Aware Aware

September 10, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Biology, Play, Society, Unconscious

In psychotherapeutic dynamics, attention offered to the presenting problem goes a long way toward providing an opportunity for the problem to transform.  Clients or patients are guided into an experience of accompanying themselves rather than engaging in a battle.  A paradox is revealed.  It could be concluded that the “problem” was not the person’s unconscious, but their conscious.  Once the patients deliberately choose to not confront or battle the part of them that they feel victimized by, but just let themselves be aware of that part, change is engaged.  The clients learn they can exercise choice.  Then, the clients learn to play.

The same principle is in play on the spiritual path.  Practitioners are provided opportunities to choose to observe rather than engage.  Students are encouraged to be watchful.  If there is struggle, there is the choice to be aware of the struggle.  An emphasis is placed on the ability to choose and the choice to choose to be aware.

Awareness is integral to an understanding of psychological and spiritual models of transformation.  It is also a major factor in social change.

The activist compulsion to bring media to an event is about bringing awareness of an issue to individuals when their focus is on other things or places.  At this scale of societal transformation, we’re still talking about individuals choosing awareness that provides an opportunity for a healing of what has gone awry.  A difference is that the paths of information distribution in a society like ours is controlled by an allegiance to free market philosophy, also called Social Darwinism, which allows those with the greatest resources the ability to manage messages in a direction that will encourage a continuation of their control of resources.  On a societal scale, to provide opportunities for an individual to become socially self-aware, activists seek to bring media attention to their events.

Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene  hypothesizes that all biological evolution necessarily begins and ends at the level of the gene, not at the scale of the individual, the species or beyond.  Dawkins suggests that selection forces cull out useful genes, genes that engender features or characteristics in an individual, and that selection operates at no other scale.  This hypothesis is reductionism at its most extreme.  Usefulness is jettisoned as Occam razor elegance is elevated to the highest tier.  Sociobiological reductionism is an aesthetic where the ideal becomes far more attractive than the real.

I would suggest that the gene is not the overriding super factor of evolution.  In fact, choosing any scale or scales as the location of evolutionary intervention may be too limiting a concept.  Observing how individuals and societies transform at the psychological, spiritual and societal scale, one should consider that awareness might be at the foundation of how biology evolves.

Clearly, this argument does not mean that natural selection is not the foundation of evolution.  But it does mean that evolution is also play.  In just the way that a child plays with the toys or elements he or she has been provided to explore, evolution plays within the confines of natural selection (provided that variation is not random but informed by environmental influences).

I can’t shake the idea that the human experience and society inform our understandings of biology and ontogeny.  Reductionist scientists tend to see it the other way around.  Consider that awareness is not just a cherry on the milkshake of the meal made of several courses but is also the edible table that the complete feast rests upon.  It is unclear where dinner begins and ends.

There is a synthesis in our future.  The thesis is creationism or the belief that there is no evolution and that the Jewish god made the world in seven days.  The antithesis is natural selection in its present form and that there is no god and all life unfolded according to contingent happenstance.  The synthesis has to do with an awareness of awareness.

There is a place where god and contingent happenstance meet and merge.  When deity and chance converge, I call it play.

Charles Bonnet’s 18th century hypothesis that the great Chain of Being intuitively ordered all living beings on a 6000-year-old earth began to topple with Darwin’s biological interpretation of Lyell’s discovery of geologic time.  A static, pyramidal structure with white European males at the top became a horizontal branching of connections over time with white European males as an endpoint in the process.  The West’s idea of progress or societal evolution still prioritizes the societies with the biggest guns and GNPs.  We continue to observe how changing ideas of time influence an understanding of our origins.

Stephen J. Gould heavily emphasized the power of the concept of contingency to suggest that humans, let alone a particular group of humans, should not be elevated as the inevitable peak of any pinnacle of evolution, biological or social.  Predicated on the utility of adaptability as the only real criteria for existence, each serves his/her/its role in the whole.  No one is any better than any other.  We are all the children of chance.

There are other, complementary ways of looking at this.  These other ways have to do with further refining our relationship with time, accompanied by a flattening of hierarchy and a focus on associational relationships, also called horizontal communication.

Paradigm shifts occur on multiple levels and are explainable in many different ways.

At this moment, we are experiencing a radical shift away from an intuitive allegiance to the idea of hierarchy, one-to-many communication and narrative time.  We are shifting to an honoring of horizontal communication, many-to-many communication and associative or present-moment time.  Imagine a hierarchy chart with the leader at the top becoming instead a three-dimensional sphere with the leader in a position of one of may hubs.  With associative connections moving out in all directions, the leader is but part of a larger network of hubs.  Each of us is the hub of our own network of relationships.

Whereas in a primate band there might be a sequential pecking order forming a one-dimensional line, in human society, until now, consider that we’ve been organized in two-dimensional pyramids easily reproduced on paper or a screen.  Shifting to three dimensions, the top of the pyramid loses authority as the pyramid disappears.  We are able to view/experience ourselves as part of a far larger, multifaceted whole.

Not incidentally, there is a shift in our perception of time.  Narrative time, presupposing past and future, gives way to ever-present time, characterized by awareness of the present informed by an experience of the inevitableness of all the other present moments.  After all, all present moments are experienced through the webbing of connections you are in.  The whole is divined from the place you are.  The grounding paradigm of narrative time disappears.

Clearly, the narrative medium of words only goes part way toward describing a nonnarrative shift in our idea of time.  Consider that the revolution underway is not just a shift in political parties or a shift in priorities.  Consider that we are experiencing a shift in perception, not the least of which is our conception of time.

Home

August 23, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Art, Auto-Biography

Sitting down to write this morning, I engage in my usual routine.  I compose these entries about 100 postings in the future, providing time to have them reviewed by an editor.  Before posting the day’s blog, I read it over and make final changes, it being almost three months since I was intimate with that piece.  Then I read over the pieces to post later in the week, written a season ago.  Then I read over and edit the blog essays produced in the last two days.  Finally, I prepare to write.

Rereading and editing work from 100 days ago and from the last couple days presents me with enough time to experience an evolution of the work over time, suggesting additional facets or perspectives, an opportunity to swim through a number of complementing ideas, and it presents me with exposure to new ways of expressing the foundation themes that flow through the larger work.  Often, more than one principle asks to be played with, and so I’m left searching for ways to express commonalities between melodies with no obvious ways to play with both at once.  Not unlike taking both a nine-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl to a Cubs game.  The challenge is to be with both of them at the same time, providing both a positive experience.

I sometimes find myself writing about the process of writing.  I’m observing the creative process.  This piece would be an example of writing about writing about the creative process, one additional step removed.  Dissociation is another theme that carries through these contributions, almost 150 pieces done to date.  Both a strength and weakness, dissociation allows perspective yet isolates from connection.  Dissociation is paradoxical in that it provides for self awareness yet forms the foundation for alienation.

There have been times in my life when I wielded insight like a shield, using sudden understanding either as an excuse to withdraw from the world or as a barrier between another person and me while I felt incapable of communicating what I understood.  Intimacy and friendship is 99% nonverbal.  Insight can be 100% nonverbal.  Making insight a communication that encourages intimacy is nearly impossible unless you make it art.

Sometimes a metaphor emerges that goes a long way toward making a point that would not sharpen.

Consider Darwin’s theory of natural selection as the concrete foundation for a one-story house.  We do not usually choose to live on concrete slabs.  I’ve only seen this at times of disaster or in third world countries where mere survival is a consuming issue.  Driving past New Orleans in October 2007, I observed fields of foundations where houses used to be.  A foundation was designed to be a beginning.

Upon this foundation, natural selection, are placed supporting internal walls.  Imagine that with a bird’s eye view, looking down, you see an X dividing the square foundation into four rooms.  Two longs walls run from corner to corner, creating this X.  This building is not supported by external walls, but by internal room dividers.  One wall is sexual selection.  The other wall is Lamarckian selection or how individuals influenced by their lives and their environment manifest those experiences in their children.  Now clothe the structure with walls and a roof.  That would be culture.

There are four sides to this building:  science, art, spirituality and popular culture.  Each side has its windows.  The side we’re calling spirituality has a door.

Walking inside, we note that each room has two doors providing access to each of the two contiguous areas.  In the center, where the four rooms and two long, internal walls meet, is a spiral stairway.  The stairway leads up.

In the attic, beneath the roof, still within the confines of culture, we achieve a dissociated point of view.  Looking down, we observe how the various pieces all connect and support one another.  Looking up to the roof, we see a skylight that illuminates and warms the four rooms by providing a place for the sun to shine down the stairway.

