Recently I attended a Community Forum presented by Pete Sessions (Dallas Congressional Representative) and came away with some observations. Thinking about them and talking to my son in Omaha on the phone the other night, I have added to them, and would like to share them, for what that might be worth.
At the forum Sessions presented that some hundreds of thousands of jobs had been added in the country over the year, and one questioner rose to challenge that, since he had lost HIS job. Another wanted to talk about having traveled around the state over the past year in support of a bill that Sessions questioned, with justification, and reasonably; but she wouldn’t stop, or even listen, and finally had to be asked to sit down. Another stood up and announced, “we” are your constituents and want to know why YOU have allowed certain things that “we” opposed to have happened. Sessions tried to explain the reality of republican form of government, but she was emotional, and wouldn’t listen. I was frustrated with the “discussion” because it was obvious that many people were there to make their own points and had no intention of listening to any others. That was not everyone, but it is discouraging to watch how people who are unhappy with something don’t want to hear anything else, and often tend not even to listen to anyone try of offer anything. I have often suggested that people believe what they want to believe, but that’s only part of it. Another part is that they just want to complain, and seem to feel better when they have gotten it off their chests. But then I see continually in comments to on-line articles how people jump right in with their own opinions and run with them, with no apparent intention to discuss or even consider other aspects. Is that what we have become, or is it how we have always been? Some of both, I suppose, but instant and cheap electronic communications have clearly opened up new opportunities for them to be heard – and it is being pursued, aggressively.
That leads to activism, a form of power pursuance. A form of bullying, beginning with a myopic view based on what the pursuer wants, with little concern for anything else. And when the pursuer is glib and persuasive, there are many who docilely listen and allow themselves to be convinced, sometimes with little personal conviction and often without thinking much about it. Are we that susceptible to such influences? history would tell us that many are. Selfish? oh, yes, but much more than that.
But back to Sessions’ forum, I was appalled at how few there, seemed to know much about how our form of government functions, and how little thought they seem to give it; though I have to admit I found some, to my relief. I have also observed that lack of understanding of the need for compromise is endemic, and the desperate need to argue a point is almost a sickness. But more than that, too many don’t even seem to want to, or want to spend the time, to listen to an other side of the argument. Few positions are so clearly obvious that there can be no discussion; or even that such can not add to a more effective solution, and close-out does not get us there, and shows in some of the laws that are passed. Too many are too prone to not be able to see beyond their own needs and desires. But lack of respect and tolerance comes to mind as well; and even a basic loss of understanding the meaning of what community is begins to show. Then there is an indication of a need to just want to destroy the opposition to achieve one’s own objectives. That surely is not what republican form of government, and OURS (US) in particular is all about – or has been over the past 200+ years – to the potential detriment of our future.
Of course, standing back and viewing history, any history, the proclivity to want to pursue power for personal aggrandizement is blatantly obvious; human nature, if you will. But one would think that history would also have taught us something. With the run up to 1776 it did; so what has happened since then? Unintended consequences due to emotional launches without due thought jumps out, but that is what unintended consequences are all about. Ignorance also plays a part, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not, and there is always malice aforethought, but one would think we would learn; ahhhh, if we WANTED to, and gave it any thought. But I read just recently that a California teacher has refused to teach Shakespeare because HE has it all wrong. Is there a pattern here?
Obviously I think there is; but I also do not think it’s terminal. Times change, and I think i am seeing a change in the way many people are beginning to think. I have written that before, and am encouraged by what I have been reading from thoughtful writers today. Some of it is maturity, and that usually happens over time with people. Some of it is people learning from mistakes (ours and their own), and realizing that they have been made; mistakes are a valuable learning tool, too seldom appreciated, especially today in a time when minds are too full of trivia, fun and fantasy. But there is hope; a great deal actually, when one takes the time to talk to some of our maturing young people and listen to what they have to say, and what they think. There is still a great deal of solidness in our people: even responsibility is begining to come back, but then lack of that is less the fault of the young and more the fault of the wrong kind of influence that has been building over the last several generations
Influence; where does that come from? Self interest? We must always question those trying to exert influence; what is THEIR motive, and what might they have to gain by successfully spreading it? I used to call myself cynical; I now prefer skeptical; skepticism is healthy if not taken to extreme. And awareness? We have to realize what’s happening, and why. And that takes a little knowledge and thinking about it. We arrive back at that point; always. And motivation, of course: WANTING TO.
That is what makes this country special, despite what some may argue; we are allowed to express our thoughts freely, to DISCUSS them, and WANT to. But it must be done in the environment of concerned republican interest: government of the people and by the people – FOR the people.
Hierarchy, philosophy, theology – all of life; why is it the way it is? It just is, for reasons we will never understand, despite how much the arrogance of man assumes otherwise.
And in line with that, why are people the way they are? If we get by the why things are the way they are, the why WE are the way we are lends itself to some analysis that can be helpful, if we bother with it. I have discussed it before, and after the genes come influences and motivation. More? Perhaps, but I would contend they all emanate from those two, making it pretty simple. Of course it is NOT simple.
The simple in our world is always complex, and becoming more so, to a great extent because we LET it, not only by allowing ourselves to be influenced, but by eschewing motivation. And in many cases influence is just too strong; we let ourselves be coerced, driven. Why? Many reasons, but one is social; we let it happen because it is the easy way out, and we don’t want to hurt others’ feelings; and they know that. But then there is the flip side of that: we also want others to think well of us, to LIKE us. That is not a totally healthy motivation.
Simple? Complex? Then add in all the differences among us, the rivalries, the competitive objectives, jealousy, greed. ignorance and lust for power we have with respect to each other, and that which we see in our lives.
If you have sampled what I have offered before, you might ask: am I progressing or just going over the same things over and over again? That would be a valid question. I contend that as I start on something it builds in my mind on its own. Any reader might not see the difference, and there might not actually be much; but there is to me as I build upon what is in my mind. To any casual reader it might be just more blather; to me it is expansion of my mind and adding to my understanding of life. Which is essentially the basis of the first three words of this essay. Is there more? Sure; history, for example, and the reality that comes from it; technology. We are progressing at a blinding rate; not always consistently, not always in the right direction (right often not being discovered until later – unintended consequences). But hierarchy is the way we sort ourselves out due to our many differences; history is what has happened (even if we don’t entirely understand it, or even interpret it honestly); theology and philosophy (they are really the same, basically) are the tools we use to explain what we do not know, until we discover them through scientific inquiry.
Allow me to bore you with a bit of my personal, not because it is important, but because it is part of what I am trying to do; and that is to generate thinking and understanding. I went to bed night before last at about seven PM and went to sleep quickly. I was tired as I had gone through some stress that I won’t burden you with; but it derives from having had a rather severe concussion that I have had to deal with, because it has resulted in brain damage that influences my thinking; and acting, for that matter. But I awoke at about midnight, flooded with thoughts, that inspired me to get up and take notes, from which this diatribe are being taken (today’s publish is the result of necessary
editing, which I do not do well). I may have slept a little bit later, probably did, one really doesn’t ever know (even fid-bits don’t help that much), causing me sleep deficit, which of course is part of the problem; for the brain to repair itself, eight or nine hours of deep sleep is required. Part of the problem of aging is we don’t get enough of that.
Anyway, and here I am – again – hacking away at what I do. Weird? perhaps. Useful? it is to me. You can join me or not, your choice. Nor am I suggesting you listen to me and accept what I am saying; there is too much of that in our world today. I am only suggesting, if you are motivated to do so, that you think about it and provide your own application to it. Contrary, perhaps to what we believe, we are all capable of thinking; not all equally due to differences in basic equipment and influences, but also motivation; but we CAN all think.
Is it GOD talking to me; PIFFLE. Understanding of GOD is way above my pay grade; but I subscribe to the principles of both theology and philosophy and theology; particularly Western philosophy and Christian theology; but not Exclusively. I just process what comes through, however I can, with whatever tools I have developed over my lifetime – which of course are of inestimable importance – to me, but that’s another subject. And in so doing I march to the beat of my own drummers; I contend we must do that, but that is also another subject.
Let me add something about the theology part, if I may. I was talking to my son about Christianity and its principles, and he reminded me that all theologies have their principles, and some are profound. That is so true, and we should not forget it. The same is true of philosophy. There is much much of which it is useful to be aware – from many times and many places.
The point is that life changes, times change and we must adjust; it is difficult for all of us, but almost impossible for some. But to survive we must adapt, almost always with difficulty, and often via the taking of wrong paths. I read an article yesterday by a thoughtful scholar who suggested that we in the West much accept that we do not have the dominance of power we used to have, and will have to learn to adjust, first by learning to work with China. There also is much to think about, and immediately any reader can come up with numerous, yes, buts; of course; that’s what life is all about. But will anyone listen; few, probably, and that is a good deal of our problem.
So let me finish with one last admonishment: we should not take ourselves to seriously. And since that leads off on another tangent, I shall end there.
I have made my feelings on the centrality of motivation known; but I am continually reminded of how ubiquitous motivation is: in virtually everything.
Today I add a new twist: real people. I have come to believe the importance of people “being real.” And what on earth does that mean? First, of course, it means being consistent and true to form, whatever form it entails. But beyond that it requires that people know themselves, a more difficult challenge than it might seem. What does it take to know self? motivation for one; we have to want to. And why would we not want to know ourselves? That gets us deeper into the muck. Perhaps because we do not like who we are; but more likely because we wish to be something other than what we are, most likely something that impresses others.
Taking yet another leap, let’s go to helping others. How can one really help others? Another favorite of mine; we can only really help others by trying to help themselves, because all must come from within to be meaningful. And that goes right back to motivation. If help does not include inspiration of motivation it is unlikely to be meaningful in the long run. Giving a man a fish and teaching him to fish, again.
How do we tie that all together? motivation, real people, helping each other. I describe it as knowing what is really important, and what makes life meaningful. That gets a little heavy, but bear with me, because I believe this is what can make life truly meaningful.
By what are we motivated? Think about it: stuff? wealth? pleasure? impressing others? getting our way? Yes, all the above, and then some. Why? Does that lead to personal contentment with life? Note I avoided the word “happiness”; I avoid using that word whenever I can. How can one make the leap from making self happy to being content by transferring meaning to the life of others? Oh, wow; is that for real? I have to admit it is something that takes some consideration. And to accept it, even to understand it, one has to be motivated to think about it; one must ultimately want to believe it. And why, one might ask, would one even want to?
Much of my time, in my blissful dotage, has become focused on grazing through the lush fields of knowledge, provided, I contend, by others who have similarly grazed, and are trying to share what they have learned, and found useful; in any way they can. It is a wonderful legacy that can make a great difference in our lives – IF we can motivate selves to avail ourselves of it. How does that fit in? That is the basis of all of it: pursuing motivation, sharing and reaching out; when it starts to come together, one begins to realize what life is really all about, IF we make the effort – motivation – to attempt to bring it all together; and WANT to.
And how does one make this leap into the great unknown? It often begins with just a smile, and a pleasant word – being a real person, and seeking to bond with other real people, even if just momentarily. A little laughing helps as well. It is catching.
