4. Mindset: Meaning and Implications

(continued) Chapter 1:      Mindset: Meaning and Implications



As Margaret Heffernan notes in her book Willful Blindness, “By 2008, just as Rand had wished, the state and economics had been separated. Greenspan had proved true to the big idea of his life, but blind to the realities of it.” Called to task before Congress, Greenspan by no means accepted culpability for the massive financial trauma whose aftershocks still reverberate around the world. He conceded only that, while his beliefs weren’t wrong, he had been amazed to find a “flaw” in them:


            “I found a flaw, I don’t know how significant or permanent it is, but I am very     distressed by that fact. I found a flaw in the model that I perceived is the critical   functioning structure of how the world works. .. You know, that’s precisely the        reason I was shocked, because I have been going for forty years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”


And further in the same testimony:

            “I made a mistake in presuming that the self interests of organizations,    specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of   protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”

Two points are salient. One is that the extreme anti-regulatory mindset held by the Fed Chairman, by influencing many deregulatory changes over many years, contributed materially to the second-worst market meltdown in U.S. history. Directly or indirectly, as one chooses to see it, his mindset caused millions of Americans to lose their homes and almost collapsed the world’s strongest economy. Here nearly a decade later the economy yet struggles to overcome the dismal lingering aftereffects. Moreover, the big banks and financial institutions have successfully staved off most meaningful reforms that could prevent a recurrence. In the words of psychiatrist Bruce Greyson, “An economist’s belief that the U.S. banking system has been sufficiently reformed so that the economy is no longer vulnerable to a crash like the one in 2008 may be quite wrong, but…it may help the economist tolerate stress.”


The other concerns how obviously this market crash highlights the fact that mindsets are significant and have consequences. Most Americans didn’t much notice the Federal Reserve’s continuous machinations during Greenspan’s long term of office, much less the quiet long-term dismantling of key federal regulations which since the Roosevelt years had protected us all from predatory speculators, hard-sell jockeys, white-collar thieves and the rapaciously competitive megabanks that employ these people.


Most of us simply do not – cannot – pay attention to all the government-based regulatory changes – local, state, federal – which pass through and by our lives unnoticed on a daily basis, for they take place mostly in far away Washington D.C. Nor would most ordinary people be able to do much about Federal Reserve actions even if they noticed. Largely unaware of Fed actions antithetical to their own best interests, many people in fact trusted and admired Greenspan, attending his dry pronouncements with solemnity appropriate for Moses.


Alan Greenspan served as chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve for nineteen years – from 1987 to 2006. Among his other top legislative goals, he strongly promoted privatizing our uniquely American social safety net – Social Security – by trying hard to make its huge trust fund available for public trading under the tender mercies of the same Wall Street that gave us the Crash of 1929 and the meltdown of 2007-2008.


Ultimately failing on that one, he successfully promoted very large tax cuts, especially at the wealthiest end of the social scale, which contributed substantially to the present enormously increased federal deficit. Who can doubt that if national revenue from the richest taxpayers goes down, but spending continues at the same level, national debt is likely to go up? And guess what – stoutly abetted by the late-Bush and early-Obama trillion-dollar-plus bailout of the same financial corporations which caused the 2007-8 meltdown, national debt not surprisingly increased phenomenally. In the relatively few years since these changes, millions of additional Americans – an increasing percent of our population – have fallen into the low income levels defined as poverty, while a huge and increasing percentage of national wealth steadily moves to the top two percent of wealthiest Americans…who own stock in the wealthiest corporations, and…you know.


Let us not forget:  Nothing is produced by people whose income derives entirely from dividends on the stocks they own and as interest paid on wealth they have deposited. They contribute nothing whatsoever of economic value to society. Their money/wealth is derived simply by manipulating other money. This may rightly be called parasitic wealth.


After all was said and damage done to unfortunate millions of average Americans – his own home not at risk of foreclosure by any bank – Alan Greenspan walked away to a secure and comfortable retirement with his Ayn Rand mindset intact.  Flaw and all.


*          *          *


            Mindset – a fixed or binary way of thinking, closed to alternatives and oblivious to Third Options; the origin of trouble where there was no trouble.


Dictionaries generally define “mindset” with words such as “a way of thinking; an attitude or opinion, especially one that is habitual. And right there’s the rub: “habitual.” It means a certain way of thinking has become a habit. Which in turn means that the thinker, thoughts bound by habit, has probably stopped thinking about how certain attitudes began. And it is habitual, un-reexamined attitudes which evolve into a mind that is made up, mind closed, mind set. Mindset. Do you know anyone like that?


We also are concerned here with “open” minds. Constant open mindedness is an ideal, the objective shining goal one wishes everybody would attain. Some attain it fairly well for much of the time, but none of us maintains a fully open mindset, about all things, all the time. We all carry around, on one subject or another, the opposite – a closed mindset: “Don’t argue with me – my mind’s made up.”


On issues which concern us, we typically maintain mindsets somewhere between fully open and fully closed. Nor do we have only one mindset through which we view everything (though I do have more than one friend whose instant reaction to anything new is automatically skeptical – seemingly a “default” mental state for some people). While an individual might be generally predisposed to a particular mindset toward most things that arise in life (She is so negative about just everything that comes up!), it is also true that each of us has many mindsets toward many different issues. And some of them – open toward this, closed toward that – often reveal inconsistencies in our thinking.


