Who are you voting for?

I don’t care who you are voting for, but thought it was a catchy title for this post. It’s election season after all. I do care about your why though. Have you thought about the reasons you vote for a specific candidate?

We are less than a month away from our general election. I can’t wait for that day. Social media will be lit up with pictures of “I Voted 2020” stickers plastered front and center on t-shirts. I’m trying really hard not to go down a rabbit hole on discussing why so many feel compelled to tell the world they voted. Moving on.

So why do you vote the way you do? It may be very simple. You identify as a Democrat, so you vote Democrat. You believe the Democratic party shares your beliefs as it relates to policy issues. The assumption here is that you understand what the party believes in and the individuals elected will continue to push those policies forward.

It could be far more complex though. Maybe your values don’t align closely enough with a single party. What do you do then? It seems like most Americans would fall into this camp. We certainly have a strong tendency in this country to align with a tribe, but I find it hard to believe that most of us can find a tribe with something as complex as politics. Politics span the idea continuum – from the economy to healthcare to foreign policy and everything in between. I certainly fall into the camp of neither party aligning closely enough with the majority of the policies I believe in. That feels ok to me, it feels right. It feels right because most things in life are grey, so why would something as complex as politics be different? There is very little that is truly black and white. I’d argue that if you think something is black and white then you haven’t thought hard enough on it.

I’m sorry, but this post isn’t going to enlighten you or help you make any political decisions. This post is meant to shed light (again) on the environment we live in that makes gathering information and making educated decisions very difficult. This post is meant to drive you to want to gather as much information as possible before you vote. To think critically about why you are choosing candidate A versus candidate B.

Election season is in full go mode. We witnessed an amazing debate last week (yes that is sarcasm). I think it is intellectually dishonest to call these things debates anyway. Even when they are under control, they are not structured in a way where we can actually learn anything about what a candidate thinks. They are meant to provide sound bites for the various news outlets.

We are being flooded with information in every way imaginable. We get text messages and phone calls. We see political yard signs and billboards. Seemingly every website you go to will have a political ad. TV ads are never ending. And the direct mail, all that mail that I feel obligated to glance at out of respect for the dead trees. These two old parties (not Trump and Biden, but the Republicans and Democrats) are relentless. I think it is important to take a step back and realize what is really behind these presidential candidates, as well as everyone else running.

I am oversimplifying this, but at the end of the day these two parties are nothing more than two large businesses. They have significant revenues, significant expenses, and hundreds of people working for them.

The Democrats and Republicans each have three major party committees. Each committee is designed to focus on a specific a specific office – President, Senate and House. These parties have raised a combined $1.586 billion dollars during the 2020 election cycle (per ballotpedia.org). Let’s say that again, $1.586 billion dollars raised in about 20 months. By all measures, these organizations are mid-size businesses at a minimum. Businesses have a mission and in this case the mission is to influence or win your vote – by all means necessary.

Ultimately these organizations are nothing more than large media companies – pushing an agenda. They don’t do it with meaningful information. They do it with catching taglines, very loose uses of the “truth”, and anything else they can think of that will catch your attention. Their incentives are simple – to gain power. What is more important than power? That is certainly a meaningful motivator.

If you aren’t affiliated with a party or you are an uninformed voter, you must be aware of their motivations. If you aren’t aware, you can easily get sucked into meaningless information that is barely at the level of gossip. If you are affiliated with a party, then this information will always hit the mark with you.

I know it is an uphill battle. Educating yourself in today’s environment is a ton of work. Everyone is seemingly against us. The political parties, social media company’s algorithms, untrustworthy news organizations, and on and on and on.

You must take this on though. Do the work, put in the effort. Not just on the candidates, but on yourself as well. Decide what topics and policies are critical to you and focus on those, vote on those.

Freedom comes with great responsibility. Many say voting is one of those responsibilities, I say being an educated vote is the real responsibility. I’ll leave you with a quote. I think we have strayed very far from it and need to find the path again – quickly!

Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weigh, this is a frightening prospect.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Can we fix this?

My early morning cardio sessions are always accompanied by a documentary of some kind. I’ve been making my way through “No Direction Home” on Netflix, which is mostly about Bob Dylan. I have always liked his music – I’m a sucker for meaningful lyrics. A seemingly random 30 seconds of the documentary caught my attention and I ended up watching it several times over.

“If everybody really listened to his own conscience and really acted upon what he thought was right and wrong rather than being so hopelessly passive, which I think every, just about everybody is. I think it’s probably the main disease, the passivity where we’ll listen to whatever anybody else says. It’s daddy, mommy, and schoolteacher, and Sunday schoolteacher, and president.” Joan Baez said it. I had no idea who she was before watching this documentary and honestly it doesn’t really matter who said it. It was the words that struck me.

She said those words 60 years ago and they are as true today as they probably were then. She calls into question our willingness to think critically about the issues of the day. She puts the blame squarely on the individual, essentially calling those unwilling to think for themselves lazy. It’s hard to argue with her sentiment, isn’t it?

It’s easy to blame people. It’s also very difficult. I don’t think we are actively trying to avoid thinking. I think it has become the defining characteristic of our culture today. We have gone out of our way to create enough distractions to ensure we never have a spare moment to think.

Most of us have turned ourselves into robots. We feel nothing as we spend our days taking in massive amounts of information in real time. Others have visceral reactions to every clip and to every tweet. Every clip, every tweet, every comment is life and death. The information comes to us so efficiently, so effortlessly.

In both cases it is clear there isn’t time to think. There isn’t time to question the validity of what is put in front of us. There isn’t time to question if you have looked at the story from all angles. And there certainly isn’t time to question why we think the way we do.

The point in all of this that I have been stuck on and have been stuck on at various times in my life is the idea of independent thinking. This idea can easily be expanded to a conversation about free will, but I think it is best not to go there yet.

It’s hard for me to conclude that most of us aren’t sheep, following the herd this way and that. Never taking the time to question our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. To fix what may be the most significant problem we have in this country begins with a simple question, are the thoughts, ideas, and beliefs you hold dear even your own? You are responsible for them to be certain, but are they your own?

Over the years, this idea about what you believe and are these beliefs your own has driven me to be turned off by important ideas/groups. Specifically, religion and politics, but also something as simple as sports in this country. If mom and dad are Catholic, then I am a Catholic and my way of life is the right one. If mom and dad are Republicans, then I am a Republican and my view of politics is the right one. If mom and dad love the Tigers, Lions and Pistons, then I love them to. How can I not, I live in Michigan after all.

Allowing myself to simply ignore very important topics like religion and politics because I was turned off by how people come to believe this or that was the wrong decision. It was lazy. That decision allowed me to become disengaged and not pursue my own thoughts on very important issues. Issues that plague our country and our communities today.

We must have the courage to think critically about our beliefs and what we are willing to stand for. What really matters to you? What are you willing to expose to the world because it means that much to you? Your religion? Abortion, immigration, the environment, guns? Have you thought deeply about these things that matter so much to you? Are you willing to listen to others that may disagree with you? These are the first steps in rebuilding our country.

It is true that we live in a free country and we can do whatever we want or more likely not do anything at all. It’s also true that everything we do, or not do, has consequences and these consequences will have long lasting effects. Our actions and inactions will be passed on to the next generation. They will use what we did and didn’t do as a playbook for how they should live their lives. I wonder if we will be proud? I won’t be. I desperately want the next generation to think deeply, to find ways to a common ground on topics that are so polarizing today. It’s starts with us and it starts now.

Have We Always Been Lost?

I haven’t posted in five months or so. It’s taken me a lot of time to wrap my head around everything going on in this country. I’ve also had a lot going on personally (good things and challenging things). I’m slowly coming back around to wanting and needing to write. I need to make sense of what is going on and where we go from here (impact on my family and the country). I’m excited to be writing again.

I’ve started reading Seneca again (the Stoic philosopher). My perspective on his writings has evolved as I see opportunities to apply the lessons to the world at large versus the micro view I have taken historically. In the past, I would try to use the lessons, and Stoicism in general, only in my personal life. By that I mean, I tried to apply his teachings to my family life (read my early posts to get a taste of that) or to my work life. I never looked beyond those “walls” though. Not looking beyond my personal situation was short-sighted, which has become crystal clear given the current environment we are living in.

In the last six months alone, our country has come face to face with a pandemic, police brutality, racism, protests, riots, vandalism, violence, and an upcoming election between two individuals that are not inspiring and seemingly have no chance of leading this country out of the mess we find ourselves.

Each of these observations is worthy of a blog post. That thought doesn’t interest me much given how much you can read on these topics today. This brings me to why I am writing. My concern is we don’t really know what is actually going on – and it is getting worse. The amount of inaccurate information – on purpose or not – seems to be overwhelming. It makes those of us who are looking for the truth frustrated and in a difficult spot to make educated decisions. More concerning, this misinformation empowers those that have little interest in the truth. These individuals are focused only on their view of the world. They are always right and the counter argument is always wrong. In today’s highly volatile environment, this reality, and the desperate need to prove how right you really are has led to widespread destruction and at times death.

It’s not clear to me if anyone knows what they are actually fighting for. I think there was a cause early on. I think that cause has turned into a scapegoat of sorts. Radical individuals or organizations looking for a reason to create chaos and destruction in this country – to what end I don’t know. Like Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Throughout the remainder of this post, I am going to quote Seneca. The quotes all come from, The Tao of Seneca, Volume 1, Letter 7 – On Crowds. This letter has helped me frame my thoughts on several very important issues plaguing this country and myself.

“Do you ask me what you should regard as especially to be
avoided? I say, crowds; for as yet you cannot trust yourself to
them with safety.
I shall admit my own weakness, at any rate; for
I never bring back home the same character that I took abroad
with me.
Something of that which I have forced to be calm within
me is disturbed; some of the foes that I have routed return again.
Just as the sick man, who has been weak for a long time, is in such
a condition that he cannot be taken out of the house without suffering a relapse, so we ourselves are affected when our souls are
recovering from a lingering disease.
To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who
does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or
taint us unconsciously therewith.
Certainly, the greater the mob
with which we mingle, the greater the danger.”

“Taint us unconsciously”. There is enough data today to clearly tell us that we are being led in a certain direction, based on our preferences and habits. We are the puppets. What’s crazy is the CEO’s of some of these companies are telling us this directly and we simply don’t care. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said, “Social-media companies are failing their users by creating echo chambers that encourage polarization”. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon said, “I think social media is increasing, unfortunately, identity politics, [and] tribalism. I think the internet in its current incarnation is a confirmation bias machine,”. “If you have a going in point of view and you go do some searches, you find confirmation of your point of view. If your newsfeed is showing you things, it’s showing you things that confirm your point of view.” Isn’t this exactly what we are seeing playing out today across the country – from coast to coast?

I strongly recommend watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix for more information on this topic from social media insiders. Tech executives and programmers at these companies go on the record telling us all what is going on and how we are being manipulated. There is no incentive for these companies to give us a balanced look at a certain topic – that isn’t going to move their needle.

“But nothing is so damaging to good character as the habit of
lounging at the games; for then it is that vice steals subtly upon
one through the avenue of pleasure.
What do you think I mean? I mean that I come home more
greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel
and inhuman, because I have been among human beings.
By
chance I attended a mid-day exhibition, expecting some fun, wit,
and relaxation—an exhibition at which men’s eyes have respite
from the slaughter of their fellow-men. But it was quite the
reverse. The previous combats were the essence of compassion;
but now all the trifling is put aside and it is pure murder. The
men have no defensive armour. They are exposed to blows at all
points, and no one ever strikes in vain.
Many persons prefer this programme to the usual pairs and
to the bouts “by request.” Of course they do; there is no helmet
or shield to deflect the weapon. What is the need of defensive
armour, or of skill? All these mean delaying death. In the morning
they throw men to the lions and the bears; at noon, they throw
them to the spectators. The spectators demand that the slayer
shall face the man who is to slay him in his turn; and they always
reserve the latest conqueror for another butchering. The outcome
of every fight is death, and the means are fire and sword. This sort
of thing goes on while the arena is empty.
You may retort: “But he was a highway robber; he killed a man!”
And what of it? Granted that, as a murderer, he deserved this
punishment, what crime have you committed, poor fellow, that
you should deserve to sit and see this show? In the morning they
cried “Kill him! Lash him! Burn him! Why does he meet the
sword in so cowardly a way? Why does he strike so feebly? Why
doesn’t he die game? Whip him to meet his wounds! Let them
receive blow for blow, with chests bare and exposed to the stroke!”
And when the games stop for the intermission, they announce:
“A little throatcutting in the meantime, so that there may still be
something going on!”

This last line rings true doesn’t it? We have a constant need to know what is going on in the world. The phone dinged or vibrated, I have to look. Maybe there are message or notifications that I cannot miss. If I have to go to the bathroom, my phone is coming with me. Exercising, traveling, eating, I can’t be without my phone. I need to know what the latest news is. It seems we are more and more incapable of existing in our own head space.

I think the question that needs to be asked is a simple one, why? Why do I need to look at my phone and those apps all the time? What am I getting out of it? Am I actually learning anything? Is there any real value being provided by these apps? I don’t have the answers, but I am asking myself these questions.

“Much harm is done by a single case of indulgence or greed;
the familiar friend, if he be luxurious, weakens and softens
us imperceptibly; the neighbour, if he be rich, rouses our
covetousness; the companion, if he be slanderous, rubs off some
of his rust upon us, even though we be spotless and sincere. What
then do you think the effect will be on character, when the world
at large assaults it!
You must either imitate or loathe the world.”

This is where I truly get concerned. Our reliance on our smart phones and computers expose us to the entire world. We know that other countries are taking shots at us. They are poking holes in our character and at the moral fabric of the country. We know about Russia and China intentionally interfering with our elections. We would be naive to think it stops there. The crazy thing is even with this knowledge we don’t make any changes to our habits. We don’t delete Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We can’t see this interference directly, so we simply go on with our day. I am not sure we would change our habits even if something happened directly to us. Sounds like an addiction doesn’t it? You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t stop yourself.

Our country seems to be headed for some disastrous event or events if we continue on this path. The only solution that seems to have any chance of success is a large group of people coming together and talking openly and honestly about the issues that plague their communities and their families. Clearly there are polarizing topics that will never be “settled”, but there is no reason compromise and moderation cannot be our path to a peaceful and developing society. We clearly aren’t on that path now. Reading Seneca makes me wonder how much we have really evolved. He died in 65 AD and his words seem to speak directly to our world today.