Overheard

The following conversation is purely fictional. Any similarity between characters in this dialogue and persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The Scene: Rural Manners’ bedroom in a large city on the Midwest. We find Rural and his wife Patience in a heated conversation as they get ready for bed.

Rural: Oh come on, Patience, I really don’t care what your friend Sally told you about how her husband treats her. It’s none of our business.

Patience: But Sally is one of my best friends. I have seen her. She’s covered  with bruises and is near panic. I think we should do something to help her.

Rural: What about her husband? I’ve known Sacks for years and he is a good man — and a better assistant coach. He would never hit his wife. And if he did she probably had it coming. Anyway, it’s none of our business. Now go to sleep.

Patience: Sleep! How can I sleep when one for my best friends needs my help and I don’t know what to do? Sacks is an animal. He’s out of control. It’s just not right!

Rural: Not right? Who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong?  Who are we to judge? You’re always saying we shouldn’t be judgmental, so let’s agree to just leave it alone! We have no idea what goes on in that house.

Patience: We have a pretty good idea what goes on in that house. This isn’t the first time and Sally is sure it won’t be the last. She’s seriously considering divorce.

Rural: Well then. That takes care of the problem, Sally will leave Sacks and the problem is solved.

Patience: It is not solved. It’s just hidden. The fact is that Sally has been abused, seriously abused. And that sort of thing just shouldn’t be allowed. You can do something about it as he is your friend and your assistant. At the very least let him know we know what’s going on and that you will go to the Administration at the University if it happens again. You might even threaten to fire him!

Rural: Fire him?? You must be kidding! He’s one of the best coaches in the country. Other universities would die to have him. I’m not going to say a damned thing. After all, he’s been loyal to me all these years and I feel a loyalty to him. He is, after all, one of my best friends. He’s one of OUR best friends. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge. After all, we haven’t walked a mile in his shoes, as they say.

Patience: Oh, Rural, this is all rationalization. And you know it. The man needs to be punished and we can’t just sit by and pretend nothing happened.

Rural: Oh yes we can. Just watch me!

Patience: I am really disappointed in you, Rural. You stand before the public as a pillar of moral rightness and the team looks up to you as an example of how to behave. You want to just ignore this whole thing and pretend it never happened when our good friend Sally’s life is in tatters and you might be able to do something to help her. You do realize if this comes out you could be in big trouble. Have you thought about that?

Rural: Nonsense! I’ve done nothing illegal. And as far as ethics is concerned, which you seem to be all caught up in, it’s just a matter of opinion. There’s no way I’m going to get in trouble and you know it. So just go to sleep, Patience. I need to be my sharpest for practice tomorrow.

In the event, the matter became public. There was a great bloody hue and cry and the general public wanted justice. Many wanted Rural Manners fired. A committee was formed and after several weeks it was decided that Rural would be placed on administrative leave for three games, without pay, and would not be allowed to coach Major University’s football team during that period. His large salary would, of course, take a slight dent, but the Booster Club was prepared to make up the difference. After all, Major University was in the picture for a National Championship that year and that would bring millions of dollars into the University’s coffers. They didn’t want to risk losing their coach! The university’s reputation would suffer a bit, but these things tend to blow over quickly as soon as another scandal beaks out. And that would be soon, as everyone knew. So, in the end, with a few exceptions involving the nay-sayers in the country, everyone was happy and things soon went back to normal.

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The Real Victim

We have already heard the claim that this election is “rigged” and that Donald Trump may lose as a result. What this translates into it: My name is Donald The Trumpet and IF I lose it will not be as a result of my own failings as a person and a potential president, it will be because the Democrats have rigged the election.” In a word, it’s an escape clause that Trump has built into his ridiculous candidacy, because in his mind he cannot lose fair and square. The facts, of course, do not matter — though his claim is, indeed, based on the fact that the DNC managed to guarantee that Hillary would be their candidate and Bernie Sanders would not be. There is certainly some truth in that (if truth matters any more).

But it is a huge jump from that particular unpleasant fact to the outrageous claim that the entire election will be rigged to guarantee that Donald Trump will not be our next president. Why, we might well ask, should the Democrats bother to rig the election when the Trumpet is managing to undermine his own candidacy by continuing to shoot himself in the foot? If only he wouldn’t open his mouth, he might have a chance. But whenever he opens it another outrageous claim comes gushing forth and another doubter is born (we would hope).

To be sure, things have been done in the past to promote the interest of one particular candidate — Mayor Daily in Chicago practically delivered the election to John Kennedy back in the day. But there have been numerous other attempts, such as Jim Crow laws designed to disenfranchise certain voters (usually Democrats) and help the candidate of choice. And it would appear that Florida was pretty much delivered to George W. Bush by his brother not long ago. But to “rig” the entire election in favor of one candidate over another would appear to be practically impossible.

But that doesn’t matter, as we have learned. It’s not what is the case, in fact, that matters. It’s all about perception and the Trumpet is a master at deception — making the “truth” out to be whatever he says. He will say the word “rigged” enough to convince his mindless minions that it is a fact. And when he goes down in defeat in November (if he is not forced to resign sooner) he will shout “foul,” and his minions will rise up in protest. Let’s hope and pray that they not do so in violent protest — though I would certainly not bet against it.

