Category Archives: Important Concepts

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 3

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

Continuing the theme of governance in a mature society, my thoughts have changed little since the writing of my book Acedia; thus, I am mainly quoting from this source, with additional minor commentary as update.

As I reflect on what I have written so far, in this long series of posts on the nature of a mature society, I realize that much of what I have written is very utopian (one original meaning of the Greed word utopia is no-place). I will add my reflections on this at the conclusion of the series (another three posts from now).

How do we recognize maturity.

Sophisticated electronic communication, including frequent high-level polling of needs and ongoing values, would allow the government to stay in touch with the populace. Each member of the populace would have multiple votes—I was immensely impressed, years ago, by an idea presented by Nevil Shute in his novel In The Wet, Shute proposed that each member of the electorate had up to seven votes: one basic vote, and additional votes depending on family stability (1), educational level (1), foreign travel (1), success in business (1), and contributory service to society (2). This type of system then preselects individuals who are likely to have a degree of maturity and wisdom. Higher levels of government would depend on input both from lower regional governments and from polling of the general population.

This is one way. Another way comes from recognizing those people who deserve respect. Amongst the pre-conquest native American peoples, the grandfathers were recognized as leaders, but they obtained their authority from the grandmothers.

The judiciary system would need to be a justice system, not a legal system. There must also be a way to deal with terrorism (preferably identifying the predisposition of individuals to be rebellious before they become terrorists).

Finally, the judiciary system of such a culture would function at all levels in a fashion of justice circles, the intention being that any discordance is to be resolved in ways that support the rights of both individuals and the groups concerned. In such a culture, there will arise occasions where individuals repeatedly act contrary to the needs and desires of the group. I suggest that, here, more senior groups (groups to which earlier decisions might be appealed) would have the power . . . whereby such individuals are ostracized from the group, perhaps to live in enclaves not subject to the standards of the general culture. These alternate cultures would be free to develop their own standards, but would not be permitted to impose their standards on the main culture. If desired, individuals in these substitute cultures could transfer back to the main culture, but a requirement would be they demonstrate they have sufficient intention and maturity to live within the main culture.

To be continued.

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 2

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

Continuing the theme of governance in a mature society, my thoughts have changed little since the writing of my book Acedia; thus, I am mainly quoting from this source, with additional minor commentary as update.

. . . a mature culture would balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group, not by imposition, but because the educational system would provide the deep support such that members of the culture would want to balance these needs (as per the previous priority). Training would be offered in decision making . . . for comprehensive social change. [Such training would focus on the long-term needs of community, rather than the short-term gains so typical of modern politics.]

A mature culture would also train its members to live the “laws” of experience (we want positive, it is easier to get negative, and negative is better than flatness) and the “laws” of relationship (I can change only what I am connected to, others will change if I change, change requires I stay connected), in ways that emphasize both the powerfulness (to create self) and the powerlessness (to change other) inherent in relationship.

The joy of living expands the individual.

Such a culture would live into the stance that the joy of living is in seeking wisdom, rather than domination. Such a culture would educate its members that each member is truly accountable for whatever he or she thinks, feels, and does, without shame or coercion of self or other—that the truly unacceptable is that of violation (restriction of freedom without permission, beyond public safety). Such education would include education on the pitfalls and traps of being human, challenging both individuals and the cultural systems at various levels to “walk their talk.” This would require the recognition that “therapy” is simply another word for the seeking of wisdom, and thus would be honored as part of the development of every human being and every group.

We need a mature democracy.

. . .  a mature culture would develop governance based on wisdom, on statesperson-ship. Our current “two-party” democracy is actually a one-party democracy (Friedman, 2009):

There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great  advantages.

I propose that a mature culture would actually be a no-party democracy, with individuals elected on the basis of perceived wisdom, and with interlocking regional governments, up to a world government. Individuals would be elected on the basis of perceived wisdom by appropriate regional groups to form a regional level of government, that government deciding within itself who would be the proposers of legislation and who would be the devil’s advocates. Leadership would be developed within this membership, based on what was required, and might vary with need. Elected members would shift periodically in their assigned tasks, sometimes legislators, sometimes advocates of resistance. Membership on task groups would evolve out of the skill level of the members as needed. If elected for three terms in a row (15 years, for example), these members would become part of a more senior advisory body, for various additional task assignments. If not elected for such a period, support would be provided to allow re-integration back into the regional group. Essentially, the government would function to be a sophisticated cooperative body, attuned to the needs of the populace it served, yet focused on what the populace needed long-term, not as based on election requirements. . . .

