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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Abundance: Wealth vs Citizen Power

To: Peter Dimandis:

Peter, good optimistic report. As a progressive, I appreciate optimism and consider myself as such. However, as a democratic republican (rather than a national populist or a plutocratic autocrat), I find the main measure for optimism, the sharing of power and wealth (not just the amount of it) also needs to be considered. There is much evidence for discouragement on this measure. My optimism here is based on faith--not evidence, faith in people who have the power to act together. 

On Nov 19, 2017, at 1:05 PM, Peter Diamandis <> wrote:

The world is getting better at a *stunning rate*, and as we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I wanted to offer you some convincing details and data.
My amazing team (for whom I am very grateful) has put together an Evidence of Abundance ebook with those charts and data.
Consider it “conversational capital” for your dinner table conversations or some inspirational reading for your travels. 
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the opportunity to inspire abundance-minded leaders like you... and that I get to spend every day coaching exponential entrepreneurs tirelessly working to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
Abundantly yours,
© PHD Ventures, 800 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, California, 90230, United States

Friday, November 17, 2017

Organization and Advocacy

While community organization usually results in political advocacy and while political advocacy usually requires organization, confusing the two can hurt both. Advocacy centers on policy. Organization centers on power. We can secure a victory on policy and lose one on extending power. And a failure on policy can lead to increased power towards even better outcomes.

Power is a political concept defined by Hannah Arendt as “the ability to act in concert.” The “in concert” is essential to the definition though often neglected by my organizer colleagues. They often say that there are two kinds of power: organized money and organized people. I disagree. Power is people acting together. People with money do indeed have influence and often finance the ability to seduce or coerce. But that is force not power. And people with money can support organizing. No one, not even the biggest, the brightest, the strongest, the richest, and even with the most authority, has power alone. True power is shared power.

When I was a young seminarian volunteering In Chicago’s Near West Side, I was mentored by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Jack Egan, who is still to me the ideal for a religious leader. Once, some poor black folk asked him to urge the alderman to make their garbage get picked up more regularly. They were not Catholic but they knew of the tight connection between the Catholic Church and Mayor Daley’s political machine. Father Egan told them, no, he would not intercede with the alderman on their behalf. But, he said, he would go with them to meet the alderman; but they had to demand as residents, voters, and taxpayers that the garbage be picked up regularly. And they had to persist acting if the alderman refused or didn’t follow through.

What Egan knew is that the real issue in the neighborhood was lack of power. If he solved problems for people, they stayed powerless. But if they organized on their own initiative and their own issues, they would have power and the respect that goes with it. Those who advocate for poor people usually leave them poorer—even if they get more services and income. To advocate means to call or speak for another. Organizing is challenging people to speak for themselves and to build their own institutions to negotiate with landlords, politicians, clergy, agencies, including partners and associates, with respect as equals.

Power for what, you ask. Sure, power for better conditions, lower rents, safety, and services. But political power, acting in concert, is its own end—the fulfilment of human dignity. Personal and political power can only be achieved by acting in concert with others, that is, participating in what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community--a community with purpose and power, a community whose purpose is power.
The Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative (GBCI) situated at Asbury Methodist Village (AMV) is a free congregation of persons who are building their own ability to act in concert. The GBCI supports the building of beloved community at AMV and in the communities in which they walk, work, and worship. To promote the organization of the kids, parents, and teachers at local schools like South Lake Elementary and the residents in housing complexes like Cider Mill Apartments so they have the power to improve their housing, education, workplace, and other communities is why GBCI exists. Power is strengthened by relationships to supporting organizations and their leaders—city and county officials, the police, business and religious organizations, and other voluntary associations. And GBCI helps make those connections.
But the initiative and leadership stays with the people moving from powerlessness to power.
Community power is political and leads to policies, strategies for change that will improve a community’s institutions. But GBCI is nonpartisan and not involved in electoral politics. It will work with all who share its mission for the happiness of shared power, that is, the building of beloved community.

rollie smith 11-17-2017

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Faith and Politics (Again)

This Trumpian age is a tremendous challenge for us progressives. I find us encountering a polarization, confusion, and cynicism that is unparalleled in my 80 years. And as a progressive, I try to see it as an opportunity for unity, clarification, and hope. And I choose to take the steps to make it so. That's what I mean by faith.

Faith is a condition for politics. In other words, without faith no politics, i.e. no space of freedom and shared power. No time of institutional memory and reform.

Faith and its accompanying virtues, hope and charity, which are all dimensions of the same existential drive towards actualization, intends, inspires, institutions, and culminates in the space of freedom and shared power and in the time of communal memory and innovation that is politics in its purest form.

Love is commitment to the present and to presence that recollects the past and intends a common future. Hope is commitment to that common future. Faith is commitment to a shared history that brought us here together. Thus faith is a commitment to tradition, the great ideas, science, evolution, and creation. It is an embrace of who we are with all our limits and potential. And where we are and with whom we are. Faith alone will save us--that is, will bring us to act together for our common good.

Faith embodies itself in principles, beliefs, and ideas.  These express but can also terminate or "statisfy" faith which, unlike the belief systems it creates, is dynamic and transcends all its expressions. True belief is faith stuck. Faith is de-idolization of its beliefs.

