The Definition of Convergence

con·ver·gence
noun \kən-ˈvər-jən(t)s\

1: the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity; especially : coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas
2: the state or property of being convergent
3: independent development of similar characters (as of bodily structure of unrelated organisms or cultural traits) often associated with similarity of habits or environment
4: the merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

I often wonder if the mystics, gurus, shamans and prophets of history had some inside scoop on the social, technical and historical convergence within their own periods.  I also often wonder why more of our world’s leaders don’t take the time to reflect philosophically upon the readily available data of trends.  This data is about as up to the minute as it gets…IBM was quoted as saying over 90% of the entire world’s server storage was taken up with data gathered in only the last two years.  This is quite a mind boggle in itself, especially if one has any eye, interest or experience with recorded history.

My friend James Robertson sent me a link to one of the YouTube promotions for the rock band Led Zepplin’s one show reuinion in Great Britain . Here is a one of the seminal bands of the contemporary era, doing a very late in life concert.  In fact, they are so advanced in age that their early-on-dearly-departed-original-drummer, John Bonham (31 May 1948 – 25 September 1980) had to be replaced for the show — by his son, Jason Bonham.  Talk about convergence…genetic, social, artistic, atmospheric.  Jason Bonham has been quoted as saying it was “life changing” as has Jimmy Page, the band’s famous guitarist.  The trailers (look for the song Kashmir. I can only imagine the mood in London’s O2 Arena during the show.

Last year, MIT’s Sherry Turkle published a book whose title alarms me ever so slightly: “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other”.  She was the subject of an interview by Krista Tippet not long after, which can be heard (or the transcript read) at the Onbeing.org website.

One of the prime take aways for me in the interview is the following excerpt:

“…I have exposed children — so I’m very interested in the question of when the great psychologist Piaget was interested in the question of how do children decide what’s alive and not alive. In the world of traditional objects where you have bicycles and stones and dolls, he interviewed children about what was alive and not alive. Ultimately, they decided that things that could move, physically move—without an outside push or pull, were alive.

So that meant that, for example, they would incorrectly classify clouds as alive until they could figure out that the wind pushed the clouds. When the computer came, I studied a radical shift in how children went about solving that problem because they no longer cared—and this was dramatic—they no longer cared about whether or not something was pushed in terms of its movement. They cared about how this thing thought, what its psychology was, whether its psychology came from the inside, and that was stunning. That was stunning to watch.

By the time of the Darwin [museum] exhibit in 2006, I think, my daughter saw a Galápagos turtle, which had been brought up from the Islands. This was the life that Darwin saw.  She looks at this turtle — and she’s been exposed to robots ever since she’s been a baby, the Tamagotchis, the Furbies, the AIBOs. She looks at me and she says, because this turtle is sleeping, she says, “For what this turtle is doing, they could have just had a robot.”

It struck me that, from her point of view, the fact that it was alive mattered not at all. And I begin to interview—and actually went back to the museum several times and begin to interview kids and parents about the question of the turtles because the kids began to use a locution phrase to talk about the turtles, and the phrase they used was “a robot would have been alive enough,” which was a phrase that by that time I’d been at this study over 20 years and I’d never heard that.

That’s when I started talking about a new pragmatism among this generation of young people.  This is no longer philosophical.  Life becomes a pragmatic quality. Is this alive enough for this purpose? And this is important because we’re now talking about robots that will serve as companions to the elderly, robots that will serve as companions to children as kind of nanny-bots. This is the question being asked of them. Are they alive enough for this purpose? And I, of course, think this is the wrong question in many cases and that moment at the museum helped me frame, you know, helped me frame my thinking.”
___________

Turkle expands onto many different levels of how we as a society have placed communication technology, and has documented the reality of email, text and social media (Facebook) overload.

Turkle is one of many inviduals quietly documenting the “toddler steps” in the much broader Convergence of which technology, sociology, biology and psychology are part and parcel.  Toddlers frequently misstep and fall down.  That’s where I think we are.  I don’t think we’re smart enough on average to consider whether or not a single piece of technology will improve a high enough of a percentage to justify its purchase.

