Monday, June 27, 2022

A victory for respectful bipartisan collaboration post Uvalde

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed into law on June 25, 2022.   It was a major achievement for the Congress to pull together the Bill in a bipartisan manner and approve legislation that may not make anyone at the extremes of the left and right divide happy.  But for the 60+% in the middle, it showed that people of good will, respecting the opinions of others, can get something done to impact a problem of concern to the public.

The law provides support to improve mental health services for communities and schools; expands background checks for those under 21 to include juvenile records; funds assistance to states to implement Red Flag laws; closes the “boyfriend loophole;” clarifies trafficking to include “straw purchases;” and funds school safety programs. 

Credit for the law goes first to Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D) who vowed business as usual would not pass muster after the Uvalde mass murder.  She approached Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R) of Kentucky and asked for negotiating partners on the Republican side.  McConnell identified Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) and Senator Thom Tillis (R) of North Carolina.  The two promptly agreed to meet with Sinema the next day along with Senator Chris Murphy (D) of Connecticut. 

Credit also goes to McConnel and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York for allowing the bipartisan negotiation process to go forth.  Both risked pushback from within their parties.

Reading the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act there is a lot included that was recommended for national leaders in this blog’s post, “Mourning with Uvalde – what can be done?”    Great.  That blog post also called for action from my readers.  For those that took the time and made the effort to call or write governmental leaders – Thank you!  You are part of the solution.

Beyond the specific achievements of the legislation, it is important to appreciate that this was a victory for moderation and problem solving.   As I said in Mourning with Uvalde, “Progress comes only through consistent long-term focus and collaboration among the many Americans, both those who do and do not own firearms, who in good faith want solutions to this issue.”  Take courage from this success to do more.  There is much to do in many states and in your local community and schools.

This success shows that trying to impose views not shared in other communities is wrong and only leads to stalemates and anger.  What is acceptable in one region or state may not be acceptable in another.  Find areas of agreement where national standards and policies make sense within the constraints of the law.  Lasting and substantial change comes from the consensus of a broad majority of the governed - not by edict. 

Again, thank you to all who took the time and made the effort to reach out to others to achieve one small goal on this specific issue – it will kindle further trust and cooperation.

*****

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DISTRIBUTION:  Liberty Takes Effort shifted its distribution from social media to email delivery via Substack as a Newsletter.  If you would like to receive distribution please email me at libertytakeseffort@gmail.com  To see archived blog posts since 2014 visit www.libertytakeseffort.com.

DISCLAIMER: The entire contents of this website and newsletter are based solely upon the opinions and thoughts of the author unless otherwise noted. It is not considered advice for action by readers in any realm of human activity. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion on topics of interest to readers to further inform the public square. Use of any information in this site is at the sole choice and risk of the reader.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Is our partisan political division biological?

Stephen Stills wrote a song in 1966 for the group Buffalo Springfield titled “For What It’s Worth.”  It became an anti-war protest anthem of sorts in the 1960’s. The song seems more broadly applicable today than in 1966.  Parsing the lyrics:   

There's battle lines bein' drawn.  Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.  A thousand people in the street.  Singin' songs and a-carryin' signs.  Mostly sayin' hooray for our side. 

In the responding chorus, Stills gives good counsel singing, “It’s time we stop children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s goin’ down.”

Western countries are increasingly divided in partisan political animosity that is personal and intense - the U.S. most acutely.   Mutually antagonistic political groupings cast their political identity like an umbrella over personal and professional relationships.  Irrational allegiance to political identity and confirmation bias are at play, not opinion. Shared opinions on specific issues and policies flourish across the dividing lines.  Many people hold political identities that are largely inconsistent with many of their expressed opinions and policy preferences.    Much is written about the divide - when it started; how it gets worse with time; that it may cause the breakup of the U.S. or even a civil war

Both sides of the divide seek to impose their values through control of government, particularly national government, and through cultural and economic entities.   On the one side, the goal is to restore a nostalgic, almost mythical past, and stop change that is often essential to the renewal of institutions and culture.  On the other side, the goal is to transform society to an unattainable political and cultural utopia that necessitates the destruction of the social institutions that bind society and undergird civilization.

