experience that is the foundation we use to deal with the pops. Associated with that must be development of patience, understanding and empathy that supports the process. Note the importance of motivation: we have to want to create the foundation; we have to want to develop the disciplinary skills to apply, then we have to WANT to try – and care about the possible results, not only for ourselves but for others as well. It is all about motivation applied to wanting to deal realistically – and fairly – with the dichotomous effects of the internal clash between good (principles) and our (self-absorbed) human nature. You want to talk about GOD; that’s what God is; but that is also what life is. And need I mention thinking?
It’s just that simple; but it is anything but simple.
What are unintended consequences? We choose to do something with a result in mind and something else happens. Wow, surprise. It happens because we don’t think deeply enough about what we are doing, or even the results expected; or don’t know enough about what we are doing, and what could happen, before embarking upon it – or things that were not possible to foresee, occur.
They are everywhere, of course, because we are all guilty of not giving deep enough, broad enough thought to them. Children? We all know about that; immaturity, they don’t know any better, and have to learn. And when they keep on making the same mistake, they have to be punished, to help them learn. If we have lost the ability to understand that, that’s our problem, and it is our problem, but that’s another subject. But too often it doesn’t end with puberty, and we keep encountering unintended consequences – for the same reason: we don’t think deeply enough about what we are doing; or we don’t learn enough about what could happen to even know what could happen. Then it becomes ignorance; not stupidity, although it could even become that; what was it they used to say? insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Stupidity is not insanity, but close. Ignorance, let me remind, is incomplete information, and we all have to live with that, but incomplete is relative, and responds to learning, and learning about what we are trying to do is something that responds to motivation.
Allow me to take that to another level before returning to the basic problem: leadership. We employ leaders to assist us in making decisions, guiding us in making those decisions, because they have qualified themselves to do so, and upon those qualifications have been chosen to be leaders: coaches, teachers, supervisors, managers – even doctors, dentists, engineers, researchers, lawyers and such. Leadership presumes experience, qualification; that is the hierarchical process upon which we base our system of living. How about parenthood? well………but in business, government and most other enterprises it is presumed to be there, and usually required. A current exception seems to be elective politics; I say current because I think I am seeing an unfortunate change. Meaning we have always voted for proven qualifications? No, unfortunately, because voters often enough did not take the time or make the effort, but in simpler times there was at least more possibility of meeting and therefore being able to make personal judgment on candidates. That is no longer the case because things have gotten bigger and more complicated. Meeting a candidate today for most of us is attending a speech, or listening to one through electronic media – or believing what someone else has to say about it. Too often we decide we like a candidate instead of respecting him or her and the positions they espouse. And speeches are too often impersonal, and written by others, rehearsed and modified. They can also be quite different from what the speaker thinks or believes, and is something that is therefor a contrived position, designed to get votes. At worst it is falsehood. But face to face helps us to understand – which is why in politics more personal tend to be better.
If we do not ensure competence, qualifications, understanding, then how can we expect effective leadership? And why would we expect to reach decisions that would not have unintended consequences? Certainly it does not appear useful to make a leadership decision based on warm fuzzies, but many do, and are surprised when the results do not come out as intended. The more complex the challenge the more results are possible, and the more unintended consequences can arise; ferreting out the unintended takes thinking outside the box, and asking, what can happen? That takes not only effort, but motivation to even ask the question. One has to want to know what could happen, and think about it, and the costs if it does, and the odds that it might. It also requires taking a view long enough to allow for changes and evolution, and wanting to do that as well, as opposed to just getting credit for something that might satisfy voters in the short run – meaning getting votes.
Alright, how about at lower levels? Business managers can be fired for making costly decisions; but lower level employees can also be dismissed or demoted for mistakes. Unintended consequences are the result of bad decisions and mistakes. That is what has made our competitive system as successful as it has been. Consequences should be reward or punished if quality of leadership is to be retained; it is as simple as that.
So back to more mundane living; should that not be true in everything? We learn from consequences of our decisions, both positively and negatively; but the negative consequences tend to have more impact; that’s just the way it seems to be, particularly at the mundane levels, where decisions are more likely to be personal and individual; at higher levels it is more likely there will be scapegoats, those to whom one can shift the blame; we have all seen that, and know how it can be done. At the personal level it is more difficult to avoid blame.
I would like to suggest that a problem we are beginning to experience is that too many who can, are assuming responsibility for success, and too few failures are being punished adequately. If that is so, it would account for much of the malaise that seems to surround us – and why there are so many who just don’t care. Could that possibly be related? All the way back to bringing up children? There are consequences to everything, whether they are subject to conscious decision or not, and if they are not recognized and are negative, they are unlikely to be corrected. What of rewarding all participants, whether winning or losing? Different? I suggest not. Am I reaching? I do not think I am. There are consequences to everything, and we should all be made aware of those that affect us directly. That is what causes improvement: good decisions, whether collective or individual; whether trivial or serious. Very seldom does anyone make a decision that results in an unintended consequence deliberately. Ok sometimes someone screws up and gets lucky and everything turns out right; that happens, and sometimes encourages the decision maker to continue in the same direction, ultimately, usually, resulting in failure. Sometimes, but seldom, it does not and success goes on forever, or seems to, however that gets complex too. But the point is valid: decisions are actions taken for a purpose, and if the results are not those intended, it was a questionable decision; not always the decision makers’ fault; some turn out not as intended because things that could not have been anticipated change; that is reality. And studying them will bring that out, and if they could not have been foreseen, taken into consideration. But even then the question should be asked, why didn’t we foresee it? That’s how we learn.
Is that still happening? Obviously it still is, sometimes. It has always happened sometimes. It has never happened all the time, nor will it ever; which is yet another reason for differences in success and failure – at all levels, and why there will never be equality; which could never be reality. The reality is that some do better than others in discovering and thinking about the unintended, that could occur, and doing something about it before it happens, or considering what could be done if it does happen. That is what we pay for in life, and should. When it doesn’t happen that way, we get…………unintended consequences. So why are we surprised?
I read an interesting article the other day on line, written by a young lady who had been brought up by two women joined in a parental relationship. She made it clear that their culture was her culture and they were her people and she loved them. But after reaching maturity she wanted to make it clear that a child growing up needs the different perspectives of a man and a woman. This has nothing to do with same sex marriage and makes no judgment about whether that should be supported or not; it merely suggests that both perspectives are necessary; and I heartily agree.
Why is that so difficult for some to accept? What is our problem? Can anyone really believe there are not differences between men and women? So? Some, obviously, are biological, and that is an important one. But outlook? Moods? Interests? The way of looking at things? What causes them? The biological contributes, but so do culture, influences and…….propaganda. Propaganda?
For many reasons men and women are different; but today there seems to be an effort afoot to try to suggest that’s not right; we are all equal; oh, piffle. I won’t go into another diatribe about equality, but even when discussing differences, we are somewhat myopic today, partly because we tend to focus only on extremes. There are female tendencies, and there and male tendencies; yes, more accumulation of words. But there are females that exhibit male tendencies and males that exhibit female tendencies. Does that mean…………..? It doesn’t mean anything except that not only are we ALL different, we are different in different ways; and tendencies, traits are part of the vast number of differences. We also become way to hung up on “sex”, not only the sexes, but relationships between the sexes. And then there are culture and propaganda.
Equal salary for the same work; woman’s work and man’s work; unfair! Why do we see it as a bipolar challenge and not as a matter of individual qualifications and interests? Even supply and demand? Ahhhh, human nature, but we’ve done that, and don’t need to revisit it either. So let’s go back to male and female contributions to the upbringing of children – sure, more generalization, but here there might be some reasons for it. Men and women have historically had different roles in society; cultural? ok, but why? We cannot not begin with the fact that a woman spends nine months with child in her womb. We also cannot ignore the challenges of multitasking juggling that is inherent in bringing up small children versus the more focused challenge of supporting a family; reality suggests that that will have consequences, at least initially. And after that? I think that is exactly the point.
Call it biology; call it cultural interests – throw in different general levels of strength: there are things that direct men and women into different fields of “endeavor”, besides the influences and cultural propaganda that further nudge. How does one draw lines among all that? Why do we try? There are reasons to accept them, as we all understand, even if we don’t want to accept them.
Interestingly, as this essay lay awaiting completion and editing, I just read another, in The Federalist, asking the same question, but from another starting point. This article focused on the unfairness of the concept of equality and went on from there, complaining about the propensity of some at this time to push for it. Best of all, the comments were priceless: we, at least readers of The Federalist, are getting a belly full of egalitarian nonsense. My comment: maybe when there is equality of motivation, we can begin talking about it more seriously.