There is little argument that evolution happens.  There is little argument that natural selection forms the foundation for how all living plants and creatures procreate.  But, a lot more happens besides survival.  There is transcendence.  Observing how the house is built allows us to understand how both survival and transcendence are integral to how and where we live.

Sitting down to write this morning, I engage in my usual routine.  I seek to understand how we are all connected.

Child Play

August 15, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Sand Castles

Observing the behaviors of children when as many as a dozen may be working with me on sand castles, I see that their ages, gender and disposition all influence how they participate in the project.  For example, some are inclined to concentrate on infrastructure, spending their time digging holes.  Others focus on the building of towers.  There are the artists and there are the engineers.

There are boys fascinated by the havoc caused when the ocean is allowed to enter the project through a channel.  They watch closely as walls erode and towers fall.  Often they have a narrative, spoken out loud, that involves a civilization, with all pitching in to prevent imminent catastrophe.

Some children surround themselves by the century they’re in.  Their hands are bulldozers, moving earth to make room for the hand-like cranes.  Other kids observe towers erected in the Middle Ages, and their hands and fingers are carriages moving up and down the slopes.  To some, usually girls, the sand castles are the homes for fairies.  The scale is normal; the inhabitants are small.

A dedication to dark places seems to be characteristic of certain kids.  They dig deep into foundations beneath the towers to create places for imaginary people to live.  Fascinated by tunnels, they look for opportunities to create connections beneath the earth, places where more than one doorway will lead to the center.

A few are spellbound by craft.  They want to know how the towers are made and practice hand positions to achieve the various fashions so that sand will reproduce a fairy gothic spire.  Often their hands are so small that they can’t haul as much dripping sand as they would like to haul so that they can reproduce what is in their imagination.  I’ve watched children concentrating for hours on perfecting their technique.

There are the natural leaders, usually girls, exercising a variety of techniques to berate and cajole peers into cooperating with a larger agenda.  Girls tend to exhibit more variety and patience in the ways that they guide the behavior of their contemporaries.  Bossy boys, tired of being ignored, resign from positions of authority and become independent contractors.

Some children are enchanted by the juxtaposition of found objects on the beach and their integration into the structure taking shape.  Leaves become awnings, sticks doorways and smooth glass shards become windows.

The visionaries are looking at the project and seeing what it will be like hours (centuries in sand castle time) in the future.  These kids usually engage in digging channels and heaping up the sand to create mountains that future castles will sit upon.  These kids often don’t talk for long periods of time as they concentrate on getting the present to line up with the picture in their head.

For some kids, it’s about the commotion, the conversations and the society of children growing up around the project.  These kids learn everybody’s name, and their sister and brother’s names, and where they come from, how long they’re there.  They want to know what everybody had for lunch.

Often the little ones don’t know what to do as they observe the other children playing.  Some are not talking yet.  They run back and forth between the ocean and the channels with buckets filled with water, raising water tables and causing walls to cave in.  Boy toddlers, the bane of castle builders everywhere, look for opportunities to destroy.  If they don’t have an older sister involved in the enterprise, they leave a trail of children wailing in frustration and dismay.

I enjoy the attention we receive from people walking along the shoreline.  We do good work, and I can accept their commendations.  As satisfying as it is to play, to build and to feel appreciated by the vacationers examining our inventions, I experience joy by being surrounded by children making something truly unique, a spontaneous, creative community of peers.

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 this dynamic in detail is more than useful.  As an artist, I experience it as beautiful.

One idea bouncing around my head, surfacing as waves, is that class structure in the U.S. and more stratified societies exhibits a process not unlike what has been expressed in the previous entry and other postings.  Whereas youth culture washes up while corporate culture washes down, occupied aboriginal or indigenous culture has a tide that moves one direction as occupier European culture goes the other way.  I’m considering that in an identical fashion, poverty and working class culture exhibit currents of change that course up through stratified layers while the wealthy, upper class culture’s currents flow metaphorically downhill.

Fashion and musical trajectories form with the poor and uninfluential, are embraced by society and finally get integrated into corporate product lines and are made the convention.  The upper class allegiance to the idea of an unencumbered individuality manifested by the power to purchase anything you want drifts down to the very poorest of society, encouraging them to believe that purse strings are the most important strings that bind us all.  The new drifts up.  Assimilated conventions drift down.

Nineteen years I was in the gift business.  I watched multiyear fad cycles become eighteen-month cycles, and then approach a year.  The cycles are growing shorter as the avenues of idea distribution become greased by online technologies and a mass media that crave stories that compel viewers to watch the ads.  While the young and the working class are creating, the controlled-by-the-old corporations are broadcasting their central insight that whatever it is, it’s OK if it makes money.

A principle we use to design social change web applications, building networks between activists across the country, is the principle of waves.  By investing the lowest level of political authority with the tools for social change, we enhance the ability for culture to evolve in a horizontal, transparent, diverse direction.  As this impetus moves upward, it transforms the very premise that society has been built upon for over 6,000 years, hierarchy.  The more power provided to the lowest levels, the more potential there is for profound, creative change as the system itself is transformed by using the principles that drive transformation.

Waves and scales.  Scales and waves.  Standing knee deep in the surf during a thunderstorm, it’s not clear whether we’re being pelted by the ocean or the sky.  Evolutionists like Haeckel, Darwin or Gould may seem dry at first exposure.  Noting their ties to contemporary society, we can feel the waves.

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 trackers, traders, settlers and ranchers.  These features drifted into American society and influenced our culture.  Features of the American aboriginal are manifesting in contemporary and world culture in ways that have not previously been examined.  This hypothesis seemed fascinating, though not one easily proved.

One of the biggest barriers to our understanding of the relationship between the different stages of development within the four levels of evolution/transformation is our commitment to the idea of progress or time unfolding in a linear direction with things getting better bit by bit.  It is difficult to grasp that all stages are integral, whole, part of a process, a process that does not imply later is better than earlier.  The 55-year-old Andrew is not better than the 25-year-old Andrew.  The human being is not better than the chimp-like precursor.  An adult is not better than a baby.  The European is not better than the aboriginal.  Evolution occurring at the personal, biological, ontological and societal scales does not imply a transition from qualitative less to more.

Earlier is not less evolved than later.  It is just earlier.  Even our word “evolved” suggests better with time.  Like that locomotive, these connotations that the word “evolution” carries hauls a long train of implications having little to do with the reality of a judgment-free process.

A central feature of all four stages of evolution is the carrying forward features of earlier ancestral stages into the adult stages of descendants.  In biology, this is called neoteny and has been explored from an ontological and biological perspective by Stephen J. Gould.  Tom Robbins perhaps best describes the effects of neoteny on an individual when he creates characters for his novels.

From a societal perspective, one example of neoteny is when features of aboriginal culture manifest in modern culture, carrying forward creative resources and providing contemporary times beneficial depth.

Robert Pirsig posits that the contemporary, American idea of independence has an enormous amount to do with the exposure of Europeans to the people already here, a deeply spiritual people, a people at home in their environment.  Pirsig hypothesizes that what began as an attempt to reproduce the behavioral composure of the locals evolved into a cultural embrace of an aboriginal idea of freedom.

It is also an Indian concept that time does not unfold in a line, but is a circle.  The mythic past meets up with the mythic future, creating a circle where they meet in mythic times.

The indigenous Americans understand that there is no such thing as progress.  Things don’t get better.  Things are.  At all stages and levels of development, we are all always equal, yet ever changing.

Freedom and independence are spiritual concepts deeply informed by an understanding of interdependence and respect for all.  In contemporary times, we are wrestling with how we can integrate battling concepts of independence and interdependence.  We have a model for this integration in our midst.

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 still early April. Though the sap is moving, there is little evidence of leaves.

Local Left organizations are budding as their roots warm. These bushes, closer to the ground, are influenced more quickly than the trees. There are literally thousands of them. Still, members of these groups are mostly over 50 years old. They are not participating in the activities of the grasses.

In the way that spring begins with the lowest and moves quickly higher with the thaw, political change begins with the youngest, moves to the older and influences more ancient institutions established over time. Though the trees and bushes of our political landscape reveal interconnections far healthier than has been the case in the past, it is the grasses that reveal an astonishing webbing of interconnections leading to more than just seasonal change. What the young are doing that we older activists are dimly aware of is establishing massive, online, horizontal linking relationships, thereby forming the foundations for future change.

