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

Tag: politics Page 1 of 2

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”

Moral Foundations Theory: A Book Review

“The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt explains his ideas on Moral Foundations Theory. I just finished reading it and let me tell you, it was worth the effort. The first couple of chapters sucked me in with his elephant and rider analogy of human behavior, but about halfway through it started to lag. Maybe it got too technical. Maybe it just didn’t feel relatable. There was a time when I thought (and noted), “Yes, but what can we DO about it?” The last few chapters gave me some ideas and some hope, so I’ll rate it A for awesome.

Moral Foundations Theory in The Righteous Mind

The subtitle tells you exactly why I decided to read this book, “Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” I don’t know how many times I’ve wondered to myself (and aloud to my family) why such seemingly intelligent people could be so fired up and ready to physically go to blows over a difference of opinion. I have close friends and family that support and push political agendas that, in my opinion, just seem crazy. Why? What the heck, people? This book helped me make some sense of it.

Now…do I feel better? Do I think there is any hope of avoiding something seriously damaging to our world in the near future, now that I’ve read this book? Not really. Sorry. I’m a pessimist when it comes to collective thought and politics these days. I just don’t see a way out. But I do know that I’m not the smartest person around or the most well-informed, so there’s still a glimmer of hope in the back of my mind. A miracle could happen. There could be, somewhere out there, individuals scattered across the world, that can help the rest of us pull our heads out and turn the ship around. Right?

Yeah…kind of in a mood this week. Sorry.

But this book! His theories and his research have really lightened my mood. There are reasons why things are happening the way they are. There is a way to understand others and come to some kind of compromise. There’s chance that we could start the ship toward living together in peace. It’s a hopeful kind of understanding of the human mind.

“Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together.”

We all actually do have a similar goal, to live in peace, to end violence, for everyone to have enough, but we all come to it from different directions. We’re told not to post our thoughts and ideas on social media. Don’t share your point of view. Keep your opinions to yourself. It’s not polite. But if we can’t talk to each other about these things, how do even begin to understand?

“…self-righteous…means ‘convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.’”

We ALL are, left and right, liberal and conservative, self-righteous about something.

“Emotions are not dumb. Damasio’s patients made terrible decisions because they were deprived of emotional input into their decision making. Emotions are a kind of information processing.”

This reminds me of what Noah Rashad was saying on Secular Buddhism. The point of emotion is our intuition telling us something MAY be important. Our job is to notice it, pause and make an assessment, and then CHOOSE an action based on that assessment. Haidt here is speaking of patients that had lost their emotions due to accident or defect. Logic and reason will only get you so far. Those who base their action solely on logic and reason will end up doing atrocious things.

“In this chapter I’ll show that reason is not fit to rule; it was designed to seek justification, not truth.”

That is exactly what we do. We have a feeling, think about it some (hopefully), reason why we should have that feeling, and then go with it. Haidt says that when we want to believe something we reason to find out if we can, and when we don’t want to believe something, we reason to find out if we must.

His idea of Moral Foundations Theory is fascinating. He compares our morals to taste buds on the tongue, a limited number of basic tastes that combine to make each of us different. We’re born with a first draft of innate taste buds but our experience revises which ones we use more, rely on, or prefer. That really hit home because I’ve always thought of myself as naturally a conservative person, more likely to prefer less change and stable outcomes, but I’m liberally trained by my experience in the world. I have learned to enjoy some change and look for different experiences, points of view, and ways of thinking.

A whole chapter is dedicated to why we seem to be compelled to form into groups and take sides. And explains why some of us tend to be a bit more individualistic. It’s always safer in groups, that’s why women always take a friend to the restroom when they’re out in public. And groups are safer when we all have similar values and norms. This was my favorite chapter.

“We humans have a dual nature – we are selfish primates who long to be part of something larger and nobler than ourselves. We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. If you take that claim metaphorically, then the groupish and hivish things that people do will make a lot more sense. It’s almost as though there’s a switch in our heads that activates our hivish potential when conditions are just right.”

