Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘war’

Sunday musings: An Election, Not a War

Sunday musings…

1) Embedded. How over-used and overblown has THIS word become, eh? I just read an article in the Sunday NYT by a reporter who was “embedded” with 5 individuals with stakes in the Cubs victory. Really?

2) Caveat venditor. Let the seller beware. Kinda interesting twist with lots of ways to interpret. Fail to understand the value of your product and under-price it? Shorry. Sell a product that is dangerous without adequate safeguards and then get sued and lose? Ditto.

This is the new reality in the world of my day job.

3) Boredom. One of the beauties of CrossFit, at least for me, is that I have rarely, if ever, been bored with the workouts. Twas a time when I was programming for Randy’s gym that one of the members complained about repetitive routines. Seems he was bored with several iterations of “Helen” and “Fran” played out over a period of 6 months. Yes…6…months. He was bored. Not enough variance in the basic programming because because roughly 20 out of 130 WODs were variations on classic CrossFit “Girls”.

Boredom, as Beth likes to say, is a choice.

At the moment I am on day 3 alone at home save for a couple of very sleepy canines. There is a certain inertia that sets in when I find myself in this position, especially if I dive into the the black hole of my computer. This inertia–a body at rest tends to stay at rest–feels an awful lot like boredom, but it, too, is little more than a choice, however passive. Last night I roused myself and reached out to a buddy to share a meal and a ball game on TV. While that’s not too very ambitious it did represent a choice to actively move out of the boredom zone.

There is a place for, and value in doing very little. Some of my most pleasant times are those spent simply gazing at the water, sometimes deep in thought and others simply deep in breathing. Indeed, doing nothing is fundamentally different from having nothing to do. If you wish, there is always something to do.

Boredom is a choice. To be bored is to surrender.

4) War. This interminable election season is about to come to an end. It was excruciating when it began a full year before the beginning of primaries, and it has only gotten more objectionable. I confess that the players in this particular election are irrelevant when it comes to my distaste for the process, for it matters not which election we discuss, the behavioral norms are to some degree the same in all of them. Ad hominem, either overt or shade, rules the day in them all.

Of particular concern and creating particular distaste is the constant reference made by candidates of all stripes on all sides to their election as some kind of war. The war for this or the battle over that. Please. It’s as if nothing before us matters, nothing is of any consequence until and unless it has escalated into some kind of open warfare. For Heaven’s sake, this morning I was treated to someone describing our country as being in the middle of a Cold Civil War.

Seriously, this election was described with a straight face and a smug sense of gravitas as similar in horror to a war in which hundreds of thousands lost their lives.

Let’s all take a step back for a moment. Take a big, deep breath. Every four years for hundreds of years now we have elected a President, an entire Congress, and 1/3 of our Senate. At times there has been great consensus regarding whatever issues were at hand, but it’s amazing how few those times were. Most often is the case that we have some sort of schism between starkly opposed viewpoints, and an election shifts us a little closer to one side from the other. From my seat here on the couch the only thing that is different today is our vastly greater ability to hear what our fellow citizens think; something that once upon a time required you to be in the same close geography with your fellow citizens is now available at will, wherever. Heck, even the vitriol between candidates–pick a race, any race–is in no way unprecedented. Historically, shade and invective was hurled with more colorful language, but hurled they were, nonetheless.

This is no war, my friends, it’s an election. We will go on as we have for 230 or so years, doing our best. We will not take to the streets, nor will we face off against our army. There will be no coup. We will see either a continuation of the slow drift left we’re experienced these last few years, or a bit of braking and perhaps a tiny move to the right. There will be evolution, as there should be. There will be no revolution of any kind, however loud the braying may be from both sides. We are not fighters in some epic battle, not warriors for a cause, we are citizens of the country that represents the best of what we have in the world at the moment. Our responsibility is to care enough to engage in nothing more than the effort to propel our nation forward along that path, however slowly it, and we, may go.

“No battle is ever won. They are not even fought. The [battle]field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.” William Faulkner

I’ll see you on Tuesday at the polls, and right here next week…

–bingo

Agreeable?

When did a difference of opinion become a de facto conflict? When did the evaluation of another come down to whether or not they hue to a fine line of agreement on a single, or a few, or G0d forbid, every issue? When did this phenomenon morph into one in which a difference of opinion then becomes the basis for labeling another as ‘good’ or bad’?

Am I the only one who’s noticed this?

I’m not talking about a difference of opinion which is then followed by a concerted attack, one that forces you to identify the holder of the other opinion as ‘bad’ and enemy. There’s nothing new to see there. One only has so many cheeks to turn. Eventually you need to fight or flee an attack, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

On a personal, local, and national level we could once identify broad stroke issues on which we could generally base a level of agreement or disagreement, very few of which would be a ‘deal-breaker’ when it came to civil discourse. The first part of this, the existence of broad stroke issues, remains true. What is fundamentally different in my mind is how un-moveable many of us have become on ever more minute details as we drill down from the 30,000 foot view. All well and good, I suppose, to seek fidelity to an ever more granular level of agreement on whatever issue is at hand, especially in this age when we have ever greater ways in which to find and connect with people of a like mind.

