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.
This is my second post about meaning, it being the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.
Not only is the creation of meaning complex, but often the information itself is complex. This is especially so with all the information available concerning global warming.
I said last post that I would give some updated information regarding global warming. Here it is.
First, I want to draw attention to a brilliant presentation by Jeremy Rifkin on The Third Industrial Revolution via UBC Connects (20180316) — it is a fairly long video, and a quick summary is available as The Zero Marginal Cost Society (unfortunately both present the information too rapidly to allow good processing). Rifkin identifies that every industrial revolution in the past has occurred with and requires new innovations in communication (management), energy (creation), and transportation (movement). We have that now with the internet (communication), renewable energy (energy), and electronic vehicles plus 3D printing (both logistical), and thus we are now capable of a new industrial revolution. However he remains hesitant because he does not trust that we have the maturity as a culture to undertake this — we must learn to cooperate and collaborate. processes are underway, and are in a race against the impacts of global warming.
Unfortunately, all this has been my primary emphasis throughout this blog.
And given all this, what do I trust? And, what to do? Especially in relationship to global warming. I trust the following links — they are also potentially troublesome — they offer meaning, likely painful! Yet, within the assessment of what I can do regarding global warming, they offer much; they are my attempt to offer appropriate meaning.
The current Secretary-General of the UN notes “Everyday, I am faced with the challenges of our troubled and complex world. But none of them loom so large as climate change. If we fail to meet the challenge, all our other challenges will just become greater and threaten to swallow us. Climate change is, quite simply, an existential threat for most life on the planet — including, and especially, the life of humankind.”
David Suzuki is often blunt in his critique of the societal issues of climate change, something I appreciate. Yet, as he notes, his bluntness often is subject to ad hominem attacks, rather than depth of dialogue — unfortunate, and part of the distortion that occurs in transfer of information to meaning.
I’ve decided to write a post about meaning because it is the essential driver of human behaviour. We are meaning-makers, story-makers, and if we do not know “what it’s all about,” we will not move into action. At the same time, the creation of our meaning is complex and sophisticated.
Some definitions are needed. Data refers to patterns within energy transmission. Information refers to a measurement of a signal (data) between a sender and receiver, from point A to point B. For data to become information, the data must be perceived by someone; information requires both data and perceiver. Information is a derivative of consciousness; it is not the same as meaning, and in fact, information has nothing to do with meaning.
Meaning is the fit between self and non-self; if the perceived data relates to who we perceive ourselves to be (the fit) or in some way challenges who we are, we make meaning of the information. I’ve previously talked about how we do this, the TIC process, as one of the major limitations of meaning. We translate (T) the data in to something we recognize, we interpret (I) the data on the basis of our existing filters (preconceptions), and then we corroborate (C) the data by checking the significance, the fit, with an existing group we trust.
Another way we create meaning is if the information interests us. Davis in That’s Interesting! proposes that social theories (at least) are interesting because they challenge the underlying presuppositions of the reader, potentially altering both the common sense and the scientific view of reality. For me, this is an interesting idea in itself as it leads me to ponder what happens when the presuppositions are firmly held, as in the conflict between the environmental movement and the deniers of global warming.
Obviously there are all sorts of ways in which this process of meaning-making can go sour. One of the major ways is that in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. This limits meaning! We bypass much of what we might actually need to know because of too much information. For me, it is a form of trauma, leading to overwhelm and apathy.
And we respond to it in the many ways associated with acedia:
we become fearful of overwhelm (“It’s too much.) This is especially true when we approach the issue of global warming. There is so much information and the information is so painful to absorb, we give up.
we become lazy (“I’ll look at it tomorrow.” “Somebody else will fix it.”)
we become self-righteous, especially if our corroborative group is also in denial. At its extreme, we actively sabotage by creating dis-information.
Even more frustrating is the nature of information dissemination. I’ve just been reading about Edward Bernays and the manipulation of Public Relations. He was the key figure in the early-mid 20th century responsible for the massive increase in public propaganda following the Second World War — advertising.
