Post # 339    EMPATHY IS EMPATHY IS EMPATHY

In the early 20th Century, the iconic poet, Gertrude Stein, penned the now famous, phrase, “A rose is a rose.” Our own nuanced understanding, of what otherwise might appear to be an enigmatic statement, is that she was declaring the ultimate aesthetic beauty of the flower, such that no metaphor, or descriptive choice of words would be adequate or sufficiently accurate.

We, too, share the metaphysical belief that there are some phenomena, in man’s wide range of experience, whether, aesthetic or contemptable, desirous or reprehensible, which are the ultimate in their respective category, or in conception, so unique, that their essence or meaning cannot be verbally replicated.

The principle, that certain phenomena or concepts cannot be verbally replicated, is especially applicable to many words in our American-English lexicon, either because they are stated in the superlative, and cannot be further enhanced (like “very” excellent), or, that their intrinsic nature does not lend itself to an adequate alternative. Our such “word du jour,” is the exceptionally admirable concept, “empathy.”

Empathy, may perhaps be acceptably defined as, the capacity to understand and feel what another person is experiencing, from within one’s frame of reference; it is the human capacity, not merely to understand and sympathize, but to be able to place oneself in another’s shoes. We have previously written on the subject of this noble quality, see: for example, “Love Without Words.”

The phenomenon of empathy, like that of love, loyalty and creative aesthetics, are among the most admirable, non-skeletal advances in mankind’s natural evolution.  The development and continuance of such capabilities, have historically, contributed potential for man’s higher plane of societal and individual life; one, beyond the basic survivalist drives for food, water, shelter and safety.

On a beautiful day, recently, we were driving upstate to visit a friend. The early promise of Spring was in evidence in the air and sunlight, moderate temperatures were prevalent, and the ground’s melting,  residual snow, was candidly revealing the early stages of the annual flora resurrection. We noticed high altitude, reconnoiting hawks, as well as a number of rodentia and other small ground dwelling critters, pursuing cover, in this perennial game of survival.

At one point, we reached a modest curve in the roadway and when easily negotiated, we observed through the windshield, several modestly attractive residences, one of which featured a large, commercially made sign, strategically affixed to a post on its front lawn; the advertised language of which was, to us, no less than positively bizarre. The sign advertised: “School for Empathy” The large,  intentionally conspicuous sign, was located front and center, probably as a “savvy” marketing strategy.

We are still non-plussed by the absurdity and evident ignorance of the sign. However, we were at first entertained by its absurdity, then annoyed, at the ignorance unashamedly broadcast to the public, by the nature and description of the advertised business. We, among other things, attempted to envision the specific homeowners and their family, nonchalantly, passing to and fro, in front of such sign, the mystery of neighborhood consent on that busy street, the nature of the patrons, the didactic background of the instructors and administration, the nature of the textbooks, term papers, final exams, grade criteria, the length of semester, whether there was fieldwork, the established criteria for graduation, the professional use to which the successful graduates are expected to apply such rarefied learning, and whether graduate degrees and/or employment opportunities are made available to specially deserving alumni.

How can it be at all, rationally possible, albeit the general ignorance and low level of education, manifested by so many of our disappointing citizens, that such an Alice in Wonderland project, can, sanely, exist on planet Earth (inclusive of upstate New York) wherein an “educational” organization (presumably, employing a faculty of “Mad Hatters”) is dedicated to the belief that the precious, entirely innate virtues of homo sapiens, such as kindness, love and empathy, can be transmitted by instruction.

Still, it was not April Fool’s Day and, to our great astonishment, we did, in fact, see the permanently installed sign, and continue to wonder, whether the advertised, ambitious and enterprising school administration, also offers, far more relevantly appropriate, academic courses, on “shame.”

-p.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post # 338     APPLES AND ORANGES

“You are talking apples and oranges,” is the usual local vernacular and censorious response, to an attempted comparison, between two subjects or principles, which the hearer feels are completely unrelated. It is often used as an annoyed response, to an obviously reductive and uninstructive comparison.

