The Melting Pot Is Cold

If you go to Italy, you will find all kinds of evidence of the Roman Empire. There’s the Colosseum of course, and the Pantheon– certainly must sees– and any number of Roman temples and ruins of this and that all over the place.

Before the Romans took over, for hundreds of years much of Italy was run by the Etruscans. But, unlike the many Roman remains and ruins, it is tough to find any Etruscan buildings.

This not an accident. It’s not because the Etruscans built their houses out of sticks. It is because, as Machiavelli explains, when the Romans first took over the joint, they did not want there to be any competition for their ideologies. They did not want the various local tribes to have a choice of maybe going back to worshipping the Etruscan gods.  So the Romans very methodically went around destroying anything Etruscan, and that’s why there are so very few remnants of the Etruscan society.

Similarly, when Cortez arrived at Mexico City, he found fabulous buildings and temples– and he had them all taken apart. Of course, there are still Aztec and Mayan temples out in the boonies, but in Mexico City they only recently found the remains of the massive temple that once stood in the center of town. He wanted the locals to be Catholic, and not have some other temple to go to.

The point I am making here is, when new cultures or centers of power take over, one of their first orders of business is to get rid of the competition, and this includes history and traditions of the people they are trying to take over. So it always saddens me a little when I encounter people whose American cultural awareness is, in terms of time, very shallow. They know all the current top ten hits, but if I ask them if they have ever seen “On the Town” or “Roman Holiday” or even “Casablanca” . . . their eyes go blank. Their own rich American cultural heritage is not something they are aware of. Never mind Gershwin or Aaron Copland, we’re talking fabulous pop culture like Rocky and Bullwinkle, and in some cases, even Bugs Bunny. I was amazed in talking to some millenials last week that they had no idea who Tex Avery was, and had never seen “Red Hot Riding Hood” or “King Size Canary.” These are timeless masterpieces of unadulterated fun that, like the monuments of the Etruscans, have been systematically erased by the modern pop culture machine that seeks to establish its own pre-eminence, and to do so it has to erase collective knowledge of competition from the past that far exceeds its own relatively poor quality.

Something else that is becoming painfully clear is that the kind of all inclusive, we-are-all-in-this-together kind of movie and song is no longer preeminent in our culture. They are being erased– and this is much easier than taking down stone fortresses– by an ever increasing volume of mass produced pop culture pushed hard by individual corporate interests. The nation, its cultural monuments, things that are collectively ours, are being taken down and replaced by things that are owned by smaller entities that have their own individual, not national, agendas. We ignore this at our peril. Singing the national anthem at ball games is not enough. Maybe making every kid say the Pledge of Allegiance every day was overkill, but something like that is necessary to maintaining national cohesion, especially in a melting pot like America. You have to keep the heat on to make things melt together. We all lettings things separate, and while this is profitable for some, it is not good for us as a whole.


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Latest podcast –Break the Business

I am always eager to be a guest on podcasts.  To me, it’s the new borscht belt, a place to try out new material and just polish and reach new audiences.  to that end, I just appeared on a really interesting podcast done by entertainment lawyer Ryan Kairalla, called “Break the Business” . . .  Very professionally done.  My part starts at 19:45.


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Current Levels of Creativity

So I read an article in the Harvard Business Review today that asked, are the super rich ruining the world’s great cities ?


The article made some statements regarding “levels of creativity” being as high as ever, and I confess I took issue with this.  My comment reprinted below.  Note how tactful I have become in my old age 🙂


This is an awfully broad topic, and while I don’t disagree with the facts herein, here is a slightly different take:

A big part of this discussion is, how does one define “creativity”? I think it is important to separate the craft elements, of, say, music or drawing, from the purely artistic elements, of actually generating new art forms and revealing new layers of the human experience.

Alas, when examined from that perspective, creativity is suffering. A few items:

The top grossing films this week are Wonder Woman, Captain Underpants, Pirates of the Caribbean, Guardians the Galaxy, Alien Covenant, and Baywatch. Instead of new ideas, you have three movies based on comic books, and three that are sequels, one to a TV show. Wonder Woman was created in 1941.

Two of the three top grossing Broadway shows this week are Hello Dolly and Groundhog Day.

The 20th century saw astonishing creativity in the realm of pop music, including the development of ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, rock n roll, and albums such as Sergeant Pepper. However, since the creation of hip hop in the 1970’s, there has been no significant innovation in pop music “form,” and in fact it can be argued that it is moving backwards into ever more simplistic harmony, and simplistic forms such as chant.

Can you name a significant / legitimate arts “movement” that has occurred in the last 30 years? Or perhaps a new dance “craze”? In the 60’s there was a new one every week.

There are many things contributing to what is, in my humble opinion, essentially a kind of broad artistic stagnation. One is, younger people who traditionally supported new kinds of art are either too distracted by social media or they are too financially strapped by education and housing costs to support live artistic events. Another issue of concentrations of wealth is that those with that wealth may choose to support staid symphonic institutions, not disruptive art forms that challenge the status quo. Another is the overly long copyright period, making it profitable to keep re-selling an idea from 1925 rather than creating new. Another is that, historically, large militarily dominant empires tend to be very conservative in terms of artistic growth. (Compare the Roman Empire to Renaissance Italian City States).

There are many contributing factors, both economic and political, but when we talk about “creativity” in terms of the development of forms, perception, and connection that true art must possess, one could make the argument that we are lagging behind on all fronts.

– Justin Locke

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Cults, Terrorists, and Teens

When I was 20 years old, I found myself in an unusual situation. I had, at that rather young age, achieved my goal of becoming a professional bass player. In my eager drive to achieve this one goal, however, I overlooked various items. Yes, I had achieved much, but this was done at the cost of being ripped out of my peer group. No more dorm life, no more classes, no one to hang out with.

The people I was now working with were generally older than me, in some cases very much older.  Work itself was sporadic.  I had a lot of time on my hands, and I started to feel really lonely.

Long story short, being young, energetic, alone, and lacking any other option, I spent a lot of time walking around downtown Boston. And as I did that, I started having unusual adventures.

I discovered that there were various cultish groups who were constantly on the prowl for new members. They were trained to look for young people walking around with a lost and lonely look, e.g., me, and recruit me.

Long story short, there were various cultish groups, including Scientologists and Moonies and another group of Buddhists, who liked to sit around repeatedly chanting “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.”

The Scientologists offered a “personality test.” I was bored so I took it. I did not hang around for the results. The Moonies were awfully organized, and I got corralled into a very persuasive seminar before escaping, all the while being chased by a young lady whose job it was to recruit someone like me off the street. Thank goodness for a 60 Minutes report, otherwise I might be still selling flowers in Gloucester or Logan Airport.

The point I am making is, there are organizations that understand the potential of the many young people out wandering the streets that have, for whatever reason, lost the cultural tapestry of desperately needed social connection.  I know how desperate one can be to get re connected. And this is a big piece of the terrorism puzzle.

The home grown terrorists we have in the USA have a common thread: they are not first generation immigrants coming here in secret cells. No, they are either second generation citizens, or the loner boy next door.  In either case, a their core, they are , as I once was, lost, disconnected, and insanely desperate, on a very basic lizard brain level, to find some sense of belonging.   Such people are terribly vulnerable and they can, in some instances, become fanatics because of the mental imbalance loneliness can cause.  Combine a little narcissism, grandiosity, resentment, anger, frustrated sexual desire, self destructive tendencies, access to weapons, and there you have a suicide bomber.

I realize terrorism is a complex problem, but we have to recognize the root human vulnerability that makes it likely for lost young men to seek something to join that seems noble in its purpose, however evil in reality.  We must, like generations past, start to pre-emptively recruit these young men and offer some path to camaraderie and a way to acquire real belonging in society.  Otherwise, we invite the horrific results of letting someone with evil intentions exploit this commonplace resource and use it against us.

– JL

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Emotional Infrastructure

So about 200,000 years ago, the species home sapiens– that is, us– became established.

While there weren’t as many of us back then, still, statistically speaking, it stands to reason that at some point in that 195,000 years of unwritten human history, there had to be a few Einsteins, one or two Da Vincis, and maybe even a Mozart or two.

So why haven’t we heard of them? Why are there no cave drawings of Mona Lisa?

The point I will immediately get to is, the Mozart we all know could not have existed, or at least, he would not have manifested as anything much beyond a primitive creature, seeking to merely survive from day to day, if he had not been surrounded by the infrastructure of violin makers, cello players, opera singers, architects who built concert halls, and so on . . . not to mention the whole system of music notation which, if it had not been widely established in the 200 years prior to, he would still hear his symphonies in his head, but would have no way to write them down, much less share them with anyone else.

