Before the trouble in Charlottesville Virginia erupted this weekend, a little known report was released. In it, a citizen panel recommend not removing the statues of Robert E. Lee and others from the park, but instead to keep them and add information to help others better understand the history of the area and race relations. The news about their report is here.
Arielle Scarcella tweeted, "If you want to actually change how people think, then you have to allow them to be where they are and work from there." My initial reaction? Brilliant! So I quoted her on my Facebook page. Then I added this – my own thoughts:
"There are people in this world fomenting anger and distrust, some because doing so furthers their political goals. That is, get people to fight with each other, make a scene, and so on, so they can 'divide and conquer.' A bunch of people busy arguing are weaker, as a group, than a bunch of people working things out.
In order to counteract this effort, it is up to us, we who wish to create peace and harmony in the world, to stand back and not play into this melee! So, how do we do that? We get with the person who seems to contradict our opinions or beliefs and we listen! We accept them for who they are, regardless of what outrageous (to us) ideas they seem to carry around.
In short, we see the person, not the opinions. We acknowledge our commonalities, our shared human qualities. We can discuss political stuff later."
A friend of mine on Facebook replied that sometimes this isn't easy. I responded, "You bet! Starting a flame war is easy. Putting out the fire takes perception and work!"
I wrote this message to “Informed Electorate” - (votethewill.org) the people who call me with a recorded 60 second survey question every week or so. .After answering a question when they called this morning, I just couldn’t hold this in anymore, so I went to their web site and wrote:
“I’m already a survey participant. I answer the question each call, but I must say, I believe that the most important issue facing us is that a nation of 325 million people is largely ungovernable as a single entity. We can debate policy and personalities on the federal level ad infinitum but I don't think it will help that much. To me, we are, in the words of Trevor Noah, more like a continent than a single country. I strongly believe that we are not going to "put Humpty Dumpty back together again." More and more, we are making more positive, progressive changes at the smallest levels - the village, the town, the city, and sometimes the state. Both in government and in many non-government organizations. We are a "continent," if you will, that's just way too diverse and too populous to find agreement on many issues anymore. I think this is the true reason for 'gridlock' in Congress and why we have a 'protest' candidate now serving as President. We are divided not because of lack of will or flaw in our constitution or evil intent on the part of our elected representatives. We are divided because it is no longer practical or prudent to attempt to remain a single national entity. Instead, I feel we must recognize the limitations with regard to what can be done in Washington D.C. anymore and find new ways to network with each other more directly, support more local decision making power, and direct our attention to living in harmony with nature and each other.
So, although I will still answer the phone when you call, I think the whole thing is of limited use. Thank you for listening.”
Bad news travels easily. It gets the heart racing; the sense of alarm stirs the adrenaline. Good news often takes a back seat.
I have found that keeping my sanity takes at least two things. One, I take time to step back from it all and keep breathing. Two, I pay better attention to what’s going well, where progress is being made, and where relationships in my personal life are going well.
Oh, and one more thing. I think of all people as inherently good, who sometimes do things that are unfortunate. I’ll admit it. I’m one such person. I sometimes do things that are unfortunate. Then, I have to see what I’ve done, make amends if I can, and see if I can forgive myself.
Stan Dale reportedly said, “Everything is either an act of love or a cry for love.” I think that’s pretty close to the truth. And we have Marshall Rosenberg, Philip Zimbardo, James Gilligan, Chip and Dan Heath, and others to back that up.
At first, some of those people (referred to by the links above) might not seem to directly follow my quote from Stan. But nonetheless, they are all authors and works I have investigated, and it has helped me realize some important aspects of humanity I never heard about in school.
Every day, millions of people do good things for other people and themselves, and none of it makes news headlines. That doesn't stop them. They'll get up tomorrow morning and keep doing good things for each other, regardless of reports of bad behavior spreading through the airwaves.
I just read the story on this web page and watched the Rachel Maddow video embedded in it. (Note: I linked to the real MSNBC video because the audio/video are out of sync on the YouTube copy.)
Of course, I had various feelings about what I saw and heard. According to the story, members of the Trump campaign, Russian operatives, and others, used 'bots' to influence online discussions during the campaign season.