Neoteny is the process by which the features of the youngest or earliest stages of ontogeny or growth are manifested in the later stages of evolutionary descendants. We are observing features of the seamless communication of the cellular structure of a single human being manifesting in the behaviors of young humans communicating across the planet through social networking, new more sophisticated cell phones and the web.

It’s as if the prairies were returning with root structures that have no end. If wisdom comes with interconnection and relationship, then the grassroots will guide us.

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 can see in my mind’s eye what a billion people look like.  I embrace a million seconds by noting the number of days it takes to get there.  I make millions and billions, numbers representing quantities, distances and time, immediate and graspable.  I experience the ancient past as present, intimate and familiar.  Evolution feels to be happening right now.

Evolution is a very recent concept.  As evolution is interpreted from a societal point of view, what we understand as evolution is accompanied by three very different ideas of unfolding societal time, each with its own advocates.

There are those that interpret progress in society as a chance or emergent feature of the behavior of humans in groups.  No inevitable direction is implied.

There are those that believe firmly in a forward, positive direction informed by the good works of technology, science and the creations of corporations.  No larger consciousness or deity implied.

There are those that experience the presence of consciousness that informs and guides society and its individuals toward compassion, awareness of interdependence and an experience of peace.  Everything is implied.

It is an old idea, the spiritual principle that the human race is slowly profiting from our individual experiences while we head in a direction where an accumulating good will be realized in a deeply satisfying future.  It’s an idea that gradates into the modern idea of technological progress.  This idea of progress seeps further down into an understanding of social evolution, characterized by no direction, progress as illusion, just the random emergence of features chosen for their adaptive qualities when an individual survives to procreate.

In other words, our ideas of time have their own geologic logic with one concept gradating into the next.

Lyell was not the first Westerner to wrestle with the implications of the impact of an idea of time on our ability to interpret the world around us.  But he was one of the first to realize that changing interpretations of how time flows offer more and less access to the information embedded in our surroundings.  Of the three time styles just noted, I’ve at different times embraced all three.  I have shifted orientations in a day.  Ideas of evolution and time are closely tied.  Just as different theories of evolution can influence society and culture, so can varying concepts of time.

Perhaps it’s time to realize that we choose the time we’re in.  The kind of time that we are attached to may influence the future that we have.

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 she can exhibit spontaneous flexible creativity when responding to an opponent.  An ability to adjust quickly to novel circumstances has everything to do with practicing a wide variety of techniques so that a large selection of behaviors is available when the environment demands a unique response.

Western and now world culture is practicing mythology, like a martial artist practices kicks, in ways unimaginable even 75 years ago.  Commercials experiment with myth and story, looking for a message that snags.  Successful communications are reproduced by competitors until the effect wanes.  Another variation emerges.  Several myths-as-advertising cycles are running concurrently at any time.  Countless demographic subgroups are being targeted and tracked as what is most effective reaching those subgroups keeps demanding revision.

This is like a martial art of story telling, using words as a weapon, except the new moves keep getting invented.  Instead of practicing a tradition, we have evolved a martial art that practices novelty.

TV, song, print, video and gaming and film find themselves modifying in response to an audience demanding more and move novelty in what it experiences.  At the same time, media guide their audience to crave more change.

Runaway sexual selection is an evolutionary process whereby mate selection encourages the exponential increase of extreme features over generations through time.  Usually it is the male selected for something specific, for example, an Asian fish’s long tail.  The female becomes selected for her ability and compulsion to make that selection.  Over generations, the male’s tail becomes longer and longer, the female more discriminating.

Tall tales in our cultures have become the subject of the human compulsion to appraise and embrace, to sexually select just about everything in our experience.  Except humans don’t require copulation to experience satisfaction that a decision between two options was satisfying.  The stories we tell each other, the grounding myths of our culture, have themselves become the subject of our craving for novelty.  Without being consciously aware of what we have been doing, we have become sensitive appraisers of reality, like the female mate of a long-tailed fish craving long-tailed males.  We are moving at astonishing speed into a completely relativistic frame of reference.

We have prepared ourselves to experience profound change at an extremely rapid rate.  Having abandoned the established myths, rejected most of the old stories and demanded new stories at increasingly rapid speeds, we have made ourselves available to any future we could possibly devise.

Could our future possibly offer the option of experiencing the world without story?  Is it possible that in the future, the veil of myth and story will fade and we will consciously be able to choose myth or no myth?

To be able to respect, experience and appreciate the networks that we are a part of–biological, societal, personal–we need to be able to let the scales fall from our eyes.  We are now more facile with story than we have ever been.  Just in time.

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 beliefs we’ve been giving up over the two hundred years is the disparagement of left-handers. These biases have built into our language what with sinister, sinistral and the Left being closely associated. In some cultures, one only wipes one’s butt with the left hand.

The random-handed are unique. They display an older genotype and are perhaps the bridge to understanding autism and conditions characterized by maturational delay. Still, they are not easily pigeon-holed, and they often display both remarkable physical and verbal prowess and sometimes impairments in the same areas. Presidents and stutterers are often left-handed.

The random-handed offer clues to both our evolutionary origins and our society’s future path. With another possible left-handed president, perhaps it’s time we explored this once vilified, re-emerging class.

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 watching people on the phone. A show of hand displays for a person on the line that the talker cannot see. Some people exhibit astonishing skills at hand dance. How often are we aware of people with these skills? A genius gesturer could go through life observed, but never noticed.

Very soon keyboards will disappear. Computers will become savvy enough to interpret our idiosyncratic utterances and cameras will be able to decipher our subvocalizations. It’s only a matter of time before reading fades away. In less than one hundred years, world culture will return to one characterized by speaking and listening, as digitalization stores and retrieves everything we hear and say.

And so, another great circle of societal evolution will have looped around so that a beginning re-emerges as an end. The skills and strengths of aboriginals and third world cultures–auditory story-telling societies–will become the demanded aptitude of a world culture demanding creativity and facility in the spoken word.

It is not just a new language that finds itself emerging, like waking from a dream of the future, when a creole is born that can speak the ancient slang of hands. When two humans mate from bloodlines separated by prejudice or geography, the progeny often exhibit features of the ancestor the two parents last had in common. As the world turns toward those who are skilled in communication forms not encouraged for thousands of years, parents will be producing children able to communicate across these great divides.

Watch people’s hands and listen to the melody of their words. Doing so, we’ll be able to grasp both the future and the past.

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 not otherwise emerge.

A primary difference between most activists and us is that Marcia and I focus primarily on process, meaning, the methods by which things get decided and accomplished. As web developers specializing in online tools for the American Left/Progressive community, we seek to enhance communication and cooperation among organizations within a state and across state lines. Through a growing list of volunteers, we work with nearly 900 national, regional, state and local organizations in almost 30 states Only two of these organizations pay for our services. See pjep.org and purplepolitics.org for some detail. Focusing on process, we pay close attention to horizontal (rather than hierarchical) structure, and we pay close attention to transparency and diversity. We seek to understand what it takes for organizations to work together seamlessly and then encourage that process. Integral to seamless process is clean structure. As web developers specializing in making it possible for organizations to work together in a united fashion, we’ve discovered that horizontal/transparent/diverse structure is integral to communication and cooperation characterized by trust.

The foundation of our work is to empower activists. Creating conditions that nurture the emergence of confident, empowered activists, giving them unique and powerful resources at their disposal, goes a long way toward encouraging the experience of national unity that we seek.

It became clear to Marcia and me that our goal was different from the goal of the majority of the coordinating committee. Marcia and I commit large numbers of hours and resources to creating a national infrastructure than can support a united U.S. Left. When we joined the coordinating committee (CC), we thought there was a large overlap in goals. What we discovered was that the CC and administrative committee (AC) had a narrower focus than Marcia and I were used to.

A narrow focus, in my opinion, created a number of barriers to achieving the larger goal of the Assembly. It is difficult to achieve national unity without taking into consideration the various groups and interests influenced by the decisions made while seeking that goal. I believe that the designers of the National Assembly project believed that they were acting in the best interests of the larger community by creating those barriers. In my opinion, these very barriers subverted those goals. The organizers of the National Assembly aimed low. The result was a disappointing conference.

There have been at least four barriers erected by the members of the CC and AC that have inhibited the goals of the conference. In addition, the conference was organized in several ways that disempowered those that attended the event.

“`

Barrier #1: A Stated Goal Limited To Creating A Single Day Of National Action.

The stated goal of the National Assembly was to create an entity that will compel the creation of a widely supported national day of mass action. It was established that the National Assembly would concentrate solely on that mission. The organization does not have to be a coalition or representational of the community at large in a way that the community at large feels reflected, mirrored or represented. Because the goal of the organization is confined to that mission, its ambition to be representational of the Left/Progressive community or to exhibit the features of a coalition is unnecessary.

