Imagine someone being so rich and powerful and well-connected that they can summon world experts for advice on just about anything.
Imagine this someone is also motivated enough and smart enough that they beat out all sorts of rivals to get to the position they’re in — not purely by inheritance — but partly or even mainly by merit and luck.
And, then, given those overwhelming advantages, they make stupid decisions anyway.
For a recent example, go no further than Putin’s war on Ukraine. Or T-Rump’s recent call to subvert the US Constitution.
What’s going on? Chances are, both are suffering from D4 (Dictator’s Degenerative Delusional Disease).
What is it?
D4 is a very common affliction among dictators who are heads of state. But it’s not limited to those few. It can occur in the bully of the family, a narcissistic team leader, or a business executive. Anyone who has a degree of unchecked power is subject to contracting the disease.
Where does the name come from?
“Dictator’s” because it mainly strikes those with a degree of unchecked power.
“Degenerative” because, left to its own course, the disease will get worse and worse over time.
“Delusional” because, one of the most destructive systems of the disease is the dictator’s beliefs (and eventually even perceptions) are not moored to reality.
“Disease” because it is bad for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of the dictator, those around him, and the society as a whole.
Why is it bad?
For those around the dictator, the disease is bad because people close to the dictator are typically demeaned, demoted, fired, or, in the case of Putin, killed.
For the society as a whole, D4 is bad because intelligent actions rely on finding and communicating the truth. When the dictator instead subverts the truth and insists on people pretending lies are true so that the dictator “looks good”, innovation suffers; the economy suffers; and since energy goes to fighting imaginary enemies, real dangers receive fewer resources. Hitler’s dictatorial insanity caused 6 million Jews to be intentionally killed, but he also caused the death of 4.2 million non-Jewish Germans including soldiers and civilians. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 10 million Russians though how many more is in some dispute. Somewhere between 40 and 80 million Chinese died under Mao.
Dictatorship and the attendant D4 is even bad for the dictator. They might enjoy their ill-gotten gold or possibly enjoy the cruelty they are able to wreak. Ultimately, however, they miss out on the best parts of life. As they ignore the voices of reason around them, they become more and more disconnected from reality. Ultimately, even if their brains don’t fall prey to hardware destruction, they do fall prey to data degradation. They insist on an ever-more illusory view and ignore or destroy those who try to bring them back to reality.
How can we prevent Dictator’s Degenerative Disease?
Although, there are no panaceas, there are several known ways to help prevent D4.
Anonymous FB can be provided to the dictator or dictatorial boss. This can help them stay tethered to reality. However, the natural tendency of the dictator, when they get news they don’t like is to insist on finding the identity of the person who gave the honest, but unwanted feedback. Ex-President Trump, for instance, not only fired the whistleblower Alexander Vindman, but also Alexander’s brother.
The ruled need options. One of the major goals of any would-be dictator is to get rid of free and fair elections. Once they get in power and begin using the government to line their own pockets, people in a democracy would simply vote them out. So, instead, they either hold no elections or hold “show” elections. Free and fair elections are one of the best mechanisms for keeping rulers accountable.
The culture of a society can also help. If someone in a major political party in America showed obvious signs of wanting to become a dictator disconnected from reality and began lying about results of their programs, soon the other powers in the political party would gently push that person aside. Until recently.
Day in Court. Another check on D4 is to have an independent judiciary that does not feel “beholden” to the dictator. Once judges decide to give “special treatment” to a would-be dictator, D4 becomes much more rampant.
Checks and Balances The founders of America (and other democracies) realized that some people are quite susceptible to D4 and therefore arranged a system of Checks and Balances. This method only works if the the other parts of the government perform their duty. Everyone in the judiciary and the legislature swears to uphold and defend the Constitution. But if people take this oath and then thumb their noses at that oath by not, say, convicting an obvious breach of faith on the part of the would-be dictator, then the function of Checks and Balances stops working.
The Rule of Law requires that no-one is above the Rule of Law. If even one person, such as a dictator or would-be dictator is treated as being above the Rule of Law, then, in effect, the Rule of Law means nothing. The dictator can essentially “overrule” any court by means legal or illegal.
Turnabout is Fair Play. Conceivably, a lottery system could be used to choose some of the people in government. Or, people could find themselves in any position in the society.
Independent Judiciary. Judges could not be “sponsored” by the same wealthy people who have an outsized influenced on electing officials in the legislative and executive branches.
To support a dictator means nothing more or less than putting yourself in chains and then handing the keys to the dictator along with a lash in return for a promise that they’ll be good to you.
The Founding Fathers — yes, they were cool in many ways. Some were excellent writers; most were well educated. But even apart from the fact that they were all white males and many were slave holders — putting that aside, no matter how wonderful they may have been, they were vastly ignorant of a great number of things that educated people know about today.
Here are just a few of the things that they did not know about.
They did not know about evolution. They did not know about DNA. These are not mere details in modern day biology. They are foundational. Not only was their knowledge of the basic science of biology woefully lacking; they were also ignorant of many of the practical implications. They did not see people who had hip joint replacements or knee replacements or organ transplants. They had no idea that life began 4 billion years ago. They did not know about how to prevent or treat many diseases that we have now conquered. They did not know about proper maternal or prenatal care. They did not even know that a woman’s brains is just as good as a man’s. They did not know that the mitochondrial DNA is passed on only from the mother. They did not know what mitochondria were. They did not know much at all about the “family tree” of humanity. They did not know how to use DNA analysis in solving crimes or predicting susceptibility to disease.
Their ignorance was not just about biological sciences. They knew very little about physics or chemistry. They only knew of twenty-three elements! Now, we know 118. They did not know about electron shells and types of bonds. There were huge fields of human knowledge such as physical chemistry and biochemistry that did not even exist. Again, it was not just theoretical chemistry and physics that they didn’t know about. They didn’t have cured rubber or any plastics whatsoever. There were no gasoline engines.
