Culture 15 August 2018
It is difficult to understand the metamorphosis that transformed the America that was once beloved by the world into one that is now perplexed by it. It was the country that promised so much to those who came here in the pursuit of their American dream. The America from days past placed its mission statement on the Statue of Liberty, the Mother of Exiles, who welcomed the world, stating proudly “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse…the homeless…”. The America of today, however, couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
To this point, it was President Trump who asked, “why do we want all these people from shithole countries coming here?” He went even further by ordering the separation of asylum seeking and illegal immigrant families, detaining their babies and children in concentration camps while deporting them as a deterrent to any future attempts. He then trumped it up by banning immigration and travel from seven Islamic nations under the premise that they were posing a threat to America’s security. Prohibiting the entry of desperate people seeking safe haven and the possibility of a life in prosperity – that is not the America I had become a citizen of!
The American dream is evaporating, morphing into a national nightmare. The America I was drawn to was founded on truly high moral ideals respecting the essential humanity of those who are striving for a better life. Yet it seems to have forgotten that and replaced it with greed and predatory capitalism, exploiting and subjugating its own people.
What is happening in America now has happened many times before in history. However, we never seem to learn from any of it, no matter how many museums, monuments and memorials are built, books written, or movies made. We can introduce laws to protect us ‘so this may never happen again’ – a favorite phrase – while it is already happening somewhere else. There are so many parallels to events that occurred at the beginning of last century which should be guiding us to avoid making the same mistakes, yet they are being ignored or denied. Let me explain.
I was born in Tehran when the Shah of Iran ruled the country. Under his dictatorial governance, political freedom was restricted, and dissent was repressed. His secret police brutally suppressed any opposition by means of torture, imprisonment and death. The Shah’s ambitious reforms aimed at thrusting the country into the 20th Century by furthering western-oriented secular modernization whilst nurturing its Persian historical identity of glory and world domination. Towards the end of his reign, he became increasingly nationalistic, authoritarian and even more abusive of the power invested in him. He abolished the multiparty government in favor of his own party which, like the royal family, was plagued by corruption and lavish extravagances, while their brutal measures suppressed the people. Those who dared to speak in opposition would stand to lose everything – their income, social standing, freedom and even their lives. A state of fear and daily terror would subdue the nation. Barring external crisis or internal chaos, people can only be held down for so long until they revolt. And thus, the stage was set for the Islamic Revolution resulting in the Shah’s overthrow. There always comes a point where suppression and extreme inequality come to a head.
It usually happens when the gap in wealth disparity widens progressively, benefitting the few at the expense of the masses, the forgotten people.
When I moved to Munich in the early 60’s, Germany was still reeling from the effects of World War II. I remember the visible wounds of the hollowed buildings, the remaining skeletons that were silent witnesses to Germany’s both famed and infamous past. People were still traumatized by their memories and by their decisions – to either go along with the flow of rising nationalism, fascism, racism, and hatred or to choose the risk of standing up to the greater evil that was taking hold of people’s minds. Germany was already politically and economically unstable in dealing with the financial and economic crisis left by World War I, therefore it could not withstand the fallout from the Great Depression. With public discontent and unemployment, hunger and real poverty soaring, Hitler became its beneficiary. He was a charismatic speaker, who used simple language with strong slogans to sell his message of returning Germany to its former glory, prosperity and rank. He knew how to incite the masses by further enraging and agitating them with hateful messages, by directing their frustrations at a particular group, the Jews, and by promising them that he would bring back jobs and income, thus making Germany great again. He vilified the press calling them the “Luegenpresse”, much like today’s fake news. What was to follow was the submission of an entire nation, enticed into believing the propaganda and empty promises delivered through endless rallies, speeches, and state media as well as the real threats by the Gestapo and SS. Germans, so overwhelmed with their own survival and fear, gave silent consent to rising anti-Semitism, the persecution of their Jewish friends, neighbors and citizens leading to the “Final Solution” by means of deadly concentration camps. The confiscation of their possessions would finance the remilitarization, emboldening Hitler into expanding his threats to other countries and allowing him to initiate yet another world war.
The parallels between these previous events and the recent ones in America are irrefutable. The Great Recession, caused by unthrottled greed in the form of financialization and predatory capitalism, brought with it high unemployment, underemployment and stagnating wages for the majority of Americans, creating a new class of the nouveau poor. However, as the middle class became poorer, the rich got even richer. As a result of the bailout of the very institutions that had caused the recession, social programs and support would be diminished, the quality and availability of healthcare reduced as its cost increased, and lower educational curricula leaving behind an impoverished nation.
Naturally, a sense of hopelessness and despair developed having Americans look for a strong leader who would bring back jobs and help the industry to flourish. Donald Trump rose to the occasion, promising that he alone could fix it and that he would place America first to make it great again. He knew to zone in on the needs of the forgotten people, the ones who have been left behind by technological change, wealth inequality and the slow-down of the global economy. He addressed their real pain and anxieties, promising to drain the swamp, to return the by now defunct industries to their former standings and reverse perceived unfair global trade deals. Concurrently, he placed the blame for America’s woes on illegal immigration depicting
those people as rapists, murderers and thieves stealing jobs from taxpaying Americans. As his final solution, he proposed the building of a wall, as well as border restrictions and detentions, both of which he has implemented by now.
Like other authoritarians before him, President Trump loves his campaign-like rallies and speeches, where he uses simple but highly inflammatory language, laced with punch lines and easy to remember slogans. He bullies opponents and critics alike, denigrates the press as fake news and the spreader of lies. He shames, ridicules and disparages minorities, women and even the sick. His attacks on political rivals go so far as to demand them being locked up and looking to foreign aid, even by so-called enemies, to find incriminating material to do so. He thrives on a singular, nationalistic view painting America as the victim in need to take revenge on those who have abused it. He has already initiated one war, although only a trade war, but a war nonetheless. He is throwing the country into ever-greater isolation and separation from the rest of the world as he is breaking friendships and alliances alike which have been beneficial to all for seven decades. Instead, he is turning to rogue nations, ruled by autocrats, seeking questionable new ties and partnerships.
So far, his promises have fallen short - his tax cuts have been profitable for the rich with minimal trickle-down effects, his swamp draining turned into swam hiring, and his healthcare plans have evaporated into the ether. Hate and negativity are on the rise as are the number of mass shootings and clashes. Our government is polarized to the point that there is nothing they can work on in harmony by embracing their opposite views as alternate possibilities leading to better outcomes. Although an opioid drug epidemic has been declared, nothing much has been done. On the contrary, the pharmaceutical industry is still continuing to flood the market with its highly addictive opioid prescription pain-killers, poisoning Americans just to increase revenues and profits. Equally, the gun industry is stronger than ever as the need for real protection is only growing in these times of uncertainty. It also helps their bottom line.
It comes as no surprise that there is a silence and an apathy amongst Americans. That is usually the primary reaction, yet there are voices that are speaking up warning of what may befall us if we continue to sleep. America is experiencing a time of national challenge and as with all challenges, this is also the time of great opportunities for growth. This is the country that has been created as a response to what held people down in the old world. It believed in “E Pluribus Unum” – “Out of Many, One,” so much so that it put it on its official seal. It’s time to return to those values and introduce new thinking, embrace change and hence creating new industrial possibilities. It is time to invest in the people again, to invest in our environment and to treat them with respect and with the future in mind. America can only change the outcome of what is happening now by radically changing its collective thinking.
Our collective consciousness has to shift from what works best for the individual to what provides the greatest good for all. In the final analysis, we are and become what we think. Let us aim high and consider this our moment to bring forth great positive changes.
It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.
Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.
Read with a Purpose
Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.
Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.
When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.
Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.
You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.
Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.
Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.
If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.
Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.