Thursday, December 13, 2012

As Christmas Approaches

Lately I've had a few conversations with Christian fundamentalists who've judged me harshly, and have told me I'm going to hell unless I repent and get "saved."

Saved from what? They apparently want me to surrender what I have experienced as truth, in favor of what they imagine they know. They believe that by forsaking my own radically subjective life experience and embracing their Bible book learning I'll somehow come to a higher truth than the one I have come to already, through plunging into the depths of myself and surrendering to what I've met there. In their belief system, God rejects those who opt to experience the fullness of life through radical self-inquiry, while favoring those who study someone else's experience of life, and who choose to worship that.

No, thank you.

I was raised Catholic, but through my own inner work I've found a spirituality that far surpasses the limitations and boundaries of that Catholic doctrine. I no longer conceive of God as some good, big sky-man who judges humanity (and who rules over a place called heaven that's filled with people who are being rewarded for believing in Jesus) while engaging in a fierce war with a fallen angel named Satan (who inspires evil and rules over some fiery brimstone place down-under called hell, where the bad people go to get punished for all of eternity.)

I have come to realize that God is infinite/eternal ALLNESS, so ineffable in its awesomeness that human language, thought, metaphor, story lines and beliefs can't possibly contain or capture it. It is beyond dualities, freer than thought, more spacious than the entire universe. It is all things, thus no-thing. It is absolute stillness, out of which all of creation, form, life, love and expression manifests. It has created, nurtures, contains - and flows through - everything, thus there is nowhere it is not.

I therefore find all of reality holy; all life sacred and all relationships divine.

To be told my thoughts are vile and I can only be saved from eternal damnation if I embrace Jesus as my savior hurts my heart. I've already embraced Jesus in a more profound way than just reading about his life and works and celebrating them, while rejecting all insights from anybody else. My love for Jesus's insights (and those of Buddha, and Krishna, and Lao Tsu, and Muhammed) is so great that I resolved to follow in his footsteps. From the depths of my personal suffering, and out of a desperate longing to truly know God and be free of the heaviness of my inner torment, I plunged inside myself and dropped everything that was of this world to beg God to reveal the truth of itself to me. And what I discovered during my journey is there is nowhere God is not...including inside those who are as yet unaware of the "godness" of their own nature. To condemn anyone then, is to condemn God. The God that made us, flows within us, contains us, nurtures us, and to which we will all return when our human forms disintegrate.

Sadly, many Christians seem to be missing out on the point of their own faith. The ultimate message of Christ was to exhort us all to have faith in our own capacity to shed our egos, our stories, our dogmas, our beliefs, our desires, our ambitions, and our social conditioning at the unlocked doorway of our own heart; at which point we can enter - naked and utterly surrendered to the not knowing, like little children - to at last meet and fully realize the "godness" within ourselves. It has always been there, closer to us than our own skins, waiting patiently for us to stop seeking it somewhere outside of ourselves. The illusion that we have ever been separate from it is the Great Lie. Yet this lie can only be exposed for what it is when we personally take the trip inside of ourselves to discover the truth for ourselves. As Gangaji says, "The diamond was always right there, inside your pocket."

This is also what's meant when the saints and mystics say, "die before you die." We all must die to self, sooner or later. By grace, we've been gifted the option to do so while still alive. What a gift that is! We can meet God during our precious lifetime, and by doing so we can become a conscious, living channel by which God's energy can flow freely into this world, through the gateway of our open heart. How wondrous it is to be a living, conscious witness to the joy of God's love flowing into the world through you, touching and serving others in ways that elevate and enhance the life experience of everyone and everything you meet.

That experience is the story of Jesus, Buddha, and all the great mystics and saints who have graced this world with their presence. It can be your story as well. The truth is, you are worthy beyond measure of having that experience, through grace and by the existence of the ever-unlocked door that is your own heart. But you must have faith that you are worthy - despite your greatest fears that you are not - before you can pluck up the courage to seek and discover the truth of yourself.

Fear of what you might find waiting for you once you turn around at last to face yourself is the only barrier that exists to entering the Kingdom of Heaven that exists inside you; and that fear has been created by your own mind. It's the monster under humanity's spiritual bed; the shadow that darkens so many of our nightmares. It's the interior story we carry that informs us we're not worthy of entering heaven, because we're somehow separate from that which is ALL-loving.

You cannot be separate from that which you're inextricably and integrally a part of; you can only be smaller than its sum totality, incapable of mentally encapsulating the infinite vastness of the eternal whole. Is your blood cell unworthy of being a part of your body, although it has little knowledge of what it is in? Is a fly unworthy of being a part of its natural ecosystem? Is our sun unworthy of being a part of our Milky Way galaxy?

Does not your body love and care for your blood cells? Does not the natural ecosystem provide for the needs of the fly? Does not the Milky Way hold our sun and energetically feed it? And are all these components not reabsorbed by the larger whole system that holds them upon their deaths? And do not each of these aspects - in their tiny but precious way - contribute to the miracle that is the whole?

Because the mind, which is a temporary, physical expression of the body, cannot imagine that which is infinite and eternal, the mind fears it, so it conjures stories about how scary God must be. Your heart though, will always point you to truth - the True North that is unconditional love - if you set it free and allow it to guide you home. You have the power to shine the light of your own heart's unconditional love on the mentally generated monsters underneath your spiritual bed, and watch them vanish like the shadow wraiths they are.

One of my favorite lines from a wonderful Sufi poet and mystic is this: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there." ~Rumi

And so I invite everyone, this blessed Christmas season, to make some time to explore the eternal field of love that exists within the infinite spaciousness of your own heart, and to realize God for yourself, alive within yourself...

...and I will meet you there.

Merry Christmas, my loves.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Open Letter to Those Who Promote Private Ownership

I'm often confronted by those who feel affronted by comments I sometimes make about private property ownership, and how ultimately it enslaves us. We've been conditioned to equate ownership with freedom, as in the more we own, the more freedom we gain. Capitalism, of course, is founded on the principle of private property ownership, and we're taught that capitalism is the freest system ever designed. To that I say, rubbish. Life itself is the freest system ever designed! Capitalism is just another way to attempt to control life, so that some can claim disproportionally greater power than others. Here's my explanation, for what it's worth:

I  define capitalism as the aggregation of money (ie: capital) to fund and direct investment, thus empowering those who have money to decide what gets created, and what does not. Capitalism relies upon private property ownership, because it focuses on individual investors earning profits off whatever they have purchased with their money. Without private ownership and the impulse to benefit personally from that ownership, there would be no need for individual investors.

I don't perceive capitalism as a free system - though it's billed as that - because ultimately those who amass the most capital gain greater control over the economic system and use their power to disenfranchise, or take advantage of, those who have little or no capital. If I have no capital, I have no say in the creation/distribution process. And the more money I have, the more say I have. Dollars vote in our markets; not people. Because of that, people will always be unequal in our system, although we supposedly have equal rights and - conceptually, at least - are equally divine in nature.

As for those who claim socialism requires violence and centralized control in ways that suppress human freedom, they may want to consider the many Northern European nations that are doing very well as socialist democracies...particularly Finland and Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and so forth. These countries are are proving that collectives with common goals can focus on serving the highest good for the individual without subsuming individual freedoms, by removing the worst stressors of capitalism and by encouraging self-actualization. What we believe then, does not always adhere to reality! We can shout all we want about the conceptual evils of socialism and stamp our feet angrily about how what horrid a system it is; meanwhile, those who are living happily and choicefully within social democracies laugh at our silly posturing and continue on with their lives.

Personally, I am not capitalist, socialist, communist, fascist or any other mechanical form of man-made conceptual "ism" that now exists. The only "ism" I embrace is "organism." As an organism, I defer to nature's blueprint to inform me how to relate to and engage with the whole of reality...including all other living organisms.

As a result of having consulted nature's blueprint, I'm no longer a fan of private ownership of anything, or of the private sale of what we're each put here to bring forth from our creative abundance and in self-fulfillment. Everywhere I look in nature, I see helpless and newborn things taking freely whatever they need from the larger environment until they're mature enough to produce what they are born to bring forth; then they gift their fruits back into the world without holding back or controlling their fruits in any way. They surrender whatever they create to all manner of diverse beings who may be able to use them. For most creatures, the act of creating what they are here to create is life fulfillment enough. The net result is natural abundance, because nothing is holding anything back out of greed, or fear or the desire for greater power.

I believe it's a conceit to imagine we humans "own" any part of what we are IN, as we are IN a unified living field upon which we all depend for our survival. To claim we own any part of that fully integrated field is like your toe suddenly claiming it owns your foot. What if your other toes were one day denied access to the crucial resources they needed from your bloodstream, because one toe claimed sovereignty over all that passed through your foot? What if that one toe forced your other toes to do only its bidding in exchange for having their needs met, instead of allowing them to do the work of the larger body that they were designed, created and born to do? 

Nature abhors ownership. Nature is all about the highest possible manifestation and most efficient delivery and use of the greatest gifts each of its differentiated aspects can produce. It inspires a FREE exchange of those gifts across the entire system, so that nothing gets wasted and all life forms are satisfied to the best of the system's capacity to serve them. In nature, every differentiated (specialized) individual serves the larger system that contains it by coming into its own and BEING what it was ever meant to be. In return, the system offers every individual a unified reality far better and more beautiful than what any individual could have provided for itself on its own.

We live in a world of systems within systems within systems. The tragedy of human thinking is that we've been socially conditioned to perceive ourselves as utterly separated - thus disconnected - from all else. What sorrow and loneliness that generates within the human spirit!

Cells belong to a body not so they can self-aggrandize, control or grab additional power, but because by working together as a body they create something that is far greater than the simple sum of cells would indicate. Each cell gains real and lasting benefits by surrendering its independence, without surrendering any of its uniqueness. Specialization enables evolutionary advancement, but we can't specialize unless we allow ourselves to depend upon others who specialize in different areas to serve us, as we in turn serve them. The tradeoff for embracing the freedom to become utterly unique and discretely specialized so we can activate our life passions is that, by doing so, we must then shoulder responsibility for those who are surrendering their ability to do other things, so they in turn can pursue their unique passions, which they then agree to do on OUR behalf.

Imagine if your blood cell charged your liver cell to deliver it food, and your liver cell countered by charging the blood cell an even higher tribute to remove the blood cell's toxins. How long do you imagine your body could survive with such a for-profit "free enterprise" system? The bickering, positioning, deprivation and inevitable piling up of excess resources would quickly cause your body to break down. Such a system leads inexorably to manufactured lack, not to free-flowing abundance. It CREATES poverty; it doesn't alleviate it.

Long ago, when we humans first began to charge each other for our discrete services and attempted to label some services more valuable or worthy than others, we disrupted the natural flow of abundance and energy within our human social system. Why is a plumber worth less than an office manager? Does a brain cell deserve higher status than a heart cell, and should it demand a greater reward in exchange for its work?

Ownership, and the withholding of one's gifts until one is rewarded for their delivery, may work as tricks of the human the mind to hold each other captive for a time, but our larger reality proves our belief in ownership incorrect every time it changes without our permission - through hurricanes, flood, earthquakes, fire, drought, pestilence or any other such shift it chooses to make to "our" turf, without our permission. Ownership implies domination and control, but reality is inherently a free will system. It doesn't care a whit what we humans imagine we control. Reality will act of its own free will despite our best efforts to insist we're in control of certain pieces. It is, by the way, our longstanding refusal to surrender to this universal truth that is the greatest single source of human suffering.

In essence, since we can't truly control the things we claim to own, ownership is really just a clever means we use to brainwash each other. We use the belief in ownership to control other humans, by convincing them they're not allowed to utilize some aspect of the fully integrated, living system we all share. In that way we domesticate each other, creating docile, obedient slaves to what is, at heart, merely a belief system and not the truth of life.

Our conceit can last a long time, and some of us may stumble through our entire lives without being disabused of the notion that we "own" some piece of this larger system in which we're embedded. Or you might (as I have) find yourself suddenly helpless and broken, caught in a situation where the naked truth of your own lack of control smacks you in the face in a way you can no longer deny...which in turn becomes a blessed invitation to surrender your grand illusions of control OVER your own life to the overarching power that IS life itself. Surrender, and it becomes possible to shift your focus away from claiming ownership (driven by an urge for self-preservation within a dangerous, uncaring system) toward the manifestation of whatever is urgently wanting to birth itself into this world through you (full and free participation in the loving system that created, contains and supports you.)

THAT is true freedom; surrendering your fears in order to activate your birthright, so you can fulfill your life's destiny.

Here's a test: If you truly own anything in this life, you should be able to take it with you when you depart this Earth. That you can't even take with you the body you claim as your own is a clue as to the true nature of our residency in this world. Every atom, molecule, cell, being and system that comprises this world belongs to ITSELF - ALL is inherently free.

