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.

Diversity…?

Nobody asked me, but...

Actually, in this case someone did…ask me, I mean.

Recently, someone posted a question on a forum I follow that struck me as being tragic while also being painfully emblematic of our time. I’m going to share it here along with an extended version of my response on that forum. The question was:

Is it true the US cannot escape from a violent racial clash as white-non-white power balance is changing?

On the surface of things, the answer to the question seemed almost laughably obvious. But after a moment of thought, I got our interlocutor’s point. I’m still disturbed that it’s something we need ask in the second decade of the 21st Century, but if we’re honest, the news in 2020 doesn’t favor a more optimistic view. That we have not yet embraced the essential kinship of us all is not simply a stain on our soul, it is a missed opportunity, even while it’s understandable, in light of human nature. 

I think it was my sophomore year in high school when one of my history teachers (who remains in my personal pantheon of heroes/heroines, btw) made an incredibly insightful observation that has stuck with me my entire life. She said,

“Nothing is but thinking makes it so.”

It was, she confessed, an adaptation of a line from Shakespear. Hamlet. (Act II, Scene 2.) At the time, I’d had my first rudimentary lessons in epistemology, so my first reaction was, “wait a minute, facts exist independent of our opinions. I was about to raise my hand and object when she spared me the embarrassment of outing myself as having taken her literally. 

“Often,” she went on to say “we construct an alternate reality that has consequences the echo in history, sometimes for centuries.”

Her observation wasn’t about race or racism, it was about the break-up of the feudal system in Europe during the 19th Century, post-Napoleon. Many of the nation-states emerging during that period did so, she pointed out, because of their shared perception that they were one people. They “perceived” themselves as having “kinship.” It was that belief, she said, as much as anything else, that shaped post Napoleonic Europe. And my subsequent experiences have led me to believe she was right.

My thoughtful history teacher’s point was that for those formative nations, the indispensable accomplice of their unity was their belief in it. In the United States, we are an incredibly (& in my opinion, beautifully diverse) collection of people unified by a commitment to the best version of ourselves.

It is a vision we often fail to realize, but at it’s best, it is underpinned by law and a delicate balance of citizenship & stewardship. It’s intellectual bedrock is the notion that all men and women are created equal, however poorly our stated philosophy manifests itself action. There’s a temptation if you’re aligned with this vision and its undeniable promise, to conclude it’s universally shared. Most of us know, better, unfortunately, especially men and women of color. Or any difference, for that matter.

Nothing is but thinking makes it so.

Recall my observation earlier, that my history teacher made my sophomore year in high school. We are what we think. If the photos following bother you, is it time to ask why? 

Love is not blind to difference...
It celebrates it...
with joy & conscious gratitude!

What does your visceral reaction to them say to you and (if you’re honest with yourself) about you? My own reaction to the question with which I began this post and my online answer to it was mixed, as I have already noted. Let me cop here and now to my own prejudices conscious and unconscious.

All of us have them to some degree, I suspect. If you’re like me, (read that white, middle class…ish but the first to go to actually graduate from college)  you grew up in a home that gave lip service to tolerance and respect. But (perhaps) also grew up with an unconscious, sense of entitlement. An “I’m white, so I must be right…” sense of certainty about things, though if asked, you might (as I would have) denied it with an indignance that proved the point.

It’s possible to overcome that…to abandon unconscious self-deception, but most of us need to have it brought to our attention, first. For me, I had to go halfway around the world to overcome it. It wasn’t a conscious pilgrimage. It came to me courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC). 

It was in Asia that I got to know you, first brothers and sisters of color and it was from you that I got my first lessons in an alternate view of “American Exceptionalism.” It took a little longer to appreciate the nuanced messages I was sending without meaning to. (I’m still struggling to learn, btw).

In the end, what we see or what happens to us is not what makes us who we are. It is what allow ourselves to think that determines our attitudes. It is the conscious choice to be better.

For me, the partial, imperfect solution to racial, ethnic or religious prejudice has not been tolerance. It has and remains a conscious effort to see the beauty in all of us. And the more I look the more beauty and merit I see.  

