Define Tyrant

The very first step towards understanding ANYTHING is knowing that a THING is a THING.

What????

Whether it’s the colors of the rainbow, or knowing if your leaders are corrupt, you first have to have a way to think about those things: colors, corruption, whatever.

These are definitions.  If my own little brain can’t define colors very well, then I’m never going to have a decent conversation about rainbows; even WITH MYSELF.

If I want to talk about rainbows with you, then I need to share my definition of colors with you as well.  If you agree, then we can have a nice conversation about rainbows.

The same goes for tyrants.  What is a tyrant?  Some people are already calling tRump a tyrant.  Many of his supporters totally disagree.  Who is right?

Let’s take a stab at a simple definition.  Let’s pretend that one way you can identify a tyrant is if they use their position as a public speaker to incite a mob towards violence.

Now, violence in general could include rugby or smashing beer bottles.  But what if the violence is targeted towards certain people?  Like people who wear yellow stars?  Or people who talk funny?  Or people with skin that looks like coffee or chocolate?

Here’s my definition.  A tyrant is someone who uses their public position to incite mob violence towards opposition or a group that is different from themselves.

Guess what?

We have video, much written experience, and even a lawsuit about President drumpf using exactly these tactics during his speeches.  I wish it was only during his campaign that he does this, but it turns out that he continues to use the highest office in the (previously) “land of the free” to do the same thing.

Now, many of his supporters will be quick to point out that this is fake news and have alternative facts.  However, Pres 45 did exactly these things even in his last press conference.  More like a press battle, but if you look carefully, you can see that he is at battle with a free and independent press, and pushing his supporters to punish them appropriately.

Disagree?  Fair enough.

So, what’s your definition?

 

 

Question Authority

I’m on a good sized airplane.  I’m comfortable, in my proper seat, and ready to fly.

So is the aircraft.  The pilots are almost through with their checklists, and the flight attendant is finishing up her required briefing to the passengers.

I look about, and the aircraft is only half full.  I have work to do, and it would be nice to spread out.

Since the attendant is still busy, I unbuckle and quickly switch seats.  In no time flat another attendant comes to hover above me.

We can’t have you changing seats sir.

Why?

I’m sorry, but I’ve been instructed by my superiors that no one can change their seats.  I’m sorry.

Alright.  I move back to my seat, and ponder.

Can’t move?  It’s not hard on the seats – they are designed for many butt touches.

It can’t be the airplane.  This one is large enough so that even an elephant could move around without bothering the pilots.

No, it can only be for the flight attendant’s convenience.  It makes it easier on them.  It’s for making their lives easier, not ours.  The more they can treat us like cattle, the better.

I realize that if the airline could figure out a way to put us to sleep and stack us up like firewood, they would.  No need for food, toilets, and more people on the plane.  Fewer attendants even.  Heck, they’re probably working on the idea even as I write.

More importantly, you and I live in this world, in this society, and are customers of that airline.  To the degree that we don’t question their authority in order that we can have better lives is our fault.  To the degree that we don’t insist on questioning their authority so that our children can have better lives is a sin.

I looked in that attendant’s eyes and said “sorry to have upset you.”

But in my heart, if it had been something important that I was fighting for, I wouldn’t have stopped.  The future is worth it.

 

President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.

 

Humility Helps

“Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?”

So begins Abraham Lincoln’s favorite poem.  It’s all about mortality, and poetically reminds us that our time on this Earth is short.  Many act as if they are immortal, yet all of them eventually return to dust.

Why was it that Abe had to remind himself of this fact?  Certainly he already knew this.  Being surrounded by the Civil War must also have been a constant reminder as to everyone’s eventual end.  And he was the first President to start receiving actual death threats (as far as I know).  So what’s with the poem?

Another way to ask this same question is why don’t modern politicians and leaders remind themselves of the same thing?  How many actually acknowledge their mortality, not only in words, but in deeds?  The newest pope comes close, by the way.  Why does admitting their own mortality matter for leadership?

