Preoccupation with being great is the province of mean spirits, small
minds, and shriveled hearts. Greatness creates winners and losers; it is
destructive and divisive; it sets some over others; it foments instability
and war. Greatness is jingoistic; it promotes stasis and decay; it is the
stuff of dictatorships and mass rallies and manic unthinking crowds.
History is a vast prospect of fallen empires and the shattered remains of
Empty vessels make the most sound!
Being magnificent is far superior to being great, even though it is derived
from similar linguistic roots. Magnificence connotes great good,
excellence, beauty, to which I add open-hearted magnanimity of spirit,
sharing, caring, and empathy. A culture that attracts people from the
nations of the world becomes more diverse; it is this diversity of persons
that combines, creating a synergy to produce cultural magnificence where
the divide between rich and poor is narrowed to insignificance, where the
majority of the population is prosperous, where the nation is united and
more harmonious than not, and where the nation conserves its natural
resources, and is a responsible steward of the Earth.
Cultural purity is like a mono-culture: prey to disease, narrowness, tunnel
vision, inbreeding, tending to produce a population of vitiated homunculi.
Cultural diversity empowers a nation with a cornucopia of ideas and
innovation and other ways of thinking. Diverse cultures produce a stronger
people that are, as a whole, more vibrant, healthy, intelligent, and
enduring. By standing united together as a welcoming rainbow-people we
aspire to be a peacefully magnificent, magnanimous, and munificent nation.
Secret of Success
Dr. Joseph Henrich distilled his anthropological research into his 2016
book The Secret of Our Success, which describes
how culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and
making us smarter. He has found that larger more interconnected
societies are more innovative, productive, and technologically
sophisticated.… Isolation causes cultural knowhow to slowly
Henrich demonstrates that we depend on our collective cultural knowledge
for survival, which is the reason why modern castaways are almost always
unable to survive in a state of nature without the usual cultural supports.
Our collective cultural knowledge is what Henrich refers to as our
Young children will experience continuous, and eventually massive,
improvements in their cognition, depending strongly on where and with
whom they are raised.
Humans are inclined to copy spontaneously, automatically, and often
If humans are a cultural species, then one of our most crucial
adaptations is our ability to keenly observe and learn from other people.
Central to our cultural learning is our ability to make inferences about
the goals, preferences, motivations, intentions, beliefs, and strategies
in the minds of others.
Studies show strongly that children favor cultural learning over
Machiavellian exploitation, even when their payoffs and personal
experience point them away from copying others.
…, language has at its core a rather serious cooperative dilemma: lying,
deception, and exaggeration. Lying with language is cheap, at least in the
short term, and is a potentially powerful way to exploit and manipulate
others. The more complex a communication system is, the easier it is to
lie or shade the truth, and get away with it. If this cooperative dilemma
is not addressed, the evolution of language, whether by genetic or
cultural evolutions, is rather limited. The reason is straightforward. If
others are using language to trick or deceive me, I can avoid this by not
believing anyone or even by not listening to them at all. If to avoid
being manipulated, everyone stops listening, then there’s no reason to try
to communicate. Language will go away or remain limited to those
situations where deception or manipulation are too difficult.
In our species, the extent and sophistication of our technical
repertoire―and of our ecological dominance―depends on the size and
interconnectedness of our collective brains. In turn, our collective
brains depend heavily on the packages of social norms and institutions
that weave together our communities, create interdependence, foster
solidarity, and subdivided our cultural information and labor.
Once we understand the importance of collective brains, we begin to see
why modern societies vary in their innovativeness. It’s not the smartness
of individuals or the formal incentives. It’s the willingness and ability
of large numbers of individuals at the knowledge frontier to freely
interact, exchange views, disagree, learn from each other, build
collaborations, trust strangers, and be wrong. Innovativeness does not
take a genius or a village; it takes a big network of freely interacting
With the spread of the Internet, our collective brains have the potential
to expand dramatically, although differences in languages will still
prevent a truly global brain. The other challenge to expanding our
collective brains on the Internet is the same one that we’ve always faced:
the cooperative dilemma of sharing information. Without social norms or
some sort of institutions, self-interest will favor individuals who cream
off all the good ideas and insights from the web without posting their own
good ideas and novel recombinations for others to use.
Open Source Everything
Free Open Source Software (FOSS) is the solution to last two bullets above.
True FOSS is licensed using the General Public License (GPL) version 3,
which ensures that the code remains open and cannot be closed. Why would a
programmer expend effort writing FOSS code when there is no chance of
monetary reward? Mainly, programmers do so for the prestige of being the
author of the system and to become part of the distributed team that is
pushing the project forward. Writing such code is a good advertisement for
one’s programming skill and doing so fosters a community of people all cut
from the same cloth, so to speak. FOSS has become so successful that even
Microsoft, a bastion of closed proprietary software, has started dabbling
in the technology, since the company has seen its share of the market
The other innovation that will improve our collective brain is the
decentralization of the Internet infrastructure. As of this writing, the
Internet consists in centralized servers under the control of corporations
that mine personal data for corporate benefit. In version 3.0 of the
Internet, users will connect peer-to-peer to share data via encrypted
protocols; this encryption will preserve data, preventing it from being
altered or deleted. MaidSafe and Solid are
two projects working in this direction, though there are others with
similar intent. MaidSafe is building the decentralized SAFE Network and
Solid is working on a network of Socially Linked Data (SoLiD).
