Old School

July 18, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Society, Web

I participate in several dozen listserves.  Mostly I observe.  These are listserves for statewide coalitions, statewide networks, local organizations and national organizations.  Primarily, I use listserves to gather information.  As a web developer for almost 30 Left/Progressive organizations, I end up listening to a lot of conversations.

On rare occasions is something said that compels me to respond.  I just read something that made my blood boil, my face flush and my heart start skipping beats.

I am an activist whose primary focus is organizational structure and communications infrastructure that serve transparency, diversity and horizontal communication.  I want to know what makes change possible and create systems that encourage the process.

On the Left there are passionate adherents for specific issues that believe the best way to achieve goals is through top-down, closed-door discussions limited to activists that satisfy specific criteria.

These activists mostly seem unaware of the communications revolution cascading across society, mostly through our young.  What they know is nontransparent hierarchy.  It works for them.  In some cases, it’s worked for them for a long time.

The words that caused the surge of anger that prompted this rumination was my reading a communication that said that the coordinating …

The Peace, Justice and Environment Project (PJEP) facilitates communication and cooperation between almost 900 organizations in 28 states. Individuals within those organizations post to their state network an action or an online campaign (petitions, boycotts, eletters, fundraisers). Ideas for those actions and campaigns emerge from discussions within those individual’s organizations. The principles that make it possible are biological in origin.

Ideas are often variations of actions and campaigns that have been tried out in other parts of the country. If a project seems to have accomplished its goal, often it gets picked up and reproduced again. Most actions and campaigns are reproductions of ideas used many times before.

The way that information travels on the Left has a lot to do with new technologies and old human networks. Listserves, websites and alternative media distribute information quickly. At the same time, many activists are members of several groups. These people hubs quickly disperse information to the activists focused on more narrow tracks. Perhaps 30 national organizations with chapters or affiliates distribute information quickly across the country while human hubs disperse that information to the nooks and crannies of activists working intently on unique, local projects.

On those occasions when a group …

Common Art

July 16, 2008 | 1 Comment

Category: Art, Society, Web

The American cult of individuality represents the limit of how far a culture can go and not self destruct as every individual is required to make sacrifices to the furnace of self importance.  We are so focused on protecting the rights of individuals that individual rights are denied to achieve this goal.  Obviously paradoxical, it also seems ironic.  Republicans, with Democrat complicity, demand the sacrifice of the commons that serve individuals so that there are no constraints on individual behavior.  Destroying the commons, we destroy our community and destroy ourselves.

This war against the commons–the environment, social security, world community, social services–to believers in the cult feels like a war against absorption of the individual by the many.  This cult is fueled by capitalists, by fundamentalists, by SUV owners, by Americans that buy the pitch that lower taxes serve all.  Providing the words and pictures that make the stories that prop up the cult are the members of the media, script writers, ad writers, article composers, architects, designers, novelists and artists.

Artists in America and the West have been saddled with a paradoxical profession.  Asked to provide a pathway between where we are and our origins and destination as a …

There is a five-step continuum that begins with primordial competition and ends with what may make human beings unique.

Darwin struggled with three selective processes, seeking ways that they could make sense together. He is best known for natural selection. Darwin also discovered sexual selection. In addition, he wrote detailed accounts of how he estimated Lamarckian selective processes influence evolution. Unable to find a way to make the three different processes elegantly nest, Darwin is remembered mostly for his contribution to our contemporary paradigm that believes natural selection is the most important selective process.

I have suggested (see sexualselection.org) that the evolutionary processes themselves have unfolded in their own meta evolution. Natural selection evolved sexual selection and Lamarckian selection. Sexual selection then evolved language and society. I have proposed that society and human split-consciousness emerged as a direct repercussion of dance and art.

The five-step continuum begins with natural selection and then moves to sexual selection, with animals focusing on particular patterns when they choose a mate. Step three begins with a bridging over to human sexual selection, where adept practitioners of novel pattern creation are selected as procreation partners by mates with sensitivity to these nuances. The fourth …

Specific obsessive compulsive behaviors that focus on repeating patterns often emerge when we are most stressed, when we regress.  The rhythms of the dance are seeded deep inside our contemporary souls.  OCD is often tied to disorders characterized by maturational delay, those individuals exhibiting the older, matrifocal, dance-driven genotype.  Maybe here is a clue as to why rocking is so consoling.

