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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

# MAGA is a Mirage

Sorting Through the BS...

Recently, I ran across a post on Medium a forum I frequent that suggested that our 45th president didn’t have much in the way of redeeming value, but that one thing that he does well (and the most probable reason for his election) was  marketing.

The post went on (it was good post and I read it all the way through) to suggest that his ability to reinvent himself through reality TV was his special and most relevant competence. One which permitted him to succeed when any thoughtful reading of his competence and/or character demonstrated he was unqualified and a likely unmitigated disaster.

She got a lot of comments. (Write a Trump post on any forum & you’re sure to get a lot of responses). She got the usual number of “me too” reactions, as well a number of “Trump no matter what” respondents. But what amused most was the died-in-the-wool progressives who insisted 45 is an aberration who succeeded in selling the U.S. a bill of goods.

Nobody asked me, but I think 45 is a logical result of our times. He did not invent reality TV; he was simply perceptive enough to figure out how to leverage it. What thoughtful people already realize is that we are in the midst of tectonic shifts in the paradigms govern pretty much every aspect of our reality. These paradigm shifts cut across how we relate to each other socially, economically, politically & personally. These shifts are magnifying each other in ways that have no precedent in history. For the record, it isn’t like we weren’t warned. The Tofflers saw this coming in the late ‘60s, which is why they wrote Future Shock, which was published in 1970.

The Way ahead...?

Now, fifty years later, are we not in the no man’s land between yesterday and tomorrow, with (if we’re brutally honest with ourselves) no clue what’s next? The old models simply don’t work as well as they used to (or at all) and the new ones are still in the prototype phase. Which is to say, that the way ahead for the world generally (and liberal western democracies in particular, assuming they survive) isn’t particularly clear. One could say, the  way ahead is actually most like wilderness, with no roadsigns.

Our closest analog for today, the Industrial Revolution, was a jolting experience in it’s time, but is dwarfed by the changes we’re confronting now. None of the leaders we have (or who are offering themselves as future leaders) have a full solution, yet. We’re going to need an eclectic approach to solving the problems confronting us. I’m going to humbly offer that the best answer is likely to lie somewhere between the progressive vision of a bulletproof safety net and unrestrained, exploitive, (and extractive) capitalism. Our global role, similarly, probably lies between an outward looking foreign policy in which we are the single, indispensable nation-state, and an introverted, self-involved nation that can’t find Myanmar on the map.

For the same reason, you can't build a fire with yesterday's ashes, the way ahead is not behind us.

What we must not do, IMO, is pretend that the past is the future. It isn’t. 45 hasn’t had an original thought since the Beatles brayed out “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Yes, yes, Beatles lovers, many of their later compositions were nothing short of genius. My point is, #MAGA is a socio-political mirage. Or a bit more metaphorically, the ashes with which you can’t build tomorrow’s fire.

We will need the best of all our minds working toward a just, though imperfect society. Facts, truth & imperfect good ideas must have a place in the crucible of free thought, not to mention a modicum of humility that acknowledges none of us have all the answers. I submit that digging in on either the talking points you can hear on Fox News or MSNBC is probably not going to get it done. We need the best of both. Just one broken-down, baggy-eyed old Marine officer’s opinion.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, former corporate trainer turned full-time author. He is the author of four critically reviewed works and has three more in various stages of completion. You can follow Dirk’s work and stay up to date on them by joining Dirk’s Tribe on any page of this site.

Living in the 21st Century

Somewhere West of Maybe...

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

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