Category Archives: Society

Wavelengths

Have you ever noticed how you might be thinking about something, maybe even putting pen to paper to memorialize those thoughts, and then suddenly someone else says something that is exactly what was in your mind?  As if they had reached inside your head and grabbed it.

Or maybe, you had just read something that really intrigued you and suddenly material on that same topic starts popping up everywhere?  A friend recommends a book – same subject.  You see an advertisement for a TV documentary – same subject.  A billboard along the highway – same subject.  A blog post from a friend mirrors that same subject.

Affirmations from the world around us.  We’re on the same wavelength.

And none of this is related to some mainstream news cycle.  Maybe it’s about showing gratitude.  Or demonstrating generosity.  Or learning to smile at the beauty that surrounds us.

This seems to happen all the time, if we’re paying attention, and it happened again just the other day when my blogging friend Searching for Grady posted to her blog.  It’s a piece she calls, “Migratory Spirits” about the twelve virtues.

And it just so happens, I’m reading a book about the twelve virtues called, “The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living.”  The author, Joseph M. Marshall III, dedicates a chapter to each virtue.  Providing the Sioux word and pronunciation, and then telling some traditional stories to illustrate the concepts.

So we have:

Humility – Unsiiciyapi  (un-shee-ee-cee-yah-pee) to be humble, modest, unpretentious;

Perseverance – Wowacintanka (wo-wah-chin-tan-gah) to persist, strive in spite of difficulties;

Respect – Wawoohola (wah-wo-o-ho-lah) to be considerate, to hold in high esteem;

Honor – Wayuonihan (wah-you-v-knee-han) to have integrity, an honest and upright character;

Love – Cantognake (chan-doe-gnan-key) to place and hold in one’s heart;

Sacrifice – Icicupi (ee-chee-chu-pee) to give of oneself, an offering;

Truth – Wowicake (wo-wee-jah-keh) that which is real, the way the world is;

Compassion – Waunsilapi (wah-un-shee-lah-pee) to care, to sympathize;

Bravery – Woohitike (wo-oh-hee-tee-keh) having or showing courage;

Fortitude – Cantewasake (can-te-wah-sha-keh) strength of heart and mind;

Generosity – Canteyuke (chan-te-you-keh) to give, to share, to have heart;

and,

Wisdom – Woksape (wo-ksa-peh) to understand what is right and true, to use knowledge wisely.

Isn’t it amazing how these ideas seem to travel.  I don’t think it’s solely because of the Internet or modern communications either.  While we might look at these systems as being more dendrites in the collective nervous system, ideas seem to travel with or without exterior electronics.  We are all connected.  We may have just not realized how widespread collective thoughts manifest.

There are no coincidences.

I find it encouraging that at a time when there seems to be more division and hatred spreading like a cancer, that the twelve virtues have emerged.  Perhaps as the antibodies to defeat such infections.

May the thoughts and the actions from the virtues gain lightspeed 🙂

***

Photo: The sun rises over a rock formation in the Badlands.  A universal symbol.  The sun rising, a new day, new beginnings, a fresh start, we’ve embarked on a new journey.  These thoughts arise in everyone’s minds, synchronously, without the need to speak.  Perhaps a look into another’s eyes, the nod of a head.  Just knowing.

Echoes of Home

As I’m trying to settle back in from my latest travels, I find myself growing restless.  Every chance to drive somewhere triggers that “highway call.”  That “road fever.”  And a simple trip to the grocery carries with the temptation to just keep on driving.  Doesn’t really matter where.  Just need to be in motion.

So, I headed out to the closest trail to take in some of the sunshine of these ever-shortening days.  Stretch my legs.  Moving meditation.  Mind a drift.  Day dreams of far away places.

There’s only one lengthy trail nearby and it sort of weaves in and out of the countryside while skirting this small Midwestern town.  And as I walk, it occurs to me that I’ve called this place “home” for four years now – to this date exactly.  I had never really intended to stay.

A temporary hold-over while I adjusted to the loss of my prior home.  A marriage destroyed by my partner’s alcoholism.  She refused all attempts at getting help.  It’s not easy watching someone you love self-destruct, but life does go on.  It has to.

In these past four years, I worked a little over a year and half before internal and external backstabbing saw my position handed off to someone else as a political favor. Age discrimination brought the career to an early demise.  All-in-all, though, it’s been ok.  Probably a blessing.

So, I loaded up the car and drove.  And I’ve been on the road now for at least a year of those remaining eighteen months.  Exploring, rediscovering, breathing again.  Stopping back here periodically to rest up, repack, and move on again.

Other places had that homey feeling.  Sort of like you grew up there and fit in.  Like you could stay and be content.  I never bothered to get to know this town.  I hadn’t planned on fitting in.  Still don’t care to.  But here I am.

Today, I diverged from the natural part of the trail that follows a stream through the woods and headed into the heart of this unknown downtown.  What is this place where I’m hanging my hat?  Where I know no one.

It strikes me that there are a number of features that are universal to the places I’ve been.  Of course, there’s a “Main Street.”  But there’s always a Broadway, Euclid, Park, Oak, Maple, Elm, and 1st through 10th streets.   There’s always a Memorial Park and a Veterans Park.  Plaques and signs from the local Chamber of Commerce.  Lion’s Club, VFW, JCs.  Sometimes a local chapter of the Confederate Sons or Daughters.