In my recent work with long time friend and political foil David Geer, one of the broader Convergence issues we’re in the thick of is technology in education.  I mean, just because we have a whiz bang SmartBoard on a class room wall doesn’t equate to whiz bang student results.  We’re finding, as are the manufacturers of technology for schools, that it isn’t the pixels available, it is still how the teacher brings the many disparate pieces of technology (and “old” school tech, like books and spiral bound paper notepads) together.

My friend Aldo Mazza speaks of this often.  We live in a contemporary space where students learn from teachers that may be on another continent, and are using Skype, Google+ and YouTube to deliver lesson content.  Both of us are pretty sure that this is less than ideal when compared to the visceral reality of in-person, teacher-right-next-to-student traditional learning.  Apologies to any creationists who have unfortunately plopped into this blog entry, but if you look at any level of Primate research, including the hours and hours of film produced by Jane Goodall, you can see that learning is best done two ways… by demonstration, and by experience.  That’s it. I believe it is also it for us.  Sure, we can get information from a recorded video, but the take away simply isn’t as deep as the real deal.

Though it may often feel and seem like convergence is here now, I strongly believe that it is the “process” of convergence that is here now.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for whiz bang, exciting technology, my current love being the promise of pliable OLED screen techologies and all the permutations this can offer.  But as society, as with any explosive expansion of an inexpensive technology (math calculators come to mind) I believe we must collectively take an honest look at the larger picture and adopt and shape techology that is relevant to our whole lives and to the betterment of our fellow earth dwellers.

For those who haven’t seen it, here’s a link to Microsoft’s vision of a useful future… one where every smooth surface has the potential to inform, communicate, share and entertain.

When we reach this point, I’d say the capital “C” convergence will have reached teenaged status.

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Light, Dark, Light

There are many research and design initiatives going on right now (from major players) that the mainstream media, and by default, the mainstream of human population is simply unaware.  And, at the same time, there are many research and design initiatives from the military industrial sector that are also going on right now that are not known about.

In fact, at this moment, the forward technological developments in Robotics, in Fusion energy, in Interfacing, in Bionics, in optics and in Computer Processing are accelerating in pace.  What does this mean to the “big picture”?

It means that there is a completely possible, extremely bright future for the planet and for the human race.  However, there is a gigantic caveat: and that is the extreme greed (and related nefariousness, like insecurity, misery and malevolence) so many individuals from our species have proven capable of — over and over again.

On the positive view, there are working models right now for reclaimed Energy, Banking & Finance and Education… and these are *working* models, and they are remarkably simple and progressive. The fusion development from Livermore Labs alone is astounding, and should be the poster child for the end of Big Oil, or at least the thoughtful transition of Big Oil to Big Environmentally Safe Energy.

Robotics not only assemble multitudes of products every day, but vacuum our home, mow our lawns, and allow remote exploration of nasty zones for the armed forces as well as other planets in our own solar system.

The progress of medical developments… repair parts grown from our own individual stem cells (plus the pace of bio-mechnical assistance)  combined with DNA progress may make Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of immortality by 2050 an unavoidable possibility.

But what does this mean?

It means we should be thinking about this, not about the next bite of a super sandwich.  It means we should be talking about it, and not allowing ourselves to remain a distant herd, moved about by an extreme minority.  It means we should be having this discussion within more forums than Charlie Rose, PBS’s NOW & Bill Moyers, NPR’s Speaking of Faith, CBC’s Spark, TED presentations and other very much “off-radar” venues.

The future is not only coming, folks, it’s here and has been here for at least 30 years, if only you are willing to lift your eyes up and see where the lines of development are headed.

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The Search for Relevance

I was reading through an old Joseph Campbell text this past weekend. (Campbell is reasonably well known for his comparative religion professorships, in part because he focused not in the differences within the major human religions followed on Earth, but on their myriad of similarities.)

These similarities of great religions are reflections of our similarities within the human experience.  And, within the human experience, at least in contemporary societies, one of these great similarities seems to be the mindless hand toss and reflection of information, without regard for A.) authenticity or B.) its effect on recipients.

