Check Your Sources [on Flawed Wednesday]

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When I hung up the phone I turned to Kerri and said, “I have to make peace with the fact that Fox News is going to kill my parents. I have to make peace that Fox will inevitably kill someone I love.”

I remember writing research and opinion papers in high school. Beyond giving shape to thought, the lesson was about citation. Know your sources. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion. Perspective is just that, a point of view. When the internet roared into being, as a teacher, I hammered the same nail into my students, “In a world in which anyone can assert anything, it is vitally important, more so now than ever, to discern what has merit and what does not. You have to protect yourself and know what is perspective and what is fact.”

An educated person asks questions about what they are told. An educated person asks questions about what they are telling themselves.

A three minute Google search of media bias rankings will provide an number of links to follow and all issue relatively consistent reports: there isn’t a media watch agency in the world that considers Fox News a source of news. It is ranked as a solid source of right wing propaganda.  Sifted information with an agenda. And yet, so many of the people I love have rooted their hard perspective in this flimsy pseudo soil. The rankings will also point the curious to news outlets that are more neutral and fact based.

If it is so easy to discern, to check whether or not it is drek that you swallow, why are so few adults interested in doing what every middle school student is taught as an essential?

Fact is proclaimed as false news. “Alternative facts” are elevated as truth. Anger is strummed in a fearful populace. Absolute loyalty is demanded for tribal membership (do not question…). Conspiracy theories create a wall of white noise punctuated by cheer inducing blame games and name calling.  Deep state bogeymen and enemies-enemies everywhere. Feed the anger. Hype the fear. Think no thoughts in the face of blaring discrepancies. An unassailable thought-free-firewall is firmly erected in the Fox-votary.

From outside the Fox bubble we ask, “Are they really that gullible?” From inside the Fox bubble, they ask, “Are they really that blind?”

The divide is complete. Two warring narratives. And so we are conquered. The pandemic does not care whether we are in a bubble or not.

Outside the Fox bubble we practice social distance. We are told that it is the only tool we have in the box – in the absence of  adequate testing – to slow the spread. We see the comparison data and recognize that, given the hubris in the other narrative, that the USA is on track to repeat the horror that is now overrunning Italy. We listen to the the CDC and the WHO for our information. We see Spain converting ice rinks into morgues. We challenge the mind numbing notion put forward by a feckless president that this is “like the flu.”

The peace I need to make? The people inside the Fox bubble, many people that I love, are not gullible or stupid – not by a long shot. But, they’ve forgotten what they learned as a baseline to being an educated, curious and responsible adult: check your sources. They wouldn’t wholeheartedly buy the story of a used car salesman. They’d check out the car before they bought it. In this day and age, the same rule applies to news. They are making a choice.

Blind belief is a lemmings game. Human beings have the capacity to open their eyes and to question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RED AND BLUE

 

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Snap Your Fingers [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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When I was roaming the world working with corporate types, tilting at windmills, I would tell my be-suited crowd that words matter. I’d relay a story I heard from Don Miguel Ruiz. He told his audience that people in the United States completely misunderstood the word, “spell.” He said, “You think to put a spell on someone is magic, like hocus-pocus. But, that is not it at all. Tell a little girl that she is fat and you will have spelled her forever.”

She will hate her body. That is a powerful spell.

Words matter. Tell the nation that the “Democrats are vicious” or that the news is “the enemy of the people” and the enchantment is undeniable, angry.  Push the spell through a propaganda machine and it magnifies in intensity. Like a ritual drum, the thump-thump whips the glassy eyed adherents into a red frenzy. Insist that long debunked conspiracies are real or that the deep state is out to get us all and the spellbound will see demons threatening everywhere.

The nation body splits and just like the little girl looks with hatred at the other part of itself. A powerful spell.

‘Hoax’ thump-thumped in the face of undeniable fact and the mesmerized fall into line, repeating what they are told to repeat. “Cluck like a chicken!” the hypnotist suggests and the sleepers dutifully cluck. Common sense surrenders to the spell.

