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.
I have been working on this, now what feels like a year overdue. Look for more this week.
Economics is nothing more nor less than the study of the primary way in which people connect with society and get on with their lives.
In everyday life, you may interact with a few people – family, colleagues, and friends. But through the process of eating and paying the mortgage you interact, at some distance, with hundreds more. Because this interaction is entirely through something called “money,” a way of keeping score, it’s very tempting to look at it entirely through numbers. The dizzying details of tens of millions of exchanges every day makes a top-view in bulk the most desired method of analyzing how things are going.
Yet this process has proven wrong over and over again. The failure of economics, particularly macro-economics, is the primary reason why the only true study of an economy has to be a People’s Economics.
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.
“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.
This piece from ten years ago reflects what I have organized my entire life around for 22 years – my children.
When a child first opens its eyes, it has no idea what it is looking at. All it has are bizarre images and an imagination that works to make sense of it all.
In between is a sense of wonder, the deep feeling that it all makes sense somehow if you just keep drinking it in. That, and keep playing with it.
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.
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.