Friday, October 30, 2009

Where are we going?

So far, humanity really hasn't set a "vision" for where it wants to go or what it wants to become. Defining our own trajectory may be exactly what we need to propel us out of our present reality, which is powered by mass unconscious consumption, to a reality based on conscious creativity and grounded in a deeper sense of purpose.

We've been frantically consuming material resources for many centuries now, because in some part of our unconscious mind we recognize that consumption is part of what we humans have been chartered to do. Everything we observe in the universe consumes something and transforms it into something else; that's part of the grand recycling/evolutionary process of creation. Nothing gets wasted and everything eventually gets changed.

I suspect that what we've failed to realize so far is that we're not really here to consume increasingly more stuff until we deplete our natural resources and die off; we're here to consume just enough resources to enable us to live comfortably and sustainably while we create new life experiences for ourselves, which we can then consume and transform into higher wisdom. The nice thing about consuming experiences and transforming them into wisdom is that there isn't a top stop on growth anymore when wisdom becomes our focus. Consciousness doesn't take up any more room or require higher caloric intake as it becomes smarter. Willful ignorance uses just as many calories as does wisdom! In fact, the wiser we become about our world, the more likely it is we'll require fewer resources to function more effectively within it.

The key then is for us to be fully present to whatever experiences we're having and learn as much as possible from them. Don't sleepwalk through an experience while daydreaming about where you'd rather be or what you'd rather be doing - HAVE each experience fully and richly so that whatever it has to teach becomes yours to know. To do so requires courage, an openness to new ideas and the patience to "ride out" even the most difficult of experiences, while trusting that there is always something more to be learned from wherever we happen to find ourselves in life.

I'm so looking forward to seeing what evolves as humanity slowly opens its eyes to the need to set a course for our shared future. The process of "coming together" around a shared set of values and ideals may not be easy to undergo, but I suspect it's necessary for us to make the next leap in human evolution. It's time then, for us to begin talking about who we are, why we think we're here, and where we'd like to go as we journey toward the future.

I encourage you to think about these things whenever you're communicating or interacting with others, because the young people who encounter you will likely be searching for some greater sense of themselves. What are your words and actions saying to them about humanity, about its strengths and weaknesses, about its possibilities and problems, about your beliefs about us - and therefore about THEM? Even as you explore your own beliefs through your thoughts, words and deeds, know that what you are and do has the power to influence the thoughts and feelings of others. Take responsibility for your messages by anchoring yourself in your deepest truths about who you really are and what you're really capable of being, doing and creating. Express and BE that to the best of your abilities. Then you can rest assured that whatever you're bringing into the world and to the minds of other people will be a universal truth - because you ARE the universe in person.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Jobs or Work?

This morning we learned that the U.S. jobs market shed another 263,000 jobs in September, bringing the unemployment rate up to 9.8%; a 26 year high. By the way, that's not counting those who are employed only part-time because they can't find full time work, or those who have dropped out of the job market entirely. If we add them in, some sources estimate that we'd be looking at an unemployment rate above 15% of the able-bodied American population.

This problems begs an important question: how long has human society suffered from this thing called "unemployment" and what can we do to fix it? Why do we even have such a thing as unemployment, when there's clearly so much work that needs to be done around the place? We're all aware that our national roads and bridges have fallen into shameful disrepair; our sewer and water infrastructure is crumbling and imploding all around us; our energy delivery systems are at least fifty years outdated; our schools are suffering from student/teacher ratios as high as 40-1; essential services like police and firefighting are being slashed below safe levels; our elderly find themselves isolated and without appropriate home and/or nursing care; millions of our children are being left at home without adequate after-school care; we're still dependent on foreign oil sources that are rapidly declining; our food sources and manufacturing capacities have been shipped overseas and are out of our quality control; our medical facilities are overwhelmed, understaffed and incapable of handling the needs of the larger populace - have I missed anything here?

It doesn't take us long to realize that our early ancestors had no experience with unemployment problems. In a hunter-gatherer culture or an early agrarian culture, not to work meant certain death for one's family and for oneself. Our ancestors couldn't afford to wait for someone "in charge" to promise them a paycheck before picking up a spear, a hoe or a bucket to attend to their daily needs. They understood what mattered, and took care of life's business without worrying about whether their 401k plans were intact, whether they had medical insurance, if they'd been promised adequate time for their lunch breaks or whether their environment was a friendly place in which to work. What's happened to us? How is it we've lost touch with so many basic truths about what it means to be alive? We've been lulled into putting our need for money before our own survival, and as yet we don't even know it. We've become like frogs sitting in a slowly boiling pot of water - the heat is rising yet we're too sleepy and unaware to jump out of the pot and save ourselves from dying. At least we haven't woken up to the hard truth yet.

