Friday, October 24, 2014

#298 / The Human Condition

The earth is the very quintessence of the human condition, and earthly nature, for all we know, may be unique in the universe in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice. The human artifice of the world separates human existence from all mere animal environment, but life itself is outside this artificial world, and through life man remains related to all other living organisms. For some time now, a great many scientific endeavors have been directed toward making life also "artificial," toward cutting the last tie through which even man belongs among the children of nature. 
        - Hannah Arendt - The Human Condition (1958) 

So, there is Hannah Arendt speaking about my "Two Worlds" theory. If you were a member of the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics And Humanities at Bard College ($50 per year or more), you could take part in a "Virtual Reading Group" that will be studying The Human Condition, starting on November 7th. 

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

#297 / Mortal

Atul Gawande, pictured, is a surgeon and writer. My wife recently sat in on a presentation he made at the 2014 New Yorker Festival. He was talking about his new book, Being Mortal.

I haven't yet read the book, but I gather it is mainly about end of life care, and how an acceptance of our mortality could lead us to better endings for ourselves and our loved ones.

I kind of like the title for another reason. It reminds us that "our" world (and our lives) are subject to the rules that prevail in the World of Nature. In that world, the world to which we are ultimately accountable, death is the inescapable reality. In fact, death drives life, and without becoming too "religious" on you, it seems fair to say that life and resurrection are attained through the doorway of death. 

We're "mortal." Let's get used to it.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

#296 / Calling The Shots

After my "Two Magazines" posting last Sunday, a friend sent me a link to an article with this title and subheading: "Vote all you want. The people we elect aren't the ones calling the shots."

The article summarized a recent book by Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon. Glennon's book is titled National Security and Double Government, and the article says that Glennon believes that "the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind." 

I have taken my mother's good advice, and don't use that term "defense" to describe the "military" activities of the United States Government. With that slight amendment in phraseology, I tend to think that Glennon has spotlighted a reality of our contemporary situation. In fact, not even the President of the United States is free to do whatever he or she thinks is best. Not even the President is "calling the shots."

I am not, perhaps, as alarmed by this state of affairs as some might be, because I think that self-government is always only an "opportunity." Power must always be "taken," and is never "given," so if "we, the people" are not calling the shots, that is actually nothing new.

We can call the shots, if we want to call the shots. But then we need to spend our life and time doing that. If we care enough, we can (and will) start making decisions that will alter the current realities. We don't have to stand around and observe. We can act. 

But we can't act to chart a new course without making some sacrifices. Not without deciding that politics and self-government are more important than the latest entertainment available on Netflix. There is nothing inevitable about current conditions. But things will keep going the way they're going until we start putting ourselves on the gears and levers of that odious machine! (I think Mario Savio said that).

And what happens if we don't reallocate our time to make political engagement a higher priority? Well, pick whatever horror you most fear and shrink from, they're all on the way. They will keep getting closer until we, ourselves, start calling the shots:

  • Global warming and species extinction
  • Chemical pollution
  • Death of the seas
  • Totalitarian surveillance
  • Pandemic disease

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

#295 / Management

According to the "Today In Politics" column in yesterday's New York Times

Democrats running in conservative states worry that the Obama administration’s stumbling response to Ebola’s arrival in the United States is generating anxiety among voters — and reinforcing the Republican message that the world is a frightening place and President Obama is not equipped to manage it.

I rechecked the Constitution, particularly Article II, just to be sure. My recollection was correct. "Managing the world" is not part of the President's job description. 

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Monday, October 20, 2014

#294 / Umbrellas

The picture above grabbed my attention. I just like it. It illustrates an article published in The Harvard Business Review Blog on October 3, 2014. The Harvard Business Review (and its associated blog) is not a publication I normally read. Because of the umbrellas, I did read what Maxwell Wessel has to say about "consensus." According to his blog post, "the most innovative companies don't worry about consensus."

Wessel makes a good point, but the article is geared to those who are trying to maximize business profits. The thrust of the article is that developing a "consensus" within an existing business, about new business opportunities, is not, actually, the best way to stimulate innovation. 

How best to stimulate business innovation and increase business profits is not a topic that generally preoccupies me, and that is probably the main reason that I don't regularly read The Harvard Business Review. My preoccupations tend to focus most on how best to achieve effective and democratic self-government.

If you happen to care about that "self-government" topic, then there are some other umbrellas that might attract your attention. See the picture below. The umbrellas in that picture are not nearly as "pretty" as the umbrellas from The Harvard Business Review Blog, but what is going on under those umbrellas is pretty impressive, even if it's not "pretty."

It's a struggle, and the umbrellas are playing a big part. The struggle is being called "The Umbrella Movement."

They're not just decorative!

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

#293 / Two Magazines

Last Tuesday, I got two magazines in my mailbox. One was In These Times, a magazine dedicated to the issues that political progressives care about most. The second magazine was Campaigns & Elections, which advertises itself as "the magazine for people in politics." I have subscribed to both of these magazines for years.

The main focus for the September/October 2014 issue of Campaigns & Elections was GOTV ("Get Out The Vote"). Campaigns & Elections is a magazine for political "professionals," and this edition suggested a number of techniques that might be able to convince political supporters actually to cast a vote for a particular candidate, something that those eligible to vote (and even those registered to vote) are increasingly unwilling to do. In essence, the techniques touted by the magazine were a list of ways to manipulate individuals to do what the campaign professional wanted to get them to do. 

The November issue of In These Times, pictured above, contained an abbreviated presentation of the arguments made by Naomi Klein in her recent book, This Changes Everything. That article is well worth reading. What grabbed my attention, however, was another article in this edition, written about Stanley Aronowitz. Aronowitz is urging the labor movement to go "post political."

What does "post political" mean?

It means that unions (or any of us) need to stop thinking that electoral politics is the way to achieve the kind of fundamental economic and social change that progressives think is most necessary. Direct action is the alternative advanced by Aronowitz, particularly for labor unions, which have lots of independent power. 

If you are tired of being manipulated by the political "professionals," whether on behalf of President Obama, the Democratic Party, or some right-wing gun group, the answer is not to discover more adroit techniques of manipulation (as per the recommendations of Campaigns & Elections). Instead, the solution is to shift the focus from electoral politics to strikes and other forms of direct action to achieve the objectives that our ever more "professional" politics is failing to deliver. 

As a person who successfully ran for elected office five times (and who lost once!), I am always fascinated by the latest campaign techniques. That's why I am still a subscriber to Campaigns & Elections

But to make the changes we really need?

I'm with Aronowitz.

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

#292 / Traffic

A friend sent me this photo. According to her note, this image represents "the longest traffic jam in the world -- recorded in China. Its length is 260 kilometers [and that's 161 MILES, folks!]."

To me, this picture provides an excellent illustration of the fallacies of individualism.

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