A More Perfect Union

In the 2d decade of the 21st Century, it’s difficult to remember a time when bipartisan cooperation at some level was not simply accepted it was expected. There’s a temptation to blame the deterioration of political courtesy on Fox News or Breitbart or MSNBC & CNN. All of those points have merit, but there’s no missing the deeper truth. It doesn’t sell if no one is buying.

There are a host of factors that are at play in the political polarization here in the United States and more broadly, across the world. It’s ironic that this should come at a time when we can least afford it. The posts under this sub-heading are intended to contribute in some small way to the recognition that at our core, we are still one.

The essential kinship of Americans and in the even broader sense, humanity writ large, is something we all recognize most profoundly in moments of crisis. But when we take the time to look beyond our own daily grinds to acknowledge the struggles of others in that same grind, we are (or should be) reminded that we all face those same challenges and ultimately, the same outcome. In the grand scheme of things, while the details of our individual ends are uncertain, the end itself is not.

At our very best, we face each other with love and kindness, and our shared, inevitable end with courage and grace. In these things, the very best of what it is to be human finds its highest expressions.

A Lucid Eye

From the artist's perspective...

An author sees life a little differently. Not necessarily better…just differently. What follows is Dirk’s take on a lot of things in the event you might be interested. In the last analysis, living is an art form and if we do it right, life IS art!

For the engaged, living is a dance. As a long-time surfer, I can assure you, there are days when the sun goes down too soon. At the same time, the transition between day and night is every bit as dramatic and lovely as the transition between our mother ocean and the our mother Earth.

And there are also days when cooler weather and the siren song of skis slicing through the snow is as (or more) appealing. One of the great things about life is it’s your call.

Living in the 21st Century

Somewhere West of Maybe...

Like it or not all of us find ourselves as part of a discourse that simply won’t go away. We are in the midst of what can only be described as tectonic change ushered in by a combination of technological advancement and social change both driven by and facilitating further change. Whether we will survive this period of adolescence remains to be seen. It’s not a foregone conclusion that we will.

The good news is, we get a say in whether and how we survive. And that’s the bad news, as well. We’d all like to believe that the collective consciousness of many is wiser than the conscience of one. One could say the jury’s still out on that one…

Common Ground

In the end, we are one...

On another forum I’ve been known to frequent, someone asked a question that’s been on my mind for a while. Rarely at a loss for an opinion, I weighed in and I’m going to share both the question and my response. Before I get into it, I’m going to offer a disclaimer. 

I don’t labor under the notion that the following answer is the only thoughtful take on this one, but I do think it may be one of the better takes if we’d like to salvage the nation so many of us love.

The question asked, was: “How can we find the common ground in such a polarized political environment?”

I wonder if there’s an argument for starting with desired end-state? What do we mean by “common ground and common ground on whose terms? In the second decade of the 21st Century, what would common ground look like?

Is not a huge part of the problem with polarization today the language we use to describe each other? As long as conservatives characterize liberals or progressives as libtards…or liberals characterize conservatives as casino capitalists or white nationalists, are we likely to find common ground?

I think not, because we’ll never get close enough to each other to find that common ground. It’s that common ground isn’t there. If you’ve done much travelling, as I have, you know it’s there. It’s just that we have a number of organizations driving the political narrative in America whose best interests aren’t served by us seeing each others’ essential humanity.

And we know who these organizations are. An incomplete list follows.

The two major political parties whose life blood is money. Money obtained (for the most part) by donations. So their rhetoric is targeted at keeping those donations flowing from the most politically motivated. Do you need a PhD in political science to puzzle out where that leads? Not in the America I know. They’ll pander to the folks who have and are willing to cough up the greens.

The paid media (mainstream and otherwise) who spend a lot of time, money and effort in figuring out who their viewers are and what trips their emotional triggers. Perceptive readers are already way ahead of me, on this I suspect, but I’ll say it anyway. If we persist in buying what they’re selling, they’ll keep selling it and we’ll never set foot on the emotional common ground to which our questioner refers. Put another way, we’ll never recall when we recognized we were one, irrespective of the differences of opinion that are a natural part of being. At core, America is still America in all it’s lovely breathtaking variety.