They did not know about atomic energy or the theory of relativity. They had no idea how large the universe was; the existence of planets orbiting around distant stars. These distant planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets were completely unknown. Today we have confirmed the existence of over 5000 of these exoplanets. They did not know how our own sun generated its power.
They did not know about the destructive potential of an atomic bomb. They did not know that atomic energy existed or that it could be used in practical ways such as killing cancerous tumors, or generating electricity. There were no atomic submarines — or indeed, any submarines at all.
Their ignorance was not limited to science. Since these events had not yet occurred, they obviously knew nothing about the First World War and nothing about The Second World War in which at least 50 million people were killed. They did not know about Hitler or the Holocaust. They did not know about Stalin or Mao killing tens of millions of their own people in order to stay in power.
The did not know about automobiles or airplanes. Traveling across the (much smaller) fledgling nation or America would take days or weeks, not hours. They did not know about the telephone or the telegraph. They had no idea about computers, the web, or the Internet.
Their ignorance of the physical sciences and of many of the lessons of history is overmatched by their profound ignorance about what has been learned in the social sciences in the last few hundred years. They had never heard of Freud, or Skinner, or Chomsky, or Herbert Simon. They did not even realize that social science was possible to study empirically. They did not know how important early childhood stimulation was. Typical practices of education were to have people learn by rote. They did not teach people the scientific method because they themselves did not really know it.
So, however much you may respect their courage or their foresight or ethics, the fact is that, by today’s standards, they were colossally ignorant. That is not a “put down.” That is just a fact. Humanity collectively knows thousands of times as much as they did. Being ignorant doesn’t mean stupid. And, because they were not stupid, they realized that however hard they worked to forge a new nation’s foundation in law, there had to be a way to update that foundation.
There are today, a group of folks who want to keep all the wealth and power in the hands of the few and steal wealth and power from the many. In order to do this, however, they don’t come right out and say, “Hey, we’re better than you and we want all your stuff and we want you to all do what we say.” No.
Instead, they try to make you think that what they want for their own selfish reasons, just so happens to be what the founding fathers wanted as well.
For two reasons:
First, because you and I can’t even reliably read the mind of the person sitting across the card table from you. Reading the mind of someone who lived over 200 years ago is absurd. Sure, you can look at their writings and gain some clues. But any adult who’s done a fair amount of writing has changed their opinions over time; has sometimes said things that are ambiguous or vague or mistaken. The attempt to infer the intentions and thoughts of the “Founding Fathers” is often just a fishing expedition to find the pieces of the writing of some Founding Fathers that can be framed so as to rationalize the viewpoint you happen to have. In the case of the Ultra-Greedy, the nuggets of writing chosen are used to rationalize taking from others. instead of owning up to the out-sized greed, the originalists are saying in effect, “Hey, it’s not me. It’s these guys who lived a few centuries ago.”
Second, even if you could read the minds of all the Founding Fathers, so what? They were profoundly ignorant. We know a lot more now. Moreover, the world we live in is vastly different. We are vastly more interconnected and independent than was the case 200 years ago. In 1776, the population of America was 2.1 million. Today, it is over 330 million. Not only that, despite our much more extensive size, we can physically traverse the space much more quickly. And we can traverse it electronically as well — and do it almost instantaneously! Our destructive power is also much larger. We can kill our fellow human beings with chemical, atomic, and biological weapons and even our “conventional” weapons are much more deadly.
I understand it could be somewhat comforting to think that all the answers to today’s issues and problems can be found in the invisible inner workings of the minds of the Founding Fathers. But at some point, you have to understand (Spoiler Alert!) that it was indeed your parents and not the Tooth Fairy who put money under your pillow in exchange for your baby teeth.
Similarly, the answers to today’s problems require that we modern humans use our knowledge to propose ideas and come to reasonable ideas to try out and honestly look at the outcomes. Of course, there are some important things that remain constant: It’s a bad idea to steal or to kill people. But when it comes to how to govern a nation of 330 million people in today’s world, we need today’s people to use today’s knowledge to figure out the best methods. Sure, our laws are founded on The Constitution and it has mainly served us well. It was made to be amended, not to be worshipped as a golden idol whose meaning is divined by people, some of whom still want to burn witches at the stake. The reason the Constitution has served us well is precisely that we’ve changed it as we’ve learned more.
As I’ve said, although by today’s standards, the Founding Fathers were ignorant, they were not stupid; they knew that the world would change; that the nation would change; and they themselves did not say: “Our Constitution is perfect for all time and should never be changed!” No. Not at all. They said: “Our Constitution is the best we can do right now. But we know things will change. So, we include a way to change the Constitution when necessary.”
We can best honor that good sense they displayed; that humility; that foresight; by continuing to question and change the Constitution, not by trying to insist that we know what they intended and those intentions should never be questioned in the light of current knowledge and conditions.
I was trained in “Experimental Psychologist” in the late 1960’s. Today, my program would likely be called “Cognitive Psychology.” The change is more than simply moving to a more fashionable (or opaque?) terminology. Skinner and other behavioral psychologists held sway over much of the experimental work in psychology and particularly in America.
One of my classmates at Michigan had attended Harvard as an undergrad and described an honors dinner he had attended as a Freshman. He had gotten to sit next to B.F. Skinner at the banquet and Skinner, was not only a smart student (having gotten his own Ph.D. in two years), and a brilliant experimentalist; he was also a tireless promotor of his view of psychology. Even at a dinner for Freshman, he began to wax elegant about his particular approach.
“Now you see,” said Skinner, “I am holding a fork and I move it to my mouth and I get food. Some of my colleagues would say that I believe that I will satisfy my hunger if I move the fork to my mouth. But why? There’s no need for belief! It is simply that when I grab my fork and move the food to my mouth, I am reinforced by the food and thus I keep doing it! There’s no need to introduce any belief!”
My classmate, in awe of the great doctor Skinner said, “Wow! That’s amazing Professor Skinner and you truly believe that, right?”
“Of course I believe it! I mean — no, of course not. I don’t believe. I’ve simply been reinforced for saying it so many times that now it is my behavior!”
This is a recounting filtered through two sets of memory, but in essence, I believe it is correct. I no longer think of the word “believe” as a useless and unnecessary construct. As an undergraduate, I studied a lot of behavioral psychology, and worked as a laboratory assistant in a behavioral psych lab. At the same time, I had another part-time job working as a child care worker in the children’s floor of a psychiatric hospital. At the hospital, the approach the psychiatrists took was strictly Freudian. Thankfully, the patients spent the vast majority of their time interacting with much more practical and reasonable souls such as myself, my fellow child care workers, and many wonderful nurses.
I had been fascinated by Freud whom I first read about around age 13. I came to believe there was much truth in his approach. I interpreted dreams and “slips” and his approach resonated with my lived experience. But my allegiance is to truth, not to an individual. Empirical research began to demonstrate that however intuitive his approach might seem, it was not particularly effective compared with behavior therapy or, later, cognitive behavioral therapy.
When I had a first hand look at the “Freudian” approach applied to a kid’s psych ward, I saw for myself how it could be misapplied and mishandled. Here are two examples. One of the kids K had spent an hour or so building a plastic model of a car. No sooner had he finished and began to show off his cool accomplishment than a much younger kid D ran over and stepped on it, pretty well smashing it to bits. K began yelling and screaming. A nurse — one of the few I worked with who happily drank the Freudian Kool-Aid asked K what he was so upset about. K said, “D smashed my car!”
Nurse: “Well, K what are you really upset about?”
K: “I told you! D smashed my car!”
Nurse: “You’re going to the quiet room until you can tell me what you’re really upset about.”
I am not claiming this is “appropriate” use of Freudian therapy. But it does illustrate how easily it can be turned to something absurd and cruel.
This absurdity was not limited to nurses who “after all” didn’t have the years of training it takes to become a Freudian psychoanalyst. But here’s an example from one of those highly trained psychoanalysts. Another patient, M, had been on the ward for about three years and during this time had become close friends to one of the nurses, N. These nurses, you have to understand, did not spend time simply administering meds and sitting in the nursing station. They were on the floor interacting with kids during 90-95% of their shift. So she had spent many hours interacting with M. I observed them together and it was clear that there was a real bond of friendship. At some point, N had a job offer from Raleigh and told M that she’d be leaving. M was sad — appropriately so, in my estimation.
As is typical in hospitals, there were three shifts per day. There is overlap of shifts so that shift N can find out what happened during shift N-1. We took turns reading the “Nursing Notes” and “Psychiatrist Reports” during the handover meeting. The psychiatrist who was seeing M “explained” that he had told M that he, the psychiatrist, was going on a vacation for a week and so “obviously” the sadness expressed by M because he’d be losing his friend who saw him every week for three years was actually a reaction to the fact that M’s psychoanalyst would be on vacation for a week. Right.
I loved working with the kids. And, I enjoyed my colleagues on the ward as well. However, I got completely turned off to the psychoanalytic approach as practiced. I still believe there are some important truths to Freud’s approach, but also some absurdities, particularly when it comes to his misunderstandings of women. We’ll save that for another time. The point here is just to show why I was looking for another approach to psychology and behaviorism fit the bill.
For a time.
It is impressive to train a rat and to see with your own eyes how reinforcement, shaping, thinning the schedule, extinction, generalization, chaining, all work. I was able to train a rat to do a “chain” (i.e., sequence) of four unnatural behaviors. It took patience and it takes clear observation — a kind of empathy really. You have to know when the rat is “getting closer” to the desired behavior. This observational skill is also useful in training a puppy.
That brings us to the game of “chase the dragon, bring it to me, and fight over possession.” Our new puppy Sadie, being smart, learned to chase, fetch, and fight for control very quickly. What I find more interesting is how her behavior also evolved over the course of a week to grab the dragon by the neck a very high proportion of the time. From the standpoint of fetching and fighting me for possession, she has many choices: head, neck, left forearm, right forearm, left leg, right leg, left wing, right wing, tail, belly, or crotch. So, why is she focusing so heavily now on the neck?
One possibility is that I say “Good work, Sadie” more often when she grabs it by the neck. I doubt it, but it’s conceivable. Another possibility is that it’s easier to carry. That also seems unlikely. She occasionally trips over the dragon as she’s bringing it back. But to prevent tripping, it would be best to grab by the belly. Grabbing by the tail, head or neck makes it more likely to trip. In any case, she doesn’t seem to “mind” tripping as much as I would! Another possibility is that she holds on more easily when I struggle with her. But her jaws are strong and she can hold on anywhere and keep me from retrieving it.
I think the most likely explanation (though not the only one) is that grabbing by the neck and shaking (which she also does) is how her ancestors break the necks of small prey. Many people would say this behavior is “instinctive.” But she didn’t exhibit this preference when we began playing “fetch the dragon.” After a week though, she exhibits a strong preference.
In popular speech as well as in professional psychology, we often tend to dichotomize behavior into “learned” and “innate.” The behavioristic approach focuses on what is “learned.” As a result of that focus, we learned many important things about learned behavior. Some have suggested that the American focus on behaviorism and the importance of learned behavior was partly driven by our political philosophy. Regardless of why it happened, behaviorism “ruled the day” for quite awhile.
It turned out that what might be called “naive” behaviorism doesn’t work completely even for rates. One line of thought was made famous by Chomsky. People cannot learn their natural language merely by being positively reinforced for saying the “right” thing. There are rules that we learn. Children brought up in an English-speaking household, for instance, learn the rule that past tenses are made by adding “-ed” to the end of the present tense form of a verb; e.g.; we have “learn – learned”, “walk – walked”, “type – typed”, “showcase – showcased”, etc. There are thousands of example. But the rules are not “perfect’; there are many exceptions. We have “are – were” and “ran – run.” At a young age, almost all children at some point will say, “I ranned after my puppy” “I eated my dinner.” They have not heard that. They are not learning specific words; they are learning rules.
