All posts by jackpelham

What Should Be Done?

Let us observe some things about ourselves in how various people among us might answer an overarching question about how to fix a society that most would agree is seriously ailing.

QUESTION

“What should be done about the mess we’re in?”

ANSWERS

SAM: “Pray about it.”
TED: “Throw the bums out of office!”
RALPH: “We need a good man in the White House.”
THOMAS: “We need more unity.”
ROBERT: “Put prayer back in the schools.”
ART: “Vote Republican.”
NED: “We have to get serious about protecting the environment.”
MIKE: “We need stricter regulations to keep big business in check.”
ANTON: “Back the Blue.”
ANSLEY: “Vote Democrat.”
ZANE: “Nothing. Just be at peace.”
WILLIAM: “Lower taxes.”
SAMUEL: “Raise taxes.”
PAUL: “More government programs.”
NATE: “Smaller government.”
FRANK: “Homeschooling.”
DAVE: “Increase spending on Education.”
CHARLIE: “Overthrow the government.”
FRED: “What this country needs is Jesus.”
GARRISON: “Promote diversity.”
HOWARD: “Term limits.”
IRWIN: “People need to get more informed.”
JAMES: “Less talk; more action.”
KERRY: “We need to bring back the great American work ethic.
LARSON: “Restore respect.”
MANNY: “Get rid of religion.”
NILES: “Start prosecuting people in office who break the law.”
OREN: “Put Fox News out of business.”
PAT: “More hate speech laws.”
KELLY: “Get rid of CNN.”
LAWSON: “Put Zuckerberg in jail.”
MARTY: “Break up Amazon.”
MOE: “Bring manufacturing back home to America.”
MUNSON: “Gun control.”
GEORGE: “Stricter health laws.”
CARSON: “Bring back $1 gas.”
KARL: “Free college tuition.”
WALLY: “Defund the police.”
XAVIER: “End racism.”
ALEXANDER: “Make it easier to vote.”
ALLEN: “Voter ID.”
BARRY: “Tort reform.”
DANIEL: “End the Fed.”
FREDDY: “Get rid of internal combustion engines.”
HARRISON: “Get back to the Constitution.”
LENNY: “Get rid of the Constitution.”
ANDY: “A one-world government.”
BRADY: “Anarchy.”
KELVIN: “Diet and exercise.”
MALVIN: “Yoga/Meditation.”
MAURIE: “STEM.”
OLLIE: “Can’t we just get along?”

This could go on and on, but I think this is a good enough sampling to get a feel for how varied might be the responses.

Surely, some of these are great ideas. And surely, some of these are terrible ideas. Almost all of these, however, are grossly over-simplified and/or over-generalized ideas, and this speaks to what I had mentioned above, regarding what we could learn about ourselves (either as a society, or as individuals) by observing how we tend to handle such questions. And surely, we’d learn just as much by observing how we tend to handle the more fundamental question: “Just what is the biggest problem in our society?” Indeed, I would expect a lot of people to answer the first question without first exercising the cognitive due diligence of defining just what mess we’re trying to fix in the first place. Yes, we can be that sloppy in our approach to thinking through such things!

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a few days, just to highlight how we’re “all over the board”—like what you’d see if you were to throw a dozen darts at a dart board (unless you’re excellent at darts). I don’t want to get off into the weeds of the details, but I will say this much. Let’s look at Sam’s answer at the top of the list: “Pray about it.” And then let’s ask Sam, and everybody who agrees with him, “OK, and what result should we expect to see from that?” And in response to that, I would expect that group’s answers to be “all over the board”. Is this me saying that prayer is bad? No, this is me wanting more than just a pat answer.

Or with Ted’s answer (“Throw the bums out of office”), suppose we were to ask this question to everyone who agrees with Ted’s go-to solution: “After throwing the bums out of office, what would be the next step necessary to produce a substantial improvement in things?” And while we might get some simple answer like, “Put good candidates in their places”, we’d find on follow-up questions that Ted’s group might be “all over the board”. For example, let’s ask them “OK, what makes a good candidate”, or “How can you actually get a good candidate elected in this day and age?”

This is what I mean by over-simplification. So many of these answers are just something to say. They’re not well-considered strategies; they’re just something to say—something to tell ourselves—something to tell others—something, perhaps, by which to pretend that we’re not as clueless about what goes on as we actually are?

