The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘psychology’ Category

THIS UNCERTAIN WORLD

There are times that I lean back in my chair and think to myself, “Self.  Maybe the left is right.  (I really like that sentence for its internal absurdity).  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world and a fabulous life if we all could have whatever we wanted without having to work for it; if we could know in advance what the next wonderful thing in store for us was; if we had no anxiety, no worries, no care; if we didn’t have to be concerned about our future because it would be clear to us what that would be?”

What would be the practical effect of actually knowing the future – even an assured future where everyone’s material wants were met?  I think the answer is – boredom – and the introduction of more anxiety.

Although it seems paradoxical as we all strive to eliminate uncertainty from our lives, it is uncertainty which makes life both interesting and challenging.  If we truly knew the future there would be no reason to watch a sporting event – or for that matter play it.  Imagine how inspired an infielder on the Yankees would feel if he knew that his team was going to lose to the White Sox that day by a score of 7 – 3.

The casinos would close their doors in short order.  Since 22 was the next number to come up on the roulette wheel, that’s where all bets would be.  And if we knew that a five was the next card that would be dealt, the astute blackjack player would take a hit on his 16, despite the fact that the dealer was showing a bust card.  Horse races would be a thing of the past and we’d have to find a different way to spend our Saturday and Sunday afternoons as football would hold no appeal.

There would be no stock market and no market for stocks.  Knowing the unfortunate end that it would meet, we would never have built the Challenger and we would have saved the lives of the seven astronauts who were on board.  We would not have spent months of air time discussing the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Flight 370 as, knowing its fate, the Malaysian government would not have allowed it to fly and no passenger would have boarded it.

In such a world of certainty there would be no room for a Shakespeare or an Ibsen or a Hitchcock.  Drama and suspense can not exist unless there is the possibility of alternate endings.  The comedy clubs would close because we would all know the punch line.  In such a world would Michelangelo have begun the long process of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or Mozart composed his tremendous volume of work knowing that despite his genius he would never escape a state of perpetual poverty and be buried in a pauper’s grave?

Of course there is one other and perhaps the most frightening aspect of living in a world certain.  Each of us would know the exact time and means by which death would show up at our doorstep and come for us.  It would be as though we, like the “replicants” that were brought into being in “Blade Runner,” had an internal clock built into us by our maker, a clock that was sealed at the factory and which was constantly winding down, bringing us ever more closely to the moment we took our final breath.

What would people who lived in such an environment do with their time and their lives?  I suspect that it would be very little.  This would be a world in which ennui would have been raised to its ultimate expression.  There would be little incentive to succeed and no repercussions for failure.  This would be a world in which people saw little reason for hope and no reason for change.  It would be a world in which we had given over our lives and activities to fate – and accepted that “what would be would be.”

And if one day, we learned that a massive meteor was headed directly toward us and would impact the Earth three years later, would we be able to marshal the fortitude to try to defend ourselves from this potentially life-destroying event?  Or would we sit back and thank our lucky stars that finally something out of our control had come to put an end to our insufferable misery?

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THE MEDIA AND THE MOB

Virtually everyone who has attempted creative writing has probably experienced the phenomenon known as writer’s block.  I don’t know if its antithesis has ever been diagnosed or documented, but in mid-January I experienced what I refer to as writer’s overload.

As I sat down to write my next post I heard a story on the news that grabbed my attention.  Dutifully, I saved the half-completed piece and focused on the breaking story which I found more interesting than the post on which I had been working.  As I began developing that post I took a break for lunch.  Returning to my desk, I turned on the news and returned to working on the second piece.  Yet another story broke that day which I felt had even more interest than either the one on which I was working or its predecessor.  Needless to say I began to tackle that subject.  Then, halfway written, I put down that piece and sat back to reflect on what was happening.

I was feeling so overwhelmed by information that I was having difficulty focusing on any of it sufficiently to write something that was either worth writing or worth reading.  The same thing happened the next day and the next.  I was beginning to feel like a teenager who was experiencing an explosion of acne but who only had enough medication to treat one lone blotch.