Pause and consider a couple of issues – any issues – which claimed your attention this week, perhaps this very day. On each, what is your state of mind: open, closed, somewhere in between? Can you quickly identify a topic about which your mind is open? Another on which it’s closed? Are your multiple mindsets consistent with clear thinking? More to the point, are you consistent with yourself?


Definitions gleaned from a variety of sources reveal the implications of having a mindset: A habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations; a complex mental state involving beliefs, feelings, values, and predisposition to speak and act in certain ways.

A person’s habitual way of thinking or perceiving – an unexamined worldview.

A person’s frame of reference that is fixed. A person can have a particular mindset that is so strong in a specific outlook that other perspectives are not seen or considered, even though the person might seem to hear other perspectives and quite firmly believe they have been given consideration.


Attitude – opinion – predisposition – frame of reference – perspective – worldview – belief…  Mindset has many synonyms and nuanced near-synonyms. Among these “belief” stands out prominently, as it describes homo sapiens’ widespread mental agility in accepting whole complex religious structures based on not an ounce of fact – even where the religions differ drastically from each other. As mindset, belief is most commonly a hand-me-down from family. For example, children of Islamic parents raised in an Islamic country with Islamic culture have above ninety-nine percent likelihood of growing up to believe in Islam. Likewise children of Christian parents in Christian countries, Hindu children in Hindu cultures and Buddhist children in Buddhist cultures. The facts, if any, behind these beliefs have nothing to do with the transmission.


Nor is “believing” exclusive to religious believers. Unquestioning adoption of other categories of belief passes easily to children of parents who believe in – variously – capitalism, socialism or other economic mindsets, as well as varieties of political experience such as republican, democrat, democracy, tyranny, and generalized corruption (though teenage contrarian rebellion against anything their parents believe is also common here).  Furthermore, as will be seen, “beliefs” can apply equally to non-religious materialists, including many scientists who think themselves quite exempt. In many unnoticed ways, “belief” is another name for mindsets that we all carry around. As a subset (or synonym) of the term mindset, the term “belief” has comparably important nuances of definition:

The mental act, condition or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or idea; Faith.

Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of (something).

An idea or allegation believed or accepted as true, whether it is or not – especially a tenet or tenets, doctrines or dogma accepted by a group.


As subsequent chapters will emphasize, our mindsets by any name translate into actions. Our actions usually have some measure of impact on other people, who may or may not share our particular mindsets, as is strongly implied in the verb form of belief, i.e., “believe.” Consider the actions, and the resulting impacts, thus implied:

            Transitive verb: 1. To accept, and teach or pass on, as real or true. 2. To credit with veracity, have confidence in, and trust [an idea], and so advocate to others. Have you recently encountered anyone so advocating by determinedly bringing unwelcome religious literature to your front door? Perhaps insistently leaving it there? Or insisting with ill-concealed belligerence how my candidate is better than your candidate?


Intransitive verb: 1. To have faith, especially religious faith. 2. To have confidence or   trust in the truth, value or existence of [something]. 3. To think or judge (e.g., How could you believe such a dumb thing?!).

Have you felt “affected” lately by someone who believes something you don’t?


To make these dry definitions come alive, pause a moment and let your imagination conjure up mindset-based disputes that may so easily arise, for example: 1) between the Vatican and protestant fundamentalist evangelicals, or 2) climate change deniers and members of Greenpeace, or even 3) Congress and voters. An old Woody Allen film contains a famous difference of mindsets between a feuding husband and wife complaining, separately, to their respective therapists about their sex life. Him: “Only twice a week – almost never!” Her: “Twice a week – constantly!”


As your mindsets can affect others, they can affect you yourself. If you believe you can’t sing, presto – you can’t. If your mind is made up that you can’t dance – then, really, you cannot dance (as a folk dance leader I see this all the time – constantly!). If you have a hypochondriac mindset about your health, you will be ill more often than other people. If you harbor a stressed attitude, you will feel stress with some frequency, and will act stressfully toward others. If you basically distrust people, that ingrained distrust will negatively affect your very civility toward others, who probably deserve better. Mindsets.


Deep conviction that communism was insidiously knocking down dominoes, one country after another, led many people to a firm belief in the rightness of war in Vietnam. This particular mindset deeply affected the social history of our nation. If you hold a firm opinion that Congress and the world are going to hell in a handbasket, you will not likely notice, or pause to think about, occasional evidence to the contrary.  Mindsets.


Mindset is a connective link overlaying the major topics in this book:  slow cosmological and biological evolution; fast climate evolution; the evolution of science, religion and spirituality; and alternate paths to human purpose and understanding. These seemingly disparate topics meander across human interests which have little reason to cross paths other than coincidentally, as they apparently have little in common. Except that they do. People typically care enough to discuss them, argue and form opinions about them, make up their minds about them. Become quite firmly decided. Develop mindsets.


The various contexts within which people make up their minds – closed minded, open minded, ever undecided, waffling – have direct bearing on how they behave. It is a truism that we generally conduct our daily lives in consonance with what we believe to be so. Right or wrong, what we “believe”– how we think and perceive “reality” – directly influences whether we behave in ways that can be described (depending on our various mindsets) as “pleasant,” “determined,” “fanatic,” “sweet and reasonable,” “murderous,” “nice,” “dependable” and so on. This is not a new idea – of course people behave in ways that reflect the workings of their minds – and their mindsets. But what determines the workings of particular individual minds? Why do you believe thus and I don’t?


And what, after all, is “reality” if so much is consequent on how we each perceive it?


*          ©          *


…to be continued in one week…


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