How’s that for an unusual topic? Some background. I have been exposed to an example whereas someone younger took it upon himself to lecture an elder about deportment. I am not suggesting that there are not situations where this is appropriate, but when it is, it is open to opinion, and even discussion. In this case the elder has taken upon herself to broaden her horizons – to reach out; to do that takes knowing who you are, and working it based on who that is. Her approach is to laugh and joke, and in doing so, try to engage people to relax and enjoy the exchange. I encourage that; I think it is part of community that has made us what we are. But things have changed, and I belive we have begun to lose it. Ok, change is inevitable; so what do we do about it in terms of what it is doing to us, assuming, as I have, that such change is not for the best? We just have to work at it, individually, doing what we can – IF we think it is worth working toward, and that, the deciding value of it, takes some more thinking. And we have to do that by being ourselves.
But in attempting to do this we must accept that we are all different, for many reasons, including having different influences. For that reason we see things differently, have different opinions, and react to all kinds of situations differently. Viva la difference! Well, to a point; but we also have to deal with them, the differences, and that is where the big challenge comes in. And to address that it is necessary to go back to human nature. A tendency of human nature among many, most in fact, but in different ways at different levels, is to want to dominate, and press our views upon others – or even more, to make OTHERS conform to OUR views. The basic word for this is power; and power means causing others to think and act as we are convinced they should. We’ve been there, so nothing further on that should be necessary.
So on to my hypothetical example. It is fiction, but there is fiction and there is fiction. Fantasy, for example, is pretty much made up; but well thought-out fiction has a basis of fact, or reality, behind it; that is what makes it of great value (believe it or not, even some fantasy does). Good fiction causes us to think beyond a story line, and realize what makes it plausible, based on our own experiences. That is an effective way to learn because it is easier for us to relate to a plausible story line than it is to digest theory.
The younger person in my example has decided that the approach the elder has taken to try to broaden her horizons is inappropriate, based on his way of thinking and his influences, and has taken it upon himself to lecture her to change her ways. Now there are ways this can be done, and in some cases should be done; but there are ways to do it. Those ways have to do with leadership, understanding and the desire to work with what one considers a problem, and not to dictate what the outcome must be.
The elder, my friend, because she is my friend (this hypothetical fiction of course has a real life basis) has found that engaging others, randomly in fact, through banter, joking and laughing has great potential for relaxing the atmosphere and bringing people out who might not otherwise allow themselves to become so engaged; she has proven that it works. I agree, and wholeheartedly support it. She may overdo it some times; that is the way we are, and believe me, I know, because I do the same: overdo it. But I try to be quick to realize when I am overdoing, and be aware of the need to change course; it is not always as easy to do as it might seem; it takes effort and awareness.
But the younger in my example is more fixed in his outlook on life and has become judgmental on this particular subject as it applies to the elder. Allow me to digress momentarily and suggest that this is exactly the case with many of the people today whom we call progressives. Progress is good, usually, but its success frequently causes it to get out of hand, especially when those whose religion it has become, put a lock on it and can see only their own perspective. Religion, after all, can be like that; my way or the highway comes to mind. Historically the past is replete with examples of attempted power domination, and that’s what this is an example of; judgmental power domination. The younger KNOWS he is right and feels the need to administer to the elder for her own good. Sound familiar?
Anyway, the result of this is obvious. So, on to my hypothetical exchange with my only semi-fictional example; taken from my viewpoint, of course; how else?
Me: hey, relax; we are all different, and have to pursue things our own way. She is only doing what she thinks she needs to do to improve more relaxed relationships among strangers; what’s wrong with that?
Younger lecturer: (reflecting his influences): It is inappropriate; she is making a fool of herself with all her silliness.
Me: that is your interpretation; everything is relative. It seems those she is engaging see it differently, and are being positively influenced by her honest openness and attempts to be friendly.
Younger lecturer: you don’t understand, but I can see how you might not; it is important to maintain a certain dignity that is expected, and she has crossed the line.
Me: how so? What’s wrong with being self as long as it doesn’t insult or damage others? And particularly if it makes things socially better – as in fostering a more communal relationship? That is something that has deteriorated in the recent past, and could benefit from the approach she is offering – is benefiting, I would suggest.
Younger lecturer: you don’t understand. There are lines that are not crossed, and she has crossed one of them; it is inappropriate, and embarrassing.
End of discussion. I have greatly simplified it, and probably distorted it to make my example. But I think it makes the point I am trying to make. We are all different, have different strengths and weaknesses, and to be effective, must be what we are, and be confident in it, even proud – but, of course, not arrogant. That can not be allowed to include being abusive or hurting others; obviously there is a point at which further discussion, on almost any controversial subject, should no longer be pursued, and that SHOULD be part of all exchanges; one has to know when to back off; many today do not, which is part of why we have the contention that is so apparent in our lives and culture. Too many want only their own way, and will countenance no other. Open minded discussion? Willingness to consider other points of view? Not hardly; closed minds have begun to take over.
