Cultural Traps, Part III

Observing your own culture with a detached eye helps one recognize the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. I’ve written about some of these traps before, those parts of American culture that we all take for granted but might not actually make sense.

In this third edition, I’m going to look at some things that might be emerging trends in America that are both really stupid and really dangerous, many culled from my own experiences and observations. 

Some of these might not be uniquely American. They may just be human nature. But when I see my countrymen and women (whatever the hell that means anymore) act like scary monsters, I can’t help but see these tendencies shaded in red, white, and blue. 

Opposing one thing automatically means liking the other.

Are you against the death penalty? Then you clearly want to open all the prisons and are super-soft on crime.  

…or maybe you’re just against the death penalty. 

Perhaps you oppose partial-birth abortion. You obviously want women at risk of death die from birth complications to die. 

…or maybe you’re just against partial-birth abortion. 

This might be more of a logical fallacy than a cognitive trap, but it is still (a) everywhere l, and (b) dumb.

Unintelligent people think like this, or liars. I’m sorry if that sounds mean, but it’s true. One is either incapable of seeing this trap, or is wielding it as a rhetorical club. 

If the former, you can learn. If the latter, its effective, sure, but it really doesn’t move the needle in any direction. It does something that could arguably be another entry on this list, which is assuming ill intent on the part of the other. Rhetorically, it’s a weapon. But it weakens your own position and makes you look silly. You risk losing credibility, which in a debate–akin to a trial–is the kiss of death.  

Disproportionality and overreaction, aka hysteria.

Debating is an art that requires practice and preparation. It also requires an understanding of the rules of a particular interaction, such as whether the relationship with your opponent will be ongoing, whether you’re trying to change the other’s mind, or whether you’re trying to illustrate a point to your observers. But either way, you want to make your points using reason, logic, and evidence.

Of course, what really changes hearts and minds is emotion. So use rhetoric where applicable. It’s very effective, and for some people, whether you call them midwits or IYIs (“intellectuals, yet idiots,” per Nassim Nicholas Taleb), that’s all they understand.

This trap dovetails nicely with the first, but it’s distinguished by what I call default nuclear. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part III”

The Monopoly on Normal

The state is defined by some as being the entity that has a monopoly on violence. 

But there’s more to a society than just who has the guns. There are other forms of control. 

I’m more interested in the entity that has a monopoly on normal.

And that entity is not necessarily just “The State.”

What is acceptable?

What can you do?

What can you think?

Who is it that you can criticize? And who is it that you can’t?

And who makes these rules?

There’s this tendency, which I find laughable, of constantly deriding the 1950s as an era of overwhelming, stifling conformity, a boogeyman to be invoked every time we beat our chests and crow about “how far we’ve come.”

And while certain things are better–many, in fact–in other ways thigs today are just as stifling. 

Every era has its problems. And every era has standards that you will be nudged to comply with–at first gently, and then with increasingly greater force. Until, eventually, the guys with the guns, threatened or actual, will come pay you a visit.  Continue reading “The Monopoly on Normal”

America By Rote

American flag

Today is Memorial Day, where Americans honor our fallen soldiers with parades and cookouts and basically having parties, doing so just because it’s a thing we’re supposed to do. Which, writing it out, seems a little weird, but I never thought of that much until this year.

I know, I know: The fallen heroes would rather have us enjoy our freedoms instead of moping about like a bunch of sad-sacks who don’t have the common courtesy to at least enjoy what their lives had bought us.

But how many of us consciously honor the fallen as we make our celebratory hot dogs? I don’t know. And honestly, I don’t know if it matters anymore. To most people, Memorial Day is a Monday off from work when they can get drunk and go to the beach. I can’ t say that I’m going to any memorials or cookouts or parades (mainly because I’m living in a part of the country where I don’t know anybody).

If you are a military family though, or one who has served, this day is incredibly important to you and I’m not trying to denigrate what it was established for one bit. Remember and mourn for your fallen comrades and family members. They are certainly worth remembering.

It makes me think though: What have the lives of these fallen men and women bought us? Look around America these days. What do you see? I see many different Americas that really don’t like each other. I see an America tearing itself apart over some of the stupidest stuff on the face of the planet. I see an America that is under attack by a bloodthirsty enemy, and our institutions bend over backwards to defend that enemy. Is this their legacy? Continue reading “America By Rote”

What Should We Listen To “From the Mouths of Babes”?

Today is Palm Sunday, marking Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem at the beginning of Passover. It marks the beginning of Holy Week, Jesus’ final ministry, the Last Supper, His passion, crucifixion, and Resurrection. 

