Current events have had me noodling on the topic of authority, particularly where it intersects with culture, with responsibility, and with liberty. Like most of my writings, this has developed as an internal conversation, shared here with you all, and I’d invite you to click the button and read the whole thing.
Where to start with this one…so many options…why not start with Will Smith?
If you’re reading this, you’ve almost certainly seen the “slap heard round the world” from Oscar night, as Will Smith found a chuckle - and then fury - at Chris Rock doing his thing, poking fun at Will’s wife Jada’s buzz cut with a joke about GI Jane II. Now, what Rock likely didn’t know was that Jada has alopecia, which made the joke a lot less funny than it otherwise would have been. What he also may not have known, is that she’s quite sensitive about it - she was throwing daggers with her eyes at Rock immediately, and when Will saw that he was spurred into action. He marched the stage with swagger, wound up and gave Rock an open-hand slap that might have knocked me down! Rock’s recovery was amazing (which has many thinking this a staged event - I have no comment on that today) and he quickly gathered his composure and went to continue the monologue as Smith departed the stage.
That’s when it got especially crazy for me and relevant to today’s writing. As Smith returned to his front-row seat, he screamed at Rock - “Keep my wife’s name out your fu@K!n mouth!”, which caught Rock off guard, and he tried to defend the joke - to which Smith repeated the same command, even louder, with perfect enunciation in some sort of contrived ghetto dialect. “Keep my wife’s name out your fu@k!n mouth!” - and at that Rock knew he better agree to it if he didn’t want Smith to literally charge the stage and try to kill him with his bare hands.
Now, I don’t think Rock has a big stack of Jada jokes in his inventory, but if he did, he might as well throw that work out the window! Smith has claimed authority over Rock’s mouth, at least as it pertains to Jada, and the day Rock isn’t scared to share a Jada joke is the day after Smith’s funeral if it’s that soon. Based on how flipped Smith was as he shouted the stage, I could see his spirit left wandering after his earthly demise, haunting Jada’s boyfriends and Rock’s standup shows for decades!
Now, Smith doesn’t have control over Rock’s mouth of course, but he has effectively claimed authority over it - and that claim appears to have been granted. If Rock goes on to create a Jada-focused monologue in his comedy career, while Smith still walks, he’s a braver man than I. Or stupider. (which seems unlikely 🙂
What I find compelling about this story is that Smith has long been held up as an example of purity and morality in Hollywood. He and Jada have a long-term marriage, with seemingly well-adjusted children, and he has a long string of success in music, television, and film. Before this event, his patina had started to crack a bit however, as it became public that he and Jada have had extramarital intimacy with others - and it was implied that she was more into it than he. Was the stress over this unfolding drama a contributing factor to Jada’s alopecia? - I don’t know but my gut says yes. And was it a contributing factor for Smith being hopped-up on some kind of prescription brain cocktail that allowed the short-circuit that convinced him a stage charge was the right reaction in this moment - again, I dunno - but my gut says yes.
Moving on through current events, it seems we must comment on the Russia - Ukraine conflict - or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to be more precise. My sense is that Putin is off his rocker -
It’s said that he allows no one to come near him, ever, and his fascination with numerology indicates to me a mind under great turmoil. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 began on August 8, and the invasion of Ukraine commenced on February 22 of this year - 8/08/08 and 2/22/22 - such pretty numbers. It’s also recently been said that he’s converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and feels obligated to invade Ukraine to stem the cultural marxism coming in from the west. This seems to me more of a slander on Christianity by association than a valid explanation of Putin’s actions - but I’m sure there’s a complicated mixture of influences. It’s hard to understand what he’s trying to achieve with this war, but I know where he got his leverage - from other authoritarians!
The seeds to this war were planted by a tsunami, you see, and a disaster at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan on March 11, 2011. Days later, the German federal government suspended license extensions related to its network of nuclear power plants, and began closing them by that summer - with a goal of complete phase-out by the end of 2022. In the years since, they’ve been building wind and solar farms and shutting down nuclear plants. They closed half their remaining nuclear plants in January of 2022, and the final three are slated to be shut down by year-end - right on schedule. And, despite current events, they’ve recently affirmed the decision to stay on that path.
And they’ve been buying gas from Russia…big time! Remember how shoddily Trump treated our European allies and NATO shortly after becoming President? - behind the scenes this was mostly about gas deals and military spending. Trump wanted to know why it was appropriate that the US was spending so much of its budget on defense spending, and Germany so little, when Germany is also installing pipelines and making gas deals with Putin in Russia? For all his faults (and there were many), at least Trump had an understanding of business, and leverage, and he saw no good coming out of buying half your energy needs from your crazy-ass neighbor to the east with the big military, assassination tendencies, and a huge stock of nuclear weapons. Here’s an old video featuring a tense exchange on topic if you want help remembering.
