Joel's Blog http://www.scs-matters.com/blog Embrace Reality Tue, 15 Aug 2017 07:22:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.1 35023480 The Fire This Time http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/the-fire-this-time/ http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/the-fire-this-time/#respond Mon, 14 Aug 2017 08:48:28 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3606 With apologies to James Baldwin for appropriating his title: If people could actually “spin in their graves,” my guess is that he would be doing a very rapid rotation at this time, as would, I think, Abraham Lincoln and many others who have done their best to make the United States a better country than it has been in the past. We have taken at least one big step backwards with the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am both angry and sad that “white nationalism” is on the march, and that the Ku Klux Klan is crawling out from . . . → Read More: The Fire This Time

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With apologies to James Baldwin for appropriating his title: If people could actually “spin in their graves,” my guess is that he would be doing a very rapid rotation at this time, as would, I think, Abraham Lincoln and many others who have done their best to make the United States a better country than it has been in the past. We have taken at least one big step backwards with the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I am both angry and sad that “white nationalism” is on the march, and that the Ku Klux Klan is crawling out from under the rocks and from behind the bushes that have been concealing it from public view.

The election of Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States indicates just how far we have fallen from the ideals this country used to represent. That is not to say, of course, that we did not have problems in the past. Anyone with Native ancestry knows that North America was not always “white America,” just as anyone with African ancestry knows that slavery was cruel and inhuman. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back to the 1920s or even the 1950s. I want the human species to evolve rather than devolve. I am not sure what it is going to take for that to happen. Christians have been hearing Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan for centuries, without ever recognizing that “Samaritan” is metaphorical. If you’re white, your Samaritans may be Blacks, Native Americans, Mexicans, or people from Muslim countries.

I have twice been stopped from going into a neighborhood where a white person would have been a target. A long time ago, I worked for a government housing agency in downtown Los Angeles. One of my friends there and I agreed to get together on a weekend, so he could meet my then-wife and have some quiet nonbusiness conversation over a beer. I said, I can come to where you are. He said, “No, I will visit you.” I reminded him that I had a car and he didn’t. He said, “You wouldn’t be safe where I live.” So … he took the bus and walked to my apartment. He lived in the Watts area of Los Angeles, and it wasn’t long after that the riots erupted. At the time, it definitely would not have been safe for my wife and me to visit him.

Many years later, Debra and I were in St. Louis for a conference. Debra wanted to go to a famous mall there, and we asked the clerk at the counter how to get there. She was telling us, when a Black guy also at the counter said, “No, it wouldn’t be safe for you to go that way. I’m heading in that general direction, and you can follow me.” He told us where he would turn off and said that our exit would be the next one. We went to the mall; I think Debra actually bought something; we had dinner, and then returned to the conference hotel. We learned later that the area we would have driven through without our “guide,” had been having repeated incidents of racial violence.

In the absence of major racial violence—a race riot—being covered on the evening news, it is easy for most of us living comfortable, middle-class lives to think that all is well. Our screens have become our view of reality. Most of what we know is what we see on TV, in the movies, and on our computers. The “talking heads” tell us what to think about what they elect to show us. How many times in recent years have we seen video footage of an unarmed Black man being shot by a police officer who “felt threatened”? I feel bad about the situation every time I see one of those videos, and I can imagine how much worse it must feel to be a Black parent of a Black man-child. The deaths and other inequities add up, and the resentment accumulates.

It is hard to address pent-up resentment. I find it easy to understand why “minorities” feel resentful about the privileges routinely afforded whites in this country. Progress toward equality has been slow. In general, the military has done a pretty-good job of integrating. Although the process of integrating the military has been slow, it has been steady and a lot better than what we’ve seen in society as a whole. I was in the Army from 1966 to 1969 during the Vietnam era. Many of the sergeants I reported to were Black, but very few of the officers were. Blacks could be drafted, and some elected to remain in because the military was more predictable than civilian life, and they worked their way up through the ranks. At the same time they could be drafted, they couldn’t always be served in restaurants—even when they were in uniform. Based on what I have seen on TV, my sense is that more Blacks have entered the officer ranks at this point.

While it is easy to understand Black resentment, it is, I think, harder to understand is why those with privilege would be so resentful of the progress being made by minorities. It is not a “zero sum game,” so where does the fear come from? I suspect it’s the ongoing sense of perceived loss. White blue-collar workers were enjoying economic gains following WWII, and the steady gains have been evaporating as a result of automation. Where we once had an army of carpenters building houses, we now have pre-fab houses that require fewer carpenters. It’s basically the same for the rest of the construction trades. Automobile assembly lines aren’t what they used to be, either. The same is true for virtually all “working class” jobs. Even retail jobs are disappearing as people do more shopping “on line.” When I started my professional career, producing a book required all sorts of work beyond that provided by the author: books had a number of editors, a publisher, and a slew of sales reps who marketed them. Most of those folks are gone, replaced by computer software.

The sense of uncertainty is palpable. The statistics show why: income inequality has been growing rapidly. The irony is that poor people are so busy blaming other poor people that they fail to notice who is laughing all the way to the bank. Kansas experimented with the Laffer Curve and demonstrated how there’s no “trickle down” in economics. Cutting taxes on the rich serves only the rich. But our memories are short, and we have forgotten that Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The most recent major revolutions in history all started when rich people got too rich and poor people had too little. The three big ones were the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Communist Revolution.

It remains to be seen whether enough of us have learned enough to avoid another armed revolution. At some point humans have to learn that we are one species on what is essentially a very small planet in a whole lot of space. No one is going to rescue us from our stupidity. We are ruining our environment but plan to continue the ruination so that a few very rich people can become even richer. At least those of us who are still relatively comfortable can watch it all happen on our big screen TVs.

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The Faces of Humanity http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/the-faces-of-humanity/ http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/the-faces-of-humanity/#respond Sat, 29 Jul 2017 14:00:09 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3577 All major human conflicts are essentially what Jonathan Swift called the war between the “Big Endians” and the “Little Endians” in Gulliver’s Travels. In Swift’s novel, Lilliput and Blefuscu are island nations ruled by emperors. Those from Lilliput broke boiled eggs on the larger end, while those from Blefuscu broke their’s on the smaller end. Swift’s readers at the time would have recognized that his metaphor suggested that the British political parties at the time, the Whigs and Torys, were fighting a war based on minuscule and inconsequential differences. That appears to be a common theme in human history: Most . . . → Read More: The Faces of Humanity

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All major human conflicts are essentially what Jonathan Swift called the war between the “Big Endians” and the “Little Endians” in Gulliver’s Travels. In Swift’s novel, Lilliput and Blefuscu are island nations ruled by emperors. Those from Lilliput broke boiled eggs on the larger end, while those from Blefuscu broke their’s on the smaller end. Swift’s readers at the time would have recognized that his metaphor suggested that the British political parties at the time, the Whigs and Torys, were fighting a war based on minuscule and inconsequential differences. That appears to be a common theme in human history: Most wars are fought over differences that could be worked out in kinder, gentler ways. One of the reasons for we have so many wars over inconsequential differences is that we really don’t have a good understanding of human history.

