All dictators are bullies. All bullies are cowards. Therefore, all dictators are cowards.
In case you don’t already know that.
Dictators secretly believe, like Voldemort, that if only they are cruel enough and destroy enough “enemies” they will live forever.
In the attempt to kill off all their enemies, they will make more enemies. Therefore they will stay afraid all their lives. They are not just running from enemies; they are running from life. To embrace life, whether you are dancing, loving, creating, building — there is always some degree of danger.
If you dance, you may fall.
If you love, you may lose your love.
If you create, you might fail.
If you build, things might fall on you.
But what is the alternative?
The alternative chosen by dictators is to surround himself (or, rarely, herself) with sycophants. Sycophants, in case you don’t know, are even more cowardly than the dictator. In return for small favors, they tell the dictator whatever the dictator wants to hear. As a result, the dictator becomes more and more unhinged from reality. This makes them ever less effective. As they grow less effective, they realize that they must lie even more to keep their power. As they do so, it becomes more and more obvious to everyone that they are ineffective. At first, people who are distant from the dictator realize the ineffectiveness of the dictator. But over time, as the ineffectiveness increases, even people close to the web of lies see that how absurd the whole thing is. Yet, if they are close to the dictator, they’re in a bad position. If they do tell the truth, they’ll be the first to go.
This behavior is nicely portrayed in the movie, The Deathly Hallows: Part Two. The destruction of one of Voldemort’s horcruxes staggers him. One of his minions asks whether he’s okay. What does Voldemort do? Does he say, “Thanks for your concern, but I’m fine.”
Oh, no. He performs the killing curse on his own follower; in this case, the follower wasn’t betraying his master or even questioning him explicitly. But implicitly, his comment questioned whether Voldemort was perfect, immortal, invincible. And, to a deranged Voldemort, that is the very issue he is destroying the world in order to keep himself from realizing: that he is vulnerable. Of course he is. Everyone is. The only things that are invulnerable are dead things. But in the extreme case, precisely because vulnerability so obviously is part of all life, Voldemort fights more desperately to deny the truth. As it turns out, it’s precisely the bullies and the cruel dictators of this world who are the actual snowflakes “who can’t handle the truth.”
The ruthless dictators of the world stand poised to take their last stand against democracy; against decency; against a world of enough for everyone.
They need inequality. You don’t.
They need lies. You don’t.
They need wars. You don’t.
They pretend they have great power. They don’t.
If Putin’s army decided to do it, they could turn back and liberate their own people. If Putin’s inner circle decided he was too unstable to rule, they could put in a new “leader.” If he’s a dictator, he too will eventually become unstable. It’s an occupational “hazard” that is a certainty. By surrounding themselves with “yes-men” and cowardly sycophants afraid to tell the truth, dictators virtually guarantee that they will overestimate their own power and capabilities over time. The same thing happens to drug lords, autocratic bosses, and abusive spouses.
Human beings are fundamentally social animals.
Be kind to those around you.
No matter how strong, or smart, or creative a person is, if they really disconnect from their society and their world, they will accomplish little. They can destroy. Just like cancer, they can kill. But they cannot actually accomplish much.
No-one has infinite energy and attention. A dictator spends so much energy on protecting themselves and consolidating their power, that they have almost nothing left over for actual governance. In addition, since they surround themselves with feckless chickens, they never even get the information that they would need in order to improve their governance.
Dictators destroy the free press. That helps them mislead the people they enslave. At the same time, in ensures that they lose touch with reality.
How can we help save democracy half a world away?
Be kind to those around you.
Be vigorous in pursuing the truth.
Be kind to those around you.
Get involved in your local politics. Make sure your own elections are fair. Make democracy strong where you are.
Be kind to those around you.
Dictators and would-be dictators seek to divide the people so they hate each other rather than the one who actually wants to enslave them.
Be kind to those around you.
Dictators not only know no true love themselves; they hate love. They will seek to destroy it. They need a society where mothers inform on their daughters and sons inform on their fathers; where wives inform on their husbands; where brothers inform on their sisters. The dictator wants all loyalty to accrue to them — though they have zero true loyalty to anyone else.
Be kind to those around you.
If you feel dislike or hatred for another group, ask yourself who benefits from that. Hint: It won’t be you. It won’t be the person(s) you dislike. So who does benefit? While you’re trying to figure that out, you may as well take small steps toward a better world — small steps that hurt no-one.
Be kind to those around you.
Any step in that direction is a step in the right direction.
Do you remember the song, “Take me for a ride in the car car”? Here’s a link to one popular version. Peter, Paul, & Mary also sang it. Nice song. But you may have experienced it being repeated too often. At a certain age, some kids seem to discover that they can be really annoying simply by singing a song over and over and over and over.
When I was in my early teens, I took a car trip with my Uncle Paul and his wife and three kids out to see his brother Bob who headed up a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania. It was a long drive. At some point, to pass the time, we sang some songs. When the last song was over, Paul’s youngest son began to make up new verses for one of the songs. At first, it was rather cute to watch him try to build a story, rhyme, and keep in tune, none of which he actually succeeded in. But after about a quarter hour, he began to annoy people with his off-key, non-rhyming, senseless continuations of the song. After about a half hour he was annoying everyone. After an hour, we began to discuss leaving him by the side of the road and returning in another ten years to see whether he was still there.
On car trips, we used to play a number of games to pass the time; e.g., seeing how many different states license plates we found find. Later, I learned to play “The Alphabet Game.” There are several versions, but basically, you must find, in order, the letters of the alphabet from passing cars, signs, etc. Stuff inside your own car cannot be used. (You could easily find all the letters in a book or magazine). I’ve learned to know where to look for J, Q, and Z. I’ve been in cars where we played twenty questions, Botticelli, Buzz, and Ghost. When I was a kid, I also simply looked out the window to entertain myself. Sometimes, I would imagine that the dotted lines that divide the lanes were like tracer bullets shot from our car. Then, I would watch to see whether another car got “blown up” because they crossed our fire. I would also imagine myself “flying” alongside the car, having to bob and weave to avoid telephone poles, trees, signposts, etc.
Traveling in a car with a family or with a group of friends or your car pool is potentially a social opportunity as well as an opportunity to save money. Since you’re in the same car, you need to agree on destination. To some extent, you need to agree on temperature & what to do about the windows. As a kid, everyone also lived in the same “sonic space.” We would have to “agree” on a game or on a radio station. This is no longer the case. Now, often times, everyone in the family may have their own individual entertainment. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Even in the modern day, driving in a car with others is different from driving in a car on your own. If you’re by yourself, you can decide on the temperature and entertainment without having to take into account anyone else’s wishes. If others are in the car, some kind of negotiations have to take place.
At least, that’s what most people do. You could decide: “Hey! It’s my car so I’m going to drive and I get to determine everything about our common space — temperature, entertainment, windows, whether we stop, etc.” This is what is known in academic circles as the “A$$hole theory of cooperation”: Get everything you possibly can for yourself and to hell with everyone else. And after all, they’re doing the same exact thing.
Notice too that to some degree, the amount of accommodation you have to do depends on how much humanity is in the car besides yourself. It also depends on how “luxurious” your vehicle is. If you have a tour bus or a camper, six people might be relatively comfortable. If it’s a VW bug, you won’t be. You’ll not only be crowded; you’ll have to be careful every time you move not to accidentally elbow someone in the eye. Have you ever been in that crowded of a situation for hours at a time or even days at a time?
It isn’t just cars. In general, the more people occupy a given space, the more they are going to have to cooperate in order to survive and thrive. You can provide individuality support with technology, up to a point. In a way, clothing is like that. We can peacefully co-exist in a car without either of us compromising out comfort because I can wear a sweater and you can wear a thin shirt. You can provide everyone an iPhone and everyone can play their own game without having to agree on a common game. Of course, there’s a downside to that. First, we don’t have practice getting along with others. Second, we don’t share a common experience.
Even if the “typical” family of four interrupts their car trip and stops for lunch and agrees to talk, they are likely coming from very different places. Dad has been listening to Mozart and was in good mood until he suddenly remembered he was supposed to have sent out a memo to everyone in the department about last month’s sales figures. Damn. Maybe he can do it from the Motel but it will take longer than it would have at work. His son Sam, meanwhile, was trying to use sexting to convince his girlfriend to “take their relationship to the next level.” As a result, they just broke up. Dad doesn’t know a thing about that; nor does Sam know anything about why Dad suddenly seems put out. Mom meanwhile, was listening to Fox “News” where she “learned” that it’s Biden’s fault Putin “had to” attack the Ukraine because Biden was too tough on Russia and also too easy. Her daughter Sally, on the other hand, has spent the last 45 minutes on twitter learning about the Putin invasion. She is wondering whether atomic war might start.
Now, they stop for lunch. That’s nice. And, maybe they’ll talk about something common; perhaps the weather, or the scenery or the food. But they might just revert to what they were doing before they got together at the restaurant. Even if they all have the willpower to put away their personal devices, they are still coming from very different places emotionally and experientially. Dad might make a comment about how he forgot to write an important e-mail and he’ll have to do it from the Motel. Sam just shakes his head and says, “Important e-mail? My life is ruined! What do you care?”
Dad might say, “What do you mean by saying that your life is ruined?”
Sam might even share, “Jackie broke up with me!”
Dad, meaning well, and wanting to offer a solution before he starts reminiscing about his own high school days, blurts out: “Oh, Sam, don’t worry about it! You’ll have another girlfriend in a week.”
That may well be empirically true. But to Sam? He feels he has just lost the love of his life. His father’s comment seems to him to be dismissive of his feelings to the point of cruelty.
Sally pipes up, “How can you be worried about such trivial things as e-mail and dates when we might be blown to smithereens at any moment? Do you ever pay any attention to the world outside yourself? Putin is a monster killing innocent civilians so he can slake the thirst of his pathetic ego!”
Mom is taken aback. The only news she doesn’t dismiss as “lies that are out to get Trump” has been Fox “News” for the last few years. She says, “Don’t be saying bad things about Putin! He’s a nice man who just wants his Ukraine back.”
Sally’s jaw drops. “Are you serious! He kills journalists who write the truth about him. He’s a corrupt crime lord. He played Trump like a fiddle … no … not that complicated … played him like a drum … no … still too complicated … played him like the triangle. You know. Bang it every once in awhile and it reverberates. Anyway, it isn’t “his” Ukraine. It belongs to the Ukrainian people!”
Some families are better at getting through all this than others. These four have not shared a common experience and are coming from very different places. If they have no practice playing a game according to a common set of rules, what chance to they have to settle deeper differences?
Maybe avoiding little conflicts by giving everyone their own personal entertainment device means that when much bigger and more difficult conflicts arise, no-one remembers how to resolve things. Why shouldn’t everything by how I want it? Let others do the same! Let the best man win!
Except, of course, it isn’t the best man or woman who actually wins in a land where no-one plays by the rules. It’s the most corrupt. And the net result of everyone spending so much time competing and so little, if any, time cooperating is that nothing much is actually accomplished. It doesn’t even work very well in a small group. In a large nation, a dictatorship is almost invariably associated with less for everyone except the dictator and the immediate surround. Dictatorships do sometimes manage to steal from neighbors who are productive because they are cooperative. If all countries were dictatorships, they would all perish, probably in atomic war, but possibly in ecological collapse or just mass suicide.
In 2018, I worked on a “Pattern Language” for collaboration and cooperation. Here’s a link to anindex of the Patterns. One of them is called “Small Successes Early.” Should I be worried that we seem to be moving into a world where there are fewer and fewer opportunities for peacefully resolving small conflicts? Avoiding unnecessary conflict seems like a good thing. But … is the downside that people have no practice resolving conflicts? And, is the further downside, that people eventually end up with huge differences in their notions of reality when it really matters? It seems to be the very thing that Faux News has been counting on; that people would not only listen to them but not listen or dismiss any other views. As a result, people end up with very different models and explanations of the world. That is always a bad thing, but in a world where people are unpracticed at resolving conflicts, it’s even more problematic.
There is always a tradeoff between cooperating as a whole and letting each individual do as they wish. One thing seems crystal clear. As the number of people in your car increases, their individual freedom to do just as they please decreases. So, too, with the world. In my own lifetime, the population of the world has quadrupled. Of course, it’s not equally distributed. People are more concentrated in cities than ever before. Many of these cities are located on ocean coasts. What does the continuation of global warming mean to population migration and crowding?