It isn’t only beings as complex as humans who fail to meet the expectations of “naive” behaviorism. A rat can be quickly taught not to “do” something if they are shocked when they do it. On the other hand, making them nauseous, while apparently noxious, does not teach them to avoid doing something. With smells and tastes, though, it is just the opposite. The rat (or human) can learn in one trial to avoid a particular taste or smell if it makes them nauseated. This is sometimes called the “Sauce Bearnaise Effect” — even one bad experience of getting nauseous after tasting a food — especially a novel one — can induce a life-long hatred.
The point is that some of our responses are predisposed to be paired with certain kinds of stimuli. We are not a “blank slate” but a predisposed slate. This kind of predisposition to fluidity is also true of genetic traits. We may think of the environment as a force capable of moving the genome equally easily in any direction, much like a billiard ball can roll in any direction equally easily on a pool table. But that is not so. Some kinds of changes are much easier to effect. For instance, in breeding dogs, the “toy” version is essentially a more juvenile form. They, like puppies and human babies, have a head that is disproportionately large for their bodies.
I recall many years ago reading an article in Science which observed that infant chimps were not afraid of snakes nor of a severed head. But with no specific “training” or “experience” with these stimuli, when they were shown later, the chimps were freaked out both by snakes and by a head with no body. It seems to me to be quite possible that there are behavioral predispositions that are inborn but not manifest without experience — but that the necessary experience is not “learning” in the traditional sense — not, in other words, being punished or reinforced but simply having experience that builds up your model of the world.
For instance, neither of us has seen a jumping spider as big as a puppy. We’ve never been bitten by one! Since they don’t exist, we haven’t “read” about how venomous they might be. But I’m guessing, if either one of us drove home late in the afternoon, pulled into the driveway and saw a spider in the driveway who jumped onto the hood of the car, we’d be completely terrified. We might “know” intellectually that the spider couldn’t tear the car apart to “get” us. But it would still be terrifying, I think because we would know that our “model” of what is possible in this world is badly defective. Our natural tendency, however, is not to say, “Oh, my God! My model of the world is terrible! I’d better fix it!” No, our tendency is to say, “Oh, my God! That spider is horrible!. We need to kill it!.” Our fear, in this case, is not “learned” nor yet is it exactly “innate.” It is “awakened.” At one time, our mammalian ancestors were so small that a large spider might be proportion to what the puppy spider might be to us?
In the case of he puppy chasing after a chewy toy in the shape of a “dragon,” she has “changed” to most often grab it by the throat. It could be learning of a sort, but it seems more like an “awakening” of a pattern already there ready to be activated by relevant experience. That’s not to say, I might not be able to shape her behavior by reinforcement or punishment to only grab it by the tail. This is not science of course. I haven’t been rigorous enough to rule out a more pure “learning” explanation. It’s just a speculation.
In the last two weeks, she’s also become much more adept at using her paws to “control” her dragon. This too feels more like “awakening” than it does pure maturation or pure learning. She’s grown more coordinated and stronger. It seems as though both maturation and learning are involved, but why should she want to “control” the dragon in the first place? That seems like the “awakening” of an instinctive desire.
What do you think? What is your experience with training puppies or other animals? What is your own experience? Do you think you yourself have had experiences that “awakened” something within?
My first “real job” was working as a camp counselor at a camp for kids with special needs. The camp counselors loved to play pranks on each other. One favorite was to sneak into another counselor’s cabin, fill the sleeping victim’s hand with shaving cream and then tickle them under the nose. The expected behavior is that the counselor will scratch the tickle while still asleep and thus smear their own face with shaving cream. Apparently, they tried this on me.
I awoke in the middle of the night and the first thing I saw were my thumbs firmly pressing on a guy’s windpipe. Apparently, instead of groggily smearing my face with shaving cream, I had immediately jumped up and began to choke him to death.
Cancer has not only “forgotten the face of its fathers” (as Stephen King’s gunslinger says).
Cancer has forgotten the fact that it even had fathers and mothers.
Cancer has forgotten the fact that its life is made easier, every day because of those who went before.
Cancer has forgotten that every little victory it feels today comes about because of millions of choices and struggles of other lives that went before.
Cancer doesn’t care.
Cancer acts as though it is the only life form in the universe that really “counts.”
Throughout history, there have been many individuals who act as cancer.
A few of them have gotten into positions of power and used that power to blackmail, strong-arm, and manipulate others into joining the cancer. Their “relationships” are based on lies and power.
Now, we live in an atomic era when cancerous people in power use that power to restrict the ability of their own people to know the truth.
We live in an atomic era when cancerous people in power threaten to use atomic weapons unless they get their way.
Cancerous leadership has never been a good thing in the same way that having a cancerous tumor in your body has never been a good thing.
Perhaps you think: well, I don’t really care much about politics.
Okay, then what do you care about?
Sports? Guess what. Sports are ruined by dick-taters. Outcomes can be predetermined or overturned by the dick-tater. Cheating becomes common. If you don’t “toe the line” politically, you won’t be able to play or you’ll be imprisoned or poisoned.
Business? Maybe you just care about business. Guess what. Business success is determined by how much “protection” money you pay to the dick-tater. Whoever pays the most will succeed. And, even then you aren’t safe. When business people become too successful under a dick-tater, the dick-tater destroys them and takes their assets. Just like Putrid.