To be continued.

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 1

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

The word govern comes from the Latin gubernare (to direct or guide) and from the Greek kybernan (to steer or pilot a ship). Essentially it means to rule with authority; in democracy, that authority is assigned by the people. Authority itself is power to make decisions and to give orders so as to accomplish a task; it can be delegated, but the delegator is usually still accountable for the accomplishment of the task.

Thus, to govern refers to having power over power, the concept I have been referring to in the last few posts, The Nature of Power. Quite frankly, in the shift to civilization over the past 10,000 years, we have not done very well. Power has controlled us, rather than we having control over power.

We must learn to transform ourselves.

Given we are at the edge of the ending of our current civilization, if not the ending of ourselves as a species, this must change. We must shift from the dominator mode of power to that of a global embrace of personal power. We must learn to value the personal growth of individuals such that they advance in wisdom (phronesis, as well as the supplementary skills of sophia, discipline, hope and playfulness) — see Acedia and The Climate Lie, Part 1 for details.

I say personal power because, although governance largely has to do with professional power, it is the deep transformation of individuals that allows them to be effective leaders. Over thirty years ago, John Scherer[1] introduced me to the Adaptive Skills, the skill set that allows leadership, the skill set that makes you who you are, the core that people “get” when they are with you. A mature society will value the development of these skills in all people, and when well developed, from whence will come leadership.

In my dissertation (and subsequent book Acedia, pp. 200-205), I devoted a number of pages to the governance of a mature society. In re-reading these pages, I have changed little in my thoughts. I will therefore quote extensively from this source, adding some brief comments to update the text.

Challenging growth

As indicated in earlier posts, I suggest that in a mature culture, people would meet several times per week in small groups within their “villages” in order to discuss their own growth as well as the community issues of concern.

. . . they would also mentor each other, challenging both themselves, and the systems within which they live. This would be the place where people cross-link with each other, providing the maturity necessary for the resolution of conflict; it would be the source of growth necessary for the priorities of the [culture]. Such meetings might potentially sound communistic, and subject to the “crab-box effect” of togetherness, but when skillfully led, I know of no richer experience for human interaction — they are the platforms where people develop the skills of authentic relating. When skillfully led, such meetings can be places of immense playfulness and wisdom [as well as the development of leadership skills].

To be continued.

[1]John J. Scherer, The 1980 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, pp. 152-156.

The Nature of Burnout, Part 1

Burnout1After a lot of work, I now have this blog set the way I want (mainly). The process has been deeply frustrating, reminiscent of Sometimes I Hate Technology, and illustrative of how I burnout — over-invested in life being the way I want to be, as compared with how it is.

Burnout. A common phenomenon about which much has been written, but what is it really? It is actually quite simple to describe, and often difficult to resolve, as I well know from my own personal experience (which I will describe shortly).

Burnout occurs when I am overly invested in outcomes I cannot control — sooner or later, I become exhausted, and I call it burnout. Burnout therefore is a measure of the extent that I have not accepted my own powerlessness in life.

What I can control

There are certain things I can control: with discipline, I can control my own behaviors. To a limited extent, I can control my own thoughts and emotions. That is about it. That is actually a lot, because thereupon I can influence others, and I can modify situations. What I cannot control is what other people think, feel, and do in response to me. As noted, I can influence these aspects of life, but after 25 years as a therapist, I am very aware that I cannot consistently and repeatedly get others to do what they do not want to do — I get resistance, and I get sabotaged. And as a result, I eventually get exhausted.

Especially in the nature of global warming, the incidence of burnout will be high. The dominator forces that have created this dilemma are so powerful and so ingrained in our species that it is very easy to get caught in wanting the problem to be solved. And it is the nature of super-wicked problems that every step forward seems to be followed by two steps backwards.