Someone about now is thinking, it’s going to take more than that. Yes, it is. It will take engagement, honesty and continual honest, self-examination. It will take conscious engagement, patience and a measure of painful honesty both with ourselves and about ourselves. It will require humility and vision and above all a reverence for the vision that was the basis for our nation.

Yes, that’s asking a lot, especially if you’re not already convinced of the necessity. But there is no alternative if we are to survive and thrive. We are one. Not some of us. Not the privileged few. We are all one. And in the final analysis, isn’t that a good thing. Isn’t it?

Who are we, anyway?

Are we what matters most to us?

A while ago, I had a conversation with someone I would describe as an acquaintance. He’s actually a little more than an acquaintance, but doesn’t quite qualify as a friend. My acquaintance-almost-friend is an entrepreneur, fellow author and a man of undeniable intelligence. I value his opinions because they’re generally thoughtfully supported by facts and reason, even when don’t agree with the inferences he reaches.

We tend to avoid politics as a result, out of mutual respect, despite agreeing that our society writ large is in need of overhaul. We’re even inclined to agree (more often than I would expect) on which segments are most in need of overhaul. But as always, the devil is in the details. The following observation my acquaintance made illustrates.

“Government regulation of lending and financial services is out of control,” he opined one evening as we waited for a literary reading to begin. “There is so much regulation that I can hardly turn a profit.”

He went on to detail how laborious processing even a small, short-term loan was. The excessive disclosures and reporting requirements mandated by the government. To be fair, it’s not his imagination. His franchise (and others like it) are over-burdened by regulations, some of which make little sense and do in fact limit his profits. Not to mention complicating even routine transactions in his financial services business.

But an inconvenient truth underpins many over-regulated businesses today. Like it or not, a lot of such businesses are “over-regulated” for a reason. Are there exceptions to this? I’m sure there are. But in most cases, over-regulation is government’s response to business practices that are inherently exploitive, if not downright predatory. Somewhere along the way, those businesses went beyond “profit planning” to profit optimization.

And while my friend would deny (truthfully, I would be willing to bet) that he did not himself engage in the financial services abuses that led to the over-regulation, he is nevertheless heir to them. Accordingly, he feels he is being unfairly treated by a government. I get it. But later, as I was driving home, I was reminded me of something Anais Nin once wrote:

“We do not see things the way they are, we see them as we are.”

I suspect those protected by that over-regulation might disagree with him. And I’m one of them. Now, if you’re bracing for an anti-capitalistic rant, relax. Not that I don’t see problems with capitalism—or with socialism, it’s most popular alternative. But all the arguments both for an against all the “isms” out there often leave me wondering if we aren’t, chasing butterflies while letting all the elephants get away. Work with me, here.

The Insidious Effects of Tribal Wisdom

In my opinion, to see the larger picture, it may prove helpful to exhume and examine a few assumptions we’re inclined to take for granted.

Growth is good. Hardly an election cycle goes by in which the economy under the adminstration of (you fill in the blank) politician comes under scrutiny, often measured by GNP, GDP, unemployment numbers and annual growth rate. The underpinning assumption, of course, is that more is better, because (theoretically) all can share in that growth. The problem with this notion as a guiding principle of action is that unlimited, unregulated growth is not sustainable long-term.

“Greed is good,”  opined Gordon Gekko is in the 1987 film Wall Street. It’s a notion shared by many tacitly, if not explicitly. The ultimate motivator, we’re assured by it’s proponents. But what is greed? As defined by Merriam-Webster, greed is:

“a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed.”

And because the results of greed are tangible, greed it has become an informal, tribal litmus test of worth. The problem, of course, is because the results are tangible, so are the results. It makes a virtue of vice, advantaging for the most part, the wealthy/prominent few at the expense of the many.

“That government is best that governs least.” Often attributed to Jefferson, this aphorism actually comes from Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. It’s a seductive notion, for anyone who’s ever found his/her freedom of action limited by social proscription in any form. But the underpinning assumption Thoreau makes is that all individuals are fundamentally capable of ethical self-regulation. Anyone who’s ever been assaulted bullied or ripped off knows that’s demonstrably false. Governance, then becomes (at best) an imperfect balancing act.