So let's start with a little background: What's a 'bot'? A bot is a word derived from 'robot.' Instead of a mechanical device, it consists of a piece of software code, running on a computer connected to the internet. It is designed to detect certain key words in online discussions automatically, by examining all the data traffic coming out of that social media system. It's easy to set one up to monitor or 'listen' to everything on Twitter, for example, 24 hours a day. As soon as a key word is detected in something someone posts, it adds one or more comments to that discussion, masquerading as a real person. What's important is that what the bot adds is pre-programmed to issue a comment designed to distract, distort, or otherwise hijack the discussion and divert it from its original topic, usually starting with some kind of misinformation.
So, what do I think about all this?
I think we are experiencing a distinct hazard of text communication among a mix of friends and strangers online. Our online discussions are like unprotected sex. While you're doing it you have no sensation of being infected. It's only later on that you find out, when symptoms appear. Such as when your candidate loses the election. By then, it's too late.
So, how do we 'get infected?' Easy. It starts with the fact that text does not carry with it any facial expressions, tone of voice, or identifying characteristics of the other person. It is amazingly easy for someone to impersonate someone else. Or create a machine, a 'bot,' to impersonate a real person. This is a glaring flaw easily exploited by those who wish to 'vandalize' legitimate discussion.
The second factor is how tempting it is to respond quickly to someone when we have strong feelings about what they have said. We think, "That's outrageous!" or "That's a lie," and we want to contradict what they have said right away. Jumping into an ongoing discussion is easy and compelling.
In doing so, we may have failed to read the entire thread that preceded the comment we found offensive. We respond from our own memory or concept of the relevant facts, often without stopping to do any research to make sure we really know what we're talking about.
This is how a lie can get half way around the world before the truth has had a chance to lace up its shoes. We help spread it because our feelings are so strong and it's so easy to just 'bark back' at someone without putting much thought into it.
Look. We humans evolved for millions of years without any remote communication. We could bang drums, make smoke signals, or yell across the savanna, but that was about it. Our world was all hands on, arms length, face to face, and within smelling distance, pretty much. Now, with our 'fight or flight (or freeze)' responses intact, we have developed massive long distance communication with groups of people whom we cannot see, touch, smell, or hear. We can just read what they have typed. Our ability to discern what is real or what is fake is all but lost.
As the world of social media becomes less and less reliable, where do we turn? One possibility is that we turn more to face to face communication and direct personal experience. True, word of mouth has its own reliability problems (the old 'game of telephone'). And eye witnesses can still have different impressions of what they saw. There will probably always be the temptation to repeat a story and fail to check our facts.
What about events of interest that are far away? Do we have to start traveling in person, just to get our news? Or, is it possible that our attention to things far away has seduced us into neglecting what's close by? Perhaps we are starting to realize that what's close by could stand a little more of our attention, especially our local corner of the biosphere, including the plants, animals, water, and the soil right beneath our feet.
The next time you're tempted to react, remember, you might be arguing with no one. Just a comment generated by a (software) machine that's not really listening to anything you say. Just planted there to provoke you into reacting.
Meanwhile, I bet you have never actually seen where your water, your food, or your energy comes from. Maybe it's time.
I just found a web site regarding the astounding imbalance of representation in Congress. I found their analysis interesting.
However, I disagree that any group larger than about 250 people can get anything useful done, whether they meet face to face in a single room or not. I also don't think that a body of 6000 voting online is going to produce nearly as good quality legislation as a much smaller body meeting in person. So I don't buy their 'solution' to the problem.
What I do buy is what's actually happening now. The states are starting to take the lead (where the ratios are much better) and even cities and towns are taking matters into their own hands and starting to do quite well with things like restorative justice, sustainable energy, better management of waste and recycling, minority rights, and so on.
Even in North Carolina, where the notorious HB2 (legislation restricted transgender rights) was passed, it's easy to forget how it all came about. It started when various cities and towns within the state voted to protect those very same rights. Legislators in their state capitol voted to quash those rights, state wide. So guess what? I predict that it won't stand, in the long run. The will of the people is really for tolerance and support of diversity.
