Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Loki Pays a Visit to Ohio

(note: I wrote this entry early on election day, not knowing any of the returns. My concerns remain, even though the election results were not disputed.)

I am very angry. Of course, I recognize this as a secondary emotion, arising from a deep sense of helplessness and frustration over what is happening to my country. My rage at the election shenanigans occurring across the country boiled over last night, as I read this, regarding the installation of new, untested, unapproved software in a number of Ohio electronic voting machines:

“What ES&S has chosen to do here is extremely dangerous and exactly what you’d want to do if you wanted to plant a ‘cheat’ onto the central tabulator,” March says in his affidavit. 
Their custom application … would have full contact with the central tabulator database on both a read and write basis, while running on the same computer as where the ‘master vote records’ (the central tabulator database — the ‘crown jewels’ of the whole process) are stored,” he says.
“Under this structure a case of accidental damage to the ‘crown jewels’ of the election data is possible. A case of deliberate tampering of that data using uncertified, untested software would be child’s play.” 
He describes the process as “criminally negligent just from a standpoint of data security.”

To wit, John Husted, the Ohio Secretary of State, a Republican, has chosen to install EXPERIMENTAL software on LIVE VOTING MACHINES just DAYS BEFORE a hotly contested Presidential and Senatorial election. 


I thought more about it, seething. I couldn't sleep last night. Something deeper was bothering me. There's more to this than meets the eye. This morning, I got the whole picture a bit more clearly. Reflect on this thought:
State Sen. Turner was similarly suspicious: “They should not be experimenting in a presidential election. You know the secretary of state had previous years to try to experiment.” 
Indeed, one of the unanswered questions we sent to the secretary of state asked why they waited until Sept. 18 to begin this contract, since Husted’s been in office for nearly two full years, and they’ve carried out many elections, of lesser import than a presidential election since that time during which this software could have had a trial run. Furthermore, we asked, how did they manage without it until now during both his tenure and that of his predecessors?

It's too obvious. It's not about successfully stealing the election (although perhaps the Ohio Secretary of State would be fine with that outcome...), because it's too blatant, and his culpability is too obvious.

It is, I've concluded, about injecting chaos. And a masterful injection, indeed. 

Consider the range of possible responses. Consider any one, and how difficult it will be for that response to be accepted, and effective at restoring order and integrity. See how easy it will be to cast aspersions and denigrate and challenge that response. 

The minefield is, dare I say, unnavigable.

The end result of all this election tampering is not that the voting results will be changed, but that they will be disputed. Who wins when the results are disputed? When our form of self-governance is called into question?

I have my opinions. I encourage you to think about it, and draw your own conclusions.

A civil war is brewing. Loki is smiling.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Gods, Politics, and Idolatry

Here's a good read - Jim Wallis (author of God's Politics) takes a jab at the distortions that come from our political process in The Idolatry of Politics and the Promise of the Common Good.

It's an illuminating perspective. He echoes thoughts I've shared regarding the Container of Conflict that is poisoning our public processes and institutions:

"When conflict arises in our society, each political side invariably does two things: Make us afraid of the problem, and then blame it on the other side. What they don't do is work together to solve the problems -- they are always running to win, rather than finding (or creating) solutions for the common good."
I think, among all of the great points Wallis offers, that this one is the key. We are living in a society that has discovered, and been manipulated into, a culture of (a container of) conflict. Conflict serves those who seek power, because it's the perfect device through which to deceive.

Deception is all over our political process. Why? Because deception is the practice of gathering support one has not earned.

I encourage us all to step back from the rhetoric of conflict. Conflict serves the monied interests. Conflict serves the whole system that has been superimposed on our national community, our democracy, and our experience of the world. We can see it most clearly in our political dialog, because that's where the system focuses the "exchange" (or exercise) of power. It's the point of the spear of the conflict-driven system.

And it's all an illusion. We can just say no. We can embrace one another. We can talk about and deeply listen and try to understand the experiences of our neighbors, instead of demonizing their perspectives and world view.

