Why would anyone want to be a politician? Do they – people who embark on that road – even know? Do they know what politicians do? What is required of them? How they function on a daily basis in the process?
I suppose one must begin with qualifications; you laugh. Actually there are qualifications for politicians, even if too many voters either don’t know it or don’t appreciate it. I also suggest that qualifications are dependent upon what they do, so that is a place to start. I once challenged the need for “charisma,” and my father patiently explained it to me. Charisma (Oxford 1996): ability to inspire followers with devotion and enthusiasm; an attractive aura, great charm. My father put it more succinctly: a salesman. Think about what salesmen have to do; to sell? No, that’s not all they have to do, but it sure helps; and the rest? Let’s simplify by just saying they have to know the product they are trying to sell.
So what does that have to do with politicians? Politicians are salesmen: first they have to sell themselves to voters; second they have to sell ideas to constituents; and third they have to sell those same ideas to their colleagues to get them passed as law or considered as regulation. That, in a nutshell, is what politicians do.
So that is what people who want to be politicians expect to do? Maybe they don’t think about it that way, but if they don’t, maybe they ought not to consider the career field; because that is what politicians are expected to do, and actually have to do, if they are to be successful. I have read that over half the people in our country are “salesmen” in the broad sense of the word: selling themselves, selling ideas and persuading people to buy both – usually through negotiation, and that often means compromising, as well, of course, as selling products. So what if politicians won’t compromise? Since no one always gets exactly what they want, if they don’t compromise that makes it as difficult to be a successful politician as does ability to campaign, write and pass bills – as well, of course, knowing what they are talking about – and selling. And so why do we have – in the opinion that seems to be extant today – bad politicians? Surely one reason is inability – refusal – to compromise; of course compromise takes cooperation on both sides, so sometimes it’s tough, and then there can be deadlock, and that is what is happening too often today at our national level; which leads us in another direction.
That direction is another reason some want to be politicians: power. And that adds another level to wanting to become a politician today: politicians in a democratic republic don’t HAVE that much power, unless their party rules alone; and that is not a democratic republic; some today don’t seem to understand that, and that’s a problem for those who understand what politicians are there for, and are willing to do it. Obviously this aspect of politics has deep ramifications, and this is not the place to pursue them, but perhaps one of the reasons politics has become so contentious is that some – many? – get into it and don’t realize what is entailed.
And that brings up what I would suggest should be the capstone of being a politician: doing what’s best for the level of government the politician is representing; nationally that is country, at other levels it is state, county, city or district, and a democratically elected politician is representing a constituency. But it’s not as simple as reading a poll. because many constituents are hazy on just what is good for them – or much else, for that matter. So? So the politician is responsible for educating them, and then selling them,even selling them on something that is not particularly pleasant to voters – in the short run, for that is how constituents think; in the short run. Sometimes short run good for an individual is bad for the country or state or county or district and therefore ultimately bad for that same individual in the long run. since in the long run we are likely to succeed or fail together. And many constituents just don’t get that; and might not even care about the long run – or anything else for that matter, save me, now. That makes it tough.
And that’s what brings us back to qualifications; a good politician has to know what he’s talking about. So he has to know everything? No, no one can know everything, but he has to either know or be aware of resources that can be tapped to get the information that’s needed – and preferably both; and that’s also tough, because suddenly the conscientious politician is faced with differing opinions either among constituents, colleagues, expert references or political opponents; and even the “experts” can differ. That is the most difficult task with which a politician has to deal: what should be done, how important are the differences of opinion as to options, what can be compromised, and how; and what can not be compromised, and how that must be handled.
So we arrive back at the initial question: why would anyone want to be a politician? Perhaps too many who think they do want to be politicians don’t appreciate what’s expected of them, and thus have unrealistic expectations, and to make that more difficult yet, how many voters also don’t realize what the job not only entails, but SHOULD entail. Of course those that think only of power don’t understand representative government.
It’s tough, if one does it right, and in our form of government the doing it right can be critical. You know where this tangent leads, and should be aware of the problems that are associated with it, since we see examples of it every day: politicians who do not know their jobs and cannot do them – or either don’t know it or won’t believe it. But that’s where we as voters come in: make it tougher!!
I believe, perhaps because I want to believe, that an awareness of realism is coming back, so I was attentive when I saw articles addressing approach to realism in government. The kickoff was an article in Council of Foreign Relations, written by Fred Kaplan, extolling how well the current administration is pursuing it; another, by Kori Shake (former GW Bush adviser) in Commentary refuted this position. But on 5 March Ben Domenech, in The Transom, joined in, citing both articles, making this observation: “The Obama Administration is extremely unlikely to wake up to the downfalls of its approach to global affairs. But the right should avoid the temptation to fall prey to their old biases in this moment. It’s time for a forceful call for return to living in a reality-based world, and rejecting the naïvete of both the neoconservative right and the academic left. Otherwise we’re just going to be swinging between the naïvete which marked Bush’s second term and Obama’s tenure for the foreseeable future.”
I agree with Domenech, that it’s time “for return to living in a reality-based world, and rejecting the naïvete of both the neoconservative right and the academic left.” But what is realism? It would seem that is what the contention is all about. I would suggest, by going back to the observation attached to scientific method; or my favorite: read, think and observe, my definition of philosophy. The one thing that I find, through observation, that it is impossible to miss, is something I have always referred to as human nature: people are as they are and one must understand what that is, through observation. Just because we have a view and feel everyone else should exhibit the same, doesn’t mean it will happen that way.