In our opinion, this belief is a barrier to success.

There was a lot of confusion among many people that I talked to at the conference. These were largely people from the Midwest, folks I talked to among the booths and youth. Many people attending the conference were making an assumption that the conference sought to represent a wide spectrum of the Left/Progressive community and would seek to communicate to the assembled activists that this broad representation was the case. They were not clear that the sole goal of the project was to encourage a successful national day of action and that the organizers seeking to achieve that goal were not striving to mirror to the community at large the issues/geography/age/gender/diversity of those that had assembled. The difference between a network and a coalition, a distinction that the structural proposal sought to make, was not a distinction that was clear to many in the assembly for three reasons.

1) Another meeting was planned for next year.
2) A committee would decide how amendments would be integrated into the action proposal.
3) There were no alternative proposals on the structure of the network.

When we asked about structure early on, we were told that one would not be necessary, that the Assembly was not going to be a new organization in competition to those already established. If the network was important enough to have an elected body post-Assembly, why wasn’t it important enough to have alternative proposals on the exact structure of that network?

If conference attendees were respected enough to vote for those individuals that would influence the course of significant events in the future, why were they not provided the ability to participate in creating the structure that would inform the process engaged in by those elected officials? Calling something a network does not mean that democratic process does not apply.

Barrier #2: With Limited Goals, Limited Democratic Process is Acceptable

Unspoken assumptions of the National Assembly CC and those organizing the Assembly were that: 1) the Assembly itself does not need to work hard to reflect the larger community in terms of the many kinds of groups, ages, interests and geographic locations of those groups, 2) it is OK if the National Assembly seeks to exert influence on the established national peace organizations without specifically representing the various communities of the anti-war movement. Regardless, good-natured attempts to achieve the stated goals of the assembly did not need to be accompanied by a structure that would make it clear how the goals would be achieved. Efforts in these directions without prescribed structure were considered acceptable because the goal of National Assembly was narrow and specific.

Marcia and I are new to the Movement. Our experience is not deep. New to the CC about a month after its inception, Marcia and I made note of the stated policy that proposals for new CC members and workshops could be given to the AC, which would, without culling out proposals, then submit them to the CC to discuss. Marcia and I were confused when we submitted two women leader organizers from a region (the SE) not represented on the CC, whom we believed would have helped to provide some regional and gender balance. We then observed that they were not brought from the AC to the CC for consideration. The same thing happened when we submitted a workshop. Though we were told the process worked one way, we experienced that the process worked another way. I will not enumerate the number of occasions that this type of issue occurred. They were many. We were told on several occasions that democratic process was fully engaged and emphasized a nonhierarchical, transparent, diverse frame of reference. Clearly, we were operating with different definitions of the concepts.

Barrier #3: Deliberately Inhibit Online and Offline Networking

Enhancing networking between organizations and individuals participating in the project was perceived by the AC to be either outside the purview of the project or in conflict with the project’s goals. The goal of the National Assembly was promoted as narrow and specific. An emphasis on networking does not necessarily contribute to that goal.

Online networking tools, integrated into the website, were rejected by the AC. These tools came with the template used to create the Assembly website. Networking tools were rejected, I think, because they were perceived to be outside the goals of the National Assembly as interpreted by the AC. Specifically, the member of the AC dealing with the communications rejected the options for engaging visitors to the site in a number of different fashions – tools that provide an experience of personal empowerment familiar to the young. Organizations could have been offered an ability to form ad hoc coalitions online in order to propose and work on action proposals together. Organizations could have been offered email access to all organizations participating in the conference. Ongoing conversation vehicles were available. Resource storage was available for each organization. These features and other features were rejected.

At the conference, the name tags had only names but no state or city of origin or organizational affiliations. Networking was deeply inhibited by this omission.

There was no time assigned for conference attendees to caucus by state, region or area of interest, a procedure that would have provided an opportunity for folks to meet and work together who might not have been able to before.

There were no workshops on networking, online networking, social networking or working together across states or across state lines despite the fact that the Assembly calls itself a “network.”

There were no panel representatives specializing in this form of organizing, such as Democracy in Action, PJEP, MoveOn or one of the radical collectives.

Barrier #4: Might is Right

Another unspoken assumption of the CC is that old style muscle organizing is integral to achieving real world goals. Nontransparent, nondiverse and hierarchical behavior depends a lot on the definitions of those terms. Marcia and I observed several behavioral definitions in play. Without structure and clearly defined boundaries of behavior, individuals with the most authority invested by the decision-making body make decisions that are not based on agreed-upon-conventions (structure) but upon the conventions of their personal experience. By some definitions of good democratic process, there were ongoing abuses of authority by members of the AC. With these differing interpretations actively in play, there was no recourse, no mediating process available, no structure that could serve to guide. We were left with the primate first commandment, might makes right.

We are not suggesting that those in authority did not have good intentions. We are saying that more than one organizing paradigm was in play. The established paradigm was committed to specific barriers, enforced using specific behavioral and verbal conventions, barriers that inhibited the stated goal of the project, “national unity.”

“`

The Conference that Disempowered

As opposed to feeling empowered by the events of the conference, many there felt disempowered. Several ways the conference was organized contributed to that experience.

1) By being 1.25 days long instead of 3 or 4 days long, the conference provided little time to invest those that attended with an experience that they helped to make the event happen. The conference happened to them. There was little time to reflect back to the attending activists the contributions they came to make.

It could be asked, “What contribution did the attendees make?” Numerous amendments were submitted but not seen or heard. (This is still true. More than a week after the end of the conference, attendees are still waiting to see the document that their “votes” helped to create and may never see all of the amendments proposed by those who submitted amendments during the time allotted for submission.)

2) The website was used as an exclusively one-to-many broadcasting tool but performed that function poorly, with the exception of posting endorsers of the call. Calls to solicit actions proposals were late and not overt. There were no invitations to submit structural proposals. There was no posting of those organizations that planned to send representatives to the conference, which in our experience is the single most powerful tool that drives organizations to an event. Let people know who else is coming. Our requests to address these concerns were rejected by the AC.

3) The cost of the conference was high. I observed no discussion of the cost. The AC made these decisions. Evidently, the desire that the location be a union venue was integral to the decision. The cost of the rooms, after the discount was taken and the taxes were added, was $130 minimum. This cost was deeply discounting of youth and the underprivileged. We raised our concerns about the need to address the cost of the conference and the cost of housing. An allowance was made in the registration fees, but it wasn’t until much later that efforts were made to offer alternatives in housing.

4) Marcia and I observed an ongoing prioritization of a union agenda. This prioritization was one of several examples of this alternative/underlying agenda inhibiting the larger goals. The role of labor in the anti-war movement is very important, but is it more important than the role of any other contingency? For example, there was almost no attention to the perspectives of youth and youth organizing protocols. Youth network online. With the website stripped of online features, youth were disempowered.

5) The composition of the CC was posted late in the conference organizing process. Reasons were given for the delay. Establishing a pattern of less than complete transparency was unfortunate. The principal organizer of the conference, Jerry Gordon, was not promoted as such in any of the materials about National Assembly. It was intentional. With increased transparency comes an increase in personal empowerment. More information provides more opportunity to make informed decisions. Strategic decisions to offer less than complete transparency were an ongoing characteristic of the National Assembly governing body. I believe it was to encourage as large an attendance as possible at the event. The repercussion was that many that attended experienced buyer’s remorse.

6) We observed no efforts to collect feedback from those that attended the conference, on paper or online.

7) Workshops were designed to encourage attendance by important constituencies, with almost no input by individuals outside the AC or CC. Instead of allowing the participants/attendees to influence the creation of the workshops they would attend, the AC and CC decided for them.

) Attendance fell off from over 400 on the first day to almost 250 on day two. A third to a fourth of attendees were not in the main hall during votes, with as many as 100 people in the exhibition section at any time. Many people were not engaged in a way that would suggest that they felt that voting related personally to them.

9) There were almost no restaurants within six blocks of the hotel. An estimated 85 of the 405 registered activists attended the Saturday evening panels and speeches. Most attendees were across town eating super. There were literally no printed announcements and no announcements from the podium of Saturday evening’s events, which included UFPJ and A.N.S.W.E.R. presentations. Bringing these groups together to National Assembly was an important goal of the event and of the project in general as stated in CC communications. Yet literally no message was made to the assembled activists that UFPJ and A.N.S.W.E.R. would be on stage Saturday night.