Republicans are not the enemy. Democrats are not the enemy. Conflict is creating that illusion. To quote A.J. Muste,

"There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."
The good news is we can do that with people. The bad news is that we can't do that with corporations.

Wallis says,

"...we will never be able to put values back into politics until we take the money out of it."
Sure enough. However, I am heartened by the fantastic and effective rise in citizen involvement that has been catalyzed by social media. We have created an amazing vehicle - the Internet - that can carry our collective voices directly to one another and to the people who run our corporations and our public institutions. 


And we won't turn back the clock, because it is the young people of our country that will inherit our political power. Young people work the Internet like another set of arms, legs, eyes, and ears.

I am hopeful that the people will be able to wrest control from the shadows, and bring it back into the light.

As long as we keep the Internet free and uncensored, we have a chance. Democracy has a chance.

Peace has a chance.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

After Capitalism, What's Next?

Searching for A Comprehensive Alternative

I have been looking for a philosophical and practical alternative to Capitalism for awhile now. I've been trying to feel my way into the axiomatic heart of Capitalism to figure out what exactly is "broken", and potentially, how to fix it. 

I don't think I've found my answers yet. But I have been noodling on some interesting themes. I pulled my journal out this morning and happened upon something I wrote last month. I thought I'd share an excerpt:

(I'll jump in at the moment when I was trying to figure out what to optimize for, instead of optimizing for "profit", or "shareholder return", which is what we commonly assume Capitalism does...)
Optimize for Truth?
    Optimize for Beauty?
        Optimize for Joy?
             Optimize for wealth? That makes no sense.
Optimize for sustainability? Not sufficient.
Optimize for sustainability with diversity? Not enough.
Optimize for sustainability of sustainable growth with diversity? Almost.
Optimize foe sustainability of growth-friendly diversity and diversity-friendly growth.
 And in the case of a tie, the tie-breaker is...the sign of the derivative. 
There is math here. It relates to the same Active/Receptive algorithmic inverse model I've been chewing on. I need help from a mathematician.  
This is what replaces capitalism. He who stewards growth and diversity best gets the most resources. Stewardship has to be sustainable management of resources with minimal externalization. One might wager that diversity would be built into the most successful models. That's what Nature did -- it created a kind of "maximum diversity" by maximizing the sustainable increase in entropy [every niche filled, catalyzing energy transformation...]. 
Does true sustainability require diversity?  No -- but resilient sustainability does. Sustainability in the context of external disruptions. [of] What magnitude? How dramatic a shift in the environmental conditions [should be accommodated without massive failure]? Systems have to be allowed to grow. Businesses and species need to be allowed to fail and go extinct. What is the arbiter of successful evolution, or progress, or stewardship? 
I guess if one is looking at the picture from maximum wide-angle, you'd have to go with Love. To the extent that you optimize around Love, you get the maximum return on resources at all levels because Love is the frequency of God. 
Whoa. That's a lot of integration happening. I think I'd like a short break. How much of this did the ancients know? Did they know the MATH? 
"Math - the Sorcerer's path to God."

So, there you have it - a peak under the hood of my...ummm...what would you call it? Any mathematicians out there want to help me out?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Success in 2050

The Empathic Business Landscape

In her post "Strategies for 2050: Forward Thinking for the Industry", my friend and colleague Pam Gordon at Technology Forecasters called attention to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and their VIsion 2050 program. She invited readers to consider the impact of global and societal changes on successful companies.

What will characterize successful companies in 2050?

I thought about it for a few minutes, and a surprising word popped into my thoughts: Empathy. I had to explore my mindscape for quite a while to figure out why. What follows is my excursion.

The Commons
In 2050, much will have changed. Human population is projected to be 9 billion. Technology will have evolved at least as far as it has since 1974. I was thirteen then. Harry Chapin's "Cat's Cradle" was at the top of the charts, as was Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle".  Reflecting back, I feel a rush of ennui.

What ennui will we feel in 2050, looking back at 2012? And what changes to society will we have embraced and endured? Looking back 38 years, it's pretty stunning how differently we lived. Isolated, really. China was still an enigma. The Soviet Union was pushing closed, controlled markets.