That, of course, leads back to much that I have ruminated about in the past; that’s the way it is, it all kinds of comes together after awhile. Or: “Read, think (and observe), disagree with everything, if you like — but force your mind outward” (Once An Eagle, Anton Myrer). But also, as I recently read, about democracy: we have been working on it for a long time, and still have difficulties with it, and in fact practiced it even before we became a republic; to expect a country – or region – without such experience, or even the institutions that underpin it, to jump right into it, is ludicrous. Or as has otherwise often been said, republican government (“democracy”) is still in the experimental stage, and, historically, hierarchy or authoritarianism is not only more common, but more comfortable to many. We can see this by watching the frustration of those trying to govern wanting to resort to such an approach: just do as I say. We’re seeing this not only at our national level, but also on many other levels, as it seems to them that it works; maybe it’s catching; maybe it’s easier to sink back into old ways than to learn new ones, especially if they prove frustrating.
Add to that another of my common observations – and a throwback tangent – that in order be able to read, think (and observe) there must be experience to do so; and that doesn’t have to be formal education, althought that helps; at many levels doing something, or experiencing it, has almost as important an impact – if it is addressed with an open mind, with a desire to learn from it. Thousands of years of the history of man, whether or not we are willing to recognize it and see if for what it is, would suggest a pattern. Would that we give that pattern the attention it deserves, and realize that it is not going to be overturned overnight, or in a year, or perhaps even over centuries. Even beyond that, we need to EXPECT that from our leaders.
So, reality. Like it or not, history is reality; so is culture; religion is part of reality. So, like it or not, but in a different context, is entertainment so viewed, and the opinions it helps to spawn, and perhaps that is part of the problem of today’s new culture; it is accepted as reality, without being REAL. Want to see a form of that reality? check out the comments at the end of on-line articles; they, I would contend, are an indicator of our era: opinions expressed, but also the forum to express them for others to see – and perhaps internalize. A new view of life these days (recent article in The Federalist) seems to be that everyone has an opinion, and anyone’s is just as valid as anyone else’s – regardless of experience, background knowledge or citation of accepted fact; something I like to refer to as the American Idol mentality. Such is NOT reality, but it is being taken as such today, often without question.
So to another of my old saws: reality versus fantasy. Is fantasy becoming the “new reality”? Some seem to think so, but, with all due apologies, IT IS NOT – by definition. Which is why I like to believe that realism is coming back; but for it to do so requires that we learn to differentiate reality from fantasy, and thus return to understand just what realism is.
This is what it is all about, isn’t it? fame and fortune? That is the impression one seems to get in watching our culture speed by. Why? Because…well, that’s what it’s all about, fame and fortune.
I read not long ago that “a poll” had discovered that something like 50% of young people actually believed that they would be famous within their lifetime. Now, we all know about polls, even scientifically applied; they ask questions answered by people. And what constitutes “famous?” Could having a million “friends” on Facebook constitute fame? How about appearing on America has Talent, or whatever it is called these days? Fame? More likely it is associated with entertainment, since entertainment is the favorite fantasy these days. But why fame? Because fame means riches? I suggest that the two are associated in most minds, or at least young minds, today: fame = fortune, QED.
We all know that is not entirely so, because some fame is negative fame; but is even that desirable to some. Is just appearing on television and being seen, fame? Is being the most popular student in school? Is being a well known sports figure? None of these equates to riches, or fortune. On the other hand many people with significant property are not famous; in fact, many well-to-do people – outside of entertainment are not famous in the way many think of fame. So perhaps both fame and fortune are relative, as well as their relationship one to the other, and that could skew polls among those replying who merely latch on to the word and whatever meaning it has for them.
So fame and fortune; fortune is easy enough, people want to be rich, because that means wealth – owning stuff; in our culture that is important, and has always been to many, because we adore stuff. But fortune can be more; it can include power. And what is the primary purpose of power? Respondents to that question might give different answers, but I would suggest they all come down to one: getting what they want. That might be wealth, it might be influence; it might even be the desire to do good in the world, however the respondent may view doing good. But power almost always has to do with the ability to get things done, and that usually is accompanied by wealth, or at least riches, however transient. Is that fair?
Why wealth, riches? Why not just relative comfort or security? It seems to be the way we are; once on the way, people always seem to want more – or stated differently, do not have enough to satisfy them. By most world standards there are no poverty ridden poor in the United States; As Ronald Reagan famously said, if there are (I think he actually said people who are hungry) they just don’t know where to go. But there are many who consider themselves, if not poverty stricken, at least poor. That’s also relative, of course, but that’s not the way people generally see it, and propaganda may be responsible for much of it: rich and the poor dominating the national awareness. All seem to secretly or not so secretly want the egregious luxuries to which they are exposed – that is, to what the wealthiest have, to enjoy and display for all to see – and envy. Retirement? People seem to want to retire with as much wealth as they lived with while working, at least partly because they want to travel to see the wonders of the world; at least that is what many say. I have watched some of those travelers partaking in the wonders of the world, with little apparent appreciation, or motive than to be able to return home and talk about it; few seem to actually try to experience much beyond the flamboyant tourist attractions designed to entertain and titillate them.
So if I sound skeptical, I am; envious? actually not, although you might not believe that. Comfort? yes, we all prefer to live in comfort, but again, that is relative. How big a home do we need? How luxurious an automobile, or automobiles? And how many vacations? All relative, but susceptible to envy – and propaganda, particularly advertising propaganda, that whets appetites, which it is designed to do.
And what do parents want for their children, at least most parents today? the same? a GOOD job,and therefor the BEST education, that will guarantee it; that will guarantee it, that is, not just make it possible. I equate that to excess expectation, about which I once wrote a book, so we won’t venture there, although I will say that good relationships, family and children, or other relationships are assumed to be part of the package, even though our recent history would suggest otherwise. If fame and fortune are the expectation, is fantasy the vehicle that carries us there?
Only, I would suggest that more often than not it doesn’t carry us there, because…..it too often turns out to be no more than fantasy. Happiness? does that apply? Do we even know what happiness is? We think we do, but how often does that turn out to be fantasy too?