While there’s going to be a cemetery or two, I was surprised to the see that the street leading through the main cemetery was named “Dyer.”  Some weird twist to that one. Some cemeteries don’t even name the roads running through them.

There’s always a part of town that’s lined with restored Victorian homes, and a part where the same style homes are decaying.  Where you could drop a hammer on the roof and it would fall through every floor to the basement.

There are always some nice people sitting out on old porch swings that will wave and say hello.  And there are a few front porches and alleyways occupied by people who I wouldn’t want to run into at night.  Or maybe even right now in broad daylight.  They eye me as an invader of their turf.  A hush descends.  I keep moving.

Downtown businesses are mostly closed on a day you’d expect them to be open, except for the bars.  And there’s one of those on every corner.   All busy at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Not much else to do around here I guess.

Half of the shops are going out of business.  Booming economy is nowhere near here.  An old antique shop says it’s having a “retirement” sale.  Sixty to seventy percent off.  But it’s closed with no hours posted.

The streets closed for the farmer’s market open again as the last pickup drives off.  I think there will be some type of Halloween parade on these streets next weekend. Parades and high school bands always a staple.

I can always find the courthouse by looking for the flag.  Small town kingdoms where prosecutors and judges rule.

I head through one of the parks on my way back to where I parked the car.  I’ve always enjoyed hearing the happy voices of children playing.  Reminds me of simpler times when days stretched on forever.   When games had no rules.  We made things up as we went along.  Unbound imaginations.

Maybe that’s why I enjoying moving.  Stretching days down the length of the highways.  I guess it doesn’t matter what town I’m in.  Some things seem eternal.  Echoes of the last stop.

Maybe everywhere is home 🙂

***

 

Photo: This Victorian home was restored and converted into a Bed and Breakfast.  Another staple of small town America.

The Many Flames of Life

I love fire.  Always have.

A Passionate Embrace.

Cozy snowy days by the woodstove.

Well, not quite a Haiku’s traditional 5-7-5, but fire is still poetic.  Fire is symbolic of so many things.  Transformation, purification, life force, power, strength, destruction, rebirth, transcendence, inspiration, enlightenment.

Truth and Knowledge.  Light and Heat.  The Intellect and the Emotions.

“Baptism by Fire” restores primordial purity.  An intermediary between the Source and all of us tiny Particles of Awareness.

Fire is a good visual representation of our emotions.  Anger, I believe, is the most destructive – a raging inferno.  Passion, the most inspirational, a slow intense burn.  Love, a steady light.  Life, the precious spark.

The blaze in the feature photo above represents that out-of-control burst of anger.  Hatred.  The stare of death.

While this image . . .

Fire +

the steady, passionate burn of the heart.  That electric heat, tingle of fire, with the brush of a lover’s hand.  A slow, deep delicious kiss.

And there’s another image I truly love, from my background of being a health care provider – The Keeper of the Flame.  I found this pin at a military surplus store.  I was told it was a German medic’s pin.  The hands delicately cradling that life force.

Keeper of the Flame

And here’s one, a story for another day, perhaps, of a long ago camping trip in the mountains of Colorado.  The howling winds channeling through the mountain pass.  Filling our eyes with smoke and ash as we reached for those life-giving flames.

Cold in Them Mountains

But anger.  Yes anger is the most destructive.  A fire that can consume us.  Destroy us physically and mentally.  We might think it’s directed outward, but the amount of negative energy that burns within can kill.  An insidious suicide.

I end with a link to a friend’s blog.   Lucid Being recently posted “Solving the Anger Issues! – Open Leader.” It’s a good read.

As for that spiritual burn in all of us – don’t let that fire go out.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BORING

A few days ago, I posted a piece about attention spans and when people will “bail” from reading additional text.  As a writer, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in the reader’s mind so we can craft ways to capture their attention.  And that Bailer’s Point actually ties in nicely with the fourth “Brain Rule” discussed by John Medina. *

People won’t pay attention to boring things.

It seems that when we encounter any stimulus our brains go through a number of discrete phases to process that information.

Intrinsic Alertness – our ability to detect something.

Phasic Alertness – our ability to focus on that something.

Executive Network – our ability to decide what to do about that something.

And despite what people may think, the brain’s attention spotlight can only focus on one thing at a time.  We process concepts sequentially.  Task shifting, or multi-tasking, delays accomplishment time by 50% and increases errors by 50%.  We’re just not wired well to do multiple things at the same time.  We are also much better at detecting patterns and then extrapolating the meaning of events than we are at registering and remembering the details of those events.

We saw before how readers can check out within seconds if their attention is not corralled, and listeners, it turns out, can only hold on for about 10 minutes before tuning out.

So what enhances or extends attention spans?  How can we reach into the readers’ or listeners’ brains and shake their frontal lobes around without screaming PAY ATTENTION?! !

We can add emotion!

It seems emotion coupled with information not only captures attention, but it significantly improves retention.  People remember personal stories bathing in feelings better than they will rote recitations of facts, no matter how intriguing we might think those facts are.

As writers, we need to try to engage all of our reader’s senses.  So they can taste it, hear it, smell it, feel it, breathe it in.

