It’s not about time travel

I just saw Richard Curtis’s 2013 movie, About Time. [1]  I know, it’s about time I saw it, but I had never heard of it and of all the stars, Bill Nighy is the only one I had ever heard of.

In this essay, I am going to reflect on what it was about—specifically, what it was about for me—and I am going to make free with references to the story so if you haven’t seen it or if you don’t like reading about the plots of movies you have not seen, this is your time to bail out.

This is centrally the story of Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) who, at age 21, discovers thattime 4
he can go back in time.  Here is his father (Bill Nighy) performing the magic ritual with him.  You go into some dark place and close your eyes and clench your fists and picture the time and place where you want to be.  Tim learns that he  can’t go forward and he can’t go to any time or place that he did not experience himself. It’s a “do over” sort of superpower.

There are two limits on this power.  One I understand in principle.  It is that you can’t just change one thing.  Everything is connected, so when you change one thing you change a lot of other things.  I get that.  The other is that the birth of a child—it has to be Tim’s child, I think—sets a limit on the time to which he can return. [1]

How it works

Tim uses this power very clumsily at first and for really trivial things.  But he gets more skillful as he goes on and also extends the range of applications.  Needless to say, extending the range of applications does not work out well. He changes all kinds of things he didn’t want to change.  

From that low point, he begins to do by slow, painful, and natural means, the things that anyone would have to do.  His sister Kit Kat, for instance, is a snarl of bad choices and bad habits, and as a result, has a nearly fatal car accident.  Tim’s first response is to go back in time and get her away from the party before that danger develops.  He does that.  It doesn’t work.  Then he and his wife, Mary (Rachel McAdams) sit in Kit Kat’s hospital room and say they are not leaving until she decides to knock off the self-destructive behavior.  That’s a little clumsy, but it is completely natural.

In everything that happens after that, Tim chooses more modest goals and more natural—“time travel” is not natural—means.  He is headed in the direction of using his superpower as part of the way he looks at life.  The “do over” is, at this later stage, not a special power, but a special perspective on how life is to be lived.

Time 3Let me offer a few examples.  One of the difficulties of this kind of time travel is that you get to meet the same girl for the first time, several times.  You know it is several; she experiences each one as the first.  He uses that ability to learn about Mary’s tastes—she is a big Kate Moss fan—and on the next occasion, he uses the lines she used last time as his own views.  She loves it.  He is so insightful.

The next time he sees Mary, she has just acquired a new boyfriend whom she met recently at a party.  No problem.  He goes to that party just a few minutes before that guy shows up so Tim gets to spend time with her and she never really meets “the boyfriend.”

Those are cute, but they are not what the movie is about.

When he gets the hang of it, he goes back to the beginning of a day where he has made a lot of mistakes.  On his first try, his buddy is excoriated by their boss and Tim sits there and does nothing.  The two of them run through a crowded courthouse scarcely noticing where they are.  Time grabs a quick lunch without noticing the person behind the counter. [2]  They win their case showing only relief from the stress; their client does the same.

When he goes back to that day, Tim actively supports his buddy when the boss scolds him.  He stops on his way to court to marvel at just where they are and to feel the truth that they, themselves, are part of it.  The interaction at the counter where Tim grabs a quick lunch to go is personal and satisfying.  They celebrate their win in court with pleasure and good spirits as does their client.

Now THAT, the movie is telling us, is what the do over power is really for.  And then Tim takes the next step, a step his father did not take.  He anticipates events—events like the first court date—with the full knowledge that he could do it this way or that way.  At this point, his super power has provided him with a base of experiences—a point to which I will return—and the clear sense that he can follow path A or path B.  In all the remaining scenes, he chooses path B, the path of full awareness and generosity, taking pleasure in his surroundings and the people in them.

My super power, and yours

What the movie doesn’t deal with directly is that there are events and then there are time 6kinds of events.  The movie gives us a sample day with four events: the boss’s tantrum, the trip to court, the quick lunch, and the victory in court.  But anyone with some life experience will tell you that although those are unique events in a way, they are also very common kinds of events.  The boss will lose his temper and snark at a colleague (or at you) for instance.  You know that.  And having faced it before, you know where path A leads and where path B leads and you can choose one or the other so far as your own behavior is concerned.  That’s your super power.

But it’s only Super Power 101.

It is true that there are kinds of events and you can choose them on the base of anticipation, rather than, as Tim does on the basis of having experienced them before.  On the other hand, within the category, that kind of event, there are important differences.  Tim supports his colleague, but he doesn’t confront the boss.  Maybe the next time, that will be the best thing to do.  Or maybe trying to charm the boss will be the right thing.  Or maybe quitting your job will be the right thing.  It varies and it varies in part because of the choices you made last time.

In Super Power 501, the first of the graduate level courses, you are asked to take account of the uniqueness of the event as well as the commonality of all events of that kind.  In every society, events come in categories that are defined by the characteristics they have in common.  That’s why we call them categories.  But the events themselves differ remarkably.  And you yourself change over time—we call it “development” if we like the changes—so your sense of what should be done about an event and particularly what you, yourself, should do about an event also changes over time.

Sometimes you know you gave in to a childish impulse and vow to show more discipline next time.  Sometimes you look back and note that everyone seemed to be OK with what you did, but you know you could have done more.  You held something back that should have been committed to the battle.  Sometimes you made a mistake and you know you should have just ignored it, rather than making it the center of everyone’s agenda.  And you learn these things by having a sense of who you are and of how that is clarified and expanded by what you do.

I’m not complaining that the movie didn’t give us that.  I loved the movie.  But…really…there is more.  Grad courses await.

[1]  Many thanks to my son, Doug, who counts this movie as one of his favorites, and showed it to me yesterday.  And then, at the end of the day, when he would have rather gone to bed, he showed me the last fifteen minutes again.

[2]They have to accomplish very much the same outcome in To Gillian on her 39th Birthday, but I understand that one. If the woman who has died is no longer remembered and cherished in the hearts of those she left, then she can’t really “be there” for them. I get that one.

[3]  The cinematographer really nails that one.  The young woman at the counter is shown only from behind that time.  In the next round, the do over round, they show her face and Tim’s as they manage the small commercial exchange with everyday courtesy and generosity.

[4]  Note to fathers.  If you think that learning how to deal with your first child has taught you how to deal with either of the next two, you have a surprise coming.  A good share of the lessons you learn with the first are going to have to be jettisoned in order to deal with the second and the third might require a different playbook entirely.

Posted in Living My Life, Movies, Political Psychology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mother Theresa is a Servant

And a hero.  And a saint.  You never hear anything bad about Mother Theresa. [1]

And if you were waiting for me to say that I am going to stand up and start criticizing, you will wait for a long time.  So I’m not criticizing.  On the other hand, I think a great deal of what she has to say in her well-known “…do it anyway” sayings,  (see below) has limits that the sayings themselves do not recognize.  Maybe she did, they they don’t.’

anyway 1I want to say three things in general and then I plan to cherry-pick among the sayings.  The first is to unpack “servant” a little.  Mother Theresa served many people for many years so there is no question of her being a servant in that sense of the term, but I want to contrast it to “steward.”

Servants and Stewards

You can be a faithful servant and you can be a faithful steward, but sometimes you have to choose which is more important.  A servant does “the right things.”  A steward tries to do whatever will produce the best outcome.  

Mother Theresa advocates the right things.  She is in favor of forgiveness, kindness, honesty, happiness, doing good, and doing your best.  If you look at the names of those actions only—that is what a servant would do—you can find no room at all for criticism.

If you look at is like a steward, you see different things.  One of the nasty things that is said about wives who forgive their husbands more than they should, is that they are “enablers.” [2]  What they are doing is generous, maybe even heroic, in each and every instance, and the result is a disaster.  There is a lot of disagreement, of course, about what such a woman should do rather than forgive, but all the things that are proposed are proposed on the grounds that the outcome will be better if they do that.  It is proposed, in other words, on the grounds of stewardship.

Stewards look for ways to achieve good outcomes.  When the master returns from his travels, he is not going to ask whether the person he left in charge hired too many laborers or two few or whether he paid them on time or not.  He is going to ask whether the harvest was what it should have been and whether it is now safe in the barn. [3]

My all time favorite “stewardship” story is Russell Hoban’s A Bargain for Frances.Mother T 6  Frances’s “friend” Thelma is a consistent abuser of the relationship and we can see, in retrospect, that Frances invites her to do that to her.  The center point of this story is that Thelma cheats Frances and then Frances cheats Thelma in return.  Not the servantly style at all.  And Thelma’s response is “Oh.  I had no idea you were capable of playing this game.  Will we be competitors now?”  And Frances’s response is a triumph of stewardship, “No,” she says, “let’s just be friends.”

Thelma had no idea how to be a friend to someone who was begging to be cheated.  Frances had no idea how to stop inviting abuse without violating her own personal norms.  What Frances did, in the terms I am using, is to upgrade the norms from those of a servant to those of a steward.  She gave Thelma a problem Thelma knew how to solve and when she solved it, Frances offered her friendship, a status that years of victimhood had not produced.

You can see why I like that story so much.

Reading the cues

The second thing I want to say before I get to the cherrypicking is that Mother Theresa does not believe that the world is giving cues.  The world is falling short.  It is failing.  Sometimes.

Sometimes people are unreasonable and self-centered.  Yes they are.  People who don’t understand that your motives are pure, will accuse you of having impure motives.  Yes they will. [4]  People will cheat you if they have the chance.  Thelma, pay attention.  They will be jealous of your happiness.  They will quickly forget the good you do.  It doesn’t matter.

But now we come to the crucial one.  Do your best.  Always.  I suspect that Mother Theresa means that you should forgive even when it is hard to forgive, because that is “your best.”  In the world she has constructed, “best” means “most completely forgiving.”  Mother Theresa is a servant.

But “do your best” might also mean “bring about the best outcome.”  Do the thing that will benefit everyone, including your enemy.  If it is easy to do, do it anyway.  If it is hard to do, do it anyway.  If the rewards are immediate, don’t let that dissuade you.  If they are remote, buckle down to work.  Those are steward perspectives.

What the world is like sometimes

Mother T 5One can imagine that “the world” in behaving the way it is behaving, is giving you cues you would do well to pay attention to.  What do you do with someone who will not get the cues?  The dating context is often played for laughs.  The overconfident guy just keeps coming on and the girl finally has to say brutally, what she had been hinting at for awhile.  It would be the parody of a parody to imagine that the clueless pursuer is “forgiving her” for her unresponsiveness over and over until she finally gives in.  She shouldn’t give in.  He shouldn’t be “forgiving her.”  He should, instead, be paying attention to what she is trying to tell him.

That example is there only for clarity.  I don’t mean to imply that the traits Mother Theresa is talking about are all like that.  And yet, I think it would be unwise to ignore the information that comes as signals, rather than as clear communication.  If we ourselves were perfect and if the actions of others had only one meaning, we could afford to ignore all the cues.  The parody on the other side of the spectrum is provided by C. S. Lewis, “She is the kind of woman who lives for others—you can tell the others by their hunted expression.”  All you have to do to get what Lewis is talking about is to imagine the series of actions from the standpoint of the woman and then from the standpoint of “the others.”

The last of Mother Theresa’s proposals is the only one I think we can afford to take at full strength.  Doing your best is always the right thing to do.  Loving others is always the right thing to do.  But loving others, seen from the perspective of the steward, means doing whatever is necessary to achieve the good.


Forgiveness in a situation where forgiveness is only encouragement for continued misbehavior is not loving.  Love will require sterner stuff in that situation, as any parent of teenagers already knows.

Kindness is always good as an intention, but sometimes it is hard to know what kindness requires.  It isn’t always being nice.  If we knew everything and knew that our motives were always pure, we might take a chance on the action that seems kind to us at the moment.  But that is setting the bar very high.

If the kind of “honest” you are practicing works as an invitation to others to cheat you, maybe what you are currently regarding as “honest” requires reconsideration.  And I’m not just talking about lying to the Nazis about the Jews in your basement.  I’m talking about organizing the information situation so that a person who is always hesitating between cheating and not cheating, will be helped to understand just what “cheating” is in this situation and to refuse to do it.  Whatever behavior on your part does that is a kindness you have offered.

Paul had an inkling of this kind of difficulty when he advised, “Do not let your good be evil spoken of.” (Rom. 14:16)  I think that to bring that text into line with today’s essay, I would paraphrase it, “Do not let what seems good to you, be rejected by everybody else.”  Of course it seems good to you, he says, but you need to understand that it isn’t going to seem good to everybody else and in deciding what to do, you need to take that into account.

That sounds like a good idea to me.  It is, maybe, a little more complicated but it is more likely, too, to take you where you feel called to go.

[1]  My own mother, whom we all called “Mother,” rather than any of the more modern terms, was a wonderful person, but she was not wonderful in the Mother Theresa mode.  My mother was strong-willed and opinionated, as well as being loving, generous, and kind.  Quite a few people in the little town where we all lived had had occasion to run across both sides of Mother’s personality, so when I had the honor of giving the eulogy at her memorial service, I thought of a line that I treasured for months before I had a chance to give it.  The line was, “To tell you the truth, when I think about her and Mother Theresa of Calcutta, the similarity that really strikes me is that they have the same first name.’

[2]  What has happened to the wonderful word, “enable” is one of the real disasters of the 20th Century.  I regret it deeply.  On the other hand, it is a very servantly thing to say that “enabling” is good without saying just what it is that is being enabled, so the long downhill slide of “enabled” is understandable.  I still regret it.

[3]  Inevitably, stewards say nasty things about servants and vice versa.  If I gave you “robotic” and “devious” as two of the terms, you would know which one to put where.  It is an argument not worth having.

[4] And the number of times they will be right is truly distressing.

Posted in A life of faith, Communication, Paying Attention, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Optimal” aging

On a recent visit to one of the legion of doctors I have been seeing recently (don’t ask) I picked up a pamphlet called “Optimal Aging.” The tag line featured on the front of the trifold is:“There’s no place like home. Let us help you stay there.”

It is a straightforward pitch by the Providence Healthcare System that staying home is optimal 2“better.” Just what it is better than is not mentioned . Why it is better varies some, too, in the reasons offered, which is enough to raise my suspicions.  The pamphlet doesn’t raise security issues at all, but if they wanted to, they could borrow this picture: Safe at Home!

When I begin complaining about this pamphlet, which is what I am about to do, you might feel that I am getting all exercised about a very small issue. I’d like to give you two reasons to pause and consider.

The first is that I am, myself a person who has chosen Option B, the one never mentioned in the pamphlet. I live at Holladay Park Plaza, a very good continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Portland, Oregon. None of the reasons I chose it—the range of activities, the resilient and accepting community, the easy access by public transportation to the events of the city—are so much as hinted at in the brochure.

In fact, if my goal were the goal they presuppose in the brochure, we would still be living in our house in southwest Portland because we would still be able to. The goal they have in mind is to find a way to help older people stay in their homes.  That’s a good goal for them, but it might not be a good choice for you.

The second reason is that I have heard variants of one single conversation over and over optimal 5since I moved here. It goes like this. “If I had known things could be like THIS, I would have come here years ago” What they mean by THIS varies a little as you would expect, but very often it has to do with the services we offer—those are the same services the pamphlet pitches as part of the “stay in your own home” message—and also with the new options that are available here, but not “there.” Coffee group? Right downstairs in the Bistro lobby. Exercise? The room with the machines is always open and the swimming pool is usually available. Library? Right at the end of the hall.

The point here is that there are quite a few things that can be a good deal better than you could have them living in your own home and all of those are screened out by asking only how you can manage to continue staying where you are.

“There’s no place like home.”

That’s true, but for a lot of aging seniors, that are places that are a good deal better than home. “There’s no place like home” is the sentimental appeal and I don’t begrudge them that at all.On   the other hand, the claim they actually make for this—that it is “optimal” is fraught with difficulties. [1] “Optimal aging” means that it is the best kind of aging. That means that it is better than the other kinds of aging—that is, after all what a superlative form is for. And to make that judgment, you really ought to know about the alternatives.

And that is the place in the argument where I start to get snarky. There is nothing in this pamphlet about other kinds of aging situations. That makes it hard to justify a claim like “best.”

And that may be why, as you fold the top of the trifold back, you come right away to the second standard, which is that these services are for “older adults who’d rather stay home.”

That is a great deal more justifiable. People should be able to do what they prefer. But then I remember all the conversations with new residents that begin, “If only we had known…” In staying in their own homes, they were doing what they preferred. But they are not doing what they WOULD HAVE PREFERRED had they known that a place like Holladay Park Plaza [2] was available. And when I read this particular defense in the brochure, those are the conversations that come to mind.

And why is that?

Three separate reasons follow. The first is not really a reason; it is just a restatement of the tag line. It says, “Who wouldn’t want to stay at home as long as possible?” I won’t deny that the phrasing gives it an appeal, but the answer is, “Anyone who would live a richer life somewhere else and knows that is possible.” Notice that in “as long as possible…” the question becomes “are you able to” rather than “do you choose to.”

The second is a reference to “the obvious comfort” of living at home. This is a little on the optimal 4dicey side because again, the words go one way and the meaning goes another way. I think “comfort” probably stands for “familiarity” here. I am not less comfortable here at Holladay Park Plaza than I was at our house in southwest Portland. For all practical purposes, we simply moved our familiar way of living across the river to northeast Portland and plunked it down. Nothing is going to be more familiar than continuing to remain where you are, but when you shift to “comfortable,” you are requiring a comparison of here with there and they would not win that argument.

The third reason (set of reasons) deserves to be quoted in full.

When you stay at home, you can keep working on your hobbies, easily see your friends and neighbors, and be with pets that need you as much as you need them.

Whether you can “keep working on your hobbies” at a fully equipped CCRC depends, of course, on what your hobbies are. The comparison is stacked, as it should be in a pamphlet intended to persuade, toward the services Providence Healthcare is providing and that slant is clear in “keep working on.” It is the continuity that is highlighted. If the CCRC is a much better place to work on your hobbies, and the chances are pretty good if you are a woodworker or a weaver or if you work out in a gym or swim in a pool, that it is easier to do here.

“Easily see your friends and neighbors [3]” is a better reason because they mean the optimal 1friends you already have—not the new ones you will make—and the “neighbors” you will have at the CCRC will be just as much your neighbors as the people living next door. [4]  I think that this picture captures “the alternative” the brochure wants you to imagine.  It’s not a pretty picture, I grant, but pictures like this are not a good reason to refuse to consider a change.

The point about pets is probably the best one in the brochure. Many CCRC’s are pet-free [5] and if you want to take your pet with you, you will have to be sure that the center you are considering will allow it. Many will, of course, and as the next generation of oldsters—more pet-oriented than their parents’ generation—begins to look at CCRC’s, there is likely to be a wholesale change. And the turn in which the pets need you as much as you need them is a stroke of genius.

Choosing the kind of life you want to live

If you have any notion at all of the kind of life you want, you are in a position to ask where and with whom [6] you want to live it. “We choose this kind of setting/community rather than that one” is the format of a really good choice. “What do we have to do to be able to stay where we are as long as possible” is the format of a really bad choice. That doesn’t mean the choice itself is a bad choice for everyone. For any particular elder or older couple, staying where you are might be just the perfect thing to do. I’m considering in this essay the way the question gets raised, not what the best answer is.

I’ve been accused, every now and then, of being more intentional than I should be. Most of the time, this language is just a “stop and smell the roses” sort of plea and I probably should stop more often to smell the roses. But at other time—most of the time, I think—it is a confidence that just continuing to do what you are doing will produce the results you are looking for or it is an expression of hope that “things will work out.” In writing this essay, I have given those critics everything they need to make their case and I wish them well.

On the other hand, Bette and I got here, where we are, by asking what kind of life we wanted to live and it seems to have turned out pretty well.

[1]Optimum is the neuter singular form ofoptimus, which means “best.” It is the superlative form of bonus, which means “good.”
[2] Or any of several other CCRCs in Portland. I don’t mean to exclude them, but I live in only one, myself. As Secretary of State Dean Rusk said, “I hate to keep referring to personal experience, but that is the only kind I have ever had.”
[3] I always see the “nigh” in “neighbor.” All you have to be to be a neighbor is to be close. And if you have what we call here, “mobility issues,” close actually matters more than it did in the old (suburban) neighborhood.
[4] It is true, as they say, that “you can’t make new old friends.” It is also true that you don’t have to give away the old friends when you make new ones.
[5] I get a kick out of the alternative metaphors now in use. In place of the old -less, as in helpless, we are using two strongly inflected forms. The first is -free, as if some negative value is being referred to and anyone would want to be free of it. “Tax free” is a good example. The other strongly inflected form is –friendly, as if refusing to permit some action was an unfriendly thing to do. A hotel with a reputation for discretion might advertise itself as “affair-friendly,” for instance.No one seems to have any trouble reading the meaning, the the flavors of these several alternatives are distinctly different.
[6] I don’t mean just a spouse. If there is a kind of people you would really like to age with, going to where they are wouldn’t be a bad thing to do.

Posted in Getting Old | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I believe in the integrity of the atom

On the morning of the 4th of July, a friend of mine [1] was greeted with a cheery, “Happy Birthday.”  I’m sure he responded to the sentiment in a gentle way, but inside, he felt himself strongly rejected the idea.  The birthday of a country like ours, mired in division and tiptoeing in the direction of fascism.  “Birthday of our country.  Hah!”  Or some such sentiment.

He was still in that mood later in the morning when he told me about it.  He and I have roughly similar political views, but it turns out that we differ a great deal on what I am calling, maybe just for this morning, “atomic integrity.”

I didn’t have that label handy while we were talking, but I must have had something similar in mind because I accused him, at one point, of being “anti-proton.” [2]  Before we get deep into atomic theory, which I make no pretense of understanding, let’s look at the kind of examples everyone will understand.

The Inauguration of the President of the United States

That is the title Donald Trump currently holds.  In my view, he demeans and tarnishes it every day, but he is the only person in the world who currently holds it and it was bestowed on him on inauguration day.  And our Congressman, Earl Blumenauer, made a point of refusing to attend it.  He didn’t slink off into some dark corner.  He didn’t say he needed to spend more time with the wife and kids.  He said he did not want to be “complicit” in the presidency of Donald Trump.

Earl [3] seriously misunderstands the role of inaugurations.  Inaugurations are the time4th of July 1 that Americans get together and celebrate the peaceful transfer of the executive power.  All the little routines that are staged surrounding the ceremony point to it.  The President and the First Lady meet with the President-elect and First-Lady-to be at the White House, but only the latter two return.

What is that for?  It is a dramatic statement that the White House and the Presidency belong to us all and that, while it is true that elsewhere in the world the losing candidate is put up against a wall and shot, that is not true here.  The Inauguration is our chance, as Americans, to support the legitimacy of the office.  There is always the chance, after all, that we will come some day to want the office to be held in high regard, don’t you think?  And how will we do that?  Well… not by turning the ceremony into a partisan celebration as Earl has done. There will be a lot of that in the White House later and people will cheer each other’s efforts and say, in one language or another, “We won!” or “We really showed the bastards, didn’t we” or whatever.  Earl and I will not be invited to such parties and would not go if we were.  Those are partisan celebrations and we belong to the other party.

But the inauguration is for everyone.

An American Culture is for everyone, too.

This is the kind of point that gets me into trouble, but stay with me.  We are just about to go nuclear.

4th of july 3

A society has a common core of values.  If it doesn’t, it is not a society.  It also has a range of values which differ from each other. It has both commonality and diversity.   My argument is that the more strongly the center is affirmed—not tolerated, but actively affirmed—the greater is the range of differences that can be tolerated [4]

Back in the old days, it was common to refer to America as a “melting pot.”  Disparate materials got put into the pot and melted and became all one substance.  People from various cultures became American and affirmed the common values and the common language of the new land.  It was an act of belonging.

In 1971, Michael Novak wrote a book with a truly memorable title: The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics.  His point was that the new immigrants, unlike the old, have no intention of “melting” into some generality Americanism.  They want to live here and remain “Old Country.” [5]  They want to keep the boundaries that define “us” by contrast with “them” and they want to add their own private identity to their identity as Americans or they want to completely substitute the private one for the public one.  The first would say, “Yes, I am an American.  I am also an Old Country Resident.”  See!  I told you it was going to get awkward.  Or he could say, “No, I am not an American (except technically), I am an Old Country Resident instead.  I just live in America.”

That’s what unmeltable means.

Nuclear Politics

Finally.   So here’s my idea.  The bigger the nucleus of an atom, the more electrons will remain in its orbit.  There is nothing really fancy about this idea.  It looks like this.

atom 1All you really need is the understanding that the nucleus is like the common values and practices and the electrons are like the diverse—unassimilable—parts that also define a healthy society.  Using this analogy commits us to all kinds of absurdities.  It allows us to imagine, for instance, that an atom might want to have more electrons than it can currently “afford”—at its current level of electromagnetic attraction—and decides to “add more protons and neutrons,” as if it were a squirrel adding nuts to the larder for the winter.

But at the level of society, it isn’t silly at all.  The Supreme Court is capable of saying that saluting the flag is absolutely mandatory in schools as World War II is approaching and fascism looks unstoppable (Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 1940)  and deciding that it is not mandatory after all, later in the war (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943) when it looks like things are going to come out all right after all.

Societies are perfectly capable of withstanding centrifugal elements—the orbit of theatom 5 electrons, for instance—if the intensity to the common core is strong and stable.  Societies feel, as the loyalty and trust begin to wane that they can no longer afford to have the norms challenged and they begin tightening up and get all anti-electron.

So what is only an exercise in absurdity as it relates to atoms is everyday common sense as it relates to societies, and where I live, many of us can remember such swings from challenge to trust and back.

Obvious implications

So if you are a liberal like my friend—and I don’t mean anything extreme by that—you are prone to partiality toward those parts of society that have the hardest time.  They have been “marginalized,” liberals say. [6]  They aren’t trying hard enough, conservatives say.  And if you have religious language available to you, you might find yourself referring to the people whom you would most like to see benefitted by public policy as “the least, the lost, and the last,” which, you have to admit, is nicely alliterative.

My friend would definitely be pro-electron.  He likes protest and dissent.  He likes diversity.  He likes “unmeltable ethnics.”  He likes, as a matter of moral principle, all the things which, if they are not counterbalanced by a strong and resolute commitment to the values we hold in common, are unsustainable.

But I think a case can be made for being “pro-atom.”  The atom is not going to hold together if the attractive force—technically, the “electronegativity,” I learned on an internet search—is not enough to keep the electrons in their orbits.  So if I want more electrons—those diverse and discrepant elements of society without which we would be Pleasantville—I also want a bigger stronger nucleus.  “You can’t have,” in a memorable phrase from my past, “one without the other.”

So every opportunity we have to augment the nucleus (and thereby the nuclear attractive force) should be seized upon.  National anthem, inaugurations, reverence for the flag, respect for our political forebears, even, at the extreme, a kind remark for straight white males.  The atomic model holds that the more strength the center has—the more we invest in common values and practices—the more diversity we can afford without destroying the integrity (literally, the wholeness) of the atom itself.

The fundamental perversity of the atomic model is that many fans of the nucleus imagine themselves as valuing the nucleus rather than the electrons.  Many supporters of the electrons imagine themselves to have “transcended” the mere nucleus.  But those of us who value atomic integrity understand that the more we contribute to the gravity of the nucleus, the more we can celebrate the diversity of the electrons.

I don’t think “perverse” is too strong an accolade  for that understanding of where we are.

[1]  And a fellow resident of Holladay Park Plaza (HPP) a continuing care retirement center (CCRC) in Portland, Oregon.

[2]  Very likely “anti-nucleus” would have been better but there are so many ways a name like that can go wrong.

[3]  Earl was my first political contact in Portland when I moved here in 1980.  I’m not pretending to an unrealistic familiarity with the representative of House District #3 in Oregon.  He also gave me one of the most consequential pieces of advice I have ever received.  We were out running on Terwilliger hill one morning and he said, “You have got to stop saying Yes to dead-end academic jobs.  If you want to get into public policy, just stop saying Yes when they call.”  So I did.

[4]  They can be “celebrated” too, of course, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  You don’t want to celebrate differences that will blow the whole social cohesion sky high.  We already did that once and had almost done it several other times.  It isn’t pretty.

[5]  I tried several specific names—a specific name would pack a little more punch than “Old Country”—but in the context of this point, every one of them sounded derogatory to my ear, so I just left it out.  You may feel free to supply your own.

[6]  Often there is not much awareness that the -ized suffix means that someone has done this.  Saying that a group is marginal is not at all the same as saying that they have been marginalized any more than saying that someone has died is the same as saying that he was murdered.


Posted in Getting Old, Politics, Sustainability | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

There is no Starbucks in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Sigh.

Bette and I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor yesterday, as good a way to begin a July as I could think of.  I knew I needed to see it, but I was hesitant, too, because Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood isn’t anywhere I would like to live.

There is, for one thing, no Starbucks there and while I hope you appreciate the humor in that, I also mean it is a serious way.  I have serious reservations about the way Fred Rogers imagines what children need and there is nowhere in the Neighborhood to raise such questions.  That is what the Starbucks would be for.

About Mr. Rogers himself, I have no such reservations.  I am quite sure I would like 1  I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t venerate him and I think he would be fine with that.  The film is rich with veneration of Mr. Rogers, but none of it seems to stick to him and quite a few of the richest appreciations of him shown in the movie were posthumous.

I’m going to pass along, below, a few of the things I liked best about the movie, but what really saved it for me was the clear sense that if I had known him and had proposed that we head off to Starbucks to talk about Baumrind’s work on what children need to thrive, he would have thought it was a good idea and we would have had that conversation.  It is that sense that saved the movie for me and allowed me to enjoy all the other things that are there to savor.

The ear fell off

I think a very early exchange in the movie will serve as a good example.  A little kid—his name was Daniel, as I recall— tells Mr. Rogers that his pet had lost an ear in the washing machine.  Mr. Rogers says, “That happens sometimes.”  Then he goes to the heart of the matter—how he knew it was the heart of the matter I have no idea—which is Daniel’s concern that his own ear, or his hand or his leg might fall off, too.  Mr. Rogers says they won’t and leads the kid through a list of appendages that won’t fall off.  Problem solved for the moment.

Fred Rogers is famous for saying that emotions are mentionable and controllable, but in this instance, there was no mentioning at all.  There was just the damaged pet.  But Rogers knew what the emotion was anyway.  I saw the film of the conversation.  I had no idea what the kid was upset about.  I might very well have offered to buy him a new toy because I so misunderstood the real issue.  Rogers didn’t.  He went to it without so much as a skipped beat.

Goose bumps

Rogers was given a chance to testify before Sen. John Pastore’s committee.  The Nixon rogers 9administration budget had in mind cutting funding for the Public Broadcasting System, which would have included Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,  and that what the issue was when Mr. Rogers sat down at the witness table to give testimony to Sen. Pastore, a notably irritable and plain-spoken chairman.

Take a minute and remember what the political climate of 1969 was like.  Remember the riots of 1968 and the controversial election of Richard Nixon.  Mr. Rogers asked if the committee would like to hear the lyrics to a song he often used on the show.  Neither Pastore nor I had ever heard it.  It goes like this.

What do you do with the mad that you feel? When you feel so mad you could bite. When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong, and nothing you do seems very right. What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag or see how fast you go? It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned the thing that’s wrong. And be able to do something else instead ― and think this song ―

“I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime … And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man.”

And he recited the whole thing. You can see how long it is.  It didn’t feel long as I watched him recite it.  Given the OK Corral context of the scene, I think I understand how the suspense carried me along.

Pastore’s response went like this.

“I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, and this is the first time I’ve had goose bumps for the last two days,” he said. “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

“The twenty million” is a reference to the entire budget allocation for NPR, which was the issue before the committee.  Rogers seems a simple, even a naive man, in the committee setting, but he was right on the money with Sen. Pastore, just as he was with Daniel.

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feel with the towel

There is a longer version of the story in John 13, but The Reverend Mr. Fred Rogers, ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, very likely knew what his adult viewers would be reminded of, consciously or not. [1]

This was a time when swimming pools were “being integrated,” that is, black kids were allowed to swim in the public pools along with white kids.  The movie shows film of a pool manager dumping chemicals into the pool in an attempt to clear the black kids out.  I had never seen that footage and the context to what was going on in the Neighborhood was stark.

rogers 8Rogers invited the local cop, a black man, to take off his shoes and socks and cool his feet in the little wading pool you see here.  Feet.  Hot.  Cool water.  Sharing towel.  Easy camaraderie.  Nothing in what you see on the screen feels like public policy.  It doesn’t feel like protest.  It seems like something neighbors might do on a hot day.

Those three episodes are enough, I think, to suggest what the movie has to offer.  Alissa Wilkinson, in a review of the film said that “it feels radically subversive.”  I didn’t like that observation before I saw the movie and I am still not sure I agree with it, but now I know what she meant.  You do come out of the movie feeling that you have been living in a different place, a place dominated by different values.  It gives you a chance to wonder, again, whether we are really doing the right thing.

It’s Starbucks Time

As winning as Fred Rogers is in the variety of settings in which we see him, I never quite shook the “yes, but” feeling I got when he tried to explain his more general approach to children.  There were no standards in his approach, no limits, no achievements. [2]

My brother, Karl, was a pediatrician for many years and in that capacity, he saw a lot of different parenting styles.  I have often heard him say that amid all the superficial variety of these styles, every one that had firm clear standards and warm nurturing support, worked just fine.  Present parents, clear standards, warm support.  I took for granted that he knew what he was talking about and that is the standard I aimed at in raising my own kids.  I didn’t see any of that in the Neighborhood.

Probably the best-known typology of parenting styles comes from the work of Dianarogers 7 Baumrind.  Using her original typology [3] I would say that Fred Rogers believes in a low control/high warmth combination, which Baumrind calls “Permissive.”  What my brother and I were aiming for was high control/high warmth, which Baumrind calls “Authoritative.” [Not, please, “authoritarian.”  That’s a different style in Baumrind’s mix.]

The role of “control” in those styles of parenting is to make it possible for children to respect themselves.  Every study I have ever seen of the topic shows that the U. S. leads the world in “self-esteem.”  We think we are wonderful. [4]  But we don’t think we are good at things because to be good at things, you have to master the requisite skills and to master them, you have to fail so you can correct whatever you did wrong.  The trying and failing and mastery and consequent “self-respect” require the clear standards that seem to be missing in the neighborhood.

“Self-respect” was not the issue Mr. Rogers was trying to address.  That’s why I have no quarrel at all with his wonderfully therapeutic touch with children and adults, and even, when necessary, with Senators.  But when that project is blown up into a way of understanding “what children need,” I start to squirm because what I needed was a way to respect my own efforts and, eventually, myself.  And I think that’s what a lot of kids need.

And if there were only a Starbucks in the neighborhood, Fred and I could go there and work it out.  And I am sure we would.  I like him a great deal. [5]

[1]  In a similar manner, FDR used to refer to his wealthy opponents as “malefactors of great wealth,” trusting that the only other context in which his listeners would have heard the word “malefactors” was in the King James Version of the crucifixion of Jesus and that it referred to the criminals who were being crucified at the same time.  Sometimes just placing a word in a context is all that is needed.

[2]  Bette says they were really there.  It is just that they were not shown in the movie.  I don’t know how she knows things like that but I know not to bet against her.

[3]  Baumrind has since expanded the typology by allowing mid-range values for the scales, not just high and low.  Using the expanded typology, it is possible that Mr. Rogers would be “mild control/high warmth” or “Democratic” parent.  That would be only mildly ironic for Mr. Rogers, the lifelong Republican.

[4]  This is the element of Rogers’ teaching that produced protests from the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, both of which were shown, but not explored, in the movie.  No Starbucks, remember”

[5]  And I can hardly wait to see Tom Hanks playing Fred Rogers in You Are My Friend, which is currently being produced.

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It isn’t HIM, it’s THEM

The New York Times did us all a service in its June 23 article, “As Critics Assail Trump, His Supporters Dig in Deeper.”  I confess that I liked it partly because it wasn’t news to me, but I also liked it because my own angle on political psychology looks most closely at the reasons people give for the things they do and the things they say.  That is really what this article is about.

Jeremy W. Peters, who wrote the article, has spent a good deal of time talking to Trump voters.  I think what he really wanted to ask them was how they can still support Trump after all he has done.  But that’s not really what happened in these interviews.

I counted seven of them all together and what I am going to do in this essay is reflect on just what some of the seven Trump voters wanted to talk about.  In most cases, it isn’t Trump, but the connection between Trump and and the polarized environment is best illustrated by Ms. Anders, who has the first and also the last word in this piece.

Ms. Anders

Even if Mr. Trump wasn’t at the center of the national conversation, Ms. Anders, the Loudoun County business executive, said she thinks that the country would still be polarized. But as long as he is, she said, people on the right and the left will probably continue to dig in based on what Mr. Trump does and how his opponents respond.

“It all coalesces around Trump,” she said. “It’s either, ‘Trump wants to put people in cages, in concentration camps.’ Or, on the other side, ‘Oh the left just wants everybody to come into the country illegally so they can get voters.’”

She concluded: “We can’t have a conversation.”

Trump 4She notes that the country was polarized before Trump arrived—she didn’t say that Trump didn’t make it worse.  The difference is that it is very difficult, now, to talk about the polarization.  The topic defaults to Trump instead.  “He wants to put children in cages” say the people who “just want to leg everybody come into the country illegally so they can get voters.”  [It is not my fault that the apostrophe is where it is.]

Neither of those is Ms. Anders’ view.  She would like to have a conversation rich enough to sustain the nuance and complexity—her words—that the issue deserves.

But then she comes down at the commonest of all Trump landing places: she is angry at Trump’s critics and “it makes me angry at them” and it makes me “want to defend him to them more.”

The words I would like to highlight are “to them.”  She wants to defend Trump “to them.”  There is the fraught relationship.  That is what is drawing Ms. Anders’ attention.  The reaction of Trump’s critics are “overblown” and it makes her angry.  Trump disappears from the battlefield at this point and the war between Ms. Anders as the Trump critics continues unabated.  If Trump were to disappear tomorrow, the critics would still have done what they have done, would still have committed their crime and Ms. Anders would still be justifiably angry at them and would still want to blame them for what they had done.  They destroyed nuance and complexity and they have to be made to pay for what they have done.

I agree with nearly everything Ms. Anders says.  She doesn’t apply her criticism to herself, which something a compassionate liberal might be able to help her with, but what she ways about the President’s critics is exactly right.  My disagreement with Ms. Anders is about salience.  There are two issues to deal with here.  Trump is doing terrible things (that’s one) and his critics are immoderate in their criticism (that’s the other one).

Ms. Anders is so deeply offended by the critics that she is willing to downgrade the Trump policies to second place.  What the policies are and why they are being pursued and what the effects are and what alternatives are being foregone—all those are secondary.  The most highly salient issue to her is the quality of the critics.

It is at that point that I have to leave her.

Schrantz and Arnold

They are interviewees #2 and #4 in my list.  They, too, are not addressing President Trump and if, as I suspect, the question Peters really wants to ask them is, “How can you keep on supporting this guy!?” he is going to continue to be frustrated.  That is not what the Trump supporters talk about (with the single exception to be dealt with at the end).

Here is Schrantz

“He’s not a perfect guy; he does some stupid stuff,” said Tony Schrantz, 50, of Lino Lakes, Minn., the owner of a water systems leak detection business. “But when they’re hounding him all the time it just gets old. Give the guy a little.”

“They”—could refer to the media, could refer to Trump critics—are hounding him all theTrump 1 time.  That is a fact.  Mr. Schrantz is correct.  There are two things wrong with what they are doing.  The first is that they are not being “fair-minded” (my word) in that they are not giving him any leeway.  I think that is what the reference to “a little” is.  Trump is a public figure and they—the media or the critics—ought not to be so quick to judge him.

The second thing that is wrong is that this persistent criticism has lost its entertainment value for Mr. Schrantz.  “It just gets old” is not a comment on the truth or even the importance of a criticism of the President.  It’s just that having heard it so much has worn off the novelty.

Arnold agrees.

“It’s kind of like when you experience a sensation over and over and over again,” said Daniel Arnold, 32, a warehouse manager from Leesburg, Va., about an hour outside Washington. “A sensation is no longer a sensation. It’s just, ‘Oh, here we are again.’”

Arnold is looking for anomalies.  The criticism of the President by the media is not anomalous, so it is not worth paying attention to.

Julie Knight

“It bothers me that he doesn’t tell the truth, but I guess I kind of expect that, and I expect that from the media, too — not to always tell the truth or to slant it one way,” said Julie Knight, 63, a retired personal injury case manager from Algona, Wash.

Ms. Knight comes at it from a different side.  She has been following the news and she knows that the President doesn’t always tell the truth (A common New York Times headline is “Trump lies about ______”)  But she doesn’t think the media always tells the truth either.  So we have a source we don’t trust saying that an officeholder we like is lying.

A more serious criticism, although it doesn’t seem as major in her comments, is that what she means by “telling the truth” is not slanting the news one way or the other.  This is completely useless way to assess “slant.” 

When the media choose one story rather than another, they are slanting “the news.” When they shape the narrative one way or the other, they are slanting the news.  There is no way to tell the news without “slanting “ it.  And if that is Ms. Knight’s criterion, there are no news reports at all that she can trust.

This is the reason for the success of Trump’s argument that “the media” are the other Trump 2party.  There is his administration and then there is “the media.”  This means that the President is running in a one-horse race, which means we know who is going to win it.  The notion that the opponents are the Democrats and that the media’s job is to call the fouls and enforce the penalties, is a notion long abandoned.  Ms. Knight is a prime example.

On the other hand, some Trump supporters really do address the policy context and the way they do it speaks volumes about how Trump has regained their loyalty. 

Here is John Westling.

“Let’s see,” said John Westling, 70, of Princeton, Minn., reciting a list of the president’s accomplishments that he said no one in the media wants to talk about. “Economy booming, check. Unemployment down, check. Border security being addressed, check. Possible end to the Korean War that started when I was 3 years old, 68 years ago, check.”

This list has the advantage of actually being about policy outcomes, at least superficially.  But this kind of support is very thin.  Westling says that the booming economy and the low unemployment numbers” are “achievements” by the President.  But that’s not really the way the economy works.  Presidents who are in office when the economy is bad are blamed and those who are in office when it is good are praised.  The causal links are completely obscure.  And does anyone think that when the economy tanks and unemployment goes back up, that Westlake is going to blame the President for it?  Of course not

Border security is “being addressed” says Westlake.  Emotionally, that is the kind of claim any President’s supporters make.  “At least he is trying,” they will say.  But Mr. Westlake seems to think it is an achievement.  He certainly thinks the recent meeting with Kim Jong Un is an achievement although nothing has yet come from it and most experts seem to think nothing will.  “Possible end,” says Mr. Westlake.

And there are others.  Lynn Dittbenner admits that it is terrible about kids getting separated from their parents at the border, but “the parents shouldn’t have been there.” Gary Winthorpe is wary of the President, but feels that he is doing his best and that people ought to recognize him for that.  The list of devices goes on and on.

Balls and Strikes

Of the people featured in the article, only John Westlake looks at the policy outcomes—or in some cases, the intentions—and says they are praiseworthy.  I have given the reasons why I think those “outcomes” are spurious, but Westlake is using the right metric.

The other Trump supporters have turned instead to attacking the media. THEY are not being fair to HIM.  I think it is surprising that the Democrats don’t show up in this set of justifications.  For these people, I think there are no other proposals for governing the nation.  There is only President Trump and whether he is being treated fairly or not by his critics.

This is the kind of perspective you hear from fans of the home team who believe that the umpire is not calling the balls and strikes fairly.  They see the pitch from where they are seated.  They hear the call from the umpire immediately behind the plate.  They say that he is mistaken or corrupt because that’s not what the pitches looked like from where they are sitting.

These Trump supporters are, in other words, fans.  This is not a citizenship perspective.  These are not voters who would choose between two policy directions the one that is best for the country or even the one that is best for them.  They love the pitcher and the umpire is cheating.

End of story.  It’s not a pretty story, it seems to me, but this way of understanding how they justify their political preferences helps me grasp, finally, why for this part of the electorate, nothing will work.

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The Times, They Are A’Changin’

Count on it.

Let’s take as an example the Roaring Twenties and the Stodgy Fifties. [1]  The 20s were a time for experimentation and throwing away traditional norms.  The 50s were a time of recovering from that and reacquiring those traditional norms.  Then, beginning in the middle of the decade with what we now call “the 60s,” another time of experimenting, leading to another hungering for “the old days.”

That way of looking at society and change has the rhythm of the tides to it.  In and out; in and out.  But when you are at the end of a prolonged period of what I called above “recovery,” it doesn’t feel like that.  It feels like the whole society is static and dull and has been like that forever and that change—something!—would be better.

I heard that in Bob Dylan’s song, “The times, they are a changin’,” which “we” sang in atime changin 7 concert last week.  “We” is the Plaza Singers, a choral group in Holladay Park Plaza, where Bette and I live.  It was part of a program called “When we were 15,” which tells you a little about how the songs were chosen. [2]  And one of the songs “we” sang when we were 15 was “The times, they are a’changin’”, which was released in 1964, by my calculation the very last year of the 1950s or possibly the first year of the 60s.  I was 15 in 1952, so there must be some younger people in the choir. [3]

The result of all these developments is that I heard the song in a way I had never heard it before.  I can hear the frustration in it, especially in the assessment of the culture that is just about to be “outgrown.”  The deluge is coming and it is going to sweep all these unimaginative and stodgy social structures away.

Here are some samples, then I would like to come back and reflect a little on the Tea Party and Trump revolutions.

It calls on politicians who are not up for drastic change to get out of the way.

Come senators, congressmen/Please heed the call

Don’t stand in the doorway/Don’t block up the hall

For he that gets hurt/Will be he who has stalled

There is going to be a crowd of people blowing through the halls of Congress, this says, and you can go with them or get out of the way or get crushed.  Those are your options.  Note that the political establishment and the energized populace are the two actors here.  Was that ever the case?

Or this one.

Come mothers and fathers/Throughout the land

And don’t criticize/What you can’t understand

Your sons and your daughters/Are beyond your command…

This one is a little different.  It is intimate, for one thing.  This is not about Congress, it is about families.  What will, later, be lamented as “the breakdown of the American family” is here celebrated as the beginning of the revolution.  “Command” is the old way, and the kids have outgrown that.  Just what they have grown into is not specified, but control by the parents for any reason, even deep respect, is over.

Note that it is the parents who do not understand and the kids who do.  This is not antimes changin 5 intergenerational kumbaya moment.  This is a massive supercession of an old and failed generation by a new and resourceful generation.  Imagine that David and Ricky Nelson rise up and put their sad old worn out parents Ozzie and Harriet, in their place.  That’s what we are talking about here.

So, in any case, we did all that.  We “offed the pigs” and we “brought the Mother down” and we made free love and we had a wave of radical violence, some based on race and some based more on class.  And then the tide came back in again and Congressmen were expected to actually govern, rather than just be run over by angry young people, and parents were expected to provide that best conditions they could for the development of their children.

It became clear in that era that some of the major players in Congress—and everywhere else throughout the legislative and executive branches—were the major economic players.  It isn’t just “the people” on one side and “the government” on the other.  It is the military-industrial complex and the Wall Street firms and the extractive industries and the labor unions.  And what once looked like “the people” demanding change from “the government” comes to look like a much more complicated transaction in which the government was bought off and the people distracted by actual prosperity for some and the promise of prosperity for all.  That kind of complexity does not sustain revolutions.  It also does not make good folk songs.

Now we have major parts of our society trying to get “back” to where they thought theytimes changin 3 were in the 50s before all these self-appointed radicals took over.  We had a lot of flag burning [4] and so we now demand that people treat the national anthem as a sacred moment. [5] And we don’t have families the way we remembered them but we do have By God Family Values.

Think of it this way.  All the wonderful stable things we lost in the decadent 1920s we got back in the return to “normal” after the depression of of the 1930s and the war of the 1940s.  Then we lost them again—this is the period Dylan is anticipating—and now substantial sections of society are trying to get them back again.  Note especially, in this poster, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in their separate little single beds.

It isn’t quite that simple, but when you look at society as ebb and flow, the once and for all drama of songs like “The times, they are a changin’” don’t have the power they seemed to have at the time.  We don’t actually go back, but the yearning for “going back” is now a powerful political force and we see it driving agendas in sexual orientation and immigration and publicly mandated religious expression, and sexual norms and a whole host of other questions that have become, as a result of the social ebb and flow, political hot spots.

It looks like the times, they are a’changin’.  Back.

[1]  Not to be judgmental.  I don’t remember ever hearing a characterization of the 50s.  I friend suggested “Fabulous Fifties,” but I don’t think I have ever heard that.

[2]  We also sang, for example, “Peggy Sue,” and “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and “The Sounds of Silence.”

[3]  But in 1952, when I actually was 15, we listened to Jo Stafford’s, “You Belong to Me,” and Very Lynn’s Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart,” and Patti Page’s “I Went to Your Wedding,” none of which were sung by the Plaza Singers this year. 

[4]  Which turned out to be a constitutionally protected form of “free expression.”

[5]  We started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the ball games in 1918 when World War I was looking very grim and people were wondering why all these superb athletes weren’t off at war with everybody else.  Solution: sing patriotic songs.

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