Monday, June 8, 2015

"Revisiting A Certainty"

I was taking a UCLA Extension class called, “The History of Conservatism In America.”  I wanted to understand why other people believed things I unequivocally did not.  That’s how very admirably open-minded I am.  I had an interest in understanding – rather than demonizing – the other side. 

Of course, it turned out I was a big phony.  Sorry for giving that away, but I felt I needed to, so you would know that that first paragraph was not bragging but a premeditated setup.  (I cannot abide being misunderstood, unless I am being misunderstood in a way that makes me better than I actually am.  I seem to be fine with that one.)

Our syllabus included many interesting books, including God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley and Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?  The most memorable “take-away” from my experience, however, occurred in the classroom itself, which – advancing my education – included an in-the-flesh passionate adherent of conservatism.

The thing is, jumping ahead again – I appear to be in that kind of a mood today – I learned one lesson at UCLA Extension, and then years later, I learned a more nuanced and complicated one. 

I am sucking the guts out of this thing, aren’t I?


A propos of I don’t remember what, the professor brought up a recent study that argued – with persuasive, statistical evidence – that “The American Dream”, extolling the inevitability of Americans and their progeny ascending the economic ladder, no longer existed. 

Hearing this pessimistic conclusion, my conservative classmate – who, unfortunately, reinforced the “Conservatives are bullies” stereotype by sheathing every pronouncement in a sneering belligerence – bellowed from a back seat in the classroom…

“Conservatives don’t believe that.”

At that moment, I came very close to saying something.  If I had, my rejoinder to my classmates dismissive response would have been this:

“That’s the whole ball game, right there.  (GESTURING TO MY PROFESSOR) Academics {my professor refusing to be categorized ideologically} believe in evidence; conservatives believe what they believe.  Evidence is irrelevant to them.  Their faith is in their faith.”

I was so proud of myself.  (Though I might have been prouder if I had actually spoken up.)  Oh, the wisdom!  Oh, the illumination!  Earl Pomerantz, stand up and receive your Ph.D for “Interpretive Thinking” right now!    

(Look at me, building this up for the dramatic “turnaround.”)

I had earned that imaginary accolade.  I had “nailed” the dichotomy.  Liberals think; conservatives feel.  (And, by transparent inference, do not think.)  Was I being judgmental? 

“Upon my word, Sire… 

I was simply listening to both sides.”

Over time, however, I found reason to revisit this dichotomy and started wondering, not if it was inaccurate, but, between “Factual Analysis” and a gut-feeling belief system, which, in the long run, was the more valuable approach?

Consider historical accomplishments that, at their inception at least, appeared impossible to pull off – the Transcontinental Railway, the Panama Canal, the moon landing.  Naming but three.

I’m not talking about doing it, because logical thinking infused those activities every step of the way.  I am talking about the original impulse to do it, the inspiring belief that, what to the smart money and the congenitally logical appeared to be  monumentally foolhardy undertakings – could, in fact, actually be accomplished. 

(And ultimately were.  Throw in Stonehenge as well.  “Carry those big rocks over from where?”  Somehow, they did it.  When “Pure Reason” might well have concluded otherwise.)

The driving impetus – as well as the propulsion to push forward in the face of setbacks and disaster – emanated primarily not from logic, but from faith.  Faith that the final objective could ultimately be achieved.  Faith that the participants would find ways to achieve it.

They don’t believe “The American Dream” is failing?  Maybe, by not believing it, it won’t.

On a personal level…

I think about daunting – though comparatively insignificant – challenges, like producing twenty-two quality episodes of television comedy per season.  Looking back, I have no idea how we did that. 

On a still smaller scale…

When you back out of our driveway, it is impossible to see the oncoming traffic.  We have had visitors who have refused to try it, certain, based on evidentiary calculation, that an approaching vehicle, unable to see them, would inevitably result in a collision.  Thinking it impossible, they were unwilling take the chance.

I have never had an accident backing out of our driveway.  How did I manage this seeming logistical impossibility?

I don’t know.  I guess I learned how.

That, however, was later.  When I began backing out of the driveway, it seemed to me it was an accident in the making.  My original efforts? 

Fueled entirely by faith. 

(And a powerful wish to be somewhere other than my house.)

As a result of these examples, years later, in contradiction to my Ph.D-winning classroom assessment,

I am taking a respectful second look at the formerly derided alternative of belief.

During our last session, my piano teacher admitted to me,

“When I believe I am going to make a mistake, I do.”
Leading me to immediately wonder,

“What happens if you believe you’re not?”


Rebecca said...

I happen to believe that faith is an extremely powerful avenue to a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. When you move forward, with positive certainty that you can and will reach your goals, I think it just opens up so much inside your mind that you see all the things that will make it happen. Most of us are not blessed with that kind of certainty. I, personally, have found that my life has become literally miraculously better since turning to my spiritual faith for guidance - and I'm talking about blessings just coming out of nowhere at an astounding rate. But most people prefer at least a little more feeling of control.

As far as negative self-fulfilling prophecies, like that thing with the piano teacher, I think that's a bit different. Like with sports, artistic endeavors are so much in the head. When the talent is there, the mental and physical work together to create beautiful results. When either the mind or body isn't working properly, it's a whole different ball game. This is often how athletes get into slumps.

I was a very good amateur tennis player for a while. Then I just somehow forgot how to play. Almost overnight. My powerful backhand suddenly couldn't get a ball over the net. I couldn't visualize anymore how to do the things I thought were instinctive. Tiger Woods is going through something like that at the moment. The talent is still there, his mind is blocking him from accessing it. Writers block? Something similar, I think. In those cases, I think the key is to get as close to our unconscious mind as possible, to where our instincts can take over freely.

But conservatives? When you are unaware of facts, that's just ignorance. When you can't be swayed by evidence, that's just fucking stupid.

But when it comes to chasing the American Dream, there will always be people who can achieve it, no matter what conditions exist. And not only in America. They are the people I spoke of in the beginning of this comment.

There are people who are not only passionate about what they do, it is the center of their lives. And they pursue it so wholeheartedly, with such never ending dedication, that commercial success is almost irrelevant. They do what they do because they love it. But those who have all of that PLUS a positive certainty of their success? I believe those are the ones who actually succeed. As I said, though, that's probably not most of us. And I doubt it's something that can be learned. Fortunately, there are other paths to success. Just less of them, since conservatives have made it so much harder for everyone who does not inherit wealth.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I think if you ask any successful person they will also say that luck played a part.

Re your driveway, Earl: has no one thought of backing *in*?


Canda said...

Luck certainly plays a part in success, but once luck places you in the position to succeed, your ability to perform,
the will to do it, and the hard work you put in before that, is what prepares you to succeed.

For someone to say the American Dream is dead is really more of what the Democrat Party seems to want everyone
to believe, and runs campaigns on that theme. Rather than aspire to succeed, people are being told they're victims of
a system working against them. Resentment is a powerful emotion. So, feeling is really more what the Democrats
are selling, rather than facts.

Bobby said...

Hmm, I don't want to start an argument, so I won't. I certainly agree w/Rebecca's statement, "When you are unaware of facts, that's just ignorance. When you can't be swayed by evidence, that's just fucking stupid." And that application covers conservatives, liberals, whatever label is chosen.

The Dream is dead only to those who choose to believe it's dead. Negativity is a killer.

Interesting topic.

Go Hawks!