Germany is by far the largest economy in the EU, but it may not stay that way for long based on trends and policies. This winter, gas prices spiked to near 10x historic rates, before settling this spring to 4x normal, and electricity prices are the equivalent of $0.34 per KW/H - 3 or 4 times what most Americans pay. And you all remember what they do best in Germany, right? - they build stuff. Really nice cars and motorcycles come from Germany, and fancy robots and automation machines, and they produce steel and manufacture chemicals and all sorts of other stuff. In a season where much American manufacturing was outsourced to China, Germany’s manufacturing sector has been faring quite well. But manufacturing consumes a lot of energy, you see, and it’s hard to stay competitive in a global economy when you pay 3 or 4 times what your competitors pay for their power (and you pay your people highly, and give them extensive holidays and short work weeks and…) For now, we just pay a little more for our BMW’s and Volkswagens, and they’ll make a little less margin - but economics is a pernicious and persevering creature, and high energy costs amount to a starvation diet for the German manufacturing sector over time.
It’s not just Germany of course, but all of Europe that suffers from a lack of energy. Capital outflows from European equities have been setting new records weekly, (check out this Bloomberg article) with investors seeking the relative safety of US, emerging markets, and even Japanese equities. Interestingly, and by contrast, Japan initially began shutting down their nuclear power plants after Fukushima, but later reversed course - finding the relative risk of nuclear power to be lesser than that of buying energy from your crazy neighbors, and even has begun building new plants again. All of this chaos in Europe is driven and self-inflicted by the climate crisis narrative, which itself has been fueled by you-know-what? - Russian propaganda! Europe has effectively been convinced to cut off its own hands to keep itself from sinning!
Now - I’m no climate-change-denier - I can see, and think, and I read a lot of stuff, but more than I am fearful of rising sea levels I am confident of human innovation and adaptability, and I also think of the earth as something of an auto-correcting device. Us humans are busy doing a lot of stuff, and whether we get our energy from coal, gas, or nuclear, there is a cost to it, and energy is more akin to money than money is these days. Too bad it isn’t as easy to print electricity as it is to print money! But I digress, back to the auto-correcting device.
One of the amazing things about all of life, is that plants take in CO2, and emit oxygen, as part of their natural cycle, while we humans (and other animals), take in oxygen, and emit CO2. We do this in our natural state, and also much of what we do to live our lives fits this cycle - when we burn wood to heat our home we consume oxygen and emit CO2, as when we drive our cars, or create electricity with natural gas or coal. But there’s already 8 billion of us, and you know what we eat? - plants!
Plants are the greatest solar-energy source in the world, converting light energy directly into food! And we’re gonna need lots of food unless we want to start a Neo-Malthusian nightmare by killing people off to maintain the population levels, and so why wouldn’t we want high levels of carbon dioxide? As to the rising sea levels, maybe we can use that water to turn the Sahara back into a productive land - Africa is the region of earth where populations continue rising rapidly and is forecast to remain as such for at least the next 40 years. I understand that desalinization is tricky business, but certainly if we put 5% of the effort into figuring it out as we have already invested in “green energy” to this point we’d have made much progress.
I say all this as someone who attempts to maintain a modest climate footprint. I’m blessed to live near my office, and often ride my bike to work and even walk sometimes. I raise a garden and keep chickens and turn my heat down at night and when I’m away and I don’t travel around the world in my private jet.
Sidenote - I would love to see the taxation of the world’s people move toward consumption taxes instead of income taxes. There is much truth to the old saying that we should tax what we want less of, and subsidize what we want more of, and I think it’s true even into the very foundations of taxation. If we tax income, there will be less of it - but if we taxed consumption, there would also be less of it, and savings and equity would increase. But it has to be a replacement, not an add-on…
So anyway, obviously I don’t know what the answers to the Russia-Ukraine conflict are, or how to fix the climate, but I do see that many factors (not just Putin) are culpable in the deaths of civilians on the streets of Kyiv. Putin may be crazy and power-hungry, but the smarter-than-thou authorities in the EU gave him his leverage.
Moving on - let’s jump into the transgender conversation, shall we?!
Lia Thomas was crowned the NCAA Women’s Division 1 champion in the 500 freestyle this spring, after following NCAA and Ivy League authorities’ requirements for hormone replacement therapy. She’s the first openly transgender woman to win a championship, and has garnered headlines across the nation both celebrating and questioning the validity of her win. Born William, Thomas was a top-100 swimmer in the nation for the men’s team before beginning her transition, and she is notably slower than her personal bests before transition, given the decline in muscle mass due to reduced testosterone.
And to her I say - Congratulations! She followed the rules put in place by the authorities, and those other ladies are no slouches - the second place finisher was a silver medalist in the Olympics! But - they didn’t have the benefit of 18 years of testosterone - and it’s easy to see in pictures that though she may be smaller than she once was, Lia still towers over the women she’s competing against. And I don’t think it’s fair - just because the NCAA authorities say she is now a woman - it doesn’t make it true.
