‘Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging’: Junger’s must-read explains why America is tearing itself apart

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Roughly 17 years ago I exited the military after a stint as a mechanized infantryman in the U.S. Army. Even though the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and the nation’s “long war” had not yet begun, I found myself having a difficult time with the transition to civilian life. Understanding why I missed my old platoon — and why I felt a growing fear and sadness for the country I loved — took years (and a blog like this) to figure out, but author and former war reporter Sebastian Junger articulates it all in his must-read book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.

Americans who have not lived under a rock for the past 20 years have witnessed the slow-motion implosion of our culture.

  • Cable news pundits obsessively talk of “red states” and “blue states.”
  • The politics of personal destruction reigns supreme.
  • Saying “all lives matter” is interpreted in a Twilight Zone-ish twist by millions of people as somehow racist.
  • Americans watch carefully constructed social-media feeds that tell them all Republicans are the equivalent of Darth Vader, or that all Democrats have shrines to Fidel Castro in their bedroom.

In short, the modern world is deficient in something that is causing tens-of-millions of people to feel isolated, alone, and empty. The void is filled with confusion, and that in turn fuels the kind of anger and hate that was the hallmark of the 2016 election cycle.

Why is it that many soldiers and civilians who have lived through war sometimes get nostalgic for it?

What are the consequences for society when a person “living in a modern city or suburb can, for the first time in history, go through an entire day — or an entire life — mostly encountering complete strangers”?

Why are we often surrounded by others, yet “feel deeply, dangerously alone”?

One of the answers can be found in tribal societies. And no, your friendly neighborhood blogger is not saying Native Americans should have won the clash of civilizations at our nation’s inception. I am merely saying, like Mr. Junger, that we can learn from their ability to provide “the three pillars of self-determination — autonomy, competence, and community.”

Mr. Junger writes:

“After World War II, many Londoners claimed to miss the exciting and perilous days of the Blitz. (“I wouldn’t mind having an evening like it, say, once a week — ordinarily there’s no excitement,” one man commented to Mass-Observation about the air raids), and the war that is missed doesn’t even have to be a shooting war: “I am a survivor of the AIDS epidemic,” an American man wrote in 2014 on the comment board of an online lecture about war. “Now that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, I must admit that I miss those days of extreme brotherhood…which led to deep emotions and understandings that are above anything I have felt since the plague years.”

What people miss presumably isn’t danger or loss but the unity that these things often engender. There are obvious stresses on a person in a group, but there may be even greater stresses on a person in isolation, so during disasters there is a net gain in well-being. Most primates, including humans, are intensely social, and there are very few instances of lone primates surviving in the wild. …

Whatever the technological advances of modern society — and they’re near miraculous — the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.” — (Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2016), 92-93.

Tribe covers issues like PTSD, depression, and anxiety among combat veterans, but it would be a big mistake to solely think of it as a book for the military community. It is much more than that, because it is a blueprint for getting the nation on a path to cultural healing.

The author continues:

“The eternal argument over so-called entitlement programs — and, more broadly, over liberal and conservative thought — will never be resolved because each side represents an ancient and absolutely essential component of our evolutionary past.

So how do you unify a secure, wealthy country that has sunk into a zero-sum political game with itself? How do you make veterans feel that they are returning to a cohesive society that was worth fighting for in the first place? […] I put the question to Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. …

“if you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different — you underscore your shared humanity,” she told me. “I’m appalled by how much people focus on differences. Why are you focusing on how different you are from one another, and not on the things that unite us?” […]

Reviling people you share a combat outpost with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves. (127-128).

Tribe is by no means “the” answer to the nation’s deep-seated cultural problems, but it is a significant piece of the puzzle. To get a good look at the big picture, I suggest pairing Mr. Junger’s quick-read with George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic. Each book provides a template for transcending dead-end partisan bickering, and in turn getting America efficiently focused on  becoming a more-perfect union.

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‘Letters to a Young Catholic’: George Weigel hits a literary home run

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George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic is a wonderful book, but oddly enough I must begin this review by griping about the title — it’s something that Catholics of any age should read. In fact, the publisher does not lie by billing the book as “a modern spiritual classic,” which is why I recommend it to anyone who is interested in such issues.