If there is some truth that music and dance are the original arts driving our evolution as a species through the dynamics of sexual selection, then sensitivity to repeating patterns characteristic of the practitioners of these arts could reveal how it is we are so good at intuiting connections.

Evidence of sexual selection in species other than our own suggests that we are not the only ones prepped to pay attention to patterns.  Yet, humans somehow crossed a line.

I’ve heard tell of a story where in an exhibition aquarium with a porpoise show, a trainer was seeking to encourage his charge to learn new tricks.  A young male was the subject of his attentions.  Whenever this porpoise exhibited a unique behavior, the trainer would reinforce it with a fish reward.  One by one, new behaviors were culled out …

When I was exploring the possibility of a human genetic precursor that was random-handed with a larger brain encouraged by a song-and-dance-based matrifocal culture, I hypothesized that if representatives of our ancestors were around today, they would have larger brains and difficulty with language.

The premise is that the exponential growth in brain size through the history of Homo erectus and before was driven by the selection for mates talented in dance. An established biological pattern is that predators have larger brains than their prey. More demanding physicality (it’s more difficult to be a predator than to run away) creates a requirement for increased neurological support. Dance may have been a sexually selected physical demand with no upward threshold in satisfactory results. Rampant brain growth may have been the result of males competing for the attention of females in matrifocal societies where males that exhibited neotenous characteristics (creative, playful, cooperative) were the most likely males to procreate.

The best dancers had bigger brains. The best way to select for bigger brains over time was to choose males exhibiting neotenous characteristics. Neotenous males are cooperative males supporting a matrifocal social structure.

When I was first monkeying around with these ideas, noting …

The Left Past

July 12, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: lefthanded, Neoteny

Studies of left-handers have revealed a number of interesting things about left-handed people and the ambidextrous.  Hints of our evolutionary origins are suggested in these studies.

Left-handed people are more maturational delayed.

Right-handed people actually are less capable with their other hand as opposed to left-handed people, who are usually almost equally capable with either hand.  In other words, left-handers are usually more dextrous than right-handers.  Left-handers often have larger brains than right-handers, with less hemispheric differentiation.  In addition, their lobes are more nearly the same size.  The brain connections, for example the corpus callosum, are usually larger in left-handers.

Lefties grow slower, have bigger brains and often are more physically adept.

Left-handed people are usually reversed in their hemispheric organization.  Some have surmised that this reversal alone has provided them a competitive advantage by slightly confusing their associates and peers.  I would suggest that they do have several advantages, but these strengths are innate and are directly related to several factors.

Left-handers have not suffered as extreme a neurological pruning as those of us that are right-handed, when testosterone surges negatively impacted brain growth as a toddler.  In a sense, most of us have been biologically traumatized, and there …

Enter Left

July 11, 2008 | 1 Comment

Category: lefthanded

Three out of four of our last presidents were left-handers. If Obama is elected, it will be four out of five.

Researcher Marian Annett hypothesizes that there is a gene for being right-handed and a gene for being nonhanded or random-handed. One could also say that most random-handed people have a gene for being right-handed. Studies vary, but most cultures show around 10% left-handers.

By Annett’s calculations, about 18.5% of modern populations retain this random-handedness proclivity, with about half of those displaying left-handedness and about half being right-handed. Various degrees of ambidexterity are mixed in.

Random-handedness is genetically inherited, usually revealing close relatives with that same feature. Various social and biological interventions can mask these relationships. My sister was left-handed, broke her arm in grammar school, and ended up writing with her right. Older folks were often instructed to write with their right hand regardless of their natural inclinations. This instruction was common in Catholic schools. Early brain damage or uterine trauma can compel a person to switch hemisphere and, for example, rely upon the left hemisphere for language instead of the right or both, making them left-handed. These folks are not genetically random-handed.

Among the many prejudices and divisive …

A pidgin is a kind of quasi-language composed of the pieces of more than one language crunched together when speakers of different languages are forced to communicate. Pidgins vary from place to place depending on the languages involved. For example, English in combination with local languages have created several different pidgins around the world.

In some communities, a pidgin gives birth to a creole. If children grow up listening to a previously unconnected smorgasbord of words and phrases, those children will provide those words and phrases grammar, syntax and the other civilized accoutrements of communication. In a single generation, a creole is born. Strangely, this creole is not as unique as you might imagine.

Creoles born of pidgins across the planet use an almost identical grammar, syntax and language structure. It seems that great minds think alike, in this case revealing a universality of thought. But the roots of language suggest a deeper hidden source for this way of thinking. There is only one language in the world with deep structural similarities to creoles born of pidgins.

That one language is sign language.

Sometimes when watching people talk, I become mesmerized by the movement of people’s hands. It’s obvious when …

Dear National Assembly Coordinating Council Members:

For those of you relatively new to the coordinating committee, my name is Andrew Lehman. Marcia Bernsten and I created and maintain the website with the assistance of Mark Stahl. Marcia and I resigned from the coordinating committee in February after realizing that what we seek to achieve as peace, justice and environmental organizers didn’t seem to be close enough to the process we were observing from our positions as members of the coordinating committee. We resigned, preferring to continue in our role as logistical support, rather than as organizers that endorsed a process we did not agree with.

Marcia and I did not want to generate any enmity or create any barriers to National Assembly achieving its goals, so we told Jerry, Jeff and Mark Stahl that we were backing out, but we did not tell the coordinating committee and did not go into the specifics.

Now it seems a good time to go over what we’ve observed. Inconsistent process, behavioral and verbal incongruities and differences in political philosophies have led to the specific consequences of a disappointing conference. I’m hoping that this contribution to the discussion might unearth some issues that would …

We are so deeply steeped in story it’s hard to tell which layer of fiction we were last swimming in when it comes time to come up for breath. It’s like we’re deep sea divers that don’t keep track of how many fathoms we’ve descended. Come up too fast and we maybe get the bends.

When I was training to practice therapeutic interventions, one tool was the “As If” frame. I was encouraged to guide a client to access difficult-to-integrate personal resources that could be leveraged to achieve a specific change goal. The idea was to offer a client a novel story. Framed as a story, this alternative point of view was one the client could choose to resist less. Basically, we were making sales pitches, except the therapist was speaking both to the client’s conscious mind and an unconscious that had been engaged in a particular way of doing things for particular reasons. The “As If” frame allows someone that feels like they have limited choices to have additional ways of looking at the world.

Many things did not come easy to me during training. Creating stories was not a problem. Years of relying upon comic books as a …

In 2006, Steven Johnson came out with a unique little book called Everything Bad is Good for You. In this book, Johnson explores the possible positive repercussions of constant exposure to specific elements of popular culture, including gaming, reality TV, online experiences and film. His conclusion is that there might be powerful positive effects from these peculiarly self indulgent endeavors that include increased IQ, sensitivity to associational understanding and an ability to defer satisfaction to achieve long-term goals.

Counter intuitive, indeed. Fascinating, nonetheless.

When I was young, I did not often eat sweets or candy. My eyes were on a different prize. Before I could read, I was “reading” comic books. All my allowances and other monies went toward DC and later Marvel hero comic magazines. On Saturday mornings, I would walk, usually by myself, almost three miles to Winnetka, to the only comic book store in the region. In the 50s, a seven-year-old could wander miles in many suburbs with no concern.

Able to buy perhaps a third of the titles I adored, every week I was faced with a decision. With a quarter, I could buy two comics. Justice Leagues of America was my favorite followed by …

Developmentally, narcissism is pretty early stuff.  It emerges with differentiation from the mother.  Not terribly attractive as a quality in adults, narcissism is an essential step in each of our progressions.  Some of us tend to carry it with us longer than others.  Some societies have difficulty viewing the world in non-narcissistic ways.

Still, there is a positive relationship between selfishness and compassion, narcissism and global consciousness that was not really clear to me until now.

Societies exhibit or express human individual developmental stages.  Ontogeny and society are closely tied.  A number of theorists over the last century have explored this relationship, including Gebser, Habermas and Wilber.  William Irwin Thompson’s books introduced me to the concept in the 70s.  There is a tendency to observe individual progress (ontogeny) and societal progress through the lens of a succession of stages.  Wilber has expressed consternation with the surges of narcissism that characterize American society.  To some it seems that the presence of this early developmental stage inhibits a societal transformation to an experience of a far wider identity, seeing oneself as a citizen of the world and the engaging of compassion in the decision-making process of world affairs.

Indeed, this seems to …

The revolution has been going on for some time now. It’s moving from the bottom up. As is usually the case, it begins with the young.

Neoteny is the process whereby the infant features of a species emerge in the adults of the descendants. For example, our chimpanzee-like infant progenitors had small jaws, big heads and big eyes, often walked upright and were extremely curious and playful. These features worked their way up in age with every descendant subspecies until, after several million years, they became features of human adults.

How “new” manages to appear later with time is a feature of the various scales of evolution or transformation: biology, society, ontogeny and biography. Very specific hormonal and neurological processes guide these transformations. Though the transformations of neoteny are all around us, perhaps because they are everywhere, they are difficult to see.

One of the most powerful characteristics of newborns and new beings steeped in the matrix of creativity and play is narcissism. This narcissism often masks the presence of the creative. This masking is particularly true when evident in adults, as we tend to pay less attention to the seeming selfishness of those lost in experiences of satisfactory self …

Moveon made a choice a few months ago not to integrate social networking features into its website but instead to suggest to members that they sign up with an established social networking provider, Facebook.

I was surprised.  Then, thinking about it, it makes sense.  Moveon is a centrally organized, hierarchical, nontransparent organization.  Social networking is profoundly horizontal, encouraging novel inventions by exhibiting the ideas that move the fastest through the network.  Moveon would no doubt have profited from the high quality information it could gather on ideas its membership was producing.  Then it would have had to address numerous little revolutions as people feeling empowered would want to see their ideas made real.

Moveon membership is mostly old folks.  The demographic is boomer.  Social networking is mostly young folks.  There is a clear difference in structural styles emerging between boomer and the young.  Obama’s message and fundraising focus is focused in no small way on the social networking paradigm.  For example, the Obama website offers a “friends asking friends” feature where you can watch how much money you raise through the people you bring in.  It will be interesting to see if this method continues into a possible Obama Administration …

Designing programming that encourages communication and cooperation between individuals and organizations that have experienced only occasional successes building bridges is a task that requires close attention to what does and does not work.  They say, “Nothing succeeds like success.”  One could also say, “Relationships encourage relationships.”  Noting what stops relationships from naturally occurring offers guidance on how to build a web application designed to make bonds that are relatively easy to achieve and maintain.

For about a year in 2005 and the beginning of 2006, I was part of a pilot program Moveon was experimenting with.  At the beginning of 2005, Moveon initiated a string of monthly actions.  Starting as a team leader of about 50 activists in central Evanston, I got promoted to volunteer regional coordinator and then volunteer national coordinator.  There were three of us national coordinators along with our Moveon staffer contact.  Geof worked out of Denver.  Mary worked from Pennsylvania.  Our Moveon contact was in Chicago.

The organizational structure changed every couple months as Moveon experimented with a system that was both efficient and affordable.  By winter, Geof, Mary and I were matched up against a hierarchy of paid regional coordinators and paid national coordinators managing …

In 1980, in the midst of a creative surge (I was painting and illustrating at the time), I grew enamored of a communications and therapeutic intervention model called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).  Long story short, I became a licensed practitioner of NLP along with 58 psychotherapists.  The training guided attendees toward a view of the world characterized by an intense focus on process rather than content.  As an artist, I found this deeply refreshing, even nourishing.  NLP was a sense-based discipline providing me some respite from the world of ideas.  Relieved of trying to understand why things were the way they were, the focus was on the how.

