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Education, Learning – and Experience

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 21st, 2014

Education is very important to our ability to progress, personally and together. But education is another of those many nuanced words. To gain education it is necessary to learn, but also to assimilate that learning to develop understanding that enables one to keep learning on his or her own. Too much?

To me that requires a good deal of motivation; motivation first to want to learn, then to assimilate, then to try and understand, then to continue learning. But there are other motivations as well, often leading to false conclusions – even blind alleys. That is due, I suggest, to a poor understanding of what education is. Too many today seem to think education is more like a collection of information; what kind of information? It doesn’t seem to matter, just “education” for education sake: stuff. That is supposed to lead to success, but often leads to disappointment. If that is what education is, it is not learning. Learning entails not only assimilation of information but gaining experience from it and dealing with it; experience is an important part of learning. It is a part that too often these days is overlooked, particularly in that it is too common these days to place too much importance on just absorbing information, with too little on processing it; but it also too often discounts the different levels of importance of various kinds of information, and the value of the experience – particularly that which is gained from other than formal education, specifically: doing. That – doing – is even more important than just stuffing information into the brain.

Progress is not made without learning, however. Perhaps one of the reasons our progress seems to have plateaued is that too few were interested in learning, even while many were interested in “education” for what they thought they could get from it. That would be over simplistic, however, as many have been learning, making the result mixed. One of the problems with an open society is that people tend to do what they want to do and are motivated by perceived self-interest, even when that does not lead to as clear a path as they thought it might. It is clear that we have blurred the meanings of education and learning/experience, favoring the easy trappings as opposed to the more difficult preparations – and in discounting manual experience we have damped the result still further. What is our problem?

We learn only slowly and forget quickly – at least at the general level of attention. And most don’t even attempt to concern themselves with it, save at the personal/now level; and then without a great deal of understanding, and more than a little emotion. We want what we want, and assume everything else will fall into place. It seldom works that way. But that is part of Enlightenment thinking: things will get better because we want them to. Of course, wanting and being willing to work toward it happening are often widely separated: motivation, expectation, experience and human nature; it is difficult to get far from reality.

And there it is again: reality. In a recent essay entitled Reality Creed, Robert Kaplan explained reality; one of the first comments to the article was, “that is the last time I read Stratfor”; and there you have reality in a nutshell. We don’t like reality, and prefer what I choose to refer to as fantasy, of our own making – we believe what we want to believe. What has that got to do with learning? He was talking about our unrealistic involvement in the events of the world; today students pursue unrealistic majors. We don’t like reality, even if we have an inkling of what it is. Machiavelli was a realist; and no one today likes Machiavelli, because he was a realist, and pointed out things that were, rather than what people wanted them to be.

But speaking of Machiavelli – and learning – leads us on. Machiavelli was a philosopher; what is that? Some would say, one who sits around and stares at his navel; actually it is one who sits around and thinks, continually adding experience and the production of others, to come to new conclusions: that is learning. Philosophy is an educational capstone, necessarily, as it brings together learning over a long period of time; that is, of the scholar himself, but also of the accumulated knowledge of his contemporaries and those that preceded them. In the past being a philosopher was a luxury of time not available to most, necessitating adequate wealth to support engaging in it. That is no longer the case. Many philosophers (PHDs), college professors, are provided such time and it is expected they use it to increase the body of knowledge, and they do. But many others support themselves by writing, and turn philosophical in the process as they accumulate knowledge and experience that they then share; thus many writers today, whether they admit it or not, have become philosophers; most are older, as the need for experience would suggest; but younger ones are beginning to surface and it is important that they do. Kaplan is one of those older writers; and so is Anton Myrer, whose philosophy I have often quoted; and yet another is Thomas Sowell. Kevin Williamson and Mark Steyn are examples of the new breed, who tell it the way it is – reality.

I am convinced it is the blending of learning and experience – and reality – that truly constitute education, and it takes a while to get there. Thus, today’s “getting an education” tends to be a rather superfluous generalization; one doesn’t just GET education, one accumulates it over time, with motivated effort, through learning and experience; much of which comes through encountering reality on the way.

I was about to say that that it is not for all of us, but it is, although at different levels. We would benefit from understanding that, and utilizing the process better than we do. There is all kinds of knowledge, some of it purely experience-based; but also that which is gained from just having to deal with reality. We need a thoughtful blend, a motivated effort to create that thoughtful blend, and an ability to bring it together from history as well as science, but also the trades – and philosophy, across all levels, as each is able to contribute. We need to use the past, both knowledge and experience; factored by reality, and flavored by the here and now to lead us into the future. Looking at our mistakes, we don’t do that well; perhaps because we don’t try hard enough.

Family, Nurturing – and Culture

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 20th, 2014

Why do I insist on grouping my titles in three (or more)? Because everything is so related – so tied together – that it seems to make more sense; almost nothing stands alone. So it is with family, nurturing and culture.

First family, and this is not the first time I have addressed it, nor will it be the last: family is the bedrock of society, of culture. Nurturing is what happens in families – or doesn’t. Culture is the result.

We are seeing cultural changes that are affecting families, and nurturing thereof; but that in turn is further changing culture. I believe it begins with affluence; and what, pray tell, is affluence? Stuff, but more. In days of yore they might have defined it as luxury, and we still use that word; but what is luxury, any more, in an economic environment that has everything? Everything, you scoff; we are not rich. Ha! Rich is relative; so is luxury. We have so much – comparatively – but want so much more. Why? Because it is there and others have it. We are influenced.

