All posts by davemacq

I'm a retired physician-psychotherapist (with six university degrees ranging from physics to psychology), specialized in anger mangement, and deeply interested in the emotional issues underlying global warming, i.e., why and how have we created a situation where we are on a fast track to a suicide mission of our species. It is our hubris, and our insanity. And if we do not do something about it soon, we will become extinct as a species.

Climate Truth

PostTruth2This post presents a number of the links I have recently encountered, articles I think are important in speaking truth to what I perceive. And as usual, I am hesitant to post them — it is so easy to be overloaded with too much information these days.

I find also that the climate conversations are evolving. I attended a webinar a few nights ago by Smart Politics (https://www.joinsmart.org/) — overall I was impressed. It is American, based mainly in California (I think), and presented a good process for engaging, followed by a good discussion — certainly I would recommend to anyone in the States. It is different from yet similar to the process I will be leading with the Suzuki Elders at the end of this month (Climate Change Conversations: How To Have Them Without Everyone Walking Out Of The Room, Vancouver, 20190228).

On the positive side —

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth (20190204)

An excellent summary of the power of speaking the truth, especially in the nature of climate disruption. As readers of this blog will know, I am an advocate of The Climate Mobilization; momentum for this organization and its partners is evolving.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal Is a Product of Youth Uprising (20190208)

The need for major overhaul of the political situation is being recognized. Perhaps it is the beginning of transformation of capitalism and neoliberalism. Perhaps. Will we do so in time to avert disaster?

On the other side —

When Europeans Colonized the Americas, They Killed So Many That the Earth’s Climate Cooled (20190203)

A fascinating interplay between colonialism and global warming. Sad.

There’s a Big Hole in the World’s Most Important Glacier. Yes, It’s a Problem. (20190205)

As usual, things are worse than we thought.

The World Is on the Brink of Widespread Water Wars (20190211)

Another way in which things are worse. We are so close to collapse. As noted above, will we create a new cultural process in time to make a difference?

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’ (20190211)

Yet another. What else can I say?

Predominantly neutral (is anything neutral in this theme?) —

How the greenwashing campaign works (20190212)

How can we measure the climate risk of methane gas emissions- (20190212)

What the methane industry doesn’t want you—or lawmakers—to know (20190212)

This series of articles on methane, the principle component of natural gas, speaks to the complexity of assessing data as well as the interpretation of data, some of which is almost certainly disinformation.

How Then Shall We Live?

CogDiss01In my reading today I encountered a truly outstanding description of how one man chooses to live with Climate Change, something that will affect all our lives. Dahr Jamail’s commentary As the Climate Collapses, We Ask: “How Then Shall We Live? (20190204, the first of a series) touches me deeply, both for his honesty and for his depth of knowledge and understanding. He is one of a small group of journalists in whom I have a deep sense of trust as to his integrity. (Joe Rohm is another source that I trust for his knowledge and his integrity.)

Jamail writes for TruthOut on climate issues and I recommend all his writings. I have recently ordered his book The End Of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption (20190122). I will undoubtedly be reporting on this in a later blog.

As I write these words, I also have a moment of profound cognitive dissonance. I am slowly reading Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken, a very well-researched description of 100 substantive solutions to reverse global warming. I also think of the DVD Tomorrow (2015) that I watched a few weeks ago, a video that deeply impressed me with its hopeful message of creative responses to climate issues.

Thus I simultaneously hold the honest searching and sadness of what we have done and do to our planet together with the incredible creativity that is available. All this with the recognition of how powerless we are to deal with the insanity of capitalism and neoliberalism, the power dynamics that run our system.

It truly reminds me to be humble of the limited yet important ways in which I can contribute.

Other articles worth reading:

Jamail writes a regular series of articles for TruthOut, many of which can be found under Climate Disruption Dispatches or his website http://www.dahrjamail.net/.

The most dangerous climate feedback loop is speeding up (Joe Rohm, 20190117)

And on the flip side:

Opinion: Our house is on fire, and many Albertans want more lighters (20181229)

A very clear presentation of the options for Albertans. What I find fascinating is the number of ad hominin attacks in the Commentary section, an indication of the amount of toxic discourse (as noted in the past few posts).

