THE MINDSET BLOG: How Mindsets Are Crucial in Human Affairs

by Tom McBride

The Mindset Big 

By Tom McBride (Contact: mcbridet@beloit.edu)

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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 

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