Most of what we think we know about human history isn’t really correct. We now know that those we call “human” weren’t alone in the category of bipedal “tool users.” It is reasonably well-known now that Neanderthals were also present and that they didn’t actually lose the Darwinian struggle with humans. They interacted with and sometimes mated with early humans. Less well-known is that a third group, the Denisovans were also part of the mix. This all happened, of course, long before anybody was keeping a written record. In those early days, humans (and Neanderthals and Denisovans) had to pass information from individual to individual and from generation to generation orally. Before the days of writing, those who could remember and retell stories were responsible for maintaining cultural information. That would include information about where to find food and water and where competing tribes of others were located.

That aspect of human history continued a long time. In pre-history, when groups of humans (however the Neanderthals and Denisovans mixed in) encountered another group, the groups engaged in warfare. Even though the natural resources at the time were ample for both groups, one group basically eliminated another, The losers who lived typically became slaves for the winners. As the groups enlarged over time, city-states arose, along with walls for protection, occupational specialization, and royalty. Tribal chiefs gave way to kings and queens. The separation between the royals and others was extreme. The buffers between the royals and the serfs were a growing business class and a professional military. This stage lasted a long time. During this period, information continued to be passed from individual to individual and generation to generation orally. The Greek poet known as Homer is perhaps the best known example of the way information was passed from individual to individual and from individual to groups. Eventually, of course, people started writing things down. We don’t really know how writing was developed, but most speculation focuses on the record-keeping needs of the military and commerce.

Many think of the Biblical character Moses as the author of the first five books of the Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible, but those early Biblical stories were transcripts of stories previously passed from generation to generation orally. Ancient people had to track their history orally, and it was important to know who was related to whom. That’s one of the reasons for what are typically known as the begats in several chapters of the Old Testament. It was important to know who was related to whom for a variety of reasons. Humans still do the same kind of record keeping, but these days we do it with birth certificates and other printed (and electronic) records. It is important to recognize that oral histories are not necessarily wrong, but they are more likely to be metaphorical than factual. The story Noah’s Ark, for example, is highly unlikely. Even in Biblical times the world was too large and contained too many species for one guy to go out, collect two of each species, and put them on a boat—even a boat much larger than the Ark described in the Bible. The flood, however, has metaphorical truth, and flood myths are common. The planet may well have been flooded in ancient times, even if none of the stories about it is factually correct.

What’s important to recognize is that all humanity shares a common history and a common fate. We are all in the same metaphorical boat. If we keep fighting about things no more important than which end of boiled eggs should be opened first, we aren’t going to survive as a species. Both Protestants and Catholics, for example, believe that their vision of God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit is correct, and both have been willing to fight and die in support of their view. In the world of Islam, Shia and Sunni are also willing to fight and die over which end of the boiled egg to open first. Even Buddhists, who theoretically renounce all violence, have been known to engage in religious hostilities when they believe their faith is being attacked. Religious arguments are basically “My loving god is more powerful than your loving god, and I’m going to prove it by killing you.”

If it weren’t so deadly serious, it would be laughable. But that’s not the only thing that’s going on that could easily result in the destruction of life on the planet. Humans have been very busy exploiting natural resources—burning fossil fuels and polluting rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. As recently as 200 or 300 years ago, it would have seemed impossible to ever pollute the oceans or rivers so much that they would lose their capacity to support life. That no longer seems the case.

In the nineteenth century, Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote In Memoriam A.H.H., which contained a reference to the way Nature is “red in tooth and claw.” Although we like to think of ourselves as better than the rest of nature, we are part of it. We no longer kill what we eat up close with pointed sticks. We have created an industry (actually, more than one) to do that for us. The same is true for the way we compete for other resources on the planet. We create industries to provide us with what we need to survive and be comfortable because it no longer possible for one individual to do everything that needs to be done to survive. Our industrial base may well be what’s often called “the last straw,” or the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” It is not the one last straw that proves too much for the camel. It is rather the accumulated weight of all the straws.

Even if humans have a cataclysmic war or pollute the planet so badly that most current life dies, however, life on earth will go on. The evolutionary process will simply sigh, say, “Oh, well,” and start again, hoping for a better result next time. That may, in fact, have happened previously. The theory is that at one time, dinosaurs ruled the earth. An asteroid hit the planet, ending life as the dinosaurs knew it. One of the current theories is that Earth has actually begun its sixth extinction, and this time it’s our fault. We have reached the point at which no place on earth is free of pollution. Our oceans are full of plastic and our rivers catch fire. If we want humans to be a species that survives, we need to learn to pay closer attention to the peace-makers than to the war-mongers. We need to start producing more things that foster life and fewer things that blow stuff up and poison the air, water, and soil.

The principal question at this point is whether it is too late for humanity to take corrective action. Are we so entrenched in our disparate visions of right and wrong that we can’t agree on a way of going forward that doesn’t involve killing those who hold different beliefs? There was a time, of course, when a war in one location didn’t have much influence on other locations. That’s no longer the case. At this point, a war anywhere influences everyone everywhere, if not with actual combat, with refugees and human migrations. Global warming has also begun to increase migration of people whose territory is becoming flooded or where temperatures exceed the limits of human and animal endurance. The combination produces a lot of friction between different groups of people competing for limited resources in some locations.

Many readers will believe that God (whichever one they believe in) will save us, but I don’t think so. My sense is that the All That Is will simply go on creating more diversity for eternity. Humanity is, after all, just one expression of the “life force” in the cosmos. The cosmos is very large, and we have no idea what other expressions of life force are “out there.” I happen to have a bias for humanity—it’s a species I am very fond of, and I would like to see it last awhile longer. If humanity survives long enough to look, perhaps we (humans) will eventually know the meaning of the Zen Koan, “Show me your original face before your mother and father were born.”