This whole flap in Washington (over the 'repeal' of Obamacare) is only half the story. What nobody seems to be talking about is how badly managed and overpriced our entire medical system is. Doctors? Hospitals? Give me a break! We're arguing about how to pay their exorbitant bills with tax dollars but we're not working hard to reform the amazingly corrupt and messed up medical system we have in the first place.
For example, we have drug companies who have been "inventing diseases" for almost a century by now, just so they could sell their wares. We have doctors doing procedures that have been proven don't really help (such as stents), and getting paid handsomely for it. Until we attack that (with the same fervency that we're now devoting to Obamacare), then we're still not attacking the problem at its roots.
It's as if we're arguing about how much fertilizer to spread on a garden full of weeds that are already out of control. Let's uproot them and plant some real health instead! Then perhaps we can figure out how to pay for the medical care we really need!
... any of them. Really.
Well, I don't hate anyone, actually. Why do I say this now? Two reasons.
First, I've identified a bias in the main stream press (yes, you, too, NPR!). The bias? Way too much coverage of the US government in Washington D.C.! Oh, I get that there's a lot of controversy there, so the intense focus doesn't surprise me. But the effect I see is that it's wearing people down and leaving the public with increased feelings of pessimism and despair.
Second, I just came across this story about 'Deaths of Despair' among white middle aged residents of the US. There is another analysis in this research report.
Now, I'm a 'big picture' person, so I ponder the significance of stories way beyond their immediate shock value. I think about how this affects people of all races and backgrounds. Not only in the death rate, however. To me, the death rate is more of a signal for something larger, not just an immediate problem to be 'solved.'
Sure, a declining level of income, overall, certainly adds stress to people's lives. But that's just on average. As our economy is based on 'having a job' that means some people have work while others have none. Still others must work at jobs that are not only low paying but fail to take advantage of their true skills and experience. You see, I think it's more a decline in the sense of accomplishment, the very sense of self worth, as well as an expectation that the situation is bound to get worse in the future that's driving this, not just the lack of a good income.
Our 'American Dream' has become hollow over the decades. It's all about money. That's just wrong. It should be all about life! People are taking their own lives, overdosing on drugs, or killing themselves with alcohol as a result. That's because their quality of life is in decline with no end in sight.
So, why did many of them, in the most 'economically depressed' areas, switch from Democrat to Republican in the recent election? Because they want radical change. They didn't respond to the appeal to sexism and racism as much as they did to the talk about jobs. That's my take on it, anyway.
So, what are we going to do about this? I think we need some kind of fundamental change in how we approach work, jobs, community, and a sense of purpose. This is likely to involve letting go of our traditional assumptions, as much as it involves finding new innovative ideas.
I don't think getting money out of politics is going to solve this. And neither will term limits. Those are just tinkering with a system with much bigger problems than who gets elected or who is funding campaigns or lobbying elected representatives. This goes deep into the assumptions and expectations we all carry here in the USA. After all, these death rates are distinctly worse than they are in most other countries.
Perhaps Nikita Khrushchev, (head of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union in the 1950s) was right when he said, "... you’ll fall like overripe fruit into our hands." Of course he didn't live to see what's going on now (he died in 1971) and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. But the point is that we now seem to be living out his prediction. It's just that the "our hands" of which he spoke are now gone.
So, now, it's up to us. This is not something that can be solved with marches in the street with signs, it's something to be worked on within our own minds and through discussion with each other. Our task is to change our own assumptions about what's important in life, and then change how we interact with others to fundamentally reshape our economy. Sorry, there is no quick fix that I can see. You can search the web for "new economy." I know there are some groups at M.I.T. and Tufts University working on this, for starters. They are associated with a nation wide collaboration. Or you can take a look at this group.
Let me put this as simply as I can. Any industry where only a few major corporations dominate their entire sector IS government for all practical purposes. They actually govern us just as much as the 'real' government does. In most of these sectors (banking, energy, transportation, insurance, food processing, news media, etc.), it's almost impossible to live without their influence in our daily lives. In other words, opting out is not really an option. That's why they are as good as government.
As we cannot vote these large business institutions in or out of office, we must find other ways to represent ourselves. One of our biggest tools for this is how we spend our money or choose what we partake of what they provide. So, to me, good citizenship is taking action toward these institutions whenever possible.
It is time we set the standards by which we will do business, and live, not these institutions. It is high time we set aside as much of our fear as possible and stand up.
