Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sightline schmoozefest


Today I was invited to an event at Sightline Institute. The topic of conversation for this event next month will be climate change. The email touted conversations and social connections as the way to begin creating change.
As a member of the Sightline community, you're part of a web of connections that make Sightline so effective, and that ultimately leads to change. 
I hope they're right.

Perspective Shift

This afternoon as I was working in the home office. The distracting whirr of the local leaf blower guy grabbed my attention as it usually does. This offending noise has been an ongoing situation. I have yet to figure out how to deal with it effectively. The guy can only shrug and say it is his job. This time he pulled out his cell phone and called the company he works for and allowed me to have my say with his employer who was surprisingly well versed in the city's noise abatement stipulations. She was far more defensive than she needed to be. I knew I was beat.

So what does this have to do with a climate change think tank? Follow the breadcrumbs.

We've got this lovely, noisy, energy-swilling device created to make work lighter. The device is manufactured because ostensibly it is filling a need in the marketplace. However, the work is nothing more than collecting leaves and moving them to trash bins. This is typically done with a rake. As I have personally discovered, with big jobs this is accomplished quite neatly with collecting the leaves onto a blue tarp, pulling up the corners of the tarp and hauling them to the proper dumping site. Good, clean work done efficiently with human energy.

Inject machinery usage, multiple energy requirements: electricity, oil for parts etc., and the noise pollution in a densely populated neighborhood, and what do you get?

You get some wiseacre, yours truly, left wondering why abandon the rake?

And again, what does this have to do with the good-hearted think tank?

Well, if I'm going to be encouraged to chat about the current state of climate change action, this is what I need:
  • I need a say in revising this version of human "progress" with machinery usage.
  • I'd like to have a conversation with the management company that only knows me as someone who complains.
  • I'd like to convince this guy to be concerned about his hearing that he will soon be losing. He doesn't wear ear protection. I'm not kidding; you can hear this machine from two blocks away.
  • I'd like to know if the wasted energy use and human impact explanations are understood.
Every human interaction, every expenditure of extracted industrial energy is open to scrutiny. Presumably this guy is getting paid for his labor. I am certain that the 45 minutes he blows leaves would be more effectively used raking. He simply shows up and does his "work" and there is no measure of effectiveness for the effort taken to redistribute leaves. (That's right. He doesn't collect them or dispose of them later. He just blows.) He gets a paycheck and so the economy is happy, but everything else suffers and continues unseen.

Allow me to be effective in one tiny area of life and I'd gladly show up to schmooze about how humanity can save itself from climate disasters--one leaf blower at a time.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The first free will offering of 2014


Last week I was leaving the market walking south on first avenue. I passed someone in a wheelchair and a couple steps later heard a faint, "Excuse me".  I slowed down to make sure the request was directed at me. "Excuse me", he said again with no greater insistence, just very calmly.

Often I don't stop, but this time my social filters told me--it's OK there is nothing to be lost here. I walked up beside the young man. I thought he was maybe in his early twenties. He immediately thanked me for not ignoring him like everyone else. He quickly told me his story. Diabetic, wound on his leg, no health insurance, etc. He showed me his wound. His right ankle was red and swollen with large scabs; I could barely look at it and told him so. I immediately apologized. What had gotten into me?

These chance encounters are so full of clues and I felt I was only playing a part in some little drama. When reality is too much I'm just in someone else's movie. It takes the pressure off.

He had a short stack of papers clipped together and a cell phone on his lap. He showed me the name of the drug he was taking. I recognized it as a powerful antibiotic. Underneath that sheet was a bus schedule with a list of figures written in black Sharpie. They were unidentified costs large and small and obviously adding up quickly. Every word from him was matter-of-fact with no hint that any of it was less than true. "I need ten bucks to get out of the hole", he said.

I reached into my bag and pulled out a couple fives. I said something that quashed the gods of self-consciousness, and so was more for me than him. "Some people would say don't trust him, but I don't give a fuck."

He looked up at me with a stare that said, I can't believe you just did that. And then he said something I knew was not necessarily part of the typical beggar's vernacular. "I'll pay it forward. I always do." Instantly he became a new person, more complete in my mind's eye even as I knew nothing else about him. I patted him on the shoulder probably more forcefully than I needed to and quickly continued on my way lest I became emotional and embarrassed.

My hyper imagination allows random feelings to live too close to the surface. It confuses me. I constantly need to check in with other sources to understand what the hell is going on. One of those sources is Charles Eisenstein.
I recently finished his book The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. It is a series of essays like no other I've ever read. Eisenstein is known for dissecting the underlying currents, or lack thereof, behind currency transactions. The connection I made with this person was so vague and tangential, but it wouldn't have existed at all had I not engaged in some kind of conversation. Of course, I could have taken out a couple bills and stuffed them in his hand and walked away without a word. Then what?