We are constantly influenced; that’s nothing really new, but the massive volume of influence, is: written material, advertising, media including social media and entertainment, billboards – even mailings; and a whole lot more it than there ever used to be. It is all about influence, and what others have and to which we, therefore, feel entitled, for whatever reason that might be advanced. Before going further let’s realize that demand begets supply, supply begets creation of stuff, and creation of stuff begets jobs – which equates to supporting ourselves, individually. All that is the basis of free enterprise and progress on the one hand, but of individual and collective survival on the other; after that it can become excessive.

Envy, of course, is a key concept that underlies much of this, and envy is associated with greed; nothing new there. But envy derives from becoming aware of the existence of something we would like to have, want, and more recently feel ourselves entitled to. That, basically, is the recent change in our culture whether we like it or not; and until it experiences problems, most enjoy, favor, appreciate and support it, enthusiastically. Why sould we not? Because, I would submit, it all has to be kept in perspective; to wit: what is really important?

Another sticky wicket; what is important? Let’s begin with priorities: basic subsistence, food, shelter, physical comfort, health care – security? After that it becomes a matter of preference – want, more than need – and envy. How does one put that in perspective? It has to be learned; taught, actually, since children are not born with perspective beyond having basic needs to be taken care of. And where is that taught? Oh, almost everywhere: advertising takes a shot at it, albeit based on self-serving motivation; community also weighs in, with various and competing inputs; the education system also makes an attempt, also varied depending on input – and pressure. Nonetheless it begins with family; and then that’s where community often comes in, to supplement or even replace family nurturing and the “right” priorities, when seen to be necessary – or, in some cases, merely desirable.

So what has been influencing, changing our culture? Families are changing, because culture is changing; it is all inter-related. But let’s concentrate on family, though seeing culture as influence on family. Seeking more affluence, families feel “forced” to seek greater income to finance it; that has led to the “need” for two (or more) incomes per family, which has led to challenges for family, particularly in nurturing. Who takes care of (nurtures) the children when mama is working? Why mama? it is biological, let’s leave it at that. There are alternatives; I know personally of several: a husband whose wife had greater (and enough) earning capability who chose to stay home with the children; a couple that effectively divides responsibilities so as to provide joint nurturing; and a couple both of whom work long hours and who have virtually turned the responsibility over to commercial child care. Of course hired nannies are another alternative, but require yet another level of income to support. The first two examples work; the third is highly suspect; and the fourth depends on a lot of things.

But let’s review a situation more based on culture from the beginning: what of cultures that have never had strong families? That is a tricky one since one has to define what strong family is. Let’s suffice it to say that strong family is family that nurtures in such as way as to yield strong, that is self-sufficient and responsible, children that in turn yield strong families. I would contend that one can view separate cultures and discern differences, almost from the beginning. This is simplistic, but I would argue that strong families yield effective culture, provided, of course, that appropriate progress has been made to expand strong family to become strong community.

Many thoughts come to mind, and most of it has to do with motivation. Some families, dominated by self-centered parents, are never oriented to responsible nurturing – and don’t make it a priority. Others, also with a measure of parent self-centeredness, such as being more concerned with themselves and their images and less with their children, can convince themselves that by controlling their children as opposed to teaching them principles of life, they can ensure greater success, success being relative. All motivation: what is it that is being sought? That also is relative – highly relative. And some parents just don’t give a damn. And one has to understand that when a culture has gone though two, three, even four generations of it, it takes hold and is propagated, almost by default.

So what is not tricky is that to have “successful” families requires effort; and “success” is not only financial, but that which relates to such as responsibility, reliability and such; and to have successful cultures requires successful families.
Can there be any question as to why there are differences among families, cultures, and even nations – in addition to the basic differences among people – who were influenced, I might add, through the nurturing process?

I could elaborate, but why bother? If you have read this far, and think about it, you can reason to your own conclusions, and cite your own examples; they are all around us: good, bad and everything in between.

The fact is the solution is in our hands, but that also is not simple, as we do not control our environment. Control of environment is a collective thing, and influences are ubiquitous – and growing, particularly with electronic communication, in all of its manifestations. That is why culture is constantly changing and none of us can individually control that; influence it, yes, but only incrementally, some more than others. That, of course, is not reason not to try; and if enough do, the results will be better, and that’s all we can hope for. It goes without saying, however, that influences upon us to have more: bigger cars, more cars, bigger homes, vacation homes, fancier trips and vacations, and more things; is powerful, and also growing; influencing, influencing, influencing – with motive being open to question, and envy apparently ascendant.

Life challenges, continuously. To deal with it effectively takes much thought, a lot of selective motivation and more than a little effort. It also helps when the effort is collective, influencing motivation and thought to be consistent.

Big challenge; help protect our culture.

Yin/ Yang and the Nature of Man

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 19th, 2014

I have been reading a book by Max Boot entitled The Savage Wars of Peace; it was nominated the best book of 2002. It details American interventions all over the world beginning way prior to 2000 – guerrilla wars in Spanish, small wars. The interesting thing about the book and what it tells us is that it is still going on – and we should keep that perspective in mind; not a great deal has changed.

