The Way It Was | Part 2

Note from the editor: Click here to read Part 1 of “The Way It Was”

Conversations Overheard

There was a fringe benefit for me from the depression in that I received my first indoctrination into the ways of the world which included comprehensive discussions of politics, economics, world affairs, and morality but with a special focus on means of survival in difficult times.  My education occurred while lying on our living room floor listening to Dad and friends (not to be confused with Fox and Friends) debate all kinds of issues while they focused on possible work sites.  The men were regular visitors to our house where they met and planned strategy to find work.  It is likely that they were attracted to our house as a meeting place by Dad’s famed home brew.  Although he was not a bootlegger per se, he was known to have occasionally traded a bottle or two for some needed commodity.    I was an accomplice in the enterprise as I took great delight in placing a cap on each bottle and watching Dad press it in place. 

There must have been a robust feeling of camaraderie amongst those guys who were all in the same sinking boat.  There was laughter in spite of their dire circumstances, and there were frequently told colorful stories which without benefit of Dad’s home brew would not likely have reached my tender ears.  The coarse language was not lost on me, and was quickly incorporated into my vocabulary, the use of which would often get me in trouble.   One particularly memorable event occurred when Dad took the guys down to our cellar to show them his success of the day.  He had received a feisty old rooster in return for a day’s work, and the rooster was confined to the cellar, a small space with a dirt floor cool enough to render the beer palatable.  Someone stumbled over the pan of water left for the rooster and Dad filled it with beer.  Surprisingly, the old guy imbibed with gusto and was soon stumbling, flapping his wings, and attempting to crow in a falsetto voice.  If he was hung over in the morning it was short-lived as a few hours later he would be on a platter sharing space with some drop dumplings.

Work

In spite of the bravado most of the conversations had to do with work or rather the lack of it.  The meetings were unscheduled and men would drop in at various times during the evening with comments like “I thought I would drop in to shoot the shit.”  There were always rumors of things to come both good and bad… this place was laying off, another was going to be hiring, another business was in trouble and about to go under, etc.   In 1933 the unemployment rate is said to have been 25%, but that number does not tell the whole story.  Many who were said to be employed were actually able to work only part time.  For example, Barb recalls her Father listed as an employee at a local steel mill, but usually actually working only one day a week and sometimes sent home early even for those days.  He avoided eviction by painting houses owned by his landlord. 

One conversation in particular stands out in which one of the men who was employed at a local glass container factory said he had just come from his workplace and had been turned away.  He reported that at every shift change there were huge crowds of employees at the entrance hoping to be chosen to work that day, but few would be chosen.  He loudly and profanely complained that the foremen “suck asses” and relatives were always the first chosen to work.  Some jobs or professions previously considered ordinary were highly prized.  Postal workers, school teachers, and local government jobs were highly prized for their stability.  The lack of available cash led to a great deal of bartering, especially with farmers who had no one to whom to sell their crops.  Conversely, professionals such as doctors and lawyers along with day laborers were often paid with food (e.g. the story of the inebriated rooster).   

Civics (Yesterday’s Term for Politics)

No education is complete without lessons in civics and the down-but-not-outers were not shy about expressing their opinions in such matters which was probably enhanced by the tongue loosening effects of Dad’s beer.  There was considerable disagreement amongst the group with almost everything.  In our home Dad was registered as a Republican and Mom was a lifelong Democrat.  I have the opinion that in those days one usually belonged to the party with which they had grown up much as with they do with religion.  Dad in spite of his upbringing had experienced an epiphany: he blamed Hoover for the depression and lauded FDR’s efforts to restore the economy. 

Those on the negative side of the debate were equally vociferous in their ridicule of FDR’s “make work programs” and “socialist stuff.” There were all kinds of jokes referring to the WPA and their workers having a penchant to be seen leaning on their shovels.  With the establishment of social security in the mid- thirties the idea of government taking money out of his check (if he had one) and giving it to someone just because he got to be 65 years old did not sit well with the naysayers.  A typical analysis might go something like this: “What ever happened to the idea of saving for old age” or “If they can’t take care of themselves, they should go to the poor house” (large forbidding appearing buildings euphemistically referred to as county homes).  Families were expected to care for their elderly or infirm parents consequently; they shared in the disgrace, and were denigrated for forcing their parents to “suck on the public tit.”

The most often discussed and vilified make work program was the WPA (Works Progress Administration).  The average wage was $52 per month yet one of my uncles worked in the program until it was disbanded in the early 1940s.  During that time, he managed to raise two children with the help of his wife who was able to find work cleaning the house of an affluent neighbor.  Although largely removed from most employment opportunities, wives did find ways to contribute.  For example, Barb’s Mother did laundry in her home in spite of a childhood injury that left her crippled.  The WPA worked on infrastructure projects while the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) focused on environmental projects.  It was an organization for young men who were housed in barracks throughout the nation and paid even less.  They were best known for planting millions of trees, often in areas where logging had left a desolate landscape.  Roosevelt in announcing its formation said; “forests are the lungs of our nation.”  They also fought forest fires, worked in national parks and landmarks building roads, trails and camping facilities.  Many such projects remain in use to this day.

Philosophy 101

While listening in on those conversations from my vantage point on the living room floor I was also privy to discussions of moral issues some of which have bedeviled philosophers for eons.  For example, one evening one of the guys reported that he knew of a place where it was possible to steal casing head gas.  Although gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, he did not have 18 cents, his car was out of gas, and he couldn’t look for work. (For the unenlightened of my readership: casing head gas is formed by compression of natural gas by functioning oil wells.  It is a very low quality fuel and can cause significant damage to automobile engines.)  Since he was without the means to get there, he was attempting to recruit an accomplice.  This provoked a heated debate.  Not only was his proposal illegal there was that “thou shalt not steal” thing in the Bible for which some thought there were no exceptions.  This brought up oft delivered hypotheticals one of which was very relevant to their situation which was “would you steal food if your children were starving?”   

Keep Walking or Go to Jail

Vagrancy laws made homelessness even a greater problem than it is today for one could go to jail for “having no physical means of support.” When I looked up the origin of such laws, I was surprised to find they were written after the Civil War as as a means to get freed slaves off the street and into the chain gangs which could be rented out, a process some called a new form of slavery.  These laws were found to be useful during The Depression as a means to rid the parks and other public facilities of the homeless.  I had always wondered where all those men I used to see walking along the highways were going.  Later it became obvious that they must stay on the move or go to jail.

These were the same guys who would sometimes appear at my Grandmother’s back door offering to do work for food.  Of course, there was no expectation that work would be done.   Grandma would bring a plate out for them and after a brief repast they were on their way. Since farmers were those who were most likely to have food to spare and cops were scarce these backroads were fertile territory.   I heard stories of farmers who discovered “bums” asleep in their haymows especially during inclement weather.  Depending on the compassion of the farmer they might be awakened by the business end of a pitchfork or sent to the house for something to eat then on their way.