What I don’t get is the subsequent labeling of any and all others as “bad”. Unworthy. Lesser in some way because they do not agree at every level with a particular–very particular–point of view. As I remember it the “80-20″ Rule pretty much applied to belief systems as well as business: if you shared 80% of your beliefs with another that was plenty good enough to allow a friendship, and certainly enough to inoculate against a conflict. Now? Seems like something more like the “980-20″ rule: only the smallest amount of the most trivial difference of opinion is permissible. Anything more than nuance between people and they’re going to the mattresses. Anything more than nuance and we’ve identified something other, something lesser, something to destroy.

What’s up with that?

You could say that anything other than full devotion to a cause , concept or worldview is not pragmatism but something more akin to weakness. An inferiority of spirit, perhaps. You could say that nothing other than total fidelity to some grand theme or concept is acceptable and brook no deviation from a one, true path. I would say that the world is infinitely too complex to approach life in this manner. I would further say that to do so needlessly isolates you from people who might very well bring infinite joy to your life despite differential nuance or even a fundamental disagreement on any one issue. Living and letting live rather than seeing a difference of opinion as identifying the other as an enemy might just mean a more pleasant life filled with more people who might be better described as friends, or at least friendly.

At the very least perhaps we could just agree to disagree and be on our way.

 

In A War, But Not At War

There are real wars afoot. Not silly PR wars or Rap Battles or video games, but real, live shooting and killing wars. Admit it, you’ve barely noticed.

As I prepare to launch into a new topic for my next round of “serious” reading (I am slowly working my way through the very heavy science in “Waterlogged”) I stumbled upon a curious historical overlay. My daily newspaper sat on a coffee table under which sat a picture of a paper from the 1940′s. We have been at war in the United States, no matter how you care to characterize that war, for much longer than the entirety of WWII. Yet the tenor of our homeland experience could not be more different.

The books I’ve got cued up are “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain, and “Redeployment” by Phil Klay, the first discovered in that newspaper above, the other from an interview of the author on the radio while driving to work (note: Evernote is brilliant for remembering that kind of stuff). Thus far I’ve successfully avoided reading a full review of either, having discovered in the first 2 sentences of a NYT review that there’d be more editorializing on the reviewer’s part than reviewing. Your mileage may vary, of course, especially if you agree with the reviewer.

What’s drawn me to these two particular books, indeed what has drawn me to this topic, is the conversational emphasis in both. Each is written from the points of view and in the voices of soldiers and Marines talking about being in a war. Driving to work this week I was struck by the complete absence of these voices in my life. Looking at the front page of a newspaper ca. 2014 beside the image from 1946 it’s clear that my experience is not unique. We have had men and women in a war for some 12 years now, but we are hardly a nation AT war, at least in comparison with our nation ca. 1946.

We barely talk about war, about Iraq, Afghanistan, or Al Qaida at all, while America in the 40′s talked about little else. If my experience is typical there is very, very little conversation that occurs between those who have served and those who have not, even though the length of our present wars has likely generated a similar number of war veterans walking among us then and now. Were the conversations of war only on the front page back then? Was there so little discourse about what it means to have been in a war when the veterans returned in the 40′s, too?

The United States has experienced exactly 3 incidences in which our country has been attacked since the Civil War. All of our wars and conflicts since then have been prosecuted on the soil of other lands. This is no less true now than it was in 1945, no less true following 9/11 than it was after Pearl Harbor. The towering strength of the U.S. economic engine insulates us today from the daily sharing of the war effort as completely as our new information technology makes the wars almost completely available for viewing. Interesting dichotomy, huh? War footage on demand, up to the minute, up close and personal, no war bonds or fuel rationing required.

It’s different now, you say. It’s not the same now as it was then, you add. Is that really true, though? All wars are unjust and all wars are just; which it is depends only on which team you’re on at what time. Did those who hated the wars of yesteryear hate them any less than now? Is the aftermath of being in war any greater or lesser now than then? Never having served, never having been in war, I have no standing to say, but from afar it doesn’t seem any less terrifying to have been detonated by a mortar in a WWI trench or bazooka in a WWII tank or an IED in a Humvee in Fallujah.

And there’s my point. I don’t know. There is no conversation, no opportunity to know. I don’t know why that is. I don’t think we need to re-introduce war bonds or ration nylons (imagine the carnage at Victoria’s Secret) to know we are at war. What I do think is that we will continue to have a disconnect between young people in a war and their country not at war until we engage in those conversations. War always seems to find us, for whatever reason, even when we are mostly minding our own business. We should know more about what it means to be at war.

When you come home from the War I’ll be ready to listen and to learn whenever you are ready to talk.