Why We Blow Stuff Up On July 4th

Flag

Monday, 1:43pm
Reno, NV
“Wave that flag, wave it wide and high…” (Grateful Dead, “US Blues”)

Howdy,

As a kid, July Fourth meant fireworks, and lots of them.

We’d start salivating around mid-June, shaking like 10-year-old junkies until Pop finally drove us to the Red Devil stand in Fontana, where’d we stock up on the most gruesome display of flame, gunpowder and amateur rocketry possible.

Oh, the joys of ladyfingers going off under Aunt Ruth’s chair, of nearly burning down the garage when a bottle rocket zoomed sideways, of thrilling Roman candles singeing the shrubbery, of snakes, pinwheels, sparklers and fountains frothy with fire in the backyard battlefield…

It was freakin’ glorious, is what it was.

But I never made the connection to what, exactly, we were celebrating.

Later in life, I got into history, and I finally understood why (for example) my Mexican and European pals rolled their eyes at my stories of celebrating the Fourth by setting fields on fire with M80-loaded Silver Salutes, or blowing up toilets in the boy’s room with cherry bombs (as custom demanded).

Americans are a raucous bunch, that’s for sure. We take a lot for granted, we’re still fighting the Civil War, much of our politics is incoherent and illogical, and we can be pretty infuriatingly provincial.

Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.

However, even acknowledging all of these glaring faults hasn’t made me as cynical as some of my hipster pals. As I’ve said many times, no political party would ever allow me to be a member, and you’ll never figure out how I vote or what my views are on the topics the news media obsesses about.

This causes some problems in social situations when colleagues just assume I agree with them on the major issues. And I usually don’t agree at all. I’m not a total cynic, but I find fault with almost every opinion I hear. I totally understand how a lot of folks do become snarling partisans, enraged at their polar opposites on all issues, bereft of hope for the future.

I just learned to loathe cynicism long ago. Worthless attitude, doesn’t help anything, doesn’t provide solutions, doesn’t make an iota of difference in what goes on. At best, the cynic may toss off an actual witticism…

… but mostly, they’re just too cool to be bothered beyond expressing droll boredom and a vague superiority at being “above the fray”.

Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.

And I learned to shut that guy out very early in my career. My first question, whenever someone was bashing an entrepreneur’s efforts, used to be “well, what would you do in his situation?” Which, of course, produced exasperation that someone of such intelligence and knowledge as themselves should be required to come up with solutions.

The nerve, asking him to dirty himself with real-world considerations.

Nowadays, I prefer to just let the conversation die from non-involvement. No matter what the cynic is talking about, it’s the same game every time – either “they” (the mysterious folks apparently running everything) need to fix things, or the world just needs to stop bothering Mr. Cynic with its problems if no one’s gonna take his advice.

Yawn.

Yeah, you’re the guy I’m going to when problems need fixing. Those platitudes, snooty attitudes and arrogant dismissals of detail work oughta solve everything fast.

Oops, I let some sarcasm slip. Sorry.

Anyway, I bring up my detestation of cynicism because it often rears its ugly head right about the Fourth of July, when guys like me start ruminating on what’s good about this country.

Yes, I know The Man is getting better at keeping us down. I know we’re being groomed for digital slavery by evil geniuses who want to control the universe. And I know it’s hopeless to fight city hall (let alone the gazillionaires currently corrupting every corner of the government with buckets of moolah).

But I’m an amateur historian. And I can scoff at the cynics because even a casual glance at the ride we’ve taken as a country so far lays bare a single fact: We’ve always been at each other’s throats… the machinery of government has always clogged up at some point with cronyism and stupidity and corruption… and there is no single “truth” about living in the modern world.

Folks, we’re making it up as we go. If you’ve been living your life believing there’s some grand plan guiding things beyond the next election cycle, well, good for you. I hope that belief gives you comfort, but you’re delusional.

What’s kept the country going, so far, has been the incredible creativity of a minority of people who either get sucked into positions of authority, or who throw themselves into the fight (and suffer the consequences) because they simply cannot ignore the craziness anymore.

Our Constitution, cobbled together by men who did their best to force-feed the breakthroughs of The Enlightenment into government, is part road-map, part mysterious Oracle (speaking in language so open to interpretation that we haven’t agreed on it in two centuries years of trying), part sobering reminder of how imperfect our origins are.

Hey, it was one of the first governing documents of its kind, so cut it a little slack. Your bitchin’ new iMac is a direct descendant of that first homemade Apple computer (with no monitor and very limited utility) in Wozniack’s garage, you know. Your nice dependable car with the sealed engine bloomed from the unreliable Model A. The first of anything can be a fragile, error-riddled Beta version.

Which is why we didn’t get our modern version of the Constitution until after we tossed the mortally-flawed Articles of Confederation, and added a whole bunch of Amendments to address other serious problems that kept popping up.

I don’t have any easy answers to the problems plaguing us, and you don’t either. The battles we fight have always been with us, and forever will remain with us. Right vs. left, ignorant vs. arrogant, moralist vs. libertine, religious vs. secularist… you’re not gonna solve the disconnects and partisanship with laws.

What resiliency we’ve enjoyed has been because of the elasticity of the governing document. It has bent near-to-breaking many times, but keeps snapping back.

Which brings me to one thing I insist on celebrating in our Constitution over all other elements – the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Like much of the writing in our governing document, it’s vague and easily interpreted in silly ways.

However, that key part about freedom of speech is the grease in the engine of democracy. Most of our ancestors, thoughout history, had no such luxury. A few short generations ago, I easily could have been shot just for writing this blog in most of the world. Most ruling classes, once they get into power, seek to shut down dissent (and anyone else they don’t like for general purposes). It’s hard to rule large growling groups of humans, and you can get very irritable when critics are always sniping at your heels.

So, despite all the cynical things you can say about this joint, I keep coming back to that fragile, constantly-in-need-of-nurturing First Amendment…

… which, if any of my ancestors throughout history could have seen, would have taken their breath away.