Many of these hoboes or bums as they were called in those days would become so enured to that lifestyle that they would spend the rest of their lives on the move never staying more that a few days in one place.  They became expert at hopping freight trains, knowing their schedules and where they slowed enough to get on them.  They often migrated with the birds following the seasons.  They eventually developed places where they could hide for a few days at a time usually close to a rail depot but far enough away to avoid the railroad police.  It is said they verbally catalogued places that were soft touches for hand-outs.  Thus, a nomadic subculture came into being demonstrating the remarkable change which can be brought about in an industrial society by an economic crisis.

An Early Exit Prevented

At some undetermined time during those preschool years I experienced life threatening incidents one of which would label my Father as an unlikely hero.  In what was probably an effort to provide food and recreation simultaneously, he had decided to take me, my brother and mother fishing probably with the hope of making a meal of our catch.  The site, called Pleasant Valley was a favorite of mine and was next to a small conclave of houses reached via a covered bridge over the Licking river.  Its only reason for existence was a Post Office situated next to a major rail line.  It was a mail distribution facility for a large part of the county, and its fascination for me was to be able to watch the train rush past at what seemed to me to be at least 100 mph, while a metal arm reached out from the mail car, dropping a bag of mail, while snatching a similar bag, and pulling it back into the car without even slowing.

Most likely, on that day I was preoccupied with the hope that the mail train would come by.  The river was high, and I recall staring at the water as it rushed by, then everything was suddenly brown.  Probably that memory remains so vivid due to fact that I would have a recurring dream of that incident for years although; such dreams were not frightening but consisted of the sensation of floating in that brown water.  I am told that Dad saw me fall into the swollen river and immediately jumped in although he could not swim.  I was told that my life was saved by a single button for I was wearing a light jacket with one button fastened and Dad reached out with one hand and was able to grasp the jacket with one hand.  He threw me upon the bank and as he was floating by, managed to grab a root growing out of the river bank and save himself.  Thanks be to God that the button held for had it not you would have been denied the joy of reading these blogs!

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Way It Was! 

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

rodney king

It has been 27 years since Rodney King, an alcoholic drug-addicted Los Angeles cab driver, tearfully uttered those words. Rodney was a troubled soul whose beating by police officers was filmed by a bystander and precipitated the L.A. race riots which resulted in the death of 63 people, hundreds of injuries and massive property damage. The answer to Rodney’s question remains moot, for we are still not getting along very well. Perhaps we need to spend more energy on learning why this is still true.
REAL CHANGE OR WINDOW DRESSING?
It is true there has been progress in race relations, the issue of police brutality is being seriously addressed, and the “metoo” movement has garnered some traction, but we continue to expend a great deal of energy in fruitless debate which never seems to find resolution. This is especially true in our current political scene where vituperative language has become the norm, and both democrats and republicans cling so rigidly to their positions that compromise is impossible. Disagreements have become personal. Name calling and character assassinations are routine.
A PERFECT STORM
Not since the civil war has there been so much divisiveness or tribalism as is the currently fashionable term. It appears to me that there are multiple reasons why we can’t “all just get along,” one of which is the nature of our political campaigns. Somewhere along the way experts in such matters determined that so-called negative campaigns are the most effective strategy, and that has become the modus operandi for all kinds of kinds of candidates from dog-catcher to president. With the candidates continually trading insults and accusations, there is little relevance paid to issues and the undecided voter is left to decide which of the candidates is worse. Since his vote is based largely on his disdain for the character of his hero’s opponent rather than issues he is likely to retain very negative feelings towards the one whom he voted against. Such feelings may be carried forward and make it more likely that when a discussion ensues between two on opposite sides of an election civility is less likely.
NEWS. ARE YOU KIDDING?
So-called cable TV news stations have also in my opinion contributed to this giant schism in our political discourse. I use the term so called for they can hardly be called news outlets, but are dominated by political commentary to be generous or perhaps more accurately political propaganda outlets. Fox News leads the pack with the most viewership and the most conservative commentary. Their current star Sean Hannity is said to be one of Trump’s most trusted political advisors yet they have the temerity to call themselves “Fair and Balanced.” At the other end of the political spectrum is MSNBC who no longer attempt to hide their pro democratic bias. Then comes CNN which makes a pretense of being neutral, but fails miserably. They do have some conservative consultants on their staff which they bring in on occasion for their group discussions.
WHERE IS THE MIDDLE?
One thing these networks have in common is their programming which consists mostly in bringing in groups of experts (there must be a lot of experts in Washington for they never seem to run out) and have a group discussion with participants representing more extreme positions on both sides of an issue. Consequently; a viewer is likely to choose a more radical position. The days of political reporting in which both sides of an issue are elaborated upon by a single person with no skin in the game seems to be long gone. Only PBS seems to follow that old-fashioned format of simply presenting the facts and allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions.
GROUP THINK
During my career as a Psychiatrist my patients taught me much about our desire or perhaps more accurately said our need for validation. As such we are inevitably drawn to those who share our beliefs and perceptions, and therein lies the effect of today’s dueling media outlets. Those of us who harbor conservative beliefs will be drawn to Fox while the more liberally oriented will stick with MSNBC or CNN, “and never the twain shall meet”. The same phenomenon is operant with “talk radio” and with the internet which is becoming a news source for increasing numbers of people. As we continue to be immersed in one particular viewpoint and converse only with people of like mind we find ourselves rigidly attached to one particular political philosophy having convinced ourselves that we are the only custodians of truth.
LOGIC BE DAMNED
An argument can be defined as a person or group attempting to convince others that they are wrong. It is also true that political issues can have serious consequences therefore; political arguments can and often do become emotional. I recall as a child hearing the admonition that one should avoid discussions of politics or religion in polite company, and indeed these are the two subjects about which people are likely to have the most intense feelings. Since I am a peace-loving man and something of a wimp to boot I must admit that I tend to shy away from raising the issue of politics with friends whom I know to be on the opposite side of the fence. I submit that this same phenomenon exists throughout society and deters us from discussions of the issue that divide us and hopefully learn to compromise or at least respect the opinions of those with whom we disagree.
Advertisers have long proven that repetition in TV ads will sell everything from Viagra to Tylenol, so why not politicians. The Washington Post reports that $6.5 billion dollars were spent on the 2016 election much of which undoubtedly went to television ads leaving us drowning in a sea of powerful messages describing how terrible are all those candidates for office. Little wonder that elected officials now share the worst favorability ratings ever, and that disgusted citizens are so sickened they don’t even bother to vote.
BAD GUYS EVERWHERE
Among the most powerful motivators are anger and fear, and those masters of propaganda who manage elections are adapt at using them as weapons. Naturally when one votes for a person because he is persuaded that the other candidate is a threat other issues will become irrelevant adding more fuel to that fire which inhibits reasonable discussion.
Our prevaricator in chief has proven himself to be a master at eliciting those feelings and continues to describe the press as “the enemy of the people” and members of the Democratic party as “evil”. There are also the warnings about immigrants characterizing them as criminals, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and subversives. His talent for instilling such feelings is well demonstrated by the behavior of some of the attendees at his rallies. History shows us that a very effective way to unite a group of people is to find a common enemy, and his followers revel in chanting “lock her up”.
THERE REALLY IS “FAKE NEWS”
Last but certainly not least is the effect of the internet and social media which held such promise in bringing people together has now become a powerful weapon to interfere in our elections primarily by propagating conspiracy theories and lies of all kinds so numerous that it is virtually impossible to rein them in. Artificial intelligence has further sharpened these tools so that individuals can be targeted with false information tailored to their own particular biases or prejudices, and can reach millions of people in short order with very little expense. Nearly everyone except Mr.Trump agree that the Russians were very involved in such shenanigans in our last election and although we are told the effects on the election cannot be determined there is little doubt that it has contributed to much confusion and misinformation designed to enhance our divisiveness.
WISHFUL THINKING
The other day when I began writing this I thought there were signs of at least some yearnings for a coming together to work out problems. Niki Haley in her retirement announcement appeared to break from her boss and indicate that she did not think political opponents to be enemies. There was commentary on our need to come together, but those hopes were soon dashed with the pipe bombs, and now the senseless shooting of 2 black people in Kentucky followed by the mass murder of Jews in Pittsburg.
SOME BEHAVIOR IS PREDICTABLE
With such horrors filling the headlines you might think they would provoke serious talk about bridging the now toxic divide that separates, but after expressing regrets and sympathies yesterday our fearless leader is back on track today blaming the news media for causing the tragedies. Apparently, the false flag theory which named the Democrats as the perpetrators didn’t fly so he was forced to go to his fall back strategy. Nevertheless, we once again hear talk of our need to come together in spite of our differences. Will we follow through this time?  Hope springs eternal!