I remembered an experience when I was in my late teens and went on a two week religious retreat at a monastic community slightly outside New York City on the banks of the Hudson River.  I was going to begin my freshman year in college in the fall and felt that I needed some time to focus and identify my goals and develop a plan of attack.  Part of the discipline of the retreat was living in a small cell with only the bare necessities of a bed a desk and a prie dieu – and total silence other than at religious services.  I left and felt refreshed after fourteen days and boarded the Greyhound bus to return to the city.

As the bus drove to New York I felt very peaceful yet energized.  I read as we sped along and almost before I knew it we were pulling into the terminal.  The time had literally flown by.  Then the bus driver announced our arrival and opened the door to allow the half full bus of passengers to exit.  As I gathered up the small grip which contained my belongings I was suddenly amazed at all the noise inside the terminal.  It was overwhelming – almost deafening.  And I realized that I heard that noise every one of the days I had spent in NYC in my short seventeen years – but that I was so used to it I had never noticed it.  For me and my fellow New Yorkers, noise was normal.

That was in the mid-60’’s.  Television consisted of the the three major networks; news was delivered via the morning and evening newspapers; the latest innovation in telecommunications was the introduction off the “Princess phone.”  Yet even with those limitations in our ability to send or receive information there was so much noise   By today’s norms we were forced to function at a near-primitive information level.  Yet, knowing nothing else, we seemed to get along just fine.

The jury may be out on global warming, climate change or climate instability or whatever current incarnation is in vogue.  But it is clear that our access to information has exploded in the past half century.  I doubt that our ability to process all that information has kept pace.  Perhaps that is one contributing reason that one in ten Americans is purported to have some form of mental issue and the reason that the prescriptions for psychiatric medications are being dispensed at record rates.

The posts which I began during the past month had a common theme.  Whether it was the abuse of power in New Jersey in closing down the George Washington Bridge; the scandal in New York City of firefighters and police falsely claiming disability and collecting monthly payments; our Secretary of State Kerry proclaiming to the world that environmental change is as urgent a concern as jihadists with shoe bombs and bad intentions; the Syrian government’s failure to comply with their “agreement” to turn over their chemical weapons and our government’s inept policy not only in the middle east but globally as the fires burn in Kiev and the people mob the streets in Venezuela.

President Obama alone provided the substance for several posts in his most current revisions of Obamacare through executive fiat which seem to be occurring weekly.  And what is that common theme?  It is not in the substance of the event but in the fact that it will soon be replaced and forgotten as some even newer story emerges and captures our attention  for the next nano-second.  It is in precisely this environment that politicians and poltroons can either get away with bad behavior or just plain ineptitude, knowing that the public’s attention will soon be distracted by someone else’s bad behavior before they are called to account.

Let’s be honest.  The mindless mob would much rather hear or see a story about Miley Cyrus than have a conversation about the Madison papers.  The vast majority of our public would rather talk about the Super Bowl, well perhaps not the last one, than the implications of a Supreme Court ruling.  It’s difficult to be informed unless you perceive a reason to be informed.  And most people would rather be entertained by “Jersey Shore” than be concerned with “justice for all” – unless they are themselves the victim of injustice.

No matter where we turn the airwaves are filled with stories of greed, self-absorption, victims and victimizers, heroes found out to have attained their achievements in violation of the rules of fair play and countless stories of those who feel that the laws made for all were beneath them.  “What’s in it for me” rules the culture and the country.

There is no doubt that this can continue as long as there is left some marrow to be picked from the bones of the doers, the makers and the taxpayers.  The truth of that statement is that it has gone on – perhaps for half a century.  But there is always an accounting – no matter how hard those in the media and those in the seats of power try to postpone it.  Eventually we will kill the last fatted calf and there will be no offspring to replace it.

Whether that day is tomorrow or decades from now is uncertain.  Whether we come to the realization that we have been wanton in our values and our priorities because of an apocalyptic moment or through mass self-examination is also unsure.  It is unlikely that the aegis of this enlightenment will be the thousand channels of cable jabberwocky that are beamed at us each moment and without which far too many of us would see no point in living.

But if  the media suddenly had a cathartic moment and focused on things of importance rather than fluff and sensationalism, the question remains.  How many of the mob would listen – and how many would understand and work for change both personally and in those whom we elect to serve in political office?

WHO’S GOT THE POWER? (PART TWO)

When the last installment of Marcel Proust’s “magnum opus” was published in 1927, it was the culmination of a writing effort that spanned a fifteen year period.  The work was translated into English as, “A Remembrance of Things Past”.

Those who long for the halcyon days of a kinder, gentler, smaller, more rational government already realize that problems which have been created over long periods of time cannot be remedied with short-term and short-sighted solutions.  Attempting to repair society by applying Band-Aids to deep, festering sores may staunch the flow of blood for the moment but this approach will not remove the cancer from the body politic.

It is essential that those who recognize the deadliness of the path on which America has set its footing (and by implication much of the Western civilized world as we know it) are not merely passing through time and history.  We are the ones who have the opportunity to take action and write history through the steps we take today to make ours a better country and a better world.

History provides us with a great deal of nurturing guidance.  And one of its most important lessons is that it takes time to unfold.  From Plymouth Rock to The Declaration of Independence, 156 years of history had to pass.  If we embark on a path of real change today, many of us who start this process will not live to see its fulfillment.  But we will leave, as did the Founding Fathers, a legacy which those who come after us will enjoy.

Those of us who are educated, rational and pragmatic have spent far too much of our time and resources in an effort to convince those of a different opinion that we offered a better way than the one to which they subscribed.  Underlying our arguments was the assumption that these people were also educated, rational and pragmatic.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

When Governor Romney made his famous “47%” remark he was immediately attacked and lambasted for telling it like it was.  His statement was, of course, correct – but the emphasis should have been that meant that there were 53% of the populace who still had the dignity, desire and self-esteem to work toward changing things for all of America’s population for the better.  We’re still here today, despite our war injuries.

So how do we regroup, rearm and begin?  The first thing must be to define our goals and to keep them in mind as our frame of reference.  If we don’t know our destination, it’s difficult to determine a travel plan.  And too many of us are buying into our opponents’ strategy of distraction, holding up minor issues as talking points so that we ignore the real, fundamental and root causes of society’s malaise.

We also have many talking points.  But if we waste our efforts critiquing the opposition on Benghazi, the economy, the general level of unemployment, or a myriad of other subjects we only serve to weaken ourselves and thus give aid and succor to our opponents.

While those criticisms might be valid and well-documented, they mean nothing to an uneducated or under-educated mob whose only concern is surviving today and hopefully tomorrow.  And they mean nothing to those who, through intention, have helped to formulate this permanent under-class so that they may continue their own agenda which is to rule and dominate.

Perhaps the simplest way to define the goals of our war is to say that most of us who are reading this believe that a return to limited, Constitutional government wherein the individual has personal freedom based on a moral code would be a desirable goal.  Implicit in that is our ability to elect people to office who share that view.  And this leads us to a practical way to approach our ongoing battles.

It’s many years since presidential candidates rolled into town on a train, gave a speech and took off for their next destination.  Campaigns were financed with a few dollars here and a few dollars there.  Today, getting elected is a function of how much money can be raised for advertising and whose content slams the opponent the harder.  “Media is the message,” to misquote Marshall McLuhan.

It should be obvious that if those who contribute vast sums of money to get our opponents elected were to have their incomes reduced, they would have less ability to fund them in the next election cycle.  This is nothing more than the boycott strategy which worked so successfully in the 1960’s and 1970’s for the migrant farmworkers under the leadership of César Chavez.

There is a reason that I do not insure through GEICO or Progressive Insurance, or buy See’s Candy or eat at Dairy Queen.  By choosing to spend my money with them, I am supporting those who have helped foster our present policies and contributing to those who want to advance them further.  Why would any person who shares my view, rationally and willingly support those who would make us target practice?

Obviously, this is hardly an inclusive list of companies or services which I avoid.  But it should give you the basic idea.  The fact is that there are alternatives, often better alternatives to these companies’ products and I would rather spend my money with those who share my philosophy.

One person boycotting a company’s products is a personal statement.  But hundreds of thousands doing so will have an impact.  And if that number escalates to the millions, even the most hardcore liberal businessman will take notice and re-consider his thinking.

One of the most consistently generous groups in their views and their financial support for the liberal agenda comes to us from Hollywood.  Arguably, their products are also contributors to the violence which has become so commonplace on the American landscape.

Setting aside the fact that from an artistic standpoint, Hollywood offers little in the way of output that appeals to me, this is an issue which every conscientious conservative thinker should examine for himself.  Do I want to support an institution that actively seeks both to erode my personal freedoms and expose myself and my children to prurient violence and standards of morality which do not meet my personal expectations and example?

Again, one person boycotting the movies is a personal statement.  But millions, committed to a boycott would not only have a financial impact but just might cause those screenwriters to create material that is actually worth viewing.

History is not merely something that has happened before.  Its pages are being inscribed even as I type this post.  But the question is will it be written by those people of conscience who believe in the freedom of the individual or by those who believe in the power of the state?

The answer to that will be determined by what each of us does because, at least for the moment, the power is still in the hands of the people.

MEDIATION

I have debated whether to write this post for almost a week.  But something caught my eye this morning which decided me to move forward with it.

First a bit of history.  Two of my readers who are both thoughtful and comment frequently on my posts got into a “discussion” on one of their blogs.  The exchange became a bit heated, although both participants tried to lay out their differing positions without resorting to acrimony.

One of those readers has a faith-based view of his relationship with life – the other approaches life from an atheistic position.  The specific topic which caused the conversation was the issue of “gay marriage.”

Now while they chose to differ in their views on this specific issue, what I find remarkable is that I suspect these two gentlemen probably do agree on the social and political issues with which we find ourselves confronted today about eighty percent of the time.  How they arrive at similar conclusions is less important to me than I believe that it is to them.  So allow me to offer them the following example to support my position that it is not so significant how we arrive at our destination as it is that we do arrive there.

Consider the case of two car drivers.  Both are aware that there are speed limits which we are supposed to observe.  The first driver believes in following the letter of the law and regulates the speed at which he operates his vehicle to be certain he always is within the limit – because that is the law.  The second driver, less concerned with the law than safety, also chooses to drive within the limit because he believes that doing so will minimize the chance of an accident in which he, his passengers and other motorists will be involved.  Does it matter which rationale brought both these drivers to the same conclusion?  Of course not.

Religion and science have long been contenders in the battle to explain universal and epistemological truth.  They have butted heads often, but a reading of both their histories suggest that they both share a common weakness.  That is that while they declaim that what they say is so is so – what they say has and will continue to change over time.  That is evident in our religions’ accepting a heliocentric based solar system to replace the geocentric one we saw in the Middle Ages; and that is evident in something as fundamental as the expansion of the periodic table of elements which has occurred in the last fifty years.

There is another commonality between the positions of both the religious man and the atheist.  That is that both positions are based on faith – as it is neither possible to prove the existence of God nor to disprove it.  We should have given up trying long ago and just accept that “it is what it is – whatever it is.”

But let’s return to the item that caught my eye this morning and to discuss the issue which precipitated the conversation between my two readers.  That was an announcement yesterday by NASCAR driver, Denny Hamlin that he and his girl friend are expecting their first baby.

“Hamlin says marriage is not in the immediate plans.  There’s no reason to rush into it.”

Based on the number of unwed pregnancies; the number of illegitimate children who are being brought into the world and for whom we are asked for financial support; the explosion in the number of children born into single parent homes which put them at a great disadvantage in the challenge to become productive members of society, do we not have far greater challenges because of the behavior of our heterosexual brethren than to spend our time on the issue of gay marriage?

We know that the estimated ten percent of us who are gay or lesbian did not cause this problem.  But they will be asked to pay for the results brought about by it.  Is that fair or equitable?  My atheistic reader and I would both say no (not to put words in his mouth).  I happen to believe my religious friend might agree with that as well.

Frankly, I’m tired of the “Support Chuck-Fil-A” and stage a “Kiss in at Chuck-Fil-A” mentality.  Both sides do nothing but further fractionalize us and rather than bring a positive message serve more as media circuses than means to an honest discussion and resolution.  And if America needs anything right now it is honesty, starting with our elected officials and with every thoughtful citizen participating.

