From the Mindset List

THE MINDSET BLOG: How Mindsets Are Crucial in Human Affairs

by Tom McBride

The Mindset Big  By Tom McBride (Contact: 01/28/2022: The Foe of My Foe is My Friend….For A While  Senator Joseph McCarthy served in the United States Senate from 1946 until his death in 1957. He is one of the most reckless and infamous senators in American history. A man with a drinking problem and an insatiable love of attention and power, he made wild accusations about alleged Communists in the U.S. government. He ruined lives, sowed paranoia, and polarized the country. His fellow Republican politicians often despised him, but he was good at bashing Democrats and brought out Republican votes. Republicans had not held power since the early 1930s—over twenty years. They were desperate to find a way back   Read on »

The Mindset List for the High School Class of 1961 by Ron Nief

by Ron Nief

The Mindset List for the Graduating High School Class of 1961 Authors note: For more than two decades the Beloit College Mindset List chronicled the experiences and event horizons of 18-year-old students as they entered college. Created by Ron Nief, director of Public Affairs at Wisconsin’s Beloit College and his Beloit College colleague, Prof. of English Tom McBride, the list was distributed internationally each August as the authors traveled the country speaking and doing interviews. It was initially intended as a reminder to those faculty facing first- year students to beware of “hardening of the references.” Over the years it became one of the most quoted “back-to-school” references and was cited by Time Magazine as a part of the “American   Read on »

THE MINDSET BLOG: How Mindsets Are Crucial in Human Affairs

The Mindset Big 

By Tom McBride (Contact:

01/28/2022: The Foe of My Foe is My Friend….For A While 

Senator Joseph McCarthy served in the United States Senate from 1946 until his death in 1957. He is one of the most reckless and infamous senators in American history. A man with a drinking problem and an insatiable love of attention and power, he made wild accusations about alleged Communists in the U.S. government. He ruined lives, sowed paranoia, and polarized the country. His fellow Republican politicians often despised him, but he was good at bashing Democrats and brought out Republican votes. Republicans had not held power since the early 1930s—over twenty years. They were desperate to find a way back to power. But in 1953 these same Republicans took over the White House and both houses of Congress. Now McCarthy’s baseless Commie-hunting could hurt them, and he couldn’t stop himself. The old mindset—that the enemy of my enemy its my friend—no longer pertained. It took a few years, but in time the Republican Party turned against McCarthy and destroyed him. The untamed brute had become their foe, and they hunted him down. 

01/27/2022: Attention Please: The GREAT SIMULATION Starts in 2050 

Every now and then a philosopher or a scientist with impeachable credentials will say there is a non-trivial chance that we are all part of some Grand Simulation, as in the movie The Matrix. We are not real. We just think we are. We are as virtual as anything we see on our smart phone screens. Nothing is flesh and blood. All are pixels. It’s a wacky idea, but in this century that will change once we get the knack of converting our brains from neurons into digital code and updating them to computerized systems. This will separate our brains from our  bodies. In nature we only have brains because of how they protect our bodies, but in time technology can liberate our heads from our limbs and corpuscles. We will live all brain all the time; or only brain all the time. As a result, our “lives” will become simulated—except for those whose brains have yet to be uploaded. Freed from having to worry about food and shelter all the time, our brains will become super-serene. The human race will never have to go out and forage for resources ever again. We will never meet aliens from outer space, because we Simulated Earthlings will have no reason to leave our own galaxy of total contentment. 

01/26/2022: Are All Russians Children? 

Suppose a mother gets a bouquet of flowers she does not like. A friend of hers is recovering from an illness, so the mother decides to give the ugly flowers to her friend and pass it off as a gift. She takes her young son along, who blurts out the truth: “Mother thought she had to get rid of them somehow.” The lad is punished. He is not free to speak the truth as he sees or knows it. He IS free to go to school, learn new things, receive gifts, ride his bike. But he is not free to speak the truth when it is a threat to his mother’s respect or regime. This is a parental mindset, and after all, children are allegedly not ready to have free speech yet. It is also the mindset, the political mindset, of autocratic counties like Russia. The Russian people are free to work, have children, go to parties, ice skate in the winter. But they are not free to exercise free speech and say what they really think or know to be true. As such, they are regarded as political children, except this time it is not the mother with the flowers but Mother Russia and Putin who enforce the rule. 

01/25/2022: When Did God Become Embarrassed? 

Despite the recent encroachments of climate change, science and technology have an impressive record in preventing famines and droughts. And over the past one hundred years as well, medical science and enhanced sanitation and better nutrition have increased longevity in most parts of the globe. Contrast this with the medieval mindset of sox to nine hundred years ago. Then, nobody could prevent famines or cure disease. Well, God could, but He chose to to, mostly because He wanted people to suffer in order to get them ready for Heaven. But then, starting around the 1700s, human beings began to do things that before that, it was thought only God could do. Human beings had a better record of reducing pain than God did, and this became the modern mindset. The audacious philosopher Nietzsche said that God was dead, but it would have been more accurate to say that God was embarrassed and began to lose credibility. As a result of science and technology’s record in shrinking suffering, God has become chagrined. No wonder a lot of True Believers don’t like science, even if they do like electric lights and penicillin.

01/24/2022: You and I Have Emerged—That’s Why We Won’t Last

TCM shows some very old movies—some of them are even silent films. They seem to creak sometimes. But there’s one thing that makes them just like every other movie, even the current ones. You can see that in the screen credits. Whether a movie was made in 1920 or 2022, it requires actors, cameras, screen writers, costume designers, set designers, producers, and directors. Long after the film is forgotten, the methods of making movies endure and endure. The film emerges from these methods and may be quickly forgotten. But the mode of production goes on and on. The same is true for us as living beings. We are composed of cells and genes. Long after we are gone, as emergent beings, the cells and genes will continue. Long after we have stopped being thinking creatures, due to our own deaths, neurons will continue to fire in other humans, and in non-human animals, too. The big emergent things pass away. The little enabling things do not. Even the sun will die in five billion years. But the particle-like waves of nuclear gases will not. Only little things are immortal, but that’s a mindset that we temporary Big Thins have a hard time accepting. 

01/21/2022: Is Cannibalism Evil? 

There are two famous examples of human cannibalism. One is the infamous Donner Party of the 1800s, who crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains, became trapped in winter, and turned to eating their fellow travelers’ dead flesh in order to survive. This came to be seen as the act of people who would rather act like beasts and live than restrain themselves and die. The other example is Thomas Harris’ Hannibal the Cannibal Lecter, played in the movies by Anthony Hopkins, whose psychopathology is rooted in the pleasure of eating his fellow humans’ flesh., “I had him with a fine Chianti.” To humans, cannibalism is immoral, whether residing in weakness or sociopathy. The mindset is that we are more than beasts: we have higher-order brains and maybe even immortal souls. But suppose this is all wrong, even backwards. Suppose it all comes down our bodies, not our souls or heads. Some arachnids and amphibians devour their own mothers shortly after their births, Suppose that they, and not we, had evolved to have language, conceptual thought, law books, and ethical guides. Is it possible that, given the adaptive advantage they derive from such cannibalism, that it would be immoral not to eat one’s mother? “Andrew Amphibian could not bring himself to do the morally necessary thing—consume his mother—and has paid for it all his life with arrested development. Andrew has become a social leech. By not doing the right thing, he has made all us other amphibians pay for it, too.” Does morality being in the body, not the mind? Shudder at the thought. 

01/20/2022: People Like Aaron Rodgers, But Do They R3ALLY Like Aaron Rodgers? 

The wonderful thing about games is that they clarify our values. In life, we are often confused about values. We think we are being good parents, but are we, rally? We think winning something is good, but just as often it turns out to set the stage for something bad later. We are sure we’re doing a good job, but our manager or boss doesn’t agree. It’s all messed up. But ah, at least there are games, where the values are clear: winning, having fun, getting better, and so forth. Games are a refuge from the bewilderments and false starts of life. This is the mindset of those of us who like games, whether playing them or watching them. Green Bay Packers fans are probably no less puzzled about the problems of life than the rest of us are. But the Packers have had a good year, and their star quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been better than ever. Rodgers’ goals are clear: victory, deception (of the opponent), speed, accuracy, strength. He is not in the least confused; a good QB is never confused. Millions love to watch him. But then he spills over into life, implies he got a Covid jab but really didn’t. In life he’s just s screwed up and fallible as we are. That’s why so many people like him (on the field) and don’t like him (off it). It’s the real meaning of “it’s only a game.” 

01/19/2002: Prince Andrew and the Peanut Butter 

If you have a sudden longing for peanut butter, you can easily go to the fridge or cabinet and open a jar. Of course, you might have to go to the store, but that’s no great obstacle. You have a mindset. You are a First World person, so satisfying your lust for peanut butter is no big deal. It’s humdrum, really. Others there might be for whom getting a peanut butter fix is not allowed for some reason, but you are not one of these Others. It’s simple: you can, so you do. This is also the mindset of powerful elites such as Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, but on a much higher level. He could hang out, given his standing, on the fleshpot yachts of Jeffery Epstein, so he did. It’s as routine as your fetching the peanut butter. It was his due. Hey, no problem. But few will blame you or me for acquiring the peanut butter, while millions are blaming him for hanging with Epstein and Ms. Maxwell. Not all longings and satisfactions are equal in the eyes of the public, for whom there is a great resentment about assumed privilege. 

01/18/2022: Is Sherlock Holmes Smarter Than Britney Spears? 

Sherlock Holmes seems a lot smarter than Britney Spears. She has never solved arcane and difficult crimes. But then she is a better singer than Sherlock Holmes. There is a mindset that such comparisons are absurd. We are comparing a fictional character to a real person. What makes Britney “real” and Sherlock “unreal”? The answer is that Britney exists regardless of our personal perceptions. She exists independent of our own minds. Someone named Britney Spears exists even if people in New Guinea, say, have never heard of her, just as the distant stars exist even if no one is around to see them. After we’re gone, they’ll still be there. But after we’re gone, Sherlock vanishes. There is no one to read him. He is totally dependent on our own minds and interpretations. So by this philosophical  mindset, Brit has it all over Sherlock. She is real; he is not. Of course, she has never solved a crime, but really, neither has he. 

01/17/2022: What Robert Frost Knew About Vlad Putin 

A neighborhood is where you and I live. But a good deal of the time it’s more than just coordinates on a map. No. A “neighborhood” is not only where you live but where you’ve agreed to a set of customs and habits with those who live near you. A neighborhood becomes a community, and with it a certain mindset. Soon enough you don’t want strangers moving in and trying to change your neighborhood’s way of life. That’s why you have to fence these aliens out. As Robert Frost wrote in one of his greatest poems, “Good fences make good neighbors.” He was quoting his own neighbor, who insisted in the Vermont countryside on strict walls between Frost’s property and his. Truly good neighbors draw lines.  A neighborhood, small or large, becomes a way of life to be defended. Vladimir Putin doesn’t want for his neighbor a democratic, market-free Ukraine, He wants a fence, and he insists there must be one or he will just take over Ukraine. The West says, “no fence.” Will there be war? Sometimes of course it isn’t just a fence. It could be a whole wall. Will Mexico pay for it? 