10) No more than 220 people voted for an issue at any time. There are more than 4000 peace and justice groups in the United States. Those 220 people, instead of representing a fraction of those organizations, instead represented an even smaller fraction of this country’s activists.

“`

Good intentions are not enough to create a good event. Left politics as usual is not an answer. Something new is needed.

As I understand it, UFPJ chose to support IVAW’s request to have exclusive access to a particular stretch of days in March for the Winter Soldier project. There were not many other times to hold a national action at the time of the war’s anniversary given the conflicts with religious calendars. Without UFPJ agreeing to hold a mass action at that time, a national action was unlikely to be successful. That conclusion seems to be the opinion of several other national organizations that sought a united action.

The conveners of the National Assembly began the project seeking to influence the Left political environment in a way that would encourage national mass actions without starting a third national organization. They were seeking influence without an identity. I’m not sure it is possible, practically or philosophically. Still, they gave it a shot and are continuing their efforts.

For many of us, it is not just about a lack of unity among national organizations resulting in a lack of national mass actions. The founders of the National Assembly, seeking to achieve unity accompanied by national mass actions, bring to light the additional problems noted above. Our point is not that UFPJ and other organizations are failing in their positions or responsibilities. The problems are deeper. The problems are philosophical, structural and practical.

Philosophical Anachronisms

Fairly often, I find Left activists noting versions of Darwin’s theory of natural selection as a given when seeking social change. No single belief so deeply inhibits our ability to encourage our society’s transformation. The Left still embraces the origin story of our opponents, a story that has been dissolving for fifteen years. “Survival of the fittest” is dead. There is a new paradigm. It might be described as “transcendence through cooperation.”

Darwin proposed three evolutionary theories. The second and third were published after his theory of natural selection to explain those points where Darwin felt natural selection failed to support his observations. Darwin’s theories of sexual selection and pangenesis focused on the power of aesthetics in mate choice and the impact of the environment on evolution. Evolutionary developmental biology is a new discipline that recognizes the immense impact of the aesthetics and the environment on evolution. By believing that it is a dog-eat-dog, might-makes-right world, we subscribe to our opponents’ point of view. Not even Darwin believed this point of view.

Social Darwinism, which embraces a free market philosophy, is a particular story told in a very specific way, a rendition of Darwin’s work manipulated to support an elite perspective that the elite deserve their larger share of resources because they achieved those resources according to natural laws. The elites in our culture demand that these laws not be broken. It is time we enacted alternative legislation. It is time we tell a different story.

Alternative Structures

The emergence of the web and the embracing of that medium by the young and young activists provide a map of where, as activists and organizers, we need to go. The 60s are dead. The 30s are gone. A new set of tactics and strategies are appearing, championed by the young, techniques that we older organizers would do well to explore in great detail. Not the least of the benefits of these new tools is a whole new way to create and express structure. These new structures support the paradigm “transcendence through cooperation.” These new structures exist now and are providing a cooperation/communication framework used by hundreds of peace, justice and environmental organizations across the country. They are not being used by national organizations.

Horizontal communication, transparency and diversity can be deeply embedded in the very fabric of an organizational structure in ways literally not available before the last two years. One aspect of this new basket of tools, online social networking, is huge. Just this week, hundreds of participants, through the social networking on Obama’s website revolted and set up an alternative, unauthorized thread demanding that Obama reverse his position on FISA. Consider the potential for these tools to drive participants into the streets.

Practical Politics

Established national peace and justice organizations are mostly using old technical tools, such as one-to-many or conventional interactive websites and broadcast listserves. These technologies are almost fifteen years old. How the hell did the Obama campaign outflank the Left using cutting edge technologies? Money was not the issue. The issue was that leaders of our national organizations are stuck in 60s and 30s frames. The National Assembly is not the only organization struggling to find a way to transform the culture using our opponents’ origin myths, our opponents’ structure and outdated politics.

“`

Conclusion

Marcia and I are not technology geeks. We work closely with many Illinois organizations to drive activists into the streets by using conventional, tried and true techniques. Marcia or I have been on the central organizing bodies for literally every large protest event in Chicago for several years. Yes, we have an agenda, and it places technology at its core. Still, we’ve experienced the limits of technology. Integral to the success of the tools we’re promoting are the relationships established among organizers as they learn to trust one another as they seek to accomplish common goals. This communication is not designed or intended to disparage organizers doing their utmost to achieve social change. There are now alternatives available to what national organizations have tried. This email suggests that the alternatives hold promise and that it would be useful to examine them in detail.

Respectfully,

Andrew Lehman and Marcia Bernsten

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 safe place to withdraw from a frightening world not only made my mind moist to fantastical interpretations but introduced me to the “As If” frame at an early age. In comic books, story lines often veered off into alternative worlds, dreams, make-believe futures, time changes, hit-on-the-head hallucinations and fever reveries that allowed the heroes to engage in actions that their personas would not allow. I can’t tell you the number of times Superman married Lois, and then the comic ended and he didn’t really marry Lois.

Stories Within Stories Within Stories.

When Gore lost in 2000, I was more than just shocked and disappointed. I felt scared. It felt to me like a story was being created by our American communal mind that required far more drama than I had been considering we’d be willing to endure. It seemed to me that a tragedy was about to engage. It was as if electing someone with good intentions was not enough to motivate the most powerful nation on the planet to face the tidal wave of problems on the way. We had decided to make a story so stark in its lessons that there could be no question of which path it was appropriate to follow. We had decided to elect an idiot as president, a representative of the corporations, and see what happens.

We decided to exaggerate all the warped thinking that created barriers to change, making it obvious where the walls were so we could tear them down. We decided to take the stories that we’d been living by since we started using language, distill them to their essence, and then watch and listen to them over and over and over again.

We were told ghost stories where the purpose of the stories was to feel frightened. We were told cornucopia fantasies that declared that giving the government no money would make the government far wealthier in the end. We were told morality tales that said that corporations and the wealthy, policing themselves, would behave not in their best interests, but in ours. We were told stories of murderers, women who would abort becoming murderers that should not be punished for the taking of a life. We were told the Muslim radicals hate us for our freedoms, that jealousy motivated our enemies and that our own behaviors could never cause someone else to hate us.

We were told the air was not dirtier, the poor were not poorer and that global warming was not a threat. Then, we were told that even though global warming was a threat, Americans did not need to change their behavior to effect a change. We were told we were not responsible.

An ocean of stories many fathoms deep. Stories nested within stories within stories. The outside thread of this ball of yarns was the story that Americans did not have to respond. Our government would fight the war, not Americans. Corporations would regulate themselves; the government would not regulate corporations. The government, corporations and Americans did not need to respond to environmental threats. Individual Americans did not need to respond to anything. The story: Americans don’t need to be responsible.

Gore lost. The repercussion of the loss is now evident in the story pushed by our idiot as King. We now see what happens when we choose to believe the story that we are not responsible.

Not just during this Administration have we been telling ourselves these tales. We’ve been believing these stories as a species since we started using language and thinking in narrative threads instead of associational fabrics. It is our telling stories that we need to stop doing on occasion, at least so we can tell when we’re telling stories.

We’re approaching the surface after deep sea diving inside of stories since the origin of language. Fresh air will at first feel foreign. Being able to have the choice to give up our stories, the air will be clean, not too globally warmed and the ocean will grow no deeper than it’s been.

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 indulgence that accompany flights of creative fancy. There are ways that this narcissism protects or shields the individual from societal intervention. It allows the creator to reject society and just create.

New technologies, such as almost seamless cell phone communications, innovations on the web, social networking, sharing of music and other files and the integration of our digital lives with our friendships are encouraging a creative revolution. Masking that revolution is the obvious evidence of narcissism that suggests to the culture that these are indulgences, and not important. The backs of our young may be turned to us now, but that is ending as we speak.

In the way that the relatively large brains of our genetic forbear babies have blossomed into modern times, the creativity of early childhood is now exploding into our youth. The selfishness we’ve been perceiving in our young people is but a leaf casing now withdrawing to reveal the flowering of societal transformation. Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is the classic parable for this process. Except, the future is not arriving in spaceships. The future is emerging in communications technologies.

Watching how the kids communicate, we can see the future now. Democracy will be transformed into an immediate experience as technology-enhanced personal empowerment compels involvement by all adults. Political change will be fun. Transparency will become a given. Corporations and governments thriving on secrecy, hierarchy and segregated operations will wither as massive synergies flow in the direction of communications habits characterized by transparency, horizontal communication and diversity.

