Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

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On Disobedience: New Read

On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying “No” to Power is the book I started reading on this very blustery Saturday morning. The subtitle says it all. I read Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving back in November of 2020 and loved just about every page of it, so when I saw this small collection of essays written in the early 1960’s, I immediately had it sent to my house.

on disobedience

Disobedience is a major sin in our culture and I’ve railing against that idea for most of my adult life. I am not one with a “rebellious” nature. I do not feel like I must take the opposite stance of whatever authority figure presents as “the rules.” I want to work together and get along. BUT…again with the but…

I do not obey anyone blindly. In fact, I don’t believe I wish to obey anyone at all. What kind of a world could we live in if establishing an authority meant that your reasoning and argument were solid enough to convince others to agree with you, compromise with you, and work toward voluntary common goals?

“If the capacity for disobedience constituted the beginning of human history, obedience might very well, as I have said, cause the end of human history. I am not speaking symbolically or poetically. There is the possibility, or even the probability, that the human race will destroy civilization and even all life upon earth within the next five to ten years. There is no rationality or sense in it. But the fact is that, while we are living technically in the Atomic Age, the majority of men – including most of those who are in power – still live emotionally in the Stone Age; that while our mathematics, astronomy, and the natural sciences are of the twentieth century, most of our ideas about politics, the state, and society lag far behind the age of science. If mankind commits suicide it will be because people will obey those who command them to push the deadly buttons; because they will obey the archaic passions of fear, hate, and greed; because they will obey obsolete cliches of State sovereignty and national honor. The Soviet leaders talk much about revolutions, and we in the ‘free world’ talk much about freedom. Yet they and we discourage disobedience – in the Soviet Union explicitly and by force, in the free world implicitly and by the more subtle method of persuasion.”

Disobedience as a psychological and moral problem by erich fromm

Oh, so dire. Right? Makes one want to give up and run into the forest. End it all.

Or does it?

To me, it’s hopeful. Once again, nothing really changes, so why get worked up about it? Why should I ruin my beautiful day because tomorrow may never come? There’s work to do, there always is, but I’ll do what I can cheerfully and with hope that little individual changes make big progress down the road of time. And leave others to do the same in their own lives.

This book is short, only four essays in about 100 small pages, but it’s chock full of some amazing words, almost every one of which applies to everything we are experiencing now. That is the glory of well thought out work, words that aren’t simply rhetoric glorifying one side of an issue or another.

I’m sure I’ll be finishing the book today, so I’ll have some more words of my own to share tomorrow. See you then!

A Reading End and A Writing First

What’s this “writing first” you speak of Michelle?

It may sound crazy, maybe a little silly, but I’m excited because today is the last day of January and I have achieved a goal. I have written and posted here every single day this month. They weren’t all beauties, but they are there. The habit is taking shape and solidifying.

Each morning, I grab a cup of coffee and my book. I kiss my husband good morning, sit down on the couch to start reading. I read an hour, set it aside, and pick up my laptop. I’m not sure what I’ll write about. It might be about the book I’m reading, but maybe something else is on my mind. There were many days that nothing came to mind right away, but I wrote anyway and then…there it was.

If I can do this, what else am I capable of?

Now that I’ve started to build the habit of writing each morning, I’m thinking I’ll start honing it a little. I tend to open my browser and read other people’s work, take glance at Facebook, and then start writing. Many times, that peek at the world colors my own thoughts, and I think I’d like to stop and write first before I do anything else.

The plan is to write what’s in my own head, save it, do some yoga practice, have some breakfast, maybe read another hour, and then open that document up and add to it. For February, my goal is to add this bit and continue to post todays work the same morning. Starting in March, I hope to write another hour, and maybe start editing and posting the previous days work instead. We shall see.

writing first
So rich…that’s right!

And what about the “reading end” you mentioned?

No I’m not going to stop reading, but can we talk a second about Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution?

This morning I finished the first volume. My edition is a collection of all three books bound into one ginormous (that’s one of my favorite words) volume. That makes it over 1400 pages of history. I’m tired of reading it, and I’m pretty sure you guys are tired of hearing about it too. This morning, when I reached the end of volume one, at page 546, I thought, “You know, you could legitimately stop reading here and move on. There is no disgrace in that.” And I think I’ll heed my advice and do just that.

My big takeaway from this reading is that, once again, I’ve been shown how freakin’ complicated and convoluted the Russian Revolution was. So many factors make it confusing. I don’t think anyone can read a couple books and really understand it, but I have loved trying. And I’ve gotten a lot out of my reading. It’s still one of my favorite era’s and I’m looking forward to learning more. I just need a break.

Bear with me for one more thought before I leave this book behind.

It bothers me how much we use the language of Marx and the Russian revolutionists today. I hear it every day on the news, on Facebook, in articles, and in the speech of my family and friends. I get the creepy feeling we’re all being used, and those words don’t mean what they think they mean.

Revolutions of any kind always turn violent, and we never know what the outcome will be. It’s always a last-ditch effort against an oppression that can no longer be borne by the people. It is not something to promote and take lightly. The question should be: Am I willing to die for this? Am I willing to sacrifice other human beings for this?

The common people will always be used by the ultra-rich, powerful, and political elite to further their aims. We are pawns in their world-wide game. We may be caught up in it, but we don’t have to play. Years ago, I let politics go (as much as possible) and decided to simply live my own life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t vote or educate myself. It means that I do the best I can to understand the basics, keep my personal philosophy and principles in sight, and leave everyone else to do the same.

I will not be a willing pawn in someone else’s game. I won’t get angry and hate on those who do not have the same ideals as I do. I will not play one human being against another. I will not hurt others because they are not on my side. But I will stand up for what I believe in and do what I believe is right, even if that means I am hurt (emotionally, physically, or financially) by my fellow citizens or government in the process.

Do you see why I need a break from this book and the study of this era?

I’m not sure what I’ll start reading tomorrow. Picking a new book from my TBR is always a little stressful and exciting. Oh my…another first. I did not buy a new book this month!

Tyranny of the Majority or “We Vote Against You”

Tyranny of the majority, otherwise known as “mob rule,” is no way to build a nation. A straight democracy, one without limits to its power, is a tyranny as much as any dictator or king.

Where do I even start with this one? It’s like the author could see me struggling from 80 years away.

The words are hard to gather. Once again, I’m sitting here wishing you were here. When we speak face to face, your reactions to my words help my limping ideas along. Your questions and insights, even when contradicting mine, give my mind the steam to organize and move forward at a faster rate. Is it the same for you? I feel that it is.

Reading that line from the book, I’m reminded of that cliché everyone’s mom is reported to say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”

I hope not. But then, if everyone found a great new way to communicate, I’d be happy to join the majority and thrive along with them. No one wants to be left out, or left behind, but sometimes we do need to swim against the tide and strike out on our own to find what is true. So how do we know when to stay with the crowd and when to forget our own path alone?

I believe it’s only by conversation, in person, through books and articles, and even through comments online, if we could learn to better listen. But lately, (and by lately, I mean the past five or six years) online in the past, and now more and more often in person, I get the feeling that no one wants to hear the question “Why?”

When the dreaded question is asked, I recoil at the verbal and written violence thrown at them from every side. It’s as if the very idea of questioning anything any “authority” says is an attack on that authority and must be defended at all costs.

How have we come to this point? And please don’t just yell back, “Social media is doing it to us!” It’s too easy an answer. Besides, who is behind the social media? Us. We are the ones reacting in terrible ways to posts. We are the ones throwing the word grenades into the fray. And we are the ones packing our comments with shrapnel in hopes of causing the most damage to our perceived enemies.

We’ve all fragmented into tiny tribes of identity attempting to vote any opposing group or another out of existence.

Personally, I have hope that things will get better again. The world may not be ending, only changing…again. Reading Ray Bradbury’s words reminds me that polarizing arguments like ours have been had before and we came through. The world did not end in a nuclear holocaust, and we didn’t run out of food.