01/14/2022: No Music, No Halloween! 

This blog is about mindsets, but not all mindsets are conscious. Some of them are unconscious or not worked out formally in the mind in which they are set. You and I may believe something that motivates our deeds. But only until someone stops us and makes us think do we quite articulate what it is that we really do believe. For instance, we may face each day with optimism. But why? What is the mindset that gives us such cheer? What are our beliefs about good and bad prospects in the future? And then there are things that bypass the mind altogether, such as music. It goes straight for the heart. Sometimes we hear a song that we’d forgotten about and hear it as if for the first time, and we start to cry or dance or sing along. We aren’t thinking. We’re dancing or crying. We may believe that the most important part of the movies is the acting or the camera work or the story or the script. It isn’t. It’s the music. Even when the camera work was primitive and there were no talking parts and no color other than black and white, there was music. Organists and pianists were paid to accompany silent movies. When John Carpenter showed his classic horror film Halloween to investors, they laughed at it. When he showed it with his famous tinkling, shuddering piano score, they were terrified and signed up with some money. Review any emotional scene in any movie you like, and you’ll hear….music that cues your feelings, of fear or grief or laughter or suspense. 

01/13/2022: How Do We “Know” Our Kids Love Us? 

The standard smart person definition of knowledge is “true opinion plus sound justification.” We might “know” it’s going to rain next Friday, but we might not really know it. It might just be a lucky guess backed up by nothing other than a hunch. But with this definition we really don’t “know” much of anything. We may “know” that the sun will come up this time next year, but we don’t have any sound basis for that belief—or at least none that we can express. We may “know” our children love us, but we can’t have any ironclad justification for that belief.  How do we know they aren’t just stringing us along in hopes of getting something from us in the future? The fact is, by the strict smart-person definition, we “know” a great deal that we can’t justify or prove and hence we “know” very little. But don’t despair, because the “know what” mindset is’t the only one hanging around. There’s another one, called “know how.” Here the prospects are wide.  A dog might not know what is involved in urination—what pee is made of and so forth—but it knows how to pee outside. You may not know in the scientific sense how to zip up a winter coat where the zipper is hard to attach, but with practice you will know how to zip it—it’s just a matter of getting familiar with it. You know how to zip up that coat. A plumber may know nothing of Bernoulli’s principle of water flow, but he knows how to fix your toilet. We know little. We know how to do a lot,, 

01/12/2022: Why You Should Talk To Yourself More Often 

The greatest scientific mystery of the present day is that of human consciousness. We all have it, we humans, but how does it happen? How does it work? How do a bunch of neurons firing in our brains produce our consciousness of how hyper-blue that flower is? The scientific mindset is one of trying to explain consciousness, but there’s another mindset about it: asking the question of what it is in the first place. And the answer is…that it’s a silent version of talking to yourself. When you are conscious of how blue that flower is, or how super-sweet that hot chocolate is or how funny that door is shaped—or how scary that dog looks—you are really just turning to yourself and saying to yourself: “Look at how blue that flower is,” or “I wonder if that dog is about to bite me.” You could say these things to someone who’s there with you but no one is there other than…yourself. So you say this stuff to yourself, and when you do, you are conscious of the experience. You are not only aware. You are, thanks to your other self, aware that you are aware. The private self is a bit of a myth. When you are “privately” conscious, it’s really just an extension of your social life. It’s good to consult with others—even if the other is just YOU. 

01/11/2022: Should Churches Be Lit Poorly?

Many of the major churches in Europe did not get electric lighting until the 1930s. For a while before that, they had gas light, but most of their existence has found them lit by candles, which were snuffed as soon as the service was over, lest a fire begin. This meant that for most of their history churches were not, by our standards, well-lit. Why were church authorities so slow to make them so? The answer is mindset. You weren’t meant to show up for church in order to see anything but to feel things: such as a conviction of your own sin and the mystery of God’s personce and forgiveness. Guilt is best felt in the dark, without distracting lights and objects. And in the semi-darkness God is everywhere and nowhere. The darkness made the experience of worship more inner and less outer; more about you and less about the church. The film critic Roger Ebert said film lost a good deal when it went to color and left black-and-white. With the latter, he said, movie goers could insert their own lively imaginations into the scenes and not have to be dictated to by well-lit blues and greens and reds. There is something to be said for the mindset of not being able to see all that well. 

01/10/2022: Who’s The Scapegoat of the Week? 

In 1912 Woodrow Wilson was elected president and had big support in southern New Jersey. Four years later, in 1916, this support had collapsed. Why? Because the region had lost considerable tourist dollars due to a series of deadly shark attacks. Wilson thought that stopping shark attacks was not in his job description, but the people of southern jersey thought he should have tried to do something. He didn’t, and they blamed him. This is the mindset of scapegoating. It opposes the mindset that sometimes bad stuff just happens. No. Someone is to blame. Someone should have prevented it. “My loved one has died of cancer. This should have been preventable. We need to spend more money on cancer research. Someone kept that from happening.”  “My loved one was killed by a drunk driver. Someone should have stopped that. Damned politicians!” “Joe Biden isn’t responsible for the Omicron variant, but by golly, it makes us feel better to blame somebody, and who better than the leader of the free world?” 

01/07/2022:The Terror of a Third Political Patty 

Pundits are writing incessantly about how Republican leaders are afraid to stand up to Donald Trump. The man is a liar and a loser, say these commentators, even Republican ones, so why are you so afraid of him? And then they answer their own question by stating that, well, if you are running for office as a Republican, Donald Trump can crush you with a Trumpian opponent in the party primary. All that makes for colorful, if repetitive, content. But it masks the real mindset of the Republican Party. Party leaders don’t fear Trump. They fear that the far right of the party will split off and form their own party—call it The American Party. With the right in America split between extreme and moderate, a unified Democratic Party could win elections with ease. In a two-party system, nothing brings more terror to politicos than the prospect of a draining third party. Just ask George H.W. Bush and Al Gore, both of whom were defeated not by Bill Clinton or George W. Bush so much as by Ross Perot and Ralph Nader. 

01/06/2022: Looking In Vain for Jim Morrison’s Grave 

If you go to Paris to find, among other things, Jim Morrison’s grave, you may discover more obstacles than you bargained for. The cemetery is huge, and the gravestones are lined up, one behind another, in long rows. There are no neon signs proclaiming that this is Morrison’s marker, although along the way you might run into the gravestone of someone else buried there, such as Oscar Wilde. A map of the graveyard can be helpful, but it’s still a challenge—even a smart phone isn’t foolproof in your quest. The difficulty in finding the remains of the great rocker sends us right into the Mindset of Excellence and Fame. Someone is outstanding at something—whether it be playing the trombone or writing poetry or modeling a dress—only because so many others have a go and do these things much less well. If you are a mediocre poet, don’t feel bad, for you’re helping make Sylvia Plath look great. If you’re pat of a rinky-dink rock band, don’t feel awful about that. You’re helping make Jim Morrison and the Doors seem better than ever. And if you die and get buried in an obscure grave in a big cemetery, don’t get down in the dumps: at least you’re making it harder to find the headstone of someone famous.. 

01/04/2021: The Dreadful, Fatal, No-Good Problem with Democracy 

All tyrants claim to have power due to democratic choice, but few if any tyrants actually believe in democracy itself. One of the first products of tyranny is hypocrisy. But the problem tyrants have with democracy is real, and it is simple: The people in their majority vote might get it wrong. This is why tyrants cannot really bear democracy: because the people might choose someone other than them. This is an ancient invective against democracy. For Plato, it was a non-starter for just this reason. The people are foolish. Only a wise dictator, trained by Plato, should govern. This was also the message of those who invaded the American capitol on January 6, 2021: Our enemies have prevailed, and they got it wrong. God and history and birthright have dictated—an apt word—that only Donald Trump be president. Of course, the rioters insisted that Trump had really won. They likely know better. They really mean that they don’t like democracy because, well, because in a democracy the majority can get it all terribly wrong. Other methods have become necessary—this is the ancient anti-democratic mindset. It is a perilous one. 

01/04/2022: Suppose Hitler Forced Everyone To be Nice to Each Other 

There are at least two human mindsets about the cosmos: that it has an author or that it does to have one. The Author is usually God, who is possessed with supreme power and who created the heavens and earth and all the multi-verses in between. But there is also the view that the universe just happened and has no direction or purpose, however much human beings might want it to. Here there is no God and only a power vacuum in which laws of thermodynamics are free to operate. There seems to be no way to reconcile these views. But maybe there is one, sort of. The great French mystic and philosopher Simone Weil believed that her God would never force anyone to be good, lest free virtuous choice mean nothing. Weil thought that if Hitler had commanded everyone to be nice and everyone was nice, the niceness, occurring under duress, would be worth nothing. In this view there is a God but this God has elected to become powerless and let the universe drift in order to give human beings the choice of being good or bad. Being forced to be good is dictatorial, and God has chosen not to be a dictator and let us decide via our own ethics what to make of the universe. 

01/03/2022: The Mindset of Saving Ugly Butterflies 

Let’s suppose there’s a rare butterfly species—one of tens of thousands—called the St. Anselm Centaur. We don’t need to know how it got its name. In fact, the name is made up. But let’s suppose it’s about as big as your thumb, not especially pretty, and of no great significance in the food chain. But there are only a few thousand left. Should we save it? Federal law might say we should, and this means resources being devoted by way of conservation. Saving the St. Anselm doesn’t come for free. Now let’s further suppose—and this part is totally true—that the St. Anselm is going kaput because we are building houses and draining swamps and planting lawns in its habitat. Here we encounter two competing mindsets. The first is this: Well, all species including us humans, have to contend with natural selection, including resource limits and competition from other species. This is all natural and cruel. But hey, we and the St. Anselm are part of nature red in tooth and claw. Why should we spend money to save it? But then there’s a rival mindset: Yeah, we and the tiny butterfly are both animals, but we’re the only ones with an ethical compass. We have a moral obligation to save a species that we ourselves have been in the business of destroying. Which mindset will win? The St. Anselm bitterly might want to know, if it could. 

