Burning Out…

Of Course Journalists are Burning Out

I subscribe to Medium, in part because I write for the site but also because there are compelling (and some not-so-compelling) posts on the site. With (literally) no effective barriers to entry, that’s to be expected.

Recently, a post entitled Of Course the Journalists Are Burning Out posted by Sarah Stankorb really stuck in my head because it touches on something that’s been on my mind for some time.

Speaking of how SARS-CoV-2 has combined with other significant events, Sarah wrote tellingly of how it has affected her and other freelance, traditionally retained journalist  and a few others she knows, for illustration of her points.

“I see pastors who have tried to hold their churches together virtually as members sparred over masks and QAnon conspiracies, while shouldering the emotional burden of being the one many people call, when they don’t know who else to call.”

Sarah goes on to say:

“…my baseline level of exhaustion is much greater than it was pre-pandemic. Maybe that was coming through.”

I feel you, Sarah, in common I suspect with most if not all of my readers. She then goes on to add her own nod to the plight of her generation.

“I also recently read an interview with Anne Helen Petersen who wrote the book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Petersen had her start at Buzzfeed and describes a round robin of intense stories that left her getting in fights with her editor and crying. Her editor told her she was burned out — and that opened a lens into what she now describes throughout our generation.”

There’s a temptation on the part of us with a few more years’ runway behind us to admonish her to suck it up, buttercup, but beneath her lament for her generation and journalists, there’s more…so much more going on.

“And all that hurts the people whose stories need to be told in order for any systemic change — such as those within the denominations I increasingly cover. Gritters [another journlist she knows] wrote, “I can’t rely on this ship to take me anywhere safe. If I bank on this industry any longer, I’m afraid of where I’ll end up.”

“I keep banking on it because it’s the only ship I know, the best one for shining light where it’s needed. I ignore the sweltering stress headache as yet another publication trims, another place for these stories disappears, and I find myself afraid of where the people I write about will end up even with my efforts.”

The article winds to a conclusion you can probably guess from the foregoing excerpts. My own response follows wandering off in my usual inimitable way, on what I hope is a relevant tangent.

Angst, Anxiety & the Crossroads

I feel your pain and (not that you need it) validate it. But I wonder…are you perhaps describing the symptom, rather than the disease? As someone whose own careers have exposed him to a fair share of angst-inducing tragedies, I assure you it’s not your imagination.

As a journalist writing about all the symptoms outlined in your post, are you not the very definition of the canary in the coalmine? It’s hard to look ANYWHERE today without sensing it’s all going sideways. And this sensing isn’t confined to Journalism.

Do not your observations point to fundamental flaws in our rewards systems? Rewards systems bequeathed to us by the industrial revolution, Ayn Rand, and the self-appointed thought leaders of this world. Is not the central issue that we have a dying system incapable of saving itself? That’s my take. So long as we seek to use the ashes of the industrial revolution and the ideas spawned by it as a foundation, we’re unlikely to arrest the down spiral leading to profound and ruinous collapse. As a freelance journalist,you’re witnessing the death of an entire system through a macro lens. I can imagine few things more likely to induce angst and anxiety.

Will we realize in time that we need a more wholistic solution, rather than a technocratic, piecemeal approach to problem resolution? Will we collectively take the risks associated with creativity? As an eternal optimist, I hope so, but the coexisting saddened realist in me has reservations. Most of the people we have elected to do what passes as governance in the 3d decade of the 21st Century suffer from a profound lack of imagination. Often the will to take the attendant risks of being caught trying while being wrong.

In fairness to technocrats, they can solve individual problems if properley resourced, but as long as we keep to trying to “build back better” or “make America great again,” we’re figuratively chasing butterflies and letting all the elephants get away.

Aren’t we…and the assumptions we’re dragging along behind us… the problem? I’m not a fan iconclastic measures for their own sake, but it seems to me there’s not much substance left in the society we’re trying build back better or to make great again. I can’t say for certain of course. I’m not that wise. But I also can’t help but wonder…

Is it maybe time to demolish the sluggish and (often) cumbersome relics of our past and examine the assumptions we drag along behind us critically with an eye to keeping snippets that work and toss what’s clearly worn out.

A retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer and district manager turned author, D.B. Sayers. has 4 books in print with two more on the way.

What is a “conservative,” anyway?

Do we really know, anymore?

It’s a question that seems germaine today, as the Republican Caucus votes to strip Liz Cheney of her position as the House Republican Conference Chair. I’m not sure that I have an answer that would satisfy anyone, least of all conservatives writ large, but I’m going to weigh in, in my own way, as the Republican intramural food fight on the right plays out in semi-public.

Office of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My more conservative brothers and sisters are sure to take me to task, insofar as I’m not a conservative, some of whom are sure to point out that a liberal (like me) can’t possibly understand conservatism.

Many of these same folks will be at it tomorrow, shamelessly categorizing liberals as liberal socialists hell-bent on destroying our democratic institutions. It is America, after all and credentials seem to matter less, these days, than how loud we’re prepared to shout.

I’m not going to shout, but I am (probably) going to say some things that will make self-aware conservatives blush…the ones endowed with at least a nodding familiarity with history, anyway. Sometimes, clarity is best served from the outside looking in.

A Look Backward

In 1964 pornography case Jacobellis Vs. Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward famously stated:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_itand perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

This Justice’s punt on defining (in this case, obscenity or pornography) could be said to argue against the whole point of my post here, but I tend to think it doesn’t. In fact, it points out something I’ve witnessed many times, over the course of my life. The contextual framework for ideas often colors even if it doesn’t absolutely determine the definition of anything not firmly grounded in strict determinism based on purely empirical measures.

The term “conservative” clearly falls within the category of things that may prove fungible over time, as contemporary thought is seasoned by the passage of time and daily events affecting how we see matters political, philosophical and spiritual.

