Category Archives: Important Concepts

Difficulties: solvable or resolvable?

A magnet always has two poles.
A magnet always has two poles.

When you have a difficulty, is it solvable? Is global warming solvable?

In this post, I want to explore the distinction between solvable and resolvable. To solve something means that the difficulty it represents goes away — you are complete with it. To resolve something means you are at peace with it — it may still be a difficulty, but you are satisfied that you know what to do about it. (In the last post, I’ll indicated why I talk about difficulties, and the distinction between difficulties and problems, another important distinction.)

The distinction is important — global warming is not solvable; it is resolvable. The underlying factors of global warming, the acedia of our species, is not solvable; it is resolvable. Both issues likely require ongoing life-long attention to our own growth as individuals and as a society so to be at peace with what life offers.

An excellent description of the distinction is found in Polarity Management by Barry Johnson — what follows is principally my summary of his paper. I use slightly different language from Barry — solvable instead of right/wrong, and resolvable instead of polarity.

Solvable (right/wrong): one “right” answer, or two (or more) answers that are “right,” and independent of each other.

  • Right/wrong distinctions are the essential means of transmitting knowledge from one generation to another, e.g., 4 + 4 = 8.
  • Or they contain the cultural messages of right and wrong: “In this culture, we value . . .”
    • Note that if the question is phrased as “Should I value X or Y?” there is the implication that both values are somehow important, and also they are somehow related to each other — they are part of the same dilemma (they are not independent). This is a polarity difficulty, not a right/wrong difficulty (see below) — another example of sloppy language.
  • Solving difficulties creates closure, and eliminates the searching through numerous “wrong” answers.
    • Often the difficulty is phrased: a or b, but only if a and b are independent of each other. Here a and b are facts, such that one is right and the other wrong.
  • >95% of the teachings in formal education are based on solvable (right/wrong) distinctions.
    • Because virtually all our educational experience is in solvable (right/wrong) difficulties, we automatically lock into the possibility of solving difficulties, rather than resolving them.

Resolvable (polarity): two or more answers that are interdependent on each other.

  • These distinctions are essential in passing the socialization elements of culture from one generation to another, e.g., “In my relationship with my friend, should I be concerned about her, or should I be concerned about myself?”
    • Often the difficulty is phrased as or, even though both a and b are right, and there is possibly a choice to be made.

Knowing the distinction between solvable and resolvable, and when to apply appropriate tools to each, is very important to the changing of systems. A major difficulty is that, on first glance, solvable (right/wrong) and resolvable (polarity) difficulties look alike. Because we are so attuned to solvable (right/wrong) difficulties, we tend to approach all difficulties looking for solutions. Then we find a solution — but wonder why we are getting resistance from others for our wonderful solution! Well, we have likely found ½ of a polarity difficulty; the resistance represents the other half!

Polarity-Breathing

To better identify the character of resolvable (polarity) difficulties, Johnson suggests the metaphor of breathing. Breathing requires the intake of oxygen (inhalation) and the removal of carbon dioxide (exhalation); both are essential, and are obviously interdependent. There are eight components of importance, in pairs: inhalation and exhalation (neutral, the interdependent processes), death and life (outcomes), why we breath (the need for oxygen intake and carbon dioxide removal — the higher purpose), and the consequences of not breathing (too little oxygen or too much carbon dioxide — the deepest fear). In breathing, you cannot just choose to breath in, or to breath out — both have significant negative consequences; they are interdependent.

The skill of management of polarity difficulties is to find the optimal balance of achieving the positive benefits of both poles (inhalation and exhalation), without the negative consequences of excess of either. With the issue of breathing, the body-mind system does this automatically, generally without our needing to consciously think about the choices or consequences. However most polarity difficulties require careful attention and integration of the benefits of each pole, while minimizing the undesirable consequences of each.

In this blog, I simply want to make the distinction, principally because global warming, and the deeper management of cultural acedia, are both resolvable (polarity) difficulties — they are not solvable. Global warming is especially complex —we have both caused it, in our unconscious behaviors as a species, and there are many interdependent aspects to be considered. It is possible that, as the consequences of global warming become more apparent, we might stumble into a more mature management of the issues, but to bet on this happening is like buying a lottery ticket with the expectation of winning. Not likely!

Digression: difficulties versus problems?

Problems1

When you encounter issues that trouble you, are they difficulties or are they problems? Is global warming a difficulty, or is it a problem?

In this post, I want to clarify the distinction between difficulties and problems — I think it is an important distinction in the issues of cultural maturity. I explain it clearly in my book Acedia, and I am simply going to quote it here:

In Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution, Watzlawick et al (1974) note difficulties simply as an undesirable state of affairs, and problems as issues created and maintained [my emphasis] by the mishandling of difficulties. Difficulties can either be 1) resolved through some common-sense action, or 2) they are “undesirable but usually quite common life situations for which there exists no known solution and which—at least for the time being—must simply be lived with” (pp. 38-39). As example, “death” is a difficulty; there is no solution, only resolution. I also propose that acedia is a difficulty—whereas one can repeatedly choose the path of health, this choice is always between health and acedia (otherwise there would never be internal conflict).

Watzlawick et al (1974, p. 39) also note that there are basically three ways in which problems arise: 1) denial of the difficulty; 2) change is attempted when, for all practical purposes, the difficulty is unchangeable; and 3) action occurs in a way that sustains the difficulty. I propose that climate change is both a difficulty and a problem. We have not yet reached a resolution, yet alone a solution, and there is great denial, as well as a predominant focus simply on economics and technological change as a solution to climate issues. Technological resolutions may resolve the immediate situation, but I cannot foresee how it will lead to significant change in the underlying issue of acedia, or the fundamental deficits of our society that have promoted climate change.

To solve something means that the difficulty it represents goes away — you are complete with it. To resolve something means you are at peace with it — it may still be a difficulty, but you are satisfied that you know what to do about it.

An example. At one point in my careers, I was a specialist anaesthetist, a physician skilled in both caring for patients in the operating room, and also in the intensive care unit. One of the difficulties of intensive care, especially with more prolonged disorders of health, is that death is a frequent outcome, despite good care. Death is a natural outcome of life (a difficulty), sometimes sad but always inevitable for every person — it is just not clear when. What used to amaze me was the number of physicians who were angry that patients died; these physicians somehow were attempting to solve death (death was a problem), rather than be at peace that, despite their best efforts, patients died.

I also knew that there was a huge financial investment in stopping death — I vaguely recall (~1985) that almost 50% of medical costs (American, but also likely Canadian) occurred within the last three months of life, i.e., preventing death. Much of this cost may have been appropriate; some was not. I knew the factors involved in the choices to continue care in these difficult situations. Broad brushstrokes — patients with failure of more than two organ systems did not survive; patients with life-threatening blunt trauma (car accidents, for example) did not survive.

So my standard, part of my personal living will, is that if I am unconscious and have more than two systems in failure (e.g., stroke and kidney failure, on a respirator), I do not wish ongoing treatment. Let death be the natural outcome; I do not wish to be a problem.

Tomorrow:

Solvable (right/wrong) problems and resolvable (polarity) problems.

The factors that determine change

Math is just a way to represent relationships.
Math is just a way to represent relationships.

My second digression — a mathematical formula, perhaps scary to some (or many). Bear with me; this formula is actually quite easy to grasp. And appropriate for envisioning a mature society.

First, math is nothing more than a way to describe relationships between ideas. The ideas may refer to numbers, shapes, automobiles, or any group of ideas that change in predictable fashion. (It can get complex, but in general people have been scared by the complexity when the simplicity was not explained.) But we do need to grasp the relationships.

When I first went to university (more than 55 years ago — yikes), I intended to become a theoretical astrophysicist (envision me and Steven Hawking) — my first degree is in maths and physics; little did I realize I would end up studying the inner cosmos rather than the outer.

I still have an interest in math. About twenty years ago, attempting to grasp the nature of change, I devised the above formula to describe the factors involved in change. It has proven very useful to me in working with people.

As you read further, think about how changes have occurred in your life. What precipitated the change? What was happening around you?

Change (the upside triangle) is a continuous process; it takes time. Specific aspects can appear rapidly, and re-organization of the emotional system can happen abruptly, but integration requires time. The change must start from where the individual is (the dot in the middle), not from where they want or should be; these latter locales are wish statements, not reality.

The individual (p) is always part of a system (Z) of individuals and concepts, of interlocking emotional triangles, usually of great complexity. This complexity can provide support and safety for the individual, and it can also inhibit transformation of the individual, via the “togetherness” factor.

The individual must have some sense of pain (H), and not be overwhelmed by it — if the pain is too intense, the individual will collapse. He or she must also have some sense of safety (s), as provided by the community or perhaps provided by maturity within the individual. If no pain, the motivation to change is likely to be minimal, and if overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness in the face of trauma, the individual is likely to move to acedia. The risk of acedia is always present — to an unknown degree (X), depending on the background trauma, and how it is triggered by the current circumstances.

The individual must also have a sense of vision (V), a vision that fits (f) the circumstances, and provides authentic hope for the future. If the vision does not fit, the individual cannot draw energy from it to move towards the future. This vision can be a simple desire, or it can be a complex myth that provides hope.

Tools (T) of some kind must be available — this is the primary role of therapy. And there is always risk (r) — some therapists are better than others; some tools have risks greater than their benefits. I suggest that the better tools (both people and concepts) draw upon the skills of playfulness, wisdom, hope, and discipline, allowing the possibility of shifting the balance within the force field of acedia towards that of practical judgment, phronesis.

Finally, change ultimately depends on grace (g), the synchronicity offered by the universe, God by another language. Panpsychism (my preferred mode of understanding the nature of reality) suggests that God exists (as the totality of sentient beings), and that (as a component of this totality) each individual sentient being possesses free will. We each makes choices about how we live. In addition, God provides the opportunity (e.g., possibilities) for us to live well. Even if God does not exist or even if the universe is eventually found to be meaningless, each individual still has the option to act as if it is meaningful, and to create a myth that will allow him or her to live within what life offers—in a stance of love, in contrast to acedia.

Each one of these factors will be part of the development of a maturing society.

Tomorrow: the differences between difficulties and problems.

The Force Field of Change

ChangeFF

I woke up this morning aware that, for me to continue this discussion of envisioning a mature society, there are a number of digressions that I need to introduce. I want my writing to emphasize useful process, rather than utopian ideas. So —

  • the Force Field of Change,
  • the factors that determine change,
  • the differences between difficulties and problems. and
  • the differences between solvable and resolvable difficulties.

I need to explore these so as to have clarity of language — clarity of language is so important to me. If I am to make my musings meaningful, I need to write about them in a way that communicates what I want to say.

One of the difficulties of life is that it is a miracle that human beings are able to communicate at all — there are so many nuances to be overcome. A couple of statements emphasize this for me:

“I believe you understand what you think I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I said,”

and (this time with emphasis)

I believe you understand what you think I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I said.”

Onwards and upwards — the Force Field of Change.

Force Fields are way to indicate that factors that come into a problem, in this case: change. (I’ve described them in a different context in an earlier post.) Effective change requires:

  • honesty as to where I am in the present (best with a sensory-grounded description of what is actually occurring,
  • a detailed vision of what I want in the future (essentially the scenery on the road),
  • a description of the forces that are assisting me in moving forward (the motivating factors), and
  • a description of the forces that are stopping my progress (the deterrent forces).

Together, all of this determines where I am in the present, balanced within the various forces. But I am not in the future. If I am to get to the future, I need to augment the motivating forWarmingFFces, the driving forces, and diminish the deterrent forces, the restraining forces. From my perspective as therapist, I suggest that diminishing the deterrent forces is more powerful than augment the motivators. But it is more painful to do so, and therefore people often focus on the augmentors.

Applied to the issues of seeking a mature culture, global warming is only one of the restraining forces. For the most part, climate change is a technological issue, but the underlying forces driving it are emotional. In my PhD, I identified these forces as the acedia of our culture; the force field thus became:

  • diminishing the many ways in which we traumatize ourselves, and
  • increasing the factors that move us to maturity: wisdom, discipline, hope, and playfulness.

AcediaDeterminants

Appropriately modifying all of these forces must become intentional parts of daily living in a maturing society.

Tomorrow: the factors that determine change.

Read the fine print!

Diablo Nuclear Plant to be closed --- maybe?
Diablo Nuclear Plant to be closed — maybe?

I am so tired of the duplicity of our culture!

A colleague Paul Ray sends me lots of information about climate change issues, for which I am very grateful — not only are they usually pertinent, but he often highlights the significant components in the emails he sends.

Such is the case here, referring to the Diablo Nuclear Plant in California: Diablo Shutdown Marks End of Atomic Era . If you scan the article (fairly long), it looks fairly good, but if you read the last dozen paragraphs (all of which Paul highlights), beginning with “But … then listen to the rest of the news …,” it includes closure not until approximately 2025, ongoing environmental violations, possibly no money for the closure and the necessary safety measures, and the possibility that the “closed” plant could continue to operate in an unlicensed fashion.

This duplicity is one of the reasons I push the ideas of my blog (www.thehumansideofglobalwarming.com) and website (www.aplacetwobe.ca): we need emotional maturing of our culture, and essentially the only way in which this will occur is when huge numbers of individuals risk the work of emotional maturity.

In the meantime, we sort through stuff that sounds good, but has many difficulties hidden within (the fine print!).

Are you spiritual? What is spirituality? (Part 2 of 2)

Spirituality1

In the first part of this post, I discussed religion; I suggest here that spirituality refers to something broader than religion, but includes religion. If we think of religion as expressed as one dimension (belief systems), spirituality has three dimensions: that of

  • belief systems,
  • value systems (faith development over time), and
  • transformative experience (mystical experience).

An individual’s religion varies from belief in God to a belief that God is a figment of imagination; his/her spirituality can vary anywhere within this three dimensional structure.

Cultural maturity: a framework for spirituality
Cultural maturity: a framework for spirituality

John Fowler, in Stages of Faith, suggested that human beings undergo a hierarchical staging of faith development, expressed largely as an evolving locus of authority and a value system. A locus of authority identifies to what aspect of life I give authority, outward to the rules of others (the Bible, the Koran, etc.), or inwards to my own searching for wisdom. Values are very different from beliefs; values express what I (or others) consider important (and are often hidden within beliefs).

Fowler suggested that, during their lives, people move from relative rigidity and a focus on external authority (fundamentalism), through conventionality and questioning, to an deep acceptance and compassion, eventually living their own truths with profound authenticity. At these latter stages, people live the rules, not just follow them. It is important to note here that the rules they live are the principles that would generally be considered wise and compassionate, and they often live them fiercely, and passionately. Examples for me include Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and others; on the surface, many of these individuals are religious, but fundamentally I suggest they are deeply spiritual. The process is age-dependent, and only a small number of people proceed through all stages.

I am also reminded here of an adage: “Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment;” the development of faith often requires much work. Part of this work is the work that occurs in therapy. A number of sources I know have noted that individuals in therapy often become less religious and more spiritual, less focused on beliefs and more focused on value systems.

The third aspect of spirituality is that some individuals have profound experiences that transform their lives. Examples range from the awe of sunrises to those of near-death experiences and other occurrences. I myself have had a number of experiences that have dramatically transformed my life.

For some individuals, the experiences have been so profound that the impact is strongly felt by those around them. The stories of Jesus, Mohamed, and Buddha express this clearly, and are the basic foundation of these religions. I would also suggest that these individuals are at the high end of Fowler’s scale of faith development, having had profound experiences, subsequently radically living their own authenticity.

Thus I consider spirituality as having three inter-related dimensions, all of which can be transformative, and give meaning and purpose to life:

  • belief systems (faith tradition or religion)
  • value systems of authenticity (faith development of values and locus of authority)
  • direct experience (mystery)

Personally, I have been deeply affected by each of these.

Furthermore I suggest that every human being has a spiritual life, some more enriching than others; every human being exists somewhere within these three dimension of beliefs, authenticity, and direct experience.

My questions ultimately to everyone are:

  • What gives meaning to your life?, and
  • Is the universe friendly?

Are you spiritual? What is spirituality? (Part 1 of 2)

Spirituality1

A science that does not incorporate spirituality is dehumanizing;                     a spirituality that does not include science is delusional.

I indicated in my last few posts that I would clarify what I mean by spiritual. When I was a therapist, many of my clients struggled with finding a sense of meaning or purpose in life; for some, it is a profound dilemma. In seeking resolution, I would often ask these clients if they were religious, or if they were spiritual. Most of the time the answer I would receive would be “I’m spiritual; I’m not religious.” If I then asked “What do you mean by spiritual,” the answer I received was somewhat vague. I want here to clarify what I personally mean, as I believe the distinctions are vital to understanding and contributing to a maturing world.

Before you read on, I invite you to consider a number of questions:

  • What do you believe regarding the nature of the universe and its relationship, if any, to a creative principle called God, Creator, or some other name?
  • What are the important principles that guide how you live your life? How do you decide if something is right or wrong?
  • When, if ever, have you had experiences of profound indescribable awe?

First, what is religion? My best understanding is that a religion is a faith tradition, i.e., a set of beliefs (often including values) that attempt to explain how we should function during our lives. At some time in the past, a compassionate and/or wise individual so impressed his or her group that an extended community developed around this individual, a community that endured long after the death of the original individual (this certainly happened with Jesus, Mohamed, and Buddha). Usually the originating individual had had some kind of mystical experience that was deeply transformative for this individual. The set of beliefs and traditions about the individual and/or his/her actions became part of the community, and over centuries as the community expanded, the process came to be known as a religion.

In religion, the beliefs generally range from God, at one end of a spectrum, to no God, at the other end. On the God end, there are many traditions (Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, etc.), whereas at the other end, the traditions are limited — there is agnostic (not knowing, still seeking) and atheist (no God). (Contrary to what most people think, I consider atheism to be a religion, albeit one in which the principle belief is that of no God.) Depending on tradition (and literal interpretation of tradition), the God character ranges from a being of central authority to that of a less well-defined searching by the individual. In Buddhism for the most part, there is no God, and the Buddhist path is principally a seeking of what does it mean to be human in a spiritual dimension.

Generally religions also present some kind of ethics, a set of beliefs about how one should act in the difficulties of living. Often the ethics are very appropriate, but they are usually tied to (perhaps lost within) the proscribed beliefs of the religion.

Religions have propagated over hundreds or thousands of years, and seem to be a fundamental need for human beings. I suggest that the mechanism by which they have propagated is that we humans:

  • search for meaning, and
  • do not like “not knowing;” we want certainty so as to be safe within our communities — if we know the rules, and follow them, our lives will be peaceful.

Religions, thus, are faith traditions, the beliefs and values that have arisen over time in association with significant past experience. Essentially, religions allow us to follow the rules and keep safe. One of the Indian saints, Vivekananda is noted as saying: “It is wonderful to have been born in a church; it is terrible to die there.” I believe he was referring to the distinction between religion and spirituality.

I do not wish to disparage religions, but I do note a number of problems. In particular, there have been two problems of the 20th and 21st centuries, likely as a response to the meaningless projected by scientific materialism and its associated consumerism:

  • many people have given up on religious systems, shifting either to some form of atheism or some form of non-religious spirituality (sometimes remaining within a church system, attempting to transform the system from within).
  • other people have become more rigid in defense of their belief systems, and thus we have seen a major rise in religious fundamentalism, both within Christianity and within Islam. Both groups have contributed in major ways to the turmoil of modern life.

Most important to me is that the emotional maturity — the spirituality— of people who claim to be religious can vary tremendously, from those who are convinced that they have the absolute truth about life (and often insist that others do not) to those who have deep compassion for the whole of humanity. Unfortunately most religious individuals become branded with the tar of the least mature. Such individuals sometimes use the title of religion as an excuse for reprehensible acts. In North America, most Muslims have been inappropriately labeled with this tar; in so doing, those who do the tarring demonstrate their own immaturity.

To be continued.

What is Personal Growth?

PersonalGrowth1

I was going to talk about spirituality but I thought it would be useful first to identify personal growth; I imagine you the reader have heard the term personal growth. What does it mean? For that matter, what do the terms therapy and counseling mean? What is their relation to spirituality?

What follows are my reflections. (I am not an advocate of definitions — they are too static; I have been too influenced by an Aramaic concept wherein the speaker and listener are both aware of the many connotations of words, and thus a much richer possibility of dialogue.)

Growth, in the context of this blog, refers to: Development from a lower or simpler to a higher or more complex form; evolution. Personal Growth refers to the complex act by which human beings challenge themselves to become more mature, usually both more wise and more playful; it can take many forms but often involves some form of counselling or therapy with a wiser mentor.

PersonalGrowth2Consider the following. A baby (you, for example) comes into the world as a relative blank slate (with much background programming, but a vast amount to learn). The baby is then subject to a huge amount of living, some very caring and some painful (life happens; responses occur). The child copes and adapts: responding, copying, manipulating — developing deeply embedded responses of how to cope with a complex world (these are called the Adaptive Skills[1], patterns of who we are, not just what we know). Many of these responses of the baby are too painful to be kept conscious, so they are hidden behind a wall — these responses are the skills of adaptation.

Individuals who have successfully developed these skills are generally:

  • aware of themselves and their impact on others,
  • easy to talk with (both by those in authority and by those over whom they have authority),
  • emotionally available (able to both express and describe their emotional life),
  • cognitively available (able to give and receive feedback cleanly),
  • able to delay gratification, and
  • flexible to conflict

An impressive list — some individuals have been fortunate to grow up in families where these skills are easily learned. Most of us are not so lucky — but the skills can be learned at a later stage of life.

PersonalGrowth3That is the role of personal growth and therapy. The two overlap, but they are different for me. Personal growth usually involves expansion of what I already know of myself, deepening who I am in many ways; it can be approached alone, without aid of another, but often involves good mentoring. Therapy acts on what is behind the wall — ideally it punches holes in the wall, allowing the individual to become wiser and more mature in who they are, and especially, therapy allows the development of the adaptive skill set. (The term counseling, for me, is a nebulous term that is supposed to act like therapy, but generally does not have the power of therapy.)

From my perspective, good therapy is experiential and inductive. Action, not just talking about, is required, and neither therapist nor client really knows the outcome, only that it is high risk (perhaps for both client and therapist), and fraught with pain — the wall is there for a purpose.

Finally, a number of my mentors have suggested the characteristics of a good therapist:

  • least important, they have a theoretical framework, a way of thinking and talking that allows them to discuss what has happened after they and the client have been in action.
  • they have practical experience of working with clients, and a support system that allows them to discuss what mis-takes have occurred.
  • they focus on their own personal growth, they themselves being the primary resource they bring to therapy (because therapy is a relationship, not a power trip).

This is a list I agree with — so if I am going to work with a therapist myself, I want to know they have done their own growth work. I want someone who helps me to be myself; I don’t want someone who tells me who I should be — I can read that in a book.

As for spirituality, the opening of the individual to all of who they are is the foundation of spirituality. A truism of therapy is that when an religious individual enters therapy , they usually leave less religious but more spiritual, and if they enter without religious status, they often leave more religious (and still more spiritual). Therapy promotes expansion of spirituality.

[1] Scherer, J. J. (1980). Job-related adaptive skills. Towards personal growth. In J. W. Pfeiffer & J. E. Jones (Eds.), The 1980 annual handbook for group facilitators. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. I am thankful for John’s assistance in my PhD research.

The Problem of Visioning

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

Having a vision is a problem!

There are, unfortunately, multiple problems with having a vision. Earlier, I mentioned three phases to an effective vision.

    • First, an emotionally rich, multi-sensory vision. How to achieve this? Whenever I analyze a problem, and create a detailed statement or list of how I should respond or what others should value, it activates my conscious mind, but it does not energize me. The word should is a special deterrent — “should” is always a double message, with part of me wanting to do so, and part resisting. An effective vision has to energize me!
    • Second, honesty of the present state, even if inappropriate Unfortunately, human beings are profoundly capable of delusion and denial. Hitler was an incredible visionary (!) and very energized! But his underlying value system was delusional.

The global warming disinformers are also visionary — they are focused on the outcome of money.

    • Third, even with both of the above in place (emotionally rich honesty), big visions require effort, huge effort. Effective leadership is required to maintain such visions, and burnout is high!

The stance of leadership required for effective visioning is a two-edged sword, not for the faint of heart nor for the individual who has high attachment to outcomes. A basic problem for leadership is attachment, living with an expectation of a given outcome, rather than holding life lightly. Although much has been written about the psychological state of burnout, I consider it to be a relatively simple phenomenon to describe (and often incredibly difficult to resolve). Simply put, burnout occurs when an individual (leader or group member) is overly invested in the outcome, attempting to gain power where one is inherently powerless. It is high intention with high attachment. Thus, burnout occurs when we consistently lack or refuse acceptance of our powerlessness to control the responses of others.

The science-fiction novel Forty Days of Rain (Science in the Capital Trilogy, Book 1) alludes to the immense effort. Although the book is fiction (¿with much truth?), it captures for me an essential difficulty of our culture — we give maximal power to business and the economy, to money, and not to human values.

Then in the 1960s when everyone was an activist, NSF [the National Science Foundation] created a program called “Interdisciplinary Research Relevant to Problems of Our Society.” What a name from its time that was. . . .

     Interdisciplinary research, relevant to problems of our society — was that really such a sixties joke of an idea?

     . . . IRRPOS morphed into RANN, “Research Applied to National Needs.” RANN had then gotten killed for being too applied. . . . At the same time he [Nixon] preemptively established the EPA . . .

     The battle for control of science went on. Many administrations and Congresses hadn’t wanted technology or the environment assessed at all . . . It might get in the way of business. They didn’t want to know.

     . . . They didn’t want to know. And yet they did want to call the shots. . . . this was clearly crazy. . . . On what basis did they want to build such an incoherent mix of desires, to want to stay ignorant and to be powerful as well? Were these two parts of the same insanity?

In The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism, Andrew Harvey supports this theme of insanity. Harvey was invited to a private lunch with “the head of a major agribusiness corporation,” who said to him: “Let me tell you what you are up against. You are up against people like me. I know exactly what my company is doing, and what devastation it is causing to thousands of lives.” The C.E.O. added:

The bliss-bunnyhood of seekers and the offensive self-righteousness of activists make it very easy for people like me to control the world. I know too, by the way, that the dark forces I play with are playing with me. I am under no illusion that I will not someday have to pay the price. . . . I’m willing to pay that price in return for the pleasure of being able to afford this restaurant, in return for being able to ring up the president of the United States in front of house guests to impress them. Am I getting through to you?

It is likely that perspectives and attitudes such as this underlie the actions of the disinformers, and they are not subject to reason. From my perspective, this is the end-point of acedia: evil (the subject of a future post). The major difficulty in global warming is that most of the power is held by heads of corporations, many of whom will be very accountable, but in the case of the disinformers, many of these heads may well be similar to this man whom Harvey encountered.

Paul Ray, who distributes extensive information on climate change, also discusses the criminal irresponsibility of the banking system in an email post “Occupy Wall St. demonstrators indict Goldman Sachs, are arrested outside” (2011 November 7), noting: Goldman Sachs leads the interpenetration of US financial and political elites. These are the elite of a growing international criminal financial class that will cause the deaths of billions of people in Africa, South Asia, South America, and China. The proximate cause will be starvation and disease, from famines and climate change. The real cause will be this elite’s actions. As indicated by the title of the email post, resistance to these processes is not without cost, in this case, being arrested; civil disobedience likely never is without cost.

There are two fundamental difficulties with the human etiology of global warming:

    • the evil of the disinformers, and
    • the acedia of the mass of people.

Visioning of the resolution of global warming must therefore provide two components: a coming together of the people in action (overcoming the acedia), and a movement away from the disinformation.

The second difficulty — coming together — is developing slowly with movements such as 350.org and sumofus.org, but I do not know the extent to which such groups are working together to provide a world network. I imagine there to be the usual conflicts concerning agendas and hierarchies, and hope these will slowly resolve to a fully effective movement.

Resolving the problem of disinformation is huge — human beings so easily lock into belief systems, and resist grasping reality (more on this in a later blog). I foresee three possible outcomes:

    • a complete collapse of the world market economy — with ultimate chaos and total collapse of our civilization, if not our species (not a desired outcome),
    • a gradual massive expansion of the zero-carbon technology, such that the fossil fuel organizations simply cannot compete (and must either collapse or integrate into healthier economies) — possibly a good solution, and/or
    • the coming together of world governments such that such disinformation becomes illegal, and is severely punished — I am not holding my breathe waiting for this outcome.

Unfortunately, I am not good at predicting the future.