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Gaining Perspective http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/gaining-perspective/ http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/gaining-perspective/#respond Sat, 22 Jul 2017 14:22:05 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3550 You may know the old saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. While the saying isn’t literally true, it serves metaphorical purpose. First Light precedes astronomical dawn and provides the first proof that night is coming to an end. “Political night” has descended in the States, leading many to wonder whether “first light” is right around the corner. Many are hopeful. I’m not so sure. I think we (all of us) need to gain some perspective based on history. The history of humanity has been primarily wars and exploitation.

War, of course, is not new. Tribes went . . . → Read More: Gaining Perspective

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You may know the old saying, the darkest hour is just before dawn. While the saying isn’t literally true, it serves metaphorical purpose. First Light precedes astronomical dawn and provides the first proof that night is coming to an end. “Political night” has descended in the States, leading many to wonder whether “first light” is right around the corner. Many are hopeful. I’m not so sure. I think we (all of us) need to gain some perspective based on history. The history of humanity has been primarily wars and exploitation.

War, of course, is not new. Tribes went to war against other tribes when they encountered them. Tribes got bigger and became nation states sharing an economy and, typically, religious beliefs. The religious wars in Europe are a good example. Protestants and Catholics had a long, on-again, off-again war satirized by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, in which the waring factions are described as the “Big Enders” and the “Little Enders,” based on how they opened their soft-boiled eggs. The one thing ongoing war does is accelerate the development of weapons, and in the eighteenth- and nineteenth centuries, European countries saw a rapid advance in technologies of war. So … when they (primarily but not only England and France) tired of killing each other, they explored the planet to see what they could find.

Not all the exploration was “bad,” of course. On his world tour, Charles Darwin developed our best early understanding of evolution. The part that was less than wonderful was that the European nations discovered that they had better weapons and could thus control people in a lot of other places and exploit their natural resources. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain scrambled to see which could do the most to exploit areas not yet fully exploited by the indigenous populations. At this point it is relatively easy to forget that, before the Europeans arrived and started claiming the land for themselves, North America was reasonably well-populated by indigenous peoples. We now, of course, idealize the time before the Europeans arrived, but, on a smaller scale, the indigenous population had similar conflicts of interest, and the tribes best at warfare took members of weaker tribes as slaves. That seems to be, after all, a natural state of human evolution.

World War II probably set the stage for what has developed into our current situation. We ended up with three major power centers: The West (the U.S. and its allies, with Germany and Italy being added), Russia and the Communist Block countries in Europe, and China. WWII was essentially coincidental with the Chinese Communist Revolution. One thing led to another, and we had the Korean War and the War in Vietnam. As is almost always the case, the wars were fought to control territory and the resources assumed to be there, including precious metals and oil. War is most typically a matter of follow the money. In “olden times,” wars were fought to enhance the wealth of royalty. These days, wars are fought to enhance the wealth of corporations and those who own stock in them. Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” says it well:


 

The “masters,” are those who promote war for their own benefit. Another song from the Vietnam era, Pete Seeger’s “waist Deep in the Big Muddy” focuses more directly on those who pay the cost of failure in policy.


 

As has been true in the past, our current situation is also governed by those who profit from it. We are cautioned to stay woke, in the sense of being aware of the ways in which the many are being exploited for the benefit of the few. A quick look at the planned changes in health care provides a general view of current legislation and plans for the redistribution of wealth in the U.S. The history of elections in the U.S. shows that people can and do vote against their financial self-interests with regularity, so something else must be influencing their behavior. In Medieval times, people would fight and die to protect the king. In those days, of course, the king (or queen) was the organizing principle around which the society was structured. While we no longer have a king or queen in the States, we do have “royalty” that consists of the uberwealthy, who are typically treated like royalty.

Whether that can change remains to be seen. In spite of all the wars and revolutions in the past, the basic structure of the rich and powerful on top and everyone else on the bottom has remained the same. That may be saying something about the nature of humanity.

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Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/dumbfounded-discouraged-dismayed/ Sat, 15 Jul 2017 14:49:02 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3521 I haven’t posted anything new in a while. I’ve been too busy reading the political news and wringing my hands. My sense is that the world situation is getting worse. We have, of course, had “dark days” in times past. I’m not sure there has ever been a time the planet was without at least one war going on. Most recently, in the States we experienced the World Wars (I and II), the Korean War, the “conflict” in Vietnam, and whatever is currently going on in the Mid-East. We’ve also had Civil Rights challenges, and various other conflicts and difficulties . . . → Read More: Dumbfounded, Discouraged, and Dismayed

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I haven’t posted anything new in a while. I’ve been too busy reading the political news and wringing my hands. My sense is that the world situation is getting worse. We have, of course, had “dark days” in times past. I’m not sure there has ever been a time the planet was without at least one war going on. Most recently, in the States we experienced the World Wars (I and II), the Korean War, the “conflict” in Vietnam, and whatever is currently going on in the Mid-East. We’ve also had Civil Rights challenges, and various other conflicts and difficulties in various places and at different times in history. Throughout most of the difficulties during my lifetime, however, I managed to persuade myself that “things” were, in general, improving, that there was some hope humanity would live to see a better future. The recent political situation in the States, however, has led to lose confidence in a better future.

Although the election of Trump to the Presidency is certainly a significant part of my loss of faith in a better future, it is by no means the totality. My big worry is about the environment, including both global warming and the loss of species and biodiversity. Humans (including you and me) are responsible for both those problems. A long time ago, a cartoon character named Pogo (created by Walt Kelly) said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” That certainly seems to be the case. The evidence now suggests that we are heading for a new mass extinction, and it is unlikely that humans will survive.

The earth has experienced five mass extinctions in the past. The next, which seems to be well on its way, will be the sixth. One of the things we know for sure about mass extinctions is that the species that arise afterwards are different from those that lived before. Large reptiles once dominated the planet, and that’s no longer the case. For better or worse, mammals have gained ascendency. “Different” isn’t necessarily either good or bad. Humans arose only after the fifth mass extinction, and humanity began with a great deal of promise. Humans, of course, have a lot of biases about “good” and “bad.” We tend to think of other species as good or bad depending on how we relate to them. We like them if we can raise them for food or if we can train them to serve us in other ways. We dislike them if we consider them a threat or competitors for food or territory. Although all species use what intelligence they have to find food, shelter, and opportunities to reproduce, humans have done especially well meeting those needs. Our failures tend to fall into what might be considered the “logical consequences” of being too successful at them. We have certainly done a stellar job of being fruitful and multiplying. When it comes to the earth, we have done a far better job of “subduing” than of “replenishing.”

