Collected Thoughts

March 2014
March 1, 2014

A curious feature of the social mind is that it’s pretty much unable to discuss anything that hasn’t acquired a name, even when it’s obvious that something is immensely powerful and is exercising major influence on people’s lives.

I was reminded of that this morning reading Mike Lofgren’s probing essay: “The Anatomy of the Deep State.” This is a title Lofgren wants to attach to a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state, which he believes is now, to a great extent, in control of the nation. I hope he’s successful. We badly need a name for this thing.

The military-industrial complex was an entity that gained a certain journalistic credibility mainly because President Eisenhower gave it a name in his farewell address. But that term has long since become obsolete. The shadowy network Lofgren calls “the Deep State” is far more complex than what Eisenhower had in mind, and it has spread its tentacles more widely into the nation. Eisenhower was warning us that the military-industrial complex could affect policy in troublesome ways. Lofgren is telling us that the Deep State is primarily the generator of policy. The Deep State is not a bad influence, it’s a bad sovereignty. It rules us without our recognizing it, and it rules us not for our own good.

Though we still have the constitutional structures which are reported on as partisan politics, they are no more than the tip of the iceberg. The Deep State is the underwater part.

Whether or not you agree with Lofgren’s assessment of the Deep State’s power, you should want for it to have an agreed upon name because it does exist and it does function in ways that use up a considerable portion of the nation’s treasure. It needs to be discussed.

I wonder how many Americans are aware simply of the physical structures the Deep State occupies. Do most people know that there is a building in Utah which cost $1.7 billion, and which covers the area of seventeen football fields that houses the data collected by the NSA and other security agencies, data amounting to 500 quintillion pages of text? Do most people know that a quintillion is a number designating 10 to the 18th power, whereas 10 to the 12th power is a trillion, meaning that a quintillion is a million trillion. Then, think about 500 of them. That’s quite a bit, isn’t it? Can you imagine anything quite of that size? Can you imagine what might be done with that immensity? Or, another way to ask is whether you can imagine anything that couldn’t be done with it? Then, remember that this building is just a tiny portion of the Deep State.

Where do Jefferson, and Madison, and Adams fit into all that?

Maybe all this is such a runaway train we can’t even hope to do anything about it until it smashes itself into more than a quintillion pieces. Even if that were the case there would be a kind of comfort in having a name for that which was destined to destroy us. But there’s no way to say rationally that we can’t hope or we can’t even try. You don’t know without trying whether something can be turned around.

One thing we do know, however, is that it’s not going to be easy to turn it around because there are vast and fanatical vested interests behind it. At the very least we have to start calling it what it is, which means we have to have a name for it.

I think “Deep State” is a pretty good name. It signifies something under the surface, which this thing certainly wants to be. It doesn’t want to be visible. Secrecy is its primary tactic. It tries to justify that process by arguing that secrecy is necessary for it to carry out its function of protecting us. But to the degree it wants to protect us it’s only for the purpose of feeding off of us. We the people are to the Deep State simply a commodity. I guess you could say that those who need a commodity want to keep it in existence. But it certainly doesn’t imply that the commodity has any purpose of its own. It is there to be used.

I’ve been arguing for quite a while now that are two divergent views of what a nation or a country is. For some of us it’s a population (that’s how I think about it). But for others it’s a power structure, which needs a population to carry out its goals. Keep always in mind Mr. Kennedy’s admonition to ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country. You would think someone would have asked him in return, “But aren’t we the country?” As far as I know, nobody did. I guess I should mention here that there’s a third view of what a country is, a kind of mission, imposed by some overweening power, most often called “God,” which employs the people for its own purposes, and which the people ought to be eager to sacrifice themselves for. This third view involves complicated philosophical questions, which can be set aside here because this musing is about the Deep State. And it’s quite clear that the Deep State sees the country almost exclusively as a power structure, in which some fortunate operatives rise to the top and gain the rewards the power structure has to offer.

I haven’t approached giving an adequate description of the Deep State’s anatomy here. For that I refer you to Mr. Lofgren’s article. I’ve just argued in favor of our beginning to think about it and discuss it. And starting consistently to call it the Deep State seems to me a good way to begin.

March 3, 2014

I just saw one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on TV. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry, wearing his most stern and somber face, announced to Vladimir Putin, and the world, that you simply cannot invade another country on false pretenses.

“Gee!” I thought, “No fooling!”

