“What Life Asks of Us”

January 31st, 2009

In the fast food world of politics, the American people have ordered in a new main dish, along with a ‘side of change’.  Change isn’t going to happen if we allow our leaders and journalist/pundits to keep pulling us back into old habits of thought and action.

The profound question of “What Life Asks of Us”,  just became a profound joke in the hands of  David Brooks of the New York Time Op-Ed corner, normally reserved for more erudite, conservative rhetoric. Mr. Brooks seems bent on apologizing for his trip to the Dark Side, when he endorsed Obama’s candidacy rather than follow other conservative lemmings over the cliff of Republican hubris.  Instead, he chose Life, the one with the capital “L” (which does NOT have to stand for ‘Liberal’). This is not to say that Obama is a miracle worker – we’ve dug ourselves quite a hole and there’s no saying his bulldozer is heavy enough to push all the dirt back into it to build us that level playing field promised in our Constitution. However, keen Republican minds do know when to stop digging and some of them did so by supporting Obama over McBush.

But now they have to do penance for it or lose face before their future masters. Frankly, the apologies in Brook’s latest column seen here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/27/opinion/27brooks.html , in which he extols just those values which required him to shift allegiences in the last election, aren’t delivered with his usual erudition.   Mistaking qualities found in ‘institutional thinking’ for teamwork, he cited individualism as a ‘modern’ phenomenon synonymous with self-gratification at the expense of ones ‘team’. Obviously, America’s CEOs or the heads of all our ‘teams’, must not be ‘institutionalized’. Funny. It sounds to me like they would be excellent candidates for institutionalization.

This was my hasty comment which the moderators of the Times saw fit to print, along with some four hundred other responses.  However, Mr. Brooks gets points from me for phrasing the important question of our day – What does life ask of us?  Unfortunately, the answer wasn’t included in his commentary.


Mr. Brooks,

Institutionalized thinking is not ‘what life asks of us’. It is what heads of organizations require of us in order to subordinate individuality to the deity of efficiency in the reaching of their goals. This is more on the order of, “Quit thinking” over “Quick thinking”. Its virtues are strictly defined by the relative ‘virtue’ of the individual(s) at the helm and not by any virtue inherent in the institution itself.

If we look at the institutions set up by industry and governments today, we see a culture devoted to overturning the basics of ‘what life asks of us’. We completely ignore biochemistry in favor of creating, marketing and ‘institutionalizing’ the use of toxic chemicals in the most simple functions one can imagine. The introduction of benzene derivatives into fragrances and fabric softeners; the ingestion of chlorinated sugars; the unregulated delivery devices used for applying pesticides called ‘foggers’ and ‘ misters’ emitting unnecessarily large doses of ‘institutionally’ approved poisons within confined and occupied spaces; hormone altering drugs marketed as additives for plastics used to encase and preserve food… these are reflective of institutionalized thinking. Sell it first, examine it later. Not too closely, of course, or you may actually have to regulate it. Need more protein? Melamine can do the trick.

Criticize such proceedings and be labeled an anti-capitalist, instead of a realist with an understanding of basic biochemistry. Ignore it and watch the gradual increase in the cost of health care rise to sixteen percent of the GNP. We have witnessed just that, only to have fans of ‘institutional thinking’ conclude that cheap health care led consumers to begin visiting doctors for entertainment purposes. Increased costs will lead to less usage of health care services.

Have you read the latest research which confirmed the results of an old study known as “Obedience to Authority”? Higher education is still peopled with students trained to exchange their humanity at the perceived threat of losing a good grade. That may play well in the game of baseball and even be required on the field of combat. However, life is not really an emergency room and it is certainly not a game. We would do better to institutionalize the virtues of second thought, where critical thinking skills have been taught.

There is a sound reason for our mental associations of institutions with strait jackets.

— Barbara Rubin

Categories: NY Times, Published

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