America in all it's variety

As long as the purpose of political parties and the media is to sell an agenda rather than arrive at the truth, we’ll allow wit masquerade as wisdom & the policies of this nation writ large will remain the prisoner of motivated cognition. We used to know better. For the same reason biodiversity leads to a more robust, resilient ecosystem a diverse society is much more resilient to the change that is the lei motif of life.

E Pluribus Unum

We don’t have to love each other (though that would be nice) but we do have to live together, and we’ll never get there if we’re inclined to argue from a starting point that demands us to think the worst of each other.

Just one broken-down baggy-eyed retired Marine officer’s opinion.

The Times are a Changin’

Zat Rana is a writer who is a frequent contributor on Medium a forum to which I subscribe. In late September of this year, he posted an article on Medium in his Personal Growth series that I found thought-provoking and at the same time, just the tiniest bit frustrating. I’m going to link to it, in case you want to read all of it, but I’m going to quote the (IMHO) pivotal points and take things a little further.

Campus collage

As Rana suggests in his Medium post:

“Growing up in a generation even as recent as the mid-20th century meant that your sense of self was mostly shaped by a combination of your local cultures, popular media culture, your education, and whatever life experiences you accumulated living in the real world. Today…the internet has not only completely shattered and broken what we think of as popular culture into million little pieces, incapable of making a coherent whole, but it has also equipped us with all of humanity’s knowledge…too much information and too many cultures and too much knowledge only overwhelm, and given how the human mind works, leading us to confusion.”

If you’re like me, at this point you’re thinking “shhh-yeah!” It’s hard to imagine anyone with a modicum of “pay attention” not nodding their heads in agreement. Confusion, along with change seems to be the lei motif of your age. And if you have as much runway behind you as I do, you’re also probably thinking, “But this is not news. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.”

Future Shock the Book

The Tofflers gave the phenomenon Zat is referring to a name. The called it “future shock,” in their their book of the same name. In essence, Future Shock is the exposure to too much information too fast. If you’re interested in a really thoughtful, way ahead of it’s time look at it, just follow the link. 

 

 

I should note (parenthetically), that the Alvin and Heidi had a specific take on what “too much information” was. To them, it wasn’t simply a lot of new, random information. It was new information that (at first) cracked and (later) broke, existing paradigms.

In the simpler time in which I grew up, I had a built-in break from the bombarding we take from the world. I had my swimming work-outs, chores and homework to do and a couple of hours of leisure in the evening to align (or reject) the information with which I had been bombarded with my (admittedly flawed) sense of self and place.

But in the Internet age, as Mr. Rana points out, breaks have to be engineered into our lives. Compulsive learners in particular need help with this. 

“In the global village created by the internet, on the other hand, the node of your digital self is constantly bombarded by the larger network, which is itself shaped by hidden algorithms, mostly manipulated by those who happen to shout the loudest. For the average person, the amount of consumption far exceeds the amount of time they have to rationally make sense of it. And when they can’t rationally make sense of it, they take shortcuts, which is clearly apparent in the rampant and blind tribalism on most social media networks.”

Mr. Rana goes on to conclude:

“The most effective people learn to close the gap between what makes sense and what is right. What makes sense is what is coherent only if you ignore anything that doesn’t suit your existing narrative. Rightness, on the other hand, is the willingness to embrace temporary incoherence — or a state of confusion and nonsense — long enough that a broader and more honest mental model of the world can be created.”

I’m personally aligned with the drift of his post, as far as he took it. But as someone who spent the first 20-some years of his life in uniform, hypothetically defending these United States, I find myself missing the other half of the equation in Mr. Rana’s post. Cohering our individual model of the world with what’s happening around us is certainly part of personal growth.

But it is only half the job we humans sharing this world with other humans and other species must accomplish. The other half of the job is finding a way to coexist harmoniously with the other inhabitants of our biosphere. We are of and part of, the world in general. Our place in it is as much about contribution as it is about clarity, comfort and fit.

