The Dangers of Dogmatic Thinking

People have had a lot of brilliant and noble ideas throughout the ages. The best of our intentions have—on our finest occasions—come through to provide us with incredible esoteric insights, high-minded ambitions, inspiring works of art, and other enlightened insights into the human soul and condition alike.

Then, we tend to wreck it all.

The legal system, for instance, is certainly a respectable and necessary structure for any society. Arguably, this system was created initially as a general system of laws, rights, consequences, and limitations on human behaviour with the intention of keeping the playing field even and the right to life and freedom secure. Laws were laid out to protect the sanctity of civilized existence, and the means to judge and enforce those laws were clearly defined.

So too with religion. While the source can be argued to death—and certainly has been—the foundation of most earthly religions is a set of considerations, principles, and inspiring examples of humanity’s spiritual potential. Most of these sacred texts address the nature of sin, self-control, love for one another, and other such entirely admirable ambitions.

So with such incredible aspirations, how does humanity continue to get it all so wrong?

Well, in short, we are creatures of habit. Worse yet, we adore taking shortcuts.

With most any system devised—and the two above are shining examples—we may reach fantastic heights in our state of being. But successive generations tend to skip out the hard work of exploring and understanding the nuance and reason behind such systems, and begin to rely on hard and fast rules instead.

These become mindless and dogmatic restrictions on human behaviour. More destructive still, they often become guided by a matter of precedent. Here, laws and religious tenets are continually reinterpreted to fit the needs of whoever is presently in charge of their interpretation. Then, these new bastardized definitions become the benchmark for further misinterpretation. The original good intentions are lost, and the guiding principles of law and religion alike quickly shift away from the nobility of human betterment, and become just another system of maintaining otherwise unjustifiable power structures.

In both scenarios, we see a series of great intentions written down in stone, then systematically misapplied, misinterpreted, and misused. Each new iteration of this misuse is then made sacrosanct, to be further abused and distorted. Eventually, we are left with none of the good effect, all of the high-minded self-righteousness, and very little of true grace or justice.

So what can we do to avoid these ever so common failings? Well, we can start by taking a very serious look at our own intentions. Growth and insight are never easy, and achieving any real sense of decency, grace, or virtue is seldom possible when taking the quickest path.

Without fail, the easy ways will lead to the most common of results, and with us people, that is seldom a respectable scenario. Rather, we must constantly consider the truth of our intentions. We must examine the reasons behind our needs and desires, and, rather than turning to dogmatic principles and knee-jerk reactions, we would do best to consider all angles, remind ourselves of the deepest principles we hold dear, and move forward not with expediency or—heaven forbid—righteous indignation, but simply with patience, love, and an ever-present sense of respect for our fellow humans.

This is what must surely lie at the root of all such systems after all, be they religion, law, or others. So to leave them out is a terrible oversight, liable to result in the enforcement of something else entirely.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Evocation Series- ‘Straight Time’

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

The following post is part of ‘The Evocation Series’. Click Here for more information about the project, and to learn how to get involved yourself!

Bruce Springsteen- ‘Straight Time’

Song Link

There is a precarious balance we all must face. It’s a struggle, whether conscious or not, to maintain the equilibrium between our compulsion for virtue and our desire for self-betterment. Certainly, these are not antithetical concepts, but the world can surely make them feel so at times.

In the darkness before dinner comes,
Sometimes I can feel the itch.

We all make sacrifices. With each effort to stay on whatever path seems best, we watch other opportunities slip away. Old friends, cherished memories, lost loves—all fade into the distant past, like fog giving way to morning light, we are left to what we have chosen, and must leave the rest behind.

But you get used to anything,
Sooner or later it becomes your life.

It works, for the most part. We go along our path, and we seldom pause to question it. We stick with what works, and slowly we close the door on all those other potentials—dreams on the wind; childish, silly things.

Seems you can’t get any more than half free,
I step out onto the front porch, and suck the cold air deep inside of me.

Then, there are those other times. Suddenly, all those forgotten potentials seem like just yesterday. The knot of conviction loosens, and those old fantasies feel so close to your grasp, it would take but the smallest slip to reach out and take hold. And at what cost, exactly?

If we’re lucky, we will never know.

Got a cold mind to go tripping cross that thin line,
I’m sick of doin’ straight time.

Push it down baby, bury it deep. A mind in turmoil is quick to question its course, to debate and dissect all the small decisions which have set us upon our present heading. But a placid mind, reassured by peace and comforted by contentment, may move past this unease, and with sufficient will and wisdom, will let those fleeting moments pass.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Evocation Series- ‘Nightfall’

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

The following post is part of ‘The Evocation Series’. Click Here for more information about the project, and to learn how to get involved yourself!

Blind Guardian- ‘Nightfall’

 Song Link

Arda, the world in which J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is set, was once a more beautiful and perfect place. The elves were invited West to the undying lands by the rulers of the land, the Valar, to join in the eternal bliss of the two trees. But jealousy and strife were sown by the Dark Lord Melkor, who destroyed the two trees of Valinor and set off a series of events which would leave the world forever changed.

All hope’s lost it can’t be undone

They’re wasted and gone.

Mourning, the elves sought desperately to return to the way things were, but found it impossible. Greed and pride prevented any solution, and the elves soon learned that there are some wounds too deep to heal, and that even the greatest of graces in their world were not beyond the taint of darkness.

The light she once brought in

Is gone forevermore.

But Fёanor, the king of the Noldor elves, could not accept this loss. For Melkor had also stolen the Silmarils, those three jewels created by Fёanor, which held within them the very light of the two trees. Fёanor was enraged by this transgression, and against the advice of the Valar swore a holy oath to retrieve them from Melkor at all cost.

The words of a banished king

“I swear revenge”.

This oath was unforgivable, and all the Noldor who followed Fёanor were banished forever from the undying lands of the Valar—doomed to toil eternally on their hopeless quest in the dark lands of Middle-Earth to the east. Some turned back, but others refused to see their kin march into doom unaided, and set out across the seas and ice to what fate might await them.

Never trust the northern winds

Never turn your back on friends.

What became of them? Well, they died. Over the centuries, almost to the last, they were slaughtered and watched their kingdoms burn and friends fall as the devastation of Melkor came to fruition. But their oath held them, and never could they return to the undying lands.

Nightfall

Quietly crept in and changed us all

Nightfall

Immortal land lies down in agony.

Loss can be a cruel thing indeed, and many of us in this world will see the things we hold dearest taken from us, devalued, or destroyed. But it is in these times when our faith in decency must be the most powerful. For to allow the sting of death and time to turn us away from what is good and enduring is the most painful loss of all.

-Brad OH Inc.

A Lament for Henry Wallace

purelyspeculationOver the past year, we’ve written a lot about Bernie Sanders, the former Presidential Candidate and self-avowed ‘Democratic Socialist’ who showed America that their policies may yet be guided by decency and virtue as opposed to greed and the dark lust for power. Bernie failed to gain the nomination, and as we look around now, we can see that the forces of decency are certainly in peril. But let us remember that there are and have been men and women throughout history who will fight the good fight. We needed them then, and we certainly need them in the years to come.

In the past too have we needed such brave and selfless leaders, and today we look back at just such a man from one of the most infamously precarious times in the history of the nation, if not the world. That man is Henry A. Wallace.

In these present days of uncertainty, many are the men and women who will appeal—with righteous indignation and furious intention—to higher powers or political extremes. Sadly, it is far fewer who are willing to be that example in the face of adversity and defiance.

Henry A. Wallace was just such a man.

Throughout his political career, he made an unending effort to turn the political tides towards decency and good sense—even when such qualities were considered subversive, if not outright treacherous.

Wallace served as VP under FDR during WWII, and was an outspoken supporter of New Deal Liberalism, as well as a more cordial approach to dealing with the potential threat of the Soviet Union. He was staunchly opposed to the atomic bomb, but eventually found himself thrown off the democratic ticket and disastrously replaced by Henry Truman. How much of the imperialist decline and wanton destruction to come may have been prevented had Wallace taken the presidency rather than Truman?

Undeterred, Wallace continued as a force of decency and moral rationality, founding the Progressive Party in 1946 as an effort to combat the hardline policies Truman was enacting against the Soviet Union. These efforts, if successful, may have warded off much of the violence and dissolution of the Cold War to come (Link).