We are now in for a great spate of righteous indignation, in which all the very serious persons in Washington and in various European capitals will rise up in defense of morality and the norms of proper international behavior. Don’t mistake me. I’m not defending the Russian move into Crimea. I think it’s a fairly boneheaded operation. But it’s not unusual, nor is it the worst behavior of this sort that we’ve seen in this century. Perhaps some of you recall a military incursion into Iraq, and not by just six thousand soldiers but by hundreds of thousands. There’s also this to keep in mind. So far, the Russians appear not to have killed anybody in Crimea since they’ve been there, nor did they kill thousands before they made their move. Furthermore, they don’t seem -- at least yet -- to have interfered with the ordinary, daily activities of the people who live there.

There have been a few journalistic reminders of what we’re actually dealing with here, but not many. The great majority of U.S. media members have fallen in behind the government and cranked their indignation machinery to white-heat levels.

Part of this despair, which comes from something no one can deny, is that Russia can exert greater force in this tiny portion of the world than anybody else. And to change that condition would require actions no government dares to undertake. So maybe it would be best calmly to acknowledge that reality and stop having fits about it. Then governments could move on to behavior that might have some effect. 

There is a problem in Crimea which needs to be faced. A majority of the people who live there have favorable sentiments towards Russia. The nominal sovereign, Ukraine, has granted the Crimeans a kind of home rule that amounts almost to autonomy. And the prime minister of Crimea appears to have no objections to what Putin has done so far. It’s probably impossible at this juncture to discover what the Crimea wants, but there’s at least a chance, if popular opinion could actually be consulted, it would be found that the people there would prefer to be a part of Russia rather than a part of the Ukraine. I recognize that popular sovereignty in small regions can’t always rule, but surely it can be taken into account in devising solutions.

The only point I’m trying to make here is that histrionic posturing will not be of use in resolving this so-called crisis. Rather, what’s needed is for everyone to step back and survey the various interests at stake, and try to make a bargain that won’t ruin anybody. In the meantime, stop all the name-calling.

If you consult the mainstream U.S. press at the moment, it’s easy to forget that this problem wasn’t generated yesterday. It’s not just a matter of Vladimir Putin sitting back at breakfast and saying, “Oh boy! I think I’ll invade somebody today.”

The United States and Western Europe has for quite a long while been trying to bring Eastern Europe into its economic orbit without being bothered with the annoying problem of extending it any sort of political security. It’s the typical tactic of corporate-based governments to get something for nothing. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to grasp that in Russia this behavior would be viewed as a serious threat. If all of Russia’s trading partners can simply be siphoned away, then Russia can be left to sink into comparative poverty and international impotence.

“Well, what’s wrong with that?” the Western Press might chortle. What’s wrong with it is that Russian leaders don’t like it and are prepared to make dramatic efforts to stop it. The basic attitude in the U.S. government is that Russia is still, pretty much, what the Soviet Union was, and therefore our goal should be to smash it into debility and infirmity. It’s a stupid goal leading to miserable results.

It may be that seizing Crimea, in the way it has been done over the past few days, will cost Putin more than it’s worth. If the Western powers don’t want Russia to take over the Crimea, then they should explain to the Russian government why they feel that way, and what sort of barriers they can put in Russia’s path.

Putin will undoubtedly respond, “Well, I’ve got it. What will you give me to return it?” At that point the Western governments will have to decide how much they want the Crimea to be a part of the Ukraine, and why. Sorting that out among themselves is not likely to be easy. Some of them might get so radical as it ask, “What do the Crimeans want?” That would anger the United States of course. They like to keep things on a big moralistic level, so secretaries of state can get red in the face. Moral indignation is what Americans are good at.

Hurling arguments that we’re good and you’re bad back and forth is not going to do anyone any good. In the first place, most of the governments of the world see that sort of talk as childish. And then, there’s the truth that if you really get down to discussing who’s good and who’s bad, a lot of people won’t agree with your position.

It’s more sensible to say, “This is what we want; what do you want?” And then sort it out in the best way you can.

Surely, only mad men can think that putting a small area like the Crimea into one large unit or another is worth the slaughter of thousands of people. So if you’re not going to go to war, then you have to resort to diplomacy. And diplomacy is seldom enhanced by red faces.

March 16, 2014

I am in Florida -- Hardee Country to be precise -- reading Montaigne. And that’s the reason I haven’t posted here for a while.

