Another Whiskey, Barkeep!
Barlish - The Language of The Bar
This is simply a discussion. I'm not trying to convert you to anything but simply discuss something I probably understood, but that took on more meaning to me as a result of this experience. A line in the TV series Madam Secretary hit me like a bolt of lightning.
Gale and I had been binge-watching Madam Secretary on Netflix for a couple of weeks. We were in season five; there are six seasons and each season seems to have about 23 episodes; that's a shitload of episodes, 138 by my count.
The good news is that it is one of the best series we've seen. Any TV series that isn't simply a bunch of idiots falling in a vat of chocolate or trying to eat bugs without puking presents a challenge to keep the stories varied and interesting. A few that we think have hit the mark are The Wire, Shameless, Homicide On The Streets, West Wing, and now, Madam Secretary. I'm sure there are others, but my goal here is not to review TV series.
In the episode we were watching, the brother of Elizabeth, the main character, is Will. Will is an adventurer, and a bit of a rounder. His marriage is on the rocks because he's always off doing some stupid damn thing and his wife, who professes to still love him, is fed up with raising their child alone.
Will is living with his sister, Elizabeth and her husband, Henry, between adventures while trying to sort out his life. Elizabeth and Will's parents were killed in a car accident when Will was 13 and Elizabeth was 15. As Will is explaining why he has had so much trouble managing and maintaining relationships, he said something like, "I thought a relationship was simply about going out to dinner, working and paying the bills, and producing children. Hey, what the hell, I lost my role models when I was 13."
That line stopped me in my tracks and my brain went into blender mode and started processing that in terms of my life, and my relationships over time and especially my now 46-year marriage, and it was like some sort of release, or explosion, or, hell, I don't know what it was. All I know is that I had no parental role models as a child and Gale had some pretty lousy role models with her cold and distant parents.
I've talked about growing up in the Boys Home in Omaha in any number of posts and pieces, and that it was an okay childhood given that it was a little like growing up in a boarding school or military school. I've talked from time to time about having all the proper education, training, and moral guidance a kid could want. And, I've said what was missing in my upbringing was love. There was no love; no hugging at the Home. True, the adults who took on the job of trying to herd upwards of eighty boys must have been doing it for a good reason, or reasons, and maybe love was one of them. But that was not demonstrated love or anything you could model later in life. It was just a lot of well meaning adults trying to take care of a bunch of boys who were basically homeless. But, that line in Madam Secretary added another dimension to what I have said or tried to say about my childhood.
At other times, I've made reference to how a baby duck that has lost his mother will glom onto a dog or cat, bond with it and follow it around and adopting the behavior of its adopted parent. You see this in nature all the time. We humans are no different; children need a role model, or maybe several. Even a child from a broken marriage can have one parent there as a role model. If that parent starts dating again, even if they don't remarry, the children watch the interaction between the parent and a partner, or several partners over the years. They watch and they learn how to either enter into and nurse a relationship, or how to turn it into a disaster, but one way or another they are learning the people skills that will someday hopefully let them fulfill their part in the social contract of marriage.
At the next break we took during the series, I said to Gale, something like, "I'm amazed that we have made our relationship work as well as it has given that neither of us had decent or even any role models to draw on, to use as examples in a relationship. In my case they didn't exist and in her case they behaved more like roommates than husband and wife.
I guess I've always known the importance of children having role models, but it never quite hit home with me how my young life was almost devoid of those influences the way that line in the series spoke to me. I guess the most important role models for kids would be parents if they are lucky enough to have at least one in their lives.
We are born with instincts. Babies who have never fallen, are fearful of falling; that's instinct. They jump at a sudden loud noise, and wrinkle their noses at strange smells. We're born with those instincts, but just about everything else in life is learned through teachers, mentors, and role models.
It can also be other family members, an Aunt or Uncle, siblings, teachers and coaches, there are any number of people, usually adults, who can play a role in a child's life and give the child the life lessons they will need in order to coexist with other humans. Children spend a great deal of time in that first ten or fifteen years watching and listening to the adults around them in order to gain the people skills that will shape them later in life. We don't always accept what the role models offer us, but at least we have a choice after witnessing behavior.
There is nothing Gale or I can do about our childhoods, and we have both grown and developed many of the social skills needed in a relationship as adults through reading, study, and communication with others. Sometimes it is a friend at a bar describing something in one of their relationships that give you information. It can be a movie, although you have to be a little careful about accepting everything as fact that pops up on a screen.