Live and let live used to be the cry. Oversimplified? of course. There must be drawn lines: laws, regulations, even accepted levels of deportment, if we are to live together in a semblance of harmony; and they must be developed, continually revisited and revised. That is realized among some, even many, probably most; but not all. There will always be some whose minds that are closed, and refuse to look beyond their own opinions. And I contend that is negatively changing our culture; that needs to change, that WILL change – but we need to be concerned that it is not in ways that are unhealthy; we need to “manage” the revision. And there will always be those that insist on pushing their views on others, and will accept nothing short of total capitulation; that is what power is all about – and always will be; we have to live with that; we do not have to accept it.
Neither, at the individual level do we need to blindly countenance it. We must be ourselves, even as we work to mesh what that is into our overall community and culture; but others must be open to accepting it as well, and live with it. We will never all agree on much of anything; but that shouldn’t keep us from living together communally and with basic respect for one another other, and the inevitable differences.
So little has changed over time with respect to human nature, even as so much has changed in other respects. Perhaps that is the essence of living: constant change but little real change. That’s why I lean toward philosophy: “use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality”; isn’t that what it is all about?
What has not changed is the lust for power over each other, fame, fortune……importance. What has changed is our access to information and ability to discuss it widely in so many different ways, with ease, and with little interference. Of course access to information doesn’t necessarily mean more knowledge; there is more, but it is not evenly distributed, and too often there is too little incentive, or motivation, among too many, to really learn; but lots of incentive to argue about perceptions.
So maybe that’s what today’s diatribe will focus on; I have some notes from two nights ago. The notes started out with “balance…and lack of universals; too much searching for THE CAUSE”; that’s a place to begin.
It might be appropriate to cite our political spectrum in this respect: right, left and moderate; and the difficulty we have been having with dealing with THAT balance. That would return to our incredible new access to information, but with not enough increase in real knowledge and relatively little interest in gaining it, because of the nature of the information about which we all think we know so much; meaning most of us have vastly expanded opinions, with inadequate foundation. That would not be so bad if we attempted to share them, to discuss them, but such is difficult when the actual knowledge tends to be somewhat superficial and our understanding of it less so. As I have written previously, too many are too sure of themselves and persist on believing what they want to believe. Tie that to the proclivity to want to dominate others, and our electronic ability to do so, and we have the new social, or cultural, reality.
Balance and lack of universals; and right, left and moderate. There is seldom a single cause for anything; merely a compilation of “causes” that drive events, often in highly confusing ways. Balancing them is difficult; and that is what moderation requires. We used to do it better, because we had fewer that thought they KNEW all the answers, but then that was partly because the ability to promulgate information among us was also less; much of our learning today is more the result of influence than education or personal experience; that is, we listen to others, internalize what we hear and want to consider it as reality. Add to that the process of internalizing entails what inevitable changes due to what is heard, how it is processed through personal experience, and how our memory might affect it. The mish-mash that evolves is anarchic, contentious and kind of crazy; but we many, even most, tend to hold it as reality.
We live in a world of relatives that is increasingly complex, and so much is transmitted so rapidly, with so little depth (sound bites), and so much emotion, overly influenced by fantasy; each drives other, but becomes more and more solidified in the process as we continue to believe what we WANT to believe, because it fits, and feels good. Does that make sense?
The decrease of universals comes with the increasing number of causes that inevitably surface. We used to have strongly held perceptions that had been handed down to us through generations; now they flow continually from everywhere at a very rapid rate. Then, it must be reminded that the strongly help perceptions handed down were cultural, and were only “universal” within each culture. As we become more global in the sharing of information, even those cultural universals clash, which adds to the challenge – and is reflected in the problems we are encountering. Those problems have been popping up globally, but also in personal relationships, as principles, once held firmly, are being constantly challenged.
So we have never had change? We have always had change, that is reality; any digging into history below the superficial makes that obvious; but it is coming more quickly, and because of our ways of influential information propagation are more difficult for us to handle, especially when understanding and experience with reality is limited in many who are trying to understand. As a result we are being bombarded by unintended consequences, as might be expected; and they only build the complexity and make life more difficult, as is becoming daily more evident.
So how do we survive? The answer is simple enough; the means of achieving it is not. Anyone who has read these pages knows where this is leading: we need to learn to think more broadly, and be willing to be more flexible in doing so. We have to read – with skepticism, but with intent to learn and understand – and be willing to open our minds to thoughts of others we respect; not just let ourselves be propagandized, but to be convinced because it makes sense to us. That takes a lot of effort, open minds, and not a little background learning. Big challenge.
It is not going to be easy to do, and it will NOT happen quickly; there will be great frustration, even if it progresses positively – and its progress will not be smooth. Dealing with today’s challenges will be……………well, challenging; believe it!
That is life; and that is reality.
Anyone following my ramblings might think I am in a rut; and maybe I am. I am worried.
So I am rolling over to the sensational propaganda? I don’t think so, in fact I deny that I am. I read more widely, and deeply, and have a list of writers that I respect and in whom I have gained confident respect over the years. It is my belief that this is what one must do to understand the world and life. These writers do not always agree; it would be suspicious if they did. One MUST read widely, and develop one’s own understanding.
