Each morning I read the Wall St. Journal and The Economist, either on line or on paper. Today’s headlined stories have a common theme, one that resonates with many and permeates our culture.
What shall we fear today? Russian intellectual incursion into Bulgaria? The planet’s temperature exceeding 2 degrees Celsius in 85 years? Chinese cyber warfare? FIFA’s coming elections? Excess debt in Greece, China, California or… ?. Stock market plunges in Europe, Wall St. or China? Safety of our personal medical records? Private college bankruptcies? The price of eggs?
The list is exhaustive. These few headlines are simply the current batch. Every day we are told to be afraid, be very afraid. It is amazing that we can even get out of bed without danger – perhaps we cannot!
Surely goodness and mercy will follow us to the ends of our days! Certainly we live in a cleaner, healthier, wealthier, safer, happier world than our parents’ or grandparents’ world – than we are led to believe. If you have been to our offices, you have seen one of my favorite books prominently displayed for all to peruse: It’s Getting Better All The Time, by Stephen Moore and Julian Simon. You may know Mr. Simon as the fellow who bet Dr. Carl Erlich $10,000 in 1984 that the prices of a basket of commodities – to be chosen by the good doctor – would each be lower a decade hence, refuting his argument of global scarcity. He won handily, although he was never paid… The point is this: scarcity is a matter of conjecture. Supply and demand elasticity is profound, which means prices and supply are dancing a Tango with no predictability, no knowable results. Simplistic jargon is the enemy of knowledge.
Fear is an easy story to tell. It requires no previous knowledge (as does ‘supply and demand elasticity’). It is easy to describe in words and in the elevator. It works with sound bites. While usually groundless, it can be ground shaking. Our emotional response can be both overwhelming and spontaneous. Our response is also uncontrolled. Fight or flight, we are trapped in the ultimate Hegelian dialectic of every predator/prey in Earth’s long history. We require an act of faith in reason to overcome the chemical charge. Reason is intellectual. Fear is chemical. You may have lost the battle before it has begun if your response to fear has to be considered before accepted. You have no choice but to fight or flee.
Yet fear’s greatest enemies are facts. Facts are universally agreed upon. They are the atoms of which the world of humanity is composed. They distinguish us from beasts. They are our fleeting contact with the Eternal, with God, with our humanity. Each of us must engage each day in Milton’s battle. Take down Paradise Lost from the bookshelf. Download it – it’s free – and read his tale of good and evil. It is Gilgamesh told once again. It is the Baghavad Gita. It is Star Wars. As humans, we are embattled with the Dark Side and its Death Star. We can succumb to its universal appeal or fight with the few weapons we have. Reason is a strong weapon. While it can be weakened with disuse, it remains formidable. Faith is our strongest: faith in ourselves, our family and community, in our nation, in our Creator. Unbounded faith can lead to black holes, just as twisted reason can destroy worlds. Strength of purpose – integrity – offers us rescue. Integrity of beliefs and of person urges us to consider, with due reflection, before we run raging into the night. We are neither Vampires nor Undead. We have the gifts, the sword and sheath, of reason and ethic.
In the struggle to understand, we are often told of distinctions between right and left, red and blue, God and Mammon, East and West, good and evil, ‘ the devil and the deep blue sea’. This framing allows the story to be told in a simple manner. It is the basic tool of all storytellers since ancient times. It is a false dichotomy. Very few things in our world are simple, fewer are simplistic, none are two-sided. Every story has the glint of a diamond, with brilliant colors emerging with the storyteller’s skill. We first learn with a simple tale, then it is embellished with back-story, with color, with romance and intrigue. Thus each poem, novel and script becomes real. In the non-fiction world of news and politics and science, storytelling is often lost. A good editor will encourage a reporter’s tale; a typical editor simply works to a deadline. Story becomes fear. Fear sells advertising. Next story.
In the struggle to dominate, simplistic dominates color. Fear sells. Move on. Organization is bereft of depth. Clubs are encouraged. Defense is raised, to attack a perceived enemy. My final point here is complex: dig below the surface of any story that interests you. Ask questions. Check facts. Know the writer and the source. The battle is not about left or right. It is not about the environment or capitalism. These are false fronts, Potemkin villages portraying a fiction (a Potemkin village is like a Western movie set with nothing behind the storefronts). These urge you to view things – issues – as either/or, good/bad. These are tools of deception.
The real game is power. Dichotomies allow the powerful to manipulate the story until it is no longer a story – it is a tirade, a polemic. The distraction is far more important than the truth. If you are so distracted that you swallow the line, you are caught. You are sold the fear. You buy the product. Your ignorance is their bliss. They laugh at your chains. They have forced you into the age old fight/flight choice. Your have become the animal in their cage. You are their infidel, to be destroyed at their whim.
Reason. Think before you respond. Yes, the markets will be down significantly today. Perhaps for the summer. Understand how things work. Rather than be worked, work information to your advantage. As Baron Rothschild said in 1874, as the streets of Paris were in flames from the Communard attacks, ‘Buy when blood runs in the streets’. Warren Buffet has been stirring the pot recently; follow his advice: ‘buy when everyone else is selling, sell when everyone else is buying’.
Above all, charm the bastards!
Love with abandon.