Mr. Trump Has Done One Good Thing for Us Already

The Keynes CentreBusiness & Economy, How We Think, Reading for Change, Words Matter

  ‘Opinions’ is one of the hot-button topics of today due in large measure to the impact of President Trump’s behaviour as presidential candidate and president of the United States.The combination of Mr Trump and social media has created the ‘perfect opinion storm’ which continuously engulfs the news media and claims attention from all of us. There has been no U.S. president like Mr Trump for the daily impact he has had on us in the way he has changed the ‘climate of opinion’ about opinions. A major effect of ‘Storm Trump’ is that his behaviour has single-handily legitimated the expression of any ‘opinion’ and his example has validated the sense of entitlement to ‘my opinion’ no matter how outrageous, discriminatory, or ill-founded. He has brought confusion to political discourse and provoked the normally restrained news media into calling him a liar, describing his statements as lies, and characterising his behaviour in the strongest personality terms. Trump-as-role-model challenges us to think about how we form, hold and use opinions – an unintended benefit perhaps, but one we should not (cannot?) forego. The crisis he has unleashed has also gifted us an opportunity (or forced the necessity?) to bring some clarity to the confusing field of opinion-making. A Case Example We can use Mr Trump himself as a case study for us to think about shaping our opinions and, specifically, whether we form the opinion that he lies. Keeping a grip on truth in the midst of ‘Storm Trump’ demands much effort and diligence, more than most of us can sustain. In time, we can expect that even the rolling audits which various news media and political websites are compiling on the truthfulness of his words and deeds will become demanding. Many people will have an opinion about Mr Trump’s behaviour such is his impact worldwide and this poses the question as to how this opinion was formed or acquired. And, if we do not have an opinion already about the status of his endless flow of claims we decide, one way or another, where we stand on Mr Trump relationship to truth in a way that we have not had to do about most U.S. presidents. We have two options: opt out or engage our minds. For many, even at this early stage of Mr Trump’s presidency, his behaviour is too much and it is already a question of ‘tuning it out’ to preserve peace of mind. Alternatively, his opinions behaviour requires economizing on our attention – coming to a sustainable assessment of it so that we need not think about his every turn.

The Keynes CentreMr. Trump Has Done One Good Thing for Us Already

How Do We Hold to a Stock of Old Opinions?

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

  American philosopher and psychologist William James describes the ‘observable processes’ of how people settle into new opinions by starting with the fact that any individual has a “stock of old opinions” (p.23-4). A person’s current stock of opinions is put under strain when she or he meets a ‘new experience’, such as somebody contradicting their opinions finding that their opinions contradict each other becoming aware of facts with which their current opinions are incompatible, or new desires arising which the current stock of opinions does not satisfy. James suggests that these types of confrontations with the existing stock of opinions give rise to an ‘inward trouble’ to which, until then, the person’s mind had been ‘a stranger’. Consequently, the person seeks to escape from this unease by modifying her or his ‘previous mass of opinions’. People do this, according to James, in the following way: a person saves as much of the stock of opinions as she or he can – “for in this matter of belief we are all extreme conservatives” – so that a person “…tries to change first this opinion, and then that (for they resist change very variously), until at last some idea comes up which he can graft upon the ancient stock with a minimum of disturbance of the latter” that is, some idea is found that “…mediates between the stock [of old opinions] and the new experience [challenging the existing stock] and runs them into one another most felicitously and expediently.” (p.24) In other words, the new idea facilitates accommodating the new experience into the existing stock of opinions with the least discomfort as possible. This new idea, as James puts it, is taken on as the true one, since it “…preserves the older stock of truth with a minimum of modifications, stretching them just enough to make them admit their novelty, but conceiving that in ways as familiar as the case leaves possible.” The result is little change in that the “…most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of his old order standing” and fundamental ideas, such as, “[t]ime and space, cause and effect, nature and history, and one’s own biography remain untouched.” (p.24; emphases added) James continues to explain, first, that the role of the new idea (truth) is to limit disruption and maintain the current position as it is “… always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions…” Since, in its role, it “…marries old opinions to new fact so as ever to show a minimum jolt, a maximum of continuity. We hold a theory true just in proportion to its success in solving this ‘problem of maxima and minima’…” He points out to ‘success in solving the problem of minimizing jolt and maximizing continuity as being a ‘matter of approximation’ because “[w]e say that this theory solves [the ‘problem of maxima and minima’] on the whole more satisfactorily than that theory; but that means more satisfactorily to ourselves, and individuals will emphasise their points of satisfaction differently.” (p.24; … Read More

The Keynes CentreHow Do We Hold to a Stock of Old Opinions?

