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by on January 12, 2021


by Marco M. Pardi

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”Mahatma Ghandi

I developed this site expressly for discussion and interaction. Therefore, all comments are welcome and will receive a response. And, all previous posts are open for comment. If you are unable or unwilling to provide a comment, please forward the site to someone else who will.

When we are suddenly pressed to explain someone’s recurrent troublesome behavior we often default to, She must have a predilection. Or, He is accident prone. This leaves the antecedents in a very murky, mysterious dimension. Of course, most of us find no satisfaction in those statements; they ring of Aristotle’s “Harmartia”, an occult character flaw which lies in wait for a passing opportunity to manifest, or an intractable characteristic which defies remedy.

Those of us in the social-behavioral sciences have seen this extrapolated to entire populations: Germanic peoples are warlike; the Swiss naturally make the best timepieces; or, the French are the best lovers. The decades following World War II saw the Germanic warlike claims replaced by the claim that Germans “over engineer” such things as automobiles or any artifacts they sit down to design. Having owned and worked on upper rank German cars I confess to having uttered such condemnations. I’ve also owned a Japanese scuba diving watch which outperformed a world known Swiss dive watch, at one tenth the price. As for French women, well I’m not talking.

In the past four plus years we have increasingly heard the term, Dog Whistle, and the admonition, Words Matter. Having taken, out of necessity, a very early interest in languages I accepted that not only do words matter, the cultural context in which they are said matters. Our culture is permeated with examples of words torn loose from their context, the very basis which gave them their original meaning. And here I declare meaning to be larger than mere definition. In teaching the linguistics portion of college Anthropology I liked to use an example from what Christians call the Bible. We are told that Jesus resurrected Lazarus from the dead. Powerful words. Even more powerful meaning. So what’s the problem? The problem is that the portions of the Bible in which these words appear were written by individuals of the fact based Greek culture, not the Hebrew culture. It is apparent that the Greek writers, quite removed from the Hebrews in time and space, did not know that Hebrews, or “Jews”, saw no distinction between the behaviors of religious faith and those of everyday life. A Jew did not just observe certain religious rules on the Sabbath day and go about his business the rest of the week. Thus, a Jew who stopped believing in the faith became an everyday “Untouchable”. Any person who so much as spoke to an apostate – one who renounced his faith, became polluted and had to endure a lengthy and involved cleansing process. Thus, totally cut off from any form of transaction or interaction, the apostate was considered effectively “dead”. Ever hear someone say, “That person is dead to me”? That’s what the entire community said of the apostate. Of course, the narrow editing of what the average person gets to read since then has obscured the fact that many “healers” went about in those days “raising the dead”, that is, bringing them back into the faith. So, unless you want to believe that Jesus’ times were just the pilot for the popular television show The Walking Dead, you would be well advised to understand the cultural basis for the words, raised from the dead.

So what about these dog whistles? I’ve seen dog whistles put to use. I say seen because, not being a dog, I did not hear the whistle. And, not being a racist, White Nationalist, Fundamentalist, and/or neo-Fascist I almost always found myself saying, Oh, yeah, only after a news analyst points out the dog whistle in some Republican’s speech. I’ve examined my hearing, and have gotten better at recognizing it without help.

I highly value dogs, more so than many of the people I’ve known. But, based on the last presidential election, it must be accepted that there are at least 74 million (people?) out there who hear the whistle. And that self evident fact should inform a deep sense of caution toward the easy explanations for such events as the recent coup d’etat we saw in Washington, D.C. Easy explanations set us up for the classic harmatria, the tragic flaw which tips the trajectory downward toward inevitable doom.

One easy explanation is found in the rush, especially by Republicans, to say everything bad that has happened in these past four years has been Trump’s fault. As a loud mouthed buffoon and shameless grifter he makes that easy. But there are many such people in our society today. As I’ve so often said, Hitler did not walk out of a Munich beer hall and take over Germany all by himself, and the same is true of Donald J. Trump.

Another easy explanation surfaced just after the 2016 election: Trump’s base is made up of angry White men who are under educated and in low wage dead-end jobs. In fact, while that is largely true, it is also true that there are many Trump followers who are well placed in significant careers and who have advanced degrees. Under educated is not the issue; poorly educated is the issue. I have repeatedly maintained that far too many Americans, even if multiply degreed, would not know Fascism if it hit them in the face – which it has.

Years ago several excellent books explained that people vote based on what they feel, not on what they know. So it’s appropriate here to point out that predilections, incipient readiness to act in certain ways, are based in feelings, not in knowledge. The actions of the Hebrews toward apostates cited above were based in beliefs, which are based in feelings. But when something is known it is not a belief, it is a fact. The facts were that the apostates then classified as “dead” were as alive as ever and walking around. Yet, the faith based feelings (beliefs) were so strong as to cause even family members to mourn the “death” of a relative, and perhaps call in some exceptionally eloquent speaker to bring him “back to life”.

