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A Somber Navy Day

A typical day for me, when I was in the Navy, began with a greeting from one or more of the Corpsmen with whom I was privileged to work. It always took some form of the following:

“How ya doin,’ LT (pronounced “elltee”)?

“I’m great. It’s another fine Navy day!”

There was usually more, but you get the idea.

Today, is most assuredly not just another “fine Navy day,” but rather a very somber and solemn one. Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

This picture of the USS Arizona after she was hit always affects me.

uss-arizona-burning

December 7, 1941, the “date which will live in infamy” still has living survivors. While I do not know how many will be able to make the trip to Pearl Harbor, I do know that those with whom I have spoken in the past remember that day vividly. So many of those continued to serve throughout the war, many making the ultimate sacrifice somewhere else. To all who served, regardless of your branch, many Americans who were not alive then thank you for your service, your resolve and your sacrifice.

Many of us who followed in your footsteps thank you for your example of selfless service in a cause greater than self. May God grant you a time when your sleep is restful, your dreams peaceful and the memory of war long forgotten.

Of Stories and People

Continuing with my previously mentioned interest in Francis Bacon, I present another post with a Baconian title.

Sara A. Hoyt is one of my favorite authors and bloggers. It undoubtedly helps that she espouses views very similar to my own, but the fact is, she is a talented author and well worth reading. I would read her works even if she held radically different views than I. Recently, as in “today,” she posted a new article to her blog, According to Hoyt. Entitled simply “Narratives,” it discusses the power and importance of both our individual and collective public narratives; how they help shape who and what we are. Her post has led me to think about something I was told long ago. First, though, some of her words:

“The story is not just about who you are.  It’s also about what kind of place the world is, and what other people are like.

If you’re the sort of person who thinks that most people, however annoying, are basically decent, just trying to live their lives, it will inform your choices, and your own narrative in a far different way, than if you think every human being who ever lived is a sh*tweasel, and that a not inconsiderable number of them are out to get you personally.  Or that they will be dishonest if given the slightest chance.”

Over 20 years ago, I was comparing notes on how to deal with psychiatric patients with a psychologist. He told me then

“The way you provide or ‘do’ therapy will be largely determined by whether you think people are basically good or basically bad.”

He was right. What he didn’t mention was that the way we view people influences far more than how a therapist provides therapy or the modality he or she chooses. Among other things, it influences:

  • How you raise and discipline your children
  • How you relate to your spouse or significant other
  • How you view your job and employer
  • How you view and handle your finances
  • How you understand and live out your religious beliefs (if any), and how you view religion in general
  • Your relative ability or inability to trust other people

See, we are social critters. As a result, most of us really can’t live out much of a life in isolation (I would go further and suggest we aren’t intended to do so, but that is a different discussion). This is what makes our narrative so very important. Each of us will interact with others every day. I submit that if you find your interactions with others to be unfulfilling and unrewarding, one of the first places to look is at your narrative. What is it you believe about yourself? Who and what are you? What do you believe about other people? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are essential if we are to improve our lives as social critters. The good news? If your narrative is less than you might like it to be, it can be changed – if you’re willing to work really hard.*

Without digging into the interplay between our personal and public narrative, without discussing the role and influences of religion, culture, experience and events, it’s important to note that our public narrative is also powerful and important. From Sara A. Hoyt, again:

“A lot of our views of the world are informed, not just by news and stories of the real world, but by our entertainment, the religion and legends of our culture, the protocols of our society.

If you expect everyone to be decent, your public holidays and the way you keep your property will be different.  In Portugal where private property isn’t as secure (partly through an history of invasions that got ingrained in the deep consciousness) tall walls surround properties and you don’t leave outside anything you don’t want to walk away.  In the states, in most places, we leave whatever outside in our un-walled properties, secure in the belief it will stay there.”