Reflections on Writing

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

“Almost all good writing begins with a need in the author to explain something to himself – a strong emotion, a childhood terror – a line of reasoning that needs testing on paper or the re-examination of circumstance to be sure that it justifies a general statement. This last kind of need produces the nuts and bolts group …” John Kenneth Galbraith (emphasis added) “If you want to know whether you are thinking rightly, put your thoughts into words. In the very attempt to do this you will find yourselves, consciously or unconsciously, using logical forms. Logic compels us to throw our meaning into distinct propositions, and our reasonings into distinct steps. It makes us conscious of all the implied assumptions on which we are proceeding, and which, if not true, vitiate the entire process. It makes us aware what extent of doctrine we commit ourselves to by any course of reasoning, and obliges us to look the implied premises in the face, and make up our minds whether we can stand to them. It makes our opinions consistent with themselves and with one another, and forces us to think clearly, even when it cannot make us think correctly. It is true that error may be consistent and systematic as well as truth; but this is not the common case. It is no small advantage to see clearly the principles and consequences involved in our opinions, and which we must either accept, or else abandon those opinions. We are much nearer to finding truth when we search for it in broad daylight. Error, pursued rigorously to all that is implied in it, seldom fails to get detected by coming into collision with some known and admitted fact.” John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address, University of St. Andrews, 1867 “Writing a story or novel is one way of discovering sequence in the experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writers life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves to connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train maker curve, slowing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect”. Eudora Welty, One Writers Beginnings, Faber, London, 1985 “I am just now beginning to discover the difficulty of expressing one idea’s on paper. As long as it consists solely of description it is pretty easy; but where reasoning comes into play, to make a proper connection, a clearness and a moderate fluency, is to me, as I have said, a difficulty of which I had no idea”. Charles Darwin, from Desmond & Moore, Darwin; 183

The Keynes CentreReflections on Writing

How to Journal for Personal Professional Development

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Increasingly, people are discovering the value of journaling for Personal Professional Development. Some have still to discover its power. As we observed in our previous post about Journaling, using a Journal is long recognised a most helpful tool for reflection – it is a powerful way for getting to know oneself more deeply – and creatively – ideas will come which otherwise would not surface in the hurly-burly of daily life. Writing will help focus your thoughts and clarify your thinking. A Journal can be used as a record of your thinking, ideas, insights, questions, and concerns and will also show your developmental journey. Journaling: 1. The first, and most important, point to make about Journaling is that it is about setting aside a time and space to attend to yourself – something we all too often do not give ourselves in the modern world. It is a difficult but worthwhile habit or discipline to develop the attentiveness to our inner self. And it is essential to commit to it – we will have little enough time to be with ourselves when all is said and done. 2. Solitude is not easy to bear or to achieve. Nowadays we have to arrange for it. We can be apprehensive of being alone with ourselves, in a place and time without noise, traffic, television, phones …… Being busy is not only habitual but enticing – it can be used to protect ourselves from our inner selves. Solitude is not loneliness or aloneness: I am with myself – and who better company than myself? 3. Your goal in journaling is to be with yourself in dialogue so as to surface the thoughts from ‘the back or your mind’ which are blocked by the immediate preoccupations of the everyday. Journaling is an aid to help you listen to yourself. Do not give in to the temptation to run away by daydreaming or snoozing or other escape. Instead learn to enjoy having some time and space to be in good company – your own. Over time we will learn to listen to ourselves, appreciate its values and many benefits, and come to look forward to it. 4. Therefore write easily, happily and freely. It is not about being judgmental about yourself (or others) in any way – silence that ‘inner critic’. Do not limit your explorations. Flow. The practice is to hear your inner self – the wise one of you – by removing yourself from the prison of your daily preoccupations and thoughts. It is a healing and growing process. 5. Some ‘journalists’ find it a good practice to create a space– both mental and physical – apart from hustle and bustle in which to engage in their journaling without intrusions. This can even be outdoors in a pleasant setting. Keep it a simple, uncluttered, non-distractive place. You may find it helpful to decorate it simply with an abstract object of beauty, a nice candle, a piece of text – to help focus early … Read More