So why have goals? Why have dreams? Is that what I am suggesting? On the contrary, I think goals, even dreams, are essential, but they must be realistic. And what, pray tell, does that mean? Well, it takes us on yet another tangent, but essentially it means that we need to know who we are, what we like and can achieve, and what it would take to achieve it; something very difficult for young people to be able to determine, with the little – and fantasy tipped – assistance from too many of their parents and elders. Being realistic, incidentally, does not mean limiting goals, but it does mean understanding the limits that life imposes, and the additional demands that continuing to pursue them create. Are they worth it? They very well might be, IF they are realistically possible, and that is what has to be determined, one step at a time along that road. But the fantasy of fame and fortune in and of themselves constitute shallow goals; if they are to come they should come as a result, not a goal per se, and even then we should watch out what we wish for, as fame and fortune have costs too, both in terms of what must be given up for them and what they might do to us if actually reached.
So, first fantasy, and then fame an fortune? If that is the ultimate goal in life I would suggest it is a shallow one. But then maybe that’s where we are. I hope not, but then I guess we’ll find out.
I have always considered this an interesting subject: just what is intelligence? Mental processing speed or ability? Memory capacity and accessing? Problem solving ability? Those are common parts of a definition, and there are surely more; one I seldom hear, and would vote very strongly for is motivation or drive – for what? learning, knowledge, information and such. And let me throw in another that kind of fits in with all the above: not oversimplifying; And that could possibly be simplified to patience, not being too quick to believe or accept.
There are more people with intelligence than there are who use their intelligence for practical purposes. So? Well, that’s the prerogative for those that don’t; and there are many who prefer other endeavors to practicality; intelligence is used, and probably should be, for that which people who display it, orwish to direct it. That generally means using it for what they want to use it for, what they like.
My thrust, as is probably apparent, is toward the practical, and thus thinking; which, of course, does not preclude the non-practical from thinking, or even limit thinking to practicality. Thinking, after all, is important. In consideration of that however, I have to point out that it can be used for that which is illegal and disruptive; what one thinks about is not limited in any way, unfortunately. So when I discuss thinking I am limiting the discussion to positive, productive and practical thinking; there, satisfied?
Note, please, that although the act of accumulating information may require intelligence, just because one accumulates it and even thinks about it does not make him/her intelligent. I add that because we seem to have a propensity to attribute too much to accumulating knowledge and using it to impress or influence the thinking of others. And that’s where over-simplification comes in: too many thinkers, even positive, productive and practical thinkers stop too soon, and accept the obvious – or limit their information accumulation due to closed minds.
Intelligence is a many flavored word, with different meanings to different people, and there are those that either accumulate information or admire those that do, that are quite satisfied with that as an end in itself; which is why I add thinking, critical thinking, to the mix – with an open mind. Over-simplification is similar, in that it can also limit the scope of information available. Whereas a closed mind deliberately limits information, over-simplification limits it by accepting what is presented without question. We see both: people, who are perfectly capable of thinking, and do, sometimes, limiting scope either deliberately or through laziness. Since we are speaking of words, we might throw in KNOWledge, versus information. This gets quite murky, and emphasizes the value of thinking; allow me several quotations: too many people know things that are wrong; and everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but NOT their own facts. We know full well that intelligent thinking people can come to different conclusions, despite deep – and critical – thinking. Thinking does not translate information into facts, and when facts are illusive, there will be differences of opinions. That does not make the need for thinking any less important; but the information that is included in opinion should be supported by the benefit of thoughtful consideration.
Confusing? Sure it is, many of the words – or concepts they represent – can be confusing when you start thinking about them, particularly as they are seen in different lights by different people; because they represent a different mix of variables to each, including the focus on their analysis and backgrounds. Thus I would contend you could say there are many kinds of (forms of?), applications of intelligence, as well as many levels of intelligence; just as information, knowledge and opinion quickly blur together. No one can know everything, but then, when a preponderance of information accumulates on one side of the scale, does that make it fact, or even KNOWledge, for that matter? So we should not think we have to be “intelligent”, whatever that might mean, to read, listen, discuss, think and compare – and attempt to come to a conclusion that satisfies us individually; PROVIDED we are able to defend it and don’t close our minds to new information as it arrives.
That’s the beauty of THINKING; one doesn’t have to be THAT intelligent to think; but one must be INTELLIGENT ENOUGH to be to accumulate enough information to be able to defend a position, and be able to listen to and think about opposing, or even information-ADDING arguments, or discussion; if you prefer. That is where thinking, even for those of us who are not so greatly endowed with intelligence, can be both useful and rewarding; it’s kind of fun too. We should all try to give it a fair chance. Another interesting and related word comes to mind: compromise; but that’s a subject for another time.
Our world’s history, from the beginning, is marked by clear recognition of inequality of capability, and thus developed along hierarchical lines, starting with family groups, progressing to clans and tribes and going on from there. In more modern times the experience with aristocracy, kings and emperors and such are familiar enough from history books, but plenty of current examples around the world still exist. “Democracy” (republican form of government) is still an experiment, and has problems, which, unfortunately, are apparent enough; Churchill described it as a poor form of government, but head and shoulders above the next best; but to be fair the jury may still be out on that.
Nor is the argument over hierarchical ability and egalitarianism anywhere near over, as I was reminded, as if I needed a reminder, by an item from Ben Domenech’s The Transom website several days ago. The subject was (my interpretation) influence, and the platform was campaign financing for political candidates. But we’ll get back to that.
Elitism is a natural result of hierarchy: those with greater ability feel they are better qualified to make decisions that affect their fellow man than those less qualified. We will not go into the basis of qualification or how one reaches a position of being better qualified, although I will touch on it before I finish. The fact is that there are those who consider themselves, and to be honest, are considered by others to be “elite” (the so called one percent is a current popular example); and we are painfully aware that there is another end of the spectrum that is demonstrably with very little qulification, the definition of which elicits another need for opinion that is beyond today’s discussion. Obviously, however, many elite feel it is their calling – their “duty” and the privilege of that “position” to explain to others what they need to do, and even how they should do it, and when elected or appointed to public responsibility feel executing it is their prerogative. To be fair, others are hired and paid in the private sector to do the same, and are rated and paid based on their ability to do so.