The United States is a country of 330 million people with a range of diverse personalities, interests, and ideas.  Its success is largely determined by how much its people can cooperate, not by obtaining and imposing power to intimidate others to comply with a particular view.  We need each other.  Dr. Jordan Peterson,  in in an interview about Rule #1 of his book “Beyond Order,” passionately calls for people to recognize that the one side “cannot denigrate social institutions haphazardly, nor can the other side deny the need for necessary change through creative achievement.”

Bringing together a center-based coalition from within our many views seems the obvious pathway to progress.  Yet, in the current climate, it seems impossible to come together as the extremes of partisanship harden and coarsen.  The United States has faced many very difficult obstacles and periods of fierce partisan acrimony in its past and overcome them.   It can be done again; but it will take a great deal of soul searching.  That soul searching begins by looking in the mirror.

The Divided Brain
I recently read a book that has helped to better understand the biological and psychological basis of my own perceptions and behavior: “The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World,” by Oxford scholar and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist.  The book is an extensive analysis of the divided two-hemisphere brain from a medical, philosophical, and cultural perspective. 

All invertebrates have a divided two-hemisphere brain.  According to McGilchrist, this division exists for a reason.  Survival depends on the ability of our brains to focus attention in two different ways simultaneously.  The left and right hemispheres pay attention differently.  At its most basic, that attention is split between the detailed focus of the left hemisphere to find and grasp food and prey, and the right hemisphere’s attention to the broader world to detect predators and threats.  He uses the example of a bird that is both detecting, distinguishing, and collecting small seeds in the sand of a beach, using its left hemisphere while simultaneously using its right hemisphere to keep watch on the entire surrounding area for threats.

To understand more fully the basic ideas of the book, I recommend that interested readers watch this short animated summary of McGilchrist’s basic hypothesis on the divided brain.

The two hemispheres are at the same time involved in everything that we do but contribute in different and distinct ways.  The left hemisphere seeks order and control, with a focus on detail and categorization of what it knows.  The right hemisphere experiences the world as it is without preconception.  These mutually reliant, yet divided hemispheres, struggle for dominance to shape human perception of the world.

McGilchrist contends the right hemisphere (the Master) and left hemisphere (the Emissary) of the brain have evolved in their relationship over the millennia.  He hypothesizes an imbalance has developed between the hemispheres: the left should be the servant of the right, but it is now somewhat dominant.  

Left hemisphere dominance disrupts an essential balance necessary to fully perceive and engage the world.  The imbalance results in the individual focusing too much on the left hemisphere’s categorizing and organizing, and reducing everything to choices to bring order, and control the world.   Left hemisphere perceptions are restricted to what it knows; and, thus, opinions and judgments that rely on it are not fully informed. It lacks and needs the broad, open, and fuller intuitive and contextual input of a universe of possibilities and experience that only the right hemisphere can provide.

The left hemisphere plays a large role in grasping things, accumulating things, and exploiting things, but it lacks the ability of the right hemisphere to appreciate things or understand their meaning.   In other words, for the left brain, the pecking of seeds is no different than the accumulation of “stuff” in our modern lives through exploitation of our environment, rather than appreciation of our surroundings and experiences.  

This grasping is not isolated to the physical.  In language, we say, “she grasps the idea.”  The left brain is trying to isolate all things, physical and intangible, from context.  It focuses on a particular aspect to model, categorize, and control it; and, thus, have power over it.  The expression, “can’t see the forest for the trees,” seems apt.

The dominance of the left hemisphere in the individual further extends to the macro level of the broader society and civilization.   McGilchrist contends at times in history the two hemispheres were in harmony to produce some of the most flourishing periods in Western Civilization – the “richness of thought and expression” in early Greece and Rome, and most of the Renaissance period.  In contrast, he contends left hemisphere dominance destroyed the Greek and Roman Empires.  He says, the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire flourished up until the 2nd Century A.D. when “bureaucracy, totalitarianism, and mechanistic emphasis arose to eventually contribute to the destruction of the Empire.”  

Note that this discussion is exclusively about the Western World.  McGilchrist explains that Oriental cultures have a more balanced view of the world.   It is not that there are significant differences in the brains of Eastern and Western people, but that there are “differences in the way they use them to view the world.”  We shape culture and culture shapes us, so there are differences East to West.   That said, it seems obvious Oriental peoples are adopting Western “cultural ideas so fast that they are in danger of becoming a parody of the worst aspects of our own culture.”

