Archive for the ‘Philosophical’ Category

The limits of the law and vigilantes

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

Recently, in New Zealand, there were reports and that Asian people in Auckland were considering banding together and forming vigilante groups to combat crime in their area. Their complaint was that the police were ineffective and that they, the Asian folks, were being targeted by criminal groups.

The fellow, Mr. Peter Low, who was at the center of the effort to organize vigilante defenses, in my opinion, went too far and created a media firestorm when he suggested that Asians could hire Chinese Triads to protect them. Chinese Triads, if you didn’t know, are similar to the Japanese Yakusa or, perhaps, the Italian Mafia. Secret societies with more than a little involvement in criminal activities.

Soon after, many of the people he was trying to defend were disowning him and the entire thing went nuclear in the press and basically melted down.

I found all of this interesting, to a point. I think Mr. Low may have been justified in organizing local people to defend themselves but I think he was clearly over the top to suggest bringing in outside Triad enforcers to defend Asian interests. He might as well have suggested importing the La Cosa Nostra.

So why am I blogging about this? Because it made me reflect on the fact that I, personally, only believe in the law … to a point.

The law is suppose to be a common set of rules we have all basically agreed upon to keep order in our societies. Of course, we could quibble for hours that that’s not how it often works, but that is the basic idea and intent. And that’s good – it benefits us all, when it works well.

But, I’ve often reflected that if the law breaks down and fails to protect my interests, I am not going to passively watch myself or those I love be abused. I have limits and beyond those, I will look out for myself.

Some would have us believe that this sort of thinking is anti-social and that we should always passively rely on society’s systems to look after us – even when they are failing us. They would have us believe that no matter what the justification, taking things into one’s own hands is bad. Personally, I don’t feel that way.

There will always be those who think they are above the law and that they can act with impunity against us because of their age, their associations, their money or their political clout.

Have you never encountered the 16 year old with an attitude? He’s been breaking the laws and causing mayhem since he was 11 and he knows the juvenile courts won’t do anything to him more than a slap on the wrist. His parents either think he’s a saint, no matter what he does, or they are utterly disinterested. In any case, he has no fear, no limits, no self control and no respect for anyone who’s not prepared to do him more violence than he can do them.

Would you think me anti-social and very un-liberal, if I said I think a two by four on a dark night in an alley might help sort him out?

My wife tells me about what it was like in the 50’s and 60’s to grow up in small town Kansas in the American Midwest. Everyone carried guns there. Every pickup truck sported a rifle rack with a rifle in the back window. And folks left their doors unlocked and there was very little serious crime of any sort.

I long ago read most of Ayn Rand‘s books and then outgrew them. But, Rand said one thing that has always stuck with me. She said (paraphrased), “They cannot oppress you unless you consent to it.

I judge myself as quite liberal in most of my feelings and beliefs but there are definitely some exceptions to this pattern.

Your comments, as always will be appreciated.

About Corporations

Monday, June 9th, 2008

A couple of years ago, if you had asked me what the world’s biggest problems were, I would have listed quite a few things – but corporations would not have been among them. At that point in time, they were such a part of the background that I hadn’t really ‘seen’ them.

But, today, I’d list corporations as among the biggest problems mankind is facing.

If you train a dog to be a junkyard dog and to attack anyone who comes onto the premises, that’s fine. The dog serves a purpose. But to create such a dog and not control it is criminal.

Corporations are like that. And, note here that I am not talking about small entities where the original founders are still involved in the day to day activities like Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream or such. I’m talking here about large publicly traded companies with boards of directors and thousands of stock holders.

What are corporations, that I should give them such a bad rap? We all know what they are, if we just think about it. They are entities that are created and that exist to seek profit for their shareholders. And the people running them are judged and retained or dismissed based on how well they maximize return-on-investment for the shareholders.

So, why is a corporation like a junkyard dog? Because they will seek the path of the highest profit at each decision juncture. If the choice is between what’s good for the company’s bottom line or what’s good for people – they will always go for the bottom line – unless the economic consequences of the potential PR fall-out might outweigh the profits gained. And even with that latter consideration – it will still be a consideration based on where the maximum profit lies in the situation.

So, is this an evil thing? No, no more that the junkyard dog, once trained, is evil for doing what he was trained to do. It’s just a plain and simple fact that corporations are about profits – not people. They are like that junkyard dog or the sharp pocket-knife in your pocket. They can be very useful in the right situation and they can cause serious harm when they are misused or uncontrolled.

