Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Stockholm Syndromes R Us

Stockholm Syndrome describes a state of positive psychological attachment to a dangerous authority figure who has life-and-death power over the person(s) in question during a period of captivity. The defining quality of this attachment is survival via love, appeasement, and support of the captor(s) and their aims. This fear-based ‘love’ emerges in the captive person to mask their terrifying vulnerability by improving their chance and quality of survival at the feeling level. In this post, I argue that growing up, as defined previously, requires of us all that we first identify and grow beyond our own generalised Stockholm Syndrome.

Of course I am taking a few liberties to lend this metaphor poetic validity. For example, less than one in ten people in hostage/kidnap situations are said to develop the syndrome. In this piece, I am suggesting that a far larger percentage of non-elites are subject to this state of being, though to varying degrees. Rough caricatures might be the obsequious and/or vociferous supporters of the status quo; more timid types afraid to ask probing questions and thus positively supportive of the Powers That Be; or apparently rational people who have logically deduced that eggs must be broken to make omelettes and are thus supportive of Tough Love, Hair Shirts and Tightened Belts in the interests of law and order. I am also suggesting that a captor, or group of captors, need not be physically present or even explicit in their endeavours, they need merely be generalised as an atmospheric and internalised threat. In other words, I am here casting the state as a monopoly of force in the role captor, with all us citizens as its captives.

The threat represented by the state is an omnipresent network of nodes: all mass-media outlets; on the streets as the police; on billboards and road signs; in schools, colleges and universities; and in the mere existence of money as a requirement for survival, whose concealed workings hardly anyone understands. At home, we are raised from birth by caregivers whose own upbringings were steeped in this generalised threat of force, who internalised it, and who then dutifully prepare their progeny to adapt to its Hobbesian reality in an unending, ‘it’s always been this way’ Groundhog Day. It’s the air we breath and water we drink, mostly without noticing. 

Some are angry at The System, some not. Either way, the vast majority of us obey so deeply that our obedience is unfelt.

We are all living complexes of beliefs about How Life Is, imbibed unconsciously during our childhoods. Bringing the details and origins of our belief complexes into focus is very difficult. Insecurities, phobias, biases, reflexes, predispositions, preferences and received wisdoms are the unexamined ground we walk, the concealed trellis that structures, or delimits, our ‘maturation’. What is barbaric and what civilised? What is humane, what cruel? What is tame, what wild? What is national pride? What is matter and what is consciousness? What is love? And who has the time to properly delve, in a spirit of open-minded scepticism, into these deeper areas of what we each severally believe?

To take on that task means to dare to be different, to be weird. The Great They are watching. The threat of force is an internalised spy network monitoring our every thought. We are social animals. Expulsion from the group is terrifying, an existential danger. The group has life-and-death power over us. 

This combination of very human elements means that we hold our familiar group and its beliefs so dear and at such depth we can barely tell this is so. Wiser to love the devil we know than to fight and drown in an endless struggle against the river’s vast reality. Going against the group’s flow takes great and seemingly unending effort, and is also the source of real existential risks.

Is this not the essence of Stockholm Syndrome? Isn’t developing the syndrome the price we pay to remain safely ensconced in the system we know best? My view is that history plainly tells us this is so.

Unavoidably, when a belief complex meets the end of its utility, change is required. When that complex and its many siblings together structure a loosely affiliated ‘society’ of peoples that spans the globe – materialism, capitalism, statism, paternalism, etc. –, effecting the required change appears impossible. It isn’t.

I suggest that the vast majority of us want a healthier system. We hunger for justice, authenticity, honesty, transparency, dignity and respect because these things resonate in us as good, as that which is best about being human. And yet we are never going to birth a system that honours them all – by design – while we remain afraid, rendered inactive and compliant by our unexamined Stockholm Syndromes. 

Courage is the antidote. Courage flows from a love-based approach to our existence, one oriented around a heart-felt desire to do what’s best for the other guy, for all the other guys. Both love and courage are sustained by knowing, profoundly, this truth: “As we do unto Other, so we do unto Self.” I have found starting with an honest acceptance and examination of my own Stockholm Syndrome to be very helpful in staying true to this challenging path towards health and love.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Life Has No Meaning. Choose a Good One.

Reality itself can have no purpose. For a thing to have a purpose, it has to be made with one in mind, like a car or a gun. To avoid an infinite regress wherein a creator creates reality with a purpose in mind, but we then have to ask, “What created the creator?”, and then, “What created the creator’s creator?” ad infinitum, the ‘original’ reality itself must simply be uncaused. By definition, an uncreated, or uncaused, thing cannot have a purpose. Ergo, reality can have no inherent purpose as it is necessarily uncreated, uncaused.

In common parlance, the phrase “the meaning of life” is synonymous with “the meaning of reality” and by extension “reality’s purpose”. As we have established, there can be none. Not happiness, not wealth, not wanton destruction, not Evil or Good or anything else. The reality is that reality has no absolute meaning, whether or not we are materialists. 