That led me to thinking about liberal versus conservative and how we view each other, and ourselves. The British, and later the Americans, had a liberal view of humanity, that it was perfectible; and they – we – felt it was our God-given mission to perfect. The term barbarian comes to mind; barbarian is a rough term for the uninitiated, and we were initiated; QED it was our mission to un-barbarize the barbarians. As we have found, it is easier said than done. But one must recall that as we were striving to un-barbarize the Mexicans (Pancho Villa and his ilk) they were calling us the barbarians of the north. That is worth thinking about: perspective. What we, whoever is we, might think doesn’t make it so. And that is the nature of man.

The yin/yang is how that plays out in reality. The savage wars of peace pitted the basic nature of ignorant man against the enlightened nature of those who (some, mostly) had been enlightened through knowledge and experience. And that brings us to liberal versus conservative. We have to be careful of words; they are slippery slopes and can often have varying hues of meaning, even though we think – we know – OUR meaning, that which we are using, is the right one. Conservative means (sort of, sometimes) resistance to change; liberal embraces change, thus progressivism. Both have their values and both have their pitfalls. In the extreme, conservatives can overdo by resisting much, including gaining knowledge and understanding; liberals can overdo, and do, by thinking that progressive change can accomplish anything, and it’s all good. But more; both convince themselves that their way is the right way, the only way – and tend to reject compromise, seeing it as compromising principles.

There is much good about conservatism, but rejecting progress is not one of them. There is much good about liberalism, but ability to convince themselves that they (and only they) are right and enlightened, and therefore must set all right in the world, can have negative consequences, particularly when the outlook is not realistic. That points to yin and yang and the nature of man. Man is neither good nor bad; he is what he is, and has measures of both, in different measures under different circumstances. To pretend that helping someone indiscriminately, and convincing self that that is unmitigated good, to make one’s self feel noble, is unproductive; but to say that’s too bad (about bad fortune) can also be counterproductive. We – humans – have a tendency to see things either one way or the other, and resist finding a balancing middle ground. Some people make their own bad luck, and deserve to have to live with it; others, for many reasons, need help – and there is a compassion blur in between. But to indiscriminately damn or reach out to insist on helping, regardless, are both not useful. Ah, but to distinguish between true deserved need and making one’s own beds takes wisdom; yes. And wisdom is in short supply, mainly because we don’t try very hard to assimilate it: call it lack of motivation. Compromise is also tough for the same reason: motivation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had open minds, wisdom, knowledge, understanding and could effectively discuss, and come to compromise to achieve optimum results?

Yes, it would be nice; but that is not reality, nor will it ever be. Better? hopefully; perfect: never. Not that we shouldn’t try, but try with understanding of reality: the yin/yang nature of man.

So, as to the savage wars of peace; they are back. Why? the yin/yang nature of man. But our wars today have expanded – progress? ISSI is very much like Pancho Villa, the Barbary Pirates and the Boxers in China. But what of hackers, burglars and the street gangs that have become so ubiquitous? Ignorance? yes. Greed? yes. But what of lust for power? Thirst for prestige, respect and feeling good? The reality of man’s imperfection – yin/yang. And that reality needs to extend to approach taken and reaction as well: complacency and indulgence – over compensating for imagined wrongs perhaps – can encourage; careful application of discipline and force can discourage. Has the violence of discipline and force been overdone? Probably; but so has complacency and indulgence. So what is needed? A blended approach, carrot and stick, call it compromise; but with clear motivation. That is the reality that is needed – both domestically and internationally – administered with as much wisdom as we can muster (and elect).

That is what is needed with everything: confronting violence and crime, bringing up children, addressing debt – conducting our institutions of education, where too much political correctness and diversity for diversity sake seem to have taken priority. Reality, motivation and some middle ground – compromise – thinking need to come into play. Falling back upon returning to things as we once imagined them to be is not the answer, but neither is pretending everything is all right as long as we take care of everyone equally, regardless of effort, is not either. There is a place for both, carefully administered, if the necessary degree of force and discipline (self and imposed) is encouraged – even in an imperfect world.

Can we improve it? Yes we can. Can we perfect it? No, we cannot. So what do we do? Work together to achieve the best possible within the realm of reality, whatever we may discover that to be – and as it changes – as we learn more, and make improvements as we go.

As always, much to think about; but we have to WANT to think about it – and then do something.

Religion – A Personal Perspective

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 13th, 2014

Life is a matter of knowledge and experience – but also of perception and opinion – they all blur together in a mass of confusion, especially when they develop erratically over time – and differently from place to place, from time to time.

Man in the beginning knew very little, but perceived much – else he didn’t last long. But from the beginning men were not all the same; created equal? perhaps, but not when it came to ability, talent and all that. Perception was different, imagination? So when the wind blew, or a tree fell down, or it rained and flooded, and volcanoes erupted, there may have been little commonality in assumption of cause, but much speculation, and imagination was spurred;where there was effect there had to be cause. The saw animals causing, but what when something happened and there were on animals. Well, just because they didn’t see any, that didn’t mean there weren’t any; maybe they were invisible. Ghosts, fairies, goblins one might fantasize today, but then they called them gods – and there were all kinds, since they were fantasizing, why not one or a pack of them for each cause? Rain god, god of the sea, god of love? imagination abounded, and they became real. Another blurry distinction – between reality and fantasy, when there was no way of knowing the difference.

Man did learn over time, however, and learned more about reality; but there was still fantasy to fill in the gaps. As sophistication grew more and more became known, or at least expected, other than fantasy. But the gods had taken hold; they existed in the minds of men; that’s human nature, and some men where more persuasive than others – had more imagination perhaps, but also ability to persuade, and those that could did; and many that did, gained reputations for it, even to the point of convincing the more gullible that they could control, or at least influence, what the gods did or might not, if so persuaded, do – thus power, power of the ancient priests; more human nature. Yes, human nature, in all of its glory has always existed. A cult of power was created, continued and eveolved.

And the gods evolved too. Perhaps they were not little (or big) mythical invisible creatures flying or crawling around working their will, but something else – and the priests, looking for more ways to exert their power, for good as well as evil, came up with a more realistic vision of what the gods were, even to the point where the Ancient priests – religious philosophers – began to catagorize them into bands of good and evil, and then Judaic priests determined that there must be (since that was their experience) a hierarchy, and if there was a hierarchy, there must be one a the top, a God; it was, after all, always so with men. The body of theological philsophy grew, and was supported by logic, revelation, even visions that added reality to it. Of course none of this was true reality – was it? Well, some reality (what we now call science) was also coming along: observation, hypothesis and testing proving this and that. The heavenly bodies, for example, moved across the sky in certain patterns, and certain causes were associated with those observations. Well, they didn’t; the earth was rotating, that that scientific revelation came later. So what was “true” and what was myth? That began to evolve too, as more became known through reality of observation and association. The body of believe surrounding theology also evolved – expanded; differently in different places and at different times.

But people being people had already started internalizing myth and many believed what they wanted to believe, rather than whate elites among them told them was reality. It has only gone on from there. But much else has accompanied that in the manifestation of education to accompany experience and begin to make sense of it all. That changed only slowly, but much else was added, such as better understanding of why people acted the way the do, and much else, as we now know, of think we know or are hypothesizing based on observation and testing.

So back to religion; it’s all a hoax right? there were no gods; there is no God. Man has control of his own destiny. Yeah, right; some would tell you that; but they are the same oh so right elite priest who have always been doing so, and so poorly. So where did it all come from? Easy: big bang. And what caused that; and what lies beyond the solar system, and beyond that? After all, our experience is that there has always something beyond our immediate reality; Isn’t there? Heaven, hell, after life? The concept of never ending is a difficult concept to understand – or to discount. How can life just end? What causes love and sin, good and evil among men? More cause and effect; more hypothesis – and we HAVE learned much; we have even learned something about human nature, why people do what they do.

The truth is that there are things – much in fact – that we will never know; even though that flies in the face of the conceit of man; but that’s just more human nature – and elitism.

Maybe God is a concept far beyond the understanding of man, and always will be. But we know something of the functioning of the solar system; and brains; and sophisticated system of inception, birth, life and death – even disease. Call it what you like, but God is as good as any: it is the system of reality that defines our existence, continually changing – and progressing. And we have discovered principles that seem to make sense, things like motivation, incentive, initiative that result in human progress; and we have a better understanding of good and evil. pride, selfishness, greed, power morality. And we continue to learn, and discover, hypothesize, develop and progress more, until the hierarchical selfishness of man tears it all down again – only to begin building it once again, with the help of those same prinjciples.

Oh, man, you conceited, selfish, myopic fool, ruled by self appointed elite that know more than anyone – but continually prove how little they know and how much they fool themselves when they take themselves too seriously, and begin to see themselves as the very gods they deny. They don’t understand, and won’t understand, even if it is more than it was – and will be more yet, if we don’t destroy ourselves first. But even then, what? Is matter ever really destroyed?

But then, we believe what we want to believe. why not instead of letting those that feel so superior decide, don’t we try to continue to learn, continue to understand that certain principles yield better results, and that working together to encourage each to develop for self what is necessary for continuing positive development and then motivate self to make it happen? Yes, you know the answer, that same selfish human nature that has driven us this far, and continues to do so. It is the way it is.

So where do we go from here? The same as we have been, but continually progressing. It is at least within our power to continue to do that – but only if we learn, think and try. We have a long way to go, but we ARE making progress, if we continue on same basically positive trajectory.

So back to religion; is there God; yes, we just don’t understand what it is, nor will we ever. Will we continue to make progress? more than likely, if we continue to learn and improve ourselves – through the principles that have proven themselves to be effective over time, and fight the debilitating vicissitudes of human nature. We have proved we can do it – over time; if we can keep moving ourselves forward, and bring the recalcitrant along with us, difficult though that will prove to be. Let’s not throw out one of the most positive engines in our firmament, though; we need it. We just need to get by the arrogance of those who continue to think they know everything, and preen in their vaunted superiority – and work a little harder to discuss, and learn – and work toward more reality and less blind narrowness of what they know must be, without bothering to take time to think and understand.

Relationships

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 13th, 2014

Relationships among people are many varied things, whether-one-to-one or one-to-more than one, or especially one-to-many. Each is different, at every level an over time – even a very short time.

The first requirement is to know thyself. But even that is not simple; self changes – and self is variable, variable in time, variable in circumstance, variable depending on with whom one is relating – and when – and how – and why – and variable in mood, even in the amount of sleep one has had – and worries or concerns.

Then comes the partner in the relationship – if one. Who is he/she? Really, who? And again, that varies over time, circumstance? And if more, what are their relationships, and who are they? Complex?

Then motivation; yours and theirs; and if many they, what are their relationships? The more variables the more complexities. But motivations on both – or each – side of the relationship. The more sides the more complexities, the more challenge.

But the most important aspect, since most begin with self, is what is the real motivation? Self? Other? Smoothness of the relationship? – long term or short term. That is where an open mind and flexibility come in; relationships are a matter of constant adjustment. So what is the real motivation? To bring attention to self? To bring satisfaction to self? To make other feel good – about self, about the situation. Making someone feel good about self can be many things, depending upon what the target needs or expects. Most important is not so much to focus on the target, but to help the target to focus upon himself or herself, not only on what they think they need at the moment, but what they really need.

That’s why relationships are so complex; and they change over time, depending on what happens to self, what happens to targets, changes among target relationships, and moods, as well as immediate circumstances. One of the most important relationships is something we call love, which is really many things: conjugal, love of children, love among children, love of family – and within family. Like is similar, even broader, but less deep. “Like” can depend on too many more variables.

So what is the secret? Focus; ability to deal with many variables in time, situation and personality; ability to deal with a crowded population (being able to stay broadly focused, while still focusing specifically – at the same time) – or to focus on only one without regard to others, depending on the circumstance and situation.

But most of all motivation; the wanting to on both or all sides of the relationship; and that may be continually shifting too. The mix is wanting to make it work – on both or all sides – and dealing with how to make it work, through constant adjustment and flexibility – while being consistent, particularly on the self level, and leading others to do the same.

THAT is why relationships are so demanding, and the more important the relationship, the more demanding, because everything must continually adjust – to changing motivations and circumstances; players and their relationships- especially among family, close friends and those who are particularly important to each other. 50/50? 100/100? Continual, and because EACH wants to.

At the bottom one must, each must, really WANT it to work – by focusing on each other; even while, as is always the case, worrying about self – and how one is doing. Empathy is a good concept to keep in mine; so is desire to discuss, not lecture

Tough challenge, relationships; especially if they are to be successful, and continue to be successful.

Veterans’ Day 2014

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 11th, 2014

Veterans’ Day, much hype about veterans. We do that, hype; we overdo it, it’s the way we are. But today I saw some of the best Veterans’ Day presentations I have seen on the Internet, and it gave me cause to think.

Veterans, the military, sacrifice – dedication; band of brothers. Trite, perhaps, but it is true. One cannot understand – cannot know – what it means, unless you have been there. And it means a great deal, to those who have been there; just listen. You, the public, don’t have to tell us: we, having been there, KNOW. What else can I say?

Well, a great deal, actually. The brotherhood, sacrifice and dedication ARE America. God, let us never forget that. No, we all don’t die for the cause, or even necessarily risk our lives for our country against its antagonists – at least not directly. Being a part of the brotherhood is more than that; it is being a part of the team; it is belonging to the team, dedicated to each other – and the purpose for which that team exists: to defend our country – whether in uniform or as a citizen.

On this day of celebrating veterans, 2014, a time when our country is being threatened in ways it never has been, let us all realize, really realize, that we are part of a great team; perhaps such as has never existed in the world before. It is a team like no other; but I mention it, not for plaudits, but for understanding – understanding what our team stands for: liberty, freedom, equality under the law, dedication, responsibility, respect. Are we losing it, as we move on through history and experience the dilution what progress brings? It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we do not.

And in that interest I again point back to the brotherhood of military service; let it be an example. Equality? Four star generals and privates first class are equal? To think that way misses the point. Every member of the military is a brother (ok, add sister as well) and relies each upon the other for their dedication, integrity and willingness to do what is asked, for the cause, whatever that might be. It is not equality of level of contribution, it is the importance of contributing with honor and consistency – to stand up and do what has to be done, to get the job done, whatever the call is for what is challenging; that is the meaning of brotherhood – and respecting each other, for whatever level of contribution needs to be made – together.

If this country is to endure – and through history few do – we need keep that in mind, and, as brothers and sisters, to be mindful of our need to not only maintain personal dedication and integrity, but to help each other to help themselves; for each much himself or herself make that effort, and it is incumbent upon all to help each other – and to want to – to meet our challenge. And we are being challenged.

To me that is the broader message of Veterans’ Day – and bands of brothers, for that matter. We are in it together, and, as was once famously suggested, will either stand together or perish separately. Is it too much to ask that all citizens be brothers? Yes, of course; we know that that can never be; but can we ask that we try? That we can all ask that each try to make the effort? We can do that, and we must, beginning with settle the example and following up by exhorting all to rise to that level.

May our nation, together, make that effort, to try to meet that challenge.

More Philosophy

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 10th, 2014

Again my philosophical foundations, “read, think disagree with everything, if you like – but force your mind outward”; “There is no end to what we can accomplish, if we work together”; and “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.”

To that I must append another favorite concept: the importance of motivation – and following it up with energy; and add yet another: not taking ourselves too seriously.

I got to thinking through the night about life, as I am prone to do; one is fortunate to be able to entertain one’s self, you know; and these came to mind in context with more extensive thinking, thus the title of this piece.