Most of my life, I had been haunted by a certainty that I offered so little of value that I could not achieve esteem in the opinions of people I respected.  This insecurity has been accompanied by a conviction that I was special beyond the comprehension of my peers, a specialness that may eventually be revealed.  Blessedly, this exaggerated polarity now only occasionally surges through my system.  It was my way of feeling for many years.

Seeking licensing as a practitioner of NLP with 58 practicing therapists, I shifted to insecurity overdrive.  I …

There is that paradox that reveals how we keep ourselves stuck by trying so diligently to change.  Two entries ago, I described how locked in fear I kept myself by forcing a transition.  Yesterday, I suggested how grief can linger longer if pressed to go away.  Fear, grief, anger and joy are the four seasons of our revolving internal world.

A premise of this work is that evolution unfolds on several scales.  Familiar to us is our own personal transformations and the societal transitions we observe.  We are less focused on our ontological development–our maturational and developmental unfolding–and on the evolution of species over time.  All four scales; biology, society, ontogeny and biography, manifest the same or similar patterns.  All four scales are evidence of one process.  The four scales are four ways to observe consciousness at play.

In a similar fashion to the way that physicists smash stuff together to see how the universe is formed, we clog up the works of our emotions to get perspective or achieve some wisdom on the nature of the now.  Ensconced in some particularly powerful feeling, we seek to accelerate the process of our departing from the experience.  By so doing, we …

As an activist, I frequently find myself coming in contact with the gypsies of the Left, those public speakers traveling from city to city presenting talks and workshops.  Organizations that I work with often host the events that these wanderers are brought into to embellish.  I find myself fascinated, not by what they say, but by how they say it.

Passing through the Chicago area three years ago were Stacy Bannerman, Cindy Sheehan and speakers from MFSO and Gold Star families, including friend Juan Torres.  I was working with AFSC and other organizations to help facilitate the rallies that these itinerants were leading.  I made it my job to make folks comfortable.  I brought folks coffee.  I scrounged lunches.  I gave people rides.

Stacy and I talked as I drove her to a rally in the far west suburbs.  She described some difficulties of what she does.  I watched.  I listened.

Fear is the filter I’ve wrestled with most of my life.  Discovering other ways to see/feel the world has taken time.  Talking with Stacy, Cindy and other casualties of the war and watching/listening to how they grapple with creating the change they seek, I observe a different alchemy at …

The succession of steps that form the double helix of our DNA is formed from four molecular components repeated over and over again in ways that drape chains of meaning that scientists are seeking to interpret.  Complete genomes are being uncovered this decade, but mysteries persist.  Evolutionary developmental biologists offer an insight that many genes are devoted to constructing a highly sophisticated feedback system that only decides what features to assign to their growing charge after information from the environment has been noted and interpreted.

Four emotions, like a four-chord folk song, sing their way across the arc of my 55 years.  They often pair up, forming temporary alliances and compelling me to dance through life to different ditties.  Fear, anger, grief and joy form the DNA of my emotions.  How they match up informs the dynamic of my day.

Last night, I woke up screaming.  It was the first time in several years.  Earlier, it was not infrequent that when fear had been stalking me during daylight, terror leapt up once I had lost consciousness.

It’s the same thing every time.  Having fallen asleep, a part of me wakes and is aware of the deep divide between consciousness and …

Writing these one-page, blog-format, daily entries, I find myself making a series of draping daisy chains.  Actually, when I was small, we used dandelions.  Perhaps a more exact metaphor would be the different colored construction paper chains we’d make for grammar school special occasions where we’d drape paper chains back and forth across the room.

With our little plastic scissors, we’d snip out a long rectangle from a sheet of heavy, colored paper.  Pasting Elmer’s on one side, we’d loop around the other end and hold the ends together until they stuck.  Then we’d slip the next chain inside the circle, paste one end, hold both sides firmly and continue the chain.

In each entry, I seek to take myself and the reader on a little journey.  Leaving home, I like to explore an idea, maybe note something new along the path, introduce the idea to another idea it may not have met and then carry the new relationship back home.