Too many humans, alas, remain slaves to their conditioned beliefs about the world, and about their "rightful" place in it. For that false assumption, we pay dearly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Follow The Money

Let’s talk about wealth transfer, since that seems to be a hot topic. Everyone’s complaining our government is transferring too much money out of the pockets of working people, and putting it into the hands of the shiftless poor. But what happens to that money once the poor receive it, and why are their hands so empty in the first place?

When it comes to governmental transfer of wealth, the primary beneficiaries have long been the wealthiest 10% of Americans, whose net worth has doubled over the past twenty years. Meanwhile, the net worth of the remaining 90% has barely risen, or – in the case of the poor – has declined. But why, since so many insist lower taxes on the wealthy increases hiring (thus wages and savings) is this so, since tax rates have been on the downswing for many decades?

Over those same decades, the government has been supplementing a steady decline in wages that resulted from the triple consequences of globalization (which enabled corporations to hire foreigners at lower wages) industrialization (which replaced workers with machines) and technological innovations (which reduced the need for brainpower in the workplace.) In a free market system, when demand for any commodity – in this case, human energy – declines, and when supply (our global population) increases, the price of that commodity declines.  This holds especially true when the commodity is labor, which is inelastic. Workers can’t just pull themselves off the market because wages have fallen below their liking. They must work, or their families starve.

The declining need for labor has been concealed by the growth of industrialization, which triggered an offsetting (albeit temporary) acceleration in global development. As we settle into this new reality, however, what’s becoming clearer is that the world doesn’t need billions of humans working forty hours each week to manufacture everything we need. In fact, growth is becoming a problem. Today we’re producing – and wasting – more than is healthy for us, or our planet, to make more jobs just so people can earn a living.

Over time, government spending rose to help offset the steady erosion of wages. Money the government provided to the poor flowed directly to business owners (the 10%) who sell merchandise to the poor. Those same owners receive favorable tax treatments on their business income, as opposed to higher rates paid on ordinary wages.  That places the burden of caring for the poor on laborers, instead of on those who benefit most from all that government spending.

Lately, because taxes no longer generate adequate income for our expanding government programs, our government has been borrowing money to meet its obligations. That borrowing also comes via the wealthy, while wage earners pay interest on that debt through income taxes.

The alarm being sounded about our need to impose fiscal austerity reflects a growing realization that this massive scheme of wealth transfer from the 90% to the wealthiest 10% cannot continue. The middle class is slowly going broke. Meanwhile, the wealthy have discovered they can earn better returns by investing their excess in exotic financial instruments, which disproportionally cost workers additional money when they fail.

Current discussions about our need for fiscal austerity seem disingenuous at best, immoral at worst. That’s because they’re focused on blaming the poor for all our problems, to justify the sanctions being proposed. Many propose to reduce the deficit by reducing or eliminating transfers to the poor, while opposing tax increases on the wealthy – ironically, the very people who’ve benefited most from this multi-decade supply imbalance of labor. Some are even enlisting middle class support for their ideas by inciting outrage against the “lazy” and “shiftless” un- and underemployed. The struggling middle class can hardly be blamed for seeking any excuse to reduce its financial burden, which has been extreme. The trouble is, we’re being seduced into looking the wrong direction. We won’t salvage society by obliterating the poor, not without destroying the best in ourselves. We can only save our society by embracing equal access to life’s necessities, which involves reversing the flow of wealth redistribution – this time, from rich to poor.

The challenge is that we no longer need all the labor hours that are in existence today, so to some the poor seem increasingly expendable. That’s why we’re hearing banal chatter about the “need” to reduce the world’s population by as much as 50%, as if we’re talking about equipment, not living people. That’s no accident; it’s easier to feel righteous about refusing to help the poor once we’ve declared them to be society’s useless garbage. However, what we may be missing in our refusal to stand up for the poor is that the middle class is next on the hit list in this brave new, amoral and high-tech economy. Is demonizing the poor truly a better solution than reducing the average workweek and paying people living wages, at the expense of higher profits for the wealthy?

“First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~Martin Niemöller

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Tragic State of Modern "Science"

Recently I got into a discussion with a very dear and intelligent friend about the current state of modern cosmology. When I began to challenge some of the existing theories and ideas that supposedly define our universe, his response to me was, "Well, then you don't believe in science, do you?"

What appears below is my response to his assertion:

Who doesn't believe in science? I most assuredly do! I just don't believe in everything the scientists postulate about the cosmos, given that many of their ideas are mathematically and theoretically driven, not observationally and/or inductively driven.

The thing is, when one is deducing the nature of reality based on a theory, and the observations do not match the theory, the obvious conclusion to draw is that one's theory is incorrect. That's because scientific deduction means, "to move from the general to the specific." Scientifically speaking then, a theory is a generalization of the truth, while the observations are the specific evidence being used to support that theory. In theoretical physics today, however, the conclusion too often being drawn when the two do not match is that the theory remains correct, but there exists "stuff" out there that would change the observations to make them fit the theory but that we, alas, simply cannot see.

That, my friend, is not science. It's religion, masquerading as science. The tragedy of the above "process" is that it leads to billions of dollars being spent, along with countless man-hours, on attempts to find the imagined elusive, exotic stuff that will prove the theory correct. And even when something has been postulated to offer indirect evidence of the existence of that stuff, often based on the flimsiest of information, new observations made with better instrumentation almost immediately throw another monkey wrench into these cosmic equations and theories.

Today we have all grown way too comfortable with imagining loads of new exotic, invisible "stuff" that simply has to be in the universe – because the theories demand its existence! – instead of asking the obvious question: "Hey, do you think there might be a better explanation for what we're observing?"

Because, you know, careers and fortunes and reputations have been founded on those theories, and the kings and kingmakers do not suffer gladly being told their entire lives have been dedicated to rationalizing a bunch of hokum. So now we have baked into our "scientific" theories, things like black holes - which cannot be seen, thus cannot be directly proved or disproved (which itself makes a travesty of the scientific method) – and we instead look for indirect, trace evidence of black hole existence that we can use to say, "See? Over there. That must be a black hole, because nothing's there, but that's where a gravity field has to be located for our theory to be correct."

And then one day new observations reveal high velocity jets of energy shooting out of the so-called empty space that contains the mythical black hole – which, of course, totally violates the theory that a black hole is so dense that nothing can escape so the physicists spend the next twenty years frantically scribbling new descriptions of black holes and reworking their mathematical formulas to make black hole existence possible in ways that do allow for high speed, glowing jets of escaping energy to occur. Which in turn leads to the so-called "discovery" of new forms of exotic, invisible black holes that periodically shoot jets of energy.

So these days, whenever and wherever jets are now observed, theoretical physicists confidently say, "Look! There's another black hole!" And then pat themselves on the back for having "proved" by virtue of jet observation that their imaginary friend, the black hole, actually exists. Even though we knew such jets existed long before the mathematicians tortured their black hole formula into accepting jets as part of their basic structure.

Again, all this is being done without ever fully considering whether there might be another, much simpler explanation for these jets that does not require an invisible black hole to exist.

This so-called “process” gets repeated ad nauseum in modern cosmology. And what makes it worse is that much of this exotic "stuff" we now imagine is out in space cannot be recreated or tested in our laboratories here on Earth. We, however, allow our cosmologists the freedom to insert that stuff into equations that supposedly define our larger reality with literally zero evidence it can even exist in reality!

Such is the pathetic state of modern cosmology. It has long ago left "science" in the dust, and has transformed itself into a religious belief system filled with mathematical dogmas and supernatural objects that most dare not challenge for fear of being excommunicated. 

Last but not least, the handful of really, really smart people who are able to understand the complex mathematics that underpin all the above nonsense will, when confronted by those who say with great sincerity, "But hey...your emperor has no clothes!" look at them like they are handicapped children, pat them gently on the head and reply, "I'm so sorry, but you're just not smart enough to see what we, the Brilliant Ones, have been able to see and understand."

That in itself is infuriating to those common-sensical types who simply wish to apply the process of direct observation to contradict all the crap being put forth by the intelligentsia – which is how science was intended to work in the first place. Science is meant to be a rigorous study filled with pain, frustration and disappointment, because it is based on the understanding that a single contradictory observation holds the power to falsify an entire theory. It was not intended to be a imaginative journey down an exotic rabbit hole, filled with wondrous delights and fantasy creations that we can't observe in our everyday, regular world.

That, my friend, is the nature of science.

Not: "Hey, I know...let's invent some exotic new shit, the existence of which nobody can challenge, so we can successfully bend our disappointing observations to fit our theoretical design."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

We’re Asking the Wrong Questions

            If we compare conservative and progressive beliefs about our economic problems, we find both sides seem to agree on two points:
·      They agree it’s good for most people to be dependent upon the offerings of private enterprise to meet their daily needs, in ways that generate continuous profits for the owners of private enterprise. 
·      They agree that lately, too many citizens are no longer dependent in profitable ways on private enterprise because they’ve fallen into an unprofitable state of helplessness. They further agree that, for our economy to thrive, we must encourage the helpless back into profitable dependency, which means most robust adults must have jobs.
What both sides seem not to agree upon are the answers to these questions:
·      Why have so many become helpless, even though they still need to buy things from private enterprise to survive?
·      What’s the best way to move the helpless back into the workforce, so they can earn enough to buy what they need without government support?
Note that the way you answer the first question will determine the approach you support for resolving the second question.
            Conservatives propose that too many are choosing to behave in unprofitably helpless ways because the government has pampered them, encouraging them to rely on handouts instead of working. They believe eliminating government support for these lazy, irresponsible folks will force people to take responsibility for meeting their own needs.  Grover Norquist said, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” That desire reflects an urge to starve the beast they believe enables slothfulness.
            While it seems harsh, conservatives justify their strategy by claiming that raising taxes discourages hard work. They fear that taxing workers too heavily in order to enable the helpless remain helpless only drives more people to quit work and go on the government dole. They fear too much of that would collapse our entire economy.
            Alternatively, progressives blame businesses and the aggressive strategies they’ve employed to increase their profits at the expense of the working poor. Offshoring, wage and benefit cuts, and replacing workers with machines and computers have negatively impacted jobs. Progressives believe that’s driving the rise in poverty, which in turn undermines social services. They believe the poor have almost no chance to lift themselves out of helplessness and meet their needs without government support. As Bill Clinton once said, “America just works better when more people have a chance to live their dreams.”
            Progressives believe the answer is to tax profitable businesses at higher rates, eliminate subsidies and raise taxes on the wealthy. They want to redistribute that money to provide jobs and services to assist the helpless in becoming more self-reliant. While progressives are often accused of having “bleeding hearts” and disrespecting the rights of business owners and entrepreneurs, they justify their strategy by claiming that, in a civil society, those who’ve been gifted much bear the burden of supporting the less fortunate.
             What’s fascinating about that this debate, which has been waging for decades, is that neither strategy works. Perhaps that’s because we’re so busy arguing over our points of disagreement that we’ve not bothered to examine our points of agreement, to determine whether they’re guiding us to ask the proper questions.
            What if they’re not?  
            It’s an impasse similar to to our historic quarrel over slavery. Conservatives back then believed it was appropriate for masters to treat runaway slaves harshly, beating or lynching them to create reminders for others in case they too were considering escape. Meanwhile, progressives argued for new laws to force slave owners to treat slaves more humanely, believing slaves would then willingly serve their masters out of gratitude for their kindness.
            Ironically, the argument wasn’t resolved until both sides admitted (after a long and bloody war) that how to treat slaves was the wrong question. The correct question all along had been to ask whether slavery itself was spiritually aligned with who we are as a species. Was it life-affirming behavior on our part?
            The same, I suspect, holds true for our economy. If we stop quarrelling long enough over whether we should balance the budget or spend more money to fix our current system, the question that may at last surface is this: Is the way we’re operating spiritually aligned with who we are as a species?  Is it life-affirming?
            If the answer is no – and that seems to be the true answer – then we do next must, by definition, not support its continuation, but support our own shift to more life-affirming behavior.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Eating the Planet...One Buck at a Time

The problem with allowing a few folks to stockpile enormous sums of money is that money is not wealth. Money represents a future claim against wealth that a person holds, and which can later be presented in exchange for real wealth whenever that person decides to use the claim. Real wealth would be the natural resources, energy, goods and services that are provided by our planet and our society - the things that living beings actually use to remain alive. 
 So here's the tragic irony: Because we've designed a system where we must each amass enough of these future claims to ensure we'll be able to present them against society's future wealth once we're too old or sick to work - or once we've decided we no longer wish to work at producing more stuff that others can use - we're frenziedly destroying our real wealth in order to enable each other to amass enough claims against our future wealth to theoretically satisfy all our future needs.

If we continue to over-consume our natural resources (as we already are) by turning them into unnecessary junk and waste so we can amass even more claims against future wealth, the claims we're amassing will all lose their value over time. And the more we mindlessly damage the planet by destroying its air quality, corroding its healthy topsoil, polluting its fresh water reserves and decimating its living ecosystems, the less likely it will be to support our needs for more genuine resources in the future. That means those who've amassed the greatest monetary "fortunes" will find themselves unable to cash in the bulk of their claims against society's future wealth, because not enough real resources (genuine wealth) will exist on our planet to satisfy those stockpiled theoretical demands for actual resources.

The entire society has truly gone insane in its quest for money, mostly because we've been conditioned to confuse money with genuine wealth. At this point, we're all so busy producing specific goods and services to satisfy the concentrated claims of those few who now hold the bulk of society's money that we're unable to produce the goods the bulk of us need to get by, right here and now. We're making expensive new toys and burning up our fossil fuels to deliver them to the 'wealthy' while the majority of humans on planet Earth go to bed hungry each night, with no idea how they might be able to stockpile claims against society's future wealth - because nobody wants what little they have to offer. Meanwhile, we've been increasingly mechanizing our workplaces, using machines, fossil fuels and technology to reduce the need for human energy to produce things. Our economies now require significantly less human labor  - the primary product we humans have to sell in order to amass claims against future wealth - in relationship to the goods and services we're producing to satisfy the claims of those who now hold the bulk of the money. Increasing productivity, coupled with an increasing population that desperately needs to amass more claims against society's future wealth, means that ever fewer of us will find ourselves successful at amassing enough claims against society's future wealth to be able to thrive tomorrow, no matter how hard and long we labor today!

As if that's not bad enough, the entire system has been rigged to extract massive quantities of  future claims against wealth from the masses before most people are able to stockpile a decent amount of them to guarantee a future free from lack. Those who hold the bulk of the future claims have no qualms about using some of them to purchase the power to determine the rules that the rest of us must live by - which means they design the tax codes and policies that demand the middle class pay to keep the poorest alive, while the rich are permitted to pay lower tax rates so they can amass even more future claims against the social wealth we all produce. They also pay to bombard society with propaganda in an attempt to convince us that if someone isn't successful it's all their own fault; that way, we don't notice the white collar crimes, the banking scandals, the way the system continuously picks the pockets of the masses to move those future claims against wealth into the hands of a few, to whom we continue to cede all the power to decide what our society will look like, create and become.

When will all this madness end? Most likely it'll come crashing to a halt before we've completely consumed all our planetary resources and rendered Earth unable to support human life in our vain quest to amass "enough" (spelled unlimited) future claims against the planet's finite resources, but not before we've generated enough suffering for ourselves that we're forced to come to grips with the absurdity and destructiveness of this system and release our shared delusion that "money is wealth" in order to live more fully and richly together...right here and now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Different Questions; Different Answers

One of the challenges we're facing today is that we seem to be constantly, frustratingly at odds with each other about how to resolve our problems. On the surface, one might surmise this is because there are two seemingly contradictory ways to address our problems. I would, however, propose that the real reason we're stuck is because we've been asking ourselves all the wrong questions, which means we've been yo-yo'ing between the "conservative" non-responsive answer and the "progressive" non-responsive answer without making any real headway toward the correct solution. Usually when we're stuck it's because we've framed the question badly, not because we're too stupid to solve the problem.

For example, the question most of us are asking right now is, "how do we create more jobs for all of the people who need work?"

I would propose that this is precisely the wrong question. The question we ought to be talking about is this: "Do we need all every able-bodied human on Earth to invest forty hours a week into making more stuff so we can all earn money to buy the things we need? Or are we already making too much stuff we don't need and over-consuming our natural resources, just to ensure all the people have adequate jobs and can earn a living?"

This is a crucial question that nobody in the media or government seems willing to discuss. It's crucial because our economy isn't just a conceptual idea; it's materially tied to the natural resources available to us, as well as their natural replenishment rates. If indeed we're making too much stuff we don't need just so we can create jobs so that people can earn enough money, that means we're consuming our limted natural resources in wasteful ways that are damaging our planet's capacity to carry human life - all for the sake of generating man-made income and making a living.

It's important to note that a single gallon of gasoline does the same amount of work as 350-500 human labor hours, and it still only costs about four dollars. That means a machine running on a gallon of gas can, for a mere four dollars, replace minimum wage labor that would cost a business at least $2800, plus benefits and sick time. Is it any wonder then, that the need for human energy is declining in real terms and that the value of human energy has been falling right alongside it? That fact gets veiled by global expansionism, because so long as we're our global economy continues to expand more raw human labor will be needed, but as a percentage of total energy being employed human labor has fallen from literally 100% before the invention of tools, to perhaps 70% once we invented tools, to perhaps 40% once we domesticated animals, to perhaps 5% now that we have fossil-fuel powered machinery working for us today. That means in order for us to generate 100% employment we have to produce 95 times as much stuff per person than we used to produce for ourselves.

As if that weren't challenge enough, technology is also replacing the need for human computation in the workplace. While computers don't offer the mental flexibility and imagination that a human brain possesses, a computer can still store far more data and do its computations much more rapidly than do humans. All this means that computers and technology are fast replacing our former middle classes in the workplace. The work that remains for us is mainly blue collar (i.e.: tedious assembly line production) or highly imaginative, innovative, clever and strategic thinking (i.e.: executive and highly specialized skills.)  Blue collar work remains available mainly because it can be expensive to build machines to do work that uneducated people will do for very little money, especially when they're desperate to survive. That explains why so many factory assembly lines have been offshored in recent years. Third-world citizens are willing to work for a dollar a day - a salary most Americans can't afford to live on. A dollar a day may still be more than the price of a gallon of gas, but it's less than the cost of machinery and maintenance.  And when it comes to highly skilled and executive positions, machines don't yet exist with the capacity to utilize intelligence in the way that a person can use it, so those jobs will continue to be the most highly paid until we invent machines that are able to compete.

If we're wondering why we are all in debt today, the above will serve to explain that. The fact is, most of us can no longer earn enough money to access the bulk of the goods and services that are mainly being created by our machines. Our labor isn't valued highly enough anymore for us to do so; yet the owners of the machinery won't just give us what the machines create unless they can earn a profit by doing so. Think about it. Human debt has skyrocketed at precisely the same time in human history that industrialization, fossil fuel consumption and technological innovation kicked into high gear, reducing the need for human energy in the workplace! Meanwhile government debt, which is in large part subsidizing our needs because we can't earn enough to acquire what we need, has also skyrocketed over the past fifty years. This is not coincidence; it's a real-world cause and effect.

If we possess a lick of sense we can use it to see which way the economic winds are presently blowing. Our economic systems have been relentlessly replacing high cost human energy with lower cost machines and technologies that run on cheap fossil fuels, so they can make their goods more cheaply. That would be wonderful if we were able to enjoy the fruits of all this cheap production without struggle, but because we don't own either the natural resources that are being fed into these systems or the actual means of production, we're generally precluded from accessing all these goods...unless we work.

And so it is that seven billion humans are now relentlessly competing for ever more scarce and lower paying jobs, with fewer benefits. Sadly, we're being pitted against each other in a war nobody can win. Eventually machines will be doing almost all of society's work, and yet we won't be able to grow anymore because we'll have hit the natural limits of resource replenishment. In fact, we may have already hit that tipping point. So what happens then? At the moment, those who apply their ingenuity and create new enterprises are still inventing newer and cleverer gadgets...but really, how much of what we're making is truly necessary and helpful, and how much is downright wasteful, in pursuit of money?

That begs yet another question: "Are we here to earn a living, or do we earn a living in order to make life more enjoyable while we're here?" That is no small question. For some time we've been socially conditioned to believe that we first have to earn a living, then - if we accumulate enough free time and money - we can perhaps use it to enjoy what's left of our lives by exploring those talents, skills and abilities we neglected while in hot pursuit of a job that paid us well. But what if we have life backwards? What if, given the modern state of things, we'd be better off as a society if we encouraged everyone to pursue their passions or master their own innate skills and then apply those to our shared needs instead of demanding everyone first fit into the economic system as it stands? It may be that our system is already so obsolete we're doing ourselves a grave disservice by demanding that everyone conform to it, rather than that it conform to where we are today as an advanced species.

I don't know the answers to the above questions. I suspect none of us do as yet. However, I suspect that if we're honest with ourselves we'll have to admit that some very large percentage of what we're currently producing isn't beneficial to either humanity or our planet. It's mainly crap.

If so, what do we want to do about it? Are we going to wait until the job crisis becomes even more acute? Are we going to wait until the race to convert natural resources into consumables has triggered an irreversible depletion of planetary resources, so we have no choice but to watch our economies collapse out of lack? Or will we - because we're able to grasp that what we're doing is inherently unsustainable - take a moment to breathe into these questions and sincerely seek good answers? Will  can calmly and thoughtfully respond to these challenges before we're forced to react to emergencies we're causing for ourselves?

I don't know the answers to those questions either. My hope is that by shining a light on these questions and inviting people to give them consideration right here and now, we can perhaps avoid the worst outcomes to our challenges that we humans might have to face if we ignore them.