He would have gotten his money just the same, but he would not have had the opportunity to justify the validity of his need and thus to explain the context of his life. By refusing to comprehend my own involvement in a life as fragile as his own I am living a lie that is encouraged by a  silent currency transaction. And so, if one fails to connect the power of money with the power of human connection that power is hideously misused. It is a power that acknowledges only the necessity of the transaction and denigrates the value of the players as if they are only conduits, like having electricity without wires, it is just static that fills the air waiting to find a place to spark. Perhaps that is why it is popular to say that money is energy. This only points out how easily symbols are confused with the real thing. Money doesn't have energy, people do. (Sound familiar?) Redistribution of money sounds like a very unpopular political initiative, but if the comparison to energy is valid why not frame it as realigning chi? Get the flow going. Prevent stagnation for better health. Here the comparison works. Scarcity quickly becomes the lie it is.

***

If the value of money could somehow be conjoined with the idea of caring and sustaining the continuation of life, and simultaneously be dismantled from the idea that over accumulation is the requirement for well-being, then those with way too much of it might want to dispense with their excesses in order to regain some shares of love. What a concept! Obviously, I'm not afraid of sounding a little silly in order to make a point. Conjecture often gets to a version of the truth that works if only in writing. I'd like to think it is self-evident that money without relationship is a cold, dead _______________. Fill in the blank. You'll never get any love from it. This is obvious, but where is the movement?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Emotional fluency


Noticed I've been repeatedly listening to Pharrell Williams's Happy vid on YouTube lately. This is dangerous. You know me. I take a thoughtful approach. I seek to analyze. I look for connections.

And then,....sometimes I just sit back. I relax that mind muscle and wait to see what happens.

I've long known that intellect is highly overrated. It simply does not override all the things that take us for an emotional ride--the kind that helps us lose attachment to time and a certain self-consciousness--the kind that creates in us a sublime openness, a sense of freedom; and even as we experience it we know it is short lived, temporary, and still we don't care. In that moment is the most beautiful complete moment of being human. And silly as it sounds, we are embarrassed by what gets us there. Such is the beauty of a simple tune and a few images of cavorting, dancing individuals who appear carefree and entice us to do the same.

That is why happiness is so benign and its power so irritatingly undefinable. We're embarrassed to acknowledge that we can be so easily manipulated and yet love it and appreciate so much more. That moment when we decide we don't care is probably the most important threshold we will ever cross.

We are living in a space that belongs completely to us, and it is so benign and loving it can't be reached with criticism from any source or at any volume. When we are happy we are untouchable by all that. It is illusive and short lived, and that is its beauty. No wonder.

No wonder at all. 

Happiness then is a release from all the self-consciousness we believe we are compelled to feel, when in fact it is not our natural inclination, but an imposition we give in to grudgingly.

It is the edge of spring on the 47th parallel and longer days will soon be upon us and how are we going to fill them except with being .....happy???

Clap along.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Get up, stand up


And now dear reader, after several months of diversion, I'm going back to my original, stated purpose for this blog.
As you know I love to let you in on books I recommend, and today's book exemplifies the focus of much of my thought process in recent months. After reading it I felt buoyed by some astounding observations about American culture from a psychologist's POV.
The author is Bruce E. Levine, and his book is Get up, Stand up. He examines the destruction of collective self-confidence, and describes how as a society we have lost our strength to fight back against oppressive forces. There is a way to rally that energy and that is the beauty of this work. Without giving it away, I simply urge you not to hesitate to dive into this book. It just might fortify your outlook for the rest of the year.



Saturday, January 25, 2014

Skepticism and the balm of reason


My partner seemed genuinely disappointed that in my previous post I suggested self-loathing and distrust were endemic to the human race. By way of explanation, I pointed to my Catholic upbringing as the setting for many of my observations. The world as painted by that brush is one in which joys are few and their attainment heavily prescribed by a very specific course of action, usually on a daily basis. This alone is not so onerous, but the consequences of even a minor lapse in one's actions is justification for absurd amounts of punishment.

And so my internal red flags were raised even at a very young age and pretty much stayed there indefinitely. Rather than being angry about this, I now see how useful it has been to me in shaping my ability and desire to seek alternative ways of viewing the world and the people in it.

Nowhere have I found a more entertaining product of exploration than when I came across Sam Harris on YouTube talking about free will. This is a long vid, but worth every minute you spend listening to it. To give you a sense of my gleeful release from the burden of Catholic dogma, here is a sampling of the balm of reason that is so characteristic of him:

"If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you've lost your mind. But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Christ, you're just a Catholic."
 And thus vanished the last drop of cognitive dissonance in the religion bucket of my life. Hallelujah, brother!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Giving back: revisited


Back in November, outfitted in my semantic warrior armor I went into battle with the evils underlying the expression--give back.

I hit the nail on the head several times and yet I left so much unsettled. In my fervor to expunge the demon behind the words I did not go nearly far enough. Here is the rest of it:

For some time now I've been searching for some universal principle for how humans might better process their understanding of how to live well in this world. There are many a man-made mechanism to choose from as the founding causal agent of so much grief. The whole idea of worthiness and legal tender gets awfully murky and no more so than the words we use to deflect these entanglements.

So I kept moving these words over in my mind like a worry stone. Take from/give back, take from/give back, take from/give back.

What got me started down a satisfying, civilized path was a quip I made on Facebook last year. It was an observation I made about how differently a person is viewed in that time between birth and death. At birth we are welcomed into the world as a bundle of joy. It is expected that for our growth and development we must take nourishment from those who brought us here. Already the fluid line between giving and taking begins to define itself. Rather than continuing to work from inside this originating mentality of love and acceptance, it is made clear that at some point as one comes of age a break must occur and your taking from is now considered an evil dependence. A rite of passage celebrates the time when you will start learning all the many ways in which you must give back, because surely you will want to show how grateful you are for all the blessings bestowed upon you from birth.

So, dear human, you have just officially been outed. There is, in fact, nothing that you will give without incurring debt, not even life itself. Thus begins the cascade of corrective measures we spend a lifetime perfecting. If we're doing it right, we make our own way in the world. If we are careful we can even save for the future and willingly incur debt without fear. If, on the other hand, we are dealt a setback of immediate consequences we may need to accept charity, a word so heavily burdened with reluctant significance that even the depression era bum angrily spouts: "I don't accept charity."

I remember an old roommate once proudly claiming: "I've never been so poor that I couldn't leave town."

Everyone, it seems, has a story about their pride in surviving, winning, thriving, and doing it on as little as possible. I don't mind the applause. I love a great story. But avoiding material poverty isn't an honest method for inducing pride.

What would it be like if we could flip this coin? 

What if the bundle of joy attitude could last your whole life? I'm convinced that we fail to question ourselves about these ideas because we can't admit to our own self-hatred. There seems to be an inherent impulse toward self-loathing and distrust. Do we really believe that without a governance based on the fear of punishment that all humanity would simply run amok? And yet what is the belief in original sin but precisely that? 

If the life-long messages a person was bathed in were ones of love and acceptance even in the face of mistake or wrong doing, how different would the world be? How would this be tied to exchange and legal tender? Instead of every man for himself amid a hierarchy of social classes, what if groups tried to outdo each other in competitions of generosity? It does sound like I'm veering off into la-la land.

In order to make this fundamental change we couldn't even take our cues from the world around us. This is because from the animals we get the pack, the herd mentality and the pecking order--all hierarchies. Humans have never evolved a more effective social structure than what animal nature provides. We accepted it by default. Most of the greatest advice from one human to another is all about overcoming or coping with what is rather than creating what should be. Thus we perpetuate a learned helplessness about our own nature. Such is the burden of intellect and wisdom when confronting base animal instincts. We can describe and prescribe what should be done, but the realization of our emotional ideals remains ever illusive. 

How do we stay in the lofty spaces of our higher selves? Even if we can agree on what they are, protection and self-defense are powerful forces always ready to create a buffer for us. 

Only two choices

I've always been fascinated with the claim that ultimately there are only two emotions: fear and love. You'd have to admit that humanity has never managed to evolve away from fear and move closer to love. 

But this IS the era of the twenty-first century citizen, is it not? If not now, when? 

'Tis the season after all, the one time of the year when we are enticed to believe that another world is possible, but only temporarily, perhaps as a way to allow us safe passage into the new year. 

And with that, dear reader, this citizen is signing off for the year and wishing you a winter full of love. 

'til next year...

Ciao bella,
Marcella

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The fragility of complex systems


(I hope you didn't drown in my stream of consciousness during the last post. Now on to those signs of intelligent life.) 

If you've ever wanted an intelligent analysis of the probability of  some key future trends, look no further than the recent Seattle Times column by Jon Talton. He highlights the findings of a report by the McKinsey Global Institute.

Many of the trends in the lengthy bullet list are already happening or are well on their way to becoming reality. Regardless of how business leaders and policymakers react to the disruptions that come from these future events, very few "...account for the fragility of complex systems."

Talton cites several economists who see either a prolonged stagnation or an eventual recovery. For what it is worth he doesn't necessarily side with one or the other in this long-running debate, but one statement that remains questionable is:
"Policymakers must ensure that retraining is ramped up to maintain advanced workforce skills."
So we know that everyone must "...maximize their opportunities while dealing with the challenges." But hasn't the get-more-education-and-you-will-prevail sentiment long since been dismantled by so many who have already tried? The point is, if the predicted changes are happening at such an accelerated speed, how can any class of working individuals maintain their workforce skills?  Talton says business will need to be an early adopter. I agree, and yet business is not very supportive of expenditure on worker retraining. That is left to the public sphere that grows more circumspect about where to place its monetary emphasis.

Who can blame them? We are obviously in a bind between what is already happening, especially in terms of automated knowledge work, and the future displacement of people who have already trained well for a future that will now nullify the validity of their training. This is a cruel trap played out over and over again.

As I was discussing this topic with my husband I couldn't help but state the obvious:
"Bill Joy was right! The future doesn't need to accommodate as many people as will populate it and then what?"
Try as I might not to turn into a 21st century version of Chicken Little, I couldn't think my way out of this conclusion. Mr. Joy had it all pegged back in April 2000.

Do you trust the so-called business leaders? Policymakers? Hmmm, should I learn how to make a drone so I can help Amazon conquer the world in record time? Right to your door in 30 minutes! If speed of delivery by drone deposit is the best innovation our business leaders have to offer, we've got a lot more to worry about than being obsolete.