But it also turns out that we need to give people frequent breaks.  As a lecturer, that may mean switching topics or keeping the presentation short.  As a writer, it means we need to effectively use punctuation.  Let the reader come up for air once and a while.

That’s one reason I like to use sentence fragments.  Even though were not supposed to 🙂

And on that note, I’ll call it quits today.  Except if I can hold your attention a little longer, there are a few more fun pics at the bottom of this virtual page.

***

Feature Photo: An old hotel in an 1800’s mining town has a character all of its own, but by bending the light and showering it with color, we add emotion.  Fire!  It draws in the eye and holds the attention.   With blogging, I’ve found that a great pic can really draw in the reader.  Of course, what I think is great others might find boring.

Past Posts on Brain Rules by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist.

Move Your Body, Move Your Mind

Writing to Survive

Wired

I hope you all have a day of excitement filled with brain candy.  Here are a few more pics I played with, turning the ordinary into a little something more.

Bisbee - 53 - Castle Rock + CF

 

Ramsey Canyon 25th - 7 - CF13-26

Horseback Riding - 1 +MC100+Enamel

Miller Canyon - 3 +Solarize 245

Sunset from the Little House + Enamel

 

Wired

Building on a theme I have going on brain development, I wanted to explore rule 3 of the book “Brain Rules” written by John Medina.  You might recall my previous two posts on this, Move Your Body, Move Your Mind, and Writing to Survive.  Well today, we’re looking at “wiring.”  While we might think generally that men and women are wired differently, for example, fact is, all of us are wired differently.

To understand how we’re all wired differently, we first have to look at the cells that compose our bodies.  Billions of cells, that are all acting independently from our thought processes.  Thank goodness.  Our minds are jumbled enough without us having to consciously think and direct the activities of all of the complex and differentiated cells in our bodies.  Can you imagine having to think about absolutely every body function at the microscopic cellular level.  Not to mention the macro-level of organ function.  Come on, breathe body breathe, beat you silly heart . . .

And each of our cells become specialized when the 6 feet of DNA in each cell is folded in a particular way to fit in the microns-sized nucleus.  For perspective, this has been compared to taking 30 miles of fishing line and cramming it inside an object the size of a blueberry.

While we could talk for days about all of the differentiated cells in our bodies and all of their unique functions, since we are looking at our brains, let’s talk neurons.  These are, of course, the tiny structures firing off electrical charges like lightning bolts at 250 miles per hour and causing chemical neurotransmitters to be released that bridge the gaps between neurons called synapses and carry that signal forward somewhere into our gray matter where we interpret it.  We are basically electro-chemical machines.

That always makes me wonder how all of the electronic pollution we are dumping into the airways affects us.  Maybe that’s how we end up with mass shooters, who knows?

Turns out that as we learn, the neurons are shifting and solidifying pathways for communication to each other.  We can relearn things too and reshape our neural wiring.  That’s called neuroplasticity.  What we do and experience actually physically changes our brains.  And the more activity we make our brains perform, the larger and more complex they can become.

The author identifies three types of brain wiring:

Experience Independent wiring = controlling breathing, heart rate, proprioceptive sensations, etc.;
Experience Expectant wiring = things like visual acuity and language acquisition; and
Experience-Dependent wiring = hard-wired not be hard-wired = flexible, sensitive to external inputs and thus cultural programing.

The latter two forms of wiring explain how we are acculturated or assimilated into any particular culture or social structure.  We must beware of our programming.  Especially that programming that starts in early childhood.  We should continually question everything and rewire our brains as needed 😊

No two brains are alike, not even identical twins, because every brain experiences the same phenomena differently creating different memories and the resulting changes in the physical structure to the brain.  This is why neurosurgeons have to do brain mapping on each and every one of their patients before slicing and dicing.  They can’t know ahead of time which precise areas of the brain are tied to which functions because each person is unique.

It also turns out that the brains of wild animals are 15 to 30 percent larger than their tame domestic counterparts.  So, it would seem that living in the wild requires constant learning and adapting.  A different intelligence, perhaps, is required for survival.

That might make one wonder if we become less intelligent the more we become domesticated and sedentary???  Or perhaps we’re just more specialized.  This makes the concept of intelligence a bit more nuanced, which leads researchers to hypothesize about different types of intelligence – verbal, musical, logical, spatial, bodily, interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Such brain differences can be detected when comparing brains of say musicians to athletes.

Since all of our brains develop at different rates and develop completely differently because we all experience things differently, wiring can predict performance.  And education systems, with one set of standards fits all, end up mismatching performance expectations to linear age.

The implications are that smaller class size and individual attention results in, not only improved learning but, more equalized learning.  Teachers with smaller numbers of students can make use of the Theory of Mind I brought up in my last posting on the brain.  They can assess their individual students and gear instruction to improve individual performance.  I guess we have an argument to support home schooling here.

Where does all of this brain talk lead to today?  Well, if we are all wired differently, and if no one experiences any singular event in the same way, then are the images any of us try to convey with words the ones the reader or hearer receives?  Or do each of us have a completely different experience filled with visions, tastes, touches, smells that the storyteller never imagined?

I’ve always said communication is difficult even on a good day.

Intriguing, isn’t it?  Keep on firing neurons !

