“Don’t think about your feet on the ground. Think about your hands in the sky.” – Tony Horton
Guns don’t stop crime. Gun control doesn’t stop crime. Culture stops crime.
Regulating Wall Street doesn’t help the economy. De-regulating Wall Street doesn’t help the economy. Culture helps the economy.
Public schools don’t help kids learn. Home schooling doesn’t help kids learn. Culture helps kids learn.
I realized the importance of culture while I was in a parking garage in Iowa City, IA. Iowa City is an ultra-progressive college town, said to be 70% liberal and 30% socialist. Signs declared the garage to be a gun-free area. “Tell that to the lawbreakers waiting to mug me,” I thought. However, my friends say the worst crime that happens in Iowa City is drunk night clubbers making a racket coming back to their apartments, sometimes trying to enter the wrong door.
I’d like to meditate on how culture in cities, schools, businesses, and government leads to prosperity or ruin. Culture is “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group,” according to Webster’s. For our discussion, culture is what a group holds important. It’s what guides people and directs their actions.
Some weeks ago, Web was on fire over the reporter and his wife who recorded their conversation with a Comcast customer service rep. They wanted to cancel their internet service, thank you please, but got 18 minutes of nosy questions. Plenty of editorials on news sites and social media have said more about Comcast’s business culture than I can, and no one believes this incident is a fluke. “Retention” is a department in many corporate call centers that try to hold on to clients and their regular payments; this Comcast operator was just following protocol. Having worked minimally in customer service myself, I can tell you I had to follow checklists of things to say; I was under pressure to perform an hourly quota of calls; I sat across the cubicle wall from my own employer’s Retention team, and pitied them for the anger they were subjected to.
The culture in too many call centers values metrics over human relationships. I won’t deny that performance measurement is important, but what good is it without the consumer’s trust? If customers don’t trust a company, as they don’t Comcast, the company will use bullying strategies to stay in the black, as Comcast does. It’s not for nothing Comcast is despised by most Americans.
It’s also not for nothing Washington, D.C. is despised by most Americans. We’ve been subjected to political hysterics ever since the 2003 Iraq invasion, and we’re burned out. The world doesn’t seem any safer because our “leaders” aren’t really serious about defeating despots and terrorists. One party ballooned the national debt while the other just struck angry poses about it. Which party is which? It depends on what year you’re looking back at. In his book This Town, New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich reveals you can go to the nation’s capital and clean up with lobbying, cronyism, campaign contributions, speaking fees, earmarks, legal consulting, I could go on. The Permanent Political Class can live easy in their ivory tower regardless of ordinary citizens’ struggles. They value power over justice.
A divided, snarky culture benefits the Permanent Political Class. “Culture” also means “artistic and intellectual pursuits and products”. Leibovich tells us the national media are cozy collaborators with the Beltway Elite. Guerilla journalist James O’Keefe calls it the “Government-Media Complex”. Leftist Hollywood and the Mainstream Media give us shows filled with negativity. Between real-life war atrocities overseas and the shallow sexual exploits of Barney Stinson, audiences switch from being flabbergasted to cynical and back again.
Conservative media like talk radio and Breitbart add to the teeth-gnashing, too. They get audiences worked up over the latest outrage from the Democrats. Whether they intend to or not, conservative forums play into the Washington politicians’ schemes. By making us fearful of the bizarre “other”, Democrats and Republicans make us fearful and collect our campaign donations while accomplishing little besides fundraising. They reward their media cronies accordingly.
They want us to argue whether we should tighten or relax regulations, whether they’re on firearms, businesses, the environment, education, minimum wage, or anything we can think of. Personally, I’m against regulations, but that’s because it never should be an issue to begin with. “What will we do about trouble-makers, though?” is the regulators’ concern. Darn it, I don’t want them to get away with hurting me, but what about bureaucrats making trouble? What about my freedom? Now you see the tightrope we all walk. How do we keep our balance?
Balance is kept by looking up. In the “Yoga X” disc in P90-X, trainer Tony Horton guides viewers in some balance postures and advises them to concentrate upward. By way of analogy, let’s think of higher callings and aspirations. High Culture. Iowa City is home to several yoga classes, if the fliers at the coffee shops are any indication, but it’s also home to the University of Iowa. Thousands of hopeful youth cycle through the city, preparing for their futures, and driving the local economy. There are two other big universities in Iowa, but U of I’s curriculum focuses more on liberal arts- emphasis on arts.
I attended the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, and today I live in Cedar Rapids, and I can tell you these communities are industrial and business-like. Iowa City is more colorful. You work, make a living, and raise a family in Cedar Rapids, but you drive to Iowa City for fun. The residents and visitors of Iowa City are united in their culture of arts and education, so even though it’s run by tax-and-spend Democrats, it’s safe and prosperous. In my next post I’ll discuss the difference between real and fake liberals, but for now, let’s be happy that Iowa City’s people mean well and work honestly despite any political machinations.
That’s fine, you may say, but how long can it last? A cynic will point out that aspirations turn into businesses and businesses turn into rackets. What will keep the bad actors from dragging Iowa City into the gutter? Will they turn it into Washington or Comcast? Arts and learning are different from the profit and power motives; they’re less basic and more profound. I theorize there is a hierarchy of motives and some are more meaningful than others. Is there a motive at the top, that’s higher than all the rest? Christians will point you to Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
You may not be ready to accept a religious idea such as that, and not everyone believes God is real. No argument I come up with can convince you unless you’re already open-minded. But for the time being, consider what your values are, and why they’re important. Why is making money important? Do you need it to support your lifestyle? Why is your lifestyle important? Does it define you? Do you want to be defined positively? Why would you want to be defined positively? As you can see, these questions can turn into the “Why” game that little kids play on grown-ups to pester them. But the questions need to lead somewhere, or else why bother with working? If you can’t see beyond your next quarterly report, maybe you’re no better than Comcast. If you don’t care about your quality of work unless the public is watching, maybe you’re no better than the Beltway Insiders. If you can’t see the purpose of rules and ethics as long as you get paid, maybe you’re no better than the criminals plaguing America’s large cities.
Division results when we value our own methods without thinking beyond them. We don’t need to give up our values, but we can’t obsess over them. Otherwise, we’re worshiping false gods. I wish to make an announcement concerning my blog. I’m still a conservative Christian, more so than ever. I feel that’s what I’m meant to be. However, I’m more accepting of the liberal viewpoint. Instead of being enemies, I now think liberals and conservatives are different organs in the same body. They serve different functions leading to freedom and justice. The real antagonism lies between the people and the politicians. Those in power want life to be an either/or proposition. We’re not going to solve America’s problems by voting in the right politicians, because there are no right politicians. Reform will come when the grassroots are led by something or someone higher than Washington D.C. “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” sounds good to me.