Tag Archives: emotional needs

I’m Right!

How we polarize!

The past three blog posts have been fueled by James Hoggan’s book I’m Right, And You’re An Idiot[1]. 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. 216)
    • 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. 217-218)
  • 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.


[1] 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.

Knowing Through Relationship

Relationship1The week has been busy — lots of little jobs, and also I have been having difficulty organizing a workshop I will be doing (in October) on relationship. I am taking an older workshop, one that I have never been fully satisfied with, and both reducing it in size (for a full weekend to 1½ days). Such a reduction is always difficult for me, and more so this time as I have been searching for how to focus the workshop in a way that satisfies me. What I have settled upon, and which satisfies me, is to emphasize the importance of intersubjectivity.

Intersubjectivity is a concept I learned from my research advisor Christian deQuincey when I was doing my PhD. To quote one of Christian’s books (Radical Knowing: Understanding Consciousness Through Relationship, 2005):

Intersubjectivity is “knowing through relationship” — a form of non-sensory, non-linguistic connection through presence and meaning, rather than through mechanism or exchanges of energy. (Kindle location 452)

Christian also distinguished three forms of intersubjectivity:

  1. Intersubjectivity-1, the exchange of linguistic tokens (words and other sounds),
  2. Intersubjectivity-2, where we influence each other with the meaning we promote, and
  3. Intersubjectivity-3, where we co-create each other into a meaningful experience by the wholeness of who we each are.

For me, when I experience it, intersubjectivity-3 is the richest form of dialogue of which I have experienced.

So the workshop is becoming a process whereby we (myself and the participants) explore how to have a really great relationship. In essence then, for a given relationship, to what extent are we willing

  • to be authentic with each other,
  • to support each other to be the person we each want to be (as opposed to who we should be for the other , or for society),
  • when difficulties arise in the relationship (inevitable), to explore the difficulty with total honesty.

Hard work, requiring that we love ourselves as well as our partner, and that we define the truths by which we each stand (or fall). The most important place for learning about life, provided we have ways to sort the complexity.

One component of this is what the Family Therapist Murray Bowen called self-differentiation — the consistent ability to be a self while in the presence of others. Amongst his other contributions, Bowen developed a scale for self-differentiation, ranging from 0 to 100. He believed most people scored around 40, and that no one ever scored above 70 — it is simply too difficult to stay separate from the influence of others (we are not designed to do so).

Anyway, the workshop is looking interesting.

Other issues of note for the week, both on climate issues:

The Planet Is Warming. And It’s Okay to Be Afraid (20170717)

Last week, I listed The Unhabitable Earth, an article that discussed the worst case scenario of what we face, indicating how close it comes to doom-mongering (worst case scenarios are usually very challenging). This link (The Planet Is Warming . . .) is an excellent response to the concern re doom-mongering in regards to global warming — unfortunately, if we are to respond effectively, we each need to deal with our despair. Not fun, but necessary.

A Brief History of the Straw (20141023)

Plastic straws suck (20170720)

Two interesting links to the impact of plastic straws, the first on our creativity, the second on our ecology. Apparently we discard 180,000,000,000 straws a year (1,400,000 kilograms a year, 500,000,000 a day) to landfill and other forms of discard. I deliberately changed the data from 180 billion to 180,000,000,000 to emphasize the impact. And that is just drinking straws!

Issues Of Insanity

Insanity Sanity Signpost Shows Crazy Or Psychologically SoundI’ve recently returned from Ontario, where I was presenting two workshops on Authenticity (what it means, and how to be authentic — the work required); both were well received. For me, they also illustrated the huge desire and need for people to be authentic, as well as how little teaching there is in our society regarding emotional maturity.

Question: how often have you gone to a workshop that emphasizes emotional growth, or resolving relationship issues? My guess is that, for most people, the answer is: Never!

The preceeding centuries, at least since the 18th century, have emphasized technology and consumerism, all fueled by scientific materialism and especially by neoliberalism — great for industry, but not a good combination for health, especially emotional health. For me, they are a sad reflection on the path of human development.