Home videos were made with film, and were stored in the attic.

Ozone-depleting CFCs were not yet banned.

Although we understood the tragedy of the commons, we did not yet have an unequivocal awareness that "the commons" was the entire planet.

Now, we do.

Now, we have access to a more intimate understanding (if we're willing) of our friends, colleagues, competitors, and enemies than ever before in human history. We also have a more complete understanding of the limits of our "commons".

When I think of my own high-tech career, my most successful products focused on the user experience. When I look at Steve Jobs, and his world-changing successes, I see products focused on the user experience.

What is this "user experience"? Where does the magic lie?

In a word, "empowerment". 

A great user experience brings the user an experience of being empowered - empowered to find satisfaction, success, fun, creativity, expression..and on and on. The fundamental of a great product is not just the goal of fun, creativity, satisfaction, etc., but rather the degree to which the user is empowered to achieve that goal. In fact, without the empowerment of the user, the products value-function is just theoretical.

We tend to buy products that help us achieve our goals in the most engaging, fulfilling way possible. Some goals we pursue simply because we want to - they delight us, perhaps. We pursue other goals because successfully attaining them brings the resources to pursue the goals we really want to pursue. (For those lucky enough to make a living doing what they love, there is no difference - this point will be important in a minute.)

Apple products are very empowering. And we do feel good when we use them. 

Or, we did, until recently when we learned about the nasty practices of its manufacturer Foxconn, and the impact they have on their employees.

Suddenly, it doesn't feel so good to be using Apple products. Why not?

For me, the reason is that I have knowledge of the working conditions of those workers at Foxconn, and I hate the idea that I'm contributing to their suffering. That's an empathic response.

I'm having that empathic response because technology has empowered me to understand their world. I also now understand that the world is small, and that I share a destiny with those people

In a fundamentally enhanced way, I am aware. 

This awareness is a genie that will not go back into the bottle. In fact, it will become more powerful. Why? Because the world is too small (there are too many of us) for our actions to be inconsequential to the whole, and technology is too successful to prevent us from seeing the consequences of our actions. 

And because we all can see, we're beginning to be able to see the bad actors.

By 2050, a bad actor will not be able to hide. Whether an actor is bad or simply ignorant will matter very little. An ignorant actor may have a chance to be educated, and evolve. A bad actor will either reform or perish. 

Think of the systems of bad actors like cancer in the body. Either the cancer has to go, or the body will die. If the cancer wins, then 2050 won't be very interesting to talk about - because that win means death not just to the bad actors, but to everybody else, too.

Whole systems of bad actors will burn themselves out, because the consequences of their actions will not be tolerated by the rest of us. Not just because we'll have an empathic response. The systems we depend on won't be able to afford it.

The interesting thing about "bad actors" is that the awareness will also scope all the way down to an individual. We as individual actors will be subject to the same scrutiny. Are we acting sustainably? Are we acting humanely? Increasingly, these two terms will converge, from a business perspective and on a personal level. It's a pretty bold statement. But why might it be true?

The Core Delusion
Here's where we get down to the core axiom of the future, and the core delusion of the past and present: We're not in business to make money. We're in business to deliver value. "Making money" is something monetary systems do, not companies. Companies convert resources from one form into another. There is no "net gain" in money. 

This point may sound like sophistry, but it's not. 

If a company isn't "making money" when it turns a profit, then what is it doing? It's "taking money", from some other source. That source is either the closed system that is The Commons (the planet, on which we all depend), or that source is a neighbor. Ripping off your neighbor is not a sustainable livelihood. And in the future, we're all neighbors. So you'd better be focused on delivering value, not on "taking money".  It's at this nexus that "acting sustainably" and "acting humanely" converge.

Success in 2050
What products, and businesses, will succeed?

I believe they will have three fundamental characteristics:

1) Awareness of the Commons. Resources are increasingly limited. The planet's ability to replenish itself is limited. Those who jeopardize the commons will be rejected as "too expensive" to support.

