Tag Archives: community development

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 Victory City Model — Why I Like It

A sustainable city?
A sustainable city?

For a number of months now, I have been presenting an extended series of postings on my vision of a mature society. Mainly I have done this as an invitation to the reader (and to myself) to undertake the thought experiment of what would life actually be like. I’ve often focused on the Victory City model in so doing.

I have also done this because I strongly believe that we need to have a positive vision to move towards. Essentially if you don’t know where you are going (i.e., towards something as compared to away from), “it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” (thus spoke the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.) From my perspective, most of the writings in global warming describe what we need to move away from, e.g., away from fossil fuels, away from global warming. Often there is a movement towards technology such as renewable energy sources, but seldom is there a discussion of where our culture is going.

Throughout this series I have been fleshing out the Victory City. Why?

There are a number of reasons.

  • First, I believe we must stop interfering with the ecology of the planet. It can take care of itself if we let it.
    • The total human population of the planet needs to be under 2 billion people. Let’s assume 1.2 billion.
    • I estimate that the physical footprint of any given Victory City (one of 6000 cities) would be approximately 50 square kilometers maximum).
    • The total human population (200,000 people per city, or 1.2 billion people on the planet) would occupy 300,000 square kilometers., or 0.2% of the land surface area.
    • Assuming each city set aside another 150 square kilometers for recreational purposes, then 99% of the world could be left as wilderness! Leaving nature to resume its natural ecosystems.
  • Second, the Victory City could be designed to be self-sufficient, and ecologically both sustainable and resilient.
    • Everything would be recyclable, and there would be no garbage, no waste.
    • The modular structure of the Victory City would allow maximal productivity with minimal “waste,” even though a use would be found for any “waste.”
  • Third, the proposed lay-out of the “villages” would be consistent with the requirements established in Future Primal as previously described — the Truth Quest: the seeking of wisdom (individuation), face-to-face discussion of important issues (intersubjectivity), shared decision making in trusted groups (direct democracy) and a narrative of meaning (mythic narrative).
    • The village structure would allow the various components of personal growth and mature governance to develop within the parameters of the Truth Quest.
    • From this village structure would evolve increasing levels of justice circles as the basis of governance, always with the intention of maintaining a grassroots village-like human contact process.

If we are to survive as a species, we must shift to a society that values wisdom (phronesis — practical judgment) via wisdom (sophia — useful knowledge), discipline, hope and playfulness.

The Victory City proposal is certainly not the only way in which our culture could thrive. Fundamentally, what I like about the concept is that it encapsulated so much that I think is essential to a mature culture.

In the next post, I will reflect on what it will take for maturity, and my thoughts on how difficult it will be to achieve.

Onward — what are the blocks that stop human beings from maturing.

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 4

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

Continuing the theme of governance in a mature society, my thoughts have changed little since the writing of my book Acedia; thus, I am mainly quoting from this source (pp. 204-205), with additional minor commentary as update.

The best example of governance I have encountered is that of Gaian democracies (Madron, 2008). Madron notes that “we have to transform our societies so that they are capable of learning how to co-evolve for many thousands of years as complex, adaptive, viable parts of the total Gaian system.” He emphasizes that citizens must understand, be committed to, and share, a set of purposes and moral and ecological principles. These purposes and principles must be developed through intensive participative processes—they cannot be handed down from above. This requires dialogue-rich groups, focused on action shaped by reflection, and such that local groups have the power and authority to create change directly. People are rewarded with active immediate feedback based on success, and leaders are committed to their own learning. [emphasis added]

To this, I would add the skills associated with holacracy as described by Robertson (2006) in “Holacracy: A Complete System for Agile Organizational Governance and Steering.” Holacracy is a modern development in organizational development concepts. It is based upon intense participative processes and local group authority. In a holarchical business, representation of interests is distributed downwards and upwards by double linkages at all levels, downwards by those responsible for the broad interests of a company and upwards by those responsible for specific aspects of the functioning of the company. Although designed for coordination with businesses, I suggest it to be ideal for the kinds of inter-group coordination that will be necessary at all levels of governance in a mature society; I know of no better process to encourage participatory leadership.

Is this type of mature culture possible? I do not know. Is it necessary? I maintain the answer is Yes—we have to come to terms with a zero-growth sustainable culture, one that honors all species on the planet. Need it have the characteristics I am suggesting? No, but likely something like this would be necessary. We need to live in peace with our world; we need to live in peace with each other, especially our differences. [And we need to live sustainably and resiliently.]