There are loads of statistics and trends out there that point to things getting better, not worse. Authors like Matt Ridley in The Rational Optimist helped me see that. His blog is a wonderful read as well.

The tyranny of the majority has always been a problem for humans. Mobs suck in almost every way. Humans are complex creatures. We crave to be part of a community for our mental health. There is safety in numbers and “many hands make light work” is a truism. But we also need to be true to ourselves, and each of us is different.

When we lived in small communities of distant relatives, it was easier. We generally only fought to the death with those outside our land. Things are different now. Technology has made our world feel so much smaller. So many people, backgrounds, religions, cultures, languages, etc., all thrown into the pot together. There are bound to be serious miscommunications.

Is patience all we need? A little more listening. Maybe.

It reminds me of Star Trek’s “universal translator.” It must have taken decades to develop that and work out all the bugs. If you’ve watched “Enterprise” and “Original Series” you’ll remember some epic mess-ups with it.

Technology is bringing this world is moving forward into unknown territory very quickly. Can we keep the peace long enough to begin to understand each other better? Or will we tear each other apart in fear first?

Go back to my first post “Fahrenheit 451: New Read” to read more.

Not Blind Faith and Obedience: Nietzsche

From the front cover flap of my Barnes & Noble edition, “…Nietzsche, a despiser of mass movements both political and religious, did not ask his readers for blind faith and obedience, but rather for critical reflection, courage, and independence.”

Apparently, Nietzsche and I have more in common than I thought.

blind faith and obedience

I only was able to spend thirty minutes in this book so far and, like my son, decided to read the introduction pages to get a feel for the significance of it. I’m about half-way through and the margins are filled with “yes” and “shit” and “well, crap” already.

Why? Because the book was published in 1883 and much of what he’s saying about the evolution of mankind…well, it just hits a little close to home. It probably always has and always will.

 “…life is assumed to be valuable just as it is.”

Tragic or comic, suffering or happiness, this is all of life and is not only to be endured but lived to fullest extent. We aren’t here waiting at this moment for the next to be better. We aren’t suffering through one period of life to enjoy happiness in the next. We are, simply, here, right now, living.

Years ago, I read that Nietzsche’s statement that “God is dead,” wasn’t a metaphysical thing. It’s not that the actual God died or that we killed him somehow. He was “referring instead to people’s belief in the Judeo-Christian God. His claim is that many people who think they believe in God really do not believe. That is, their “belief” makes no difference in their lives, a fact they betray through their actions and feelings.”

This struck right to the middle of my heart because it’s something I’ve brought up so many times over the years. I started watching “Messiah” on Netflix this past week. I’m not done yet, so no spoilers, please! While watching, I’ve paused so many times to rail about their reaction to this man. It’s exactly my problem with religious people. You say one thing and then behave another. You say, “God’s will be done.” And then act to change it. You say, “Turn the other cheek.” And then fight. You say, “Thou shalt not kill.” And then contract to murder. And it’s not just Christians.

Those who have turned our government into a religion are doing the same. We say, “For the greater good.” And then get angry when we’re in the minority. We say, “The authority knows best.” And get angry when it’s used against us. We say, “This is what the voters want. Democracy decides best.” And then avoid following the laws the majority voted for.

I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with it. It’s the natural outcome of denying reality because it’s easier. I believe we should acknowledge that our society has changed. We don’t need “blind faith and obedience.” We need “critical reflection, courage, and independence.” But that involves personal responsibility, and most of us aren’t willing to take that on. It’s far easier to be told what we are supposed to do, make others do it, and blame others when things go badly. It’s easier to take the welfare or the tax break, send our kids to public schools, vote for someone else, or force the medical care, than to provide for ourselves and live with the consequences.

Any time I’ve heard Nietzsche discussed, it’s usually negative. I’ve heard him equated with Nazi’s, which now I’m reading was a misunderstanding based on his sisters editing after his death. I’ve heard that his philosophy leads to nihilism and that was his goal. Nihilism isn’t a goal, it’s a crisis, a turning point. At first, we think, “What’s the damn point if we have nothing to work towards, no afterlife or reward at the end?” We struggle through the change, cocoon ourselves and consider the options. Once we begin to think critically, we take courage and emerge independent. We accept this world right here as it is, the people around us as they are, and we live our lives to the fullest, suffering and peace in same space. Reality is far more exciting.