We, collectively, spend too much of our lives being lonely, and looking for happiness that is illusive. If only we could take that first step – and reach out to others – the world can open up. Not all at once; it takes a lot of effort, but it gets easier as it builds. And all will not react; but one might be surprised at just how many DO react; for so many are looking for the same thing, but don’t know where – or how – to look; but will respond.
Give it a try; you’ll be happy you did; but don’t give up. It sometimes takes a while.
Sure, we all tend to believe what we want to believe, that’s human nature. But what happens when we insist on defending what we want to believe despite evidence to the contrary? or not even pausing to consider such evidence? That is where our greatest challenges lie – and always have – when we persist regardless. Then there is the more than that.
This is where the human nature really comes in; it is what we humans are. Bullying is an example of it, but bullying is only one manifestation of power seeking; there are many more, and power is essentially the way we humans ensure we get our way, what we want; it is how we try to make sure our side wins. In many ways, seeking power is what drives many humans, individually and collectively.
Historically it is quite familiar to us, dating back to prehistoric man and progressing from there. More recently there have been powerful kingdoms and empires, almost always seeking and built upon the seeking and maintaining of power. We are most familiar with such as Hitler’s Third Reich, Stalin’s and Lenin’s Soviet Union and other fascist regimes, however we might describe them today, including numerous dictatorial regimes, and the most recent, know as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL).
It is, however, not limited to historical aggression; national and international politics are all about gaining and wielding power. But then so is much else; economic power, for example; power of the market place. It exists in some form or other in all manifestations of human relationships. What it comes down to is that most of us want our own way; want others to accept it; and even more, want others to subscribe to our view of how things should be.
I could say that two books I was reading simultaneously brought this to mind, but it is never far out of mind; one cannot ignore it, even should we want to. But Mark Steyn’s American Panic and Leonard W. Levy’s Emergence of a Free Press added some depth, and put something of a new spin on it; that’s the beauty of reading: everything one reads potentially adds new depth of learning, and often new twists. Levy’s book dates back to 1985; Steyn’s to 2014; neither was probably widely read as they take too much thought and concentration, of which we seem to be increasingly less and less interested in providing.
The passage in Levy’s book that caught my attention was that which discussed the Zengler case in colonial America. It had to do with British law and specifically with whether truth in criticism of government was defense before the law. In English law at that time it was not, as it was felt that politicians were above the law, and criticizing them could be disruptive; the decisions were made by a panel of judges. Without going into detail, John Peter Zengler, an immigrant printer, was found not guilty by a jury of peers. That didn’t change the law, but it led to the decisions in the United States concerning rights before the law, and let Zengler go free after printing the truth concerning use of corruptive government power in New York. The argument in Steyn’s book was broader based, in that it discussed the effect of “panics” on how we make judgments and form opinions. Opinion and truth have been and still are a sticky wicket. We, or some of us anyway, make a big deal of “truth”, but in reality truth is often not as clear and obvious as some might think, especially when it has to do with what someone has come to believe through the influence of other, whether stated as fact or merely presented as opinion but meant to be taken as fact.
Steyn has done some very impressive research into things that were written with respect to Native Americans, Blacks, Women’s rights. Freemasons, Catholics, Communists, Corporations, Immigrants, homosexuality and finally Muslims during violent discussions over the last several hundred years. Many readers might be shocked to read some of the statements made concerning these particular groups – most generalities, many mere opinions, some assumptions – over the years, from even the most respected levels of our culture that led to the “panics” over the years that made them. Steyn does not suggest that all were lies, or even that all questionable observation/opinion was blindly accepted and acted upon. It was the broad unquestioning acceptance by the public that is startling.
But most concerning, if not particularly surprising, it still goes on, continually and virulently. Look around, read, listen, and see if that is not the case in today’s 24 hour seven day a week blast of reported public opinion, as well as heavily shared “private” communication. Then look at what is euphemistically referred to as political correctness. Too often, support for “free speech” is hampered by what others will countenance. Progressive fascism is nothing new: everyone is expected to believe what the progressive WE know to be true.
Although we all claim to favor liberty and free speech there are some areas that are less favored than others; and some with justification: specifically information that is still in the formulation stage and not ready for release; but other information that, if released indiscriminately could cause harm; there is, after all, recognition for the need to classify information for security purposes . What of information that could lead to rioting? There is a tricky one. But that’s why we have laws and government; if information is withheld there are legal means of attempting to have it released, and such matters can be considered, and rulings made.
Then what of ignorance? What is the nature of information thought to be true that is not true? Is this not a good deal of the problem? Again, that is why we have to have laws and government. And what if members of government are guilty of passing on information that is not true or is prejudicial? In the United States members of government are not above the law, and that is what Zengler was all about.
And then there is the power of money in all of it’s ramifications: first to publish that what might not not be true, but also to protect those that do so. No one ever said government of the people was simple; but there has to be government to adjudicate differences. and there will be differences. Are we not back to human nature? Balanced republican form of government, preferably checked and shared (my argument for federalism) has been quite successful; much pure democracy has not necessarily been so. Any time there are people in the mix, and greed, and power, there will be potential problems – always!
But that doesn’t change that people believe what they want to believe, and that leads inevitably to all kinds of unintended consequences and problems, perhaps the most important of which is insisting that others accept and believe what they feel they must believe. And so it goes; and ever shall.
I am on a roll. You, if there are any left sampling, may not think so, but it has to do with gathering observations and putting them together. The more one thinks about things, and adds wise observations to them from writers who think, the more things begin to come together; at least for me. To me that is what learning is all about, and it is what I pursue – yes, to excess. But isn’t that typical of most of us? doing to excess?
That is what brought me back to influences; my excesses. In conversations I have had, listening to others talk about experiences, examples usually, I have gleaned philosophical insights, and attempted to expend upon them – going, as I do, from their specific to the general. Yes, boring; it is constantly made apparent to me by the glazing of eyes. Because when I try to do this, the relator of the example almost always jumps right back to the example and ITS significance to them; a very natural thing to do. Expanding from specific to general – and philosophical – is difficult for many, perhaps because they are not attuned to doing it. And that is what I am exploring today, convoluted though it might seem – and usually is. How else can I develop it so I can understand it?
As I have discussed previously, we are inundated by influences, more today than there have ever been, thanks to our expanded system of communications and electronic entertainment; it comes from every direction. At the same time we have a propensity to want to narrow causation back to the specific: THIS is the cause for whatever! That is seldom, if ever, the case; life is far more complex than that, and a confluence of causes usually come together to lead to results; to get our attention to expand the mind to encompass that is difficult. But it also requires a great variety of influence to be able to do it, as well as wanting to access it. Yes, all the things I keep hammering on; to me that is what learning is all about, and I am so thankful for all the very accomplished influences I receive from writers – thinkers and philosophers, for that is what they are – who make the effort and take the time to impart the bits of wisdom they have gained. Nor, I might add, are all “serious” writers, as we make that determination; many use the genre of fiction to impart the same message. I have a little problem with seeing fantasy doing the same because to me that confuses with……well, fantasy, and that CAN be confusing. Too often in our history we have tried to explain things we could not understand by inventing fantastic explanations, and suffered as a result.
But it goes beyond that. Fantasy infects the mind in many ways, and becomes all kinds of opinion; which when expounded upon becomes influence to which many are too easily susceptible. Like what? Take for example some of the disorders that effect many. Today we have more understanding of them than we have had in the past, when they were more mysterious to us. Then we tried to explain them through a kind of fantasy; today we are more apt to forgive them and make excuses for those afflicted with them. But then and now, people often tend to pay attention to babblings that result, if they are aggressively and impressively presented; we can be easily influenced by hearing what we like to hear and want to believe.
What it comes down to is knowing which influences to accept and which to reject; it is not easy, as some that should be rejected seem very impressive to many; how can we know? And there is the crux of the entire matter: how can we know, and distinguish what is valid from what is not, if we do not have the personal knowledge to subject it to? or the wisdom of the right kind of influence through which to filter it?
That leads us to perhaps THE most important consideration: to which influence to listen; which in turn leads us to leadership. With our form of government, WE the people select our leaders. How do we do it? Through influences, how else? all the different kinds of influences that were discussed in a previous post. And how do we filter those influences? Unfortunately, not very effectively.
In a comment I received not too long ago I was admonished for asking too many questions and not providing enough answers. But that is the point of what I attempt to do. I don’t have all the answers and never will. No one, in my opinion, has all the answers, although some think they do, and impress us enough to influence us. And that is a great deal of the difficulty we face; we are influenced by the WRONG would-be leaders, and accept them, and follow them. Right/wrong? How can we know? Another question that has no simple answer; I prefer falling back upon reality, and thinking about that. And what is reality? There we go again; I never suggested it would be easy.
One thing that I have been continually impressed with, is the wisdom of the people; ok, the bits of wisdom they collectively display. All? of course not all. So which? That is the challenge. The power of our form of republican government is that, with its checks and balances, it is possible for the principles of what is right – and what have worked for us over time – TO BE ABLE TO percolate to the top, because of the collected wisdom of so many deeply principled and caring citizens, that are able to rise above the endemic selfishness that necessarily infects us all to choose leaders who are capable, because they also care, and have the knowledge and power to lead us, along the paths that have resulted in the spectacular success of our nation, despite all the nasty little difficulties that have beset us throughout our history.
Who are our potential leaders today? People being what people have always been, that is neither obvious nor even consistent; we are all flawed. But some rise above others, and it is for us to make the choice. As I said, I question how well we have done that of late; and I blame the influences we have chosen to follow, which brings me to my usual conclusion: we must train and expand our minds, think, question, and discover what really matters. I continue to have confidence that we can do this; both in choosing the right leaders and listening to what they tell us. There is likely not a single ultimate dictator; we know where that leads, or should know; but there is collective capability that can lead us where we need to go, and it is up to us to identify it.
There is the challenge. Are we up to it? We are, IF we work at it, endorse the right kinds of influence, and help each other to do the same. Big challenge.
We must be laud diversity! We are all basically the same and need to all mix together and forget differences. What a hypocritical statement that is.
No one really believes it, even though many babble about it. Do they really THINK they believe it? Who can distinguish between what people REALLY believe and what they say they believe, even to themselves? And if they don’t believe it, why do they say it? Are they pretending? or do they not even think about it, and say it because it sounds good? Who knows? But then maybe, just maybe, it sounds good to others, and makes a favorable impression on those on whom they want to make a favorable impression. Motive is always difficult to know, even sometimes to ourselves. We fool ourselves as much as we try to fool others.
Diversity? We are ALL diverse; that is the way people are, for any number of reasons, which we have discussed here in the past. Which is why we are NOT the same. So why do differences, which some do not admit exist, matter so much to us? Here is where the hypocrisy comes in. What we say and what we practice are two different things, at least among many. Basically we are more comfortable with those who are like us, however we might define being “like” us is. But we concentrate on the obvious: how we look, how we act, life styles. The more different others look (think race and ethnicity) the easier it is to make a judgment; and we sure do favor what is EASY. But there are other things, such as religion, interests, dress – the list is endless – and it is easy enough to latch onto any that come along to feed our judgments. Why do we do it?
