Category Archives: Our Present Culture

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.

Acedia underlies global warming

It's all too much.
It’s all too much.

Have you ever asked yourself how we have ended up with the problems of global warming? Or what stops us from solving these issues? We have avoided resolution of the issues for more than 50 year now. The superficial issue of global warming is technological, but what keeps us stuck is emotional?

First of all, the issues are incredibly complex; they overwhelm our political, economic and ethical systems (see Reason In A Dark Time: Why The Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — And What It Means To Our Future) — witness the repeated failures or only limited success of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change COP meetings, most recently in Paris, December 2015 — a non-binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C, hopefully to 1.5°C. Scientific American in April 2016 indicated “The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C” — and that does not include normal overshoot as the system stabilizes (see here for excellent visual representations of how all this has occurred since 1880).

But it’s only 1.5 degrees — so what. Well, look around at the superstorms and the changing weather patterns. They are only the beginning of potential “natural” disasters, at a temperature increase of less than 1.5 degrees. The earth is a very finely balanced ecosystem, with many feedback mechanisms to ensure stability, and we are exceeding the limits of these systems. It is likely that, by 2°C, we will have irreversible changes, including loss of at least 33% of all species on the planet (not yet us, though). By 3°, we could well be into run-away feedback loops that are not reversible, with almost certain loss of civilization for thousands of years, and perhaps our extinction.

But why? I know the issues are complex, and the propensity of modern life is to leave it to the experts. But why have we gotten to this dilemma in the first place? And why are we so passive about global warming? The scientific community is in agreement (at least 97% consensus), but the political morass wages on. Given all this, why do we not stand up and demand change? We actually do, in small ways: witness the Occupy movement, Avaaz, the many activists, but there is not the overwhelming process that we really need. Nor do the many small ways seem to be coming together in coordinated fashion.

So for the next few postings, I am going to be exploring what I believe is blocking us. Essentially I will propose that various features of acedia have been a major part of the problem.

It is possible that in the next few postings I will seem to be critical of almost every human being (including myself) in Western civilization. That is not my intention, but I do want to identify processes that affect almost everyone. Perhaps what I am identifying could be called “the elephants in the room that nobody talks about.” If you feel criticized, please understand that I have the deepest compassion for the struggles of living in the modern era.

The vast majority of people I know are good people — they do many good actions, but they are simply overwhelmed with too much stuff: too much information, too many demands, et cetera. In my book Acedia, I referred to a TED talk on apathy, and also suggested that the numerous subtle difficulties of modern life have become a form of trauma, constantly wearing us down. And in all this, to pay attention to the demands of global warming has just become another demand, especially when confused by the dis-information regarding climate change.

I believe that these people get on with their lives hoping that somehow the “experts” will eventually fix the problem, but I remain doubtful. Over time, I have moved to the stance advocated by The Climate Mobilization as noted in my previous post: the personal costs will be high, but the risks are simply too great.

I suggest there are three mechanisms at play:

  • collective behaviour of groups: in order to act (and overcome fear of criticism), human beings need to exceed a certain threshold of anxiety
  • acedia: a human characteristic is the risk of laziness, fearfulness, and/or self-righteousness as a way to avoid painful experience
  • evil: a more important human characteristic is that which deliberately sabotages movement towards health

In some fashion, acedia is part of all three. I will be commenting on each of these in the next few posts.

Coming next: The threshold of overcoming anxiety

Jamieson, D. (2014). Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — and What It Means for Our Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Contribution: We Must Pay Reparations Before Change Will Occur

Don't shoot the messenger.
Don’t shoot the messenger.

Violations by police occur. I encountered this article via Facebook, and upon reading it, deeply resonated with its content, a content that strongly identifies what I am also wanting to identify as the malaise of our society. As a Canadian, I am not in any way wanting to point fingers at Americans; I believe the thoughts expressed are simply the tip of the iceberg that is our Western society. I have Larry’s permission to copy it here, and thank him for his contribution.

For me, the basic message is two-fold:

  • address the systemic issues. That is where the major difficulties of our culture exists; the individual examples that distress us are simply and mainly examples of how the system works.
  • don’t shoot the messenger. Don’t tolerate violations by the messenger, but don’t shoot the messenger. He or she is simply doing the dictates of the system.

We Must Pay Reparations Before Change Will Occur

Larry Winters, 2016 July 16

What do Americans want?

