What if we saw the world through some filter other than politics? What if we were just as smart as a rat in a maze and we looked for an escape from this dead end?
Really, what have we gained from our political infighting?
I can tell you what the politicians have gained and what our global foes have gained. I can list the wins for the lobbyists, the polluters, Wall Street and trial lawyers. What about us, though? How, exactly, have we benefited from the continual focus on left and right, red and blue, us and them?
I have a ton of friends who are so caught up in the filter of politics that they cannot have a conversation without linking pretty much anything to their perceived foes, or saviors. We can’t be two minutes into a conversation before they’ll be telling me how Pelosi is to blame. Or Trump. Or Antifa. Or McConnell.
If the weather is warm, I get a comment about global warming. If it’s cold, I get a comment about, well, global warming. They rattle off political talking points like trained parrots, using the exact words and inflections AS SEEN ON TV!!!
If we want to form a more perfect union, we need to have a grown-up discussion or two about our challenges. There is a legitimate debate to be had about…
Well, we could have a grown-up discussion about these issues, but we don’t. All these issues hang interminably in limbo, because we refuse to have an adult conversation about anything today. The first rule of politics is that nobody talks about anything but politics.
There are no issues, only talking points.
There are no solutions, only sides.
Worst of all, we supposedly normal people buy into this nonsense. We divide the world between us and them, even though the “us” in question is a political tribe that might or might not really be our natural home.
Maybe it’s time for one of those paradigm shifts that the scientists like to promote. What if we considered new developments through the filter of morality or compassion, empathy or enlightened self-interest? What if we asked how we could make something work, rather than how to stop it at all costs?
We could make a ton of progress if we stopped accepting the “either/or” arguments that form the basis of political debate today. “Either/or” choices tend to be extreme, punitive, and pretty much unworkable in the real world. While we all retreat to our corners to wait for the next round of memes, our problems metastasize into crises.
These false dichotomies offer great benefits to politicians who raise funds and win votes by promising to fight for one or another option at all costs. Perversely, solving any of these problems would cost them money and support, which might be one reason that there is no sense of urgency about problem solving on Capitol Hill. If the issue is resolved, it's harder to raise money for the battle.
Could we protect the environment while also creating new jobs? Sure. Could we encourage entrepreneurship while restraining corporate abuses? Yup. Could we defend good cops and punish bad ones? Absolutely.
It’s not going to happen, though, until we can escape the political filter that drives our thinking and our conversations. As long as we echo their talking points and support their intransigence, we will end up serving their needs at the expense of our own.
When the residents of Jonestown “drank the Kool-Aid,” it’s likely that many of them didn’t realize it was poisoned. What’s our excuse?
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Babies in sombreros, the hot new career for binging, and a new application of the death penalty, all rattling around in my brain this week...and now in yours. Read on.
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I was waxing philosophical the other day, explaining how I would solve all of the world’s problems with my superior intellect and unrivaled wisdom, when it occurred to me that I don’t know what’s what.
A friend and I were discussing the cost of government and the added cost of working with labor unions and, suddenly, I realized I was arguing on the basis of 30-year-old data. Maybe it was 40 years old, or worse. Didn’t matter. I was applying outdated insights to a current situation and I was probably wrong in my assertions.
What, for example, are the current stats on labor unions? I know many, many people who believe unions are the reason for pretty much every malady in the economy. Government bloat? It’s the unions’ fault. Foreign company cost advantages? It’s the unions’ fault. Underperforming schools? No question, it’s the teachers’ unions. But was any of that ever true, and is any of it true today?
The world is a complicated place, much more complicated than memes and bots would lead us to believe. There’s almost never a single cause of any major trend; rather, the trends flow from multiple sources acting over time.
We can find an anecdote to “prove” any point we want to make, of course, but I started to realize that I do not have a fact-based grasp of some seriously critical issues. I knew, overall, that the percentage of Americans in labor unions has declined along with manufacturing jobs and that public employee unions are a larger part of the total unionized work force than was the case when I was a kid. Beyond that, my grasp of the facts was pitiful. Has education improved in right-to-work states? Have manufacturing jobs increased as union wages and benefits diminished? I knew the slogans, but I realized that I don’t know the facts.
The same awareness hit me when we were talking about welfare programs, immigration, pollution levels, and other issues that I am uniquely qualified to resolve as soon as I am Michael the First, emperor of the United States. I read newspapers and news sites regularly, but I’m reading characterizations, mostly. I’ll read a fact that is inserted into an op-ed to make a point, but I won’t know if that fact is a true indicator of the overall trend or status quo.
