Understanding Chaos

Understanding Chaos
In this first 100 days of  2017, here in America and in some other countries, there has been a great deal of what we like to call chaos. Chaos is “complete disorder or disruption.” However, I’m going to challenge us all, especially Freemasons, to look at Chaos differently. We put “Order out of Chaos” but what does this mean? The challenge I have is to look at Chaos as something different and necessary to life and growth, or at least our ability to tell the difference.
 

Let me first start by saying this is not, emphasis on NOT, a political discussion. This is using an event in politics to illustrate a point. However you feel about the politics/events, right or wrong, is irrelevant to the content of this blog. What I want to do is illustrate how science and nature have a real place in our processes to affect change. Think differently. That said, here we go.

A recent event happened in politics in America – the Immigration Executive Order that Trump signed on January 27th. The executive order was, by mostly-credible accounts thus far, written by Steve Bannon, a self-designated fear monger. He stated, in a 2010 interview, “Fear is a good thing. Fear is going to lead you to take action.” He also stated that “I’m a Leninist,” [quoted as saying by a writer for The Daily Beast] He later said he did not recall the conversation. “Lenin wanted to destroy the stA30B258A-524B-4688-9D2F-EE9E6F4D5652ate, and that’s my goal, too,” the site quoted him as saying. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”  Mr. Bannon told The Washington Post this year, “We call ourselves ‘the Fight Club.’ You don’t come to us for warm and fuzzy. We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment, particularly ‘anti-’ the permanent political class. We say Paul Ryan was grown in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation.”

I do not think that Mr. Bannon is alone in
his thinking this way, especially across the current appointees and heads of various government agencies. I think Trump has a specific goal in mind: introduce chaos into the system to turn it on its head and change it. The difficulty that most people have is that it is chaos mixed with fear, hatred, and injustice – not Masonic values at all.

In a recent Facebook posting, historian Heather Cox Richardson explained this “shock event” in very succinct and clear terms – what it is, what the outcomes may be, and what we can do to overcome it. The full text can be found in this blog. I think that one of the best sentences in this piece, and one we should all take hold of is this: “But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.” Her point, in other words, is that we don’t have to react in ways we’ve always reacted – we can take our emotions and work differently. It takes consciousness, focus, and effort. It takes energy. Energy.

Here’s where I want to turn chaos on its head. In the world of science, specifically physics and thermodynamics, chaos equates to entropy. Entropy is not sitting on your couch, drinking a Coors, and watching the game. No. In physics, entropy is the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder. Simply stated, entropy is the spreading of energy until it is evenly spread. A great, in-depth, and head-expanding article on the second law of thermodynamics and entropy is here. I warn you, it’s long and even though it says “simple,” it takes focus to really follow the whole article. Bottom line: let’s just say, energy disperses.

If you look at our country, or any “related system” I will call it, we were founded by many humans with a great deal of energy for change. Events which upset the equilibrium – taxation, religious persecution, and the like – created energy, which in turn led people to expend their energy differently – fighting for and creating a new country and a new form of government. This energy, related to the creating of the United States of America, has over time, received influxes of upsets to its equilibrium; these are the events more remembered as shapers of the country. It is how we got to where we are today.

How does this relate to thermodynamics and physics? Hang with me, I’m getting there. There is new discussion about entropy and how physics can be applied to the biology of life. Another long article but with a very clear video about the thoughts and theories is found here. In essence, the article explains that in the end, thought (that is, intention, logic, and problem-solving) are the keys to fighting entropy and disorder. Another way of looking at this is that the destruction of forms happens because of entropy; the introduction of an upset to the equilibrium staves off entropy (chaos) and causes the current energy to reorganize and become a viable source for change. We can look at teleology as having a connection to thermodynamics rather than biology. Simply said, thought is energy.

Did I lose you? I might have lost myself. But, stay with me. Where I’m getting to is this: Freemasonry values nature and science – we need to look at both for the answers of how did we get here and where do we go next. Let’s take a step and connect biology, physics, and politics, weird as that may be, into a line and we can see how we got here. And, to Heather Cox Richardson’s point, how we get out. We need to take whatever energies we receive from the upset of the equilibrium and turn it into a thoughtful way to change our world.

Like the small discs of atoms the researchers used in their experiments in the above article, we too can use tools and socially organize into effective change advocates. We can create something new from the impetus we’ve been given. To me, Freemasonry has given me the balance to look at something like Chaos as see it as a blessing. I’m not talking about how that chaos is delivered, which may involve incredible emotional and physical upheaval. Pain, Fear, Hate, Ignorance – all of these continue. It is in our responses where we can affect the change. Until we think about our next moves, use the energy that we’ve been given to that plan of thought, and execute well, the shock event will actually create nothing new at all. I might even venture to say that what we might view as negative change can actually be what positive change needs to get going. All of these lessons are clear in nearly all degrees of Freemasonry. Sometimes, it takes chaos for us to see the value in what we’re learning. If we can take a breath and use our thought processes to absorb the disruption, we might be able to see the value in all sides of an event.

