Where Have All the Statesmen Gone?

My daddy had a doctorate in rhetoric. He taught speech in high school. I learned much about the art of public speaking and persuasion from him. I was reviewing the article on Rhetoric on Wikipedia tonight. I was reminded of many of the mechanisms of persuasion, the syllogism, the enthymeme, ethos, pathos, and logos. These building blocks of public speaking have been taught to our public speakers and statesmen since before Aristotle wrote the book Rhetoric in ancient Greece.

When I was a boy, I could listen to the politicians of the day make speeches. I could read transcripts of their speeches in news papers and journals. I  haven’t heard any speeches lately. Our modern politicians speak in sound bites. They convince with one liners instead of well reasoned and crafted arguments. We don’t have a long enough attention span for that.

We used to have statesmen in this country. Individuals that served in the federal government because they felt it was their duty as citizens to represent their constituents and promote their interests and welfare. But somewhere along the line something changed. Now there are no statesmen. There are just self serving, greedy, puppets that do whatever their handlers tell them to.

It goes back to what I said about the eroding standards of education in a prior post. We want everything to be handed to us, predigested. We don’t want to think. We have been taught to regurgitate what we have been told. We don’t question whether it is the truth or not. Statesmen encouraged people to think about what they were saying. Our politicians just want to buy your vote with whatever empty promise they think will sway you.

I’m going to vote in the election this fall. But I sure miss the days of the statesmen. I guess that is the mark of growing older, missing the good old days of your youth. What will the youth of today miss when they grow older?

I’m Fed Up with Politics

I just read the weekly newsletter from Warren Ellis, a British science fiction writer that I follow. He is pretty depressed about the outcome of the vote on whether to leave the EU that was held this last Thursday. I don’t understand the issues well enough to have an opinion but it is clear that the country is very divided even after the vote. It feels similar to how things have felt here at home in the United States for the past decade or so.

It seems like things really started down hill when we had the contested election back in 2000. This was quickly followed by nine eleven and hurricane Katrina. I thought when Barack Obama was elected that things would be different but the right just continued to act like spoiled brats to the extent that it has inspired everyone in politics to act that way. I don’t have any confidence in any of our politicians, on either side of the aisle.

I think we’ve come to the point where any sane, rational person would be a fool to run for public office. We get the kind of politicians that we deserve. I don’t know why I continue to write about it. It is disturbing. It is what everyone is talking about. It is going to be the topic of conversation at least through the election in November. I suspect that no matter who wins the election, the other side will be whining about it after the election.

Anti-Intellectualism

Isaac Asimov was a big hero of mine when I was a kid. He was the Neil deGrasse Tyson of that era, making science a cool thing. He also wrote excellent science fiction books and stories. I came across a quote from him on Facebook the other day that got me thinking. He said, “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

This is at the heart of my problem with the current political landscape. No one wants to talk about facts any more. They want to appeal to emotions and arouse irrational fear. Emotions are a survival instinct. They serve quite nicely when you are being chased by a bear and don’t have time to think about whether or not you should run. They don’t have any place as the predominant motivating factor in a political campaign.

That is where anti-intellectualism comes into play. We seem to have a strong cultural bias toward glorifying ignorance and it will ultimately be our downfall. Unless we challenge our politicians to address the issues and debate them with facts not appeals to emotion, we will continue to elect shallow talking heads that have no idea what the issues are, much less how to address them.

It’s Not Funny Anymore, Where are the REAL Candidates?

The United Kingdom just voted to leave the European Union. That is a rather extreme thing for them to do but they certainly have the right to do it. The problem is, I don’t think most UK voters really understood the underlying issues associated with this action. I’m sure I don’t understand them but from what I see as an outsider they have been subjected to an emotional campaign based on lies and half truths.

This strikes a resonant chord with me. I think that the American voters are being subjected to a very similar campaign waged by the presidential candidates. I don’t know if the UK made the correct choice but I’m almost certain that, right or wrong, they made it for the wrong reasons. I’m afraid we are about to repeat that in the United States.

I’m not happy with either candidate. I could list my reasons but I think the most important reason is that neither candidate is addressing any of the real problems that we are facing as a country. They are both putting on reality TV shows and I hate reality TV.

I’m going to vote. And, just between you and me, I’m going to be voting against the other candidate more than I am going to be voting for anyone. I don’t feel comfortable with sharing my selection online, but I do feel compelled to express my disgust with a political system that can offer up such pathetic candidates.

A Manner of Speaking

Language is important. It is how we share what we think with others but even more importantly, it has become an integral part of how we think. If we have words to express something, it is easier to contemplate hypothetical variations on that thing. My dog is very smart but she has a very limited imagination. That is because she lives only in the present and does not think about things in language. Language is a puzzle that she decodes to gain approval not a tool that she uses to master her environment.

