Category Archives: politics

Westerners don’t understand the danger they’re in

“We don’t revolt because we don’t understand.”

Phillip K. Howard wrote these words 20 years ago as he decried how overbearing regulations put forth by government have crushed American freedoms.

Howard didn’t believe that our leaders have ill intent in making all the rules that dictate everything we do today. In a view toward being fair to everyone, the author believes they just thought that laws should be as specific as possible, with a view toward being fair to everyone,

However, he says that our lawmakers’ efforts toward being precise have produced the opposite effect. In trying to cover every eventuality by making blanket rules for all, they have created huge costs and imbalances.

This is why I almost hate to read the news today.  Stories of injustice imposed on the majority of inhabitants of the western world by elite politicians in order to deal with a problem affecting a few are prevalent in the media.

One of the most recent examples of such inequities involves the rape of a 15-year old girl in an Austrian town. She was attacked by three male “refugees” from Third World countries, people who purportedly were in the little nation through the benevolence of the government.

If you follow the news, you know that European leaders are taking in people fleeing the war-torn hellholes these men came from. I don’t know the motives of the politicians, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they are just trying to alleviate the suffering of some of the folks who suffering from war in other places.

But in performing what seems to be a righteous act for the sake of some escapees from among the millions in these wretched countries, these office holders have put their own people at risk. Instead of owing up to this malfeasance, some of Europe’s public servants are trying to cover for the crimes of the migrants.

For instance, when a 10-year old boy was raped by one of these “refugees” in a swimming pool last summer, officials asked that Germans try to understand that the attacker comes from a different culture. One of the excuses offered and concurred with by leaders was the migrant’s statement that he had not had sex in four months and felt pressure.

As someone who has worked cross culturally for over a quarter of a century, I appreciate anyone who tries to put themselves in the shoes of another person who might have different customs than they do. But citing differences in cultural norms for pedophilia is of course ludicrous.

I do wonder though what makes these evil people think they can get away with their transgressions in Europe.  Somehow I think the power- that- be need to dig a little deeper for the cause of the motivations behind the assaults.

Could it be that “refugees” arriving from these strict Islamic countries feel free to rape and pillage after they spend a while observing European society?  After all, they watch television programs and view internet sites full of all kinds of immorality.

Perhaps the pols could learn something from television, too. I know I do.

I recently caught part of a M.A.S.H. episode in which Colonel Potter (played by Harry Morgan) becomes kind of a father figure to an injured soldier cared for by his doctors and nurses.

Private Danielson is getting harassed by a couple of men in his unit who are also in the M.A.S.H. ward. It seems he doesn’t believe in sex before marriage and has let the other guys know that he treats his girlfriend back home with respect. These men haze him with jokes and pranks, including tricking him into playing poker with a deck of cards with naked women on them.

Danielson tells them,”Why don’t you guys just leave me alone?”

One replies,”Danielson,  you don’t like women, you don’t like to drink, you got the old man looking out for you. You’re about the sorriest excuse for a man I ever saw.”

To defend himself, the private tells his abusers that he has been accepted into a unit responsible for the dangerous job of defusing bombs.  It’s a lie, but Danielson then seeks to cover it by asking Major Houlihan how he can get into the ordnance disposal unit.

Potter gets wind of his plan and argues with Danielson, who becomes angry. Potter ends the soldier’s ill advised course of action by keeping him in the hospital. In the end, he comes by to apologize to the Colonel.

Before Danielson leaves for his original unit, Potter tells him “Make sure you stick to those values.”

The Western world ought to take Potter’s advice. But first, its leaders and people should evaluate what those values are.

What is it exactly do European countries and their cultural descendants in the  United States and Canada stand for today anyway? Answering that question could go a long way in determining whether or not our leaders will handle our problems without violating common sense, or at least what used to count for sound judgment.

This morning as we drove down the freeway a  friend of mine and I were discussing the complete disconnect between people in the US these days. He hit on the cause of all this strife.

