Category Archives: Temper of the Times

Social Justice Warriors are hampered by intellectual dishonesty

“Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling would open his show with the following:

You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s a signpost up ahead. Your next stop: the Twilight Zone.

As I recently wrote, all the signs currently point to the world entering the Twilight Zone. What I  mean is that it is really difficult to determine whether a lot of people are living in reality or fiction.

For example, when I turn on my computer and choose to watch the news instead of entertain myself with science fiction, I see protesters explaining to a reporter why they are out in the street. What comes out of their mouths are best termed conspiracy theories, devoid of logic and truth.

The media aids and abets this warped thinking with its twisted reports. Their reports are seductive, for they pose as news.

Further, news organizations are in charge of what we see and hear on our devices. We may not be getting the most important news.

To be fair to the mob, we are full of false beliefs and memories. As I was writing this an article popped up in my Twitter feed from the Wall Street Journal which discusses research about individual self awareness.

“Most of us are not as self aware as we think we are,” writes author Elizabeth Bernstein.

Reporting on the research of psychologist Tasha Eurich, Bernstein notes:

When it comes to self-knowledge, she says there are three types of people: those who have it, those who underestimate how much they have (she calls them “underraters”) and those who overestimate how much they have (“overraters”). Underraters beat themselves up unnecessarily. Overraters believe they do everything well.

Some of us think that we have wonderful memories, also. I personally think mine is flawed, but I do have a close childhood friend who I believe has an exquisite ability to fill in the blanks for me on my lost memories. However, he may not be as astute as I think he is.

In a 2013 piece, The Atlantic asked “How Many of Your Memories are Fake?” Erica Hayasaki reported that even people with something called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory sometimes have their remembrances wrong.

One of the reasons for these mistakes in memory is that that our minds are subject to manipulation.

Simone Weil, one of the great philosophers of the first half of the 20th century, wrote that imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life. Unfortunately, she herself was evidence of this.

During World War II Weil contracted tuberculosis while in England.  She was there hoping to be sent to France to work for the Resistance. As a show of support for the French, she only ate what she “believed” the French person under German occupation would feed on. She died.

The coroner’s report said:  “the deceased did kill and slay herself by refusing to eat whilst the balance of her mind was disturbed”.

Despite this sad end,  Simone Weil is credited with seeking for truth during her short life.

 

A great student and thinker, she had a higher degree in philosophy. Weil also studied several religions.  In 1935 she was drawn to the Christian faith.  She wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” that her concept of life was Christian.

In the same work, Weil described Jesus as the truth. She also had a high regard for the Bible. Weil wrote:

Christ made promises to the Church, but none of these promises has the force of the expression “Thy Father who seeth in secret.” The word of God is the secret word. He who has not heard this word, even if he adheres to all the dogmas taught by the Church, has no contact with truth.

Weil chose to live out her faith outside of the traditional church. She believed that Christianity was “catholic (i.e., universal) by right but not in fact.”

“So  many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence,” she wrote.

Weil was not only an intellectual and devoted person of faith, but she was also politically active. Like a lot of young people, she was a political leftist. At the age of 10 she decided she was a Bolshevik.

Weil supported Communist movements in Europe. She wrote articles debating both capitalism and socialism. Although she was a terrible soldier, Weil tried to fight for the republicans during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

 

If she were alive today, Weil would grasp the attraction of modern groups such as Antifa and Black Lives Matter to today’s youth. She chose to try to reach the revolutionaries of her day and with truth outside of the Church.

Social enthusiasms have such power today, they raise people so effectively to the supreme degree of heroism in suffering and death, that I think it is as well that a few sheep should remain outside the fold in order to bear witness that the love of Christ is essentially something different.

Would that our latter day young social justice warriors, so full of a desire to change the world, add the zeal for truth possessed by Simone Weil to their repertoire. They could do it if they wished.

Weil wrote:

After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.

I can only hope and pray for this kind of effort toward intellectual honesty today. It is severely lacking.