I’m Right!

How we polarize!

The past three blog posts have been fueled by James Hoggan’s book I’m Right, And You’re An Idiot[1]. In conversation with Hoggan, David Suzuki (Canada’s leading environmentalist) asked: Why aren’t people demanding action on environmental issues? To address this question, Hoggan set out to interview a large number of some of the world’s leading thinkers, specifically individuals who study human communication, to gain their perspective on this failure.

As mentioned in Ways To Contribute, I am involved with the Suzuki Elders in exploring how to use this information in the management of difficult conversations. In Finding Common Ground and How Conflict Escalates, I proposed a simple (perhaps difficult?) methodology for this. Yet I also want to give credit to Hoggan for the immense amount of exploration he undertook.

The following are some of the major points with which Hoggan grappled. Most are from his Epilogue, and all are direct quotes, with the interviewee named (JH denotes Hoggan’s commentary). [Square brackets are minor changes I have added, hopefully without changing the meaning.]

  • Few of us are truly evil — and good people sometimes [strongly disagree] for good reasons. (JH, p. 215)
  • Democracy works only if reasoned debate in the public sphere is possible. (Jason Stanley, p. 98)
    • While contention lies at the heart of democracy, it must be constructive contention. (Marshall Ganz, p. 115)
    • [People] don’t need not agree on the solution or on the problem. They don’t need to understand each other, trust each other or even like each other. But they do have to recognize that the only way to move forward is together. (Adam Kahane, p. 123)
  • It is through narratives . . . that people learn to access the moral and emotional resources we need to act with agency in the face of danger, challenge, and threat. . . . [This] is one of the most important lessons set out in I’m Right. (Marshall Ganz and JH, p. 174)
    • At its most basic level, I’m Right is about how we tell stories and how we treat each other. (JH, p. 115)
    • To create powerful persuasive narratives, our starting point must be rooted in an attitude of empathy, respect, and compassion. (The Dalai Lama, p. 211).
  • People don’t start out mired in hostility. The situation evolves. . . . Our defense mechanisms kick in . . . and this provokes . . . eventual gridlock. (JH, pp. 214-215)
    • It is hard to know who and what to trust. (JH, p. 216)
    • An important key is to hold our beliefs lightly [so that we are open to new possibility]. (JH, p. 215)
  • Facts and reason are fundamental to healthy public discourse, but in our overheated adversarial public square, facts are not enough. (JH, p. 217)
    • The initial strategy . . . must be inquiry, . . . [exploring] what truly matters to people [the emotional energy]. (JH, p. 218)
    • We must appeal to people’s values and speak from a moral position, . . . encouraging debate about matters of concern. (JH, pp. 217-218)
  • A well-crafted . . . narrative helps tear down barriers of propaganda and polarization. This theme of emotional communication is grounded in the Golden Rule of treating others the way we want to be treated. (p. 219-220)
    • If we seek change, we should learn to use speech for its highest purpose — moral discourse. (JH, p. 222)

I propose that the methodology I suggested in earlier posts satisfies what Hoggan has identified, especially in providing narrative and compassion, and provides constructive contention.


[1] Hoggan, J. (2016).  I’m right, and you’re an idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and how to clean it up. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.

How conflict escalates

I mentioned in my last post Finding Common Ground that people “argue conclusions,” and more readily relate to sensory experiences. In this post, I want to explore the mechanisms involved. If we are to find common ground, it is important that we understand mechanisms whereby conflict escalates — there is an adage: “Give a man a fish and he will feed for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will feed for a lifetime.”

That very adage is sensory. I can almost guarantee that in reading it, you had memories that engaged with the adage. Similarly in this post I want to teach how conclusions provoke conflict. Then I hope you may be able to take the skill into your own conflicts.

My operational definition of conflict is “difference in a closed space” — that closed space is a relationship of two (or more) people. One of Joe Schaefer’s fundamental premises was “the conflict is not the relationship,” the conflict is only part of the present relationship.

