Thursday, March 28, 2013

Teaching As If Life Matters

       "Schools are important loci of socialization, and the     socialization that occurs in schools is often in lockstep with the dominant culture with its emphasis on competition, materialism, individualism, and speed. We believe that such cultural values are antithetical to the flourishing of life and that the confusion that permeates educational institutions, as well as the anger and anomie evidenced in increasing numbers of students, is not fixable with more technology, more money, more reform, more time in the classroom, or more cleverness.

It is also our contention that the most vexing problem with education in the new millennia is not the size and/or structure of schools, not the qualifications of teachers, not the pedagogy adopted in schools (though obviously these are very relevant and related concerns). Rather, the most vexing challenge has to do with transforming our worldview - our consciousness. Indeed, whether we know it or not, all change begins with a shift in how we see. Specifically, the way forward is to birth a new view of education aimed at cultivating mastery in all life's relational realms, and we believe that it is up to teachers to lead the way."

This excerpt from page 14 of a book by Chris Uhl that I bumped into in writing about his newest book Developing Ecological Consciousness  last week. Of course none of the conversations in our community that revolve around the "failures" of our education system allow room for this kind of discussion, whether k-12 or beyond. Uhl, as usual, goes to the 'heart' of the matter. Our leaders seem to be in some kind of fog of 'technological optimism'. But as I lumber through Page Smith's 900+ history of late 19th and early 20th century history, The Rise of Industrial America: A People's History of the Post-Reconstruction Era, his chapter on education (#32 pp.587-612) we see a very similar set of dynamics as we face today. The big industrialists who founded schools like Stanford and University of Chicago pushed out any faculty who might have a different perspective of what education might be. Not too unlike the powerful today who try and shape our modern institutions in the way they approve, e.g., look at industrial agriculture's control over our colleges of agriculture, or for a more stinging and broader critique see Page Smith's later work Killing the Spirit: Higher Education in America. 

In trying to find a copy of the book cover for this blog I stumbled into a review of this book by another teacher and I'll close with an excerpt.


This is the first book I have reviewed that directly impacted my behavior during the process of reading. When faced with a teaching challenge, I found myself asking, “How can this situation become an opportunity to build community in the classroom, and with our service-learning partners in the community, as we work together to make the world a better place?” Uhl’s text is inspirational. In his own words, it is “an invitation to ground education in love,” since “our times are beckoning teachers who have the self-awareness, courage, and wisdom to understand themselves as helpers, healers, facilitators, guides—as people who love!” (p. 14-15). This book is best read when one has time to linger contemplatively with his insights.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Critics Unheard




Professor William Black  was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement. His blog from a few days ago at the New Economic Perspectives shows in painful detail how we citizens are being hoodwinked via the media to believe a set of myths around the economy, governance, and science. The myths are given crucial major media space because they appear to come from 'objective' or 'Third Way' sources. Black demolishes the lie using a recent New York Times piece as an example.

 Economist Molly Scott Cato in a recent Gaian Economics blog answers the blowback that Black mentions to those who critique the Pete Peterson's of the world, who are labeled as 'socialists'. Language matters.

Beat the Press Dean Baker, another contrarian economist from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in his almost daily Beat the Press blog, seeks out economic reporting in the big media to find the errors in fact and narrative. Recently he's chastised the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and NPR for their coverage of economic issues including their analysis of health care, social security, and disability insurance.

At an all day institute yesterday on Re-Imagining Our Economic System, panelist Lana Pollack regaled the audience regarding the decades long efforts of the Koch Brothers. While they have been bankrolling lots of very conservative think tanks, Americans for Prosperity, climate denial campaigns, etc., they  now appear ready to  purchase major media with their billions.

In case you haven't seen enough evidence of the obscene inequality in this country check out this brief article by a Midwestern professor regarding the annual income of the 10 wealthiest Americans and our homeless population.

Here's also a short video perspective on the economy from the First Peoples Indigenous Network. Perhaps a little simplistic, but poignant and an important voice to be heard.  

