Finally, the American Medical Association has chosen to lobby on behalf of gun research and gun control. As a physician myself (albeit Canadian), I am almost ashamed that they have not done so prior to this.
I know from personal experience that most physicians are intelligent, compassionate and interested in research; and they are often very conservative. From my perspective, this combination generally makes for good research — intelligent enough for depth, slow enough to assess the evidence.
But I do not understand why it has taken so long, approximately twenty years of escalating mass killings, to begin to challenge these issues (underline begin, as there will still be major resistance). I can only assign it the incredible power of the negative forces that prevent our maturing as a species, especially our hubris and our greed.
Sad. I have long maintained that, as individuals, human beings are capable of immense greatness, yet as a species we are psychotic.
I frequently look around at my culture and wonder how have we gotten to this point of insanity. We are on the brink of collapse as a civilization, if not as a species, and yet there is so little surface evidence of this. When I dig, there is lots of evidence. Two recent emails posts illustrate this, one negative, one positive:
As a consequence, I have had major difficulty deciding what to write in this particular post. The issues of our society are so complex, that it is hard for me to do other than to gloss over the complexity, especially if I want to keep the length of the post to a reasonable size.
For the past twenty-five years, usually during the workshops I have run on anger management, I have asked a question: “What are the rules that run you, the rules you do not even think about?” The question originally arose for me after reading the book Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality by Rupert Ross. Ross was of European descent, and as a young man had worked many years as a fishing guide amongst Native Canadian guides. Later, when he became a lawyer, he attempted to understand the difficulties of natives in Canadian courts. (This book profoundly influenced my own understanding of human dynamics — highly recommended.)
Ross tells the story to two cultures, that I have chosen to call “The People of the Ladder” and “The People of the Wheel.” These cultures have evolved separately for perhaps 30,000 years, and have come together in the past 400 years. Each culture presumably had a coherent body of ethical behaviors, giving the greatest possibility of survival for that unique culture! In this posting, I am going to outline the people of the ladder; in another, I will explore the people of the wheel.
The people of the ladder became agriculturalists early in their development, and strived to master the external world, eventually developing empires, and waging wars with each others. Eventually, they shifted from monotheistic religions to materialistic technology, with immense gains. They became masters of the external world. They also devastated the people of the wheel, who only in the past half century have begun to express their own culture again.
For the most part, the rules that have run the people of the ladder have been the rules of power, especially power over — they became dominators. Effectively, they (or I should say, my people) have become so powerful that they could actually change the physical and chemical structure of the world, once they began utilizing fossil fuels as a source of energy, with the current consequences of global warming.
Their technological prowess has allowed major advances in health care, in forming massive cities of millions of people, developing space travel, quantum physics, the internet, and numerous other advances.
They have also gradually moved into more and more valuing of rights of the individual. Examples include the Magna Carta, the emancipation of slaves, the elimination of child labour practices, the valuing of women and children, the elimination of racial and gender prejudices, amongst others. Yet each of these advances has only occurred after extensive struggle to overcome the dominator mentality, and in most cases these advances are incomplete still. Most recently, there has been the valuing of the environment, again incomplete after major struggle. As mentioned in the first post, the eminent environmentalist David Suzuki believes that the environmental movement of the past 50 years has failed — any advances have been temporary, and the destructive forces just keep on coming.
Then there is the mixed blessings of technology — philosophers have been writing about the dehumanizing impact of technology for the past hundred years. Some quotes (the actual references are in my book Acedia: The Darkness Within):
Berdyaev (1934): “We are confronted by a fundamental paradox: without technique [technology] culture is impossible . . . yet a final victory of technique . . . brings the destruction of culture.”
Lewis (1947): “What we call man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.”
Ellul (1963): “the further technical progress advances, the more the social problem of mastering this progress becomes one of an ethical and spiritual kind.”
