Composition

The following is offered to my younger readers:

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Here you will encounter written compositions- a rapidly fading art.

Consider these two observations:

History is made by those who write it.” – Jack Kennedy (during a live press conference, and probably quoting an old adage dating at least from Ancient Greece).

The loss of people writing – writing a composition, a letter, or a report – is not just the loss for the record.  It’s the loss of the process of working your thoughts out on paper, of having an idea that you would never have had if you weren’t [writing].  And that’s a handicap.  People [I research] were writing letters every day.  That was a calisthenics for the brain.” – David McCullough (in Time, 20 June 2011, bemoaning some negative aspects of digital age “communication”).

“A calisthenics for the brain.”

Kennedy, a man who truly did make history, knew better than most the importance of documenting things, of writing things out, since the record of his own Irish ancestors could be recounted in only a few line entries on official documents; denied an education for centuries, those ancestors could not write, or read.  Jack Kennedy himself left a rich legacy of his own composition, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography describing previously unheralded acts of bravery and integrity of eight earlier US senators.  Kennedy was so gifted at composition that even his impromptu responses to press conference questions constituted compositions, ready for publication in perfect English grammar.

And every ground soldier knows that, “If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen” – to the great loss to history of countless acts of true heroism.

A significant amount of the fascinating history that McCullough has revealed to us is a result, not of his regurgitating what other historians have published, but rather of his pouring over letters and compositions written by both the famous and the obscure – written documents never intended for public dissemination – which enabled McCullough to arrive at his own independent conclusions and to open new and valuable insights into what went before us, and why.  McCullough has written about the Panama Canal, Truman, John Adams, the American Revolution, and similar important subjects, and thereby greatly enriched our understanding of them all.

The Supreme Count has in the past relied on the writings, including letters, of men like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams to help understand the intent of key parts of the US Constitution.  The first-generation Irish-American historian, Cornelius Ryan, who wrote such classics as “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far”, relied heavily on similar written sources, as did Stephen Ambrose, author of “Band Of Brothers” and other riveting works on Lewis and Clark, Eisenhower, D-Day and America’s World War II soldiers.

The compositions I post here are not intended for publication, for profit, and have not been edited for such objectives.  They are my own original work, written “off the top of my head”.  The topics are worked out in my own mind and composed in a manner that can be adequately communicated to others.  While sometimes incorporating results of my own research, the primary purpose of these compositions is simply to document observations, processes and conclusions, to educate both me and the reader, in a “calisthenics for the brain” – in a deliberate, rational fashion.  With no profit motive, I am free to state my mind, to avoid feeding the delusions of others in order to profit, free not to tell readers only the self-image-inflating nonsense for which they are willing to pay.  I have no desire to tell anyone anything they want to hear just so I can in some way benefit from the absurdity.  And, because of the medium I use, others are free to see how I arrived at my conclusions and, most importantly, to critique my work, to engage me in the process with their own composition, perhaps even to alter the evolution of that process with their own intellect.  (This is one distinct advantage of the “digital age”.)

If you don’t know how to do this, then you don’t know how to read, to analyze, to critique. You are at the mercy of any twit, or any self-serving lobby, who tells you what to think, who tells you what is “truth“.  If you don’t know how to compose, you are a sitting duck for propaganda (usually these days called “marketing”).  Learning to write composition is a critical step toward a solid education, a really big step toward intellectual independence.  People who fail to master the art of writing non-fiction, even for just the sake of writing personal letters, rarely accomplish much more in life than “tweets” – which are, essentially, just farts in the wilderness, signifying nothing.  Today a really great deal of discourse in America has a very familiar smell to it.

You don’t have to be famous to write compositions.  You only need to use your brain, and to train it to do what it is capable of doing – for your own intellectual development.  The more you write, the more you will read, and the more you read, the more you will learn – to be your own person, capable of defending your position from a solid foundation, of rising above the group think, the dogma, to counter those seeking advantage on the cheap.  The more you write, the more you will be able to decide what is worth reading and what is not, what is propaganda and what is not.

An inherent and integral part of this process is logic, a rational system of reasoning.  From there you can apply imagination, and walk on the stars.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Logic will get you safely from A to B.  Imagination will then take you everywhere.”

— Both are observations of Albert Einstein.

Without this disciplined reasoning-in-composition process, you become ruled by emotion, similar to the “thinking” that ruled the Middle Ages.  For a good example of this type of “thinking” in contemporary society see my “Factoids From The Wasteland (A Kurt Vonnegut Moment)” below.  It describes a kind of mass derangement that would send Spock seeking refuge on Vulcan forever, recognizing zero possibility of a “mind-meld” with this mentality.

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Poetry, A Short Story. 

The boy had gotten into trouble for hitting other boys who had been making fun of him. 

“The principal told my mother that he saw no other recourse than to expel me from school.  As he spoke my mother’s eyes grew small and hard.  She was trying not to cry, I thought, because she didn’t want him to see how much this was hurting her.  But why didn’t they tell her what those kids had done?  They had mimicked my stuttering – why weren’t their mothers called to school?  He looked and spoke only to my mother, as if I weren’t there, standing next to her, as if I were invisible.  It was the way I felt in school, listening to the teacher talk only to other children, as if she didn’t think I would understand what she was saying, as if it was a waste of time talking to me.  Since I couldn’t be expected to begin my next school at the fourth grade, the principal added, I was being held back a year.”

The writer is recalling a boyhood experience; notice how, even many years later, he focuses on visual things, even as he questions logic and rationality.  He makes important inferences based on what he observes, placing what is said somewhere in importance below those visual observations and the lessons those observations teach him.  He is recalling a boy who is learning, as do all boys, by example.  The writer also suffered from dyslexia, which caused his stuttering, and he read only with great difficulty, which caused his slowness in school.  But those mental inferences drawn from his visual observations remained with him throughout his life.  Boys learn the most important lessons by the examples presented by senior others.  The writer is named Philip Schultz.  He is the son of a Polish immigrant father.  He is also the gifted author of seven collections of his poetry, including “Failure”, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in poetry.  He still reads with great difficulty, but he is a true master of language.  His principal and his school teachers should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves; they belie and shame their very titles.  Philip Schultz wasn’t stupid, and he didn’t need a bunch of stupefying drugs; he just needed good teachers and a little patience.  And he didn’t need a lobby or even a major government program, either.

On the other hand, like Jay Leno, who also suffers with dyslexia, perhaps it was Schultz’s struggles to overcome the adversity presented by his own disability, and significantly aggravated by his fellow students and even by his teachers, that made the successful and perceptive man he eventually became.  Just reading his description of what it still takes for him to read today is painful, but he does it, and he is a better man for it.  And when he writes, he has something worthwhile to say.  

(Some male minds work in a slightly different way; I, for instance, rarely remember the details of the person making an exceptionally interesting point, the particulars of their face, their mannerisms, the surroundings, often even their names, etc..  It is the intelligence, the imagination, the insight, the novelty of another’s thought, and its value, that excites my mind, and it is that intelligence, the discovery of it, that sinks into my brain most easily as memory.  I love to learn, and I seem to do that best by separating out extraneous things involved in the process from the pure intellect of what I learn.  For me, one of the most fascinating ways of doing that is by conversing with someone smart whose first language is not English, and noting which words they select to convey their point; often those words provide me new insights into my own language, insights that can be just fascinating, and most especially if I also know the other’s language.  I’m a pretty smart guy, with a quite open mind, but I am just terrible with names and faces.  And I am just spellbound with the often original ways other bright minds can use my language to convey thoughts that I, in my familiarity, had overlooked.  The right word can convey volumes.)