We take it for granted that we can speak our minds here, and my network of writers feels mostly immune from the anxieties our colleagues in other times have suffered. It’s hard to imagine how I’d get through my day if I had to bite my tongue, and keep all this blather in my brain a fearful secret, 1984-style.

Americans are a contentious bunch. We may yet screw things up and lose it all… but it’s not a foolish bet, either, to believe we can also re-establish our foothold in this brave new world and keep the noble experiment going…

… as long as writers and other ass-kickers are free to persuade, cajole, cast shame and float new ideas without being tossed in the hoosegow.

And so, today, I tip my hat to the flag and Ms Liberty, and shed a modest tear for the freedom I’ve been given to be my anti-authoritarian, irreverent, rebellious bad self.

Here’s to ya, old girl. My love is genuine and forever, no matter how much she pisses me off at times.

And to the cynics: Either put up, or shut up. There’s work to be done, and your troll-like carping from the sidelines has long been like the annoying yapping of lap dogs. Lay out your plan for what to do differently. Don’t just gripe.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks.

Hope you have a great 4-day holiday weekend. Don’t get sunburned, and don’t burn down the garage. And for cryin’ out loud, don’t get sucked into another assinine political argument with that asshole brother-in-law of yours…

Stay frosty,

John

P.S. Love to hear your comments on how you deal with cynics, and how you view this opportunity to live in a world where you can spout off to The Man without (for now, at least) risking your neck.

We live in interesting times, my friend.

61 Responses to Why We Blow Stuff Up On July 4th

  1. john says:

    It is better to remain silent and thought a fool than open mouth and remove all doubt.

  2. WOW! What a great voice for a country quickly going to hell in a handbasket – very thought-provoking. You’ve actually boiled down and explained a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t understand because I didn’t know how to process it. “They” are always very slippery and many times an illusion of our own beliefs. But the best line in your whole blog is the question “what would you do in that situation?” That is a really useful tool in many situations. Thanks for a terrific post – oh – I did get sunburned, but I didn’t blow up anything! :)

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for the note, Melissa — good catch on “illusion” being the operative concept here. A little aloe vera goes a long way to healing sunburn, too…

    • Melissa, the country isn’t “going to hell in a handbasket”. The people continue to hold the keys, it’s just a matter of rallying up the troops and reminding them that they have the power to make changes.

  3. This was a typical thinking man’s post.

    First, it made me think of Jean Shepherd’s A Christmas Story were Ralphie is warned about shooting his eye out. Until he ultimately does exactly that.

    Second, it’s pathetically sad how true 1984 is. The big Gobment Cheese is listening in on our calls, reading our emails, and even scanning our mail.

    That’s freedom.

    Hey, I despise politics and the people I consider Wackos are starting to look sane.

    Happy 5th of July Carlton.

  4. You know, frankly I’ve been a little scared about the way the economy is “functioning” and the lack of anyone seeming to have any answers or direction (other than their own greedy agendas). Your post made me feel oddly at peace. I didn’t think about this as just history repeating itself. I feel like we’ll get through this spell too somehow. Thanks for the relief!

    Brat

    • John Carlton says:

      I also felt strangely better after writing it, Lorrie. For me, the worst anxiety is the “not knowing” type — I can face known terrors and deal with even sudden problems as long as I can get my brain around what’s going on. Solving problems is what we do best, as pro copywriters.

      The great thing about history is that you realize, quickly and often, that we’re just repeating the same script that our ancestors went through. Sometimes we learn a new lesson, sometimes we escape the worst results, and sometimes we just slide headlong into a total repeat.

      I think, too, we’ll get through this. Thanks for the note…

  5. Mark L says:

    Hi John,
    Thought-provoking post. I recall Stuart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and psychedelic ranger, saying (and I loosely quote), “The history of the United States has been one 200 year party. We’ve had almost endless resources, lots of room to grow, and the freedom to innovate and invent.”
    Brand did warn the party might be winding down, but I am grateful I was there for some of the best of times!
    Mark L

  6. Mike Caruana says:

    You ever get that feeling of knowing something at the gut level but never speaking about it, or simply can’t yank out the right words to express yourself?

    John, your vivid details and writing style can bring any topic to life and provoke thought.

    In answer to your question, I don’t deal with cynics anymore (used to try and get them off their ass, but it just isn’t worth it — would rather work with people already on my wavelength) nor do I try and convince anyone of my personal views. No political, sports, or religion posts on my FB wall. But, I especially resonate with this part of your post:

    “Well, fuck ‘em. The social/political/world-affairs cynic is a close cousin of the dude who’s never met a payroll, yet feels completely qualified to deliver speeches on how everyone else’s business should be run.”

    I’m not Democrat nor Republic, but a firm believer in Jack Canfield’s Success Principle #1:

    E+R=O

    You can’t control what the assclowns we put in office are going to do (E for event) but you can control how you react to it (R = Reaction) to create a favorable O (Outcome).

    Raise my cost of living (taxes, fuel, food, etc…) I’ll make more money to offset that instead of bitching about it.

    Raise the cost of postage, I’ll write a better sales letter that pulls in a higher response for more money.

    Try to brainwash me with your political BS and make me a passive citizen accepting your word, I’ll turn the TV and news off (did this years ago), get the cliff notes from others, and think for myself.

    PS — We’re not allowed to blow shit up in California, I’m a vegetarian, and rarely drink alcohol, so to me it was just another day at the beach tweaking some marketing campaigns, but thanks to all those who make this possible.

    Hope you and everyone else enjoyed the fourth.

    • John Carlton says:

      I did enjoy my Fourth, and love your note here. Thanks for taking the time to post…

      Canfield rocks…

    • Suzanne says:

      I also turned off my t.v. years ago…I have much more time than anyone else who still watches, plus I am in a better mood!
      Hooray brain cells!

      • John Carlton says:

        Damn, I wish I could do that. I didn’t watch TV for decades, but in the last few years I’ve gotten a cable connection and a huge screen… and watching football and movies in HD is the most addiction thing I’ve ever come across. I do, however, try to stay away from too much of the news or punditry…

  7. Hey John,

    Really appreciate you sharing this thoughtful post and I agree with a lot of the points.