Before continuing I need to say that years ago I progressed through a period where I questioned “the wisdom of the masses” for identifying those who should be given public responsibility, through election of representatives through popular vote – and the subsequent selection by them of those that would assist them – and thought that selection of “qualified” professionals” might be a more efficient way to go: we needed to be led by those qualified to lead, particularly where experience was important; the current trend of extending the approach used for voting for American idol to national leadership would have accentuated that, warm fuzzies and emotion being no substitute for qualification. But the experience with our current administration, and its questionably qualified leadership, both elected and appointed, would have finally terminated that position had I not already begun to have questions about it anyway. But herein lies the basis of the great debate – and elitism: how should we make selections for those critical leadership positions? How do we identify ability? Before progressing further, let me present the excerpt from the 18 February edition of The Transom.
BIG MONEY STRIKES BACK:
On the left and right, the 1 percent are working to shift priorities and alter the agenda according to their own priorities. On the left, Tom Steyer wants a climate agenda, and he wants it now. http://vlt.tc/1aoi* “A billionaire retired investor is forging plans to spend as much as $100 million during the 2014 election, seeking to pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers. The donor, Tom Steyer, a Democrat who founded one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, burst onto the national political scene during last year’s elections, when he spent $11 million to help elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia and millions more intervening in a Democratic congressional primary in Massachusetts. Now he is rallying other deep-pocketed donors, seeking to build a war chest that would make his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, among the largest outside groups in the country, similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch.”
“In early February, Mr. Steyer gathered two dozen of the country’s leading liberal donors and environmental philanthropists to his 1,800-acre ranch in Pescadero, Calif. — which raises prime grass-fed beef — to ask them to join his efforts. People involved in the discussions say Mr. Steyer is seeking to raise $50 million from other donors to match $50 million of his own. The money would move through Mr. Steyer’s fast-growing, San Francisco-based political apparatus into select 2014 races. Targets include the governor’s race in Florida, where the incumbent, Rick Scott, a first-term Republican, has said he does not believe that science has established that climate change is man-made. Mr. Steyer’s group is also looking at the Senate race in Iowa, in the hope that a win for the Democratic candidate, Representative Bruce Braley, an outspoken proponent of measures to limit climate change, could help shape the 2016 presidential nominating contests.”
And on the right, Paul Singer wants a GOP that focuses more on immigration and gay rights. http://vlt.tc/1aoj* “The ideological and tactical contours of Singer’s plans remain somewhat unclear, as does the membership of the American Opportunity Alliance, which is registered as a for-profit corporation in Delaware. If nothing else, though, the group appears to represent a new center of gravity in the world of GOP money, anchored by a famously prolific Republican bundler with a distinct ideological agenda.”
“Singer, who founded the hedge fund Elliott Management, has long been a key player in GOP money circles, espousing a nontraditional brand of conservatism that includes aggressive backing for gay marriage and immigration reform, as well as more traditional GOP stances like lower taxes and less government regulation. Contributors to the joint fundraising account for Senate candidates — a list that likely dovetails at least partially with the American Opportunity Alliance’s member rolls — include a mix of gay marriage supporters like Todd Ricketts and billionaire investor Cliff Asness, as well as more conventional fiscal conservatives like brokerage titan Charles Schwab and real estate developer Harlan Crow.”
(* link addresses are internal links to The Transom and are not accessible here)
To me this is example of elitism as practiced today at a time when money is a key, perhaps the key, ingredient of elections; because of the powerful influence of payed political advertisements on digital media, by both businesses (which pay to have them made for their own enterprises, as they always do for can be returned as sales and profits), and politicians (who have them made and paid for via contributions for for the same reason – but what they look for in return is votes from voters). Advertisements, I must remind, are a form of propaganda, which is nothing more than presentation of selected information, telling only what propagandists want targets to know, motivations being similar for business or politicians. Powerful economic elites who get the returns via business profits are only doing what such elites do: pushing their own agendas; political elites are doing the same. Is that wrong? Well, in politics a law was passed to restrict personal contributions to political campaigns – but was circumvented by PACs (political action committees) upon which no such limits were imposed, based on the right to freedom of speech considerations. Note that political contributions do not constitute paid advertising, but presumably are made to achieve returns in other ways – essentially buying influence. The except above seems to me to be an indication of the consolitation of elite motivation. This may seem a reach on my part, but think about it, why else would contributions be made? Influence, of course, comes in many different forms, some legitimate and some more questionable.
So elites want to dominate national policy; elites tend to kind of want to dominate everything; it is part of being elite, is it not? If they can assure the election of senators, representatives and the president with like interests they have a good start toward getting the national policy they want – making laws mandating that the people follow their policy dictates – and thus molding national policies that have returns they espouse; which, after all is what all voters want, right? What is the difference between wanting national policy for ideological reasons and national policy that ties back to winning contracts? That is a very blurry area, and to try and establish the difference as between patriotic and selfish is too simple. On the other hand, and this is critical, there has always been a pretty valid assumption that not all elites are created equal, and thus have different policy views, and many contributors in the past have tended to hedge their bets, contributing to both sides so they can help to exert their influence regardless of which side wins. So I would argue that elite (proven ability) has less to do with it than elite (the desire to influence); but if contributions are heavily skewed toward only one side? Where influence becomes bribery, is a very more problematic matter.