It is quite possible that something similar is happening in our here and now. Perhaps there are people who have the same genius and capability of a 75,000-BC Mozart living among us, but there is no cultural/mechanical/industrial infrastructure allowing them to employ their gift, and they walk around confused and frustrated, just seeking to survive day to day.

Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates are all very clever, and would likely have done well in life no matter what, but it was the creation of the Internet infrastructure (not to mention roads and electricity and UPS) that made their high achievements possible. Without it . . . They would all just be another guy in the marketing department with personal idiosyncracies.

With all the emphasis on rugged individualism, there is a constant tendency to take our massive dependence on infrastructure for granted. We like to blame individuals rather than our collective failures to maintain infrastructure. The focus on individual failings distracts us from the real causes of our woes.

So, along with the infrastructure of roads, the electrical grid, metallurgy, copyright protections, and the internet, there is another kind of infrastructure that, like many of our roads and bridges and pipes, is crumbling away before our very eyes, and that is . . . emotional infrastructure.

The folks in Finland have figured out that emotional infrastructure is a sine qua non of a best-in-the-world educational system. They understand that the emotional health, that is, feeling safe and secure within their families, institutions, and peer groups, is the starting point for superior learning.

Here in the United States we always seem to be ignoring the need for emotional infrastructure. Just as bridges fall down and water mains break at inopportune moments, causing everyone all kinds of aggravation, by ignoring the need to maintain emotional infrastructure, we are seeing society, and our nation, crumble as well.

When I see a fellow citizen expressing bile and vitriol towards one political figure or another on a faebook comment, I do not see this as a logical face value argument about a given political theory.  They never hold up under scrutiny.  What I am seeing, and what I think we are all experiencing, are the symptoms of a disease, which is the loss of emotional infrastructure. The statements we hear are, more often than not, nonsensical, and yet they seem to get repeated endlessly. These are not issues of lack of individual logical ability, nor can the problem be fixed by shaming this or that individual. It is a symptom of the decay of emotional infrastructure, which is required in order to have logical thought, just as as electricity requires utility poles.

When we do not feel safe, when the norms of manners and politeness are cast aside, we lose the capacity to think calmly and objectively, just as losing the bridge makes us lose the ability to cross the river. It’s not our own individual failing, it is the loss of infrastructure that is making us all wet.  Without the collectively created infrastructure in place, we become limited in what we can do, both with our physical bodies driving across the river, and with our minds traveling to new realms of consciousness.

I don’t think we can overcome the divisiveness of our current political climate without seeing past the expressions of vitriol that are designed to destroy the emotional infrastructure that would normally not allow fanaticism to fester.  We must step back, rise above our emotional responses, and realize that the pithy condemnations of this party or that are really just symptoms of a disease. It is the loss of the underlying emotional infrastructure, of a loss of and desperate need for mutual respect, as well fear of being assaulted, that manifests as symptoms at all other areas of social discourse.

It is very hard to study for a test when you are hungry or you are afraid that you will be abandoned or beaten at any moment.  If our core sense of emotional infrastructure is lost, civilization is soon to fall as well.

Sadly, there are those who seek greater power for themselves, who know how easy it is to exploit the poor judgement caused by a lack of emotional infrastructure, and so as part of a broader scheme of oppressing those weaker than themselves, they seek to corrode and weaken emotional infrastructure, just as bacteria are thrilled by the vulnerability of bruised fruit. By ridiculing and flouting conventions of simple things like good manners, this makes them more able to subvert society for their own nefarious purposes.

It often said that at the beginning of every new war, the generals start by using the tactics of the last war. This is the case today. Just as Blitzkrieg warfare was totally new to the French in 1940, the kinds of emotional and economic warfare being waged upon us today are just as unfamiliar, harder to even comprehend, and we have no defense because we did not know we needed one.   These are not wars of physical territory.  We must recognize our vulnerability, we must recognize the threat, we must accept the presence of evil, and we must open our eyes and accept the responsibility that falls upon us as individuals and society to address the problem, or accept the horrific consequences of inaction.


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The Like Economy

I enjoy getting “likes” on my facebook posts, and I enjoy retweets of my tweets, and so on, but I have discovered a dark side to all this.

My name is Justin, and I am a like-aholic.

There is a severe addictive quality to getting “likes.” The need for connection and acceptance is hard wired into our minds, it is essential for survival, and so expressions of approval from others give us endless shots of dopamine. So its power has to be respected, the same way you would respect any opioid.

