I ran across this great cartoon today. It gave me a chuckle.
I guess it’s old because the latest year is 2014. But as far as I can tell, in 2017 the scientific authorities are still holding the position that it’s all settled. That would make sense. Once a thing is settled there can be no more changes in the position. Only I have always thought science could never be settled because it goes where the evidence leads and there can always be new evidence introduced. Do I have that right? If it settles it is no longer science but has become doctrine.
I am a believer that the climate is changing. However I am not a believer that a few laws can do a thing about it. With massive totalitarian one-world government you might possibly be able to stop humanity from using fossil fuels, but there is approximately a zero percent chance that is going to happen.
I am a bit of a new junkie. I guess it’s because I think avoiding the news is mere escapism. I want to know the truth about what is going on. That’s why it is such a serious issue with me when the news media deliberately lies to push the agenda of some entity that is paying them. But by reading a variety of news sources I can still get a general idea of what is going on. The general idea I get is that this world is saturated with heartbreak, tragedy, and mostly sadness, pure sadness. The news is an ocean of sadness.
Here is just on ladle-full from today’s news: “Bus driver faces charges in Tenn. school bus crash that killed 6.” How does one begin to process the depths of sadness in just this one headline – the suffering of the victims’ families, the suffering of the bus driver – let alone the floods of other headlines breaking like tsunamis on the shores of my consciousness, day after day after day? This is one reason I do not like movies so much anymore. Why heap fistfuls of fictional angst and fictional tragedy on top of the ocean of real sadness already threatening to drown me?
Well okay sometimes I do like movies, but only films that give me a temporary escape into sane and coherent little worlds. These are usually old movies such as “The Best Years of Our Lives” or “O Voyager” or when I really need some real high-power escapism, a Busby Berkeley or Fred Astaire musical. Take one of my all-time favorites:”It’s a Wonderful Life.” Even though this movie is a fantasy with a dollop of horribly flawed theology thrown in, it is so much saner than the reality of the world we now live in. William Butler Yeats perfectly captures I feel about the current world in his great poem “The Second Coming.”
The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Honestly I think the best and usually the only response to the news that assaults our souls every day is intense prayer for the suffering. Also we can try to maintain a sense of a loving desire to learn and understand the underlying reasons so that we can avoid contributing to any further suffering of our fellow human beings. But be warned, both prayer and seeking understanding will open huge cans of worms. More like volcanoes. There will be upheaval, but if we pray and seek understanding with the intention to love everyone including our perceived enemies, the upheaval will eventually lead to happier, more loving, healthier world.
I have been away for a while, not writing during this contentious and fascinating period of current cultural history. But I have been watching and thinking. I have had occasion in my life recently to deeply evaluate my beliefs about the world and our existence in it even more intensely than usual. I have had to process the biggest challenge of my life, one that has penetrated to the deepest layers of my mind, heart, and soul, but especially my heart: the death of my beloved son at the age of 23.
My Christian faith has been an essential savior of my sanity during this period of my life. I have come to realize that faith is not a matter of “education” but in crisis is the cellular structure of the spirit. Be careful when you mock someone’s faith. If you manage to destroy it the rest of that person may crumble like dust. Faith, not mind and not body, may be the very container of their life.
I read this article called Progressives’ Anti-Christian Bigotry Helped Make Trump President by David French in National Review now and thought about how thoughtlessly some of us treat each other, maybe out of fear or maybe out of a desire to create a world more comfortable for ourselves or maybe just because one set of beliefs is cooler than the other. This is not a personal complaint but more a Captain Obvious type observation of the current cultural climate. Among my small circle of friends and family I have been treated with nothing but kindness. Probably this is the case with the vast majority of us. Still there seems to be a lot of hate and unkindness in the news and some of the news is sometimes true.
I like how this articlecaptures layers and layers of twisted ironies – such as how when you (pronoun “you” used in a general sense) relentlessly accuse other people of being hateful and are hostile toward these other people because of their allegedly hateful beliefs, you end up becoming hateful yourself. Even more ironically, a central tenet taught by the founder of the hated religion is “Love your enemies.”
