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The Web of Meaning

“Meaning” is about causes and effects, attributes and relationships.   Meaning gives rise to all ideas of good and bad, help and harm, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb,  and context and relevance.

All meaning comes from a web of relationships.

Relationships exist in nature: expressed in the “laws of nature” and in and between all non-living substances and objects, and in and between all living beings, including relationships in and between our bodies, our ideas and minds, our societies and cultures and sub-cultures.

The combination of all webs, known and unknown, is called the World, the Universe.

An identity is defined by a particular combination of webs of relationship, which gives rise to a particular perspective.  “I” am one such perspective.  “You” are another.   The intersection  of my perspective and yours is our perspective.  Everything else is theirs, or unknown.

Words with essentially the same meaning as these have been expressed over and over, beginning no later than three thousand years ago.  More recently, similar ideas have been expressed by at least a few million people.

The ideas have been expressed in abstractions like these, and in rich, moving detail in myth, stories and reflections, in philosophies, religious texts, poems, novels, blog posts.  To some, abstractions are dry; to others they are juicy.   Having many expressions is vital.

What are the implications of this understanding?  What can we do and achieve with it?

An answer:  The more we understand this, individually and collectively, the more likely we will be to honor other perspectives, and to want to work together to come up with better perspectives, giving rise to better solutions.  Our future depends on this happening.

Is this true?

If so, what actions and transformations are necessary to bring this about?

my ego

I am my body
I am my memories
and interests
experiences
abilities
skills
knowledge
relationships

loves
likes  dislikes
aversions  fears
aspirations
responsibilities

If I want to be, I am even
my money
my prestige
my title
my reputation
my tribe, and my position in it
my power over others
others’ power over me
the grandness or puniness of my house
and possessions
my ‘brand’
my blog

I am my boundaries
which I either choose or don’t choose
And when I experience no boundaries
I am unbounded

The Sanskrit word for ego means ‘I amness

There is an understanding that:

When we transcend the limitations of the ego
The ego doesn’t disappear.  It expands to unboundedness
while also maintaining useful boundaries
and shedding useless limitations.

Why do tragedies happen?

Tragedies keep raising the question– why do they happen?

There is a discussion in today’s WashingtonPost.com titled, “Arizona Shootings:  Why did God allow it?

The post is interesting; but the comments are especially interesting – and there are at least a couple of hundred.  Some people take it as an opportunity to debate whether God exists.   That debate is not so interesting.  And that debate could have been prevented by asking the question in a belief-neutral way:

“Why is life so full of suffering for so many?”

Whether you believe in God or not, the two questions are really the same.

And people’s answers to this question are what interested me the most.  There were so many different ways to answer it – and so many similar ways to answer it.  Each answer represented a personal, spiritual, or logical, or thoughtful, mystical, or philosophical, or social activist … perspective, on a question everyone has thought about, and that some keep thinking about, each time reminded of suffering — especially suffering that affects us all as a national or on a global scale.

We think about it, because even for those who don’t believe in God, the idea of so much suffering can raise doubts and despair – or anger or bewilderment at the seemingly wanton nature of being alive in a violent universe. Even people who don’t believe in God are looking for meaning in life – and since life includes suffering: Why? What is the purpose?

And yet, if intense suffering is caused by ‘accidents’ many are able to understand, or at least to accept. Whether religious or non-religious, we can accept suffering as part of life, because we are smart enough, and well developed enough to deal with suffering when it occurs, and otherwise, to enjoy what life has to offer – including most of all, being with other people.   But sometimes, even the “strongest” of us get too much of suffering, and then we are really in need of the help of others, or a long period before taking up our lives again near where we left off .

But when wanton suffering is caused by people, with apparent intention, it seems to be particularly wrenching even for those only  reading about it.

This tragedy was caused by a mentally ill person. But what about other tragedies such as terrorist killings and criminal acts? We somehow don’t think of those perpetrators as “mentally ill” – instead, we think of them as criminals, people who are immoral, or full of hatred and deeply misguided. And yet those terrorists and criminals are in fact created by mentally ill – or at least what you could call extremely stressed – cultures in which they are raised, or groups to whose messages they are vulnerable.