Just as we can change our individual narrative, we can change our collective or public narrative. I think we certainly need to do that! Another quote from According to Hoyt:

“Lately — no, I mean that, more so than in the past — our public narrative has disturbed me.  It is clear from even sitcoms that the writers for television don’t expect anyone to be decent or honest.  They behave as if the average human being is just waiting to become monsters if not watched/if you aren’t vigilant/if laws don’t hold them in check, etc.  Even “heroes” will commit adultery and behave like weasels away from their area of heroism.

These are not just bad narratives, they are objectively wrong narratives.  Even in places like NK or Cuba, good and decency flourish, sometimes as a single grace note, sometimes against all odds.”

Her comments are consistent with my observations. There seems to be this overwhelming tendency to expect the absolute worst from people. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s driving it. What I am sure of is this: it is actively destructive of both freedom and the values that help support it. In his book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” Robert Heinlein had his protagonist, “Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis,” make the point that most people who advocate for the passage of any law don’t do so for the purposes of keeping themselves (my question: and arguably those like them?) from doing something. Rather, the purpose of the proposed law is always to control those “other people,” whoever they might be. Hoyt touches on this when she notes:

“If you think most average, normal humans are basically despicable, you will crave a big government that will keep “them sonsofdogs” under control, so they can’t hurt/steal from the “good people” like you.  This view requires you to have in your head a natural aristocracy, the “good people” who are like you and don’t have ill intents and can, therefore, be trusted with power.

People who think people are basically decent, though they can respond to incentives not to be, and so we try to keep people free to be as decent as they can be, and not to short-circuit them into being evil.”

This, then, brings us back to an earlier point. What do we/you/I believe about ourselves and other people? Are they basically good or basically bad, in our view? If you believe people are basically bad, you’re going to have a difficult time really getting behind efforts to significantly increase personal freedom for people in general. After all, your underlying beliefs are going to tell you most people can’t be trusted to do the right thing with their freedom. It doesn’t matter which political label you wear, if any. If your thoughts on increasing freedom run toward legal or social control of those who, you think, might use such freedom to engage in activities (including expressing ideas) of which you don’t approve (absent any harm to others or abuse of other’s rights), then it’s probably time for you to take a long, hard look at exactly why you think that way.

So, what is your narrative? What is your story? Who are you as a person? Who are we as a nation or people? Those are questions worth asking, for all of us.

 

*NOTE: if you want to know how to discover and even change your narrative, let me know. I’d be delighted to get you started on that road for no charge whatsoever.

 

 

 

Of Life and Romance

Francis Bacon, “The Father of Empiricism,” is one of my favorite philosophers. Not so much because I agree with all his views, but because he was an early champion of a skeptical methodology for arriving at truth (or at least for drawing conclusions that were reasonably close to true – we can’t know everything). He did not develop the scientific method, but his focus on empirical data would eventually contribute to its development. Since I began my college career so many years ago as a hard sciences and engineering major, the scientific method is more than a little important to me. Now, as a registered nurse, I still use it (nurses, not wanting to be like everyone else who uses the thing have renamed it the “nursing process,” but it is really just the scientific method dressed up in different clothes and modified for a specific application). We use it to avoid making decisions based on what we think is good information. As Robert M. Pirsig noted in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know.”

It’s other, related purpose is to help when there are simply too many variables or too much going on for you to safely make a quicker, more “intuitive” decision. From Pirsig, again,

“Solution of problems too complicated for common sense to solve is achieved by long strings of mixed inductive and deductive inferences that weave back and forth between the observed machine and the mental hierarchy of the machine found in the manuals. The correct program for this interweaving is formalized as scientific method. Actually I’ve never seen a cycle-maintenance problem complex enough really to require full-scale formal scientific method. Repair problems are not that hard. When I think of formal scientific method an image sometimes comes to mind of an enormous juggernaut, a huge bulldozer–slow, tedious, lumbering, laborious, but invincible. It takes twice as long, five times as long, maybe a dozen times as long as informal mechanic’s techniques, but you know in the end you’re going to get it.There’s no fault isolation problem in motorcycle maintenance that can stand up to it. When you’ve hit a really tough one, tried everything, racked your brain and nothing works, and you know that this time Nature has really decided to be difficult, you say, “Okay, Nature, that’s the end of the nice guy,” and you crank up the formal scientific method.”

