Balance of what? Power, emotion, objectives – and probably more.
Balance? It is not something that comes naturally; it is not human nature. Why? Because we are all different; and we are all flawed. We all want what WE want, and pay little attention to what others want. Yes, that is a generalization, but it tends to hold true, most of the time – at least until someone makes an attempt to do otherwise; and that takes effort and a desire to do it, which seems to be increasingly rare.
Federalism was an attempt at balance – limiting power of central government by pushing decisions as far as possible to local levels where they could be dealt with more appropriately as a result of common interests and better understanding (to say nothing of increased political clutter). That sounds a bit trite today; why would interests at the local level be more “common”? Because as the population expands so do the number of differences. I have talked extensively of culture; culture is a complex concept, dependent upon many variables, including environment, influences and opportunities as well as the nature of people involved.
Is this still realistic in an expanding and more complex world. Local, smaller; how small? That has to be determined almost continually, as everything surrounding it changes. Clearly such as national defense must be left to central government, however that might be defined; and as international power grows and spreads among individual national entities that becomes ever more obvious; and relationships among the entities, both internal and external, must be done centrally. But that was appreciated from the beginning, as was the necessity to deal with differences among those entities in context with defense but also comprising whatever the internal mix of components might be.
Balancing is essential in almost all things – because of the differences: even among dealing with children within a family. But how a about in free enterprise? Supply and demand? Cost and revenue? Customer satisfaction between price and quality? But then what of balance between worker satisfaction and success of the enterprise? Leadership and management come to mind, as concepts that apply; yes, words, words, words; what do they really mean? It would be so simple if there was a formula, but there is not: management and leadership are arts, arts that must incorporate balancing of differences that will inevitably exist.
Again, one might ask why? asking why is a useful tool – it makes us think, if we are inclined to do it.
Because the natural human tendency is to want to have power; to dominate, if not physically then at least with opinion; propaganda? – persuasion. Attempting to deal with that human tendency effectively is always challenging, wherever it develops.
So balance is tranquility? Absolutely not. Balancing is dealing with differences, meaning contention; and without a certain level of stress, call it competition if you like, or at least challenge, there is likely to be no progress. And yes, all progress is not positive; but that also is part of balancing. In the end it is the best we can hope for; BUT IT WORKS.
So why do we not all want it, to want to agree? Because most of us are selfish and prefer domination to agreement – or balance. We want things our way, and prefer not to look much beyond that. More generalization; of course. That’s another thing we do; how can we do otherwise and not get bogged down in impossible detail.
On another tangent, think of this: “the meek shall inherit the earth”. What does that mean? Meek? Does that sound strange in a discussion that includes power? Even inconsistent?
More to think about: the natural proclivity of people is to want to pursue power, but the importance of balance is not only dealing with the realism of life, but learning to appreciate what is important in life. Way out again, and beyond where many have any interest in going; but many; despite lust for power, fame or fortune; will spend their lives wondering why they do not produce the satisfaction they wish they could find; thinking that fame, fortune and power is the end all. Few may even understand what I am trying to say, much less want to attempt to assimilate it into their own lives. Appreciating our culture, I also understand where they are coming from; but if I even attempted to express sympathy for their position (that is, their frustration with why it isn’t enough) they would consider me out of my mind. But then from the perspective of what most think matters in life, I probably am. I am surely out of step, and even lost in some strange past that no longer exists, nor should.
What can I say? Certainly no more; I have probably already written to much. All I can suggest is that any reader might think about it; one never knows.
From today’s on line version of Jewish World Review.
Judge Garland and the Left’s Disdain for Truth
By Dennis Prager
Published March 22, 2016
The mainstream media — that is, the liberal media — share all the views and characteristics of the left. Among these is the left’s view of truth. There are honest individuals with left-wing views, and dishonest individuals on the right. But truth is not a leftist value. Everything the left believes in is more important than truth: social justice, economic equality, reducing carbon emissions, expanding the power of the state, battling sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and above all of these, destroying its conservative opposition.
The media’s coverage of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court should serve as one of the most blatant examples of both the left-wing orientation of the news media and their willingness to play with truth.
On March 16, the day after Garland’s nomination, every major mainstream news outlet, both print and electronic, depicted the judge as a centrist.
The first sentence of The New York Times front page read: “WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday nominated Merrick B. Garland to be the nation’s 113th Supreme Court justice, choosing a centrist appellate judge.”
Similarly, the Los Angeles Times front-page headline said: “Obama’s choice of popular centrist Merrick Garland for Supreme Court puts GOP to the test.”
Another headline, seen in the Washington Post, read: “Merrick Garland’s instinct for the middle could put him in the court’s most influential spot.” That same day, the Post published a second article mentioning how “Garland’s deep resume and centrist reputation appear to have positioned him well to earn the president’s nod.”
Two days later, the Los Angeles Times featured a news analysis on its front page, in which a reporter wrote that Garland may actually be “the most moderate Supreme Court nominee anyone could expect from a Democratic president.” The reporter also calls Garland “a superbly qualified judge with a cautious, centrist record.”
There is no truth to any of these reports — something easily proved by both Judge Garland’s decisions and, amazingly, by the newspapers’ reports themselves.
Take the Los Angeles Times’ front-page “news analysis,” for example. After describing the judge as a moderate and centrist, the LA Times reporter writes:
“If the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative, is replaced by a moderate-to-liberal Justice Garland, the court would tip to the left on several key issues, like abortion, affirmative action, the death penalty, gun control, campaign spending, immigration and environmental protection.”
In other words, the very same author who describes Garland as a centrist believes that Garland votes left on essentially every major issue confronting the nation and the Supreme Court.
Additionally, that very same day The New York Times headlined that Garland is a centrist, it published an article on the nomination noting that “If Judge Garland is confirmed, he could tip the ideological balance to create the most liberal Supreme Court in 50 years.”
In reviewing Garland’s decisions, this Times piece placed Judge Garland to the left of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, way to the left of Justice Stephen Breyer and minimally to the right of Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg.
By their own accounts, the liberal media lied in describing Garland as a centrist.
And the more research one does, the bigger this lie appears.
In a column in The Wall Street Journal, Juanita Duggan, President and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, wrote that Garland is so anti-small business and so pro-big labor, that “This is the first time in the NFIB’s 73-year-history that we will weigh in on a Supreme Court nominee.”
What worries the NFIB, she explains, is that “in 16 major labor decisions of Judge Garland’s that we examined, he ruled 16-0 in favor of the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board).”
Elsewhere in the Journal, the editorial board wrote that they can’t think of a single issue on which Garland would vote differently from the four liberal Justices that already sit on the bench.
Tom Goldstein wrote in the SCOTUSblog that Garland favors deferring to the decision-makers in agencies. “In a dozen close cases in which the court divided, he sided with the agency every time.”
Another source reads that “Judge Garland would be a reliable fifth vote on all of these legal issues.”
Those are all the fundamental issues that divide the left from the right.
So, the entire left is lying about Judge Garland, who, for the record, seems like a truly decent man who possesses a first-class mind. They do so because getting a fifth left-wing vote and weakening the Republicans is far more important than truth.
And believe it or not, there is an even worse lesson here, namely the media’s effectiveness in saturating society with its mendacious version of reality. Unless an American makes the effort to study the issue — and most do not — they take the news media’s version as truth. The terrible lesson, which has been affirmed time and time again since the 1960s, is that a free society can experience brainwashing as effectively as a totalitarian state.
The reporting on Garland is that false.
This past Friday, a left-wing mob shut down a Donald Trump rally in Chicago. Most Americans viewing what happened saw it for what it was — another left-wing assault on the speech of those with whom they differ and on traditional American civility.
Not surprisingly, the media reporting has concentrated overwhelmingly on Trump for incendiary and inexcusable comments he has made at some of his other rallies that were disrupted by protesters. For example, he offered to pay any legal bills incurred by a man in the audience who sucker-punched a protester as he was being led out of a Trump rally.
Many have also noted the alleged assault by Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was accused of trying to grab Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields’ arm. (I say “alleged” because I have watched the video of the alleged incident four times but could not ascertain what actually took place.)
For the record, I have been relentless in my criticisms of Donald Trump, both in print and on my radio show, preferring any other Republican candidate. Based on his past, I have not had any reason to trust him as a conservative or as a Republican, and he has exhibited serious character flaws.
Nevertheless, truth must trump opposition to Trump.
And the truth is that the left-wing attack on Trump’s Chicago rally had little, if anything, to do with what the incendiary comments Donald Trump has made about attacking protestors at his events. Leftist mobs attack and shut down events with which they differ as a matter of course. They do so regularly on American college campuses, where conservative speakers — on the rare occasion they are invited — are routinely shouted down by left-wing students (and sometimes faculty) or simply disinvited as a result of leftist pressure on the college administration.
A couple of weeks ago conservative writer and speaker Ben Shapiro was disinvited from California State University, Los Angeles. When he nevertheless showed up, 150 left-wing demonstrators blocked the entrance to the theater in which he was speaking, and sounded a fire alarm to further disrupt his speech.
In just the last year, left-wing students have violently taken over presidents’ or deans’ offices at Princeton, Virginia Commonwealth University, Dartmouth, Providence College, Harvard, Lewis & Clark College, Temple University and many others. Conservative speakers have either been disinvited or shouted down at Brandeis University, Brown University, the University of Michigan and myriad other campuses.
And leftists shout down virtually every pro-Israel speaker, including the Israeli ambassador to the United States, at every university to which they are invited to speak.
Yet the mainstream media simply ignore this left-wing thuggery — while reporting that the shutting down of a pro-Trump rally is all Trump’s fault for his comments encouraging roughing up protestors at his events.
That the left shuts down people with whom it differs is a rule in every leftist society. The left — not classical liberals, I hasten to note — is totalitarian by nature. In the 20th century, the century of totalitarianism, virtually every totalitarian regime in the world was a leftist regime. And the contemporary American university — run entirely by the left — is becoming a totalitarian state, where only left-wing ideas are tolerated.
I think I have mentioned previously that I am reading Michael B. Oren’s book: Power, Faith and Fantasy. I have been reading it for awhile as it is long and heavy.
At one level the book is about the Jews and Israel; at another it is about the U.s. relationship with the Middle East since 1776. But it is more, much more. At it’s deepest level, and perhaps at its fundamental level, it is about the realities of humans living in the real world. The dust cover comments are very impressive.
And what is life in the real world? Well, first we have to accept that “life” (in this context) means human beings, and human beings are flawed. Cut that anyway you like and it won’t change; human beings are flawed – for any number of reasons, if one just gives some thought to it. During this period it was a struggle between liberalism and power; much more, of course, but that essentially – if somewhat simplistically. The compassion (liberalism) came mostly from the American missionaries and the fantasy that they had woven around the Middle East; the power was the struggle that dominated man during this period, much of it from European colonialism; but then there were the Jews and the Arabs. The much more is the inter-relationship between them all. Oren is an American Jew who lives in Israel; so there is bias in what he writes? Could there not be? Our imperfection includes – always – bias based on our experiences, including nurturing. But he is as balanced in his presentation as anyone could expect him to be.
In that interest, the real focus – to me – is on people and human nature, and how that inevitably plays out in the lives of those that live in the real world. There are lessons everywhere, and, as everyone who thinks about them knows, human nature is liberally exhibited throughout governments, since they, like businesses and virtually all else with which we must deal, are comprised of people; how could it be otherwise?
I have begun the final section, and Oren has built a very clear picture of a Middle East that has not changed all that much over the time that he describes, and likely longer, because it is inhabited by the same people as have always lived there, with additions of course, that have only made things more complex, but not so very different; and the same problems continue to exist for many of the same reasons. In fact, very little of the foundation has changed.
The history is complex, and becomes more so with “progress”, and much of the more modern has been altered, starting with the demise of the Ottoman Empire. But culture changes more slowly than history. People do change, and sometimes quite rapidly; but as I have written often, the influence of childhood and early experience tend to be carried by families, and thus the culture is much slower to change; but then influence has expanded so rapidly that its effects almost boggle the mind.
Perhaps one of the things that stood out for me is the culture of Arabs, and how little it has changed; but not only that, but the myopic view Americans, and particularly missionaries, had of it, and how long that took to change; this is the fantasy in Oren’s book title. I don’t want to dig too deeply into that; Arab, after all, is a term that was expanded to cover many more than the Bedouins of the desert. And missionaries were a mixed lot, with many different leanings – and influences.
An interesting aspects was how governments responded to those different inputs. Consider, for example, the lure of profit from development of oil, considering the influence that oil has on our culture today – not only in the United States, but throughout the world. Here is where the incredible depth of influence, and it’s effect on human nature, comes into play. People are selfish; they must be to survive. I have attempted to summarize that selfishness into fame, fortune and power but it is of course much more, and thus much more complex.
Roosevelt tried to discuss the need to make the desert bloom; but Ibn Saud (and I am paraphrasing because I didn’t highlight the passage) responded: why would we care about that? We are not farmers, but warriors? Enough said. Difference of culture and influence: what matters. We all see things differently and that is where the problems arise – always. The Americans, because of their cultural background, saw things through the eyes of individualism and Christianity, the Bedouins came from a massive barren desert; and our approaches to living were different. But then Americans had come to believe in what they had achieved, with justification, in my opinion, and wanted to share this with the rest of the world. The rest of the world was open to sharing the benefits, but not to developing that from which the benefits derived – massive cultural differences.
And most of these differences continue to exist today, and are the cause of the difficulties that also continue to exist, not only in the Middle East, but almost everywhere. Consider the emphasis of the second Bush administration on spreading “democracy” throughout the world; it was sincere. But much of the rest of the world not only did not understand it, but even rejected its premises. And even our founders understood that there was a vast difference between democracy and a balanced and checked republic, something I have probably beaten to death. Suffice it to say that these differences continue to exist and attempting to dispel them approaches impossibility. Oren’s book is replete with examples of the difficulties that were encountered throughout history in trying to deal with the situation. Again, I’ll make no attempt to go beyond that, here.
But that is where this book, and thinking about it in these terms, led me. The challenges during WWI were almost insurmountable. Understanding why, particularly by getting a glimpse into the cultural development of the Middle East, helps us to understand that. Colonialism was part of the problem as well – competition among disparate people for power. But so was the narrow vision of the United States leadership, under pressure from missionaries, Jews, but also devout Christians – as well as business entrepreneurs.
Narrow view, however, misses part of it: narrow is natural when leadership must deal with differences. Such as? Self interest for one, including not only self defense but economic interests, including oil. American presidents were constantly torn between concern for liberty and justice and the reality of the situation; to say nothing of committing troops to attempt to help immature countries achieve with what we thought they needed to achieve dealing modern progress as well as with the competing interests of Arabs and Jews – and Armenians, Kurds, and so many more.
Did we make mistakes? We surely did. Are we living with them today? Yes, we are. Could we have avoided them? Probably not at that time; hind-sight is always 20/20 and uncluttered with the reality that always exists at any point in time. I have struggled with such as race, ethnicity, culture and religion; and attempted to address some of that in a recent essay, inadequately of course, because it is too complex for a mere essay; Oren did a better job, but it took over six hundred pages and 89 pages of notes and 48 pages of bibliography.
So why is the Middle East a mess today; why is the world a mess today? People, human nature, reality and fantasy. Could we do better? We could, if we made a better attempt to understand. Can we achieve perfection? No, we shall never achieve perfection (my opinion), much as many would like to believe that it is possible (more fantasy?); we can only strive to do a better job; and even that will take enormous effort, which, frankly, is not particularly in evidence, starting with the level of accepted ignorance But that’s not an excuse for not continuing to try.
Now there is a mix to talk about – to think about.
Let’s start with race; it’s a non- starter. What is race, after all? In short, it is a short cut for discrimination. Short cut? Sure, race is color coded; makes it easier to decide who to be prejudiced against. Isn’t that what we prefer? anything that’s easier? But then we love discrimination: putting someone down, anyone, for whatever reason comes to mind; color coding just simplifies it, and keeps us from having to think about it.
How about ethnicity? Much the same. It’s not even worth talking about.
Religion? That’s a little different. Religion has to do with what we believe, and if one is glib enough, and adamant enough it makes for a rather convenient base from which to exert power – or domination; and that’s something else we like to do: dominate.