I’ve had it in mind to make excursions like this serve as occasions for single concentrations. I’ve asked myself if linking a particular time and place to a topic I’ve been interested in exploring but don’t seem to get around to at home can produce a distinctive effect.

Why Montaigne? The immediate reason is that we’re going to discuss one of his essays at our next Johnson Society meeting, but the more important cause is that Montaigne is a writer I’ve dipped into on several occasions, reading an essay here and another there, but have never read steadily enough to sense that I could take the measure of him. I’m trying to see if I can repair that weakness during this month in the Sunshine State.

The first thing I’ve established clearly is that Montaigne was a man of the 16th century. You may be saying that’s obvious, given his dates, but the truth is we tend to think of great writers as being outside time, as men for all seasons so to speak. And that’s true of them to some extent. But it’s also true that no matter how widely their minds ranged they were still under the influence of their own particular periods. We cannot expect anyone who lived during the 16th century, no matter how grand his mind was, to be able to think as a 21st century person might.

The intrusion of 16th century notions into Montaigne’s texts can be quite startling. He evidently believed stories that women had the power to impregnate themselves but that when they did they gave birth to misshapen lumps of flesh. It’s a horrible thought, yet he appears to have accepted it as normal. And there are numerous other examples of this sort.

When I was preparing for this trip, I thought I would search out my copy of Donald Frame’s translation and carry it across the hundreds of miles to Florida. But then I recalled that the Kindle is exactly the instrument for transporting books without weight, so I purchased one of the inexpensive translations on Amazon. It was done by Charles Cotton in the second half of the 19th Century, and although it is not a bad piece of work it seemed to me inferior to Frame’s. The thought of working through the entirety of the essays in Cotton’s book began to appear wearing. So I started to look for something else. I had hoped to get an electronic version of Frame’s, but I discovered his translation is not available in that form. I also, however, discovered something else. There is a more recent translation by the Oxford scholar, M.A. Screech, which is considered by many to be even superior to Frame’s, and it’s available for Kindle, though at a considerably higher price. Still, for an effort of this dimension -- Montaigne’s essays add up to what would be at least six modern volumes -- the cost didn’t seem too high. So I am now in the midst of reading Montaigne in Screech’s version.

There is one other note about Screech that’s needed here. He is an able modern scholar but he is also an Anglican priest with views about Christianity that many nowadays would not find particularly modern. Consequently, he is focused on presenting Montaigne as a fully believing Catholic Christian rather than as the skeptic many critics have found him to be. Screech thinks such readers are more devoted their own views than they are to Montaigne’s. And he may be right. But it’s only fair to take Screech’s views into account also.

I’m beginning to move towards a still quite vague hypothesis that Montaigne was capable of evincing a number of minds, some of which didn’t fit perfectly with others. Perhaps he was able to be both a believer and a skeptic, and would choose his mode depending on the circumstances in which it was to be applied. There are, after all, persons who can revel in religious faith inside church doors and then put all that aside when they return to the ordinary world.

Montaigne, himself, says fairly early in the essays that “Man (in good earnest) is a marvellous vain, fickle, and unstable subject, and on whom it is very hard to form any certain and uniform judgment.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find that he was willing to apply that sentiment to himself as well as to others.

Montaigne viewed his essays, which he labored on throughout his adult life as, first, an attempt to take account of himself -- to lay out his own value, his nature, his habits and his true opinions. He saw himself early on as a Stoic, then a Sceptic, and finally as an Epicurean. But he never moved completely from one of these to another, and Screech says he could hold all three philosophies “in a kind of taut harmony.” Multiple philosophies are, I think, a characteristic of any profound social mind. To limit oneself to a single way of seeing things is to be immature and simplistic. It’s a curse for a genuine writer, or perhaps I should say, it’s the mark of one who will never write anything significant.

Yet despite roaming in a variety of perspectives, Montaigne believed he found in himself a being governed by a forme maistresse, that is a master mould which successfully resisted any attempt to change it by either education or indoctrination. In other words, in Montaigne’s opinion, you are who you are and you can never truly be anything else. That’s why it’s so essential to discover who that self is. Otherwise, a person will flounder forever in one false form after another.

I’ll let this serve as an introduction to my reading of Montaigne, and try to flesh out the portrait over the remainder of my time here in central Florida. He was a complex man and pursued over the course of his life complicated topics, trying always to get to the bottom of them. I’ve learned enough already to be confident that if we’ll follow him to some of those bottoms, we’ll build a more solid grasp of who we are ourselves. That’s a reward that strikes me as worth stepping aside from tawdry modern politics for at least a while.