It will be difficult to achieve. I remind the reader of the difficulties identified by the project participants, such as “I’ve worked on these issues for 20 years, and am amazed at how hard I have had to work.” Our current civilization is in a state where all of the forces that oppose acedia are disparaged, and thus, conversion to a more mature state will require much time and effort. Consistent with the proposals put forth by Gilding (2011), I believe that we are capable of such conversion, once we decide to do so. However, whether we will do so in time to save our species in not yet clear.

Coming next: Why I like the Victory City concept.

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 3

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

Continuing the theme of governance in a mature society, my thoughts have changed little since the writing of my book Acedia; thus, I am mainly quoting from this source, with additional minor commentary as update.

As I reflect on what I have written so far, in this long series of posts on the nature of a mature society, I realize that much of what I have written is very utopian (one original meaning of the Greed word utopia is no-place). I will add my reflections on this at the conclusion of the series (another three posts from now).

How do we recognize maturity.

Sophisticated electronic communication, including frequent high-level polling of needs and ongoing values, would allow the government to stay in touch with the populace. Each member of the populace would have multiple votes—I was immensely impressed, years ago, by an idea presented by Nevil Shute in his novel In The Wet, Shute proposed that each member of the electorate had up to seven votes: one basic vote, and additional votes depending on family stability (1), educational level (1), foreign travel (1), success in business (1), and contributory service to society (2). This type of system then preselects individuals who are likely to have a degree of maturity and wisdom. Higher levels of government would depend on input both from lower regional governments and from polling of the general population.

This is one way. Another way comes from recognizing those people who deserve respect. Amongst the pre-conquest native American peoples, the grandfathers were recognized as leaders, but they obtained their authority from the grandmothers.

The judiciary system would need to be a justice system, not a legal system. There must also be a way to deal with terrorism (preferably identifying the predisposition of individuals to be rebellious before they become terrorists).

Finally, the judiciary system of such a culture would function at all levels in a fashion of justice circles, the intention being that any discordance is to be resolved in ways that support the rights of both individuals and the groups concerned. In such a culture, there will arise occasions where individuals repeatedly act contrary to the needs and desires of the group. I suggest that, here, more senior groups (groups to which earlier decisions might be appealed) would have the power . . . whereby such individuals are ostracized from the group, perhaps to live in enclaves not subject to the standards of the general culture. These alternate cultures would be free to develop their own standards, but would not be permitted to impose their standards on the main culture. If desired, individuals in these substitute cultures could transfer back to the main culture, but a requirement would be they demonstrate they have sufficient intention and maturity to live within the main culture.

To be continued.

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 2

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

Continuing the theme of governance in a mature society, my thoughts have changed little since the writing of my book Acedia; thus, I am mainly quoting from this source, with additional minor commentary as update.

. . . a mature culture would balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the group, not by imposition, but because the educational system would provide the deep support such that members of the culture would want to balance these needs (as per the previous priority). Training would be offered in decision making . . . for comprehensive social change. [Such training would focus on the long-term needs of community, rather than the short-term gains so typical of modern politics.]

A mature culture would also train its members to live the “laws” of experience (we want positive, it is easier to get negative, and negative is better than flatness) and the “laws” of relationship (I can change only what I am connected to, others will change if I change, change requires I stay connected), in ways that emphasize both the powerfulness (to create self) and the powerlessness (to change other) inherent in relationship.

The joy of living expands the individual.

Such a culture would live into the stance that the joy of living is in seeking wisdom, rather than domination. Such a culture would educate its members that each member is truly accountable for whatever he or she thinks, feels, and does, without shame or coercion of self or other—that the truly unacceptable is that of violation (restriction of freedom without permission, beyond public safety). Such education would include education on the pitfalls and traps of being human, challenging both individuals and the cultural systems at various levels to “walk their talk.” This would require the recognition that “therapy” is simply another word for the seeking of wisdom, and thus would be honored as part of the development of every human being and every group.

We need a mature democracy.

. . .  a mature culture would develop governance based on wisdom, on statesperson-ship. Our current “two-party” democracy is actually a one-party democracy (Friedman, 2009):

There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great  advantages.

I propose that a mature culture would actually be a no-party democracy, with individuals elected on the basis of perceived wisdom, and with interlocking regional governments, up to a world government. Individuals would be elected on the basis of perceived wisdom by appropriate regional groups to form a regional level of government, that government deciding within itself who would be the proposers of legislation and who would be the devil’s advocates. Leadership would be developed within this membership, based on what was required, and might vary with need. Elected members would shift periodically in their assigned tasks, sometimes legislators, sometimes advocates of resistance. Membership on task groups would evolve out of the skill level of the members as needed. If elected for three terms in a row (15 years, for example), these members would become part of a more senior advisory body, for various additional task assignments. If not elected for such a period, support would be provided to allow re-integration back into the regional group. Essentially, the government would function to be a sophisticated cooperative body, attuned to the needs of the populace it served, yet focused on what the populace needed long-term, not as based on election requirements. . . .

To be continued.

Governance in a Mature Society, Part 1

This is our home! We must clean house.
This is our home! We must clean house.

The word govern comes from the Latin gubernare (to direct or guide) and from the Greek kybernan (to steer or pilot a ship). Essentially it means to rule with authority; in democracy, that authority is assigned by the people. Authority itself is power to make decisions and to give orders so as to accomplish a task; it can be delegated, but the delegator is usually still accountable for the accomplishment of the task.

Thus, to govern refers to having power over power, the concept I have been referring to in the last few posts, The Nature of Power. Quite frankly, in the shift to civilization over the past 10,000 years, we have not done very well. Power has controlled us, rather than we having control over power.

We must learn to transform ourselves.

Given we are at the edge of the ending of our current civilization, if not the ending of ourselves as a species, this must change. We must shift from the dominator mode of power to that of a global embrace of personal power. We must learn to value the personal growth of individuals such that they advance in wisdom (phronesis, as well as the supplementary skills of sophia, discipline, hope and playfulness) — see Acedia and The Climate Lie, Part 1 for details.

I say personal power because, although governance largely has to do with professional power, it is the deep transformation of individuals that allows them to be effective leaders. Over thirty years ago, John Scherer[1] introduced me to the Adaptive Skills, the skill set that allows leadership, the skill set that makes you who you are, the core that people “get” when they are with you. A mature society will value the development of these skills in all people, and when well developed, from whence will come leadership.

In my dissertation (and subsequent book Acedia, pp. 200-205), I devoted a number of pages to the governance of a mature society. In re-reading these pages, I have changed little in my thoughts. I will therefore quote extensively from this source, adding some brief comments to update the text.

Challenging growth

As indicated in earlier posts, I suggest that in a mature culture, people would meet several times per week in small groups within their “villages” in order to discuss their own growth as well as the community issues of concern.

. . . they would also mentor each other, challenging both themselves, and the systems within which they live. This would be the place where people cross-link with each other, providing the maturity necessary for the resolution of conflict; it would be the source of growth necessary for the priorities of the [culture]. Such meetings might potentially sound communistic, and subject to the “crab-box effect” of togetherness, but when skillfully led, I know of no richer experience for human interaction — they are the platforms where people develop the skills of authentic relating. When skillfully led, such meetings can be places of immense playfulness and wisdom [as well as the development of leadership skills].

To be continued.

[1]John J. Scherer, The 1980 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, pp. 152-156.

Living Simply (Future Cities), Daily Living Part 9

This is our home!
This is our home!

Despite digressions, I am still wanting to complete my thoughts on envisioning a mature culture. This post will look at local and long distance transportation, personal and business travel, and interactions between cities. My ultimate goal is to envision how a mature culture could live in simple sustainable fashion.

I previously mentioned that everything in a mature culture would be recyclable, and that most structural needs such as furniture and automobiles would be modular, designed for practical long-term use. Once a design had been found effective, easy to repair and fully recyclable, it could be built in high volume, modular fashion, and distributed throughout the world. In a world that did not value senseless competition, most material items would then be standardized, with little future development unless there truly arose the need for improvement of the product.


Public transportation would also be standardized, designed to be massively efficient in moving people from place to place as needed.

  • Within community buildings, this would mainly be by high-volume automated walkways and elevators.
  • Between buildings, there would be similar walkways, perhaps at many different elevations thereby connecting buildings in many ways. There would also be provision for “rentable” bicycles and electric vehicles depending on distance and personal needs.
  • Between cities, there would be high speed electric train systems, creating a vast intercity network for transportation of people and freight. Air travel would still be feasible if reliable electricity-fueled planes are developed.

I mentioned in an earlier post (Daily Live? Part 5) that there would be approximately 6000 cities scattered around the globe, each with a footprint of a few square miles. Such a city could be located in an area of great physical beauty, and still be surrounded by vast areas of wilderness, some of which would be available for human utilization as pleasure. But much of it would truly be wilderness, allowing maximal natural development.

City Life

Cities themselves would physically be fairly similar from one city to another (which they are now, although the vast unpleasant underbellies of modern cities would no longer be part of the culture). Any given city would provide high quality services in all areas such as health and nutrition.

  • It is likely that most types of standardized products would be part of the manufacturing component of the city, but also likely that each city would specialized in a few standard components, for example, transportation products such as automobiles or trains, or manufacture of solar energy products (all of which would then be distributed world-wide).
  • Where cities would differ would be in the arts and research areas. Every city would have many cultural components, much of which could be shared electronically with the rest of the world. Each city would also specialize in specific areas of research in medical, technological, and scientific studies; all of which would then be shared throughout the civilization.
  • Each city would also be a place where local cultures were maintained and maximized as to diversity.


I do not believe that physical travel would be a major feature on life in a mature culture, either for business or personal use. Technological advances would also allow much in the way of virtual travel, providing rich exposure to local areas of beauty without the high ecological cost of huge numbers of people.

And although I place great value on experiencing cultural diversity, I do not believe that our current patterns of travel create this. Modern vacations are often moving from one location to another, at great hassle of time and expense, while ending in an environment that is fairly uniform in its tourist characteristics. There may often be some special activity such as lying on a beach or skiing on a snowy mountain, there is usually little exposure to depth of culture.

Of much greater value has been those times where I have actually lived within a new culture, e.g., living with a Spanish family in their home while learning a new language. Or visiting a friend who lives in a foreign country, and then going on a hiking trip through the local villages. Such visits have been memorable, and perhaps allowed friendships of great depth, even if short term. This kind of travel could be maximized as learning experiences, as sabbaticals of travel from one culture to another.

Coming next: Governance

The Nature of Power, Part 2

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

Much of this post, as with part 1, is a precis of The Parable Of The Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution by Andrew Schmookler (1984). For me, the book is a brilliant summary of our current cultural stuckness.

If an expanding society willingly stops where its growth would infringe on others, it allows death to catch up and overtake its population [it must become stable . . . to birth and death!]. With no natural order . . . to prevent it, some will surely choose to take what belongs to their neighbors rather than accept the limits that are compulsory for every other form of life.

The Parable of The Tribes

The parable suggested by Schmookler is that of a group of tribes living within reach of one another. They could all choose peace, but what if one is ambitious for expansion and conquest.

The others must respond! Their options are:

  • defeat and destruction,
  • defeat and absorption,
  • fleeing to another location (likely temporary, as well as loss of homeland),
  • successful defense by adoption of their own patterns of aggression

“No one can choose peace, but anyone can impose upon all the necessity for power. . . . Power is like a contaminant, a disease, which once introduced will gradually and inexorably become universal in the system of competing societies. . . . A selection for power among civilized societies is inevitable.”

“What is viable in a world beset by the struggle for power is what can prevail. What prevails may not be what best meets the needs of mankind. . . . Power therefore rules human destiny.”

There will be a selective advantage to those who hunger for power. Power is a selective process that gains its potency from being cumulative over time.

What Determines Societal Development

But power is not the only factor determining societal development, merely an important one. Thus there can be other social forces such as the desire for humanizing values, for compassion and beauty, but power competes! And competes in major ways [as evident by our cultural history and our current political environment.]

“Since the rise of civilization, there has been a strong note of torment in the human condition,” monstrous perhaps, evil perhaps. But Parable is not an indictment of human nature — all that is required is the creative development of culture to a certain point of freedom, plus the human capacity of movement towards aggressive behavior (but not the necessity). It is an inevitable stage of human development.

Parable also points out that the parable of the tribes is present both between external groups, and within any one group. The internal processes are what create the benefits and the deficits of governance and of the judiciary system. The dynamics of power can subvert the internal systems just as effectively as the external.

We need to be alarmed about our destructiveness as a species and of our current culture , but it is a simple consequence of our creativity, a tragedy representative of the inevitable options for power. Yet the fall of the tragic hero is the opportunity for humility and recovery.

We Must Manage Power

There is “no way to return the dangerous djinni of human power back into the bottle.” And perhaps mankind will evolve to “control the actions of all to the degree needed to protect the well-being of the whole.” The development of the global village offers this possibility.

Thus Schmookler ends the introductory chapter with the quote I provided in the last post:

The laws of man require power, for power can be controlled with power. The challenge is to design systems that use power to disarm power. Only in such an order can mankind be free.

To all this, I would add the following:

  • Cooperation and authenticity are the necessary vehicles for designing a more mature culture. But they are not sufficient conditions — the transmutation of power is needed.
    • And to be authentic is dangerous. If you have power already you can probably manage the danger but if you do not you are in major trouble. Historically that meant you were killed — in modern times you’re not likely to be killed; we have simply become more subtle in how we threaten people. The movie Trumbo, the story of the blacklisting of Dalton Trumbo during the McCarthy era, is an excellent example of how this is done.
  • It is said that darkness cannot hide in the light. But it can hide! It can hide where there is the denial that darkness exists. This is the current dilemma of global warming, hiding in disinformation.
  • There are many who advocate that we just need be kinder to each other.
    • I am not convinced; we are capable of aggression and viciousness. Attempting to suppress this feature of humanness does not work.

What we need is maturity. We need to be able to do something else, something that includes our tendency to aggression! A fundamental need when stuck is to do something else that transcends and includes. This is the fundamental basis I offer in my anger management program.

The Nature of Power, Part 1

Arrogance - The Power of Domination
Arrogance – The Power of Domination

I’m going to continue with how I ended the last post — the need to manage power. I believe it is essential to do so. I also believe that the book The Parable Of The Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution (Andrew Schmookler, 1984) provides brilliant insight into the nature of power.

I am slowly re-reading this book (which I will refer to as Parable), so it will be long before I complete it (likely I will do a number of posts on it). For now, I do not want to lose my immediate insights (and a friend wants this information for a book she is writing). Much of these two posts will be a précis of the first Chapter of Parable.

First to understand power. The definition I use commonly is “the ability to influence.” I distinguish two kinds of power:

  • External power, or the ability to dominate, the ability of one party to impose their will on the second party without the permission of the second party.
    • Domination is characterized by fear, both on the part of the second party (fear of immediate loss) and also on the part of the first party (fear of reprisal).
  • Internal power, or personal power, the ability to influence because the behavior of the first party impresses the second party to the extent that the second party wants to interact with first party.
    • Personal power is characterized by a sense of aliveness, personal integrity, authentic relationships, and the ability to contribute.
    • Many people want this kind of power, both those who have it and those who do not. It is gained by personal growth.

So, some thoughts before I give you a précis of the first chapter of Parable.

Does a deer have choice? Yes, in a sense. Does a human being have choice? Definitely, and seemingly more so.

Can a deer have power. Possibly. Can a lion have power? Definitely a lion can be a dominator in seeking food sources. Can a human being have power? Definitely.

What are the differences? That is a part of what Parable seeks to address.

Parable suggests an alternative view to the commonsense view that human beings have created civilization by choosing beneficial outcomes for humanity. As evidence, the past ten thousand years of human development have been inconsistent and disappointing in terms of what humanity could have achieved, given the striving for good that cultural exemplars manifest. We are capable of great cooperation, but our consistent behaviors are competitive. Why?

First of all, the evolution of human beings has taken millions of years, not just ten thousand. For any species of life to develop, there has been the need for environmental stability. Life has basically been the adaptation to niches, only a few of which have then favored flexibility of response. The more complex niches have allowed more complexity to evolve. Selection eventually favored learning as a more efficient route of development, on which our human complexity has been built over several million years.

Next, because of their ability to learn, human beings maximized the development of culture, the ability to transmit what we have learned from generation to generation. As part of this, tools and language arose, as well as bodily modifications such as heels, hands and mouths to make use of culture.

But culture created the unpredictable animal, the freedom to choose. A “creature with the freedom to choose can be dangerous — to self, to others of his kind, to all life.” Thus arose the myths — only humans can confront the choice between good and evil.

The development of culture was radical, but culture “developed over hundreds of thousands of years without disruption of continuity” in individuals, society, and the natural order. Human societies were limited by the food that nature provided spontaneously! [These were the hunter-gatherers described by Herman in Future Primal, a people representative of the first democracy.]

The development of agriculture and domestication meant more food, more reliably, and thus open-ended changes in the structure of human society. Thus could society shift from hunter-gatherer (small, mobile groups, with social equality) to civilization (large groups, specialized).

In nature, all of life pursues survival, but within biologically evolved limits — “the struggle is part of order. . . . With the rise of civilization, the limits fall away.” Previously growth was limited by scarcity and consequent death. Civilization brought the capacity of seemingly unlimited growth.

In so doing, “full-scale civilization arose and showed a frightening face.” Social equality gave rise to “rigid stratification with the many compelled to serve the few! Civilization magnified the freedom, but was no longer subject to the limitations posed by nature. Civilization became governed a wholly new evolutionary principle, power!

To be continued.