Having established a little circle, the next day I look for a starting place somewhere along the path of the previous day’s contribution.  Beginning the new circle within the older circle, I seek to carry myself and the reader …

When the first stories were told, perhaps they were gestured as in charades. Maybe the stories were danced. At some point, the listeners or audience began to create pictures in response to the gestures, dances or words. From the start, it would have been vital to differentiate the possible from the real, the imaginary from the what really happened, what was desired from what occurred.

I expect those folks that had difficulty telling the imaginary from the sense-based world did not often live to procreate. The transition to a gesture or oral language that was grounded in a fertile imagination was no doubt difficult for many. Imagine a civilization of two- and three-year-olds.

In high school gym class, the boys attending the swimming unit at New Trier were all required to swim laps naked. We showered before class, jumped into the pool with no suits and proceeded to paddle back and forth with no clothes on. The school didn’t have to pay for suits and laundry. It was humiliating. It was what it was.

Mr. Robertson was the swim coach and the tyrant of the New Trier pool. Mr. Wolf was his assistant. Their barked commands echoed around the cement, …

The Rat is Back.

He’s burrowed a little hole into the leaves stuffed into the tortoise pen.  Marcia and I have been discussing whether to poison Rat, catch him in a have-a-heart trap (we have a big one that we’ve used for squirrels) or call pest control.  Rat comes out to eat the bird seed that gets sprinkled around the tortoise pen from the feeder suspended above the cage.

I’m drinking ginger tea to settle my stomach.

In the late 1980s, I was sure that the economy was coming to an end.  Everything felt fragile.  I intuited that the stock market was about to crash.  Then, on 10/19/08, it did.  With the financial world reflecting my internal state, I felt terrified.

Thirty eight years ago, I felt deeply that big change was on the way.  Then, it seemed like things just froze.

Things are thawing.  Not just the glaciers, but American certainty that life in America is good and will continue to get better, defining good by how much stuff we have.

This time I’m watching the market crash, but I’m not feeling frightened.

Just experiencing some dread.


We caught a possum in the have-a-heart trap.

My courageous wife …

Consider that a characteristic of awareness is that it is an integration of opposites.

Most humans are at least two distinct persons, or at least they feel or behave like that is true.  People argue with themselves, consider themselves their own worst enemy, are in internal conflict, have mixed feelings, feel torn, are of two minds, can’t make decisions, experience deep remorse, second guess themselves and often feel out of control of their own behavior.

Peace has been characterized by neither side winning, but both sides experiencing an embrace.  It takes two to be one, noting that when one arrives, the two don’t go away.

Observing/experiencing the dynamics of biological evolution, societal evolution, individual ontogeny and personal biography, I listen/feel for how awareness makes transitions.  As Darwin observed in his metaphor of many wedges, we are each always pushing against our boundaries, creating the opportunity for the environment to inform who we are and what we become.  This process of exploration, or play, occurs at all four evolutionary scales.  Awareness morphs depending on whether we are identified with many or the all, or a single, or as in the case of most people, a split twin.

This morphing of awareness …

Listening to the Future

June 24, 2008 | 4 Comments

Category: Society

An equitable, robust educational system, voting integrity and widely dispersed media control are three long-term structural legs or foundations that encourage a transparent, diverse and nonhierarchical organized society.  These are infrastructure issues that empower the proponents or advocates of specific concerns by nurturing a society that offers its citizens high quality information and the resources and beliefs that they as individuals can make a difference.

Watching the not-so-slow-motion collapse of our economic system, I wonder how specifically we’re going to get from here to there.

The arc of societal evolution from the age of god kings to the present day can be followed by tracing the transformations of these three conceptual threads:  transparency, diversity and horizontal communication.  The path is clear.  Until recently, it might have taken more than one lifetime to see the unfolding of the pattern.  Where we stand now, one lifetime is more than enough to see the elements align and realign.  The transformation is happening all around us.

Focus on where the greatest tumult congregates and ask yourself how these deeply disturbing events can result in the ascendance of the opposite.  Individual and societal attention on those places where society has most gone awry can suggest …