2) Empathy for the Global Village. People will increasingly realize we all share a common destiny. As population increases and technology empowers us all, we'll have no choice but to cooperate. Products and businesses that are seen as bad actors will be rejected.

3) Empowering Fulfillment. Finally, as we use the same lens on individual lives as we use on businesses, we'll begin to realize that the only sustainable path for each of us as individuals is to pursue our own wholeness, our own fulfillment. We won't be so ready to tolerate dysfunction in our working lives because there won't be as much in it for us - there won't be the idea of a big "payoff" later on - because, remember, we're not "making money", we're "taking money". In the end, the only sustainable path for each of us as individuals is to work towards our personal fulfillment - "delivering value" for ourselves, and to our neighbors, so to speak. Primarily, because everything else will be too expensive, and too painful. But fortunately, pursuing our own fulfillment will be the most satisfying, most sustainable thing we can do! So we'll really be compelled (both positively and negatively) to live "sustainably", and that means sustainably pursuing our fulfillment. Products that empower us along that path will be amazing successes. Products that don't, won't.

The End of Externalized Costs and the Emergence of Empathy
To be successful, products in 2050 will have to recognize the new state of awareness of the people who use them - and that awareness includes both humanity and sustainability.

Any large systems that are unsustainable now will have ceased to exist by 2050, because the world is too small to sustain them. New systems that are sustainable will increasingly have an advantage over unsustainable alternatives. So successful systems (and products) will have sustainability built into them. That means they will have eliminated externalization of costs that impact the Commons. They will also have to empower their users to live in a sustainable way. That means they will have to recognize what humans in 2050 will have recognized: we're all in this together. 

That's a fundamental aspect of empathy, and the cornerstone of success in 2050. Corporations that don't master empathy won't have any customers to serve. 

Post Script: What could invalidate our evolution into the scenario above? Two items that I can think of:
1) Monopoly power - Monopoly is one way resources could continue to be allocated by a bad or ignorant actor. It could be a government, or it could be an old-fashioned industrial monopoly.
2) Massive population die-off - With fewer humans, the compelling pressure to preserve The Commons is relieved, and our interdependency is masked by the power of the planet to clean up after us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rush Limbaugh and the Enemies of Compassion

Jesus Dined with the Sinners

I find Rush Limbaugh's language appalling. I find Rush Limbaugh revolting. I can't stand him.

His misogyny is only one of the many reasons for my dislike. His whole approach to the world disgusts me. He's a bully, and he encourages other bullies to do more bullying. He's hurtful and abusive and mean and small-minded. And vicious.

Shouldn't it be enough to assess him and his work, draw a conclusion, and stand against him in my words and actions?

Well, no, actually. Because doing that only addresses a symptom.

In my shamanic journeywork over the last few years, I had the good fortune to contemplate Jesus from time to time. I've learned a lot from contemplating the man, his messages, and his techniques.

I've been thinking a lot about "Love thine enemies" lately, and trying to get my mind around its purpose and power. I've been thinking a lot about "turn the other cheek". These are very powerful tools, I suspect, if only we actually understood how to use them... and why.

I'm determined to get the hang of these tools, if only because they're so confoundingly paradoxical.

More importantly, I think they're actually a necessary tool in the toolkit (weapon in the arsenal?) of any modern-day Peacemaker ("Blessed are the Peacemakers…"), and Lord knows we sure need some effective peace-making around here.

One other thing I've been privileged to witness is how Jesus heals.

Back to Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh is in agony. He's in the kind of pain that only gets alleviated when he, for a moment, can express his rage and pain as an attack on somebody else, and, for a moment, he gets attention. For a moment, he feels like somebody is noticing him. Like somebody cares (about him). It's no surprise that he was addicted pain killers.

What kind of pain must he be in, that doing what he does makes him feel better? Can you imagine that kind of pain?

Don't judge him. BE him.

What would you have to be experiencing to make you behave that way?

