Archive for the 'Radical Middle' Category

How to Create a Group Mind

What is required to create a group mind?

Where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?

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Healthy human minds have the ability to resolve disputes without animosity, without making, or defeating enemies.

Our brains and nervous systems are wired to gather as much data as the time and circumstances allow, and to then understand and evaluate a myriad of possibilities, risks, and opportunities, and then to come up with the best solution – that time and circumstances will allow.

This enables the owner of the mind (the person) to take action as quickly as needed, rather than wasting time and energy fighting internal battles for supremacy, inside her mind, or becoming frozen with fear of making a mistake – fear of losing.

A healthy mind welcomes and thrives on diversity of opinions, including contradictory ones.

Such a mind does this routinely and often without our conscious awareness, for example when we are listening to a voice that is difficult to hear, and trying to make sense of what is being said, and what the underlying meanings and implications are; or when we are looking at the sky for clues about the weather.

A healthy mind also consciously welcomes a diversity of data and opinions, for example, when participating in a valued and trusted team, working to find a solution to a complex problem.

A valued and trusted team is like a healthy mind.

In a healthy team, as in a healthy mind, there is no dread of differences, of complexity, of apparent contradictions, or of periods of uncertainty.   There is also a willingness to take action to test ideas before final acceptance or rejection of a possible interpretation or solution.  There is a strong sense of working together, rather than competing.

Yet in a team there can be a healthy sense of competition; which is healthy only so long as the competition does not become more important than working together to solve a common problem.

A healthy, highly-functioning team is an example of a group mind.

So, actually, we already know how to create group minds.  We do it all the time.  We use common purpose and common sense, management techniques, group facilitation methods, scientific procedures, and methods for publishing, distributing, sharing, testing, and comparing data and knowledge.   We now use the Internet, high-speed, intelligent communications technologies, social media, complex, and data-intensive analytics.

A healthy, highly-functioning community, society, nation or world are larger examples of a group mind.

However, such examples are often more aspirations rather than realities, especially as the scale increases.   But they are all possible.  Very possible.

Creating healthy, large-scale group minds is more difficult

The problem is lack of health.  Lack of wholeness.   A dysfunctional society, or group mind, is full of emotion-laden biases, fears, animosity, internal hostilities, greed, bitter or violent competitions (winner-take-all), or is simply deeply fragmented and incapable of making good decisions.  All of these traits are indicators of very unhealthy group minds – so unhealthy as to be called insane, broken.  So broken it doesn’t feel right to call them minds at all.

So to create a group mind it is really necessary to create a healthy group mind.

The path to healthy group minds has this kind of progression:

Listening, empathy, acceptance, mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual appreciation (love), collaboration (team-work), the ability to make whole-group decisions and take whole-group action even when there is uncertainty, the ability to adapt, grow, and prosper together.

The first step is simply listening.  All the rest of the steps are about harmonizing.

To be able to really listen is a sign of great mental and spiritual health.  To really listen, one has to step back from dearly-held positions (at least temporarily).

This is ultimately a deeply spiritual practice: “Letting go,” “Trusting God” “Trusting Life”, “Transcending the ego.,”  – ultimately caring more about the whole, and each other, rather than about our own little (but important) part.

For many (most) it is not at all easy.  But there are ways that we, together, can make it easier.

Part Two:  Imagine a Conversation that can amplify trust and collaboration, and involve millions…  coming in the near future.

Dreams of Ending Gridlock

On this eve of Federal Government Shutdown, gridlock is on my mind for a moment.  So here’s a thought (that has probably been thunk before).

Currently members of the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives are under pressure by their parties to vote strictly on party-lines.  Yet this means that the members of the minority party essentially throw away their votes and miss a strategic opportunity to elect a more bi-partisan Speaker.  Voters should insist that their representatives make Congress more bi-partisan by having all members vote for their *best* choice from the majority party.

This seems like a good recipe for choosing a more collaborative Speaker.  House Speakers are way too powerful to be controlled by a single party.   Getting the House to work together should be the Speaker’s job.

And as we sometimes remember, the Speaker is also 2nd in line for becoming President.

Of course, other democratic reforms are extremely important – maybe especially getting rid of legalized corruption by changing election campaign funding laws and practices.

Election campaign funding is, however, complex, and likely to be hard to come up with the right formula that can’t be skirted by new methods.   So it will take take longer to enact.

Reforming the way top Congressional leaders are chosen (including committee chairpeople) is much easier for the public to understand and get behind.   There may even be enough Senators and Representatives who are sick of gridlock and could get behind the idea as well.

Please Sign this Petition asking Democrats and Moderate Republicans to elect a bi-partisan Speaker of the House.