I truly believe that there are synopses in the brain that are formed and connected when you are a child that help you to develop as a loving, caring, and compassionate adult. It's no guarantee - for all I know, Ted Bundy came from a loving family - but in general, that is how the young in any species develops into an adult. They watch and listen and learn from their parents and other adults.
A few hours ago, I watched a YouTube video where a bunch of brainiacs debated the meaning/cause/remedy for what we are calling racism in the United States. My Ninja-blender-brain has been whirring at warp speed ever since.
The podcast, Bret Weinstein's DarkHorse Podcast was a virtual roundtable (thanks, COVID) featuring Glenn Loury, John Wood Jr., Coleman Hughes, Thomas Chatterton Williams, John McWhorter, Chloe' Valdary, and Kmele Foster. This came to my attention when my inbox when our Nextdoor neighborhook gossip rag (sorry, but that's how I think of it much of the time) showed me a link to a posting by Uche Ama titled, Anti-racism is White Supremacy. I was immediately bumped by that statement and went to read her post. I wasn't sure I agreed with her analysis, but I went to the link in her post that took me to the podcast mentioned above.
What was interesting was that after two hours of discussion by a collection of brilliant minds with a collection of degrees that most likely have more letters than the Welsh town of Lllanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, there was no consensus or conclusion on what exactly needs to happen for our country, and ultimately the world for humankind to knockoff this bullshit race thing. There were, as you might imagine and you have probably experienced in discussions with your mates at the local pub, plenty of opinions.
A good number of issues were explored. Is police brutality a cause or symptom? Do we have a social structure problem? Can we legislate our way out of this? Is it a poverty issue? Is white supremacy a thing? Does a solution depend on the individual or on society and governmental structures? What role does education play in all this? The list of possible causes and effects goes on and on; watch the damn video to get a better understanding.
I came away with a couple of impressions and, I think, one conclusion. My conclusion was prompted by the discussions of a couple of the round-table participants, and it is, that the solution lies with the individual, first and foremost. Now, let me try to explain why I believe that.
I believe we are as we have been informed. As a child, we are informed in many ways. Certainly and most important would be our parents if we are fortunate enough to have at least one, and preferably two. In a "normal" home, they parent(s) hold sway over everything you know and learn for the first five years of your life. During this time, and in this modern world, you are likely glued in front of a TV a good deal of the time and you're taking in information from that source.
However, that information is in a certain context, whether it is cartoons, or Sesame Street, or any number of programs aimed at children to both entertain and to perhaps teach. But, what we see on TV is usually very different from what we encounter in the real world, notwithstanding the local/national news, but I don't know how many four-year-olds are glued to the TV during the evening news. My point here is that what is on TV is in fact inside a box, not unlike the little traveling puppet shows of old. When the curtain is drawn, the show is over, and we go back to real life.
At age five, our world expands, exponentially. We're off to school. We are now being informed by teachers, other students who were likely taught very different lessons in their homes, and once we learn to read, we begin to see the view of the world from various writer's point of view. We may be going to religious services where a point of view of our families faith is presented to us. This expansion of our world continues for around the next fifteen years through high school, college, maybe military service if that is our path. By around age twenty, we are an amalgam of ideas, philosophies, and stereotypes that have shaped how we view the world and the people in it.
We take in this wealth of information for the first twenty years of our lives. We accept some of it and perhaps reject some of it, but it does form the basis of who we are psychologically and socially. But rather than having a herd mentality, we retain our individuality, especially in our United Statian culture.
No, that is not a typo; I've made this point before. The Americas stretch from Canada's most northern borders to the southern border of Nicaragua and a number of Latin American countries. Incidentely, the NAC also includes Greenland.
We, those of us in the United States are not the only Americans. All the people in North America in this hemisphere should enjoy the designation of being an American. I would like to find a better term than United Statian - it doesn't quite roll of the tongue, but I do think it is unfair to the 227 million people who share the North American Continent with us, along with another 60,000 in island territories to feel that we are the only ones entitled to that lable.
I apologize for the side trip into geography. As I was saying, we are a compendium, a sum of the information that was either force-fed to us or that we took in over the period of our young lives. We are what we learned. Yet, while many of us learned much the same things, we mostly tend to reject the herd mentality.
Unlike herd animals, we have evolved a complicated brain that allows us to reach our own conclusions. We are social animals in that we want to do things in larger groups, but we still insist on keeping our individuality, a trait I seldom see in milk cows or a herd of sheep. While a few of us may feel comfortable in a herd, following a leader wherever that may lead us, the majority of humans will balk at being told to "just do it because I said so."