In my view, consciousness chooses/creates meanings. It is a meaning creator. The meaning(s) it creates is/are arbitrary in the sense that a priori meaning is not part of the fundamental constitution of consciousness, while data and change are. One illustration of this is the indelible nature of subjectivity. For example, a piece of information (pattern of data) such as 010101010101 can have no correct, objective meaning. Instead and in various ways, consciousness perceives the experience of meaning into it. Maybe one moment a pattern is perceived as pleasing, the next irritating. In more familiar terms, sunshine on your face is a streaming pattern of data that can be nice one moment and annoying the next. This subjectivity scales all the way up to love, for me the most mysteriously, paradoxically complex and simple pattern there is (or patterning: everything changes, as reality/consciousness is always changing). As conscious beings, we therefore choose love as the vector of becoming with our own free will, not because God/Daddy/Mummy/Whatever tells us it is the meaning of life, or because it just somehow is, always will be and always has been The Right Thing To Do. In other words, it’s not a correct choice, it’s just a choice. We choose it understanding, deeply, why we do so. Choice cannot be forced upon us, by definition.

If we have in our philosophy – as I do – creative consciousness as a fundamental requirement for there to be something rather than nothing at all, that creative consciousness may assign itself, for whatever reason, some preference or set of preferences that we might call a self-selected purpose or Way, i.e., love. But this is not the same as with a designed object like a car or a gun: such objects cannot make choices or experience preferences in the same way that patterns of data have no inherent meaning.

In the more familiar human domain, some cultural set of preferences – e.g., Capitalism – can become sacrosanct when sufficiently successful over time. It is perpetuated and propagated via various propaganda techniques to society as a raison d’être, but is in fact arbitrary rather than Natural Law / ‘God Given’. It is sold as Natural Law, because when society is composed of a large number of people, its cohesion over time requires very complex systems of self-governance and/or imposed governance that take a long time and huge investment in blood and tears to develop. For ‘reasons of national security’, these defining, core systems must therefore be beyond question. A successful set of preferences (a.k.a The System) is thus the core generator of a society’s wealth because it is the very way its people are able to agree on what wealth is in the first place. To change it in its fundament – to bring about radical change – is to risk (apparent) destruction of that wealth, and certainly a period of profound disorientation and suffering. This logic must surely also apply to consciousness itself, and indeed to all systems. Why change a winning game? Never touch a running system! 

This is, of course, the logic of conservatism, the sensible urge to protect and nurture accumulated wealth. It doesn’t matter that what is protected is arbitrary/confected in some important way, the conservative impulse is generally sensible. 

However, nothing is perfect. Any set of preferences likely includes one or more flawed notions such as perpetual economic growth, or human dominion over nature, or racial purity. If it does, it will eventually have to adapt those flaws or perish. This is neutral evolution as it abuts Natural Law, not some a priori, immutable meaning revealing itself as an absolute good.

Following this logic, we can deduce that free will is a necessary component of the nature of reality and is almost synonymous with consciousness: Free will creates meanings but has no meaning itself. Free will cannot emerge after billions of years of mechanical determinism. Free will is necessarily unpredictable and cannot be pre-planned. Reality is thus fundamentally about unpredictable choices and their unforeseeable consequences as feedback loops that enable consciousness to evolve, via iterative learning through successive sets of preferences over time, rather than devolve, where unchecked devolution would be a decay into the patternless chaos that is the full-entropy or fully dormant state of consciousness/existence. So meaning making selects, via free-will choices and in a survival-oriented way, those sets of preferences that further consciousness’ evolution, a process that makes it richer, wealthier/healthier over time. Evolution cannot be about uncritical obedience or blind loyalty to some absolute good.

What this boils down to is that we are, as conscious beings, co-creators of our future via our choices, inescapably. Not solipsistically, but in terms of our individuated interdependence and moral culpability for our choices and actions. Only we can do the work that is our growing up to finally become capable of making only, or primarily, those choices that tend to promote health/wealth over time. Logically, the more of us actively and knowingly engaged in this, the better for all of us.

I am because we are. The quality of my continuation depends on the quality of our continuation.

It’s like in The Iron Giant. At the end of Ted Hughes’ wonderful story, the Iron Giant must choose whether it becomes a merciless, unthinking weapon or loving superhero. It is not fundamentally one or the other, it is ‘merely’ a patterning of data with a certain set of attributes, as we all are.

Humanity is now face-to-face with an Iron Giant-like decision. An epoch-ending bifurcation point is upon us as a species, one part of which is our political economics. Any new political economics capable of properly addressing steady-state growth while encouraging the healthy maturation or qualitative growth of all its subjects will likely be radically different to today’s capitalist orthodoxy that holds perpetual economic growth and monetary profit as absolute goods. Time will tell whether we evolve into something more nuanced and loving, or devolve into something more dictatorial, fearful, exploitative and controlling than is currently the case. The choice is ours.

As always, our ability to choose how our future unfolds, depends directly on how we mature as individuals, and thus as a species, towards love.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Orthodox Economists Trapped in Maslow's Bottom

In my last post, I briefly defined health as a complex and living whole: “the dynamically interoperating totality of your physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, relationship (with Other, including the environment), career and financial health over time”. No doubt many would draw a connection between this definition and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The latter is the subject of this post.

I used to like Maslow’s pyramid, but now find it restrictive in its clear-cut departments, as well as off target due to its focus on needs. I know of people who operate from a place of love, and from that a calm confidence the universe will provide. They operate from the upper section first but as a manifestation of love, trusting/knowing that the other sections will take care of themselves. For them, the pyramid’s dynamic is reversed, and in fact not really a pyramid at all. In my view, this is the necessary state of being of a mature consciousness, a mature soul.

The system we occupy and co-create is obsessed with Maslow’s lowest section. We experience the other sections as variations of it, understand and experience them through its lens; esteem is the consequence of conspicuous consumption and possession of as many status symbols as possible, relationships are first possible after we have demonstrated our worthiness through our success as property accumulators, the more we own the safer we are, and so on.