Some academics and/or historians might point to the development of the printing press along with the simultaneous increase of literacy as where media gained its “mass”—to influence and spread content exponentially. Some might say it was Marconi and the radio, still others film, still others, video. Many point to the Internet as the final straw leading us all toward some sort of apocalyptic, self induced annihilation.

I believe it is much more simple. With information, it’s word of mouth, it always has been.  In our deepest past, one individual related an experience to another or a group, and that experience surely was modified and embellished over time.  But now that word of mouth is, in every sense of the concept, World of Mouth—a vast place where a majority of speakers barely know the tiniest fraction of listeners, and vice versa: bloggers, writers, commentators and pundits all retain a fair chunk of real anonymity, and (extrapolated from the anonymity) seem to practice a certain level of irresponsibility for communicating (or miscommunicating) at will.  It all comes down to an individual pushing the feed-out button: for one’s self, or as a representative for a larger group or organization…the result is that content is released into the “wild” of the internet, to ricochet, bounce, and get enhanced, trashed and/or adopted by thousands upon thousands.

So here we all are!

How does one filter?  For many, practical filtering still includes the time-honored “word of mouth” from a trusted source.  I mean, what is a forwarded link to someone you know, other than some type of personal endorsement for the content you forwarding? Your recipient knows you, and if you do not regularly abuse the privilege, probably considers the content.

However, there are huge numbers of folks who simply seem not to have the cultural, personal, technical or educational experience to assist in careful filtering—or vetting—of content.  With so many folks toting smarty pants phones in their pockets, there is no excuse for the astonishing level of half truths along with complete and total lies that explode across the internet in waves…waves that can be easily measured, and even graphed (visit the BlueFin group to be amazed at just how fast and how much content transfer can be measured)

In response to content abuse and overload, I am a rabid filter fiend.  I have content filters in all of my computer platforms, and have manually blocked folks who simply forward noise incessantly, without filtering it themselves.  (I am not a Facebook member, even if there is empty page with my name on it.)

In addition, I am a rabid researcher, seeking to verify content that piques my interest. This verification takes place not only with popular, topical search engine trolling, but also with available libraries like LexisNexis, Wolfram Alpha, along with Library of Congress and metropolitan library searches, whenever possible.  Once I feel that the content has been verified, I *might* share it with individuals, but only if I firmly believe the content may have resonance.

Resonant Moon by PBWilder

Resonant Moon by PBWilder

So what do I believe “resonance” is?

Main Entry: res·o·nance

Function: noun

1 : the quality or state of being resonant

2 : a reinforcement of sound (as a musical tone) in a vibrating body or system caused by waves from another body vibrating at nearly the same rate

3 : a vibrating quality of a voice sound

For me, resonance is a sympathetic and empathetic reception of ideas and emotional content as perceived by one or more individuals. Many artists strive to have it, politicians seem (historically) to pretty much sell their souls for it.  How does resonance influence relevance?

The first is the process, the second is the judgment of the process.

I was having a conversation with a friend—an actor, writer and comedian, about the content of an upcoming performance. I was asked what I thought, and my response was that the material was pretty darn funny; mostly due to the “resonance” of the topics. In fact, the topics that were treated (to a clever dose of satirical rendering) were ideas familiar to the mostly-local audience.  I told the writer I expected the show’s audience would leave feeling pretty good about where they live, as well as pretty amused at our individual and collective human weakness… in other words, the show has relevance, because it “resonates.”

Expanding the analogy to glean resonance (and therefore relevance) from the tsunami of everyday content can be challenging. There is simply too much information spewing from every conceivable source. However, if you think about it, applying a “personal filter” is not so terribly difficult. 

Neither is turning a media appliance off and going for a walk, or helping a neighbor, or where I live, helping (mostly hanging) out at a friend’s dairy farm.

Joseph Campbell’s long exploration lead him to believe that the search for meaning (within our short, seemingly inconsequential lifespans) is universal, and demonstrates many examples of this within all major earthly religions.

