A few thoughts and observations about Disagreement — what it is, what it’s not, and why it matters.
The pdf version of what follows is available here. Feel free to download it and use it however you wish.
1 – The banalities and absurdities of being a modern corporate employee were hilariously brought to life on TV with The Office (2005-2003) and at the movie theater before that with Office Space (1999). Yet, ten years before that, the cathartic release for the white collar worker was the comic strip Dilbert, created by Scott Adams
3 – What started with ESPN turning sports programming into debate programming about sports has now fully infected the world of cable news. The point of a Stephen A. Smith or a Skip Bayless arguing about sports is not to persuade the other person. It is merely performance art for the entertainment of the audience. This is now the same model for our news media, and it is no accident. So says CNN president Jeff Zucker: ““The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way.” And we are all poorer as a result.
4 – During a live television broadcast of President Obama’s special address before a Joint Session of Congress on September 9, 2009, Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted the President’s speech about his health care reform plan with a shout of “YOU LIE!” While received enthusiastically by the legislation’s opponents, Wilson almost immediately regretted his outburst, issuing an apologetic statement that same night.
Eight years later, the moment still haunts Wilson. On April 10, 2017, during a town hall meeting with constituents about the GOP’s plan to repeal Obamacare, Congressman Wilson was repeatedly booed and heckled with his own words.
7 – Yes, this is an actual relationship advice video on YouTube. It comes from Dan Bacon, “Founder and Lead Dating Coach” of the bro-centric website, “The Modern Man,” which promises: “Use our proven techniques and you will Get Instant Results With Women.” It is every bit as absurd and shallow as it sounds.
8 – North Korean citizens at a rally in March, 2013, in the country’s capital of Pyongyang.
9 – Artistic adaption of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the short tale authored by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Original artwork by Brazilian artist Roberto Weigand.
11 – A great read on the civic dangers of tribalism run amok can be found here: http://nym.ag/2xUHJfY
13 – In the debate over guns in America, there are two main ideological opponents. On the right stands the National Rifle Association: with nearly 5 million members, its stated mission is to serve as the “the premier firearms education organization in the world … [and] America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights.” On the left stands Everytown For Gun Safety: with over 3 million members, its stated mission is “Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.” These groups perpetually describe the “real” motivations of the other in the starkest terms of an evil caricature. Until this changes, there is little hope of working together to solve a real problem while affording a Constitutional right the proper respect it deserves.
14 – On March 2, 2017, political scientist and author Charles Murray attempted to deliver a talk at Middlebury College in Vermont by invitation from a conservative student organization, the American Enterprise Institute Club. Over 400 students attempted to prevent the talk from occurring, using tactics such as shouting over Murray and pulling fire alarms in the building. At the conclusion of the event, the group of students physically accosted Murray and his staff interviewer – Middlebury professor Allison Stanger – as they attempted to leave the building. In the fracas, Stanger suffered a concussion after a masked protester grabbed her hair and twisted her neck.
15 – The first ten amendments to the US Constitution – collectively known as “The Bill of Rights” – were passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification in August, 1789. Authored by James Madison, they were ratified by the last state needed (Virginia) on December 15, 1791.
Amendment I states the following: “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.”
16 – On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther wrote down his objections to the practices of the Catholic Church at the time, listed out as 95 statements. With an invitation to debate these theses for anyone willing to do so, Luther nailed his document to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. This act of singular but public defiance became the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation in Europe, and completely altered the course of Western Civilization.
Depicted in art: Ferdinand Pauwels, Luther Posting the 95 Theses, 1872, Wartburg-Stiftung, Eisenach, Germany
17 – In 1543, Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus published his work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (Concerning the Revolutions of the Celestial Orbs). In it, Copernicus laid out his observations and proofs for a heliocentric (sun-centered) view of the known universe vs the geocentric (Earth-centered) view that had been the accepted view since men had begun contemplating astronomical movement. Copernicus’ model was seen as heresy by the Catholic Church, which viewed the geocentric model as best conforming to the language of Scripture and the preeminence of Mankind as being the creation made in God’s image.
18 – In 1985, Steve Jobs proposed changing Apple’s distribution strategy from distribution centers managing inventory to a “just in time” production model. Donna Dubinksy, a mid-level director in charge of Apple’s distribution operations, saw the plan as flawed, and potentially fatal to Apple itself at the time. When her objections were not taken seriously by the group charged with reviewing the plan, Dubinksy gave an ultimatum: give her 30 days to work alone making her case, or she would quit. She got the 30 days, her case persuaded the Board to reject Jobs’ plan, and she was promoted as a result.
Steve Jobs and the Macintosh computer featured on the first issue of Macworld magazine on April 1, 1984.
19 – The metaphor of the “echo chamber” – a collection of relationships and interactions that become impervious to outside input and in which the group’s preexisting beliefs are reinforced and amplified – is not just an apt description for how modern politics and social media are interacting. The groupthink made possible by organizational echo chambers plagues the corporate world as well. A lake with no inlet of running water ultimately grows stagnant and unhealthy; so, too, does an organization’s leadership team when everyone thinks the same way and differing thought is shut out.
20 – On the morning of January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger took off from launchpad 39-B at the Kennedy Space Center. It was 36 degrees at launch for mission STS-51L, 15 degrees colder than any of the previous 25 Shuttle launches. 73 seconds after liftoff, Challenger exploded, disintegrating before the eyes of viewers watching live on TV. Investigation revealed the cause: the frigid overnight temperatures caused the o-ring seal joining two sections of the Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) to become brittle and fail. This allowed the heat from the SRM exhaust to burn into the large liquid fuel tank, igniting the explosion. While this danger was a feared risk by the engineers at NASA and the SRM’s contractor, Morton Thiokol, Inc., those fears were never effectively communicated to the leaders charged with making the decision to launch.
21 – Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech, 1943, story illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943.
Daniel Nance, Freedom of Speech 2010, 2010, acrylic painting.
22 – During the 2016 NFL preseason, quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting during the pregame singing of the National Anthem as a show of protest over the treatment of black men by police. At the request of fellow NFL player and former US Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, the protest took the form of kneeling during the anthem instead of sitting. While a handful of players joined in the 2016 protest, the movement came to encompass nearly half the NFL in 2017, after comments by President Trump inflamed the situation. During a rally in Alabama on September 22, 2017, President Trump called protesting players “sons of bitches” and advocated for their firing by the NFL, and for the boycott of the NFL by fans if the protests continued.
23 – On Good Friday, April 12, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested for protesting without a permit along with nearly 50 fellow civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama. That same day, a group of eight Alabama clergyman issued a public statement condemning the protests and praising the police action. In what would later come to be known as “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King’s response was a masterful defense of both the goals and tactics of his civil rights crusade, as well as the ideals of the American experiment itself. Calling upon the words of St. Augustine, Socrates, Thomas Jefferson and Chief Justice Earl Warren, King’s powerful words became one of the most important written works in American history.