You’re so angry, you probably think this post is about you…

(With apologies to Carly Simon…)

So, here it goes: everybody is offended these days and it’s likely nobody who doesn’t already agree with you cares.

I’m guilty of it. So are you. So is almost everyone, especially if you are any kind of user of social media. We’re all angry and we’re not going to take it anymore.

Except, yes we are.

There’s a curious thing about offendedness in the current era. For the most part, people are angry and they’re doing things because of their anger. The problem is that most of the things they’re doing don’t end up doing anything about the things they’re angry about.

Instead, their efforts come down to various measures of passive-aggressive uses of force to compel others into doing things their way without making much attempt at all to convince those who may disagree of their point of view. These are, at best, hollow and Pyrrhic victories that sow the seeds of future discord and backlash.

And so we’ve entered an era of hurling insults, casting stones, passing laws, and generally brutalizing one another without any real effect.

Well, any real effect except one: the perception things are getting worse is a direct result of this nonsensical process.

This is not to say there are not real reasons to be concerned about the state of the world or to even be angry about that state. Rather, it is to call into question the way we are dealing with it. The preponderance of evidence is that the problems are real but that our responses to them are ineffective.

History shows us many things, and one of the things it shows us most is that anger and force rarely accomplish the things they set out to in the long run. What most effectively changes the course of events is dialog and compromise. What makes things better is the active attempt to make things better.

Until we set aside our angry offendedness and start looking at how we’re going to actually fix the things we find wrong with society and the world, all we are going to end up with is more angry offendedness.

The irony is that your choice of action will be defined by how you respond to this post, even if I never know what it is. Is this post about you?

DLH

The scale of talent to skill

Most of us find ourselves in awe of those videos of a little kid, maybe just five years old, who can sit down at a piano and pound out a Mozart sonata like he was born with the instrument in his hands. We marvel at such raw talent, and some of us might even feel a little jealous we don’t have it.

And sure, while most of us weren’t playing Mozart when we were five, the fact remains that most of us, given enough desire, determination, and practice, could learn to play that sonata at some point. While we may not have the talent, we do have the capacity to learn the skill.

I pick the musical example on purpose because it represents a category of endeavor where so many of us marvel at the notion of natural talent while ignoring the possibility of finely crafted skill. We tend to see undertakings like music and art and many skilled crafts as the purview of talented artisans even when we are otherwise interested in them.

While talent can give someone a head start in such endeavors, I posit that it is the development of skill that gives anyone, talented or otherwise, the tools to succeed. To me, talent is a starting point on a line defined by skill. Talented people start with natural skill.

Why is that important? Because, I believe, anything can be learned by anyone, as I mentioned earlier, given enough desire, determination, and practice. Yes, those three things may be lacking, and as a result, a skill may not be successfully honed, but that does not mean it cannot be.

So, the next time you marvel and someone else’s talent and wonder if you could ever do that, try. Find out. If you really want to, you might surprise yourself.

DLH

Send in the clones…

I had a far ranging debate last night that, among its several features, touched on clones. They weren’t what that debate was really about, and this post isn’t really what that debate was about. But, it got me thinking about how we think about clones.

I suspect, if pressed to give an off-the-cuff answer, most of us would describe a clone as a copy. And, because we think of them as a copy, we tend to think of them as being some kind of facsimile of the original. As such, we imagine them having many of the same characteristics of the original, even going so far as imaging them to have the same personality or even memories.

The reality of clones are far more complex. For clones gestated from contributed biological material, the similarity to the original may only be as much as that biology allows, which can often be far less than we imagine. Even with exact biological similarity, time, nature, and experience will mold the clone into something ultimately independent of the original beyond the constraints biology creates. Even if, somehow, the clone is an exact biological and experiential replica of the original, the moment it becomes independent, it becomes individual.

I think our preconceptions about things like clones speak to our preconceptions about a lot of life. It’s useful to sometimes take a step back and examine those preconceptions because, sometimes, we discover what we thought isn’t what’s true at all.