As a Vietnam Combat veteran I’ve asked this question since 1967. I did my duty in an unjust and immoral war and then came home to find my country directing their rage at me and my fellow veterans, not at the people who engineered and underwrote the war.

Fifty years later, this generational schism has never closed. There is a similar split opening now between the public and the police. We are living through very dangerous times and, of course, Americans want protection from crime and violence by having our police step between us and the perpetrators. But once again we are unable to separate our anger at the root causes from the people and agencies charged with protecting us. And today each mistake a police officer makes becomes a bullhorn for the anguish of living in a dangerous world.

Like American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, our police work and live on the front lines. They do not make the rules of engagement. They simply serve the power structure of this country: the politicians, the generals, the congress, the Supreme Court. In turn, the people in those positions are controlled by big business interests, and they are the ones who then determine how well funded troops and police will be in the wars and street battles.

As a result, our country’s policing infrastructure is underfunded, and our police officers are underpaid, undereducated, and inadequately supported by the government and public. Just like Americas veterans. And if our politicians don’t acknowledge this chasm between our public and its protectors, it’s clear we shall step further into pandemonium.

So maybe the question is not what do Americans want, but what do they need? We need to face who we are. Our ancestors have committed courageous acts. They have also participated in holocausts starting with the native peoples of America and continuing on through the promotion of slavery, bigotry, and all the unjust and immoral wars right up to this very day. When we look honestly at how our past and present remain connected, we see a vast moral and financial debt that has never been paid. Years of politicians feeding the public the American dream has lead us to the current capitalist nightmare. The unpaid reparations for our present and historical deeds are nothing more than institutionalized moral corruption.

Instead of owning our past, and attending to social amends necessary for recovering moral balance we continue the legacy that every American has an equal chance at prosperity and safety. Instead of confronting leadership on taking moral responsibility the public and media focuses on the mechanics of our dilemmas, where the burden of change is on the men and women on the front lines. The leadership believes fixing the police, repairs the historical race issues. This over used myopic focus has provided no substantive changes. Only when we begin to pay long owed historical reparations of respect, truthful dialogue, and moral and financial recompense for the human rights we’ve ignored and continue to ignore, will we stop our focus on what Americans want, and consider what Americans need.

Larry is a retired psychotherapist, an ex-combat Marine, and the author of two books: The Making and Unmaking of a Marine and Brotherkeeper.

Climate Action: Urgency, a poem by Carol Chapman

Like us, a stressed species
Like us, a stressed species

I encountered this poem via Facebook, and upon reading it, deeply resonated with its content, a content that strongly identifies what I am also wanting to identify as the malaise of our society. I have Carol’s permission to copy it here, and thank her for her contribution. She adds that this poem is part of a series called Visions of a Possible Apocalypse.

Urgency,  by Carol Flake Chapman, 2016 July 18

Time’s winged chariot looms behind me

Nudging my bumper like an Italian driver

Blaring the horn, go faster or get out of the way

It feels like bullets are flying everywhere

Everywhere, that is, but here

Ice is melting, fires are burning

Oceans are rising, rivers are sinking

People are fleeing, walls going up

It feels like danger lurks everywhere

Everywhere, that is, but here

They are shooting elephants and rhinos

As polar bears drift away on Arctic shards

And wondrous varieties of birds and fish

Succumb to the human tide spreading everywhere

Everywhere, that is, but here

The unhinged are pushing buttons, pulling triggers

Unleashing death and fear as zealots egg them on

As we shop, diet and unroll our yoga mats

It feels like everything is unraveling

Everywhere, that is, but here

Where are the ancient mariners

To collar passersby with cautionary tales

Or the fiery prophets of yesteryear

Who warned, shape up or else

They are everywhere but here

Where are the witnesses who have seen it before

Who have seen the moving finger of blame

That lights the flames of hate

It feels like business as usual everywhere

Everywhere, that is, but here

Here where we hunker in illusions of comfort

In our safe houses, our virtual storm shelters

Where bad news comes in tweets

Here, where we have shot the albatross

Where we cannot hear the canaries in the mine

Here, where we have killed the golden goose

Where we have muffled the messengers

We could at least open the windows

To hear the distant clamor

Of the world as we know it falling apart

UK politics not compatible with maturity

Self-righteousness and cooperation are not compatible.
Self-righteousness and cooperation are not compatible.

Today’s digression: What would it really take to move us towards a mature culture — the impact of our acedia.

I am finding that one of the aspects of writing a blog is to find a balance between:

  • responding to current issues (because I feel some excitement about the issue), and
  • maintaining a theme (such as daily life in a mature culture) over a few days.

Thus, in making choices as to what to write each day, I create digressions from the themes I am developing. I usually consider these digressions valuable to the content of the themes, and also recognize that writing a blog is not that of writing an academic article (which I have been doing a fair amount in the past few years). As always, comments would be welcome on the choices I am making.

So, today’s digression: in writing about daily life, I have been pondering as to what would need to happen in our current culture to make us move towards a more mature culture. Ultimately we need to become:

  • individually committed to our personal growth as human beings, and
  • fully cooperative with each other, not just lip service to cooperation, but a deep commitment to do the hard work required.

Both of these requirements generally entail extensive and very painful work. They also require that we recognize, both individually and culturally, we are the problem. As said years ago by Pogo[1]: “We have found the enemy, and he is us.”

In a previous post, I indicated that the nature of change requires hurting in safety, a vision that fits, tools for the transformation, and the overcoming of our acedia. I’m going to introduce acedia here, and come back to it (and the other aspects) in later posts.

So, what is acedia? The description I like best is that “acedia objects to the effort required in living into a relationship of love” (equally, instead of love,  I could use the terms charity or cooperation). In my PhD, I defined acedia as any combination of laziness, fearfulness and self-righteousness that blocks this effort.

What has prompted my current digression is the announcement of the appointment of Boris Johnson as UK foreign secretary, and the reaction this appointment has stirred. I do not know much about Mr. Johnson other that what I read in the occasional newspaper, and I have no interest in criticizing any human being, but the reactions expressed in this BBC article suggest to me a man of emotional immaturity, someone at high risk of self-righteousness, and therefore highly unlikely to be committed to cooperation, let alone his own personal growth.

I could be wrong, in two ways at least. I could be wrong in my assessment of his character; if so, I apologize. But I could also be wrong in that his appointment could lead our culture into deeper pain, something which, unfortunately, we may require before we are willing to move into greater maturity. Sometimes change occurs in the most unpredictable of ways.

We live in such interesting times!

[1] Kelly, W. (2011, May 2). We have met the enemy and he is us. Retrieved July 24, 2011, from I go pogo: http://www.igopogo.com/final_authority.htm

Brexit related to emotional maturity

People want cultural maturity
People want cultural maturity.

I’ve been loosely following the events persisting in the Brexit issue of Great Britain. Many people are protesting (EU supporters march in London, denouncing Brexit vote), and the leadership is in turmoil (David Cameron’s dumb referendum). Both articles emphasize for me the huge need for emotional maturity in the leadership of a mature culture, underlining that the Brexit process is NOT a good example. Leaders need to be statespersons, not politicians, the subject of a previous post (What values would be important . . ., part 3) and one that I will likely expand upon in the future.

The denouncing article notes:

One organizer, comedian Mark Thomas, says British MPs should not legislate for an exit based on a result driven by anti-EU campaigners exaggerations and distortions on immigration and EU spending. “We would accept the result of the referendum if it was fought on a level playing field. But it was full of misinformation,” Thomas said.

The Cameron article notes that the leadership of Great Britain is now in turmoil, and underlines:

In a functioning representative democracy referenda are almost always a bad idea. They necessarily reduce complex policy choice to a light switch. They never unite, but divide. . . . Edmund Burke, the intellectual father of British Conservatism. Burke understood that a representative democracy was not a menu from which you chose the issues you were electing representatives to decide — and the ones you retained a personal veto on. Our politicians are elected to make the hardest and most painful choices, not merely to decide what to spend where. . . . Burke defined the obligation eloquently: . . . “Government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment and not of inclination … Your representative owes you not his industry only, but his judgment: and he betrays instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Why I do anger management

So sad.
So sad.

In one sense, this post is a digression on my current theme of visioning a mature society. But it also gets to the heart of the matter of how we are to get to this vision. For me, anger is the canary in the coal mine, and it has movement.

First, what a blog offers me.

In doing a blog, I am forced by its structure: It needs to be short and fairly concise, neither of which really suits my need to present depth. However, I go in a number of interesting directions.

  • I give major attention to how blogs attract people, a significant learning curve for me.
    • I use more lists and more subheadings — they apparently attract more attention. (Because of information overload, people seek very brief bites of information, thus very stressful and dysfunctional. Efficient, but sad!)
    • I keep the posts relatively short, forcing me to be more precise. Likely a good thing.
  • I use my meditation practice (approximately 40 minutes a day) as a way to reflect; thereby, I access my other-than-conscious mind, a very powerful workhorse for me.
  • In having pause time between blogs, I develop very interesting (to me) side-branches to the themes I want to present.

So, why anger management?

I focused on anger management as a therapist largely because anger was so much a part of my own life. With this, I soon came to realize that anger is a part of every life issue. Thus I had the opportunity to study the whole of life.

In that sense, anger is a window to cultural issues, and is a canary in the coal mine. If you want to improve any situation, augment the positives and diminish the negatives. As applied to mine conditions, for example, you work on a) education for better conditions, and b) improving the ventilation system. But if you don’t change the ventilation, education does little good. From my perspective, if our culture does not deal long-term with the underlying anger in healthy ways, much (all?) of the positive movement is ineffective.

In addition, anger has movement; it is a push against the environment. Eventually in my therapy practice, I realized that the people who were stuck were either lazy (they wouldn’t do the work) or fearful (they were afraid of the consequences of the work) — I’m not being critical here, simply attempting to identify. So in retirement, I decided to research laziness and fearfulness as the focus of my PhD. (Eventually I subsumed laziness and fearfulness, plus self-righteousness, into the ancient word, acedia.)

There are two problems with acedia:

  • there is no movement; acedia is a stuck state, and requires an existential choice by the individual that they will not stay stuck; they will move through whatever the issues are.
  • acedia is the dominant factor that has lead to the issues of climate change. As a culture, we have been unwilling to do the work of choosing a world based on justice and health.

Thus, for me, anger management has been my path to health, both individually and culturally. I’ve learned much thereby, both about the negatives and the positives.

Now, back to cultural visioning (unless I develop another digression). :)))

This post is part of what I am calling the core posts for understanding what I am attempting by this blog. For other core posts, click here.

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!).

Where are we going? Some thoughts on Brexit.

Brexit

My major interest in this blog is the emotional maturing of our culture. As such, I recognize that our civilization is very unstable — the recent Brexit events have made this clear; the ramifications of this choice by the people of Britain may reverberate for years to come, and likely will have an impact on the whole world.

As important as the impact will be, for me Brexit represents a move away from something (the European Common Market), rather than a move towards effective vision; I am not sure here what is being offered for the future, especially for cultural maturing. Bloomberg today, for example, notes that: “Britain’s departure from the European Union dealt what may be the biggest blow yet to globalization, challenging a decades-long embrace of freer movement of goods, services and people.” Personally I do not consider the globalization of consumerism to be a move towards maturity.

Where are we going? To what?

I have decided that my next posts will focus on what I imagine a mature culture would be like. Possibly this will require a considerable number of posts, so I ask the reader to bear with me.

I believe that the single greatest need we currently have as a species is to become a culture predominantly of cooperation. Competition will still be a part of who we are, but not the major part. How we are to get there is not clear.

But it is necessary. Metaphorically, as I look at my culture, it is like going into a drug store to buy toothpaste. I am confronted with a dozen different brands, and within each brand, there are another dozen options. I don’t need this ¾ I usually feel overwhelmed with too many unimportant choices; I just want some toothpaste.

I want to remind the reader of a post I presented a number of years ago, before I myself got temporarily overcome by the difficulties of climate change: The Issues of Global Warming, 20140713 and 20140716. There I pointed out that effective change has a number of components:

ChangeFF

  • a vision of where we are going,
  • honesty of where we are,
  • augmentation of the forces that allow movement forward, and
  • diminishing of the forces inhibiting movement.

As indicated, my next postings will focus on where I believe we need to go.

Recommendation: Confessions … CIA Agent

The faceless enemy is easy to hate.
The faceless enemy is easy to hate.

In keeping with my last post on the massacre at Orlando, I strongly recommend the Youtube video Confessions of a former covert CIA agent – Amaryllis Fox.

She delineates the absolute need to know your “enemy” — he/she is human too.

This was originally posted to my Facebook on 20160614.