Collected Thoughts

May 2015
May 3, 2015

I’m wondering about the best adjective to designate the kind of TV watching I resort to when I can’t do anything else and I’m not sleepy enough to go to bed. Escapist? Time-passing? Mind-numbing? Schlock?

One might ask: why do you watch TV like that? I already told you; I can’t do anything else.

Last night I watched a rerun of NCIS: Los Angeles on CBS. The episode was titled, “Black Wind,” and was first broadcast on February 2, 2015 (evidently, on that night I could think of something else to do). It was not a good program by any means. The plot was hackneyed. The dialogue was childish. It seemed the producers were trying to make a camp version of a gigantic terrorist threat, and neither worked, not the camp nor the terrorist threat.

While looking up some of the details this morning, I discovered that the series has been running since 2009. It is now nearing the end of its sixth season. I wouldn’t have thought it had been going that long. Evidently, there are many other people who can’t find anything else to do.

I suppose there can be a kind of attachment to the characters which causes one to think he knows them, that they become friends in a curious way, and so there’s a desire to want to know how they’re doing. All of this is false. We don’t know them because they don’t actually exist. They are certainly not our friends because they don’t know we exist. How could they? They don’t know anything. Yet all that is the fantasy lure of melodrama. I’ve got nothing against fantasy but is it unreasonable to hope that it deliver something more substantive than we get on standard TV fare? But why should it, one might ask. After all, it’s just soothing you when you have nothing else to do. If it keeps you from going mad, or falling into abject despair, it’s doing all it’s supposed to do, all it can be expected to do. Maybe.

The only way I’ve found to extract something positive from entertainment of this brand is the it sometimes suggests courses for my thought that otherwise might not have been carved out. For example, on NCIS: Los Angeles, four of the eight main characters regularly kill people. One might say they kill only bad people, so, in accordance with the ethos of the show, that’s both okay and not particularly stressful. Yet, if over the course of the season you were to add up the people killed by G. Callen, Kensi Blye, Sam Hanna, and Marty Deeks you would have pretty close to a whole army of bad guys. Last night, for example, I lost count of the number of people the heroic quartet dispatched. Suppose if the actual agents employed by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service killed at the same rate. What would that do to the world? What would it do to the killers, as virtuous as they might be?

After one of these killing spasms, the lovable folk of NCIS: Los Angeles, gather back at their homey headquarters, discuss the latest flower someone has installed, drink gin from a decorative container, and crack affectionate jokes at one another. They are happy, relieved, full of good cheer. They are the best people in the world. There appears to be no thought among them that tomorrow they’ll have to go out and kill some more people. The supply of human beings who can be killed guiltlessly is endless. They’re always out there, ready to function as bullet-receptors, and set off cheers as small cones of metal rip through their internal organs.

What would happen to the mental stability of people who actually functioned as this happy team does? But then that’s the point, isn’t it. They’re not actually people. They are scripted beings set in motion by those who write to deadlines. The psychological stamina of real human minds doesn’t in any way apply to them.

I suppose that’s all right. It’s a story, after all. And in stories the creators can make anything happen they want to. Still, what they make, especially if it’s taken in by millions, is bound to have some effect. And since it is, others are bound to wonder about the nature of that effect.

It is said that NCIS: Los Angeles is the kind of thing people like. And since it is, they have the right to get what they like delivered to them. That’s supposedly the premise of the capitalistic system. A second function of the capitalistic system, though, is to make people think they like stuff they would never have thought of liking had it not been pushed at them in captivating ways. Did you know that you were supposed to admire people who kill hundreds every year, over six seasons of mayhem? Had you thought of that before you started watching that level of slaughter on your TV screen?

What’s the motive behind making you think you like that? My best guess is it’s a desire to make a lot of money without having to work, or to think, very hard to get it. It’s very easy to show good guys killing bad guys, over and over and over again. There’s very little thought that goes into it.

I have generally been a defender of melodrama as harmless entertainment. I don’t know that I’m going to give up that role completely. Yet the actual watching of TV begins to make me wonder about my long-standing convictions. So, if there is any health in flopping down to take in another episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, and the dozens of isomorphs that plod along with it, wonderment about the whole business is probably it.

May 4, 2015

This morning I stumbled on a fascinating e-mail exchange between Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky. I say “fascinating” because it illuminates moral issues that I've discussed with quite a few people, and generally ended up thinking I was banging my head against a wall. So I was glad to see that the same kind of thing happened between Harris and Chomsky.