A friend posted a link to this fantastic TED talk that hit home. Joan Halifax shares profound perspectives on experiencing empathy:

In it, she draws a contrast between natural compassion and "sentimental" compassion, and shares her experience of compassion in poignant detail. I encourage you to witness her whole presentation. But two points I want to draw forward:

1) Compassion is composed of the ability to see clearly into the nature of suffering. Compassion is when we recognize that we're not separate from that suffering. And when we recognize that our attachment to outcome distorts our ability to be present to the whole scene in which the suffering is occurring.

2) Compassion has enemies. They are Pity, Moral Outrage, and Fear. I was surprised by what she named, but it makes complete sense.

So when I look at Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke, what are the aspects of true, natural compassion that I struggle to embody?

I still think Rush Limbaugh's perspective on the world is horrible, vicious, nasty, and misogynist. I still think Sandra Fluke was wronged. I still hope Rush Limbaugh loses his platform, and will contribute in my own way to that goal.

But I am seeking to capture other feelings and perspectives, too. That Rush is deeply wounded and deeply suffering. And that my inclination to Moral Outrage is interfering with my capacity to actually bear witness to that suffering.

Why is that important? Because I'm not separate from that suffering. And if I don't understand it, I can't help to alleviate it.

If Rush Limbaugh were to die today, the same forces that brought him into this state of misery, and that create a listenership that attends to him, would still exist. What is it? What births it?

What heals it?

If Jesus were alive today, would he dine with Rush Limbaugh? 

If so, for what purpose?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Comfort, Blame and the Container of Conflict

In a previous post, I talked about the idea of a "Container of Conflict" that we've created that seems to provide a kind of resonator that allows (empowers?) conflict to continue long past its useful life.

Conflict isn't all bad. Of course. It highlights differences and makes tangible the discomfort necessary to examine our behaviors. As I mentioned in my previous post, we don't always have to be "comfy". But we do, I think, have to be honest. And when things aren't comfy, it seems, we'd rather be comfy than honest.

Enter Blame.

Dr. Brene Brown, in her marvelous TED presentation (that I recommend to everyone - watch it as soon as you can...seriously), talks about shame, connectedness, and vulnerability. At one point in her talk she slips in a profoundly relevant comment.

"You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort."

We have created a Container of Conflict in which blame ricochets back and forth, with virtually no "loss". Blame becomes the resonant frequency inside this container of conflict. It stays almost perfectly intact, resonating and re-resonating and (with a little encouragement and participation from us) builds and amplifies. The Container of Conflict is a superconductor for Blame.

Blame is pretty much pointless. "A way to discharge pain and discomfort". Is that what we need? Or do we need a way to recognize what behaviors cause pain and discomfort, and a way to heal the wounds that result?

I'm increasingly suspicioius that evil enters the world when we sacrifice someone else - their feelings, their rights, their freedoms, even their physical selves - in order to protect one of our own wounds. Think about it. Rather than experience the pain and discomfort of a wound, we "blame" someone or something else. 

When you look deep inside, does that sound familiar?

In reality, we're not so different, after all. It's only in our imaginations and affectations and illusions, which we cultivate with great pride and vigor (typically, to protect a wound we wouldn't want anyone else to see, out of shame, or fear). And we build up these ridiculous stories about "the other side", and maniacally invent stories about "what they think" to justify "what we think" - our own polemics and dogma and self-righteousness.

Not good.

Spirit whispered to me "Dissolve the container of conflict. Dissolve the container."

How? I'm still working on that. The first step, it appears, is to realize there is one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mars and Jesus Agree with Eisenhower

Choosing the Right Thing

This morning, someone whispered in my ear. Not sure who. Here's what I heard:
"Every act, even the smallest, benefits from a thoughtful and soulful choice to 'do the right thing'. Anything else is selfish, deceiving, and creates injustice."
Could this have been Mars? Jesus? Not sure. But, strangely, it reminded me of a slice of a Dwight Eisenhower speech, in which he said,
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
I thought it was Eisenhower's farewell address. It wasn't. It was "The Chance for Peace", given in 1953 after the death of Josef Stalin.