My thinking is that, just as we protect our children with myths about the wider world as they grow, just as we train our children how to take care of themselves in the comparative safety of our homes, only to allow them to grow up, move out into the world, and take on responsibility for their own lives, so humanity does the same. Humanity will move through this crisis, it will struggle and fight its way out of the protective cocoon of myth and belief, to finally emerge in a new and beautiful form. This is what is meant as “God’s Will.” We aren’t meant for blind faith and obedience forever. If it doesn’t, then so be it. Evolution is a relentless bitch.

Now I know what my son was so excited about. I can’t wait to read more, but I don’t want to rush through just so that I can add it to my “Autobibliography.” I need to slow down, read, write, and reflect more. This may take a while, but I think it will be worth it.

Want to start at the beginning? Pop back to my initial post “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read”

The Protestant Ethic: A New Read

Why am I reading “The Protestant Ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism” by Max Weber? I don’t know. But it sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Eventually, my TBR pile will catch up with my new system of documenting where I got the idea to put the book there in the first place, but not yet.

the protestant ethic
Photo by Author

So far, it’s a rough one. I keep reading, thinking, “wow…this is dry stuff…I have no idea what I’m reading…” and then come across some line or paragraph that makes me think. It’s like sifting through a 5000-piece puzzle.

Here’s what I know so far. Wax Weber originally wrote this in 1905 in response to the rise in popularity of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto written in 1848. The Protestant Ethic was controversial then and now, but I’m still not sure why. I’m still reading it and, since I’m pretty much lost on every page, I’ll probably have to find some articles that explain the context.

Right now, I’m a bit floored reading about Calvinism and Puritanism. These two religions had major influence in the colonizing of America, and we still feel their effects on our culture. For one thing, I’ve always found it strange how much we attempt to hide sex and alcohol in our country, well…more so in the past, but still. Laws about where and when we can buy alcohol, where we can drink it and at what age, marriage laws, and laws still on the books about which sex acts are legal, modesty laws, etc., all stem from our nation’s Puritan roots.

Things are changing, have changed, dramatically, but not in any kind of healthy way, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to go back, but it seems to me that we are all acting a lot like kids who were never allowed to have any kind of sweets, running amok alone in a candy store, ever since the 60’s. We still haven’t figured out how to take the reins of our passions and use them to our advantage. How many generations will it take?

The United States is different from the rest of the world. We have a very strange mix of cultures, races, and religions, that makes things that seem easy in some countries very complicated in ours. I’m hoping this book might begin to shed some light on why that is.

Searched back and found this old post, Mourning Political Change: A Passing Feeling. Still feeling it and more so these days.

Mao – The Unknown Story: New Read

Mao – The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Six hundred and sixteen pages. I’m going to be here a while!

Mao book cover on a desert background.

I found two very different reviews of this book, at The Socialist and at The Guardian.

I’ve wanted to know more about Mao for a couple years now, mostly because I’m so fascinated by the communist revolutions in both Russia and China. It’s interesting to me that now we can read books by and about these leaders like Trotsky, Stalin, and Mao when for so many years so much was hidden away. I wrote a few posts about The People’s Tragedy last year.

But I wonder how much of it is true, how much is glossed over by one group (like The Socialist in the link above) or demonized (like The Guardian’s review). Reading some of Trotsky’s work and Stalin’s, as well as Marx himself, makes it even harder to believe anyone can think these men’s tactics were a good idea. “Cringe-worthy” is the newfangled term I’d give much of it.

I’m only thirty pages in this morning and I can tell this is going to be the version that vilifies Mao as and evil straight from the bowels of hell from birth. I’m reading it thinking, “This makes it seem that you could known he’d be a mass-murderer right from his early school days.” I’m sure that wasn’t the case.