We are now in a situation in which beliefs regarding our "exceptional" nation, our "free-market, trickle -down" economy, and our "straight, Euro-centered" cultural identity are held religiously, as eternal and absolute. Such religiously held beliefs--idols of nation, economy, and culture--destroy politics, a dynamic process opening space where all persons share power and a time that reaches beyond itself.

But as a progressive, I take this as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to extended community, to continued clarification, and to hope. I acknowledge the evidence for this happy outcome is not here in this Trumpian Age. Unless we choose to see it. Faith is that way.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

From ancient times, humans have categorized our experiences by the five senses connected to the organs and orifices in which our bodies take in and relate to our environment. Sight through eyes, hearing through ears, smelling through nostrils, taste through mouth, touch through skin teach us to interact with our environment through pain and pleasure. We learn to shield our eyes before they are fried by the sun, to spit out what we eat that is poisonous, to shun rank smells, and to avoid touching fire. And we are attracted to the sight of an apple, the touch of a mate, the taste of honey, the smell of flowers, the sound of flowing water.

There is a 6th sense that integrates these five sense experiences to help us seek pleasure and avoid pain as we come to terms with our environment. The 6th sense is a whole-body experience which combines smells, tastes, sights, sounds and touch into things outside oneself through some symbolic designation. This whole-body experience provides a sense of self and other selves interacting in a common world. It accompanies our behavior of encountering and naming things in the world which appear as not me, not us, but as objects apart.

We call this 6th sense mind, consciousness, and spirit. In this sense of ourselves as linked with other selves in a world, we experience the passing of time, including achievement and dissolution, the sense of adventure. We experience space, a distance and a proximity to others and to things, the sense of direction. And we experience individual selves connected to other selves, the sense of community. A sense of adventure, of direction, and of community might be considered additional senses. Does a bird feel the magnetic pull of the earth to guide it south in winter? How does the dance of the bee describe where it found nectar for the queen?

However, I prefer to understand these additional senses in humanity as part of the consciousness that accompanies human speech and other symbolic behavior. As is the sense of an ideal that pushes and pulls us beyond who and what we are: the sense of transcendence.

There are limits to our senses. And so, we have built telescopes and microscopes to extend our sight.  We have manufactured devices to reach the light spectrum our eyes cannot see and the sound waves our ears cannot hear. Moreover, we have discerned the gravity waves of exploding black holes, the fundamental particles of matter and energy, and the beginning of the universe itself. It is our sixth sense that accompanies our ability to imagine, to think, and to test that has made this possible. Consciousness attends our exploration of and relationship to all the realities we discover. Material objects are embodied in spiritual intersubjectivity that we intuit directly in our acts of naming things.

Matter and spirit are inextricably linked. The duality of matter and spirit is a figment of our imagination that often leads to fallacies of thought and faults in behavior. But it is an important figment because it also aids us to appreciate the inner and outer dimensions of all there is including ourselves. 

All spirit (mind, consciousness) is a product of matter. Neuroscience explains consciousness by the neural loops and synapses of our brains. Therefore, there is no spirit without matter. But also, there is no matter without spirit.  Without mind and symbolic thinking or language, we would have no sense, no word, no concept of matter. 

The total Universe is Matter and Spirit. The spirit of the universe emerges from the material interaction of things in the universe. Our very existence proves the capacity of matter to produce spirit. And spirit is matter with the capacity to experience itself. Without that capacity, there is no matter--no energy, no motion. 

To discern spirit, we plunge into matter. We only grow our souls when we submerge ourselves in matter. To discover matter we employ mind. Soul is the essence of Matter. The duality of spirit and matter, although an existential tension we feel, is an illusion.

Nevertheless, the fictional duality between spirit and matter grounds the actual duality between good and evil.

The universe is on an adventure and so are we. We are becoming spirit through the interaction of elements, things, and selves. Our growing interconnection, our desire for community, our drive towards the right order of justice, to inclusion and equality, and to power through concerted action is the movement of syntropy that combats the inevitable second law of thermodynamics towards entropy. As matter becomes spirit through our interaction, through our collaboration, and especially through our shared action, matter and spirit become one. 

When we opt out of the adventure, when we break community, when we deny universality by settling for self-interest, tribal behavior, and nationalism that do not transcend the boundaries, we give force to the inclinations of dissolution and fragmentation. That is evil--the break of matter and spirit that destroys them both and negates the universe. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Jefferson and the Principle of a Democratic Republic

This is the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. An opinionator in the WP asserted that the US was founded on Protestantism. But the foundation of the American Republic is a bit more nuanced than that.

The Protestant Revolt against the tyranny of Roman Catholicism was a major contributor towards modernity including personal inspiration and interpretation, free assembly, elimination of mediating sacred priesthoods, and a break with authority. The first sociologist Max Weber showed the link between Calvinism and capitalism. And modernity--with which Roman Catholicism finally made peace through Vatican II—is a major contributor to republicanism.