I was unfamiliar with the content. I read it all. I recommend you do, too - for both those on the left and those on the right. In it, Eisenhower is calling out to the world, and the Soviet Union. 

It's steeped in the language of a world in fear. It's message is from a man who desires to lead us forward in hope; one who recognizes that the best mankind could achieve without mutual trust is "humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Eisenhower calls for actions, not words.
"We welcome every honest act of peace. We care nothing for mere rhetoric. We are only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds. The opportunities for such deeds are many. The performance of ... them waits upon no complex protocol but upon the simple will to do them."
There is much to be harvested by us, today, from this nearly 60-year-old speech.

For example, do we welcome every honest act of peace? As a country? As a body politic? As a community, neighbor, spouse, or friend?

Perhaps it was Mars who spoke this to me, and tickled me to recall Eisenhower. Perhaps it was Jesus. Because to both of them, the honorable battle is the one waged against the weaknesses within the self, first and always.

Right action is simple once we trust that doing it will make the world a better place. And here, I take one step further from Ike, and one step closer to Jesus, because, sometimes,  we have to stop waiting for "the other guy" to do the right thing first, as we do to prove that we'll be safe if we go along. Trust ultimately carries with it a willingness to be vulnerable. And as I (and Dr. Brene Brown much more eloquently) have pointed out many times, vulnerability is the key to living a fulfilled life.

Eisenhower goes on to simply and clearly define the fundamental mission of his vision:
"We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world."
Wow. How about that. A military general calling us out to serve one another's needs, not our own fears.

In 2012, we could sure use a big dose of THAT.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dissolving the Container of Conflict

Why is fighting so EASY? And so POINTLESS?

My friend and colleague Mary Electra wrote about a shocking act of violence in her neighborhood recently.

That week, I was also contemplating violence and conflict. I was on my way to a sound healing event, and the tension between our political "sides" was rolling through my mind.

Something about the brisk night air, the coolness, the moon. It seemed so beautiful without being "comfy". We don't always have to be "comfy". Sometimes, it's good to feel the brisk, aggressive, edge of reality. The cold night air aggressively drinking the heat from my hands and face. It's OK, sometimes. It's real. We don't always have to be in a container of "comfy".

I thought about containers. In the traditional/spiritual healing arts we talk a lot about containers. Creating a "safe" container for healing, or a "sacred" container for opening to the Divine.

Suddenly, I was struck by a message. It insinuated itself into my subconscious and then POPPED into my awareness. "Dissolve the container of conflict. Dissolve the container."

Wow. I'm so used to thinking of containers as being good things, useful things. It did not dawn on me that we might have to dispose of those that have outlived their usefulness.

There is a container of conflict in our culture that we have built and continue to feed.

Yes, we have differences. Yes, there are real, deep, and painful problems. Yes, each "side"  is partly right and partly deeply, shamefully, willfully wrong.

But this container of conflict we have built provides support for conflicts that have long outstripped their purpose, outlived their deeper meaning. In fact, the container emphasizes the conflict instead of the meaning, and allows the conflict to be easily sustained and amplified (like a resonance frequency). It literally damps out efforts at resolution. And over the years we've perfected it. For example, the 24-hour news cycle and the blogosphere have been harnessed to amplify conflict.

Why? Because conflict is exciting. It provides an adrenaline rush. Every screenwriter knows that audiences stay rapt when the hero and heroine experience conflict.

But aren't we kind of burnt out on conflict? I know I am. "Just shut up already...!" says my inner self, even when I'm receiving incitements to action for causes I care about. It's not that I don't want to be informed about the opportunity to act. It's that the opportunity is always framed in the language of conflict. In the container of conflict.

I'm suffering adrenal fatigue. Are you?

(Next: Part II - Comfort, Blame and the Container of Conflict)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Of Turbulence and Tolling Bells

Love Thine Enemy...Because He Shares Thy Destiny

Just watched a challenging TEDxBrussels talk by Paddy Ashdown on the evolution of global power. It's worth 20 minutes. While not all of it struck a chord, and while some of it was darn uncomfortable, it spoke powerfully about the fundamentals that are shaping the world we have created.