Rebuttal to Op/Ed

When we officially abandon civil discourse | Christine Flowers

Hoping that a child will be raped is the vilest thought that can be formed in the civilized brain.  There is no “larger picture,” no justification, no explanatory context. You cannot say, “Well, yes, that’s bad, but what I really meant to say was that the kids of any conservative who supports that bastard Brett Kavanaugh deserve to be treated the same way (she says she) was.”
Hoping that a child will be raped is inhuman, but it is no longer out of bounds in social discourse.  Recently, I came across a public posting on Facebook, which means the author wanted the world to have access to her thoughts.  It was a jeremiad against Donald Trump, which is unexceptional these days, since he seems to turn certain people into human volcanoes that spew rivers of hateful prose.  I avoid them when I see them scroll through my Facebook news feed.

 

But this one caught my attention because I love children, spend a lot of time with them, and used to teach them. I also represent them in immigration court, like the little girl whose hand I held as she told the judge the other day that she was from Honduras, and that she was 5, and that pink was her favorite color.

So when I saw these words, I froze:

 

“Time to burn everything to the [expletive] ground, when  it comes to this vile, non-human garbage who by stealing and cheating ended up in the White House.  Are we going to take as any kind of truth an ‘investigation’ that isn’t one? Are we going to take his a–hole supporters who say ‘lock her up’ to Dr. Ford? I’m a good and nice person, a peace-loving person but let every one of them and their sons and daughters get raped, accosted by one of those ‘boys will be boys.’ ”

 

It went on.  I reported the post to Facebook, and as of this writing, it’s still there.  That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s problem now, because I’ve blocked the poster.  But it was important for me to not simply shake my head as I used to do and move on, narrowing my group of friends to those with whom I could share photos of my sweet black Labs and funny anecdotes from my family along with political essays and ruminations.  I’ve resigned myself, ruefully, to the realization that this political and social climate is choosing for me, without my permission, the comfortable echo chamber, where even though I hear kindred thoughts, I miss some of the kindred spirits who didn’t share them.

In other words, I am becoming increasingly isolated from liberal ideas because it is much harder these days to have a civil conversation. And yet I have very good, very decent, liberal friends, like Robin and Donna, Jennie and David, John and Victor, who would never in a million years write about the rape of children in the same breath as they wish death on a president they can’t stand.  They make me realize that this is not a partisan disease, even though many of my conservative friends urge me to see “the other side” as the enemy.

 

I have to admit that these past two weeks, the “other side” has been Dixie to my Union, the Axis powers to my Allies, guillotine-wielding Jacobins to my aristocracy.  The Democrats, for whom I have vowed to never again cast a vote, have morphed into a caricature of their former selves in their duplicitous crusade to destroy a man and his reputation. I see nothing there that reminds me of the party I belonged to for 37 years. But that is political, and I understand that there are just as many Democrats and liberals who read my words defending Brett Kavanaugh last week and felt the same revulsion for me that I feel for the despicable assault on the judge.

I would sincerely hope that even they, disgusted with our president and with the people he has chosen to represent him in the cabinet and now on the court, would recoil from the suggestion that my hypothetical children and the children of Kavanaugh supporters should be raped.

 

You might say that this is anger speaking, and of course it is. But the appropriate place for that anger to burn is in the deep and quiet recesses of the mind, hidden from view. That we have now reached the point that assaulted children are considered appropriate conversational tender sterilizes the soul and induces a nausea that can’t be eliminated by blocking the person who dares to write the words.

And not even the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice will make it better.

http://www2.philly.com/philly/columnists/christine_flowers/facebook-social-media-civility-conversation-20181004.html

RESPONSE from ESHRINK

Dear Ms. Flowers:

Perhaps you are right that we should limit discourse on the subject of sexual assault on children, after all hiding  such incidents has worked quite well for the Catholic church [editors note: the movie Spotlight is a peek into the importance of a free press and the commitment real reporters have to exposing the truth].  However; you should be congratulated on your effective use of the time honored strategy of blaming the victim, or even better to further politicize it by holding democrats responsible.  Little wonder that you “feel revulsion for the….despicable assault on the judge.”  After all he has lived a life of privilege and as he frequently reminded us was an honor student at Yale, which should immunize him from any such accusations.

As a recently retired psychiatrist I have many memories of times spent with patients who have been unable to dismiss the pain from having been violated, often as children.  That pain often results in a lifetime of impairment.  Dr. Ford’s story was very familiar to me as was Kavanaugh’s response, which was to release an explosion of suppressed rage.  His behavior has been excused by his supporters who suggest he has a right to be angry however;  were he seen by me as a patient I would consider him a good candidate for anger management training.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those “liberal democrats” who would very much enjoy having that “civil conversation” which you say is lacking in your life.

