For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
I have often said that if ever I get reincarnated in reasonable form—which I guess means human for the purposes of this exercise (I’m far from sure being an academic python would cut it. How would you hold a book, let alone turn the pages?) I’ll study cognition.
I jest, of course. We both know I’ll become a writer all over again.
It frustrates the hell out of me that we don’t really know how we think—let alone how other people think. However, that eminently reasonable goal has competition. Another subject fascinates me also—and that is change. I would really like to understand how the process works—and how to achieve it.
I have been endeavoring to change things for most of my life—and my track record is mixed. Perhaps trying to change both the Irish and U.S. economies (consecutively not concurrently)—not to mention the U.S. Army—set the bar too high. Failures have scarred me—and yet I have had successes. But, being human—and not a python—I’d like more.
As you read this, you probably think I’m making this up. Feel free to believe just that if it fits your mental model of how the world works—but you would be wrong.
I used to think that the sheer logic of an argument supported by the balance of the evidence would result in a change in direction—but clearly that is not so. Why not? Because we are much more emotional than rational animals—and we are extremely vulnerable to propaganda. That means that vested interests—who benefit from the status quo and who are prepared to spend enough money—can seem to stop even the most eminently sensible reforms even if the majority support them.
Let me proffer Congress as an example. It has an approval rating of under ten percent—and yet we already know that most members will be re-elected.
Let me put forward Big Business as another example. Polls demonstrate that a significant majority of Americans are concerned that corporate power is excessive—and yet it seems to increase by the day.
And yet, there are faint signs that the Maginot Line, that is the status quo, is vulnerable.
And, by the way, the Maginot Line really was a formidable barrier to invasion—so much so that the Germans went around it.
Think of these signs as the slightest of the kind of tremors that may—or may not—portend an earthquake of epic proportions. They are the kind of manifestations that most of us will rarely notice—unless directly involved.
In fact, they appear downright inconsequential.
In that spirit, let me put forward a current Time magazine story on
10 Things Americans Have Suddenly
- Chef Boyardee
- Golf Gear
Doesn’t mean a thing? I think it might.