Tag Archives: change

Witnessing The Process

nvcd2I’ve just returned from a planning session on how to resist the Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion in the Vancouver area; typical of me, in my uncertainty as to how to contribute, I was mainly witnessing the process.

For those unfamiliar with the Kinder-Morgan project, it is a $7.4-billion construction project of pipeline expansion over a 1,100-kilometer route, and will increase pipeline capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day. It will end at Burrard Inlet at the northern edge of Burnaby and Vancouver, and will require construction through both cities. The fuel will then be transported internationally via the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland (an environmentally sensitive area). It also represents a major addition to the fossil fuel load created by Canada, although that carbon source will then be transported to other Pacific countries, and thus does not appear as a direct load on Canada.

The pipeline passes through many indigenous lands (actually unceeded territories since for the most part no “treaties” have ever been signed) — many or all of which communities object to the project. The cities of Burnaby and Vancouver also object. To my knowledge, the federal and provincial governments have approved the projects despite these objections, and many court challenges are current. For my part, I was deeply disappointed by the duplicity of the Liberal government which initially promised major revision of the issues of global warming — as such there has been far more talk than action.

I believe that there is a huge need for non-violent civil disobedience in these kinds of issues, but I am also somewhat discouraged by this. For the most part, although we have advanced in many ways as to how we value human beings (feminism, racism, education, et cetera), most of the advances have only been on the surface — we have not done the deeper shift in maturity that will be necessary to overcome our latest challenge, that of world degradation as manifest by global warming, let alone the other issues. I have long been impressed by David Suzuki’s honesty in naming the fundamental failure of environmentalism, although I imagine others have written equally honestly about our other failures.

In my discouragement, I believe that much of non-violent civil disobedience merely serves to provide a mechanism to release the emotional tension felt by the oppressed. For the most part, the interplay between oppressed and oppressors simply becomes a game of chess as each party maneuvers to achieve advantage in a never-ending game of duplicity. Certainly on the part of the oppressed, there are many well-intentioned and intelligent persons, but I am not convinced that we achieve a great deal. Meanwhile the bulk of people stand back in apparent apathy. Sad.

Carlos Castaneda, a “cult” writer of the 70s, once presented a great concept (amongst others) for me: A warrior stands in the middle of the road, waiting. By that, I believe he meant that we each must do our personal best, and then let life do what it will. I’m learning to just trust that — in my language, if Creator wants me to do other than Witness, the opportunity will come. Despair, for me, then becomes a waste of energy, attempting to push the river – it flows by itself.

Some interesting links for the week:

The Transformative Power of Climate Truth (201710)

A comprehensive and important document from the only organization (to my knowledge) truly committed to cooperative mobilization on the scale necessary to resolve the issues of global warming.

U.S. climate report leaves little room for doubt (20171109)

As David Suzuki points out, the report did not receive much attention — presumably, simply another report as to the state of the disaster — a non-issue in the current political scene. Sad.

America is facing an epistemic crisis (20171002)

Initially this article is confusing, but it then presents a fascinating study of the question: “What if Mueller proves his case, and it doesn’t matter?” Another suggestion in support of the theme that civilization is about power, and who wields it.

100% renewable electricity in reach by 2050 (20171108)

We are capable of resolving the issues. Will we?

Paleo Politics (20171101)

An interesting link supporting the contention that “civilization” is fundamentally an issue of power dynamics, something I have written about in other posts.

What To Do? (Part 2)

Suicide3This is the second post as I reflect on the issues of what to do about the complexity of global warming and the insanity of our culture, especially the increasing incidence of suicide in our culture. It is in response to two articles sent to me by a friend:

I strongly advocate that we are capable of greatness as a species, but we have much growth to do before that will occur — and since culture/society are simply a group of individuals, the change must begin at the individual level. So, in the meanwhile, here are my thoughts.

  • First of all, I applaud Goutham Kumar of Hyderabad for quitting his corporate job to use his skills to develop a series of organizations to provide for the needy. He has truly learned that the nature of service is joy, both for the receiver and for the giver.
    • However, I believe that there is a trap in this story. We have created a cultural myth of heroes who do the hard work of change in our culture, and while to a major extent, we applaud such action, we do not do the much harder work of correcting the systemic issues that necessitate the hero in the first place. It is like attempting to fill a bucket with water, meanwhile failing to repair the large hole in the bottom.
    • And for the many who do not find the resources within ourselves to initiate such change, either the stance of the hero or the underlying work, it can be a major place of discouragement. I suggest that such discouragement is a significant factor in the actions of those who choose suicide.
  • Second, we need a narrative that allows meaning and purpose. Ideally we need a cultural narrative that fuels our maturity as a species, one that will allow us to move towards a civilization that honors humanity (not power), while utilizing technology to supplement our needs, rather than dictate to our needs.
    • As we listen to one another, perhaps we can get beyond the fractious argument between science and religion, hopefully to recognize that both scientific materialism (SM) and religion have growth to do, that both contain truth, and we must learn to have power over power, not just talk about the issues. Commitment to authentic action is needed.
    • Unfortunately our fractiousness fuels much, if not all, of our difficulty to love our enemies.
  • Third, our culture of SM has placed us in untenable positions. We must give up this paradigm. There are other paradigms.
    • Most of us know that there is a problem with our civilization; however, The Climate Lie (that all is well) is active in many ways. It is very difficult to find honesty in the face of our cultural acedia and the duplicity of many political systems. Undoubtedly this fuels the despair that underlies much of the suicides encountered by my friend.
    • At the same time, the paradigm of meaningless requires that we, as individuals and as a species, must do something about the issue, when we have almost no power to initiate change. This imbalance of responsibility, accountability, and authority is very destructive to who we are as individuals.
  • At this point, I run into my own limitations, previously written about in a series of posts: Being a resource looking for a need. I have spent my entire therapy career attempting to influence the growth of others. I have learned some things thereby.
    • The most important stance is that of high intentional; low attachment. I can only do so much, and even there I need a supportive community to achieve change. I do what I can, and trust the process (im my case, I turn it over to StarMaker, my word for creator or God).
      • To the best of my ability, I learn from the outcomes I encounter.
    • I begin somewhere. We need to work our way into any problem — wherever is relevant. Again, I trust synchronicity will define where I need to go.
      • I accept that there is only so much I can do; I have my limitations, and I know when and how to say No.
    • I attend to my own self-care (this requires two-three hours per day usually). I often appreciate the caring of others, but if I do not care for myself, I am unable to care for others.
      • I do a daily exercise program (my yoga practice).
      • I meditate daily (mindfulness is an essential tool on life journey).
      • I write often (my blog is my major place for reflection).
    • To the best of my ability, I am a good follower. If I can support and contribute to the growth of others, I do so willingly.

 

What To Do? (Part 1)

Suicide2I have not made any entries for a while (aside from the anger emails); overall, I have been busy reading about the complexity of global warming and the insanity of our culture, and reflecting on the issues of what to do. I’m prompted to write now because of two emails from a friend who works for a university health service. In each, he provided an interesting reference, and also asks questions about what to do. I’m writing this post as a response to his questions, because I believe the questions (and my responses) need to be distributed to a larger forum.

In the first, He Quit His Corporate Job To Help His City’s Needy, my friend asks how do we get the message of community service across to our sleepy culture, mainly to the student population who will have to carry the work forward. Especially he is concerned with the increasing incidence of suicide within the student population. In the second, Love Your Enemies. What Does It Mean? Can It Be Done?, he reflects on the need to leave bitterness and hatred behind, wherein the author (Brother David Steindl-Rast) suggests a number of practical steps to circumvent entrapment in pain. In particular, the author notes that the opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference (acedia in my language).

From my perspective, both enquiries are major comments on the immense immaturity of our species. Together we have created a civilization of vast technological brilliance, and one that is also intensely dehumanizing. As I have said on a number of occasions, “as individuals we are capable of immense greatness, but as a species we are psychotic.”

Two maxims stand out for me as to their importance.

  1. The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable (James A. Garfield), and then it will trap you our tendency to self-righteousness).
  2. We have found the enemy, and he is us. (Pogo, Walt Kelly).

I also fall back on a set of premises I learned when first at univerity:

  • If your conclusions are wrong, examine your premises.
  • If your conclusions are right, don’t trust your premises. They can still be inaccurate.

One of my truths is that we are a contentious species — we love to argue! (Frequently we call it discussion.) Sometimes, if we listen to each other, it leads to major advances. But most of the time it leads nowhere.

So a second truth for me is that we must learn to listen to each other. We all have a small part of the truth. And especially if we do not listen to each other, we often end up miserable. So my first response to my friend’s questions is that we need to develop systems of authentic listening — likely small groups meeting frequently where we learn to trust each other (Kumar notes that it was “not uncommon for him and his team to bond with those they rescue”). This requires some skill, offering a combination of listening and short-term resolution that satisfies the need for purpose — not an easy combination to develop in our fractured litiginous world. We must develop mechanisms for providing authentic hope.

As I have noted in previous posts, we have made power as the basis of civilization (two posts), not human needs. This has culminated in a society currently based on consumerism and neoliberal politics. Our paradigm of Scientific Materialism (SM) has identified a universe of incomparable beauty, but labelled it meaningless. From my perspective, it is no wonder that those who become lost between the cracks then commit suicide as an escape.

We have also created a world currently on the brink of disaster, including the possible extinction of the human species. We are engaged in a super-wicked problem of global warming and over-population, and as such, our engagement will often seem like two steps forward, and three steps back. We need to support each other in moving forward, not argue about moving back.

Can we recognize that paradigms are belief systems that coalesce to provide a vantage point for understanding reality? (Note: belief systems are not provable — they can be proven false, but never proven correct.) SM is not the only possible paradigm. It arose largely because the scientific method, principally initiated in the 13th century, proved more effective in explaining the mechanics of the universe than did the Ptolemaic methods of earlier days. More importantly, scientific materialism likely developed from the work of Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626), who dreamt of the “scientific conquest of nature for man’s welfare.”[1] (Note the theme of power!) But neither science nor scientific materialism disproved older belief systems; it merely provided better explanations, and unfortunately paved the way for the ill features of our modern civilization.

I am a strong advocate of the scientific method; I also strongly disagree with the assumptions of scientific materialism. In order to function well, human beings need to have a sense of meaning that gives them purpose. I have previously noted that my preferred paradigm is Panpsychism, but I cannot prove that it is a better paradigm — however, it does give me a vastly more comprehensive understanding of the nature of the universe. I have also noted that panpsychism suggests that:

God exists (as the totality of sentient beings), and that (as a component of this totality) each individual sentient being possesses free will. We each makes choices about how we live. In addition, God provides the opportunity (e.g., possibilities) for us to live well. Even if God does not exist or even if the universe is eventually found to be meaningless, each individual still has the option to act as if it is meaningful, and to create a myth that will allow him or her to live within what life offers—in a stance of love, in contrast to acedia.

So my second suggestion for my friend is that these small groups must also tell the truth — not that God exists, not that SM is wrong, but that SM is only a belief system, one that is currently trapping us on a path to extinction. That we must find ways to support people as they struggle to develop their own belief systems, ways that validate their ability to support themselves and each other while challenging the powerful forces that sustain SM and its consequences (and meanwhile stepping out of bitterness and anger at how our civilization has developed). Again, not an easy task.

To be continued.

[1] Tarnas, R. (1991, p. 275). The passion of the Western mind: Understanding the ideas that have  shaped our world view. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

The Noble Truths of Global Warming

CCPoliticsI’ve just watched a YouTube presentation The Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi – The Four Noble Truths of the Climate Crisis. I strongly recommend it (25 minutes).

I think it is a fine presentation detailing the many factors involved in global warming, especially the impact of marketplace economics on our culture. At the same time, I found my interest was flagging by the end — the pacing is too uniform, and there is not enough emphasis on how to institute priorities. Nor is there an emphasis on rapid mobilization of political will.

I suggest that we need massive cooperation amongst all parties who are attempting to influence global warming. It seems to me that the agency doing this best, and thus in the position of such coordination, is The Climate Mobilization. Perhaps this is my own bias speaking, but I have looked at a lot of agencies over the past eight years, and am most impressed with TCM.

I have taken their Pledge (International) and invite others to look at their work. TCM advocates a war-time mobilization of political will, and once established, that we then begin the work on cultural modification. It is not an either/or proposition, but priorities are needed.

Authenticity (Daily Living, Part 8)

In a mature culture, all would contribute authenticity.
In a mature culture, all would contribute authenticity.

Daily life in a mature culture — the last posting I painted a picture of major uniformity. I suggest that this is necessary so as to keep the human impact to a minimum, and that such life could still be very satisfying, although the emphasis would be on authenticity, as compared to becoming more competitive in the marketplace.

So what else about living under these conditions? First, some loose ends (which could become major postings if expanded).

  • Home and work life
  • Guaranteed resources: health, nutrition, education, child care
  • Stuff? We have too much stuff

Home and Work Life would both be based upon community interaction. Given robotics and electronic communication, much of work life could actually be performed within the “village” settings.

  • Then, if desired, external work interaction would be by choice. For example, food production by extensive local gardening might well be performed because people actually wanted to engage with the soil.
  • Much industrial productivity would be automated, but there would still be many tasks that required direct interaction, especially in the development of new technology that had not previously been explored.
    • The automated productivity would be relegated to products that no longer needed innovation. For example, how many brands of toothpaste are really needed? (Yet go into any modern “drugstore” and you will find dozens if not hundreds of brands. What nonsense!)

Many aspects of community life would be guaranteed.

  • The provision of nutrition and health care will be universal.
  • Education in the future will be universal, and must emphasize personal development, especially the development of wisdom and governance.
    • Historically education has emphasized skill development, especially the transcribing of religious texts, and has been restricted to only certain societal groups.
    • In general as well, human beings are experiential learners, with age-appropriate processing to an experience so as to learn from it. What seems to work best is to have a brief exposure to a problem, engage in a physical experience related to resolving the problem, study the outcome (especially since first attempts are seldom successful at resolution), and then further engagement in problem solving (until resolution).
  • Child care would be guaranteed. In particular, we must find ways to optimize child care.
    • It is becoming well-recognized that early child development, especially in relationship to attachment needs, is central to the development of healthy adults (healthy both physically and mentally). We can no longer afford the erratic child care provisions of our modern society where we expect young parents, struggling with a multitude of issues, to provide effective child development on top of their other stresses.
    • Sorenson (1998), in Preconquest Consciousness, emphasizes how “groups of people can be simultaneously individualistic and collective — traits immiscible and incompatible in modern thought” (p. 82), but at the same time he noted how such cultures shrivel “with alarming speed when faced with harsh emotions and coercion” (p. 80), traits common to our current society.

Stuff? We have too much stuff.

  • A huge aspect of modern life is the provision of stuff for consumption, with little attention to the actual cost of production and the cost of the garbage created when the stuff is outmoded.
    • We cannot afford this! Everything in a future world must be recyclable.
    • Given our population density, we cannot afford garbage on a finite planet.
  • I suspect that if a society truly valued appropriate productivity, most of what we “consume” would be provided free as modular recyclable units, standardized to fit the needs of the product, efficiently designed for long-term usage.
    • A small aspect of productivity could then be applied to two areas:
      • innovative development of truly new products
      • creative development of individual artistic products.
    • when people moved (from job to job for example, or for educational training), they would simply take their clothes and their artistic products with them, and leave the rest to the next occupant.
      • The status associated with “new, improved” would not be part of the cultural milieu.

Your thoughts? (Remember, my musings are only intended to stimulate thinking about what really matters to a mature culture.)

Coming next: Interactions between communities

Living in A Mature Culture, Part 7

Glitzy and exciting, but  urban sprawl has major disadvantages.
Glitzy and exciting, but urban sprawl has major disadvantages.

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.

To be continued.

Acedia and Evil

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

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

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

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

Acedia and Evil

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

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

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

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

The Banality of Acedia and Evil

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

AcediaSpectrum1

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

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

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

The Need for Civil Disobedience

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

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

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

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

The Threshold of Anxiety in Global Warming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming next: The nature of acedia.

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.

Global Warming: My Stance

I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.
I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.

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.

Travels

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.