The Irrational Defiance of Phobics

“The psychological root of terrorism is a fanatical resentment – a quasi-psychotic hatred originating in the depths of the archetypal psyche and therefore carried by religious (archetypal) energies. A classic literary example is Melville’s Moby Dick. Captain Ahab, with his fanatical hatred of the White Whale, is a paradigm of the modern terrorist.

Articulate terrorists generally express themselves in religious (archetypal) terminology. The enemy is seen as the Principle of Objective Evil (Devil) and the terrorist perceives himself as the “heroic” agent of divine or Objective Justice (God). This is an archetypal inflation of demonic proportions which temporarily grants the individual almost superhuman energy and effectiveness. To deal with terrorism effectively we must understand it.” ~ E. F. Edinger: On the psychology of terrorism

Captain Ahab sees more than evil in the whale he seeks to kill.  For it to exist as a force, implies some defined order, and therefore some meaning to his universe.  And if he cannot find and kill it, then he has no proof of the orderliness.  What he fears, perhaps more than anything else (including his own demise), is a disorderly universe that attaches no meaning to occurrences, including the fact that he’d lost a leg.

Most of his crew suspected Ahab to be somewhat imbalanced about his intense quest.  But that imbalance did not stop them from following him at the cost of everything including their lives.    Ahab was not just authority, but absolute authority.  You cannot have an absolute authority without beliefs.  The certainty of those beliefs, “the feeling of knowing” according to neurologist Robert A Burton, M.D., comes not from examining empirical evidence, or even from any analytical process we call “thinking”.

“Certainty and similar states of “knowing what we know” are sensations that feel like thoughts, but arise out of involuntary brain mechanisms that function independently of reason.”   ~ http://goo.gl/QYtt4

So it is emotive based on what is presumed to be true.  The captain of the ship, certainly in the case of Ahab, is a dominator.  And those he dominates are fearful–not just of him, but of the idea of not being submissive to the authority.  Please note that the captain is not independently dominant, as he cannot manage the large ship without a crew.

His orders must be heard by those who are phobic enough to not dare disobey them.  When we see this behavior on playgrounds, it’s called “bullying”.  Sometimes the bullied fear not so much some physical punishment, but the withdrawal of favor: losing worthiness, or significance in some way.  And that is precisely why the crew of the Pequod, though many with deep personal reservations, do as they are told.

Through Captain Ahab’s commands, the crew could fight against evil, even death itself, because it had been given both form and a name–a great white whale–Moby Dick. This rendered it tangible, and therefore less awesome than an unnamed, illusive to clear understanding, death.

So as the captain commands absolute obedience, the crew follows him.  He has convinced them not just that the fight was very real, and very winnable, but that it was their unavoidable duty.  And in so doing, death itself becomes diminished.  Death, in the face of a necessary battle of righteousness, takes on a manageable definition when the foe is believed to be finite.  Compared to the unbridled fear of death, the “cause” with meaning and purpose becomes determinate.

It all hinges on beliefs overriding the insanity of the quest, and even though quite a few of them considered the skipper to be crazy.  It was safer to believe in the authority of the captain in spite of him being a bit nuts, than to allow the thought of the great unknown of chaos–that the personified evil, Moby Dick, might be a delusion–no, that would unhinge everything.

The study of mythologies identifies a common thread: explanations offer to give order to things otherwise phenomenal.  Chieftains, high priests, and witchdoctors have a long history of connecting subservience to the supernatural in a way that provides for a safety net beyond mortality.  And many of those who believe in the stories would rather die than have their beliefs undermined–even in the face of overwhelming evidence that what they believe is not remotely founded in facts at all.

The Beowulf epic, written by some anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet prior to the twelfth century, tells a tale of having to fend off, defeat, and destroy a nemesis monster character called Grendel.  From the point of view of Beowulf and his human comrades, Grendel is not one of them, but “the other”.

We can observe the failures of human civilization when, due to prejudice, misunderstanding, and ignorance, communication breaks down, and people become polarized in pockets of the “us”, and the “them”.  When all parties are so inclined to believe the differences to be irreconcilable, their phobic nature gives them few options outside of their fear.  And if they can growl loud enough, perhaps “the other” will fear them as well.

The very basis of the fear is often misinterpreted by the fearful themselves.  And without dialogue with a sincere purpose of moving closer to understanding, the objects of fear are often reduced to matters of cultural difference.  The differences, when carefully considered, may really be little more than acceptable costume, or the manner in which some child’s mother taught it to pray.

There are more than 6,000 languages spoken by human beings today, and most individuals know only one of them.  Some of these languages are only spoken by small groups of people.  In fact, almost a third of these languages are used by populations of only a thousand people, or less.  And while they may not be widely understood when speaking out, their needs, wants, and concerns are no less human than are those of the users of more common languages.  And even among the more frequently used languages, a clear translation of ideas often breaks down when the literal clashes with the colloquial, leaving intent to seem ambiguous at best, and at worst, hostile.

I think people could do better.  But they won’t as long as they remain afraid of what they don’t understand.  To clear up misunderstandings requires bravery and not cowardice; requires effort and not indolence.  It will require honest investigation of truthful information and not suspicious presuppositions.  It requires a commitment to wanting to do the right thing, and an openness to ideas that may be different from those we bring to the table.  While that may not be too much to ask, many seem to believe it’s too much to expect.

“You Have No Idea Where They’ve been.”

“There are some things that can beat smartness and foresight? Awkwardness and stupidity can. The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him; he does the thing he ought not to do; and often it catches the expert out and ends him on the spot.”
~ Mark Twain

Twain mentioned awkwardness, stupidity, and ignorance, which are things with which I’ve had some experience over the years, both as antagonist and protagonist.  Took a fencing class as a theater student. Once on the mat, I was able to score well in competition. I was feeling pretty good about it when my professor, John Rudy, pulled me to the side. After staring at the ground for what seemed like several minutes (though probably only seconds) as if he was struggling with the words, he finally spoke:

“Don’t get a swelled head about beating the competition today. There are two primary reasons you looked good out there:

  1. You’re left handed, and most of the others were used to seeing a different approach, in fact, an opposite one;
  2. But the main thing is, you didn’t seem to have any idea what you were going to do from one moment to the other, and neither did your opponents.”

After awhile I realized I was the only student in the class that could get a technical advantage from practicing in front of a mirror. The image I saw in it would have an accurate juxtaposition, while all the others just saw everything backwards.  Never became great at fencing.  Sometimes I’d just paint the fence, and at other times, just sit on it.

In time, I took classes in modern dance, acting, and directing. I look back on my successes with the realization that most of the prosperity of favorable outcomes may have been due to the outrageous courage felt, because and in spite of, not being aware of what I didn’t know.

In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld is credited for saying:

“…there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

However, the term “unknown unknowns” had been around in NASA for a while, and also used by other engineers.

“Known unknowns result from phenomena which are recognized, but poorly understood. On the other hand, unknown unknowns are phenomena which cannot be expected because there has been no prior experience or theoretical basis for expecting the phenomena.”
~ Statement of Evidence of E. D’Appolonia, D’Appolonia Consulting Engineers, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Proceedings of the British Columbia Royal Commission of Inquiry into Uranium Mining, Phase V: Waste Disposal, ISBN 0-7718-8198-3

In recent years, there have been a number of unpleasant results from hydraulic fracturing, such as earthquakes and polluted ground water, that was not the expected or hoped for outcome.  At the same time, you’d think by now most adults have some experience with placing a spoon in the sink face up, and turning on the water.  Even when some people know it’s likely to splash water all over the place, they turn the water on anyway.  So it brings up the question of there being a difference between unknown unknowns, and just making stupid decisions.

My mind goes back to the first grade.  It was a regular practice to wash our hands before lining up to go to the Lunchroom.  I distinctly remember the teacher telling me and some of the other boys:

“When you wash up, use soap.  And wash both hands.  You have no idea where they’ve been.”

I’ve struggled with those instructions now for six decades, and from time to time I think the teacher was correct.

Business of Theater and Theater of Business: Part Four

Just as the director needs to know what motivates the characters, it also helps if he understands what motivates the players assigned to the parts.  And so it’s true for leaders and managers who would expect other people to commit to help them reach goals.  In other words, the leader finds a way to get others to help him reach his goal, while they are also reaching theirs.  Each can get something they want.  That would be good, clean business, and it would be equitable leadership, wouldn’t it?