Our “mainstream” society in America does not intentionally nurture terrorism. We also of course oppose crime. And yet, our society does have the potential to prevent much of the mental illness that now occurs, and the potential to prevent immense rage, and depraved, stupid thinking, and all manner of suffering in our cities and neighborhoods.  It is a matter of taking better care of each other, by better funding for our care-giver institutions and professionals, and by our own efforts in our communities.  We can’t get rid of all suffering, but we can definitely do better than turn people away from needed care and sustenance.

Why aren’t we doing a lot better? Because it’s too expensive??   How much does it cost to let suffering grow?

Maybe, after all, that’s a better question to be asking than “Why is there suffering?”   (And you may have noticed, I didn’t really give an answer to that question.)

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.

Inequality of Wealth and the Story of the Two Bubbles

Sometimes you come across a set of ideas and a mental framework that makes things that are difficult to comprehend suddenly extremely clear.  And one thinks, “Wow, anybody should be able to understand this!”

Yesterday I listened to a downloaded 20 minute interview with Robert Reich speaking about the causes of our current “Great Recession.”  Reich is an economist, Professor of Public Policy, and former Labor Secretary.

I was interested in this interview because I saw that he was making this premise:

Too much concentration of wealth at the top is not just bad for people in the middle and bottom, but it’s also bad for the economy.

This is a message that is easily understood and that can help explain why our economic system is in such terrible shape, and that making the system more fair is also the way to fix it.

There are links to the podcast and also a complete transcript of the interview at the bottom of this post.

Here is a summary:

ReichAnd then I looked at the research and was amazed to discover there were two years in the 20th century in which income concentrated to such an extent it actually centralized a great deal of the nation’s income right at the top.

“One year was 2007, when the richest [1% of] Americans took home, or got, I should say, about 23 and a half of total income. The other year was 1928.”

————————————-

Year
% of wealth owned by the richest 1%

1928     23%

1979       9%

2007    28%

————————————–

Industrialization was the force that led to huge side-by-side bubbles of wealth and debt just before the Depression.

Globalization, automation, and information technology are what have led to the same side-by-side bubbles of huge wealth and debt that now exist.

Too much wealth in the hands of the rich and super rich means:

a) The middle and lower classes have to go deeper and deeper into debt in order to keep paying at least partially for their modest lifestyles.

b) The wealthy have so much money that they can only spend a small amount, which means that they:

i) speculate in securities, creating an expanding bubble there,

and that

ii) too much of the burden of spending to keep the economy going is financed by too-much debt taken on by the middle class, thus creating another big bubble of debt for the economy to rest on.

When these two bubbles became too large they collapse, and the market and the whole economy collapses with them.

After the Great Depression, it was by pumping money back into the hands of the middle and lower classes that the debt bubble decreased enough and the economy got restarted, but only after many years of slow recovery.   As all economists know and often tell us, the middle and lower classes spend much greater proportions of their income than the wealthy.  World War Two also helped unleash radical levels of government spending to “fight the war” and put people back to work.

Among the wealth-re-balancing changes put into place by Roosevelt:  Legalization of labor unions and collective bargaining – illegal before 1935 – Social Security, a minimum wage, and a 40 hour workweek – all of which were bitterly fought by industrialists and others who favored the status-quo.

You can download the 20 minute podcast and a complete transcript here:

Fresh Air, 9/29/2010

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.

Stories entrance and entrain us

Recent research from Princeton finds confirmation in the brain of what we already experience:   Stories align minds.   In the research listener’s brain patterns closely mirrored the story teller’s brain patterns, and the strength of the mirroring correlated highly with the respondent’s ability to retell the tale.

Comments:

People who tell captivating stories win more often than people who use even the best logical arguments.

But there has to be a minimum level of receptivity.  Some stories are calculated to block receptivity to stories that are considered to enhance the enemy‘s positions.