There is, however, a definition for conservatism. As long-time readers of this blog know, I when it comes to definitions, I default to Merriam-Webster, and found definitions 2 and 3 relevant. They are quoted below.

2. a. a disposition in politics to preserve what is established.

2. b. a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change specifically : such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (such as retirement income or health-care coverage)

3. the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change

The common thread to the above is a preference for an inclination to look backward for answers, rather than forward into the unknown. There’s just one problem.

Back to the Future?

That’s kind of not how they’re behaving, these days. What’s also striking is just how far from their supposedly honored past the Republican Party has strayed. Following is the summarized 1956 Republican Party platform on which Dwight D. Eisenhower ran.

Two things leap to the front from the foregoing platform as contrasted with Republicans of today. The first is disconnect between Republicans’ reverence for our traditions and historical roots, and how much the “old” Republican principles as articulated in Eisenhower’s platform seem to be at odds with the new Republican party.

Historians will note that (possibly) the Goldwater backlash and the emergence of the John Birch Society that followed more accurately reflects the true nature of the GOP. If so, it would go a long way toward explaining Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and  the #MAGA crowd of today. In that model, Trump did not alter the tradition-reverent Republican Party so much as recognize they never had any. Who then, is (are) to be the architect(s) of a new Republican philosophy, to whatever extent one can be said to exist?

So maybe it's really all about context?

What do Republicans stand for these days and what have Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell articulated that can make sense of Liz Cheney’s ouster as Republican Chair of the House Republicans? Who are they now and what do they stand for? And in the absence of an articulated platform, are we to judge what they stand for by their actions? hard to imagine any Republican or indeed any American citizen of conscience supporting them. In the lead-up to the January capital rumble, 147 Republicans voted against certifying the results of the Electoral College, despite no evidence that the election was “stolen,” as the former president suggested.

Since then, Republicans have been busy around the country proposing legislation that would make it harder to vote, especially for our brothers and sisters of color despite (again) no evidence of widespread voter election fraud.

From the outside looking in (I haven’t been a Republican or a self-described conservative for years) it’s becoming increasingly difficult to arrive at any other conclusion than Republicans (and conservatives) are out of arguments. In the absence of any, they have concluded that the only course of action open to them is a combination of:

  1. Outright lies
  2. Distraction
  3. Culture wars
  4. Incipient racism/religious intolerance

The foregoing failing, 1/6/2021 has shown us they’re willing to abrogate democracy in the name of power. If that doesn’t convince the sane to do everything in our collective power to stop them, then they’ve already one. Which is it? (You tell me.)

My Secret Life

As a self-appointed "answer man..."

Recently, a question popped up on a forum I frequent that kind of blew my mind. As anyone who spends much time browsing online forums knows, you sort A LOT of chaff before you get to the wheat. On rare occasions, for someone like me, the chaff actually is the wheat, as in this case. I confess I was moved to respond. The question was:

How-do-I-get-over-the-guilt-of-voting-Republican-for-20-years-and-causing-many-people-to-die?

My take...

Seriously? Who said voting Republican (specifically as opposed to voting for the alternative, i.e.,  Democrat) results in many people dying? And to which dying are you referring? The interminable “War on Terror,” SARS CoV-2, the Capitol assault of 1/6/21, the unnecessary deaths at the border or uncritical support of police implicit in implied in Qualified Immunity & it’s most profound affects on our brothers and sisters of color? Maybe you’re referring the tacit acceptance of the carnage in Yemen or the asinine unqualified support of 2nd Amendment Rights at the expense of commonsense firearms control laws. All valid  as far as they go.

But can we agree both Republicans & Democrats have made political calls that have resulted in deaths? A lot of them? Vietnam, Korea and Somalia all come to mind, all optional wars of interference initiated by Dems. It’s the nature of governance that governing officials, (elected and appointed) will be confronted life & death choices. Choices that must usually be made with incomplete information.

That’s why it’s so damned important to choose people with a conscience. People who (at the very least) recognize when they should be ashamed, either of their decisions or their reasons for making them.

Does this mean you should stop voting Repubican?

Oh yeah! It’s difficult to arrive at any other conclusion, if you’re paying attention and you’re at all committed to effective governance. Just compare what occupies the attention of both parties and their public comments with respect to policy and it should be transparently obvious.

Let’s use the period since the election as a demonstration case of what the two parties’ respective actions and public pronouncements say about them. Since the election, elected Republicans in both the Senate and the House have hewed to their defeated former president’s taking points, to wit: “the election was stolen.” Most of us know better. Literally dozens of challenges to the certified election results in several critical states have revealed no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Indeed, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick of Texas offered a $1 million dollar reward to anyone unearthing evidence of voter fraud. Sadly, he must not have meant it. Lt. Governor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania offered several proven cases of fraud…by Trump supporters.

While President Biden focused on (and made considerable progress combating the SARS CoV-2 pandemic, Republicans have busied themselves with the weighty matters of cancel culture. One of the most preeminent examples being (according to Republicans) the “cancelling” of Mr. Potato Head and (more broadly)  our country’s traditions and values. Seriously? Our country’s values are embodied by a Hasbro toy?

Any other examples? I thought you’d never ask. Recently, the Daily Mail represented that Biden’s climate plan could limit Americans to one burger a month and pay $55K for electric cars. These days, it’s getting increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Republican party decides what its policies are based on whatever they think will piss off the Dems or will help facilitate their gerrymandered but slipping hold on power. That’s assuming you can characterize their pronouncements as policy.

Recently on MSNBC’s “The Last Word,” Congressman Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) opined that we need a healthy Republican Party. By which I took him to mean, an opposition party effectively balancing Democrats’ liberal leanings with a cogent conservative perspective. His statement assumes that political parties will always be with us, and he’s probably right. Gathering, organizing and working on concert toward common objectives is profoundly human. But it does not follow that the opposition must necessarily be the Republican party. Ideas, people and organizations come and go. Change is the lei motif of life.

Far more necessary than an opposition party in the form of Dems Vs. Republicans are honest, fact-centric stewards of the public trust. In order to have that, we must have informed, attentive citizens who keep their eye on those stewards and send them packing when they fail in their stewardship. In order to do this, we as citizens must do our homework and not let Fox Noise or MSNBC tell us what to think. We used to be a little better at this. But somewhere along the way, a significant number of us seem to have lost that intellectual muscle.

Now about that guilt you say you’re feeling. You know what? Nobody’s perfect. We’ve all got that going on in our lives, if we’re honest with ourselves. Just do better next time. Focus less on your mistakes and more on the solutions. Singularly or collectively, we’d all do well to move on and keep (or get) better informed & spend more time thinking about the issues and the probable outcomes of the various courses of action being proposed. Take the time to figure out who has the best ideas & vote for them. Just one broken-down, baggy-eyed old Marine officer’s opinion.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel, former corporate trainer and district manager turned full-time author with four published books in print and two more on the way. He rights thought-provoking tales of adventures of growth and a fresh perspective of old problems, real and (sometimes), imagined.

The Tortured Relationship Between Politicians & “The Elite.”

I thought you'd never ask...

Who owns who?

Not too long ago, someone posted a question one of the forums I frequent. To me, it felt a little sophomoric but given the political climate today, it also begged an answer. Not simply for the interlocutor, but for all of us. After working up my own answer, it occurred  to me it might be worth sharing here, on my website. For the consideration of anyone who might be interested.

The question was:

“Can you still say the Republican party is for the wealthy elite, or has the Democratic party equalized or surpassed them?”

My response as I posted it on that forum follows, with a few more points I’ve stirred in for my readers here on this website.

My Take...

My response as I posted it on that forum follows, with a few more points I’ve stirred in for my readers here on this website.

My response was:

Okay, I’m going to try to answer this question without getting pissed. I should warn the overly sensitive this might be a good time to stop reading. I may not be able to pull it off.

Let me start by wondering outloud if I’m the only one who thinks your question misses the salient truth. To that end, I’d like to start with a blinding flash of the obvious.

We’re a nation of 330 million (+/-). We are ethnically, religiously/spiritually, economically & socially diverse. Whether we’re comfortable with that or not is tangential. Personally, I love it, which tips off pretty much everyone with respect to my philosophical leanings, and I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I love that we are diverse and becoming more so every day. That’s a feature rather than a bug, IMO, to being the world’s melting pot.

With that in mind, the notion that any single political party is exactly & only for or about one thing is not simply naïve, it’s guilty of letting all the usual suspects off the hook.

The Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was pretty much a giveaway to wealthy, according to the reasonably unbiased news outlets. I’ve chosen NPR to reference here, but there are other centrist publications that agree.

With that said, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 isn’t devoid of giveaways to corporate America, either. There’s no question the act has good temporary relief for consumers and those disproportionately affected by SARS CoV-2, including small businesses. But do you think Pfizer, Moderna & J&J aren’t smiling all the way to the bank? And surely you’ve noticed that AmazonGoogle & Facebook to name a few, have been making a killing during the pandemic and through both Republican & Democratic administrations have been allowed to function as (highly profitable) de facto monopolies?

We all know they are. Amazon’s net profit is creeping up on $400 Billion, (Forbes) while Google’s quarterly revenue is up to almost $57 billion (Statistica) in the 4th quarter of 2020. And Facebook’s net income is up 57% in 2020. (Investor News)

Nevertheless, there is a difference

Meanwhile, SARS CoV-2 isn’t done with us & is slowly strangling a lot of small businesses while every Republican house and senate voted against the American Rescue Plan. In the wake of these verifiable truths, the Republican Party and it’s crony “news” outlets continue to obsess over theories relating to exhaustively debunked election fraud, cancel culture and the hypothetical stolen gender of Mr. Potato Head.

Seriously? To the extent these issues dominate our public discourse, aren’t we guilty of chasing butterflies while letting the elephants get away? I’ve just finished taking Republicans to task because it’s so obvious and easy, but boes anyone really think that Democrats aren’t hostage to monied interests? Arguably, Republicans are more flagrant about it. But whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, if you’re politically active your preferred party cannot get through a day without soliciting $$.

Collectively, we have strayed so far from our best aspirations as a nation that we (all of us) should be ashamed of ourselves. Whether we’re active subscribers to loaded rhetoric & skewed arguments or passive apathists who just let it go out of disgust, we’re to blame. Political parties exist as long as someone supports them, and (obviously) both parties enjoy support in their own constituencies. But in common with most organizations, leadership of political parties co-opt what was once a thoughtful agenda, replacing or adapting it to suit their own ends.

And what have both parties done with their support? We have a bloated (and misdirected) defense budget, legions of lobbyists and a political system awash in so much money, can anyone seriously entertain the notion that either party is on the side of citizens? So as long as we’re partisan Democrats or Republicans, we’re part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. Kind of like this question that originally spawned this rant. It is profoundly devoid of either balance or nuance, not unlike a lot of what passes for political thought, these days.

If we could get back to having substantive policy debates grounded in the verifiable merits (or lack thereof), we’d all have a lot more respect for government and the process we call governance. But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

 

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer, training manager and district manager turned  author of four novels with two more on the way. Dirk’s stories are always believable and often evocative. You can be among the first to know when his newest work is due for release by subscribing to Smoke Signals at the top right of this post.

Tier Zero and Science Fiction in Literature

A Futurist’s Playground?

Science fiction tends to tap into our innate curiosity about how the future might affect our lives. One commentator on science fiction as a genre opined that science fiction is “a telescope to the future.” The post makes the case for a forward-looking deep dive into the inevitability of change, driven by man’s relentless drive to control our environment and (by association) our destiny.