Obviously, my assertions here are a caricature of a very complex situation that has all manner of cross currents and counter influences.  But at root Maslow’s is a pyramid of needs. Love, for example, has little to do with Self’s needs, but rather with what is best for Other. The pyramid is thus a fear-based interpretation of reality: what do I, fundamentally separate from but surrounded by a threatening environment, need to survive, then thrive? Operating from a state of fear, we are acquisitive, cynical and suspicious. We can’t help but perceive reality as a finite pool of necessarily scarce resources for which we fight against all enemy Others to meet our needs. Life is a hard struggle. Only a fortunate few can climb to the top spot and enjoy the view from those superior heights. On the whole, this generates and justifies elitism and its Hobbesian sensibility regarding the rule of law and the need for a forceful state.

More prosaically and as demonstrated by The Story of Stuff, the constant output from the worlds of advertising and public-relations is a siren song crafted to fix our gaze on the bottom of the pyramid, to forever remind us, both subtly and grotesquely, that below it lies a hellish and precarious existence.  All this inrushing energy wildly inflates the importance of our base needs so that they pervade and colour everything else we see. This is the atmosphere we live in, the all-encompassing water we have a hard time perceiving as a deliberate construction.

As we begin to mature by patiently tackling our own fears, Maslow’s pyramid slowly stops making sense. We no longer live in insoluble scarcity but are instead surrounded by abundant opportunities to grow qualitatively. The rich diversity of people that surround us represent real wealth simply by virtue of that diversity. Our motivation becomes the rich rewards of participation and contribution, the meaningfulness of tending the totality of the garden that is our whole environment. Self is catered for via its love for Other. Esteem is not an end-goal or even a requirement, it is an irrelevance. Self-actualisation is a necessary consequence of a mature consciousness.

But this does not mean we no longer have physical needs. It means we tend to them in the same spirit of love that we tend to everything else. There is always work to be done, there’s just no need to do it fearfully, with a worried eye swivelled to status and esteem. 

Can we develop an economics that emerges from a love-based, fluid approach to reality? That will become apparent as more and more of us choose health and maturity of consciousness as our guiding lights.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Make Love, Not War! … But How?

As the drums of war beat louder through the staged fogs of information and disinformation overload, it has never been more important to learn how not to get lost in the mist. However, as we all know, the steep learning curve that is Becoming Love is the harder path. Our immaturity as individuals, even at the apparently innocuous level of personal preference, can and does scale up to the global, sometimes to world war. Big things have little beginnings. We all have a role to play, a contribution to make.

Our immaturities are interconnected fissures that open wider and wider as fear spreads. The energies and impulses that emanate from these growing holes are fearful, suspicious, angry, bigoted and, above all, easily manipulated. Drastic action quickly becomes the only ‘reasonable’ course, while patience and compassion as informed by open-minded skepticism are branded foul poisons to be violently ejected from public discourse.

If we do want to avoid war and make love, we must first grow up; that is, become capable of love-based responses in all circumstances. But how? In addressing this question, this article is necessarily meandering and long. I humbly submit that a careful reading of its content is worth the effort.

I haven’t wanted to write since I last posted here. There are two main reasons. First, I don’t like to prescribe and no longer believe in ‘solutions’, though this sensibility was increasingly apparent in my later posts. Second, I determined that my views are so far from the mainstream and so convoluted as to be nigh on incomprehensible. Recent experience has changed me deeply on both counts.

The first reason is something of an extreme position, since it paints you into a tight corner: say nothing lest you influence someone for the worse. Well, we cannot help but influence others. So, if I feel I have something to share that may be of value to someone somewhere, I should share it. It suffices to remind readers that my writing is never a prescription, only a contribution.

The second is slightly more slippery. Here, it has become clear to me that the defining core of what I am trying to learn and become – my path – is in fact universal, not idiosyncratic: love. I don’t mean romantic love, I don’t mean enabling, indecisive, cowardly relativism, I mean love. 

Love is unconditional. If it isn’t unconditional, it isn’t love. When you think that through, it’s not at all romantic or idealistic. It is profoundly challenging and exquisitely beautiful. 

Everything I wrote for this site was driven by that pivotal concern, though in an immature-cerebral way: how to improve the system so as to minimise injustice and maximise sustainability. My error – if that is what it was – was to pontificate on upper-level details, somewhat in the fashion of debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is a cliche by now but none the less important to repeat: what is first required is a revolution of consciousness. For me this means a far wiser understanding of and relationship with love. Emerging from that will come whatever comes, not what I or anyone else supposes ought to come.

What, then, is unconditional love? This is a big question. I suspect there is no larger or more important challenge to How We Are than learning about love. It has been a central focus of mine for around twenty years and, in time-honoured fashion, the more I learn the less I know.  So apart from asserting that love is not a distinct, unchanging object but an evolving, emergent quality of consciousness, there will be no detailed answer here. I submit only tantalising implications you may derive from reading between my lines. 

“How We Are”? Yes. Being, or How We Are, is what counts. This simply coined formulation is a rephrase of what I have garnered from the work of Tom Campbell, whose efforts have influenced me profoundly these last few years. In brief, where we are in terms of our personal growth and evolution is not indicated by what we can argue or define or postulate, it’s what we are from root to tip.