And there are also stories designed to break down barriers to receptivity.


Christine Lavin and Lisa Lindberg – twirling at Malaprops

Christine Lavin, songwriter and performer,  is in Asheville and will be performing at the Diana Wortham Theatre tonight.

Here’s a short video of Christine and Lisa Lindberg (ma femme) twirling together at Malaprops.  Christine was there for a talk and book signing for her new book,
Cold Pizza for Breakfast – A Mem Wha??

Lisa will make a brief but illuminating appearance with Christine tonight.

Expansion of choices reduces diversity???

I just read an article from The Nation, by Colin Robinson (via Alternet.com):

How Amazon Kills Books and Makes Us Stupid

In summary, Amazon’s dominance of the book market and their intense drive to reduce the costs of books are having these effects:

  • Drastically reducing the number of independent book sellers.
  • Reducing the income of publishers, and especially authors.
  • Making it more and more difficult for authors to produce well-crafted and thoroughly researched books.
  • And reducing cultural diversity by overwhelming customers with choices.

This last point is the most surprising – and sounds the most paradoxical.  How could more diversity of choice reduce cultural diversity?

Embedded in the middle of the article is this explanation:

According to industry statisticians Bowker, just over 172,000 titles were released in 2005. Last year “traditional” output had risen to 288,000 titles, a significant enough increase by itself. But adding what Bowker describes as “self-published” and “micro-niche” books, the total inflates to a staggering 1 million new titles in just twelve months.

“Many would argue that the efflorescence of new publishing that Amazon has encouraged can only be a good thing, that it enriches cultural diversity and expands choice.

“But that picture is not so clear: a number of studies have shown that when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming. In this situation people often respond by retreating into the security of what they already know.

“As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, ‘When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what’s easiest to evaluate, rather than what’s important to evaluatethe safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top.’

Actually, this phenomenon isn’t really the fault of Amazon, but is rather part of the effect of making it easier and cheaper for individuals to create their own content, i.e., to self-publish.   It’s of course not just happening in the world of books, but in all manner of media and content, including newspapers, reporting, editorials, and reviews, film, video, and photography, music, etc..

This is an incredible expansion in creativity and expression; and at the same time, this expansion has clear effects of creating echo-chambers where we, “the masses” who are now “personalized” are clumping together like never before and having less and less thoughtful exposure to ideas beyond those that we ‘naturally’ prefer and seek out.

So these are not new reflections.

But still, what are the answers?   How can we break through this paradox of explosions of expressions and choices that somehow create an implosion of diversity and dialogue?  (Actually, it’s not an implosion of diversity, as much as an explosion into huge and small fragments that appear to have not much to do with each other.)

Somehow the “answers” will have to be the creation of common experiences that invite curiosity, openness, and simple kindness.   Curiosity mixed with kindness can bridge differences, without eliminating differences.

What kind of experiences would these be?

As a designer of social technology, I can only think that, among other things, these experiences have to include radically new ways  a) to manage attention overload without killing serendipity, and b) to discover “content” that is rewarding – even deeply fulfilling – without relying on naturally clumping algorithms like “Show me more like this one” — or “Show me – books, movies, ideas, etc – that other people like who like the same kinds of stuff I like.

Honestly, with algorithms like that, what can you expect other than bigger and bigger clumps?

State of theFuture Report – 2010

Alerted by summary on Kurzweil.net

This extensive report is by the Millennium Project, founded in 1996 as a global think tank that connects international experts in corporations, universities, NGOs, UN agencies and governments via 35 Nodes around the world in a participatory process and that explores how to build a better future.

Summary of summary:

“The world is in a race between implementing ever-increasing ways to improve the human condition and the seemingly ever-increasing complexity and scale of global problems.”

Accelerating advances in technology have the potential to stabilize or solve many of the greatest problems.  But changes in policies, and our collective decision-making are urgently required.

In addition, “We also need changes in human values to be discussed within and among religions, media, entertainment, and the arts. Everyone has a part to play in the great race between the increasingly complex problems and ways to improve the prospects for civilization.”

