Saturday, December 30, 2006

What's Bad About GM? The Cars.

An editorial in today's Boston Globe by Robert Kuttner expresses extreme disappointment with General Motors and their production. I couldn't help but think about the role GM plays in America and worldwide, not just economically, but symbolically. With all this outsourcing these days and foreign automakers clearly surpassing American automakers in sales and quality of their automobiles, what is GM thinking? Why do they allow this to happen? I cannot disagree with Kuttner, that they are more concerned with marketing their shoddy product than quality of the product itself.

I would even go so far as to say that a company like GM, with all their potential, has an ethical obligation to deliver a better product. America has fallen in recent years, our standards sure have slipped in so many ways. Our politicians are not going to dig us out of this hole and- believe it or not- I think it is our businesses that have to. Of course, this has to start at the top with the top guys who seem to think more of themselves these days, and do just enough to get by. Or they are just incredibly ignorant. Either way, GM really comes to mind when thinking about how complacent and fat America has become.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Philosophy

We fear what we do not understand. It is an automatic reaction that is part of our survival instinct. Every animal approaches new things with extreme caution. If it didn’t, those things might kill it. Fear of the unknown is natural, effective, and necessary.

As humans we are different from other animals by virtue of self reflection. Animals are not introspective. We humans have used our gift to create languages, tools, moral codes, etc., etc. The society that was born from those building blocks separates us even further from our primitive counterparts. We are not animals.

Yet we still fear the unknown. Since the dawn of human consciousness we have dealt with the unknown by, well, getting to know it; developing a definition that can be somewhat universally understood. We define our existence through shared languages, and we use those definitions to guide our lives. This distinctly human capacity to classify our surroundings and our actions down to the smallest detail is also natural, effective, and necessary. It is at the very core of our humanity.

The fact that humans love to label, organize, and departmentalize, then, is perfectly understandable. If a person has a certain point of view, she is lumped in with others that share that view. On the surface, this is not a nefarious practice. It helps us navigate the endless possibilities of our world. Without labels, the universe would be cripplingly overwhelming to those who question it; those who seek to understand even a small portion of it.

Unfortunately, labels routinely fail us. The very system we rely on to guide us often leads us astray because it cannot adequately represent the infinite colors of our world. In essence, we understand most things as if we were computers. Computers know only two things: on or off, yes or no, true or false, 0 or 1. When combining billions upon billions of true or false statements the illusion of color can be made, but it is still an illusion. It is not color. We humans are subject to that same problem. It is very hard to reconcile a mass murderer being an otherwise model citizen, for example. It is hard to imagine that an unborn child is ever better off not being born. It is hard to think of our enemies as humans, built from the same stuff we are, who might be our friends if circumstances were different.

We are now well into “the holiday season.” Which brings with it a different level of weight for each individual. I don’t think much of shopping. I do, however, enjoy celebrating family, friends, community, and life. And although I think we should be more civil and kind to one another every day of our lives, I feel it is especially important during “the holidays” when, ironically, many people feel at their absolute worst, and there is much about our world that can be improved.

I’ve been labeled many things, and I admit I am as guilty as anyone of subscribing to convenient pigeonholes. This holiday season I am endeavoring to empathize more with all my brothers and sisters, even if they don’t return the favor. Because despite our human need to think like computers, we also have the ability to challenge ourselves. We have the ability to rise above differences in religion, politics, race, and social standing. As far as I am concerned, all of that begins within ourselves.

A Few Republicans Do Have Brains