We are cautioned in a variety of ways “to be careful what we wish for” because we might get it. As a species, we are very good at “wanting” but not so good at anticipating the logical consequences of having our wishes fulfilled. As a species, we are slow to cope with change. For most of human history, the “strong” enslaved the “weak.” Those who lost wars typically ended up as slaves. We know that was common in Europe, but it was also true of Native Americans before Europeans brought their form of it to the Western Hemisphere. In the States, slavery was especially problematic. One by one the European countries outlawed slavery, as did the northern States in the U.S. The Southern States, however, had built their entire economy on slavery. We have not yet outlived that legacy, and many still believe that the South will rise again. Part of that heritage is a belief in the superiority of those descended from White Europeans.

Not everyone living in the Southern U.S. shares that belief, of course, and not everyone from the Northern states is free of that particular bias. We can also see the same tendencies in Europe: The Bosnians hate the Serbs and vice-versa. Love may be fleeting, but hatred can last for generations. In the States, the saying, Black Lives Matter, is a legacy of slavery and the Civil War. And that’s not the only legacy, as the last election in the States made clear. The irony is that many relatively poor people voted for the candidate and political party that want to transfer increasing amounts of wealth from poor people (regardless of race) to those who already have more than they know what to do with. The gap between rich and poor keeps expanding. Whether poor, working whites voted against their self-interest is not clear. For many, certain values are more important than their own economic well being. For so-called “values voters” some beliefs were more important than economic well-being. And, of course, they were lied to. Trump promised to bring back coal, steel, and other “working class” jobs. The one promise Trump has essentially kept is immigration and travel bans. The U.S. is doing a pretty good job of keeping people from elsewhere out.

This is a world-wide problem, however. The real problem isn’t that we are restricting immigration (even when more immigration would work to our advantage), but that the rest of the world is in pretty miserable shape, too. People do their best to migrate to locations where they think life will be better. In times past, the earth still had a lot of relatively empty space, and humans saw opportunities to use that space to advantage. Humans seem to have overpopulated themselves into increasing misery. In spite of that, many (a lot of them Trump voters) want to eliminate birth control. Too many think that God (by whatever name) will magically prevent humans from self-destruction or that a “precious few” will be saved, as in the days when Noah saved humanity and two of every species. That’s not going to happen.

When we have had mass extinctions in the past, the new life forms to arise the following millennia were completely different from the life forms that existed previously. God (whichever one you believe in) will not save us or your special group. The spiritual force often referred to as The All That Is does not hold humanity in special esteem. The All that Is—Source—will simply start a new creation populated by new life forms. Humans, and human evolution, will come to an end, but the Cosmic Energy will continue. It is, after all, infinite and eternal, whereas we are neither.

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Video or Text-Based Web Pages? http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/video-text-based-web-pages/ Sun, 11 Jun 2017 12:17:42 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3501 In previous blog entries, I have written about the way different communication channels influence the message received. We have known for a long time that the medium is the message. (See also Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage). One of the principal concepts behind the message inherent in the titles of books (including McLuhan’s) is that communication channels are themselves “messages.” The original discussion about this concept focused on the differences being communicated by print media and television. the movie, Medium Cool, was based on McLuhan’s concept that video was a “cool” medium, one that forced viewers to think . . . → Read More: Video or Text-Based Web Pages?

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In previous blog entries, I have written about the way different communication channels influence the message received. We have known for a long time that the medium is the message. (See also Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Massage). One of the principal concepts behind the message inherent in the titles of books (including McLuhan’s) is that communication channels are themselves “messages.” The original discussion about this concept focused on the differences being communicated by print media and television. the movie, Medium Cool, was based on McLuhan’s concept that video was a “cool” medium, one that forced viewers to think about the message to understand it.

McLuhan’s “cool” is based on the need for those doing the filming and later the editing to remain emotionally detached from what they are filming ind producing. The TV reporters covering the Vietnam War, for example, had to film combat without participating. They had to stay “cool,” emotionally detached from the action to be able to film it. Video of combat, whether “real” or “staged” (for movies) is different from text-based discussion of combat, whether “real” or “fictionalized.” Whether you agree with McLuhan’s concept or not (and I’m not sure that I do), most will agree that movies and other videos induce a different visceral experience than we typically get from text-based coverage of the same subject.

This isn’t necessarily the case for readers and viewers. If you read A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, for example, and watch one of the movies based on it, your experiences will not be the same. The book describes the people being guillotined during the French Revolution, whereas the movie shows them in a line, marching to their doom, and we hear the roar of the crowd when the blade drops. Video may be “cool” for those who create it, but it has emotional impact for the viewer. Readers can and do, of course, associate into the material they are reading, but the degree of association is less than that of those viewing video.

And then along comes the Internet…. At first, the Internet was text based. Early text-based email, for example, didn’t even provide much in the way of formatting. That is, of course, no longer the case. These days, even email allows for very fancy text formatting and the inclusion of graphics, photos, and even videos. For a brief history of the Web, see History of the Web. At this point, the Web is ubiquitous, and can communicate audio and video in addition to text. If you have a good connection to the Internet, you can even “stream” movies. Just because you can, however, doesn’t mean you should—at least not all the time.

You may have noticed, for example, that many news pages convey many (in some cases, most) stories using video. MSNBC, for example rarely includes a text-based story. When video became relatively easy to do on the web, its use on all websites started expanding. At the same time, the availability of print media declined. I used to subscribe to a daily newspaper and several weekly news magazines, but I let my subscriptions expire because the printed versions of the information increasingly lagged behind what was available online. The Internet has changed everything. If you are old enough, you can remember manual typewriters, typing pools, and “mailable” letters (those without obvious errors). To communicate by writing in the “old days,” you had to dictate a letter to be typed, proofread the letter, sign it, put it in an addressed envelope, drop it in the mail—where it would be carried by truck, train, and/or airplane to its destination. The reply would have to be prepared and sent the same way. My guess is that typing pools have ceased to exist, and there are far fewer secretarial jobs than there were.

At the same time, the use of television as a communication device has greatly increased. It used to be used almost exclusively for entertainment. Radio, of course, came fist. Franklin Roosevelt had his Fireside Chats, and radio provided both comedies and dramas for entertainment. Then television took over, and soon fostered what became known as the Golden Age of Television. Since the early days of TV, we have gone from 3 channels that broadcast black and white images for several hours a day to as many channels as you want to pay for on a “24/7” schedule. “News” shows abound and have themselves become our “entertainment.” (See my previous blog, A Media Star Is Born.) Given that, what do we want from the Internet? Why not just watch more TV? Instead of turning to MSNBC online, why not just just watch it on TV? The same individuals report on the same stories on both TV and the Internet, but the difference is that the TV stories are constrained by time, whereas the Internet stories can be accessed “on demand.”