Bribery is pretty harsh; let’s face it, politicians have always used propaganda for the purpose of being elected: promise them what they want; and the elite have always tried to buy influence. One must decide for one’s self at what point either one becomes actual bribery. The political end of that, incidentally was an early reason (Scottish professor Tytler in 1797) for arguing that democracy could never work. The other end of that has always existed and is likely always to. So what’s different today? The amount of money, what it buys, and how slavishly a large portion of of the electorate consistently ingest the lavish propaganda of modern digital communications. But going beyond that there is yet something else, more subtle; it is the shrinking of the middle class. So what is middle class? the great mass in between the unthinking gullibly unaware and the elite. Why is it shrinking? For many reasons, too complex to get into here, but the result is that there are fewer between elite and clueless/indifferent. So what? There is never much contribution money at the clueless/indifferent end, and there is less and less now from a shrinking middle class; so where is the big money coming from? The wealthy elite, mostly (in terms of volume), and PAC funds which they influence – which pays for the advertising that influences the ingesting class, which is pretty much all the rest of us. And which propaganda are they more likely to believe? The message, of course, is important, but confusing; believing what they want to believe is also important; and whether or not they respond to attack or promise is as well. But frequency of repeating of a message, whether positive or negative, can also make a big difference. And which messenge, everything else being equal, is it the propondance of voters will likely to believe? the one most often repeated. Which takes us back to the funding of propaganda, as described in the Domenech’s exerpt; and to put it bluntly, who has the most money to spend on digital advertising. Elites, through controlled PACs?
I would suggest, despite all the other theories being thrown about, mostly based on a monetary definition of what comprises middle class, that voters are buying into the hype that the elites are out to screw them; even as many of those elites are funding that advertising; and through that advertising they are being influenced by – big money. Is that the same as elite? Yes and no; it is certainly one aspect of elite; but there are others and they include Media and, to a certain extent, academia who are contributing to the domination of the message. Well, you might say, isn’t that what the voting is all about?
Actually, in a way it is, but let’s see why today it might be becoming somewhat different. The key to America has always been the relatively thinking middle class, and as it shrinks, and as a large enough proportion of it seems to be being lured in one direction, because the high decibel, yet at the same time mesmerizing entertaining propaganda is luring them in that direction. Has that not always been the case? We have never before had this level of popular and convincing digital entertainment/communication, being, I would argue, as broadly influenced at the top levels as it is. Nor has life, politics and economics been so complex – and views of it more convoluted and contentious; which is why, I would contend, that influencing – controlling the vote of the middle class – or middle ground in my favored parlance – is so critical.
Maybe the pendulum is swinging, and people are becoming more aware of reality, and suspicious of slickly delivered propaganda, particularly negative propaganda, to which human nature seems more likely to respond. Then again maybe they really believe; probably short-sightedly due to the nature of the digital propaganda, but either way that’s the way human nature is; in which case that is the direction in which it will all go. But the decision solicited from voters is not a trivial one and it will have long term repercussions, and there are likely to be be many unintended consequences. These, we, the voters, need to consider very carefully, because the implications are serious and could be of long lasting duration, if policy changes turn out to be sufficiently drastic. That may be a convoluted way of getting there, but I am suggesting that Big money, supported by a persuasive personal message, delivered via digital media, particularly to a shrinking thinking middle class is having a serious effect. Is that what we want? More appropriately, is that what is best in the long run for our nation?
Finally, going back to qualifications, are people with “higher qualifications” better able to make complex decisions? Unquestionably they are, in areas of their competence, because, by definition, they are more highly qualified – in those areas. But will they? Some of that might depend on ideology, but some on self interest; humans are complex. Can we trust them to make decisions on that basis? We once thought so, due to the bonds that pulled us together, the bonds of belief in liberty and individuality, to say nothing of devotion to country; which might be being tested. And then there are those people whose qualifications are suspect, or should be. So, we don’t need qualified people? Life is not a yes and no game, but a game of hues and yes, buts. We need competence at all levels of government, as in other endeavors, and, as well, in national leadership – at all levels, and we need the influence of a variety of competence qualifications at all levels of our lives; that should be self evident. But, as I say, life is a game of hues; and vastly varying opinions; and yes, buts. Who determines competence – qualifications – in our American culture? In government the voters do, through their selection of leaders. It can work; it has worked, quite well; when the voters exercise wisdom. We shall see how much wisdom – beyond limited self interest, ignorance, complacency and gullibility – the voters have remaining, after highly financed mesmerizing propaganda, has washed over them. The stakes are high, and competence and ability are open to judgment – even when obscured by propaganda.
I previously maintained a website with the purpose of defending “The Middle Ground”, my term for moderation. Yahoo stopped supporting that site, but I can still access it, and do, occasionally. This is something I just lifted from it (and modified slightly), and chose to pass on again – on this website. Not much in my thinking has changed; is that good or does it mean I am no longer growing?
Life is complex – and it’s becoming more so. We have a populous world and lots of folks scratching around to take care of themselves, willing to do what they need to do for the sake of old number one: self, family, clan. But that won’t cut it. We have survived all these millennia by working together – well, sort of, grudgingly – and will continue to do so, or we won’t.
Governments complicate this picture because they attempt to organize their populations in one way or another, and in so doing the states they represent can be viewed something like their populations, with personalities (cultures), interests and
objective (policies). But those change with events. In fact our world is in a state of constant change, and therein lies the challenge. To completely understand is difficult, perhaps impossible, because each state is full of different people with different ideas and different situations, all in a continual state of change. But we must try – with open mind we must try.
The problem has to do with knowledge and understanding of it, but what knowledge? Knowledge is also constantly changing. Such is the nature of man – continual change. In such a world the pursuit of knowledge is critically important, but
the amount of ignorance is legion, and the amount of disinformation for selfish purposes confuses the issue.