Power is shifting. The stability we have experienced over the years since World War II is falling away. Ashdown cites reasons that aren't necessarily what we think. (Hint: It's not the rise of China.)

Global power, unconstrained by national borders and unregulated by rule of law, exists in places we don't always recognize. Certainly, the Internet, Twitter, and a global mobile-phone network. But also increasingly comprehensive air-travel network provides connectedness - not just for us, but for pathogens and parasites!

Global connectedness means global connections, for good AND ill.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is capacity to exert power, power will be exerted. Where it is untended - unstewarded - it will be exploited.

Turbulence is in our future. The degree of turbulence will be measured by the degree to which we can embrace one another and support one another.

Ashdown cites that what matters is the capacity to network. He cites "Ashdown's Third Law":

"In the modern age, where everything is connected to everything else, the most important thing about what you can do is what you can do with others."

We share a destiny with each other - all of us - for the very first time in human history. Increasingly and unavoidably, we share a destiny with not just our friends, but with our enemies as well.

Heed well Jesus's admonition to "Love thine enemy as thy self…" It's not just a noble idea any longer - it's an urgent matter of public policy

Ashdown finishes his talk with a quote from John Donne's "No Man is an Island":

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Doing the Right Thing - What Would It Be Like?

What if today I decided to do the right thing?

What if you decided to do the right thing?

What if, just for today, we all decided to do the right thing?

I mean really and truly, all day. No excuses.

("Because that's just the way it is…" would be the first excuse struck from the list.)

What if we…
  • Walked to the coffee shop, instead of drove...?
  • Were silent instead of gossiped...?
  • Forgave instead of argued...?
  • Loved instead of blamed...?
  • Helped instead of ignored…?
  • Insisted on kindness instead of tolerating cruelty?
  • Said "No" to injustice instead of "Well, there's nothing I can do about it…"?
  • Disobeyed instead of capitulated…?
It might be hard, but it might feel really good. It might make a difference. It might bring light.

It might be habit forming.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2000 vs. 2012

Two Different Ends of the World

I remember 1999, and the months, weeks, days - even seconds - leading to the year 2000.

2000. The end of the second millennium. Biblical times. Perhaps the apocalypse - one of our own making, in the form of the Y2K bug. But then, nothing happened. Life went on, as usual.

Or did it?

The contested presidential election, ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court, resulted in eight years of the George W. Bush administration (and its inevitable aftermath), instead of an Al Gore administration (and its inevitable aftermath). Although we couldn't see the consequences then, consider them now.

What would have happened if an administration led by Al Gore had been in place for eight years? What would it have been like to live through it?

I ponder a few hypothetical questions.
  • What would have been our response to the 9/11 attack?
  • Would we have invaded Iraq?
  • Would we have endorsed torture as a legitimate tool of national security?
  • Would our federal deficit be so high?
  • What would our energy policy be?
  • Would we have a supreme court that declared corporations to have the same rights as citizens?
  • How would we be reacting to climate change?
  • What would our attitude toward government itself be?
  • Would we have a different disposition toward regulation?
  • Would the terrible, wrenching partisanship we live with be any different?
A little color commentary follows below, but for the most part, it's worth taking the time just to consider these questions.

2000 was a year of tremendous consequence, even if we can only see it in hindsight.

2012 is another year loaded with great, grave, biblical, and cosmic expectations. As we sow in 2012, so shall we reap, for years to come.

May we discover it to be not "the end" but rather "the beginning".

Color Commentary

What would have been our response to the 9/11 attack? Would we have taken more time to understand what role American behavior, values, consumerism, and moral failings (not where we "fail to obey the word of God" but rather where we "fail to do the right thing") have in fertilizing Islamic extremism?

Would we have invaded Iraq? Would we have spent nearly a trillion dollars of our national treasure there?

Would our federal deficit be so high? As we were exiting the Clinton Administration, the deficit was on the verge of becoming a surplus. If we hadn't implemented the Bush tax cuts, what would the treasury look like?