Given the increasing ubiquity of video, I have wondered whether we are heading into a “postliteracy” age. Early humans were, of corse, preliterate—they could neither read nor write. Even as recently as the Middle Ages, most people in most places could not read or write. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century being able to read and write were considered important. My sense is that even if oral and video communication are increasingly available for all, we will still need text-based communication for critical communication, the kind of communication that requires thought and analysis. If we’re not able to do our own thinking and analysis, others will give us theirs.

Literacy is our best—and perhaps only—defense against tyranny. For this reason, my favorite web pages are those that put their most important messages in text form. Web pages that put their main messages in video format have less appeal for me.

What about you?

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When the Mode of the Music Changes http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/mode-music-changes/ Fri, 28 Apr 2017 11:29:21 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3458 You can tell a lot about people based on their musical preferences. I borrow my title from a radical group from the ’60s, the Fugs, and one of their old songs:

It would be pretty hard to know me well without knowing when and where I grew up and how I had been influenced by the music of my youth. I assume that the same is true for everyone. The concept has been most fully explored by Morris Massey, who wrote about the three main periods in a person’s maturation process:

The Imprint Period. From birth . . . → Read More: When the Mode of the Music Changes

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You can tell a lot about people based on their musical preferences. I borrow my title from a radical group from the ’60s, the Fugs, and one of their old songs:

It would be pretty hard to know me well without knowing when and where I grew up and how I had been influenced by the music of my youth. I assume that the same is true for everyone. The concept has been most fully explored by Morris Massey, who wrote about the three main periods in a person’s maturation process:

The Imprint Period. From birth to about the age of seven: we absorb everything around us and accept much of it as true. We trust our parents, until or unless they demonstrate that they are untrustworthy. We develop most of our major values—both good and bad—during this period. We tend to assume that what we are learning is true for everyone for all time.

The Modeling Period. From about the ages of eight to about thirteen, we learn by imitating others, not only our parents, but also other people, especially older adolescents and accomplished adults. This is an experimental stage: We try things to see how they feel, including beliefs, both political and religious.

The Socialization Period. From about 13 until the early 20s, we are increasingly influenced by our peers. In “olden times,” this influence would have come mainly from older-but-still-young people in our tribe, village, or community. Shared values are, after all, what make the sense of “community” possible. Our sense of “tribe” has expanded in modern times, with the changes in communication technologies.

As we develop as individuals, we look for ways to get away from our earlier programming, we naturally turn to those who seem more like us—part of our “tribe.” Other influences at these ages include the media, especially those aspects that seem to resonate with the values of our peer groups. My mom and dad hit critical stages of their adolescence in the 30s and 40s. My dad loved the popular music of the 30s and 40s; my mom loved my dad. Until about the time I turned 13, I heard a lot of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other greats from the Golden Age of Jazz and the music of the 1940s—World War 2.

I was 13 years old when Bill Haley and the Comets released “Rock Around the Clock”:

That was basically the birth of Rock & Roll, which blended African-American blues and jazz with country music. Elvis Presley became the most loved or hated musician in the country depending on one’s age. In general, young people loved him, and older people—at least older white people—tended to hate him—unless, of course, they were in the music business. The mode of the music had changed….

Although I never mastered music well enough to sing or play an instrument, while I was in college I had a lot of friends who were gifted musicians, performing both so-called “classical” and folk music. Quite a few of them played professionally. Then came the war in Vietnam. And, at about the same time, the mode of the music changed again. Heavy Metal and Acid Rock gained popularity with young people and notoriety with older folks. When I wasn’t slaving away over a typewriter in Vietnam, I put on headphones and listened to Cheap Thrills with Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company and Music from Big Pink, featuring a group called simply, “The Band.”

Just as my father had not been able to make the shift from the music from the ’30s and ’40s to the music of the ’50s and ’60s, I have not made the shift from rock & roll and folk music to rap and hip hop. The mode of the music changed….

This is, of course, a metaphor for the way everything changes. I grew up driving a car with a stick shift (4 on the floor). For the past several years I have been driving cars with automatic transmission. News stories suggest that my next car may drive itself. For most of my driving life, I would have hated the idea. At this point, especially given the traffic on our interstate highways, I would be glad for a car that I could put on “automatic,” lean the seat back, and sleep until needing to exit the highway. I also started political life as an Eisenhower Republican. I lost my enthusiasm for Republican politics with Richard Nixon.

At that point, I became an “almost-Democrat.” I can’t say, “Democrat,” as I have disagreed with a number of positions taken by the Democrats over the years. As Lord Acton famously said, Power Corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Politicians are prone to self-aggrandizement. Politicians, regardless of party, tend to pass laws that benefit themselves and those who curry favor by rewarding them financially. For all practical purposes, there are no poor people in Congress.

History suggests that increasing the divide between rich and poor can cause serious problems: France at the end of the eighteenth century, Russia in the early twentieth-century and China in the 1940s. In each of these cases, the mode of the music changed. And when the mode of the music changes, you can’t be sure what the result will be. What tune would you like to be singing (or listening to) for the next several years? The tune I would prefer is “peace and good, brotherhood”:

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Stuff That’s On My Mind http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/stuff-thats-mind/ Sun, 02 Apr 2017 16:17:47 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3410 The original impetus for this article was the North Carolina Bathroom Bill. I am writing this from the perspective of a male who has been sharing bathrooms with women all my life—not always at the same time, of course, but most of the time, people use bathrooms one at a time. There are exceptions, of course. Public bathrooms (airports, highway rest stops, restaurants, and other public places). If you have ever flown anywhere with a woman, you know that when people exit the plane, men enter the men’s room, take care of business, and exit. In all likelihood, the female . . . → Read More: Stuff That’s On My Mind

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The original impetus for this article was the North Carolina Bathroom Bill. I am writing this from the perspective of a male who has been sharing bathrooms with women all my life—not always at the same time, of course, but most of the time, people use bathrooms one at a time. There are exceptions, of course. Public bathrooms (airports, highway rest stops, restaurants, and other public places). If you have ever flown anywhere with a woman, you know that when people exit the plane, men enter the men’s room, take care of business, and exit. In all likelihood, the female travel companion is still waiting in line to get into the women’s room by the time the man is ready to head to baggage…. Separate isn’t equal.