Fire jumping the road in CA
Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Whether we are referring to dovetailing the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change with the needs of a complex society, simple personal disagreements or the overarching priorities of our governance, our personal growth is (or should be) in part about contribution. It borders on cliché to quote (possibly) JFK’s most famous line from inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country,” quote.

But that line became a cliché for a reason. Embedded in that single line is the fundamental, understanding that however diverse we become, we are nevertheless one body. In time, we must as a biosphere come recognize that truth on a global scale. Our place is not simply in our nation. It is our place in the world writ large.

Long term, there is no other sustainable perspective and we all know this. Recognition of a non-egocentric membership in that global community is perhaps one of the prime indicators of personal growth. This is not a denial of self. It is a declaration of a kinship and the ultimate reflection of the best we can be.

West of Tomorrow and the Meaning of Life

Woman seeking meaning in the desert

To be honest, I don’t remember where I first blundered across this statement, but I remember vividly the oddly conflicted sensation of being @ once energized and enervated by it. Yeah, I know…logically inconsistent. Guilty as charged Welcome to my oft-conflicted world of tail-swallowing paradox. A little explanation may just be in order.

Like a lot of aphorisms, it is evocative. In a sense, it feels self-proving on its face and at some level, empowering. For someone like me, it’s a bit of a charge to think I get a vote with respect to the meaning of life. And if we could track down the original author and wake him/her up to ask them what they intended, my guess is it’s probably meant to be empowering.

At the same time, it’s also a kick in the Gluteus Maximus. Empowerment is meaningless unless it’s actionable and acted upon. So this while this aphorism is a declaration of empowerment, it’s also a call to action. With power comes responsibility, not simply for action, but the consequences thereof.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Hafennanum and Unsplash

The longer I pondered this simple statement, the more it reminded me of an iceberg. There’s so much more going on, beneath the surface. If we are to internalize this statement and render it actionable, then we are called not only to take action to give our lives meaning, but to express that meaning in ways that we find moral in principle and ethical in practice.

But in order to do that, we must know ourselves well enough to know by which moral principles we wish to be bound and how, specifically, we can give meaning to our lives within those constructs. It’s difficult for me to see anyone actually living this aphorism to its fullest logical extent, without a lot of thought put into who we are, how we wish to live, and how we will define success.

Storm front at sunset
Photo courtesy of Yannos Papanostsopolous & Unsplash

In West of Tomorrow, Clay Conover is midway through his life, plus or minus. He has long-term plan that reflects how he defines both success and meaning. But in common with all of us, he’s not pursuing those dreams of success and meaning in a vacuum. And in common most of us, he doesn’t have anything like omniscience.

Sheera Prasad, a newly hired trainer at the contract training firm in which he is the lead trainer looks a lot like part of the vision of success he has in his mind. Sheera appears to be of the same mind. But Clay has spent his first career looking for ambushes and his usually sharp instincts are whispering warnings. Will he listen to them? If not and he’s wrong, will he ever recover?

West of Tomorrow is a tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix that lives in all of us. West of Tomorrow is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

We Own Tomorrow, for Better, for Worse

A Nation (or world) Divided...

Streets on Fire
A riot in France (Courtesy Randy Colas-Unsplash)

Divisiveness, political, racial, religious and cultural has become such a platitude that it is now accepted as the deplorable but inevitable truth of the 21st Century. Driven in part by increasing diversity and where diversity is clustered, (the argument goes), it’s inevitable.

There’s the left and right coasts and there’s “fly over” country. There’s the haves and the have nots. There’s the “liberal” north and the “conservative” south and you can follow those socio-economic fissures by simply looking at the political breakdowns in those same regions and those facts all pretty much speak for themselves.

Dem-Republican Vote Dist.

Moreover, the pundits are quick to tell us, this is not simply a U.S. phenomenon. It’s global and like the experiences we’re currently having here in our country, it’s happening for similar reasons, and for those similar reasons, it’s inevitable “over there,” just as it is “over here.” And those changes are catalysts of still more change.

 

But isn't it up to us?

