Care Enough To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“Have you noticed that people all over the world are divided into groups, calling themselves Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, and so on? What divides them? Not the investigations of science, not the knowledge of agriculture, of how to build bridges or fly jet planes. What divides people is tradition, beliefs which condition the mind in a certain way.” ~Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

John helped me carry a treadmill downstairs into the basement. It was a beast, a one-step-at-a-time affair. After the job was done we fell into a conversation about how baffling we find our divided nation. He confided that, of late, he’s completely unplugged from the news. “I’m happier, less anxious,” he said, though somewhat conflicted about his decision.

I told John about my dear friend whose strategy for navigating the division and the noise was to read only The Wall Street Journal. It aligns with his conservative values and provides the business and financial news that he enjoys. For his mental health and well being, he’s eschewed all other sources.

On our drive from Wisconsin to Colorado and back again, Kerri and I were amazed by the rabid roadside proclamations of belief. A bumper sticker trumpeting Extreme Right Wing, a pick up truck, weaving through traffic, flying a Confederate flag. We stopped to get gas and went into the convenience store to use the restroom. We were wearing masks which apparently was an affront to the other patrons; I literally locked myself in a stall to avoid being assaulted.

I thought all night about my conversation with John. What are our strategies for surviving the toxic noise? Note the word, “survive.” John suggested (and I agree) that the division is intentional, a strategy. “They’ve learned to monetize hate,” he said, “Both sides.” Our strategies of survival are indications of the problem. Like my dear friend, we seek a source of information – a single source – based on our belief, what we align and are comfortable with, and not based on any measure or expectation of truth.

This is not a new revelation. We’ve been talking about the problem with info-bubbles for years. John’s question, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions of what they are being told?” is, I think, exposes the root of the challenge. People have to want the truth, expect the truth, before they care enough seek it.

Questioning is the basis of education. Curiosity is what drives progress. Belief asks adherents to stop questioning. We are, apparently – at least 50% – a nation of believers. Not a question in sight. Witness the circus in Arizona, the implosion of the GOP, the restrictive voting laws sweeping our nation, the undying support of a lie that undermines the pillars of our democracy. Belief without question is a toxic soup.

It’s become a metaphor that is easy to grasp: the Kansas billboard read, “Don’t Let Pigweed Creep Back.” A warning to vigilant farmers, pigweed strangles crops. It is toxic to farm animals. To keep the fields and the farm prosperous, a farmer must wage a consistent and conscious battle to keep the invasive weed from overrunning their fields. Our nation is no different than the farmer’s field. We are overrun with pigweed. It seems our information sorting mechanisms are out of whack. We no longer know – or care – to sort out what is edible and what is toxic.

We eat the weed and ignore the vegetable. John’s question is more and more relevant, “Why don’t people care enough to ask questions about what they are being fed?”

Belief without question. Conditioned minds. Mental farms overrun by pigweed.

read Kerri’s blog post about PIGWEED

Achieve Some Reason [on Flawed Wednesday]

I laughed heartily when I saw this Dodge Challenger commercial. It’s entitled Family Motto and inadvertently speaks to the one of the major challenges of our times. We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated. The frame freezes, the small boy in the driver’s seat of the in-studio-muscle-car looks to the camera and says, “Our lawyers just want you to know that this isn’t real.” They poke fun at the ease of deception, the effortlessness of suspended disbelief. It’s fun to believe that the kid is driving the car.

It’s fun until it’s not.

For instance, in a lawsuit against Tucker Carlson, the lawyers at Fox News successfully argued that no reasonable viewer would take anything he said seriously. In other words, much of what he espouses is nonsense not to be believed. It’s entertainment, not information. He’s akin to a comedian, like Stephen Colbert – only not funny. Sydney Powell, after months of sowing doubt and slandering Dominion Voting Machines over the last election is attempting to make the same argument. Reasonable people, she claims, would never believe a word that she said. All of those press conferences, those indignant claims of voter fraud blasted into the news cycle, were apparently for sport. They were meant to be fun.

Thinking-people should know better than to believe what they are being told. Reasonable people know that the kid isn’t really driving the car and so they should also know that the pundit and the lawyer are peddling fiction and not fact.

It’s one thing to sell a car. It’s quite another to sell a false-reality. To peddle a lie. The car is being sold during a commercial. The false-reality is being sold on a network platform that sports the word “news.” Context is everything. Reasonable people, we are told, should know the difference. Is it news? Is it a commercial? Is it entertainment or press event? What do we call it if it is broadcast between commercials?

