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Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Gentle Reader, as I noted in Part I, there are two types of ‘Power’ that I am going to briefly explore.  The first type of ‘Power’ is embodied by this definition: Power = one’s ability to act.

A simple definition, a limited definition.  The first type of ‘Power’ is also limited.  Consider that our society is founded on, and rooted in, this very limited definition.  Here are some of the specifics: wealth, personal success, fame, physical strength, military might and control.  If you have ‘enough’ of one or more of these you have what is commonly referred to as ‘leverage’ or ‘influence’ or ‘power’ (that is, you have the ability to ‘act’ in ways that others do not have).

How many of us in our society are willing to do almost anything in order to get this type of ‘Power’?  How many of us seek (whether consciously or not) to be in positions of power?  How many of us believe that if we have this type of ‘Power’ that we will get one or more of the following: control, freedom, happiness?

Given the state of our society today, I am going to focus on only one aspect of this type of ‘Power.’  I choose this focus because what continues to be true is that ‘money rules our society.’

In our society, beginning with our Founding Fathers, we let go of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ and replaced it with the ‘Divine Right of Money.’  The ‘Power of the King’ morphed into the ‘Power of Money.’  ‘Money’ allows us to act.  Large amounts of money allow us to influence, if not directly control.  Our primary cultural metaphor is the ‘Banking Metaphor.’

If you are a member of our society do you remember that Donald Trump staked his claim to the White House on the proposition that he was ‘really, really rich.’  He claimed that he was unbought, anti-establishment, and unbossed because he was so rich and therefore he was able to do what he wanted not what the monied establishment wanted him to do.

Trump reminded us, again and again, in plain language that Money is Power.  This ‘Power’ is not self-sacrificing nor is it democratic.  Never was, never will be.  In many ways we are a theocracy and our god is ‘Money.’  Trump was elected because enough folks believed him.  What the masses forgot – or denied or did not truly comprehend – is that the rich will, under our system, continue to become richer and the rest of us will continue to become poorer.

Many years ago the Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis told the then sitting President, FDR, that ‘We must make our choice.  We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’  Money continues to be concentrated in a few.

To put it another way: The concentration of wealth – ‘Power’ – is the good, the true and the beautiful.  Democracy is for the poor.  Even our Founding Fathers believed this.  WHAT?!

Consider just a few examples: John Adams uttered the suspicion that ‘democracy will infallibly destroy all civilization.’  Adams believed that governance should be reserved for ‘the rich, the wellborn, and the able.’  John Jay, another Supreme Court justice, noted that ‘those who own the country ought to govern it.’  By the by, Jay meant, literally ‘own’ as in ‘property.’

Our Founding Fathers believed that the best government ‘incorporates the means by which the privileged few arrange the distribution of property and law for the less fortunate many.’  They began to equate ‘democracy’ with ‘capitalism.’  The ‘Power of money’ continues to determine who our candidates are.  We do not vote for the most qualified; we vote for the one of two who have been anointed by big money.

Now, gentle reader, it is important to note that I am not anti-democratic.  I believe Reinhold Niebuhr’s observation: Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. 

What I am not supportive of is our limited definition of ‘Power’ – in this case, ‘Power = Money and Big Money = Big Power.’

I am not without hope for there is another type of ‘Power.’  This type of ‘Power’ is alive and well and needs to be nurtured more fully by more of us – myself included.

The secret of life is in the shadows and not in the open sun; to see anything at all, you must look deeply into the shadow of a living thing. –Ute Saying

 

 

 

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…if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. –Abraham Lincoln

Consider, Gentle Reader, that both adversity and power reveal our character.  This morning I will begin a series on ‘POWER.’  I am not sure, as I sit here this morning in one of my favorite coffee shops, how many entries will be in this series.

For me, there are two different definitions of ‘Power.’  Consequently, I have two views of power.  My intention, as of this moment, is to spend more time with my second view of ‘Power’ – although I can image us spending an entry or two with the first.  In order to explore both views we will need two definitions of ‘Power’ and a definition of ‘Powerless.’

DEFINITION #1: Power = one’s ability to act.

That’s it.  This definition is the first definition of ‘Power’ in my unabridged dictionary.  I will return to this in a bit.

DEFINITION #2: Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion.

That’s it.  This definition is my ‘current’ definition of ‘Power.’  The word ‘current’ is crucial.  Fifty years ago, my first definition of ‘Power’ was: Power is one’s ability to act rooted in reflection.  As I have developed so has my definition of ‘Power.’

DEFINITION #3: Powerless = devoid of resources; lacking the authority, capacity or willingness to act.  One is ‘Powerless’ when one chooses not to act; when one chooses not to act with moral reflection; when one chooses not to develop the outer capacity to act; when one chooses not to develop the inner capacity for moral reflection; when one’s position/role limits one from outer action.

Let us now, Gentle Reader, return to ‘Definition #1’: Power = one’s ability to act.

Consider that your ability to act is directly related to the following (a representative list not an exhaustive list): My ‘designated or situational role’ determines provides me with an ability to act and also limits the range of my actions.  I also develop certain capacities that will, when the situation calls for it, I will have the ability to act.

For example, as a parent, teacher, physician, supervisor, executive, etc. I have the ability to act in certain ways that my child, my students, my patients, my supervisees, and my direct reports do not have.

A person who has learned CPR has a capacity for outer action that I do not have.  So, if this person and I are in a situation where CPR is called for the other has ‘power’ and I do not.

I am sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops this morning as I put finger to key.  I have certain capacities to act, as one typing, as customer and as parent (my son, Nathan is working at this coffee shop this morning).  The employees of the coffee shop have certain capacities to act that I, as a customer, do not have.  Whether we choose to act or not is partly related directly to our capacities to act – to our ‘Power.’

Next time, Gentle Reader, we will explore the first definition in a different context; the intensity and the ante will be upped.

Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate, and to humble. –Yehuda Berg

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  As I sat down this morning and was about to put finger to key my intention was to write about ‘Power.’  As I was reviewing the two definitions that I use for ‘Power’ I also noted a number of other quotations and ‘observations’ that I had written in my ‘little black book.’  I stopped. I paged through my ‘little black book’ and I decided to share a number of quotations and ‘observations’ with you.  I will write about ‘Power’ but not today.

I invite you, Gentle Reader, to ‘Consider’ what I offer.  Perhaps one or more of the following will speak to you and you will find yourself reflecting more broadly and deeply about them.  I will begin by offering you my two definitions of ‘Power.’

Power = one’s ability to act. [This is an unabridged dictionary’s definition of power].

Power = the extent to which one chooses to link an outer capacity for action with an inner capacity for moral reflection that is rooted in love, empathy and compassion. [This is my definition of ‘Power’]

NOTE: The ‘Observations’ are my observations.

Observation: Remember, the compliant do not help you much when you don’t know what to do next.

Observation: Remember, Democracy in the United States is both a political system and a way of life.  Democracy requires a high degree of literacy among its citizens, a sense of dignity of/for ALL persons and a sense of response-ability/responsibility to the entire community.

Quote: The place God calls you to IS THE PLACE where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. –Frederick Buechner, “Wishful Thinking’ [Fred’s definition of ‘Call’]

Quote: You are what your deep driving desire is.  As your desire is, so is your will.  As your will is, so is your deed.  As your deed is, so is your destiny. –Brihadaranyaka IV.4.5

Observation/Question: Why do I read? [You might recall, Gentle Reader, that I am an avid reader – an understatement to those who know me] Do I read in order to defend, in order to understand, in order to deflect, in order to be open, in order to be influenced, in order to be challenged, in order to discount, in order to affirm, in order to seek, in order to find, in order to embrace, in order to dismiss, in order to convince, in order to find comfort and solace, in order to ‘wake up,’ in order to become disturbed, in order to learn… WHY do I read?

Quotation: The ‘Resistance’ will help you find the thing you most ‘need’ to do because it is the thing the ‘Resistance’ most wants to stop. –Seth Godin

Quotation: The tragic element in a human situation is constituted of conscious choices of evil for the sake of good. –Reinhold Niebuhr

Observation/Question: What is the difference between free speech and responsible free speech?

Quotation: Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it.  That factor is attitude. –William James

Quotation: You should love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart. –W.H. Auden

Quotation: If you wish to understand something, try changing it. –Kurt Lewin

Observation: Today, politics in our country consists in reframing complex polarities, paradoxes and dilemmas into simple problems with simple solutions (think: Build a Wall) while ignoring, denying or not seeking to understand the complex realities.

Quotation: Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius, ‘Meditations’

Quotation: Whether things will be better if they are different I do not know, but that they will have to be different if they are to become better, that I do know. –Georg Lichtenberg

Quotation: Few are guilty, but ALL are responsible. –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

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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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