Why the Way We Think is Obsolete

Or, Why Individualism, Materialism, and Competition Won’t Create the Future

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When I consider about the American way of thinking about things — maybe even everything— it appears to me to boil down to three interlocking elements. Individualism. Competition. And materialism (not just as in “having more stuff” but as in “stuff is all there is” or “things we can’t see and touch, like feelings, don’t really count”). And when I think about it little more, I can’t help but observe: individualistic competitive materialism ends with Donald Trump as its perfect exemplar and ultimate apotheosis, gilded interiors, bullying, bluster, and all. But we’ll come back to that.

First, you be the judge and I’ll think out loud. Culture? Our myths and legends instill the lessons of competition, individualism, and materialism so powerfully and constantly, we don’t even notice anymore — movies and TV shows about empire-building, or brave superheroes, or the glittering lives of the super-rich, or all three. Hence, the cultural ideal is something like a Nietzschean superman — Christian Grey, a remorseless billionaire tycoon with no emotions, who’s outwitted his way to the top of the heap, and likes to punish people (smack! ooh). Isn’t that a little, well, strange? Achilles or Odysseus or Antigone — or even Oliver Twist and George Bailey — our protagonists aren’t.

Economics? The entire American economy is premised on ultra-individualistic hyper-competition, so much so that it’s become predatory, antagonistic, and brutalizing, for the lowest, most laughable kinds of material payoffs — the biggest bonus, the company AmEx, the VIP table, the car service, a shiny suit and a pair of Ferragamos. And so it’s devolved to hedge fund robots raiding pension funds that poor people worked hard for every day of their lives — that’s not illegal, abnormal, or even ethically questionable: it’s just “strategy”. But “strategies” to take from others what they have rightfully earned, and justly deserve, is precisely what competitive individualistic materialism arrives at taken to an extreme — after all, there have to be losers for there to be winners in this game.

Society? Well, there is no society to speak of, really. There is no such thing as a social contract in America — much less any red lines, norms or shared values left. There’s only the law of the jungle. If you’re poor, you die young. If you don’t want to die young, you pay whatever it is you must for healthcare, education, transport, and media — all of inferior quality. What choice is there?There is no such thing as a safety net, really — and so poor Americans, terrified of falling through the cracks, never really take vacations, time off, learn about the world (can you tell me what kind of healthcare Switzerland has? What makes Germany’s economy different and special?), or grow much as people anymore (sane people don’t elect authoritarians, my friends).

Now, already, you might be beginning to see the problem. But let me spell it out in plain English.

The American way of thinking about everything — itself, people, human life, the world — doesn’t work anymore. I think that there was a time when American thought was more than this, sure — think Thoreau, MLK, FDR, or William James — but that’s about all I see in it now. And while maybe there was a time that this way of thinking did work— that’s arguable — what seems to me to be as plain as day is that individualistic competitive materialism just doesn’t work anymore. It doesn’t work as a philosophy, a way to think about about the world and our place in it. It doesn’t work as a politics, a way to organize a society. It doesn’t work as an economy, a way to organize human possibility. And it doesn’t work as an ethics, a way to think well about what is best in us, about us, and for us.

Think about the great challenges that we face. “We,” humankind, whether as a world, or as countries, or as cities, families, and towns. Climate change. Inequality. Polarization and fracture. How to care for our elderly, who are living longer lives, or our young, who need more and better education, investment, and care than in any previous era, or our vulnerable — in other words, healthcare, social care, elderly care, education. Then there’s energy and infrastructure. How are we going to power our societies, and keep them humming along?

Now. What do all these challenges have in common? They can’t be solved by individualistic competitive materialism. Not a single one. Consider healthcare. Healthcare is cheapest — and of the highest quality — when it is provided at a social level: when societies give a national agency of some kind the power to negotiate drug prices, to share costs, to invest in hospitals, to define how much doctors are paid, and so on. The same is true for infrastructure, energy, finance, and media, too. At social scale is when the greatest scale and scope economies are reaped.

Think about this poor guy: a dentist who has a million dollars in student debt. How did he get there? Well, the poor guy is a victim of individualistic competitive materialism. He’s a tiny social atom, bouncing around, seeking the highest payoff — in competition with everybody else. Student loan rates are set not at the minimum amount he can bear, but the maximum — because the idea isn’t to support him, but to squeeze him, like any resource. He says he’d have a mental breakdown if he thought about it too much — but his stress and misery don’t count, because, remember, emotions and feelings don’t matter. All that matters is whether we pay, we perform, we produce — or how much we can bully people into doing those for us. And that’s why systems of individualistic competitive materialism end up with Donald Trumps at the top — and a poor guy with a million dollars somewhere in the collapsing middle. It’s not a coincidence.

He’s an outlier today, the million dollar in debt dentist. But he won’t be tomorrow. Things like healthcare costs and debt servicing are skyrocketing in America. They’re climbing by double digits every year. That means they double in cost every seven years or so. And that means that today’s college education, which costs easily $500k, is going to reach $1 million soon enough. Kids with a million dollars of debt, just for a basic education — think about that for a second. How are we going to produce the great scientists, innovators, artists, and writers of tomorrow — if everybody’s got to go be a middle manager, just to pay off their student debt, and they can barely afford a PhD, which doesn’t pay the bills anyways, because we don’t invest in education, so there aren’t jobs in research? You see the problem now, perhaps.

Individualistic competitive materialism is not a good match for the challenges of the 21st century. That is because those challenges are a) shared b) not just about material stuff, but about how we feel and think and grow and learn and c) about nourishing and supporting each other, not the stone age logic of having more than and depriving and beating and conquering each other.

In other words, our great challenges this decade, century, maybe even millennium, are cooperative, social, and existential. They are about investing in one another, building great institutions that endow all with the basic goods of well lived lives: whether education, finance, healthcare, energy, or information. But see the point and the idea in that. There are no winners anymore if we do not all win, only losers. The idea that if we “win” some meaningless contest for money, fame, or power, merely by dragging everyone else down, only leaves us all worse off in the end. A society that needs 21st century goods, like healthcare, education, clean energy, and research, cannot survive using the logic of the jungle and the rule of the most predatory, because those will never be able to create, distribute, or sustain such goods.

The only things that the law of the jungle can really create and sustain are a) hierarchy b) fear and rage and c) insatiable greed. I am above you, and I must keep you down. I am afraid of you, so I will obey you. I must have it all — and I will take it from you, by any means. If those are the rules, how can the advanced and sophisticated, the beautiful and generous, the shared and universal things that we need to live better lives now ever come to be? Such a society can only go backwards, and that’s why America’s doing just that.

So the old story of human history — hierarchy, competition, conquest — must give way to a new one, if human beings are to go on doing the difficult work of living side by side, prospering, and growing. The old way of thinking is obsolete because our problems have outgrown it, and it cannot provide the things that we need now — and so we must grow, too.

If you ask me, we are coming a little closer, these troubled and strange times, to the truths of human fragility. How having more stuff does not necessarily make us better people. How outdoing one another doesn’t matter one bit if the direction we are oriented in is down, not up. And how if we do not lift one another up, then we have failed one another in a profound and lasting way. The loneliness, mistrust, despair, and anger of now, the inequalities and deprivations of this age — they are the result of a way of thinking that is obsolete now. Individualistic competitive materialism. It’s age is over. That is alright. Every paradigm has its day, and no way of thinking is meant to last forever. The only question is if the countries which pioneered it will go on clinging to it, or be brave enough to outgrow it.

(Suggested by Pam Rodolph, H.W,. m.)

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Spontaneity Through Conversation Zoom Meeting This Saturday April 27th

We are having another Spontaneity through Conversation Zoom meeting on Saturday, April 27th, if you’d like to join us.
The purpose and method of these meetings are simple:
The method is to imagine we’re waiting for dinner at a restaurant, enjoying the spontaneous conversation that arises.
The purpose is to show new people who we are instead of telling them who we are.
We’ve had two so far, and each was a delight to all who participated, and of great interest to new people.
Come join us.
Time: 9 AM Pacific Time
Join by clicking on https://zoom.us/j/184330520
Or one tap mobile: +19292056099,,184330520# US
Group Dynamics is assumed.
Your video presence is required in this meeting.
Much Love,
Ben Emoji
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Rachel Carson’s Bittersweet Farewell to the World: Timeless Advice to the Next Generations from the Woman Who Catalyzed the Environmental Movement

By Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)

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In 1962, after pioneering a new aesthetic of poetic writing about science and the natural world, the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907–April 14, 1964) catalyzed the modern environmental movement with her epoch-making book Silent Spring — a courageous exposé of the pesticide industry, illuminating the profound interconnectedness of nature. It stunned and sobered humanity’s moral imagination, effecting a tidal wave of unprecedented citizen concern, with consequences reaching across popular culture and policy, leading to the creation of Earth Day and the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Carson had been following the science of pesticides and their grim effects on nature, meticulously glossed over by the agricultural and chemical industries, for more than a decade. Already the most esteemed science writer in the country, she used her voice and credibility to hold the government accountable for its abuses of power in the assault on nature. “Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent,” she wrote to her beloved. Fully aware that speaking out against the pesticide industry would subject her — as it invariably did — to ruthless attacks by corporate and government interests, she saw no moral choice but to defend what she held dearest by catalyzing a new kind of conscience.

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Rachel Carson

Carson’s aim with Silent Spring was threefold — to transmute hard facts into literature that stands the test of time, to awaken a public hypnotized into docility to the perils of substances so mercilessly marketed as panaceas by chemical companies, and to challenge the government to rise to its neglected responsibility in regulating these perils. She admonished against the fragmentation, commodification, and downright erasure of truth in an era when narrow silos blind specialists to the interconnected whole and market forces sacrifice truth on the altar of revenue. When citizens protest and try to challenge those forces with incontestable evidence, they are “fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.” In a sentiment of striking resonance half a century later, Carson exhorted: “We urgently need an end to these false assurances, to the sugar coating of unpalatable facts.” Above all, she countered the pathological short-termism of commercial interests with a sobering look at “consequences remote in time and place” as poisons permeate a delicate ecosystem in which no organism is separate from any other and no moment islanded in the river of time.

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Photograph by Bill Reaves from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Documerica project (U.S. National Archives)

In June 1962, five days before the first installment of Silent Spring made its debut in The New Yorker, the terminally ill Carson summoned the remnants of her strength to take her very first cross-country jetliner flight and deliver a long-awaited commencement address at Scripps College in California, excerpted in Figuring(public library), from which this piece is adapted. She titled it “Of Man and the Stream of Time” — hers, after all, was an era when every woman, too, was “man.” It was a crystallization of Carson’s moral philosophy, a farewell to the world she so cherished, and her baton-passing of that cherishment to the next generation.

She told graduates:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngToday our whole earth has become only another shore from which we look out across the dark ocean of space, uncertain what we shall find when we sail out among the stars.

[…]

The stream of time moves forward and mankind moves with it. Your generation must come to terms with the environment. You must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth. Yours is a grave and sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity. You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery — not of nature, but of itself.

Therein lies our hope and our destiny.

Couple with Carson’s contemporary and admirer Lewis Thomas on our human potential and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves, then revisit Carson on writing and the loneliness of creative work, Neil Gaiman’s stunning tribute to her legacy, and the story of the writing of Silent Spring.

For more tastes of Figuring, savor Emily Dickinson’s love letters, Nobel-winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli on science, spirituality, and our search for meaning, trailblazing feminist Margaret Fuller on what makes a great leader, the story of how the forgotten pioneer Harriet Hosmer paved the way for women in art, Herman Melville’s passionate and heartbreaking love letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Virginia Woolf and the fate of technology, and astrophysicist Janna Levin’s beautiful reading of the Auden poem that became the book’s epigraph.

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Emmanuel Macron Not Sure How To Tell Billionaires Notre Dame Repair Only Costs $200

April 22, 2019 (theonion.com)

PARIS—Following an outpouring of financial support from the nation’s wealthiest residents, French president Emmanuel Macron admitted Monday he was not sure how to tell the billionaire donors that repairs to the damaged Notre Dame cathedral would only cost the equivalent of about $200. “The generosity has been truly overwhelming, but we’re really just talking about replacing some wood here,” said Macron, who explained how damage to the iconic Paris landmark looked worse than it really was, and that even though the contractor’s quote came in at 500 euros, he had been able to save money by doing some of the work himself. “Things started looking a lot better after we vacuumed, and it turns out a lot of this soot will just buff right out. I guess we could use the rest of the billion or so euros to put in an underground parking garage or a nice upscale lounge with some sofas. But even then we’d have a couple hundred million left over.” At press time, Macron announced the repairs would be even cheaper than he had estimated after discovering an extra spire stored in the basement.

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Your Horoscopes — Week Of April 23, 2019

April 23, 2019 (theonion.com)

Taurus | April 20 to May 20

The inexorable power of destiny would render you powerless to stop the fateful events of next week, were anything ever to actually happen to you.

Gemini | May 21 to June 20

Trouble rears its ugly head in the workplace when, simply put, they just up and fire everybody.

Cancer | June 21 to July 22

You’ve always believed you should go with your gut in important matters, which is why every major decision in your life has been accompanied by chili-cheese fries.

Leo | July 23 to Aug. 22

After all you’ve been through, it’s nice to know that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Strangely, it turns out that’s not true for falling safes or pianos.

Virgo | Aug. 23 to Sept. 22

There will be no changes of note in your life this week, which is surprising considering how easy it should be to get a bear trap off your head these days.

Libra | Sept. 23 to Oct. 22

You’ve always had a strong fight-or-flight reflex, which turns out to be completely useless when negotiating for the best price on a bedroom set.

Scorpio | Oct. 23 to Nov. 21

You’ll try to play both sides against each other for personal gain, proving again why you are the worst chess player ever.

Sagittarius | Nov. 22 to Dec. 21

Your love for The Wizard Of Oz will actually come in handy when you’re involved in a multiple-tractor-trailer pileup, but not for the reasons you’d think.

Capricorn | Dec. 22 to Jan. 19

Strange, it seemed like having a harpoon gun around would be kind of cool, but every time you’ve used the damn thing it just leads to a lot of flensing work.

Aquarius | Jan. 20 to Feb. 18

Usually, compromise means no one is happy.  The Missouri Compromise, however, is a great name for the mullet, a hairstyle that makes everyone happy.

Pisces | Feb. 19 to March 20

It’s never too late to change your life for the better, except of course in your case, where it’s almost too late to finish your poisoned coffee.

Aries | March 21 to April 19

This week, you’ll prove that one man can make a difference when you smear bacon grease all over the stairs and escalators at the malls closest to the retirement home.

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Vicious Buffoons

“In my life, I have watched John Kennedy talk on television about missiles in Cuba. I saw Lyndon Johnson look Richard Russell squarely in the eye and say, “And we shall overcome.” I saw Richard Nixon resign and Gerald Ford tell the Congress that our long national nightmare was over. I saw Jimmy Carter talk about malaise and Ronald Reagan talk about a shining city on a hill. I saw George H.W. Bush deliver the eulogy for the Soviet bloc, and Bill Clinton comfort the survivors of Timothy McVeigh’s madness in Oklahoma City. I saw George W. Bush struggle to make sense of it all on September 11, 2001, and I saw Barack Obama sing ‘Amazing Grace’ in the wounded sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

“These were the presidents of my lifetime. These were not perfect men. They were not perfect presidents, god knows. Not one of them was that. But they approached the job, and they took to the podium, with all the gravitas they could muster as appropriate to the job. They tried, at least, to reach for something in the presidency that was beyond their grasp as ordinary human beings. They were not all ennobled by the attempt, but they tried nonetheless.

“And comes now this hopeless, vicious buffoon, and the audience of equally hopeless and vicious buffoons who laughed and cheered when he made sport of a woman whose lasting memory of the trauma she suffered is the laughter of the perpetrators. Now he comes, a man swathed in scandal, with no interest beyond what he can put in his pocket and what he can put over on a universe of suckers, and he does something like this while occupying an office that we gave him, and while endowed with a public trust that he dishonors every day he wakes up in the White House.

“The scion of a multigenerational criminal enterprise, the parameters of which we are only now beginning to comprehend. A vessel for all the worst elements of the American condition. And a cheap, soulless bully besides. We never have had such a cheap counterfeit of a president* as currently occupies the office. We never have had a president* so completely deserving of scorn and yet so small in the office that it almost seems a waste of time and energy to summon up the requisite contempt.

“Watch how a republic dies in the empty eyes of an empty man who feels nothing but his own imaginary greatness, and who cannot find in himself the decency simply to shut up even when it is in his best interest to do so. Presidents don’t have to be heroes to be good presidents. They just have to realize that their humanity is our common humanity, and that their political commonwealth is our political commonwealth, too.

Watch him behind the seal of the President of the United States. Isn’t he a funny man? Isn’t what happened to that lady hilarious? Watch the assembled morons cheer. This is the only story now.”

– Charles P.  Pierce, Esquire magazine

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The Professor And The Madman Official Trailer


Transmission Films
Published on Mar 10, 2019
Based on the worldwide best-selling novel by Simon Winchester, THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN is an extraordinary true tale of madness, genius, and obsession about two remarkable men who created history with the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 and was one of the most ambitious, and revolutionary projects ever undertaken. Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) took on the challenge of creating the most comprehensive dictionary ever compiled, but knew that it would take him and his team over a century to compile all known definitions. However, by “crowd sourcing” the work, that is, by enlisting definitions from people all over the world, the dictionary could be compiled in mere decades.

As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W.C. Minor (Sean Penn), had submitted more than ten thousand words. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was a convicted murderer and being held at an asylum for the criminally insane.

(Suggested by Richard Branam.)

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SUNDAY NIGHT TRANSLATION GROUP – 4/21/19

Translators:  Melissa Goodnight, Richard Branam, Mike Zonta, Hanz Bolen, Alex Gambeau

SENSE TESTIMONY:  Violations of rule of law threaten intellectual property and value of the individual.

5th Step Conclusions:

1)  Truth is the only arbiter of the rule of law, inviolate, untouchable, urgent, inducing intellectual property of inestimable worth.

2)  One Infinite Consciousness is the absolutely sovereign authoritative legitimacy, that ensures perfectly equitable and righteous justice, for every individuated manifestation, of the limitless creations of thought.

3)  The security and sustenance of All One Mind Truth clearly expresses the worth of all use of Being, individuated as applied Ideas, workable agreements and individuations with Self Evident Powerful Knowing Presence Instantaneously everywhere always, besides which there is none else.

4)  The I AM I is Wisdom, Love, and Power in All, a Principle of Law and Order, is Creative Intelligence in the Conscious-Being of individuals.

5)  Truth Being the Only Indivisible, Inseparable Synchronic Necessity, this Innate Inheritance, Being the Omniscient Comic Spirit of the Exponentially Collective Intelligence, This Sophisticated Elegance is the Authoritative Privilege in the Universally Principled Logos: I Am Thou, Continually Gathering the Fruits of it’s Property.

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