The problem, of course, is that reasonable people are either in short supply or they base their reason, invest their faith and belief in places they ought not. The false-narrative is literally ranted into the camera from behind a news desk or at a press conference. It’s propounded with the same enthusiasm that Phil Swift uses when selling Flex Seal products – only not as nice. The lie is proclaimed as truth. And then, the lawyers step in. And then, the story changes. The previously spouted truth should not be believed and reasonable people ought to know better.

We have a very hard time separating the real from the fabricated, news from entertainment. We’ve had a lot of help ascending our mountain of confusion.

I recently heard this phrase: an armed person is a citizen, an unarmed person is a subject. It is, of course, a phrase that is bandied about by the 2nd Amendment alarmists but I think it is more relevant and applicable when “being armed” applies, not to guns, but to information. Those men and women who stormed the Capitol, beating the police with flags, declaring their freedom, were in fact, being sold a false narrative. Voluntary subjects void of information, grown fat on a diet of fantasy. Easily led.

A person armed with information in the face of so much deliberate confusion, has a prayer of being a citizen. Achieving reason takes some effort. The lawyers want to you know that no reasonable person should believe that the kid is driving the car. The same is true for the space between the commercials, the detritus in the media stream.

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S NOT REAL

Recognize The Divine [on KS Friday]

“To say that life is destabilized by weakened institutions is merely to say that information loses its use and therefore becomes a source of confusion rather than coherence.” ~ Neil Postman, Technopoly.

“Regularly throughout conversation in Gaelic, ” John O’Donohue writes, “there is explicit recognition that the divine is present in others.” Social fabric is tightly woven and made strong by the recognition of value, divine or otherwise, in all members of a community. During my travels in Bali I was moved again and again by the interconnectivity, the deep assumption of coherence that wove together daily life and community. “If two cars crash, “Budi told me, “the driver’s first thought is not that the other is to blame, it is that they are supposed to meet.”

And when the devaluation of others becomes a national pastime as it has in these once united states, pushing down the head of an other in an attempt to elevate the self – the preferred action of all drowning people – saves no one. It only delays the drowning of all involved. That sound we hear is the rending of our social fabric, the breaking apart of the ship. Those shouts of triumph and scorn coming from the top deck will be short lived. Confusion is a lousy organizing principle and guarantees a watery grave for all on board.

We are awash in information and so we are also awash in an assault on information. Misinformation is our Achilles Heel. So weakened by gaslighting are our public institutions that the single most damning confession of our lifetime, a president admitting for all to hear that he knew and lied about the deadly virus, is shrugged off. “Yeah, well what about Nancy Pelosi’s hair!” I shuddered when I read the inane defense. We flatten. Our values fade as fast as our perspective. Thousands died who did not have to – heads were knowingly pushed under. Thousands will die who do not have to; an estimated 410,000 by the new year. Disposable people.

Neil Postman wrote, “What makes science possible is not our ability to recognize ‘truth’ but our ability to recognize falsehood.” Replace the word “science” with the word “community’ and the statement rings just as true. A community that cannot recognize falsehood is in trouble. A community that will not deal with truth is destined to drown in its own willful confusion.

We will not find our way through this paralysis until we can step out of this car crash and, instead of pointing our fingers and blaming, we step toward each other with wonder at what brought us together, until we are willing to ask, “Why did we meet?”

CONNECTED on the album RELEASED FROM THE HEART is available on iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about CONNECTED

Learn To Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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There’s something about opinions that needs saying. It is simply this: not all opinions are created equal.

Neil Postman wrote that “In the development of intelligence, nothing can be more ‘basic’  than learning how to ask productive questions.”

Hearty opinions, opinions worth holding, are generally sourced from a deep well of questioning. If you are, like me, of a certain age, you’ve seen the promise of the age of information warp into the age of intentional misinformation. Knowing what and how to question is not only a necessity, it is the only protection we have, inundated as we are, with so much malignant hooey.

An opinion – a perspective – worth holding is not afraid to be questioned precisely because it is the product of questioning. It is not rigid or defensive because it is an open-ended inquiry. It invites questions, challenges and more information. A worthwhile opinion strives to see more, not less – another quality of a developing intelligence. A solid opinion need not shout down opposing points-of-view or belittle a challenge or bully a questioner because it is not fearful of the light. It need not hide behind “alternative facts” or conspiracy theories or rely on deflection when revealed as ridiculous. It practices stepping outside of the echo chamber to check the veracity of the information upon which it is built.