I was going to write: “Lately I feel like the world is spinning out of control, going bat-shit crazy, and the walls of civilization as we know it are crumbling around my ears.” Then I thought, “When haven’t I felt like that?” Except it always feels like the spinning out of control and disintegration is accelerating and I see no reason to doubt that perception. It’s a law of nature (isn’t it?) that unless there is sufficient friction or resistance to stop it, an object travelling in one direction will accelerate.
What makes me think the world is spinning out of control? Mostly the media. The media seems to show an increase in violence, bad weather, war, and economic woe all over the world. I turn on the news to avoid being totally ignorant about what’s happening in the world, but sometimes I think I might achieve a more accurate picture of the world if I didn’t turn on the news but instead became more aware of what is happening in my immediate surroundings. The media accelerates the acceleration by ginning up people’s emotions and making us believe things are even worse than they are.
Have I or has anyone I know ever had a violent encounter with a cop? Well no. A few unpleasant encounters perhaps, but no violent ones. Do I hate anyone because of their race? I never have. Have any of my black friends ever encountered racism? Some of them say they have, most of them seem to have great jobs, nice cars, loving families, and as far as I can see, happy lives. Have I ever witnessed hatred toward gay people? No. Disapproval perhaps, but not hatred. All of the gay people I know are employed, in a loving relationship, have nice houses, and seem perfectly happy except when they are complaining about discrimination.
I know that just because I have not personally seen or experienced something, it doesn’t happen. Just because I’ve never encountered a murder does not mean people are not murdered. I am just saying that when you watch the media you see incidents that become larger than they, in reality, are. It’s like zeroing in on a mole on someone’s otherwise basically healthy body and talking about that mole in a dramatic way all day long in front of millions of people. The people begin to think the mole is the most important thing about that body.
Don’t get me wrong. If I never looked at the news I would still be keenly aware that I live in an imperfect world. I see homeless people, I see people who have lost limbs in war, I see poverty and urban blight, and I see neighbors whose houses are foreclosed. The most frequent problem I see is my daily life have to do with the high cost and accessibility of healthcare, traffic and car problems, and people with various employment troubles – people who either cannot find a good job or who are unhappy with the job they have or who own a small business are harassed by government fees, taxes, and regulations. I have also personally known people who were victims of crime: mugging, burglary, cars theft, date drugging, and assault.
My overall perception is that our civilization is experiencing a general decline. My belief is that this decline is directly connected with a massive level corruption among those people who have the most power and influence at high levels. But this has always been so. Civilizations, once they reach a certain level of material success, begin to decline. Successful civilizations breed a comfortable luxury-loving lifestyle among the most successful, and wealth breeds power and privilege, and power and privilege breeds fear of losing power and privilege. Those who can naturally do things to ensure they stay in power even when it means exploiting and bleeding dry anyone they can – the poor, the middle class, anyone who can be exploited.
Sooner or later the exploited classes can no longer support the powerful in the manner they desire, and one way or another, the civilization begins to crumble. Perhaps the lower classes rebel. Perhaps food begins to run short even for the exploiters. Perhaps the money system collapses. It’s just common sense, human nature being what it is, that this will happen.
If the human race wants to stop the natural cycle of growth, predation, and decline, the human race must change its nature. Instead of wanting to accumulate wealth and power for ourselves and whatever tribe we identify with, we must want to promote the well-being of others and other tribes at least as much as we want to promote the well-being of ourselves and our own tribes. This amounts to a transplant of our animal nature with a new kind of nature, a nature we might call spiritual, just because that is the only way we have to describe it.
I believe this is what Jesus was trying to teach us. You want the Kingdom of Heaven? Well the Kingdom of Heaven cannot happen either on earth or anywhere else unless it is populated by citizens equipped to live according to its operating principles. Such citizens would actually love looking out for their neighbors before tending to their own needs – as opposed to pretending to think like this.
The principles of peace and love mean no violence – even if the occasional rogue does violence to you – because violence breeds more violence. It’s that pesky acceleration principle again. The only way to put the brakes on the acceleration of violence is to not do it. This is hard for humans in our current state of evolution. For one thing, we think we need violence for defense of self and loved ones, and it does seem to me hard to get around that one. But not only do we think violence is necessary, we love it! This is proven by how much money we spend to watch it in movies and pretend we are doing it in video games. We put our money where our heart is.
Some people love war because it is profitable and some people actually love war for its own sake. They love the gear, the weapons, the comradeship, the adventure, the feeling of killing bad guys, etc. To create a civilization based on peace and love, we’d have to give up all war. That’s right. No soldiers, no special forces, no weapons, no drills, no cool uniforms, no war planes, no tanks, no marching, no fighting, no medals of valor. I really think some people would rather go to hell than give up the fun and drama of all that.
The mask is off. The nature of our government at the highest levels now lies naked in the clear broad light of day. This is a good thing. It’s best to know the truth, even when the truth is as ugly as the fact that the law is not, nor has it ever been, applied equally to all who break it.
That is how I interpret FBI Director James Comey’s July 5th announcement about not recommending charges for Hillary Clinton’s security violations. I am glad he didn’t make that announcement on July 4th. To witness a high-ranking government official betraying the noble principles of our nation on that day would have been just too heartbreaking.
First Comey listed the investigation findings that Hillary Clinton engaged in a number of behaviors that would have meant serious trouble for the rest of us. At the bare minimum, most people who emailed classified information would lose their job and their security clearance. Some people are actually serving prison time for doing less. Then he said the FBI would not be recommending prosecution. Toward the end of the speech Comey said the most chilling thing I have heard outside the pages of the novel 1984:
“To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.”
My belief is that there should be as few laws as possible to maintain a reasonable level of security to people’s lives and property. There should definitely be laws against murder and stealing and assault and property damage. But if I were in charge of the world I would not lock people up for errors in judgment or mistakes or even careless mistakes, such as accidentally emailing a classified document to your house to work at home. Such an error might deserve a mandatory security training refresher but not a huge life-destroying fine or prison. However, if you must have a law and you are engaged in harshly prosecuting people who have violated it, you need to apply that law equally to all violators.
The Hill published this item yesterday: FBI’sComey is complicit in Clinton email scandal. I found this article interesting for several reasons. First, it names the exact law that the FBI investigated Hillary Clinton for violating: Title 18 U.S.C. §793(f); so now we can all easily look that up and see exactly what it says. Next it provides an excellent summary of Mr. Comey’s speech. Then it makes well-written point about what this decision means for our fundamental faith in the fairness of the law.
I just have to repeat those two paragraphs here. They capture perfectly the thing about this affair that has really gotten under my skin:
“The public’s faith in the fair administration of justice was damaged by Attorney General Lynch’s meeting with President Clinton on the tarmac in Phoenix. It was further damaged by the apparent sweetheart “voluntary interview” of Mrs. Clinton by the FBI on the Saturday of the July 4th weekend.
Then just over 48 hours later (no doubt Mr. Comey spent the weekend carefully examining a year’s worth of interview transcripts), the proverbial stake was driven through the heart of any remaining faith and confidence in the public’s concept of “equal justice under law” or in Mr. Comey’s professional integrity by his nonsensical, contradictory, and insulting decision to let Mrs. Clinton “walk” on her national security crimes. No other federal government employee would have received the extraordinary, exceptional treatment Mr. Comey conferred on Mrs. Clinton.”
The public’s faith in our government and the rule of law is sort of the glue that holds us together as a nation. If that faith is damaged and can still be fixed I sure hope steps will be taken to repair it. Hope does reign eternal. I think repairing it should be the government’s priority. I’m not sure how electing HRC to the White House will help with that…..
What a week of horror this has been for the United States. I know at any given moment there are horrors all over the world but three unrelated tragedies in all in Orlando is striking and more than a little bit spooky. As with many people it has got me thinking. I’m not absolutely sure I agree wholeheartedly with Socrates’ comment that the “The unexamined life is not worth living” but I think it helps us get closer to our highest human potential if we spend time honestly examining our patterns, our thoughts, our habits, and our emotions. So today I am looking at how I react to death and mayhem reported by the media. And I am wondering about the influence of mass cultural reactions to massacres and murders on the individual mind.