Harris charges Chomsky with being unable to make “the most basic moral distinctions -- between types of violence, and the variety of human purposes that give rise to them.” What Harris has in mind in saying this is that he doesn’t think Chomsky gives enough weight to intention in gaging the morality of national actions. For Harris, intention is the key factor in judging the morality of behavior. He admits that things can go wrong, and that consequences can be more dire than anyone expected. But when that happens, if the intentions were good, then we should call it a mistake rather than an act of evil. For example, when the United States drops a bomb on a house where nothing is going on other than a wedding, because “intelligence” has indicated that a bad person is there, the deaths of all the other people in the house can be seen as unintended. The bomb wasn’t intended to kill them; it was just going after the bad guy. If the bombers could have killed the target without killing anyone else, they would have. And somehow this exculpates them (at least to some degree).

Harris says that in the war between the West and Islam (he assumes there is such a war), the West’s intentions are generally good whereas Islam’s intentions are always bad. He reaches this conclusion because he associates good with modern thinking and bad with the thinking of the past. To explicate this notion, he quotes a statement from Arundhati Roy, one of Chomsky’s admirers:

The U.S. government refuses to judge itself by the same moral standards by which
it judges others. . . . Its technique is to position itself as the well-intentioned giant
whose good deeds are confounded in strange countries by their scheming natives,
whose markets it’s trying to free, whose societies it’s trying to modernize, whose
women it’s trying to liberate, whose souls it’s trying to save. . . . [T]he U.S. government
has conferred upon itself the right and freedom to murder and exterminate people
“for their own good.”

And then Harris issues his refutation:

But we are, in many respects, just such a “well-intentioned giant.” And it is rather
astonishing that intelligent people, like Chomsky and Roy, fail to see this. What we
need to counter their arguments is a device that enables us to distinguish the
morality of men like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein from that of George Bush
and Tony Blair.

This frames Harris’s argument fairly succinctly. In his mind, Bush and Blair clearly have higher morals than Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein because the former don’t want to hurt innocent people (it’s just that they do) whereas the latter two are murderous. Chomsky is blind not to see this.

Chomsky responds by saying, in effect, that when one does something whose consequences any rational person should be able to anticipate, he bears as much responsibility for them as if he had done them with deliberate intent. What’s going on with Western leaders when they, for example, bomb a pharmaceutical plant, as Clinton did at al Shifa in Sudan, is a refusal to consider the effects of destroying a major health facility or the likelihood that thousands would die because of the depletion of medical supplies. And why do our leaders fail to think about such things? Because lives destroyed in a country like Sudan have little weight in Western consideration. They simply don’t count.

Why is the dismissal of the significance of lives, leading to great losses, more moral than deliberate attempts to kill people? If we consider numbers, the former stance has taken far more lives than the latter. Chomsky’s making that point leads Harris to charge him with caring only about body counts. But why aren’t body counts important? They’re a pretty good measure of the totality of human anguish that’s involved in a strategy.

The reason Harris and Chomsky are talking past one another is that they’re concerned with different issues. Harris cares about assigning moral blame. Chomsky cares about looking at the consequences of acts and, when they’re horrific, trying to avoid them in the future. Which is more mature and thoughtful concern?

Maybe it’s silly to find much meaning in this argument. After all, we’re talking about a disagreement between one of the intellectual giants of our era and someone who’s reputation will be considerably less impressive than that. Why view it as a noteworthy event?

I think it’s worthy of attention because millions of people in the United States think as Harris does. They assume that American leaders don’t really want to hurt innocent people, and consequently that they’re basically good, even when their actions cause terrible harm. No high-ranking American official would take a knife and cut off someone’s head. Only vile, vicious men do such things, and they need to be exterminated. And if getting rid of them takes a thousand times as many lives as they, themselves, could ever take, well that’s just the price of doing what we have to do.

Such thinking could lead to even greater disaster in the future than it has in the past. Remember how bad Saddam Hussein was? I guess we showed him, didn’t we?  That doing it killed about a million people, well, that was too bad. Still we showed him. Noam Chomsky grasps the nature of such thinking. Not only does Sam Harris not grasp it, he appears totally incapable of comprehending its results. Why is that?

There’s an obsession with moral ranking in America that gets in the way of perceiving the totality of effects, an obsession that cuts us off from asking, carefully, what’s the most sensible and healthiest course we can follow? I think we’ll cure ourselves far quicker by listening to Noam Chomsky than we will to Sam Harris.