There is no charge to browse the SAFE Network, yet it solves the problem of
free-loaders by requiring the use of Safecoin for network transactions like
data storage. It encourages participation in the network by paying
providers of data storage services in Safecoin digital currency.
Generally, we are better off when we work peer-to-peer and have more
control over our information. Centralization of services puts us at risk of
having our data misused and our identities compromised by security flaws.
Naturally, decentralization isn’t Utopia either, but it does offer better
protection when control is distributed rather than lodged in a single
Though the data management protocols be distributed, the transport
infrastructure is owned by a few very large corporations or national
entities. At a stroke, it is possible to switch off the Internet to deny
connectivity to populations, effectively lobotomizing the collective brain.
Privately owned wireless mesh networks can mitigate this problem, but the
collective brain would be running at a very small fraction of its full
potential. Global interconnectivity is the weakest link in our Global
As with our data, we should decentralize our political organization to the
local level. As someone once said: All politics is local. At the
national level, what we see is merely a reflection of our collective
selves. We must put our own houses in order at the local level to see real
change at the national level. If we want to see change then we must become
involved locally as individuals working together for a better collective
Outcome of the British referendum to remain in or leave the European Union
(EU) is the end of an uneasy forty-three years. However, the referendum
only asks voter views on whether or not to leave the EU. To actually exit
the union requires invoking Article 50 of the European treaty, which must
be done by the British government. I suspect that a lot could happen
between now and then, once voters’ remorse takes hold and is fomented.
In the Beginning
It all started more than forty years ago with various trading agreements
between Britain and other nations and a desire to join with the European
Economic Community (EEC). In 1973 Edward Heath led the Conservative
government, which was responsible for taking the country into the EEC that
was known as the Common Market that eventually became the European Union.
British membership was blocked for several years by Charles de Gaulle,
president of France. As a young man, I didn’t think that joining the EU
would be good as it would result in a loss of sovereignty and cause a break
with our Commonwealth trading partners New Zealand, Australia, and others.
It was loss of sovereignty that bothered my young mind; I didn’t like the
idea of our country being ruled by faceless bureaucrats even farther away
they already were.
In 1973, we weren’t asked if we wanted to join the EU. We were dragged into
it by the Conservative government. I think that the reason why they didn’t
hold a referendum was because they knew that they would get the answer they
didn’t want to hear. A majority of people would vote not to join.
In 1974, inflation was high and the Conservative government was struggling
against a miners’ strike. Eventually, Edward Heath called a general
election, failing to secure a majority. Harold Wilson and the Labour
Party returned to power and fulfilled a promise in 1975 to hold a
referendum on continued membership of the EU.
It was all backwards; the referendum should have been held before entry into the EU, not afterwards. Result of
the referendum was an overwhelming vote to remain. I suspect that most
thought that since we were in then we might as well stay in. Since then the
British relationship with the EU hasn’t been smooth. People resented some
of the seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations.
Between Then and Now
Labour unions in Britain were strong, perhaps too strong, and confrontation
between the Trades Union Congress and the government wasn’t infrequent.
Also, the economy was weak in the 70s. All of which contributed to the fall
of the Labour government and a change to Conservative party power led by
Thatcher broke the power of the labour unions and gutted the manufacturing
base of the country. A similar thing happened in the United States under
Ronald Reagan. Net effect of this is that today the social conditions are
similar on both sides of the Atlantic. Unemployment is high in the old
manufacturing heartlands and global corporations have transferred
operations to countries where labour is cheap and regulation is lax.
Since the Thatcher-Reagan era there is far greater inequality between the
rich and poor. In Britain, I don’t know how young people are able to
make a start in life; the cost of living is extremely high. Housing and
other basic necessities are out of reach of most ordinary people.
Employment is erratic and precarious. In Britain there is now a class of
employment call zero-hour contracts that mean a person is on-call for a
potential job, which means that it is impossible to plan or manage
one’s life—you don’t get paid unless you work and you
must be available to work at all times—it is a vile way to be forced
to live. It is also the age of the gig economy when few people have steady
Outside the main metropolitan area of London and Southeast England, social
conditions are grim. Successive governments and elected representatives
have ignored the needs of people struggling to survive from day-to-day, and
are sadly ignorant of the reality of life at the bottom. As one person is
reported to have said to The Guardian newspaper:
If you’ve got money, you voted to remain; if you
haven’t got money, you voted to leave.
Outcome of the referendum on the question of whether to remain in or leave
the EU was a killing blow to an uncaring political elite by an alienated
electorate. It expressed a desire to grab back control of destiny from
distant bureaucrats. It was also a failure by the Establishment to
communicate the facts about membership in the EU. Even some areas that
received a lot of development investment from the EU voted to leave,
despite those areas being signposted as receiving European Union financial
Overall, it’s an ill-conceived mess that will imperil the state of the
United Kingdom as Scotland will seek to secede. It is also a chance to do
something positive for the future, but it is more likely to result in
instability due to ineffective, wastrel leadership. Still, despite a
period of political turmoil, it isn’t a done deal until Article 50 is
The Brexit vote is an indictment of neo-liberal economics. Elites will
attempt to protect themselves at the expense of everyone else. It is all
just another part of the ongoing blow-back against the global political and
corporate establishment. With reference to William Gibson’s
post-jackpot world in his book The Peripheral,
this is it and it just getting started. Welcome to the Jackpot!
