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Nothing new under the sun…

I can remember when a gallon of gas spiked to $0.86/ gal in 1979.

The US was outraged. We limited highway speeds to 55 mph, were going to move to smaller more efficient cars, were so determined to become “independent” of foreign oil with off shore drilling and an Alaskan pipeline (which did create some really good jobs for a while).

Billboard on our farm in Milan, Ohio. 1979

Yeah, seems like that lasted about 3 years. Then, despite inflation and high interest rates, the 80s kicked in with exuberant spending and credit debt, totally squashing those fuel concerns.  This is the US. We love cheap gas, big SUVs, trucks, RVs, and personal vehicles like ATVs, motorcycles planes & boats. Somehow we’re entitled. We’ve always valued these things way more than having the collective will to do what’s necessary to become independent.

Same old, same old. (And no one’s saying that importing 600,000 barrels/day of sand tar through a new pipe from the country of Canada is will somehow be cheaper.)

The US has had 40 years to become independent of foreign petroleum, just not the motivation, the domestic resources, and will to do so. This is the USA. We love cheap gas pretty much more than anything else in the world – no matter where it comes from.

Nobody “wins” Afghanistan

I once heard an interesting talk with Simon Sinek using the fall of Saigon as an illustration of an infinite game.

Basically, a finite game has fixed rules that are understood and mutually accepted by both sides and after a prescribed period of time, the game ends, the score is tallied, a winner declared, and the players decide if they want to play again.

Unlike the finite game, in an infinite game some rules may be fixed but some rules continuously change, the situations morph, the targets and “goalposts” move, and the game only ends with one side giving up the will to continue playing. There is no winner and loser. Play just stops.

(In the west we love to have the order of clear winners and losers and we passionately root for our favorite team.) Unfortunately, reality and business rarely works this way. Life is a long game filled with unexpected decisions that need to be made.

In the west we romanticize and erroneously assume that if we could just plant “democracy”, countries would naturally embrace it. We idolize freedom and independance. And we somehow believe, with little regard for other respective cultures and backgrounds, that they’ll understand democracy or have the same hunger for personal freedom as we do in the west (enough so to fight and sacrifice their own flesh and blood to earn and protect it).  That doesn’t appear to be the case.

In July of 1776 (just 245 years ago) The United States became the first country in history to be created from written and printed documents with laws, rules, linear sequential processes and declarations. Our constitution and bill of rights dictated how we would move forward – everyone agreed. And there was an over-arching consensus. Our very form of government was grounded in the rule of law. (Healthy functioning democratic societies around the globe are almost exclusively written cultures that quickly embraced the printing press in the late 1500s.)

Most eastern and ancient cultures, however, were born and evolved out of oral traditions (many hundreds of years before the invention of the printing press) and their values, processes, communities, and governments act and change accordingly. Oral cultures don’t appear to be as systematic, literate, and linear as written cultures and therefore don’t rationalize, prioritize, and think in the same logical ways as written ones. Oral cultures are historically and by nature more tribal, passionately reactive, impulsive, and often seem unpredictable and irrational.

Saigon in April 1975, like Afghanistan, fell because the US didn’t have the will and/or resources to continue playing an infinite game in another country – the ongoing sacrifice of thousands of US lives and dollars. Today, for whatever reasons, the aimless effort in Afghanistan stopped.

There is no winner or loser in an infinite game. The Taliban opponent, just like the North Vietnamese, simply had the will and drive to persevere as long as it took for their circumstance to change.

President Biden was correct. This mission, however it related to 9/11, was completed over a decade ago.

This begs the question of why we were in either country, fighting for so long?  For what and at what costs?

Percentages and Perceptions?

I’ve walked this earth the biggest part of 60 years now. Not once do I ever recall anyone, in my own circle of acquaintances, who actually became hospitalized with the common flu or cold. As someone who practiced as a federally licensed health care administrator in the State of Ohio for over 10 years, I fully understand that a small percentage of us will die from the standard flu each year. (I’ve just never known anyone in my circle of family or friends that succumbed to the flu – ever, that I’m aware of.)

Over just the past 4 weeks, several acquaintances, friends, and even close family have tested positive for Covid-19 and exhibited symptoms. Most have struggled thru about 2 weeks of feeling crappy, achey, and feverish – along with the ongoing fatigue, loss of smell and taste, and quarantine that often follows the episode of many of those who experience symptoms. And although there is not yet any practical effective treatment or preventitive vaccine, most are recovering.

Additionally, In just the past few weeks I’ve had two good friends hospitalized with positive Covid-19 results. One went home after a few days and, I understand, is recovering well so far.

The other? Well he passed away yesterday. He was my friend, my ministry partner, who faithfully served on a team of technicians and engineers that I help lead. He was a smart, creative, selfless, generous guy who loved God, loved serving others, and will be greatly missed. It’s been a sad weekend and my heart aches with loss and bewilderment today.

To date (Dec. 6, 2020) there are 14.8 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 282,000 Covid-19 related deaths in the US.

One thing I know for sure. 100% of these people contracted this particular virus from another living, breathing human being that somehow successfully transmitted it.

Today I personally feel fine and have no reason to suspect that I am, or ever was, positive. However, that is certainly not assumed or beyond the realm of impossibility (now or in the future).

That is why I have no desire to unnecessarily breathe on anyone and will continue with the following simple practices of basic hygiene given the current circumstances:

  1. I will avoid close proximity to others especially indoors and in small spaces.
  2. I will avoid large crowded gatherings.
  3. I will always effectively cover my nose and mouth with some type of physical barier when around others. By and large we distribute this virus thru our expelling of respiratory moisture.
  4. I will wash or sanitize my hands regularly and avoid rubbing my eyes and touching my face.
  5. I will avoid all physical greetings such as hugging and hand-shaking with others outside my household.

This is how I choose to serve the people I care about and proceed with my activities of daily living.

Part 3 “Media” and the Loss of the Hero

Many often blame “the media” for almost everything that’s “wrong”. By definition the word media is simply plural for the word medium. For example written text on paper is a medium, chalk on a sidewalk can be a medium, radio broadcast is a medium, tires on a car and a glove on a hand are media. You and I can be the medium by which COVID-19 can exist and spread. Today however, what many attribute to “the media” is actually just news or the press in general and, more specifically, any information that doesn’t align with one’s personal convictions. Blaming “the media” is kind of like blaming your mistakes, poor choices, or unfortunate circumstances on a hair dryer, a snow shovel, or a piece of wallpaper.

What’s more interesting culturally is our apparent attraction and fascination with individuals who appear to have narcissistic personalities. They actually thrive in this environment. And strangely, large numbers of seemingly intelligent, otherwise kind people can so easily rally around an individual then excuse, and even defend the most rude and vile behaviors and expressions, without rational thought or serious consideration. And it’s not just with the current president. It’s also sports and entertainment celebrities, politicians and preachers. We complain, yet we reward. How diametrically different from 20 years ago when a “hero” had to earn or accomplish something meaningful before becoming a celebrity. We often support our favorite celebrities with the same blind and fervent loyalty as a local football team, regardless of whether they are successful at winning or accomplishing anything notable or selfless. Any actual accomplishment of the hero becomes questionable and is eclipsed by the continuous over-exposure or “fake it till you make it approach” of the celebrity.

The radical advance and speed of electronic technologies have contributed to the replacement of “hero” with “celebrity”. It seems narcissists thrive in our culture today because developing a brand and loyalty is the only way to acquire broad appeal in a short amount of time. Facts and content are no longer primary influences and thus no longer automatically serve as a substantially effective means of persuasion. Often facts and information are irrelevant. Fabricating controversy and dismissing all external thought as “hoax” or “fake news” seems to be the emotional currency of the day. And social media provides a powerful global platform to foster that process. It’s ironic that as our historically unprecedented, widely and equally accessible level of “free speech” gets pushed more to it’s over saturated limits, much content becomes suspect, and all thought and ideas get randomly mixed together to create one pot of overwhelmingly irrelevant noise …resulting in, well, less free speech. Such is the post modern era.

How diametrically different from 20 years ago when a “hero” had to earn or accomplish something meaningful before becoming a celebrity.

It seems that so much of the perplexing and seemingly obscure ideas that Philosipher Marshall McLuhan wrote about in the 60s and 70s regarding media theory, communications, and technologies is literally unfolding in this decade and started becoming visible around 2005. Why?

Now thru the lens of history we can get a glimpse of what he was getting at when he coined the phrase:

“The medium is the message”. For a more in depth look at media and effects from McLuhan’s 1964 writings.

Part 2: What is the “media” ?

There’s lots of buzz about “the media” these days.  Americans seem to blame it for many things that may nor may not go their way.  For example “the media” gets blamed for liberal bias or right-wing conspiracies.  Our president blames the “the media” for not being fair or flattering and others blame “the media” for being too lax on abortion or personal rights.  It’s as if somehow “the media” has a bias or agenda. Some think “The media” somehow manipulates us into purchasing things or changing our behavior via advertising, marketing, or public relations. We even gravitate to whichever voice validates our own beliefs in exclusion to other’s “media”. But what is media and what does it really do?

Often, when we speak of “the media”, what we are actually referring to news reporting (journalism)  or un-moderated opinion posting on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. And although electronic media is what most of us currently think of in today’s information explosion, it’s really much more.  The term is actually the plural of the word medium (singular).

One of the most powerful and revolutionary definitions of media that I’ve discovered comes from the 1960s writings of Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan writes “Every medium is an extension of our humanity.”

Under this definition, literally everything is a medium, And it provides a powerful lens by which to assess and evaluate our culture and surroundings. For example the telephone is an extension of our voice and ears, the wheel is an extension of our feet (regarding transportation), clothing is an extension of our skin, security cameras are an extension of our eyes, a tv remote is an extension of our finger etc.

Ok, so the “media” is not really a singular thing or entity, so what? Why is this important to understanding our current culture?


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