Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mean and Entitled

Paul Piff's TED talk - Does Money Make You Mean?

It's interesting at the beginning that Piff talks about that "combination of skill, talent, and luck" "that helped you win other games"... very similar to Nassim Taleb and his works Fooled By Randomness and Black Swans, where he talks about  in interviews the rich and successful most often attributed their success to - hard work, the fact they were a risk taker, or their intelligence.

As Piff illustrates in his talk, when playing a rigged game, the winners who started out with sizable, insurmountable advantages got cocky, mean, and attributed their winning to skill. 

One of my favorite examples of this is the demagogue Rush Limbaugh, who preaches hard work and "picking yourself up by your bootstraps" to the masses everyday, when he's not calling our President a Communist or women Nazi's.  Limbaugh likes to point out that he was fired 7 times from radio stations, but thanks be to god and his grit he stuck to it and made it rich... only in America we are to suppose.  But, Limbaugh fails to mention that his family had one of the first privately owned jets in the United States, and there's a courthouse named after his grandfather in Missouri - the "grit" to keep failing was considerably easier when you grew up an entitled, spoiled, self-righteous child and obviously, the result was, as Piff suggests, he got richer and meaner as the years have gone by.

We can see that these are the same cocky, entitled, mean assholes running the world today.  Convinced that by cutting subsidies to the poor they'll work harder, but taxing the rich more would make them work less... they've pulled the strings of the common folk and have pulled it off.  It's not a matter of IF social programs will be cut, it's a matter of how much they'll be cut.  The debate isn't about cutting taxes, it's about how much to cut taxes.  And folks out in the real world are busting their asses, struggling to put food on the table and all the while playing in a rigged game of monopoly.  A wonderful piece in the Guardian by George Monbiot illustrates this well - It's business that really rules us now
The last remaining refuge for most of the world is to sit in front of the telly and veg out... and as a just reward for doing so we get to watch the rich bastards on TV pick new exotic locales to live in on HGTV, and sit on the 50 yard-line at bowl games most people can't afford to attend.  It may not be in the years the current Oligarch's have left, but someday folks are going to get off those couches and recognize their is a whole lot more of us than them... I hope.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Learning how to Learn

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ”~ Alvin Toffler
"I want to give you a yardstick, a gold standard, by which to measure good schooling.  The Shelter Institute in Bath, Maine, will teach you how to build a three thousand square-foot, multi-level Cape Cod home in three weeks' time, whatever your age.  If you stay another week, it will show you how to make your own posts and beams; you'll actually cut them out and set them up.  You'll learn wiring, plumbing, insulation, the works.  Twenty thousand people have learned to build a house there for about the cost of one month's tuition in public school."~ John Taylor Gatto 
As my friend JD pointed out in an email yesterday, people of my generation are quickly learning why old men used to yell at the kids to "get off my lawn".  Their focus narrows, their world becomes smaller, and the world starts leaving them behind.  My father worked on TV's for 30 years, last Christmas my brother talked him into ditching the VCR and getting a DVR.  At 80 years old, he has yet to tape a program on the DVR, he can't figure out how it works.  I'm 45 years old, and the bitcoin thing is a mystery to me, so is nanotech, so are all my son's games like Minecraft and XBox.  Get off my lawn, with all your crazy talk about flying cars and robot's!

When thinking about how you and/or your family need to prepare for a world where change is coming exponentially, not incrementally, and where knowledge is becoming obsolete incredibly fast, I would suggest we've got to learn how to learn differently that we were taught.

Part of the ability to do so is technological and that's the easy part... at one time if you wanted to learn Algebra there were one, or maybe two, people in your neighborhood/city/community who could teach it.  Most often they were affiliated with the designated learning place in your community - the school.  Now, there are thousands of resources to learn Algebra, or history, or a foreign language, or anything else,. at your fingertips.  But, the great challenge is... the way we were taught to learn.

I flunked out of college when I first went... some six years later I graduated Summa Cum Laude.   I thought, I had learned how to learn.  In fact, I learned how to take test and study for those test.  The lessons I learned were really two:  First, I memorized more writing, than listening - so I copied my notes, the notes of good note takers, and rewrote key pieces of the text books.  Second, I learned to find out what the teacher/professors position was and spit it back to them on the test and in conversation. Neither of which, I'm convinced, are what it really takes to learn quickly and efficiently.  But, both were pretty effective at getting better grades on test.

Tim Ferriss is a leader in the field on learning skills quickly - listen to this podcast with him, Bryan Callen, and Hunter Maats discussing meta learning.  Tune into Tim's new show - The Tim Ferriss Experiment, buy his books. - One of the thing Tim talks about a lot is the Pareto Principle - "(which) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes."  Tim suggests that learning 80% of most things is good enough to be 'literate' in that skill, and in some cases takes much less time that you think it will.  We've learned in sports, and in the classroom, to drill, drill, drill in order to learn something... there may be some truth in drill, drill, drill... but you've to be sure it's the right drills, and very often it isn't mere repetition that gets you the 80% of knowledge you need about any subject.  But, my 11 year old still comes home from school with pages of math problems, and many people still go to the driving range and pound golf balls till their hands are red and callused.

What does the platform look like to make learning how to learn, and rapidly learning new skills look like?  They're not teaching it anywhere in k-16.  Access to learning opportunities has been the easy part, now we need to build systems that work on the most important piece - teaching people how to differentiate what's important and learn new skills at the same pace as innovation.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New measures of success

The Eskimos have all those words for snow, and it seems the only language we have for expressing success is numeric. It may be a universal language, but it’s an impoverished one. Maybe we need a word for “never having to sit in a meeting where someone reads long power point slides out loud.” Maybe we should have an expression that captures the level of success you’ve achieved when you do exactly what you love every day.- NYTimes "I want to be a Millennial when I retire"
 And how were you told to measure success?

Sean Ogle highlights the above NYTimes piece on his blog this week and does a really nice job tackling it: 
- I Want to Be Me When I Retire - 

As he points out -
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted.
When you look at the realities of what we’ve seen during our 20s, it’s no wonder our view of success and what’s possible is completely different than that of our parents.
For 100 years we've had an economy where we could reasonably expect incremental progress.  We would have "it" a little easier than our parents, go to college, get a degree (didn't matter in what), and someone would pick you. And you would be "successful"... We have developed a culture, and built institutions, based on this and now neither the culture or institutions work.

The rules are completely different and the way we measure success will be completely different going forward.
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted.
When you look at the realities of what we’ve seen during our 20s, it’s no wonder our view of success and what’s possible is completely different than that of our parents.
- See more at:
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted.
When you look at the realities of what we’ve seen during our 20s, it’s no wonder our view of success and what’s possible is completely different than that of our parents.
- See more at:
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted. - See more at:
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted. - See more at:
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted. - See more at:
Between the economy collapsing and technology advancing, all bets are off. If you were raised during my generation (I’m 28), you’ve seen a completely different set of rules.  You’ve seen your parents who you once thought were invincible fall upon hard times, you’ve seen tech startups sell for over a billion dollars, and you’ve seen just how quickly new ideas can be adopted. - See more at:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Happy, Happy, Happy

Barbara Ehrenreich's - Bright-Sided: How The Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America
"In fact, there is no kind of problem or obstacle for which positive thinking or a positive attitude has not been proposed as a cure." ... "AT&T sent its San Francisco staff to a big-tent motivational event called "Success 1994" on the same day the company announced that it would lay off fifteen thousand workers in the coming two years.  As Time's Richard Reeves reported, the message of the featured speaker - the frenetic Christian motivator Zig Ziglar- was, "It's your own fault; don't blame the system; don't blame the boss- work harder and pray more."
Jackson Lears in the Nation - Get Happy!!: For Margaret Thatcher as for today’s happiness industry, there is no such thing as society.
"It doesn’t take a social scientist to see that a blizzard of how-to books on “positivity” suggests its lack in everyday life. Behind the facade of smiley-faced optimism, American culture seems awash in a pervasive sadness, or at least a restless longing for a sense of fulfillment that remains just out of reach."
"It's an ingenious business model, when you think about it: promise to help people think positive, then when your techniques fail, conclude that they weren't thinking positively enough--sending them back for more."
It's obviously your fault.  No money?  The lack of middle-class jobs aren't because of  the vanishing platforms that created them, or the 1% and their greed, the fact that you don't have a decent job is a sign of personal weakness.  Sick?  It isn't the chemicals, pesticides, corrupt medical and insurance industries - it's you, and your lousy attitude.

The other piece of this, which Ehrenreich goes into, is that your job loss, your sickness, etc. isn't just your fault, but since you find yourself in this position, you can't improve unless you embrace it.  You should consider your sickness as a gift, one you should learn from and use to improve yourself. Thus, it's not only not "our" fault you got sick, it's not "our" fault you aren't getting better.

Again, from Barbara Ehrenreich:
"Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual.  What it gave me, if you want to call this a "gift," was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before- one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate."
 "An ideological force... that encourages us to deny reality..."  Brilliant.  And the challenge is this denial of reality, is becoming the essence of our normality (as I've continuously suggested on the blog).  As a culture we are becoming incapable of looking at the structures, and the destruction of capacities and platforms needed to address our serious challenges.  We blame ourselves, and we blame others who don't have the "right" attitude. I challenge us all to stand up to those who blame the victims.  Fight for programs that lift up, just laws, and living wage jobs.  And show compassion for those suffering... finally, again from Ehrenreich:
"The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.  Build up the levees, get food to the hungry, find the cure, strengthen the "first responders"! We will not succeed at all of these things, certainly not all at once, but- if I may end with my personal secret of happiness- we can have a good time trying."

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What I'm reading, listening to, etc.

Some articles, quotes, podcasts, youtube clips that I've been reading/listening to of late - some I may have linked to in recent posts, other not.

Articles, Blog Posts, etc.:
I'm Wrong Most All of the Time -James Altucher
Escape from the Zombie Food Court - Joe Bageant
The startling amount that children can learn from play - Peter Gray
How to Democratize the US Economy - Gar Alperovitz @ The Nation
Anyone can learn to be a polymath – Robert Twigger – Aeon
(See also book, "Shop Craft as Soulcraft" - interesting to read together)

In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring one another that our costumes of identity are on straight. ~ Ram Dass
“If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn’t have bothered to write them.” —Margaret Drabble 
Podcasts, Video's, etc.:
Dan Pink's "Office Hours" interviews with Diane Ravitch, Malcolm Gladwell, and Paul Tough
The Veil of Thoughts - Alan Watts
Lecture to IBM Engineers - Alan Watts
Do Schools Kill Creativity? - Sir Ken Robinson
TEDx MidAtlantic - John Forte

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"How the 1 percent always wins"

Good piece at Salon from David Sirota - "How the 1 percent always wins: Liberal washing is the right’s new favorite tactic"

 Liberal washing has always been around, of course. But it has really risen to prominence — and dominance — in modern times. Indeed, one of the most reliable political axioms of the last 30 years is this: If corporate America cooks up a scheme to rip off the middle class, Republicans will provide the bulk of the congressional votes for the scheme — but enough establishment-credentialed liberals inevitably will endorse the scheme to make it at least appear to be mainstream and bipartisan. Yes, it seems no matter how venal, underhanded or outright corrupt a heist may be, there always ends up being a group of icons with liberal billing ready to drive the getaway car...
Sure, it may seem counterintuitive that liberalwashing has come to prominence at the very moment American politics has become more partisan. But it is entirely predictable. With politics more than ever becoming a mind-deadening video game between two principle-free teams, the oligarchy is no longer betting on one of those teams. Instead, it is employing liberal washing to hack the whole red-versus-blue operating system.

As a political tactic, it makes perfect sense. Whether it is a company, a trade association, a front group or a lobbying firm that is pushing a particular policy, corporate America knows that it has a better chance of getting its way if it can portray its goals as an apolitical agenda with support from both sides of the ideological spectrum. Liberal washing is the key to that formula; it helps depict the radical as mainstream, the ideological as pragmatic and the old-fashioned heist as an act of bleeding-heart altruism.
Reminds me of a great piece by Joe Bageant, "Escape from the Zombie Food Court"
We suffer under a mass national hallucination. Americans, regardless of income or social position, now live in a culture entirely perceived inside a self-referential media hologram of a nation and world that does not exist. Our national reality is staged and held together by media, chiefly movie and television images. We live in a "theater state." ...

You are as conditioned as any trained chicken in a carnival. So am I. When we go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder. You will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do -- mostly along class lines.
For instance, as university students, you are among the 20% or so of Americans indoctrinated and conditioned to be the administrating and operating class of the American Empire in some form or another. In the business of managing the other 75% in innumerable ways. Psychologists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, accountants, sociologists, mental health workers, clergy -- all are in the business of coordinating and managing the greater mass of working class citizenry by the Empire's approved methods, and toward the same end: Maximum profitability for a corporate based state. 

Yet it all seems so normal. Certainly the psychologists who have prescribed so much Prozac that it now shows up in the piss of penguins, saw what they did as necessary. And the doctors who enable the profitable blackmail practiced by the medical industries see it all as part of the most technologically advanced medical system in the world. And the teacher, who sees no problem with 20% of her fourth graders being on Ritalin, in the name of "appropriate behavior," is happy to have control of her classroom. None of these feel like dupes or pawns of a corporate state. It seems like just the way things are. Just modern American reality. Which is a corporate generated reality.
As Sirota suggests, it's all the more fascinating because they're doing this in an age of what is seemingly zero bipartisanship.  Brilliant on their part, and the result is "maximum profitability for a corporate based state."

Increasingly, our daily presentations (see Goffman's "The Presentation of Everyday Self") are dictated by our corporate puppet masters and at the end we'll be able to look back on our lives and relish nothing more than the corporate shows we watched, the money we made for corporations, and the corporate produced crap we bought to fill up our corporate financed homes.