Unisex Bathrooms for All

It seems to me logical to make all bathrooms unisex, as was true on Ally McBeal.


There’s no reason men, women, lesbians, gays, bi’s, and trans people can’t all use the same bathroom and have all the privacy required. It is simply a matter of design and education. A complicating factor, of course, is that Numbers of people identifying as LGBTQ seems to have been steadily increasing. It is not clear whether the increase in homosexuality is “real,” or whether we are just more aware that some people have same-sex tendencies. The ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, seem to have had a fairly high degree of tolerance for same-sex relationships. History is typically better at recording the “what” than the “why.” Transgender may have been with us for a long time, too, but the surgery and hormone therapy have only been available recently.

Whatever the causes of LGBT sexual orientation, those so oriented are still human first. They are perhaps the Samaritans of our time and deserve to be treated by the quality of their character rather than their sexual orientation.

Rachel Dolezel and Trans-Blackness

Another thing I’ve been thinking about on-and-off-again since it first hit the news, is the Rachel Dolezel story. You have probably seen news stories about how she and her older brother were the white children of conservative Christian parents who later adopted four Black children to show commitment to the “pro-life cause.” What’s often overlooked in a review of Rachel’s life indicates that Rachel’s older brother was the favored child, and that Rachel and her adopted siblings were treated as “inferior.” Given her family background, I find it easy to see why she rejected the “whiteness” of her brother and parents and identified with the adopted Black children. For this reason, I am willing to cut her some slack. If she wants to identify as Black (or, as she now says, Trans-black, that’s OK with me.

Conservatives and Conserving

I often wonder what “conservatives” are conserving. They don’t seem to care about wildlife. They don’t seem to care about the environment, including clean air and water. They don’t see to care about the poor and hungry. They say they care about “the American way of life,” but what—exactly—is that? Most of us have ancestors who came here without “papers.” My mother’s parents came here from England and Norway in the days when immigration wasn’t regulated. Most of my father’s ancestors were here when the European invasion began. I grew up in California playing with, and later working with, Mexicans who traveled easily between Mexico and jobs in California “without papers.” One of my first summer jobs was cutting apricots before they were dried in a kiln. The best cutters were primarily Mexicans, probably undocumented. I found them good natured and helpful.

When I was older, I worked as a day-laborer in construction. Many of my co-workers were Mexican and probably undocumented. Farmers will tell you that they have been relying on Mexican labor for harvesting their crops for decades. What is likely to happen to our food production if/when we make it too difficult for Mexican agricultural workers to help with our harvest? My guess is that we will have to choose between allowing undocumented workers into our fields and importing fruits and vegetables rather than workers. The “American ways of life” relies on undocumented workers.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch for and control the crooks and thugs. If you have read much history (or seen the movie Gangs of New York, you would know that the “bad guys” were once the Italians and the Irish. My guess is that until we figure out a way to focus on the bad guys instead of designating certain groups as “bad,” we will continue to have problems eliminating crime and career criminals.

The Republican Party

I became aware of politics when Eisenhower and Stevenson were running for the Office of President. My parents were for Eisenhower, as were the parents of most of my friends, so I was, too. There is no way of knowing, of course, how we all might have felt and show things would have changed had Stevenson been the victor. I was at the time and continue to be a fan of the Interstate Highway system. The economy was doing well for most people. Under Eisenhower, the tax rate on wealthy Americans was high about 90 percent, and the economy was booming. Unemployment was low.

My guess is that Eisenhower would be embarrassed by our current Republican Party. The GOP has become increasingly dysfunctional. If ever there were a dysfunctional bunch of politicians, it is most of those who now identify as Republican. Their most important goal seems to be to maximize the wealth of those who are already wealthy, regardless of the cost to everyone else.

Their views of climate change are highly influenced by the industries they own. There really is no such thing as clean coal, for example. Fracking to extract natural gas and petroleum, also creates serious environmental problems. This, of course, relates directly to the Republican idea of “conservation.” The land certainly is not being conserved. In general, Republicans starting with Ronald Reagan have had little interest in conserving anything from which wealthy people and corporations can make a profit.

Republicans seems willing to legislate in favor of anything from which profit can be derived. In my opinion, the worst of these are for profit prisons the virtual elimination of public schools. While I agree that public schools haven’t always been as good as they should or could be, they are fundamentally the “great equalizer” for those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. We need a strong public education system if we want a strong social system. The better educated the citizenry, the better off we all are.

A democracy works for everyone. We we keep inching closer to (and where we may already be) is a Plutocracy. If you have read much history, you may remember what has happened in the past when plutocracies developed. Some examples are France in the 1790s, Russia in the early twentieth century, and China in the 1930s. While I don’t think that we are close to a revolution at this point, I am also aware that the French and Russian aristocracies did not think that they were going to be in for some less-than-pleasant times. Big changes often occur suddenly….

Fake News

We have always had some “fake news,” of course. A rumor starts and spreads quickly. People eventually discover that the rumor isn’t true. Our current political situation and communication technologies, however, allow rumors to spread more quickly and widely. That means that rumors—fake news—can spread more quickly and farther than ever before. Current technologies made it possible for the Russians to influence our election. Producing fake news has, in fact, become a full time occupation for some.

Back in the days when our only source of news was print media (news weeklies, newspapers, and fliers), many voted based on “gut feelings” and little knowledge. Currently, as much as we would like to vote based on “the truth,” we still have to struggle to discover what is real. Most of us vote on what we value and what we want to be true. This is not a good way to run a democracy. As unglamorous as they are, we need to vote based on the hard, cold facts of reality. That means we have to learn to weigh short-term profits against long-term consequences. Does “science” always get it right? The answer is “no.” That’s because science is a methodology rather than an absolute. Science is a process of increasing approximation. It is never absolutely correct, but—with the right methodology—it keeps getting closer and closer.

We would do well to be more scientific in our approach to producing and consuming news. That means holding our news providers responsible for discovering and reporting the truth. Like the Houyhnhnms of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel’s, we should be shocked when someone says “the thing that is not true.

Searching for Christians in Christendom

While I do not identify as Christian, my quarrel is with the church and with those who believe that the Bible is literal truth rather than with what we know about Jesus. Literalists add up what they think are the years and ages in the Old Testament and conclude that the Earth was created 5,000 years ago. What the literalists miss is that most of the early chapters in the Old Testament, the Books of Moses, were based on an oral tradition. I was still in high school the first time I read the Bible, and one of the things that baffled me was the inclusion of the “begats.”