And we are beginning to talk about such things; certainly not all of us, but enough to start the ball rolling. I have to laud The Transom, and its sister publication, The Federalist, for focusing on such subjects, and have written Ben Domenech, he who started and edits both publications; with lots of very effective help, many of whom might not be known to many. But they are writing, and Domenech’s people are encouraging them, and via comments we are hopefully encouraging each other. We, I called myself a dinosaur in an email to Ben today, are beginning to be heard. I find that encouraging. Enough is enough; those with views of centrally controlled government and elite egalitarianism (how’s that for contradiction?), supported by a worship-fully supporting Media (there is the propaganda, but abetted by entertainment and social media), have held center stage for too long. And too many are using the concept of egalitarianism for their own selfish purposes. Arise ye oppressed! Oppressed? Yup. Time to speak up and be heard. Time to recognize that it’s not equality that matters, but principles; time to begin standing up for what matters, and it may be different for each, depending on who they are and how they have been raised, in the broadness of what being raised today is. Praise equality? Go to the mat for equality? That is not where we came from; it is not what made us what we are. Who we are comes from independence of thought and action, and achieving results that we work for. Sure, some others skate through on the fringes, and the way we “work for it” may differ significantly. So? That is the beauty of independence, real independence: free will, equal treatment before the law, and opportunity to do what we might choose to do. Nor can we ignore motivation; those that plead equality, ignore the results of motivation. We all have – or have had – the ability to make our own choices, our own decisions, with guidance if chosen, and our own mistakes, from which we have learned. That doesn’t mean we have all been able to change ourselves as a result, but admit it or not, we have learned.
I welcome the dialogue. Join in, ye oppressed, and let’s give ‘em hell, and force them to THINK ABOUT IT. It’s happening.
Next essay (mine): unintended consequences. I love it.
What is racism? Prejudice? Hate? Cultural Differences? Ethnic intolerance? How about theological conflict? Even entering into war? We drown ourselves in words and their definitions, either because we struggle to try to tie them down or to agree upon them; or prefer not to try because the reaction to words we use might offend someone. What is it all about? Differences.
Is that not what human nature is all about? another word we struggle to define, and then argue about. Human nature is just the way we are, and we are the way we are because of differences, all of which define how we see…..almost everything; but not necessarily everything in the same way or with the same differences.
I am reading an intriguing history of the Eastern world – From an Islamic perspective. I have read numerous histories of the Western World, and what has been called in the past (and we no longer accept) the oriental world. Each may say what they wish, and argue the validity, differently; but what they all discuss, whether they admit it or not, is human nature. And what is that?
My copy of Oxford doesn’t even try. Neither does my Encyclopedia Britannica. So I tried Wikipedia; here it it’s contribution:
“Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics—including ways of thinking, feeling and acting—which humans tend to have naturally, independent of the influence of culture. The questions of what these characteristics are, how fixed they are, and what causes them are amongst the oldest and most important questions in western philosophy. These questions have particularly important implications in ethics, politics, and theology. This is partly because human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life. The complex implications of such questions are also dealt with in art and literature, while the multiple branches of the humanities together form an important domain of inquiry into human nature and into the question of what it is to be human.”
That doesn’t say all that much either, but it’s as good as any. My simpler definition: it’s the way we are, and likely always will be.
So how are we? We don’t agree on much, and resent the positions of others when they do not agree with our own, unless they are “close enough”. it all comes down to differences and each of our tolerance or intolerance of them. Racism? They are different from us. Ethnic differences? the same. Cultural differences? Need I repeat? Theology? Oh, my. Why are we different? Genes to begin with, but only to begin with. Influences, experiences, successes and failures…..is that broad enough to encompass it all? We are all different and there is no way we can ever be be any other way; the increasing complexity of our world only exacerbates it. So we can never agree on anything? Of course we can, and do; we agree on many things, not always completely, but essentially; but on others we do not, because our differences cause us each to see things from our own perspective. with our own intensity. It comes down to the significance of the differences – and how important they are to us, individually.
What, after all, is the difference among racial, cultural and ethnic outlooks? How can we even distinguish among which are driven by race, which are driven by culture and which are ethnic? but then where does culture separate from ethnic, and where does race fit in? And theology? It has been suggested that we all ought to just live and let live; it won’t ever happen – at least not, surely, in my lifetime; and it won’t because we inevitably allow ourselves – force ourselves – to come into conflict, in a variety of ways – and the conflict leads to the the strifes that dominate our lives depending on whatever might be important to any of us, including aspirations and expectations. Nor, unfortunately, are many of us prone to WANT to just live and let live – for innumerable reasons, and the intensity with which it is. So, all do not take the same degree of opposition; we are all different: human nature.
Why does it matter? Because it’s there and we have to live with it, each (individually and collectively) in our own way. And there are consequences, and we have to live with them, in one way or another. That is what history has been all about; in fact it is what life is all about. Reality is what man is all about, even as it changes, continually: human nature – and how it reacts with broader nature. And what can we do about it? live with it as best we can, depending on the situation, and we all know there have been, and will be, many different situations. That we often choose to fight it, to turn it into a personal struggle, is unfortunate – and counter-productive. But that also is reality.
Is that all? Well, attempting to understand helps. Trying to pass over – even overlook – what is trivial, helps. And trying to deal effectively is a necessity. But then, that’s why we have laws, even regulations; in fact that’s why we have religion: to attempt to deal with differences; different viewpoints, different objectives and differing actions – and the difficulties they impose upon us. I find it useful to accept a concept of human nature because it makes it easier to deal with the reality, the constantly evolving reality that ensues. For deal with it we must; there is no alternative. And dealing is both individual and collective – with the individual frequently interfering with the collective. We could make life easier, and more pleasant, but we don’t; because of human nature.
Is a dawning of intellectual reality beginning to develop? I believe I am seeing it do so – not universally, not even broadly, yet, but beginning. The question is are we listening, reading and thinking about it? It will take time, and likely quite a bit of time; it will also take a great deal of effort, on the part of many.
It will also take an opening of minds, that is not currently particularly in evidence; a willingness to put things in perspective, and think about them, deeply, to try to understand. Racial and ethnic prejudice is very much a part of that, but that, perhaps, needs to be a separate discussion.
There are many challenges; self-absorption is one, but empathy also comes to mind; so does self-interest. We have difficulty in seeing outside our own bubbles of being, and trying to understand how things might appear differently, for so many reasons, to others. It has always been so. But social media; sensationalism of national media, and our addiction to it; and the apparent pleasure we derive from exciting entertainment, clearly contribute, and may even dominate.
The reason I think I am beginning to see such a dawning is what I am seeing evolve on pages to which I am exposed; there appears to me to be more thoughtful evaluation of what I like to refer to as reality. Cartoons, not only political, but those of a broader context are an example, and I saw a number in today’s Sunday newspaper. Many of them have always has a hidden element of philosophy to them; they attempt, after all, to depict life in some form or another. But today I saw a number of gentle jabs at inconsistencies and absurdities. We all know they are there, and some of us are even acutely aware of them; but most, more concerned with merely being entertained, don’t think that much about it. Today I felt they were more “in your face.” I applaud that, and think we need more of it, if we are to become more intimately acquainted, or re-acquainted, with reality, as it changes – and more rapidly every day, it seems. Some of the ones that jumped out at me today, in the comics and a variety of articles, were such as bigger houses, grander vacations, self-glorification, more money and expectations thereof, cell phone domination, selfies…the list goes on. Most of this is not necessarily new, but has been developing with increasing speed with the Internet, and our expanding tendency to generalize, partly as a result of growing dependence upon statistics. There is more, of course, growing liberality in all of its manifestations, concern with income distribution, a growing vague need to move toward something we just as vaguely call egalitarianism, and frustration aided and abetted by a bevy of printed social criticism. And we cannot overlook corruption, which still exists, as it always has, but has become so much more complicated as more and more indulge in it, because it is easier to find ways to do so. And all along egalitarianism, equality, has to be right in there.
Before proceeding, I feel compelled to list the three pillars of philosophy I have collected – again:
“Read, think, disagree with everything, if you like – but force the mind outward.” (Anton Myrer, Once An Eagle)
“There is no end to what we can accomplish, if we work together.” (Attributed to Harry S. Truman)
“Let me be a little kinder, let me be a little blinder to the faults of those around me; let me praise a little more.” Words of a Glen Campbell song)
But to these I must (as always) add the ancient Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and he will feed himself for a day; teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime.
Getting back to reality. I say get back, but reality changes; we need to return to reality, as it currently exists, and decide for ourselves what really matters – to each of us, personally. That begins with egalitarianism; and an understanding that, with the matrix of differences that exist among us, EQUALITY has no practical meaning. Following that comes self-interest. Do we even know what our own self-interests are any more, what they mean to us personally? Why would we not? Too many extraneous influences. It is with this, with gathering bits of wisdom, we need to begin to understand our own personal realities. If the gaining process is not yet underway, it seems the process of attempting to focus on it – that is, focusing on knowledge of (personal) reality – is building.
Maybe poking fun at the general cultural reality is a first positive step; or at least making us accept it for what it is, whatever IT is,
Independence, the ability to think independently and act on such thinking is a prerequisite; That has not always been available to us. Learning? That is also available to us, should we make the effort to access it. But the schools – equal access…..piffle. Schools have always been an attempt to EXPOSE us formally to education, through the eyes of those who have gone through training in it – where the environment supports it. And if it does not? That’s where the independence comes in: the information is out there, in enough different forms for US to make our own comparisons. Ah, but then some will point out that our deteriorating family structures and motivation are not encouraging us to pursue it. And that is an excuse? It may be a reason that inequality is growing; but it is not an excuse for us, each of us, to pursue it on our own. Motivation, after all, is something that comes from within – that MUST come from within. Thinking? We can all think. Do we? Will we? That is up to us, individually, and it is only easier with the right kind of guidance and help. If that is not provided us, it IS available; if sought. Motivation.