May 22, 2015

The question continually assaulting me is one that’s doubtless visiting many others: is the world getting crazier everyday or has it always been this bad and we’re just now getting sufficient technology in communication to let us know it? I normally tell myself it’s the latter, but I can’t be sure.

I can’t remember exactly what I thought about the American people when I was young. I know, however, it didn’t occur to me then that the population of the United States was intellectually incapable of conducting a democracy.  Now that seems obvious. We haven’t had a democracy for decades and there is no sign one is on the horizon. The citizenry, as a whole, is far too oblivious to what’s occurring in the nation and the world to make decisions that could count as democratic choices. It’s true, we have elections in which -- sometimes -- about half the people vote. But they cast their votes for reasons that have almost nothing to do with actual policies or government behavior.

What we do have is a power structure which decides how the public monies shall be spent and how the nation’s lethal forces will be employed. People worm their way into this structure by various means, mostly by gaining command of gigantic piles of money which can be used to mount flashy propaganda campaigns. And their motives, once they do manage to get inside, don’t have to meet any test of sanity in order to be actualized. There’s no accepted name for this system. About all we can say now is that the governing structure of the United States resembles a gigantic crap shoot more than anything else.

Everybody knows this. Some of us wring our hands about it. But how public affairs might be set on a more rational course seems beyond the grasp of even our most able thinkers. I find myself wondering if modern conditions of over-population, pollution, and reduction of natural resources have, in effect, closed the door on equitable government and decent living conditions for a majority of people in this nation, as well as for the rest of the world, and that we are facing dog-eat-dog social decline. I hope that’s not the case. I recognize there are quite a few knowledgeable scholars who say it’s not. But all such analysts I’ve found making the positive case counsel that human attitudes have to change more radically than seems possible at the moment. The absurdity of weather-change deniers in the U.S. Congress shows us that sound evidence has scant influence on the beliefs of a considerable portion of humanity.

At an anthropology conference in 1998, Warren M. Hern, of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, pointed out that aerial views of urban centers bear a “striking similarity to images of cancerous tissue (particularly melanoma) invading the healthy surrounding tissue.” The notion of the human species being a cancer on planet earth is not new, and as one reads news accounts carefully the idea becomes increasingly plausible. There is certainly no guarantee that we will find our way to a better future.

There was once a fairly strong idea that a form of aristocratic thinking by an intellectual elite could complement the destructive stupidity of mass democracy enough to allow nominal democracy to flourish. I haven’t heard much talk of that sort lately. In fact, there’s a sense that any group that might be called an elite is just as corrupt as the masses are. A couple days ago, Pablo Eisenberg of Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute published an essay in the Huffington Post in which he decried the lack of intellectual courage among today’s prominent figures. Elected officials, he said, “believe that the most important thing they can do for their country or state is to be re-elected.” And what’s true of politicians seems to be true of most supposed leaders in finance, education, and even in advocacy groups. Very few are willing to risk any sort of personal sacrifice in order to support intelligent assessment of public conditions. Eisenberg’s article says, in effect, that the great majority of them are mere flacks.

Might all this mean that privileged people have decided that social enhancement is impossible, that the problems are simply too gigantic to be overcome, and, therefore, that the only sensible course is to push platitudes while wrapping themselves in personal safety nets as human society decays? I don’t like to be that cynical and yet, I feel myself -- almost against my will -- more and more viewing the famous people of the world with disdain. And so I ask, if the “big” people are hopeless, are there unheralded sources of healthy energy to offer some hope? How can I find them? How can I help them?

Obviously there are many intelligent and dedicated people all around the world working to counter what seem to be the dominant impulses. At the moment, admirable as they are, they don’t seem able to make much of a dent in onslaughts of stupid and destructive behavior. The Senate of the United States, for example, continues to be primarily a playground for fools. When I reflect that the people of the United States will promote men like Lindsey Graham, Jim Inhofe, Mitch McConnell, and Tom Cotton into the upper house of the U.S. legislature, my heart wilts. Why does anyone vote for them? What is the actual state of mind that will cause a person to walk into a voting booth and mark a ballot for Tom Cotton?

There’s a lot to be discouraged about. The problems are enormous. The celebrities are pathetic. The institutions are bathed in corruption. Still, existing in discouragement is no way to live. All I can think to do at the moment is to give intelligent people, regardless of their lack of prominence, whatever support I can.

There have been, in history, tipping points, when ancient evils in control for ages have finally nauseated enough people to be swept away. Maybe we’re closer to some of those points than we can imagine. I don’t know that we are, but ... maybe.

I don’t offer this as any sort of incisive analysis. It’s just me, worrying out loud. But perhaps we all ought to worry together more than we do.

May 28, 2015

A sentence from David Taffel’s Nietzsche Unbound caught my attention this morning as an explanation for much of the lethal foolishness we’ve experienced in this country over the past several decades: Many people have experiences of bad things in their lives that cannot be changed and that they cannot bear to live with unless they can construe them as necessary for the achievement of some grand cosmic purpose.

It may be an ineradicable impulse in the human mind to search for noble purpose in miserable occurrences. The most notable example of the past two millennia is doubtless Christianity itself. The followers of Jesus couldn’t stand to think of his death as the result merely of an accidental chain of cruelty. And so, over a long period of rationalization, they and those who came after them constructed the mythology that his suffering and death were necessary for the salvation of humankind. An atrocity was transformed from horror into glory.

The standard piety bolstering American wars over the past half-century has been that the soldiers who were killed in them -- the American soldiers, that is -- sacrificed their lives for freedom. The refrain has become so iconic it’s heretical to ask, “Freedom from what?” It seems that as wars become more senseless and vicious, the proclamation that our troops are dying in defense of freedom becomes ever more feverish. The “parents,” we are told demand it. They would find it intolerable to think of their sons as mere pawns in a game of power and money-grabbing.

The American criminal justice system presents itself as a bulwark of security behind which citizens can live free from fear. In the interests of this grand goal, American authorities have imprisoned a greater percentage of their own people than is the case anywhere else in the world. Not only are hundreds of thousands kept locked up but many of the prisons themselves have become gigantic torture chambers. Yet the functionaries of this system are regularly portrayed as heroes. Whenever there’s a problematic killing by a police officer, millions rise up in defense of it, and lionize the killer as one who is putting his life on the line every day to protect us from mayhem. Though there may be some sympathy for the person who is dead, it is often drowned out by cries that “justice” has been served. In other words, this omnipresent shield of justice is constructed, in part, from the mistakes that zealous police officers make. If they were not eager, they wouldn’t protect us, and eagerness will inevitably result in a few mishaps.

What we can say about eager policemen we can say just as accurately about citizens not only ready but eager to protect themselves with firearms. As the deluge of firearms flows more rampantly through the United States, deaths from guns may be on the rise. One of the problems in America is that we, collectively, don’t care enough about deaths from gun shots to keep accurate statistics about them. It’s generally acknowledged that well over thirty thousand people die from guns in the U.S. each year. It’s also generally acknowledged that no one knows for sure how much that number would rise if there were accurate counts of gun deaths. But, say gun advocates, these are merely the unfortunate results of maintaining a greater good. The freedom to own guns is essential. Without it, something gigantic would be lost. Exactly what this gigantic loss would be is never spelled out in detail. Yet it’s clearly seen as constituting a good so great that it overwhelms any miseries it might occasion. In fact, the latter are painted as necessities underpinning this good of overweening greatness.

As you have surmised, I think all this is nonsense, promoted by motives that are seldom dragged into the light. My only worry about such dragging is the morality of shaking up other people’s thoughts. If a mother, grieving the death of her son in Iraq, can gain solace by telling herself his life was sacrificed for American freedom, should anybody diminish that comfort by explaining to her that his death had nothing to do with American freedom? Would I do that to her if I were actually in her presence? And if I did, would I be right? These aren’t easy questions for me to answer, and I have no inclination to answer them dogmatically. It’s clear to me that each instance needs to be examined carefully.

When, however, it comes to weighing future deaths against emotional relief gained from delusion, I don’t hesitate about which is more significant. Nobody should to die to enable people to tell romantic but false tales about the causes.

There’s an ancient argument that the unity derived from community myth more than compensates for the accompanying falsehood. I suppose that might have been the case when people lived mostly in small, relatively isolated tribes. But it doesn’t stand up in a world of global electronic propaganda. The chances now for blatant manipulation are so widespread anybody who claims that mythological unity can be healthily maintained is either lame-brained or cynical. The changes history delivers are real and so we need to respond to them realistically. It’s true that meaningless loss and sacrifice is emotionally excruciating. People suffering from it do need comfort. But it shouldn’t be the comfort of the past. Mistakes and falsehood in the modern world now have to be transformed into learning, so that we don’t keep on doing the same stupid stuff forever. To persist in nonsense, and continuously suffer from it, is more agonizing over the long run than struggling to face the adamancy of what’s real.

May 30, 2015

News stories about Dennis Hastert and former Nazi soldiers Gerhard Sommer and Vladimir Katriuk have reminded me of a confession I have needed to make for some time. I’m sure I’ve hinted at it on this site on various occasions but I don’t think I have ever before come out with it explicitly. It has to do with a disagreement I have with a great majority of my fellow humans.

It may be that calling it a disagreement is slightly off. It’s probably more an innate difference speaking to an essence of character.

When someone does a truly hideous act, most people think that he, or she, should be made to suffer for it. The more horrific the act, the more intense the suffering that’s required. This they call justice. People can, of course, define words however they wish, but in my mind, and in my deep-seated emotions, such a sentiment has nothing to do with justice.

My stance on this comes from my stance on inflicted suffering. I don’t like it. I don’t like it when a good person suffers nor do I like it when a bad person suffers. In either case, it’s still suffering which is being caused deliberately, and I don’t see how any suffering of that character can ever be justified or celebrated.

I’ve not so naive as not to understand the desire for revenge, nor am I so pure as not to have felt it myself. It’s an emotion that has been with us for a very long time. But its longevity doesn’t mean that it’s either good, or healthy. We would be better off if we could free ourselves from it entirely but it would probably be an even more significant improvement if we would stop confusing it with justice. If the word “justice” is to do the positive work that we expect from it, “revenge” needs to be driven out of it completely.

You can’t watch news on TV for long without hearing some official announce, portentously, that so and so will “be brought to justice.” In cases involving international activities, that usually means that U.S. authorities will kill somebody. You doubtless remember that Osama bin Laden was brought to justice and that the president announced this act of justice with great fanfare.

It’s often the case that when someone receives a severe sentence in court, relatives of his victims will say that it’s not as severe as what he did to their loved ones. This is always announced in a tone proclaiming that an irrefutable point has been made. There’s no question that the convicted person deserves what’s going to happen to him, but also that it’s good he’s getting it. If you were to ask the revenge-seekers what’s good about it, you would probably be regarded as insane.

One reason for this extremely popular attitude is that most people are deficient in empathy. They can be jubilant over the suffering of someone they don’t like because they have neither the desire, nor the ability, to imagine what that suffering actually is. And public authorities help them maintain the deficiency by concealing the suffering behind thick walls so that the average person never has to see it playing out. He can rejoice in his mythology of justice without being bothered by reality.

Another reason for the widespread approval of suffering is the obtuse notion that a person never changes; time has no effect on him. In today’s news, many people are expressing fervent disappointment that Vladimir Katriuk, a former member of the S.S., managed to die of natural causes before he was convicted of war crimes and made to suffer for them. He was ninety-three years old and the crimes he is accused of having committed occurred more than seventy years ago. I don’t know anything about Katriuk’s past. He may well have done the awful things some are now saying he did. But we can all know this: the Katriuk of 2015 was not the same creature as the Katriuk of the 1940s. We can’t say how he changed, but we can know that when we inflict suffering for deeds committed more than seven decades ago, we are not hurting the same psychological entity who participated in the acts. The argument that we need to pursue every one of these cases to make sure that the public knows what happened is flaccid. The world knows what was done. Horrible, vicious, unspeakable acts were committed. Inflicting suffering on a ninety-three year old man wouldn’t have added to that knowledge. It would have just been suffering, pure and simple.

Nothing I say here should be taken to mean that I don’t recognize the need to restrain people who have shown themselves to be threats to public safety. Of course we should. The public obviously has the right to defend itself. But how does public defense include the right to cause someone to suffer? What good does the suffering, by itself, do? It simply caters to an atavistic impulse rising from a world in which everyone was a member of some tribe, or other, and persons from other tribes were not recognized as human. What’s the use of maintaining that sentiment?

The harm of maintaining it is clear. Every act of purposively inflicted suffering generates hatred. And that hated, at some time, in some way, will find a means to inflict harm on others. The world, clearly, is turgid with hatred. It needs to be flushed away.

I’ve concentrated here on reasons why the imposition of suffering is a mistake. But if I’m going to be truthful in my confession, I have to admit that these are secondary matters. The main thing for me personally is that I am sickened by the thought of human-imposed suffering, regardless of who is experiencing it, or why. We would be more interesting people if we were working always to get rid of it.

May 31, 2015

Among the people with whom I associate most frequently here in Hardee County, there is no knowledge, at all, of the principal thinkers of Western culture. I’m not about to pronounce on the goodness or badness of that, but I do think it’s curious. Think of it: the mention of Socrates, or Plato, or Aristotle, or Immanuel Kant, or Samuel Johnson, or Baruch Spinoza, or Friedrich Nietzsche, or Martin Heidegger produces not a flicker of recognition. How can that condition have come to be? What does it mean?

It wouldn’t surprise me in any way to find people who haven’t read the works of any of these figures. My guess is that would apply to at least 93% of the citizens of the United States. But never to have heard their names! That’s what boggles my mind. A person has lived more than eighty years in the United States and has not heard the word “Plato” pronounced. Is that credible? Obviously it should be because it’s indeed the truth.

When I ask myself about its meaning, I realize it tells me that social groups in America are far more isolated from one another than most of us ever imagine. I don’t know if the United States has the most disparate population of any country in the world, but I suspect it’s the case. It may be that the only genuine element of American exceptionalism is disparity. The United States are not united.

Politicians probably sense this sub-consciously. That’s likely why they are continually making absurd pronunciamentos about how the American people all believe this, or all believe that. These are statements reflecting desperation. The fact, of course, is that the American people don’t all believe anything. There is no proposition -- that means anything at all -- that ninety percent of the American people would assent to. In fact, there’s no meaningful proposition that nine/tenths of the population could understand. So where’s the American unity? It doesn’t exist. If you want an explanation about why American social policy and American politics have become so weird, this is it.

How is it possible to govern a gigantic mass whose people are dispersed among hundreds -- perhaps thousands -- of eccentric groups? Once asked, the answer becomes obvious. You govern it the way it is governed, by power units populated by avaricious and ruthless persons who have extruded themselves from their original units to join the most bizarre set of units of all. The people who complete this transition are always spewing propaganda about how they are faithful to the people and views “back home.” But that’s pure nonsense. Once they are in a power unit they are faithful to only one purpose: increasing the power of the unit they have joined. It’s a mainly egocentric process because they believe that if they have power over the most powerful unit, then they, themselves, have power over everything. And they like that. It’s true that there are a few individuals who worm their way into power units and retain remnants of a personal philosophy, or a personal ethic, but they seldom make up more than a tenth of any group they have managed to join. Anyone who respects their philosophy and ethics should give them his, or her, support. But there’s no reason to expect that supporting people like this alone can transform the system. Much more has to be done to fashion a system which helps all the people who live within it, i.e., a democratic system.

What is this much more? I can’t say any more than any other single person can. But I am confident in saying this: the current system which has us in a stranglehold has to be exposed for what it is. The mythology it has woven around itself in order to hold onto of the reins of power, has to be dissipated. If I were to put it colloquially, I’d say “we have to stop believing crap.” And, I would also add that’s not going to be easy, because a majority of us are addicted to it. It tells us we are somebody we are not, somebody infused with a grandeur we don’t possess. Worrying about one’s own grandeur is a path to perdition. If we want to live well then figuring out how to live well requires much of our attention. If we reach the stage of living well then we can be content for social grandeur to take care of itself.

This brings me back to the people of Hardee County and their current situation. It would be absurd to say they’ve got to start reading Plato and Aristotle. It would also be futile. But it’s not absurd to say that if they are going to figure out how to live well, and escape the control of a system that’s not treating them well, they’ve got to get into dialogue with some kind of matter that will sharpen, and deepen their thought. Nobody can think well from scratch. If that were possible the cave men would have invented spacecraft. If our own thoughts are to be adequate we have to use other people’s thoughts to help us along.

A significant component of the myth the power structure has spun is an assurance that good people don’t have to think. They train themselves for the jobs the bosses want carried out. They show up for work every day and do what they’re told. They pay their taxes. And this is the complete formula for virtue. Nobody mentions it’s also the perfect formula for being duped.

Hardee County is here, for me, a symbol of the brand of small isolated social units that make up most of this country. Right now in a large majority of them the social mind is deflated. The people don’t know what’s being done to them, nor do they have any sense of how they might change things. The concept of applying their minds to make improvements is absent. How can they build minds that will make them more active agents of self-construction? They’ve got to get in touch with something that will trigger personal mental development. That used to be called education before “education” came to mean learning how to do what the bosses want.

The future of this nation will be determined by how many of our current decrepit units can activate themselves, can insist on accurate information, can learn to think. How that process will unfold is going to be interesting, and perhaps exciting. There’s no guarantee, though, that it will go well. But neither is there certainty that it will keep the fetid stew churning that we have now.

If you have a chance, come to Hardee County, stay a week, and tell others what you think might be done.

©John R. Turner

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