It would be naive to claim that the contextual reality in which we find ourselves is an illusion. It isn’t. But at the philosophical level, there’s a problem with in my humble opinion. The hard core, self-appointed “realists” may feel obliged to disagree with me and that’s fine. By your very right to differ, if you’re comfortable with a paradigm that postulates conflict as inevitable, you can stop reading now, or if you’re so inclined, or feel free to read, dissent and comment accordingly.

But I wonder if we can agree, that conflict is a choice? Can we not disagree respectfully, without being disagreeable? Surely, somewhere between extremes of meta-ethical relativism and unyielding moral universalism there is a place where we can coexist? Irrespective of your preferred socio-political or economic model, can we not agree that what makes us alike is greater than what divides us? In the words of Rilke, living in another time of tectonic change:

“Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again…”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Change is literally the lei motif of our age. At the personal level, it’s as individual as our fingerprint. More generally, our reaction to the changes around us But we defined in part by the form our change and that inevitable friction that disagreement takes. If you’re riled up and expostulating based on something you read on a website no one’s ever heard of or a FB post without links to the source, you’re probably being pulled to one extreme or the other. Honest men and women, even opinionated ones, aren’t ashamed of the sources upon which they base their opinions. The necessary accomplice of learning is perspective, often perspectives that do not dovetail with our own. That said, the ability of those perspectives to alter our own depend on verifiable, credible information.

We are one...

Man holding a sign I'm here for my 3 year old grand daughter
Its up to us...Courtesy Roya-Ann Miller & Unsplash

But beyond the formation of our opinions—hopefully the result of conscientious pursuit of truth—there is the fundamental truth underpinning all others, if we’re human. We are human and one. For better or worse, we are the dominant specie on this planet, collectively responsible for not only what we do, but for the outcome.

We are the stewards of our fate and the generations following us. I can’t imagine anyone with children not appreciating this and recognizing (if belatedly) that we do not inherit the Earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children.

 

ALERT! America wants a divorce…

I'm leaving you, Donald!

Sexy Lady Liberty

AMERICA:     “I’ve had it, Donald…pack your trash! You were charming, at first, but you’ve gotten complacent and really gross.

DONALD:      “Do you mean gross-icky or gross like fat?”

AMERICA:     “Both, you ignorant blimp! You looked like a slob at the Queen’s state dinner. Even when we dress you up, you look like a slob! And what’s with you and Vlad?”

DONALD:      “Well, I can’t help—”

AMERICA:     (Solicitiously) “I know, Donald. I really do.” (Frowns) “Funny you should mention that…”

DONALD:      “Mention what?”

AMERICA:     (Pats him on the shoulder) “That you can’t help yourself. We’ve all noticed.”

DONALD:      “Nobody else can help themselves! Have you seen my rally crowds?”

AMERICA:     (With a sigh of resignation, realizing he doesn’t get it.) “Like the circus, you mean? What was it PT Barnum used to say? ‘There’s a sucker born every minute?’”

DONALD:      “You know you love it!”

AMERICA:     “Not really. You’re week-old nachos and guacamole, left in the refrigerator.”

DONALD:      (Whining) “But you like nachos and guacamole—”

AMERICA:     (Sighs) Yes, Donald. It’s not bad at all fresh, but it doesn’t age well.”

DONALD:      “But I’ve made you great, again!”

AMERICA:     “No, Donald. I was always hot. You, on the other hand?” (Walks away, shaking her head).

A retired Marine officer & corporate trainer, Dirk is on his third career as an author. His books include: West of Tomorrow, a tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal and renewal, Best-Case Scenario, first volume in a coming of age series & Through the Windshield, a collection of short fiction. Due out in fall of 2019 is Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle, a tale of first contact between Earth and the Knolan Concordant.

The Truth Hiding in Plain Sight

Tomorrow is here...

From where I am at this point in my life, I see our time as a blink world of paradigm shifts, all happening at once and often working at cross-purposes with each other and humanity. It is partly the incessant bombardment of things to think about. Not that we weren’t warned. The Tofflers predicted this when they published Future Shock, in 1970. In the nearly fifty years since, most of us who have been paying attention are painfully aware the Tofflers were mostly right.