March 17, 2014

The 23rd chapter in Book I of Montaigne’s essays is titled, by editor M.A. Screech, “On Habit: And On Never Easily Changing A Traditional Law.” Montaigne called it, simply, De la coustume. It is longer than other pieces in this section of his work, about seven thousand words, and is curiously constructed. It is actually two essays joined together, with the implication that the one offers some interpretive force in reading the other. The first part advances the thesis that no imaginable human practice, regardless of how weird or bizarre it might seem, is beyond being adopted as custom for some society or other, or as Montaigne puts it, “I reckon that there is no notion, however mad, which can occur to the imagination of men of which we do not meet an example in some public practice or other and which as a consequence, is not propped up on its foundations by our discursive reason” The second part puts forward the argument that novelty in society is hateful, but that on occasion Fortune (however that may be defined) forces change on society, and when it does men are unwise to rail too loudly against it.

The first part promotes its argument by listing numerous practices that do, indeed, seem strange. There are societies, he tells us, in which people boil the bodies of their dead, and then pound the remains into a gruel, which is mixed with wine to be drunk. In other places, girls when they wish to marry, must go first to the king and ask him if he wishes to relieve them of their virginity. There is a country where women, as a symbol of honor, hem their skirts with a fringe of tassels to show how many men they have had sexual intercourse with. There are nations, he says, where one greets people by turning his back on them and where it is dishonorable to look directly at anyone a person respects. And there are quite a few practices described which are more graphic than these.

I’m not sure what one is supposed to conclude from this plethora of habits. The implication is that there is no standard of behavior which pervades humanity. People can do whatever they wish, and so long as it gains support from a majority it will function as well as any other custom. Nothing is ruled out by natural law, which is a peculiar stance to be found issuing from a Catholic Christian. It’s as though Christianity were just one set of behaviors among many, not an analysis that fits easily with orthodoxy.

As provocative as Montaigne’s dismissal of conventional morality, is the connection between the two parts of the essay, between the acceptance of any behavior as customary and the holding that any change in custom is generally ill-advised. In other words, regardless of how absurd a practice might be, once it has become established it’s better to hold onto it than to let it go. What’s the explanation for such a judgment? There may not be any single explanation but I suspect an element of any that could approach plausibility would have to be an inability to think of progress in the 16th century as we have mostly come to regard it four and a half centuries later.

We shouldn’t forget, in trying to come to grips with this essay, that Montaigne says it’s to be expected that thoughtful people will necessarily view many, and perhaps most, of the laws and customs of their society as foolish. But they will not try to get them changed. And why not? Because the process of change is always difficult and accompanied by suffering, and there is no guarantee that the new thing adopted will be any better than what was discarded. In fact, Montaigne implies that it is likely to be worse.

Why should this be the case? It is at this point that the divergence between Montaigne’s mind and our minds comes most cleanly into view. Montaigne did not see the human race as we do. He took it for granted that the overwhelming majority of people are and will always be peasants, and therefore will think as peasants. This doesn’t mean they are bad people, but it does mean that they are what they are.

Peasants cannot benefit from change, as long as they remain peasants. And most peasants are what they are destined to be. I suspect it would have been extremely difficult for Montaigne to register the thought of an intelligent citizenry thinking carefully together about healthful conditions for society, even though he knew that such theories had been discussed in the classical period. The wise men then, however, judged them to be foolish and Montaigne agreed with them. 

A question we need now to ask ourselves is whether we are more accurate than Montaigne was.

The comedian Bill Maher created a minor stir last weekend for declaring the American people to be stupid because 60% of them say they believe that the story of Noah in Genesis is genuine history. But is this a matter of stupidity or of the peasant mind at work? Some might ask, what’s the difference? but I think that would be a mistake.

Peasants are not stupid in the ordinary sense of that term. Many of them have well-developed skills. Yet certain mental habits are beyond them. They don’t think critically about accepted assertions. They don’t ask questions such as how did Noah get all the animals of the world together within a short distance of the big boat he built? Queries of that sort don’t come into their minds. When a person, regardless of personal background, does begin to entertain that kind of question, he or she departs from peasanthood, never to return.

Montaigne’s supposed conservatism, so evident in this 23rd chapter, is clearly not the same thing we call conservatism now. His was based on the confidence that he occupied a mental station which could never be shared by the majority of his fellow humans. Conservatism now rises from the conviction that there are no such things as mental stations.