POWER OF THE PRESIDENT

john-adams-war“Power always thinks it is doing God’s service when it is breaking God’s laws.”  – John Adams

Nearly 250 years ago, a bunch of guys got together and decided they had enough of being ordered around by some guy wearing hardware on his head. They decided they wanted to let everyone in on the act of running their country. Even though there was not a large populace, there were obviously too many people to get together in one place and debate issues without the whole thing degenerating into a riot. There were also logistical issues since they were lacking planes, trains, automobiles, phones, radios and such, not to mention the massive undertaking of assembling adequate numbers of port-o-potties.
The solution of course was to have the people select citizens of like mind to represent them and assume responsibility for running the country. In spite of their abhorrence to one person rule they realized it was necessary to have an executive type person charged with the duty to implement their decisions. Since this person was to represent everyone, he was elected by a nationwide vote. Of course, there is nothing in this overly simplistic civics lesson that is not already known by anyone capable of reading this thing however my point is to suggest that we have deviated from the original script handed to our Presidents by those original designers of our government.

WHO IS THE BOSS?
It is clear that the Constitution expects the President to do the bidding of congress. Although he is free to initiate some actions on his own, most require congressional approval. Politics is all about power, and those guys writing the Constitution were wise enough to realize that the pursuit or even lust for power is an inherent quality which afflicts all mankind. I suspect they were well aware there would always be those lurking in the shadows looking for an opportunity to take over consequently; they saw fit to distribute power among three separate branches.

In addition to a legislative body charged with making laws and an executive to implement them, there was need for a judiciary to resolve differences in interpretations of the Constitution. It was to be headed by a supreme court which would be the final arbitrator. In an effort to provide those judges with immunity from political pressure, they were given lifetime tenure. Now these judges render decisions that are very predictable and just happen in most cases to coincide with the political party which sponsored their appointments. This lack of objectivity is so blatant that we now label each judge as either liberal or conservative, and their votes reflect their political biases. But that is another story, and for now I wish to focus on what I see as problems with the power of the President.

THE OLD BAIT AND SWITCH
It is obvious the original intent was for the balance of power to be heavily weighted towards the legislative branches, and that the President couldn’t do much without their approval. It appears to me that the roles have been reversed, so that the President now carries the big stick and congress sucks up to him. As a matter of fact, the President is now often referred to as the most powerful man on earth. The question arises as to how this power shift came about.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Consider the State of the Union address mandated by the Constitution: The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1. Those of you who have managed to put boredom aside long enough to listen to some of these performances may have noticed that those “recommendations” often sound more like demands these days.
Indeed, his entrance to the hall is greeted with a reception fit for a king or even a rock star. He is announced with great fanfare, and his fellow travelers surround him reaching for his hand or the opportunity to touch the cloak of the great one as he moves toward the podium. As he speaks his fans cheer from one side of the aisle while the opposition ensconced on the other side glowers. The entire spectacle reminds me of a high school football game where the fans of each team sit on opposite sides of the field cheering for their guy no matter the content of his words. In the game of politics the prize is power. With millions watching worldwide this is the ultimate in “bully pulpits”, and POTUS uses it to great advantage.

WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT YOU GET
Image is most important as a means of gaining power. A popular President can be of great help to a congressman seeking reelection, and likely result in a tendency to bow towards the President’s demands. FDR made effective use of radio with his “fireside chats” as a means to not only reassure the nation but to bypass congress and appeal directly to the people to support his views. Now we find there is hardly a day goes by without some pronouncements from our President on TV, not to mention his very effective use of social media to influence voters.

PROBLEM SOLVING VS. FOOD FIGHTS
Our two-party system nearly guarantees support from congressional members of like party affiliation. Consequently; when his party is in the majority he is unlikely to face much opposition, and even when faced with a majority opposition he needs to schmoose only a few, in order, to have his way. The extreme divisiveness we have experienced in recent years results in what Truman called “a do-nothing congress” with the chief executive taking charge by default. The hostility of political debate has become so intense that it often seems as if those we elect show more loyalty to their political party than to their country. This allows a power-hungry person (and aren’t they all) to rise above the fray and be seen as the adult in the room. The current divisiveness encouraged by our political parties was predicted by both our first and second Presidents even though Adams laid the groundwork for the 2 party system.

FOLLOW THE MONEY
The nearly limitless budget of the executive branch allows the president other opportunities to curry favor and therefore power. For example, Woodrow Wilson was able to overcome the resistance of U.S. involvement in World War I by hiring a full-time person and staff charged with selling the idea to the public, all of which naturally was paid for by that same public targeted by the propaganda. A more current example concerns the amount of costs to taxpayers of travel to deliver “campaign style speeches” by our current president. There appears to be no such accounting available. In similar manner Presidents early on learned of many ways to influence public opinion by using taxpayer money to burnish their image and enhance their power.

NEED TO KNOW
Secrecy is vital to maintaining a grip on power, and generous use of the rationale of withholding information due to alleged risks to national security has become commonplace. The most egregious example in my lifetime was the continued involvement in the Vietnam war long after it was clear to those in charge that the war was lost, yet I don’t recall any apologies by our leaders, including the commander in chief, for the thousands of lives lost in order to protect the image of presidential infallibility. More recently of course was the use of black sites for torture, and procedures designed to invade the privacy of the citizenry. These activities also had been kept under wraps and only disclosed via the work of the press and so-called leakers who in many cases should be renamed as patriots.

TRUST, BUT VERIFY
Yes, we are living in the information age and information is power, even more so than in the early days of the country’s formation. The liberation of secrets is the job of the press, which must remain apart and free from government influence. Following a debacle early on in which a number of publishers were actually imprisoned, the founders wisely passed the 1st amendment to the constitution which among other things guaranteed the freedom of those truth finders to accomplish their missions. Many Presidents’ relationships with the press have been contentious to some extent as the struggle for openness is continuous. Our current leader disdainfully describes the press as “enemies” of the people, but our founders saw them as protectors of liberty.

WHEN THE PRICE IS RIGHT
As our government has grown exponentially so have the number of jobs controlled by the President. There are staff members, judges, lawyers, a cabinet, department heads, ambassadors, an office staff, advisors, and many other positions to be passed out to the faithful. Generally, the president is given a great deal of latitude in choosing these people, and confirmation by Congress when required is usually a formality. The power to hire or fire in these highly valued jobs is considerable, and an effective form of patronage which guarantees loyalty and influence.

THE BIG CLUB
The impetus for writing this little ditty came about as I recently noted that a number of executive orders were being reversed. I set out to find what the executive order thing was all about, and found it had its origins from Article 2 of the Constitution. My take on that was that they saw the need for the president to have sufficient power to implement laws passed and to make decisions regarding his operation of the executive branch. Congress could also cede power to him when required. I also learned that executive orders are subject to judicial review and carry the power of law. The biggie of course is the President’s ability as commander in chief to wage, but not declare, war which in the atomic age is about as powerful as one can get.