The Keynes CentreHow to Journal for Personal Professional Development

Wise Words from an Outstanding Mind

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Wise words from the outstanding writer, Norma Maclean – useful for thinking about Leadership Development and Growth Mindsets

The Keynes CentreWise Words from an Outstanding Mind

How We Think Matters: A list ​from the author of ‘Bloodlands’​

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Timothy Snyder’s Fighting authoritarianism: 20 lessons from the 20th century: Good, Useful, Scary ….Worth keeping to hand for regular perusal and reflection: Click here to read it. And there’s been a big increase in sales of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism and in her ideas and way of thinking – suggesting what people feel about the times we’re in. JOIN US: Through the Lens of Arendt Film Club Reading for Change Book Club

The Keynes CentreHow We Think Matters: A list ​from the author of ‘Bloodlands’​

How does ‘Climate of Opinion’ Guide our Thinking?

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

The idea of ‘climates of opinion’ is useful for a number of purposes and you may find it helpful for thinking as you watch Mr.Trump’s Inauguration as 45th U.S President today. The implications for us arise from the question the idea suggests: How do we know, and become aware of, our ‘climate of opinion’, the preconceptions which guide our thinking? What are the implications for ourselves of our ‘climate of opinion’? What is our response as we become aware of our ‘climate of opinion’? The ‘climate of opinion’ refers to “those instinctively held preconceptions in the broad sense … which [impose] … a peculiar use of intelligence and a special type of logic” on an era (Becker: 5; emphasis added). Whitehead, who revived the seventeenth-century phrase in his study of how a ‘new mentality’ emerged from the rise of ‘modern science’ since the C12th, says that “[g]eneral climates of opinion persist for periods of about two to three generations, that is to say, for periods of sixty to a hundred year” and suggests that “shorter waves of thought…play on the surface of the tidal movement” (Whitehead: 29). A sense of ‘climate of opinion’ is conveyed by the contrast between the so-called ‘Age of Faith’ (C13th) and ‘Age of Reason’ (C18th). In the latter period ‘reason’, a word with many meanings, became associated with a ‘rational’ rejection of the faith which all were duty-bound to believe and, therefore, which dominated the earlier period. The revealed knowledge and unquestioned fact of the Age of Faith was, briefly, that all was created by an omniscient God in six days, man was made perfect but fell from grace, salvation was possible through the sacrifice of God’s son, life in the Earthly City was a temporary probation by which the faithful could gain entrance to the Heavenly City, the end of life on earth which come in God’s time, and only God could understand all. The contrast between these ages does not arise because of bad logic or poor intelligence in the C13th: St Thomas Aquinas was a person of powerful intellect and logical thought as much as any of the ‘rationalists’, like Voltaire, who later on came to find his ideas meaningless or flawed. The function of intelligence, a creation by God, and logic in the medieval period was limited to demonstrating the truth of revealed knowledge by reconciling the ‘facts of experience‘ with the world known through the unquestioned faith in the Supreme Creator, the Almighty. In the later period the function of intelligence and logic became to attack, undermine or free people from the dogmas of faith and the implications following from it. The difference between the two periods is not that the latter can be described as a period of ‘reason’ and the former as not so: ” … [the unfortunate use of the word reason] obscures the fact that reason may be employed to support faith as well as destroy it” and they shared the “conviction that their beliefs could … Read More

The Keynes CentreHow does ‘Climate of Opinion’ Guide our Thinking?

