Tag Archives: misunderstanding

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.

The Power Of Doubt


I have gotten into a bit of a funk since a recent David Suzuki article: Caribou science denial cripples conservation efforts (20180628). It underlines the power of doubt for me. The story links to a research article From Climate to Caribou: How Manufactured Uncertainty is Impacting Wildlife Management and discusses the many agencies (well beyond wildlife management, starting with tobacco and psycho-pharmaceuticals) that “employ a ‘multi-pronged strategy of denial’: deny the problem exists, deny its key causes, and claim that resolving the problem is too costly.”

What it raises for me is: Whom do I trust? And what is the nature of Doubt?

In the last couple of posts, I’ve discussed the nature and limitations of meaning, noting in particular that information is not the same as meaning and that too much information interferes with meaning. And as indicated earlier, one of the major ways we deal with this is to seek corroboration from a trusted group (the TIC process).

Another way we deal with meaning is by doubt, critically assessing the information as to whether or not it is consistent with what we already accept. Skepticism (specifically methodological skepticism) is an approach that subjects all knowledge claims to scrutiny with the goal of sorting out truth from falsehood. In many respects, getting uncomfortable and willing to be uncertain, to not know, to ask questions, to err and to fail, is the best and only way to learn, and move forward. It is so much easier to be certain, and for some, being uncertain is a major source of anxiety — the underlying issue of fundamentalism of any kind.

The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes “Doubt is often defined as a state of indecision or hesitancy with respect to accepting or rejecting a given proposition. Thus, doubt is opposed to belief. But doubt is also contrasted with certainty.” Both aspects, belief and certainty, are fundamental to my concern. Doubt has been a basic structural component of the major ways by which we as a species have valued knowledge, especially in the past 400 years, that of reason (philosophical study) and expiricism (scientific investigation). Doubt was also a major vehicle whereby Socrates sought wisdom, and thus doubt as a useful process has extended throughout our recorded history.

The major difficulty however is that doubt require honesty! The essential problem of dishonesty is that it grossly exaggerates doubt, and thus the deliberate creation of doubt can become a weapon of discouragement. In our current Age of Information (and Duplicity), doubt fails us when our premises are distorted by dishonesty. We become overwhelmed by too much information, at the very least by the inconsistencies inherent in the processing of dishonest information.

I know of no way through this dilemma. I have also found it incredibly difficult to encapsulate this blog — an expression of how doubt impacts.


I will fall back on two people:

  • Voltaire: Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd!
  • Christian de Quincey, especially his book Radical Knowing where he talks of other ways of knowing beyond rationalism (the way of philosophy) and experientialism (the way of science): that of participatory feeling and direct mystical experience.
    • Both of these other ways are disparaged in our culture of scientific materialism, yet for me, both offer a way of knowing beyond doubt and certainty.
    • I highly recommend the writings of Christian, a philosopher of great integrity and wisdom, and like those who step out of the box, not well recognized.


The Insanity Continues

Insanity Sanity Signpost Shows Crazy Or Psychologically SoundLast week I thought the world was fairly stable; immature, yes; moving in the direction of catastrophe, yes; but in immediate danger, no. This week I am not so certain — truly the insanity continues. Especially with:

  • the threat of nuclear war markedly increasing, in theatrical fashion
  • the slowly tightening net on the legal entanglement of the Trump administration, as well as politics in general
  • and at least one bright spot highlighting the move to better advertising (such a contrast to the above two)

Meanwhile I have spent the week at a training school for contemplative practice, and the need to maturity in action within our civilization. The contrast is staggering; I’ll add more in another post.

And adding to my media comment of last week, especially in regard to Al Gore, Cineplex Theatres are apparently only showing Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power in three cinemas across Canada, a sad reflection on the [media] interest in global warming.

Enjoy — although I do not think that is the best word to describe these links.

On the risk of nuclear war

Are we on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea? Probably not. (20170811)

Interesting statements from many knowledgeable sources, the major danger being misinterpretation of posturing, certainly be possible given the emotional maturity of the principal actors.

If Trump wants a nuclear attack against North Korea, his military advisers have few other options (20170810)

Such power in the hands of one man reflects the immaturity of culture and the posturing of the individual tribes (read ‘nations’) as well as the potential consequences of the system that must deal with such tribes.