I have written that I wrote a book almost ten years ago, about our culture and it’s progress. Essentially, what I wrote was that I was concerned with that “progress”; lately that concern has turned to fear. It is not that I am afraid it is self-destructing, as some are arguing, but that it is deteriorating, and must look at itself and make corrections. I believe that it can, as the values, the principles of America are still there, even if being pushed aside by all the forces that I have previously noted. The world of fantasy that we have embarked upon is dangerous, not because fiction is dangerous, but because inability to distinguish fantasy from reality is dangerous. Good fantasy, or at least good fiction, can be a powerful tool that enhances readers’ attention, because it focuses them on that which they understand, and can relate to. Fantasy can do the same, perhaps, but with much greater challenge because it is too easy for pretend to become real in people’s minds.
Why? I think that is key; people hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe; and a world of make believe, crafted to convey what THEY WANT TO BELIEVE tends to lead them astray, because it is more pleasant than reality. It might be noticed that people today are prone not to listen quite often, turning their minds off when they are concentrated elsewhere. That is perhaps not unusual, but the fact that the elsewhere is so often fantasy or pleasure, is; it is my very strong contention that substitution of what we want for reality is much like fogging the mind with hallucinogens, and for much the same reason. And that is the big difference between indulging in that which is pleasurable and giving in to pleasure.
In fact, what has always been very common is that we allow what seems positive and stimulating to become exaggeration and excess, and in so doing go too far. I’ll not attempt to elaborate examples; anyone who thinks about it for awhile should be able to do so. But I think we are doing it with a vengeance today, not necessarily because we want to, but because we have become slaves to pleasure/fantasy propaganda. That is not so much to say that we are falling for something false, but when that is all we hear it becomes the new mantra; and it sells. Why is it dangerous? Because in developing minds it can take control. Now expand thinking about that to understanding – let’s not say poverty, but lack of success – although poverty is a factor of that. But immigrant motivation is a similar factor: immigrants come here for opportunity as they understand it existing here, and compare it to lack of it elsewhere. Their motivation might be right, but when unrealistically encouraged can turn unrealistic.
I read in an article just today, entitled why immigrants vote Democrat, that suggests the most important reason why: they are being offered an unrealistic view of where opportunity can lead, suggesting that success just happens, poof. It doesn’t. Success, however it might be defined, takes effort, discipline, planning and understanding; but when a simple, less demanding alternative is provided? Again – poof. I knew it; what a wonderful place; come here and it just happens. Not so. It may be easy to say, but don’t believe it; when it is all one hears, in sensational, convincing fantasy, it becomes intoxicating. Shoot up and feel good.
Too simple; that’s not what’s happening. Of course, which brings us to another point in human nature that I tend to favor; tendency to not understand evolution over time, not biological evolution, but cultural evolution; our culture is evolving, cultures always evolve; and ours is evolving very rapidly due to any number of innovations with which none can be unaware: electronics and communications being two, but hardly the end of it. Again, I shall not attempt to elaborate; anyone who wishes to do so, and takes the time to think about the evolutionary development so obviously evident in our culture over the past 50 or so years cannot help but see it – and where it has been leading.
And that is my final point: where is it leading. Some, perhaps many, think it is the way it should be evolving: more relaxed, more casual, more real; the way things should be. But I call that fantasy, and suggest that it must be factored by reality. Things are not always the way we wish they could be; the term unintended consequences come to mind, or woulda, shoulda, coulda. Take casual dress; way out of control. Casual intimacy? can there be any doubt when we see what it is doing to family values? How about casual treatment of finances, and the incredible development of unsustainable debt? These are all cut from the same fabric: excess – in almost everything.
And paying the price? Stay tuned; it’s coming. If we can realize what it is doing to us, and think back to that what REALLY matters, we can reverse it. If not, the pain will increase until we cannot ignore it. How bad does it need to get before we realize it has gone too far?
And what, after all IS really important? I have covered that before too, perhaps to obsession. Disagree if you like, but think about it; think about it hard, and try to see where it is taking is. Perhaps it is difficult for those just developing their characters, and overwhelmed by all the wonderful pleasures that are afforded us, and we all think should be ours for the asking – as we are being told that it is all possible – for everyone, just for the asking, by those who have developed commercial propaganda to such a high state of development – for their own selfish purposes. Oops, that goes too far? That is the American dream; selfishness?
Again I caution: reality; we don’t LIKE reality; it ain’t fun. So be it. We don’t like bad weather either, or decaying infrastructure. Crime? terrorism? is that not another example of pursuing opportunity? What really matters? I think we are beginning to find out, at least I hope we are. Only then will we get things back on track.
These thoughts built overnight, several nights ago, and further during the following day; I addressed them in a rush and have been adding and editing. Nor did they build just in MY mind; the battle is heating up, and many many are entering it, as it becomes more and more apparent what is happening. Even the rhetoric is building. Overly dramatic? perhaps not; more and more are referring to it as I once did, as the continuance of our culture as we know it. I have been sampling continually from offerings throughout the day, and am encouraged to see the building of deep concern.
Perhaps Donald Trump has contributed through his straight if bombastic dialogues; but there is much more than that; the battle is being engaged.