To do that, either somebody has to gather a lot of information, or develop a set of habits understanding the signals seen in observable behavior characteristics of others.  If you pay attention, most people will show you how they wish to be treated.  To start, let’s take a look at one exaggerated style.  Let’s look at Inspector Clouseau who kind of sees himself as Sherlock Holmes.

In “The Pink Panther” movies, as the story developed and scenes changed, Peter Sellers was always Inspector Clouseau.  And your ability to recognize the character is evidence of the effectiveness of the performance.  What was so clear, and so obvious was, that the character Clouseau didn’t read the other people and situations around him very well at all.  And that, though in real life could become tragic, is what made it so funny.

In the movie, Clouseau never recognized about himself the things that everyone around him saw, that caused them to treat him as they did.  And by the same token, he generally misinterpreted how the other characters around him preferred to be treated.  And so, this element of not being able to properly read people and situations made it all the funnier that in this role, he was to search out meaningful clues; to investigate and discover truths in reality when his whole perceivable world was altered by delusion.

But the director, Blake Edwards and the actor, Peter Sellers understood it very well.  And that is precisely why the performance was such a success.  It is also fair to recognize that Mr. Sellers was an excellent selection for that role.  We’ve all witnessed situations where we felt the wrong person was given an assignment that just didn’t fit them at all, and some of us will have to admit that at times, it was us.

But let’s say you’re in the right role right now.  You are probably correct,  because the character you play is you.  It’s okay to be you, isn’t it?  I think we’ll all agree.  But won’t we also agree that it’s NOT okay to expect everybody else to be you?  How many times have you looked at somebody, and at least thought the words:

“If I were you, the way I would do it…” 

To hear the words “if I were you…”, or “the  way I would do it…” often carries a sense of judgement and condemnation, or at least some apparent condescension.  After all, how I might do something may not only be information others are not looking for, but often could be the very process they’d wish to avoid.  I can think of a few habits and practices I use often that might cause others some discomfort if expected to emulate.  Perhaps you’ve heard such words before and at least thought: “But you’re NOT me, and that’s NOT the way I intend to go about it.”

No matter how much we have in common, we’re all just a little bit different from each other, aren’t we?  And we all do some things differently due to our experiences, training temperament, and perhaps even our varying physical strengths and limitations. But being different in some ways is not such a bad thing.  First of all, if we weren’t different from each other, we’d have a terrible time recognizing anybody.  And after a while, things would get pretty boring.

But we are different.  And we like different things; different flavors, colors, kinds of music, and particularly automobiles, which is a choice often effected by style.  And so it is true with other choices we make, as we all don’t always want the same things.  And whether we admit it or not, we are motivated by what we want, and far more so than what somebody else tells us we’re supposed to want.

Most of us are likely to be reluctant to buy when the person selling shows no interest in what we want.  They need to pay us some attention, don’t they?  My goodness, if they don’t do that, they could very well make the mistake of assuming you would want the same things they do.  And, with that assumption, they might not be listening to what you’re telling them; they could be ignoring the signals in your behavior, your body language, facial expressions, or often as not, the lack of them.

When someone else fails to connect with you, it’s not just the mistake of not noticing you as an individual, but not noticing you with individual wants and needs.  And their failure to do that could cost them the sale, couldn’t it?  Keep that in mind while you’re out and about selling products or service or ideas.  If you intend to be persuasive, you should want to present things so your audience can see them, and as they’d want to see them.

But, be careful.  One of the greatest difficulties will be overcoming the predetermination that you should get credit for the idea.  Think about someone you’ve bought from that you’d gladly recommend to others.  One of the things you might be likely to say is:  “They helped me find exactly what I wanted.”

What you’re not likely to say is:  “They sure were persistent about proving to me that what I wanted was entirely wrong.”

You’re not likely to even think that.  You might admit you were shown options you hadn’t thought about before, but in the end, if you’re happy with the decision, it will be because you’re the one who made it.  And, it will have been an emotional decision.  So when selling to others, allow them that.  It’s far more important than how rational you think your offer is, or why you’re certain they should agree with you.