News now tells us we are separate. News now won’t tell us the relation between cause and effect. And so, mainstream media is dying. As news reflects and suggests the ways that the world is connected, those new news sources will become revered.

Pay attention to the most annoying aspects of youth culture, where narcissism sits. Note the appearance of audacities and astonishments we never could have considered or imagined. Estimate the influence on the culture of this, this that is brand new. Realize the revolution is underway.

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 where he would seek to drive public opinion and move legislation through the use of his vast social networking infrastructure.  I suspect this tactic is exactly what will occur.  Still, there is the dynamic that an empowered people will demand response.  I’m curious to see how a highly hierarchical Democratic Party structure will be changed by social networking.

The surge of horizontal communications coupled with transparency and diversity is a powerful current to observe closely if we want to understand how the future unfolds now.  We can use these observations as an evaluation tool to determine how much potential impact a specific political power may have.  Noting Moveon’s hesitation about moving in this direction, I wonder how long it will be before a grassroots organization or non-organization emerges that will occupy this vacuum.

Vacuum it is.  Young people are becoming politically empowered by their experiencing empowerment online.  They are used to getting what they want, when they want it.  Customizing politics to serve a demographic used to getting what it wants will come as soon as bundling votes on specific issues online becomes integrated into social networking software.  This integration is coming inevitably, and soon.

Moveon does superb work.  Moveon also commits the sin of thinking for its members.  The members can think for themselves.  One does not have to be a mind reader to see that the future is not top down, but flat.

The symbol of our earliest known religions, back when goddesses ruled the world, was the serpent. The goddess had several familiars or manifestations. The serpent was unique.

“The snake is life force, a seminal symbol, epitome of the worship of life on this earth. It is not the body of the snake that was sacred, but the energy exuded by this spiraling or coiling creature which transcends its boundaries and influences the surrounding world. This same energy is in spirals, vines, growing trees, phalluses, and stalagmites, but it is especially concentrated in the snake, and therefore more powerful. The snake was something primordial and mysterious, coming from the depths of the waters where life begins. Its seasonal renewal in sloughing off its old skin and hibernating made it a symbol of the continuity of life and of the link with the underworld.” Marija Gimbutas, 1989

Over tens of thousands of years, the snake transformed into the dragon. The Western dragon is the serpent demonized by Indo-Europeans who conquered goddess culture. In India, Indo-Europeans demoted serpent deities to a lower caste, suppressing the serpent gods in myth and story. Farther East, the serpent was deified and made magical by the Chinese, yet stripped of its matrifocal origins. Destroyed, subjugated and assimilated, serpent-worshipping goddess peoples live on in their symbol’s transformations.

There is perhaps no better symbol for our species evolution than this symbol of ancient culture, a symbol that has experienced an evolution of its own.

Still, there are other ways to trace the meandering path of our societal history than by the stories and symbols that those peoples leave behind. You can explore those ancient people themselves, the original serpent people. These are the people we call autistic. We are going back in time to before the African Diaspora, when language was still an unfamiliar art. Unfamiliar to the males. It was the females that learned to speak first.

There are four times as many autistic males than autistic females. This disparity is a riddle that has stumped investigators for many years. Approaching societal evolution as a winding serpentine path of physiological/neurological transformations, we can trace changes in hormonal constellations that reveal a history of our species. That history suggests that autistic females are even more ancient than autistic males. To find females not yet facile with language requires further windings back in time.

Autism is the evidence of our evolutionary origins, back when language was brand new. I’m not suggesting autistic people are less evolved than contemporary, normal people. It seems to me that our evolutionary future has more than a little to do with the gifts that the autistic bring us from the past. I am suggesting that our bodies are riding a roller coaster, serpentine time machine that is bringing into contemporary times peoples from the past. Autistic males from perhaps 75,000 years ago, autistic females from maybe 150,000 years ago. There are four times more males than females because the further back in time you go, the less frequently those people can emerge.

Three powerful factors have converged to draw these people to us from ancient times. 1) In the past 25 years, there have been radical changes in sexual selection as our concept of the ideal partner has transformed. Western females now select for characteristics that an autistic male features to an extreme. 2) As racial and ethnic barriers dissolve, the children reveal features closer to the last time the divergent branches were the same. 3) Environmental factors are compelling massive maturational delay.

We have not evolved down any kind of straight path but have wondered back and forth as criteria for the perfect mate has changed. That pathway has been indelibly etched within our genes. These three factors have sent us tumbling into the past to create babies with long histories before they’re born.

Our stories tell us much of how we were created. The symbols, like maps, reveal the path. Our oldest stories and images go back to Africa. But now, like the aboriginal stories, our past and our future are feeling like they are converging. It’s as if we are entering mythic times where the brand new is also, literally, the unutterably ancient. The ancient Ouroboros, as a symbol, makes sense again.

Magic

June 1, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Ontogeny, Society

The Boulder, Colorado, philosopher Ken Wilber makes a powerful argument that many contemporary individuals attracted by spiritual experience confuse magic and spirituality.  Wilber is known for Integral Philosophy, which traces an unfolding of life on biological, social and personal levels, using a multiscale, multistage evolutionary sequence derived from his studies in several disciplines.  Some of the evolutionary principles shared in this blog have been influenced by Wilber’s work.

Briefly put, a belief in magic is retained by tribes or myth-based cultures and some stages of childhood before rationality engages.  Societal and childhood stages of development are seen as closely tied.  Societally and personally, once the age of reason has arrived, magic withdraws as a useful explanatory principle.  Yet, there is a future stage, marked by sensitivity to how experiences that formerly seemed unrelated were actually interconnected.  This awareness opens the door, on a personal level, to spiritual experience, and on a societal level, to accepting responsibility for that which shares this planet.

In the orchestra of ideas, you have the strings (biology), percussion (society), brass (ontogeny) and winds (individual biography).  Themes are introduced in one area, picked up by another and then played by all as concepts are examined in detail.

A theme that seems to wind its way about our lives is a hidden, deep desire that magic walk onto the stage of our experience and carry us to the place where we feel embraced.

There is the obvious confusing of magic and spirituality that I see in New Age friends.  If the right technique is discovered and performed, raised consciousness will result.  Powerful, pleasing, aesthetically crafted spiritual shortcuts are the engine of the New Age consumer economy.  A belief in magic is rife among those seeking and experiencing a life characterized by connectedness.  Wilber suggests this belief reveals the influence of early childhood stages on the behavior of well intentioned but confused grown-ups.

I see it deeper still.  I’ve observed in myself, and those I love, a hesitancy to grieve.  We hold onto a deep-seated notion that if we don’t take responsibility for our own experience, someone or something will step in and bridge us to that goal.  Things as simple as eating right, exercising, meditating and sleeping regularly, for many people, would catapult them to a different space.  For many, even though they know the change is needed, the choice does not get made.  They want the choice to be made for them.  They want a different choice.  It is magical thinking.

This thinking is not magical thinking in the traditional sense, but it is in that we want to experience miraculous intervention that will shower upon us the benefits of living the good life, without living the good life.  This thinking is magical thinking that pervades much of our everyday thoughts and influences how much power we feel we have to wield influence in the world.  It gums up our ability to feel connected.

Withdrawing from feeling grief is central to this inability to move forward.  By experiencing and working through grief, we can let go of magic, rationally appraise where we are and embrace the world.  The orchestra is playing.  Connections are being made.  There is nothing magical about feeling loved.

I grew up in Highland Park and Glencoe, Illinois, in the 50s and 60s.  These are largely Jewish, mostly upper-middle-class, suburbs.  Though there hadn’t been a Bar Mitzvah in either side of my family in several generations, we still retained a Jewish identity even if it revolved around the food we ate and a certainty that our particular group was more resilient and suffered more than any other group.  Sufferings of other minorities didn’t count.  My family was not exactly liberal.

The emergence of the state of Israel, a compelling story that held us spellbound, never revealed that the people living in Palestine were being ethnically cleansed, killed and sent away.  Jews were returning home.  I was told the Palestinians did not really live there but had moved there from other parts of the Middle East.  I was also told very few people lived there before the Jews arrived.  My relatives never discussed a post-World War II U.S. policy that refused to allow working-class Jews from Europe to immigrate to the U.S.  I don’t imagine they were aware of the Western nations’ strategy that sought a long-term, secure presence near essential Middle Eastern resources.  Such connections are not spelled out on TV.

Perhaps what most informed my solidarity with the people of Israel was how deeply the music from the movie Exodus stirred me.  Paul Newman on the boat, leading his people home.  The struggle for freedom after surviving terror.  It felt personal.

Two things most informed my political awareness when growing up.  First, the bomb.  Connecting my personal terror of dying with imminent world destruction linked my personal psyche with the global zeitgeist.  What happens in the world has always felt personal to me.  Second, the return of Jews to Israel felt like a personal return.  Israel was home.  Though as a child I never had a desire to visit Israel, its just being there seemed a good thing.  Hearing music from that sound track reminded me that the world could be a just place.  There were good things that were more powerful than terror.

Growing up, I retained a world view peculiar to my economic status and ethnic background.  Two seemingly unrelated political arenas, Israel and the bomb, did not feel obviously connected.  The two seemingly different issues have now merged.

The world’s last remaining nuclear-nuanced brink polarity is between the U.S. and disenfranchised, radicalized Middle Easterners.  Western interests continue to occupy Middle Eastern lands.  The Jewish culture, once obsessed with the nature of justice, behaves with a compulsion to commit injustice, as if it had lost the memory of abuse.

While a humbled Germany has embraced its shame, providing a future vision most nations still do not grasp, the Jewish nation refuses to grieve, transforming itself into an unrepentant Reich.

The path to world peace leads to this tortured human heart hell-bent on creating the pain it refuses to feel.

Starting as a sales rep in 1979, I thought it was all about survival of the fittest–could my products achieve success by appealing to enough people to survive?  I see it differently now.  A different evolutionary principle is at work.

I was a sales rep for 19 years.  I ran my own firm, hiring staff, calling on clients, writing up orders.  I was The Far Side rep, the guy making sure everybody was supplied with Gary Larson’s The Far Side products, such as greeting cards and calendars.  I represented more than 100 companies for more than 19 years, selling calendars, greeting cards, mugs, posters, books, tee shirts, gifts, clothing, backpacks, etc.  Though there was a stretch of about five years where I worked hideous hours, making myself sick and half crazy, the hours were mostly minimal and I was able to devote myself to starting other ventures while running the sales firm.  It wasn’t too bad.

Central to my profession as a sales rep was that institution called the trade show.  I exhibited in two shows each year in January and July in Chicago.  In May, I walked the New York National Stationery Show, looking for new companies to represent.  These were exhausting, mind-numbing experiences.  Perhaps the aspect most taxing was the emotional and logistical repercussion of hundreds of exhibitors committed to behaving in an excited and enthusiastic way about each and every possibility discussed or considered during these events.  The universe of trade show exhibitors is one where all possibilities are probabilities and all probabilities certain.  Every acquaintance is your friend, every friend your best friend.  Every stranger is a possible future member of your family.

I found this experience deeply fatiguing.

As the pea hens were walking up and down the aisles, we booth-based peacocks would strut our stuff, seeking mating opportunities with the buyers.  It was mostly men in the booth, mostly women walking the aisles.  It was about waiting for the fleeting opportunity for copulation.

It was worse when I was walking the aisles once a year at the national event, talking to exhibitors and looking to court and coax them into a relationship by letting me represent their products.  These exhibitors were locked into peacock mode.  Getting a read on how serious these manufacturers and publishers were to do business was not easy.  After I’d become a website designer, it was particularly difficult to figure out whether the behavior of a manufacturer or publisher locked into peacock mode, expressing enthusiasm for my doing their website, would translate into their really wanting to do a website.  I returned from one trade show with just over 100 business cards representing 100 business people excited about doing a website.  More than 100 phone calls later, I had three people wanting to continue the conversation.

In the beginning, as an exhibitor watching the thousands of buyers walk buy, I surmised that a massive exercise in natural selection was taking place.  Products competed to be able to achieve another factory run and propagate progeny across the American retail landscape.  My opinion has changed.  I now believe it’s about Darwin’s theory of sexual selection.  Trade shows aren’t about survival as much as they’re about seduction.  America’s economy is about sex.

My wife, Marcia, and I sit in meetings with activists from around the country, usually in our capacity as web developers or communications specialists. Our colleagues are sometimes focused on process, often on content, but like nurture and nature, there is no difference between the two.

Then there are the folks emphasizing the big picture calculating present position within long term goals. Others concentrate on the communication that they are engaged in, the conversation they are having and the bridge they are building in the moment. This distinction is subtle and possibly non existent.

The century-and-a-half argument between nature and nurture–genetics or the environment–has to do with a defective perspective that they are two different things. Recent developments in evolutionary developmental biology have opened the eyes of proponents of both polarities. How life unfolds from before conception has to do with the influence of the environment on a genetic template programmed to take into consideration environmental influences. Imagine a world-exploring vehicle that changes its appearance, even the fuel it uses, as it passes through different landscapes–a vehicle designed to invent new looks and tastes as it makes its way across a planet. Is it the environment or the designer that has more to do with the way this vehicle looks and acts?

Like the academic conservatives that focus on nature or genetics as the foundation for any perspective we should have, Left political activists hone in on content and more specifically the mission of their particular organization or group when planning how to create social and political change. Focusing on content or specific issues, we neglect the big picture. It is a frequent feature of the Left that unity feels less important than achieving a particular constituency’s goals. Placing content before process keeps this disunity intact.

Paying attention to process relieves activists of their differences, providing an opportunity for participants to feel part of the process, part of something larger than themselves. Whereas content proponents focus on why, process adherents are more concerned with how. Both are integral to moving forward.

Strategy on the Left often focuses on mission, allies, targets, strategy and tactics. Process is often confused with strategy. Process is about that big picture but with an integral addition. Focus on process is commitment to relationship. What we’re really talking about is noting the importance of encouraging quality relationships while engaged in the process of achieving goals. It is about noting the value of what is happening right now, in the present, and honoring that present. Experiencing the moment we are in as the most important moment. This awareness is the element of process that is overlooked.

Looking to future strategizing to achieve big picture goals of social and political change can be balanced by being in the present and respecting our allies as we journey across this strange new world, experiencing things we’ve never experienced before.

Consider making this discovery while on the journey. Big picture and present moment are the same.

Autism is a social condition.

Rather, in the way that loud, rhythmic music is a symptom of puberty, the sudden rise in autism is a manifestation of extreme societal change. Both transitions are characterized by a radical hormonal shift.

The autistic person is a normal person time-traveling here from the distant past to the present where his or her gifts are only about to be understood.

Our genetic history is stored like a pocket roadmap of an almost endless roller coaster ride, tracking, among other things, the hormonal fluctuations of our ancestors. A patriarchal past stores a history of high testosterone males and low testosterone females. Further back in time, our genes tell us we lived matrifocal lives with high testosterone females and low testosterone males. Back further still, we were just learning to use language in dance-driven tribal bands where females were revered societal leaders. Unceasing music was the rhythm of their life.

Almost half of these male band members were left handed. Females were far more verbally articulate than men. The males were often relatively tall and lanky. Puberty arrived unusually late. Dancing was the center of their life.

A million or more years of sexual selection with powerful females picking the best male dancers was coming to an end. Males had been selected by the women for neotenous features that included cooperative natures, creativity and the big brains that made them extravagant dancers. Females were revered for all these things plus their management skills. They were marshalling infants to adulthood with no fathers; only brothers helped provide.

The great shift from matrifocal to patrifocal social structure began perhaps 40,000 years ago when language firmly bridged over from mostly the females to both women and men. About 25,000 years ago, the archeological record reveals that the human brain was beginning to grow smaller. Great dancers were not the cat’s pajamas anymore. Men were also picked by females for their gifts with words. Right-handers proliferated. The history hormone roller coaster had finished peaking and was now picking up speed as it headed down.

Perhaps 1,000 generations later, we’ve hit bottom. The roller coaster is starting again up hill. Our future is filled with child-like creators as the autistic begin a much delayed return.

I’m a sand castle purist.  I use only my hands, drip/pancake style.  How I let the wet sand fall from my hand has everything to do with what takes form.  A hot sun, 85 or higher, is necessary to bake the sand quickly.  Having almost no wind is important to keep the tower detail intact.  Fine-grain shell sand is essential.  Rock sand will not do.

Engaged in the process of creating sandcastles, I’ve noticed a pattern in the emergence of new ideas.  New architectural forms rarely emerge in a day or three.  It takes all day devotion for almost a week before new kinds of towers start to spontaneously form.  When the novelty begins to flow, it’s not one interesting unique construction, but several.

Often, the surge of creativity follows an emotional low in the form of boredom/depression/disappointment.  I’ve noticed this effect in other times in my life.  The lows seem to release or hollow me out of present infatuations.  The space created allows the growth of something new.