Because the sin of pride distorts your world in your favor, and increases the distance between your view of reality and the rest of us.

If you are proud enough you expect to have a 747 at your beck and call.  You expect to live in a palace with a staff of 100.  You expect a legion of photographers to follow your every move.  And the more you come to expect these things as normal, the more likely you are to make decisions that reinforce your reality.

Do small airplanes get in the way of your 747?  Tell them all to stop flying wherever you fly.  Are the parks around your palace looking dingy?  Ask the government for a few million to tidy them up.  Are the paparazzi getting a bit too close?  Ask for laws to keep them at bay, or decide you’re above the law and do whatever you want to mislead them – like speeding.

But if you’re serious about making great decisions and seeing the world as the rest of us, then mortal, be not proud.

Don’t be afraid of your public, take a regular flight from Washington to Chicago in the economy seats.  Palace park has litter?  Go pick it up yourself!  Paparazzi want your pictures?  Give it to them, and stand there till they get bored.  Heck, hire some yourself and make some money yourself.  Better yet, lead a modest, quiet regular life and bore them to exhaustion.  If you really want them to go away, that is.

Abe was humble because he wanted to be the best leader possible.  He knew he was smart and powerful, he didn’t need sycophants for that.  But he also knew he had to understand, to the best of his ability, what the world looked like for ordinary Americans.

He may have been afraid that fateful night when he went to the theater.  He certainly knew he had enemies and crazy people threatening him.  But he also knew that he could not live in fear, not if he wanted to be a great leader.  Especially when his country needed a great leader the most.

I like to think that Abe would still go to the theater that night, even if he knew what was going to happen.  And to me, that is the greatest attribute of leadership – humility and the loss of fear.

Thank you Mr. Lincoln.

 

Dancing?

I think I’ve finally figured this one out. Why do humans dance?

I’m pretty sure that it’s only humans. At least, after all the hours I’ve seen of wild animals doing their thing, none of them have ever gotten up and boogied. Of course, who knows what happens late on Saturday nights when all the cameras are gone, right? Maybe there are rabbit raves? After all, where do all those rabbits come from?

I’ve never been a good dancer, and I’ve never understood why people dance. As a nerd I can blame my computerish tendencies. I can also blame my lack of skill, balance, and coordination. As you can tell, I’m pretty good at rationalization. I can also blame the fact that I learned to dance in the 80s, when disco was big. That alone may have traumatized me.

But why do others like to dance? I could never figure this one out. Every now and then I’d ask someone, usually a dancing partner. At which point they would promptly dump me. I never did get a good answer.

Anyway, after all these years, I think I got it.

People dance as a way to show that they are in touch with nature, deep nature. That’s it.

What is deep nature? It’s the rhythms permeating our lives; rhythms that are so old and so deeply entwined in our being that words are inadequate. Deep nature is life itself, and death; deep nature is breath itself, and the beating heart. Deep nature is hunger, sleep, love, and fear.

You probably already knew this, most people do. Some of us don’t, and we stand at the wall wondering what all the undulating is about.

Dancing occurs in all cultures, to many different beats, in many different forms. It changes slowly between generations, because the beat of nature for your generation is slightly different than it was for mine. Your dancing reflects that.

More women dance than men in our culture; not surprising because women are more closely tied to nature. Do we need music? No, but it certainly helps, as music reminds us of the beating of natural rhythms, like our heart, the tides, seasons, or the sun and moon. Do we need a partner? Again, not really, but if dancing is about communicating our ability to feel nature, then a partner is required, for who else are we talking to? The more people the more the need to dance. The greater the celebration, such as a wedding or even funeral, the more need to dance.

So the next time I see the group get up and sway, I’ll do my best to join in. I may not feel the forces that they do, but at least I can try undulating a bit. I just wish my relatives wouldn’t laugh so much!

Impact of an 8 year old

Saturday, yesterday, at noon, here in my peaceful little village in the middle of Ohio, a little boy was killed by a car.  We don’t know the details, yet, but they don’t matter.

We do know is his family was crossing the street.  A car driven by a sixty-something hit the entire family; all of them went to hospital.  As of this writing his is the only death.

The 12th of July should have been a memorable day for him because he probably got ice cream, saw the water falls, and probably enjoyed seeing many of the dogs and people walking about.  The village was different from his home in Virginia, and perhaps he would remember us as he grew into a young man, a man with a family, a career, and the possibility of helping humanity into the future.

The title of this essay is deliberately harsh, because the impact of that car has caused this little boy to impact my life, and through me, perhaps, some of you.  It’s my fervent hope that his life does not end with a short obituary and a few tears.  It’s my dream that events like this create a greater impact within ourselves, and our society.

I dream of a day when every tragedy causes us to pause, appreciate each other, and be thankful for the simple things in life.  I dream of a day when every tragedy becomes a new incentive to learn, and improve ourselves and our society.  And I dream of a day when tragedies like this are only known through ancient history.

We must be careful not to over-react.  Was the family paying attention and following the rules of the road?  Was the driver competent and was the car in proper working order.  If something did fail, what was it and how can we prevent such events like these in the future?

This little boy’s memories of our village have been erased.  But his memory becomes part of ours.  Even as I write this, I’m also reading about children whose memory is being erased in Syria, Gaza, Irag, Afghanistan, and other places.  Will our society ever grow to the point where those lives are also mourned?

Or will their impact be lost?

 

 

Silencing your Genes

Suicide, a willful decision a living entity makes to end their own life.  The very word elicits a shudder from every normal person, and for those who have been touched by it, a deep feeling of sadness.  But to study and understand people, society, and life in general, we must move beyond our personal feelings and think about what suicide means.

Suicide means that someone, something, that is alive chooses to not be alive.  What happens when a soldier chooses to participate in a dangerous mission and never returns?  We call such missions suicide missions because that is what they represent.  What happens when an organization is disbanded?  In a sense, while it is together, that organization is alive.  Suddenly it no longer exists, whether through bankruptcy, ineptitude, or some other form of life-altering event.  What happens if someone decides that they never want to have children?  In this sense, their ‘life’ as represented by their genes will cease to exist.  Their unique genetic signature will die, because it is only through offspring that such information is preserved.

In all these cases, a choice has been made in which ‘death’ may not be in the form that we are most familiar.  That soldier’s suicide mission may not result in physical death, but a mental collapse from which there is no recovery.  That business that was purchased by another no longer exists in the same form, even though its products and name may continue.  And that person who is capable of reproduction has decided, willfully, to not have children.  Though their body may live to a ripe old age, their genes will not be passed on.  This is genetic death.

Choosing not to reproduce is a choice.  It deals with the same forces of life and death for the individual as it does for the family.  There are great joys that come with creating a new human being.  And there are great pains as well.  Our Western Civilization has seen a great reduction in reproduction, possibly because the apparent cost of children is rising while the benefits are decreasing.

Balancing great forces of life within ourselves, and making a choice.  As unbiased students of behavior, we should be impartial and non-judgemental.  But we should acknowledge at least one bias;

Life is nice.

 

Suicide as Behavior

We don’t want to think about it, exercising free will upon ourselves in such a way as to end our lives must be discussed.  It happens all too frequently today, and usually distresses everyone around the ‘victim.’

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss is that we don’t want to admit that everyone considers suicide as an option.  The good news is that very few people consider it as a viable option.  It’s considered, and then it’s gone.  Because it’s a deep dark thought, we never have to admit it.  Yet evidence of its familiarity are all around us.  Shakespeare perhaps said it best (of course) as Hamlet considers whether he should be or not.  However, consider this.  How many children have considered running away from home, away from the repressive regime represented by their parent?  How many parents have heard the tearful teenage admonition, “you’ll miss me when I’m gone!”?

The thoughts are there, always to some degree.  In some minds the dark forces are stronger than in yours, and for that we are thankful.  It’s our job as students to try and tease out the forces that push the decision one way or the other, no matter how ugly they may be.

And in this fashion, the simple lessons of primal biology give us the greatest insight.  For it may be that the choice of suicide is one of avoiding pain.  In fact, it could be argued that most of the decisions we make everyday are to avoid pain.

Yes, suicide is painful.  No matter how we would choose to do so, there will be some fear factor in its execution, and fear equals pain.  Furthermore, we are human, and we have relationships with others.  We know that our choice will bring pain to those we care about.  Add up all this pain, and we have a sum representing the force of life.

Life.  For most of us, life is mostly joy.  But for some, life is mostly pain.  In truth, life is a mix of both.  Sources of pain are pressures from our peers, parents, and teachers.  We have homework, social obligations, possibly a job, a family, and a huge project.  Perhaps we don’t have a job, and we want one.  There is the great divide between where we want to be and where we are, even after years of toil.  Add to this our knowledge that all these sources of pain may increase over time.  The sum of all these sources of pain, added up across time, becomes the force of death.

Then we choose.  The easier the tools are to find, the more accepted the choice is within society, then the more likely we are to choose death over life.

As students of behavior, it’s difficult to truly say we study this phenomenon with impartiality.  But we must try.  And as we study, we realize that suicide does not only come in one size, or in one form.  For that we must step back, and consider the balance of forces on yet another scale.

The scale of a generation.

 

Dark Side of Free Will

Every power and right carries threat and responsibility.

As students of behavior, and with a rudimentary knowledge of philosophy, we can identify a power that only people seem to possess; something called free will.

As a great power, we revel in it throughout our childhood.  Our first car, our first experience away from home, our first great financial decision are all empowering actions that declare “I have free will!”

There is a terrible downside to free will, one that is touched upon all too seldom because of its terror.  And for those of you who tremble easily, you’ll be forgiven for closing this page and visiting again next week.

This terror exists in every being that possesses free will.  It lives in you, and for that reason you will be afraid.

This terror is what we call suicide.  It is the decision of an individual with free will, exercising that free will in such a way as to end their life.

As students of behavior we must commit ourselves to an impartial, unbiased, and evenly balanced study of all things that behave.  Suicide is one of those things, and we must study it.  This next series will touch upon suicide in many forms, not only the form in which you know it best, and fear it most.

Through these articles I have come to meet many of you, and know some of you have been touched by these dark forces.  I extend my condolences.  Many years ago a cousin decided to take her life, at such a young age, and it still pains me to this day.  I have some understanding of the forces that were acting upon her, but can never know exactly what went through her mind in those final days.

To her I have not ceased thinking about what she did, and what it may reveal about myself, society, and life in general.  Here are those thoughts in a few short essays.

For KM.

 

Time travel gone right

Time traveling with you last week took us back into the dark ages where children were property, and their deaths went unnoticed.  One tragic reason I failed to mention was the fact that so many young women also died with them in childbirth.  Or that other medical complications, or illnesses they couldn’t understand would claim that same child within its first few years.  There was a good reason why parents couldn’t be too emotionally invested in their kids; there was a good chance they would be gone.

Today it’s different.  We can time travel to periods where we see children granted a bit more respect, but treated horribly.  The dawn of the industrial revolution is a great example.  Charles Dickens did a great job of depicting the hell on earth those children suffered through.  But what sort of emotional scars did those experiences leave?

We can only guess.  Jumping back to our own time, we now understand the importance of a good childhood upon adult behavior.  Abuse in its most gross form isn’t tolerated in our society, but back then it was probably tolerated.  But how many children today are being abused, physically, without recourse? without support? and without hope of rescue?  We don’t know.  We only know such things still occur because some of the victims eventually build up the courage to step forward.

Our time machine tells us that, someday, we will be protecting our children even more so than today.  In that sense we are going in the right direction.  But when will that happen?

Soon, right?