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!

Answering Contempt with Warm-Heartedness

Answering contempt with “warm-heartedness and good humor” is the best way to start the healing between all of us. Someone has to answer anger with listening. Someone has to answer contempt with love.

I finished this book early this morning and if I could afford to give Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks to everyone that might give it a chance (and force it on anyone that wouldn’t, you know I’m kidding) I totally would.

When I heard Arthur C. Brooks interviewed on Freakanomics last year, I knew I had to have this book. The past several years of political battles that first turned personal and then nasty and borderline violent has been very hard on my poor heart. I’ve felt myself pulling away from people I love and care deeply for because I felt threatened and attacked every time I open my social media feed.

I’ve lost several good friends simply because I was honest about how I felt. One shut the door on me because I was flippant about a political battle that seemed over-hyped to me in the media. Another because I somehow hurt her by trying to cheer her up with the positive side of an issue. I’ve distanced family members because I felt that their views were going to destroy everything I hold dear. It’s gotten ridiculous.

I’ve left the whole thing completely this past year only to find that I feel even more isolated and alone in the world. But what can I do?!

This book was every bit as helpful as I hoped it would be. It wasn’t just a list of platitudes telling us all that we needed to agree to disagree and love each other anyway or simply not speak of the complicated subjects and opt for light conversation about the weather and the children’s activities. Even those subjects are laced with hostility these days; from my right leaning friends AND my left leaning ones griping about how the other side is going to kill us all with their malicious intentions.

The helpful content in this book is a look from both sides of the political spectrum, how we could all use a bit of humility and love in our lives. The HOW is exactly what I have been searching for because I’ve felt so lost.

This quote at the end of the book spoke directly to me:

answering contempt

“What about when you are the one treated with contempt? What should be your reaction? The answer is to see it not as a threat but an opportunity. Why? Because another’s expression of contempt toward you is your opportunity to change at least one heart – your own. Respond with warm-heartedness and good humor.”

I can hear some of my friends and family now. “Michelle, no one has ever treated you with contempt. What are you talking about?”

You’re right. Very seldom has anyone said to me directly that I am a horrible person for my ideas. But when you share posts that condemn others for being evil because they are on the other side of a debate, you shut people down and push them away. I’ve spent a lot of time worrying what would happen if those people found out that I was on the other side of a debate, far too much time.

I’m still learning new ways to interact with people, how to discuss issues without causing people to feel that I don’t care about their side. Actively listening is a weakness of mine, I know this, and lately I’ve been working on it a lot. I’ve been reaching out to people, apologizing for my part in the battle, and hoping to rebuild some bonds.

The interview started that process, and this book has driven it forward. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’re interested in what he has to say but don’t want to commit to buying it, check out his website. You won’t be disappointed. Maybe we can make America great again for real, by bridging differences of opinion and ideals, and bonding over what we have in common and what makes life far more colorful and interesting.

Love Your Enemies: New Read

Diving into Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt by Arthur C. Brooks head first!

love your enemies

Today is a big day, people. A red-letter combo day. I started reading a new book AND I started a new journal. Why is starting a new journal such a crazy special feeling? It feels like a renewal, a new start, like New Years Day all over again. A new life has begun, anything can happen.

I know I’m a bit strange, but I also know there are people out there just like me closing their eyes for a moment and thinking, “Mmm… Yeah. That’s the best.” Thank you, internet, for bringing us together!

One more thing before I get into my new book. Have you ever noticed that if you write any word repeatedly it starts to feel wrong? Like the spelling can’t be right, so you look it up again just to be sure, type it one more time and then let it go. That’s how I feel about the word “enemies” right now.

Once again, I find my memory far less consistent as I would like to be. I remember writing a podcast roundup the day after I heard Arthur C. Brooks on Freakanomics but scanning back I can’t seem to find it. I did, however, write a notecard and place it in my possible TBR file about the book Love Your Enemies. On it I wrote the date I made the card and the podcast episode I heard the interview on, so that is progress.

I do remember one thing correctly. I did share the episode on my Facebook profile because what Mr. Brooks said really did touch me and I wanted to spread that message as far as I could immediately. The title of the episode reflects the subtitle of the book, “How Can We Break Our Addiction to Contempt?”

The reason I remember so clearly that I did share this episode there was because of a comment I received from a friend. She “laugh reacted” the post. Not wanting to misinterpret her intent, I asked her why. Her response was a little disheartening. Once again, a person’s reaction made me take a step back from social media for a moment.

Only two people reacted to the post at all, which is typical of a post that references anything other than something pretty or politically enraging. It seems that all we really want is more distractions or more confirmation that our side is right to be so contemptuous. Something that suggests that maybe there is something simple we can do on a personal level to make things better is laughed away. It confirms the premise of this book.

Are we addicted to this feeling contempt we all complain about others throwing our way? Like drug addicts, are we ruining our health and happiness chasing after something we know we don’t want?

I believe we are. I’ve felt it myself.

The first lines of this book suggest to me that these ideas may be the antidote:

“I live and work in Washington, DC, but I’m not a politics junkie. To me, politics is like the weather. It changes a lot, people drone about it constantly, and “good” is totally subjective.”

“While politics is like the weather, ideas are like the climate. Climate has a big impact on the weather, but it’s not the same thing. Similarly, ideas affect politics, but they aren’t the same.”

“However, even a climate scientist has to think about the weather when a hurricane comes ashore, and that’s what’s happening today.”

I do have one issue with that word, the one I’ve written so much this morning that I’m starting to think it looks spelled wrong, “enemies.” I think I know what he’s doing here, luring you in with an inflammatory word. Ultimately, I believe those who have not read the book will get the wrong idea about what he’s suggesting in the text. Having different ideas about what’s important, what needs to be done and how, doesn’t mean we need call each other enemies. No one needs to vanquished.

I’m looking forward to reading Love Your Enemies because it’s more than a “this is what’s wrong with the world” kind of book. This one promises some ideas about how you and I can fix things for ourselves and I’m excited to hear his plans. I hope someone out there wants to read this along with me or has read it recently. I’d love to hear anyone thoughts!

Little Bee: Ordered and Antiseptic

“In our small garden I have made a wild place to remind me of chaos, Andrew once wrote in his column. Our modern lives are too ordered, too antiseptic.” From Little Bee by Chris Cleaver

ordered and antiseptic

I agree…and then I don’t. Our “ordered and antiseptic” ways allow humans to live a longer and less stressful life. We know when and where our food and water will come next. We know what to expect in life and can plan our lives and become more prosperous. We know where to go for help and when to work things out for ourselves. We have more power over our lives.

If each day, I woke up with no order to things, I’d spend most of my day finding food, water, and shelter, and keeping that from everyone else doing the same. Without our antiseptic ideas, we’d continue to eat lower quality dirty food and water, and our wounds would fester and kill us. That’s the old way of living. Lives were harder, shorter, and rough. Pastoral life was not pleasant.

But the whole world is not ordered and antiseptic. There are wild places near our gardens that remind us of chaos. Whole regions, countries, and continents. People there spend their lives trying to stay alive as long as they can in very rough ways. They make terrifying attempts to get to places that are more ordered and antiseptic. And many times, we throw those weeds back into the wild place.

I’ve spent my morning wondering…

What can we do to help the rest of the world find more order, become more antiseptic? How do we, who have found ourselves in the middle of a garden, help that garden spread so that the rest of the world can prosper and thrive with us?

Read the previous post inspired by this book, “Little Bee: Scars”

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”

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