Related content – Washington Post, 10/1/2013:

What if Boehner Decided to be the First-Ever Bi-Partisan Speaker

Follow the Money: “Privatization”

“Privatization” means converting publicly owned and managed resources to privately owned and managed resources.

Resources that have been targeted for privatized include schools, water systems, sewer systems, trash disposal, Social Security and Medicare, parks and recreation, transportation, military operations, and even the legislative process itself, that is, drafting laws that govern our states and local governments (see footnote at bottom).

Privatization is done in the name of efficiency, and there are some cases where it can be useful.

There are also many cases where the major effect of privatization has been to enrich private companies at public (taxpayer) expense.

Why would any democratically elected legislator transfer an important public resource to private companies? 

To answer this question, here is where “follow the money” comes into play.  It’s important to find out: ‘Who is profiting from the privatization?’

Do legislators who vote for a privatization bill get re-election funding (and other perks) from the companies or individuals who profit from the legislation?

Does the privatization create higher value and efficiencies with an important overall benefit for the public?   Or does it create higher costs to the public and/or lower value delivered by those who operate the privatized resource?

Footnote – ALEC’s nationwide agenda to privatize public services and resources:

ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) is a private association, that drafts legislation that is then introduced into state legislatures all across the country.  Many of these bills have been enacted into law.

Privatization of public services and resources is a major focus of legislation drafted and promoted by ALEC.  ALEC is funded primarily by corporate sponsors.

It is accurate to say that state legislatures that introduce bills drafted by ALEC are outsourcing a crucial part of the legislative process to the private companies who sponsor ALEC and take a lead in proposing, pitching, and drafting legislation.

More information about ALEC can be found on this post by the Center for Media and Democracy.  A great deal of valuable research has been done to “follow the money” that flows through ALEC and ALEC’s private sector sponsors.

This is the second part in a series about principles for restoring democracy.   The first part can be found here.

Restoring Democratic Government

Obviously a lot of people are working on this.  These ideas are a brief compilation of some of the best solutions.

An overwhelming majority of Americans, conservative, progressive, and moderate, want a well-functioning democratic government.   But we have different definitions for what that means – because we use different terms and listen to different sources, and because we don’t listen well to each other.

This has been a perfect opportunity for special interests and corruption to whittle away at “government for the people and by the people” and to shift our democracy to either government for the special interests and by the special interests, or else to gridlock.

The principles that make corruption work are:  “divide and conquer” (pit citizen against citizen) and “hide the true motives” (pretend to be interested in “reforming” government but in actuality work for one’s own profit and special interests).

To protect and restore real democracy, we the people need to re-unite, and to do that we need to explore and expose the corruption that has drastically weakened democratic government.

There are a few principles that can guide us:

To expose corruption: Verify the facts and Follow the money.

To restore democracy:  Listen to each other and Engage in authentic dialogue.

To regenerate governmentElect candidates who care about all Americans.  This means we must elect people who are not beholden to special interests and mega-contributions from super-wealthy people and corporations.

These are principles that we can all agree on.  Armed with these we can expose corruption, start dialoguing with each other, and restore democracy.

The 2nd post in this series will expand on “Follow the money” using privatization of public resources as an example.

Represent.Us and the American Anti-Corruption Act


Represent.Us
is a transpartisan non-profit organization working to pass the American Anti-Corruption Act. This Act – if backed by enough of us – has the ability to drastically reduce political corruption and restore fair elections by us, the People, and not the Money.

Represent.Us and the Act are supported by committed Progressives, Conservatives, Tea-Party founders, Occupy founders, etc.   See more about their board of advisers here.

To Increase Social Cooperation Speak to the Best Values of the 99%

I just read an interesting article regarding how to create an Empathic (i.e., Cooperative) Civilization.

How will the 99% Deal with the World’s 70 Million Psychopaths?

A lot of the world’s misery can be traced to people who lack the wiring for empathy. What can we do to contain the damage they cause?

July 26  Joe Brewer

This article suggests (not too surprisingly) that the 1% who control World power structures, mostly for their own benefit, are highly non-emphathic.   That is, the real 1% are not simply the richest 1%, but rather the most powerful non-empaths.  Not all wealthy people are non-empathic.  But our economic system is especially tuned to reward non-empaths in their struggle to the top.   In addition, our legal and regulatory structures favor the creation of extremely powerful corporations who by the predominant definition of “business” and “competition” are at the top of the heap of non-empathic “individuals.”  (Fortunately many corporations are socially responsible.  However, by their nature, corporations are expected to make a profit for shareholders and to obey the law, rather than to create the greatest good for all.)

We knew all of this of course, but the analysis in this article makes the situation clearer.    The author also makes good suggestions on what to do.  But all of his suggestions require the 99% who are empathic to take back control of society (that is, for the ‘meek’ to inherit the Earth).