I think there’s a place for that kind of thinking, whether you accept the notion in the post or not. Science fiction by definition seeks to deal with the essential unknowns associated with a future that both interacts with us as it unfolds and on which the discoveries we make ultimately have a hand in shaping our destiny. Any speculative fiction shares that efficacy, if efficacy it is.

But I wonder if it’s worth recalling that whatever advances we make technologically, those advances are made by humans. And does not a lot of science fiction get lost in a jungle of “gadgets,” often at the expense of thoughtful thematic expression? Our fascination with a hypothetical future often focuses on how the world in which we live may be transformed by gadgets. But are not humans the real catalysts of change, irrespective of what those changes are? And how that change, whatever it is affects us is only partially dependent on the technology or the practical utility of the latest i-phone app. (For example).

The Brave New World

In my view, the real focus of science fiction is and must be on how the changes we bring into being technologically affect not simply how we live, but how those changes transform our lives but how we feel about that brave new world (to parrot Aldous Huxley) and how the changes we both bring into being and by which we are affected, shape our view of ourselves. What makes humans fundamentally different, we believe, is our self-awareness.

It is self-awareness and the degree to which we are able to learn, apply and pass on the lessons we’ve learned that make us who/what we are. And while science fiction gives us an opportunity to play “what if” with technology, I’m not sure that the more important value to be found in reading science fiction is the speculative journey into our own psyche’s and how a different external reality might cause us to order our own lives, both individually and collectively.

“How would we be, if...?”

In Tier Zero, Vol I of the Knolan Cycle, the Knolans are clearly technologically way ahead of us. So much so, that first contact between the Knolans and we indigenes of Earth actually took place over 30 years ago and no one is aware of it. Yet. In Tier Zero, the Knolans are a little cirumspect about their motivations for making contact in the first place, even with the few with whom they have chosen to connect. And as the reader becomes aware of their reasons for it, it’s obvious that Knolan ideation about a lot of things is fundamentally different than our own. Paradoxically, the Knolans are in many ways so similar to us, that it’s hard to reconcile the differences between their views of themselves and their relationship with the Universe and our own, given how otherwise similar we are.

And that, to me, is the heart and soul of science fiction. It isn’t gadgets, in the end, it’s still about the human condition and how we (as humans) will be affected by world/universal views that are profoundly different from our own. Given our track record here in the US, the supposed melting pot of the world, it’s fair to wonder if our knee-jerk reaction to contact with others, however similar may not be fear, loathing or aggressive antagonism.

When/if confronted with difference from afar, will we have the kind of tolerance balanced with a healthy curiosity to learn from and share with a culture so foreign that it literally dwarfs the challenges of understanding and tolerance we’ve been obliged to confront before? For most of us paying attention, my guess is the jury’s still out. And if you’re like me, that concerns you.

D.B. Sayers is the author of four books and is currently working on two more. In his previous “incarnation,” Dirk was a Marine officer, then corporate trainer and training manager. He currently lives in Laguna Niguel a couple miles from the Pacific with he wife, two psychotic cats and 12 year old, 5 foot Ball Python named Corona.

Healing the Partisan Divide

One question that begs another...

On a forum I frequent, this question was posted. Initially, I was inclined to pass on even attempting to answer it. While there are a number of thoughtful commenters on the forum in question, it felt to me like a this was one that might interest some of my readers who share my wholistic view of society. The question was…

Is there any issue that could actually bring Democrats and Republicans together or is the ideological rift so great that that is no longer a possibility?

 I usually start most of my gratuitous opinions with , “nobody asked me but…”  But in this case, someone did ask, so instead I’m going to observe that this question (in my opinion) completely whiffs on what seems to me the more productive question, IF we want to get to the underlying contributing causes of the ideological rifts to which the question alludes.

Let’s start with the obvious. Representative democracies (or republics?) rely on a profound sense of citizenship, a measure of mutually acknowledged kinship with our fellow citizens, and with civic attention to the issues of the day. Attention, let me hasten to add that is characterized by  evidence-based critical thinking that informs our opinions on those issues. What the question above as phrased postulates is that American politics will necessarily bifurcated by opposing parties with opposing philosophies.

The Toxicity of Political Parties

But as thoughtful readers have already noted, none of the attributes of a vibrant representative republic we have enumerated above logically demand political parties. So if you accept my precepts above as necessary enablers of a representative democracy, is it perhaps time to reflect on whether viewing governance (the purpose of government) through a binary political lens? Irrespective of where you stand on the left-right continuum, I think that bifurcation of political alignment obscures rather than highlights truth.

Can we start with a blinding flash of the obvious? We are a nation of 330+ million people. A nation that has long since ceased to be a homogeneous group. Whether you agree with me that our very diversity is a strength is immaterial. The practical reality is that extracting a meaningful consensus from such diversity has proven (and will likely continue to prove) to be problematic at best. But it will be rendered considerably easier if we all framed our opinions (& our representatives their policy proposals) around empirically verifiable evidence. If you’re fond of absolute certainty, that may not appeal.

But it would helpful if all of us recognized that neither absolute certainty nor absolute unanimity of opinion is necessary for effective governance. Good will and a measure of humility, however, is. And if the years since Newt Gingrich has taught us anything, demonizing the other side simply because they’re “the other side,” is a shortcut to polarization. We’ve had more than enough opportunity to test that theory and the verdict is in.

Dem-Republican Vote Dist.
A look at the map above should demonstrate to all but the willfully obtuse that there's no no way to divvy up America amicably, between Republicans and Democrats, even if we wanted to. We are one and best off as one.

Coming to Grips with Uncomfortable Truth

The lived experiences in urban vs. rural America are radically different and (sadly) the resulting philosophical convictions of  have to some extent blinded us to the greater similarities between both populations. Having grown up in Iowa before serving for 22+ years in the Corps & subsequently working in corporate America in a major metropolitan city for almost 2 decades, I know this from personal experience.