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Solitary Man

Solitary Man” is a song written, composed and originally recorded and released by Neil Diamond in 1966 – almost fifty years ago.  It, and his “I Am, I Said”, are among my most favorite songs.  The melancholy loner Diamond said recently, “After four years of Freudian analysis, I realized I had written ‘Solitary Man’ about myself.”  Diamond, a member of the Silent Generation now 73, has been married three times, is the father of three daughters and one son, and has long suffered with severe back pain before and after having a tumor removed from his spine in 1979, pain not unlike that of a guy who’s made one too many jumps with a full pack on a small body.  I’ve always viewed Diamond as a very gifted artist with a well-developed mind, who always remained his own man.

“Solitary Man” – by Neil Diamond 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ql4IiP__5ck

Melinda was mine / ‘Til the time / That I found her / Holding Jim / Loving him. / Then Sue came along / Loved me strong. / That’s what I thought, / Me and Sue, / But that died too.

Don’t know that I will, / But until I can find me / The girl who’ll stay / And won’t play games behind me, / I’ll be what I am, / A solitary man, / Solitary man.

I’ve had it to here / Bein’ where / Love’s a small word, / Part-time thing. / Paper ring.

I know it’s been done, / Havin’ one / Girl who’ll love me / Right or wrong, / Weak or strong.

Don’t know that I will, / But until I can find me / The girl who’ll stay / And won’t play games behind me, / I’ll be what I am, / A solitary man, / Solitary man.

This sparse song, while speaking volumes, is concise in the extreme.  His song runs all of two and a half minutes, and says all that’s worth saying.  Much like Diamond, and despite two marriages and a dozen or more “relationships”, I never did find that girl.  I gave up even looking long ago.  Now, when I go home to the mountains of Montana, to my dog and my cat, I get lost in a big house I designed and built that would be comfortable for a family of ten.  Some rooms haven’t been opened for years.  It’s my refuge, where I go to escape the bullshit.  It’s very nice there, where only the eagles scream and the snowflakes flutter softly, to enjoy a snifter of fine brandy next to the fireplace while listening to Connie Dover, Orla Fallon, Hayley Westenra, Aine Minogue, Blackmore’s Night and Loreena McKennitt, quietly, one after the other, mixed in with Ryan Farish, Paul Cardall, Secret Garden and Myleene Klass.  A solitary Man.  At peace with himself.  Being what I am.

“I Am… I Said” – by Neil Diamond 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhEaHcQgyLs

L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time, / And the feeling is “lay back”, / Palm trees grow and rents are low, / But you know I keep thinkin’ about / Making my way back.

Well I’m New York City born and raised, / But nowadays / I’m lost between two shores. / L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. / New York’s home, / But it ain’t mine no more.

“I am”… I said, / To no one there. / And no one heard at all, / Not even the chair.

“I am”… I cried. / “I am”… said I. / And I am lost and I can’t / Even say why, / Leavin’ me lonely still.

Did you ever read about a frog / Who dreamed of bein’ a king / And then became one? / Well except for the names / And a few other changes,  /If you talk about me, / The story’s the same one.

But I got an emptiness deep inside, / And I’ve tried, / But it won’t let me go. / And I’m not a man who likes to swear, / But I never cared / For the sound of being alone.

“I am”… I said, / To no one there. / And no one heard at all, / Not even the chair. / “I am”… I cried. / “I am”… said I. / And I am lost, and I can’t / Even say why. / “I am”… I said. / “I am”… I cried. / “I am”… I said.

And no one heard at all.  Not even the chair.  But it’s still better than talking to someone who’s not interested in hearing.  I’ve grown quite accustomed to the sound of being alone.  I am … I wrote.

 “Angel” 

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
for a break that would make it okay
there’s always some reason
to feel not good enough
and it’s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
oh beautiful release
memories seep from my veins
let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I’ll find some peace tonight

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

so tired of the straight line
and everywhere you turn
there’s vultures and thieves at your back
and the storm keeps on twisting
you keep on building the lies
that you make up for all that you lack
it don’t make no difference
escaping one last time
it’s easier to believe in this sweet madness oh
this glorious sadness that brings me to my knees

in the arms of the angel
fly away from here
from this dark cold hotel room
and the endlessness that you fear
you are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here
you’re in the arms of the angel
may you find some comfort here

- Sarah McLachlan

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Factoids From The Wasteland (A Kurt Vonnegut Moment):

1.  “War” has killed more people in Pakistan, where there is no state of war, than in neighboring Afghanistan, where there is a state of war.