 

 

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Today’s world resembles the Twilight Zone

In “22”, an episode of the old TV series “Twilight Zone”, Liz Powell is having a recurring nightmare, except to her, it is all too real.

The events are the same every time. It begins with Liz lying in a bed in a hospital. She is there due to nervous exhaustion.

In the dream Liz awakes to the ticking of a clock.  She reaches for a water glass and knocks it onto the floor, where it shatters.

Liz hears receding footsteps and follows them out into a hallway. She catches a glimpse of a nurse getting on an elevator.  Liz watches as the elevator indicator lights reveal that it has reached the hospital basement.

Liz takes the elevator to the basement and sees Room 22. It is home to the hospital morgue.

A smiling, smug-looking young nurse walks out and says,”Room for one more, honey.” The screaming Liz scampers down the hall toward the elevator.

Despite the assurances of the hospital psychiatrist, Liz believes her experience is not a dream. She insists that it is genuine.

In his imitable way, “Twilight Zone” host Rod Serling tells after the initial showing of Liz’s dream: “At this moment we have just finished walking with her in a nightmare.

In a moment she’ll wake up and we’ll remain at her side. The problem here is that both Miss Powell and you will reach a point where it might be difficult to decide which is reality and which is nightmare. A problem uncommon perhaps but rather peculiar to the Twilight Zone.”

The “Twilight Zone” aired in the early 1960s. Five and a half decades ago, the depictions of horrific ambiguity were clearly fictional.

Viewers at the time watched the show to be entertained, knowing that afterwards they would return back to a world of truth and clarity.

The problem in the first quarter of the 21st century is that we have reached a point  where it IS difficult to decide like Liz Powell whether we are living in reality or a nightmare.  We ARE living in the Twilight Zone.

We all know about fake news.  There is propaganda everywhere.

But sometimes the news gives us absurdity that is unbelievably factual. This week, for example, ESPN took an Asian American announcer by the name of Robert Lee off a University of Virginia football game because his name could trigger the weak.

This poor man had a moniker that was identical (sans middle initial) to that of the Confederate general whose statue created the controversy which resulted in riots on the UVA campus. Antifa leftists clashed with white supremacists over the validity of  honoring a man who fought to keep slavery.

Robert E. Lee was a hero in Virginia at the time I was a child there. No more.

Part of the reason this is so is because today’s young person lacks knowledge. They either are being given a warped view of history in the classroom or they have chosen to see only one side of a man people of my youth thought of as a noble person.

It is easy to get suckered into false beliefs. I am exhibit 1 for this statement.

I was in my mid-thirties when I earned a graduate degree and changed careers. My father came to my graduation.

During a party in my home I showed him a brochure of the school where I planned to work. It was a start-up language program at a small college.

My father got one look at the name of the school, which identified it as one which had a Christian focus, and he quickly issued this judgement.

“You’ve never had a steady job your whole life and now you want to go work for this Christian group.”

I was shocked and offended. Never mind that the event was supposed to be celebratory. For crying out loud (a phrase I have inherited from Dad), I had just received a Master’s degree.

For probably the first time in my life I contested what Dad had said to me. I argued that before coming to grad school I had worked 11 years for a company where I had been steadily promoted.

I had had two kids through this companies health insurance for basically nothing. My savings there had helped pay for grad school.

This conversation with my father was a catharsis for me. Through it I came to understand that just because he said it didn’t make it so. I had been very much tied emotionally to his opinion of me.

To be fair to Dad, my opinion of him was also flawed over the years. It has taken me a lifetime of hard knocks to comprehend that in many ways he was a good man. For example, Dad helped me with expenses as I pursued my graduate degree.

It is not surprising that a show like the Twilight Zone presents stories filled with weird twists and ambiguity. After all, it was supposed to be science fiction.

Sadly, today’s “truth” is stranger than fiction at times. We see it not only in the news media, but in our personal lives. Individuals, for example, are now being called racist if they hold a view that history is worth saving. It is helpful if you become a target of such an accusation to state “just because they say it is so does not make it so.”

Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction author, coined his own law in the 1950s which states that “ninety percent of everything is crud.” He developed a precursor to this adage which says that “nothing is always absolutely so.”

Much of what we absorb today is like Liz Powell’s nightmare. It is crap.

Yet, we may be able to receive a warning through our encounter with the crud. Liz did.

(Spoiler alert)

At the end of “Room 22″ Liz is shown boarding a plane to Miami after having been released from the hospital. The flight number is 22.

As she enters the airplane, she is greeted by a flight attendant who looks exactly like the nurse in her dream. The woman says to Liz,”Room for one more, honey.”

As in her dream, Liz scurries away, but this time back to the terminal. She watches as the plane she was to be on explodes on takeoff.

It’s important in the midst of our cultural decline into the Twilight Zone that we seek to learn what we can from the light we do have.  It could save our lives. More on this in the next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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America is a post truth society in turmoil

 

In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view.  These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.

Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.”  Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.

Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of  horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?

In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.

I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil.  What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?

The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.

Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.

Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.

It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.

The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.

Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”

Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law.  In other words, ‘rules’ rule over  a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.

For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings  developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.

Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.

Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.

Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”

Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom.  Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.

That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:

“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”

“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”

Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)

I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement.  This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”

The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for  a simple definition by John Swales.

T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics

As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”.  A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.

Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.

DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”

The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Dr. King’s Dream for Us All is in Danger

As the weekend approached, I chose to introduce my international students to the Martin Luther King holiday. I told them that when I was overseas I had been annoyed by not understanding why I had a day off or why the national flag had gone up the pole. It was my intention to educate them on the reason why they could sleep late on Monday.

Thus, I dredged up some exercises meant to provide English practice for my students while at the same time immersing them in the achievements of Dr. King. The “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963 was a must for my presentation skills class. It’s a great example of public speaking of course.

As I listened to the speech, given by to a large throng on the sweltering Mall in Washington, D.C.,  I began to think of Dr. King’s theme of freedom and his reference to the  “promissory note” signed by our Founding Fathers . America, he said, had defaulted on that promise for the black man. Now, over 50 years later, we have an African-American president and our nation has begun to pay the debt the reverend so eloquently reminded our people of back in the raucous 60s.

The “I Have a Dream” speech, however,  produced surprising consequences for me. What was originally an educational exercise for my students provoked their teacher to reflect on the state of our freedoms in the United States today. When I did, I was inflicted by mixed emotions.

First, I thought it ironic that this same president who is symbolic of the racial diversity of America is now presiding over an increasingly overbearing government which is negating the promise of the American revolution for all of us. Unless you have had your head buried in computer games or cell phone texts, you have to be aware of the hubbub over the spying of the U.S. National Security Agency leaked by Edward Snowden.

The former NSA employee, now living under the “protection” of Vladmir Putin in Russia, is a descendant of such famous government whistleblowers as Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971. These documents, given to the New York Times, divulged secrets about our governments decisions on the Vietnam War. This week Mr. Ellsberg was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying that America was on the verge of becoming a police state. Like most Americans, this snooping by my government has me worried.

On the other hand, I can understand why the spying has to be done. There are surely people out there who would like to destroy America, as evidenced by the attacks on September 11. It was George W. Bush who got the massive surveillance started post-World Trade Center, not Barack Obama. Our current president is just continuing the work of his predecessor.

In this Internet age it is difficult to keep one’s privacy. It’s not just the government doing the prying. The appropriately named discount retailer Target was put in the crosshairs of cyber criminals who absconded with the personal data of scores of millions of customers over the holidays.  One glance of the advertisers posted on your personal Facebook account will tell you that Big Brother knows your personal “likes”.

What is worrisome to me is that we live in a period of American history where trust in our nation’s leaders has hit rock bottom. Former defense secretary Robert Gates most likely represented the opinions of millions of Americans when he took special aim at Congress in his recently published memoir. “Uncivil, incompetent in fulfilling basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned, often putting self (and reelection) before country — this was my view of the majority of the United States Congress,” he wrote.