12/31/2021: The Efficiency Myth 

On this last day of the calendar year let us consider the topic of  efficiency. We live in an age of Great Efficiency, which can be defined a a ratio of energy to productive result. The less energy put into the system, and the more productivity that comes out of it, the higher the efficiency. The thermostat is a good example: it is so sensitive that the merest register or air too hot or cold will trigger an immediate, productive adjustment. Computer programs are marvels of efficiency: a mere mouse click can reveal a site of enormous amounts of information. We might get the impression that our lives can be like that, too. They cannot be. You can discover a valuable, rare book in a San Francisco book shop, but the only reason you came to San Francisco was because you were bored to tears with your job in San Bernardino and needed a break. Why not just go straight to San Francisco and find the book? Why was it necessary for you to bore yourself down south first? Why not just find the right partner immediately? Why do we have to go through all these intermediary steps? Why can’t life become more efficient? Life is too complex and unpredictable to design. You can live your life. You can’t program it. May all your mindsets in 2022 be effective and wise. 

12/30/2021: Putin and the Mindset of the Winner 

The Putin government has now outlawed historical researchers who were uncovering the crimes of the Stalin regime. Putin likes Stalin and does not want the Stalin era to be trashed. Why? Well, this is the mindset of the winner. Stalin may have committed great crimes against humanity, and he may have had a temporary nervous breakdown when the Nazis first invaded Russia. But in the end he won—well, his army did—and Hitler lost. Stalin was a winner. In effect, Putin is trying to rehabilitate Stalin. The Germans, to say the least, have no plans to rehabilitate Hitler. But Hitler lost. Stalin won. That makes all the difference. As Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi put it, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” Putin, too, wants to be seen as a winner. 


2/29/2021: A Big Mac and the Wizard of Oz 

If you go to Yahoo or Google and order up an image of a Big Mac, you will see a spectacle. Up close, it not only looks yummy but also as b ig in its way as Mount Everest. Billions of them have been produced behind the scenes, but these single, spectacular I’mages of the burger communicate an ethereal quality, as though every particular Big Mac partakes of an ideal hamburger. This is what Guy Debod called the  Mindset of the Spectacle. When we actually eat a Big Mac, it is generally a banal experience. It’s fast food that we wolf down. Macdonald’s isn’t just selling food, though. It’s selling ideal spectacle. When Dorothy and her retinae of Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow discover that the Wizard of Oz is just a huckster behind a screen, it’s as though they have looked forward to a Big Mac only to wander into Macdonald’s banal, sweaty kitchen. The whole point of spectacles like the Mac and the Wizard is to keep buyers separated from the means of production. We are never to know how spectacular stuff is really made. 

12/28/2021: Why You and Your Doctor Will Never Get Along

If you lay down to go to sleep and your knee begins to ache and then the pain goes away only for you to find that your ankle also now aches and then after a while your elbow or your toe, you will experience discomfort in various and different parts of your body. But that will not be your mindset. You will worry that something might be wrong with your body, and while it consists of elbows and toes and so forth, it is just one body, and it is yours and the only one you will ever have. We experience our bodies as unifiers of our selves. It is with our single bodies—ours—that we move along in the world and open a jar of jam. The doctor does to see our bodies this way. He sees a problem with this or that part of your body or mine. Doctors cannot feel or experience your body, however much they can experience their own. It is a difference of mindsets—the body as one and the body as a map of different trouble spots—that makes you and me think, even after a productive medical visit, that the doctor just doesn’t quite get it. 


2/27/2021: Why National Lampoon Christmas Vacation is the Most Profound Movie Ever Made 

Clark Griswold, the daffy suburbanite in this Christmas classic comedy, is very hopeful. He has the Christmas spirit. But like so many billions of other Christians, his optimism is rooted not in the Christ child but in the prospects that his bonus will pay for a new swimming pool. Winters in Chicago are harsh, so one could argue that a summer pool is Heaven. But few would argue that it is THE Heaven. Clark is a secular Christian. At the same time, he is also no revolutionary. He hopes not for a new utopia of equality and freedom but for, well, for a new swimming pool. His mindset—one of secular religious sentiment and deep middle-class complacency—is where most people in the First World dwell. Few films illustrate this better than NATIONAL LAMPOON CHRISTMAS VACATION.  It’s the profoundest Christmas classic of them all. 

12/25/2021: Don’t Wish for a Merry Christmas; Wish for a Heavenly One 

Billions on Earth now turn to the traditional birthday of Christ. Christmas means “the Christ Mass” or “the message of Christ.” That message is one of hope., In contemporary times that hope is for peace on earth and good will towards all who dwell on it.  Five hundred years ago people knew better. They did not expect conditions on Earth to get any better. They thought the message of Christian hope was one of the After-Life. In a medieval play two shepherds are out in the field one cold December night.  They are poor. One of their lambs has been stolen. They are cold. It also happens to be the night that Christ is born. At play’s end they are hopeful—not that it will get any warmer or that they will get any richer but that they will spend eternity in Heaven with he who is ow the baby Jesus. Today we have trouble believing that there is a Heaven. This is understandable. But without it, Christmas is a time of sentimental but vain hope and of ardent consumerism. One can have a merry Christmas but not a heavenly one and thus not a truly hopeful one. So coose your Christmas mindset.

12/23/2021: Is Every Movie a Con? 

Con artists lure you in; get you interested; make sure you have some success; and then cheat you and get away. Moviemakers are con artists, too. In Psycho Alfred Hitchcock lures you into caring about a beautiful woman on the run who has been murdered while taking a shower. He then shows you the likely killer, a bizarre motel manager named Norman Bates. Hitchcock also shows you glimpses of the possibility that the knife-wielding killer is really an old woman, presumably Norman’s elderly mother. You are being conned. Old ladies are not deranged murderers, so it must be Norman, yet it is plainly an old woman who has killed an investigating private detective. You are being led down a garden path, and in the end you find the solution: it is both Norman and his mother, since he thinks he is his mother. Hitchcock has conned you, but he has played fair. He has given you the clues. You just weren’t smart enough to use them. That’s the mindset of the conned. If you re conned, you feel stupid in the end—how could you have missed what was right under your nose? And how can you ever get your money back? 

12/22/2021: The Mindset of the Gambling Addict 

Gambling is a blend of luck and skill. Part of the skill is figuring out the system of the luck. The number 1 hasn’t come up for a long time, so it must e overdue, right? So bet on it. Some people have concluded that most of life is luck, starting with where we were born and to whom. In this sense life itself is a series of gambles. We may think we are in control. We enter a school determined to study hard and succeed, not realizing that we could get run over just crossing the street. And yet because we do the things that turn out well, we think it is we who are in total command. We are asked how we did so well and answer, “I worked hard,” not “I got lucky,” even though others worked hard and failed. Weren’t they just unlucky? In the case of gambling addiction, the person who is hooked wins just often enough to keep going back but not often enough so that the casino goes out of business. It’s a pre-formulated system, yet whenever we win we think—the mindset of the gambling addict—that it is we who have been smart. This is the mindset of those who overrate the role of skill in life. 


2/21/2021: The ;The Mythic Mindset of the Lone Wolf 

Wolves hunt in packs, and “lone wolves” are temporary creatures in search of a new pack to join. Wolves understand that there are tremendous benefits to social cooperation. A gang of them can bring down more prey than a single one can. Still, in human society there persists the myth of the werewolf—the Lone Wolf in pursuit, viciously, of human victims. The most famous werewolf film was 1941’s classic THE WOLF MAN. But this story about a lone werewolf is the exception that prove the rule. Larry Talbot, who becomes a werewolf, is actually looking for a group to join. His father dislikes him, so he can’t join his family. He tries to court a beautiful woman to start a family of his own. But then he is bitten by a wolf and becomes a werewolf. He cannot join a wolf pack, for he is a werewolf, not a wolf. And there are no big werewolf families around. Larry is a lone wolf but not by choice. The Lone Wolf is a fantasy of our culture. We celebrate individualism—going your own unique way—but in truth we would get nowhere without the help of many, many others. We all have to hunt in packs. 


2/20/2021 : The Mindset of Donating Your Body to Science 

In the early days of anatomical science, few people would donate their bodies to science. Yet anatomists needed cadavers in order to advance their knowledge. So anatomical scientists in the early 19th century turned a blind eye to the cadavers they  received, most of which came from grave-robbers. A few of them were even murdered. In those days the mindset was that if you wanted to go to Heaven, you had to be buried in consecrated ground with blessings pronounced upon your chances for the after-life. You were not inclined to request that your body be “donated to science.” Today millions of people every year stipulate in their wills that their bodies be donated to science. The popularity of this procedure; goes back to mindset: belief in the authority of science has gone up while belief in Eternal Life has gone down. 

12/17/2021: Why White  Folks Couldn’t Sing The Blues 

Most mindsets are invented, and we inherit them. Before the invention of records and record players, there were hymns and “love songs.” But with 78 rpm records came mass marketing. There had to be categories—or mindsets—so that people can find what they were looking for in the record stores. Southern white music was called “hillbilly”until the Southern consumers revolved and then it was called “country.” Music played and sung by African-Americans was called “foxtrot” because the term “jazz” was thought to be vulgar in the 1920s. Sometimes it was also called—and sold as—“race music.” Jimmy Rodgers, who was white, is thought to be the first great country artist, but he was really singing “the blues.” Since he wasn’t black, it couldn’t possibly be “the blues.” Before he became Elvis, Elvis Presley sang a song by a black artist called “I’m All Right, Mama.” When the black artist—Arthur Crudup—sang it, it was called “rhythm and blues.” When Elvis did, it was called “rock n’roll.” Hank Williams sang—and yowled—the blues, but no white consumer would never call it that and in the record stores he knew that he would never find “Lovesick Blues” in the “blues” section. It is the power of the music mindset—recording technology and mass marketing and racial segregation all playing their assigned parts. 

12/16/2021: Are New-Born Babies Sinful? 

During much of the last century unwed mothers in Ireland were sent to institutions where they could work in laundries and have their babies. The work was hard, but this removed the girls from the same of society and helped protect their families from scandal. The young fathers fared much better. At the institutions the babies were often cared for poorly; their diapers were not changed and the mortality rate was high. Some of them were put out for adoption. When some of the babies died, they were often buried in unmarked graves. Here again the power of mindset. The Roman Catholic Church of Ireland considered the sex act as a bodily sin. Yet they also knew it was necessary to re-populate the Church. So the deal was this: You could engage in this bestial act, but only if you got a permission slip, and the permission slip was marriage. If you were not married, you were just totally steeped in sin. Even your resulting infant might be tainted, and those not adoptable were thought to be discardable, having come from poisoned fruit. 

12/15/2021: Is Elon Musk A Mindset? 

Elon Musk is Time Magazine’s Person off the Year. No one embodies The Future as much as Musk. In the Planet According to Elon we will be boarding electric self-driving cars, uploading our neurons to digital formats, and flying back and forth between Earth and Mars. There is nothing physics can’t solve. This is also a mindset. It is a distracting one. The great human problem is that we veer between re-shaping ourselves and accepting ourselves, and we don’t know which is which and turn out restless and unhappy. Mr. Musk cannot solve this problem at all. We will be no happier in his advanced world of the future., But it diverts  us and even excites us, to think about it. It is a refuge from our real problem, which is that there is no cure for the condition of being human. 

12/14/2021: The Starving Kids of Afghanistan Are Caught Between Two Mindsets 

United Nations experts say mass starvation is a real prospect in Afghanistan this winter. One of the people responsible for outside food supplies has said that the ruling Taliban will be fine and won’t miss a mail, but in order to punish them, other countries are willing to withhold aid from the country, whatever the results for lack of nutrition among millions. What is going on? The Taliban holds to a medieval ideology that discounts the value of life on earth in favor of eternal existence in the After Life. The West’s ideology is modern and secular, with emphasis on Hunan rights in the here and now—something the Taliban is hostile to. The malnourished kids know nothing about the these two competing mindsets, and the two mindsets are taking scant notice of the kids. The two mindsets, medieval and modern, are long-term ideological projects, but people don’t eat in the long run. They have to eat every day. 

12/13/2021: Why “Purpose” Is a Dangerous Word 

In literature and film there’s a term called “a McGuffin.” A McGuffin is whatever gets the plot rolling. Two guys happen to meet on a train, and one says to the other, “I’ll kill your troublesome wife if you’ll kill my troublesome father.” The whole “purpose” of their meeting on the train was to set the scene for later events. We have “McGuffins” in our own lives. “I got cancer, but the real PURPOSE of the cancer was to make me a better person.” “Purpose” is a mindset—a dangerous one. It makes us feel better if we can build our lives around a “purpose” narrative. But look at Hitler: He said that the “purpose” of World War I was to expose the treachery of Jews and set the stage for Nazi vengeance. Suppose the First World War were just a bloody, life-consuming mistake; no purpose at all. The “purpose” mindset can make us feel better about bad things. It can also lead to even moe buttery, along with death camps. 


2/10/2021: Is The Garden of Eden A Mindset? 

The founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, thought the Garden of Eden was in present-day Missouri. The famous Garden was a mindset, however, and mindsets can be “located” anywhere. What sort of mindset? Well, if you visited the Garden and asked one of the inhabitants, “Are you really happy here,” an intellectually honest answer would be, “I don’t know. How can I tell if I live in a place where there is presumably no UNhappiness?” When did you and I experience our first unhappy moment? It was when we observed someone who seemed to be feeling better than we were. If you stub your toe and cry, and you notice that your little playmate has not stubbed hers and is smiling, then you finally learn what happiness is. In the Garden, no one stubs a toe. The Garden is a place of ignorance, where you are cut off from contrasts. The Garden is a bubble, like the ones people in the upper Midwest live in, which is why, having never experienced a Southern spring, they think 40 degrees and rainy in March is “spring.” 

12/09/2021: Why Kant We Always Tell the Truth?

Immanuel Kant is probably the greatest German philosopher of all time. Among other things, he is credited with the “categorial imperative,” a guide to ethics that goes like this: Do X only if you can responsibly will that everyone else can do it. This means you can never lie. What if everyone lied all the time? So if the Gestapo comes to your door and asks for that  enemy of the regime you’ve been hiding, you cannot lie to them: You must admit that you are harboring a fugitive from the Nazis. This seems pretty wild, but Kant thought that ethics should not be graded on consequences, good or bad, but on right or wrong. And it’s just wrong to lie. But then: Can you also will that NO ONE should ever lie to murderous Nazi thugs? When you put it that way, the Categorical Imperative seems, at the same time, to be upheld and yet also fall apart. Ethical mindsets sometimes deconstruct themselaes in plain sight.

12/08/2021: What’s Wrong With Just Doing Your Job?

Adolf Eichmann was responsible for transporting millions of Jews to Nazi death camps. When he went on trial in 1960, he said he’d done nothing wrong, He was just dong his job; following orders. This is a mindset. Or perhaps it’s better to say that it is one side of a mindset. The other side goes like this: You must do the right job. Eichmann said he rejected this: No, he said, it’s much more important to do the job, whatever it is, right. He was trying to fool people in order to escape execution. He really thought he WAS doing the right job, as he was a committed Nazi. But his public mindset was: I was just doing my job; what’s wrong with that? Eichmann had experienced the Great Depression, when it was considered a disgrace to lose your job, and he wanted to keep his. He would rather have killed Jews than lose his job. That was his mindset, and more baleful proof that in life mindsets are almost everything. 

12/7/2021: The Lone Nutter and the Thrill Killers 

Most people think of murder as an illegal act, but it’s just as often a mindset. Lee Harvey Oswald murdered President Kennedy, but murder wasn’t the point. This was, for the ideologically fanatical Oswald, a symbolic act of the Cold War: killing the leader of the West. It wasn’t Oswald so much as his mindset that murdered Kennedy. In 1924, two Chicago sons of privilege, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, murdered a teen that they had picked at random. Murder wasn’t the point. Rather, the whole idea was to commit the perfect crime (which they did not). It was Leopold and Loeb’s mindset that murdered poor Bobby Franks. Murder itself, for both the Lone Nutter and the Thrill Killers, was a matter of a mindset’s collateral damage. 

12/6/2021: Are School Shooters Playing Video Games? 

When school officials in Michigan called young Ethan Crumbley into the office to ask him about a drawing he’d made, he told them he was designing a video game. What was the drawing? It was of a gun, a bullet, and two bloody human victims, along with a note that said “Help me!” This brings us to mindset. This blog shows how it rules so much of human activity. In Ethan’s mind shooting his fellow high students was probably like a video game, only more real and therefore better. He seemed to know that this was wrong, but the video-game impulse—or mindset—was too strong; the anticipated buzz was too great to resist. It’s often said that video games permit young people to sublimate: as long as they are shooting virtual action figures, they are harmlessly not shooting human beings. Yet since so many video games involve the use of “digital deadly force,” it shouldn’t be surprising that from time to time such games go real. Once the mindset is there, someone is bound to be a shot sooner or later, and in Ethan’s case it was sooner. 

12/3/2021: Murder Isn’t Wrong. But It Should Be Against the Law 

Most murder trials are about the presentation and judgment of evidence, but after all these factual details have run their coursed and someone has been found guilty of homicide, the judge pronounces sentence and condemns the convicted person as immoral. Judyes should know better, but they often like to say, “Well, we’ve done the legal bit, so now I get to say that you are sinful and sentence you to life in the slammer.” This is the judge’s mindset, but it is a regrettable one. We can come up with all sorts of religious objections to murder, including one of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not kill. But in a democracy, as opposed to a theocracy, murder is not against the law because it is sinful, a disobedient and ungodly act. It is against the law because murderers are dangerous and it is the law’s job to protect us from danger. The proper mindset in a democracy should be: X or Y may be immoral, but they should not be against the law unless they are also a danger to the community. The application of this mindset to the question of abortion should be obvious. 

12//2/2021: Do Chickens Have Mindsets? 

If someone were to ask you or me why we are here, we might answer that we are here to love others and serve God; or that we are here to have a good time; or that we are here to pass on our genes to our children. The answer might be anything and everything. But that’s because we are humans and can tali. If you were to ask a chicken why it is here, and it could talk, there would be only one answer: “I am here to lay eggs and/or have my neck wrung.” Chickens, neither linguistic nor human, would have no difficulty in accent their life’s purpose. Yet according to Hannah Arendt, in her great book THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM, both Hitler and Stalin managed to turn millions into human chickens. These dictators did not have to command or instruct their followers, who were so brainwashed that they knew what Stalin and Hitler wanted to the point where commands and obedience were the same things. This is the human chicken mindset. Some Germans even talked about how they always acted in daily life as they thought the Furher would want them to act. They became as automatic and thoughtless as a chicken laying an egg or going to the slaughter.  

12/1/2022: Do Fat Girls Have Mindsets?  

Andre Dubus III wrote a short story called “The Fat Girl,” about a woman whose genetic structure and eating habits mandated her to be overweight. Her parents and friends wished it were otherwise, but off she went to college in just such a “condition.” Her roommate helped her lose a great deal of weight, and in time the fat girl become the thin girl. She married, but in time she began to gain weight again. After a while, she wore a big loose dress on summer outings rather than don a bathing suit. Dubus hints that she was, however, oddly happy. Here again is the power of mindset. Society has one mindset: you can be too fat but hardly ever too thin. But the heroine of the story has another mindset: I must follow my destiny; I am what I was meant to be. The thin girl wasn’t really who she was. Is there more happiness in authenticity and acceptance than in counterfeit and denial? That’s a tough one to answer. 

11/30/2021: If It Ain’t On a Screen It Don’t Mean A Thing!

Mindsets are ghosts. You can’t see them. Burt they seem to control everything, Not long ago an elderly friend was on a bus that had sold out all seats. It was a two-hour bus ride, so he had to stand for the whole time. He was surrounded by a sea of college students, none of whom gave him their seat. Is this sort of chivalry dead in the United States? Maybe. But my friend noted that they simply didn’t see him or his advanced age. They were too busy with their smart phones. There’s the power of mindsets. If he had appeared on a screen, they might have acted more courteously. But the mindset of college students is: If it ain’t on a screen, it don’t mean a thing. 

11/23/2021: Martin Luther and Birth Control 

Over five hundred years ago a renegade priest named Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation—a Revolution, really. He had no idea of what he was really doing. As a result of his actions, the Catholic Church not only split into different Protestant sects. Those sects in turn split into sub-sects and so on. Once there was a Baptist church, and then came Southern Baptists, Hard Shell Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, and so on, Religion became splintered. It was a revolutionary mindset And so it was with Dr. John rock’s birth control pill Once people could see sex as not just for procreation, and not just a fear of pregnancy, they began to explore sex. And so came sexual identity: a new mindset. Now the world hs lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. What Martin Luther started in religion Dr. John Rock started with sex. Mindsets are everything.

11/22/2021: Is Elon Musk a Mindset? 

We are all used to hearing that Elon Musk is a brilliant engineer; a genius. We heard the same thing about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Everyone wondered what they’d get up to next. Musk promises not only electric cars to save the planet but also Martian colonies. All these people are selling a mindset, and that mindset lis THE FUTURE. What is “the Future?” It’s that time in which everything will be just fantastic. We can wear watches that contain all the world’s information We can live on Mars. Futurists have promised that with cryogenics we can come back to life and that we can live forever by having our brains uploaded to a quantum computer. The FUTURE is a promise that our current miserable lives will be much more exciting and attractive. It’s a false mindset. The PRESENT is so much more interesting if you know where and how to look. What’s more, THE PRESENT is actually here. 

11/21/2021: Is Kyle Rittenhouse Made in America? 

In 1870s Texas vigilantes were a common occurrence. It’s no wonder. Marshalls and judges were few and far between. Now Texas is one of the most law and order states. There’s no need for vigilantes—in Texas or Wisconsin. But William Faulkner once said, “The past isn’t over. It’s not even past.” Those who don’t trust the government or the courts feel a need to revert to 1870s Texas, and wear a vigilante white hat. Kyle Rittenhouse went to Kenosha to “protect private property.” Some might think that’s the police’s job. Isn’t that why we pay taxes? But heroic vigilantism isn’t over. The past remains vital. Some Americans have “guns” that consist of a speed dial to 911. They come out of the same America as Rittenhouse does. But America has vastly different assembly lines. 

11/20/2021: Is Covid Michael Meyers in Disguise? 

We are all waiting to get back to “normal” and to live in a totally post-coved world. This is our mindset. But let’s suppose you were one of those few people who hated the 1978 horror classic movie HALLOWEEN. Once the film was over, you were happy to be a post-HALLOWEEN world. You could get back to normal and start watching movies you really liked. But uh-oh: Here came a HALLOWEEN sequel, and then another one, and then another one. It seems that hockey-masked Michael Meyers will just never stop “coming home” to murder everyone. The same will be true of Covid. It will make a sequel, perhaps less deadly but perhaps more. Or it may be another SARS virus. Like Michael Meyers, Covid will just keep “coming home.” Normality is a mindset. It’s also a deceptive one. Don’t fall for it! 

11/19/2021: How China Proved Thomas Jefferson Was Wrong 

A leading mindset in Europe and North America is that the rise of science and the rise of democracy were soul-mates. In the 1700s scientists began to explain that nature ran according to natural process and didn’t need God. Why  must we have God when we have atoms? And why do we need God to create butterflies when natural selection will do? Once God began to wane, so did God’s agents on Earth—Kings—begin the exit. Politics became democratic, not royal. Was not the American Revolution itself a revolt against a KING? But then China came along in the 1980s and produced a highly scientific and even market economy without any  democracy whatever. Thomas Jefferson was a great amateur scientist and a profound exponent of democracy. Surely the two have always gone hand-in-hand, Well, China’s success story proves that they don’t have to. It’s a whole new Mindset. AND A REVOLUTIONARY ONE.

11/182022: Is Murder  a Mindset?? 

Adolph Eichmann was a murderer, and an Israeli court ordered him to be hanged. He was the bureaucrat who sent millions of Jews too their deaths during the Nazi years. His defense was that he was just doing his job and shouldn’t be punished at all. Eichmann had a Mindset. Al of us have a mindset when we are doing our jobs. All of us know that we couldn’t do our jobs if we didn’t have certain equipment and abilities. If you’re sorting mail, if that’s your job, you can’t afford to be blind. If your job is plumber, you can’t afford not to know the difference between a pipe and a wrench. In one of Shakespeare’s plays, a professional killer told his comrade that he was developing a conscience. The other pro killer said, “Don’t. You can’t do your job if you develop a conscience.” Eichmann’s mindset was just the same. He couldn’t do his job with a conscience, with compassion. Mass murder is a mindset. And here is what it is: It’s not a question of doing the right job; it’s a question of doing the job right—and that’s all. 

11/17/2021: Is Covid Evil?

A mindset is everything. Take Covid.. It is a disease, yes, but in our minds we have set it up as an inconvenience, a threat, something government should do something about, or even a hoax. We have never in our minds seen it as an enemy. There is an old idea of evil found in perceptions of natural disasters. So a hurricane or a flood is a natural evil. That doesn’t mean it comes from an angry God or a devious Satan. It means that such things are evil because they, in their indifference, tempt us to be less than our best selves. They, such as a plague or a drought, are no respecter of persons, so they tempt us to be no respecter of persons. We become cynical and indifferent to the plight of others. Natural evils make us less kind in our daily lives. We become preoccupied and stop thinking of anything more interesting. We look for a super-hero to bail us out—a governor or an epidemiologist or a president—and forget that the best foe of this enemy is our going about our daily lives with as much pluck and compassion as we had before. With Covid our mindset has really blown it. We have made government or one another the enemy. The real foe is Covid, and we have let it make some of us more evil than we were before. We needed from the start to make COVID the evil, the enemy, and determine that we would not let it get the best of us. Mindset is crucial 

The Mindset List for the High School Class of 1961 by Ron Nief

The Mindset List for the Graduating High School Class of 1961

Authors note: For more than two decades the Beloit College Mindset List chronicled the experiences and event horizons of 18-year-old students as they entered college. Created by Ron Nief, director of Public Affairs at Wisconsin’s Beloit College and his Beloit College colleague, Prof. of English Tom McBride, the list was distributed internationally each August as the authors traveled the country speaking and doing interviews.

It was initially intended as a reminder to those faculty facing first- year students to beware of “hardening of the references.” Over the years it became one of the most quoted “back-to-school” references and was cited by Time Magazine as a part of the “American lexicon.”

In 2019, with the authors both retired, they transferred the rights to the Mindset List to Marist College in New York.

Ron and Tom continue to receive requests to create special lists for audiences ranging from students in Mumbai going abroad to study, to a Nashville bride, a decade older than her husband-to-be, who wanted a witty “Mindset Llist” included in her nuptials.

The following list is created as if it had been published in June, 1961. It reflects the worldview and experiences of 18-year-old high school graduates sixty years ago. Hardly a comprehensive list, readers are invited to make additions.

The Mindset List for the Graduating High School Class of 1961

Students celebrating their high school graduation in 1961 were mostly born in 1943.

At the time of their birth, Thomas Watson, chair of IBM, declared that perhaps “there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Also that year, Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince arrived and set the tone for the new generation: “Grown- ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Since the “Boomer” generation dates from right after World War II, members of the Class of 1961, born in the throes of the war, represent the last dying gasp of the Greatest Generation, without doing any of the heavy lifting.

Possible classmates, also born in 1943, were Doris Kearns Goodwin, Newt Gingrich, George Harrison, and Arthur Ashe. And those departing that year to make way for a new generation included George Washington Carver, Nicola Tesla, Edsel Ford, and Beatrix Potter.

…and so, from an imagined publication on June 30, 1961…

Fortunately, The Great Depression had been declared officially over with the year they entered the world. Within a few years, their allowances would exceed what many families had had to live on for a full week during the depression years.

As babes, they were the greatest thing since sliced bread, which was still banned as part of the war effort.

And, if mom needed a new pair of shoes, she’d have to wait. They were still rationed.

Good chance that, as toddlers, dad was a member of the 52/20 Club: $20 a week for 52 weeks to help returning GIs get settled.

While the folks were very excited over their new arrival, they were also pretty grumpy over the government’s decision to start to withhold payroll taxes.

But the future held promise when Time Magazine’s 1943 Man of the Year was George Marshall. Four years earlier it had been Adolph Hitler.

For these students graduating from high school in June, 1961…

The concept of “Teenager” has evolved into a major force, designating a separate state of mind.

Stamps have always cost more than $.02.

They’ve grown up with acronyms like KP, SNAFU, MAD and UNIVAC.

SCUBA fans have always been able to breathe underwater using Jacques Cousteau’s Aqua Lung.

Presidents of the U.S. have always flown in planes, and there have always been jets.

They have always had the latest games, like Chutes and Ladders, and toys like the Slinky.

LSD has always been available for fueling trips.

Hairdos and bugs have always been controlled with aerosol sprays.

Big secrets have always been coming out of a lab in Los Alamos, N.M.

Trips to the nation’s Capital have always included a visit to the Jefferson Memorial and a look at the massive Pentagon.

There has always been an American Broadcasting Co., but the DuMont Television Network, which introduced Jackie Gleason and Bishop Fulton Sheen, didn’t survive into their teens.

They have always known how to pronounce Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Iwo Jima.

Failure to clean their plates at dinner was often met with a parental reminder of the conditions facing the poor children in Europe (and later in China and Africa.)

When the TV showed up in the living room, dad was stuck up on the roof rotating the antenna, shouting “is that any better.” You had to keep the TV lamp on in the room while you were watching or you might go blind.

Parents, sitting in the “dens” of their “ranches” often said they would never vote for a divorced man.

Being called a JD, or accused of smoking “MaryJane” have always been a disgrace for the folks.

“Do it yourself” has become the mantra of the suburban homeowner.

They can’t imagine that the hole in the upper corner of their elementary school desks actually used to hold an inkwell.

They have checked to make sure their Timex would “keep on ticking” and that their Paper Mate pen really could write through butter.

The only burger produced faster than at the local diner is at White Castle.

Citizens of Washington, D.C., have never been able to vote in presidential elections.

The country has always had two southern kings— one in civil rights and one in rock and roll.

“Chip and dip” in that special dish on the TV table has always been central to gatherings at home.

Though they had practiced “duck and cover” in elementary school, they had hardly noticed that those rusting triangular CD fallout shelter signs were vanishing.

Subversives and fluoride are everywhere.

They left Your Hit Parade for Alan Freed on WINS Radio, and the “Doggie in the Window” for a real “Hound Dog.”

Parties have always included nachos and deep-dish pizza.

Their “children’s hour” was shared with Buffalo Bob, Clarabell, and Princess Summerfall Winterspring.

Parents read Dr. Spock before the kids got up, and Dr. Kinsey after they went to bed.

“Expecting” has always been OK; “pregnant” has not.

Radio has steadily been fading into the background, except on the “transistor” at the beach.

Parents generally agreed that even slightly crooked teeth certainly needed braces.

They drove their folks crazy with “Just the facts, ma’am” and “Say the secret word.”

Flouristan in toothpaste meant “Look Mom, no cavities,” and hexachlorophene in soap meant germ-free hands.

There was a good possibility that dealing with their teenaged independence may have driven mom to Milltown.

Superman has always been on the watch for Kryptonite.

Autism has always been diagnosed but never discussed.

Tobacco companies have always been open about the side effects of smoking, but they have always blamed the other brands.

Fortunately, rock and roll came along so that J. Edgar Hoover could stop worrying that Frank Sinatra was being groomed as a new Hitler.

Dad has applied for a Diners Club card but there are rumors of a new BankAmericard credit card, widely available already in California.

Once they got their working papers at age16, they earned at least $1 an hour.

Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks has always been at the Chicago Art Institute.

The concept of the American Musical Theatre has always been recognized, ever since the arrival of Oklahoma on Broadway.

“A vast Wasteland,” “Bay of Pigs,” “Freedom Riders,” and “the military industrial complex” have sparked headlines and much dinner conversation in recent months.

In their ongoing efforts to establish their uniqueness, they can point to the fact that their class year of 1961 was strobogrammatic, indicating that the number was the same when turned upside down. The next one won’t be until 6009. It just proves you really can learn something from reading MAD Magazine.

Camelot will live forever.


Dear Boomers and Millennials: We must shed the coronavirus of division and complacency among us. This is your Hopeful Leader speaking. You have been apart, for Millennials feel that capitalism has worked for Boomers but not for them, and that Boomers have gotten the lion’s share of capitalism’s benefits. Meanwhile, Boomers don’t know wy Millennials would rather look at their smart phones than look at them. But that was all before Covid. After Covid the two generations—you young and old alike—can come together. The Generation Gap will have passed, along with the virus itself. What can I say, and how shall I lead, in order to make this come about?

First, Covid has taught us that Evil is no respecter of generations. Yes, more old people have died than young people, but plenty of young people have died, too. Is Covid evil? Was it evil? Oh, yes, an evil need not intend to be evil. Anything that kills living things just because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong trime must be counted as evil. Anything that keeps us on lockdown, or takes away our livelihoods, or makes us distrust other people, is evil. Yes, Covid is evil, We live in a world of evil. Let us unite around the unerring conclusion that it doesn’t care whether you are young or old.

Second, Covid has taught us that we can’t escape from nature after all. We live indoors and look at screens. Only on vacations do most of us go outdoors and look at trees. The human project has been to evade nature: avoid the wind, pay no attention to where our meat comes from, believe that the Grand Canyon on youtube is almost as good as the real thing. But with Covid we have learned that we cannot run away from nature. It follows us indoors, floods our houses, shakes them to their foundations, destroys our jobs. Covid is nature’s way of saying it will do its thing no matter what we may wish. So let us, young and old alike, take this lesson to heart and face the future knowing that Nature is going to be a guest at the table and will have to be addressed. Nature doesn’t care if you’re young or old.

Third, the soldiers in this war were not young or old. They were young AND old. Doctors and nurses came out of retirement to risk their lives. Young nurses and technicians, some barely out of their teens, put their futrures in peril, their lives in danger, in ICU wards. And if you were in one of those wards, trying to breathe, you didn’t care if your nruse or doc were a Boomer or a Millennial.

Fourth, Covid was a chemistry experiment that led to disquieting truth. At some point someone performed an experiment to discvoer that water was really two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.. There was a little explosion, and water remained in the aftermath. Covid was just such a trial, and it revealed, not water but how many Americans live on borrowed financial time, and these are old and young alike. Wherther you are an elderly person living on Social Security alone or a young person, a sjhort order cook whose bar has closed, you are screwed. You were screwed by Covid. This is the foul-tasting water that has remained after the Covid explosion. But it is not young versus old. It is those who have and those who haven’t. Let us, as young and old lalike, try to protect those who haven’t from the cliff’s edge that they have been dwelling on for the longest time; too long. May our individualism never again tempt us to think there is no such thing as society. By “us” I mean youtyh and age alike.

Covid has been the great educator. It can teach us that year of birth does not matter as much as we tought it did. But we will realize this only if leaders lead and followers take time to hear and think. I, your Hopeful Leader, have said my piece. But I must jot be the only one.

Note: Any resemblance between the Hopeful Leader and Tom McBride is entirely a coincidence.


Flus Have Always Been Spanish

Tom McBride

Suppose there had been a Marist Mindset List for the college class of 10440. The first item on the List might have been: “The flu has always been Spanish.” College grads in 1940 were born in 1918, the year of the last COVD-19 scale pandemic in the United States. This was not the coronavirus, which had not yet hatched itself. 

It was the Spanish Flu. 

President Trump has sometimes called COVD-19 the “Chinese virus” because, he says, it came from China. The Spanish flu, though, didn’t come from Spain. It was so-called because when the flu hit Spain, which was not at war (this was the end of World War I), reports of the severity were not censored. Everything was in the open. So when people around the world first heard of this mass malady, it was all about its effects in Spain. Hence: The Spanish Flu. 

This is not to say that the flu wasn’t elsewhere, including the United States, where it killed 675,000 of us. But the United States government, fearing negative effects on war morale, censored the reality of the pandemic. It insisted that this was just “an ordinary flu by another name. Nothing to see here, they said. And they threatened to jail anyone who said otherwise. 

Another item from the Marist Mindset List for the Class of 1940: “Truth and falsehood have always been arbitrary terms.” This is a direct quote from the official government agency created to keep up American war spirits. 

How severe was the Spanish Flu? If you extrapolate from then to today’s world population, you get aroun350 million deaths. At last count fewer than 400,000 had died on on the planet from COVD-19. The current disease would have to kill several hundred times that many in order to match the Spanish Flu. Let’s hope it falls short. 

“It’s always been heard to tell white and black soldiers apart.” This could also be an item, a Spanish-flu-related item, from the Mindset List for the class of 1940. As the world was still at war, young soldiers were hit very hard by the flu, and according to some doctors and nurses, they turned so blue that it was impossible to distinguish sometimes between African-American and white soldiers. 

The flu’s symptoms were ghastly. Victims bled profusely from the mouth and nose. Fever was sky-high, breathing hard and then impossible. Unlike with COVD-19, which disproportionately affects the elderly, the Spanish Flu struck the younger hardest. Older people had lived long enough to develop partial immunity, it seems, but youth had not. 

Was there any treatment for Spanish flu? Again, if we turn to the hypothetical Marist Mindset List: “Enemas, whiskey and blood-letting have always been preferred treatment  for slu.” These were common ways to address the disease, and it is no great shock that none of them worked, though whiskey might have at least had a sedative effect. 

Enemas would have made dehydration worse, and as for blood-letting, there was already enough of that via the orifices of the face. 

Another quote from the Mindset List, Class of 1940, born in 1918: “A Liberty Bond parade has always been deadly.” Because Americans were not told the truth about the Spanish Flu, the city of Philadelphia went ahead with its crowded Liberty Bond Parade in the early fall of 1918. By Christmas, over 14,000 Philadelphians had died of the bug. In effect, Americans were ambushed by the flu. It came along in the spring, receded in the summer, and then saved its worst wave by far for the autumn. And then of course Americans were told that this was all no big deal. The war came first, though by November it had ende

Could this happen today? This is unlikely, given our mass media coverage and social networking. But this was a time before radio or TV or the Internet. News tended to be local, and local governments were keeping mum, too.  It was easier to fool the public, which had few resources for comparative information. 

As for treatment, in 1918 antibiotics were over twenty-five years in the future. The Spanish Flu, however, was a virus, not a bacterial disease. It was an unusually virulent H1N virus, not treatable then or now by antibiotics. But if the world had had penicillin back then, it might still have saved lives in treating linked bacterial infections arising from the dreaded flu. 

The Splanish Flu was far more deadly than COVD-19. Its kills rate was much higher, and in the midst of a world war, where truth is not a big priority, there was little taste for government warnings and widespread social distancing. Such isolation would have saved millions of lives. But it didn’t happen. 

Having visited itself on millions and millions, who either died or survived and got immunity, the Spanish Flu finally had no more bodies to swim in. It ddrowned. Americans got back to their lives, never quite having known what hit them until some years later when they began to reflect. But by the fall of 1918, as they saw photos of bit city policemen wearing masks, and high school gyms converted into hospitals, they must have known, at least subconsciously, that this was no garden variety influenza.

Tom McBride is a co-editor of the Marist Mindset List.  

The Marist College Mindset List, Class of 2023

  1. Like Pearl Harbor for their grandparents, and the Kennedy assassination for their parents, 9/11 is an historical event. 
  2. Thumb, jump, and USB flash drives have always pushed floppy disks further into history.
  3. The primary use of a phone has always been to take pictures.
  4. The nation’s mantra has always been: “If you see something, say something.”
  5. The Tech Big Four–Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Google — are to them what the Big Three automakers were to their grandparents.
  6. Their smart pens may write and record faster than they can think.
  7. Nearly half of their generation is composed of people of color.
  8. When they pulled themselves up off the floor for the first time, they may have been hanging onto the folks’ brand-new Xbox.
  9. There have always been indecisive quadrennial debates regarding the future of the Electoral College.
  10. Oklahoma City has always had a national memorial at its center.
  11. Self-contained, battery-powered artificial hearts have always been ticking away.
  12. Because of Richard Reid’s explosive footwear at 30,000 feet, passengers have always had to take off their shoes to slide through security on the ground. 
  13. They are as non-judgmental about sexual orientation as their parents were about smoking pot. 
  14. They have outlived iTunes.
  15. Heinous, sexually-based offenses have always been investigated by the Special Victims Unit on Law and Order.
  16. The Mars Odyssey has always been checking out the water supply for their future visits to Mars.
  17. Snapchat has become their social media app of choice, thus relieving them of the dilemma of whether or not to friend Mom.    
  18. In an unprecedented move, European nations via NATO have always helped to defend the U.S. militarily.
  19. They may well not have a younger sibling, as the birth rate in the U.S. has been dropping since they were in grammar school.
  20. PayPal has always been an online option for purchasers.
  21. They have witnessed two African-American Secretaries of State, the election of a black President, Disney’s first black Princess, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  22. As they crawled on the floor, TV headlines began crawling at the bottom of the TV screen. 
  23. “Pink slime” has always been a food additive.
  24. With flyovers, honor guards, and “God Bless America,” sporting events have always been marked by emphatic patriotism. 
  25. Only two-thirds of this generation identify as exclusively heterosexual.
  26. Segways have always been trying to revolutionize the way people move. 
  27. YouTube has become the video version of Wikipedia.
  28. There has always been an International Criminal Court, and the U.S. has never been a signatory.
  29. Newfoundland and Labrador has always been, officially, Newfoundland-and-Labrador.
  30. There has always been an American Taliban.
  31. By their sophomore year, their generation will constitute one-quarter of the U.S. population.
  32. Apple iPods have always been nostalgic.
  33. They have always been able to fly Jet Blue, but never Ted and Song.
  34. Quarterback Troy Aikman has always called the plays live from the press booth.
  35. It has always been illegal to use a hand-held cell phone while driving in New York State.
  36. Except for when he celebrated Jeopardy’s 35th anniversary, Alex Trebek has never had a moustache.
  37. Face recognition technology has always been used at public events
  38. Skilled DJs have transitioned into turntablists.
  39. The Apple Power Mac Cube has always been in a museum. 
  40. The year they were born, the top NBA draft pick came directly out of high school for the first time.
  41. They have always been concerned about catching the West Nile virus.
  42. There has always been a DisneySea in Tokyo.
  43. They have grown up with Big Data and ubiquitous algorithms that know what they want before they do.
  44. Most of them will rent, not buy, their textbooks. 
  45. They have probably all been “gaslighted” or “ghosted.”
  46. There have always been “smartwatches.”
  47. Their grandparents’ classic comics have evolved into graphic novels.
  48. They have grown up with a Patriot Act that has dramatically increased state surveillance to prevent terrorism.
  49. Defibrillators have always been so simple to use that they can be installed at home.
  50. Pittsburgh’s Steelers and Pirates have never played at Three Rivers Stadium.
  51. Congress has always banned human cloning completely and threatened arrest for offenders.
  52. At least one of the murderers of the four school girls in Birmingham, Ala. in 1963 has always been in prison.
  53. Monica and Chandler have always been married on Friends.
  54. Blackboards have never been dumb.
  55. A Catholic Pope has always visited a mosque.
  56. Cal Ripken, Jr., has always been retired.
  57. The U.S. has always been withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
  58. Euthanasia has always been legal in the Netherlands.
  59. Teams have always been engaged in an Amazing Race around the world.  
  60. Coke and Pepsi have always been competing in the sports hydration science marketplac

For more information please call Tom McBride at 608 312 9508 or email Julia Fishman at

How to LIST-ify Your Classroom: 7 Lists…7 Tips

How To LISTify Your Classroom

7 Lists…7 Tips

The Marist Mindset List is a famed annual event because it supplies a witty and provocative list of items about what has “always” or “never” been true in the lives of entering college students. But the Marist List is much more than a yearly event. Here we offer some teaching tips based on creative uses of—you guessed it—LISTSWelcome to How to LIST-ify Your Classroom. Lists: They aren’t just for supermarkets or even just for mindsets any more. –T.M. (Contact:

List Number 1: The First Day List 

We’re so familiar with making a list that we don’t ee its creative potential. To start with, every list has two parts: what’s on it and what’s not on it. Someone once said of a college dean, “He doesn’t have a black list. He just has a list, and you’re either on it or not.” That’s true of all lists: the cucumbers were either on it or not, and if not, why not? Don’t answer that. 

So let’s take this principle in the classroom and in life outside it. In the classroom we always start with a list. It’s called a syllabus. It includes some things and excludes others. This is where the teacher starts: She explains what’s on the syllabus and, though less often, shares what’s NOT on the syllabus. And in doing so, in prepping to do so, she clarifies for herself and others what her aims are. She gets a better sense of her focus. “I could have included this, but I didn’t, and here’s why.” This is a great first-day starter in the classroom. The syllabus is presented, and the introduction to the course is about what’s on it but above all what’s NOT on it. Lists are revealing by the contrast between inclusion and exclusion. 

Call this THE FIRST DAY LIST. But it could also be called the EXCLUSION LIST, and our point is that the two lists (inclusion/exclusion) shold be one and the same. Meanwhile, in the classroom you can go through the first-day syllabus by explaining what you left OFF and why. It’s a way to focus the course ahead of the weeks to come. Sam Goldwyn: “Include me out.” 

You can do this in life, too: whatever the subject, clarify your thinking by making a list and considering what is NOT on it, and why. 

And thus endeth the first List.  

2: The Tracking List 

In our previous episode we covered the exclusion/inclusion principle of lists. Today we consider another aspect of lists: order and ranking. Let’s start with order. In Episode 3 we’ll consider ranking

Order: When we go to the grocery store we usually make a list based on the layout of the store. The first aisle is the section for vegetables and fruits (also those plastic juice bottles shaped like lemons), so the mangoes and carrots always head the list. Pet food and ice come last, and you can guess why. 

This is the law, and order, of our grocery list, at least as long as we keep going to Super Savings Supermarket. 

But what about more conceptual lists? Let’s take the art of reading. In the classroom teachers assign readings all the time. Even as you read this, there are millions of people reading their course assignments from Singapore to Greenland. But, if you’re a professor, why just assign readings in literary theory or social sciences? Why not also help your students become better readers at the same time? You can do this… by having them make a list. 

How? Well, think of the grocery store layout. After you’ve been to the store a few times you get the lay (and the law) of the aisles and conform your list to it. Have your students consider a reading assignment to be like a trip to the store. Once they’ve finished reading the assignment, or “checked out,” to continue the analogy, ask them to LIST the key ideas of the reading in the orderin which they appear. 

So: after your students have finished a reading, ask them to LIST each concept IN THE TIMELINE IN WHICH IT APEARS and thus to map, for themselves, how getting one concept helps them get the next one and so on. This is a wa to get students to see what reading is inseparable from navigating Space-Time.Supermarkets unfold in a certain order and according to certain “laws.” So do many reading assignments, and if they don’t, they’re like grocery stores that make you guess, each time, on which aisle the cooking oil is this time. 

We’re sometimes tempted to call these sorts of lists “Law and Order Lists,” but much more encouraging is the label TRACKING LIST. The list in Part 1 was called the First Day List. The Tracking List is different. The First Day List belongs to the teacher. The Tracking List belongs to the students. And once every student has done one, then there’s some gold in the class. Students can consult their own Tracking Lists in order (note that word) to review the reading. They can start making Tracking Lists in the future in order to get a quick sense not only of what they have read but also HOW THEY HAVE READ IT: how a reading instructs them. You as teacher can have students exchange their Tracking Lists as a way of promoting both small-group and larger-group discussions of the reading. 

College reading assignments aren’t like the regular layout of the Super Saving Supermarket. Each one is a little different. Butr once students have had a little practice with Tracking Lists, they’ll discover that different reading assignments in a particular field don’t vary all that much in their presentation procedures. Just as the oranges are generally in aisle 1, the thesis is generally on about page 3, or maybe about 7.5 minutes in. Still, results will admittedly vary. 

Last of all, this can help professors better choose reading assignments. If such an assignment does not have some discernible law and order to to its mode of presentation, then maybe it should be left off. Exclude a lawless, virtually untrackable, reading. 

3: The Ranking List 

This is a common use of lists. You can find them easily on the Internet: Top 50 Things You Didn’t Know About Woodstock or Top Ten Blues Radio Stations, and so forth. Nearly everybody likes a Top 10 List. If you’re on Facebook and propose a ranking of horror movies, you nearly always, in our experience, get plenty of comments. Everyone agrees that there ought to be a ranking, if few people concur on what the ranking should be.  Should “Psycho” or “Halloween I” be number one? How about “The Town That Dreaded Sundown?” 

Ranking Lists in the classroom have multiple uses. Once a course is nearly over, or a section of a course is over, students can rank the readings in various orders: pleasure, clarity, usefulness, and so forth. If the course is a literature course, you could ask students to rank, say, Salinger short stories in order of greatness. The nice thing about Ranking Lists is that first of all, you can do these lists according to many, many caregories (greatness, utilitry, difficulty, etc.); and second, these rankings, once shared, are an effective discussion switch. Ask students to explain and defend their rankings. It’s a means to generate substantive analysis and excitement about a course section, as long as students are required to articulate the rationales for their judgments. 

Ranking Lists can be l quirky. You can, outside the classroom, list The Top 10 Movies Set in Winter, and have a parlor discussion (if such still exists), or internet chat, about why you chose which ones in which order (our favorite is GhostStory), and why others did or did not do the same. Or: suppose (back to the classroom again) you are teaching a Shakespeare course. Ask students to list the Top !0 Shakespeare Characters Who Would Have Made a Difference If They’d Been in ANOTHER Play by Shakespeare. Suppose Iago from Othellohad been King Claudius’ number one assistant instead of Polonius (Hamlet). Suppose Hamlet had loved Juliet instead of Romeo. You could ask students to rank these in order of how much difference these transferred characters would have made. It’s an eccentric way to think about the structure and motivations and motifs in Shakespeare’s greatest plays. It’s also a stimulating one. 

Or: Ask students at various times to list, in order of most to least important, what they don’t (yet) understand about course contents so far. This can reveal to you, and to them, what they’re still struggling with. Top 10 Things I Still Don’t Get. 

At this point we’ll stop. You get the idea. Rankng Lists can be clarifying. They can be fun. They can be creative. You can use them in classroom ways (likely ways that we ourselves have never thought of but that you will) and all sorts of non-classroom ways, too; otherwise known as life. 

4: The Always/Never List 

These lists can be good for teaching and learning and good therapy for life (“life” is an extra part of this little series, at no extra cost). . What are they? 

They are lists of items that describe ongoing ways of life: continuous, daily time with a reliable and repeated set of activities and mentalities. Slighty Quirky Example: Priests in small Middle Western towns in the early 1950s lived a certain way. They did predictable things each day and had immovable assumptions. There were things they “always” did (said mass, listened to confessions) and other things that they “never” did (went to a parish member’s house for dinner more than once a month, rebelled openly against the adamantine housekeepers the parish had provided for them, auctioned off merchandise for sale at parish fund-raisers).d Short stories tend to be perfect illustrations of “Always/Never” Lists, since these stories often begin with “set” ways of life that are about to be interrupted by an unpredictable event that wll form the heart of the short story. (Note: The stories of J.F. Power are good sources of the “always/never” lives of priests.)  

Alwayis/Never Lists are useful for describing, in a quick and concise way, the ethos of functional (or dysfunctional) ways of life. The subject of these Lists, whether they are about priests or office workers or the French court prior to the French revolution or nuclear physics labs or McDonalds restaurant staff. is “how they do things.” There may be no rhyme or reason, we may think, for how things are done in these various worlds (or subcultures), but “we do it this way because we always have” often prevails. These worlds, however, may be creative or complacent, productive or, when viewed by the Lister and her readers, ironic. 

So how are such Always/Never Lists useful, first of all, in the classroom. Let’s look at possible assignments, such as this one: In this micro-economics course thus far, we have been looking at the economic activities of smaller groups and institutions, and the theories behind these activities. Your assignment: Assume a micro-economic group of one hundred peope, all your age, and write an Always/Never List itemizing what economic activities and mindsets they would ideally do over and over agin in order to make best use of their scarce resources. Limit your List to no more than 25 items, then brief a brief essay of about 1500 words justifying it. 

 We’re going to stop right there. By now you know what an Alwayis/Never List is; how it captures ongoing, often subcultural, ways of life; and you are innovative enough to know how these sorts of Lists can be used to assign your students’ creative work in sociology, economics, history, literature, and even biology (the always/never behavioral rules for survival of beetles and snail darters). 

But we will say one more thing: about Always/Never Lists as therapyi for life itself. Jot down your own personal A/N List and ask yourself: Is my repeated, habitual way of life the optimal one for me? What things that I always do should I do less regularly, and what things that I never do should I start doin

5: The Comparison Shopping List

The Comparison-Shopping List is on the face of it one of the least glamorous of the list genres. It is, as its name implies, a double list (at least), two lists side by side, and what is on the left is compared with what is on the right. 