Friday, November 1, 2013

On being wrong

The world should be more like the U.S., we've got "freedom", we've got "the american dream", we've got lots of guns and honey boo boo.  Many are convinced that our way is the only way to live... yet we chug down more vitamins, alcohol, and mind-altering (though often prescribed) drugs than ever before (not to mention waste hours watching honey boo boo). And this is the life you want for others?  Then many bitch and moan about our "socialist" President and long for the creation of a U.S. they believe once was, but their dream state is really a fantasy brought to them by propaganda from the likes of the Koch brothers.  And frankly this is why we have things like government shutdowns... so self-righteous, and manipulated, that we can't for a minute imagine a question  like Snoopy suggest in the cartoon above, "Has it every occurred to you that you may be wrong?"  No, for most they can't.  Politicians think it would be political suicide to say, "I don't know" or "I haven't thought about that before"... so, their costume is that of an all knowing, self-righteous, never wrong, never questioning, never in doubt person.  But, on serious issues we face if you talk with someone who has actually done the research and thought about that particular issue for any length of time what you will hear them say, "I'm not sure I understand this completely, but it appears the evidence suggest..." or something like that.

But, for most to face the reality that they just don't know... is more than they can handle.  

But, I would suggest, it's our only way moving forward. We must admit that we don't have a clue, that we're learning more everyday, but there is so much yet to learn... and we'll never get there.  That the founding fathers, well they may not have understood globalization, demographics, and technological changes when they were founding this country and perhaps, just perhaps, some things need to be tweaked.  

So we make up shit, entire worlds, fabricated versions of the truth usually based on what our mama's and daddy told us, and the fabricated tribes we aspire too, just to try and convince ourselves we've got some clue, that we're not out here flailing away like a fish out of water...

It my blog, so I can write this to the fictional "you", even though we haven't met.  You probably aren't that great, yet you are really damn sure of yourself.  Your past, if we were to look closely, is most likely not the one you romanticize but is one you made up based on the one you wished you had led   You've lied to yourself so convincingly, that now you believe you've "pulled yourself up by your bootstraps", when in fact you've either stood on the shoulders of giants or haven't got anywhere important yet.  More likely, you've either defined you own meaning of success or became convinced you would have succeeded if _________ (pick a group) hadn't held you back.  And don't get me started on the BS you're feeding your poor child.  The lies you've told yourself are turning them into a mini-me, and making them aspire to be your own middle management, occasionally lucid, pontificating self... it's not helping.  But, it's just not your kids life your interested in, it's the neighbor's and the neighbors kids. We all, in fact,  should be more like you apparently,  in most of life.  Religion, politics, foods we eat, activities were pursue, hobbies, you name it...  Your self-confidence has convinced you you're that damn good, that we should all aspire to be just like you.

The lefty's get blamed for their smugness and self-righteousness, but it's the tea party who epitomizes this attitude. Not many a tea partier has ever said, "wonder if I'm wrong about ole' Sarah Palin?"  They know they are right about her, about schools, about guns, about religion, and  it's never once occurred to them to wonder, "any chance I'm wrong."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What if... we did what we wanted?

In my mind, this video gets to the heart of the theme of 90% of the post on this blog. Why can't you do what you are passionate about?  Who has framed the world for you?  Who is pulling your strings?

I would argue that we're becoming a world when nobody can "see around the corner", when the idea of a "normal" life - good education, good job, happy retirement and golf in the Pocono's isn't possible (if it ever was)... nor is  a chicken in every pot and a white picket fence (if it ever was).  Fewer middle-class, more poor, and the wealthy control most of the wealth. 

What if... we decided not to care about that?  What if we decided to say f' it.  Who cares who has what?  What if we only cared about our, and our communities, happiness.  And decided to define happiness, above some minimal threshold,  with no mention, thought, or concern about money.  True success, and happiness, would be when someone woke up every morning and did exactly what they wanted to do.  They fished, they painted, they wrote, they sang, they talked, they taught, they learned, they truly lived.  And if all you have ever wished for is your own private jet, legions of fans, big cars, 6 homes, and money to burn... your strings have been pulled from day one. 

Our challenge is that we've had people like the businessman in this story (from Seth Godin HERE) pitching us these same myths from day one:

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor's orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna.
 The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish. "How long did it take you to catch them?" the American asked.
"Only a little while," the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English. "Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the American then asked. "I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends," the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.
 "But... What do you do with the rest of your time?" The Mexican looked up and smiled. "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor."
The American laughed and stool tall. "Sir, I'm a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats." He continued, "Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management."
 The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will all this take?" To which the American replied, "15-20 years. 25 tops." "But what then, senor?" The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions." "Millions, senor? Then what?"
"Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos...

Some related reading:
Sir Ken Robinson
Dave Pollard
Tim Ferriss

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"Facts? No Thanks..."

Good piece in Psychology Today this week, follows up on the recent - The Downside of Tribes piece I did, and offers an interesting contrast to the recent piece/rant I did based on Joe Bagents  "Shoot the fat guys, hang the Smokers"

Facts?  No Thanks, I've Got Ideology

In fact, we often eschew facts for ideology. As a case example, let’s consider the strongly-held belief on the political right that industries and businesses are efficient and generative, whereas governments and state spending are considered inconveniences, or worse, impediments to development. Such beliefs represent an ideology – an organized set of beliefs that help us to make sense of the world. In keeping with this belief, companies such as Google and Apple are widely held up as golden examples of the power of self-driven innovation. But is this true? As observed by Mazzucato (2013), the Apple company in its early days was given a $500,000 cash injection in the form of a new business grant by the government. As she points out, even when not directly funded, private businesses benefit from all kinds of state-funded research, including the development of “the internet, GPS, touchscreen displays and even the voice-activated smartphone assistant Siri.”...
Upon exposure to such information, how are people likely to respond? People supporting state-funded enterprise and a strong government role in life will acknowledge these findings, perhaps even feeling that they “knew it all along” (even if they didn’t), what psychologists call the hindsight bias. Those opposing state-funds in business and healthcare are not likely to objectively read such information and dispassionately change their viewpoints to fit this new information. Rather, when faced with evidence disconfirming deeply held beliefs, we often ignore the new information, “doubling down” on the original belief. In psychology, we call this belief perseverance.
So, smarty pants blogger Tovarich... which is it?  Are we hunkering down in our tribes unable to see the facts?  Or falling in line as consumers of cheap shit, and culture, just as the corporate elite want?

Hell if I know.  Here's my stab at it - the frame of debate has gotten so damn small and we've become such cultural lemmings that we look for meaningless ways to distinguish ourselves and proclaim our "uniqueness" (like the sports example in the tribes piece), but on the "big" stuff - what does success mean? what's our purpose? how do you "make it?" - we're cultural lemmings, content to allow folks to pull our strings and damn anybody who's different.

"Shoot the fat guys, hang the Smokers"

"Which means we are fucked. As long as Americans remain convinced we are each so damned individual, unique, special and different from our neighbor, better than our neighbor, we're sunk. As long as we are kept divided, the murderous assholes will keep on owning the game, keep on looting destroying and extorting the people's wealth and health....

At heart, it's a predatory society. So damned mean we no longer even notice its inherent cruelty. A strongman's democracy in which bodily appearance has become political, and the only allowable vice is self-righteousness."
It's good for my heart and soul to go back and read from the late Joe Bageant every now... the above is from a back and forth Joe had, with another Joe, called, "Shoot the fat guys, hang the Smokers" excellent stuff and I recommend you read it.

Through the vast choices in media via cable/satellite/internet, etc. we're convinced that were more "diverse", and that options offer opportunities for all the outliers to find others like them and form their own tribes based on their interest and beliefs.  Damn shame it hasn't worked out that way.  What we've got instead is a 24/7 deluge of "This is what it means to be American/Cool/Hip and part of the in crowd!" ... all brought to you by corporate America.  As Joe (and Joe) points out, god help you if your fat or a smoker... I would add the same for poor, or quiet, or have run across some just plain ole' bad luck.  People just don't give a shit, get back in line, act like they want you to act, or by god they'll treat you like you're a fucking American Idol contestant who can't sing, or any one of the other reality show "misfits".

As Joe writes, it's a society..."So damned mean we no longer even notice its inherent cruelty."


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Selfishness as virtue.

Libertarian thought  is what many of the tea partiers claim as their philosophical roots.  They just want government to "leave them alone"... they want "freedom" and have adopted "don't tread on me" bumper stickers.  Meanwhile, many of the enablers/leaders of the tea party are encouraging the government shutdown because they'll get more concessions and a smaller government out of the deal.

I'm not convinced many of the tea partiers actually understand this, their misunderstood hatred for government is used against them with the shutdown (i.e. - "see, government can't do anything!"), but they don't want or understand Grover Norquist's vision of a government so small we could drown it in the bathtub.  Based on the issues, it turns out what they want is their version of "big" government.  And their strings have been pulled by the Norquist's of the world. While, in today's world it's seen as a "noble us" versus "communist them" standoff, as Robert Reich points out in his latest, folks from the left and right  have always had their problems with "big" government:

No one likes big government. If you're on the left, you worry about the military-industrial-congressional complex that's spending zillions of dollars creating new weapons of mass destruction, spying on Americans, and killing innocents abroad. And you don't like government interfering in your sex life, telling you how and when you can have an abortion, whom you can marry. If you're on the right, you worry about taxes and regulations stifling innovation, out-of-control bureaucrats infringing on your freedom, and government deficits as far as the eye can see.

Tip O'Neil and Ronald Reagan; Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch, are a few of many examples of political odd couples who would share a drink (or twelve) and get stuff done.  During the Reagan Administration his head of Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) said that her goal was to close down the ARC.  As this was a program that provided lots of funding to the poor areas of Appalachia many were incensed.  When a group of concerned folks went to see Appropriations Chairman Whitten about her remarks, he was reported to have said something like this, "Now don't you all worry about losing ARC, you see Reagan wants another battleship and we'll give that to him, but in return we'll get the ARC... that's how it works up here"

It's clear that's not the way it works in Washington today. And to be sure, American's bitched and complained about all the backroom deal making then, but cordial deal cutting may never return.  The polarized media, corporate dollars, the tea party, elected "true believers" are all factors, but  perhaps the most important reason is that selfishness has become a virtue.

One of the tenants I was taught in grad school regarding community development was that one way to engage people in community conversations was through the concept of "enlightened self-interest".  This made sense to me for years -  in order to get diverse groups involved, or interested, in the issue you're working on you have to find out how what you're doing could benefit them.  Find that "one-off" where your action while benefiting others, is in fact benefiting the person your "selling" as well.

But, at the roots of enlightened self interest is selfishness.  And if you look at our culture today, selfishness has become a virtue.  We're not willing to do anything for others unless it benefits our interest. We watch reality shows to separate ourselves, to see others fail, we're engulfed by consumerism and status, it plays out like bad theater in neighborhoods, communities and national politics across the board.  As research shows, certain groups just don't listen and/or care what those of "less status" say (Rich People Just Care Less). And in a political world where you're either with us or against us, no longer is anyone asking - what benefits your fellow man or woman?  Much less are they reflecting on what their religions say about treating others.  Imagine that instead of  worshiping at the silly, childish, selfish Ayn Rand Libertarian alter, where you innately believe it's "you against them", you made up your own ideology, say the Communitarians? Where the primary tenants are - "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" and "treat others the way you would like to be treated".

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Downside of Tribes

Seth Godin's book Tribes is one of my favorites, I've referenced it previously here >  "How was your day?" > He's basically making the point that because of technology and globalization, rather than waiting for someone to pick you to lead, now you can pick yourself.  You can start a blog, post on message boards, do kickstarter campaigns, etc. to rally like minded folks and get to work.  It's an empowering message and points to an essential confidence necessary for success in this dynamic global economy.

I would argue that one of the things that makes this possible is our own tribal nature...  we want to be in groups, to identify with others who we think are like us, or who we want to be like.  Some are easy to reflect on - in high school were you a jock or a stoner, a preppy or a metal head, a redneck or a hippy? Who's your favorite team?  Cowboy's or Redskin's?  Hokie or Wahoo? Rebel or Bulldog?  (We used to call them cliques, which frankly I'm more comfortable with as Native Americans, I would argue, have a right to the word tribes and I'm not sure we should be obfuscating with it.)  

Religion is another easy one to reflect on - you're a Christian, they're Muslims, and even further you're a Baptist, they're Methodist, and you give certain values to each.  We take children from a very young age and initiate them into our religions, the rights of passage, the traditions, the songs... we ingrain it by meeting with other members regularly, we practice it daily, we make proclamations about what will happen to us versus them in the afterlife.  And we try to convert others, absolutely convinced that our tribe is correct.

Our clique, we think, says something about who we are... "our" people are hardworking, our people are industrious, our people are talented, flashy, cool, smart, etc.  

It used to be all cliques were localized, yet you could via the radio, or books, etc., aspire to, and learn from other  members/leaders... Country music, for example, was tribal music... Hank Williams Jr. sang:
"We can skin a buck, we can run a trout line, a country boy can survive..."  "I had a good friend in New York City, never called me by my name, just hillbilly... he was killed by a man with a switchblade knife, for $43 my friend lost his life, I'd like to spit some beechnut in that dudes eye, and shoot him with my ole' 45, a country boy can survive..."
Now, however, you can join/lead cliques instantly from all over the world... if there isn't a group of chess loving, classical music aficionado's in your town, there's one somewhere to be found online.

Today's technology offers both the access to recruit or join cliques and, like religion, the ability to engage much more frequently with that clique. Today if you want to engage with other Tennessee Vol fans you can do it 24/7 in online message boards, etc.  Religion is often our strongest clique, and the repetition and constant emersion was one of the reasons, now that emersion is available in many other areas, are we becoming more tribal?  More convinced in our tribes superiority?

Politics today would make it seem so.  Conservatives can listen to Rush Limbaugh, watch Fox News, chat with Tea Party members online, and immerse themselves in "facts" they find on "their" people's websites 24/7.  Then they rally, push, and evangelize and hold politicians accountable for their view of the world.  And we end up with dysfunctional politics at all levels.

Another example I've been intrigued with of late is lifestyle cliques... more specifically diet cliques.  Are you a Vegan?  Vegetarian? Paleo?  Pick any major publication and search for stories on any of those diets and in the comments section you'll see war of words reminiscent of an 8th grader walking through the halls of their rural high school wearing an Izod shirt and penny loafers.  There are documentaries (HERE, HERE as examples), thousands of devoted websites, hundreds of books, all touting the benefits of one diet over the other.  And those who convert become instant evangelicals and, following the model I've suggested, flock to websites, newstories, etc. that confirm their view of the world and then to social media to evangelize.  And for every piece of "research" one group finds about the supremacy of their diet, a group can find others who look at the same research and draw completely different conclusions (see The China Study and the comments below the piece as an example) and the flame wars continue.

There has always been tribalism and wars have been fought amongst tribes for centuries.  But, in many cases, they could also put aside their differences for the common cause (See Braveheart).    Now we see our cliques encroaching on every aspect of our lives, we enter no new venture with what Buddhist would call "Beginner's Mind", we enter with our tribes influence.  We're becoming incapable of discerning the ordinary from the extraordinary and the fact with the bias. When we identify others with a certain clique we dismiss them and their guidance, wisdom, thoughts, and opinions on all other matters.   We're losing the wisdom of the  parable below and hunkering down in our cliques, unable to help our neighbor, convinced of our own self-righteousness -

"Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. 'Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security."--David Hume

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Whoever Tries the Most Stuff Wins

From Tom Peter's blog:
I frequently say, "I've only learned one thing 'for sure' in the 47 years since I started doing 'this stuff.'" (The 1966 staring point goes back to my U.S. Navy Seabee days in Vietnam.) The term "for sure" is meaningful; as a scientist by disposition, I don't believe as a matter of course in "for sures." So this exception is a big deal—to me.

And that one for-sure thing is ...
Or, to clarify ... Whoever Tries The Most Stuff Wins.
I agree with Tom a lot, not all the time, on this we're in 100% agreement.

In politics, however, this is damn near an impossible mantra... politicians can never be on the cutting edge, they've got to go where the most votes are, and their political opponents are waiting on them to what... fail.  We're in an era when NOBODY HAS A CLUE... nobody has any idea where people are going to work, nobody has a clue if this exponential change in technology is going to lead to abundance or calamity (although those who argue each, both agree exponential change is happening).  And nothing is more important than that our most important institutions, and each of us, just try stuff... keep trying, fail faster.

As I mentioned in the last piece the libertarians have built the capacity to exploit every failure... but, some politician somewhere has to start looking folks in the eye and saying clearly... "Holy hell, nobody has a clue... we've got to start trying stuff!  We're going to fail a lot, but "Whoever Tries the Most Stuff Wins!" and we've got to try more stuff!"...

An angel gets it's wings...

In this video,"The Hollowing-Out of Government", Robert Reich walks us through how Republican's are pulling strings of the public to justify their libertarian philosophy and are effectively, as Grover Norquist commanded a few years back, shrinking the government to the size where it can be drowned in bathtub. 

Granted, the President has stepped into every pile of crap trap the Republican's have set for him for the last 5 years, but the capacity to pull strings built by the libertarian's through the Tea Party, Fox News, and conversative radio, is very efficient and effective.

The result, however, is that ultimately the gap between rich and poor grows, and the middle-class will continue to lose members and influence. 

They've sucessfully made it impossible for the post office to be successful, they're making it impossible for Obamacare to succeed, and they actually want government (despite their claims other wise) to be inefficient and ineffective.  They want more, not less, fumbling and bumbling, more seemingly odious requirements on business and industry, because it builds their base... everytime a small employer gets pissed off at the government a republican angel get's it's wings...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Political sacrifices and uncertainty

"So what the bad predictions tell us is that we are, in effect, dealing with priests who demand human sacrifices to appease their angry gods — but who actually have no insight whatsoever into what those gods actually want, and are simply projecting their own preferences onto the alleged mind of the market."

This from Paul Krugman in today's NYT's - HERE

I've written about this before, but again Krugman makes it clearer than I have... the argument was if you elected this black, community organizer the market wouldn't like it... he's a muslim, a communist, a radical... so where's the communism?  hell, for that matter, where's the liberalism?  Where's the crashing stock market? The marches on Washington? the anarchy? the rise of the militants?  Oh, the market's at an all time high?  So, Limbaugh, FauxNews, Tea Partiers, etc., they really are like the Lemur in Madagascar 2 (for those of us with kids, we've seen it more than once) who demands a sacrifice, cause why the hell not I suppose... and it's very similar, and related to, their chicken little bit about "uncertainty"... they argue that businesses won't invest because of the uncertainty and then go on to suggest uncertainty is because they fear higher taxes, communism, etc... but, in reality it's they who are the stupid lemur's shaking their ass singing we've got to move it move, it's they who are the priest demanding human sacrifices without a clue about what they're talking about, or about what the "market demands" and in doing so are themselves creating the uncertainty they fear...

As Bob Reich pointed out in a tweet today:
Republicans complain incessantly "uncertainty" holding back U.S. economy. But source of uncertainty is GOP: debt ceiling, cliff, sequester..

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Exponentially Bad? Exponentially Good?

Some argue that we're entering an age of exponential growth in technologies that will transform everything for the better. This argument is summarized well in the book Abundance by Diamandis and Kotler.  As summarized on the Amazon site:
"We will soon be able to meet and exceed the basic needs of every man, woman and child on the planet. Abundance for all is within our grasp. This bold, contrarian view, backed up by exhaustive research, introduces our near-term future, where exponentially growing technologies and three other powerful forces are conspiring to better the lives of billions." 
I admire the writers and can, without much persuasion, find myself understanding their argument.

However, I can also understand and sympathize with the other side of the argument. Blogger Dave Pollard recently had a post that fundamentally agreed with the first part of the argument - exponential growth is changing everything - but, Pollard argues, it is going to lead to a fundamental collapse:
"There is something seemingly unfathomable to the human mind about exponential curves. As I wrote last fall:
There is an old story about the invention of the chessboard, in which the inventor as his reward asks for one grain of wheat on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, and doubling until all 64 squares are full. The seemingly modest request adds up to many times more than all the wheat the world has ever produced. The purpose of the story is to teach about our inability to grasp the impact and unsustainability of accelerating increases in anything, particularly in the final stages. Even when more than half of the squares have been filled the inventor’s request still seems manageable. It is only when it is too late that its impossibility is realized.
 Even when almost all the squares have been filled, the request still seems manageable. We are now living in a world where almost all the squares have been filled. We have used up the easy-to-get half of the Earth’s resources, which accumulated over billions of years. We have used most of that in the last two centuries, and most of that in the last two decades. In the process we have destabilized the planet’s climate systems. We are nearing what is now being called “peak everything”."
 And here is Chris Hedges, The Myth of Human Progress, @ Truthdig:
"The human species, led by white Europeans and Euro-Americans, has been on a 500-year-long planetwide rampage of conquering, plundering, looting, exploiting and polluting the Earth—as well as killing the indigenous communities that stood in the way. But the game is up. The technical and scientific forces that created a life of unparalleled luxury—as well as unrivaled military and economic power—for the industrial elites are the forces that now doom us. The mania for ceaseless economic expansion and exploitation has become a curse, a death sentence. But even as our economic and environmental systems unravel, after the hottest year in the contiguous 48 states since record keeping began 107 years ago, we lack the emotional and intellectual creativity to shut down the engine of global capitalism."
It's tempting to make this a glass half empty or glass half full argument.  But, it's more.  What interests me is how to prepare for both possibilities?  I have young children, which world do you prepare them for?  Perhaps, the best we can do is first go to where there is some agreement - change will no longer be incremental, it will be exponential - then, prepare myself, and my family, to be able to adjust and adapt.  How do you rapidly learn and unlearn?  How do you black swan proof your life?"

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tragedy and "The Power of Un-reality"

As an amateur blogger, it's a bit unsettling when you work hard to make a particular point and some (as reflected in the comments) don't have a clue what you're trying to say.  You're stuck with a couple of options - you can believe most do get it and the comments don't represent the majority; or you can believe you're just not as good at making your argument as you think you are. 

And when you come across some evidence of option two, in this case you find someone making the argument clearer than you, it makes one wonder.  This is one of those times.

In my post on the Pearl MS shooting (HERE) I wasn't making a gun control argument.  In fact,I don't think in the 300 or so previous post on this blog  I had ever mentioned the NRA or gun control before... it's an issue that isn't really the topic of this blog and one that just isn't on my personal radar.  What does interest this blog is propaganda and those in power's ability to "shape what we see, read, and hear", and I would argue, believe.

Eric Alterman has a recent piece in the American Progress where he addresses the very same issue, relates it back to the NRA, and, I think, does it much better than I. 

"What many people fail to consider when the nation is faced with such soul-searching tragedies (or natural catastrophes) is how much of our debate is predetermined by the ability of powerful interests—whether they be interest groups, corporate lobbyists, or the newly expanding category of government and contract public relations workers—to shape what we see, read, and hear." ... "Of course, working hand-in-glove with the lobbyists are the public relations specialists of these same interests. Corporate PR has long exercised significant power to define what Lippmann called “the pictures in our heads,” but the problem has grown both significantly worse and more complex in recent times owing both to the fracturing of so many of our most important media institutions and the explosion of newly sophisticated means of public manipulation."
For those intent on having a gun control argument... this isn't the place to do it.  Others, I'm sure are much more thoughtful on the issue than I.  Having said that, I will link to another piece, one that does address the issue of Gun Control, HERE.  You don't have to agree with it, but it's strikes me that it's asking good questions.