I suggest we are experiencing the dawning of a new intellectual reality, that is up to each of us to access and process, for ourselves, in whatever way we choose to do it. Will that happen? It will for many; it is already happening for some, and it is available to all, but will take effort – and motivation. Of course many more will make excuses, and their reality will be different from that of others; In fact, reality will be different for each of us, and that is life.
The dawning of the new intellectual reality is only in developing a realist base for pursuing it. The rest, necessarily, is up to us, individually – and of course collectively; but individually is what we profess to be about. Onward!
It occurred to me, thinking overnight, that philosophy and propaganda are quite similar.
Philosophy, as I keep writing, is use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality. Seeking indicates not knowing, and there is and will always be much we don’t know. Propaganda (Oxford again) is “an organized program of publicity, selected information, (etc.) used to propagate a doctrine, practice, etc.; I usually just prefer to use incomplete information. Think about it: most of what we think we know is at best incomplete, and if we don’t THINK we know, and try to reason, that’s incomplete too – and often enough turns out to be just plain wrong, at least partially so. But that deters us not at all. Why? Because what we seek; no matter in what form, and there are many; is power.
Power takes many forms, but let’s generalize and say it our our attempt to convince others of what we want them to believe; again there are many ways in which we pursue that – and many ways we can gain from it.
An interesting process: – my opinion only, and surely one which would attract much disagreement, some vicious – has to do with religion. Religion began with philosophy, trying to reason from the unknown; but as it progressed, in virtually every format, did so by becoming more and more positively pursued, for the purpose of propagating power. People believe what they want to believe, and are not particularly concerned with whether it may be true or not, or even reasonable – if it suits their purpose, whatever it might me. Our perception is hierarchical and we are continually seeking higher power on which to base our beliefs, understanding and actions; so why should there not be a supreme power?
Advertising is propaganda; partial information for the purpose of exerting power. The power? Selling something, and making money. I read recently that the pharmaceutical industry is most adept at it, coming up with all kinds of “solutions” to perceived problems that people want addressed. Black propaganda (lies)? Very seldom; but many are of dubious value, or at least of dubious value to many. But consider (and the industry does) much perception is in the brains of the perceivers, and if they THINK they are being helped, they may feel it’s working. Kind of, I think therefor I am. Anyway, the sales are impressive and the proposed solutions almost ifinite.
What is the result of all of this? a great deal of partial or mis- information, intended to convince, for some manifestation of power or another, that is pushed – and repeated – until it is accepted, if not totally believed. How many such are out there, that have no proven value, that have been accepted as true? Even when there is nothing obvious to be gained from it (such as tangible power)? Opinion? that’s part of it; we love to share our opinions, particularly when they are accepted by others. Is that not what social media is all about? And the power of that? Self glorification? Can that not be a form of power? Why do we do it? Don’t ask; it is just the way we are: human nature. It makes us feel important, and we LOVE to feel important: human nature.
I contend Silicon Valley, and therefor the Internet (which includes social media), is another institutional example. Silicon Valley is continually inventing solutions for which there were no apparent problems, but from which evolved tons of demand. Is not the entire entertainment industry, including professional (and almost professional) sports, much the same? Yes, that is free enterprise, opportunity, that creates jobs, grows our economy and makes us the most powerful nation (at least up to now) the world has ever known.
But where is it taking us? We don’t know; and anyone who suggests they know, and wants us to believe it, is a liar. In fact, such propagators are propagandists, are they not? And for the purpose of the power they hope to derive from having it believed.
I don’t think we know what to believe any more; and too many are too willing to accept whatever, if it fits what they are disposed to believe. I am a skeptic; I believe less and less, and insist on checking, comparing, questioning. I don’t particularly like having to be so, but I recommend it, because I think it is increasingly necessary. There are too many out there willing to push propaganda, and too many with a power motive, usually economic gain, often corrupt, who do so; particularly be skeptical of someone who has something to gain, if you are the prospective loser.
It is not a pleasant world to live in; but it is the world we live in. It is a world filled with a growing number of unscrupulous propagandists seeking power – and their success is growing by leaps and bounds.
An article by Kevin Williamson: Black activists argue that trigonometry is racist. Apparently the attempt to push STEM requirements into testing statistics is considered unfair, it is thus aimed at blacks, or so activists with their own motives want to contend. Sound familiar? It should; there are so many similar being pushed by so many other groups. Why? Opportunity for activists to gain power of information over those that would allow them: Homosexuals, women’s rights activists, animal rights advocates; there seems to be no end. Next we’ll be hearing about squirrel’s rights. Ah, but more.
Why is all this happening? It’s actually not all that new; we have always had it; it’s human nature to support causes, and we have always done it, in different ways. The difference today is the means of getting attention; we are so tightly connected, and our means of communicating ideas is unsurpassed – as is the sophistication of the messages – and the massive funding that is behind them. Power? Sure; power, and desire for it, has always been with us, but the complexity of our culture and all the different pockets of opportunity have become overwhelming.
I think the direction our culture has been taking encourages it: rights, individuality, lack of constraints. Nothing new there either, since that is our legacy in this country – or is there?
I have been talking to many people lately, just casually, where the opportunity presents itself, and most I talk to are concerned; statistics suggest the same, although I am suspect of statistics; how often do we disdain replying to them? So where do they come from? Those who accept being polled? Yes, no, don’t know; give me a break. But again more; I just read (Stratfor) that interest in politics comes generally from the fringes, with much less interest from the middle; I thought that was interesting, and might have a bearing. Back to polls: supporting our president, for one thing, versus confidence in Congress; what does that mean? I suggest many are ignorant. In fact I think there are two extremes – of citizens and voters: those that try to stay aware and those that are ignorant, either because they want to be or they just don’t care. Of course, as always, there is much in between. Ah, the difference between the highly educated and the poorly educated. No. What is highly educated any more; and for that matter, what about the poorly educated? That is formal, of course; does less formal education preclude self-education. I suggest it does not, but only if initiative is taken to self-educate. Is it? More than one might think. But who really knows?
What of experience? What of common sense? What of the focusing of education in directions of interest to educators? I have difficulty these days in getting exercised over education, in that I am not sure what it means any more, considering all the subjects that are being offered for degrees, for which there might be no obvious demand, but high expectation among those who pursue them. What has that got to do with activism? I am not sure, but I am also not sure there is not a connection. It all comes down to what is important to us – and to others. Do we even know anymore?
If anyone has sent a comment to me and not received a response, I apologize. I have tried to, but without success. In one case I was told “Yahoo” (my provider) did not have record of such an address; in another the response was that the return address of the sender was invalid. I get many, many other comments, the vast majority of which are in Chinese, Arabic or whatever (Word Press blocks most as spam). The one’s that I have partially deciphered in Italian, French, German and others from which I could get a gist, was that they are commercial advertisements, possibly hacked in. Maybe I need an App. Word Press has a long list of available apps, but most are much more than what I have use for.
The latest comment I received, and was unable to answer, advised me in passing that my ranking by Google is very low. I am not surprised; why would it not be? I don’t mean to be critical of Google, but my opinion of them is very low too; not because their technology is weak, that is certainly not the case; in fact, with it, they seem intent on driving out all competition, and seem to be succeeding. But search engines are ranked on hits – that is, reader interest; and today that means primarily entertainment subjects with perhaps some that might as well be entertainment, seeking the latest hot topic. But even then, anyone who has noticed the number of websites recently realizes that they have exploded. Websites have almost become an extension of social media.
Why does it matter? It would to anyone managing a commercial enterprise, with sales of something, as they must attract interest that hits translates into demand, and therefor have strong need to respond to both demand and consumer questions. That does precludes me, as I have tried to make clear.
But a bit more, reference Google rankings of what I write; mine would be low for a number of reasons, besides lack of interest; for example, who wants to comment on blogs and why? For search engines, key words are important, and much effort goes into selecting key words for the attention they might attract and many bloggers are intent on attracting attention; in fact much of our culture is intent on attracting attention, we crave it. And that, I believe is why there are so many weblogs out there today, that and because they provide a relatively inexpensive and easy way to attract attention. So Google ratings and blogger motivation are congruent: attention for both. We could say that that’s commercial for both, and for some bloggers, that is a motivation, and there is profit motive. But that is too simple. For many bloggers, and more writers than you might suspect, attention for attention’s sake is important; they want to feel important, to be admired, even if there is no apparent financial gain expected; although…………..some could develop, could it not? And bring fame, if not fortune?
There will be no fame for me, or do I crave it, in addition to the fact that there is no profit. Impossible!
But I’m already wandering off subject again. Comments. I, of course welcome them, because it adds motivation for me in that I want to share, and influence others to think for themselves. In that I would welcome a level of discourse as well, as that would be good for me, forcing more outward thinking on my part. Questions, disagreement, taken seriously are always useful. Even comments that are for the purpose of bringing attention to the writer, and there are many of them, can be useful because they also can generate new thinking. I sense that some would be commenters might also find that interesting, but I have found no way to support it.
So let’s get down to the reality of it; even if I did ramble and move off subject, what I write is not that which would attract the average reader and my titles are rather random, and often almost unrelated, after I wander – if they were interested in reading. Nor is it likely to attract those who wish to argue and by so doing focusing attention on themselves, since there are few enough here to provide such attention, for the same reason. Besides, most readers of websites are attracted by current subjects, and mine are generally not.
So my Google ratings will never be strong, now that efforts are being strongly made to filter out the garbage from those that have no interest in the subject anyway.
A recent Stratfor posting (George Friedman) discussed “The Paradox of America’s Electoral Reform,” in which he pointed out how power, corruption and manipulation have evolved in the United States since our inception. Bourgeois Dignity (Deirdre W, McCloskey) presents the case for innovation and its awesome effects on our standard of living since the Industrial Revolution, while David Stockman (The Great Deformation and almost daily on his website) laments the Fed’s support of debt and it’s inevitable result; both are right, but we we don’t seem to be able to have one without the other. I see this as verification that we will overdo whatever seems to lead to what we euphemistically call progress, and only really progress through enduring the pain that ensues; we learn from our mistakes, not our successes. Then Mark Steyn (American Panic) points to our tendency throughout history to panic, due to trying to deal with what we do not understand. The other day Mathew Cochran (The Federalist) penned a thoughtful article titled “Conservation is Obsolete;” elsewhere I have seen questioning of the future of democracy (however defined these days) – more than once.
What is happening? Actually, a little in depth reading of history shows us: not all that much; we have always been like this. More propaganda today perhaps; as there are more and more means of spreading it, they are more easily accessed and more and more people are engaging by contributing. Then things have become much more complex. The rich are getting richer, the poor are suffering, the middle class is getting squeezed, and government seems to be powerless to do much about it – at almost all levels – as has virtually always been the case. Progress? Maybe; maybe that’s the path “progress” takes; and maybe this is the pain that must be endured for people (citizens, voters) to begin to understand, or re-understand, that it takes real effort – and cooperation – to develop prosperity, security and the good life. But, as we are seeing, it doesn’t last, because we forget, as the wisdom that is gained trough experience is lost through the passing of generations. Greed, selfishness, aggression, corruption and ignorance are always with us – and always will be? It is difficult to envisage otherwise. Human nature; it is the way we are made; with all our differences in genes, development, nurturing, education, training and experience. We are all equal; nonsense; we weren’t born equal and we can not possibly hope to be without myriad differences, always and forever. The best we can hope for is equal treatment BEFORE THE LAW, and we will argue forever about what that means, as ignorance will continue to rule us.
What is changing, however, is that much information is continually being pumped into our world, unevenly consumed, as would be expected – but even unevenly processed, as would also be expected. And of course propaganda (incomplete information) is part of that, unfortunately, and always will be. Will we progress morally and in terms of cooperation and mutual support across the world? Even throughout our own country? Perhaps, but certainly not uniformly, or even consistently; but hopefully; slowly, steadily and positively. There are many thoughtful, diligent and industrious scholars that dedicate their lives to digging into the reality of life, and offering their evaluations – opinion, actually – philosophy. Philosophy, after all is (Oxford, 1997 – even language evolves and changes, as anyone can see) “use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality.” But, of course, even reality changes; recall believing that the sun circles the earth, changing to the earth and other planets in the solar system revolving about the sun. Religions are philosophy, for much was, still is, unknown; and some will always be unknown; that is how it, they, developed, to explain what was not known. Of course human nature being what it is, and people preferring to believe what they want to believe, those competing religious philosophies of yore have maintained, and are in disagreement, but most have contributed valuable insights, principles and useful guidance for the lives of the communities they support, and will continue to do so, each reflecting the realities of those that seek such guidance. But we keep learning, and now realize there is no God? Really? What is God? Call it what you like, but there is god; it is the principles we must live by and how we process them and employ them to lead us toward living in peace together. More need not be said. But since we will never agree, we will argue the details – and even fight wars about them; such is the reality of man.
But wisdom grows, and reality evolves. Actually I prefer to say that we continue to collect bits of wisdom that enhance our ability to live together, but, alas, we also lose bits of wisdom as well. However, with the written word we capture it, and the body of knowledge, constantly being revised as more is learned, continues to grow. It is only up to us to access it, and process it. We do not do that well, as we often sacrifice knowledge for pleasure, but that also is human nature, and we can only hope that slowly but surely, with proper motivation over time, we will begin to overcome that; surely that is our challenge.
I would like to add one little caveat to this piece, because of the positive motivation it seems to offer: I think we are making real progress, and with the caliber of knowledgeable and dedicated scholars that are available today, and not only in the West, we should continue to make progress, provided we can maintain the motivation to do so. There will be differences; differences are healthy, if handled through discussion and an interest of seeking truth and knowledge of reality. I could list many contributors that have gained my respect, but shall not, as it would be tedious, there are so many. I wish to point to one very positive source, however, that is attempting to lead us in a direction that can be very useful, not by preaching opinion, but by using the usefulness of our media of information propagation to link us to those continually changing, thoughtful, in-depth sources that give us the opportunity to gain useful information, if we are willing to read, compare and think about what they offer. Ben Domenech has taken upon himself, through his on-line publications, The Transom and The Federalist, to lead us in the direction of bits of wisdom that I would argue is making a real contribution to opening our minds to seeking truth and knowledge of reality that CAN contribute to making the world a better place. Advertisement? Let me make it clear that this is my opinion alone; I have had no enticement to make it, and gain nothing from doing so. I have forwarded this essay to Mr, Domenech, requesting that rather than publishing it, he make it available to his excellent staff, should he find it useful to do so, for the purpose of aiding them in stimulating contributors, with which they have connections, and are of a like mind, to increase their efforts in submitting the kind of articles that I believe can contribute to our collective future. I create nothing, and am a mere conduit for passing on what I learn from others, to cause those who are willing to read and think. That is enough for me; who could want more?
New direction today – away from my usual philosophical drivel; blog essay number 700 over some fifteen years of it, in fact (two of which are still in draft and need some more work). Why do I do it? Don’t ask; I have tried to address it before, probably inadequately; but it is just what I do, and makes life meaningful, for me. This morning, after awaking (as usual) in the middle of the night and thinking about this I received an email from a life-long friend, discussing how he is attempting to adjust to his life as it is evolving, and replied to him; that’s another matter I won’t attempt to address, but it fit in to my early thoughts and led to this.
So let’s try empathy. I have written about it before, long ago. What is empathy? Oxford (1996 – yes, I am a dinosaur): “the power of identifying one-self mentally with (and so fully comprehending) a person or object of contemplation.” Ok, a little obscure; I prefer a simpler: understanding where another is coming from; trying to appreciate why others do what they do and why. We are all different, and it would behoove us to understand the differences, instead of trying to convert everyone else to our way of thinking.
But in that context I have some examples we might want to consider. Think of all the people out there toiling away at what makes our lives better. What would life be like without policemen, firemen, and EMTs? Do we stop to appreciate them, or just complain because in doing what they do they might inconvenience us in some way, at that particular moment.
Perhaps an even better example: long haul trucker drivers; eighteen wheeler operators, who spend weeks away from home and long, stressful hours on the road to deliver the freight to stores and factories that end up making our lives better. Do we appreciate them, or rail against them because they contribute to heavy traffic that causes us inconvenience of the moment? Do we even stop to think about them before we complain and criticize? The possible examples are almost endless: clerks, delivery people, factory and warehouse workers who arise early, work long hours and come home tired. Do we stop to think about what their lives are like, and appreciate what they go though before criticizing them for not acting exactly as we might want them to act at the moment we come in contact with them? Can we appreciate why they might be a little grumpy, maybe because of something we might have said or done to make them so? Do we even try?
And broaden that thought to the rest of our lives. How much complaining do we do, without considering things from the point of view of others? Or even try to change them to be what we want them to be, or do what we want them to do? We are all different, and see life through different eyes. We have different perspectives; different backgrounds and understandings; different skills, training and education – even different nurturing, different upbringings, different experiences. Do we consider that before starting to complain about them, criticizing them and insisting on how wrong THEY are? Does it ever occur to us to stop and try to see how things look from their point of view?
Let’s stop there for a moment, however; does that make them right? Does that justify them for doing the same? Empathy is not sympathy; understanding is not agreement. A perfect world would be one in which everyone tries to understand everyone else, adjusts and attempts to live together in something approaching harmony. We don’t live in a perfect world, nor will we ever. There will always be those whose sole motivation is to take advantage of others – and live selfishly for themselves, who will not make such an attempt. So be it. But for the rest of us, those with a healthier outlook, and a desire to better fit in with the world as it is, more empathy would make life far more pleasant – even an ATTEMPT at a little more empathy would go a long way: trying to understand others and be less critical would help immeasurably.