Throughout his life, Wallace was driven by a steadfast compulsion towards rationality and good judgement, favouring fairness and open dialogue to judgement and oppression. He was fanatically anti-racist in a time when racism was considered the accepted norm, and a staunch anti-imperialist even as the USA became the world’s most imperialist nation.

Wallace was both practically, and metaphorically the antithesis of McCarthyism. Not only did he fight against it in practice, he represented the polar opposite of ideals. Where McCarthy pushed for labelling, hysteria, and rule by fear, Wallace encouraged sound judgement, tolerance, and foresight.

Needless to say, this stance, and Wallace himself, was not without fault. There are few people indeed who can make the best of judgements at all times, particularity without the best sources of information. In 1952, Wallace published ‘Where I was Wrong’, reflecting on his soft stance towards Stalin’s regime, offering apologies for some of his positions, and recanting any sympathies in light of the war-crimes he learned Stalin had committed. To err is human, but to own that error, apologize directly, and make amends is sufficient in itself to cast even the most talented and noble of people from the sullied echelons of public-esteem.

So, dear readers, let us take a moment to lament the failures and rejection of our friend Henry A. Wallace. Though flawed and moreover disgraced, he was a man led by noble ambitions, and ever loyal to the truth of his beliefs. This is not the mould for political success by any means, and it is a rare thing for a political figure to be so recklessly unconcerned with reputation. To focus instead on decency and virtue is the trait which perhaps will forever segregate the likes of Wallace and Sanders from the highest offices of the American political process, but we can all pray to see more of their kind soon.

Indeed, such people—in all walks of life—are the best hope we have.

-Brad OH Inc.

What Does America Have in Common with the WWE?

purelyspeculationOn March 23rd, 2001, the former World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) accomplished one of it’s greatest ambitions. It bought out its main competitor, World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

This was probably the greatest mistake they ever made.

With no significant competition left, the WWE lost any impetus to improve its product. With no legitimate runner-up, they were left to rest on their laurels rather than fighting to be the best. The quality of the product quickly diminished as the company focussed on preventing any upstart organizations from gaining traction, rather than working to continually improve their own product.

The company’s new focus soon became buying out other organizations and swallowing up emerging talent without any plans to utilize them effectively. They would eviscerate the potential competitors, without ever building on their own brand.

As a result, the WWE never again reached the same level of success or quality they had achieved during their long battle for ratings with the WCW, famously known as the ‘Monday Night Wars’.

In a lot of ways, this is eerily similar to the slow degradation of America after becoming the world’s leading superpower at the end of World War 2.

The following decades saw the nation engaging in a ‘Cold War’ with the Soviet Union—a long and precipitous crusade to invade and exploit weaker nations and spread ‘American Influence’, all while keeping the scary Communists away from valuable resources.

The entirety of the Cold War was—if one removes themselves from the wanton death and destruction—almost a comical mirror of the theatrical pantomimes so common in the wrestling world. It was the classic scenario of two main-eventers competing to see who could intimidate the other more. As the classic scene goes, the two big guys take turns landing finishing moves on hapless jobbers, staring nails through their true opponent without ever directly confronting them. The lower card workers are decimated, and the main eventers perceive their reputation to be bolstered by the damage done.

During this period of macho-posturing and international abuse, America was far more focussed on keeping other nations down than they were on improving themselves.  Military expenditures exploded, and infrastructure crumbled. This trend has continued into the present day, and America now is known more for its foreign meddling and military misuses than it is for the great beacon of freedom it still half-heartedly claims to be.

No longer were the old values of social-cohesion, public growth, quality education and accessible opportunity the hallmarks of American society—all were swept away under an authoritarian wave of bomb building and resource chasing.

Becoming a Superpower caused a huge shift in national identity. With it, America moved from the nation of freedom and growth to a nation of maintenance and control. The American Dream was accomplished, and the rot of its underlying idealism begun. Being a Superpower is among the worst and most damaging things to happen to America—and the resulting decay of values, social responsibility, and cultural identity is apt testament to that.

In the end, the downfall of the WWE and that of the United States both serve to teach us the same crucial lesson.

There is a very significant moral difference between competing to be on top by seeking to be the best, and defending your place at the top by actively damaging those below you.