“People’s world views are so different, we will never have unity in this country,” he said.

I do believe what my pal was referring to was the idea that in America we are in a “culture war”.  The term was coined by University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter  a quarter of a century ago to define the conflict between conservative (traditional) and liberal (progressive) values in our country.

Pat Buchanan, who ran for president in 1992, made a major issue of this culture war, adding to its definition by calling it a battle of religions.

There has been no letup in this collision of beliefs . The battle has only increased as the country changes, a metamorphosis fueled by unbridled immigration from countries which heretofore have not had much representation in the States.

 

 

Until this clash of civilizations in the West has a clear winner, we will continue to see such outrages as are occurring in Europe now.  The only reason we have the disgusting events of late on our hands at all is that the majority of the citizens in western countries either haven’t understood what is happening to their nations, or don’t care to.

Until we begin to understand that we are in a war and care to do something about it, the outrages will go on.

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Filed under culture, politics, religion, Uncategorized, United States

Leaders: watch your language

“Words give us power.”–Julia Cameron, author of “The Right to Write”

Unless we are born with a disability or become ill or are recipient of an injury after birth,we all have the ability to communicate, some better than others.  But even if we are not limited by a physical or mental condition, there are constraints on our expression.

For example, according to writing expert Julia Cameron, we are all born with a gift of language, but once we enter school we are limited by what we write and how we write it by our teachers. Students are confronted by academic conventions which they must obey. As a long-time instructor of writing at universities, I know too well how important these principles are. Violate them and you risk receiving a slap from the heavy hand of academic authorities.

The expectations of those who govern us also restrain communication.  In his book “The Death of Common Sense”, Philip K. Howard bemoans the tendency of those who write government regulations to attempt to cover every contingency regardless of the effect imposed on those having to implement them. In their effort to ensure certain outcomes, bureaucrats dispense with logic, a key feature of the effective transmission of ideas, at least in western societies like America

To illustrate this trend, Howard tells a story regarding Mother Teresa’s experience with the laws of New York City. The sainted lady wished to build a homeless shelter and was willing to put up half a million dollars to do so if the city would donate the building.

New York was very willing and the project seemed to be doable until  city building officials presented Mother Teresa with a requirement to include a $100,000 elevator on the premises, purportedly for safety reasons.  This regulation violated the beliefs of the Mother’s organization, which did not allow for the use of modern conveniences. The city wouldn’t budge on its rules even though the elevator would not be used. As a result, Mother Teresa politely declined to go further with the shelter and her desired good work turned to nothing because of the wording of a government fiat. Even though the verbiage flowed from the legal beagles, its effect prevented a good work: a shelter which would have housed 70 men who otherwise didn’t have a home.

Howard writes, “We seem to have achieved the worst of all possible worlds: a system of regulation that goes too far while it also does too little.This paradox is explained by the absence of the one indispensable ingredient of any successful human endeavor: use of judgment.”

Solomon, an ancient king, advised his readers in the biblical book of Proverbs to get good judgment. He particularly singled the effect of good judgment from leaders.  Solomon wrote that those leaders who have good judgment create stability but those who don’t leave a wasteland. America is becoming a huge brownfield because of a lack of discernment among its leaders in what they say and how they say it.

 

Rhetoric is out of control in the political arena. The president, for example, is known for his edgy comments and verbal attacks on enemies. He is known for his insults of political opponents during the last election and other inappropriate statements.

His adversaries, however, are also extreme in their statements and suffer not only from sins of commission, but also those of omission. Despite his election last November, political leaders and celebrities on the left refuse to see Donald Trump as legitimate and as a result produce personal insults not only toward him and his adult family members, but also his 10-year old son.