That is what philosophy should be: use of reason in seeking truth and knowledge of reality – to help make life better for all of us. All religion is philosophy, since life is fraught with that which we will never know; and each has attempted to deal with that in its own way, some better than others, but each with something to offer. However, for so many of us, seeking truth and knowledge of reality as it applies to us, is not enough. We instead have need to push our beliefs on others; why not understanding? Empathy is the first step to understanding; the next is acceptance that we are all different, and have a right to be, as long as we don’t interfere with each other.
And as always I must finish with: much to think about, much to consider, much to attempt to deal with. If we would all do so life would be so much better; but even if those of us who will, do so it will make life better, even incrementally.
I have been getting a little far out lately; if anyone cares. But, as I have said, I do this to amuse myself – as well as force myself to think about things I decide to think about. We’ll see how this one comes out.
My tag line is that there is an interesting line – or space – between greed and self-preservation, and I think this leads to interesting – at least to me – observations relating to what I am calling our “new world order”. First we are overwhelmed by the definition of words, and too oriented toward selecting those we want; and with modern usage, meanings just seem to proliferate – or change. Finally, our writers, both professional and social (blogs, social media) are too quick to launch into what sounds good, and too slow to bother to think about it, or check it out; and then want to argue it out. So: greed and self-preservation, what is the difference? Oh, let’s throw in attack too: let’s try to destroy any who don’t agree – or get in the way of “our” personal greed – or is it self-preservation?
One man’s greed, another’s self preservation? I suggest it can be a matter of perspective.
I reach this conclusion by realizing that there is competition for almost everything, but in the long run there may not be enough for all to get – or have – what they want to get, or want to accumulate. This thought came to me as I gave more consideration to capitalism and class warfare; the bottom line, perhaps, that defines the competition that I refer to as the new world order.
Let’s look at class warfare. Take a young low wage worker who wants to buy a new car. Let’s say he is drawing minimum wage, but needs a car to get to work, and wants a GOOD one. Greed or self-preservation? Well, what if he has a wife and two children, high rent and is struggling, and not getting enough hours? Now let’s consider the young man who has dropped out of college, lives at home, doesn’t have a job, and wants a hot car to cat around in? Ah, one might say, what kind of car? much in between; right. So where is the line between survival and greed? Many other examples within that scenario suggest themselves. Just definition?
Now look at the other end. Big company, likely a corporation with good profits, but strong competition. Hard charging CEO is trying to keep his company competitive, but paying himself bonuses in the millions of dollars. Greed or self-preservation? What if the CEO is really talented, and the company needs his ability – and the company is struggling? And still paying the CEO those big bonuses? Not so fast; what if the CEO is the difference between making it and going under and is being offered more money by another company? I am now talking about the company; greed or self-preservation? But what of the position of the CEO? Where does the company end and the CEO and his influence begin? Greed or self-preservation? But then if the company goes under, what happens to the employees? It is not simple.
One view that seems to be currently prevailing, is that the solution is win-win: raise salaries, raise prices – and if it doesn’t work ask for a government bailout. Oooooo; everyone wins then EXCEPT the taxpayer; does that change the equation? If so, who is it that is being greedy? Or can we call it that, since it really is self-preservation – of both company and taxpayer, who is, after all, also an employee – somewhere? But he is also the taxpayer. Maybe he is the one who is pushing for higher wages and still complaining about taxes. And the company executive who is pushing for a bailout – AND paying high taxes? But what’s the difference if everyone is getting what they want?
This brings us to the next level of the new world order: as long as everyone is being taken care of, what difference does any of it make? Now that gets dicey, because it is short-sighted. One; individual, company or government; cannot forever survive deficit spending, then what? Now let’s talk about greed versus self-preservation. What happens when the bottom falls out? History tells us about the past, but what of the future? We don’t know – yet. But think about the poor people who cannot get by? Why can they not get by? something they have caused? poor judgment? or situations outside their control? How about preparation, that might NOT have been out of their control, but was it ignored? So many variables; so many possibilities. Let’s broaden the discussion. How long can we go on buying more than we can afford, and often way more than we NEED, often using credit that can not be paid back? But the buying supports jobs, and without those jobs? Oh my, it does get complicated, doesn’t it? At what point does win/win become lose/lose?
And maybe….let’s change the subject again, but not really: immigration. How about amnesty? Illegal immigrants should NOT get amnesty! But what if they have lived in our country productively for years, even decades? Should not each case be judged on its own merits? Wow. By what criteria? and who would set those? Think of the resources that would take, that taxpayers would have to provide, likely via deficit spending and borrowing against the future. Another aspect of the new world order: generalization, we love it, especially with statistical support and political pressure – from all levels. Mark Steyn adds another aspect for consideration: panic; what role does that play? and it always has. There is no simple solution, and the challenge only grows with complexity. More recently we are facing net neutrality for the Internet; let the government manage it like a utility. And then what would happen? The Internet is probably out of control – back to greed perhaps, all over; or concern just for self – also, all over. The government is going to make it all right through its infinite wisdom and exemplary management? But can free enterprise handle cleaning it up? What about the demanding users (customers) who THINK they don’t have any skin in the game, and want what they want, when they want it?
The new world order: we really don’t want to think about it, as long as it works out for us – for now; and just don’t worry about the future; it will take care of itself. Maybe, but how? Government of the people is better than all the rest, by far, if properly managed; and most of the world is not managing the concept well. How about us? It is not impressive. Stay tuned. But in the meantime think about it, a lot. WE are the people, WE elected our representatives – and WE are also the driver behind Media; it caters to our expressed wants and desires. Who are WE?
Yes, reality again. I suggest there are two kinds of reality: BIG reality, such as the solar system, space, the need for water and air on earth, and the weather patterns – human life fits in there too, somewhere; and the perceived reality that is what each of us thinks it is. And why do we perceive reality differently? Partly because we believe what we want to believe, and partly because there are phalanxes of influential folks out there that make a career out of trying to tell us what to believe, and we listen – besides to our families, that is, and families is another discussion. The end game of that is influence; influence drives us,propaganda, if you will; since most influence today is in the form of information, and propaganda is partial truth – no one can know everything – and all of that is information based, influence, information and propaganda are intrinsically connected. So what we deal with is propagation of information, partial truth – and isn’t that what defines ignorance, but seen from the reverse perspective?
So each has his/her own perception of individual reality, based on all kinds of information, impressions – influences, as well, of course, as personal experience. Politics of all kinds lead that parade, mainly because politicians are in the business of influencing – for personal gain – note that personal can really be personal, or personal in light of constituents, but even in that case election and reelection is personal; that is also reality. Close behind are those purveyors of propaganda that are in the business of selling their opinions, or at best facts (or propaganda) as they might appear, colored by their opinions. But it goes way beyond that: we all “sell” our opinions, continually; isn’t that what most relationships – influence – are all about? We, people, are continually attempting to influence others with our opinions. And commercial sales are a natural part of that; and that is our economy, for that matter.
A classic that always occurs to me has to do with what we euphemistically refer to as “class warfare;” what is that? Most simplistically it is clash of personal reality. Businesses are set up to sell something, and support those who are doing the selling of it. Bottom line is they have expenses that have to be met and what is left is the profit that the business must live on. Expand that to corporations, BIGGER companies, with levels of divisions, tons of expenses; and many employees, that are working there to support THEMSELVES. Each has expenses, risks and requirements – and expectations. THAT, to each, is individual reality, and by and large, none are too overly concerned with those of the rest, unless it affects them. Businesses, even corporations understand the needs of employees, sort of, some times; and employees know about corporate risk and inconsistency in sales, as well as expenses – and the impact of expenses (such, even, as cost of labor) but they don’t REALLY care, because they don’t think of it as their PERSONAL reality. Management and employees (often unions) negotiations were designed to accommodate those differences, but more recent changes in our culture have moved us away from accommodating negotiations, where people actually listen to each other and try to understand, and more often attempt to drive their own views, based on their own needs. Different subject? Not really. Listen to each other? Today. To each other? Really listen? It is an increasing rarity; but so is thinking about views of others.
Personal reality is perception, and perception is clouded by fog of ignorance. If perception (philosophy) was the process in the distant past utilized to begin to deal with ignorance, what might we call that process today? Philosophy is “use of reason and argument in seeking truth of reality”; and Myrer: “Read, think, disagree with everything, if you like – but force the mind outward.” (Don’t you love the way I manage to weave those in? No? No matter, I shall do it anyway). Individual perception is a reality, but with today’s complication it needs to be aided by serious development effort in the development of supporting knowledge, of which philosophy is just the beginning. Read? Think? When there are so many more “entertaining” forms of influence and relationship? How naive.
But perception. Recall the blind philosophers examining an elephant. He (and they were all he’s back then) touching the leg likened it to a tree. He the trunk to a heavy vine, and he the tail to a snake; and so forth. Individual perception, without discussion is likely be seriously flawed. How much individual perception do we have today? Much perception today is gained through influential and persuasive communicators, when not through personal experience; and how much personal experience are we being afforded today, and of what kind? Reading, particularly thoughtful, broad and comparative reading is an increasing rarity; and discussion? with an open mind? So what is reality, as perceived personally? It is clearly a very complex and highly tangled mass of informed and uniformed opinion, some based on fact, but passed back and forth while being reinterpreted, and often changed in the process. Informed electorate, is the essence of our democracy. Is that even possible any more?
