Will we ever get to the bottom of this?

The political turmoil we are going through right now has certainly vaulted the very idea of “The Truth” to center stage.   On the surface,  the whole idea of True/False would seem to be an instance of black and white rather than a thousand shades of grey with an occasional bit of color thrown in for variety.  Other than the certainty of “Death and Taxes”,  some people seem to feel the black and white variety of “Truth” is impossible to find in our complicated and complex world.

“Trust but Verify” is a phrase often attributed to Ronald Reagan, but it was actually an old Russian proverb that was taught to Reagan by one of his advisors on Russian affairs: Suzanne Massie, who was preparing the President for a meeting with Gorbachev.

I am of the opinion that “climate change” is something that mankind’s use of fossil fuels has ushered in at a much faster rate than otherwise: and I feel it has the potential to have an effect on the planet that at the very least will end in suffering for a great number of humans .    But I’d be lying to you if I said that I actually understood the science behind that belief well enough to verify that on my own.     I happen to feel that it’s a much safer bet to trust climate scientists than climate-ignorant politicians, oil company executives and talk show hosts: but I have to admit my opinion is based on “trust”, not “fact”.  The fact that the entire planet (save for the US) seems to agree with me also provides a sense of comfort that I’m not on the wrong side.  A little short of “verification”, I know, but sometimes a little faith isn’t a bad thing.

I’m always amazed at the usual responses to accusations of dishonesty by a political figure, which are “Well, what about: _______?”, or “They All Do It!” or, occasionally “How can you know who to trust?”

This is scary.    If being able to ascertain the truth is now beyond the ability of the average voter, then democracy is doomed.    If we expect politicians to lie, cheat and deceive us and fail to bring them to account whenever they do just that: it surely must lead to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter to us.

The principle of “Truth” is an important one in our government, our entire justice system is based on it’s existence, the concept of “freedom of the press” is predicated on the existence of truth and faith in the concept that we can recognize it when we see it.   The idea that what goes on in Congress is part of the public record is to insure thorough debate on the theory that deceit and lies grow where the light of truth never shines.

How many of you watched Ken Burns’ Veitnam War on PBS?   It’s obvious that we had been lied to many times over by both our government and military concerning the necessity of our involvement over there, and they didn’t even mention our involvement (meddling) in Vietnamese elections.

Or maybe we can look toward the second Gulf War that was “sold” to us on the basis of the existence of weapons that were never found.   And how quickly the “media” jumped on board.

One can think of many other examples, but these are just a couple that stick out to me, off the top of my head.   This certainly isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to one end of the political spectrum and the argument that “Both sides do it.” certainly isn’t a valid excuse for this sort of behavior.  You are indeed on a slippery slope anytime you adopt the concept: “I need to lie, because the other side surely will be.”  This is something I see all too often in the media that pervades Facebook.  Usually it’s in the form of half-truths, where they don’t quite tell you the entire story.  I think the rationale is “We’re doing this for their own good.”   All this manages is to do is erode trust in our institutions.

I think it would be an amazing coincidence to not connect our current political climate and level of polarization from the changes in how people inform themselves concerning the world that exists beyond the range of our senses.   When people get their news primarily through “social media”, and then mainly from perusing the headlines we end up with a very limited view of what is actually going on.   Belief in any sort of “objective truth” plummets.   For example, I get fed up with sensationalist and misleading headlines about Donald Trump as I think they make it harder to determine the truth.

A difficult situation to solve, but we have not made the transition to the 24/7 cable news cycle and the emergence of the internet without erosion of faith in our information system.  We adopt a posture of ignoring this or pretending this is not the case at our peril, which I don’t happen to think is too strong a word.  The “information age” has a dark side to it.  As has every technological revolution the planet has witnessed.   You can’t divorce the industrial revolution from industrial warfare and the 123 million people who died due to war in the 2oth Century.   You also can look to the relative peace we’ve enjoyed in the years since 1945 and not think we’ve learned at least something—for now.  We’ve also taken a few halting steps at rectification of the environmental damage that we caused by that same industrial revolution—for now.