***

Lightening 5+C1

Photo: Not only are lightning bolts demonstrative of the way neurons work, they are actually similar in structure.  I imagine a giant electrical storm going on in our minds constantly 🙂

Writing to Survive

A while back I wrote a piece about how movement, physical movement, was necessary for our creative minds.  In fact, this was a trait we learned and passed on by the forces of evolution.  To eat, we moved.  As we moved, we learned to think.  We had to be creative problem solvers on the move, and we survived.

That article was called, “Move Your Body, Move Your Mind.”  And there, I explored the first “rule” in the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina.  This guy, Medina, is a smart guy. He is a developmental molecular biologist.

This technique works for me, by-the-way.  I get some of my best story ideas when I’m out hiking on the trail and I allow my mind to drift.  Evolutionary vestiges repurposed.  I hunt for words as my food is all neatly packaged at the grocery store now.

Well, the second “brain rule” is our ability to engage in IMAGINATION!  More specifically, our ability to substitute objects in our minds so that one object can represent another, or maybe a whole bunch of different objects.  This has been called “Dual Representation Theory.”  More basically, SYMBOLISM.

It seems our fossil history shows that our ancestors evolved a lot physically since humankind’s estimated beginnings somewhere around 7 to 10 million years ago, but there wasn’t a lot of mental evolution going on until about 40,000 years ago.  And then.  Bam!  We went from stone axes to painting, sculpture, fine art and jewelry.  Soon, there would be mathematics and science.  And, of course, more advanced communication.  What caused this big change?

Apparently, it was the weather.

The changes weren’t fast, but they forced adaptation.  Brought us out of the trees and into the savannah when food sources shifted.  To become more streamlined and save energy we became bipedal.

In order to master survival in all of the biomes on the planet, our brains enlarged.  This brings in another concept – Variability Selection Theory.  Two powerful aspects of the brain developed.  A database and the ability to improvise using that growing database.

And since survival not only meant staying warm and eating, it meant not being eaten too, community concepts evolved.  There was safety and better hunting in numbers.  And this meant learning to negotiate.

This raises the “Theory of Mind” or the ability to make inferences.  To peer inside another person’s mental life and make predictions, to understand their motivations.  All necessary skills to develop allies, cooperative behavior, and group species survival.

This ability to draw upon our databases and make inferences reminds me of the “predictive processing framework,” described in my piece,“My Intuition Tells Me . . ..”

With basic survival skills being mastered, humans could focus on more advanced pursuits.  Those beyond only the four F’s – fighting, feeding, fleeing and fucking.  And thus, in addition to art, music, mathematics, and science, us modern-day bloggers have electronic storytelling.

I think most of us still like the fucking, we just have more time for more things beyond the big four now. 😊

Storytelling is an ancient art, and we wordsmiths spend a lot of time in the world of symbolic thinking.  We don’t use this creative process for basic survival like our ancestors did.  Or do we ???  Maybe writing and creating worlds is survival for some of us.  And I suppose some us actually do feed ourselves by writing, a lean diet that is . . .

But basically, every word we use is a symbol, either a subject or an action or a feeling.  Every word has to represent something tangible in the physical world or summon an image or feeling into the mind.

In fact, symbols can convey meanings or reveal details of reality beyond just a physical image.  Symbols can carry strong emotions.  They can summon memories of sounds and smells and touches.  Of happiness and laughter.

And as writers, we employ that Theory of Mind in multiple ways.  We try to look into our reader’s heads, make predictions, understand what drives them.  Figure out how to lead them through the story.

There are times when we want our words to evoke a particular image and have that image be universal for all readers.  But there are other times when we deliberately want those words to convey multiple meanings, to give the reader a choice.  Or to show contradictions between choices.  Maybe they’ll choose a meaning that even we never saw as a possibility.

If we are writing fiction, we have to develop the mental lives of the characters we create.  We add predictability and motivations for their actions, even providing historic context.  Their fictional life traumas that have helped develop their passions, their fears, their hatreds, their loves, their essence.  So the reader understands the next move on the chess board.

So, this survival skill of making inferences has evolved into us examining the minds of non-existent entities and developing believable characters based upon what we anticipate would be their universal actions.  Wouldn’t we do the same thing in the same situation?  And we do this for entertainment, not for negotiating the next mammoth hunt.

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the art of writing is stacking symbols in some sequence to complete a portrait.  And we want to draw the reader in so they feel like they are a part of the story.  A bystander.  A witness.  Or maybe even an active participant.

Symbols may relate to objects, but they don’t equate to objects.  They reveal essence.  Symbols are inclusive and expansive and evolve over time acquiring even more meaning from multiple sources.

Meanings may differ depending on peoples’ cultures.  The Owl, for example, to the Pawnee symbolized protection, while to the Ojibwa it symbolized evil and death.  To the ancient Greeks, the Owl represented wisdom.

Great Horned Owl - 6 - 25th Nov + Crop
According to Joseph Campbell: “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.”  This implies that no two people would experience the object of the symbol in the same way.  Maybe so, especially with cultural variations, but it seems the essence of the experience can be shared more universally with a symbol than with bare words.

With context, it seems to me that symbols are the supersonic highway of communication.  The brain is able to process a symbol as an all-encompassing experience in a nanosecond.  Faster than the blink of an eye, a complex story unfolds in images and associated feelings.