What it will take for human beings to awaken to the fact that we're slowly destroying ourselves with our unhealthy co-dependence on corporations to inspire us to work? Can't we see that by allowing our corporations to control our work ethic by using the bait of money, we've handed over to them the power to determine exactly what work gets done - that which is most profitable for their bottom lines - as well as how much of it gets done. Everything else - what truly benefits human society, what honors and supports our environment, our resources and the life forms with whom we share space - gets left behind in that endless corporate quest to earn a few dollars.

Our modern human family can no longer afford to view itself as "nuclear," and thus separate from all others. That's become a clear recipe for disaster in an increasingly shrinking world. What happens in the rest of the world affects what happens here, and vice-versa. "Their" pollution has become "our" problem; "their" suffering (political and social disenfranchisement) has become "our" pain (9/11). This breakdown of humanity into "usses" and "thems" must therefore end if we're to thrive. After all, we're sharing space on this planet and are in this life together, come what may.

What then, if we toss out our mortgages and money, our loans and debts and simply pull together as a species to accomplish our objectives for the greater good? How much more might we achieve if we chose to love and trust each other more than we depend on money to keep us safe from potential disaster?

I'm simply posing the question. For me, the answers are not to be found by studying my bankbook or brokerage account. They're in my heart, which knows the right thing to do. I'd love to hear yours.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Return to Sanity

I went utterly insane once, so believe me when I tell you I know exactly what it feels like. For a time during my experience I believed I was immortal and didn't need to ever eat or sleep again. I believed I could stare at the sun and receive cosmic information in the form of digestible light packets. I believed all I had to do was wish for something and it would come true for the world. I believed I could pick up an angry rattlesnake that had accidentally become trapped in our bedroom and lovingly set it free. (Thankfully for me, my husband nixed that idea and handled the snake with a bucket and pole from a distance!)

After a time my hallucinations switched from euphoric to paranoid. I then began to believe that roving gangs of murderers were chainsawing my neighbors to death. I believed aliens had landed, were capturing people, injecting nanobots into their bloodstreams and firing them off to "seed" distant stars with their spawn. I believed China had dropped nuclear weapons on major American cities, and that our world had been transformed into a poisoned, fiery hell. For a time I believed I was the only one left alive.

Being that crazy was not a pleasant experience. For much of the time I found myself unable to communicate with anyone, as I was completely lost in a mental landscape that no one else could visit, see or experience with me. In that sense I really was alone in the universe. At last, when I tried to steal an ambulance so I could go to the ocean and turn myself into a dolphin, the outside world finally recognized I was a danger to myself and possibly others. They hauled me off to the hospital for some much needed medical attention. After three days in intensive care and months of slow and painful mental and physical recovery, I gradually found my way back to sanity. In doing so I've learned some fascinating things about what insanity is. I'd like to share them.

Insanity, I've discovered, is a rejection of reality in favor of a narrative in the head. The man who insists he's Napoleon Bonaparte, the woman who talks to invisible people, the catatonic who curls into a ball and shuts out all sensory input - they're all having the same insane experience. It's only their story and method of holding onto their story that's different.

As a matter of fact, once I began to heal and look around the world again, what I noticed was that virtually every person I saw was having an insane experience to one degree or another. The only difference was with the narratives people were telling themselves. Interestingly enough, what I observed was that if the narrative a person substituted for reality was considered "socially acceptable" by his or her chosen peer group, then that person was considered sane, no matter how crazy or false their narrative might be. That explains how the "birthers" found semi-legitimacy through the news media, how creationists have managed to build quasi-reputable museums, how people have been able to stand outside health care rallies and with a straight face talk about Obama's "death panels." Insanity, it seems, is a matter of degree. The more persuasive a person who's telling a narrative can be, the more people he can convince to believe his story. The more people who believe in his story, the less likely that story is to be perceived as bat-shit crazy. And the more people who have forgotten how to do reality checks because they've been seduced their entire lives by easy narratives, the more gullible rubes there are for the storytellers.

Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Axis of Evil. Torture as a legitimate interrogation method. A suspension of constitutional rights in order to preserve our constitution. Nobody knew the levees in New Orleans could fail. Iraq and Al Queda were connected through 9/11. They hate us for our freedom. President Obama is a secret Nazi/Facist/Communist/Socialist/Muslim/Racist. Killing abortion doctors preserves our sacred right to life. We "can't afford" to reduce our dependence on oil.

Since when did we become a nation so obsessed with crazy narratives that we've lost the ability to get in touch with reality? I suspect it's been going on for years, and that this weakness has been built into the way we educate our children. We send perfectly good and inquiring minds to school, where we tell them the narrative of human history and grade them well if they spit it back to us without "error." Nowhere in that process is critical thinking, questioning and new exploration lauded - at least not until the narrative has been firmly imbedded in them.