But you’d never know it, from listening to many of today’s “thought leaders.” Whether it’s anodyne corporate talking points drafted by some nameless HR functionary, or the sage advice of the self-help gurus and life coaches, I can’t help feeling that something’s missing. And don’t even get me started on most of the politicians already stumping for our vote in 2020. There are exceptions in all three of the aforementioned groups. But even the best of them gloss over or dance around the truth hiding in plain sight.

The old order is dying. Representative democracy as we have known it, capitalism and the self-absorbed American way of life are all sinking of their own weight. The political thinking grounded in the time before the Industrial Revolution was never intended to cope with the 21st Century in which instantaneous communications and could disseminate simple, seductive lies faster than the ponderous, nuanced truths of a more complicated world.

The underpinnings of laissez-faire capitalism will never adapt to a world in which unbridled greed, unlimited growth and minimal regulation are now literally the most direct paths to extinction. A society of 330 million people in which average voter turn out hovers between the low 40s in mid-term election cycles and the mid-50s during presidential election cycles does not bode well for sustaining a vibrant democracy. (See chart below excerpted from Pew Research).

The "back-button doesn't work...

As a purely practical matter, the indicators noted above need to change. Extracting a meaningful consensus from America seems unlikely if almost half the eligible voting population doesn’t vote, even in a presidential election. If these metrics continue, understanding how democracy might die without a whimper gets pretty easy. 

If you buy much of the foregoing, it should be obvious that what worked in the past won’t work going forward. For the same reason we can’t build tomorrow’s fire with yesterday’s ashes, we can’t build a sustainable tomorrow from the ruins of yesterday. Change is the natural order of things. The “back button” doesn’t work on history and deep down, most of us know it. We need to stop looking in our rearview mirror for anything like a promising future.

Where the future is...

But in the midst of the angst, denial and motivated cognition, it’s worth remembering we’ve been here before. We’ve survived ice ages, volcanic eruptions, huricanes, earthquakes and fratricidal wars over religion, and the Industrical Revolution. We should also remember that progress is rarely linear. Sometimes it meanders, sometimes it even regresses.

One of the daunting things about our time is the uncertainty that comes with it. In a way, perhaps  the most underappreciated spinoffs of the future shock as outlined in the Tofflers’ book is it’s paralytic effect. There’s no lack of uncertainty confronting us in the second decade of the 21st Century. But looking back at the history of man in general and America in particular, uncertainty has never stopped us before. The future does not belong to the timid or despairing, it belongs to the thoughtful men and women with a fresh vision and a hopeful, innovative spirit that dares. And to the intelligent followers willing to accept the risks while focusing on the pay off.

Tomorrow does not come with unconditional guarantees or even with a promise. It comes with a challenge, a smile and only the faintest whiff of a “maybe.” I can’t tell you what will happen if we smile back. I can only tell you what will happen if we don’t. So maybe smile with me as we together embrace our tomorrow.

Dirk Sayers is the author of West of Tomorrow, a contemporary literary romance and Best Case Scenario, Act I of Nyra’s Journey, the first volume in a new-adult series about one young woman’s search for her most authentic self. Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives, a collection of Dirk’s short stories, is now also available and Tier Zero, Volume I of the Knolan Cycle a science fiction tale of first contact is due out in November 2019.

Chasing Butterflies and Letting the Elephants Get Away

Personal Identity

Growing up in a Midwest college town in the ’60s was probably the best of all worlds. While we were aware of the jarring changes happening elsewhere, we were largely unaffected by it. In Iowa, it was easy to buy the comforting notion that the New Deal and WW II had won the battle for a kinder, gentler America and set the stage for the eventual defeat of poverty, hunger and totalitarianism.

I was not simply the heir to those successes. I was part of the generation that would perfect (or at least improve) on them. All we needed do was stay the course. At the time, I saw little contradiction in accepting a commission as a Marine officer, even knowing what I knew about what was happening in Vietnam. Did I have reservations about the war in SE Asia? Yes.

It was hard not be aware (painfully aware) of the disconnect between our stated values and our foreign policy, or our treatment of our brothers and sisters of color. It was even more painfully obvious when I got overseas and stepped in front of my first platoon and saw how many of my platoon were “minorities.” By this time, if you didn’t want to serve, you could (and many did) dodge it.

