On Being Human

Courtesy, the brilliant Nick Galifanakis.

Long ago, I made peace with the idea that ALL humans really want and need the same thing: to do the best we can with what we know. It’s the same in the physical, in the psychological, and in the spiritual. There’s nothing whatsoever “wrong” with this; it’s a healthy part of human nature.

And, in terms of judging the behavior of others, this is a wise position to take, because it strikes at the heart of what motivates people. We want to help ourselves, our families, our communities, and beyond. That only some are able to do this well is the thing that’s really wrong with our world under the sun. Sadly, these few are the ones with the dragons capable of raining down terror on the rest of us. Dracarys!

Those who associate with a God of their understanding — as a part of their teaching, training, and faith — fully grasp the significance of helping the poor and the afflicted among us. Chaos ensues, however, when even a few of these get the idea that helping others means personal loss to themselves, or even more deceptively, that the poor are somehow “out to take what’s ours.” This stance puts us at odds with God, no matter which religion we pick. It ought to concern those who do so, but it doesn’t.

For, no matter how we play it, those who are stuck in the rut of competing for what they believe to be “theirs” are at odds with others who are more giving. As a friend recently said, “It’s not a piece of pie.” Helping others is a natural behavior for humans, one that runs into conflict only when we put our spiritual selves on hold while we pursue getting what we can to better our physical lives. This produces the takers in a world of givers, and they are an abomination before God.

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you, rich ones, for you have your comfort!”

It’s a lot easier on all of us to view the realities of life through the veil of wanting to do the best we can for ourselves and our families. This knowledge (or is it a belief?) has a way of injecting compassion into those who are aware. Everybody seems to agree with the principle but not with how to bring it about throughout the planet. Resources to accomplish the task appear to the uninitiated as a zero‐sum game and one that requires that I take from somebody else in order to satisfy my own wants and needs. Once I’ve accumulated “mine,” I might be able to turn my attention to somebody else. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The fear that somebody else “might” take away my piece of pie is a powerful motivator to maintain the status quo, no matter who gets stomped on in the process. This, again, is human nature gone to seed, revealing the hidden motives of selfishness and self‐centeredness. And, if this is to be our stance, we are sad and to be pitied.

Those who know God, however, understand that His approach is for us to give of ourselves first in order to be filled fully via the spirit with what’s best for us afterwards (See: The parable of the garden hose). This is foolishness to the world under the sun, but those of us who also fully inhabit the spiritual see the wisdom of such an approach. God is fully committed to the poor, and that includes Jesus. You can’t go very far in reading the Bible until you encounter this truth.

And, this is why the Republican approach to religion is so off‐putting to me. To them, social justice is a major weakness in governance, and why Trump puppet master Steve Bannon said in 2017:

“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the democrats.”

This is a crude albeit correct description of Republican Party Politics, because it seeks to benefit the status quo and by extension, the wealthy and the haves. The sole strategic thrust of the Democrats ought to be how their opponents only speak for the wealthy and the filthy rich, and the bones they toss to white evangelicals — like abortion and religious freedom — are only offered to ensure a larger support base. Republicans, quite honestly, could give a crap about fetuses being aborted. The litmus test for conservative judges is not abortion; it’s how business‐friendly they are. The price conservatives demand is support for the wealthy, and since a lot of these preachers consider themselves in that category, the match is perfect. Moreover, the wealthy give money to big churches and ministries (it’s called a tax write‐off).

And, no preacher worth his salt wants to turn that down, right?

This business of being human can give us all fits, not just the poor and the afflicted, so how are we supposed to judge others? the Bible says we should “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

They’ve taken the human idea of doing the best for ourselves, our families, and our communities and turned it into selfishness.

And, it’s not pretty.

Our addiction to formulas is killing us

pattersonFormulas are the greatest gift and yet the greatest curse of modernity. In a culture where the wheels of commerce are greased through mass marketing, there is no greater path to wealth than a successful formula. However, when formulas are used to stifle creativity, the whole culture stagnates and eventually is ripe for disruption. The United States of America is stagnating, because we’ve steadily embraced this obsession with road maps over the last century. Rather than elect leaders to take us forward, we choose managers who can show us bullet points, formulas, and a spread sheet. The result feels safe but is actually stagnating and deflating, because it has no imagination.

Formula addiction is especially useless for institutions during times when equilibrium is lost amid chaos. In the 21st Century, we are in one of those times.

But formulas can also become counterproductive value propositions when people manipulated by formulas gain their (formerly) secret knowledge. One, formulas then produce a boring and predictable sameness, and, two, anybody is free to take up the same formula, thereby destroying the value of its former uniqueness. Add to this the corporate greed of formula exploiters, and suddenly a formula that used to “work” becomes a net turn‐off to its customers. This is where institutions fail the most, for modernist hierarchical groups can’t afford to talk with customers.

Star Wars, for example, is a very successful Hollywood formula. The rarity of its episodes (there have only been 7 in the last 40 years) doubtless contributed to that success, but we’re about to get one Christmastime movie a year (including spin‐offs) from Disney, because they like the profits produced by the formula. This means other movies won’t be made, because why should a corporation that’s in it for profit take a chance when all they have to do is copy a known formula for success, right?

It’s the same way with publishing, which is why James Patterson is the only author you see in TV advertising. The man is one giant formula gone to seed. Formula addiction contributes to failures with media, with education, and every aspect of our society, even the arts.

Beancounters love to copy. It’s why nearly every client I’ve had in broadcasting — when offered my ideas — has responded with, “Who else is doing this?” The inference is a reticence to experiment rather than copy something that’s already been tried and proven a success elsewhere. The ability to show broadcasters what’s working elsewhere is the core competency of TV news consulting, so my iconoclastic approach didn’t win any business for my employer. My evidence didn’t matter. I could show clients the damaging pathway of their existing strategy, and it didn’t matter. I could appeal to reason and present clever images to spark their imaginations, but it didn’t matter. None of it mattered, because their profit was based on known formulas, and despite evidence that the formulas wouldn’t ever meet their digital expectations, they still cling to them today. It will be their downfall.

Christianity is another tired cultural formula that’s being picked apart today. The Emergent or “Emerging Church” movement exploded on the scene as a “postmodern” alternative to stagnating orthodoxy, but it has slowed down considerably in the wake of scandals and other mischief. As one who writes of postmodernism, I’ve always felt both kinship with and distance from the leaders of this group, for they were using the basics of postmodern thought and tools to create a new hierarchy (and sell books). This is quite absurd by default, for horizontal chaos is the authority in a postmodern culture, not hierarchies.

Keep this in mind as you go about your lives in this century, for it’s on display everywhere. The left brain thinking that has governed life in the West for so long is crumbling under the weight of its disrespect for imagination.