And it doesn’t help that the for-profit media exploits those differences for reasons owing less to the truth than what they perceive  they can “sell.”  But this in no way relieves us of our personal responsibility as citizens to sort out truth independent of the motivated cognition and (in some cases) shamelessly deceptive presentation of facts. It should be obvious why. We are the people from whom the authority to govern flows. We are directly and ultimately accountable for the outcome. This accountability includes not only how Congress and the President represent us, but how we influence their performance in our collective names.

 

Excerpted from Statistica.com

The thoughtful have already figured out where I’m going with this. Congressional approval ratings see-sawing between a low of 15% just before the 2020 election and a high of 35+% in February says as much (or more) about us as an electorate as it does about our  representatives. What we permit, we encourage and for too long, we have encouraged behaviors that on balance don’t do credit either to congress or we the people they purport to represent.

And the Solution?

Western democracy in general and American democracy in particular is firmly grounded in capitalism and the primacy of profit in our inalienable right”to “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s a seductive notion…one the Republican party in particular hammers home at every opportunity. The obvious flaw in that concept is that is further grounded in the demonstrably false idea that we can grow indefinitely within a demonstrably finite ecosystem. This isn’t simply an allusion to climate change, though most of us by now recognize that one of the unintended consequences of capitalism and the attendant growth spiral is climate change.

But there is a much more far-reaching side effect of capitalism as currently practiced. A side effect potentially more significant even than climate change, in that it shapes attitudes shaping our behavior.

Corporate America writ large would have you to believe they’re benign and on your side. But the unvarnished truth is they have participated in the systemic depression of wages irrespective of increased productivity and spiraling costs of living. No matter where you live, unless you’re one of the top 20% or so, you’re probably feel very much like somebody must be to blame for it & for-profit media will be happy to find someone for you to make wrong for it. But it’s rarely who needs to be made wrong.

The underpinning truth we must all face before we’re going to have an ice cube’s chance in the hot place of fixing our broken political system is to recognize how deeply embedded business is in the decisions that get made in government about governance. Until we acknowledge that businesses with vested interests in the systemic exploitation of everything from the tax code to their workers are driving a lot of the decisions government makes, we will never fix the problem. That’s because both parties are beholden to business.

Political parties and organizations writ larger are the inevitable (and unfortunately, necessary) part of every problem and every solution.

The Day America Died

January 6th and the End of Innocence

After the assault on the capital, the great American experiment feels almost hopelessly naive. Either we believe in representative democracy or we don’t. In the end, a representative democracy is an all or nothing thing. Not unlike pregnancy, you’re not a little bit democratic.

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Either the peoples’ will enjoys primacy, or the rule of a strongman or gaggle of plutocrats or a collection of self-aggrandizing oligarchs or is/are ascendant. We can’t claim to be a democracy unless we believe in the legitimacy of what makes us a democracy in the first place, to wit, the outcome of elections. And the signs of our dawning awareness that the game has changed are everywhere.

Not that there aren’t people trying with might and main to ignore those signs or the blinding flash of the obvious. Hopeful pundits point to the undeniable successes and the quiet competence Biden’s first hundred days as evidence that democracy and its institutions have held. Meanwhile, weasel-brained Republican politicians across America are already working feverishly to craft voter suppression laws designed to disenfranchise men and women of color, in order to tilt the political playing field so profoundly that pluralistic democracy has no chance.

The Illusion of Election Theft

Meanwhile Republican law makers play footsy with the notions that the election was indeed stolen and opine that those who assaulted the capital on the 6th were (largely) peaceful, misguided or Antifa agitators who somehow persuaded themselves to wear MAGA hats and carry confederate flags. Said the soon to be former president to his followers gathered at the capital?

“States want to revote. The states got defrauded. They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.” (Donald Trump at the Jan. 6, 2021 rally before the assualt.)

Never mind the fact that states did indeed certify the election in all states, after more than fifty (count them) filed in virtually every battleground state where Trump and his surrogates thought they might have a chance in front of the bench as the did not at the ballot box. In response to one appeal in the 3rd circuit, one judge noted:

“…calling an election unfair does not make it so.” (3d Circuit Judge)

As pretty much anyone armed with three braincells to rub together and ever having served on jury duty knows, the bench tenders a lot more credence to appeals referencing empirically verifiable facts.

And as the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out in response to Trump’s claim that the 2016 election (which he won) was rigged, the incidence of voter fraud while not non-existent, has never risen to the level necessary to “rig” an election. And it still hasn’t. Mr. Trump lost. Period, full stop.

But is Trump the Problem?

In my opinion, no. Far more troubling than an intellectually deficient defeated president plaintively bleating about having lost is the large number of elected officials inclined to ignore the absence of evidence of “the steal” and go along with the narrative. Equally problematic is the large number of misguided citizens willing to take Trump’s words at face value sans evidence.

It’s hard to watch the January 6th assault on the capital and subsequent reverberations and not feel that we’re in the midst of a shift…and not a good one. Long time readers of my work know I’m fascinated by paradigm shifts. This particular (apparent) paradigm shift in the Republican Party and the more conservative elements of our society is fascinating, but not in a good way.

We collectively have become the problem. Between “wokeness” on one end of the political spectrum and dead enders on the other, we’ve lost sight of purpose of governance. It’s to deliver quietly competent government that balances the popular with the necessary. The previous adminstration failed miserably at that and despite it’s doing so, a large number of folks believed he should be re-elected.

Fortunately for America, seven million more thought otherwise. It won a reprieve, but none of us should labor under the misapprehension this is over. It isn’t. It isn’t not just because Trump is defeated but still alive. It’s because the real problem isn’t Trump. It’s us. Bank that one. If that bothers you, get informed and involved. It’s no longer okay to see how things go.  

Future Shock Came of Age in 2020

The Caress of Time

Some things we just can’t get more of. Time is one of them. As a pithy (and illustrative) quatrain in the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam illustrates better than I can:

“The Bird of Time has but a little way 

To fly—and Lo! The Bird is on the Wing.”

So on that hopeful note, why would you invest even the few minutes of your time it takes to read this?

Used with permission-Thomas Bormans &Unsplash

It’s a fair question. After all, you could be watching entertaining cat videos on TikTok, right? Seriously. Why should you read Dirk’s Tribe?

A fresh perspective, perhaps? Even a measure of peace in exceedingly turbulent times? A ray of optimism? All the above. If you’re of the belief our times are painfully chaotic, you’re not alone and it’s not your imagination. That said, we’re up to the task. It’s all about perspective and (maybe) a sense of proportion, of balance. Work with me, here.

Future Shock Came of Age in 2020

Future Shock the Book

For many, I suspect the foregoing strikes them as a blinding flash of the obvious. Quite apart from the pandemic and the attendant economic upheaval, it’s hard to miss the profound dysfunction of our current  political/social/spiritual reality. Or to long for better.

 

People familiar with my writing know that change and its affects on the protagonists in all my stories is the underpinning theme uniting virtually everything I write. So most of my readers won’t be surprised to learn I tend to see paradigm shifts in most of the changes defying simple explanations. As the old wheeze goes: “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Noted, acknowledged and I’m (probably) guilty. That said, you don’t have to be fascinated by or hypersensitive to change to be aware it’s happening or to note that (these days) it borders on overwhelm. It’s not your imagination and there a reason for that. Or more accurately, multiple reasons that make perfect sense in context.

"The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind..."

Nobody asked me, but it’s actually been going on while a lot of us slept. If, like me, you read Toffler’s Future Shock and Brzezinski’s Between Two Ages and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb when they came out, you saw this coming. What was missing in all of them, however, is the unifying, contextual truth about humans as a species, both individually and collectively.

In future editions, I’ll go into all of it in detail, including of the origins of the changes we’re seeing, as we stumble into the second decade of the 21st Century. But for now, I’d like to offer a warning and a ray of hope.

The warning, first. This has been coming since the mid part of the last century, and it’s only just begun. If you’re experiencing a measure of disorientation now, take a deep breath. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re in the midst of multiple, overlapping paradigm shifts that will alter our reality for all time…assuming we survive it. (That’s not a foregone conclusion, btw). It very much depends on multiple factors, only a few of which have already occurred to some of us. My guess is, there are others of which we’re not even aware. The “unknown unknowns,” as a thankfully now-gone public figure who coined the phrase once said.

Good News, Bad News

If you recall your history from the Industrial Revolution, you will also recall how dramatically that period altered our lives. The changes sweeping through our culture today will dwarf the changes brought on by that period, socially, economically, technologically, politically & spiritually.

For the adaptable, challenge and opportunity come hand in hand. The future will belong to you as it once did for the industrialists who saw the future with imperfect but hopeful clarity.

For the resistant, dig in all you want, but there’s no holding any of this back. We can shape, adapt to it and even harness it in some cases, but the only way out is through. The dug-in resistant and backward looking are in for a very bumpy and painful ride.

Now for the ray of hope. As people who know me well also know, I’m a hopeless optimist who hiding behind a cynical front. The truth is, while humans often behave foolishly, especially when we’re ill-informed, we’re also almost infinitely adaptable. Folly and foresight often coexist side by side. Sometimes even in the same human.

But anyone who bets against species Homo Sapiens hasn’t been paying attention. Often we succeed inspite of ourselves There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which deep down, we’re social creatures, capable of cooperation and the very best of kindness. And this never more true than when we have most to fear. It’s only when we allow ourselves to be misled by liars, cheats and value-stealers that we fall short of our own ideals. As Winston Churchill is once said to have observed about America,

“The Americans will always do the right thing…after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”

Whether Churchill actually said that is open to debate. But buried in this quote, whoever said is a more broadly applicable truth about humans writ large. We tend to learn by trial and error. This is feature, not a bug. We are at our best when we fear less and try more.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer and manager & the author of West of Tomorrow, Best-Case Scenario, Act I of Nyra’s Journey and Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle, among others. The sequels to the above, The Year of Maybes, Act II of Nyra’s Journey and Eryinath-5, Vol II of the Knolan Cycle are due out for publication in 2021.

Do conservatives have a point?

Yeah, but...

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker under fair use license

As frequent readers of this blog thread and subscribers to Dirk’s Tribe know, I’m active on several online forums. Recently on one such forum, the question appearing as the title to this post was raised. After reading several responses, I felt more or less obliged to respond. I’ve decided to share my answer here, because I think not only the question deserves serious consideration, but because I think that we have to even ask in the first place screams volumes about America, at the tailend of the second decade of the 21st Century.

Ultimately, what we “buy” we have to pay for. So yes, there needs to be a plan for that. It’s called revenue in the form of taxes, tolls, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow for the purpose of investment, or to do things that government is best suited to do. It also doesn’t mean that taxes are a dirty word, Grover Norquist’s opinion notwithstanding. Some of our most prosperous times have been periods of high taxes, especially on corporate America. Most discussions of corporate taxation ignores the maze of deductions that make it possible for many of them to pay little or no taxes. In our current low interest rate environment, it’s hard to come up with an argument against borrowing now for thoughtful long-term investment. Which brings me to my next item.

A caveat emptor, first...

One caveat emptor before I answer. I don’t really think of myself as liberal so much as a progressive. Some may consider that to be a distinction without a difference. It isn’t, IMO. A liberal as practiced today as someone who is kind of a knee jerk “if it’s new it must be better.” A progressive, IMO, is someone who tends to agree with a liberal most of the time, but has more of a cautious anchor out to windward. Liberals say, “yeah let’s try it, while a progressive says, “uh, maybe…but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Fiscal Conservatism

Ultimately, what we “buy” we have to pay for. So yes, there needs to be a plan for that. It’s called revenue in the form of taxes, tolls, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow for the purpose of investment, or to do things that government is best suited to do. It also doesn’t mean that taxes are a dirty word, Grover Norquist’s opinion notwithstanding. Some of our most prosperous times have been periods of high taxes, especially on corporate America. Most discussions of corporate taxation ignores the maze of deductions that make it possible for many of them to pay little or no taxes. In our current low interest rate environment, it’s hard to come up with an argument against borrowing now for thoughtful long-term investment. Which brings me to my next item.

Infrastructure

Used under fair use license

It’s a very conservative idea to build things that promote prosperity and to take care of them. (Roads, bridges, port facilities, airfields, schools & hospitals) all come to mind. The things that help the economy hum. Recall that (for example) the interstate highway system was begun during the Eisenhower administration and was responsible in part for pole-vaulting America into prosperity.

And in maintaining that infrastructure, we also promote fuller employment. I should add that as we maintain/replace infrastructure, we need to incorporate new technology & to rebuild in ways that environmentally sound & sustainable. No one with the sense to avoid falling over backwards in the toilet really believes climate change is hoax. I should add that innovation in the energy and conservation sectors not only serves to facilitate efficiency and a better quality of life, it also encourages innovation.

Immigration and Border Security

If we’re perfectly honest, most of us recognize that an open border, isn’t smart, over the long pull. What the Trump administration has been doing at the border isn’t either. Comprehensive immigration reform is a better answer than a border wall or the draconian measures of separating children from their families. True conservatives I know are as appalled by his practices as are liberals. 

From wikipedia under fair use protocols

It isn’t just principles that matter…so does execution. In the long run, a balanced immigration policy that welcomes contributors (especially contributors with innovative ideas) keeps the American experiment young and vibrant.

Strong Defense

Under Creative Commons License

. Long a conservative cause, I’m firmly behind that. It isn’t yours if you can’t defend it. Note the word defend. Over the past few decades, we’ve poked our collective noses in places it doesn’t belong for (often) the flimsiest (even demonstrably false & self-serving) reasons. There’s a difference between a strong defense and an officiously interfering foreign policy. We used to understand that difference and we’d do well to remember it. It’s also worth remembering that every dollar we spend on unnecessary defense expenditures are dollars not available to invest in the things that contribute to long-term sustainability and continuing prosperity.

Privacy

This has generally been a conservative cause and I happen to agree with it. So what’s up with this surveillance state thing? Is it possible that we’ve taken the Homeland Security thing a bit too far? Just wondering out loud…

Second Amendment

With no apologies to  my liberal brothers and sisters, this is a protected right and should so remain. Has the NRA gone overboard? Yep. Is the NRA probably in bed with Remington, Winchester & Colt? Yeah. But I’m not for the government rounding up private citizens’ weapons.

I think there’s room (and a lot of it) for debate over what weaponry should be proscribed. I can’t make a compelling case in favor of unlimited access to whatever weapons a citizen can afford and I do believe there’s a sound argument that some weapons just don’t belong in the hands of private citizens. That said, liberals ragging on men and women who are knee-jerk obsessive about protecting their second amendment rights only complicate the search for consensus on what constitutes common sense gun legislation and/or licensing mandates.

Law and Order

I’m aboard and so are most thoughtful citizens. The absolute minimum we should expect of our government at all levels is the enforcement of laws, rights to life and property and whatever safety laws have been enacted in the name of everyone’s quality of life.

But can we all agree that law enforcement needs to be even handed? That, too, is a conservative principle. We should really get back to that & it should not matter what color you are or whether you’re wearing a turban, a hijab or a yamaka.

The notion that legitimate Black Lives Matter protests over objectively unjust policing of brothers and sisters of color are somehow more egregious than (for example) tiki torch carrying anti-semetics shouting “Jews will not replace us” or Proud Boys running amock over mask-wearing mandates is not simply ludicrous, it is antithetical to the very principle of law and order.

First Amendment Rights

Freedom of the Press. We need a robust, open press. Frankly, I think Sinclair & Fox News aren’t open and often not even news. But freedom of speech is protected, which means, (technically) we are obliged to accept 45’s railing against the MSM as “fake news.” But if you’re truly conservative, you recognize his thin-skinned whining as wrong-headed demagoguery…and damaging to both strict applications of constitutional principles and the representative democracy we’d all like to believe we have.

Freedom of religion. (Also a first amendment protection). I get that there are some who feel threatened by Islam, but it wouldn’t be smart to re-write the Constitution because we’re scared. The first amendment provides that: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free practice thereof.” That includes Islam and (if you’re so inclined) whatever brings you closer to the Maker, however you choose to define that personally. For clarification, based on some feedback I’ve gotten, these protections extend to all religious practices not otherwise enjoined by law. When I wrote this, I thought this should be obvious without actually stating it, but those protections extend to Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Native American Spirituality B’hai, etc. And yes, atheists and agnostics.

All of that said, it's still a bit more nuanced...

So yeah. In overarching summary, there are a number of conservative principles I can and do get behind, despite my “liberal” leanings. But as thoughtful readers have already detected,  there’s underlying thread of this post. All principles and their application take place in a context. In common with many progressives, I believe our principles and their application should pay deference to that context and the undeniable changes that should be influencing our behavior. As our contextual realities change, so should the laws and the practice of applying those principles by which our lives are governed. 

As an independent  who’s been paying attention, it seems to me that a bunch of stuff has happened since the Constitution was written. Having regard for that painfully obvious reality, can we agree that the specific application of those conservative principles may be in need of a nod to how our world has changed? The world changes…we need to grow into those changes. You can’t build a fire with yesterday’s ashes.

Where are the better candidates?

"I just can't get my head around this..."

Recently, someone on a forum I frequent asked: “How is it that 330 plus million Americans couldn’t find better candidates for the American presidency? “It beggars belief. I just can’t get my head around this.”

Several answers had been posted before I started writing, but while I agreed with a lot of what was said, most of the answers seemed to me to miss the underpinning problem. So I took a somewhat different tack in my own response.

Let me hasten to add, I took a different tack not because I was “right” and they were “wrong,” but rather out of the belief there was a tad bit more to be said. My own perspective comes from my service as a Marine officer beginning at the tail end of the Vietnam war and running through Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. My own thoughts on the question with which this post opened follow. 

In the wake of My Lai and the concommitant allegations of soldiers & Marines committing wholesale atrocities, the American military writ large became a despised institution and those who served in it (often as a way out of grinding poverty) were despised along with it. Irrespective of the quality of their own service, I should add.

As anyone who has ever been in the position of being despised knows, eventually the characterizations and the underpinning attitudes about any group become part of the problem, rather than a path to remedy. Independent of whether the reputation is deserved, the expectation growing out of that reputation often becomes the bar. “If I’m going to be despised anyway,” (the thinking goes), “I might as well embrace it.” Consciously or unconsciously, who among hasn’t been guilty at some point of living down to people’s expectations of us (or worse)? The American military for several years post Vietnam was despised, underfunded & in too many unfortunate individual cases, despicable.

General Louis H. Wilson

I was there for the turn-around. In the Corps, that turnaround was ushered in by a gentleman affectionately nicknamed “The Smiling Cobra.” General Wilson instituted a comprehensive (and aggressive) expeditious discharge program, shortening the service of nearly 25,000 undesirables while slowly raising both the standards of recruiting for new accessions and standards of performance for all ranks, but especially at the junior officer and NCO levels. And not that it matters, but General Wilson was the first general officer I ever met to go straight into my personal pantheon of heroes right from the jump.

He predicted (correctly) that as these men and women were promoted, they would take those higher standards with them and improve on them. It took a few years, but the troublemakers gone, the Corps (and the other services, from my experiences in working with them during the 80s and 90s) reclaimed their honor and continue to serve with distinction, even when we misuse them, as we are inclined to do.

The Lesson from a true leader.

The moral of this story? “What we permit, we encourage.” Applying this same principle to elected officials, can we not see the same dynamic in action? I see some hope in the in the first-time idealistic representatives coming into office in 2018, still untainted by the money swamp that Washington (and politics more broadly) have become. And there are still some ethical older hands as well, serving in government at all levels. So while we need to cull the herd, we also need to avoid culling good men and women who serve with the best and broadest interests of both our nation and districts and states in mind. 

But more to the point, we must recognize that we are responsible for letting it get this bad, largely as a matter of increasingly malign neglect. Are there matters of extenuation in this? Sure! For starters, making our way in this world has (for the average citizen in America) become increasingly more difficult as the pace of life has ratcheted up and wholesale change has effectively rendered the old way of doing things largely ineffective. MAGA owes much of it’s appeal to the frustrations and feelings of alienation that have accompanied runaway change. Change (and adapting to it) has made some of us more inwardly- focused on the pragmatic business of making ends meet, rather than civic engagement.

"Governance" today...

That said, if our politicians must spend half their time fundraising even between elections rather than legislating, it’s a problem. Ans we as citizens must be agents of change and remove the conditions that have prioritized fund-raising over legislation. Publicly funded elections with spending caps, perhaps? We cannot continue to allow untold, untraceable money to flow into PACs with anodyne names pushing questionable agendas. Nor can we continue to allow lobbyists to draft legislation for our duly elected representatives.

Nor can we continue to allow self-serving politicians to draw their own districts after a census, simply because they’re in power. Back in the day when we taught Civics and Government in high school, we knew better. Districts should be just that…districts drawn in ways that make geographical sense and to whom elected representatives must be attentive.

Under the foregoing conditions inadequately summarized above, many of our politicians have become despicable, because we have allowed it. Hence they feel empowered to live down to our worst expectations. But we and in the end only we, can change that. We do so by whom  we elect to send to represent us and the policies we oblige them under pressure to support. It will take a while, but we can change their behavior.

And if we do so, our elected representatives will be obliged to live up to our expectations of stewardship of the public trust, rather than down to our level of tolerance. Just as the men and women who continued to serve in the Corps have in the 80’s and beyond. I mention the Corps here, not because they’re the only ones who clamped down on expectations. All services have. But as a retired Marine officer, I’m most familiar with the Marine Corp’s example.

Does this require effort and vigilance on our part? It does and not from just a few of us. And not to put too fine a point on it, but this isn’t about the Inspectors General in the various departments of government. It is about us, and our actions as citizens. It demands active, consistetn civic engagement in the process of governance & a willingness to do what is necessary to fix the problem(s). Note the plural. 

We must go into this effort realizing it will demand time, consistency & unwavering pursuit of a sustainable system of governance, rather than an immediate fix. We must be vigilant & more importantly, consistent. We must get money out of politics as the sole litmus test of viability. This means ending Citizens United. It also means and final end to the whole can of worms we call lobbying. This is the only reliable path to legislators’ attention to the unfiltered will of the people. Absent this, our will is certain to be drowned in a sea of Benjamins.

Attentive readers have already noticed that this outline of a possible solution doesn’t start with the politicians. It starts with us. Until we are agents of solution, we remain part of the problem. Just one broken-down, baggy-eyed old Marine officer’s opinion.

D.B. Sayers is the author of West of Tomorrow, an intelligent corporate romance with a deeper message and Best-Case Scenario, the first act in the journey of Nyra Westensee from a young woman with more questions than answers to a mature, thoughtful adult of promise and purpose.

His  most recent work, Tier Zero, Vol I of the Knolan Cycle is the first volume in a science fiction tale of first contact between Earth and Knolan Concordant. The Year of Maybe, Act II of Nyra’s Journey and Eryinath-5 Vol II of the Knolan Cycle are both due out in 2021.