First, a diagram of importance, an emotional triangle. Imagine a triangle consisting of two people (me and you) and an issue (a conflict). Most people will say: “Let’s resolve this conflict so we can feel good about each other.” They put the conflict in the middle of the relationship. Instead, Joe said: “Let’s feel good about each other as we resolve our conflict.” Note the difference. The emotional triangle makes it clear that the conflict is not the relationship; it is part of the present difficulties of these two people, only a part of the relationship.

There are some fundamental principles of emotional triangles that are important here. First, each person of the triangle can directly influence the other person plus their own connection to the conflict. But they cannot directly connect to the other limb, the so-called 3rd Limb of each person (relative to the person).

Second, healthy exchange in communication is direct. It may not always be pleasant (for example, the healthy expression of anger) but the long-term outcome is potential health. Unhealthy exchange crosses into the third limb; it generally is not cooperative (although the individual impacted may choose to cooperate, e.g., an employee being told what to do by an angry boss).

A major example here is the distinction between feedback and criticism. In feedback, I give you information about myself that you cannot obtain in any other way — I tell you my experience. There is no requirement that you be different; it is simply a description of what I am experiencing, and generally I tell it in the hopes that our relationship will improve. In criticism however, I want you to be different — you should be different (according to me). The operational word here is should!

So what do conclusions do? Think of your response to any significant issue in your life, and what you concluded is the appropriate course of action to resolve the as-yet-unresolved issue. How did you language this conclusion? Again, I can almost guarantee that your conclusion contained some euphemism of should (have to, must, et cetera). Now, state your conclusion aloud, and feel your intensity. To what extent are you focused on the other being different (and perhaps yourself also)?

Thus, on most occasions when conclusions are stated in conflict, they become an implied criticism of the other. And who enjoys being criticized? What enjoys being told what they should be doing?

Hence, escalation!

The methodology of describing experience without stating conclusions minimizes this, as described in the previous post. We respond best to lived experience or metaphor that encapsulates experience. We generally do not fight with the narrative descriptions of others — we might disagree with the conclusion, but we usually trust that the other is telling the truth of their experience. And we share their reality.

Also, perhaps when we tell our own stories, we might be able to step into our own limited experience and the humility of uncertainty.

Can we go on feeling good about each other as we resolve our differences? Yes, we can!

Finding Common ground

A friend of mine sent me a link a few days ago to a TED talk on resolving conflict: Julia Dhar: How to disagree productively and find common ground (201810). My friend is part of a group who are exploring how to manage difficult conversations, the ones where people are almost certain to argue without resolution. Their premise (and mine), and the premise of the Julia Dhar talk, is that “Contempt has replaced conversation.” Dhar suggests that the resolution for all parties is to learn the skills of debating.

Yet, I think there is an easier way that I will describe shortly. The skills of debating are still part of the process — it is the preliminary steps that make it easier, and likely more effective.

First, to look at Dhar’s comments:

  • the nature of debate is that there is a big topic on the table, an idea that is controversial. One side argues in the positive; the other in the negative.
  • the foundation of debate is rebuttal, face to face, as the participants present structured arguments appropriate to their positions. For most people, rebuttal is difficult — it feels like attack. But if the personalities are minimized, it becomes tolerable, perhaps stimulating.
    • in a formal debate, it may be that the sides are assigned beforehand, independent of the debaters — to a certain extent, this removes the personalities of the debaters from the debate. Debaters learn to argue from either perspective.
    • Dhar notes that the “only winning strategy is to engage with the best, clearest, least personal version of the idea.”
      • of note, Dahr also identifies that “listening to someone’s voice as they make a controversial argument is literally humanizing. It makes it easier to engage with what that person has to say.”
  • she notes that powerful debaters do not seek to attack; they seek to find common ground. They create  what is called shared reality, and Dahr suggests that shared reality is the antidote of alternative facts.
  • most important of all, Dhar notes that the structure of debate, especially the ability to argue from  either side, is such that we “open ourselves, really open ourselves up to the possibility  that we might be wrong. [We encounter t]he humility of uncertainty.”

I agree with all these points yet, as noted, I think there is an easier way.

