Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rally 'Round the Boys 'N Girls

A friend emailed me to ask if I had been watching the Democratic Party convention in Denver -- he thought it was high comedy!! I replied that I had decided to pass because I didn't desire to make myself sick, both with too much laughter and too much time screaming in horror at the telly.

I've read a little bit about it online and, folks, that's enough for me!

Political party conventions are such a bore and wholly theatrical. Everything is staged in such a way to deliver a message. This is particularly true of the Democratic Party version!!

Every four years they trot out party luminaries to bang on the podium about so-called liberal issues they really don't care that much about. They whip their faithful into an almost religious frenzy, then spend the rest of the campaign backtracking on almost every glorious promise.

I suppose they feel it must go this way for two reasons. First, they must galvanize their rank-and-file members. They must convince them -- almost beyond rational belief -- that the party honchos really, truly care about those issues that matter most to the lower and middle classes.

Once duped into believing these calculated lies, the faithful run around rabidly badgering their friends and colleagues with the phrase, "We must support the Democrats this year." If you try to point out to them that the chosen candidate is espousing policies and platform planks that contradict the reason for this euphoria, they're so poisoned by the kool-aid, you soon realize their cerebral matter has already turned to mush.

It's like trying to argue with your dog.

Of course, there's another reason for this grand theater -- To tick off the conservatives! As I've written in this space before, the corporate party needs to uphold this masquerade that there are two distinct entities (i.e., political parties) battling for the American soul. So, to undergird this facade, the Dems go out of their way every four years to inflame rank-and-file conservatives.

Mind you, most federal legislation passed with Democratic Party majorities over the last 2 - 3 decades doesn't look altogether different than the ones passed by their GOP counterparts. But that's not the point! No, the point is that conservatives remember the fire-and-brimstone speeches made at the national convention every four years and that's what they'll spend their time blathering about.

So, to ensure that the rank-and-file embrace the concept of adversarial parties, the Dems go out of their way to lace their speeches with references to universal health care, raising the minimum wage, foreign policy based on human rights and other topics sure to anger the "opposition".

I have no interest at all in watching this "dog and pony" show. It actually makes mindless reality programming almost palatable.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Two Topics We CAN'T Avoid

Often, when faced with attendance at a family, social or workplace gathering, people are advised as follows: "You don't want to get into any type of deep conversation with so-and-so. If you just steer clear of politics and religion, I think you'll be okay".

It sounds like great advice, but it's virtually impossible to engage another human being in cogent conversation without both of these topics rearing their ugly heads. While the focus of any given conversation may not touch on either topic in an overt manner, both are bubbling merrily under the surface.

This point is touched on in a book I picked up at the library yesterday, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens. (I'm sure I'll have to write about this work as I progress in my reading.)

How we look at the world is shaped by our political and religious or philosophical perspectives. None of us are blank canvasses. We all have biases, preferences and unique ways of interacting with the world around us.

Consequently, our frames of reference, informs anything we speak or write about. Take something as innocuous as a superficial conversation about the weather. How each person views "climate change" often impacts this seemingly meaningless dialog.
Person A: Gosh, it's really been raining a lot lately.
Person B: I'll agree to that!
Person A: You know, it really is abnormal for this time of year.
Person B: Oh, I wouldn't say that. These things run in cycles. We're simply having a wet year.
There's a better than average chance Person A's comments are colored by their concern regarding global warming. This person views the "abnormality" as having a specific cause and this is the direct effect.

Person B, on the other hand, doesn't give much credence to the so-called phenomena of "climate change". Consequently, for them, there is no direct cause-and-effect. The wet year is merely a random, chance occurrence.

While we can establish no precise rule in these kinds of situations, some generalities can be observed. In general, Person A is most likely a political and religious liberal, while Person B is more apt to be conservative in both areas.

It really doesn't matter much which topic of conversation might come up. Whatever is focused on is defined by our political and religious or philosophical beliefs. It's not that we consciously use these variables to drive our communications; they manifest themselves simply because they are an ingrained part of who we are.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Look in the Mirror

I'd guess that almost every single person who has participated in an unmoderated email list knows a thing or two about "flame wars". Somebody writes something that someone else objects to or labels disrespectful or declares is demeaning and, before you know it, a virtual donnybrook has broken out. These sorts of tempests happen on almost every email list I'm subscribed to.

What really amazes me the most is that people -- and I certainly include myself -- write things they would never, ever say to a person's face!! While email has ushered in a period in which diverse people from far away places can converse with kindred spirits in a meaningful way, it has also produced a kind of virtual anonymity that turns otherwise peaceful and uplifting individuals into email tyrants and bullies. It provides a perverse sort of freedom from accepted social constraints, so you can call someone a dirty rotten S.O.B. without much fear that you'll get punched in the nose or you'll run into them at the mall.

Two things I must remind myself of again and again are that 1) I need to spend more time looking in the mirror -- No, I'm not suggesting that I need to spend time fawning all over myself in a narcissistic way -- I need to treat others by the same standards that I expect others to treat me; and 2) how others behave genuinely does not affect how I behave.

We're all guilty of sin #1. If someone writes something that we object to, we immediately presume that we KNOW their true motivation and, quite often, no amount of apology or contrition is good enough for us. Yet, when the shoe is on the other foot and WE are the transgressor, many of us think that a simple, "I'm sorry you took my statement that way. I can promise you I didn't intend it in the way you perceived it" is sufficient to absolve us of all guilt. In other words, we grant ourselves a wide berth, while forcing our allies and comrades into the tiniest of shoe boxes.

Another way this manifests itself is in the way we choose to express ourselves. If another person chooses to employ vulgarities, profanity, rudeness or name-calling, we're quick to point it out and to demand immediate censure or punishment. However, when we're the person guilty of employing these same means, we're just as quick to submit that in THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE it's completely justified because so-and-so started it or we've been so wounded to the core by their comments that we should be given a free pass.

Regardless of how any of us interprets another's actions or behaviors towards us as individuals or as a group, we are the captain of our own ship. We alone choose to meet anger with anger, disrespect with disrespect, or name-calling with name-calling. It doesn't have to be that way. Like the peace activists who turn swords into plowshares, we are free to respond to anger with love and vulgarity with civility.

In my experience, the best way to minimize flame wars is to take the time to look in the mirror before firing off another hasty email. It's not enough to proof your messages to ensure you're saying what you mean to say. We also need to step outside of our own frames of reference to see how others might view our prose and verbiage. While it's certainly true that we have no way of knowing for certain how each person who reads our message will receive or interpret it, we shouldn't use this as a ready rationale to excuse ourselves from this needed exercise in intentionally thoughtful communication.

What I often ask myself is -- though obviously, not often enough -- How would I interpret my message if it came from someone I disagree with? Would it anger or provoke me? In many cases, this tact has caused me to go back and rewrite what I just wrote.

Look in the mirror. Treat others as you would have them treat you.

Monday, August 18, 2008

IQ versus W

My brother and I have been engaging in a long running debate. My brother seems infatuated with the concept of intelligence, while I place far more emphasis on commonsense and wisdom. Of course, as a participant in this debate, I'm not providing you with an objective assessment; I admit that I can only offer my subjective viewpoint. Maybe Sean will chime in to better elucidate his perspective.

For me, intelligence doesn't really tell me a lot about a person. Most intelligence tests are racially and ethnically biased. They also contain knowledge that the reigning oligarchy deems important at any particular time. So, garnering a high score on such a test could simply mean that a person is of the "proper" racial/ethic background and the person knows well the kind of information the powers that be want a commoner to know!

For the sake of argument, however, let's pretend that there IS an IQ test that evenly measures anyone's rote intelligence. I would still argue that such a test doesn't mean all that much.

I think all of us have known one or more individuals who are considered smart, intelligent and bright, yet many such people seem to lack any modicum of commonsense. Such people can expound at great length on the formulation properties of isosceles triangles, but such a person can't figure out that plaids and stripes clash or that one shouldn't try to operate electric appliances in the rain.

Even worse than a lack of commonsense, these poor unfortunate blokes seem to have an incapacity for obtaining wisdom. For all their smarts, they simply can't seem to learn from their own mistakes.

Again, I'm sure we all know these kinds of individuals. Their social relationships can only be described as one mess after another. They may earn a pretty paycheck, but they squander their money time and time again. For all their immense knowledge, they can't find any traction in the world because they keep falling over their own feet.