On  a personal and local  level, I am concerned about the behavior of police officers, flight attendants and bus employees these days. The threat of terrorism seems to have given these people the ability to become petty despots in their spheres of influence.

I once respected the police and thanked them for their service. No longer. Dr. King complained about their brutality in his speech, and it seems to have revived in the 21st century. Some police officers are  just as likely to shoot your dog as help a little old lady across the street.

So while African-Americans have made great progress within our system since August of 1963, the entire American experiment appears to be under threat. Fascism has its foot  in the nation’s door. It seeks to deprive us of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness   which the Declaration of Independence and Dr. King reminded us belonged to all of us from the Creator. Potential dictators are ready to take as much as they can get at all levels of society, and you know this power grab isn’t meant for our benefit.

I’m convinced that the only hope we have to maintain the freedoms men like Martin Luther King died for is for our people to return to the God who gave us our rights and seek His help. After all, he had dealt with self aggrandizing leaders before. The prophet Isaiah wrote of them:

For the leaders of my people—
the Lord’s watchmen, his shepherds—
are blind and ignorant.
They are like silent watchdogs
that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.
Like greedy dogs, they are never satisfied.
They are ignorant shepherds,
all following their own path
and intent on personal gain.
“Come,” they say, “let’s get some wine and have a party.
Let’s all get drunk.
Then tomorrow we’ll do it again
and have an even bigger party!”

The prophets words could describe the Washington party circuit in our own day. Isaiah noted a little later that God was “amazed that no one intervened to help the oppressed.” As a result, wrote Isaiah, the Lord stepped in to save them. I don’t think I would have wanted to be the leaders of ancient Israel when that happened.

I wouldn’t want to be America’s leaders either.

 

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Temper of the Times: Public Depravity

“There are some bad hombres out there.” This is what my close friend wrote on Facebook recently to justify going in a news fast. He stopped reading the headlines. He had had enough.

I can’t say that I blame him, even though I am such a news hound I couldn’t do what he did. You might as well ask me to give up coffee.

Technology has allowed all the decadence of mankind to spread instantly around the world. It is really discouraging.

I do not think today’s people are any worse than those of the past. All you have to do is look at history to learn of the murders, rapes, pillagings, prostitutions and other degeneracy of previous times. Even the Bible has stories revealing such things.

However, with the Internet, satellite TV, mobile phones and other technologies, the dissipation all around us is broadcast 24/7. There’s also a lot more people living today spreading their moral turpitude.

It is kind of a slow news day when it comes to debauchery in the press today.  Today’s there’s only stories about a football coach and a drug-crazed fiend molesting children. The rest of the news is pretty tame.

In past days there has been stories of cannibalism in various areas of the United States. It is not the kind of coverage you want to read while having your snack at the computer.

The problem of our debased culture is ongoing, and so is the reporting of it. I didn’t watch TV much for a few years when I went overseas. When I came back to the USA, reality television was all the rage.

I hate to sound like an old fogey, but a lot of the lyrics in the songs on the American Top 40 are just trash. Ideas that were just inferred when I was a youth are now spelled out in all their inglorious depravity.

I won’t even discuss the pornography. Everyone knows it is pervasive. I can’t remember where I read it, but one pastor recently wrote that the media is sex-charged in just about all of its products.

There’s something missing in today’s media, and of all people, Edgar Allen Poe-the Stephen King of his day-articulated it in a lecture entitled “The Poetic Principle”:

Dividing the world of mind into its three most immediately obvious distinctions, we have the Pure Intellect, Taste, and the Moral Sense. I place Taste in the middle, because it is just this position which in the mind it occupies. It holds intimate relations with either extreme; but from the Moral Sense is separated by so faint a difference that Aristotle has not hesitated to place some of its operations among the virtues themselves. Nevertheless we find the offices of the trio marked with a sufficient distinction. Just as the Intellect concerns itself with Truth, so Taste informs us of the Beautiful, while the Moral Sense is regardful of Duty. Of this latter, while Conscience teaches the obligation, and Reason the expediency, Taste contents herself with displaying the charms: – waging war upon Vice solely on the ground of her deformity – her disproportion – her animosity to the fitting, to the appropriate, to the harmonious – in a word, to Beauty. An immortal instinct deep within the spirit of man is thus plainly a sense of the Beautiful.

