The second David Brooks’s article we want to draw attention to is on the position of moderates and their importance in the present political landscape. “What Moderates Believe” points out that the answer to the rule of Trump and the right is not the left, but an alternative to “warrior mentality” that pervades both camps. Brooks describes moderates as a “voyager type” who sets out to engage with ideas from different sides and is vigilant in the ideas she takes up depending on the situations she finds herself in. Read, and enjoy, the full article here.
Even at this early stage of his presidency, Mr Trump’s behaviour is too demanding and upsetting for many and it is already a matter of ‘tuning him out’ to preserve peace of mind. Otherwise, his opinion tweeting obsession requires economizing on our attention spans – coming to a sustainable position of him so that we need not think about his every turn. David Brooks, a generally fair observer of the U.S. scene, recently grappled with this dilemma in a New York Times Op-Ed column. Brooks returned later this summer to pick up on an implication of his earlier piece suggesting MODESTY is the most powerful answer to fanaticism. Modesty he says is a way of knowing the world which opposes ‘conspiracy mongering mind-sets’: “It means having the courage to understand that the world is too complicated to fit into one political belief system. It means understanding there are no easy answers or malevolent conspiracies that can explain the big political questions or the existential problems. Progress is not made by crushing some swarm of malevolent foes; it’s made by finding balance between competing truths — between freedom and security, diversity and solidarity. There’s always going to be counter-evidence and mystery. There is no final arrangement that will end conflict, just endless searching and adjustment.” Here is his Opinion article. Brooks mentions that over the next few months he’s hoping to write several columns on why modesty and moderation are superior to the spiralling ‘purity movements’ of today and says “It seems like a good time for assertive modesty to take a stand.” Indeed. This is part one of a series of blog posts which will keep you posted on these columns by Brooks as they arrive. Meantime, enjoy reflecting on the ideas of one of the more thoughtful of media columnists.
The question of adulthood and growing up is often lurking around discourses of Trump, often seen and described as an over-grown child. But perhaps there is also a need to mature on our part in relation to how we think and talk about Trump. Such an observation is made by David Brooks, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and generally fair observer of the U.S. He begins by venting some frustrations : “For the past two years Trump has taken up an amazing amount of my brain space. My brain has apparently decided that it’s not interested in devoting more neurons to that guy. There’s nothing more to be learned about Trump’s mixture of ignorance, insecurity and narcissism. Every second spent on his bluster is more degrading than informative.” But, continuing about ‘listening to his brain for a change’, Brooks elaborates that it would “mean trying, probably unsuccessfully, to spend less time thinking about Trump the soap opera and more time on questions that surround the Trump phenomena and this moment in history.” “It is clear that Trump is not just a parenthesis”, Brooks says, and after his presidency “things will not just snap back to ‘normal’”. Referring to ‘dying old demographic, political, even moral orders’, Brooks considers that “… what comes after will be a reaction against rather than a continuing from.” Ultimately, Brooks asks: “What lessons are people drawing … and how will those lessons shape what comes next?” Indeed, we must, as reasoning persons, go on to ask what ought we to do? In brief, the answer is: ‘grow up’. Susan Nieman, in her book Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age (2014: 6-8), puts the matter very well when she says: “Growing up is more a matter of courage than knowledge: all information in the world is no substitute for the guts to use your own judgment…” and continues “…courage is required to live with the rift that will run through our lives, however good that may be; ideals of reason tell us how the world should be; experience tells us that it rarely is. Growing up requires confronting the gap between the two – without giving up on either one.” Referring to how common it is “to meet people who are stuck in the mire of adolescence” and, noting the stance that it is brave to face the rot of the reality that there is no place for ideals any more, Nieman counters: “Such a standpoint is less brave than you think, for it demands absolutely nothing but an air of urbanity. Far more courage is needed to acknowledge that both ideals and experience make equal claims on us.” We could add that this is the stance of common cynicism–an easy stance to take up, maybe the easiest. For Nieman, the bottom line is: “Doing what you can to move your part of the world closer to the way it should be, while never losing sight of the way that it is, is … Read More
‘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.
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
“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
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
Wise words from the outstanding writer, Norma Maclean – useful for thinking about Leadership Development and Growth Mindsets
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 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
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