 

Nobody asked me, but...

I believe we’re in a maelstrom of change sweeping away most of the reliable signposts by which we’re accustomed to ordering our lives,  both individually and collectively. The reward systems and the philosophical underpinnings that have served as organizing principles  since (at least) the Industrial Revolution are increasingly less relevant to our current reality. 

And the answer does not lie with any “ism” with which we’re familiar. Capitalism,  socialism and American “exceptionalism” (to name just a few) are increasingly less useful in crafting our future because all of them are rooted in a reality that is dying. 

What is needed now is a wholistic look at our values and the reward systems that we have taken as intuitively obvious for too long. They aren’t anymore. Greed, profit optimization, and the ununbridled pursuit of wealth cannot provide a path to a sustainable society because the vision of unlimited, unregulated growth in a closed system is a self-destructive mirage. We are witnessing that truth driven home in the climate change some still seek to ignore.

A clear-eyed look at our today and tomorrow may lead to the possibility of the need an entirely new paradigm. Is it possible that we need a paradigm that asks, not by “how can profit from a given situation, but “how we can craft a future together that rewards initiative while also safeguarding our collective future?

A future of all those living and yet unborn, irrespective of ethnicity or species. We must become the collective stewards of now and the guardians of our children’s’ future. As the old Native American aphorism says,

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

D.B. Sayers is decorated Marine officer, former corporate trainer and manager turned full-time author. His works include: West of Tomorrow, Best-Case Scenario, Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives and Tier Zero, Vol. I of the Knolan Cycle. Eryinath-5 the sequel to Tier Zero is due out in 2021, along with The Year of Maybe, sequel to Best-Case Scenario.

Best-Case Scenario (of Dreams and Demons)

Shadowboxing with herself...

Nyra Westensee has a long history of conflicted shadowboxing with herself—metaphorically speaking. On the surface of things, it’s hard to see why. She’s attractive, much more than she realizes. She’s not voluptuous, but she has a light, pleasing figure. She once overheard her brother’s friend Mark commenting on her womanly stern as a “sassy chassis.” But crushing on him came to nothing and unaccountably, she’s concluded that her ass is more a liability than a positive.

Is it partly because Kip is so out of reason good-looking? Maybe it’s those disarming smiles that earn him forgiveness and second chances he doesn’t always deserve. Things just come easily for Kip. Maddeningly competent and sublimely confident, he nevertheless manages to avoid appearing too full of himself.

Growing up in Kip’s shadow no matter what the dynamics at home were like would probably have been difficult, Nyra knows. Two years younger, Nyra joined him in middle school after Kip had already established himself. Same thing in high school. She was always walking a path Kip had already walked and as much as he tried to make things easier for her, she was always Kip’s younger, cute younger sister. Nice, attractive, but somehow “less than.”

But Nyra’s struggles for validation at school were mirrored at home. Their mother unconsciously confirmed Nyra what suspected. She’s just not quite as good. If Kip was in the room, he always seemed to fill it. It’s not that Nyra wasn’t there or that she wasn’t loved. She was just never the center of their mother’s world the way Kip was.

Dreams and Demons

Does it not happen to all of us, at some point? That recognition we’re not necessarily who we thought we were or wanted to be? Maybe it’s the friction of life, dangling our limitations, real or imagined before our eyes. Or perhaps we’ve always been aware of them, but are only now realizing how those limitations are defining us in ways we’d rather they didn’t. How we’re suffering by comparison with others we’d like to live up to or who show us how short of our own expectations we fall.

In the end, the catalyst of truth or it’s timing matters less than the truth it reveals. “Less than” is who we are. It is also who we must be in order to discover with who we can be and perhaps as importantly, who we want to be. It is the demons living inside us that drive us, for better and/or worse.  And it is in confronting them…how we confront them and what we do when we see them for who they are…that we become.

On the Threshold of Tomorrow...

In some respects, Nyra is fortunate to have to confront her demons early. She has her fair share of them, but they matter less than her response. In common with all of us, she will grow (or not) into what she was meant to be, can be…or wants to be. Or some combination thereof. Are we not our own life sentence and our own demons?

In Best-Case Scenario, Nyra is confronted by her truths in a way it’s impossible for her to ignore. It is a catalyst of self-discovery and the beginning of a journey toward her most authentic self. In common with all of us, she joins the silken river of life, meandering toward an uncertain destination.

The Lesser of Two Evils

On a forum I frequent, someone recently posted a question I’ve heard before, in various forms, especially the last three years, that question being:

“Why is it that presidential elections always feel like choosing between the ‘lesser of two evils’ and not ‘the better of two good candidates’?”

The sole respondent at the time wrote back had replied:

“The failure of the two-party system because of polarization and tribalism reinforced by closed primaries.”

True,  I thought, as far as it goes. But I can’t help wondering if attributing our meager choices to a moribund two-party system, tribalism and closed primaries doesn’t completely miss the underpinning problem. 

Blog Post Image
Each choice is a direction, conscious or unconscious

As social critters, our propensity for concerted action (read that cooperation) may be our most critical success factor. I think the often uninspiring choices we have for president (and Congress, for that matter) may actually be grounded in that phenomenon, demonstrating that almost every success can wind up being a double-edged sword. Work with me, here.

Structure and Purpose...

Successful actions, (including successful cooperation) tend to be repeated, precisely because they are successful. Group cooperation multiplies our individual success by leveraging the power of numbers. It’s why we join organizations in the first place. To leverage the power of others as a means of advancing our own. The resulting organic structure…or organization…is greater than the sum of its parts. This is true of all organizations. 

Over time, organizational success leads to stable structure and the appearance of permanence. Humans, after all, love the notion of predictability in an uncertain universe. To the extent that organizations with a semi-fixed set of goals represent the promise of success and predictability, they also acquire a degree of legitimacy in our eyes. As a result, we tend to stick with them, out of habit, laziness or motivated cognition.

Insofar as political parties are organizations, these same dynamics apply to them. And as with any other organization, this includes the emergence of a distinct culture,  and the ideological schisms accompanying them , to which the questioner on the forum I began this post with alluded. These days, that divide has multiple components.

No longer simply a matter of the policies  relating to domestic governance and foreign and military affairs,  politics increasingly embraces a range of social issues and identity politics. Matters we used to think of purely as personal preferences and tangential to if not  inappropriate to  the business of running (what used to be) the most powerful nation on Earth. 

Sadly, the political shorthand of “right and “left” as political positions have taken on deeper tribal meanings and personal significance than at any time since (at least) the Great Depression.

There are probably multiple causative factors that have giving rise to the vituperation characterizing our political dysfunction. Surely the accelerating rate of change first popularized in the Tofflers’ Future Shock is part of it, exacerbated by both political party’s willingness to consistently distort facts to fit their own narratives. (One much more cynically and flagrantly than the other. You know who you are). But whether we’re talking about corporate America, political parties or the various arms of governance, sooner or later, a phenomenon called the Organizational Paradox sets in.

Structure and the Organizational Paradox

As alluded earlier, organizational success is the reason the structure achieves the mirage of permanence. Enamored of the notion of predictability in an uncertain universe, humans are more or less spring-loaded to buy into that mirage. To the extent organizations with a semi-fixed set of goals promise of success and predictability, a sense of legitimacy is one of the natural spin-offs. So long as we perceive our interests coincide, we tend to view them favorably, overlooking their imperfections as instruments of our collective will.

There are, however, some downsides to organized behavior in any form, whether it’s a government, a political party, a tribe, or a corporation. Over time, a successful organization acquires a life of its own. Due to the scientific concept of emergence, the relatively simple goals and structure grow increasingly convoluted. Over time, the organization’s goals wind up defaulting to those of the leaders who stand most to gain by the policies they pursue.

In essence, someone in power (or wanting more of it) co-opts the organization’s original intent and substitutes their own objectives. This is usually done subtly and in stages. Like allegorical frog in water brought to a slow boil, we often don’t notice until it’s too late.

It also begs another question. How do we avoid the Promethean tendency to become the victim of our own cleverness to our collective ruin? This is not simply a question of nuclear war, or climate change, it is the emerging perils of how robotics and genetic manipulation (to mention just a couple) might end our interesting if imperfect run of hegemony.