All of which really has nothing to do with this post beyond making the point I like Bacon and the empirically driven model for which he was an early influence. Oh, and he wrote an essay, Of Studies,” the title of which was the inspiration for this post. Anyway…

LIFE

Life has this way of sometimes bringing us to unexpected outcomes, decision points if you will, that we didn’t really anticipate. That’s where I am. Life has thrown more than a few of these at me over the past several years. Now, having apparently decided I was entirely too comfortable, it has heaved a few more my way.

A few years ago, I made the decision to open my own hypnosis and life coaching practice here in my west Texas town. It was great fun, I was able to help a lot of people – and I could not make enough money to meet our financial obligations. So, while I still offer the services, I closed the doors to my office and returned to nursing. I have been, for over half the preceding year, the Chief Nursing Officer/Director of Nursing (CNO/DON) of a psychiatric hospital, a job I enjoyed more than any I’ve ever had. This was a really unique opportunity for me, as the bulk of my clinical and management/leadership experience has been in the Operating Room (I have psych experience, but a lot more OR experience). As of 4 days ago, the hospital was sold to another entity (which already had a DON) and I find myself unemployed. I had a significant “heads up” period, so it wasn’t as unexpected as it might have been, but my response to the change has not been as positive as I would have liked. There is a definite sense of loss and maybe a little depression as I contemplate what I might have to do, at least in the short-term. Moving my family is not really an option right now and I don’t see any real opportunities here in the area, which raises the specter of having to work out-of-town. This is not my idea of a good time. So, if you happen to know of an opening for a CNO/DON at a psychiatric/mental-health facility, let me know. The same is true of any hospital looking for a Director of Surgical Services (DSS). I’m the guy.

Anyway, that’s what life does. It throws things at us we don’t anticipate. Fortunately, because of our belief in being prepared, we’re okay, even if the job search takes longer than I expect it to. We have enough money banked and extra coming in from other income streams, along with enough food in the freezer and pantry to feed our family for a while, even in the absence of any income whatsoever, that I’m not worried about that. I just don’t like being unemployed. It really, really bothers me. If I put the best of faces on this situation I can say that this time off (there’s little reason to anticipate starting a director level job before the first of the year) will give me time to do some things that really need my attention. Among those are:

  1. Replacing a window on the garage
  2. Repairing the rabbit hutches
  3. Pulling the edging for the raised beds out of the garden and rebuilding the beds before the ground freezes
  4. Building cold frames for winter growing
  5. Laying in more firewood for the outside kitchen I need to build
  6. Welding up the steel rocket stove I have planned
  7. Laying the concrete blocks for the smoker grill I’m building
  8. Laying the wood flooring in the hallway
  9. Finish writing the book I’ve been writing for months

Of the above list, items 2-8 are all related to our move toward developing our own “urban homestead.” Which brings us to romance.

ROMANCE

Webster’s defines romance, in part, as “an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an especially heroic era, adventure, or activity.” 

I’ve noted before that a great deal of my life as a child was spent on and around farms and ranches. That experience has served me well as we’ve worked on transforming our home and property into an urban homestead. I believe there is, for many people who decide to go the homestead route, a tendency to romanticize what they are doing, to focus on the aura rather than the reality of what they’re undertaking. Specifically, they are attracted by the ideas of freedom and independence so often associated with farming (and ranching), but also by the pictures they have in their heads. Certainly this is in keeping with our American history. Agriculture is a part of our heritage. After all, many of the Founding Fathers were farmers. The problem with romanticizing homesteading is that it tends to overlook the amount of hard work involved. Even with my experience of living and working on farms as a kid, I sometimes romanticize homesteading, myself. While I don’t have nearly as much experience with ranches as with farms, I’m reminded of some lyrics from the song “Wild and Wooly” by Chris Ledoux:

“I’ve been workin’ all week long out in the saddle
I lay my bed roll down at night out on the range
Cussin’ dust and heat and flies and cattle
All this romance can drive a poor cowboy insane”

It is one thing, I think, to be a pioneer who is carving a home out of the wilderness. If that’s what you’re doing, you really don’t have much time, at least at first, for other pursuits. It is another thing altogether to build a homestead while doing all the other things required of life in 21st century America. The result for many people seems to be frustration and annoyance, leading many to abandon their dream of being free. I don’t think it has to be that way. Recognize that, at least for now, you have to keep your job. After all, you still need to eat. You need clothes to wear and a place to live. For those things you simply must have an income. So work the job you have and work on building the homestead, urban or rural, as you have time. You don’t live on the frontier. You aren’t struggling to wrest a living from the wilderness. Be thankful for that and for not having to worry if you and your family will starve this winter because your food crops from the spring garden failed. Just keep doing what you can, as you can. Give yourself some time. Focus on what you really want. Be realistic and don’t let the tendency to romanticize homesteading leave you surprised and overwhelmed by the sometimes tedious nature of the work that building a homestead takes. I enjoy my time with our few animals and in the garden. I like planting fruit trees and planning projects. Still, there are times it’s just plain hard work, especially if my job (you know, the one I had until a few days ago) has left me mentally and physically exhausted. That’s when I have to focus not just on what we’re doing, but on why we’re doing it. It’s not simply the aura of being a homesteader. It’s the freedom it will bring. I don’t know about you, but I really want to be free and I don’t have to romanticize that at all.

For my Constitutional Conservative and Libertarian Friends…

We have, for many long years, been fighting a hard battle on many fronts. Attacks on many of our beliefs and values, an ever-expanding and over reaching government, the seeming desire to destroy anything that remotely resembles a free market place, the abandonment of individual liberty for the sake of group identity and the seemingly ever-rising tide of collectivism have been among the things against which we have fought. It has at times been enough to make one despair. But now, things are different, right? Well, arguably so, at least for the time being. And that is where our great risk lies.

Someone more insightful than I noted that government and the decision to use it are very much like the “one ring” in The Lord of the Rings. That is, governmental power, even when used with the purest of motives to achieve the most noble of ends, is inherently corrupting. The risk is this: in our desire to undo the legacy of a left-wing oligarchy we can wind up introducing a right-wing authoritarianism at least as bad or perhaps even worse than the thing we have worked to defeat. This is going to test our commitment to freedom. It is going to test our commitment to the Constitution and to our republic. In this, we must not fail.

God grant us the courage of our convictions to not do what others before us have done.

For my Progressive Friends…*

I did not support Donald Trump for president. I did not vote for him and I still wish he was not our president-elect (which you should most emphatically not understand to mean I wish Hillary was). Now, let’s move on.

Since the election on November 8th I have read and heard more dire predictions of the erosion of civil rights for one or more groups of people than I can count. They range from the insistence some law enforcement agencies will be slow to investigate crimes committed by one or racists/homophobes/xenophobes/misogynists all the way to the spectre of people being rounded up and forced into cattle cars and internment camps no less. Scary stuff, indeed. You’ll pardon me, I trust, if I’m a little dubious of your now loudly shouted concern for civil liberty. Here’s why.

Long before Barack Obama was elected president, a Republican president signed into law what was arguably the most savage attack on constitutionally guaranteed liberty the United States has seen in a very long time. I’m referring, of course, to that piece of legislative garbage euphemistically called the Patriot Act. Here’s the deal. You and the progressive politicians you helped elect were in a position to do something about it. The damn thing could have been destroyed either in one fell swoop or piece by piece. But that didn’t happen. Many of its most anti liberty provisions linger on thanks to multiple National Defense Authorization Acts. And now, now, you expect people to take seriously your concern for civil liberties? Where were you and those you elected when true constitutional conservatives, not neocons, and libertarians were looking for the support and the votes to end that travesty? You certainly weren’t protesting then. Allow me to suggest you were enjoying being in power and as a result individual liberty took second place to the group identity politics that got you there, Constitution be damned.

