Every decision we make involves a gamble. What we bring to bear when we make a choice is key. Is it fact or opinion based? I think this question goes to the heart of every controversy we face as a species today, and especially as Americans in our current overheated political environment.
As a personal aside, though, this has been a pivotal spring for me. How we spend our time is especially difficult, choice-wise, these days. I have had such a hectic week, I wasn’t sure I would even post. But, I had been rolling this topic around for awhile and like to be consistent and routine, so I am going to put a few thoughts down, as they are gelling. This is a think piece in development and I hope it will not be overly abstruse. I’ll try to keep it short, for a change. (Unless that is unnerving, LOL).
For one thing, I have been learning to use other social media a bit more, because I am planning to launch a side business and have become interested in developing a good sales platform. That took a lot of work this week along with doing some regular work at my so-called ‘day job’, lol (since I work for myself out of my home office). But one of the concepts that has been plaguing me for awhile, is why there is so much unrest and anger in America lately. It seems to be permeating every venue with few exceptions and that is a shame. Don’t we want some place to go to just be happy? I myself am trying to kvetch less (can you tell yet, LOL!?).
I was chatting with a cousin this week about one of his kids who at 26 is suffering ‘failure to launch’. Part of the dilemma is that he is both angry and depressed, despite having a good entry level job and having graduated from a good university. It occurred to me that one reason there are an increasing number of kids returning to live at home and feeling they are failing is that the entire nature of our workforce has changed dramatically. There just aren’t the same kinds of jobs available to people starting out, that there were in past decades. It is getting harder and harder for someone to graduate with a liberal arts degree and find a position with promise, leading to a worthy career. I still contend that the best education is a broad and classical one, but then, determining how you leverage it into a career, is far harder than simply emerging from a technical program. It is nigh on impossible to advise kids as to what path is right for them and I don’t envy college counselors today, sending someone off into a bleak job market.
But another key factor in the current ennui, that all of us are feeling, is the uncertainty all around us. Society today is characterized by change, hopefully progress — but not always, and a steady stream of confusing messages. That alone makes almost everyone uncomfortable. We are now subject to contradictory input on every single subject. Just think of the fight about the Trans Pacific Partnership. Who would have imagined it would cause so much divisiveness. And where do we even turn to get reliable information on which to form an opinion. I have personally heard a dozen different analyses on the subject and am at a loss to know who is right, at this point.
I just heard Geoffrey Toobin say, “Opinions don’t matter in this case, only facts.” Don’t you think this is true of many things in life? In the past two weeks, a number of controversies have been featured in various media. Things that are fuzzy, not clear, and since I really like clarity, I find them annoying. Such as (and these are just a random few off the top of my head, mind you):
- Mayweather Pacquiao – 5 years waiting — do we really know who won and why?
- The national media ‘paints things with a broad brush of the known’ according to NPR’s Steve Inskeep who has been trying to find the real Baltimore — were any of us paying any real attention to that city, or other rust belt cities of its type? I was touched almost to tears by that poignant scene from The Wire of the mother and little girl gazing out the window and the Mother relating Good Night moon to the junkies and the cops and the other ‘hood’ figures that were the view from their tenement window. My heart breaks for those little children. I want their world to be safe and wonderful, not filled with horror and fear so early.
- Soledad O’Brien on the loaded use of the word thug. Why and to whom to we apply that word? Should we be using such pejorative terms instead of forcing ourselves and our public figures to be more analytical and specific, and describe actions in detail, rather than being evaluative, judgmental; a glaring example: Rush Limbaugh’s comment that ‘eighteen arrests and they finally got Freddie Gray’.
- State’s Attorney Mosby – if ever there was a lightning rod. Did she do the right thing? I have no idea, still.
- The Boston bombing trial — the prosecutor and defense are arguing the merits of death sentence vs life imprisonment. I was struck by the prosecutor’s saying that being close to death imparts mental clarity like no other event.
- Perhaps most importantly, the 30 year log-jam on moving a comprehensive infrastructure program, combining private with public funds, to prevent the tragic disaster of the future that cost 8 lives this week, is being endlessly tied up in partisan, personal interests, not those of the people. There is almost no meeting ground in congress on this issue and the heartless manner in which this is being delayed is not only reprehensible, it is essentially un-American.
I think a lot of this confusion comes from clever talking heads deliberately using the fuzziness that envelops most people’s thinking to plant falsehoods and then spread them virally. It plays into our primordial inchoate fears and nothing is more effective than triggering conserved animal traits like fear. We don’t develop methodical, systematic, clear thinking and analysis automatically. We have to be taught, hence the reason for an excellent education system, and then we have to make it our own priority.
Both clarity and progress are necessary for moving forward and growing, individually and collectively. Yet these are elusive because they require constant alertness, awareness and flexibility. An openness that is hard to maintain because that very presence and threshold-poise allows our psyche’s to be flooded with information, a lot of which is noise. Building a mental structure that enables evidential input while screening out nonsense and opinion is complex and daunting. It means having exceptional consciousness almost from birth. How many people can we point to with congenital heightened acuity?
One place you see it again and again is in those who have suffered severe trauma and lived to put their lives back together and report on it. I was thinking that a perfect laboratory for observing this would be the people who survived the Amtrak crash on Tuesday. An event like that is sobering and enlightening. But who would want to endure that kind of catastrophe in order to sharpen one’s awareness?
It strikes me that this is an age old dilemma at the highest levels of human inquiry. Here is something I have been studying for years. It has at least helped me to sort out the duality that typifies virtually every discipline and endeavor. You can read this discussion with Peter Coveney and it should be more crystallized than this post, which I am laughingly realizing is vague too!
I am coming to the conclusion that the primary mark of intelligence is the ability to be effective in the face of unclarity, confusion, contradiction, rapid change, disorientation — you get the idea. The person who can construct a temporary and semi-solid platform of order out of the chaos that bombards the open mind, is the winner of the future. It will never return to what it once was and we have to stop pining for it. America will never again be a colony, a wild frontier in any physical sense. The wild frontiers are in the mind and those who have a mental and emotional fortitude to venture to its edges are the ones who will emerge as each new cycle rises from the ashes of the previous one, like the proverbial phoenix, to be the victor. Not in terms of spoils, but in peace of mind. Only with a stable mental constitution can we be productive in the face of tumult and turmoil. I don’t think it is any accident that there is now an explosion of social media with names like ‘Tumblr’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Instagram’, etc. Those very terms demonstrate an accelerated future that will require lightning movement from idea to idea, task to task.
If that makes us uncomfortable, we are vestigial and we will be left behind. We are either open and sufficiently robust to withstand the incoming, or we will retreat to darkness, confusion, fear, paranoia and ultimately failure and in my view, premature death. As for me, I am continually seeking out the black swan. This dovetails into a future consideration of what it means to be Progressive, capital P. I hope I have made the right choices, but who knows?
All this needs more thought and your input, if you care to share it.
Images: Beth Byrnes, more Wild Ones, and daily411news.com