The executive order has been used with great effect to increase the power of the President. It was not until Theodore Roosevelt that it found its greatest utility as he averaged nearly 3 EOs per week during his tenure. The fad caught on quickly and successive presidents upped the ante with Teddy’s cousin FDR, who has remained all time champion, with twice that amount. His three term total was 3,721. Not to be outdone, our own Donald Trump is on track to sign the most such orders in 50 years.

People being the way they are, it is not surprising that our presidents continue to test the limits of executive orders. In response to an article in the New York Times titled “Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals” Bruce Fein writes in a letter dated April 24, 2012, the following:
“Executive branch power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution’s checks and balances has mushroomed since World War II. Examples include President Truman’s undeclared war against North Korea; President Eisenhower’s executive agreements to defend Spain; President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution regarding Vietnam; President Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia and assertions of executive privilege; President Clinton’s undeclared war against Bosnia; and President Bush’s countless presidential signing statements, Terrorist Surveillance Program, waterboarding and Iraq war.”

Another problem with executive orders is that they can be rescinded by subsequent Presidents as has been the case with nearly all of President Obama’s orders. This does not provide for a great deal of consistency especially when they involve issues involving other countries, leaving them to wonder if they can count on our commitments.

SORRY GEORGE
George Washington in his farewell speech cautioned against “foreign entanglements”. We have ignored that advice in spades and Presidents are largely responsible for many of the worst entanglements from which we now find nearly impossible to extricate ourselves. Granted the world is now smaller and more interconnected than in the early days, thus isolationism is no longer an option, but promises to deliver “shock and awe” or “fire and fury” must imbue one with a greater sense of power than to engage in some mundane international trade agreement.

HELP IS JUST A DICTATOR AWAY
As the world shrinks not only our own troubles but those from thousands of miles away appear as if on our doorstep. The presence of an ocean separating us offers little protection, and the world becomes a scary place. The world is now troubled and there are volunteers everywhere promising to fix everything. Today there appears to be a trend towards authoritarianism with some leaders now in office for life. Madeline Albright in her book “Fascism A Warning” points out conditions that lead to fascist take overs. In a previous blog, I mentioned Erich Fromm a German psychoanalyst who proposed in his 1941 book “Escape From Freedom” that freedom is anxiety provoking and that in times of crisis people naturally look for someone to take charge and tell them what to do and how to do it. There is an upsurge of fascist activities throughout Europe and the U.S.

According to the Economist’s Democracy Index of 2017, they have noted a worldwide trend towards autocracy including Hungary, Egypt, North Korea, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela. Their 2018 report indicates continuing decline, and they re-categorized the United states from a democracy to a flawed democracy. Perhaps, even more disturbing was a report from the Pew foundation which showed a decline in Americans’ faith in their government from 70% to below 20% in the past 50 years. Albright says, “We are becoming disconnected from the ideals that have long inspired and united us.”

TOO BUSY TO VOTE?
Those ideals were put forth by a group of revolutionaries many years ago who so believed in those ideals they were willing to risk being hanged as traitors. It is difficult for a wimp like me to imagine the courage required by their decision to go up against the most powerful man on earth, or to imagine the courage of the nearly 3,000,000 Americans serving in the military who have since died in defense of the ideals that are the foundation of this great Republic. Though some of those efforts may have been misguided, they certainly were real to those who fought for them. The ultimate shame must reside in those in positions of power who may have sent them in harm’s way for any reason other than the defense of those ideals.

There are many who believe that we are now facing a time of greatest threat to our democracy since its birth. In any event we can now longer take it for granted. If we really care we must become involved. Our voting records are appalling. The greatest threat to our democracy is and perhaps has always been from the inside. My favorite birther of our nation John Adams recognized this in the very beginning in the following statement: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”.
Some of our current President’s behaviors may seem laughable but they are not funny! They deserve our serious attention.

The Power of Belief

WHAT SHOULD I BELIEVE

          A few months ago in a blog about conspiracies (May 2017, Conspiracy Theories) I attempted to find answers to the question of why so many of us seem willing to subscribe to stuff even when it is far from the truth, or in some cases totally illogical.  The question has been of particular interest to me having seen many, many patients through the years with disordered thinking leading to false beliefs.  The extreme example of the phenomenon is seen in the paranoid psychotic person whose perceptions are so distorted that his interpretations of reality are far enough removed from that of the average person that he lacks credibility.  They are often so bizarre as to make others sufficiently uncomfortable that he may be shunned.  As a matter of fact, it is not a stretch to describe paranoia as conspiracy theories on steroids.

ARE WE ALL A LITTLE CRAZY?

We now realize that there are many conditions that can impair brain function resulting in paranoia, yet when comparing the paranoiac to the conspiracist, we see they have much in common, which begs the question as to whether the paranoid’s extreme suspiciousness rather than qualitatively different is merely an aggravation of the basic human condition.  After all, suspiciousness has been adaptive behavior for the human race.  It has contributed to our survival and those without suspicions are called gullible and looked down upon.  On the other hand, the conclusions arrived at by delusional thinking are rigidly held in spite of whatever logic or facts are presented.  In like manner, the political zealot’s ideas seem set in concrete, and he brushes off contradictory information as either irrelevant or untrue.

THAT TRUTH THING AGAIN?

If suspiciousness is not only protective but in search of truth, why do we so often believe stuff when there is no evidence that it is true.  Any good con man will tell you the best way to gain trust is to tell the mark what he wants to hear, and the best lies are those that confirm what he already believes.  As a personal example, there is the case of Donald Trump, who I thought was a jerk long before his TV show.  Granted, that opinion was based on feelings and maybe not even rational for obviously I didn’t really know him.  Nevertheless, I am now even more convinced that he is a jerk and moreover a bad President.  Consequently, I suck up what is said about Trump on MSNBC and reject what Fox News has to say as bullshit.  I find it difficult to understand how some of my friends can listen to the Fox News bullshit, and I am sure they feel the same way about me and MSNBC bullshit.  As a consequence, we rarely discuss politics, but I am sure that they talk politics to friends who are of like mind while I rap only with the anti-Trump contingent.  Perhaps this is not such a bad thing. One study indicated that groups with opposing beliefs actually became more extreme in those beliefs while discussing the issues with those who differed with them.  Thus, there may be wisdom in the maxim that “one should not discuss politics or religion in polite company.”

CATCH 22 AGAIN

Unfortunately, that policy presents us with another one of those unresolvable dilemmas, for if one assumes that it is impossible to resolve differences without discussion and discussion simply reinforces beliefs, compromise is unlikely to occur.  The phenomenon does offer a measure of security to politicians or political parties in that limited exposure of their base to contrary ideas will keep them in the fold.  With that, he can devote more resources to winning the independent vote.