It also kicks off the season of “Muslims bombing churches in the Middle East,” but I digress. 

Maybe I should write about this instead of my intended topic–after all, we’re suddenly beating the war drums over Syria because the President was supposedly swayed by his daughter’s heartbreak over the latest gas attack. What about this? This, also, has been going on for years. Is it the type of weapon deployed that makes the difference here?

Yeah, I’m heated. 

But this does tie into what I wanted to write about in a way. 

According to Matthew, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and the people spread palms and their garments on the ground as though he were their king, the children in the Temple cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David!”

Indignant, the chief priests and scribes asked Christ if He heard, and to which He responded,

“[H]ave you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, you have brought perfect praise’?”

This has entered the culture as the saying, “From the mouth of babes,” denoting that children have some kind of wisdom to offer. 

So what gives? What does this mean? When do we listen to children? Even adult ones? Continue reading “What Should We Listen To “From the Mouths of Babes”?”

Learn the Hate

America. It’s a divided place. This is no great revelation born of years and years of study and contemplation, but a conclusion one can make by scanning the Internet or television or media of your choice for ten seconds. 

One-third hates the other third, and the remaining third doesn’t care. 

But those two side that hate each other, boy is there a lot of enmity. 

This “blue state/red state” divide has gotten worse since these terms came into vogue around 2004. 

The red side accuses the blue side of living in a bubble. The blue side claims the bubble is a myth. 

The bubble is a myth? Please. I live in it. 

I’ve got a red-state core but I love and travel in blue-state circles, so I notice things others might not.

There’s a lot of hate, yes, but there’s is precious little understanding about why. 

And I think this is a big problem. 

It’s as important to understand why the other side hates you as it is to understand why you hate the other side. 

I hear a lot of the affluent, highly educated urbanites laugh at Trump’s constituency, but underneath the indignation and political disagreement is a layer of genuine hurt: These folks don’t understand why many reject them and the work that they do. 

Being called the “deep state” for merely doing their job. Distrusted as the cause of economic misery. And worst, being accused of not caring, which to this set is what really stings. 

They’re supposed to be the compassionate ones! What gives? Continue reading “Learn the Hate”

The Great Unveiling

Psst! Pay attention. These are exciting times! 

People are asking questions. Big questions. Challenging things that nobody challenged before. 

Did you ever wonder why things seem to work the way they do? Have you found yourself scratching your head at the mountain of bad decisions made by the powerful among us, those we may in a fit of charitable sentiment call “our leaders”?

They can’t all be that stupid, can they? They’re not all short-sighted and venal. Right?

Right?

We’re all familiar with The Wizard of Oz and the great and terrible wizard’s admonition to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

I know, I know: The analogy is too obvious. But things become cliche for a reason. 

I think we’re on the verge of seeing something similar. It’s kind of exciting. 

But “exciting” doesn’t always mean “pleasant.” Continue reading “The Great Unveiling”

Make America Humble Again?

While neighborhood-scouting in the tony areas of Northern Virginia with my family, I saw a house proudly decorated with signs reading the following:

MAKE AMERICA HUMBLE AGAIN

I wasn’t able to get a picture since I was driving, but here’s how they looked: They weren’t homemade, so I know there’s some enterprising company wishing to express this sentiment (which only seems to arise when a Republican is president, but I digress), and there are obviously people who want to pay for this sentiment. 

The text was meant to simulate something, a name-card, maybe, reading “Make America ________ Again,” like a political mad-lob. The word “humble” was written in a cursive script in the blank space, and the whole thing was on a pinkish background. 

Not the sign, but the closest picture I could find.

The signs got me thinking about the concepts “America” and “humility,” which is a persuasion win on both the signmaker and the sign-hanger’s part. 

But given what I know about America specifically and geopolitics at large, was America ever humble?

It’s the same way people wonder if America was ever great (hint: It still is, but mostly in relation to most everywhere else). 

America began life as a gigantic “Eff You!” to the most powerful empire in the world. 

It prevailed against incredible odds, and somehow survived the difficult decades after, to emerge some two centuries later as the world’s only superpower.

It’s kind of hard to be humble with a history like that. 

Look, we all know it’s not going to last. All empires–because that’s what America is, like it or not–have their ups and downs. And they change forms. 

Look at England, for example. It’s not the same country it was in 1066, or even 1966.  And yet it persists. 

America isn’t even that old, and we already don’t exist as founded. We haven’t for a lot time. 

America as founded died a long time ago, and is now firmly in the “smells funny” phase.  Continue reading “Make America Humble Again?”