It is easier to live in a group than alone. Self-sufficiency is inefficient, like “The Rational Optimist” points out. But there are degrees of groups, from urban city to rural farms, from suburbs to mountain towns. And what it takes to get along in each of those is different. I keep seeing east coast city dwellers attempt to make laws and regulations for Midwest farmers, and west coast suburbanites dictate what life should look like in the rural south. That’s where the fights begin. Is there a way for us all to live our own lives in our own areas without harassing our distant neighbors about how they live theirs?

Have I convinced you to go get this book? I hope so. One more thing before I go. The last chapter was titled, “Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?” It’s the chapter that gave me some hope. We all have to live here together, whether we like it or not. The best way to do that is to stop making other people live and act the way we want them to. Instead of lifting up and emphasizing our differences: race, color, culture, location, creed, etc., we could do a lot better by emphasizing our similarities. If we make teams and take sides, good and evil, right and wrong, it’s very hard to meet in the middle. There is no compromise with a partner that is evil and wrong.

We could sit back and take care of ourselves, leave others to do the same, and compromise when we need to so that we can share space without getting on each other nerves. Seems too reasonable. Probably will never work.

If you’d like to read my first post about this book, go back to The Righteous Mind: New Read. If you’re interesting in learning more about Moral Foundations Theory, I have an extra copy of this book that you’re welcome to have. The first person to comment that they want it will get it!

The Righteous Mind: New Read

The Righteous Mind book cover on a desert background.

“The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt

Sigh…I have to find a better way to keep track of why I put a book on my wishlist. Seriously. If you have any ideas, please leave me a comment. I’m think maybe I’ll start adding a section of my idea card file called “Books” and actually write it down: the title, where I heard it or the author, what I know or what brought me to want to read it, and the date. It seems that physically writing things down, not kept in an app or on a website, works best for me.

I’m fairly certain that I heard Jonathan Haidt interviewed on a podcast recently and that’s why I added The Righteous Mind to my Thriftbooks wishlist. The subtitle alone would make you want to read it, right? Why are good people so divided?

The past few years I’ve felt more and more pushed away by my friends and family over politics. Religion? Well, it sure looks like our whole nation has created a new religion centered on politics, so maybe they’re one and the same these days. Maybe The Righteous Mind will help me sort that out.

The great divide came to my notice when Donald Trump was elected, but I know it was growing long before that. People were getting heated and upset, arguments were getting nastier and more personal, debate and discussion, even among close friends, was ending, but the day after the election is what really started to scare me.

Years ago, a friend started a group order from an online organic food company that brought the whole order by truck to our area once a month. We’d all meet there and sort through it, getting our bulk quinoa and whole grains. It was a cheap way to get all the things we couldn’t find in our rural desert town and, when it was small, it was a great monthly meetup for all of us, too.

As the order grew, the management of it was passed to someone else and it started to be less fun and more of a chore, but still worth the time because I got things I couldn’t get at the store. Since my sons were nearly grown and not so much interested in going to homeschool events and park days, it was a chance to see and catch up with other moms I didn’t get to see that often anymore.

The day after the 2016 election was the last day that I picked up an order at that truck. I knew it was going to be a strange time by the tone people were already using on social media. But I believed that in person, things would be different.

When I arrived, the truck was already there and unloading. People were gathered in small groups at their cars, talking and waiting for their name to be called, as usual. I saw a few people I knew, stopped to talk to one friend and then heard my name. As I walked over to get my few things, I overheard conversations that made my blood run cold. I know, I’m dramatic, but it did scare me. And the past eighteen months has built on that feeling in tremendous ways.

I heard tears and actual wailing. I heard comments like, “If I know anyone that voted for him, I’m going to kill them.” “We should find them all out and do something.” “I can’t imagine what kind of a horrible person would vote for someone like that.” There were actual threats over national politics, by people I thought were peace lovers. I said nothing to anyone. I loaded my truck and drove away. Since that day, I’ve spoken to only one person that was there. These are my neighbors, and some were friends.

I could go on about this, but I don’t think I need to. The point is not that one politician, or party, is better or worse than another. The point is that good people, people I had no problem talking with before an election, now were standing there threatening people for disagreeing with them. Standing there among them I heard tones of a mob, Nazi brownshirts, and the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition at a food truck pickup!

And it seems things have only gotten worse over the last five years. And it has nothing to do with the politicians themselves. It’s us. We’re doing this to each other voluntarily. When I heard Jonathan Haidt interviewed, I had to run out and get this book. Maybe it will help me learn why this is happening. Why are we treating each other like enemies? Why are we separating into sides instead of working together? And how can people I have always believed were open-minded and reasonable adults become so violently opposed to the “other side?”

From the introduction, “I’m not saying we should live our lives like Sen-ts’an. In fact, I believe a world without moralism, gossip, and judgement would quickly decay into chaos. But if we want to understand ourselves, our divisions, our limits, and our potentials, we need to step back, drop the moralism, apply some moral psychology, and analyze the game we’re all playing.”

That’s exactly what I crave when I check social media, read articles and books, watch videos, and talk with friends and family, “to understand ourselves.” None of us is outside the battle of division. The best way to calm things down, in my opinion, is to try and understand the other side of every argument. Hopefully, The Righteous Mind will be enlightening.

Want to read my final thoughts on this book? Click over to Moral Foundations Theory: A Book Review. Heads up: There’s a giveaway there!

Optimism is What Will Save Us: A Book Review

Optimism in The Rational Optimist

“The Rational Optimist – How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley is a book that will change you and then you’ll start to change your world, and as a result change the whole world. Positivity and optimism will become a movement! I’ll start with a quote from the last chapter of this book.

“In this book I have tried to build on both Adam Smith and Charles Darwin: to interpret society as the product of a long history of what the philosopher Dan Dennett calls ‘bubble-up’ evolution through natural selection among cultural rather than genetic variations, and as an emergent order generated by an invisible hand of individual transactions, not the product of top-down determinism.”

“Futurology always ends up telling you more about your own time than about the future.”

The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

This book is so full of legitimate reasons to be optimistic about the future that it’s hard to quote from, hard to pull out one piece and attempt to get you excited about reading it. But I want you to read it. It’s still (10 years after publication) what we need to hear as we continue to pull each other down across the internet.

Politicians, activists, scientists, and media producers have always been telling us that the world is getting worse. If they told you that everything was great, we are right on track, and not to worry, it would seem that we need fewer laws, lower taxes, and fewer politicians. And they aren’t doing it intentionally or because they are evil. They do it because optimism doesn’t sell, pessimism is what keeps them employed. It’s the same reason the new soap company tells you that your old soap is causing you problems and theirs is going to solve all those problems you didn’t know you had.

The book does not deny that things can be improved. It’s rational optimism, not putting on rose colored glasses. It doesn’t deny climate change or science. It doesn’t claim that the world is so damn rosy that we can just sit back and enjoy the ride. His claim is that things are getting better and will continue to do so IF we can keep communicating ideas between each other and have the freedom to work together in amazing ways.

This morning I read in the August issue of Reason magazine, “When things are worse, or perceived as worse, people grow less tolerant, less empathetic, less open to compromise, and they offer each other less leeway. A sense of scarcity or impending scarcity fosters a zero-sum mindset.”

The more we believe what they say instead of evaluating our own experience (through their lens not our own), the angrier and more distrustful we are of the people around us, which creates the negative experiences we read about and then gets amplified on social media because we just have to warn the others. It’s a spiral downward.

I loved this book because he doesn’t claim to have the answers. He doesn’t even claim that everything will work out for the best in the end. What he does say is that we should be aware that this world is changing so rapidly, no one can clearly predict what will happen and what we should do about it now. In the past, freedom and less control are what seem to get us where we want to be with the fewest casualties, maybe we should try staying on that track.

And there are rational reasons for optimism, despite what the news and the politicians are saying. I can see that in my own life, without ever opening my computer or watching the news. My life is much easier and richer than my parents’ was, and my children are already better off than I was at their age. Watching them find jobs and housing this past year was FAR easier than when I was doing it. Your field of search is unlimited. You can search, interview, and apply for an apartment, all online from a thousand miles away.

Don’t know how to do something? Google it and you’ll find a step-by-step video from a hundred different people or a free online class. Want to visit a place? Whip out your phone, read reviews, make reservation, all while you’re driving following directions that tell you where the traffic is lighter. Want to skip the crowds? Order online, have things delivered, or look at an app that tells you how crowded a restaurant or park is in real time.