Because of our species’ almost insane curiosity, are we (as individuals) really willing to accept a single media blurt as the gospel truth, even if it is echoed thousands of time? And then to send it on, unquestioned?  To give up the search for meaning, just because we’re lazy??? I don’t believe we ultimately are—even if we are often individually guilty of such a dastardly practice.

(For example, just because a million people within said echo chamber believe that legislating the personal responsibility of others is morally and ethically righteous, it doesn’t actually make such legislation concretely practical, or morally and ethically righteous.)

I encourage most people I speak with (about this subject of mindless forwarding) to take a bit of time to seek out the “resonance”, and then verify the authenticity to expose the “relevance”.  At the end of the day, I believe this small and simple amount of discipline toward an idea’s credibility will positively influence many other decisions that affect not only the individual—but all those who are connected.

The quest for experience, and then the shared experience; the balance of head and heart—of intellect and sensory input combined with experience and emotional insight—is all we have to make sense of life.  It seems a prudent thought to use all these tools we have wisely, and to avoid encumbering our own ticking time clocks with unnecessary noise… and especially having the courtesy and prudent consideration to not to forward that unnecessary noise to others.

Here is my reformat of the “golden rule“…

“Forward to others only that which you would wish forwarded on to you.”

— Peter Bruce Wilder

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Are the barriers to personal success self-made? Or are they imposed by an aversion to risk?

In the seminal NBC sitcom, My Name is Earl, the gist of the program is Earl’s newly found belief in Karma…that Earl’s own past of petty crimes and selfishness have made his future impossible, unless he regains balance by righting all the wrongs he has committed, which (naturally) he has on a hand written list.

Though the program is clever, and mostly sad (not a small amount of Schadenfreude is at play here), at times the pure human resonance of short-sighted, self interests is palpable.  And, if I am honest, I also laugh a lot at the preposterous scenarios.

A National Public Radio article this past week grazed across the question, what if there are simply unforeseen obstacles for those who have, by decisions or by “the genetic lottery”, fallen outside the “chosen” and because of this, can’t move upwards.  Or sideways, for that matter.

A fascinating review of Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” in the New York Times (by David Brooks) states very clearly that nearly fifty years of ongoing class separation, irregardless of the warfare aspect, is hugely responsible for the ongoing increase in the wealth of such a small portion of the population.  I have danced many a jig around this phenomenon—as one of the prime culprits in the crushing of the middle class— in several previous blog entries, so I will refrain from singing the refrain again.

Instead, I want to explore something nearer and perhaps unrecognized by a larger pond of societal consciousness: personal insecurity and its relationship to the fear of not understanding.  Simply stated, advancement of ideas and concepts, and the hiring of those capable of creating such an environment, is thwarted by an unwillingness for so many individuals in management positions to face and/or be responsible for any portion of risk.

Full disclosure:  In August of 2010, I was told point-blank by my current employer, a regional financial services provider, that after five years of full-time and nearly twenty of sub contracting, my services were no longer required.  Before that moment, most of my function had been the creative communication, marketing and media presentation department, handling (and creating) everything from the broadcast, print, signage and online presence to assisting with internal team building efforts.  I was summarily replaced by a low-level outside agency of (then) eleven people.  In most ways, the parting was not unexpected, as the company remains extremely conservative in its corporate culture and nature, and was likely more than tired of being sand-blasted by my progressive push for a different, more productive type of team collaboration.  I have had multiple experiences of being immersed within Walt Disney, Microsoft, Mitsubishi and other Research and Design groups, as well as having a many years of the creative processes by building logos and marketing presence for many regional companies, and working with television and film producers to create and compose original music for their projects.

The bottom line is that I wanted everyone within the company to experience the sheer joy that working as a progressive team can bring, and where the outflow of product and service ideas, if nurtured and supported, brings increased market share and increased regard for the company by clients and potential clients alike.  Yes, it was and is a hard sell.  An extremely hard sell.

I have come to believe, with rare exception, that most corporate managers (and in fact MOST of us)—if we are truly honest—deeply loathe the idea of change… especially if it requires one to learn something new, or begrudgingly accept the reality of a new viewpoint.  The reasons are complex and have everything to do with the individual in charge and that individual’s personal history (and baggage).  We are what we’ve been, and change is tough.  Even the seminal Wayne’s World (ridiculous comedy) film has Garth (Dana Carvey) stating clearly, “…we fear change.”