Your family? Maybe you focus your attention on your family so you don’t really care about whether you live in a dick-tater$hit. You should care. Under dick-taters, the children are taught to spy on and inform the authorities if the parents do something “bad.” Of course, since it’s a dick-tater$hit, what counts as “bad” can change from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. And your children might or might not understand what you actually said. No matter. Turning in the parents will be a “feather in their cap.” How do you think that will change your family? Husbands and wives are also encouraged to turn on one another. Romantic love and family love — these are antithetical to a totalitarian state. Everyone should love the dick-tater more than anyone in their own family. And, they’ll be asked to prove it. Tell your teen-ager they can’t date a drunkard. Yeah, that might make sense. But understand: if they get upset with your parental guidance, they may turn you in. They’ll make up crap. There’s no burden of proof in the courts that are run by a dick-tater. The dick-tater doesn’t really even care whether you’re guilty or not. Having an innocent person jailed for crimes against the state, especially if they’re turned in by their spouse or kid — that sends a nice strong message to everyone else in the Teliot.
You may have thought I was going to end that paragraph with the word “country.” I considered that. But it no longer a real country. It is more akin to a toilet. In an ordinary toilet, the waste is flushed. But in a dick-tater$hit, the waste is kept. Whatever is decent, honest, truthful, creative, loving — that is what is flushed away. Instead of a country, you have a reverse toilet — a Teliot.
Not caring whether or not you and your family and friends live in a dick-tater$hit — that makes exactly as much sense as not caring whether or not you and your family and friends have cancer.
“I don’t care if I have cancer, because I’m really into sports!”
If you die, you can’t play or even watch sports.
“I don’t care if I have cancer, because I really care about my business!”
If you die, you can’t run a business.
“I don’t care if I have cancer, because I care about my family!”
Maybe ask your family whether cancer affects them.
“Well,” you might say, “Democracies are far from perfect too!”
That’s true. Democracies are not perfect. Sometimes, people are unfair, even in democracies. Sometimes people are cruel. Sometimes people are corrupt.
Similarly, even if you are cancer free, you might stub your toe, or cut your finger shaving or slicing vegetables. You might sprain your ankle. And a few people will die in auto accidents. Does that mean it doesn’t matter whether or not you have cancer? Cancer, if left untreated, will necessarily be bad. It is the very nature of cancer to be bad.
Imagine a world in which you don’t just suddenly “get cancer.” You don’t have some weird symptom, go to the doctor, have some tests and find out you “have cancer.” No. Imagine that the only way you get cancer is if you choose to have cancer. You go to the doctor and he offers you a choice: “Would you like cancer? I can give you some, really cheap.”
Imagine a society who decides, “People stub their toes and get sick anyway so let’s all get cancer!”
Imagine a society who decides: “People aren’t perfect under a democracy so let’s have a dick-tater run the country!”
Maybe all you really care about is food. Guess what? Food will be worse under a dick-tater$hit. Regulations about food safety will be rolled back. Your food will be more tainted.
Maybe all you really care about is art. Guess what? Art will be regulated under a dick-tater. In the Teliot State, the good stuff will all be flushed away, along with the artists who produced those works. The dick-tater will decide which are gets presented and most will be commissioned to glorify the dick-tater.
In the Teliot State, everything good is tainted. Everything good dies. Everyone decent is suppressed. Even the military is tainted, as the ineptitude of the massive Putrid war effort reveals. The police. The courts. The politicians. The shopkeepers. The business tycoons. The teachers. The parents. The kids. Everyone must allow the cancer of totalitarianism to invade and corrupt their body, their mind, their soul.
Democracy is hard. I grant that. And often it is messy. But it is a path to life. The Teliot State is a path to death. Don’t believe me. Ask the Russian journalists who have been disappeared. If you can find them. Ask their families. Ask the mothers of the thousands of Russian soldiers who were sent off to die — supposedly to “liberate” Russian speaking Ukrainians. A big fat lie, of course. Everything is based on lies in a Teliot State.
Don’t believe me. Ask the Russian athletes who are banned from international competitions.
Don’t believe me. Ask the families of the Russian oligarchs who were murdered in the last few days. Oh, wait you can’t, because they were killed too.
Don’t believe me. Ask the Ukrainians how much they’re enjoying their “liberation” so far. Ask the raped women. Ask the mutilated children. Ask the dead. Ask the tortured.
I’ve known many people who have had cancer. The treatments are painful and dangerous. But they’re still generally better than letting cancer take over. Because once cancer starts, it wants to take over everything. Cancer finds it distracting from its past failures so it keeps wanting to try to conquer new parts of the body. Same with Putrid.
Like all dick-taters, Putrid delivers far less than he promises. Of course he does. The Teliot State squelches incentives, creativity, innovation, truth, science, medicine, and life itself. To some degree Putrid and his ilk, tell lies about how well they’re doing, but the truth cannot be totally hidden from the people. So, Putrid, like all dick-taters is terrified of having the people find out just what a horrendously bad job he’s doing. That’s why he lies to the public and makes sure everyone else tells the same lies. If people don’t realize what a horrible job he’s doing, maybe an angry mob won’t tear him to shreds.
What better way to distract from your own failures than blame someone else?
So Putrid blames the west, NATO, the EU, the UN, Ukrainians, oligarchs who don’t spent enough time kissing his a$$, military commanders — in short, everyone but himself.
Remember the Berlin Wall? That was not erected by the West Germans to prevent poor people from East Berlin coming in and taking stuff. That was put in place by the Russian dick-taters to keep East Berliners from finding out just how bad off they were under the communist totalitarianism than were their brothers and sisters and cousins living in a democracy right next door! People were killed trying to get into West Berlin.
Every day, all around the world, people are trying to escape the cancer of the Teliot State. They risk their lives to do that. Why do you suppose they would do that? Because they have seen first hand what a stench-filled place a Teliot State becomes. The criminals run the Teliot State.
There may be honor among some thieves, but not among the sort of thieves who aspire to being dick-taters. They literally kill other members of their own families just so they can feel more assured none of them will try to replace them.That happened fairly recently in Saudi Arabia and in N. Korea. Putrid is now killing his oligarch supporters to strike even more fear into his fellow Russians. “See? You think I won’t kill you if you don’t support me? This long-time ally and friend had the nerve to ask me whether I should stop this war. The nerve! So, I killed him and his family.”
Maybe Putrid felt a teeny surge of heroism when the gave the order to kill his allies for gently questioning his wisdom, but mainly he did it to make sure every Russian understood the message: “I’ll kill anyone for anything so you do what I say or you’ll be next.”
As the Wicked Witch of the West once famously observed, “These things must be done delicately. “ So, Putrid made these murders look a little bit like suicide, but they were carried off with the same MO at almost the same time so that everyone in the country would get the message that these were killings ordered by the Teliot Tyrant but that everyone was supposed to act as though they were suicides.
The Russian people are in a tough spot. Ideally, they would rise up as one and get rid of the maniac; rid themselves of cancer. Ideally. But it’s a lot to ask. It’s one thing to go to a surgeon to put you under anesthetic and have them remove a cancerous growth. It’s quite another to perform the surgery yourself on your own body! Tom Hanks, in Castaway damn near killed himself taking out a bad tooth. It took a lot of nerve. And it will take more to take out a cancerous growth. But what choice is there? If you don’t kill the cancer, the cancer will kill you.
Meanwhile, we still have a choice. Do we want to put a monstrous cancer in charge of our country? And, that will not just mean that they are put in charge of government. Please understand, once in charge of government, they work to be in charge of everything up to and including your sex life. Before you decide that’s a good idea because everybody should have sex just the way you like it, you’d better understand that a dick-tater could just as easily decide and implement a policy that everyone should be trans or that everyone should be gay. At first, of course, a dick-tater$hip will implement policies that are supported by either a majority or at least supported by a violent minority. They need some support to gain absolute power. But not to keep it. Once they control the police, the courts, the army, they don’t need to institute policies that are popular any longer. They can institute any policy that benefits them. Any. Policy. Including your worst nightmare. It doesn’t matter what they say now. It doesn’t matter what they “really” believe. It doesn’t matter how many people agree with a position. Once they have absolute power, they will make it stick. They will accompany an unpopular policy with a host of lies to make it more palatable. These lies will not be debunked by the “free press” because there won’t be any. And if you yourself do not repeat these lies, you are subject to arrest — or worse.
Given any absurdity, given any cruel and stupid policy, I can write a paragraph of lies “explaining” why we’re doing this. Of course, it will typically be pretty transparent, but so what? It doesn’t have to stand up to debate. It doesn’t have to stand up to an election. It doesn’t have to stand up to the scrutiny of a free press. Everyone will be required to recite said paragraph. Everyone in such a society knows in their hearts that the policy is bad. And everyone knows in their hearts that they themselves are being evil by perpetrating it.
Can you image how that feels inside? To know that you are doing what you yourself know to be wrong, and yet, you feel compelled to do that evil every single day. On top of that, you’re required to encourage others to do that evil and to lie about it. It’s a whole evil and elaborate charade and every participant dies inside. But it makes the dick-tater feel good. The dick-tater is the only beneficiary.
In Russia right now, there are about 150,000,000 losers and one “winner.” Ultimately, the only person who benefits is Putrid. I have to qualify “ultimately” because of course, in the short run, some see a short term benefit of some kind (not be put in prison, receive bribe, steal neighbor’s wife, get his son a better grade) but at the same time, no matter how much people try to rationalize it, they know they are doing wrong.
In the USA, right now, we still have a democracy. But it’s hanging by a thread. There is nothing “conservative” about destroying democracy & instituting a dick-tater$hit. This is not a question of conservative versus liberal or left versus right. We can have those debates in a democracy because they are meaningful. Debates are shows in a dick-tater$hit. They are not meaningful. It doesn’t really matter to the dick-tater what philosophy he purports to adopt. One dick-tater might call themselves a “Communist” and the next one might call themselves a “Nazi” and the next might call themselves “Bicameral” and the next “Hufflepuff” — The dick-tater doesn’t believe any of those philosophies. Their “philosophy” is that the only thing that matters is them and whatever they feel like should determine what everyone does. And, if he goes absolutely insane and insists everyone in the country should all go eat poison ivy three times a day, most will pretend they did it and some will actually go do it. And on TV, there will be testimonials from people who ate poison ivy and it cured their gout or their heart disease or their “Ravenclaw” tendencies. People who die from eating poison ivy will not be counted in the official total as having died from poison ivy. It will be listed perhaps as “political putrefaction” but the world will find out fairly quickly.
Eventually, so will the Russian people. But by that time, something else cancerous happens first. People who survived the purges of Stalin, by definition, are more pro-Stalin and acted to please him more than the millions who were put to a fast or slow death. And the pro-Stalin survivors acted evilly for decades under him. One way to assuage your guilt about doing evil for a long time is to convince yourself that it isn’t really evil. The dick-taters like Stalin will give you a reason that you can tell yourself. The dick-tater knows it’s a lie; you know it’s a lie; everyone outside of Russia who thinks about it knows it’s a lie. But it makes you feel a little better. You start by habitually doing evil. Then you begin to habitually feel bad. Then, you find that believing the lies of the dick-tater makes you feel a little better. And now you have told yourself the lie so long that you actually come to believe it. That, in turn, means there is a lot of truth that you cannot listen to. You not only repeat Russian propaganda, you also self-censor because you don’t want to hear the voices of Western journalists, etc.; they will only make you question that which you do not want to question.
Question yourself now. Before it’s too late. Too late for you. Too late for the world.
An expression that perhaps goes back to the Roman Coliseum or “gentlemanly” dueling. What is a weapon? What can it mean to say, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”?
A few years ago, I decided to try a little experiment. I knew that studies showed that owning a handgun did not, in general, make you safer. Actually, it was the reverse. Nonetheless, I thought perhaps I would feel safer. For one week, I imagined that my cellphone was a lethal weapon. I could pull it out and cause someone else horrendous pain or to end their life or both. As you might imagine, I did not feel more secure or safer. I felt more paranoid about others but also afraid I might accidentally shoot someone.