Like many Catholic kids, my parents took me to Mass every Sunday growing up. And, like many Catholic kids, I was not exposed to the writings of G.K. Chesterton, George Weigel or other intellectual heavyweights. What I did have access to were kind adults who lacked the ability to articulate the faith in a way that “clicked” for me. I drifted from the Church as a young man and did not come back until I learned many painful lessons. If I were exposed to a book like this as a teenager then it probably would have saved me a lot of lost time, although I admit to having a largely impenetrable chip on my shoulder in those days. (And yes, I know that some of you would argue that it’s still there!)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Letters to a Young Catholic is that in many ways it doubles as a must-read for those who are wondering why America’s political institutions are crumbling before our eyes. The way in which the author travels the globe, goes back in time, covers essential questions about the Catholic faith that all young people ask, and then ties it into our contemporary political landscape is like watching a gymnast who puts everything out on the floor before the judges — and nails it.

Mr. Weigel writes:

If American popular and high culture could ever agree on a theme song that captured the idea of freedom driving much of contemporary life, it would almost certainly be Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” I did it my way seems to sum up the widespread notion that freedom is a matter of asserting myself and my will — that freedom is really about choice, not about what we choose and why. Suggest that certain choices are just incompatible with human dignity and with growth in goodness, and you’ll get some very strange looks these days, whether on campus or in the workplace.

Catholicism has a different idea of freedom. In the Catholic idea of freedom, freedom and goodness go together. A great contemporary moral theologian, Father Servais Pinckaers, OP, explained all this. […] Learning to play the piano, he reminded us, is a tedious, even dreary business at first: well do I remember my own distaste for a book of technique-strengthening tortures entitled Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios. But after doing one’s exercises for a while, what originally seemed like a burden comes into clearer focus — learning to do the right thing in the right way is actually liberating. You can play anything you like, even the most difficult pieces. You can make new music on your own. Sure, Father Pinckaers writes, anybody can pound away on a piano. But that’s a rudimentary, savage sort of freedom,” not a truly human freedom. …

I did it my way teaches us an idea of freedom that Father Pinckaers calls “the freedom of indifference.” Doing things “my way,” just because it’s my way, is like banging idiotically on the piano or talking gibberish. The richer, nobler idea of freedom the Catholic Church proposes is what Father Pinckaers calls freedom for excellence — the freedom to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, as a matter of habit. That’s the truly human way. Because that’s the kind of freedom that satisfies our natural desire for happiness, which itself reflects our desire for God, who is all Good, all the way.  […] What’s all this got to do with democracy? Everything. Freedom untethered from moral truth will eventually become freedom’s worst enemy. — Weigel, George. Letters to a Young Catholic. Basic Books, 2015. 305-306.

A friend of mine texted me on Monday and said she hoped that I would cover the first U.S. presidential debate on the blog. In many ways, the text from Mr. Weigel’s book shown here tells us everything we need to know.

Why is America forced to choose between a woman who should be wearing an orange jumpsuit in a federal prison, and an egomaniac with occasionally orange skin?

Answer: Because America long ago decided it wanted to untether freedom from moral truth.

There really is no way to read Letters to a Young Catholic and not have a crystal clear understanding as to why civil society in the U.S. is unraveling. Our cultural influencers embrace a kind of nihilism “that enjoys itself on the way to oblivion, convinced that all of this — the world, us, relationships, sex, beauty, history — is really just a cosmic joke,” and we are now paying the price.

Mr. Weigel counters that “against the nihilist claim that nothing is really of consequence, Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ. And if you believe that, it changes the way you see things. It changes the way everything looks.”

If for no other reason, wayward Catholics should read this book to realize that what they thought was Catholicism growing up was in all likelihood a grossly watered down version of the Faith that denied them knowledge of its true richness and beauty. There are numerous reasons for this, and the author does a masterful job spelling it all out. I found myself thinking, “Finally! Someone who gets it,” and I am sure you will too.

Will Ferrell goes soulless ghoul route, plans Reagan ‘dementia’ romp

Will Ferrell

Political pundits often wonder why the United States seems to be falling apart at the seams. There are many reasons for the slow-motion implosion, but one of them relates a cultural celebration of men and women whose principal appeal among fans is that they have no shame.

