Cultural Traps, Part IV

America is a funny place. And Americans are a funny bunch (when we can actually agree on what the hell being an American even means anymore, but I digress).

As time passes and more strangeness unfolds, I realize that the older I get, the more that criticisms of this country that would have rankled a younger me now see valid and very well-founded. It’s not that my love of this country has diminished with age. It’s that my uncritical, unthinking love of this country has diminished with age, as has my uncritical, unthinking love of ANYTHING.

Music, philosophy, politics . . . you name it. Things are different now, and assumptions have to be examined accordingly. That’s what my Cultural Traps series is all about. That said, let’s look at a few more of those supposedly unshakable American tendencies that either make no sense, or trap you in a harmful way of thinking that doesn’t let you fairly and accurately examine all sides of an issue.

Now, I know every culture on Earth has its own traps and foibles, but I’m an American, dammit. So I’m focusing on ‘MERICA!

Here we go.

Being Immune to History. I read an article the other day on The Federalist by a gentleman named Jesse Kelly–normally a pretty funny guyabout his preference that the United States peaceably split. A “divorce,” he calls it. It’s an interesting premise, and one has to rid oneself of the typical American tendency–discussed here–to have a hysterical, knee-jerk reaction to even the merest utterance of an idea in order to appreciate what Kelly says that’s deeper than “we should have an amicable split”:

Anyone who thinks this is a radical idea has an extremely narrow view of history. If you don’t believe me, go try to book a plane ticket to Czechoslovakia, or look at a map of Europe from the year 1600, then look at one today. See any differences? Borders move. Countries split and change hands. They do this for a myriad of reasons.

A rebuttal on the same website, written by one Lyman Stone, calls this idea dangerous and impracticable, if you’re interested in reading the counterpoint. I’m not here to debate the merits of this idea. But I do think Kelly raises an interesting point when he says “Anyone who thinks this is a radical idea has an extremely narrow view of history.”

By and large, Americans have an extremely narrow view of history. We seem to believe that history began in either 1963, if you ask Mr. Larkin, or five minutes ago, if you ask anyone born between 1997 and 2000.

Get “woke.” Get on “the right side of history.”

Those who wish us harm have very long memories and even longer time-horizons and visions for the future. Remember, the Chinese still smart over their humiliation at the hands of Western powers some two-hundred years ago, and ISIS and al-Qaeda and their ilk are still mad about the Crusades . . .

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Meanwhile, we here in America are totally convinced that we can eliminate all crime by disarming the populace or something.

Worse, we’re absolutely convinced that everything will continue the way it has just because. Bad things never happen here, nor will they ever. Our way of life will continue in perpetuity, and America will always be the Top Dog because of some undifferentiated belief in “Freedom!” no matter how many stupid, short-sighted policies are shoved down our throats.

Concurrent with this trap is the inability to even conceive that something may at some point change, or that maybe the way we do things isn’t the best way to do things. Who knows? Maybe this country will split someday, or some of the bigger states will break up into smaller, more representative states. Or maybe some states will want to leave entirely. Or maybe the United States will not remain the world’s only hegemon, either militarily or economically.

Hey, it could happen. But no one wants to talk about it.

Stuff like this “sneaks up” on us because we are blind to its possibility. Nothing occurs “just because” or “for no reason whatsoever.” Effects have causes. By being blind to this, thinking that America is truly the peak of civilization obviates the need to improve and leaves you with stagnation and rot which will really bring the whole thing crumbling down.

This tendency, this false sense of security, might be the most tragic aspect of the whole American experience. Which brings me to the next cultural trap in this discussion. Continue reading “Cultural Traps, Part IV”

Ridiculous Truths

Common sense will mark you as the enemy.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Look at the things that are commonly held to be Indisputable Truths by our so-called betters:

  • Our differences are our strength! Actually, differences divide us and tear us apart. Focusing on our similarities would actually be more beneficial. But say that, and you’re some kind of -ist.
  • Both sides are the same! Be in the center! Yet if both sides are the same, you not only absolve yourself of the responsibility of choosing a side, you likely just want to be perceived as being “above it all” without actually having to commit to anything. No skin in the game!
  • Debt is good for the economy! On what planet does this make sense? Oh, right. We don’t live on earth any more. We live in Clown World.
  • Win war through unilateral disarmament. Find me one time in the entirety of human history where this has actually worked and then I’ll change my stance.
  • Double standards are the only way to correct past wrongs! This is so destructive, the only logical assumption is that the people who agree with this sentiment aren’t stupid: They’re just blatant liars. Double standards are killing us.

The latest bout of public idiocy, and the thing that started this train of thought, is outrage at the Attorney General’s use of the term “Anglo-American heritage” when talking about the office of the sheriff.

The office of “sheriff” is not only Anglo idea, the term is an Anglo word (“shire” + “reeve” elided over the centuries to become “sheriff”). The office of sheriff was adopted in America thanks to the fact that America was a colony founded by individuals of primarily Anglo-Saxon descent. But hey, why let truth get in the way of a good diatribe? Racist!