This brings me back to my point that the search for an answer to racism has to start with the individual. Each of us holds stereotypes of black people, Latinos, Asian people, Russians, anyone you can think of, that was taught to us through all the learning experiences I've mentioned earlier. If you grew up in a home where the Confederate flag was tacked to a wall and all you heard growing up were racial slurs and racial animus, the probability is quite high that you are now informed by what you learned. No legislations, no changing of rules of society, and no amount of money being thrown at the problems of racism is going to reach what you learned.
You are the only one who can do a self analysis of what you believe and why you believe it and make a conscious decision to change your opinions or to hang on to them. Since every part of society, our government, our schools, our military, everything is comprised of individuals who are being informed everyday by what they have been taught, the only way a sea change can happen is at the individual level and on a massive scale. Can that happen? I think so. Will that happen? That remains to be seen.
The discussions touched on this issue, and there seemed to be at least a partial consensus that we need a leader, not unlike JFK or MLK who had the ability to bring people together around sometimes a simple slogan; "I have a dream" and "We choose to go to the Moon". These simple phrases, bolstered by other leadership qualities and speeches by both men rallied our country to be a better society collectively than we could ever be acting individually.
Something I saw recently, and maybe saw thirty years ago, was a Don Cheadle appearance on Golden Girls. Remember, we were struggling with this thirty years ago, and long before that. At the end of this four-minute clip, listen to Cheadle's advice to Blanche about positive.
Stories like this one about a Washington right-wing group are disturbing but also intriguing, at least I think so. I call the group-think that seems to pervade organizations like this, a cult mentality. No, that's not a unique idea, but I think it's worth exploring.
The word 'cult' has negative connotations and not without good reason given how some 'cults' have behaved, but I think of the word on a different level than simply a bunch of crazies drinking goat blood or whatever. I view a cult mentality as being a group of like-minded individuals, not necessarily zombies, who have seized on a particular point of view in life and really don't want to learn anything more. Their adopted philosophy makes them comfortable and that is where they want to stay without having to think any more.
The origin of the word cult appears to be: "cult (n.)1610s, "worship, homage" (a sense now obsolete); 1670s, "a particular form or system of worship;" from French cult (17c.), from Latin cultus "care, labor; cultivation, culture; worship, reverence," originally "tended, cultivated," past participle of colere "to till" (see colony)." This is from Online Entomology Dictionary.
As an adjective, cult can simply refer to a group of people who pursue a particular line of thinking or even enjoy a specific if sometimes unusual activity. Using that definition, we could say that, naturally, adherence to one particular religion while refusing to consider the tenets of another is a cult mentality. Being almost obsessed with a sports team, a make of automobile, or a favorite type of music or band are all variations on cultism. For the purposes of this discussion, I want to look at cultism that way, as likes and dislikes, as opposed to something weird and horrible, although it can be that as well.
The focus of this in my mind is trying to understand how this like-mindedness comes about. Fabiola, a friend of mine once said, as we were discussing people, that we all run little movies in our minds. We hear something or see an image and that energizes our imaginations which in turn begins to produce a little movie in our brain. Using our experiences, what we have been taught, and that wild card that is our unique imagination, we begin to flesh out that movie in order to arrive at a conclusion about whatever it was that we heard or saw. We might decided it is good or bad, cool or gross, and if we like the notion at all. Once the movie is complete, it becomes part of our thought process.
That begs the question of how a group of people can listen to, read, or look at the same thing and come away with such diverse ideas about what is represented. I think that is a combination of things, but to give it a term, it's how our brain is organized. That organization has to be the result of genetics, early learning, both through teaching and personal experiences and perhaps finding a group of people who accept you into their cult thinking circles. Acceptance by a group is a prerequisite for a cult, and who doesn't want to be accepted?
We must derive some of how we think and view the world through genetics; our personalities are defined to a degree by that of our parents, and perhaps reaches back several generations back for DNA. We certainly learn for our parents. As we grow up in our first five years we are almost totally dependent on our parents to explain good and bad, right and wrong, happy and sad or angry. Our brains are making connections based on all that our parents hand us.
As an example, if our parents are angry people who rail about our government and about society in general, that is what we will learn in those first formative years. If, on the other hand, they talk about everyday life in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and going with the flow, we will learn to deal with the world that way.
Once we leave home to go to school, we are suddenly confronted with a bunch of other kids who grew up in very different homes with different values and will often have an entirely new point of view on life from what we have learned. We have to process this new information and decide how, where, or if it even fits with what we thought we knew.