The Middle Ground, that which exists between the emotional extremes has to be defended. It is where our future lies – else there is no future. In that interest a particular objective of this website is to highlight the need to search for and
pursue knowledge wherever it might be found – and then think about it, not emotionally, but logically and with an open mind. We must THINK about it, for that is the way knowledge is gained. Knowledge for what? To define and defend the Middle Ground. Another purpose is to provide me a forum to share my thoughts and interpretations of what I have gleaned through reading and discussion, and in the process, formulate them – a process that generates thinking. There is no better way to think than to try to express an idea or thought in written form. That leads to my ultimate purpose: to encourage others to think about that which I throw out for consideration and develop their own positions on them, for their own edification.
I have published an attempt to do that. I am currently working on another (which this has become) and can attest to the challenge it presents. But the rewards are great – not monetary rewards, but rewards of knowledge – and experience thinking about it…And finally it’s kind of fun.
The subjects I try to cover are, I believe to be of concern to us all, although they are whatever I think are worth addressing at the moment. We may have different opinions as to how they should be addressed, but however that may be, they need to be of concern, at least in my opinion. Unfortunately we seem to have trouble agreeing with much these days, and perhaps that is understandable, since we each have our own perspective – and more importantly, perhaps, our own vulnerability in how the outcome might be decided and pursued. In other words it depends on how much skin we might have in the game and whether we have an ox to gore. Let’s face it, that’s the way it is. But fighting over the differences is not the answer – finding Middle Ground is.
Scientific method is probably responsible for most of our great advance in technology, because it added a discipline to thinking. In concept it is simple: make an assumption; identify the variables that apply to it; and test, changing one variable at a time and holding the rest constant. Doing that, of course, is challenging – and, also of course, requires knowledge and experience. It also requires an open mind, not only to selection of variables, but in admitting the results, and accepting when the assumption is proved false – and altering it, and starting over.
There is much to learn from the process, to say nothing of what comes from it – finally. Patience is one thing; it takes time; each variable testing takes time; testing ALL the variables before coming to a conclusion does too. Patience is a virtue, but discipline is a necessity. Too often today, with remunerative results beckoning, that’s asking a lot, not only for the scientist (or other tester) but anxious blabbers (media for example) seeking an edge.
Another is learning from mistakes, something else that has become more possible to endure. But added to that is avoiding becoming too impressed with self to either wait for or accept results; call it overzealous ego – or arrogance, if you like. That is a serious danger, when great (or would be) intelligence or talent is involved.
Thinking is another requirement for, and lesson to be learned from applying scientific method; it is honed by the method. So is defending – to self or colleagues; honest internal communication, something that is not always so easy or straight forward. One learns also not to take self too seriously; brilliance, after all, is one thing, but motivation and drive must accompany, along with the patience. Motivation, of course, and confidence, as well as ability, go without saying, but they are more variable and complex than one might think.
But it goes beyond the field of just science as we might expect to think about it, for today there are many forms of study, beyond what we think of as traditional science, to which the same method applies; let’s just call it research, and particularly “social” research. I was recently reminded of this reading an article by Professors Amy Chua and Jeb Rubenfeld (Yale Law School) about their new book entitled “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”
They push beyond the mere statistics accepted by too many, challenge current popular American egalitarian/privilege beliefs and suggest that “for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex – a deep seated belief in their exceptionality. The second…insecurity, a feeling that you or what you have done is not good enough. The third is impulse control” – patience. No one of these, they argue, is enough by itself, but a combination: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to improve oneself and the ability to resist the present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.
The book uses scientific method to produce it, but also explains in the process traits they argue are embodiment of it, which both derive from and contribute to both process and results. “A seemingly un-American fact about America today is that for some groups, much more than others, upward mobility and the American dream are alive and well” and rather than accepting that, understanding it, and employing it, too many are preferring complacency and self-congratulation. There is much to think about.
This has been one of my favorite subjects – because it is so often encountered.
Here is my latest example: an article suggesting that the number of accident fatalities has increased dramatically recently, mainly due to driving under the influence – of marijuana. And, that drug influenced accidents are more likely to lead to fatalities. Unintended consequence. Not only of using it, but legalizing it in at least two states – and considering broadening that legalization in others. Which is not to say that alcohol related accidents are any less a problem than they have been; in fact alcohol AND drugs, taken together have even more severe consequences. Surprise, surprise. So why unintended?
We make decisions in many different ways: some are emotional; some are limited by vision, either in terms of the space of time viewed, or in terms of variables considered; others are made without much thinking at all, for whatever reason; stil others are made due to ignorance of facts that should be known. Of course there are stil others that are made due to reasonable ignorance, things we didn’t know and reasonably couldn’t be expected to know.
Unfortunately, governments are prone to make bad decisions due to unintended consequences for many of the same reasons, and others: they are in too much of a hurry for whatever reasons, responsible staffers lack necessary experience; and there is obfuscation due to the importance of desired consequences, which are primarily because voters favor them and THEY are unaware of intended consequences. Yes, adding another cause, similar to alcohol related lack of concentration while driving, could cause a probem – but the voters favor it, even the majority of voters might; this is why we do not have government decisions soley based on majority approval.
But, and this is a different kind of unintended consequence: if every little potential problem resulted in a law or regulation to preclude it, we would have total gridlock – of everything; but then even the proposed solution might be subject to unintended consequences – forcing “their” consideration. We cannot, after all, eliminate all unintended consequences; we do many things to keep something from happening, and end up causing something worse to happen: unintended consequence. So there must be reasoning when jumping into this arena: we can never eliminate ALL unintended consequences.
Which does NOT mean we can’t make a more intelligent and considered attempt to THINK about them and give consideration to their risk of happening. Another article I just read suggested that a one percent increase in subsidy, such as in remuneration with respect to Obacare eligibility, could result in a significan increase in insurance costs, or preclude a job seeker from seeking a job where this is the case. Yes, but there has to be a cut off somewhere; but were such consequences considered in developing criteria? Note that this can also result in total gridlock, as ever more possible consequences are sought, ad infinitum. In fact, I might add, is this not one of the reasons for the complications added by lawsuits as aided by aggressive lawyers? No one would suggest an elimination of valid lawsuits, but….
