• RETHINKING EVERYTHING

    • Posted on Feb 26, 2018

    When a culture rejects the moral and religious glue that has held it together for centuries, we can expect parts of it to shatter and fly apart. The obsessions and preoccupations of a collapsing culture typically lead to impotence and death.

    And sometimes to the mass murder of children.”

    A local Courier columnist closed his column Sunday (Feb. 25) with the above observation, and I believe he speaks for many readers.  In effect, he’s asserting that our current age is experiencing a decline in morality and religious values, as evidenced by action movies, violent video games, and of course school shootings.  If only we hadn’t lost our moral and religious way, he implies. 

    I don’t often agree with this hyper-conservative columnist.  He often decries liberal/progressives and their beliefs and values for creating the current "American carnage"  about which Trump ranted in his inaugural address.  This columnist hammers away at straw man progressives, predictably and snarkily. 

    To me he’s in an ideological rut fueled by anger and fear.  Unpleasant reading.   

    Yet in this instance, I partly agreed with him; we used to be better, and now we’re callous, insensitive imbibers of sensational and constant media jolts, which invariably includes bad news— “if it bleeds, it leads.”  In the past, moral and religious values were more certain and fixed, and that’s why violence rears its ugly head in the form of mass shootings, among other horrors. We can’t and shouldn’t return to those good old days, but they do seem better.  I had sunk into cynical pessimism, the same as this columnist, but for different reasons.   

    However, both of us are wrong. Very, very wrong, top to bottom, right to left.  I'm amazed at how wrong.  The good old days were far worse than today, in every way.   

    I’m currently undergoing something of a conversion, not to religious or conservative values, but to data and facts from three extremely convincing and well-researched—and well written—books:

    Two from Steven Pinker:  The Better Angels of our Nature (2011) and Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. (2018) and Patrick Sharkey’s, Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, The Renewal of City Life, and the Next War on Violence. (2018)

    All three books make the same point, though in different ways: Everything has been improving, markedly, for the past seven decades.  Got that?  Don’t believe it?  The news and our pathetic President and his fanatical supporters prove Pinker and Sharkey all wrong? 

    You’d better read these books.  They rely not on opinions, or ideology, or wishful thinking, but on hard evidence from everywhere. Data and statistics, charts, graphs, illustrations of all kinds.

    Crime is the lowest it’s ever been, as is poverty, violence, war—all way, way down from just a few years ago.

    There is no American carnage or decline whatsoever.  That’s mere fearmongering for political gain. The truth is far more optimistic—off the charts optimistic, and there are plenty of real charts to prove it. 

    To paraphrase Barack Obama, speaking in 2016:  If you could choose to be born in any time, as either man or women—once you look at the facts, you’d choose now.  

    Happily, I'm being jolted out of my dark pessimism.      

     

     

     

     

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  • Sunday Essay #10: Worst of Times, but Best of Times Too

    • Posted on Feb 18, 2018

    Here's today's Courier column, written before the Parkland FLA shooting.  Still, the best shines through in the winter olympics. 

                Watch any Olympic event these days, then check out the nightly news or newspaper.

                You can’t help but conclude that we’re living in the best and worst of times, to borrow from Dickens.

                The worst first, so we can end in the light.   

                Consider all the ruined legacies and reputations of heretofore respected, even beloved media personalities.  They now live in virtual exile, with no light at the end of their tunnels. We shouldn’t forget the wounded families and victims of their predatory behavior, who far outnumber them.  Misery abounds.  

                Then there’s ongoing corruption and dishonesty, even around here.  Locally, an Evansdale Pharmacist has been arrested for defrauding taxpayers with false Medicaid billing. And the Iowa Communications Network Director who appropriated $380,000 of Iowa taxpayers’ for how own use in his Christian ministry. No one reported it until an auditor caught him. 

                Both men face possible criminal penalties, and their families and friends must feel betrayed by their precipitous fall from grace. Comeuppances create disruptions all around.

                As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re watching how a national political party takes a swamp and degrades it into a sewage lagoon.  Lying as a way of life.  Backstabbing incompetents of all stripes on the public payroll, roiling up endless scandals that leave us shaking our heads.    

                It’s impossible to exaggerate how awful they are, so much so that two writers in the March Atlantic magazine recently urged readers to vote against the GOP under all circumstances, writing “the party is now a threat to the constitutional order.  Even conservatives must vote against Republicans at every opportunity.” 

                Yes, the worst of times.  Thank heavens that’s not all the news.   

                 I’m pleasantly gobsmacked by winter Olympic athletes in South Korea and their ongoing search for athletic perfection. Their sheer exuberance, their positive energy, their joy in performing at the furthest reaches of their sport shows humanity in its best of times.

                For me, there’s deep visual pleasure watching how well humans can perform when they practice to perfection.  Mirai Nagasu’s triple axel in figure skating—which no female American figure skater has nailed until she did it last Saturday—induced gasps worldwide. She literally leapt for joy at the end of her routine, and I leapt right along with her, at least mentally.     

                Chloe Kim, an exuberant 17-year old Korean girl from an immigrant family, scored nearly 10 points higher than her nearest competitor to win snowboarding gold. Born and raised in California, she credits family and friends as much as herself, and seems to love everything about Olympic competition. 

                Beyond feats of athleticism, the athletes’ team spirit shows they know they’re all it in together.  Humanity should be so lucky. 

                There’s a chance, however slight, that Olympians’ sense of “team” will warm up the frigid relations between North and South Koreans. If that happens, PyeonChang 2018 will be the best of games.

                For these blessed two weeks we can partly ignore the worst of times.          

               

               

     

     

     

    Go comment!
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“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.

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