And there’s not just optimism in our personal lives. The whole world is getting better, and he shares all the statistics to prove it. We feed more people, live in cleaner environments, and live healthier, longer lives. And richer we get, the more we have to share and help others get where we are.

It all starts with the freedom to trade, the building of technology, and trust. The more we see the positives, the happier we all are, and the more we start to trust and help each other.

So…yeah, this was a great book. I’m glad I read it again. Have you read The Rational Optimist? You should! If each of us started to have a slightly better outlook about the future of humanity, just think how much good we could do!

Want to read my original thoughts about this book? Go back to my first post, The Rational Optimist: New Read.

DNF: “Did Not Finish” does Not Equal Failure

It’s my first DNF of the year, my friends! Yep, I’m a quitter! There are times in life when you just have to walk away from something. Let’s celebrate the wisdom of making choices and not wasting anymore time.

DNF - Mao - The Unknown Story
I’m a quitter!

I’ve spent almost 4 hours in “Mao – The Unknown Story” and, at the rate I’m going, I’ll be there for 20 more. I’m calling it quits right here. It’s not that it’s boring, it’s just…not useful, maybe.

The book reads as if Mao was a demon straight from birth. As if one could have known what his life path would lead to and maybe he should have been cut off from this earth before he did too much damage. There are no why’s in this book. There’s no ideology discussed, no reasons for the path he chose, just the description of a monster’s acts. I just don’t think that’s helpful.

Here’s the thing, there are legitimate reasons to think Communism is a bad idea…and there are reasons to believe it’s a great idea. Demonizing one side or another gets us nowhere. What we need are facts laid out so that we can see the past more clearly and create an informed worldview to work from in the future. But, then again, that assumes that most people want to do that. I’m feeling rather pessimistic this week. Maybe it’s the heat. I think most people aren’t interested in ruling themselves. They’d rather sit back and have someone tell them what they are supposed to think instead.

DNF for: reading this book has put me in a negative spin. I need to turn that around.

There are two positives that I got from this book! The first was that I didn’t realize that Communist China rose with Communist Russia. Same timeframe. Same leadership. They were “contemporaries” and now I need to find better books that give me more of that background. Maybe something that reads a tad less like propaganda and more like a less biased history. That will take some time to find, since Russia and China are charged histories from my American worldview.

I also added two books to my TBR list. “The Essential Marx” A collection of Marx writing, edited by Trotsky in the 30’s to show what he based his thinking on. And “The Portable Atheist.” Another collection of atheist and agnostic works through the ages. I’m not a Marxist or an Atheist, but it seems to be the way the world leans these days, so it’s best to know why, right?

I think “it’s making me sad for no reason” is a legitimate reason to DNF (did not finish) a book. If the book were giving me background on Communism, the ideology and culture of China, reasons for the revolution, or details about its connection with the Russian Revolution, I’d keep reading, even if it did make me sad. All it’s doing right now is listing atrocities and creating a monster to hate and fear. That’s never a good way to help thinking people make better decisions.

I only started this book a few days ago and posted about it at “Mao – The Unknown Story: New Read.”

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”

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.

Can This Cardinal Rule of Politics Apply To Any Discussion?

What exactly is a “cardinal rule” anyway?

It’s a fundamental rule that acts as hinge to other interactions. Breaking a cardinal rule is something that can make a big mess of things, end discussions and relationships, and burn bridges.

“International politics is indeed a little like the mad tea party where Alice had to learn that you can mean what you say without saying it, as well as say what you mean without meaning it. The cardinal rule is this: Never reason from labels.”

The Philosophy of Peace by John Somerville

I read this and was floored, mostly because I’ve come to that conclusion myself and here it is again, in a 70-year-old book. This book was about politics, so the cardinal rule was related to that, but the rule applies everywhere and in every sphere.

What does it mean to “reason from labels?” I’m considering a scene where I’ve done this very thing…

I’m sitting in the grassy shade beneath a tree at the local park with my young “school age” children. They’re up on the monkey bars, swinging from the feet and hands, doing the crazy things young boys do. Another mom is in the park doing the same thing. It’s noon on a Tuesday during the public-school year, so I assume she’s probably like me, a homeschooler.

