Process

August 12, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism

Building coalitions on the left, there are those things that we can agree to argue about and those things that we are not exactly agreeing to argue about that we argue about anyway.  As fatiguing as it is to argue about the former, it is the latter that is more likely to cause damage.

Building and participating in coalitions and networks is where I seem to spend a lot of my organizing time, either in meetings or conference calls.  There are long discussions on the use of language when protests are being planned, conferences designed and flyers created.  These wordsmith sessions are attempts to reach the greatest number of people using words that mirror their experience while introducing to them ideas and dynamics that they may not share or be familiar with.  “Palestine, South America,” the words “imperialist” or “anti-imperialist,” “New Orleans” and other hot spots are weighed as words as the urgency of what the words represent are compared to the urgency of the primary communication of the piece being worked on.  The further focus strays from the event or issue that a coalition has been formed around, the more likely there are arguments over language as coalition partners …

A premise of this work is that transformation unfolds in two waves or impulses, which inform the direction that evolution takes.  This concept first emerged in the works of Darwin’s contemporaries, such as Ernst Haeckel, but was eventually abandoned as Mendel and Weisman’s work around 1900 converged to suggest that evolution could be nothing less than random.  This blog urges the re-examination of the principle of waves–heterochrony is its old name–in light of recent discoveries in evolutionary developmental biology and neuropsychology.

Theorists and philosophers such as Habermas, Gebser and Wilber have noted a succession of stages in the development of species, societies and the maturation/development of individuals.  The evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould was sensitive to the potential insights that a multiscale–biological, societal, ontological, biological–perspective provides.  It is my experience that by observing the impact of waves upon this multiscale, four-leveled chess board perspective, a visitor to this model can detect patterns that inform an understanding of present day politics and social activism, features of the future and insight into how society is changing.

In other words, recent discoveries in biology and neuropsychology suggest that biology, ontogeny, society and the individual are all operating according to the same dynamic.  Exploring …

Things that we’ve all noted evolve over time are words that serve to communicate our enthusiasm or wonder. The most active period for word invention for words of this type seem to be the teenage years, when words like “swell, neat, cool, cul, bad, word, sweet” were invented, I think in that order.

Words pop up and quickly disappear, having served their purpose, such as “dynamite, totally, far out, awesome,” though “awesome” may be lingering for a while longer. I think I’m the only person I know that still uses “far out.”

Most of my adult life, the words “fantastic, incredible, unbelievable, amazing” have served to communicate generic wonder. Lately, noting what might be described as word fatigue for the previous set, there seems to be an increase in frequency of use for three additional words: “astonishing, remarkable, extraordinary.” I suspect those three words sort of meandered over from common British usage. The British make almost every word sound like it has more meaning.

It is no accident that words are often invented by teens and young adults, sexual beings without permanent mates. This age is when music drives our lives and souls and is able to explain the feelings …

Georges Cuvier was an early French biologist, a contemporary of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck, unfortunately, died before Cuvier and ended up vilified in a famous eulogy by his younger, very influential peer. That speech is attributed to having marginalized Lamarck’s influence on evolutionary theory. Cuvier didn’t believe in evolution. That was almost 200 years ago. Only now is Lamarck’s name emerging with respect in the discussions of biologists.

Lamarck hypothesized that the environment can influence evolution in a single generation, compelling the emergence of nonrandom characteristics and environment-influenced features. Darwin shared this view, devoting the last years of his life in search of an explanation for the process that Lamarck proposed. How despised was Lamarck? Darwin rarely mentioned in his writings Lamarck’s name or even the names of Darwin’s contemporaries that shared Lamarck’s positions. Darwin felt he could explore their ideas if he did not cite them.

Darwin and Wallace’s theory of natural selection emerged as a paper in 1858. Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared a year later, and “survival of the fittest” was embraced with astonishing speed. It was a theory that complemented and enhanced the principles behind the industrial revolution. The natural world looked to mirror the world of …

It could be said that it all begins in the womb. It is even deeper and more subtle than that. Autism researchers such as Simon Baron-Cohen are coming to the conclusion that a mother’s testosterone levels are influencing the likelihood of autism. I came to this same conclusion ten years ago exploring the work of Norman Geschwin and Charles Darwin. Noting this effect while exploring the impact of sexual selection on social structure provides additional perspective. Observing the relationship between social structure and evolution, one begins to understand that what goes on in the womb can decide the direction we evolve.

Mother’s testosterone levels > progeny maturation rate > social structure proclivity > evolutionary trajectory.

The higher the mother’s testosterone levels, the more likely the male children will have maturational delay and the females maturational acceleration. The males’ testosterone levels will be relatively lower compared to boys born from mothers with low testosterone levels. The females’ testosterone levels will be relatively higher compared to girls born from mothers with low testosterone levels.

When the mother’s testosterone levels are high, she is propelling her children backwards in evolutionary time. Backwards in evolutionary time for humans is away from patrifocal social structure …

Autism expert Simon Baron-Cohen has a theory that the autistic male shows evidence of a brain that is too male for his own good, the autistic personality being male to the extreme, evidencing exaggerated male characteristics. For example, the autistic is not just a little dissociated and abstract, but very dissociated and abstract. Baron-Cohen suggests that exposure to high levels of testosterone in the mother’s womb in combination with an absence of testosterone surges that prune early childhood synapse production that create a right-handed (as opposed to random-handed) person combine to encourage the emergence of autism.

Still enamored of natural selection, medical theorists explore the etiologies, or origins, of conditions and disorders encumbered by a theory structure that supports a narrow, patrifocal point of view. Informed by the fertile, earlier work of Norman Geschwin, Baron-Cohen has noted some of the most important clues to understanding how humans evolved and autism develops, but he is unable to see the larger picture.

Autism is an evolutionary condition. Ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny, Geschwin and Baron-Cohen’s clues are major interstate intersections on the roadmap of Homo sapien’s unfolding. When navigating across country, we look at the map and then use our eyes to read the …

Female infanticide provides a patrifocal society the leverage to sexually select for a narrow window of macho male personality types, upholding cultural stability, curtailing innovation.

Female infanticide is a manifestation of sexual selection in a cultural context. Female infanticide can be understood as patrifocal, cultural acceleration and/or stabilization. By decreasing the number of women to less than the number of available men and by being more specific about features that can be chosen for in the character and genes of the males, the more culturally rigid, both in terms of cultural ideas and the genetic pool, the culture will continue to be.

A culture keeps tight control of its degree of diffusion or drift by maintaining a low female/high male ratio. This control results in a shift toward a selection of highly specific traits. As a culture starts to idealize war, the families of those women or their fathers choose a mate based on success-in-war criteria. Female infanticide decreased the number of men likely to create progeny, increasing the likelihood that the warlike criteria would be passed on to the next generation. With a high percentage of young men who are potentially mateless, aggressive posturing abounds, violent confrontations increase and …

On one side towers the pill, the 60s symbol of goddess, placing sexuality in the control of women and providing females the power to decide when to make love and if they will be fertile.

On the other side sits AIDS, symbol of patrifocal, socially conservative Republicanism, demanding that sex stop now and that contraception and abortion be banned.

The pill vs. the virus, joy vs. fear, matri vs. patri is the battle of social structures, the oldest human civil war of all, where the female newborns are the disappeared.

Often, when a new lion king takes over an established pride with kittens not obviously his own, he kills them. It has been estimated that this action is a naturally selected tendency since cats evidencing this behavior are more likely to pass it on to male progeny that retain the trait. Humans are horrified observing this conduct. Yet, female infanticide is widely practiced today in cultures seeking to retain vanishing male dominance in societies where ancient hierarchies are threatened.

Societies retain ideals of the perfect mate. Those ideals can vary radically from culture to culture, even varying from country to country in the West. Perfect mate ideals vary to the …

Goddess Bloggers

August 4, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Art, Society, Web

Playwrights write plays about playwrights.  Television and film script writers tell stories about script writers.  Novelists write about novelists.  Artists paint artists.  Dancers dance what it’s like to be a dancer dancing.

And so we all at times live our lives as if we were living our lives.  We become artists creating ourselves.  Or rather, we engage in the process of providing an avenue for the emergence of creative forces in our lives.

The American obsession with independence suggests we indulge our inner Van Gogh or other explorers of unique cutting-edge manifestations of inner turmoil by suffering creatively, or at least dramatically.  A society heralding independence without interconnection leads to lives and art forms characterized by alienation and individuals heroically alone.

Our lives and art are changing as the cult of individuality is transformed.  It’s as if some skinny Western gunslinger, a half good, half bad guy, fell in love with a 300-pound, universally loved, big-hearted prostitute and found himself integrally connected to thousands of people he hadn’t known.

The web suggests one of those Venus figurines from tens of thousands of years ago.  Hypothesized to be the symbol of the spiritual serving matrifocal culture, these figurines perhaps represented an …

There is a tribe of males more than a little infatuated with themselves and their own ideas. We’re often described as narcissists. Upon discovering I fit into this group, I was appalled, and predictably I obsessed that I was too obsessed with my own behavior.

I now look at myself as a recovering narcissist. I observe how frequently I engage in being a legend in my own mind. Sometimes I’m amused. Sometimes I’m not.

My wife is tolerant but not particularly amused. Interestingly, I come across few women narcissists.

Narcissism often gets relegated to an example of an early developmental stage that gets carried into adulthood as a result of trauma or a peculiar environment that caused a freezing of psychological resources in the past. This effect is not unlike following a recipe while making a cake. If at an early stage something goes awry, you may end up with a less than delightful outcome. Accidentally add salt instead of sugar early in the process and the results will be unique but not particularly edible.

I’m playing with the idea that there is healthy narcissism characterized by the person feeling accompanied while they feel they are the center of the …

Blogging As Art

August 2, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Art, Auto-Biography

Using a medium built of associations, I seek to describe a realm of experience characterized by subtle, multi-scale interconnection.  It’s a bit like blowing bubbles that can intimate a cube or playing charades in the dark with only the sounds of my movements available to make a point.  The words “evolution, society, ontogeny and personal biography” are accompanied by associations that suggest different things.  Communicating my experience of their being four aspects or facets of the same thing is my challenge.  To do so while embracing the confines of the medium of blogging makes this an attempt at art.

Ten years ago, when a lot of these ideas came together, I posted the website serpentfd.org and sought academic support for a hypothesis that included a proto-dance based, neoteny-influenced, runaway sexual-selection driven theory of human evolution revealing the origins of autism and other conditions characterized by maturational delay.  The theory was grounded equally in anthropology, neuropsychology and evolutionary biology.  Perhaps twenty academics from around the world responded to the website, my letters or emailed inquiries.  After their initial interest, the multi-disciplinary character of the work made it difficult for them to support it in their own discipline.  None of the professors …

These blog entries explore several related subjects having to do with evolution and transformation, how those subjects are interconnected and more specifically evidence of the evolutionary principle of neoteny in contemporary times.  For me, evolution is at least a four-fold structure that reveals patterns that jump from level to level.  Those four levels are evolution, society, ontogeny (individual maturational and developmental unfolding) and personal experience.

We are a species that uses words to describe experiences.  A word derives its meaning by the other words used to define it and the experiences we have in association with that word.  By writing or speaking, we are magically weaving a four-dimensional web or tapestry that intimates or suggests a meaning amongst a cloud of associations.  Like a locomotive, we trail a narrative of words, billowing out our smokestack, more or less following the track lines of our intended communication.  Unfortunately, what we build with words, like a locomotive, often cuts the world in two.

The first comment made by a visitor to these postings, Carl Davidson, suggested I read Robert Pirsig’s Lila.  Early in its pages, I was presented with an astonishing author insight.  American Indian behavioral personality characteristics were modeled by American …

They call it the grassroots because that is where spring begins.

The first sign of change is the slight blush of green in the grasses brown and yellow from the winter. As the thaw drifts downward, flowers rise and the change becomes visible in colors. By then the bushes are responding and the first buds and leaves are manifesting hip high. As winter vacates the deeper dirt, the trees finally show the spring has come.

Spring begins at toe level, moves ankle high and grows higher, changing to the waist, then shoulders, and finally past the point that we can reach.

To view where change will come from, note where the thaw is. To observe the future, feel for where creative forces are established and growing. We may not be able to see the thaw, but we can feel its effects.

The American Left is interconnected in ways that it has never been before with almost 30 national organizations able to quickly communicate with local members and receive feedback from their experiences in the field. It is the equivalent of 30 huge oak trees with roots extending, intersecting and influencing a wide group of people. For these organizations, it is …

Making Progress

July 30, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Biology, Society

Contemporary to Darwin was Charles Lyell, whose work deeply influenced the young biologist as Darwin read and re-read Lyell’s books while on a five-year ship journey around the world.  Lyell gestated and then helped create the contemporary idea of unfolding time and a geologic succession of stages, integral to Darwin’s later formulation of a succession of species.

Darwin died six years before my grandfather was born.  My grandfather lived to see men walk on the moon.

When my son was an infant, I noticed Studs Turkel in the produce section of my local Jewel.  I walked up to Studs, held out my son’s little hand, and asked Studs to shake it so I could tell him later that he’d shaken the hand of Studs Turkel.

Studs responded, “Well, your son has just shaken the hand of a man that shook the hand of a man that shook the hand of a man that shook the hand of Napoleon.  Tell him that when he grows older.”  Then Studs listed the lineage of hand shakers.

I have found it consoling to imagine exactly how much a billion is.  Noting the number of people in a football stadium, I multiply out until I …

Getting Clear

July 29, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society

A unique feature of American culture is the presupposition on the Left and the Right that the individual is central to society.  For the most part, this presumption is an unexamined presupposition.  It is not unlike looking in the mirror and assuming the whole world looks like you.  For the Left, it is a problem.  The concept of the individual is often in direct conflict with a new, yet ancient, alternative paradigm or frame of reference.  This new paradigm does not reject, but includes the one we’re in.

Demonizing socialism and liberalism has helped the Right to stigmatize this alternative world view.  The Right elevates a whole cluster of concepts that includes the words “personal, liberty, independence, patriotism and the individual.”  The Right contrasts these concepts with a seemingly different orientation that is contrary to corporate or capitalist interests.  And so stewardship, communal, social, interdependent, interconnected, personal sacrifice and the commons are concepts shamed to the outskirts of discussions as inappropriate to an American understanding of the way the world works.

The Left is having difficulty articulating the emerging zeitgeist, which is a seamless converging or merging of the two.  The Left seeks to represent non-elite interests and put into …

Some historians of culture have hypothesized that the great flood stories surfacing as early as the Sumarian Gilgamesh epic and later in the Old Testament are the written traces left from thousands of years of oral traditions describing an actual event. The event would be the creation of the Black Sea, when the Mediterranean broke through the Bosporus and created in a geologic nanosecond a huge, new body of water. That geologic moment has been estimated to have lasted perhaps 2 years, the time it took to fill a basin formerly populated by thriving land based ecosystems and, so the story goes, human beings.

Radio and television, democratizing forces before co-option by corporations, offered an experience of the commons. Though these were one-to-many communications, content often served the many instead of the few. There was a shift as the few successfully guided the message of media to be about how profits could be best achieved.

Radio and television learned to encourage a common frame of reference–a personality-based consumer culture–that offered none of the experience of the commons. Producer/advertiser and consumer formed an exhibition/evaluation feedback loop, not unlike the dynamics of runaway sexual selection. Producers/advertisers created mountains of consumables as consumers …

Common Flower

July 27, 2008 | 1 Comment

Category: Social, Society

For two years now, the first dandelions of spring popped up amongst the grasses of the Post Office here in Evanston. I noticed the yellow flowers during the ides of April while handing out pie-chart war budget leaflets to taxpayers sending last minute missives to the IRS. It is public property, our local commons, that harbors my favorite flower since there is little budget to pay employees to make sure the grass stays green.

Three miles away on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is perhaps the greatest dandelion garden in the region. Along both grass embankments on that scenic stretch of roadway are public lands offering sanctuary to a blossom usually despised. The flowers go crazy. Earlier this decade, during an uncannily balmy January that followed a mild fall, yellow dandelions still lingered along the lake front highway. No single experience has so alerted me to the changing weather than the appearance of winter dandelions.

In a society that deeply respects the personal, the independent and the individual, it’s not surprising that this flower that thrives in the commons is so scorned. In addition, the dandelion is not a native but a visitor from overseas. Perhaps if its origins were …

Einstein is noted as having said, “I want to know God’s thoughts; the rest are details.”  Einstein presupposed that there is sense to the universe and has suggested that his attempts at discerning those patterns were based upon an assumption of their invention by an artist/god.

How strange that physicists look for larger patterns while traditional evolutionary biologists urge random interpretations of the origin and evolution of the living world.  There are ways that contemporary evolutionary biological theory feels pre-Newtonian.  Both groups have subscribed to a belief that the big patterns are beyond them.  One sometimes says it’s god and way too subtle; the other says it’s random with no overarching structure.

Social scientists seem to defer to the biological rather than to the cosmological frame of reference when exploring the progression of societal stages or cultural transformations.  That deference places the Left at a decided disadvantage as it seeks to establish a paradigm that supports institutions taking responsibility or offering assistance to individuals with poor access to resources.  Social theorists, relying upon classical Darwinian interpretations of experience, tend to think in terms of the theory of natural selection as their operating model for natural systems, whereas natural selection is …

After the 60s, when more female academics began achieving tenure, a nonmale-centric view of human evolution began to form.  Female observers of female behavior began to come to conclusions different from those of their white, male colleagues.  Women theorists hypothesized ancestral serial monogamy based on the time (3-4 years) it takes to wean a child, female control of band foraging patterns, invention of language by females and the choosing by females of cooperative mates, thus encouraging noncombative social environments as a foundation for human evolution.

A female biologist hypothesized that in human beings, estrus, or ovulation, grew hidden as women evolved to control their own procreation opportunities.  Men wouldn’t determine when to mate based on their observation of when a woman was fertile.  The women would decide.

And so began a process that is coming to fruition only now, these last three generations, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years after women learned to hide the best time to have a baby.

It is believed that there are traditions that have carried through this stretch of time.  Remnants of red and ochre coloring are some of the oldest signs of human culture being found in close proximity to early digs.  It …

One could make the argument that the French Revolution replaced one group of overlords with another, after a transitional phase filled with hope and violence. The American Revolution made it possible for the founding father slave owners to further free themselves but not their charges. Clearly, ideals take time to actualize. Revolutions are often hypocritical up close.

Paradigms shift slowly, with exceptions.

Stephen J. Gould and others have suggested that there are ways that nature can rapidly adjust to extreme circumstances. Gould and Eldredge’s Theory of Punctuated Equilibrium, which outlined their ideas in detail, were conjectures that helped explain gaps in the fossil records that confounded Darwin. Gould’s observations of processes described as heterochony, which include neoteny, track the influence of changing rates and timing of maturation on the unfolding of a species’ evolutionary trajectory over time. These rates and timing of maturation can be influenced by social structure.

Between two chimpanzee species, two social structures are represented. The laid back, sensualist, bonobo society revolves around the alpha female, with little conflict between the males in the band. Barriers to sex are few. The common chimpanzee social structure exhibits males struggling to achieve enough dominance to control procreation opportunities. Though …

Bonoboization

July 23, 2008 | 2 Comments

Category: 10-The Web, Activism, Society, Web

There is a dramatic divide between older activists and younger activists on what exactly a website does. This divide becomes most evident to me when we are developing a website for a brand new Left/Progressive organization. The older users are only familiar with features that support one-to-many communications. Older users do little sharing online and do not look to a website to store their files. They certainly don’t maintain the kind of constant contact that younger users are used to nor can they tolerate as much information on screen as the young adults.

When we (when I say “we,” I usually mean Marcia and I) present the smorgasbord of features available to activists looking to build a site, no small amount of education is involved in the process. Not only are we explaining the features, we are guiding older activists on the power of horizontal communication, user-created content, enhanced communication vehicles and user-created (not just founder-created) actions and online campaigns.

A basic principle is that the more power or control an organization gives up, the more empowered is its membership. Formerly, individuals worked their way into a position of authority over time and were able to create vehicles for change …

In a similar way that pollsters often end up integral to the running of a political campaign, website design can deeply inform the structure of a nonprofit or volunteer activist organization. Though this has become evident to me with time, this relationship is not clear to most activists I work with. A result of this hazy understanding has been that very early in an organization’s ontogeny, I’m requesting that decisions be made about how information will be distributed, the specifics of control, degrees of transparency, a need for a clearly defined constituency, organization strategies, tactics, allies, media relations and staffing requirements. Integral to how a website is designed is an understanding of how it will encourage relationships and distribute information.

As is often the case when a volunteer organization is brand new, if there is no authority to make the above decisions, the website designer will guess/estimate what the needs of the organization will be. I have an agenda, so I do more than guess/estimate. I seed the organization with my own beliefs: transparency, diversity, horizontal communication.

I have observed that this design can lead to conflict, which is a bit ironic because the websites I design for organizations have …

Evanston Project

July 21, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Play, Society, Web

We’ve learned several things developing over 20 independent online network websites designed to enhance communication and cooperation between activists working within local organizations.  What became obvious right away was that technology alone, without humans integrally involved at almost every level, would be ignored.  On a playground, the slides and swings are great additions.  It’s the humans having fun.

This winter, 130 Evanston citizens gathered to discuss the city, its inhabitants, local institutions and businesses reducing carbon footprints to comply with the Kyoto Accord targets.  People broke up into ten committees to discuss and plan how these changes could be made.  I volunteered to be on the communications/PR committee.

I found myself asking myself the same question many times in different ways.  How could a website best assist people to communicate with one another, encourage one another and provide information to one another in ways that made the process fun?

It’s been coming back to this point.  There are 130 people showing interest in the project.  There are about 60,000 people in this town.  What is the best way to use established networks while nurturing new relationships that connect these 130 people with the 60,000 people?

I sent out a survey …

There is this strange way that the abandonment of all rules, ethics and morals is featured by both the enlightened, spiritually accomplished master and neo-conservative, capitalist elite. We as a society are walking both paths. It has to do with an understanding that everything is relative.

Several years ago I ended up at a Leo Burnett executive’s Christmas party in the home of the head of that agency. Our daughter was part of a small high school choral ensemble with the CEO’s son, Phil. Marcia and I had known Phil for maybe ten years. A high school student, Phil was training me in his spare time to design websites. I was starting a business in web design. Marcia and I were offered the opportunity to listen/watch the performance. The music was charming and beautiful.

Still, it felt creepy. But as is usually the case in social situations where I feel foreign to the scene, I concentrated on the food. In the room were some of the most creative people in the United States, artists dedicated to the craft of message-making to accomplish corporate goals. The chorus began singing, beginning with the number “Let It Snow.” At the conclusion of the …

Never has society been so capable of changing quickly as it is now.

Twelve years ago, I spent over a year cave-crawling the corridors of dragon mythology, reading many books on the subject.  That adventure evolved to a study of the cultures that were connected to the ancient serpent myths that spawned later dragon tales.  The serpent/dragon cycle of myths and legends began long before recorded time and extends to the present day.  China is the society perhaps most committed to the dragon as metaphor, a society famous for its hesitation to transform.

Clearly, that is changing.

Up until the present day, the stories a society would tell itself anchored that culture, offered solace to its citizens, informed an understanding of experiences society could not easily explain, providing cohesion and a clear sense of community.  Science has usurped much of the power of myth, but our compulsion to use myth or story to make sense of our world continues unabated.  Whereas the serpent/dragon stories retained power to comfort and explain for thousands of years, the stories we tell ourselves now change with economic cycles, news cycles and youtube fads.

A martial artist practices many moves many times until he or …