Why are people the way they are? Why do they do what they do? Influence.
Influence? Such as? think about it; our lives are dominated by influences: aside from genes; they come from parents, friends, teachers, coworkers and experience, from that we determine how to evaluate what we see and decide what we are going to do. Humans are pack animals; we think, but to do so need stimulus. It comes from influences. Genes? That’s a different discussion: ability to think and reason may be dependent upon genes, as are many physical characteristics; but where is the dividing line between genes and nurturing? It may exist, but if so I am not competent to explain it.
Influences are strong because our initial knowledge, aside from what is genetically carried from the birth process, is virtually non existent, so we have only experiences from which to absorb through learning from them. The first after birth come from observing and interacting with parents and siblings, next from playmates, then from formal education, after which experience, including non-formal education; that is personal education; begins to dominate. But it is an interactive process throughout, and much depends on the initiative – the motivation – of the source, which, of course, can be influenced by genes, but also much else.
That’s simple enough; but of course it is anything but simple. What drives motivation? To say influence is probably missing the point, as does genetics, as even does nurturing; although nurturing can contribute so much. So let’s go back to the question, or at least the second part of it; why do people do what they do? I suggest it is a very complex process.
A Fox news article the other day provided an example. A mother was watching the news concerning the recent events in Baltimore, becoming concerned, since she had a sixteen year old son who was not at home; so she went out to see for herself. Lo and behold, there on the street she recognized her son, despite the hoody, with a brick in his hand. She reacted as few others had done, stepping out into the street and taking charge – of her wayward son; for which enthusiastic Fox reporters nominated her for mother of the year. The obvious question she had, after taking control, was why did you do it? The answer, surprise surprise, began with my friends…………….enough said. Influence. So where did the friend’s influence come from? the piece didn’t attempt to even suggest, and we’ll never know. Media footage? Social media? Another friend? Curiosity? Somewhere in the murky background had to be some initial motivation. Coming up with a list of suggestions for that is something we can all do.
Where is the dividing line between getting the idea and acting upon it? Another unknown; but influence is as good an explanation as any. Why are some people more susceptible to influence than others? Genetics? perhaps, but maybe not. The dividing line, in an individual mind, must be murky at best, perhaps spurred by emotion, perhaps driven by something else that might have been lurking in the brain prior to be exposure; more influence. My trusty Oxford again? pretty much more of the same, and thus not all that helpful, save this: “moral ascendency or power”, both external and internal. And here is another: “(Astrol.) an ethereal fluid supposedly flowing from the stars and affecting character and destiny.” Whey they have to cite the stars, that’s clear indication of not knowing for sure.
But our subject was introspection, where does that come in? When you don’t really know, and it comes from inside, all you can do is think about it, and thinking about it is likely to be the difference in what results; asking why? How much do we think about it? Not enough. But that’s not only about motivation; it’s about everything that passes through our lives. We tend to accept the obvious, or the most persuasive, or the loudest – or most influential, however that might be determined. And doesn’t that go back to motivation? Introspection; thinking about it. I love it. But anyone who has stayed with me for any time would know that.
A perusal of the knowledgeable contributions of what is being offered in today’s massive body of “literature” (of all kinds) concerning economics, politics (particularly geopolitics) has been becoming increasingly aware that has been becoming more complex. That, in our progressive age of innovation, is not surprising. Why complex? I would suggest: too much, with too little control; what seems good at the moment takes off, and cannot be controlled, at least not initially. But then when attempts are made to institute controls, who defines them, why, and for what reasons, motives and considerations? Unintended consequences immediately develop, and intensify the complexity.
Consider the following:
News media coverage.
Average voter knowledge.
Knowledge as well as motivation of most politicians.
Social media idiocy, in all of its forms.
So why do problems evolve? Of course, that could be summarized by just saying people, and their differences. The complexity has overwhelmed us, and the average person; whether individual, media or politician; does not adequately understand it; nor, to be realistic, can we expect them to; but we CAN expect them to make an attempt. Is that too much to ask? Probably, but we must ask it anyway. And for that there are sources, but they are demanding, as we must have some background understanding to be able to comprehend what they attempt to tell us. The challenge is immense, and it is being poorly met, for any number of reasons, also complex, due to where we began in this paragraph: differences of everything; and arrogant differences at that.
Leaders? Who leads in our culture? It is not as it once was, where leadership was very limited, and carefully controlled as to who could be part of it. That’s what rule of the people, however defined, has come to; and that’s where all the complexity originates, and continues to lie, and develop, and fester. That’s good, but as Churchill so famously told us, there are problems. With people there are ALWAYS problems.
Leaders of all kinds attempt to lead, in many directions. Each purports self to be the ultimate in sagacity, reality, and wisdom. So which? The choice is up to us: government, institutions, writers of all kinds, activists also of all kinds, entertainers; surely there are more. Anyone with the power to gain listeners/readers? Social media sure has increased the number of “the powerful”, it would seem, “power” being relative.
So who are we listening to? Look around, and count them. Why are we listening to them? Many different reasons, at all levels. Part of it is too much access by too many to the means to attempt to lead, mainly through electronic communication. Remember when politicians used to gather small groups of people to listen to them speak? Well, they still do, but only to massively rich (or famous) contributors. Otherwise, if it’s a speech it will likely be in a stadium. Otherwise it’s turn on a tube; any number of them. Face to face discussion? Forget that, we don’t even do much of that socially; and for the rich, famous and powerful it’s mostly scripted anyway; that is, written by someone else, edited carefully, and probably rehearsed. From the heart; yeah, right.
The combination is brutal. Business takes care of itself, but so do much of all the rest; survival of the fittest? Maybe the survival of the loudest, loud being much more than just a loud voice.
It’s less business versus labor, education versus ignorance or the propertied versus those without. It’s not even the wizened intellectuals versus callow youth; today EVERYONE seems to have a voice and considers theirs as valid as any other. Of course most are myopic, much is ignorant; but all is emotional. Would it be appropriate to say power corrupts, and such power corrupts absolutely? Sure seems so.
Actually we have been here before, sort of; it’s just that power has broadened, significantly, because of the means of being able to talk! and have someone listen. Even if no one really hears, many of the talkers don’t care: look at blog sites, for heavens sake. It always happens when power gets out of control; but today “out of control” has a whole new meaning. Electronic communication? Computing power? Money and its volume and reach? The variety of what to want; what to oppose; what to argue about, with or without facts, or even much knowledge, just intensity and the ability to spew it. Selfish? sure. Disruptive? who cares; even anarchical! go for it. Rights? Freedom? Democracy? Or just uncontrolled idiocy?
Why uncontrolled? because we demand to be unfettered. So we need controls? be careful, that leads to WHO gets to do the controlling, and we’ve been there. How about self control? Too late? Maybe we don’t want self control.
But WE do, for explosion of individualism quickly becomes chaos. Has it already? It seems to be heading in that direction, so what to do?
The jury is still out on that; but WE are the jury, so in the long run it’s up to US. In the end, reason usually triumphs; has complexity changed that? Stay tuned – and think positive. But………………take responsibility for whatever; we are the people.
To each according to need; from each according to ability; sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? What’s wrong with that? Yes, SOME might recognize that as Karl Marx’s Communist screed; but how many today might not?
The answer to what’s wrong with it is that it doesn’t work. Because for most of us if we get what we need we are reluctant to give according to our ability. Why would we? That’s more than human nature; much of it is more like common sense, at least to many. The key is probably “need”; what is that? Ah, why bother? Each defines own, and it is almost always way more than pure need. Big screen TVs? Fancy cell telephones, big houses, vacations; we can go on almost forever. Need or expectation? Ask anyone and see the answer you get; more likely it will be a quizzical stare; what? Let’s not even bother to go there.
What is interesting to me – and this is the way I see it – the progress we have made since the industrial revolution has to do with need and ability; well, sort of; actually more about motivation and expectation. But expectation was modest and motivation was what our ancestors, many of whom were immigrants, made of it. The result was a middle class power house that has come to dominate the economics of the world. To explain that we have to delve more deeply into need and ability, motivation and expectation. And to do that we have to analyze “middle class”. We throw around many terms, and in this day and age of egalitarianism, rights, expectations and diversity most are hypocritical. If one is highly qualified, however that might be defined, it is luck of the draw; if one lacks qualifications or opportunity it is someone else’s fault, never his or her own. Generalization? ok, but far to common.
Discrimination? Bias? Unfairness? Favoritism? Sure, all exist, always have and always will. Do family connections make a difference? sure they do. Does family ability make a difference with the progeny? of course it does. That’s NOT FAIR!! Piffle; it is life. More than that, the position and thinking that comes from family nurturing is potentially so valuable it overwhelms almost all else – almost; we’ll come back to that.
Position, and ability to think and reason lead to success, which leads toward affluence which leads to opportunity; doesn’t ensure, but leads toward. How else could one expect to get there? Children generally lack the ability to develop motivation and initiative on their own, at least at early age; thus nurturing to that end is valuable – even essential, if it is to develop; and must come from those that understand and appreciate that. And that’s unfair? And when families destroy themselves through actions of their participants, that impacts nurturing? Whose fault is that?
So motivation is a “made” by parents? No, parents develop an environment in which a child motivates self, and encourages through example; there is a difference. All know of children from questionable backgrounds and poor nurturing who have managed to motivate themselves, many through other influences that substituted; but some from somehow finding a means, within themselves, to do it for themselves. How many? Who knows? Who can tell where the incentive for motivation comes from, whether from inside or from influence, or more likely a combination, but a combination that still ends coming from the inside; let’s just say that motivation and generation of it is not well understood, and difficult to measure, along with all the other differences that inevitably exist. On the other hand, it is easier to see where the resistance to motivating self comes from; if all those around resist, and worse, even encourage anti-motivation, what chance does one have to resist it? Oh, there is a chance, but it it much more difficult to achieve motivation when surrounded by those who put it down. A recent article by a black reporter from WSJ is an example; a younger relative, maybe 8 years old, asked him, why do you speak white? Kidding, maybe, but 8 year olds are strongly influenced by others.
Another example I recently encountered was a poll asking me if (yes or no) Garland (TX) was doing a poor job of educating its young to be effective citizens. I didn’t answer it, but I am still considering writing a letter to explain why not: that this is just one more example of trying to shift blame to someone else. Are some teachers guilty of it? probably, weakness is found everywhere, as is strength; but how about resistance of students? Same old dichotomy as with motivation: even the best teachers may fail when confronted by resistance of students to want to be motivated. Which comes first? Come on; why must we keep launching into either/or arguments; it is NEVER that simple. So where to begin? just starting wherever opportunity arises makes sense, wherever that might be. But let there be no doubt, if it doesn’t start with family, it will have much less chance of being successful.
So let’s take this line of thinking to the next level: why is the middle class being squeezed? It goes back to the same discussion, based on differences among us; Marx liked to refer to it as class warfare; so what does class mean? It means those that have motivated themselves versus those that have not. Too simple; sure it is. It is surely easier to motivate self starting with advantages; and that has become what is meant by upper class: environment that encourages self motivation. Lower class is at the other extreme of the hierarchy, for many, many reasons. So what is middle class? Most today would say it has to do with salary range, and that is indication of how much money drives us. But that takes us back to need. What is need? Today, many might want to define need as all those expectations we have had driven into our brains. I would prefer to look at it as something more modest, and use it to drive success through encouraging living within personal means. Ok, then upper class? Those who have more than they need, expect to be able to enjoy it for luxuries, and also are able to use it too invest or save to increase their means over time. And lower class? Those whose income merely supports adequate living conditions, or less; it’s as simple as that – for any number of reasons.
The strength of our nation and its economy are a result of having developed a strong middle class, which motivates self to be able to balance needs and ability. Again, too simple. But think about it; needs and ability must be related, and balanced realistically, either to control needs or increase ability to whatever limits might exist. It has worked; it is tottering because people first do not understand that, second don’t try, third try to substitute their own ideological solution, and fourth encourage government to take whatever action IT thinks is appropriate to balance it, much of which is taking from those that are successful and giving to those who are less so.
That’s government’s job, right? But how does it make that evaluation? Interestingly, no matter what is done, members of our “ruling” government always manage to make out pretty well; because they are upper class? Because they are highly motivated? For what? Could some of it mean personal success, through attracting votes? Another subject in which one can become mired. But that leads me to yet another discussion. Man has always been led by the successful, and the successful have always taken self first. America, with effective development of a middle class, offered a realistic way to allow – through motivation – those with less successful beginnings to move upward, maybe a little at a time, to better themselves – and a little at a time has often meant over several generations of effort. It has worked, perhaps not perfectly, and not for everyone; but it has worked better than anything else anyone has come up with – including Karl Marx, and his still somewhat sympathizers.
So what are “we” trying to do today? Make it all happen quicker by satisfying needs, however defined, by taking from those with ability who can afford to pay for it. Yes, there is a role for government to adjudicate the process by ensuring balance of opportunity through working against blatant actions of certain elements to deny the rights of some to pursue opportunity. Ah, but there is the slippery slope, how is that defined, and who defines it? The government; us? not really; our representatives. And who are they? Those that have convinced others to vote for them. That certainly is not cut and dried, and in fact is quite complex – and is part of the system that supports the process.
Which brings us back to the challenge of the classes: the upper class, with money to invest, support representatives who are sympathetic to them and their interests. The lower class, more complacent, it has to be admitted, and with less power, tend to believe what they are told. Does that mean that money buys votes that tend to continue class differences? That’s too extreme; it doesn’t have to be that way, but in the end it is a factor.
This is the historical difference: the rich and powerful who rule, through whatever means are available; and the complacent poor who let them, if they are taken care of. That’s what Marx saw. Of course there is the alternative: poor who are not complacent, and revolt, which is another part, commonly seen, throughout history. Our founders saw a different way, that had to do with checking and balancing human nature, and allowing opportunity a chance: a strong middle class, which today’s powerful have been trying to adjust, because it’s out of date. And what is in date is whatever the powerful tell us is in date; and we can see the direction that is taking. Churchill said that democracy is not a good form of government, but head and shoulders above the next best. Professor Tyler, among others, said that democracy will never work, because as soon as voters find they can vote for themselves from the national treasury will do so. Which is right? Both.
American democracy has had its ups and downs, because leadership by man is always self centered and balance is difficult; but has resulted in overwhelming success; unrealistic success, for that matter, because of the excesses of man, at both ends of the ladder that will ALWAYS be the case. What has happened to the balance? about what one would expect when powerful interests at both ends are pursued. At the financially powerful end comes the opportunity to influence politicians, mainly through investment in their careers (campaigns – which have become VERY expensive to conduct) to assist them with their interests; regardless, I might add, of what it does to our country, in too many cases. At the other end the “need” of those without power, to want more, has created another power opportunity to influence, regardless of what it does to our country. And it is being pursued as well. Is that not a reasonable explanation of the ideological power struggle that is currently taking place? Certainly too simple; there is nothing in life that is not complex.
All too simplistic maybe; but it is a place to start. Perhaps if more thought about it and stood up to be counted, we could make some progress; If we can get past selfish motives, that, let’s face it, are to be expected. That was the intent of the founders of our nation. We have moved far from their original intents, due, some say, because their beliefs are out of date. Are they? That is what we, the people, must decide, if the concept of “we the people” still exists. It’s late in the game to be remaking the arguments that created our nation, but not too late; it is, after all, never too late. It wasn’t too late then; but it was very challenging. It appears that it will be challenging again, for similar reasons, but in a greatly changed context and environment. What really matters?
It is not either/or; it never was either/or. It is a matter of dealing with differences among people that can be dealt with through understanding of human nature, and how it can be balanced and influenced through employing the tools provided us, which include balancing need and ability to achieve the most optimal results through encouraging motivation through nurturing, protecting rights with reasonable laws and enforcement – and doing our best to make sure that selfish interests don’t screw it up. It is a potent challenge; we met it once, but things have changed. So now we are facing it again, in a very different environment, one chock full of entitlement; entitlement that can not be sustained at the level it is being pursued. It is up to us.
Wow; that is a pile of confusing thoughts; a third edit makes that quite obvious. Confusing? It actually is, and I get carried away with it. But then, who am I? More appropriate to ask is who are you, if anyone has bothered to stay with it, assuming there is anyone out there reading. The purpose, as I always emphasize is for us, personally, to think about it, and decide for ourselves what is important, and why.
Take your pick: dinosaur (me) or cultural deterioration? A little of both, I suspect, so how much of the problem is me being out of step and how much the culture? As I sit here listening to Hank Snow on a CD, I realize culture changes, and us dinosaurs don’t handle it well, but I am concerned that it’s a bit out of hand, so I am going to list some of my concerns. I would invite comments, but I suspect if anyone is over 50 or 60 it would be at least grudging agreement, and if under that age……what? disagreement? Outrage? Or mere amusement? Why bother?
So for my list:
Polls: Am I the only one that finds polls that ask for yes, know or I don’t know responses to questions a bit ludicrous? I am willing to submit an opinion on most subjects of value, but not with that limit of responses. I just don’t bother; how many are like me? So what value are polls? not much, as far as I am concerned.
Political Correctness: Need I elaborate? Why must some – and they do, at a terrible intensity – demand that all adhere to their point of view? Enough said.
Opponent Bashing: Negative Politics; scary. It seems that accomplishment and qualifications are passe, and all we look for is something to attack. Of course there is always something, that’s the way it is; but is our choice of leader a compilation of who has the most to criticize? Very sad. But worse, the gullible believe it; it works.
Opinions in General: I have expressed before where I lay the blame: social media and their extension, comments, which are virtually the same. The problem is that anyone and everyone can offer an opinion, at almost no cost to them, and no experience to back it up, and be heard, or at least feel like they are being heard. How useful is that? Is that part of our need to be “famous”? Then there is Facebook.
Nosiness: We have always been nosy, yes, but without the ammunition to pursue it. But then that goes back to access – and opinion, each of us seems to have unlimited access to things to be nosy about eliciting multiple opinions on any given subject; electronic media places no limit upon that which we feel the need to get into.
“Sexuality”: OMG. Is there no end to flaunting it? Pushing it? Wallowing in it? And how much our culture supports it? encourages it? demands it?
“Competitive” electronic products: This is a different kind of concern. It seems that technological progress is such that all with products feel they must put out an upgrade every two years or so, making that it replaces obsolescent, and often no longer supportable. Talk about throw away economy.
And Predictions?: Continually, about everything conceivable. Most don’t amount to much; our ability to see into the future is not all that good, but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. Worse, the gullible eat it up and go running off with them.
Statistics: Strongly associated with polls; that is pretty much what motivates polls: to create statistics. And the generalization they produce? and our proclivity to accepting them as fact? Think about that; no elaboration should be needed.
Sports: totally out of control; among some it seems to be the only thing that matters.
Entertainment: What the rest seems to think is the only thing that matters. And its quality, for the most part, is deteriorating as the quantity expands. And the amount of money we spend on it! My neighbor showed me his sixth or seventh wide screen TV and when I showed my disdain for TV, he said, but there is so much GREAT entertainment offered. No comment.
Crony Politics: It’s always been with us; our current system of big money campaigning only makes it that much more necessary for those that seek office to engage in it. But out of control? They hardly even try to defend it any more. And we know where that leads.
New Product Mania: Again, nothing new, but with advertising so ubiquitous and in your face, it’s almost impossible not to not know what’s new and the greatest thing since the one that preceded it. But the fact that EVERYONE has to have one (or more) NOW, is incongruous. Sure, it supports our massive economy, but where does it end?
Wealth Show Off: Well, that’s part of the motivation; one must have the latest and best to let people know how important they are.
And Big Money Mania: closely related. And what do you do? I get paid big bucks; eat your heart out with envy, but also be impressed; it is who we are. But what do you do? Does it matter?
Obsession? What is it that we are not obsessed with? and expect everyone else to be as well? Seems obsession R us.
Debt: Ah yes; that’s what pays for all the above. And with credit cards, how can one resist? And go broke in the process, as way too many do; but because they must have everything everyone else has: you name it, they have to have it. Why? they just do. Oh yes, and education: debt for education so they can make the big money – and obsession – it all starts to run together. Greed? it’s more than greed, it’s lifestyle, must have to keep up.
Welfare craze: Not even worth discussing. Why work when the government will provide it? History is replete with examples of that proving dysfunctional, but do we listen?
Poor Quality, low prices: Acquire as much as you can; who cares about quality? Unless you can show that off and incur envy; but we’ve already been there.
And finally, music: Music? That is music? Yes, there is quality out there in addition to the quantity, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find. Why? easy to get heard, great demand for (part of having fun), and we are less discerning. As long as it’s loud and rouses our excitement? But if not, how about booze and drugs to make it so? Oh, oh, it never ends.
What is happening to us? Is this how cultures crash? Average, statistically, is about 200 years; we are over due. Are we going to let it happen? Doesn’t seem to be much resistance. But then what? Stay tuned.
Ok, under 50 0r 60, no question, is there? DINOSAUR, you just DON’T UNDERSTAND. But maybe, just maybe, I do.
It is quite educational to see the usually rather myopic “discussions” supported through social media, taking place. Why myopic? Because they tend to be so short-horizon focused, narrowly based and preoccupied with now and me. A longer, more informed view would be preferable, and better served. Where to start? Reality; but better some background first. I might add that main stream media today is not much better.
Going way back, I find there are some useful philosophical lessons to be learned from antiquity. I begin with these because I have been thinking about them, since I personally am finding a need to work on what they suggest; so let’s begin at that personal level and see if it goes anywhere. Feng Shui (particularly as it has developed) shows the importance of order. Yin/Yang is recognition of the inevitable opposing forces of life. Tai Chi is balance. Perhaps I am reaching when I suggest that this feeds into physical exercise, mental exercise and awareness that is necessity in life, but that’s where they are leading for me; so let’s see if I can tie that together.