The value for me in reading a thinker like Montaigne is to push me towards asking seriously whether he understood some things that have largely been lost to us, and that we need to recover. The problematics of democratic theory at the present require that we at least consider that possibility.

March 19, 2014

A lesson hard to escape in reading Montaigne is that misguided beliefs can persist for centuries. It may actually be that some of the most common of them have an eternal life, or at least a life that will maintain itself as long as humanity does.

The 25th Chapter of the first book of the Essays is titled by the modern editor, “On Schoolmaster’s Learning.” Montaigne, more simply, called it Du Pedantisme. It takes up the idea, still being promoted, that education is primarily a practice of packing people’s heads with as much information as they can possibly hold. How can it be, Montaigne asks, that men who have received the benefit of such education and therefore are presumably charged with the best that humanity has thought and said, remain, themselves, gross and commonplace?

Having read this wonderment, I offered Montaigne an answer in my notebook which I doubt he  will ever receive. Looking at my scribbling now, I see it reads: “The answer, I think, is that they view learning only as the ability to repeat.”

Just few pages later, I discovered Montaigne didn’t need to hear from me because he had thought the same thing four centuries before I came to being, which, I guess, says that my explanation is obvious. But how does it remain obvious for half a millennium and still fail to be grasped?

Montaigne thinks something about the parental impulse supports the weakness: “In truth the care and fees of our parents aim only at furnishing our heads with knowledge: nobody talks about judgement or virtue.” Then he goes on to amplify: “We work merely to fill the memory, leaving the understanding and the sense of right and wrong empty.”

Shortly afterwards a second explanation is offered, which surely is as potent now as it possibly could have been in the 16th century: “The fact that studies in France have virtually no other end than the making of money, few of those whom nature has begotten for duties noble rather than lucrative devote themselves to learning.”

So we are left with the concept that parents don’t want their children to achieve understanding but merely to appear clever so they can accumulate money.

Is this a permanent heritage of humanity, one that can never be dismissed?

If we probe for Montaigne’s answer we see that he assigns Nature far greater agency than we do. In the previous quotation he speaks of being “begotten” for noble duties. It’s a verb we don’t use much now, but it remains in our dictionaries as meaning production as an effect or an outgrowth. In other words, it is an effect or outgrowth of Nature that some can have noble minds, and others can’t. Nowadays we tend to speak of such things in terms of genetic heritage, and there is probably no topic more fiercely debated in social science.

Since we can’t answer the riddle of what is begotten, we can’t devise procedures for either education or politics that are fully reasonable. We fumble because we don’t know what we are dealing with.

Recently I have found myself being shoved -- reluctantly -- down the path Montaigne lays out for us. There was a time while I was teaching when I had confidence that if there were sufficient time and energy to devote to the task, I could help anyone read demanding texts -- like Shakespeare for instance -- in a pleasurable and profitable manner. The problem is, however, that in our social system, there isn’t enough time and energy to be given to such efforts. So whether it derives from the begotten nature of the student or the insufficient resources of the teacher, many people are going to pass their lives lacking amply developed minds and eager imaginations. This is not to say they are cursed; it’s just to say that their experiences will be less rich than we would hope. Montaigne takes this for granted. We don’t want to take it for granted but it may be the reality we have to manage. So how do we do it?

I don’t know, of course. They 16th century’s system of socially accepted classes, where some labored in the fields from dawn to dusk whereas others could explore sumptuous libraries is too harsh to satisfy us. We say that, at least, everyone should have opportunity, while giving scant thought to what full opportunity would entail. Probably the best we can do is offer as much opportunity as possible.

Yet we can’t offer genuine opportunity unless we keep alive the concept that learning is something beyond mere cramming the mind with facts to be regurgitated on occasions when it might be profitable.

I recall an essay I read many years ago which argued that we don’t need to worry about the liberal arts. They will take care of themselves regardless of what sort of institutions are provided to support them. That may be true, but, if it is, it’s a truth that will benefit only a tiny minority of humans. Awakening doesn’t come to many of us without some assistance. And if only a tiny proportion of humans do manage to enrich their minds by, say, reading Montaigne, the effect on dominant social policy will be negligible. We will live, on the whole, as savages because we will have savage minds. Think of a world in which the finest human development to be expected would be on a par with Bill O’Reilly’s.