Thomas Jefferson, not exactly a Protestant Christian, was a thoroughly modern man. He was devoted to reason and science over superstition. He read voraciously and was a constant learner. He advocated power of common persons gathered in assembly over authority of monarch or dictator or priest. He was a paragon of civility in argument and public service. He exemplified principle based on nature over private opinion and beliefs.

The key principle of a democratic Republic is the dignity and equality of all human beings. This is the foundation of a structure of human rights that contains chambers for voluntary civic associations, all ordered through a government chosen and run by representatives elected by popular vote. The main principle of unity for a democratic Republic is not cultural identity—not background, religion, beliefs, or ethnicity. It is choice starting with the fundamental choice to be a citizen of a Republic that recognizes that all persons, no matter how different otherwise, are equal (not the same) and have rights to life, liberty, and happiness.

The standard of religious liberty was one of Jefferson’s crowning achievements that flows from the founding principle of a democratic Republic. This is both freedom to practice whatever religion one chooses and freedom from religion so that no person has to adhere to any one religion or any religion at all. The principle of universal human dignity and equality surpasses and indeed overcomes cultural sameness. A democratic Republic is inclusive of cultural, ethnic, sexual, religious identities not exclusive. It is a unity in diversity, not assimilation—e pluribus unum.

Jefferson demonstrated that the ideal was more aspirational than actual. While he introduced and supported ordinances against slavery, he retained his slaves like a smoker who promotes anti-smoking ordinances to change his own personal practice. Even that, however, recognized the institutional nature of racism rather than making it a simple personal attitude problem.

Jefferson, though a private family man, taught how vigorous public institutions sustained privacy. By putting public order and public good ahead of private profit and private goods, household goods (economy) were secured. And yet he was distrustful of the northern federalists; their national bank, their standing army, and their proclivity towards strong rulers might undermine the republic and its principle. Autonomous states, he felt, were a check on the tension towards strong man rule. A tension that exists today.

Jefferson recognized that “happiness” in the Declaration was both private and public. Private happiness is economic prosperity—fulfillment of the needs of life. But public happiness is respect and recognition that is achieved in the public arena.  He was much more concerned with reputation
than money—commonweal than private wealth.

But the central tension that has reached its culmination in the politics of America today is that of cultural identity over against the central principle and ideal of universal dignity and equality. Consider Martin Luther King’s words quoted at his memorial: “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation. This means we must develop a world perspective.” The MLK monument stands in a straight line between the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments. All three are reaffirmations of the central principle of a democratic Republic.

And it is that principle which is under siege by the populist nationalists, white supremacists, America Firsters of the ruling government today. The union is challenged in a straight line from slave state conciliation, Jacksonian populism, southern confederacy, fascism, anti-immigrant, Jim Crow, American exceptionalism—all again reaching a new culmination in Steve Bannon’s influence on Trump. The promotion of The Wall, the threat to Dreamers, the contempt of diverse races and lifestyles, the rewarding of predators are all signs of reaction against democratic Republicanism. Other democratic Republics throughout the world are also being challenged by their own version of cultural nationalism.

The point of decision for citizens of democratic Republic is whether they really have faith in persons and their future and their ability to know and decide for the public good. Not in the absract, but in the here and now. Not in the immeasurable cosmos, but in my situation in my community.
What even complicates our situation more is the passing of modernity—the basis of the democratic Republic. Many of modernity’s assumptions are being undermined. We are moving into what I have called a transmodern age which is both a challenge and an opportunity to the progress of humanity and humanity’s world.

Science has disproven the certainty of science itself. Neuroscience has challenged the notion of free-will which grounds our justice system, social, racial, legal, and criminal justice. “All men are created equal” is repudiated by the rejection of creation by evolution. The unity of nature in some sort of absolute has been precluded by our understanding of thinking as categorizing and analogy through images. That means objectivity and truth apart from relationship is an illusion. The world and reality itself can only be discovered and revealed through human symbolic interaction with its environment. Faith is no longer the retention of a belief system, but the doubting and critiquing of all belief systems including one’s own. In addition, the exponential expansion of technology is leading to a new social singularity that extends life indefinitely and allows artificial intelligence to enhance or even replace humanity.

Moreover, tribalism, nationalism, and even globalism is probing beyond itself. We are seeking to integrate personalism with socialism, traditionalism with opportunism, spiritualism with materialism. We are enthralled with our present condition and our transcendence. We are moving to a post-religion society and yet are concerned with meaning and purpose. 

None of this was contemplated by Jefferson and his modern colleagues who imagined and built the first democratic Republic. Who is the transmodern man to replace Jefferson, the primordial modern  man of politics? What is the transmodern Republic to replace the American democratic Republic that Jefferson built? Right now, we are in a period of reaction in which forces fearing the change we are undergoing want to go back to imagined more comfortable times when white Europeans were ascendant, when men were men, when Christian values were appreciated. That, of course, is impossible.

So, what is our vision for humanity?  Who do we want to be? How do we want to govern ourselves? Or do we?

The outcome is not inevitable. We do not have the luxury of a supreme being who decides. We must take responsibility. We have to decide whether we have faith in the future and each other or not.

I think Thomas Jefferson would agree with that. He made his choice as a fully modern person. We have to make ours as transmodern persons.