So I thought that in this post, I’d put myself on the spot, as it were, and take my best stab at answering the question briefly—with no particular plan having been conceived in advance. So, here goes:

QUESTION (restated)

“What should be done about the mess we’re in?”

JACK’S ANSWER

Well, the mess we’re in is actually an aggregate of a lot of messes running at once–and that mess certainly includes the trouble caused by all our different ways of identifying causes and effects, and of differentiating between what is true and false, and between what is effective and ineffective. If there is some sort of fundamental cause underlying the overall mess of things, wouldn’t it have to lie in what the typical human does in his or her mind? So, shouldn’t the remedy have something to do with improving how we think, decide, and believe—with how we manage what goes on in our minds?

In short, we need some way to become better at being humans—better at how we manage ourselves and our relationships with others, and our habits of dealing with one another, whether in friendships, businesses, or government. I have seen people who believe any of the particular answers given on the long list above, yet who do not seem to think it’s very important to be learning how to be a better human themselves. But think of the irony that Ted should be adamant about throwing the “bums” out of office, but not about avoiding being a “bum” himself—or that Pat is adamant about “hate speech”, but is not concerned with the fact that he he himself says hateful things about people he thinks are immorally intolerant of others.

If we can’t find a solution for our own selves—for what goes on inside—then is there really any reasonable hope for fixing things on a grand, societal scale? And can you really fix anything overall without having to improve the behavior of individuals? Why, then, would we reach any other conclusion than that each of us should fix him- or herself?

And we tend to have more problems than just one. Cognitive miserliness and moral miserliness are two huge ones—the result of which is often observed in hypocrisy, which is a plague upon our culture. If we were to improve just 50% in these things, it would make a tremendous difference in our society.

The way I see it, this is our work, whether we do it or not. It is so easy to fall into the trap of fussing about what’s so wrong with everyone else, or, perhaps, quietly stewing over it, rather than fixing what we could manage to fix in ourselves. And surely, many fall into the trap of wishing that someone else would come fix their hearts and mind for them—doing for them what they could do themselves if they thought it were worth the effort to learn how and to do it. This is why so many over-invest in the hypothesis that man is an utterly-helpless worm that has no ability to do or think or want anything good, but must have all goodness divinely instilled into him by God.

But here’s something ironic: Even the people who buy into that notion—who claim that any good that resides in them must be the fruit of God’s own doing—seem to settle for so very little of that fruit, when, to hear them talk about it, God is this ever-flowing font of goodness, freely giving of himself and his riches of virtue to all who ask. Why, then, do they not to get themselves some more of that? Must God also make them ask for more—them being unable to desire and request more on their own?

Well, it that were the case, then how would we escape the conclusion that whatever is wrong with us—whatever is not yet fixed in us—is ultimately God’s fault, and that we ourselves must be blameless?

And I know a lot of people that seem to operate quite like that—even though I could not imagine them admitting it in words even in a thousand years of operating that way. They just don’t seem to want to be accountable for themselves. And yet even so, they are quick to stew or to fuss (or both) about how other people ought to be doing a better job in their thinking, deciding, believing, and doing. So, it would seem that the folks I’m talking about really do believe in personal accountability after all, except in their own cases. And what could be a more quintessential exercise in hypocrisy than that?

When I read the Bible, I see God holding a lot of people accountable for their choices. And I suppose I have taken the same view—that it is right to hold us accountable for what we choose, and to judge us by the same standards by which we judge others. Indeed, if that were unfair—if our standards for others were unjust—then why are we using those standards ourselves? If it is good for the goose, then why not for the gander?

But that’s an examiner’s question, and not the question of the cognitive/moral miser. And that brings us back to the problem I’ve been getting at—that not enough of us are duly concerned with how we manage things inside. We get upset for how other people’s mismanagement of themselves hurts or inconveniences us, for sure, but we give ourselves a pass far too often for causing similar troubles to this world ourselves.

There are a lot of front porches in town that need sweeping. Shall I sit in the dust on mine, and complain about the neighbor’s laziness?

If there is some answer that’s more fundamental than this one, I have yet to learn it. And there’s a great gradient—both in politics and religion—spanning between those who care nothing about principle, and those who care about it with great diligence. The masses, however, rest in the middle of that gradient, and sort themselves out left-and-right, with none of their camps being very accommodating to the ones who care the most about getting things right. They all cheat. They all cut corners. They all deny, from time to time, the principles they otherwise seem to be interested in promoting. And yet they all expect their members to be more loyal to the group than to their own continuing maturation in principle and practice. The most diligent of people don’t seem to do very well in those groups.

