Dear Guest,

Do we have a democracy? Beats me. Whatever the heck democracy really means needs reconsideration in and of itself. That question can be addressed in later posts. For purposes of this discussion let’s assume we do.

During the 2016 election campaign anxiety levels shot up! Family arguments exhausted themselves and friendships bit the dust.

The upside? Millions of people educated themselves as never before. Copies of the U.S. Constitution sold out.

The downside? Millions of folks came to see that much of what they thought they knew, simply wasn’t true. Millions of people found themselves under-educated, mis-educated and sold more than one ‘bill of goods.’

Sleeplessness, confusion, fear and isolation became all too common. Folks discovered, as they blustered, that they couldn’t make a logical argument for their own positions, a humbling experience.

Beware of sellers of snake oil. Your symptoms are not mental illness. You do not need a pill to calm yourself. Embrace the ‘craziness.’ Breakdowns can and do become breakthroughs.

How do we pick ourselves up from the ground upon which we find ourselves? First I suggest one little thing; buy yourself copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation (my personal favorite,) the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights (note the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not one and the same.) They’re relatively cheap. If means permit, buy 10 copies and scatter them about, in waiting rooms, on bus benches, etc.

Read, take walks and, think folks. That is what we need to do to recover and regain balance. Your sleeplessness, fear, confusion and isolation will self correct in time. Your ability to formulate your own position on issues will present itself. The catch? Don’t catch hold of that position too hard as we are all now regularly flooded with new information that forces us to continually revise our positions.

Virtually all of us will feel stupid, uninformed and ill equipped as a deluge of previously obfuscated information comes to light, as we stumble upon yet another author that makes a good case for something we thought we would never believe.  Now, our self-directed education can take flight.

Stay Sane and stay tuned. These are indeed crazy making times.

Travel Can Be Humbling

I left this country to travel to India on a student fellowship. I was happy to find other college students visiting the same popular tourist destinations en route. Conversations with students, particularly from Europe, became an everyday occurrence.

I quickly noted, virtually every one of them spoke at least two languages. It was not uncommon to find that they spoke three. I loved the banter. It was a given that, in Europe there were cultures rich with traditions and recognizable styles. Friendly jokes and jibes, exploited these differences and an undercurrent of pride and ownership of the culture ‘warts and all’ prevailed.

As my companions alluded to economic and political challenges for one or another country, I began to see that my California public education, including a Master degree from UC Berkeley didn’t hold a candle to theirs.

That was humbling. Being humbled however, does us a world of good. Upon my return I hit the books.

What did I need to learn? Everything. I didn’t know where many (all right, most) countries were. I didn’t know the difference between capitalism and communism. I didn’t know history and I had a very superficial understanding of US government institutions. Well, suffice it to say, I had a very narrow education with a specialization in psycho-social science theory.

I came back from my travels determined to educate myself. I just followed my nose folks and it worked. I learned a lot of science from science fiction, I learned a lot of history from historical fiction and I learned logic from Sherlock Holmes et al. It can be great fun folks.

I moved from an urban area to a rural area and discovered the night sky. I learned at the local astronomy club that the greater visibility  was because there was no (or less) light pollution. ‘Light pollution,’ what a concept. I realized I knew  very little about what I now call space. I went to the children’s section of the library and borrowed a book, The Solar System. I believe it was a sixth grade book.

Don’t be shy folks, treat your local library like a buffet. And, remember, a little humility goes a long way.

Yikes, I Can’t Read!

Once upon a time written text looked, to you, something like this: Деревня в Новой Зеландии решила избавиться от котов. За что? (from a Russian news site.) or this: ελληνικές Εφημερίδες (from a Greek news site.)

And then, it looked like this: The Cat in the Hat.

What happened? Your phenomenal brain, a pattern recognition machine par excellénce, began to look at the configuration of lines on a page differently. You could translate strange lines into symbols for letters and sounds. That’s some translator folks. Every time you look at written text now, you ‘read’ it.