And this brings me to the complex and mistaken realities of personal success being entirely self-made.  Even if one strives to be a positive contributor to society locally and at large, commits to life long learning and proactive involvement; even if one produces acknowledged services, even if one is perceived as capable of exceeding all aspects of a given assignment, there are barriers that are simply not self-made.  They are made by others.  And, some of those barriers are completely artificial, created from the combined insecurities of how those others perceive your abilities and contributions.

It seems like such a complete cliché, yet is played out, across the western world every hour of every day.  One has to wonder, how much personal compromise is required to even get a foot in the door of a potential employer.  How much “because this is what ________________ wants to hear” is necessary or really beneficial to the company, or society at large?

There is an avalanche of information defining the steps needed to foster corporate environments that are much more conducive to long-term success: creating a progressive, happy staff and, as a result, happy customers.  This information comes not only from individuals like me, but small, lesser known companies, like IBM, Google, Ben & Jerry’s and more.  So why do so many companies keep making management and human resources barriers they don’t need to?  Why do they keep preventing really great human additions to their company from A.) achieving great things or B.) even being allowed to try?

I have come upon a simple conclusion: “risk.”   The willingness to take a risk, and then be responsible for it is something apparently foreign to contemporary management (remember, “…we fear change”).  Sure, when the “risk” is a back room, probably illegal casino level gamble—and you have tax payer “too big to fail” back up—perhaps the “big gamble” may seem less risky (especially if your PAC contributions are in place).

But, on a smaller regional and local level—and a personal level—success and risk are lovers; yin and yang; too interrelated to be ignored.  (Yet, we so ignore it, flopping down the plastic and buying the kids what they are whining for.)

At the risk of redundancy, I restate the obvious: companies prepared to take a bit of risk, a bit more trial and error on the part of their development of goods and services are in a better position to reap astonishing rewards. And, that same risk extends to hiring and retaining individuals outside the comfort zone, because an army of Yes Men doesn’t do any real leader any good.  The Leader already has that answer, and repeating it in unison only drowns out the genuine cries of what customers really want.

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My opinion? Madison Was Right.

My pal Suzanne Roberts reminded me of the practical genius of U.S. co-founder, James Madison.  There is so much behind Madison, as well as his mate Dolly Madison, that escapes contemporary society, and at the very least contemporary politicians, long at the leash of special interests, PACs and Lobbyists. I recommend looking in on James Madison’s thoughts at your first convenience.

There’s nothing like a little perspective, especially as we contemporary citizens seem to reinvent the wheel ad infinitum…

  • Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
    • “Political Observations” (179504-20); also in Letters and Other Writings of James Madison (1865), Vol. IV, p. 491

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Madison
    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/James_Madison

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_founding_fathers_overview.html

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Coming of Age

I believe one of the most overlooked aspects of human development and aging—at least over a single life span—is the peer, socio-economic, and trivial realities of those within a similar age bracket. I have observed this played out in more than one crash-and-burn marriage, where the two partners are of enough an age difference to not understand each others cultural references. Though this may not be surprising with the cliche of older male younger female marriages, I have observed the very same thing happening where the male is the younger. I would guess the cut off would be a decade in age difference. Though this is hardly a realistic prognostication of how a marriage will work out, for me it plays into a larger thought: political leadership, specifically but leadership in general.

At this point in time, the current sitting President of the United States is 50 and a few months years old. Doing the math, this signifies that his formative years begin in the 1960s, a period of nearly insane optimism, creative development, violent social movements and the beginning of the calcification of the two extreme poles of (so-called) liberal and conservative view points.  By contrast, Mitt Romney is 14 years older, Newt Gingrich is 18 years older. Both of these men came of age in the 1950s, a time of nearly insane witch hunts by McCarthy and Company, and when, (according to author Bill Bryson) between 1946 and 1962, the United States of America detonated just over 1000 nuclear warheads (testing, by golly), “including some 300 in the open air, hurling numberless tons of radioactive dust into the atmosphere…” And that was just the U.S. Many more “tests” were conducted by (then) the USSR, China, Britain, and France.

In addition, the good old 1950s cast an evil eye on teenagers, artists, communists, animators, cartoonists, musicians, poets, and generally anything having (even remotely) to do with sex or challenging 1950’s Christian doctrine (which apparently can have a revised, personally expedient interpretation, often quite different from the ancient text statements attributed to Jesus Christ).

These contrasts couldn’t be more apparent when extended to the two houses of Congress, where the same age related disconnect is still in play.

Seemingly all parties are in some sort of vague agreement about the economy, though the fingers of blame point in wildly around the circumference. Older folks (in government) seem to almost unanimously blame liberal thinking, a direct by-product of 1950s indoctrination of their youth. Younger folks blame the establishment, and the rich, a direct by-product of the 1960s indoctrination. Of course, both of these positions have a handful outside the percentage, but if you look closely, I believe it plays out.

The absolute irony, for me, is that the 1950s “ideal”the much vaunted and often worshiped idea of a “Donna Reed’s Kitchen” was largely created by unprecedented liberal government programs from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the last sitting president to have enjoyed a near monarchy, which is likely why so much was accomplished during his reign. (Another irony!) F.D.R’s programs ultimately created middle class wealth the likes of which the entire world had ever seen. Again, from Bryson: “…by 1955 the typical American teenager had as much disposable income as the average family of four had enjoyed fifteen years earlier. Collectively they were worth $10 billion a year to the national balance sheet.”

These teenagers, now presidential candidates, apparently missed the reality of FDR’s “meddling”. They thought (and think) their good fortune came exclusively from the bristling free market economy of the period, a complete disconnect with the number of factories making hardware for military use (world-wide armament industries), and the reality of massive public works systems (the entire U.S. Interstate system, for example) paid for by tax dollars. (Europe did similar investment, albeit with U.S. coin, a.k.a. the Marshall Plan, but in Europe—they built out public transportation. Who’s laughing now?)

And about those tax dollars. The top bracket in 1954, those making over $200,000 a year, was 91%. That is correct, 91%. The top bracket has been dropping, for the most part, ever since, placing a year over year increased burden on that astonishing middle class, and those offspring hoping to maintain or improve upon it. Before you gasp at that 91% top bracket leaving the rich destitute, know that the average family income in 1954 was $4167. Which left those making $200K or more, after taxes, with many, many times the income of the average family. By way of getting my head around this, after decades of inflation, that 1954 average of $4167 equates to $35K per year in 2011. Additionally, $200K in 1954 would be $1,683,427 in 2011. The top bracket of income over $379,000 per year in the current U.S. Tax code pays 35%. And for final reference, put back in 1954 dollars, that $379K would be $45K, or over ten times more than the average family income.

I believe we, as human beings, make decisions and take positions almost completely from our experience—and our greed. There isn’t anything in our recorded history to suggest otherwise, from cave paintings in France to the eons long parade of financial and political scandals.  Again, pure irony that we constantly devolve into such counter productive aspects of human behavior.  On an extremely grand scale, Brian Swimme, co author of the public television documentary “Journey of the Universe” is widely quoted for this statement about the culmination of human scientific knowledge within the history of everything:

This is the greatest discovery of the scientific enterprise: You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rose bushes, giraffes, and humans.”

Of course, you could also look at singer songwriter Joni Mitchell, who nailed it more simply with “…we are star dust, we are golden” in 1969.  But I digress.

I believe the common experience of a given age group deeply influences the decision-making of that age group. It is ironic, and a bit disturbing (to me), especially in a national election year that many of the primary players have their reality at a time and place (the 1950s) so completely submerged in justification and rationalization that it took years to recover—and maybe we never did: the armaments industry (total world spending on military expenses in 2009 was $1.531 trillion USD), man-made environmental disasters, world-wide poverty, human rights, freedom of expression, the separation of church and state… the list is endless. (Ever had a really good look at an open pit mine? I cringe every time I pick up my treasured smarty pants phone, laden with metals extracted in this manner.)

As for the 1960s,  the decade surely brought its own issues, many of them more easy to define, but I have to believe there was more of a call to action, and an organized dissatisfaction and questioning of the Status Quo. I believe that sometimes the status quo can provide the simplest path, but it is rarely the most providential, or the one that yields the widest benefits for mankind as a whole.

There is nothing wrong with the statement/challenge: “prove it.” In fact, I think most politicians should have a line by line bibliography of each of their statements, supplied to our apparently ignorant, and apparently easily manipulated population.  Oh, the joys of apathy.

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Finders, Keepers…

…Losers, Weepers.

(This is the return volley toward my previous post about Optimism.)

I have been thinking about this decades-old elementary playground chant for a couple of weeks. Though I know nothing about the actual, factually demonstrated ethics of Liberty Mutual Insurance, Inc., I personally find their”responsibility project” television advertising campaign thought provoking and uplifting, and a good primer for this essay.

In my personal experience, there is always hope.  I don’t believe I am alone in this:

 “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.”

– Abraham Lincoln

 “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

– Thomas Jefferson

 “I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.  I do not judge the universe.”

– Dalai Lama

I have often quoted George Santayana‘s seminal “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it” within my blog entries. Because humanity is enduring yet another worldwide round of challenging times, I believe it important if not critical to realize the world has almost always been enduring challenging times. Think about it. Throughout our species’ time on this planet, wars (along with natural disasters) have resulted in the deaths of untold millions of individuals.

And, in retrospect, I muse aloud:  just because I “find” something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is “mine” or that I have some sort of cosmic right to “keep” it. Expanding the concept, just because another nation has vast resources that my nation deems capitalistically important, doesn’t give my nation the right to those resources, by might, subterfuge or any other means, and no matter what spin is put upon the justification.

I fear this is where many of the very wealthy lose perspective. Just because they find themselves in with one of the more controlling seats for the entire world’s economy doesn’t mean the world is actually theirs to control!  In stark contrast, as well as historically relevant, the native populations of North America really didn’t understand the European concept of “ownership.”

Long before the first European settlers came to America, Indians had developed an advanced economy. Indian tribes traded extensively with each other, and many had some form of money. None, however, had any institution like the “land title” of the Europeans. They had no tradition of “alienating”, or relinquishing all rights, to land. Many thought that this showed Indian social development to be more primitive that that of the Europeans. But the Native Americans had developed sophisticated legal systems that incorporated treaties, elaborated rights and specified ways to resolve disputes.
A great many treasures of art and oral literature have been passed down from prehistory. Indian cultures and religions were enmeshed with nature, for they felt themselves entwined with the universe. Mother Earth and Father Sky were more than mere expressions; they represented the Indians’ very being. Land, a part of the universe, belonged to all, particularly the tribe. Individual land ownership did not exist, since all were entitled to the fruits of nature. Users’ rights were protected and specified in various traditions, but there was no such things as land “ownership”. Generally, individuals could clear as much land as needed for farming; this land would remain in a family’s possession as long as they continued to use it. Once it was abandoned, anyone else could cultivate it.
Indians readily understood and entered into treaties concerning rights to land use, but the idea of land sales was alien to them—and it is likely that, because of difficulties in translation of each others’ languages, neither the natives nor the settlers understood this vital difference, at first.
When President Franklin Pierce offered to buy the lands of Chief Seattle’s tribe, his response illustrated how abhorrent the idea of giving up land was to his people:
  • The great — and good, I believe — White Chief sends us word that he wants to buy land. But he will reserve us enough that we can live comfortably. This seems generous, since the red man no longer has rights he need respect…
  • So your offer seems fair, and I think my people will accept it and go to the reservation you offer them. We will live apart, and in peace…. It matters little where we pass the rest of our days. They are not many. The Indians’ night will be dark. No bright star shines on his horizons. The wind is sad. Fate hunts the red man down. Wherever he goes, he will hear the approaching steps of his destroyer, and prepare to die, like the wounded doe who hears the step of the hunter…
  • We will consider your offer. When we have decided, we will let you know. Should we accept, I here and now make this condition: we will never be denied to visit, at any time, the graves of our fathers and our friends.
  • Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every clearing and wood, is holy in the memory and experience of my people. Even those unspeaking stones along the shore are loud with events and memories in the life of my people. The ground beneath your feet responds more lovingly to our steps than yours, because it is the ashes of our grandfathers. Our bare feet know the kindred touch. The earth is rich with the lives of our kin.
In his speech, Seattle accepts the inevitability of the plans of “the Great White Chief”. But, nevertheless, he asserts his people’s moral right to walk on the land whenever they wish, forever. This, of course, is not compatible with the Europeans’ concept of “private property” in land.

European colonists played “finders, keepers” on a scale unparalleled in human history. Caucasian North Americans are primarily descendants of this practice, one we still enjoy today—along with all the municipal, state and federal taxation levied upon the concept of “property.” And, within this concept of property (both in early Europe and in worldwide colonization since) rose the practice of fiat currencies and several centuries of debt-based financial expansion.  In fact, the economic health of humanity across this entire planet is tied to debt… or “the value of a promise to pay back a loan with interest.”

(If you haven’t yet taken 48 minutes to view Pierre Gagnon’s seminal “Money as Debt” presentation, I suggest you strongly consider it.)

To me, the irony of the “finders, keepers” perspective comes from how our species derives a true, deep and satisfying happiness.  Surely, a high level of mental health and balance cannot occur while other members of humanity are undergoing suffering due to economic disparity, and the resulting greed-based violence that takes place as individuals and groups attempt to “take by force” economic prosperity from those they believe have it.  In retrospect, our first-world obsession with ownership— with having “things” that are ours alone, may not be the best model for long term success as a species.

Here in Vermont, many residents felt the full blow of unfortunate circumstance during the unprecedented quantity of rain associated with 2011’s hurricane / tropical Storm Irene. I have marveled at how much community effort has taken place, and continues to take place on behalf of those affected. Volunteers from all over the state, and many from outside the state and from Canada have worked to clean up the devastation. This is the message, again: we are capable of helping out. For the most part, this type of generosity has taken place for ages, where individuals and communities are compelled to help in the wake of unexpected natural disaster, or—as highlighted by the Sept 11th violence—unnatural disaster.

I believe we are each born with an innate sense of wanting to help (and do the right thing) wherever possible.  I also believe we get the crap kicked out of this innate sense by life experiences that often seem predominately “out to get us.”  (This would be the “losers, weepers” reality.)

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that pessimism (as opposed to practical preparation) gives evil a significant toe hold in the course of human and historic events.

In an attempt to continue to define an ongoing rant of mine (the constant, tasteless barrage of “no news is good news” from most media channels), I beg anyone who will listen to actively choose optimism, even if it seems imprudent at first to do so. And you should spread the word to others to do the same.

“Luck favors the prepared” is a saying that effectively exists within every human language on earth.  It is one of many human observations that ring true.   So are, I believe, the concepts of optimism and hope.

We will always be the recipients of a reality stemming from our own historical choices as a species. Though the great masses of us really have no practically-connected direct choice,  the choices of those in leadership positions have defined and will define where, what and who we are right now.

There are many voices who have loudly stated that we cannot reverse the state we are in, and we now need to adapt to the oncoming changes in world environments, world economy, and world politics.

I think this perspective might be accurate, but it is also a non starter for cheer-leading those ideas to not only reverse—but vastly improve—the state we’re in.

I have the privilege of knowing and having known so many brilliant men and women, individuals capable of not only conceiving of astonishing development possibilities, but with the expertise and technical ability to fulfill those concepts, making them as real and as plain as your fingers.  Knowing these folks, I personally believe nothing is impossible (with the vain and singular exception of having the ability to snap my fingers and suddenly have the outward appearance of George Clooney’s better-looking older brother.)

I ask that you think about “finders, keepers” and how you live your own life through your own decision making.   Are the decisions you make really for the common good of the largest number of people likely to be affected by the decision?

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