For me a key question is – how do we break the unholy connection between the powerful non-empaths and the millions of ordinary ‘conservative voters’ who admire  powerful non-empaths and swallow their messages?   The non-empaths are able to put their messages into frames that conservative voters resonate with, even though most of those voters are actually empathic.

Some of best ideas that I’ve seen about how to counter this are in Lakoff’s new book:  The Little Blue Book:  The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic.  Lakoff’s premis is not that progressives must take over the “rulership” of the country from conservatives — who currently worship the private sector and denigrate the public sector.   But rather that progressives must stop using the frames developed by the 1% to gain the admiration and votes of conservative and independent voters.  Progressives must instead use frames that truly resonate with the empathic and democratic nature of all people among the 99%.   Our only way forward is to build true democratic partnership between progressives and conservatives to shape a better society that is good for all, rather than one that mainly benefits the 1%.

Two Remedies for Bad Thinking and other Bad Habits

Bad thinking is usually due to bad habits rather than to lack of ability.

This includes bad habits such as acting without thinking; accepting a “fact” or idea without independent verification; and taking in  news, ideas and interpretations only from sources with a  perspective that reinforces your own,  rather than differing from your perspectives or questioning them.

Such bad habits are correctable, and that’s encouraging.  However, if habits are deeply engrained they are hard to change.  Any habit can only weaken and leave if there is a will – motivated by an internal desire.

For deeply engrained habits, even a strong motivation isn’t enough for change.  A deeply engrained habit is no longer a habit, but an internal imperative which must be obeyed and can’t be ignored.  Such habits can become essential parts of individual and group identity.

There is hope, though, from at least two approaches.  Both of these approaches are methods to train the mind and produce clearer, broader thinking.

The first method is:  Regular exposure to other people one can respect, who have different ideas and behaviors, which they express and model well.  Having a motivation and an opportunity for exposure to new and different ideas and behaviors can begin to change even long-held habits of thinking.

The second method is less familiar to most people:  If people take up the regular habit of transcending – experiencing the silent, unbounded source of their own mind and being, then  life-restricting habits can begin to weaken.   There is plenty of evidence over the last several thousand years that this can actually work.  More recently, neurological, physiological, and other sociological evidence supports this approach.

Combine these two remedies – regular transcending and regular exposure to honest people with different perspectives – and even the most intractable bad habits will begin to loosen.

Radical Middle

True, sustainable social transformation will never occur by one side, party, perspective defeating and dominating the others.

Sustainable social transformation will occur when people and groups with different perspectives learn to listen to each other and dialogue.

Dialogue is not about compromise that leads to the mediocre middle.

It is about constructively engaging with the “other” to come up with truly better solutions.  That is not mediocrity.  It is radical and creative.

Arriving at better solutions includes a creative process of agreeing on reasonable solutions, giving those solutions a legitimate chance, and evaluating the effects based on evidence that can be accepted by a majority of both sides.

A solution with a reasonable chance of success that will be supported by a significant majority of the population is always going to be better than a solution bitterly opposed by significant factions.  And a widely accepted solution will always be better than a situation of stalemate where no meaningful solutions can ever be given enough of a chance to succeed.

If we’re all heading for the precipice together, then we need to take action together; and that means that we have to figure out a way to agree very, very soon.

In my case, I believe especially strongly in progressive ideas and solutions.   On the other hand, there are conservative thinkers whom I respect; and I believe that conservative ideas and solutions have value and need to be seriously considered in coming up with any solution.

The Whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

However, I only accept ideas and solutions that I feel have been formulated to help all of us, and not just to benefit 50%, 10%, or 1%.

I am committed to do all I can to rid our society of anti-democratic rhetoric and unrestricted funding of media manipulations and outright lies.   So I look for progressives, conservatives, and any others who are equally committed to that goal.  It is definitely a goal that can be supported by all who love our whole community.

Changing the way elections and media influence are funded is critical.  Yet, even when that happens, we will still need to learn how to constructively think and make decisions together.   Making progress on one front will support progress on the other.

Self-Government at Bay

“All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man.  The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.” 
Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Mayor of Washington, 1826

In this famous quote Jefferson was speaking in favor of “the blessings and security of self-government.”   Yet he and all founders of this country would readily agree that election campaigns funded 99% by the wealthiest 1% (individuals & corporations, booted and spurred) are now sadly deteriorating the blessings and security of self-government.

True, the people vote.  But “who tells the stories of a culture governs human behavior”
(George Gerbner, media theorist, quoted by Eli Pariser in the Filter Bubble).

What to do?  Consider the ideas and proposals RootStrikers.org and the following quotes by Lawrence Lessig:

—————————————————————————————————-

“…this government is not dependent upon ‘the People alone.’ This government is dependent upon the Funders of campaigns. 1% of America funds almost 99% of the cost of political campaigns in America. Is it therefore any surprise that the government is responsive first to the needs of that 1%, and not to the 99%? …

“This government, we must chant, is corrupt. We can say that clearly and loudly from the Left. They can say that clearly and loudly from the Right. And we then must teach America that this corruption is the core problem — it is the root problem — that we as Americans must be fighting.”  …

“There is no liberal, or libertarian, or conservative who should defend this corruption. The single problem we all should be able to agree about is a political system that has lost its moral foundation: For no American went to war to defend a democracy ‘dependent upon the Funders alone.’”
(Letter to the Occupiers:  The Principal of Non-Contradiction 10/12/2011
)

“We are different in a million ways, we Americans, but we are all equally Americans. And if you’re leading a movement that won’t acknowledge that difference (or more frighteningly, that believes that mere rhetoric is going to erase that difference), then you’re not looking for fundamental reform. You’re looking for a putsch.

“This Nation needs fundamental reform. For that, our constitution requires 75% of states to agree. Thus, if we want real change, we must find those ideas upon which 75% of states can actually agree.”
Something More than Polarization, 10/25/2011

Is Reducing Income Inequality Really “Class Warfare”?

An essay in last Sunday’s Washington Post carried the title “Obama Shouldn’t Be Afraid of  Little Class Warfare” by Sally Kohn.

The piece opened with these points:

“On Monday, defending his plan to raise taxes on the rich to pay for job creation, President Obama said: ‘This is not class warfare, it’s math.’”

“No, Mr. President, this is class warfare — and it’s a war you’d better win. Corporate interests and the rich started it. Right now, they’re winning. Progressives and the middle class must fight back, and the president should be clear whose side he’s on.”

The article went on to make its case with some history and some very interesting data about increasing income inequality in the U.S.  The statement that I found to be most provocative was this:

“After all, according to the CIA, income inequality in the United States is greater than in Yemen.”

The link above took me to the CIA Factbook which publishes an index that measures income equality or inequality among all families in each country.  A country with perfect equality would have a score of 0 and a country with perfect inequality would have a score of 100.   (Note – perfect equality according to this measure does not mean that everyone earns the same amount, but rather that all discrete income levels, from richest to poorest, contain about the same number of families.)

It’s good to be able to see so graphically how the U.S compares to other countries.  The U.S. is indeed much closer in terms of inequality to some of the most unstable countries in the world.

Here are some of the CIA Factbook Entries comparing the U.S. to other countries:

US:     45 (2007)   (40.8 in 1997)

Sweden:  23

Norway: 25

Germany:  27 (with one of the most robust economies in the world)

Spain:  32

Switzerland:  33.7

United Kingdom:  34

India:  36.8

Indonesia:  37

Yemen: 37.7

Israel:  39

China:  41.5

Russia:  42

Rawanda:  46.8

Mexico:  48.2

Zimbabwe 50.1

Zambia:  50.8

Columbia:  58.5

Bolivia:  58.2

Haiti:  59.2

Sierra Leone:  62.9

To illustrate the inequality in the U.S. Kohn’s article also gave these facts among others:

“Between 1979 and 2007, the income gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the poorest 40 percent more than tripled. Today, the richest 10 percent of Americans control two-thirds of the nation’s wealth, while, according to recently released census data, average Americans saw their real incomes decline by 2.3 percent in 2010. Though our economy grew in 2009 and 2010, 88 percent of the increase in real national income went to corporate profits, one study found. Only 1 percent went to wages and salaries for working people.”

Fulfilling Human Potential

This morning I was thinking about “poverty eradication.”   I was thinking about this because right before going to bed last night I watched a TEDx video titled “What Needs to be Done in the 21st Century?”   The presenters, Erika Ilves and Annie McQuade, listed 9 separate global imperatives, where each cause had its own tribe that feels that its cause is most important.

Here’s their list:

1.  The Economy, and Economic Growth
2.  Global Warming and the Environment
3.  Technology as what can save and fulfill us.
4.  Poverty eradication, and the Millennium Development Goals
5.  Disaster Relief
6.  Security and Defense – against destructive abilities of terrorists, criminals and enemies.
7.  Peace:  creating a global civilization based on shared values
8.  Global governance – creating effective global responses to global problems.
9.  Science – understanding ourselves and the Universe.

So, back to poverty eradication as an example of one of these tribes:

Extreme poverty is a very obvious and heartbreaking obstacle to living a fulfilling life.   So eradicating poverty is a very tangible, and addressable, goal to get behind.

But the real goal behind poverty eradication is to give all humans the opportunity to fulfill their human potential.

This is really the ultimate goal of any social improvement type goal, including all 9 of these listed above.  But the trick is in getting widespread agreement on what is human potential.

And yet, there seems to be broad agreement that human potential has three dimensions:  Physical, mental, and spiritual.

Physical potential means the potential to be healthy and strong.

Mental potential means the potential to be intelligent, creative, and adaptive.

Spiritual potential means the potential to be happy, loving, and to have a sense of purpose.

In addition, nearly all spiritual traditions and philosophies have some idea the full spiritual development includes the ability to transcend – go beyond – the limitations of individual and tribal egos.

Another common idea of spiritual fulfillment is to enhance our sense of connection to all of life.  Most humans feel more fulfilled when surrounded by the beauty of nature in balance – just as we feel a crucial sense of loss or danger when nature, and our connection to it, is not in balance.

To some people, “spiritual” is the most important dimension of fulfillment, because the spiritual dimension has the potential to transcend the other two.  However, to others, “mental” or “physical” is most important.  And yet, most people agree that the ideal is to have all three of these types of fulfillment.

OK.  If there really is broad agreement that the ultimate goal is to give all humans the opportunity to be fulfilled physically, mentally, and spiritually; then what do we do with that agreement?

Obviously:  We all focus on becoming saints!

Otherwise, admitting that this is the ultimate goal can easily threaten the narrow desires and expectations of many of us (and of our egos).    For example, if these are the ultimate goals, why would anyone want to be, or to remain, a billionaire?   Having a billion dollars at our personal disposal (or even many millions) is simply not a requirement for any single individual’s, or family’s, fulfillment.   And yet, a billion dollars can go a long way to help entire communities, and even many small and troubled countries, insure a higher level of fulfillment for its members.

There are also lots of other fascinating implications of recognizing fulfillment of human potential as the ultimate goal – for whole societies and for each of us as individuals.

Sharing Truth to Change the Game

My previous post referred to Tom Atlee’s piece on “Changing the Game” of polarized politics by giving citizens established ways to talk directly to each other.   In order to bridge gaps that now seem impossible to cross, there need to be extremely basic agreements on our shared goals, and how to know whose ideas are really on track for achieving those goals.

Ideally, more and more citizens will think about this type of question:

What do we all share?  What is most basic to all of us?

For me, it means asking:

What do I love most?

What do I love most that is not just about me and mine, but really universal?

The simple and pretty abstract answer that popped up for me:

Truth, Beauty, and Synergy

Truth and Beauty can be thought of as highly personal and relative – until we find common ideas that are so deep that most of us can agree on them, most of the time.

Synergy is living and working together, creatively and with satisfaction. It is the magic of connecting deeply to create a greater whole, where the sum is greater than the parts.

Connecting deeply means:  Transcending individual egos, and transcending group egos.

It means caring intensely about the whole, while also caring about the integrity of our individual interests.

It means unconditional love, freedom from narrow, ‘must-have’ goals, and letting go of bias.

It means suspending judgment long enough to really listen to another point of view, and to care enough about living together in the same community, and on the same planet.

Transcending our egos doesn’t mean suppressing or ignoring them.  But rather, it’s about expanding our boundaries.   If we really believe that from many we are One Nation, then acting like one nation doesn’t involve vilifying each other, nor only talking and not listening with openness.

Transcendence is mostly an ideal.  And yet it is possible to be closer, or further, from that ideal.

How can we tell who is close and who is far, from the ideal?

There are several ways that help us shake off the well-funded exhortations of narrow interests:

  • Follow the money.
  • Follow the fame, that brings money and influence.
  • Follow the trail of encouragements for disrespect, denigration, ridicule, arrogance, and hostility.
  • Follow the trail of encouragements that separate “We the People” into “Us and Them”

Look at who is funding the research, or funding the campaign, or most actively spreading the “news” and the “evidence”.   Who is actively promoting divisiveness who is also gaining the most:  Extraordinary wealth, fame and influence?

Look also more closely at the arguments and at the evidence.

Are they based on reason and objectively obtained and verified evidence?  Are independent and unbiased sources agreeing that the evidence is sound and conclusive?   Or are the arguments and evidence we’re paying attention to coming only from sources that are supporting the same point of view?

Power to the extremes

There have been times when political Power was able to find a center much closer to the middle.   It was still politics and not perfect; but it now seems a lot better than polarized paralysis.

Power in the extremes makes us collectively less and less intelligent, and unable to act effectively.   But it also creates a tremendous tension that can be harnessed for good.  Yet harnessing that which is powerful enough to destroy us is dangerous and daunting.

It requires restoring respect, a common sense of what it means to be objective, an understanding that ridicule and divisiveness benefit a tiny few to the loss of nearly all the rest of us.

Divisiveness is occurring in many areas of society where mixing differences can be explosive: Cultures, religions, politics.   Divisiveness among we the people is most easily inflamed by special interests when too many of us are listening to only one channel (special interests are very clever at targeting their messages) and when we are afraid (when life is full of threats and losses), and by our desire to be respected and rewarded by our tribe.