A dulled intelligence is a choice. It is a closed fortress, leaving the inhabitant trapped inside, self-righteous, indignant and afraid of challenge, clarifying data, and fact. Protecting the fortress, whipping up anger and multiple specters of invasion, is the function of an information echo chamber. Refusal to step outside the fortress, take a look around and ask productive questions of information sources – unwilling to consider whether or not the vaunted opinion is worth the energy to hold – is a tip-off that the thought-house is built on nothing but the softest of sand.

Everyone is, after all, entitled to their own opinion. We can agree to disagree and we will remain on opposite sides of the crevasse forever. Common ground is infinitely available – and will return for us – when stoking anger is less important than embracing the ‘basic’ and learning how to ask productive questions – of ourselves and of the information we are being fed.  Until then, all things will be stagnant, the narrow mind will proclaim itself victim to confirmed facts and relevant questions.  Pathological lie, division and deceit will be called virtuous by those too angry and unwilling to step back and care enough about their hard opinion to ask a simple question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AGREE TO DISAGREE

 

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Bother to Ask A Question [on Flawed Wednesday]

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All of us know this tale: A farmer loses his ax. He saw the neighbor boy playing in his field so he suspects the boy took his ax. He tells his wife the neighbor boy is a thief. The wife goes to town shopping and tells everyone she meets the story of the neighbor boy stealing her husband’s ax. People share the story and the story magnifies. An ax is now the least of the boy’s crimes! They tell other people and when things go missing or worse, the boy is their suspect. If he could steal an ax he could also steal a shirt off the line. He’ll take your horse when you’re not looking! He’s a chronic thief! The boy is shunned. His family is ostracized. The farmer feels satisfaction until the day he finds his ax resting on the tree – right where he’d left it.

Narratives are very, very powerful.

Yesterday I listened to a speaker from SelahFreedom present on the growing “industry” of sex trafficking. It was horrifying. One of the slides on the speaker’s Powerpoint was from a pimp’s notebook, instructions about how to keep his women under his control. Drugs help but the narrative weave is all. It could have been notes taken from the commandant at a concentration camp or a cult leader’s handbook. Paranoia tactics. Isolationist, us-versus-them strategies. Lies and distortions repeated to the point that it is impossible, once inside the narrative, once hooked in the story, to distinguish between reality and the distortion.

We live in the age of information and misinformation. We now inhabit the era of hyper-magnified distortion. A single post, a tweet, can reach millions in an instant. The boy stole the ax! They are trying to make us all socialists! The judge was biased! Don’t believe what you see! Witch hunt! Hoax! Believe what I say not what I do.

When was the last time you checked the veracity of your news sources? When was the last time you bothered to fact check or research something that alarmed you in your stream?

Fear is a great brain scrambler. Robert Sapolsky, researcher of stress in animals, has shown that zebras are capable of shaking off their stress after the lion gives up the chase. People, on the other hand, whip up and maintain their stress by repeating the story over and over to all who will listen. And, more to the point, there need not be a real lion chasing us, just someone who knows how to manufacture a lion and get us to spread the terror, to share without question.

It’s the pimp’s strategy. Stoke fear. Discourage thinking.  Threaten. Sow doubt. Play on insecurity. Keep them hooked. Encourage thoughtless sharing of an empty narrative. It validates the perspective of the pimp and the farmer who couldn’t possibly have lost his ax all by himself.

Despite what they tell you, the pimp is never protecting your interests. The pimp is only concerned with his own interests and needs a deep state of delusion running rampant through his stable, to control the narrative.

Imagine what might have been possible if anyone in the ax chain had thought to ask a question, had stepped back to think about what they were hearing before they hit the easy button to share.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THINK BEFORE YOU SHARE

 

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Look Up [on KS Friday]

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We read this morning that people are developing bone spurs or “horns” on the back of their skulls and spines from so much phone gazing. Next generation dentist hump.

Last night 20 introduced us to a new term: deepfake videos. Artificially intelligent face swap videos. Seeing is no longer believing or, more to the point, any word can be made to seem to come out of any mouth. It just proved my late grandmother to be a foresighted genius when she cautioned, “Take it all with a grain of salt!” Believe nothing. Question everything.

I suppose it was always true that the age of information must come hand-in-hand with an evil twin. As E.O. Wilson said, “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

What is real? What is real life? I think it must be the question that defines our age.

