“What Ails Us?”

Big Al says The author Sydney Williams has some very interesting thoughts and what follows is one of them.

Thought of the Day

“What Ails Us?”

February 24, 2020

When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

                                                                                                                                                Mark Twain (1835-1910)

                                                                                                                                                Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1935

                                                                                                                                                Editor, Albert Bigelow Paine

In the summer of 1961, after my sophomore year in college, I worked in the smelter of Canada’s Falconbridge Nickel Mines just outside of Sudbury, Ontario. There were a number of Canadian students – all men – working in the mine that summer. On weekends, we would head into Sudbury to have a few beers and otherwise relax. One evening, fortified with libations, we attended a student union debate. The subject: “Resolved: I Would Rather be Dead than Red,” a common debate topic at the time. At the debates’ conclusion, members of the audience were asked if they would like to come up and speak, first for the affirmative and later for the negative. Having enjoyed debate in school and with vocal cords loosened with a couple of Molson Ales, I approached the dais and gave my reasons in the two minutes of allotted time. A few other students did as well. Then the moderator asked who would speak for the negative. At first no one rose, so again I approached the dais, this time to applause, to offer my opposing views.

The idea of debating two sides of an issue was always good training. Aristotle is alleged to have said that “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I would go further and claim that if one does not understand an opponent’s position, then there is no possibility of reaching compromise. We have entered a twilight zone where biases are so extreme that we no longer communicate but talk over one another. Institutions, like family, church (or, at least, traditional Christian churches) and community organizations are in decline. They have been replaced by groups like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #Resistance, #MAGA and social media, which give participants a chance to gather on like-minded platforms but offer little opportunity to witness or appreciate opposing views.

Unlike Swedes, French, Chinese or Japanese, we are Americans by choice, a choice that was either ours or that of our forefathers. While a typical Swede or Chinese can be imagined, a typical American cannot. We are too diverse. While our land was inhabited by immigrants in the early 17th Century, our nation was formed in 1789, with men wise in the knowledge of laws and with an understanding of the governments of other nations, past and present – their strengths and their weaknesses. Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Founders knew that “…unaccommodated [uncivilized] man is no more but a bare, forked animal…,” metaphorically suggesting he was anarchical, with the capacity for good and evil. They also knew, through a study of history, that governments without restrictions become instruments of tyranny. So, they devised a government in which laws, not men, set boundaries, and one in which three, counter-forcing branches balance one another, so that no individual or group would wield power indiscriminately.

Our Founders were not perfect by today’s standards, but measured against those of 250 years ago, they were extraordinary, enlightened men. From the start, we were a polyglot nation. In those far away days, according to Joshua Kendall’s biography of Noah Webster, The Forgotten Founding Father (and my four-greats grandfather), more than fifty languages and dialects were spoken in Pennsylvania alone. Overtime, the country became – and is still becoming – a melting pot. The mixing of religions, ethnicities and races. Not too many years ago, Germantown, Little Italy and Chinatown were culturally distinct neighborhoods in New York City, not marketing venues as they are today. Europe, with its long history of nativist populations, has had a far more difficult time integrating immigrants, as has been seen in violent attacks in France, Sweden, Germany and Britain. Yet the consequence of progressives today, with their emphasis on identity politics and victimization, is to divide a people struggling to unite, to create a salad bowl, a place where the radishes, carrots, peppers and tomatoes have their distinct places. Their reason for doing so is political, as it is easier to tailor messages to distinct groups – ones of race, religion and heritage, and others of gender and sexual preference, but not ones of ideas based on a study of history and civics. What has been lost is a sense of what America means, of a people of disparate opinions, backgrounds, aspirations and abilities who formed (and are still forming) a nation unlike any other on Earth.

As well, the composition of our political parties has changed. It was in 1860 that the first presidential election pitted a Democrat against a Republican. The 2020 election will the 40th such election where those two main parties represent the myriad views of millions of voters.  Today’s population is eleven times bigger than it was in 1860. A microcosm of the change that has taken place in political parties over the past sixty years could be seen in Connecticut’s 2018 gubernatorial election. The Democrat Ned Lamont is the great grandson of J.P Morgan’s partner Thomas W. Lamont. He grew up in Laurel Hollow, Long Island and attended Phillips Exeter and Harvard. His father worked in the Nixon Administration. The Republican Bob Stefanowski grew up in a working-class family in North Haven, CT. His father was a scoreboard assistant at the Yale Bowl. He is a graduate of North Haven High School and Fairfield University. Sixty years ago, Lamont would have been the Republican and Stefanowski the Democrat.

Privileged is a word tossed around carelessly today. Those of us fortunate to live in the United States are all privileged. We live in a nation without aristocracies, where backgrounds account for less than talent and aspiration. We live in a nation of laws that protect private property. We have abundant resources and no enemies on our borders. We come from all corners of the globe. According to the Census Bureau, over three hundred and fifty languages are spoken in this country. Success is a function of desire, ability and a willingness to work hard. Yet, all of us do not accept the opportunities our privileges permit.