    The question I ask people that endlessly complain about the U.S. is “Tell me, what country do you think is doing it better? Who should we emulate instead?”

    I have yet to hear even the angriest American offer a single example of a superior country.

    It’s easy to get down on the U.S. government when you’re comparing it to a utopia which has never existed anywhere before. Even if you compare the country to its own “Golden Days” of the past, you have to adjust your image for transparency as a lot more actions from the government would go unnoticed even a few decades ago.

    One particularly powerful lesson from Wallace Wattles in the “Science of Getting Rich” was that we should be grateful for politicians, even the corrupt ones. As imperfect as the political system is, it creates the structure where opportunity and prosperity can come to us.

    Great to see the positivity on here.

    –Dan

    • John Carlton says:

      Thanks for the note, Dan. In the current issue of The New Yorker magazine, there’s a killer article by Malcolm Gladwell that touches on this concept of challenges (from personal problems to corrupt officials to project hitting serious setbacks) is what ignites the kind of creativity that gets stuff done. (http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2013/06/24/130624crbo_books_gladwell)

      Our country (and it’s bitchin’ First Amendment) would likely have never come about had eons of despots not crushed free thought, had King Edward not used the colonists as a political punching bag for unrelated shit he was catching from his Parlament, had slavery not kept the young nation in a constant state of flux, and had western expansion not met up with natural and man-made problems that required massive feats of defining creativity.

      It’s a not straight line from 1776 to today of glory and success. In fact, it’s almost a completely bloody trail of war, horror, failed diplomacy, broken promises and self-righteous assholery… all of which was more or less healed (or at least allowed to settle down) by the passage of time and the eventual solutions offered through crunch-time creativity and the oft-ridiculed and contested efforts of brilliant folks trying to do the right thing.

      We can’t allow the sins of our forefathers to taint our current efforts to continue doing the right thing. The easier road to take, at almost every point, is the worst choice of all. It takes uncommon courage to examine all options, and take the RIGHT path, not the easiest or most profitable.

      Heck, even knowing WHAT the “right” thing to do is, at any given point, is up for grabs. So our country has, for the most part, defined “right” as being for the benefit of, first, the greater good for the nation as whole…

      … second, the protection of minorities standing to get crushed by self-righteous majorities…

      … and lastly, the continued Enlightenment concept of “rule of law”. So we obey the laws we’ve created, and will not bow to the capricious whims of a ruler. (This concept is consistently misunderstood by our fellow countrymen, and it’s a never-ending struggle to keep the population focused on the need for good laws (like unpopular taxes) that do good things when necessary, and bad things when necessary (like crushing the juggernaut of popular opinion when it’s dead wrong).

      This is complex shit, and far beyond the thinking capacity of most citizens. So majorities don’t vote, don’t get involved, take too much for granted, and allow aggressive assholes to bowl over the fundamental principles that undergird our freedom while they go after their own agendas. (And I guarantee you that, no matter what your politics are, you will believe I’m agreeing with you and pointing my finger at your perceived enemies… and I’m not. I’m not on your side if you’re partisan on nearly major issue of the day… and yet, what I say makes total sense, doesn’t it? This is where the complexity comes in.)

      There will never be a utopia as long as humans are the population. We’re still half in the jungle, mentally, our technologies have far outstripped our capacity to control or even understand them anymore (can you fix your car engine if it breaks, or even your fridge?), and it’s SO much easier to just be a couch potato and pretend the world is safe and sound and everything’s fine.

      There’s a chapter in my book “The Entrepreneur’s Guide To Getting Your Shit Together” on the whole concept of getting rich so you are free to go do “good” things… and why the most unhappy people in the world are the filthy rich who can’t turn off the greed switch and never USE the freedom that having a decent pile of moolah allows you. They’re stuck in money-grubbing mode, and all their creativity and persuasion skills and focus just grinds away at the biz.

      There’s more to life than money. You need to find that out for yourself if you’re broke, though… and once you do discover the truth (that money really can’t “buy” lasting happiness), it’s time to get busy finding out what DOES make you happy, and get after that. For me, having the freedom to change people’s lives positively is my life’s work (and I would have never discovered this without first becoming successful at biz). I’m getting more and more tempted to directly take on The Man, too… but I’m biding my time. Small victories, such as freeing even a few more people through helping them become successful entrepreneurs, can start huge movements with solid foundations.

      America was born in fire and blood, and we can’t get away from that. Still, we have choices in how we move forward. Making those choices a conscious decision is hard, and requires lots of people taking the road less traveled.

      I’m still positive, still optimistic, still preparing for good things to happen… despite the onslaught of bad news and horror. It has ever been thus, and progress is slow and requires much sacrifice.

      And, I’ve spoken my mind yet again, and no jack-booted thugs have arrived to silence me. For me, that’s huge…

      • The On/Off Switch for Moolah Grabbing is something I’ve thought a lot about and it would be great to hear your thoughts on it.

        There seems to be a paradox in the pursuit of wealth. You often hear people say “Oh, if I just had 3 million dollars, I’d stop working tomorrow.” Well the problem is that if you’re the type to stop working after 3 million dollars, you’re probably not the type to make it in the first place.

        Or even if you take it to less extreme measures… If you’re the type of person to make the sacrifices to get rich, you’re unlikely to start enjoying your free time once you can afford to relax.

        How do you solve that apparent paradox? You seem to have been able to motivate yourself hardcore but then take time off when you feel like it, switching gears when you need to.

        Curious for your thoughts on this.

        –Dan

        • John Carlton says:

          Excellent question, and one I’ve addressed many times before, Dan. Still worth discussing, though.

          Yes, getting to a few mil, with the idea of stopping, CAN be self-defeating. However, many of my writer colleagues have had similar goals, and because they pay close attention to where they’re “at” with all goals (something that seems to come easier with writers, possibly because we are constantly writing and re-examining our lists), many of them make it happen. Others keep resetting their goals, which is common — you can’t “know” what you’ll feel like with a million in cash when you’re dead broke, so you’re allowed to readjust your goals once you get close. You are NEVER held to your goals — it’s totally allowable to change them as you go. In fact, it’s required for good goal attainment — what we think we want is seldom what we actually enjoy having once we get it. That’s just human nature.