Effective Leadership

So what is the resolution that is needed? Effective leadership — effective leadership of myself by myself, and to the extent that I can influence others, effective leadership of others by me. One of the books that made this clear for me was Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge by Bennis and Nanus. They listed four characteristics of good leaders:

  1. they create attention through vision, their own vision of where the group is to go;
  2. they create meaning through communication — they frame their vision in a compelling fashion, attracting and enlisting the support of followers;
  3. they create trust through positioning — they persist in their vision despite the sabotage that [always] occurs; and
  4. they lead others — they manage themselves, through focus on the positive aspects that they either can control, or can generate within themselves.

From another sources (The Success Principles), Canfield describes this succinctly as

High intention, low attachment.

I’ll have more to say in Part 2.

 

Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: Strategies for taking charge. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Canfield, J., & Switzer, J. (2005). The success principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

The Nature of Power, Part 2

The management of power requires personal authority.
The Power of Personal Authority

Much of this post, as with part 1, is a precis of The Parable Of The Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution by Andrew Schmookler (1984). For me, the book is a brilliant summary of our current cultural stuckness.

If an expanding society willingly stops where its growth would infringe on others, it allows death to catch up and overtake its population [it must become stable . . . to birth and death!]. With no natural order . . . to prevent it, some will surely choose to take what belongs to their neighbors rather than accept the limits that are compulsory for every other form of life.

The Parable of The Tribes

The parable suggested by Schmookler is that of a group of tribes living within reach of one another. They could all choose peace, but what if one is ambitious for expansion and conquest.

The others must respond! Their options are:

  • defeat and destruction,
  • defeat and absorption,
  • fleeing to another location (likely temporary, as well as loss of homeland),
  • successful defense by adoption of their own patterns of aggression

“No one can choose peace, but anyone can impose upon all the necessity for power. . . . Power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually and inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies. . . . A selection for power among civilized societies is inevitable.”

“What is viable in a world beset by the struggle for power is what can prevail. What prevails may not be what best meets the needs of mankind. . . . Power therefore rules human destiny.”

There will be a selective advantage to those who hunger for power. Power is a selective process that gains its potency from being cumulative over time.

What Determines Societal Development

But power is not the only factor determining societal development, merely an important one. Thus there can be other social forces such as the desire for humanizing values, for compassion and beauty, but power competes! And competes in major ways [as evident by our cultural history and our current political environment.]

“Since the rise of civilization, there has been a strong note of torment in the human condition,” monstrous perhaps, evil perhaps. But Parable is not an indictment of human nature — all that is required is the creative development of culture to a certain point of freedom, plus the human capacity of movement towards aggressive behavior (but not the necessity). It is an inevitable stage of human development.

Parable also points out that the parable of the tribes is present both between external groups, and within any one group. The internal processes are what create the benefits and the deficits of governance and of the judiciary system. The dynamics of power can subvert the internal systems just as effectively as the external.

We need to be alarmed about our destructiveness as a species and of our current culture , but it is a simple consequence of our creativity, a tragedy representative of the inevitable options for power. Yet the fall of the tragic hero is the opportunity for humility and recovery.

We Must Manage Power

There is “no way to return the dangerous djinni of human power back into the bottle.” And perhaps mankind will evolve to “control the actions of all to the degree needed to protect the well-being of the whole.” The development of the global village offers this possibility.

Thus Schmookler ends the introductory chapter with the quote I provided in the last post:

The laws of man require power, for power can be controlled with power. The challenge is to design systems that use power to disarm power. Only in such an order can mankind be free.

To all this, I would add the following:

  • Cooperation and authenticity are the necessary vehicles for designing a more mature culture. But they are not sufficient conditions — the transmutation of power is needed.
    • And to be authentic is dangerous. If you have power already you can probably manage the danger but if you do not you are in major trouble. Historically that meant you were killed — in modern times you’re not likely to be killed; we have simply become more subtle in how we threaten people. The movie Trumbo, the story of the blacklisting of Dalton Trumbo during the McCarthy era, is an excellent example of how this is done.
  • It is said that darkness cannot hide in the light. But it can hide! It can hide where there is the denial that darkness exists. This is the current dilemma of global warming, hiding in disinformation.
  • There are many who advocate that we just need be kinder to each other.
    • I am not convinced; we are capable of aggression and viciousness. Attempting to suppress this feature of humanness does not work.

What we need is maturity. We need to be able to do something else, something that includes our tendency to aggression! A fundamental need when stuck is to do something else that transcends and includes. This is the fundamental basis I offer in my anger management program.

