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FEATURED POSTS

  • March 6, 2020

    ARE YOU A HEDGEHOG OR A FOX?

    HEDGEHOG OR FOX

    Are you a hedgehog or are you a fox? How about Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton? How about your pals? Or your mate?

    Philosopher-professor Isaiah Berlin came up with the Hedgehog-Fox concept among friends in the late 1930s, before using it in lectures and essays in the early 1950s. According to the theory, a hedgehog believes in one big truth that governs life and the world, while a fox believes in many smaller truths.

    A hedgehog would be someone who will do whatever is necessary to force others into his or her idea of the one big truth. Examples might include Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. A fox would be someone who believes in many smaller truths – some of which may be contradictory and self-serving, according to the given circumstance. Perhaps folks such as Al Capone, Harvey Weinstein, or Casey Anthony.

    In real life, foxes believe that the world is too complex to know everything; hedgehogs are on a quest for the one elusive truth that explains it all.

    It should come as no surprise that foxes tend to be happier than hedgehogs.

    Like most such antonymic comparisons – winners and losers, givers and takers, heroes and cowards – the hedgehog and fox comparison can be valuable as a broad way of looking at people and understanding them. Pushed to the limits, however, it quickly breaks down, something that Berlin was quick to acknowledge.

    “For there exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate … and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory … related to no moral or aesthetic principle,” Berlin wrote.

    That’s because few people are pure hedgehogs or pure foxes. Most of us, fortunately, fall somewhere in between.

    The majority of us probably consider ourselves more fox-like than hedgehog. There are only a few of us who go all the way to hedgehogism – although you do find such people on the left and right political extremes.

    For instance, I am suspicious of big government. I see government as a necessary evil. But deciding how people should live, what they should eat or drink, and who they may or may not marry should not be the government’s business.

    It’s not that big business or big unions can’t be corrupt. They often are. But private organizations have limits that the government does not. The purpose of private business or unions is to provide goods and services and to make money or provide benefits for their stockholders or members. If they fail to do that, sooner or later they go out of business, and some other organization takes their place.

    Big government, on the other hand, can continue to raise taxes and throw money at problems to see what may or may not work. Once a new agency is established to solve a problem, it’s almost impossible to get rid of that agency or its people, even if it fails to fulfill its purpose. And with all that money flying around, it’s inevitable that some folks along the line are going to siphon off some for themselves.

    However, we do need government agencies to check and make sure that the T-bone we’ve just bought is not riddled with e-coli, that the children of drug-addicted parents have enough to eat and a chance at a better life, and that factories and other businesses aren’t disposing of their toxic junk into rivers or letting it leach down to the water table.

    For most of us, it’s merely a question of where you draw the line – whether you err on the side of the fox or the hedgehog.

    The world is not fair. It’s never going to be fair. But it can be better, and that’s what we all should work toward. Whether we lean toward the foxes or the hedgehogs, we need to find solutions.

    The foxes and the hedgehogs, together.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • December 23, 2019

    2020 VISION

    2020 VISION is a book of 12-poems – one for each month of the year – by George Lee Cunningham. The poems are about the joy of life, the state of the world, getting older, and coming to terms with your own humanity. You can get a PDF copy of the poems by clicking HERE.

  • November 19, 2019

    WE ADVISE YOU TO BE WARY OF ADVICE

    – Photo by Ken Whytock on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

    If you believe in the theory of Supply and Demand – and really who doesn’t – you already know that the more plentiful a commodity is, the cheaper it becomes.

    For instance, gold is a commodity. What makes it valuable, is that there isn’t that much of it. What makes gold even more valuable is when an artisan takes the raw material and fashions it into a beautiful ring or necklace. It is no longer a commodity, it is a work of art.

    Advice is liked that. Everybody has an opinion and few are shy about sharing it. That’s why people warn you that advice is cheap, which of course is its own kind of advice.

    What transforms advice from a commodity to something of value is when the person giving advice to you knows what he or she is talking about and is kind enough to share it with you.

    For example:

    DON’T BELIEVE any advice that relies on statistics to make its point. Common sense is almost always better than statistics. It’s almost impossible to know all the details about how the data was gathered, who gathered it, and what role personal prejudice and motive played in putting together the conclusions.

