Imagine … Better?

One year into the Trump administration, and we have a lot to be thankful for. Yes, it’s true, it’s always good to warm up the crowd by opening with a joke. But seriously folks, is it possible to even look back and imagine a normal presidency at this point?

Everything has forever changed in the United States as a result of Trump, or more to the point everything is going to have to change. This should sound like good news to a nation that never looks back but it means there will be a lot of work ahead undoing the damage when the time comes. As we wait for that opportunity, this might be a good time to imagine how things can or should be different.

Let’s imagine a happy place for a moment with a functioning government and a universe of possibilities …

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Great Vowel Shift

This first ran in January, 2010.

How did spelling in English get so messed up?  If you have a child who is learning to spell, you may have taken the approach that I have – there’s no rhyme or reason to how it happened so you simply have to memorize it.  It turns out that there is a reason, if a bit convoluted, that is often hidden in the rhyme.  It’s a small comfort for the many people around the world, young and old alike, that have to learn how to write the most popular language, but it’s at least a great story.

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Developing Innovation

This post from 2013 is still very relevant.

What does the future hold?  The job is often left to Futurists, which is nice work if you can get it.  Then again, we still don’t really have flying cars, do we?  It’s always hard to predict just what will happen as technologies advance, and by that I mean a lot more than just information technology.  There’s still a lot to be done with advanced materials, machining, finance, and other more mundane things.

We have determined in Barataria that as the world’s population grows richer, more uniformly, working age populations are going to stabilize and even decline in the next two decades.  That means that future growth will come not from more workers but from new technologies.  That puts pressure on the Futurists, for sure, but it puts even more pressure on the delicate art of managing innovation – the process of rendering a bit of magic into practical use.  It’s a topic worth exploring.

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Institutional Racism

For Dr. King’s Day, we have to acknowledge there is a war on between races.  It is a war which can only tear this nation apart, as it has done for centuries.  This,from 2016, is on how we have to engage it.

My thesis is this: there is nothing more important to the future of our nation than ending racism, particularly institutional racism. This has become a desperate matter of survival for far too many people when it comes to the issue of police killings. These tragedies happen disproportionately to minorities largely because of racism.

Yet the problem goes far beyond that. There is not a single issue in this nation which does not ultimately become polarized and frozen by race. Much of the resistance to government intervention and assistance comes down to a belief that “They” are getting the benefits – the mysterious “other” that is easily blamed for everything. It prevents us from having a useful discussion about “Us”, a free and united people ready to tackle the changes of our world bravely and directly.

But let’s stay with police killings for a moment. Let’s talk about how we get from where we are to a world where no cringes in fear when the disco lights and sirens blare, a world where Black Lives Matter. Let’s talk about how complex issues with hardened battle lines are taken on so that we can get past the problem. Let’s talk about tactics, or how a battle is won.

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Brutal Cold

When in doubt, you can always talk about the weather in polite Minnesota conversation. Days like today, when we are expected to have yet another big winter storm and the potential for Olympic Ice Dancing on the roads, it’s a topic you can count on.  It’s not controversial but it provides a nearly endless supply of entertainment much like driving a flaming bus through a wall of televisions, at least in the sense that it’s likely to be lethal.

Many of us learn to be fascinated by the weather in ways that seek awkward and geeky to people in other parts of the nation. That’s a shame because a hard study of weather is a form of meditation that can clear your mind like no other form.  Plus, it’s on teevee.  Here in the middle of a vast continent we are at the mercy of whatever blows our way.  It’s something that everyone can talk about – even if no one does anything about it.

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Strategy and Leadership

I have been thinking about a few things, and this post from 2015 summarizes some of them well.

Leadership.  There has been a lot of talk about it lately, or more to the point the lack of it.  In common talk it is defined as “Doing or standing for the things I like” far more often than is useful.

There is a horrible lack of leadership everywhere in the developed world right now.  Can anyone name a powerful nation with good leadership?  Perhaps you can name a few businesses that have it, but not many.  How about social leadership? Religious leadership?  Are there more than a few people in rich nations anywhere who have a strong following that is capable of getting done what they want or need to?

Then again, the lack of leadership is hardly surprising.  It is not about a charismatic figure that molds the masses to action – it’s about getting things done.  That requires strategic thinking, and strategy is something horribly under-appreciated.  I might chalk that up to excessive selfishness or a failure of moral character in our world, both of which are issues.  But upon reflection, it seems to come down to a lack of understanding of what Strategy is and why it is important.

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This piece from 2014 is also still relevant.  As we watch destruction all around us we might ask if something good can come from it.  The answer is that it is up to us.

“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”
– Pablo Picasso

Long ago, artists were called on to, more or less, represent the world around them in some form that ennobled the subject at hand.  In the Baroque Era, paintings usually depicted either the ruling class or the saints in ways that made mythologies of power real.  Music was used to provide dignity to a setting or to magnify the glory of God himself to every heart that pounded along with the moment.  Not today.

An artist today is supposed to be someone who pushes the boundaries of our world by creating a new understanding of what it means to be human.  The mythology is something otherwise dormant within us.  That makes the statement by Picasso, a creator and master practitioner of this view of art, even more troublesome.

"Destruction" from the series "The Course of Empires" by Thomas Cole, 1836

“Destruction” from the series “The Course of Empires” by Thomas Cole, 1836

When the first generation of Romantics tried to paint or sculpt or compose art that laid bare the inner essence of humanity, the act of destruction was one of the most appealing parts of the process.  They were rebelling against the authorities of the time, the very people that employed artists just one generation earlier.  The creation of what we’d call a “Rockstar” was easy enough because artists were more interested in what made people than what made great figures of authority – the adoration of the masses was a validation that they were onto something.  Who needs the ruling class, anyways?

Radio brought news and music to everyone's home.  The good life was democratized.

Radio brought news and music to everyone’s home. The good life was democratized.

The creation of mass media brought literature, visual art, and eventually music into everyone’s life within a century of the first blossom of these ideas.  By the end of World War I, inherited nobility was more or less dead, killed off because they were no longer needed.  Art moved on to react to the world that it had helped to create, often depicting how people stood up to grey oligarchies of the industrial world.  Once again, forward progress by rebelling against the establishment was easy because the flaws were obvious.  Destruction of what we had was still desirable.

Today’s world is much more complicated in part because the visions of so many generations of artists and romantics has been largely realized.  Mass media tends to come from a part of the world we call “industrialized”, and in this world people are freer than they have ever been before.  They make most of the decisions that influence their lives, elect their leaders democratically, and generally can be anything they want to be.  The popular mythologies do not involve power or glory but images of freedom.

If an artist is going to explore the boundaries of what it means to be human, as they have been called on to do for about 200 years, they necessarily have to contrast a new idea with what people experience in their everyday lives.  They have to rebel.  They have to destroy, or at least be wiling to destroy.  What is the opposite mythology of universal freedom?

"Woman Weeping (Femme en Pleurs)" by Pablo Picasso (1937)

“Woman Weeping (Femme en Pleurs)” by Pablo Picasso (1937)

Crumble up that piece of paper and start over.  No one said art was easy.

Much of what we see in art today is a belief that everything is broken – and that it may fail violently.  This is especially true of film, but it appears in many parts of popular culture.  Call it popular doom,  or nothing more than a mythology that is a reaction to a feeling of powerlessness.  Other reactions include false nostalgia and, hopefully, a desire to organize and get to work fixing the problems at hand.  In all of these cases the central problem appears to be that people don’t generally have the kind of control over their lives that they thought they have been promised by popular mythology built up through two centuries of creative expression.

One thing about popular doom is clear – it’s been with us more or less constantly since the Cold War.  Episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek” presumed that, sometime before about now, a nuclear holocaust would have vaporized much of our civilization.  When that didn’t happen, popular doom moved on to climate change, over-population, Y2K, government takeover, economic collapse, and more recently a bizarre cocktail of pseudo-Mayan prediction and geo-solar events.  All of these have some basis in reality, yet all of them take it to a mythology that stresses destruction rather than creation.

Perhaps Picasso was very wise.  If we are on the verge of developing a new mythology that gives us a new reason to be hopeful, perhaps we have to endure the destruction of the old ways first.  It’s not pretty, it’s not a lot of fun, but it might be necessary.  Let’s wallow in the popular doom, false nostalgia, and other ways of feeling sorry for ourselves just a bit longer.  Who knows what will come of it?

First, however, there is destruction.  It is the popular mythology of the day.