Americans, British, Germans, Chinese and Japanese have all been accused of arrogance, with justification. Middle-age Europe was constructed upon elitism and inequality. As culture across the world has developed it has developed unequally, and differently, for the many reasons that people develop differently. In the end, those that feel superior still feel entitled to tell everyone else what to do, and if necessary, force them to do it. But in the evolutionary process it has to be understood that people, humans, have and will always have different perspectives, for the many reasons that people have different perspectives. The results, internationally, are somewhat overwhelming. Since progress has not been uniform, there are many reasons for disagreement – and dissension; and will probably be for a long time, if not forever, or until we destroy ourselves, which, for us, might as well be forever. As I recently suggested elsewhere, I think the personal and the extended blend together, constantly.
In this interest I was thinking this morning about the great philosophers throughout history (with the help of Martin Van Creveld’s analysis in The Rise and Decline of the State), and reached the following conclusion: the great philosophers throughout history used their powerful minds to reason in seeking knowledge and truth of reality – but differently. That’s what comes from arrogance and conceit – and leads to elitism. Human nature again; those that are superior most often let it go to their heads, and become more and more dominated by feelings of their own superiority, and therefor the wisdom behind what they think, and want to do. That occurred differently among aristocracy and the philosophers, but the similarity is instructive.
Rights, liberty, balance, order on the one side; but efficiency, however defined, on the other; melded together for the good of humani the necessity of which is a demanding task, and certainly challenges what I continually refer to as human nature. First, is understanding the differences and reasons for the two; then allowing an accumulation of bits of wisdom that help deal with the self-interest and survival instincts that feed them. What is interesting to me is that basically this is understood by thinking people who have made the effort to understand; those who do not understand are the masses that have not been led to, or inspired to thinking about doing so. Was arrogance of the aristocracy geared in that direction? I don’t think so, as the elitism it demonstrated had not yet evolved enough to understand much beyond their own arrogant power. Then came “democracy” and all that entails, but where has that led us, in the long run? To a different kind of elite arrogance? that rather than trying to spread understanding, both personal AND in terms of international differences and possible consequences, has merely become a different kind of accumulation of power to effect it?
So where is the necessary interim push for blending? Philosophers worked in that direction, but inconsistently, as their understanding was also evolving (differently) along with the environment in which they lived, thought and evolved. And as that took place, things became more complicated, expectations grew, education changed and a new focus evolved. In short, we seemed to be making progress, but modernity swallowed it up. Part of that, I think, is that the spread of information exploded before it could be adequately accumulated and defined, and is now out of control. Hopelessly so? Why? It’s just a new challenge, which is?
Not starting over, but accumulating what has been learned, to expose what is bad and why, and demonstrate what is good, and why. It is already being done, but inconsistently; and, as I continually suggest, it will take some pain to bring it home to enough to begin truly melding principles on the one side with the demanded results on the other.
Pretty heavy. I keep wrestling with it, trying to attack it from different angles. Will I finally get it all worked out? No way; my mind is no where near powerful enough to get around it all; perhaps no single mind is. But there are many who are working on it; more than we might realize, and they, as earlier philosophers, are trying to make the case – together, but not together enough – yet. It will take time, and much effort. The effort will be there; the time? For that we can only wait and see. It will take teamwork, and that is something that today is still being resisted, as competition is a more powerful inducement in an environment still dominated by the aggressive arrogance of human nature.
Dictatorship, elitist dominance, is not the answer. But neither is free enterprise as currently practiced – or democracy as is currently being pursued. So, what? A blending, a balancing; a dollop of feng shui, spread by Tai Chi, to damp out the worst effects of yin/yang contention – after enough pain to get the attention of the recalcitrant – to force understanding of why we need such a blending, and how it might be achieved. The challenge, of course, will be to effect that blend in a matrix of rights and liberty without sinking back into the arrogance of elitist dictatorship.
Pipe dream? Maybe so; certainly utopian, and utopia hasn’t worked yet. But we have made evolutionary progress, and once upon a time we didn’t even know what teamwork was. We can learn, but it will take a great deal of effort and wanting to make it work. We are a long way from it, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be achieved, not perfectly, but perhaps enough to permit survival.
Hey, why not?
Individuality or community? Relationships is an important combination of the two; it is an essential part of culture.
It is a very complex process, because it entails people; relationships are among people, people are almost infinitely different, and relationships are the sum of the permutations and combinations of what ensues from relationships among people.
Perhaps the most important have to do with families: mates, parents and children; and all with extended family; that is the foundation of our culture, and all cultures for that matter. The nature of such relationships are important; however, and they are changing with time; not, in my opinion, for the better. Why? I think they are more transient, more fragile, having less meaning to those who undertake them. That will have impact upon the culture and our ability to make it function properly, but time will tell, as there is hope that the pain it brings will force us to realize the value of relationships – once again.
Electronic communications and social media do not help; I know, I perhaps dwell on this overly, but I do so because I believe it. Dealing one-on-one, personally, face-to-face, has strong benefits. But let’s not be exclusive; relationships are not restricted to two individuals; they quickly expand beyond that, complicating them, as would be expected, until they reach the international level. But even then, relationships are for the most part personal and must be undertaken at the personal, if not individual, level.
And what of these relationships? Again, there are indications they are changing. Good relationships depend on mutual understanding – and respect. In our continually increasingly complicated world, is that any longer possible? Oh, yes, it is; but it doesn’t just happen by itself from some kind of osmosis. First, two (or more) participants in a relationship must want to try and understand each other, and to respect each other; that takes effort, particularly in these complex times, as many varied differences have cropped up and expanded, beyond cultural. At the international level differences of national interest, usually based on variations of power, is important; but many more differences, mainly due to development, including economic; but also climatic conditions and such, weigh in. And with the proliferation of states it takes a real effort to understand; if we within a single culture are beset with differences what must it be across cultures and dealing through different languages? And have not doubt, we are beset by differences.
We don’t even have to go that far. Differences at home are demanding enough. Within families, with all the challenges of modernity, is a case in point. It used to be said that marriage was both parties giving 100%, that is, 50/50 is not enough, as each has to go beyond half way; each must want it to work enough to be willing to accept much and compromise more. Accept what? Difficult question, with no simple answer; willingness to accept depends on degree of caring. Ability to overlook the trivial is a starting point; but being able – and willing – to get beyond differences of opinion comes close behind. Differences of opinion are based on too many variable inputs, due to individual backgrounds and development; and such differences are healthy, if we manage them, because they encourage us to learn; if we have open minds, and want to.
Growth of culture, knowledge,- and opinions make managing more difficult, because ability to come to understanding is increasingly challenging by differences and ignorance. We have to know more to even be able to understand where others are coming from; and that takes effort, not only to gain the knowledge but to want to make the effort to understand. Compromise? We know how that has been disparaged. But there is even dissension within the learning process. A cogent example is our political outlook: liberal versus conservative; yawning difference. Not really. That difference is mainly one of individuality and community; relationships are what bridges that gap – IF we make the effort. Why don’t we? No surprise there: same old contention, based on entitlement, success and power, and the more those grow in importance to us, the more dissension, as we wrestle over them and compete for them.
Either going back to anarchy or central (elite) control of everything is not the only option, and with the development we have experienced in rights and liberty, neither will likely occur. So, what? The answer has be be expansion of relationships – deeper, broader and more comprehensive – that blend the liberality and conservatism of individuality community. Is that so difficult? I surely seems so these days, because minds have been closing, and the wider the necessity to expand relationships, the more difficult it becomes to come to a meeting of minds. So it is a momentous challenge; we have always welcomed challenges. It is not either or; it is finding the right balance to make it work. It is achievable, but only with effort – and respect.
We can either get there through working together, or through the necessity of having to put it back together; our choice, and it will be violently contested, as always; let there be no doubt. So be it.
Knowledge (Oxford 1996): (of) awareness or familiarity gained by experience; the sum of what is known (duh) – the definition of know extends for more than a full page column. Well, well, well. And just think, how much might that have changed since 1996?
What knowledge is, is becoming more and more necessary to understand – IF one is concerned with consequences, intended or otherwise. For one, automation and digitization is making knowledge more economically useful – no, necessary. Those with little or none are at a disadvantage, and increasingly so. But what knowledge?
Allow a personal story. A middle aged black man of my acquaintance confronted the world at a young age, and with advice from “some army guys” realized that HVAC offered a valuable economic investment, and he borrowed ten thousand dollars (that took 20 years to pay back) and received formal training that he parlayed into technician, then inspector and finally management experience. Harrell Wilson is now the go-to guy at Airtron in Dallas, Texas. He lives comfortably, not lavishly, with his family in North Dallas. Harrell is a success story, not because “he got rich” but because, through his own initiative and hard work made a meaningful life for himself and his family. You (whoever you might be) know such a story; we all do, and there are many of them. My grandfathers could boast such, and neither of them, as Harrell Wilson, had more than a high school education.
Time for me to do a little preaching? Not really preaching, just pointing out reality and advantages of the country we are so fortunate to live in – IF we can keep it that way. We do live in a land of opportunity, if we do not let the elitist centralists, who always know what’s best for us, destroy it. Do we still believe it? I would suggest too many today, wallowing in their own myopic, unmotivated selfishness, do not, but since that could take me into the realm of preaching, we’ll move on.
So, what knowledge? That depends on many things; we are already finding that pushing everyone toward STEM and legal careers is not the answer – and neither is pursuing becoming a billionaire rock star or financial or management genius for everyone. Wait, one might ask, knowledge and rock star? You bet; first there is the knowledge of music and playing instruments that support it; formal education? I never said that, I said knowledge. Knowledge can be gained many ways, and experience is one of the best, but experience based on knowledge – in fact experience is an important part of all knowledge.
So what am I driving at? Well, let’s first begin with knowledge of self. Who am I? In what am I interested? what basic skills might I have? And what can I do with them? It, of course, begins with thinking, and as young children are not very experienced with such, assistance from friends and family to help them towards gaining an understanding is something very important for the rest of us who care, to do – and we all should. Directing them toward……..no! helping them decide for themselves, with the assistance of knowledge of themselves, what is possible for them based on what those friends and family know about them. May I suggest that the opportunities are almost limitless? Ah, but only if THEY are motivated to avail themselves of the knowledge they will need to pursue them. We are all different; we need to realize that. Too much today is oriented toward the glitzy, exciting and highly remunerative; and that is not for everyone, even though they might think so. In fact success in any endeavor may mean vastly different results depending on the individual, which means the approach needs to be realistic. Oh, oh, here I shall go again: note how often such words as realism, motivation, thinking, responsibility, honesty and reliability make their way into any philosophical discussion; and yes, this is philosophical: “use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality”. Only in this case it’s personal philosophy, something each and every one of us needs. But the quest must begin with knowledge.
Where does one begin? Myrer again: “read, think disagree with everything, if you like – but force the mind outward.” Listening helps too, I might add, and questioning, even researching. One must begin with gaining knowledge. Plato and the Bible? Ok, but let’s not go overboard. Comics? Maybe, if they contain knowledge, some do; the old classic comics did. Rap music? It’s possible, if there is any thinking that goes into it; there is much philosophy woven into some modern music, but only some. The point is that someone who seeks knowledge need not steep themselves with what is boring to them; knowledge is everywhere, but one has to search for it, and that requires thinking about it – with an open mind – and motivating one’s self to do so.
