Monday, April 23, 2018

"Why The Other Side Won’t Listen to Reason"

"Why The Other Side Won’t Listen to Reason"
by David Cain

"At some point during your first year as a human being, the adults throw a real curveball at you. They expect you to start understanding what right and wrong mean. These lessons come in the form of mysterious reactions that follow certain things you do. After you pull all the books from the bottom shelf onto the floor, quite a feat for a one year-old, they scold you for some reason. When you pee in the correct place, they praise you. It’s completely baffling, but over time you get a sense that adults are extremely preoccupied with classifying actions into two broad categories: okay and not okay, or good and bad.

You quickly gather this is how the world works. And there is some logic behind what’s rewarded and what’s punished: “bad” actions are usually (but not always) ones that hurt, annoy or inconvenience other people, and “good” actions usually (not always) help in some way, or at least don’t hurt anyone.

This classification system is so strongly emphasized by the adults that you develop a keen sense of it yourself. You see rights and wrongs everywhere, particularly where you stand to gain or lose something personally: in the fair distribution of treats, in acknowledgement for chores done, in which cartoon characters deserve to be happy (or in a police wagon) at the end of the episode. 

Seemingly everything is morally relevant. There are right and wrong ways to speak, play, fidget, ask for things, touch people, and express your feelings. The rules are endlessly detailed and idiosyncratic. There are right and wrong places to sit or stand, things to wear, things to stare at, even expressions to have on your face. Some acts are okay in one place and very bad somewhere else. The adults insist that navigating this sprawling bureaucracy is simple: just be good.

You make use of this system. You argue your case to your parents when your sibling takes something of yours, or plays with a coveted toy too long—if you feel slighted, there must be wrongdoing, and you say so, perhaps listing reasons why you’re right. You petition teachers to take action against other kids who are being greedy, annoying, or mean, and you defend yourself when you’re the one being accused.

There’s Something Fishy About the Way We Judge: By adulthood, morality has become such an intuitive part of our thinking that we barely realize when we’re making a moral judgment.

Hundreds or thousands of times a day we assess the character of another person. We feel we know enough to commend or condemn (usually condemn) a person from the way they park, a word they chose to use in their comment, the state of their front lawn, how they stand in a queue, what they laugh at, where and when they look at their mobile phones, how long they take to get to the point of their anecdote, or any of ten thousand other morally salient micro-actions.

Our moral sense works with great speed and force. Every news article - even the headline alone -gives us a strong, immediate, and seemingly unmistakable sense of which are the good and bad parties involved. Virtually every time we feel annoyed, we reflexively assert some wrongdoing on the part of another human being, even if it’s someone we’ve never seen. If service is slow, some employee is being lazy or inconsiderate. If traffic is crawling it’s because the city always schedules construction work at such stupid times. If an item’s price is unexpectedly high, some greedy CEO is getting paid too much.

There’s something fishy about all this moralizing. We treat our moral feelings and judgments as though they’re truly all-important; seemingly, nothing deserves as much energy and attention as determining the right and wrong of everything done and said in the human world, and lamenting that world’s failure to meet our idea of what’s right. (For endless examples, just check Twitter.) Yet for all their importance, we’re extremely flippant with our moral judgments. We make them all day long, with ease and even a kind of pleasure, and very little second-guessing. Maddeningly, other people have almost perfectly opposite positions on the same moral issues - drug policy, immigration, pornography, whether mayo belongs in guacamole - and they cast their judgments with the all the same ease and certitude.

You’d think that if determining right and wrong were truly what’s important to us, we’d be far more careful about making judgments. We’d want to gather a lot of information before saying anything. We’d seek opposing viewpoints and try to understand them. We’d offer people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. We’d be very wary of our initial emotions around the topic, and very interested in how our personal interests might be skewing our conclusions. We’d refrain from making conclusions at all if we didn’t need to.

In other words, we’d employ the same reserved, dispassionate, self-scrutinizing ethic we use to examine questions about anything else: physics, history, biology, engineering, business, or any other arena of understanding where premature conclusions can create a big problem. We’d have a keen, ongoing interest in learning how we might be wrong.

But we’re not like this at all. We make moral conclusions freely, immediately, and without self-scrutiny, recruiting as much emotional tilt as possible. We dismiss counterpoints reflexively, as though it’s dangerous to even consider changing our minds. We only rarely admit that an issue is too opaque or complex to be sure what to think.

Why are we so smart and careful when it comes to figuring things out in most areas of inquiry, and so dumb and impulsive when it comes to moral questions, which are supposedly the most important ones to get right?

Why We’re So Stubborn: Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt sheds a lot of light on our confused moral psychology in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion.  It’s a fascinating read, but the main punchline is that our moral sensitivity didn’t evolve in order to make us good at determining right and wrong. It evolved to help us survive and thrive in highly social environments.