Teachers of consciousness use different techniques but are in general agreement about how to awake from a nasty spell. Step back. Doubt what you think. See what is there and not what you think is there. Detach from your attachment to what you want to believe, to what you are being told. The salesman always wants you to buy the car. He is not your friend. He does not have your best interest in mind. He will use his words tell you anything. Despite what you are told, this car will not make you happy, it will not solve all of your problems. It will not make you sexy or powerful or complete. Uncouple from the words, the spell being woven, and see.

If she is lucky, the little girl one day wakes up and realizes that the hatred she experiences is not her own; it was planted in her with a word. The hatred she wields against herself and turns on to others is not of her creation. She learns that she must snap her own fingers and call herself awake. The hypnotist, she understands, only has authority if she continues to cluck and sleep.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about WAKING UP

 

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De-Compress [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I had no intention of writing about white rot fungi. I never imagined myself in the course of my lifetime writing or even being interested in white rot fungi. In fact, in scholarly terms, I have no business writing about it. But, here I am. White. Rot. Fungi.

I live in the age of the internet and Google. I remember the moment in the mid 1990’s that I realized the world had changed! I was doing research for a play about Joan of Arc and, instead of using the card catalogue and spending days in the library scouring the stacks, I was trying this new thing called ‘the internet.’ In a matter of moments, I found the complete transcript of Joan’s trial. The actual notes from the actual scribe that sat in the room in the 15th century during that very political/religious trial! The scribe’s notes were typed for my consumption, digitized, and available for my 20th century eyes. Information-gathering was suddenly so easy! Then, I discovered the notes for the 2nd trial! Ten years after burning Joan at the stake they reconsidered their decision and admitted a mistake. It was also, no doubt, a very political/religious trial; the making of a saint! Days of dedicated research compressed into a few hours of poking around. It was a kind of miracle. I reached through time and a scribe handed me his meticulous notes. “Do not judge us,” he whispered.

And, so, white rot fungi. Kerri shot this gorgeous photograph (she calls it ‘nature’s stripes’) and we chose it as a prompt for our studio melange. This morning, wondering what to write about nature’s stripes, I asked myself, “What’s all over that nurse log?” In less time than it took to find Joan’s second trial I had my answer. It digests dead wood.

The name, white rot fungi, a collection of words, does not do poetic justice to this species. It is the vital middle stage in a snapshot of the life cycle. On the left, the vibrant green shoots of new life, spring. The middle: a nurse log, a fallen tree, providing food for the fungi. And on the right, the brittle brown leaves returning to the soil, nutrient for the next new growth. A hundred year cycle captured in a single image.

This photograph is also a compression, making it possible for me to easily see an unimaginable life cycle. Yet another miracle. Yet another way to reach through time and see.

I forgot how difficult it once was. Finding facts. Blowing dust from pages made it somehow more important to check the data. Reaching through time to a reader in the 25th century, I whisper, “Don’t judge us. It happened so fast, this enamoring of the easy, this nonchalance of meaning, this indifference to information”.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S STRIPES

read Kerri’s blog post about White Rot Fungi

 

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pray now/john’s secret ©️ 2010 david robinson

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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“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

Find The Way Home

holdtheworldinpeace-lowerfontcopy-jpeg“Our search for truth must be wide open, even when it takes us in directions we preferred not to go. This is the difference between propaganda and truth. Propaganda has a certain end in mind, and so it marshals and manipulates the ‘facts’ to support its conclusion. Truth weighs evidence, seeks proof, is appropriately skeptical of authoritarian claims, welcomes questions, and doesn’t fear dissent.” Philip Gulley, The Quaker Way of Living*

Kerri and I often read books aloud to each other. On cold winter days we sit beneath a blanket, Dog-Dog at our feet, BabyCat snoring by our side, sip coffee, and read. We like to discuss and compare perceptions, ask questions, and re-read passages for clarity or the simple poetry of the language. Sometimes we savor a book, moving through it slowly. Sometimes we devour a book and go back to reread especially potent sections.

Propaganda resists close inspection and must continually be defended. Truth welcomes doubt and skepticism; indeed it is best served by questions, suggestions, and corrections.”

I am guilty of burying my head in the sand. My move to Wisconsin came with an intentional unplugging from the news. I was tired of pundits shouting each other down. I was weary and wary of conversations with family and friends that seemed to be territory-guarding regurgitations of our news-channel-of-choice. I was using the language given to me by my news sources and rolled my eyes at the predictable language leveled by the “other” side. One day as I raged at family members to pay attention to how they were being manipulated by their news source, I thought that it was probably a good idea for me to do the same. At the time, unplugging, stepping out of the toxic stream, seemed the only option to clear my mind.

The search for truth begins within the seeker, for if we are not honest with and about ourselves, we will find it impossible to be honest with and about others.”

On a recent trip to Indiana, Bill and Linda suggested a book for us, The Quaker Way Of Living by Philip Gulley. They read it with their church group and found it compelling, especially given our corrosive political climate and collapse of civil discourse. We bought it when we returned home and a few days ago started reading it together. We couldn’t put it down. It asks some powerful questions. It doesn’t pretend to have answers [that, I’ve learned, would be the antithesis of the Quaker Way] but it does speak directly to the quandaries of personal and communal integrity in a climate of self-righteousness, blame, and distrust. It is hopeful and funny and places the onus of creating a better world squarely on the shoulders of each and every one of us. It reminded me that burying my head in the sand is not very useful while also affirming that their are options beyond planting a flag in the sand.

“To say a person has integrity means several things. Most commonly, we mean the person is honest, that his or her word can be trusted…. But there is another level of meaning that has to do with the integration of our values and lifestyle. In that sense, to say we have integrity is to say the separate parts of our lives combine to form a unified whole. What we believe is consistent with how we live. Our beliefs influence the work we choose, the way we use our time and spend our money, the relationships we form and the goals to which we aspire. This integration is critical for inward peace.”

While reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had a few years ago with Jim Marsh, one of the people I most admire in this world precisely because he walks his talk. He told me of an issue in his community that had deeply concerned him and that he’d been grousing about for long time. One day he’d had enough and to move forward he recognized that he had three options: First, to stop complaining (he said, “to just shut up.”). Second, to move away. Leave. Get away from the source of his irritation. That didn’t seem like a healthy option. The third was to strap on his boots and do something about it. To act instead of complain. But, (and here’s the reason why I adore him) not to act against, but to work to create what he wanted. His responsibility was not to fight or resist. It was to create.

“We preserve our integrity and wholeness when we are aware of what threatens it and then choose to act deliberately and prudently when tempted. When we fail to do this, we disintegrate, creating a chasm between who we are and who we wish to be.”

I practice tai chi and had the good fortune to have, for a few years, a master teacher, Saul, whose teaching transcended the specifics of tai chi. He was teaching me how better to live. One day, while I was in a fit of resistance, he quietly showed me the power of looking beyond my “opponent” and placing my focus, instead, in the field of possibility. I understood (intellectually) that the opponent was always of my own making and my dedication to having an opponent (inside or out) would always pull me off balance. In other words, as long as I invested in resistance I would always pull myself off balance.

“Integrity isn’t conditional…There is a seamless nature to integrity that transcends situations and relationships. Integrity does not present one face in public and another in private. It delights in transparency, having nothing to hide.”

Now, with my head freshly out of the sand, I understand Saul’s teaching beyond my thinking (I’ve had a lot of time to meditate on things with my head in the sand) and, taking my cue from Jim, I recognize that I have three options but only option-number-three holds the promise of integrity. The best news: no one creates alone…

*all quotes in this post are from the chapter on Integrity from The Quaker Way of Living by Philip Gulley

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THE WAY HOME on itunes – Kerri Sherwood-Track 13 on THIS PART OF THE JOURNEY

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