Thus, love has little to do with surface politeness but plenty to do with authenticity. In other words, if you are polished at keeping your anger, envy, fear, etc. hidden from your and others’ view, you may well be thought of as nice, but that repression is a process that accumulates psychological, physical and emotional debt that can come due in a wide variety of ways and at compound interest: cancer, divorce, and career self-destruction to name but a few familiar manifestations.

If we are to take on the challenge of becoming love, should we then reveal all that we secretly feel as immediately and authentically as possible? Scream our uglinesses into people’s faces? I suppose you could. That might prove to be a fast-track, bridge-burning route IF the driving reason for doing so is the steady maturation of the quality of your consciousness towards love. A less turbulent way would be the quiet process of being very aware of your acts of repression as you go about your life, noting them in some way, and figuring out each of their causes. Then you would deal with those causes as creatively and lastingly as you can. This takes time and is hardly the fiery stuff of legend. It is the famous Path Less Travelled and is hard, long, and often (apparently) thankless. However, if you do it right, rewards in terms of improvements to your total health (see below) turn up pretty quickly and cumulatively. Doing it right thus includes noticing and valuing these improvements (aka gratitude), which in turn requires being less influenced by society’s definitions of success and failure and more in tune with your own: those that align most deeply with health.

(A quick note on health: I mean here the dynamically interoperating totality of your physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, relationship (with Other, including the environment), career and financial health over time. For me, health is functionally synonymous with wealth.)

Which brings us neatly to how little I know. I’m one of those who can talk the talk but not walk the walk (a sub-reason for why I stopped writing). I suppress how I feel like a champion, at least in terms of my felt experience of that repression; my brooding sullenness when things aren’t to my liking is in fact very plain to all who know me. I’m a control freak, a tyrannical utopian quickly disappointed and irritated by everyday imperfections that ‘come at me’ from my environment, be they family members, friends, or Berlin winters. And, because I can talk the talk, have been going through (disclosure alert!) a kundalini awakening for about four years and counting, and have also been the dumbstruck recipient of several physical miracles, I deceived myself that I was Doing Pretty Well Thank You Very Much in the Unconditional Love department. Not so. Self-deception is another of my advanced abilities. It goes hand in glove with talking the talk as magnified by all my hard-earned rhetorical skills.

By way of illustration and disclosure, I want to share one complex manifestation of a central problem of mine, then flesh out how my oh-so brilliant mind endlessly wrestles with it.

As I write, my mother-in-law is happily chatting with a friend of hers over FaceTime. Both their voices have qualities of tone and tenor that can, in certain circumstances, set me on edge*. These remind me of their shared culture, one that is to me compulsively extraverted, habitually and aggressively generous and naïvely happy. It is the least philosophical and most uncritically accepting culture I know of, one that appears to have drunk down, hook, line and sinker, the worst of the West in terms of Disney-like moralising; 1950s Hollywood ideas of masculinity and femininity; endless property accumulation; and an oily, meat-based diet. I write all this not because I am convinced of the rightness of my perceptions (far from it), but because I don’t like, respect or trust what that culture represents: a happy-go-lucky, non-skeptical, conservative take on reality that would appear to be my nemesis. I am mystified by its members and am also at the tail end of having spent about three months living among them**. 

Compounding this cultural clash between my British understatement and their South East Asian theatricality is my veganism. I’ve been vegan since October 2012 and believe deeply in its moral philosophy. Briefly, it is clear humans can be perfectly healthy on a whole-food vegan diet. Thus, killing and harming animals is a choice that necessitates a victim, not a survival need. So why be cruel to others if we don’t have to be? For me, this is a clear extension of unconditional love. Love is not just about other humans, it’s about Other in its entirety. It’s about existence itself. Yes, death is a part of life, but unnecessary killing is unnecessary killing. Neither harm nor kill if you don’t have to.

This line of thinking appears to be anathema to my wife’s family, and much of my own. Their blank-faced reactions say, “Huh? They’re just animals!”

This double-whammy clash creates in-group out-group tensions that are threatening to split our families. I am at a loss as to how to handle this tension. I do not want to enable continuing cruelty to animals and harm to the environment by being polite, by respecting people’s differences, by holding my tongue. On the other hand, I do want to respect people’s differences because I know, deeply, that we evolve at our own speeds. Grass doesn’t grow faster if you shout at it. And what if I’m being morally superior for some utopian reason? Is my thinking on this flawed? Are all the facts in and sound? Sadly, balanced discussion is impossible due to the culture clash. One simply does not argue with one’s elders. Doing so causes extraordinary emotional turmoil. I know this because I speak from bitter experience. And when things explode, I explode too. I’m as emotionally invested in my position as my wife’s family is in theirs. 

In other words, in my local experience, little differences of perception lead to ‘war’.

This brings us to a central and difficult distinction: love is unearned by virtue of its being unconditional, but like, respect and trust are earned, conditional. If your child is a compulsive liar, you love but don’t trust it. Unconditional versus conditional. In the nitty-gritty of day-to-day living, are like, respect and trust therefore more important/relevant in bringing about a Better World than the noble love I set my sights on years since? Or do they play a distant second fiddle to love as you increasingly become love? I have no answer, but here are some initial thoughts on this baffling issue.

It is wrong to think in terms of perfection and imperfection as they pertain to like, trust and respect in our day-to-day lives, but extremely easy to do so. What counts by way of an indicator of where you are at is the quality of your life. If you are miserable and hate getting up in the morning, why? If you are quick to anger and judgment, why? 

When undertaking these sorts of introspective journeys, what cannot help in a lasting way is blaming Other: meticulously determining how you are the victim, or right on all counts, and then playing that role. We ought instead to focus on what is lastingly effective, not on manipulating and correcting Self and Other until they are ‘perfect’. And there are no quick fixes. If your life is royally fucked up, it will take lots of time to heal, to make the internal changes that are required to make the subsequent and coincident external changes both appropriate and lasting (i.e., effective).

You can ‘escape’ your problems temporarily by intellectualising and rationalising, but reality will expose your shallowness soon enough. “Talk the talk” is a pejorative for a reason. This applies to laws and treaties too. Both are band aids across complex psychological wounds.

Making best efforts to like, respect and trust that which you do not like, respect and trust won’t work. It’s like trying to like badly played music or enjoy the taste of something that makes you retch. I tried this for years in my personal and professional lives and failed. The results have just come in and make for sobering reading. It was an act of self-deception that eased day-to-day interactions, nothing more.

Isolation from the not-liked is no solution. If you have carefully populated your world with people of like mind and find things pretty easy, you are probably untested. Put yourself among people who wind you up – an out-group from your perspective –, for weeks on end, and watch what happens to your equilibrium. Many are confronted with this tension day in and day out. They often resort to harmful behaviours to relieve that tension. As this dynamic develops between large groups – say between West and East –, injustice and war can become the norm. The challenge, surely, is how to communicate effectively with an alien Other. But how? By winning the argument? By winning the battle and thereby demonstrating your superiority? Survival of the fittest?

That line of thinking is part of reality for all sorts of reasons, but can be further qualified, couched in different terms, because it too is a set of evolving qualities of consciousness.

For example, what is injustice and exactly how are we obligated to battle it? Is it true that the only thing we can change is ourselves? If so, do evolved souls leave others well alone to figure it out by themselves? I repeat, what is injustice? Does injustice occur because each of us is unjust? Would that not make injustice the just outcome of a multitude of unjust individuals? Or is it caused by some distinct, separate Evil that must be battled and subjugated, forced to be more like the victorious in-group? I suspect the amount of injustice ‘out there’ is a direct reflection of the sum of the quality of our individual states of consciousness, though this posture leads us to some very unpalatable moral postures (see below). If I’m close to the ‘truth’ here, there’s virtually no point fighting injustice as a separate object in the pursuit of a Better World. That’s like fighting gravity or any emergent property. To repeat a phrase I’ve used at this blog ad nauseam, We Are The System. It changes cumulatively as each of us changes individually.

But isn’t The System controlled by an elite whose overriding objective is to keep that unjust system functioning? Doesn’t that elite use all manner of tricks and deceptions to keep us in the dark? Yes, to the degree that this cliche is an accurate caricature, that is so.  That said, no one is claiming that changing yourself is easy. However, The System would not work if none of The System’s constituents wanted it and were truly ready, willing and able to birth something different. Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. We do what we can, yes, but high-falutin’ meddling is a fool’s mission. Grass doesn’t grow faster if you shout at it, or if you cleverly reason with it. Love the grass, on the other hand…

Learning how to not even want to exogenously change the other person or group is a direction of growth that takes a long time to mature and is very much a part of love due to love’s unconditionality. This path has nothing to do with perfection and imperfection. It’s about the gradual evolution and maturation of your own consciousness as evidenced by the quality of your inner life regardless of its outer context. Saying “Nobody’s perfect” is missing the point. Perfection is a red herring in the same way that there are no endings or beginnings.

Let’s briefly reference that insoluble horror known as Israel/Palestine. Which side is victim and which aggressor depends on whom you ask. I have my own views that I will not share here, but what strikes me as unavoidable is that there will be no ‘solution’ in a world so ready to dehumanise the out-group, whose people are so manipulatable and judgemental, so gullible and immature. The Israel-Palestine problem is in and thus a reflection of the world, not separate from it as some alien and incomprehensible oddity. It is our mirror, as is everything else. Humanity can only evolve beyond that reflection of its maturity and love when it is ready, willing and able to do so. How and if we can get there is unclear to me. Nevertheless, leaving it be feels horrific, just as it feels horrific to me to not be a vegan activist, to not stand up in defence of voiceless animals. Israel/Palestine needs help. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, fish … need help. But does a moral obligation to help make the horrors resolvable absent a revolution of consciousness? History suggests not. The horrors continue despite best efforts to change all those alien others.

It appears to me that like, respect and trust are sibling rivers that may (or may not) transition into the ocean of unconditional love. Without conscious awareness of that ocean, absent a desire to partake of it as a way of being, those rivers lead to tribalism. Healthily managing all the issues that arise from the conditionality of like, respect and trust requires a quality of consciousness characterised by love. And each of us has to want this and do the work that keeps us on that endlessly evolving vector for healthy, mature outcomes to be the more likely.

How then do we interact with alien Others without becoming murderous, without dehumanising them? How do we humbly learn from those who horrify us while not enabling further injustice in so doing? How do we “celebrate diversity” when that diversity starts meddling with our own or requires victims? Ah, there’s the devil’s details! 

My take is that love is not a mission and does not have fixed, pre-determined outcomes it pursues with grim resolution. “Let it be”, says one song. “If you love someone, set them free”, says another. My sense of all this is that the ‘problem’ I am outlining here is in fact a natural reflection of immaturity generally, of my own particularly. It causes me pain to say this, even makes me feel guilty. A healthy or love-based approach cannot be about controlling all variables towards perfection, but about letting things be, as guided by love, over time. 

Until we need them no longer, we need rules from The System, ‘imperfect’ rules that lock up some but not others, that protect some species, not others. How many rules we need and how effective they are will always be a reflection of how mature we are in sum. Accepting this is part of the sorrow of celebrating diversity, i.e., celebrating those we do not like, respect and trust, including the so-called elites and our imperfect system. Its what we would want for ourselves as we seek to grow and evolve: freedom. It sounds like a monstrous, privileged copout, but love slowly helps to soothe the monstrous as we each mature in our own ways. Awareness of these interdependent and unpalatable truths is thus key, as is a willingness to develop our own understandings of and relationship with love.

In the meantime, we do what we can. We contribute as positively as we can to the whole. We invite others into better states of being via their own narratives and abilities. I write. I am vegan and argue for it when I can. I work hard for my family and live as mindfully as I am able. I want others to grow too, to ‘wake up’, but there I can only invite and encourage, not force. After all, I might be wrong on many things. Sometimes, even well-meaning encouragement causes upset, stress and tension, and at times can end friendships and split families.

Deeper still, there is, I feel, something a touch callous or coldly pragmatic about what I argue is a fundamental requirement for diversity of maturity as a generator of unpredictable situations that are challenging and thus learning opportunities. For example: 

We need challenges to overcome if we are to evolve. 

Without challenges, we stagnate (I include God in “we”). 

We will therefore always ‘need’ diversity of maturity. 

I suspect this logically derived assertion is a reflection of an unavoidable property of the nature of reality. What I do not argue for here, however, is nihilism, though in its depths I think this logic profoundly blurs the useful – to us immature humans – distinction between selfishness (immaturity) and selflessness (maturity). In other words, we choose love as a quality/direction of becoming simply because it is healthy, rather than somehow noble or ‘godly’, to do so. Our inescapable interconnectedness makes this choice the healthier, forever and always: as you do unto others, so you do unto yourself. 

It is endless evolution – constant change – that makes reality worth living. This means reality is a living process, not lifeless machinery. That process has to be unpredictable and uncontrollable to be worth a damn. It has to be free to evolve in its own way and at its own speed. One corollary of this might be that reality will always include suffering somehow. It is utopian to think otherwise. 

The so-called ‘selfishness’ that leads us all, via our own suffering that one day becomes unbearable, to finally choose love as the direction of our becoming, is the seed of the so-called ‘selflessness’ that is the hallmark of love. Through love’s lens, Self and Other blur, are experienced as One. Fear holds them separate, protects one at the expense of the other but harms both in net effect. As felt love begins to blur these once useful distinctions, a quality of consciousness develops in us that can deal increasingly healthily with those irreducible issues of like, respect and trust that represent but one fertile set of challenges along the way.

At my current level of maturity, writing this riles me, makes me want to scream a rejection of all its implications. As a congenital utopian (perfectionist?), I want to actively prevent harm where I can. Witnessing injustice hurts. But it has been made plain to me, repeatedly, that striving to create a ‘perfect’ world requires me to exogenously change others. This is a flat impossibility and I just don’t have the right to manipulate people’s vectors of growth, even if there are victims at the other end of their choices. 

I have a long way to go and a lot to learn. This is five parts beauty, five parts sorrow.

* I should point out that I suffer from misophonia, and am therefore unusually over-sensitive to a wide range of sounds.

** This depiction of my relationship with the culture in question is not as nuanced as it might be. It reflects, honestly though simplistically, an emotional state that arose in a particular set of circumstances and stresses. Each prior visit provoked a very different reaction from me, far more positive.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Towards a less fervent work ethic

My translation of Heinrich Böll’s Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral:
In a port somewhere on a Western European coast, a poorly clothed man dozes in his fishing boat as an elegantly dressed tourist loads a new colour film into his camera to catch the idyllic scene: blue sky, green sea combed with pretty, snow-white waves, black boat, red fishing cap. Click. And again: click. And, because three times is a charm and you
re always better safe than sorry, a third click. The clipped and oddly hostile sound rouses the dozing fisherman. He straightens sleepily, fishing sleepily for his cigarettes. But before he can snag them, the tourist thrusts his own packet towards his new companion and, while not quite prizing a cigarette between the fishermans lips, slips one into his hand. A fourth click – that of his lighter – concludes the eagerly performed service. A sudden awkwardness sparks up from a barely detectable, certainly unprovable excess of deftly administered politeness that the tourist – sure footed in the local lingo – attempts to bridge by initiating conversation. “You’re sure to net a good catch today.”
The fisherman shakes his head. “But a little monkey told me the weather is just right.” The fisherman nods.
“So you are not heading out then?” The fisherman shakes his head. Rising discomfort rears its head in the tourist. Of course it is concern for the poorly clothed man that spurs him on, fidgets worry about a missed opportunity into his being. “Oh? Are you not well?” At last the fisherman moves from sign language to the spoken word.
“I feel great,” he says. “Never better.” He stands up and straightens out as if demonstrating his athletic build. “I feel wonderful.”
The tourist
s mien grows dark. He can no longer hold in the question that threatens to detonate his composure. “But why do you not head out?” The response is as immediate as it is brief.
“Because I was out already this morning.” 
“Was the catch good?” 
“So good that I don’t have to head out again. I caught four lobsters in my baskets and almost two dozen mackerel in my nets. 
Now fully awake, the fisherman softens and bends down to pat the tourist on the shoulder. The man’s troubled demeanour has moved him, however unjustified it might be. “I even have enough for tomorrow and the day after that!” he says, trying to soothe the foreigner’s soul. “Smoke one of mine?”
“Thank you.”
Cigarettes are popped into mouths, a fifth click sounds, the foreigner sits himself on the edge of the boat and relieves his hand of the camera. He needs both free to lend gravitas to his talk. “I do not want to meddle in your personal affairs,” he says, “but try to imagine that you head out for a second time, a third, heavens why not even a fourth, and you would catch three, four, five maybe as much as ten dozens of mackerels. Imagine that!”
The fisherman nods.
“You would head out,” continues the tourist, “not only today but tomorrow, the day after, yes every day the weather is good, three times, maybe four times a day. And do you know what would happen?”
The fisherman shakes his head.
“After one year at the latest, you would be able to buy a motor, in two years a second boat, in three or four years maybe a small cutter, with two boats or a cutter your catch would of course be much much bigger – one day you would have two cutters, you would...” excitement snuffs out his voice for a moment... “You could build a little refrigeration hut, perhaps a building for fish smoking, later a marinating factory and a helicopter for patrolling the area and reporting back to you about schools of fish and you could manage your cutters by radio then apply for a salmon licence and open a restaurant and sell lobster directly to Paris without a middleman and then...” Again his excitement overruns him, forces another unwelcome pause. Shaking his head, his heart’s deeps churned with thick emotion, his holiday exuberance almost guttered out, he gazes at the untroubled flood of rolling waves in which uncaught fish play with abandon. “And then,” he says, but again his voice falters. The fisherman pats him on the back as if consoling a child that has just choked on its milk. “And then?” he asks gently.
“Then,” says the foreigner with quiet fervour, “then you could sit peacefully here in this port under the sun, doze, and gaze out across the beautiful sea.”
“But I
m doing that now,” says the fisherman. “Im sitting here peacefully and dozing. It was all that clicking that woke me.” 
The tourist, recipient of an unexpected lesson, withdrew in contemplation. He had once believed that he worked so that one day he would no longer have to. There remained in him no trace of sympathy for the poorly clothed fisherman – just a little envy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Franz Hörmann’s Infomoney, Part IV

(Part III here)
The logic of [debt] is continued expansion. And that is almost a platitude of empires generally, that empires have an expansive logic built into them that obliges them to continue to expand, otherwise they kind of collapse inward. They can’t remain static.
Matthew Restall , source

As a process, civilization resembles a long-running economic bubble. Civilizations convert found or conquered ecological wealth into economic wealth and population growth.
William Ophuls, Immoderate Greatness

Yet we can’t stop the process. A capitalist economy, by definition, lives by growth; as Bookchin observes: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” We have, essentially, chosen cancer as the model of our social system.
Ursula Le Guin, source
Modern money is debt. Its logic is continued expansion for two mutually-reinforcing reasons:

1.   The civilisational/empire project is ‘congenitally’ about perpetual growth
2.   The perfect engine and/or fuel for 1. is interest-bearing debt-money creation.

Interest is exponential growth. Societies that systemically rely on it must grow else they collapse. This is the basic dynamic of a Ponzi scheme or economic bubble: if it isn’t growing, it’s collapsing. Because infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet, it follows that civilisation needs to discover, systemically, how to stay moving, how not to stagnate, by embarking on a new course of sustainable development. Therefore, because our money systems, financial institutions and the broader commercial world are each perpetually growing offshoots of the underlying civlisational dynamic, we need a profound revolution in all of these systems and down to the underlying dynamic before such a fundamental change of direction and emphasis becomes at all possible. Some call this a revolution of consciousness, and I agree with them.

The end of growth is a far more radical undertaking than most realise. Mere tweaks to the current system cannot induce it to function healthily on a path of sustainable development / steady-state growth. What is required goes against civilisation’s grain. Because our socialisation governs what we think of as natural and possible, a critical part of accomplishing this change of direction is education.

Education is currently an institution designed with perpetual growth in mind. It produces obedient consumers unschooled in imaginative and critical thought, incapable of direct democracy and mature citizenship, and thus prepared to subjugate themselves to meaningless jobs to pay for addictions skillfully foisted on them by the advertising industry to briefly assuage insatiable hungers generated by the hollowness of the broader system. Schools teach us what to learn, primarily by rote, not how to learn with playful yet sceptical enthusiasm.

In light of all this, Franz Hörmann’s proposal includes radical change to the education system. His tentative idea accomodates findings from brain researchers like Gerald Hüther and evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray, and educationalists such as John Taylor Gatto and John Holt. The ideas and findings of such thinkers and scientists cannot be realised in the current system, which is why no amount of evidence in support of them nor reasoned appeals to the elites have much effect. In something of a catch 22, the broader system has to change before it can want to revolutionise its education institutions, but education has to change to generate mature citizens who collectively give rise to and can sustain the type of new system humanity now requires. This double bind is echoed in Bookchin’s observation: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” As I have stressed elsewhere, it therefore falls to outsiders to make the attempt to get sufficient numbers hungry for self-motivated re-education in and then desirous of radical change.

Life coach

In an information money system, most of today's professions will no longer be needed. "Work time" (that time we humans spend doing something we don't want to do but must in order to secure a certain standard of living) will be significantly reduced, perhaps to as little as 8 – 10 hours a week.

However, there will be a new profession, though it will be more of a calling than a job: the life coach.

Mainly during the paradigm change, but also thereafter, everyone will be accompanied by an empathic, experienced friend who has 25 – 30 people in his or her care and helps them develop their potential. Today,
coaching is familiar as a brash management approach in almost all large companies. For our purposes, life coaching is closer to the mark. Moreover, life coaching will involve all personal assistance, training and support functions carried out today by bureaucrats who often toil anonymously under insufficient holistic knowledge (doctors, teachers, trainers, etc.). There is today a large number of highly empathic people who derive their greatest pleasure from helping others freely develop their potential and realise their goals and ambitions. Such people gravitate towards a wide variety of professions, for example Reiki practitioners, energy healers, shamanic healers, psychotherapists, physiotherapists, nurses, teachers, and countless others. And though in these professions there is an equally wide variety of attitudes and beliefs, those active in these fields are united by one significant factor: they are made happy by helping others.

The life coach concept embodies those aspects of the information money system proposal that are currently the least understood. Many people are discomfited by the idea that their entire lives would be accompanied by others, by people who would have a comprehensive overview of their life's course, their private goals and desires.

In response to this, we present below some answers to the most frequently asked questions

1) Can a life coach dictate terms to me?
Life coaches are supportive companions who can only make suggestions and offer positive incentives. They have no power to punish whatsoever and cannot therefore bring any force to bear. Their advice is simply advice to be considered, experimented with or rejected. Because one of our foundational premisses is that people are fundamentally good (friendly, cooperative, positively oriented), we want to establish a new society without force and punishment. In our view, it is normative social pressures and processes that encourage competitiveness and scarcity-based thinking, and subsequently fear and greed as drivers of antisocial and criminal urges. Once we are able to cooperatively produce the things we need and want in abundance such that we need not fight each other to acquire them, then envy, theft and deception will fade away as social behaviours. Psychological disorders (e.g. kleptomania) should be healed through compassionate and sympathetic therapies; "punishment as deterrence" is of little-to-no use in such cases.

2) Why would I have any need for a life coach at all?
The paradigm change we are now going through will be a serious psychological challenge for all of us. On the one hand, certain social assumptions will be displaced (e.g. the basic idea of the "moneyed person" as being superior to others, and the idea that money grows or "works"). On the other, other aspects of our contemporary understanding of life, the universe and everything will be subjected to profound changes (e.g. the basics of material realism, human health, concepts of body, mind and soul, but also what sort of life goals we set ourselves and how we choose to spend our time). Because these changes will confront us almost all at once, many of us will feel rather inundated, unmoored, perhaps to the extent that the process will place us in something approaching a state of shock. In light of this, it would make sense to have a competent and trusted person to turn to, a person who is already quite familiar with these changes, but one who also possesses the psychological communicative competence to gently and constructively guide those who trust him or her through the transition period. Their attentive and compassionate guidance can also prevent, lastingly, some of us from falling prey to emotional stress, panicking, and turning to violence (such as burning cars, breaking windows, robbing shops, etc.). Because we will have far more free time in the new society, it also makes sense that these trained life coaches are able to offer suggestions from a wide variety of sensible activities that are also fun. Later on, life coaches will propose further physical, mental and spiritual development, not as an attempt to manipulate but always as suggestions that their "students" can try out, accept or reject. A life coach is a health, nutrition and fitness advisor who is widely connected with all their colleagues who have their own specialist knowledge. A specialist among specialists. Life coaches can thus been thought of as a living knowledge network focussed on helping all people develop their potential.

3) Can my life coach lock my account?
No. Your life coach helps you to set up your own "economic system" by helping you draw up your "life contract with the whole community" (organising your personal price and tariff systems and shopping basket). They can also draw on the support of life coaches who are differently specialised than they. Life coaches cannot force you to do anything, nor can they punish you. As there is no power-based hierarchy in the information-money system, no one can benefit from manipulating anyone else. Everyone is on a level playing field as a direct logical consequence of the structure of the information money system (but only in terms of opportunity: this equality cannot result in uniformity of outcome, will not produce a homogeneous mass of identical people all wearing blue jeans and sneakers).

4) Is having a life coach optional or mandatory?
We want a new society without compulsion. However, seeing as we will in future no longer have doctors, lawyers, teachers, trainers etc. (i.e. professions whose practitioners know us today more or less as anonymous numbers), having a life coach is indeed mandatory: the role includes all these valuable functions (which means of course that holistic understanding for each individual's situation is ensured). Basically, life coaches negotiate our "life contract" with us as representatives of the rest of the community. Because "the community" functions as a dummy (proxy) in the life contract, the contract's content can be fully adapted to the particular interests and needs of each individual (see
cooperative individualism). But, should the "chemistry" between an individual and their life coach not be quite as desired, the individual is free to seek out a different life coach. The heart of the relationship is trust. And of course every life coach is also under the guidance of their own life coach. 

Me again. In conjunction with Hörmann’s Life Caoch idea, which is essentially about opening up education to be a seamless part of one’s entire life and not bound to schools and colleges, I believe the ideas of Sugata Mitra are a very good fit. He has tested his idea of self-organising learning environments (SOLEs) quite extensively across the world and the results are incredible, and is currently raising funds to implement them. These would be unmanned, safe environments for children to use as curiosity leads them, in sharp contrast to the mandatory and regimented school factories we know today. They would use what Mitra calls the Grandma Method (constant encouraging praise about accomplishments). This would be a screen in the SOLE connected to a positive and encouraging ‘authority’ figure on hand to assist the children should they feel they need assistance. If this has peaked your interest, his talks are fun to watch.