Buddhism has many variations on a theme, just as all the major religions in
the world are variations of a single theme. It seems that what was once
simple becomes complicated. It is an inevitable process that began even
before Siddartha Gotama died. His followers wanted certainty in an
uncertain, changing world. Our human mind tends to complicate what is
simple. Buddhism started out as a sleek, clean-bottomed craft that quickly
became fouled by dogmatic barnacles, metaphysical weed, and other wishful
encrustations of various kinds.
In his book After Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor has
done for Buddhism what Jefferson did for the Bible. By stripping away the
superfluous, retaining only the material that can be directly attributed to
Gotama, Batchelor makes what I think is a successful attempt at refactoring
Buddhism for our secular age, producing a good contrast between dogma and a
more flexible, practical approach to life.
After Buddhism is a book I recommend highly. You
don’t have to be a Buddhist to extract value from its reading; it is
a book for anyone. You don’t need to read further either; however,
below I try to show the essence of Gotama’s discovery.
2,600 years ago, Gotama lived a sheltered life of pampered luxury. After
being shocked by seeing the suffering of the common people he went in
search of the meaning of life. After years spent mortifying in various ways
his flesh and spirit, he concluded that suffering results from our
reactivity to our condition arising from birth, aging, sickness, and death.
This is the context for a fourfold task.
To comprehend suffering,
To let go of the arising of reactivity to suffering,
To behold the ceasing of reactivity, and
To cultivate an eightfold path that is grounded in the perspective of mindful awareness and leads one to become self-reliant in the practice of the path.
In other words:
Let go of what arises in reaction to life.
See its ceasing.
Act! By skillful living that engages the world as it is by cultivating the path.
Action of the fourth task is to travel along the eightfold path by cultivating:
Batchelor says: I translate sammā as
complete rather than as the more usual right. It is what the
term literally means; the phrase sammā
sambuddha, for example, means a completely awakened one, not a rightly
awakened one. Complete lacks the moralistic overtones of
right and suggests how each element of the path can become an
integral part of a whole (integral is from the Latin integer = entire). The
eightfold path is a model for a centered life, which is balanced,
harmonious, and integrated instead of imbalanced, discordant, and
fragmented. It is not a recipe for a pious Buddhist existence in which the
practitioner does everything right and gets nothing wrong.
He continues: The goal of the fourfold task, I would argue, is to lead an integrated
life. It is perhaps for this reason that cultivating the eightfold path is
presented as the fourth facet of this task, even though it is already
implicit in the other three. Logically, an integrated life is the outcome
of having embraced the suffering world, let go of reactivity, and beheld
reactivity’s ceasing. From this still and empty space one then responds with intuitions, thoughts, intentions, words,
and acts that are not determined by reactivity. In practice, though, the
moment in which reactivity ceases is also the moment that allows a
complete view (the first branch of the path) to emerge.
Half the struggle is recognizing that there may be a better way of doing
things. Gateway to a better way is the fourfold task. As Batchelor says:
a person’s view of himself is determined by that to which he is
dedicated. If a person is dedicated to worldly things, only talk of that
interests him, it is all he thinks and ponders about, and he associates
with similar people.
Having passed through the gateway, a journey begins. You enter a stream, a
free-flowing life between the banks of the eightfold path…. Stream
entry, like conversion, is a shift in one’s core perspective on life
rather than the attainment of a degree of enlightenment or holiness. The
eightfold path is an ongoing, continuous course of training to help develop
and maintain equanimity that results in peace and tranquility, even when
surround by turmoil.
Once started on the fourfold task, one begins to
open to new vistas, new associations, and a more complete view.
Main reason for the violence of our culture is the incessant glorification
of violence that becomes ingrained into our psychology. It is a continuous
task to rid our minds of various pollutions that taint our psyche. Once
evil is seen, it can’t be unseen. Once evil is heard, it can’t
be unheard. Once evil is spoken, it can’t be unspoken. Once evil is
done, it can’t be undone. Once evil gains a foothold within our mind
it has a tendency to grow and ooze from us at unexpected, unguarded
moments. We can purify our minds by turning away from greed, hatred,
craving, and delusion by cultivating embodied attention, mindfulness,
concentration, empathy, and compassion.
Skillful speech is about avoiding the use of foul language and saying
hurtful things to other people. When we use psychoactive drugs or alcohol,
we are more likely to say things we later regret. When we allow anger to
become ascendant, we are more likely to utter spiteful language.
Action or inaction depends on our forethought. The only thing that
matters is whether or not you can perform a task. When the inclination to
say something cruel occurs, for example, can you resist acting on that
impulse? If you can, you have succeeded. Whether your decision to withhold
the barbed remark was the result of free will or not is beside the
Complete livelihood is one in which we have means of securing the
necessities of life. It is not a life of conspicuous consumption nor one
of grinding poverty. It is a life in which he have enough to meet our daily
needs with contentment. Obviously, complete livelihood for hunter-gatherers
is completely different to that needed for someone living in a modern city.
Still, it is a life with enough, a middle way between poverty and excess.
Effort relates to how we approach each task. Complete effort is what one
needs to do a good job. It is summarized by the adage: If a job’s
worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Give every job your full
attention and complete it to the best of your ability.
Batchelor says that: Mindfulness means empathizing with the condition and
plight of others as revealed through an enhanced reading of their bodies,
which comes from the stilling and brightening of one’s own awareness
through meditative discipline. Making mindfulness other-centered disrupts
the innate tendencies of egoism and thus contributes to the second task:
letting go of self-interested reactivity.
