Climate & Culture

As the world is shaped a bit smaller by various technologies and opportunities, nearly everyone finds themselves working or living next to people they do not understand or even like. There are so very many cultures, beliefs, attitudes, mindsets, and ways of doing things that it’s impossible to keep straight.

People are people, however, but cultures are cultures. Generally, any given person will react about the same way, within bounds, to any given stimulus. But since all of us come from different cultures, it’s often very hard to know just what someone is thinking as we don’t know how they have learned over time to think about what is important, what is moral, or what they own.

Certainly, among all these cultures, one must be “The Best,” yes? No. Not at all. They cannot be compared that way and they are never any kind of marker for genetic or intellectual superiority. They are nothing more than a series of observations which became habits which were in turn codified. To miss this is to miss the richness of the world, and to simply accept it is to miss the importance of intuition and intellect working together which defines our species.

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JS Bach – Spiritual Leader

The violinist was hired to play Christmas music in the atrium of Capella Tower in Minneapolis over lunch, but he clearly felt he could add a personal touch. He placed it up above the crowd where it echoed off the glass and marble, the light hand on a single violin piercing consciousness with the Prelude from Partita #3 by JS Bach.

I walked over slowly, bowed my head, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to be transformed. For a moment I wasn’t there or any place with earthly cares – there was this tremendous sound, the man whose craft propelled it into the air, and myself. When he was done I quietly, almost apologetically said what I could. “Thank you.” It wasn’t enough, but it was all I had. His response, equally respectful of the moment, said more. “My pleasure.”

This was a meeting not between any two people but between the two of us who, I am sure, share a religion. It is a sense of spirituality that comes from the gut strings of a fiddle and echoes not just through marble halls but through our hearts and minds every moment we can allow it. This is a sense of faith in the order of the universe given to both of us, skilled and unskilled, by JS Bach more than 260 years ago.

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Order vs. Chaos

This is a repeat from last year.  It’s far too simple and it doesn’t get to the heart of what is changing.  A year has brought some clarity, but I wanted to first present this as a starting point for a discussion this week.

There seems to be some greater conflict in the world, Everyone has a theory as to where the batle lines are drawn – liberal versus conservative, white versus non-white, Muslim versus infidel, young versus old. Not all of these can be right at the same time, which brings to mind two questions:

What is the “real” conflict? And why is it not obvious?

The battle, if there is a real one, is primarily a matter of general anxiety. It’s an internal conflict within many people who have lost a sense of hope for a better tomorrow. But outwardly, it manifests itself into a battle between stability and chaos – a conflict between the preservation of what order exists and a desire to wash it away in order to make way for something, anything else.

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An Open China

The long-awaited move has come. Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the nation’s top political body to amend the “Basic Law” or constitution to allow him to stay for a third five-year term.

The wave of protests in response was anticipated, but still extraordinary. It is China, after all, and the authoritarian government does not allow protests – except when it does. Xi’s action has setup a showdown of sorts in a nation which has experienced more cultural turmoil than perhaps any other and still retained a Confucian sense of order.

But can that last, or is this the start of something different?

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Bread & Circuses

As the decline of Trump enters the final phase, this post from a year ago – before it all started – works even better than it did then.

Now that no one buys our votes, the public has long since cast off its cares; the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses!

– Juvenal, Satire X, “Wrong Desire is the Source of Suffering”

The “Fall of Rome” trope has always been an easy one to dismiss. After all, we’re stronger and more connected than they ever were, yes? The public is more literate, our history is stronger, and times are simply different than they were back so very long ago.

Aren’t they?

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China, Standing Up

Nothing causes anxiety in America quite like China. The rise of this nation is perceived as our greatest threat in many critical places the US is used to dominating – economic power, military might, and technological leadership. It’s not a question of where China is today as much where it might be if the growth keeps up.

Yet for all of this, Richard Nixon’s observation in 1972 remains true – “China is not a threat.” To understand why it’s best to turn not to the policies and pronouncements of politicians but to popular culture. This is ultimate gauge of the most important resource of China and every other nation, the people.

On the surface, the huge summer hit “Wolf Warrior 2” may seem like everything we have to fear. Yet it shows exactly how China’s self identity and culture are evolving as much as their economy.

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The Eyes of a Child

This time of the year, the holidays bring back memories that allow us to see the world, once again, through the eyes of a child. This is not some sentimental side effect of the rituals we go through, but is in many ways the reason they are important. A few moments spent contemplating this over a swirling mug of cocoa can show that seeing the world through the eyes of a child is actually a vital lesson.

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