As I emphasized on one slide of the workshop, our history has been that of hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years. As such, many of these societies have been incredibly healthy, perhaps our oldest true immediate democracies. Then we had the beginning of agriculture, with the introduction of civilization. And empire, including slavery. With the Greeks, we had the identification of democracy and the valuing of wisdom. And eventually feudalism, and functional slavery. With the Renaissance, we had science and the valuing of the individual. And industrial slavery. With the 20th century, we had technology and the valuing of women. And consumerism (and perhaps commercial slavery). Now with the 21st century, we have the information revolution and the valuing of diversity. And global warming (and The Climate Lie). Such a strange path we humans have lived.

So now we are reaping the costs of this path. Some examples follow.

The insanity of politics

Mr. Mueller Is Following the Money (20170615)

A rather crude article, but it hits all the sore points of this insanity of politics.

Comey’s testimony was a media disaster for Trump. These headlines prove it. (20170609)

The responses to Comey’s testimony.

Cashing in on the Rise of the Alt-Right (20170616)

The destruction of political norms started decades ago. Here’s how it happened. (20170618)

The strange nature of our society, as it becomes more and more polarized.

WTF is going on in the UK? (20170609)

Strange politics is also part of other areas of the world.

On global warmingAntarcticMelt

Scientists stunned by Antarctic rainfall and a melt area bigger than Texas (20170615)

A potential harbringer of the future.

New Solar Milestone Has Big Consequences (20170606)

Progress is slow, but ongoing.

On the positive side:

Defiance of Trump spawns international workarounds with U.S. states, cities (20170609)

A good summary of Trump issues.

How to Fight Trump’s Paris withdrawal by taking climate justice into our own hands (20170613)

A good article on local action regarding the off-loading of consumer costs, and the possibility of legal challenge — a slow, but necessary, step in a more mature process.

Protecting oceans is paying off (20170608)

Fascinating research.

Accepting One’s Quirky Personality (2017)

Jack Kornfield often has brief but intersting comments of living with the insanity. My own stance is that we need much greater emphasis and availability of teaching on how to do this work. Otherwise such articles simply become another ‘should’ of how we should live.

We are such an interesting species! (A reminder of the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times!)

Rites Of Passage

LifeStages2I have just returned from an outstanding workshop called Men’s Rites Of Passage (MROP), provided by a men’s organization (Illuman) committed to becoming better men; it is based on spiritual traditions, but totally ecumenical and welcoming to all men regardless of personal characteristics. Over my years of therapy, I have likely attended more than 100 major workshops, and this one has clearly been one of the best, both in its organization and its clarity of work. For myself, the impact was somewhat diffuse (as noted, having done much work before); its impact on other men appears to have been profound, consistent with the quality of the workshop.

The workshop is based on the work of Richard Rohr, founder of the Center For Action And Contemplation, a Franciscian based spiritual center. Based on Richard’s book Adam’s Return: The Five Promises Of Male Initiation[1], the premise is that throughout the past, men have needed initiation rites so as to move them into community; otherwise men tend to be highly orientated to power dynamics. The premise makes sense to me, not that it is exclusive to men, but certainly it has been a factor in the basic power dynamics of our Western civilization.

Essentially, the workshop normalizes the pain of life journey. It is based on spiritual teachings, although non-religious and very ecumenical. It poses a variety of non-challenging interventions, yet is very powerful.

Various studies (I forget the sources) have suggested a range of life stages for men and women, the most common of which (if successfully completed) are:

  • early adult transition, usually in the early 20s, wherein mastery is learned,
  • mid-life transition, approximately age 40, wherein maturity is begun, and
  • eldership transition, approximately age 65, wherein wisdom predominates
    • this could also be called old age transition, but I dislike the connotations of this designation.

The current MROP is orientated to mid-life transition; workshops to emphasize the characteristics of the other statges are currently being developed.