Bernays sold the myth of propaganda as a wholly rational endeavor, carried out methodically by careful experts skilled enough to lead “public opinion.” Consistently he casts himself as a supreme manipulator, mastering the responses of a pliable, receptive population. “Conscious and intelligent manipulation,” “invisible governors,” “they who pull the wires which control the public mind,” “shrewd persons operating behind the scenes,” “dictators exercising great power,” and, below them, people working “as if actuated by the touch of a button”—these are but a few expressions of the icy scientistic paradigm that evidently drove his propaganda practice, and that colored all his thinking on the subject. The propagandist rules. The propagandized do whatever he would have them do, exactly as he tells them to, and without knowing it. [Propaganda Quotes]
In reading this, I’ve also been aware of the changing parameters by which people engage in modern thinking, highly illustrative of both how information is transformed into meaning (especially via the TIC process), and the relationship between power and knowledge. An attendee at a recent Flat Earth Convention discusses just this theme: “those in power control what is considered to be correct and incorrect knowledge.” It fascinates me that a conference on the “reality” of a flat earth exists in today’s complex world! I wonder what else I am missing.
Two areas of changing parameters are most obvious to me:
the whole of the consumer industry with its so-called advertising processes. I like to think that originally advertising was meant to inform (perhaps my naiveté); now I simply see it as propaganda and manipulation.(my meaning).
the hidden algorithms that underlie many processes that presume to offer me choice: online filter bubbles that act in ways that provide information based on my previous choices. These occur in the hidden background of many well-known websites, and essentially restrict my corroboration to what I have already chosen.
Give all this, what do I trust? And, what to do?
One of the maxims I am using these days is: Be at peace; come back tomorrow! By this, I do not mean “I’ll look at it tomorrow” or “Someone else will fix it.”
I actually mean I’ll do what I can today and be at peace with what I have done! And then see what tomorrow offers for me to explore and do, again peacefully.
In Part 1, I indicated my interest in the Netflix series: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), and my own issues with trust. Here, I continue with commentary on the underlying issues of how we trust, as well as the immense difficulty we have with too much information, or (mis)information.
In attempting to understand trust, I recently looked up the nature of cognitive biases. To quote Wikipedia, “Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment.” Depending on which source I looked up, I found between 180 and 250 distinct biases, ranging from anchoring bias (the tendency to anchor conclusions on the first piece of “trusted” information acquired) to the Zeigamik Effect (the tendency for interrupted tasks to be remembered better than completed ones). I found the list to be fascinating, and recognized that many of the biases would have great survival value in a simple culture.
But ours is not a simple culture. When overwhelmed with too much information, I (and almost certainly any human being) will rapidly sort the information for importance according to my biases, especially my other-than-conscious biases. I know I do this every day — and (perhaps as my bias) I believe I am very sophisticated in my understanding of human communication. Heaven help those who are less sophisticated.
Whom To Trust
As I said recently, I have previously written about the means by which we establish trust (Whom Do You Trust?), and the TIC process that people use. To reiterate (as I regard it as a very important process to understand), people:
translate (T) the new information into language they can understand more easily, they interpret (I) into their own system of meaning, and then they corroborate (C) this meaning with groups that they already trust. For example, if I want to process information about new electric cars, I translate (T) the information into my current understanding of cars, think about (I) what cars mean to me, and then go ask (C) my friends what they think about electric cars.
Thus the fundamental basis of trust is how we select those around us whom we will believe, or at least with whom we will associate. But the group we trust may have their own biases, often in many ways. Examples include the colonial stances of the 19th century and the information presented in The Untold History . . . .
Such biases are especially important in the light of George Marshall book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired To Ignore Climate Change that I recently reviewed (7 parts, beginning here).
I recently wrote to a friend, concerning our mutual need to find a way to have the Canadian people mobilize for climate disruption, that we need:
a big frame that allows the conservatives and doubters to engage together with those committed. We have to interact so as to establish trust, not so much with the people like [Steve] Bannon, but with those who listen to him and still have uncertainty. The frame could be something like: ‘What do you want for the future? We are all in this together, and even though most of us have uncertainty, we need to pull together to create a better world. Let’s all talk to each other as if the other has truth in what they are saying: both those who are uncertain about climate disruption, and those who are more certain.’
But I continue to wonder to what extent my own biases and those of others interfere with our ability to cooperate on this super-wicked difficulty.
And if we don’t cooperate, the consequences are immense, if not disastrous.
I’ve been watching a fascinating series on Netflix: The Untold History of the United States (Oliver Stone, 2012), twelve presentations based on a particular interpretation of documented events during the 20th century, especially events related to the politics of war, specifically the cold war. I find it fascinating because it seems well researched and well presented, and it also reinforces my biases regarding the duplicity of modern politics (and probably ancient politics also). And as a result, I am challenged again to decide if the information is actually mis-information — hence my title The (Mis)Information Age.
Reviews of the series were mixed, with claims that there was really nothing new presented in the interpretations provided, and that there was much selective cherry-picking of the information presented. Perhaps this is true, but I still find that it provides me with much information that I had not previously encountered, and as a result that I have been reflecting a lot on how do I process information in the modern age.
My Experience of Trust
When I was a young boy, if I wanted to know something about a topic, I went to the encyclopedia; if needed, I went to the local library and searched for the topic in the Encyclopedia Britannica — the definitive source of the time. There I would find a concise three to five page article on the topic, and I had a sense of trust that I had now found useful information, actual knowledge of the state of the world at the current time. And that there was not easily a better source available.
Almost certainly this was a gross error, and if reviewed now, the information would undoubtedly be considered heavily biased (male perspective, British Empire perspective, et cetera). However, it was a world in which there was a sense of trust. Such trust was manifest in many ways. Many days as a child, I wandered freely over the neighborhood, perhaps blocks away, with no sense of fear. As a much younger child, I frequently visited with the “neighborhood grand-father,” where together with eight or ten other four-year-olds he would read us stories on Saturday mornings. I also recall going to school alone on the bus when I was seven or eight, perhaps younger. My older brother and I, he then perhaps nine or ten years old, would hop on the bus and go downtown to the Saturday morning movies, alone. When somewhat older, I cannot recall that I ever locked a bicycle or a car; most of the time the house door was unlocked, unless we were planning to be away for a few days.
In the interim, in my lifetime, I have watched the erosion of trust, both within myself, and within society in general. As I am sure you the reader know, almost no one fails to lock their home or their car anymore, or if they do, they worry until they return, fearful that it will be vandalized or stolen. Who today would think of leaving a younger child to go to the movies by themselves? Or allowing a young child to take public transit alone?
Nor do I trust modern communications, especially the media, and also much of professional literature. I have six university degrees, all of them in some way related to science; hence I generally understand scientific reports, but I do not trust many of the conclusions presented in modern scientific reports. I am very aware of the ways in which the language used in reports are heavily biased in subtle ways. Especially I do not trust the writings in psycho-pharmacology or nutrition (I also have a 1000 hours training as a cook, and know the politics of the culinary field).
Thus, I have my own issues with (mis)information.
To be continued (Cognitive Biases and Whom To Trust).
This is the third posting on what I believe a mature culture would value. In the previous one I commented on
the primary need to value children,
the need for a cultural story, a mythic narrative, that honors wisdom,
an educational system that provides deep support for life-long growth, and
practical skills that allow living with diversity and resolving conflict.
I’ve been re-reading a book that had a important impact on me as to how I view culture: Rupert Ross’s Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Aboriginal Reality. Reading it in the 1990s, I was deeply impressed with Ross’s suggestions of the profound maturity of Aboriginal culture (much of which was destroyed by European domination), a culture that was non-technological and subject to the risks of living in wilderness.
At that time, I created a workshop I called Reality, and how we live it. In it, I contrasted what I called The People of the Ladder (European-based) with The People of the Wheel (Aboriginal-based). I suggested that both had value (technological civilization versus emotional maturity) and both had deficits (the costs of domination versus the risks of starvation). If we are to survive, we now need integration of the positives of each of these, and reduction of the risks of each.
To continue — the next value I suggest is:
Governance based on planning for the “seventh generation.”
Overall, our current governance, at least in democratic countries, is based on political systems. The term comes from polis, meaning “affairs of the cities,” thus organizing groups of people to achieve desired ends. Its origin was part of the development of democracy, a system of governance meant to access the wisdom of the people. Beginning in 1952, MacIver suggested that “modern specialization of functions and interests, and the consequent growth of great interest groups, and of vast and powerful organizations devoted exclusively to their advancement, has destroyed the very basis of social life” (p. 77). Utterly true for me. And given the lobbying of commercial interests, modern political systems certainly do not plan for the long-term future.
I make a huge distinction between statespersons and politicians; to quote James Freeman Clarke, “A politician thinks about the next elections — the statesman thinks about the next generations.” A mature culture must focus on the needs of our entire planet, over many generations; in general, as a people, we are not skilled in the management of such diversity and potential conflict. The issues are incredibly complex, but there are modern models available to deal with complexity; a blog is not the place to go into details, and I recommend the interested reader to explore Gaian Democracies, holacracy, and community development processes. There is also much of value in Ross’s book; he was a practicing lawyer when he wrote the book, very aware of how European governance had destroyed Aboriginal culture.
To quote from my book Acedia, The Darkness Within:
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. 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. Sophisticated electronic communication, including frequent high-level polling of needs and ongoing values, would allow the government to stay in touch with the populace. (p. 202)
A judiciary system based on justice circles, not just legality.
As indicated about, I am re-reading Dancing With A Ghost. Somewhere in his book (I have not yet found the specific reference), Ross tells the story of a discussion between a white judge and a native elder, in which the elder says to the judge: “We know you have a legal system; we are just not sure it is a justice system.” Our European-based legal systems in general are adversarial; they do not support community.
And we need community; if well-developed, it is the basis of cooperation. The best example I have seen has been the use of justice circles — attempts to restore all parties to be in community at peace with each other, and such that the contraversial actions which led to disputes are not intentionally repeated. I also believe that such attempts to create justice is not perfect, and that there will be 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 … [to ostracize such individuals] from the group, perhaps [for the individuals] 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. (MacQuarrie, Acedia, p. 203)
A question: Would these six values that I have proposed be adequate to ensure a balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of the culture? Almost certainly not; I would call them necessary, but not sufficient. What is really needed is ongoing attention to the character of the culture. This would be the prime intention of the ongoing pursuit of wisdom: good judgment of the needs of the evolving present moment.
To be continued.
Next postings — I was going to explore how governance would function. Instead, I will explore what community would be like.
 MacIver, R. M. (1952). The ramparts we guard. New York, NY: Macmillan.
This is the second posting on what I believe a mature culture would value. In the previous one I commented on a) the primary need to value children, and b) the need for a cultural story, a mythic narrative, that honors wisdom.
As I reflect on why I am writing this blog today, I came across an interesting quotation: “Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life… ~ Martha Postlewaite.” At some level, I am attempting to do both, to save the whole world, and to create a clearing in my own life. My mythic narrative is such that I want to leave a better world for my grand-children, and my own life has been about emotional growth in honor of spirit; I believe we all want this, to support our children and to grow in spirit. So these values speak about what I want as well as what I believe we need to bring to conscious awareness for our survival as a species.
To continue — the next value I suggest is:
An educational system that provides deep support for life-long growth.
We must recognize that every human being has the right to education, not just a few years of schooling, but a life-long pursuit — because education never ends. Such a system is the basis of the pursuit of wisdom. It must start with the recognition that the education of women is a major key to our survival as a species — women are the life-givers, and in general, are far more capable in the pursuit of cooperation then are men.
In such a system, people would meet in small groups, at least weekly (with children present), to discuss life issues of importance, learning from themselves and from skilled mediators, learning how to resolve difficulties and cooperate with each other. It cannot be a top-down model of what people should do; it is not an effective means of learning. People would mentor each other, challenging both themselves and the systems within which they live. Easy, no; essential, yes.
Practical skills that allow living with diversity and resolving conflict.
What do you do when you are in conflict with someone else? The vast majority of people do not like to engage in conflict; I certainly don’t. but I at least have learned that conflict is normal — it is the essential fabric whereby we come to like and value each other (if we were all the same, it would be really boring!). But it is not easy.
In the best of circumstances, we have billions of people on this planet. Each one of us is different, and entitled to living space (food, shelter, education, health, etc.). And each one of us is emotional; when emotion-laden differences arise, we call it conflict. Frequently I have said to people: We are emotional; we can have clarity — it’s optional. And it requires ongoing effort to be able to think clearly about issues when emotions run high. Despite the dictates of modern psychology, I am a strong advocate of Blowing Out®, the system I developed as a method for moving through emotional issues so as to have clarity in conflictual situations.
So often I hear people say that we should not be in conflict, that we should be able to resolve issues peacefully, and other admonitions as to how we should behave. I have very little use for shoulds, other than they being an indicator of conflict (see my earlier blogs on this subject). Every human being has thoughts and feelings about the struggles of life, and in general each person has their own experience, some having had more difficulty in life than others. Some have more power. Cooperation in diversity and conflict means that we work to provide justice for all, not just those who are in power. It means that all have a voice in providing such justice. Given our current maturity as a species, this takes incredible time and effort for resolution; perhaps as we growth in authenticity, it will take less time.