Another thing I do know for certain is that society is only going to get more complex.  All sorts of new issues are going to present themselves with increasing frequency.   (How the US will manage to continue to use about 1/4 of the non-renewable energy resources of the planet with only 5% of it’s population is only but one.) Somewhere around 50% of the planet is now “online” in some fashion or another and I honestly hope we learn lessons on how to deal with the inevitable fallout from this “revolution” before it  impacts the “other half”.

 

Epiphone Les Paul SL Review

Well, here it is!    It sill has the plastic on the front and it’s hang tag on it.  All I did was stretch the strings and tune it up.  Literally right out of the box.   Here’s a fun fact:  in 1964, when I bought my first electric guitar, if you could factor the current price of $99.00 back to the equivalent in 1964, it would cost $12.67!   Obviously, in any sense we’re dealing with a bargain.

So why did I order one of these as soon as I could?   The whole idea appealed to me.   Aside from the name “Les Paul” on the headstock, this is about the most unpretentious electric guitar as you can buy.   You can read all the details about it on countless websites, so I wont go into all that.  I’m just going to give you my subjective impressions.

First off, although it really does have it’s “own sound”, it reminds me of all sorts of guitars, from all the mahogany “slab” guitars from both Gibson and Epiphone in the 50’s and 60’s, to Gibson “Melody Makers”.    Perhaps the strongest reminder, at least visually, would be the Kalamazoo brand guitars built by Gibson in the mid 60’s.   It even reminds me of my own 1963 Telecaster that I bought in 1965 for $175. There’s even a little bit in there that reminds me of a couple of solid body Gretsch guitars.  I will tell you that it is a much higher quality instrument than any of the inexpensive guitars of my youth, both in sound and playability.

An actual “Les Paul” is probably the last solid body guitar I’d compare it to, even though the folks at Epiphone state: “new players will develop skills and techniques that directly translate to one of the most popular electric guitars ever made, designed to give you the looks, feel and vibe of a real Les Paul, for less.”   Although it does have the basic Les Paul shape, the guitar really makes no attempt at trying to replicate the sound of one.  Not that that bothers me a bit.

I do have plans to give it a good set up, after I put a 10 to 46 gauge set on it and let the neck settle in to that tension.  But, right out of the box it plays decently and is even fairly well intonated.   I have yet to find any high frets and I can bend the strings a considerable distance without it fretting out.  The nut, often a sore point for me on inexpensive guitars, (and even some expensive ones) is cut perfectly, and there is really no string buzz to speak of.  None of the parts seem “cheap”, and everything works as it should.  Acoustically, guitar is quite resonant unplugged and chords just ring out of it.  It reminds me of a Les Paul Jr. in that respect.

As I said, it has it’s own thing.   But, it does respond quite will to how far away from the bridge you pick, and with both pickups on, I found you could get a hellacious twang out of it, or a rather Gretsch-ish sound, with a few hints of Rickenbacker thrown in for good measure, all depending on where and how hard you pick it.   Despite the 24 3/4 in scale it does feel more like a Fender to me, but I might alter that when I get around to restringing it, as I’m having some difficulty adjusting to the lighter strings.

This little guitar, (it seems to weigh about 5 pounds) doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, being powder blue and all.  (I’d love to see one on stage with a death metal band)  But, I found that it ends up being really fun to play, and it’s taking me forever to type this, because I keep sneaking back to play it.

I plan on bringing it to the next band rehearsal, as I think I can find a couple of our tunes that would benefit from some of the unique sounds I’m discovering.

What I don’t plan on doing, is modifying it.   I predict you’ll see a lot of that sort of thing, with the temptation to “improve” it and make it sound like a budget version of something else being strong.  I’ve already got the Les Paul, Strat, Tele and 335 bases covered, I want this little guy to have his own voice.    I think I’ll call him “Lester”———

Come Back Baby, Rock & Roll Never Forgets

It might seem a little odd to use a quote for a tribute post to Chuck Berry to use the lyrics to a Bob Seeger tune, but it was precisely the action of downloading the line below from that tune when it fully hit me what the loss of Mr. Berry meant to me.

Well all Chuck’s children are out there playing his licks,
                               Get into your kicks—
                                  Come back baby,
                        Rock ‘n Roll never forgets”

It always takes a while for any loss to hit me.   It took a couple years for my mom’s passing to really hit me, and this was no exception.  I had to go to the bathroom to get a towel to absorb the tears, and I found myself sobbing and took a couple gulps of air.

Being a guitar player is one of the ways I define myself.   I’ve been a guitarist for over 50 years now.   The original inspiration for this was Mr. Berry’s recording of “No Particular Place to Go”.  It was the summer of 1964 and the British Invasion was in full swing.   My favorite song at the time was “I get Around”.

I was in the back seat of my parents car when the tune came on the radio.   I’d never heard it before, and I really had no idea who Chuck Berry Was, in any case.   I liked it right from the start but the guitar solos electrified me, I’d never heard anything so exciting and badgered my parents to turn up the volume.   It just sounded like so much fun, I wanted to learn how to do it.

At the time, I had a stepbrother who was still living at home and had a guitar.   At this point in my life I had taken three years of violin lessons (In addition to a year of organ lessons)and had played in my schools orchestra.   The left hand dexterity quickly transferred to the guitar and my stepbrother showed me basic surf music riffs like wipe out and pipeline and I began listening to Dick Dale and Ventures records.   I also bought the single “Carol” by the Rolling Stones, but having no idea it was a Chuck Berry song until I noticed his name on the label.

My stepbrother moved out in the fall of 1964 and took his guitar with him.    I traded my violin in on a single pickup Kay archtop as it was all they had within my price range at the local music store.   My parents, at this time, made me a promise they would, in a years time, buy me a better quality guitar.   (You can read about that story here:  Guitar Story)

Strangely, the first real guitar solo I ever learned off a record, was the Keith Richard solo off of the record “Carol”, and it took me nearly a year to figure it out completely, and I was still working on barre chords, so it took me a few years to actually play the tune.

In any case, after the Beatles recorded “Rock & Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”, it became obvious that Chuck was a huge influence.   At some point in high school, I bought Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade, and slowly learned most of his licks.   I was also learning  stuff that was current, but I never really strayed too far from the basic rock foundation.  I really like that era of rock & Roll as well as anything:  Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Jerry Lee and that sort of stuff always made me feel at home.  I do have my own style, but most anyone will spot the Chuck influences.

I bought Chuck’s “Back Home” album in the fall of 1970 when I was a college freshman, which probably marked me a somewhat odd (amongst other things) by my fellow dorm mates.

Fast forward to the 90’s and I found myself in a series of bar bands and discovered that most of Chuck’s tunes were as reliable as anything to pack dance floors.   Most of my guitar buddies were playing in “classic rock” bands that played a somewhat heavier sound, but I sort of soldiered on as if Eddie Van Halen had never existed.

It was practically a requirement to play Johnny Be Goode, and I always got the feeling that many guitarists didn’t really enjoy playing it, and I’ve heard a number of nearly comical versions where the guitarist could resist the urge to “shred”. Other songs, like the Georgia Satellites “Keep your hands to Yourself” provided me with a wonderful canvass to paint on, it was just made for my style of guitar…..

For me it was supreme fun and some of my best memories are people dancing like nobody was looking and grinning like monkeys.  I find that tremendously inspiring and it’s a form of communication/feedback loop that produces a high like nothing else.   There’s not much that I enjoy more.  It’s going to get heavy playtime if my life ever flashes in front of me.  There’s something primal about early Rock & Roll, yet it still manages to retain a sense of innocence.    I’ve been doing it long enough that it’s become a part of who I am.

These days, I play in a band that plays all original tunes.   And wherever one of Chuck’s licks will fit in, I’m not shy about using it.  Chuck “inspired” is probably more accurate.

In any case, the thrill has never gone away for me.  I still find a full dance floor a totally intoxicating experience and if I can execute a perfect full step bend of the “G” sting to ring out in unison with what I’m fretting on the “B” string, leading to a series of double and triple stops at the same time, I’m probably as close to heaven as I’ll ever get.

Chuck, you’ve given me a gift which I cherish and will remain eternally grateful.

I know you’re still rockin’, wherever you are.

A Cadillac at Le Mans

One of the more amazing feats in automotive history was when, in 1950, Briggs Cunningham took a basically stock Cadillac Series 61 Coupe to Le Mans and placed it in tenth place.   Co-driven by Miles and Sam Collier, college friends of Cunningham’s and founders of the Sports Car Club of America in a race that fewer that half of all cars entered managed to finish, the Colliers managed an average speed of 81.5 MPH for 24 hours.
The car, along with a modified Caddy with an aluminum body, dubbed LeMonster by the French, that placed 11th that some year are on display at the Collier Museum in Florida. (see link, below)

Collier Museum

After the race, Briggs Cunningham had the car modified and used it as a tow car!  I went to the Cunningham Automotive Museum that used to be in Orange County in the 1980’s, and it had a license plate and current California tags.    They actually fired the car up and drove it off when I was there, and although the engine was basically stock internally, the dual exhaust made it sound more like a race car than any Cadillac I ever heard.  I’d like to think that the then 76 year old Cunningham would take the old car out for a spin and drive down highway one with the windows down to listen to the exhaust.
Before it drove off, I took a peek inside it and noticed it still had the radio inside.  Supposedly, the Collier Brothers listened to the radio while tooling around the course as the 3897 pound Coupe (about what a modern V-8 Camaro weighs!) leaned over like a sailboat.
The photo shows the addition of a tach and also that the car had a “Three on the Tree” transmission and shifter.

The main reason any of this happened is the amazing 331 cu. in. Cadillac V-8 was one of the more advanced engines on the planet.  In fact, the 3rd place finisher, and Allard, was powered by the same motor in a much lighter car.  Cunningham wanted to put the engine in a much lighter ford based car and call it a “Fordillac”, but was informed that he needed to make a bunch of those to enter the car in the race, he just stuck with the two Cadillacs.

The fact that a basically stock luxury car sedan could compete at this level and place ahead of every one the Jaguars and Ferraris at one of the worlds premier races was no mean feat.

Smilin’ and Dialin’

If you’re anywhere near my age the first telephones you used had a dial that looked much like the one below, with number and letters visible in the finger holes on the dial.
The next evolution of Telephone dials happened around the same time that the US switched to all numeric direct dialing, abandoning the alphabetical prefix.  The numbers and letters were moved outside the dial, which not only made them easier to see, but people were able to dial “more efficiency” according to experiments conducted by research psychologist Dr. John Karlin, the director of the Human Factors Engineering Group of Bell laboratories in New Jersey.

Not only were the number easier to see, but experiments proved that people made fewer dialing mistakes if they had a little dot in the middle of each finger hole to aim for.   But Dr. Karlin wasn’t done yet.  Bell labs were working on a device that would cut the time one would need to “dial” a number virtually in half.  This would save the average person who (making an average of ten calls per day) nearly 3 hours a year in time spent dialing.  I figure Dr. Karlin has already saved me nearly a week over the course of my life.   In addition it was determined that it was easier for those with short term memory spans to actually remember a phone number for the time span it takes to dial it, so all you stoners out there also owe a debt to Dr. Karlin.
The first time I saw one of these keypads was at the Bell Telephone exhibit at the Seattle Century 21 World’s Fair in 1962.     They had a display set up where you would be timed dialing a telephone number.    Myself, I was more than twice as fast with the push buttons and I also enjoyed the musical soundtrack that came with each button press.   I could hardly wait for the future to begin.

As you’ve probably come to expect by this time, Dr. Karlin was his usual thorough self and  didn’t just place the buttons in some random fashion dictated by tradition: he came up the an arrangement that was the most efficient.
The size, color, shape, and even resistance to pressure and how far you had to push the button to make it work were all decided by a series of experiments.  They studied speed, number of errors and user preferences.
The final decision was between the traditional “calculator” (also like the one on a computer keyboard) layout, shown to the left, above, and the layout you see on the right in the above photo, which is still in use today.

I do find it interesting that the layout on my I-phone is the same, although it uses a touch screen.  It’s also amazing to me that the relationship between the numbers and the alphabet is the same as it was on the first dial phones that appeared in the 1920’s, although instead of dialing an alphanumeric prefix, people are dialing 1-800-GET-RICH.
Myself, I’m happy Dr Karlin got to see all this play out.  He passed on in 2013, in his early 90’s and knew his hard work had paid off.

 

Let’s take a trip down the Middle of the Road—–

Compromise has always been a part of our political system.  The best example of that is in our Constitution.   The Founding Fathers needed something to replace the weak Articles of Confederation, and the chief attribute this document needed to have was the ability to get ratified.   Hence, it is filled with examples of compromises too numerous to mention without getting sidetracked.

Lately, however, our legislators have gotten into the habit of treating “compromise” as a dirty word, a sign of weakness in the ongoing battle to create a one party state.    There is another word for a one party state that everyone knows: dictatorship.   This is the very reason the Founding Fathers were concerned with having strong minority rights.  It’s also why we have three branches of government.

For whatever reason, our nation is now split into two halves that view each other as the enemy.   If you are a citizen, the only way you get representation is if you happen to share all the views of the party that is in power in your particular district or state.  Widespread gerrymandering only intensifies this.   49 percent of the population may have a view that is never even presented in any deliberative body of government.

Truly Bi-Partisan efforts are so rare as to produce headlines when they do happen.   Politicians also seem further to the right or the left than the actual people they represent.   Our primary system is currently functioning as a device to ensure adherence to the party line with politicians who always seem to tack to the center during general elections.

I’m thinking if our representatives can’t see there way to reach compromises I think we should supply some for them.   Most of you have probably heard of A.L.E.C., the American Legislative Exchange Council.   They are a conservative non-profit group of mostly state legislators and Corporate members who draft model legislation that members can introduce in their own state legislatures: this type of legislation is quite common in  Arizona, Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Maine, as well as other states.

I keep hearing people say “We need a new party!” that looks out for the interests of ordinary people.   The two party system is so entrenched in our country that starting a new party is practically impossible.   The Green Party and the Libertarian Party would be good examples of this, with  little chance of accomplishment save for getting the party with views furthest from their own elected.

What I’m proposing, and it’s more “food for thought” than anything else, is to form a non-profit and find young, politically minded and idealistic attorneys and others with political interests, (such as retired legislators, attorneys and even lobbyists) and charge them with developing model legislation with the interests of ordinary middle class and working folks in mind.  I’m not talking about a political party, but a national clearing house for ideas.

Make it a real grass roots organization and focus on small town city councils, county commissions and small states with economic issues.    I’d start out with economic issues to start, as voters do tend to “vote with their pocket books”.    This would require some research and some real nosing around to find other places that have tried some new things and had some success with them.   Also, some of these smaller entities already function in a mostly non-partisan fashion and there are some great examples out there to examine.   There are many organizations that exist for foster civic leadership, in many corners of the country.

Just as ALEC tailors bills to a conservative audience, the organization would be aiming for the middle of the road.  You might have to take a few conservatives and a few liberals and lock them in a room until they came up with a compromise that would appeal to the middle of the road: something of a lost skill that successful legislators used to apply, when compromise was the order of the day.

Since the audience is going to be the public, rather than legislatures, a good social media strategy would be key.    Take surveys, ask the public for input, find volunteers and ways to address issues with that information in mind.

For all I know, there may already be an organization or several such as I’ve mentioned that I just don’t know about yet.   My instincts tell me there is a lot of room out there on the wide open road, a largely vacant spot if you will.     It seems to be a niche that nobody is bothering to even try and fill.

“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life.”

One of the best lines in Obama’s speech. Thousands of generations of humans have evolved being able to look each other in the eye, observe body language and listen to the tone of human speech.

Back in the day, people who were hard core “letter writers” learned a set of rules and skills about communication involving a time and distance factor, elevating this form of communication to an art form.

Governmental and legal correspondence and documents don’t sound like every day language, because of a need for precision far beyond casual communication.  This had lead them to be rather formal, but it does show the need for precision where things might be easily understood.   Naked words, unless carefully defined and agreed on by both parties,  often fail to convey the intended meaning.

Political discourse has changed since the rise of the internet, and part of it is what I call the “finger factor”.

I grew up in a small town. If someone cut you off driving down the street, giving them “the finger” might result in some “unintended consequences”: they might be your kids third grade teacher, or you could end up sitting next to them in church or at a bar.

The internet isn’t exactly like this, but the electronic distance seems to keep people from looking at whatever common ground they are both standing on. In person, from a very early age, we either learn to find the common ground or spend our lives in isolation watching people stomp off in a huff.

Communication doesn’t seem to happen in the same way it did just a few years ago. And it’s not just verbally.  There does seem to be a large variety of music formats on the radio, but they all narrowcast, and young people seem to use them to help define themselves as part of a particular tribe.

Remember what top 40 radio was like? Growing up in a small town in Oregon, I got to listen to Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys, Cream, Roger Miller, Stevie Wonder, Frank Sinatra and Jefferson Airplane: often one right after one another.  When I met kids from other parts of the country as a teenager, I always noticed we had far more in common than any differences we might have.

I think that is how it is for most people, and it’s actually fairly rare to find someone you  can’t find something in common with.

I know I repeat myself by posting this but I can’t help thinking Dr. Martin Luther King was sending us a message from the past when he said:

“We must learn to live together as Brothers, or perish together as fools.”

Who is Your Tribe?


We’re tribal animals.    For most of the time people have been on earth, the Tribe, out side of our immediate family, has been the most important group.    This developed long before we had language as an instinctive tendency.  Like wolves, we have always been pack animals.   We are stronger as a group than we are on our own and survival is much more likely if we band together in a group.    We have evolved both competitive and cooperative instincts as mechanisms to enable working together.

The competitive aspect is important to allow those with “leadership” capabilities to develop and rise to the “top” while the cooperative nature is required to ensure every one of the tribal members gets part of the tribe’s “spoils” as well as ensuring full participation in tribal activities.

We also have a long history of “Tribe” to “Tribe” competition.   Obviously, if one tribe gets carried away with this and proceeds with the annihilation of all rival tribes, the ability of the species to propagate would be severely compromised.   This ongoing struggle has undoubtedly been a major factor in the migration of our species to all virtually all continents on the planet.

Language developed along tribal lines as a means of furthering the organizational requirements of increasingly sophisticated hunting techniques and the development of agriculture pushed this even further.

It should also be noted that we’re talking about a spectrum of circumstances and conditions, climates and just plain fate.   A brilliant leader might even find a way to consolidate several tribes, form alliances and conquer a large territory.

Psychologists and sociologists vary in the estimates of what size the typical Tribe was, but it probably enlarged over time along with increased specialization and organizational capabilities, as well as some means of long term record keeping and the passing along of “tribal knowledge”.

Somewhere in all of this development, the concept of “us and them” appeared, when encountering other Tribes and encountering disputes.  It was easier to deal with certain unsavory actions in dealing with “them” if they were viewed as being lesser in some way, or perhaps characterized as “evil”.

A huge range of practices could be seen as evidence of this.  Ranging from the way another Tribe buried their dead, taboos concerning sexual practices or the ingesting of forbidden substances or unclean food, certain behaviors were viewed as proof of the malevolent nature of the “enemy”.

Undoubtedly, some of these characterizations carried on for generations with people forgetting exactly why they hated each other or what would result from eating forbidden fruit.    There is a fine line between instinct and emotion, with it being difficult to define where one stops and the other starts.     We’ll probably never know exactly how much behavior is innate and exactly what is learned.

As the size of our Tribes has increased, some of the behavior may no longer be functional or be adapted to other purposes.  Anyone who has witnessed a fight break out in the stands at a football game between rival fans knows this is true.  Or political arguments on Facebook

In a recent study, Yale behavioral economist Dan Kahan asked over 1,500 people if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “There is solid evidence of recent global warming due mostly to human activity such as burning fossil fuels.”  Kahan also collected information on their political beliefs, and measured their “science intelligence”— based on answers to questions developed by the National Science Foundation, Pew Research Center, and others. These questions are intended to gauge a combination of scientific knowledge and quantitative reasoning proficiency.

If you take a look at the chart below, you’ll find that rather than reach some scientific consensus, the more people knew about science the more they used their knowledge and reasoning skills to “prove” what their political beliefs required.