Ignorance jumps out; distrust, fear, resentment; particularly if we feel “they” are getting something we are not, or do not deserve, for whatever reasons. That comes out particularly in competition of all kinds, but mostly competition in such as jobs or employment that seems to impinge upon us making our livings or not, or being disadvantaged with respect to others. Our basic feeling of security, perhaps?
The question is why? The word prejudice jumps out, predetermination of judgment usually based on generalization. A mass murder occurred yesterday in South Carolina where a young man shot a number of black people because he hated them. Why would anyone indiscriminately hate black people? It happens; it has also happened in this country with Jews, Catholics, Chinese and Japanese, and is currently happening with Muslims. Why? In a nation that expresses pride in individuality (and diversity?) why would anyone generalize hate? We lump it under prejudice, perhaps; some of it might relate to mental instability (as the Charlotte episode will likely prove to be); it might even result from personal situations generalized to include all. Whatever, it is something that cannot be condoned.
That is not to say that we should make no judgments; we must make judgments, and do continually to select from options with which we are regularly confronted. Such judgments, as all judgments and decisions resulting from them, should be made on individual merit with conscious justification, knowledge and consideration. Hating any group merely because they are a part of that group can not be condoned – ever. It is also not that we can not, or should not make judgments based on observations; socially unacceptable behavior should be condemned, and observation of groups of people acting suspiciously or unacceptably should be noted with concern, and if appropriate reported to authorities charged with dealing with such; that is a measure of civilized culture. It is also reasonable that we make decisions on who we wish to associate with based on such observations; that is how we make decisions related to personal association, and should; it is our right to do so.
Preaching to the choir? Presenting the obvious? Then why is so much of it still in evidence? Apparently we still have a long way to go. What is important about a person is and how he/she is and acts within our communities, and contributions they make to one another; in short it is the principles they display in their lives. The same should apply when it comes to religion; theologies are not monolithic, and whatever are the outer manifestations, the principles of living it is what really matters, and THAT is what we should concentrate on.
Obvious? Apparently not. would that it be something more universally applied. But then so should reaching out to each other; but that’s another subject. We COULD make life infinitely better – if we would, and enough wanted to.
How’s that for a muckle of muck? You are already turned off. I understand. Having read a series of apparently unrelated articles by writers I respect, I began to see a consistent thread, and I am pursuing it; imperfectly, because I am imperfect; erratically, because life and motives are erratic, and inconsistent. I refer to it as philosophy, for want of something better to call it, because it is getting out of the rut of viewing life narrowly, as we all must to survive it day by day. So why do I do it? because I am driven to want to understand, and put it in context. I shall likely lose you; I may lose me; but it is something I need to do because it suddenly makes sense to me in the long run; it may not by the time I finish today’s effort, in which case I shall return to it. Does that make sense? Of course not, but proceed I must. Where to begin?
The ultimate lot of politician, the leaders who would make their mark, is very challenging because of the different pressures that they face, overlaid by personal differences within the way they think and are personally motivated. Selfish interests and reality are part of that, but who is to say where one begins and the other ends; for that matter, what IS reality, as it varies continually as people change with their personal conditions, drives, incentives and personal challenges? I use the terms ying/yang to attempt to put that in some kind of meaningful perspective: the positive and negative forces of life that work upon us in ways mysterious, inconsistent, variable and frustrating. And they work on all of us, individually, collectively and continually. That is why life is so complex – and getting more so – and why the lot of a political leader is so challenging, and difficult to pursue. I have many notes; I shall progress in spurts as I wrestle with them. Good luck – for me, as well as you, anyone patient enough to put up with me.
Where to begin? I shall begin at the end of my notes, and work backward, as best I can.
The ultimate lot of the honest and dedicated politician:
* Voters (or any citizens, regardless of whether they vote or not) is that they will not, can not, accept reality if it entails individual pain or suffering for them or those for which they are responsible.
* To get elected (and remain in power), politicians must give voters (or citizens) what they want – and there is NEVER enough to go around.
* Many politicians understand that, but it easily blurs as they confront their own challenges; politicians are people too, and suffer from all the yin/yang pressures that all the rest of us encounter.
* The knowledge of most is imperfect, and inadequate; thus ability to agree, to reach compromise on basic differences is difficult at best, sometimes even impossible; and very often untenable, considering the how pressures exerted build up, down and across.
* Influences are legion, highly variable, and constantly changing. Keeping up is difficult, and beyond the patience or motivation of most, both for politicians and voter/citizens.
That is ultimate reality.
With the articles I began with David Stockman and friends, and I finally began to sort out his personal interests with regard to the Fed from what I think his message is. After that I moved to credit card debt , then international relations. I won’t try to explain the jumps, but I think it all fits a pattern. What comes out is that we want to believe what we want to believe; we refuse to accept reality, if we even think about it, but particularly if it doesn’t “fit” into our plans; and thus voters in a “democratic” environment with low information interests are neither likely to understand nor try that hard to. Our entire system is currently being dominated by a combination of what we want to believe and are influences, and avoidance of even thinking about reality. Yes, that is generality; there are more thinkers out there than we credit, but they are limited in what they can cover, and who bothers to read and listen.
The free market system should be based on the strength of the nation’s economy; instead it is designed (the Fed) to make it “successful”, meaning to keep everyone content that all is well, even if it isn’t. Free market is based on understanding reality, the current Fed approach is to make it look good, and give people warm fuzzies. That is why the rich get richer, because taxpayers are being forced to keep the unsuccessful investor/gamblers from feeling bad. And since the rich are able to sustain their losses and the less rich can not, the rich have an advantage, and that’s not fair. Sound familiar? And we want to balance the playing field for gamblers? But what is the alternative? To let those that are not succeeding fail: creative destruction. But that would cause pain and disruption, because all the gamblers CAN NOT win; and the government CAN NOT STAND BY and watch that happen. Voters and the powerful will not allow it.
In other words our planned state needs to take care of those that cannot take care of themselves, but want to gamble to make themselves richer. Because if losers lose, where will that leave us? our economy? And what then might happen to politicians that could not keep it from happening? Voters react to such things when they have been led to think that it can’t happen, or shouldn’t. And if we keep feeding money into the system, more will want to gamble; but there is only so much REAL wealth in the economy, and competing investors will collapse it, UNLESS taxpayers are forced to foot the bill, to keep that from happening. True “democracy” in action, leveling the playing field and keeping everyone happy. Of course this results in discouraging true innovation by keeping those who don’t contribute much, in the game; and unrealistically regulating those that can. Equality! Controlled economy. And exploding national debt!!
And is that really much different from what has been happening with credit cards? Instead of people earning wealth and learning to discipline themselves to protect it, they should be provided credit so they can be what we want to be? And when they can’t pay off that debt? Someone else needs to help; guess who? Everyone else. Is this not a masked form of communism that veils forced equality through a sleight of hand of manipulating debt? Too dramatic; so call it what you like.
It appears we are trying to do the same in international relations by hiding risks countries don’t want to face, because THEY want what THEY want; and we are not willing to accept international disruption. Yes, one might say, but what if? and that’s a valid question. We know how it has turned out in the past; because people, countries, want what they want and expect to get it. Are we willing to deal with that? No. So we pretend all is under control and will work out in the end. How about imposing sanctions and threatening, and then not following through; and thus propping up the weak at the expense of the strong – and responsible? Ok, if my convoluted argument has even made sense thus far; so what can be done? Creative destruction? We have not really confronted that, and perhaps do not know how to, which is why we have had wars. So, avoid wars……and? We are drifting down this river, and don’t know where it will take us. I could add the volatility and irrationality of human nature and it would be valid, but this is not the time or pace for that.
Is the function of democracy merely working toward letting everyone have what they want, and supporting it by continually creating paper wealth with which to do it? It would seem so; but that can not work. There will never be enough. So why do we continue to let it happen? Because it’s easier, and avoids pain, and keeps everyone happy – for the present. For humans, with short and selfish attention spans, with SEEMS to work, until it doesn’t.
This is the ultimate reality. There will never be enough for everyone to have everything they want. THAT is what true compromise is all about; we don’t pursue it because we WANT to, but because we have to; and we don’t like that………..because we all want what we want; and are convincing ourselves through our massive self propaganda that it can be achieved.
Making something similar, but more realistic, through constraint, is possible through hard work, understanding and self discipline; similar because it can only apply to those that make the effort; but we will not get there the way we are proceeding; but also don’t want to accept that.
Anybody get this far? And stay with the thinking? Probably not. But I had to give it a shot. Ready to give it some consideration? Not likely; we have too many other more pleasant things to do and think about, that don’t require the daunting effort, and SEEM to be producing what we want to believe is being produced. So why look on the dark side? Dark side? How about reality? But reality changes, continually, and we can effect the changes, if we will, and are willing to expend the effort, and live with the attendant transitory pain. To do so is tough for individuals and groups; tougher across a nation; staggeringly difficult across an entire planet.
But there, I suggest, is our challenge.
This, as a point that I have mentioned several times recently, is something to think about. What are our influences? Of course the answer to that is almost unlimited: everything we do and see influences us, or can, in one way or another. Experience is influential; education is influential; family and friends are influential; media publications are influential as can be any reading, listening or conversation. And today Social media can be added to that mix, with extension of “friends” that might not be as known to us as friends once were, when our relationship with them was much more intimate. The question then is, what is it that converts these experiences to influences? The answer to that is not simple. But it is important.
Influences must be managed. That is, we must understand the influence, it’s motivation, and how we view it. Let’s try those one at at time.
First, how managed? On both ends of the influence, the influencing and the influenced.
Understand the influence. They come flying at us all the time; we need to know more about them before succumbing to them. Being well informed is the place to begin, but exercising consideration is the way to progress. How does it apply to us? what is the broader implication of them, or how might they influence others within the mix of our lives. Too often we might accept influence emotionally, or perhaps as it might fit a current fad; that’s not good enough. If we are to allow ourselves to be influenced, or even consider allowing ourselves to be, we must have understanding of what it is and what it entails. And how does that happen? in a broad sense: research.
Motivation of an influence; that is particularly important. We all attempt to influence all the time; that’s why we have conversations with others. It is very natural, and others do the same. Why? Understanding why we do it is useful; understanding why others do it is essential. Everyone has either an axe to grind of an oar in the water; we have objectives, interests. Propaganda is attempt to influence; advertising is propaganda. When one has an objective interest in influencing us, we need to be aware of what it is, and consider it, continually. On the other hand, when one has a need to influence us negatively, that is equally important. Why do they want to do so? What they base it on? Fear? resentment? anger? jealousy or envy? even to the extent of destructive intent. Too often we are influenced to do things, or even think things we would not do, if not so influenced.
How do we view that influence to which we are being subjected? First, what is our position with regard to it? from a principle point of view, from an understanding point of view, and from a point of view of seeing where it might lead?
We must realize we are being influenced, and participate in the process, or reject it. Being influenced without our knowing that we are being influenced is dangerous; it happens all the time, because we don’t think enough about the fact that we ARE being influenced. Then we must think about where such influences might lead. Sound complicated? It isn’t; it just takes being aware, and that is something all of us need to work on: being aware, and being aware of being aware.
Influences are important; influences are critical to growth and progress. In fact we must pursue them, encourage them and even aid them in progressing – once we have determined that they are welcome; if they are not, we must make the effort to resist them so they will not lead us astray. But first we must be aware of them, understand them; then we can manage them.