This insight was inspired by a You Tube video I watched where Dave Thomas, a popular computer consultant, writer, and publisher told how a bunch of clever people had transformed an adjective, “agile”, into a proper noun, “Agile”, and turned it into a gold mine. By taking a philosophical position statement, Manifesto for Agile Software Development, and turning it into the prescription for solving all the problems inherent in software development, they created an industry that sells books, training, and consulting, among other things, using fear and all the other modern marketing tricks so prevalent in our online society.

They did this by taking the adjective agile and turning it into a noun. I stopped and thought about the fact that this kind of abuse of language goes on all around us. My mother first pointed it out decades ago. She called it “verbing nouns” with her tongue firmly in cheek. It is not going to stop just because we catch people doing it. But we can become more aware of what is going on and think about what the intentions of people that are quick to coin new usage for words are. All we have to do is think.

And Now, the Rest of the Story

I love my Taylor GS-mini guitar. It is made of exotic Koa wood from Hawaii and it sounds fantastic and plays like a dream. It is also a beautiful piece of woodworking in its own right. I say this partially as a disclaimer. I am an avowed fan of Taylor guitars. I read a story in the latest issue of Wood & Steel, the marketing magazine that Taylor publishes for their owners. You get a lifetime subscription with every guitar.

The story was about a dark time in the history of acoustic guitar manufacturers. It was the mid eighties and acoustic guitars were waning in popularity. A certain famous musician had played a Taylor guitar on one of his studio albums and liked it. The local Taylor dealer called Bob Taylor and suggested that they make a custom guitar for the artist. The catch was, the artist insisted that there be no name on the headstock of the guitar.

Bob and his team of crack luthiers got to work and made a magnificent twelve string guitar and gave it a custom finish with the artist’s signature color. The artist loved it and used it in the video for one of his most famous songs. This may not have been the only reason that acoustic guitars rebounded in popularity. Such things are cyclical. But the purple twelve string Taylor guitar that was featured prominently in Prince’s video of Raspberry Beret will be an icon that will remain a treasured memory of Prince fans.

Learning to Think …

I read an interview with Charles Duhigg that helped me understand why I do some of the things that I do. To summarize what I gleaned from it, in order to be successful, we must challenge ourselves to think more about the things that we want to accomplish. We need to put ourselves in a position where we are outside of our comfort zone so that we will think about our goals in deeper and different ways.

When I started writing my seven hundred and fifty words every morning I wanted to learn how to transfer what I was thinking to the page effortlessly. I had discovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Her first suggestion is to sit down every morning and write three pages. I thought about this and decided that I wanted to write on a computer.

I poked around the internet and discovered Buster Benson‘s 750words.com. Buster had done the math and figured out that three hand written pages were approximately seven hundred and fifty words. I signed up and started writing. Buster had made things interesting by collecting statistics on your writing, like how many days in a row you had written your words, and how many times you were distracted for more than three minutes while writing your seven hundred and fifty words. Your words are kept private and you can choose to share as many or as few of your statistics as you like. He also came up with badges for achievements like 30 consecutive days writing, not being distracted for a certain number of days in a row, etc.

As weeks and months went by, I discovered that I was learning to write more fluently and with much less attention to the mechanical aspects of getting the words on the page. At first I had spent much of the posts talking about how many words I had written so far and how many words I had left to write. I soon graduated to describing what was going on in the room around me. The sounds that I heard out the window. The demands of the cat and dog. My wife’s phone conversations.

I kept at it and discovered that if I could listen to music that was instrumental or so familiar that I could ignore the lyrics, I could block out distractions. Of course when I was struggling with myself about what to write, I would often start talking about the music.

Then at the beginning of June I read a blog post by C.J Shivers that advocated blogging every day. I have had a much neglected blog for years. I had even made several attempts to blog daily. This lasted for several days or several weeks. I always got distracted and quit blogging. This time when I decided to commit to blogging daily I new I need to have a plan.

I had managed to make writing daily a habit with 750words.com so, I decided to use my morning words as a way to generate drafts for blog posts. That would allow me to use one good habit to help bootstrap another. I wrote a blog post committing to blog daily and I was off.

I haven’t been able to think of something blog worthy while writing my words every day so far. Some days, I have other things on my mind. Things that are either too private or too boring to make into a blog post. When that happens, I have to make more time to write my blog later in the day. But when I do manage to write a good blog post while I’m writing my morning words, it is particularly satisfying.

The thing that originally caught my attention to read the Duhigg interview was the pull quote that said that you were using your todo list all wrong. I have been a long time believer in the power of making lists. I’m not as much in the habit of making them as I’d like but when I do, I seem to accomplish the things on them.

Duhigg advocates that you use your todo list to prioritize and motivate. In particular, he says to write your stretch goal at the top of the list and periodically ask yourself if what you are doing right now is contributing to that stretch goal. This is yet another way to force yourself to think more and differently about your goals. I’m going to give it a try.