The problem with corporations in today’s world is that they are largely uncontrolled. Especially in the U.S. The economic power of many of them rival or exceed the economic power of many sovereign nations today. This is a very bad thing. We have loosed great slobbering junkyard dogs of Capitalism on the world and now we stand about surprised that

– Our rain forests are being cut down
– Our fisheries are being destroyed
– Our atmosphere is being polluted by excessive CO2

And on and on. If you look what’s behind many of the world’s big problems today, you will find corporations and their decisions.

So, am I outing myself as anti-Capitalism with all of this rant? Nope. I clearly recognize that Capitalism and corporations produce the vast majority of the wealth and innovations in our world. I’m not advocating here to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. No, I’d just like to suggest that it is time in our human history to recognize that unleashing corporations and letting them do what they do unconstrained – is a very bad idea.

The right approach is to make corporations subordinate to a higher level of control. And that higher level of control would have as its highest priority, the good of mankind. We’re not talking Communism here. We’re not even talking robust Socialism here. We’re just saying that the highest level of decision-making in this world cannot be controlled by entities whose primary purpose for existing is to seek profit. It must be controlled by folks whose primary concern is for the well-being of all of us – humanity.

Would this or should this ‘kill’ Capitalism and corporations and their ability to create wealth and innovation? No. The aim of those at the top should be to leave the Capitalistic elements run free so long as their decisions do not run counter to the highest good for humanity. If this was well and evenly applied, then all the world’s corporations would still operate on a level playing field and would not lose competitive advantage against each other. Their range of action would be restricted but the restrictions would apply equally to all of them.

Idealistic balderdash, you say? Impossible to implement, you say? Perhaps. But, in the end, I think we have no choice but to do this or something not unlike it. Because, the way we are going, we are on a history train bound for deep disaster.

Places like Wal-Mart sell the schlock they do because they’ve decided to try to own the low end of the market and that’s simply how you do it at that end of the market. They will advertise to convince you that their product quality is high, that their products are equivalent to those sold by others, they will shop for their stock at the cheapest places they can find, they will cut quality, they will ignore problems, they will ignore human rights abuses in the factories that supply them, they will intentionally mislead the public if necessary and they will do all of this with a clean conscience – because all of it improves their bottom line – and that’s all that matters at the end of the day to them.

If we piss and moan about their lack of integrity and their lack of caring about people – we’re really just trying to reason with a junkyard dog. And that dog only has one purpose in life – to bite you if you are unwary and get too close.

Two Wolves

Monday, April 21st, 2008

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’

– Thanks to Van for this one… 

Journalists As Truth-Tellers

Friday, April 18th, 2008

– I’ve written about Bill Moyers before.   His type of honesty is something the U.S. needs a lot more of.

– Here’s more of his wisdom:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thank you very much, Sissy Farenthold, for those very generous words, spoken like one Texan to another–extravagantly. Thank you for the spirit of kinship. I could swear that I sensed our good Molly Ivins standing there beside you.

I am as surprised to be here as I am grateful. I never thought of myself as courageous, and still don’t. Ron Ridenhour was courageous. To get the story out, he had to defy the whole might and power of the United States government, including its war machine. I was then publisher of Newsday, having left the White House some two years earlier. Our editor Bill McIlwain played the My Lai story big, as he should, much to the chagrin of the owner who couldn’t believe Americans were capable of such atrocities. Our readers couldn’t believe it either. Some of them picketed outside my office for days, their signs accusing the paper of being anti-American for publishing repugnant news about our troops. Some things never change.

More.. (follow this link for the full text of his speech)

Immigration and Assimilation

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Culture’s have a limit to the rate at which they can absorb new immigrants. And I’m not saying this because of some prejudice against new comers. Rather, I think it’s a matter of common sense – backed up by simple empirical observation.

And this ‘rate’ is not a constant. It varies with how similar the immigrants are to the culture they are joining.

Close cultural analogs like say, Canada and Britain, could absorb large numbers of each other’s people without much distress.

But when the receiving and donating cultures are significantly different, then concerns about what rates are supportable should come into play.

When new comers, who are significantly different than the receiving culture, immigrate into it at too high a rate, they will tend to collect into small insular communities based on their previous culture. If these insular communities grow faster than cultural assimilation can dilute them, the result will eventually be two distinct cultures living where one used to be and a type of cultural schizophrenia will result.

When a country’s culture is essentially cut from one cloth, one can say that the culture of the country ‘owns’ itself. One can say that ‘it’ can rightfully decide if ‘it’ wants to let immigrants in and in what quantities and from what sources. It is within its power to decide whether it wants to allow high rates of immigration and risk cultural schizophrenia – or if it wants to hold the rates low enough to make genuine assimilation by the new comers into the original culture probable.

But, once the immigration barn door has been left wide open for awhile and a large secondary culture is present, then this power of the original culture to decide its own fate erodes and eventually disappears – because the fate being decided is no longer exclusively its own. From that point forward, there are other voices who also have the power and the right to have a say about the country’s decisions and directions.

The central take-away idea here is that the point-of-power for the original monochromatic culture is when it still ‘owns’ itself. Then it still has the right to decide how things will evolve for itself. But once the culture has allowed itself to become multicultural, then the original culture no longer has the right to decide for everyone in the tent – much as they might regret their earlier enthusiasm for multiculturalism.

I said that a lot of this is based on common sense and empirical observations. Look at the U.S., France, Britain, Germany, Belgium and Holland just to name a few cultures which are now multicultural and somewhat schizophrenic as a result of it.

Ask yourself if the original German culture in Germany can and should be able now to make sweeping decisions about further Turkish immigration?

Perhaps they physically could, since they still outnumber the Turks, but the question runs a lot deeper than having a simple majority now. The Turks are there in sufficient numbers and for a long enough time that they have, or should have, a seat at the table when decisions are made in Germany about immigration. And, if the Germans don’t like it – well , the irony’s on them since they were the ones who originally invited the Turks to come. The same could be said of the U.S. and the Mexicans or France and the North Africans.

The following attributes of immigrants are important to think about when a country considers the rate at which they can allow immigration to proceed without Balkanization occurring:

– Do the immigrants speak the local language fluently?
– Do the immigrants share many of the same cultural assumptions?
– Do the immigrants share the same religious traditions?
– Do the immigrants have respect for the receiving culture?

As more of these attributes end up being answered with a ‘No‘, then the rate at which such people can be assimilated into their new culture without Balkanization occurring drops proportionally. In other words, the more different they are, the longer it will take for them to be assimilated and the fewer of them that can be dealt with at once.

Language is a tough one. It is very hard to feel at home, feel accepted and be accepted when you don’t speak the language of the new culture.

When the culture assumptions are different, it also makes assimilation more difficult. The way one dresses, the kinds of food one eats, the way business is conducted, how men and women interact publicly. All of these and more are mine fields that have to be navigated by the new immigrants if they are to be assimilated. The things that are familiar to them must be partially set aside and the ways that are foreign to them must be adopted if they hope to really assimilate into their new culture.

Neither of these barriers (language and culture) are easy to get by. And if, when you arrive in your new country, you find ready-made enclaves there of people speaking your language and practicing your cultural assumptions, then how likely is it that you are going choose to go through the hard work of assimilating into your new culture by living outside the enclaves and struggling to learning a new language? A few will – but most won’t.

Religion may or may not be a factor. Mexicans are culturally quite different than Americans or Canadians but they share the same root Christianity in their religious beliefs. But that’s not to say that a Buddhist from Southeast Asia or a Hindu from India would have a harder time being assimilated in America than a Mexican because they are Buddhist or Hindu. Frankly, I don’t think they would have a harder time because their religions are not essentially antithetical towards Christianity and western culture. But, in the more conservative variants of Islam – that’s another matter. Some conservative Muslim’s fundamentally believe that western culture is corrupt and that their mission as Muslims is to convert the world to Islam.

So the point really isn’t about religion but about whether or not the new immigrants have respect for the culture they are joining or if they’ve just decided that they can tolerate it in exchange for the other benefits that will accrue to them by living there.

I’m sure that there are those who will read what I’ve written here and think that I am a prejudiced and bigoted individual.

If you feel that way, I am sorry, but I must respectfully disagree. I think all I’ve done is point out the obvious mechanics that come into play when cultures are mixed.

The most important point I want to make here is directed at those countries who are still essentially composed of one culture; those countries who still essentially ‘own’ themselves and rightfully have the ability to decide how they wish their own future to evolve for the good of the people who live there now.

Unless you want to be split into multiple competing cultures at odds with each other, you must limit the rate of your immigration to levels that will allow the new comers to be genuinely assimilated into your dominate culture. You must select immigrants who speak your language fluently to optimize their probable success. And, you must select immigrants whose cultures and religions are not antithetical to your own; immigrants who will willingly accept being assimilated into their new culture because they can respect its values – rather than immigrants who disdain its values and will simply tolerate it until they can amass sufficient force to subvert it.

Your mind, what is it – really?

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

We very often think that ‘our mind’ is all the chatter and thought we experience in our heads. But, a simple bit of introspection can reveal a deeper truth.

Sit quietly in a place without distractions and watch what’s happening inside your mind.

Buddha mindNow, conceive of your mind as a bowl and this bowl is the container and the thoughts are the things in the container.

If you try, as meditation masters suggest, you can after some effort, suppress your thoughts and experience passages of time in which your inner environment is nothing but silence.

At first, it will be quite difficult and even the shortest span of quiet will be greeted by a thought breaking the spell and saying, “Wow, it is really quiet in here”.

But, if you persevere, eventually you will be able to maintain the quiet spaces for periods of greater length.

The key thing to note and consider is this. The mind is still there once you’ve quieted it. The mind that remains is simply awareness without content. This is what the mind really is.

If you doubt this assertion and you think the mind should rightly be considered the thoughts, then remember the image of the bowl and ask yourself if the thoughts could exists without the bowl that encloses them?

The answer is no. The bowl remains, whether it is filled with the chatter of thoughts or not. It is the thoughts that can be added or subtracted from the awareness that the mind is. Not the reverse.

Most of us believe we are the mind’s chatter but it isn’t so. At core, we are the undifferentiated awareness that underlies the chatter.

There’s great peace in your world when you begin to gain some facility in knowing this difference. You can develop the ability to see your mind as a tool or a calculator and you can learn to turn it on when you need it and leave it off most of the rest of the time.

It’s your life and it is just a skill that takes a bit of practice. Why not take it up and give yourself some peace?

It’s an opportunity that’s right in front of you, free. And that’s a good deal cheaper than that next self-help book you want to buy to glance at briefly and the set on your bookshelf with your collection of such books to impress your friends.  As if knowledge could be owned rather than lived.

Dakota Indians’ tribal wisdom

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

Dakota Indians’ tribal wisdom says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.

However in many large organizations (e.g. the civil service, government, local government and some companies), more advanced strategies are often employed.

These Include:

Buying a bigger stronger whip

Changing riders

Appointing a committee to study the horse.

Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride horses.

Lowering the standards so that the dead horses can be accommodated.

Reclassifying the dead horse as living impaired.

Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance

Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders could improve the dead horse’s performance.

Declaring that because the dead horse does not have to be fed it is less costly and therefore contributes more substantially to the “bottom line” than do living horses.

Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

And of course the favourite

Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory or managerial position.

Letters passing in the night as Rome burns

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

M.,

Thanks for your input. I value your intelligence and your comments a lot.

I think you’ve reminded me about “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” concept again from a sense of compassion because you view me as hoping that what I say will change the world. And what you see is me banging my head against a wall which will never move because I don’t understand how the world actually works.

I appreciate your friendship and your compassion (if that’s what it is that motivates you to speak). But, I doubt you understand my motivations as well as you imagine. And that’s not meant to be a dig or a rebuff. I would love for you or anyone I consider to be a friend to understand me better so that when we talk or write, we are working within the same framework of understandings.

I’m not sure where the deep roots of my motivation differ from what you imagine them to be. I suppose some of it may be spiritual as I believe that spiritual motivations are largely anathema to you. And I believe there are secular material reasons as well to believe that the world can be a better place and to believe that action in aid of a better world is not wasted.

The world does make progress – slow and inefficient as it is. We’ve moved from various forms of totalitarianism to democracies, we’ve moved from dog-eat-dog societies to ones with social welfare protection nets. Not everywhere and not everyone – but these things are happening. We can, in many societies, now read what ever books we want to even if they are about other political systems or alternative religious beliefs. Doing that was difficult, if not impossible, not too long ago. We can, in many societies, rely on the rule-of-law to feel that our lands and possessions are relatively safe from confiscation by those more powerful than ourselves.

So, complete cynicism about mankind’s prospects and potentials doesn’t appeal to me. I can see that we can become better people because we’ve been, in fits and starts, becoming better people.

That’s what I might call an on-the-ground empirical judgment. But I have also motivations that arise from spiritual wellsprings.

From this I get that working for a better world should not be contingent on getting results. I get that speaking your highest truth is of value in and of itself. I also understand, that to those who believe there is no meaning or purpose to the world and who are deeply cynical of it, such actions, without obvious results, are just a form of pissing into the wind.

But, all that energy goes somewhere. If no one had been willing to speak up in favor of women’s rights or the abolition of slavery unless he or she was certain of success, then I doubt that women would have ever received the vote or the slaves been freed. But many people spoke up and worked in obscurity with nothing to show for their efforts but rejection and ridicule for decades – even centuries. But, eventually, their aggregate efforts begin to yield results. People resist change just as the rock resists the river – but eventually, if the river flows long enough, the rock will yield.

The things I write about appeal to only a small fringe. The vast vast majority don’t care and would avoid writings like mine on sight. And of the few who do read them, many are already ‘in the choir’ as they say and need no more convincing. But there are the very few who come by at that critical point in their thinking where they are open to new ideas and something I say may, just may, cause their next insight to click into place.

You might say, ‘Is that small return on investment worth all the effort and angst?” Well, it doesn’t matter because it is not a return on investment motivated action. It is a ‘it-is-right-in-and-of-itself’ action and it needs no external justification in my subjective world.

So, to summarize: Much of what I do is just because I think it is the right thing to do. But, I also act because I can see that mankind is capable of improving – because we have been improving.

The deep irony, as I am sure you are aware, is that even while I do these idealistic things, the empirical scientist in me is making hard predictive judgments about how mankind’s future is likely to turn out in the near term (say the next 20 to 100 years) – and I’m judging those probabilities as very bad indeed.

That’s why I’m focused on New Zealand – and I think I’ve discussed this with you before. I still have a very deep motivation to work for a better world but I’m enough of a physical pragmatist to realize that it is time to get out of harm’s way.

So, I am not unhappily beating myself to death for lost causes. And even if the world does goes to ruin, and I strongly suspect it will, I will still not think my efforts were wasted. Spiritually, I don’t think doing the right thing is ever wasted – though we may not see the results.

The advocates of Vedanta, a form of Hinduism, say that one should do their absolute best in all that they do and then be completely indifferent with regard to how the results of their actions turn out.

The Buddhists say that the source of all of our unhappiness is that we want things to be different than as they are. Many people mistake that for meaning that we cannot and should not work for improvement. But we can work to make things better and also accept how they are with equanimity – without it being a conflict. It is hard idea for the logical mind to accept but the spiritual heart grasps it well.

I’m a happy and lucky guy. I’ve got a good business and great wife and two fine strong sons. My health and intelligence are good. I live in one of the bests places in the world at an amazing time in the world’s history. I have many blessings.

If I didn’t believe that life had any meaning or purpose, I could work to see how many material toys I could gather around me in a pile before I died to help me cope with the emptiness of it all.

But I do believe it has purpose and meaning even if I cannot understand much about them. I can see that life advances and that mankind has been advancing. I think those advances have something to do with Spirit’s purposes here and so I want to put my shoulder against that self-same wheel that advances life, raises awareness and treasures emerging complexity on this planet and I want to push. I have no illusions that I’m going to be the one to put the problems right. But I do believe I’m moving in the right direction and that’s enough, in and of itself.

You said, “The definition of Stupid is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

It’s true that I would like a different result and I think it is inherently right and fulfilling to work for a different result – but I am not expecting one and my happiness is not dependent upon one. Perhaps that’s the part you don’t get – perhaps you always see my actions as part of some return-on-investment strategy.

Dennis
=====================================

Hello Dennis,

I enjoy reading your web-site. I must admit, that I am constantly amazed that you get so disappointed at the nature of humans. For example, in your latest post you highlight:

“We agree to work to achieve a common understanding on a long-term aspirational global emissions reduction goal to pave the way for an effective post-2012 international arrangement.”

How long will it take for you to get it through your thick noggin that this is the way it is?????

Do you know that I work for a consensus organization? If this is a new term for you, it means all decisions have to be agreed by everybody unanimously. That which you quote as frustrating, is business as usual in large GOs and NGOs (Governement and Non-Government Organisations).

These people do not do things for the good of humanity! They do it for the good (survival) of the self. The self can be more than the individual, maybe the family or the organisation. But it is primarily self survival. We could do a treatise on this, but I think you get my meaning.