We’ve all heard the phrase “Confirmation Bias”, but I think this goes beyond that.    Kahan observes: “A person who forms a position out of line with her cultural peers risks estrangement from the people on whom she depends on for emotional and material support”.   For most people coming to a conclusion that fits the pre-conceived beliefs of their “Tribe” is much more likely than one reached using the scientific method.

Referring to this sort of behavior as “tribal” might be a bit of a stretch in some circles, but I do think it tends to explain the psychological basis of this sort of “Motivated Reasoning”.   In my opinion modern “Tribes” don’t always claim distinct geographical territories, but denote groups with similar beliefs, religions, political notions and even certain product brands: Harley Davidson might be an example of this.   I’ve already mentioned loyalty to a particular sports team.

There is a school of thought (Propagated by Nobel prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman) that divides decision making into  “System 1” thinking, which is more intuitive, automatic, emotion driven and quick, and “System 2” which is a more deliberate, reason driven analytical decision making processes, that adds learned behavior such as the “scientific method” and advanced math skills.

My take on this is that for much of our history, human beings evolved in Tribal bands that also evolved processes of settling disputes and developing behaviors that became more or less innate: enabling quick decisions that needed to be made with little deliberation and also encouraged maximum Tribal participation.   There would be a strong bias towards proven  methods that caused little disruption.   These eventually evolved into cultural norms.

It would seem that “System 2” type thinking often ends up merely re-enforcing decisions that have already been made using “System 1” processes and/or have become cultural identifiers.

One of the modern organizations that have taken on a “Tribal” nature are political parties.    For a long time in the United States they managed to function like a couple of neighboring Tribes that had formed an uneasy alliance, casting wary eyes at each other while trying to find ways to work together.

It’s now like they’re not even on the same team.   Both parties stop just short of labeling each other as “evil”, and some of the candidates have moved beyond that.   And some people follow along with them.

The danger in all of this is when decisions are primarily made from emotional, instinctive positions: especially if they tend to draw people into “Us Vs. Them” postures, is not likely to result in any sort of the compromises needed to allow large groups of people to live together.

Our Constitution was carefully calibrated to encourage the compromises necessary to allow 13 vastly different states to form a Union.     Our former national motto:  “E Pluribus Unum”, “Out of many, one”, illustrates this nicely, using precisely 13 characters to make it’s point.

We need to learn how to do this again.

Not only the Father of his Country


  1. One of the things that becoming an “experienced” human grants you is the ability to look at things you thought you understood and make corrections.
         I’m forever astonished when I study something I thought I understood and discover something I’d completely failed to see the significance of.
         I’ve always been fascinated by the “founding fathers”. Washington has long been a person who I’ve never fully understood despite reading at least 3 biographies about the man.
          Maybe it’s just the sheer number of astonishing facts about him that obscures his level of greatness, you just come to expect amazing things out of him.
         One can pick from any number of events that would have resulted in failure for a lesser man, and it’s long been obvious to me that world is a much better place because of him.
         The famous painting by John Trumbull at the top of this page probably is familiar to most of us: it finds it’s way into every book that even casually mentions Washington and a google search places it in the top row.It depicts Washington resigning his commission as commander-in-chief on December 23, 1783.

         This was something the rest of the world was astonished by.  And yet, it never struck me how revolutionary this was.
    Nearly all Europeans had simply assumed that being the conquering General, Washington would just assume leadership, citing examples from Julius Caesar to Oliver Cromwell, of the fledgling nation. They all assumed that the “revolution” would, in fact, turn into a military coup.
    After eight and a half years without pay or leave and defeating the world’s most powerful nation against seemingly impossible odds, he has the conviction to surrender all of that to return to his plantation in Virginia. Wow.

    He understood that for our nation to live up to the ideals of it’s revolution, power would have to come from the people rather than from the end of a gun. The fact that he did not become president until nearly 6 years later is a testimony to how dearly he held the notion of civilian governance.

    Last night, (the 217th anniversary, to the day, of Washington’s Passing on Dec 14th, 1799) I was reading a passage in Edward Larson’s book on “The Return of George Washington 1783-1789” when the full impact of that act struck me.

    Washington handed us a precious gift at that point. I’d just never fully appreciated it.