And these are the groups who, generally speaking, run the country and the churches and the schools and the companies and the media. And most of these things are designed to thrive within the status quo, and are not interested in meaningful reform. They are a lousy hope in the hunt for a cure to what ails us, then. Generally speaking, they are deeply committed to mediocrity, and not to excellence—to what is popularly acceptable, and not to what is true. They are not the answer that they hold themselves out to be, and that so many wish they were.

I think the answer lies in the question, “What kind of people are we?” and its sister, “What kind of people are we willing to become?”

I could say without reservation that Fred’s statement (above) is right: “What this country needs is Jesus.” But the catch is this: Which Jesus is Fred talking about? Is he talking about the one in the Bible, who held people to account and expected much from them, or the one that’s so popular in the churches today, who gives people a pass for their choices and slathers them with a “grace” that basically says “Your choices don’t matter, as long as you choose to maintain a minimal belief in the fact that, ‘Jesus is Lord’.”?

Who among us can be flawless? No one. But the question that drives me is this: Who among us can be better than he is?

This, we could do. This, we should do. And this, widely-adopted, would change the world.

I AM WEARIED BY THIS WORLD

I am wearied by this world,
Its endless waves washing ashore
Day after weary day,
And filled as they are with the rubbish
Of what might have been fixed already—
Each filthy rush a testimony
To how few really care to make things right—
Or know how.

And who, seeing this, could not wish
For a better world?

And don’t we all,
In this way or that?

Yet no one can make it better for the wishing—
Nor even for the trying—
Except for that tiny part of the mess
That is his own—
That one part of it in eight billion
That he has created himself
By way of his own errors
In thought and decision
And belief and deed.

These he could set out to fix—
To do his part at ridding the world
Of the evils he himself has thrust upon it
In his days so far—
And in sparing the world of those he might have
Otherwise thrust upon it tomorrow—
To tidy up after himself
And to make amends
And to speak up for what is right
By having done what is right himself.

But who would choose such a course
When it is so much easier to fuss at the waves
As if he had no part in their filth himself?

Indeed! Who would be so just
As to refuse to discount
His own role in the mess
While raging at the wearisome whole of it?

Who would be so brilliant of heart
As to see what he owes to the cure—
And to make it so—
Even if the cluttered beach
Should look quite the same with his share
Of the trash removed?

Such a one would know that
He had done right,
Whether the others did likewise or not—
Whether they noticed or not.

And he would be the one most worthy
Of that better world for which we all wish
In some form or another—
And the one most apt to know how to build it,
If it had not been built already—
That great world in which everyone else is
Upright and kind and untwisted.

And upon going there,
He would surely witness
Among its myriad glories
That most somber occasion
Upon which the ordinary man
Would be sternly turned away,
Though having expected to be
Welcomed with open arms,
Yet never having figured out that
In a great world in which everyone else is
Upright and kind and untwisted,
There would naturally be no room for
One who was not.

And so they stand even now on this beach,
Bemoaning the rot of this world
As it pours in each day,
And wishing it removed by hands not their own—
Whether God’s or man’s, they do not really care—
And wishing for a world in which
The sad state of their own souls did not matter,
Just as they assume it does not really matter here.

And this is their idea of heaven.
And standing in this present filth,
They marvel at it and revel in the hope of their heaven,
While the one odd soul in the distance
Picks up his own trash.

And being one of the relatively few aspiring
To pollute this world no further
With what goes on in my mind,
It is hard not to be grow weary of the surf
From time to time, at least,
And to be disappointed
That so many seem so slow to catch on—
That so few projects bear the fruit it seems they could.

And I wonder whether I really understand myself—
Though I think I do—
That the key to fixing this world completely
Is not one key in the hand of a grand hero,
But eight billion keys in the hands of
Eight billion people who could
Learn this one-person lesson for themselves
If they wanted—
Each of their lives having been set here,
As was mine,
For their chance at learning the lesson
And moving on to the world
That was made for those who
Cared to find their keys
And give them a go.

This surf is the fruit of each of us
Making his go at the world,
With his mistakes and successes—
His victories and losses—
His rights and his wrongs.
And here we all stand with it lapping at our feet,
Sprinkled so much more with bad than good.