The Nature of Power, Part 1

Arrogance - The Power of Domination
Arrogance – The Power of Domination

I’m going to continue with how I ended the last post — the need to manage power. I believe it is essential to do so. I also believe that the book The Parable Of The Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (Andrew Schmookler, 1984) provides brilliant insight into the nature of power.

I am slowly re-reading this book (which I will refer to as Parable), so it will be long before I complete it (likely I will do a number of posts on it). For now, I do not want to lose my immediate insights (and a friend wants this information for a book she is writing). Much of these two posts will be a précis of the first Chapter of Parable.

First to understand power. The definition I use commonly is “the ability to influence.” I distinguish two kinds of power:

  • External power, or the ability to dominate, the ability of one party to impose their will on the second party without the permission of the second party.
    • Domination is characterized by fear, both on the part of the second party (fear of immediate loss) and also on the part of the first party (fear of reprisal).
  • Internal power, or personal power, the ability to influence because the behavior of the first party impresses the second party to the extent that the second party wants to interact with first party.
    • Personal power is characterized by a sense of aliveness, personal integrity, authentic relationships, and the ability to contribute.
    • Many people want this kind of power, both those who have it and those who do not. It is gained by personal growth.

So, some thoughts before I give you a précis of the first chapter of Parable.

Does a deer have choice? Yes, in a sense. Does a human being have choice? Definitely, and seemingly more so.

Can a deer have power. Possibly. Can a lion have power? Definitely a lion can be a dominator in seeking food sources. Can a human being have power? Definitely.

What are the differences? That is a part of what Parable seeks to address.

Parable suggests an alternative view to the commonsense view that human beings have created civilization by choosing beneficial outcomes for humanity. As evidence, the past ten thousand years of human development have been inconsistent and disappointing in terms of what humanity could have achieved, given the striving for good that cultural exemplars manifest. We are capable of great cooperation, but our consistent behaviors are competitive. Why?

First of all, the evolution of human beings has taken millions of years, not just ten thousand. For any species of life to develop, there has been the need for environmental stability. Life has basically been the adaptation to niches, only a few of which have then favored flexibility of response. The more complex niches have allowed more complexity to evolve. Selection eventually favored learning as a more efficient route of development, on which our human complexity has been built over several million years.

Next, because of their ability to learn, human beings maximized the development of culture, the ability to transmit what we have learned from generation to generation. As part of this, tools and language arose, as well as bodily modifications such as heels, hands and mouths to make use of culture.

But culture created the unpredictable animal, the freedom to choose. A “creature with the freedom to choose can be dangerous — to self, to others of his kind, to all life.” Thus arose the myths — only humans can confront the choice between good and evil.

The development of culture was radical, but culture “developed over hundreds of thousands of years without disruption of continuity” in individuals, society, and the natural order. Human societies were limited by the food that nature provided spontaneously! [These were the hunter-gatherers described by Herman in Future Primal, a people representative of the first democracy.]

The development of agriculture and domestication meant more food, more reliably, and thus open-ended changes in the structure of human society. Thus could society shift from hunter-gatherer (small, mobile groups, with social equality) to civilization (large groups, specialized).

In nature, all of life pursues survival, but within biologically evolved limits — “the struggle is part of order. . . . With the rise of civilization, the limits fall away.” Previously growth was limited by scarcity and consequent death. Civilization brought the capacity of seemingly unlimited growth.

In so doing, “full-scale civilization arose and showed a frightening face.” Social equality gave rise to “rigid stratification with the many compelled to serve the few! Civilization magnified the freedom, but was no longer subject to the limitations posed by nature. Civilization became governed a wholly new evolutionary principle, power!

To be continued.

Acedia and Evil

The desire to give up! Caught in despair.
The desire to give up! Caught in despair.

I’ve been reading some of the articles accessible through The Climate Mobilization website, especially those concerning what we are now learning about the risks of global warming, even at our current level. It is so much worse than I thought! And I regard myself as well-informed in this area. For me, the issues are so related to the acedia of our civilization.

Gradually we are shifting. More and more leaders are speaking out for the need for profound change. However, all that leaders can do is lead! It is followers that create the bulk of the change. We need the majority of our culture to speak out.

And there is some evidence that the cultural majority are aware of this need. Recent research suggests that 54% of people in four Western countries acknowledge high risk of our civilization ending, and 24% recognize the risk of human extinction, all in the next 100 years.