Dave Meslin (2010) alludes to this in a TED talk Redefining Apathy where he concludes that apathy is due to “a complex web of cultural barriers that reinforces disengagement.”
Why? What are the rules that allow this cultural insanity, especially the rules we do not name? One of the rules, of course, is that money talks! Money is the dominant value of our culture. I am not an economist, but it seems that the dominant rule is growth, especially monetary growth as expressed as Gross National Product, an artificial valuing of productivity that ignores most of the hidden costs to the environment. It also ignores the fact that you cannot have unlimited ongoing growth in a finite system.
Hidden from view is another major rule: “Don’t talk about the rules.” Do not examine the long-term consequences of actions that produce “good.” This has been a marvellous rule for technological progress, but has left us with many technological problems, such as what to do with nuclear waste, let alone the consequences of ignoring carbon pollution. It has also spilled over into huge emotional issues, such as the systemic problems of domestic violation, and corporations that we now treat as persons.
Then there is the high-jacking of modern democracy by business interests. Modern organizations have the potential, and in some cases the actuality, of operating as special interest groups that override the common good; the many political scandals of the past 50 years bear witness to this. I am not sure how to name this rule, but overall, I perceive a society that is unable to manage its own complexity. (On the plus side, I know of many positive advances in small instances, at the corporate or municipal level, but they do not seem to translate to higher political levels.)
There are, of course, other hidden rules, but to identify them would mean talking about them!
This post is part of what I am calling the core posts for understanding what I am attempting by this blog. For other core posts, click here.
There are, unfortunately, multiple problems with having a vision. Earlier, I mentioned three phases to an effective vision.
First, an emotionally rich, multi-sensory vision. How to achieve this? Whenever I analyze a problem, and create a detailed statement or list of how I should respond or what others should value, it activates my conscious mind, but it does not energize me. The word should is a special deterrent — “should” is always a double message, with part of me wanting to do so, and part resisting. An effective vision has to energize me!
Second, honesty of the present state, even if inappropriate Unfortunately, human beings are profoundly capable of delusion and denial. Hitler was an incredible visionary (!) and very energized! But his underlying value system was delusional.
The global warming disinformers are also visionary — they are focused on the outcome of money.
Third, even with both of the above in place (emotionally rich honesty), big visions require effort, huge effort. Effective leadership is required to maintain such visions, and burnout is high!
The stance of leadership required for effective visioning is a two-edged sword, not for the faint of heart nor for the individual who has high attachment to outcomes. A basic problem for leadership is attachment, living with an expectation of a given outcome, rather than holding life lightly. Although much has been written about the psychological state of burnout, I consider it to be a relatively simple phenomenon to describe (and often incredibly difficult to resolve). Simply put, burnout occurs when an individual (leader or group member) is overly invested in the outcome, attempting to gain power where one is inherently powerless. It is high intention with high attachment. Thus, burnout occurs when we consistently lack or refuse acceptance of our powerlessness to control the responses of others.
The science-fiction novel Forty Days of Rain (Science in the Capital Trilogy, Book 1) alludes to the immense effort. Although the book is fiction (¿with much truth?), it captures for me an essential difficulty of our culture — we give maximal power to business and the economy, to money, and not to human values.
Then in the 1960s when everyone was an activist, NSF [the National Science Foundation] created a program called “Interdisciplinary Research Relevant to Problems of Our Society.” What a name from its time that was. . . .
Interdisciplinary research, relevant to problems of our society — was that really such a sixties joke of an idea?
. . . IRRPOS morphed into RANN, “Research Applied to National Needs.” RANN had then gotten killed for being too applied. . . . At the same time he [Nixon] preemptively established the EPA . . .
The battle for control of science went on. Many administrations and Congresses hadn’t wanted technology or the environment assessed at all . . . It might get in the way of business. They didn’t want to know.
. . . They didn’t want to know. And yet they did want to call the shots. . . . this was clearly crazy. . . . On what basis did they want to build such an incoherent mix of desires, to want to stay ignorant and to be powerful as well? Were these two parts of the same insanity?
In The Hope: A Guide To Sacred Activism, Andrew Harvey supports this theme of insanity. Harvey was invited to a private lunch with “the head of a major agribusiness corporation,” who said to him: “Let me tell you what you are up against. You are up against people like me. I know exactly what my company is doing, and what devastation it is causing to thousands of lives.” The C.E.O. added:
The bliss-bunnyhood of seekers and the offensive self-righteousness of activists make it very easy for people like me to control the world. I know too, by the way, that the dark forces I play with are playing with me. I am under no illusion that I will not someday have to pay the price. . . . I’m willing to pay that price in return for the pleasure of being able to afford this restaurant, in return for being able to ring up the president of the United States in front of house guests to impress them. Am I getting through to you?
It is likely that perspectives and attitudes such as this underlie the actions of the disinformers, and they are not subject to reason. From my perspective, this is the end-point of acedia: evil (the subject of a future post). The major difficulty in global warming is that most of the power is held by heads of corporations, many of whom will be very accountable, but in the case of thedisinformers, many of these heads may well be similar to this man whom Harvey encountered.
Paul Ray, who distributes extensive information on climate change, also discusses the criminal irresponsibility of the banking system in an email post “Occupy Wall St. demonstrators indict Goldman Sachs, are arrested outside” (2011 November 7), noting: Goldman Sachs leads the interpenetration of US financial and political elites. These are the elite of a growing international criminal financial class that will cause the deaths of billions of people in Africa, South Asia, South America, and China. The proximate cause will be starvation and disease, from famines and climate change. The real cause will be this elite’s actions. As indicated by the title of the email post, resistance to these processes is not without cost, in this case, being arrested; civil disobedience likely never is without cost.
There are two fundamental difficulties with the human etiology of global warming:
the evil of the disinformers, and
the acedia of the mass of people.
Visioning of the resolution of global warming must therefore provide two components: a coming together of the people in action (overcoming the acedia), and a movement away from the disinformation.
The second difficulty — coming together — is developing slowly with movements such as 350.org and sumofus.org, but I do not know the extent to which such groups are working together to provide a world network. I imagine there to be the usual conflicts concerning agendas and hierarchies, and hope these will slowly resolve to a fully effective movement.
Resolving the problem of disinformation is huge — human beings so easily lock into belief systems, and resist grasping reality (more on this in a later blog). I foresee three possible outcomes:
a complete collapse of the world market economy — with ultimate chaos and total collapse of our civilization, if not our species (not a desired outcome),
a gradual massive expansion of the zero-carbon technology, such that the fossil fuel organizations simply cannot compete (and must either collapse or integrate into healthier economies) — possibly a good solution, and/or
the coming together of world governments such that such disinformation becomes illegal, and is severely punished — I am not holding my breathe waiting for this outcome.
Unfortunately, I am not good at predicting the future.
Vision is like a good novel — it is a fiction that motivates.
From Murakami on Gaza (thanks to John Hanagan on Facebook). Haruki Murakami accepted the Jerusalem Prize for Literature in 2009. This is from his acceptance speech.
“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”
What is the meaning of this metaphor? . . . Each of us is, more or less, an egg. Each of us is a unique, irreplaceable soul enclosed in a fragile shell. . . . The wall has a name: It is The System. The System is supposed to protect us, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own, and then it begins to kill us and cause us to kill others – coldly, efficiently, systematically.
I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it. The purpose of a story is to sound an alarm, to keep a light trained on The System in order to prevent it from tangling our souls in its web and demeaning them. I fully believe it is the novelist’s job to keep trying to clarify the uniqueness of each individual soul by writing stories.
. . . We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong — and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together. . . . Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.
