Las Vagues

Every decision we make involves a gamble. What we bring to bear when we make a choice is key.  Is it fact or opinion based? I think this question goes to the heart of every controversy we face as a species today, and especially as Americans in our current overheated political environment.

As a personal aside, though, this has been a pivotal spring for me. How we spend our time is especially difficult, choice-wise, these days.  I have had such a hectic week, I wasn’t sure I would even post.  But, I had been rolling this topic around for awhile and like to be consistent and routine, so I am going to put a few thoughts down, as they are gelling. This is a think piece in development and I hope it will not be overly abstruse. I’ll try to keep it short, for a change. (Unless that is unnerving, LOL).

For one thing, I have been learning to use other social media a bit more, because I am planning to launch a side business and have become interested in developing a good sales platform.  That took a lot of work this week along with doing some regular work at my so-called ‘day job’, lol (since I work for myself out of my home office).  But one of the concepts that has been plaguing me for awhile, is why there is so much unrest and anger in America lately. It seems to be permeating every venue with few exceptions and that is a shame.  Don’t we want some place to go to just be happy? I myself am trying to kvetch less (can you tell yet, LOL!?).


I was chatting with a cousin this week about one of his kids who at 26 is suffering ‘failure to launch’.  Part of the dilemma is that he is both angry and depressed, despite having a good entry level job and having graduated from a good university. It occurred to me that one reason there are an increasing number of kids returning to live at home and feeling they are failing is that the entire nature of our workforce has changed dramatically.  There just aren’t the same kinds of jobs available to people starting out, that there were in past decades.  It is getting harder and harder for someone to graduate with a liberal arts degree and find a position with promise, leading to a worthy career.  I still contend that the best education is a broad and classical one, but then, determining how you leverage it into a career, is far harder than simply emerging from a technical program.  It is nigh on impossible to advise kids as to what path is right for them and I don’t envy college counselors today, sending someone off into a bleak job market.


But another key factor in the current ennui, that all of us are feeling, is the uncertainty all around us.  Society today is characterized by change, hopefully progress — but not always, and a steady stream of confusing messages. That alone makes almost everyone uncomfortable.  We are now subject to contradictory input on every single subject.  Just think of the fight about the Trans Pacific Partnership.  Who would have imagined it would cause so much divisiveness.  And where do we even turn to get reliable information on which to form an opinion.  I have personally heard a dozen different analyses on the subject and am at a loss to know who is right, at this point.


I just heard Geoffrey Toobin say, “Opinions don’t matter in this case, only facts.” Don’t you think this is true of many things in life? In the past two weeks, a number of controversies have been featured in various media.  Things that are fuzzy, not clear, and since I really like clarity, I find them annoying.  Such as (and these are just a random few off the top of my head, mind you):

  • Mayweather Pacquiao – 5 years waiting — do we really know who won and why?
  • The national media ‘paints things with a broad brush of the known’  according to NPR’s Steve Inskeep who has been trying to find the real Baltimore — were any of us paying any real attention to that city, or other rust belt cities of its type? I was touched almost to tears by that poignant scene from The Wire of the mother and little girl gazing out the window and the Mother relating Good Night moon to the junkies and the cops and the other ‘hood’ figures that were the view from their tenement window. My heart breaks for those little children.  I want their world to be safe and wonderful, not filled with horror and fear so early.
  • Soledad O’Brien on the loaded use of the word thug. Why and to whom to we apply that word? Should we be using such pejorative terms instead of forcing ourselves and our public figures to be more analytical and specific, and describe actions in detail, rather than being evaluative, judgmental; a glaring example: Rush Limbaugh’s comment that ‘eighteen arrests and they finally got Freddie Gray’.
  • State’s Attorney Mosby – if ever there was a lightning rod.  Did she do the right thing? I have no idea, still.
  • The Boston bombing trial — the prosecutor and defense are arguing the merits of death sentence vs life imprisonment. I was struck by the prosecutor’s saying that being close to death imparts mental clarity like no other event.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the 30 year log-jam on moving a comprehensive infrastructure program, combining private with public funds, to prevent the tragic disaster of the future that cost 8 lives this week, is being endlessly tied up in partisan, personal interests, not those of the people.  There is almost no meeting ground in congress on this issue and the heartless manner in which this is being delayed is not only reprehensible, it is essentially un-American.


I think a lot of this confusion comes from clever talking heads deliberately using the fuzziness that envelops most people’s thinking to plant falsehoods and then spread them virally. It plays into our primordial inchoate fears and nothing is more effective than triggering conserved animal traits like fear. We don’t develop methodical, systematic, clear thinking and analysis automatically.  We have to be taught, hence the reason for an excellent education system, and then we have to make it our own priority.

Both clarity and progress are necessary for moving forward and growing, individually and collectively.  Yet these are elusive because they require constant alertness, awareness and flexibility.  An openness that is hard to maintain because that very presence and threshold-poise allows our psyche’s to be flooded with information, a lot of which is noise.  Building a mental structure that enables evidential input while screening out nonsense and opinion is complex and daunting.  It means having exceptional consciousness almost from birth.  How many people can we point to with congenital heightened acuity?


One place you see it again and again is in those who have suffered severe trauma and lived to put their lives back together and report on it.  I was thinking that a perfect laboratory for observing this would be the people who survived the Amtrak crash on Tuesday.  An event like that is sobering and enlightening.  But who would want to endure that kind of catastrophe in order to sharpen one’s awareness?

It strikes me that this is an age old dilemma at the highest levels of human inquiry.  Here is something I have been studying for years.  It has at least helped me to sort out the duality that typifies virtually every discipline and endeavor. You can read this discussion with Peter Coveney and it should be more crystallized than this post, which I am laughingly realizing is vague too!

I am coming to the conclusion that the primary mark of intelligence is the ability to be effective in the face of unclarity, confusion, contradiction, rapid change, disorientation — you get the idea.  The person who can construct a temporary and semi-solid platform of order out of the chaos that bombards the open mind, is the winner of the future.  It will never return to what it once was and we have to stop pining for it.  America will never again be a colony, a wild frontier in any physical sense.  The wild frontiers are in the mind and those who have a mental and emotional fortitude to venture to its edges are the ones who will emerge as each new cycle rises from the ashes of the previous one, like the proverbial phoenix, to be the victor.  Not in terms of spoils, but in peace of mind.  Only with a stable mental constitution can we be productive in the face of tumult and turmoil.  I don’t think it is any accident that there is now an explosion of social media with names like ‘Tumblr’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Instagram’, etc. Those very terms demonstrate an accelerated future that will require lightning movement from idea to idea, task to task.


If that makes us uncomfortable, we are vestigial and we will be left behind.  We are either open and sufficiently robust to withstand the incoming, or we will retreat to darkness, confusion, fear, paranoia and ultimately failure and in my view, premature death.  As for me, I am continually seeking out the black swan. This dovetails into a future consideration of what it means to be Progressive, capital P. I hope I have made the right choices, but who knows?

All this needs more thought and your input, if you care to share it.

Images: Beth Byrnes, more Wild Ones, and

20 Comments on “Las Vagues”

  1. Beth, I was drawn in particular to two statements you made. 1) “We don’t develop methodical, systematic, clear thinking and analysis automatically. We have to be taught,” and 2) the primary mark of intelligence is the ability to be effective in the face of unclarity, confusion, contradiction, rapid change, disorientation.”

    As to the first, I agree we have to be taught, but we also must seek to be taught. I think because our society has become one in which people seek immediate gratification, it is so much easier to catch a blurb on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever) or listen to talking (or blathering) heads for “information.” I”m not sure if it has more to do with comfort or laziness – probably a little of both – but there’s a frightening willingness to be indoctrinated all too quickly. Unfortunately, there is no longer a distinction between fact and opinion. People take sides and make erroneous decisions that include, “If so-and-so said it, it must be true.”

    Regarding your second point, I also agree intelligence is the mark of these things; it also has largely to do with survival. When people cling to the past, they make themselves relics of their own stubbornness. The evangelical / fundamentalist Christian church (or the extreme right GOP) is a prime example. People are leaving in droves because these churches are clinging to old ideas that were never part of the teaching of Jesus. These outdated rules were add-ons to benefit straight, white, male church leaders. These leaders now are hanging on with their fingernails, but won’t bother to learn what Jesus was really all about or listen to their own congregations when they point out contradictions.

    Yet another thoughtful post!


    • Oh, you fleshed those two points out so well! I think I hinted at our responsibility by saying, on that first point, we have to make it our priority. And I do think laziness is the reason we don’t. Who reads books any more? Who does deep research? Who really meditates in prayer, listening for answers? Few of us.

      It is hard to let go of old ideas and habits. I catch myself objecting to things and then realize there is no reason I am hanging on to my idea, from years back. It is so hard to shed outworn skins but I see people being left behind all the time when they don’t and the worst thing is they are miserable.

      My Aunt Kate, for whom all kinds of radical changes are taking place as we speak, is lonely (and now prone to my predatory cousins as a result) — she refuses to get a computer even if someone buys her one. She would love it! If this had come along in her life when she was in her 50s or younger, she would have jumped on it. But she is 95, 85 when people first proposed it to her, since she is a widow and nope, no way, because she is sure that is how her identity will be stolen. No amount of even demonstrating the wonders of the online world can get her to reconsider.

      You brought these two points out better than I had Susan. Thank you!!


        • Absolutely. In fact, there is no longer any such thing as a finite learning period, one career for life, retirement, relaxing or resting on one’s past accomplishments. This is a new world and we need to flex continually to stay relevant and plugged in to it.


  2. This was something I really needed to hear. Openness was something I struggled with for awhile, and it’s something that I’ve improved on, thankfully.

    Now I really need to work on moving forward and developing further, always pushing myself even more to deal with losses, as I did with a year ago, and to deal with change as I move to another state.

    As a product of the younger, new generation, you’ve reminded me of how I must stay on my toes, how sometimes one needs to step outside of the comfort zone. Thank you for listening to me babble. Hopefully, I’ll be able to restore more of my critical thinking skills as I begin working to expand myself even more.

    And of course, thank you for reading my blog. It means a lot.


    • Daniel, I appreciate your responsiveness and the feedback, because, aren’t we all out here trying to figure this crazy world out and all the new and increasingly difficult or challenging expectations of us? Think of the information load we are expected to absorb, digest and organize, almost around the clock. I doubt your grandparents or mine faced this. They had more physical challenges, ours are more emotional and mental. Thank you for reading my blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beth- And once again we seem to be sharing a brain… good thing it’s a substantial one 🙂 . I did a presentation at work today that sought to address the reality that, more and more, we acknowledge only surface issues without investing the time or energy to delve deeper to get to the heart of the problem.

    We have become so used to instant gratification- and the arrogant belief that we know things- because we access some superficial level of information with a quick Google search- that we have lost the awareness that we need to return to source material to find the origins of the situations in which we find ourselves now.

    As an historian- by training and inclination, this is extremely distressing to me. It’s increasingly difficult to impart the reality that so much of the message is distorted- when it’s not lost completely- by the many trajectories of transmission that happen before that brief soundbite is produced for mass consumption.

    We need to strike a balance between embracing our technology while remembering that the ‘synopsis’ will NEVER sufficiently demonstrate the entirety of the relevant picture.

    I have no idea how we get there. Our education system, and the ways in which our corporate, political and media groups function, seem determined to rid us all of the concept of ‘context’. And without that background, we are truly shouting into the abyss.

    Sigh. Heavy thoughts for the start of a long weekend. But, as usual, dovetailing with the direction of my own ruminations.

    Going to get some chores done (cleaning is often cathartic) and have some dinner and perhaps a cocktail and see if I can’t set my thoughts on a more optimistic and progressive (capital or lowercase- your choice) path.

    Have a great weekend! xo


    • Thank you Cole. How great that you get to share these thoughts at work! And here. I so appreciate what you have said.

      I think every one of us should be forced to have training in finance/accounting, law, doctoral research methods, and automotives ;-). I would have found the three I didn’t study to have better equipped me for life.

      That said, and knowing that is not going to happen in my lifetime, the very least people can do is recognize that sound fact comes from disciplined construction starting from the ground up and constantly refined into the gold of well-founded, accurate conclusions and recommendations for action. All Googling is inductive and flawed unless you are just interested in entertaining people.

      Meanwhile, I could tell that I didn’t proof this post as I usually do — it was full of typos. I hate to think my fingers and brain are operating independently. Frightening thought. Hope I caught them all. I hate sounding, like, ya know, like dummm. ;-D

      I have a cold — so I am going to go nurse it. Maybe I need a drink!! Have a great weekend yourself, Cole.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Beth, that has just seen me cut my own comment when I must have reached a thousand words and felt I was losing the plot somewhat! So close to my heart.
    I’ll be back in when I’ve straightened my words out a bit. 🙂 x


      • You’re joking! That’s my bread and butter. 🙂 I’ve saved my comment to work on and might even end up doing a post linking to yours because there has to be a way where all minds come together, share ideas and pool resources. Jigsaw learning is where I was going with my comment. Simplicity aids understanding and eradicates fear to tackle the difficult problems. I see it in school. Seen it here in Scotland over the last year or two. Renewal. And everyone placing their piece, feeling they have a stake in society no matter how little their previous knowledge or inclination. Simplicity. Get rid of the fear. Jigsaw. 🙂 Now that was much shorter! lol. 😉


