Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • What Really Matters?

    • Posted on Jun 21, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    This morning's (Sunday 6-21) Courier column--about what really matters.   Not 
    an easy subject, given the shock we've suffered this week--and I'm in Charleston (my second home city) right now, struggling with the unvarnished reality of race hatred that led to the cold-blooded murders of nine Charlestonians in their church.    

    Still, the idea that there's a larger reality that really matters is what's helping people get through that hatred and move toward healing.   


    +++++++++++++++++++
    Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, wrote Gershwin.  It’s true, at least 
    when summer vacations roll around and beaches and mountains loom.   
    Time for a change of scene, for easy relaxing and pondering.  

     Ponder what, you ask?   

    What really matters, that’s what.  It’s the best all-around question to ponder during those days without deadlines and pressures. 

     Everyone will answer it differently.  

     Winning matters hugely for some, meaning being first and best at everything.  The competitors, we might call them.  

     Others spend serious time finding and nurturing a soul-mate, a love of their life, and that’s what matters most to them.  They’re romantics, bless their moonstricken hearts.   

     Fame, for others, so that everyone notices them, seeks them out, makes them the center of attention.   “Look at me!” their lives seem to say, and cameras beckon to them like moths to flame.  They’re narcissists, and they’re everywhere these days. 

     Wealth, for still others, so that they never have to deny themselves a new Luxemobile, a granite-countered house, a fast boat, a perfect vacation.  They’re high-enders who seek big bucks.  

     For still others, friendships, near and far, supportive and intimate. They spend hours cultivating friendships, lunching, writing, catching up on social media.

     They delight in lending a hand or shoulder to those they’ve gotten to know, love to be
    counted upon for favors, and seek to maintain old friendships.  They’re our friends, and thank heavens for them. 

     We all belong to some of these groups, and derive satisfaction from the undeniable benefits that each provides. 

     So, is that all?  Once you’re winning, famous, rich, soul-mated, and surrounded by friends, have you found everything that matters?  Does your happiness at that point know no bounds? 

     Alas, no. We all know such seemingly fulfilled people who still rely on therapists and happy pills to calm their frayed nerves.  They’re still seeking something that really matters.   

     And what might that be?    

     Dylan’s 1979 song “You gotta Serve Somebody” points toward it:  
    "You may be an ambassador to England or France
    You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
    You're gonna have to serve somebody,
    It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
    But you're gonna have to serve somebody."

     As Trish, the character who tries to commit suicide in that great film “Educating Rita” laments, “I’m not enough.”   

     If you live for furthering yourself and meeting your needs only, you’re headed for disappointment and suffering.   Truth be told, none of us are the complete center of anything.  Our egos don’t really matter. 

     Realizing this amounts to growing up, and the sooner the better.  

     This is not easy, especially with our little digital screens tempting us to believe that we are the center of everything. 

     Granted, a strong, confident self does help you succeed. But that’s not what really matters.   

     Religious folks get at what really matters through worship, faith in some supernatural power, and prayer.  

     Non-religious folks do it through wonder, curiosity, contemplation, and seeking enlightenment through in-depth awareness.  

     I’m among the non-religious, and have found what really matters is a spiritual path that’s stimulating, endlessly challenging, and ultimately satisfying. 

     If you like pondering what really matters this summer, and you’re leaning toward the non-religious, let me suggest two books I’ve found helpful:  Tara Brach’s 2005 “Radical Acceptance” and her more recent “True Refuge.”  She’s a clinical psychologist and an American Buddhist teacher who has been pondering what matters for 35 years.   

     If you’re curious and open to new approaches, these books make perfect summer reading. 

     I can’t imagine a summer without spending daily time seeking and pondering.  
    That’s what really matters. 


    3 Comments
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    • Conservatives/Liberals
  • Conservatives' Anti-Science Attitude

    • Posted on Mar 22, 2015 by Scott Cawelti
    Here's this morning's (Sun. 3-22) Courier column. It's a bit more of a polemic than I usually write, but I'm getting weary of fantasy-based beliefs that seem pervasive.

    By "conservative," I don't necessarily mean Republicans, but anyone who decides that their beliefs are absolute and certain, and defends them vociferously against the facts.   
    They "conserve" their beliefs, based on certainty.  

    Even scientists fall victim to this temptation, as Johann Hari points out in his "Chasing the Scream" book on our failed "war" on drugs.  


    ++++++++++++
    Conservatives’ rampant anti-science attitude began, I think, when curious and smart souls (aka scientists) began gathering data that shook long-established beliefs.  

    It’s certainly not new.  

     Galileo and Darwin, in 1610 and 1859 respectively, shifted the very ground upon which most people’s beliefs were anchored.  The earth moves around the sun?  Species appear and disappear depending on whether they adapt?  All of nature constantly changes, including humans?  Say it ain’t so, people said, and still say, though thankfully not a majority worldwide any more.  

     Except hard-right conservatives, who seem intent on maintaining their own ignorances. In spite of mountains of data, conservatives refuse to believe what science plainly reveals.   What they do instead: Ignore, deny, or re-interpret data to fit their delusional beliefs, roughly in that order. 

    Scientists search for facts grounded in research using a method which yields 
    truths that can be replicated and therefore used worldwide for all manner of applications and theories.   This “scientific method” deserves respect partly because it works, and partly because anyone with tools and knowledge can use it to make further discoveries, and have now for centuries.  

     Though hardly perfect, it’s the best means we have of finding reliable and valid facts.  We ignore and deny it at our peril.  

     That’s the malady of all true believers:  Certainty.  Scientists, if they stay true to their calling, admit new facts that change their world view.  

     A case in point:  the drug “war” that has ruined millions of lives world-wide.  Two recent books make a powerful case against current anti-drug policies.  “Chasing the Scream,” by Johann Hari, and “High Price,” by Carl Hart, reveal that hysteria rules this country’s attitude toward addictive substances, not science. 

     America’s Prohibition (1920-1933) was the first result, which developed into a full-blown national disaster.  Gangsters, bootlegging, mob killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations ruled that era.   

     As Mark Thornton (Professor of Economics at Auburn University) notes: 
    “Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became "organized"; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant.”

     If that sounds familiar it should.  Our current drug policies have become a full-blown national disaster as well. Drug lords, smuggling, gang killings, turf wars, and an enormous uptick in prison populations rule our era. 
    Prohibition is not working, and never has.  

     The most compelling account comes from Hari’s “Chasing the Scream” book, a highly readable account of how we’ve failed to either eradicate or control addictive drugs.  Hari reveals how politicians have ignored or dismissed solid research that points toward an entirely different approach. 

    The source of addiction is only partially chemical “hooks.” In fact, addictions exist with no chemical hooks at all—take gambling, for one example.  Feeling alone, outcast, berated, and punished does more to create addictive behavior than actual drug chemistry.   
     
    So what do we do to addicts?  We abuse, punish, imprison, and berate them. 

    We need a national awakening on drug policy, and it won’t come from conservatives.   

     A solution that has already worked once in this country needs to be brought back:  End prohibition.  When alcohol prohibition ended, so did the crimes committed because of prohibition. 

     The same would happen, both Hari and Hart insist, if we ended prohibition of banned substances. This doesn’t necessarily mean legalization, but it could mean de-criminalization.  It has begun with both Colorado and Oregon’s easing of marijuana restrictions.   That should continue nationwide.   

     It won’t come easily or quickly, but it has to come.   Science will help show the way, and a few enlightened conservatives might step up to help.  

     One can always hope.   

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • alcohol
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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