Life has a way of happening. Sometimes, you can make it happen, despite what the inertia of the world is hurdling you towards.
This is about the start of a personal journey. I am now married to a wonderful woman, Raquel, who is from Shenyang, China. We will be moving together to San Francisco next week. I do not want to dwell on personal details, especially given that Raquel is even more private than I am.
But it’s a great adventure all the same. And there are some aspects of it that I think the world might be interested in.
While discussing a useful politics that actually points to ownership of the future developing around us, it’s useful to discuss what’s really wrong with what we have now. This piece from two years ago does just that.
My concern is no longer with politics, per se. “Politics,” as we know it, has come to be so totally divorced from policy it is largely meaningless anyway. It’s primarily about identity, which is what far too much of language is actually about.
So let’s instead talk about politics, the art and science of human interaction.
I am far more interested in anger as the primary response to … well, everything. Every interaction, artful or not, seems to produce a lot of anger. The pathology of this pathological response is worth thinking through in many ways – if for no other reason than to cool it down.
This piece first ran six years ago. It’s a worthy repeat on a day when I am very tied up in other things. I will explain shortly.
Comprenez-vous? Since language is equal parts communication of ideas and status, conversational bits of French have long been a handy way to say, “I am educated.” French was used as the court language of England from the Norman Conquest in 1066 until Henry V in 1413 (which, as the father of high English, has a lot to do with why Shakespeare gave him a good treatment). An estimated 28% of English words are French in origin, but the words and phrases absorbed directly are the ones that set you apart. They’re still used in the UK, at least in high-toned magazines like the Economist, but in the US it’s more likely to come off as obnoxious.
I have at times called this “Gentlemen’s French”, or what you have to know to read old or educated books. Naturally, fine ladies can use them for the same purpose, so the term seems rather stale. I’m leaning towards “Cross-Channel French” or “French Across the Water” to include Americans, even if we rarely use it as the British upper class still do.
You may prefer to think of these words and phrases as “Cocktail French”, so pour something into stemware and grab a piece of cheese to get into the mood. Here is my list of French words I think every English speaker should know – for the fun, if not the hoity-toit.
This is a dark time for America. There is an ongoing attempt to obstruct justice, led by the Attorney General himself. Congress will have to act one way or the other in what is likely to become the worst constitutional crisis since the Civil War.
Meanwhile, damage is being done constantly. It what appears to be a last-ditch effort, as if they know what is coming, Georgia and other states are passing highly restrictive abortion bans which are clearly unconstitutional. They seem to know that they will never have another chance.
For me to say, “Hang on, we’ll get through this” would betray the obvious privilege I have as a person who is not directly affected by all of this. And yet we know that this will pass one day, especially if we band together and make sure that it passes. On this, I assure you, I am with you. But I am also concerned by what might come next.
The Honourable East India Company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth to represent the crown in all matters of trade with the nations of the far east in 1600. It was a simple beginning to what evolved two and half centuries later into the worst possible anecdote for corporate power unchecked. With its own army, it subdued the Indian subcontinent and forced China to import vast quantities of opium.
Corporations have a unique ability to transcend national boundaries. They represent opportunity as well immediate cash on the table. In a world opening up as never before they have the first foot in the door and an opportunity to create quick profits for everyone. They rarely set out to do evil, but with their unique position largely unchecked temptation lurks just behind every fair deal.
The example of the East India Company is not antique. History does not repeat, but it does rhyme.
Before wisdom comes learning. Before learning comes observation. Before observation comes perspective.
Globalization, as we have all come to see it from our various cultures, is confusing at best. It appears chaotic even though it does have several key vectors of direction. These are increasing integration, increasing technology, and increasing need for resources. Somewhere between he cultural and political chaos and these strong directions there is a reasonable anxiety, often expressed very well in popular culture as dystopian fantasy. From the perspective of where we are today these forces appear to lead us off into something not just new but very likely out of control
Clearly, a different perspective or set of perspectives is necessary to produce the right observations which will lead to the appropriate learning and eventually wisdom. But what is that perspective?
This is a repeat from two years ago.
“Conventional Wisdom” isn’t.
Everyday life is the process of understanding and using key facts about the world around us. The sky is blue, red means stop, the 94 bus leaves at 7:53, and coffee will wake you up. Most of the important things in life are obvious enough, based on immediate observation or past experiences strung together.
However, the presence of technology and a growing interconnectedness impinges critical “facts” onto our lives which reach far beyond our senses and sensibilities. Cell phones work because they just work, this thing called “money” in our bank account is extremely important, people who live in distant lands are motivated by something akin to demonic possession, et cetera.
This is where it all breaks down. Or, more importantly, where things breaking down accelerates as reason itself fails.