DLH

On transitions, even arbitrary ones

Over the past several years, society has developed a tradition of bashing many of our celebrated transitions as “arbitrary” and therefore lacking in value. Of all the transitions that take a beating, New Years and its attendant retrospection and resolution takes the worst beating. I blame the rise of literalism, but that is probably a discussion for another time.

What these arbitrariness claims ignore is the deep seated need we humans have for such transitions. Our history shows that such things have nearly always been a part of our culture, and I suspect that presence is a function of need.

From my point of view, we have a need to break the passage of time into smaller pieces and to be reminded that we have a lot more control over our circumstances than we sometimes imagine. We also need to be reminded that time passes and that dwelling on circumstances outside our control serves little purpose.

So, while the passing of our calendar from one year to the next may be arbitrary in some respects, the weight we put on such transitions is not arbitrary at all. We celebrate that passage because we need to, and we would do well to be conscious of why and embrace what comes from it.

DLH

A thought on creativity

For whatever reason, I’ve come across several discussions recently wherein someone has opined that one creative person “ripped off” another creative person and that supposed theft was then presented as evidence that there is no real creativity anymore.

These sorts of observations make me shake my head. My study and observation of creativity–not just art, but all forms of creation–reveals to me that there has never been any other form of creation but theft by the standard presented above.

What makes me sad about that standard is that it has become so commonplace in everything from creative education to corporate litigation to patent law that fewer and fewer people are trying to create anymore. Far too many people believe that, in order to be truly creative, they have to create an astonishing new masterpiece the first time or they are a failure.

That last sentiment is a lie society has concocted on the basis of not even knowing, let alone understanding, the history of creativity. The fact is that there are very few new things and that nearly everything is in some way tied to something that already exists. In a lot of ways, creativity is about refreshing old ideas and combining them in new ways rather than about creating something new.

So my advice to all the creative types out there is this: steal and make it your own. The future will thank you for having done so even as the past approves of your method. These naysayers have no idea what they are talking about.

DLH

Thinking about radically extended life

David Ewing Duncan recently gave a TED interview about the possibilities–and problems–created by the fact that we are figuring out how to radically extend life as part of his promotion of his new book When I’m 164: The new science of radical life extension, and what happens if it succeeds.

I know it sounds weird, but I think about this very same question often. The fact of the matter is that I could easily live into my 90s and be productive well into my 80s. Where does retiring at 60 or 65 or even 70 fit into a life that could go on for two more decades? Where will the money come from? What will I do?

Again, I know it sounds weird, but my wife and I decided back in our 20s that we did not plan to retire. There are practical as well as idealistic reasons for that decision. Having made that decision that long ago has changed our entire outlook since then. We plan differently. We work differently. We save differently.

And, frankly, the result has been that we are, in a lot of ways, far better off right now than a lot of people we know. We owe less. We’ve saved more. We have less stuff to take care of.

I think the consequences of extended life will be one of the defining factors of our time. Are you thinking about it too?

DLH

The rise of class entitlement as the war on individuality

We live in an era of entitlement. Many people, if not most, believe they have the right to demand access to everything from cheap food and clean water to health care and retirement funding, usually with the smallest or no investment on their part. They make these claims on the theory that, somehow, they are the victims of some grand conspiracy against them and those like them and that such entitlements represent repayment of this injustice.

Yet beneath this belief lies an even more insidious one: as people come to believe they have the right to demand more and more of what they have to worked for, they also come to believe they are not responsible for themselves and, therefore, their actions. Their lives begin to become a never-ending claim against what they perceive has been done to them rather than an accounting of what they have done.

The result of this process is the death of individuality. As people see themselves more and more as hapless victims among hordes of hapless victims, they gravitate toward the mob of people all saying the same thing. They begin to identify themselves as the group and the result is that the actions of the group become the justification for what they do as individuals.

In sacrificing their individuality to the group, people lose the ability to realize that they can freely act and choose. Certainly, all actions and choices have consequences, even for the mob, but actions and choices by an individual are often more deliberate and likely to produce predictable outcomes. By losing their individuality to the mob, the consequences to individuals become more arbitrary and destructive.