A former friend of mine (I lost track of him when he moved to Turkey) Joe Schaefer was a cultural anthropologist who engaged in community building. He talked about creative communication as that of “going on feeling good about the other while we resolve our differences.” And the way to do this was to talk about how you learned to hold the stances what were important to you.

I remember a process that Joe led us through. Thirteen pairs were asked to pick a topic upon which we strongly disagreed (issues like “Smoking should be entirely prohibited” or “Young offenders should be treated as adults for serious crimes” or “Gay partners should have the right to adopt children”), and then to take turns telling personal stories to each other of how we learned our attitudes to the topic. We used a standard format of “I remember when . . .,” telling the sensory details of something we remembered as being important to how we came to our conclusions related to the topic: a memory, an intuition, something seen or read, any source of meaning. These conclusions were what we were exploring, yet we were instructed to never state a conclusion during this exercise as to what we learned.

We exchanged memories for ten minutes only, and then had two minutes to explore to what extent we had reached a resolution between us — twelve minutes to explore a tough issue wherein we strongly disagreed. The outcome: ten dyads were completely satisfied in their resolution; two knew they had a resolution but needed a few more minutes; one pair knew they had no resolution possible yet were satisfied that they could be friends about it. I was astounded — I had never seen conflict handled this way and so successfully.

 So what is important here:

  • first, we stayed away from conclusions, and focused on sensory details of the memories. Details like “I remember walking into Tim Horton’s to get a cup of coffee. The place had a glassed-in smoking section. I saw a friend in the smoking section and went in to talk to him. I was amazed that, within ten minutes, my eyes were burning and my throat was burning.” Period — no conclusion.
    • People do not argue sensory details or memories. They argue conclusions.
    • Sensory details create shared reality. If you are Canadian,I can almost guarantee that when you read “I remember walking into Tim Horton’s,” you accessed your own memory of walking into your favorite Tim Horton’s — a shared reality in progress.
      • Although Dhar talks about shared reality as the antidote of alternative facts, there are fundamentally no such thing as facts. What we call “facts” are our memories of agreed-upon experiences. For example, [fact] I weigh173 pounds because [experience] I remember stepping on the scale this morning and noting that the scale displayed 173.4 (pounds). Even if we together watch me step on the scale, within a few minutes we only have the memory of the event to denote as “fact.”
  • the sharing of memories, without conclusion, allows each of us to learn about the “reality” of the other, to step into and feel their experience. Since no conclusion is stated, we do not have anything to bump against.
    • we also learn about our own reality. Once we begin to recognize the scanty information that forms the basis of most of our cherished beliefs, we begin to entertain the possibility of being wrong. We again encounter the humility of uncertainty.
    • in this humility, we can each step into the experiences of the other and “go on feeling good about the other while we resolve our differences.”
      • rather than putting the personalities aside, we actually increase our awareness of the humanness, and the personality, of the other.
  • from this place of connectedness, we might then choose to go on to “debate” the topic, recognizing that there are important “facts” within both sides of the “debate.”
    • and that if we are to resolve the issues, we must take all these “facts” into a common ground that works for all concerned.

Thus, for me, Dhar’s process is simply the end point of this more simple approach wherein we become familiar with and learn to respect each other, working to common goals.

Does this work for everyone in all circumstances. No, nothing does.

The other must be at least willing to listen to me at the beginning. The beauty of Joe’s methodology is that in most areas where I might argue, I can introduce this approach with fair ease, and often invite a dialogue rather than a debate.

The major limitation always occurs where the other is simply not willing to engage. Even there if I stay strictly with descriptions of my own sensory details, I can minimize argument. People cannot easily argue sensory details, especially if I tell something true that cannot be challenged (e.g., “Wow. I notice how tightly I am clenching my teeth because I so want to argue with you, and yet I am also stopping myself — I don’t want to argue. Does that ever happen to you?” — using the questions perhaps to invite common reality!)

There are so many ways to handle argument, ways that engage rather than separate. As Dhar notes, the skill is to invite common ground.

Ways To Contribute

Contribution6I have my finger in a lot of pots these days, all in an attempt to find ways to contribute my skill set to the issues of global warming. Currently I strive to be a background resource to others as I generally exhaust myself when I over-commit myself. I generally function best as a devil’s advocate, gently challenging others to stretch into their own skill set; I don’t function well in groups unless I have designated tasks to complete (or can function as devil’s advocate).