Further, some politicians are keeping their mouths shut over the violence perpetrated by left-wing extremists when they should be coming out against it. Long-time political reporter Brett Hume decries what he calls the intolerance of the left, especially in the media, the entertainment industry and on college campuses.  After condemning an obscenity-filled commentary against Trump by the politically left comedian Stephen Colbert on CBS as “unrepeatably vulgar”, Hume said that “restraints are being broken through as we go and it does make you wonder if we are on a slippery slope to real violence.”

In other words, the breakdown of honorable speech in our culture is leading us to a destructive hell. Use of  the spoken and written word should be artistic, enriching people’s lives. Instead, political charlatans are destroying our society through their hateful discourse.

By lowering the standards of civilized speech in our culture, these people are influencing even well meaning folks at the community level. A recent TV series focusing on youth football in Texas and Pennsylvania shows coaches verbally abusing the kids in their charge.  While the program “Friday Night Tykes” documents the difficult task these men have in trying to lead a generation of children away from drugs and gangs and into character building sports, it also led to the suspension of coaches due to their coarse language.

As Hume says, I believe these coaches have been influenced by their leaders, people who have let go of all restraint in their communication. After watching the hard work put in by these men despite the obstacles they face, I felt they were at heart good people. They deserve better role models as they seek to have a positive effect on the blighted towns in which they serve.

Julia Cameron discusses how our acquisition of words as children give us ownership. We treat them as gold and cherish them.

It seems our leaders have lost this sense of value when it comes to what comes out of their mouths or crosses their fingertips onto a computer. Would that they take ownership again of their words and benefit us all.

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Filed under Civility, Donald Trump, language, politics, Speech, United States

Stopping America’s Slide to Self Destruction

Crying I cannot believe the world that I see
Is not for me
Praying please take me home
I’m here all alone and slowly I fade
If you could see my misery
Would you believe in opacity?-Ebony Tears

I am no philosopher. I don’t have the mind for it. But I know I have to have some understanding of this field of study because I am pretty sure the current problems between people in my country boil down to  differences in world view.

Even this non-intellectual can see that there is an underlying cause to the self destruction going on in American today.  In my lifetime, we Americans have gone from a people who had a basic faith in God, country and each other to a certain nihilism.

It has gotten so that I don’t want to open up news sites on the Internet anymore, although I am an avid follower of world events. I try to avoid following the news too deeply because I become anguished. It brings me evidence of the condition of the human soul in the 21st century.

The media tells me that political nihilists are using violence to do away with the previously established order in American society. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the culture I was born into is no longer there and has been gone for many years.

For example, I heard the sermon of a now-deceased pastor yesterday describe how an asinine judge (his words, not mine) entered a judgement against a man who had shot an intruder. The latter had sued this man, minding his own business in his own home, and won. This was 30 plus years ago.

I confess that my own basis for life comes from the Bible. From the Scriptures I can tell right from wrong, although I also admit that I am not always good at following their instructions. That a man could win a lawsuit against someone who was defending himself and his loved ones in his own home just seems completely upside down and definitely violates the tenets I have garnered from the Word of God.

By definition (I am informed by a group called “All About Philosophy”), nihilists reject the values I believe in. In fact, they oppose any values or truth at all, believing that values are worthless and knowledge of truth is not possible. Further, those nihilists involved with politics believe if any good is to come they need to do away with religion in addition to political and social orders.

As I contemplated these philosophical thoughts the last couple of days, the New York Times published a column by Pankaj Mishra which basically confirms my idea that nihilism is alive and well in America. Mishra finishes his discussion, entitled “America, from exceptionalism to nihilism” by noting that America has accelerated it. He calls nihilism our country’s “most insidious tendency”and that we are helpless to stop it. His article is worth reading for his tracing of how we have arrived at this point in our history.

In my view America’s plight is primarily a spiritual issue. Many of our people it seems have so rejected God that they are incapable now of accepting truth.

This situation is not new. Swedish death metal band Ebony Tears discussed the condition of such individuals in lyrics published 20 years ago. In their song “Opacity” they describe a person full of hate, confusion and pain.

