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Who’s Next?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Martin Niemöller. Perhaps you haven’t. Even if you haven’t heard of Martin Niemöller, it’s likely you’re familiar with these words, which he wrote in rueful reflection after World War II:

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “That could never happen here.” Perhaps you haven’t. Even if you haven’t heard it, it’s likely you believe it as it pertains to the United States of America. It probably doesn’t even matter to what that refers. In our insular bubbles of gullibility, naiveté, and complacency, we don’t have to see beyond the ends of our noses. We don’t have to consider any interests other than our own. And those interests are always special, indeed, and getting more special by the minute.

We don’t have to doubt or question. We don’t have to think or examine. We don’t have to assess our own notions of progress or recognize our increasing levels of dependence.

The proverbial they will always take care of it, whatever it is. And they is most assuredly politicians and their media minions. The last things we’ll have to do are take care of ourselves and take personal responsibility for anything.

Welcome to death by a thousand promises.

Perhaps you’ve heard this expression: “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” Or this one: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Or maybe this one, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” At this point, it likely doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we re-discover the purposes that once bound us, that compelled us to stand together in unity, rather than engaging in what a friend described to me this way: “Blind militance … more interested in dramatic nihilism than substantive change or reflection.”

If our project is to find fault, to exact misbegotten notions of retribution, and to engage in wanton acts of anarchy and destruction, we will, indeed, reap what we sow. And the vicious circle will never be broken.

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Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brienhttps://obriencg.com/
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Tom and Mark — We should NOT be tearing down or defacing offensive monuments. We miss a great opportunity to learn from them. As that paragon of wisdom, Indiana Jones, said of an artifact in “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,” “It belongs in a museum!”

    The larger issue in my simple mind is that we get myopic when pushed. We focus on the monuments and the looting and labels, and not on the ongoing irritations underlying them. Yes, some (many?) of the people who were protesting were opportunists and some were simply political agitators – left and right. I want to believe that the bulk of the people protesting are simply fed up with a nation that really doesn’t care about them – and never did. Lyndon Johnson starts the Great Society with a number of programs meant to raise ALL boats, and the following administrations defund them. We get nowhere. The underlying problems of poverty and division remain.

    Mark, you raise a great point with “re-discover the purposes that once bound us, that compelled us to stand together in unity.” One historical thought, though, is that we were always a loose federation of independent states. Our “nation” started as a collection of self-operating colonies often at odds with one another. The ties that bind us, as Benjamin Franklin noted when the Constitution was finally finished, are thin.

    Yes, we have to stand together in unity, but we need to elect leaders who will be brave enough to posit what “unity” means – both for the nation and with our fellow nations. Seeing our nation stand alone against other nations is a lose-lose position. Who in their right mind seeks to ignore or retract what can only be described as global interdependence? Someone sneezes half-way around the world, and we get sick here. It won’t just be cities burning if we don’t wake up.

    • Jeff, we are of one heart and different minds. (Doesn’t that make us human?)

      In my view, the Great Society was a causal agent in the ongoing irritations we’re now seeing acted out. LBJ’s programs were instrumental in creating a culture of subjugation, dependency, and expectation in which (among other things and in the words of Earl Gibson III on LinkedIn, “Black fathers were systematically replaced with a check.”

      https://www.linkedin.com/posts/earl-gibson-iii-172090165_dear-black-people-on-linkedin-are-you-ready-activity-6680230072017911808-doZL

      If white people are in a hurry to feel guilty, we should feel guilty for presuming black people (or anyone else) needed, ever needed, or would ever benefit long-term from handouts, as opposed to helping hands. Or, in the words of Louis CK, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime. Leave the dude alone, and he’ll figure it out.”

      And yes, we’re constituted as a loose federation of independent states. But the nation was called United for a reason.

      As for leaders, (A) we have to remember they work for us. We’ve lost that realization along with so much more. (B) We have to elect a president who will preside over the laws enacted by members of Congress who should serve single terms, knowing they’ll have to return home to face the constituents who sent them to Washington to provide the representation part of representative government.

      If we’re going to put all our statues in a museum, attending that museum and learning the history therein should be mandatory. Reading 1984, Lord of the Flies, and Frankenstein wouldn’t hurt, either.

      Here’s to restoring our unity.

      • Mark: “Leave the dude alone, and he’ll figure it out.” Seriously? That would work? Wasn’t working for blacks or Appalachians whites before 1964. And why do arguments like Gibson’s always center on blacks? White Americans have been just as abusive of policy as other groups, as we see in welfare and opioid use statistics.

        Some of the Great Society programs fell prey to three things (1) funds heavily diverted to the Vietnam War; (2) the assassination of MLK and the growth of the civil rights / black power movement; and (3) GOP defunding esp under Reagan. G.S. did give us Medicare and Medicaid.

        We can’t put the persistent earnings gap and home owning gaps between blacks and whites at Johnson’s door. Those are the result of historic racist policy.

        At the end of the day, we’ve still got trouble here in River City, and the “they’ll figure it out” refrain won’t get us anywhere. Why didn’t under-educated marginalized-feeling white males who voted for Trump in droves just be left alone to “figure it out”? Why couldn’t eclipsed industries like coal be left to “figure it out”? Why can’t farmers who have historically been give price supports and bailouts due to a conjured trade war been left to “figure it out”?

        “United” is the adjective modifying “states.” One of the reasons for our catastrophic resurgence of COVID 19 is because the states have been left to their own devices – with largely national abdication of responsibility.

        Agree with you on electing the right leadership, but we need to reconstitute “us.” As I said in my Masquerade piece, we have devolved into a “they and them” nation.

        Agree with you on telling a more accurate history. Having served in the educational publishing industry for 30+ years, much of it in the social studies / history / humanities department, telling our “accurate” history was the LAST thing on the minds of state BOEs. That’s why one of our competitors actually referred to slaves as “workers.” The line between historical accuracy and sanitization was constantly pushed.

        Appreciate the dialoguing as always.

        As a nation, we have a long way to go….

        • Uh … the Louis CK quote was intended to be facetious, Jeff. Sorry about that.

          I appreciate the dialogue, too, and the learning opportunity. For the purpose of continuing the discussion, I’d love to know your thoughts on this:

          https://www.nvdaily.com/nvdaily/walter-e-williams-insults-to-black-history/article_3b6ebedc-5d34-55e3-87dc-0d7ef6c7cd76.html

          This, too:

          https://www.truenewshub.com/dailywire/klavan-the-racial-matrix/

          I’m as inclined to believe Williams and Klavan as I am to believe every stereotype breaks down at the level of the individual. It’s a tough spot that puts me in mind of this:

          “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” (E.B. White)

          • Mark — I tried to read — and grasp — Klavan, but I generally avoid diatribes on both the right AND the left that merely point fingers, label people and groups, and generalize. And offer no solutions. These are the “prosecuting attorneys” of the pundit world.

            Williams? Laughable and a true insult to black history.

            “Black Americans have made the greatest gains, over some of the highest hurdles…” We and they are supposed to feel better because they’ve made gains over the high hurdles we put in front of them?

            “…neither a slave nor a slave owner would have believed such progress would be possible in less than a century and a half.” Again, we’re supposed to overlook from where they started – and where many remain – because they’ve made “progress.”

            “The issue that confronts us is how these gains can be extended to about one-quarter of the Black population for whom they have proven elusive.” Maybe he’s referring to the percentage of blacks who live below the government standard of poverty. Most who live just above that line and are barely scrapping by, earning less than their white counterpart, no longer count.

            “Black people can be thankful that double standards and public and private policies rewarding inferiority and irresponsibility were not a part of the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.” Nope, they can just be grateful for the segregation policies that were raging then especially as we fought for “freedom” during WWII. Integrated fighting units? No way. let them be stewards waiting on white officers on naval vessels.

            “Government should do its job of protecting constitutional rights.” OK, but it’s not. Look only at voting rights in this country. Provisions of the Voting Rights Act were just striped away “along ideological lines” “because they were no longer needed.” Why are Republicans at every level of government doing their best to gerrymander districts with large black and minority populations? Because they have historically voted Democratic.

            “Chief among these policies is the welfare state that has fostered a 75% rate of out of wedlock births…” Let’s just ignore the fact that white Americans are the largest recipients of certain welfare programs, e.g. Medicaid and almost equal to black Americans when you look at the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programs.

            Walter Williams is like the Wizard of OZ who has just had the curtain pulled back: “Ignore the man at the controls; let me distract you with statistics and clever turns of phrases.”

            We could go on. How do we move beyond the tennis match?

            • Jeff, as we continue this exchange of ideas, I have to tell you I don’t share your guilt. Maybe that’s because I don’t put myself in the “we” to which you refer here: “We and they are supposed to feel better because they’ve made gains over the high hurdles we put in front of them?” Maybe I should.

              As for voting rights, I’m not at all sure we need to go there. It has the makings of a circular firing squad:

              https://scontent-bos3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/109687386_3459327770746262_1994771650693438425_n.jpg?_nc_cat=103&_nc_sid=8bfeb9&_nc_ohc=WTkE9Lkpu34AX9Z7sv1&_nc_ht=scontent-bos3-1.xx&oh=6a9f48e5d6cc748acd8fdb5d19bc2e72&oe=5F35B1AE

              I remember watching an episode of Phil Donahue back in day that was devoted to racism. Phil was running all over the studio, frantically attempting to exorcise his white guilt, when he happened to take a comment from one particular audience member. She was an African-American woman. Phil asked her what she did for a living. She said she owned a successful, regional network of radio and TV stations in the South. Spluttering, Phil said, “But how were you able to overcome racism and anti-feminism in a business world dominated by white men?” The woman replied, “My mother and father taught me that if I was going to spend my time worrying about isms, I wouldn’t accomplish much.” I suspect that woman would have scoffed at the notion of our feeling guilty.

              Coleman Hughes is a young man whose work I’ve read on Quillette. I wonder what you make of his thinking here:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=22&v=3k9F8I_-HL0&feature=emb_logo

              And I wonder what you make of this:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-FOCZVLTaw

              At least to this point, I remain convinced we’ll accomplish more for everyone by looking ahead, rather than looking back and pointing fingers.

              P.S. In case you’re wondering, yes. I do know George Floyd was a criminal. And yes, I do believe the cop who took George Floyd’s life was more criminal than George. And yes, I do believe the guy who did this is beneath contempt and should be put away:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bal9LDqBqcg

              I look forward to the continuation of our tennis match. I’ll try to be careful not to rush the net. 😉

              • Mark —
                I actually don’t feel “guilt” per se. I feel increasingly grateful for what I have, what my parents were able to give me as role models, and what I earned on my own. I may have grown up in the same town as did Hillary Clinton, but my side had a distinctively different economic climate. My dad could have played John Houseman in the E.F. Hutton commercials: if you want something fin life, earn it.

                I am also aware of what others don’t have, of lingering inequity and prejudice. What you hear as guilt may be better understood as anger. Perhaps certain well-intended social programs had the unintended consequence of creating dependency. But we cannot ignore our nation’s history of wide-scale bigotry and intolerance. But that said, I don’t believe reparations are the answer. Education is part of the answer. Non racist policies are part of the answer.

                I’m also increasingly aware that these matters we discuss are complex with long tangled histories. And because of that, I take some amount of joy in the fact that you and I are doing what the leaders we elect should be doing: talking, well, writing out our thoughts and perhaps inching toward one another in an effort to find “Us” – United.

                As I approach the weekend, I’m left recognizing that I need to read more, listen more, be open more, and acknowledge that I could be wrong. I do believe, though, that our nation is at a critical inflection point. We are mortgaging our future through short, short-sightedness, tolerance of inaction and partisanship, the misguided belief that we can exist alone in an increasingly interdependent world, and the view that our better days are behind us.

                • Jeff, you are sending me into my weekend humble and grateful. I suspect the political aisle widens a bit when it passes between our seats on it. But it’s narrowed this week. And in this, we agree utterly:

                  “Education is part of the answer. Non racist policies are part of the answer. I’m also increasingly aware that these matters we discuss are complex with long tangled histories. And because of that, I take some amount of joy in the fact that you and I are doing what the leaders we elect should be doing: talking, well, writing out our thoughts and perhaps inching toward one another in an effort to find “Us” – United. As I approach the weekend, I’m left recognizing that I need to read more, listen more, be open more, and acknowledge that I could be wrong. I do believe, though, that our nation is at a critical inflection point. We are mortgaging our future through short, short-sightedness, tolerance of inaction and partisanship.”

                  If you hadn’t written that, I might have. If we agree on the what, we’re certainly capable of agreeing on the how. The nation and the world will still have their fair share of problems this weekend. But you and I have drawn closer to a constructive middle ground. And everything big has to start small.

                  Thank you, my friend.

  2. Bingo my friend. You are dead on. Everyone who doesn’t see their ox being gored is ok with the wholesale slaughter of every other kind of organism. There is no hypocrisy, there is no true North, there is only the Outrage of the Day (now trending on Twitter). Ronald Reagan exhorted Mikhail Gorbachev to “Tear Down this Wall!” We have a bunch of pubescent terrorists not waiting for anyone to exhort them on anything – they just keep tearing down those monuments. Damn us who think otherwise.

    • Thank you, Tom. The bad news is we’re in a bigger struggle than it might have appeared to be at first. The good news is more people seem to be waking up to it than I would have dared hope.

      I still have no idea how we’re supposed to learn from the history we eradicate. As Grandpa O’Brien loved to say, “Strange things are happening.”

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