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Jason Merchey the writer, philosophical thinker, and Master’s-level psychologist shares his perspectives on classical and modern applications of values, wisdom, ethics, and personal growth. The goal is to provide insight into what “a life of value” is and how one can live it. Quotations, proverbs, idioms, and historical facts often provide grist for the mill. Occasional guest blogs are featured as well.

The Virtues of Heroism and Self-Sacrifice

heroism April 7th, 2020

I just watched the movie 300, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to go for it. It is bloody; savage even; but it tells a story of solidarity that is compelling in any time and place, but particularly so now that America is facing down a mortal enemy: the virus, COVID-19. This blog is a paean to first responders, doctors, and parents who have to now teach their kids; it is in praise of those who lost a job due to no fault of their own; it is a criticism of the federal government; it is a recounting of some of the tough spots Americans have been in since the tumultuous colonial era which led to war with England. Heroism and self-sacrifice are called for during these dark days.

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There is Great Wisdom in Game of Thrones

wisdom in Game of Thrones March 30th, 2020

Game of Thrones, the brain-child of George R. R. Martin, David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss became one of the most significant cultural sensations in the last 50 years, up there with Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter books, Dungeons & Dragons, Big Bang Theory, etc. It is amazing to me that a mere “fantasy” could be so well-written by Martin (what he titled A Song of Fire and Ice, and many spin-off books) and so well produced by Benioff and Weiss (and, essentially, adapted for the screen), and backed by HBO, that it holds such remarkable cultural sway. When I was playing D&D as a teenager, it was almost like a dirty little secret; I am sure that many “geeky” types feel that way about their obsession. However, let’s face it, Game was one of the most popular and well-regarded and most critically-acclaimed phenomena in American life. Yes, I’m sure that Will Rogers or Mark Twain or The Tonight Show or the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies will perhaps be more vaunted and venerable names as time wears on, but for anyone alive today either knows of or loves Game of Thrones. This blog explores the idea that, amazingly, amongst the sex, violence, gore, and scheming, the 8-year series so brilliantly woven together by the trio I mentioned, wisdom in Game of Thrones reigns supreme.

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Coronavirus Stretches America to the Limit

March 29th, 2020

I took a much-needed break from the media, politicians, and the disease COVID-19 last week. It felt pretty good! Perhaps because I’m lucky, because I chose not to have children, because I work from home, and because of the house my wife and I occupy, I can pull off “unplugging” from the Internet, phone, and cable news (mostly) for four or five straight days. I told my wife, “If we get a shelter-in-place order, hopefully you find out, because I won’t!” I was listening to the radio, watching movies and inane TV, reading, going to the gym (when it was still open), volunteering for Meals on Wheels, and so on. Gone was the “the sky is falling!” feeling that results from watching my wealth manager, whom I pay 1% of my stock assets to every year, having chose stocks that lost 30% in value in twenty days, hearing Donald Trump speak, and thinking of what the virus is doing to Italy and Spain. Now that I’m back, I feel like I’m back up on the cross, not only enduring raw facts about the disease, but all manner of bullshit from the land that invented steel-cage wrestling matches, Cheese-Puffs, and The Apprentice. Here are ten examples on my mind today:

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The Winter of Our Discontent

Shakespeare March 26th, 2020

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” Shakespeare wrote nearly 500 years ago. Talk about something standing the test of time! Indeed, there are many quotes from his prescient plays and striking sonnets that still aptly describe human beings today. As I write, it is nearly April, 2020, and the world is caught in convulsions of the chaos created by coronavirus. The pandemic, like something Shakespeare would have taken inspiration from, highlights both the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the wonderful and the absurd. It shows everything about human beings, the human condition, and humanity’s aspirations — and failings. It is through this lens that I write a bit about what is evident all around us now, in the winter of our discontent.

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A New New Deal for the New Millennium

a new new deal March 21st, 2020

As of this writing, the economy—as well as society in many other ways— is melting down. The coronavirus is the pandemic we have long-feared. We are unfortunately seeing the chickens come home to roost in regard to things such as infrastructure neglect, economic insecurity, wealth disparities not seen since 1928, and a government that has been pared down by decades of misinformation campaigns, tax cuts, misplaced priorities, and demagogues in blue suits. It is a very hard time for America. In this blog, I go through a little historical perspective and then call for a major change in the very fabric of American society: a new New Deal for the new millennium.

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Social Cohesion and Progressivism vs. Rugged Individualism and Cognitive Bias

social cohesion March 10th, 2020

The New York Times columnist David Leonhardt worked his way into my respect naturally. Somehow, the NYT started sending me his opinion pieces maybe three or four times a week, and my first thought was, “Who’s the new guy?” A page that has featured Charles Blow, Thomas L. Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas D. Kristof, Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert creates a high bar in my mind. But, over time, Leonhardt has grown to be one of my favorite and most-quoted writers. In one piece, he gives voice to a core is a political philosphy precept of mine: social cohesion depends on political progress. Another way to phrase this idea would be: social welfare vs. individual supremacy vis-a-vis political progressivism.

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Biden Pulls a “Rocky Balboa” on Super Tuesday!

Biden March 9th, 2020

David Leonhardt of the New York Times, says this about Joe Biden: “As happened with McCain in 2008, a large share of primary voters this year weren’t wowed by any of the candidates. They instead were waiting for one to emerge — especially one who seemed likely to beat President Trump. I don’t think it was inevitable that Biden would be that candidate, especially after his weak start. But after Sherrod Brown and Mitch Landrieu didn’t run, after Michael Bloomberg entered the race late, after Cory Booker and Kamala Harris dropped out and after every other candidate failed to appeal to black voters, Biden was the one left standing. Many voters have found their way back to him.” He might not have been the most able candidate from the beginning, but with Bernie failing to really catalyze a winning combination of huge voter turnout, minority support, and suburban appeal, Biden is the man African-American, older, and many Hispanic voters are choosing to accomplish the most important goal conceivable: send Donald Trump back to his gilded towers of dark magic and usher in an era that is both progressive and harkens back to the largely-successful Obama years. Biden’s coup on “Super Tuesday” was reminiscent of the mythical boxer and “comeback kid”, Rocky Balboa. Here is a brief synopsis of the virtue and character that many see in Biden’s glorious victory.

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Trump Faces Demanding Test of Responsibility and Prudence

Trump February 28th, 2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 10% of its value this week, probably two or three trillion dollars of wealth evaporated. Now, I think that the stock market is a foolish “bet” but I do have all of my retirement income tied up in it (for some complicated reasons I shouldn’t get into). I feel this very keenly since I lost $100,000 in the time it took my orchid to put out a flower. However, now we know what is causing the global contraction and the loss of profit. Commentator Joe Scarborough talked of the market usually as being “like witchcraft” – capricious – but there is a clear cause for all this volatility and fear: Supply chains have been shattered. Conferences being cancelled. “This terrifies investors,” he said. It’s much about loss of profits and uncertainty – will this slow-moving and hard-to-contain disease last for longer than 6 or 9 months? Scarborough said, “the snowball is just starting to roll down the hill.” I think the major reason America is in jeopardy is that Donald Trump leading America during a major crisis. This is more or less the chickens coming home to roost when it comes to Republicans in power, though. At bottom, this crisis is both an opportunity and a danger, one in which Trump faces a demanding test of his responsibility and prudence. It is about wisdom and virtue and character. Don’t hold your breath. 

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A Millennial’s Political View of America

political February 24th, 2020

Millennial’s typically don’t have much political power. Whether this is because the “old guard” of mostly “baby boomers” is slow to relinquish control, or “Gen X’ers” are ahead of Millennials in the slow-to-change power structure is not clear to me. It’s becoming increasingly clear, though, that the old needs to make way for the new. I know, it causes the grey-haired, well-heeled set heartburn to think of letting a new generation of Americans take a shot at holding political power, but let’s face it: we’re not in a great position in 2020. Some would say we are looking at the mid- to final-stages of a long, grueling decline from cultural and ideological dominance of the world. From China to climate change to big money granting political power, the future is not necessarily going to be brighter than our past. And this might be the first time since maybe 1929-1945 that Americans have felt this way. Certainly, we have come a long way from union jobs, putting a man on the moon, virtually inventing the Internet, and little national debt! What follows is a personal political philosophy I think is characteristic of Millennials, those who were born in approximately 1990 to 2000. Think of it as a possible answer if I were to have asked a 25-year-old what they think of the United States, “socialism”, why they like Bernie Sanders more often than not, and where they see us going in the short term: 

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Political Extremism: The Authoritarian Voter

February 21st, 2020

Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tend to be the poster children of political extremism if you ask a partisan from the Right. You hear this repeatedly on Fox News — these are their main bogeymen/women. These hard-working patriots will be called frauds, hypocrites, radicals, Socialists (of the Communistic stripe, that is), traitors, and so on. I don’t want to make a defense of those on the far end of the political Left in this country, but I will in this blog highlight a dangerous style of thinking that is the garden of political extremism when paired with political power or demagoguery: the authoritarian mindset. 

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