Are Relationships Essential or Accidental?
In other words, are relationships something added to an already existing thing or substance, or are relationships the very essence of existence?  The question concerns the ontological status of relationships.
A Process View
From my point of view (influenced by Process Philosophy), we don’t exist… we happen.  The whole universe is happening – not in time or space, but time and space are created from the myriad of happenings.  Every happening or event is a “drop of experience”, and every experience is a creative integration –a “concrescence” of all preceding experiential events.  It might be better said that we are not “human beings”, but we are “human becomings”.
The “self” does not first exist and then have relationships added to it.  We are relationships – the “self” emerges from relationships.  Thus, relationships precede the self.  To be is to be in relationship.  The process of reality is that (to quote Whitehead):“The Many become One, and are (thereby) increased by one.”  The “I” is synonymous with an experiential event which, after it happens (or following its creation), it becomes a “me” which is a potential for the next becoming “I”.
If this is true, the individualistic effort to improve the “self” may be misguided.  The “self” (because it is created out of relationships) can only be improved by improving the quality of our relationships rather than striving for personal success or happiness.
A Substance View
An alternative view is that the “self” is a substance.  By substance I mean that which is in need of nothing other than itself in order to exist.  The concept is not limited to that which can be detected by the senses – or what some might describe as physical stuff.  Many religions have a substantial understanding of the “self”, “spirit”, or “soul”.  According to classical Christian theology, each “soul” is created “ex nihilo” (out of absolute nothingness) by God at the time of conception.  Others believe that God, or the ONE, is a primordial substance which, according to several different myths, became differentiated somehow (as sparks from a fire, or drops of water from the ocean) and which through a process of involution is being put back together again as One.  Or, perhaps the separation of the ONE is an illusion which must be overcome in order to be enlightened.  Perhaps this illusion can’t be overcome in one lifetime so that the seemingly separate soul substance must be reincarnated again and again until it finally reaches enlightenment.  Regardless of the myth, the one commonality is that Ultimate Reality is non-relational and that relationships are unessential to existence. 

Possible Questions for Discussion

  • ·         Is there a correlation between the concept of an autonomous individual (which seems to be especially valued in our western culture) and the Newtonian scientific worldview of reality consisting of autonomous atoms?
  • ·         Are there both external and internal relations?  If so, how can we describe them or what’s the difference between them?
  • ·         Is the quality of our relations affected by our worldview?  How?
  • ·         Are there different types of relationships (other than internal and external) and, if so, how can we describe them?  For instance, what do we mean when we talk about intimate relationships?
  • ·         What happens to children who have been isolated for long periods of time at an early age?  Does research on these children shed any light on the essentialness of relationships?
  • ·         Do we have anything we can share concerning ways we can improve our relations with other people, with nature, with God or Spirit?


What can we create together?

Pete sent me this “interesting illusion” in an email message.  My reply follows.

I guess it’s just in my nature to reflect a bit on these “illusions”.  And… I suppose it is also in my nature to share my reflections – at least it’s a desire that I’m going to give myself license to act on.  If you choose to read what follows, you’ll have made yourself either a victim of my self-expression (you can seek revenge in a reply), or the recipient of a gift, a portion of myself.  Besides, it IS Sunday morning!!  
I think these “illusions” provide opportunity to question our basic Western assumptions about reality.  We think that the “illusions” are tricks of the mind and in one sense they are.  What we often do not understand or realize- and in fact, has not been understood until  very recent times – is that these “tricks” are exactly how our minds work all the time.  

Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish—a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather than thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.


The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.


But our conceptual system is not something we are normally aware of. In most of the little things we do every day, we simply think and act more or less automatically along certain lines. Just what these lines are is by no means obvious. One way to find out is by looking at language. Since communication is based on the same conceptual system that we use in thinking and acting, language is an important source of evidence for what that system is like.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnsen (2003) Metaphors we live by. London: The university of Chicago press.
We think, for instance, that we “see” a house, but what we really “see” is a symbol or metaphor which is formed from the patterns of colors and shapes we perceive.  Just as the word ‘house’ is a symbol or metaphor for what we perceive, so also, what we perceive is a symbol for the word ‘house’. The house is a construct of our mind – but not simply our own individual mind – it is socially constructed.  Without taking the concept too literally, it can be said that we “co-create reality”.  And so, the first “illusion”  is an excellent illustration of what we do in community – what we do at our neighborhood gatherings.  We create something together that is added to the world. We create meaning – something which is incredibly important to do.  As David Bohm writes in his book, ON DIALOG:

I”m saying that it is necessary to share meaning.  A society is a link of relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together.  But it only works if we have a culture – which implies that we share meaning; i.e., significance, purpose and value.  Otherwise it falls apart.  Our society is incoherent, and doesn’t do that very well; it hasn’t for a long time, if it ever did.

This is really what drives me, this realization of how important and necessary to the survival of humanity this creating of shared meaning (which is really just the same thing as learning to be neighbors in other words) is, and how important it is for each of us to live meaningfully and with purpose.
I’m extremely thankful that, perhaps without fully realizing how important our gatherings are, and with little “philosophizing” about what we are doing, we are sharing the fruit of putting these ideals into practice.  And, as Jack Nicholson might remind us, “that ain’t bad”.

We Speak Love Here

I’ve had another one of those sleepless kind of nights, but this time I can’t blame it on an overstuffed belly. Please indulge the following diarrhea of words. I almost got up really early since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, and because I had an almost overpowering urge to express my thoughts. Was it George Carlin or someone else who said that sometimes he really felt ambitious, like there was something he felt that he just really needed to do, and whenever that happened, he learned that he could just lay down and eventually the feeling would go away. Well I was already laying down when the feeling came… so what do I do? I get up and write a message to my neighbors.

It was more than just an urge to express my thoughts, actually. Am I the only one, or has anyone else had this kind of experience – a feeling that you have something to do… and you kind’a know what it is, but you can’t exactly put it into words? It’s not exactly a feeling that something needs to be done either… it’s more like a desire or urge… like needing to pee really badly… but getting up to pee doesn’t make the feeling go away. I also have to confess that I’ve had this urge or desire for many years. Last night (or very early this morning) I remembered a biblical story (hey, it’s Sunday morning… indulge me more) that I related to a lot before becoming a confused teenager. It was the story of Samuel, who, as a very young boy, was sleeping in the Temple and heard someone calling his name. So, thinking it was the priest, Eli, who was calling him, he got up and asked Eli why he had called him. The story is in 1 Samuel 3 and I won’t go into further detail… but I found it interesting that Samuel had this experience at night when he was trying to sleep. Is it possible that there’s this voice that “calls” each one of us, but, like the voice that another prophet (Elijah) heard on the mountain, it can’t be heard in the thunder of life, but only when we are quiet and able to listen? I think almost all my neighbors know that I spend about an hour every morning listening (or meditating and praying), and sometimes I “hear” that voice but more often not… but every morning I express my desire in a prayer to have ears that are open to hear, and eyes that are open to see. Maybe the answer to that prayer comes when I’m trying to sleep. On the other hand, maybe it was something I ate.

Anyway, a lot went through my mind last night but I won’t share it all here. I’ve been thinking quite a bit (and not just last night) about our last gathering. If you were there, you will know what I’m referring to; if you weren’t, it might be enough just to write that there was a very clear expression of anger and hurt that made everyone very uncomfortable and continued until another neighbor interrupted. She said that one of the reasons she was coming to the gatherings was that they were for her, a refuge, a safe and comfortable place to come away from the stress and strain of the week. Another neighbor echoed her feelings. I mentioned that the main reason I had started the gatherings was so that we could learn how to be neighbors – neighbors care for one another – and we need to learn how to do that. Some of us grew up in homes where caring for one another just didn’t happen and so we didn’t learn how to do it… and even if we know how, we can always improve with practice.
I’m really glad that the expression of anger and pain happened – even though it was uncomfortable. I think maybe some healing took place… or at least the opportunity for healing was there. Our gatherings really are not for personal therapy – we are not trying to “cure” anyone – although that may be a byproduct. Our gathering is a microcosm of our society, so, if there is a “cure”, it’s the beginning of a much larger “cure”. Because we are all connected, there is no such thing as an individual healing.

Learning to be neighbors and learning to care for one another is really like learning a new language. Language expresses our understanding of reality, our view of the world. Unfortunately, the language we hear most often is an expression of rage, of disappointment, disapproval, condemnation, disgust, bitterness and discouragement. We form patterns of speech ourselves that express destructive feelings and thoughts. We hear that language in our heads in our ‘self” talk and the destructive patterns become habit – an addiction we can’t break in isolation from others. If you grow up in China, you’ll speak Chinese. If you grow up in an atmosphere of hostility, you’ll know a lot of cuss words.

I believe it is very, very important that, in the process of learning to become neighbors, that we learn to speak a language expressing encouragement, hope, compassion, cheerfulness, kindness… the language of love. That’s what the sign on our refrigerator means:

We speak love here… Please become fluent.

Something Significant

Hi Neighbors,

It’s 3:00am and I’m not sleeping.  Instead, while my body is attempting to deal with the overload of food I put in it last night at the Progressive Dinner, my mind won’t shift into sleep mode. One thought in particular won’t quiet down.
Last night, as we sat around the table in Ginny’s lanai just before we began to eat, Ron looked at me from the opposite end of where I sat and said, “Well Don, you’re at the head of the table so it’s up to you to say something significant.”  I replied, “But I don’t know anything significant!”.  
I lied.
The truth was that I did know something significant.  It was in plain sight.  ‘Significant’ … an important sign… something that needs to be interpreted because it has valuable meaning.  
I was thinking about a story I’d heard:  A farmer brought his family to town to eat at a restaurant.  Before they began eating they bowed their heads and the farmer said a short prayer of thanksgiving.  Some men at the next table were amused by this, and one of them said, “Hey Farmer!  Do they all do that where you’re from?”  The farmer thought for a moment and replied, “Well, no… the pigs don’t.”
Eating food together is an ancient religious ritual practiced by every known culture.  It is an activity filled with symbolic meaning.  The ancients believed that when they ate, they weren’t simply consuming calories, they were consuming the essence or spirit of an animal, or if it was a vegetable, the spirit of the earth.  They  consumed life so that they could live and share life in community.  Like breathing, where ‘spirit’ (pneuma) or air was taken in to the body, and then given back, life was not something that could be stored or used only for individual gain.  Existence required both receiving and giving. Eating food and concepts of sacrifice went hand in hand.  
So, right in front of me at the table was a sign – a symbol of community. In graphic form it looked like this:

The symbol means that just as everyone receives, each of us has something to offer, something that will meet a need of another and contribute to the Whole.  None of us is worthless.  What we’ve received we haven’t earned; it’s ALL a gift – form a source outside of ourself.  A gift of the whole universe, the earth, the sky, loving labor.
Something else that we should be able to see as we interpret the symbol of a meal is that everything is sacred. Spirituality cannot be separated from the details of life or reserved only for “Holy Days” (holidays) or special religious gatherings.  Wherever and whenever we gather, and for whatever purpose we gather, we are always sharing life or Spirit.  Different religions may use different forms of language to express this idea, but under all the excess baggage of dogmas, creeds, sacraments, traditions, and clerical orders, you’ll find this common concept. 
The difference between pigs and humans, is that a pig, even though it is just as interdependent in its environment as a human, and both a receiver and a giver of life, it doesn’t have the capacity to be aware of it – to be ‘mindful’ as a Buddhist might say (  Whether we are ‘mindful’ or not, is our choice.
I’m especially mindful of my most excellent neighbors this morning, who are willing to share life with me, especially in the forms of good food, laughter, and love.
Now, leave me alone and let me sleep.

Update on Neighborhood Gatherings

Hi Friends, Family and Neighbors,

Thought I’d provide another update on our Neighborhood Gatherings to those interested.  Unfortunately, I can’t share the same kind of optimism and excitement that I’ve shared in past updates.  I’m afraid that we’ve become stuck and I’m not sure what to do about it.  Yes, we still have Gatherings at our house every Tuesday, and we are still having fun (the last Progressive Dinner was great!), but we are not seeing growing numbers of involved neighbors and we have not been able to see the start of a network of Gatherings.  On the other hand, I’m more convinced than ever that, (1) we (human beings) are facing economic, ecological, and social crises that could lead to a major collapse of global civilization, and (2), the root cause of the various crises is a pathology existing in the way we humans relate to one another and with nature.  Just this morning I read a news article here that should act as a warning to any complacent person.  At this point in our evolutionary history, we don’t need change, we need transformation.  
There is hope – and no, it isn’t in the “Rapture”, the strange twisted interpretation of biblical apocalyptic writings of J.N. Darby.  Those who are waiting for God to miraculously teleport them off this planet before the Unelected go through the Great Tribulation, are part of the problem if their belief system lulls them into disengaging with those seeking solutions.

If men [and women] are unable to perceive critically the themes of their time, and thus to intervene actively in reality, they are carried along in the wake of change.  They see that the times are changing, but they are submerged in that change and so cannot discern its dramatic significance.  And a society beginning to move from one epoch to another requires the development of an especially flexible, critical spirit.  Lacking such a spirit, men [and women] cannot perceive the marked contradictions which occur in society as emerging values in search of affirmation and fulfillment clash with earlier values seeking self-preservation.  The time of epochal transition constitutes an historical-cultural “tidal wave.”  Contradictions increase between the ways of being, understanding, behaving, and valuing which belong to yesterday and other ways of perceiving and valuing which announce the future.  As the contradictions deepen, the “tidal wave” becomes stronger and its climate increasingly emotional [“Tea Parties”].  This shock between a yesterday which is losing relevance but still seeking to survive, and a tomorrow  which is gaining substance, characterizes the phase of transition as a time of announcement and a time of decision.  Only, however, to the degree that the choices result from a critical perception of the contradictions are they real and capable of being transformed in action.  Choice is illusory to the degree it represents the expectations of others. – Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness.

I think the reason why our Gathering has become stuck, is that we’ve adopted a trivial purpose for gathering (planning for Neighborhood events).  My drive for unification (love) – my desire to create community, has overpowered my drive to engage in social transformation (power).  I haven’t achieved a balance between power and love.  Love without power is anemic. I think some of the ideas that I’ve presented in my website ( are pointing in the right direction.  I’ve failed to introduce dialog into our Gatherings to discuss them.  Not too late though.

The Talking Stick

The talking stick has been used for centuries by many American Indian tribes as a means of just and impartial hearing. The talking stick was commonly used in council circles to designate who had the right to speak. When matters of great concern came before the council, the leading elder would hold the talking stick and begin the discussion. When he finished what he had to say he would hold out the talking stick, and whoever wished to speak after him would take it. In this manner the stick was passed from one individual to another until all who wished to speak had done so. The stick was then passed back to the leading elder for safe keeping. 

Some tribes used a talking feather instead of a talking stick. Other tribes might have a peace pipe, a wampum belt, a sacred shell, or some other object by which they designate the right to speak.

Whatever the object, it carries respect for free speech and assures the speaker he has the freedom and power to say what is in his heart without fear of reprisal or humiliation.

Whoever holds the talking stick has within his hands the sacred power of words. Only he can speak while he holds the stick; the other council members must remain silent. 

When a friend of mine offered me this stick, I immediately said, “Wow!  A Talking Stick!!”  I remember hearing about such a stick or object used in other “Conversation Circles”, but the only time I saw its use was in a demonstration at an American Indian Pipe Ceremony. I had no idea how to introduce it to our gathering of neighbors, or even if I should, but one Tuesday evening, when we had an unusually large group show up, I spontaneously suggested we use it in order to allow everyone to speak and not take too long.  I noticed that when the stick was held, the person speaking seemed to be more relaxed and free to speak—and others seemed to pay more attention and listen better.  I did a Google search and found, among many, the article above.

A microcosm of the becoming world?

Last Saturday morning, I opened my garage door, walked outside (a beautiful day), and I looked down the street at my neighbors house, two doors down. There, behind a small utility trailer in the driveway sat two neighbors, looking relaxed and happy, in conversation with one another. They waved, I waved, and I walked down to see what they’re doing. They’re fixing the trailer lights. We had noticed that the lights on the trailer weren’t working when we loaded these two guys in the trailer (see picture above) for our neighborhood “Christmas Walkabout”. It was a little dangerous to pull them around behind a car in the dark of night, but we kept our flashlights on as we walked behind them, caroling and stopping at several homes where our merry band enjoyed hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and many snacks.
So, on this Saturday morning one neighbor who could barely walk, had driven himself over to another neighbor who couldn’t walk, and was performing an act of loving-kindness. I was choked up.
It’s not THAT unusual for one neighbor to demonstrate kindness to another. I’m sure that almost everyone has experienced at least one act of kindness from at least one of their neighbors. What choked me up about this event, was that if it hadn’t been for our neighborhood gatherings, it wouldn’t have occurred. No one would have known that the trailer lights weren’t working and when it was discovered by my neighbor, he most likely would have had to take the trailer to a professional to get them fixed. These acts of kindness have been multiplying, in fact. One very busy neighbor finds time to make some delicious chicken soup and take it to another neighbor when she hears that they are sick. Another neighbor helps fix a car. Another one has helped at least two other neighbors with their computers. Another mows his neighbor’s lawn. The list could go on and on. These neighbors are really getting to know one another and enjoy being together. They are now becoming enthused about helping others to start gatherings in their neighborhoods. For that reason, they painted a sheet of plywood for the city to put up on the road leading to City Hall.

Last year we hosted a neighborhood barbecue, blocked off a street and had a neighborhood block party, collected and donated school supplies, had a Halloween party, a Christmas dinner, an ethnic potluck dinner for New Year’s Eve, wore funny hats and played poker until 1:30 in the morning of New Year’s day… and between 15 and 25 of us gather every Tuesday just to care for one another and find out what’s going on in each other’s life. I read recently that every community gathering should be a microcosm of the way we would like the world to be. If the whole world could become like our neighborhood is becoming….

Luke 10:25-37 :: Who’s Your Neighbor?

Luke 10:25-37 :: NIV Bible Online

The parable of the Good Samaritan offers one of the best descriptions of neighborliness that I’m aware of. From it we learn that:
  • Our neighbor may not share our same worldview, economic status, culture, or race. In fact, our neighbor, rather than being one of us, might be one of them. If this is so, if they are our neighbors, they must be one of us. The barriers between us and them, like the Berlin Wall, must come down.
  • Love for our neighbor is not something different than our love for God. If we are to love God with ALL our heart, soul, strength, and mind, we can have no love which is outside or other than our love for God. This must mean that our neighbor is included in the ALL of our love for God – or, in other words, ‘God’ must include our neighbor. ‘God’, rather than being ‘Wholly Other’ as some theologians have claimed, must be the Cosmic Whole. This supports a theological position known as ‘panentheism’ (not ‘pantheism’), a natural theology which overcomes the alienating effects of supernatural theism.
  • Love for our neighbor is not something different than our love for our self. The only way we can love our neighbor as our self, is if our ‘self’ includes our neighbor.
The parable is told in answer to the question about how it might be possible to inherit ‘eternal life’. It’s interesting that Jesus, who Christians claim to be the best authority and resource concerning such questions, doesn’t offer as an answer, “Well, you must pray this little prayer and accept me as your Personal Savior.” Perhaps eternal life is not gained as easily as has been supposed by most evangelical Christians. But then, it also seems that they have misinterpreted what is meant by ‘eternal life’. It would have helped if the Bible translators had more accurately used the phrase, ‘life of the age to come’, rather than ‘eternal life’. The original language pointed to a quality of life that could be possessed now, rather than a quantity of life (immortality) which could only be experienced after one died – a “pie in the sky, by and by”.
The lessons taught by Jesus in the parable can be summarized as follows:
If you have a desire to experience of different quality of life – a life characterized by love, peace, joy, hopefulness, and which includes the experience of community and belonging, you must begin to recognize God in your neighbors, and your neighbors as members of your ‘self’.

How Do We Save the World?

The following is an email discussion with my younger brother which began with the topic of Global Warming:

Bro: All right, I’ll stipulate that man-made global warming is occurring. The next question is: How long do we have? Should we go by AlGore’s assertion? I think it was 10 or 12 years ago when he said sea levels would rise by 20 feet within the next 10 or 12 years. Whatever it is, just give me the time line.

Second question, based on that time line, what shall we do?

Me: Well, make up your mind, please. In one message you scoff at what you called a “map of the future”, and now you demand a “map of the future.”
Apparently the military is preparing for something within the next 20-30 years:

Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

But, I’m not sure I understand your question. Are you asking how long do we have before the human species becomes extinct along with most of the other life forms on the planet if we continue our business as usual, or are you asking how long we have before we reach the tipping point at which nothing can be done to reverse or stop the damage we’ve already done? I don’t know the answer to either question. However, I do think the questions are valid. Furthermore, I don’t think the concern is simply with global warming. We face the prospect of more pandemics (the Swine Flu virus may be just a start), nuclear holocaust, clean water shortages, a breakdown of civil society as the economy continues to collapse, major fuel shortages (especially as China and India come online as their economies develop), and mass migrations of starving populations. Are all these things to be considered seriously, or should we be amused at all the “Chicken Littles” that seem to have been hatched in the last 10-15 years?

As to your question about what we should do, I think a better question is, what should we be become? Hope may lie in advanced technology or new scientific discoveries, but I’m thinking that before we can “fix” the world, we need to figure out what is fundamentally wrong with it. And what is fundamentally wrong with it is us. In order to save the world, it seems to me, we need to evolve.

Bro: So the military is preparing for “it”. Presumably, their preparations are designed to protect at least the United States. It may be warm, but we’ll be safe from the…”it”.

The time line I’m looking for is pretty much as I asked – If we believe AlGore, any day now California will be flooded. I had expected something a bit more gradual, but I’ve not done the research.

If it is more gradual, do we have the time to contemplate what should be done? Or should we scurry about and engage in useless and even harmful efforts (see “corn for fuel”), just because we believe we’ll be doing something that might prevent something we firmly believe (we once firmly believed the world is flat – I still wonder about that one) will happen?

All right, let’s evolve then. Who wants to go first? No volunteers, or not enough volunteers? How about our friends, Kim Jong or Mahmoud? Once they evolve, I’m certain others will follow. Clearly, we need some sort of governmental policy that will force people to evolve.

On top of that, as I understand evolution, there also needs to be some sort of cataclysmic event that will wipe out the former species, so that the improved species that survives will become the majority. So to evolve, it may be necessary for California to be underwater.

But let’s assume that we can evolve without submerging land masses. How do we do it?

As far as me making up my mind about maps, I stipulated that global warming is real and man made. So I’ll accept your map as well.

Me: It? Perhaps if you go back and read the quote you can substitute “it” with the threat that the military is preparing for.

Apparently you’ve watched THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW too many times and you’re not paying attention to what others are saying. The projected collapse of systems is not a sudden cataclysm, but a long slow descent.

We are already evolving. But still… personal development and transformation seems to involve a choice.

Bro: Thanks for that. And you are not answering any questions. Let me try to re-phrase it:

Given that the climate is changing, and

Given that man is responsible for that change, and

Given that we must evolve to meet these challenges and save the planet from destruction

How should we evolve?

Me: Excellent question!! Here’s what a few others are saying about the need for an evolution of human consciousness:

The global economic meltdown of 2008 is only a prelude to severe problems facing the next generation: inflating national paper currencies, massive unfunded social liabilities, energy and water shortages, global warming, continuing religious conflict … the list of serious structural problems facing our children is daunting.

Human cultural evolution from the perspective of Spiral Dynamics:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Romans 12:12

Parameters of a Positive Transformation

The data we have just reviewed tells us that we are approaching a critical condition: Our world has become economically, socially, and ecologically unsustainable. Persisting in the values and practices of the rationalistic, manipulative civilization of the modern world will create deepening rifts between rich and poor, young and old, informed and marginalized, and could make the biosphere inhospitible for most of humanity. To survive in our planetary home, we must create a world better adapted to the conditions we have ourselves created.

Can we create a more adapted world? This question can be more precisely stated. Can the power- and wealth-oriented civilization of the Industrial Age be effectively and sufficiently transformed to ensure the survival and well-being of the entire population? Civilizations are not eternal; they are subject to change, even to fundamental transformation. Past civilizations have transformed thoughout history; could ours transform as well?

The Challenge of the Next Transformation

The road on which we find ourselves is about to divide. In the span of this next few years the evolution of our civilization will take a new direction. Can we make sure that it takes a good direction?

Finding a positive direction for the next transformation of civilization is a challenging but not an insuperable task. We know that a viable new civilization must evolve a culture and consciousness very different from the mindset that characterized most of the twentieth century. Logos-inspired civilization was materialistic and manipulative, driven by the search for wealth and power. The alternative to it is civilization centered on human development, and the development of the communities and the environments in which humans live their lives. –Ervin Laszlo, THE CHAOS POINT; THE WORLD AT THE CROSSROADS

Bro: Terrific! I think platitudes are great, as long as they don’t affect policy.

Me: Platitudes, eh? Let’s see… A platitude is a trite, meaningless, biased, or prosaic statement that is presented as if it were significant and original.

What’s so great about ’em?

Bro: When people don’t have real solutions (even if the problem is imaginary), platitudes give them hope, and something to do. It keeps them occupied while I go about my business.

It’s when those platitudes become policy prescriptions that they become dangerous. When the state tells me that I must evolve, and how I should evolve, that’s when I become concerned, indignant, pissed off, and so on.

On the other hand, as GEICO might say, “evolution is so easy, even a caveman could do it”.

Me: I really do appreciate your wit. Your last sentence cracked me up. At the same time, your reply came across as rude and insulting. Is that how you meant it? Is that the way you experience my messages? I keep trying to avoid a pissing match, but you seem to continue pissing. In fact, I just received a call from someone who has been reading our conversation, and they asked me why you were angry. Are you angry? Are you angry at me? Or, are you just reflecting back some of the anger you feel is coming from me. I don’t think I’m angry… maybe I am. But, I’m not angry at you.

Bro: Yes, I am a little pissed off.

As you know, I always enjoy a good debate. But I think something more important than a good time is at stake here.

The political pendulum swings back and forth. From time to time it is more conservative, and then there is a backlash and it becomes more liberal. And then it reverses again. In general, that’s a good thing. Even though I’m a conservative, limited government guy, I recognize that liberal movements have occasionally brought about good things, and that a strictly conservative country might cause some other problems.

However, liberals and their lapdog media have installed a president, administration and legislators that put us on the brink of socialism. Once we go down that path, it’s damned near impossible to go back. I don’t want our country to be socialist. Conservatives, a lot of “independents”, and a growing number of democrats are recognizing the danger. And it’s dangerous enough that we should be pissed off.

As for our debate, I still don’t know what you want to have happen. That we must “evolve” is vague. And I’m not sure if you want government to lead us down the path to that evolution. But even if you don’t, your arguments seem to go hand in hand with the philosophy of the president and his administration. My concern is that you add to the dangerous voices that want to weaken our national defense, destroy our will to achieve, punish success and reward slackers, create “sustainable systems” that will eventually destroy our environment, and create more of the same problems that you wish to solve.

I don’t see how you can save the world without government coercion. And it’s primarily because of government coercion that we need to save the world. So as you rail against, Bush, corporations, “polluters”, conservative principles, God, etc., I feel compelled to point out the danger of your arguments.

I’m perfectly happy with the idea that we should be good neighbors, and we should love each other. But I don’t want the government telling me how to do that. And it has the opposite effect. The more the government takes from me and gives to others, the less desire (and means) I have to do it on my own. And I was better at it than the government.

I love you like a brother, bro. But as you know, I have difficulties with what I consider to be faulty and dangerous reasoning. And for the good of our relationship, I’m finished pissing.

Me: Thanks for clarifying your position, and I’m glad that it’s not necessarily me that you are pissed off at – just my “liberal” ideas. I recognized from the beginning the pissed off rhetoric coming out of you was sourced in conservative America. Change is very threatening. A large part of our population is made up of “Bible Believers” who were already on the defense against modernism and now they are having to deal with postmodern ideas. They seem clueless as to what it is all about. They find many postmodernists agreeing with them in their arguments against scientism but not agreeing with them that the Bible should be used as a science textbook. They want to argue with the modernists who claim that God is dead, but they become very confused when the postmodernists join the conversation and ask, “To what, when you use the term ‘God’, are you referring?” And then, to make matters worse, they find their country led by a president whose views are shaped by Liberation Theology, which really throws them for a loop. And finally, to top it all off, they find themselves being criticized by the Progressive Christians for their ethics (and they thought they had a monopoly on those), their idolatry (and they thought they had the only “true” religion), and their nationalism (and they thought they were citizens of Zion). No wonder they are pissed. I can also understand why, if you think the debate is simply between the socialists and the capitalists, you are pissed off also.

You said in your last message that you don’t know two things: (1) you don’t know what I want to happen, and (2) you don’t see how the world can be saved without government coercion (or at least how I can save it without government coercion). I was going to try to explain what I meant when I said that the world can only be saved if we evolve – but I didn’t see much hope that a pissed off person would try to understand. Some of the answer to that question was contained in the quotes from others – but if all you read were platitudes….

As for the 2nd thing you don’t know, I don’t know how I could make it clearer to you. I’m an anarchist!!!! I’m more opposed to government involvement than you are. I’ve tried to explain this in hundreds of different ways – but all you can hear are certain shibboleths constructed by the conservatives – and if I don’t say them correctly, then I must be one of those goddamn socialists. Well Bro, I ain’t no socialist.

Bro: Perhaps you can explain what an anarchist is. Here are three definitions:


a person who advocates or believes in anarchy or anarchism.


a person who seeks to overturn by violence all constituted forms and institutions of society and government, with no purpose of establishing any other system of order in the place of that destroyed.


a person who promotes disorder or excites revolt against any established rule, law, or custom.

I assume 1 and 3 more closely match what you believe. Frankly, aside from whether or not to use government to achieve your aims, I don’t see much difference between what you and Obama want.

Me: ‘An-‘ = no, ‘archy’ = rulers. I would be a Libertarian except that I’m not convinced that government is a necessary evil. If you had followed my line of reasoning concerning the modern justification for government based on Hobbes ideas, and why I consider his reasoning to be flawed, you might have been able to uinderstand my position. Before Hobbes, the justification for the existence of government was based on the idea that rulers exist by Divine decree – or another way of putting it is, that kings were given a Divine Right to rule over others. I don’t think that is a good justification for government either. I’ve never met a political leader who, in my estimation, is wise enough, or loving enough that I would want him/her to rule over me. Besides, dominating and controlling another person is not a very nice thing to do. If you were interested in theology (and you’ve told me you aren’t), I could give you some very strong arguments for why I don’t believe even God has, or uses power in the mode of domination and control.

#1 comes the closest but it is a terrible definition and doesn’t define anything. An anarchist is an anarchist? #2 isn’t even close because I believe we should eschew violence in all its forms. #3 is one of the dumbest definitions I’ve seen. Where’d it come from? But, ‘anarchy’ is still simply an inadequate label.

I want peace on earth and goodwill among all people. I want there to be reconciliation between man and God. I want the mind/body split to be healed. I want the damn preachers to shut up, sit down in a friendly circle with the “laity”, and admit they really don’t know what the “truth” is, and learn what dialog is all about. I want us, as human beings, to realize that we are internally related to one another and to everything else in the universe – and consequently to realize that everything has intrinsic value. I want to love my neighbors (and a neighbor, according to the parable of the Good Samaritan doesn’t necessarily share my religion, race, or values) as myself – because my neighbor is included in my self. I want the helpless to be helped, the hungry to be fed, and the sick to be cared for. I want each person to realize that they have something unique to contribute to others and to be able to contribute joyfully. I want people to live lives full of meaning and purpose with hope. I probably could list a whole lot of other wants also – but I want at least those things. Does Obama want those things? If so, we share the same wants. Is that what you meant?

Oh… and one other thing. I want to be able to buy beer on Sunday before noon so that I can have some to take to the beach with me if I want. And I promise I won’t take glass bottles of beer on the beach.

Bro: I don’t know Hobbes, I’m not interested in theology, philosophy, modernism, post-modernism or many other ys, isms, posts, etc. (Well, I do like my Grape-Nuts.) What I am interested in is practicality. And, except for waiting for evolution to take its course, there is no practical way to create the world you want.

Further, I don’t see any real solutions in what you want for the practical problems you believe in. (By the way, I believe in some of those problems, and agree that less government is the solution – I even believe that God does not exert direct control over us.) But we cannot enjoy our lives, our land, our property, our time without some form of government. Even in that fabled world of Star Trek, where nobody needed money for anything, there were still villains that would prevent utopia. In fact, within the staff of the Enterprise itself, there were the few bad eggs.

Me: When I was in high school I could see no practical reason to take Geometry. Later, when I had to square a foundation, lay out a set of stairs, cut plywood to sheet a roof with a valley and hip, I wished I had paid more attention. Theory and practice go hand-in-hand. Are you telling me that you have no interest in trying to understand the patterns of life we see all around us? Why are you so sure that ideas don’t change the world? If you were to read, for instance, some of the classical works concerning political theory of Plato, Alexander the Great, Cicero and Ceasar, you would find that there was a universal assumption that they all shared – a large slave population was required to support civilization. Slavery was the presupposition of political theorists then. Freedom is the presupposition of political theorists now. What changed? Practically all of the problems Plato discussed are still with us. Examining ancient patterns of thought and comparing them with the patterns of today we discover the growth of ideas – like the idea that human beings have essential rights based solely in their humanity. You might call those ideas platitudes.

I don’t understand how you can be so sure of your opinions. Are you absolutely positive we can’t enjoy our lives, our land, our property, our time without some form of government? Isn’t it possible that you are blinded by your presuppositions about the need for government just as the people of earlier civilizations were blinded by their presuppositions that civilization required slavery? Well, I’m not as sure as you are. For right now, I want as little government as possible and I’ll consider recourse to force, whether in the general society or between individuals, to be a failure of civilization. And I won’t immediately dismiss as impractical, the ideas that someone offers if they present an alternative to government.

Bro: And yes, I’m not pissed off at you. Mostly exasperated. The hypocrisies in your writings really get my goat. You eschew labels, yet you’ve got more labels than I can shake a conservative stick at. In one paragraph, starting with “liberal”, I count 10 labels. And apparently, some of the people you put under those labels piss you off. That seems a long way form establishing peace and good will.

Me: I won’t deny that hypocisies might be found in my writing. However, your goat might not get so got if you would pay more attention to what I actually write than what you read into them. I have never written that we should eschew labels. The only time I used the word “eschew” was when I wrote in the last message that I believe we should eschew violence in all its forms. If you were more aware of postmodern thought you would know that we can’t communicate without using labels (or symbols). The problem is not that we use labels, but that we think that labels are definitive – that we often fail to understand just how limited we are in using labels. What pisses me off, is when some of those people who apply labels to themselves (like they are REAL AMERICANS) and labels like “Liberals”, “Socialists”, and “Communists”, to those like me, and then try to use the power of government to force me to be like them – or forbid others to have the same freedom they do.

Bro: Then there was a comment a few e-mails back (I can’t find it now) about humility. Yet you want to save the earth. You are willing to tell me (and the conservatives, the bible believers, corporations, governments, etc.) what’s wrong with my viewpoint. You want to tell me how I should evolve.

Me: I said we should be more humble in our opinions, yes. Especially since we are so incredibly ignorant (and notice I include myself). So, you think humility and wanting to save the earth aren’t mixable? Again, it seems that you might assume too much. Wanting to save the earth and having the capacity and being able to save the earth are not the same thing.

I believe these conversations began when I shared my viewpoint. If my viewpoint differs from yours, do you consider that to mean that I think yours is wrong? I’ve tried to explain many different ways that we need to accept others with different worldviews – because all of our worldviews are partial. I wrote very clearly that I don’t like to use categories of “right” and “wrong”. In fact, if you go back, you will find that you, very early in the conversation, said that, “I did not state that your descriptions of liberal and conservative were not broad enough. I stated that they were inaccurate, or wrong.” Bad habits die hard, so I can’t deny that I never have said someone’s ideas were wrong – but it is the “bible believers” and the conservatives who are convinced that they stand on the side of “truth” and “right”. The rest of us just have to muddle along as best we can. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t able to use critical thinking skills though.

Bro: There’s nothing less humble than the Orwellian idea of monitoring peoples motives. Yet you tell me I must love my neighbor. I don’t, and I won’t. I’m not out to get them either, and if they need a hand, I’d be glad to help. But I find them boring, and don’t wish to spend time with them. I’m guessing that in your view, that makes me a bad person, resistant to evolution.

Me: Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor and told the story of the Good Samaritan. The story was about lending a hand when someone was in need. Now, what do you think is involved in loving our neighbor? I certainly don’t think you are a bad person. I let people like our Uncle decide who the bad people are. He was quite nice in letting me know that I was going to hell because I had joined the Unitarian Universalists.

Bro: You also never come straight out and say what you want. Peace on earth ain’t gonna solve global warming. Reconciliation between God and man won’t get the tomatoes to market. That still requires carbon based fuels. Somewhere in all those stated desires, there must be the unstated part: what’s really going to solve our crises? A humble spirit, it seems, would put your plan out there, rather than incrementally trying to change minds.

Me: Plan? You gotta be kidding me. I don’t even have a plan for what I’m doing tomorrow. I leave planning up to the practical people.

Bro: Now, if you get your neighborhood together and they love each other, that’s great. I don’t see a prescription for world peace in that.

I can buy beer on Sundays now, but I don’t have a beach…

Me: Then my vision is not your vision, is it? My vision is not that of just a few neighbors who are learning how to care for one another – I see a whole world of neighbors doing that. And when that happens, we’ll have world peace. But it has to begin somewhere, right? But, even if world peace never comes, I’m seeing tremendous changes happen right here in my life and in my neighbors lives. And that ain’t bad – for me, anyway!!

Bro: Then, by your own definition, you’re not an anarchist.

Me: You are a great brother and I’m thankful that you are willing to explain to me what my beliefs are. If I’m not an anarchist, what am I? As I’ve already explained, I would be a Libertarian except that, as I understand that position, I would have to agree that government is a necessary evil. Now, the term ‘necessary’ has certain philosophical connotations that you may not be aware of – because you have voluntarily limited your awareness of philosophy – so I won’t try to explain what some of those connotations might be. Nevertheless, as a practical matter, I can’t live in a government-free environment at this time – maybe never in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that such an environment might possibly exist and be taken for granted at some future time – especially if we humans don’t wipe ourselves off the planet first.

Bro: An = no. So an anarchist would want no government, not “as little government as possible”. You might be a somearchist.

Me: Some of us anarchist don’t want anyone to rule over us. Unfortunately, until we humans evolve, we can’t get rid of the rulers right now, so we’ll settle temporarily with limiting their power.