Most of these ridiculous truths are, on their face, absurd and demonstrably false. But we are operating in this weird epoch where, in order to be thought of as “intelligent,” one must adopt idiotic positions.

This stems from a condition I like to call Intellectual Inadequacy. This phenomenon typically afflicts midwits!

Akin to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s IYI (intellectual yet idiot), midwits are people just smart enough to know they’re not average, but they know they’re not geniuses either. This bothers them.

There are plenty of us who aren’t geniuses (*raises hand*), but the true and committ r midwit lacks that crucial component that even many on the low-end of the intellect scale possesses–humility.

In other words, the midwit refuses to admit that he or she doesn’t know something. Continue reading “Ridiculous Truths”

Experts At Distrust

Trust

There are misconceptions everywhere. You’d have to be willfully blind not to realize this. We don’t know as much as we think we do. But that’s not the danger. The danger is that very few like to admit that there are gaps in their knowledge and understanding. It makes us feel small, stupid, inadequate . . .

But such admissions also provide a healthy and much-needed dose of humility. But in a world where we carefully cultivate our images, such admissions are anathema.

And so we live in a time when everybody is an expert on everything, we are governed by our feelings (which, let’s be honest, has been the case for most of human history), and so few want to ask difficult questions or think difficult thoughts.

How did we get this way?

I don’t know. I suppose it’s some combination of classism on the part of the ruling elites, resentment on the part of the rest of us, the system being proven not to work as advertised, and nobody interested in bridging the gaps between us.

What’s that, you say? I’m being hyperbolic about the system?

Au contraire. If you look at the post-World War II neo-liberal world order, it is collapsing in spectacular fashion, and it really only took half a generation to do so.

But I digress. The problem as I see it is that there are thorny issues that need resolving, very careful resolving, but nobody trusts each other.

Continue reading “Experts At Distrust”

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?”

Eating Crow: How Social Media Can Keep You Honest

This awesome picture is by Ella Nilsson (www.handybitches.com). I will remove it by request.
Nobody likes being wrong. Nobody. But it’s going to happen. 

The question is, as with everything, what do you do about it?

I’ve been experiencing this lately when it comes to my writing and things that are more opinion-based than fact-based. 

I don’t have a massive following, but enough of one that people, here on the blog or on social media, will let me know when I’m straying. 

One benefit of the Internet is that it keeps you honest. 

This is not to say that my opinions are somehow being corrected. What has been is how I express them. 

It’s a problem many of us have in the digital age: Our fingers–the proxies for our mouths–sometimes run too fast for them to truly express what our brains are trying to process. 

Recent example: This post about the prevalence of cursing in the workplace, how it’s more acceptable among us Millennials, and how young women were more apt to swear at work. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my initial post made it sound like I was trying to tel women to be proper “ladies.” I neglected to mention that the term “unladylike,” which I had in quotes, came from the article! I also didn’t specify there, and in other places, that my post was aimed at the workplace and how excessive swearing can make anyone–man or woman–sound less-intelligent, and can obscure their message. 

And then I saw a mention on my Twitter feed by a female complaining to the person who retweeted my post about the chauvinistic aspects of my writing. 

Yikes! Continue reading “Eating Crow: How Social Media Can Keep You Honest”

World of Illusions: 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves (And What to Do About Them)

We are awash in illusion. Today is no worse than yesterday in this regard, except now there is technology which can help push this illusion to ever greater heights of realism.

But worse than these are the illusions we create for ourselves. It’s bad enough that the world at large is trying to trick us, isn’t it? And yet in many ways we are our own worst enemies.

There is so much about our lives that is up to random chance and statistical probabilities. The rest of it is really up to us. And yet we handicap ourselves by spinning elaborate webs of self-deception that might help us navigate the world, but don’t really do anything to make our lives, or the lives of others, any better.

I’m no genius, but what I am is a flawed individual just like you. Here are five common illusions we create for ourselves, based on personal experience, and what we can do about them. Continue reading “World of Illusions: 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves (And What to Do About Them)”

Gratitude

Thank You Computer

I’ve only been blogging here for less than a month, but people seem to dig it. I am both hugely encouraged and hugely embarrassed. I’ve had blogs before, but haven’t had this many people interested in what I’ve had to say–the stats have been overwhelming.

So first of all, I have to say thank you. Thank you to everybody who reads, who comments, who likes, who re-tweets, and who spreads the word.

But like the saying about standing on the shoulders of giants goes, I have been inspired and have learned from so many great writers and interesting people. As such, I’d like to pay it forward with my own list of recommended sites.

One thing you’ll notice about this list is the commonality between everybody on it: Despite the diverse array of topics, viewpoints, and styles, these are all people who go against the grain and really stand out as unapologetic individuals. I like that.

I also like that it’s a list spanning writers, musicians, authors, athletes, thinkers, philosophers, theologians, and just flat-out interesting people.

This is in no way complete or comprehensive, and I plan on adding to it as I discover–and remember–more blogs. 

And there’ll be a permanent link to this post on my front page.

Think of this as a list of people who have kept me interested, inspired, enlightened, and entertained . . . all in handy alphabetical order! Continue reading “Gratitude”