Where we are losing

Where We Are Winning

Social Networks as Platforms for Collective Consciousness

At least two things are needed for social networks to become self aware ‘platforms’ for collective intelligence:

  • A much greater percentage of the connections in the network need to be accessible and usable by anyone in the network.
  • The connections need to include information about connection weights.

Connection weights can help individuals and organizations better manage privacy and attention.

Weighted connections and real-time adjustments in the weights can also track reputation and collective desires and can facilitate and reveal collective decisions.

The trick is to add connection weights in a way that is actually usable.

Insight into Group Consciousness

The Celestine Prophecy (Redfield, 1996) was not a great work of literature, but it contained many good insights (and more than 9).

In 2000 I copied the description below of a group process based on intuitively sensing the flow of energy in a group conversation.   You could also say it’s based on extremely fluid listening, and non-attachment – which are not easy to come by in groups, but which can make any group process much more effective.

The question is, how can this level of group consciousness be developed?  A simple answer is that it can if there is a great deal of motivation on the part of group members, and if at least some of the members can model the method and help coach the others.

Is this really a “method” – or actually a level of collective consciousness that many groups experience, regardless of the particular method or process used?   Which methods are especially good at culturing listening and dropping ego-attachments?

(Excerpt follows from the Celestine Prophecy pp. 214 – 215 – this book is available for “Search Inside” on Amazon)  Continue reading ‘Insight into Group Consciousness’

Facebook in the toaster?

I enjoyed Valdis’ latest post about Facebook:

Facebook is Toast

But I also disagree that Facebook is toast for the reasons that Valdis gives:

Facebook, and all other online social networking sites are structured wrong. They are places where we have to go to connect and communicate. That is not how we naturally connect and interact as humans!”

I do agree with his point that:

“…we decide on the fly, who to talk to, in what voice, and how much to share. I may deal you differently tomorrow than today depending upon the current context. “

And I agree that:

“In a truly networked world we do not have to go anywhere to connect to others — we just ping from where we are at and wait for the response from where they are at.”

And I also agree that there is still something that feels artificial and a little frantic about many elements of social media.

But I don’t think that makes Facebook toast.

For one thing, Facebook has been very busy in these last two years making Facebook more ubiquitous, so that micro updates and other content posted on Facebook can appear elsewhere, and vice versa.

In addition, the millions who use Facebook frequently — and similar social media — are actually adapting their behavior  and cognitive processes  to the new media.   So it’s a bit anachronistic to say “That is not how we connect and interact as humans!”   The ways we connect change as technology and culture change.   (Though if  we change ourselves too much, symptoms of fatigue such as lack of focus accumulate.)

I personally don’t use Facebook very frequently, and I find it way too cluttered, and too full of micro updates and chaff.   And I don’t like its privacy boorishness. And yet, I still think Facebook has good uses and I like having it around.   E.g., my son and several of my friends and other family use it a lot and it is a good additional way to stay in touch.

But there are millions of people using Facebook who aren’t like me and who use the site a lot more than I do.   If Facebook starts sleeping on the job, or makes a series of garish mistakes, that could cause it to quickly fade.  But otherwise, I see Facebook staying on the scene for quite a while.

And yet, in agreement with Valdis’ points, I’m definitely looking forward to new social media apps that feel more real, and that more intelligently adapt to us as thinking, feeling, and reflecting humans, rather than making us adapt to them.

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.

Controversies with Calamitous Consequences

Today is the last day to give feedback to the USDA about an issue that many people, including experts, believe could have disastrous effects on US and global agriculture.  The USDA and Secretary Vilsack, in collaboration with Monsanto, are about to lift a court-ordered ban on Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) “Roundup Ready” alfalfa.   Information on why this is important, and how to give feedback is below.

(Even if “today” is gone; please keep reading to understand this situation better.)