It wasn’t until I got to college and took a two-semester course in Christianity and the Bible that I learned how much of the Bible is based on an oral tradition. Stories and records were passed from generation to generation in Ancient Israel, the same way that the stories in the Iliad and Odyssey were told and retold in ancient Greece. They have been attributed to Homer, but he wasn’t the only poet who told the tales. Just because the Books of Moses were transmitted orally doesn’t mean that they aren’t true. It does mean, however, that they are metaphorically true rather than literally true. King James and his translators didn’t know that, of course.

At this point in time, however, more of us need to ask how that should influence what we believe to be true about world history. Did it literally rain for 40 days and nights, flooding the entire planet, while Noah and his family stayed safe in an ark with two of every animal, or is that story intended to convey the importance of following certain rules of personal conduct? Not all the “heroes” of the Old Testament led lives that we would consider “godly.” Kings David and Solomon, for example, had more wives than are permitted even by the Mormons. The main problem with Biblical inerrancy is the failure to recognize the teachings of Jesus.

My sense is that things would be very different if more of those professing to be Christian were actually doing what they could to imitate Christ. Would Jesus have been in favor of raining death and destruction on our enemies? Certainly many of the rulers described in the Old Testament would have taken that view, but if we behave the way they did, we would seem to be betraying Jesus. And, if we do that, what does that make us?

The More You Know, the Less You Fear

A postmodernist author, Julian Barnes is credited with the saying, “The more you learn, the less you fear.” I think that’s generally true. The more you know, the less you fear. What we are most afraid of is what we don’t know. I think we would do well to remember that as we move into the unknown social and political territories we are currently facing.

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Waist Deep in the Big Muddy http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/waist-deep-big-muddy/ Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:57:49 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3387 The title of this blog comes from a Pete Seeger song:

The lyrics contain a number of metaphors that apply to the current political situation in the States: First, times and circumstances change. What was once safe doesn’t necessarily remain that way. Second, having a “big fool” set direction may not turn out well. Third (and one of my favorite quotations), “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” which was doubtless based on George Santayana’s original: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering history by itself isn’t sufficient. . . . → Read More: Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

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The title of this blog comes from a Pete Seeger song:


The lyrics contain a number of metaphors that apply to the current political situation in the States: First, times and circumstances change. What was once safe doesn’t necessarily remain that way. Second, having a “big fool” set direction may not turn out well. Third (and one of my favorite quotations), “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” which was doubtless based on George Santayana’s original: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering history by itself isn’t sufficient. It’s only the first step.

If you have read anything about history, you know what the political situation was for most of our ancestors. You have probably read at least a little about Genghis Kahn, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler, and Mao Zedong, other other despots and dictators of lesser renown. Human history is replete with wars, famines, slavery, and superstition. One of the many quotable ideas from Henry David Thoreau is, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” The rest of the quotation is appropriate for our current times:

What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.

Back in the mid-1980s, Professor Neil Postman published Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. The principal focus of the book was the way the change from a print culture to a video culture (primarily TV) changed both public and private conversations. It has been a while since I read Postman’s book, and I can’t remember if he made the connection with Thoreau’s comment about despair being concealed under “games and amusements,” but the concept is appropriate. Consider the number of situation comedies that have been on TV over the last quarter-century or so. And, I must confess that I plead guilty to having enjoyed many of them. I don’t think that in and of itself is a problem. After all, many of Shakespeare’s plays were comedies. The mode of delivery was different, but the basic content of Shakespearian comedies, was highly similar to that in the comedies of TV’s “Golden Age.”

The tragedies also amuse, of course, as do “murder mysteries.” Theater and literature (both poetry and novels), have always served to comment on or distract us from what is happening in our own lives. In some cases, we can use what we read or see (on the stage or on TV) to better understand the problems we face and to gain appreciation for possible solutions. A common saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same, is an indication that regardless of how our technology changes, human nature remains essentially the same.

When we think about slavery, most of us in the states think primarily of what we experienced in the States. Slavery, however, has a very long history. We had to fight a civil war to eliminate it in this country, but most cultures (with very few exceptions at this point) eliminated slavery in the nineteenth century. The world had slavery from the beginning of humanity to the middle of the nineteenth century, and, of course, a few places/cultures still have it. And, of course, slavery isn’t the only primitive custom that is still with us in at least some cultures and locations. Our “modernity” is fragile. It is a thin veneer covering primitive tribalism and territorial warfare.

Our current political situation in the States (and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in Europe) provides a glimpse into the tug-of-war between the desire to advance and the desire to regress. Those who want to advance are in favor of increasing inclusiveness, with everyone being essentially the same and desiring equality. Those who want to regress, are thinking in terms of “us-versus-them” and the need for “us” to exclude and/or dominate “them.” Among a variety of other things, the concept applies to religions, countries, and sexuality. In the States, for example, under the guise of “religious freedom,” some what to deny religious freedom for others. The so-called “Bathroom Bills” are another example of fears gone wild. What, exactly, are people so afraid of? Baking a cake for a gay couple’s wedding is not going to make the baker gay. As best I can tell, if Jesus were alive today and working as a baker, He would be glad to bake the cake. He, after all, really was a Christian.

So here we are, waist deep in the Big Muddy, and we need to decide if we’re going to follow the Big Fool into the murky waters of past hatred or move into the sweetness and light of the future.



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Content of Character http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/content-of-character/ Wed, 01 Feb 2017 18:52:55 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3360 When Martin Luther King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (in his I have a dream speech), he was, of course, referring specifically to racial disparities. Unfortunately, racial disparities haven’t disappeared, and perhaps even more unfortunately, our culture has added a variety of other disparities by which we judge people. Like skin color, they are all superficial in nature and say nothing about the content of their character.

The first thing that occurs to me is the bias many hold . . . → Read More: Content of Character

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When Martin Luther King said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (in his I have a dream speech), he was, of course, referring specifically to racial disparities. Unfortunately, racial disparities haven’t disappeared, and perhaps even more unfortunately, our culture has added a variety of other disparities by which we judge people. Like skin color, they are all superficial in nature and say nothing about the content of their character.

The first thing that occurs to me is the bias many hold against those whose sexual orientation is “other”: Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender (LGBT). Given the current preoccupation with Muslim immigrants, religious affiliation also belongs on that list, as does the desire some have to build a wall separating the States from Mexico. We can add country of origin to the list as well. When we consider most cultures, gender is also a source for unequal treatment. Many cultures, not just the US, treat women as “second-class citizens.”

