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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/29/20


I was discussing with a friend the other day “how bad things are.” No doubt we are living in a time of great challenges—racial inequities, the failure of many of our institutions, economic calamity, potentially catastrophic environmental challenges, Russian meddling in our elections and fomenting discontent, and a pandemic. How much worse, he said, could things get?

Notwithstanding the despair, I hold out hope. Medicine has advanced to the point that we now discuss whether a vaccine or therapies might become available in terms of months, rather than years or decades. Our citizens will come together in November to elect our representatives, hopefully choosing those who are prepared to put good governance ahead of ideological purity. Discussions are underway for more community-based and better trained policing. Conversations on race and cooperation are taking place. Advances in science, technology, treatments for mental health continue to improve our lives. Baseball season has begun. Health care workers and many others during this pandemic have exhibited remarkable examples of humanity and compassion.



Education is a place where great change can occur when highly focused organizations provide individualized support. This is particularly true with opening more college opportunities to first-generation students. After all, “it takes a village.” There are a number of organizations doing just that. Here are a few:

The Fulfillment Fund. The Fulfillment Fund’s mission is to provide educational pathways for students from underserved communities in Los Angeles. The organization is focused on helping students get to college, stay in college, and successfully transition from college to career. 100% of their high school students made it to college last year. Students are mentored though high school and college through various programs, including college trips and entrance exam preparation. The brainchild of Gary Gitnick, with a board now chaired by our friend, Wendy Spinner, the Fulfillment Fund has been helping kids for over 40 years. They also assist Hillcrest Country Club in running its 501(c)(3) providing scholarships to employees and their children.

The Posse Foundation. This novel organization provides financial and mentoring support to students and then, through creation of a “posse” of similar students on campus, also encourages success on a peer-to-peer level. Not only do they help kids get to college and stay in college, but also create an atmosphere of support to create a more welcoming and diverse experience.

Scholar Match. This one I just signed up for. It’s an easy process. Their motto is “makes college possible for underserved youth.” Essentially, they are looking for mentors to help steer high school students through the complex college admissions process and provide college and career counseling support, so that these first-generation kids can graduate within five years. It entails discussions of options, preparing oneself with classes and volunteer experiences, scholarship support, navigating the admissions application and financial aid, writing and reviewing personal statements and addressing answers to the myriad questions in a college application.



Ben VandeBunt is one of the smartest guys out there (and not just because he left the practice of law for the more lucrative field of business before I did…). He has made an observation that I think runs to one of the essential truisms of our political and social environment. We all think we’re right. But we may not really know the difference between what’s “right” and what’s “right.” Let me explain…

In English, the word “right” describes both provable facts and things we consider morally right. There is no distinction in the English language. An example of a provable fact is the Pythagorean Theorem, A2 + b2 + c2. Always. There is no debate.

The other sort of “right” is a moral judgment of what is “right,” like “thou shall not steal.” Some may be established moral rights (one can’t steal or kill). Others may be disputed (like “abortion is murder”). Whereas in English there is only one word used for both of these instances of “right,” in Latin and other romance languages there is a difference. The first is “la raison” and the second is “la vertue (in French, la vertu).” [NB: Apologies for mangling Latin and French…as to the French, I should know better…]

In la raison, there is no emotion, no nuance, and no variability. It is always “right.” There is no point arguing for the other side. It is math. Or science. Or statistics. There is proof for the proposition on one side and no proof can be generated for the other.

The second category of “right” are issues that may be moral “certainties” to some, but perhaps not to others. Examples include whether one should or shouldn’t ban abortion, whether or not there should be background checks for guns, or whether one should wear a mask in a pandemic. Sometimes determining “right” is based upon the amount of evidence on one side versus the other. Sometimes it is based upon fact and circumstance. And sometimes, it is based upon competing values. For instance, even though it is “wrong” to kill someone, is it ever “right” to sacrifice one life to save five others (remember the “Trolley Problem”?). These things that are “right” and “wrong” in our minds based upon our personal or group value systems and are not provably right or wrong.

There are some things that are “la vertue” that seem pretty overwhelmingly indisputable, but not quite “la raison,” and yet they are disputed, e.g.:

  1. Climate change is real and affected by mankind

  2. Evolution is real.

  3. Communism is a great ideal but never has worked or will work as a practical economic theory.

  4. Cigarettes kill.

Those things that either border on “la raison” due to an overwhelming preponderance of the evidence should seem indisputable and apolitical. But because we are so politicized, we tend to take things that are seemingly factual, or “la raison” (or nearly so) and argue about them. For instance, there is little doubt about the communicability of the COVID-19 virus and the steps that one can or should take to minimize its impact. But first we need to agree on the facts. If we can agree on the facts, we can then collectively decide on the actions to be taken. La vertue is subject to political debate. If we can move past that debating knowable facts (or facts supported by valid, nearly indisputable theory), we can then decide what we should do. With respect to the virus, we can agree on much of the science. Then we can argue about whether we should shut down the economy or not, fine people for not wearing masks or not, open schools or not. First, accept the provable facts—then apply your morality or your balancing of competing interests. That’s what politics is about—the means to get to a desired result (a healthy economy and a healthy populace)—at the least cost.

We have made great strides in science, technology, statistics, and medicine in the past century. We should use these tools to, when we can, demonstrate whether something is “la raison” and then move to how we handle the statistics and the facts and fashion policy.

As Ben says:

We are letting science, math and the provable be hijacked by limited, righteous partisans. Mt. Trump and Mr. Sanders exploit it so well. It is a problem since math, science and #s have been the basis for mankind’s progress for centuries. In addition to the provable “right,” we need a huge, big “la vertue” tent. In Western Hemisphere, this tent has been based on our shared Judeo-Christian values. It is vital to connectedness, a society .. as Bruce Springsteen would say, it causes “the ties that bind.”

After sharing this concept with a friend, that person noted:

“Thought more about the language concept - wrong is similar in English - cheating on your wife is wrong and the numbers are wrong is the same word - in French or Spanish - maths would be “faux” which is “not true” and cheating on your wife would be “mal” which is “not good” and mal is the same word as pain – i.e. Moral issues can’t be right or wrong - they are good or bad - fascinating - had never made the connection.“

Interesting thoughts. It would be helpful if we could all agree on the basic facts, not politicizing them. There is plenty to politicize in the policy choices and the implementation of responses to the facts.”

Ce n’est pas mal pour commencer, n’est-ce pas?


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