There are actually two issues here.  One is that GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are potentially very dangerous, and the dangers, while controversial, are not yet well enough understood to ignore.  The second issue is that Monsanto is another example of a corporation that is simply too powerful to fail.   How much power should a single corporate entity have?   In Monsanto’s case, the company controls patents on seeds that are currently responsible for 93% of soybeans and 80% of corn grown in the U.S.  They also control patents on many other seeds that farmers can’t simply reproduce and replant, but instead they have to essentially pay royalties in perpetuity to Monsanto.

Like Climate Change, GMOs are controversial, and like Climate Change, if those who see huge dangers looming are correct, and if those who deny those dangers prevail, the dangers can not only be disastrous, but practically irreversible.

Undoubtedly many proponents for the dangers of Climate Change may not agree that GMOs are a danger, and vice versa.   However, there is at least one thing all groups should be able to agree on:  If there is significant evidence that consequences of doing nothing can be not only disastrous, but irreversible, then doing nothing – which means letting corporate and other narrow interests stay on course – should not be an option in intelligent, life-loving societies.

So, regardless of your current position on GMOs, please consider this to be a serious enough issue to put the brakes on Monsanto’s plans until more is known about the consequences.

Here is some background on the issues at stake.

As described in this recent Washington Post article, Monsanto has developed genetically modified seeds that ‘help’ farmers by making Roundup herbicide (which Monsanto also owns) easier and more effective to use, and thus giving farmer’s bigger crop yields.   Unfortunately for the farmers, Monsanto has also been regularly raising seed prices and that has been cutting into farmers’ profit margins.  But currently most farmers feel that for economic reasons they have to continue buying from Monsanto.  Now Monsanto is pushing on the USDA to overturn court-ordered bans on Roundup Ready Alfalfa.  Some of the reasons that alfalfa is so important are given below and more in the links.

Here are excerpts from a molecular biologist, John Fagan, who has spent more than two decades researching use of recombinant DNA techniques.  Much of his research has been funded by NIH (National Institutes of Health) and the National Cancer Institute.

“Genetically engineered alfalfa would be the first perennial GM crop, and would result in a huge increase of toxic RoundUp in the environment. It would expose livestock widely to both genetically engineered genes and pesticide residues. It would especially affect cows and horses–their health, their reproduction, and their byproducts, particularly milk.”

“Alfalfa pollen is carried far and wide by the wind and bees, so the presence of GM alfalfa in the environment would contaminate organic alfalfa, rendering organic dairy impossible. Consumers who eat alfalfa sprouts would be exposed directly, as well as those who eat meat.

“Despite past positive trends, this is the most serious GMO threat yet, as it creates the legal precedent at the Supreme Court level, for GMO contamination to be acceptable for any crop, with the support of the USDA.”

[UpdateMore than 200,000 NGOs, farmers, consumers and organic producers call on USDA to prohibit genetically engineered alfafa. March 3, 2010]

Here are links for learning more and to take action (by March 3)– e.g. ,by providing feedback to the USDA.

Providing feedback can take less than 3 minutes.

1. Get informed and take action:

http://capwiz.com/grassrootsnetroots/issues/alert/?alertid=14469696

This takes you to the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) where you can send the OCA email letter as feedback by clicking “take action now.”

2. Submit comments directly to the USDA at:

http://www.regulations.gov/search/Regs/home.html#submitComment?R=0900006480a6b7a1

You can write your own comments, or copy and paste from the letter found at the OCA link above.

Thank you!

Global Warming is better explained as Climate Chaos

Jokes about record snow falls here and there – e.g. where I live – are making the rounds to poke holes in “Global Warming” ideas.    And so are more scientifically-based clarifications that show that global warming is no joke.   A problem is, though, that the people laughing at the jokes may not be likely to see or be interested in the clarifications.

Here is one of the best written and substantiated clarifications that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Washington’s snowstorms, brought to you by global warming.
By Bill McKibben, Sunday February 14, 2010

An excerpt:

“In most places, winter is clearly growing shorter and less intense. …But rising temperature is only one effect of climate change.  Probably more crucially, warmer air holds more water vapor than cod air does.  The increased evaporation from land and sea leads to more drought but also to more precipitation…  The numbers aren’t trivial – global warming has added 4 percent more moisture to the atmosphere since 1970.  That means the number of ‘extreme events’ such as downpours and floods has grown steadily; the most intense storms have increased by 20 percent across the United States in the past century.