Let me remind you on something I told you some time back: The definition of Stupid is: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

M.

070427 – Friday – The train ride to Hell

Friday, April 27th, 2007

In the five plus years I’ve been talking about the Perfect Storm concept, I’ve often told a story I call The Train to Hell story. It’s a simile, but I find it’s useful when people tell me that things are going to be alright because everyday more and more people are becoming concerned about the environment. It explains clearly how things can be getting better – and why that’s just not enough. As you read this, think of it as a dream story – something someone might relate to you just after they’ve woken up.

So imagine we’re on a train and we’re rolling across the flat countryside at high speed in a straight line. Ahead, the tracks lead right to the edge of a very deep cliff and then they just end. If the train doesn’t stop before we arrive at the cliff, we’re all going over the edge together and it is going to be very bad indeed.

The train has one of those cords you pull to signal that the train should make an emergency stop. This cord works a bit differently, however. With this cord, how well it works depends on how many people are pulling on it.

Now, some folks have leaned way out the windows or maybe even climbed atop the train and they’ve seen the cliff coming and they can also see what’s going to happen if we don’t stop. Now they’re down in the cabin pulling on the cord and talking to everyone around them trying to convince them that there’s a big problem up ahead and they too should start pulling the cord. Some folks, a few, believe them and help with the cord. A few more lean way out the window and see that they are right and they begin to lend a hand as well.

But most folks listen for a moment, glance out the windows casually and don’t see anything so they go on about their business. After all, train rides are fun.

Now, I’m on the train and I’m helping with the cord but I’m worried that not many people are. I tell my friend who is also pulling the cord about my concern and he says, “Hey, don’t worry. Look, more and more people all the time are joining us and helping with the cord.

Unfortunately, I’ve done a calculation. Even with more new people adding their efforts all the time and even with the train’s increasing rate of slowing, I can see it’s just not going to be enough to stop us before we go over the edge. The new folks are adding in too slowly and the rate we are approaching the cliff’s edge is much too fast.

I tell my friend we may not have time to try to convince people to help by reason or example. But he says it is critically important that everyone makes the decision to help on their own. We cannot interfere in another person’s decisions and in the exercise of their free will.

I look out the window and I’m thinking, “What will the nicety of respecting their free will gain either them or us if we all go over the edge together?

At some point, a problem can become so critical that it must begin to percolate up through the levels of one’s priorities until it reaches a level where decisions can be made that can effectively deal with the problem. If we are not willing to rearrange our priorities in favor of survival and defer, instead, to the considerations of lesser levels and priorities, then we are quite likely not to survive.

So where’s the limit? Should we avoid taking action because we might get our clothes dirty and they are expensive? Should we avoid taking action because we might have to speak loudly and forcefully and that’s unseemly? Should we not act to save all of us because we might have to force some of us to help against their will?

There’s a similar riddle which concerns a rowboat with a few too many people in it out on the open sea. It bears thinking through.

These are not easy questions but, unfortunately, we’ve put ourselves into the position of having to answer them.

Some of us believe we can see the magnitude of the problems facing mankind and the entire biosphere at this point in history. But, most folks don’t believe there’s a problem at all. And many others acknowledge that there is but they are talking politely about it and trying to get more folks on board to deal with it by reason and example.

But the scientists are telling us clearly that we are very near the point where if we don’t act decisively, the Earth’s weather system’s are going to move into configurations we’ve never seen before and the results will be a very large disruption to civilization, the death of millions and millions of people and a massive die-off of species the likes of which hasn’t happened here since the comet smashed into the Yucatan 66 million years ago.

Meanwhile, the majority of the people in the most powerful nation on Earth don’t believe in the relevance of science or the reality of evolution. Some of the most powerful constructs mankind has ever conceived and unleashed, entities called corporations, which have power which exceeds many small and medium nation states, press on with their monomaniacal pursuit of money and power – as if there will be a place to spend the money and a place to wield the power in the future. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s populations do not care for anything more distant or abstract than the probability that they will receive their next paycheck and be able to put food on the table.

Do you see the problem, Lambchop? It’s likely we’re going to be toast.

070407 – Saturday – Change, the only constant

Saturday, April 7th, 2007

A friend’s family is going through some big changes. And when she and I talked about it the other day, she was feeling mixed about it all. She was wanting , on one hand, to embrace the changes and she was mourning a bit, perhaps, on the other hand, for the things they were going to leave behind.

