In A Word: Institution

Institutions spring to life for any number of reasons; but once living all institutions strive to stay alive and do whatever else they do only to that end. Unlike other living things however, institutions are incapable of humility, restraint, or self-sacrifice. And when we complain that government, or public schools, or the legal system, etc., are failing, it is because we don’t understand the nature of institutions. Institutions succeed and grow as a consequence of complaints against them. In fact, the more we complain the more power and wealth institutions will claim in order to address our complaints.

In A Word: Institution

And in America—an exceptional country dedicated to individual freedom, individual rights, and private ownership of property—institutions make this most menacing and contradictory claim. Institutions, we are told, must have the authority to claim individual freedom, individual rights, and private property in order to foster individual freedom, individual rights, and private property.

This claim is dangerous nonsense and it’s not new. Thomas Jefferson addressed it directly in 1816, “The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves…”

Jefferson understood the menacing danger inherent in institutions. And Jefferson knew, as did America’s earliest functionaries, that the specific responsibility of “the people” is to simultaneously keep institutions at arms length and under foot. Today’s functionaries think that too don’t they? Well, don’t they?

Imagine you are a functionary of this or that institution in whom there grows the desire to claim, for whatever supposedly good purpose, the individual freedom and private property of the people. Which would you rather face, those with or without long arms and strong feet?

People so endowed will require proof that your actions will, in the end, generate more individual freedom and private property than that which is destroyed. They will review your previous actions to determine if you have done so in the past. They will look back in history to a time when America’s institutions were much smaller and much less powerful, and utterly fail to identify instances when people were in need and were left to go derelict. Most concerning to you as functionary, people will, after doing these things, be far less willing to accept the next desire of yours that comes along.

Conversely, people with short arms and weak feet are easily manipulated by slogans, appeals to the common good, and vague promises of a better life. As functionary you may find these people useful. You may seek them out and tailor your actions to ensure their numbers grow. You may even consider it the primary task of all functionaries everywhere to do so. This behavior is not only perfectly possible, it’s perfectly real.

But that is not the worst of it. The worst of it is, functionaries assume what is wholly beyond the scope of human achievement: a total and superior understanding of individual human beings by other individual human beings. Humans lack that ability. Humans have always lacked that ability. And all the pursuits, of all the functionaries, of all the institutions in the land, cannot achieve it.

In A Word: Institution
Written by Matt Manna
Jul 31, 2017 • 37D3F6F5(R04)
Graphic © ioannis kounadeas •

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Work Cited
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816 , from The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes. Federal Edition. Collected and Edited by Paul Leicester Ford.

The Fickle Finger of Free

Getting more for less makes the brain feel good in ways no amount of exercise can match. But what happens when less becomes zero? Do the good feelings persist? Or are they reliant upon the transfer of money? Maybe not, but then again…

The Fickle Finger of Free

This story begins in 1979, the year my first vehicle rolled off the Ford Motor Company assembly line. It was a fully equipped Econoline E150 van furnished with wall to wall carpeting, AM/FM stereo, rear bench seat, two barrel chairs, and reclining front bucket seats.

The van vanished in the 1990’s, but the bench seat and barrel chairs remain. They’ve outlasted eleven new vehicles, twenty or so laptop computers, and the combined lives of several cats. For a long while they served proudly in Studio A’s control room, which accounts for their unusual odor and unique outlook on life.

In recent years the chairs have been quartered in the storeroom; a storeroom without any really — room that is. Sadly, the chairs must go. But how? The dumpster seems cruel and an online add more trouble than it’s worth. Sound engineer Pete, who confides that he too owned a van in his younger years, suggests the obvious. Stick the chairs on the sidewalk in front of the office and let the fickle finger of fate have its way.

But fate’s fickle finger is slow. Twelve noon comes and goes, as does 3:00PM, 6:00PM, and 9:00PM, plus the twelve noon, 3:00PM, 6:00PM, and 9:00PM of two more days. I remain hopeful, but the neighbor two buildings down takes a different view. He marches into the lobby unsmilingly serious and demands, “Do those chairs belong to you?”

“Yes, you want them? They’re free!”

“What I want is for them to disappear,” the neighbor says. “We have a very important client arriving on Friday, and frankly, they make the street look cheap.”

“That’s no problem. The chairs will be gone by Friday,” I tell the neighbor. He says thanks and double-times it back to his place to prepare, I imagine, for very important client day.

But his words linger. The chairs do look cheap. Fate’s fickle finger needs a helping hand. That evening I produce a sign: Van Chairs • $80 For The Lot

The next day, Thursday, (the day before very important client day) my intercom rings. The announcement is exciting. A person in the lobby wants to talk about the chairs.

I introduce myself to Burt and let him in on the secret. “Listen Burt, you can have the chairs for free. In fact they’ve been sitting out there for three days and three nights without anyone, except a persnickety neighbor, asking about them.”

Burt is displeased and a little disappointed. He says, “No I can’t do that. Those are great chairs and I have the perfect use for them.”

“Ok Burt,” I say. “If it makes you feel better, hand over 80 bucks and I’ll help you load them up.”

“Well let me ask you a question,” Burt says. “I only have 50 dollars. Will you take 50 for the chairs?”

Now I’m thinking this is a set up. I just told this guy the chairs are his for free and he’s trying to negotiate a price. I don’t’ say anything though because were inside of 16 hours until very important client day.

“Yes Burt, 50 dollars is just fine.”

Burt hands over 50 bucks and takes possession of the most costly “free” van chairs in existence. I stick the bills into the coffee kitty, scratch my head, and try to recall a once familiar verse. Ah yes, “Why try to fight intended circumstance? I’ll bide my time instead. And when it turns its head. I’ll give the finger of fate a good kick up the pants!”

Author’s note: This story is real. A few of the words, including the last four sentences, come from The Fickle Finger of Fate — Visitor’s Poem, by Richard John Scarr.

The Fickle Finger of Free
Written by Matt Manna
Jul 13, 2017 • 66CD031C(R04)
Graphic © deepstock •

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Madeline’s Mind

Observe any person, doing almost anything at all, and sooner or later a prevailing behavior will reveal itself. For some 15 items or less is a rule to live by, others treat it as a casual suggestion, and still others as an average to be reached over time. Most stop for red lights, while others barrel through without the slightest concern. Some like dogs, others cats, a few fancy fish, and fewer still favor their fine feathered friends.

Madeline's Mind

We may never understand exactly how the mind informs behavior, but we can observe the phenomenon in others — especially the young. My niece Madeline did that for me exactly ten years ago today.

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Half Brained Slogans

In the land of the brainless the half brained will rule. If this arrangement seems straightforward, that’s because it is. It is also an arrangement that comes with a notable quality. The half brained know their reign will be short in a land where most are intelligent. This is why the half brained among us: the politicians, press, and professors—many of whom personify the qualities of used car salesmen—communicate by way of slogans.

Half Brained Slogans

Two of today’s most popular slogans are: (1) The earth is too hot; (2) Russia hacked the United States 2016 presidential election. Neither slogan provides a shred of viable information. And if we accept either of them uncritically, the half brained will glean confirmation of what they already suspect: It may be impossible to fool all of the people all of the time, but when armed with a few good slogans, you can fool all of the brainless forever.

Let’s consider each slogan in turn.

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The End of “Change”

It is a harsh reality of language that the same word can label different principles. Before the November 8, 2016 election “change” labeled the principles of shadowy backroom organizers who supposed that ethnicity, gender, and class division would forever fuel political success.

The End of "Change"

After the November 8, 2016 election “change” is viewed glaringly as an incompetent set of principles that did not, and cannot, succeed. On November 8, 2016 American voters—clear-sighted and intrinsically motivated—brought “change” to an end. Their actions can and should be measured at every level of government.

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