At the institute yesterday someone asked the panelists if Michigan might ever see a progressive income tax to remedy our own inequality. MSU Economics Prof. Charles Ballard declared not unless the citizens put it on the ballot because the current legislature would never do it. He noted that polling says 60% of the population would support it. So who among you wants to work on this one. Operators are standing by to take your call.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Finding Responsibility

I think one of the reason I've always been interested in reading philosophy is a desire to understand responsibility. Our parents and schooling, religion and the community seem to direct us to those questions of personal responsibility once we push through the womb to daylight. Philosophy makes us ask questions and challenge assumptions, often peeling back the superficial to help us see things in the core we haven't previously considered.

Of the books I'm reading at the moment (I finished Vijay Mehta's The Economics of Killing this morning) at least two are by philosophers. Harvard University's Michael Sandel's What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets and Oxford' University's David Miller's National Responsibility and Global Justice. Two others I'm pushing through, Adam Kahane's Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change and Gandhi's Autobiography while not written by trained philosophers certainly explore philosophical questions. The impulse to write this brief entry doesn't come from any one of these current reads, but is really (I think) an amalgam of these five books and perhaps even a play we saw the other night, Sweet Mercy that wrestled with issues of race, genocide, love, and responsibility.

Regardless of the origin of the impulse I have struggled, and am struggling, since my childhood with questions of responsibilities. To family, to employer, to community, to the human family, to the other living things, to future generations. I frequently feel guilty for having so much in a world where so many have so little. I feel privileged to have basic security - personal, economic, social while so many don't even know what it feels like. Perhaps this unease has led me to pursue multiple careers, to join in with many different community efforts, to look under every rock for a hunk of wisdom from which to forge a direction with some confidence that it will improve the lot of the human family.

If I look back to the impulses that drove me to write the 37 blogs since I began this exercise at Thanksgiving, I can see a quest to determine what should I do? How important is where we invest, where we choose to shop, how involved with the political system, to share concerns with government officials, with the newspaper reading public, with the employers, with the businesses we avoid or support? What is the geography of our responsibility? What do we owe the people of Iraq, Sudan, Mali, Palestine, Haiti, etc.? If our government is responsible, even in part, for the conditions of poverty or abuse of citizens in some other place on the planet, what is our culpability? What special responsibility goes with being wealthy - and even the poorest among you reading this in the developed world is by global accounts wealthy - in a world where personal safety, access to shelter, to water, to food to education is available to all?

I  believe our responsibility is more than most of our culture considers. I say that because simply looking at the data for how much we give to others beyond our borders, both through our government and through personal donations is a pittance of what we have or what other nations and citizens give. Of course, money is only one thing we can share. Many do work to change a system that invests so much in war and military and that allows unfathomable wealth, and therefore power, to concentrate in fewer hands. Working to change the systems that are driving us towards even more separation from each other is noble work that needs more of us privileged folks to join and put our shoulders to the wheel. With privilege comes responsibility. It's really a small world. Start now from where you are.Our broken world is calling for your help.

Thomas Pogge, a leading philosopher in this arena of citizen responsibility has launched an effort Academics Stand Against Poverty that might interest some possibilitator readers who are employed in the 'academy'.



Inside Link's Head

So someone was asking recently "how do you come to write all this stuff". When I pause to think about that question and answer it as consciously and truthfully as possible, the likely answer is:  I don't know. The more I've read on how the brain works, how randomness inserts its own force, how memory is distorted, the more uncertain I am about how accurately I can uncover the true impulse of what I write.

As I  pull back the covers to awaken to consciousness, I am pretty sure that all this writing does begins with impulse. I don't get up in the morning and say to myself, I'm gonna write something on such and such today. Sometimes I can track a specific impulse pretty accurately to a specific incident, passage read, conversation, etc. But of course that only shows up on my visibility screen, not all that is submerged beneath, which like the mitochondria, bacteria, and other machinations going on at the microscopic or subatomic levels that shape who are or what we do go largely unrecognized.