The solution to this dilemma is to reject the notion of entitlement. It is possible to do so and therein lies the first choice anyone has to make to resecure individuality. If someone rejects entitlement and chooses instead to embrace actions consistent with personal responsibility, that person immediately separates from the mob and becomes an individual again.

Now there will be those who claim that individuality has no place in relation to the notion of community and that this argument is not just against entitlement but community as well. However, the distinctions between community and the mob are enormous, especially in that community demands individuals taking responsibility for their own actions while the mob demands rigid sameness.

Without individuals, the path toward the chaos of the mob is clear. Every one of us must look at our own lives and decide for ourselves what we want our lives to be. In doing so, we assert ourselves as individuals and stem the tide of the mob.

DLH

Holism

Science and religion… are friends, not foes, in the common quest for knowledge. Some people may find this surprising, for there’s a feeling throughout our society that religious belief is outmoded, or downright impossible, in a scientific age. I don’t agree. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if people in this so called “scientific age” knew a bit more about science than many of them actually do, they’d find it easier to share my view.

— John Polkinghorne

The single family household is the worst idea ever

It is my opinion that, in the history of the worst ideas ever conceived, the idea of the single family household is among the worst of the worst. If we take a survey of the things done wrong in the 20th century, I think many people will be amazed at how many of them are tied to the ridiculous ideal of the single family household.

Detachment from extended family and community

The extended family died the day Americans decided they needed to have their own place, and with the family went the communities those families supported. There was an era when the grandkids could walk to grandma’s house or, at worse, take a sleigh ride over the river and through the woods. Cousins, nieces, and nephews could walk to school together. Brothers and sisters could watch each other’s kids when someone was busy. Sunday dinners with the family were things everyone looked forward to.

No longer.

Instead, we now live dozens, hundreds, or thousands of miles away. For all practical purposes, we’re cut off from our own people, adrift in a sea of strangers, trying to find solace for our violated souls in a never-ending indulgence in the anesthesia of technology, media, and excess.

Our society is dying because of it.

Immense cost and duplication of effort.

When people lived in mutually supporting families and communities, everything they did cost less. Families and communities shared meals, appliances, tools, work, happiness, and sadness in a way that made everything better for everyone.

Now, everyone, sometimes down to the individual, has to have their own version of every single thing that defines modern life. We’ve spent the wealth of the wealthiest nation that has ever existed accumulating a mind-boggling assortment of stuff that serves no other purpose but to reinforce that we live alone.

Consider the cost of your own household. How much more would you have if you could share something as simple as a ride to work? What if you could share your meals beyond just yourself and your immediate family? What if your home was your work because your worked for yourself or your family business?

If you look at the United States at the turn of the last century, before the urban boom and before the income tax used to support it, ours was a wealthy nation. That wealth was slow and hard-earned, but it was a growth both sustainable and able to be passed on for generations.

What do you have now that you plan to give to your kids besides debt?

Insane consumption of resources.

Do you ever wonder where all the wild spaces went? More than likely, you’re living where one used to be. The suburbanization of the United States has meant its denuding as well. We cut down forests and pave over farms to build new subdivisions as if our forests and farms will go on forever.

Never mind the fact that we’ve consumed the world’s resources in oil paving our roads, putting tires on our cars, keeping those cars in oil, and burning gas just so we can live dozens of miles from where we work.

And because we live such a frenetic life, we eat everything out of boxes and cans. Do you say you don’t waste? Look at the trash cans you put out every week or couple of weeks, then follow them to the dump being built as a monument to your waste.

We have launched ourselves into the age of scarcity because we all think the American dream is to live in cookie cutter houses in cookie cutter subdivisions in cookie cutter towns-for-the-sake-of-local-taxes-for-services in a cookie cutter country that is as disposable as the boxes and cans we eat out of.

What will we have gained for all of this? I do not think our descendants will remember this era with much kindness. The irony is that they will share that bitterness about the past they could not control over family dinners in close-knit communities brought together by the excess and scarcity we caused.

DLH