“So here’s the thing:  despite global warming, it still gets cold enough to snow in the middle of winter… And the chances of what are technically called ‘big honking dumps’ have increased.”

As a scientific frame for what is happening, “global warming” is very accurate.  But as a frame that can quickly get the point across, “Climate Chaos” may be more to the point — the point being that global warming causes a whole range of climate disruptions on a global scale that can be not only annoying but dangerous to many.

Frozen Pipes and Global Warming – and the Need for Local Climate Talks

It has been very cold in Asheville recently – and all over the East Coast.   Today it is a balmy 45 degrees; but on Monday we woke up and our pipes were frozen.   10 degrees is rare for Asheville!

Our friend Mike, who does home repairs, came to help.  Afterwards I mentioned that “Global Warming” should really be called “Climate Disruption.”

He said, “Yes, ‘Global Warming’ is wrong.  Have you heard about the conspiracy?”  He then told me how he had been listening to Jesse Ventura’s frequent reports about how the government and rich people are making a bundle by convincing people that global warming is a big threat and then getting fat contracts to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist.   He said, “It opens your eyes.  You should listen on TV, on the True TV channel.”  I said that most scientists believe that global warming is real and a very big danger.  He said that there is evidence that the scientists are getting paid off.

I didn’t have time then – or a handy list of points to make – to have a serious discussion, so I’m sorry to say that I didn’t follow-up.  But my overall thought is that Mike is a very good guy.  I honestly believe he would listen to real experts if he truly believed they were real and not speaking out of narrow interests.  But he is currently plugged into only one channel.

Asheville is very cool, because you can find all points of view well represented here.  There are many people like Mike who listen to only the ‘conservative’ side of the story.   And there is also an extremely large and committed progressive community that cares passionately about sustainability, the environment, and the dangers of climate change.  And, there are many people who haven’t made up their minds yet about climate disruption, and who probably haven’t really thought a lot about it.

The community includes many, many people who are very knowledgeable about these issues, and also many people who are expert in facilitating group dialogue and deliberations.    I also believe that Asheville includes both progressives and conservatives who are not only knowledgeable, but who are also open enough to engage in a fair dialogue.  (Note:  dialogue does not equal debate.  It is not about winning, but about listening and reaching a truth that all sides can get behind.)

I haven’t done the due-diligence yet (mea culpa) but I strongly suspect that these groups aren’t really talking to each other.   Like everywhere else, the progressives seem to mainly interact with progressives, and the conservatives mainly interact with conservatives.  And when people from the two groups do interact, it’s very hard to talk about this issue without getting frustrated or mad or giving up.

I happen to believe that climate disruption is happening and is a grave danger.  But in order to really prevent the catastrophe that we see coming, don’t we need to talk to people like Mike, and to others who currently don’t agree, as well as to people who don’t know what to think?   Yes, that includes me.  I need to talk to Mike.  But how many Mikes can I talk to?

We need help.  In order to really break through the frustrations and make progress, we need a structure, skilled facilitators, and a group of honest people that both sides can relate to.

I can easily envision local climate talks, involving real people – citizens and neighbors – of all persuasions, and all over our country.   Each side sharing opinions, sharing evidence, and, most importantly, honestly discussing how to make collective decisions about the evidence, and how to evaluate and respond to crucial issues where there will always be unknowns and unprovables – and yet, in the place of absolute certainties, where there will still be scientifically valid levels of certainty.  (As one person said recently, “Would you put your child on a plane if 90% of industry engineers said there was 75% chance that the engines could fail anytime in the next year?  Or even a 1% chance?”)

I can easily envision these local climate talks.  But how to actually make it happen?

I can’t think of a better place to start than Asheville.


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