Today some of these folks portrayed by Ebony Tears are out on the street dressed in black and covering their identities in masks, lashing out at the institutions and people they believe have caused their demise. They are living through a nightmare and involving the rest of America in their haunted ordeal.

It’s easy to throw up the hands over the darkness around us in America today. But as one who believes in a living God I know He is powerful and I therefore can be hopeful of renewal in the nation that I love.

Evangelical pastor Greg Laurie noted a few years ago in the Christian Post that America has had four spiritual awakenings in its history, all during tumultuous times: during the formation of the nation; during the expansion to the West when lack of love and sexual sin was common; at the time of a stock market crash in the mid-19th century; and in the 1960s when the Jesus Movement took hold in the midst of the assassination of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr and the debilitating war in  Vietnam.

Given the prevalence of evil our current times are surely a candidate for revival. Only the intervention of God and his truth will overcome the closed hearts of today’s nihilistic Americans.

How do we get to revival? I do know that revival starts with the individual. I cannot influence what others do, but I do have control over myself. So I can begin revival by starting with myself.

I can also ask God for it. Over 40 years ago Phil Keaggy, one of the greatest musicians America has ever produced wrote about how God can effect my own personal transformation:

All my life I have been searching
For that crazy missing part
With one touch You just rolled away
The stone that held my heart
Now I see that the answer was as simple
As my need to let love in

Keaggy further describes the consequences of opening the heart that has heretofore refused to allow God’s light and love in:

Like waking up from the longest dream
How real it seemed
Until Your love broke through
And I was lost in a fantasy
That blinded me
Until your love broke through

I don’t have to continue living in a horrible dream. Neither do my fellow Americans. All of us– progressives, conservatives, libertarians, and even the nihilists can allow God’s love to break through and change our dark, self loathing, destroyed hearts.

With a nationwide heart change, one caused by a turning to God, Americans can stop the self-inflicted damage we are causing to our country and turn it around.

 

 

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Filed under Christianity, Jesus Christ, politics, Temper of the Times, Uncategorized, United States

Teddy and Trump

As is to be expected, Donald Trump is being compared to past presidents (or  previous foreign leaders-like Hitler). I am reading a biography concerning Teddy Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin,  and through her portrayal I see some unique similarities.

Like Trump. Roosevelt had a  brash personality, was thought by some to be crazy, and was full of energy. When he became governor of New York, Kearns-Goodwin writes that he was “ever on his feet” during meetings, moving back and forth restlessly, carrying a scowl and punching the air with his fists. She notes that despite Teddy’s explosive and impulsive nature that he maintained a precise, to the minute schedule. Even during breaks at the White House as  president, TR would take visitors on physically demanding hikes in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. After the first week of Donald’s presidency, it would be impossible to think that he does not share the same dynamism that propelled Roosevelt.. Thus far, every day and even the weekends have been filled with breathless activity.

Both Trump and Teddy share a trait not commonly found among Republicans: a concern for the plight of the working class. For example, Kearns-Goodwin discusses how TR worked to improve the lot of Pennsylvania coal miners who were under the thumb of elitist owners. He convinced these recalcitrant tycoons to settle a coal strike with miners .Had he not, the labor dispute might have crippled much of the nation during the upcoming winter since coal was the main heating fuel at the time. Roosevelt’s efforts not only benefited the whole United States, but also improved the miner’s working hours and wages.  Donald Trump, even before he took office, persuaded one Indiana company heading abroad to leave a thousand jobs in the state. He has shown a desire to help the people who helped put him in office, the white proletariat.The Donald has wasted no time in meeting with union leaders in the White House, earning their praise for his efforts to keep jobs in the United States.