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

Investigative Journalism and Democracy: The White House Correspondents’ Association

How important is the role of robust and investigative journalism in a healthy democracy? Many political scientists argue journalists perform a crucial role in informing the public debate so that the electorate can make educated choices. Politicians are elected to make decisions and take action that reflects the wishes of the voters who elected them to office. In order to inform and educate the voters, journalists must scrutinize the politician’s decisions and report the implications to the public.  Thus, journalism could be viewed as crucial to the correct functioning of a Democracy.

The White House Correspondents’ Association

In 1913, President Wilson, concerned about remarks quoted by some newspapers, threatened to end the practice of Presidential Press Conferences. Pledging themselves to a professional code of conduct, a group of White House correspondents conviWhiteHouseCorrespondentsnced President Wilson to relent.

On February 25, 1914,  these journalists formally organized as the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) in response to a rumor that a Congressional committee was planning to select which journalists could attend Presidential press conferences. The organizations original mission was to keep Wilson from ending his press conferences. Since its founding, the group has expanded its mission to pushing for broader access to the White House and supporting vigorous reporting on the presidency.

Advocating for openness and transparency in every operation of the presidency, the WHCA fulfills its mission of oversight of the Oval Office and the federal agencies and supplies reporters to travel aboard Air Force One, the President’s official aircraft.

Filling the White House press room on a daily basis, the WHCA represents each sector of the media. According to the WHCA’s website, the organization traces its roots back to the newspaper reporters who, in the 1890s, stood outside the White House fence to question the President and visitors of the White House. Each generation of WHCA reporters has diligently worked to provide regular coverage of the President’s public activities through a rotating group of representatives the organization refers to as “the pool.”

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

On April 25, 2015, the Annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner was held in Washington D.C. Bringing together journalists, celebrities, and members of Congress, a diverse croPresidentObamaWhiteHouseCorrespondentswd gathered to hear President Obama speak in a candid fashion: reciting a collection of what his aides call the “State of the Union of Jokes.” While Journalism awards and scholarships were presented, the mainstream media’s focus remained lighthearted and jovial as President Obama and Saturday Night Live comedian Cecily Strong made humorous remarks about politics and the media. When the President took center stage, he provided the American public with these jokes:

– “Six years into my presidency, people still say I’m arrogant. Aloof. Condescending. People are so dumb. That’s why I don’t meet with them.”

– “On Saturday Night Live, Cecily impersonates CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, which is surprising, because usually the only people impersonating journalists on CNN are journalists on CNN.”

Humorous anecdotes aside, the role of investigative journalism is not a laughing matter. President Obama highlighted America’s need for journalists that expose corruption and provide a voice to the marginalized in our society when he honored Journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, who in his words were “murdered for nothing more than trying to shine a light into some of the world’s darkest corners.” Telecast live by Fox News, MSNBC, C-SPAN and CNN, the dinner was hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association, an organization of journalists who cover the press related to the President and the White House.

Freemasonry’s Search for the Truththomasjeffersonfreemason

Former U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, once remarked, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a Government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.” Like American journalism, Freemasonry’s purpose is founded in search for truth. Sharing in the journalist mission of shining light in darkness, Freemasons operate under a strong moral code of conduct. To think high, to do well, to be tolerant to others, and to search after Truth are some of the duties of a Mason. To protect our Nation’s Democracy, all Americans have a responsibility to support the search for truth and the eradication of ignorance. A robust and investigative system of journalism is provides key information needed to ensure a well-functioning democratic government. 

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

The Caucus, Primary, and National Party Conventions: How Has History Shaped the Presidential Nomination Process?

How do U.S. political parties nominate a candidate for President? To win the nomination in one of the parties, the candidate collects pledges from a majority of the delegates to the parties’ National Conventions, currently held during the summer before November’s general election. There are three methods used presently to allocate delegates to presidential contenders: 1) the Caucus System, 2) the Primary System, or 3) a combination of the two. To determine their candidate, each state hold’s a political contest, referred to as a caucus or primary.  The caucus method is organized by the political parties, whereas, primaries are organized and overseen by the State government. The candidate who secures the highest number of delegates at the political convention wins the nomination and competes in the general election. How has history shaped this nomination process, and how did Freemasonry impact the evolution of that process? 

The Caucus

As the older method of choosing delegates, the caucus system was utilized by all States in the Union until the 1832 election. The term “caucus” is derived from Latin origin, meaning,  “a drinking vessel” and was used to describe informal local pocaucusmeetinglitical clubs prior to the forming of the United States. 

A caucus is defined as “a meeting of a political group to select candidates, plan strategy, or make decisions regarding legislative matters.” In the nominating process, a caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a party gather to select a delegate that may represent them at the National Convention. In most states, the attendees at the precinct caucus vote for their preferred party candidate, which informs and directs a percentage of the State’s delegation at the National Party Convention. In 2016, approximately 123,500 Democratic voters in Colorado attended their local caucus on March 1st and voted to select a party candidate. In contrast, the Republican Party in Colorado decided to forgo voting for a candidate in their precinct caucuses and only selected delegates for their future convention. This means that of the 5.5 million citizens of Colorado, only 2.2 percent of the population voted to select a Presidential candidate for the 2016  general election. 