Knowledge is everything, it has been said; but that’s because everything is knowledge (actually I tried to look that up and couldn’t find it; maybe I made it up). One just has to decide which to pursue, based on many, many considerations,the most important of which is NOT how much money that can one made from it, quickly; there is more to life than that. Which is not to say that a comfortable and satisfying existence cannot come from building the necessary base of knowledge; it can, and in many cases does, but equating money and power to knowledge is putting the cart before the horse. That is what our young must be “coached” to understand.
And why we must continually discuss this (preach?) with others as much as we can, and as much as they will tolerate it. That’s what we are there for, right? Or should be.
I began this essay yesterday from notes I had taken over several weeks. At three AM this morning I had an epiphany, arose several times to make more notes, and it has all changed. Bear with me, or not; your choice.
Teaching and learning is, must be, needs to be a shared experience; I prefer referring to the result as coaching, because that’s what it really is. We even assign different words to the process: teaching and training – and experience; different? Not really, but to derive benefit from the result takes sharing, and working together between coach and pupil. Helping people help themselves is what it comes down to; sharing among all to develop what is in each; good coaches, good teachers, good trainers are continually learning as they go – sharing the experience between themselves and those they are coaching. And the key to it all is coaches not trying to change the coached to be what they want them to be; but working together with what they have, encouraging to motivate self, and learning together: confronting reality, and helping each other understand in the process. Some of that is helping each other understand who they are, what they like to do and what they do well, and to help cultivate it; we are all different. In that context, our new phenomenon, Facebook is all about “collecting” friends; how about being a friend? It should be less about us and more about each other – to help everyone help themselves.
There is much to think about in our increasingly complex culture; but one thing has not changed: the quest for power and the effect success has upon us; success? any old kind applies, but fame, fortune and power head the list, and with our increased electronic communications capacity, along with rapidly growing affluence, that has gone viral. It’s time to step back and try to think about that which is important; not that we can ever go back, it doesn’t work that way, but to shape the way it evolves, so that the result is positive. To be successful in life, really successful, we need to understand what is really important, and get beyond the superficial that dominates so many of us. Pipe dream? Perhaps; human nature suggests otherwise. But that doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept it.
That reminds me of my original notes, regarding elitism and anarchy. Note that our lives have increasingly focused on black and white, yes and no, only one way. Elitism is know all, do it my way; anarchy is everyone do it their own way. Has not that it has been similar through most of history? On the one hand that’s not difficult to understand: the elite and powerful think it is their role in life, because they have the advantages of knowledge and the conceit that comes with it, along with the power to force it on others. How about the other side, anarchy? The powerless and ignorant have too often been content to remain that way; through stubbornness? Coercion? How about lack of motivation? Yes, lack of opportunity has also been a factor, but our evolution has shown us that opportunity can come to those who pursue it, and motivate themselves to try to do something about it. Too simple? ok, that goes back to the same thing: either or; we need to expand our minds beyond that, and realize there is more – nuances, shades of gray, and an option to navigate through the opportunities that are provided us, requiring initiative – motivation – to do so.
And here we come to what is important. What is? To many it is the luxuries of life, being rich, powerful and successful, what else is there? History would support that, elitism demonstrates it; and we continually experience it. Happiness? What is that? I don’t even care for use of the word. Contentment? Satisfaction? What brings that? Things? fun? vacations? But only on the surface; it tends not to last; it never seems to be enough. Ah, we are not convinced; that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Then why are so many discontent?
Life really is about sharing, and the enjoyment that comes from working together. Surely selfishness has always been there; it has to be, as survival is and always has been a challenge, and we must look to that. But beyond that the bonding of relationships; family, friends, someone to talk to; is equally critical, if we are to achieve what is important in life; we do not do well without it, as our changing culture is beginning to demonstrate. What has to happen between survival and contrived happiness, with lavish support from government, to reach a workable balance? Self discipline, individual responsibility and motivation. Elitism is arrogance; anarchy is chaos; The balance point? Sharing, caring, supporting and working together; it takes responsibility, motivation and discipline, all of which must be taught, not dictated or contrived: coached, a shared experience.
Teaching and learning; coaching and sharing – elitism and anarchy. Is there a connection? We keep wresting between elitism and anarchy; coaching and sharing, and all that entails is what can provide the balance, if we grease it with motivation. Will we? We have proven we can, but we have been sliding back to something similar to what used to be; it needn’t continue, but it will take effort, understanding – a shared experience. Can we do it? I am betting that we can. Will we do it? That depends upon us.
There surely is a great deal of information – of all kinds. And we are paying attention, but……
Quality of information? That’s too simple; quality is subjective. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that too many people – of all kinds – are putting their own spin on it, as one would expect humans with different perspectives to do, especially when technology allows the to do so so easily and inexpensively – and almost at will, in many venues.
I have read articles, many, recently about the Iran/US nuclear agreement. Was it good bad, or somewhere in between? Each country has its own interests and judges results against them – and they must. Iran shed sanctions, so it was good for them, and they didn’t have to stop nuclear development. Israel is fearful for their survival, so it was bad. Saudi Arabians are concerned with what it considers Iran’s quest for regional dominance, so consider it bad. The United States? I don’t think our “negotiators” have enough understanding of geopolitics and circumstances, beyond domestic politics to understand, but that’s just me.
But let’s get beyond that. How about with us common folks. Is it not very similar? Lots of information? Oh, yes. Quality? well, that is also subjective and depends on personal definitions and interests, but there is much effort put behind it’s development. And surely everyone is putting their spin on it, particularly in social media that has no quality controls whatsoever, and anything goes. Everyone has an opinion and objectives that may be associated with them; advertisers? of course. But others as well; politicians for sure, and most of the rest of us, even if our ends are not so critical – although they might be and we don’t realize it. Another subject.
All decisions, I contend are cost/benefit, with each subject to definition of what those are. Let me throw in another: risk. Risk is tougher because risk is more difficult to calculate, since the risk involved may not seem personal, but in the end, through proliferation, may ultimately become so. That’s where unintended consequences come in, but that’s also another subject. So risk? How many of us give it much thought, particularly if it is not obvious and in our faces? Much risk might be such that we are not aware of it, since it seems so remote from us at the moment.
So, back to information and the quantity of it, from so many sources we don’t know which is factual. Factual? Truth? Well, which to give credence to? Whose opinion, whose spin to believe? It is certainly challenging, so where to begin? First, one has to develop credible sources, writers, leaders or speakers we feel we can believe. And how do we do that? Pay attention, not only to what they say, but what they do beyond what they say, even personally; that is particularly the case with politicians. Beyond that, we might want to process what others have to say about what they say, and how that translates to actions; and how effective those actions are, in their opinion; and then compare. It is a daunting task.
And anyone who has read what I have written here over the past fifteen years knows what comes next: we need to read widely and think about it. Easy to say but not so easy to do; it takes time, effort, motivation to want to. And what if we have better things to do? That says it all.
Over the last several days I have had an epiphany. Epiphanies can be strange; something comes to you, you look back and have always known it, but hadn’t seen it in quite the same way; at least that is one kind of an epiphany.
My epiphany had to do with how things get locked into our minds; I have long been saying, people believe what they want to believe, but maybe I didn’t really understand what I was saying. Thoughts, beliefs, that become locked into the mind; prejudice, opinion, Bias? yes, they qualify; but how about just plain opinion? Even getting details confused – statistics wrong? And having it ossify – IF there is no fresh input to challenge it.
Coincidentally I read yesterday that people who are active in search engines think they are smarter than they are. They check something, find an answer, and internalize it; it becomes fact, even if it is remembered incorrectly, and it ossifies as such. So search engines are wrong? Well, no, but they are not always the whole story; recall that propaganda is incomplete or partial information. Nor may they be reality; they might have been, but reality can change. And if memory is incorrect that just exacerbates the problem. And of course then there is Social Media, where many, many collect their information, often after having passed through multiple contacts; Propaganda? can there be any doubt?
How many people do we know, who know things that are not true? It even goes beyond that: truth is a many spendored thing (yes, borrowing). Truth of what? There are nuances; life is complex. Maybe something is mostly true, under certain circumstances; but may change with changing circumstances. It gets worse when they just slip in and are processed by the mind, perhaps imperfectly, because memory can be, and often is, imperfect; and what we thought we knew, might have been altered a bit, making it wrong. Then there is connotation; something that might be essentially true in one context may seem, or even be, a little different in another context. This is particularly the case when people having conversations are not communicating on quite the same wave-length – or even really listening. Meanings of words contribute; most words have more than one meaning; yes, mostly nuance, but that CAN make a significant difference to a discussion.
A great deal of this occurs in matters that are basically trivial, but take on meaning when subjected to emotion. The incident leading up to my epiphany was like this, and, as is usually the case in such, had a history that contributed. I’m not going to elaborate, but it had to do with a gathering that occurred spontaneously, and someone took offense at not being included. We are all aware of many similar; they happen all the time, and cause misunderstandings that can lead to permanent disruptions. Most are based on different processing of information, leading to different conclusions.
Let’s expand that more broadly. How about politics or geopolitics? How many wars have been caused by similar misunderstandings? Is it not so common as to be almost unworthy of giving it any thought? until it festers. But I contend that may be most of the problem; if we don’t give it thought, how can our view of it ever be altered? it can’t; and that has happened throughout the history of man, perhaps less due to misunderstanding than different points of view; but then where is the difference? in degree only . I have alluded to that in discussing human nature, and human nature is also a many splendored thing, mostly indefinable in the aggregate. But we all use the term, and think we understand what we are talking about; but may not even be talking about the same thing. And we needn’t go again into the influence that human nature has.
But we can’t know everything, particularly what is in anothers’ mind, so what do we do? just not talk anymore? It is a sticky wicket. There will always be potential for misunderstanding, and all we can do is to be aware of that possibility (probability?); it would be particularly beneficial if all parties within a social exchange, at whatever level, kept that in mind; but that’s not going to happen. So all we can do is administer to self, and that’s where my epiphany ultimately led: open and closed minds – and thinking.
Closed minds are simple enough; they have glomped onto information; accepted it as fact, at least for their purpose; don’t give it much thought beyond that; but store it and share it casually. So how does one achieve an open mind? by continually reading broadly and listening to what others have to say, is a beginning. Few read broadly, and those that do tend to center such reading on narrow interests, which more often than not have already been developed so as not to be particularly open to being changed, and even cause change to be resisted. Most of us try to listen to what others have to say, and hopefully do so with a degree of respect, or at least tolerance. But how do we process what we read and hear, if it doesn’t meet with our preconceived ideas and beliefs? That is where an “open” mind comes in: open to new ideas, or those that differ from our own, providing new information. That does not mean accepting, or that new is superior to what was already in storage. Optimally what it should mean is that it is processed in such a way that the mind is open to consideration – to internal discussion, if you will, which is thinking.
Nice theory. What if we are surrounded by like-minded people, and share information that for the most part does not challenge our preconceived opinions? Birds of a feather flock together and we seek those that are like us. That’s more than human nature; it is to be expected; how could it be otherwise? That creates a challenge – and says much about why we, groups of us, are so contentious. We build walls, and defend them; physically and figuratively – and in our minds – resisting that which does not seem to belong: protecting preconceptions.