So the salesperson needs to be aware that while they can and perhaps should take on the role of directing the sale, the buyers may see themselves (and often do) as directing the purchase.

 

Car-mageddon, and the Karma-chanic!

We took the ramp coming off the interstate.  It was our intended exit, but we would’ve gotten off there anyway, as our car was puffing steam and smoke, running a fever, coughing, and wheezing as if it was barely able to breathe.  Our plans had been to meet with some friends for a breakfast, but it looked as if our car was not going to let us be able to keep the appointment.  Seemed the end of the trail.  Figured it was Car-mageddon.

As we limped into the parking lot of a service station just off the interstate, we didn’t notice at first the vehicle following us that pulled up right beside us.  Evidently, a man in a pickup truck saw the smoke signal, and stopped to help.

Before I was barely aware of his presence, he’d already raised the hood, and was poking around at this ‘n that.  He said he saw the problem, and was pretty sure he could fix it, pointing to a connection near the water pump that appeared to be made out of a brittle piece of plastic, or perhaps elbow macaroni.

It was shattered, which is evidently where all the coolant had spewed out.  There were two of these such parts, giving the system a front and a back door like you’d want to find in any good tavern, much less the cooling system of a Buick.  The back door wasn’t compromised yet, but the man said it was not long for this world.

When asked, he offered up an estimate that was specific about his labor plus parts.   Said the macaroni parts at an auto parts store would be about seven dollars apiece, but I could get metal ones (less likely to explode under pressure) for about twelve.  Since his labor quote was about half the price the dealership might charge just to diagnose the problem, his price sounded more than reasonable, in fact, generous.  So we said:
  “Yes, please, and use the metal parts.” 

We exchanged some information about each other, then called our friends to explain our situation.  They offered to come get us.

The man under the hood said to go ahead and have breakfast, and that he should be finished about the time we got back.  Soon, a wonderful lady pulled up to get us, and we were off to have a meal with her and some of her good family.

I had a mouthful of eggs and grits when my phone rang.  Seems the serpentine belt had cracks in it, and the suggestion was to replace it while he had all the pulleys loose.  Evidently serpents shed their skin about every hundred thousand miles or so, so I was not surprised.  

The price of the belt sounded fair, and less than half the price the service department of an authorized dealership would likely want for it.  Seemed to make good sense, so I “OK’d” that procedure, and put some jelly on my biscuit.

Due to extreme kindness being on the day’s program, I was not allowed to pay for our breakfast.  I did try, but a loving young person grabbed the ticket, insisting it was her turn to treat, though I have no memory of it ever needing to be her turn.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by generosity, I tried to remember the last time I was nice to anybody.  Had to think back over quite a bit of history to come up with a thing.  Couldn’t put an exact date on it, but I believe all television programming was in black and white back then, and I’m sure to have anticipated a reward for it.

While the unexpected angel of the mechanical realm was under the hood of my wife’s car, he adjusted and fixed a few other things he saw needing attention.  But no extra fee was added to our bill.  The receipts for parts, including a gallon of antifreeze, were well within the original estimate.  

When I pointed out he had forgotten to add the charge for changing out the serpentine belt, he said:

“Oh, no charge for that.  I had to be down there, anyway.” 

I paid him, and wanting to be fair, threw in what I thought was a reasonable gratuity, since he was providing significant value-added service.  He looked surprised, and said I’d paid too much.  Told him if there was any money left he didn’t need, I’m sure he’d know somebody who did.  

We were soon on our way, car running fine, grateful for a chance to have met…
 The Karma-chanic!

Be nice to somebody out there today–it just might be him.  Oh, and rock on chilluns, rock on!

Where Fire Ants Get Their Fire

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Casual dress: loafers – no socks; cargo pants, and a loose fitting shirt not tucked in.  Errands to run.  Formal attire not required.  Managed to get a few blocks from the house, while the “do it” list scrolled across my mind.  Felt it was a good day, and had plenty of time for my chores, so was in no hurry.  Further, there was not a single thing on the list that was urgent or necessary, or that could not have been postponed, if not ignored altogether.  In other words, it was the kind of day a younger me never knew existed…past the age of ten.

What started with an itch on my ankle soon became more itching on both ankles, then the stinging started.  Felt something crawling on my arm, my ear, and the back of my neck, and soon in a panic mode feeling creepies all over me.  It was time to immediately pull over to the curb, and I did so without hesitation.

Ants!  The cab of my pickup truck was full of ’em!  What?  Where’d they come from, and why are they in here?  Not just any ants, mind you; these were fire ants!  Put it in park, and leaped out of the truck.  Hard to sit still when you have ants in your pants, and I did.  I began a series of gestures and gyrations unbecoming of a sober man of my age in broad daylight unless some ceremony preceding a live sacrifice was in progress.  Felt I was the sacrifice.

The festive dance was a spectacle, I’m sure.  Just glad the police didn’t ride by, as they would’ve hauled me to the looney bin.  I believe my coarse epitaphs scorched some nearby wildflowers, and no doubt would’ve offended anyone in earshot.  But I was alone except for a passing stray cat, who quickly went to the other side of the street.  I didn’t blame him, as I’d have done the same in close proximity to some animal exhibiting bizarre behaviors.  I’d invite you to imagine, but most imaginations might not be that flexible.  Sometimes it’s hard to interpret the incomprehensible.  It was motion of quantity without quality defined.

Went back to the truck.  Observed some ants crawling on the floor and driver’s seat, but noticed the console and ashtray were teeming with them.  A pipe and an old cigar butt gave support to the image of ants chewing tobacco.  I knew grasshoppers did this, but never read any review or critique of ants doing it.  Now, I have seen ants chewing on a grasshopper, so with some stretch, it’s possible to extract the idea that eventually the ant might get around to a chaw, I don’t know.

I’ll admit to some sloppiness, and have often left crumbs about, as my habit of eating on the move has allowed for lots of crumbs.  No doubt, there are bits and pieces of hamburgers, hotdogs, chips, French fries, and other snacks permanently ground into the upholstery and carpet.  Surely sweet nectars have spilled without any serious cleanup other than to wipe at them have occurred.

Looking in the cab, I saw them busy as if trying to locate all such prizes, and also watched as they gave special attention to the heads of some matches lazily resting in the cup holder.  Perhaps they were just fueling up.  Thats when I realized their attention was mainly directed on some other object: a regular tin of breath mints–ants were all over it.  With some bravery, some wiping, huffing and puffing, managed to clear the ants off so I could look inside the tin.  To my surprise, the closure of the package had been no serious deterrent to the ants.

The peppermint Altoids inside the tin were covered with a frothy sea of churning ants.  Each ant in the box had a mouthful of high octane peppermint that seemed to excite them.  If I’d been able to see their ears, I’m fairly certain a mist of steam would be coming out of them, but my bifocals are not that refined.  The pepper-like candy had evidently gotten them electrified, and me opening the container also opened the circuit.  Evidently, it was motive enough for action. If you will, envision a thousand fire ants clumped in an area of a few square inches, and imagine them all spreading out over a few square yards in less time than it takes a firecracker to rupture when the fuse burns down to the quick.

As they charged up my arm to do battle, I dropped the tin of peppermints onto the seat of the truck, and began singing a song in some foreign language I’ve never heard before.  The dance began anew, then the religious ceremony followed–at least in as much as some of the same conjuring words were put into use.  The literary anathema may have started out like a hymn, but transfigured itself into a level of depravity that would’ve offended a congressman.  I’ll not likely live long enough to atone for such coarse and troubled cussedness, but those who know me well realize I crossed that threshold years ago. 

After some success brushing most of them off, the stragglers that remained let me know unquestionably why the name “Fire” had been sewn on to the label of that species.  Some of my friends educated in the sciences tell me the pain from the venom is caused by formic acid.  That may be true for some ants, but my recent discovery brings me to believe the species that lives in my pickup truck get their potency from match-heads, burnt tobacco, and peppermint Altoids.