The real victim in this race is not Donald Trump. If the real victim is not the Republican Party (which may well be the case) it is the truth. It is facts. It is what happens to be the case and not what people perceive to be the case. Truth is the real victim because the consequences of this transformation of lies into The Truth From On High are incalculable. The Donald will, as he says, take a long vacation and then probably work for Fox News and do the lecture circuit to help reimburse himself for the expenses he has incurred in this contest — and keep his face in the public eye. But what his mindless minions will do is anyone’s guess and those consequences follow directly from the rocks this man has turned over and the rage he has ignited in the hearts of so many people who might otherwise have simply remained mute. And, again, the truth will lie in tatters around our feet, unrecognizable and incapable of resuscitation. There’s the real victim.

Truth In Fiction

As a trained philosopher who also happens to love reading what used to be called “Great Books” — but which are lately dismissed by much of the academic community as the works of “Dead, White, European Males” — I would like to make the case for reading works of fiction written by exceptional writers, such as Barbara Kingsolver (who is not D.,E., or M.). I have mentioned her before because she has the ability to write fascinating stories that have deep and important messages beneath the surface. Thus, they are not just tales, they are also food for serious thought. I have mentioned her name before and dare say I will mention it again, but at this time I would like to focus attention on a brief exchange between the writer-hero of her brilliant novel The Lacuna and his lawyer as the F.B.I. hovers in the background ready to arrest the writer for subversion. The time period follows the second world war when Stalin went from being our ally to being Satan incarnate, the “Cold War,” the period of the so-called “House Un-American Committee.” The year is 1948 and our hero’s lawyer is speaking:

“What these men are doing could become permanent.”

“What do you mean?”

Suddenly he looked weary. “You force people to stop asking questions, and before you know it they have auctioned off the question mark, or sold it for scrap. No boldness. No good ideas for fixing what’s broken in the land. Because if you happen to menition it’s broken, you are automatically disqualified. . . . .”

“I’m an old man, I’ve seen a lot. But what these men are doing is putting poison on the grass. It kills the crabgrass all right, and then you have a lot of dead stuff out there for a very long time. Maybe forever.”

Now, of course, the lawyer is speaking of folks like Martin Dies, J. Parnell Thomas, and later Joe McCarthy who many of us have forgotten or would like to have forgotten, men who assaulted Civil Rights and the First Amendment in the name of “Anti-Communism.” But events did evolve as the lawyer says, precisely, ” . . . . a lot of dead stuff out there for a very long time.” Countless decent men and women were brought to heel by frightened, small-minded, ambitious men in positions of power who were convinced that anyone who ever had shown any interest in, much less sympathy for, Communism or who spoke out for, say, Negro rights, or women’s rights, or may have read Karl Marx, were ipso facto Communists. And, despite the fact that no one really knew what Communism really was, thousands were scared silly — many of whom were literally destroyed by what was, in effect, a witch hunt.

Those days are over, one would think. But what about the other insidious elements in our culture that are designed to silence criticism and label the dissenter as an enemy, who fear words like “socialism” or “Muslim”? Those elements are more subtle in their tactics, but, at the risk of sounding somewhat paranoid, they are nearly as effective as the House Un-American Committee at silencing critics. In 1950 a writer dare not write anything favorable about Communism or the Soviet Union; today a writer dare not write anything that is not politically correct or pro-America. In either case, the written (and spoken) word is censored.

There seems to me to be a good deal of “poisoning of the grass” going on all around us. Does anyone seriously deny, for example, that the propaganda machine has gone into high gear as the DOD pays sports teams millions of our tax dollars to convince us that those among us wearing camouflage (and not at the moment hunting deer) are all, without exception, “heroes”? Does anyone in this culture today dare to suggest publicly that the wars these people are fighting are concocted by the government to protect monied interests? Does anyone dare to suggest the possibility that by invading Iraq for no good reason our nation gave powerful impetus to IS? Does anyone dare to suggest (other than on blogs that no one reads) that our democracy is “broken”and that the monied interests in this country will henceforth be calling all the shots? Recall the words of Voltaire: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” Are we not, slowly and quietly, being “forced to stop asking questions”?

Let’s hope I exaggerate. But let us never stop asking questions — or reading thought-provoking fiction that has at its center profound truth.

 

Make-Believe

The recent revelations about Milwaukee Brewers baseball star Ryan Braun — that he did, in fact, take performance enhancing drugs — ends the charade surrounding this particular player and shifts attention elsewhere. But ESPN loves to drag the saga on as long as possible and they are fond of showing interviews with Braun from earlier this season in which he faces the camera squarely and with a sincere expression on his face swears “on my life” that “this substance never entered my body at any point.” It is superb acting in light of his subsequent admission and his suspension from baseball until next year. And apparently he had many people fooled, including his pal Aaron Rogers who bet a year’s salary before Braun’s admission that Braun was innocent of the charges. Someone apparently stands to come out $4.5 million dollars richer — if Rogers pays up.

In any event, the stench that surrounds professional sports, reeking of narcissism,  pretense, and dishonesty amid the drugs and performance-enhancers, has been written about and talked to death. What interests me more is the apparent fact that the men who face the cameras (and Congress) and swear on their lives they have never taken performance enhancing drugs actually seem to believe it when they are saying it. In a word, they seem to be living in a postmodern world in which narratives have replaced the truth. Say something often enough and it actually becomes the truth. What is the case is what we want to be the case in such a world. There is no objective truth — until the evidence becomes so heavy that even the most inveterate liar can no longer shift it aside. This is, indeed, a sign of our times and it may have started with Nixon leaving office to the tune of “I am NOT a crook!” I dare say he believed it.

Much of postmodern literary criticism hovers around the notion that literature — and history for that matter — is simply whatever we want it to be. Critics look for hidden messages and insist that all interpretations of the written word are possible and nothing is as it seems, and, as far as history in concerned, as the postmodernists would have it, “events always have to be reinterpreted to allow for current prejudices.” In the fog that surrounds much of this criticism, the notion that there are printed words on the page, that  there is an objective world “out there” and there are stubborn “facts” that simply will not go away, disappears. That is, it is forgotten or ignored. It seems to be a game academics play in order to keep their well-paying positions in prestigious universities while their students, who go deep into debt to pay for their classes, scratch their heads wondering what all the fuss is about — and plan the next party.

But when we leave the world of fiction, and even history (which many now insist is simply another form of fiction) and return to the real world we discover people who have fallen for the notion that reality is a construct and fiction is truth. If we say something often enough we come to believe it, if we hear it often enough it becomes a “fact,” and if we want something hard enough we will get it. One is reminded of the episode of Jerry Seinfeld in which Jerry wants to date a police woman who believes he watches “Melrose Place.” In order to persuade her he does not (though he does, in fact) he agrees to a lie-detector test. In order to figure out how to “beat” the lie-detector he asks his friend George how it can be done and George says, “It’s not a lie, Jerry, if you believe it.” That line of thought seems to have become gospel among the worldly-wise these days.

It’s all about will-power, and the subject’s perception of his or her world.  Morality has been lost in this world, reduced to mere feelings, and the world itself has been reduced to a kaleidoscope of personal perspectives none of which is to be preferred –until we run headlong into the brick wall of an objective reality that simply does not allow of reconstruction or revision. This finally happened to Ryan Braun. And it will happen to a number of other baseball players as well, as a row of dominoes is about to fall in order, we are told. Hopefully, it will also happen to athletes in other sports. And in the end, perhaps, we will all come to realize that truth is not a fiction, we cannot just make the world into what we want it to be, and there are things that really matter, and other people and serious problems that deserve our love and attention.

Imagine If You Will

Let’s imagine a bright, fairly wealthy woman in her 40s named Dorothy who decides to go into politics. She has genuine concerns about rising costs of education, global warming, the environment, and the economy. She is a women of strong principles and is convinced that she can help improve her world. In order to run for office, she must attach herself to a political party, of course, since the costs of running a campaign these days are prohibitive — even for a woman who is fairly well-healed as Dorothy happens to be. So, let’s say, she decides to run as a Democrat since she has always tended toward the left a bit and that party seems to be more in sympathy with her concerns.

At this point, we must speculate, but we can make some pretty good guesses: she will have to adopt the party’s agenda as her own, even though she doesn’t agree with all of the items on that agenda. She’s not overly fond of the health care plan the party has endorsed, for example. And their stand on the environment strikes her as weak. But in order to get into the fray, she must accept the party’s agenda. Thus she starts by making a compromise. Or two. Then she meets with wealthy people who want to support her candidacy and as she needs their financial support she agrees to push for several of the items high on their agendas if she is elected. So she makes a few more compromises in order to bring those people along with her.

You get the picture? As she progresses along the path toward election she makes compromises here and there until the agenda she embraces in the end bears little resemblance to the one she started out with. She reasons that once elected she will be able to pursue those things she holds dear. In the meantime, she is focused on her election. As the days and week pass, she begins to realize that once elected she will need to continue to focus on her reelection as that becomes necessary if she wants to remain active in politics. In a word, the election and the reelection become the main focus of Dorothy’s attention and the compromises she has made along the way necessitate that she become a tool of those who have helped her get where she is. Without their assistance, she never would have gotten to first base And she will never get reelected: she owes them all. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Her personal agenda gets swallowed up in the frenzy of becoming elected and then staying in office.

This is a fictional example, of course, but I am convinced there is truth in fiction, even fiction of my own invention.  I suspect this little fiction isn’t far from the truth and if so it would explain why there is so much disenchantment especially among the young about politics in general and disillusionment about certain candidates who have been a disappointment once elected to public office. We now have a breed of professional politicians who are expert at getting elected (and making the compromises necessary to do that) and whose main goal once in office is to remain there. Socrates said long ago that it is not possible for a person to enter the political arena and retain their integrity. I suspect he was right.