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".