Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Some Things I Want To Write About

Our political situation is getting grim.

Democracy works slowly.  I feel like I'm watching a car careening toward a cliff in very slow motion.  We know something has to be done.  Democratic wheels grind slowly though.  And with the added alignment of the House, Senate, and White House, they grind even more slowly.
We're watching disaster happen before our eyes yet it feels like there is nothing we can do about it.  In the short term, for most of us, that's probably true.  This car is going to go over the cliff.  There's going to be a lot of damage.

What we can do is:

  • let the people with power (members of Congress, member of government agencies, people who have influence on members of Congress) know how we feel
  • be models of good human action - take care of ourselves, do work that makes the world better, treat others with respect and decency
  • prepare for the 2018 election.  

But much of our crisis is due to radically different views about how the world works, how people behave, how we 'know' what is good and bad.  It's stuff inside people's brains.

A longer term project is to examine what goes on in the human brain and pursue understandings such as:

  • Our understanding of human economics
    • the Protestant Ethic and the nature of work
    • why work is the basis upon which Americans believe wealth should be distributed?
    • as science leads to more automation that replaces more human workers, what happens to the people displaced by machines?
    • are there other moral and equitable ways to distribute wealth among human beings?
  • Our understanding of human behavior
    • why do people do what they do?
      • the role of genes
      • the role of the environment 
      • the role of belief systems, different ideas of morality
      • the roles of fear, of hope
    • what affects how people behave collectively - in families, communities, in political bodies?
  • Our understanding of government and its relationship with individuals and private organizations
    • government as a concept
    • government as actual human systems
      • conditions where they work well
      • conditions where they don't work well
    • roles of governments and roles of private sector organizations
  • Our understanding of how we know things, how to think, how to solve problems
    • the roles of family, community, religion, schools, media, culture
    • the roles of individual brains
    • the role of emotions
    • how people change their understanding of things

There are a number of collective projects that the people of the United States need to undertake.  (I'll limit myself at this point, but really, this is project the peoples of the world need to engage in.)

  • We need to carry on with the fundamental tasks that allow us all to eat, have shelter, education, health care.  (And as I write this, I'm fully aware that all those needs are not being fulfilled for 'us all.')
  • We need to work on alleviating the fear we have of each other - whether 'the other' is defined in terms of skin tone, gender, religious beliefs, occupation, birthplace, sexual orientation, or any defined outsider from the mental category in which we each see ourselves.  
  • We need to understand ourselves and where our values come from and where our beliefs about how the world works come from.  (Is our knowledge based on what authorities in our lives tell us is so?  Is it based on our own experience?  Is it based on our feelings about things?  Is it based on any sort of rigorous testing of the world itself?)
  • Then we need to compare how we know the world with how others know the world and figure out how to resolve differences.
As you can see, there's a lot to think about, talk about, and do.  A blog may not be the best medium to explore these things.  Or maybe I can figure out how to make it work on a blog.  In a sense I do touch on these things frequently.  But can I do it in a more organized way?  Or are blog posts by necessity too short to take on such complicated and interrelated questions?  

That's where my head is today as our house guest of the last few days headed for the airport and the sun has been out for one of the nicest days of the year so far.  

Being human.  That's a big challenge.  How do we do it while achieving a reasonable level of contentment and doing as little harm to others as possible?  

Rereading this, it sounds so heavy and dry.  But these are some of the fundamental issues that humans must engage to overcome our differences and to find alternative ways to live decently on this planet.  I'll use this as a first draft and guideline.  Maybe I can find ways to engage these topics that are lighter without sacrificing depth.  


  1. ‘Then we need to compare how we know the world with how others know the world and figure out how to resolve differences.’
    When I was growing up in the 60’s before cable TV and talk radio you were going to be exposed to things you did not agree with. We had the three network stations and a PBS station in my city as well as an average number of radio station. Being exposed to another side of an issue you disagreed with made you more knowledgeable about that issue and better able to debate with someone. Now with cable and news radio you can be exposed to only those thing you agree with and spend all day listening to one side demonizing the other. I have no idea how to get people to have a civil conversation at this point. Look at the recent town meetings where people on both side are screaming and yelling and not even trying to understand an alternate point of view. Good manners have just gone out the window. The world people know is only the one that agrees with them.
    I think people are losing the ability just interact with each other. A teacher said that when the students came into his class he took their phones, and they just pretty much sat there. There was very little talking and later he ask them how many friends they had on Facebook and most of them had over a hundred. But they were lost without their phones. I was at a meeting yesterday with 8 people everyone had a cell phone in front of them on the table (I don’t own one) and they were constantly checking them. For God’s sake how can we change anything when we can’t even focus for an hour in a meeting?


    1. Thanks, Oliver. Yes, this is one of the reasons that people interpret what they see in the world differently. Radio and television, because they used the public airwaves, used to be required to adhere to the Fairness Doctrine - they had to give equal time to opposing views. But even if it were still in place, the Fairness Doctrine didn't apply to cable and other newer media.


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