As you’d expect, I vacuumed and washed the truck, but never did discover where the queen, her nest, or hatchlings were hiding.  Next day, the ants were back as if I’d done nothing.  I thought about all the fine places a self-respecting ant colony might set up housekeeping, and remain amazed they’d still choose to hang out with my old truck.  The only thing I can think of is that the occasional trip to the grocery store and the cargo I bring back appeals to them.  Additionally, once there, the parking lot around the truck being full of delicious snacks an ant might take delight in having is also brought into the bargain.  This would be a diminished benefit, of course, if human beings ever figure out how to use nearby trashcans.  As it is, candy wrappers, soda cups, sandwich wrappers, and chicken bones tend to drop from hands as soon as they have reached the point of diminishing return.

Since the experience of discovering ants in my truck, I’ve come to approach getting into it with both caution and dread.  But one thing disturbs me: instead of maintaining residence inside the cab of the truck, they seem to now camp on the outside.  I see them outside of the windows, and marching back and forth around the edges of the cargo bed.  The worrisome idea now emerges, that now with enough peppermint to fuel an inferno, they have decided to eat the paint off my truck, as if such as that might be an antidote for any gastric reflux the peppermint might’ve caused.

A few years ago, I took note of the apparent disappearance of Fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) mounds on my property.  A few neighbors had remarked about it, as well.  Some theories were that they were driven out or killed by infestations of other ants that might eventually eat my house as well as take over the lawn.  But now I know where they went.  With the prospects of finding matches and peppermint so readily available, the logical thing for them to do would be to relocate to my vehicle.  Not only would they find plenty to eat, but the opportunity to take off on an excursion was probably more than they could resist.

So, there you have it.  Altoids and matches in my truck are the true source of the fire.  Now if I could just figure out a way to harness it, the next time I’m told the truck is due for new spark plugs, I’ll be able to tell ’em…“never mind.”

You Want to talk to my dawg?!?

Finally happened.  Phone rang.  Caller asked to speak to Lila.

“You want to speak to Lila?  Who is this?”

“Lila may be eligible…”

“I suspect she’s quite ineligible for most offerings that come in by telephone.”

“Excuse me.  Is this Lila Bea’s residence?”

“Yes.  Yes, it is.”

“Then, may I speak to her, please?”

“Well, you can speak to her, but I’m afraid she’ll understand very little of what you might say to her.”

“Sir, I speak several languages.”

“Good.  Do you speak Dawg?

“What?”

“Dawg.  Lila Bea is a dawg.  She’ll understand a few simple commands: sit, lie down, shake hands, and responds rather well when asked if she’d care for a biscuit, or an ice cube.  But if…”

(…CLICK…)

I looked around.  Lila Bea was grooming herself, completely unaware how close she came to getting a discounted Caribbean cruise; a lower interest rate on her credit card balance, or being allowed to express her opinion of all the members of her breed that are currently seeking to hold public office.  As the day progressed, Sir Benson Zipper Dee Doo Dah received not a single email, text, or telephone call.  By the way he ignores me while running wildly up the street whenever he gets loose, I suspect he’s on the “no call” list.

 

A Strange Fear of The Open Mind

“Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things…”
~  Cristina De Rossi, Anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College, London

Yes.  Additionally, one of the primary functions of any society is to protect, nurture, and teach its children so they can grow up and take charge without having to repeat all the unnecessary (and often stupid) mistakes made by their predecessors.  We want them to learn how to build “the better mousetrap”, and avoid the return of ignorant superstitions that lead to burning innocent people for witchcraft, or clinging to good luck charms instead of embracing scientific discovery.  However, we’ve been witness to efforts intending to stigmatize scientific discoveries as invalid, and the motive for such positions regularly seems to come from sources that make profits from the ignorance of discovery.  Ever question that, or wonder what specific motives would back up such behavior?  The bait looks delicious, but is there a hook in it?

Some will remember The Waxman Hearings that took place before congress on April 14, 1994.  The CEO’s of several major tobacco companies testified under oath that they believed nicotine and cigarette smoking were not addictive.  Well, weren’t the tobacco executives making money selling nicotine and cigarettes?  Big money?  Yes, they were.  Today we continue to hear the coal, natural gas, and petroleum industries (and all the politicians they own) take the same position–that the modern practice of using their products is not harmful to the environment, nor is it in any significant way causing changes or global warming (see http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/).  If you follow the money, you might at least suspect a bit of wool is being pulled over some eyes.  Please be aware that ignorance was not the reason for the false testimony of the tobacco industry, but their hoped for success depended to a large degree on keeping the general public ignorant, and hopefully continuing to buy their products because of such ignorance, or at least in spite of scientifically verified arguments for not doing so.