The Outline of an Imperfect Solution...

There is but one answer, in my opinion, and an imperfect one at that. In order to avoid the tendency of organizations (and the leaders thereof) to sub-optimize organizational goals in favor of their own, we must become our organization’s conscience. Not some of us or even most of us. All of us. We must all become thoughtful, foresighted stewards of the public good, personally responsible for the outcomes of the governments/organizations purporting to represent us.

We are responsible for the outcomes of all! (Photo courtesy of Unsplash & Austin Kehmeier)

I’m painfully aware that we have rarely been able to do this…individually or collectively, for very long. Our inability to sustain a profound sense of stewardship does not bode well for our survival as a species. But in common with most willing to sign up to risk their life in defense of our nation, I retain a measure of cautious optimism.

For all the self-appointed and/or de facto Bernie Bro’s out there, I suspect this is what he and all the other self-appointed missionaries of “revolution” really mean when they advocate revolution. But as Bernie and almost everyone I talk to seems to miss is this revolution isn’t a switch from capitalism to socialism or any other “ism.” Rather it is the deep-seated, unshakable realization that we are one, all of us and that ultimately, none of us are safe if one of us isn’t. Until we can not simply embrace but celebrate the responsibility and freedom that coexist in that simple truth, we will continue to flirt with oblivion.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer and the author of four books currently in print with two more on the way. You can join his tribe on this page, in the upper right. 

For a more detailed examination of the Organizational Paradox, see West of Tomorrow, pp 246-256.

“Thank you for your service…”

The invisible cost of service

Hell is for Heroes

I remember the first war-themed motion picture that “stuck.” By stuck I mean stuck as in I remembered the whole plotline and the ending. It was the 1962 film, entitled Hell is for Heroes. It would be years before I really understood the underpinning nuances of the story fully, and even more years before personal experience taught me of the draconian choices military service often forces on the men and women who go in harm’s way.

When “Hell is for Heroes” was released, PTSD wasn’t a thing. It would be nearly 20 years before the term was coined, finally finding its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III) in 1980. And as anyone who’s had a close call with death knows, the experience sticks and reliving it tends to fire all the nerves and emotions it evoked when it happened.

“Thank you for your service” is (at least) an acknowledgement of what the men and women who venture out on the pointy end of the spear go through. I’m always just a little “at a loss” for what to say in response when someone offers me that thanks, however. I finally came up with an anodyne “It was my honor and I’d do it all again.” It’s true, by the way. I would.

 

Courtesy Patrol: Oceanside, 1972

Anyone who has ever lived around a town that hosts a major deployable military force knows what to expect. Whether it’s during extended, multi-year conflicts in which combatants rotate home after a combat tour, or (especially) when the war winds down and troops start come rotate back to their home installations. Fresh from the roller coaster ride of moments off the charts fear and unspeakable drudgery and boredom, many perhaps most come up with coping strategies, some constructive and effective, some not.

In Courtesy Patrol, one of the short stories in the Through the Windshield, anthology, a young lieutenant back from a combat tour in Southeast Asia is Courtesy Patrol in Oceanside, on a payday weekend. Patrolling the girlie bars and grills, he is gets his first glimpse of just how violent the effects of PTSD can be.

The experience sticks with him and it’s still on his mind the next day. The events of the night before stick to his thoughts, not surprisingly and lead to a greater appreciation of how for most of us who serve, that service changes us, in ways we don’t fully appreciate, sometimes for years. In Courtesy Patrol, this is his moment of epiphany and nothing will ever be quite the same, again.

Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives is a great way to sample D.B. Sayers’ writings and to acquaint yourself with the themes that weave their way through his writings. It’s available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle formats. Or you can subscribe to Dirk’s Tribes at the top right of this page and get a PDF copy absolutely free.

Polarization and Healing America

Remember America before COVID-19?

A couple months ago, before the COVID-19 was a thing here in the United States, a friend asked me what I thought might help us in dealing effectively with the hyper-partisanship we see in American politics. I almost fell prey to the knee-jerk reaction most of us have (not excluding myself) to think of politics in terms of the current dialog from our own perspective. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something anodyne, like “listen to understand, rather than to argue,” and that we “should try to put ourselves in our fellow citizens’ place.”