So what is possible? Influence. But today influence has an added driver, and that is power. Yes, it has always been, but for many reasons it is even greater today. To reach large audiences requires the wherewithal to do so, and that wherewithal requires power (often delineated by money), which is used to manipulate to produce desired results. Propaganda is everywhere today, and even more readily accepted than in the past because it is so ubiquitous, but also influential as a result of the quality with which it is delivered; the sophistication of the mediums it is delivered through; and the complexity of our environment, however defined; such that it is difficult for many to understand – even if they might be motivated to attempt to. And that is a major part of the problem: too much influence and too little control of it – but worse than that: too much attempt to control it, because of the potential value of so doing is so powerful. No need to go into detail on that.
So “money” is evil; that is one perception. But another is that it, as it is currently employed, is much of the basis for the amazing progress that has been made since the industrial revolution. Add to that all the other perceptions that are pressed upon us, and life can be very confusing. Where do we begin? Don’t ask, there are too many variables. But there are many that will willingly provide their own solutions – and they do. But then there are also many, many who seek the the control that results. And, of course, there are enough who are perfectly willing to surrender it to them, because it is easier to do that than pursue it individually Not to say that there are not valid barriers that inhibit most of us from accumulating the information, knowledge, we need to attempt to compare and make our own judgment.
So what is reality? Certainly it is not the simple matter that it might seem – but on top of that it is always changing; such is progress. A number of influential thinkers – leaders – have been studying this for a long time, and are concerned, as we should all be. And in many ways it has been a matter of much conversation – and even discussion, where discussion is still valued and respected. The fact that we are having increasing difficulty in dealing just with that – open minded discussion – just exacerbates the problem.
So, hopeless, yes? No, nothing is hopeless; we will muddle through. But how effectively? It sounds trite, but that is up to us, since we have devised a government of the people that is us. Leadership? We choose the leaders. Discussion? We can drive that too, through our representatives, as well as through personal influences. Choice of perceived reality? Difficult, but we can work on it. Better education, more reading, more thinking, more paying attention to what is happening and why – and the motivation to want to. The challenge is almost overwhelming. But if we do not choose to accept it, there is always an option, and that is to just roll over and allow the elite, in all their confident conceit and arrogance to just take over – again. The choice is ours, though few appreciate it.
What, after all that, what IS reality?
Footnote: There is much here, too much for a 1500 word essay, I am afraid. I have edited it twice to try and clarify and make it more readable, with questionable success; I apologize. But it is a subject important to me that I wanted to address. Hopefully, even if not clear, there is enough grist for the mill of any who might wish to think about it to do so; it is what I do. Why? many ask, often sneeringly. I can only reply that I believe it is our duty to do so, a duty we shirk at our peril.
Wow, that is a mouthful of a title; kind of presumptuous, don’t you think? I took what I prepared yesterday and compared it to more reading in Steyn’s book, and decided to expand my mind yet further outward (I think it’s already leaking through the expansion, and maybe that’s part of my problem; Na ja (German for eh). It keeps me entertained.
First Steyn; perhaps I overdid my admiration of the book, and Mark would likely be the first to point that out. My leap was to accept what he has written, as I perceived it; we believe, after all, what we want to believe. Steyn would likely argue that that was not his intent; I was rather supposed to think ABOUT what he was saying rather than grab onto what he was explaining had occurred, concerning politically induced panic and Media propagated results thereof. Perhaps politically induced is excessive; politically motivated perhaps, but because people are prepared to believe it, panic is mutually shared for complex reasons. And that ties in with my overnight ruminations. I want to try and take it further. Why? Same reasons; I just feel that I should. Bear with me, or not, your option. We’ll see where it takes us.
The panics come from concern, however poorly formulated they might be, and the concern is inflamed mainly, but not entirely, through motivation to inflame it; it is also inflamed because people want it to be – again, for complex reasons. And people go along with things because they fit with what they want to believe, or are ready to believe – and people are ready to panic. Why? Inherent fear? Influence? It is in their interest to do so? Although, perhaps they resist because it is outside their sphere of concentration. Can that be changed? It can, by clever influence, but not always; some just ignore, until they can no longer ignore. Note, if you will, that this all comes back to power and the influence that power generates. Why do people seek power? To be able to accomplish what they wish to accomplish. And that is? The list is endless.
Why do we have difficulty discussing with an open mind? We are uncomfortable doing so: Lack of understanding? Unsureness of self? Fear that others will revile us for doing it? Fear that we will lose respect or be ridiculed? Concern that we might be left behind, not be on the “right” side. People, by and large, want to be liked and respected, want to fit in. and want to belong; we are pack animals by nature. But we also are able to think for ourselves. However, as I have attempted to point out, we all are not able to do that at the same level of…….ability? let’s call it that; although intensity might be more accurate – or even with as much effect. Thinking is a challenging sport, and as so much, is influenced by many characteristics, of which expressing effectively what we are thinking – charisma? – is one. And that may be different from intensity. Confidence? Assuredness (spell check doesn’t like that either)? So many words (concepts) with nuances of meaning. Propaganda: incomplete information, but how incomplete? Black propaganda relies on wrong information; Steyn’s filters rely on details not included. But there is much in between, for truth is a rarity, not because we deliberately occlude it, but more often because we don’t know what it is.
So, consider exchange of information: what is the purpose of it? Depends on the sender and on the receiver. First the sender: motivation? ambition? What is he/she trying to accomplish? My attempted and failed use of discussion, argument and debate. What is the goal, and how important is it to the sender to communicate? And the receiver? How ready is he/she to receive? What motives might there be to resist receiving – and accepting? What might be involved? And finally, how much resistance is there to receiving? Why,and for what reasons?
And as to packing among us; it is not joining THE pack; it is deciding which pack to join. And how much of that has to do with influence? coercion? or just plain lack of resistance? Why do we do what we do? Why do we allow others to force us to do things we might not want to do, or at least didn’t think we wanted to do when we started out? So why are there differences? contention? Need we elaborate? Put all this together and the possible alternatives are endless; some intended, some not intended, and some just path of least resistance. Politics? That is a word for pushing opinions; some with factual basis, some with influential basis, and plenty in between. Facts, as I have pointed out, are illusive – and change over time, with new knowledge; but at the same time, ignorance is endemic, but highly inconsistent – and also changes over time, with information; knowledge? Ah, what is knowledge? what we know? what we believe? that which someone has prevailed upon us to accept?
We think of politics as ability to think freely; but that is only the case when the form of government ALLOWS us to think freely, and only 1/3 of the people in the world live where that is even purported to be the case. So there are no politics among the others? Ohhhh, yes; politics is difference of opinion, expressed or not, and differs from place to place and time to time as a result of how it IS expressed, whether allowed or not. Back to Steyn; he discusses panic through focused opinion, and how it has been effective throughout our history; not whether the object of the panic was justified or not. In the minds of the convinced, it was always justified, because they had been convinced that it was. In the minds of the convincers, it may have been, and it may not have been, depending on many factors, their motivation for one – and the gain they may have expected through being successful is another.
And power? Ahhh power. That is the bottom line, is it not? Is not power and its variable uses what we attempt to utilize in trying to gain what we wish to achieve in life, whatever that might be? Knowledge is power; power corrupts; power is the ability to get things done. We are achievers, each in our own way, and “power” is our ability to achieve. Can one say that the key to bringing up a successful family is a kind of power? Why not? Getting a job? Holding a job? Getting elected to elective office? how about power just to survive? Too much? then try another word, another concept, it all comes to the same thing, so call it what you like.
And I am rambling, but the next thought that comes to mind is power of politicians, with or without the power of institutions and Media to help bring it to fruition. Why do people want to be politicians? To get things done? To achieve? What else? And some allow personal considerations to take ascendency. And that is surprising? So they all do! That is propaganda, and it is used as effectively to destroy as it is to build. “good power/bad power”? all in the mind of the beholder. Contrary to popular belief, good and bad are relative – even opinion. Power is used by everyone, in one way or another, believe it, but power of politicians is unique in that it has such influence on our lives. Is Communism bad? Is immigration bad? Is violence bad? For that matter, is Vladamir Putin’s quest for power in Europe bad? How about Kim Chong Un’s? – from their perspective? From ours? Are their motives evil, or merely self-oriented. Is the quest of monopoly evil, or merely self-motivated? There are few absolutes when perspective is taken into consideration. Absolutes come from results, after the fact. No, we can not afford to wait until after the fact to make that judgment – so we attempt to wield power to influence outcome – as we must, to survive. That is life; that is reality, and always will be no matter how long it might be argued. That is not to say that evil – or even bad judgment – is not wrong; and it might be wrong in concept based on comparison with what has been tried before, and failed. Communism has never worked; neither has Socialism; corporatism? a melding of the two? I have my opinion. How about immigration? But then how about Democracy? that, also, in its undiluted form isn’t doing so well.