Ah, and power, but before we go there let’s do culture. Power is just an objective; culture is how we get there. What is culture? Many meanings, look the word up in a dictionary. But for our purposes it is how we choose to live; if that sounds too simplistic, think about it. Black race? Forget about it; but black culture? That’s something else, especially when you throw in the word ghetto. But then ghetto culture is interesting too, whatever hue it might take. But ghetto gets complicated; there are many reasons for ghettos to arise. I contend that some are deliberate, though I certainly do not suggest that all are. How about red-neck? I know, much generalization gets mixed up in that.
So let’s cut to the quick, or at least the quick to which I am attempting to head, and I admit again that there is some generalizing in what I am about to say. And that is? For the most part culture is a choice. The culture we deprecate is failed culture. Sure, history is replete with examples of where culture has failed through no fault of those that stay with it. So, why do they stay with it?
Now I am going to stick my neck way out: because they make no attempt to escape it – or even change it for that matter. But it might not be their fault. I contend it IS their fault if they make no attempt to disengage from it. Anyone who has sampled my philosophy knows where this is going. And may I remind that philosophy is nothing more than use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality- note SEEKING. Give me an excuse for not even seeking. We come again to motivation; is there an excuse for individuals making no effort to motivate themselves? Go ahead, give it a shot; whatever you come up I shall disagree with it. Yes, there are many things that can contribute to lack of motivation: poor nurturing, lack of opportunity, financial difficulties; I accept them and surely there are others, but they only contribute to making self- motivation more difficult. In this day and age of wall-to-wall publicized examples of reality slapping us in the face, there may be difficulty in dealing with it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t; anyone who WANTS to can. So why would anyone not want to?
Are we getting to the crux of it? Too much trouble, not paying enough attention, just not wanting to bother with it. Does our current pleasure culture contribute to that? Ah, culture again; and culture is an option.
Ignorance! How about ignorance? I reject that as well; ignorance is relative. If someone is mentally or physically incapable of it, that’s one thing, but ignorant? Maybe we don’t choose to be ignorant; but we DO choose to not make the effort to do anything to change that. One has to want to change it.
In fact, to make anything happen, one has to first WANT to make it happen; and just wanting is enough? Of course not, there comes the difficult part: making the effort. Each all by themselves? I’ve touched on that before too; even going it alone is a choice: there are always collective options. Really, yes really, but one has to make the effort to search them out.
This is where I stop. Disagree if you like but explain your disagreement – not to me, but to yourself. Myrer again: “read, think; disagree with everything if you like – but force your mind outward” – motivation; you have to want to make the effort.
Power? Can’t forget power; that’s what accrues to those who successfully make that effort – and we have touched upon what goes into that. Unfortunately, those who have successfully achieved power like to use it, and that means pushing it on others; and too many of those others roll over and let them. Another option; more motivation.
So my main point is that culture is an option. I cannot deny having strong cultural prejudices, and make no apology for them. But that’s because I consider cultural choices as being optional – and therefore avoidable; if one wishes to avoid them and is willing to make the effort that it takes to do so.
Hey, at least I am consistent.
Extremes? Yes, culture is always shaped like a bell curve, with extremes at the ends and the bulk of what exists in the middle, shaped like a bell. The extremes of our culture are the radically progressive left and the radically conservative right. The middle has recently become disparaged. That is indicative of what we do to ourselves: we do not like moderation, and in fact attack it: it seems we prefer contention, my way or the highway, at least until we achieve our own way. But then compromise is also a dirty word these days.
With the differences that invariably exist among people, what are the alternatives? Simple enough: divide and conquer is all that remains, and what form of government derives from that? Authoritarianism! Destroy the opposition and rule with an iron fist. That is exactly what the founders of our nation sought to circumvent, since they were students of human nature and reality they knew that the only way to achieve any semblance of balanced peace among us had to be achieved through separation, checks and balance. The extremes have been attempting to overthrow that successful action ever since it was implemented.
Why? Because that’s the way people are: each wants his/her own way. Look at the world; there are different ways of getting there. Violent take-over has been the traditional favorite: destroy the opposition; if not violently then by subtle subjugation. But there is another, or maybe it is just one means of subtle subjugation: socialism, or communism, pretends to aspire to total equality. But in the end someone must govern; and if is not a balance among the people and their institutions it has to be an elite that cons the people into thinking that all are equal. But elites can never accept that they are anything but elite, and certainly not equal to those upon who they look down.
So what of democracy? Democracy is essentially one man, one vote, and therefore rule of the majority. Sounds good, but what is a majority? If your side has one more vote than the opposition it gets to call the shots; which is why WE have a balanced and checked republic with a constitution, and not a pure democracy. Don’t believe that? Look at most “democracies” in the world today. Oh, they support voting, but their ultimate purpose is to gain the majority from whence comes power and rule of a power elite. And the methods of gaining that majority are legion and varied.
So let’s extend the conversation to modern cultures; is there much around save power elites posing as dispensers of equality – to all but themselves, who deserve more – and strong man rule? Yes, there are nations which have not succumbed to the democratic socialist temptation to push for what they call “equality”, and some are more successful that others; but the temptation is always there. Do we all want to be equal? hell no; we all want to be elite and in control, but since we can’t, we go for the next best, which is making sure we have as much or more as anyone else.
Human nature is self centered; what is the difference between that and individuality? Not a great deal; we must take care of ourselves, and, in fact, doing so is the basis of living successfully – but a bit more. Our balanced republic recognized at the outset that individual success must be buttressed by a general or cultural success; meaning a degree of sharing. But there comes the challenge: sharing what? We’ll never agree, because by being selfish by nature most expect that “sharing” means making all equal; whereas those with more feel that whatever they give is good enough, and they pride themselves at their generosity in giving it. Equality can never happen, because we are all different. But that means competition, and competition is winners and losers; yes, based on ability and motivation: those that work harder, try harder and make a greater effort come out ahead of those that don’t. Not fair! See? No big mystery there. However, it’s not that simple either. Luck also plays a part, but that needs no discussion.
So from this point it gets progressively more complicated, because there are always some that will necessarily have to be helped by those that can help them, and that’s ok. To gain anything close to balanced success of the culture there must be that, and it is what I call sharing. To an extent our laws are promulgated to achieve something of that. But it can never be achieved with total agreement because as soon as help is provided to some from others, they will tend to take advantage; why make the effort if government (through such distribution) will provide it? More human nature, and it makes things even more complex: everyone would like to be independent, do what they want to do, but in the process achieve pretty much what everyone else is achieving, so when it doesn’t come out even and some are getting more from the government than others, there are disagreements. I’ll take it no further than that.
What it comes down to, in my view, is that what is really important to most are a combination of wealth, fame and power. Our “new” culture, where everyone is pretty much aware of what everyone else has, leaves little doubt of success: some do better than others. Is that the measure of success: more of everything, but mostly more than what others have? Is that what success is? It seems to be the current consensus. Why fame, one might ask? Because to many fame is the way to wealth and power; is that true? Sometimes it is; certainly many think it is. But then success is in the mind of the beholder and we all compare – continually; numbers of “likes” on face book are an example: fame. Is it valid? Everyone has to decide for self, and that is exactly what happens, every day, continually. What is success?
I have a different view, a very out of date view, I might add; I feel that success is something that has to be internal and has to do with the way we live and the satisfaction we derive from the way we live: principles, responsibility, reliability, honor, integrity; the list is long. And I realize I am vastly in the minority because success to most seems to be how they are perceived by others. What is really important, how we see ourselves or how others see us? Oh my, there we go again, another cultural bell curve of differences. Let’s not take that one any further either.
Back to the extremes; I have found – and of course this is just me – that both are built upon arrogance and ignorance; two more vastly sliding scales of differences. What is arrogance? where is the dividing line between arrogance and healthy self-confidence? Don’t ask; there is not a satisfactory definition of what it is. And how about ignorance? we are all ignorant of something (many of much), but some just more than others. Where is that dividing line between what might be tolerable and what is not? again, there is no such line; it is relative, and must be.
So where am I going with this? Same place I always go: each of us has to decide for self, and then accept the result. And what does that mean? What it means is that “success” in life is and must be relative, and we have to decide for ourselves what our goals are, what we will accept, and how we are going to deal with it – that is, what we are going to do about it is we don’t like it. Reality? a favorite word of mine; reality is there, whether we recognize it or not; I contend that recognizing it makes life easier and vastly more pleasant – in the long run. And what do we need do to address reality? The most important, after internalizing how it affects us, is motivation – incentivizing self, doing the best we can with what we have, to deal with it. Unfair advantages? advantages, yes, unfair? That is life. We can all take what we have and build upon it, if we motivate ourselves to do so. How about family advantages? We do not exist as totally individual ciphers; we are parts of groups, of which family is probably the most important, but surely not the only one. Add basic equipment to that and differences have to be legion; even as they are cushioned by motivation.
Too much? of course it is. Too simple? yes. But that is also life; life is not simple, and all we can do is what we can do with it, individually and collectively. But I contend most of us can do more than we do, although it takes wanting to and then converting that to action, something not easy to do, nor does it come naturally; it takes effort. Results will not be the same; get used to it. But why does it matter so much? Why can’t we deal with our own realities? And then? try to help others deal with theirs – to HELP THEMSELVES deal with theirs, as best we can, without compromising ourselves; that takes it to the next level, and it can be very satisfying.
Yes, enough; I can see you saying, dear reader (if there are still any left): how naive, how simplistic, how utterly unrealistic. I do not expect you to accept it, only to think about it – for yourselves. I have found that individually assessing what “success” means is enlightening, and can make life immeasurably more satisfying, particularly if you find ways to help others help themselves in the process.
Did I mention thinking and keeping an open mind? no, so I shall. I always do.
Don’t you just love it? Not what I am preaching, but the utterly simplistic way I view it? It is anything but simple. But then, I really believe it.
200 Bedford Street
Manchester, NH 03101
First Lego League (FLL)
8 February 2016
To Whom It May Concern:
I have been involved in Core Values judging in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for the past several years and just discharged my obligations for this year. I wanted to write to you to make this after action/observation report.
I am very impressed with the contribution FLL is making in this challenging time for American education. We hear so much criticism, much of which is unwarranted, some of which is culturally oriented: specifically, that our youth are no longer being taught to think independently. There is some justification for this criticism due to the pressure upon school districts by government and parents to slack off on discipline and soften requirements; much has been written about this lately, so I need not go into that here.
I was trained as an engineer, but spent most of my career in more generalized endeavor (specifically logistics) and have moved into philosophical considerations as I have entered the last phase of my life. I have a great respect for education, including experience, of all kinds; and I am concerned with the above criticism as I see where it is being generated, particularly in our rapidly changing culture and the technology that is driving it, including not only communications but entertainment.
In this regard I have been greatly heartened by the efforts of your organization and its “products”, both from what I have heard from others and what I have personally experienced. It is about that that I am attempting to write. I have earned a number of degrees, all oriented toward servicing my career choices; I pursued none for “window dressing” or prestige. I believe that the educated individual is the backbone of our nation; but I also believe we have lost track of the real meaning that entails. We educate to make ourselves better people as well as to contribute to keeping our country the success that it has become. Our founders, to their everlasting credit, understood that; my concern is that we today understand it less so. Having written that, let me be quick to add the we have not been perfect; there is no perfection in man, but great potential. It is that which we must strive not only to conserve but to expand as technological changes explode.
My own personal focus has moved from basics to embellishment of them through both formal education, to experience and personal efforts. As one moves through life I believe the latter must be emphasized to make the former more meaningful; that’s where philosophy comes in: “Use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality” (Oxford); that is where it becomes personal and requires both motivation and effort, which is not for everyone, I readily acknowledge, nor should it be. So the challenge for all of us: what can we do to inspire that motivation and effort in our youth (actually in all of us) at the level of which we are capable and willing to pursue?
Which brings us to what you have created. That is what I want to address.
First, in a complimentary fashion. You have come up with a vehicle with which the young can motivate themselves; and to me that is so key. To be successful people must learn to motivate themselves in all aspects of learning, whether academically, in the trades or morally. Who would have thought that that vehicle would be Legos? Well, why not? They are building blocks with which to construct (not available in my early years, but of much greater value than what I had because of their flexibility). First comes the hands on, which can take the young in either direction – actually both – and provide them satisfaction and challenge. But very quickly that must lead to research and experimentation (perhaps two of America’s greatest strengths). Scientific method? Oh yes: come up with the idea, research options to address it; do it, test it and adjust from there. THAT is scientific method and that is what Lego League kids do. But to pursue it requires making the effort to learn how to do it. And that is the tremendous value that FLL provides, and is doing so well.
But it is not only in engineering; they have to learn to work together, to respect each other and the opinions of each within the group. It cannot happen without that. Is that not where philosophy comes in? even theology? In my experience that means principles: discipline, honesty, motivation, concern for others, desire to help others help themselves to achieve goals, integrity, diligence; I could go on. How do we teach that? With great difficulty in a formal environment. Religion makes a contribution; so does industry; so does academia. And in each there is struggle for power, the nature of man. How can we overcome that and achieve the desired results? Your vehicle to do so is so impressive: beginning with interest in things that appeal to young children, moving on to working together, then competition and finally putting it all together to come to a solution, with all the challenges that entails.
I have been so impressed with the way in which middle school students have demonstrated that. They really understand, intuitively, beginning with the Lego building blocks. Who would have thought it? My compliments to those innovators who did; their contribution has been truly inspiring
Before leaving this, however, I have to come back to our current culture and it’s driving forces. My wonderful judging partner and I saw things pretty much the same way, and had a great deal of discussion concerning what we saw. It was apparent that there are – and must be – several levels of challenge. In our first round deliberations my partner, whose children are engaged in Lego competitions, pointed out that certain teams, regardless of innovation, could not win the championship selections. Why not? Because of the mind sets of the judges. She was right on, and I quickly recognized what she was saying, as we went to the second round and saw the competitiveness, not of the students, but of the judges in support of those with whom they had been, and judged, in the first round. Part of it was the attachment which quickly became favoritism. But then came personal opinion and difficult-to- budge mind sets. But more. There was a difference between the nature of projects; how to differentiate between the value of something that was leading to a patent and something that was an innovative solution to a practical problem that had no particular long-term reward save a practical solution to a common problem? We saw several of both. The level of innovation was very similar; but the ultimate level of success, to wit monetary success – as we are prone to see it, was not so. In that light I also observed something I have seen much of in our culture lately: latching on to “likes”. What is it that we like? Some of it is confidence, which is important, some it is diligence, which is too. But what of glibness and ability to overwhelm by pure force of personality? I see us falling for this continually with politicians; we “like” them but don’t really know why. What of character and experience? I recently read an article (political) that suggested that we have great concern for character, but it is more oriented toward finding lack of it in opponents rather than its availability in those we are supporting; but enough of that.
What I am suggesting is that the most important level of what Lego League does is to generate enthusiasm, inspire effort and push the young to deal with that in pursuing a solution. What concerns me – and this is due to our culture – is how much the completion is having inordinate influence. Before you reject my concern, let me say that I understand: this is part of human nature, and we are unlikely to change it; I am certainly not suggesting that I have a simple solution to recommend. So how do we zero in on encouraging the simple but effective as well as the grand? I know you have developed prizes in addition to the champions, and I think they are useful and worthwhile. I also know that as you move forward you necessarily run into new challenges, some of which are culturally based, and all of which cannot be addressed nor effectively met; and pretty soon it CAN get out of hand. That’s why I am deferring to you, and merely expressing the concern I have for possibly discouraging the practical but not momentous solution; as well is giving in to the competitive nature of not only the children, but parents, coaches and judges as well.
I have given this much thought, in fact lost sleep over thinking about it last night. So, get a grip, you might say; and you could well be right. But I had to put this into words to send to you because I think what you are doing is so valuable in helping our youth to think, becoming inspired in STEM subjects – and helping our formal education system do what they have not been able to do for so many reasons. I think it is going to have a great influence on our future.
Thank you for reading; there is no need to respond.
Copied from Pew Reseach and offered here for what it is worth.
January 27, 2016
The demographic trends shaping American politics in 2016 and beyond
By Paul Taylor
“The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown,” by Paul Taylor and Pew Research Center, is being released this week in a paperback edition that includes nearly 100 pages of new text, charts and updates to the original 2014 hardcover edition. Here, Paul Taylor shares eight takeaways from the book’s all-new opening chapter, “Political Tribes.”