I approach and ask if she’d like company. She’d love it, she says. Being at home with kids all day, it’s nice to talk with another adult, especially another homeschooler. We can skip the usually why, how, and what about socialization questions.

We sit in the shade, sipping our iced tea, sharing stories about the kids. Her stories are filled with getting the kids to events, meeting with teachers, and testing. She has a been having trouble getting the kids to sit and stay focused on their assignments. One isn’t going to pass a class. And the other is below grade level. She asks how I deal with these things and I’m at a loss for words. I have no problems like these.

In my mind, I’m beginning to grumble. “This is not homeschooling!” is my main concern. I feel like she’s used the wrong label. I’ve bought a product and begun to use it, yet the contents of the package are not what’s on the label. What am I supposed to do with this?!

We’re at an impasse, unable to honestly communicate.

She could say the same about me. I used the label “homeschooler” and describe an entirely different (and probably shocking) life with my children. We have no teachers, curriculum, or tests. There is no grade-level, no assignments to complete. We simply read books together and go places. We read, talk, listen, and experience the world around us. That is our “school.”

When you put labels on people, you assume what’s inside based on your preconceived definition, instead of discovering the specific person you are talking to. I can create a profile and put a slew of labels on myself, and when you read it, you’ll think you know the kind of person I am. But you’d be wrong.

Time and time again, I’ve found a label for something I do or feel, discover a group with that label, and jump in. “These are my people!” I think, only to find that the people inside that label aren’t at all like me. “I must be a freak. I belong to no group at all.”

We do the same to others every time we label them and put them in groups. “You’re not a real (insert label here), because you don’t do this like me!” Then we all isolate each other.

What if we stopped? What if there were no other labels than your name? And when we talked to each other, we simply listened to the other person describe their feelings and experiences, their reasoning and the way they live, and we accept it as valid and correct for them?

What if we had conversations with people without labeling them or ourselves? Instead of thinking, “That person is a (label) and I’m not (label), so I can use none of that information.” We can instead think, “This person has an interesting way of living or thinking, maybe some of it will work in my life.” We may actually get somewhere, adopt some new and exciting behaviors, and make new connections in ways we didn’t know possible.

Labeling is the same as name calling. It pushes everyone not exactly like you outside of your circle. It make everything “us vs them” and ends any productive discussion.

I posted about The Philosophy of Peace by John Somerville when I started reading it. Click that link to read the post! I also found a great article about the ideology of peace and war called “Peace, War, and Philosophy” at Encyclopedia.com It was a nice summary of some ideas and led me, once again, down a rabbit warren of new things to read.


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” The Philosophy of Peace”

Philosophy of Peace book cover at a fireplace.

I picked up “The Philosophy of Peace” by John Somerville to read next. I wanted to end the month on a non-fiction note and decided this title had a nice positive ring to it. Since this book was picked up out of the pile of books I adopted from a friend, I really have nothing else to go on other than the title, so I did a quick search of the “interwebs” before I started to read it and found very little other than the book for sale across the web. Strange.

From the book itself, I see it has a copywrite of 1949. The dedication says,

Philosophy of Peace dedication.

So far so good, I suppose. We haven’t had another thing called a World War since, but we have been constantly at war all over the world, so there’s that.

There’s an inscription inside as well, and you know how much I love that.

Philosophy of Peace inscription by someone who gave the book as a gift.

I love this. Where are Mr. & Mrs. Martin Haisler and Edward W. Gray now? Why did he give this book to them? The book was published in 1949. What was it like in Hollywood, Florida then? What did they do for a living? How old were they?

If I could make a law, I’d say you have to write something in any book you read about who you are and why you are reading it or why you’re giving it. In fact, I’ve been giving books as gifts for years and from now on, instead of ordering them sent, I’m going to buy them, write a note inside and then send it personally. Time traveling again!

In search of more information about the book and author, I went directly to Wikipedia and they don’t have a page on this author. Amazon has the book listed under a used book seller with no details. The only thing I found was an obituary from the LA Times from 1994.