Recently, a credit card I use, American Express, changed their policy on the card I use. I decided that they are now not in noncompliance with my policy. I wrote them a letter and sent it via US Mail. See if you agree with my position or have found yourself in similar circumstances.
10 March 2017
El Paso, TX 79998-1535
To Member Services,
In reference to my card account ending in (x-xxxxx), with regard to your new terms concerning my Payment Due Date, I am writing to object to this change and am considering the cancellation of my account. Please do not cancel my account at this time, however.
Your new terms violate my personal credit and charge card policy. My policy is:
- at least 30 days to pay
- no late fee over $10
- no annual fee
As of now, the terms on your card are in violation of my personal credit card policy and I am placing you on probation. That may seem a strange way to put it, but consider that I have had an account with you since 1979. I used to think of my American Express account as different from all my other credit card offerings. A ‘cut above’ so to speak. I expected to be treated like a responsible adult, rather than a school child who is late with his homework. That may also seem like a strange way to put it, but I fully understand the psychology used by banks when assigning late fees. The individual is made to feel ‘bad’ for being ‘late’ and therefore should be ‘punished.’ That’s why more people don’t rise up and object to these short payment times and fees more than they already do.
Well, I don’t appreciate being treated that way. I have paid my annual fee faithfully for decades, in expectation that I would avoid such manipulation. You are the giant bank. I am the self employed individual without the financial resources or extensive legal counsel that you enjoy. I am at a distinct disadvantage. I must act to protect myself against being fleeced by the banking system, more and more over time.
I judge that your new policy is just about raising revenue and not about whether I’ve done anything ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There are times when I am away, or have I been sick (which is what happened most recently), and I get behind in paying my bills. Now, instead of 45 days or so (as it was decades ago) or 30 days, as it was recently, you now only allow 25 days before levying charges. This is no different from other cards. So why should I still pay an annual fee for the privilege?
Here’s a suggestion: I never use the ‘points’ you offer. Why don’t you offer ‘points’ that extend my payment deadline if I pay early at other times? One point for each day I’ve paid in full before the deadline, allows me one day to extend the deadline in a subsequent month, when I might need it. Why not? What is your plan that takes the pressure and stress off me with regard to my worry about bill deadlines? Do I have to jump when you say ‘jump’? Do I have to keep an eagle eye out for my in-box and grab and pay each and every bill as soon as I see it?
This is the world we increasingly live in, I guess, but I will not accept it. Do I have to cancel every credit card and pay cash from now on? Sadly, there are many online services for which there is no ‘brick and mortar’ equivalent, so I am stuck in the middle, having to use some kind of card, even if their terms don’t meet my card policy requirements.
So, I’m putting you on probation. You have six months to find a way to allow me flexibility in paying up to 45 days without fees or interest. If not, I will cease doing business with you. Plain and simple.
Glenn C. Koenig
without a teacher trying to interpret it for you! Remember, poetry is an art, and as with any art, what you like or don't like is up to you. If you read or hear a poem that doesn't do anything for you, no problem. Try something different instead.
And if you want to try your hand at writing some, but don't know where to start, there are plenty of opportunities. There are thousands of groups and classes and workshops to choose from. For example, near where I live, there is this series, hosted by an accomplished and published poet, Barbara Helfgott Hyett, designed to help poets improve their poetry and perhaps get them published. If that isn't your desire, then you might like this organization, or perhaps you might prefer an on-line poetry experience such as at this web site.
I'd love to know how you do, if you want to tell me (by comments to this blog post or use the Contact Us option to send me a private message).
Here is a sample of what I've written. This poem will appear in my forthcoming book, "a man wearing a dress," due out later this year. I encourage you to read this poem out loud, if you can, with gusto!
©2016, by Glenn C. Koenig
In the driver’s seat
I’m not a gatherer
I’m a hunter!
I have no prey
in mind, mind you
But I will not stand
to be hemmed in.
I want space,
To fly along,
And that car in front of mine
I will overtake them
at the next opportunity.
So what if I get there
ahead of time.
That’s not the point!
It’s the journey!
Not the destination.
Glenn Koenig is the manager of this and other web sites, an author, video producer, database designer, and volunteer.