1. In an era of head-snapping racial, social, cultural, economic, religious, gender, generational and technological change, Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities that reflect not only their politics but their demographics. The result has been a rise in identity-based animus of one party toward the other that extends far beyond the issues. These days Democrats and Republicans no longer stop at disagreeing with each other’s ideas. Many in each party now deny the other’s facts, disapprove of each other’s lifestyles, avoid each other’s neighborhoods, impugn each other’s motives, doubt each other’s patriotism, can’t stomach each other’s news sources, and bring different value systems to such core social institutions as religion, marriage and parenthood. It’s as if they belong not to rival parties but alien tribes.
And their candidates in 2016 might seem to be running for president of different countries. As the chart above illustrates, the partisan gap in how Americans evaluate their presidents is wider now than at any time in the modern era.
2. This political sorting has roots in two simultaneous demographic transformations that America is undergoing. The U.S. is on its way to becoming a majority nonwhite nation, and at the same time, a record share of Americans are going gray. Together these overhauls have led to stark demographic, ideological and cultural differences between the parties’ bases.
We now have one party that skews older, whiter, more religious and more conservative, with a base that’s struggling to come to grips with the new racial tapestries, gender norms and family constellations that make up the beating heart of the next America. The other party skews younger, more nonwhite, more liberal, more secular, and more immigrant- and LGBT-friendly, and its base increasingly views America’s new diversity as a prized asset.
3. At the turn of the century, there was no partisan difference in the votes of young and old. But in recent elections, there has been a huge generation gap at the polls. And Democrats and Republicans have become much more ideologically polarized.
Today 92% of Republicans are to the right of the median Democrat in their core social, economic and political views, while 94% of Democrats are to the left of the median Republican, up from 64% and 70% respectively in 1994. The same 2014 Pew Research Center study also found a doubling in the past two decades in the share of Americans with a highly negative view of the opposing party.
4. The cleavages between the political tribes spill beyond politics into everyday life. Two-thirds of consistent conservatives and half of consistent liberals say most of their close friends share their political views. And liberals say they would prefer to live in cities while conservatives are partial to small towns and rural areas. In their child-rearing norms, conservatives place more emphasis on religious values and obedience, while liberals are more inclined to stress tolerance and empathy. And in their news consumption habits, each group gravitates to different sources.
To be clear, not all of America is divided into these hostile camps. Even as partisan polarization has deepened, more Americans are choosing to eschew party labels. This group is heavily populated by the young, many of whom are turned off by the cage match of modern politics. They are America’s most liberal generation by far, but when asked to name their party, nearly half say they are independents. No generation in history has ever been so allergic to a party label.
5. Identity-based hyperpartisanship is thriving at a time when a majority of Americans tell pollsters they’d like to see Washington rediscover the lost art of political compromise. As ever, many Americans are pragmatists, ready to meet in the middle.
Yet nowadays these Americans are the new silent majority. They don’t have the temperament, inclination or vocal cords to attract much attention in a media culture in which shrill pundits and 140-character screeds set the tone. Those most averse to political compromise are ideologically consistent conservatives and liberals, majorities of whom want their side to prevail.
Congress’ members are more polarized by party than at any time since the Reconstruction Era. And recent elections have produced something else unprecedented in American political history – one party winning the popular vote in five of the past six presidential contests even as the other party has recently run up its biggest congressional and statehouse majorities in a century.
6. The Democratic base, dubbed the “coalition of the ascendant” by journalist Ronald Brownstein, is often the coalition of the unengaged, especially during non-presidential elections. In 2014, for example, just 19.9% of 18- to 29-year-old citizens voted, a record low. The old turning out in force more than the young is nothing new – that seems hard wired into the human life cycle. This matters little when the generations vote alike, but it makes a huge difference when, as now, they don’t.
Thus we have the alternating red and blue election outcomes of the recent past, with President Obama’s victories in the big turnout years of 2008 and 2012 playing hopscotch with the GOP romps in the low turnout midterms of 2010 and 2014. This in turn has contributed to a Washington that’s paralyzed by gridlock and a hothouse for the sort of rancor that can fire up the hyperpartisans but can also send nonpartisans farther off to the political sidelines. And so the cycle of mean-spirited, broken politics perpetuates itself.
7. Might 2016 be the year we break the fever? So far it’s not looking that way. The public remains in a foul mood, frustrated by stagnant incomes, a shrinking middle class and gruesome global terrorism. Just 19% say they trust the government to do what’s right. Moreover, most Republicans and many Democrats say they believe that, on the issues that matter most to them, the other side is winning. And not since the early 2000s has a majority of the public said the nation is on the right track, making these past dozen years the longest sustained stretch of national pessimism since the onset of polling.
8. Politics is never static, which means today’s state of affairs isn’t necessarily a template for the future. This campaign has already illuminated deep fissures not just between both parties but within them. A lot of political business will get transacted between now and November. No matter what the outcome, the political firmament is likely to look different next year.
The most hopeful take on this long season of political discontent comes from our nation’s most astute early observer, Alexis de Tocqueville, who noted nearly two centuries ago that American democracy isn’t as fragile as it looks; confusion on the surface masks underlying strengths.
From The Transom, 1 February, 2016. This is the kind of input we need to think about the reality of our lives. Following it will be my attempt to do just that.
Ross Douthat. “The state of the union isn’t all that one might hope, but it could clearly be a whole lot worse. So what are Trumpistas and Bern-feelers rebelling against? One answer might be that they’re fed up with exactly this — the politics of “it could be worse,” of stagnation and muddling through. They aren’t revolting against abject failure, or deep and swift decline. They’re rebelling against decadence.
“Now it may sound absurd to cast a figure like Donald Trump, the much-married prince of tinsel and pasteboard, as a scourge of decadence rather than its embodiment. But don’t just think about the word in moral or aesthetic terms. Think of it as a useful way of describing a society that’s wealthy, powerful, technologically proficient — and yet seemingly unable to advance in the way that its citizens once took for granted. A society where people have fewer children and hold diminished expectations for the future, where institutions don’t work particularly well but can’t seem to be effectively reformed, where growth is slow and technological progress disappoints. A society that fights to a stalemate in its foreign wars, even as domestic debates repeat themselves without any resolution. A society disillusioned with existing religions and ideologies, but lacking new sources of meaning to take their place.
“This is how many Americans, many Westerners, experience their civilization in the early years of the 21st century. And both Trump and Bernie Sanders, in their very different ways, are telling us that we don’t have to settle for it anymore. With Trump, the message is crude, explicit, deliberately over the top. Make America Great Again. “We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with the winning.”
“But it resonates because the diagnosis resonates — especially with older Americans, who grew up amid the post-World War II boom, the vaulting optimism of the space age, the years when big government and big business were seen as effective and patriotic rather than sclerotic and corrupt. Trump is offering nostalgia, but it’s not a true reactionary’s lament. He wants to take us back to a time when the future seemed great, amazing, fantastic.”
They are rebelling against decadence. Decadence; Oxford (1996): Moral or cultural deterioration, especially after peak or culmination of achievement. Definitions are continually changing – evolving – but Mr. Douthat suggests what he is referring to is: the politics of stagnation of muddling through? How about frustration? Yes, but…………..the frustration is not consistent, because people are not consistent. We sense there is a problem, but we sense it differently – and then want to argue about it. So the problem is disagreement over what is wrong? but we don’t understand that the same way? Sure, nothing new there; and since we have so many opinions, and so much opportunity to express them, it has exploded.
In a sense that is good, and many are pointing out that Mr. Trump is making a contribution by forcing conversations having to do with those differences, and frustrations. Conversations? Well, what passes for conversations these days. Maybe decadence is as good a word at any; but that brings another word to mind: deterioration; we perceive that things have gotten bad, and are likely to get worse. But we don’t know why; or at least can’t agree why. Probably a little of both. Understanding is part of it, but so is agreement as to what to do about it. Ah, mankind being what it is, we need leadership; and what kind of leadership? Because we do not really understand, we don’t know what kind, and therefore disagree. There is a pattern there; an ancient pattern.
So how can we disagree when we don’t even understand? Ah, human nature again; people don’t have to understand, they just have to believe, and be convinced. And how can one believe and be convinced about something they don’t understand? Now we are getting to the crux of the problem: the arrogance of thinking they understand. So the problem is arrogance? yes, and ignorance, and complexity, and……..Well, you get the point. We want to zero in on A cause, and there are always many, all of which are complexly related; some of which we think we understand, but many of which we are not even aware.
This, I believe, is what Douthat is dancing around. And since so many of us are frustrated, and tend to listen to whomever says what we want to hear, and have the capability to propagate it effectively, even going to the mat to do so, we do. Activism? Isn’t that part of what drives activism? And throw it all together on top of ignorance, and may I suggest that is where we are? It resonates because the diagnosis resonates, and decadence is a convenient term that fits.
So where is it taking us? We really don’t know. Is it bad or good? Possibly either, but more likely both. So will it turn out bad or good? That is up to us, individually and collectively to determine. We have been there before, and good has prevailed over the long run; but things are much more complex today, not only domestically but internationally, and short runs can be brutal – and have been, and will probably be again – and likely soon. End of the world? Could be, but it doesn’t need to be. So what is needed? Reasoned, motivated, knowledgeable and dedicated leadership; dedicated to what is best for the country, not what is best for the power seekers. Who are the power seekers? All of us; each of us, each in our own way. Complicated? Not really, when seen from 10,000 feet; but very complicated when immersed in the personal of short visioned selfishness.
Ah, one might say, more philosophy; what good is that? Philosophy is what is needed to proceed from the unknown to the known, embracing scientific method. But in this case it is dealing with human nature, which is anything but scientific. Big challenge; are we up to it? Many are stepping up to it and offering rather impressive wisdom, similar to that which has carried us through in the past. Are we listening? many are; enough? Stay tuned. But in the end it will be up to US.
This is a brilliant essay, written by John D. Gartner, and published in the op ed sections (Points) of the Dallas Morning News, Sunday, 31 January. I make no attempt to comment or add.
Inside the Mind of the President:
The toughest job in the world just got tougher.
The United States president today faces increasing pressure and compounding complexity at every turn. Domestic policy demands ever-expanding expertise on topics from the economy to airport security. Proliferating crises around the globe, embroiling state and nonstate entities, require sudden attention and, often, quick response. All in a hyperpartisan atmosphere.
At the same time, historians agree, respect for the office has declined drastically, bringing unprecedented scrutiny. Hard to believe the press once ignored FDR’s wheelchair and JFK’s affairs. “No past president could function effectively in today’s environment,” contends at least one presidential historian. Maybe, another suggests, you need to be slightly deranged to run for the office today.
We need a president to be dominant but not bullying, to be deliberative without appearing indecisive, to inspire without overpromising, says political scientist Michael Genovese.
“It is rocket science.”
Exactly what psychological traits will the winner of the 2016 presidential election need to guide America successfully today? I put that question to seven eminent presidential historians, biographers and political scientists. All agreed that the trait most integral to governing is judgment.
At the base of the brain, sitting atop the brain stem, is the limbic lobe, the source of our most basic drives and instincts, as well as of our emotions. It hasn’t changed much in the last few million years. Responsive to cues that helped our prehuman ancestors survive, it very much influences what appeals to us on a gut level. That is in distinct contrast to the big, new cortex. Sprawling on top of the limbic system, it sets us apart from other creatures, making us rational and human. It enables analysis and judgment.
The old brain is engaged by things that stimulate our passions and fears, the new brain by our need to adapt to reality, ever-changing as it now is. The problem is that appealing to the limbic lobe is how you win elections, while governing the country relies almost unremittingly on resources of the cortex.
We are increasingly of two minds when it comes to politics, one the sum of our past, one the architect of our future. What we want in a president and what we need in a president may be two different things. A president who can “work both sides of the coin is rare,” says Genovese, head of the World Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.
Candidates differ in the appeals they make to the more rational or the more primitive sides of our psyche, contends psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University, author of The Political Brain. “Feelings are millions of years older than the conscious thought processes we call reason.” Or as Freud might have put it, the id is more powerful than the ego.
Our old brain looks much like a chimpanzee’s. The rapid rise of Donald Trump is not too difficult to understand if you think of the 10 candidates on the stage for the first Republican debate as chimpanzees struggling for alpha male status. The day after the debate, newspaper columnists almost unanimously declared Trump dead, unsuited for office — a blowhard bully with no grasp of the issues. Viewers, however, saw the proceedings through the limbic lobe; there was Trump, hooting, beating his chest, throwing dirt at his opponents — bigger, louder, prouder, more aggressive and energized. They thought he won. Even the way Trump styles his hair, making him look taller than his 6-foot-3, resembles the behavior of alpha chimps who, as primatologist Frans de Waal reports in Chimpanzee Politics, make their hair stand on end to make their bodies look large.
De Waal observes that among both chimps and humans, a more submissive male regulates his vocal tones to match a more dominant male at a pitch that is almost imperceptible to the human ear. In all but one election since the first televised debate, between JFK and Richard Nixon, the man who adjusted his vocal tone lost. The winner was almost always the man who was visibly and audibly more aggressive, confident and energetic.
So is that how we pick our presidents, Planet of the Apes style?
Along with energy and aggressiveness, many of the traits that underlie presidential success are linked to hypomanic temperament — unsinkable optimism, charisma, confidence, expansive vision and extroversion. In my study of this temperament among American leaders, The Hypomanic Edge, I show that hypomania, which is genetically based and encourages risk-taking, is what has made America rich and powerful. People with hypomanic temperament are not mentally ill but have mildly manic features. All their motivating forces are in overdrive, including the competitive push for dominance.
Judgment, the trait most essential to success in governing, is distinctly not associated with hypomania. Quite the opposite. Poor judgment is one of the most distinctive features of hypomania. Impulsivity, arrogance, a tendency to move and think too fast — all work against the measured, sober, thoughtful and patient study that good judgment requires. Brain imaging studies show that among people in a manic state, the limbic system is on fire, while the prefrontal cortex, the part of the new brain tasked with inhibiting and modulating it, is hardly working at all. Hypomania doesn’t just turn on our drives. It also turns off our judgment, which is why the really bad decisions hypomanics are prone to can seem like a good idea at the time.
Every person alive struggles with balancing the two sides of our nature. How heads of state manage the task is called history. From journalistic accounts and historical records, it is possible to see how each of our three most recent presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama — balanced the psychological traits needed to get into and then be in the Oval Office. They provide a dynamic portrait of what the successful candidate needs in 2016.
Bill Clinton: A hypomanic with a great cortex and a zipper problem
No president has ever embodied the id in the public’s imagination more than Bill Clinton, thanks to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In a psychobiographic study I wrote, In Search of Bill Clinton, I attributed his hypersexuality to the hypomanic temperament he inherited from his mother (who was also quite promiscuous). All of Clinton’s drives are writ large. He spent years battling overeating and can’t stop talking. His turbocharged libido propels him to compulsively connect with people in every way, not just sexually, making him an extreme extrovert. His “driving need for contact with people, people and more people,” wrote political journalist Joe Klein in The Natural, had a “physical” and “carnal quality.”
Clinton’s extroversion combined with his hypomanic energy made him a naturally great campaigner. When Clinton first ran for Congress, he regularly stumped for 36 hours without sleeping, wearing out his drivers, who had to work in rotating shifts, and the soles of three pairs of shoes. Though perpetually running late, Clinton would impulsively leap out of the car every time he saw a handful of people on the street: “That’s 10 votes!”
High on the list of traits voters value is the feeling that the candidate “cares about people like me.” Empathy, augmented by gregariousness, was one of Clinton’s greatest political assets. “He’s more able to walk a mile in your shoes than anyone I’ve ever known,” says political consultant Paul Begala. When, at a town hall debate, an African-American woman asked, “How has the national debt affected your life?” George Bush senior stumbled for an answer. Clinton left his stool, took three steps toward her, and asked sympathetically, “Tell me how it’s affected you again?” Bush was caught staring at his wristwatch and, according to Klein, “the presidential campaign was, in effect, over.”