We have previously written on the subject of the unhealthy societal phenomenon, recently developed in American society, described as “tribal” relationships. Such descriptive adjective has been used to signify the development of singular groups of people, in loose but insular groups, each enjoying the brotherhood of identical political opinion; in mutually antagonistic relations with other such groups of similar description, holding disparate political views. In one of our past writings, we identified an additional, unrelated, group of people, neurotically desiring “acceptance,” who will join and vote with one such unified group, or another, solely to satisfy such personally felt specific need.

In another past writing, entitled, “The Death of Civic Amity,” we observed that, contrary to the expectations of our (optimistic) Founding Fathers, to the effect that citizens of disparate opinion, would amicably debate the controversial issues, would be of use in the administration of a government, “for and by the people,” the actual experience was, instead, citizen feelings of disaffection from, and even hatred of, those with opposing views; which hatred developed and then morphed into “tribalism.”

In contemplating the many facets of the human persona, one perceives a great many which are rational and productive, as well as, unfortunately, some that are otherwise. Among the useless traits, is a psychological and reductive inclination to, irrationally and reductively, associate a point of view, inapposite to the belief system of the observer, with an unrelated and universally despised feature, of human personality, such as “un-American,”” larcenous,” “ungrateful,” “arrogant,” “selfish,” “disloyal,” or whichever imagined, despised trait is most deplored. Such unhealthy, irrational and reductive inclination, provides appropriate raw material to examine, and make constructively relevant, the subject expression and concept of, “apples and oranges.”

Such instinctively irrational and reductive inclination, to project imagined and privately attributed, negative character traits, on to persons of disparate view, together with other individuals with a neurotic aspiration to be accepted by “the tribal group,”( even at the cost of surrendering their own beliefs) accounts for the un-American, antisocial animus felt by many, toward their fellow Americans, who merely vote differently; and disastrously, leading to the consequential death of mature, healthy and useful civic amity.

The solution to this profound, nationally divisive problem, may actually be as simple, in principle, as separating apples from oranges. It resides in the rational and traditional feature of the democratic tolerance of diversity of opinion. Should one find it, indeed, possible to accept the proposition that every normal American citizen, residing in this Country with family and friends, desires that it should prosper and be free (and we do not understand how it can be believed to be otherwise), but may not always share his nuanced view as to the best way to accomplish that common end, the problem would be solved. Attributing fictional manifestations to another American citizen, who votes (his opinion) for the other party, and who may simply differ, from you, in that one choice, is among the fruits of our free society, and, rationally, not a symptom of some reprehensible character trait. He may, in truth, be almost identical to his critic, except that the latter would seem to have difficulty with the identification of the local fruit, most especially, apples and oranges.

-p.

Post # 337  MEET THE “PENUMBRIANS”

We would like to introduce our readers to a newly minted classification of homo sapiens, the  “Penumbrians.” The name was derived by us, from a term, used by solar scientists, “penumbra,” to designate the large, dimly lit, indiscriminate area, of a planetary body, located between the fully dark and the bright (sunny) areas, during an eclipse.

Penumbrians are found everywhere, and in great numbers, however, any useful estimate of their membership is not possible for practical reasons, as will be disclosed below. Otherwise, they are not distinguishable or identified by national origin, ethnos, language, creed, dress, extent of education, or culture. Speaking the language of their respective country, they have babies, dine out, take vacations and, generally, look and act like everyone else (with the one salient exception); it is that exception that qualifies them for inclusion into the category, and to the denomination, “Penumbrian.”

Initially, by way of disclaimer and for purposes of perspective, we would profess that we subscribe to the practice of compromise and the mitigation of disputes and contested issues, by means of accommodation, wherever possible and when consistent with right principle and practical justice. Yet, we have also approved of the healthy exercise of amicable, vigorous debate, in the event of the presentation of competing principles. We do not shy away from the possibility of being ultimately found to be in error, and will unhesitatingly, and vigorously, contend for what appears to us, just and equitable.

However, there is a substantial category of people who seem to have so disciplined themselves, that the existence of disagreement or disparate opinion, is not tolerable; prescribing that any and all differences, irrespective of the merits of the issues in contention, are to be disposed of by means of a “middle of the road” or some middling compromise. Such people would, eternally, prefer any possible, even unrealistic, accommodation, to the existence (or fear) of disparate opinion, and are thereby, properly entitled to admission into the class, “penumbrian,” with all of the rights and privileges thereunto appertaining.

Penumbrians, named after that indeterminate, hazy-lighted, middling planetary area, between dark and light, at eclipse, seem to dedicate their lives, to an evangelical-like dogma, that there exists no dispute, regardless of issue, that cannot be properly settled, by a middling compromise. Established principals of legal precedent, considerations of justice, or the concept of equity and fairness, to them, pale (like the planetary penumbra) into insignificance, compared with their mantra-like approach: settle, at any cost.

Our Founding Fathers, foresaw the regular practice of amicable debate, between dedicated citizens, having disparate views, as the desired route to the government’s determinacy, as to the popular sentiment, and thus, as a guide to a “nation, run by and for, the people.” This is to be contrasted with an eternal call for middling compromise, regardless of the controverted issue. Penumbrians are therefore useless as representative citizens, contributing nothing to the nation’s perceived body of opinion. Nor will they suggest innovations, or improvements, since change, is potentially, a possible invitation to controversy.

Their lifelong mission is to avoid confrontation, and at any cost. Accordingly, they, stubbornly and sheepishly, pursue a lifelong mission to avoid controversy and the possibility of personal offense. They have little interest in the merits or justice involved in the specific issues, between the contending principals, merely in their reconciliation, at any cost.

They are not very desirable as friends or social acquaintances, preferring rote recitation of self-approving aphorism, to the risk of the unpredictable, normal give and take, of interactive conversation, for fear of the possibility of disagreement (the latter may be inapplicable to discussions with immediate family). Like the dull, limited light projected by their namesake planetary area during eclipse, they have  limited light to project, in any socially interactive circumstance.

The internal cost of such lifelong, self- imposed program of external restraint, is very high, notably in areas such as, self-image and illusions of personal identity. The day-to day frustration, bought about by their programmatic repression of anger and emotion, makes the life of the true Penumbrian, unbearable; certainly, far worse than any conceivable dread of the natural, and understandable, occurrence of personal contention.

-p.

Post # 336 THUMB TRACKS

Assuming it were logistically and practically possible, it would certainly seem appropriate, to establish a long overdue special thanksgiving holiday, on an international basis, celebrating the generous and invaluable gifts to mankind by evolutionary Nature. Principal among the many invaluable grants, of course, were, an advanced brain, the ability to walk upright, and the utilitarian, and marvelous, opposable thumb. The latter made grasping and holding (prehensile) possible, thus enabling the making of tools and weapons, and ultimately, the construction of human societies.

Mankind appears to be ungraciously unmindful, of these priceless evolutionary gifts, except on the occurrence of illness or injury, such as glaucoma or a bone fracture, at which time man is reminded and made keenly aware of the relevant (in)capability. As an illustration, most humans do not take conscious notice of the existence and utility of their (unique) opposable thumb, except when hitchhiking, indicating a positive or negative inclination, or in observing the public expression of an umpire’s negative decision, at the baseball stadium.

We are told that during the evolutionary process, man developed his prehensile capability, after the development of his ability to walk upright, since brachiation, thereafter, became no longer necessary. In any case, it is immutably the case, that the organization and construction of human society, everywhere on the planet, would not have been possible, without this marvelous capability.