Ahhhhh, Anton Myrer: “read (and listen), think; disagree with (question) everything if you like – but force the mind outward.”
And then what? I have heard it said often lately that changing one’s mind is giving up principles. Principles, a new term, a new definition to consider. What are principles? I have attempted to discuss that before, and won’t go through it again, but basically they are what we live by, and each must determine what they are for themselves. Of course that can be part of contention. Can principles be “compromised”? It depends on what they are, but even principles should be susceptible to review, with an open mind, if new information becomes available; consider: thou shalt not tell a lie; inviolable? under any circumstance? And then it must be run through the filter; filter? thinking. And that’s the other end of the challenge. To effectively think, one must have a broad base of knowledge, which provides the filter; NOT, as I have said before, only formal knowledge, but all kinds of knowledge, including, most definitely, experience – which also must be passed through the filter.
Before departing the subject, may I suggest that modern data collection and polling also pass as knowledge; is it? Definition again; it is the raw material that leads to knowledge if properly processed, and that which is collected for a specific purpose seldom results in truth, and more often ends up falling under propaganda. Much data collection is for the purpose of proving a point, usually associated with averages and generalities – which we too often accept as fact. Yes, no, or I don’t know. Don’t let’s get into that; all of life boiled down to three mutually exclusive choices, with no, yes buts? But then look at programming; if-then-else was the original starting point for programming, leaving choices for each up to Programmers. Beware; we run into results of that continually. And then there is advertising; is there any question why we are filled with partial and often contentious “knowledge”?
And one last point, but a critical one: to have an open mind one has to WANT to have an open mind. How many do? Which leads us back to all those arguments – personal, political, geopolitical. But then how many even want THINK?
Karl Marx was an intelligent man, and likely was oriented toward what he thought was the right thing to do, if a bit restricted in his ability to see the inevitable unintended consequences. But so were the philosophies of the book positively motivated; and they ultimately have led to the same result that Marx espoused.
To each according to need and from each according to ability. Makes a lot of good sense, doesn’t it? But what is need and what is according to ability? Sound like a familiar conundrum? In between there is all kinds of incentive to pursue opportunity as it presents itself.
First, need; is there really need in our economy? Yes, there is, but some of it is self-induced. How so? By spending beyond means for things that are not necessary, and incurring unreasonable levels of debt. I had the honor of speaking with a young man yesterday who has been on the job for a month, installing water heaters. He is 28 years old, married with four children, and getting by. He is looking forward to improving his earning capacity with this job, and is making a great start; this was his third installation, and the senior technician who was with him had taken twice the time the job required, to train the him – and this was approved by management, and grudgingly accepted by the customer, my neighbor,who might not have completely understood this scenario,so maybe the job took a couple more hours that he had anticipated.
So how do we define justified need? It depends on who is defining it. Those requesting it define it as earning less than they need “to live” but that means less than they are spending, even if some COULD spend less, because of THEIR inflated definition of NEED, yes, I am generalizing to make a point; that is not universal. Politicians may define need it in terms of votes: I address your needs and you give me your vote; of course it’s not that blatant, but that’s likely what it ultimately comes down to, although partly because of the “power” those who proclaim need, and their advocates, can wield; and of course it is not that simple
So how about according to ability? Again, sometimes a bit murky. What if a young person who could have gained ability squandered the opportunity through lack of effort? How about he who has ability but is not willing to accept work that he considers beneath his level of expectations? What of he who has deliberately invested his ability in training or education with his preference of pursuing unrealistic goals? And what of him who was afforded the opportunity but didn’t put in the effort, and did not achieve levels of qualification, but still retains unrealistic expectations? Then there are those today, as a result of government initiatives, who find they can make more on government assistance than they can working? Wait, you might object, that’s not fair: that’s a cost/benefit decision, and it’s only common sense to go for whatever is in their interest. I need not reply to that, as it’s easy to see what I would say. But, of course, that’s not that simple either.
Then there is something in between, and this is even more esoteric: the opportunity our system provides at the margins to earn money illegally, through whatever means present themselves, and those who opt to pursue such opportunities, as a choice; again, for any number of reasons. Many of those opportunities would have been beyond Karl Marx’s very imagination. Today they may even be outside the understanding of those who have made them possible, and beyond what had been attended in creating them.
That is a synopsis view of the problem with need/ability; in short, it doesn’t work because of human nature. So many fine ideas are defeated by human nature. Cost/benefit is in the mind of he with presumed need and he who sees “ability” as he wishes. And benefit being what it is, the chances of it being fudged to fit opportunity is significant. But then, that is just one of the many things we humans are likely to not be able to agree upon; different viewpoints, and they will always be decided in the mind of the decider in his favor; human nature.
So interesting to sit back and watch people, when self is not emotionally involved. No, they are not all the same – in fact they are almost never the same; but they suffer from similar inclinations – tendencies? temptations. May I refer to it as human nature?
We each have our own understanding of personal reality, and for most of us gets pretty locked in; we believe what we want to believe, often developed over some period of time, reinforcing those beliefs. Our motivation derives from that, motivation being what drives us to do what we do – or not do.
Empathy is ability to see beyond self and try to understand motives of others; something we have great difficulty in doing.
And humility? Let’s defer to Oxford for that. Humbleness, meekness? Humble: “Having a low estimate of one’s own importance.” Not satisfactory for my purpose, so let me apply my own twist: not taking self too seriously. How about attempt to control arrogance? Maybe even seeking to respect. Now I reach: not seeing one’s self as better than others. Oops inconsistency: I argue against egalitarianism, yet suggest that one should not see one’s self as being better than others. Words, words, words. Which is why thinking about it – and in written context, which ties the thinking down, is so useful. What am I grasping for? But as I attempt the grasping, think of how my grasping may appear to the average observer. Now throw in judgmental and opinion and understand how complex human nature is.
Relationships; why do we do what we do, and why do we not do what we choose not to do? Why do we react to others as we do? A starting point would be that we are locked into self; build upon that and the development it represents; and make little effort to go beyond it. Sure, that’s extreme, but a tendency among most of us: we live comfortably in our own bubbles and make inadequate effort to learn enough, or even listen enough to what others may think and say, to be able to do otherwise; so throw ignorance into the mix, which is a strong contributor to lack of empathy.
Let me attempt that more simply: we don’t understand, make little attempt to try to gain understanding, and don’t give it a great deal of thought; we prefer to just believe what we want to belief, and act upon that. Too judgmental? think about it, and as things progress it is getting worse, for reasons I have attempted to define elsewhere, and won’t attempt to revisit here. Taking ourselves too seriously is my attempt at adding humility; not so much a low opinion of our own importance, but an attempt to not inflate our opinion of self Elevating unrealistically can be as detrimental as putting one’s self down. I keep coming back to this – in my own mind – there IS middle ground, balance, and that is what we should be pursuing – continually. In this context, not taking self too seriously is a comfortable way or viewing it.
Everyone has a point of view, and should, on most subjects about which they have some interest; some are emotionally grasped, others are developed over time. Learning comes through many venues, of which discussion is one, sharing points of view, with an open mind. That doesn’t mean blindly accepting; but it should also not meaning trying to beat the opposition into submission; we, moderns (particularly) have problems with that, not because we have so much knowledge, but because we are exposed to so much information (propaganda) that we accept without thinking much about it, and process as if it were knowledge – and sometimes even (arrogantly) as wisdom. Knowing and appreciating where another is coming from is helpful, but rare, because motivation to make the attempt is often lacking. I call that arrogance, and the flip side humility; but one must WANT not to be arrogant, and willing to have a bit of humility; it is difficult for most to accomplish, particularly when not motivated to do so.
I have been thinking about this for some time, and attempting to use scientific method, beginning with observing, to focus on the various examples that constantly present themselves; I find they are everywhere, and thus intriguing. Motivation, empathy and humility are where that focus has led me. Examples are everywhere: religion is an obvious one, but people have all kinds of opinions to which they have allowed themselves to become anchored, often with relatively little factual information to back them up, which deters them not at all. And that’s where arrogance comes in, where we become over-impressed with self, and take ourselves too seriously. There are many contributors; let’s lump them under the word “success”, success in anything tends to build confidence, which is positive, but can quickly morph into inflated ego – and arrogance. Human nature again? We not only believe what we want to believe, but convince ourselves we are who we think we are, and like to throw our “intellectual” weight around, whether or not it is warranted. Success in what? Almost anything.
So how can this be changed? That takes us full circle: we have to WANT to change it; but to do that we have to recognize it and accept that is something that needs to be changed. From there we just go around again.
Let’s cut to the quick: “ghetto”, as we currently perceive it, or at least as I do, has dramatic impact upon us, individually for those directly exposed to it, and collectively for the rest of us who must deal with the consequences. First let us attempt to put meaning to the word, no, to the concept, of ghetto, at least as I am attempting to discuss it. I do this not to preach, or even to attempt to convince, but to generate some serious thinking on the matter, as I am trying to present it. I wish to explore it, and anyone who might choose to is welcome to stop by and absorb; and think about it.
“Ghetto” is a state of mind; it is also a reality based on the human development that has ensued from many generations of history. There have been many ghettos in many places throughout history, but this essay attempts to address the one we have created in our nation and culture that is perhaps more unique. Many ghettos have resulted from historical occurrences; wars, famines, changes in weather cycles, floods – whatever. Poverty? some, but poverty and ghetto are not quite the same. I would contend our ghetto is largely of our own making. How so? We have culturally brought it upon ourselves.
Our economic and political evolution has contributed; but so has the kind of thinking that has developed since the inception of economic progress since the depression of the mid 1930s and the explosion of affluence since the end of WW II. The thinking that has accompanied is an extension of the liberality – personal rights and privileges – that began with Christianity in the time of Christ. It has to do with individuality, but also with the growing feeling of equality that developed over time with democracy and human rights. Since the beginning of Industrial Revolution, and increasingly with the WWII explosion, it has expanded rapidly, until our current eras when it exploded. Why?
First, whatever seems to be good, eventually gets out of hand; second, the getting good has accelerated rapidly with the growth of prosperity; and third, as it has progressed we began to move away from the local effects of Federalism and toward an increasingly more popular trend toward more centralized government, that has moved inexorably away from individualism and toward increased centralized controls. One can argue that such movement was necessary due to growth, but the point of increased ghetto-ization has been building steam for some time, first with the New Deal, next with the Great Society legislation, and more recently with broad expansion of social benefits, with little slowing down in between. Human nature and response to envy an expectations are clearly a part of that.
In short, giving a helping hand to one’s fellow man seems to have morphed into providing for that same fellow man if he convinces us he cannot provide for himself – adequately. It is the adequately that is making the real difference. And adequately is closely related to the explosion of expectations that has accompanied the explosion of affluence, as might be expected, and how human nature responds to it. It is a short step from equality of opportunity to equality of expectations, particularly when expectations have become so robust. And always when I think of this subject I am reminded of the Chinese proverb: give a man a fish and he lives for a day; teach him to fish and he can feed himself for a lifetime, but many may be unaware of such ancient wisdom.
