Mrs. Freeberg and I took off for the weekend, down to the Milpitas/Santa Clara area. I had errands I needed to do, and she had the time. We have hotel points and we enjoy each other’s company.
Life has been showing us a few wrinkles of complexity lately, and they’re mostly coming from my side of things. Some of these are good “problems” to have, but the strategy challenges they impose are outside of my capacity if I don’t do something to break the routine, and look at it all from a renewed perspective. I think we’re all like that a little bit, now & then. Well yeah, that worked pretty well…came to realize a few things I otherwise might not have.
First — in fact, let’s do just this and then stop — the big epiphany: Every single damn problem, I came to realize, has a problem-maker. A person who, if removed from a hypothetical situation in which the problem could be reproduced, one struggles to envision the problem being reproduced. In reality or in perception, and probably in reality, the person entirely owns the problem. Although often, according to the “rules,” said person has successfully managed to make some dumb idiot, that would be me, “own” the problem in terms of obligation to find a solution. Obligation? Not really obligation. I’ve explored this concept before, vis-a-vis the government shutdown. The dumb idiot, me, must find a solution to the problem or it isn’t going to be solved. None, or few, others are paying any kind of a cost for the problem’s continuance.
We are discouraged, from childhood, from looking at problems this way. I’m not entirely sure why. Well wait, I know why: To a child, once you head down that road it is all too easy to look at all problems in life like that. The problem isn’t there, it’s the person who’s the problem, therefore bitching about the person is the same as solving the problem. That’s how we get Barack Obama and people like Him: Every day, more bitching about those awful Republicans, while the problems go unsolved. Obviously, we don’t need more of that going on…so I guess I’m stepping out on a treacherous precipice here. But there is danger in the opposite as well, and I guess I’m guilty of practicing that, looking at only the problem and ignoring the people causing the problem. I guess we tend to embrace that in childhood, confident that it will lead to all-good-habits, no-bad-ones in adulthood. That’s not what happens. Some problems have makers, and solving the problems while ignoring the problem-makers is like chopping away at the leafy part of a weed rather than uprooting it. So I’d file this “good” piece of advice for kids, alongside “always clean your plate.” Waist-size-wise, some of my worst habits come from the clean-your-plate rule I was taught in childhood. Maybe my whole generation should have been taught “here’s how you throw that good food away, and forget all about those poor kids in China.” Lately, I’m thinking I’ve been solving problems the same way I’ve been eating what’s on my plate when I’m not really hungry, and with what’s been going on with my waist size during this time, I have no business eating when I’m not hungry.
How do we uproot these weeds, as opposed to hacking away uselessly at the leafy parts? Dunno. That’s going to be specific to the problems I don’t choose to discuss here; out of scope. I’m sure there’s a way. I’m going to find a way to do it without making people disappear, never mind how certain I am that this would solve the problem. I shall follow the Darth Vader rule: NO DISINTEGRATIONS. But it might be good to recognize where the weeds are.
I have identified six.
They never stopped sucking their thumbs because they never uncurled from the fetal position. Their cords were never cut. Ben Franklin wrote of these people in the 1750’s: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” That captures a lot of the disagreement that’s going on today. Liberty or safety? One of the realities that have emerged is that the people who would not engage in such a purchase, since they value the liberty more than the safety, tend not to interfere in the choices made by others, whereas those who value the safety more highly than the liberty don’t want anybody else valuing the liberty more highly. The health care insurance mandate is a perfect example of that.
Twenty years ago I thought, people who value absolute safety that much may be failing to grow & learn day-by-day because of the adventures they’re declining to have; but that’s alright for them, so long as they don’t interfere with everybody else. Now, I’m not so sure. Ever have a conversation with one of these people? What if this, what if that, what will you do. A lot of times in life, the answer is “And then, we’ll just have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” a phrase which is entirely meaningless to these people. The conversation is never over as long as they haven’t gotten what they wanted: That feeling of absolute security and safety. The guarantee that doesn’t really exist.
Subset of Thumb Suckers. The difference between those who are Circuit Breakers and those who are not, is often the desire to ingratiate themselves into a higher and more coveted social class. To get this done, they seek to have an effect, and that effect is to stop something. This can make a lot of sense sometimes: Smoking around a gas station. “Don’t do that, something bad might happen” is just the sensible thing to say. Trouble is, these people are doing that ALL the TIME. They must have that absolute security and absolute safety, and if that means stopping something that really does need to happen, well then so be it. They want to do their social climbing. They want to be the guy who figured out the big disaster if we do this, and headed it off by stopping us.
Some Circuit Breakers are too busy to attend the meetings about what is to be done, but can make all the time they need to come in afterward with a big fistful of reasons why the choice made was the wrong one, and You’d Better Not Do That. You can feel the life force draining out of you when you talk to them. Ever plan a weekend with one of them? It’ll knock you flat on your feet.
The real tragedy with Circuit Breakers is that they don’t want to prevent disasters from happening, or to get the problems solved, what they’re really trying to do is escalate socially. That’s the goal. And they’d achieve it if they’d just come up with some damn answers. But they won’t.
