Archive for January, 2007

Humanity: One Big Dysfunctional Family

Go ahead, call me a weirdo, but in general I see most of the problems in the world not as something grand and “other”, but as extensions of the problems we each face individually such as dysfunction within our families. Described loosely, a dysfunctional relationship would be a relationship between any two parties that is non-functioning and typified by abusive or co-dependent behaviors. While historical and cultural legacies are the sources of many dysfunctions in the world, the lack of honest communication is what I believe perpetuates and exacerbates them.

I’ve often said that the purpose of being and adult is to overcome the trauma of childhood. If you think about it, from the time of birth, babies and children are trying to sort out the world. It is an ever-constant process of learning. On the one hand, kids have no frame of reference for placing experiences in context thus distorting the significance of the experience. And, on the other hand, their parents and primary teachers usually have little clue as to what they are doing. Needless to say, lots of mistakes are made on both sides of the equation, but that is part of the deal of the human experience. This is where intelligence and rational thinking come into play as it allows us to review and size up our past experiences. As adults, we may continue to live in the shadow of these dysfunctions, or we have the opportunity to accept responsibility for who we are and that implies ridding ourselves of dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.

The key to dysfunction is a party’s unwillingness to admit their role in conflict, that is to say, a failure in communication. Oddly, I believe this psychological phenomenon developed as a result of language itself. Other animals do not have dysfunctional relationships. Since humans developed language, our consciousness became bifurcated by a logic structure, framed by words, that is not necessarily logical! For example, many people see admitting mistakes as a weakness. While it can be traced back to our survival instincts, logically it doesn’t make sense. In fact, the very definition of intelligence is the ability to recognize and admit flaws or mistakes in order to correct them, build upon the experience and grow. As I see it, admitting one’s mistakes is an affirmation of confidence in oneself and the hope the learning process offers.

So, how is humanity dysfunctional? Well, to get specific would delve into the realm of political incorrectness, which means political correctness itself is a manifestation of our dysfunction! In general terms, where there is conflict or discrimination, the relationship is dysfunctional — this would seem to include every country and culture in the world. Here is a good guide as where to find dysfunction: look for stifled discussions, whether they be politically, religiously or culturally motivated. From the American political system to our foreign policy, from Latino machismo to the Hindu caste system, from the Korean conflict to the crisis in the Middle East, the list seems endless.

The things we don’t want to talk about are the things we need to talk about. As I am fond of reminding people, since we haven’t perfected our ability to read minds, the best we can do failing all else is to communicate. The pattern that emerges in these dysfunctional relationships is a failure to offer respect due to our survival complex. But, the other pattern that emerges is that our failure to properly address these issues is fueling the dangers that plague humanity today. But once again, it is easy to project the source of problems onto something else when in reality the seeds are planted with how we individually resolve issues in our personal lives. To achieve lasting results, you have to first work on the dysfunction that exists within yourself – in other words, the gap between what you believe and what you project to others. This is the hardest because it is quiet, dark and only you can truly sense and see the full extent of it. But once dysfunction is understood within oneself, the desire to rid oneself of this burden becomes infectious.

No one is perfect and I too struggle to rid my life of dysfunction. But, in a world where dysfunction is the norm its a difficult goal to achieve. Again, the power of example is perhaps the most important element in ridding the world of this very real and harmful element that plagues our civilization and threatens to bring it down. First the bad news: getting rid of dysfunction just does not “happen” – it only occurs with effort and conscious choices. The good news? As excruciating as plowing through these dysfunctions may seem, when you reach the other side you realize it was not that big a deal after all and that happiness is within your grasp. So, everyone, start making lists of things you don’t want to discuss, because one thing is certain, everyone has a list ;-).


January 29, 2007 at 8:01 am 1 comment

Avoiding Doomsday

This past week, when the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved its “Doomsday Clock” two minutes closer to midnight it highlighted the destructive power Humanity holds over our future through both our economic activity and military pursuits. It was a clear shout out to the people of this world to change our ways before we reach “midnight”. But such seemingly monumental tasks appear out of the reach of most individuals to affect change in any meaningful way. The truth is that rapid and meaningful change will not happen by pronouncements from “above”, but by us acting individually from “down here.”

The rate and scope of change involves at least two elements. First is the notion that we become the focus of our efforts. In fact, you might say our autistic-like single-mindedness in industrial pursuits has brought upon us the environmental problems we are just starting to debate. For example, as a society we have become exceedingly expert at the arts of trade, production and consumption. While we have many other admirable attributes, these stand out far above the rest because of the predominance they hold in our world. While the aim of our productivity and technology may have been admirably to eliminate poverty, we have already attained the technological know-how necessary to achieve the utopia we all seek on Earth and our frenzied economic growth will only destroy what we most cherish.

The beast we have created needs to be tamed before the clock reaches midnight. Some say that the architect of our modern economic system, Adam Smith, recognized that self-interest was the key to our system’s success. I’m not going to say he was wrong. But, perhaps in our interpretation of that model we are missing the bigger picture of how cooperation is linked to our individual self-interest. The key is we each have to recognize that our ship called Earth has limited resources and the more people we want to fit on the ship, the greater our need to coordinate the use and distribution of its resources. Just as our focus has brought us to where we are, it can also bring us to where we want to be. Imagine if both environment and peace became the focus of everyone’s efforts on the planet – mountains could be moved. In general, you can begin by simply spending less money! And, of the money and time you do spend, spend them on sustainable and enduring efforts and solutions.

The second element at play is the power each of us holds to affect others through our own example. We tend to think of our actions as singular and alone in a vacuum, however, the exact opposite is true. Each of us sits among a community of family and friends and our example provides significant weight in their mind’s eye — you need look no further than yourself to know this truth. Example is more powerful than words because it is your belief put into action. Ever heard the expression “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, in acting your beliefs, you become a teacher whether it be to combat global warming or to resolve issues peacefully. And, as adults we bear responsibility for the lessons we teach our children and therefore for the society we project into the future.

I remember one day at Descanso Beach I was contemplating the water as it rolled onto the shore. The ocean seemed so unified and large yet also manifested itself so uniquely in how its waves were braking on the beach. Then, a curious thought entered my mind: Is the ocean one [entity] acting as many or many [entities] acting as one? I now realize that humanity is not unlike the ocean I so often contemplate; we each contribute differently to the tapestry of life on this Earth, but like a tsunami wave, together we can have tremendous force and impact upon it. To overcome the challenges that face us, we must act individually toward our common interest: survival. And, through our millions of examples, the force of humanity to determine its destiny will change the face of Earth like a tsunami upon its shorelines.

Doomsday Clock Moves Two Minutes Closer to Midnight

Charles Puts His Carbon Foot In It

Things You Can Do to Affect Global Warming

January 22, 2007 at 8:01 am Leave a comment

I Buy Therefore I Am

In my last entry, I tried to figure out what the ideal of freedom actually is. While there are two types of freedom, physical and intellectual, I focused on the physical ideals in the private and public spaces. Ideally our actions are manifestations of our thoughts, so in this entry I will focus on intellectual freedom and how factors such as money, education, culture and social pressure as well as mass media influence the reality of freedom.

The most obvious limitations to freedom are the rules, regulations and guidelines imposed upon people by religions and governments to affect its community’s behavior. I do get “thou shalt not steal” and “thou shalt not murder,” but I don’t understand why they seek to control personal behavior. If a person’s actions are an expression of their mind, then to the extent that legal measures impose behavior they also mask behavior reflective of the individual’s beliefs. In other words, when a person’s actions are curtailed, other members of the community never learn where their hearts and minds lay. In this way, social pressure and cultural constraints are similar to government and religion. It is only when people are allowed to choose freely can the collective be allowed to judge individuals for who they really are rather than for their appearances. As a result of our system, dysfunction develops between thought and action and magnifies itself from the individual to society as a whole. Whereas codified behavior solves problems in one direction, it also creates them in other ways.

Economics provide further constraints to freedom. How? Well, the more money you have, the more options you have. To a great extent money decides educational, travel and leisure opportunities. An argument may be that anyone can work hard and avail themselves to these opportunities. That argument, however, presupposes that everyone can earn enough money to do these things. However, the nuts and bolts accounting of this veiled vision doesn’t hold up. The reality is that the current economic system dictates a pyramid structure – it requires that the majority earn less and provide the mechanical labor to support the affluence of those above. Again, this is not necessarily wrong; it is merely a reflection of the collective wisdom.