          The main list you want is your co-lists of what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do. Then, as much as possible, you do what you want, and don’t do what you don’t want to do. This simple test helps when you’re confronted with certain options or opportunities — if you have “never, ever, ever, never, kill-me-if-I-do, never work for someone else again, ever” on your main list, and you get pitched on a fabulous job crammed with perks… you can say “no” easier. It’s a nice offer, but it’s not something you want to do. So, no golden handcuffs for me, thanks.

          Same with wealth. You want “enough” money to do certain things. If yachts and second vacation homes are on your list, you need a lot of moolah. If you’re comfy with less, then you can “stop” with less.

          You can do whatever you set your mind to accomplish. You really can… with the obvious exceptions. (No, you’ll never get drafted by the Lakers, sorry.)

          And “hardcore” motivation is fungible and malleable. (Look those words up.) It’s a TOOL, not a commitment. Once you’ve experienced high end motivation, it’s fun cuz it can get you places. But you only become a junkie/slave to it if you lose focus…

          Make sense?

  8. Carl Picot says:

    Hey John …. “Plus, we’re no longer world leaders in the stuff we used to be rockstars at, like education, social mobility, inventions, progress, medicine… and we’re in denial about much of it.”

    This is true of your Brethren across the big pond as well (aka – the British).

    It’s funny … I was watching the critique that Stan Dhal and yourself did of my attempt at a sales page and your advice to ‘bury it and start again.’ :) ….

    If only we could do that with ourselves as a race ehh ??

    I guess the 4th means nothing to us Brits except that our emails don’t get opened by our US customers for about 4 days :) ….

    But ‘hey ho’ ehh ??? – We have ‘Bonfire night’ instead – not quite as classy, but it does the job.

    I will remain optimistic regardless (and practice my copy skills at the same time) :)

    Ok – lets all educate ourselves and see what sort of a mess it all is in ten years time.

    stay cool

    xxxxcarlxxxx

  9. Pete says:

    Hi John – Yep! – Guilty as charged, I do love a political gripe on Twitter quite regularly, but I bet if you lived in the UK you’d find it unbearably hard not too as well ;-)

    Having said that, I’m on the second reading of your book – ‘Getting Your Shit Together’ and loving every bit of it. I sit outside my grandaughters school for half an hour twice a week waiting to pick her up and there’s nothing better than listening to good old ‘Rock’ on the CD player and reading a good old ‘Rock-book’ on the tablet while I’m waiting :-)

    Frostly yours – Pete.

  10. Dave Bross says:

    No hope? Naaaaaah.

    It’s never as bad as we think.

    The major media knows they can only get you to twitch by showing you the worst at rapid fire scene switching speeds. They’ve gotten so bad that they’re burning out our adrenal systems from triggering flight/fight too often. Vote with your feet here or use the more off-prime-time sources.

    It really wouldn’t work at all if more than about 5-10% were truly evil, greedy, etc.

    We’ve actually come a long way. Dig up the real history of the USA and you’ll know it’s not nearly as scary/crooked/dangerous today as in the past.

    Just in recent history we’ve done amazing things to maintain our freedom…like getting rid of the draft for the military. They don’t dare try it again after what happened around Vietnam.
    One of the big and not often known issues around the American Revolution was the English “Press Gangs” who would kidnap innocent citizens and force them into slavery in the English navy.
    We did something about it in the 1700s and then again in the 1960s and 70s.

    One thing we in the USA have always done best is to “save the bacon” at the last possible minute.
    Like the Gladwell article in the New Yorker lays out, a little pressure does wonders for creativity.
    I loved that article too.

    In (I think) the same issue of the New Yorker is a long article on how a small group of politicians from VERY opposite poles got together on their own and did something about the immigration mess. It’s a must read on how government can work for everyone in spite of its baggage.

    Check out the huge new trends among the twenty somethings around making and fixing things. As an old maker/fixer that’s the most exciting thing I’ve seen in years…and yes, they can fix your refrigerator or car, sometimes by making the obsolete plastic parts required on their 3D printer.

    When we first got a look at the Russian rockets post-cold war everyone was stunned by the fact that they could have been built from parts available at the local hardware store. NASA was spending millions on a pen to write in zero gravity while the Russians just used pencils.
    Fast forward to today and you’ve got tiny startups building sattelites in garages from off the shelf parts for peanuts in cost.

    Bert Rutan won the X prize for the first “homemade” space flight with a ship that burned shredded tires for fuel.
    This man has always been an incredible example of what one person can get done, given the current system.

    Kudos to Stewart Brand from this corner of the universe too. The Whole Earth Catalog was a major key to my making/fixing highway.

    In the end we’re just a giant fun-to-watch work of art…messy, dangerous, fascinating…but still well executed in spite of the odds.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, I think about guys like Stewart Brand a lot these days — nose-to-the-grindstone revolutionaries who never touched a weapon or caused a riot, but who affected the way the world works in profound ways. Steve Jobs took Brand’s ideas a step further, and I’m hoping there are more like him around doing the same thing…

  11. Mike Martel says:

    It behooves every man to remember that the work of the critic is of altogether secondary importance, and that, in the end, progress is accomplished by the man who does things.
    Theodore Roosevelt

    I used to let criticism bother me. Now I just regard it as feedback – just that feedback. Based on the source I can accept it or simply reject it.

    I like your phrasing – let the conversation die from non-involvement if I don’t want to get involved with the particular critic.

    As Roosevelt states in the quote above, the only way that progress is made is by doing things. My system (if you call it that) is to find others, such as you John doing the things I want to do and follow the examples.

    Critics be dammed.