Behind most successful hypomanics, I’ve found, is a nonmanic partner who disciplines them, manages them and grounds them in reality. After Clinton’s disastrously chaotic first term as governor of Arkansas — he became the youngest ex-governor in history — “Hillary realized she was going to have to step in and develop discipline,” Leon Panetta, later Clinton’s White House chief of staff, told me. When Clinton ran to regain the governorship, in 1981, “Hillary became the manager of their joint political career,” wrote political consultant Dick Morris. One of the governor’s paramours, Marla Crider, told me she asked Clinton why he loved Hillary. “She challenges me every moment of the day. She makes me a better person. She gets me started, kicks my butt and makes me do the things I’ve got to do.”
Clinton also has a powerful cortex of his own. His intelligence stuns everyone who knows him and, as Hillary has said, “he is insatiably curious about everything,” a trait that can turn him into a tireless policy wonk. Wonkism, however, doesn’t always play well on the national stage. In his book The Agenda, journalist Bob Woodward described the 1999 budget battle as “chaos, absolute chaos.”
But Clinton did something that no president has ever done before and none may ever do again. He read every line of the 2,000-page budget and sought open — and, it seemed, endless — debate on every item. “The staff did their best to move Clinton along,” wrote Woodward, “but the president resisted, hungering always for more detail.” Alice Rivlin, then vice chair of the Federal Reserve, laughed when remembering how faint from hunger and exhaustion she was. It was, however, “the best decision-making process I’ve ever seen in government, and I’ve been there for a long time,” she told me. Clinton was trying to split the economic atom by satisfying both the deficit hawks and the social liberals on his team, whose debate he warmly encouraged. It was a kind of “economic Manhattan project,” Rivlin said.
He not only balanced the budget but also produced a surplus while giving a massive tax cut to the working poor and expanding social programs. Under his watch the economy had its greatest peacetime expansion in history. That Clinton got so much bad press for a singular achievement says something about the immaturity of the electorate. Splitting the economic atom is not easy. We seem to have little tolerance for a process of uncertainty and study, so much messier than glib slogans.
With the notable exception of the Lewinsky debacle, Clinton might have been among the most successful presidents at balancing old-brain and new-brain traits, according to Genovese. Like Woodrow Wilson, he says, Clinton had “the force of conviction that people can see as strength, and yet also the ability to step back, pause, think and re-examine. You need someone like Bill Clinton without the zipper problem.”
George W. Bush: He could lead, but wouldn’t read
Republican candidate George W. Bush trounced his Democratic opponent Al Gore during the presidential debates in the fall of 2000. He attacked Gore as a liar, “a classic display of aggression aimed at establishing dominance,” observes Westen, the Emory psychologist. Gore high-mindedly proclaimed, “we should attack the country’s problems, not each other.” In the chimpanzee world, failing to respond to an attack with an aggressive response is a de facto act of submission.
In forced-choice studies, when respondents have to weigh one presidential characteristic over another, “strong leader” beats out “shares my values,” “has compassion” and “cares about people like me.” It’s why Americans often elect victorious generals, observes University of Texas historian H.W. Brands. “George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower were the alpha males of their time. Though they had no political qualifications to speak of, they kept us safe.” There are evolutionary reasons to rally behind displays of primal strength. It might help us survive.
America got its alpha male president in 2000 and, at first, the bet seemed to pay off. When, months after taking office, Bush stood on the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn, it was his finest hour, just what the nation needed. Overnight, Bush’s approval rating almost doubled, to 90 percent.
Presidents must be visionaries, scholars agree. They must “see over the horizon,” says Jay Winik, author of 1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History. But they also must “take the American people and pull them along, to do things that they may not otherwise want to do,” he notes, pointing to the president who pulled America into the New Deal and World War II.
Bush, too, had a vision, about America’s need to confront the “Axis of Evil” — and pulled the country into Iraq. Bush had some of the essential ingredients of a great president at a moment of crisis. But the problem with being a visionary is this: What if your vision is wrong? “You can be absolutely certain and absolutely wrong,” argued John Kerry, in his 2004 presidential debate with Bush.
What does it take to be a visionary president? Traits that sit on the hypomanic spectrum. You have to have a touch of grandiosity to believe you are the Moses who will lead America to the Promised Land. FDR was “all ego, all vanity,” says Winik, and considered himself the “indispensable man.” You also have to be irrationally confident. “Unsinkable optimism” has to be “built into their DNA,” adds Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley. “Roosevelt kept waving, smiling and just being always in a genial, good mood,” despite 12 years of existential threat. No matter what catastrophes happen, no matter how unpopular you might be, “you have to be the Macy’s Parade balloon floating above it all.” Bush was unfazed by the unpopularity of the Iraq war, says Winik, who became friends with Bush. “He knew history would be the judge, not the papers at the time.”
Bush’s Achilles’ heel was his cortex. His overabundance of aggressive energy, combined with deficits in ego-based executive functioning, was probably congenital. In grade school, he was nicknamed “Bushtail” because of his high energy level, an inability to sit still at school and a tendency toward impulsive actions, which today would “arouse suspicions of hyperactivity,” Washington, D.C., psychiatrist Justin Frank wrote in Bush on the Couch. That, he says, would explain his short attention span, snap decisions, “lack of interest in abstractions” and “fondness for impulsive action and risk-taking.”
Bush actively devalues the higher-order, rational processes of decision-making. He evinces a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, a retreat from empiricism, and a “bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questions,” journalist Ron Suskind reported in a New York Times Magazine profile. Bruce Bartlett, who worked as an adviser for presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said that Dubya “truly believes he’s on a mission from God” and such “absolute faith overwhelms a need for analysis” or evidence. He “dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts.”
Clinton pored over economic data and led marathon budget meetings; Bush had trouble just sitting through an hourlong discussion of the economy. Bush didn’t ask a single question and later proclaimed, “I was bored as hell,” according to his former Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill. “He’s plenty smart enough,” Carl Levin, a former senator, told me. “It’s his lack of curiosity about complex issues that troubles me.” Once, when asked why Bush showed little intellectual curiosity, Woodward replied, “He doesn’t like homework. Homework means reading or getting briefed or having a debate.” Bush could lead, but he wouldn’t read, thereby compromising his judgment.
Barack Obama: A neocortex man who won’t drag us over the rainbow
If Bush is more alpha chimp than philosopher king, Obama may be his opposite. Measured and thoughtful, he is a neocortex man to the hilt, Hamlet to Bush’s Tarzan. He doesn’t beat his chest like Bush, even after the killing of Osama bin Laden, a moment for chest thumping if ever there was one.
Nor is he hypomanically extroverted like Clinton. In fact, just the opposite. “More than any president since Jimmy Carter, Obama comes across as an introvert,” wrote White House correspondent Peter Baker in a New York Times Magazine profile. Introverts are highly thoughtful and work more slowly, deliberatively and cautiously than extroverts, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
But having good judgment is not the same as selling your judgment to the American people. Obama was an inspiring campaigner. Indeed, introverts can be charismatic public performers in small doses. Obama finds extended contact with people outside his inner circle to be “draining.” When it came time to govern, he withdrew into his work. “The figure of inspiration from the 2008 campaign neglected inspiration after his election” and “didn’t stay connected to the people who put him in office in the first place,” Baker wrote. After Obamacare passed, in the run-up to the congressional elections, he should have been touring the country hugging grateful, newly insured citizens and chanting, “Yes, we did!” Instead, he let the Republicans frame the issue, turning a political asset into a liability that resulted in a midterm election disaster.
Obama acknowledged as much when he told Baker, “We probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” The Obama fallacy seems to be the belief that good work speaks for itself. In that sense Obama operates “very much the way Jimmy Carter used to try to govern: ‘I’m going to do the right thing, and the American people and Congress will follow.’ They won’t,” says Genovese. Part of the job of president is to bring the country along with you, perpetually pitching your vision to the public, the press, even your opponents.
Obama has vision. It was palpable in his campaign. But he didn’t drag us over the rainbow with him. “Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks. “Obama is very thoughtful, which is a virtue,” says Genovese. “But the problem is that it doesn’t always play well with the public. If you have the academic or the intellectual desire to look at both sides of an issue, that formulation doesn’t work to move the country.”
Joseph Ellis, historian of the Founding Fathers, gives Obama high marks on judgment, an essential trait he believes is in dwindling supply today. “There was a more inherent, deliberative process in the late 18th century,” but aiming for wisdom today is “like trying to slow dance to rock ’n’ roll.” Obama, America’s first black president, is identified with the progressive future, but in many respects Obama the constitutional scholar is more of an 18th-century man. That sits just fine with Ellis, who believes his “legacy is going to end up being better than a lot of people now believe.”
One question Americans face today is whether our primate programming will countenance a female as the alpha male. Clearly, any woman will have to dominate her opponent, as much as any man would, maybe more so. Hillary Clinton will likely be the test case.
The most reliable indicator of true toughness, historians agree, is toughness under pressure. “Resilience” was the first trait that John Harris, founding editor of Politico and author of The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House, proffered. Others used terms like “indomitable.” In late October, when the congressional Select Committee on Benghazi engaged Hillary in hearings about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission there, the clearest outcome, political observers almost unanimously agreed, was a showcase of her resilience through 11 hours of interrogation.
What launched her political career in the first place was the mother of all hearings: impeachment. In 1998, Hillary Clinton was the most humiliated woman in America. But she didn’t hide in shame. The Republicans resolved to make the midterm election a referendum on impeachment. Thrusting herself into the congressional campaigns, she crisscrossed 27 states, made hundreds of appearances and refused to stop despite a potentially life-threatening blood clot. Her first-lady approval rating of 42 percent, the lowest in history, jumped to 72 percent. And for the first time since the administration of Founding Father James Monroe, the president’s party gained seats in his sixth year. Impeachment was dead. Hillary’s solo political career was born.
In 2016, with political and economic difficulties afflicting populations worldwide and America’s well-being inextricably linked to global forces in all their unpredictability, whoever has the strength to win needs, more than ever, the wisdom to govern as well. Much as that makes demands on the candidates, it requires something of voters as well.
The electorate has an obligation to muster its share of wisdom, too. It’s our task to choose the president we need, not just the one we want, one who can harness the dynamism of lower-order attributes to the acumen of higher-order skills. We need the maturity to choose a competent adult.
John Gartner, Ph.D., is a psychologist and author in Baltimore and New York who specializes in treating people with bipolar disorder. A version of his essay was initially published in Psychology Today .
I have developed strong feelings about activism, negative feelings; so what action does one take if one feels passionate about something, if not activism?
First, what is my problem with activism? It is the same that I have with what we are now calling Progressivism, Elite progressivism, if you prefer (spell check doesn’t accept that there is such a word as progressivism, but I’ll employ it until something better presents itself). Activism is pushing one’s views on others, and this is exactly what modern elite Progressives seem to insist on doing; we see it everywhere: diversity, transgenderism, same sex marriage……………..etc. And what do I have against such? Nothing, actually; I believe in freedom of choice, as long as no one else is injured by it. Diversity is a good thing; but forcing diversity? Why? Particularly when such forcing takes the form of statistics. I have no problems with two women, or men for that matter, living together in a monogamous relationship. If a man wants to pretend he is a woman and visa versa, what difference could that make to me? If a Muslim woman wants to wear a burka, same thing. What I DO object to is someone demanding that I observe THEIR definitions of how I must accept it.
I am strong believer in individuality and personal rights; but rights to do what I want to do and think what I want to think, and not conform to how others feel I should adhere to their demands. I don’t care for homosexual relationships; in fact I feel that sexual relationships pushed in other people’s faces are irritating, even repugnant; If others want to pursue them in the privacy of their own lives, so be it; but they don’t have the RIGHT to demand that I embrace it enthusiastically. And that is precisely what the current progressive push for political correctness is doing: you cannot criticize me! why not, if it does no harm? But criticism harms! oh, give me a break. One must learn to deal with criticism, in fact, with many things with which they might not agree. That’s how we learn in life. But that’s not fair! uh huh, precisely what I am referring to: life is not fair, and to live realistically within it, takes constant adjustment – to reality, however that might present itself.
Activists INSIST on telling others what do do, and even how to live: even insist on how each should live theirs. Why? because they know! and think they have the right to dictate to the rest of us. I disagree, and the arrogance irritates me. So I have the right to activate back? Of course not; we should try just ignoring, and letting others do what they will, AS LONG AS THEY DON”T ENDANGER OTHERS in the process; that’s why we have to have laws. We have even progressed with our regulations so that they go beyond reasonable protection; many of our regulations have become progressive: elites want to tell us what to do, and how to do it. What should they be doing?
How about suggesting how ways we should live: that is, principles by which we should conduct our lives? Is that not the realm of religion? some religious leaders succumb to the same temptation; telling us not only what is best to believe and how we SHOULD pursue it; but to threaten us with perdition if we don’t, but then if that is the basis of their faith, it is their right to do it. We don’t have to listen; but neither do we have the right to tell them they cannot preach it.
At his point we come to the crux of it: we, each of us, needs to think for ourselves, reason for ourselves, and do what we feel we need to do; without pushing it on others to do the same. That is very difficult for many people to accept, and a basic problem we have with the wielding of power: them that’s got it want to wield it. Human nature; and many of us let them, which is also human nature. And why do they do that? self interest, usually; they think by yielding to the power of those that have it, they can benefit from it. That does not suggest that we should not attempt to influence, but how they do so it makes a difference. But then we have to move into the realm of governing, and see the problem with one-person one-vote democracy; it too easily becomes despotism, when the majority has too much power. It happens all the time; power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But WE do not have a democracy; we have a carefully balanced. checked and separated republic of relatively independent states (Federalism). But it has not always been so.
And those same elite Progressives have been trying to return us to the power despotism they would prefer we had. It is not a simple matter, for there is need for a certain amount of central government power to ensure security; but how much? Early on we learned that under the Articles of Confederation our separation was excessive, and didn’t work when it came to national security. Kingdoms in the Middle East, through the efforts of what we referred to as the Barbary Pirates, took advantage of the fact that our voters resisted creation of a standing navy to provide such security. From that, through discussion that was far more virulent than most of us can remember, eventually evolved our Constitution, based on Judaeo/Christian principles that incorporated necessary checks, and balances between central and state powers adequate to support what we have become. How many of our citizens even appreciate that today?
And so I come to the meat of it all, to my way of thinking. We have forgotten much of the past – the Barbary Pirates, for example, but much else as well; and many of the elite progressive thinkers are quite content with that, having forgotten it as well, or pushed it aside for their own purposes. Why are these elites doing what they do? The same reason many of us are letting them get away with what they are trying to do: we have all forgotten too much of our history and make too little effort these days to regain it; we are complacent, and don’t make the effort we need to make to be able to retain what we have achieved with such difficulty. And because of that we are faced with losing it all, and don’t even realize it.
Same old argument: we have to make the effort, or at least enough of us need to; obviously all will not. But to do so we have to rely upon those same elite thinkers, do we not? Learning, understanding, thinking, keeping an open mind; That means sharing, gaining from the thinkers, but we always return to the same point: we can not leave it to the power seekers that benefit from dominating it: that is where government of the people comes in to ensure preserving our hard-won legacy. Too many today do not even realize we could lose it; lost, as they have become, in selfish pleasure. But be careful with open minds: being too open results in allowing anyone to fill them as they will, and progressive elites are to ready to stand by to do it, all over the world, and have been doing so. Balance; but balance can only come from understanding and being involved, and understanding comes from educating ourselves through use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality; “read, think (listen, experience) disagree with (question) everything, if you like – but force the mind outward.” That is what America is all about, and it depends upon all of us working together to achieve it – and preserve it.
We always come back to the same thing, and it has to come from within US. At the national level US is collective but at the individual level it is personal. Collectively or individually it is up to us, and we have to work out how to do that together – before we lose it.
In my last essay I discussed how my Jewish friend and I came to that same agreement. Yes, we have our differences; we think differently and have different influences, and from that comes faith, which is how we live; but when we get away from dogma and concentrate on principles, it all comes together – IF we have open minds and are making the effort.
Sermon over; I do get wound up about it.
An article published in today’s City Journal by Myron Magnet. Why not share?
It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More
Presidents, Congresses, and courts are creating an elective despotism.
How far have we distorted the Constitution that the Founders gave us, and how much does it matter? A phalanx of recent books warns that we have undermined our fundamental law so recklessly that Americans should worry that government of the people, by the people, and for the people really could perish from the earth. The tomes—Adam Freedman’s engaging The Naked Constitution, Mark R. Levin’s impassioned The Liberty Amendments, Richard A. Epstein’s masterful The Classical Liberal Constitution, and Philip K. Howard’s eloquent and levelheaded The Rule of Nobody (in order of publication)—look at the question from different angles and offer different fixes to it, but all agree that Americans need to take action right now.
THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NYC
Several benighted Supreme Court rulings subverted the Fourteenth Amendment and crushed President Lincoln’s dream of binding up the nation’s Civil War wounds with malice toward none and charity for all.
Before we scramble, though, we had better understand just what happened. There’s no single villain. As these books show, all branches of government conspired over more than a century to turn the Constitution that the Framers wrote in 1787, plus the Bill of Rights that James Madison shepherded through the first Congress in 1789 and the Fourteenth Amendment ratified in 1868, into something their authors would neither recognize nor endorse.
The signal feature of the 1787 Constitution was its prudent restraint. The Framers learned from hard Revolutionary War experience that their new nation needed a more powerful central government than the Articles of Confederation authorized. But they bestowed the requisite powers with a trembling hand, knowing that the men who would exercise them were not angels but humans, as fallible as all other men—and usually more so, since overweening ambition and self-interest, not patriotism, are the standard spurs to seeking office. Recognizing that electing your officials doesn’t ensure that they won’t become as tyrannical as the hereditary monarchs the colonists had fled, the Framers’ hemmed in and divided government authority, giving Congress only 19 specific powers that mostly concerned raising taxes, coining money, spending it on “the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” (meaning keeping the country safe), building post offices and post roads (but not turnpikes and canals), regulating the armed forces, and making laws necessary and proper to carry out these limited functions. Constitution architect James Madison, always at the vortex of the fierce disputes over what measures these enumerated powers implied as necessary and proper, concluded—after serving for a quarter-century as a congressman, secretary of state, and president—that the bedrock constitutional principle was simply to ensure that America does not “convert a limited into an unlimited Govt.”
But before the nation started making just that transformation, it took a wrong turn in the opposite direction. Everyone knows that, for all its virtues, the Constitution—which George Washington thought “approached nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among Men”—was nevertheless not perfect. It was born with the congenital flaw of slavery. As was almost inevitable in a nation that believed that all men are created equal but nevertheless allowed some men to hold others in perpetual bondage, it took a war to resolve the irreconcilable conflict, despite the increasingly desperate search for a peaceful compromise that consumed American politics from 1820 to 1850. After that stunningly costly war, the American people also fine-tuned their Constitution between 1865 and 1870 to undo its original sin, ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment to free the slaves, the Fourteenth to assure black Americans citizenship and civil rights, and the Fifteenth to prohibit any state from denying black citizens the right to vote.
But as early as 1873, the Supreme Court began to subvert the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughter-House Cases, in the process shredding the amendment’s key protections of the civil rights of Southern blacks. Going way beyond the particular grievances of the Louisiana butchers before it, the court declared that, while the amendment had indeed extended the Constitution’s protection of the privileges and immunities of citizens from federal infringement to protection against infringement by state governments as well, that new protection did not include all the rights that the amendment’s Framers had meant it to include: to own property; to have access to the courts; to pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else; to vote (subject to the qualifications of your particular state); to live, work, and travel where you want; and, above all, to have the protection of the Bill of Rights against state as well as federal violation. All the additional protection the amendment granted to freed slaves, as well as to other citizens, the court held, according to Epstein’s constitutional-law history (which could have been titled Constitutional Law Versus the Constitution), was the right to travel on interstate waterways and to petition the federal government for redress of grievances.
It’s worth noting, as Epstein observes, that when Chief Justice John Marshall declared in 1803 in Marbury v. Madison that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is,” he didn’t mean that it is the business of the Supreme Court, or a bare majority of it, to make the laws—and to the extent he implied that it might be, Epstein notes, he was wrong. But while the Court made that incorrect implication about its own omnipotence explicit in 1955 in Cooper v. Aaron, it had been moving in that direction for a very long time.
In 1876, United States v. Cruikshank made starkly clear just how unprotected the Supreme Court’s misrepresentation of the Fourteenth Amendment in the Slaughter-House Cases had left Southern blacks. After a Louisiana mob killed more than 100 freedmen and state authorities wouldn’t prosecute white murderers of blacks, the Supreme Court threw out the federal indictment of some of the murderers for conspiracy to deprive their victims of their constitutional rights, since the killers had violated no federal rights that extended to the states, the court held, with numerous citations of the Slaughter-House Cases. The decision helped embolden Southern Democrats to enact Jim Crow laws. From Cruikshank, it took but a short step to Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 decision in which the Supreme Court obliterated still more of the rights that the Fourteenth Amendment had given blacks, by allowing the Southern states to legislate segregated transportation and schools and to outlaw interracial marriage. So much for Abraham Lincoln’s dream of finishing the work the Civil War had begun and binding up the nation’s wounds with malice toward none and charity for all.
As Madison was forging the Constitution into shape, its democratic character gave him his greatest worry, which he voiced in Number 10 of The Federalist Papers, only to assure Americans that the Constitution’s structure made that fear moot. According to the old, well-known tradition of political philosophy that lay behind the Constitution, the purpose of any government is to protect the citizens’ God-given rights to life, liberty, and property. But in a democratic government—even though the people would directly elect only congressmen, while the supposedly more prudent state legislatures would elect presumably wise and propertied senators and an electoral college the president—couldn’t the unpropertied majority vote to tax away the property of the small minority of rich citizens and give it to themselves? But that would never happen, Madison argued, because in the extensive republic that the Constitution would govern, so many different factions and interests would flourish that no single-minded majority could form that could tyrannize a minority by expropriating its wealth. Redistributive taxation, therefore, was a chimera.
Moreover, as Madison and Hamilton took for granted in The Federalist Papers, which they wrote (with five by John Jay) to urge ratification of the Constitution, taxes would chiefly take the form of import duties or excises on such commodities as whiskey—and these taxes, Hamilton asserted, were naturally self-limiting because if they grew excessive, people would stop buying the overtaxed article, and overall tax revenues would fall. In the unlikely event of an imposition of any direct tax on everybody, or on citizens’ land or wealth, as opposed to these indirect levies, Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution required that it be levied equally or proportionally, though scholars debate the meaning of that clause. But one thing the Framers never dreamed of was a tax on incomes. And for generations, they were right.
But in 1913, after 20 years of Progressive-era agitation, the Sixteenth Amendment, passed by Congress in 1909, won ratification. It imposed a graduated income tax—a direct tax that did not fall proportionally on all. Indirect taxes such as import duties and excise taxes, the argument went, fell disproportionately on the poor and provided too unpredictable a revenue stream to a federal government that Americans increasingly thought needed strengthening. Though the income-tax rates were but 1 percent for incomes up to $483,826, rising to a modest 7 percent on incomes over $11.6 million, the now-constitutional machinery for the tyranny of the majority that Madison had feared was fired up and ready to confiscate wealth as surely as the Stamp Act confiscated property. And since in 1913, the Seventeenth Amendment—instituting direct popular election of senators—also won ratification, the upper house no longer served, even theoretically, as a brake on the passions of the people.
Today, Madison’s nightmare has become America’s everyday reality. By 2010, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office data, the top-earning 40 percent of households paid 106.2 percent of federal income taxes, while the bottom 40 percent of taxpaying households paid minus 9.1 percent, thanks to such refundable tax credits as payments to those with low earned incomes. In addition, those 40 percent of households received such additional transfer payments from the wealth of their more prosperous neighbors as food stamps and Medicaid, plus Social Security and Medicare payments at a much higher proportion to what they paid in than do richer households. In 2011, according to Tax Foundation data, the top 5 percent of taxpayers paid 58.5 percent of total U.S. income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent paid 2.9 percent. And that’s just taxpayers. Transfers to non-income-tax-paying households on welfare can amount to twice what a minimum-wage job pays.
Much of what the Progressive Era had only hoped for, the New Deal brought into being, transforming America’s constitutional structure in ways that such Progressives as Woodrow Wilson, with his belief that the Founders were antique, bewigged figures with views unsuited to modernity’s more informed and effective age of science, statistics, and professionalism, had urged. Wilson, argues author Freedman, saw “the Founders’ checks and balances as an unnecessary drag on the efficiency of government,” which should be a vast mechanism in which expert bureaucrats with advanced degrees—working altruistically in nonpolitical agencies like the Interstate Commerce Commission, formed in 1887, or the Federal Trade Commission, founded during Wilson’s presidency—would smoothly institute what advances in economics and social science would reveal as the common good. In 1908, Wilson swept the Founders and their cobweb-covered Constitution into the dustbin of history. “No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle,” he wrote. By contrast with the Founders’ musty parchment, he continued, “Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and practice.” Can’t get much more up-to-date and scientific than evolution.
And so arose the doctrine of the Living Constitution, which has now infringed nearly every guarantee of the Bill of Rights, from free speech to federalism. “The chief instrumentality by which the law of the Constitution has been extended to cover the facts of national development has of course been judicial interpretations—the decisions of courts,” Wilson wrote. “The process of formal amendment of the Constitution was made so difficult by the . . . Constitution itself that it has seldom been feasible to use it.” So the doughty courts have stepped in and taken over the “whole business of adaptation . . . with open minds, sometimes even with boldness and a touch of audacity,” becoming “more liberal, not to say more lax, in their interpretation than they otherwise would have been.” As Wilson saw it, writes Levin, “the federal judiciary was to behave as a permanent constitutional convention,” making up the laws as it went along. Of course, at that point, as Lincoln had warned almost half a century earlier, “the people will have ceased to be their own rulers.”
And indeed, it was this magic elixir of judicial constitution-making and rule by administrative agencies that Franklin D. Roosevelt employed to transmute the American political system into one that resembled George III’s system of rulers and subjects as much as it did George Washington’s government. The magnitude of the Depression, Roosevelt thought, required the federal government to seize control of the entire U.S. economy: only national rather than state or free-market solutions, he believed, could shake it back to health. The Supreme Court batted down his first attempts to use the Commerce Clause—the power that Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress to regulate interstate commerce—to regulate all commerce, including commerce that never crosses a state line. In 1935, for example, the Court struck down a law mandating retirement plans for railway workers, noting that, even though railways participate in interstate transportation, their workers’ pension plans do not. That same year, the Court declared that Congress had no power, via the National Industrial Recovery Act, to set the wages and hours of Brooklyn poultry workers or to regulate how they sell chickens, since neither the workers nor the chickens leave New York State. Nor, said the Court the following year, could Congress set up commissions to decree coal prices or miners’ working conditions. Yes, strikes interrupt production, influence prices nationwide, and thus affect interstate commerce, but they and the conditions that cause them “are local evils over which the federal government has no legislative control.”
But once Roosevelt’s plan for a constitutional amendment to curb the Court’s power scared Justice Owen Roberts into changing his judicial spots, the Nine began to toe the New Deal line. Just as FDR’s Progressive cousin Theodore Roosevelt had blamed the global financial instability preceding the Panic of 1907 on giant corporations—often led, said TR, by “malefactors of great wealth”—Franklin Roosevelt also saw big business as a threat to ordinary individuals, whom only big government could protect. “We have earned the hatred of entrenched greed,” the president accusingly said of corporate America in his 1936 State of the Union speech. “Give them their way and they will take the course of every autocracy of the past—power for themselves, enslavement for the public.”
On cue, in its 1937 Jones & Laughlin decision, the Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act, whose “major function,” according to Epstein, “was to prop up union monopolies in labor relations.” To reach its decision, the Court noted that the big steel company had “far-flung activities” across the nation, so that “industrial strife” in any one of them “would have a most serious effect upon interstate commerce. . . . [I]t is idle to say that the effect would be indirect or remote. It is obvious that it would be immediate, and might be catastrophic.” Hence J&L’s intrastate activities “have such a close and intimate relation to interstate commerce as to make the presence of industrial strife a matter of the most urgent national concern. When industries organize themselves on a national scale, making their relation to interstate commerce the dominant factor in their activities, how can it be maintained that their industrial labor relations constitute a forbidden field into which Congress may not enter when it is necessary to protect interstate commerce from the paralyzing consequences of industrial war?” Further federalizing local economic activity, the Court declared in its 1941 Darby decision—with all the audacity Woodrow Wilson could have wanted—that of course the Fair Labor Standards Act could force firms not engaged in interstate commerce to observe national wage and hour standards, even though they were following the standards of their home states; and of course the FLSA could bar from interstate commerce any product it defined as “produced under substandard labor conditions.”
The logical but lunatic capstone to this line of reasoning was the Court’s 1942 Wickard v. Filburn decision. In accordance with FDR and his brain trust’s belief that the Depression stemmed from a crisis of deflationary overproduction, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, purportedly based on Congress’s Commerce Clause power, directed the Department of Agriculture to establish a crop-quota system, allocating so much production to each state, which would, in turn, prescribe the permitted output for each farm. For exceeding his wheat allotment, Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburn was fined $117.11, or 49 cents per each bushel of excess production. But here’s the rub: agriculture isn’t commerce, as the Founders understood it, and not only did Filburn’s grain not enter into interstate commerce; it didn’t even enter into in-state commerce, since he fed it to his own cows. But even if the grain is “never marketed,” the Court wrote, in true Alice in Wonderland style, “it supplied the need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon.” Even if Filburn’s “activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce,” the Court ruled, “it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.” The lengths to which free people will go to evade central planners’ price controls!
The New Deal didn’t transform the Constitution only by institutionalizing nine unelected judges with lifetime tenure as a permanent constitutional convention. It also allowed Congress to create, at the president’s request and with the blessing of the Supreme Court, an unprecedented regulatory state, made up of a constellation of administrative agencies, from the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to the National Labor Relations Board and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which make rules, enforce them, and adjudicate transgressions of them. “The practice of creating independent regulatory commissions, who perform administrative work in addition to judicial work,” Roosevelt himself admitted, “threatens to develop a ‘fourth branch’ of Government for which there is no sanction in the Constitution.”
That is an understatement. It’s hard to count the ways in which the administrative or regulatory state overturns, abolishes, and replaces the Constitution. As the American Revolution’s tutelary philosopher, John Locke, had pronounced, “The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands: for it being but a delegated power from the people, they who have it cannot pass it over to others.” The legislative branch has the authority “only to make laws, and not to make legislators”—but that’s just what Congress’s establishment and expansion of the administrative state has made its rule makers.
In addition, these are legislators who execute the rules they decree and adjudicate and punish infringements of them, an egregious violation of the “separation-of-powers doctrine under the Constitution” that “dispens[es] with our principal safeguard against autocracy in government,” the American Bar Association warned in 1936, as the administrative state was taking shape. “We should not have some 73 midget courts in Washington, most of them exercising legislative and executive powers. A man should not be judge in his own case and the combination of prosecutor and judge in these tribunals must be relentlessly exposed and combatted.” Making matters worse, as even New Deal congressman Emanuel Celler ruefully noted, many of the “experts” staffing these agencies are “mere ‘whipper-snappers’—young students just out of law school—who apparently are given undue authority in originating, if not effectuating, final decisions.”
Worse still, the regulatory agencies may presume anyone they charge to be guilty unless he proves his innocence, and he has but limited standing and scope to appeal the agency’s decision to a real court, effectively “making the commission’s decisions on fact final and conclusive,” the ABA objected. “This sets the wheels of government moving in reverse gear; the servant becomes the master, and the right to earn a living becomes subject to the servant’s whim and caprice as he professes to apply some vague and variable statutory standard.” Little wonder that one congressman warned that “government by committees, boards, bureaus, and commissions will, if unchecked and uncontrolled, destroy the republican conception of government”—or that a senator deemed one of the agencies a “Star Chamber,” the arbitrary, juryless court of Stuart despotism. (These quotations come from a Northwestern University Law Review article by George B. Shepherd, cited in Howard’s book, on the evolution of the 1946 Administrative Procedures Act, “the bill of rights for the new regulatory state,” Shepherd says.)
Freedman sets forth an instructive example of how all this works in practice in a story with an unexpectedly and illuminatingly happy ending. In 2004, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB, or “Peekaboo”) dispatched seven investigators to inspect a tiny Nevada accounting firm, combing over its files for two weeks and asking follow-up questions that took the three-man outfit 500 man-hours to answer. A year later, the board charged the firm with eight accounting deficiencies, demanding a response within 30 days. When the firm’s managing director, Brad Beckstead, tartly replied that such compliance costs and standards would kill small CPA firms, Peekaboo summoned him for three days of questioning, demanded more files plus correspondence and e-mails, and ultimately found nothing to charge the firm with—but not before its profits were down 60 percent.
With the help of the nonprofit Free Enterprise Fund, Beckstead found grounds to sue. The Constitution, he argued, calls for a “unitary executive,” meaning that all executive-branch officials must be responsible to the president, who is, in turn, responsible for their and his performance to the voters. The members of the board—who in 2003 received salaries of $400,000 each, with $556,000 for the chief, and who never have to ask for public funding, since they impose a tax on public companies and can levy fines of up to $15 million—can only be hired or fired by the SEC, and then only for serious cause. The same civil-service rules protect the SEC commissioners from dismissal at the president’s displeasure. So this executive-branch agency enjoys double protection from control by the nation’s chief executive, something that would have horrified Madison, who successfully argued in the first session of Congress that if the president didn’t have the power to fire executive-branch officials at will, that would “abolish at once that great principle of unity and responsibility in the Executive department, which was intended for the security of liberty and the public good.” All such officials, from the lowest to the highest, said Madison, “will depend, as they ought, on the President, and the President on the community.” No more, however, thanks to a then-conservative Supreme Court’s 1933 decision that FDR lacked the power to fire an FTC commissioner at will.
Beckstead lost at trial and on appeal but won in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in 2010, with Chief Justice John Roberts making the Madisonian observation that “the Executive Branch . . . wields vast power and touches almost every aspect of daily life,” so it mustn’t “slip away from the Executive’s control and thus from that of the People.” But it was a close call.
For a more up-to-date and less happy example, one need only look at a May 19 Wall Street Journal editorial on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and an accompanying op-ed by William S. Scherman, a lawyer representing subjects—“victims” might be a better word—of FERC investigations. According to Scherman and the paper’s editors, here is an agency that has turned into something like a shakedown racket. It charges participants in the energy market with “impairing, obstructing, or defeating a well-functioning market,” after carrying on secret and ill-documented investigations, the results of which it refuses to share with the subjects, demanding millions of documents, asking thousands of questions in as many as half a dozen interrogations (while refusing to let subjects review their previous testimony), and—worst of all—failing “to adopt a coherent or meaningful definition of market manipulation,” claims Scherman, so that “someone who follows rules created by FERC is somehow committing fraud at the same time.” Little wonder that those whom FERC charges prefer to settle rather than “fight with one hand tied behind their back,” as Scherman puts it. In five years, FERC has collected $1.23 billion in penalties, driven major players from the market, shrunk the market’s liquidity, and made energy more expensive and prices more volatile. The Obama administration now wants to make the commission’s chief investigator the new chairman of this modern-day Star Chamber. Thus are we transforming entrepreneurial into corporatist capitalism.
This same administration has made the regulatory state more unconstitutional than even FDR would have dared, Levin explains. Among the 150 new agencies and commissions that the Obamacare law has created, there is one, the Independent Payment Advisory Board—the notorious “death panel”—that no future Congress can abolish unless it does so within a seven-month period in 2017 by a three-fifths vote in both houses. After that, the people’s elected representatives lack authority so much as to alter a board proposal. In the same spirit, the Dodd-Frank Act sets up a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with a budget that Congress is forbidden to review, and a Financial Stability Oversight Council, whose decisions no affected business may challenge in court, period. And now, while another such agency, the IRS, stonewalls the people’s representatives, the SEC has the gall to sue them.
“The current system is a form of tyranny,” concludes Howard. Like “a giant legal mudslide, [it] has buried both the framework of law and our freedoms.” By no means “is it a government by the people.”
THE GRANGER COLLECTION, NYC
Though born in the Progressive Era, the administrative state didn’t reach its full power to hobble American enterprise until the reign of FDR, who called its agencies a “ ‘fourth branch’ of Government for which there is no sanction in the Constitution.”
What, then, should we do? Start with Epstein’s solution, slightly different from the others because he is a lawyer trying to mold the thinking of judges and law professors about judging constitutionally. Not only liberal exponents of the Living Constitution but also conservative jurists, says Epstein, tend to think of the American Constitution as analogous to the British: “a kind of Burkean evolution whereby the text itself becomes modified through repeated usage—usually towards big government.” But for a Constitution with a built-in mechanism for change by amendment, such an analogy is mistaken. The accumulated rulings of Supreme Court justices are not part and parcel of the Constitution but often the piling of error upon error, “and the layers of interpretive confusion are so great” that such an approach does “much harm.” But because even erroneous interpretations—and thus modifications—of the law acquire a certain Burkean prescriptive authority, the question that Epstein proposes to answer is: “How should judges respond to perceived mistakes in the prior decisional law?”
My instinct, along with Freedman’s, is to follow law professor Raoul Berger’s definition of constitutional law as “the Constitution itself, stripped of judicial encrustations.” But Epstein is more moderate. To maintain the mystique of “a sound constitutional order” on which governmental legitimacy rests, you can’t just junk generations of rulings with originalist abandon. But you also don’t have to follow blindly the principle of stare decisis (deference to prior rulings) that made the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education so mischievous for subsequent jurisprudence—because it reached the right result through fanciful reasoning, since the Court lacked courage to overrule explicitly Plessy v. Ferguson’s assertion of the constitutionality of “separate but equal” treatment of the races and to declare that the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t permit governmental or public-accommodation discrimination by race, period (thus also forestalling affirmative action). Epstein would advise judges to pick and choose what they overrule not by strict originalism but always working to uphold the Constitution’s underlying Lockean, classical liberal “tradition of strong property rights, voluntary association, and limited government,” along with the “protections of the separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism and the individual rights guarantees built into the basic constitutional structure.”
All fine—but only as long as the Court has enough justices able to think in such terms. I’d add that, as long as the Court is willing to consider originalist constitutionalism, the more conservative lawyers, legal foundations, and philanthropists willing to bring and support cases like NFIB v. Sebelius against Obamacare or Citizens United v. FEC, the better.
Rejecting such incrementalism as too little, too late, especially since we could easily end up with another New Deal- or Warren-style Court, the other three authors opt for amending the Constitution to restore its original integrity, using Article V’s provision to allow two-thirds of the state legislatures to call a constitutional-amending convention, since a hidebound Congress, with its emanations and penumbras of lobbyists and activists, would never act to limit its powers and perks. Three-fourths of the states would then have to ratify the resulting amendments in the usual way—though one of Levin’s amendments creates a streamlined process that requires only two-thirds of the states to ratify. The three authors’ 13 very reasonable suggested amendments overlap, so without getting lost in the details, let me set forth the essentials of what they want to accomplish.
All three seek to let two-thirds of the state legislatures repeal the tangle of outdated or unconstitutional laws and absurd regulations by which, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, men are “constantly restrained from acting” and that “enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which government is the shepherd.” Some writers suggest a committee, whether of government officials or outsiders, to do the same thing, or at least to recommend action (and a philanthropy-backed, Howard-led group should start the job now, since bland regulatory language often needs careful scrutiny to find power-mad regulatory intent). A sunset law on all legislation and regulation, unless expressly renewed every 15 years, might be another way of cutting through the tangle.
The Environmental Protection Agency—yes, we never stop spewing out New Deal–style agencies—and the Endangered Species Act are prime targets here. These writers can’t see why environmental reviews by the Coast Guard or the Army Corps of Engineers, along with Indian tribes from Nebraska and Oklahoma, should have held up for three years (and still counting) the modernization of a New Jersey bridge that would save $3 billion over the cost of building a new one. They don’t see why the EPA and the Army Engineers can tell a developer not to move sand from one place on his property to another without a permit, because of its potential impact on a navigable waterway 20 miles away—and to seek to jail him for five years before he settled, a shakedown by the federal government’s intrusion into a purely intrastate land-use issue that the Tenth Amendment should have protected him from. Howard says, “I am sometimes asked after speaking, ‘Are you in favor of pollution?’ ” The right answer is no—but if my choice is pollution or tyranny, I’ll take pollution.
To prevent a perpetual caste of rulers, these writers want a term-limit amendment for congressmen, senators, and even (says Levin) for Supreme Court justices, whose rulings in the meantime he’d let a three-fifths majority of both houses of Congress overturn. As another way to stop courts from being a tool of oppression, harassment, and delay, Howard would like an amendment forbidding lawsuits without a judge’s prior determination of their reasonableness. To stop the governmental orgy of taxing and spending, these authors favor a federal balanced-budget amendment, a line-item veto for the president, and perhaps even a constitutional upper limit on the allowable income-tax rate. To get control of the unelected, unaccountable bureaucracy, they recommend restoring the president’s authority to hold apparatchiks to account by firing them—or else face the ire of the voters whom he hasn’t protected from their insolent and often unconstitutional meddling.
To restore federalism and keep the federal government from usurping powers reserved to the states and the people, Freedman and Levin want to return to election of senators by state legislatures—ensuring, they believe, that the senate would safeguard state interests. I can’t help recalling those Gilded Age senators who bought their offices from venal state legislators, but perhaps, given the Founders’ views of human motivation, such senators would nevertheless serve the original purpose of protecting property against the tyranny of the majority. Levin would like to reinforce such protection by amendments explicitly underscoring what Article I’s Commerce Clause and the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment already say—a sad commentary on how thoroughly the Living Constitution has murdered the Founders’ Constitution.
You have to define a problem before you can solve it. We owe each of these four authors a debt for starting a conversation that could forestall a crisis of legitimacy.
Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and its editor from 1994 through 2006, is a recipient of the National Humanities Medal. His latest book is The Founders at Home
Reading back in an earlier version of these efforts, from maybe six years ago, brought the following. I can still access it, and do occasionally. Actually not much has changed – at least not in the long term of it. So I thought I would copy it and paste it here; what the hell. Sun is over the yard arm and another winter night is upon us out here on the prairie. And life is good. I am somewhat over the 800 number of essays already on this site. It has been very useful for me, intellectually and creativity wise; keeps me occupied in a way I consider useful, at least for me.
What Has Changed?
Shift in Defense of the Middle Ground
When I began this exercise I was honestly trying to find a middle position between the
extremes of Conservatism and Liberalism, as liberalism is practiced today. I still reject the
extremes. But, it seems to me supposed moderation, as it is being practiced by the
administration elected in 2009 – has moved so far to the left that a new defense is called for.
That defense is to bring the middle back to a realistic balance between individualism and
liberalism as it was originally conceived and pursued. To put it bluntly, we need to resist
going so far to the left that we approach Socialism. This administration is not socialist in
terms of the classic definition, ownership of the means of production by the state. Instead
we should call it STATISM, or uncontrolled growth of central government, and control of the
means of production (and much else) by that central government. In historical terms that
can be translated as central planning.
The standard distribution has been so quickly and so completely skewed that middle
ground is suddenly no longer anywhere near what I have always viewed as the middle.
Admittedly much of what has already been built into this website remains applicable, in
terms of my arguments, since central governments, over a long period of time have proven
incapable of managing a complex economy, much less its integration into a world economy.
Middle ground used to be the search for balance between the good for the many and the
good of the individual, accepting regulation by government through law, but not direct control
through coercion. Central planning by the government is not middle ground. Middle ground
in American parlance is based on the Constitution, separation of powers, rule of law,
federalism and rights of individuals, including property rights. Take this away and there is
no longer a middle to find without changing the culture completely.
There are several reasons why central planning doesn’t work. First, what has to be
planned is too big for the committee that is government to handle. Second, politicians’
priorities and the priorities of a nation are seldom congruent. Third, politicians are neither
trained nor capable of the task. Finally human nature; that is, greed, envy, power, emotion,
moral weakness and ignorance; make it impossible since instead of being controlled by
competing self-interest, it leaves it to the selfish whims of political favoritism. On top of that
it is becoming increasingly apparent that, as our founders were concerned it would, our
leadership is not up to it, partly due to the human nature problems above, and partly
because our American Idol approach to selecting leaders is totally inadequate to the task.
I shall list here many of the same links I have listed elsewhere because they are what led
me to this position, and they continue to apply. But I needed a new page – a blank canvas
on which to project. I continue to be for middle ground, but balanced middle ground,
balanced between public (government) and private (individual) interests and needs. It is my
growing opinion that we are rapidly losing that balance, and will suffer for it. But that needs
to be explored; why? And why not?
I attended a birthday party last night next door and had interesting discussions. Some of it had to do with thinking about what really matters; it got me involved in several discussions about religion, that I usually try to avoid. One was with a Christian immigrant from Hungary; Another was with a Jewish couple. My first challenge was to steer by the doctrinal rhetoric: God this or that……how? Silence or argument; what do you mean?
The most interesting aspect was discussing with the Jewish gentleman, whom I had known in the past but hadn’t seen in a long time. The discussion was long, and varied widely, but ended in almost complete agreement; not about the doctrinal details, but in the meaning of life and how to find it. We immediately agreed upon doing for self, and having to make it come from within ourselves. Then there was contribution and helping each other – to help themselves. We even worked through the great strength of our American system, and why: mostly because of the requirement for each taking care of self and avoiding dependence.
I tend to get into the long time frame of development of religious philosophy and the inevitable assumptions that had to be made in order to get buy-in. The human mind has trouble with understanding such evolution over such a long period; and having reached a position of faith, prefer to cling to it, and refuse to listen to else. As an example, my Jewish friend suggested that we were approaching end times; I questioned end, and he agreed that that could be years, much longer or even sooner. I agreed that trends were in that direction; we both agreed that we needed to be positive and resist the trend – essentially by helping each other and reaching out.
Thinking about it this morning I began to realize, partially from talking with another, how easy it is for us to slip into our bubbles and not force ourselves to think outside of them. An example of that: I started talking about immigration among states and was challenged; that’s not immigration! Isn’t it? Not when one has decided it is not; that’s NOT what the word means. But the concept of immigration is not restricted the the way it is currently used.
And immigration: the Koran has changed how we view it; despite that people view the Bible differently; even though all Muslims are not the same, it is difficult for many to accept that exhortations of the Koran are not accepted by all. Clearly, the excesses of Islam have had a very negative impact upon us, which is difficult to get by, despite how many “Middle Easterners” have successfully integrated into our culture. When I brought up Kotkin’s argument that the situation in the late 1800s was similar, push back was quick, despite the fact that during that time as much of 70% of some city residents were immigrants, poor and ignorant of what was required to succeed in their new country, those with whom I was discussing could not accept the connection. Yes, but………..but what?
The but, what is significant; much has changed. Things are infinitely more complex these days, and too many Middle Eastern immigrants are sunk in the ignorance, not which is to be expected of today, but what reaches back thousands of years. But Middle Eastern cities are growing too, and some have come out of it. Yes, but. I understand; and when the presumptions of Koran dominance are super-imposed, what impact? We shall see; it is going to be even more challenging than it ever has been.
So we have to reach out and help; yes, but there are limits, and many can’t bring themselves to move beyond them. It will take time, but it has always taken time; and the way things evolve over that time will depend how difficult things are. Kotkin is optimistic; my Jewish friend insists that we must be, but is wary of the excesses of Islam that have been made so evident. Again, we have a challenge; but we have proven better in dealing with it than anyone has ever before. Why?
Because we believe we have to do it for ourselves with all the accouterments of liberty and freedom that have been ingrained. But what of the entitlement and dependency that have only grown since 1776, and the post-liberal need to not only help people help themselves, but to help them unconditionally, to make themselves feel better? Help themselves? what of children without families, living in poverty, with bad influences? Yes, them too; it’s tough, but that is what has to happen. Yes, yes, many, many challenges – and very few simple.
On this, once we got by the locks of doctrinal rhetoric and understood each other, my Jewish friend and I, and even I and my Hungarian friend for the most part found basic agreement was not difficult. What a wonderful experience. But it can only happen if one (nay BOTH) keeps an open mind, tries to learn from others, and thinks – with enough background knowledge and experience to be able to make sense from it.
Again, again, that is what really matters – and wanting to do it.
I think about this a lot: what really matters?
To many it is power, wealth and fame. I kind of reject that, maybe because all that has already passed me by; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to contribute to our own self-interest. Self-interest is basic to self confidence, and that is necessary for whatever else comes down the pike; we do need to care care of ourselves. But after that, what really matters?
I generalize that with principles: responsibility, honesty, reliability, integrity and everything related. I believe in contributing; helping others, but not just handing it out: helping them to help themselves. So maybe that is what I believe really matters: helping others to help themselves; contributing? It can get complicated, and each must address it in his/her own way, within personal capabilities and interests. What does that mean? There is no way I can tell anyone what that means; it must be gained for self, and that takes effort, a great deal of effort, and wanting to expend it, preferably not for ourselves but in the interest of contributing to a greater good. Greater good? another tricky wicket.
In that interest I think one must have to make a very great effort to build a base from which it can be accomplished. Since that for me has ruled out fame, fortune and power; I have had to pursue other venues. This is it. But to pursue such venues takes more effort than might be evident. To start with, there has to be background knowledge that has to be gained, relentlessly. Fortunately (for me) I have the time to do that, and have had the opportunity. Knowledge? Education is part of that, but only if backed by good solid experience. And none of that ever exists in isolation; it takes much help: nurturing, reading, thinking, asking questions, discussing – and maintaining friendships.
And that is what really matters? No, it is what comes next that really matters: how effectively we share that with others. So all prior is merely what one has to assimilate before on can even begin to address what really matters; but then comes the challenge of trying to share it.
Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it? But we don’t exist in isolation, so it is not.
Gaining knowledge and assimilating it takes a lot of time, as well as effort, as well as a great deal of discrimination: knowing what to pursue, and then finding the time to pursue it; too many books, not enough time. But not only books; there is a great deal else out there as well, more and more every day, and that leads in yet another direction; one that I attempted to address in my last post: clutter.
But even then, still more: clutter goes beyond the personal aspect I addressed in that offering, since so many others are involved; always and continually. Try as we might, it seldom goes smoothly because others are necessarily involved; that’s another aspect of clutter. Even when WE do everything right, it doesn’t mean that it is just going to happen the way we planned it. Whenever others are involved there are always complications: ALWAYS, because it is very normal to be on slightly different wave lengths, if not on completely different tangents. That adds listening and paying attention to not only what others are saying, but where they are coming from when they are trying to say it- or even when they are trying to avoid saying it.
Then there is the finesse needed to share without insulting, without putting others down, through arrogance. Sharing needs to be done on a level of mutual respect and that entails sharing, and not preaching. Sometimes the distinction is difficult to discern, at least to the receiver of the sharing – and the responsibility to ensure that it is not misunderstood lies with the sharer.
All that, I would argue, is what adds up to what really matters. In short, it is a full time job; an effort too few are willing to invest in. So that makes me a hero? hardly; I am constantly finding myself lacking in doing what I tell myself I need to do. Which goes back to our differences, and recognizing we are all flawed – and accepting it, and trying to do something about it. And then it will all be all right; sure, just like that.
What else can I write? Plenty, I am sure, but most would likely be repetitious. What it comes down to is (again) it must come from within; and even then it is unlikely to be as consistent as we would like it to be. Being consistent is a real challenge, especially over time; sincerely consistent.
And that throws in the maturing process; and what is that? As we age we gain knowledge, IF we make the effort to do so; but it is also not likely to be consistent; that takes listening to others, and seeking to absorb the knowledge they have to impart, if they have it to impart; and to reject that which is not the reality of wisdom. Another vast challenge; and that must come prior to trying to share it, in the in that way others can comfortably accept sharing; and that takes effort on their part as well, but an effort that can be eased and encouraged by how WE go making the effort to share with THEM. More complication; more challenge. That’s why it is important – if it is to be successful.
Need I go on? Maybe it is time to stop and think about that. That is what I do here. Stop and let it sit for awhile. Next comes a first edit, then as many others as it takes. That is the process I use to educate myself. But, as I say, it takes much more that that, as I have to have input, a great deal of input, to make it possible; even in the imperfect way I accomplish it. And where does that input come from? others, selectively. And particularly from the treasure that is our national institutes; but I have addressed that often with others.
It is what I try to do, and enjoy doing, but it surely is not for everyone; and it takes the luxury of having the time and resources to do it, something that has taken me many years to be able to support. Nor do I suggest that all even try to attempt it.
What I would suggest is that everyone take that first step: decide what is important, for themselves. It opens up a vast new world; one that is infinitely more satisfying – at least I have found it so, and that is why I am addressing it here. And that is where the next step comes in; for those of us so fortunate it includes being a parent; but lacking that it can just mean being a friend: what really matters requires one to understand just what all that entails; enough; I can edit it to death – and maybe already have.
I have a friend who is trying to deal with the clutter in her home through the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui (or Fung Shue; different pronunciation from the Chinese characters?). I am sympathetic, and trying to do the same; but clutter is everywhere: in our homes, in our cities, on the highways, in the stores that we frequent – but also in our minds; too much information; worse, too much data, there is a difference. Actually it might be more accurate to say that there is too much weighing in on the data or information – opinion? Opinion is not bad, but all opinion is not of the same quality, which means we are being challenged to choose more carefully, and it takes a great deal of effort, not only research, but thinking about it. What do we really believe? What should we believe? How can we know?
That’s part of what education is all about, but all kinds of education, including experience. And there are too many today that are trying to influence education. So education is corrupt! Actually everything is corruptible; and that is for each of us to deal with.
Part of the purpose of this piece is to laud what I consider to be a national treasure: our institutions. Brookings comes to mind, as does Cato, Hoover and Heritage. I would throw in Ben Domenich’s efforts with The Transom and The Federalist too, and perhaps National Review. All the same? No, not even all the same on any one given day. And that’s where education comes in: it helps to have background information to which to compare, such as history – or even philosophy. We tend to be losing that in the clutter of information and the urgency of today’s here and now. The recent trend at deprecation of the American system is part of that. So our system is perfect? Hardly; no system can be perfect with the differences in human nature. So we have to deal with what we have, with the tools we have each personally developed, IF we have developed them – and attempt to use them. Big challenge there.
So the institutes? and the kinds of writers that Domenech and the Jewish World Review link to? There are many out there, and increasingly they are making themselves heard, offering the wisdom that they have gained. I am often reminded about getting wise; but getting wise is less something we do internally, and more about assimilation of that which others, from over long periods of time, provide, carefully selecting what we consider is valuable. And that is? Each must make that determination for self, and we are all different, explaining why it doesn’t just coalesce. BUT, if we make the effort, keep open minds, work to assimilate different interpretations – and discuss, again with open minds, the chance of approaching some kind of broad consensus is more possible.
How well are we doing that? Not well. Why? Too much clutter to work through; too little inclination to do so intellectually; too much tendency to listen to what we want to hear and believe what we want to believe; and criticize all else, and generalize that criticism: all this is bad; all that is good, etc. It takes discrimination. Ah, interesting word; current pop culture screams that discrimination is a terrible thing. It is a necessary thing. It is when it is done without adequate thought and consideration that it becomes a terrible thing. How to explain that to the ignorant?
Another interesting word – concept, if you will; we are all ignorant, no one can know everything, even though some seem to think they do, or act like it. I have even been guilty of lumping them into a category I use as “elite” or “intellectual”. But where does one get wisdom if not from those that have taken the time to assimilate it and propagate it? See where this leads? Differences again, and the need to discriminate; to read, to study and discuss; the need to share views and listen to those of others; and compromise after having done so. Knowing where other is coming from is important too; self-interest? inevitable; bad? not necessarily, but it can be. Much to think about; and MUCH reason to do so. Most will not because it takes effort; which is why we must listen to those who DO make it – but carefully, because they are like all the rest of us, and develop THEIR OWN opinions, which they insist on pushing on the rest of is.
This is as it always has been – and always will be. So what to do? Our history suggests a good approach, because it has worked. Perfectly? my, no. But the process was carefully honed with lots of checks, balances, separation of responsibilities (Federalism); even though it remains flawed, as it must be because of the differences that dominate us, and with which we need to learn to deal. We, at least in the United States, have made progress, however imperfectly; progress that many are decrying and trying to turn back.
Clutter: everywhere, and getting worse as the amount of everything increases at a rapid rate and our ability to deal with it is inadequate to keep up. There is the challenge. Can we deal with it? We have been trying; again, imperfectly, but better than most; and that most is beginning to encroach upon us, inexorably, and we aren’t dealing so well with that either. Hopeless? It is not hopeless; we have been there before in history, many times, and knowing something about history helps us to understand that, if we understand it correctly, and deal with it reasonably, which, again, is the challenge. We will meet it – imperfectly, as always; but we will meet it; but will it be enough? To do so we will have to seize upon the accumulated knowledge that is continuing to grow; but which is just information and which is wisdom?
That is for each of us to determine, and each of us to help others to determine, and understand for themselves. Our future, after all, is up to us, individually and collectively, and how much effort each is able and willing to make. Good luck, us; but don’t despair. History shows that it CAN be done; the only question is whether it can STILL be done with all the clutter. Good luck, us.
After completing the first draft of this effort I read an article by Dr. Fuelner of Heritage that I thought was related. It is indicative of the philosophy that I consider so important from Institutions like Heritage. Its web address is: www.heritage.org/commentary/2016/1/assimilation-nation-no-more. It was linked through The Transom.
I am a great believer in moderation; another of those words that post-modernism has corrupted. To me, moderation is avoiding the extremes, not only avoiding them, but rejecting them, even fighting them.
And what are these extremes? Arrogance at the one end and stubborn ignorance at the other. And thus moderation? Blending the conceit of elite intellectualism with the folk wisdom of the less educated. Say, what? I am advocating the conceit of elites? Only when blended with the folk wisdom of the less educated. That takes some discussion.
Let me approach it from another direction: notes from several days previous. I have been searching for the right words to describe my current state of mind; content, satisfied, even happy did not work. Recently it came to me: at ease. What does that mean?
First it is free from the need for fame, fortune and power.
Then it means free from the need to be appreciated.
So then free to what? Free to just contribute to helping others make it through. That’s incomprehensible! Well, how about just needing to do what we should do doing – and be satisfied with that?
Still confusing; what is it that we SHOULD be doing? That is for each to decide for self based on the principles he/she has chosen for themselves. And then what we SHOULD be doing is what we have decided we need to do, and be satisfied with that. So I discarded satisfied and now return to it? Not satisfied with the result; we can never allow ourselves to be satisfied with the result; satisfied with the process of trying to contribute to achieving a result that we can never hope to achieve: thus at ease with living with the challenge and realization that it has been accepted. Works for me. Now let’s go back and see what that means to me, based on the title of this piece: moderation.
I listened to a lecture by a professor from Hillsdale college this morning on line that fed right in. It was linked from The Transom and was about Common Core curriculum; I will not attempt to elaborate in detail here, as it merely fit into what I was attempting to explain. The professor was discussing what is wrong with Common Core and the concept that led to its establishment as criteria for the education of our modern students. In a nutshell what is wrong with it is that it attempts to define ideology rather than motivate students to learn to think for themselves – and set standards that supports that post-modern concept rather than what came prior. From my point of view that means departing from what I think should matter and moving toward what elite intellectuals have decided matters.
That takes me back to moderation as it was intended by the founders of our nation; but perhaps also by those that developed what led to the Christian principles to which they adhered; but also the vast spectrum of philosophy that influenced those principles so strongly. Principles? Basically principles to live by, determined by philosophical teachings tempered by centuries of thought and experimentation, evolution of Christian thought (yes, evolution of), and the experience of living under the Constitution of the United States of America – AS IT WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED, and not as is being influenced by attempts to modernize it. I cannot begin to cover all that here, which comes back to the importance of learning and giving independent thought to it, which is precisely what the Hillsdale professor and the writer of the article in The Transom were describing had been overlooked in developing Common Core criteria. It is also what Hillsdale is all about.
I refer to it, probably rather simplistically, as helping people help themselves; to do what? That is what Common Core seems to miss, and perhaps what post modern culture has lost track of. Again, simplistically, it is our responsibility to teach people to think for themselves based on established principles that have proven to be successful over time – very successful, as they have made our republic what it has become. To think? yes, but that means to learn how to motivate themselves to think. How? it begins with education. And wasn’t that what Common Core was attempting to define? how that should occur and be guided? That is the point: Common Core does not do that; nor does our post-modern educational system.
Moderation? To be moderate one must understand the extremes but also to learn how not to reject them out of hand, but to blend them to achieve what matters in life and be at ease with the process; blending the arrogance of intellectualism with folk wisdom. Is that not what our republic has managed to achieve?
Ah, any reader might ask; but what does that mean? Pursuing education is part of it, but much more than formal education, such as is defined narrowly and in a biased manner through Common Core: education for the purpose of LEARNING and UNDERSTANDING, not just accumulating information. Experience? as I have stated over and over again, experience is an important part of the process; but so is self-actualization; it is not enough just to absorb concepts from various types of formal presentations, although that is also part of it; but using that base, through motivating to take it further is a necessary next step; and we need to that ourselves. We have to WANT to learn; and to try to expand that into thinking on our own, with the help of others with greater knowledge, not only formally and through reading, but based on experience – our own and that of others, which is folk wisdom – and to help others to do the same.
Let’s not try to take that further; it is enough to think about, if one will. In the end, that is what moderation is all about; but as anyone who thinks about it, it is much more – must be much more – than just taking a position in between extremes.
Keeping an open mind is more challenging than it might seem. This came to me as I thought about adding repeated coats of oil paint on canvas, one over the other before the under coat has dried sufficiently; instead of covering they tend to blend – even blur. Knowledge is like that; particularly cultural knowledge, particularly ideological cultural knowledge.
Essentially, the old has to dry before the new can take – that is, replace; otherwise there will likely be a blending.
How long does it take “old knowledge” to dry before the new can begin to take hold? Or maybe a better way to ask that, particularly when it applies to cultural knowledge, is how much of the old must be unlearned before the new can be learned? My reference at this point is to immigrants; immigrants enter their new country having learned their home culture from birth; are they expected to just suddenly begin rejecting that and learning the new? It is not likely to happen like that. So how long does it take to replace old culture with new? At best it takes a generation or more; how many?
It doesn’t happen like that either; nor can such a question be simply answered. A first generation immigrant, if he/she has begun to learn who they are do not forget their culture any more than they forget their language. Second generation and beyond, if born in the new country, and immersed in the culture of that country are the first ones to start out anew – IF they are completely immersed in the new culture and not excessively exposed to that of their parents. Does that happen? Perhaps sometimes, but not often; culture is too ingrained. And that is bad? It is not bad; the great benefit for the new county, and its existing culture, is that it is blended with the new, bringing, hopefully, more vibrant colors – and a richer cultural environment. If we were suddenly to obliterate the old of the immigrant population, are we not likely to lose that benefit?
How long does it take to convert an immigrant from old culture to new? Cultivate? Of course it depends on lots of things, but let’s talk about it.
First let’s expand the conversation. Is this not true of any knowledge? I encounter it every day when discussing life, in whatever form it may be discussed, with others. That brings us to open minds; is it not the same thing? What then is an open mind? Something like a sponge, that absorbs whatever comes into contact with it? That is the way it is with babies that have no previous knowledge. Perhaps in the context with which we are addressing it, it would be more appropriate to talk of maintaining an open mind. Before going any further it might be useful to discuss what happens when new knowledge is introduced; does that entail a process of unlearning the old before learning the new? Yes and no.
I am processing this as I go, from notes made overnight. The initial rush of information seems clear when it comes, but introspection almost always shows that there is more to it than there initially appears to be. That is why I enjoy pursuing this means of thinking; by beginning with an idea, a concept, and expanding it, much more detail comes to mind – and more complexity evolves. That, I contend, is life (or should be what we consider in life) and that is how we expand the mind. But to expand the mind requires that it be open to accept the new. So what of the old? It seems that this goes back to the oil paint example; if the new coat does not obliterate the old, must it not in some way blend with the old? So open mind is not enough; there must also be a blending process. Oh my, it does become complex doesn’t it? Of course; life is complex, and trying to simplify it, as we are wont to do, is likely to not be successful. Ask the painter in oils and he/she will tell you just how complex it is.