In addition to being joined at the hip in temperament and outreach to the labor class, both Roosevelt and Trump fooled their opponents. Neither man was expected to become president and they were actively opposed by leading men of their own party. Kearns Goodwin reveals that Roosevelt was seen to be such a loose cannon by the Republican establishment of his day that they shunted him into the vice-president slot under William McKinley. They thought  they could bury him in a job  which the vice-president of Roosevelt’s distant cousin Franklin later called “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” The GOP bosses drew on his popularity with the American people to help McKinley win re-election, but they did not count on the president getting murdered by an anarchist in Buffalo. Of course, in the same way many leading Republicans dismissed Trump as an anomaly and refused to support his candidacy, but he won anyway.

When it comes to workers, both Teddy and the Donald are connected in their low opinion of the civil service system. Roosevelt was charged with reforming the patronage system  in which favored political friends were appointed to federal posts when he became a US Civil Service Commissioner in 1889. A new law required that a quarter of all civil service hiring be made by examination. Teddy began with a bang by exposing a scandal in which New York federal applicants could buy civil service exam questions beforehand. Roosevelt continued his investigation of federal civil service corruption as president. Trump promised throughout his campaign that he would root out corruption in the federal government when he became president. He pledged to “:drain the swamp.” The new president has already made waves by dismissing top State Department officials and the holdover Obama attorney general who defied one of his executive orders on immigration. Another executive order in his first days bans lobbying on behalf of foreign governments when they leave office. Other ethics reforms are in the works.

However, despite their many similarities, Roosevelt and Trump do have their differences. The most glaring one between the two thus far is their approach to the media. Teddy  was very friendly with the press.  Kearns-Goodwin focuses on this aspect of his political life during “The Golden Age of Journalism”, a time when reformist writers like Lincoln Steffens exposed the corruption of the government and trusts. Roosevelt had long, private talks with journalists, sought their opinions and saw them as a tool to get his message out to the American people. Trump on the other hand sees the media as his opponents. Even this weekend he called them “the opposition”, describing them as dishonest. He has few allies among the press, though he does maintain good relations with conservative pundits like Sean Hannity. To counter this weakness, The Donald has taken to Twitter to get his views across to everyday Americans, much to the dismay of the mainstream media.

Theodore Roosevelt has left us a lengthy historical record which reveals a politician who was a one-of-a-kind. We know little about Donald Trump’s  political acumen except for the coup he pulled off in surprising most of us and winning the presidency. He has been a businessman and TV star to date, which in and of itself brings us all into uncharted  territory, but does make him special.

Teddy Roosevelt thought large. He was determined to reign in the entrenched capitalists who put a damper on the American economy through their monopolistic practices,  despite the opposition of his own party. Teddy was able to do so in a way that allowed these business magnates to keep their dignity. Further, his legacy includes an amazing conservationist accomplishment. TR set aside 15o million acres of public land as national  forests. However, TR was not just a progressive reformer. He sent the US Navy on a round-the-world voyage to “show the flag” and demonstrate American might. Roosevelt’s own major pride was the building of the Panama Canal, connection the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

We really are not sure what we can expect from Donald Trump, except perhaps a lot of surprises. However, it would be unwise to miscalculate his potential as a politician. After all,  in his 1987 work “The Art of the Deal” he said that he “thinks big.” He certainly has rattled Washington in his first days with his immense flow of executive orders and other decisions.

It seems from the viewpoint of 11 days into his presidency that Trump has a huge fight on his hands with opposing Democrats and  some Republicans who are still disenchanted with him. But if he can keep a majority of the American people behind him, especially those in the majority of the states that elected him, the new president could very well pull off a Teddy Roosevelt and shock us all with his own landmark achievements.

While he has not yet had time to demonstrate substance, Trump certainly has some of the style and the language of a Teddy Roosevelt.

“Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big.”-Theodore Roosevelt

Sounds a little like Trump’s “politician’s are all talk and no action” statement, doesn’t it?

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Civility Involves a Change of Heart

One night recently I went to the top floor of the local university library. The sign below is next to the elevators. Beside this sign there is a huge placard as you come off the elevator that repeats the rules for using the area.

 

 

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I go here when I really need quiet and to think. However, as you can well guess, some people think the rules do not apply to them. While I was there I called people out twice.