Our moral feelings are quick and reactive because they developed to aid us in real-time social interactions, not in careful, solitary periods of reflection. These feelings are often conflicting and illogical because they adapted to meet a number of different social goals:

Our desire to protect the vulnerable, and our hatred for cruelty and carelessness, adapted to motivate us to keep children safe at all costs, and keep potentially dangerous people away
Our resentment for cheating and unfairness adapted to help us avoid getting exploited by the rest of our group
Our respect for loyalty, and our fear of betrayal, evolved to help us form coalitions, and identify disloyal people before they make trouble
Our attitudes towards authority, and those who subvert it, conferred an advantage at positioning ourselves within social hierarchies
Our moralizing around cleanliness and the sanctity of bodies, sex, and bodily functions, adapted to help us avoid infection and disease 
It’s no wonder our moral intuitions are so strong, quick and often thoughtless. They are essentially survival reflexes, conditioned by our upbringing and our instincts.

Our moral reasoning - our capacity to explain why something is right or wrong - comes only after our emotional intuitions, if at all, and is tuned for persuading others of our value to the tribe, not for helping us find the most sensible moral stances.

Haidt describes our moral reasoning as working much like a press secretary or company spokesperson - its purpose is to justify positions and actions already taken, using any explanation that sounds passably good in the moment, true or not.

Note that none of the above social goals require our moral feelings to be fair or logically sound, and in fact, that can be disadvantageous - a tribe that viewed all outsiders as predators likely would have protected its children better than a tribe that was most concerned with never falsely accusing someone of being dangerous.

In other words, our moral intuitions are strongly tuned to make us groupish and tribal, not even-handed and insightful. And our moral reasoning is tuned more for soliciting approval from others than for actually discovering moral truths.

This explains why we’re so susceptible to rhetoric, prejudice, selective hearing, and fake news. It also explains why it’s strangely pleasurable to take hard moral stands, no matter how poor or nonexistent the reasoning behind them - hard stands, declared publicly, reliably generate a small flood of praise and approval from the tribe that shares those positions.

You can see what a powder keg this moral psychology is liable to create in an increasingly global, internet-connected society, composed of people from many different backgrounds, all of whom enjoy getting Retweeted, Liked, and Favorited.

It’s why, when it comes to politics, the other side simply doesn’t listen to reason. Of course, all of us are on someone’s other side."

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"There Comes A Time..."

“Gaza Deserves Our Support”

“Gaza Deserves Our Support”
by James J. Zogby

“To say that the situation in Gaza is deplorable and desperate is an understatement. That impoverished strip of land on the Eastern Mediterranean has been deplorable and desperate for decades.

I traveled to Gaza many times during the 1990’s, in my capacity as co-Chair of Builders for Peace, which was a project launched by Vice President Al Gore to help grow the Palestinian economy. My colleagues and I were unprepared for what we found. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who led one of these delegations, described what he saw as “worse than Soweto.”

During the first quarter century of its occupation, Israel pursued a policy described by Sara Roy as the, ”de-development of Gaza.” There was no investment in infrastructure, with the local population reduced to a cheap pool of labor working either as day laborers in Israel or as poorly paid sub-contractors working for Israeli exporters. The poverty of the place was palpable, as was the congestion. Gaza is among the most densely populated places on earth.

Because 70% of Gazans are refugees living in camps, they received education, some medical and social services thanks the UNWRA – the United Nations agency created to provide for Palestinian refugees. But not much more.

In Jabalya Camp, we saw little children walking through a pool of water in the middle of a dirt road. Since it hadn’t rained in days, we asked about the source of the water and were horrified to learn that it was open sewage – the result of the fact that there were no paved roads in that part of the camp and no sewage system.

The Strip’s best agricultural land had been taken by Israeli settlers.  Palestinians who farmed on the land that remained had difficulty exporting their product unless they worked with Israeli middlemen reducing their ability to make a sustainable profit. We heard the same complaint from small manufacturers.

A number of the American business leaders that Builders for Peace brought on our visits were interested in investing and developing partnerships with Palestinian businesses but were discouraged from doing so when they learned that there would be restrictions on their ability to import raw materials and export finished products.

A visit to the border revealed the hardships faced by the tens of thousands of Gazans who relied on day labor employment in Israel. Because, by Israeli law they could not overnight in Israel and they were forced to leave their homes before dawn to get to the border before 6 am in hopes of being selected for a day’s work in construction, agriculture, or janitorial services. The lucky ones were loaded on trucks taken to their jobs and, at the end of the day, they were driven back to the border. Exhausted, they got home late at night to sleep and then to repeat the process the next day.

In 1996, I was honored to be a part of the Carter Center’s team monitoring the first Palestinian election. The lines of voters were long and the excitement was real. I documented poignant scenes of men and women spending long hours waiting for their chance to cast their first-ever ballots in an election they believed was to be the first step to independence.

The last time I went to Gaza during the Clinton Administration, I accompanied President Clinton as he addressed a meeting of the Palestine National Council and cut the ribbon opening Gaza’s new airport. Despite Palestinian (and US) frustration with the Netanyahu government’s declared intention to end the Oslo peace process, there was still hope in the air.

As desperate and deplorable as conditions were in Gaza back then, in many ways, those were the “good years”.

Likud hardline policies, violence, and provocation, coupled with Hamas’ instigated acts of terrorism served to make a bad situation worse. Ariel Sharon’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza and his refusal (despite US Secretary of State Condoleza Rice’s entreaties) to allow for an orderly hand-off of the administration of the Strip to the Palestinian Authority, paved the way for an eventual Hamas take-over.

What followed was a complete Israeli blockade of Gaza, creating even greater Palestinian impoverishment. Three punishing Israeli wars on Gaza (in 2008, 2012, and 2014) left over 3,800 Palestinians dead, 15,000 wounded, and an already dilapidated infrastructure even more devastated by deliberate Israeli targeting of civilian sites, like a sewage reservoir and a chicken processing plant. In all three wars, there was clear evidence that Israel committed war crimes.

The blockade was especially cruel with the Israelis allowing in only enough food to provide for the minimum caloric intake to sustain life and no support to infrastructure repair. Ninety-five percent of Gaza’s water is contaminated and undrinkable and most residents receive only between two to four hours of electricity daily. Poverty levels have reached extreme levels as has unemployment. For the last three decades, youth unemployment has hovered between 70% to 80% – meaning that most young Palestinians in Gaza have never had a job and have no prospect of a job. It breaks my heart when I read of the despair of a young protester in Gaza who was recently quoted saying “No peace, no jobs, no unity, and no future, so what difference would death make? If we are going to die, then let it not be in vain.”

To their credit, the people of Gaza have during the past three weeks embarked on a mass non-violent protest, terming it the “Great March of Return.” Fearing a non-violent mass movement, the Israelis have, true to form, responded with overwhelming violence, while attempting to cover their unconscionable behavior with denial and deceit. They positioned 100 snipers on earthen mounds on their side of the border, and during the past three weeks they have shot and killed 32 Palestinian protesters, wounding another 1,300.

While the Israelis have claimed that those whom they shot were threatening to breach the border, Israeli human rights groups have documented that the overwhelming majority of those hit were hundreds of yards from the border fence and even those few whom the Israelis said were throwing incendiary devices were over one hundred yards away – their action being more symbolic then threatening.

The entire affair has been more like a “turkey shoot” then a military confrontation, with innocent protesters who are captives in the world’s largest open air prison being randomly picked off by sniper fire. Even more sickening was the recently released video of a sniper shooting and hitting a Palestinian while his fellow snipers cheered his success. The Israeli response to this video has been to call for punishing the maker of the video and not the sniper who killed the unarmed protester.

Some have dismissed the entire “Great March” as a Hamas ploy. But such a charge is both patently false and cruel. The effort was launched by civil society and while Hamas has embraced it, it should be endorsed by all Palestinian factions and not left to Hamas to be the effort’s only sponsor.

When Palestinians use non-violent means to make their case, whether in mass mobilizations or through the BDS movement, they should be encouraged and supported. To deny them this right is to say that they have no right to protest their conditions and they should, as one Israeli leader has cruelly suggested, “go home and get on with their lives.”

In the weeks ahead, I hope to see Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan join this “Great March”. Attention must be paid to this long-suffering people, whether they be the desperate in Gaza, or their compatriots who also long for and deserve that the world acknowledge their right to be recognized as equal human beings.”

“Multivitamins Are Not Only Ineffective, But Dangerous”

“Multivitamins Are Not Only Ineffective, But Dangerous”
by Derek Beres

"For many years, when my doctor would ask what vitamins or supplements I consume on a regular basis, I would reply by saying "a multivitamin." Never once in all those years did she (or he; I’ve bounced around a bit) ask what type of vitamins were included in the cocktail. No question of percentages, minerals, vitamins - just a head nod and a mouse click. A few years ago I stopped saying "multivitamin" because I stopped taking one, and he (or she) never asked why, recommended advice, anything. They simply unchecked the box.

For more than half of Americans - 68 percent of adults over age 65 - a multivitamin (among a few, or many, supplements) is part of the daily ritual. Overloading your body with five or ten times the recommended daily allowance of this or that vitamin is treated as folk wisdom. It’s such basic science that questioning it seems like a complete waste of a thought.

Problem is, the National Institute of Health spent $2.4 billion studying vitamins and supplements only to find out they really don’t work. As Pieter A. Cohen writes in JAMA: “During the past 2 decades, a steady stream of high-quality studies evaluating dietary supplements has yielded predominantly disappointing results about potential health benefits, whereas evidence of harm has continued to accumulate.”

This includes clinical trials showing that vitamin E, once promoted as heart healthy, actually increases your risk of heart failure and prostate cancer. Multivitamins do not prevent cancer and heart disease; St John’s wort will do nothing for your depression; Echinacea is no match for the common cold. In smokers, beta-carotene increases the risk of lung cancer. 

A large part of the problem is how comfortable we are swallowing pills with no understanding of what they contain. Whenever we feel slightly off we immediately imagine the pill that will alleviate the distress. Pain, however, is a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring the signal doesn’t solve the problem, it only prolongs the agony.

Since multivitamins have predominantly been marketed as healthy or, at the furthest end of the spectrum, benign, we’ve overlooked the fact that many are, in the long run, damaging. No vitamin or mineral is without effect. Because we don’t exactly understand how these pills operate should not mean we want to pop as many of them as possible.

Cohen points out that while vitamin and supplement bottles must include the standard “not evaluated by the FDA” jargon, most eyes pass right over the small print, instead focusing on unproven health claims scripted in bold, bright letters.

This has caused a number of researchers to remind us that we get all the vitamins we need on our plates. Even those eating a “Western” diet - which is the culprit of America’s obesity epidemic - achieve the basic requirements our bodies require. There is simply no proven track record showing that the isolation of certain vitamins from the foods that contain them is beneficial.

This is not to say some people don't require certain vitamins or minerals for a variety of issues. That's a different case from overloading your body with a flood of them hoping something works. 

As Marjorie McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, is paraphrased in the NY Times: “It’s possible that the chemicals in the fruits and vegetables on your plate work together in ways that scientists don’t fully understand - and which can’t be replicated in a tablet.”

Physician Paul Offit agrees. In study after study Offit shows that cancer and heart disease rates increase with the consumption of vitamins and supplements. A few examples:

A 1996 study in Seattle of 18,000 people showed that people exposed to asbestos who were taking megavitamins with large doses of vitamin A and beta-carotene were 28 percent more at risk of developing lung cancer and 17 percent more at risk for developing heart disease. 
A 2004 study in Copenhagen conducted 14 randomized trials with 170,000 people and discovered that those taking large amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene were more likely to develop intestinal cancer. 
A 2005 study at John Hopkins School of Medicine performed a meta-analysis of 19 studies with over 136,000 people. Those taking megavitamins were at an increased risk of early death. 
Another 2005 study of 9,000 people published in JAMA found increased risks of cancer and heart disease in those taking large doses of vitamin E. 
A 2011 study at the Cleveland Clinic involving 36,000 men found a 17 percent increased risk of prostate cancer in those consuming vitamin E and/or selenium.

Regarding the antioxidant craze - and certain levels of them are healthy - Offit notes that oxidation is required to “kill new cancer cells and clear clogged arteries.” Overloading on antioxidants reduces your body’s ability to do this.

Fruits and vegetables contain many other ingredients that appear to, as McCullough mentions above, boost the efficacy of vitamins. Offit continues: “Half of an apple has the antioxidant activity of 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C, even though it contains only 5.7 milligrams of the vitamin. That’s because the phytochemicals that surround vitamin C in apples enhance its effect.”

American regulatory bodies have been too lax in their policing of vitamin and supplement manufacturers. Many are either blatantly lying or ignorant of the science behind the products they’re selling. The dietary supplement industry raked in over $32 billion in 2012, most of which profited from junk science, or at best, unproven claims. That’s great business for those companies. Unfortunately, it’s terrible for us.”

Why am I not surprised at never hearing about this?

Musical Interlude: Two Steps From Hell, “Evergreen Extended”

Two Steps From Hell, “Evergreen Extended”

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, "Teach Me to Whisper"

Liquid Mind, "Teach Me to Whisper"

"A Deep Look to the Heavens

"In 2003, the Hubble Space Telescope took the image of a millenium, an image that shows our place in the universe. Anyone who understands what this image represents, is forever changed by it."- YouTube/NASA

"It helps to put things in perspective here on our frenetic little planet with a look at this extraordinarily powerful and moving video of the Hubble Space Telescope mapping of the Universe, whose known size is 78 billion light years across. The video of the images is the equivalent of using a "time machine" to look into the past to witness the early formation of galaxies, perhaps less than one billion years after the universe's birth in the Big Bang.

The video includes mankind's deepest, most detailed optical view of the universe called the Hubble Deep Field (HDF). One of the stunning images was assembled from 342 separate exposures taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) for ten consecutive days. Representing a narrow "keyhole" view stretching to the visible horizon of the universe, the HDF image covers a speck of the sky only about the width of a dime located 75 feet away. Though the field is a very small sample of the heavens, it is considered representative of the typical distribution of galaxies in space because the universe, statistically, looks largely the same in all directions. Gazing into this small field, Hubble uncovered a bewildering assortment of at least 1,500 galaxies at various stages of evolution.

Most of the galaxies are so faint (nearly 30th magnitude or about four-billion times fainter than can be seen by the human eye) they have never before been seen by even the largest telescopes. Some fraction of the galaxies in this menagerie probably date back to nearly the beginning of the universe. "The variety of galaxies we see is amazing. In time these Hubble data could turn out to be the double helix of galaxy formation. We are clearly seeing some of the galaxies as they were more than ten billion years ago, in the process of formation," said Robert Williams, Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute Baltimore, Maryland. "As the images have come up on our screens, we have not been able to keep from wondering if we might somehow be seeing our own origins in all of this."

"A Gathering of the Tribe"

  "A Gathering of the Tribe"
by Charles Eisenstein

"Once upon a time a great tribe of people lived in a world far away from ours. Whether far away in space, or in time, or even outside of time, we do not know. They lived in a state of enchantment and joy that few of us today dare to believe could exist, except in those exceptional peak experiences when we glimpse the true potential of life and mind.

One day the shaman of the tribe called a meeting. They gathered around him, and he spoke very solemnly. "My friends," he said, "there is a world that needs our help. It is called Earth, and its fate hangs in the balance. Its humans have reached a critical point in their collective birthing, and they will be stillborn without our help. Who would like to volunteer for a mission to this time and place, and render service to humanity?"

"Tell us more about his mission," they asked.

"I am glad you asked, because it is no small thing. I will put you into a deep, deep trance, so complete that you will forget who you are. You will live a human life, and in the beginning you will completely forget your origins. You will forget even our language and your own true name. You will be separated from the wonder and beauty of our world, and from the love that bathes us all. You will miss it deeply, yet you will not know what it is you are missing. You will only remember the love and beauty that we know to be normal as a longing in your heart. Your memory will take the form of an intuitive knowledge, as you plunge into the painfully marred earth, that a more beautiful world is possible.

As you grow up in that world, your knowledge will be under constant assault. You will be told in a million ways that a world of destruction, violence, drudgery, anxiety, and degradation is normal. You may go through a time when you are completely alone, with no allies to affirm your knowledge of a more beautiful world. You may plunge into a depth of despair that we, in our world of light, cannot imagine. But no matter what, a spark of knowledge will never leave you. A memory of your true origin will be encoded in your DNA. That spark will lie within you, inextinguishable, until one day it is awakened.

You see, even though you will feel, for a time, utterly alone, you will not be alone. I will send you assistance, help that you will experience as miraculous, experiences that you will describe as transcendent. For a few moments or hours or days, you will reawaken to the beauty and the joy that is meant to be. You will see it on earth, for even though the planet and its people are deeply wounded, there is beauty there still, projected from past and future onto the present as a promise of what is possible and a reminder of what is real.

You will also receive help from each other. As you begin to awaken to your mission you will meet others of our tribe. You will recognize them by your common purpose, values, and intuitions, and by the similarity of the paths you have walked. As the condition of the planet earth reaches crisis proportions, your paths will cross more and more. The time of loneliness, the time of thinking you might be crazy, will be over.

You will find the people of your tribe all over the earth, and become aware of them through the long-distance communication technologies used on that planet. But the real shift, the real quickening, will happen in face-to-face gatherings in special places on earth. When many of you gather together you will launch a new stage on your journey, a journey which, I assure you, will end where it began. Then, the mission that lay unconscious within you will flower into consciousness. Your intuitive rebellion against the world presented you as normal will become an explicit quest to create a more beautiful one.

In the time of loneliness, you will always be seeking to reassure yourself that you are not crazy. You will do that by telling people all about what is wrong with the world, and you will feel a sense of betrayal when they don't listen to you. You will be hungry for stories of wrongness, atrocity, and ecological destruction, all of which confirm the validity of your intuition that a more beautiful world exists. But after you have fully received the help I will send you, and the quickening of your gatherings, you will no longer need to do that. Because, you will Know. Your energy will thereafter turn toward actively creating that more beautiful world."

A tribeswoman asked the shaman, "How do you know this will work? Are you sure your shamanic powers are great enough to send us on such a journey?"

The shaman replied, "I know it will work because I have done it many times before. Many have already been sent to earth, to live human lives, and to lay the groundwork for the mission you will undertake now. I've been practicing! The only difference now is that many of you will venture there at once. What is new in the time you will live in, is that the Gatherings are beginning to happen."

A tribesman asked, "Is there a danger we will become lost in that world, and never wake up from the shamanic trance? Is there a danger that the despair, the cynicism, the pain of separation will be so great that it will extinguish the spark of hope, the spark of our true selves and origin, and that we will separated from our beloved ones forever?"

The shaman replied, "That is impossible. The more deeply you get lost, the more powerful the help I will send you. You might experience it at the time as a collapse of your personal world, the loss of everything important to you. Later you will recognize the gift within it. We will never abandon you."

Another man asked, "Is it possible that our mission will fail, and that this planet, earth, will perish?"

The shaman replied, "I will answer your question with a paradox. It is impossible that your mission will fail. Yet, its success hangs on your own actions. The fate of the world is in your hands. The key to this paradox lies within you, in the feeling you carry that each of your actions, even your personal, secret struggles within, has cosmic significance. You will know then, as you do now, that everything you do matters. God sees everything."

There were no more questions. The volunteers gathered in a circle, and the shaman went to each one. The last thing each was aware of was the shaman blowing smoke in his face. They entered a deep trance and dreamed themselves into the world where we find ourselves today."
"Who are these missionaries from the more beautiful world? You and I are surely among them. Where else could this longing come from, for this magical place to be found nowhere on earth, this beautiful time outside of time? It comes from our intuitive knowledge of our origin and destination. The longing, indomitable, will never settle for a world that is less. Against all reason, we look upon the horrors of our age, mounting over the millennia, and we say NO, it does not have to be this way! We know it, because we have been there. We carry in our souls the knowledge that a more beautiful world is possible. Reason says it is impossible; reason says that even to slow- much less reverse- the degradation of the planet is an impossible task: politically unfeasible, opposed by the Money Power and its oligarchies. It is true that those powers will fight to uphold the world we have known. Their allies lurk within even ourselves: despair, cynicism, and resignation to carving out a life that is "good enough" for me and mine.

But we of the tribe know better. In the darkest despair a spark of hope lies inextinguishable within us, ready to be fanned into flames at the slightest turn of good news. However compelling the cynicism, a jejune idealism lives within us, always ready to believe, always ready to look upon new possibilities with fresh eyes, surviving despite infinite disappointments. And however resigned we may have felt, our aggrandizement of me and mine is half-hearted, for part of our energy is looking elsewhere, outward toward our true mission.

I would like to advise caution against dividing the world into two types of people, those who are of the tribe and those who are not. How often have you felt like an alien in a world of people who don't get it and don't care? The irony is that nearly everyone feels that way, deep down. When we are young the feeling of mission and the sense of magnificent origins and a magnificent destination is strong. Any career or way of life lived in betrayal of that knowing is painful, and can only be maintained through an inner struggle that shuts down a part of our being. For a time, we can keep ourselves functioning through various kinds of addictions or trivial pleasures to consume the life force and dull the pain. In earlier times, we might have kept the sense of mission and destiny buried for a lifetime, and called that condition maturity. Times are changing now though, as millions of people are awakening to their mission all at the same time. The condition of the planet is waking us up. Another way to put it, is that we are becoming young again.

When you feel that sense of alienation, when you look upon that sea of faces mired so inextricably in the old world and fighting to maintain it, think back to a time when you too were, to all outside appearances, a full and willing participant in that world as well. The same spark of revolution you carried then, the same secret refusal, dwells in all people. How was it that you finally stopped fighting it? How was it that you came to realize that you were right all along, that the world offered to us is wrong, and that no life is worth living that does not in some way strive to create a better one? How was it that it became intolerable to devote your life energy toward the perpetuation of the old world? Most likely, it happened when the old world fell apart around your ears.

As the multiple crises of money, health, energy, ecology, and more converge upon us, the world is going to collapse for millions more. We must stand ready to welcome them into the tribe. We must stand ready to welcome them back home.

The time of loneliness, of walking the path alone, of thinking maybe the world is right and I am wrong for refusing to participate fully in it... that time is over. For years we walked around talking about how wrong everything is: the political system, the educational system, religious institutions, the military-industrial complex, the banking industry, the medical system- really, any system you study deeply enough. We needed to talk about it because we needed to assure ourselves that we were not, in fact, crazy. We needed as well to talk about alternatives, the way things should be. "We" should eliminate CFCs. "They" should stop cutting down the rain forests. "The government" should declare no fishing zones. This talk, too, was necessary, for it validated our vision of the world that could be: a peaceful and exuberant humanity living in co-creative partnership with a wild garden earth.

The time, though, for talking merely to assure ourselves that we are right is coming to an end. People everywhere are tired of it, tired of attending yet another lecture, organizing yet another discussion group online. We want more. A few weeks ago as I was preparing for a speaking trip to Oregon, the organizers told me, "These people don't need to be told what the problems are. They don't even need to be told what the solutions are. They already know that, and many of them are already in action. What they want is to take their activism to the next level."

To do that, to fully step into one's mission here on earth, one must experience an inner shift that cannot be merely willed upon oneself. It does not normally happen through the gathering or receiving of information, but through various kinds of experiences that reach deep into our unconscious minds. Whenever I am blessed with such an experience, I get the sense that some benevolent yet pitiless power- the shaman in the story- has reached across the void to quicken me, to reorganize my DNA, to rewire my nervous system. I come away changed.

One way it happens is through the "gathering of the tribe" I described in this story. I think many people who attended the recent Reality Sandwich retreat in Utah experienced something like this. Such gatherings are happening now all over the world. You go back, perhaps, to "real life" afterwards, but it no longer seems so real. Your perceptions and priorities change. New possibilities emerge. Instead of feeling stuck in your routines, life changes around you at a vertiginous pace. The unthinkable becomes commonsense and the impossible becomes easy. It may not happen right away, but once the internal shift has occurred, it is inevitable.

Here I am, a speaker and a writer, going on about how the time for mere talk has ended. Yet not all words are mere talk. A spirit can ride the vehicle of words, a spirit that is larger than, yet not separate from, their meaning. Sometimes I find that when I bow into service, that spirit inhabits the space in which I speak and affects all present. A sacredness infuses our conversations and the non-verbal experiences that are becoming part of my events. In the absence of that sacredness, I feel like a smart-ass, up there entertaining people and telling them information they could just as easily read online. Last Friday night I spoke on a panel in New York, one of three smart-asses, and I think many in the audience left disappointed (though maybe not as disappointed as I was in myself). We are looking for something more, and it is finding us.

The revolutionary spark of our true mission has been fanned into flames before, only to return again to an ember. You may remember an acid trip in 1975, a Grateful Dead concert in 1982, a kundalini awakening in 1999- an event that, in the midst of it, you knew was real, a privileged glimpse into a future that can actually manifest. Then later, as its reality faded into memory and the inertial routines of life consumed you, you perhaps dismissed it and all such experiences as an excursion from life, a mere "trip." But something in you knows it was real, realer than the routines of normalcy. Today, such experiences are accelerating in frequency even as "normal" falls apart. We are at the beginning of a new phase. Our gatherings are not a substitute for action; they are an initiation into a state of being from which the necessary kinds of actions arise. Soon you will say, with wonder and serenity, "I know what to do, and I trust myself to do it."

“How Little Boys Learn To Be Little Men”

“How Little Boys Learn To Be Little Men” 
by David Cain

“Even in the information age I still occasionally encounter an otherwise reasonable person who insists that men really do think about sex every seven seconds. A little thinking reveals this to be pure nonsense—it would mean the average man has been perturbed by over 500 sexual fantasies before he even arrives at work. Yet you still hear it said with a straight face. (Scientists estimate that even college students usually only have about twenty sexual thoughts a day, not seven thousand.)

This not uncommon belief is so astronomically distant from the truth that some strange social force must be at play for even a single person to believe it. After all, we’re not talking about some kind of esoteric knowledge—50% of the population has direct access to a random sample of the data. For this belief to have become as popular as even a mid-tier myth like “gum takes seven years to digest”, think of how many men must have felt like they had to pretend, when the topic came up, that they were thinking about sex several hundred times more often than they actually were.

It’s hilarious, and kind of fascinating, that anyone could get it that wrong. But having once been a boy, and knowing how boys learn to be men, I can see how it happened. 

My dad’s eight feet tall: Conformism is the bedrock of our survival strategy as humans. Even when we have no idea what to do, which is often, we know that doing what everyone else is doing is a safe enough bet. Boys learn how to be men by emulating the boys and men around them. However, because everyone is doing this same kind of posturing and pretending, the system is subject to a feedback loop problem. Boys are emulating boys who are emulating men who were once those same boys, each of them with a variety of ludicrous ideas about what it means to be a man.

There’s no reality check mechanism into this system. Among boys, everyone kind of knows everyone else is full of shit, but there’s no precedent for being candid. My experience of being a boy was full of moments like this: “My dad’s seven feet tall!” my friend said, for some reason. “Well my dad’s eight feet tall!” I found myself saying immediately.

Clearly I made that claim without a single thought about whether it was true, or even of the importance of truth at all, at least in any kind of situation where someone is trying to outdo you (or your dad). I don’t know if I continued to argue that particular point about dad-height, but that impulse towards one-upmanship, along with a corresponding aversion towards backing down, was always there as a general dynamic in every boy-to-boy relationship.

This unchecked cycle of posturing leads to the feedback loop that can spawn, among other ridiculous myths, the old canard about men living every moment of their lives with a private sexual fantasy going on.

If everyone’s constantly pretending, who is it they’re pretending to be? And what are the chances that person really is on the inside what they appear to be from the outside? Let’s say young boys of the 1950s saw John Wayne as the ideal man and modeled themselves on him. Was John Wayne even like John Wayne? Of course he wasn’t—any on-screen image is always going to be simpler, more uniform, more uncompromising and uncomplicated than any real person. Even the people who knew The Duke personally wouldn’t have seen the bottom nine-tenths of the iceberg that was his private internal experience. Few of us advertise our self-doubt and existential worries, and I imagine that goes double in Hollywood.

So the kids trying to be like him built themselves on a false image built on other false images. And then they became dads. It’s such a common story that it’s a cliché now: a man meets his childhood hero and is devastated to find that he’s fallible, even pathetic—a drinker, a liar, a steroid cheat. And if they don’t have that disappointing but enlightening experience, they keep on posturing, becoming grown men who will, if pressed, earnestly try to convince you they’ve never actually cried. The feedback loop has driven them into the realm of what pop culture now calls douchebaggery—living as a persona that’s all posture and no candor.

The Yin-Yang Myth: The runaway feedback loop starts at playground age, when our ideas of masculinity are pretty basic. The main tenet is “Don’t be a girl”. This must be why many grown men and women still think that masculinity has no meaning aside from “not being girly”. But if you revisit the issue as an adult you can see it’s not true. The good qualities we associate with masculinity are strength, decisiveness, dependability, upright posture, and a few others. But clearly these qualities aren’t exclusive to men, they’re just the ones manliness emphasizes; nobody with any critical thinking ability seriously believes women are intrinsically weak, indecisive, unreliable and slouchy.

We take the yin-yang image, with its clean lines and stark tones, much too literally. Masculinity and femininity aren’t opposites. They aren’t even yinyang mutually exclusive. They are loose groups of universal human qualities, each benefiting us at different times, but which are usually celebrated more in one sex than the other. We can all be nurturing; we can all be aggressive. We can all be stoic and we can all be sensitive.

If there’s a starkness anywhere, it’s in which of these universal qualities we men and women are supposed to advertise, and which we’re supposed to downplay. I was told not to be a girl, and that meant don’t draw unicorns, don’t wear pink, don’t cry if anyone can see you, and don’t skip. And definitely don’t tell a man you love him unless you add the word “man” at the end.

We learn these rules so young that they have to be simple and kind of dumb. But the earlier we learn something, the harder it is to challenge and refine our views on it. And if we’re not challenging a given view we’re probably reinforcing it.

So it was really encouraging to see Maria Popova’s piece on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s creativity research. He found that high-achieving creative men and women tend to exhibit both masculine and feminine qualities to a greater extent than the general population.

In all cultures, men are brought up to be “masculine” and to disregard and repress those aspects of their temperament that the culture regards as “feminine,” whereas women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers. (from Csikszentmihalyi’s book "Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention")

Note that these people aren’t “keeping to the middle”. They’re doing the opposite. By reaching freely into both conventional territories, they have access to modes of thinking and interacting that are usually unavailable to most of their peers and competitors.

A person who is willing to embrace qualities beyond the stereotypes for their gender “in effect doubles his or her repertoire of responses and can interact with the world in terms of a much richer and varied spectrum of opportunities.” Letting ourselves make use of the whole human toolbox sounds like a good deal to me. These findings also suggests that relaxing our gender expectations isn’t only a social justice concern—it could also help us become a smarter and more capable species. You can probably imagine, as one example, how our foreign policy ideas might change if there were fewer grown men afraid to look too girly in their responses to problems."”

"There Are Simply No Answers..."

“How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.”
- Barry Lopez

The Poet: gk thomas, “Wretched of the Earth”

“Wretched of the Earth”

“Poor kids,
wretched of the earth,
why should we feed you?
Why shouldn't we empty our sea of
bullets into your swollen bellies or
poison you with toxic chemicals
or depleted uranium?
Why should we care,
we who are living well?

Where is it written in stone
that you deserve better?
Or that we are not animals
subject to the law of nature:
kill or be killed?

You suspect us of being cruel,
but we are kind.
Our god tells us so.
It is yours that lies.

So you cry at night,
shivering in the cold,
or sell yourselves
for a slice of bread.
What is that to those of
us who are living well?”

- gk thomas

And we, Good Citizens, to our eternal shame and disgrace, allow, and pay, for this...