Trump, Brexit: How to Think about the Unprecedented

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

The candidacy, campaign and election of Donald Trump to be the forty-fifth president of the United States of America challenged the ways many people, including experienced political reporters and commentators, made sense of this new political phenomenon. For almost two years many people struggled unsuccessfully with the meaning of the situation as it unfolded because they were using conventional categories of thought for something those categories could not help explain. The emergence of someone like Mr. Trump, who could claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still be elected as president, actually being elected (albeit while losing the popular vote), is an unprecedented outcome in U.S. politics. After the fact, there has been a scramble to explain him and to contain the implications of his behaviour. None of these explanations are very convincing (e.g., ‘voters wanted ‘change’ rather than ‘continuity’). This is not surprising as, so far, the mainstream media at least are operating with existing categories of thought: if a situation is unprecedented, then the categories formed on the basis of past experience will not be appropriate. In the U.K. there were many similarities between the Brexit campaign and Mr. Trump’s campaign, most notably, perhaps, in the abandonment of any recognition – not to mind obligation – of truthfulness. The behaviour of the campaigners and voters in both countries – many of the latter having little regard for facts – is unprecedented and the big question posed by this extraordinary experience is: How to Think About the ‘Unprecedented’? Hannah Arendt faced that question when she went to the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 in order to see Eichmann at first hand and to report on the trial. We can look to her response to that experience as an exemplar of HOW to THINK about a new phenomenon. Thinking with Arendt Arendt went to the trial of Adolf Eichmann, not out of ego or seeking acclaim, but because she needed to understand the unprecedented situation of a state policy for the industrial ‘processing’ of people. She wanted to take what she believed would be her last chance to see an example of a real Nazi who was involved in that horror and she spent much time contemplating the transcripts of Eichmann’s lengthy pre-trial interrogation and of the trial. Arendt, of course, was no ordinary reporter; as a ‘journalist’ she had unusually strong skills of observation and looked at such things as free of pre-conceptions as possible. Her awareness from this experience led her to the insight that it was necessary to think anew. Her method was to look at a particular (Adolf Eichmann) in order to formulate a new way of understanding, rather than subsume it under existing ready-made generalisations or categories, e.g., ‘monster’, which she decided was not appropriate for this unprecedented phenomenon. For Arendt judging always concerns particulars and things close at hand. Here’s an everyday example of what she means: When we go to a restaurant and enjoy a ‘good’ dish … Read More

The Keynes CentreTrump, Brexit: How to Think about the Unprecedented

The Benefits of Journaling for Personal Professional Development

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

Reflective journals, well known in the form of diaries, have been kept by all sorts of people for many different purposes. Writers, for example, use them as a means to generate ideas or to experiment with language. In the natural and social sciences, researchers keep notebooks in which details of experiments, interviews and surveys are recorded. Business executives use them to guide, manage and reveal their professional development. In the mahayana tradition of Buddhism there is a practice known as lojong – ‘training the mind’ (lojong is Tibetan: lo means ‘intelligence’, ‘mind’, ‘that which can perceive things’; jong means ‘training’, or ‘processing’). The purpose is to enhance awareness by catching our first thoughts and ideas as they emerge through the reflective or contemplative process. The Reflective Journal is a practical tool by which the “mental place” and the “capacity to pause” can be created by anyone. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Nancy J. Adler points out the importance of taking time to reflect in the fast-paced, frenzied lives that we live: “Using a journal regularly will give you the courage to see the world differently, to understand the world differently, and to lead in new and needed ways”. Benefits Journaling is a great space where learning can happen and insight may occur. This ‘space’ supports change in personal thinking which is at the heart of the learning experiences we provide at The Keynes Centre. The purpose of the Reflective Journal is to facilitate, in a private way, the process of intellectual transformation which accompanies critical reflection on sources of knowledge, i.e. the selected books in the case of our Book Club or selected films in the case of our Film Club, and the faculty for making good judgements. Through the Reflective Journal participants can ‘see’ how their own thinking is progressing over time and how they are making their own contributions to what they think about issues. The Reflective Journal is an individual forum for reworking information drawn from external sources covers personal observations, questions, and hypotheses and, indeed, digests any matters causing unease, interest and challenge. It is used to contemplate ideas from discussions, own thoughts or any other source of knowledge and to revise thinking by helping to Sort thoughts Come to a viewpoint Watch for confirming indications Practice using the viewpoint Maintain awareness of thinking. This is a great tool for them to record and reflect on their reading and learning processes, revisit or redefine their achievements, chart the thinking process, identify ‘brick walls’ or learning ‘milestones’, and celebrate successes and reassess challenges. The most important feature of the Reflective Journal is that it is personal and private, allowing the writer the freedom to surface, express, explore and develop ideas without the restrictions, fears, assessments of external observers. It is the place where we can focus and productively engage with the ‘internal dialogue’ always going on inside of us. Some suggestions for moving beyond the ‘blank page’:  Record and reflect on your learning process … Read More

The Keynes CentreThe Benefits of Journaling for Personal Professional Development

Overcoming Leadership Anxiety

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

The field of ‘leadership’ is a mess. Forget the 6 traits, 7 skills, 8 habits, 9 behaviors! These ways of thinking only give you leadership anxiety. Here are some ideas for a different approach:

The Keynes CentreOvercoming Leadership Anxiety