So, what are the answers? There are no ANSWERS, there are only options, and they have to be chosen, by people, each of whom has their own, whether individually or collectively, and collectivism is also relative. Complex? oh my, yes. The human existence is complex – and always will be. We have a lot of work to do, and survival will determine how well we do it – together; but “together” is also relative, as we are forced to realize every day in every way.
I would like to end this by saying thinking helps; but, of course, thinking is also relative, and depends so much on what we have been discussing. Ah, you might say, only I have been doing the discussing, and since it was all one way, how can it be discussion? That’s one of the reasons propaganda is so effective, and why, incidentally, social media has become so popular. Don’t expect it to ever be easy. Know that it will always require hard work – for the right reasons. And there we go again, right?
It is 4:30 in the morning, it has been sleeting, and it is icy outside. Schools have been cancelled for today and my 9:00 o’clock dental appointment was as well. And during the night, through various stages of consciousness, I had some revelations. I’ll put it this way: God invaded my brain. Over simplistic? Of course. We have no comprehension of how that works, nor could we, which is why our philosophers have attempted to explain it, best they can, over time. But enough of that. I must add that I have been diagnosed with early dementia – trauma related, I have been told; some memory loss, a little confusion, lack of focus – but, as so many things, evaluation shows that it was already developing prior to the concussion. Such is the aging process; something we have to live with.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today – that is just background. What I wanted to relate is the revelations that came to me, recent experiences, actually, and one that wasn’t even real, but contrived from long experience with a daughter that has had some difficulties with social relationships. Why now? at 4:30? I wanted to try and formulate it in writing before it escaped me. Weird? Probably, but suddenly meaningful to me, and I wanted to try and get it down, because I felt I needed to; sharing it was an after thought, but perhaps a useful one.
The revelations are a series of encounters I have had recently, and thought about vaguely, that came together in my mind during the night and early morning. They have to do with a series of discussions I have had with various people over several months. One that stands out was an attempt after dinner to have a benign discussion – over things somewhat philosophical; that, unfortunately, is something I do. I, trying to expand my mind, try to translate specifics into generalities; that is, I generalize from individual observations to what I see as something broader. This particular discussion began with my observation that we have begun to lose the ability to discuss, and I added use of words such as debate and argument. I was immediately challenged by a thoughtful gentleman, who rushed to find his cell phone and dispute my definitions. I said debate had begun as a competition, and he noted that his definition showed no such thing. Ok. We went on from there, and basically he and the others disagreed with my admittedly generalize premise. Fair enough. But during my night of revelations, that expanded, though other remembered conversations. It occurred to me that many have difficulty in moving from the specific (personal) to the philosophical, stumbling in the process over self. That is, when I try to discuss general observations in terms of what I call human nature, they tend to take it personally; in short, they see me as criticizing them. And I can understand how they could. Perhaps an arrogance on my part contributes, perhaps a lack of clarity in my attempt to explain what I am thinking; but then perhaps just a lack of effective communication, partly, assuredly, on my part. But my conclusion is that it is difficult for many to make the jump from self to philosophical generality; they just can not see it outside their own personal experience, and take it personally; I am being critical of them. Am I? Perhaps subconsciously I am. We are all mired in the processes of our own minds. Essentially, seeing beyond self is difficult. We, becomes I, I, I and we have trouble getting beyond that.
But it goes beyond that; we have difficulty in moving beyond self; but we are also too much restricted by our own narrow experiences and conceits. We are too into what we have done and thought, and have difficulty in getting beyond that to see how universal it might apply – or, more realistically, we don’t really care. People are selfish; no I am not, they will say, without thinking; that’s not the way it is with me, I……etc. Am I going too far? Perhaps. Am I being confusing? Often I have my own problems in translating what is rattling around in my mind to what makes sense to others; sometimes because what is clear to me isn’t explained adequately so that others can understand. One conversation I had in my mind was an attempt to discuss something I was trying to understand, that extended over a series of events, and found myself losing focus; soon I couldn’t even remember what I had begun trying to discuss – and found myself becoming irritated; not at myself, but at she to whom I was trying to explain, that couldn’t follow my convoluted logic. Is this not typical? Too often we tend to try to blame others for our own failures – and even shortcomings. And we become irritated. Why? Some of it is because we are too confident of what is in OUR minds and uninterested in listening to what others have to say; but some of it is that we do not understand, and cannot follow their logic; sometimes we don’t make much of an attempt to, seeing no need.
There is too much there to suggest a simple solution: just open the mind, listen, and try to discuss intelligently? It is definitely not quite that simple. So what is the solution? Try to understand what is going on, and why – and try to deal with it reasonably, with thought beyond self. Yeah, right. Emotion, confusion, lack of understanding, stubbornness – just plain disagreeing due to different experiences, different perspective, and different basic beliefs? How much of this lies at the base of the continual disagreement and contention among us? I probably haven’t even thought about it enough; I certainly haven’t studied it scientifically. And had I left it until I awakened, it likely would have all dissipated. So I chose to leap up and attack my keyboard to try and capture the thoughts.
It is now 5:30, the rain seems to have stopped, the dog has been let out (and let back in), and the dental appointment I had this morning at 9:00 was cancelled at 10:30 PM via a thoughtful phone call from the dental assistant. I shall return to bed and try to forget all about this, since I have already captured it in print (sort of). We’ll see later whether any value might have come from the over-night ruminations, and whether attempting to share if useful.
And it is now later. The dog has been walked, not so pleasant for me, but he loved it, and that is ok. I have done some editing, but essentially stand behind what I wrote down. Why do I do it? Because I feel I have to; it is how I attempt to expand my mind. Useful? It is for me; for others I cannot say, but I try to share, because……….I feel motivated to do that too. Enough said.
But, and this happens frequently, I made connections between my last two blog essays, and am now incentivised (spell check didn’t like that word, but I do) to continue on, to try and explain the connections, at least in my own mind. Again, I just have to do this……no; I want to do it. Why? Same answer. Stay tuned…..or not; I do it because I feel the need, but would like to share, just because I think it is useful to try to share. Feel free.
Life is tough, and getting tougher. Why? Progress is part of it – and the complexity it is creating. The world’s power poles are less well defined; and options for all have increased, and are being opted for, regardless of whether those opting are prepared or not.
Contention is rife; it has always been among humans, a human condition: human nature, but then, in many ways, not so different than that of other animals. The fact that we think may exacerbate our situation, but does not change it significantly, in the long run. On the other hand, the fact that we have suddenly been given the incredible gift of being almost uninhibited in our ability to express our opinions, and have them heard (or at least FEEL like they are being heard) is heady, and has given many a new independence to express, whether they are based on facts – even knowledge – or not. That is a good deal of the contention.
All in all, life is changing rapidly; we are changing too, as we always do (it is called evolution, despite problems many have with the concept), and, because of all the other rapid changes, it is a bit frightening to many, although, to be realistic it has always been so; we just don’t realize that because our focus is so short horizon-ed; but then horizons have always been limited, and our increasingly broader knowledge doesn’t seem to have changed that much. In fact one could argue that our broader knowledge, coupled with wider availability of entertainment, has created a competition we have not been able to overcome. But add to that the increase of expectation throughout the world, and it is not surprising that there is contention and disagreement everywhere.
Part of that is that progress has resulted in more and more people having relationships with more other people they don’t understand, throughout the world (as well as at home, for that matter) – at a time when expectations across the board, because of the spreading of that progress, have expanded, at a very considerable rate. All the words such as wealth, power, opportunity and such are right there in the mix; even independence, although that is poorly understood, as are so many things in that mix.
I am reading an interesting book, written by Mark Steyn, who many might consider merely a satyrist; he is much more: he is a philosopher, as are most who think and read, whether they consider themselves such or not. Philosophy, as I keep saying, is “the use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality.” The title of the book is American Panic, and it includes many things that are quite evident in the modern world which are primarily based on ignorance, limited motivation to see beyond the immediate and selfishness, prejudice, and the propaganda that exists to exploit it all. But before going into all – well, at least some – of that, why anarchy? Because if we do not learn to deal with relationships among us, with competing ideas and expectations, some form of anarchy can ensues, and often has. Anarchy is not nice, at whatever level it occurs; we need to avoid anarchy, and that means compromise, a concept we have decided to detest, but cannot exist without – and an attempt to stop and attempt to understand a little more.
But let’s get back to Steyn’s book. It’s title, American Panic (Palgrave MacMillan, 2014) does not make its purpose clear, and, as always, I have no intent in recapping it here. But I would suggest that his “panics” mostly have to do with fear. prejudice (which is essentially ignorance) and propaganda (although I don’t think he uses that word) that is used to exploit it, or at lead spread it. The panics he discusses are those that have ensued over the past 200 years that are so rooted, mostly in economic concerns of one kind or another, that associate with power – but fanned by ignorance and prejudice, and often immigration; we fear what we do not understand. If we are not conversant with them, and many may not be, they are mostly related to lack of understanding and ideology – and the ignorance that surrounds them, and the propaganda they have inspired.