Alas, before I get too high and mighty (that’s coming), I realize I have my own blind areas. But, basic civility would be nice in our society. We seem to have lost it, if we ever had it.

This experience in a library was annoying, but not that big a deal when compared to widespread rudeness in more important venues. The reason this little skirmish has become more pronounced in my mind is that the I think my senses are heightened to rudeness after the recent American election season and its aftermath. As a news and poltics junkie, I have seen our public discourse filled with out-of-the-ordinary base statements from political leaders, protesters and would-be amateur pundits on social media.

.I really don’t have high expectations from politicians and protesters when they open their mouths, but the things emanating from them have reached a new low. Rock bottom does indeed have a basement.

If you follow the news at all you are aware of the profanity, ad hominem attacks and even physical violence of political opponents and of youthful protesters and celebrities upset about the outcome of the vote in November.

Discourtesy and ill behavior in our society has not been limited to politics. My little library excursion example is indicative of a certain lack of courtesy on the American university campus. The squelching of dissent has led to  a Stalinistic atmosphere. Most recently I wrote about a confrontation I had with a student over her discomfort with my viewing choices in a public location at my local school. The girl took issue with a scene from a classic movie which I saw as history and she observed to be insulting. She got heated right away without any degree of politeness and shrilly demanded that I turn off what I was watching.

In addition, during warmer months on campus I have been subjected to more nonverbal effrontery. I have come close to being pummeled by passing skateboarders who speed by out of control, with little thought for the mass of pedestrians on the sidewalk. Once one of these sidewalk NASCAR wannabes silently came up from behind me and without any regard for personal space engineered a wild hop on their board in a noisy fashion. It scared the daylights out of me.

The causes of this lowering of respectful behavior towards our fellow humans are too numerous to expound on here. However, I think Rev.  J. Vernon McGee hit on something decades ago when he was discussing a passage from the Bible. In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is having a debate with the religious leaders of his day over the importance of a rite involving the washing of hands.

Jesus said to these leaders and His followers:

“Listen,” he said, “and try to understand. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.”

Jesus’s disciples asked him to explain what He meant by this statement.

“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”

McGee said of Jesus’s words,”We are seeing that working out in our contemporary society today. We’ve come to a period of what is known a ‘New Morality’. We’ve reached the day that (the prophet) Isaiah talked about. He said the day is coming when they’ll call evil good and good evil. And they’re doing that today.”

Decades ago McGee decried the dropping of biblical standards for “freedom”.

“The lid has been taken off and man today can express what’s in his heart. What comes out? New morality? No, same old thing. Evil thoughts. Murders. Adulteries. We hear a good amount about sex today. That’s what you would expect. Fornications. Theft. False witness. Blasphemies. Great day of freedom. But my friends, if you don’t put the lid on the bucket you have opened really a Pandora’s Box  and we’re in trouble.”

McGee even in his time called for some controls on mankind’s behavior.

“Man has to be controlled,” he said. “Man is the most vicious animal on this earth and yet we put other animals in cages. And yet we’re talking today ‘man must be free to do his thing’. And here’s what he’ll do. It’s not new morality at all. Our Lord said this sort of thing was evil and these things defile a man.”

The Internet did not even exist as a public tool in McGee’s day, but he still blasted the media and schools for pushing immorality on to youth.

“These are the things that are defiling young people and yet it is all being done in the high, lofty-sounding terminology of ‘freedom of speech’ and that today ‘we must express ourselves. And this is the way we are doing it.The thing that is in the heart is now coming out.”

Solutions to the problem of incivility are not easy. As McGee noted, man does not want to be controlled. This was easy to see in the 60s, one of the most revolutionary decades in American history.

Stephen Sills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after a protest in 1966 in Hollywood. Residents were upset at the late night congestion caused by the numerous young folks who flooded the Sunset Strip area to hit the clubs and bars. So when the government put their foot down and enacted ordinances to curtail their outlandish behavior, the youth protest. This protest became civil unrest.The song opens this way:

“There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down (?)”