Acedia and Evil

In this post I want to finish with the topic of acedia, in particular the nature of evil.

In The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism, Andrew Harvey tells the story of a major agribusiness CEO who knew exactly what destruction he was causing to the lives of thousands of people, but proceeded anyway simply for the sense of power that it gave him. When I reflect on modern tragedies such as

  • the duplicity of British Petroleum in the 2010 Gulf environmental disaster,
  • ExxonMobil being aware of the impact of fossil fuel on global warming in the 1970s, and deliberately hiding this information (presumably for profit to the company),
  • the Koch brothers’ massive manipulation of the American political system,
  • and many other political-economic-environmental disasters of recent years,

I cannot but consider these actions as evil — the active antagonism of what life offers, the hiding for political-economic power. Such actions must be identified, and stopped, but there is the danger of focusing on these issues, rather than looking at the system (the Cultural Lie, including myself as part to this system) which allows such actions to develop.

The Banality of Acedia and Evil

I also know from Hannah Arendt’s work on the banality of evil and Milgram’s work on obedience to authority, that the possibility of evil is a fundamental human characteristic. I consider evil as the end-point of the spectrum of acedia, as shown in the accompanying diagram. The manifestations of acedia (self-righteousness, laziness, fearfulness) are not evil per se, but they set the stage for evil, especially the acceptance of evil acts by others, wherein acedia displays as an attitude of “it doesn’t matter,” “who cares?,” or “it can’t be helped.”

AcediaSpectrum1

Yet the fundamental difficulty of evil is the attempt to eliminate evil — it sets a false dichotomy of us against them, and if only we eliminate them, things will be fine. When we as individuals fail to recognize how our silence and/or tokenism in the Climate Lie perpetuates the system, we support the evil of actions such as above.

As a culture, we have enjoyed the benefits of technology, and have been unwilling to recognize or pay the costs. We live gross inequality, with massive world poverty (amidst conclaves of richness), extensive hunger (especially starvation of  children), mistreatment of minorities (especially women in underdeveloped countries), waste and pollution (our garbage accumulates), amongst other inequities. We live the acedia cycle, especially in our lack of charity in resolving these issues. We have extensive “charitable organizations,” yet as a culture we lack the charity to resolve these  difficulties.

So what to do? Most of the power is held by those who are creating the inequality, mainly the leaders of the multi-national corporations. (Likely only a small minority of these corporations — I presume most are honorable, but we must find a way through so as to disempower those that create the most disruption of equitable society. And in any event, I am not interested in created the us versus them dilemma.)

The Need for Civil Disobedience

Gier (2006), in Three Principles of Civil Disobedience: Thoreau, Gandhi, and  King, notes that effective civil disobedience requires that:

  • one maintain respect for the rule of law even while disobeying the specific law perceived as unjust;
  • one should plead guilty to any violation of the law; and
  • one should attempt to convert the opponent by demonstrating the justice of one’s

I believe that civil disobedience is the only route that we can take. To engage in evil to combat evil will not lead to a mature culture. We have made attempts, such as the Occupy movement, but they need to continue.

Are we worthy of being a mature culture? I hope so.

Acedia and the Climate Lie, Part 2

The desire to give up! Caught in despair.
The desire to give up! Caught in despair.

The Climate Lie

I take this term from what I read in The Climate Mobilization website — it refers to:

Our society is living within a massive lie. The lie says, “Everything is fine and we should proceed with business as usual. We are not destroying our climate and, with it, our stability and our civilization. We are not committing passive suicide.

The lie says we are fine—that climate change isn’t real, or is uncertain, or is far away, or won’t be bad enough to threaten humanity. The lie says that small changes will solve the problem. That recycling, bicycling, or closing the Keystone Pipeline will solve the problem. The lie allows people to put climate change in the back of their minds. To view it as someone else’s issue—the domain of scientists or activists. The lie allows us to focus on other things. To proceed with business as usual. To be calm and complacent while our planet burns.

… [The lie is] sustained by people living within the lies. Our lie is a lie co-created by the government, corporations, the media, and the people. These organizations encourage the lie, but it only exists because we, the people accept it and choose to live within it. The basic lie is “We should continue with business as usual, for everything is fine. There are three  major ways that the Climate Lie operates: intellectual denial, emotional denial, and environmental tokenism.