When a famous individual with no shame becomes a partisan political hack, one might say a dark spark occurs within them and you get what appears to be a soulless ghoul. There is no low that a ghoul will not go to destroy his political enemies, even if the result is a pyrrhic victory.

Will Ferrell’s decision to shop around a dementia romp about former President Ronald Reagan is an excellent example of America’s cultural hatchet men.

Variety reported Wednesday:

“Having already famously portrayed former President George W. Bush in various comedy sketches, Will Ferrell is now setting his sights on another former commander in chief.

Sources tell Variety Ferrell is attached to star as President Ronald Reagan in the Black List script “Reagan.”

Penned by Mike Rosolio, the story begins at the start of the ex-president’s second term when he falls into dementia and an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander in chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.

The script was so popular following its announcement on the Black List, an annual catalog of the top unproduced scripts in Hollywood, that a live read was recently done in March starring Lena Dunham and John Cho.”

Only to a sick soul does Alzheimer’s disease become an opportunity for knee-slapping good times at the local movie theater. Imagine the “fun” Mr. Ferrell could have if he found out Ronald Reagan was molested as a child or that a close friend of his died of cancer…

If you ever wondered why it seems increasingly harder for people to disagree without being disagreeable, then look no further than the anointed purveyors of cool within the entertainment industry — the Will Ferrells and Lena Dunhams of the world love to lather themselves up in the politics of personal destruction and then fling it around with drive and purpose. They claim to love America, but the reality is quite different. They lust for a world that is as sick and twisted as whatever it is inside them that makes dementia a launching pad for political attacks.

Update, Friday, April 29: It looks like the backlash finally got to Mr. Ferrell. He has now backed out of the project.

Happy Marriage 101: Don’t raise your voice, yell at your spouse

I was eating lunch with my wife a few days ago when she said that in hindsight she is thankful for a rule I established early on in our relationship. I told her many years ago that I would never raise my voice with her, but that I would expect the same treatment in return. I said I was willing to end the relationship if she could not abide by the rule.

This seems like a common sense condition, but it does not take long to realize that many people do not follow it — even in public. In fact, some people claim that yelling adds “passion” to a relationship. I would argue that screaming at a spouse and calling the ordeal an aphrodisiac is a form of denial; it is dysfunction masquerading as love.

When a person raises his or her voice in an argument, it is a sign of desperation. It indicates a loss of control. The couple immediately enters an emotional realm that is conducive to mental and physical violence, which is why it is exponentially embarrassing if the man is the one who raised his voice first.

Yelling at someone does not add legitimacy to an argument, but for some reason many individuals think increased decibel-levels magically perform such a function.

Raising your voice does denote anger, but a healthier way of conveying that feeling is to simply say, “I am angry.” If you say what you mean and mean what you say with your spouse on a regular basis, then that statement alone will be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

As was already mentioned, a man should never yell at his significant other. The vast majority of men are physically stronger than the women in their life, so ending a disagreement by introducing the specter of violence — even if the man has never physically harmed his wife — is  cowardly, wrong, and ipso facto detrimental to the long-term health of the relationship.

“Anybody can become angry,” Aristotle wrote. “That is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not … easy.”

Anger is a natural feeling, and in general there is nothing wrong with feeling anger. The key is to channel that anger in healthy ways. If you struggle with this task, then I suggest checking out the book “Overcoming Sinful Anger,” by Rev. T.G. Morrow. It is a short book, but one filled with advice that will leave you happier and healthier if you take his words to heart.

RELATED: Ten tips for a stable relationship

‘The Imitation of Christ’: Antidote for Media-addicted America

Politicians and pundits use every election cycle to talk about the need for “new” ideas. Increasingly secular yet tech-savvy societies are always looking for the next “new” idea, and yet they wonder why the same old problems persist. The more I read, the more I think that many “old” ideas should be dusted off and embraced.

Take Thomas à Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ,” written in 1418, for example. Just like our good friend Saint Augustine, it’s been a while since he walked the earth. Regardless, Kempis’ devotional book is one that would be beneficial to Christians and non-Christians alike. Even if one were to weirdly strip out all references to Christ, much of the wisdom regarding the right way to live would still remain.

