This post is a series of articles I have found recently that illustrate for me the complexity of what we must deal with as a culture. I shake my head in wonder, and sometimes struggle to stay out of despair. Even in despair, I choose to be function in contemplative action.
An excellent article regarding our failure as a generation to respond to the existential crisis of climate disruption — we need now to support our youth as they stand up to our acedia. Hopefully they will manage better than we have done.
An excellent article on the rise of authoritarianism throughout the world. I am currently in a small group exploring issues of Power & Privilege; what I recognize from this article is that I am currently only exploring the tip of the iceberg.
An amazing description of life existing in places where I would not have thought possible. The resiliency of life astounds me such that I imagine that even if we destroy ourselves, life will persist. Who knows — maybe in another billion years archeologists will wonder who we were.
This post presents a number of the links I have recently encountered, articles I think are important in speaking truth to what I perceive. And as usual, I am hesitant to post them — it is so easy to be overloaded with too much information these days.
I find also that the climate conversations are evolving. I attended a webinar a few nights ago by Smart Politics (https://www.joinsmart.org/) — overall I was impressed. It is American, based mainly in California (I think), and presented a good process for engaging, followed by a good discussion — certainly I would recommend to anyone in the States. It is different from yet similar to the process I will be leading with the Suzuki Elders at the end of this month (Climate Change Conversations: How To Have Them Without Everyone Walking Out Of The Room, Vancouver, 20190228).
An excellent summary of the power of speaking the truth, especially in the nature of climate disruption. As readers of this blog will know, I am an advocate of The Climate Mobilization; momentum for this organization and its partners is evolving.
The need for major overhaul of the political situation is being recognized. Perhaps it is the beginning of transformation of capitalism and neoliberalism. Perhaps. Will we do so in time to avert disaster?
This series of articles on methane, the principle component of natural gas, speaks to the complexity of assessing data as well as the interpretation of data, some of which is almost certainly disinformation.
In my reading today I encountered a truly outstanding description of how one man chooses to live with Climate Change, something that will affect all our lives. Dahr Jamail’s commentary As the Climate Collapses, We Ask: “How Then Shall We Live? (20190204, the first of a series) touches me deeply, both for his honesty and for his depth of knowledge and understanding. He is one of a small group of journalists in whom I have a deep sense of trust as to his integrity. (Joe Rohm is another source that I trust for his knowledge and his integrity.)
As I write these words, I also have a moment of profound cognitive dissonance. I am slowly reading Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed To Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken, a very well-researched description of 100 substantive solutions to reverse global warming. I also think of the DVD Tomorrow (2015) that I watched a few weeks ago, a video that deeply impressed me with its hopeful message of creative responses to climate issues.
Thus I simultaneously hold the honest searching and sadness of what we have done and do to our planet together with the incredible creativity that is available. All this with the recognition of how powerless we are to deal with the insanity of capitalism and neoliberalism, the power dynamics that run our system.
It truly reminds me to be humble of the limited yet important ways in which I can contribute.
A very clear presentation of the options for Albertans. What I find fascinating is the number of ad hominin attacks in the Commentary section, an indication of the amount of toxic discourse (as noted in the past few posts).
The past three blog posts have been fueled by James Hoggan’s
book I’m Right, And You’re An Idiot.
In conversation with Hoggan, David Suzuki (Canada’s leading environmentalist)
asked: Why aren’t people demanding action on environmental issues? To address
this question, Hoggan set out to interview a large number of some of the
world’s leading thinkers, specifically individuals who study human
communication, to gain their perspective on this failure.
As mentioned in Ways To Contribute, I am involved with the Suzuki Elders in exploring how to use this information in the management of difficult conversations. In Finding Common Ground and How Conflict Escalates, I proposed a simple (perhaps difficult?) methodology for this. Yet I also want to give credit to Hoggan for the immense amount of exploration he undertook.
The following are some of the major points with which Hoggan grappled. Most are from his Epilogue, and all are direct quotes, with the interviewee named (JH denotes Hoggan’s commentary). [Square brackets are minor changes I have added, hopefully without changing the meaning.]
Few of us are truly evil — and good people
sometimes [strongly disagree] for good reasons. (JH, p. 215)
Democracy works only if reasoned debate in the
public sphere is possible. (Jason Stanley, p. 98)
While contention lies at the heart of democracy,
it must be constructive contention. (Marshall Ganz, p. 115)
[People] don’t need not agree on the solution or
on the problem. They don’t need to understand each other, trust each other or
even like each other. But they do have to recognize that the only way to move
forward is together. (Adam Kahane, p. 123)
It is through narratives . . . that people learn to access the moral and
emotional resources we need to act with agency in the face of danger,
challenge, and threat. . . . [This] is one of the most important lessons set
out in I’m Right. (Marshall Ganz and
JH, p. 174)
At its most basic level, I’m Right is about how we tell stories and how we treat each other.
(JH, p. 115)
To create powerful persuasive narratives, our
starting point must be rooted in an attitude of empathy, respect, and
compassion. (The Dalai Lama, p. 211).
People don’t start out mired in hostility. The
situation evolves. . . . Our defense mechanisms kick in . . . and this provokes
. . . eventual gridlock. (JH, pp. 214-215)
It is hard to know who and what to trust. (JH, p.
An important key is to hold our beliefs lightly [so
that we are open to new possibility]. (JH, p. 215)
Facts and reason are fundamental to healthy
public discourse, but in our overheated adversarial public square, facts are
not enough. (JH, p. 217)
The initial strategy . . . must be inquiry, . .
. [exploring] what truly matters to people [the emotional energy]. (JH, p. 218)
We must appeal to people’s values and speak from
a moral position, . . . encouraging debate about matters of concern. (JH, pp.
A well-crafted . . . narrative helps tear down
barriers of propaganda and polarization. This theme of emotional communication
is grounded in the Golden Rule of treating others the way we want to be
treated. (p. 219-220)
If we seek change, we should learn to use speech
for its highest purpose — moral discourse. (JH, p. 222)
I propose that the methodology I suggested in earlier posts satisfies what Hoggan has identified, especially in providing narrative and compassion, and provides constructive contention.
Hoggan, J. (2016). I’m right, and you’re an idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and
how to clean it up. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
What to say this week? The clock is ticking, in many ways. Certainly the news is dominated by the political scene in Washington DC, with the criminal allegations associated with the Trump-Russia morass. It seems that Mueller is operating with very sophisticated skill, creating massive anxiety. Essentially this is as it should be — an ineffective investigation would do more harm than good. But it is certainly complex.
The major difficulty is that such an investigation is slow, and the climate clock continues to tick. The report by Dahr Jamail is excellent and comprehensive (as usual), documenting the many ways, the increasing ways, in which we are in trouble. Meanwhile the Trump administration continues to dismantle the efforts to respond — sad. And all the more reason to sort the Trump-Russia muddle.
And on the lighter side, some interesting links concerning the complexity of our culture.
All of the this complexity would be fascinating, if the consequences were not so painful.
Three new studies that indicate the dangers of continued fossil fuel usage, more and faster if we continue our present course. As usual, each report portrays more and more danger as we get better and better data.
This is my second and concluding post on the need for a coup. Earlier I noted Schmookler, in The Parable Of The Tribes, suggesting that a civilization based on power (the original basis by which civilizations emerge) is not sustainable: it demonstrates neither synergy, enhancing the welfare or all, nor viability, sustainable in its continuing existence.
Schmookler also notes that justice could be the antidote of power, thereby underscoring both synergy and viability. Justice requires:
“where power is exercised . . . it should not be used to benefit the wielder of power at the expense of the health of the system as a whole” and
“where different parts of the system have conflicts of interest, the conflicts should be resolved not by their differences in power but by some moral principle which, if always followed, would ultimately be to the benefit of all in the system.”
As a species, we have not yet demonstrated the capability of synergy and viability — world governance, such as it is, is by tenuous cooperative agreement, the limits of which have been demonstrated by Trump’s threat to withdraw from the Paris agreement. Again, simply as one example of the many instances of inequitable dynamics, Trump’s stance is that of power; it is not that of justice. Nor is power a stance of cooperation; it is a stance of domination! And it is not sustainable: either it is stopped, or the system itself will deteriorate to the point of collapse (e.g., the predictable outcome of global warming).
So how then does one deal with such insanity, in which it is necessary to develop power over power, and yet act justly. I have seen nothing in the past years to suggest an effective outcome. All of the efforts of the social movements of the past century (including feminism, racial discrimination, the environmental movement, et cetera) have been the attempt of the “people” to get the “1%” to cooperate, and have had only limited success.
Much of what has been suggested thus far is in the nature of civil disobedience. And whereas I believe it is an important tool is opposing power, it is the attempt of the weak to convince the strong to desist certain actions. It does not seem to offer any significant shift in the maturity of the strong, certainly not those who function from the power of domination.
Thus my suggestion that we need a coup! But in contrast to most coups where one form of domination simply replaces another form of domination, we need a coup in which justice replaces domination. And the coup needs to be international, including all of the major powers of the world. Although I often use the USA as an example, I am not naïve in believing that it is the only source of difficulties on this planet.
Furthermore, the only examples of sustainable justice of which I am aware have been within indigenous cultures — cultures that have resisted civilization, albeit without great success up to this point. Our track record of “civilized” process has not been very successful otherwise.
And hence, my best guess is that such a coup must come from indigenous sources, as the power to resist domination and act justly. Again in my limited exposure to cultural issues, it is the native people of North America who seem most apt to engage in sustained resistance (witness Standing Rock and Kinder-Morgan). They also have a cultural heritage that honored justice in much richer fashion than has European-based culture.
These two links discuss the ineffectiveness of modern attempts to limit the use of power, both in preventing individual tragedies and in developing just resolutions to such forces that underlie these tragedies.
An interesting example of how the interplay of legality and power work in our culture. To quote the lead-in: “A peculiar confluence of history, legal precedent and defiance has set the stage for a regulatory mutiny in California that would reverberate throughout the country.” Legally, California can regulate independently of national concerns, and controls at least a third of the auto industry, with a sizable impact on how industry must react. I am reminded of a statement that our culture has a legal system, perhaps sometimes a justice system.
I said in my last post that I would consider the possibility of a coup. At some level, I truly accept that the need for a coup is the only way in which humanity will survive. I’m not a historian, nor a philosopher, nor do I have a military background, so what follows will simply be my random thoughts regarding the issues that confront us as a civilization.
First, as noted in my original first post of this blog (see my home page), Laszlo (in Evolution: The General Theory, 1996) wrote that we are in a cascade of crises, and that we must extend ourselves into a new maturity, else we will likely perish as a species (or at least as a civilization). I also recall from my PhD research, Toynbee in A Study Of History (1946) considered that in the failing of civilizations, new ones arise at the periphery (of the old collapsing civilization) wherein a small group arises who both represents a new energy of purpose while espousing a new religion, meanwhile opposed by the old tyranny. In my dissertation, I suggested that the small group was the Cultural Creatives and the new religion was our maturing relationship with ecology. The current difficulty with both the Cultural Creatives and the ecology movement, though, is that they are disorganized, and do not present a coordinated front to oppose the oppressive forces of our current civilization. Furthermore, this past century is the first occurrence in which we as a species have come to be both a global village and a power dynamic capable of altering the dynamics of the entire ecosystem of our world; there is essentially no periphery for a new civilization — we must confront the center of the old.
I also noted in my posts about power (beginning 2016-08-16) that civilization(s) arose because the human species came into relationship with power, a relationship different from that of all other previous species. Schmookler in The Parable Of The Tribes indicated that “our destructiveness as a species and of our current culture . . . is a simple consequence of our creativity, a tragedy representative of the inevitable options for power” — and that there is “no way to return the dangerous djinni of human power back into the bottle.” In addition, “The laws of man require power, for power can [only] 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.” Perhaps mankind will evolve to “control the actions of all to the degree needed to protect the well-being of the whole.”
Schmookler mentions a number of relevant definitions:
system: an aggregate the elements of which interact (and therefore no element of the system can be understood in isolation)
synergy: a pattern whereby each part functions in a way that enhances the welfare of the other parts as well as its own
viability: the ability to maintain without diminution whatever it is upon which its continued existence depends
Our civilization is definitely a system, yet it is neither synergistic nor viable. Our civilization is based on power, not synergy and viability. We compete rather than cooperate. We control by short-term domination rather than by consideration of the long-term. We demonstrate immense creativity, but we do not consider the impact of our creativity on future generations (in either our consumerism or our technological advances).
I am suggesting this link, not as a critique of Trump (which it is), but as an indication of the need for definitive action in stopping this kind of tribalism, a stance that likely results in major deterioration of justice and viability. The current system is not healthy.
At present, I am experiencing cognitive dissonance as I survey various internet sources after the weekend. As I have previously mentioned I am enrolled in a two-year program of contemplative practice, attempting to access a deeper wisdom on the nature of the universe — you could call it seeking God, but for me, it is seeking a worldview that allows me to be at peace. Not easy!
First, I’ve had a great weekend with a men’s group, each of us (at various levels of maturity) seeking that sense of purpose; it was part of the illuman.org program for those who might be interested. Then I come home to the escalating rhetoric between dangerous opponents. Then I note some good news on the climate front — not great news, but news that might give us a slight delay in the tipping points of climate catastrophe. But hurricanes are obviously not waiting for us to sort our differences. Finally a link of how powerful our technology is, in that we might be able to feed the world via biologic manipulation (if we can overcome our reticence — and our immaturity — to be Gods).
How to make sense of all this, and how to respond to it, is beyond me at present. My best case scenario is that mankind be removed from the equation asap — I don’t like this option, but I don’t foresee cultural maturity on the sounding board. What is needed is to take power over power for the greater good (and the resolution of what is the “greater good”).
My next post will likely be on the need to stage a coup.
The escalation of rhetoric is a sad reflection of our immaturity as a species, and in that immaturity, the risk of irreversible consequences is high. My fear is that even if only one side believes their rhetoric, we are in grave danger.
Potentially good news (if correct), but so different from other models that it will require careful study to determine how well these calculations fit experience. The danger is that a) a more generous margin of safety may be used to justify additional delay, and b) the changing landscape will be used to discount the clarity of scientific consensus (especially as to the significance of man’s technology). Science is never able to prove anything; it can only test for the best and simplest explanation of experience.
To quote: “Hurricanes are built to convert heat energy into wind energy, and seawater’s available energy rises exponentially as it warms.” This says it all — the more energy, the more damage when released.
As I have noted previously, I am engaged in a two-year study program in contemplative practice, the ultimate aim for me being to find a satisfying balance between my hermit nature and my desire to contribute, especially regarding my sadness at how our species functions. Given the ineffective political responses to the multiple cultural traumas of recent times (terrorists, alt-right, hurricanes) and the worsening climate, I truly must wonder: Are we f–ked? (See the two good podcasts below.)
The big issue, the immediate one, is how we are responding to global warming. But this is only one component of the complex issues which need to be resolved. I recall a comment in Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed (Diamond, 2005) in which the author was repeatedly being asked what is the single most important issue we need to resolve. His answer: All of them. Fundamentally all these issues interlink and represent the immaturity of our species, especially our simplistic approach to issues. One link below (Can emissions shrink . . .?) comments on this.
Frequently I don’t know what to do, and I fall back on continuing my own personal journey, given that if I do not support myself, I cannot support others. I have just this week started the study component of the program I’m doing, and will have more to say about it as the course develops. For now, amongst others, I simply reference two links I have found on the need for discipline (of which I am generally very disciplined). I do not know to what extent, if any, I will encounter any change in my outlook, but giving up is not a viable option for me. In any event, I expect that through my study program, I will deepen my sense of compassion and trust in the ultimate outcome.
Paul Kennedy, a highly respected Canadian broadcaster, speaks to the resistence to discussion of global warming. Gradually the conversation evolves. This particular conversation is not nice; it is however necessary. This link references Part One of a podcast as follows; Part Two aired on September 14th.
In general, psychiatrists and other mental health issues do not comment on the mental health of those whom they have not directly examined, especially public figures. However, in The Dangerous Case Of Donald Trump (in publication), 27 leading individuals have chosen to do so, given that they have concluded that he presents a clear and present danger to society.
Long and detailed, this is an interesting study of the age of dysinformation. If accurate, it contributes in a major way to the difficulty of managing global warming. particularly how internectine conflict distracts from effective action.
Amazing use of technology by the Netherlands has allowed them to be the second largest exporter of food in the world, second only to the USA (the US having a land mass 270 times greater than the Netherlands!).
Over the past few weeks, I have been noting my reaction to a number of sources (below), some political, some ecological. As a result, I am again in a place of sadness at the immensity of the task facing us as a species if we are to survive the coming century. All are worth reading from my perspective; my title The Developing Madness comes from the combination of these sources.