If I have offended either or both of my readers to whom I address this post I apologize.  That was not my intent.  I believe that if we focus on the things that divide us rather than those in which we are united, we are dooming ourselves to a dismal future.  I know that is not what any of us wishes.   And I know that both of you have a message and a perspective which we need to hear and consider.  Please keep talking – not only to the world but to each other.

Here endeth the Mediation.

ON VOLUNTEERS AND COERCION

Until 1973, the United States relied on conscription to staff its armed forces.  We have since moved to an all volunteer military and there are apparently a sufficient number of Americans who feel that serving their country in this way is their calling.  We have not had a problem staffing the various branches of our military service.

This serves to illustrate my point that there are many of us who are motivated not so much by coercion as we are by generosity and a sense of responsibility.  I would like to offer some specific examples of the kind of outreach which Americans exhibit.

In less than a week after the death spree occurred in Aurora, CO, there has been more than $2 million raised to benefit the families of the victims and the survivors.  No one held a gun to the head of these contributors.  They made these donations out of love and because they wanted to help the victims and their families.

This spirit of generosity, compassion and concern for our fellows is the premise on which the Founding Fathers drew the faith to believe that our grand experiment in democracy would persevere.

This is the spirit that guided us in establishing the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe after World War II through our gifts and loans and led us to assist Japan in rebuilding their nation.

This is a spirit that has set the world on fire – a shining beacon of what people, if allowed, can become and will do.  This is a spirit which those in Washington would do well to recognize because, if they do not, enough of us will one day reject their petty notion that only through coercion can they achieve their goals.  Following their present path will ultimately strike the death knell for their agenda of self-aggrandizement and we will no longer tolerate their abdication of their solemn and sworn duties.

Symbols are important things in our lives.  With the constant blather about who should pay more and who should pay less, I call on those leaders whom we have favored with our votes and who represent us to show some backbone and be the first in line to set an example.  Vote yourselves a pay cut – even if it is a symbolically small one – to let us know that you are serious about finding solutions instead of talking with the sole purpose of getting yourselves re-elected.

And then, offer us ordinary citizens the privilege of following your example.  Change the title of the box which allows us to contribute one or two dollars toward the Presidential Election Fund on our tax returns to one that allows us to contribute that amount or more to help reduce the national debt.  Of course, we expect that if you do that you will already have gotten serious about balancing the budget and this money will not simply fall into the trough of additional wasteful spending.

Apparently, our politicians have a very self-centered view of life as this concept of generosity seems to be alien to them.  They produce laws based on what they know and who they are.

But the American people do have a greater spirit than those whom they elect to serve.  And the example of generosity following the Colorado shootings should be a wake up call for them.

THE HEAD OF THE HOUSEHOLD

It’s amazing to me how much I learn about human life from what our dogs exhibit in the conduct of their own.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person who sees this – but, perhaps, I’m the only one who is looking.

My visiting Golden Retriever father, Bubba sired four litters.  He is now neutered.  Although he is one of the most gentle creatures, constantly looking for a gratuitous caress or insisting on one by marching between a person’s legs so they cannot ignore him, he doesn’t do well with un-neutered male dogs.

The dog park, with its requirement that all animals over the age of four months must be spayed or neutered in order to use the facility, should be a safe place to take all four of these creatures on our three outings a day.  But it isn’t.  During four of the last seven days, there have been one or more un-neutered males at the park.

I guess it’s possible that the people who brought their dogs didn’t see the sign specifying this rule.  But in most cases I honestly doubt that.  And because I believe that the dogs in my charge have the right to enjoy their time in a non-threatening environment I have felt obligated to point out to these folks the fact that they are violating the rule.

One gentleman apologized and said he didn’t realize that and immediately left with his dog.  The other three found excuses why this rule didn’t apply to them.  As a result, seeing that they were going to stick around, I took my charges and left.  I have decided that if I see them again, having brought this to their attention, I will call the Park Marshalls and let them do their job.  I’m sure they will bring a greater sense of urgency to this than I have been able to achieve.

Since I first met the three golden family about six months ago, Gracie and I have enjoyed their company as guests for almost half that time.  Of course, mom, dad and baby already had a bond – but that bond now includes Gracie.  It is remarkable to me and to others how, when they are visiting, she literally has a smile on her face.  And I think that of the three, she has most closely bonded with papa, Bubba.  The two of them, when we are home, can usually be found sleeping next to each other.

On an evening visit to the dog park the other night, a neutered male, I think an Australian shepherd mix, came in.  He was about three years old and extremely playful.  But he also wanted to do the dominance game with Gracie.  We had completed four laps around the park and were seated in the shade for a few minutes before we began the drive home.  Bubba was sitting in front of me and I was petting him.

When he saw this dog jump on Gracie he stood up and began snarling and barking and snapping his teeth.  Fortunately, I was able to grab his collar.  He definitely had blood in his eye and I know that there would have been an awful incident had I not been able to hold him.  The shepherd continued trying to mount Gracie and Bubba kept up his protest until the other dog’s owner came over and pulled him off.  When she had walked him a safe distance I took the four of them home.

It is clear to me that Bubba has identified Gracie as a member of his pack – or in human terms, family.  He is the alpha dog and he is going to defend his family from any intrusions or threats from others.  He is a devoted papa.  While I certainly don’t want any dog fights to happen, it does make me feel good to know that Gracie, who hasn’t a mean bone in her body and I doubt would know how to defend herself, has him to look out for her.

Then I thought about my childhood – and how I had my own father who would have done anything and everything necessary to protect me from harm.  Dad was a slight man, only about 5’ 8” and 160 pounds, but I know that if I were threatened he would have turned into a giant.  How fortunate that Gracie has Bubba and I had my father to provide for our security.

And then I think about all those children who are abused, left to fend for themselves without a protector – a father figure – a role model.  Although when we speak of child abuse we generally think about the infliction of active physical damage, I would argue that neglect and abandonment convey their own very deep scars.  Those may be invisible but they cut like knives through the makeup of the children of our one parent families – whose numbers are increasing daily.

Could the disintegration of the basic family unit be one of the reasons that we live in an increasingly more self-centered society?  Could it be one of the reasons that our children and young people engage in more and more horrible random acts of violence?  Could the abdication of principle and morality explain so much of what is happening in world?  And can our continuing along this path lead to anything other than our own destruction?

MY VANITY LICENSE PLATE

Okay, here’s a confession.  I don’t have a vanity license plate.

I’ve always thought that making a voluntary contribution to the DMV to obtain a vanity plate defies any definition of reason.  There are obviously many who do not share my opinion – and as I look at it, their folly reduces the cost of my required annual donations.  So I thank them.

But if I did have to pick a vanity plate, this is what it would say:

H D Q F D

Now you’ve probably played the game where you see vanity plates and try to figure out what the driver meant when he selected it.  One of my neighbors who has never played a game of chess in his life has a plate that reads CHQM8.

I’m always concerned when I see a plate with someone’s name on it.  I mean if they need to have the reinforcement of seeing their name on their license plate to remember who they are, they probably shouldn’t be driving.

But I think my vanity plate is more clever than most because I don’t think there is a person in the world who would have a clue what it means.   Being the generally nice person that I try to be, rather than leave you in suspense, I’m going to share it’s meaning with you.

HDQFD are the first five letters of the 24th verse of the 118th Psalm in the Latin translation – and that verse is the mantra which I recite first thing in the morning and the last thing at night.

“Haec dies quam fecit Dominus; exultemus et laetemur in ea.”

“This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Yesterday I happened to catch several episodes of “The Twilight Zone” marathon on television.   One segment  featured Burgess Meredith who played the part of a librarian.    Since the state had burned all the books they could find, there was no need for librarians and they determined he was “obsolete.”   He was condemned to death.

In writing my posts I always strive for accuracy.  As a result, even though I have repeated that verse many times, I referred to my copy of the “Liber Usualis” which was given to me by a friend and his wife many years ago, in order to double check that my Latin was correct.  It is one of those books that librarian Meredith died to protect.

The date this edition was published was 1925.  The cover is a little worn at the edges and the pages have yellowed through the years.  But the words still spring from them as fresh and as meaningfully as when they were written thousands of years ago.

I believe that if we are not grateful for what we already have, we are unlikely to receive more.  That is what I take from this particular verse.  And what we have is life and the duty to celebrate that.

So this morning and tonight I will repeat my  mantra – and will relish the day and sleep well.

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