We might take a lesson from the Hebrews. Instead of asking what body of knowledge causes people to succumb to the call of a tyrant-in-waiting we should be asking what in our social experience forms the feelings which lead to such submission. What predilections caused the pre-WWII German population to march down a path behind a demagogue to almost total annihilation, and what parallels can we draw to understand the presidential election of 2016?

Numerous examples inform us that we cannot simply legislate feelings. Outlawing discrimination only holds the feelings beneath the surface. How many times have we heard, I know it’s wrong but I believe it anyway. And, I was raised this way.

We must seriously reexamine the K-12 curriculum to understand that how we teach what we teach is obviously not working in the interest of the entire society. For example, instead of concentrating our history, civics, and social studies classes on a deadly boring chronology of who, what, where, and when we must develop means of instilling what it would actually feel like to live under the socio-political systems under review. We must develop the Why and the How of social developments.

Yes, of course there will be outcries from factions of our society as they are exposed and analyzed. We have seen that every time a Republican administration has taken power and they attempt to dismantle the public educational system. And, in 22 years of teaching a variety of college classes there have been one or two instances in which someone claimed I was presenting my personal views as the official views of my discipline. I often tried to foresee that and stated during the first class of the semester, I am not here to presumptively change your beliefs; I am here to present you with information. What you know is my business; what you believe is your business.

Now, I’m not so sure. We have seen the general failure of Sex Education classes and Drug Education classes largely because they focused on mechanics, not meanings. Teaching the mechanics of sex without the meanings of sexuality, teaching the chemistry and dangers of drugs without exploring the reasons why someone would choose to alter their consciousness guarantees failure to reach the potential predilection parts of the mind. No one explained Why; no one explained Why Not in ways that shape the very personal basis of feelings.

I’ve had several courses in Educational Psychology, and I devoted eighteen months to on-site studies of cross-cultural educations systems. But I will not present myself as one who knows how to address the problems I’ve raised, beyond what I’ve already said.

This site is read in many countries around the world, and I am grateful for that. Hopefully there will be those readers who are willing to impart to us some understanding we have not been able to develop for ourselves.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Mike Stamm permalink

    To say that “when something is known, it is not a belief, it is a fact,” is to set oneself adrift in the slipperiness of language. Most if not all of Drumpf’s supporters *know* that he won the election and that it was stolen from him–ask them. Of course that is just a belief, and a convenient and comforting, if utterly groundless one at that. But many of them think themselves persecuted because of what they think they know when they are arrested and put on trial to pay for it.

    As for the question of going along with men who are self-evidently monsters, take a look at “The Nature of Complicity” in the July/August 2020 edition of THE ATLANTIC. If you can’t find it I’ll send you a photocopy. It’s a surprisingly complex issue.


  2. Thank you, Mike for the truly insightful comments and for the article recommendation. I will certainly follow up on that.

    Yes, I suppose I was operating in the logic domain when I separated “known” from “belief”. Clearly, empirical logic plays no role in the formulations of the Trump supporters. I see no daylight between them and the most virulent jihadists.

    Will tell you what I find regarding the article.


  3. My brother has spent the past four years trying to convince his girlfriend that Drumpf is a failure and a fraud based on what he considers to be the facts behind his business dealings. She remains unconvinced because her sister, and her sister’s husband, believe he is a great success, and a great leader for this country; she, of course, echoes what they believe to be true. A mind that is closed to the truth might as well be as “dead” as Lazarus. More later.


    • Thank you, Rose. I have doubts for the future of your brother’s relationship. Looking forward to your further comments.


  4. Gary permalink

    An excellent column, Marco. I particularly liked this: I am not here to presumptively change your beliefs; I am here to present you with information. What you know is my business; what you believe is your business.


  5. Dana permalink

    Marco, I have another one to add to your list of predilections: “Canadians are all so nice!” As a Canadian, I can assure anyone who thinks this that they are just as human as anyone else.

    Your comments about re-examining curriculum and the educational system as a whole remind me of something profound said by an eleven year old autistic boy interviewed in a documentary I recently watched. It spoke to me in such a way that I paused to write it in my journal:

    “The educational system in general is flawed – very flawed. It helps educate people but it also teaches people to not have original thinking and teaches them to fall in line. ‘Fall in line with what WE think. Fall in line with OUR ideologies…’ You can’t raise someone like something taken out of George Orwell’s worst nightmare and expect them to be the most independent person on Earth the second they grow up.”