  12. Holly Lisle says:

    To answer the first part of your question, I deal with cynics by walking away—cynicism is the art of remaining blind to opportunity and potential by artfully denying their existence. I don’t choose to be blind, but neither do I choose to fight with some idiot over his wish to remain so rather than remove the bag over his head.

    As for freedom of speech, it is essential.

    But as an atheist, I want to point out that the framers of the Bill of Rights got the order of the provisions of the First Amendment correct when they noted first that:

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

    …and made freedom of speech second.

    Which might seem to be a damned odd thing for an atheist to say. But. religion (or philosophy) is what people think…and in the better class of discussion, debate, reasoning, argument, and policy-making, people think before they speak.

    The first item of the First Amendment does nothing less amazing than guarantee freedom of thought—that you can choose to believe, or disbelieve, any damn-fool thing you desire, and the government has no right to forbid you, or to make any laws regarding or restraining the contents of your brain.

    Before you can speak freely, you must be able to think freely, to be able to study all options and pursue those you believe to have value.

    I was raised the child of lay missionaries, I had an on-the-ground education in comparative religion and watched religion, like sausage, being made, and I discovered by the time I was sixteen that I have a congenital inability to believe that which I know to be untrue.

    I came to my own thoughts by hard work and hard study—read the whole Bible end to end several times, read the Koran, read the Book of Mormon, went through the tenets and beliefs of multiple other religions looking for something that did not demand the sacrifice of reason with faith. I am no fan of religions—ANY religions, and vocally so.

    But the presence of the first clause of the First Amendment protects our rights to our own minds, and it is no small point that those who argue vehemently for “freedom FROM religion” are arguing for the right to eliminate freedom of thought, of belief, of the right of the individual to choose and own the contents of his own mind.

    So, because I am an atheist, and not in spite of it, I’ll make my stand on that portion of Bill of Rights that mandates of Freedom of Religion.

    I judge it to be in even greater danger now than freedom of speech.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, I’m not going there. I have good friends from every fringe and every mainstream part of the religious world, and we totally get along and can even talk about religion… up to a point. I’m a very spiritual person, but my lack of respect for any kind of self-designated authority means I could never grok most religious lifestyles. Still, I quote religious texts often, because there is wisdom there. I see the story behind the story.

      It’s complicated. And because the only rule I accept is that there are no simple truths (and thus, no simple “answers” to what’s going on), I believe we can move through nearly all our First World problems without stomping on the spiritual beliefs of folks (not counting the twisted fucktards convinced that all non-believers must die). Maybe that’s naive, but my experience has shown that it can be done… with education, persuasion, opportunity and blowing up blockages in the critical-thinking of our brains…

      • Holly Lisle says:

        I’m not in any way against believers (save, like you, those who believe anyone not of their religion must die).

        I have many deeply religious friends. My problem is not with religious folks, but with the concept of delivered truth that invariably requires me to believe the impossible (thus turning off the conceptual functioning of my brain, which I use to survive on a daily basis).

        There is room on the planet for all sorts of thoughts. The world will not be a better place, though, if those in power decide it’s okay to forbid thoughts they don’t like.

        Cheerfully,
        Holly

  13. Ken Ca|houn says:

    Thought provoking as always, and I agree with the need to focus on solutions and not just troll from the sidelines.

    It’s interesting to see all the comments on top headline news stories on newspaper websites, as a microcosm of just how whiney and petulant the general public is.. every major story seems to draw out comments that are political fights, whines and troll-posts, with remarkably completely absent positive comments about making things better.

    News Headline: “War breaks out again in the middle east”
    Reader Comments (insert political, cultural attack-oriented, whining, protectionist, negative, flames posted by hundreds of armchair generals). But nothing constructive.

    So that’s a very revealing tidbit that as copywriters we learn to tap into, the “public conversation” that’s going on in the readers’ minds. Anchor the negatives, position alternatives and then sell fixes in body copy/usp.

    I like your phrase “What’s kept the country going, so far, has been the incredible creativity of a minority of people…”. And that’s the key, is being one of “us ‘uns”, the small positive group that gets off our rears and endeavors to be part of the solution, not joining the whining masses. Much better that way.

    Celebrating entrepreneurial freedom,

    -ken

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Ken. Yes, the entire post rests on that one thing — the minority of creative “solutionists” (hey, I coined a new word!) who tend to understand capitalism and business and the way the world actually functions.

      Thanks for the note, as always. Insightful…

      • Ken Ca|houn says:

        And beyond that, “solutionists”, which you certainly are, is, you’re “the voice” that calls it like it is, and provides truth, a beacon, in troubled times… thanks as always for ‘bringing it’ straight. -k

  14. There is nothing wrong with the belief that one’s own country is the best in the world.

    It IS very wrong to let the politicians spoil that for all of us, wherever we may live around the world…

    I’m not sure, IF I were to be born an American, that I’d want to live some other place (although I’ve known a large number of friends from the US saying that through various online chans) – but as I’m not, I’m more than happy to live where I was born.
    And I think it is the greatest country in the world to be lucky to have been born to.

    Yet… I find myself every too often thinking of emigrating lately (NOT to the US, though) because of the way things seem to be slipping from all good sense and logic and how the elected politicians screw everything they ‘touch’…

    What is MOST annoying is how, while in opposition, they fight against certain ideas promoted by their counter-parts in power, only to embrace the very same ideas when they switch roles…

    Cheers,
    ~Steve

  15. mark says:

    Thanks Man, you made things clearer for me. I have to stop being such a cynic and live life on my terms. By the way, the Canadian version of 4th of July is one week before Uncle Sams. Good old Canada Day.

    Thanks JC

    Mark in Getting damn warm Canada

  16. Jay C says:

    As someone who DOES believe the nation is in grave danger, I also believe there is a silver lining.

    Take hyperinflation, for instance. There is a very real chance that our government will hyperinflate the currency to pay off its staggering and ever-increasing debts. That would render all US dollars and dollar-denominated assets (stocks, bonds, savings accounts, etc.) worthless overnight. A Big Mac would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Literally.

    (Think it can’t happen here? Neither did the Weimar Republic.)

    BUT…

    Even that doesn’t mean the nation is doomed. Throughout history, hyperinflation has lasted (at most) 2-3 years. What follows is generally the exact sort of things we are lacking: financial discipline, individual freedom, living within our means, etc.

    I happen to think that would be a very good thing. It would be great to not need to learn those lessons the hard way, but hey, that’s life.

    Booms and busts are part of the human condition. It’s why markets sink and soar, empires rise and fall, sports teams win and lose…on and on. Even if all-out destruction ensues, there will be a ton of opportunity laying in its wake…

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, the one trick to examining history is not to get too caught up in the idea that what “could” happen, “will” happen. The players are still the same — you want freedom, someone else sees your freedom as an affront to their gig, jealousy and greed and envy cloud rational thought, and the game continues apace. The technology changes, and details of the game have to slowly catch up… but then they do, and the insanity kicks back in.

      I remain optimistic. But I’m also healthily pessimistic — no pie in the sky here. I personally cannot do anything to affect global movement on most things. I can make my voice heard, though — it’s a small matter, but it’s what I do.

      I’ve worked with dozens of financial doom-sayers and survivalists over the years… and while I clearly see the possibility of complete disaster, I don’t choose to live like it’s guaranteed to happen. Prepared, but not surrendering to it. I saw the folly of bomb shelters in my youth. Rod Serling (“Twilight Zone”) had a field day with sci-fi episodes around “what happens next” stories. We kids didn’t learn how to stop any of the horror from happening, but it got us thinking about the possibilities. It sort of defined the Boomer generation…

      Anyway, thanks for the note.

  17. Alan says:

    As I read this post, thoughts of a long-ago bumper sticker I once had that said “My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma” manifested themselves. I’m not quite sure why, but maybe just maybe we were on to something back then – purple haze notwithstanding. Thanks for the memories (at least the ones I can remember) – and the reminder that “what is” now will soon enough pass on.

    • John Carlton says:

      Ha! I remember that bumper sticker. And I see signs that the younger generations are stirring from their Xbox slumber and starting to wake up… small signs, but I’m never gonna stop trying to kick more of them awake…

  18. Kevin Rogers says:

    Just back from traipsing the family through Boston’s Charlestown for three days…

    … gave me a whole new appreciation for the bloodletting defiance required to birth this fine nation.

    It’s too easy to let the chin wagging pundits define what it means to be a proud American. In their version patriotism often looks and smells like “redneckism”.

    But, c’mon… we all know NASCAR and Lee Greenwood are distractions from the more nefarious government agenda.

    (Is cynicism still aloud with a tongue in my cheek?)

    I like your take much better, though. Had we not pulled these lucky place of birth lotto tickets, we’d be hosting a podcast for eight sweaty cell mates who would shiv us if it sucked.

    Thanks for the reminder to stand proud. I’m going to honor it with the half-off fireworks special under the big tent on the corner.

    Aunt Ruth better turn down her hearing aid.

    Kev

    • John Carlton says:

      Good snipes at the targets deserving them isn’t cynical, K-man. The distractions are what’s cynical, ladled out by The Man like candy. A little cheeky resistance to “group think” is always welcome…

      Thanks for the note. Hey, isn’t it about time for you to do another guest post here?

  19. Steve Amos says:

    John,
    You nailed the truth we have always lived on a slippery slope, and have to address our weaknesses like importing so much energy. But the available resources, the creativity and hard work of our people, and when the politicians (all parties) get out of the way we can compete with the world.
    Great rant as always. Hope there was enough celebrating and optimism to overcome the disasters of the day as we always can.
    Steve

    • John Carlton says:

      Hi Steve. It’s troubling to anyone paying attention how close we dance to the edge, every damned day of our existence. A little denial is required… but a LOT of optimism and creativity can actually bring on change and solutions. The disasters will never cease. Hopefully, our creativity will never cease, either…

  20. Keith Sims says:

    Great post, John.

    I am 53 now and sit in the midst of an America I hardly recognize. I find reason to be both optimistic and pessimistic about the changes that have occurred and those that I find myself and my family so affected. The internet has afforded me opportunities that were previously unavailable to the masses, especially in the area of investing. The ever increasing lack of freedom and the emphasis of political correctness remind me that we are at the same point as was Rome when the mature Roman Republic was replaced by the Roman Empire. We are in that time spoken of in Isaiah 5:20, when evil will be called good, and good evil; even so, in my daily life I see good all around me. I have watched the media–for years now–do what they could to squelch this because the sensational sells. Here in Baltimore, MD we talk of a murder rate that is over 200 per year, but we never talk about how 650,000 people were safe in their homes. It would be naive, however to pretend that there are forces aligned in this country right now who desire to curtail the freedoms we enjoy within our own walls.Destabilizing the economy is one the most effective ways of this without the government’s personally firing a shot. I do not believe this is a time to cower or to pretend that we are not in a precarious position regarding our liberty. I believe it is time to stand and be counted, a time to call these jokers out as the sycophants, nincompoops, and ne’er do wells that they are, as they seek to curry favor with a regime that seeks to implement radical change, a series of changes that threaten to destroy our country. The United States is still a beacon to many in the world, who come here for the severe lack of opportunity in their home countries. Most of the principles our Founding Fathers risked their lives for are no less worthy of that same level of risk today. After all, if we fall, who is there in the world who will take our place. Who will spread the message of individual rights and liberty? I believe this to be one of the most important issues of our time, one that we ignore at our peril.

    Keith

    • Keith Sims says:

      In the commentary above, I meant to say it would be naive to believe that their are not forces aligned…sorry.

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, anyone thinking the rumors of our imminent demise are true hasn’t been paying attention. I grew up doing “duck and cover” drills in school, certain that nuclear war was inevitable because all the adults had given up on diplomacy. We got through it, somehow, but then other horrors rose up, one after the other.