From my perspective and as indicated in previous posts (my series on Mature Community, such as here), if we are to survive and thrive as a species, such work is essential to the maturing of our species. I cannot emphasize this enough, and I believe that Illuman has a major role to play in this process.

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Other issues of the week:

Global Warming continues to worsen (are you surprised?).

Increased awareness is key to resolving the climate crisis (20170518). A friend suggested that maybe they have been reading my blog.

AntarcticGreenThanks to global warming, Antarctica is beginning to turn green (20170518). Wow! I never conceived of the antarctic as being green.

Scientists say the pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990 (20170522). The rate of change is still very small, but the impact is cummulative. As well, the rate of rise does not take into account sudden shifts due to increased glacial calving, or loss of entire ice shelves.

The cultural status also continues to worsen (again, surprise!)

It’s tougher than it should be to impeach Donald Trump (20170517). It actually takes a huge effort (“only if the vice-president, over half the cabinet, and two-thirds of both houses agree to do so”).

There’s No Way Republicans Will Truly Confront Trump on His Scandals. It Would Destroy Their Party. (20170518). A dangerous situation

The Disappearing Data Project (20170522). As the Trump administation closes down various agencies, access to their data input becmes much more difficult.

Such is life!

[1] Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing.

More On Problems

problems1Previously, I written a number of blog posts on the nature of change, and the distinction between difficulties and problems (they start here as of 20160630). I need to add to that, especially with a highly useful concept ( concerning logos, ethos, and pathos) that I encountered somewhere in my career, one attributed to Plato (I’m currently searching for a specific reference).

Anyway, the distinction is that between logical issues (logos), ethical issues (ethos), and emotional issues (pathos). An example will help.

Suppose my toaster is not working, and I want toast.

The Difficulties: In theory (the Logical), I (or someone else) could take the toaster, determine what is the difficulty, and with the right parts, simply fix the toaster, returning it to its functional state. This is the logical approach to a technological difficulty. (Logical resolutions work best with technological issues.)

However, in our culture, it is much more likely I would put the toaster in the garbage (increasing the environmental load), and go to the local store to purchase a new toaster. I bypass the logical.

The difficulty here is that we somehow believe it to be less expensive to do this than to find someone, as above, who has the necessary skills and necessary parts for the repair process. In our complex culture, there is a certain truth to this (it is much less so in a third-world country where many people make their living with such simple repairs — but we are not a ‘third-world’ country!).

To find someone in my city who would be willing to do such repairs and who had the necessary parts (likely needing to be back-ordered rather than immediately available) would take much searching and massive effort as well as considerable time — in the past when I have gone to electrical stores, they have simply said it is cheaper to buy a new toaster.

So with difficulties of this nature, such as the toaster, I therefore do not bring a logical resolution to the logical problem. It is ‘too expensive.’ Instead, I move to the Ethical: I go to a store for a toaster.

In buying the toaster at the store, probably as a very cheap price (because the many environmental costs are ignored), they will give me a warranty for the new toaster — an ethical statement that the toaster is new, and will function without difficulty for a certain period of time. Let’s assume the warranty is good for 90 days.

So I take the toaster home, and enjoy my toast for the next few weeks. But then, the toaster fails, at day 89. I go to the original store where I bought the toaster, together with my original purchase receipt. Then give me a replacement toaster, a new one — mine has crashed within the warranty period, and the warranty guarantees a replacement (meanwhile the failed toaster goes into the garbage — more garbage). This is an ethical resolution to a logical problem (repeating again, as above, that a logical resolution is ‘too expensive.’)

But suppose I have had a busy week, and I do not get back to the store until day 91. What then?

I tell the store that the toaster failed two days ago, on day 89 (and of course, explaining that this was within the warranty period), but I have had a really busy week. So what is the store manager to do?

On the one hand, I’ve brought the toaster back on day 91 — it is out of warranty! It is beyond the ethical resolution!

But on the other hand, thinks the store manager, “if I refuse to give this guy a new toaster, he will leave the store disgruntled, and likely complain to his many friends as to how unfair my store policy is, and I might lose 10 future customers as a result. I’ll give him a new toaster — it’s a cheaper solution.”

So I get a new toaster again. But this is not an ethical resolution — it is an Emotional resolution.

Over the years of my career as a therapist, this distinction between logical, ethical, and emotional has been one of the most useful concepts I have encountered! When I have a difficulty, I ask myself:

  • Is there a logical issue here? What will be require for resolution? Is there a known process that can be brought to bear on this issue?
  • Is there some kind of written (or even verbal) agreement (the ethical) that applies to this difficulty? If so, to what have we actually agreed?
    • Fundamentally, this is the concept of fairness — do we have an agreement as to how we will act when difficulties arise. It is fair that we keep this agreement, and unfair if one of us does not.
    • And if we do not have an agreement, fairness has nothing to do with the issue at hand!
  • And finally, what are the emotional issues within this difficulty? No known process to be applied; there is no agreement as to how we should act. So now I have two further options as to how to act . . .
    • I can do a transaction for payment — how much is it going to cost for resolution, to me, to the other? And if I don’t get paid, I resent — for which there are likely to be future consequences!
    • Or I do give a gift of my time and my effort. No payment necessary, not even a thank-you. But gifts are paradoxical — when I gift to others, somehow they recognize this, and they want to gift back (or they gift forward!).
  • But beware: the major problems of living arise when I am not clear about the distinction between gift and transaction! I resent ‘gifts’ when they are actually sneaky transactions.
    • The store manager above needs to be clear; otherwise he or she will become very dissatisfied.

Keeping all of these distinctions in awareness is perhaps difficult initially, but with time, very rewarding:

Logical? Ethical? Emotional?

Transaction? Gift?

The Nature of Burnout, Part 1

Burnout1After a lot of work, I now have this blog set the way I want (mainly). The process has been deeply frustrating, reminiscent of Sometimes I Hate Technology, and illustrative of how I burnout — over-invested in life being the way I want to be, as compared with how it is.

Burnout. A common phenomenon about which much has been written, but what is it really? It is actually quite simple to describe, and often difficult to resolve, as I well know from my own personal experience (which I will describe shortly).

Burnout occurs when I am overly invested in outcomes I cannot control — sooner or later, I become exhausted, and I call it burnout. Burnout therefore is a measure of the extent that I have not accepted my own powerlessness in life.

What I can control

There are certain things I can control: with discipline, I can control my own behaviors. To a limited extent, I can control my own thoughts and emotions. That is about it. That is actually a lot, because thereupon I can influence others, and I can modify situations. What I cannot control is what other people think, feel, and do in response to me. As noted, I can influence these aspects of life, but after 25 years as a therapist, I am very aware that I cannot consistently and repeatedly get others to do what they do not want to do — I get resistance, and I get sabotaged. And as a result, I eventually get exhausted.

Especially in the nature of global warming, the incidence of burnout will be high. The dominator forces that have created this dilemma are so powerful and so ingrained in our species that it is very easy to get caught in wanting the problem to be solved. And it is the nature of super-wicked problems that every step forward seems to be followed by two steps backwards.

Effective Leadership

So what is the resolution that is needed? Effective leadership — effective leadership of myself by myself, and to the extent that I can influence others, effective leadership of others by me. One of the books that made this clear for me was Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge by Bennis and Nanus. They listed four characteristics of good leaders:

  1. they create attention through vision, their own vision of where the group is to go;
  2. they create meaning through communication — they frame their vision in a compelling fashion, attracting and enlisting the support of followers;
  3. they create trust through positioning — they persist in their vision despite the sabotage that [always] occurs; and
  4. they lead others — they manage themselves, through focus on the positive aspects that they either can control, or can generate within themselves.

From another sources (The Success Principles), Canfield describes this succinctly as

High intention, low attachment.

I’ll have more to say in Part 2.

 

Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1985). Leaders: Strategies for taking charge. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Canfield, J., & Switzer, J. (2005). The success principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Living in A Mature Culture, Part 7

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

Daily life in a mature culture — now that we have looked at the possibility of a Victory City, what would daily life actually be like in such a city? As noted, I am proposing that the high-rise buildings would consist of a large number of village-like settings, where people would actually live much of their day-to-day activity.

A reminder: these postings are simply my thoughts on what it would be like to live permanently in a mature culture; I present them mainly to stimulate your thoughts.

  • Each “village” would consist of three floors within a high-rise complex, each complex perhaps holding approximately 30 “villages.”
    • As such, there would be a communal living floor sandwiched in two floors of private living/sleeping quarters.
      • Much would be modular, both for efficiency and minimal environmental impact.
    • Most food preparation and eating would be within the communal space, or in more central cafeteria-style buildings within the city.
      • There would be an emphasis that such food be both nutritious and of very high quality (not at all like the typical cafeteria of modern life).
    • Each village would consist of about 200 people, likely about 50 families, interacting with each other. There would be about 125 adults (including late teens), and about 75 younger children.
      • There would be extensive day-care facilities for child care (approximately 25 per village, or 625 per high-rise); essentially the village would raise the children, and children would be able to attend every process of village life.
      • school-aged children (approximately 2000 per high-rise) would attend school in the high-rise common area.
      • late teens would attend some kind of college or university, of which there would be 5 – 10 in the city, with the possibility of outreach to other cities.
    • The “adults” would meet several times per week in small groups, perhaps 10 people each, for personal development. Each week, there would also be a variety of local governance groups planning the needs and development of the village community, and a number of meetings with other groups outside the “village,” planning governance on a broader level.
      • The adults would be engaged in work activity 25 hours per week, 5 hours per day, approximately half of which would be virtual meetings or some kind of activity that could be performed without leaving the local village.
        • Children of all ages would be welcome at all activities.
      • Given that the cultural narrative would be that of a permanent state of sustainability, then perhaps most of adult life would be lived out in these environment.
        • We would no longer live the current cultural model of continuous improvement and discovery (such living is not compatible with being the dominant species of a finite planet).

Your thoughts? Would this be too commune-like? Would this be too sterile? Both Rupert Ross (Dancing With A Ghost) and Louis Herman (Future Primal) have a lot to say about this.

Ross, when reflecting on “primitive” native culture, notes (pp. 103-108):

Each generation’s turn at the wheel might include performances better or worse than the last, but they would be essentially the same performance, with the same set and script and plotting. . . .

We post-industrial societies, in contrast, seem to run a cross-country relay race, passing the baton to a generation that will never set foot upon the ground we have covered . . .

There is a temptation to conclude that such a repetitive existence would be boring in the extreme, that it would feel binding and imprisoning.

I suspect . . .  no such sense of limits. . . . they [native peoples] may have perceived their lives as holding a virtually limitless scope for challenge and accomplishment. . . .  their lives did not center on building things, but upon discerning things. Life’s challenge lay in observing and understanding the workings of the dynamic equilibrium of which they were a part, then acting so as to sustain a harmony within it rather than a mastery over it. One aspired to wisdom in accommodating oneself

. . . they sought that wisdom not only to better ensure survival but also as an end in itself, as something in itself exhilarating.

Herman notes (Kindle location 7130):

Our wilderness origins fashioned our creative self-consciousness, which is both expanded and balanced by following the primal dynamic: face-to-face communication within a caring community of individuals, passionate for living and learning in a mutually enhancing resonance with the natural world. This is the truth quest, and it is our primal inheritance. We can ignore it, or we can cultivate it in all our endeavors and bring it into a creative engagement with the reality we find ourselves caught up in: a civilization rushing to self-destruction while displaying tantalizing possibilities of a more beautiful, joyful way of life.