What Sills complained about in his lyrics is that the authorities were able to tell him and his fellow “children” (how apropos) what to do for the sake of others who were affected by their actions. But I don’t see his complaint as valid. If we are going to live in a civil society, we must have some common standards of decency for the sake of all. With freedom comes responsibility to others.

When human beings don’t voluntarily submit to some sort of standards of good behavior, then I am afraid they must be provided with incentives, even negative ones. I once heard of a new prison warden who asked an aide,”How much power do I have in this prison?” He was told that he had what amounted to dictatorial powers. When he heard this, the warden issued a fiat that there would be no profanity allowed in his prison. I imagine any rule breaking was punished. Over time the enforced manners resulted in a sea change of positive behavior in this jail.

Despite a huge swing toward incivility, I’m not asking for a fascist state to control all words and actions in America. I am not in favor of, for example, extreme self restraint of the media as new White House adviser Steve Bannon suggested when he said that it should “keep its mouth shut.” The Founding Fathers allowed for a free press as a watchdog on corrupt government. In our current society, however, the more recognized media companies have tended to be selective about which party’s corruption to expose.

This tendency of the press to shut down points of view it does not agree with has resulted in a media civil war. The battle has flooded over to the Internet and its social media sites, where every Tom, Dick and Harriet can have a say. Unfortunately, as I noted at the beginning of this essay, these interactions on Facebook, Twitter and other sites are filled with meanspirited, cowardly and selfish behavior.

The consequence of all this online heat has been the fracturing of relationships. During a concise and balanced discussion on media bias on CNN this week Christiane Amanpour said,”We should be able to have a huge variety of views without calling each other and treating each other as enemies.” What Amanpour says should apply not only to media types, but to we rubes on social media and individual friends, individuals and even strangers as well.

All I am asking for is some heart change that leads to obeying the laws, rules and principles developed by those who went before us to create a civil society. In order for that to happen we are going to have to quit being so self absorbed and start thinking about the welfare of others.

In addition to looking within for refinement, there are some things we can do. We can learn to listen. We can learn to listen ro understand. We can learn how to debate logically and ethically.  We can begin each interaction with goodwill. We can be kind. We can stop assuming that those with whom we disagree are inherently evil, bigoted, and criminal.

There are those who think that there are more important things than civility. Vann R. Newkirk II in a post in The Atlantic on December 5, 2016 notes that in matters such as racism that shaming can be an effective tool toward pushing whites in America toward confronting their bias. He writes:

Civility is not the highest moral imperative—especially in response to perceived injustices—nor is hand-holding and guiding reluctant people to confront their bigotry gently. American history is full of fights, including the ongoing struggle for civil rights, that have been as fierce as they are ultimately . Civility is overrated.

With the extremely marginalized, I can see Mann’s point. I don’t imagine a Jewish politician from 1930s Germany getting anywhere in persuading a Nazi counterpart to drop their racially stained views. Sometimes there is no other resort than war.

But as General Sherman said,”War is hell.” Those “ongoing fights” Newkirk speaks of were quite costly to America and Americans at times. Real change in these United States has only come it seems from either such conflicts or from persuasion.  It would seem to me that persuasion should be attempted at all times until there is no other recourse because of the insanely damaging effects of war.

Was war necessary to free the slaves in the United States? Perhaps. But there were some who believed that America would eventually be persuaded to ditch slavery. Instead, the opponents opted for civil war. After the war, the winners eventually made a political bargain to give control back to the losers. These people instituted Jim Crow, which carried racism over for almost another century. Thus, before we go to war it would seem to me that a long-term strategy for dealing with its effects be developed.

What is telling is that Mann believes there are other goals in argument besides persuasion. He writes:

Sometimes the goal of argument is to vent. Sometimes it is to simply tell the truth. Sometimes it’s just to loudly proclaim one’s own humanity.

Mr. Mann and I could have a civil debate on such a statement. I would take the position that shouting is not an appropriate method of argument, at least from an Aristotlian perspective. Furthermore, those “telling the truth” may think they are, but like us all these folks are subject to their own limitations. What they believe to be the truth may indeed not be.

What Mann’s discussion of the goals of argument has done for me, though, and why his comments above are telling is  that it explains why there was such profanity and base statements coming from speakers at the recent Women’s March. Those speakers represent a point of view which says that their opponents will not listen to reasoned argument. Only stigmatizing the opposition will do. My one complaint of this approach is that I am doubtful that Madonna or Ashley Judd had attempted accepted modes of persuasion prior to their profane rants.

Even though I don’t agree with many of the points in Mann’s article, it is well supported with academic research and nods to the arguments of opponents. That kind of argumentation I can respect. Thus, it makes his piece well worth the read.

Abhorrent perspectives like racism are a matter of the heart. I am afraid there will always be people with evil views. Where it gets dicey for all of us is when these folks begin to act on their beliefs. So there must be some control of evil.

If we don’t transform ourselves, I am fearful that the outcry will be so great that we could lose our hard-won freedoms. If we don’t do this as individuals on a voluntary basis, then I am afraid others with powerful institutions behind them will MAKE us behave.

When they do they won’t be bringing lollipops to persuade us; they’l be sporting hammers.

 

 

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Farewell, Mr. and Mrs. Obama

16130178_10212089417493411_113502149_oI am surprised at myself today. I find myself reflecting on the 8 years of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. What is surprising is that I am doing it at all and that I have some positive thoughts about their time in the White House.

That I am willing to publish some sort of affirmation of Mr. and Mrs. Obama is unusual in that I have a huge disagreement with a lot of their political views. Normally, these differing beliefs and values would keep me from writing anything. After all, there is a wise proverb our parents gave us which says that if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all.

It’s not that I am 100 percent opposed to their politics. I hold at least a nugget of agreement on a lot of things with the Obamas. Some of my disdain for them politically has to do with what I see as the poor implementation of their policies.

But that’s all behind us now. Today on the eve of their departure as leaders of the free world, I would prefer to separate the man and woman from the issues and look at how I feel about them now.

That’s a difficult task, as it is not easy to look at a political leader and compartmentalize them. For example, most people don’t think about Hitler and say,”Well you know, he was a monster and murdered millions, but he was a nice friend to many.”

And puh-lease, I am not comparing my views of Mr. and Mrs. Obama with that of Der Führer! But they have supported some ways of thinking that run contrary to my own and in my view have definitely resulted in harm to many. Let me just say, though, that if I think long and hard about it I can understand why they think the way they do. Resolving such conflict in my mind is complicated.

Like most Americans and others I really don’t know Barack and Michelle. I can only construct my opinion of them by what the media feeds me. When it comes to politics it of course depends on which media outlet I am listening to as to which Mr. and Mrs. O I get fed. For example, CNN mostly gives me adulation while Fox News provides me  with a lot of criticism of them.

But what HAS filtered through all the bias is this: I think at root that the Obamas are decent people. They appear to be good parents. In addition, it is to their credit that they have a nuclear family at all in our society today, and what seems to be a loving one. No one knows what goes on behind closed doors as well, but their marriage has an air of solidity about it.

Both Barack and Michelle also carry with them an aspect of their personalities that is important to the American people. They are nice, at least publicly, which is of course all I get to observe of them. We US folks hold niceness dear. We would rather buy from and work with nice people than not, and probably will choose who we do business with based on that quality, not competence.

So I might not have been particularly happy with a lot of the things Mr. and Mrs. Obama said and did during their two terms. But I was never ashamed of the way they carried themselves. For the most part, they did so with class.

Farewell, Mr. President and First Lady. Thank you for your service. My prayers are with you.

 

 

 

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