Finally we have to understand the basic influence to which we are all exposed: family. If family is dysfunctional that poses a serious problem, because young children are not equipped to understand. And if there is no family? In a pack environment such as that in which we exist, there is always “family”, however we might define it; that frequently results in setting the young on the wrong track. Then what? Then it is up to them to become aware, and realize how they are being influenced. THAT is tough, but that is the ultimate challenge, whether we are aided, or dealing with it individually, on our own. It’s easier the first way, if it is done properly, but not impossible the second, but it takes great awareness, great desire, and discipline. Those forced to reach it on their own, who can and do, are often the strongest; but getting there is the most difficult. On the other hand, challenge exists in both scenarios; how do we know that even families with the best intentions are exerting those intentions for our ultimate benefit, based on who WE are?
Ultimately, whether just sliding along, or fighting our way, success or failure is up to us, how much we want it, how effectively we fight for it and the ability that we might have to bring to bear – or summon – in pursuing it. Yes, easy to say, very difficult to accomplish. But that is why we are all different, and have different levels of success. After the basic equipment; genes, etc.; it is all about influences and how they are managed. Of that we MUST be aware; and learn to deal with it, however we can, if we will, rather than blaming, despairing or giving up. THAT is the ultimate difference among us, which no level of egalitarianism utopia can change.
14 June 2015
Mr.Joel Kotkin and Telos Press Publishing
Telos Press Publishing
PO Box 811
Candor, New York 13743:
I just finished reading The New Class Conflict – not half an hour ago. Since beginning it I have been taking notes and underlining with intention of writing to you. So much of what was written is what I have been thinking about over the past several years, but couldn’t put together the way Mr. Kotkin did, with so much varied back up information (57 pages of notes) – and wisdom. I have followed Joel Kotkin for some time, but never really understood where he was REALLY coming from; short essays are inadequate for that. In this volume he took care of that, and he made it abundantly clear.
Where to begin. Probably where Kotkin began in his Acknowledgement section where he wrote:
“More than most books, this one has had a difficult birth. It started with an ideal that developed over the past decade, and which I expressed in numerous articles in such places as Forbes, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast, and the Orange County Register, among others. As the ideas of the book did not fit neatly into either right or left perspectives, it proved a more difficult sale than usual.”
One has to read the book to understand that. In a world in which adamant opinion and violent defense of positions are not only commonplace but almost mandatory, Joel Kotkin has taken a reasoned balanced view, quoting both progressives and conservatives as well as digging back deeply into historical philosophy; he even quoted Karl Marx, thoughtfully and with purpose. I thought to say something about where I am coming from, but I don’t think that’s necessary; this has nothing to do with me, but with what was written in the book; it is about America and who we are. One has to read it to understand.
But I do have to say something about what I came away with, without delving into the details of what generated it, which would be terribly verbose, convoluted and unnecessary. In short, we are obsessed with WHAT; we should be concerned with WHY. I have been turned off by most polls that allegedly search for what I believe; actually they are designed to collect statistics for use for any number of purposes. I understand that; it is the world we live in, just as so much of what we see is the result of what that world has become. We live in constant change as history evolves, and it will never return to what used to be; but that doesn’t mean we cannot preserve the principles upon which our nation was founded and has resulted in the incredible success we have achieved – and, I might add (as Kotkin did), for which we alone cannot take credit. Why? I could go on for pages from my notes, but it would not make the point I want to make. And it would take the form of trying to explain what I believe; that is not my purpose. The point is that Kotkin, thinking about it over a decade, has put his finger on it, and come up with what really matters: where we, who think about it and care, stand in this country, and why. It is all there: what Kotkin refers to (Chapter titles) as The New Class Order, Valley of the Oligarchs, The New Clerisy, The Proletarian of the Middle Class, Geography of Inequality, A Screwed Generation and Renewing Aspirations. These are things that have been in my mind for years, and that I have juggled as reality, motivation, power, selfishness and human nature; it’s all there, clearly stated and backed with in depth research – and broad, very broad perspective.
And it is not judgmental, but inquiring and focused – and demanding. It requires any reader to THINK, to really think about what matters and why. To what purpose? To inspire us to motivate ourselves to reach out and DO something about our future. In that regard I have something else to add. I have neither power nor influence, but caring, I think I have found a way, other than through personal example, to exert some modest influence. That way is through pursuing a contact I have made through Ben Domenech, who edits and produces on-line publications, The Federalist and The Transom. The Transom is a compilation of linked articles, selected by his talented and dedicated staff, by authors I have come to respect, along with Ben’s guiding comments; The Federalist is a daily collection of submitted articles by a wide variety of thoughtful writers, many who have not gained national fame – yet. I wrote Ben and told him of this book; in fact I wrote about it when I had reached into only the third chapter; it impressed me that much, and that quickly. He responded that would definitely look into it, and he will. Domenech is that kind of guy, a guy much like Joel Kotkin – who cares about our country and where it is going. I am finding there are many more like them, and I am heartened.
Let me end with the final paragraph from The New Class Conflict:
“Of course the right and left may offer different solutions to the new class conflict, but the first step is for people on both sides to recognize the current drift toward a society that offers dismal prospects for the middle and working classes. This trajectory breaks with the historic tradition that, for all its obvious flaws, has made America the great success story of modern times. Instead of accepting decline, and ever less mobility, we must forge a future that also offers the chance for the fulfillment of aspirations. We need to provide the next generation with something other than just memories of a former American dream. We should offer them a full chance to experience it for themselves.”
Garland, TX USA
What has happened to us? Does no one have anything nice to say anymore, anything positive? Anything intended to uplift? Let me be a little kinder let me be a little blinder; let me praise a little more. Yeah, right.
I keep suggesting that one of the reasons for it is that we have found how effective it can be: if you can’t achieve, destroy. Politics? inevitable perhaps, but it seems to be everywhere; criticism is surely more prevalent than praise. Why? But check social media; part of it is that people who have never had a voice, or couldn’t afford to, or weren’t motivated to make the effort, suddenly have it – almost for nothing. Check the comments at the end of on-line articles. but then check almost any social media exchange. I noticed just today that one of the leading on-line publishers just announced that comments were being discontinued; it is apparently that bad.
And I am going to sit here and pontificate upon such a deep, dark cloud that seems to have consumed us? Not hardly. Way, way above my pay grade, to say nothing of my mental capacity to deal with it. I don’t like it, but I have found nothing I can do about it, save what I am doing, and trying to offer and example.
On the other hand we must keep reminding ourselves how life changes, and always has. Our limited perception horizons keep us pretty well mired in the present, and attempting to take a broader view helps. History? both immediate and longer term; life has always been hard, and for the most part, much harder than it is today. But maybe that’s part of the problem; we have become spoiled, and lost sight of reality, perhaps. As I have said before, an Austrian friend recently told me that we have lived through the best 100 years the world has seen, and it is not going to come back. That’s a bit pessimistic, and we cannot accept that. The past will not return as we think we might remember it, and likely that is all right; but perhaps we can salvage that which is good from the past and try to apply it to the future; that is the challenge, not to return to the past, but to make the best of the future. It is going to take some effort, however, because we have made a mess of the present, because we have let what has been positive get out of control, making too much of a good thing – for personal gain; we have a habit of doing that.
The good needs no discussion; we are aware of the progress we have made. So why out of control? Expectations have run away with us; it is the way we are. But it has happened before, and the result is no mystery, if considered: those that can use their power for their own good do, and screw the rest. It seems it is something that we continually have to go through, perhaps to remind us, but more likely because that’s human nature. Many things to point to: out of control debt (greed? of course; again, still); but the complexity of progress, and our inability to deal with it. Use of power? we have always had to deal with that. But perhaps it has become more massive, as growth, investment and opportunity has exploded – for some. That’s the way it has always been; those that can, do, and those that can’t get screwed. Easy to say that getting screwed is mainly due to lack of initiative of those that get screwed; that’s too simple; life is far more complex than that.
But we could all do better, and if we did, everything could be much better. But there again, human nature and believing what we want to believe. Have I said before that we are not all equal and can never hope to be? We respond to all kinds of influences that are beyond our abilities to understand – even if we make a prodigious effort to do so, and most do not. When I walk out into the field behind my house in the morning it is brought to my attention. A kindly neighbor puts food out every morning for the birds who enjoy the pond, to indulge themselves. Every morning, the welfare line forms, as the birds gather to await what they have come to expect. Is that not what one should expect? Are we not all guilty of wanting to take the easy way? Why would we not? That’s not human nature, it is nature.
So why don’t we all try harder? Wait; we do try harder, at least many do – mostly for themselves! And why should they not? And why do others not do the same? lacking skills? lacking influence to do it? lacking self motivation to make it happen? That is life in a nutshell; and it’s why theology has developed throughout the various cultures of the world; to try to explain what we do not understand, and perhaps can never understand, given the differences among us; our opportunities; but perhaps most of all the varying influences to which we are exposed. Why do we not just try harder? Because our motivations are different, complex and often confusing. Which is why leadership is so critical, all kinds of leadership, to lead us in the “right” direction. But alas, leadership is also corruptible for the same reason we are all corruptible: we are selfish and have difficulty seeing beyond self. It is, unfortunately, the way it is. Then how do some rise above it, and contribute so much? Another mystery of life; we are all different, respond to different influences, and are able to motivate self at different intensities, for different objectives.
So, why, why, why? There is no answer, which is why we pursue theology to assist us, to try to understand that which is beyond our comprehension. And it helps many; many things help, for that matter – we can help each other, and do, some; others don’t try. Why?
There are no answers to these questions. There are no set solutions, try though we might to find them. In fact, worse than that, we can’t agree on the suggestions that are offered, for exactly the same reasons; we see things differently.
So there is no hope! Wrong conclusion; there is always hope. Learning to understand life is a start, even though we tend to understand differently, often because of our selfishness. But understanding has advanced, and continues to do so, with all the ying/yang influences that beset us constantly we can only hope that it will continue, and positive progress will continue. Not the progress of each getting whatever he/she can for self, but real progress of understanding and working together – so each can achieve to levels within their capabilities, IF they can motivate themselves in that regard; and if they cannot, accept what results. Wow, how about that for a challenge?
Totally achievable? Probably not, because of all those differences that will never disappear. But it can improve; if enough of us WANT it to improve. Keep the faith; never give up.
This was the subject I had in mind to discuss, but as the day wore on, it broadened. That is what happens when one starts thinking about something; tangents begin to grow. That is connected irrevocably with unintended consequences, but also with our propensity to seek a single “to blame” for something we see, and wish to lay blame on someone. It’s more than finding cause; we prefer blame; it apparently makes us feel good, and absolves us from doing more thinking on the matter.
Another tangent is how people treat each other today – not all but too many. A checkout clerk in the grocery store suggested to me, when I joked about it, that it was due to the grocery store, and buying frustration, as a lady she was serving took off her head, yet when she saw her at another time at a mall she was lovely pleasant. I disagreed, thinking back to taking self too seriously. I am thinking it has more to do with our taking self too seriously because we are lapsing back into a new class conflict. That’s another tangent; it is a newly published book by Joel Kotkin (Telos Press, 2014) that suggests we are sliding back into a new middle ages class conflict, but of a different kind. I’ll not pursue that further at this point, because I have not yet finished the book. But Kotkin in has acknowledgements admitted that he had difficulty in finding a publisher, because it didn’t fit into the accepted blame game proclivities of the day.