Bureaucracy, totalitarianism, and mechanistic emphasis are the extension of the left brain’s modeling, categorizing, and controlling at the societal level.   In the ancient world, the written language and money were the technologies that enabled Greece and Rome to flourish and create empires. These technologies served as the tools of command, communication, and trade.  Think of how these technologies served the Roman Empire’s administrative bureaucracy to conduct a census of conquered lands or impose taxes.   In time, the left brain is refining and extending the bureaucracy and its control as it does with the individual.   Eventually, both the individual and the society fall subject to the excess of the left hemisphere and bureaucracy to their detriment.

Today, technology permits the monitoring, manipulation, and control of every aspect of human life by government and private corporations – the left hemisphere’s utopia.  The political identity groups seek power through these technologies to bring control and order consistent with the values and narratives they espouse.

The societal impact of left hemisphere dominance, and the power to subjugate through technology, are a threat to Western democracies.  They can consume and weaken themselves in internal conflict fighting for control.  In the vacuum of their distraction competing civilizations rise. 

In addition to the immense threat to Western societies and civilization, if McGilchrist’s hypothesis is correct, there is also the negative impact on the individual.  Left hemisphere dominance diminishes our ability to seek happiness.  Despite the material abundance and connectivity of our modern lives, we have never been so unhappy, resentful, unfulfilled, and disconnected.   We have gained power, but lost wisdom.  To change the direction of the society and increase happiness will require change at the individual level.  

McGilchrist recommends that individuals work on themselves.  Because the left brain is dominant does not mean we cannot recognize it and take conscious action to resist its tendencies.

In a recent interview, McGilchrist was asked, “What makes life worth living?”  He responded (again paraphrasing) it is in our social relationships that we find fulfillment, happiness, health, and purpose.   We have done our best to destroy social cohesiveness, vandalize and subdue nature, and dismiss the possibility of the divine.  Better to work in the flow of life in a creative way to nourish deep relationships with other people, nature, and the divine than struggle with the mechanism of life.

The left hemisphere thinks it knows what it knows and does not need to know any more.  The right hemisphere is constantly questioning it – are you sure...here is some contrary information...here is some context that better explains.  Both sides essential, but the right hemisphere should be the Master and the left hemisphere the Emissary.On a personal level I recognized that I must be aware of this struggle between the brain hemispheres and give the right hemisphere its due. 

Thinking about practical ways I can resist what may be a biological struggle within the brain I committed to choose to nourish deep relationships with other people, nature and the divine more.  To temper the left hemisphere’s inclination to order and control and power.   To expose myself more to the unfamiliar.  To take time off from the chatter.   To be humble; to listen more; and be more open minded; to admit I could be wrong in my process and conclusions.  To ask if I have adequately sought out knowledge and truth to support a position or opinion or simply applied group identity allegiance.  

We need both sides of our brains, and we need each other to be our best. 

P.S.: Much of what we know about the two hemispheres is from the study of people with brain injuries.   For those interested in this topic there is a TED Talk by Jill Taylor who was a brain researcher when she had a massive stroke that destroyed her left hemisphere.

*****

SHARING:  Please consider sharing these blog posts via social media or email if you find them interesting by providing a link to either https://www.libertytakeseffort.com/   or   https://libertytakeseffort.substack.com/

DISTRIBUTION:  Liberty Takes Effort shifted its distribution from social media to email delivery via Substack as a Newsletter.  If you would like to receive distribution please email me at libertytakeseffort@gmail.com  To see archived blog posts since 2014 visit www.libertytakeseffort.com.

DISCLAIMER: The entire contents of this website and newsletter are based solely upon the opinions and thoughts of the author unless otherwise noted. It is not considered advice for action by readers in any realm of human activity. Its purpose is to stimulate discussion on topics of interest to readers to further inform the public square. Use of any information in this site is at the sole choice and risk of the reader.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Mourning with Uvalde – what can we do?

 After the Parkland murders occurred, and again after the Santa Fe murders I asked my readers to take action.   I ask you again to please take individual action within your own sphere of influence. Please, also communicate with school and governmental leaders. Hold them accountable and demand that they implement solutions. Do not assume that your schools are safe.  Demand testing, practice, and exercise protocols be instituted.

Once again America mourns the loss of innocent children.  How horrible for the people of Uvalde to suffer such a loss of innocent life.  That such things can happen seems unimaginable, but we know them all too well.  May each of these families, and the community of Uvalde, find peace and healing after their immense loss.  May their loss and God’s love inspire our nation to gain the understanding and wisdom needed to come together with humility in a cooperative manner to prevent such horror in other communities.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

My House Price is Inflated – Should I Sell?

Average U.S. national house prices have increased to record levels.  Homeowners may view the current market as an excellent opportunity to sell.  While the market is high, there are also indications that a correction may occur within the next few years.  Selling near peak and waiting out a correction to buy at a lower price is a potentially profitable option.  In pursuing such action, it is important to distinguish assumptions from facts in decision-making.

In my last blog post, Real Estate and the First Time Buyer,” I provided an assessment of how the housing market arrived at its present state and explored possible outcomes in the market in the coming two years.  It was written for the benefit of the first-time buyer.   This post builds upon that analysis and explores options for the high equity owner thinking of selling.

There are many reasons to consider selling in the current market.   For example, one’s financial portfolio may be disproportionately allocated to real estate due to the rise in prices.   Or one might be at the limit of the real estate capital gain tax exclusion ($250,000 single or $500,00 couple).   Selling now would restart the two-year exemption timeline on the next house and save significant taxation.  Maybe there were already plans to downsize or retire or move to another job or make a vacation home or rental property into a permanent residence.

There are too many scenarios to assess in this limited space.   The context of people’s lives and regional housing market conditions vary considerably.  So, the remainder of this post will explore a single case study that can provide broad insight in many scenarios. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Real Estate and the First Time Buyer

Home ownership is the key to wealth development in the United States.   Record high home prices are distorting the real estate market such that many first-time buyers are unable to buy a home.  A national average housing price correction of 10-20% may be in the offing, but inflation and rising interest rates will more than offset the benefit of lower prices to make housing more unaffordable.   Potential first time buyers will need to be sophisticated, agile, and disciplined to position themselves for opportunities that may arise in what will likely be a volatile market in the next few years.

Home prices are high by nearly all measures, but there is wide regional variation.  The CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) posted the highest year-over-year growth in its 44-year history by the end of 2021. CoreLogic last week reported 65 percent of regional U.S. housing markets are overvalued based on earnings to price ratios.   Zillow reported in February, 2022 that 481 cities nationwide have a typical home value of at least $1 million and 49 more may join the list this year.

How Did We Get Here?

Monday, March 21, 2022

Russia's Illegal War Upon Ukraine

 Author Note: I have been on hiatus for several months due to travel and simply being too busy in retirement with other priorities. I still intend to blog but not as frequently.  The war in Ukraine, filled with unspeakable horror and sorrow weighs on many people as they confront video of the suffering of the Ukrainian people.  Some folks have asked for my opinion on the war and its implications. I offer my thoughts here for your consideration.

A settlement of the Russia-Ukraine War will likely be agreed in the coming weeks as Russia’s military objectives move further from reach and Western solidarity and support of Ukraine intensify.  In this fourth week of battle the outcome is coming into focus.   Russian President Vladimir Putin’s original plan to quickly take control of the Ukrainian capital at Kyiv, install a puppet government, and establish a compliant Belarus-type satellite state failed.  It appears Russia is now preparing the groundwork for a best possible negotiated outcome, though Putin will likely continue to take escalatory steps to weaken Ukrainian will and intimidate its Western supporters until a final settlement is reached.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day – what happened to the parades and walks in cemeteries?

 I vividly recall from my childhood the prominence of Memorial Day among the pantheon of holidays.  It was one of the two big civic holidays.  The other being the Fourth of July.  At a young age I could sense the difference between the two – one celebratory and one solemn.  Memorial Day is larger in my memory.  The holiday was specifically to remember the dead of war, but the event was broader in that it was also an opportunity to visit and reflect more generally on relatives and friends who had passed.  It also related to the continuation of a tradition that emerged in the mid-1800s that made cemeteries places for peaceful meditation with nature’s beauty and communing with one’s family and friends – both living and dead.  As can be said of many traditions – times have changed.

After the Civil War ended many communities began to hold spring memorial gatherings to remember the war dead.  In 1868, a Northern veteran organization, the Grand Army of the Republic, formalized and spread the growing tradition by calling for “Decoration Day” to be a national day of remembrance. Each spring communities would gather for the purpose of “strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”