I’m not sure how many people realize this, but we’re still in a pandemic. If people were very sparsely populated, we probably wouldn’t be. But as we continue to get more crowded, humanity will become more susceptible to pandemics. That in turn, means people will have to accommodate to each other’s needs. As a background rule, a person can choose to wear what they want. There are, of course, many exceptions to that. In many situations, you have to wear a shirt and shoes. In some situations, you have to wear a suit and tie or a uniform. If you might be spraying germs at other people, it seems totally reasonable to change your behavior or clothing to minimize that spread. But some people apparently think that they should be able to do exactly as they want regardless of the consequences to others.
As the earth becomes more crowded, we need to be more cooperative, not less. The presence of a large number of deadly weapons also makes it more important to cooperate. The race to ensure survival by having ever larger numbers of ever more deadly weapons is not a path toward that greater cooperation. Dictators, for instance, tilt toward war to consolidate their power.
“There is always light if only we are brave enough to see it; if only we are brave enough to be it.”
— Amanda Gorman
While not being naive about the real dangers of dictatorship, one way to push against that is actually to be more loving and kind and accepting than you already are. Think on that. And have a wonderful day.
“I still say it’s a bad policy.” Ending his little speech, Wilbur emphasized the word “still” just a little more than he had meant to. He cocked his head to one side as though challenging his girlfriend Sandy to do her best to demolish his arguments. The pair had first met in their 8th grade D&D class (Dialogue & Discussion), so by the time their first adult Lottery drew near, they were quite well versed in the art of debate, discussion, dialogue, and story-telling. They knew how to be passionate in their arguments without letting their passion destroy the foundation upon which rested — well — everything.
Sandy smiled. “Okay. Let’s say you’re right. It’s a horrible system. What would you replace it with or tweak it?”
Wilbur frowned. “I don’t know yet. But I wouldn’t have someone’s livelihood depend on random numbers! It should depend on real things.”
Sandy nodded. “Okay. What real things?”
Wilbur chewed on his lips as he was wont to do when he had an inkling his girlfriend might be right and he might just be wrong. “Well, the way things used to be, as I understand it, it would depend on hard work and working smart.”
Sandy smiled. “That’s it? You don’t think luck had any part? For example, whether you were born poor or — no, wait, here’s a better example. You don’t think it mattered what color skin you had? Or, how about if you were born blind? You don’t think that would impact your income?”
Wilbur frowned. He chewed his lip. He frowned again. He chewed his lip some more. He looked left and right. After all, an answer might appear. Somewhere. Finally, he said, “Well, that’s not luck though. It’s because of … I mean … if you’re born rich, then, your ancestors worked hard so why shouldn’t you get a head start?”
Sandy blinked a few times and said. “Conquerors had better weapons. Or, maybe they were just more ruthless. So you think that means all their progeny for all of time should have an advantage? If someone were born in 1970’s America, wouldn’t their income be primarily determined by luck?”
Wilbur sighed. “OK. But it wasn’t luck for the parents or grandparents. People work harder knowing that their wealth will be passed on.”
Sandy pursed her lips, nodded, and continued. “But you know that when that’s really been studied, it is not actually true. After all, the ten year cycle itself wasn’t a random number!”
Wilbur & Sally enjoyed a small chuckle together.
Wilbur said, “No, I suppose not. Ten years. It’s plenty of motivation to work hard. Though…”
Sandy looked at him expectantly. Wilbur sighed and said, “It’s really weird, but ’m not really seeing how I’m going to do my job differently.”
Sandy nodded. “Same here. But I don’t think it’s weird at all. I can’t imagine going into work Monday and not wanting to do a good job just because my salary doubled.”
Wilbur snorted. “Or halved. Let’s not forget that possibility!”
“Or halved,” Sandy nodded.
If you are from one of the parallel worlds where people’s salaries are never determined by lottery, you might find it difficult to believe, how unruffled most people were by the lottery. In some of those parallel worlds, people could be jerked out of their lives and sent half a planet away to kill and be killed in a jungle war. Why? Because of their lottery number.
The Gottery Lottery, however, merely reshuffled the income that people were paid over the next ten years. Several things happened. First of all, people tended to save a lot of money. Second, they didn’t vote for political candidates who favored their interests at the expense of everyone else. Why? Because they might become one of those other income levels. Programs such as child care, after school programs, and preventative medical care were supported by well over 90% of the population.
