My Truth is Better Than Yours

Boiling every political argument down as being either conservative or liberal is a limiting critique—a binary straightjacket, so to speak. This kind of posturing has poisoned the current political well for sure.

What it’s also done very well is to create an undeserved smugness on one side, or the other. Where this smugness often gets exhibited in these heady digital days is on social media platforms—Twitter and Facebook, mainly.

Like the other day.

There’s been a lot of what some might call “news” swirling about via the mainstream news cycle. News and what was once journalism tends to get filtered left or right, depending on where you get your news from. But even so-called “neutral” sources, places like NPR and the New York Times, with “all the news that’s fit to print,” slant stories that promote a bias and rarely expand the narrative beyond the most narrow of parameters.

What I find frustrating and it even sometimes makes me angry is when someone coming from a particular persuasion posts something like what I read on one of my social media feeds the other night.

It’s been a bad week for racists, homophobes, right-wing preachers and GOP presidential candidates. But it’s been a great week for America and humanity. The rest of you should get out of the way.

I read it a couple of times. It really hit hard.

This certainly wasn’t the first time someone I know (or someone I don’t know, for that matter) has posted something so smug, condescending, and marginalizing of those not holding their views on a particular topic. What really hit hard is the recognition that if you don’t accept the Supreme Court’s new view on marriage, or are “thumbs up” with the Confederate Battle Flag being lowered (or worse, vandalized), then you are a homophobe and a racist. Better, you are not an American, or even human. Then, on top of all of that, you should just get the (fuck) out of the way! Nice. Being reduced to less than human, or 3/5ths of a human is a technique utilized to later inflict savagery on those deemed “less than human.”

Bearing pitchforks.

Bearing pitchforks and torches.

Interestingly, some of this is coming from people that at one time seemed capable of nuance and at least were willing to sort the facts and not simply throw their lot in with the mob. Not any longer, apparently.

In light of what’s happening in California with what’s being called microaggressions, I can see the day coming when if you don’t hold the views of the majority, or what’s “true” at that moment—whatever those views happen to be at the time—then you will become marginalized, shouted down, or even worse. At the very least, you’re less likely than ever to want to share your opinions on any topic. It doesn’t matter if you have taken the time to dig a little deeper, hoping to arrive at a nuanced understanding, and can even make your case based on history, or science, or other more rational means than pure emotion. None of that matters any more. “This is what democracy looks like.”

John Michael Greer had another well-written and studied post on his blog last week. Touching on a host of issues related to how we nationalize (and internationalize) our delusional capabilities on a host of things, like climate, foreign policy, and economics, he touched down on how our education continues to promote a limited binary way of seeing everything.

In the same way, if you memorize a set of disconnected factoids about history, you haven’t learned history. This is something of a loaded topic right now in the US, because recent “reforms” in the American public school system have replaced learning with rote memorization of disconnected factoids that are then regurgitated for multiple choice tests. This way of handling education penalizes those children who figure out how to learn, since they might well come up with answers that differ from the ones the test expects. That’s one of many ways that US education these days actively discourages learning—but that’s a subject for another post.

As I’ve written many times before, there are “accepted” narratives, and then, there are those alternative narratives that diverge from the well-paved superhighways populated with groupthink. Not all of the latter are valid, but most of what’s accepted on almost any topic benefits those in power and the corporate overlords in charge. These hallowed (but narrowed) storylines make us all like putty in their hands, dividing people, keeping them stupid and ignorant, even if they are allowed to think they are operating with “the truth.”

If you read any history at all, you’ll know that the majority has been wrong countless times before. In fact, we often smugly think, looking back at “those people” that we’d never have done that. Of course not. You would have had the backbone and spine and risked personal injury or death, and have been the outlier. Right!

Puzzle Pieces

Living in free agent nation is nothing, if not challenging. Sometimes your daily task becomes trying to find a way around those proverbial bumps in the road. Then, there are those stretches when the stars align and things magically slide into place. When that happens, you find it’s all too easy to get lulled into thinking that this could become the norm.

A project lasting six months, a regular monthly writing gig, or a grant to manage are all examples of the stability that I’m lacking at the moment.

Free agent puzzle-making.

Free agent puzzle-making.

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I Don’t Want to Hear It

We all have opinions. Most of us have strongly-held ones. The desire to share my opinions, as well as some of what I thought was foundational information behind those opinions, were reasons why I started blogging back in 2003.

I still have opinions. Many of them have evolved over time. Having an opinion and sharing it is also seems fraught with danger, 12 years later. Now, I’m less likely to add my two cents worth to whatever battle is being waged over symbols, or people’s preferences.

Being hesitant to weigh-in on the Battle Royale raging at the moment also leaves a limited amount of topics to write about at times, or so it seems. Also, that’s what Facebook and Twitter are for. Spending time wasting words via a blog seems so 2006. No one seems interested anymore in reading several hundred words. 140-character tweets are now de riguer with the cool kids holding court, ruling the turf formerly held by bloggers. Who cares if they have nothing behind their prattle except their strongly held opinions?

"La, La, La, La..."

“La, La, La, La…”

My previous post touched down on binary thinking. I’ve mentioned the topic enough before. I won’t go there again today. I will only say that our inability to have a dialogue on a variety of tough subjects, even those deemed by our arbiters as “controversial,” doesn’t bode well for us. Screaming louder than your foes, or using your newly-found majority status doesn’t indicate rightness, either.

Perhaps I’ll just blog about the weather and puppies—no one is opposed to sun and cuteness, right?

The Search for Threes

I’ve mentioned the flaws of binary thinking before. The concept—framing things in terms of duality, or opposites—isn’t a new concept, and it tends to be the way that most issues are discussed in America and arguably, the West.

From a philosophical standpoint, the origins of this kind of thinking date back to Aristotle and Descartes. They first structured this type of logic, which consists of dividing, distinguishing and opposing items. When you see things in a binary construct, there’s no room for in-between or shades of gray; everything is black or white, good or bad, nice or ugly, good or evil, etc. It is the law of “all or nothing.”

Unfortunately, this kind of dualistic framework often leads to dead-ends, and at the very least, can divide people unnecessarily.

One of the best explanations and the one that really made me sit up and take notice, was written by John Michael Greer, and posted a few years ago at his blog, The Archdruid Report.

Greer takes the origins back even further than Aristotle and Descartes. He writes,

Most of the snap decisions our primate ancestors had to make on the African savannah are most efficiently sorted out into binary pairs: food/nonfood, predator/nonpredator, and so on. The drawbacks to this handy set of internal categories don’t seem to bother any of our primate relatives, and probably became an issue—like so much that’s part of magic—only when the rickety structure of the reasoning mind took shape over the top of the standard-issue social primate brain.

The problem with this snap-judgment way of seeing and making sense of the world is that in our current, non-hunting society, the binary framework eliminates the middle ground. In fact, we don’t even recognize a middle position. More often than not, it leads to division and conflict. Continue reading

Calling the Command Center

Being an umpire, I’m always interested while watching a Major League game, when an appeal is made regarding a call. Umpires are human and humans are prone to error—but umpires may be less prone to error than many people assume.

If you’ve been living under a rock, MLB now allows certain plays to be reviewed upon request by one of the two teams. This change occurred when the powers that be initiated expanded instant replay during the 2014 season, thinking that it would improve the game. And interestingly, over the first season of reviewing a plethora of calls, the umpires made the right call almost all of the time. For all the ins and outs of instant replay and what calls can be reviewed, the Wikipedia entry on instant replay is really good and gives a great overview.

Fans and players have always had an adversarial relationship with officials. Both of them are far from being objective about whether the right call is being made. They have inherent bias built into their reaction to close calls, especially if that call goes against their teams, or them personally.

(8/10/2010) – James Brosher/AMERICAN-STATESMAN – Home base umpire Mike Lusky signals safe as Express first baseman Brian Bogusevic (23) slides into home plate, scoring Round Rock's first run in a game against Sacramento at Dell Diamond on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2010. 0811express

(Photo by James Brosher/AMERICAN-STATESMAN – Home base umpire Mike Lusky signals safe as Express first baseman Brian Bogusevic slides into home plate.

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Jailbreak

They’re in Vermont. No, they’ve made it across the border to Canada. No, wait; their scent’s been picked up by the dogs—they’re hiding out in the back of a sandwich shop, in nearby Cadyville. Apparently, escaped prisoners dig Subway.

What am I talking about? The prison escape, of course! Or should I say, “The Great Escape.”

We’re now entering Day 7, and the news media is sure that the “authorities” are narrowing in on the two escapees, Richard Matt and David Sweat. With hundreds (if not thousands) of law enforcement and even military personnel on the ground in upstate New York, it does seem highly improbable that these two prisoners have managed to remain on the lam as long as they have in a world rife with surveillance.

What’s possibly worse than law enforcement’s tracking skills however, are the media’s penchant for sensationalism and fear-fogging. Continue reading

Keep on Tri-ing

I’m entering my third year as a triathlete. Most of the triathlons I’ve entered are of the sprint variety—the distances being 750-meter (0.47-mile) swim, 20-kilometer (12-mile) on the bike bike, and finishing up with a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run.

After competing in three sprint triathlons at Point Sebego in Naples the past three seasons, Miss Mary and I are off to the Cape and Hyannis/Craigville Beach for our first out-of-state event, and a good early season test.

My spring hasn’t been my most memorable. Thankfully, training with an eye towards this weekend’s event, and my umpiring, have kept me on an even keel most days, and allowed me to push through some adversity.

Seth Godin would be proud.

Sunrise at OOB, Rev 3, 2014

Sunrise at OOB, Rev 3, 2014

In the Blink of an Eye

Life’s circumstances can turn on a dime. In a world where technology is exalted and worshiped, we’re less likely to remember that our seasons evolve and fluctuate.

We’ve just come through a stretch of weather spanning 3-4 weeks where May felt like mid-July, or even early August. Then, in a matter of minutes on Sunday, as a cold front passed over central Maine, the humidity and heat were switched off, replaced with a crispness that has been missing for much of the past few weeks.

This morning, I awoke to steady (and needed) rainfall. Talk of drought was replaced by reminders of “flooding in low-lying areas.” As the old-timers would say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute,” offering their apt and simplified descriptor of what the meteorologists tell us about Maine’s weather.

Sunday, my sister and he who we know as “Handy,” were doing an early run-through of some recipes that may show up in the upcoming Moxie “Cook Off,” better known as the Moxie Recipe Contest, which she reminded me, would be taking place in “40 days and 40 nights.” This year’s Moxie culinary throw-down seems to be taking on something akin to biblical import in Lisbon Falls and surrounding communities.

Moxie-The star of Moxie Season.

The focus of Moxie Season.

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Wearing the Uniform

Freelancing has its perks. There’s flexibility of schedule, a comfortable working environment from home, and no employee handbook to memorize.

My membership in free agent nation is coming up on three years. During that time, I’ve managed to cobble together a myriad of paying gigs—unique reports, video production, facilitation, teaching writing, and managing grants. I’m also learning to be more patient, during the dry and uncertain patches.

Last year, a unilateral decision was reached that the JBE needed to update his writing portfolio. So 18 months after setting that goal, I’ve managed to write for a number of newspapers, including the Boston Globe, did a couple of critical pieces about Portland (one few not sugarcoating life in the “golden” city that sits on Casco Bay), plus putting together a series of monthly travel features for the Lewiston Sun-Journal. I had hoped to do a bit more muckraking, but there aren’t many venues that pay local writers to dredge up stories about Maine’s kakistocracy. Continue reading

Less United

Over the weekend, a group of Texans gathered in Bastrop (outside Austin), concerned about the possibility of the federal government declaring martial law in Texas. This was reported in this morning’s Boston Globe. What’s the basis for this fear?

Apparently media operatives like Alex Jones have been piggybacking on a large scale military operation, called Jade Helm 15, to spread fear via his daily fear-fogger, The Alex Jones Show, a syndicated radio program. Many of those gathered in Bastrop no doubt got their information about this from Jones, and others on the outer fringes of the media.

Alex Jones using the fear-fogger.

Alex Jones using the fear-fogger.

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