What is missing in our public discourse today is taste. William Safire, in commenting on this lecture, says that Poe identifies taste as the “sole arbiter” in poetic creation of beauty.

 Since much of what comes through our electronic gadgets today lacks taste, we are inundated in a sea of ugliness. What we need is a return to beauty.

The media can do more than just push this uncomely material on us. They have a responsibility to their audience.

Donald R. Kinder and Shanto Iyengar did a study on television news which showed that it didn’t just broadcast information, but engaged in agenda setting. Those in charge of the more responsible electronic news outlets today could do a better job of setting it.

If they did, the content coming from our computers and other media transmitters would minister to our souls, not our prurient interests.

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Temper of the Times: Poor Leadership

A few years ago, a boss with an ulcer came to me a few months before he headed out the door and said,

“I want you to form a committee. Ask two questions: 1)What’s going on? 2)What’s going wrong?” I personally think these two questions are applicable today. All you have to do is pay attention to the news.

One of the definite problems today is poor leadership. No one seems to be able or is willing to lead.

Leaders lack competency today. They also lack integrity.

Furthermore, the followers are lazy. We put all decisionmaking on our leaders and go about our business and live with the horrible consequences.

In addition, we followers are also easily duped. In this world it’s all about image. If the public image is successfully portrayed, who cares about results? At least our pain is felt.

Kimberly D. Elsbach writes in an essay called “Looking Good vs. Being Good” that we expect three things from our leaders: 1) Control-they are in charge and have the final say 2) Competence and Consistency-leaders will make good decisions and maintain right thinking 3) Certainty-leaders have great confidence in the rightness of their decisions.

Unfortunately according to Elsbach, this attitude toward leadership leads to some messy problems when things go wrong. The truth is that leaders do not always fulfill the expectations of their followers.

Elsbach’s essay concerns the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church which came to light in the last decade. It is part of a larger work on the subject called “Church Ethics and Its Organizational Context”, edited by Bartunek, Hinsdale and Keenan.

She notes that part of the problem with the Church’s management of the issue was their attempt to meet the perceived expectations of their followers. This resulted in poor handling of the matter and even a coverup.

What would have been better according to Elsbach is for church leaders to have done three things to manage the crisis. They should have 1) admitted their incompetence and apologized 2) ceded control by changing the structure, for example, through bringing in new leadership  3) repaired the damage, for example , by focusing on the future though new evaluation policies and training programs.

Leaders must be properly trained. In the Catholic Church training in ethics was sorely lacking, at least according to James F. Keenan, whose essay appears in the same work as Elsbach’s.

Keenan believes that clergy should be trained in professional ethics. He indicates that while this kind of training abounds in medicine, the business and law, it is missing in the Church.  As a result, there is a lack of discourse and proper due process in relation to sexual matters which helped lead to the crisis.

The Church is not the only realm where trained leaders are needed. Jeffrey D. Sachs believes that economists need to be better trained in order to solve the world’s lingering extreme poverty.  

In his work “The End of Poverty”, he calls for economists to become more like doctors. What is needed to solve poverty is clinical economics. 

Sachs says that economists are not trained in clinical methods. As a result they have “focused on a very narrow range of issues, such as corruption, barriers to private enterprise, budget deficits and state ownership of production.”

He would like to see economists be able to engage in differential diagnosis and look at economies as more complex, just as a doctor does with the human body. Because of their simplistic views,economists currently have developed a cookie cutter approach whereby they prescribe what he calls “standardized advice to cut budgets, liberalize trade and privatize state-owned enterprises, almost without regard to the specific context.”