I think we’ll agree all good parents want their children to have a chance to “do better”.  So it is reasonable to appreciate mothers and fathers wanting their offspring to not only know what the parents know how to do, but to help the children to rise to even higher plateaus–of craft and skill, art, and understanding.  That’s justification to have a tradition of reading books to them, and sending them to mentors and teachers.  Unfortunately, as you well know, some parents are afraid of change.  And because of fears, are often reluctant for their offspring to take steps beyond “the way we’ve always done it”, or singing “Give Me That OldTime Religion”, as if “old” would always mean “best”, which you and I know is not always true.  Additionally there are some who seem to either not care or feel incapable of doing anything proactive about their children’s education.

Some of you remember a time when there was a  long-standing practice (tradition) of using lead in paints, food containers, water pipes, and as additives to other widely used consumer products such as gasoline.  The challenge to stop doing it when science helped us understand the harm we were doing to ourselves and our children still met with huge resistance.  And not just from capitalists and manufacturers heavily invested in lead, but from consumers as well.  There were many people figuring out ways to bypass catalytic converters during the time when some petrol was still available that contained lead.  Though it was not a wise practice, it was widely used–almost as if leaded gasoline was a tradition.

Because irrational fears about changes that could be connected to unknown or uncertain outcomes do exist, often born of ignorance, perplexing issues can surface when misunderstood risks are tossed into categories of impulse, rather than recognized as calculated.  We want discipline and accountability, which often mandates adherences to rules.  This is particularly powerful whenever individuals controlled by the rules do not understand how they could possibly do otherwise, or paralyzed by the fear of attempting to do so.  While it was a practice for a long time in warfare to march in straight lines and columns on the battlefield in bright and highly visible uniforms, the technological advances of cannons and firearms made the continuance of such to be disadvantageous.  In spite of the futility of it overall, it continued far beyond what sanity called for.  After all, wouldn’t you agree it was “tradition”?

One of the reasons was the image of power of the powerful was maintained as unquestionable, and many soldiers marched to their death as ordered.  It was what they were taught to believe, and any discrepancy of the rules faced severe consequences.  For many, it seemed better to die “bravely and dutifully” than to be hanged or shot for “stepping out of line”.  Thus, keeping an open mind when faced with “duty” is seldom allowed to be an option for consideration.

What would happen if people just decided on their own to not participate in wars anymore?  Would kings, dictators, presidents, and generals still go at it if they were not convincing or exploitive enough to raise an army to do their fighting for them?  Hmmm.  Should we consider changing the tradition?  Would changing it be disrespectful of those who fought and died in wars before us?  Perhaps one reasonably sane way to show respect for those killed in war would be for us to strive to make certain their children and grandchildren will not have to die that way.  Yet many people will never be able to see that as a viable option, because it seems to be a bit out of their control.

Even today, the concept of following command and direct orders without question is firmly instilled in the minds of military personnel world-over.  I understand it.  But outside the horrible circumstance of war, foot soldiers, pawns, and slaves might be better off than their overlords would have them be, if the dominated learned how to think for themselves.  Truth is, most would be afraid to attempt do so, because they fear the loss of the guidance they believe sustains them.  And that is exactly what they are taught to believe.  Dominators want the dominated to be compliant, so managing the phobic is often just a simple matter of managing their perceptions, and keeping them at a distance from ideas and thoughts that could lead to independence.

We raised sons, and also kept pets.  We wanted the boys to grow up to be men who could take care of themselves, solve problems, and know how to deal with adversities.  It worked.  They are all extraordinary men in those respects.  On the other hand, the dogs and cats were never expected to be educated to a level of self sufficiency.  We liked them, but there were limits of what was expected of their growth and development.

The human children, on the other hand, were expected to challenge their thresholds of self expectations.  There was real joy in seeing apparent light bulbs turn on in their heads.  That is not uncommon in healthy cultures, and is a part of…traditions.