It has been a while since I have done a post, and periodically I have thought to get back to same. Mainly I have been sorting how best for me to respond to issues, as noted above, above all seeking a way to be at peace with the stresses of modernity.

I do a lot. Amongst other ways to contribute, I do a Listening Ministry at one of the church missions of the Downtown EastSide of Vancouver, the major district of homelessness and drug crime. I’m also part of the Social Justice committee of the same mission where we are current advocates for drug decriminalization. I am engaged in an international men’s organization (Illuman.org) and promote a variety of virtual men’s groups orientated to vulnerability and spirituality. I facilitate a Soul Matters group at the local Unitarian Church, exploring a variety of issues such as Awe, Vision, and Mystery. And I contribute to a Suzuki Elder Salon development of how to engage in difficult conversations. I used to also provide low grade security in Vancouver via the Peace Bearers organization — usually for crowd scenes orientated to demonstrations regarding global warming (my low back pain unfortunately led to limitations here).

I do all this because I am deeply aware of how precarious is the nature of human survival in this super-wicked difficulty of climate change and ecological threat. I actually have little hope we will survive as a species, and no hope our civilization will survive.

But I do not function from hope — I function from intention.

High intention; low expectation

This is the only way I have found to stay out of despair as to what we are doing on this planet. I have said many times to myself and to others that, as individuals we are capable of immense greatness, but as a species we are psychotic.

From my perspective, we need ways to shift this human dynamic at a species level. I have basically spent the second half of my life (from 40 to 65) as therapist learning to do so at the individual level, and in retirement wanted to tackle the societal level — wherein I came much more aware of my own limitations in contribution. But it did not mean that I would give up contributing.

I contribute because authenticity in relationship with others has become my best way to function with this insanity, and perhaps the only way in which we will find a path through the next hundred years. It is my wish that others find a way through their own despair and acedia so that we come to common ground in how we deal with the coming years.

The following links speak to these thoughts of mine.

How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet (20181126)

An excellent report by Bill McKibben (350.org) regarding the current state of global warming as well as the complexity of human relations over the past 60 years.

Finding Hope in Hopelessness (20181123)

Margaret Wheatley reflects on loss of hope, and yet finding her own stance to contribute within hopelessness.

I’d rather die than feel this. (20180608, reprinted from 2014)

An excellent article on why some choose suicide as a resolution of their pain. It reminds me of the spate of celebrity suicides (Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain as examples) as well as the numerous deaths within the Fentanyl crisis.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the Legacy Museum

I’ve currently finished a brief workshop on White Supremacy Culture, part of a presentation within the Unitarian Church I attend. I hate the term White Supremacy and yet I recognize that the destructiveness of the immense power and privilege issues that have dominated European culture (and thus world culture) for the past 500 years (or more, perhaps as long ago as the origin of what we call civilization). Somehow we need to do much more in the nature of multi-cultural restoration.

The Fortune-Teller (20181105)

“how to save the world” is a blog written by a local BC resident, often regarding his chronicle of civilization’s collapse. Overall I find it well-written with interesting reflections (although from the perspective of a staunch materialist — not my preferred ontology). I especially like his present comment: “Lemonade is everywhere. Wisdom is scarce.”

The Role Harassment Plays in Climate Change Denial (20181102)

We are becoming more and more divisive as a culture, especially in the United States but also Canada. I assume it is simply a harbinger of the stresses of our current world, but it does not bode well for resolution of issues. I have long maintained that cultural anger is the canary in the coalmine of our demise.

Is Civility A Sham? (201810 TED Salon)

Why It’s Worth Listening To People We Disagree With (201804 TED2018)

How To Have Better Political Conversations (201609 TEDx Marin)

Three brief videos that look at the difficulty of conversation in divisive areas. They stress the need for basic civility and meeting the other in their worldview, all important points in coming to common ground. They all seem to operate from the presupposition that if the other person/people feel respected and acknowledged, then the other will want to find common ground — likely true in many cases.