Back to the foundations of the battle. I provided a copy of an article by Jeffery Tucker yesterday; I should add that many of my thoughts and opinions, including those pursued in my book of some nine years ago, Avoiding Armageddon, were influenced by writers such as these, and many are being brought out again. Complacency and expectations define us, and always have. Expectations are defined by power and wealth, today embellished by pleasure, and entertainment, and worship of the fame that accompanies it; but are these not the traditional ingrients of power? It is only that current times have added so much emphasis – and depth – to what pleasure and entertainment have become, and the expectations they have created among not only among those of our nation, but increasingly throughout the world. All see it as increasingly possible, accessible, and they want a piece of it.
But that must be superimposed upon the more fundamental differences always inherent in individuals and cultures: it used to be mired in what we rather euphemistically referred to as class differences; but essentially it has to do with the basic differences that have always existed among people. Rich and poor? much more, and I have run through them before: families, nurturing, advantages, education, motivation – all that which leads to the differences, which we need not attempt to revisit here. Put all that together and we find throughout history that one extreme feels entitled to power, to lead, and the other has been placed in the position of accepting that arrogant, entitled, elitism docilely; well, we know it hasn’t always been docile. When things have gotten tough enough, history has shown us what can happen: when the downtrodden become driven to the wall, and feel they have no choice and nothing to lose. But up to that point a feeling of complacency is something necessarily imposed upon them; what after all has been their option?
The development of a middle class began to change that, in all of its ramifications. I have visited them in past essays, so won’t go into that again either. But change is a constant, and we’re changing again. Let’s put it this way: once there were only rich and poor, privilege and power on the one hand – and resignation to it on the other; then came opportunity; now we have expectation, expectation that all deserve what those that were the powerful elite could once only hope for: and it is rapidly becoming almost universal entitlement: why should we not all have it? To whatever extent we might desire? But what has been overlooked, forgotten perhaps, is that it is not that simple. To wit, entitlement has been so rapid and pervasive that we have become complacent in expecting it, and no longer understand what it took to arrive at that point. I say perhaps forgotten, but it is more that we neither think much about it or care; WE WANT IT – AND DESERVE IT. That’s only fair, right? And today’s self appointed arrogant elite preach just that; for the purpose of hoping to use it to pursue their own kind of arrogant power.
And that seems to be the point we have reached, and is defining the battle that is ensuing. But we don’t understand it; which leads back to the morass that has always existed in the past: differences; the most significant of which are how to move from acceptance of reality – complacency – to fulfillment of expectations. Contrary to what many have been led to assume, it doesn’t just happen, and requires the individual efforts that were rewarded during the interim period of opportunity that began to be realized through the growth of what we have come to call the middle class.
To put it succinctly, too many do not realize that the secret to meeting the challenge of “middle class” progress is individual effort. But more than that, the complacency comes when our culture begins to slide into the same muck – and the leadership that brought about this change has forgotten not only how it was achieved, but how to maintain it. Leadership? But our leadership is THE PEOPLE! No it isn’t; because all those differences still exist, only less dramatically, because of the very same results from individual efforts: all do no make the same effort, and the ability to make such effort is also different. But we don’t understand that either, because efforts in that regard are not quite “individual.” And that is much of what “the battle” is all about. “Individual” efforts are much more complex than that because results develop over several generations and are influenced by much more than just someone trying hard, although that surely helps. Luck plays a part; being at the right place at the right time plays a part. I have commented on the book Outliers, by Malcomb Gladwell, that goes into that in detail, so we needn’t revisit that either. Life is never as simple as many would make it and many things go into developing a path that leads to what we have complacently come to consider as our entitlement.
That carries us to yet the next aspect of this discussion, and that is what people have become. We believe what we want to believe, and listen to what we want to hear. And much of that today is based on propaganda. Propaganda!!??? Propaganda is merely incomplete information; that is all any of us ever have; but we have a choice of dealing with what we receive, and even the ability to influence what it is, through how we access the information and what we do with it when it comes to us; THAT is where the real incentive – motivation – comes in to play. Where do we seek our information, how much effort do we put into getting it and processing it, and how much do we expend on trying to influence that? And, of course, for what purpose do we seek it?
I should like to leave that open ended. Reading, studying, listening, training and experience, watching television, discussing with friends on social media; or making little effort at all to take the initiative? Family used to be a key ingredient, but that has deteriorated over the past fifty years; another thing that I have discussed in past essays; none of this is new. And it is being discussed more and more as we enter this very stressful period of so many beginning to question what is happening to our culture.
We tend to blame it on our young; but our young must be nurtured and trained; maturation comes only slowly and through effort. And what is our training? How about our education? Are we trying to learn to understand how best to deal with life by understanding reality? Or are we trying complacently, without too much effort, to pile up whatever we feel through our expectations that will just place it in front of us? College degrees of questionable value fall into this category.
I’ll go no further; and leave it up to anyone reading who might want to contemplate it The answers are not obscure, if anyone makes an effort to think about it. Think? is that not an almost lost art, only available to the privileged few? Loaded question; we are all equal, right……but, but. The equality that exists is that we have all been born with inalienable rights under the Constitution; and we all have the ability to THINK. Yes, it has to be developed and being assisted is one of the advantages that family brings, but individual effort can bring it too; with some luck and being at the right place at the right time and lots of other assistance. Simple? Oh my no; so why do we insist on trying to make everything simple? We do, you know. But more fundamentally: what are we, each of us doing about it?