Does Donald Trump Believe Nuclear War Is Inevitable? (20161208)

An older article outlining the media releases of Donald Trump prior to becoming president. I hope he is less fatalistic now that he is in power, but the adage is “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

On the legal issues and the possible complexities

White House as crime scene: how Robert Mueller is closing in on Trump (20170805)

This is a fairly clear description of the current situation in Washington, a situation which will have great impact on our world regardless of the final outcome. “The wheels of justice grind finely and slow but this is a wood chipper, and all these various items and  [sic] going to get fed into it.”

As Mueller closes in, Trump prepares his base for the worst (20170807)

A fairly good summary of how the Trump administration is doing, and what they are doing, “a volatile, combustible combination.”

On politics in general

Sorry, but I don’t care how you felt on election night. Not anymore. (20170803)

A very good review of the heavy emotions, and lack of concrete resolutions in this new world in which we live. The author stresses that doubt and reflection time can be powerful tools into the future, and that certainty (especially self-righteous certainty) will be the path to societal doom

In a new poll, half of Republicans say they would support postponing the 2020 election if Trump proposed it (20170810)

Very scary that if Trump were to bypass US democratic rule, “half of Republicans” would support him.

On global warming (more bad news)

We only have a 5 percent chance of avoiding ‘dangerous’ global warming, a study finds (20170731)

It is difficult to know what to say about this. The study recognizes that new technology, as yet unknown, may occur. At the same time, I see no indication that the study takes into account “tipping points” that may worsen the scenarios. To quote a link in the article, [These experts say we have three years to get climate change under control. And they’re the optimists].  Fundamentally, if we are to survive, we need drastic (and decisive) action, not fatalism, not denial.

On a delightful advertisement — strongly recommended that you watch it.

This Controversial Beer Ad Is Going Viral And It’ll Leave You Questioning Everything! (20170428?)

A phenomenal ad. If all advertising was like this, I would actually be engaged in seeking the products offered.

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?

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.

Emotional Management (especially Anger and Rage)

Emotional Management, especially Anger and Rage

(This program is currently posted to the blog and is no longer available as an email service; the posts are listed on the Headings line as  Postings > Anger Management > postings.)

I originally offers this set of posts as a free email program for anger management, but the information and tasks are suitable for any emotional issue. Simply use your own issue whenever anger is mentioned.

As part of my commitment to social change, I am offering a free email program on anger management. I believe that there is a huge amount of anger in our culture, some overt but most hidden. It is only by managing our own lives that we will be able to respond to the difficult days ahead.

Please sign me up: Angry? How to change your life in 90 days.

Please go to Postings > Anger Management for the complete series.


Thanks for showing interest in the Angry? Change your life in 90 days program.

First of all, let me congratulate you for showing this interest. As I reflect on the state of our current world, I am surprized that so few people are willing to admit how angry they are. Recall all the stories of road rage, the frequent mass shootings, and other forms of anger — these are instances that show what is happening to us as a culture, of how angry we really are as a people. But it must be the other guy, right?

In my own case, I grew up in a family in which alcoholism was rampant, and for me, childhood was an extremely painful affair. (I suggest that anger is a major component of alcoholism; one of these days I will do a post on that to my blog.) Yet for most of my early adult life I was not aware of how angry I was. It was only when I got into my 40s that I was able to acknowledge this to myself. That is long past for me, although I do remain angry with the insanity of our culture — that has created (and for the most part currently denies) the issues of global warming. The major difference though is that I am not caught in my anger.

Be that as it may, this program is not about global warming. It is about how to work through your issues of anger, so as to achieve the kind of life you want to live:

  • how to recognize when you are angry,
  • how to be more peaceful, and
  • how to have better relationships, amongst other components.

And, as opposed to my usual writings, it is not about understanding anger, nor why you are angry — overall, that kind of understanding is the booby prize. This program, this set of emails, is about skill development, and what to do, not what to think.

The program will provide you with 30 emails over approximately 90 days, one email twice a week, usually Mondays and Thursdays. Why 90 days? Well, two of my previous mentors, both world-class therapists, indicated that change requires approximately three months of consistent application (one said three months, the other 13 weeks!) — after 25 years of practice in my own practice, this is also my own experience.

Can this really change your life, for the better? Absolutely. I am not saying that everything will be fine in 90 days; I am saying that in 90 days, you can be consistently moving in a new direction, one where the light at the end of the tunnel is not just another train.

Be aware it will take work, probably at least an hour a day, perhaps more. And it may bring up a lot of pain — after all, you are angry for many good reasons, and your anger likely protects you from this pain. But at the same time, I do not intend it to be too onerous — you won’t do it if it is. I strongly believe that people learn best when they are having fun; thus, I will do my best to keep it light. Still — it will require effort.

So, are you still interested? If you are, click the following link, and send me an email. I will then enrol you in your new life — and for the next 15 or so weeks, you will receive emails from me, emails that will give you relatively simple tasks, opening up new directions for your life journey. After all, what else do you have to do with your time besides becoming a better person.

Yes, please sign me up: Angry? How to change your life in 90 days.

Not sure? Check out a sample.

Please note that the emails will come with the following subject line: MacQuarrie Email Program #xx — Title, the ‘xx’ referring to the number and the ‘Title’ the topic of the particular email. Usually there will be a brief note, together with a read-only Word document for the topic — this file will be the main body of the lesson, as a Word document to allow easy printing. If needed, I can supply a pdf document instead.

Note also that, in these emails, there will be occasional attachments, and links to my blog. Mainly these will provide diagrams that I believe you will find useful in understanding the tasks (the diagrams will also be in the Word document), but the separate image files may be of some use to you also. Simple emails are not a good way of sending such information, so look out for them please.

The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

MacQuarrie Email #07 — The Blowing Out Process, Part 1

A time bomb needing release.
A time bomb needing release.

Two more emails (plus a summary email), and then we start the process of skill development as to how to explore and manage your anger. I hope by now you are starting to recognize that the concepts thus far allow you to get a handle on your anger, but I also imagine you want more specifics — coming!

As mentioned, the concepts of the previous emails became the process I call Blowing Out®, a method of utilizing unpleasant experience so as to create positive outcomes. For most people, when something unpleasant happens, they get stuck. The something reminds them of their past (their values, beliefs, memories, expectations, what I call their VBMEs), and they feel powerless. They label the something as some kind of conflict, and they don’t feel safe. Perhaps they are angry, or some such emotion, but lacking safety, they are also afraid or say to themselves, “I shouldn’t feel this way” — the sailors in action. So they stuff their energy — but eventually that doesn’t work, and they become a time bomb of some kind (the pressure cooker). This goes on over time, and eventually they explode outwards (family violation or social massacre) or inwards (depression or suicide). Not a pretty scene, but common in our society.

Create safety, then release in any way that works.
Create safety, then release in any way that works.

Safety for all is absolutely essential.

In my personal pain, I too recognized that this process of getting stuck did not work, and that the most important aspect was safety — for all! Instead of blowing up or blowing down, I discovered that I could blow out, like blowing out a candle — but instead of blowing out the light, I could blow out the darkness of my pain (the basis of my first book Blowing Out The Darkness).

We get stuck essentially because we mismanage our energy! First, because we are not safe (both with ourselves and with others around us), and second because we do not safely discharge our emotional energy — we generally dump it on someone else in some inappropriate fashion. We somehow believe that we have to resolve the conflict before we can manage our energy.

This is not only nonsense — it is also a recipe for disaster. We hold the energy inside ourselves; the conflict is outside. We can separate ourselves from the conflict, and manage our energy — in so doing, we can then decide if the basic issue is what others are doing (the conflict), or is it what we are doing to ourselves (our powerlessness) because we are caught in issues from our past.

Don’t take my word for this. Think about how you feel and act when you get to the edge of your rage. In some fashion, is this not how you act?

Task: So your task for this email is to think about what else you could do with your energy. And test out these possibilities; don’t just think — act! safely! Re-read Email #2 What is Anger? so as to really get No SAD and STOP. (You have probably noticed that all the tasks I assign are really focused on observing yourself — not for the purpose of self-criticism, but for recognition of how you actually create your own experiences. Over time, this will become your most important skill.)

Some hints: you can discharge energy silently, or you can make lots of noise. You can discharge privately, or you can do it in the presence of others. But if you are going to do it when others around, those others must agree to the parameters of No SAD and STOP — otherwise, they will not likely be secure and because of that, you will criticized! As such, it is very likely that you will shut down, and the time bomb scenario will resume.

The second most important aspect of Blowing Out is that the conflict must be resolved. Even if you discharge your energy, all that you will be doing is emptying the pot. It is essential that you then stop the pot from filling again.

My stance is that I can empty the pot in 10 minutes (I likely need another 10 minutes to process what happened that the pot was stirred — powerlessness or conflict?). Stopping the pot from filling again may take weeks or months of work — but I can keep the pot empty while I do this work! I need not stay stuck with a full pot — ever!

Coming next: The Blowing Out Process, Part 2.

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.

Global Warming: My Stance

I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.
I truly wonder if we will survive as a species.

I’ve been ill for the past week, still somewhat frail — it has given me an opportunity to think about what I really want, and why I am writing this blog. Succinctly, I believe that as a species we are on a suicide mission, and as a culture we are incredibly angry; you only have to look at the American politics to see how angry we are, and you only have to look at other situations to see how frustrated. I want to have a positive impact in changing all this.

Therapist: anger management

For almost 25 years, I taught anger management, and I was good. A judge would sometimes specify my weekend program as part of his judgments, to the exclusion of other better-known programs. A Probation Officer send me more that 60 clients for domestic issues over the years — he could only recall two who re-offended (after a while, he kept informal count, and eventually he gave me detailed feedback, published in my book Blowing Out The Darkness). Not all angry people end up with probation issues, but only two poor outcomes out of sixty is astounding.

During my career, I generally noted that my long-term clients fell into two groups. One group was very active in personal growth, and would change their lives in astounding ways; personal growth itself can be painful — these people would work through the pain, arriving at places in their lives where they were deeply satisfied.

My Acedia Clients

The second group was inactive. I came to characterize them as lazy and/or fearful. I am not intending to be pejorative, simply descriptive. By lazy I mean they would say they would do the work, and then produce no results other than excuses. By fearful, they would talk about how painful the work would be if they did it, and that they were afraid of the consequences (they were fearful — this was not fear!).

I eventually came to the conclusion that these issues were a broad reflection of their (unconscious) refusal to be authentic (so-called existential issues) and/or a refusal to engage in the profound beauty of life (one of my definitions of spiritual). I also know that I had no tools to offer — laziness and fearfulness were choices, and all I could do was to challenge the client to live authentically. (Actually, if the client accepted the challenge, the therapy became easy.)

PhD: Climate Change

After about 25 years, I recognized that I needed a break from my career, and the opportunity came for me to do my PhD at a university that emphasized authenticity. I decided that here was my opportunity to study laziness and fearfulness, and started on that journey. (I soon added self-righteousness, and subsumed all three under an ancient word acedia.)

Early in the course work, we were talking about the current state of our society, especially global warming. Given my first university degree was in physics, I easily understood the science and mechanics of global warming — I recognized we were on a suicide course, the extinction of the human species, no ifs! It is that serious. I was devastated, and it took me almost two years to get out of my despair (now long gone, but with residual sadness). So my dissertation became the relationship between acedia and global warming, eventually resulting in my second book Acedia, The Darkness Within, and the darkness of climate change.


For the next few years, I travelled, and saw a lot of the Caribbean, South America, and some of Europe. I also pondered one of my favorite expressions: “As individual human beings, we are capable of incredible greatness, but as a species, we are psychotic.” (Introverts, especially hermits, are very good at pondering.)

Global warming is a technological issue, but we do not resolve it. We have known about the issues for approximately 50 years, but we have continued on a path of denial and greed, such that now it might be too late. I hope not, and I intend to live as if it is not too late.

And global warming is simply the outcome of our hubris as a species. For perhaps millions of years, the Homo species has lived as hunter-gatherers. Ten thousand years ago (a drop in the bucket), we started to create civilizations through the dynamics of power. Eventually came scientific materialism, our marvelous technology, with hidden costs. And in our hubris, we did not want to pay the costs. Hence, we are where we are . . .

What I Want

About a year ago, after much vacillation, I decided this was not good enough. This is not how I want to spend my life, pondering. I have skills that are important to this whole struggle.

The world needs to mobilize its forces to deal with the ills of civilization. I can assist with this, although it is not my strong point. First, it must be mobilized to resolve global warming, likely at the level demonstrated in the States at the beginning of their direct contribution in the 1940s (see The Climate Mobilization). Second, we must create a more humane culture, one that honors the whole of the planet.

My skill is in being a resource to people who want to do the work. I believe there is a huge amount of anger in the world, even in the people who are doing the work. There is nothing wrong with anger, provided it does not lead to violation, but anger poorly managed leads to burnout, and burnout is not useful to doing the work. And I am very good at the management of both anger and burnout.

Next: What underlies global warming — the nature of acedia.

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.