In the political spectrum, there are both Progressives and Conservatives who are true to their deeper human values who do not participate in or support the spread of divisiveness, denigration, and hostility.   They have different opinions, sources of information, and ideas about what is wrong and what to do.  But they do not disrespect and ridicule “the other;” and they are looking for a common way forward.  These are the ones who can help us harness the tension between perspectives to create real and lasting solutions.

Let us be always wary of those who are spreading divisiveness.   Let us be wary of getting most of our information from a single set of channels all funded by the same agenda.   Especially be wary of those who are gaining extraordinary wealth and influence by keeping “We the People” in a state of “Us and Them.”

See Tom Atlee’s post for links to ways that can help.  In the Fall of 2008, Yes! Magazine also ran several related articles on “Purple America.”

Changing the Game

Tom Atlee’s piece “Are we Ready to Change the Game Yet?” (Nov. 11) gives his explanation of both the causes of political polarization, and a potential way to change the game and bring power truly back to the people – ALL the people, regardless of current political views.

3 of his points below are a good high-level summary:

  • “Special interests — especially moneyed interests — have effectively captured the two-party system — and thus the policy-making apparatus — for their own purposes.
  • “Two-party polarization impedes natural alliances among those who favor the same policies and programs from different ideological perspectives.
  • “If we could facilitate policy-option alliances outside of the two-party system — and those alliances could then powerfully organize either outside or inside that bipolar system — it would change the political game in the U.S.”

After this summary he describes the solutions he favors, which he calls “The Interactive Voter Choice System” and “citizen deliberative councils.”  These should be an important part of the discussion for anyone concerned with issues of polarization and transpartisanship.

My next post contains reflections on what is most fundamental for finding and achieving our shared goals.

Who Gave Organizations the Same Rights as Individual Citizens? No One.


Summary:

It is widely believed that the 14th Amendment gives organizations the same rights as individuals.  It is also widely believed that the famous 1886 Supreme Court Case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, affirms that right.

Based on original research by Thom Hartman, the decision made in the Santa Clara court case did not make a single reference to the 14th Amendment, nor to the equal rights of corporations, as the basis for the decision.  In addition, the 14th amendment does not make a single reference to any form of organization having the same rights as individual citizens.  On the contrary, the language actually used makes it abundantly clear that the “persons” it refers to are individual humans.

Many believe – including me – that this is an issue that has extremely broad agreement across the entire political spectrum:  Progressive, conservative and moderate, Democrat, Republican, Libertarians, Greens, and Independents, MoveOn Activists, and Tea Party supporters.

We need to unite around what we agree on in order to make any progress.

Here are the details if you would like to see them:

In a particularly lucid interview, the historian Thom Hartman explained how the legal notion of corporate personhood evolved from a bizarre interpretation of the 14th amendment, and now appears to give corporations the same rights as individual citizens.  (Also see his new book:  Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People — And How You Can Fight Back.)

In the interview, Hartmann says: “I think it was clear to the authors, and pretty much to everybody, that they (the authors of the 14th Amendment) were talking about human beings — natural persons.”

He also states that the first legal precedent for giving corporations the rights of “persons” was the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case in 1886. Every attorney and law student believes this; and yet when Hartmann researched the original court case and read the Court’s decision, the Court did not make any reference to the 14th Amendment rights of persons, even though that right was argued by the railroad.  Instead, the rights of corporations as persons was described in the “head notes” to the decision which have no legal authority and which were written by the clerk of the court, who was personally biased in favor of the railroads.

In the conclusion of the interview Hartmann says that what we need to do to reverse the ‘personhood’ of corporations is to add a new amendment that clarifies that the 14th amendment pertains only to human persons.

However, my question is:  Why do we need a constitutional amendment when  it is now clear that Santa Clara County v. S. Pacific did not affirm the corporate personhood interpretation, and when the very language of the 14th amendment makes it clear that it pertained only to real humans?

If you read the entire text of the 14th amendment, you will see the word “persons” used many times, but for every use of the word, the authors were clearly talking only about human persons, as individuals, and not referring to an organization as a “person.”

Here are the uses of the word “persons” in the 14th Amendment:

Section 1

a) Refers to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”   Corporations and other types of organizations are not “born” nor are they naturalized.

b) States that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are “citizens” of the U.S. and should thus have the same rights as any other citizens.   Corporations, labor unions, non-profits, churches, and other organizations are clearly not citizens of the U.S.  Otherwise, every organization in the country could also vote, which they can’t.

c)  States that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process.   Organizations can be closed down, but they can’t “be deprived of life” because they’re not alive.