In 2016, thirteen states (Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Maine, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and Wyoming) utilized the caucus system. In most states, only registered voters can participate in a caucus, and they are limited to the caucus of the party with which they are affiliated. Caucuses are typically used in combination with congressional district assemblies and a state convention to elect delegates to the national nominating convention for presidential elections. 

The Primary

A primary is a state-run process of selecting candidates and delegates, where the results are used to determine the configuration of delegates at the national convention of each party. Unlike caucuses, primaries are conducted at regular polling stations, paid for by the state, and overseen by state election officials. Voters cast a secretPrimaryVoting ballot for their preferred candidate, as compared to caucuses where the voting is done in a group forum usually by a show of hands or breaking into groups based on support.  In 2016, thirty-seven U.S. states (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Arizona, Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and South Dakota) and the District of Columbia will conduct a primary election. Voter participation tends to be significantly higher in primaries. In 2016, more than 1.5 million citizens of the state of Missouri voted to nominate candidates for president. With approximately 6 million people living in Missouri, this equates to 25 percent of the population voting for a presidential candidate. 

There are several types of primaries in the U.S. system: closed primary, semi-closed primary, open primary, and semi-open primary. 

  • Closed primary: Participation is open only to a particular political party’s registered members. Independents or other party members cannot participate. Florida holds a closed primary. 
  • Semi-closed primary: Participation is open to registered party members and unaffiliated voters. State election rules determine whether unaffiliated voters may make their choice. New Hampshire holds a semi-closed primary. 
  • Open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary. Illinois holds an open primary. 
  • Semi-open primary: Any registered voter may participate in any party primary but when they identify themselves to election officials, they must request a party’s specific ballot. Ohio holds a semi-open primary. 

Prior to the 1970s, most states utilized the caucus system to choose their delegates, but public outcry over corruption by political bosses led to substantial changes in the process for the 1972 election.  The caucus system favored powerful leadersRepublicanNationalConvention with pull in their delegation like famous party boss Mayor Daley of Chicago. In 1968, CBS reporter, Martin Plissner, stated, “If Daley instructs the Illinois delegates to vote for Ho Chi Minh, all but twenty votes will go to Ho Chi Minh without question.” In an effort to make the nomination process more inclusive and transparent, most states have moved to the primary system. 

Political Party National Conventions 

Every four years, a political party national convention is hosted, usually in the summer, by the major political parties who field nominees in the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November. The purpose of the national convention is to select the party’s nominee for President, adopt a policy platformand adopt the rules for the party’s activities for the next election cycle. During the convention, a roll call of the votes is held, where each state delegation announces its vote totals. If no candidate secures a majority of delegates during the first vote, a “Brokered Convention” in invoked. In a brokered convention, most pledged delegates are released from their agreements to support a specific candidate and delegates are then able to switch their allegiance to a different candidate. The party nomination is then decided through a process of debate and rounds re-voting until a candidate is selected. 

Historical Analysis: Freemason Andrew Jackson and Reforms to the Nomination Process

Before 1820, members of Congress would hold a caucus meeting and nominate candidates from their party. There were no primaries or national conventions, instead congressional party members gathered in a caucus meeting to decide the party’s candidate. The system was altered following the U.S. Presidential election of 1824, referred to as “The Corrupt BargainCorruptBargin1824,” when Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral college vote, but the U.S. House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams to be President. Mr. Jackson decried the corruption stating, “I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.”

Andrew Jackson, a Freemason and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee (1822-1824), was among the most strident critics of the caucus method of selecting candidates. In his 1828 presidential bid, Jackson ran with the vocalized intent of restoring the voice of the people to the election process. As a man of the people, Andrew Jackson argued that the caucus system was elitist and undemocratic, as only a small percentage of the population was engaged in the process. Jackson pledged that he would open up the system to increase the political power of the electorate, and he proposed to eliminate the Electoral College and institute a direct popular election of the president. Jackson argued, ” Our government is founded upon the intelligence of the people. I for one do not despair of the republic. I have great confidence in the virtue of the great majority of the people, and I cannot fear the result.” The election of 1828 was described as a “triumph of democratic politics,” in which more than 1.1 million men participated compared to only 300,000 in 1824. 

Andrew Jackson was elected U.S. President in 1828 and was re-elected in 1832. In 1832, national conventions were held by the political parties, including the Anti-Masonic Party which held its convention in Baltimore, Maryland on September 26, 1831 to select William Wirt as their Presidential candidate.  President Andrew Jackson, candidate of the Democratic Party, won re-election against Henry Clay the candidate of the National Republican Party, and William Wirt the candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party. Jackson won with 219 of the 286 electoral votes cast in the national election.