If such disparities were easy to eliminate, cultures would have eliminated them a long time ago. In fairness to our ancestors and our cultural evolution, we have made progress. Even as recently as the Medieval period, most people lived and died at the whim of royalty. At one time, most of the world’s cultures, had slavery. In the grand scheme of things, it hasn’t been that long ago that husbands were allowed to beat their wives, sometimes to death. As the person responsible for most of Debra’s and my NLP training, Richard Bandler has said, “The best thing about the past is that it’s over. The best thing about the future is that it’s yet to come. The best thing about the present is that it’s here now.” The trick, of course, is to take action in the present that will lead to a better future.

History suggests that violence begets violence. The idea of “getting even” has been around a long time, and we have evidence to show that revenge really is “sweet”. One of the reasons that violence begets violence is the desire for revenge, even if “getting even” takes a very long time. The Serbian genocide of Bosnians during the Bosnian war, for example, had its roots in the Middle Ages, when the Bosnians enslaved the Serbs. As Karol K. Truman has said, Feelings Buried Alive Never Die. They return as zombies and cause all sorts of trouble.

The real question is whether enough of us can be sufficiently courageous and wise enough for us all to avoid a zombie apocalypse. Christians have been taught for a long time to love their neighbors as they love themselves. If it were easy to do, surely we would have done it by now. Our first response to those who are “alien”—not like us—is fear and self-defense. Instead of welcoming our neighbors who need help, we turn them away, close our borders, and build walls and fences. It seems to me that there’s a big difference between defending yourself when attacked and striking first out of fear of attack. Too many of us seem willing to cast the first stone.

Currently, the US military budget is the largest in the world. Why are we so afraid? Or have we been sold a “bill of goods” by those who can profit from keeping us fearful? Who gains when we are made to feel afraid? And when we are afraid, what does it take for us to feel the fear and do the right thing anyway?

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True Colors http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/true-colors/ Fri, 20 Jan 2017 12:59:32 +0000 http://www.scs-matters.com/blog/?p=3337 One of the TV shows I watch with regularity is Austin City Limits, a PBS show featuring live music. A couple of weeks ago, the featured performer was Cindi Lauper. Although many years have passed since I first heard her sing, she still puts on a good show. One song in particular caught my attention for what it has to say today as we face a future less certain than we have typically known in the past. The song was . . . → Read More: True Colors

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One of the TV shows I watch with regularity is Austin City Limits, a PBS show featuring live music. A couple of weeks ago, the featured performer was Cindi Lauper. Although many years have passed since I first heard her sing, she still puts on a good show. One song in particular caught my attention for what it has to say today as we face a future less certain than we have typically known in the past. The song was True Colors. Here she is performing it:



The opening stanza seemed especially appropriate in view of the recent presidential campaign in the US.

          You with the sad eyes
          Don’t be discouraged
          Oh I realize
          Its hard to take courage
          In a world full of people
          You can lose sight of it all
          And the darkness inside you
          Can make you feel so small
          But I see your true colors
          Shining through

For obvious reasons, the song was adopted by the LGBT community as an unofficial theme song. The song, however, applies to all of us in one way or another. One of the things about this last election cycle is that we had the opportunity to observe other people’s “true colors,” and they weren’t always beautiful. I had, perhaps, been living with the illusion that we—humans—had been making progress, moving generally in the direction of sweetness and light in Matthew Arnold’s sense of “beauty and intelligence, the two key components of an excellent culture.”

As the election cycle progressed, my confidence in individual and social progress slowed, stopped, and went into reverse. We had, I thought, been making progress in achieving greater racial parity and harmony, greater acceptance of those in the LGBT community, better strategies for eliminating poverty, and more affordable health care. My sense was that other challenges we faced, primarily global warming and military and religious conflicts, we would be able to examine and address our problems in logical ways. As a well-know politician would say, “Wrong!” Although it is too early to predict what the next year or so might bring, it is not too early to say that we currently seem to be moving in the wrong direction.

I say seem because, if you are in a maze, you sometimes need to backtrack and take a different route to continue making progress. If you have ever hiked in the wilderness or driven rural roads, you know what I mean: not all trails or roads end up going where you want to be. The shortest route from Point A to Point B may be a straight line, but a straight line won’t always get you to Point B. We have been here before, of course. History is replete with examples of progress that turns out to have been a false promise. At one time, coal was considered a wonderful resource for heating homes. By the eighteenth century, during coal was being recognized as producing harmful pollutants (see Hard Times, by Charles Dickens). Oil was supposed to rescue us from the “filth” of coal. At this point, we seem to have reached a dead end with oil, and now need to change directions again.

“True Colors” applies to all. In Lauper’s song, “true colors” are assumed to be good. That isn’t always the case, however. A person’s true colors are shown by his or her behavior, and actions speak louder than words. We are wise to pay closer attention to what people do than to what they say.

Here are the rest if the lyrics for “True Colors”:

I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
Show me a smile then
Don’t be unhappy, can’t remember
When I last saw you laughing
If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there
And I’ll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
If this world makes you crazy
And you’ve taken all you can bear
You call me up
Because you know I’ll be there
And I’ll see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors
True colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
    Song writers: Billy Steinberg / Tom Kelly

My sense is that the song offers good advice for what we can do when things aren’t going our way: call a friend (or send an email or text message). Spend time with those you love and trust. Although there is some sense that ignorance is bliss, our principal focus should be on programs that offer hope. A little news helps us keep track of where we are, but it is tempting to focus too much on bad news and relatively easy to fall into despair. That, however, is not a good strategy. Letting our true colors show by being “present” and not being afraid has a much better chance of proving desirable outcomes. If we are afraid, “they,” the bullies, have won. You may have noticed how much of our current literature and movies have been dystopian.

It’s hard to say, of course, whether those who produce dystopian literature (both books and films) were anticipating what was to come or creating a future that matched their vision. Humans seem to be the only species on the planet that has the ability to imagine a future different from the past and present. That puts us in the position of choosing what kind of future we want for ourselves, our children, and those who will follow. My sense is that if we can’t envision and work for a future that is better for everyone, we may well be domed to ride the Snowpiercer train through the next several generations.

I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping for something better than that. Ignorance is not bliss. The more we know, the better able we are to navigate uncharted territory, and we are, once again, going into uncharted territory.

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