And finally, it is our personal experiences that help to inform us and shape how our brain is organized and will see the world around us. If we came from a home of understanding and forgiveness and our first experiences in school are with bullies and violent or out of control children, chances are that will effect our minds, and how we perceive the world. Our brains are making and revising the logic connections that will drive our ideas, how we think, and how we make decisions in life.
Back to our friends in that NPR story about militias, above, and other fringe organizations that often seem driven by an extreme ideology. It is my belief that many of the people driven toward these fringe groups grew up in a world of distrust and fear. Whether they inherited those tendencies from their parents or whether they learned to distrust the government and other entities by listening as children to the adults around them, they formed a series of connections in the mind that become a filter for all they see and hear.
We humans are programmed to learn fear. It was a critical part of our survival as a species. A few hundred thousand years ago, we had to fear a lot of things, wild animals, natural events such as lightning and floods, eating the wrong plants; our world was dominated by fear and we honed our skills to pick up on fear and make that a part of our daily thinking.
This brings me to something I've talked about before. I listened to a psychologist many years ago - I think it was a program on PBS - who talked about how our experiences and learning affect our outlook on life. He used the analogy of everyone holding a lens through which we view the world around us. Our lens is initially shaped by the genetics, as I mentioned, but then it is being continuously ground by what we are taught and by our personal experiences as we move through life. In the end, we all have a unique curvature to our lens because none of us have exactly the same experiences in life. Since no two people have the exact same experiences, each of our lenses, and how we see events, is unique to each of us. Where we have the same experiences, what we individually perceive and interpret is warped by the unique lens through which we are viewing life.
What conclusions can we draw from this? First, those first years of life, probably the first ten years are critical to who we will become as adults. Our lens will take on a distinct shape that will become harder and harder to reshape as we age because the lens hardens with age. The mind of a child is infinitely malleable as they learn new things. As adults, the logic paths that were laid down as children are very hard to change. And, once we have committed to a particular philosophy, be it religious, political, or social, we are not easily reprogrammed to think differently and in all likelihood, we don't want new information coming in to confuse the situation.
What does this mean as a society? Let's use religion as an example. We all know how much anger, violence, and intolerance can exist between religions and those who embrace one belief or another. Humans have been struggling for several thousand years in an effort to recognize, respect, and honor all religions. Most religions try to teach tolerance and love, yet within their writings you find examples of intolerance and anger. Conflict, sometimes violent conflict has a long history in religion. The challenge is to find a way to accommodate the many religions while finding where the boundaries of acceptable behavior are across all religions.
This is just as true with politics and social values, part of which rely on those religious beliefs. Topics like same-sex marriage and abortion can turn otherwise loving people into and angry mob calling for the heads of others. Our brains are formed and organized by both genetics and our education as children. If we are to find true peace in the world, it will be through the minds of our children.
But waiting for the next generation to make things better is not an answer for today. We do need to teach the next generation if we truly want a more peaceful world in the future, and that means the adults alive today need to model the behavior they want from the next generation.
This won't be easy as we have all settled into some form of cultism in terms of what we believe, religiously, socially, and politically. If we consider ourselves to be "hard-core" anything, we will have to lower the wall of thought and let in new information. Whether we're talking about racism, sexism, education, military spending
and purpose, abortion, same-sex marriage, any of the burning issues of the day, we have to listen to opposing views to see if we can find a way forward that will reduce the emotions that go with being in a closed-mind cult.
In the 21st century, we have to understand our tendency to form cults. There are good and bad cults. Being part of a cult that supports a sports team, the company you work for, or a hobby can work to the advantage of the group ascribing to that cult. But, if the cult is based on discrimination, hate, and intolerance, we have to break the bonds of those cults in order to have a more perfect union.
I know this is a difficult topic for some people to discuss or listen to with an open mind. I keep trying to explain why I am not a believer. My purpose is not to convince believers to abandon their beliefs but to try to help them understand why I believe what I do just as I try to understand their views. And, obviously, those who think the way I do know where I'm coming from. I think I do understand why those who embrace one religion or another do so. Humans over history have shown a need to believe in a higher power to get them through the tough times and to explain the inexplicable. Something happened when we grew this big brain we have, and part of that was a need to hold someone else responsible for events we seem unable to control. As we have learned to control certain circumstances in life, such as some diseases, we no longer thank God for a cure; we thank modern medicine.
For me, I would pose this question to others, "Why should I believe in this God, the modern God of many religions, any more than all the gods who proceeded him or her?" The ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, and people all over the planet back then all had a belief in multiple gods whose existence was as provable as the modern-day God of the major monotheistic religions. I think the Egyptians had eleven gods, the Greeks had twelve gods and goddesses, and the Romans had twelve though it seems they may have added a few others later.