When I was a kid we played a game called Follow the Leader in which participants were to follow the behaviors of the designated leader, and those who failed to mimic the leader were expelled until there were only two players remaining, at which point the one survivor would become the leader and the game would resume with the new leader.  There is ample evidence that similar behaviors are seen in nearly all aspects of human behavior, and that we are indeed herd animals.

SO YOU THINK YOU ARE A THINKER?

There is a famous British study in which a large group of volunteers were asked to walk aimlessly around a large hall without talking to anyone, while a few were secretly given instructions as to where to walk, and to appear confident of their destination.  95% of the crowd followed those who appeared to know where they were going, in much the same manner as would a flock of sheep follow a Judas goat.  This phenomenon, only one example of what has been called herd behavior or herd mentality, has received a great deal of study through the years by philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, economists, theologians, historians and even psychiatrists like Freud and Jung.

The principles of herd behavior, or tribalism, have been found to have great utility in influencing all manner of human behaviors.  Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any aspect of our lives that is not affected in some way by our tribal memberships.  Those of us who fancy ourselves to be independent thinkers have little awareness as to how these and other genetically ingrained behaviors unconsciously affect not only our behaviors, but our thought processes, opinions and beliefs.  To belong, one must conform and conform we do, often with little awareness of why we do so.

HERMITS NEVER MAKE IT

The importance of herd behavior is not lost on the world’s politicians and despots.  They know how to make use of our need to belong to a group or to use a shrink term to be “validated.”  In order to brainwash someone or start a cult, one must begin by isolating the prospective victims in order to deny them validation so they will eventually align themselves with their persecutors.  They make use of the fact that as herd animals, contact with other living things is essential, and they hope that their victims will eventually accept whatever relationship is made available to them.  Similar dynamics undoubtedly play a part in the development of the “Stockholm Syndrome” as in the case of Patty Hearst, who joined the cause of her anarchist kidnappers after having been isolated and abused by them.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, it has been shown in several studies that solitary confinement often results in the development of psychosis, further evidence of the importance of relationships.

JUST ONE OF THE GUYS

It is largely accepted as fact that negative political campaigning is more effective than merely focusing on issues.  In such cases the emphasis is not on issues, but rather on his/her opponent’s character and identity.  The candidate will set out to show that he is like his audience and thus is a member of their tribe while his opponent does not belong.  When addressing a blue-collar audience, he may shed his coat and tie and roll up his sleeves.  The recent election has demonstrated that a baseball cap can generate more votes than a resume in those rallies while more formal attire will be chosen for $1000-a-plate dinners.

HERDS GONE WILD

Nowhere is the herd concept better illustrated than at athletic events.  I have been an Ohio State fan all my life, which by the way is a long time.   Of course, football is the most raucous of all modern sports and one in which tribalism is on full display.  I paid significant sums of money for the privilege of sitting in crowded uncomfortable seats sometimes in rain or snow. Surrounded by 100,000 fellow tribe members all rooting for the enemy to be vanquished, I felt I truly belonged.  Fellow tribe members were readily identified by clothing adorned with the school colors.  We pledged our fidelity by singing the alma mater followed by the school “fight” song.  Seating was arranged so that the opposition fans were separate from us good guys, and the cheerleaders encouraged our totally uncivilized behavior.  The best seats are those on the 50-yard line not only providing a better view of the action but placing the fan in the center of the crowd much as other herd animals jockey for position to be in the center of their herd.  Our loyalties also affect our beliefs, e.g., questionable calls by the refs are bad if they favor the other team, and the boos of one are apt to be taken up by other fans.

In similar manner mob behavior can be initiated, and there have been instances where those officiating games have feared for their lives.  Soccer games seem especially prone to mob behaviors.  Political rallies can be orchestrated to take advantage of that same dynamic.  It is said that Hitler frequently placed plain-clothed SS agents in crowds when delivering his tirades. Their job was to stir up the crowds by cheering his every word thereby stimulating herd behavior, a technique not lost on modern day political organizers.  For example, it is clear that the “lock her up” chants during the last presidential campaign were not entirely spontaneous.

GOOD GUY, BAD GUY

Throughout history leaders have come into power by designating a person or group of people as enemies.  A prospective leader must be able to place blame for whatever widespread complaint exists, and convince his audience that they are under assault by the bad guy or a group of bad guys.  It is helpful if he can induce hatred, for passion increases voter turnout, and the resulting divisiveness is encouraged.  An opponent will feel compelled to respond in kind to the accusations and the campaign becomes a battle of personalities rather than ideas.  Charisma triumphs and meaningful debate never happens.

We are all under a great deal of pressure to believe as are our fellow tribesmen. Consequently, we are strongly influenced to share our beliefs with those who are sympatico, which often leaves us isolated from those who don’t share those beliefs.  In a previous blog, I referenced a study which demonstrated that people are more apt to believe information obtained from a friend than from conventional sources, another indication that belonging is enhanced by sharing beliefs.

IS INDEPENDENT THINKING A LOST CAUSE?

Although many of our beliefs are buttressed by facts, there is also a certain amount of volition involved.  We sometimes reject beliefs that we find objectionable in spite of significant corroboration, and readily adopt those we find appealing despite limited evidence of their validity.  Religions demand professions of belief if one is to enter into the fold, be eligible for an afterlife or in some cases even one’s mortal life.  Early Christians presented their captives with a choice of believing or dying.  Radical Muslims are reported as doing the same even today.

Today, there are powerful pressures brought to bare in efforts to channel our beliefs.  We are drowning in information, much of which is distorted or false.  We are affected by advertising so sophisticated that it is personalized to each of us.  News sources which we trusted to provide truths are under assault.  Then there is that whole internet thing which muddies the waters even more.  Perhaps it is understandable that in our search for a lifeline we should reach out to our tribe to tell us what to believe.

Addendum by eshrink’s offspring (Maggie)

So, what is the answer to this dilemma? Maybe recognition of our need to belong is the first step to evaluate our own ability to think rationally. Instead of convincing or attempting to persuade others, maybe more listening and less talking will lead to greater understanding. No matter our opinions and thoughts, greater understanding and close relationships are what define the human condition.

One of the primary teachings I learned while earning my journalism degree was one of neutrality and learned objective behavior. “A reader should never know what your opinion is. Save that for the editorial page,” a professor preached to our class. To counter the need to disagree, I was taught to ask why. There is always more value in understanding why someone believes something than trying to convince them why their thinking is flawed. To ask the question and learn about their thought process (if there is one) can lead to greater understanding for the person asking the question and sometimes illicit the process of critical thinking in the one whose opinion differs from your own.

