I mentioned last post that I am no longer posting. However, every once and a while I come across a link that I think is so important that I believe it needs to be acknowledged (and disseminated) — this one is: an economy that works.
We are badly in need of a way to understand the nature of modern economy such that we develop a maturing of our culture. I think this is: it explains the impact of neoliberalism and the changing nature of our economy, especially the rise of gross dissatisfaction in how we live our lives. It also strongly advocates, amongst other suggestions, the need for a guaranteed basic income, a concept and process that is gradually being shown to markedly improve living conditions, despite the fears that it will encourage people to become lazy.
Having researched laziness as part of my PhD, I strongly believe that people are not naturally lazy, that they only move in this direction when they become overwhelmed with their lives and give up, conditions that are being augmented in major ways by our current economy. What is suggested here is actually a prescription to reduce laziness while improving human lives in many ways, perhaps ending the insane ways in which we create poverty and dissatisfaction in our lives, even reducing global warming via an effective stance to our culture.
Daily life in a mature culture — now that we have looked at the possibility of a Victory City, what would daily life actually be like in such a city? As noted, I am proposing that the high-rise buildings would consist of a large number of village-like settings, where people would actually live much of their day-to-day activity.
A reminder: these postings are simply my thoughts on what it would be like to live permanently in a mature culture; I present them mainly to stimulate your thoughts.
Each “village” would consist of three floors within a high-rise complex, each complex perhaps holding approximately 30 “villages.”
As such, there would be a communal living floor sandwiched in two floors of private living/sleeping quarters.
Much would be modular, both for efficiency and minimal environmental impact.
Most food preparation and eating would be within the communal space, or in more central cafeteria-style buildings within the city.
There would be an emphasis that such food be both nutritious and of very high quality (not at all like the typical cafeteria of modern life).
Each village would consist of about 200 people, likely about 50 families, interacting with each other. There would be about 125 adults (including late teens), and about 75 younger children.
There would be extensive day-care facilities for child care (approximately 25 per village, or 625 per high-rise); essentially the village would raise the children, and children would be able to attend every process of village life.
school-aged children (approximately 2000 per high-rise) would attend school in the high-rise common area.
late teens would attend some kind of college or university, of which there would be 5 – 10 in the city, with the possibility of outreach to other cities.
The “adults” would meet several times per week in small groups, perhaps 10 people each, for personal development. Each week, there would also be a variety of local governance groups planning the needs and development of the village community, and a number of meetings with other groups outside the “village,” planning governance on a broader level.
The adults would be engaged in work activity 25 hours per week, 5 hours per day, approximately half of which would be virtual meetings or some kind of activity that could be performed without leaving the local village.
Children of all ages would be welcome at all activities.
Given that the cultural narrative would be that of a permanent state of sustainability, then perhaps most of adult life would be lived out in these environment.
We would no longer live the current cultural model of continuous improvement and discovery (such living is not compatible with being the dominant species of a finite planet).
Your thoughts? Would this be too commune-like? Would this be too sterile? Both Rupert Ross (Dancing With A Ghost) and Louis Herman (Future Primal) have a lot to say about this.
Ross, when reflecting on “primitive” native culture, notes (pp. 103-108):
Each generation’s turn at the wheel might include performances better or worse than the last, but they would be essentially the same performance, with the same set and script and plotting. . . .
We post-industrial societies, in contrast, seem to run a cross-country relay race, passing the baton to a generation that will never set foot upon the ground we have covered . . .
There is a temptation to conclude that such a repetitive existence would be boring in the extreme, that it would feel binding and imprisoning.
I suspect . . . no such sense of limits. . . . they [native peoples] may have perceived their lives as holding a virtually limitless scope for challenge and accomplishment. . . . their lives did not center on building things, but upon discerning things. Life’s challenge lay in observing and understanding the workings of the dynamic equilibrium of which they were a part, then acting so as to sustain a harmony within it rather than a mastery over it. One aspired to wisdom in accommodating oneself
. . . they sought that wisdom not only to better ensure survival but also as an end in itself, as something in itself exhilarating.
Herman notes (Kindle location 7130):
Our wilderness origins fashioned our creative self-consciousness, which is both expanded and balanced by following the primal dynamic: face-to-face communication within a caring community of individuals, passionate for living and learning in a mutually enhancing resonance with the natural world. This is the truth quest, and it is our primal inheritance. We can ignore it, or we can cultivate it in all our endeavors and bring it into a creative engagement with the reality we find ourselves caught up in: a civilization rushing to self-destruction while displaying tantalizing possibilities of a more beautiful, joyful way of life.
As a therapist of 25 years’ experience, centered largely in my own emotional growth, I know that exhilaration. Personally, although such “village” life as I am describing would have challenges, it could also be immensely satisfying.
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.”
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.
I originally offers this set of posts as a free email program for anger management, but the information and tasks are suitable for any emotional issue. Simply use your own issue whenever anger is mentioned.
As part of my commitment to social change, I am offering a free email program on anger management. I believe that there is a huge amount of anger in our culture, some overt but most hidden. It is only by managing our own lives that we will be able to respond to the difficult days ahead.