I agree that all this is the climate lie, and I suggest the problem is even bigger — it should be called the Culture Lie, subsuming scientific materialism and consumerism.

The Difficulty of the Climate Lie

It is so hard to write about — it is so big, and so entangled, that I cannot do justice in this small space. Yet I strongly urge the reader to take the time to read the key documents on The Climate Mobilization site. They are well-written, but long, and require a lot to time to digest.

And that is the weakness — the intricacy of the Climate/Culture Lie is such that the average person is likely to give up — it takes too much effort. Frequently I give up — I am forced by time and despair to accept descriptions that I cannot adequately validate nor can I understand their complexity, but yet the descriptions seem to make imminent sense in how they describe the complexity. Examples for me include my attempting to understand the older Keynesian economics and how they were replaced by neoliberalism, both of which have led to the destructive consumerism of modern culture.

Acedia and the Lie

It is this giving up that pushes me towards my own acedia, and I suspect underlies the vast acedia of our culture. In my PhD research, I proposed that the internal conflict that precedes acedia is a force field of many factors. On the positive side are the processes that could lead to resolution (phronesis): wisdom (sophia), discipline, hope and playfulness, all of which are disparaged in our present culture.

A balance of forces, heavily weighted to acedia
A balance of forces, heavily weighted to acedia

On the acedia side are the ways in which we treat ourselves. Inherently we are pain avoiders (basic biology), but our cultural models generally push us to self-deprecation (especially self-criticism when we do not fit the cultural models of size, shape, success, etc.), familial trauma (as families struggle with many internal and external demands of success, personal satisfaction, finances, etc.), and cultural trauma (in the many subtle ways in which we struggle with the failed promises of technology and economic life). And from this stance, we treat the planet: we allow world hunger, the maltreatment of women and children, the subtle maltreatment of men (witness the farmer suicides of India), environmental disaster after disaster — the list goes on.

What a mess! It is the mess that requires long-term correction to take us to a culture that intrinsically values all human life, and all of creation.

But the first order of priority is to stop global warming, and its immediate antecedents, the fossil fuel industry in its many pervasive forms. If we do not do that, the rest doesn’t matter.

I have therefore joined the Climate Mobilization in its pledge of action.

Coming next: Acedia and Evil.

Acedia and the Climate Lie, Part 1

The noon-day demon, blocking all joy!
The noon-day demon, blocking all joy!

If you are like me, you probably have never heard of the concept of acedia. I had not until I started my PhD, this despite more than 50 years of extensive reading. In this post, we look at the nature of acedia, and how it is the cultural norm; next post, I will tie it into how we maintain the Climate Lie.

What is acedia?

Why has no one heard of it? For one thing, the word has been in and out of the English language since its inception in ancient Greek, frequently labeled as archaic; its history is documented in my book Acedia. Originally it was a monastic term, and it did not survive the philosophic shift from religiosity to scientific materialism. Acedia described the condition of objecting to the effort of living, of being loving or charitable.

It was replaced by terms ranging from ennui to depression — less depth and breadth though; acedia is a better choice for me. I came to regard acedia as any combination of laziness, fearfulness and self-righteousness, all terms that block the individual from authenticity or spiritual maturity. And even these terms are easily misunderstood, usually with scorn — as noted, acedia objects to the effort of being authentic.

When people encounter a painful situation, they inherently want to resolve the pain; they want to authentically feel good and be satisfied with life. They ponder the issues, and if they have enough wisdom (as depth of understanding of universal truths, what the Greeks called sophia), they move to resolution (so-called practical wisdom, or phronesis) — and feel good. If not, they are usually in some kind of internal conflict — they want resolution, but they also want the pain to go away. If they have enough discipline, they work through the issues, again to resolution. If not, they shift to avoidance — still, if they have enough hope, they again find a way to move to resolution. In all of this, the skills of awareness (recognition) and of playfulness further aid in movement to resolution.

AcediaEvolution

If none of this occurs, they move into some means of numbing the pain, some form of acedia manifest as laziness, fearfulness, or self-righteousness so as to overwhelm or transmute the pain into something familiar, some way to avoid. Then they cycle back into the patterns, with a different kind of pain, but one that they can mask.

It works! If it didn’t, we wouldn’t do it.

