Wednesday, January 12, 2011

saluting the flag

 Received an emailed article this morning from a friend: "Do Medications Really Expire?" by Richard Altschuler addresses the question that the title asks. The answer, in a vast majority of cases, is no, according to Altschuler's research.

What the article made me think of was the force a majority opinion can have -- how we believe something because so many others do or because the entity issuing the opinion is one we might prefer to trust. Even in the face of facts, there is a hardened denial that refuses to budge. I believe any of us might see this phenomenon in our lives and thoughts ... it must be true so it is true ... everyone says so... don't mess with my beliefs, don't talk to me about facts. Think George W. Bush standing on an aircraft carrier deck in 2003 beneath a banner announcing "mission accomplished" and addressing the assembly on the war in Iraq... a war in which the majority of all casualties -- American, coalition and Iraqi -- occurred after the speech.

The emperor has no clothes. I guess there are always little children pointing out the obvious, pointing out the facts and changing very few minds. A mind made up is a wonderful thing to lose. Or perhaps better, a mind made up that relies on other minds is a wonderful thing to lose.

The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 drove both German and British generals berserk. There, on the front line, in the trenches, amid shredded trees and shredded bodies, troops on both sides began singing Christmas carols in the night. Slowly and gingerly, soldiers left their trenches, met in no-man's land, shook hands, swapped food, showed family pictures and actually played a game of soccer. Think of it: Entire countries declare that killing others is the only option, wave flags, give speeches, encourage hurrahs and yet the very instruments of their blood-letting simply decline, for however short a period of time, to believe the beliefs, go with the flow, knuckle under to the majority opinion. In an anomaly of human behavior, they speak what is true and not just what others might wish were "true."

Yet another such anomaly in the world of war was Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, a man who won two Medals of Honor and went on to campaign vigorously against the greed and mindlessness that had brought him those medals.

But it's not just war I am interested in. I am interested in the general willingness -- most especially my willingness -- to credit and believe without much thinking. Yes, there may be emotion and yes, there may be agreement with others and yes, I am as guilty as the next person of wanting to feel comfortable and comforted by my beliefs ... but an unwillingness to take responsibility for the facts that make themselves known is truly a second-rate way to lead life. Human, yes. But unwise and unhappy-making as well.

Sure, salute the flag of your choice... religious, cultural, political, philosophical, whatever. But do not fail to reflect on the implications that flag carries with it ... all of the implications.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if what finally brings about a change of view is experience, particularly the accumulation of salient exerience, than it does with contemplating, thinking about a specific history.

    It's the little "Oh, now I see!" moments that accumulate and at some point transform the doubtful or the settled mind.

    Like a catapillar, it is what happens out of sight that gives rise to unfolding wings.