Entrails, Tea Leaves and Other Prognostications…

The just-announced Pulitzer Prizes for 2016 included the award for Drama, which this year went to the smash hit Hamilton.

At Political Animal, the irony of that award was duly noted:

What’s so fascinating about all this is that – in the midst of a nativist Republican backlash to “take our country back” – the hottest thing in the country is a rap musical performed mostly by people of color that is all about our lily white founding fathers. Ain’t life grand?

At risk of reading too much into these particular “tea leaves,” I think the success of Hamilton does  rest on more than the admitted brilliance of its music and staging (we were fortunate enough to see it a few months ago, and I can attest to that brilliance). I think it signals an embrace of the culture change that–among other things– is driving our contemporary toxic politics.

I have previously suggested that this is a time of paradigm shift–a time when our previous understandings of the world we inhabit are being challenged by globalization, scientific discovery and diversity.

A “paradigm” is a pattern of received beliefs that we use to make sense of the world. The term was popularized by Thomas Kuhn, a physicist who—in the course of research for his dissertation—picked up Aristotle’s Physics and found that it made no sense to him. Reasonably enough, Kuhn assumed that neither he nor Aristotle was stupid, so he concluded that they were operating from such different realities that communication was not possible. He subsequently wrote a book about the way science adapts to new discoveries, or “shifts” its paradigms.

It isn’t only science. Cultures shift in much the same way.

Our paradigms, or worldviews, are formed through a process of socialization into a particular culture–a constant transmittal of messages about the way the world works, about the reality we inhabit, about the “natural order” of things. Every so often, in human history, that “natural order” is challenged, and the result can be disorienting.

Most social change is incremental, evolutionary–and even then, it can be hard for people to navigate. But we seem to be at one of those junctures where the shift is both relatively sudden and massive. Long-held belief systems–religious and secular–are being called into question.People who can’t deal with the pace and scope of this change are understandably terrified.

Think how you’d feel if you awoke one morning in an unfamiliar environment–surrounded by people (including your own children and/or grandchildren) speaking a language you didn’t understand except for tantalizing bits and pieces, with customs that were both alien and familiar, and expectations you couldn’t fulfill.

As hard as it sometimes is to be sympathetic, we need to realize that for inhabitants of the “old” reality, the world really is ending. Same-sex marriage, empowered women, an African-American President, “press 1 for English,” drones, social media….We wake up every day to a million and one reminders that we inhabit a new and uncharted world; a rap-music, multicultural portrayal of America’s founding fathers is just one of them.

And for so many people, it’s a reality too hard to accept. Too hard to get one’s head around.

So..back to a (mythical) simpler past with Trump? Or an embrace of a different, fairer, more equal world? I guess we’ll see.


  1. Cynthia; sadly, there seems to be nowhere any of us can turn for help these days. We are strictly on our own; our reality is frightening, we aren’t safe anywhere and our leaders seem to be floundering with no direction in which to lead us. The one ray of hope I see, Bernie Sanders, appears to be losing his very healthy leading count of people to a questionable political system allowing a chosen few to usurp our decisions. The purported “leader of the pack” is a blathering fool as well as racist, bigoted, xenophobic billionaire who encourages violence. Those who do have control spout Bible verses and pass unfair laws, returning us to the days of Jim Crow laws. Are public lynchings next? Maybe “Entrails, Tea Leaves and Other Prognostications” are a viable choice; our public forum doesn’t seem to be doing much good. Nancy Reagan sought advice from psychics which she passed along to our president suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and he remains a public hero to many.

  2. Pete, I always learn something from your comments, and they are always well-considered and on point. I have NO idea why BSH thinks that “non-Hoosiers” have nothing to offer, but that kind of insular thinking is rooted in the past. It does not help us to understand the present or adapt to the future. Please continue to offer your perspective.

  3. I used to have on my desk a 5 speed shift knob on a block above 2 dimes, my pair-a-dime shifter.

  4. Ginny, thanks. It seems that when I come here every day Sheila has outlined a real political problem in her precise way with real supporting evidence and I have a reaction that’s more or less stream of consciousness. I throw it out there and wait. Sometimes it resonates with someone else’s opinion and they add or subtract from it, sometimes it seems to go nowhere and sometimes people disagree. All of that is a learning opportunity for me.

    If someone reacts personally that’s their prerogative.