So let me suggest another tack: we are lapsing into increasing difficulty in having respect; for others, but even ourselves. That seems particularly the case if those people are “not like us”. And what does that mean? Almost anything. For example the wave of mandatory college education is resulting in looking down on skilled workers, and perhaps causing them to tend to look down on themselves. Which does not suggest that in today’s technical and Internet driven culture additional education is not necessary. But there seems to be resistance on both ends: the educated scoff at their “inferiors” trying to educate themselves merely by taking courses and getting a diploma, and the skilled workers resist, partly because of the effort it demands of them, for which they are often inadequately prepared. The mix is not good where mutual respect is essential to carry on our tradition.
Taking self too seriously, what is that all about? Generally, becoming too impressed with our advantages, whatever they might seem to be, even as hypocrites babble about egalitarianism. One item I like to mention is all the lists we develop to make us aware where we stand with respect to each other; sports? entertainment? almost everything. We lust for rankings. And then there are the things we name after each other, probably mostly to impress them with how much we value them; often to encourage donating money. Unfair? perhaps. Then how about paid endorsements as in advertisement? Being asked to endorse is acknowledgement of standing is it not, as the pay for it as well? I contend this goes all the way down into academic accomplishment, even to the levels lower than college: rankings, awards and various other public back patting. Instead of pressing to encourage us to learn as much as we can, and to employ it intelligently and usefully, even in helping others, the urge is to compete for a ranking or an award. And are the highest ranked always the ones that excel in life? no, they are not; which doesn’t mean many of them do not turn out to be the ones that excel; but many falter. Is that significant?
You might not realize it, but I am sliding back into a favorite position. What is most important is to achieve what we can, and continue doing so; not to dazzle with footwork to impress all how good we are. Or how gorgeous, or rich, or powerful, or even witty. I think we have our incentives backwards. Now recognize, I am not likely to convince anyone; it is too deeply rooted in our culture. To wit, I think we have our priorities wrong, lusting for what I consider the superfluous and overlooking what is important. And what is important? Again scoffs will resound: what is important is who we are on the inside and and not what we make of ourselves in outside show.
Recently a non-profit study organization came out with an interesting conclusion that has received some attention. It is that people are happier when they are thinking of others instead of themselves. Clearly that is not nearly as simple as it seems, for many reasons that I will not delve into; although you can; it is instructive. But another tangent from this – for me – has to do with questioning WHY we do what we do; giving to charity, for example: giving is positive across the board (sharing), but the why is significant, for each, and only known for sure by each, as it shows motivation. Another tangent to all of that is another of my favorites: not giving to someone, but helping that someone to help self. Again, not a simple transaction.
Many questions evolve, which is good; questions each needs to ask self, if they care. And do they, do we, care? Another tricky question. Oh yes, we care, but about what?
I think we tend to take OURSELVES too seriously and what really matters in life we conveniently push aside to maintain the focus we prefer. Again not all; how many? That is what ultimately will make the difference, and as we slide back and forth through our rapidly changing lives, we will find out – not all at once, but over time.
In fact it is already happening, and quite rapidly, as our world changes, not returning to that which existed at the beginning of the industrial revolution but to something that might remind us of that era. Get a copy of Kotkin’s book, The New Class Conflict, and read it. But read anything today, if done widely, and see what is being written by inquiring authors. Opinions vary, but they are firming, each in their own way – and not always consistently which makes it a firm foundation for intellectual inquiry. We are living through yet another major cultural change, which may be spreading across the world, and we know not what will accompany it.
What an interesting time in which to be living. Challenging, yes. A little scary. And what will humans do? Humans that live under vastly different circumstances and within different cultures – and will not understand. Nor will they be prepared; we are never prepared. These are the rapidly changing times in which we live, and will have to make our way.
Are we thinking about such things? I contend we are not, because in taking ourselves to seriously, we are able to see much beyond self and immediate pleasures and ambitions. There needs to be more.
Judgement (Oxford): (1) “the critical faculty; discernment.” (2) “good sense.” (3) “an opinion, estimate.” Judgmental: “of or concerning by way of judgment.” But today judgmental is more often construed as viewing negatively. So in making a decision one must exercise judgement; but if one is judgmental (current usage) and exercises critical faculty or discernment we say do not be judgmental. Seems like a disconnect to me. But let’s go on; I get wrapped around the meaning of words, but especially when they lead to understanding of concepts.
Let’s proceed to the thoughts that led me here, and the notes I made. Making judgement on generalities, particularly if prejudice is involved, cannot be justified. Hmmmmmm. Obviously that is done every day by many. How about race, color, ethnicity or nationality? If my note is valid, is it wrong to judge with generalities. How then can one make a decision that requires judgement without having all the facts? There must be some middle ground; maybe one has to use some generalities but those such as the ones listed should be avoided. How avoided? by looking at each case individually; wow, really demanding, that.
Human nature being what it is, that poses difficulties, because we tend to believe what we want to believe, and are often not adequately aware of the nature of the generality. Difficult? Oh, yes; perhaps because ignorance comes into play: we really often don’t know the difference between facts and generalization, and allow them to slosh back and forth in our minds. Of course there is a solution, but it is very challenging; it has to do with making an effort, and wanting to do so, to be aware of our ignorance and take care not to substitute generality for facts, or get beyond generalization by being specific. Unfortunately that glosses over the third meaning above of judgement: opinion. That might seem a little convoluted, but does that not suggest why we do what we do does not lead to valid decisions? Think of other common words such as culture, differences, habits and assumptions. How do I get into such things?
This time it came from reading a book by Mark Steyn entitled American Panic (A history of who scares us and why). Panic, or fear, is one thing that pushes to judgement because it pushes us to make decisions about what we believe, often from generalizing; then we tend to just believe what we want to believe after that – or maybe the fear drives us to believe. But then there are other things that influence what we believe; education? opinions of friends and acquaintances? Propaganda? How about greed or need to be admired? I would contend that often we don’t even KNOW what is driving us, and once we make the initial decision based on the judgement it gets locked in. Let’s throw out some more words: individuality as opposed to generality; that relates back to factors of paragraph 2; do we make judgement (opinion/good sense) as relates to people based on individuality of generality? Does that not also apply when we talk of immigrants? How about judgement as to whether one is intelligent or not? or with any other characteristic we might use to come to a judgmental decision? And (viz a viz Steyn’s topic) how is that influenced by fear – or panic – because of a generality we have used to make the original decision that led to the belief? Heavy? That’s ok; life is heavy. Generalization can lead to invalid decisions, and where does that leave us?
Often once a decision is made it is reinforced by our believing what we have decided to believe, regardless of what led us to that belief. And here is the kicker: motivation. What is driving us to hold on to a decision we want to make? Are we willing to re-evaluate it based on additional information? If not, why not? Motivation to do so is lacking. And if we are willing? Motivation again.
Intelligence or motivation? Can we separate the two?
Steyns discussion cited many bug-a-boos that have influenced history – and is continuing to do so; and how much of quick decisions can be traced back to fear or panic? What might ask, why does it matter? It matters because decisions driven by panic based on generalizations are dangerous
I have written before that I often awaken at about three in the morning, get flooded with thoughts and have to get up, multiple times, to take notes. Of course some times later in the morning I can’t read what I have scribbled; and sometimes I look over them and just throw them away. Why do I do this? Who knows, but it is what I do; and it is very useful, as it forces me to think and work up…not so much an opinion, but a stream of consciousness with respect to whatever thoughts entered my mind. I’ve gotten hooked on doing it; not great for getting the sleep that I need, but I compensate. It keeps my mind active, or at least as active as an aging mind can remain.
Which leads naturally to life, and aging, and dealing with it. Many don’t do well with that these days, because, they really don’t WANT to; partly because they just don’t want to think about it. Why not? it’s something that happens to all of us, and should be enjoyed, to the extent that life will allow us to do so. But I don’t have to elaborate; anyone in my position knows many people who resist, along with some that don’t, and understand, at least if they make the effort to try and understand. Many don’t do that either. Sort of sad, because it’s kind of a gas to watch, and cogitate about.
One of may favorite schticks is considering what really matters, and I have belabored it in the past and won’t try to do so again here. But that brings up something else; I just recently slipped back into my past seven hundred plus essays over the last five years plus, and noticed how many times I come back to the same subjects. Repeating myself? not really, usually (IMHO) adding value; don’t laugh, at least not out loud. I like to believe that is part of mind expansion, and is positive, but then, I, like so many probably believe a lot of what I want to believe (that’s something else I often come back to: people believing what they want to believe). I suspect the repetition has much to do with focusing, for myself, on what I think is really important in life, and tend to want to generalize to believe that there ARE a body of things out there that are important in life; and, beyond the era of playing and posturing, a fairly common focus evolves; not for everyone, of course, but for many of us, perhaps for those of us fortunate enough to live long enough and well enough to realize what they are.
That is something interesting about life (see? stream of consciousness): living long enough. How long is long enough? For some, it is never long enough, and many try to convince themselves that they can live forever. In fact some pseudo-scientists are even suggesting that is possible; with all the electronic devices they can devise that can substitute for what nature provides – and keeps repaired, up to a point. Of course health has a lot to do with it, as does reasonable standard of living; but at the same time many don’t even want to talk about it. I was having a conversation the other day about related subjects and was asked, how much longer do you have (he knows me well enough to be able to ask)? About ten years, I replied. We never know, too many variables and unintended consequences, and we all know what “averages” (statistical averages) represent, don’t we? I had an uncle in his late eighties who was told, oh, you have many more years to go. He just smiled and shook his head. I won’t suggest that anyone KNOWS, but one begins to feel it; we should also understand that, and deal with it, comfortably and in stride; it makes us feel better, and others as well. My daughter recently asked me how soon it would be before I would have to move in with them; no time soon, was my rather laconic reply; not until it’s necessary. Will it be? Maybe, perhaps probably – when the time comes, if it comes. But isn’t it fortunate I have that option?
I contend that understanding, and helping others to understand aging, is useful; not: “I know, I know”, kind of bland understanding, but useful thinking about it; it’s not a bad thing, it is a very normal thing. Sharing helps, on both sides, when true sharing can be experienced together. Good writing can contribute to that as well; there are many good writers around, really good writers, that deal with all kinds of reality, of which aging is just one of many. Immaturity is another, much more difficult to deal with, but we won’t go there. And I have found, to my pleasure, that commenting at the end of such thoughtful articles, or books for that matter, is both useful and rewarding. I am not talking about the kind of social network commenting that has become so prevalent, the kind that challenges with personal opinion to bring attention to self, but more appreciating what has been presented and why; I see that as a kind of sharing, perhaps sharing the experience.
May I suggest that much of nurturing and mentoring is more effective if pursued in that vein? Not pressing, correcting or criticizing; more like discussing; I think that works better. I am not advocating avoiding confrontation, when confrontation is unavoidable, as when disciplining is required; but discussing is frequently a useful substitute for confrontation when disciplining is not in order. We learn better from sharing than lecturing; but it takes great effort, and the desire to invest in it, and an investment it is, if done with the thought and purpose that is needed.