The squealing brakes startled Josh awake. He screamed. Only for a moment. Because he felt as much as heard, that something was wrong. Beside him, in the driver’s seat, Josh’s dad, Ron, cursed incoherently, though remarkably loudly & quickly. After a few moments of this, Ron turned to Josh like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Josh had no idea what he had done wrong, but he anticipated the usual slap. Only harder. He closed his eyes.
No slap came. Instead, Ron grabbed him by both shoulders and shook him while screaming: “Listen to me! Open your eyes! Look at me! Nothing happened! Got it? Nothing happened! Say it! Tell me nothing happened!”
Josh was more than fully awake now. He was used to going from sleep to panic in one thunderous heartbeat ever since Mom had run off with that Jared guy. But what nothing was dad talking about…? Suddenly, Josh remembered … there was a heavy THUD! Someone had screamed. They must have hit someone. Now, Dad’s trying to cover it up.
Running through the entire list of strategies in his communications playbook, Ron decided that if his son didn’t understand, it was now necessary to repeat what was said before but more loudly and with stronger shaking of the shoulders and with an even more menacing look. So, that’s what he did.
But this time Josh had worked it out. He knew what was required. “Daddy! Nothing happened!”
Ron’s face melted back into one that looked vaguely human as he said, “That’s right! That’s right! And, now listen here! This is important! If anyone else asks you, you just say you don’t know nothing and nothing happened. You got that?”
Josh nodded solemnly, pretending to be completely in awe of and compliant for Ron — something he had learned long ago as a survival strategy.
The police interview went something like this:
Police Officer: “So Josh. Tell me about where you were and what you did last evening.”
Josh: “Sure, Officer. Nothing happened. I mean I went with my dad to see that new movie, The Raiders of the Lost Arc. It was great! And, then, nothing happened. I don’t remember. My dad drove home and I fell asleep. Nothing happened. I don’t remember. Any other questions?”
Police Officer: “Josh, did your daddy tell you to say that nothing happened? Did he make you promise?”
Josh: “I don’t remember! Nothing happened!”
Police Officer: “Okay, Josh. I think we get the picture. Thank you for your help.
Josh went out and saw his dad about to be taken into an interrogation room. As he passed by, Josh used a stage whisper to his dad: “I did just like you told me, Dad.”
Dad was put away for a good long time.
Sadly, although Josh came out ahead in this particular snippet of his life, learning to become a more clever liar is not really a good long-term strategy. Josh discovered this for himself, on the way down. Oddly, people said, he was killed by the fall. Of course, in truth, very few people die from falls, per se. It is the landing that kills.
Moral of the Story: Telling a lie to your kids is like giving them a poison.
Sometimes, it’s fast acting poison.
Sometimes, it’s slow acting poison.
But it’s always poison.
And, here’s the real magic of it. It’s poison for the lie teller as well! Yes, indeed! It is a double-edged sword extraordinaire because it cuts the sword wielder as well as the sword shielder.
Can you ever imagine that you would intentionally tell your kid the wrong way to perform a skill so that they would get fewer hits, or throw more errors, or serve more double faults, or hurt themselves with tools? Of course not! If they were about to go into a road race, would you cut their brake lines? Of course not! But propagating a lie is exactly like that — handicapping one’s own children in their coming attempts to survive in this world.
Propagating a lie is a big deal. And propagating a Big Lie is an even bigger deal. Whatever the reason, it’s something whose harm is more like a plague or a cancer than a punch. The poison spreads often well beyond the liar and the original target of the lie. When more people lie in the society, there is less trust. When there is less trust, there is more need for regulation and coordination. That inevitably results in friction. So long as all parties play by the rules and tell the truth, it will eventually be resolved and there will be an increase in trust. However, if one side cheats and lies, no matter who wins, there will be a ripple of distrust all through society.
Which is kind of the point, you see?
Josh’s dad Ron may not have known how his actions would undermine his own life as well as his son’s. But the people trying to destroy American Democracy? They know exactly why they’re spreading lies and what it will mean. They are spreading the cancer of distrust and division intentionally. Why? Because dividing is how the few conquer the many. It’s a playbook that has been run over and over and over in human history.
Think about it.