Sometimes traditions clash, even within a culture.  When that happens there are those who have ideas for change facing off with those in fear of it.  Whichever side a person is on is not determined by rational thought as much as it is in accordance with their indoctrination.  Both sides might “feel” they are upholding a tradition.  Some reference to why I said that can be found in a book,”on_being_certain” by Robert A. Burton, Neurologist.

Beyond that, when conflict and controversy surfaces between practices that seem to oppose each other, some have to decide which traditional behavior will bring about the best result.  Unfortunately, more often the position most strongly supported by “authority” wins out.

We’ve seen this in universities that face funding issues that result in cutting programs and teachers’ salaries, while at the same time figuring out a way to give a popular coach a big raise and a budget increase in order to prevent his being recruited to a competitive institution.  The cuts are explained as efficiencies, and the off-sided boost to the coach justified as necessary and essential.  The maintenance of one program that was almost never the purpose for the institutions existence in the first place takes precedence over programs that were.

We’ve all seen this happen, and it is happening now.  Traditional curriculums of physics, chemistry, music, art, literature, and philosophy often become secondary to a recreational activity that has become tradition…and also big business for administrators.  We also see it in governance where fund-raising improves the lifestyles of politicians, but does little to advance the circumstances, long-term and short, for the constituency they are supposed to (but don’t) represent.  But after all, it is a tradition.

Some want to see that change, but such change faces the challenge of being called “progressive” as if such a term was in and of itself an indictment.  Ironically, most of the money available to finance what the public is likely to hear or read more or less subtly goes to support protecting the status quo (of bribery) than risk losing the coveted benefits of those who put up the money to pay for the game.

How do you address something if you believe it undermines-our-cultural-traditions, or in some way causes the next generation to forget or misunderstand how they got to where they are?  I’m not talking about a strict adherence to just dogmatic opinions, as they often overlook the facts required to understand growth and development.  Instead, let’s consider the current popularity, and even apparent love of reductions for the sake of efficiency that often seem to be “cost effective”, yet undermine integrity.  A simple example would be to side-step prerequisites such as not putting on a primer coat on a piece of raw wood before applying the top, or color coat.  It can be done, and it is initially cheaper.  But in the long run, the outcome is often less than desirable.

Lot’s of folks have trouble with the word liberal, and seem to have forgotten (if they even knew it in the first place) it comes from a Latin reference to that which is “worthy of a free person”.  In essence, the liberal arts do refer to an education that leads to being able to function with understanding in society, and be able to be a part of the processes of debating ideas and concepts with some background on how those ideas are constructed.

The trend of political disrespect felt by the liberal arts is an indication of a much greater problem: the abandonment of disciplines of reason. When the purpose is reduced to simply institutionalizing a system for a compliant work force that does not and cannot think for itself, there will be no real commitment to finding real solutions to difficult problems that require examination of empirical evidence. Instead, the business will be to find ways to blame problems on things or persons other than ourselves. It doesn’t take a genius mind to recognize how such as that leads to social dysfunction.

Anti-intellectualism raises its ugly head in almost every generation, and is a tool of those (shamans, witchdoctors, and charlatans) who cannot rise to, or maintain power without the aid of fear held in place with superstition.  It is the flagship of extremist reactionaries throughout history.  We saw it happening during The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, the rise of Fascism, the evil tactics of Joseph Stalin to take control of The Soviet Union, “McCarthyism” in our own country, ISES, and many other bigoted religious extremist groups that thrive on hatred and colossal misunderstandings.

We also see it in the power-mongering processes of the self serving who insist they get to sit in the lap of luxury no matter what the cost is to the rest of the world and its inhabitants.  And without an educated populace, working together to move ever closer to understanding: thus real freedom and peacefulness, the cultural tradition of helping the children of each generation progress towards a better and more sustainable lifestyle is in great danger of diminishing further as it goes out of style.

“When a person believes all wrongs are the fault of others, the only filter left that postpones desires for instant gratification, is fear…Teachers are not the cause of poverty and underfunded schools any more than doctors are the cause of disease and underfunded clinics…There’s no wealth in a society that cannot educate it’s children.  If you can afford it but won’t, then you’re an enemy of the children.”

 ~  things-ive-said-before

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