I write that times are becoming dicey; I write that the informed and caring intellectuals (that does not mean all “intellectuals”) are becoming more and more aware of it, and are writing about it, crying out to us to read, listen, pay attention and stop being complacent. Are we paying attention to it? If so it is not evident, save to a limited few. Too late? Perhaps it is, because there is little most of us can do but be concerned about it, because we rely upon our hierarchical elected leadership to take the lead. They are failing us, because they are caught in the same old trap of greed, elite greed; lust for power; and arrogance. And too many of the rest of us, caught in the trap of expectation, are complacently following along – EXPECTANTLY, and ignorantly. Ignorance, remember, is something we can control, should we choose to summon the motivation to do so.
What is coming? No one really knows, but many are attempting to tell us what they think, and it is likely to be a compilation of much or all of what they are saying. Of course our predictions are based on the past; that’s the way we are, it is all we know. It will almost surely NOT be exactly what has happened in the past; but the past – all of it, from the very beginning – gives of many indications of what it will entail. So it will be new, and more complicated; and probably more frightening because of that, but also because most of us have not made the effort to become aware of what is approaching so rapidly: over development, red hot technical progress, overwhelming debt load, growing greed, expanding violence – and EXPECTATION, ENTITLED EXPECTATION. As is always the case, we are all complicit; but as it always works out, the results will depend on our leadership, and it is not standing up to the challenge.
Again my earlier question: am I being overly dramatic? I hope so. It does not have to be Armageddon; and I am confident that with the remaining moral fabric of American middle class values and initiative it will be tempered to the point that we will deal with it; IF we are prepared to take the challenge and DEAL with it, with the right kind of leadership, that WE must elect. The rest will be up to us – working together, however we can.
I just read this essay, and could not help but reproduce it here. It was written by Jeffery Tucker and is entitled Trumpism — Right Fascism, 21st Century Edition. No permission was requested to do so as there is no financial gain entailed. So I am merely propagating the information Tucker provided; I think it is worthy of propagation. It had already been propagated in David Stockton’s web site on 19 July 2015. I might add that the comments to the article are about what one might expect: argumentation by respondents regarding THEIR opinions of the writer and what they had taken from what was published. I add that because I have commented on such before, but also because it is so typical of what he is describing in his essay. But I will leave that to anyone who makes an attempt to read it.
It’s not too interesting to say that Donald Trump is a nationalist and aspiring despot who is manipulating bourgeois resentment, nativism, and ignorance to feed his power lust. It’s uninteresting because it is obviously true. It’s so true that stating it sounds more like an observation than a criticism.
I just heard Trump speak live. It was an awesome experience, like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground, and died grim deaths.
His speech at FreedomFest lasted a full hour, and I consider myself fortunate for having heard it. It was a magnificent exposure to an ideology that is very much present in American life, though hardly acknowledged. It lives mostly hidden in dark corners, and we don’t even have a name for it. You bump into it at neighborhood barbecues, at Thanksgiving dinner when Uncle Harry has the floor, at the hardware store when two old friends in line to checkout mutter about the state of the country.
The ideology is a 21st century version of right fascism — one of the most politically successful ideological strains of 20th century politics. Though hardly anyone talks about it today, we really should. It is still real. It exists. It is distinct. It is not going away. Trump has tapped into it, absorbing unto his own political ambitions every conceivable bourgeois resentment: race, class, sex, religion, economic. You would have to be hopelessly ignorant of modern history not to see the outlines and where they end up.
For now, Trump seems more like comedy than reality. I want to laugh about what he said, like reading a comic-book version of Franco, Mussolini, or Hitler. And truly I did laugh, as when he denounced the existence of tech support in India that serves American companies (“how can it be cheaper to call people there than here?” — as if he still thinks that long-distance charges apply).
Let’s hope this laughter doesn’t turn to tears.
As an aside, I mean no criticism of FreedomFest’s organizer Mark Skousen in allowing Trump to speak at this largely libertarian gathering. Mark invited every Republican candidate to address the 2,200-plus crowd. Only two accepted. Moreover, Mark is a very savvy businessman himself, and this conference operates on a for-profit basis. He does not have the luxury of giving the microphone to only people who pass the libertarian litmus test. His goal is to put on display the ideas that matter in our time and assess them by the standards of true liberty.
In my view, it was a brilliant decision to let him speak. Lovers of freedom need to confront the views of a man with views like this. What’s more, of all the speeches I heard at FreedomFest, I learned more from this one than any other. I heard, for the first time in my life, what a modern iteration of a consistently statist but non-leftist outlook on politics sounds and feels like in our own time. And I watched as most of the audience undulated between delight and disgust — with perhaps only 10% actually cheering his descent into vituperative anti-intellectualism. That was gratifying.