Atheists say that Christ was not the Son of God, but if you asked them if the man — from a purely historical point of view — lived a life worth imitating, then the vast majority of them would probably say yes.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchap. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC and FOX. Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo. Warner Bros, Sony, Disney, Universal and Netflix. NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and UFC. Amazon, Ebay, Microsoft, Apple and more, more, more always vie for our attention — and we give it to them.

Addiction to the temporal is a horrible thing, but it is hard to recognize because it sneaks up on a man. It slowly slithers around the psyche. Its initially brings warmth and joy, but in the end it’s all a ruse. When it has completely enveloped the whole of a man’s being it constricts like a python and suffocates his soul while he sleeps.

In the addicted man’s waking state he is, on many levels, unaware that the most important part of him is in peril.

He is sad. He is lost. He does not know why he is never complete, and so he turns to the very thing that fills him with venom while he dreams.

Enter Thomas à Kempis, who breaks down the blueprint for a happy life into four parts: 1. Useful Admonitions for a Spiritual Life. 2. Admonitions Concerning Interior Things. 3. Internal Consolation. 4. The Blessed Sacrament.

Ask yourself if there is a reason why politicians never mention “The Imitation of Christ” as one of their favorite books.

“Who is so wise as to be able fully to know all things? Therefore, trust not too much to thine own thoughts, but be willing also to hear the sentiments of others. Although thine opinion be good, yet if for God’s sake thou leave it to follow that of another, it will be more profitable to thee.

For I have often heard, that it is more safe to hear and to take counsel than to give it.

It may also happen that each one’s thought may be good, but to refuse to yield to others when reason or a just cause requires it is a sign of pride and willfulness,” (Book 1, Chapter 9).

Interesting, isn’t it?

“Don’t listen to those ‘old’ ideas, kind voter. Listen to me, [Insert Politician’s Name Here], because I’m never wrong and my ‘new’ ideas will fix all your problems.”

Kempis continues:

“How happy and prudent is he who strives to be such now in this life as he desires to be found at his death.

For it will give a man a great confidence of dying happily if he has a perfect contempt of the world, a fervent desire of advancing in virtue, a love for discipline, the spirit of penance, a ready obedience, self-denial, and patience in bearing all adversities for the love of Christ,” (Book 1, Chapter 23).

It takes just two sentences for the author to give readers seeds that will bear a harvest of joy for all the years of their lives. As a Catholic, I would implore readers not to take Christ out of the sentence, but I will concede that doing so does not negate the rest of the advice embedded in the text.

America faces many challenges in the years ahead. If you are interested in giving yourself mental and spiritual tools for the task, then I highly suggest reading “The Imitation of Christ.”

Editor’s Note: I will send a copy of the book to the first regular reader who asks.

Alan Moore blasts ‘catastrophic’ superhero fixation of a culture on life support

A friend of mine sent me a fascinating Alan Moore interview from 2014. The comic industry icon told Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks that the heightened popularity of Marvel and DC superheroes may be ‘culturally catastrophic’.

The Guardian reported January 21, 2014:

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

Mr. Moore is close — he’s so close — but he doesn’t seem ready to acknowledge that the catastrophe has arrived. It is now. We are living through it. An introduction to our cultural implosion can be found in my Nov. 14, 2014 blog post titled: “Rossetta scientist cries over feminist outrage at his shirt: It’s been fun, Western Civilization.”  In short: societies that live in perpetual fear of the “micro-aggression” are societies that have seen better days.

For those who want to know just how obsessed our culture is with superheroes, I suggest watching Red Letter Media’s “Nerd Talk: Sequels, Spin-Offs, and Standalones,” which was posted July 22. It perfectly highlights just how much of an industry “nerdom” has become. Other symptoms of Western civilization’s disease might include the preponderance of men who spend inordinate amounts of time playing video games, collecting figurines, endlessly cycling through imgur, or trolling Tumblr — while simultaneously showing little to no interest in expanding their own intellectual horizons.