Yet, as appears, many fortuitous blessings come with a cost. In this case, the cost of this precious and indispensably necessary manipulative thumb, has now become, regrettably, exorbitant. The unfortunate and unreasonably high invoice seems to have first been incurred and submitted in recent years, with such impact, as to seriously (perhaps, permanently) impair natural human interactive communication, the latter constituting, inarguably, the very lifeblood, of human society.

One has only to casually observe any crowded street scene, the many visitors at a public park, at any movie theater lobby, public place of assembly, or public means of transportation, to observe the occult-like, eerie fact, that most humans are looking, abnormally downward, instead of straight ahead, or at each other; simultaneously manifesting a rapidly moving, manipulative thumb, tracing irregular patterns on a rather small appliance, held firmly in the convenient hand. Few people, these days, seem to speak to each other, wave, or call out to others. The present, gothic street scene, seems relatively quiet, unnaturally devoid of other than routine traffic sounds, and the occasional drone of an airplane. We find this odd, ominous and personally unsettling.

Humans evolved, fortuitously, equipped with a brain and the necessary equipment to rationally communicate; to speak to each other and timely respond, utilizing a societally developed phenomenon, called language. But the gift of natural, interactive speech, consisting of the spontaneous exchange of spoken words has, of late, it seems, been replaced, with the popularly preferred, transmission of electronic, data-like symbols. Gone is the assurance of the familiar voice, gone is the timely and meaningful response; and in exchange, cold and impersonal, computerized, data-like transmissions.

One has merely to observe the vast multitudes of the species, homo sapiens, bearing hand held “smart phones,” frenetically drumming away at e- messages, or employing (misusing)  the marvelous  evolutionary gift of the opposable thumb, “ texting,” at Indianapolis Raceway speeds, (not knowing when, or if, a response will be forthcoming and if so, to appear in computerized text, in their miniscule phone window), to confidently deduce the empirical and rational conclusion, that this was not nature’s plan; in generously granting to us, through the evolutionary process, the capacity for advanced reason and the societally vital, and creative, opposing thumb. The unnatural, unforeseen use of these magnificent gifts to homo sapiens, can be seen to amount to a disgraceful blasphemy against the evolutionary process and design of anthropological evolution, itself.

We may, conceivably, be outliers, but we are disappointed and embarrassed by man’s thoughtless misuse and ungrateful response, to the vast cornucopia of advantages and generous gifts afforded to him, by the planet’s Natural Evolution.

Observably and sadly, such profound ingratitude appears to be logically consistent, with the ineffective and hapless response of mankind, to the dangers of scientifically proven planetary climate change.

-p.

Post # 335    BEG YOUR PARDON: A Plinyblog Editorial

With all respect, we find it positively mindboggling, that, despite their determined, radical aspiration to do away with unfair and corrupt institutions, historically existing in ancestral Europe, the Founders authored a replication of the arbitrary and corrupt institution of the “Royal Pardon”. (U.S. Constitution (Article II, Sec.2, Clause 1). The understood, intended foundational theme of the new, experimental, democratic republic, as envisioned, would do away with class privilege and arbitrary justice, and, instead, provide for an equitable nation, with “liberty and justice for all.” We are thus perplexed with the inclusion and perpetuation of this arbitrary royal privilege, in our foundational document.

We have read that one of the revered, Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, explained, that its purpose was, in times of national unrest, to quell retributory violence and promote peace. History reveals that the Presidential privilege was exercised to assure harmony and avert insurrection, by President Abraham Lincoln after the conclusion of the Civil War, and that it was employed to the same end, more than once, during the publicly divisive Viet Nam War period. Yet we have ascertained that this “royal privilege” was exercised in excess of 2,000 times, for sundry other reasons, including instances of political and social purpose. One is inclined to question the sincerity and accuracy of our protestations of proportional justice.