In the middle of Monday night, one of our cats turned over some cat bowls and made a huge ruckus. I immediately yelled bloody murder and jumped out of bed. I would not want to have a gun if I’m awakened like that. My body is primed for action and my mind is not yet anywhere to be found. I literally have no idea as to what’s going on. It only last a few moments. But those few moments are enough time to grab a gun and shoot someone. And that someone is far more likely to be someone in your family than a home invader. Maybe they left a book in your room and couldn’t sleep so they came into your room to retrieve it. I don’t really think an error like that is self-forgivable. Your mood would be altered much to the negative for the rest of your life. The only alternative would be to shut off your feelings so completely that you literally became a heartless monster.
What occurred to me tonight taking pictures of flowers, as one is wont to do, is making a much better use of the iPhone than a gun for home protection is. For one thing, if you own a gun for home protection, you hopefully rarely use it. I use the iPhone nearly every day. The statistics say that you’re actually more likely to die in a home invasion if you have a gun, but let’s say, no, in your particular case, you did manage to shoot two people dead. And, that’s that.
Except of course, it isn’t done at all. You will find out that those two people you shot didn’t think it was so cool and they may sue you. Or, you may find out things about those families such as how desperate they were to make enough money to feed their kids that they turned to crime. Of course, you don’t want to hear that. They broke the law. And, indeed, in many states, that can be enough to get you off the hook.
The “hook” of the law, that is. But that’s not the only hooks there are. There’s the social hook. How do you think other people would view you? Maybe some will view you as a hero. But certainly many will not. You might end up being much more annoyed at those who view you as a hero that at those who view you as a villain. Either way, your life will never be the same. Those changes are much more likely to be negative on balance.
There’s another social hook. How would you feel about someone you care about marrying into a family where someone killed two young lads? Better protected? Or, might you be worried about how that gun might be used in the future, in say, a marital dispute? (Although, of course, suicides and accidental killings should also be on your mind, but those are always a possibility with a gun owner. But in the case of the dual killer, we don’t just know he might kill when provoked; we know he will kill when provoked. Maybe you think a home invasion is sufficient reason for murder. But how about a marital dispute? Surely you’ve noticed that even couples who love each other can come to a point where they are too frustrated to think clearly. I don’t really see how a gun helps a situation like that.
Lastly, there is your own hook. That may be the sharpest and deepest cutting hook of all. You will second guess your actions on the night of no matter what. That’s just human nature. Some dark, rainy evening, when that re-run is playing for the 13th time, it will hit you that you knew damned well they were unarmed. Another part of your brain screams “Bullshit!” And, so you block it out. Until several weeks later, you discover your cousin’s preferred brand of weed is way stronger than what you’re used to. And, as that snuff movie replays itself yet again, it occurs to you that you not only knew they were unarmed, you thought: “So what? Nobody’s going to put me in prison for it. In this state, they’l think I’m a hero.” Again, you hear the booming voice: “Bullshit!” Only this time, you realize that isn’t your voice at all. That voice is the one he used to destroy you when you told people about his molestations. That’s not you. Or is it? You might, at some point, find yourself depressed by this debate, perhaps riddled with self-doubt. At other times, maybe you’ll come to peace with your actions. But the debate will never stop.
I take pictures of flowers. They are for anyone to enjoy or ignore. No regrets. That’s my “weapon” of choice.
You and I and King Cobra and Queen Anne’s Lace and every other living thing on earth are small and temporary little leaves on the ancient (4.5 billion years and counting), vast, and diverse Tree of Life. Typically, you know a lot more about the neighborhood surrounding your little leaf than you do about mine and vice versa. Yet, I may discover things that are of use to you. And, you may discover things that are of use to me. So, humans, have one gift that is valuable above all others.
But before we explore what that valuable gift is, let me ask you a question about how you would react to a hypothetical.
Suppose you were so poor that you barely had enough to eat, no clothes to wear, a small damp cave for shelter. You were cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Now, suppose I gave you a magic ring that changed all that. If you wear this ring — voila! — you now have clean water and sufficient food and plenty of clothes and a house that really shelters you from the extremes of the environment. In return, you must wear the magic ring at all times. If you remove the ring, your life reverts immediately.
How tempted would you be to throw that magic ring in the toilet?
Yet, that is precisely what many people do.
And, if a sufficient number of people throw away the ring, everyone will essentially live the life of a beast.
That “magic” ring is, like most rings, circular. It represents the whole of humanity. It represents the family. It represents a club, a marriage, a lodge, a company, a church, a school, a class, a group of friends. It represents our respect for each other as human beings. It represents our ability to communicate with each other.
You could call that ring love and I wouldn’t object. It need not be imbued with so much positivity that people feel love. But it must be overall positive. It represents truth. It represents empathy. Love is strong and it can overcome both a few misdeeds by everyone and many misdeeds by a few. But if lies become more commonplace than truths, civilization will run downhill and eventually cease.
Similarly, if hate and fear and contempt are how we mostly regard each other, the marriage, the family, the club, the school, the church, the party, the lodge, the company, the group of friends will eventually disintegrate. In many cases, it would disintegrate into a self-destructive war except that most people will stop themselves because they don’t want to be ostracized or jailed by the larger society. If, however, the entire society becomes rife enough with hate and fear, no one will come to anyone else’s rescue.
Our entire survival depends on our gift, our ring, our community, our country, our fellow human beings.
Our gift is not our lightning speed of running.
Our ring is not our ability to out-swim the shark.
Our gift is not our powerful jaws, or our steel strong talons.
It is our ability to communicate with each other by sharing experiences. It is truth, caring, and cooperation. That is our one gift that enabled us to survive and thrive.
A democracy can take many specific forms. What it is, at base, is that it recognizes the gift as a fundamental value to be cherished and used. The fundamental purpose is to ensure that government is aware of and takes into account how policies and people and processes actually impact people who live in the democracy. In a representative democracy, the people, in turn, can vote for people to represent them. They can vote for any reason they like; e.g., because they admire a particular person; they believe they will do a competent job; they like the candidate’s promised policy changes; they find that the candidate reminds them of his funny old uncle Al who always had the best candy on offer.