Having an open mind is not like having a blank canvas, except perhaps in the beginning; but even then, do babies have completely blank minds or is there some residual from the birthing process? We need not go there, but thinking about that seems appropriate. However, having a closed mind is not like having a locked box either. This is where I always tend to end up: things are almost never this or that, yes or no; they are almost always a combination of much. So let’s discuss some of that in the context of what we are addressing: essentially gaining knowledge; cultural, yes; but much more. The process of gaining knowledge is an intriguing – and important – one; having and maintaining an open mind is only a part of that process, but an critical part.
If it is not already apparent, the process begins with an open mind (meaning a mind open to accepting new information), then deals with the more taxing task of determining what should be added and what should be rejected: among each, what is already there and what is new; that bring up thinking about what to forget; but that doesn’t happen either; the brain is not like that: it retains all kinds of information; some useful, some not so; some to be identified as flat-out wrong, but even then not likely forgotten. The process of identifying what is useful and what is not might be referred to as the learning process; at least that works for now. Learning can be either positive or negative – or inconclusive, for that matter. We are not only all different in what we know, but we are also often confused within our own minds as to what we know – or even don’t know.
Let me get back to my notes before I completely lose track of where I think I am heading.
Learning requires a comparison of what is known (in the memory) and what is being introduced new; that entails thinking. Not so much what to forget, but what to reject as wrong, and then what to accept as right. Sound simple? Too simple. Often there is value to both old and new – and that has to be processed. Right and wrong often is not the question, what we are addressing is usually the oil paint blending process; although sometimes that process entails painting over and sometimes it is blending; that is so in adding information, or thinking, if you prefer, because that’s what it really is. And that’s what learning is all about: not what to keep and what to discard, but how to keep them in proper balance; and again, it’s not either or, but more like grading the knowledge – from mostly true, to mostly false, with all that is in between, including don’t know; don’t know includes unknowable (at least at this time) or unknown, need to find out. Then last: need to find out is incentive for learning.
Back to motivation? I always have to come back to motivation: we have to want to, and then take it from there, which entails the discipline to take it from there. Let’s apply that to immigrants, many whom have accumulated cultural information spanning generations. They need to go through the process to decide what category in which to put the cultural information: freedom or subjugation of women? Liberty to define social mores in terms of dogma or free will? And ability to accept the rules of the game as defined within the culture, our culture. That process should be undertaken before even immigrating; I know, easy to say. But ultimately it has to be: accept, don’t come or leave. The beauty of our way of life is that even that is not that cut and dried; we accept change, if it adheres to our process. But to think that they can just come and then change it to what they want, is unacceptable. I know, another tangent, but they have to learn what to “keep” and what to “leave behind”. But similar process accompanies almost all accumulation of knowledge.
The process is a demanding one that takes a great deal of effort, if there is to be even a modicum of success. With differences aplenty, many don’t want to make the effort; many oppose the compromise entailed in blending and grading what they want to empathize with what they want to DE-emphasize; and there are even some that are incapable of that, most often because they have not made the effort earlier to gain enough knowledge to work the process. Then there are those that don’t want to bother. We have all kinds; that is why there are so many differences among us – and always will be. To have an open mind includes wanting to let new information in, as well as the desire to want to understand what the differences are between that and what is already there, and then to be able to be willing to try to sort them out.
If any reader is overwhelmed, don’t worry; I often overwhelm myself trying to think about it. And when I try to discuss it with others I am often viewed almost as a pariah by some: yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look, he thinks too much; such men are dangerous. Hopefully in this effort I have made some progress.
But before leaving this, I must throw in that some are too willing to unlearn too easily and replace knowledge too readily; and too superficially; that is dangerous too; such is what leads to what we call brain washing or becoming too easily indoctrinated; that happens too often; and one might even suggest that too many who derive all their information from the sound bites of media too often succumb to it. But there is so much more: forgetting? I could go on forever, dropping back into family disintegration and student motivation, the selfishness of wanting to be taken care of – but I’ve been through all that; probably too many times; although I am likely to visit them once again. It all comes together and is the challenge of life, particularly the life in an open society such as our nation is; and our responsibility to our fellow man is to help them deal with it so that can become functional citizens.
That is more than enough for this session. Now I have to back and see what I have written, and try to edit it. That’s what keeps me busy. Ok, last edit finished – for now.
Congressman Paul Ryan
1233 Longworth HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515
15 January 2016
Dear Mr. Speaker:
I recently read an article by Tim Alberita in National Review that discussed how the Republican party is about to begin focusing on poverty, compassion and empathy. I understand that motivation; and also understand the pressure that is on the Republican Party with respect to prospective voters. Politics, after all, is a competitive occupation, and voters set their own expectations. Clearly for those in our nation – far too many – those expectations have become unrealistic. I understand the pressure.
The article said little about how that focus on poverty, compassion and empathy might be applied; I also understand the power of the Democratic backed media to expose what they claim is lack of it. In some ways it is a no-win situation; the Democrats will make sure that it appears to voters to be the way they want voters to see it, and will take full advantage of the ignorance of too many of them.
It is my belief that the objective is positive and necessary. It is also very tricky in that it can easily get out of hand. Competition with Democrats to see who can give away the most will destroy our country even more than the current administration and its running dogs have done. I sympathize with the challenge that is being presented, but worry about where it could lead. In short, I am desperately concerned with any effort that would contribute to our already out-of-control debt and its effect on our economy and future. I know you are too, and am not suggesting that competing on their terms is the projected motive; but I fear the power of greed and dependence that the Democratic Party has generated, with the assistance of lap-dog MSM.
I write not to attempt to tell how you how to do your job; I have as much confidence in you as I do any politician, and far more than I have in most. But I had to weigh in; it’s the way I am. I have made a big philosophical deal on my website (mostly ignored; it’s for me to develop my philosophical beliefs) of my take on what it requires, and so I have to write it into a letter to you (if your handlers don’t get in the way; I know how they can; politics is a very competitive occupation).
The only way we can truly be compassionate is to help people to help themselves; that used to be the American way, until the party of Franklin Roosevelt offered the alternative that began to tear us apart. I would rather lose to Hilary and her gang of thugs; and let her hang with the consequences as she inevitably will, if elected, than be complicit in such a national catastrophy.
The principle involved MUST be helping people help themselves; and making them aware that that is in their best interests. I know, tough sell; too many don’t want to hear it. And the fact that they will ultimately be the losers is not the point, since wouldn’t want to accept that either, and the Democrats and their running dogs will certainly encourage them to see it that way. Encouragingly there are many who are trying to make this point today, particularly through our institutional think tanks; but too few voters avail themselves of that wisdom, as we all have to be painfully aware.
Thanks for listening; I feel better for being able to do it; that is what we are able to do in this great nation.
Fund raisers: I know you are looking for donations but I am tapped out; I have done what I can do and have had to pull back. This is the result of too many folks who think they can win and are soliciting funding; there is only so much one can do, and probably not enough to go around. Hopefully that will begin to turn around, and hopefully there will be some effort among candidates to pull together and see if a winning team, such as Paul Ryan is trying to build, can evolve. But ego and lust for power is difficult to suppress for many. Everyone is not willing to do it as did Paul Ryan and the governor of Wisconsin, the two that should be topping the slate to defeat Hilary Clinton and her band of thugs.
Enough. Our great nation will survive; it only remains to see how much damage is done in the process.
This is a subject about which I spend a lot of time thinking; what is it? Let’s begin with Oxford. It was not as long an explanation as I expected; but that doesn’t mean it is a simple concept. “Nurture: process of bringing up or training (especially children); nourishment; socialization factors as an influence on or determinant of personality.” That is a good place to begin. Sounds simple enough; it is anything but simple.
As with everything today, the way we used to conceive of it has changed; things have become so much more complex. In earlier times there was probably more emphasis among parents in influencing children to be what the parent expected. That is also a beginning: parental expectations. But that has to be blended through the basic material that is the child: genes and how they have been blended and are manifested; personality, interests, proclivities, innate abilities, even physical qualities. Let’s call these the basic building blocks; how is it taken from there? That is where the nurturing comes in: putting it all together and molding it; into what? That is the challenging part, and it is a monumental one – or should be.
The first challenge is to be able to balance parental expectations with the basic material that is the child. Neither is cut and dried; that is, it is not a simple matter to even determine what they are and can become. Parental expectations? Do parents today even know or are THEY influenced by outside factors? And how much effort goes into even understanding what they are and what is reasonable? and they change as life changes. And the basic material that is the child; how can one know of that, as it is also changing continually as they develop? At this point is where influences come in. In the past, influences mainly derived from, if were not dominated by, family; that has been changing dramatically too, for reasons known to us all; the nature of family has been changing with modern times, as we are all aware. So have the nature of influences; there are so many today, beginning with entertainment of all kinds, and the ubiquitous nature in which it is pressed upon us: friends, of course; education, including experience; but more. Once it was one-on-one and personal; now it is ubiquitous, and anything but personal: television, the Internet, social media – in addition to tons of written material of all kinds, and of greatly variable value. All this descends upon the young continually and with much less parental control than once could be applied, and has become a major factor of influence. How can it be controlled? Or stated differently, how can that be incorporated into nurturing? Incorporated? Let’s call a spade a spade: how can parents deal with it? even IF the parents are making the effort they should be making to pursue that most important function they have undertaken?
The second challenge is how to accept reality. That’s a deep one. But to simplify, let’s accept that selfishness and self interest are part of human nature, have not changed over time and are unlikely to. But they are also part of survival; to survive one must take control of one’s own life; no, let’s change that to read to be successful in surviving one must take control of one’s own life. Successful; another word loaded with nuances; success, of course, is relative.
So let’s return to expectations: those of parents and those of children; subjective? Oh, yes, and fraught with influences – at both ends. Here, of course, is yet another example of the differences that make us and our culture what it is. And at this point I could drift off into how our American culture, its freedoms and liberty came to be; but I’ll resist that, and attempt to concentrate on the expectations of family, parents and the children, and the how they have been changed over time; they have changed a great deal, at every level, as our culture changes – and changed so rapidly. How to keep up? THERE is the real challenge.
So how does one address nurturing these days? Carefully and with an open mind; the challenge, because of the competing interests of our culture – again, at all levels – is staggering.
First parents have to want to – with the extended family supporting them for that matter; nurturing, after all, is a family matter IF there is extended family there, even family at all; again, the challenge of our changing culture. We may be beginning with a decided disadvantage; but that just makes it that much more worthwhile – and necessary. And, of course, that could take us on another tangent, that of the advantages of nurturing to future success, and the feeling of many today that it is unfair. But we have covered that and need not revisit it at this point.
Second, and this also is nothing new, the children have to be receptive to it. That, also is a big challenge in these modern times; what would make them want to be receptive to it, with all the competing influences, many of which are powerful?
That takes us back to the dual nature of nurturing: the partnership between offering and accepting. And doesn’t this sound so much like all the rest of the purpose of life that I have been pushing for so long? Working together, each motivated to doing something to help other? Yes, easy to throw out there, but very, very difficult to accept and convert to a philosophy of life There are so many competing demands on us; families, parents and children; that seem to be more important. They are not, but it is difficult to convince many of that; and even more difficult to help them learn how to deal it themselves.
That is what has has come to dominate my thinking: helping people to help selves; another challenge that has two components: he/she who wants to help, and they who are targets of the attempt to do so. Motivation on both sides is critical; so is understanding and open minds. On the side of the family it should be obvious, although it might not be so to some. On the other side it should be also, but unfortunately not enough emphasis is placed on that, in my opinion, which is perhaps even more critical, because the need to accept it has to be embraced by those involved. It is that with which I want to spend the brief remainder of the space I have left in this essay to address.
The meaning of life REALLY has to do with reaching out, and helping each other; that is not giving to others when they make no effort on their own; neither is it giving to others to make us feel good. It is making a contribution to their ultimate development in life; THAT is what nurturing should be. Sometimes it is; often it is, that’s why we are the great nation that we are; there are enough that understand that. But how do others, unused to our Christian and republican principles come to understand that? With difficulty; which is another partnership we must attempt to pursue.
See the connection? That is what life needs to be about: partnerships of people reaching out to help people help themselves. Were we successful, life would be much fuller for all. Is that a reasonable expectation? No, it is not; but that doesn’t mean we can’t pursue is, individually and collectively as best we can. And at least that is how we can make life better for ourselves, MUCH better. REALLY!
And why is philosophy the capstone of learning? I have addressed it before; before one can attempt to philosophize one must have knowledge with which to attempt it; so, one must pursue knowledge first, and take it from there. But how does one take it from there? Thinking about what one has learned and trying to put it all together, particularly trying to see how it fits, and trying to fill in the gaps. And it’s the filling in of the gaps that is so challenging, because there may not be too much to go on. So what has to be done? wing it. Not acceptable? what is the option, if we are to try to make any sense of it all?
So why is what I have been doing so uncoordinated? Maybe because I am not much of a philosopher; maybe because I don’t have enough knowledge, or don’t make enough effort to do the research necessary to get it. But maybe, just maybe, because it is not there. In that sense philosophy has been akin to scientific method: hypothesis is necessary. And when the hypothesis does not prove out, a new one must be generated, and IT has to be tested until it is proven true, or proven to be wrong. But that’s what I said several essays ago about religion; religion IS philosophy, but much of religion is unknowable. We keep thinking we can work out the science, but of course some of that proves to be unknowable too, at least for the present. And history? that is just recording the observation, albeit culturally biased as it inevitably is. It really all does fit together, and philosophy is the attempt in one’s mind to try, as best one can, to make sense of it all – at least as much as one can with what is known; but also hypothesized, until it is proven wrong. And forecasting? Ah, forecasting; forecasting is trying to make a guess of what will happen in the future based on what is known. And the difference between that and philosophy? Philosophy is filling in gaps between knowns; forecasting is trying to extrapolate from what is known, or at least what is thought to be known, to what can not YET be known, with philosophy thrown in to fill in the gaps between the two. Capiche?
But mine is so uncoordinated; why? because instead of working through it as a scientist would or even a good forecaster might, I just take it as it comes to mind, and run with it, to see what comes out the other end; that’s why I refer to it as stream of consciousness: whatever comes to mind, messaged through accumulated knowledge. And that is why I keep coming back to similar thoughts or challenges, because they all come together, eventually. Philosophy is how I refer to my attempt to discern the coming together, or at least that which evolves from the stream of consciousness exercises. It is not scientific and I don’t recommend it for everyone; but it helps me to think through related complicated knowledge that is within my sphere of assumed understanding; flavored, of course, by my assumptions or suppositions – and maybe even predictions. Complicated? I said it was.
Flawed? oh yes; I am flawed, and my “reasoning” is not only open to challenge, but I suggest it even cries out for it. One might argue it is only opinion, and that is true to a point; but mine has a basis of knowledge, however incomplete, and it is that with which I work to see what I can make of it. Thus I call it philosophy, my own, as it is developing. I cannot say that is how philosophy developed throughout history, but it must have been something like that. But I have more knowledge than those of the past did! Be careful with that. I might have picked up more facts to throw into the mix; but I can assure you I don’t have the minds of those that made the profound analyses that have inspired us over time. So why do I pursue it? Because it exercises my mind and keeps leading me to new insights, or at least further opinions, that are open to challenge both from others and myself. And even with repeated editing there are many mistakes of syntax, spelling and grammar, often through carelessness or clumsiness; my keying fingers frequently do not do what my mind tells them to do; and even more frequently the communication between mind and fingers is not what it should be, or even what it used to be. Nonetheless (na ja in German; perhaps now in the future I shall use that). Clearly the light is beginning to go out, but it will take a while for that to happen and in the meantime I wish to make of it what I can. I have a while to go and it does me good to try to do what I can do. Thus for me the exercise of philosophizing is worth the effort – FOR me.
Value of it? Now there is the big question: what is the value of it? I know what it is for me; any readers must decide what it is for themselves, and if there is none, I can understand that and accept it. But as I have said repeatedly, this is for me, and I only record it here in order to develop it, but at least in the hope that some might wish to share it, even if that leads to disagreement – but maybe, just maybe, to also pick up a thread and pursue it further, and make something more of it – for themselves. That may not be scientific method, but it sort of approaches it, in that it at least can inspire further efforts, and therefore a potential for continued intellectual progress, if there is anything here with which to work
Na ja; I have to keep trying. Wish me luck if you will; that helps too. And feel free; it is public access. I welcome both criticism and any further efforts that anyone might wish to pursue.