On Tyranny

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In a country fond of seeing itself as “the land of the free”, in the last couple decades, fear seems to have considerably tarnished this idealistic notion. We say we want freedom, but for whom? Too often, such notions suggest that we want freedom within the boundaries of what we idiosyncratically define as “US”—a term that has increasingly become more grounded in exclusivity than inclusion. This “US” comes to inform our socio-politically charged definition of freedom. In an attempt to stave off fear, our expectations are tinged by a new found xenophobia; we redefine a continually shrinking concept we used to refer to as “a free American”. In so doing, we open the door for those who would exploit our assumed sense of vulnerability. But when freedom does not apply to all, ultimately, it will fail to encompass any of us.

On Tyrrany“European democracies collapsed into right-wing authoritarianism and fascism in the 1920s and ‘30s… The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”

So writes historian Timothy Snyder in his recently published book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. On Tyranny is a tiny book, 126 pages measuring only about 4×6 inches. Each of the twenty suggestions forms a chapter consisting of only two to five pages.

Mr. Snyder does express certain biases (such as casting a jaundiced eye toward the Internet). However, for the most part, the book is largely written from a non-partisan perspective, focusing on various means of preserving freedom and staving off tyrannical control. As the book is quite easy to read, you can probably finish it in an hour (although you will likely ruminate over its contents for much longer).

Some of Snyder’s suggestions are expected (such as #3 – Beware the One-party State). Others are either surprising or defined in a thought provoking manner. For example:

  • #  2 – Defend Institutions
  • #10 – Believe in Truth
  • #11 – Investigate

All address–directly or indirectly–some of the more hidden aspects of what is currently happening in the United States.

In a Washington Post review, Mr. Snyder’s book is described as “a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital.”  Some folks have been so taken with this little gem that they have bought multiple copies to distribute for free (a little over $6 on Amazon).

Requiem - Chomsky book coverOnce you have read through the Snyder book a couple times you might, on reflection, find yourself thinking a bit differently about the state of affairs in the United States. While the twenty suggestions Snyder offers are pointed and helpful, the brevity of the book prevents comprehensive treatment of any idea. As such, you might want to follow-up Snyder’s book and expand your understanding the mechanism of tyranny by tackling the more in depth descriptions of “reality” in the U.S. by reading Requiem for the American Dream, Noam Chomsky’s new book. Professor Chomsky addresses tyranny from the perspective of identifying various tactics of oppression such as reducing democracy, attacking solidarity and marginalizing the population—all of which have been happening and continue to occur as you read this. Like On Tyranny, Requiem is easy to read, although not quite so brief.

Finally if you are really committed to understanding tyranny and how it might have been the underlying mode of governance in the United States for decades, consider Sheldon Wolin’s more challenging and comprehensive book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism.

Responding to Hate

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The tragic events last week in Charlottesville, Virginia stand as a reminder that the actions of some of us express staunch opposition to what we might call Good.   Steve Tanner, writing under the umbrella of 500 Pens: an anti-hate news project, offers an annotated list of thoughtful actions we might take when confronting hate in EveryDayLife.  In Mr. Tanner’s own words:

By arming ourselves with a solid understanding of best practices, we can all be ready to respond properly — and safely — when acts of hate unfold before our eyes. Every situation is unique, but the following list is meant to serve as a guide for how to best respond to acts of hatred and bigotry.  ~Steve Tanner 

His brief list of suggestions includes the following.

  • Draw Attention Away From Hateful Protests and Demonstrations
  • Do Not Engage with the Attackers
  • Focus on Protecting the Attacked Person
  • Alert the Police and Other Authorities When Appropriate
  • Prepare in Advance

Food for thought:  Consider the principle of the “golden rule” which appears in some form in almost all major religions and which forms the basis of Good to which this blog often refers.  Does a “hate stance” espoused by a group seeking to exclude others fall within the definition of a golden rule-type Good?  (Do not answer too quickly.  This so-called golden rule is not the same as “live and let live”.)

For example, a white supremacist might be perfectly willing to live in peace as long as non-white folks (and in some cases Jews) live elsewhere.  While some hate groups essentially preach genocide, others simply do not want to have to deal with others they do not considers to be “us”.  Is this a non-Good stance?  What are the criteria for Good?  How can we effectively express Good—treating others as we wish to be treated—in a pluralistic society? Perhaps the deeper question is this: What are the requirements for a pluralistic society sustaining itself within the idea of Good? What does freedom look like in such a context?


You might consider subscribing to the 500 Pens newsletter.  You can also follow 500 Pens on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

Metaphor as Identity as Metaphor…

We know from neuroscience that most thought is unconscious, carried out by neural circuitry. In Metaphors We Live By, Mark Johnson and I showed that much of that unconscious thought is metaphorical, and further, that we often live our lives according to those metaphors.

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So says George Lakoff, neuroscientist and linguist.  Mr. Lakoff recently posted an article in which he presents his take on the nature and implications of a primary metaphor driving the person currently occupying the oval office.  Mr. Lakoff’s central premise is that POTUS 2017 operates according to the assumption “the president is the nation”.   The “meaning” of the phrase itself, out of context, presents very little significance.   However, the true meaning of such a metaphor only appears in the expressed attitudes and behaviors that ensue from it.  Assuming the Lakoff depiction is accurate, an important question arises:  how might a person who suddenly finds himself in the most power office in the world behave as a result of the validation offered by the new found title “President of the United States”?

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The article describes an interesting psychological configuration as it plays out in specific desires, decisions, and communications delivered through the current White House occupant’s tweets.  Perhaps what is most interesting is not what Mr. Lakoff has to say about POTUS 2017, but how the psychological structure of what he is proposing might (and probably is) operative in ourselves.   How much does self-identification by this person in the chief executive’s seat parallel our own understanding of ourselves?   On a deeper level, to what degree does our reaction to the current person posing as the 45th president reflect our own attitudes toward the world in general rather than toward any specific person? Similarly, what might be the metaphor operating in each of us as we assess the various reported events presented by the news media?  When we react in defense of the office of this loser president, for instance, to what degree are we actually reacting to feelings about ourselves, our own fears and our own need for self-protection?  Similarly, when we reject actions and statements relative to the current regime, to what degree are we not reacting to any particular person, but rather, to our own sense of indignation and sense of violation regarding the general state of affairs in the United States?

When Mr. Lakoff says something like “We need to reveal the existence of the metaphor”, we should hear the statement not so much as a discovery of something unknown to us, but as a paradigmatic manner in which we all encode and perpetuate what we believe to be real. We need to identify our own metaphors. What do you believe to be the central metaphor driving your life?  When you say “I am a <fill in the blank>, what are you actually attempting to communicate to the world, and, more importantly, to yourself?  If your description of <fill in the blank> is accurate, what assumptions do you habitually make because of this, your, particular metaphor? Are you a beacon of what a person should be (by your own standards)?  How do you know your guiding metaphor actually is what you think it is?

Suggestion: Read through the Lakoff article focusing on your life situation and the ways in which your behavior and attitudes “play out”.  We too often relate to depictions of people and current events as if we are watching a movie, as if the world comes to us as entertainment.  Most important, we too often allow these depictions to remain in the realm of “other”, as if they are not about us.  We allow the stories to be about them, written by them, presented by someone else.  Doing so, we can easily judge—either the person or situation that forms the focus of the presentation or the author or medium presenting the ideas.  In this case, forget POTUS 2017.  Reality–for each of us individually and collectively–is so much larger than such a person.  Forget George Lakoff.  You might accept or reject his ideas.  But what about you? What about us?


George P. Lakoff is an American cognitive linguist and philosopher, best known for his thesis that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena. (Wikipedia)

Update: WikiTribune – On its way!

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Remember the seekingGood teaser about the crowdfunding endeavor for WikiTribune, a new evidence-based journalistic initiative launched by Jimmy Wales (one of the founders of wikipedia)?  The group behind WikiTribune reached their funding goal and has entered the next phase of the project.  Take a peek here if you would like a more general update on what is going on with WikiTribune.

More specifically, as of August 3rd, 2017, WikiTribune has hired three journalists and an editor, all of whom you might like to know more about.

Journalists: Holly, Harry & Linh

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Holly Brockwell: Former freelance journalist and tech writer from Nottingham, England. She is apparently fairly smart, having joined MENSA at age 12.  When she heard about the WikiTribune endeavor, Holly jumped at the chance to approach journalism in a wholly new way, to transcend its current limitations.

You can read more about Holly on her website.