I am going to shift again as I go back to this morning’s notes. Balance and keeping “schedule” in order is important. That applies to many things: environment and clutter, life style and clutter, and finances including credit card debt and clutter. Did I mention clutter? It happens in minds as frequently as it does in our living spaces, and has similar impact. Advising on each of these things is challenging, but then advising ourselves before trying to advise others is at least as important; and much more difficult. We don’t listen to ourselves any better than others listen to us. Perspective is interesting, and that of each of us is different. I recently found myself discussing debt with a young couple, who had to move on, and she said thank you for your wisdom. Oh, oh; I was trying to share, but it was taken as a little too aggressive perhaps. Imparting wisdom is often taken not as sharing; I prefer sharing bits of wisdom that has been gathered over time, and trying to discuss it; I probably over did it; I sometimes get carried away. (sometimes, she says?)
And speaking of getting carried away, I am falling into that trap, aren’t I? And going on for longer than I should. But I have to finish.
One of the reasons I embarked upon this essay series enterprise was to throw out some subjects for consideration for my children, and one of my essays some time ago was dedicated to that, with copies emailed to them, individually, so they were aware of it. Result unknown and actually not my business; it’s something better not pressed. I just thought it was something that was my responsibility to do, and pressing it was taking it too far. As I say, sometimes I overdo, and it can be bothersome. Advice to me: don’t lecture; share – carefully and not intrusively.
Back to commenting in the interest of trying to become part of a dialogue, and thus attempting to share. I think it’s important to do, if done positively, as I think it contributes, as long as it does not come across as being about self, which can be counter productive. A metaphor on that subject came to me this morning: Milton used to talk about standing on the shoulders of giants as a means toward progress. I see it for me, or offer it, more as reaching out to the giants with whom I am trying to share, in the interest of helping shape insights that can be understood and passed on to common people, like me. THAT is what philosophy SHOULD be all about. But then, I have sat on the shoulders of giants: my nurturing, learning, training and experience; I have need to try and share that. To me that is what parenting is all about; but it is also what leadership is all about; as if the two were that different. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink; but you can attempt to encourage him to motivate himself to do so. That works with horses and water, usually. But it also CAN work with all kinds of humans, if attempted the right way.
So back to aging – maturing – and what really matters. Nurturing? sharing, aiding others with the maturing process, through discussion and example: that is, sharing with them. But sharing need to be a two way street. Gaining wisdom works both ways, and no matter how much age we pack on, does not preclude us from learning from others, no matter how young, who have their own bits to offer.
In conclusion, here is a bit of wisdom I have to offer: at the end of one beer, taken as I attempt my efforts such as this to share, things begin to blur and my mistakes increase. The wisdom? That should be evident. But then I am reminded that finishing is only the first step. There have already been several edits, even if it might not be completely apparent when I finally hit the publish button. That is part of the learning process too.
What is going to happen to the economy? Easy, no one knows. What? With all those experts about, collecting statistics, they don’t know?
That’s the problem; the fundamentals are evident, maybe even obvious, sort of; but they can and do change, based on too many circumstances that are beyond the control of anyone or any thing. We have too much debt; jobs are coming back only slowly; there are many problems associated with unknowns due to availability of skills and markets…….So? What we don’t know is how “people” will react, because THEY don’t know. Why not? Because they really don’t understand, they either believe what they want to believe or they choose to not want to think about it; and they, “the market”, which is a composite of many, many variables is susceptible to the tugs between greed and panic. The “experts” just don’t know how it will break, when, or what might trigger it; and they are all fighting to influence the output, based on objectives and desires of each and all are continually in conflict, which are influenced by the same dynmics. How could anyone know? Who can know how human nature will react, with all those variables interacting, in such a vast reservoir of different emotions, driven by a desperate concern for how it will affect each, Individually and collectively?
So why do “the experts” insist on making predictions? Many reasons. First they are “the experts” and are expected to know, and are being paid big bucks to know; second they are conceited, arrogant and too taken with themselves; third they have a dog in the fight: that means they have a vested interest in what ensues, and are trying to influence it. And then, they are human, and also believe in what THEY want to believe, whatever that might be, depending on the stake they are dealing with. So, greed or panic? Who knows, and what will be the trigger? Same answer, and what happens is also so precipitous. No one cares to admit it, but human nature is unpredictable – ALWAYS and forever.
In short, there is no answer and cannot be. Anything can happen. And with government involved, with it’s own sets of variables, expectations, desires and objectives; affected by those of constituents, who control their personal economic (and power) future, it only becomes more complex and unknowable, especially when each is trying to influence the other, and free markets are operating on their own set of principles and drivers, which are, in turn, affected by all the above.
Complicated? Is there any question? but then how could that be otherwise? And beyond that all are driven by emotions that cannot be controlled.
So what will happen? when will it happen? No one knows for sure, because that’s the way it is.
But that’s not acceptable! Perhaps not, but it is reality. May some get it right? Yes, some likely will. Which ones? And there we go again. Ain’t it fun? The problem is that there is so much at stake for so many, and emotions ALWAYS rule in the end.
Yes, an unusual offering. I do it for several reasons: I have great respect for Mr. Zakaria; I want anyone who is interested to know about the book and its subject; and because I wanted to. Enough said about that. Deal with it – or not, your option.
Castle W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.
House, 75/76 Wells St, London W1T 3QT
Intended for Fareed Zakaria, but editors take note
The Importance of Classical Liberal Education
When I saw this publication I wanted it. First, I have great respect for Mr. Zakaria, and have had since reading his first books; this one makes me realize why. Mr. Zakaria has been branded a liberal by some; he is classically liberal, but much more; this book needs to be heeded; it probably won’t, because we don’t want to hear about it, to our peril. Second, I have gone through the liberal/conservative schtick, and learned, in much the way Fareed has suggested we should; I shall provide some background on that presently. I have had discussions with friends on the subject, and altered my opinion, realizing mine was overly limited. I shall forward my heavily highlighted edition to one of those friends when I complete this letter and take it to the post office to mail with this letter.
I was astounded at how closely the book followed my thinking, just because that is the way my thinking over many years has developed. I was “turned on” by a teacher of Word History in my senior year in high school, and he offered to assist me in gaining a scholarship to his alma mater, Pepperdine University in California. I would have gladly pursued it had I not had another influence, my father, and gained acceptance to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
What I wish to make clear, as Mr. Zakaria did so well: both the technical and classical liberal are important, critically so, not to achieve success, as we prefer to define it today, but to have personal success in life. I contend there is a difference, and Defense of a Liberal Education makes clear just what that difference is. West Point is, believe it or not, a classical liberal institution as Zakaria explained such institutions. I graduated from there with a degree in engineering and went on to earn (thanks to the U.S. military) a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, a field in which I never performed, but from which I gained much of value that carried me through a career that was much related – and made possible a life, as Zakaria made clear it would, of great satisfaction and reward; not, monetarily or in terms of fame or power, but personal. I also subsequently earned degrees in information technology and finance because I needed to know more about those fields to do what I was expected to do later in my career. My previous experience had taught me, again Zakaria, the importance to WANT to learn, and to learn broadly. He is absolutely correct on that count and for the reasons he elaborates so well. Oh, and might I add that 20 years of multi- cultural experience, including working with indigenous people and organizations in Germany, Korea and Vietnam, and learning workable German and Spanish has only enhanced enormously; thanks to the experience classical liberal education made possible.
I could go on; I could elaborate on the highlights I made in my copy of the book, and how they relate to my life, but there is no need. The point is that it’s there, elegantly and simply written, and persuasively stated. It is, in short, a magnificent piece of work, and I write to commend both Fareed Zakaria, who so well exemplifies that about which he writes; and the staff at Norton that saw clear to publish it. I can only attest to the value of what was published there, as my reading and self-education has progressed apace, throughout my lifetime, much to my benefit; and resulted, in my advanced maturity, to satisfaction I cannot attempt to explain. The capstone, of course, as we all realize, has been philosophy; but it is surprising, perhaps, how much philosophy there is in almost everything that can be found in virtually all the publications that come under classical liberalism.
Which doesn’t address what we have done to that in The United States today, in our attempt to confrontalizationalize almost everything, but that’s a subject I also will not attempt to address; although Zarkaria did, and better and more simply than I ever could have hoped to. It is also something that will change in time, as one can understand, by reading from the broad offering of Liberal Education, if we take the lesson to heart. I contend we will, in time, with effort, and some pain. But then, that is life.
Thanks to Fareed Zakaria, an impressive, if humble, intellect; and to the staff of W.W. Norton & Company Ltd. We are in your debt, whether WE will ever benefit from it or not. Let us hope we can, and will.
LTC (RET), US Army
(and much more, thanks to what subsequent classical liberal education has provided for me)
(Mailing address deleted)
Phaedo2000@sbcglobal.net (what I am doing with it in my dotage)
I had my not so unusual visitation early this morning, avoided getting up and taking notes, and have lost the track – not unusual – which is why I need to get up and take notes. Focus? Forgetting? Ah yes. But then I popped down to an essay from several days ago, read it, and realized my thoughts of the morning were an extension of it – not directly, but perhaps tangentially, and therefore somewhat obscurely. As I keep saying, that is what I do; and probably why I have fewer viewers these days. Now, I don’t know that; I cannot see my site traffic. You don’t believe that? and I don’t worry about? that is not the way things are done these days; dinosaur! in this day and age of navel searching self-glorification? But I pick up the thread…..if I can.
The gist, as I recall, had to do with extremes, specifically the extremes of dictatorship and anarchy. I had to lie down to think about that word, anarchy; it wouldn’t come to me, but finally did, after lying down. That reminds me of something I read recently, about how we forget things because our minds are so full, that the brain has difficulty in sorting through it all; in a word, nonsense – or piffle, as I prefer. The brain starts to wear out, get used to it. And they are saying scientists think maybe we can learn to live forever; yeah, right; why would we want to? But more in that mode, from this morning’s newspaper. We have convinced ourselves, with the help of tripling the use of gyms, that all we need to control weight is exercise, and surprise surprise it isn’t working; the truth of that is in our obesity/overweight statistics. A companion article suggested that “science” is not even so sure of the value of what we eat anymore, even to the extent of revisiting cholesterol and salt use; what is good and what is not so good? Of course all the “experimenting” with additives has something to do with that, but so does differences among us, and influences……propaganda again? We get a muckle of it, you know. But I digress.
Dictatorship and anarchy, the extremes of our socialization: allow ourselves to be dictated to by some “supreme” being, be he/she self appointed or conceived through expanding what is known to embrace what cannot be known; or leave it to each to decide for self. Thinking about that, and not too deeply, it is apparent to anyone, or should be, that each is nonsense – as is true with most of what is extreme in our world of thought, dependence and domination, for reasons I explored two essays ago, and before that: essentially, the pitfalls of human nature, particularly selfishness and arrogance. At each end of the social construct hierarchy it manifests itself differently. At both ends the ends are domination; at one the domination of everyone else by one or a group, at the other domination of what wants for self. Both are corrupt and corrupting, because they CANNOT work, at least not for long.