He continues: As a pragmatist, what ultimately mattered to Gotama was
not whether this or that opinion about reality was true or false but
whether the opinion supported or impeded the practice of the fourfold
task. Far from impeding the practice of the task, the world-view of modern
science provides it with a sound and fertile foundation. The practice of
mindfulness, for example, is liberated from the dogmatic constraints of
India metaphysics and afforded new possibilities that extend its benefits
beyond the narrow context of the Buddhist religion.
Concentration requires us to calm our turbulent minds, creating enough
headspace to establish mindfulness so that we can pursue our goals in the
Everything begins with the recognition of a problem followed by meditation
that enables us to clearly see ourselves as we react to the effects of the
world on our senses. In seeing how we react, we can consciously choose
not to react with spastic lurches and, instead, observe our non-reactive response.
All of which is followed by skillful response to our world in which we
choose the wisest and most compassionate thing to do.
Civilization is a thin veneer. Democracy is the varnish on the veneer of
civilization. Both democracy and civilization require continuous
maintenance to balance light against darkness; left unattended, greedy
megalomaniacs will subvert democratic government for their own selfish ends
by any means.
Only by eternal vigilance can we prevent the balance from tipping in favor
of darkness. At present, we live in a period of hypocrisy and imbalance of
power. Our civilization and democracy are crumbling; public goods are being
stripped away and sold to the highest bidder. Whole populations are
poisoned by wicked disregard for public health. Earth itself is being
wasted by the unwholesome pursuit of profit at any cost; the rights of
people crushed beneath corporate juggernauts that have been given
trans-global rights greater than nations.
Individually we feel impotent and insignificant, unable to check the forces
arrayed against us. Individually! As individuals, we are divided and
conquered; it’s an ancient and effective strategy. United we stand and
together we can keep power honest and push back against the more egregious
infringements of our liberties. But what can we do?
Jim Hightower offers some answers that you can read in full
In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that
grass-roots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal,
environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the
slipperiness of victory and want Washington to get it right this time. So
over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this:
What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people?
What specific things can my group or I do now?
Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show
up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose
something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available
time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do
something—and every bit helps….
What this means is to be actively, creatively, engaged with your world
instead of being a passive consumer chasing after the next big thing.
Remember, we get the government we deserve. If we’re sitting watching
sport, drinking beer and eating pizza, caught up in the latest celebrity
scandal, or fascinated by the latest Weapon of Mass Distraction then
we’re not watching what is being done in our names in shadowy back
rooms off the less frequented corridors of power.
Through being inattentive, we are shocked to discover that our land has
been seized through the legal stratagem of eminent domain, allowing a
corporation to lay a pipeline, pollute the water and destroy the ecosystem.
Inattentive, we discover that a public park that was purchased with public
money is to be sold in a sweetheart deal for commercial development at
nominal cost to the developer. Inattentive, we discover that an
international trade agreement has been negotiated in secret and passed into
law thus subverting our sovereignty, allowing global corporations to have
more rights over the way we live than we do.
But what can we, each of us do?
Seek refuge in community: a church, a lodge, a cooperative association.
Involve yourself helping others. Find something that you are comfortable
doing. By turning up and being present, you will eventually find something
that you can do to help us all. Once you are comfortable working with
others, there is the model for organizing social movements developed by
Bill Moyer, who spent his life as a full-time
theorist, writer, organizer, consultant, educator and participant in social
movements focused on a wide variety of issues on three continents.
He created the Movement Action Plan (MAP), which he turned into a handbook
with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer; it is published
by New Society Publishers at www.newsociety.com under the title Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social
Doing Democracy is a valuable book. MAP assumes:
A chief cause of social problems is the concentration of political
and economic power in the few elite individuals and institutions that act
in their own self-interest.
Participatory democracy is a key means for resolving today’s awesome
societal problems and for establishing a just and sustainable world for
Political and economic power ultimately rest with the majority
population; the powerholders in any society can only rule as long as they
have the consent or acquiescence of the people.
The most important issue today is the struggle between the majority of
citizens and the individual and institutional powerholders to determine
whether society will be based on the power elite or people power model.
For those actively interested in social justice, Doing
Democracy describes a plan of action for the four roles of social
activism, and the eight stages of social movements:
Stagnation: It is a time of standstill and decline.
The political and social environment is corrupt, insights or ideas from
people of principle will be met with apathy or rejection, but they must
remain true to their principles.
Difficult Beginnings: The birth of every new
venture begins in some confusion, because we are entering the realm of the
unknown. It is our duty to act, but we lack sufficient power; we must take
the first step.
Assembling: This is a time of gathering together of
people in communities. Strong bonds must be maintained by adherence to
appropriate moral principles. Only collective moral force can unite the
Critical Mass: It is a momentous time of excess of
strong elements. One takes courageous acts not by force, but by seeking
true meaning to accomplish the task, no matter what happens. Maintain
alliance with those below. It is like floodtimes, which are only
Retreat: You may now be suffering from an inner
conflict based upon the misalignment of your ideals and reality. It is
time to retreat and take a longer look to be able to advance later.
Vengeance and hatred could cloud your judgement and prevent the necessary
Changing: The forces at work are in conflict,
leaving the path open to change. Far-reaching clarity about the future and
great devotion are required. The transformation should be made gradually,
nonviolently, without discordant and excessive behavior. The results lead
to a progressive new era but are not evident until the change has already
Success: Victory seems to have been achieved.