A sleeping dog was awakened, by the despicable pardon granted to Sheriff “Joe” Arpaio; known for his racism, physical torture of Hispanic immigrants, and public immorality. Our “ good old boy,” Sheriff Joe, had been convicted by a Federal Court of flagrant contempt, for intentionally disobeying the Federal Judge’s Order to appear in Court; to, no doubt, the celebrated delight of his rebellious red-neck followers. Our Solomonic Head of State, who counts such despicable miscreants among his loyal [“base”] supporters, summarily granted such monster a full pardon, even by-passing a statutorily prescribed administrative process, mandated to preliminarily take place, before the U.S. Justice Department, respecting pardons. This dishonorable, non-Presidential behavior, of Donald Trump, has caused much criticism and unrest in our nation, but no doubt, little surprise.

The late Senator John McCain, was among a great many Americans, who felt that the pardon granted by President Trump, to Arpaio, for the crime of criminal contempt of an Order of The Federal Court, created an illegal and dangerous precedent.

We are also concerned that the witnesses, appearing before the Special Prosecutor, as well as those who are to testify before the various Congressional Committees, will be tainted with the stain of arbitrary Presidential pardon.

The American Public which, is by now, unquestionably aware of the many scenarios, in which many people, close to the President, are charged with serious crime, of all sorts, domestic and international. It  appears that these felonies were committed on behalf of President Trump, himself. Many have been shown to have the actual participation, in fact, of the President, himself. It would seem to be a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, if the President could pardon people for the commission of crimes in which he, himself, was complicit. How about his own proven criminal acts? Those of his miscreant family:  does the Mad Hatter, himself, have the authority to pardon?

We wonder, under the circumstances, whether a  Constitutional Amendment, eliminating the Executive Pardon, altogether, or at least, providing proper criteria for its exercise, would have requisite citizen support.

-p.

Post # 334 FLYPAPER LOYALTY

We can still recall from our childhood City summers, seeing long strips of yellow sticky paper, vertically hung, in grocery stores and other small retail establishments, slowly undulating, in response to the weak breeze emanating from the noisy and functionally impotent, revolving ceiling fans. The long, yellow strips of glue-sticky paper were taxed with the rather grim and thankless duty, of attracting hapless members of the Brooklyn fly population, to suffer the ignominious fate of death by involuntary adherence. The present title and this post refer to hapless, insecure and needy human beings, immobilized in a flypaper-like adherence, to their neurotic need for (group) acceptance; and voluntarily sacrifice their individuality in the process.

In most cases, the attribution of any of our societally positive adjectives, instantly summons up a Pavlov-style, reflexive, feeling of approval. Among such numerous laudatory adjectives, are words like, kind, loving, trustworthy, moral, honest, sincere, and at applicable times, our mot de jour, “loyal.” Generally, the employment of any of our lexicon’s inventory of positive words, unfailingly portrays a specific, distinct and admirable virtue. However, the adjectival term, “loyalty,” by lone contrast, has potential for double-edged attribution, and thus is not necessarily positive, but is, rather singularly, dependent upon its specific contextual application.

“Loyalty,” as generally understood, is a noble term, suggestive of righteous sentiment and faithful behavior appropriate to a recognized, devoted relationship (i.e., family, friendship, nation.) The underlying dynamics of this word, however, are somewhat distinctive from the other words in the class of positive adjectives. The subject word appears, uniquely, to be grounded, in large part, on emotional underpinnings and sentiments of mandatory homage, and in a far lesser part, on rational consideration. These dynamics can be problematic and deserving of our consideration.

We have only to look to Munich, Germany in the 1930’s to see the positive adjective, “loyalty” perverted to its most nightmarish application; a literate, educated society was, in the name of loyalty to the State, caused to dutifully exterminate fellow Germans, including babies, who happened to be Jewish, as if they were mere cockroaches, as literally portrayed, in Hitler’s insanely hateful “Mein Kampf”.”