How can a relatively small group of criminals take over a country? They can do it by distracting everyone else into thinking the enemy is not the crime gang but the other victims of the theft of a nation. They cannot possibly do it by telling the truth. The truth is that only the ruling crime family will necessarily benefit by a dictatorship. Nor can the Crime Family take over by force. There are far too few of them. And, they are cowards to boot. They could co-opt the military. They tried that but it didn’t work.
Telling poisonous lies is their major remaining option.
It’s evil, but it’s understandable, given that all they care about is power.
But ordinary people lying to their own children?
There’s something deeply disturbing about that, most especially when the lie isn’t even for the benefit of anyone involved.
The parent won’t benefit.
The child won’t benefit.
No-one who overhears the lie will benefit.
The only person who benefits is the would-be Diktator of AmeriKKKa (let’s use “Dik” for short) because the lying parent is practicing giving away their own agency and putting it in the hands of the Dik. It’s no accident that some of the lies put their own life at risk along with the lives of their family & friends. They are being trained to put the Dik above the life and welfare of what they previously loved most dearly in the world.
November 24, 1859, The Origin of Species was published.
So, which date do we use to mark the beginning of evolution?
Life has been evolving on earth for 4.5 billion years! You and I and everyone else on earth and every Redwood, Monarch Butterfly, Rose Bush, Siberian tiger, and Honeybee; every Porpoise, Sailfish, Snail, Hummingbird and Eagle evolved in an unbroken line from our common ancestors.
Every single one of your direct ancestors stayed alive long enough to procreate.
The study of life has always fascinated me. I found it astounding as a kid. I find it astounding today after 3/4 of a century. In honor of Charles Darwin Day — February 12th — I thought I’d point to some earlier essays and poems that have touched on life, evolution, or genetics.
Math Class: Who are you?
Many people act in their “self-interest.” Others act altruistically. What might a balance between self-interest and altruism look like?
It seems to me at least worth considering that the genes that make you be the being that you are are not only within the boundaries of your own skin. Those genes are all over the place! Some are in trees. Some are in bees. Many are in a porcupine. And the vast majority are in all humankind. There’s way more of “you” out there than just what is in your own skin.
Ever notice how much many people rush about? I am too. Or, at least, I used to be. As I write this, none of our six cats is rushing about. Not even close. Charles Wallace is curled up in a cat bed on the window sill. Luna is curled up on the bed next to my wife. The other four are all in the living room lying in the sun. If I approached any one of them, they would know it instantly. They are not in deep sleep. They are just taking a … well … a cat nap
Cats are also quite willing to be demonstrative when it comes to reminding you that they have their own agency; that their life is every bit as precious to it as yours is to you.
Actions have consequences.
We generally think of evolution in terms of a species, over time, adapting to whatever circumstances it finds itself in. But consider this: the choices we make determine what kind of environment we will live in and ultimately, how an organism (including humanity) will evolve.
Life is a dance between endless repetition on the one hand and chaos on the other hand. Life is not a printing press. Each copy is a little different. Because of that, it can change, and bend, and learn, and change.
It’s diverse; it’s abundant; it’s everywhere. When humans come in and change the landscape? Sometimes, we make it marginally better or add something that is as beautiful as nature but very different. But that’s rare. If we’re honest about it, most of the things humans make are not nearly so beautiful as the natural things they replace. The manufactured items are often more convenient. For instance, it’s easier and more affordable and more convenient for most people to own a car rather than a horse. But beauty? Despite hiring really good designers and putting in lots of time & energy into making a good design and then selling that design, I’ve never seen a car that approaches a horse in terms of beauty. And, aside from the “nice tries” but you didn’t get there category and the “well at least it works and is blah” category, let’s not forget the many occasions when humans replace natural beauty with unabashed and stunning ugliness. These poems, I suppose, were partly written in the hopes that humanity would see natural beauty and work together to leave the world more beautiful than we found it — and not just more “efficient.”
You Must Remember This
The Tree of Life
Take a Glance; Join the Dance
It was his nature
It isn’t only a matter of how things look, of course. I wish that our actions and interactions could be more beautiful as well.
When I was trained as an experimental psychologists, thinking about the experience of other species was not encouraged. It was actively discouraged. I have a very different view of the world now. I think it is much more parsimonious to presume that other organisms do have some sort of experience and in many cases, similar.