What would our energy policy be? Would we have invested more aggressively in renewables? Would tax incentives have been put in place to shift us away from an oil and coal economy? Would our entrepreneurial genius have unlocked the secrets of cheap solar energy by now? How close would we be?

Would we have had a Supreme Court that sided with corporations, as the Roberts court did in Citizens United, effectively declaring that corporations have the same rights as human beings, real citizens, and allowing unlimited, undisclosed cash to funnel into our election process?

How would we be reacting to climate change? Would we have pushed for a world-wide cap on carbon emissions? Would we have shown leadership there, in the face of the intransigence of China and others?

What would our attitude toward government itself be? And what would the morale be among our public servants? For example, how would we have reacted to Hurricane Katrina? Would federal employees (in this example, FEMA and its leadership) have been less demoralized, more empowered, and more effective? What about at the EPA? The FDA?

Would we have a different disposition toward regulation? Would AgriBusiness, Big Pharma, and Big Media have been more constrained, to the benefit of the commonwealth? Would there be less conflict of interest? And what about Wall Street? Would anything be different, or would it be business-as-usual?

Would the terrible, wrenching partisanship within our government have been eased, be the same, or been exacerbated?

The surface-level answers to some of these are obvious. And there are many other legitimate questions to be asked (some of which, in fairness, might illuminate the good that the Bush administration accomplished…) It is interesting to contemplate whether, upon probing deeper, we'd be better off.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Third Course of Action

Reflections on Gentraí, Goltraí, and Suantraí

At the Firefly Willows blog, I've written that 2012 is "The Year of Action". in keeping with that advice, I'm committing to more activity here, at The Swallowtail Project. I envision The Swallowtail Project as the place where my "activist" self will share and  invite exchanges.

What kind of "action" will I embrace? What kind of "activist" will I be?

In our highly polarized culture it would be easy to say that my actions and writings will reflect my earnest thoughts for what is "best" for my community, the culture in which I live, my descendents, and my planet. And no doubt, I will be taking actions that reflect my perspective. I'm unabashedly politically progressive. I will be championing causes accordingly.

But even as I do so, I recognize that such an approach is likely to further polarize, and as such, may not be nearly as productive as I would hope. Within such actions there is an embedded antagonism to those who are conservative. I harbor no illusions - it's very real to those who are antagonized by it, even though my perspective will likely be one of equanimity and thoughtfulness.

So I am called to reflect on the legend of Uaithne, Boan, and their three children:

Uaithne…was husband to the River Goddess, Boand (the holy Irish river, Boyne).  When Boand delivered her first child, it was a difficult delivery and she cried out in pain.  To ease her pains, Uaithne played the Dagda’s healing harp, and when his first son was born, he named him Goltraí after his mother’s cry, and the music Uaithne played at his birth was thereafter called Goltraí – the Crying Strain.  At the birth of Boand’s second son, it was much easier and she laughed out loud for joy, and he was named Geantraí.  The music Uaithne played at his birth was forever known as Geantraí, the Laughing Strain.  The third birth was the easiest of all, and the River Goddess fell asleep to her husband’s harping and gave birth to her last son, whom Uaithne named Suantraí, and the music was known as the Suantraí, the Sleeping Strain.  All three sons became in their time, great harpers like their father, and it is from them that the harping traditions of Ireland and Scotland had their beginning.
Goltraí - Lamentatation. Geantraí - Joy. Suantraí - Serenity. Peace.

So my hope is that I will bring to life activism in not just the polarizing form of Goltrai, railing against what is wrong, nor even Geantrai, promoting what I perceive to be "good", but also (and perhaps most productively), Suantrai, in which a third way, a way of diffusing tensions, is applied, in hopes of bringing serenity to dialog and cooperation.

We all share this planet. Ultimately, we have to live side by side. To do so, we must find a way to understand one another. Our fears. Our needs. Our perspectives and notions of "good", even, of the divine.

If we hope to understand one another, we must be serene enough to speak and listen with the intention of informing, not convincing or judging.

Suantrai seems like a logical strain to harp on.