First has been my reading of a free downloadable pdf copy of the book Rethinking Madness: Towards a Paradigm Shift In Our Understanding and Treatment Of Psychosis (2012) by Paris Williams. As a physician-psychotherapist and a mystic, I have always been interested in the nature of psychosis, especially since I strongly disagree with the medical profession that psychosis is a biochemical disease (although there may be some biochemical based aspects to the disorder). For me, William’s book is superb: well-written and well-researched, persenting a very convincing argument for both mystical experience and psychosis as being responses in which the normal egoic defences of the psyche are overwhelmed by the vastness of unity experience, the mystic having a successful outcome and the psychotic having a less successful response. But the frame provided by this paradigm potentially asks the medical profession to be humanly authentic with patients, rather than technocrats administering medications while focussed on disease as the problem. The issues are complex, but to become humane would require a major revision of our entire society in its valuing of “experts.” At some level that would be both more expensive and very threatening in the age of scientific materialism.
Another source has been a CBC news article ‘It scares me’: Permafrost thaw in Canadian Arctic sign of global trend (2017 April 17) on the melting of the permafrost infrastructure that supports building in the Arctic town of Inuvik, NWT. As a physician, I worked in Inuvik (1971-1972) just after graduation from medical school, so I have some nostalgia and familiarity with the town of Inuvik, and the nature of permafrost; moreover, in 2009, my precipitation into despair came when I recognized the danger of melting permafrost and the developing release of methane (which, compared to CO2, is a more powerful greenhouse gas) — the CBC article gave me a immediate sensory-emotional link to the concept of permafrost melting. As a result also, I checked with a friend who has been part of the United Nations IPCC team who, over the years, has been documenting the risks of global warming via several different models. He notes:
The IPCC AR5 does not include carbon feedback emissions from forest fires, warming peatlands, or thawing permafrost (NOAA Arctic Report Card 2016). . . . The Amazon carbon sink is declining. World wide,there is increasing tree mortality and die back affecting all world forests (IPCC AR5).
All of this means that we are in even more danger of run-away climate disruption, and the multiple tipping points associated with elevating global temperature. We are easily heading for 2°C warming, at which point the developing madness of global warming becomes profoundly serious to the survival of our civilization, let alone our species.
Fourth: Climate Change As Genocide: Inaction Equals Annihilation (2017 April 20). Famine is an old idea for our world, but now we risk planetary famine as failed states accumulate. As a “civilized people,” we are failing to respond, both in the provision of resources to those who need them, and in our response to the systemic forces wherein failed states become the domain of brutal armed combat, providing further blockage of our responses. Such insanity is our future as we continue to ignore the impact of global warming.
Finally I have been impacted by two posts by an activist-artist Ricardo Levins Morales whom I have recently found. The posts I find to be thoughtful, but complex, beyond my knowledge of the political situations of the United States — yet the ideas seem valid in my limited understanding. I recommend them:
The two posts present a detailed analysis of the many forces that sustain neoliberalism and the failure of American democracy, thoughtfully written.
Most important for me has been what Morales, in the Broken Mirror, calls the Titanic Compact — it provides a possible frame for understanding the inability of NGOs to cooperate with each other. It sets the bounds of “permitted struggle” — it notes:
The destruction of the mid-century mass movements through repression and funding, smashed the mirror in which peoples’ struggles could see themselves as parts of a common movement. In its place narrowly focused non-profits, licensed by the state, are permitted to each carry a single shard of the broken mirror. . . . Under its terms we get to fight to improve conditions on the Titanic as long as we do not ask about the direction, speed or ownership of the ship itself. As long as we comply, we can solicit funding from the 1% and enjoy protection from state violence.
Much of this contract is undoubtedly unconscious, but consistent with what I perceive to be happening in many areas. We are so busy defending our small patches to truth that we do not want to see the overwhelming truth of where we are headed, in the developing madness. And we are so busy designing our protests that we fail to identify that we must mature as a species.
Our options are:
spontaneous emergence from the chaos (wherever this leads), and
deliverated emergence from the chaos (choosing a path of progressive psycho-spiritual evolution, wherever this leads).
At the risk of hubris, only the latter option is likely to resolve our difficulties. Culturally, we must come to terms with power over power, and we must come to terms with our desire for greatness.