Is there still a “marriage penalty” in the tax code? Do Medicare recipients still deal with “The Doughnut?”
It’s relatively simple to check out the data, even though it means spending more time looking at my phone when I should be engaging with other people. Fortunately, everyone else is staring at their phones all day, so I will fit right in with the cool kids.
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I must apologize. It was all my fault.
Wasn’t that great? I feel so much better now.
When I was a child and spoke as a child, I worried that someone might discover I had made a mistake, that they would think less of me because I had gotten something wrong. Boy, was I a dope. It turns out that admitting my mistakes is both liberating and empowering. “I was wrong,” is right at the top of my liberation mantra, along with, “My fault,” and the all-powerful, “I’m sorry.”
Some people think I apologize so much that it’s insincere, which it isn’t, but I must admit that it gets addictive after a while. Owning up to my mistakes is as close as I’ll get to absolution and it makes me almost invulnerable to follow-up chastisement.
“You screwed up.”
“Yes, I admitted that. What else do you want to add?”
“You shouldn’t do it again.”
I used to think it was dangerous to drop my defenses, but the opposite is true. Keeping up defenses is hard work and it requires all kinds of mental gymnastics, especially when you know you are wrong. Now that I’m old and weak, who has the energy??
I know a few, um, friends who seem incapable of admitting to any mistakes. They’ll cop to being human in the abstract, but they’re pretty much flawless when it comes to specifics. Once in a while, one of them will admit to making the “mistake” of thinking a political enemy did something right, hah hah, but that’s about it. After a while, they get to be a bit tiresome and, now that I’m old and weak, I don’t have the energy to deal with it.
Even when I haven’t made a mistake, I still enjoy admitting my limitations. After, “I’m sorry,” one of my absolute favorites is “I don’t know.” Not only is my ignorance remarkably blissful, but admitting to it puts me on the path to wisdom. Also, it takes way too much jumping through hoops to fake it and, did I mention, I’m too old and weak for this stuff?
Incredibly, admitting to mistakes and limitations has made me feel much stronger, more independent, and more secure. Things have been going so well, in fact, that I’m actually screwing up intentionally to give myself more apology opportunities. Friends think I am sinking into my dotage, but really I am building my self esteem.
Which reminds me, did I ever tell you about the time I changed my name to D.B. Cooper and kidnapped Jimmy Hoffa? Those were youthful indiscretions and I am very, very sorry.
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I’m not going to achieve immortality, certainly not in the corporeal sense and just as unlikely by any historical measure. Maybe I’ll come up with something so incredibly smart and pithy that my quote will be in the 2138 edition of Bartlett’s, but that’s a long shot, and my back gets too sore for me to ride across Asia like Attila the Hun. Likewise, it’s too late for me to invent something earth-shaking like penicillin, the internet or Chia Pets.
Like most guys who think about their legacy and their contribution to the future, I need to scale it down. What’s the most achievable goal for being known and valued by people who have never met you—and never will? What is the equivalent of immortality for someone who will neither save the world nor blow it up?
Ultimately, for me, it is to have my grandchildren tell their grandchildren about me, or at least to pass on lessons that I shared during my hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage.
This is no small feat. I have repeated lessons from my dad to my children, who knew him for less time than any of us would have liked. So my father’s grandchildren are familiar with his insights and they can pass those on to their grandchildren, probably three or four decades from now.
Meanwhile, I have stories to tell my grandchildren about my mother’s dad, who picked us up from school sometimes to take us to lunch at Pekin House or Kow Kow. He told me the wooden bowl story, which was definitely self-serving but one that I will repeat to the grandkids when I am in a self-preservation mood. And when I take them to lunch, I can tell them about my lunches with my grandfather. Thereby, Ben Caplan will be immortal, even though he shuffled off half a century ago.
For me, having grandchildren born when I am past sixty, the challenge is daunting. With kids getting married and having children later in life, fewer of us will see grandchildren in our lifetimes, and for those who do, the connection is likely to be very brief. Great-grandchildren? Almost unheard of, and that ship has absolutely sailed for me.
Thinking about children who are likely to be born around 2075, when I am closing in on 122 years old, might seem nonsensical, but it gives me purpose. If I want to have a positive impact on descendants I will never meet, I need to have a very positive impact on their grandparents, who are my grandchildren. And that is a venture that I can control, at least partially and, of course, temporarily.
When they hold the last party where you are the guest of honor, you don’t get to hear what people say about you. The same holds for the life lessons learned by your great-great grandchildren. Count these among the millions of things we don’t control in this life or beyond.
Still, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be working on it today.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.