I met my first transgender woman soon after moving to Fort Collins. She and her father ran an appliance business together that had some business with the bank I worked at, and I confess I was struck by her appearance when I would see her in the bank. She had a striking body, with curvy curves in all the right places (I was still a young single guy back then - back off!) and she often wore revealing outfits. And, she was two inches taller than my 6’ 3”, and much broader-shouldered! It wasn’t until we met at my desk about some bank business that I realized her as someone who was a male child at birth - the adam’s apple was the giveaway! We had several meetings over time, and once she even complimented me for how kind I’d been with her, and asked if I’d ever met a trans person before. I confessed I had not, but that I aspired to treat anyone I encounter as they’d wish to be treated, and that I was glad to be acquainted - and it was true.
Now, I didn’t treat this person kindly because she could have kicked my ass - but she probably could have! She had me by 20 pounds, easy, and had much bigger muscles than I! And that’s part of my own data set in standing opposed to biological men competing against biological women in physical sports - it’s a bridge too far for me. I’ll call you ma’am, and make sure I offer a restroom that you can feel comfortable in, and you can marry whomever you wish to - but you can’t beat up women in the boxing ring or MMA cage! Nor can you take their golf scholarships, nor their swimming records, nor make false claim on what is true when it is not. Women were created by God as women, not created by man from men, and there is a vast difference. Women are incredible and amazing and equal (or greater) in value to men - but they are not men. And men are not women. The NCAA authorities cannot decree truth - they can only decree rules. And when the rules don’t jive with truth, the rules should change.
Now - at this point, some of my readers are nodding their heads, in full agreement with my perspective. Others might find themselves angered, and may well have decided to stop reading this stupid blog, quit their membership in LoCo, and work toward my cancellation for the good of humanity! That’s part of why I write my thoughts as I do, to shine a light on the fact that we all have different thoughts - shared and hidden - and I’d like to encourage respectful dialogue rather than venom-filled activism. And so - if you’re among the angry reading this - let's have coffee! - I’d like to better understand your perspective, because I only have my own two eyes and one small brain and perspective, and I’m open to understanding your perspective on this or any topic I’ve touched on today.
I mentioned in my title that I too, am an authoritarian. There are areas in my life where I claim authority - primarily over my own actions, but also in my role as a leader to my small business - and there are many areas in my life where I grant authority. I begrudgingly grant authority over my income to the IRS, to local law enforcement (somewhat) over my driving habits, and I happily grant shared authority to my honey bear over how we manage Team Bear’s finances and travel schedule and dining choices.
So - where you going with all this, Bear? And what’s this mish-mash current events recap got to do with business?
Well, I’ll tell you, smarty pants! The foundation of a strong business is a strong team, where the members of the team understand each other and contribute to the success of the enterprise, and have free communication over how to best solve challenges. They have different strengths and weaknesses, different opinions, and they must take authority over their various roles to truly excel - we’re building teams of diverse and passionate contributors, not looking for a genius with a thousand helpers! And to me, the same challenge is confronted on a national and even a global scale. When there are a very small few deciders (authorities) and they believe they have wisdom greater than all those they preside over - there will be friction and division as we’re seeing today. But if they act as servant leaders and encourage dialogue, and shared understanding of the good we are seeking, we can collaborate to find a good path - and we can also remember there are many paths to the top of the mountain!
And so the call to action is introspection. What is your perspective on authority? - in your home, in your business, in your village or town or city? How much authority have you taken over your own self? What are the areas in your business where you must be the decider, and where might you transfer authority to those more capable?
Now on to the close with a little more Op-ed stuff. I acknowledged earlier that my comments on transgender women, and perhaps on Russia, and climate change, and maybe even Will Smith may seem divisive to some - but I ask the question: What authority do you claim over my thoughts, or over my written words?
The fragmenting and fracturing of our culture is largely because we’ve abandoned a shared belief system - which used to be founded on God. “Each to his or her or their own way” is the calling card of the day, and may pave the path to our destruction! It’s increasingly clear that the youth in our America are adrift with little purpose, save for perhaps saving the climate, becoming an influencer, and avoiding having children because of the kind of world they’re likely to grow up in…how great! As a people, as a nation, as families and fathers and mothers and friends - we need to encourage one another to take authority over ourselves and our lives and what is accepted as true - and grant authority only to those who deserve it. From my perspective, the collective wisdom of us all is more powerful and true than the select few elites who’ve claimed authority over so many areas of our modern world.
From my perspective, there is only one whose wisdom is smarter than the collective wisdom of people, and that is God. And, in honor of Easter month, I’ll close with the words of Jesus, who we celebrate in this season, and who knew better than anyone where to grant authority.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end, and please enjoy as we close with The Lord’s Prayer, built from Jesus’ wise words in the Gospel of Luke.
Which Art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our transgressions,
As we forgive those who transgress against us,
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom,
And the Glory,
Forever and ever.