That said, in running my “facebook fan page,” I have noticed this propensity on the part of Facebook Inc. to tell me I am getting “likes” and “page views” and “shares” that, interestingly, I am not really getting. I will get a notice one week saying “Justin has one new like.” Then, a week later, I will get a notice saying “Justin has one new like.”  Out of curiosity I will go and look at the actual analytics– and guess what. The notice of the “new like” is a sham. The new like was just a rehash of last week’s like. It is now an old like.

The original like really did not have much real meaning, but then this meaninglessness is compounded by a pretense of there being more than one meaningless bit of digital recognition.  Even so, I am human, and I got a little rush out of it.

Still, Facebook presumably knows that the dopamine shot of “getting likes” is a powerful force, and so like any clever drug dealer, they are giving me inflated data to get me hooked on the feeling.  And of course, if I want another fix of more likes, well, now I have to pay (to “boost” the post.).

Of course, it’s not just me. There is a growing economy of likes and shares. It seems like there is a belief that merely getting liked and shared by itself is a path to real achievement and success. This is equivalent to thinking getting drunk leads to happiness.

Worse, sometimes, clearly false propaganda in my newsfeed is presented as truth because “this has been shared 60,000 times.” I like to think the general population serves as a filter for truth, but this is an illusion. You can fool most of the people most of the time. A lot of people drink Pepsi. This does not mean it is good for you.

All this support for an escapist illusion of connection is problematic on so many levels. It is a new addiction, it is taking over our world, and the addictive behavior it is cultivating is dangerous.


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Latest Podcast Appearance

So I recently discovered a fellow here in Boston named Yuri Cataldo.   He does a podcast on what seems to be an ever growing trend, of people in the arts starting to seriously examine and rethink how they approach the business side of things.






Click on the pic above or link to:

I was really happy with this interview.  A lot of my highly experimental/exploratory thinking of my last two books coalesced into a cohesive presentation/conversation about how “poor kid thinking,” aka oppression training, is at the root of so many business difficulties.

I confess, it’s long!  an hour and a quarter.  Enjoy!   Thanks Yuri!


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Forgotten Fallibility

The Founding Fathers were no dummies.

We of course revere them as near godlike omniscient creatures, but they did not see themselves, or anyone else, as such. They knew all human beings are fallible and corruptible.

This is why they wrote the Constitution as they did; they had seen how Kings and other forms of government had failed, and they sought to correct those problems. They added multiple layers of checks and balances against otherwise inevitable failings of fallible human beings. A few examples for those of you not schooled in such:

Members of the house are elected every two years; this keeps them “on the ball” in terms of listening to constituents. A short leash, so to speak.

Senators have 6 year terms, and this is staggered timewise, so every 2 years only a third of the senate is up for re-election. This means that, for example, if some feverish fad is sweeping the nation, two thirds of the senate, a clear majority, has time to ride out the current fad and buck the trend without losing their seats. The Founding Fathers knew that the voters themselves were prone to occasional foolishness. (That is also why we have the Electoral College, as a safeguard against a misguided electorate falling for a populist candidate who might not be right for the gig.)

The president can’t appoint cabinet members or judges without senate approval, and he can’t declare war without approval of congress. This is not some bit of bureaucratic rigmarole. All these checks and balances are in there because the Founding Fathers had seen how, when someone gets too much power, they become driven, as Machiavelli pointed out, by greed, lust, and/ or fear.

Even the Founding Fathers forgot at first to include the Bill of Rights, and that was all added on, because they knew if they didn’t, free speech would not be there for long, and cruel punishment would happen too if not expressly forbidden.  And even then . . .

And by the way, they also knew their work was not perfect, and made it possible for future generations to amend the Constitution. But they also made it hard to do, requiring a 3/4 majority of the states to ratify. Again, they knew they were fallible and may have forgotten something.

In contemporary America, I fear that, for the most part, we have become forgetful of the fact that we are all capable of being in error. We like to always think of ourselves as the “good guys.” This is an element of gullibility, making it very easy to sway our thinking. To keep from thinking about our own shortcomings, we focus our minds on the perceived evil of “others.” Our own fallibility is very hard to think about, but if we don’t, we run the risk of it running wild.  If you cannot accept your own fallibility, you become an easy mark for anyone who wants to manipulate you.

Here is the simple fact, and this will get no “likes” on facebook:

Under the right circumstances, anyone– and that includes your mother, your best friend, your school chums, and yes, even you– is capable of abusing power, and even committing horrific atrocities and crimes against humanity. History and science has taught this repeatedly. The people who did the My Lai massacre, the Germans who threw children into gas chambers, were all just ordinary people coping with extraordinary situations.