Section 2:

a) States that apportionment of members of the House of Representatives is to be based on the “whole number of persons in each State.”  Corporations and other types of organizations are not counted when determining congressional apportionment.  (Do you really want to interpret it that way?)

b)   Refers to the number of “male citizens.”  Clearly this isn’t talking about corporations or other types of organizations.

Section 3:

a) States that “no person shall be a Senator or Representative” if that person has participated in a rebellion against the government.   This use of “person” is clearly not including corporations or other types of organizations.

So the language of the 14th Amendment is certainly not talking about organizations; it is talking only about human individuals as persons.

If any amendment were going to take the extraordinary step of giving corporations, universities, membership organizations, etc., etc., the full rights of individual citizens the language would need to be very explicit in order for any judge with integrity to make such a  radical interpretation.   And yet, the 14th amendment does not make a single reference to any form of organization having the same rights as individual citizens.  On the contrary, the language actually used makes it abundantly clear that the “persons” it refers to are individual humans.

The fact that organizations are not given the right to cast a vote is also evidence that no one is seriously ready to give all organizations in the country the same rights as human citizens.

The very fact that such a bizarre interpretation of the 14th amendment has made its way into our court system is “smoking gun” evidence that over the past century a few enormously wealthy corporations have had extraordinary power in getting their way.  Thom Hartmann’s research, plus elementary logic both make it clear that this has been the case.   And this is exactly why such organizations should not have the same rights as individuals.

In order to reverse this very damaging state of affairs, we should not need to make a new amendment to state that the 14th amendment does not say what it does not say.  And yet, what else can we do?  We can’t sue the Supreme Court; we can only ask Congress to impeach one or more members.   But, given the mess we’re now in, where wealthy corporations have undue power over elections, we can’t really expect Congress to take such a radical step.

Our only hope is to unite a majority of the natural, human persons in the country around this issue.   This is surely an issue where a majority of moderates, progressives and conservatives, ultra-liberals, tea-partiers and libertarians, all agree on.

Ask them to read the 14th Amendment and tell you whether they think that the people who voted for that amendment somehow believed that corporations and other organizations are “persons” who are born or naturalized, or are male or female, or could possibly become Senators, or who have the right to vote.

Also ask them if they really believe that extreme wealth should play such a huge role as it does in determining which candidates can spend the most money to get its messages across and to attack their opponents.

Old Testament Prophets and Environmental Forecasts

Over lunch, I’m snatching a few minutes to read about the terrible prophesies of Isaiah in Karen Armstrong’s History of God.  Isaiah’s prophesies – of devastation of the land and the uprooting of most of the people – were of course soundly rejected, and also of course came true.

Reading this reminded me that no one, and no nation, likes to hear prophesies that for-tell disasters that can only be prevented by the people acting as a whole, at great cost in personal wealth and comfort, and with a great deal of uncertainty.

Prophesies of Global Warming?   It feels much better to pay attention to respected elders and experts who reassuringly say that such prophesies are unreasonable and even dangerous, and that we don’t really need to make big and difficult changes, that might cause us to be more careful with our wealth and our time.

But who is to know??

It might help to look at the record of environmental disasters that were predicted well in advance, and not heeded.   For example, several years before too much of New Orleans was destroyed, all that happened was predicted as a near certainty if big steps weren’t taken to prevent them.   Why weren’t the predictions heeded?  Because taking action would cost too much, would require more taxes, or would be bad for the economy.   All now very sad reasons.

When a majority of scientists and climate experts (not all mind you) are predicting disaster, a wiser nation would at least have a serious discussion with itself (instead of derisive dismissal or stone-walling), to find and agree on creative solutions, and hedge its bets — like investing on a huge scale in non-polluting, low CO2 emitting, sustainable technologies  – because there is simply too much to lose.

Who is the enemy? Who are the socialists?

In the major industrialized countries that have public health care and legal abortion the abortion rates are much lower than they are in the U.S.  Is that really so startling?   Taking good care of pregnant women and new mothers and their children seems to be a good idea.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/12/AR2010031202287.html

How long will it take for so many Americans to get over fears of “socialism”?  Maybe not so long.   The problem isn’t “socialism” – it is corruption, abuse of power, bureaucratic bloat and inefficiency.   Socialism is discredited because it has been associated (fairly and not fairly) with the creation of  ineffective, self-serving, over-reaching systems, not because socialism – taking care of each other –  is inherently bad.   We need to unite, progressives and conservatives, against the real common enemies:  Corruption, greed, abuse of power, and irresponsibility – wherever they can sprout and grow, whether in government, corporations, or non-profits.

(Later the same day)

On the other hand, I think I’m being a bit too rational here – in talking about uniting differences when the differences are so extreme, for so many, and so based on fear, frustration, and desire for … gaining a sense of power.   Something very unrational is going on right now.    A kind of hysteria unleashed and amplified so that it is spilling out into public view, with scary effects.    Unfortunately, those who could have the most influence are motivated to keep their influence, and thus to either say nothing or to further stoke the anger of “their” people.