    I remember someone posting either today or yesterday the opinion that progressives had been traditionally too tolerant of conservative anti American ranting. I think that there’s some truth to that in that we need to stand up for what we believe in. That may well rub some people the wrong way but not being clear resolves nothing.

    We’re all trying to figure things out. That’s good. Being honest is a requirement of the process. I’m not sure that there’s a way to do that that doesn’t hurts anyone’s feelings.

    Besides we wouldn’t want things to get boring.

  5. Paradigm was a popular term in 1960s cross-cultural studies of Shakespeare’s Europe,’ including the humors that rising from the guts can affect reason, turning imagination into ‘fancy,’ as in HAMLET, per the Shakespeare professor in the late 60s who was working on a book about ‘paradigmatic man’ at the time. He was using Hardin Craig’s edition and with 8 graduate assistants was analyzing numerous mathematics concepts affected by “zero” as neutral in Nature, the “no thing”, the nada, nihil.. also represented in the mathematical calculations for the changes from the pre-Christian Julian sun-moon solstice “spring” calendars to the “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” ones scribbled and marked OFF on walls of slaves, conscripts, captives as depicted in international literature as captions for drawings, woodcuts, artists’ views by the 1960s, only texts.
    As for tea leaves (LSD ergot chemical-biological war weapon), entrails (Leadbelly to lead aprons), that leaves us only with oracle bones to scratch off those scribbled date notes.
    Since thousands of early grade seniors had taken his course, he made quite a point about prospects of using computer programs simply to read an unmarred First Folio copy at DC, when finished with the 1960s version. Medicinal treatments, of course, had been addressed by Europeans since Chaucer’s time, as in gapped teeth “lasciviousness.” Poisons and antidotes abounded by the 1600s among physicians, many if not most doctors of the church {es}. So Chaucer and Bible literature teachers (Nothing is new) covered the same progressions into printing world and word wide by 1500, synchronized then “universally” — all simple lectures and chalkboard drawings, even scribble exercises at perception in “studio arts” courses, too. So the “paradigm shifts” continue as do 000000000, then barre sinister and barre dexter universal “NO’ signs. Since as in bowels, entrails are all one piece. Now many of those graduates are working in the American Gut project, too. I never will forget the professor’s very intense and prolonged interest, excitement about zero and no thing markers. Nor his original and careful drawings of “Shakespeare’s paradigm.” Nor did I ignore the pains from ergotrate later, nor the “tripped out” patient at Silvercrest in New Albany, visited by Monroe County MHA volunteers.

  6. The personal exchanges between BSH and Pete were nothing compared to what we’re going to now experience because of the total lack of any realistic leadership against the theocratic/fascist movement which Donald Trump will most likely lead. He didn’t create it. Its been growing since the late 60’s.

    At the moment, this isn’t a political battle between Republicans and Democrats. It’s a war between the Tea Party Movement and ZERO. That’s the political reality we’re now facing. And Hillary Clinton, even if she becomes President, will only make matters worse. That’s not to say that we would be any better off with Bernie Sanders. He probably would make things even worse than Clinton.

    We’re now the France of the 30’s. Just the names are different.

  7. WARNING: The time to beat Donald Trump is NOW not LATER in November. I’m 100% sure on that one. If anyone disagrees, please tell me where I’m wrong.

  8. Marv; to beat Trump NOW, we would have to declare as a Republican in the primary to pick another of the fools hoping to take the White House. I know you aren’t happy with Bernie but I will take my chances and vote for Bernie and Gregg on the Democratic ticket on primary day here in Indiana. You are most definitely right in your call but…we can’t beat Trump in our primary and we can’t shoot him; such is the election system here.

  9. “So a leader must possess unwavering determination to overcome obstacles and accomplish his goals—-while remaining open to the possibility that he may have to throw out the plan and try something else. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, but the German military [in W.W. II] saw it as the essence of the leader’s role. ‘Once a course of action has been initiated it must not be abandoned without overriding reason,’ the Wehrmacht manual stated. ‘In the changing situations of combat, however, inflexibly clinging to a course of action can lead to failure. The art of leadership consist of the timely recognition of circumstances and of the moment when a new decision is required.” Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, “Super Forecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction,” Random House Books, London (2015) p. 216

  10. JoAnn,

    You beat DonaldTrump by beating the Tea Party Movement. You don’t have to be a Republican to do that.

    Trump is nothing without the Tea Party.

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