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

Tag: politics

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.

What Can I Do?

My evening meditation and reading always ends up being attended by my followers, Chili and Abe.

I read another chapter of “A Guide to the Good Life – {the ancient art of stoic joy}” by William B. Irvine. As I read, I took a few notes, asked myself a couple questions, and had an “ah-ha” (not the band) moment, only to find that the end of the chapter confirmed my thought process.

I love it when that happens.

The chapter was on The Dichotomy of Control. The Stoics say there things you can and things you can’t control. Mr. Irvine expands on that a bit, adding that there are things you have some control over as well. That made me think about my current situation.

How much influence to change the world do I have? Here on my blog? Very little. On social media? I don’t suppose much at all. I’ve learned first hand lately, that my personal posts are enjoyed by and encouraging to people that already share my values. I make people smile with my cat pictures. I make people laugh with my jokes. But do I influence anyone to think or change their minds? No, not really.

That’s where the Stoic philosophy came in. Why bother doing something that has so little effect? Why not simply keep my posts to neutral subjects? Because I feel as though I’m leaving part of myself hidden away, a part that I’m proud of and want to share.

So what can I do? Create an internalized goal. My goal isn’t to change my readers’ minds or educate my friends as to my point of view so that they will come to their senses and adopt it. I have no control over how anyone perceives what I post or what they do with it.

My goal in posting here and on social media is to share a slice of my life with others and to clarify my point of view to the best of my ability. I have control over that and I can meet that goal every day.

This goes right along with participating in government and community. I do the best that I can to keep up with what’s happening, educate myself, and vote for what I think is best. The outcome is irrelevant to my goals.

What’s this? A political post?

I know! There’s just so much going on lately and I do have a lot of thoughts about it. I also talk about it a lot, privately with people I know want to have a real conversation. I don’t typically post about my political leanings and I rarely read social media posts or mainstream news channel articles either.

Like the snob that I’ll admit I am, I tend to get my news information from print magazines, and (I’ll also admit) my husband when he wants to discuss things he’s found throughout the day over dinner or on our afternoon walk.

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on “politics.”


 

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“Apolitical” does not mean that I’m not aware of what is going on in our country. It doesn’t mean that I’m ignorant of how our government works. It doesn’t mean that I don’t vote.

What it does mean is that I don’t play the game of “politics.”

Politics treats the government as a game to follow, a team to root for, and colors to wear. It’s a national sport that asks us all to choose sides and form up and I don’t believe it is conducive to governing or living well. In fact, I don’t think politics accomplishes much of anything except to feed some people’s desire to argue about how others should live.

That is why I don’t share my opinions on social media. I don’t post what I believe we should do about individual situations and events. I don’t tell you, “I voted! And you should too!” And I don’t discuss what politicians are currently doing and saying.

I don’t want to participate in the game. I don’t want to feed the machine that does its best to separate us into factions, pit us against each other, and live in fear.

But I do participate in government to the best of my ability, and to the extent my time and energy will allow, without destroying my peace of mind.

There is no win or lose on a journey. There are only choices and what results of those choices.

Mind Your Own Business

Can you imagine how much we’d all get done if we just focused on our own lives and stopped worrying about everyone else?

But…Michelle! Then the bad guys would take over!

How? If we all were taking care of ourselves and the people closest to us, wouldn’t that spread out over the world like a virus? Here I am, putting on my own oxygen mask first, making myself stable and secure, then I look to my partner, my children, my family, and friends. Each of their lives is made a little better and then they do the same. It spreads across the world.

Too simplistic you say. So, you do nothing. Instead, you sit in your house and gripe. You watch TV, scroll through social media, and see all the things so far away that you can’t do anything about. You demand that somebody do something about those horrors. You decide the best thing you can do is make a poignant post about how awful people are and that if we had only elected this other person or passed this law, all of this would be better.

Meanwhile, your partner is lonely, you don’t know where your children are, the house is a mess, your mom could use a phone call, and there’s nothing to eat in your fridge. You are tired, grumpy, and overwhelmed because you’re not taking care of yourself. All of these are things YOU could do something about right now, but you’re too busy following politicians and arguing with strangers about why they should be thinking a different way.

What can I do to make the world a better place right now? Take care of myself and then the space and people around me so that they can do the same.

Don’t just “start” with yourself, focus on yourself and stay right there. Do what you need to do to be healthy, happy, and strong right where you are. Then move outward and support others on their journey to be healthy, happy, and strong where they are.

I could sit here and quote Allan Bloom’s Interpretive Essay about “The Republic of Plato” all day long. I read the translation and then then the essay and felt that it was worth all the effort. In fact, I’d say read the essay first and then Plato. Maybe? Hard to say which would be better. Reading the Republic, I started to wonder what the point was. I’ve never been a big fan of Plato or Socratic Reasoning. I can’t seem to follow it. Call me lazy, but it takes too much effort. My son has shown me that some people find it natural and I’m just not one of those people. I’m glad I read it, again, and even more happy that the interpretive essay afterward was so enlightening.

This paragraph is what I want to share today, though.

If the infinite longing for justice on earth is merely a dream or a prayer, the shedding of blood in its name turns from idealism into criminality. The revolutions of Communism and Fascism are made in the name of perfect regimes which are to be their consequence. What matter if a few million die now, if one is sure that countless generations of mankind will enjoy the fruits of justice? Socrates thinks about the end which is ultimately aimed at by all reformers and revolutionaries but to which they do not pay sufficient attention. He shows what a regime would have to be in order to just and why such a regime is impossible. Regimes can be improved but not perfected; injustice will always remain. The proper spirit of reform, then, is moderation. Socrates constructs his utopia to point up the dangers of what we would call utopianism; as such it is the greatest critique of political idealism ever written. The Republic serves to moderate the extreme passion for political justice by showing the limits of what can be demanded and expected of the city; and, at the same time, it shows the direction in which the immoderate desires can be meaningfully channeled.”

This is exactly what libertarians have been trying to say. There is no heaven on earth. There is no perfect. The more you try to define it for others and use the force to create it, the more you move toward tyranny. Think about it. Religions in the past have done the same thing. There is no “greater good” reason in this life to use violence against others. Even God does not do it. So why do we think we can do it?

Any use of force is violence, in my opinion. Taxes, fines, jail, etc. = violence against others.

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