Citizenship, Service and Stewardship

I didn’t dodge it, because I believed that direct, personal service in some form was the first duty of citizens. As a Marine officer, I also recognized I was a steward of the lives and well-being of the Marines with whom I served. I owed it to their mothers and fathers  to discharge that stewardship to the best of my ability. In service to something greater than myself, I found deeper meaning and a kinship transcending not only self but my immediate family, embracing all of my brothers and sisters who called the United States home.

When it came time to decide to leave the service or to continue, it was not a difficult choice. I continued and my active service spanned the era bounded by the end of Vietnam and the retrograde from Somalia. That and six bucks gets me a cup of coffee almost everywhere and a “thank you for your service.” You’re welcome, by the way. I’d do it again. But no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t believe the military isn’t the only or even most important way to serve. But honest servants are what’s needed, today.

The bedrock genius of the American ideal is citizens fully vested in America’s promise and the personal commitment to all of it. American is white, but it’s also black, brown and red. It’s both left and right coasts, the Heartland and the south the Islands, (including Puerto Rico) and Alaska. All of it, uniquely beautiful and inexpressibly precious. And when we have occasion to think about it, being American feels good. But being American isn’t about feeling good, it’s about being good. Not perfect, but certainly well-intentions. That is not simply a willingness but a profound desire, to serve. Not self but the nation.

 

It's Not About "Isms..."

A lot of ink, electronic and actual, is being expended these days over “socialism.” Opponents of progressive candidates of all flavors are attempting to hang the (at best) loosely defined term around their necks as a means of heading off change they find threatening. Socialism, it is said, is too expensive and kills both initiative and stagnates growth.

On the other side of the political spectrum, we have more radical progressives demonizing capitalism as the fundamental culprit behind the predicament in which we find ourselves today. Capitalism, some argue, is fundamentally antithetical to life. Capitalism, some say, is the metaphorical millstone grinding up the world, for pocket change.

So who is right? Is capitalism genuinely responsible for climate change, species extinction, undrinkable water and non-biodegradable waste? As currrently practiced, yes. Does socialism stifle growth and degrade  initiative and motivation? Depending on how it’s practiced it might.

Chasing Butterflies and Letting the Elephants Get Away

But what is really at the root of these problems? Is it the system(s) or is it the people responsible for how they are practiced and how success is rewarded? Would we even have capitalism, socialism, democracy or autocracy without humans? Can we agree that the answer is no? We dreamed up the systems, institutions and practices associated with each in order to solve a problem or to exploit potential.

There’s nothing fatally wrong with that. Humans are perfectly imperfect, often sloppy innovators who discover system bugs by implementing them and fixing what’s broken until we “get it right.” We try stuff until we come up with something that works, often with scant regard for the long-term consequences. As an entrepreneurial model, it has worked well and much of our tribal knowledge continues to extoll that thought process as a way to avoid studying problems to death.

But for most of our history, we could afford to make lots of mistakes on our way to “something that works” because there weren’t 7 + billion of us swarming the Earth. Is it possible that innovation in the 21st Century may come with a potential price tag that ought to enter into our innovation calculus?

It has been said that experience is the best teacher. If our experiences over the last twenty to thirty years have taught us anything, it is that unbridled greed does not make for a just, happy or even prosperous society. What it does is concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few who then proceed to leverage that power and wealth the gain yet more, ever more at the expense of the less fortunate.

It has become increasingly obvious that the unregulated growth implicit in laissez-faire economics is unsustainable. The question that begs both for humans as a specie and for the world as an ecosystem is what reward system should replace that of unrepentant greed?

Do we have the intellectual creativity to craft a reward system that is sustainable or will we pretend not to notice the consequences of or actions as we whistle past the graveyard? What might a better model look like and what would be the philosophical underpinnings of a more thoughtful society? These are but two of the themes of my new science fiction series collectively known as The Knolan Cycle. Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle will be released in Nov, 2019.

Dirk is the author of West of Tomorrow , Best Case Scenario and Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives. All are available in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon. 

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