If we focus on keeping others down rather than enriching ourselves, everyone loses, and in the end, someone is bound to topple the lame-duck façade your once proud empire has become—whether from outside, or from within.

-Brad OH Inc.

Right, Left, and Everything in Between: What Will Become of America?

purelyspeculationThree days after the 2016 General Election in America, a pall of dread hangs over not just the nation, but the world. There is doubt, confusion, and no small amount of fear. The very thing which everyone said simply could not happen has now come to pass—Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States.

Not only fear, this also creates a lot of questions. How did this happen? Why did we doubt it could? What does this say about the American people? What does the future hold for the ‘Land of the Free’?

Coming to power astride a wave of grandiose lies and dangerous bombast, Trump has openly called for violence, insulted multiple races, defiled men, and debased women on his path to the most powerful office in the world. The ludicrous ideas he has espoused pale in their absurdity only in comparison to the ignorant and ever-shifting ideologies he has endorsed.

Now there are riots in the streets, which are unlikely to end any time soon. To be honest, I expect this would have been little different had Hillary Clinton won.

The madness and peculiarity of this shocking election cycle did not happen by random chance. It was a clear reflection of the state of the American political structure, and more importantly, the American people.

This race has seen the utter devastation of both traditional parties—party lines are in shambles and voters are in doubt. Amidst all of this, we must remember one very important fact.

Donald Trump was elected President.

One of the questions going through many minds is, how did this happen?

Well, words are always important, and the key word to the above phrase is ‘elected’. He won enough votes to take control of the Electoral College—quite handily at that. The fairness or effectiveness of the Electoral College is not the current purpose of this article mind you, and the fact simply remains that by the rules of the democracy, Trump had the voters he needed to win.

Who are these people?

Some of them—and possibly no small number—are just those who vote red no matter what. Both parties have always had plenty of those.

Others were likely the empowered bigots that inevitably sprout up under a vile demagogue like Trump, but I believe (and certainly pray) this number is far from being as high as many people believe.

A large portion of Trump voters, I expect, were simply just so reactionary and angry with the crooked system that they were willing to gamble. They were tired of false promises. They were tired of all the money going upward. They were tired of politicians being bought and paid for. They were tired of having no voice, and were long overdue to strike back at a political establishment which for far too long has functioned only for the moneyed interests which it serves.

As a Bernie guy, I get that.

The fact that enough people were willing to vote Trump rather than continue with the status quo is a damning condemnation on the current state of party politics. Yet, the oldest mistake in the history of democracy is to reject a failed system without due caution, and conjure into reality something even more fierce and immediate.

This election—all the way back to the primaries—was an aggressive rejection of crooked politics, corporate interference, economic mismanagement, and elitism. Yet the failure of the electorate to unite on the true issues, and the constant projection of aggression and fear onto one another has finally, in the end, led to the election of the Anti-Cause. Trump is the living embodiment of all the miserable vices which usurped the democratic process and threatened liberty to begin with.

There’s too much fear and anger. Any nerd can tell you what those lead to.

So here we are, and the question remains—what can we expect now?

One of the most common fears is the effect Trump’s antics will have on the populace, that he will inspire bigotry with confidence when it should rightly hide in shadows. Already, we’re seeing examples of this being reported, and there is sure to be more in the weeks to come.

But we must not yet take this to be the majority of his voters, or the true tone of the American people. If we listen to interviews, such hate is not the motivating factor for a great many—and we would do well not to ignore the expressed desires and intentions of the people. That, after all, is precisely what’s carried us to this precipice.

Nor indeed must any decent person trade hate for hate—to act violently or even unkindly towards these frustrated voters is to fall into the very pit of anger and hatred which most would claim to despise.

In this ailing democracy of ours, we can only hope for the best at this point. We must support what works, and vigorously fight what doesn’t. But above all and without fail, we must continue the fight against an entrenched establishment that has turned its back on the people it was created to represent in favour of its own interests. This may only happen if we step out of the cycle of blame and distrust. Talk to people on the other side of the spectrum—learn about their fears and their hopes. Share your own. Speak up against intolerance, but never slip into it yourself. Never forget how easy this is to do. Talk, share, and be honest. Set a model of decency in the truest sense—that is how you improve the world.