      It has ever been thus. In fact, our Founding Fathers weren’t supported by the majority of colonists — most folks don’t realize that. It wasn’t some monolithic revolution where “everyone” suddenly rose up for freedom. Folks had the same attitudes back then, willing to give up silly freedoms for guaranteed safety, not wanting to get too involved in the dangerous tasks of fighting, etc. We’re not the only folks spreading the word of democracy anymore (and we weren’t back then, either — the French were slightly ahead of us, though sloppy about it… and the British Parlament was already holding the King in check and neutering the monarchy)… and anyway, “democracy” alone isn’t some magic balm for what ails the world. It’s just a way that has worked, so far, for us — a boisterous mob of Americans with anger issues and a reluctance to look outside our comfort zones (but very willing to send troops to settle scores).

      Our country remains a work-in-progress, a “noble experiment” with no guarantees of longevity at all. The assholes intent on ruining things and restoring some sort of authoritarian rule are plentiful here and around the globe. Again, there is no single “truth” that everyone can agree on, and this has required government since the first tribe got together.

      It’s complex. Solutions require critical thinking and creativity, which remains in short supply and always will…

      Thanks for the note, Keith.

  21. Dave says:

    John,

    Depending on the situation, I take the opposite side of whoever I am talking to. Being neutral, I can always see it from both sides and make valid arguments either way.

    It’s fun when you want to mess with your polarized brother-in-law!

    • John Carlton says:

      Ha! Actually, sometimes I do the same thing, Dave — just for practice. One of the best classes I ever took in college was debate, where the prof forced me to argue positions I clearly didn’t agree with. Best preparation for a long copywriting career possible.

      However, with politics it’s less fun, cuz people believe their own BS too heavily, and it can get dangerous when you’re just trying to be clever.

      Still, it was ever thus — I was in high school back when the political arguments led to marches in the street and clashes with cops, Hell’s Angels, and The Man’s most vicious thugs. Plus the generation gap, which widened every time someone voiced an opinion. I saw reasonable people lock up their brains and refuse to budge off a belief, even when confronted with clear evidence they were wrong. That woke me up to the trouble we faced, as a country — when actually BEING right or wrong no longer mattered, and tribal identification smothered critical thinking, it wasn’t about debate anymore. It was about crushing opponents and stopping the exchange of free thought.

      It has, as I often say, ever been thus.

  22. Jimbo says:

    Love it John.

    I remember walking through Jackson Park at about 6 years old and running across a mob shouting angry slurs at a fired-up orator.

    The cops were protecting this dude.

    I asked my older brother what the hell was going on.

    “It’s a Nazi Party rally”, he said

    I was shocked. Even at 6 I knew what the Nazi Party was. Why on earth would they allow this guy a podium? My brother’s answer:

    “First Amendment right. They allow him to speak so you can hear for yourself just how nuts he is.”

    That made sense, even to a little kid.

    First Amendment rocks. (And it’s not just for crazy people either.)

    • John Carlton says:

      Yeah, the old “give ‘em enough rope to hang themselves” tactic — it’s really the basis of the First Amendment, but it runs so counter to the way most people think that everyone gets all weird about it. “He can’t say that, can he?” is the common refrain from someone who never wants to rock the boat seeing someone rock the boat.

      And yes. Yes, he can say that. For now, at least…

      Thanks for the note, Jimbo…

  23. Steve says:

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, John.

    Those M-80’s and the like sure were fun. Back in the 70’s in Southern California, you could buy them from the shady godfather-type in the alley behind the bar, selling from a massive Cadillac trunk. Firecrackers! M-80’s! Half-sticks! Waterproof cherry bombs! The smell of gunpowder, all wrapped in colorful packages with fantastic names! It was a young boy’s dream, and the neighbor’s worry.

    If all else failed, you could always take the wrapper off a legal Piccolo Pete, and make an uncontrollable street-skimming rocket that would go kablooie at the end of its run of terror. Those little flat triangle firecrackers made of newspaper were just perfect for slipping into back pockets too, making for a resounding THWAP on the butt for the unlucky victims. It was all in good fun on Independence Day.

    I don’t know if anyone else noticed this paragraph in the Gladwell article, but it really seems to resonate with history in general as well as the larger perspective of your post and its subsequent comments. Related to Hirschman’s book, “The Strategy of Economic Development”, it said:

    “Obstacles led to frustration, and frustration to anxiety. No one wanted to be anxious. But wasn’t anxiety the most powerful motivator—the emotion capable of driving even the most reluctant party toward some kind of solution?”

    And adding to that, the Hiding Hand principle:

    People don’t seek out challenges. They are “apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.”

    So there we have it. People get anxious about something, and then a few enterprising people try to do the “most logical thing” to fix or change it. Of course, there are unexpected consequences (the damn bamboo died, who woulda thunk it?), so innovation comes into play.

    The result is something other than what they set out to do, but it is stronger, more adaptable, and more versatile than it would have been otherwise. That sure sounds a lot like the history of this country.

    The part about the hostile Indians forcing a stronger settlement strategy in the US than would otherwise have been the case was an analogy, in some ways, of people expecting the government to do everything for them. If the way is easy, it will be weak. If the way is hard and forged in the fires of adversity, it will be strong.

    This makes me realize that this country will probably be all right in the end. The younger generations are changing, as you mentioned. They are seeking more self-sufficiency, and less debt. It would be interesting to find out what is driving that change.

    The journey from 1776 to today was not a smooth one, and the future may not be either. Americans are indeed a contentious bunch. If the citizenry is poked or taxed too much, they will get downright ornery like a hive of hornets, and set things on the path of freedom, liberty, and equality again. That change will last until the next round of complacency, and then begin anew.

    In the end, despite individual differences and petty political bickering, we are all Americans. That’s really what we celebrate on the 4th of July.

    • John Carlton says:

      Well stated, Steve. Thanks. I’m getting Hirschman’s book asap, too…

      And, OMG, those Picolo Pete’s… SURELY they’ve stopped making and selling those neighborhood-destroying munitions (which made many of us better armed than the original patriots, with few qualms about lighting fuses…)…

  24. Simon Morrison says:

    Well, I’m from across the pond – uk and loved your rant :)and you know what as long as us ranters just keep on ranting ‘every little thing’s gonna be alright’, lol. Another briliant US ranter is Bill Bonner in the back of Moneyweek – not trying to promote him – just like his stuff…

  25. Brian B says:

    I am a cynic, John. Not as boxed in as you just coined it… but cynical nonetheless.

