When Neville Chamberlain returned from the Munich Conference with Adolf Hitler in September 1938, he believed he had an answer to his primary question. “What does Mr. Hitler want?” was on the mind of the Prime Minister going into the meeting, and it colored all of the proceedings.
The perception was that Germany was wronged in the Versailles Treaty and that Hitler, as the leader, was simply acting in his own nation’s interest. Chamberlain completely neglected the growing body of evidence that Hitler was indeed a psychopath who had his own interests in mind and was simply using Germany as a tool.
Diplomacy is always complicated, but with such people it is even moreso. More than seeking the right answers, it often becomes critical to ask the right questions in the first place.
This piece originally ran in 2016.
If you have a healthy news diet, you can easily be forgiven for thinking everything is going to Hell. Then again, that doesn’t seem too healthy. Perhaps “No news is good news” has a resonance far beyond the original intent of the folk saying.
Is there good in the world? Of course there is. People are helping each other and just being decent all the time. Yet in a world always closer together it seems as though there is a shortage of good things everywhere.
The difference, I believe, is what lies just outside of human scale. The world comes to us through machinery – ripped of context, stripped of humanity. It’s up to all of us to provide some context with our own empathy and judgment. Seeing good in the world is indeed about unplugging our brains from the noise and reveling in a good time with friends, a quiet moment alone, or even an hour passed in a patch of clover.
Fifty years ago, the United States was in turmoil. Dr King was slaughtered, and later Bobby Kennedy. Protests against the Vietnam War turned violent. So did the Democratic convention. It was the year America fell apart, possibly never to be put back together quite right.
But that year a guiding light came into American homes, flickering with the cool glow of a television. Fifty years ago Mister Rogers achieved national syndication from PBS and quickly became the pastor, the psychologist, and sometimes even parent for a generation.
Today, we may need Mister Rogers more than ever.
This is a season for peace.
It’s not about the birth of the vulnerable infant savior or the miracle of light. Climate and darkness commands all boreal people to hunker down and slumber, to close their eyes for a moment and accept their frailty as they seek comfort in family and friends. This is the time of year when all are equal in the search for warmth, for love, for companionship, for peace.
But we do not live in a time made for this season. There is conflict everywhere, as those with the means to close their eyes in security feel a need to secure their safety before they can rest easily. Those in pain lie down in the cold and wonder jealously what it would be like to fell such peace in the few dark moments they have of rest.
After writing for a decade on my political philosophy, it’s perfectly natural for many people to have an opinion about me. Some of my progressive friends make it clear that they view me with some suspicion, due to my tendency to support “the establishment” and my interest in economics – the dismal science of the elite. Some of my conservative friends see my interest in social justice and desire to make constant improvement as dangerous tinkering with the social order and a desire for perfectibility, an intellectual pursuit always fraught with danger.
Both are wrong in a way. Call it “enlightened self interest” if you want, but I see my view as nothing more than the only practical one given my one and only goal. Like Beethoven contemplating the Ninth Symphony, I only want to be happy. And my politics flows naturally from that.