There is nothing wrong with having an interest in video games or superhero movies, but there is something culturally suicidal when large segments of the population delve deep into fantasy worlds before they have a sound grasp of reality.

In a strange way, technology acts like a double-edged sword: our standard of living is so high and our problems so few and far between that we invent dragons to slay (e.g., political pundits must be excoriated for not being “polite to the pronouns” of transgender individuals). The poorest Americans live better than the kings of old, and so they engage in sad and pathetic wars over whether or not The Dukes of Hazzard is too offensive for television.

As the character Cooper says in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar: “We used to look up in the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

For all intents and purposes, America has become a nation filled with infantile men and women who fight over intellectual belly button lint. They feign outrage over puerile affairs while legitimate threats to the safety and security of future generations mount around them.  Bubble-butted celebrities bump serious news stories off the front page. Strange diversity quotas for Star Wars movies that don’t even have finished scripts are more talked about than state-sponsored hackers stealing the personal data of millions of federal employees. To put it more succinctly, we are lost.

If you get a chance, read Mr. Moore’s interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid. It’s titled ‘Last Alan Moore Interview?’. If it is, then it’s definitely one worthy of the man’s exit from public life. Time and time again, he puts his finger on the pulse of all that ails us, but for whatever reason he doesn’t give his patients a frank diagnosis: Western civilization has a fever. Instead of going to the doctor, its men and women are going to movie theaters, man-caves to play video games, or San Diego Comic-Con.

Judge Mindy Glazer meets childhood friend in her courtroom; accused burglar and race-baiters cry

Miami Judge S GlazerIs America a country where a men and women are the authors of their own destiny, or is it a country where the odds are stacked against certain groups to essentially guarantee failure? Let us consider the case of Miami-Dade County Judge Mindy Glazer, who ran into accused burglar Arthur Booth in her courtroom. The two have a very telling history together — they were childhood friends. The exchange between them brought one man (and the country’s many race-baiters) to tears.

A local ABC affiliate reported June 30:

The suspect in front of the bench was Arthur Booth, a classmate of Glazer’s at Nautilus Middle School.

Glazer asked if Booth, who is facing numerous charges including burglary and grand theft, had attended the school.

“Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness!” exclaimed Booth before beginning to cry.

Glazer said that Booth was the nicest and best kid in school.

“I used to play football with him, all the kids, and look what has happened,” Glazer said. “I’m so sorry to see this.”

Follow the link and watch the video. It is well worth your time. You can almost see the moment where Mr. Booth’s brain registers just how different his life could have been if he made better choices along the way.

Two American minorities go to the same high school. They’re both intelligent kids. They play the same games, have the same teachers and the same friends, and yet at some point a string of bad decisions sends Mr. Booth’s life into the ditch. He treated his life like a pro golfer who inexplicably decides to swing his club with reckless abandon, and then wonders why his partner winds up with the a large trophy room.

Every day we dip our hands into an endless stream of consciousness, pull out decisions, and then act. We inherently know that the sheer volume of choices that rest squarely on our shoulders means that most trials and tribulations can be overcome. When it comes to discussing racial issues, however, those truths are suddenly denied or turned upside down.

The next time you hear about “white privilege,” I suggest thinking about the race that you’ve run in the ultimate marathon that is life. Think about the mind-bending number of decisions that you have made over the years to get to where you are today. Think about the times you have fallen short of your full potential. Think about your faults. Think about the hard work you put in over the years to recover from your personal and professional mistakes. Then ask if episodic instances of racism or bigotry in the United States has the power to keep anyone from attaining the vast majority of their hopes and dreams.

Hopefully Mr. Booth realizes what Judge Mindy Glazer’s comments highlight: there is no reason why the nicest kid in school should wind up a middle-aged adult with a criminal record unless he long ago decided to walk down a dangerous dead-end road.

‘Lucifer’ targeted by One Million Moms; Satan laughs as giant false idol of technology ignored

Fox showA nonprofit organization is targeting the upcoming Fox show “Lucifer.” The usual suspects in the media responded by mocking the faith-based organization, and guys like me just thought “God bless America! Everyone gets to say their peace and we generally do a good job of not coming to blows in the process.” However, I can’t help but wonder why organizations like One Million Moms focus on a single digital brick in the false idol that is technology. Few people seem to be paying attention to the bigger picture.