The blinding flash of the obvious implicit  in the foregoing observation is that while my perspective matters, isn’t the only one that matters. Most of us understand that intuitively, while ignoring even the most glaring implications.

So my prescriptions fore healing America’s hyper-partisan politics are fine as far as they goes, but it ignore the underpinning causative factors contributing to that hyper-partisan polarization.

In a hypothetically pluralistic democracy of 330 million (about), extracting a meaningful consensus on any specific issue is borderline impossible. Irrespective of where we fall on the political spectrum, do we not have to start with the notion that we’re at our best when we recognize that it’s okay to agree to disagree? Disagreements are inevitable in a nation of this size. To me, that’s the first step. But it’s only a first step. We need to recognize that there are legitimate reasons for those differences of opinion.

At the Intersection of Geography and Demographics

If you’re a farmer, you’re wondering how you’re going to compete with corporate farms, falling prices & climate change some factions in our government insist is a hoax. You know better, of course. If you’re a farmer, you live by the weather and this isn’t normal. But you’re busy trying to make ends meet & you don’t have time to sort through all the science. The latest technology doesn’t exactly pass you by, but it’s not in your face, further compressing your daily timeline the way it does someone who lives in New York , Los Angeles of Seattle.

If you’re a wage earner almost anywhere, you’re painfully aware of how many jobs have moved overseas. And if you’re absolutely honest with yourself, you know most of them aren’t coming back. All this even before COVID-19 shuttered the economy and torpedoed almost 40 million jobs, over the last three months.

But who’s doing anything about it? Corporate America isn’t. They’re automating. Portions of the government are doing what they can, but if you’ve been paying attention (you have, haven’t you?) then you that one party is all-in for corporate America while the other is more or less on our side but are the majority in only one branch of government.

We have the government we’ve enabled. We have allowed the rot of dysfunctional government to set in. We allowed money to stand in for civic engagement while we all got on with our lives, leaving politics to the politicians and high finance to the robber barons who’ve forgotten more about turning a buck than most of us will ever know. 

America the Muddled...

The beginning of a solution lies not simply in recognizing we’ve been collectively had, but also in the inescapable conclusion that we are both the problem and the answer. The answer will not be some savior in the form of another politician, or self-proclaimed “non-politician.” Nor is a savior to be found in the form of a wide-eyed, well-meaning liberal barking about the emerging social imperatives of a corporate bashing counter-revolution.

We are the answer. A solution grounded in the almost laughably simple notion that there is more that unites us than separates us. It means shutting down the barrage of noise and self-serving motivated cognition from both extremes of the political spectrum and focusing on what we  can honestly claim we know.

The Way Home...

Having grown up in the Heartland, lived on both coasts and the south, I’ve come to think of most of America writ large as home, not a single region. As a Marine officer, with an advanced degree in Organizational Development and a second career in corporate America, I’ve seen the world from the hyper-conservative perspective common in the Corps. I’ve also seen it from the more liberal perspective of a surfer, snow skier and environmentalist.

What these experiences here and overseas have taught me, is that we are all capable of understanding and empathizing with each other. IF we want to.  But the necessary and indispensable accomplice empathy is a willing mind, untrammeled by the loud mouths with agendas, explicit or hidden.

In the age of for-profit media and 24/7/365 news, there has never been more access to information and disinformation. Unfortunately, we can no longer tune in to the 6:00 PM news and get the story from one source. If you’re getting all your information from Fox News or from the Sinclair Broadcasting Networks, I guarantee you that you don’t know what you think you know. If you’re getting your news exclusively from MSNBC, you’re getting better information but you’re still getting a lot of commentary, however well informed along with the news.

Like it or not, we have to take everything from every source as subject to multiple source verification, not  to mention fact-checking. If you don’t have them bookmarked yet, bookmark OpenSecrets.Org, FactCheck.org & and Annenberg  Public Policy Center and make use of them. You’ll be a infinitely harder to deceive if you know where to go for a little more balance.