Symbolic thinking is said to be a uniquely human skill, and it allows us the ability to understand each other and coordinate within groups.  And with that, I’ll leave you with a few symbols to make of them what you will. 😊

What do these images inspire in your minds?

***

Note:  If you want to read more, there are some quotes on symbolism below.

Photos:  An angel inside an old Spanish mission.  The great Horned Owl.  A sculpture in an art gallery court yard.  Street sculptures in an eclectic small town.  A vulture crosses it’s folded wings to make a heart.

DeGrazia - Courtyard Statue     Bisbee - 25     Bisbee - 1BCrop
Bisbee - 27 + Crop     Turkey Vulture - Folded Wings 2+Crop Heart

A sort of Rorschach test 🙂

Quotes: 

“Symbolism is no mere idle fancy or corrupt egerneration: it is inherent in the very texture of human life.”
― Alfred Whitehead

“Things do not have meaning. We assign meaning to everything.”
― Anthony Robbins

“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

“If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”
― Roger Ebert

“In many college English courses the words “myth” and “symbol” are given a tremendous charge of significance.  You just ain’t no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page.  And in many creative writing course the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them.  What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize?  What is the Underlying Mythos?  Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils.  And they sit down and write a lot of empty pomposity, under the impression that that’s how Melville did it.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men [and women] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
― Clifford Geertz

“The same principles that make a spiral galaxy also create the structure of a seashell and unfurling of a fern.  This is why ancient spiritual people used natural symbols to convey universal concepts.”
― Belsebuub, Return to Source: How Enlightenment is the Process of Creation in the Universe in Reverse

“[A] symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect.  We must distinguish, therefore between the ‘sense’ and the ‘meaning’ of the symbol.  It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable.  The term ‘meaning’ can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs.  The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed.  It is the province of art which is not ‘expression’ merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a ‘sensuous apprehension of being’.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Symbol Without Meaning

Contagious Evil

The Moon shines no light of its own.  It merely reflects the light from another source, our sun.  It makes no conscious choice on what it reveals to us . . .

***

For the moment I sit and seem to be without words.  So, I’m trying an exercise where I just write something, anything, just to see what shakes loose.  It’s strange, that the internal dialog in our minds never wants to shut up, but my writer’s voice goes away every once in a while.

At the same time I’m having trouble writing in this blogging format, I’ve been restraining myself from lashing back on other social media platforms.  Reining in those words. Humm, injustice inspires me to want to speak up against it.  But that doesn’t always bring out the best in my writing.  Better to stay calm and deliberate and write positively.

But deliberating about which words to use, or writing about how to write, is not the same as telling a story.  Or delivering a message.  Deliberating can turn into avoidance.  I watched many a doctor do this back when I worked in the hospital.  I called it WWDD – Watch, Wait, Debate, Do Nothing.  Ultimately, the patient dies.

Excuses right.  Always have a rationalization.  Don’t want to get too close to that edge.  The sun got in my eyes.  I tripped over a rock.  I was adjusting my medications.  Humm, most probably the later . . .

But I do have to say, the tone of the conversations permeating cyberspace in recent weeks, at least in my neck of the words, has been a bit disheartening.  It sort of left me speechless and maybe even a touch morose.  I never thought I see a time when so much anger and hatred would spread.

A sort of virus had taken over, and evil one.  It seems like people have stopped really communicating and are just sort of screaming at one another.  Whomever yells the loudest wins.  Wins what?  I’m not sure.

And one of my goals in blogging this time around has been to try to find ways to bring people into the conversation.  To keep the discussion going.  To have people actually consider other viewpoints.  But one wrong word choice can shut the whole thing down or explode it.

So how does one write positively when addressing evil?

I was reminded about some workplace research I had recently read about.  Contagious Evil.  Of course, the authors didn’t call it that.  They used terms like “corruption,” “spill-over effect,” “misconduct,” and “bad apple.”

The Harvard Business Review’s study determined that Contagious Evil (we’re going with my terminology) has a social multiplier of 1.59, meaning each time an incident of misconduct occurs, another event of misconduct will be triggered 59% of the time by peer effects.  The study focused on financial advisors, who it turns out are 37% more likely to commit misconduct if they collide with a co-worker with a history of misconduct.  And the effect can be stronger if the two doing the colliding are in the same ethnic group.

Interesting, if a colleague in your workplace lies, cheats or steals, and you are aware of this, you have a greater than 50% chance of joining in the violation or embarking upon your own dance of misconduct.  It’s as though the original evil one handed you a get-away-with-evil-free card.  A license to do bad, because, well, someone else got away with it.  Your chance to settle some imaginary score?  Get back at all those little injustices being perpetuated against you?  Perhaps.

This “spill-over” phenomenon has been witnessed in other contexts, like how one mass shooting or a suicide seems to trigger others.  A whole bunch of theories have been propounded to try to explain this contagious communal thinking.

Like the moon, an individual may not engage in any conscious determination of their actions, but merely reflect the thoughts, actions and beliefs of others.

One theory is simply called the “Contagion Theory,” where collective behavior is like a crowd induced hypnosis – irrational and emotional.  Another is “Convergence Theory.”  The crowd behavior reflects the beliefs of the individuals before they joined the crowd, so what pulled that crowd of like-thinking automatons together?  Maybe it was the media platform.

