The Politics of Illusion

Magical4Goering, the second highest ranking official in Nazi Germany said at his trial in Nuremberg that:

“Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY.” — Goering

Ulysses S. Grant in his autobiography expressed surprise that the common southern White sharecropper could support a civil war to protect slavery when he/she was not treated much better than the African American slaves whom they worked alongside of. They had little or no vested interest in the so-called plantation system. Were these poor White folks under an illusion that they would someday be great plantation owners and have their own slaves?

One of the most decorated men in American military history said the following:

“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” ― Smedley D. Butler

The county where I reside in Northern Wisconsin is one of the poorest counties in the state with high unemployment. Nevertheless, the majority of the county has voted Republican (The party of the Rich) in the last several elections. Are the citizens in my county under some illusion that they will become rich like Mitt Romney? Do they think that their circumstances will be improved by the “trickle-down theory?” Do they think that their interests are the same as the interests of the wealthy one percent who are buying politicians?

We think of an illusion as something that deceives our eyes but actually an illusion deceives our minds. Webster’s online dictionary defines an illusion as:

1a obsolete : the action of deceiving
b (1) : the state or fact of being intellectually deceived or misled : misapprehension (2) : an instance of such deception
2 a (1) : a misleading image presented to the vision (2) : something that deceives or misleads intellectually
b (1) : perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature (2) : hallucination 1 (3) : a pattern capable of reversible perspective

Goebbels the Nazi Minister of Propaganda said that if you wanted to get the populace to believe something do not tell small lies, tell big lies and tell them often.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” —- Goebbels

Certain people in our lives will try to deceive us as a matter of course. It is their nature. Like the “Story of the Scorpion and the Frog”. The scorpion wanted to cross the stream and asked the frog for a ride on his back. The frog said “You must be kidding. You would surely sting me and I would die.” The scorpion answered “That would be foolish of me. If I killed you, I would also drown and die.” The frog thought that this reply made sense and told the scorpion to “hop on.” Halfway across the pond, the scorpion stung the frog. In his last dying breath, the frog said “Why?” The scorpion replied “Because it is my nature.”

Magicians deceive us for entertainment. Unfaithful lovers deceive us for love and lust. Schools deceive us to support their reputedly lofty ideals. Religious leaders deceive us to “save” our immortal souls. Gamblers deceive us to take our money. Politicians deceive us for power and glory. Each of these deceivers must spin a web of deceit and deception that will cause us to have a distorted view of reality. The magician says to keep your eye on the ball, but the trick is done by getting you to focus on the ball and not her hand. The unfaithful lover professes undying faithfulness while philandering behind your back. The gambler wants you to believe that the “odds” are in your favor, you can’t lose. The politician trades favors for votes. “Vote for me and I will make your life happy and successful. You too can be a slave owner or a zillionaire.”

magic-1All of these groups can be lumped under the rubric of “Con-Artists.” A con-artist is someone who tricks you to get your money. The most common trick is to offer you something that is “Too good to be true.” But our trust in the con-artist prevents us from seeing this simple fact and we are deceived into accepting the reality that the con-artist creates for us. There are a variety of these deceptive realities that many of us fall for:

• Wealth with no hard work
• Instant success
• Lose weight overnight
• No new taxes
• Find undying love
• Get to heaven
• The war to end all wars
• Six pack abs with no sweat
• Everyone will love and admire you

Hardly a day goes by when we are not beset with more illusions than we realize. Each of them spun for us by assorted con-artists to catch and ensnare us in their webs of deceit and betrayal. Betrayal is the final outcome, as we sacrifice our trust, our love, our money and even our lives in pursuit of phantom illusions. We think these con-artists care about us but we are simply means to their ends.

Modern communications, cell phones, high speed internet, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, satellite communications and now drone delivered messages have all become two edged swords. Swords that are often very skillfully wielded by assorted con-artists. One edge provides more information and helps us become better, faster and smarter. The other edge buries us in data, facts, opinions, hyperbole, rhetoric and worthless information. One edge cuts through the fantasies that the con-artists are weaving. The other edge shreds reality and helps the con-artists to spin their illusions.

A recent book worth reading is “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges. The book is a trek through the many pretensions and illusions that are beginning to dominate our culture today. The Empire of Illusion is one of the most thought provoking and provocative books I have read in a long time. Following is an excerpt from the book:

“We pay a variety of lifestyle advisers—Neal Gabler calls them “essentially drama coaches”—to help us look and feel like celebrities, to build around us the set for the movie of our own life. Martha Stewart built her financial empire, when she wasn’t insider trading, telling women how to create and decorate a set design for the perfect home. The realities within the home, the actual family relationships, are never addressed. Appearances make everything whole. Plastic surgeons, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life coaches, interior designers, and fashion consultants all, in essence, promise to make us happy, to make us celebrities. And happiness comes, we are assured, with how we look and how we present ourselves to others. There are glossy magazines like Town & Country which cater to the absurd pretensions of the very rich to be celebrities. They are photographed in expensive designer clothing inside the lavishly decorated set-pieces that are their homes. The route to happiness is bound up in how skillfully we show ourselves to the world. We not only have to conform to the dictates of this manufactured vision, but we also have to project an unrelenting optimism and happiness.” —– “Empire of Illusion” by Chris Hedges.

Illusions become everything. Truth becomes simply one facet of the illusions that surround us. We look for facts to sort out the truth but facts are simply another facet of the extended illusions that become our minute to minute, day to day and year to year reality. Reality is no longer real. Reality itself has become an illusion. And from these illusions, reality becomes a fantasy that just like in the TV show “Once Upon a Time” is now reality. If this sounds like circular reasoning, that’s because it is. Reality has gone from substance to image. These images are illusions in our minds. Worse, they are traps because they prevent us from seeing what really is important.

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion” ― Voltaire

Do you remember when you were told, that once you were out of school, you would have to face the “real world.” Did you ever wonder what this meant? Was an “unreal” school environment supposed to prepare you for the real world? Did unreal lectures and unreal instructors have the knowledge that you needed in the real world? How could this be? How could unreal schooling prepare anyone for a vastly different outside world? Only if the school was real (and everyone was lying) or the rest of the world was also unreal could schooling be congruent with reality. Unless you were being prepared for unreality itself! I think the latter is the case in most schools.

The situation is analogous to one I have seen many times as a business consultant. You have a system of business which can only thrive and prosper with sufficient inputs of innovation and creativity. But what do HR managers and recruiters look for in a new hire? Answer: Someone who fits in. And this is what schools teach. Schools teach you to fit in. Few schools readily encourage creativity and innovation. Instead, schools create an illusion whereby they foster the fantasy that you will become creative and innovative if you attend their schools. This is a wonderful illusion that most of us fall for.

The reality is that with grades, tests, common core curriculum, standardized testing, etc. schools teach us how to behave, how to conform and how to fit in. Those that can’t handle the “real” curriculum are given the boot. Business leaders and politicians alike are too often con-artists who extol the virtues of a free market and the dynamics of innovation and creativity but instead practice conformity and loyalty. They well know that innovation and creativity are the keys to success, but self-protection and ego trump reason in a world of illusion. Form is more important than substance. A good business suit and an impressive school resume will get you farther than a spirit of innovation and independent thinking in the “real” world.

“All problems are illusions of the mind.” ― Eckhart Tolle


How do we see through the fog of illusions that surround our everyday lives? Is it possible to see the world as it really is? What if those designer jeans did not really make you beautiful and happy? What if helping others was more important than growing rich? What if the definition of success was not becoming a celebrity and having a million Facebook followers? What if growing old and wrinkly and slow was really a form of beauty? How can we stop the con-artists from defining our reality in terms that are injurious to our satisfaction with life? How can we develop compassion for the underdogs when the con-artists want us to believe that such people are simply parasites who drag the rest of us down?

The politicians, news spinners, talking heads, radio commentators and other con-artists do not want you to think for yourself. They do not want you to question their wisdom or facts. They do not want you to believe that you have the power or intelligence to make choices for yourself. The power of the con-artist lies in deception. Take away their deceptions and their illusions vanish. It is possible to do this but we have to change our minds about the world because that is what makes these illusions reality.

We can take away the power of these con-artists to lie and distort reality by believing in the goodness of other people and not the evil that resides in a small minority of people. We need to see the world as a place of possibilities and not a place of fear. We need to see the world as a place of abundance and not a place of scarcity. We need to see other nations, religions, and ethnic groups as friends and not enemies. We need to stop creating walls and barriers between us and the rest of the world. The more insulated we become from others, the more we diminish ourselves. The more we seek safety and security, the less freedom and independence we have. The more we seek narrowly defined definitions of success, the more elusive true happiness and success becomes. Success lies not in the numbers of life we can accumulate but in the quality of life we live.

Time for Questions:

Do you want to know the truth or are you happier with an illusion? How often do you go further than the local news reports to find the truth?  Who do you trust?  Why?  Are you open to new images and new ideas?  How fixed are you on the truth?  What if much of what you knew was not true?  How could you test the reality that the con-artists want to spin for you?  What would happen if we were all less believing of the reality out there?

Life is just beginning.




Was it Fate? Or was it Luck?  Or why do I never get the breaks? 

Fate GoddessWhen I think of fate, I think of India and Hindus.  I think of the book “The Prince and the Pauper”.  I think of Rudyard Kipling’s comment “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Fate to me denotes an unalterable destiny.  Fate can be good for you or it can be bad.  It all depends on whether you are born a King or a frog.

When I think of luck, I think of New York and Americans.  I think of the book “Scarne on Cards”.  I think of the comment by Thomas Jefferson “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  Luck comes to the lucky.  Some of us never seem to get any luck and others win the lottery two and even three times.  Luck can be good or it can be bad for you.  You can die in an accident if you are very unlucky or if you are very lucky the car will just miss you.

Many people would argue that there is a vast difference between fate and luck.  They would argue that the two concepts are very different.  Webster ’Online defines each as follows:

Play Song:  “With a Little Bit of Luck”.  From My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe


1a:  a force that brings good fortune or adversity

1b:  the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual

2:  favoring chance; also :  success <had great luck growing orchids


1:  the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do :  destiny

2a :  an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end

2b :  disasterespecially :  death

3a:  final outcome

3b :  the expected result of normal development

3c:  the circumstances that befall someone or something <did not know the fate of her former classmates

If you look closely, you should notice that the concept of “Will” is in the definition of fate.  It is not in the definition of luck and most of us would not associate will with luck.  But what is will?  Is there someone pulling the strings of fate, but no one pulling the strings of luck?  Why would this be?  Are there different gods for fate than for luck?

Looking at the two definitions, you may also notice that fate is seen as predestination.  It is inevitable and unavoidable.  However, can anyone change their luck?  We all know people who are perpetually unlucky and who seem to be like the character in the old Li’l Abner cartoon that bad luck followed wherever he went.  His name was Joe Btfsplk and he was a perpetual jinx.   Could he have somehow changed his luck?

“We dream to give ourselves hope. To stop dreaming – well, that’s like saying you can never change your fate.”   ― Amy Tan,

goddess of luckWhat gives us good luck or good fate?  The goddess of luck in Greek mythology was Eutykhia who could bring good fortune, success and prosperity.  She was also known as Tyche or the spirit of chance, providence and fate.  There were also the Moirai who were the goddesses of fate that personified the inevitable destiny of man.  In the “Thread of Life” each person was apportioned a lot or part by the Moirai whose job was to spin the threads.  Even the mighty Zeus did not have the power to change the destiny woven by the Moirai.

Thus, it appeared to the Greeks, that the concepts of fate and luck were closely related.  I have long held to a very contradictory opinion about luck.  I believe that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”  Luck is not given by the gods but we give luck to ourselves.  I do agree with the Greeks that the concepts of fate and luck are closely related.  Now this would seem to pose a problem for my conceptual consistency.  If fate is willed by the gods and is thus inescapable and luck is similarly prescribed for us than how can I believe that we can change either our luck or our fate?  Well, to be consistent, I have to believe that we can also change our fate.  And of course, you guessed it; this is where I stand on fate.  Fate is not destiny nor is it inevitable.  Let me give you a few examples of where paupers became princes.

Humphrey Bogart was born to a wealthy family in New York City.  He grew up with privilege and the finer things in life.  However, one thing no one would accuse Bogie of was being good looking.  Given the glamor and good looks associated with most leading men, it would seem that his changes to play a “leading man” were next to zero.  Nevertheless, his onscreen presence and charisma were so magnetic that he became one of the greatest leading men that Hollywood had ever seen.  I could provide examples of dozens of other unglamorous men and women who broke into Hollywood stardom after they had been told to get a “regular” job.

“Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”   ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The history of US presidents has numerous examples of men who went from poverty to the presidency.

“James Garfield was the youngest of five children born on a poor farm on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, Garfield is perhaps the poorest man ever to have become President. Supporting himself as a part-time teacher, a carpenter, and even a janitor through college, he was an idealistic young man who identified with the antislavery tenets of the new Republican Party.” .

We all know the story of Abraham Lincoln so that does not need repeating.  Several presidents like Thomas Jefferson went the other direction, from relative wealth to poverty.  Thus, proving that with some effort one can go from prince to pauper as well as from pauper to prince.

Corporations are a good source of examples for rages to riches stories.  Li Ka-shing is a Chinese billionaire whose net worth is estimated at 23 billion dollars.  Forbes provides the following background on Li’s rags to riches story:

“Li fled a turbulent China in 1940; settled in Hong Kong. At age 15, after the death of his father, he was forced to leave school to work at a plastics factory.  He later borrowed money to manufacture plastic flowers and eventually grew his Cheung Kong Industries into a conglomerate with stakes in supermarkets, property and cell phones.” 

According to Forbes, two of out every three billionaires in the world today are self-made.  They did not inherit either their money or “good” genes.  Destiny or fate gave them poor hands to start with but they made their own luck.

Presidents, movie stars, billionaires, some of them were born with more assets then others. Some of us are no doubt smarter, stronger and better looking than others, but for every one of those lucky folks given the assets that the rest of us would die for, there are four or five people who also received the same assets and they are now losers.  I use the word losers advisably because “yes” they lost their assets through neglect or complacency.

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

Jesus said:  “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have abundance.  Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” –  Matthew 25:29 – HOW UNFAIR!  But Jesus was not being unfair; he was expressing a truth of life.  Perhaps it could be rephrased as “Use it or lose it.”  You are smart, then find a way to use your brains.  You are strong, then find a way to use your athletic abilities.  You have musical abilities, then work hard and learn an instrument.  Don’t spend years waiting for the Goddess of Luck or the Goddess of Fate to shine on you.  You will find that they shine brighter on those who make their own luck.  The luckier get luckier and the unlucky will have even less luck.

lucky sevensWhen I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, we used to have a phrase to describe the lucky few who we thought were somehow the chosen ones.  We said “they got the breaks.”  We threw this phrase around quite haphazardly as though it alone was enough to explain why they were up there and we were down here.  Why they got the millions and all we got were pennies.  Why they were rich, beautiful and successful and we were poor, struggling and losers.  It was quite simple:  “They got the breaks.”  Our destiny was cast.  We did not get the breaks.  That was easy to see and easy to understand.  What could we do?  Here is the reason that Robin Hood is so popular.

Thomas Hahn, professor of English at the University of Rochester, and author of numerous essays and books on Robin Hood, says the character’s popularity has long represented people’s frustrations with life in capitalist society.

“Robin Hood’s appeal arises from primal desires for justice and equity,” he says. “And though medieval in origins, this is a fantasy broad and deep enough to possess the imaginations of people in almost all times and places.”

We wanted justice.  We wanted equity.  We wanted their luck and their fate.  They got the breaks and we wanted them.  Actually, we wanted their money and status and to heck with justice and equity.  We wanted the things that money would bring and would have taken them if there were no laws against it.  Poor Robin Hood, hounded by the Sheriff of Nottingham and he was really just trying to distribute some of the breaks to the hoi polloi.

As the song goes in My Fair Lady, we wanted to have it all and not really work for it.  With a little bit of luck, or so the song says, you can have it all and never have to work. That was our true dream.  Riches, fame and fortune and never have to work a day, an hour or even a minute in our lives.  That is the ultimate break.   Alas and alack, we were brought up on a fantasy that still seems quite prevalent among a large group of people.

It took some of us many years of our lives to learn the real truth that as Thomas Jefferson so wisely said “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”  If we had only learned and heeded this truth many years earlier, we could have changed our fate and gone on to achieve a good deal more with our lives.  Some of us would still be alive and not dead on drug overdoses.  Some of us would not be in jail and living on the fringe of society.  Some of us would be upstanding respectable members of society and not living on handouts and pittances.  The bad fate and bad luck that many of my friends and I caught was not fixed in the stars but unfortunately fixed in our minds.   We did not get the breaks so what could we do?

Time for Questions:

How has your luck been lately?  Do the Fates tend to shy on or away from you?  Are you waiting for luck or making your own luck?  What if you were lucky, how would your life be different?  Have you had more good or bad luck in your life? Why?  What if you could change your luck, would you work harder for better luck?  What do you think controls your fate?

Life is just beginning.

Here are some resources for changing your luck and perhaps your destiny.  Let me know if any work for you.  J



Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun, or Is Fun the True Meaning of Life? 

fun-rainbows-30120How many of you remember the song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper or the song by the Beach Boys “Fun, Fun, Fun”?  I suspect many of you have heard of these songs but never listened to them.  Well, click on both and listen while you read my blog this week.  If you have not heard them before, you might enjoy them.  If you are of the Baby Boom generation, it will be a slight walk down memory lane.  What did we all want in the early sixties, before civil rights, women’s liberation and the Vietnam War intruded on our idylls?   Well of course, FUN<FUN<FUN.  What else does anyone really want in life?

I come home in the morning light
My mother says when you gonna live your life right
Oh mother dear we’re not the fortunate ones
And girls just want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun 

We all just wanna have fun, but what is fun?  Webster’s describes it as:  “What provides amusement or enjoyment; specifically: playful often boisterous action or speech.”  Fun, play, recreation all seem to spring from a similar root cause.  You must be able to live in the present and forget about the past or the future.  Goals are the anti-thesis, the arch-enemy, and the adversary of fun.  When you are thinking about the past or planning the future, you are not in a “State” of fun.  Come to think of it, fun is a lot like meditation.  You must be in the proper frame of mind to be having fun.  Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that you must be “out of your mind” to have fun.  When you are in your mind, you are thinking, worrying, planning and problem solving.  Fun cannot take place when this is happening.  Fun is like an orgasm in that everything must be subservient to the immediate now.  However, fun can last much longer than an orgasm.

The phone rings in the middle of the night
My father yells what you gonna do with your life
Oh daddy dear you know you’re still number one
But girls they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have—

Fun can last for hours and hours.  When mindlessness starts that is when fun begins.  When mindlessness ends and mindfulness begins that is when fun ends.  When you start thinking about repercussions, consequences and ramifications that is when the fun stops.  You must be out of your mind to have fun.  Fun is a visceral emotional experience that has nothing to do with drugs or mind-numbness.   Drugs induce a physical state of euphoria caused by mind numbing.  When have you ever heard of anyone high on drugs say they were having fun?

fun festFun is a state caused by a natural suspension of thinking, worrying, planning and calculating.  When you are having fun, you are focused on the immediate now.  Nothing else is of concern.  Fun is not so much mind-numbing as it is mind-dumbing.  You stop thinking about problems, issues and ideas and you let yourself go with the visceral emotional experiences of the present.  Fun is illogical and irrational.  Thinking is the exact opposite.  You can only have fun when you stop being logical and contemplative.

That’s all they really want
Some fun
When the working day is done
Girls–they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun,
They want to have fun,
They want to have fun…

However as with everything in life, there are pros and cons.  Fun can be constructive but it can also be destructive.  Consider the story of the ants and the grasshopper by Aesop.  The grasshopper played and had fun all summer while the industrious ants worked and put aside food for the winter. When the harsh winter came and food was nowhere to be found, the grasshopper went begging to the ants.  The ants chastised the grasshopper and turned him away with the warning that he should have thought ahead.   No one knows what happened to the grasshopper, but one can presume he met an early end.  The moral here is clear:  Work before you play and not vice versa.  It is a lesson that many of us learn early in our lives but there are also many of us who never learn it.

Well she got her daddy’s car
And she cruised through the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now

And she’ll have fun, fun, fun
Till her daddy takes the t-bird away
(Fun, fun, fun till her daddy takes the t-bird away)

When I was young, I never saved a penny.  I thought of myself as the grasshopper.  Worry about today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  The only problem was that I did not really worry about today.  I simply wanted to play and have fun.  I went from day to day.  I partied too much.  I drank too much and I let the fools (who were the ants) worry about the future.   Fortunately, fate intervened and I got married and had a baby girl when I was only 21.  I think this sobered me up by putting a bunch of responsibilities on my shoulders that I was not really ready for.  At some point, my parental raising kicked in and I started trying to take more responsibility for my life.

fun_fun_happy_superbigAt twenty-five, I enrolled in a college and started to work on a degree.  I wanted to “amount” to something and this meant giving up the “fun” and lack of responsibilities that many of us associate with “teen-hood.”  Now I was no longer a teenager and I had “adult” responsibilities.  I had a wife and child to support and a family that wanted me to do something other than party and drink.  Fun as I knew it became a thing of the past.  I spent many years working two jobs and trying to make ends meet.  I was extremely fortunate in that I had a good spouse who tolerated my lapses into irresponsibility and who did her best to help me live up to my potential.  Potential is another “high-school” concept that most of us have undoubtedly been tortured with by parents and teachers.  I don’t think I ever really learned what the word potential meant until later in life.  I often wish that I had understood it much earlier.

Well you knew all along
That your dad was gettin’ wise to you now
(You shouldn’t have lied now, you shouldn’t have lied)
And since he took your set of keys
You’ve been thinking that your fun is all through now
(You shouldn’t have lied now, you shouldn’t have lied)

 So what is the role of “FUN” in our lives?  To have fun or not to have fun?  Is that the question?  We all want to have fun but when, where, why and how are sometimes problematic.  There are appropriate times and places for fun and undoubtedly inappropriate times and places.  Is our role in life simply to have fun?  Or is the big question, how to balance our lives so that we can have fun but also discharge our responsibilities towards our family, friends and society?  Some would say that fun is simply a recreational activity that helps us wind down from the daily chores and burdens of existence.  Others might argue that fun is the goal of life, the reason for being.   What do you think?  Post your replies to the following questions.  I would love to hear your responses to these questions.

fun_fun_fun_yellow_psychedelic_starburstTime for Questions:

What would a life without fun be like?  Can we have too much fun or is that idea an oxymoron?  What is the role of fun in our lives?  How do you balance fun and responsibilities?  Do you think you have too much fun or not enough?  Why?  What would you change in your life if you could?

 Life is just beginning. 


Experts and Know It All’s, or why you are stupid and dumb and they know everything!

argumentsThere is a saying that goes “The young know everything, the middle aged suspect everything and the elderly believe everything.”  I really can’t say I find much truth in this saying.  I find far too many people young, middle aged and old people alike, who still know everything.   They aggravate the hell out of me.  They correct you on history, dates, politics, philosophy, truth, knowledge, weather forecasts, directions, word spellings and word pronunciations.  They lecture you about things you might know more than them about, but they are oblivious to your opinions.  To add insult to injury, they are right every time.  They are like Mr. Science on PBS; “they know more than you do.”  They may have a degree, TV or some friends who told them everything they believe.  More likely they are relying on some “expert” who they passionately believe in and no amount of expertise on your part or expert witnesses you can muster will put even a small dent in their beliefs.  They remain adamant that you are wrong and they are right.  Their experts trump your experts.  Their degrees trump your degrees.  Their experience trumps your experience.

Karen and I always enjoyed going to Hmong and Vietnamese restaurants and there were many in St. Paul on University Avenue.  One of our favorite winter dishes was a large bowl of soup named Pho.  It came in many different varieties.  We loved this soup.  Now I can’t honestly tell you that I can pronounce the word Pho as my Hmong friends did.  Nevertheless, they generally figured out what I was talking about when I pointed to the menu and said “Number 37 with squid please.”  It came to pass that some friends of ours went to visit a family in Vietnam.  Shortly after they came back from Vietnam, we all went to a Vietnamese restaurant for some Pho.  Of course, now that the wife had been in Vietnam, she was an expert on pronouncing Vietnamese words.  She told us how to correctly pronounce Pho.  I would have been all right with this except that it did not sound like the same word any of the waiters in the restaurant were using.  I guess they just forgot how to pronounce their own language.  I hate it when people correct my word pronunciations!  Why, because I have found that there are often many different ways to pronounce a word.  Some are undoubtedly wrong, but who knows?  Of course, the “expert” knows the right pronunciation.

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”  — Isaac Asimov

Do I have a big character quirk?  Why do these people annoy me so much?  I love Socrates because he did not know everything.  I am agitated by people who correct me.  I don’t mind it if you have your opinions.  I don’t mind it if you have your experts.  I also don’t mind it if you read it in a book someplace.  However, has it ever occurred to you that I might have a different opinion?  I might have read a different book?  I might have heard a different expert?  Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or is this problem getting worse?  It seems to me there are more know-it-alls on the web and internet and TV then there were before.  It sometimes seems like there are more experts out there than there are people on the face of the earth.  Every day we are bombarded with experts telling us what to eat, how to exercise, what to invest in, what to believe, what not to believe.  I sometimes feel that we need a “War on Experts.”

We must be so careful of setting ourselves up as people who set others straight. There is a fine line of encouraging and being a know it all.  — Unknown quote

To make it worse, you cannot escape this war online.  Every day there are arguments on different chat groups and websites where it is clear that each side is totally ignoring what the other side is saying.  Here is one example from Facebook, I recently experienced.  I will refrain from using the actual names of the parties concerned.  It involves a disagreement over the use of Electroshock Therapy for patients in a mental health facility.  A friend posted his comments noting a wide range of experts who thought that such treatments were abusive and no longer useful.  He was immediately “jumped” on by an “expert” who disagreed and cited their extensive history and experience in a facility where Electroshock Therapy was used.  Apparently in his perspective, the patients needed it and loved it.  When asked to produce some evidence as to his experience or expertise, he fell back on the old “Trust Me” I know argument.  No amount of persuasion could convince the “expert” that other “experts” might not agree with him.

Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.  — Denis Waitley

Here is a verbatim discussion from another Facebook group online that is for “Intellectual Discussions.”  I have left the names out.  The discussion started with the posting of a picture that appeared to some as “offensive.”  The picture dealt with slavery.

  • Disgusting part of our history that we should never forget.
  • Can we move away from posting statements and more towards questions which will foster discussion?
  • I’m sure we all know of the atrocities that happened to those poor people, but there isn’t much more we can say on this point other than having a circle jerk to see who can be the most apologetic and remorseful for the ways of whitey.
  • Can we just post whatever we want? Otherwise bring it up with admin for a questions
  • I don’t see a problem with this, although it will probably fall to the bottom of the page pretty quickly. The nature of debate is someone offers a stance, and then people will either agree or offer an opposing stance. There is nothing wrong with debating your point of view. I can’t see how somebody would disagree with the above in this case, but the nature of racism is certainly a valid topic.
  • My only point was this offers very little to discuss, which one would assume is the point of the group. i have nothing against discussing this topic, but this is just a depressing statement with a depressing pic, it’s not really a topic or point of contention which will inspire any discussion.
  • Yeah I agree this won’t generate much of a discussion. I don’t think any of the admins here would want to ban this however, seems a bit draconian to me. You don’t want to create an environment where people are hesitant to post things because of a police like environment.
  • I found that this fact brought up many, many issues to discuss, intellectually.
  • Linking articles in this manner is lazy and attributes to spam.
  • Shuvit,
  • Who’s lazy now?
  • Be cool, man, you don’t have to be like that .
  • Spam = selling something.
  • No one, who is intelligent, in the group Intellectual Discussion is going to stand for unwarranted aggression or name calling. Be careful with your words, they are very powerful, “You just might write a check, you can’t cash….Anywhere.”
  •  Nobody here has been name calling. Chill out people . . . everyone please.
  • That was good!
  • Shuv-it I don’t understand why you would disrespect my name, and in the same breath condone name calling.
  •  And to this white guilt shame stirring understand it has zero effect on me – for a couple of reasons; first is relevance. Law which doesn’t exist.

arguments 2This same story repeats itself endlessly on the web and elsewhere.  You post something.  Some body disagrees with it.  Someone takes offense at it.  Some expert rebuts it.  Someone does not think you should have said it.  It is not much different elsewhere.  You say something in a coffee shop.  Some expert rebuts it.  You are at a party and make a comment.  Some expert rebuts it.  Where are all the Socrates?  Where are all the truly wise people who know that they know nothing?  Why are we surrounded by experts?  What if more of us were like Socrates and at least not so sure of what we know?

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”  — Socrates

I find myself wondering about the old rules of rhetoric and debate.  The rules we learned in school.  Was anyone ever convinced of anything by facts, experts and argument?  I see little evidence of this online or anywhere else.  Perhaps it works in court where people come without a bias to begin with.  Perhaps not!  Of one thing, I am fairly certain; I have experienced few if any arguments where I was a witness to a change of mind.  Thus, most arguments go around in a circle and the victor is often the most obtuse or the one with the most stomach for hyperbole, rigmarole, obfuscation, pedantry and insults.  You win when the other side quits.  Is there a solution?  I think there might be.

What about a set of rules for disagreeing with other people?   What if we agreed on certain principles that were more designed to illicit the truth then to prove ourselves right and the other side wrong?  It would be more like win-win bargaining then win-lose bargaining.  Both sides would try to find the truth or at least the Golden Mean.  This would probably never work in court, but it might work in arguments between people or at least between friends.  Thus, I propose the following rules:

  1. Start with admitting that you do not know everything.
  2. Admit that you might not have all the facts and that what facts you have are not necessarily true.
  3. Agree that the truth between your side and the other side might be in-between.
  4. Do not insult, slander, belittle or ridicule the other side.
  5. Ask questions and seek facts together?  Ask what is missing in the evidence that would make the truth more obvious?
  6. Celebrate finding the truth and not a victory over the other side.

What do you think?  Would these rules make discourse more civil? Am I being naïve? 

As an experiment, I posted these rules and a short prologue to them on a few websites (Five websites dealing with discussion and debate). I waited a few days to update this article and to include any insights I received from this experiment.  Here are some interesting comments that people left in response to my posting:

  • I was convinced, through logical debate alone, that I live in a permanently determined universe even though my direct experience will never reflect that fact. This was one of a few MAJOR shifts in perception/worldview I have had in my life, which had an impact on every part of my life. It literally turned my entire belief system on its head at the time. It happened while having a conversation on a forum online. The (logical) truth alone can be transformative if you honor it over your emotional preferences and attachments. It’s not easy to let go of false beliefs and ideas, so most of us choose instead to desperately cling to them out of fear, and that becomes the hidden driver for various dishonest techniques like information filtering and distortion, that destroy our capacity to be moved by logic and by truth. Logic and truth are not to blame – human dishonesty and unclear motive is to blame. You need to become the kind of person who has thought about everything so much, that you delight in the idea of someone proving you wrong, you seek it out and look for it because you are bored to death with having figured everything out.
  •  You are describing having an open mind – it takes discipline and practice- and maybe a referee. People find it hard not to either take comments personally, or to make personal attacks.
  •  All 6 points mentioned above sound logical and reasonable. The problem is for one to transfer them from the theoretical stage to the practical one. If one can adopt and apply in his daily communication the outlined 6 points then in my opinion he is a “man of enormous wisdom”.
  •  Yes. And like all people that hold various perceptions of various paradigms (i.e., religion, government, etc.,), they come in all levels of perception. Some are easier than others to converse with. We ALL have different learning curves, molded by different experiences, histories, etc.  There are those, out there, that ENDEAVOR to have an open mind and question.
  •  What you are proposing is dialogue instead of debate. When you want to find the truth, dialogue is the way to go. Sometimes judgments have to be made in absence of absolute certainty, debate is useful in these situations (and yes pathos is huge in debates), but should ideally be avoided by finding the truth.
  • I was warned against the fallacy of moderation (or the mean) when I learnt rhetoric and that the truth rarely lies between two opposite positions.


Karen asked me when the “experiment” was over whether people agreed with me or not.  Well, like most of life, there was no black and white answer to this question.  Most people agree we need civility but most did not seem to think it likely that people could control their emotional responses in respect to an argument or concept that they felt strongly about.  Rules or no rules, I am constrained to accept the possibility that:

  1. There often may be no middle ground for compromise
  2. Conflict is inevitable in some circumstances
  3. People are emotional and bring emotional baggage to many discussions
  4. People can change their minds but it will not be an easy task to break anyone out of their pre-existing frameworks
  5. We need to make more of an effort to find the “Golden Mean”
  6. We need to show more respect for opinions we disagree with

Time for Questions:

 Are there too many experts in the world?  Why have the amount of “talking heads” proliferated?  Are you tired of hearing experts tell you what you should know and think?  How can we have more agreeable conversations?  Is it possible to avoid conflict and look for the truth rather than try to prove ourselves right?  Are you a “know it all”?  What do we have to do to be more open minded?

Life is just beginning




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