The working together is apparent enough, but is dependent upon thinking – and, yes questioning. But motivation may be even more critical; why do we do what we do? Do we even know? Or are we driven by forces other than that, such as desire to be well thought of, or even wanting to fit in to what others seem to prefer? Praising a little more has the advantage of lowering barriers and opening up avenues of discussion, something very different from the contention that rules today. But in all of it, what is our motivation? Do we even know what IT is? Do we even have an understanding of what is best for ourselves beyond the immediate? If we do it is not apparent – and we need to, seeing longer horizon-ed perspectives. Taking selves too seriously is more of a casualty – something that blinds us to reality.

Ah, reality, and what is reality? That is where the forcing our mind outward comes in – where the rubber hits the road, else there is no traction. Reality is our family, our community, our nation; and I address that in a companion post.

But that brings us around to the old Chinese proverb: “give a man a fish and he feeds himself for a day; teach him to fish and he feeds himself for a life time.” Motivation: reaching out to help others – to help themselves, instead of reaching out to help others – to make ourselves feel better by doing it. There is a profound difference; and the results show in the long run.

American Republicanism – Then, Now and In The Future – and Reality

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 10th, 2014

The so called robber barons of yore made tons of money; but they also employed lots and lots of people; they also contributed to the beginning of a powerful economy, that built our middle class. And they also gave back, after the fact, perhaps, but they did give back. Of course, much happened in between and we tend to forget the details, if we ever knew them.

The founders of many of today’s Silicon Valley Corporations, also make even BIGGER money, but employ many fewer people; sign of the times; pay back? We’ll see. The shrinking of the middle class is both real and becoming more evident; we are not what we used to be in that department, even comparatively, throughout the world .

The point is that both groups used and use money to buy power. That is human nature. Some blame it on capitalism – free enterprise; but what of the aristocracy that preceded them? That was different? better? Human nature is what it is, and despite what some might wish, it is not likely to change, save very slowly and over a long period of time – and then only so much, homo sapiens being what they are.

Our form of government necessitates publicity to hope to get elected for any save the ultra rich (or those supported by powerful fortunes); aspiring candidates need to attract campaign funding to proceed, for without publicity, in this age of electronic propaganda of all varieties – and massive voting constituencies who are overly influenced by it – what hope might a candidate have of even being known, much less recognized? It is the way it is. But big donors – almost all donors, for that matter – expect something in return, else why would they donate? More human nature. Where are the dividing lines among altruistic donations for cause, honest lobbying for realistic ends; out-and-out buying of votes and self-interest? Where does freedom of speech, including that of businesses fighting for their rights to be heard, become power politics? Businesses would argue it is their right to present their cases, and they do so through lobbyists; others have their own motives, and they are many.

Put together free speech, big money, quest for power and human nature and there is potential for lots of things to happen; take away free speech and that goes away? On the other hand, look at the effectiveness of negative advertising; usually not lies, but innuendo. Free speech? People believe what they want to believe. Crony politics, power, big money and human nature. But look at the alternatives to American republicanism. None present themselves that do away with the problems. There is no way to get rid of the influence of wealth on power – and the effects of human nature. Aristocracy proved that; and it is proven every day in many ways in any system one might want to view. American republicanism anticipated that problem – and attempted to deal with it through separation, checks and balances, Federalism and limited government; some of that has already been pushed aside, and many would change the Constitution from a document of principles to a “living document”, arguing that it is out of date; the result of such change would be something that changed with the will of those currently in power – not a hopeful thought; one even more prone to the vicissitudes of big money, quest for power and human nature.

In that vein we might even look to the past to see what happens when big money (as in economy) and big government collude. Only today there are more bigs to contend with to collude; such as media, institutions, entertainment separate from media – even education, social organizations and labor unions, to list but a few. Which is why our constitution pushed in the direction that it did – that and human nature; big may not necessarily be bad, but it poses many dangers that must be considered – government, bureaucracies, monopolies – but worse, when they coalesce into a centralized power structure.

The distant past, precipitated by desperate self-preservation is familiar to us in its outlines, if not so often in its details; the in-fighting was brutal, continual and not pleasant. What, dealing with the nature of people and propensity for disagreement, could have otherwise been possible? But, through perseverance and a rather erudite understanding of human nature including wielding of power, a lasting achievement was reached. It was not tidy, and it has gone through numerous challenges and misunderstandings, but it has had lasting success. One of the reasons for that, and result of it, is the differences among the opinions of people, as in the periodic, some might say continual, changing of leadership: We seem to have a tendency to want to vote out what we perceive as lack of competence, through demonstrating lack of confidence. Such an approach has its merits, and discourages complacency of leadership, even though it is not the most supportive of long term consistency of government. To compensate for that there has been a tendency to inject increasing numbers of non-elected expert competence into the mix, but human nature – and bureacracy – being what it is, has its drawbacks: specifically bigger and bigger – and more out of control – government.

There is an alternative, but it is as demanding, some would say unrealistic, consistent with maintaining the principles of our Constitution: it is concentration on encouraging our citizens, the electorate, to be more aware of qualifications – the principles – of aspirant leaders; and how they fit with the principles outlined in The Constitution. In this day and age of voting for what we think we “like” instead of what we should respect, based on facts-backed policy positions and demonstrated integrity-backed qualifications is not encouraging. Big challenge; unrealistic? Perhaps not entirely. But it would take a change in campaign tactics and an attempt at re-education of voters.