It seems to me that all the gods throughout history were written about and explained to a frightened populace, typically by the elders. The elders were viewed as wise and all-knowing. Their explanations went a long way to explaining the many events, both natural and phenomenal, that affected the lives of the average human. Many elders claimed a kinship with one god or another or, at a minimum, clamimed a direct line to the god. We were, in no small part, a frightened species that, with a tendency to cower in fear when threatened. Being able to talk to someone closely connected to a god gave us confidence that everything would be alright.
Today's God, and his or her predecessors required a couple of things from their adherents. One was the suspending of logic or critical thinking, and to exercise their imaginations so that they might believe in the proclaimed miracles and powers of the gods that ruled their lives. There was no proof of any of this. There were legends about the gods told by those privileged individuals who claimed to have a direct line to the gods. They served as the interpreters of the god's wishes and desires and thus became the religious leaders.
The second requirement of the followers was an unquestioning devotion to the gods, often under the threat of expulsion, or in earlier times, denouncement and physical torture or death for questioning the teachings of the leaders of the dominating religion. Religion requires that you accept as fact whatever tales are in the religious texts. Regardless of the degree of improbability or incredulity such events may give rise to in the human mind, they are doctrine.
In their time, many of the people of Rome, Greece, and Egypt were just as devout and certain of their beliefs as any modern Jew, Catholic, Muslim, or Hindu. I see absolutely no difference in the rantings of Pat Roberts today and his claims of speaking with Jesus than those of a Roman Emperor or Egyptian Pharaoh who claimed to be in touch with the gods.
At any point in history, with any religious or spiritual cult, you might find, they have several things in common. They were all based on mythology about the deities and the founders of the religion. They have or had their sacred texts as "proof" that all of this had indeed happened. That same holds with modern-day faiths like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They all have their tales that have been duly recorded by various authors down through the ages in the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran, and since it is written down, it must be true, right? Would that also be true of everything written down in the Inquirer? Or at Breitbart? The Drudge Report? Or the New York Post?
The fact that something was written down and sworn to be accurate, and supposedly witnessed means little these days. Until you have hard evidence and all the facts, along with both numerous witnesses, you are going out on a limb by declaring something to be unquestionably true. The fact that most religious texts were written down a thousand or two thousand years ago by people who believed in witches calls the credibility of such accounts into question, in my opinion.
I believe in what I can see and what can be demonstrated to be true. I deal in fact-based proposals, not dream interpretations or other types of mysticism. I can accept a well-formed theory that is backed by several fact-based deductions. The definition of the word theory is: "a plausible or scientifically acceptable general principle or body of principles offered to explain phenomena."
The keyword in that definition is "plausible," meaning that it is likely to be true or believed, as opposed to implausible, which can mean far-fetched, fanciful, or to stretch the imagination.
For instance, the theory of evolution first proposed by Darwin 150 years ago was plausible. His theory was based on direct observations and logical deduction. Darwin stated, "Therefore I should infer from analogy that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed." (On the Origin of Species, ch. 14) Darwin's theory of evolution stated that:
The notion of gods or God remains unproven by any scientific proof. There is no evidence that God exists. But, that doesn't mean that religion isn't real, or that individual beliefs in a God are not both actual in their minds and a significant part of their lives. Faith is a belief, and that belief relies on the existence of God. To be devout, one has to believe that God exists, and if you think it to be true, then in your mind, it is true. That is not proof of a God, merely evidence that your beliefs are real.
As for me, as I think I've stated before, I believe that I will live on in the lives that come after me. It won't be anything I'm aware of, and I won't see my grandmother or my first pet dog or any of the rest of that. At this point, I intend to be cremated. My wife will decide what to do with my ashes, and whatever that choice, it will release those elements of my existence back into our world to be absorbed in some manner by other living things. The gasses from my pyre will be absorbed into the atmosphere. Blending with the surrounding air, all will be breathed in by living organisms. I will, in a sense, live on but without any knowledge of an afterlife.
For now, that is the best explanation I can offer of my beliefs. If I find another, more 'plausible' explanation, I'll either revisit this post or write a new one.
Corrupted big government is the problem, a huge fucking problem.
Let's get something straight from the beginning. We are a nation of 330 million people and growing. You cannot run a country that big with a government the size of Waterloo Nebraska, home of the Weiner & Kraut Festival. I don't care how fucking smart you think you might be. Waterloo has about 900 people, probably one cop, several bars, and a dozen churches. Try running the United States of America with that crew.