Harry Ridgewell: Harry will be working on stories related to science and politics. Harry would like the practice of journalists referencing their presented facts (that is, posting their sources) to become an industry standard. Everybody tell the truth—a refreshing, albeit utopian idea. Perhaps it is just what we need in these dystopian times.

You can follow Harry on Twitter.


Linh Nguyen: An observer of trends, during her tenure at WIkiTribune, Linh hopes to cover “economic policy, human rights, mental health, foreign affairs, politics and the social side of tech”.

A free media is one of the pillars of democracy, and we must fight to sustain it
~ Linh Nguyen

You can follow Linh on her website.


Editor: Peter Bale

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A former editor for Reuters, Peter is an international journalist and a former CEO of Center for Public Integrity.  He is currently the President of Global Editors’ Network.   “Jimmy Wales has a history of creating web products with immense social value built on a commitment to engaging a global community of contributors. He understands the value of journalism to society and at the same time wants to revolutionize the approach to reporting on and explaining the big issues of our time. … It’s a privilege to work with him and a team of innovative journalists, developers and communicators to launch WikiTribune.”

You can follow Peter on Twitter.


WikiTribune plans to launch in September of this year.

 

Consider a Think Tank

The seekingGood.blog has endeavored to provide useful information such that readers might expand their understanding of themselves and their overall knowledge as well as to subsequently act in accordance with the “Good” they individually manage to determine. This blog has offered repeated admonishments to “find out for yourself”, to do your own investigations.  Furthermore, while this is a decidedly left-leaning blog, we have also endeavored to encourage open-mindedness, exploration of competing ideas and transcendence of the comforting limits of habitual ways of thinking.  In this light, consider the following.

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[IMAGE from ClipartFest]

Introduction

Governments do not think.  People think.  Think tanks represent people thinking collectively.  Governments implement and enforce policies.  Regardless how much thinking individuals do, most will have little direct impact on public policy issues.  Think tanks—collections of thinking people–often help to develop or influence public policies. (more…)

What is helpful?

What socio-political issues are most relevant to you? Jen Hofmann (who’s Action List and blog have been frequently mentioned here at seekingGood) is requesting input regarding your interests.  Essentially, Jen wants to insure the relevance of her Action List relative to our common good.

Jennifer-Hofmann (small)In her own words:

In August, my Action Checklist will have 7 actions per week–one for each day–to lighten the load during the vacation/back-to-school month. Knowing which issues are most important to you helps me plan.

Here is a link to her survey (confidential, of course).

Not signed up for Jen’s weekly action list?  You can do so here.

 

Three for the Left

Given the 2018 midterm elections and the desire of many to move the U.S. Congress back towards balance by electing more Democrats and progressives, here are three sites that might aid that effort.


swingleft.PNG  Swingleft.org – if you are interested in moving the current US congress back towards a more Democratic (that is, non-Republican) direction, you might find the swinglife.org useful.  This site lists swing districts which could be massaged (worked by you and others) to help sway voters in a more progressive (or at least Democratic) direction. Find a district near you.  If this is the way you might want to change things, get to work!


sisterdistrict.PNG  Sisterdistrict.org – similar to swingleft.org, sisterdistrict.org seeks to help organize folks in order to swing the voting outcome of specific districts in a blue (Democratic or progressive) direction.  “When you join the Sister District Project, you will be connected with your local home district team…. Anyone can join. When you sign up to volunteer, we will (1) connect you with your local Sister District team, (2) assign your team to a race that is both winnable and strategic to support, and (3) give you specific action items to carry out that have been vetted with the campaign.”  Just go to this link and type in your zipcode to find the SisterDistrict nearest to you.


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Runforsomething.net – As reported by Mother Jones, one of the problems of establishing a more progressive government is to promote progressive candidates.  The goal of this organization is to promote and support would-be candidates for political office. Specifically, Runforsomething, composed of various people active within the political area, is specific about who they want to recruit. The target candidate is under 35 years old.  The ultimate goal is to “…recruit and support talented, passionate young people who will advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years, with the ultimate goal of building a progressive bench…. We’ll take a chance on people the usual “institutions” might never encounter. We’ll help people run for offices like state legislatures, mayorships, city council seats, and more. We’ll do whatever it takes to get more under-35 year-olds on the ballot.”

Perhaps you want to run for office.  Perhaps you know someone who should. Perhaps you merely want to stay informed about how this initiative is building a new generation of progressives.  Perhaps you want to volunteer to aid the effort.  Take a chance. Make a stand.