As a therapist of 25 years’ experience, centered largely in my own emotional growth, I know that exhilaration. Personally, although such “village” life as I am describing would have challenges, it could also be immensely satisfying.

To be continued.

Acedia and Evil

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

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

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

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

Acedia and Evil

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

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

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

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

The Banality of Acedia and Evil

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

AcediaSpectrum1

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

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

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

The Need for Civil Disobedience

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

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

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

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

The Threshold of Anxiety in Global Warming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming next: The nature of acedia.

Acedia underlies global warming

It's all too much.
It’s all too much.

Have you ever asked yourself how we have ended up with the problems of global warming? Or what stops us from solving these issues? We have avoided resolution of the issues for more than 50 year now. The superficial issue of global warming is technological, but what keeps us stuck is emotional?

First of all, the issues are incredibly complex; they overwhelm our political, economic and ethical systems (see Reason In A Dark Time: Why The Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — And What It Means To Our Future) — witness the repeated failures or only limited success of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change COP meetings, most recently in Paris, December 2015 — a non-binding agreement to limit global warming to 2°C, hopefully to 1.5°C. Scientific American in April 2016 indicated “The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C” — and that does not include normal overshoot as the system stabilizes (see here for excellent visual representations of how all this has occurred since 1880).

But it’s only 1.5 degrees — so what. Well, look around at the superstorms and the changing weather patterns. They are only the beginning of potential “natural” disasters, at a temperature increase of less than 1.5 degrees. The earth is a very finely balanced ecosystem, with many feedback mechanisms to ensure stability, and we are exceeding the limits of these systems. It is likely that, by 2°C, we will have irreversible changes, including loss of at least 33% of all species on the planet (not yet us, though). By 3°, we could well be into run-away feedback loops that are not reversible, with almost certain loss of civilization for thousands of years, and perhaps our extinction.

But why? I know the issues are complex, and the propensity of modern life is to leave it to the experts. But why have we gotten to this dilemma in the first place? And why are we so passive about global warming? The scientific community is in agreement (at least 97% consensus), but the political morass wages on. Given all this, why do we not stand up and demand change? We actually do, in small ways: witness the Occupy movement, Avaaz, the many activists, but there is not the overwhelming process that we really need. Nor do the many small ways seem to be coming together in coordinated fashion.

So for the next few postings, I am going to be exploring what I believe is blocking us. Essentially I will propose that various features of acedia have been a major part of the problem.

It is possible that in the next few postings I will seem to be critical of almost every human being (including myself) in Western civilization. That is not my intention, but I do want to identify processes that affect almost everyone. Perhaps what I am identifying could be called “the elephants in the room that nobody talks about.” If you feel criticized, please understand that I have the deepest compassion for the struggles of living in the modern era.

The vast majority of people I know are good people — they do many good actions, but they are simply overwhelmed with too much stuff: too much information, too many demands, et cetera. In my book Acedia, I referred to a TED talk on apathy, and also suggested that the numerous subtle difficulties of modern life have become a form of trauma, constantly wearing us down. And in all this, to pay attention to the demands of global warming has just become another demand, especially when confused by the dis-information regarding climate change.

I believe that these people get on with their lives hoping that somehow the “experts” will eventually fix the problem, but I remain doubtful. Over time, I have moved to the stance advocated by The Climate Mobilization as noted in my previous post: the personal costs will be high, but the risks are simply too great.

I suggest there are three mechanisms at play:

  • collective behaviour of groups: in order to act (and overcome fear of criticism), human beings need to exceed a certain threshold of anxiety
  • acedia: a human characteristic is the risk of laziness, fearfulness, and/or self-righteousness as a way to avoid painful experience
  • evil: a more important human characteristic is that which deliberately sabotages movement towards health

In some fashion, acedia is part of all three. I will be commenting on each of these in the next few posts.

Coming next: The threshold of overcoming anxiety

Jamieson, D. (2014). Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed — and What It Means for Our Future. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.