We all know about dictatorship, or should, so I shan’t belabor that. Anarchy? Well, that doesn’t take much thought either; chaos? How could chaos possibly work, except for each in a vacuum, for a little while, a very little while. So we have evolved to a comprise that we refer to as progressive moderation, based on what we euphemistically call democracy. I won’t go into detail on that either, because I have in the past. Wait a minute! That’s all there is? Of course not, it’s over-simplification for the purpose of making a point. The point is complexity of human nature and the differences among us. The only way we can truly understand is to delve into individual differences, which include all kinds of things, such as influences, nurturing, experience, genes, culture and all that sort of thing, all individual. So we generalize to try to understand, come up with all sorts of theories, and run with them. Hey, that’s what generated progress, and we have seen much of it that has brought us to where we have come. Actually one could refer to it, as we have, as scientific method; and it works. But there are always unintended consequences in pursuing it, when things don’t go as we thought they would. That means things go wrong, bad things happen, and pain ensues. We don’t like that; we want it to be the way we want it to be. But that’s reality; and we have difficulty dealing with reality – because we don’t want to.
So neither dictatorship of a “supreme”being, usually self-appointed, with help based on selfish interests; nor anarchy, also based on self interests can possibly work, for the same reason – selfish interests, on one end AND the other; but neither does social engineering, that loses focus on what makes people want to do what they do, which varies wildly; but also has to do with self interest, and the ability of individuals and groups of individuals to motivate themselves however they might wish to do so, or not to do so at all. Notice how self interest ALWAYS drives humans? it does virtually all animals too, making it a feature of nature; something we will never completely understand because it is above our pay grade, beyond our limited capacity to understand, despite our conceit to the contrary. So, what?
What is the alternative? I have been beating on it, talking around it, is it taking form? Words; how do I put words to it? Philosophers of all ilks have been attempting to ever since we discovered ourselves, and our ability to think. So I am to just sit here and explain it? Not hardly. Maybe no one ever will; and if they do, something will likely change, as it always seems to. So WHAT DO WE DO? What “we” have always tried to do, succeeding very imperfectly, but perceptibly, over time. More words. I have tried principles; thrown in motivation, experience, wanting to, and others; all of that and more. It is not easy, and never will be, and will take effort, working together. All of us together? No, it doesn’t work that way either, because too many are not motivated to want to do that. And there we go again. Leadership? yes, but………..we’re not so good at finding good leadership either – or letting it find us, for all kinds of reasons, that are not as obscure as many wish to believe.
So the question again: WHAT DO WE DO? The answer to that is quite obvious if one thinks about it; the way to achieve it, however, is anything but. Impossible? Perhaps. But we cannot accept that, and have to keep trying, understanding that all will not make the effort and some will even oppose it, pursuing their own selfish opportunities; it is happening as we cogitate about it; and making incredible progress on the Internet; another subject, discussed yesterday in WAPO, and taking over 5000 words to do so.
That is life in a nutshell, and will always be. What do we do? Whatever we can, individually and working through others to make things better, by helping people to understand and to help themselves, and others to help THEMSELVES. It is not going to just happen, and must evolve, if it can. But then, it has, so it can. Totally? Ah, human nature again: We think we can have it all, and too often either give up or accept whatever. What’s in between? In between is life and reality; it is all we have to work with, so it’s up to us, and those that follow.
Stay tuned; but in the meantime, DON’T GIVE UP!!
I get on a kick and suddenly everything I encounter feeds it. Yes, if you have sampled my offerings you have noticed. But there is a lesson there – one that I am learning with difficulty. Thinking sounds good, but about what? One of the true values of thinking has to do with listening to what OTHER people have to offer, and not just what WE want to think about. And if you don’t think that’s a problem, just look around, listen, and think about THAT! There is no end to the bits of wisdom that one can collect if one opens the mind, and WANTS to hear what others have to say. That is NOT to slavishly accept it, but to at least listen and think about it, giving it consideration. That is how opinions get changed; it is SO easy to become locked into what WE believe and shut out all else. Look around, and see that happening continually, everywhere, and, in my opinion, more today than in the past – why? I contend that it is because of the efficiency and effectiveness of the pervasive means of propaganda that we have created, LOVE, and embrace! THAT is not open minds, because it skips the thinking; the key is THINKING with an open mind. Something I find interesting is that, although intelligence is most likely genetic, the ability to think is not, and can be learned; we are all capable of thinking – IF WE CAN MOTIVATE OURSELVES TO DO SO. But then, what of ability to motivate self? My daughter told me this morning that that is part of intelligence. Ah, words, words, words – concepts – all difficult to sort out; she is probably right; life and everything in it is complex, and intelligence and motivation are surely connected. Lots of related thoughts there, and I shan’t attempt to hit them all at once. But let’s give some a shot.
And that leads me back to some notes I took several early mornings ago and of which I reminded myself today as I was talking with my daughter. People believe what they want to believe; but more: they resist even listening to anything that lies outside their bubble. Generalization? Sure. Very little is all one thing or another, but a blending of much, so we are forced to generalize to discuss. And that is part of why thinking with an open mind is so important; it is also why closed minds, fed by propaganda, can be dangerous. Propaganda is much more effective when fed to closed minds that want to believe what they are being fed; nor is anyone totally free of being guilty of that. Open mind? That requires THINKING. A difficult challenge for many; not because they can’t, but because they don’t try. Like any motivation, it must come from within. And open mind thinking requires both generalities and specifics, and ability to sort through them.
That leads in many directions. One is just pure lack of concentration, which includes listening. How many times have we recently found ourselves not paying attention to what someone else is saying? one of the reasons for that is that we are too busy paying attention to what WE are thinking; and it’s difficult not to do that. To do so one must focus, while thinking beyond self. But with all that is going on in our lives it is becoming more and more difficult to do that, especially when self is the primary focus; and it is.
Part of that is minds that are made up, and not open to much of anything that doesn’t fit into the belief pattern. How does that happen? Think about THAT! It’s really quite simple; we believe what we want to believe and tend to reject anything that doesn’t fit, and focus on what does. We are also easily impressed by someone who performs disseminating information cleverly and with enthusiasm; we even have a fancy word for it: charisma. Look at our effective politicians in that regard, or TV broadcasters for that matter; in fact look to countries and leadership. Rule of the people? Hardly, it is almost always what has shaped the opinions of people: leadership, elected or otherwise. We talk about people and foreign policy; what does this or that country stand for, of what is it made? Most often it is a reflection of what their leaders believe, and the propaganda they put out to reinforce those beliefs. Are we capable of resisting? We are capable, if we make an effort to uncover facts and explore opposing views, and thinking about them. But that takes effort – and wanting to, something which is easily obscured when more exciting prospects are offered, and today there are many; big time.
Being aware – and more, much more:
We are judgmental, and content to be so; in fact proud of being so.
We are swamped with our own opinions, and make little resistance to it.
Differences are what makes us what we are; but we resist acknowledging them, unless it is in our interest to do so. Egalitarianism?
What a joke; who could actually believe we are all equal? And I do not say that from an elitist point of view; I am acutely aware
of where I stand on the scale, and it ain’t anywhere near the top. One has to make an effort.
Something else: what SEEMS good is almost always overdone. I tried to explain that as a pendulum; it didn’t work. Instead, what it
seems be is that we let it run away with our imagination, in myopic joy and lack of ability to see unintended consequences. The
result is likely to be too much of the good thing, then over-run and collapse, parodying what seemed so great.
Lots of that in social engineering today.
We tend to compartmentalize people, place them in boxes; it doesn’t work. Differences abound, and we need to deal with that, as best we can. We need to try to do it by influencing: by example, by discussion, by coaching, sharing, cajoling; however we can. Who listens when one is not a rich and famous rock star or other kind of social hero? That is not what matters; what matters is that we do it, and keep doing it. It WILL make a difference, eventually, as the young mature, and begin to understand, really understand what matters.
And that brings us back to the same old question: what really matters. I think we know. Time to be giving it some thought – AGAIN! Repetition? Same old stream of consciousness? Well, yes; that’s the message I am trying to impart, over and over again, in as many ways as I can.
I spend a significant amount of my available time grazing the Internet, looking for thoughtful articles from respected writers who offer a realistic view of possible, admittedly based on what I can tolerate, which helps me decide who to respect and what is realistic, giving me, as it does, the opportunity to compare contributions to decide what to respect and what is realistic. But, but……one might say…….I am biased. If so, and I admit it, how does one make reasoned judgment? Yes, I am biased, due to what I believe and what I think I have learned; but I like to believe I am reasonably open minded in being so. Those who might wish to challenge me, would disagree, meaning they challenge my right to think for myself, because I disagree with them. Mea culpa; it is the way I have to be, if I wish to think for myself, and I do. Take it or leave it; it is what I do; as I like to say, I am a scholar and I am scholling; one might challenge that too.
I am seeing much; disagree if you like; many do. One of my observations has to do with the growth of debt overhang, which is something that is almost indisputable these days. Another is a propensity to interpret “science” in different ways; still another is an observation from Joel Kotkin supported by Renn statistics, that suggest an almost perfect correlation between growing childlessness and support for today’s progressive policies. There is more, but my interpretation is it all represents a growing propensity to lean toward what’s best for young and mostly selfish pleasure seeking individuals who place mid-life “fun” (and support for it by taxpayers through favored government policies) above long term cultural responsibility, which seems to center on avoiding family responsibility in favor of “enjoying life” to the fullest extent possible. I have no intention of expanding much upon that, as such expansion has been done extensively elsewhere, if one knows where to look for it or cares to do so.
What it comes down to is the tendency I think I am seeing for people, particularly “young” people, to do what’s best for themselves in the short term, with the least possible effort on their part, and to hell with the consequences. And in a culture that respects individual rights of people to do what they wish to do, who can argue with that? Long term consequences to our culture versus such “individual rights”? Now there is a tough one, because it takes us to individual rights versus the common good, and that overturns the whole argument position of conservative versus progressive, which brings both positions into question, which I do continually, suggesting that each has become so convoluted as to be almost untenable. Conservative in what way? progressive in which way? Too many variables. Individual versus collective? Too broad. So people opt not to have children – or opt not to work if they are provided viable alternatives, whose business is that? So what will that do to our culture, to our economy; what is it already doing? Not my problem they would say; which in a very real way is true. Long term unintended consequences? Such is life, which is why we have constant change, which one extreme opposes and the other embraces; well, sort of, sometimes, maybe, depending………….life is complex. And there I go again.
That the unintended consequences are likely to be painful is something I do not question; but painful to whom? Again, may I suggest a not so distant cultural example: do it to Julia; let the devil take the hindmost as long as it’s not me, inevitably being some other guy, right? We learn from out mistakes – pain – and not from our successes; it has always been so, and the pain will sort us out, somewhat indiscriminately, perhaps; we can only wait and see about that.
So how can one assess the relatives of personal and cultural selfishness? Oh my, that is a really tough one, even if it were possible. But then, if one thought about that, one might want to lean toward more central control, where influence could be better applied by those who know best; oh, oh, we know where that leads. But if our leadership doesn’t take us where we need to go, and individual selfishness takes us in the wrong direction, what options do we have? Welcome to the conundrum of determining what form of government we should have, and the curse of human nature. We have great respect for hierarchical leadership until it clashes with individual rights; both are inevitably infected by human nature, and that will ALWAYS be problematic; hierarchy does not preclude selfishness, regardless of where on the hierarchy one might stand.
Oh woe; what is the answer? In short, there is no one answer. Sound familiar? We can only work together to find whatever works best in the long run, and that is a BIG challenge, that we are not addressing well. Lots of directions to go from there, depending on which we decide to choose, but in the short term, under our current form of government the choice will be ours, individually and collectively; the key will be leadership. Which do we choose and how do we choose it? If we choose unwisely history will likely choose for us.
Such is life – and reality.
“Just having fun being myself and laughing.” These are the words of a friend of mine; I replied: “I think you are not giving yourself enough credit. Not that you don’t have fun and laugh, and that that’s not good, but what you are doing is more than that. I like to think of it as influencing. I have used nurturing, and that’s what happens within families, with children; but what difference between nurturing and influencing? Degree perhaps? Words words.” My friend is a retired teacher, and was a very good one, probably still is.
It occurred to me that what she was addressing was in fact another step in the maturing process. And it is what she had been doing all though her career, being herself, and laughing, but more: developing the right climate to make influencing possible. The respect her former students have for her? Because she laughs and is herself? Much more than that; she had influenced them, and continues to do so in retirement with her respect and concern for them. THAT is really what “being yourself” is, and putting self – sincerely – on a level with others so that they can deal directly as equals, not in experience, and they realize that, but in ability to relate as individuals that are respected – and cared for. They appreciate that, and it shows.
That is what she really had been doing while being herself and having fun; and is still doing in retirement; isn’t that what it’s all about? One of the reasons for difficulties between age groups is that feeling of superiority older people have, just because they are older; and resent that younger people don’t give them credit for it. Arrogance? More than that, perhaps; maybe just expectation of the older generations that do nothing to earn it; we expect to be venerated for just being older, as used to be the norm. So it takes more than that now? Why not? It doesn’t excuse the young for not showing respect, but then it shows us olders that that is not enough; we also have to earn it.
We, our culture, have been tending toward sliding too much into self. Not that that isn’t the natural state of man (selfishness), and necessarily, as it is a reflection of the need to survive. But how about OUR responsibility to demonstrate what we are doing to continue to justify it? Too many today are so involved in self that they are not doing what families require, and that is what is beginning to show; and more.
Yes, I generalize, and I contend that some generalization is necessary to get from specific to cultural. Too much? I don’t mean to, but I tend to lump all into generalization. The right way to do it is to make evaluations individually, and that’s flipping back the other way, going from general to specific. We should discuss cultural trends with generalization; we should deal with individuals based on personal merit. Too much preaching and pushing opinions; too little honest, sincere, personal relationship and evaluation does not accomplish that. That is what one has to do, to be effective. Teaching? yes, but more; I prefer to refer to it as coaching; there is a difference, and too many teachers today don’t understand that. Yes, another generalization. What we all should be doing is trying to help each other – to help themselves; that’s different from just helping them. Just helping them creates dependency; helping them help themselves creates independence. Do parents today prefer that? many seem to; how general is that? Maybe it’s easier; maybe it’s arrogance of those who have aged but not really matured, but expect to be treated as if they have. Maybe maybe.
And helping them just to be happy, by providing them with stuff, as we are so prone to do? What is important is not being “happy”, whatever that means, but being content with self, for valid reasons, demonstrated; maybe self confidence is the appropriate word, but with justification, and that is what really matters. And that is what my friend had been doing by being herself and laughing; and she is still doing it.
It is all about principles; religions have always been about principles. Truth, honor, responsibility, reliability and all the rest. But religions are administered by men (generic) and men are fallible; they are susceptible to lust for power, greed and a need to feel important; it shows, and results too often in myopic and often arrogant selfishness. The solution? Wanting to observe the principles; really observe them, and employ them in daily life. What does that take? Motivation, wanting to do it. Not so easy; we are too busy with selves.
Note, as I have before, that we cannot motivate people; we can only create an environment in which they motivate themselves; thus motivation is a two edged sword; it is sharing. And is that not what life is all about? or should be. The basics of religions, almost all religions, if they are really religions, recognize this; but man corrupts, unfortunately. Our nation is rooted on similar beliefs – for good reason, and the result is the overwhelming success we have achieved, so far: individual incentive and principles. People know what that means, deep down, but they are blinded by what they think they want at the moment, as well as lack of self motivation to make it happen, for any number of reasons. So why do we tend to be so unhappy much of the time? That word again: happy; what does it mean? Do we even know? Pleasure, usually transient; things, as many as possible – I won’t go into all that again; We do not, my opinion of course, stop to give consideration to what really matters, nor do we seem to care, beyond immediate pleasure – and fun. Drugs for example; pleasure? Ah, that is a tangent that we do not need to pursue, because we KNOW where it leads.
I am preaching again? I suggest otherwise; coaching perhaps, maybe pleading. The secret to a good and fulfilling life is not very difficult to find; but it is difficult to accept in a world where we have too much, expect more, and demand to be praised for whatever pleases us to be praised for. Most us could live with less, share more and reach out more; so why don’t we? That is also not too difficult to determine.
What really matters? Yes………….what really matters?
My friend demonstrated this continually throughout her career, and it has been recognized by students who have studied with her; they might not totally understand, as they are still undergoing maturation, but they know what it feels like, and appreciate. That is influencing, partly accomplished by example, partly accomplished by coaching. That, after all, is all we can do, and we have to do it, each our own way. Have fun being yourself and laughing is a great beginning. We cannot motivate people, but we can create an environment where they can motivate themselves. My friend did that, and continues. We all can.
My friend, Sandra Hurdelbrink, retired recently from teaching in the Henrico County District of Richmond, Virginia; but she has not stopped offering valuable positive influence. I offer this essay to honor her for her contribution.
I attempt to discuss it regularly when and where I see an opportunity; it is usually resisted for obvious reasons. Complexity is not understood – because it is complex, and difficult to understand. And we have little tolerance for what is difficult to understand. I keep trying, and in the process attempt to share what I can; it is resisted because most don’t have the tolerance for it. This morning I read an engaging analysis of the current world situation that provides a cogent example. I forwarded it to some friends, and pretty well know what to expect. That’s not me being judgmental, it is the reality of understanding the complexity of the world, and our resistance to trying to understand it.
But prior to that I had had some thoughts of a different kind of complexity; the complexity in our daily lives, that brings similar frustration. I thought I would attempt to share some of them.
First, my telephone bill. I understand that companies prefer to bill and receive payment on line; it is cheaper for them. I attempt to accommodate, as I can, and did so with my AT&T phone bill – for awhile. But suddenly my payment on line was rejected; why? As I recall it probably had to do with my password, the one I had been using; but sometimes I forget and get it wrong; I am not suggesting that I am blameless, far from it; I make many mistakes. But now I cannot pay my telephone bill on line, although it is sent to me via email. I tried to find out why, and get it resolved, but with no success. So I wait until I receive the paper bill; it takes a while, because I know the company is hoping I’ll pay it on line and they can save the cost.
I encountered a similar situation trying to comment on articles on line. I have done that for some time, primarily not to get into a social media argument, but to compliment the writer; then suddenly the Disqus account wouldn’t accept it. I tried many things to no avail. I finally sent comments directly to Ben Domenech (The Transom and The Federalist publisher) and told him I had been unable to comment at the end of the article. Very soon thereafter I received a reply from Domenech that had forwarded my comment to him, to his security support people, and their reply. Ben said let this guy comment. The support folks replied, sorry, he must have been caught in one of our spam sweeps. Very revealing, actually.
I am familiar with programming and programmers, and their arrogance. That may sound a bit harsh, but IT programmers are skilled technicians, know what they are doing, and don’t have much patience with us neophytes that can’t keep it all straight. Programmers, associated with business enterprise, are always looking for a better way, either to make things simpler for users, or cheaper for the businesses they represent. That is a good thing. But it results in changes that we unaware neophytes are neither prepared for or understand, and the unintended consequences too often do not come to the minds of programmers, to whom it all comes as kind of automatic, as they are involved with it constantly. And that applies to many regular users too, that also respond almost automatically, for the same reasons. I am often caught in the middle, partly due to my aging memory, partly due to difficulty in adjusting; I am not excusing myself. But the result can be frustrating.
Before leaving that let me go back to the spammers. Electronic communications and the ease of action that it inspires has created an entire new growth industry – or opportunity, if you will. Spamming? Hacking? On-line embezzling and stealing? And industry, and government too for that matter, have to try to deal with it. That is also complex, and drives much of the change that is required, as the good guys try to stay ahead of the bad guys, with great difficulty.
Let me throw in another recent experience. A friend attended a lecture presentation, part of a series presented by the Richmond Daily Dispatch newspaper on problems with incarceration. The primary problem is the cost of incarceration and the impact it has on lives when it occurs. I won’t go into detail, but young people who make a mistake can be marginalized for life – or at least for an extended period. The thrust was, there must be a better way. There is, but it is anything but simple, takes a great deal of individual effort and is expensive; that means complex. And there is always the in-between: give too much leniency and encourage people to continue in their profligate ways; where is the line? That is part of the complexity.
Our lives are more and more like that. Then, as I said, I just read the STRATFOR piece discussing the complexity of our current modern world. I won’t even attempt to go into that. But suffice it to say it is difficult to follow, and very hard to put into context. Our lives are like that at almost every level, and for the most part we are not ready for it, or, for that matter, are most of us willing to make the effort to prepare ourselves to be; and it does take an effort, and lots of it. It is interesting to see how similarly individuals and states react to each other – both based on self interest.
Another; a book about the steel industry in Baltimore and broader results of similar I have read with some regularity lately. Automation and computers have changed our world, and we are not keeping up. Many of the blue collar skilled technician vocations are changing, requiring those who wish to be a part of them to learn new skills; but they are not so much manual skills as they are those that require more complex education, for which many are unprepared, and resist. Again, I shall not go any further into that; we have discussed our education challenge previously.
Now superimpose the drug culture and what that is doing to too large a part of our population. Why drugs? We all know the attractions they present, mostly pleasure. But how about our entertainment industry and all the social network influences imposed on us, that transcend the influence of families, that have been weakening over three generations? Complex? Oh yes. I think a lot about such things, for whatever good that does, since even if I knew what should be done, I have neither power nor influence to pursue it. So I do what I am doing; useful? Probably not, since its dissemination is very limited, and let’s face it, its value is probably limited as well, even if it were given more attention.
My point? More steam of consciousness; we live in an increasingly complex world, for which most of us are ill prepared, and not too anxious to engage, at the depth it requires. It will become more so, and it will challenge us, continually and emphatically. Life has always challenged and we have grown to accommodate, but the pace of challenge is exceeding the growth. So, be ready? It’s more complex than that. And just with these simple examples it has to be apparent that the changes – the complexities – are occurring at all levels of our culture and economy, and at a rapid pace. And beyond that we resist, ignore, argue and oppose.
As always, much to think about; and we must, unpleasant as the task may be. Oh, we’ll get through it, somehow, but with great difficulty, and we might want to think about that as well.