In earlier posts, I have indicated that this blog will explore four categories: the dominator society (how we have arrived at global warming), a vision of a more mature future, the oppressive forces that block that vision, and the motivating forces that augment that vision. For the next few postings, I am going to deal with each in turn, but I start with vision.
Visions are not only end-points on a journey; they are the scenery that motivates movement along the path. By such scenery, the process can be exciting, or it can create a nemesis by which I drive myself to do the impossible. As I travel on the road to the future, a vision is the scenery that attracts me to continue going forward on the road. The most interesting scenery is multi-sensory and emotionally rich; it appeals to my vision, my hearing, my smell, my taste, my touch, and whatever else activates me. It excites me (and thus appeals both to my conscious and my unconscious minds). I pull life energy from the future to move me forward in the present.
I first became aware of the power of vision about 25 years ago. In 1987, I was in a training group, and got into a deeply painful place, overwhelmed with despair. The facilitator asked me to describe what I was experiencing as a metaphor: I felt like a small child, lying naked in a fetal position, on a bare wooden floor in an empty room without doors or windows. He then asked me to describe what I would rather have: sitting comfortably at a day-retreat center talking with a group of people in a room, with windows looking outwards to trees and water. At the time, I was not able to bridge the two images, so the facilitator asked me to explore the initial image, the painful image, each day; and to add one object of the new image to the painful image, gradually accumulating the objects of the new image into the old. After three months, I was easily able to move from one image to the other.
Several years passed as I continued to work on that vision. Then, after about five years, my life took a new direction, and I let go of the possibility of this dream of a day-retreat center. And I moved on. Another five years passed and I was at a dead end, uncertain of what now to do. It was at this time that I bought a country property, and set up my therapy practice, orientated to anger management. More years passed, and vaguely, on occasion, I had the sense of returning to the dream of 1987.
Then one day, sitting in my office, looking out the window at the trees and the river outside the sliding glass door, I realized that the office room I had created was almost identical to the image I had created in 1987 (and my practice was essentially that of a day-retreat center with my wife). I had made my vision happen even thought I had “forgotten” the dream from years previously. Such is the power of visioning.
At some point, I found a simple recipe for the power of vision. (I believe it was in a book called How To Forgive When You Don’t Know How, but I no longer have the book. In any event, it is a great book.)
Develop an emotionally rich, multi-sensory vision of what I want. I must be able to step into the experience as if I have it now, and be able to say: “Wow. I want this.” The vision must excite me.
Be impeccably honest as to my current life circumstances. If I am lazy or careless, I must recognize this, and take this into account during the achievement of my vision (otherwise I waste much time in deluding myself).
Hold both components, vision and honesty, available to my awareness as I move forward along the path to the goal. I make my decisions relative to these components.
That is really all it takes. A useful metaphor here is to consider myself as a ship, with sails and rudder. My sails, my unconscious mind, catches the wind, and allows me to move. My rudder, my conscious mind, steers me where I want to go. A ship with sails but no rudder is pushed wherever; a ship with rudder but no sails flounders. I need both, in integrated fashion. (Unfortunately, most people are not integrated; I will explore the power of therapy at a later time.)
So I invite the reader to consider what kind of a world do you wish to live in (as an emotionally rich, multi-sensory vision). In the next post, I will present what I want, as a starting point for discussion.
I recently completed my PhD (Wisdom University, 2012), my dissertation being Acedia and its Transformation. I came to believe that acedia — an ancient word, almost obsolete in our culture — accurately describes our difficulty in dealing with global warming. For those who want to fast-track many (but not all) of the ideas of this blog, I suggest my book Acedia: The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change.
So what is acedia? In the fourth century C.E., a desert monk Evagrius described the eight thought patterns with which his fellow monks struggled in their attempts to live their relationship with God; these patterns later became the Seven Capital Sins of Christianity. Consistent with the writings of Evagrius and because of my therapy background, I have formulated modern acedia as a combination of laziness, fearfulness, and self-righteousness — the patterns that stop clients from doing the work needed for emotional maturity. Subsequently, I came to believe that acedia is the emotional existential-spiritual pattern that blocks us from dealing with global warming (as well as many of the other problems of our modern civilization).