I told her that I don’t think change can be avoided. In fact, when we try to avoid change, change will end up stalking us.

All life, all existence, is change. And riding over the changes are cycles. We assimilate and then we act. We design and then we build. We save and then we spend. We learn a way of life and then we transcend it. We are born, we live and we die.

If we are here for anything, we are here to experience, learn and grow. As life happens to us, we are offered choices. We can choose to try to hang onto what we have and to consolidate our gains but sooner or later, the cycle will turn and we will be called upon to strike out again and grow and learn and accumulate more experience. Those who resist are denying that change is a deep law of existence and they will come into conflict with it inevitably. Those who listen to the gentle urgings calling them out to transcendence are honoring how existence works. Those who try to stand still in the river of time, will feel the gathering press of the rising river of change.

Look around. You will see the evidence of this everywhere. People trying to hang on to their youth while time moves past them. People trying to hang onto their job, just as it is, while the corporation and its requirements evolves around them. People of a conservative bent, trying to keep their lives and their societies just as they were in an earlier day – and over the long run losing the battle as the historical dialectic unavoidably derives the present from the past and the future from the present.

See the middle-aged men who, when they were younger in their twenties, dominated the young women they were with because those ingénues were still trying to work out their places and their roles in a male dominated culture deeply infused with the iconic deceptions of the suggestive sexual role advertising blitz we all live under. Now older, these women have found their feet and their centers and they know much better who they are and what’s important. The balance of power between the sexes shifts as we age and the macho men who thrived on compliant women now find themselves playing to an unappreciative audience. A deep reevaluation or a fall into the bottle are often the only two choices faced by men who’ve never developed the art of introspection and a willingness to change and grow.

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
You been out ridin’ fences for so long now.
Oh you’re a hard one, I know that you got your reasons,
These things that are pleasin’ you can hurt you somehow.

Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy,
she’ll beat you if she’s able,
you know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.
Now it seems to me some fine things
have been laid upon your table
but you only want the ones that you can’t get.

Desperado, oh you ain’t gettin’ no younger,
Your pain and your hunger they’re drivin’ you home.
And freedom, oh freedom, well that’s just some people talkin’,
Your prison is walkin’ through this world all alone.

Don’t your feet get cold in the wintertime?
The sky won’t snow and the sun won’t shine,
it’s hard to tell the night time from the day.
You’re losin’ all your highs and lows,
ain’t it funny how the feelin’ goes away?

– Desperado by The Eagles

I remember my mother and the sad habits she fell into towards the end of her life. Rather than embracing life and walking into it as one might walk into a warm caressing wind, she decided to draw lines in the shifting sand and then fought to hold them. She was an alcoholic and her life settled into a repeating cycle. When she’d just emerged from a binge and she was gathering up the pieces, she would decide that if everything in her house was as neat as a pin, if she had the right job, if her finances were organized just so and if the place she lived in was quiet so that the neighbors didn’t stress her, then everything would be alright. She would fight to make it all just as she wanted it – and she would achieve it. But, always, something was missing. Politics would arise at work, the apartment, which was so quiet when she moved in, would seem to get noisier the longer she stayed. The finances she worked out so nicely would be upset when her car needed a repair. In short, the perfect world she tried to create always faltered against the chaos of reality. Today’s quiet apartment, which was so much better than the last place she’d lived, would slowly become the new status quo – and the noise levels would ‘seem’ to increase. And the only answer was to move to a quieter place again – but the problem would repeat. Further and further she painted herself into corners of her own making – resisting and denying and refusing to accept life and existence as it was and trying to make it fit her plan. And then one day, she’d have a drink, slip over the edge, lose her job, blow her finances, make her neighbors crazy, and a week later call me to come over and save her from the spiders on the wall. She’d be deep into delirium tremens and I’d spend hours assuring her she was sane and that it would all pass. Then, we would begin again.

Change is good. It’s what’s on the menu here. Enjoy what you have and remember that it all may, and probably will, change at some point. Your children grow, the face you look at in the mirror ages, the people you are competing with get smarter, everyone dies. It’s the plan, it’s the way and we can grok and embrace it and make the very best of it and ride the waves of change to maximize our growth and experience before we’re called away – or we can resist the impossible and waste the time that’s given to us.

– for Katy –