The change in campaign tactics would be from trying to discredit opponents to spending more effort on helping voters understand ramifications of their choices, particularly in light of the principles upon which our government has stood over the years of its existence; which, of course, is where the education comes in. We – politicians, and those of us who support them – need to reach out more and in greater depth of meaning of that which we stand for. That does not mean less competition; it means greater emphasis on reality and less on emotion, and selfish, short term goals; with more understanding of possible unintended consequences. We live in a world of growing complication that in many ways is poorly understood.

Today that would be a particular challenge, as media is not what it used to be. First it is polarized, not particularly concerned with remaining balanced, and to a great extent out of touch, perhaps because it is being challenged by many, many alternatives which are even more uncontrollable and often even less reliable. So how do politicians reach out? Personal contact is, as it has always been, a desirable alternative, but more and more difficult to achieve, partly because of cost and time, but also because of a reluctance of constituents to offer the the opportunity; many just don’t come out any more, and prefer to absorb the pap of television advertising. The challenge, however, is still there. Can constituents be enticed to subject themselves, not to propaganda, but to a deeper level of education about the principles of The Constitution and the potential pitfalls of complacency to inaction? Such education in schools has been watered down in recent times, and even there, bias is in evidence. Would teams of dedicated town hall volunteers presenting a message of the importance of those principles instead of campaign rhetoric stand a chance – as opposed to mere campaign propaganda?

An informed electorate was always a bit of hopefulness; today it is more myth, as voters know less and less and think less and less deeply about the seriousness of their responsibilities. Again the concept of complacency rears its ugly head, and is being referenced more an more often; have we become complacent? Are the applicants for public office adequately concerned about this shortcoming as opposed to their desire to just pump out more modern high decibel advertising and strongly biased propaganda in quest for power?

I contend we need be more concerned. I contend that more and more complicated actions are being taken that are poorly understood and could have portent of critical severity. I think we need to be worried for the future. In fact I think it has already progressed far enough that some pain, perhaps severe pain is in the offing, pain that if we cannot avert we should at least be prepared to cope with. Do candidates for leadership in our nation – at all levels – really understand that, or do many of them suffer from similar ignorance, and myopic ism?

We must be mobilized; it is past time. Principles matter.

In Defense of Moderation

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 6th, 2014

I am a moderate! Gasp; what an admission in these modern times; everyone knows that moderation is tantamount to being a MugWump, a person ready and willing to surrender principles. Moderation? Oxford Dictionary: moderate: “avoiding extremes; a person who holds moderate views – temperate, calm, reasonable, cool, judicious, rational, balanced, unexcessive, modest, sober, sensible………”

It appears to me that we need a bit more of that, but then it would appear I am in the minority. I suggest much of that is due to these modern times of proud dissension and my-way-or-the-highway views on almost everything. This is not the way we launched the great experiment of 1778.

The most recent election suggests to me that things might be beginning to change, despite that our president made it clear that he listens to the 2/3 who didn’t vote as much as he listens to the 1/3 that did, whatever that means. Could it be possible – just possible – that people are tiring of high decibel dissension merely for the sake of pushing too-personal, and often arrogant and elistist opinions?

The rise of Tea and Libertarian “parties” might suggest such. How so, you might ask; are these not “parties” of dissension? Well, first of all they are not really parties, but factions of existing parties; however they might be dissenting, and too often, I might add, in the same vein. That requires some discussion, and thought beyond the superfluous.

The U.S. system began with the belief that it would be better to work out details of dissension within two competing national parties rather than allowing such dissension to make its way to the government level where it would necessarily lead to fragmented (that is, coalition) national governments. That worked for awhile – sort of – until our political parties evolved to be such dominating bases of political power that party policy transcended almost everything else. It also became the general assumption that each party had a fixed constituency, which is no longer true, if still widely believed. But because the two party system has become reality, today to vote other than one or the other is thought to be to throw away a vote. But dissension within each party has grown, mainly because neither has been able to maintain the flexibility necessary to deal with internal differences, especially as those differences have expanded, and even come to dominate. The challenge, as might be expected, is dealing with differences, which are a natural consequence of our kind of government: government “of the people” since people never have been much good at agreeing on much of anything.

I think there is little doubt that both Tea Party and Libertarian factions have made important contributions, because they felt the major parties were not paying enough attention to what they considered important; specifically the importance of fiscal conservatism and focus on limited and local government. What comes next? That remains to be seen, and each party is presumably dealing with the challenge in its own way – but so are the rest of us. What is at stake is critical to the futures of what our form of government is to become. It is incumbent upon each party to recognize that, and deal with it realistically if we are to continue to support what we have created. It is also worthwhile to suggest that both parties have become somewhat imperial in outlook, something against which The Federalist Papers warned; government by the people and an attitude of elitist representation are not compatible.

My purpose is not to delve into what that future might bring, but into the past upon which it has been constructed, although I shall take this opportunity to advise both party’s leaderships to take what has been happening seriously. Both parties have become too insular, to patriarchal, and not responsive enough to constituents. They have also been prone to try to exploit differences that are not as meaningful as they would like to have us believe; such as race, ethnicity, income and even culture. Our tendency to generalize and stereotype is bad enough, without their self-serving interference; we deserve better from them.

