Monday, July 8, 2013

Beyond Hollowed Out Democracy and the Class Stood on Its Head

Perhaps the most important task in first world societies right now is to dismantle and disperse the multifaceted spell of cynicism and social despair that has gradually woven itself around our social consciousness.  When we do, we will see how we fell into this unusual phase in human evolution, why we do not recognize the evolutionary mismatch at the heart of the problem, and who we are capable of being.
Bear with me, this part might seem a little dry but we will get to the good stuff right away.  Sometime around the 1960s, in the leading economies, we had already developed the core of the economy for the next stage of humanity, a knowledge-driven economy.  However, we did not have the social organization needed to organize this more advanced economy.  No society yet ever has.  
In order for a society to unleash the true knowledge-driven economy, we have to do two things at the same time:  we have to pay the people doing the work and we have to turn the knowledge free.  We can do one at a time.  Throttling the spread of knowledge in order to pay people gives us Microsoft and Big Pharma.  Letting knowledge spread freely but not paying people gives us - or more to the point does not give us - the great novel that was never written or the great album that was never made because the author or the band had to keep their day jobs and the computer innovation that never saw the light of day because, unlike Google or Facebook, there was no way to connect advertising to the innovation and monetize it.  
To understand what happened when we had developed the physical infrastructure and educated work force of the future economy but within social structures from the past, think of evolution.  When humans evolved language, there were many different pieces that had to come together.  New, more delicate throats and jaws (which meant giving up the capacity to use biting as the kind of powerful weapon that biting still is for chimpanzees), a part of the brain to deal with signals from the ears, another to think verbally and decide what to say, then another to control the movement of mouth etc. and actually say it.  To make language work, all these pieces had to come together.  If you have one piece without the others, it can not do what it is meant for. 
That is basically the situation that the leading edge economies ran into about half a century ago:  we have part of the next stage of society but are missing other parts.  The resulting evolutionary mismatch has had profound but unnoticed effects.  In a process of maturation, if you do not make a required leap, you often don't stand still, but start slipping backward. 
Slipping backward is what happened to the leading economies:  they slowed down but because they all slowed down, this seemed normal.  It is now taken for granted that catch-up economies will grow faster, but for the preceding 150 years, the leading economies mostly accelerated away from the rest.  That is how the large gap between 1st world and 3rd economies was created.  (That and colonization.)   Notice also that when the leading edge economies slowed down, Japan was still industrializing and kept growing at a much faster rate.  But when Japan caught up with the leading edge economies, it too suddenly slowed down and has stayed that way ever since.  Decades of stagnation led to active decay, which became visible with the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and with the Euro Zone crisis. 
Because our elites evolved to run an industrial economy, they ceased to have a historical or evolutionary function once the core of the economy had developed past the industrial stage.  In America 100 years ago (or China now), the elite was greedy and caused much suffering.  But that elite also accomplished something.  It built up the nation.  OK, it made everyone else build up the nation while it played Great Gatsby.  But the nation did get built.  Now the elite no longer has any purpose, so it is fragmented and incapable of internal discipline.  That is why the elite has been incapable of any attempt at reform, even in light of clear criminal behavior and dysfunctional rules in the financial sector. 

If the current state of the elite is somewhat hidden but simple once examined, the position of the knowledge worker class - in a very broad sense - is both hidden and intensely contradictory.  The knowledge worker class if unleashed would be so productive that this class would simply blow apart the old social structure.  In order to constrain the knowledge worker class to fit within that old structure, it has been turned on its head.  To a considerable degree, the knowledge worker class is paid to model and create unknowing rather than knowing. 
The modeling and creation of unknowing takes different forms for different parts of the knowledge worker class, but what those parts have in common is that their job requirements usually include their not noticing the social sources of problems they deal with, or if they do notice, at least to not notice the systematic nature of those problems.  Also, they work in various ways against those who do notice systemic problems.
100 years ago, it was quite difficult to get your hands on much system-wide information and far fewer people had the education to put it to use even if they could get their hands on it.  So not-knowing was the natural state.  However, nowadays with such a wealth of communication technology and education, not-knowing requires an active process. 
Exactly how this not-knowing is actually performed requires further study, but one portion of this not-knowing may consist of a kind of sixth sense that people are required to have in order to reach even the lowest level knowledge worker positions.  The very act of seeing the systematic nature of our social dysfunctions and suffering makes one's life less comfortable.  It creates cognitive and emotional dissonance.  And this seeing is risky.  So I suspect that often before a dangerous line of thought gets too far, a sense of unease arises and the person finds some distraction or other without even noticing that she or he did so.

The net result is that the knowledge worker class leads an intensely contradictory existence.  On the one hand, we (and if you are reading this, the odds are extremely high that you are part of the knowledge worker class) are the core of a future economy, of a future society vastly richer and kinder than any that exists now.  More precisely, the knowledge worker class is the shadow of that core of the future economy.  On the other hand, in society as it currently exists, we work as servants for a decaying elite.  As a class, we have our own hands around our own throats, throttling ourselves to the point that we can breathe just barely enough to serve the elite, but not enough to grow and be ourselves.  (Individuals can, but not the class as a whole.)
This does not effect every member of the knowledge worker class uniformly.  There are oases of greater humaneness here and there.  One can often get a saner, more constructive job if one is willing to accept lower pay.  And the basic decency of most people softens things.  Nonetheless for many of us, there is the job we can get paid for and there is a different job we would rather do and which would be a greater contribution to society, but that we can not get paid for.  At this very moment, the odds are there is someone out there somewhere who is capable of writing a piece of enduring literature, but who is writing ad copy instead. 
Alternatively, there is the contradiction between the way we as human beings would want to do our job and the way we are required to do it.  An example is the health care worker who knows what the patient needs and what the insurance company and/or the hospital demands.  Or the scientist who could have discovered a new, genuinely useful drug, but who is working on tweaking an existing one in order to game the patent system.  This increases the tension and cynicism among the knowledge worker class, which is subject to more severe competition among its members than the traditional working class was.  The result is the cultural tone of recent decades.
Another way to understand this is to see the knowledge worker class as a whole as a kind of performance art piece, a society-wide theater of capitalist realism whose theme is There Is No Alternative.  Again, maintaining unknowing in an age with so much information technology requires active intervention.  Such intervention is one of the ways that failing to put a newly developed capacity to use causes us to fall back.  The incorporation of the once slightly autonomous knowledge worker class into the current system and into the TINA performance art even impedes our development as individuals.
One of the ways that this impeding shows up is that the loose human potential movement and spirituality that sprung up in the 1960s has developed much new and insightful into the roots of psychology but has avoided examining society.  As one example example, A.H. Almaas has developed a model of the human personality and its development that maps the ego level (the end stage of adult development in current society) and enlightenment (in the Buddhist not European sense) as part of a single natural developmental ladder.  However, the sociological side was missed:  The fact that the ego is the typical end stage of adult development is itself a matter of social evolution.  The literate ego with the emotional skills to work in teams and to instinctively stay within the bounds of the knowledge class's playpen is a more demanding level of maturity than what was required of most people centuries ago.  It is even a bit more demanding than what was required half a century ago. 
On the other hand, the very fact that the enlightened/awakened beyond-ego has historically been understood in opposition to the ego rather than as its natural culmination is itself a product of evolutionary precocity being turned on its head.  Enlightenment may be the first bit of what is now the next-stage in human evolution to have shown up.   With the development of the foundation for the knowledge-driven economy, it is all but imperative to make the jump, but when enlightenment first emerged into the historical record about 2500 years ago, human society was completely unready for it.  Turned on its head was the only way that enlightenment could survive in societies that had no political freedoms and in which even ego development was not all that complete.  In those days, societies had maybe 95% ground-down peasants, 4% soldiers to hold them down, and 1% with any chance at all at some of the comforts or the chance at individual development that nowadays are widespread throughout the leading-edge economies and increasingly common in many of the catch-up economies too.  Such suppressive social systems may have been the only way to have had any kind of civilization in those days.  They were the only way that was actually found.  (Although there were ungoverned pockets of humanity with less brutality and less high culture.) 
In such pre-industrial societies, in the more severely autocratic states, beyond-ego teachings were primarily used as a decorative legitimizer for the elites.  In countries that were not quite as unfree, such as China, the awakening teachings were actually practiced, but kept largely quarantined.  The greatest flowerings of beyond-ego teachings were in times and places such as Pala India, where elite Buddhism interacted with lower caste people and tribal people, and post-Silk Road Tibet, where there was not sufficient surplus value to support an elite large enough to keep the teachings in check.  Even then though, maturing beyond the ego was held as an exceedingly rare event.
Now the time has come to turn this right side up too.  Once beyond-ego development is understood as the natural next stage of human development, then the development of societies capable of supporting this fuller human development instead of cutting it off at the ego level emerges as a spiritual project.
This has not happened yet precisely because the human potential movement in general and post-ego teachings in particular are part of the current conflicted knowledge worker class.  They serve as a means for dealing with the tension of that existence and for making some progress despite the social-historical constraints. 
Beyond-ego teachings in the West were imported after WW2, primarily from India and East Asia.  These teachings were absorbed from the donor societies without much examination of the various ways in which the teachings reflected societies that were even less developed than ours and without much examination of how the new context that the teachings were now placed in altered their effects.  The result was a flowering of beyond-ego practice (there may be more serious meditators in the West now than the entire population of India in the days of the Buddha) and a fruitful interaction between the beyond-ego teachings from Asia and psychology from the West that created new psychologies. 
A society with a knowledge-driven economy will eventually develop into a conscious society.  This means a society that is conscious of itself as a society, not just that some individuals within the society are conscious of it.  But this will not necessarily be an early feature of the next society.

To be clear, I am not saying that everyone has to or will reach the full maturity of beyond-ego development, especially since post-beyond-ego maturation itself will continue to evolve and mature.  I am not saying that everyone has to be some kind of mystic saint or even nice before they get involved in social change.  Almost the opposite is true.  But the relative ease with which a decaying incoherent neo-liberal elite has steamrollered all opposition across the 1st world shows that we need something more.  A cross-pollination between the spirituality of the next stage, that does not know itself as such, and the political values that need the next stage in order to manifest but do not know how to get there, is one way we might overcome the current situation.
A crucial early step is to understand what the actual situation is:  That for past five decades, the leading edge economies have stalled because of the incompatibility between the new forces of actual production and the old rules for organizing production, that those parts of society connected with these new forces of production have been turned upside down and turned against themselves and all of us, and that behind the fog of unknowing that the knowledge worker stratum is assigned to generate, our individual and social efforts are impeded, the most important of our efforts most of all.  Most importantly, having understood this, we must realize that this current phase of evolutionary incompatibility is only how we are when we are stumbling.  When we run and run fast enough to take flight, only then will we fully grasp who we really are.

Friday, May 24, 2013

We don't suppress our Awakening, we lose track of it

Many of us come in as infants with a greater connection with Awakening.  You can see it in some children's faces.   But as we grow older, we lose that.  For most of us, we don't deliberately reject Awakening.  We just don't realize that it is anything meaningful.  Because everyone around us is ignoring it.  So we imitate them and we ignore it too. 
That makes it harder to recover than if we were actively repressing it.  Because simply not noticing it and not including it in our sense of "I" leaves so little trace of what was lost.



Thursday, December 20, 2012

Did Sauron Have Middle Earth Consciousness?

For that matter, did Lord Voldemort have global consciousness?
When the elites of the economically advanced nations break their commitments to the people of their own nations and instead forge ties and institutions with their fellow elites from other nations, that is not global consciousness.  That is class consciousness.
It is actually narrower than the national consciousness it has partly replaced.  But with better PR.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Making money" is the deepest, most broadly shared religious value in America

I have been thinking a lot about why it has come to this. Why are Americans as a people in particular so weak and vulnerable, so thoroughly misled.
A theory:
In American culture, a deep respect for the right of each individual to "make a living" runs very deep. In a sense, it is the original drive that brought Europeans to America. In its day, it was actually quite progressive. After all, what it replaced (in the late 1500s and early 1600s) was the notion that the "nobility" had the right to live full lives and everyone else just competed to be the least mistreated of their stage props. "Making money" is the deepest, most broadly shared religious value in America.
Once "everyone can prove God loves them by being rich" became the dominant mode, then its internal contradiction became visible: What if my "making a living" involved depriving someone else of their ability to have a full life? Historically, various distinctions have been used to make it OK for some people to not count. The elect versus the non-elect. Racial and national boundaries. Sheer physical and communicational distances. Those are all breaking down now.
In the 1800s, the recognition gradually won out that "making a living" by enslaving people was wrong. What we need now is to broaden that much further to make it clear that making a living, even becoming ridiculously wealthy by contributing to society, by providing something people want is Good. Making a living by taking from others in any way is Bad. 
The "something for nothing" mentality may be most intense, obvious, and destructive when the financial sector does it on a grand scale, but it is pervasive. For example, it is the core of most visualize-your-way-to-fortune programs of the New Age.
When the Abolitionists first proposed the notion that slavery needed to be eliminated (1840 or so IIRC), they were vilified, even in non-slaveholding areas. The reason people came around was the recognition that anyone who had to compete with slaves would themselves be reduced to slavery.
So too, we need people to recognize that anyone who has to compete with the exploited will themselves be exploited. That the only solution is to make a sharp distinction between those who flourish by contributing and those who flourish by only taking.
I see this as foundational. If we can accomplish this, forward motion will become possible. Without this, I think we will remain trapped between the choice of being the abused girlfriend of the Democratic Party (oh, but he promised me he would leave her and marry me) or the isolated spinster, our greatest possible triumph to someday rise to 10% or 15% of the vote (NDP in Canada). Maybe on some very lucky day, one of the legacy parties will need our support and really come courting. You know, flowers, date on the town, the whole thing. "Just sign the papers sweetie, please." See Liberal-Democrats in the UK after the 20122 election there.
The only way out that I can see is to attain the society-wide understanding that something for nothing is always, always based on someone else's nothing for something. That something for nothing creates a cultural black hole that sucks light in, gives nothing out, and results in a lot more nothing and very little something.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The contradiction for actual progressives

(Cross posted from Naked Capitalism)

I agree that the article that Lambert links to and highly recommends by Sterling Newberry is well worth reading.  http://www.correntewire.com/three_polar_politics_post_petroleum_america

It is full of brilliant gems.  Such as "Obama’s money mandate is to Do Bush Right".  (Remember that he nailed this in July 2009.)
I would add two points. 
First point: The move from the old economy to the new economy will be a larger shift because it will be a shift from rules evolved for the production of things to rules for the production of knowledge.  The shift from petroleumism to CleanEnergyism that Newberry foresees is theoretically possible but highly unlikely.  The current elite derives so much of its power not from increasing productive forces but from throttling the development of the knowledge economy that it is unlikely that they will be able to play a forward-moving role even in the material sector of the economy. 
This biggest problem to solve for any knowledge-driven economy is this:  It must do two things at the same time:  compensate those who do the work and turn the knowledge totally free.  I strongly suspect that neither private property + corporations nor state property + government can do this, but that something new will be required.
Progressives are connected with the emergent knowledge producing class (in a broad sense).    This is one reason why the relationship between "Progressives" (advocates for the next economy) and "Moderates" (advocates for rationalization of the old economy to prop it up longer) is more complex than Newberry presents.  (Note too that Newberry is using these terms somewhat different from their usual usage. In particular, "moderates" are not watered-down progressives or pragmatic progressives, but a separate opposed pole, rational conservatives.  Really, go read the article.  After you finish my post)  In particular, many who are genuinely progressive are nonetheless following supposed "Progressives" who are actually "Moderates".  Actual progressives have comparatively little (miniscule) institutional support.  As a result, leadership among progressives often goes to those "progressives" who are subsidized by "moderate" opponents of progressivism in return for helping keep progressives as a colony of the "moderates".
This "undercutting" of progressives at the very top mirrors what happens in the real economy.  Within the knowledge producing class, the greatest resources are given to "creatives" who work in one form or another as propagandists for the old economy and technologists who themselves have become part of the rent-collecting elite (Microsoft and Apple, for example).
This contradiction between the actually existing knowledge producing sector and the potential of knowledge producers, both as a social force and as an expression of expanded human development, is an under-recognized factor, particularly in politics and culture.  I believe it goes a long way in explaining why the elite has so far been paralyzed by its own corruption and is driving us along a path that will not be sustainable for long even for the elite themselves. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Piracy, Anti-Piracy, and the Roots of the Stagnation

Piracy and the willingness to inflict any amount of damage to stop it both arise from the deep structure of society of the past 4 or so decades.
The knowledge
economy that is trying to emerge has two primary needs: information needs to be able to disseminate without restriction and knowledge producers, maintainers, and distributors need to be compensated. These both need to happen at the same time. No one knows how to do both at the same time. That is why the knowledge economy can not emerge. This is the indirect, root cause of all the economic problems of the past 4 decades or so.
Information wants to be free. But only in the sense that it wants to be able to spread. Information is indifferent to whether or not compensation is provided to knowledge workers. For example, information would not try to fight against a system in which society as a whole paid information workers because then individual and group knowledge consumers would get all they wanted.
One could express "information wants to be free" as "people want free information and tend to feel entitled to it". Same effect. Because no society is yet able to address this functional need of the not-yet economy, it takes the form of a powerful osmotic force, like a flood trying to overcome all seawalls and other barriers.
On the other hand, the desire of the knowledge workers to be compensated is also quite strong. Some of the claims made by owners of intellectual property in our current economic systems are just rent collection, i.e. highway robbery with legal backing and higher social status. But still highway robbery. But much of the claims are on behalf of people doing real work who want and need real compensation. And that fact is also the moral justification that rent seeking can hide behind. If movies or knowledge of new drugs or a new Lady Gaga album or the moment-to-moment information required to run a smart power grid just appeared out of nowhere, the claims of the movie industry etc. would be all but ignored. And again, because we have not yet developed social arrangements capable of addressing this need either, it takes the form of a tide, striving always to overcome or penetrate any barriers in its way.
As long as these forces, which are the expression of the core drives of the trying-to-emerge economy, are not both openly and honestly addressed by society, then these forces will act immaturely and irresponsibly. Pirates (which is most of the population probably) will try to get information for free, regardless of the damage they may do to those who produce the information they desire. Knowledge producers, especially the large corporations who under our current system have the legal right to the fruits of knowledge production labor, will do whatever they can to receive the compensation they desire. They will often make demands that amount to excess compensation and they will not care how much damage they do to social transparency, human rights, and the flows of information that they themselves are also dependent on.
This immaturity, this irresponsibility ,on both sides will continue until we see that addressing both these two needs is actually the core task of the global economy now and for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Emperor's New Clothes

After a blogger claimed that the Emperor had no clothes on, Republicans rushed to denounce the Democratic Party as a hotbed of anti-Emperor treason. Meanwhile, Democrats rushed to distance themselves from the isolated blogger, rumored to actually be a child, who made the hideous attack on the Emperor. The question is being raised as to whether the Internet itself doesn't need some kind of reform to prevent this kind of unfortunate incident.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Muggles sacrificed on the altar of the balance budget

There is a reason why the current economic orthodoxy makes sense to people but MMT is a hard sell. Yes, there is active propaganda and there is the structural propaganda that is called "economics". And, yes orthodoxy matches closer to the realities of individuals and families. (The fallacy of orthodoxy consists precisely in taking what is true for the individual and family and applying it to a national government that issues its own currency.) But there are deeper reasons too. It brings us to the entire question of why people believe what we (they) do.

1) There are limits on what we are capable of believing, limit on what we are capable of even considering.
Since the dawn of civilization, human society has been organized around scarcity. It is the air our societies breathe.
Since the dawn of consciousness, east African hairless apes, i.e. humans, have had a strong sense of fair play and reciprocity. What exactly fair play and reciprocity consists of varies from culture to culture. But fair play and reciprocity themselves are deep in our wetware and firmware
MMT sounds too much like a free lunch to be believed as real. It will tend to be taken as a nice fantasy. In the middle ages, such fantasies could power religious revolutions. In the modern age, political revolutions. But deep down inside, our deep programming tells us that it is too good to be true. Part of the power of mass spectator sports and entertainment-celebrity fantasy is that the unreality of it is visible I know full bloody well that my rent will still be due tomorrow even if Derek Jeter gets his 3000th hit or Manchester United manages to beat Barcelona somehow.
2) Human cultures and societies have rigidity in their thinking.
# Not all limits on understanding arise from within the realm of thought. In other words, they are not because we are stupid or don’t know how to think properly. Most are psychological and/or political. These limits on thinking both affect social realities and psychological understanding and are affected by them. (Human societies are highly complex causal loops.)
# Thinking or talking as though limits on understanding must or probably must be occurring in the realm of thought is itself a very intense limit on understanding. Often when leftists look at right-wingers, we marvel at their thought processes. But this overlooks that integrity of thought processes is a much higher value for most leftists than for many right-wingers. They have other integrities they consider more important. For example, loyalty to their religion or to some group whose support they have relied on.
How often do we ask ourselves why people can't understand what seems obvious to us? "What's the matter with Kansas?" "Are they stupid or evil?"
The answers that I hear most often feel inadequate to me. They explain some of it, but not enough. And if now we think we have an answer even though we really don't, then we lose the question. Which right now is often the most important thing we actually have.
The example most in my own face right now is the question of why the two legacy parties have such a hold on Americans. In Europe too, there are and will be many elections in which all the parties that get many votes (and often that is more than 2) agree on something that most of the population hates. Or if there seems to be opposition, it is the kind of kabuki opposition that the American Democratic Party specializes in. The kind of opposition that everyone understands will not change the outcome.
Yes, the US legacy parties are part of the elite. Yes, they will have limitless funds for campaigning. Yes, they have the entire complex ideological edifice of the elite behind them. The media, the universities, the think tanks, the professional organizations.
But for me, all of that still does not add up to the overwhelming victory for pro-bankster politicians that is already baked into the cake for 2012. There is some reason why most of us ultimately buy into the thing even when we hate the visible results.
Here are some of the factors involved.
# How we internally experience power or its lack, our own and that of others.
This involves individual psychological and cultural patterns.
It is crucial for human societies that humans are born so helpless and needing support. It is also crucial that we evolved in small packs. We are not solo hunters but not herd or flock animals either. This fact does not determine how everything works (nothing does; it is all complex loops) but it is too important to overlook.
# How we respond to not knowing
Not knowing can be overwhelming and painful. Partly because it resonates with earlier personal and collective experiences of lacking power (the hungry baby, the enslaved or en-famined tribe). Choosing some barely credible myth ("if someone would only drown the federal government, my life would be paradise on earth or at least not the hell it really is", "after the Revolution") keeps that not-knowing at bay. Although it often reinforces it.
I honestly think that so much has changed so fast the past decades that there is so much that we no longer know and this huge not-knowing is overwhelming. Particularly for those of us who can not force others to pay the price for our mistakes.

3) Vastly intensified communication within humanity has profoundly altered how everything functions. For example, there are now billions of people yearning for something similar to the material riches of life in the West whose parents a generation ago lived lives so separate from MusicVideoLand that it did not affect them. Or they it.
In the early 1950s, the desires of the Chinese or Indian rural poor had no effect on wage negotiations between GM and the UAW. Or the budget of the state of Arizona. They do now.
We are transitioning from one set of complex interacting loops to a different set. It is not that A causes B, like pool balls, but rather loops upon loops of feedback and feedforward. And that system of complex loops as a whole is changing.
This way of seeing things is too complex to be provide short-term answers. It does not have much to say about what to do about 2012. But long-term, I think we need much more understanding of this type
Taking society as a whole, we do not understand how the realm of understanding really works, we do not even know that we do not know, and we don't fully appreciate that this is important. This is not-knowing raised to the 2.5 power (ie more than not-knowing squared but less than not-knowing cubed).

A closing sidebar: Life among the muggles
Most people I have known, even just from reading their posts, who are active in politics or spirituality, find themselves in a position a bit like Harry Potter and his friends. They live in a world that most people don't understand. They have developed capacities that others do not know about.
In a sense, the entire Harry Potter series is driven by the examination of how to deal with that. What is the right way for wizards and witches to relate to muggles? I think all of us have a bit of Hermione (who is inherently sympathetic with the powerless of the wizarding world and those who are not even part of that world (muggles) and a little bit of Malfoyism too (both parents and son).
And I think that what far too many of us do far too much of the time is to pretend that we are muggles. Maybe we put someone else’s picture up on our wall or in our hearts and act as though they are the wizard or witch that we aren't.
By the way, we are complex enough beings that if we genuinely develop our capacities, we are all wizards or witches among muggles in some realm or other.
PS Another fictional work that examines this question more deeply is "Anathem".

Failure to incredulate

There is a reason why the current economic orthodoxy makes sense to people but MMT is a hard sell. Yes, there is active propaganda and there is the structural propaganda that is called "economics". And, yes orthodoxy matches closer to the realities of individuals and families. The fallacy of orthodoxy consists precisely in taking what is true for the individual and family and applying it to a national government that issues its own currency. But there are deeper reasons too. It brings us to the entire question of why people believe what we (they) do.

1) There are limits on what we are capable of believing, limit on what we are capable of even considering.

Since the dawn of civilization, human society has been organized around scarcity. It is the air our societies breathe.

Since the dawn of consciousness, east African hairless apes, ie humans, have had a strong sense of fair play and reciprocity. What exactly fair play and reciprocity consists of varies from culture to culture. But fair play and reciprocity themselves are deep in our wetware and firmware

MMT sounds too much like a free lunch to be believed as real. It will tend to be taken as a nice fantasy. In the middle ages, such fantasies could power religious revolutions. In the modern age, political revolutions. But deep down inside, our deep programming tells us that it is too good to be true. Part of the power of mass spectactor sports and entertainment-celebrity fantasy is that the unreality of it is visible I know full bloody well that my rent will still be due tomorrow even if Derek Jeter gets his 3000th hit or Manchester United manages to beat Barcelona somehow.

2) Human cultures and societies have rigidity in their thinking.

# Not all limits on understanding arise from within the realm of thought. In other words, they are not because we are stupid or don’t know how to think properly. Most are psychological and/or political. These limits on thinking both affect social realities and psychological understanding and are affected by them. (Human societies are highly complex causal loops.)

# Thinking or talking as though limits on understanding must or probably must be occurring in the realm of thought is itself a very intense limit on understanding. Often when leftists look at right-wingers, we marvel at their thought processes. But this overlooks that integrity of thought processes is a much higher value for most leftists than for many right-wingers. They have other integrities they consider more important. For example, loyalty to their religion or to some group whose support they have relied on.

How often do we ask ourselves why people can't understand what seems obvious to us? "What's the matter with Kansas?" "Are they stupid or evil?"

The answers that I hear most often feel inadequate to me. They explain some of it, but not enough. And if now we think we have an answer even though we really don't, then we lose the question. Which right now is often the most important thing we actually have.

The example most in my own face right now is the question of why the two legacy parties have such a hold on Americans. In Europe too, there are and will be many elections in which all the parties that get many votes (and often that is more than 2) agree on something that most of the population hates. Or if there seems to be opposition, it is the kind of kabuki opposition that the American Democratic Party specializes in. The kind of opposition that everyone understands will not change the outcome.

Yes, the US legacy parties are part of the elite. Yes, they will have limitless funds for campaigning. Yes, they have the entire complex ideological edifice of the elite behind them. The media, the universities, the think tanks, the professional organizations.

But for me, all of that still does not add up to the overwhelming victory for pro-bankster politicians that is already baked into the cake for 2012. There is some reason why most of us ultimately buy into the thing even when we hate the visible results.

Here are some of the factors involved.

# How we internally experience power or its lack, our own and that of others.

This involves individual psychological and cultural patterns.

It is crucial for human societies that humans are born so helpless and needing support. It is also crucial that we evolved in small packs. We are not solo hunters but not herd or flock animals either. This fact does not determine how everything works (nothing does; it is all complex loops) but it is too important to overlook.

# How we respond to not knowing

Not knowing can be overwhelming and painful. Partly because it resonates with earlier personal and collective experiences of lacking power (the hungry baby, the enslaved or en-famined tribe). Choosing some barely credible myth (if someone would only drown the federal government, my life would be paradise on earth or at least not the hell it really is) keeps that not-knowing at bay. Although it often reinforces it.

I honestly think that so much has changed so fast the past decades that there is so much that we no longer know and this huge not-knowing is overwhelming. Particularly for those of us who can not force others to pay the price for our mistakes.

3) Vastly intensified communication within humanity has profoundly altered how everything functions. For example, there are now billions of people yearning for something similar to the material riches of life in the West whose parents a generation ago lived lives so separate from MusicVideoLand that it did not affect them. Or they it.

In the early 1950s, the desires of the Chinese rural poor had no effect on wage negotiations between GM and the UAW. Or the budget of the state of Arizona. They do now.

We are transitioning from one set of complex interacting loops to a different set. It is not that A causes B, like pool balls, but rather loops upon loops of feedback and feedforward. And that system of complex loops as a whole is changing.

This way of seeing things is too complex to be provide short-term answers. It does not have much to say about what to do about 2012. But long-term, I think we need much more understanding of this type

Taking society as a whole, we do not understand how the realm of understanding really works, we do not even know that we do not know, and we don't fully appreciate that this is important. This is not-knowing raised to the 2.5 power (ie more than not-knowing squared but less than not-knowing cubed).

A closing sidebar: Life among the muggles

Most people I have known, even just from reading their posts, who are active in politics or spirituality, find themselves in a position a bit like Harry Potter and his friends. They live in a world that most people don't understand. They have developed capacities that others do not know about.

In a sense, the entire Harry Potter series is driven by the examination of how to deal with that. What is the right way for wizards and witches to relate to muggles? I think all of us have a bit of Hermione (who is inherently sympathetic with the powerless of the wizarding world and those who are not even part of that world (muggles) and a little bit of Malfoyism too (both parents and son).

And I think that what far too many of us do far too much of the time is to pretend that we are muggles. Maybe we put someone else’s picture up on our wall or in our hearts and act as though they are a wizard or witch. But we aren't.
By the way, we are complex enough beings that if we genuinely develop our capacities, we are all wizards or witches among muggles in some realm or other.

Life among the muggles

Most people I have known, even just from reading their posts, who are active in politics or spirituality, find themselves in a position a bit like Harry Potter and his friends. They live in a world that most people don't understand. They have developed capacities that others do not know about.

In a sense, the entire Harry Potter series is driven by the examination of how to deal with that. What is the right way for wizards and witches to relate to muggles? I think all of us have a bit of Hermione (who is inherently sympathetic with the powerless of the wizarding world and those who are not even part of that world (muggles) and a little bit of Malfoyism too (both parents and son).

And I think that what far too many of us do far too much of the time is to pretend that we are muggles. Maybe we put someone else picture up on our wall or in our hearts and act as though they are a wizard or witch. But we aren't.
By the way, we are complex enough beings that if we genuinely develop our capacities, we are all wizards or witches among muggles in some realm or other.

If a money tree falls in an MMT forest

, but no one hears it, does it still pay the wages for all the laid-off teachers and firemen?
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) says that for a powerful nation like the United States or Europe as a whole that pays its bills with money that it issues itself, balancing the budget does not matter in the way that it does for an individual or a family or a city or a state or a company. It says that to take what makes sense for a family and to apply it to a money-issuing nation is incorrect. Much empirical evidence (= actual past experience in the real world) suggests that MMT may well be correct and that the orthodox emphasis on balancing a national budget is definitely wrong and often harmful. Sometimes very harmful. As in "cause the Great Depression and lead to WW2" harmful.
Most followers of MMT will also point out that making this mistake gives a lot of money and power to certain people at the expense of others.
But even if MMT is true, if not only the elites who benefit from the balanced-budget illusion, but even most of the ordinary people whose lives are harmed by it believe that illusion, then maybe even if MMT is true, it does not matter.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Solutions will create their own demand

Cross-posted from http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/ in response to

link to http://www.thomaspalley.com/?p=179

From Deaf to History’s Rhyme: Why President Obama is Failing Thomas Palley
“President Obama’s fateful decision to go with Clintonomics meant the recession was interpreted as an extremely deep downturn rather than a crisis signaling the bankruptcy of the neoliberal paradigm that has ruled both Republicans and Democrats for thirty years.”

Then what do we replace it with? I am sure we can come up with something, but I believe that right now, it is a competition between available neoliberal solutions that don’t work and solutions that will work but that do not exist yet – at least not as widely understood coherent positions. So there is a lot of acting like the drunk who looks under the street light for his keys even though he dropped them on the other side of the street because “that is where the light is”.

To put it another way, the lack of clear, credible solutions makes it psychologically more difficult to face the depth of the problem.

I think that many people will not let themselves see how deep the problems run until they see believable solutions. And that those of us working on those solutions will have to start putting together solutions before enough people are willing acknowledge the problem to create the possible backing to implement them or even consider them seriously.
I would love to see nakedcapitalism.com start examining what we should do. For example, what would a real solution to the mortgage securitization problems look like? What solutions would we like at least the blog reading public to be aware of in preparation for the day when the bankruptcy of current DemRep policies (”let them eat whole wheat sugar-free cake” vs. “eat sh*t”) becomes so obvious that there is an opening even for solutions that right now the elite is still able to keep out of polite discussion.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

why-is-there-no-political-outlet-for-anger-on-the-left-these-days (Posted on "Naked Capitalism")

Deep structural changes that our understanding has not fully kept up with.
1) Since the right wing basically is offering a return to what America was before the breaking-apart of the 1960s, they don’t need to understand. A left wing pointing to the way forward does.
2) The right wing is actually aligned with core groups within the current power structure and always has that wind at its back (money and media). The left wing has that wind in its face.
Some of the structural changes:
- Job insecurity and increased competition for real jobs. “Dropping out” was based on the ease of dropping back in later.
- Rise of student debt peonage (as many have pointed out) But if this were as big a factor as my gut tells me it is, then why isn’t there a strong youth left in European countries where university tuition is free? More freedom yes, but it is not exactly the 60s in Scandanavia either.
- Fractioning of experience with shift from Big 3 networks to micro-media. Even the “mainstream” has become more like a river delta with many parallel streams than a single big wide river.
- General intensification of competitiveness in ordinary life as dissolving of life-long employment and clear career tracks opens up more possibilities both for advance and for being stepped on and left behind.
- Split between working class political interests and middle class political interests from the 1960s.
- Outsourcing and renewed immigration in the US (was unusually low from early 1920s until late 1960s) and rise of immigration to Europe instead of from Europe.
- More full incorporation of formerly semi-independent power structures. The big 3 networks in the US used to be a semi-independent part of the power structure. Now they are direct corporate puppets. Universities were partial refuges and incubators of alternatives but are now corporate vocational and research centers.
- Commodification of youth culture and incorporation into corporate structure. Rebellion against social structure converted into rebellion against uncoolness. Partially due to dissolving of much of former sexual restrictions on the middle class. Testosteronal “smash the state” becomes “fight for the right to party”.
– The left in the 1960s was aided by the rise of youth culture, which was fairly new. (I think youth have separate music from the rest of society starts roughly with the young Frank Sinatra in the 40s.) Now “youth culture” too has split into smaller fragments.
- Maslowian alienation: Middle-class left tends to frame issues in terms of social justice but have hard time making straight out economic demands. A “chicken in every pot” has become “health insurance for the uninsured” rather than “free post-secondary education/training”.

Generally, diversity has broken up solidarity based on uniformities. Developing a higher level solidarity based on uniqueness rather than uniformities is a difficult task. (Which the right-wing does not face because it is by instinct pro-uniformity)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Monetizabilitization

Economic effort whose purpose is to make it possible to make money from something that would otherwise have to be given away for free. A great example is the targeted advertising on Google. That advertising lets Google monetize (make money from) the search engine service, which it has always had to give away for free.
Google and Facebook both provide services that huge numbers of people use frequently, services that no one had thought of before they were created. The difference between the two companies is that Google has successfully monetabilitized its search engine, but Facebook has not successfully monetabilitized its social network service. The effort to do so is why it repeatedly violates users' privacy and will continue to do so.
Also see antidismonetizabilitizationism, which is one letter longer than antidisestablishmentarianism, which was the longest word in the English language until Mary Poppins came along.

Maslowian alienation

To identify so strongly with a higher level on the Maslow scale of needs that one does not notice the failure to meet needs on a lower level. For example, to focus on self-actualization or social justice and notice that oneself and one's peers are being systematically held back on the material level.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

If I am inherently a Buddha, why should my life be organized around the demands of social institutions and individuals who say I am not?

1) From the perspective of any social system built around anything other than universal Buddhanature/inherent human perfection, this is the ultimate subversion.
2) No society has ever willingly tolerated full and open transmission of teac...hings that say this.
3) That has profoundly affected what teachings have been transmitted and how.
4) If our ability to escape contrary social systems and even to start constructing social systems based on inherent human perfection has increased, then the teachings/practice may be able to emerge in ways not possible before.
In simple terms, the teachings on inherent human perfection are like a time-release pill. That is only now in the process of releasing.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Historical background to court ruling on marriage equality (Prop 8)

Even though opposition to gay marriage has been a primary outlet for fear of change and fear of The Other for some years now, this is an issue on which the traditional relationship between marriage and homosexuality was indefensible from the start.
Historically, homosexual sex and the organization of one's life around a socially visible identity as gay were two quite separate phenomena. I believe that the opposition to marriage equality is really opposition to the final acceptance of gayness as a valid destigmatized way of life. But the opponents of marriage equality were maneuvered onto a battle field in which 99% of their forces were wiped out before the battle even started.
That process started by the middle to late 1800s.
In America in the 1800s, bachelors had lower status than married men. Heterosexual marriage for the purpose of social control and reproduction was de facto mandatory. So was active membership in some Christian church or other. Marriage partners were selected for practical, economic reasons and family, relatives, fellow church members, and the community at large had much influence on the selection of marriage partners. In particular, as long as most people lived in villages and small towns, social freedom was far more constrained. Also, there was far less understanding of identity in those days long before Freud. People were much more seen as whatever roles they publicly played. They also saw themselves more that way.
In this context, there was far less concern about actual homosexual sex. The active seeking out of those engaging in homosexual acts for persecution is more a later phenomenon. But most all homosexuals entered heterosexual marriages, followed accepted heterosexual norms (for example, supported their wives or husbands and had children).
Also, because heterosexual activity was more restricted, there were probably more people whose sexual orientation was actually heterosexual but who engaged in homosexual acts. This would also have impeded the formation of identification as gay by mixing together those for whom homosexuality was their second choice with those for whom it was their first choice.
As far as I know, homosexuality (publicly renamed gay around 1970; not sure how much earlier that term took hold within the gay community itself) as an identity and lifestyle only starts to arise in Europe and America in the 1800s. With more and more people living in larger cities and with more and more people working in non-agricultural jobs that provided greater separation of private life from work life, lives were freed from local control and more anonymous. This made it possible for all manner of non-conformities to take cultural shape. These appear first in small urban pockets of various bohemian lifestyles and arts. There were a few periods during which such pockets became more visible and influential. One is just before WW1. Another in the 1960s. (Perhaps 1848 would be another.) The impact of such communities is most visible in the arts and the humanities. Least visible in corporations.
Meanwhile, the changes foreshadowed by these exceptional communities were gradually taking hold in the broader society, with ups and downs and contradictions. A good example of one of the contradictions was that the 1950s were both a high point of freedom and support for love-based heterosexual marriages between freely chosen partners but also a high point for witch hunting of political and sexual non-conformists.
Nowadays, marriages are entered into as matters of personal choice and for primarily psychological and sexual reasons and left easily and frequently in the same manner. The right to believe or not believe whatever we want is taken for granted. The right to create whatever identity we want is taken for granted (born again, gay, Red Sox nation, marathon runner, bass fisherman, NASCAR fan, lover of fine wines, American idol fan, rock or country music fan) and actively used. This means that 99% of what used to enforce conformity to traditional behavior has been swept away. Few of those fighting against marriage equality challenge that sweeping away. Most of them are not even aware how much of it has happened.
That is why singling out of gays for exclusion from marriage rights was overthrown by a Republican judge. Although it is impossible to predict what a Supreme Court with so many right-wing ideologues will do.
By the way, the choice of marriage as the arena in which to contest the right of gay culture to full acceptance was tactically brilliant. Remember that before this battle began, gay culture was largely associated (and for gay men, not unfairly) with the heightened sexual freedoms common to much of 60s culture. With the backlash against sexual freedom even for heterosexuals and the rise of new sexually transmitted diseases, starting with genital herpes, this would have been a very difficult fight to win. But the demand for marriage equality was, in effect, a demand for gays to be allowed to be more like everyone else. And the reframing from "gay marriage" to "marriage equality" was also a nice touch. For myself, I am mentally filing this away under "how one wins cultural battles".

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Jessica's Lighthouse Theory of Economics

The global economy is like an old-fashioned light house that turns around and around, shining its light now here and now there. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the lighthouse was shining in the direction of where Japan had been standing for about 100 years for deep cultural reasons. These were the days of Japan As Number One and everyone rushed to learn the Japanese way. Right about when many were convinced that Japan was unstoppable, their economy crashed and more than 20 years later has still not recovered. Because the beam of light from the lighthouse had moved on. Now it was shining on America.
Japan had done well because their extremely conformist culture made them the nation best suited for large-scale manufacturing of fairly complex devices, for example Sony Walkmans and video recorders. But when even higher-level manufacturing began to migrate to lower cost countries, such as South Korea and Taiwan and Mexico and eastern Europe, Japan's insularity made it unsuited. Also, the new products that started to emerge at that time had to be evolved with a large amount of feedback from consumers. Engineers knew what a VCR needed to do before consumers had even heard of them. Google only learned what its product needed to do from how its consumers used it. Japanese society makes for a poor test bed because of the dominance of top-down information flow and passive consumers. What was needed was a nation with the flexibility to adjust quickly to changing conditions (for example as first PCs, then networks and cellphones became more and more powerful) and with spoiled demanding consumers. So the lighthouse was shining right where America had been standing all along. America was much more nimble than other nations because our sense of solidarity, our consciousness of We, is so much less. In other words, America became the model economy because we are much more willing to throw each other to the wolves and because of our greater loyalty to our one true religion, making money.
Imagine a tall ladder. One guy is working at the top and a second guy is holding the ladder steady. A beautiful woman walks by. Most countries have enough solidarity that the guy holding the ladder steady looks whistfully at the woman but stays at his post. America means that the guy holding
the ladder chases after the woman. So more sex and more broken necks.
And my metaphor is actually backwards because it was the folks at the top who got to play and the ones at the bottom who were hurt by it.
With the economic crash, the lighthouse has moved on again. I suspect that America's lesser solidarity and greater reverence for making money will serve us very poorly in this new age. It already is. That is the reason why our only political choices are between a rational hypocritical party of money (the Democrats) and a bat-shit insane honest party of money (the Republicans).
It always takes a little while to figure out where the beam of light from the lighthouse has moved on to. I see two possibilities. One is societies that have the right combination of solidarity and brightness to adjust to the new times cooperatively. What will be needed is the cooperation and trust so that large numbers of jobs can be eliminated and replaced smoothly because those losing their jobs can trust that they will be given the training and help needed to find new places. In America, even if a sincere attempt was made to do this, those whose jobs were under threat would assume that the promise of retraining and new jobs was just a scam. And they would be right. It probably would be. And even if the original intent was sincere, by the time the political and corporate system implemented it, it would have been turned into a scam.
Nations that are bright but lack solidarity will tear themselves apart fighting over competing solutions (ie fighting over who plunders and who is plundered). Nations that have solidarity but are not bright will stagnate in a pleasantly funky kind of way. The Arabs have been doing this for nearly 800 years and the Japanese may be headed that way. The nations most likely to hit the right balance are the Scandinavians, the Netherlands, and the German speaking nations and perhaps some of their Eastern European neighbors.
The other possibility is that the lighthouse is pointing at authoritarian hyper-capitalist states, from China at the poorest and more corrupt to Singapore at the richest and cleanest. Personally, I think that the Asian production-centered economies can not function without some place to export their surpluses. Because if you rig the rules to make it too easy to produce stuff and too hard to afford to consume it, then you will make more stuff than you can sell to your own people. And America can't buy all these exports any more and Europe won't.
in any case, you will know where the lighthouse is pointing when once again we are being told that a certain nation or nations have figured it all out. Just remember when this happens that the new model nation just happens to have already been standing there. And for all their supposed superiority, they will still be standing there after the beam of light has moved on.
In fact, the experience of how well things worked while the light was shining on them makes it even more likely that they will stay stuck in that same spot even after it goes dark, wondering what to get back to doing what they did in the glory days. Even though their problem is not that they changed but that they haven't.
By the way, the deep American reverence for making money goes back to the early 1600s and the origins of the Protestant Reformation and will not be changed easily.

Ego, conscious individuals, and conscious society

To see the ego (or whatever we choose to call the aspects of the self seen as less true) as any kind of obstacle or obstruction needing to be let go of is only true up to a certain point of development. Beyond that, struggling with the ego or working on the ego is not the best place to focus one's energy and attention. That struggle itself can even become the primary obstruction. It is better for the focus to shift toward the larger, the truer. That might mean a truer self that is still individuated or it might be something that is beyond all individuality or perhaps both. (It might also be a collective true self that is beyond individual but is also a smaller part of some other larger universal.)
I think a lot of people see the desirability of such a shift in attention. There are many ways to phrase this and many different ways to understand it.
In order to aid that shift in attention, I have found it helpful to conceive of the ego as an approximation that is one step in the process of the arrival of that which the ego is approximating. In other words, the ego is a natural phase in the development of conscious individuals. It is just that until now in human history, almost everyone stopped at that level (if they even fully reached it) instead of continuing on.
Furthermore, this social pattern in which most everyone stops at or before the level of ego development is itself a natural phase in the evolution of conscious society. I believe that we are arriving at the next phase in social development as well. The society that is trying to emerge now will come to see growth beyond ego as natural, just as we see it as natural to grow beyond adolescence into adulthood. Of course, natural is not the same as automatic or easy.
For myself, I examine all teachings about development beyond ego in light of this broader possibility.

Harry Potter and how the next society emerges

The transition into the conscious human society is unlikely to look like any classical revolution. Frontal, confrontational social battles are more the way of unconscious national or tribal societies. During the transition, when both unconscious national (or partially globalized) societies and the conscious human society co-exist, it may look a lot like the world of Harry Potter. Something like Diagon Ally, which is in the middle of muggle London, but unseen by muggle London and not in conflict with it. This is actually similar to how modern market societies rose in the middle of medieval self-sufficient agrarian societies.
If you think about it, the entire Harry Potter series revolves around the question of the right relationship between the wizard world and the muggle world. Lord Valdemor and his allies want an elitist, predatory relationship to the muggles. Harry and his allies want a humane, friendly relationship with muggles. I would go a step farther. The ultimate witch/wizard world is one that can enable muggles to become wizards and witches.
But in the meanwhile, we will need our Diagon Alleys. Not barricades or storm the Winter Palace. The revolution will not be televised. Not even on Oprah.

Waits for No One

He is sitting in the waiting room. He feels like he has been sitting there forever. It is strange that there is no one else there. He looks around at the almost bare, deliberately neutral walls, the plain colors as though picked to be unobtrusive and unmemorable.
"Why is this taking so long," he wonders.
He goes over to the "receptionist" again. "Funny," he thinks, "how this pattern of having a "receptionist" is maintained. Even though it has long been just an AI system. He is surprised to realize that the "receptionist area" is not even the usual counter with a very shallow space behind and a holograph of a young woman to serve as the face for the AI. There is no area at all. It is just a blank wall with the receptionist area projected on it. "Funny that I didn't notice that." It makes him uneasy that they put one over on him.
He goes back to his seat. Wonders why they are taking so long to get back to him with the report.
He thinks back. He can remember arriving at the building, reaching the door into the Verichamber. He remembers being escorted to the check-chair, the electrodes and catheters attached. There was the slight whirring noise as some blood was withdrawn. Everyone knows what happens.
They check the blood and all his body patterns. They use various scanning systems built unobtrusively, undetectably actually, into the walls and floor and ceiling, the chair too. Any genetic mutations are noted and fixed. Any normal breakdown from aging is reversed. Any upgrades or repairs - repairs to damage incurred before the invention of iGene of course, nothing left to repair since then - are verified. Any unverified upgrades or repairs are automatically charged against his OneAccount. If his balance were to go below zero. No, there is neither any reason nor need to think about that. Of course, everyone knows that happens if you go below zero. But they say it is very merciful. Especially since gene culling was replaced with a reputation downgrade for all genetic relates.
What is taking so long?
Finally, he gives up. Gets up, walks out the door. Doesn't really need the report after all. Can look it up later.
Out on the street, decides to justwalk a little ways. It is a busy time of day and the bubbles swirl all around him. None come too close of course, so why should he feel a little claustrophobic, even threatened. He closes down that line of inquiry. But not until he has made a mental note using his special mnemonic. A note to follow that line of inquiry the next time he is out of range.
As always, he is amused by those who exercise while they ride in their bubbles. What not justwalk? Too boring probably.
Looks up from his thoughts to see a bubble coming straight at him. Can't help himself from being scared. Reflexes built for the African savanna. Can't help himself from being surprised as the bubble rushes straight at him. Or being stunned when it moves straight through him. Or being relieved that it did him no harm. Had no noticeable affect on him at all.
He is shaking a bit now. Not like them not to announce a new technology like that. At least put it in the morning auto feed, the broadwave stuff that doesn't even need you to touch in.

It has been days now. No one answers his calls. No one responds to his psychpings. He sits at restaurants. Food he does not remember ordering appears. After a while he leaves. No sense of having eaten but not getting hungry either.
He goes down to the lake shore to watch the sunset. It is a spectacular display of colors, as always. He wonders how much is real and how much is projected, but the function for turning off the overlay doesn't seem to work anymore.
Another thing he would have expected a notice about. He feels the weight of all these odd things piling up, growing heavier. Hemming him in. He feels at times as though he can not breath. As though the desire to breath is leaking out somewhere. He looks up and sees the evening sky brighten red, almost maroon, then fade into darkness. Then too quickly start to lighten again. Becoming very bright.
And understands where he is.

Brief Glimpses of A Conscious We

I saw something flicker on a few years back during Big Mind Month sessions, but it flickered off again. I don't know if anyone else noticed it, but I think it was the most important breakthrough I have witnessed this millennium.

It happened a number of times, but one time remains most clearly in my memory. We had started in on some relative voice. I wish I remember all the details, but I don't. Things moved so fast that I could not participate and take notes at the same time, not even mental notes.
In those days, many of the voices were not fully defined yet. We were exploring more. Even Roshi often didn't know where the voice was meant to go.
So it was common for the first speakers to present what were really quite different visions of the voice. Part of this was because the distinction between the immature and mature aspects of a voice had not yet been articulated. Part of it was that the words used to name certain voices allowed very different interpretations.
Another difference in those days was that for parts of the session, people would just speak out without the facilitator calling on anyone. A majority of the participants then had decades of experience sitting with Roshi and knew each other, so this was easier to do. Even in those days, it would only work for a while before some unnamed protocol broke down and someone went on too long. (The spontaneous calling out only worked when everyone spoke very briefly.) Or people would start trying to talk over each other or a near debate would break out. Then the facilitator would step in. This more free-form process was always on the edge of chaos but sometimes it worked.
The session I remember was one such day. Having just started to speak the voice, the participants were speaking very briefly. It is my nature to try to keep track of not only how I experienced myself as the voice but how the room as a whole seemed to be experiencing the voice. The two could be different. That time, around the 7th or 8th speaker or so, what was being said seemed to me to go offtrack. 2 or 3 participants said things that didn't make much sense and that also didn't seem to recognize the flow of previous speakers. Perhaps they hadn't been listening too clearly.
It was right at that point that things got interesting. The thread of the voice picked up on something in the, to be honest, foolish comments that had just been spoken, a few more participants spoke up and suddenly what was being spoken was a new teaching. Not a new recognition of the unity of a current teaching and an ancient Zen work. Not the room reaching the place that the facilitator had intended all along. But a new teaching.
I wish I remembered the content. If only there had been recording in those days. It would be fascinating to go back and review that session. But two things struck me immediately (and helped me forget everything else). First, the teaching had not emerged from some pearl of wisdom by one of the brighter or more articulate participants. The teaching had not emerged from any one speaker. Rather, in the course of a few comparatively silly statements, the room as a whole had somehow come upon the teaching. Second, the room as a whole had created the teaching. Some "We" had acted in a way that was beyond anything any one "I" had done.
After the session was over, we walked down the stairs and over to the other building to eat. Many of the participants were in awe of what had just happened. Over dinner, a discussion arose as to how Roshi had come up with the new teaching. It was intriguing that so many participants assumed that the teacher had created the teaching even when it was pretty clear that this time it had been the group as a whole that had done so.
This time, I am sure that is what had actually happened because at the start of the afternoon session the next day (in those days, Diane facilitated the morning sessions), someone asked Roshi where he got the teaching from. Roshi said that he hadn't known that teaching until he heard it during the previous day's Big Mind session.

That happened any number of times during Big Mind Months a few years back. I loved that and thought that it was a crucial breakthrough for modern Westerners. Almost all meditators and Big Mind participants have levels of education, factual knowledge, and intellectual skills and discipline far beyond what even the elite had in ancient days. When intellectual development and the opportunity for spiritual development were much rarer than now, the best way to do spiritual work was to maximize the impact of the tiny handful of people with education and meditative training. That meant to sit that person at the front of the room or forest clearing and have everyone else sit and listen. But in the modern age, where even students who are new to meditation or Big Mind or Zen have already spent thousands of hours sitting and listening and training their minds, other ways of working become possible.
And in an age in which humanity needs to develop wider identifications, for example to move from ethno-centric to world-centric perspectives, a process that can allow voices to speak that do not fit into anyone's previous understanding would be a precious gift.
This process of group awareness creating new teachings flickered back out again years ago. I never heard anyone else who was there specifically mention it so I don't know how many people noticed it. I think of it as a group peak experience: a brief flash of a state that will take years more training to make easily accessible, then consolidate and make enduring. In my opinion, contemporary spiritual communities are strongly influenced by traditional Asian models of how to organize practice (ie forms centered on a guru, lama, or zen master) and by contemporary models of marketing (ie forms centered on a media star). Both those models have vital strengths. The guru/lama/Zen master model taps into deep psychological patterns (established with our parents) and is very powerful at transmitting the spiritual development of the teacher. The contemporary media star model is very powerful at reaching large numbers of people very quickly. But both models are constrained by the level of development of the societies that created them. The collective creating that flickered on briefly will be a useful addition to our spiritual toolbox. And a very necessary one. Some day.
Our cultures have greatly liberated us from the limitations of artificial social constructs that bound our ancestors as tightly as the bound feet of Chinese women in olden days. "You were born into the caste of leather workers, so you are a leather worker". That kind of thing. But we are just starting the processing of reweaving freer, more individuated persons into new forms of community and society that work with individual character rather than against it.
I had a peak experience in 1977, near the beginning of my spiritual journey, that was so far beyond anything I was capable of in my ordinary state, that when it finished, I had literally no idea whatsoever how to find it again, what to do to become a person capable of sustaining that in day-to-day life. All I could do was follow the path that was in front of me (in those days, being a sannyassin of Bhagwan Shree Rajnesh, later known as Osho) and trust that eventually what I was learning at the base of the mountain would connect to what I had seen at the peak. Even though there were certain elements in that peak experience that I did not see or hear in any of the teachings I explored.
I feel that way with the aware creative "We" I witnessed and was part of in Big Mind sessions. I don't know anyone working with this. I haven't heard anyone talking about it. So I continue with my work and trust that eventually that will lead back to it.
One last thing. I only remember this happening when Roshi faciliated and only when he facilitated with a very light touch, just holding the space and bringing us back to the process if one or more of us went too much against the overall flow or there was just too much chaos. He was not trying to control where that that process went. He was not being the enlightened Zen Master transmitting the dharma. It was the most impressive way of teaching I have ever witnessed.