Five Lies Our Culture Tells

The cultural roots of our political problems.

It’s become clear in the interim that things are not in good shape, that our problems are societal. The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis.

College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies.

Here are some of them:

Career success is fulfilling. This is the lie we foist on the young. In their tender years we put the most privileged of them inside a college admissions process that puts achievement and status anxiety at the center of their lives. That begins advertising’s lifelong mantra — if you make it, life will be good.

Everybody who has actually tasted success can tell you that’s not true. I remember when the editor of my first book called to tell me it had made the best-seller list. It felt like … nothing. It was external to me.

The truth is, success spares you from the shame you might experience if you feel yourself a failure, but career success alone does not provide positive peace or fulfillment. If you build your life around it, your ambitions will always race out in front of what you’ve achieved, leaving you anxious and dissatisfied.

I can make myself happy. This is the lie of self-sufficiency. This is the lie that happiness is an individual accomplishment. If I can have just one more victory, lose 15 pounds or get better at meditation, then I will be happy.

But people looking back on their lives from their deathbeds tell us that happiness is found amid thick and loving relationships. It is found by defeating self-sufficiency for a state of mutual dependence. It is found in the giving and receiving of care.

It’s easy to say you live for relationships, but it’s very hard to do. It’s hard to see other people in all their complexity. It’s hard to communicate from your depths, not your shallows. It’s hard to stop performing! No one teaches us these skills.

Life is an individual journey. This is the lie books like Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” tell. In adulthood, each person goes on a personal trip and racks up a bunch of experiences, and whoever has the most experiences wins. This lie encourages people to believe freedom is the absence of restraint. Be unattached. Stay on the move. Keep your options open.

In reality, the people who live best tie themselves down. They don’t ask: What cool thing can I do next? They ask: What is my responsibility here? They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love.

By planting themselves in one neighborhood, one organization or one mission, they earn trust. They have the freedom to make a lasting difference. It’s the chains we choose that set us free.

You have to find your own truth. This is the privatization of meaning. It’s not up to the schools to teach a coherent set of moral values, or a society. Everybody chooses his or her own values. Come up with your own answers to life’s ultimate questions! You do you!

The problem is that unless your name is Aristotle, you probably can’t do it. Most of us wind up with a few vague moral feelings but no moral clarity or sense of purpose.

The reality is that values are created and passed down by strong, self-confident communities and institutions. People absorb their values by submitting to communities and institutions and taking part in the conversations that take place within them. It’s a group process.

John Bolton: Inexplicable to Say Iran in Compliance with Nuclear Agreement

He proceeded to criticize Trump administration officials, like National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, for protecting the Iran nuclear deal despite Iran’s clear violations of the agreement.

“Whatever capability North Korea has, Iran will have the next day,” Bolton told SiriusXM host Alex Marlow.

In Bolton’s estimation, “to be successful, the Trump administration has got to get control over the entire federal bureaucracy, particularly in the national security arena.”

“Too often, I think we’ve seen the bureaucracy still on autopilot from January the 19 of this year,” he said. “The decision a couple of weeks ago for the second time to certify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal is just inexplicable.”

 .. “Now, the president said yesterday he doesn’t think they’re in compliance. So he needs to grasp the bureaucracy by its coat lapels and say, ‘Listen to what I’m telling you. We need to get out of this deal.’ If he doesn’t do that, not only will the policy not change, eventually, it will come back to bite him,” Bolton warned.
.. Bolton replied. “Every bureaucracy in Washington has its own culture. Some of them, like the State Department, have several sub-cultures. The overwhelming political perspective of the career employees of the State Department is liberal Democrat. It affects their policy in virtually every aspect.”
.. “What you need at the State Department is not a reorganization. You need a cultural revolution,” he contended.

The Cost of the Cultural Revolution, Fifty Years Later

When Xi Zhongxun—the father of China’s current President, Xi Jinping—was dragged before a crowd, he was accused, among other things, of having gazed at West Berlin through binoculars during a visit to East Germany.

.. What effect did the Cultural Revolution have on China’s soul? This is still not a subject that can be openly debated, at least not easily. The Communist Party strictly constrains discussion of the period for fear that it will lead to a full-scale reëxamination of Mao’s legacy, and of the Party’s role in Chinese history.

.. In January, 2014, alumni of the Experimental Middle School of Beijing Normal University apologized to their former teachers for their part in a surge of violence in August, 1966, when Bian Zhongyun, the deputy principal, was beaten to death. But such gestures are rare, and outsiders often find it hard to understand why survivors of the Cultural Revolution are loath to revisit an experience that shaped their lives so profoundly. One explanation is that the events of that period were so convoluted that many people feel the dual burdens of being both perpetrators and victims.

.. for the first time, pursued critics of his government even when they are living outside mainland China. In recent months, Chinese security services have abducted opponents from Thailand, Myanmar, and Hong Kong.

.. In other words, in every interaction, the question that matters is which force wins and which force loses. Mao and his generation, who grew up amid scarcity, saw no room for power-sharing or for pluralism; he called for “drawing a clear distinction between us and the enemy.” “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?” This, Mao said, was “a question of first importance for the revolution.” China today, in many respects, bears little comparison with the world that Mao inhabited, but on that question Xi Jinping is true to his roots.