The video clip I posted yesterday morning really hit home, for me, because my grandfather was Swedish. He worked his fingers to the bone during the Great Depression, spent his whole life honoring the virtue of hard work, foreman of the local lumberyard at 26, paid his bills on time, bought my childhood-family home with cash…but believed profit was evil. I was pretty surprised when I heard that the first time, so I wrote to my Dad about it and he confirmed it was true. And there are many stories to support this, perhaps the most impressive of which was relayed to me by my Uncle, about a mountain Grandpa owned once that he sold at cost. The “kids” tried to explain to him the whole thing about inflation, and escalating real estate prices, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
So on the paternal side of my family tree there’s been something of a schism about this. Is profit bad? Nobody comes out & says that it is. But just like the nation as a whole, there is this recalcitrance against acknowledging the reality that money is necessary. And the need for it, to meet just the essentials of life, sharply increases over time. Yes, it’s associated with greed, and there is some legitimacy to this, but in this day and age the one big fear among the aged is that they might outlive their savings. That’s a terrible situation, and money didn’t make that situation — an irrational hatred of money and hatred of profit, along with escalating health care costs, is what made that situation. If “greed” is what is pushing up the health care costs, then how come the health care costs keep spiking whenever we take these elaborate steps to “reform” the process and get rid of the greed?
Swedish Meatballs make exactly that mistake. They put these reforms in place that make it harder for anyone to make any money, and as a direct result of that, everyone ends up poorer. Grandpa, at least, minded his own business according to all the family legends that have come my way. But then — understandably — everybody involved needs & wants money, more urgently than before the reforms were put in place. It’s all to be expected.
The confusion of the Swedish Meatballs is that every effort to get hold of money must represent this hated “greed,” be that effort a purchase, a sale, an investment, a taking, a looting, or an earning. They think they’re respecting and living by the rules of a “free” market. But they’re not.
Have you ever been emerged in conflict with someone whose position was unquestionably wrong, however understandable it might have been? You probably have. Everyone’s done some arguing, and people in arguments generally have reasons they can point out about why they’re arguing. How annoying is it, then, to have one of these self-appointed referees come along and beseech you guys to stop your arguing and a) agree-to-disagree or b) meet in the middle somewhere. When, by nature of the disagreement, both these things are impossible, and anyone who fails to see how they’re impossible is displaying their ignorance of the issues. “Fine wine mixed with sewage is sewage,” as the saying goes. Sometimes a compromise isn’t beneficial in any way. And, sometimes — a lot of the time — if you look down in the details, there will emerge something that firmly establishes one side as undeniably right. That actually happens most of the time.
Triangulators, like Circuit Breakers, seek to ingratiate themselves with higher classes; they seek to climb the social ladder. Their credo might be stated as “Look at me! I’m more mature than either one of these two squabbling knuckleheads, I’m keeping my cool and giving orders!” Well, it’s pretty easy to keep your cool when you don’t understand what’s being discussed. And it’s never a good idea to put ignorance in charge.
I stole this one from one of South Park‘s very best episodes. They are defined, not by their gnome-ish appearance, but by their “business plan”: Phase 1: steal underpants. Phase 3: profit.
Like many South Park fans, I have found this satire to hit the bulls-eye on the target-plane of reality, more than a few times. We have a lot of “underpants gnomes” running around. I have noticed, without fail, that Phase 1 is something they want me to do, and Phase 3 is something I want to have happen. Phase 1 will lead somehow to Phase 3; I’m to presume, somehow, that Phase 2 has this secret magical mess of conduits buried within the big puffy opaque cloud, that’ll bring it all about.
TIK #401 People
Ah, my favorite.
Thing I Know #401. People who refuse to work with details don’t fix things.
Many of these people are Circuit Breakers. Some are Triangulators. They don’t deal with details, but they want to micro-manage anyway. They want the final say on every decision that comes up; but there is an implied escape from their destructive energies, in that whatever is not visible to them, they think doesn’t exist.
And so the underlings who are responsible for implementing the details, begin to incorporate into their day-to-day motions lots of tactics for hiding these implementations from the TIK #401 people. Which tends to be easy to do, since those people are often out playing golf or something. But, often the end result is some kind of disaster, because the TIK #401 people are doing the gripping-and-grinning with the outsiders, often monopolizing that part of the business because they bring some real energy and enthusiasm to this part of it. And, not only do they not know anything about the details, but they don’t care to learn. The implementers of the details, meanwhile, trudge onward with their own ignorance, regarding what sorts of promises are being made about their work.
I imagine this might come off looking like a critique of the healthcare.gov web site, and all the much deeper problems of which the website issues are merely symptoms. It isn’t meant to be that, but now that I think on it further, all six of the above apply to that debacle. And, to many, many other things in life.
I shall repeat it once more to myself, to make sure I don’t forget: NO DISINTEGRATIONS…but perhaps, just perhaps, there is some way to prevent these people from making decisions about anything?