At the end of the day, this life is about relationships. Humans connecting with one another. Maybe we can be an example for the pundits and the politicians who want to gain power by dividing rather than unifying. One can only hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HARASSMENT IN THE WORKPLACE

Not since the 1920s has there been more activism on the part of women in protest against male domination. Their current complaint is much different than that of the suffragettes, for it involves sex. This was a taboo topic for women of the ’20s, who were products of the Victorian era. The unintended consequence of such societal restrictions gave men free rein to sexually harass, abuse, humiliate, and denigrate women who would be too embarrassed to publicly complain. She could also be subjected to the time-honored policy of blaming the victim.

There has been much news recently about a big-time movie mogul who is currently under the gun from a platoon of gals alleging not only harassment but assault. This brought up memories from my childhood when there was a lot of talk about how movie starlets “screwed their way to the top.” It was said by those supposedly knowledgeable about the industry that the road to stardom was via a producer’s couch (the “casting couch”), and of course, people said that it was the directors who were taken advantage of, for they were seduced. I don’t recall ever hearing an actress, or anyone else for that matter, complain about sexual abuse. What suffering they may have endured was done silently.

Ah, but how times have changed. Women have come out of the closet en masse, determined to seek retribution in spite of their fears and embarrassment; they instantly changed from shamed to heroic. It doesn’t hurt that one third of all judges in the country are now women and that women can no longer be depended upon to vote the same as do their husbands. Consequently, they have become a political force to be reckoned with.

Among the torrent of disclosures are stories of workplace abuse going back decades. Although I have always found physical abuse abhorrent, I must confess that in years past I was oblivious to the discomfort that even off-color remarks could actually inflict on a woman. Were she to complain, I would undoubtedly accuse her of lacking a sense of humor. When such situations evolved in social situations, Barb was usually there to set me straight. However, when such behaviors occur in the workplace it becomes much more complicated. Indeed, in any situation in which there is a hierarchical power structure, sexual harassment, or even unwanted physical contact, will be initiated by the more powerful person almost without exception.

Of course, this leaves the victim in an untenable position, often forced to choose between tolerating the abuse or putting his or her job in jeopardy. Defensiveness is likely to curry disfavor with her superior which could result in disaster. Not only could chances for promotion become limited, victims could even lose their jobs. They then could be labeled as troublemakers and carry that label with them as they search for a new job. Larger companies are likely to have a Human Resource department where one can lodge a complaint, but they may be more interested in protecting the company than the employee.

The increased number of harassment and abuse charges in the workplace is certain to provide another cash cow for the lawyers who could find such cases as lucrative as auto accidents. For many years, businesses have been concerned about the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Many have spent large sums on programs designed to educate employees regarding rules for interactions with fellow employees of the opposite sex. As a matter of fact, I was told by a person who had previously worked in a supervisory position for a fortune 500 company that he had been required to repeat such a course annually.

He also said that those accused of sexual improprieties were subject to immediate dismissal. In spite of these efforts, there continued to be complaints of harassment. Those complaints may have been exaggerated at times, for the company, apparently more concerned with reputation than money, initiated a policy of negotiating payments to these complainants in return for a pledge of secrecy without regard to the legitimacy of their complaints.

But, the most flagrant example of the payment of hush money was by the recently exposed Congressional Accountability Office. It was revealed in the November 15th, 2017 issue of USA Today that this office, under direct control of our elected representatives, had paid out over 17 million dollars of taxpayer money with the proviso that such payments remain secret. This had all occurred since the agency was established in 1995, and it got some attention since it involved dollars from the voter’s pocketbook. The inherent assumption that these alleged perpetrators were falsely accused was exemplified by the the caveat that the victims, not the accused, must agree to engage in counseling, another example of blaming the victim without any attempts to confirm or negate the claims.

This reminded me of problems that similar policies caused during the height of the epidemic of medical malpractice suits several years ago. Nearly all physicians carried malpractice insurance, but many found that when they were sued, their insurance company found it cheaper to settle than to fund a court case. Doctors who felt the charges against them were unfounded wanted their “day in court,” but found the terms of their policy did not give them that option unless they wanted to pay the expenses of a trial.

It was a tidy arrangement: the plaintiff could pick up a few thousand bucks, the lawyer would get 20 or 30% of the take for not much more effort than it takes to write a letter, the insurance company avoids the risk of getting one of those multimillion dollar judgments from an unusually sympathetic jury, and everyone is happy except for the doctor who will find himself registered in the National Practitioner Data Bank with a forever sullied reputation. He will be looked on with suspicion when applying for hospital privileges or virtually any professional activity, and if he is unfortunate enough to be sued for the second time, he will probably be forced to hang it up, as he will undoubtedly become uninsurable. I knew a physician whom I thought to be very competent who was forced to end his career prematurely this way. A few of the uninsured risked losing everything by “going bare” i.e. practicing without insurance.

None of this should be construed as to minimize the importance of this issue or to excuse the centuries in which women have been left powerless to defend themselves. It does appear to me that women are on the threshold of finding tools with which they can exert more control over their own lives, and defend themselves from those behaviors they find abhorrent. That is not only as it should be, but as it must be as women gain credibility and status. They may even prove themselves superior in areas previously exclusively occupied by men and, consequently, come to occupy positions of leadership in spite of long held exclusionary policies.

With leadership comes power. Let us hope women will use that power in a more judicious manner than have men, and the traditional “battle of the sexes” will no longer be played out in the workplace. This appears to me to be unlikely, as I believe the reasons for the continuation of the love-hate relationships between the sexes are deeply ingrained in our species, perhaps even in our DNA. This is an issue which I discussed in a previous blog. The women’s movement has a stated goal of equality. After they achieve that goal, perhaps there would even be more problems should they move onto a quest for domination.

Workplace problems do not have a simple solution. There are people of both sexes who have longstanding anger towards members of their opposite gender. How can accusations be adjudicated? Does the policy of paying hush money give the rich license to violate as they please? On the other hand, does it allow those falsely accused to be legally blackmailed? How about flirting—when does it cross the line? When is a friendly attitude mistaken for an invitation to be intimate? It is reported that many office romances end in marriage—would they happen if all were able to ignore another’s appeal? What about relationships between co-workers outside the workplace? What about the use of “feminine wiles” to advance one’s position at the expense of another competing for favorable treatment?
If my assessment of the male’s need to dominate is correct, those who attempt to solve these problems are in for an uphill struggle, for despite society’s best efforts, there remains in mankind only a thin veneer of civilized behavior. Nevertheless, our culture is changing in ways which often conspire to make traditional male-female relationships dysfunctional. I read somewhere that some smart guy said change only occurs with revolution, and revolution is accompanied by chaos. We now appear to be in the midst of the next phase of a revolution that began over 100 years ago. Change is needed. Let us hope that the chaos will be limited and that the change pendulum will not swing too far.