Finally, while so justified, while so understandable and well-earned, we must remember the very forces that brought us to this point. Avoid despair, avoid rage. Most importantly, fear not…

-Brad OH Inc.

The Interrelated Failings of the Free Market and Free Speech

purelyspeculation‘Freedom’.

It has been the go-to battle-cry for every side in most any debate. It’s a trump card to call upon when logic fails—a tacit threat laid down gauntlet-like in order to challenge the values of an opponent when one cannot intelligently defend their own.

Right-wingers, left-wingers, libertarians, economists, racists and fanatics—all will appeal to the defense of their freedom when all else fails.

Fools, one and all.

We explored the topic of freedom recently in our article ‘Libertarians are Starry-Eyed Idealists’ (Link). At that time, we talked about the definition of freedom, and the counter-productive and false narrative of ‘unlimited freedom’. Today, we will explore our assumptions about the realities of freedom in two of the places it is most ubiquitously championed: the market, and the media.

‘The Free Market’. You can just feel your heart swell at the very mention of it. It’s like a unicorn in that way. That way—and that it’s entirely imaginary. The model of a free market describes a situation in which all can compete to buy and sell goods at the best possible prices. Products compete against each other as well—with the greatest value winning out in the hearts of consumers. It allows for flourishing competition, and inspires the best from all who participate.

It’s a wonderful dream, but little more at this point. The markets we have now are not free in any defensible sense—they are controlled by enormous corporations who funnel money upwards to their owners at the expense of affordability, quality, and consumer safety.

They are far too big to ‘compete’ against any tiny upstart with a head full of decency and common sense. They buy and sell market rights, strangle out competition, and throw down patents as defensive bolsters against growth and ease of access. There is no freedom or competition—only the surreptitious motives of greed and dominance. Prices for medications are needlessly inflated, housing markets are intentionally crashed, banks prey on the ill-informed, and corporations use their power to change laws in their favour and dodge enough taxes to wildly improve the state of the nation for all. The rich get richer, the poor stay in servitude.

So much for a free market then.

So how about the media? Surely this bastion of free knowledge, this fountain of informed citizenry has some tangible claim to freedom?

Sadly, not so.

As discussed in Sheldon Wolin’s (Link) impeccable book ‘Democracy Incorporated’, the media has followed a similar trend to the market.

In the past, ideas functioned much as they did in a truly ‘free’ marketplace. Many ideas were circulated, and the ‘best’ (as defined by open and informed discussion) became the most ubiquitous and popular. But in a world where media messages are controlled by the same mega-corporations which control our markets, the corporations are the ‘sellers’ of ideas, and we the consumers can only choose from the prescribed ideas they are willing to sell us—just like the current marketplace.

We see it everywhere—from the crooked nature of the 2 party political system, to the subversion of dissent via thousands of media companies being owned by only 6 corporations (Source). It is the death knell of free-thought. Ideas and options—from what laundry soap to buy to who to vote for in a general election—all fall within the pre-defined scope chosen by the corporations which have seized control of our marketplaces, our media, and our political system.

These multi-national corporations are the sole, uniquely ‘free’ participants in our society, and use this to put constraints on every system they see fit. Each of these effects the other—we are less informed (thus less able to vote), and more desperate (thus more eager to spend).

It all falls together quite nicely—it’s an effective market, even if it’s a far cry from free.

In book two of ‘The Analects’ (Link), Confucius speaks about rightful duty in governing people—stating that only a government which promotes and models good conduct and duty can ever expect to have loyal citizens. Surely, our current government can boast of having none of these.

We are left to fend for ourselves against powerful parties that would see us starve if it served to increase their bankrolls. Governments and corporations have merged—and the leadership of the people is no longer administered by informed citizens with nobles intentions, but rather by the whim of the rich and powerful—motivated only to increase those traits at all costs.

This must be remedied.

Freedom can only come when the people of the world take back the power which has been denied to them. To put in place good and honest leaders who seek the betterment of society as a whole is the only means of fighting back. We need not greed, but charity. Not a hunger for power, but a love of peace. Not clever deals, but honest intentions.

Then, and only then, can we hope to call ourselves free.

-Brad OH Inc.