It’s always curious to me that leaders like this, the ones that say they are here to protect and support the “workers,” that they never seem to BE workers themselves. They always seem to be university professors and young students.

And what about the people that follow and support them? Do they have any responsibility? I mean, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, didn’t come out of nowhere. They were set upon this earth with power over humanity that none other possessed, a supernatural gift so to speak. How do these things get rolling and keep rolling?

Which makes me think of the show I’m watching on Netflix right now. Have you seen Colony? I’m only at the end of season two, so don’t ruin it, but like The Walking Dead, it’s an interesting take on society and how we get into these messes.

Like I said, I’ll be reading this book for a while. I’m not fast reader, but at least it reads nicely. If you’ve read it, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Read my final thoughts on this book at “DNF: “Did Not Finish” does Not Equal Failure”

Violence and Chaos of the Natural World is What Grendel Represents

When last we met, I was spiraling into the depths of a natural world filled with violence and chaos. If you haven’t read it yet, pop back to “Does Grendel Represent the Chaos of the Natural World?” and take a look.

Shall we continue?

“What does a kingdom pretend to do? Save the values of the community – regulate compromise – improve the quality of the commonwealth! In other words, protect the power of the people in power and keep the others down. By common agreement of course, so the fiction goes. And they do that pretty well. We’ll give them that.”

That is exactly what your kingdom, I mean, our nation’s government is doing right now. It’s also very much why I am leaning towards peaceful and non-violent anarchy. Live and let live.

“Rewards to people who fit the System best, you know. King’s immediate thanes, the thanes’ top servants, and so on till you come to the people who don’t fit at all. No problem. Drive them to the darkest corners of the kingdom, starve them, throw them in jail or put them out to war.”

This reminds me of my social media feed and tv news. Comply with what those in power wish or suffer the consequences.

“What is the state in a time of domestic or foreign crisis? What is the state when the chips are down? The answer is obvious and clear! Oh yes! If a few men quit work, the police move in. If the borders are threatened, the army rolls out. Public force is the life and soul of every state: not merely army and police but prisons, judges, tax collectors, every conceivable trick of coercive repression. The state is an organization of violence. Revolution, my dear prince, is not the substitution of immoral for moral, or of illegitimate for legitimate violence; it is simply the pitting of power against power, where the issue is freedom for the winners and enslavement of the rest.”

Public force and coercive repression, the cornerstone of any central government. When you pass a law by vote, you’re asking a separate group of people to use deadly force against those who do not comply. You may think it is best, but when people get held down, beat up, and shot by police for not stopping to receive the punishment for breaking that law, are you ok with that? When the police stop a teenage boy for not wearing a seatbelt, and for whatever reason they feel threatened and shoot him, that is the result of your law. When someone doesn’t pay the appropriate taxes and the government comes and takes everything they have, puts their family on the street, and takes that person to jail, that is a result of your law. When someone buys a drug and sits in their own livingroom alone to use it and relax, and the cops bust in to drag him to a box…I could go on and on but I’m digressing.

Bottom line is that when you vote for a law to be put in the books, you are authorizing violence on another in your name.

“Who says I have to defend myself? I am a machine, like you. Like all of you. Blood-lust and rage are my character. Why does the lion not wisely settle down and be a horse?”

Stop hating! Stop doing drugs! Stop … whatever. Geez! Let people be who they are and choose whether or not you want to associate with them. You know a lion by his look. You allow him to live his own way, in his own space. And you avoid running into him as prey. How about we do the same with other humans?

“Tedium is the worst pain. The mind lays out the world in blocks, and the hushed blood waits for revenge. All order, I’ve come to understand, is theoretical, unreal – a harmless, sensible, smiling mask men slide between the two great, dark realities, the self and the world – two snake-pits.”

I know, it’s all pretty dark and I had a bit of fun wallowing around in it today. I hope I didn’t terrify you. I do get a tad worked up though, especially lately. I’m feeling frustrated and lonely in this world. It seems everyone around me wants so desperately to live inside a fantasy world.