Without delving any further into the details of Steyn’s book, I would like to move to a related concern: our Media. But before I do that let me say that I recommend American Panic, and am convinced that it offers to make a contribution to our culture, if it is recognized for what it is. That will only happen if it is given the attention it deserves for the reasons it deserves it: essentially, to help us understand our limitations and shortcomings in dealing with reality – and avoiding any encroaching anarchy. Which leads us into Media and propaganda.
All of Steyn’s panics are, if not generated by, propagated by writers who have been able to gain the attention required to generate an environment from which they germinated; Steyn refers to it as filters of truth by eliminating part of the information; which is propaganda, thus creating an environment that spawns fear – or panic; and points out repeatedly that it spawns that which it fears. From there I make the leap to Media, and there is where writers (and an increasing number of other kinds of information propagators, including pundits that merely pass on what they hear with too little question, often without even any deep thought; although, sometimes with intent) reside; flourishing and disseminating information to which we, the people, react. I would contend, and this is naive, that the fifth estate responsibility of “The Media” is to seek truth to the best of its ability. I also contend that our modern “progress” is making that difficult, in that our (the consumer’s) interest has turned so strongly to highly competitive sensation-based entertainment that is, to them (to us?) more important than reality. Note that I am not condemning competition, and I recognize that competition depends on consumers – and it all creates opportunity that leads to the employment that fuels the economy that is the foundation of our way of life. But totally free enterprise is like democracy; it doesn’t work without effective controls – which leads into areas that I do not want to go at this point (such as efficacy of regulations and unintended consequences associated with them). I think my point is that our very unique form of democracy; and the controls that once made it so effective, and are now being eroded; including a fifth estate that assumed the responsibility to help everyone take as honest a view as possible by keeping them informed, by what was as close to truth as they could come. For many reasons that appear to be any longer effectively happening. Which, of course, was certainly never perfect, and always susceptible to fear and panic when the public was already inclined to want to believe that it was threatening.
This is not to say that there are not a number of very astute and thoughtful writers and other persons with influence that ARE doing what our fifth estate was designed to do, and for them we should be very thankful. But since they are thoughtful and introspective, and our current cultural bent is not, they are given too little attention. One cannot, after all, write a thoughtful and knowledgeable article or book without providing considerable depth and background, with which too few today have much patience; preferring simple sound bite propaganda, with an entertainingly sensational flair; with attractive and ability-to-speak-with-confidence actors. In fact, I would suggest that confidence is an increasingly admired trait; not that confidence is not important, even critical – but the confidence we are beginning to see seems to be much more than that: “con” comes to mind, but I have discussed that elsewhere.
Enough; I get wrapped up in my streams of consciousness. So I’ll bring this to a close by asking the question I have been asking often lately here: what is important? I think we are beginning to lose track; so what will be the next American panic? Well, Islam and ISIS have already muscled onto that stage, with the same effect that has come from previous panics. We deserve better. And we definitely do not want it to lead to any more anarchism than is already evident, and has been in the past. The challenge is obvious; but the pitfalls are evident; can we overcome them? Sure we can; will we? That is up to us; we have to collectively want to.
Yes, I have addressed motivation before. Rehash? I hope not; we are continually learning, and adding to what we know – or should be.
The thought of politicians came to me today. What is the motivation of a politician? As anyone, politicians are people, and each has his/her own motivations, often more than one. Many begin altruistic, wanting to do good; but all are slaves of their abilities and interests, and being a politician requires certain abilities and interests; that combination tends to influence; abilities and interests – and experience – cannot help but influence. Politicians also find that they are not their own masters, as all of us do. Politicians are servants, and must satisfy a constituency. What does one do when personal aspirations and principles and those of constituents are different? And politicians must have money – funding – to gain their positions; running for office is competitive and competition requires being able to compete: with politicians that means name recognition, respect and trust. To gain that requires propaganda – ok, advertising, incomplete information; no information – none – is ever complete; truth is illusive. That is life. And when a career politician and his constituents cease to see things quite the same way, what do they do? That decision, life and economics being what it is, is challenging. And temptation? That’s another challenge that we all face from time to time. Compromise is never easy nor particular popular these days, but it is part of the form of life we have chosen, like it or not.
So, back to what I have tried to discuss in the past: What is our motivation, each of us, about everything? Do we even know? Are we willing to even try and understand what it is? Some do, some do not, and there are many in between. The right motivation should be – I was about to say altruistic, but that’s not reasonable; motivation is a mufti-faceted driver, and therefore very complex; self-interest and very survival cannot be ignored. But when we take a conscious and voluntary action, why do we take it? Is it for self or for other? Again, it is almost always more complex than that, so let’s ask instead: what is the primary motivation of the action? My favorite, and I have used it before, is when giving something, am I giving to make me feel better about myself or am I giving it because I sincerely want to help another; ok, accepting that, for most of us helping another DOES make us feel better; but which is primary? And again I go back to one of my favorite proverbs (Ancient Chinese): “give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach him to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime.” Giving, without due consideration, is too often done without considering possible unintended consequences, and giving in such a way that brings dependency is not the same as giving in such a way that it develops Independence. It is seldom clear cut; that also is why I prefer to add primary to motivation. So again the question, do we even know? But more to the point, do we even care?
I think it makes a difference; not necessarily to the outcome, but to the………….well, basic (or primary)motivation as it applies to us, individually, and internally. I think about such things; such things are important to me. Why do I do what I do? Are my motives pure – or at least as pure as I can hope them to be? Who gains most, me or other, and if both, what is my primary motivation for pursuing it?
Does it matter? It matters for me. Each must consider for self. Why? That is for each to think about – or not.
What make us tick? We like to be entertained; we like to be “emoted”; we like things that interest us. But most of all, it would seem, we are titillated by sensation. And what is sensation? that which interests us and “emotes” us – in a rather dramatic way; if we are paying attention – but in a special kind of way; sensationalism FORCES us to pay attention, doesn’t it?
Then what turns us off? Anything that is not of the above – boring, does not attract our attention. That which does not affect us personally is not likely to either.
Generalities? yes. But think of why people ignore so much today: they are not interested in it and it does not attract their attention. Tough to deal with. So why does media, including advertising, do what it does? Media knows what gets attention. Attractive people? opulent surroundings, particularly if a bit exotic – or dangerous people, when they are in our faces and up close. Anything that gets our juices running. And what does not? Anything that bores us, or, more to the point, doesn’t effect us directly.
So what bores us? That about which we do not care or understand. And what do we care about? Mostly that which touches us directly.
This makes it very difficult for those addressing an obscure subject that does not directly touch people to get their attention. Politics falls into such a category, so does policy; unless they touch us directly. Economics? eh, unless it grabs us in OUR pocketbook. Is it accurate to say we are selfish? how about self-absorbed, better? We just don’t pay much attention unless there is a personal connection. I talk of being worried about our debt, the direction our culture is moving, and our future, and am told “I” don’t worry about such; such just gives one ulcers, if one thinks about it. Now make it personal, and that’s something else.
How about ISIS? If it were wild, barbarian tribesmen cutting each others heads off, it likely would not illicit much attention; but if there was indication that it could affect us directly, oh, big change. And taxes? And debt? Even crime? If we can internalize it, see it as affecting us, personally, then it gets our attention. That means if it only affects strangers it doesn’t attract much attention; but when it arrives on the block, that’s something else again. So how do we get people’s attention? by making them feel that it does – or might – affect them personally. How about if it goes to extreme, such as world debt? would that qualify? Only if the personal connection can be made. World debt is abstract; our own bank closing is not. Even wide bankruptcy might be ignorable, until it is someone we know, or something that threatens us personally.
The word complacency has been commonly used, but how can one be complacent if there is not even a reason to care about it? even think about it? We often don’t make a connection to something that is happening, but hasn’t approached closely enough to affect us personally. So at what point does it begin to register? when it’s close enough – close enough? How close is that? Each must determine that for self, and that’s when emotion sets in – or it is seen as sensational, and thereby somehow “emotes” us. ISIS poses a world problem, but it is mostly localized; it becomes serious if one is there – or if someone can be convinced that it COULD be where they are tomorrow.
Too simplified? How about vacations? How can one get excited about a vacation if it is beyond our ability to envision ourselves taking it? One way is to make it SEEM like it could be within our grasp; of course a bit of healthy envy can help, if is presented in such a way that we COULD see it up close, and feel it really was a possibility. How about getting rich? rich is relative. in fact much is relative; and much isn’t all that well understood anyway. The more we understand, the more we can be expected to either become interested – or get worried. So maybe the secret is to not know too much. Ah, but if we are selling it is in our interest for you to know about it, and bring it to our attention so that it suddenly becomes personal reality. But if there is no reason to want to think about it, we tend not to, especially when we really don’t understand it all that well anyway.
In a sense that is what propaganda is all about: to scare people or to incite their (selfish) interest. One might say that without propaganda we might not get all that interested in much, save what the neighbors are doing, or not doing. But there IS propaganda, like it or not, and it surrounds us and grabs us; that’s what it is for; pt is a burgeoning industry. Understand that propaganda doesn’t just happen; someone has to want to make it happen; Propaganda is a product that is sold – or pushed on us. That’s why it is so powerful.
So why is propaganda so pervasive? think about it; it doesn’t take much.