Now I'm not suggesting that all brainy people are wisdom-challenged. Many are blessed with sharp minds and keen insights. But if I was given the choice of having great intelligence or supreme wisdom, I would choose the latter every time!

There's a big difference between book smarts and native intelligence. I know of many people who never graduated from high school who I consider to be quite smart -- they may not know how to measure an isosceles triangle, but they ARE smart in the ways of the world. In such cases, the proverbial IQ test will be unable to quantify their innate abilities.

As the Tao Te Ching teaches and many other belief systems agree, knowledge isn't all that it's cracked up to be anyway. Knowledge often gets in the way of truly understanding the nature of things, the mysterious Tao. It blinds us to the rhythms of the universe and it often retards our growth in wisdom.

'Tis better to be a sage than a genius.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

All in the Game

A news article is out today which says that Democratic Party leaders in Congress are starting to waver re their opposition to offshore drilling as a response to the current spike in gas prices. Despite the fact that THEY know what almost everyone else knows -- that drilling will have no impact on gas prices for many, many years -- they SAY they don't want to be viewed as weaker on this issue than their GOP counterparts, particularly during this election year.

For those who considers themselves liberals or many of us here on the left, there is a ready -- and I believe misguided -- explanation for their steady litany of capitulations on this issue and far too many others (e.g., the Patriot Act, NAFTA, funding the wars, etc.). People will tell you that the Democrats are spineless!

The way this popular theory goes is that the Democrats too easily cave in on issues. They start out standing up for average Americans, but they give up ground too quickly in the face of Republican opposition. They fight hard for us, but only to a point.

I think that a lot of liberals tell themselves this fairytale because they don't want to have to face up to what's really going down. They don't want to come face-to-face with the fact that it's all a big charade!

Personally, I think it's all a game. It would be one thing if this scenario only played out from time to time, but this same scenario plays out over and over again on almost EVERY issue. The Democrats draw a line in the sand that is erased when the tide comes in. They stand strong just long enough for their supporters to THINK they're looking out for their best interests, only to betray those interests in the end.

In essence, it's really a sham to think we have two dominant political parties in this country! We have one dominant party -- the corporate party -- which has two popular faces. The GOP postures for the conservatives and the Democrats posture for the liberals.

The Republicans criticize almost every proposed bill as trampling on personal rights and giving away the store to bleeding heart liberals. For their part, the Democrats decry every proposed bill as serving the "moneyed interests" and not offering enough protections of John and Jane Doe America. In the end, I fear, the bill that becomes law is what the two supposed adversaries had already agreed upon initially.

So, I believe that almost all federal law isn't genuinely debated on the floor of the capital via C-SPAN, but is the result of backroom politics. The supposed policy debates are nothing more than a show to convince gullible Americans that our system is working the way it's supposed to. It IS, in fact, working the way the elites set it up; it's simply not the system most Americans believe it to be.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Seconds & Thirds

As I watch the Olympics, I've thought about the way medals are awarded. As most everyone knows, the person who comes in first wins the gold, the second place finisher gets the silver and the third place finisher gets to take home the bronze. While it's a much better system than the typical American winner-take-all paradigm, it still strikes me as rather odd -- when you consider the nature of competitive sports AND the phraseology involved with certain words.

In the popular lexicon, the words second and third do not tend to signify something exceptional. In fact, they typically denote something that is far from the standard. Here are some examples:
  • Second Banana - a performer in a subordinate role;
  • Second Fiddle - to occupy a secondary status;
  • Secondhand - not from the original source or owner;
  • Second-String - subordinate or inferior in rank;
  • Third-Class - on the Titanic it meant steerage class;
  • Third Person - a reference to someone else;
  • Third-Rate - inferior, or very poor quality.
So, while finishing second or third is not something most athletes would generally crow about, they do hold some level of significance in Olympic and World Championship events.

As an American, though, it simply appears strange to see someone jumping up and down with joy as the result of NOT winning. While the second place finisher can, at least, have the consolation that only one person finished better than they did, the third place finisher doesn't even enjoy that luxury!

Can you imagine the third place finisher in the upcoming presidential election strutting around on TV flashing their bronze medal for all to see? "I'm just so happy to place in the medals," this person would chirp. "I feel I represented my party and home state very well and I'm pleased as punch!"

Actually, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad concept after all.