Friday, September 17, 2010


fi·nesse –noun
1. extreme delicacy or subtlety in action, performance, skill, discrimination, taste, etc.
2. skill in handling a difficult or highly sensitive situation; adroit and artful management: exceptional diplomatic finesse.
3. a trick, artifice, or stratagem.

1, 2. tact, diplomacy, savoir faire, circumspection, sensitivity, sensibility.

I have always like this word. It says so much. This country lacks
finesse. And it's not a left/right east/west or north/south issue. Nor
is it a racial or gender issue. Maybe it's our frontier origins but we
seems to take a more brutal, antagonistic and overly emotional approach
to situations. The old cliche of the the guy banging on his television
to get it to work. Our foreign policy has always lacked tact and
finesse. We either ignore a situation or plow in to hit with guns
blazing and yellig at the top of our lungs. If there is a
societal behavior that people have a problem with, we make laws to ban
it completely or try to tax it to death.

But this over the top, in your face get a bigger sledge hammer approach
rarely, if ever, yields the intended results and generally just pisses
people off and can generate long term resentments. It is an
emotionally and mentally lazy approach. But to exercise the wisdom and
rationality necessary to have finesse requires work and thought
and understanding. And it also requires humility. But it is much
more likely to yield the results we want. As well as giving us a much
greater understanding of our selves and others.


TheraP said...

In this anti-intellectual nation, what's left? It's all based on emotions. What a shame...

Alan said...

Back in 2001, after 9/11, when everyone was screaming about nuking the entire Islamic world, I was quite alone, even on a production-centered listserv (remember those?) in advocating finding out exactly who was involved and being far more "surgical" than this country has ever been in going after the responsible parties.

It was a lonely position indeed.

Even when I countered with how it is far more efficient to know and understand an opponent in order to have a better likelihood of victory in the long run (thank you, former martial arts instructors!) that observation was dismissed.

I bloody well hate being proven right in hindsight the way it took place. If we'd had even a modicum of better understanding of what we were getting into overseas, we would not be in this position today.

As one journalist writing on a forum I once visited put it, "Afghanistan wins all its home games."

Alan said...

Thera - you posted your comment while I was writing mine.

I have to get to the airport. I will go into more detail on a response to your statement later. There is much there to discuss.

TheraP said...

I'm with you, Alan. My reaction to 9/11 was, ok, these folks were sending a message. Bad way to communicate. But what was their message?

I recall saying that to a fellow psychologist a few days later. Amazingly, her college age son had had the same thought!

You'd think the leaders - at least - would have time to think! But no... emotions reigned.

TheraP said...

I'll look forward to your thoughts, Alan.

Alan said...

Thera - I had posted, back in the Digitallusion days, a couple pieces on how the late Lewis Thomas was an outstanding travel companion. His volumes of essays made for brief, refreshing bursts of clarity, and there was always the ability to simply close up and pack up as time necessitated.

I offer here a quote from the end notes of his "The Youngest Science" - another of his compilations, this one subtitled "Notes of a Medicine-Watcher": "...and Seidler spoke his mind on politics for the first and only time. Poland was part of Europe, he said; and he and his wife were Europeans. The political problems in Poland were out of hand, beyond solving, for the time being anyway, because they had become "emotional" problems, a disaster. He hoped that the people of Europe could begin thinking together, using their excellent brains, avoiding "emotion." When he spoke of emotion and the problems it raised for his country, he became red in the face."

He was speaking, of course, of a time on sabbatical in England where he was speaking with a Polish academic during the Solidarity days - those heady times where all of us with even a bit of Polish ancestry held our heads just a bit higher...

This, I suspect, this damaging extreme emotional component in life, ought to be something with which you are well versed.

Was it always like this? And if not, when did things go so strangely and terribly wrong?

Look at the poverty of expression we see around us as a symptom of the inability of clear thinking on the part of most Americans. Look back, if you will, at the record of correspondences of soldiers and their families during the Second, First, and even Civil Wars and know that it was not always thus. How many Americans today can write that well, even among the supposedly educated? How many can express thoughts of even moderate complexity?

And yes, even in the days of Alexis de Tocqueville, we had commentary on the anti-intellectualism extant in America. Today, though, it seems worse, and more pernicious. Exalted, even, in circles where people really ought to know better.

(Yes, Gingrich and Palin, I'm looking at YOU!)

I suspect, sadly, that we've not yet seen the worst of it. I have a bit of time before my flight, so I'll look in, in case you're reading and writing this evening.

TheraP said...

Oh, boy.... I think we are in the grip of more than just what goes on in one brain. I think it has to do with group pressures in some ways. And social influences. Even TV, which tends to play to emotion and makes a joke of everything, usually at someone's expense.

Back in the days of writing letters, of smaller communities where one had to learn to get along with people, where making enemies could cost you your house if the barn caught fire, where feuds could last generations but an apology might be had by crossing the street, and where people's only book at home might be the bible (but that WAS a book from which to learn complex thinking), maybe people were slower to lose tempers and took time before responding.

Now so much can be said anonymously. People find it so easy to gather with like-minded people, and get all "fired up" with the thought that such like-minded groups (even such as we) are RIGHT, RIGHT, RIGHT!

On the other hand I think of lynchings. Those were mobs for sure. Acting under the influence of strong emotions. And people died. Horrible deaths!

I really wish I knew the answer here. Maybe it's like the way soldiers kill more easily from a great distance. From a plane. Or a rocket launcher. Maybe it's the anonymity of a crowd, which also distances us from the "other side". Or the internet which certainly is about as far distanced as you can get... attacking someone you've never met and never will, whose life you know very little about.

Plus so much of this is fomented by people who are experts in rabble rousing. So that we hardly know who's behind the scenes, pulling strings, urging people to lose control.

Indeed, some time ago, I wrote about Systemic Deception and the Breakdown of Civic Trust. And in that piece I admitted my chagrin my own field has done research, which is being used to foster deception and influence people to act or vote against their own interests. We are powerfully influenced by so much. And all too many fail to examine their own reactions. Or fail to speak up... there's another problem.

Though I'm not sure how well I've analyzed this, I agree that we likely have not seen the worst of this.

It's a topic we could revisit again and again.

One thing is for sure. Rarely has a nation of people exalted unreason as we have done lately. It's a "band wagon" kind of thing. Like rooting for a team - even when the team is sure to lose. Makes no sense to me except as some type of pep rally mentality. Which is very, very dangerous.

Best I can do, Allen. More thought is needed here. I'll keep thinking...

Have a safe trip!

Alan said...

Thera, if you have not seen the film "Idiocracy" I would give it a (reserved) recommendation. It's a depressingly funny look 500 years into the future.

The humor is crude, to be sure, and the brushstrokes used broad and bold.

A much more sobering look at a potential nearer future is John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" - one of his dystopian futures, and far more readable than "Stand on Zanzibar" will ever be. It describes an America in some near future where corporate control is even more deeply embedded than now, environmental degradation has reached a breaking point, and extremists on all sides are moving inward from the fringes with armed fury.

Not a cheery read at all, yet one that seems placed ever-closer than when I first encountered it some 20-odd years ago.

TheraP said...

Well, my own "vision" of worst scenario is corporations pretty much controlling the whole world. Add in that piece you mentioned about environmental degradation... and yes, it looks very, very bleak. To be honest, I'm not sure how it would "help" me to watch or read fiction about this. I honestly try to protect myself from fiction. Reality, I can possibly do something about. And some fiction does indeed help me see things - especially complexities. I'm thinking of Orhan Pamuk's Snow or My Name is Red. And Porteguese writer whose name escapes me. Won the Nobel Prize a few years back. As did Pamuk.

I may pursue the comedy, but to be honest I do more reading than watching movies. I have hearing loss - and it means I need to read the dialog, which is annoying as you miss a lot of the film. It's better than going blind. But has limited my world - even with hugely expensive hearing aids. (it's more than loss in various ranges, but a signal to noise problem) Not complaining. But it does limit me.

I think I need solitude more and more.

I should read more books! (I have plenty.)

Thanks for the advice nonetheless...

Alan said...

Well, I do like the way fiction lets us examine a particular aspect of something as an experiment.

On the other hand, I have had an epic disagreement with a writer friend who maintains that fiction provides "truer" truth than reality. To my mind, exaggeration of a particular aspect of truth renders it as false as outright misrepresentation.

Of course, biases being what they are, I have to reveal that I'm a documentarian at heart, and have been known to commit acts of journalism in the past. So what do I know?