Furthermore, in Pakistan it’s impossible to distinguish between innocent and insurgent (or “terrorist”) deaths, since the killing is carried out via remote control by those sitting safely
many thousands of miles away.  All things being equal, the large scale killings in Pakistan would be classified as “crimes against humanity” or “war crimes”, as has always been the case in the past.  One key, however, seems to be that the US military has no “boots on the ground”, as it does in Afghanistan, so there is no one to charge for the killings in Pakistan, as there is in Afghanistan.

Apparently, in order to be charged with “war crimes”, one must be (a) a lightly armed and highly vulnerable American ground soldier, (2) fully exposed in a deadly hostile environment, (3) be able to see the eyes of a potential target in real life, (4) have about one-half second to decide on his own whether to fire or die, and (5) be able to see the pieces of bodies that result from his action, up close and personal.

2.  The average age of a video gamer in the US is (get this) 37 – (yep, grown children of Boomers.)

American taxpayers actually pay some of these people to operate real weapons of war.  As with video gamers, there is absolutely no possibility of any conceivable threat to these people from any potential target.  They conduct their business in the comfort of a climate-controlled office very far removed (often over 7,000 miles removed) from the action of the weapons they operate by remote control.  They are assisted by a second person who provides such services as “target identification”.  The two of them are subordinate to a committee of others who decide collectively whether or not to fire.  The whole group has all the time it needs to decide and fire its weapon.  They are allowed to do so without higher authority if the possibility of “collateral damage” (innocent deaths) does not exceed 30%.  That higher authority may decide to authorize firing the weapon regardless of any level of expected “collateral damage”.

It really doesn’t make any difference anyway, because all know that since there are no “boots on the ground” in the target area, there will be no one to count and verify and investigate the deaths, innocent or otherwise.  They also know that no operator of a remote device similar to these has ever been prosecuted for “war crimes”, for “murder”, etc., of anyone, whether innocent, enemy or friendly.  It’s the “sanitary” way to kill people and destroy things, with impunity, from a very safe distance.

Theoretically, both the ground soldier and the video operator are subject to the same Uniform Code Of Military Justice (UCMJ), to the same Geneva Conventions, to the same standards of conduct deemed acceptable for US military operations.  Both are deemed equal members at the same rank throughout the US military, and there are no differences in their pay and benefits or in their being regarded as having served in war zone combat.

Obviously this is not the case.  The ground soldier operates in an environment which today sustains over 98% of US war casualties, while the environment of the video operator has zero chance of casualties.  The ground soldier operates in an environment always subject to independent police investigation and accountability under a formal system of justice, while the video operator works in a classified environment not subject to such independent investigation or justice.  Furthermore, while some of these video operators do wear US military uniforms, others do not – and thus are NOT subject to the UCMJ or any similar separate justice system.

The video operators are allowed to report whatever they choose to report, and everyone simply accepts those reports as accurate, as “truth”, primarily because that’s what everyone wants to believe.  (It’s part of the rules of the game.)  Ground soldiers kill people in the dirt with guns; video operators work at pristine computer consoles.  Ground soldiers are inherently suspect; video operators are “me”.

There is no logic here, folks.  It is all mushy rationalization, with a great deal of ignorance thrown in – to which no one objects.  Such absurdity has become possible in today’s world primarily because we now live in a society that decides on the basis of emotion and not on the basis of logic.  Women and their clones have a far easier time accepting the gross inequities in this real life example than does an actual ground soldier.  The truth is that, fundamentally, ground soldiers are just like potential targets – inanimate icons on a screen of no consequence to be exterminated at will, and with impunity.  Their primary purpose is to justify the official designation “war”.  Dead soldiers and dead civilians are just “collateral damage” – road kill on the way to “winning” the game.