Everything looks easy. Just there, however, lies the danger. If we are not
on guard, evil will succeed in escaping and new misfortunes will develop.
You cannot fight for righteousness with corrupt motives, self-serving
interests or deceit.
Continuing: Success now comes through long-standing
objectives, traditions and enduring values. Apply just enough consistent
force to affect the situation. The movement turns into a new
At each stage, Moyers summarizes the status of each facet: the movement,
the power-holders, the public, the goals, the pitfalls, the crisis, and the
conclusions reached at that stage.
Finally, Doing Democracy explains why you can believe in the power of
social movements, supporting its arguments with analysis of each stage of
five of the most recent major social movements in the form of case studies:
The U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
The Anti-Nuclear Energy Movement.
The Gay and Lesbian Movement.
The Breast Cancer Social Movement.
The Globalization Movement.
Moyer draws attention to an important corollary that human society is made up of three interconnected and
interdependent parts: individuals, culture, and social systems &
institutions—the I, we, and it. They are different
aspects of the same whole; consequently, one can’t be transformed for long
without the requisite changes in the other two. Therefore, even if a
society’s social systems and institutions were transformed to the peaceful
paradigm, the change would not last without a parallel transformation of
that society’s individuals and culture. Similarly, the good society is
unlikely to develop without individual change because, outside of
dictatorships, social system and institutional change usually follows
personal and cultural change on the part of at least some of the
In short, our government and cultural institutions are a reflection of our
collective selves. We must lead by example.
This morning, I went to see the 2015 British thriller movie Eye in the Sky directed by Gavin Hood, starring Helen
Mirren, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Aaron Paul; it is excellent, tense,
understated, and a world away from the usual Hollywood pabulum.
It is a movie that realizes the moral and ethical dilemma posed by the
philosophical thought experiment of who to kill for the greater good—is it
better to kill one person to save many? The movie packages the questions
raised by Reverend Barbara Prose during her 7 June 2015 talk entitled
NoRisk, No Reward.
Technology amplifies existing conditions, good or bad. I hope it is true
that technology imposes the psychological and emotional pressure portrayed
on the upper echelons of the kill-chain. People who start wars should
certainly see and feel the consequences of what they wreak.
We who condone the actions of the imperium reap what the imperium sows: the
imperium sows dragon’s teeth with every new technological advance in
warfare, with every launch of Hellfire or other advanced weaponry. Nothing
changes. When I was young, the news of the day was of political squabbles
about the balance of power in the construction of dreadnought-class
battleships; a decade later, nuclear weapons and submarines; then
space-based weapons; now robotic warfare and mass surveillance in a
global panopticon. It is a history of failure at peaceful coexistence. It
is a history of profiteering by warmongers and overlords. We can’t afford
the costs of war.
We create new, more fearsome dragons. If you do see Eye
in the Sky, imagine the consequences of the final scenes on the
ground. Who helped care for the collateral damage? What will replace the
grief? Will the consequences for the Imperium be good or bad? What happens
to all those individual links in the kill-chain? What is it like to
live in a landscape of fear?
Terrorism and general unrest in the world are symptoms of failed and
failing social policies and imperial ambitions. Governments like those of
the UK and US keep doing the same thing expecting different results, only
to make the world a less safe and more brutal place to live.
Instead of attempting to treat the symptoms with medieval remedies that
never have and never will work, why not try something completely different
that creates a more equitable, healthier environment in which the
inhabitants have no motivation for revolution or terrorist activity?
It is good that we give to help others, yet there is often corruption along
the path from donor to recipient, sometimes so bad that the given resource
doesn’t reach those in need. Our charitable institutions can grow
until the bureaucratic vested interests of the operation consume
unreasonably high percentages of the charitable resources. Charity comes
with strings attached, especially foreign aid. Packaged interventions fail
to work as well as they did when the pilot program was managed by committed
program designers; or they fail because the intervention is ill-conceived
and totally inappropriate for the local circumstances. In some instances,
packaged interventions can’t work because they rely on infrastructure
both social and material that doesn’t exist.
In his book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from
the Cult of Technology (Public Affairs, 2015), Kentaro Toyama
explores the problems with packaged interventions and the delusion of quick
technological fixes. He discovers that technology doesn’t fix;
what it does is act as an amplifier for existing conditions, a force
multiplier. Technology is agnostic; it amplifies dysfunctional processes as
well as it amplifies efficient, effective operations. Having reached this
conclusion, Toyama investigates the root causes of successful
interventions, discovering the Three Pillars of Wisdom, the magic that
makes things work.
Three Pillars of Wisdom
Heart, or Intention.
Mind, or Discernment.
Will, or Self-control.
The Three Pillars of Wisdom apply to persons, groups, and organizations.
Changing intention is hard to do, but it’s the heart of social progress.
The world’s most meaningful social shifts—from slavery toward
emancipation, from racism toward equality, from routine warfare toward
routine peace, and from women-as-property toward gender parity—reflect
ongoing mass changes in human intention.
Knowledge is one requirement for discernment…. But discernment also
requires the ability to make shrewd judgements about people and
opportunities that go beyond bookish erudition….
Discernment—or prudence, judgement, practical wisdom, Greek
phronesis—is not easy to teach or specify, yet
we all know people who are sagacious decision-makers.