While I don't affirm the presence or existence of some deity, key designer, or guru in this I do feel communion with what for lack of a better word at the moment I would call 'magic'. We are, I'm pretty sure, alive. That means we are moving through time, changing constantly while holding onto some shape of temporary permanence (self). We are obviously shaped and steered by forces around us, including the bigger systems - economic, political, social, etc. Rarely, or least infrequently do we pause long enough to think about how those systems evolved, if they serve us well, and how they drive how we think and respond to the world around us. Perhaps even more rarely, do we examine how crucial some basic parts of our world weave their web on us - e.g. language. How a simple word choice makes such a difference in our relationship to what is being conveyed or attempted to be conveyed.

Take for a simple example the difference between 'I want this' versus 'I need this'. I think we can agree there is a difference. Advertising aims at shifting us to the belief that we NEED something from simply WANTING it. Or one of my favorites from the general semantics folks who discuss E-prime as semantic choice, the difference in seemingly simple declaratory statements, for example,  "The world is going to hell" versus "It seems like the world is going to hell." The reliance on the dogmatic "is" versus the less dogmatic "seems". Language matters. It creates openings or closes doors.

As I age, my experience nudges me to believe that life is not only complex, but evolving into deeper complexity at an accelerating rate. In such a world, this fellow will never be able to comprehend the complexity simply  by honing the rational mind. I lean on some sense of communion with otherness calibrated against a more sophisticated understanding and appreciation of moral/ethical considerations.

This is a long soliloquy to try and explain how I come to write these days. Ideas emerge throughout the awakened day and at some point there is a tipping point of energy to explore an idea or set of ideas in a written form. So this particular verbose effort was initially triggered by the question of a few days back. It settled into the subconscious and emerged as I was glancing back to find an earlier blog only to be surprised at how many I had written in the past few months.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Are Your Investments Aligned with Your Values?

Investments Matter


From recent annual reports of two mutual funds I was scanning the other night. You know, the ones we never read. What's your money doing to the world we share?? Investments matter.

Guns also debuted on the investment landscape in 2012 with the terrible incident in Newtown, Connecticut. While shootings in schools or other public places have long ignited horror and outrage, the shock wave rarely reached into the investment world. This time, however, it did, and almost immediately after the incident, some of the nation’s largest pension funds announced that they would divest or are considering divesting holdings in gun manufacturers. A lot of editorial debate has since been devoted to whether this would really affect the fortunes of gun manufacturers. We don’t think that is the crux of the matter. Pax chose, right from the start, not to invest in companies that manufacture weapons, and we remain committed to that choice—not because we think it will drive gun manufacturers’ stock prices down to the point where they disappear, but because we would rather not profit from the manufacture of guns, and we would rather not be owners of companies that siphon millions of dollars, through political contributions and gun purchase programs, to the National Rifle Association.
 
While fund managers, gun owners and activists of many stripes debate the wisdom of introducing this ultra-polarized political issue onto the landscape of fund management, the fact remains that the status quo is not neutral with respect to the place or type of guns in our society: those who own stocks of gun makers are profiting from the use of guns in our society, and the companies they own are deeply involved in the political landscape of gun ownership and control. Over the past seven years, corporations have contributed between $19.6 million and $52.6 million to the NRA’s Ring of Freedom program, and the NRA has fiercely resisted public policy attempts to place any limits on the type of guns that may be sold or owned in the United States, including assault weapons.
 
We are under no illusion that investments are somehow socially neutral. They have consequences. At Pax World, the focus of all our advocacy, directly with companies and also through public policy, is to make our economy and society more sustainable, which we believe will be good for investors along with everyone else.
                           Julie Fox Gorte, VP Sustainable Investing, Pax World Mutual Funds, Annual Report December 31, 2012 p.42
         ***********************************************************************
 
 Recent Divestments due to ESG Criteria: Ecolab & United Natural Foods
 
Ecolab was sold as a result of the company's proposed acquisition of Champion technologies, which followed the firm's 2011 acquisition of Nalco. These water treatment related acquisitions significantly increase Ecolab's exposure to the energy sector, as their products are used in oil and gas production. Prior to these acquisitions, Ecolab had virtually no exposure to the fossil fuel sector; their business was making and selling cleaning and sanitation solutions to the food service, consumer, and health care sectors. During our initial research on Ecolab, Portfolio 21 engaged the company in lengthy discussions to ensure that it met our raw material guidelines; specifically that it was dedicated to formulating non-toxic substances with the least impact on human and environmental health. With Ecolab's recent acquisition, Portfolio 21 does not anticipate that these same standards will be met. We believe that Ecolab's risk profile has shifted with its increased emphasis on the fossil fuel sector and that the company will likely face more stringent chemical regulations and increased litigation.

We sold our shares in United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the largest distributor of natural foods in the U.S. On the evening of December 10, 2012  workers at the company's Washington distribution center went on strike, citing 50 unfair labor practice violations. On December 13, UNFI published a press release, stating that "It is pleased that members of Teamsters Local 117 have voted to end the strike and return to work." UNFI also stated that it looked forward to continuing negotiations; however, when the in its communications led us to sell the stock during the first days of 2013. union workers returned, 72 of the 163 warehouse workers who went on strike had been fired. In solidarity, the strike resumed that evening. Portfolio 21 wrote to the company seeking additional information on the specific steps it was taking to improve its employee relations and did not receive a response. The company's poor treatment of its workers and lack of transparency
       Portfolio 21  Global Equity Fund Semi-Annual Report, December 31, 2012, pp3-4.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Launching a Discussion



      So the U.S. House, on essentially a straight party vote, defeated an attempt to raise the   minimum wage on Friday(3-15-13). On the flip side there is no maximum wage and the ratio  between the highest and lowest has grown exponentially as marginal tax rates on the wealthiest among us have been diminished dramatically since Eisenhower left office.



      Where are our religious leaders on this extraordinary concentration of wealth and extreme inequality? Are they beholden to the wealthy like so many other institutions, that they dare raise their ire? Justice requires courage.



      It’s time we discuss a national wage ratio. Rich people can get richer under such a plan only if they bring up the poorest amongst us. What’s a reasonable ratio 10:1? 20:1? 100:1? Let the discussion begin, but the 1 per cent and the 0.1 percent have too much in a world where too many struggle for enough.

This was the 150 word letter to the editor sent Monday upon reading about the House vote. I've decided to face my own question head on. 

Let's start the bidding here.  I propose a 50:1 ratio between the highest income and the median household income. The median U.S. household income for 2011 was $50,500. That's the point above which 50% of the population lives and below which 50% of the population lives.If we round it off to $50,000 it makes any calculations a little easier. I cast my vote for taxing all income above $2.5 million at 100%. There is no justification that I can dream of that one individual should make more in one year than a typical family in our society makes over a lifetime of working. But in a world where so many have almost nothing, and so many are in constant state of insecurity, how can such wealth accumulation be morally upheld?

I've been listening to my first audio book [the print copy was checked out] by Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel seems to argue (I'm not through yet so perhaps there's a shift coming) that when we put a price on everything there is a danger that we erode the norms by which we value things. While economists can find winners when we offer incentives, Sandel suggests we lose as a society, or at least that's what I'm inferring. He may be more cautious in making strong judgmental statements than I am here today. It would seem to follow that such emphasis on measuring everything in economic terms, with emphasis on its 'price', will diminish how we value things and demotes we humans to roles simply as  consumers. This would be problematic even in a world where everyone had enough and where there were no finite boundaries. But on the singular finite planet we share, with increasing extreme inequality, this seems like utter madness to this writer.

The discussion of a maximum-to-minimum or maximum-to-median income ratio is likely not sufficient in itself to change our economic system towards a more sustainable one. But in the spirit of how I'm reading [listening to] Sandel, and before him Charles Eisenstein, Mohandas Gandhi, James O'Dea, Meg Wheatley, George Vaillant, Parker Palmer, Robely George, Amartya Sen, Raj Patel, Susan Davis, Jared Bernstein, Peggy Holman, Susan Neiman, Thomas Pogge, and Chris Uhl [see his just released book Developing Ecological Consciousness I blogged about yesterday] and others who have shaped my thinking the past few years, it could nudge us toward a new norm that aligns with Uhl's  subtitle for his new book : The End of Separation. Bernstein  made a similar distinction in his book All Together Now: Common Sense for a Fair Economy  between YOYO's and WITT's - You're On Your Own versus We're In This Together. Until that shift of norms take place I'm afraid we're moving towards a precipice the looms ever closer. 

Any action that can help us towards that new norm is likely a good move. That's my intention in opening the discussion on How Much is Enough and How Much is Too Much? All creative ideas welcome. The status quo is not acceptable.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Economism and Separation

       Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, 
       the power to retell it, rethink, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change
       it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
                                                                         -Salman Rushdie

So begins the seventh chapter in Chris Uhl's new 2013 edition of "Developing Ecological Consciousness" that arrived in my mailbox this afternoon. Uhl a biologist who teaches biology at Penn State with research interest  mainly in ecosystems in the Amazon, where he worked frequently. He has been an early pioneer in the higher education sustainability movement. His inspiration to unleash students to study their campus sustainability produced some excellent and ground breaking work.

I was asked to review a draft of his new edition a few months back. It really is a new edition. As the book cover quotes me "Chris Uhl has been developing his own ecological consciousness since the first edition [2003], as is clear from this significant rewrite of that earlier gem." While used as a textbook for environmental studies and sustainability courses this work is "shorter, crisper, and significantly deeper, if that's possible. A textbook for sure, but much, much more...[a] guide for living."

After the Rushdie quote, Uhl begins the chapter, entitled Economism and Separation with a story:

Residents of southern India have a clever way of capturing monkeys. They drill a hole in a coconut, place rice inside, and then secure the coconut to a tree with a chain. Here is the clever part: The hole in the coconut is just large enough for a monkey's hand to get inside, but too small to remove once the hand is filled with rice. Instead of letting go of the rice, monkeys often hold on, greedily, only to be captured in a net by villagers.

Just as monkeys are captured because of their refusal to let go, it may be that we humans are now in a quandary because we are tenaciously holding on to -- unwilling to let go of -- counterproductive ways of thinking and acting.

Uhl is arguing here I think for us to see the connectedness, using science, stories, and exercises to reacquaint us with all that we are connected to. Having shared his company years ago on several occasions I can attest that Uhl feels the connectedness and you'll feel it too through his writing here. Perhaps this is why he changed the subtitle of this edition to The End of Separation.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Budgets and The Economics of Killing

Several members of our local peace community met with a representative from Sen. Carl Levin's office last Friday to urge restraint on military spending in light of the budget deliberations now facing Washington. Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee had announced just the night before his intention to retire after this term so that he could be unencumbered by political fundraising. These seasoned peace veterans I sat amongst offered numerous and compelling reasons and evidence that our military spending has been driving us into the debt we face as a nation. You know the facts:  how we spend more on military than the other top 14 nations combined.(Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). We arm the world (30% of world arm sales are from the US), etc. I spent a little time in advance of that meeting trying to update my knowledge of the subject matter without getting lost in the details of specific military hardware questions. Some interesting reading in all.

But a few days later I do my usual walk by the new book shelf (new books are added every weekday and left for a week) and what do I find? A title with praises from an international who's who of international relations and peace work. The following final paragraph of the first chapter offers a clue to its emphasis.

"The military-industrial complex does not need to be a monolithic conspiracy in order to wield political power, or to possess a clear goal other than its survival, or for its effects to be catastrophic. The complex is parasitic on the productive economy not only of the US but of other countries where such defense matrices thrive. It is this cancerous quality, in which the complex spreads under its own critical mass, purely for the sake of its own perpetuation and enlargement, which makes the military-industrial structure a dead weight around the necks of productive and progressive economic forces. It is not China that presents the greatest threat to the US. A much bigger risk to American peace and prosperity is presented by a failure to restructure the US economy and to reduce massively the economic weight of the military-industrial complex."
                                   Vijay Mehta, The Economics of Killing: How the West Fuels War and Poverty  in the Developing World. London: Pluto Press, 2012 (p.27)

Such thoughts are not part of the arguments around Washington as shared with us by the major media. The entire framing of the discussion is narrowed to responses of fear... most recently it's the cyber attack lurking. No one is suggesting that some preparedness isn't needed but as Mehta suggests above,military spending is "parasitic."

I haven't taken the time to peruse the Ryan Budget or the Senate Democratic version. We'll hear lots about them in the coming days and weeks. What we won't hear is the Progressive Caucus's own budget proposal released today "Back to Work Budget" where it proposes to reduce the Pentagon's budget to 2006 levels. See more details on page 7 of the report.

But as one of the members tried to argue at the meeting last week with Sen. Levin's assistant, we have failed to have a real discussion of what is the military spending for and is it addressing our greatest risks or is it as Mehta suggests, simply a parasite feeding on its host. Mehta offers way more than that in the opening pages and I'm sure many more insights are to come, which may find their way into this blog over the next couple of weeks. But we should at least be discussing this issue openly. Bringing the "Back to Work Budget" into the corridors of power would be a great start. As would the consideration that if we are such a 'peaceful' nation, why is it we have Armed Services Committees, but no Congressional committees of Peace?  As I noted in the blog Monday about attitudes,  [Mihaly] Czikzsentmihalyi once said: ‘Where attention goes, energy flows. I believe we could easily substitute 'money' for 'energy' in that line. Thus changing the attention during this budget debate seems like a good investment. Let us begin...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Attitudes Matter

We can all likely recall a situation when we listened to an erudite speaker while being simultaneously put off by their attitude. When we sense arrogance, disdain, mean-spiritedness, etc. we naturally recoil. Numerous times I've heard or seen the words "Attitude is Everything" or "It's not how the world treats you, it's how you react to how the world treats you" or other similar aphorisms emphasizing attitudes.

One of the few listservs I remain on is the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation, where more than 1,000 facilitators of group process lurk and share ideas about improving how we can make group work better for all. In a recent post about the Vermont Town Meetings one list member shared the story about an invocation that begins many of the town meetings these days. Normally given my a member of the religious community, one year in the town of Danford, VT, Toby Balivet, town attorney gave the following invocation which has since be adopted by many of the towns:


"We have come together in civil assembly, as a community, in a tradition that is older than our state itself. We come together to make decisions about our community. As we deliberate, let us advocate for our positions, but not at the expense of others. Let us remember that there is an immense gap between saying 'I am right' and saying 'I believe I am right.' And that our neighbors with whom we disagree are good people with hopes and dreams as true and as high as ours. And let us always remember that, in the end, caring for each other, in this community, is of far greater importance than any difference we may have."

I think this is the kind of attitude we must cultivate to make our way forward through  uncertain times. Inherent in it are humility, forgiveness, empathy, compassion and commitment to community. We need to take back the language that is so heavily loaded with competition, with winning, with power-over as opposed to power-with. Perhaps if we were to be bombarded with more positive social attitudes we might yet create communities that thrive for all. In Aldous Huxley's utopian novel, Island, in the background throughout the book could be heard the birds calling "Attention" and "Here and now" a reminder to the citizens to be mindful of what was before them at the moment. John Rowson in a November 2010 blog Mindfulness (4) "Huxley's Reminder Birds" extracts some of the description from the book.

 "Attention",  a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate. "Attention",  it repeated in the same high, nasal monotone. "Attention"  (...)
"Is that your bird?" Will asked.
She shook her head.
Mynahs are like the electric light", she said. "They don't belong to anybody."
Why does he say those things?
"Because somebody taught him", she answered patiently...
But why did they teach him those things? Why 'Attention'? Why 'Here and now?'
"Well ..." She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. "That's what you always forget, isn't it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what's happening. And that's the same as not being here and now."
"And the mynahs fly about reminding you—is that it?"
She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.

Rowson also shares in that blog another quote that signifies the importance of developing a mindful attitude as the road to a better world.


As positive psychologist, [Mihaly] Czikzsentmihalyi once said: ‘Where attention goes, energy flows.'
 .
Attending to our attitudes more purposefully and with elements of the Vermont Town Meeting invocation may help us find our way towards a better world and personal happiness. I can't see it hurting either.




 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Needs, Wants, Justice, Discipline, Power and Love

Those concepts have been poking their shoots up through the disturbed soil of my consciousness frequently of late. The needs and wants dichotomy spurred on by moments spent with Gandhi's autobiography, wherein he shares his own wrestling match with this challenge and with my own increasing realization we live on a finite planet with a growing population experiencing growing inequality. If we look in even the slightest way critically at our culture's bombardment of  advertising, we can't miss the point of it is targeted at changing our perceived 'wants' into 'needs'. That we need the product, service, or experience to be happier or more fulfilled.

Gandhi's popular aphorism that 'The world has enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed' comes to mind. Gandhi was indeed a unique individual. Few of us humans have the combination of worldview, discipline, and sense of personal and moral strength that he developed over his lifetime. His autobiography written twenty years preceding his assassination unveils many of his internal wrestling matches, his failures, as well as his seeming ability for self-discipline. He also demanded very high standards for his family and associates to meet. Some of which he later regretted. His power to withstand outside forces and to stand strong against them was likely founded on his own power to control his own consciousness. This he exercised frequently with diet, sex, and learning. It appears that indeed his vigilant attempt to improve himself (as he perceived what needed improving) gave birth to an emergent strength in dealing with the outside world.

One can surely make an argument that if everyone lived like Gandhi, the planetary systems we rely on would not be unraveling like they are and that we could satisfy the basic needs of many more than we share this spinning sphere with currently.

David Miller, noted British political philosopher, addresses our responsibilities to the injustices in the world in his recent book National Responsibility and Global Justice. Miller argues that there is both a personal responsibility and a national responsibility to respond to 'what do we owe to the world's poor'? Without having poured through the whole book yet he appears to believe that while both levels of responsibility exist for us as citizens in this world of growing inequality, perhaps there is more responsibility at the nation state level that we should put our energies into. Thus pressuring our governments to change the rules of the game to root out the causes of that inequality and extreme poverty.

In the introduction to his recent book Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change, Adam Kahane quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. final book that calls to that same magic potion of power and love.

Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change. . . . And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites— polar opposites— so that love is identified with the resignation of power, and power with the denial of love. Now we’ve got to get this thing right. What [we need to realize is] that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. . . . It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.” —Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?

This merger of power and love must, it seems to me as I write this, emerge from explorations of reflection and discipline. The reflections cannot simply be constructed from the rational logic of a highly disciplined mind and technique. They may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. My sense is that they must also emerge from a deep connection to the heart.

Our dominant education system and economic system have removed the heart from the equations. I suspect that is why even though US GDP has written steadily since WWII, but our level of happiness (and of heart health by the way) has declined. If we are to reverse this trajectory, we will need to bring the heart back to a full partner in our future. And that heart must be open not only to other humans, but the entire community of life. My own momentary reflection has me convinced this begins with some strengthening exercises of the kind that come from the practice of self discipline. Bad habits are hard to overcome. I'll try again today.



Meanwhile I've added Kahane's book to my reading list in hopes that it can steer me to 'The Theory and Practice of Social Change' more effectively.  If the 18 minute version of his October 2012 talk for RSA Animates "How to Change the Future" is any indication, he has much wisdom to share as we create our future together. Onward...