We just spent a few  days on island. Our technology didn’t work there. Not a signal to be found anywhere. So, we put down our phones, ceased looking at our apps for the latest weather or news. In lieu of seeking constant connectivity, we stopped searching for what we already possessed, what we’d always possessed. We held hands. We sat on the steps of the deck, faces to the sun. We listened to the birds cry, the waves lap on the shore. We talked with the people who were directly in front of us. Tangible.

Kerri chose this song for the studio melange before we went on island. Before we ‘lost our signal’ and found our moment. That makes her a foresighted genius, too! As she reminds us in her song, it’s not the ideal or imagined or vogue or concocted that makes life grounded and rich. It’s the day to day. The stuff you can actually touch in this sea of information detritus.

It’s real life. It’s the day to day. That’s where the love is found. Just ask grandma. Or Kerri.

 

IT’S REAL LIFE on the album AS SURE AS THE SUN is available in iTunes & CDBaby

 

read Kerri’s blog post about IT’S REAL LIFE

 

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it’s real life/as sure as the sun ©️ 2002 kerri sherwood

Put It In Context [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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Context (noun): the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

I love this photograph. It could be of the salt flats. It could be desert landscape. It could be the arctic snows. Absent of context, how can we know?

The headstone of the 21st century will read ‘Taken out of context.’ I was a teacher when the internet first washed over the land and the question on every educator’s desk was this: how do we teach students to discern what information is valid and what is not? Education is, at least partially, the pursuit and discernment of what is true and what is not.

Discernment (noun): the ability to judge well.

In a world in which any one can post anything about any topic in service to any agenda, void of context and with an astounding expectation of 280 characters or less, how do we judge well? No attention span available. No context necessary. Discernment is out of reach. As W.B. Yeats wrote, “The center cannot hold.” 

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”  (Yeats, The Second Coming)

Context avoidance and manipulation is not unique to the 21st century. It’s been around since the invention of preachers and politicians. We simply have the tools to amplify it and glut ourselves on the fat that remains.

‘Taken out of context’ comes with a cold surgical sister phrase: after the fact. They knew after the fact. He was an accessory after the fact. It was only after the fact that they saw what was there all along.

fact (noun): a thing that is known or proved to be true.

How do you know or prove something to be true? It is the same question educators faced so long ago: how do we discern what information is valid and what is not? Well, begin by slowing down enough, care enough to place the thought, idea, opinion, data, in its full context. Conviction, ideals, truths…all of these lofty words, have meaning and value, become grounded, solid, and meaning-full – in the presence of context.

(The photograph was taken from a ferry cutting through the surface ice at Death’s Door).

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pull the camera down and this is what you see

 

read Kerri’s blog post on ICE LANDSCAPE

 

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Ask A Question [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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“The world is as full of opinions as it is of people. And you know what an opinion is. You say this, and somebody else says that. Each one has an opinion, but opinion is not truth; therefore do not listen to mere opinion, it does not matter whose it is, but to find out for yourself what is true. Opinion can be changed overnight, but the truth cannot be changed.” ~ Krishnamurti, Think On These Things

She said with easy confidence and utter conviction, “The earth is warming because it’s spinning on its axle.” I was so stunned that I had to close my eyes and count to ten.  This thought-tree has no roots. It contains no thought. It’s lost in a mix-master of metaphor. It is a common marker of our times, a wildly confused opinion mistaking itself for a fact.

Propaganda (noun): information, especially biased or misleading in nature, used to promote a particular political cause or point of view.

I am wary of using the word ‘ignorant’ because I believe it applies to all of us. Ignorant (adjective): lacking knowledge or awareness in general. I’m not wary of using the word ‘lazy.’ Lazy (adjective): unwilling to work or use energy. Belief without investigation is lazy. And, it is dangerous.

“Political ideology can corrupt the mind, and science.” E.O. Wilson

Denial, as Roger once taught me, is one of the most potent forces at play in the human drama. David Neiwert tells the story of German villagers, at the end of the second world war, stunned to learn that the facility next to their village spewing ash was an extermination camp. Even though, every day, they watched trainloads of people enter the camp, and every day, saw empty train cars leaving the camp. They did not question. Every morning the villagers swept thick ash from their sills and walkways; they claimed that they had no idea. They were told it was a work camp. They believed what they wanted to believe – what they needed to believe. They did not question what they were told.

