I wish to comment of the massacre at Orlando, for a variety of reasons.
First, I am deeply saddened, but not surprised by this occurrence, given the frequency of violations that occur in (but not exclusively in) “the land of the free.” Sadly as well, I am not surprised that Donald Trump would take advantage of it by claiming that he was right in his assessment of terrorism (Trump tweets congrats to self on Orlando Massacre and faces Backlash!), but then, this is Trump.
Second, in this context, Trump is a mirror of the insanity of our modern world. I believe he represents the large portion of people who feel deeply insecure within the complexity of our culture, especially Western culture; these people likely want to be reassured that someone (Trump, perhaps) will know what to do, and somehow do it. I would like that to be the case also, but I certainly do not believe further conflict will do it.
Given my background in group process, I know that systems change effectively only when there is a) strong leadership, b) an empowering vision of the future, and c) an encompassing cooperative movement based on depth of discussion of the underlying issues. One of the best examples I have recently encountered of this is in the book Future Primal (Herman, 2013). Unfortunately, none of these conditions are present in our culture at this time. Herman identified the essential need for the quest for truth (truth is never gained; it can only be pursued), by a four-fold process of a) personal individuation, b) effective dialogue of cultural issues, c) true democratic evaluation, and d) the need for a mythic narrative into the future.
Third, I frequently wonder what it will require for our culture to begin this movement to maturity (my assessment is that we will almost certainly become extinct in the next hundred years if we do not). Essential to this is we truly recognize ourselves as part of a global village, in which diversity is valued, and violations are not tolerated. We must give up the We-Them dichotomy that is so characteristic of who we are at present. It is too easy to say: The problem is them, whomever the them is.
In this context, I wonder who this man (the killer) was, and what were the circumstances in his life that lead him to do this despicable act. There are always underlying issues; underlying issues are not excuses or reasons for forgiveness, but knowing them is essential to the process of change — otherwise systems do not change. As well, we (especially Western culture) have not come to terms with the duplicity of our own culture, with our strong tendency to allow violation of others.
I believe peace is possible for our world. I know many of the skills, and how much hard work is involved!
This was originally posted to my Facebook on 20160613.
As you will note under Blogs I Follow, I subscribe to the blog of Richard Rohr at Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC).
I do so because I find him to be the most spiritually mature individual of whom I am aware. (Overall my previous mentors, listed in my most recent post, also fall into this category.)
Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest, a Franciscan monk. In 1986 he envisioned CAC as a place where opposites (action and contemplation) are held together, bridging gaps between the spiritual and the justice communities. As a priest, his language is often religious, but the underlying content of what he is writing is deeply spiritual (see my next post for what I mean by spiritual, and how I think it differs from religious).
The third major issue I have is that I do not know what other people want. I was a therapist for 25 years, specialized in anger management. Over my career, I worked with more than 4000 people; many people told me that their lives changed as a result of working with me, sometimes in as little time as a single weekend.
It was clear to me that, in our modern world, therapy was the only field that offered people skills for how to live well. Most fields, including much of psychology and religion, basically tell people what they should do, but give almost no instruction in how to do so. For example, consider the number of times you have been told that you should forgive. Now consider whether people have taught you how to forgive, i.e., an actual skill that effectively allows you to do so. I am willing to guess that the first answer is many times, and the second answer is likely never. As therapist, I taught people actual skills! And as therapist, I had the incredible opportunity of doing my own emotional growth, of using these skills myself.
This was, of course, very gratifying. Subsequently, much of what I did, and the philosophy of how I worked with people, became the basis of my first book Blowing Out the Darkness: The Management of Emotional Life Issues, Especially Anger and Rage (AuthorHouse 2008).
Yet, I was also aware that most people, when they first entered therapy, did not want to be in therapy; they did not want to do the necessary work to change their lives for the better. Essentially this was because therapy requires that people explore the painful issues of their lives, and our fundamental tendency as human beings is to avoid pain. Without intending to be pejorative, I found that people were either lazy (they resisted the work) or fearful (they were afraid of the consequences of doing the work). I also recognized that I had no skill at insisting that people do the work.
Most people would come to me simply to get out of pain. And eventually, slowly, most would do the work; some (perhaps 15%) would stay to make huge changes in their lives, and get to a place where they were deeply satisfied. But most, no!
This became so obvious that eventually I decided that laziness and fearfulness (later I added self-righteousness) were spiritual issues; they required that the individual make a voluntary choice to overcome them. In time, I decided to research these issues, and they become the basis of my PhD. Early on, I subsumed these three characteristics (laziness, fearfulness, self-righteousness) into an ancient Greek term: acedia. This became the basis of my second book Acedia, The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change (AuthorHouse, 2012).
I do know that every human being wants to live well, to live at peace, able to provide enough for family and life needs, perhaps to have a few luxuries. However, I don’t know if they are willing to do the work of living well.
Because it requires work. The maturity of our species has been compared to that of teenagers, often very nice kids, but frequently wanting to do their own thing and often not having the maturity to make wise choices.
Yet, if we are to survive as a species, we must learn to function with maturity. We must do the work. The negative forces at work in our culture as such that the only other choices are the loss of our civilization or our extinction as a species.
I don’t like these alternatives. I am willing to work otherwise.
This was originally posted to my Facebook on 20160607.
The second limitation that I struggle with (see my previous post for the first) is the question of: What can one (more) person (me) do? We live in a very complex world that, in the space of my lifetime, has become a global village. As I look around, I am aware that large numbers of people are attempting to make a difference, attempting to find resolutions to the incredibly complex issues that our civilization now faces. Many, if not most, of these people probably have better networks than I; they likely also have better resources for touching others, and perhaps better knowledge of how to impact systems.
In Blessed Unrest (2007) Paul Hawken notes a global democratic mass movement of independent, non-governmental non-profits. This movement arose from three converging root issues: environmentalism, social justice, and the struggle of indigenous peoples for cultural survival in the global consumer economy. The movement has been ignored (by the media) because it is intrinsically decentralized. I believe this movement represents the Cultural Creatives (Ray and Anderson, 2005), people orientated to green and environmentally sustainable values, and who now make up approximately 50% of the world population.
Yet Herman in Future Primal (2013) notes:
The big questions . . . remain: . . . What comes after the dictator is overthrown? . . . We can no longer escape the challenge of creating a politics with the truth quest at its center, capable of generating an inspiring vision of a way forward.
From my perspective, the many movements have not yet coalesced into a way forward. Much of what I see and hear is either denial, or an attempt to get away from something (to stop global warming, to stop ocean acidification, to stop the duplicity of our culture). I see little in the way of visioning of a more mature culture.
From my perspective, change requires three things:
a vision of where I wish to go,
an augmentation of the forces that assist me in moving forward towards this vision, and
a diminution of the forces that block me from this vision.
Simply stated, yet change also is a deeply mysterious process. Perhaps the many movements represent complexity seeking coalescence.
My skill as therapist was that of assisting change, principally that of reducing the negative forces, and I was very successful at this over the 25 years of my career. And, I also have skill at visioning and augmentation of the positives. On the personal level, I was very effective; I long to make a difference at the cultural level. I want to feel used up in service — as gift back to a world I love, perhaps to a God who waits, wondering this humanity will do.
So I often wonder if I can do anything. Will I make a difference? I don’t know, but I am reminded of a basketball saying: “You miss 100% of the shots you do not attempt.”
To be continued.
This was originally posted to my Facebook of 20160606.
A question to you, the reader. What limits you in your ability to make changes in your life, or your world?
I want to take the next few postings to explore what I am attempting to do here, with these postings. I strongly believe that we need a more mature culture (an ongoing shifting matrix of living what we value), and that the key to this is the maturing of individual human beings. I intend to invest the rest of my life in helping this evolve. But there are limitations for me, possibly just limitations at my own personal level, but I suspect these limitations are more general. So I am going to explore these limitations in the next few postings, and I welcome commentary as to whether you resonate with them or not.
The first limitation for me is that I have access to too much information. The web has transformed our civilization, and one of the major ways that this has happened is that, for any give topic, I can gather a huge amount of information in milliseconds. However, seldom can I say that I have gathered a huge amount of valuable knowledge thereby (in this context, I consider knowledge as being the meaning I give to information), and I certainly cannot say that I have gained wisdom thereby (wisdom here being the ability to make effective judgments).
Most people, including myself, use a TIC process to handle new information: they translate new information into a language they understand (T), interpret this into their own meaning of the information (I), and corroborate this meaning with a group they trust (C). Generally, it is a useful strategy, but it frequently fails when the corroborating group has their own agenda (witness the issues of the Republican Party in the United States, both in how they respond to Climate Change, and what they are doing in response to Donald Trump).
My specific difficulty here is that I do not know who to trust. Certainly, I cannot trust the media (although I find movies often give me a good sense of the zeitgeist, currently that of violations [often inaccurately called violence], duplicity of power dynamics [The Hunger Games and Divergent series], and catastrophe [end of the world scenarios). I also have difficulty with people what are too one-sided in how they present themselves: too negative, too positive, or too focused on just one aspect of what seems to me to be a complex issue (all of which are my own personal biases).
What I am attempting to do at present in response to this difficulty is re-build my network of trusted sources. I have a few, but if I am to influence on a broader scale, I need to find more resources and find a way to contribute. As a off-the-scale introvert, I find this difficult. Up to this point in my life, I have called myself a poustinik, a Russian term for a hermit who is available when asked (and I have needed to be asked). But this stance no longer serves me. I want to be able tell my grand-children that I wanted to make a difference in their lives; I want to leave them a world that is healthier.
This was originally posted to my Facebook on 20160605.
I awoke in the middle of last night with the thought that I hate technology, and to a certain extent that is true. In my recent attempts to take my work to a broader domain, I recognize how much I am hidden behind layers and layers of equipment that I do not easily understand. Not only am I lost in the equipment, but also the intersubjectivity of relationship is also lost to me. I don’t like it, but my options are limited.
Years ago, when I was an anesthetist, I made a commitment to myself that I would not use machinery that I could not take apart, and fix myself when necessary. I can no longer keep that commitment (not for years now; I could in the early days of computers — almost anyway).
For a long time, I have been saying to myself: “Technology is wonderful — when it works. And when it doesn’t, it is dehumanizing.” It is a tyrant that demands attention, principally because I want a particular outcome, and the “only (?)” way I can get that outcome is to engage with the technology. This is not completely true, but enough so that it irks me when there are problems. Perhaps it is my age (I have been told that younger people multi-task the issues much more easily) — but I think it is more that that.
The major difficulty I encounter is that technology forces me into a particular mode of response. This is especially so with computer software — for example, this blog software gives me only limited ways to format text, and repeatedly indicates that my style is sometimes abysmal. (Of course, this is according to the experts, whomever they are. One of my definitions of expert is x-spurt, an unknown quantity of a drip under high pressure.)
In addition, there is the learning curve of using the software. At some level, software updates attempt to forestall this difficulty; Microsoft Word, for example, has vastly improved over the years, but then there is the learning curve of keeping up with the updates. At some point, I simply give up, and “accept” the limitations.
But there is a bigger picture that I want to address.
I am aware from my PhD research of the warnings against technology by major philosophers of the 20th century (e.g., Berdyaev, Lewis, Ellul). Berdyaev, writing in 1934, noted “We are confronted by a fundamental paradox: without technique [technology] culture is impossible . . . yet a final victory of technique . . . brings the destruction of culture.” He also noted “we are living in an age when technique predominates over wisdom, in the ancient noble sense of that word.”
This engagement with technology really began with the Scientific Revolution, and the birth of the modern era, in the 16th century. Largely initiated by Copernicus and Descartes, solidified by Bacon, science took on a new role. Tarnas (1991) notes that “Bacon equated knowledge with power . . . [A potent visionary, he] persuaded future generations to fulfill his revolutionary program: the scientific conquest of nature for man’s welfare and God’s glory.” In my book Acedia, I suggested that “with the decline of religion, God’s glory got lost, and man’s conquest has led ultimately . . . to the dark side of humanity, and the problems of climate change.”
I am not suggesting here that technology is intrinsically bad, but that technology has allowed us as a species to express our hubris and our greed. Our technology is incredible — in my lifetime alone, we have had the first atomic bombs; we have placed individuals on the moon; we have computers; we have gene-splicing and GMOs; the list goes on. But we also have massive destruction of the environment, the still-present risk of nuclear destruction, global warming, et cetera — this list also goes on. And we have the duplicity of our culture, expressed by such as the political controversies of the past 50 years, usually as the desire to accumulate wealth as a result of our technology.
It is not technology that is the issue; it is our hubris and our greed. We must mature beyond this; the risks to our species are now too great. Somehow we must find ways of moving forward, keeping many of the benefits of technology, yet cautious of how invasive it can be.
Berdyeav, N. (1972). Man and machine. In C. Mitcham, & R. Mackey (Eds.), Philosophy and technology: Readings in the philosophical problems of technology (C. O. Bennigsen, Trans., pp. 203-213). New York, NY: The Free Press. (Quoted text is from pages 204 – 207).
MacQuarrie, D. (2012). Acedia: The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change. Bloomington, IN, USA: AuthorHouse. (Quoted text is from page 71).
Tarnas, R. (1991). The passion of the Western mind: Understanding the ideas that have shaped our world view. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. (Quoted text is from pages 273 – 275).
Finally, the American Medical Association has chosen to lobby on behalf of gun research and gun control. As a physician myself (albeit Canadian), I am almost ashamed that they have not done so prior to this.
I know from personal experience that most physicians are intelligent, compassionate and interested in research; and they are often very conservative. From my perspective, this combination generally makes for good research — intelligent enough for depth, slow enough to assess the evidence.
But I do not understand why it has taken so long, approximately twenty years of escalating mass killings, to begin to challenge these issues (underline begin, as there will still be major resistance). I can only assign it the incredible power of the negative forces that prevent our maturing as a species, especially our hubris and our greed.
Sad. I have long maintained that, as individuals, human beings are capable of immense greatness, yet as a species we are psychotic.
I frequently look around at my culture and wonder how have we gotten to this point of insanity. We are on the brink of collapse as a civilization, if not as a species, and yet there is so little surface evidence of this. When I dig, there is lots of evidence. Two recent emails posts illustrate this, one negative, one positive:
As a consequence, I have had major difficulty deciding what to write in this particular post. The issues of our society are so complex, that it is hard for me to do other than to gloss over the complexity, especially if I want to keep the length of the post to a reasonable size.
For the past twenty-five years, usually during the workshops I have run on anger management, I have asked a question: “What are the rules that run you, the rules you do not even think about?” The question originally arose for me after reading the book Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality by Rupert Ross. Ross was of European descent, and as a young man had worked many years as a fishing guide amongst Native Canadian guides. Later, when he became a lawyer, he attempted to understand the difficulties of natives in Canadian courts. (This book profoundly influenced my own understanding of human dynamics — highly recommended.)
Ross tells the story to two cultures, that I have chosen to call “The People of the Ladder” and “The People of the Wheel.” These cultures have evolved separately for perhaps 30,000 years, and have come together in the past 400 years. Each culture presumably had a coherent body of ethical behaviors, giving the greatest possibility of survival for that unique culture! In this posting, I am going to outline the people of the ladder; in another, I will explore the people of the wheel.
The people of the ladder became agriculturalists early in their development, and strived to master the external world, eventually developing empires, and waging wars with each others. Eventually, they shifted from monotheistic religions to materialistic technology, with immense gains. They became masters of the external world. They also devastated the people of the wheel, who only in the past half century have begun to express their own culture again.
For the most part, the rules that have run the people of the ladder have been the rules of power, especially power over — they became dominators. Effectively, they (or I should say, my people) have become so powerful that they could actually change the physical and chemical structure of the world, once they began utilizing fossil fuels as a source of energy, with the current consequences of global warming.
Their technological prowess has allowed major advances in health care, in forming massive cities of millions of people, developing space travel, quantum physics, the internet, and numerous other advances.
They have also gradually moved into more and more valuing of rights of the individual. Examples include the Magna Carta, the emancipation of slaves, the elimination of child labour practices, the valuing of women and children, the elimination of racial and gender prejudices, amongst others. Yet each of these advances has only occurred after extensive struggle to overcome the dominator mentality, and in most cases these advances are incomplete still. Most recently, there has been the valuing of the environment, again incomplete after major struggle. As mentioned in the first post, the eminent environmentalist David Suzuki believes that the environmental movement of the past 50 years has failed — any advances have been temporary, and the destructive forces just keep on coming.
Then there is the mixed blessings of technology — philosophers have been writing about the dehumanizing impact of technology for the past hundred years. Some quotes (the actual references are in my book Acedia: The Darkness Within):
Berdyaev (1934): “We are confronted by a fundamental paradox: without technique [technology] culture is impossible . . . yet a final victory of technique . . . brings the destruction of culture.”
Lewis (1947): “What we call man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.”
Ellul (1963): “the further technical progress advances, the more the social problem of mastering this progress becomes one of an ethical and spiritual kind.”
Dave Meslin (2010) alludes to this in a TED talk Redefining Apathy where he concludes that apathy is due to “a complex web of cultural barriers that reinforces disengagement.”
Why? What are the rules that allow this cultural insanity, especially the rules we do not name? One of the rules, of course, is that money talks! Money is the dominant value of our culture. I am not an economist, but it seems that the dominant rule is growth, especially monetary growth as expressed as Gross National Product, an artificial valuing of productivity that ignores most of the hidden costs to the environment. It also ignores the fact that you cannot have unlimited ongoing growth in a finite system.
Hidden from view is another major rule: “Don’t talk about the rules.” Do not examine the long-term consequences of actions that produce “good.” This has been a marvellous rule for technological progress, but has left us with many technological problems, such as what to do with nuclear waste, let alone the consequences of ignoring carbon pollution. It has also spilled over into huge emotional issues, such as the systemic problems of domestic violation, and corporations that we now treat as persons.
Then there is the high-jacking of modern democracy by business interests. Modern organizations have the potential, and in some cases the actuality, of operating as special interest groups that override the common good; the many political scandals of the past 50 years bear witness to this. I am not sure how to name this rule, but overall, I perceive a society that is unable to manage its own complexity. (On the plus side, I know of many positive advances in small instances, at the corporate or municipal level, but they do not seem to translate to higher political levels.)
There are, of course, other hidden rules, but to identify them would mean talking about them!
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.
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