Nature’s reality can be terrifying and cruel, but we humans have a special gift, creativity. We can use it to recognize the world around us and attempt to do better for ourselves, or we can create a little bubble in our minds and live there as long as we can. That is until the bubble is burst and the world’s violence and chaos comes flooding in.

Me? I prefer to be aware of the real danger in this world and adjust my own behavior, take my own calculated risks based on my own experience (and the advice from trusted professionals), and allow everyone else to do the same.

I like Grendel. He’s a mean, nasty, violent dude. He has no remorse for who he is. He makes it very clear what he is and what he’ll do. It’s on you to be bigger and stronger than him or respect his boundaries and let him be.

Here’s something interesting I just found; this book is on the Banned Library site. Over the years it has been banned at several schools for being “anti-christian, anti-moral, and violent” and “profane.” Makes you want to read it even more, doesn’t it?

Does Grendel Represent the Chaos of the Natural World? Part 1 of 2

The following post, my notes on book, Grendel by John Gardner, is my first two-parter, so bear with me. There was just too much in this book for one post to contain!

Grendel quote on a desert background.

I’ll tell you what…going through this book and pulling out the quotes that still resonate with me one month after reading was a downer. I started this day with so much hope and joy and then in crashes Grendel…that beast!

At first, I didn’t understand the point of this book, other than a view from another character’s perspective. Then a few weeks later I was listening to the Isaac Morehouse podcast and heard someone (and I’m really sorry but I can’t remember what interview it was) say that the story of Beowulf was showing how humans had fought their way out of chaos and how they had to keep defending civilization from collapsing back into it. That chaos was in the form of Grendel coming each night to kill warriors.

That was when the meaning of the book I read come flooding in on me. Grendel in John Gardner’s book was not chaos, he was simply another part of nature, and he was angry watching mankind kill and destroy its way through the world, just as he did, yet not take responsibility for its actions. Humans sat there in their great halls, pretending that they were better than nature, that they had risen above violence, and yet used it against each other in the most horrific and manipulative ways.

Grendel (nature) is unapologetically violent. He doesn’t hide it or pretend there are good reasons for killing and destroying things. He just is what he is. It is not his job to change his nature, but for others to be aware of him and avoid him if they can.

This is a feeling I’ve had myself. I want to know right out front how the people around me feel about certain things. I don’t want them to blend in. I want them to stand loud and proud. That way I can take full responsibility to avoid or move towards those people, to choose whether I can band together with them or pass them by and leave them to their lives the way they see fit.

I enjoyed reading Grendel’s perspective. He’s open and honestly murderous. He doesn’t hold it against others when they avoid or best him. He is who he is and I can respect that, although I’d rather not live next door to him.

The following are some of my favorite quotes from the book and a few of my thoughts on each. Ever since this morning, when I opened the book and flipped through to copy down my notes here, I’ve had some of these rolling around in my head.


“That is their happiness: they see all life without observing it. They’re buried in it like crabs in mud. Except men, of course.”

Animals, nature…they don’t attempt to change the course of things other than to stay alive and procreate as best they can. They’re just in the world. Us humans, we can use our creative brains to manipulate the world, for better or worse.

“Stars, spattered out through lifeless night from end to end, like jewels scattered in a dead king’s grave, tease, torment my wits toward meaningful patterns that do not exist.”

The human mind is geared to see and recognize patterns, even where there are none. We create a mythology about whatever we don’t understand and make meaning when we can’t discover one.

“I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears.”

It still is and always will be. It sounds so damn depressing. Sometimes I want to believe in a fairy tale, but something about harsh reality is so…I don’t know. Maybe it’s like a train wreck. We want to look away and not know but our eyes refuse to obey.

“Hrothgar, who’d begun hardly stronger than the others, began to outstrip the rest. He’d worked out a theory about what fighting was for, and now he no longer fought with his six closest neighbors. He’d shown them the strength of his organization, and now, instead of making war on them, he sent men to them every three months or so, with heavy wagons and back-slings, to gather their tribute to his greatness.”