So, no, I don’t believe you really give a good tinker’s damn for the Constitution or the freedoms it guarantees.

*Note: to be followed by a companion piece

Fidel Castro has Died

I note, with neither regret nor remorse, the death of Cuba’s communist dictator Fidel Castro, today. It is my absolute belief that only God may render eternal judgement. With that said, from my temporal perspective, I am sure I join many other people in bidding him good riddance. Based on their history, it is my hope his brother Raul joins him soon in death.

Is The Law Worth Your Life?

Let’s play a game. Pick a law. Now, the law you pick must have a couple of characteristics. First, it must be a law you like, one you support. Second, it must have a punishment for violating it, but that punishment must not include the death penalty. Third, it must be a law that you are inclined to insist people ought to obey. Okay. Keep that law in mind for just a bit, while we move on with the game. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to this law.

Now, pick another law. This one, too, must have some characteristics. First, it must be a law you dislike intensely, one to which you object vehemently (if there are no laws that qualify, I suggest you study the laws of your state more closely). Second, it too must have a real punishment for its violation, not including the death penalty. Third, it must be a law that you think people should not obey – further, it must be a law you either intend to break, have already broken, or tend to break on at least a semi-regular basis.

Let’s look at your first pick. What happens if someone breaks this law? “Well,” you say “if they are arrested and convicted, they must pay the penalty prescribed by the law.” That sounds good, but what if this person refuses? What if he or she says “no, I don’t think I will pay that penalty;” what will you (or the state) do then? Perhaps, if the initial penalty was only a fine, you will support having this person incarcerated. Suppose she refuses. What then? “No, I’m not going!” can be a pretty powerful statement, depending on how it is delivered. A longer sentence? She has already refused the shorter one. If the state is successful in locking her away, what happens if she leaves? Suppose she resists either her arrest or her incarceration. “Escalate the force” you say? How much shall it be escalated? To the point of death?

Let’s look at the other law. The one you detest. The one you have broken or will one day break. How much force are you willing for the state to apply to you to compel your compliance? Are you okay with the state killing you, should you resist, strongly enough, this law you find so objectionable?

Just before Christmas 2014, David L. Burkhead (aka “The Writer in Black“) published a post on his blog. In it, he makes the point that the meaning of law is

“someone from the government can come and use force on a person to make him or her comply, to submit.  Force.  And if they resist that force, the government can increase the level.”

In a similar vein, The Atlantic published an article in June of this year noting the comments of Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter, that “…law is violent.”

Both articles make similar points. To wit, that law, all law, is ultimately backed up with the threat of force, up to and including deadly force. As Burkhead notes

  “…it has to be that way because without that ultimate use of force, there comes a point where someone can say “no” to your law and you have to say “okay.” At which point it’s no longer law but a strongly worded suggestion.”

Carter simply notes that “Every law is violent.”

Neither article suggests we should not have laws. Both Burkhead and Carter are very clear on this point. Rather, they emphasize we need to be sure the laws we have and those we propose are laws for which we are willing for people to die. Which brings me to the rather obvious point of my poorly designed and hidden “game.”

I suspect you are not okay with the state electing to kill you for  your decision to break or ignore a law you find detestable. Notice I didn’t say you haven’t made the decision to pay whatever price necessary to exercise whatever right you might have to disobey a given law. Rather, that you aren’t okay with the state electing to kill you. The two are not the same.

Since all law is ultimately backed up with force, up to and including deadly force, it makes sense to me that we should be very careful as to the laws we propose or require the state to enforce. We need laws to function as a society. How many of them are we willing to kill people in order to enforce them?