This is the classroom (teaching/learning) version of comparison shopping. In both the commercial and academic versions, one is looking for the better outcome. It could be the best designer beer for the money or the best argument for the available time. 

Yet while the Comparison-Shopping List seems obvious, it is probably the most helpful list of all. Benjamin Franklin made it famous in his memoirs when he showed how he made decisions: by listing the pros and cons of every choice, commercial or otherwise, in a list. It helped crystallize and condense his thinking. He thought he had worked all the pros and cons in his head, but once he took quill to Philadelphia fooscap he realized he had not done so. Writing things down has a way of jogging buried memories or liberating latent ideas. And seeing the stark differences in black and white provides an overview that, at once, both hastens and exposes good decision making. You don’t always know what you think until you see what you have to say. 

In modern comparison-shopping lists, price is one consideration, but it isn’t the only one. What are the others? List them. In life and in education (isn’t that part of life, too?) one is loking (shopping) for beneficial outcomes. Shopping is a human activity so pervasive that it is scarcely avoidable. Even Cro-Magnons must have done it. 

But, you may ask, isn’t the comparison shopping over once the student elects to take the course? How many choices does a student have after that? Plenty, and they are not just confined to class attendance and seating choices. Students are also asked to choose between and among opposing ideas. They are asked to assess these ideas, and to choose which ones to write about. When the student shops for and “buys” the course, the shopping has just started. Yes, students ARE consumers in the sense that smart consumers make informed and reflective decisions. 

Whether the professor does it or the student does, listing colliding ideas and arguments about this or that subject is a fine way to map the stuff that a course is all about. Comparison Shopping need not just be a website that contrasts package tours. It can also be a smart board that shows the differences between feminist and non-femknist existentialism or between theoretical and applied quantum physics. 

And if a student is browsing for a thesis for a paper. how does she choose which governing proposition will work best for her? Which one does she know the most about? Which one is she most confident of or most comfortable with? Which one would be hardest to find supporting materials for? Suppose she were to list four or five possible theses and then, below each one, list the pros and cons of choosing each one for a paper topic. One thesis might involve hard-to-get sources but it might also be the most interesting and original one? Which should she “buy”? A Comparison -Shopping List, academic version, will help make the choices more lucid. 

What the ancient Greeks called “dialectic” is central to teaching and learning. It’s point-counterpoint. In nearly every field, including quantum physics, there are serious disputes about both theory and evidence. Writing these down, whether on the board or on a screen, in Comparison List form does wonders to focus the conflicts and train lights on the controversies. 

We urge you to try making a Comparison-Shopping List. It may take a while to get the hang of. Practice in the fine art of them, though, will create incentives to go back to them many more times than once. Meanwhile, remember: KAYAK is just old-fashioned dialectic in digital form. 

6: The Connector List 

The definition of the Connector List is nearly self-evident: it’s a list where the various items are linked in some way. But every Connector List needs a a definable universe. You can put down on a List that the great ape died in a local zoo and that your great aunt on the same day got a paper cut, but what is the tie between the two? This is the nub of a Connector List: either the definable universe is the basis for the connections, or the discovered connections slowly build up a definable universe. If your great aunt were upset by the great ape’s death, because she had once been his keeper, and in her distraction got a paper cut, then there is a definable universe established by the linkage between death and cut. The great ape and your great aunt live in the same universe. Then, before you know it, you have the basis for a promising Connector List: bonds within the universe of a great ape’s death and the people and things his passing created. 

How does this work in the universe of teaching? Here are some possibilities. 

First, a student may, in preparing for an exam or just testing her own understanding, put down a diverse data-set from a definable section of a course. We recommend that she do this quickly and with no regard for whether or not the items fit together snugly. Then, after 15 or 20 of these items have been listed, she can go through them and see if she can connect them. If the items seem to be non-linkable, then that may be a sign that understanding is a little thin on the ground. If they seem quite connectable, this is likely a sign of good conceptual comprehension. Or there is a third possibility: that in finding the connections the student comes upon  a new and insightful way to review the material. So the possibilities are: I get this; I need to go over this stuff again; or I’ve got some great new ideas. 

Second, a teacher can also use a Connector List. The professor can present such a list to the class and ask class members to connect the items. “Here is what seems to be a highly varied data-set of items, but in fact they are linkable by careful attention to the concepts of this course. Can you link them? If not, let’s see what might be going on.” 

Both these methods—the study method and the instructional method—revolve around Connector Lists. They have in common: an attempt to link details with principles, specific information with abstract concepts. But within the whole idea of a Connector List is a warning. , for there are two inadequateways to learn a course: One can grasp the major principles but be sorely lacking in supporting details and examples; or one can have a great memory of details but lack a full appreciation of general principles. A wise use of Connector Lists can save one from being either a bull-shiter or a fgrinder. Connector Lists are good ways to increase one’s sense of the concepts while, in working on the connections, the linkages, promote one’s more sophisticated understanding of the nitty-gritty. 

Connector Lists dwell within universes of knowledge, and you can build a universe from the top down or the bottom up, but a good student needs skill in both kinds of construction. 

Or, to put it another way, one can use a Connector List to be understand a universe of knowledge, or use a Linkage List to build one.

7: The Designer List 

The best way to approach a Designer List is by considering that your academic aim, whether a review or a paper or an oral presentation, is a product: a product to be designed. 

Let’s start with an analogy and assume that a biological species is a product: one that is built in order to survive and flourish. So what would have to be included in such a product? Several things. The species “product” must be designed in order to acquire and use resources, such as the sun or the soil or other members of the same species or the air or accessible prey. The species product must be designed in order to recognize and escape from predators. And, since there can never be just one member of a species in order for the species to exist at all, the design must also include some way of sexual or asexual reproduction. So a Designer List here would look like this: 

Capacity for Use Environmental Resources

Capcity to Recognize and Flee Predators 

Capacity to Reproduce 

That’s it. A short list. But you’re not done. Now comes the Devil part: the details. For instance, if you are designing what will become a cow you don’t want to give the cow lion’s teeth, because cows need to chew cud and grass. That’s how they get along in their environment. A lion lives in a different setting. A cow should have special awareness of a wolf and seek shelter if possible. A lion can easily defeat a wolf, and the wolf, if there were one, would know it. So a lion needs no special wolf-detection skills. A lion needs speed and power because it stays alive by dealing with prey and predators in the wild. A cow gets by via the supply of milk, so designing the cow to be as scary as the lion would make no sense: no one wants to milk a lion-cow! 

So now the Cow Designer List (we’ll exclude the reproduction item in the interest of time) will look different: 

Capacity to Use Environmental Resources: Cow

–Offers plentiful supplies of milk

–Easily approached by human milkers

–Particularly good capacity to eat and digest grass

Capacity to Recognize and Escape Predators: Cow

–Special sensitivity to the presence of wolves

–Getting protection from human beings in exchange for milk 


Note, too, that there is a functionalrelationship between the two capacities (use of resources, escape from predators) and the structural details that serve those two capacities. And if you follow us this far (can there be any question of that?), you’re now ready to do a Designer List of your own. We’ll give you one big example: An AcademicDesigner List—this is after all about the classroom above all—and then turn you loose to build, following these principles, your own academic list. 

We double back to a recent idea: that the purposes of the design, and the accompanying list, is to build a product. A cow is a cow-product. A paper or a presentation or a review session: they are all products. Products are poorly designed or well-designed. We used the example of a cow and a lion, but we could have used the example of a bar of soap or a smart phone. Well, we could have if we knew anything about soap. 

So let’s say you are writing a paper. Well, a cow in order to be successful has to have capacities A, B, X, Y, Z, etc. What must you have? Well, you’ll need lots of things, right? You’ll need a broovy intro (one that will draw the reader into your subject); you’ll need a so-what section (why is this important?); you’ll need a thesis, a governing and unifying proposition; you’ll need supporting details; you’ll need a section anticipating criticisms and answering them; and you’ll need a conclusion that mentions some larger implications, even though you’ll say that exploring them is “beyond the scope of the present paper.” 

Now that’s 5 or 6 design features. You may not need them all, but you will need most of them. Note that we put these features not in a List but in a left-to-right paragraph. They’re harder to follow that way, so it’s time for a LIST (there’s just something about a List): 

Fascinting Introduction 

Great Importance

Succinct Thesis

Supporting Details 

Answered Criticisms

Larger Implications

And then, of course, as you decorate the Designer List you will write in the functionaldetailsthat serve each feature. Before we leave this section, here are two tips. 

First, you may not be able to plot this whole thing out in a fuilly-evolved Designer List right away. You may have to build your List by doing some writing in order to test out what you know and what you think and what you need to bone up on. You should go back to the List as you go, but don’t necessarily expect to construct the finished product right away, top down, and then start to write, command-control, according to it. This, by the way, is also not how the lion and cow got here. They got here using the first method, not the second. Or so the evidence says.   

Second, make sure that your details are functionalto each section. Supporting details that underlay your thesis should go in that section and not in the answering-criticisms section; or vice-versa. In other words, don’t give a lion cow’s teeth. 

Your turn! Design a great product. 

What sorts of Lists hae we left out? Send any comments to 


During the Middle Ages the church would put skulls on bridges in order to remind people that death was near. Time was short, so it behooved those still alive to prepare for their own demise and to get their souls ready so that they would be acceptable in the after-life. One character in a medieval play, Everyman, dawdled. He thought time was long; that he had plenty of time. He learned otherwise and barely got ready for the judgment of Heaven. 

In some ways the Marist List is also a memento mori. To be sure, it’s not a skull on a medieval bridge in London or Rome in 1300. But, as our many fans tell us, it does remind older readers that they’re getting along in life; that a great deal has changed in just eighteen years; that as they age, time speeds up and gets shorter and shorter. Older reads say they thought it was just yesterday that Blackberry phones went out of business, when in fact it was nearly twenty years ago. If they extrapolate, they discover that in just another twenty years (“tomorrow”), they’ll be going out of business, too, forever.

Once you realize this truth, you tend to confront what you wil do for the rest of your life. What will you prioritize? What will you give up? How much time do you really want to spend on your smartphone? It’s been said that “each of us lives two lives, and the second life begins when we realize we have only one.” 

The Marist Mindset List is an annual reminder that time is brief and passes swiftly. It’s the modern memento mori. 

The MARIST Mindset List, Class of 2023

Looking for the latest Mindset List? You can find it on or after August 21, 2019 at our new Marist College Website (address below). We hope you like the new List. (Yes, half of the Beatles have always been dead.) To talk with the authors send an email to or call 608 312 9508. Thanks. Here’s the new Marist address: