Ending The Cycle of Violence

Posted on 9 February 2016 | No responses

When I was five years old I would walk home from kindergarten which was only a couple blocks away (this was the 60s). On several occasions an older girl, who lived nearby, would cross the street when she saw me, knock me down, then start pulling my hair. After complaining a few times my mother took me with her to where this little girl lived. Her house was dirty and falling apart. The mostly dead lawn had rubbish strewn about. The girl’s mother answered the door and didn’t look in much better condition.

My mother spoke with this woman to stop the bullying. I don’t remember what was said. I just remember this horrible feeling that I might knock littler kids down and pull their hair if I lived in the same way this girl did. I felt awful for the other girl. I didn’t want her hurting me, but she was already hurting before she came to me. No punishment was going to help.

This last week some fellow with emotional and mental problems decided to make me the focus of his pain and began to harass me. We started with gentle steps, then had to get firmer and firmer with him to leave me alone. I called on friends to help keep me supported while this was going on. I was uncertain how far he would take things and it was getting scary.

What surprised me was the violent anger some women wanted to direct toward this fellow on my behalf. Their feelings are valid, because many of us have been abused by men poorly educated in social skills and respect. The desire of these women to call a halt to mistreatment should be heard and acted upon. But we all have to slow up and make sure we recognise the humanity of our “enemies” when we start thinking about solutions.

Martin Luther King, Jr is quoted as saying, “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.” This is often misattributed to Mohandas Gandhi. When retribution is used as the measure of justice you then have to ask how much retribution is enough? A person can choose to be hurt all their lives. How about all the hurt the perpetrator was exposed to before committing a crime? Those hurts contributed to making this person more likely to act out. Who is held responsible for that?

In Norway the maximum prison sentence for any crime is twenty-one years. After that even people like Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in a bombing and mass shooting, are potentially set free. And yet, Norway has one of the lowest prison recidivism rates in the world. That’s because they are more interested in rehabilitating people than retribution.

Enacting damage on an already damaged person is a waste of time. The saying that goes, “It takes a village to raise a child” is equally true when it comes to various forms of criminality. Some villages will breed certain sorts of criminality, and until that village takes responsibility for its culture, more and more criminals will be produced.

I grew up in part in a small town where a girl just hitting double digits was raped and killed by a boy who was part of a small abusive gang. Because he had committed an “adult crime”, it was deemed appropriate to try him as an adult. This made national news because at the time he was the youngest person ever to be tried in the US as an adult.

I was among the girls these boys would shove into lockers and start grabbing at their crotch and breasts. Because they were members of the local winning football team, their actions were overlooked. More than that, they were given all sorts of privileges around town. They were a critical part of the collective ego of that place. So when one of their members was caught out, he wasn’t being punished with such vigor because he deserved it, so much as he had exposed the town to scrutiny. In my opinion the whole town should have been put on trial. If that boy had been raised in Norway, he might have grown up to be a nice kid. He is still responsible for his actions, but so is everyone else.

Right now I see so many people getting fiercely angry at people of or without religion, people who are for or against vaccination, people of differing ethnicities, people of a variety of sexual alignments, etc. People are making enemies of one another and cry out for vengence on those who dare to support a differing view. We absolutely should stand up to the bullies of the world, we should protect human rights, and demand the planet be treated with respect. However, simple punishment isn’t the answer. Somewhere at some point we have to recognise each other’s humanity and offer peace. Make the world a place where it is easy to do the right thing because everyone is fed and everyone has their needs met. How else do we transcend a world where everyone becomes a victim?

Peace and kindess,

Katherine

An End to War

Posted on 29 January 2016 | No responses

We have wars on terror, drugs, and poverty. We fight for rights, freedom, and justice. We have backyard warriors, eco warriors, and social justice warriors. We compete for position, status, power, and to survive.

We live in a deeply embattled society. When do we get to live in peace? When can we face our challenges as thoughtful adults, rather than warring factions? Is it any wonder that society is splintering itself, as people dig into their home trenches to protect themselves?

We have no shared future, in fact no future at all, when we are incapable of sharing: goods, power, welfare, resources, and responsibility. This invisible war we are fighting will only go away when we actively find peace within ourselves, with each other, and with every living being on this planet.

It is time to declare peace.

In friendship,

Katherine

Open Cooperativism

Posted on 20 January 2016 | No responses

The not-for-profit cooperative model is a critical one we all need to pursue in order to more sustainably live in the world. It is also critical for the survival of community arts groups. The below should help in wrapping your head around what needs to be done.
~Katherine Phelps

The cooperative movement and cooperative enterprises are in the midst of a revival, even as some of their long-standing entities are failing. This revival is part of an ebb and flow of cooperativism, that is strongly linked to the ebb and flow of the mainstream capitalist economy. After systemic crisis such as the one in 2008, many people look at alternatives.

Yet, we can’t simply look at the older models and revive them, we have to take into account the new possibilities and requirements of our epoch, and especially of the affordances that digital networks are bringing to us.

Here are a few ideas from the ‘peer to peer’ perspective, as we develop them in the context of the Peer to Peer Foundation.

First, let’s start with a critique of the older cooperative models:

Yes coops are more democratic than their capitalist counterparts based on wage-dependency and internal hierarchy. But cooperatives that work in the capitalist marketplace tend to gradually take over competitive mentalities, and even if they would not, they work for their own members, not the common good.

Second, coops are generally not creating, protecting or producing commons. Like their for-profit counterparts, they most often work with patents and copyrights, doing their part in the enclosures of the commons.

Third, coops may tend to self-enclose around their local or national membership. Doing this, they leave the global arena open to the domination by for-profit multinationals.

These characteristics have to be changed, and can be changed today.

Here are our proposals

1. Unlike for-profits, the new cooperatives must work for the common good, a requirement that must be included in their own statutes and governance documents. This means that coops can’t be for-profit, they have to work for social goods, and this must be inscribed in their statutes. Solidarity cooperatives, already active in social care in regions like Northern Italy and Quebec, are a important step in the right direction. In the current capitalist market model, social and environmental externalities are ignored, and left to the external state to regulate. In the new cooperative market model, externalities are statutorily integrated and a legal obligation.

2. Unlike co-ops that draw their membership from a single class of stakeholders, cooperatives must include all stakeholders in their management. Coops need to be multi-stakeholder governed. This means that the concept of membership must be extended to these other types of memberships, or that alternatives to the membership model must be sought, such as the newly proposed FairShares model.

3. The crucial innovation for our times is this though: Cooperatives must (co-)produce commons, and these commons must be of two types.

a. The first type is immaterial commons, i.e. using open and shareable licenses to that the global human community can build on cooperative innovations and in turn enrich them. At the P2P Foundation, we have introduced the concept of Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses. These licenses are designed to create coalitions of ethical and cooperative enterprise around the commons they are co-producing. The key rules of such licenses are: 1) the commons are open to non-commercial usage 2) the commons are open to common good institutions 3) the commons are open to for-profit enterprises who contribute to the commons. The exception introduced here is that for-profit companies that do not contribute to the commons have to pay for the use of the license. This is not primarily to generate income, but to introduce the notion of reciprocity in the market economy. In other words, the aim is to create an ethical economy, a non-capitalist market dynamic.

b. The second type is the creation of material commons. We are thinking here of the creation of commons funding for the manufacturing equipment for example. Following proposals by Dmytri Kleiner, cooperatives could float Bonds, to which all cooperative members (of all other coops in the system) could contribute, creating a commons fund for manufacturing. The coop seeking funds would obtain the machinery without conditions, but the owners would be all the cooperators, which would gradually build up a basic income from the income generated by the fund.

4. Finally we must address the issue of global social and political power. Following the lead of the transnational Sociedad Cooperativa de las Indias Electrónicas, we propose the creation of global phyles. A phyle is a global business-ecosystem that sustains commons and their community of contributors. Here is how this would work. Imagine the existence of a global open design community for the design of open agricultural machines (or any other product or service you can imagine). These machines are effectively manufactured and produced in a system of open and distributed microfactories, close to the of need. But, all these micro-coops would not exist in a isolated fashion, merely connected through the global and ‘immaterially-focused’ global open design community. Instead, they would also be interconnected through a global cooperative uniting the microfactories. The combination of such global phyles would be the seed for a new form of global and social political power, representing the global ethical economy. Ethical entrepreneurial coalitions and phyles can engage in post-market and post-market coordination of physical production, by moving towards open accounting and open supply chain practices.

In summary, though traditional cooperatives have played an important and progressive role in human history, their format needs to be updated to the networked era by introducing p2p and commons producing aspects.

Our recommendations for the new era of open cooperativism are:

  1. That coops need to be statutorily (internally) oriented towards the common good
  2. That coops need to have governance models including all stakeholders
  3. That coops need to actively co-produce the creation of immaterial and material commons
  4. That coops need to be organized socially and politically on a global basis, even as they produce locally.

Further reading:

TOWARD AN OPEN CO-OPERATIVISM: A New Social Economy Based on Open Platforms, Co-operative Models and the Commons

From Commons Transition
ppl-v6-gr1
This work is licensed under a Peer Production, P2P Attribution-ConditionalNonCommercial-ShareAlikeLicense.

With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility

Posted on 19 January 2016 | No responses

I’ve been watching news about the militia occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and am both saddened and bemused. The people who form the occupying militia like talking about how they are representing freedom. I don’t believe it.

I support Linux and the free software movement. At the Linux Users annual picnic this last Saturday, I was surprised to find myself chatting with a young fellow who felt the citizens of Australia should be “free” from certain government regulation such as that which prevents gun ownership. I have hippy friends who don’t like guns, but want the freedom to explore drugs and feel we would be better off with no government at all. I tried mentioning to one such friend, don’t you like indoor plumbing and clean water, and he didn’t get the point.

The point most people don’t understand is that how much personal freedom a society can afford to give to its individuals is dependent upon how responsible those individuals are. If giving some people certain sorts of freedom means they will use it to abridge other people’s freedoms and/or cause harm, then social action has to be taken to ensure the general welfare of the populace. Absolute freedom would mean we should open up all the prison doors and set every last criminal loose.

I can understand a desire to have the freedom to be responsible for yourself. We don’t want to be dominated by a parental substitute when we are capable of making decisions for ourselves. But far too often what various people are after is freedom from responsibility and without consequences.

“I should have the freedom to own automatic weapons” even if that means people are killed in mass shootings or these weapons are used to over-ride democratic decisions by force. “I should have the freedom to drive any type of car I like, in any sort of condition, in any way I like…including under the influence,” even if that means more people are killed in traffic accidents. “I should be able to have all the sex I want with all the women I want without using a condom,” even if that means spreading sexual disease and leaving behind women and children living below the poverty line.

I am boggled by left-wing friends who talk about “freedom” in their relationships, meaning they want the freedom to leave all household duties to one partner. They want the freedom to not talk about fairness. They want the freedom to find mistresses while calling it “love”, then leave their partner in charge of the children. “Sure, you can find a lover as well” they say, but the partner has their hands full and knows if the relationship falls apart, they and their children will be living below the poverty line. The one partner gets freedom, the other gets unfair imprisonment. Real love takes work and involves people who freely choose to commit to one another. It’s not just a warm feeling below the waistline.

We don’t give complete freedom to children, because they need time to understand consequences. They need us teaching them how to cooperate, how to be thoughtful, and how to take responsibility for themselves. Our culture is training people to seek indulgence above all else and thereby losing their capacity to understand the value of responsibility, much less act in a responsible manner.

The more responsible people are the more they can be trusted. With greater trustworthiness the wider the freedom that can be granted to them. For example people who pick up after themselves when they use a park are more likely to be welcomed back to freely use a space. If no one picks up after themselves, no one gets to use the park.

Of course in getting caught up in arguing about these sorts of freedoms, we are overlooking really critical types of freedom: Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Choice, and Freedom of Being. When xenophobic sorts talk about stamping out religion, throwing out refugees, harrassing the gay community, removing equal rights laws, etc, it becomes clear that they are only about the freedom to dominate. We will be free when we learn how to responsibly care about each other and how to share with one another.

In peace and kindness,

Katherine

Philanthropy: Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth
by Gary Olson

Posted on 16 January 2016 | No responses

horse-heads

Whenever I hear a powerful philanthropist piously proclaim, “I just wanted to give something back,” my first reaction is “Why not give it all back?” I say that because “giving back” is all about first taking away. Immense fortunes are derived from random luck, class background, tax avoidance schemes, off-shoring jobs, publically-funded research, inheritance, a low-federal minimum wage, and especially, from the labor of countless men and women who produced it. In Chris Rock’s pithy words, “Behind every great fortune is a great crime.”

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stressed, “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.” And that’s the rub. The one thing that Big Philanthropy must overlook is the green elephant astride the boardroom’s conference table, the economic system that causes and extends these injustices in perpetuity.

We know that the munificence of the rich is rarely directed toward those most in need but to donor alma maters and limited access cultural institutions. This enhances the giver’s status among his or her peers while providing generous tax advantages. According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in New York State not one of the top 49 gifts of at least $1million went toward improving the lives of needy people. More typical was a gift of $190 million for Columbia University’s business school and another of $40 million for an indoor cycling track. Often the donor’s name is attached to the edifice.

Private philanthropic mega-foundations are tax exempt which means 40 percent of their wealth has been siphoned off. The top seventy foundations have assets in excess of seven hundred billion dollars and in one recent year the tax subsidies amounted to a loss of $53.7 billion dollars to the U.S. treasury (Bob Reich, Boston Review, 2013). For example, as recounted in Mark Dowie’s book American Foundations, billionaire financier George Soros was conducting an executive session of his foundation when a spirited exchange occurred about grant-making priorities. Soros allegedly declared “This is my money. We will do it my way.” At that, a junior staffer pointed out that half the money didn’t belong to Soros because if not placed in the foundation “it would be in the Treasury.” The staffer’s employment was short-lived (Reich)

Just to be clear, some Big Philanthropists have done some good work. However, as Peter Buffet (Warren Buffet’s son) has argued, philanthropy is largely about letting billionaires feel better about themselves, a form of “conscience laundering” that simultaneously functions to “keep the existing system of inequality in place…” by shaping the culture.

Gara Lamarche, a veteran grants administrator for large foundations, comes closer to candor than most by advocating forms of giving that go beyond laudatory volunteering at soup kitchens or reading books to underserved children. Echoing Dr. King, he says we need to “expose the root causes and structural conditions that result in hunger or lack of access to education in the first place.” Tellingly, Lamarche goes no further. Why not? Because philanthro-capitalists believe and want us to believe they’re indispensable, that only their fundamentalist, free market system can save us. Above all, we should never look to a democratically accountable government to insure every citizen has a social right to quality health care, first-public schools, free universities, employment security, dignified retirement, and an environmentally safe planet. This anti-government narrative is prompted by fear that a robust government pursuing these ends could also curb their control of the nation’s resources.

Finally, it’s terminally naive to expect the new Gilded Age plutocrats, 16,000 individuals or .01 percent with as much wealth as eighty percent of Americans will commit class suicide. Their wealth won’t midwife a world into existence in which they and their progeny no longer rule. The rest of us shouldn’t hesitate in undertaking this long overdue transformation.

Gary Olson, Ph.D. Is chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. Contact: olsong@moravian.edu

Published on Friday, January 15, 2016 by Common Dreams
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You Can’t Eat Money

Posted on 8 January 2016 | No responses

“When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”

~Alanis Obomsawin, an Abenaki from the Odanak reserve, Canada

2016 New Year’s Wishes

Posted on 1 January 2016 | No responses

May we all be guided by love, kindness, and compassion.

May we all learn and practise how to share, cooperate, and respect one another.

May we embrace responsibility as a gift that gives us agency and not an encumbrance.

For those who I have intentionally or unintentionally hurt, I ask forgiveness.

For those who have intentionally or unintentionally hurt me, I choose to release you from my anger. I free you from that burden: a forgiveness that does not excuse wrong-doing but gives us all a better chance to grow.

May we all in the new year create more peace within ourselves, between one another, and between ourselves and all living beings.

May we all enjoy the comfort of good friendship.

With all my heart,

Katherine

The Plutocrats Are Winning. Don’t Let Them!
by Bill Moyers

Posted on 28 December 2015 | No responses

The vast inequality they are creating is a death sentence for government by consent of the people. This is the fight of our lives and how it ends is up to us.

Dear Readers:

In the fall of 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, as families grieved and the nation mourned, Washington swarmed with locusts of the human kind: wartime opportunists, lobbyists, lawyers, ex-members of Congress, bagmen for big donors: all of them determined to grab what they could for their corporate clients and rich donors while no one was looking.

Across the land, the faces of Americans of every stripe were stained with tears. Here in New York, we still were attending memorial services for our firemen and police. But in the nation’s capital, within sight of a smoldering Pentagon that had been struck by one of the hijacked planes, the predator class was hard at work pursuing private plunder at public expense, gold-diggers in the ashes of tragedy exploiting our fear, sorrow, and loss.

What did they want? The usual: tax cuts for the wealthy and big breaks for corporations. They even made an effort to repeal the alternative minimum tax that for fifteen years had prevented companies from taking so many credits and deductions that they owed little if any taxes. And it wasn’t only repeal the mercenaries sought; they wanted those corporations to get back all the minimum tax they had ever been assessed.

“Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.”
—H.L. Mencken

They sought a special tax break for mighty General Electric, although you would never have heard about it if you were watching GE’s news divisions — NBC News, CNBC, or MSNBC, all made sure to look the other way.

They wanted to give coal producers more freedom to pollute, open the Alaskan wilderness to drilling, empower the president to keep trade favors for corporations a secret while enabling many of those same corporations to run roughshod over local communities trying the protect the environment and their citizens’ health.

It was a disgusting bipartisan spectacle. With words reminding us of Harry Truman’s description of the GOP as “guardians of privilege,” the Republican majority leader of the House dared to declare that “it wouldn’t be commensurate with the American spirit” to provide unemployment and other benefits to laid-off airline workers. As for post 9/11 Democrats, their national committee used the crisis to call for widening the soft-money loophole in our election laws.

America had just endured a sneak attack that killed thousands of our citizens, was about to go to war against terror, and would soon send an invading army to the Middle East. If ever there was a moment for shared sacrifice, for putting patriotism over profits, this was it. But that fall, operating deep within the shadows of Washington’s Beltway, American business and political mercenaries wrapped themselves in red, white and blue and went about ripping off a country in crisis. H.L. Mencken got it right: “Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it.”

Fourteen years later, we can see more clearly the implications. After three decades of engineering a winner-take-all economy, and buying the political power to consummate their hold on the wealth created by the system they had rigged in their favor, they were taking the final and irrevocable step of separating themselves permanently from the common course of American life. They would occupy a gated stratosphere far above the madding crowd while their political hirelings below look after their earthly interests.

The $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last Friday and quickly signed by President Obama is just the latest triumph in the plutocratic management of politics that has accelerated since 9/11. As Michael Winship and I described here last Thursday, the bill is a bonanza for the donor class – that powerful combine of corporate executives and superrich individuals whose money drives our electoral process. Within minutes of its passage, congressional leaders of both parties and the president rushed to the television cameras to praise each other for a bipartisan bill that they claimed signaled the end of dysfunction; proof that Washington can work. Mainstream media (including public television and radio), especially the networks and cable channels owned and operated by the conglomerates, didn’t stop to ask: “Yes, but work for whom?” Instead, the anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin — repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not “a perfect bill,” it does a lot of good things. “But for whom? At what price?” went unasked.

Secrecy today. Secrecy tomorrow. Secrecy forever. They are determined that we not know who owns them.

Now we’re learning. Like the drip-drip-drip of a faucet, over the weekend other provisions in the more than 2000-page bill began to leak. Many of the bad ones we mentioned on Thursday are there — those extended tax breaks for big business, more gratuities to the fossil fuel industry, the provision to forbid the Securities & Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose their political spending, even to their own shareholders. That one’s a slap in the face even to Anthony Kennedy, the justice who wrote the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Citizens United. He said: “With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions.”

Over our dead body, Congress declared last Friday, proclaiming instead: Secrecy today. Secrecy tomorrow. Secrecy forever. They are determined that we not know who owns them.

The horrors mount. As Eric Lipton and Liz Moyer reported for The New York Times on Sunday, in the last days before the bill’s passage “lobbyists swooped in” to save, at least for now, a loophole worth more than $1 billion to Wall Street investors and the hotel, restaurant and gambling industries. Lobbyists even helped draft crucial language that the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid furtively inserted into the bill. Lipton and Moyer wrote that, “The small changes, and the enormous windfall they generated, show the power of connected corporate lobbyists to alter a huge bill that is being put together with little time for lawmakers to consider. Throughout the legislation, there were thousands of other add-ons and hard to decipher tax changes.”

No surprise to read that “some executives at companies with the most at stake are also big campaign donors.” The Times reports that “the family of David Bonderman, a co-founder of TPG Capital, has donated $1.2 million since 2014 to the Senate Majority PAC, a campaign fund with close ties to Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats.” Senator Reid, lest we forget, is from Nevada. As he approaches retirement at the end of 2016, perhaps he’s hedging his bets at taxpayer expense.

Consider just two other provisions: One, insisted upon by Republican Senator Thad Cochran, directs the Coast Guard to build a $640 million National Security Cutter in Cochran’s home state of Mississippi, a ship that the Coast Guard says it does not need. The other: A demand by Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins for an extra $1 billion for a Navy destroyer that probably will be built at her state’s Bath Iron Works – again, a vessel our military says is unnecessary.

So it goes: The selling off of the Republic, piece by piece. What was it Mark Twain said? “There is no distinctive native American criminal class except Congress.”

Can we at least face the truth? The plutocrats and oligarchs are winning. The vast inequality they are creating is a death sentence for government by consent of the people at large. Did any voter in any district or state in the last Congressional election vote to give that billion dollar loophole to a handful of billionaires? To allow corporations to hide their political contributions? To add $1.4 trillion to the national debt? Of course not. It is now the game: Candidates ask citizens for their votes, then go to Washington to do the bidding of their donors. And since one expectation is that they will cut the taxes of those donors, we now have a permanent class that is afforded representation without taxation.

A plutocracy, says my old friend, the historian Bernard Weisberger, “has a natural instinct to perpetuate and enlarge its own powers and by doing so slams the door of opportunity to challengers and reduces elections to theatrical duels between politicians who are marionettes worked by invisible strings.”

Where does it end?

By coincidence, this past weekend I watched the final episode of the British television series Secret State, a 2012 remake of an earlier version based on the popular novel A Very British Coup. This is white-knuckle political drama. Gabriel Byrne plays an accidental prime minister – thrust into office by the death of the incumbent, only to discover himself facing something he never imagined: a shadowy coalition of forces, some within his own government, working against him. With some of his own ministers secretly in the service of powerful corporations and bankers, his own party falling away from him, press lords daily maligning him, the opposition emboldened, and a public confused by misinformation, deceit, and vicious political rhetoric, the prime minister is told by Parliament to immediately invade Iran (on unproven, even false premises) or resign. In the climactic scene, he defies the “Secret State” that is manipulating all this and confronts Parliament with this challenge:

  • Let’s forget party allegiance, forget vested interests, forget votes of confidence. Let each and every one of us think only of this: Is this war justified? Is it what the people of this country want? Is it going to achieve what we want it to achieve? And if not, then what next?

    Well, I tell you what I think we should do. We should represent the people of this country. Not the lobby companies that wine and dine us. Or the banks and the big businesses that tell us how the world goes ‘round. Or the trade unions that try and call the shots. Not the civil servants nor the war-mongering generals or the security chiefs. Not the press magnates and multibillion dollar donors… [We must return] democracy to this House and the country it represents.

Do they? The movie doesn’t tell us. We are left to imagine how the crisis — the struggle for democracy — will end.

As we are reminded by this season, there is more to life than politics. There are families, friends, music, worship, sports, the arts, reading, conversation, laughter, celebrations of love and fellowship and partridges in pear trees. But without healthy democratic politics serving a moral order, all these are imperiled by the ferocious appetites of private power and greed.

So enjoy the holidays, including Star Wars. Then come back after New Year’s and find a place for yourself, at whatever level, wherever you are, in the struggle for democracy. This is the fight of our lives and how it ends is up to us.

~via Common Dreams

bill-moyers-2005 Journalist Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books, including Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, Moyers on Democracy, and Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon B. Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk awards and is the author of three best-selling books.

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Change and Ego Death

Posted on 8 December 2015 | No responses

One of the most potent and unused metaphors for our time comes from the understanding that light is both a particle and a wave. Now more than ever, we need to recognise and respect everyone’s individuality. Now more than ever, we need to learn how to recognise our commonality and join forces to create change. Each of us is a particle and a wave.

Our current culture has been perverting both our “particleness” and our “waveness”.

Cog and Machine

We are taught that it is important to be a “self-made man” that we are to respect those who are “islands”: separate and apparently self-sufficient. We are divided in order to keep us frightened of one another, because it’s easier to sell products and destructive political policies when people are fearful. We are taught to compete, because the few who are in power know they will always win and know they can manipulate you in this manner. None of this is the same as cherishing uniqueness or supporting diversity.

Even with the worship of individualism our culture nurtures fear of stepping too far outside the mainstream. To be anything but “normal”, based on the power elite’s definitions, is to invite ridicule, harrassment, ostracisation, and physical danger. Sure, people will cheer for a crazy rock star doing his thing, but he is usually white enough, male enough, and rich enough that it is his privilege to act outside the norms that his elite has set.

These ways of interacting only recognise people as being both the cog and the machine, as we are all ground into metal dust.

So how do we reclaim being light?

The Problem

We are living in a time when many people are writhing in the agonies of both wanting change and fighting against it. The US is in the midst of a guerilla civil war without central leaders or overt ideologies. The Occupy movement, which was peaceful, was criticised for lack of leaders and ideologies and was smothered. The US largely decided it felt more comfortable with mass shootings.

When people readily commit suicide to defend a toxic lifestyle and outlook, clearly they are more frightened of ego death than of physical death.

At some point in most people’s lives they become invested in things being as they are, and their being a particular way that seems to help them successfully navigate this type of life. If you were a pygmy shark, you would be quite happy preying on herring in a little world where only the two species exist. If you were then dropped into an aquarium with great white sharks, you would be scared but you would also understand the general structure of life. If you were dropped into an aquarium with nothing but manatees and seaweed, not only would you have nothing to eat, you couldn’t intimidate the gentler creatures nor would you be likely to understand their way of life. Both scenarios could mean death to the pygmy shark, but the second represents something so alien as to go beyond familiar fears, which can be accepted, and into something more terrifying. That’s how the leap to a non-competitive pluralistic world looks to some people.

Our particleness is fragile. On an everyday basis we think we know where others end and we begin, but do we really? We are born into circumstances and think, this is who I am. We take on our family’s culture and go, this is who I am. We choose clothes, music, a job, and think, this is who I am. We take on philosophies, attitudes, beliefs, and ideologies, and think this is who I am. Much of what we have taken on comes to us from our parents, and how often do we stop to think where do my parents end and I begin. We have our friends and alliances with whom we agree to share outlooks and experiences, how often do we stop to think where do my friends end and I begin. We then have children and pass onto them everything we think is important without wondering where do I end and they begin?

The thing about relying on all these networks in order to create your sense of identity is that you have little core self to rely upon when any of these are pared away from your life. You become no one, because you have never been yourself. I’m not saying these networks can’t be useful, even important to our well-being, but if you get too attached to them and don’t do the groundwork in understanding yourself, growing in any way feels terrifyingly dangerous. Worse, our networks extend beyond ourselves. Dismantling parts of our networks feels like we are cutting off some sense of immortality. This is how our “waveness” is threatened.

Accepting Ego Death

Right now the Earth needs big change to survive, not stick a Winnie the Pooh bandage on it change. Big change requires being able to let go and drift into the unknown. It means being willing to let go of control. It means accepting unfamiliar feelings and situations without any expectations. It means ego death.

The TV show Dr Who represents ego death well through the “regenerations” of The Doctor. When the title character dies, he doesn’t really die. He goes through a process which results in a new Doctor who looks different, has a different personality, but usually retains his values and his memories. At the end of The Doctor’s ninth regeneration he tells his companion: “Even if I change, it feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away. And I’m dead.”

I was raised in an arch-conservative family. I went through many changes of mind to become a far-left pacifist progressive. Each time I changed my mind I had to be willing to feel like a fool, willing sometimes to even apologise and atone for actions I felt I was mistaken in having taken. It took some time for the uncomfortable feelings to go away and to forgive myself for who I had been, but I did it. What made these “deaths” possible is that I am dedicated to being consistent with certain values, the main one being universal love–something I was taught in Sunday school. Now whether or not I feel entirely comfortable with everything Christianity has come to represent, I am deeply grateful for that lifelong compass. And through all of this I always found new communities with which to connect and re-establish my waveness.

We all have to learn how to listen to ourselves and to listen to others. We all have to learn the humility to accept critique and the kindness to give critique in as compassionate a way as possible. Some will have you believe that it’s compassionate to say nothing at all and just live with destructive behaviour. Real compassion takes courage and patience. Accepting the destructive is hardly compassionate to anyone. We need to understand that ego death can mean we regenerate into something kinder, wiser, and ultimately happier.

I think we should all take classes in values, self-examination, emotional management, growth-support, cooperation, and daily humility. These are core to change. You can’t force people to do the right thing. How well did Prohibition work? But we can make available the skills and knowledge that may lead people to the most life-affirming direction.

In peace, kindness, and friendship,

Katherine

No Future Without Sharing, No Future Without Cooperating

Posted on 7 December 2015 | No responses

I walk into a conference about sharing and collaborating. Roughly half the audience is female, little ethnic diversity is represented here. We have seven speakers for the current session: five men, two women, and one of the women is Asian. The guest speaker from abroad is a white man. The day is organised by a group of men.

In another session we have open discussion groups on various subjects. Each person who volunteers an issue to be discussed is meant to moderate their suggestion. People are then free to choose in which groups they will participate. One group never gets to fully discuss its topic because one fellow is unhappy that a woman is leading and hijacks the group, derailing open discussion.

One point I tried to make is that many of us who are working toward a new more environmental future are black sheep. We have had to think things through on our own and make decisions that put us outside of the main herd. We know how to think for ourselves, but we may not have a complete set of social skills and may be underskilled for cooperating. We need courses in empathy and shared action. One fellow came up to me with a graphic he had on his computer and told me that after three-years-old people become incapable of learning empathy or cooperation. I tried to mention a successful prison program to help criminals learn emotional control run by the Quakers, but he kept talking over me.

Most of the women want to work with the men. A number of the men feel the need to sideline the women to make sure their ideas are the ones that are heard. To be called out on this causes a number more of the men to get defensive. A few men are brave enough to side with the women, but they look just as scared as the women when standing up to the dominators.

A day that was meant to bring about collaboration seems to have further entrenched divisions. Another fellow mentioned to me that he was once a Marxist. I replied mentioning that I was once an Australian Democrat and used to help write some of their policy. He said, “It’s a shame their policies were crap. I’m a Green.”

This was one of the most disappointing supposedly progressive meetings I have ever been to. My immediate family are right-wing and I’ve stood in a room of arch-conservatives and this room didn’t feel much different. In fact with the right-wing group I would have had a few men protecting me in order to seem chivalrous. Here the women were abandoned to the wolves.

People were wondering why cooperatives and change groups kept themselves separate. This room was a good example of why. If you don’t include women, non-white ethnics, people of different ages and abilities, plus more, if you don’t share power with them, if you don’t cooperate with them, if you don’t respect and promote their ideas and their leadership, then you are still part of the old paradigm which is tearing the Earth to shreds. What you are doing is tracking down the new niche market in order to establish dominance, and the need for dominance is what’s destroying us.

So what’s the answer? How do we create people of goodwill?

In peace, friendship, and kindness,

Katherine

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