That past, our past, is based on principles, those which critics who attack my moderation seem to overlook, principles that must NOT be surrendered. They are well known to those that choose to reach back and recall them: checks, balances, separation of the responsibilities of government, rule-of-law, liberty and Federalism, and more; all carefully enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. More about them I think I need not alaborate.

But I thought that while at it I might add something about the relationship with Christianity, which was also built upon principles, which too often today are also being contested along with the trappings. I am not arguing religion in general, nor Christianity in particular, but the need to maintain focus on their principles; which, I might add, are also reflected in many other religions, though perhaps not as emphatically or sicinctly . The principles underlying both the American republic and Christianity are quite similar, which is not a coincidence. Those Christian principles should be also familiar enough that I need not reiterate them here.

It is my opinion that if both government and religion concentrated more on principles, and less on the many details that might emanate from trying to translate them into detailed laws and regulations, we would be better served. Differences of opinion, yes; that is inevitable – and healthy. Differences in principles? I vote an emphatic no. Would that we return to those principles, both of our republic and the religion that underlies it, and keep them in mind as we wrestle over the minute details of governing. It is THAT upon which our future depends.

And it is that upon which our increasingly arrogant (aristocratic?) political parties should give consideration. They should listen to what the people are saying, and reach out even as voices raised in organized opposition are being marginalized within them. They might, in the process, pay more attention to principles – even to explaining them to the uninitiated who would benefit. How they respond to these challenges is likely to affect their futures within our system of government; It should.

Rise Up, Ye Oppressed…………

Posted in Uncategorized by jerry betts on the November 4th, 2014

Problem is we are oppressing ourselves though complacency and indifference. My chosen topic for today began with that subject, but I changed it – and the focus, after receiving an email from a close friend in Richmond, Virginia – to what you see above.

In the email she told me that she had just gone out to pick up her newspaper, preparing to go out to vote in the election, and encountered her neighbor. He is a physician from Michigan, who is going through his internship in Richmond. At the end of her email she informed me that her neighbor didn’t know that today was election day and asked why she was going to vote. That set me off. What is happening to us?

Ok, complacency and indifference, but why? I think it starts with self-indulgence, that begins with our own pocket books (which is understandable), extends into surfeit of entertainment and social media, but is beginning to manifest itself in the kind of things with which I am about to harangue you, including another example from that same email. It was in response to another email I sent yesterday, which came back to me this morning as undeliverable; this is the fifth or sixth such – to her – in the past several weeks that have suffered the same fate, as have several others I have sent to others. My first reaction to the problem was to try and find out what I had done wrong, starting with checking the address I have been using, which is the same (saved and provided by the provider) that I have been using for many years. I am capable of making mistakes, in fact pretty good at it, but this is too much. The only conclusion I have been able to reach is that when my provider cannot handle the volume, it just rejects. So I should contact the provider; forget that. Have you tried contacting any of our big oligarchies cum monopolies lately? They are too big to care, and just trying to get bigger to blot out the entrepreneurial competition – my opinion, of course, I have no facts; and if I had, and presented them I might be putting myself in line to be sued. But you get my drift; this has been building with me for some time; nor am I alone in seeing it.

I have been compiling other examples from businesses I deal with (and CAN contact), many with the same reaction – but this comes from a different direction: employees who either don’t particularly want to work (but want to be paid), or are reluctant to take responsibility when they do. In that same vein, we are critical of our education system, with some justification; but I would suggest, should be seen from a another aspect: how about student interest; motivation to learn? Why is grading being eased? to make up for student failure to measure up, for lack of effort (not all, surely, but enough to get that response)? Another example that I recently discussed: putting down motivated black students by other black students for carrying books, and thereby trying to act white. Then yet another: A Muslim Mosque suing homeowners in a surrounding affluent area to try to coerce them to sell so that the Islamic community can expand into its desired – and expected (entitled) community. Can anyone see connectivity among all these?

It is about time we awakened to what is happening to us, and why. The what is that we are being taken advantage of by those who wish to share in what we have worked so hard and long to achieve, but prefer coercing rather than making similar effort. The why is our complacency and indifference – and growing lack of motivation – initiative. We have become so complacent with our comfort and affluence (we don’t think we are affluent, but we are in comparison to the rest of the world), and indifferent to what is happening around us, that we are not paying attention to where it CAN lead. What was it said about not having liberty for long if we are not prepared to defend it? Is that not what happened in Munich that precipitated our recent world wars, and is happening as we speak in Europe through similar reaction to intimidation? I know, ancient history and international events in which we have no interest. What will it take?

Yes, I am tilting at windmills; I do that; a lone voice in the wilderness. Well, this might surprise you, but I am not a lone voice; there are many out here like me, and more than a few that are raising their voices, however they are able, despite being mostly ignored by a complacent and monopoly-inclined media, supported by a government similarly inclined. This is not a right wing ultra-conservative screed; it is reaching out to reality. I, after all, am a moderate, continually damned for such temerity. What is happening to us; what will it take?

Rise up, ye oppressed, before it’s too late; take to the barricades. To fight what? ourselves and our ignorant, indifferent complacency and indifference.

Too dramatic, change the channels and send a tweet. I think it is happening though, and those of us who realize what we have in this country, and want to preserve it, are beginning to stand up, and hope to drag self-indulgent millennials along with us; tough fight, but it is not too late. And we, by God, SHALL overcome.

Beginning with today’s election.

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