What is missing for me is what to do when the other has no interest in finding common ground — this is the central breakdown point for me, especially when the other has powerful influence on the outcome (corporations, the fossil fuel industry, et cetera). Our culture usually operates from the seeking of consensus — and the weakness of consensus is that terrorists are not interested in consensus.

In this regard, I am currently reading Deep Green Resistance, a book which delimits the need for resistance beyond the attempt to achieve consensus. It is quite a dense read, and likely I will eventually describe it in greater detail in this blog. For now, I recommend it as an important study in the complexity of change.

The Power Of Doubt

Doubt1

I have gotten into a bit of a funk since a recent David Suzuki article: Caribou science denial cripples conservation efforts (20180628). It underlines the power of doubt for me. The story links to a research article From Climate to Caribou: How Manufactured Uncertainty is Impacting Wildlife Management and discusses the many agencies (well beyond wildlife management, starting with tobacco and psycho-pharmaceuticals) that “employ a ‘multi-pronged strategy of denial’: deny the problem exists, deny its key causes, and claim that resolving the problem is too costly.”

What it raises for me is: Whom do I trust? And what is the nature of Doubt?

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed the nature and limitations of meaning, noting in particular that information is not the same as meaning and that too much information interferes with meaning. And as indicated earlier, one of the major ways we deal with this is to seek corroboration from a trusted group (the TIC process).

Another way we deal with meaning is by doubt, critically assessing the information as to whether or not it is consistent with what we already accept. Skepticism (specifically methodological skepticism) is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out truth from falsehood. In many respects, getting uncomfortable and willing to be uncertain, to not know, to ask questions, to err and to fail, is the best and only way to learn, and move forward. It is so much easier to be certain, and for some, being uncertain is a major source of anxiety — the underlying issue of fundamentalism of any kind.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes “Doubt is often defined as a state of indecision or hesitancy with respect to accepting or rejecting a given proposition. Thus, doubt is opposed to belief. But doubt is also contrasted with certainty.” Both aspects, belief and certainty, are fundamental to my concern. Doubt has been a basic structural component of the major ways by which we as a species have valued knowledge, especially in the past 400 years, that of reason (philosophical study) and expiricism (scientific investigation). Doubt was also a major vehicle whereby Socrates sought wisdom, and thus doubt as a useful process has extended throughout our recorded history.

The major difficulty however is that doubt require honesty! The essential problem of dishonesty is that it grossly exaggerates doubt, and thus the deliberate creation of doubt can become a weapon of discouragement. In our current Age of Information (and Duplicity), doubt fails us when our premises are distorted by dishonesty. We become overwhelmed by too much information, at the very least by the inconsistencies inherent in the processing of dishonest information.

I know of no way through this dilemma. I have also found it incredibly difficult to encapsulate this blog — an expression of how doubt impacts.

doubt2

I will fall back on two people:

  • Voltaire: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd!
  • Christian de Quincey, especially his book Radical Knowing where he talks of other ways of knowing beyond rationalism (the way of philosophy) and experientialism (the way of science): that of participatory feeling and direct mystical experience.
    • Both of these other ways are disparaged in our culture of scientific materialism, yet for me, both offer a way of knowing beyond doubt and certainty.
    • I highly recommend the writings of Christian, a philosopher of great integrity and wisdom, and like those who step out of the box, not well recognized.

Enough.

What’s It All About? Part 2

Meaning2This is my second post about meaning, it being the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.

Not only is the creation of meaning complex, but often the information itself is complex. This is especially so with all the information available concerning global warming.

I said last post that I would give some updated information regarding global warming. Here it is.

First, I want to draw attention to a brilliant presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on The Third Industrial Revolution via UBC Connects (20180316) — it is a fairly long video, and a quick summary is available as The Zero Marginal Cost Society (unfortunately both present the information too rapidly to allow good processing). Rifkin identifies that every industrial revolution in the past has occurred with and requires new innovations in communication (management), energy (creation), and transportation (movement). We have that now with the internet (communication), renewable energy (energy), and electronic vehicles plus 3D printing (both logistical), and thus we are now capable of a new industrial revolution. However he remains hesitant because he does not trust that we have the maturity as a culture to undertake this — we must learn to cooperate and collaborate. processes are underway, and are in a race against the impacts of global warming.