Last but not least, recognize that we’re all humans with hopes and dreams, loves and passions, most of which we share in common. It doesn’t matter what color you are, who/what/if you worship or who you love, we all have pretty much the same itches. And they’re a lot of things we can do to help each other, if we want to, but we all need to step outside ourselves just a little and recognize that if we let it all go bad, we all bleed red.

D.B. Sayers is the author of  four books, including West of Tomorrow, Best-Case Scenario, Through the Windshield and his latest, Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle, the first in his series chronicling first contact between the Knolan Concordant and Earth.

The Truth Often Hides in Plain Sight

An alternative view of "Aliens..."

Lysia Knolan Seeker and Waykeeper

In Chapter 1 “The Presence,” the reader immediately senses that Marty’s meeting with Lysia Uupao is important, fateful, even destiny changing. Some unusual is going on, just beneath the surface, but it isn’t necessarily obvious what.

In Chapter 2, “Attáru (Awakening),” the reader learns just how fateful the meeting is. Lysia Uupao, her representations notwithstanding, is not Indonesian, or Polynesian or anything else Marty has ever met. From another world, Lysia is here on Earth (or Kurrithaal as the Knolans call it) for a reason. And it’s not obvious just what that reason might be.

While there are notable exceptions, the majority of tales involving “first contact” between Earth and hypothetical aliens postulate that alien motives will necessarily be hostile, not simply different. Is it possible that we’re wrong about that? As chapter 2 makes clear, the Knolans are not hostile, as nearly as we can tell. That said, chapter 2 doesn’t rule that out, either. What is “the Way,” and how does it relate the Knolan’s motives? For that matter, why are Knolans reproducing (clandestinely, apparently) with Earth humans? And what does it mean to be a “Seed?”

Knolan Motives for Contact

By the time thoughtful readers get to the end of chapter 2, it’s clear that Lysia and her superior, Turnia, are not of this world and that their interest in Marty isn’t an idle, passing interest. In Lysia’s case, it’s also obvious that it’s very personal. But the reader still doesn’t know the motives underpinning their interest or what to expect if Lysia does as Turnia has instructed. Should we be worried about Lysia’s designs on Marty? Should Marty be worried about them? The reader still has no idea.

Even as chapter 3, “The Mission” ends, while it’s obvious that Lysia’s personal interest in Marty goes beyond her professional interest, it still isn’t clear what Knola’s interest in Kurrithaal or its Seed. And the overarching question lurks in the background, to wit: why have not the Knolans made direct contact with “leadership” on Earth? It seems apparent that they haven’t, but why haven’t they? Chapter 3 provides no answer. And what are the “perils” to which Marty’s Awakening expose him? Whatever they are, Lysia, clearly, expects to share those perils.

Are the Knolans vulnerable to someone or something themselves? Who or what? And are their motives for making contact with Earth (Kurrithaal) then mixed by perils they believe we share with them? How might their motives toward Earth be changed if that “peril” whatever it is were not a factor?

And the Larger question?

Our default assumptions notwithstanding and assuming contact with other intelligent life is possible, how different (or similar) might they be? Is it possible that Steven Hawking’s speculations about hostile aliens is correct, or was he speculating out of an abundance of caution and prudent fear? 

The answer to this question will likely remain unknown and unknowable unless and until contact is made. And is it just possible that it depends on which alien race contacts us first? Is it all that improbable, if we postulated that there might be one species of alien interested in Earth, there might be more than one? Or that their interests in us might be at odds?

As Tier Zero unfolds, these and many other practical and philosophical questions will come up. Tier Zero is not simply a tale of First Contact, it is a speculative adventure of life, death, conflict and courage, as well as questions of ethics and courage. You can purchase Tier Zero in paperback or Kindle now.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, retired corporate trainer/manager turned full-time author. You can join Dirk’s Tribe and stay up to date on his progress to with Tier Zero’s sequel, Eryinath-5. due out in 2021.

What do veterans think of Donald Trump?

What do veterans think of Donald Trump?

I don’t spend a lot of time knocking around in online forums, but I do spend some time on them, just to see what my fellow citizens are thinking. And I pass on most questions, statistically, either because more than adequate answers have already been posted or because (honestly) I don’t have strong feelings about the question one way or the other. This one, however, begged an answer. 