PANTS ON FIRE: the truth about truthfulness

Since our fearless leader arrived on the scene, there has been much debate over the matter of truthfulness. Though the word truth may not be as fashionable as it once was, it is still used a great deal in everyday language. I have my own ideas about the definition of the word, but etymologists tell us language is in a constant state of flux. With that in mind I decided to look up the definition of the word to see if its meaning had changed during the past 80 or so years. It seemed to not have changed appreciatively since the day a few decades ago when I lied about throwing a hatchet at my brother.
The definitions of the word “truth” I found confusing in most cases; for example, one was “the quality or state of being true,”  which I did not find to be helpful. It reminded me of the meaningless cliche “it is what it is.” However, I was pleased to learn that some of the synonyms used george-washington-cherry-treefor truth, such as candor, honesty, and sincerity, are still associated with the word. Along with a few million other kids I was indoctrinated with the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree. The moral of that story was very clear that lying about the deed was as bad or worse that the deed itself. To that end when my father confronted me about a misdeed, and said “don’t lie to me” I soon learned that I was more likely to escape corporal punishment if I confessed.

 

Truthfulness in the “good ole days”

According to my recollection, truthfulness was highly regarded in those days; although there were situations in which lying was condoned. For example, horse traders, much as the used car salesmen of today, were famously expected to lie. In those days I am told that transactions involving horses were seen as a competition testing the ability of the buyer or trader to judge horses, and the rules about truthfulness were suspended. In most situations however; truthfulness was considered a virtue and liars were regarded as on the same level as wife beaters.
My indoctrination into those ideas about truth was successful, and I value them even today, although I must confess that I have transgressed a few times. In most cases I have rationalized by telling myself they are only white lies, minor exaggerations, or embellishments, and that there are times when truth can be hurtful. As a consequence, I tend to classify lies as to their size in order to excuse my behavior. However, according to the Smith classification, any prevarication uttered by the most powerful man in the world is a whopper with the potential of dire consequences for the entire world.

I Don’t Care if Trump Lies

With all that in mind, you can imagine my chagrin when I ran across an article in the January 23 issue of “The Daily Wire” titled 5 REASONS I DON’T CARE IF TRUMP LIES. It was written by John Nolte who had previously been editor of the far right web based Breitbart News which was also the former home of Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s advisor. Mr. Nolte justifies the lying by using “the old everybody does it” strategy we used in grade school by saying: “Politicians lie. That is what they do.” He goes on to say “In politics lying is a tactic, and if you don’t use that tactic, you’re screwed.” 19c05de8e57fda9170ee3a1e7a95e269How many times in history have we heard that. If indeed the most talented at lying have an advantage at the polls, it might explain why there appears to be so much dissatisfaction about the performance of our elected officials. Nolte is not so charitable with the major news outlets that he describes as “evil” due to their dishonesty, but assures us that “I will not lie.” Yes, I am sure George Washington would be pleased to know someone is following in his footsteps.

Fake News. Confirmation Bias. The Internet Conundrum.

4e6661deeb79365cf2ad34752f12c3f7The term “fake news” has been bandied about a lot lately, but that seems to me an oxymoron. If it is fake, it is simply a lie, certainly not news. No matter what it is called, the internet has become a fertile field for its growth. It allows any individual to send whatever lie he chooses with impunity to large numbers of people who are then capable of spreading it to others like an epidemic. The more outrageous or unusual the story, the more likely it is to be widely dispersed. The volume of such misinformation is such that there is something for everybody so that a person is more likely to believe something if it supports his own beliefs or prejudices, and discard that with which he disagrees. This has been called the confirmation bias.
As he continues to surf the web, he will be drawn to those sites, truthful or not, which confirm his beliefs. So armed, he becomes even more entrenched in his opinions and more unlikely to listen to alternative ideas. In my opinion this is one of the major contributors to our divisiveness. Unfortunately his conclusions may have been influenced by faulty evidence.

In an optimistic essay in the December 29, 2011 issue of the Atlantic, by Rebecca Rosen titled TRUTH, LIES and the INTERNET, she acknowledges that the internet is a repository for much misinformation, but comforts us by insisting “the internet has brought a golden age of Fact Checking,” and goes on to say “…..the good news is that the Internet is nurturing accuracy.”

So much for prophecies: here we are six years later with the development of wonderfully complex lie machines, which are not only capable of reaching millions of people, but can actually tailor their lies to appeal to certain groups or even individuals. In the face of such onslaughts, all the fact checkers in the world could not keep up with their output.
Not only has the internet provided a convenient platform for the delivery of lies, new techniques such as the twitterbot are now used to overwhelm and prevent access by competing messages.

In contrast to the Atlantic article, Richard Clarke’s book, Cyber Warfare has turned out to be prophetic. He had warned in his book that the US was sorely lacking in preparedness for cyberattacks. Russia has proven him correct in his assessment by their role in attempting to undermine our electoral process. I have heard several comments on TV which attempt to assure us that the outcome of the election was not affected by these cyberattacks; however I find it hard to believe that anyone could be certain of that since there are so many intangibles which may affect such outcomes.

Whatever the effects they may have had on the outcome of the election, the specter of even the possibility of an illegitimate presidency or treasonous staff members is a win for the Russians due to the loss of confidence in the process. Slanderous comments about various politicians are accepted as fact by some which further undermines the trust in our system. Attitudes so developed may also result in a cynicism about our government which may discourage our brightest and most dedicated from a career in public service.

Facts. The truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth.

When testifying in a court of law all people must swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. This oath is said to have been traced to the 13th century. Those guys must have been pretty smart, for they already were aware of how one could make a lie appear to be the truth. Unfortunately, counterfeit truth tellers are not required to take such an oath in ordinary situations. They can avoid telling the “whole” truth by taking something out of context, usually a word or modifying phrase that changes the meaning of what is said. The “nothing but the truth” phrase forbids the mixing in a lie or two which can also change the gist of the message. Such strategies seem to me to be used more frequently now than in days past.

190583Beliefs and opinions are not facts. Facts are a necessary component of truth; however truth is more than that. Truth requires an understanding of the meaning of the facts, their relevance to the issue at hand, and their context. Truth is necessary for our survival. Truth is essential for development of trust. Without trust, chaos reigns and society disintegrates. Truth is honest, sincere, and respectful. Truth is especially important in today’s messy world, but currently seems to be in short supply.
Since I began this essay, I noted that Time Magazine featured a lead article on truthfulness. Although I was initially dismayed to have been scooped, I was nevertheless heartened that the issue is getting the attention it deserves. Of course lying is not a recent development.  It has been said that THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE which leads one to ponder the question of the effect of its absence.   Plato addressed its seriousness a bit before my tenure when he said:
“FALSE WORDS ARE NOT ONLY EVIL IN THEMSELVES, BUT THEY INFECT THE SOUL WITH EVIL.