And for me, that’s where “ghetto” comes in and why I call it a state of mind rather than a place. Ghetto, in the social sense, entails a propensity to look for support, as opposed to toward the dignity of self sufficiency, if iti is made available; and that has become possible through the succession of social legislation. It is what that legislation has enabled that has created ghetto mentality, because it has been accompanied by myriad unintended consequences, perhaps not unforeseeable, but unintended. Those consequences have been most obvious in black ghettos, because much of the legislation was racially motivated; that is, based on the assumption that lower income blacks needed more help, that go back in to our history.
That help was centered on aid to unwed mothers, despite the fact that divorce rates among black families before the Great Society legislation were lower than that among other races. But that legislation turned out to be incentive not to be married, to qualify for benefits. As a result, enough took what seemed a logical step, and the number of single mothers with children multiplied quickly, creating a cultural challenge. That challenge was a sudden lack of fathers; not a lack of men, there were plenty who came and went; but a lack of committed fathers, and therefor real family units. I just recently – today in fact – read comparable statistics for other races, and they, at least for lower economic classes, have undoubtedly succumbed to the same temptation, at least a loss of motivation for families to develop as they have. But then as blacks had tended to cluster together the results of single parent incentives from the legislation quickly became more apparent among them, and almost irresistible when added to the rising expectations that begged for more money to provide more – for the children.
So I translate “ghetto” to mean trading family for benefit incentives, made possible by encouraging male relationships with females and children to be extra-familial: if married, to encourage severing the connection; if not married, stay that way. And this has been just another step toward encouraging out of wedlock families to proliferate throughout our culture; but worse in ghettos, particularly black ghettos; it has resulted in part time fathers, or even worse than that, transient “fathers” without commitment, often leaving children not even knowing who their fathers are: to wit, destroying effective family culture. That is the dramatic impact we cannot help seeing; it is cultural and it is devastating.
Our myopic tendency, or course, is to see it as terminal; it need not be; but something must change if it is to be brought back under control. Assistance is one thing, and understandable to most, when it is a last resort; but transfer of motivation from families to almost unconditional state support is quite another. Families with commitment is crucial to our culture; we cannot legislate commitment, but we can incentivize responsibility – through rewarding motivation. There is still pride in the satisfaction of being able to take care of self and family, even if it might have eroded, and it can be restored, if motivation, through incentive, is properly focused; and family is crucial to our culture – to any culture. We have taken a long step in the wrong direction, for reasons probably thought to be compassionate, but they are misguided; instead they have begun to develop entitled dependence.
That is the state of mind I am calling a ghetto state of mind. It is dangerous for all of us; but particularly it is destructive to the individuals that have to endure it, whether they realize it or not.
Reading a book by an Afghani/American by the name of Tamin Ansary, entitled Destiny Disrupted, has opened my mind, something I always welcome. It is an Eastern view of history, and I think I have mentioned it before. The other morning – early – I thought about it and it coalesced with other thoughts I have been having, which I shall attempt to capture; a little deep, not for everyone, but I do what I have to do.
Ansary discusses Islam, but much more; and specifically the evolution of Islam, which (surprise, surprise) is not unlike that of Christianity. I have touched upon how I believe religious beliefs developed, so I will not go into it again; suffice it to say that it has evolved.
What is God? Word, concept, belief, whatever; it is something – philosophy – that, via theology, has taken us from superstition through scientific progress to living in our current and stressful times. It, as everything we humans do, an evolution.
Basically, what has come to me, is that what has evolved is man’s relationship with all that, particularly the man-made bells and whistles that have been added; we do add bells and whistles to almost everything we do. What has not changed much is the basics of what is entailed. That is what today’s babbling is all about.
The basics are essentially dealing with good and evil; that is, what we feel enhances life as opposed to that which undermines it. Both Christ and Muhammad – as well as Moses and many others were “messengers” of this “word from God”, and virtually all were concerned with the challenge of dealing with this dichotomy: good and evil – as have been most of the philosophers that have followed; can they also be considered “messengers”?. What are good and evil?
For me, good can be summarized by the word principles on one side of the dichotomy: integrity, honesty, sincerity, reliability and the like; yes, all words, with varying meanings and connotations – and individual interpretations, but in sum, with a fairly cohesive, if not completely universal, meaning. Much goes into it, and what I deal with day to day in these pages is associated with my interpretations and thoughts about it. On the other, Evil, and this is perhaps a new twist, is human nature. Let me explain. Good is what brings us together and helps us live the kind of lives that are necessary, with all the problems associated, if we can hope to live in some kind of harmony, recognizing that purity can never be achieved. Human nature is why that pure harmony can never be achieved: it is what we do and who we are.
The “messengers” have attempted, best they could, to explain that in ways “we” could understand it. Humans, being as they were, and to a great extent still are, are not particularly adept at dealing with abstraction, thus to be understandable GOD had to be presented in a form that made Him real: that meant in the image of man. Fathers, tribal chiefs, leaders of all kinds led to an ultimate authority: that had to be GOD. But to be meaningful – to each of us – there had to be a connection, a personal connection, and that is what all theology has attempted to create. Prayer is part of that, but we know that to have communication there must be feedback. That, initially, was the role of the early “messengers”. God talked to the rest of us through them. The philosophers stopped short of such claims, but just barely, and that says something about man – and human nature.
Man is full of self, and the more successful, the fuller. That’s the way it is: we are easily impressed with self. So when an important idea comes to us, where does it come from? God? That lent great prestige to the messengers, and that’s a story all by itself, as it has great ramifications with respect to theological evolution. Or are our brains so powerful that we thought of it all by ourselves? Some might prefer to think that is feedback to their prayers, and who is to refute that? Others prefer to take credit themselves, and that is their prerogative, but no man is an island, and I think that is my point. We are a result of nurturing, experience, education, influences and anything else we encounter in our lives that shape the way we think, gives us insight and understanding. It doesn’t really matter how we define the process, since it is beyond our ability to grasp, so perhaps we would be better to just accept that it happens – but begins with principles of good, and human nature – which is what I conveniently and simplistically call GOD, since I cannot offer any further explanation that is satisfactory.
So where do the ideas that pop into our heads originate? What matters is that they do; and our brains process them, however they can. And however they can depends on how we have prepared them to do so, which is all those influences which are provided. I shall make no attempt to elaborate further, so let’s jump to what is important to us: how we deal with what pops into our heads.
How do we? Of course that depends on the nature of the pops; much is routine. But some require response, although sometimes response is not warranted; sometimes we respond when no response would be better. Learning to deal with life as it comes to us, however it comes to us – much popping, after all, can be confrontational – is something useful to learn. And that is particularly the case when we are called on to deal with the popping that goes on in the heads of others, and THEY respond – to us. Popping goes on all around us, and we are often confronted with the response of others to theirs; which is particularly the case when it is accompanied by emotion, aggression and confrontation; many people can’t keep their pops to themselves, and want to push them on others. That is particularly the case when pops have to do with theology, where people feel inspired to want to push them on others; much of religious proselyting falls into that category. And much of the evolution of religion – virtually all religion – is response to pop messaging and how it is propagated and handled through the propagation.
But moving beyond theological aspects, we have to recognize how central to life religion is, IF it is tied back to principles and human nature. Now we move into what is important in life, that of which religion is only a part, but often an important part. Look at all the religious confrontation that has occurred throughout history; but is that so different from other confrontation? Principles and human nature. We are different, think differently, have different expectations and are likely not to agree; and on top of that we have different understanding of reality, much of it only partially understood – differently. That in and of itself is not a problem; what is a problem is when it is pushed, particularly when pushed to the point of confrontation, even violent confrontation. And that also is life.
But is that not what most theology is designed to avoid? Is that not what the principles tell us? And that’s where human nature – the devil – comes in. The devil, our human nature, tells us to do whatever seems good for us, regardless of how it might affect others. Suddenly we are right smack in the middle of life, and relationships of all kinds: individual, group, national, international – all relationships. Good and evil, and the results of the dichotomous effects of the clash, which are inevitable and ubiquitous.
I have gone overly long at this point, but must add one more thing, and that has to do with how we deal with it. We have to WANT to deal with it, and that fact that we don’t often enough, becomes the real problem that is experienced in all facets of life. First we have to develop the process of dealing with it. That starts with building a base of knowledge and experience that is the foundation we use to deal with the pops. Associated with that must be development of patience, understanding and empathy that supports the process. Note the importance of motivation: we have to want to create the foundation; we have to want to develop the disciplinary skills to apply, then we have to WANT to try – and care about the possible results, not only for ourselves but for others as well. It is all about motivation applied to wanting to deal realistically – and fairly – with the dichotomous effects of the internal clash between good (principles) and our (self-absorbed) human nature. You want to talk about GOD; that’s what God is; but that is also what life is. And need I mention thinking?
It’s just that simple; but it is anything but simple.
What are unintended consequences? We choose to do something with a result in mind and something else happens. Wow, surprise. It happens because we don’t think deeply enough about what we are doing, or the results we might beyond the immediate expected; or don’t know enough about what we are doing, and what could happen, before embarking upon it – or things that were not possible to foresee, occur.
They are everywhere, of course, because we are all guilty of not giving deep enough, broad enough thought to them. Children? We all know about them; immaturity, they don’t know any better, and have to learn. And when they keep on making the same mistake, they have to be disciplined, to help them learn. If we have lost the ability to understand that, that’s our problem, and it is our problem, but that’s another subject. But too often it doesn’t end with puberty, and we keep encountering unintended consequences – for the same reason: we don’t think deeply enough about what we are doing; or we don’t learn enough about what could happen. Then it becomes ignorance; not stupidity, although it could even become that; what was it they used to say? insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? Stupidity is not insanity, but close. Ignorance, let me remind, is incomplete information, and we all have to live with that, but incomplete is relative, and responds to learning, and learning about what we are trying to do is something that responds to motivation.
Allow me to take that to another level before returning to the basic problem: leadership. We employ leaders to assist us in making decisions, guiding us in making those decisions, because they have qualified themselves to do so, and upon those qualifications have been chosen to be leaders: coaches, teachers, supervisors, managers – even doctors, dentists, engineers, researchers, lawyers and such. Leadership presumes experience, qualification; that is the hierarchical process upon which we base our system of living. How about parenthood? well……….. in business, government and most other enterprises it is presumed to be there, and usually required; if we become parents without experience, that doesn’t excuse us, but lays a requirement upon us. A current exception seems to be elective politics; I say current because I think I am seeing an unfortunate change. Meaning we have always voted for proven qualifications? No, unfortunately not necessarily, because voters often enough did not take the time or make the effort, but in simpler times there was at least more possibility of meeting and therefore being able to make personal judgment on candidates. That is no longer the case because things have gotten bigger and more complicated. Meeting a candidate today for most of us is attending a speech, or listening to one through electronic media – or believing what someone else has to say about it. Too often we decide we like a candidate instead of respecting him or her for what they have accomplished. And speeches are too often impersonal, and written by others, rehearsed and modified. They can also be quite different from what the speaker thinks or believes, and is something that is therefor a contrived position, designed to get votes. At worst it is falsehood. But face-to-face helps us to understand – which is why in politics more personal tends to be better.
If we do not ensure competence, qualifications, understanding, then how can we expect effective leadership? And why would we expect to reach decisions that would not have unintended consequences? Certainly it does not appear useful to make a leadership decision based on warm fuzzies, but many do, and are surprised when the results do not come out as intended. The more complex the challenge the more different results are possible, and the more unintended consequences can arise; ferreting out the unintended takes thinking outside the box, and asking, what can happen? It takes not only effort, but motivation to even ask the questions, and deal with it effectively. One has to want to know what could happen, and think about it, and the costs if it does happen or not for that matter, and understand the odds that it might or might not, creating costs. It also requires taking a view long enough to allow for changes and evolution, and WANTING to do that as well, as opposed to just getting credit for something that might satisfy voters in the short run – meaning getting votes.
Alright, how about at lower levels? Business managers can be disciplined or fired for making bad decisions; and lower level employees can also be disciplined, dismissed or demoted for mistakes. Unintended consequences are too often the result of bad decisions and mistakes. That is what has made our competitive system as successful as it has been, thinking about it, checking it. Consequences should be rewarded or punished if quality of leadership is to be retained; it is as simple as that.
So back to more mundane living; should that not be true in everything? We learn from consequences of our decisions, both positively and negatively; but the negative consequences tend to have more impact; we learn more from our mistakes; that’s just the way it seems to be, particularly at the mundane levels, where decisions are more likely to be personal and individual. At higher levels it is more likely there will be scapegoats, those to whom one can shift the blame; we have all seen that, and know how it can be done. At the personal level it is more difficult to avoid blame.
I would like to suggest that a problem we are beginning to experience is that too many who can, are assuming responsibility for success whether deserved or not, and too few failures are being punished adequately. If that is so, it could account for much of the malaise that seems to surround us – and why there are so many who just don’t care -enough. Could those possibly be related? All the way back to bringing up children? There are consequences to everything, whether they are subject to conscious decision or not, and if they are not recognized and not corrected they are likely to have negative consequences. What of rewarding all participants, whether winning or losing? Different? I suggest not. Am I reaching? I do not think I am. There are consequences to everything, and we should all be made aware of those that affect us directly. That is what causes improvement: good decisions, whether collective or individual; whether trivial or serious. Very seldom does anyone make a decision that results in an unintended consequence deliberately. Ok, sometimes someone screws up and gets lucky and everything turns out right; that happens, and sometimes encourages the decision maker to continue in the same direction, ultimately, usually, resulting in failure. Sometimes, but seldom, it does not and what is deemed to be success goes on forever, or seems to; however that gets complex too. But the point is valid: decisions are taken for a purpose, and if the results are not those intended, it was a questionable decision; not always the decision maker’s fault; some turn out not as intended because things that could not have been anticipated change; that is reality. And studying them will bring that out, and if they could not have been foreseen, then taken into consideration. But even then the question should be asked, why didn’t we foresee it? That’s how we learn.
Is that still happening? Obviously it still is, sometimes. It has always happened sometimes. It has never happened all the time, nor will it ever; which is yet another reason for differences in success and failure – at all levels; and why there will never be equality; which could never be reality. The reality is that some do better than others including in discovering and thinking about the unintended, that could occur, and doing something about it before it happens, or considering what could be done if it does happen. That is what we pay for in life, and should. When it doesn’t happen that way, we get…………unintended consequences. So why are we surprised?
I read an interesting article the other day on line, written by a young lady who had been brought up by two women joined in a parental relationship. She made it clear that their culture was her culture and they were her people and she loved them. But after reaching maturity she wanted to make it clear that a child growing up needs the different perspectives of a man and a woman. This has nothing to do with same sex marriage and makes no judgment about whether that should be supported or not; it merely suggests that both perspectives are necessary; and I heartily agree.
Why is that so difficult for some to accept? What is our problem? Can anyone really believe there are not differences between men and women? So? Some, obviously, are biological, and that is an important one. But outlook? Moods? Interests? The way of looking at things? What causes them? The biological contributes, but so do culture, influences and…….propaganda. Propaganda?
For many reasons men and women are different; but today there seems to be an effort afoot to try to suggest that’s not right; we are all equal; oh, piffle. I won’t go into another diatribe about equality, but even when discussing differences, we are somewhat myopic today, partly because we tend to focus only on extremes. There are female tendencies, and there and male tendencies; yes, more accumulation of words. But there are females that exhibit male tendencies and males that exhibit female tendencies. Does that mean…………..? It doesn’t mean anything except that not only are we ALL different, we are different in different ways; and tendencies, traits are part of the vast number of differences. We also become way to hung up on “sex”, not only the sexes, but relationships between the sexes. And then there are culture and propaganda.
Equal salary for the same work; woman’s work and man’s work; unfair, if it doesn’t exist! Why do we see it as a bipolar challenge and not as a matter of individual qualifications and interests? Even supply and demand? Ahhhh, human nature, but we’ve done that, and don’t need to revisit it either. So let’s go back to male and female contributions to the upbringing of children – sure, more generalization, but here there might be some reasons for it. Men and women have historically had different roles in society; cultural? ok, but why? Can we not begin with the fact that a woman spends nine months with child in her womb? We also cannot ignore the challenges of multitask juggling that is inherent in bringing up small children versus the more focused challenge of supporting a family; reality suggests that that will have consequences, at least initially. And after that? I think that is exactly the point.
Call it biology; call it cultural interests – throw in different general levels of strength: there are things that direct men and women into different fields of “endeavor”, despite the new influences and cultural propaganda that are beginning to nudge. How does one draw lines among all that? Why do we try? There are reasons to accept and understand them, as they have evolved, even if we don’t want to accept them.
Interestingly, as this essay lay awaiting completion and editing, I just read another, in The Federalist, asking the same question, but from a different perspective. This article focused on the unfairness of the concept of equality and went on from there, complaining about the propensity of some at this time to push for it. Best of all, the comments were priceless: we, at least readers of The Federalist, are getting a belly full of egalitarian nonsense. My comment: maybe when (if) there is equality of motivation, qualifications and interest, we can begin talking about it more seriously.
And we are beginning to talk about such things; certainly not all of us, but enough to start the ball rolling. I have to laud The Transom, and its sister publication, The Federalist, for focusing on such subjects, and have written Ben Domenech, he who started and edits both publications; with lots of very effective help, many of whom might not be known to many. But they are writing, and Domenech’s people are encouraging them, and via comments we are all hopefully encouraging each other. We, I called myself a dinosaur in an email to Ben today, are beginning to be heard. I find that encouraging. Enough is enough; those with views of centrally controlled government and elite egalitarianism (how’s that for contradiction?), supported by a worshipfully supporting Media (there is the propaganda, but abetted by entertainment and social media), have held center stage for too long. And too many are using the concept of egalitarianism for their own selfish purposes. Arise ye oppressed! Oppressed? Yup. Time to speak up and be heard. Time to recognize that it’s not equality that matters, but principles and motivation; time to begin standing up for what matters, and it may be different for each, depending on who they are and how they have been raised, in the broadness of what being raised today means. Praise equality? Go to the mat for equality? That is not where we came from; it is not what made us what we are. Who we are comes from independence of thought and action, and achieving results that we work for. Sure, some others skate through on the fringes, and the way we “work for it” may differ significantly. So? That is the beauty of independence, real independence: free will, equal treatment before the law, and opportunity to do what we might choose to do. Motivation? those that plead equality ignore the results of motivation. We all have – or have had – the ability to make our own choices, our own decisions, with guidance if chosen, and our own mistakes, from which we have had the opportunity to learn. That doesn’t mean we have all been able to change ourselves as a result, but admit it or not, learning has been available to us – all of us.
I welcome the dialogue – from both perspectives. Join in, and let’s get it all out, and force everybody to THINK ABOUT IT. It’s happening.
Next essay (mine): unintended consequences. I love it.
What is racism? Prejudice? Hate? Cultural Differences? Ethnic intolerance? How about theological conflict? Even entering into war? We drown ourselves in words and their definitions, either because we struggle to try to tie them down or to agree upon them; or prefer not to try because the reaction to words we use might offend someone. What is it all about? Differences.
Is that not what human nature is all about? another word we struggle to define, and then argue about. Human nature is just the way we are, and we are the way we are because of differences, all of which define how we see…..almost everything; but not necessarily everything in the same way or with the same differences.
I am reading an intriguing history of the Eastern world – From an Islamic perspective. I have read numerous histories of the Western World, and what has been called in the past (and we no longer accept) the oriental world. Each may say what they wish, and argue the validity, differently; but what they all discuss, whether they admit it or not, is human nature. And what is that?
My copy of Oxford doesn’t even try. Neither does my Encyclopedia Britannica. So I tried Wikipedia; here it it’s contribution:
“Human nature refers to the distinguishing characteristics—including ways of thinking, feeling and acting—which humans tend to have naturally, independent of the influence of culture. The questions of what these characteristics are, how fixed they are, and what causes them are amongst the oldest and most important questions in western philosophy. These questions have particularly important implications in ethics, politics, and theology. This is partly because human nature can be regarded as both a source of norms of conduct or ways of life, as well as presenting obstacles or constraints on living a good life. The complex implications of such questions are also dealt with in art and literature, while the multiple branches of the humanities together form an important domain of inquiry into human nature and into the question of what it is to be human.”
That doesn’t say all that much either, but it’s as good as any. My simpler definition: it’s the way we are, and likely always will be.
So how are we? We don’t agree on much, and resent the positions of others when they do not agree with our own, unless they are “close enough”. it all comes down to differences and each of our tolerance or intolerance of them. Racism? They are different from us. Ethnic differences? the same. Cultural differences? Need I repeat? Theology? Oh, my. Why are we different? Genes to begin with, but only to begin with. Influences, experiences, successes and failures…..is that broad enough to encompass it all? We are all different and there is no way we can ever be be any other way; the increasing complexity of our world only exacerbates it. So we can never agree on anything? Of course we can, and do; we agree on many things, not always completely, but essentially; but on others we do not, because our differences cause us each to see things from our own perspective. with our own intensity. It comes down to the significance of the differences – and how important they are to us, individually.
What, after all, is the difference among racial, cultural and ethnic outlooks? How can we even distinguish among which are driven by race, which are driven by culture and which are ethnic? but then where does culture separate from ethnic, and where does race fit in? And theology? It has been suggested that we all ought to just live and let live; it won’t ever happen – at least not, surely, in my lifetime; and it won’t because we inevitably allow ourselves – force ourselves – to come into conflict, in a variety of ways – and the conflict leads to the the strifes that dominate our lives depending on whatever might be important to any of us, including aspirations and expectations. Nor, unfortunately, are many of us prone to WANT to just live and let live – for innumerable reasons, and the intensity with which it is. So, all do not take the same degree of opposition; we are all different: human nature.
Why does it matter? Because it’s there and we have to live with it, each (individually and collectively) in our own way. And there are consequences, and we have to live with them, in one way or another. That is what history has been all about; in fact it is what life is all about. Reality is what man is all about, even as it changes, continually: human nature – and how it reacts with broader nature. And what can we do about it? live with it as best we can, depending on the situation, and we all know there have been, and will be, many different situations. That we often choose to fight it, to turn it into a personal struggle, is unfortunate – and counter-productive. But that also is reality.
Is that all? Well, attempting to understand helps. Trying to pass over – even overlook – what is trivial, helps. And trying to deal effectively is a necessity. But then, that’s why we have laws, even regulations; in fact that’s why we have religion: to attempt to deal with differences; different viewpoints, different objectives and differing actions – and the difficulties they impose upon us. I find it useful to accept a concept of human nature because it makes it easier to deal with the reality, the constantly evolving reality that ensues. For deal with it we must; there is no alternative. And dealing is both individual and collective – with the individual frequently interfering with the collective. We could make life easier, and more pleasant, but we don’t; because of human nature.
Is a dawning of intellectual reality beginning to develop? I believe I am seeing it do so – not universally, not even broadly, yet, but beginning. The question is are we listening, reading and thinking about it? It will take time, and likely quite a bit of time; it will also take a great deal of effort, on the part of many.
It will also take an opening of minds, that is not currently particularly in evidence; a willingness to put things in perspective, and think about them, deeply, to try to understand. Racial and ethnic prejudice is very much a part of that, but that, perhaps, needs to be a separate discussion.
There are many challenges; self-absorption is one, but empathy also comes to mind; so does self-interest. We have difficulty in seeing outside our own bubbles of being, and trying to understand how things might appear differently, for so many reasons, to others. It has always been so. But social media; sensationalism of national media, and our addiction to it; and the apparent pleasure we derive from exciting entertainment, clearly contribute, and may even dominate.
The reason I think I am beginning to see such a dawning is what I am seeing evolve on pages to which I am exposed; there appears to me to be more thoughtful evaluation of what I like to refer to as reality. Cartoons, not only political, but those of a broader context are an example, and I saw a number in today’s Sunday newspaper. Many of them have always has a hidden element of philosophy to them; they attempt, after all, to depict life in some form or another. But today I saw a number of gentle jabs at inconsistencies and absurdities. We all know they are there, and some of us are even acutely aware of them; but most, more concerned with merely being entertained, don’t think that much about it. Today I felt they were more “in your face.” I applaud that, and think we need more of it, if we are to become more intimately acquainted, or re-acquainted, with reality, as it changes – and more rapidly every day, it seems. Some of the ones that jumped out at me today, in the comics and a variety of articles, were such as bigger houses, grander vacations, self-glorification, more money and expectations thereof, cell phone domination, selfies…the list goes on. Most of this is not necessarily new, but has been developing with increasing speed with the Internet, and our expanding tendency to generalize, partly as a result of growing dependence upon statistics. There is more, of course, growing liberality in all of its manifestations, concern with income distribution, a growing vague need to move toward something we just as vaguely call egalitarianism, and frustration aided and abetted by a bevy of printed social criticism. And we cannot overlook corruption, which still exists, as it always has, but has become so much more complicated as more and more indulge in it, because it is easier to find ways to do so. And all along egalitarianism, equality, has to be right in there.
Before proceeding, I feel compelled to list the three pillars of philosophy I have collected – again:
“Read, think, disagree with everything, if you like – but force the mind outward.” (Anton Myrer, Once An Eagle)
“There is no end to what we can accomplish, if we work together.” (Attributed to Harry S. Truman)
“Let me be a little kinder, let me be a little blinder to the faults of those around me; let me praise a little more.” Words of a Glen Campbell song)
But to these I must (as always) add the ancient Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and he will feed himself for a day; teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime.
Getting back to reality. I say get back, but reality changes; we need to return to reality, as it currently exists, and decide for ourselves what really matters – to each of us, personally. That begins with egalitarianism; and an understanding that, with the matrix of differences that exist among us, EQUALITY has no practical meaning. Following that comes self-interest. Do we even know what our own self-interests are any more, what they mean to us personally? Why would we not? Too many extraneous influences. It is with this, with gathering bits of wisdom, we need to begin to understand our own personal realities. If the gaining process is not yet underway, it seems the process of attempting to focus on it – that is, focusing on knowledge of (personal) reality – is building.
Maybe poking fun at the general cultural reality is a first positive step; or at least making us accept it for what it is, whatever IT is,
Independence, the ability to think independently and act on such thinking is a prerequisite; That has not always been available to us. Learning? That is also available to us, should we make the effort to access it. But the schools – equal access…..piffle. Schools have always been an attempt to EXPOSE us formally to education, through the eyes of those who have gone through training in it – where the environment supports it. And if it does not? That’s where the independence comes in: the information is out there, in enough different forms for US to make our own comparisons. Ah, but then some will point out that our deteriorating family structures and motivation are not encouraging us to pursue it. And that is an excuse? It may be a reason that inequality is growing; but it is not an excuse for us, each of us, to pursue it on our own. Motivation, after all, is something that comes from within – that MUST come from within. Thinking? We can all think. Do we? Will we? That is up to us, individually, and it is only easier with the right kind of guidance and help. If that is not provided us, it IS available; if sought. Motivation.
I suggest we are experiencing the dawning of a new intellectual reality, that is up to each of us to access and process, for ourselves, in whatever way we choose to do it. Will that happen? It will for many; it is already happening for some, and it is available to all, but will take effort – and motivation. Of course many more will make excuses, and their reality will be different from that of others; In fact, reality will be different for each of us, and that is life.
The dawning of the new intellectual reality is only in developing a realist base for pursuing it. The rest, necessarily, is up to us, individually – and of course collectively; but individually is what we profess to be about. Onward!
It occurred to me, thinking overnight, that philosophy and propaganda are quite similar.
Philosophy, as I keep writing, is use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality. Seeking indicates not knowing, and there is and will always be much we don’t know. Propaganda (Oxford again) is “an organized program of publicity, selected information, (etc.) used to propagate a doctrine, practice, etc.; I usually just prefer to use incomplete information. Think about it: most of what we think we know is at best incomplete, and if we don’t THINK we know, and try to reason, that’s incomplete too – and often enough turns out to be just plain wrong, at least partially so. But that deters us not at all. Why? Because what we seek; no matter in what form, and there are many; is power.
Power takes many forms, but let’s generalize and say it is our our attempt to convince others of what we want them to believe; again there are many ways in which we pursue that – and many ways we can gain from it.
An interesting process: – my opinion only, and surely one which would attract much disagreement, some vicious – has to do with religion. Religion began with philosophy, trying to reason from the unknown; but as it progressed, in virtually every format, did so by becoming more and more positively pursued, for the purpose of propagating power. People believe what they want to believe, and are not particularly concerned with whether it may be true or not, or even reasonable – if it suits their purpose, whatever it might be. Our perception is hierarchical and we are continually seeking higher power on which to base our beliefs, understanding and actions; so why should there not be a supreme power?
Advertising is propaganda; partial information for the purpose of exerting power. The power? Selling something, and making money. I read recently that the pharmaceutical industry is most adept at it, coming up with all kinds of “solutions” to perceived problems that people want addressed. Black propaganda (lies)? Very seldom; but many are of dubious value, or at least of dubious value to many. But consider (and the industry does) much perception is in the brains of the perceivers, and if they THINK they are being helped, they may feel it’s working. Kind of, I think therefor I am. Anyway, the sales are impressive and the proposed solutions almost infinite.
What is the result of all of this? a great deal of partial or mis-information, intended to convince, for some manifestation of power or another, that is pushed – and repeated – until it is accepted, if not totally believed. How many such are out there, that have no proven value, that have been accepted as true? Even when there is nothing obvious to be gained from it (such as tangible power)? Opinion? that’s part of it; we love to share our opinions, particularly when they are accepted by others. Is that not what social media is all about? And the power of that? Self glorification? Can that not be a form of power? Why do we do it? Don’t ask; it is just the way we are: human nature. It makes us feel important, and we LOVE to feel important: human nature.
I contend Silicon Valley, and therefor the Internet (which includes social media), is another institutional example. Silicon Valley is continually inventing solutions for which there were no apparent problems, but from which evolved tons of demand. Is not the entire entertainment industry, including professional (and almost professional) sports, much the same? Yes, that is free enterprise, opportunity, that creates jobs, grows our economy and makes us the most powerful nation (at least up to now) the world has ever known.
But where is it taking us? We don’t know; and anyone who suggests they know, and wants us to believe it, is a liar. In fact, such propagators are propagandists, are they not? And for the purpose of the power they hope to derive from having it believed.
I don’t think we know what to believe any more; and too many are too willing to accept whatever, if it fits what they are disposed to believe. I am a skeptic; I believe less and less, and insist on checking, comparing, questioning. I don’t particularly like having to be so, but I recommend it, because I think it is increasingly necessary. There are too many out there willing to push propaganda, and too many with a power motive, usually economic gain, often corrupt, who do so; particularly be skeptical of someone who has something to gain, if you are the prospective loser.
It is not a pleasant world to live in; but it is the world we live in. It is a world filled with a growing number of unscrupulous propagandists seeking power – and their success is growing by leaps and bounds.
An article by Kevin Williamson: Black activists argue that trigonometry is racist. Apparently the attempt to push STEM requirements into testing statistics is considered unfair, it is thus aimed at blacks, or so activists with their own motives want to contend. Sound familiar? It should; there are so many similar being pushed by so many other groups. Why? Opportunity for activists to gain power of information over those that would allow them: Homosexuals, women’s rights activists, animal rights advocates; there seems to be no end. Next we’ll be hearing about squirrel’s rights. Ah, but more.
Why is all this happening? It’s actually not all that new; we have always had it; it’s human nature to support causes, and we have always done it, in different ways. The difference today is the means of getting attention; we are so tightly connected, and our means of communicating ideas is unsurpassed – as is the sophistication of the messages – and the massive funding that is behind them. Power? Sure; power, and desire for it, has always been with us, but the complexity of our culture and all the different pockets of opportunity have become overwhelming.
I think the direction our culture has been taking encourages it: rights, individuality, lack of constraints. Nothing new there either, since that is our legacy in this country – or is there?
I have been talking to many people lately, just casually, where the opportunity presents itself, and most I talk to are concerned; statistics suggest the same, although I am suspect of statistics; how often do we disdain replying to them? So where do they come from? Those who accept being polled? Yes, no, don’t know; give me a break. But again more; I just read (Stratfor) that interest in politics comes generally from the fringes, with much less interest from the middle; I thought that was interesting, and might have a bearing. Back to polls: supporting our president, for one thing, versus confidence in Congress; what does that mean? I suggest many are ignorant. In fact I think there are two extremes – of citizens and voters: those that try to stay aware and those that are ignorant, either because they want to be or they just don’t care. Of course, as always, there is much in between. Ah, the difference between the highly educated and the poorly educated. No. What is highly educated any more; and for that matter, what about the poorly educated? That is formal, of course; does less formal education preclude self-education. I suggest it does not, but only if initiative is taken to self-educate. Is it? More than one might think. But who really knows?
What of experience? What of common sense? What of the focusing of education in directions of interest to educators? I have difficulty these days in getting exercised over education, in that I am not sure what it means any more, considering all the subjects that are being offered for degrees, for which there might be no obvious demand, but high expectation among those who pursue them. What has that got to do with activism? I am not sure, but I am also not sure there is not a connection. It all comes down to what is important to us – and to others. Do we even know anymore?