No democracy is perfect. There has to be in its structure and processes more truth than lie; more empathy than indifference; more love than hate; more hope than fear. In some democracies, there are basically two parties; others have dozens. Parties may differ on philosophies, priorities, platforms, programs, etc.
A “party” who rejectsdemocracy itself however, is not an actual political party. The term “political party” only makes sense in the context of a democracy. If “elections” are determined by those in power, they are not actual elections and there is no party. It’s just a group of thugs who want to rule by hate and fear and lies. That is not a political party. It is not a legitimate part of a political process. They want to throw the ring away in the toilet. They want to subvert the truth to lies. They want to severely limit love and enhance fear and hate. They divide rather than unify. Oh, and guess what else? Historically, they want war. They will ensure that war just as Putrid is doing right now.
Democracies have also been known to start wars. When they do, it’s often based on lies. As communication has become more ubiquitous, it has been harder and harder for democracies to lie, cheat, and be cruel. Most people don’t want that! Most people want there to be more truth, love, caring, and cooperation. There are plenty of differences about how to go about that. That’s fine. That’s just the sort of difficult and messy problem that democracy is particularly less bad than any other system.
As I said, I really think most people prefer interacting in a caring and cooperative way. We see that it’s more effective in getting things done and it simply feels better for everyone. For that reason, dick-tater-$hits have to provide lies to help assuage the consciences of its citizens. “Oh, they are all murderers and rapists! You shouldn’t feel bad about being cruel to them!” Another favorite is: “Oh, they aren’t really human beings, the way we are. No need to treat them any better than a fox trying to steal your chickens!”
Needless to say, this ploy completely fails on many people and isn’t completely effective on anyone. Any time you’re cruel, whatever story you tell yourself about it, you know you are destroying a bit of yourself. Except, what you are really destroying is something much vaster than a bit of yourself. In fact, what you are destroying is something much vaster than all of yourself. What you are destroying by being cruel, whatever story you tell yourself is the human branch of the Tree of Life. Lies weaken that branch. Cruelty weakens that branch. Bullying weakens that branch. So too does cowardice.
The architecture of karma shows that the future impact of your present day behavior is much greater in scope than your present impact. Behaving well is in your interest because what you are is essentially a very small and very temporary part of that ancient, vast, and diverse Tree of Life. The more you can enhance that tree with truth and love, the better for the whole tree.
Don’t throw away the ring. Wear it proudly. It is truly an amazing gift!
But that doesn’t mean that they, as a species, and they, as individual plants, don’t make decisions and embody strategies and tactics.
Today, a local crow and I were playing the counting game. I think that’s the most parsimonious explanation, even though I can’t “prove” it. Here’s what actually transpired. I went out into the garden to take pictures of flowers before it gets too chilly. Soon a crow said, “CAW!” So I said, “CAW!”
Then, the crow crowed “CAW! CAW!” So I repeated that message. Any way, we got up to three and the crow started over at one and we went through the whole sequence three times.
They cawed three times and I said: “That’s what we call ‘Three’ and I “cawed” the first three digits followed by cawing three times. He cawed back.
Then, once again, I said, “One, Two, Three” and “CAW! CAW! CAW!”They next did something I don’t recall hearing before. They did a distinct two-tone CAW: I think it was low-hi. I went out to photograph roses, not take notes on crows. I repeated his two-tone CAW as best I good and he flew off while cawing about ten times. I fantasize that they flew off to tell their friends that they discovered a human who almost seems smart enough to CAW! Indeed, they are having quite a conversation out back right now. I am not yet sophisticated enough to know what they are talking about but cross-species communication is pretty cool.
The rose bush speaks to me too, of course.
I cannot hear it with my auditory apparatus. At least, not yet, I can’t. I have to “listen” with my eyes, and my mind, and my heart. I “know” something of what the rose wants and needs. I know it needs water and sunshine, for instance. It needs minerals. But those things are true of green plants in general. What does the rose tell me about its strategy and tactics for survival and thrival?
No, the rose bush cannot answer my spoken questions, but that often happens when it comes to communicating with other humans. I have read some poorly documented code (perhaps my own) and tried to figure out what the heck this code is doing. Probably, the single most important thing is to understand what the programmer was trying to do. What was their intention. I don’t actually have to know what precisely was in their mind in order to understand it at a useful level. This particular human programmer might have been thinking primarily about getting a raise, or impressing their supervisor, or outdoing their friend. Who cares? I need to understand an imputed design rationale.
In that same sense, I strive to understand the imputed design rationale of the rose plant. It doesn’t require that the rose talks to me in English. For example, why are a rose’s blooms so beautiful? Certain, the original “motivation” was mainly to attract pollinators like bees. But guess what? Some of the same patterns, colors, and odors that attract insect pollinators also attract human caregivers. In fact, the human caregivers have, through selective breeding, put additional design constraints on roses. As a result, there are more varieties of roses than there would have been without human intervention.
The roses have, one way and another, evolved genes that encourage them to grow beautifully. In a way, this can be said to be their “intention” — Their “design rationale” is that if they grow more beautiful, they will thrive more. But is their “intention” to be beautiful so recent? Suppose that other mammals also find the blossoms beautiful? Attracting mammals to the rose plant may encourage them to breathe carbon dioxide on the roses; to defecate nearby and provide minerals; perhaps even to bleed some because of the thorns. It’s even possible that there is also an innate design rationale of all life to be beautiful. Life is beautiful in terms of being itself. Perhaps, other things being equal, surfacing the fact of your being part of life by being beautiful is itself a survival strategy. It increases the chances that other life forms will cooperate with you. They will perceive that you are kindred and may have something valuable to trade.
Is it the natural state of affairs that all life reaches out for all life in the hopes of reaching some mutual understanding?
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.
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.
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.”