There has been an observation among developmental biologists studying early human ontogeny on the repercussions of testosterone surges in embryos, infants and toddlers.  These surges “prune” brain growth.  It has been estimated that one particularly powerful surge compels the left brain lobe to grow slower, resulting in right-handed, “normal” children.  It is thought that this pruning is a good thing.  It has been hypothesized that autistic children don’t experience this surge.  Without the surge, the child can have a larger brain with two hemispheres similar in size.  It seems, according to this analysis, that some destruction is necessary to achieve the split consciousness familiar to most of us that are not autistic.  Destruction creates imbalance that compels self reflection.

The worst war in human history, WWII, has been followed by a voluntary currency/political alliance of 25 countries.  At the center of this remarkable development is Germany.  More than 6 million civilian innocents died in death camps during the social madness of WWII.  Most of my relatives disappeared.  That sacrifice has resulted in a devastatingly powerful national shame.  Germany is working out the grief of what its people participated in.  Unlike the Israeli government, they seem serious as they seek to practice “Never Again.”  The EU is the most powerful political creative force in the world today, providing an insight into what the future looks like.  The sacrifice of those innocents was not in vain.

Gould & Eldridge’s theory of punctuated equilibrium notices the gaps in the fossil record and suggests that destruction and speciation may go hand in hand.  Death and creativity may be more than cousins; they might be the same person on different days.  Ninety-five percent of the world’s species were destroyed when the asteroid hit earth 63 million years ago.  A major portion of our Western hemisphere got pruned.  Mammals flourished.

Toddlers are the asteroids of the sand castle worlds my helpers and I assemble.  Having not yet developed hand/eye skills or self reflection, these little, mostly speechless, beach demons can offer little but their ability to destroy.  And so they do.  What follows the destruction is inevitably unique.

Change

May 6, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Activism, Future, Society

Like cops with water cannons at mass protests, we’re seeking to sweep the streets of prophets, hoping those that want the future now will go away.

Television offers few visions but its own:  be afraid, buy now, be skeptical of change.  If there’d been TV before the Civil War and woman suffrage, the pundits would have scoffed at the end of slavery and a women’s vote, until they arrived.

Do we really think that the United States is not going to follow Europe?  National health care is coming.  Secular humanism is our future.  A politics of peace is on the way.

Our prophets are not the people on TV, but ourselves.  We know what the coming changes look like.  We know the way we want the world to be.  Some of us are in the streets holding signs up.  Most of us are grumbling to our friends.  Still, it doesn’t take a psychic to see what’s coming.

Turn off the TV.  Protesters are expressing mainstream, deep desires.  Prophets are being transformed into pragmatists as the impossible becomes the probable, and the probable becomes the truth.  Change is not the future; change is now.

Sit in a room with Left/Progressive activists and note that left handed people are often about 20-25% of the people present.  Lefthanders in the U.S. comprise about 12% of the population.  What’s with all the lefties on the Left?

Note that when defining conservative and liberal, those most conservative are most comfortable going furthest back in time.  Get rid of the New Deal, and you’re pretty damn conservative.  Get rid of women’s suffrage, and you’ve crossed some line.  (The media won’t print your editorials).  Bring back slavery, and you’re nuts.

Demand universal health care, and you’re progressive.  Demand unions and environmental rights for third-world workers, and you’re pretty radical.  Cry out to end world hunger and initiate universal health care for all humans everywhere, and you’re crazy.

As you become more conservative, you move further back in time.  As your progressive tendencies increase, you stretch more and more into the future.  The center of this teeter-totter, where we sit now, is the present.

In our culture, time proceeds from left to right.  We read from left to right.  We turn pages from left to right.  In our diagrams of time and evolution, progress proceeds from left to right.  So what’s with all the lefties sitting in the narrative past and the right-wingers lodged so firmly in the future?  This placement does not seem intuitive.

It has been hypothesized that our genetic ancestors, who lived in a matriarchic social structure before pre Indo-Europeans, were largely lefties.  Anomalously dominant in neuropsychological jargon, these precursors to even ancient culture were random handed (half the time lefties, half the time righties), progressive radicals that believed in the commons or shared resources as the center of society, free love (kids did not know who their father was), with dance, music and a shared spirituality as the central bond of culture.  With two brain hemispheres near identical in size, right-handedness was not compelled by a larger left lobe creating a right-handed person, as is the case today.  How those pre-ancient lefties gave way to the right-handed, hierarchical, highly stratified, male-dominated, female-repressing societies that fill our history books is another story.

Relevant to this brief entry is the astonishingly recent (last 200 years) change in social and political current.  A perhaps 40,000-year-old tide has reversed direction.  Post enlightenment, there has been an at-first slow and now tsunami-fast change in how sexual partners are chosen.  You could call this the return of the lefties.

Conservatives demand male dominance characterized by no abortion, no contraceptives, one marriage, less pay for females, a belief that females should stay at home and a perception that the female’s job is to make men’s lives more tolerable, etc.  Basically, male-dominated culture controls female procreation.  The ideal male is macho.  The ideal female cooperates with the man.

But Progressives suggest neither sex should be legislatively controlled, and females, of course, get to pick their own husband, and he may be whatever kind of husband they want.  Macho is out.  As things stand now in the U.S., long-standing criteria for the perfect husband have disappeared.  This is a very recent development with profound implications, the most powerful of which is that macho male mates are no longer universally the cat’s pajamas.  Hence, force-filled females and sensitive males are highly valued. These are two very common participants in meetings of the political Left.  Meetings, not coincidentally, with a high percentage of left handed people.  You see, that old genotype never completely went away.

Linear time, as a concept, was created by ancients in early civilizations who were right-handed and who had a large left brain lobe.  Left-handed nature worshippers were the past.  They were disappearing.  Right-handed patriarchs had become the present and the foreseeable future.  So, time moved from left to right, matriarchal to patriarchal.

It also helped that right-handed writers would smear their writing medium if they wrote left to right, which maybe explains the convergence of “right” (as in correct), “right” (as in right-handed) and “write” all sounding the same.

The pre-ancient lefty past has also become the radical Progressive’s future (deep respect for the commons, shared resources, horizontal (think the web) nonhierarchical organization, women pick their own partners).

Marriage is evolving into serial monogamy.  Dance, music and the new spirituality–the environmental movement–are roaring into world culture.  The planet is our commons, and we’re starting to get it.  And, this time, it’s the righties that are getting left behind.

Society Neotenizing

April 13, 2008 | 1 Comment

Category: Neoteny, Social, Society, Web

There is a deep, underlying connection between processes that guide the unfolding of biological evolution and social/cultural evolution. Stephen J. Gould has described in detail how neoteny, or the unfolding of infant features or characteristics into the adult of a species over the scale of evolutionary time, influences the evolution of a species. The same dynamic is now engaged as technology encourages the empowering of individuals by providing them access to information and access to other humans. The process is transcending barriers of knowledge, distance and national boundaries.

In evolutionary biology, humans displayed increased neotenous characteristics as maturation rates delayed the emergence of features later and later in an individual’s ontogeny. Similarly, new technology provides increased transparency, breaking down the barriers between human beings. The increase in transparency evidences itself in several ways.

There is less information hidden from participants at lower levels of hierarchy. The effect can flatten hierarchy because information control informs the decision-making process. When information is widely dispersed, the decision-making processes can be widely shared. New tech voting options can streamline consensus when information is widely held.

Transparency emerges when national boundaries and geographic barriers fall. Instantaneous global communication is creating a transparency surge.

Just as infant features unfold into the adult over time, the features of the individual unfold into the features of multilevel social systems. As hierarchical and geographical barriers fall, organizations function in ways analogous to a single human being displaying unencumbered abilities to gather, analyze and communicate information.

This process has been underway since before the advent of the corporation. Ever since corporations were redefined as “individuals” after the Civil War, there has been a movement toward increased transparency as power has moved from controlling individuals and families to controlling investors. A movement within corporations to enhance transparency has been gaining momentum as the benefits become more obvious.

There has been increased transparency in government long term, and the media, of course, seek to keep walls down. Though there have been obvious exceptions in the way media and government have behaved post 9/11, a stark contrast has emerged between the secrecy extolled by the Bush Administration and the direction new technology is taking society as web vehicles continue to reveal what the older paradigm seeks to hide.

Both in the biological and social spheres, there is a systemic drive to carry the lowest to the highest, the creative source to the completed adult, the grassroots to the controlling power. We can see the future of society in ourselves, for the individual is the model for an integrated world just as the power, beauty and creativity of conception is the enlightenment achieved by the actualized, neotenous adult.