For more than two millennia, hundreds of thinkers have tried to provide a firm foundation for the concepts of learning and understanding that Montaigne worked to explain in the 25th chapter of Book I. Isn’t that long enough to preserve those concepts from the danger of extinction? If it’s not, I hate to think what that means.

March 31, 2014

We’re near the end of our visit in Bowling Green, and as is usually the case, I haven’t written as much while I’ve been here as I intended. The days seem to slip by without my getting anything underway. The nature of a place imposes its will on you, even as you’re unaware it’s doing its work.

One of the features of my life here is that I’m around older people than I usually am in Vermont. Being with elderly people, you can’t avoid wondering about the nature and problems of advanced age. They force themselves on your attention. I found myself jotting down a series of general rules for being old, at least rules for myself. I can’t say how well they will work for other people, but I thought I would list a couple dozen here in case they might be helpful -- or at least amusing -- for others. So here are my first twenty-four:

  • Maintain as much strength as you can. Forget or ignore standards you see listed in popular journalism.

  • Don’t be intimidated when you find you can’t do as much as younger people can. Their activities have nothing to do with you. Do as much as you can.

  • Read more challenging and demanding texts than you have read before, and read them critically.

  • Dismiss the notion that earlier times were better than those we have now; there is no way to measure such things.

  • Don’t be afraid of new technological developments. Use them intelligently as you see fit.

  • Don’t try to park close to the entrance of stores.

  • Don’t get fat.

  • Wear simple clothes but remain neat.

  • Set aside the rules of religion taught to you when you were young; there can be little truth in them.

  • Eat ever-simpler food; eat no food touched by the Tyson Corporation.

  • Stop using words you don’t know the meaning of, and, particularly, don’t give your loyalty to the supposed qualities those words signify.

  • When someone tells you that such and such is the case, ask him how he knows.

  • Write down as many words you can each day, in whatever form you find congenial.

  • Recognize that it’s all right to love persons who are neither grand nor unusually intelligent. Stop deluding yourself about the virtues of people you love.

  • Forget the notion that people are either good or bad. You have no adequate definitions for those terms.

  • Don’t let your own shoulds be influenced much by other people’s shoulds.

  • Respect some persons (living and dead); worship none.

  • Have thoughts about subjects other than the weather.

  • Forget about giving the appearance of virtue. Supererogation does no one any good.

  • If you can avoid it, don’t use your hands when getting up out of a chair.

  • Whenever there’s a choice between laughing and crying, choose to laugh.

  • Use the medical profession; don’t allow it to use you.

  • If you have a choice, live in a house with steps.

  • Bounce on your toes several times each day; it will help you keep your balance.

A subject I sometimes argue with my family about is how much the depredations of old age are imposed by nature or misfortune as contrasted with how much they descend from our own foolish behavior. I am accused of being insufficiently sympathetic when I see people creeping about as though they can barely take the next step.

Maybe I’m guilty. I’m not sure. But I do recognize that bad things happen to people from no fault of their own, and that when they do, those who are hampered by such misfortunes deserve all the care and assistance we can, collectively, give them, so that their lives can be as full and active as possible. I certainly think we would have a far finer society if more of our public funds were devoted to efforts of that sort, and fewer to minister to fears we have been brainwashed into obsessing over. When voting about how to spend your tax dollars, think of John McCain and do the opposite of what he advises.

None of us should be harsh towards those less fortunate than ourselves. On the other hand, no one benefits from catering to ills that can be best addressed by self-discipline. We should all encourage one another to do for ourselves what we can. When we lose abilities there is, to some degree, a loss of dignity. And loss of dignity is the principal threat of age.

In modern American society we have fallen into the habit of thinking that certain ages dictate what a person can, and can’t, do. Buying into such nonsense destroys vast reaches of experience which people have more than enough ability to enjoy. It’s social theft of the most insidious sort. I encounter numerous instances of people spending valuable time planning for how they will be taken care of when they can no longer look after themselves. They don’t know if that time will ever come but, still, they accept it as an inevitability, and when they do it cankers their view of the future.

My two dozen suggestions probably aren’t the best that might be devised. But even they, if practiced steadily, could transform many lives for the better. We need to build practices into our everyday lives that keep us functioning. You don’t have sign up with a health club, or set aside a sacred period each day, to take a walk around the block, or do a few push-ups, or swing your arms about, or do a knee-bend occasionally, or pick up a weight. You can get in the habit of doing little things while walking from one room to another that will add years of activity to your life.

Make up your own list if you don’t like mine.

©John R. Turner

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