Contradictions abound in today’s political environment. Extreme right-wing Republicans push nativist policies, incompatible with our multicultural country. Progressive Democrats, push dependency on government, to reassure their re-elections. Dependency is necessary, when individuals cannot care for themselves, but in other cases dependency deprives the capable and aspirant from realizing their hopes and dreams. What makes this ironic is that technology, particularly the internet, has boosted opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs. What Joseph Schumpeter described as “creative destruction” has hit our economy, destroying old industries – some known for lifetime employment – but creating new ones, which offer risk and opportunity. The taxi industry is a good example. Collusion between politicians and medallion owners limited competition in cities like New York. When Uber and Lyft entered the market, they felt the wrath of government, even as consumers benefitted. Creative destruction is not a new phenomenon. It is the way economies and societies advance. Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer prize winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons – subsequently made into a movie directed by Orson Welles – described the horse-carriage businesses bankrupted by the new automobile industry. Without adapting, businesses die. Retail, communication, entertainment industries and others are undergoing “destructive” change, with positive consequences for consumers and opportunities for risk takers. In many sexual abuse cases, presumption of innocence has too often become assumption of guilt. News programs have given up a search for truth and become advocates for policy preferences. Families have been subordinated to “villages,” in terms of raising a child, yet where else than from a family does a child receive unconditional love?

Ironies abound. There is irony, as Victor Davis Hanson recently noted in National Review, in universities that have achieved record endowments, while their students are burdened with record levels of debt. What allowed this to happen? If colleges and universities, not just U.S. taxpayers, had assumed some of the financial risk of student loan default, would tuition prices have risen as rapidly as they did? Colleges and universities took no risk. They knew they would be paid, so lifted prices and competed on the basis of physical plant and administrative help in non-educational endeavors. Attitudes toward government have changed. The call of duty, so famously echoed by John F. Kennedy, has been replaced by a demand for entitlements. Vulnerable children from troubled and impoverished families are no longer called “at risk.” They are now “at promise.” Is there not a difference between a child at risk, and a child who, given his or her untapped talent, has a promising future? In mass shootings, we blame the weapon but place no responsibility or accountability on he who pulled the trigger. We have entered an Orwellian world where universities, places that light the flame of curiosity, have banned books considered offensive to a few. That such actions are similar to those taken by tyrants in despotic states seem to be of no relevance to today’s college administrators.

Why are we in this place? We are wealthy. GDP is at record levels and unemployment at record lows. We are free, privileged to live in a democracy. We are engaged in no major wars. Despite climate-scaremongers, our carbon emissions are lower than they were ten years ago, and our rivers, lakes and beaches are cleaner than ever before. Can we do more, and should we not help developing nations? Of course, but celebrate what has been done. Blacks and Hispanics are repeatedly told that the economy and politics are not working for them, that they are victims of white oppression. Yet their unemployment is at record low levels and their real wages have begun to rise for the first time in years. President Trump is accused of being crude (which he is), yet his accusers talk of assassination without condemnation or even comment. He is accused of authoritarian tendencies, yet he has reduced regulations. Which President weaponized the IRS in 2013 to go after conservative organizations? And which political party colluded with the Justice Department and the CIA to publish false information on Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2017, first the candidate and later the nominee? Why has hatred for Mr. Trump so infested mainstream media and members of the Washington elite, that reason is no longer an arrow in their quivers? Cannot bureaucrats in Washington and elites in Hollywood, the media and in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston and Austin understand that is a lack of consideration of some of these facts and a failure to respond to unanswered questions that led to the election three and a half years ago of Donald Trump, and which will likely lead to his re-election this November?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once wrote: “It’s a universal law – intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impertinence, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” What ails us is a sense of arrogance that there is only one side to an argument – the one we profess, that those who disagree with us are stupid, elitist, blind or deplorable. As Mark Twain suggested, when you find yourself among only those who think like you, it may be time to regroup. Would not teachers in schools and colleges be wise to require students to debate issuess from a position opposite from what they believe? Would not that help them formulate their own ideas, as well as to help them learn something of the opinions of their opponents? Should not college be a time to be skeptical and a place to delve into the murkiness of history, to learn from the wisdom of those who came before?

  1. On February 24, 2020 at 1:56 pm,
    cfs says:

    .” What ails us is a sense of arrogance that there is only one side to an argument – the one we profess, that those who disagree with us are stupid, elitist, blind or deplorable.”

    I agree in part, but vehemently disagree in part.
    IN TRUTH there is only one correct side to an argument.
    The difficulty lies in seeing all sides, all shades, all truth, all part-truths.
    But at any point of time, there is only one complete truth, whether we know it or not.

    • On February 24, 2020 at 2:33 pm,
      SilverDollar says:

      “The truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it, ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it, but, there it is.” Winston Churchill

  2. On February 24, 2020 at 2:05 pm,
    larry says:

    Starting to scare me CFS…I agree with you..lol…..What if truth is simply probabilities as per quantum mechanics…..None of us know anything…Some try harder than others maybe….

  3. On February 24, 2020 at 5:32 pm,
    cfs says:
  4. On February 24, 2020 at 5:44 pm,
    bonzo b. says:

    Don’t miss Coast to Coast AM radio tonight as Dr. Joel Wallach will be the guest from midnight to 2am CST, 1am to 3am EST. I always learn something from him. Hope he will discuss Wu flu prevention.

    • On February 25, 2020 at 10:53 am,
      OOTB Jerry says:

      see my note on other blog……I just happened to wake up , and listened to the guy, and the one thing, ….he spoke about…..was…..he washed his hands 50 times a day….. which is exactly one of the points I made….. 🙂

      • On February 25, 2020 at 1:29 pm,
        bonzo b. says:

        Dr. Wallach also said he does not take vaccines since he left the military and he is 80 now.