                      The question was: “What do veterans think of Donald Trump?”

Doesn't that depend on the veteran?

The first thought to cross my mind was, why would anyone think that military veterans are necessarily anywhere even close to unanimous either in their support or distaste for the 45th President of the United States? Fun fact. There are somewhere north of 18 million veterans alive and kicking, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, which begs a rhetorical question, to wit: in what segment of the U.S. population distributed across all 50 states can you find 18 plus million men and women who agree on anything? Just wondering out loud…

For the same reason it’s misleading to think that all African-Americans, white middle class voters or Latinos living in Southern California think alike, it’s incredibly naive to think that U.S. veterans think alike.

In a recent poll conducted in December of 2019, Mr. Trump’s approval rating had dipped to 42%, with active duty personnel, the lowest since taking office. It would be fair to point out that

Among veterans, Trump enjoys higher approval ratings, with a 57% to 41+% split, favorable to unfavorable.

The inference I draw from the foregoing polls is in line with my own thinking in this matter, to wit, opinion over Mr. Trump (and almost everything else of importance) is that we’re pretty evenly divided, irrespective of the population you consult. I suspect if you subdivided the military population to account for skew relative to geographic origin, education & rank, you would find it dovetails very closely with non-veteran, non-military opinions.

So my short answer to the question is that anyone who thinks they’re speaking for the military (or veterans) writ large is probably smoking something that would get them locked up in Mississippi.

A lot ink has been spilled in the Mainstream Media about Mr. Trump’s deferments during the SE Asia experience. Personally, as a former platoon leader, I’m positively delighted that he sand-bagged his duty to country on that occasion with trumped-up (pun intentional) deferments. I suspect having the Donald in my platoon would have been a lot like having two good people on R&R in Bangkok.

Relying only on my personal observations of the man in public, I can’t imagine him exposing himself to risk for his brothers and sisters in arms. Now for the record, I don’t personally believe everyone must/should serve in the military, or that declining to do so necessarily calls into question one’s patriotism or loyalty. There are (many) other ways to serve and some men and women are just not constitutionally suited for war. I’m certain Mr. Trump was one of those and likely so remains. Given his profound ignorance of even the rudiments of national strategic components, technological evolution and improvements in weaponry, Mr. Trump may be the singularly least qualified human to have a say in setting our national strategy.

There are many forms of service...

That is not function of his lack of military service, by the way. We have had effective presidents who never served. But until Mr. Trump, these men had the self-awareness, humility and good sense to recognize that what they didn’t know and listen to those who did. Personally, as long as they’re willing to listen to thoughtful military thinkers, I’m untroubled by their lack of personal experience. Presidential leadership is (in the end) not about physical courage.

 

It is about moral courage, probity & character. With that in mind, I can’t imagine a thoughtful veteran, mindful of his/her own sacrifices who can find much to admire in Mr. Trump. I struggle to imagine anyone who remembers fallen comrades watching this man’s antics without profound repugnance.

The Essence of Leadership...

The essence of leadership is self-control as anyone who’s ever led knows. It is virtually impossible to control others if you can’t control yourself. From what I have been able to observe, Mr. Trump is a graduate-level study in the absolute antithesis of self-control. He is incurious, under-educated, inarticulate & self-involved. I have seen nothing I can imagine a thoughtful veteran would admire if he/she was paying attention.

 

As stewards of the public trust, we have a right to expect better of our leaders than we are getting from DJT. But that reasonable expectation demands that we as citizens step up to our co-equal responsibility to be paying attention to what our leaders are doing in our name and holding them accountable when they do things that erode the public trust. If we’re paying attention, I can’t imagine that anyone would be in doubt of the need to render Mr. Trump a one-term president.

 

Still, it is precisely that lack of attention that has placed this man in the White House in the first place. A significant number of people (veterans and non-veterans) weren’t and still aren’t paying attention, or if they are, they apparently lack the civic curiosity to exhume the truth. That needs to change. The truth’s out there, hiding plain sight. Surprising things are written and in the public domain, but we have to want to know and take the time to learn. Read & vote! There’s a lot riding on the 2020 elections!