But do I begrudge my fellow man
The chance to make his errors
And to have his go at it
While on his own watch?
Do I resent the cost to me
Of his deficit in learning?—
As if I myself were not still
Making errors and learning as I go?
Do I resent him stepping on my toes
As he learns to walk straight?

Indeed, I am not yet done myself,
Though having got a good deal of it figured out,
Even still, I so quickly lose sight of my own remaining imperfection,
And assume the bulk of what ails me to be
The error of others.
And yes, they are still wrong in so many ways,
And life would indeed be better if they’d cut it out,
But am I not in this same crucible, too,
Set right alongside them and
Committing errors of the same general sort,
Having not yet become flawless myself?

It is tempting to think that if only
I were to become perfect in forgiveness,
I would no longer be wearied by this beach,
But I’m not so sure that’s true.
I think it’s supposed to be hard here, and that
The Heaven’s a haven of rest from it—
And of reward for having used the key we were given,
To do our best at doing right
And to wrestle with ourselves over it all
And to see where we fall short
And to learn the humility needed
To keep trying, rather than simply
To fold our arms and pout about it all.

And my, do we ever fall short, it seems!
But no, that’s not true, either,
For we do not always fail.
No, we do learn and overcome sometimes.
So there’s no rule to be found in our failure, either,
However tempting it may be to believe it—
And especially in such a great company with those who do
Believe that notion.

So it tires me to keep on this straight and narrow—
To turn away neither to the left, nor to the right—
Though there are so many opportunities
For such error.

And I wonder that there should be
Some plan in all this after all—
Some purpose for it, being worked
By the one who set us here for a time
So that we could see whether we would
Want to live in that Holy City
In his second world of two—
Or not—
And whether we should be fit for it—
Both of which questions may well be one and the same.

And in my wearier moments here,
I can take hope in the idea
That life doesn’t grow weary there,
And that this shall all have been
Well worth the trouble of learning and enduring
And overcoming.

These things I have read.


Safer Than They Think

Many of the people I know
Are safer than they think.
In one way or another,
They shy away from dangers
That are barely real —
If they are real at all—
Or from a past that can be
Neither present nor future
But with their help.

They tremble at the klaxon warning—
Not realizing that they themselves
Are the ones making it squawk.
They feel the foreboding trepidation,
Not realizing that they are the ones
Fanning into flame the dying embers of
What has gone before,
And fueling it anew with the imagination.

They have got themselves talked into
Not being free. Not being safe. Not being OK.

It’s only talk, of course.
A mere notion.
And its only power—
If it has any power at all—
Lies in the chance
That someone might pick the fear of a tiny thing
And believe it to be much more than it really is.

They fear, of course, that those fleeting feelings
Of embarrassment
Or of doom
Or of despair
Or of remorse
Are permanent and unbearable.
They have no idea that such things
Are only temporary and tolerable.
They have no idea that they can
Move past such things.

In believing hands, such fear becomes
The monster they think it is—
The very reason for their failures—
The bane of their existence—
The Nemesis who shall have
Robbed them by the end
Of much of what
They might have wished for
In their short lives.

Few have little idea that the gloriously simple
Defenses against it
Lie merely in refusing to adopt it,
And in being willing to endure
The unsettling feelings
Until it is all finally settled.

For those who can but
Refuse to believe it —
Who can stand the test—
It is done at their refusal of it.
It falls disarmed and lifeless
To the floor—
Where one may look at it
And ponder what all the fuss
Was ever about,
And regret that anyone should have ever
Spent so much time
Cowering at what as
But a shadow
Made of make-believe and difficult feelings.

Few realize that, upon deciding
What to believe about themselves
In the mundane matters of life,
They run such risk of being entrapped
In the simple habit of believing
What should have been rejected already—
What could have been rejected already—
What could be done away with once and for all.

They are safer than they think.
And when they figure this out—
And when they dare to believe it,
Pushing through the brief discomfort of it—
You will see them fly!

The Grandest Irony

Adolf Hitler

It is the grandest irony,
I think,
That Herr Hitler—
Wicked narcissist that he was—
Was eventually brought down by the decree
That all communiques of the Reich
Should bear the salute, “Heil Hitler”.

It was discovered to be the one thing
Every dispatch would have in common.
And that was the clue that proved sufficient
To decode them all.