It is easy to see where concentration on unintended consequences could lead…well, unintended consequences. This occurred to me as I tried to develop this line of thinking. So does that make it invalid? I would suggest not, but accept that it must be limited by reasoned thinking. That, of course, is why lawmaking is so complex and challenging, and why, as I have suggested elsewhere, we should give deep consideration to the ability and experience of the people we elect – BUT also who are appointed, something over which voters have little control, except through their representatives, when Congressional approval is required for the appointment. And if all government hires required Congressional approval? Easily seen as creating another unintended consequence – and gridlock.
Thus I have suggested limitations to an argument in which I stongly believed: an attempt to eliminate unintended consequences by giving more thought to what they might be. Limitations, yes, but not elimination of; we need to do better, but not to the exclusion of reasoning, which, of course, is thinking. And here again is the challenge to lawmakers – and voters. It really is and important responsibility. Ahhhhhhh responsibility; yet another subject for consideration. You see, it really is all connected, and that takes……………..well, a lot of thinking on our parts.
Before I begin let me make several administrative comments. If you have sent me a comment and I have not responded it is because the comment has not passed through Yahoo’s screening process; I try to answer all comments that I do finally receive. I just now found that I can access comments still in queue, but I cannot respond to them (205 have already been consigned to spam – that is only of the current batch, however). Beyond that there are currently 254 in active comments queue and I just went through them; most are advertisements, some are in Chinese, others are intelligible. But allow me to make some general responses: the software I use is provided by Yahoo Web Hosting (it’s simplest version since no sales, payment or order related capability need be supported – for my blog), and I think it is Word Press 3.8; I am informed that 3.8.1 is now available. I have received several very nice comments to which I wish I could reply, and will if they get through the screening; I have no idea what criteria they use, but over the years, they tell me, they have blocked thousands – for my security, and ultimately, perhaps, yours. As I think anyone who has sampled what I write is aware, I write for my own pleasure and edification; writing helps me develop my own thoughts, opinions and beliefs; and as I have written more than once, don’t take what I write as fact; take it as something to think about. A favorite quotation of mine comes from Anton Myrer from his book. Once an Eagle: “Read, think, disagree with everything, if you like – but force your mind outward.” I underline as I read and I read widely, because I love to; the other reason I write these blogs is to attempt to share some of what I have discovered with anyone interested in sampling it. Sharing, after all, is what makes us humans different from most other creatures – that and thinking. But for those that have made complimentary comments to me – to which I have not responded – I most appreciate them, and it helps me feel as I have made a contribution. Thank you very much.
Actually that kind of leads into the subject that I chose to address today. As things occur to me I jot the subjects down, often with notes, and address them as I feel inspired to do so; some never get that far. I sometimes do a little research, but frankly, not a great deal.
Today, however, one has to be blind or totally indifferent to not be continually bombarded by campaign propaganda, and I spend much time thinking about it, because I am an American, proud of my country and its form of government, and concerned. It is not perfect, and Winston Churchill said as much; paraphrasing, he said that democracy (republicanism actually – democratic selection of representatives) is a poor form of government, but it is head and shoulders above the next best. Which means it is not without problems. Without going into great detail, the problems are primarily human nature: people. Us.
Some voters are not interested enough to learn what they are voting for, but they vote. Others are easily led: propagandized. Propaganda, I might say again, as I have written it in the past, is not lies, although it can be; more commonly is is carefully selected information that presents the position of the propagandist, and omits that which does not fit his/her position: marketing (adverting) is propaganda (check the encyclopedia; ah, I date myself, the Internet); advertisers tell you what’s good about their products, and you wouldn’t after all, expect them to tell you what’s bad; after all, they are salesmen, selling a product they want you to buy.
Politicians are salesmen too; they are selling themselves in exchange for our votes and they are selling ideas they want us to have them vote for. Lies? Politicians are people too, and yes, sometimes they tell blatant lies; sometimes what they tell us are honest representation of their sincere beliefs; most often they are something in between. But consider, if they are personally sincere in wanting to improve what they see needs improvement they must omit any yes, buts else they would risk being replaced, and then not being able to make the contribution they feel they can make. So how can we know? By educating ourselves – asking questions, reading, comparing. Tough? yes; demanding? oh my, yes, but that is the cost of government “by the people.” Nor is that government pure majority: it was carefully constructed to check, balance and FORCE COMPROMISE. The “wisdom of the people” is that kind of wisdom, specifically to block a biased majority from steamrolling to victory. Perfect? Not by a long shot.
First, few voters take the time it takes to be knowledgeable; take that a step further: few students even take the time to learn – enough – when that is their sole occupation (theoretically their only occupation, we know better though). But even if they were, (voters, that is) many are prone to accept without question: they allow themselves to be propagandized. Television? Articles? Paid advertisements? The unquestioned statement of friends and colleagues? What, after all, is true? But then, remember what “they” say: there are as many opinions as there are – pick a piece of human anatomy – and people do not agree. Why do we have gridlock in Congress – and among voters? Because (at least hopefully) they have different opinions that they think are truth. There is not a right and wrong about what government should fund, or how. How much national defense (security) do we need? How much should the government assist individual citizens, and for what? And on and on and on. That is what makes government difficult: the people and their different opinions – and self interests, let’s not forget that.
And where do those opinions come from? Upbringing, experience, education both formal and self, and listening to “experts” who are? People, just like the rest of us, with the same – although refined – biases. But there is more. What is the most common form of information? I can not provide statics to support this and you might say I am wrong, so it is my educated opinion: written or electronic communications: television, computers, social networks, radio, books, magazines, articles, advertisements. We tend to be convinced by what we hear most. And what do we hear most? and why?
