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Archive for December 2020

Add more seats around the public policy table, please

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Journalists report on the world’s important issues primarily in two languages — those of politics and economics.

When a budding college journalist asks me what she should minor in or take as a second major, my reply is swift but bitter: “As much as it disgusts me, take every course you can in political science and economics.”

“Why?” she asks.

“Because,” I reply, “if you can’t speak those two languages, then you’ll be clueless about what the major players driving the agendas are saying. You’ll be shut out of covering, let alone understanding, major issues.”

“Why does that disgust you?”

“Why should the world’s problems be examined from only two perspectives?” I counter. “That limits the range and types of potential solutions.” 

For example, the disciplines housed in the broad field of social science, which is where political science and economics find their homes, differ in two fundamental ways. Each has a different set of assumptions that mark the boundaries of the disciplines; each asks different questions, which also marks the boundaries of the discipline.

Where boundaries exist, vision is limited. That’s why my advice that young journalists should study political science and economics frustrates me: It gets them into the conversation but it traps them into the same boundaries marked by the other participants in that conversation.

Imagine a climate scientist (a real one), a wildlife biologist with an artist’s perspective, an Inuit seal hunter, an economist, and a political scientist sitting at a table pondering the urgent questions posed by accelerating climate disruption. Would they produce richer, more insightful, more potentially successful avenues of human action as a basis for public policy? I don’t know. Journalists don’t know, either. So perhaps they should seek people from such disparate disciplines to interview.

It’s important, of course, for journalists to report fully and faithfully what is said (and done) by those politicians and economists customarily sitting at the table.

But it’s equally important for journalists to report what disciplines of art, science, and even religion are not at the table and therefore unable to be heard.

Who can speak and who can’t underlies so much of how public policy is crafted. Journalists are responsible for making that clear and identifying who’s in and who’s out.

Will different voices help craft better public policy and produce social sanity instead of turgid tribalism?

I don’t know.  But I look around, and I can’t imagine those different voices making our lives more miserable than our current mainstream diet of politicians and economists.


Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 16, 2020 at 6:31 pm

When loyalty speaks with only a meaningless whisper

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Seven years ago I wrote about the attainment of loyalty. Now, with deepening  sadness, I confront the loss of loyalty and its emotional costs.

As I have aged, loyalty, at least in the world as I see it, has trended to the transactional. No one needs look farther than the current president for a model definition of transactional loyalty.

Think of it like this: Who can do what with the least cost to and most benefit for me? We all have, perhaps, a nuance of transactional thinking in our dealings with others. We act with seeming kindness and generosity without request, but in the back of our minds, are we thinking, “This is an investment for some future return”?

Prominent in our heavily mediated world are exemplars of false loyalty practiced with cunning artifice. I suspect most of us have felt the sudden breach of loyalty, the feeling of back-stabbing betrayal — or, to be blunt, “I just got fucked over …” That nauseating sensation burns for a long time.

So what element of loyalty necessary for selfless service to another is missing?

Seven years ago, I wrote:

Nearly half a century ago, a friend sent me a telegram from half a continent away. “I need help,” it said. I replied: “En route.” I fired up my old LandCruiser and drove through winter’s wrath to get to him. Loyalty? Obligation? Duty? All, perhaps.

He trusted me to come. He had seen in me reliability, truth in speech and action, an ability to look past my own interests for the sake of his, and a strength of friendship well bonded. He trusted me to act in his best interests despite any risk to mine. He trusted me without reservation.

But in this world too often dominated by transactional thinking, trust has congealed into one shallow meaning — be damn sure the other guy covers his or her end of the deal.

That makes me feel trust as a significant human value is dying, if not already dead and cold in the ground. Still, if I expect to grant and receive loyalty, shouldn’t I despite the prevailing winds retain and exhibit the ability to trust?

Try to choose potential components of loyalty from among the field of more publicly prominent and mediated emotions — such as fear, hate, anger, rage. Can loyalty exist with inclusion of such baser emotions as its bonding agents? In our tribalized society, these emotions do present organizing calls for common ground. But I cannot see any of them as the heart of loyalty — only as messaging for recruitment for  causes with dubious merit.

Can a single act of betrayal destroy loyalty? Can that one act be forgiven? Does forgiveness rest on the nature of the precipitating event for the betrayal and whether such an event is likely to recur? I don’t know, but I’ve experienced both.

Over time, can loyalty fall victim to resentment for another’s isolated act that seems thoughtless at best or cruel at worst? Or is resentment the consequence of a loss of trust wrought by the act? Some scars run deep and are seemingly unforgiveable.

The trust embedded in loyalty can be lost with a single thoughtless act even if the actor is just temporarily blind to the value of loyalty. Or a weakening trust, eroded slowly over time like rain and wind grinding against bedrock, can fracture loyalty by taking its existence for granted.

I think the former is forgivable. Who hasn’t acted in the heat of the moment without thought of consequences? But the latter? I think not. It reflects a lack of commitment and selflessness. It signals that trust (and love) only faintly binds two people.

The disintegration of trust can be as swift as the death of an expectation of behavior in a crisis — Why didn’t you trust me to act in your best interests regardless of mine?

Loyalty needs love as much as it needs trust. I’m hard pressed to say which of those two ingredients is more important. How can love exist without trust? How can trust exist without love?

When loyalty eventually evaporates, through inattention or neglect, only a reactive, often transactional charade of a relationship remains, empty of trust and incapable of selfless love. Such past moments, and recognition of my own careless roles in those failures, have produced the deepest sadness I have ever known. Perhaps that’s why melancholy is the emotion that dominates my life.

Rebuilding trust, let alone loyalty, may be among the most difficult tasks two people can attempt. It requires two partners already feeling “burned” who may bring to the effort a wariness too deep to overcome.

Attend to loyalty with love, trust, and, where possible, passion. Loyalty is rarely regained without as much pain in restoring it as in losing it.

h/t: Ars Skeptica, Doc WinterSmith

Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

December 11, 2020 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized