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Caseythoughts An important friend of mine and I broke an unwritten rule the other day: discuss anything but politics. It would seem that a great many people, and families, have been trying, succeeding or failing at this newest (oldest?) of games.

I seem to remember advice columnists and television show hosts of the non-political persuasion dealing with the question of family holiday get-togethers and how to prevent an outbreak of World War IV when relatives of different political persuasion decided to wade into those troubled political waters, especially after the last presidential election. I have heard that there are still families rent asunder watching political arguments turn into bitter acrimony and ruined reunions.

Friend and I stopped 'in time' when we both looked at each other and realized that our differences could either make the friendship stronger or drive a proverbial holly stake through our hearts. We breathed, bowed our heads and stopped in time.

Interestingly, we also recognized that our viewpoints were not dissimilar, but we were venturing out from what might be described as different starting points, thus the different assumptions and ensuing argument. In a nutshell, it was about guns and America's problem with firearms. Friend has no problem with calling herself a pacifist and, God bless her, she practices what she preaches. And, she's not necessarily an anti-gun person, per se. Me, I'm a libertarian in many areas, but I am also a dyed-in-the-wool 'originalist' when it comes to the Constitution quoting 'a well-regulated militia', but certainly am just as horrified at the rising tide of gun violence in America, from the mass killings down to the ignored civil war raging in our cities worst neighborhoods/battle grounds. We're both in agreement at the horrible-ness of an estimated three hundred million guns in the United States. But quoting the Constitution got her dander up, and we were off to the races.

Now, this is where I have found an interesting jumping-off point this week. After skirting the disaster of a friendship ending in acrimony over a political firestorm totally out of our control (and minimally affecting us, after all) we did both agree on something. That 'something' was that perhaps some of our mystifying and contentious national problems as a society may continue to baffle us because we are looking at superficial symptoms, and not at the underlying 'disease', or intrinsic basis of the issue. In other words, for instance, maybe the reason we have what seem to be intractable (and arguments ad infinitum) in our modern society is because we can't see beyond the symptoms, which are obvious, instead of the underlying disease, which takes a lot more thought, introspection and insight.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote: "It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem." In so many examples in modern history, a consortium of nations rail and decry a nation's armament and aggression, but fail to tackle the 'why' a country feels this is the only remedy, or has issues which the league of concerned nations fail to recognize and address. Trying to limit the armament, such as 1930's Germany, without trying to address the gripe that Germany felt and the unresolved issues of World War I, was only addressing the symptom (rearmament) and not the underlying disease (reparations and humiliation).

Let me try this another way, closer to our current times and constantly blaring at us through media sources. Are thousands of people crashing our gates a problem? Of course. Is building a wall a solution? Not if gate-crashing and illegal immigration is a symptom of a larger social, human problem. A wall is an aspirin tablet when the disease is akin to a case of pneumonia. In this case, the disease appears to be, intrinsically, human suffering of millions in Central America due to right wing and left wing extremism, a history of inept meddling by the U.S., rampant crime, killing hunger, disease and misery. If I were a family man in Nicaragua, Honduras or Guatemala, fit and able and yearning for my family's peace and safety, would I consider the risk of traveling to a place where I felt I could find that peace and security? I think I would, and so would you. And the human misery south of us due to extremist politics, mishandling of inept governance machinery (what there is of it), greed and avarice of the people in charge is the driving issue which so drives those immigrants north, and drives our political arguing to a frenzy of acrimony. And, as long as we don't see the underlying cause of such a situation, we will continue to argue about symptoms and superficial 'solutions' without actually thinking in depth about it, relying on sound bytes and multi-second video clips which are driving our superficial thinking without any real thought or education about the problem.

We're doing this a lot as a country: reacting to short video clips, reacting to what are really symptoms instead of rational, reasoned thinking and working out the real basic causes for our divisive issues. We're trying to find solutions to symptoms, not cures for the disease which is a lot harder work, but not impossible. We seem to think that a dose of money will solve poverty (in our own backyard or others'), that a wall will solve migrating yearning hordes, that somehow an ingenious political 'solution' will be pronounced on the campaign trail and will solve everything. If a seemingly intractable problem is facing us, then perhaps we need to readdress exactly what the problem is. But, if money, for instance, didn't actually cause a problem, how exactly can money solve it? Einstein said that we can't solve a problem with the 'old' brain (thinking) that created it in the first place. If our superficial thinking and political proposals don't get to the root and real causation of a perceived problem, we're just spinning our wheels, and falling prey to whatever persuasive powers get the most airplay, or, in the current parlance, eyeballs.

Looking at immigration, couldn't we say that desperation and human misery are the root causes, instead of getting people riled up by concentrating on the criminal element and playing to fears? How can we address the root issue? And would that give us new avenues to approach the 'disease'? Where are the potential creative answers for ever-present human issues of basic needs and desires?

Another intractable problem: Abortion. Is it possible that terminating unwanted pregnancy is only one aspect of the issue? How about how we really have not handled the issue of loving and caring for people, especially teens, during their most vulnerable years?

Guns? Is the problem really the Second Amendment? It sometimes seems like a sideshow compared to the deeper issue of how mental health has received the short end of the stick when it comes to understanding, helping and dealing with depression, hopelessness, paranoia and the debilitating effects of loneliness in the world. Those are the symptoms of the deranged who have brought about much of the carnage of mass gun violence, but we continue to argue about the right to own guns, seemingly a political sideshow when we don't take on the sadder issue of what drives the madness.

I wonder if our attention spans and ability to think through individual and social problems (looking for quick answers and fixes, like a TV mystery or sitcom) has something to do with our ever-quickening world of information. "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes", said Andy Warhol. I think he wasn't around to see that fifteen minutes is way too long in our current media driven and madding world. Our news and opinions have to come in ever-increasing doses and each dose comes at us in sound bytes and rapid fire progression, fomenting a loose and rapid fire thought pattern which leaves no room for introspection. We're overwhelmed with so-called fact checking and figures, and if you want a real overdose of information check out a CNBC screen, or any news channel with about six different sets of rolling and ever changing information screens screaming at you like an information fire hose. But information is not knowledge, and that's another confusion which is leading us astray, just as we often confuse the symptom for the underlying disease. Again, information (whether correct or doubtful in veracity) is not knowledge. And, in this respect, we can only blame our laziness of thinking, not the media who provide us with it all. They're only the messengers.

We're tuning it all out as it gets more crazy, getting lazy in our thought processes, and our media sources might actually be telling us over the years that thinking has become a waste of time. Perhaps we are of the belief that our thinking can be done for us, that we can have an opinion formed for us with quick video screen grabs and pundits affirming what we think seems correct, or at least doesn't challenge us. The television generation now has become the You Tube generation, and seems bored with thinking anything through. Bored with it all. As William Holden said to his jilted, heartbroken wife of twenty five years in the film Network "It's a wonder I can feel anything at all." Though he said this to her as an apparent insult to their marriage, in reality he was expressing a tiredness with the news, media, and the world's problems.

And, in Network as well (1976, mind you), Howard Beall the newscaster brings tears to my eyes when I watch him at his news desk, wide-eyed and 'making witness' when he rants to the unblinking television camera:"I don't have to tell you it's bad...we sit in our houses and slowly the world is getting smaller and all we say is 'Please at least let us alone in our living rooms. Let us have our toaster and TV and our steel belted radials, and we won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' "

And at that point he badgered his unseen TV audience to go to their windows and shout: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!".

But, we stopped, sometime in our recent past, getting mad, or even thinking. We seem stunned and too numb to really think things through anymore. The only people getting mad seem to be the maddest, and saddest. We may not be mad as hell, but we continue to shout at each other, and have forgotten not just how to listen, but how to think. To use proven centuries' old methods of dealing with problems, seeming conundrums of modern life. Logic, rational questioning, reading varied sources of information, addressing internal and obvious contradictions, and being open to change.

The methods that used to be taught in school, especially in debating methods, seem to be gathering dust as we continue to binge watch and sleepily escape, waxing oblivious to issues that might be solved with some new thinking. Not politics, because these problems have been proven to be unsolvable through political thinking and mantras. Tropes. Not ideology as it currently is preached. Just good, plain, logical thought that, as Wayne Dyer once put it: 'Open to everything, but attached to nothing'. Recognizing the symptoms isn't enough; anyone can do that with an absolute minimum of observation and understanding. As Chesterton opined, we have to know and recognize the problem, the base, the intrinsic challenge, before we can begin to move into solutions. Modern day media, allowing others to form our opinions, intellectual laziness and throwing up our hands in exasperation won't do it. New thinking (whatever that might be), new opportunities, perhaps new people and certainly new unexplored avenues of thought might lead us in new directions.

But it's going to be difficult if we move in that new course. Better than impossible, if we continue with the same brains that created the problems in the first place.

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