Collective Consciousness and Compassion

Compassion was the first round of global awakening.

Collective intelligence is emerging as the second round.

Compassion was the key trait of the Axial Age (roughly 900 BC to 300 BC) that brought forth the great world religions and philosophies, and which led to the great principles of Vedanta, Yoga, Taoism, Greek philosophy and democracy, Judaism, Buddhism,  Christianity, and Islam.  (Good reference:  The Great Transformation)

Compassion is a crucial seed for collective intelligence and collective consciousness.  Compassion is a recognition of the Other – including the other’s needs – and resources.

But true compassion is not feeling sorry that someone else is different.

An important extension of compassion is to realize that differences are natural, good, and are in fact built into the way Nature and Universe works.  For those who believe in a divine Creator, differences can be realized to be a key part of the Creator’s plan.

Compassion sets the stage for appreciation.  Compassion is most often focused on recognizing suffering of another and wanting to help relieve it.  (The Axial Age was an especially brutal time.)   Appreciation is a much bigger recognition of the other, by seeing the other’s gifts, and the gift of exchanging gifts:  Knowledge, abilities, wealth, ideas.

True compassion brings with it a great deal of humility.

Arrogance is to believe that you have been told by God or by your own brilliance, and in great detail, that which is good and best for all people and all beings, and for all times.

The key here is “in great detail”.    At the deepest levels possible, there appear to be true absolutes, true for all people.  These truths can be experienced, but are very hard to express in ways that make sense to all others who have not had all your experiences.  Thus “Truth” naturally contains a healthy amount of Mystery.

But when you start adding details prescribing particular practices, beliefs, rules, and laws, then that is when humility becomes especially important:

“These are the beliefs and practices that I have found to be most helpful.

“These are the beliefs and practices that my people have found to be most helpful.”

Thank Heaven for Left Right and Center

Who else can we thank?

Another way of saying it:

God is not on the Left, Right, or Center.

I know that is blasphemy to millions. But they seem to be worshiping tribal gods. Tribal gods are OK, but brittle.

Thank God, or the creative nature of the universe, that we are not all on the right, or all on the left, or all in the center. We are only all human, and only all earthlings.

If we were all on the right, or left, we would certainly hurtle over the cliff of our choosing, even faster than we’re now approaching the cliff that no one is choosing.

If we were all in the center, we would still be getting closer and closer to the non-chosen cliff, because there is too much investment in the status quo, and too little appetite for change.

But we’re not all in one place, one ideology, one proclivity, one style, one perspective.

That’s not a design flaw; that IS the design.

Even though that’s the design, we rail against it.

Even though, by our nature, we’re not all of one perspective, we’re in huge trouble now because enough of us haven’t waked up to realize that all our perspectives and peculiarities are needed to survive and thrive.  Or, that is, all are needed to be part of our on-going conversations, deliberations, adaptations, and innovations.

My heroes (dual gender) are those who have waked up to that, and who are able to speak well, and model well, in ways that are convincing to large segments of center, right, and left. Not just talking and inspiring (though those are important) but demonstrating – not as in protesting, but as in showing how.

Obama’s Radical Middle Messages

Barack Obama is a Radical Centrist, preaching and teaching dialogue, finding common ground, and listening and speaking “fair-minded words” with an open heart and an open mind.   These themes appear in all of his speeches on controversial issues, which are about the only issues he speaks about.   Controversy is everywhere, paralyzing us, provoking verbal hostilities and worse, wasting our time, energies and resources and producing ineffective solutions that seem to only get us into deeper troubles.

Here are some excerpts from two of his recent speeches.

From his May 17 speech at Notre Dame in which he focused on abortion:

About dealing with conflict:

“Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.”

About finding common ground:

“So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

From his June 4 Cairo speech to Muslims around the world:  Continue reading ‘Obama’s Radical Middle Messages’

Dialogue and the Radical Middle

Dialogue is radical.  It’s not just “love your enemy;” it’s actually talking to them.  Loving someone is nice and abstract, and easy to do especially from a distance (including a morally superior distance).

Dialogue is much more challenging since it involves not only talking, but also listening, respecting, and suspending (stepping back from your own position — and ego — in order to listen more clearly).

The idea of the Radical Middle, or Radical Center, is closely related to “bi-partisanship.”  It doesn’t mean joining the mushy Center.  You can keep your ideas and your perspectives, but you have to take the radical step of actually listening to other perspectives and looking for solutions together that can take many views, needs, and experiences into account.

Dialogue and the Radical Middle are examples of collective intelligence (combining many facts and perspectives) that take a giant step towards collective consciousness.

(written 5/20/2009)


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