Unfortunately, all this has been my primary emphasis throughout this blog.

And given all this, what do I trust? And, what to do? Especially in relationship to global warming. I trust the following links — they are also potentially troublesome — they offer meaning, likely painful! Yet, within the assessment of what I can do regarding global warming, they offer much; they are my attempt to offer appropriate meaning.

Climate change: An ‘existential threat’ to humanity, UN chief warns global summit (20180515)

The current Secretary-General of the UN notes “Everyday, I am faced with the challenges of our troubled and complex world. But none of them loom so large as climate change. If we fail to meet the challenge, all our other challenges will just become greater and threaten to swallow us. Climate change is, quite simply, an existential threat for most life on the planet — including, and especially, the life of humankind.”

Degree sparks necessary debate (20180517)

David Suzuki is often blunt in his critique of the societal issues of climate change, something I appreciate. Yet, as he notes, his bluntness often is subject to ad hominem attacks, rather than depth of dialogue — unfortunate, and part of the distortion that occurs in transfer of information to meaning.

Climate Reality Check (2016)

The Uninhabitable Earth (20170709)

Good information in both. Also scarey!

The Climate Mobilization Living In Climate Truth Guidebook

A draft document developed by The Climate Mobilization, presenting many good links as to the nature of the pending catastrophe as well as practical tips for self-care.

What’s It All About? Part 1

Meaning2I’ve decided to write a post about meaning because it is the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.

Some definitions are needed. Data refers to patterns within energy transmission. Information refers to a measurement of a signal (data) between a sender and receiver, from point A to point B. For data to become information, the data must be perceived by someone; information requires both data and perceiver. Information is a derivative of consciousness; it is not the same as meaning, and in fact, information has nothing to do with meaning.

Meaning is the fit between self and non-self; if the perceived data relates to who we perceive ourselves to be (the fit) or in some way challenges who we are, we make meaning of the information. I’ve previously talked about how we do this, the TIC process, as one of the major limitations of meaning. We translate (T) the data in to something we recognize, we interpret (I) the data on the basis of our existing filters (preconceptions), and then we corroborate (C) the data by checking the significance, the fit, with an existing group we trust.

Another way we create meaning is if the information interests us. Davis in That’s Interesting! proposes that social theories (at least) are interesting because they challenge the underlying presuppositions of the reader, potentially altering both the common sense and the scientific view of reality. For me, this is an interesting idea in itself as it leads me to ponder what happens when the presuppositions are firmly held, as in the conflict between the environmental movement and the deniers of global warming.

Obviously there are all sorts of ways in which this process of meaning-making can go sour. One of the major ways is that in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. This limits meaning! We bypass much of what we might actually need to know because of too much information. For me, it is a form of trauma, leading to overwhelm and apathy.

And we respond to it in the many ways associated with acedia:

  • we become fearful of overwhelm (“It’s too much.) This is especially true when we approach the issue of global warming. There is so much information and the information is so painful to absorb, we give up.
  • we become lazy (“I’ll look at it tomorrow.” “Somebody else will fix it.”)
  • we become self-righteous, especially if our corroborative group is also in denial. At its extreme, we actively sabotage by creating dis-information.

Even more frustrating is the nature of information dissemination. I’ve just been reading about Edward Bernays and the manipulation of Public Relations. He was the key figure in the early-mid 20th century responsible for the massive increase in public propaganda following the Second World War — advertising.

Bernays sold the myth of propaganda as a wholly rational endeavor, carried out methodically by careful experts skilled enough to lead “public opinion.” Consistently he casts himself as a supreme manipulator, mastering the responses of a pliable, receptive population. “Conscious and intelligent manipulation,” “invisible governors,” “they who pull the wires which control the public mind,” “shrewd persons operating behind the scenes,” “dictators exercising great power,” and, below them, people working “as if actuated by the touch of a button”—these are but a few expressions of the icy scientistic paradigm that evidently drove his propaganda practice, and that colored all his thinking on the subject. The propagandist rules. The propagandized do whatever he would have them do, exactly as he tells them to, and without knowing it. [Propaganda Quotes]

In reading this, I’ve also been aware of the changing parameters by which people engage in modern thinking, highly illustrative of both how information is transformed into meaning (especially via the TIC process), and the relationship between power and knowledge. An attendee at a recent Flat Earth Convention discusses just this theme: “those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge.” It fascinates me that a conference on the “reality” of a flat earth exists in today’s complex world! I wonder what else I am missing.