We are not the first human cohort to exhaust our resources or poison our environment. We are the first to attempt it on a global scale. We did not invent propaganda machines nor are we the originators of intellectual laziness. We simply have bigger, louder machines and more potent tools to toss around our unquestioned opinions. In the meantime, the earth, I’m sure, will continue to spin on its “axle”…er…axis. With or without us and our dedicated opinions.

 

[for grins and a good place to begin asking your questions, visit the NOAA Global Monitoring Division. Take the time to watch the CO2 movie – all of it. Write a few questions for yourself. Then, for grins, Google human population growth and sustainability. Draw no conclusions. Spout no opinions for a spell. Simply ask questions, check sources. Read some more. Learn to discern between fact and opinion…and your opinions about facts].

 

read Kerri’s blog post on NO SIDES IN CLIMATE

 

 

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Wait [on DR Thursday]

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morsel of the painting They Wait

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

My studio often serves as a retreat, a place to escape the noise and nonsense-of-the-day. It is a quiet place. A sanctuary. I recoup perspective when I step into it.

Lately, when I am painting, I find myself pondering the paradox of living in the time of Google. I rarely have a conversation these days that doesn’t include a quick dip into Google to check a fact, pull up a statistic, check spelling or a date or data. We rely on it. We can investigate or verify anything in an instant. Yet – and here’s the paradox – no amount of data or information seems to put a dent in people’s beliefs. In fact, we’ve learned, that confronting a belief with data that contradicts it will serve only to reinforce the belief. Information threatens, and so, is useless.

My dad once told me in a fit of frustration that I had educated myself into stupidity. I question everything. He grew up in a simpler time, in a smaller town. I understand the opposite to be true, the path out of stupidity IS education. The capacity to question, to doubt, to consider, to compare what is said with what is provable, is what makes us powerful. Propaganda is only useful in a society that does not or will not question what it is being told.

Collaboration, cooperation, the capacity to organize, to contemplate and pursue possibilities, to unify disparate points of view is only possible in a mind that doesn’t fear being wrong – in a mind that opens (chooses to open) and isn’t constrained by fear of what it doesn’t understand. Fear makes us stupid. To be educated doesn’t mean to be rigid or buried in knowledge. It means the willingness to question, the ability to look, experience, to see, to reach. To learn.  Fear blinds. Curiosity illuminates.

This painting tumbled out of my Google meditation. It is a sketch, a quick gesture. I used to tell my students that daydreaming was an essential skill. Looking out the window and pondering, imagining,…daydreaming is the first step of invention. Waiting, too, is also an essential skill. It is invaluable when entertaining a thought….

 

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about THEY WAIT

 

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they wait ©️ 2018 david robinson & kerri sherwood

Stand Like An Aspen [on DR Thursday]

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a morsel from ‘instrument of peace.’ kerri calls this one ‘aspen stand’

It’s a common misperception. The notion that with accurate information, with clear data, people will change their perceptions/behaviors accordingly. They won’t. They don’t. In my past-life-consulting I said (too often), “If it was true that information changed behavior then no one on planet earth would smoke cigarettes.”  We are not as rational as we like to believe. Our investments have little or nothing to do with the accuracy or truth of information.

In the same vein, e-connectivity does not necessarily equate to relationship. Connectivity is not relationship. As we are learning these days, people can be hyper connected but share no common ground. The endless capacity for connection comes with no guarantee of substance or shared truth. Swipe left. Click ‘like.’ Connected, but connected to what?

Relationship, on the other hand, is a living, moving, breathing shared story. It is shared experience. It comes with varying points of view. It needs no explaining. In relationship, disparate viewpoints are aimed at a shared center.

And, so, a metaphor. A painting: Aspen trees, we’ve learned, grow in “large clonal colonies, derived from a single seedling, and spread by means of root suckers; new stems in the colony may appear at up to 30–40 m (98–131 ft) from the parent tree. Each individual tree can live for 40–150 years above ground, but the root system of the colony is long-lived.” The root system transcends the individuals. What a terrific metaphor for a healthy community. The individuals come and go but the root, the shared root system, lives on and on and on.”

How appropriate (to me) that Kerri chose this morsel from my painting Instrument of Peace. She gave it the title, Aspen Stand. Peace, like every real relationship, is an aspen stand.

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post on Aspen Stand

 

www.kerrianddavid.com

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aspen stand/instrument of peace ©️ 2018/2015 david robinson & kerri sherwood