The problem is that acedia does not lead to long-term resolution, just avoidance. And in our culture, it is not easily challenged; it is judged inappropriate, but not shifted. Nor do we as a culture give much value to any of the needed skills: wisdom (sophia or phronesis), discipline (except for engaging in sports), hope (wishful thinking, yes; authentic hope, no), or playfulness (when do you really authentically play?).

Acedia as cultural norm.

So how has this become the cultural norm? I suggest that since the beginning of civilization, we have traumatized ourselves and each other. In The Parable Of The Tribes, Schmookler links the inherent difficulties of domination with the very nature of civilization. Since the very beginning (about 12,000 years ago), civilization has been a two-edged sword, with empire as the foundation. To have an empire means winners (dominators) and losers (subjects). The Greeks developed democracy, but were a slave culture. Fast forward to the Renaissance with the development of science and the Industrial Revolution, and industrial slavery and the rise of alcoholism. The 20th century brought technology and the valuing of women, and consumerism. The 21st century has given us the valuing of diversity, and global warming.

Look around. How many people do you know who are truly happy? How many alcoholics do you know? What about domestic violations? Or world hunger? Or the numerous political-economic betrayals of the past 50 years? We have a strange culture, certainly not a mature one.

We live the Climate Lie, the Cultural Lie.

Coming next: Acedia and the Climate Lie.

The Threshold of Anxiety in Global Warming

As anxiety diminishes, people engage more.
As anxiety diminishes, people engage more.

So what are the factors that block engagement in global warming?

In a recent podcast The Big Man Can’t Shoot, journalist Malcolm Gladwell identifies the need for social approval as a major factor in effective choice. Gladwell tells the story of a legendary basketball player with only one flaw: his success rate at free throws from the foul line was only about 40%. He was coached by a colleague whose success rate was 93%, and was able to improve himself to 87% — a huge advance and one that could make him almost unstoppable. The catch: he had to make “granny shots” — underhand throws rather than overhead shots, that are the standard of the league. And he wouldn’t do so — because he would look “silly.” Nor would other players, again because they would be breaking the unspoken norms of play — even though they would be better players!

What Gladwell identified was what I call the threshold of anxiety that must be overcome when one’s behavior does not match the common deportment of the peer group, the so-called peer pressure that exists within any group, even when unspoken. The threshold level varies from person to person, but always is a factor in the decision to act. This means that for any individual, a certain number of their trusted peers have to act in a certain way before they themselves will undertake the action.

Translating this to the need for massive mobilization in response to global warming, there is potentially a large body of the public waiting for others to act before they themselves will engage significantly. Many of these people will be those I identified in my last post as those people who are chronically overwhelmed by too much stuff. Salamon in Living In Climate Truth goes into more depth as to how individuals use intellectual denial, emotional denial, and tokenism to avoid action to maintain the Climate Lie that all is well, and someone else will resolve the issues. Or the individual believes that nothing can be done, and settles into low-grade cynicism, contaminating others in major ways.

Potentially when enough others have shifted into effective action, there could then be a snowball effect in response. But when? Will it occur soon enough to forestall disastrous effect?

I suspect not. To use myself as example, I started hearing about environmental issues in the 1960s and 1970s, and had enough background in science (degrees in physics and biophysics by that point) to know that we humans were doing significant damage to the environment. But I was “too busy with other issues” in my life. Fast forward to the 1990s when I had a small acreage in Ontario, land that I actually regarded as sacred — I knew “activists” who were challenging government regulations, but “I wasn’t an activist.” Then in 2009 when I finally got it, I was in deep despair for months, and only in the past year did my resolve crystallize. So if it has taken me this long, what chance do we have as a species?

Yet, if I accept this line of reasoning, it is likely that nothing effective will happen. I must act into the assumption that many are waiting in the wings simply for the snowball effect.

There is no question in my own mind that I am angry at the complexity and frequent ineffectiveness of my culture. I am not angry at individuals; I am angry at the systemic morass we have created — but if I allow my anger to take over, I will burnout. It’s a no-win situation. I’m very good at anger management, including my own. So, often I fall back on simple affirmations such as “Let Go; Let God,” or “High Intention, Low Attachment.”

What I don’t know how to do is how to get people to engage. Currently, I am reading Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga for some hints. Many days I’m convinced I am a slow learner.

Coming next: The nature of acedia.