In addition to poems, I also like to celebrate the nature of nature by sharing thoughts and pictures, many in a series I call “The Walkabout Diaries.” Why? Because I literally walk about, generally the garden, and observe things there.
The Walkabout Diaries
Dictatorship is fundamentally anti-life
Dictatorship is the opposite of life. It hates freedom, truth, cooperation, and love. It isn’s satisfied with “motivating” people to do things with cogent rationale. It wants to force people to do things under threat of death or pain. It wants what is good for one person to substitute for the messy processes of negotiating what’s good enough for everyone. It wants to replace the thinking of millions of people to decide what to do with the thinking of one person and when mistakes are made hide those mistakes so well that no-one will learn from them. It’s the opposite of life. Or, at least, it is the opposite of healthy life. It’s cancer run amok. Like all cancers, it’s doomed. But that doesn’t mean there can’t be a lot of pain before it runs its course.
How do we celebrate Umbrella Day? Put up an umbrella tree with little paper umbrellas we’ve collected in a lifetime of drinking fruit flavored nerve poison? Hey! Here’s one way we could celebrate: get rid of the necessity of a nuclear umbrella and while we’re at it, why not get rid of war altogether? It benefits very few of the people involved. Look it up.
No, I suspect that how we are really supposed to celebrate “Umbrella Day” is to buy more umbrellas. Buy more umbrellas? That sounds right. No doubt, this was something cooked up by manufacturers of umbrellas. I doubt the raindrops lobbied for it. A group of consumer fans who just happen to love umbrellas to an inordinate degree? Possible, but extremely unlikely. It’s not the umbrella’s fault; it’s that an umbrella addresses a miserable problem: getting wet when you don’t want to get wet. And, the umbrellas never do a perfect job. They wet the interior of your car and home. They pinch your fingers. People use them! I use them. They are useful. But I don’t think people love them enough to spontaneously beg their government for Umbrella Day. You can call me a cynic; it’s okay. I’m pretty sure it was the Umbrella Manufactures.
That doesn’t mean I won’t appropriate Umbrella Day for my own purposes which are to have fun writing and to entertain some folks out there. Whenever I think of umbrellas, one of the first things that comes to mind was a “QUALITY” meeting all managers in an anonymous telecommunications company (ATC) were required to attend. We listened to talk after talk, many with exciting PowerPoint pie charts and bar charts. No fewer than seven members of the audience were carried out on stretchers for tachycardia brought about by the sheer exuberance of the final slide showing the PILLARS of ATC QUALITY.
At the conclusion, to make sure that the excitement we all feel when sitting for non-interactive presentations all day didn’t somehow dissipate when we walked out the door, each manager was presented with an ATC QUALITY umbrella of our very own!
Whether ATC management arranged for the downpour that hit the city the moment we left the meeting or whether it was sheer happenstance, I don’t really know. In any case, it was a fortuitous event from the perspective of the quality folks because now we would instantly see just how important quality is in our daily lives.
The raindrops came down.
The umbrellas went up.
The umbrellas broke.
The umbrellas served their purpose: they showed just how much top management cared about quality.
(By the way, there really are useful approaches to the important topic of quality. This wasn’t that.)
The umbrella is a device that can be used in many situations. In the summer between my Junior and Senior years in college, I worked as a child care worker at a psychiatric hospital for kids. I lived in a tiny basement studio apartment in the “Little Italy” part of town. My cheap bed had a line of broken springs so my umbrella served as a brace so that I didn’t sag onto the floor. The umbrella bent but did not break. I was much lighter then.
On one occasion, one of those tiny non-human vampires some might call “a bat” broke into my tiny room and flapped endless noisy loops inches from my head.
Slowly, I eased my way out of bed. I slid the umbrella out of its place and when the bat was at the far end of my cell, I opened the umbrella and slowly worked my way toward the door end. My left hand held the umbrella shield before me, much like a muggle version of a Patronus Charm. I slid my right hand over and opened the door. The next time the bat approached the door, out they went. Yay! I like win/win solutions even with mini-vampires. Bats, incidentally, are really cool critters! They are useful to us for a number of reasons, and that’s pretty nice. But they are also just cool in their own right. Their “bat-ness” is every bit as marvelous in its own way as our “human-ness.” The point is that we can use the umbrella in ways the umbrella manufacturers probably never envisioned.
Now, we turn to the one of the most powerful umbrellas in the world.
For several years, my wife and I attended the Newport Folk Festival — a wonderful outdoor concert with two score of the very best folk performers. One of the reasons I like outdoor concerts is so that I can dance. I mean by that that I can dance the way I want to and not get ejected from the venue.
The Newport Folk Festival was no exception. Typically, we had very good luck weather-wise, but one year, it poured. It wasn’t a drizzle. It wasn’t a sprinkle. Nor was it short, hard summer shower that lasts a half hour and then the sun comes out and the rainbow comes out and everyone’s clothes dry in the sun. Nope. This was a constant downpour.
We knew it “might” rain so we came prepared with rain clothes and large umbrellas. The stage was protected so the performances went on as scheduled. I, like most, huddled under layers of clothing and beneath an umbrella.
I was cold.
I was not dancing.
I thought to myself, “I came here to dance. I am going to dance.” So I did. I shed my clothing save for my bathing trunks and I traded in my UMbrella for an UNbrella.
Four hours later, it was still raining. But the mood was completely different. Now, half the crowd was dancing in their bathing suits. Everyone was happy! All thanks to the power of the unbrella.
Speaking of vampires and werewolves…
“Beware when you wear ware that you are aware that it is merely ware you’re wearing. You are not your wear.”
I was about five when my grandfather held my ear in the Solarium as we watched for cars and tried to guess the color of the next one. And, he quoted Confucius:
“When I reach over and pinch my grandson’s ear for a moment, I hold immortality in my hand.” When I was a child, I took this to mean that I was his immortality since I would live on. And, he did mean that. But I also think that he meant me to remember it when I became a grandfather. So, I pass down this wisdom, originally perhaps from Confucius and perhaps from much older sources.
In any case, when I contemplate their lives, it also means I hold immortality in my mind. I see the unbroken chain of ideas as well as the unbroken chain of biology. We are all part of a great tree of life. And, now we are also part of a giant tree of information. Ideally, the two work together as one. We learn more and as we learn more we use that knowledge to make the tree of life ever more resilient and ever more diverse. The healthier the Great Tree of Life, the more time and energy will be left over for us to learn more and more. Biology and knowledge have a natural virtuous circle.
Destroying the chain of knowledge and instead corrupting it for selfish purposes will mar the Great Tree of Life. It cannot be otherwise. How can we do what is wise for any part of the Tree of Life, if we are filled with lies? We will utterly fail to be nourishing. The Cancer-Greed will want you to think nothing of the welfare of any life except a small circle which they will, of course, claim to include you in. But focusing that narrowly on life always results in catastrophe. It’s like driving a car in LA traffic while staring at a spot on your steering wheel through a magnifying glass.
“Short-sightedness can be fatal.”
Certain experiences jump so easily to mind after many decades much more readily than they have any right to. For example, my grandfather made a wonderful rock garden with a goldfish pond. Once when I was perhaps 5, we sat on a rock and I saw some ants on the ground traveling in a line. He wondered aloud whether they were “sugar ants” or “fat ants.” He claimed that some ants like sugar and others prefer fat. Well, I certainly knew where I stood on that issue and announced, “Oh, they are sugar ants!” We got two little bottle caps and in one, put some sugary water and in the other some lard. (Back in those days, people used lard. It’s true.)
I knew, even then, that my grandpa was a really smart guy. And, yet, here I was — absolutely sure of the answer without even having to do an experiment. Fat? Yech! Don’t get me wrong. I already loved bacon and nuts. But Lard? What self-respecting ant is going to want to eat that? I certainly wouldn’t!
It didn’t take long for me to be proven right. The ants almost totally ignored the lard and had an entire supply chain set up in minutes for the sugar water. Of course, it’s easy to see now that my reasoning was completely naive and self-centered. But that didn’t mean I believed it any less fervently then. Grandpa designed an experiment and we looked at the results. But it was no experiment to me. I knew the answer — so I thought. It wasn’t as though I thought it more likely that they would go for the sugar. No. I knew they would go for the sugar because that’s what I would do.
“Pilots who die from running out of gas were sure they wouldn’t when they took off.”