Two areas of changing parameters are most obvious to me:

  • the whole of the consumer industry with its so-called advertising processes. I like to think that originally advertising was meant to inform (perhaps my naiveté); now I simply see it as propaganda and manipulation.(my meaning).
  • the hidden algorithms that underlie many processes that presume to offer me choice: online filter bubbles that act in ways that provide information based on my previous choices. These  occur in the hidden background of many well-known websites, and essentially restrict my corroboration to what I have already chosen.

Give all this, what do I trust? And, what to do?

One of the maxims I am using these days is: Be at peace; come back tomorrow! By this, I do not mean “I’ll look at it tomorrow” or “Someone else will fix it.”

I actually mean I’ll do what I can today and be at peace with what I have done! And then see what tomorrow offers for me to explore and do, again peacefully.

Another interesting idea for me is how to disappear in this digital age. There are certainly people who want to disappear, and there are also people who specialize in this process, especially when it is legal to do so; I also imagine many processes by which people disappear for illegal actions.

Next post, I’ll give some updated information about global warming — the primary intention of this blog is to challenge the human issues that drive climate change.

I hope that this additional information will help you to make greater meaning in your life!

Who Cares?

Compassion4I have recently begun to explore Unitarian-Univeralism (UU), a very inclusive “church” structure that requires no dogmatic belief system and yet recognizes the human need for community and the search for meaning, the need for caring and the questing of “Who Cares?” In particular, I invite the reader to view a recent sermon at the local UU church A Big Tent with Even Bigger Dreams[1] (20180506), one that I thought was profound (as well as very humorous).

For my part, UU (in its profound inclusivity) represents the possibility of mature community, an essential component of cultural transformation (of which I have written many posts in this blog — see this series). I find a number of aspects of the local church, the North Shore Unitarians, to have deep appeal for me; I also have the intuition (and hope) that these aspects are to be found throughout the UU system.

  • They are deeply inclusive. In particular, I have found them very welcoming, and very open to diversity, especially the LGBTQQIP2SAA community and any other source of divisiveness in community.
    • A significant quote from the above sermon is “we honor this truth by encouraging our members to reflect on the Light through whatever set of windows they find most illuminating. We only require that this same freedom be honored for others.”
  • They recognize the incredible destructiveness that “religion” has played in the world.
    • I have a friend who is atheist and strongly against religion, yet from my perspective he does not seem to recognize “religion” as simply a cultural lens, and that its implications range from the very immature (including much of Christian history as well as modern fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim) to the very mature. I totally agree with him in his disparagement of Christianity when expressed via fundamentalism, and I also deeply value the mature expression of religion when I find it. Mature religion for me is not a set of beliefs, rather it is a way of approaching life with compassion to all its complexity.
  • They are very open to questioning the meaning of life.
    • For the past year, the Church has been running a series of discussion groups called Wounded Words (words such as sin, salvation, god, prayer) in an attempt to recognize how divisive these words have been (and continue to be).

The main emphasis that I have seen is that UU encourages the recognition that we all search for meaning and that we are all in the same boat! We must learn to value “making sure there’s room for another to come sit next to me, even if, especially if, they make me uncomfortable . . . . with such a big tent [that] we don’t even agree on the words to use to describe it.”

There is for me something deep within the heart of all human beings that searches for meaning; maturity for me means that of being willing to sit in the mystery that this represents. Those who claim certainty are at high risk of fundamentalism, and the abuses of religion — this I distrust.

To give my answer to the basic question of this post, those who care are those who continue to search, allowing others also to search. I honor all who do, including the UU church.

[1] Hartlief, M. (20180506). A Big Tent With Even Bigger Dreams, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNB–Aa5KWo, published 20180507.