As part of the research, I explored the determinants of acedia, highlighting them similar to the Force Field of Change mentioned in Part 1.
I also explored how acedia develops in any given instance.
As illustration: Something painful happens to me (or you). If I have enough wisdom (as possibility: the Greek word is sophia), I then act to resolve the issue by action — practical wisdom (the Greek word is phronesis). If I am not wise enough, likely I will have an internal conflict: I want resolution, and I want to avoid the pain. If I am disciplined (discipline), I may again move into resolution, possibly complaining about how much work it requires. If I am still caught, and I have authentic hope of a good outcome, the hope may motivate me to more effort, and I again move to resolution. If none of this works for me, I move to acedia as a way to avoid the pain, and likely cycle back into more pain eventually. In all of this, my ability to relax and play (playfulness) is vital — a friend of mine once said: “There is much evidence that life is painful; there is no evidence that it is serious.”
Given the above, it is then a simple step to outline the directions of this blog, and the needs of our civilization — IF we are to become a more mature civilization. I hope we have this capability as a species. (Part of my own entry into acedia is that I am not convinced that we are so capable — but for me to act into the ensuing despair is unacceptable.)
The transformation will be massive for our culture. For probably 30,000 years, we have principably been a dominator culture, a culture characterized by the seeking of power. In 1947, C. S. Lewis wrote: “What we call man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.” As such, for thousands of years, we have traumatized each other (and ourselves), the most extreme example being war. And many/most of us are at war with ourselves, in how we push ourselves to “succeed,” and how we fight with our neighbours.
Yet we are also a great species. Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of our ability to cooperate. Cooperation, in fact, may have been the factor that allowed us to survive as a species.
Are we capable of the next step? I hope so.
Thus, the categories of this blog are explorations of:
how we got here: the features of a dominator society.
where we want to go: an effective vision of what kind of culture we want. (Vision is what provides the energy for us to move into the future — effective vision activates both conscious and unconscious forces. A ship needs both rudder and sails.)
the oppressive forces (acedia): its patterns and mechanisms. Especially we need to understand, and stop, the processes whereby we traumatize ourselves and each other; we need to build cooperation into every aspect of living.
the motivating processes, the processes of practical wisdom (phronesis), especially wisdom (sophia), discipline, hope, and playfulness. (Each one of these factors is disparaged in our society.)
Subsequent posts will explore each of these in turn.
In this post, I am going to cover some basic ideas as to the nature of global warming and the terminology I am using. First of all, global warming is a technological issue. The earth is being heated, largely because of human activity, and largely due to the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide and methane production resulting from the utilization of fossil fuels in the past two hundred years, especially the past fifty years.
The consequences of this process have been discussed in many forums, and for the most part, the results are understood enough to know with certainty that we are gradually moving to the possibility of a mass extinction of the living species of our planet, possibly including ourselves as one of those species. Gradually is a relative term; we are perhaps only talking about a hundred years or so — that means that my grand-children will be very aware of the changes.
Personally, I do not like this possibility.
In this blog, I am going to assume that the reader has enough knowledge that I do not need to repeat information related to the mechanism or consequences of such global warming. If you want more information, please contact me, and I will be happy to give you appropriate details.
So all we need to do is stop this production, and switch to alternate sources of energy. Then the earth will start to return to more efficacious temperature. Right?
Yes, in a sense. But we are not doing so with ease — although there are major advances in technology, the political issues are immense. And we are moving towards irreversible tipping points, such that technological resolution may no longer be effective.
So why are we not resolving this issue? I maintain that the problem is not technological, but existential-spiritual — we are overwhelmed with the immensity of the problem. Global warming is what is known as a super-wicked problem (see the enclosed chart modified from my book Acedia, The Darkness Within, based on the Wikipedia article Wicked Problem). Here, I contrast three types of problems:
tame (generally easy to solve),
wicked (difficult to solve, especially since no known solutions), and
super-wicked (limited time for resolution, no central authority for decision-making, and the problem being caused by the very people seeking the resolution).
But the process of being overwhelmed is not unique to global warming. In the abstract to my PhD dissertation, I noted:
This dissertation reports the results of an investigation into the ancient concept of acedia, the human pattern of avoidance of the effort necessary to live authentically, and the processes that impact its transformation (playfulness, wisdom, hope, and discipline). It is proposed that modern acedia occurs because we are biological pain avoiders, and our scientific materialism and technology have resulted in subtle but massive trauma to our humanness, psychologically and spiritually. Our modern culture is orientated to the short term “quick fix,” and circumvents healthy long-term choice, especially that associated with playfulness and wisdom. Acedia underlies the major problems of our species, specifically the current dilemma of climate change. If we do not succeed in transforming our individual and cultural acedia, we may be able to forestall climate change with technology, but we will not succeed in the long-term survival of our species — other problems will plague us, and eventually overcome us.
The question then becomes how to respond. For the purpose of this blog, I suggest that the issues are best considered by a Lewin Force Field, as noted in this second diagram.
In this diagram, the present state (of any event) is a balance of forces, some positive (motivational and exciting) and some negative (oppressive and painful). A future state is desired, and experienced as a vision of the future state.
For improvement to occur, either or both of an augmentation of the positive and/or a diminution of the negative must occur. It is, however, a truism of therapy (my career before retirement) that reducing the oppressive is more powerful than increasing the positive. Effective therapy forces the individual to develop skills that are transferable to many areas of living, rather than simply be enthusiastic about features of living that one desires.
In my next post, I will apply the concepts of this post to the specific issues of global warming. (I don’t want to make the posts so long that they become oppressive to read!)
(Although the intended meanings of climate change and global warming are similar, I have read recently that global warming has more emotional impact, and therefore more likely to influence people — it is the term I will use in future.)
In particular, Al Gore noted:
There will be many times in the decades ahead when we will have to take care to guard against despair, lest it become another form of denial, paralyzing action.
Eisenstein, in his article, discussed the complexity of the inter-relatedness of our world, and the need for a grand vision. These are exactly the messages of my dissertation: Acedia and its Transformation, and my book Acedia: The Darkness Within, and the darkness of Climate Change (AuthorHouse, 2012, available on Amazon).
As illustration of the difficulties, I was listening to a podcast interview of David Suzuki, one of the world’s leading environmentalists (CBC Ideas, The Global Eco-crisis, 2014 Jun 20), where he indicated that he believes that the environmental movement of the past 50 years has failed — any advances have been temporary — and the destructive forces just keep on coming.
As a species, we are hugely subject to denial, seeking short term resolutions when long-term vision is essential. I believe it is time to create and act towards the kind of planetary civilization that we will require if we wish to survive as a species.
In my dissertation/book, I proposed that acedia is the basic underlying human characteristic that has both led to the problem of global warming (amongst other problems), and also stops us from effective action in its resolution (and possible maturation as a species). I also discussed some of the needed characteristics of a mature civilization.
The intention of this blog is to initiate a discussion of what is needed for our survival and maturation as a species. Throughout, I will be reflecting on my own issues as well as my own learnings over the thirty years that I have been studying human dynamics.
The starting point, from my perspective, is a two-pronged approach:
develop a culture-wide vision of the civilization we want, and
study and transform our acedia.
A tall order; in fact a super-wicked problem, and a major factor in acedia. It is possible that such approaches as mine will also fail, but “in basketball, you miss 100% of shots that you do not attempt.”
Those who wish can contact me, either within this blog itself, via email directly (email@example.com), or via Facebook.
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