Moreover, the misleadingly healthy and positive connotation of “loyalty,” has in fact, seriously challenged the very fabric of our democratic republic. We have previously written on the subject of “tribalism,” wherein insecure persons, vote exclusively for the candidate deemed preferred by their insular group, rather than, based on their own determination. And as well, of the “one issue” voters, loyally adherent to their singular issue, who vote for a candidate, solely, based upon the latter’s declared position on that issue. This latter practice, of course, ignores the other major positions in the candidate’s professed platform, thereby skewing any democratically attempted analysis of the national will. The phenomenon of loyalty, and the neurotic need for acceptance, in such instances are mutually indistinguishable, and as well, selfishly counterproductive.

It is obvious that the virtue of loyalty, founded on good principle, love of family, moral standards or self- respecting morality, is inarguably commendable. When based on irresponsible, neurotic need, shared bigotry, or exclusionary ignorance, it portends an act of blind and irresponsible self-immolation, very much like a fly’s persistent adherence to the fly paper.

-p.

 

Post # 333 LIP SERVICE

We have recently, and unhappily, observed a remarkably popular tendency in modern oral interaction, to preferably, substitute the very latest jargon (“cant”), whenever conceivably possible, in lieu of traditional vocabulary. This worrisome practice appears to be no less than rampant, despite the undeniably experiential fact, that the use of standard, traditional language, predictably affords far greater assurance of accuracy of the transmitted message. Yet, uncannily, it appears that once uttered, the slang word is accepted, repeated, and shortly thereafter, exponentially morphed (metastasized into) general, wide-spread use.

It may be useful at the outset, to offer a modest sample of such referenced terms, as available illustration. We would also offer the ominous and remarkable observation, that every one of the provided examples, somehow, has already acquired formal and official acceptance, into the historic American lexicon:

[Examples: discombobulate (confuse), bamboozle (trick, defraud), flummox (surprise, disorient), bail (abruptly withdraw, or leave), crash (sleep), pig out (eat excessively), dude (guy), sweet (nice, fortunate), totally (I agree).]

We are of the view, that the extensive popularity of such terms, is demonstrably attributable to an apparently current (neurotic) need, to publicly appear to be “au courant,” or “with it” (in touch with) the latest trend in modernity. Our criticism of this modish preference for such cobbled together and widely distributed lingo is, in a few cases, merely aesthetic (depending upon the particular word employed); but, as to most of it, far more importantly, it is substantive criticism, based the universal need and civic responsibility, for members of modern, civilized society to communicate with other members, and be reasonably understood.

From the standpoint of aesthetics, such words fail to provide (even) a modicum of assurance of sincerity of personal expression. They are too familiar and unoriginal, non-personal, over- used, “warmed over,” tired and inarticulate expressions, as opposed to original, spontaneous expression, carefully and meaningfully worded. In emotional, personal interactions, an attempt at truly sincere apology will predictably fail in desired effect, if a well-worn slang term is trotted out, instead of a personal and applicable one; a sincerely intended remorseful statement, will be taken as dishonest, if one of the usual catch-words are employed. A nervously and hesitantly enunciated, proposal of marriage, clearly deserves far more, by way of a responsive and loving expression of assent, than “cool.”

It is to be emphasized that the English language fortuitously, contains an inventory, consisting of virtually unlimited number of word choices, making possible any appropriate, personally meaningful, choice of expression, suitable to any perceived need, and in any context.

In daily, mundane, situations, conversation is personalized, trusted and credible, most especially, when communicants speak in accordance with their normal and expected parlance. It is particularly important in business, viz., contractual undertakings must be specific, and clearly expressed, to attain the requisite (legal) meeting of the minds; the mere reply “sweet,” to a formalized contractual offer, just will not do.

We earnestly hope that, if the use of these bizarre slang words, or “cant” is at all chosen, that it’s expression be strictly limited to such appropriate venues as the club house, bar or sport stadium; and, further, that it be artfully exercised, in order to avoid the imminent danger of some sweet, dude getting totally flummoxed.

-p.