Thanks for showing interest in the Angry? Change your life in 90 days program.
First of all, let me congratulate you for showing this interest. As I reflect on the state of our current world, I am surprized that so few people are willing to admit how angry they are. Recall all the stories of road rage, the frequent mass shootings, and other forms of anger — these are instances that show what is happening to us as a culture, of how angry we really are as a people. But it must be the other guy, right?
In my own case, I grew up in a family in which alcoholism was rampant, and for me, childhood was an extremely painful affair. (I suggest that anger is a major component of alcoholism; one of these days I will do a post on that to my blog.) Yet for most of my early adult life I was not aware of how angry I was. It was only when I got into my 40s that I was able to acknowledge this to myself. That is long past for me, although I do remain angry with the insanity of our culture — that has created (and for the most part currently denies) the issues of global warming. The major difference though is that I am not caught in my anger.
Be that as it may, this program is not about global warming. It is about how to work through your issues of anger, so as to achieve the kind of life you want to live:
how to recognize when you are angry,
how to be more peaceful, and
how to have better relationships, amongst other components.
And, as opposed to my usual writings, it is not about understanding anger, nor why you are angry — overall, that kind of understanding is the booby prize. This program, this set of emails, is about skill development, and what to do, not what to think.
The program will provide you with 30 emails over approximately 90 days, one email twice a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays. Why 90 days? Well, two of my previous mentors, both world-class therapists, indicated that change requires approximately three months of consistent application (one said three months, the other 13 weeks!) — after 25 years of practice in my own practice, this is also my own experience.
Can this really change your life, for the better? Absolutely. I am not saying that everything will be fine in 90 days; I am saying that in 90 days, you can be consistently moving in a new direction, one where the light at the end of the tunnel is not just another train.
Be aware it will take work, probably at least an hour a day, perhaps more. And it may bring up a lot of pain — after all, you are angry for many good reasons, and your anger likely protects you from this pain. But at the same time, I do not intend it to be too onerous — you won’t do it if it is. I strongly believe that people learn best when they are having fun; thus, I will do my best to keep it light. Still — it will require effort.
So, are you still interested? If you are, click the following link, and send me an email. I will then enrol you in your new life — and for the next 15 or so weeks, you will receive emails from me, emails that will give you relatively simple tasks, opening up new directions for your life journey. After all, what else do you have to do with your time besides becoming a better person.
Please note that the emails will come with the following subject line: MacQuarrie Email Program #xx — Title, the ‘xx’ referring to the number and the ‘Title’ the topic of the particular email. Usually there will be a brief note, together with a read-only Word document for the topic — this file will be the main body of the lesson, as a Word document to allow easy printing. If needed, I can supply a pdf document instead.
Note also that, in these emails, there will be occasional attachments, and links to my blog. Mainly these will provide diagrams that I believe you will find useful in understanding the tasks (the diagrams will also be in the Word document), but the separate image files may be of some use to you also. Simple emails are not a good way of sending such information, so look out for them please.
MacQuarrie Email #07 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 1
Two more emails (plus a summary email), and then we start the process of skill development as to how to explore and manage your anger. I hope by now you are starting to recognize that the concepts thus far allow you to get a handle on your anger, but I also imagine you want more specifics — coming!
As mentioned, the concepts of the previous emails became the process I call Blowing Out®, a method of utilizing unpleasant experience so as to create positive outcomes. For most people, when something unpleasant happens, they get stuck. The something reminds them of their past (their values, beliefs, memories, expectations, what I call their VBMEs), and they feel powerless. They label the something as some kind of conflict, and they don’t feel safe. Perhaps they are angry, or some such emotion, but lacking safety, they are also afraid or say to themselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way” — the sailors in action. So they stuff their energy — but eventually that doesn’t work, and they become a time bomb of some kind (the pressure cooker). This goes on over time, and eventually they explode outwards (family violation or social massacre) or inwards (depression or suicide). Not a pretty scene, but common in our society.
Safety for all is absolutely essential.
In my personal pain, I too recognized that this process of getting stuck did not work, and that the most important aspect was safety — for all! Instead of blowing up or blowing down, I discovered that I could blow out, like blowing out a candle — but instead of blowing out the light, I could blow out the darkness of my pain (the basis of my first book Blowing Out The Darkness).
We get stuck essentially because we mismanage our energy! First, because we are not safe (both with ourselves and with others around us), and second because we do not safely discharge our emotional energy — we generally dump it on someone else in some inappropriate fashion. We somehow believe that we have to resolve the conflict before we can manage our energy.
This is not only nonsense — it is also a recipe for disaster. We hold the energy inside ourselves; the conflict is outside. We can separate ourselves from the conflict, and manage our energy — in so doing, we can then decide if the basic issue is what others are doing (the conflict), or is it what we are doing to ourselves (our powerlessness) because we are caught in issues from our past.
Don’t take my word for this. Think about how you feel and act when you get to the edge of your rage. In some fashion, is this not how you act?
Task: So your task for this email is to think about what else you could do with your energy. And test out these possibilities; don’t just think — act! safely! Re-read Email #2 What is Anger? so as to really get No SAD and STOP. (You have probably noticed that all the tasks I assign are really focused on observing yourself — not for the purpose of self-criticism, but for recognition of how you actually create your own experiences. Over time, this will become your most important skill.)
Some hints: you can discharge energy silently, or you can make lots of noise. You can discharge privately, or you can do it in the presence of others. But if you are going to do it when others around, those others must agree to the parameters of No SAD and STOP — otherwise, they will not likely be secure and because of that, you will criticized! As such, it is very likely that you will shut down, and the time bomb scenario will resume.
The second most important aspect of Blowing Out is that the conflict must be resolved. Even if you discharge your energy, all that you will be doing is emptying the pot. It is essential that you then stop the pot from filling again.
My stance is that I can empty the pot in 10 minutes (I likely need another 10 minutes to process what happened that the pot was stirred — powerlessness or conflict?). Stopping the pot from filling again may take weeks or months of work — but I can keep the pot empty while I do this work! I need not stay stuck with a full pot — ever!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been ill for the past week, still somewhat frail — it has given me an opportunity to think about what I really want, and why I am writing this blog. Succinctly, I believe that as a species we are on a suicide mission, and as a culture we are incredibly angry; you only have to look at the American politics to see how angry we are, and you only have to look at other situations to see how frustrated. I want to have a positive impact in changing all this.
Therapist: anger management
For almost 25 years, I taught anger management, and I was good. A judge would sometimes specify my weekend program as part of his judgments, to the exclusion of other better-known programs. A Probation Officer send me more that 60 clients for domestic issues over the years — he could only recall two who re-offended (after a while, he kept informal count, and eventually he gave me detailed feedback, published in my book Blowing Out The Darkness). Not all angry people end up with probation issues, but only two poor outcomes out of sixty is astounding.
During my career, I generally noted that my long-term clients fell into two groups. One group was very active in personal growth, and would change their lives in astounding ways; personal growth itself can be painful — these people would work through the pain, arriving at places in their lives where they were deeply satisfied.
My Acedia Clients
The second group was inactive. I came to characterize them as lazy and/or fearful. I am not intending to be pejorative, simply descriptive. By lazy I mean they would say they would do the work, and then produce no results other than excuses. By fearful, they would talk about how painful the work would be if they did it, and that they were afraid of the consequences (they were fearful — this was not fear!).
I eventually came to the conclusion that these issues were a broad reflection of their (unconscious) refusal to be authentic (so-called existential issues) and/or a refusal to engage in the profound beauty of life (one of my definitions of spiritual). I also know that I had no tools to offer — laziness and fearfulness were choices, and all I could do was to challenge the client to live authentically. (Actually, if the client accepted the challenge, the therapy became easy.)
PhD: Climate Change
After about 25 years, I recognized that I needed a break from my career, and the opportunity came for me to do my PhD at a university that emphasized authenticity. I decided that here was my opportunity to study laziness and fearfulness, and started on that journey. (I soon added self-righteousness, and subsumed all three under an ancient word acedia.)
Early in the course work, we were talking about the current state of our society, especially global warming. Given my first university degree was in physics, I easily understood the science and mechanics of global warming — I recognized we were on a suicide course, the extinction of the human species, no ifs! It is that serious. I was devastated, and it took me almost two years to get out of my despair (now long gone, but with residual sadness). So my dissertation became the relationship between acedia and global warming, eventually resulting in my second book Acedia, The Darkness Within, and the darkness of climate change.
For the next few years, I travelled, and saw a lot of the Caribbean, South America, and some of Europe. I also pondered one of my favorite expressions: “As individual human beings, we are capable of incredible greatness, but as a species, we are psychotic.” (Introverts, especially hermits, are very good at pondering.)
Global warming is a technological issue, but we do not resolve it. We have known about the issues for approximately 50 years, but we have continued on a path of denial and greed, such that now it might be too late. I hope not, and I intend to live as if it is not too late.
And global warming is simply the outcome of our hubris as a species. For perhaps millions of years, the Homo species has lived as hunter-gatherers. Ten thousand years ago (a drop in the bucket), we started to create civilizations through the dynamics of power. Eventually came scientific materialism, our marvelous technology, with hidden costs. And in our hubris, we did not want to pay the costs. Hence, we are where we are . . .
What I Want
About a year ago, after much vacillation, I decided this was not good enough. This is not how I want to spend my life, pondering. I have skills that are important to this whole struggle.
The world needs to mobilize its forces to deal with the ills of civilization. I can assist with this, although it is not my strong point. First, it must be mobilized to resolve global warming, likely at the level demonstrated in the States at the beginning of their direct contribution in the 1940s (see The Climate Mobilization). Second, we must create a more humane culture, one that honors the whole of the planet.
My skill is in being a resource to people who want to do the work. I believe there is a huge amount of anger in the world, even in the people who are doing the work. There is nothing wrong with anger, provided it does not lead to violation, but anger poorly managed leads to burnout, and burnout is not useful to doing the work. And I am very good at the management of both anger and burnout.
Next: What underlies global warming — the nature of acedia.
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.