It is, after all, just a game.  Right?  If I can’t possibly be hurt, then it’s all just a game.  No crime, no penalty.  Right?

Kurt Vonnegut was a ground soldier. He would immediately see the convoluted insanity at work here by all those who never actually walked in his shoes.  This is NOT high school.  And it’s not mom’s basement.  The lunatics are running the asylum.  And with very dangerous toys.

This is the kind of “thinking” that leads lawyers in the White House (honest!) to conclude that (so far) four months of bombing Libya, four months of killing people and destroying things in another country by remote control, does not constitute “war” – since it does not involve “hostilities”.  “Hostilities” means, according to this “logic”, that American soldiers are being shot at.  Since there are no soldiers on the ground, none are being shot at, thus “no hostilities”, thus “no war”.  Got it?  It’s all just a game.

Ground soldiers, those inanimate blips on the screen, are simply what is required to constitute “war”.  And it is only these soldiers, the soldiers required to constitute “war”, who can be charged with “war crimes”.  If there are no soldiers on the ground, there is no war, and thus there is no one to charge with “war crimes”.  Stay with me now.

A key factor here is that, this time, it is those who are always making such “war crimes” charges, especially the ever sanctimonious Europeans, who are doing a lot of the killing – and, of course, those who presume to judge never presume to judge themselves.

My” group can kill as many people as it wants.  But since none of my group is being killed, it’s ok because it isn’t “hostilities”, and it isn’t actually “war”.

Are you still with me?  The possibilities are literally limitless.  “My slaughter is better than your slaughter.”  “We’ll save them alright, even if we have to bomb every last one of them and their country into oblivion.”  Vonnegut would have LOVED this one.

Of course, so would the Japanese – when they did the same thing to Pearl Harbor, without putting soldiers on the ground.  World War II was a mistake.  There was no war to begin with!  Time for a do-over.

Total insanity.

But perfectly acceptable in a nation of children who never learned how to think, only learned how to rationalize “truth” as “whatever I want it to be at any given moment to suit MY purposes”.  Just ask all those American women who are busy destroying our boys, with impunity.

Besides, “truth” is irrelevant; perception is everything.  It’s possible to rationalize ANYTHING!  Kurt Vonnegut is doing somersaults in heaven.

Somewhere out there on the dusty deserts of Afghanistan is a young infantryman – who will one day become Vonnegut’s successor.  All wars produce at least one such insightful genius.  They sure as hell aren’t born in an American high school.  Or in mom’s basement.

3.  The war in Afghanistan has created 3,000,000 Afghani refugees.

Over 1,900,000 of them have sought refuge in Pakistan, where “there is no war”.  But with bureaucratic American gods constantly raining down unaccountable death from ever-circling drones above, it’s sort of like leaping from the pan into the fire.  (By the way, of all the European states, none has accepted nearly half as many of the world’s 44,000,000 displaced persons (refugees) in recent times as Germany (1,000,000); small wonder she opted to sit out the sissy game in Libya.)

A US Army friend, also a veteran of decades of working on the ground with the full range of global humanity in military matters, told me last week (July 2011) of “NATO’s” sissy campaign in Libya:

“This is the most stupid non-war in the history of warfare, an emotional girly war, being carried out by grown dumb boys playing video games safely in the basement with no intelligent thought to what comes next.  It’s all about blowing things up and killing people from a very safe distance and not seeing the blood, the body parts.  It’s all about dehumanizing the mass murder of humans.  It’s all about “winning the game”, even by sneaky cheating on the side.  The fact that four months of the game using the most advanced high tech arsenal in history has accomplished nothing worthwhile against a tiny Third World country on a flat desert table top with 1100 miles of exposed sea border should tell you all you need to know about these brave geniuses and the ignorant nitwits pushing them from the rear.  They’ve all got so much invested in their stupid game that they simply can not bring themselves to be adults and call it quits, to let the Libyans sort out the mess they’ve created.  Admitting that their “thinking” was deeply flawed from the very beginning is the hardest thing for bully boneheads to do, especially those determined not to get their pristinely manicured hands dirty.”

Is the “thinking” behind the bombing of Libya the kind of emotional uni-sex group think they now teach in our high schools, that Americans now explore with all the intellectual depth of 140-character “tweets”?  Is anyone familiar with the slow self-involved demise of the Roman Empire?

Baby Boomer Brilliance.

It’s everywhere, impossible to escape. I encounter it, for example, every time I have to go through an American airport.  The strange sound begins to reach the senses several hundred miles off shore, slowly rises as the plane approaches landfall, and reaches a crescendo as the wheels hit tarmac with a deafening screech.  It’s that familiar cacophony my friends call “The American Whine”.  Inside the terminal I watch transfixed as actual sentient humans subject themselves to their own version of the Chicago stockyards – poked, prodded, smelled, searched, x-rayed, herded, felt, photographed, grilled, filmed, inspected, groped, stripped, humiliated – like meek compliant lemmings, even willingly surrendering confiscated personal property.  “Papers!”  Images of old World War II Gestapo movies come to mind.  (Even the Soviet communists were never this crude.)  I keep looking for the cattle prods, the Mauser K98 rifles.  Somewhere a faint voice rises from the herd.  “We’ll show them, boy!  Mess with us, and we’ll construct our own police state faster than you can say ‘jihad’.”  Who would have thought that so many hundreds of thousands of creepy people could be put on government payrolls so quickly, on the People’s Dime, to imprison the very people who are paying them, simply by stoking fear among children.  Thankfully most of them don’t know about all the sneaky stuff going on hidden in the background, or can begin to imagine what’s coming.  I manage to avoid puking until I reach open air, and there across the street is a guy dressed like it was 18th century Boston carrying a big banner sign that reads,  “America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Playpen of the Stupid.”  Obviously, he gets it.

Vonnegut would, too.

The guy standing next to me, still adjusting his clothing and checking his pockets, while taking in the same sign says under his breath, “Americans no longer stand for anything; they just say they do.  Next comes cops with biometric scanners, voyeur robot insects and armed overhead drones, all keeping track of everyone while vaporizing those who don’t look right.”

It’s the Fourth of July.  In America.

(Hint:  ANY method implemented to provide population SECURITY is inherently a method of population CONTROL.  This is why American companies developing these high tech “security” methods, mostly using American tax money and privileged immigrant ingenuity, are making so much money also selling their products to foreign governments, especially developed and emerging police states seeking to ensure the perpetuation of their ruling class.  Bureaucrats and contractors using taxpayer money to “make their jobs easier and more effective” through such technology are progressively becoming stooges of their society’s self-interested rulers.  One excellent foreign customer for these products is the privileged ruling class right next door in Mexico.  The biggest foreign customer is China.  Of course, populations of taxpayers too stupid to object to all of this probably deserve the prisons they end up populating.)

Just WHAT are our schools teaching our kids?

It certainly isn’t logic.  Or ethics.  Or even morality.

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Write it down.  Compose your thoughts on paper.  And then step back and see if it actually stands up on its own.  That’s composition.

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(See “Free As A Bird – Something’s Gotta Give” for the difference between composition that is good literature and composition that is just nonsense.)

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If you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and
explain it to someone else in writing
.” - author Douglas Adams (“The

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”).