The One Million Moms website describes its petition as follows:

The series will focus on Lucifer portrayed as a good guy, “who is bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell.” He resigns his throne, abandons his kingdom and retires to Los Angeles, where he gets his kicks helping the LAPD punish criminals.

At the same time, God’s emissary, the angel Amenadiel, has been sent to Los Angeles to convince Lucifer to return to the underworld.

Previews of the pilot episode depict graphic acts of violence, a nightclub featuring scantily-clad women and a demon.

How many of those moms obsess over their Facebook feeds? How many of those mom’s have their eyes fixated on cell phones throughout the day? How many of their kids spend hours with their eyes glued on glowing boxes that stream video games, movies, and One Million Moms-approved television shows? The answer in each case is probably “too many.”

Fox’s “Lucifer” is a single show that will actually prompt children to start Googling questions about Christianity, demons, angels, God, Jesus and an assortment of other faith-based subjects. Perhaps I’m wrong, but my guess is that the devil probably doesn’t want young children using Fox television shows as a springboard to an introduction with Jesus Christ. Does God not possess the power to turn any evil into a greater good? Of course he does.

It seems much more likely that the bigger threat to the spiritual well-being of our culture is the cumulative effect of technology that a.) seemingly satisfies every need, b.) encourages narcissism so as to essentially render humility obsolete, and c.) cultivates pride and envy.

The false idol of technology, which seemingly caters to every want and desire, gives birth to the false idol of self (or should we say “selfie”?). The devil doesn’t want individuals thinking about his nature because it is almost impossible to do so without thinking about the nature of Christ. The devil does not want a man to know he is being tempted because knowledge of temptation presents the opportunity to display virtue.

One Million Moms may have their hearts in the right place, but their heads should be more focused the spiritual Trojan Horse before them. The Red Hot Chili Peppers (a band that probably isn’t on One Million Moms’ playlist) had much better advice in 2002 when they sang “Throw away your television.”

It’s okay to let friends go when they wish you were like Han Solo frozen in carbonite

Lando Han Solo CarboniteHere is a bit of advice for younger readers of this blog: One day you will have friends who will wish you were like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. You will meet these individuals at a young age, and as both of you become older they will always identify you with a very specific time and a very specific place. They will refuse to accept that people mature and change over the years, and their attempts to keep you in a mental and spiritual state of suspended animation will leave you puzzled as to how to properly respond. If tactful attempts to show them that hanging on too tightly to the past is unhealthy, then you must move on — not necessarily in dramatic fashion — but you must move on.

Han Solo CarboniteCells die in your body every single day. Over the course of many months, all of your cells are replaced with new cells. Physically, you become a different person. Mentally and spiritually, you also go through changes over the course of your life. The “core” of your being (the “you” behind the “you”) basically stays the same, but for all intents and purposes you are a different person. Some of your friends will become attached to the 2015 version of you and, like a favorite car, they will do anything they can to keep you just as you were when you first rolled up their driveway. If you want to become the best version of yourself possible, then placating this desire among those friends must be avoided at all costs.

Although there are probably countless variations of the Boba Fett-type of friend, my own personal experiences come in two varieties:

  • The friend who wishes the “old” me (i.e., immature prankster) still existed.
  • The friend who wishes the less knowledgeable version of me still existed.

In an ideal world, the friends we make early on in life would understand that knowledge is a virtue. Everyone would grow and expand at comparable rates, but they would respect the different ways we all branch out. Sadly, that is not the case.

When faced with these situations, you will feel the need to “act the part.” You will feel the need to “go along to get along.” Don’t. It would be weird for frogs to revert back to tadpoles, fish to roe, or butterflies into caterpillars — so why would you ever try to be a version of yourself that no longer exists? If you put on a fraudulent face to make someone happy, then you are doing both yourself and the person who cannot let go of the past a disservice. Only by being true to yourself can you achieve what you were truly meant to achieve and live life without regrets.

Life is much too short for living lies — even little ones that seem well-intentioned. If you have friends in your life who seem to want you to be their personal Han Solo frozen in carbonite, then it is because on many levels they are mentally and spiritually paralyzed. The biggest favor you can do for them if they refuse to see that truth is to walk away.