As of this writing, Trump is leading in the polls in the Republican field. He is hated by the media, which is a plus for the hoi polloi in the GOP. He says things he should not, which is also a plus for his supporters. He is brilliant at making belligerent noises rather than having worked out policy plans. He knows that real people don’t care about the details; they only want a strongman who shares their values. He makes fun of the intellectuals, of course, as all populists must do. Along with this penchant, Trump encourages a kind of nihilistic throwing out of rationality in favor of a trust in his own genius. And people respond, as we can see.
So, what does Trump actually believe? He does have a philosophy, though it takes a bit of insight and historical understanding to discern it. Of course race baiting is essential to the ideology, and there was plenty of that. When a Hispanic man asked a question, Trump interrupted him and asked if he had been sent by the Mexican government. He took it a step further, dividing blacks from Hispanics by inviting a black man to the microphone to tell how his own son was killed by an illegal immigrant.
Because Trump is the only one who speaks this way, he can count on support from the darkest elements of American life. He doesn’t need to actually advocate racial homogeneity, call for a whites-only sign to be hung at immigration control, or push for expulsion or extermination of undesirables. Because such views are verboten, he has the field alone, and he can count on the support of those who think that way by making the right noises.
Trump also tosses little bones to the Christian Right, enough to allow them to believe that he represents their interests. Yes, it’s implausible and hilarious. But the crowd who looks for this is easily won with winks and nudges, and those he did give. At the speech I heard, he railed against ISIS and its war against Christians, pointing out further than he is a Presbyterian and thus personally affected every time ISIS beheads a Christian. This entire section of his speech was structured to rally the nationalist Christian strain that was the bulwark of support for the last four Republican presidents.
But as much as racialist and religious resentment is part of his rhetorical apparatus, it is not his core. His core is about business, his own business and his acumen thereof. He is living proof that being a successful capitalist is no predictor of one’s appreciation for an actual free market (stealing not trading is more his style). It only implies a love of money and a longing for the power that comes with it. Trump has both.
What do capitalists on his level do? They beat the competition. What does he believe he should do as president? Beat the competition, which means other countries, which means wage a trade war. If you listen to him, you would suppose that the U.S. is in some sort of massive, epochal struggle for supremacy with China, India, Malaysia, and, pretty much everyone else in the world.
It takes a bit to figure out what the heck he could mean. He speaks of the United States as if it were one thing, one single firm. A business. “We” are in competition with “them,” as if the U.S. were IBM competing against Samsung, Apple, or Dell. “We” are not 300 million people pursuing unique dreams and ideas, with special tastes or interests, cooperating with people around the world to build prosperity. “We” are doing one thing, and that is being part of one business.
In effect, he believes that he is running to be the CEO of the country — not just of the government (as Ross Perot once believed) but of the entire country. In this capacity, he believes that he will make deals with other countries that cause the U.S. to come out on top, whatever that could mean. He conjures up visions of himself or one of his associates sitting across the table from some Indian or Chinese leader and making wild demands that they will buy such and such amount of product else “we” won’t buy their product.
Yes, it’s bizarre. As Nick Gillespie said, he has a tenuous grasp on reality. Trade theory from hundreds of years plays no role in his thinking at all. To him, America is a homogenous unit, no different from his own business enterprise. With his run for president, he is really making a takeover bid, not just for another company to own but for an entire country to manage from the top down, under his proven and brilliant record of business negotiation, acquisition, and management.
You see why the whole speech came across as bizarre? It was. And yet, maybe it was not. In the 18th century, there is a trade theory called mercantilism that posited something similar: ship the goods out and keep the money in. It builds up industrial cartels that live at the expense of the consumer. In the 19th century, this penchant for industrial protectionism and mercantilism became guild socialism, which mutated later into fascism and then into Nazism. You can read Mises to find out more on how this works.
What’s distinct about Trumpism, and the tradition of thought it represents, is that it is non-leftist in its cultural and political outlook and yet still totalitarian in the sense that it seeks total control of society and economy and places no limits on state power. The left has long waged war on bourgeois institutions like family, church, and property. In contrast, right fascism has made its peace with all three. It (very wisely) seeks political strategies that call on the organic matter of the social structure and inspire masses of people to rally around the nation as a personified ideal in history, under the leadership of a great and highly accomplished man.
Trump believes himself to be that man.
He sounds fresh, exciting, even thrilling, like a man with a plan and a complete disregard for the existing establishment and all its weakness and corruption. This is how strongmen take over countries. They say some true things, boldly, and conjure up visions of national greatness under their leadership. They’ve got the flags, the music, the hype, the hysteria, the resources, and they work to extract that thing in many people that seeks heroes and momentous struggles in which they can prove their greatness.
Think of Commodus (161-192 AD) in his war against the corrupt Roman senate. His ascension to power came with the promise of renewed Rome. What he brought was inflation, stagnation, and suffering. Historians have usually dated the fall of Rome from his leadership. Or, if you prefer pop culture, think of Bane, the would-be dictator of Gotham in Batman, who promises an end to democratic corruption, weakness, and loss of civic pride. He sought a revolution against the prevailing elites in order to gain total power unto himself.
These people are all the same. They are populists. Oh how they love the people, and how they hate the establishment. They defy all civic conventions. Their ideology is somewhat organic to the nation, not a wacky import like socialism. They promise greatness. They have an obsession with the problem of trade and mercantilist belligerence as the only solution. They have zero conception of the social order as a complex and extended ordering of individual plans, one that functions through freedom and individual rights.
This is a dark history and I seriously doubt that Trump himself is aware of it. Instead, he just makes it up as he goes along, speaking from his gut. This penchant has always served him well. It cannot serve a whole nation well. Indeed, the very prospect is terrifying, and not just for the immigrant groups and imports he has chosen to scapegoat for all the country’s problems. It’s a disaster in waiting for everyone.
Strange name for an essay; but I am reminded of differences every day – not only among people, but even among animals; nature is incredible. We are all different, in so many ways, not only in our basic make up, genes and such, but also in experiences, influences, education and interests. How can anyone attempt to extrapolate our equality before the law to mean all the same? Why would anyone want to? Once we glorified our differences; now we want to minimize them. Why?
I published a book almost ten years ago – vanity press they called it back then – edited it myself and then saw the printed results. Pathetic. I am a poor editor; my daughter told me next time call on her. But recently I reread parts of that book, and was intrigued; not because it is a great book (sales were anemic), but because so much of what I wrote is basic to what I believe today. Not, I might add, because I am so smart and perceptive, but because I gathered from what I had read, and learned from that. A note I have pinned on my desk bookcase includes a statement: “I have created nothing; I am merely a conduit; We can all do the same – and derive great satisfaction from doing it – if we are so inclined.” That was much of what I wrote about in my book, Avoiding Armageddon, Preserving Our Culture (long out of print): motivation, and the principles in life that are important. Similar runs through most of the almost 800 blog essays I have written since. All of which, I am quite aware, have been afforded similar levels of attention. But that was not the real intent of any of it. Let me explain that: I had no expectations? Of course I had; that is what motivation is all about; I wanted to do it, and I want to write about what I think and care about. I would also like others to be influenced by it because I think it is important to making the right kind of life (right being my opinion of, of course) decisions. But when they went mostly unrealized (and continue to do so) that doesn’t matter. Weird? Most would say so; which is the subject (sort of) of today’s ruminations. And, I have learned, and benefited from doing so.
As always what I write tends to take its own direction, as I get into it. The original title was just Differences; then I added Success. I was dwelling on differences over the past several days, then I morphed back into success, which is something I have thought much of recently. Not MY success, incidentally, as I have little to put on display, but that is my point. What is success? Back to differences, and our rapidly evolving culture, about which I have deep concerns, but upon which I have not given up. There is so much there, that still remains. I am confident that it will return to something like the strength of our past, if not in terms of power, in terms of dedication; which is not to say it will return to what it was, things don’t happen that way. Progress, both positive and negative, is what it is: we will progress; we will change, continually. That’s good; but we also must continually guide its direction. Specifically, to me, that means preserving the principles upon which our culture was constructed, and with which it gained so much success. Yes, as I said repeatedly in the book and since, we made mistakes; we are still making mistakes. We, Americans, after all are human, and suffer from the foibles of human nature our founders fought so hard to check and balance – and which myopic Progressives have since attempted, with success, to over turn; and then, of course, there is always arrogance; that also is human nature . That has become my focus; that is what I do. And it turns people off, yes; it does, so be it. I try to be sensitive to being turned off, with some success (i.e. shutting up), but not always. But then, what is developing, what I am concerned with addressing, conserving our culture, is very important to me – and many others, I might add, even if we don’t realize it; there is much feeling for the culture we have developed and its importance to us, and who we are. The fact that many of our young have not realized it yet, doesn’t mean that it will not materialize; and that is the responsibility that lies with those of us who care.
Back to success; what is it? To a great extent it is what our influences tell us it is, and that, today, centers on wealth, education, fame and power. And it’s not? Who can question that it is, when such is so dominant in our current culture? And understandably so as we wallow in the incredible progress that we have achieved, appreciate and expect to continue unabated for all, regardless of individual effort. And that is part of what I consider to be our problem: excess expectation. But I’ll not go back into that again, as I spent over two hundred pages in a book exploring that almost ten years ago, and many essays with similar theme since; little has changed since then. So what then is success? Not a new theme with me.
Let me try to put it in context from an article I read recently in Ben Domenich’s Thefederalist.com discussing the knee jerk comments made to military volunteers who have served their country, which I admit to sometimes finding irritating, even though I realize most are offered sincerely. All today volunteered and most are proud of having done so. That is the legacy or our nation: understand it and appreciate it. Then, if it makes sense, give some thought to what the rest of us should do about it. Run out and sign up? No; the nation no longer needs, or at least can no longer afford, to have such a military. But, and this is the gist of the article, there is much else we can do to support our country on a volunteer basis. We are a nation OF THE PEOPLE; so what are our people doing to preserve that? Many throw money at it, which is important and we need it for many important causes, many supported with dedication by our many institutions; but how many think that’s enough? I can go on, but I shall not.
Success? We want success? Then we need to look deeper for it, within ourselves. Success entails, my opinion, exemplifying the principles that have made our country and its people great; I have belabored that before; but where we have not been great it is because we have eschewed those very principles. That is the challenge for us, each of us, if we want to preserve our culture. I think it is worth doing; and I KNOW we can do it. Casting blame is not the answer, and many think that is all that is necessary. DOING something is what is necessary, and that means setting an example, and clearly explaining what it means, as best we can.
This for what it is worth.
Managing Editor, Dallas Morning News
508 Young Street
Dallas, TX 75202
13 July 2015
I am presuming to write to you today to tell you how impressed I was with today’s issue of the Dallas Morning News. I have not recently always have been so impressed, as I have seen the News sliding into the same malaise as the rest of our culture, succumbing to popular (and mostly ignorant) temptation to pursue popularity and revenue. Don’t get me wrong; I understand, and in a way, there is no alternative in this modern world. Which is why I wanted to write this letter; you have attempted to resist.
As might be evident, I have entered the last phase of my life, which does not mean imminent demise, but the beginning thereof. As a normal culmination of life I have entered into a phase of philosophy – the culmination of gaining knowledge – and in that interest have taken on writing a stream of consciousness essay-based Blogsite entitled phaedo2000.com. This is not advertising, merely background; I have learned that fame, fortune and power are illusions, which have no interest to me. There are more important things in life.
That is why I found today’s issue of “Points” so intriguing, but I saw similar attractions elsewhere; and was so encouraged; because I realize this is most difficult to do in today’s pop culture, which is, unfortunately, so vacuous, uninformed and so content to be so. Judgmental?
Yes. I am guilty of that, but try to be positive about it.
First I wanted to comment on Does New Journalism Fit Into Nonfiction, ably written by George Getshow; not for comment publication, but because I wanted to let you know. That is the only way I can exert influence at the end of my life, by encouraging those that care, and contribute. I have tried, unsuccessfully during my writing career, and have no regrets, but that’s why I admire those that have done better. I have had conversations recently with a friend whose background is theater and dance, and we have discussed fiction and fact, and I have, admittedly, realized that I been narrow in my view. Getschow’s article perfectly sums up the dichotomy involved, and has to deal with the reality of emotional understanding; it is so difficult for people to be able to understand, and it is not possible for most merely through dry facts.
But the pendulum always swings too far and today fantasy has taken over. However, it will not always be so, IF people like you, and your staff, and the writers you are encouraging, publish what people can intellectually understand and deal with. Yes, too few read today, and only feed from the media, so we have to rely on word of mouth influence; but we have to do what we can do, and YOU are doing it.
Some of that also surfaced in “Talking Points”, which also has not been the norm for the News. Then there is Barred From Higher Education, by Kerl Blakinger. Much to think about and there are two extremes, neither of which is entirely accurate, because there is always subterfuge due to greed, avarice and self-interest. So what to do? Influence from the enlightened has always been helpful, less so in recent times, for any number of reasons; we can only listen to and read what we have provided to us; thank you for reaching out for what matters. Not many today are doing that, and the News has not been so strong on that in the past. As I say, I am proud of you for taking the position you are taking. It matters.
But there was more: Lighten The Overload by Ralph Stangis; brilliantly done; he says so much that is important, and so seldom written. Success; as fame, fortune and power; have been so convoluted today that reality is neither understood nor even considered, unless brought to mind by efforts such as those that you are making. Again, it matters.
Charities Struggling, Selfie Frenzy, Don’t Mess With Hockaday; all with important messages. Enough of that; I have made my point. I shall try to directly respond to the writers, but us dinosaurs are not disposed to twitting; they should realize that about dinosaurs, if they care.
But before ending let me comment on Cold Cases by Tasha Tsiaperas and Julie Fancher. Two comments; one is thanks for bring this to light; we too often overlook the efforts of our law enforcement and how fortunate we are to have them; just think, 12 years of staying at it; rule of law; what a blessing; and what a rarity. Second, a writer with a name not indigenous to our culture; there are many such, and we value them too lightly, to our discredit. It brings to mind Mark Steyn’s book, American Panic; we have our crosses to bear. But that does not justify polls such as a recent one suggesting that 1/3 of our citizens (well, respondents anyway) reply that they would leave the United States. How little such people know about the world; but I won’t go into that except to say that because of polls today, many of us don’t even respond anymore: yes, no or I don’t know; give me a break.
Anyway, thank you for the opportunity to allow me to express my appreciation for the kind of effort I used to take for granted with American media, but have not been able to for a long time. We desperately need it. It is time for Americans to remember why America has become the beacon on the hill; perfect? Of course not. Nothing will ever be perfect; that is not human nature. But we MUST appreciate what we have – and that upon which we CAN improve. How many others can say that? Imperfect as we are, we are still the example.
Keep up the good work. We NEED your efforts, whether most appreciate it or not. Did I mention what the Progressives are trying to do to us, with their attempt not only to win, but to force us to accept their views? No, another subject. That is not a political statement but a view of moderation. I know, another outmoded concept. We are aren’t going to take things back to where they were, as conservatives might wish; things don’t work like that. So we can only rely on the principles upon which this country was founded; and we need YOU, and those like you (so rare these days in modern media) to lead the way.
Thank you; and keep up the good work.
Garland, TX 75043
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 is, 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 (Shakespeare) had 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 beginning 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.