Give a thought to this; why do we hear what we hear most? Habit, I would suggest, and our most virulent habit: television. No, no you might say, my friends – and where do they hear it? To be elected today any prospective politician must have advertising; we are a nation of marketing and advertising; it’s where we get so much of our information. Why is X-box so popular? Why is the IPOD? Why is Hawaii. Ah, you say, my friend told me, and maybe he/she did, and maybe he/she had hands on experience; maybe. One of the interesting aspects of politics is name recognition; when voting, what name comes to mind? the one we have heard most? That’s one of the reasons incumbents have an advantage; but it’s also the reason we are seeing more and more celebrities elected. Are they the most highly qualified? Do we even know what the qualifications are for the jobs for which we are voting? Do we even know what the positions for which we are voting do?
One more and I’ll stop: who pays to develop all those opinions? Who pays to disseminate all that information that most of us accept as truth? Think about it. No would-be politician can hope to be successful without “getting the word out.” We are a mass consumer economy – a mass consumer culture. Information is a commodity, as so many others, that are bought, developed, sold – with MONEY, big money. And where does that come from? Investors, contributors, both large and small, but organized by people who do that for a living: political parties, spokesmen, political action committees (PACs), newsmen, even people on talk shows, but all has to be paid for. Is that wrong? No, it is the way life is; the responsibility is ours – to question, to learn, and to make our own decisions as best we can. We need to THINK beyond the immediate; we need to question: what might, just might, be the consequences of such actions? “Read, think, disagree with everything, if you like – but force your mind outward.” Freedom of speech, but expectation of responsibility.
If we want democratically selected representatives, representative OF THE PEOPLE, it is US that must make the right decisions. And if we then say, ok then let’s go with something else? we had better look at what that something else is, and how it has stood the test of time. Monarchy? Dictatorship? Communism? Theocracy? Tribalism? There is one conclusion that I find irresistible: it still all comes down to people, and people are fallible; human nature is flawed. Greed, avarice, cronyism, fraud…it’s a long list; so is envy, power, self-centeredness, emotion…and so on.
One final comment: watch out what you wish for; and appreciate what you have, even if it’s not perfect. And then do the best you can to make it as perfect as it can be, by selecting the best qualified people with the best motives – and truest and most realistic concern for what is best for what our nation has become – and can still become, better, if properly and as honestly as possible led and governed.
And with that thank you, to those who put up with me, and let me do what I do, and enjoy doing. Let’s face it, there are not that many of you, but I appreciate those of you who are out there, and care, and benefit from it. But don’t take my word for it; THINK about it, and LEARN by reading, listening and keeping an open mind.
Another thing “they” say: You the man (or woman; that’s not how it started, but let’s not go there)!!!!!
One of the most critical aspects to us, is us, individually. First, of course, WE are who we are; and that is important to us; in fact it has to be. Sometimes, these days it is surprising – and depressing – how many act as if they don’t know that. We ballyhoo self esteem, yet allow self respect to wash down the drain.
First of all, of utmost importance is knowing self, and that must place high importance on avoiding self delusion; obviously. Is it? More than self concern and self preservation, that means being able to stand back and evaluate; to identify weaknesses and faults – but also strengths. Who can do it better than self? with assistance, perhaps, but that generally comes only when it’s asked for, else it comes out as criticism, which is prone to elicit quick rejection from those that resent it.
Self absorption, on the other hand, is prescription for failure; why? because it blocks self evaluation, self realism.
In this light we appear to be at a modern disadvantage, for many reasons, of which deteriorating family life, in all of its unfortunate aspects, is probably the leading cause – because it encourages most of the rest. Nor, I might add, is all of the deterioration due solely to dysfunctionality, although that might depend on how we define dysfunctionality; it happens not only in families of separation, but also in families that don’t provide the nurturing and training that leads to success in life. Lots of excuses are made, but not all are valid, and not all are a result of things that are beyond control; parents and their roles of parenting are not only critical; they are essential. Life for children without effective parenting is extremely difficult, but not impossible.
What happens to the children of disrupted, dysfunctional families? One need only look around. And what can be done about it? Increased family, that is parental, responsibility would help of course, but families themselves have to address that; and if they don’t? Government efforts, be as they may, are much less than impressive. Leaving it to the children themselves.
Ultimately, perhaps unfairly, it comes down to the children of those families, and others that have just given up if families don’t do the job: leaving it to self. And let no one suggest that’s an easy thing to do, although it can be done, with the right motivation and self direction; but it can’t happen with self delusion and cannot progress without self evaluation; that, unfortunately, is all that is left. Which is not to suggest that we, the rest of us can’t assist, but ultimately, in the end it rests with them, themselves; and helping them realize that is perhaps the most important thing the rest of us can do.
It has been said that people learn more from mistakes – from difficulties – than they do from success, and pretending that the difficulties don’t exist and that children are not making mistakes does not help; in fact it inhibits. Such children must be allowed to – perhaps made to – face up to the cards they have been dealt. They must deal with self, and understand what that is. Contrary to popular social propaganda we are not created equal, but each has strengths upon which to build, and weaknesses to avoid, and must realize what they are. They may not be the strengths of others, but they are not the weaknesses either, and they must be recognized, and dealt with. Intelligence, talent, are useful, but knowledge, discipline and motivation CAN overcome their lack if nurtured and pursued, and they have been in the past. Knowledge without intelligence and talent (both are relative, after all? Yup, but it takes a lot more EFFORT.
Perhaps if we change our orientation – from giving up on them by giving into their self pity and anger, to challenging them to do what is necessary FOR THEMSELVES and helping them to do so – letting them know that they CAN, it can be turned around. Sure, that’s not the best way; the best way is for families to provide it – the right way – but when they don’t? We can not do it for them; but perhaps we can help them do it for themselves?