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Archive for April, 2018

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. –Saul Bellow, 1976

Gentle Reader, I invite you to consider that journalists, reporters, op-ed commentators, bloggers, tweeters, Facebook pundits, and other pundits depend upon the self-promoting myth of a free and fear-less press, champion of all (or of their tribe), honor and duty bound to support their views (and again the views of their constituents and tribal members), and deliver all the news they believe is fit to print.  Any person who has given up the belief that the storks delivers babies will take more than a grain of salt with their news.

It is crucial to remember that many of the news-avenues (think: papers, periodicals, Facebook, etc.) are powerfully influenced (if not directly controlled – think: Sinclair Broadcast Group) by the political and financial interest of their sponsors (I know, gentle reader, it is hard to believe that these folks would be unduly influenced by their sponsors).

In 1941 – YES, 1941 – Dorothy L. Sayers listed some of the standard operating procedures of the news channels, among them: sensational headlines, false emphasis, suppression of context, garbling, random and gratuitous invention, flat suppression, and deliberate miracle mongering.  These tricks of the trade were ably deployed in the 1790s by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and in the 1890s newspapers of Pulitzer and Hearst.

Long before television changed how we received our news, readers of the printed press understood more than we do today that something was afoot.  These readers expected duplicity and misdirection and fake news.  They didn’t take offense.  They did not panic.  Newspapers, for example, were read for entertainment – they were not relied upon for civics lessons.

More importantly readers understood that making sense of what was written required effort on the part of the person who wanted to be well-informed.  Many subscribed to a number of newspapers – they wanted to see multiple sides.  These readers demonstrated a willingness to be exposed to diverse viewpoints and also embraced a willingness to bear the burden of thinking for one’s self.

Now I am not deceiving myself, gentle reader.  I know our Culture has never produced these types of readers in large numbers.  However, there were, prior to the advent of television, enough of them (my parents were two of these folks) in red states and in blue states to preserve the myth of a democratic society founded on the meaning and value of words, good thinking, searching conversations and compromise.  We were never the great melting-pot, we were, however, a great stew comprised of a wide variety of ingredients.

The multi-media today shift the telling of our ‘Camelot Story’ to images of wealth and power signifying little more than their own contrived – and disposable – significance.

I leave us with just ONE ‘Fake News’ story.  For me, it supports our tribal gullibility.  Trump advisor Michael Flynn repeated this story in 2014 during a campaign speech in Stoughton, Massachusetts and it was carried by others and repeated multiple times before it was ‘outed as Fake News’ days later.  The ‘news’ came to us via ‘westernjournalism.com.’  The Headline: FLORIDA DEMOCRATS JUST VOTED TO IMPOSE SHARIA LAW ON WOMEN.  The Story: “Anyone who isn’t certain that Democrats are devoted to destroying America need only take a look at their despicable conduct in the Florida Senate.  In a vote that never should have had to be taken, every single Democrat voted to force Sharia law on the people of Florida.”

Unexemplary words and unfounded doctrines are avoided by the noble person. Why utter them? –Dong Zhongshu, c. 120 BC

 

 

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The world is for thousands a freak show; the images flicker past and vanish; the impressions remain flat and unconnected in the soul.  Thus they are easily led by the opinions of others, are content to let their impressions be shuffled and rearranged and evaluated differently. – Goethe, 1776

It seems that whatever medium we seek out – radio, television, print, blogs, Facebook, tweets, etc. – the following is announced with vim and vigor: Our News is Good and it is Real!  Theirs is Fake!

Shills are running amok amongst us – perhaps we are one of their stooges and help promulgate their message.  Who are these shills – some we can name (in no particular order): CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the New York Times, the New Republic, the Drudge Report, various radio commentators, the many ‘Surrogates’ that take center stage for a sound-bite or two or three, and let us not forget the President.

The theme is the same: Each accuses the ‘other’ of trampling on the vineyards where truth is seeking to blossom into the grapes of good and beauty but are more often transformed by these shills into the grapes of wrath.  The ‘other’ is transformed into the ‘evil one(s)’ – and, as we know, evil must be eradicated.

Each shill announces the ‘Death of Democracy!’  They do not seem to understand that they are the perpetrators who are ensuring democracy’s death.  The shills are full of sound and fury – signifying ‘What’?

What is more alarming, to me at least, is the ‘keepers of our national conscience’ have, it seems to me, forgotten that ALL NEWS IS FAKE!

WHAT?

All ‘news’ is fake in an elementary sense for all news is fabricated.  News is NOT about what happened; News is a ‘STORY’ about what happened.  This, my dear gentle reader, is crucial to understand and remember.

Let’s look at some of the great ‘Fake News’ that impacted all of us.  The Trojan Horse was fake news and those who bought it experienced the death of a nation.  The ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ was fake news and those who bought it plunged us into a real swamp that we have been mucking around in for more than a decade.

More recently, many of us were duped by the trolls who used the internet to feed our gullibility and our prejudices and our stereotypes and our fears and many of them laughed at us as they banked (literally) millions of dollars from Facebook users.  Don’t believe me.  Check out Craig Silverman and Lawrence Alexander’s ‘How Teens in the Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters with Fake News’.  Get ready, dear gentle reader, to be shocked.  Why the Trump supporters.  No political agenda here, just a monetary one.

Why are we so gullible?  In general it is important to remember that we must believe the ‘true falsehoods’ that our ‘leaders’ give us for in doing so the ‘health’ (did I just type ‘health?’) and ‘well-being’ of the body politic requires it.  If ‘we the people’ actually challenged our elected officials then we would have to admit that perhaps we made a mistake in electing these folks.  By the by, in order for us to truly challenge our elected officials ‘we the people’ must do so in a civil manner and being civil is not one of our strengths (nor do we, it seems, have a desire to become civil with the ‘other’).  Well, how can we become civil with one we have labeled ‘evil’?

Here are two of the noble falsehoods that we espouse – but don’t live into: All men are created equal.  AND: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Each of us is challenged to embrace and live into and out of the challenge that our Founding Fathers gave us to hold in trust and to live into and out of: A government of the people, by the people and for the people.  An antidote, perhaps ‘the’ antidote, to ‘False News’ lies within three words: We the People!

 

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Life is the art of being well deceived.  –William Hazlitt, c. 1817

For a number of days these two words – FAKE NEWS – have been seeking to step onto center stage.  They take a step toward center stage and I wave them off.  If I turn my head a bit to the right I can see them waiting, impatiently waiting, for their cue.  Then, once again, even though a ‘conscious cue’ has not been offered they will once again take a step or two toward center stage. Again, I will wave them off.

This morning I have decided to give them the cue to step onto center stage.  They have a great deal to offer me, you, gentle reader, and us.  As I was creating space for them to speak two poems emerged into my consciousness.  So, in PART I, gentle reader, I will simply offer you these two poems.  Perhaps one or both of them will speak to you as you consider FAKE NEWS.

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

William Stafford

The Second Coming

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

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Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself. –Ludwig Wittenstein

I am recalling a brief interchange I had many years ago with an executive.  He (it was a male executive) had made a decision that had, as an unintended consequence, harmed a number of folks.  He was not able to admit that he had not ‘looked ahead’ in an attempt to discern potential unintended consequences.  During our interchange he said: ‘It wasn’t my fault.  It was out of my control! I couldn’t predict the future.’

I have learned, about myself and others have taught me, that one of the reasons we deny and distort reality is that our goal is to feel more comfortable.  We also deny and distort reality when reality threatens our self-interest.

Freud (yes, gentle reader, that Freud) noted that ‘Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead.’  To put it another way: We view things the way we want to see them – we ‘censor’ out stuff that threatens our perception; the old adge, ‘don’t bother me with the facts’ is more than a clever retort.

We hear what we want to hear and deny and distort what is inconsistent with our deeply held beliefs, with our core values and with our deep tacit assumptions.  We deny and distort unpleasant news (think: ‘Fake News’).  We seek ‘comfort’ not ‘truth.’  We choose the ‘right people’ to ask – we avoid inviting and listing to diverse voices.

During the 5th Century B.C., Athens and Sparta were at war with one another.  The Greek historian, Thucydides, noted that: ‘…their judgment was based more upon blind wishing than upon any sound prediction; for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire.’

Consider if you will gentle reader that wishful thinking is rooted in denial and distortion – they offer us a more pleasant ‘reality.’

How often do we believe something is true because it sounds believable – or we want to believe it (think: love, health, religion, risk and death)?  How often do we follow a leader because he/she sounds believable (think: supports our denials and distortions)?  How often do we follow those who say, ‘trust me’ for ‘I am like you’?

Bertrand Russell, philosopher, suggests that ‘What is wanted is NOT the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite.’  This is not easy to do.  One reason that this is not easy to do is that ‘awareness does not bring comfort.’  Often, awareness brings disturbance and we do not like to be disturbed.

In 1974 the American physicist, Richard Feynman said that ‘The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool!’

Consider that it is crucial that we see the world as it is.  Not for what it was or for what we want it to be.  Denying or distorting reality doesn’t make reality disappear.

Consider that ‘bad news’ that is true is better than ‘good news’ that is wrong.

When the cost of denial and distortion is worse than the potential benefit of facing and embracing reality, we are better off facing and embracing reality. 

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‘It’s the strong swimmers who drown.’ –Swedish Proverb

Consider that for most of us, especially for the ‘specialists,’ the more we know or believe that we know a subject the less willing we are to broaden our view/perspective and the less willing we are to invite, listen to and consider diverse voices and the narrower our focus.  Our strength becomes our weakness.

The expert tends to define a challenge in a way that support his or her expertise.  To makes matters worse, the more useful an idea is – whether or not it is appropriate to the challenge – the more overconfident the expert is.  I am thinking of the surgeon who too often uses surgery to address a health challenge even if the challenge could be handled by a less invasive procedure.  Sadly, for some, there may also be a financial incentive involved in the mix.

As Charles Munger notes: [The expert’s] professional reputation is all tied up with what he knows.  He likes himself and he likes his own ideas, and he’s expressed them to other people – consistency and commitment tendency.

SOME STUFF TO KEEP IN MIND:

  • Dr. Schwietzer (the German Missionary) noted: ‘An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while a pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind.’
  • Overconfidence can motivate me to embrace unreal expectations and actually make me more vulnerable to overreacting to disappointment.
  • If I am an expert I must consciously strive to recognize my limits (WHAT!!! I have limits?!). A question I hold: How well do I know what I don’t know?
  • Focus on the unintended consequences and on what can/might go wrong. Develop a number of scenarios that might help you when things go wrong (notice, gentle reader, I wrote ‘When;’ I did not write ‘If’).  Two guiding questions: How can I go wrong? Who can tell me when I go wrong?
  • We need complete toolkits…not just hammers. We must seek out, invite, listen to, and discern the ‘value/truth’ of diverse voices (for the physician specialist, the diverse voices of other physician-disciplines is crucial).
  • Commit to being a life-long searcher, seeker and learner.
  • Remember: Know thyself. The unexamined life is not worth living.  To refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.

 

 

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