        • You really have a good idea there, we should have a forum somewhere where we invite people to discuss these ideas we all share. It helps to have allies! :-))


  5. I am one who likes to talk in vague terms until I feel safe with whom I am talking to, so I can imagine every post I started with as a blogger was carefully planned. I was talking to my brother who teaches at a Hebrew Academy in Cleveland, Ohio. We were talking about how our high school was on the ‘cutting edge’ with allowing us to take mini-courses, every 8 weeks in several subjects. This is a good way for high schoolers to learn what they like to learn along with what they excel in. I learned how to write like a college student, which helped my pathway in college go so much smoother. My own children didn’t know what a ‘funnel paragraph’ was nor how to outline their papers into a main thought and supporting paragraphs and then a summary. I looked at their books, tried to find in their notes this kind of concise pattern. Ended up teaching all 3 how to write. I know this is not exactly what you were talking about when you mentioned the college student and feeling ennui or dissatisfaction in jobs. But, it does apply to survival. So many jobs wish to hire articulate people and if they graduated from college but still didn’t learn how to organize their thoughts, which one of my daughters felt teachers in college just gave A’s to everyone, if they showed up and typed the required pages. She showed me a 5 page paper with no notes or critiques and just a good grade.
    If you cannot form a paper, you cannot interview well for the better jobs.
    As far as the country goes, I have a very general approach to this, we didn’t really solve all of our problems from the past. We changed laws for women, we work but don’t get equal pay. Respect is not the same in some positions for men and women, even now. We solved children’s hunger and some options are available for education, but not all children are offered the same quality of education and not all get a good ‘free’ meal. Head Start has come a long way, I support this and hope it can keep on going in the future, despite people who wish to cut this valuable form of preschool out of budgets, Beth.
    I feel that races each have their own problems to face. Only ones who have been given liberal doses of love and confidence succeed. Having two parents help, whether in the same home or in separate homes. Having a great single parent helps, too. One who relies on the philosophy of, “It takes a village.”
    I hear put downs and slurs, along with see prejudice in action almost every day. No wonder there is dissatisfaction among the masses! I hope for peace, love and understanding to help us heal. We had a lot of ‘hate’ and vitriol poured out over the internet about having a black President. You hear people say the rudest things, if you don’t then look at the horrible internet jokes and hateful words. They are there, imagine treating a fine, educated and caring person this way. I am still appalled at the way people continue this years later. . . Take care and hope my response slightly touched some of your bases, Beth! I do tend to ramble along. 🙂


    • Robin, I love what you contributed here.

      One of my purposes in this blog is to merely bring up a topic that interests me and then let other people take my thoughts or the subject as a jumping off point. It is almost like a word-assocation effect and it is working better than I dreamed!

      Your education sounds excellent. I wish that every child in this country could get a solid and broad grounding in the basics, including the arts and physical domains as well, and then take that and go on to find a specialty. We now have people who don’t know history, grammar, can’t draw, are lethargic, I could go on — because we have so changed the way people are taught in this country.

      The bigotry is astonishing, too. Didn’t we all think it would be well behind this country by now? Not only has the bigotry been uncovered, but the childish, petty, mean-spirited way people attack anyone they don’t agree with or understand.

      As for you and me? We are trying to be flexible, open-minded, kind and roll with the punches, no?

      You’re always so helpful, Robin! Thank you.


      • I agree, I do hope to be open-minded, along with all of those pleasant traits. I have really enjoyed our ‘conversations’ which are generated by your posts, Beth. I feel you would try to figure out peoples’ perspectives and find something nice to say about their thoughts. In most cases, I have also made this my unofficial ‘blogging policy.’ Ha ha! Enjoy your weekend, Beth.


        • Exactly! I am honored when someone takes the time to come here and comment. it is rude not to be complimentary, kind and gracious and what does it cost us? You and are are clearly sympathetic souls! ❤


          • Kindred spirits. You could be my daughter or my very much younger sister. I probably told you before, my middle name is Elizabeth. I went around one summer, while away, asking everyone to call me, “Beth.” smiles


  6. I just read that article. I guess we face the same issues all over the developed world. These pressure on children are enormous and they will pay a price.

    Thank you for that valuable link, Charlotte and for reading and commenting.


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