The vague sentiment of “this feels right to me, therefore it is true” is the first step on the road to hell. No matter whether you think of yourself as liberal or conservative, the first step to true righteousness is recognizing how flawed we all are, and how easy it is for us to slip into error, bias, and denial. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and this includes vigilant introspection as well.



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Healthcare and the Irregardless Effect

Since the doings in Washington DC these days are pretty much eclipsing any other avenue of conversation these days, I figured I would try to chime in, in some reasonably productive way.

One of my favorite Principles of Applied Stupidity is the Irregardless Effect. For those who do not know, the Irregardless Effect refers to making a great big intentional mistake over here, to distract viewers from what you are really doing somewhere else.  It’s a little like shining a bright light in someone’s eyes so they can’t see that you are robbing them in a dimly light room. All they can see is the light.  It makes many things invisible.  It’s a very useful tool.

Anyway, with all the focus on the success or failure of Obamacare and Trumpcare, let’s try and open our pupils to the bigger picture.

Regulations out of Washington are always going to bother someone, but the real issue of “health care” (which is really sickness care) is far far broader than the cost of people in white coats x raying you and cutting you up and selling you pills.

If American health care is to be effective as a “system,” it can’t just limit itself to one little piece of last minute crisis care and addressing symptoms as they come up. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; and, simply stated, the real issue at hand, one that no one wants to talk about, is American lifestyles.

To be effective, any real “healthcare” legislation has to include a raft of new laws regarding nutrition, exercise, and rest.

That sounds simple, but then you get into the sugar lobby, the corn lobby, the fast food lobby, and the milk lobby, just to name a few. Then there is just the simple issue of fatigue. People in other countries need less doctor-needed health “care” because they get more rest, which is the cheapest form of “healthcare” known to man. Are we ready to pass laws (again) making it illegal to work your tech start-up employees 80 hours a week?

These are all commonly known common sense fixes, and I am not suggesting anything new. Nor do such suggestions, by themselves, come even close to being a “fix.” What I hope to do is start the fix process, by bringing to collective consciousness some of the problems that are deftly avoiding the limelight by use of the Irregardless Effect. As long as you are in a dither hating Obama, or Hillary, or Trump, you will have no time to think about sugar or corn subsidies and food labeling laws. The corporate food producers who shun the limelight are thrilled to death that no slow news days are making them targets of reporters who have nothing else to do.

There is tremendous financial benefit to certain parties in our society to maintain very unhealthy lifestyles. But if we are serious about improving health care, first we have to talk about improving health, and recognize that there are entities that stand to gain by maintaining a nightly circus of personality conflicts, thus distracting media attention from themselves.  There is great power in the Irregardless Effect.

– JL

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God Bless America, My Home Sweet Broken Home

Okay. I have a theory.

In the midst of all the political maelstrom that is daily life here in 2017 America, I am always searching for the underlying fundamentals to explain the phenomena I am observing. And here is my theory:

America is a broken home.

To explain what I mean, I have this other theory (stolen from my brother) that the two main political parties have a kind of sexual polarity. Republicans represent masculine energy, and Democrats represent feminine energy. Just an example, Republicans (at least ostensibly) are all about independence, guns, rugged individualism, and so on. Democrats represent the ideas of nurturance: caring for kids, schools, old folks, and so on.

Up until the 80’s or so, while the two parties fought like cats and dogs (as many couples do), at the end of the day they would kiss and make up and make a deal. But when Newt Gingrich came along, well, this tempestuous relationship fell apart. The two energies became totally alienated.

I have yet another theory, that the sense of belonging is key to health and happiness.  So, while the two political parties have always fought a lot, as a nation, we were still a family, however dysfunctional; and we, the average citizens, could at least feel like we were part of a collective family/ tribal/ national experience.

But now that mom and dad are divorced, we have had our essential and fragile sense of home destroyed. We are being forced to take sides, even though we really need to belong to both energies. This is throwing everyone off kilter.

When you read the cutting comments of otherwise sane people, either on facebook, or in a comment thread on a news site, and you realize that what you are reading is not a logical argument at all, but an expression of pain and fear at the rending of the two essential poles of socal fabric, it all starts to make sense. One can then more easily rise above the fray and keep a sense of calmness.

Bear in mind when parents divorce, they often try to turn the kids against the ex-spouse. That is what is happening here, on a grand scale.

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