follow my blog by providing your email

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Disruption/Opportunity Part 3

Since the presidential campaign and election, I have felt a deep depression, not only in me, but emanating from my soulmate, my associates, my friends and family, and my faith community. I have studied psychological depression. Though many of the symptoms are similar, this depression is different. I believe it to be a political depression, a crisis of hope in the speech and action of citizens; a loss of faith in, and a growth in fear for, the future of our world. 

I have been using my blog meditations to wrestle with our situation. Why did we get here? What does it mean? How do we respond? I studied and discussed the resentment of the working poor, the end of capitalism, the decline of democracy, the rise of authoritarian authoritarianism, seeking to understand the malaise we experience. But these meditations provide a few indicators. They help me go on—but to where?

I used the notion of “disruption” now popularized in entrepreneurial business, technological advance, and management consulting. Trump and company are disrupting the American world order. This threat could also be an opportunity for progressives because it is the habit of thinking and action in the American world order that got us here. It needs to be disrupted. But instead of using the tools of fear and resentment, the progressive might use hope and concerted action, to advance a new social order: An economy that replaces the predatory capitalism which commodifies workers, people, money, and thought.  A culture that is inclusive and tolerant. A politics that reaches for the ideals of democratic republicanism. 

But I believe that this depression is at root spiritual. I just read a piece on John of the Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul. The article reminds me that this new dark age beyond the modernism of the American century is a dark night of the soul of America and the American world. As a dark night of the soul, it is also a possible transition to a new enlightenment. We can accept our impasse and embrace the dark night of our American soul in order to dismiss our gods and open ourselves to a new emerging future.

Perhaps this will enable us collectively, as John of the Cross says, to move from meditation to contemplation, from words to the silent experience from which comes the speaking of our world, from self-consciousness to universal consciousness, from our formulas in and about space and time to the point where space and time originate “before” our formulas, i.e. from the things in our world to the nothing from which they come. This make no sense in philosophical meditation. We only sense it in contemplation.

How do we apply John’s Dark Night to our Dark Age—combining the spiritual with the political. My soul is intertwined with all souls I feel. My soul can only be “saved” if all souls are. Not by me contemplating in private. Nor can souls be saved with doctrines and words, i.e. proselytizing, converting others to my language and world perception. And I cannot save our souls myself. In fact, we can only have soul when there is no more self. No more “I."

How can we collectively open ourselves to the radically new God who does not yet exist—not just in monasteries, churches, mosques, workshops—but in the public space beyond the separations of religion and ideology?  How do we as a nation and world community climb the holy mountain, cross the Red Sea, discover the Holy Grail—all event-symbols for passing through the darkness to transcend all the icons that block us—all products of our own making.

I thought of, and eliminated, events where that universal consciousness and solidarity might be present: National celebration of VE and VJ day, DC gathering to celebrate the Capitols winning the Stanley Cup, Political campaigns and rallies: victories in war, politics, sports. Victories over others.

I also thought of national grief celebrations, e.g. when Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy died. That is closer I think. Universal suffering is an occasion for deep universal silence. Shared suffering is a prerequisite for solidarity, according to Richard Rorty. But I refuse to say that the biblical apocalypse that brings universal suffering and death is an event to await. Or maybe I should just recognize that this apocalypse is here and now in this dark age of disruption.

I do experience, although darkly, an enlightening, universalizing moment in community-based political events—not in the words, slogans, or even outcomes of the events, but in the very act of getting together and collectively speaking out. I feel strongly that political acts of solidarity, resistance, and appeal for the future is where I most discover and nourish soul even in the darkness. I cannot divorce politics from spirituality nor spirituality from politics. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Disruption, Opportunity Part 2

In Part 1, I raised the question as to whether the Disruption of the American national and international social order occasioned by Trump, the Reactionary Right, and the Christian righteous be an opportunity for Progressives? Can this new dark age in reaction to cultural permissiveness, economic neoliberal globalism, and populist strong-man democracy actually be a prelude to a new enlightenment?

Such an enlightenment would be a new economy that overcomes the gross inequalities caused by the commodification of nature, money, workers, and thought. Such an enlightenment would be a renewed democracy that is inclusive and pluralist and guided by scientific thinking which is evidence based, peer reviewed, and open to new thinking and formulation.

You might say I am being too optimistic even asking the question. And even if I were right in advocating this new enlightenment overcoming the darkness of this Trumpian age, it would be too late. The earth's climate is already fundamentally changed. Refugees have been turned back with children separated. The "free"market is already owned by the wealthy class that makes all things of nature, including humans, products for sale. Democratic governance is already being replaced by a mass populism choosing authoritative leaders supported by the wealthy class. On the wane are free love, free work, free press, free speech and assembly, and free enjoyment of life by satisfying all basic needs.

Many would say that I have fallen into the progressive fallacy thinking that things will get better and better. I counter that they do not understand what it means to be a progressive. There is no progressive ideology or doctrine. I know of no progressive who believes that progress is inevitable.  Progressives believe, and it is less a belief than a chosen attitude, that we can do better.  We, like in "We the people," persons speaking and acting together.

I must admit I hear persons I know to be progressive sometimes using unfortunate language like "being on the side of history" or "following God's plan." That language comes from a time of classical science with inexorable laws and of deism when many imaged a Creator who started the universe off and allowed it to take its course. Philosophers sometime deify "History" with a path that we better get on.  But history has no sides; it is constituted by human choices. Theologians and their sacred writings sometimes deify "God" as a superman in the heavens who has a set plan or will that we had better follow. But progressive theologians teach there is no such god, no such absolute plan. Transcendence and spirituality is a matter of faith as an openness to innovation and a commitment to the future of humankind that can be achieved if humans decide together to make it so.

We can do better but it is not in history's or god's hands. Its in ours. Together. That's the progressive attitude.

To be a progressive is not a matter of being a liberal or a conservative, on the Right or on the Left, a Judeo-Christian or a Muslim, a Republican or a Democrat. My own fallible judgment based on my education, reading, inquiry, activity in the world, at this point in my time and place, is to be 1) socially and culturally liberal, or even permissive libertarian, 2) economically socialist believing that capitalism must be well regulated, and 3) politically conservative, wanting to conserve our earth and protect our democratic republican institutions in government, civil society, and international relations.

Right now I think the Democratic Party is the better vehicle representing my viewpoint and those of the people I most admire. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, I identify more with the Republican Party. More important to me, however, is the support and encouragement of civil society, non partisan civic service and action through our mediating institutions. And cutting across all our tribes, institutions, and parties is the choice of using the politics of hope over the politics of fear.

Fear divides "us" from "them" and produces resentment. Hope expresses faith in the future and our responsibility to change things for the better for our progeny. No matter your tribe, community, identity, or party, I consider you progressive if you practice the politics of hope.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Trump's Disruption, Progressive Opportunity?

Do we dare to consider that "THEY" may be right? After all, sometimes the right things happen for the wrong reason.

I once heard management guru Tom Peters say, "if it ain't broke, break it," promoting disruption for any organization that is just cruising along--usually to oblivion. A management book came out with that title; and today "disruption" is a key word in organizational theory.

No one has been more disruptive to the accepted way of national and world governance than US President Donald Trump. As I write this, most of America's traditional allies feel "dissed" by his behavior in the G7, withdrawal from the Iran deal, the NAFTA deal, the Asian deal, and the climate change deal. He is reneging on decades of US assurances in Europe perhaps even NATO and the United Nations. He has abandoned environmental policy molded together through hundreds of years of community-based action fighting companies that trashed the land, the water, the air. He has turned his back on two hundred years of work to achieve pluralism and diversity. He has climaxed the death of civility in political conversation. He has promoted a tax system that will not only maintain, but also increase social economic inequality. 

Trump has assembled and put in charge a base of people who, like him, resent intellectuals, academic elites, the press, non-English speaking immigrants, non-Christians, social liberals, RINOs, and you name all the others. Resentment is their commonality. And this resentment leads to disruption on a grand scale in which all, including the people in his base, will suffer. 

But as Tom Peters and leadership trainers have noted, disruption can also lead to positive growth.  Peter's full quote was: "if it ain't broke, break it (or someone else will)." And most of the disruption that management masters counsel is guided and planned disruption by doing what you want to do better and achieve better results by doing it differently. 

Disruption is an opportunity as well as a threat.  If we make it so. 

I'm reading, Leading from the Emerging Future from the Presencing Institute at MIT.  The authors, both economists, take much of what we know and organize it in an engaging way. They start with noticing and admitting the disruptions that are occurring in our political economy and ecology. Then they plumb to the invisible collective mindsets of the visible negative results. These mental models or habits of thinking must be disrupted to preserve and progress our personal and social order. 

That makes me think about the belief systems I take for granted, especially those of moral behavior, political action, and economic life. What are those hidden ideologies that I am not questioning? Civil speech and collective action is the principle of politics of a democratic republic. Not resentment. Resentment is the demise of the commons, of collective action, of politics as a space of freedom.

If I am resenting Trump, and especially if I make my resentment a principle of my action or lack of action, am I not becoming what I resent? How do I change what I judge as harmful to my nation, my community, and the people I love without being resentful? 

And who can I work with on this, those who take responsibility and who engage not blame the resentful? How do we use the disruption to our present politics, communities, and world order that Trump occasions with all its resentment so that we disrupt the thinking and behavior behind it? And maybe, just maybe, push the human experiment onward. 

All our great leaders from Buddha and Isaiah, Socrates and Jesus, to Mandela and King challenged the conventional wisdom, the habits of thinking, the icons of resentment of their times without succumbing to resentment. It is that truth that will make us free.