    I’m reminded of the dozens of students in my 2012 college political science class. The majority of them when asked how they vote or planned to vote admitted they vote exactly like their parents do. This was quite telling, and I intimately know someone who continues to vote like that. Instead of thinking for themselves and researching candidates, they vote out of habit or to please others. Pleasing others is clearly voting out of feeling rather than rational thought.

    Perhaps it’s somewhat natural to seek parental validation, but it can also set a dangerous precedent. The Republican party is really nothing like it once was. And for good reason, it is essential to reconsider voting for one party’s candidates across the board without even knowing who they are.


    • Thank you, Dana. I’m sure our Canadian friends and readers have now developed some feelings about feelings.

      The 11 year old boy you quote is an outstanding example of how we should examine our feelings before we conclude we know something. How many people would have dismissed him before even listening had they known he was autistic?

      Yes, we most certainly see the expression of predilections when it comes time to vote. And unfortunately, there are those who are masters at evoking those predilections even when they lead to disastrous consequences.


  6. From France: Identity withheld.

    I agree that feelings are important in decision making (as hard as we try to pretend they’re not). The feeling of understanding toward other’s rationale you describe is valuable to prevent people from harming each other. But I think feelings of fear of worse alternatives inhibit change; leading one to stay the course- even if that course is off a cliff or inconsistent with normal empathy at someone else’s pain and suffering?

    I’m currently reading John Lewis’ memoir on the civil rights movement (the 60s seem like a crazy time) and certainly agree that people are more likely to engage if they understand why something is important. Didn’t Ghandi, your intro reference, become an activist after experiencing discrimination in South Africa- a first hand understanding of why? So how do you convince someone staying the comfortable course is more dangerous?

    I think we’d have an answer for global warming and a lot of other problems if this was an easy question.


  7. Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I agree people try to stay with what they feel offers safety and security. But, as you know, convincing them to, in their eyes, take a chance will not happen overnight. We must develop and maintain the strength to keep on conversing with them, even if it means that in the short run we lose a few “friends”. There will be those who never let go of their deep seated insecurities.


  8. Ray Rivers permalink

    Wow is all I can say…


  9. Steve permalink

    “For example, instead of concentrating our history, civics, and social studies classes on a deadly boring chronology of who, what, where, and when we must develop means of instilling what it would actually feel like to live under the socio-political systems under review.”

    From my own experience there is quite a bit more of this thinking being applied to our childrens’ courses even in the last ten years or so and especially in comparison to my own education.

    I still advocate that more communication (especially the listening side of it) is key to a lot of our current problems. Admittedly I’m not wise enough to formulate a way to facilitate it for the entire country. One of the main problems is trying to get individuals to understand allowing someone to speak you disagree with (or assume you will) is simply that and not an endorsement of their beliefs.
    Presumption without listening shuts down real dialog because we can slap a label on someone without doing the work to challenge our beliefs. This is especially harmful when taken to the current conclusion of simply writing off individuals as hopeless because it places you in a pool of people that only think the way you do and solidifies belief into “truths” because every voice you hear agrees with everything you say.

    If a belief is solid it can easily weather a bit of exploration and, if it can’t, perhaps there is good reason.

    This is how those individuals at the Capitol convinced themselves the election was stolen despite the numerous opportunities the Trump administration had to prove election theft but could not.

    I do think some good old fashioned civics might come in handy for those that believed Pence could simply overturn the outcome though. What would be the point in voting if that was the case?


    • Thank you, Steve. Your report of enhanced civics studies encourages me. However, when I think of such places as the State of Texas, where a Christian Fundamentalist state school board effectively wrote Thomas Jefferson out of the schoolbooks for his “separation of church and state” I must wonder if you live in an especially enlightened school district.

      I do value your admonition regarding the “echo chamber” we all might unwittingly build around ourselves. In our society of hardening tribalism that is hard to avoid.

      Yes, informed and thoughtful dialogue is paramount. I had a parade of guest speakers into my early Anthropology classes, including the Grand Dragon of the UKA – United Klans of America. I wish I could return to those times.


  10. Knowing and believing are anathema to one another. One may choose to believe in something which is not true, or something which cannot be proven, but only a fool “knows” it to be true. To continue to believe in something which has been proven false is choosing to be ignorant. It’s like a child who covers their eyes and says, “You can’t see me.” The truth, the proven facts, are out there to be known, but in today’s world, far too many people have chosen blindness over reality. One can only “know” the facts, and to do that we need to keep our eyes (and our minds) open.


  11. Thank you, Rose. I’m betting you had quite a reaction when the Trump administration, in its press briefings (which disappeared once they had lost all credibility) informed us that they had “alternative facts”. Wow! A doorway into a new dimension. And, 74 million voters rushed through that doorway at their next opportunity.


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