Organizations like the International Monetary Fund, Sachs notes,  overlook other valid causes to the poverty and thus come up with and insist upon the carrying out of a  wrong treatment plan:

 “The current situation reminds me too much of the fable of the farmer whose chickens are dying. The local priest gives one remedy after another — prayers, potions, oaths — until all of the chickens are dead. ‘Too bad,” says the priest, ‘I had so many other good ideas.’

As Sachs says, it is difficult for a country to do belt tightening when it doesn’t have a belt.  Because of their lack of competence, economists miss this.

Elsbach indicates that if followers believe their leaders are competent and things are still going wrong, then they will perceive the problems as stemming from a lack of integrity. This can be seen all the time in the media.

Iyengar and Kinder in their book “News That Matters” note that television news managers engage in “agenda setting”.  The hypothesis they set out to prove (and did) was that “those problems that receive prominent attention on the national news become the problems the viewing public regards as the nation’s most important.”

Not only do TV news bosses engage in agenda setting, but they also are involved in another dubious exercise called “priming”. This term refers to the effect television news has when it calls attention to some items and ignores others. What occurs with priming they say is that “television news influences the standards by which governments, presidents, policies and candidates for public office are judged.”

There is not too much question that news people today are competent. However, I think their ethics are quite debateable.

What the world needs is leaders with character. Niall Ferguson claimed in Newsweek this month that the European debt crisis affecting millions of Europeans could be solved by the continent’s economic giant Germany.

However, things aren’t bad in Germany. As a result, Ferguson says, the country is complacent.  He writes:

“Life in Berlin is good. In Munich, the capital of the German manufacturing machine, it is even better. You should try explaining to the average Bavarian beer drinker at the Stammtisch why he needs to get ready to finance an annual transfer to the Mediterranean countries of up to 8 percent of German GDP. I never get very far.”

At least Ferguson is trying. Sometimes leaders need to be pushed.

Urban Meyer is a championship coach who just took over the reins at football factory Ohio State. Here is what he told Sports Illustrated (SI)  about one of his new quarterbacks.

“I hate to stereotype a kid as a typical high-school player,” Meyer said of Miller, “but I got the sense when I first got here that he was kind of a cool guy and, ‘I’m going to lift weights and take care of my business,’ as opposed to, no, you’re going to finish first in every drill, you’re going to be the first one in the office, you’re going to do extra work, you’re going to push yourself to be one of the best.”

For Urban Meyer of course, this is unacceptable. He will insist on his player being the best.

It doesn’t hurt to push leaders. Indeed, Colin Powell says that a little courage upon the part of his subordinates when he was Secretary of State may have kept him from having egg on his face in front of the United Nations.

Powell told Newsweek that he asks those he leads three questions: 1)What do you know 2)What is it you don’t know 3)What do you think? He says it is his job as the leader to analyze all this and come to decisions.

He says his followers failed him in that, although they knew certain truths, they lacked the bravery to tell him.  Powell says they are even out there writing books about him even though they are culpable.

Our leaders have to stop being children and grow up. When they do, it will look beautiful.

The results of a maturing leader are exemplified again from the sports world. In an article called “A Brand New Lane Kiffin”, SI tells of the growth of a football coach:

 He has reached a comfort level. He is driven, but not overwhelmed anymore. … Kiffin is smarter, more aware. He’s not accusing opposing coaches of breaking NCAA rules when they haven’t (Urban Meyer, February 2009). He isn’t popping off without an actual reason. “There has absolutely been a maturation of Lane Kiffin and that will continue,” says USC AD Pat Haden. “I expect him to be a different person five years from now as a coach than how he is now. He’s already come a long way as a head coach and I anticipate more growth going forward.”

This is the kind of growth in character we should demand from our own leaders. If we don’t get it, we ought to thank them for their service, send them home and bring in some fresh blood.

There’s an old saying that people get the leaders they deserve.  I think we deserve better. Surely the world can’t take much more from the current crop without getting an ulcer.

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