That a mortal—
Any mortal—
Would consider his own praise a proper
Prime directive for his people
Is a monument to his twisted heart.
Who could be so deformed of mind?
So misconstructed and dastardly?

The Enigma Machine enabled Germany to encrypt and decrypt messages securely, until the system was cracked by their enemies.

Such hubris is a signal for those who recognize it—
A beacon in the darkness—
A lighthouse on the rocky shore.
Yet, so many see such narcissism without a clue
As to the dangers it signals—
With no idea of the things
That such tyrants tend to do—
Even as they “Heil!” their own Hitlers.

A typical Enigma intercept from the Bletchley Park operation in England. These messages were transmitted in Morse code as groups of five letters, which were easily intercepted — but were impossible to understand without sophisticated decryption. (Photo courtesy Dr. David Hamer)

They Come Together

They come together,
These people,
Each beautiful in their various ways,
Offering up their strengths
As gifts to us all—
Having received them
As gifts themselves.

One is the bearer of a grand fact,
And the other of a great skill.
One of a kind heart,
And his friend, of a keen diligence.
And they set them all in the center,
Where we may all make use of them freely.

And we do!

And what comes out is
Greater than what was put in.
And we are more than we were.
Together, we do what we could not have done.

And it changes us inside.
And we are better than we were—
Better for the give-and-take of it all.

Together we look forward.
And there is such kindness in it.
And how can this not be the way
The world was meant to be?

If You Could See

If you could see what I see,
You’d be all in.
You’d drop your hesitance
And shake off the inattention
And push yourself to do your best—
Which, as it turns out in this real world,
No one else can do for you.

If you could see what I see,
You’d be distracted from your inconfidence
By the beauty of what we’re doing here,
And you’d forget you had once been so insecure in yourself.
You’d lose sight of yourself—
And of whatever it is you are currently so certain
Is wrong with you—
And you’d see what it’s like
To be freed from oneself
In the pursuit of something worthy.

If you could see what I see,
You’d see that it is not about me,
Nor about you,
But about the fact that some things
Are just so right
And so beautiful
That they are worthy of our time
And our energies
And our attention,
And that what we are doing here
Is a good thing indeed.

And if I can manage to show you—
To inspire you—
Then we shall be partners in this,
As fellows on a trek to the same destination.
And you will find other partners, still.
And we’ll all have a share in this good thing
To which someone else once introduced me,
Having learned it himself from yet another.

And this thing about life is very good.

I Went Along With You

I went along with you to where
I did not know how to go myself.
And what seems the wonder of it all
Is that you did know—
That there are wondrous places and things that
One will not know already,
To which he can be guided by someone who already does.

And along the way, I did not know if the destination
Would be worth the journey.
But you already knew it was.
You knew it was worth it.
And so you helped me to make it there, too,
That I could see it for myself,
And take somebody else there someday—
Them wondering whether they should have
Come along with me—
Just as I, too, had wondered that at the journey with you—
Until at last, I saw it for myself.

The Unaccountable “Christian”

Billy has got his mind made up that he’s a Christian, and for him, that settles it. There’s no need to consider how much he knows about Jesus or his teachings—or how much he understands them. There’s no need to weigh out whether he has learned to reason like Jesus or treat people like Jesus. There’s no need to survey himself as to how much be believes each one of Jesus’ teachings is true and accurate and desirable. There’s no need to consider his failures, and the number of times he does in fact not act like Jesus, nor according to his teachings.

Continue reading The Unaccountable “Christian”

These Final Days of the United States of America

A non-Republican, non-Democrat perspective.

by Jack Pelham

Globalists (by which term I mean Communists) have been slowly chipping away at the defenses of the United States for a very long time. They promised back in the 50s to do it, and if you read their long-known strategies, it’s scary to see just how much they’ve accomplished since then.) America has grown dull, however, and relatively few among her see these developments as particularly alarming—yet–even though elected officials from both major parties are complicit in this subterfuge.

Yes, it’s that classic frog-in-the-slowly-heated-pot thing, where they play the “long game” against us, working under the radar of our awareness so that they don’t overwhelm our ability to keep pretending that things are pretty much OK. America has had her alarmists, of course, but she has not listened, and is still not listening. And so, she is about to learn the hard way, and history may well write “They told you so” on her headstone.

Continue reading These Final Days of the United States of America