‘The Inner Ring,’ by C.S. Lewis explains Washington, D.C. perfectly

Twitter recently suspended my account for daring to question its decision not to penalize the man who sent me a death threat. I was then contacted privately by a friend who asked why certain conservatives weren’t coming to my defense. This person knows that I once worked for a large think tank in Washington, D.C., and that I currently work for a newspaper.

The answer is simple: I willingly left a specific “Ring” years ago, and those who leave the Ring are not afforded its support.

C.S. Lewis explains this phenomenon well in his classic speech to young university students:

“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside. This desire, in one of its forms, has indeed had ample justice done to it in literature. I mean, in the form of snobbery. Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hagridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society,” in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings and snobbery, therefore, only one form of the longing to be inside.

People who believe themselves to be free, and indeed are free, from snobbery, and who read satires on snobbery with tranquil superiority, may be devoured by the desire in another form. It may be the very intensity of their desire to enter some quite different Ring which renders them immune from the allurements of high life. An invitation from a duchess would be very cold comfort to a man smarting under the sense of exclusion from some artistic or communist côterie. Poor man — it is not large, lighted rooms, or champagne, or even scandals about peers and Cabinet Ministers that he wants; it is the sacred little attic or studio, the heads bent together, the fog of tobacco smoke, and the delicious knowledge that we — we four or five all huddled beside this stove — are the people who know. …

The lust for the esoteric, the longing to be inside, take many forms which are not easily recognizable as Ambition. We hope, no doubt, for tangible profits from every Inner Ring we penetrate: power, money, liberty to break rules, avoidance of routine duties, evasion of discipline. But all these would not satisfy us if we did not get in addition the delicious sense of secret intimacy. …

Of all passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. …

The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it.”  — C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring.

Regular readers know that I do not name drop. I think it’s tawdry and weird and something people use as a crutch when they’re incapable of formulating sound arguments. However, I will say this: Once I left the employment of a well-known think tank, there were individuals who treated me like a ghost overnight.

The kind of people who populate Washington, D.C. are very much like a well-connected man I once got into an argument with while working near the Capitol. He said to me: “Do you know who I am? I’m the maître d’ of the conservative movement.” My skin crawled. I didn’t care who he was — he was wrong — and I’d rather choose the hard right than the easy wrong.

The kind of man who calls himself the “maître d’ of the conservative movement” is very much the kind of man who cares about the Inner Ring that C.S. Lewis covers in great detail. He may be conservative, but he cares much more about himself and his career than he does about the principles he espouses in front of large crowds or on cable news shows.

Perhaps the most recent example of a larger Ring that actually gained traction on social media was Valerie Jarrett’s appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” President Obama’s top adviser went around the table giving pundits hugs and kisses, with Joe Scarborough saying “Valerie, come give me a hug!” before cutting to a commercial break.

Morning Joe Valerie JarrettWashington D.C. is an incestuous place, where reporters, pundits, politicians, academics and bureaucrats all go to the same parties over … and over … and over … and over. It’s the kind of place where you can go to dinner with someone and the person sitting across the table can say with a straight face that they’re “kind of a big deal.” I know because it happened to me.

As C.S. Lewis notes, no one is immune from the desire to be a part of some Inner Ring. The difference between Washington, D.C. and other places, however, is that the capital’s rings lure people who seek power and influence. Very smart, very shrewd individuals are attracted to Washington, which means that they are capable of advanced levels of evil.

Who is more evil: the dumb fool who punches you in the face and steals your wallet because he knows of no other way to vent frustration over his shortcomings, or the intelligent man who methodically finds ways to trample your soul and deny your god-given rights — all while convincing you that he’s really your best friend?

All men are capable of great good or great evil, but my point is that the concentration of highly-educated individuals in the nation’s capital, who are obsessed with power, also means that the city possesses a unique kind of evil.

If you get a chance, then I highly suggest reading “The Inner Ring,” by C.S. Lewis. If I had read it years ago, then I would have hopped on a happier path ahead of schedule. No matter what city or town you live in, it’s worth your time.