Every time you look at written text, you transform the now recognizable letters into symbols of sounds that you ‘think’ and symbols of things; dogs or cats or dogs or cats running.

That, my friends is amazing mental work. That ability has taken linguists and computer programmers decades to figure out how to replicate even superficially without comprehension (Do you have that dictionary handy?) To comprehend: to understand the nature of, the meaning of, to grasp with the mind.

You comprehend as you read.  You conjure up visuals as you ‘read.’ I for one, can’t read the words  ‘The Cat in the Hat’ without immediate visual experience of the cover art on the well-known Dr. Seuss book.  Then I smile as the entire recollection of reading that book to my children comes to mind. All this as a result of my mind’s ability to process virtual ‘chicken scratches’ on paper.

As we read we develop a relationship with the author.  The author ‘speaks’ to us and we laugh, smile or frown. We may agree or disagree with the author. We are active and our  neuronal network systems are a beehive of activity. Our neuronal network systems allow the content of what we are reading to engage with everything we’ve come to believe, to suspect, and to think. It is as if we were conversing with ourselves and the author. We engage thoughtfully.

Skimming is not a synonym for reading. Skimming does not permit the mind to so thoroughly engage. Hmmn, might somebody know that, insofar as we are all being trained to skim, present company included?

I have known for a couple of years that if I wanted to read a well written book on Saturday, I had to stay off my IPAD on Friday. If I tried to go from reading on the internet to reading a well written book, I would have to reread a paragraph two or three times. I just couldn’t comprehend it. I couldn’t remember what I read and I certainly couldn’t chat with friends about it.

Skimming is not a synonym for reading. Folks, our intellectual faculties are being subtly disengaged as we are trained not to read on the internet. This is something we must all learn to manage.

The ability to read is something we must fight to retain. I don’t want to be dumbed down and I suspect that, neither do you.

Read folks. Check the internet for a half hour max, take a walk, and select a book, not a magazine,  that’s an easy-read for you. The point of this exercise is not education, it is literally brain training to cancel the dumbing down effects of skimming on the internet.

Note, if you are conscious of the training to skim and the dumbing down effects of that training, your ability to take charge of the training of your brain for depth-reading, that is with full engagement of who you are, will be enhanced and successful.

Authors note: It seemed most practical to assume I was writing for readers of American-English written text as I selected Russian and Greek texts as examples of ‘unrecognizable’ text. 

 

Reluctant To Read?

Being privy to the thoughts of another is the essence of intimacy. Writers reveal their fantasies, if not their personal stories in fiction. Nonfiction writers harness their intellectual powers and work very hard to argue  a case for what they believe to be true. Writers extend themselves to you the reader and you, the reader literally, get to know them very well.

One of my daughters bought a used book when she was maybe, ten. What attracted her to the book was the fact that it seemed to be the first work of fiction written by a woman ever published in China.

Wow! What a find! A woman living in a particular region in China, at a particular historical moment, indulged her imagination and wrote a story. Her story reflected her world; the family dynamics, the proprieties of the day, the political system she was subject to, the technology at hand, the trading system, and the lay of the land. Her story revealed her thoughts, her hopes and dreams. Would you like to get to know this woman? Would you like to engage her one-on-one over tea?

No film based upon this writer’s work can build an authentic relationship between you and this author. Reading her work, translated, will transport you to her world. To the extent that she successfully vivified (made life-like) her world, you can literally travel in time and space in your mind’s eye.

Would it surprise you to know, that lessons learned by means of  travel in one’s mind’s eye, are indeed, lessons learned? They count. The lessons  learned influence us as surely as do our friendships in the neighborhood. Personally, I have no doubt at all that my reading of A Tale of Two Cities when I was, perhaps ten or eleven, profoundly affected my values and political inclinations. And, I know, the world my daughter came to know, knew no bounds.