The death or suffering of a loved one, or even a casual acquaintance, is a lot different from the death and suffering of people you know only from media reports. Some of us would like to say we care about everybody equally but unless you are a saint, it is not true. I’m not sure equal love is possible even for a saint. Even Jesus seems to have expressed more compassion and grief for his close friend Lazarus than for the rest of the suffering people he encountered and healed every day. Until I lost my mother, the most intense grief I ever felt was for a dog had that ran into the street and got hit by a car. I had a very close relationship with that dog, closer apparently than anyone else I ever knew who had died up to that point (age 25).
In this article I want to look at how I react when I hear of a horrible tragedy but do not know any of the victims. God knows there have been a lot of these. The number of horror events I have heard about on the news during the last couple of decades probably exceeds the number of individual deaths a human being can feel grief for. I think there is an actual psychological limit, but I can’t find the study at the moment. It’s why we focus more on Anne Frank than the other six million people who died in Holocaust.
Occasionally a horror will come along that really gets to me. A toddler was killed by an alligator at Disney World a day or two after that guy murdered 49 of his fellow human beings at a nightclub and three or so days after the singer Christina Grimmie was murdered by a fan. All three incidents were sad and horrifying. But the alligator story pierced my heart most sharply. It’s related to the old “How could God let this happen?” response. In the case of the night club massacre and the singer’s murder, the killers freely chose to murder people and I know God generally does not interfere with anybody’s free will. As cruel and unfair as that seems to the victims at least it is a sort of half-assed answer to the question.
But an alligator. Couldn’t God have sent an angel to lift that child, just for a moment, out of the reach of those snapping jaws? This child was a victim of God’s own nature, not free will. I remember that old picture of some little children walking over a rickety bridge and a beautiful guardian angel hovering over them. I learned about guardian angels from my mother before I learned about God and I’ve always sort of believed in them. Apparently that child’s guardian angel was asleep at the wheel. I am in no position to judge an angel but it seems like it would have been a simple enough miracle to lift him up or gently nudge him to shore before the gator struck. It’s strange what will test your faith.
Even in times of doubt I can only go to God with my questions. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s either God or the abyss. To pray for the peace and comfort of the child’s family is a better response than resorting to the abyss of despair. I have to believe the child is in Heaven, playing happily. Is there any message to be gotten out of such a thing? Perhaps something about not being so cavalier about the human relationship with the natural world? I know I am digging deep but it would be nice to think something of value could come out of the child’s death. Now we know this unthinkable thing can happen and Disney will surely not let it happen again.
I notice that whenever something horrible happens somewhere other than where I live, life goes on as if nothing had changed. Life always goes on, even though horrors are happening even as we load the car for the family vacation or decorate the Christmas tree. The only exception I can recall is 9/11/2001. For a week or so after that horrendous event life genuinely seemed to change. People were more tender with other, questioned the purpose of life, turned to God, became more engaged with the wider culture. We actually looked at each other more. I hugged a stranger in the grocery store parking lot. My kids had a ceremony with flags and patriotic songs at their elementary school and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I suppose something like that happened when JFK was assassinated. But most of the time, no one even mentions the latest horror. Maybe we are becoming hardened, reaching our capacity for grief, like in a war.
I read a memoir once about two Jewish sisters trying to survive Nazi-occupied Paris. One sister was walking down the street with a male friend and a German shot the man dead. The woman kept walking, not changing her pace or facial expression. (I hate that I keep remembering scenes from books I’ve read and then can’t remember the titles. I guess that’s why for the past five years I’ve been blogging about almost every book I read. But this was one I read prior to my blogging life.)
Monday June 13th, the afternoon of the day of the Pulse nightclub attack I got stuck in traffic on the two-lane road leading to my neighborhood. I made a U-turn and drove ten miles out of my way to get home a different way. Later I found out the cause of the road closure: a head-on collision that killed a young woman and her mother. I didn’t know the people, but because it happened less than a mile from my house, and because I happened upon the traffic backup, I felt the sadness of the tragedy.
So many things enter into how we react to tragedy: the individuality and possibly the innocence of the victim, how we relate to the circumstances (how easily could you or your children have been in the same situation?), and apparently the location. People die every day in car accidents and my rational mind know that every life is of equal value. But when it happens near my home or when somebody I know knows the victim or when the victim is like me or stands for something I believe in, I just care more. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but I know it’s a natural thing. It’s how we are and any awareness of how we are is for the good.
Memorial Day is about honoring and remembering Americans who lost their lives fighting in wars. My favorite cultural critic, Albert Jay Nock, would say that these Americans were victims of Statism fueled by nationalistic sentiment hyped up to get people to support the interests of the State. (For more on Mr. Nock’s thesis, see my review of his book Our Enemy the State.) I am aware that it is in bad taste to bring up that view of war on Memorial Day. On Memorial Day we want to remember how those who died were motivated by love of country and a strong sense of duty, who in many cases acted with great courage, and who sacrificed their lives for a cause greater than themselves. We want, in fact, to honor the truth of the spirit, not the truth of material gain for certain people in political power, because when it comes to what is really important, the spirit always wins over crass materialism and ideals always win over facts.
At MilitaryFactory.com you can find an excellent breakdown of the numbers of (mostly) men who have perished in wars from the American Revolutionary War all the way to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. (And Lord, may we not add another war in Eastern Europe to this long list.) I run my finger down the list of staggering numbers and stop short at the 116,516 dead in World War I. We are coming up on the 100-year anniversary of the beginning of that war in Europe on July 28, 1914. The untrue slogan “The War to End All Wars” turns out to be rather representative of all the propaganda associated with World War I, the war that, far from ending all war, actually set everything up to ensure the bloody war-pocked century that followed.
I don’t know how the schools currently teach World War I now, but in my (long-ago) school days, the time we spent on learning about that war certainly did not correspond with the weight of the death toll; I don’t recall ever spending more than a couple of days, usually crammed in at the end of the school year, discussing Woodrow Wilson’s broken campaign promise, U-boats, and the sinking of the Lusitania. Oh yes, and I recall a teacher or two talking about something called “the balance of power.”
In a way it makes sense not to spend a whole lot of time on the First World War. It has so scant a connection with the lives of regular people in the United Sates. For those actually fighting and for their families, of course, an intimate personal connection quickly developed when tens of thousands of sons begain returning to their towns in body bags. Had the U.S. government not chosen to participate in this war, America would have gone on more or less as before 1917, except with the continued mortal existence of the 116,515 (mostly) guys. Also thousands of men would have lived their lives with all four limbs and without the shell shock nightmares.
Perhaps it is futile to second-guess history unless we call this “second guessing” by another name: “learning from our mistakes.” Perhaps my liberty was preserved by the sacrifice of these men, and to the extent that is true, or even sincerely thought to be true, I am grateful. I like liberty. And perhaps, because they fought and died, my life is somehow, in ways I am not even aware of, better than it would have otherwise been. But the chance is at least equally as great that my life, and the lives of countless other people, would have been better had they lived, worked, and fathered children. Perhaps one or two out of the thousands of children never born might have had the wisdom to lead the 20th century to a better future. Perhaps their sacrifice was all of our sacrifice.
It is pretty certain that if the U.S. not entered WWI, Europe would have turned out differently. The Allies would probably have not “won” the war. Most likely the powers would have eventually called a stalemate. Had the Allies not won the war, there would have been no Versailles Treaty; if there were no Versailles Treaty, conditions in Germany would probably not have become horrible enough to foster the rise to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. If Hitler and the Nazi party had not been allowed to rise to power, WWII would probably not have happened. If WWII had not happened, another 405,355 Americans, mostly men, would have gone on living, working, and fathering children.
True, other bad scenarios might have developed, but the 20th century was horrific enough, in terms of death and destruction, to entertain the idea that just about any alternative scenario would have been an improvement. As it is, the number of the dead and wounded and consequences to our civilization over the past century is too overwhelming for my mind to take in. When prose and reason fail me, it’s time to turn to poetry. Here are a few of the more famous poems, shared on my literature blog, by poets who fought and died in World War I: