Becoming Well Informed

Irony of ironies, now that I have more time for social media, I find that I struggle to tolerate it. With people having more time to post, and posting a lot about the current pandemic, their ignorance is coming to the fore. I find this to be especially true about geekmillennials, and it has nothing to do with their intelligence. Whether they are smart as a whip or dumb as a box of rocks, it seems they have little idea of how to think critically. Added to their tendency to isolate from the news cycle, what we are left with is a recipe for disaster.

At least in part, it’s not their fault. Our educational system has become obsessed with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The reason is that corporations say they need more people in these fields, and I believe them. However, in true American fashion, we have exercised little moderation in this effort and so tended to cut what we in the old days would have called a solid liberal arts foundation from our education. This is true not only at the university level, but also in primary and secondary education. We teach to the test, restrict our curricula to so-called common core materials, and teach to the test. To be quite clear, this is the fault not of teachers but of school boards and administrators across the country. What we are left with is technological social misfits who lack common sense.

One result of this is that news is boring, somehow less than important, as so we pay little attention to it. When we do pay attention to it, we don’t go in depth because we don’t find it very important, and so we are easy prey for the misleading headline. When our friends say something it carries as much weight as the New York Times. We “hear” things and pass them along as fact, revealing our ignorance with startling starkness. We don’t stop to think about the impact of passing along what we have “heard” or questionable memes on our friends, as I witnessed on one person’s Facebook page when he passed along a conspiracy meme that was critical of healthcare workers in the corona virus struggle, suggesting they never get sick and so it’s not real. Of course neither assertion is true. He handsome-man-reading-newspaper-street_23-2147694649never considered that one of his friends is a Registered Nurse on the front lines of the battle.

The biggest problem in all of this may well be that it cannot be corrected overnight. You can’t just pick up tomorrow’s paper and become well informed. It takes time, and it takes practice. It starts with learning the difference between credible sources and propaganda mills. It continues with implementing a healthy skepticism to everything you hear or read, taking care to look at the source from which it came. This is important because if you aren’t well informed you can’t be a responsible citizen. You simply cannot go to the polls and cast a vote in your own self-interest if you lack the ability to discern which candidate represents that self-interest. This doesn’t take hours each day. Ten minutes a day reading news from a solid source, or listening to it, is a good start. It takes work, and you have to commit to it, but if you care anything about your life and the lives of the next generation, it isn’t optional. In fact, I can guarantee you will feel better about yourself.

I am Discouraged

I’ll be honest with you – I am profoundly discouraged. A significant portion of America is either stupid, morally bankrupt or both. Truth no longer matters, doing the right thing no longer matters, the ability to analyze an argument seems to be beyond at least a plurality of Americans, and it seems that any behavior is justified if it brings me more bullshitpower and allows me to get the outcome I want. That’s true in politics, it’s true in social media, it’s true in casual conversation, it’s true in our churches (especially Evangelical and fundamentalist ones), it’s true in the judiciary – quite simply, it’s true more places than it isn’t true.

I have been thinking about this problem for a very long time. Realistically, we probably don’t have a higher percentage of idiots than we always have – though one could argue that the systematic disassembly of education by Republicans in this country has left us with more under educated people that ever before. What is different today is that we seem to have lost anything even remotely resembling a moral compass. That’s a situation that began with the political right crawled into bed with the religious right and presidentevilpower became the idolatrous god of both.

I have heard many people say that we will have to come together as a nation, that the left and the right and everyone in between will have to find a way to get along. I’m not so sure. When I see people in all walks of life advocating policies and practices which hurt other people so they can get ahead, when I see people supporting a President who is profoundly mentally ill and quite possibly devoid of a conscience, what I see is evil. I am not inclined to make nice with evil. Sorry, Charlie.

For a more in depth look at the issue of evil, check my other blog (www.theinterspiritualtraveler.org) tomorrow.

Our Fascination with Foreign Practices

Americans are fascinate with things we perceive to be exotic. I became acutely aware of this truth when I became an Episcopalian and was suddenly exposed to people who had never left the United States but had somehow acquired a British accent. Another british-1600x720example is that people just love to take their shoes off at yoga centers, meditation halls, any place that even seems vaguely Eastern. I don’t think it would take a lot of effort to convince people that going to the bathroom is a deeply spiritual practice if we would just place a mat for them to leave their shoes at the entrance. Almost as popular is contorting our Western bodies into positions that Eastern folks regularly assume but those of us raised with, say, chairs never do.

We assume that doing all of these rather unusual external behaviors by definition make us more spiritual. The problem is that they don’t. There is nothing about sitting in full lotus that would prevent a raging ass hat from assuming the position. In fact, you can see it at just about any spiritual center. The truth is that there isn’t anything about any external behavior that transforms us internally. Those external practices can actually Does-He-Have-Bones-Nigerian-Contortionist-Murphybecome a barrier if they reinforce our ego by supporting the idea that we are better than our fellow practitioners.

In the end, if bending yourself into a pretzel shape helps you with your practice then that is a beautiful thing and you should keep right on doing it. If you can’t manage to turn your body into a piece of origami, you should know that sitting in a chair will neither hinder nor accelerate your practice. Perhaps we need to be asking ourselves whether we could practice if we found ourselves on a deserted island with none of our objects (or positions) of attachment.