On the other spectrum, we have “Emergent Norm Theory.”  People, who are uncertain in how to act collectively, actually discuss how their behavior should be governed and allow order and rationality to guide them.  I haven’t seen much of that lately.

There is also the “Werther Effect,” so labeled from Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.”  Unrequited love ends with suicide and this was the inspiration for copycats.  The license theory – if it’s ok for someone else, they have granted me their approval and it’s ok for me too.

I don’t know if any of these equations can be applied to evil writing.  Collective thought and behavior put into words where the crowd only gathers figuratively.  Words of evil that for some reason seem to latch on to some imaginations.  Captivate and propagate more collagenous bile.  Will one person’s hateful rhetoric escalate, license and embolden?  Rising in a crescendo of a million voices, either echoing or repelling?  And can all of this hostility spill into the streets?  That seems to be what I’m seeing right now.

But then I think, just what is evil?  Evil is defined as profound immorality and wickedness and it takes on Biblical proportions when it has the qualities of a supernatural force.  But then we have the terms “immorality” and “wickedness” and who gets to define those terms?  We may all have different definitions, especially on morality.

We tend to look at things in the world with an eye of relativism not absolutism.  My crime was so minor when compared to murder, so I’m not a criminal.  Right?

And then there is the “Tonal” of times.  Morality changes over time.  Whatever the majority of the bee hive is thinking at this particular moment or era of time.  And that “Hive Think” can take over, be contagious.  Whether it is right or wrong.

We seem to be living in a time of rising intolerance, division, and social disintegration.  When I find myself speechless in the face of extreme ignorance though, I become concerned.  Are the differences so great now, the division so complete, that people think corrupting our democracy is worth the tradeoff of the loss of liberty?  The “my way or the highway mentality” feeding into authoritarianism.  Or instead of social consensus, is this merely reflecting a collective fear of deciding, of having to be responsible for one’s choices, so let’s have someone else decide, it will be their fault if it fails . . .

What do you think?  Is evil contagious?  Can the power of words be used to enhance the social multiplier, escalate collisions with “bad apples?”  Or provide a stamp of approval for behavior that is particularly wicked?

I don’t know if there is an off switch for what’s going on right now, but I do hope people will become more civil, will recognize truth, will compromise.  And hope they will start shining their own light, thinking and reasoning for themselves instead of being hypnotized with polarizing buzz words.  Be the reflection of themselves instead of becoming the reflection of other minds . . .

***

** So there, I managed to meander through my mind for a bit and put something reasonably coherent into kBs.  And hopefully I’ve done so having not offended anyone.

*** The “quoted text” is all my own.  I just wanted to set those lines off for rhythm 🙂

Photo: The moon doesn’t shine its own light. It reflects.

 

A Return to Tribalism ?

I’ve been “retired” now for almost 2 years.  Wow!  I can’t believe that much time has gone by, and it appears a window in time for me is getting ready to close.

Because my “retirement” didn’t go as planned, I found myself trying to figure out the next step.  No new jobs were coming my way because of age discrimination and other factors I won’t get into for the moment.  So, I set my sights on finding a new home and a new location, and I gave myself 2 years to do it.  Fresh start.  New life.

But there are only so many ways to stretch a state pension, especially when the state plans on imploding it.  Time bomb’s a ticking.

Shock wave number 2, the price tag on housing has skyrocketed since the time I built the dream home with my second wife.  And the crash of 2008 didn’t really help much because housing costs were so inflated by that time that they haven’t returned to any level close to being reasonable.

I searched all over the country.  Systematically zeroing in on specific localities where I thought I’d like to live while comparing the available services, the climate, if the areas were reasonably progressive, and what the tax burden would be.  Yes, believe it or not, you can really get screwed by double taxation if you’re receiving a state pension and you move out of the state providing that pension.  Both states will tax you on the same income unless you find a tax-friendly state, and from what I could see there are only about 5 of those, three of which I don’t intend to set foot in.

And with the politicians looking at slashing and burning Social Security and Medicare, those of us with employee-earned pensions can’t count on much of a boost in income when the time comes to collect from the funds we’ve paid into for some 45+ years.  The politicians have stolen most of our investment in the SS Trust Fund for other pork-barrel endeavors, and they keep shrinking Medicare payments leaving us to pick up the lion’s share of ballooning medical costs.  Oh well . . .

Yes, the most affordable housing is in places where people generally don’t want to live and where services don’t exist.  And if you find that undiscovered oasis, look out!  It won’t be long before rich people discover it, take over, drive the home prices up along with property taxes, and the original home owners will become refugees, forced to vacate their home towns.  Better move quickly.

So, what happened in the twenty-plus years that had snuck by since I built the dream home that ex number 2 took along with all the cash?  One major thing was that wages have totally stagnated while the cost of living has been relentlessly climbing.  (See my post Balance)  And since pensions only provide a fraction of what wages are, the numbers don’t crunch so well.

But this trend is not just affecting people in my age group or who are living with similar circumstances.  Nationwide, people are losing the ability to afford housing.  The solution, being forced by sheer economics, is a return to tribal living.

There has to be multiple wage earners under one roof now, or there has be a form of piggy-backed housing on a single property where the multiple workers can reside.  I see this happening more and more, and it’s taking on a variety of forms.

For starters, we are starting to see a return to multiple generations living under one roof.  Grown kids are taking in aging parents who can no longer maintain a home on their own or who are ill.  Additionally, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 33% of young adults between the ages of 25 through 29 are living with their parents or grandparents.  This is a three-fold increase since 1970 and is the highest in 75 years.  These numbers span all education levels, race, gender and religion.  It’s all about the all-mighty dollar.  Who has it and who doesn’t.  And these youngsters can’t afford to move out.

Another form of tribal living I’ve seen is simply renting out the spare bedroom, and not just the Airbnb way for short vacation stays.  A dear friend of mine referred to this as taking in “strays.”  If you know someone you can trust who can’t afford to rent an apartment, or much more buy a house, rent them a room.  It all equals more incomes under the same roof.  A variety of communal living.  Sharing meal and entertainment space and time.

Increasing in popularity is the “ancillary dwelling unit.”  These come with a variety of names including “tiny houses” and “granny flats,” and they can be framed units or a trailer, or an RV, or a modified shipping container.  ADUs can be subject to various zoning regulations, and they may “stand alone” in the sense that the occupier could have separate utility hookups and waste removal.  The common denominator here is the ADU dweller couldn’t afford a larger home on her or his own property, and the property owner sharing space receives some benefit in return.  Expenses have to be spread out somehow.

ADUs can also be rented out as guest houses for temporary stays, and this can be an appealing situation for a home owner that’s not quite making the bill payments on time.  I’m renting a place now where the retired landowners maintain 2 guest houses to supplement their income.

I can also foresee the restructuring of the traditional concepts of marriage and child rearing.  Will we see a return of polygamy?  I don’t know, but I can easily see 2 or 3 wage-earners living under one roof while an auxiliary spouse, partner, or whomever, stays home to take care of the children.  Child care expenses won’t be outsourced anymore.  Who can afford those?  And, we may see more homeschooling accompanying this sort of lifestyle.

Regardless of the form it takes, I envision more forms of communal living as time and economic pressures continue.  This may not be a bad thing in terms of increased socialization, but that’s hard to gauge too.  Will it result in a bringing together of more people or the formations of small clicks walling themselves off from the rest of the community – compounds instead of homes?  Who knows, but until the economy improves for the average wage-earner, I think we’ll see more forms of alternative housing and the growth of interesting social arrangements.

As for me, I’m now trying to decide between setting down roots or becoming a nomad.  Or just maybe I’ll find a tribe to join.  Time will tell.

***

Photo:  This photo was shot by my one of my Great Uncles in 1928 when he was in the Army Air Corps.  He was stationed in the Philippines at the time and he flew out into the jungle in a pontoon-style airplane, and landed to visit the native homes of the Tagalog.  Over time, he rose to the rank of Major General and he played major roles in WWII and the Korean War.

Links:  For further reading see:

The Great Urban Housing Solution That Has No Good Name
A Record 64 Million Americans Live in Multigenerational Households

Update November 30, 2018: I came across an interesting post today on LinkedIn about how AirBnB is going to start designing homes.  It seems the business world has coined a new buzzword – “Coliving” – to describe the growing trend of multiple income earners having to share the cost of housing.  I really don’t see anything new in the concept except that single home ownership is becoming more out of reach for the average wage-earner and this is, perhaps, driving the trend, as I pondered about above, even faster.  If you would like to read further, check out these articles:

U.S. Homes Prices Least Affordable in Almost a Decade

Co-living 2030: Are you ready for the sharing economy?

Link Rot: As with all links to the Net, I can’t guarantee how long they will be active, so apologies if the articles have disappeared into the void of cyberspace 🙂

 

Confirmation Bias – A New Personality Disorder?

Intro:  Yesterday, I read an excellent post by Robert on his blog Seven Spheres, which was on the topic of confirmation bias.  You should check out his blog because there are some really great posts on a whole range of topics about what makes this world tick.  His post reminded me of an article I posted on LinkedIn last year, and I thought I would include it on my blog.  Confirmation bias is something we should all think about, because it affects our judgments and decisions daily and we probably don’t even realize it.  Please read on . . .

***

I recently read an article titled: “Legal Ethics and Confirmation Bias.” The article begins its trek with a brief overview of how the practice of law is governed by its professional rules of conduct, provides a very good definition of “confirmation bias,” and then diverts down the road less traveled attempting to correlate racial discrimination and advancement within the legal profession. I’m not saying that the author didn’t have a legitimate point, she did. I would just like to address the elephant in the room she skillfully avoided and diverge down a different trail.

The definition of “confirmation bias,” as provided by the author, is “a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or under-weigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.” But applying this to a lawyer’s representation of a client, as the author first does (representation that is supposed to be zealous and one-sided in nature), and applying it to the determination of who gets a promotion in a law firm, as the author does next, seems to me to severely limit the application of the two most important words in the definition – “decision makers.” I will be happy to expand that application.

In the context of a discussion of legal ethics, you would think the author would discuss the elephant, or zebra or gorilla if you prefer, namely judges. I can’t think of any more important context than the individuals who “decide” the outcomes of legal disputes. If judges actively seek out information to confirm their biases, even if that behavior is so inherently ingrained they don’t realize what they are doing, as opposed to evaluating evidence openly and objectively, then certainly there will be no “justice” when a decision is rendered. This has, in fact, been one of the chief criticisms of the U.S. Supreme Court. Since that court exercises complete discretion over the cases it hears, it has been said that they only take cases that they have already decided. If true, I find that frightening in two respects.

First, the high court is not required to clear up discrepancies with the interpretation and application of federal law among the circuits of the federal courts of appeal. Thus, the federal law can be differently applied in different parts of the country – no uniform federal law for the land – and who cares, right, if that is politically expedient. Second, if the highest court only hears cases it desires and has prejudged them, and if confirmation bias permeates all of the judicial system, then there is ample ammunition for the criticism that the courts are purely political entities, with judges being mere puppets doing the bidding of their appointers or electors and not objectively applying the law as it is written. Deciding court cases is not playing pinball; these decisions have dramatic impacts on people’s lives.

Ok, I addressed the elephant, and now for my own divergence.

We first must recognize the obvious – that every individual is a “decision maker.” We all make countless decisions each day, as mundane as how often we brush our teeth or as magnanimous as whether to have children.  Next, there appears to be an overwhelming desire for people to categorize things as being black or white – not in the racial context – but an oversimplification of issues or subject matter. Where in reality there may be thirteen different alternatives, or various shades of gray in between them all, people like to think there is always either an A or B or right or wrong answer. There usually isn’t. Things aren’t that simple and sometimes the answer is all of the above.

In the age of social media this faulty logic has become epidemic, or to use the parlance – “gone viral.” It is, in reality, thinking backwards. People begin with a conclusion and seek out supporting “evidence” to validate themselves. The evidence is often questionable, and the positions fermented are polarizing; based more in inebriated blind faith than in reality.  This leads more to one-sided screaming and incivility than to any type of productive discourse. People have decided they are right, they have their evidence, and they will no longer consider any other contrary evidence. They have integrated their position, on whatever the subject matter may be, so strongly as part of very their own identity that being “right” is necessary to protect that identity – the position has become secondary. Being “wrong” would simply shake them at their core, spin their minds into a state of oblivion. They may even label the countervailing information, even if it is overwhelming, as “fake news” or “lies” or even claim it is “biased,” all the while discounting their own biases or the biases of the sources they consulted – if they had any to begin with. They are so intoxicated with the notion that their ideas are gospel and irrefutable they see no need to even hear any words but their own.

Overconfidence and an inflated view of one’s own self-importance is magnified in cyberspace where people can create their own forums and post with relative anonymity. There are no social repercussions for being rude and inconsiderate or, more to the point, being an asshole online. There is no peer group in the room to subtlety apply pressure to be civil or call out bad behavior – at least, not in a meaningful way. When “conversations” deteriorate to episodes of cyber-rage and the leveling of death threats, which I have experienced all too frequently online, I think we can safely say this is aberrant behavior – worthy of a diagnostic code in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

My advice is simple – wake up from your own delusions, think critically, speak civilly or hold your tongue and listen for a change, and be prepared to admit when you’re wrong – be thrilled to expand your point of view!

 ***

Photo:  I found this picture on the Internet in the public domain.  I could find no other attribution for it.

LinkedIn:  If anyone wants to connect on LinkedIn, you can find me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/haroldstearley/

Update: April 25, 2018 – The ABA Journal just published an article about research demonstrating judicial bias with traditional gender roles, and I discovered an older article about implicit bias.

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/judges_expertise_may_correlate_with_more_gender_bias_in_some_cases_study_sa/?utm_source=maestro&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily_email

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/implicit_bias_is_a_challenge_even_for_judges

 

What is Art?

What does the word “art” mean to you?

Traditionally, art was comprised of paintings, sculptures, and drawings.  And I think of the “Old Masters;” the fully trained painters prior to the 1800s.  But art forms have changed drastically over the years, and I’m sure all of us have questioned whether some of the modern forms are truly art – the giant badminton shuttlecocks strewn about the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Art Gallery come to mind.

The reason I throw this question out there is, I’ve always wondered if people thought of photography as being true “art.”   You point a mechanical device at an object or landscape, push a button, and wallah, you have an image.  Not from your imagination or from an attempt to transform and express the external world by creating a new presentation through painting, drawing or sculpture – the actual use of the hands and the mind without mechanical assistance.  Isn’t nature the true artist here?

And if photography could be called an art, by observing the photographer does form a composition with what the lens will capture, and does make settings as to the shutter speed and aperture opening to regulate the amount of light and depth the image will reveal, what then of all the modern digital enhancements that can be made to an image once captured?  Clicking on more buttons on a computer screen.  Pre-programmed techno-algorithms that you can purchase in bulk.  Is thought and imagination even required for use of these programs?

Or, does altering the original photograph with all of the various mechanical features transform a simple image into a creative work of art?

While Merriam-Webster has a long list of definitions for the word “art,”  we can boil it down for purposes of this discussion to: the conscious use of skill and creative imagination” . . .  to produce “works as pictures, poems or songs” . . . and “creative visual works as painting, sculpting, and drawing.”  This definition certainly seems broad enough to encompass photography and all of its forms.

William Lesch - Light Storm Over Tucson

The feature image is a “photograph” by William Lesch called “Lightstorm over Tucson, Night and Day Thunderstorm Time (Montage).  My understanding is he uses time-lapse photography and color enhancements to produce his work, and I do think the picture is absolutely stunning.

But what do you think?  Is it “Art.”

***