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Footnote #1.  The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Ben Carson was born in Detroit in 1951 and raised by his single mother.  When he struggled academically in elementary school, his mother reduced his television time and required him to read two books a week and produce written reviews of each of them.  He didn’t enjoy it at first, but soon found himself reading constantly and starting to excel in middle school.  After graduating with honors from high school, he attended Yale University, where he earned a degree in psychology.  After Yale, he obtained a medical degree from the University of Michigan Medical School.  Today Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr. is a world renowned American neurosurgeon and the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the world’s most respected medical institutions.  In 2008 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President George W. Bush.  Who knew that just
reading and writing could lead to such things?  In 1994 Carson and his wife, who have three sons, started the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes students in grades 4-11 who demonstrate academic excellence and humanitarian qualities.  Winners receive a $1,000 scholarship to be invested toward their college education.  Carson has identified himself as a political Independent.  “If I were part of a political party, it would be called the ‘Logic Party,’ and it would be dedicated to commonsense approaches we all should be able to see.”  His favorite guiding principle: “Winners take responsibility; losers blame others.”

Footnote #2.  The Words We Use.  Literary composition, of course, is the combining of distinct parts or elements to form a whole story through the use of words.  The words we select, and how we employ them, reveal very much about ourselves, including the underlying belief structures and principles that define our lives.  In most cases we are not even aware of what else about ourselves that we are revealing when we compose literary works, but astute others may examine our product in considerable detail in order to reach some fascinating conclusions about us.  Once you have the capability to do that with a huge number of literary works, you have the capability to study our society from a unique angle and reach fascinating conclusions about our whole culture.  The following article, by one of America’s best cultural observers, demonstrates that capability and the conclusions that may be possible through such study of just the past half century.  The author reaches conclusions about us that are remarkably similar to the conclusions I have reached and described in considerable detail in articles posted elsewhere throughout this blog.

(It is helpful when contemplating the following to keep in mind that our literary works today are heavily slanted toward being acceptable to the largest potential readership, in order to maximize profits.  In other words, much of our literary product today is essentially telling the readers what they want to hear, what they want to believe, about themselves, so that they will use their money to buy it.  So, not only is it rarely fully truthful, it is also heavily censored by politically correct thought police.  Because of this, studies like the following will inevitably miss the mark in some very key areas.)

((My comments, not the author’s, are indicated by double parentheses.))

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What Our Words Tell Us

By DAVID BROOKS, Op-Ed Columnist, New York Times, May 20, 2013

About two years ago, the folks at Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008.  You can type a search word into the database and find out how frequently different words were used at different epochs.

The database doesn’t tell you how the words were used; it just tells you how frequently they were used.  Still, results can reveal interesting cultural shifts. For example, somebody typed the word “cocaine” into the search engine and found that the word was surprisingly common in the Victorian era.  Then it gradually declined during the 20th century until around 1970, when usage skyrocketed.

I’d like to tell a story about the last half-century, based on studies done with this search engine.

The first element in this story is rising individualism. A study by Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell and Brittany Gentile found that between 1960 and 2008 individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases. ((This is due to the rise of the self, originating with Freud’s “id” and then very quickly and easily popularized among Baby Boomers by Madison Avenue; it rapidly spread to literally everything the supremely “me” Boomers wrote or thought, and still does.))

That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded.   ((These latter words very heavily characterized the “us” Greatest Generation, and throughout all of their writings.))

The second element of the story is demoralization.  A study by Pelin Kesebir and Selin Kesebir found that general moral terms like “virtue,” “decency” and “conscience” were used less frequently over the course of the 20th century.  Words associated with moral excellence, like “honesty,” “patience” and “compassion” were used much less frequently.

The Kesebirs identified 50 words associated with moral virtue and found that 74 percent were used less frequently as the century progressed.  Certain types of virtues were especially hard hit.  Usage of courage words like “bravery” and “fortitude” fell by 66 percent.  Usage of gratitude words like “thankfulness” and “appreciation” dropped by 49 percent.  ((American Baby Boomer “feminism” seized on Freud and ran with it for all they could possibly milk it, for “me”.))

Usage of humility words like “modesty” and “humbleness” dropped by 52 percent.  Usage of compassion words like “kindness” and “helpfulness” dropped by 56 percent.  Meanwhile, usage of words associated with the ability to deliver, like “discipline” and “dependability” rose over the century, as did the usage of words associated with fairness.  The Kesebirs point out that these sorts of virtues are most relevant to economic production and exchange.  ((The “fairness doctrine”, of course, only works as long as it benefits “me” – at the expense of “someone else”.))