    On the other hand, in the rare incidents in which common sense turns out to be not correct, you need to be willing to look at the other alternatives.

    MY BUSINESS PARTNER once advised me, during a tense time when a lot of money was coming in and a lot of money was going out to pay bills, that it wasn’t really about cash – it was about “cash flow.” This was of course complete nonsense – 90 percent wishful thinking and 10 percent blind hope – but we still laugh about it today.

    THE TRUTHFULLNESS OF ADVICE doesn’t necessarily make it valuable. I had a fellow vet give me a street-wise tip about dealing with the Veterans Administration. When you are trying to score some drugs to get you through the night, never tell them “you keep thinking about killing people.” That will get you in deep shit, he warned.

    “Tell them, you dream about killing people. You can’t help what you dream, man.”

    I thought it was good advice if I wanted free drugs. Sadly, I did not.

    NEVER TRUST anybody who says “trust me.” In my experience, the words “trust me,” translates in real life to “I’m going to tell you a lie.” If you don’t already trust him, certainly don’t trust him after he tells you to trust him.

    This manifests itself in a variety of ways. When Google promotes itself with the term, “Do No Evil,” watch your back. What they mean is “do no evil,” unless there is a good reason to do so. Other manifestations of the same sentiment are auto dealers trying to convince you to buy the undercoating; realtors urging you to come down $10,000 on your price, costing them maybe $300 in commission; and those Nigerian princes, who always need some fast cash.

    NEVER TAKE anything you read in the news or see on TV at face value. Across the political and aesthetic spectrum, news reporters and editors have prejudices, hidden agendas and sometimes weird perspectives. And as in all occupations from college professors to plumbers, incompetence is rampant.

    That means, if you read a story in the newspaper and you don’t understand exactly what happened, there’s a good chance that neither did the reporter.

    You may think I am being a skeptic. You would be correct, and I think you should be too.

    At least, that’s my advice.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • October 14, 2019

    No Socks For Me!

    WHY DOES THIS SIGN IRRITATE ME SO?

    We are visiting in Fort Bragg, a beautiful Northern California town, when I decide to step into a sock store, to maybe buy some socks to keep my feet warm or maybe just as a gift for one of the children in my life.

    But there’s this sign on the door, and it pisses me off.

    The sign says:

    WE WELCOME

    ALL Races

    ALL Religions

    ALL Countries of Origin

    ALL Sexual Orientations

    ALL Genders

    WE STAND WITH YOU, YOU ARE SAFE HERE

    I don’t go into the store. In fact, I walk away in disgust, but it makes me think, why does that holier-than-thou sign make me so mad?

    In fact, if I ran a store, I would have the very same policy. As long as people had money in their pockets, I would sell them stuff. And if anybody made trouble, I would evict the rascal from the premises.

    I would also have the same policy toward bigots – which come in all races, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, and genders. One of my rules would be, don’t make trouble in my store no matter what your personal beliefs may be.

    You may look, you may buy, but if you start insulting my other customers – then you are not “safe” here anymore. You are gone.

    My problem isn’t with the policy. My problem is with the virtue-signaling that proclaims to the world and all the potential customers that the owners of the store are on a slightly higher moral plain than the great unwashed rest of us, including the ones with a little cash in their pocket and a passing urge to maybe buy some socks.

    A couple of days later, we find the same sign showing up at another businesses in the area. This one was a restaurant in Mendocino with a lovely view of the ocean and a $16 charge for bacon and eggs. We decided to walk down the street to the Mendocino Hotel, where we could buy breakfast without a political lecture.

    It’s not about the politics involved. People can believe what they want.

    I would have the same problem with a store owned by Christians, who wanted to deliver a little sermonette to their customers before they sell them something. I think they have a right to do it. But, I have a right not to do business with them.

    The only difference is that one set of business owners considers themselves superior to others because they are “saved.” The others because they are “woked.”

    The sock store folks and the owners of the restaurant are not on a higher moral plain than the rest of us. They are just business people, trying to eke out a living in an area with a dying economy

    The lumber industry, which once was the backbone of the Fort Bragg economy, is virtually gone. The fishing industry, one of the other financial legs of the local economy, is flailing because of both foreign and regional competition and a die-back of the kelp beds that helped sustain the marine population.

    Tourism is also down. One by one, numerous restaurants and shops have closed over the last few years. The choices of dining and shopping that once existed here have diminished greatly.

    It is beautiful up here, but living in a lovely locale beside the sea is not enough to put food on the table or to buy back-to-school clothes for the kids.

    Who knows, I might even have bought two or three pairs of socks and some bacon and eggs.

    They should have thought of that before they insulted me.

    George Lee Cunningham

    Do you have an opinion on the subject? Contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know. Meanwhile, you can always subscribe and get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • THE MAN WITH THE BAD ATTITUDE

    UNWOKE AND UNREPENTANT INTELLECTUAL OUTCAST — Photo by Carmela Cunningham

    I don’t want to complain, but I’ve always marched to a different drummer. I recognized it, even when I was a kid. Except back then, I would make an effort to get in step. But it never worked.

    Now, I don’t even try.

    It’s a dangerous way to be nowadays, when society increasingly wants you to fit in, listen to what people in authority tell you, work together as a team, and reach a consensus with your peers.

    Even when the consensus is bullshit, we’re all supposed to pretend that it isn’t.

    Nowadays, more and more people are being sent to re-education camp to learn the proper way to think and the proper way to act. It’s like when your mother wants to give you a lecture, and you’d rather just get a spanking and get it over with.

    Re-education camp in the United States goes by such names as traffic school, sensitivity training, and forced apologies that folks are pressured to make whether they’re actually sorry or not.

    I used to go to traffic school when I got a ticket just to keep my insurance rates within reason. Traffic school is a thing thought up by a bunch of bureaucrats to convince people to drive defensively. Having been to traffic school several times over the years, I can attest that everybody is just going through the motions – both the teachers and the students.

    After they started offering traffic school online, I hired by young niece – nowhere near old enough to drive herself – to attend in my name and take the test. Over the months, she got pretty good at it.

    If I do say so myself, I think I was instrumental in making her the fine driver that she is today.

    Then there was an editor – when I was a reporter at the Long Beach Press-Telegram – a rather stupid woman, whose name I cannot, and do not wish, to remember. She decided that the staff needed was sensitivity training. Her idea was to teach reporters not to be mean to black, Hispanic, or Asian people.

    Since I was no meaner to black, Hispanic, or Asian people than I was to anybody else, I didn’t see the point.

    The class was taught by a very nice black man, who showed us a film starring a little black boy, who came to a white neighborhood where people had big houses and spent their weekends at the country club. That certainly had not been my experience growing up white and poor, but that was the opening premise of the class – that white people spend their weekends at country clubs.

    The instructor said, “if you don’t think you need this class, then you are free to leave.”

    I left, much to the anger of the editor.

    I have no idea where she is now, but I’m sure if she has not died of acute bitterness, she is somewhere, railing against how mean men are to women, white people are to black people, and Americans are to the rest of the world.

    Then there was my pal, Roger, a very liberal and progressive kind of guy, with whom I got along despite our political differences. The problem was Roger thought if I didn’t agree with him to the letter on every issue, that I obviously had a whole other set of “right-wing” values, whether I expressed them or not.

    In Roger’s mind, you were either this or that.

    The end of my relationship with Roger came when he told me – using simple one-syllable words – that “what you need to understand George is that: Black folks are good people. They are nice and they are fun.”

    I told him his statement was ridiculous.

    Some black people are nice, fine folks and some were really jerks. The same as white people, brown people, Asians, and Indians.

    That was the end of my relationship with Roger. It wasn’t that he felt differently about things than I did, but that he insisted upon giving me a little lecture as though I was an idiot. And a bigot.

    Time marches on.

    Now, people are being forced – upon threat of losing their jobs or their status in society – to apologize for what they said or a joke that they told, whether they are really sorry or not.

    And some people, who declare they are not prejudiced, are being told they actually are, but they just don’t know it. Women vote against what is good and right because their husbands make them do it. Or so the story goes.

    The people who say this have obviously never met my wife, Carmela. If I dared to tell Carmela who to vote for, she would tell me in the most loving way possible, to mind my own damn business.

    I like that about Carmela.