I’m sitting down with this, the day my youngest baby leaves the nest, with a cup of coffee and finding out what I can. Maybe it’s simply no longer relevant? That happens.

You can find “The Philosophy of Peace,” a revised edition with introductory letters from Einstein and Mann, at Thriftbooks. I’d love to see that book and compare it to my original version. If you decide to read it, let me know in the comments!

I’ve written a few posts about quotes and ideas that I found interesting as I read. Please go over and give them a read. You may find yourself wanting to read the book too…or just come argue with me.
Open and Honest Discussion of Any Ideology is the Best Cure
Can This Cardinal Rule Apply to Any Discussion?


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Bypass the social media algorithms and sign up for my weekly newsletter. Each week will give you a rundown of my favorites posts, podcasts, and few funnies. Read what you want, when you want, without getting sucked into the endless scroll mode!

Disputes Over Ideas – Confusion of Language

Once again, the more I read about it, the more I see the similarities. Our current situation isn’t unprecedented. The end isn’t written in stone though. We could end up in a different place, as we have many other times when unrest began.

I finished watching “Trotsky” on Netflix yesterday and was out watering my trees this morning. I don’t have sprinklers. I like taking half an hour early each morning and inspecting the property while I water; a tree needs trimming, a shrub needs to be shored up, etc. It’s relaxing and meditative too. I get a chance to take a good look at what I have around me.

It’s early when I water in the summer, usually about an hour after the sun comes up. I’ve already been up for a couple of hours, reading and journaling. I’ve gone for a walk or done my yoga practice for the day.  I’m starting to get hungry for breakfast. And I’m thinking quietly, without other voices.

Today I was thinking about the book I’m reading, “A People’s Tragedy,” and the Netflix show “Trotsky.” And that led me to what I discovered about George Orwell. Well…maybe I didn’t “discover” it. I’d heard that he was a Democratic Socialist before, but when I read his books I assumed he had changed his mind and was writing to denounce it because that’s what I got from the stories. It turns out he was lamenting that the political philosophy was hijacked by thugs and ruined.

I’m getting the same feeling from the book and show today. The author of the book and the producers of the show have obvious sympathy for socialism. They are building up the benefits and positives, which they are correct about, and then showing why it failed and that it wasn’t the socialism/communism/or Marxism, that was the problem. It was bad humans.

The strange thing is what I’ve noticed about where my mind goes with the same information. I read what happened and I think, “That’s why it doesn’t work because of bad humans.” From what I’ve learned, all I see is an opening for bad people to do very bad things. Their system of government would lead to some wonderful things if we lived in a perfect world. But we don’t. And so far, it’s always ended in so much death and destruction.

I’m still studying and I’m learning a lot. I’d like to find more books about the history of Marxism and what evolved from it over the last 100 years. I’d also like to learn more about the democratic socialist movement we have today in the United States. I won’t say I’m looking for unbiased information. I don’t think that exists, but I would like to find several points of view.

A side note, I’ve tried discussing things like this on social media with friends, but it seems to me that we are all coming from different corners and we all have different definitions for words and phrases. It’s like we attempted to build a tower to reach the heavens and have been afflicted with the confusion of language, a “Tower of Babel” story. Each time I make an attempt, I’m baffled by people’s reactions and have to retreat.

Maybe it’s better to have discussions in smaller groups, so that we all have the chance to actually be heard. When I post a topic, everyone comes running at me from every direction. Friend A comments and before I can answer them, Friend B and C join in and then Friend D comes throwing insults to Friend A, replying to him instead of my post. Ugg. It’s anarchy and completely pointless.

The privacy of speaking instead of publicly writing would probably help too. Just because I commented on something or posted it, doesn’t mean it’s gospel. We seem to have lost the concept of batting around ideas and discussing things openly. We’re all making statements and defending our stances more than attempting to understand each other.

Instead, I simply post a picture of my cat. Sometimes we can agree that he’s cute and fuzzy, but then there’s always that one person that doesn’t like cats, the one that heard cats are evil and I’m evil for having it as a familiar, the one that wants to save them all from destruction and used by cults, and the one that thinks it’s just mean to keep one as a pet. Sigh.

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