Education permits other forms of constraints. While it is not absolute in limiting people’s opportunities, in general it determines your position in today’s labor force. The larger argument I would like to make is not for equality in job opportunity, but in equality of opportunity to realize one’s personal potential. After laws, we are most limited by ourselves, and the frames that form our mind and thought processes. Those frames consist of language and logic. They determine one’s ability to distinguish facts and deconstruct the fictions that surround us. The most powerful education comes in the form of examples, whether they are the examples of our parents, siblings, friends or media icons. To the extent that media shapes the minds, opinions and hearts of its audience, it also frames our freedom. It provides cultural icons that set standards of behavior, goals of achievement, and our reference to the world we live in.

In western and especially American culture, individuality is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of freedom. Some argue individuality as nothing but narcissism, while others will say that in it’s present form individuality is nothing more than consumerism – I am what I buy. It does seem that the social pressure to be an individual results more in exterior style management observed and borrowed from our cultural icons and purchased at the local mall than in introspective and creative thought. While it is not yet the perfect antidote, a formal education is the best way yet to counteract the influence the other forms of restraints.

Where institutional pressures trump one’s ability to explore themselves, one’s beliefs, ones creativity, it seems to me counterproductive toward achieving happiness and progressing as a society. On the flip side is the preaching of one’s individuality to others, what might be termed egoism. Oddly I see that both result from insecurity of self — whether that self is an individual or an institution. If you are happy with you are and what you believe, do you need for others to think as you do? While there has been great technological and cultural innovation, in its modern manifestation freedom continues to be driven more by narrowly defined interests than the human spirit. Personally, I believe we hold far more potential within each of us than just an end consumer of products of dubious value. People have yet to fully liberate themselves. This stifled and limited version defined by the institutions we have created is the product of man’s nearsightedness; and, the ideal will lead us to an incredible diversity of thought and creativity yet to be realized.

January 15, 2007 at 8:01 am Leave a comment

Lost in the Garden of Freedom

What is Freedom? Some leaders in the world have expressed a desire to spreadfreedom and democracy”. From the American perspective where we fought for freedom and representative democracy this desire to share our experience is what we call a “no brainer”. So, it sounds good, but what does it mean in real terms rather than as some vague concept? As democracy presupposes freedom, for the sake of this entry I’ll just focus on the concept of freedom.

I guess in the traditional sense we Americans think of freedom in the context of our American Revolution from the tyranny of British colonial rule. People came here for religious expression and economic opportunities that didn’t exist in Europe at that time. When taxes and legislative intervention became excessive in the colonies and harkened back to the oppressive social order from which colonialists were trying to escape, a critical mass was reached and we declared independence to begin our own social investigation into the meaning of freedom.

As well as being included in grand statements and gestures of leaders, I guess what provoked this topic is a curious definition I recently heard: The freedom to wave your arms ends where my nose begins. While it made me chuckle, I also found it curiously accurate in it’s sentiment, especially in this modern manifestation of freedom where we currently find ourselves. It seems to express the idea that there is no absolute freedom like the romanticized version that has existed in my head, but rather that it is curtailed or limited by responsibility. This begs the followup question of where one ends and the other begins.

The distinction thisarm into nosedefinition suggests is that responsibility begins with our interactions with other people. It leaves a person free to do what they want on their own to the extent that it doesn’t affect others, or at least a non-consenting party. I say this because in boxing it is okay to wave your arms into the other guy’s nose and vice versa! It seems to me that the ideal of responsibility would be synonymous with respect. In other words, allow me to believe and do what I want in my private sphere and I will allow you to do the same. Where individuals hold differing views or beliefs, they agree to disagree and carry on the dialogue over another meze, beer or tea and we end up with something nearing civilized behavior.

But, like trying to herd cats, I found it difficult to find any overarching truth that seemed to capture the essence of what we idealize and its modern and complex manifestations. Yes we are free, but it feels like people treat it more like a turf war rather than common ground. Special Interest Groups, minorities and majorities seek to codify law as it represents their interests and ideals without regard to the rest of their society. I understand the landscape from which this mentality grew, but since it is our current behavior, it is also the future we are constructing. In other words, our future will consist of even more dissection of rights. Frankly, that thought scares me because the world already seems overly complicated!

It then occurred to me that perhaps that thearm into nosedefinition of freedom could actually untangle the confusion in my head by offering a refreshing perspective as how to achieve the ideal of freedom that we seek. Perhaps we need to first accept freedom as our natural state. From there we hold responsibilities in each of our relationships, whether it is with other people, legal entities or government. In a world full of social divisions, questionable corporate behavior, government corruption and general environmental crisis, focusing on our responsibilities to each other seems an important concept to adopt in order to start resolving these issues peacefully and amicably.

Our understanding of freedom has grown from the day of our founding and it is reasonable to expect that it will continue to mature. As I understand it, perfect freedom exists first in ones mind and ideally extends to ones private space. From there it becomes more limited only by the responsibilities we collectively determine and thus expect in the social setting. As all adults know, recognizing our responsibilities is not a loss of freedom. The respect implied and offered by owning up to our responsibilities is the price of the social and economic security we all seek from the community we call our neighbors and the least we expect from them as well.

January 8, 2007 at 8:01 am Leave a comment

The Great Experiment

As I suggest in the description of Missing the Bigger Picture, I believe the environmental, health, economic and social challenges the world faces today are not the result of malicious intent or grand conspiracies, but rather caused by the nearsightedness with which we, both individually and collectively, have lead our daily lives. Its not the most fantastic and spectacular of reasons, but I believe it to be the most accurate. But how did this happen?

It seems to me that people, in general, are progressive in nature. Indeed human progress has been a continual building process where we incrementally try to improve our individual lives. This has only become a “problem” due to it’s scope and scale and now can be described as The Great Experiment. Technology has dramatically improved the conditions in which many of us live. Increased agricultural production and distribution resulting from technological advances have had a cyclical effect on population and it’s demands upon the Earth.

And, we now find ourselves in uncharted territory. Never before in history has our planet sustained a population of this size (6.5 billion and growing). Never in it’s history has the composition of it’s atmosphere been artificially altered such as we have been slowly doing for the past 150 years. And, never in it’s history has it’s ecology been so dramatically altered. While some may argue one way about our impact and others another, I don’t think anyone can deny that we are conducting a grand experiment. And, whom will this experiment affect? Well, if you are a resident of this planet, you can include yourself as a participant.

Oh, I forgot to mention the other great experiment that we are conducting — the one on ourselves. In our efforts to improve our lives we have also made almost imperceptible and easily overlooked changes to how we the human animal live and nourish ourselves. Cars and machines have reduced our activity levels to nearly sedentary. Preservatives and the ever-growing variety of yummy food products have altered the balance, composition and types of nutrients we ingest. Industrial, transportation and product pollutants are being inhaled and ingested. This is an ongoing experiment and hints as to it’s repercussions can be spotted, not only in the latest medical findings, but also in our expanding waistlines and ever growing medical demands. Hey no one enjoys couching in front of the TV with snacks and a beer more than yours truly, but it is the scope and scale of such habits that have grown to become “issues.”

If my observations are true, are these experiments necessarily bad? Well, that is a question that only you can answer as an individual. To answer the question myself I first look at what I value, what type of world I want to live in and hope for my family, friends and future generations. I want to live in a world that is safe and clean where people are healthy, happy and not in want of food or shelter, and one in which each person has the ability to achieve their potential if they so desire. And, if I am not alone in these profound desires, aren’t our actions contradicting them? In our struggle to survive, we devote more time to our work and less to our family and relationships. While we have more “stuff” and economic activity, we our nibbling away at our own planet with little or no awareness or concern as to its consequences.

I’m hoping that the collective wisdom is not to wait and cross our fingers. But, the history of humanity tells me we learn through making mistakes. And, in experiments as grand as the ones we are conducting, I’m not sure we can afford to hold onto our nearsighted ways and miss the bigger picture that affects us all. Perhaps this is my greatest motivation for starting this Blog – while I can’t change the world, I can do what I can and that is to hopefully contribute to the collective wisdom and solutions through my voice. Good luck to us all.

In the News:


‘If we fail to act, we will end up with a different planet’

Ancient Ice Shelf Breaks Free From Canadian Arctic

Study Suggests Moderate Forms of Physical Activity More Effective at Cutting Breast Cancer Risk

January 1, 2007 at 8:01 am Leave a comment

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