    And cynicism is just FINE in the world we live.

    Nothing is clear cut. And if you DO open your eyes somewhere along the path… you will see that – from birth – you were sold a bill of goods that is sprinkled with kernels of goodness – sure, people want to help – but loaded with gobs of bullshit (say, hello, to the media!)

    Gotta survive, though. And I think the readers of this blog do what most people with “eyes wide open” do… try to survive the current battle of bullshit and continue to look for an opening, and when you find that opening – recognize it and make a mad dash through it and rejoice for a while…

    • John Carlton says:

      I’m not gonna disagree with you, Brian, or try to change your mind. In my career, though, shucking cynicism just allowed a lot of negative energy to leave my head. I’m still vicious with humor, and once in a while sarcasm (though I consider that a negative response tactic, too)… but then, I’ve conditioned my brain to consider ways to either “win” any argument I get into, or persuade someone to my way of thinking… which means I’d be wasting my own time with cynical responses to any situation.

      Being a blogger and social media dude who leaves the comment section open to all, I occasionally have to deal with trolls who just want to vent, or cause trouble, or just be mean for the pure enjoyment of their own teasing and rage. I understand what’s behind that kind of negative energy, but I neither endorse it, not allow myself to get sucked into confronting it. You’re on your own in my threads if you wanna be an angry person with no clear target or coherent argument to make.

      Perhaps your own view of cynicism is more moderate, and maybe I’d call it funny sarcasm (a totally different beast).

      And mind you, I’m suspicious of everything and everyone… and I am the mortal enemy of The Man when he tries to stomp individual rights. But, again, I strive to convince, persuade, and win the day. And cynicism isn’t a tool that accomplishes that. It, rather, hardens your opponent and raises the intensity of conflict.

      Something to consider. Smart guys becoming cynical because they’ve run into the brick wall of indifference, corruption or sheer stupidity in the world is a very old cliche. And “our” side (those who like to use critical thought to reach non-knee-jerk conclusions, and strive to actually make things better) is not well served by simply enraging the opposition knee-jerks.

  26. Andrew says:

    John, As I proceed through older blog posts in earlier years,I occasionally have something/comment I want to post.

    Would you still read and respond to new comments on older posts from previous years?

    • John Carlton says:

      Sometimes. You may find it an interesting note that WordPress presents me with new comments by date submitted — so if you posted on my very first blog post in 2004, and posted it tonight, I would see it when I next got into the admin part of the site… right next to whatever posts were written for the most recent article.

      I see comments on old posts all the time. I don’t answer them as regularly as I do the current posts, but that’s not a rule. (In fact, there’s a comment here tonight from a post in April of 2007, on Gary Halbert. The threads do not go away…)

  27. Andrew says:

    John, I have a recommendation or suggestion for a subject I can’t seem to find on your blog. (copy writing and sales related)

    1) I know you are a fan of cultured art. How about a post on what it takes to sell art. From Abstract Expressionism to Commercial Art. Millions of dollars for splashes of paint on a canvas…anything seems to pass nowadays. Is it all the psychology of gatekeepers (art critics, gallery owners, elitists) recommendations?

    The books I have read by copywriters seem to focus mostly on info-marketing. What do you do when the “image” itself is what you are selling? Not hidden information secrets. I can’t seem to find a book or post anywhere on the subject. Maybe I just missed it?

    2)When creating a high end product for high net worth or ultra high net worth people. Why do most the luxury marketers NOT use direct marketing/direct response ads.(Is it all because of the salesman are doing the direct response one on one with buyers?) I’ve read a few statements about the topic before but not anything in depth. These companies like Cartier (I’ve seen there YouTube videos) use artistic atmospheric stuff to create ambiance and experience. I understand it isn’t a measurable type of advertising, but is it effective in selling a $250,000 car or a million dollar statusy engagement ring?

    - Just some thoughts, I’d love to get your take on those.

  28. Alan Canton says:

    “Why do most [of] the luxury marketers NOT use direct marketing/direct response ads.”

    Many (most?) wealthy people got wealthy but being ‘rain-makers’ in that they brought in the biz… perhaps a young lawyer joining a tennis club to hob-nob with high-end people… or the rising bank VP attending charity functions… all to meet and greet people of wealth and influence… and many are still ‘selling’… the senior partner of a law firm having lunch “at the club.” It’s all sales.

    These people grew up in a sales environment. They know all the “tricks” and all the “triggers.” They ‘sell’ day in and day out and they got rich (or rose to a position to make them rich) by doing it well.

    Wealthy people for the most part (there are exceptions) don’t respond well to the kinds of “long form,” “little known secrets,” “you’re gonna be a rock star,” “if I repeat it often enough you will buy” sales letters… the kind that work with those with a lesser asset base.

    These people “have arrived,” they probably don’t need anything you have to sell them to “keep” them where they are now.

    Wealthy people are not concerned about being ripped off. They have plenty of money to absorb the loss. They are concerned with making a bad decision. It’s ego, not economics.

    In my 40 years of sales I’ve found that it is all about the relationship… or perceived relationship… of those they buy from… and the words “trust” and “integrity” play a big role here.

    In my experience of selling to high net-worth people I’ve learned that they love to buy… but they hate to be sold.

    Oh, it helps to be a high net-worth person (or perceived as one) to sell to one. You ever wonder why so many financial planners and real estate agents lease BMWs? It is always easier to sell to your own peer group. That’s not to say that you can’t be a high-school dropout, beer swilling, NASCAR fan and sell a $20K piece of jewelry or a $2M painting or a $5M annuity to the country-club set, but often “it takes one to sell one.”

  29. […] Loved John Carlton’s simultaneous takedown of cynicism (related to politics and just in general) and ode to the First Amendment in Why We Blow Stuff Up on July 4th. […]

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