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A waning United States would likely be more nationalistic, more defensive about its national identity, more paranoid about its homeland security, and less willing to sacrifice resources for the sake of others’ development. –Zbigniew Brzezinski

Gentle reader, I have spent the past several months reflecting upon this topic.  I have decided this morning to put finger to key and write about what has emerged, and continues to emerge for me, as I hold and reflect upon this topic.  As I sit here this morning it feels as if it will take many posts in order to capture all that has emerged for me.  On the other hand. . .

Historically, American political life has been – and continues to be – an arena for angry and fear-full folks (at minimum these folks ‘act’ as if they are angry and ‘sell’ fear as a reality).  For the past 3+ years both of these have become most evident for the extreme right-wing.  The far-right has shown, particularly in the ‘Trump Movement,’ how much political leverage can become the fruit of the anger and fear of a minority.

Consider that within this movement there is a ‘style’ of mind that feeds, nurtures and sustains the anger and fear (by the by, Gentle Reader, historically, this has not always been the province of the far-right).  Consider that the ‘style’ is one of ‘paranoia.’

‘Paranoia.’  No other word adequately evokes the qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasies that are the tap roots of ‘Trumpism.’  Before we continue, here are two definitions that I invite us to keep in mind during our exploration of ‘Paranoia as a Style.’

 Style: a particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode of action or manner of acting.  ‘Style’ has to do with the way in which ideas are communicated, advanced and believed rather than with the truth or falsity of the content.

Paranoia: a chronic mental disorder characterized by systematized delusions of persecution and one’s own greatness.

I am not writing about the clinical diagnosis called ‘Paranoia.’  I am borrowing the clinical term for it is the best term that describes the ‘style.’  The importance and power of the term, ‘Paranoia,’ is enhanced because it has become the ‘style’ of, more or less, normal people (professional clinicians will have to determine whether ‘Paranoia’ is a ‘style’ or a ‘syndrome’ when it comes to some of the folks who have embraced ‘Paranoia’).

Consider that ‘Paranoia as a Style’ involves a way of seeing the world and of expressing one’s self in the world.  In this ‘Style’ the feeling of being persecuted is central and it is captured in grandiose theories of conspiracy.

There is a vital difference between Paranoia as a ‘Style’ and as a ‘Symptom of a dis-ease’ – between the paranoid spokesperson in politics and the clinical paranoiac.  The clinical paranoid sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he/she is living as directed specifically against him/her.  The spokesperson who embraces paranoia as a style finds it directed against a ‘culture,’ a ‘way of life,’ and ‘our’ nation.

The person, or group, who embraces paranoia as a style wants us to believe that his/her/their political passions are, at minimum, unselfish and are rooted in deep patriotism.  This helps feed the fires of their intensity when it comes to feeling ‘self-righteous’ and when it comes to fueling their moral indignation.

I am well aware that my use of ‘paranoia as a style’ is, itself, inflammatory.  I mean it to be so for this style has a greater affinity for ensuring bad things will happen rather than that good things will happen (think: Today we are more divided as a nation than ever before and those who embrace this style continue to stokes the fires of anger (if not rage), fear and conflict).

An example or two – hopefully they are non-controversial – may make this a bit clearer (then again…).

It’s amazing where the paranoid mind can take you. –Bill Ayers

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By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest. — Confucius

This morning, Gentle Reader, I was paging through one of my journals and found a page full of questions.  I wrote these questions in my journal in August, 2004.  I offer them to you this morning.  You might find one or more of them stimulating enough to spend some time reflecting upon.  I also invite you emerge one or more questions of your own – questions that you will return to and reflect upon.

Here are the questions I offered myself in August, 2004:

  • Relationships: What do you believe your responsibility is to others?
  • Values: What are 2-3 Core Values you hold; values that to the best of your ability you will never compromise?
  • Guiding Principles: What are 2-3 of your Guiding Life Principles; principles that to the best of your ability you will never compromise?
  • What must you be faithful to even if you are not going to be effective?
  • What is sacred to you?
  • What is profane to you?
  • Legacy: What’s the story you want others to tell about you – in five years?
  • Wisdom: Who have been/are the wisdom figures in your life? What have they attempted to teach you?  What have they taught you?  What have they called forth from you?  How did you respond to their ‘call’? 
  • Growth: At your best, what do you do to nurture more than deplete each of your P.I.E.S.? [Think: Physical Dimension, Intellectual Dimension, Emotional Dimension, Spirit(ual) Dimension] What are your ‘favorite ways’ of depleting each of these Dimensions? 
  • What are your favorite ways that help you ‘wake up,’ ‘remain awake,’ and be fully present ‘now’? What are your favorite ways that help you ‘go to sleep’ and ‘remain asleep’ so you are not awake, aware and fully present in the ‘now’? 
  • If your life is a story you are writing and living, what is the current chapter title of your life’s story today? What was the title of your life’s last chapter?

 Evil resides in a kind of thoughtlessness. –Voltaire

 

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A lot of people have culturally induced ethical blindness, but they can be cured. –Ingrid Newkirk

This morning, Gentle Reader, we will conclude our brief exploration of five moral-ethical issues.

Privacy.  In our nation, historically and culturally, we have assumed that we have the right to keep certain forms of information private.  We also know that the extent of what we might keep private has varied from Culture to Culture and Nation to Nation and Tribe to Tribe.  Today, perhaps more than ever before, we expect our ‘right to privacy’ to be protected and the others expect their ‘right to privacy’ to also be protected.

However, it seems that our ‘right to privacy’ has become an illusion.  Last week my friend, Tom, told me that he received an email with a link.  The email told him to click on the link and he would find ‘his history.’  Tom is an IT expert and a curious fellow so he took some precautions and then clicked on the link.  What appeared before him was a document that contained all of his vital information plus the names of his two wives (one current one ex-wife), his children, his work history and a bunch of other stuff.  So much for ‘privacy.’

What does ‘privacy’ and our ‘right to privacy’ mean for us – and for the next seven generations?  Given Tom’s experience, has the cat been let out of the bag, has the horse left the barn, have the lemmings gone over the cliff?  It appears so.  The implications are, for me, mindboggling.  Well, we can’t cry over spilt milk now, can we? [O.K. enough of the clichés and pearls of wisdom and ‘Mr. Obvious’ insights].  The question remains: Is our right to privacy an illusion?

Authorship-Ownership.  I have a hunch that all modern and post-modern societies recognize the effort entailed in producing a work of art (my son, Nathan, an artist, can attest to this), or a work of science or the work that is required in order to invent something new.  Again, historically and culturally these have been protected by patents, trademarks, or copyrights, etc.

However, today, just about anything can be instantly transferred, transformed, borrowed, usurped, or passed off as one’s own.  The world of ‘authorship’ and ‘ownership’ no longer seems to be protected; at minimum this protection is weaker than ever before.

Community.  We humans are social beings.  We require ‘community.’  One of the greatest harms we experience is the harm that comes with being shunned by others; another is to be isolated (think: Solitary Confinement).  We humans evolved thanks to face-to-face communities.  In these communities all knew one another.  Individuals could not run away and hide in the crowd; one certainly could not change one’s identity.

I grew up in a neighborhood.  There were fewer than 20 homes in our neighborhood.  Everyone knew everyone else.  All of the adults watched over all the children (this became a problem for some of us for if I was ‘naughty’ someone would call my mom and by the time I came home I was already ‘outed’).  Above all, we kids all felt safe.  How many of us today have a neighborhood community?  How many of us know that our children are truly safe in our neighborhood?

Then, of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of on-line communities available to us.  What does it mean to be a member of one of these communities?  Are they safe?  How do we know?  Are the members ‘real’ – it is so easy to create a ‘fake identity’ the question of ‘real’ might not be answered.

We are about to go to the polls tomorrow and vote in our mid-term elections.  What does it mean to be a citizen in a community of citizens?  Who is a citizen and who is a non-citizen?  It appears that, for some, having a birth-certificate is not enough.

We live in a time when one can create multiple identities.  We can also create multiple communities.  Talk about complexity.  Talk about potential chaos.

Summary.  The internet and social media places each of us at risk in each of these five moral-ethical areas.  We truly live in a ‘new world.’  This ‘new world’ keeps shifting, changing, evolving and transforming.  The rate of this is faster, greater and more complex than our ability to keep up.  These five topics will continue to be crucial topics for us to embrace and engage – individually and collectively.  A question, of course, is will I-You-We embrace and engage in crucial conversations.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

 

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Be NOT Afraid! –God

This morning, Gentle Reader, I am going to stop and step aside and invite you to consider a different topic.  I will pick up our topic: CONSIDER: FIVE MORAL-ETHICAL ISSUES next time.

There are two experiences that have motivated me to step aside this morning.  One is the on-going theme of BE AFRAID that is running amok us as we near the day (6 November, 2018) when we (in the United States) go to the polls and vote in our mid-term elections.  The other experience emerged yesterday as I was reviewing one of my journals and read, and then re-read several times, a passage from Herman Melville’s classic ‘Moby Dick’ (as you will see this passage also has to do with being fear-full).

Political fear-engendering is not new to our nation.  In the 1700s we citizens were told to be afraid of the Masons and their desire to take over the country.  From the early 1800s until Kennedy’s election in1960 we were told to be afraid of the Pope and his followers (think: Roman Catholics) for these evil incarnate folks wanted to take over our nation.

Lincoln provided us with another fear – the fear of the black person.  How many states or counties within states continue to find ways to ensure that the ‘Black Person’ is not able to vote?  ‘One’ is too many and there are more than one.  Now we have added to the list.  We are now told to be afraid of the South American (yes, Gentle Reader, ‘American’) immigrant.

Sadly and historically, some of the most vigorous voices belong to ‘good citizens’ who also pride themselves on being ‘good Christians.’  Even though God tells us Christians, over and over and over and over, ‘Be Not Afraid!’ too many ‘good Christians’ buy into the fear mongering – add to the fear mongering – that is now running amok amongst us.  These ‘good Christians’ do not trust God; they do, ironically, trust fallible human beings who tell us to be afraid.  If God had a head to scratch I am sure that God is vigorously scratching away; perhaps with a tear in his-her eye.

Now, you might be asking at this point, what does this fear-fullness have to do with Herman Melville and his ‘Moby Dick’?  First, another aside: In 1850 Melville, as he was about to put pen to paper and write his novel, stepped aside and wrote a letter to a friend, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.  He wrote that he was going to begin to write this book and he noted “It will be a strange sort of book, tho’, I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho’ you may get oil from it, the poetry runs as hard as sap out of a frozen maple tree.’

Early in the novel, our narrator, Ishmael, seeks a bed for the night.  At the Inn, he is told that he will be sharing a bed (literally, sharing a bed) with another man, a harpooner.  The innkeeper provides Ishmael, and we the readers, with a hint as to who this man might be; but Ishmael and I think many readers miss the hint.

Ishmael is trying to settle in and go to sleep when, in the darkness followed by light he encounters his bed-mate.  Initially it does not go well; the innkeeper intervenes and all becomes well.  Ishmael then reflects a bit (and this is the important connection for our theme this morning).

“Ignorance is the parent of fear!’  Being completely nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself…  I was so afraid of him that I was not game enough just then to address him…  For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.  What’s all this fuss I have been making about, I thought to myself – the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.  Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.” 

So, Gentle Reader, are you a Christian?  If so, do you trust and believe your God?  If so, do you believe God when God tells us Christians, over and over and over:

Be NOT Afraid!

Here are two final questions for you, Gentle Reader, if you are a Christian.  In what ways do you engender, promote and feed the fear-mongering that is running amok amongst us?  When your God tells you not to be afraid, why do you feed the fires of fear rather than support your God and repeat, again and again and again your God’s words: Be NOT Afraid!

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Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does. –William James

For a number of reasons these past months I have been spending more time with my thirteen year old grandson, Aidan.  It might not be surprising to you, Gentle Reader, that he is immersed in social media.

His immersion has stimulated my thinking about the moral-ethical issues that might be/are directly and indirectly impacted by social media.  This morning I have decided to put finger to key and briefly explore five of these moral-ethical issues

[AN ASIDE: Gentle Reader, if you have been following my blog postings these past 6 years you know that I make a distinction between ‘being moral’ and ‘being ethical.’  I can be ‘ethical’ and be ‘immoral’ or ‘amoral.’  Hence, I refer to ‘moral-ethical’ rather than just ‘moral’ or ‘ethical.’]

Sense of Identity.  One of the challenges of the ‘adolescent’ is to engage in a number of experiences so that they might begin to emerge, define, embrace and integrate an ‘identity.’  Who am I?  How do I present myself to others?  Am I just one ‘me’?  How many ‘identities’ can I – or do I – actually have?  How do I know that I have an identity?  Am I my thoughts? 

Social media provides a variety of avenues that one can take and with each avenue one can ‘take on’ a different identity.  Aidan, for example, can generate multiple ‘selves-identities’ on-line.

Moral-Ethical issues surface when the adolescent (or pre-adolescent or older-adolescent or adult) represents self in a way that could do harm to others, to family, to friends, even to the ‘stranger.’  The person ups the ante when he/she refuses to take responsibility for the effects upon the other(s).

We could stop here today for this topic alone requires immense energy and commitment if ‘we’ are going to embrace the challenges that are connected to, imbedded in and are a consequence of social media and its impact on all of us.

Trust.  If a society is to function well individuals and groups must be able to trust one another.  This means, among other things, that each person and each group must present information that is credible; information that you-I-we can turn to in order to make good judgments.  Next week here in the United States ‘we’ citizens will go to the polls and cast our votes in our mid-term elections.  We have, for months, been inundated, via all forms of media, ‘attack ads’ and false news that the candidates and their surrogates produce and deliver.  They are geared to tap into our ‘fear’ and for the most part simply feed our cynicism.

‘We’ will continue to be challenged to make trust-worthy judgments, and, more importantly, ‘we’ must find ways of engendering ‘trust’ among and between us.

So, Gentle Reader, we now have two immense moral-ethical challenges to consider – hope-fully to embrace.  There are, however, three more and we will briefly explore those next time.

In closing this morning, Gentle Reader, I invite you-me-us to remember Gandhi’s words:

I am my message.    

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Few are guilty but all are responsible. –A. J. Heschel

I concluded PART IV with a question: What are some of the components of thinking critically?  This morning I will continue to respond to this question.

Challenging Context.  We must seek to become aware of how ‘context’ forms, informs, supports, hinders and blocks our ability to think critically.  We can help ourselves by striving to emerge, name and evaluate our uncritically integrated deep tacit assumptions.  These assumptions shape our habitual perceptions, our ability to ‘seek to understand,’ and our capacity to interpret ‘input.’  Those who think critically become aware that practices, structures, and actions (by us or by the other) are never context-free (nor value free).  Context, Culture and Sub-Cultures influence, for good or ill, our ability to think critically.  Sub-Cultures are particularly powerful when it comes to forming and informing contexts.

In our country we are in an ‘off-year election cycle.’  The importance of context and sub-cultures is blatantly revealed to us during this time.  It is not our critical thinking capacity that is appealed during this time.  What is appealed to is our emotional connection to our sub-cultures and to the contexts that frame them.  Thus, ‘attack’ ads rule and appear in every context imaginable.

Alternatives.  Critical thinkers develop the capacity to imagine and explore alternatives.  In order to do this we must, at minimum, hold an attitude that reflects that ‘I am open to the possibility of being influenced.’  If I am rooted in ‘surety’ then I will not be open to imagining or exploring alternatives.

Critical thinkers seek to become aware of the context and how it shapes (forms-informs) what our sub-culture(s) deem to be ‘normal.’  The sub-culture(s) and the contexts that support the sub-culture(s) are approached skeptically.  This capacity to emerge alternatives is challenging for the simple reason that our sub-culture(s) might shun us in response to our seeking and searching.

Reflection.  Exploring context and emerging alternatives requires us to develop our capacity for reflective skepticism.  When I am emerged in reflective skepticism I am seeking, searching, inquiring, challenging, imagining alternatives while holding an attitude that I might be influenced by what emerges.  I seek to ‘consider.’  This means that I strive not to immediately accept nor immediately reject.  In order to engage in reflective skepticism I must have the support of another person or two or three.

I remember having a number of conversations with a business owner.  He had approached me with the intention of developing more fully his capacity for thinking critically.  We spent many hours together over a number of months.  As we began what turned out to be our final conversation he told me that he could not continue.  He was visibly shaken.  He had become aware that if he continued to think critically that he could imagine himself making decisions that his ‘peers’ would find offensive (he then named three of these decisions).  He could not imagine surviving the shunning and criticism that would rain down upon him from his ‘peers.’  With great sadness he thanked me.  We concluded our session and I never saw him again.  The power of the sub-culture was truly demonstrated that morning.

Conclusion.  ‘Thinking Critically’ is a ‘lived-activity.’  We all engage in this activity AND we can all develop more fully our capacity to engage in thinking critically.  Consider, that today, more than ever before in history, thinking critically is at the heart of what it means to be a ‘mature person;’ especially a mature person who is a citizen in a democracy.  ‘Thinking Critically,’ then, is also a ‘crucial-activity.’ 

The enemy of life is indifference. –Elie Wiesel

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Nosce te ipsum: Know Thyself. –The Oracle

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  Last time I left us with a question: What are some of the components of thinking critically?  This morning I will begin to respond to this question.

There are a number of components.  I will offer us four of them to consider and this morning we will focus on one of them.

Assumption-finding is Central.  Discerning, emerging, naming and challenging our assumptions, especially our deep tacit assumptions is central and critical if we are going to develop or develop more fully our capacity for thinking critically.  Our assumptions, especially our deep tacit assumptions, underlie, support, inform, form and guide our ideas, beliefs, values, stereotypes, prejudices, and actions.  We take these for granted; we ‘assume’ they are ‘valid’ and hence that they are ‘normal.’

As critical thinkers we are challenged to examine their validity, their ‘being normal,’ and their accuracy.  This, of course, is no easy charge.  We find many ways to resist any or all of the steps it takes us to emerge and engage them.  We are, to put it simply, ‘Professional Resisters’ when it comes to focusing on our own assumptions, especially when it comes to our deep tacit assumptions.  A main reason – if not ‘the’ main reason – we resist is that our very identity is at stake (actually, it is not but it certainly feels this way to us and we react as if our identity is at stake for in some way we have become our assumptions).

Most of us seem to know that our ‘assumptions’ are…well…they are our ‘assumptions.’  They are not ‘reality.’  Yet, when pressed, or challenged, our ‘assumptions’ are defended as if they are, indeed, ‘reality.’  We humans are truly living paradoxes.  Our assumptions frame our relationships – and frame those we will ‘allow in’ and those we will seek to ‘keep out’ (think: the ‘stranger’ we fear because we ‘assume’ he/she will harm us.  Our current President is an expert when it comes to using his and our assumptions to keep the ‘stranger’ at bay).

Each political party is rooted in many deep tacit assumptions and each seeks to recruit members based upon these assumptions.  The ‘Independent Voter’ is supposed to be ‘free of being seduced’ by the assumptions of either party; but this is another assumption that seems not to be true today.

Critical Thinkers are open to letting go of and replacing assumptions that might now be ‘invalid’ (think: ‘All Republicans are rich and white and fear-full of all non-whites.’ Or: ‘All Democrats want to tax and spend us to death.’).  This raises another powerful rationale for keeping our assumptions: We do not want to be shunned or expelled from our ‘community.’  The worst thing that can happen to us is to be isolated – thus, communal assumptions are powerful assumptions used to hold onto members, and recruit new members.

By the by, Gentle Reader, discerning, emerging, naming and challenging our assumptions, especially our deep tacit assumptions does not mean that we ‘have to give them up.’  On the other hand, if we are going to develop, or develop more fully, our critical thinking skills/capacities this process is a crucial process.  It is also a life-long process.

This process, in itself can be meaning-full and help-full.  This process can also be enhanced by integrating it with the next three components.

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman

 

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