Self-control allows us to follow through on what we intend or what we
discern to be the best course of action. It’s one thing to yearn for
the security of savings; it’s another matter to muster the will to
save. It’s one thing to recognize the need for a vocational skill;
it’s another to expend time and effort to obtain it. It’s one
thing to know that collective action can overcome repression; it’s
another thing to risk imprisonment to organize.
Will-power becomes stronger the more it is exercised successfully. The
Three Pillars of Wisdom underpin the intrinsic growth of the individual,
group, or society.
Intrinsic growth [is] about improving intention,
discernment, and self-control of the individual, groups, and
ultimately society. For example: No amount of
educational technology makes up for a lack of focused students, caring
parents, good teachers, and capable administrators. So what is it among the
latter that matters? Focused students have the intention to learn; the
discernment to listen (selectively) to supervising adults; and the
self-control to study. Caring parents intend to nurture self-sufficient
children, recognize good schooling, and intervene just enough to hold
educators accountable. Good teachers have their students’ best interests at
heart, make hundreds of small judgements every day to enhance learning, and
do all this without losing their cool in a potentially adversarial
classroom. And capable principals intend, discern, and act to manage
Nurturing intrinsic growth is hard work. ...for
anyone wanting balanced progress, for anyone with self-transcendent
motivations, for anyone genuinely seeking social change, the most
meaningful efforts are those not boosted by technocratic values. Packaged
interventions are relatively easy. Nurturing individual and collective
heart, mind, and will is hard.
The hard work is mentoring with patience and engagement, be it one-to-one
between mentor and mentee or as a team mentoring a group of people to
become self-sustaining agents of their own destiny.
Kentaro Toyama has written a page-turner of a book that identifies the root
causes of successful intervention amply supported by research, data, and
example programs that accomplish what they set out to do. Reading
will fill in the background behind this short summary.
Capitalism in its current form of endless growth is unsustainable and a
danger to our overcrowded planet. It is made worse by conservative politics
in shape of the U.S. Republican party, British Conservative party, and
neo-liberalism in general that forever tries to maintain the status quo,
struggling against anything that isn’t business as usual seeking
maximum profits at minimum expense, damning the consequences. It is an
evolutionary dead-end, similar to giant jewel beetle, Julodimorpha bakewelli, that is deluded into mating
with beer bottles; the male giant jewel beetle can’t see beyond the
shiny dimpled brown surface of the bottle and recognize that it isn’t
the biggest most attractive female beetle. And so it is with rutting
neo-liberals, they will rape and pillage anything that looks like it could
turn a fat profit, thereby feeding their greed for more, more, more,
causing ever greater environmental destruction as they look after Number-1
at the expense of everyone else.
In his book The World We Made, Jonathan Porritt
imagines a sustainable world in a story told through the eyes of teacher
Alex McKay and reaches the conclusion that a divided world is a world
lacking in empathy and that empathy is what is needed to bring people
together to work for a sustainable future. Empathy doesn’t work if
everybody is too busy looking after Number-1 at everybody else’s
expense. The more unequal a country is, the less content, settled and
sharing its people are. Injustice corrodes the human spirit; it always has
done, and it always will. The United States is an extremely unequal
society that generates a lot of social unrest and discontent.
Finally, Porritt says through his character McKay: When I was training
to be a teacher, we had a brilliant psychology professor who was part of a
pioneering movement at that time to focus public policy on the early years
of a child’s life. His words about what children need have stayed
with me throughout my life as a teacher: Limitless love, total security
and lots of fun and games—forget the rest! If it’s a better world
we’re after, just make sure that every child reaches the age of six
feeling radiantly happy. This chimes with the conclusions reached
by Michael Marmot, president of the World Medical Association, in his book
The Health Gap: social injustice and inequality
has negative effect on everyone in a population from plutocrat to pauper.
There will always be inequality; it is impossible to eliminate entirely.
However, it is possible to reduce extreme inequality and achieve a more
harmonious balance between the rich and poor. Marmot’s book, The
Health Gap is both descriptive and prescriptive.
Poverty is like an oubliette, a pit into which the fallen find it extremely
difficult or impossible climb out. As an entrepreneurial friend once
remarked to me: The only thing standing between me
and disaster is a sack of money. Our lives and living are ever
precarious. My doctor once said that: Life can turn
on a dime. Both poverty and depression are no respecters of
persons, from which recovery is fraught.
What can we do to help those who are less fortunate to make ends meet and
enable them to attain to better-paying employment? Obviously it would help
if people were paid a living wage for their labor and we enjoyed a
healthier environment in which to live and that we developed a more caring,
nurturing society than exists in the tattered remnants of these United
States of America where life is cruel for a large proportion of the
Individually we do make a difference; our actions ripple outward. Action as
a community has greater effect than it does at the level of the individual.
All Souls Unitarian Church is a diverse community of more than 2,000
individuals; it is a large village comparable in size to
Hingham in Norfolk, England.
Effect of All Souls is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Yes, there are inevitable inequalities in all societies, but in
unenlightened societies the gaps are much, much wider than they should be
for the health of everyone from the ultra-rich to the ultra-poor. To
improve the economic and physical health of everyone, we must provide
social support and opportunity for every person to improve physical and
economic well-being. Ultimately, we must reduce the gap between rich and
poor—greatly reduce, not eliminate.
All Souls works in many areas. One important focus is on alleviating the
pernicious effects of poverty on our community.
Partners In Education
Partners in Education make a positive difference in the lives of children,
mainly children in less affluent parts of town where the need is greater.
Volunteers work on special projects and participate in activities that
enrich the lives of children:
Lunch Buddies have lunch once a week or more with a child who needs a
friend, someone to talk to, someone to listen.
Reading Buddies partner with individual children for one hour a week to
help develop a love of reading and broaden world views.
Math Tutors work with one student for one hour per week to develop and
improve math skills.
Field trip chaperones accompany children on special outings.
Volunteers help with all-school activities such as family dinners,
neighborhood activities, sports, and Parent-Teacher Association.
Autism class aids work with the teacher in the classroom.
Drivers transport children on All Souls vans or buses to special events
Volunteers teach mini-courses in chess, scrabble, art appreciation, music,
dance, knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, scrap-booking, woodworking,
photography, aerobics, golf, fishing, or writing.
Due to short-sighted politics, schools are often overcrowded,
under-staffed, and under-funded. Partners in Education work to mitigate
these negative effects. But, even in the best of worlds, PIE would still be
necessary to improve the lives of children who are our future.
Community Resource Bank
All Souls Community Resource Bank exists to directly face and respond to
the causes and effects of poverty on our communities by building
relationships and working together to fulfill immediate needs by collecting
resources in the form of material goods, so that they can be systematically
and efficiently redistributed in an effort to serve our members, our
outreach programs, and the larger community.
In a place like the United States of America that touts itself as Number-1
and the Leader of the Free World why on Earth would a community need a
Community Resource Bank. Well, here’s why:
1 in 4 children in Oklahoma goes to bed hungry each night.
Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation for food insecurity.
84 of every 100 students in the Tulsa Public School System qualifies for
free or reduced cost lunches.
1 in 5 of Tulsa’s total population lives in poverty according to the US
Census Bureau. In many areas of North Tulsa, the poverty rate is from 25-
to 50-percent and above 50-percent in some areas.
Tulsa emergency food programs report an overwhelming increase in the
number of needy people coming to them for assistance.
Indeed these are dismal statistics for the wealthiest nation on the planet!
Worse, this is only one aspect; the US is a leader for all the wrong
reasons in other areas of social injustice.
During the regular church year, September through May, Wednesday evenings
begin with a shared meal with special attention paid to dietary needs.
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are always available.
The Jackson Family Dinners program is a partnership between Iron Gate,
Partners in Education and the Community Resource Bank. Every third Tuesday
of the month, volunteers come together to serve dinner, bag and distribute
groceries to Jackson Elementary School families-in-need.
Each year All Souls does a lot of good in the community, but is it possible
to do more? Instead of treating symptoms we need systemic change in the
nation. To achieve change in the system we must lead by example, which
means we must work locally to improve our community by showing what is
By asking the question: Is it possible to do more? we envision that
we can improve on the status quo because the answer is usually: Yes we
can. We begin by imagining a different way of living, one that is
spiritually warmer, more embracing and caring yet respectful of personal
autonomy and individual dignity. We’re not imagining utopia, which is an
impossibility. We are imagining a middle way to better communities in which
the inhabitants know each other.
I was started along this train of thought by recent articles in the parish
newsletter from persons who live precarious lives trying to make ends meet
each month. I wondered how persons with low income could improve their
lives while maintaining their autonomy, dignity, and sense of self-worth,
Accepting charity is socially awkward, but a helping hand is welcome when
it is offered unencumbered.
Community dinners help to dull the sharp edge of hunger during the lean
period each month; these are provided free by the Ministry to those who
really need them. All Souls also provides child care and a safe
So, I wondered if these evenings could support a time of study; a
study-group for persons working towards higher education degrees; a chance
at better employment and professional improvement. All Souls is richly
endowed with professionals of many kinds, school teachers and university
professors who might be able to donate time as tutors and guides to those
who need help with their homework beyond that offered by their peers. Even
studying in a group is better than doing so alone; Wednesday evenings
provide the opportunity of being together for these purposes.
Thinking about this possibility led me to wonder what a more formal
community of All Souls might look like.
Communities of All Souls
All Souls church is big, where it is difficult to know everyone. Smaller
satellite communities of All Souls might work to bring like-minded people
together in affordable living of no more than seventy-five tiny houses or
cabins around a community center. By affordable, I am thinking of very
inexpensive that would be suitable for persons of limited means.
The community center would be a more substantial building, the place for
group activities and the place containing the shelter from violent weather;
it might even support a small library and office area with computers,
printers, and scanners. Everyone could know each other and if there were a
mix of retired persons, working persons, and young persons there would
always be someone to keep watch on the neighborhood.
It may even be possible to use the community center as a day school so that
children of school-age wouldn’t have to go far from home. My father was a
lecturer in education; he noticed a marked difference between church and
state schools when he administered the practicum for his students. Staff of
church schools seemed to provide better service to their students because
they had more altruistic motives. State schools were more impersonal
and overloaded. Schools for All Souls would be funded by the community,
perhaps staffed by retired teachers and volunteers, and, because it is a
school for community children, the class sizes could be kept small and
operated similar to the
method of instruction.
Ideally, it would be best to have an All Souls neighborhood integrated with
trees, green space, and community gardens. If ideal isn’t possible then
mobile homes or tiny houses on reclaimed industrial land might work.
Property taxes are usually lower for mobile homes, as they would be for a
four- to five-hundred square-foot tiny house.
By bringing willing people together in a neighborhood we eliminate
isolation, encourage mutual support, and village life within the impersonal
city. By succeeding, we show what is possible, leading the way for others
to follow. Naturally, it won’t all be plain sailing; there will be tempests
and troubled waters to navigate. By respectfully working together, the
inevitable difficulties will be resolved eventually. Successfully operating
communities of All Souls can then be replicated in other places,
particularly if the process is documented, warts and all, for others to use
Laurence Scott’s book The Four Dimensional
Human is an exploration of the ways of being in
the digital world. Our hyper-connected lifestyle detaches us from here
now more thoroughly than reading has ever done, for example. Additionally,
we are in thrall to our network interface. Reading Scott’s book
evoked feelings of horror and the importance of knowing how to work the
off-switch. Connection to the network is simultaneously convenient,
beguiling, and insecure. I’ve seen the addiction in full spate and so
How to feel love beyond belief: In this sense, love is the strong affection
for the well-being of all persons within our community. In particular, it
is the warm, affectionate feelings that arise when we assist those around
us to grow and become fulfilled human beings. In practice it is easy to
feel love beyond belief by becoming mentor to a young person. Well-being of
our children is the responsibility of us all. By mentoring our children,
all of our children no matter what ethnicity, we are building a strong
foundation for the future of everyone. In giving of ourselves to help others
get a strong start in life we receive intangible reward more valuable
than gold, a love beyond belief rises glowingly within to shine through all
How to be a Mentor
To be a mentor is both easy and difficult. Starting is difficult; it is
important to set oneself up for success. After the horror of the shootings
at Columbine High School, I decided I needed to do something. I chose the
school-based program of the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America (BBBS).
Working under the aegis of BBBS ensured that I was protected by their
background checks, policies and procedures, and ensured the protection of
the child mentee. In the school-based program we meet during school hours
in full view of school staff. Also, it limited the weekly meetings to an
hour, an easy commitment for me to make. Commitment means being consistent
and reliably doing what you say you are going to do for at least a year,
Even easier is to become a partner in education at a local school. Again,
this only requires the commitment of an hour or so each week while school
is in session. Reading Buddies help children to read more fluently. Lunch
Buddies visit and have lunch with their mentee; eating together is a very
social activity that builds friendship.
Any kind of consistent mentoring has a strong positive influence on the
child. Just paying attention, listening, chatting with the child,
exhibiting a genuine interest in the child’s feelings and doings helps to
build their confidence and promote their self-worth.
Mentoring is very easy. All one needs to do is to be wholly present with
attention focused on the mentee. Even silence can be companionable and most
mentees are quiet and reserved at first; time is required to build a
relationship. Useful activities are reading or drawing, playing chess,
checkers, or Scrabble. Sometimes I have used portable projects.
In an electronics suppliers, I saw a printed circuit board cut in the
stylized shape of a Christmas tree with a kit of parts to add flashing
lights. I bought two kits. One I assembled at home to ensure that it
worked, the other I took to my mentee along with my toolkit. We spent an
hour together as I showed him how to place the parts. I did the soldering
to avoid the risk of him burning himself or overheating the components; he
cut the excess wire from the components using diagonal cutters. When we
attached the tree to the 9-Volt battery, the red Light Emitting Diodes
flashed on and off. He went away clutching a completed project. I had the
spare electronic Christmas tree in my bag as a backup in the event our
joint effort failed to work.
My mentee was very keen on soccer. I don’t know anything about the sport
other than it employs a ball. He explained the rudiments of soccer to me. I
made a video recording of his instructions and practical demonstrations
then turned it into a DVD that could be replayed on a television.
On other occasions, I use a set of Choose Your Own
Adventure books to help develop reading ability. These books are
illustrated by line drawings. One day, I took a set of colored pencils with
me and encouraged him to color the pictures; he said that he was given
school supplies by the school for Christmas that included colored pencils
and that he would color the other pictures with the help of his younger
sister. He read the book to me. Sometimes I read to him while he ate his
lunch. As he reads, I correct his mistakes—it is very important to be
calm and even-tempered; I never sound angry or impatient. As we read, I ask
him questions about the story, about what he thinks some of the more
difficult words mean. Before smart-phones, I carried an electronic
dictionary with audio pronunciation. Now I have the Oxford English
Dictionary on my Android, so that we can check the meaning of words and
hear the correct pronunciation. At the end of our reading sessions,
sometimes I tell him that I’m going to give him the book and write
inside the cover: From the library of John Doe,
replacing John Doe with his full name. He can have his own book that
becomes the foundation of his own library. I’m not supposed to give
tangible gifts, but I think it is important for children to have books of
their own, especially if they come from impoverished families who
can’t afford to spend scarce money on non-essential items. I
don’t just read the text, I act with my voice to catch the tenor of
the story and actions of the characters. When we encounter words that are
hard to pronounce, I break them down into their component parts by slowly
sounding them out then direct him to try the pronunciation. If he
can’t quite manage it, we try again, and again. Usually, he has it
after three repetitions. Sometimes I stop later on and ask him to pronounce
the difficult word again. When there are pictures, I ask what’s
happening in them and ask him to point out specific features. When I ask a
question I wait for an answer; if it isn’t forthcoming, I ask the
question in another way or use a similar example. I treat my mentee as I
would were he my own son.
I have found meditation useful. I endeavor to project an aura of calm
relaxation. I am open to any question and strive to be without judgment.
And I am ever watchful for unusual behavioral signs or inappropriate
knowledge. When we meet and part, I always extend my hand for a handshake
in greeting or farewell. Fortunately, children and animals seem to like me.