This is one of the things the Grendel hates most and something we continue to allow “government” to do in our collective names all over the world.

“They sense that, of course, from time to time; have uneasy feelings that all they live by is nonsense.

That’s where the Shaper saves them. Provides an illusion of reality – puts together all their facts with a gluey whine of connectedness.”

Mythology in a nutshell. Hey! Let me out! How did I get in here?!

“Except in the life of a hero, the whole world’s meaningless. The hero sees values beyond what is possible. That’s the nature of a hero. It kills him, of course, ultimately. But it makes the whole struggle of humanity worthwhile.” I nodded in the darkness. “And breaks up the boredom,” I said.

Each of us is hero in our own little corner of the universe, right? But we’re just doing what makes us happy and content, easing our own or other’s suffering. We wouldn’t do it if it didn’t serve us somehow in the world that we live in. It sounds so ugly, I know, but it’s honest. It’s also why we create and watch superhero movies!

“Shall I call the tree tyrannical, since where it stands nothing survives but itself and its high-borne guests? Condemn it because it sends down stifling darkness, sucks the life from grass, and whitens the sapling leaf for trifling, fluttering friends?”

Those damn trees! Everything in nature strives to stay alive and procreate, including humans. And there are ALL kinds of humans. Some are more aggressive than others, some live well in groups, some…don’t. Know each kind, respect their right to be here and create your own boundaries to thrive.


There’s more coming tomorrow! Aren’t you excited?! I know, it’s a harsh one, but we only know the highs if we accept and trudge through the lows, right? I wrote about this book when I started reading it back in March. Click back to Grendel by John Gardner to read it!

Emotional Slogans Work Wonders for Cola Wars, not Good Government

You’ll probably think this totally nuts coming from me but, I’ve been thinking about words lately.  Shocker, I know. More specifically, the use of emotional slogans and hashtags to gather followers of our causes instead of sound reasoning and logical discussion of ideas.

Slogans are for advertising cola wars. A store front of Coke vs Pepsi.
Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

The following few paragraphs may feel pretty muddled, but I have a few ideas rolling around in my head. They want to connect somehow, I can feel it, but I can’t get them to dance. I’m going to go ahead and throw this unpolished gem out into the universe the way it is and see what happens.

Here’s the thought that came to me while I was in the shower the other day. Lucky for you, I had my notebook in the bathroom just in case this happened, and I was able to capture it!

Two- and three-word slogans are great for deciding which cola to buy or which fast food burgers are the best, not your stance on issues like civil rights and immigration policies. It may feel like you’re rallying people to your cause with a hashtag this or that, but I think it does more harm than good. Good government stems from an intelligent and informed population of citizens, not a war between propaganda and advertising slogans.

The trouble is that, to have a decent conversation about ideas, we need a common language with a broad vocabulary. My concern is that I don’t seem to be able to increase mine no matter how hard I try.

As you have probably noticed, I read a lot and all the experts say that is the best way to increase your vocabulary and I’m sure it does. Over the years, I have learned more words and their meanings. I can usually infer what a word means from its context and if I can’t, or even if I can but am curious about the details, I’ll look it up. But I typically don’t use those words in my everyday speech, or even in my writing.

Why? I think it’s because I’m afraid I won’t be understood by the people around me, not because they (you, my dear reader) are stupid, but because our common vocabulary has become limited across the board and I want to be understood by as many people as possible. When I try to keep it simple, so more people understand, it comes out bland like cafeteria food, mainstream movies, and mass market paperback novels.

Another reason could be that if one doesn’t use a language often enough, one loses the ability to use it, even our native tongue. I don’t speak or write the words I learn through books often enough, so my brain tosses them aside and they become buried and forgotten.

There are a lot of ideas that get lost these days because we just don’t have enough common words to discuss and digest the things that are going on around us and in us. One word is used to describe a multitude of things. Depending on who is using a word and what context they are using it in, the same word can mean even more than what is even listed in our dictionary.

I have an example.

“Love” and “friend” are the words that have brought this to the forefront of my mind the past few weeks, although the trouble spans across our entire language. The thoughts have picked up speed since I started reading “Love & Friendship” by Allan Bloom earlier this month.

What does love mean? Anything you want it to. I love the cat when it purrs, the flowers in my garden, the candy my friend brought me, the woman at the grocery store that helped me reach the box of noodles that was above my head. I love my husband, my mother, my kids, my friend. I love hiking and reading and checking Facebook for likes.

Love…is a myriad of things. So, when I say, “I love you!” you really have no idea what that means.

And what about the word, “friend?” I think Facebook ruined that one, to be completely honest. If I ruled the world, they’d have to use a different word. But it’s always been a bit dubious. What a “friend” means is completely subjective, and you can’t hold others accountable for not behaving as friend should, unless you sat down with them and agreed about the terms and conditions beforehand.

What does this word stuff have to do with political slogans and hashtags? Everything.

We are a diverse culture, a combination of a myriad of backgrounds. Every time we write a sentence, we mean one thing and anyone that reads it brings their background into interpreting it. What I mean as sarcasm, you take as a serious attack. What I mean as kind, you take an unwanted advance, and someone else takes as an invitation to lord knows what.

When we dumb down issues with a short slogan to attract people’s attention, we aren’t giving the full spectrum of what our cause is attempting to solve. Instead, we’re attracting eyes with bright colors and flashy tags. Yes, some people will look and think, “Hells yes! I’m in!” but they have no idea what they are really backing. And others will see it and immediately be turned off and walk away simply because they don’t identify with that sliver of the message when they might have been staunch supporters.

Yes, I’m deliberately avoiding using actual slogans, but you know what they are. We see them all around us all day long, on every online platform, t-shirt, shop window, and car bumper. I’m not using them because the moment I say one, everyone reading aligns themselves for or against everything else I say. I do it myself.

What’s the solution? I’m not sure. I thought it was increasing my vocabulary, assuming positive intent, and trying to understand the ideas behind the slogans people were splashing all over their profiles. I had started with asking people to define what they meant when I see a slogan used, but that got me some pretty nasty replies, which is why I’m writing this.

Are we not aware that words have different meanings to different people? If I don’t know your motives or intentions, how do I find out without asking? How do we begin to understand each other if we’re discouraged from asking for clarification?

Lately, I’ve found it harder and harder to communicate with people, especially online. I had begun to think that we’d lost a common language, now I think it’s something else. Maybe we’re losing our empathy for each other. It seems we’re assuming that everyone is attacking us, that we are the victims of ill intent everywhere we turn.

I honestly think it’s a simple case of mass miscommunication. We all think we’re speaking the same language but we’re not. It’s starting to look like a modern-day Tower of Babel story.

I’ve read some great books that have helped me ask more questions and make an attempt to see the bigger picture. “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” by Robert Alter and “How to Read Nonfiction Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster are the first two that come to mind.

Does Change Have to be Violent?

Change… “will come to pass by violence and upheaval, by flame and by fury, for no change comes calmly over the world.”
“It will be so. We do not will it so.”
“Ignorance is king. Many would not profit by his abdication. Many enrich themselves by means of his dark monarchy. They are his Court, and in his name they defraud and govern, enrich themselves and perpetuate their power.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

In the story, I totally agree. A big change is coming and it’s yet to be seen whether or not it will be a good one; good in the “better for all of mankind” kind of way.

But I don’t think change must be violent. Big dramatic changes can disrupt everything, but small, steady, almost unnoticeable changes can be just as good and for more people. The Grand Canyon was slowly eroded into what it is today, or was it? Children are can be born and grow up without violence and pain. A tree grows from seed into a towering pine over hundreds of years.

But I like the small line in the middle most. “It WILL be so. We do not WILL it so.” Inevitability. He believes he’s stating a natural law. He doesn’t want violence, but violence will be the natural consequence of the changes that are coming to their world.

Is progress always violent? Growth spurts are inevitable, I suppose. The more we try to reign in the changes of technological advancement, the more problems we cause in the long run possibly; the old adage of ripping the bandage off quickly.

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