Daniel Klein of George Mason University has conducted one of the broadest studies with the Google search engine.  He found further evidence of the two elements I’ve mentioned. On the subject of individualization, he found that the word “preferences” was barely used until about 1930, but usage has surged since.  On the general subject of demoralization, he finds a long decline of usage in terms like “faith,” “wisdom,” “ought,” “evil” and “prudence,” and a sharp rise in what you might call social science terms like “normative,” “psychology” “subjectivity,” and “information.”  ((This reflects the gradual “devolution” of  “social sciences” until they ceased being science, but rather clever processes hiding behind academia used to underpin, prop up, various special interests, such as “feminism”.))

Klein adds the third element to our story, which he calls “governmentalization.”  Words having to do with experts have shown a steady rise.  So have phrases like “run the country,” “economic justice,” “nationalism,” “priorities,” “right-wing” and “left-wing.” The implication is that politics and government have become more prevalent.   ((“Feminism” seeks above all to marry government to achieve its dependence, for “me”, of course.))

So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked.  The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.

This story, if true, should cause discomfort on right and left.

Conservatives sometimes argue that if we could just reduce government to the size it was back in, say, the 1950s, then America would be vibrant and free again.  But the underlying sociology and moral culture is just not there anymore.  Government could be smaller when the social fabric was more tightly knit, but small government will have different and more cataclysmic effects today when it is not.

Liberals sometimes argue that our main problems come from the top: a self-dealing elite, the oligarchic bankers.  But the evidence suggests that individualism and demoralization are pervasive up and down society, and may be even more pervasive at the bottom. Liberals also sometimes talk as if our problems are fundamentally economic, and can be addressed politically, through redistribution.  But maybe the root of the problem is also cultural.  The social and moral trends swamp the proposed redistributive remedies.

Evidence from crude data sets like these are prone to confirmation bias.  People see patterns they already believe in.  Maybe I’ve done that here.  But these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture.  We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.

((And this has very dramatically changed what America is, and severely limited what it can now become, before it inevitably disintegrates under the weight of all that “me-ism” – all at the expense of “someone else”, who unfortunately is no longer there.  There is no longer “us” in the equation.  A culture without “all of us” is just an ever more fragmented rabble at relentless self-destructive war with itself – with very little that is actually worthwhile to hold us together.  Others know things about us much better than we do.))

About invincibleprobity

US Regular Army (ret)..... Career military and professional foreign human intelligence operations officer with half century experience in sociology, psychology, foreign affairs, political-military affairs and geo-politics, plus additional developed interests in culture and history, including civil rights, education and similar human societal forces and influences. .....(That’s enough. The rest would just be irrelevant details looking like the boring index of a history book. I know stuff; any questions, just ask. Or better yet, engage me.)
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2 Responses to Composition

  1. lucius accius says:

    Another excellent post. I would add the composition, writting in a logical and coherent manner is a skill that is difficult to obtain and must be practiced regularly, otherwise those “composition muscles” atrophy. My only quibble with the post is the last sentence. A Star Trek allusion? Good composition motivates the reader to expand his horizons. My quibble is perhaps a more classical allusion, Diogenes tossing his lantern aside and running into the wilderness would have better served. But that is a matter of taste, I suppose.

    • Excellent!

      Your allusion, sir, is much better than mine.

      I was going more for the more mundane “It’s a game, a fantasy.” (It scares me a little, to know that the average age of an American video gamer is 37.)

      And you are correct about practicing composition. With too many interests for my own good, I try to select those I believe the most important to my society, and then try to figure out what actually interests that society enough to read what I have to say about it, much less actually engage me in the pursuit.

      Lately, I keep wondering how Kurt Vonnegut decided. Perhaps he was more astute in choosing quasi-fiction for his message medium.

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