And after all, we're also a nation primarily raised on Biblical narratives that include talking snakes, unseen demons and angels, a guy who put two of every animal in a boat and sails it away, whole cities that were leveled by the angry "finger of God" for their bad behavior. The list goes on...

One difficulty with changing all this is that as we've industrialized we've moved farther and farther away from our touchstone with reality - the natural world. We read about full moons and new moons in the weather section of the news, but how many of us can still look at the sky and know what phase of the moon we're observing at night? How many of us genuinely understand the Earth's rotation and spin in relation to the sun and seasonality? Perpaps our growing disconnect from nature explains why it's so easy for us to ignore things like rainforest destruction, the extinction of polar bears, melting ice caps, rainfall changes and the rising pollution and exhaustion of fish in our oceans. The narratives we're telling ourselves are so much nicer than the truth that we collectively cling to them in desperation, despite all evidence to the contrary!

During my wildly insane period, had I been able to stop the voices in my head and simply BE PRESENT with what was happening, I would have noticed that none of these things I believed were actually true. This, I suspect is what awaits humankind around a very near corner. Avoidance of the truth can only carry us so far, then the narrative will break down in favor of reality. Either we'll act out the narrative only to discover later it wasn't true, which is what led to the war in Iraq; or reality will crush the narrative, as will happen when twenty feet of water flood Manhattan and bury Florida when all our glaciers melt.

Letting go of the narratives we've all been taught to believe in can be deeply unsettling to the mind. It's even harder when the people you love don't want to let go of the stories. They'll try to drag you back into their shared belief system, because when something isn't demonstrably true there's a sense of safety in numbers. The more people who accept the narrative the more likely (or so people think) it is that the story is actually true. It's why religions are so fond of bearing witness and procreating - more little religious believers to promote the story.

The Flat Earthers didn't want to accept it when the news came to them that the Earth was round. It's what Holocaust deniers and alien abductees share; an eagerness to convince others that their narrative is correct and thus control the story.

Humanity, by virtue of its ability to tell imaginative stories, has the capacity to move information across the generations. Perhaps it's time we began to realize the weighty responsibility that attaches to that privilege. If we're going to tell stories to each other, let's at least make an effort to get our stories right. Worst case, let's freely acknowledge that a theory is still a theory, so the truth can always find an open window into humanity's psyche.

Anything less is utterly insane.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Magical money game

Isn't it fascinating how the banks have suddenly turned "profitable" after nearly going bankrupt less than a year ago?

Would that the average human being be able to pull off such an amazing financial turnaround! What, we must now ask ourselves, marks the magical difference between a regular person who, after suffering such a severe financial setback, finds themselves in a perpetual struggle to recover; versus the way the banks have managed to bounce back so handily from the brink of utter disaster?

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we've treated our banks in ways they don't treat us. When we screw up it's "our fault." We've borrowed more than we could afford, failed to read the fine print, got too greedy too quickly, didn't plan or save well enough...the list of our human failings goes on and on. These are the harsh judgments our banks render to "punish" us when things turn south in our personal lives. They then jack up our interest rates, slash our lines of credit, demand payment in full for our outstanding debts and repossess our homes - and expect us to somehow pull ourselves back up by our bootstraps (assuming they've even allowed us to keep our boots) so we can get ourselves into debt all over again.

Meanwhile, back in banking wonderland, the federal government decreed last year that the banks - despite all their mistakes, their greed and their abuse of the trust of the American public - were "too big to fail." So we, the American people, were forced to lend those banks many billions of dollars and guarantee hundreds of billions more to enable them to get themselves back on track. (Wouldn't it be nice if our banks, as soon as they learned a customer was in trouble, slashed our interest rates to zero and lent us enough money so we could quickly get our families and our own lives "back on track?")

The worst part of our financial arrangement with the banks is we're lending them the very same money they're now lending back to us - the struggling American public. Only the money we're borrowing back from them is coming to us at a considerably higher interest rate than we're charging them to borrow it from us in the first place. Think about that for a minute - the American public is going deeply into debt to lend the banks money, so they can then lend it back to us at rates that put us deeper into debt. Then remind me again why we were so afraid for the banks to "fail?"

The details is where it starts to gets really fascinating. The Fed is lending our banks money at near 0% to "stimulate" credit and facilitate consumer borrowing. The banks however, are using much of the money they're borrowing from the Fed to purchase US Treasury bonds, which are guaranteed government investments that pay around 3.5% annual interest. That differential of 3.5% means a profit of $35 billion a year for every trillion dollars the banks borrow from the Fed - and by extension the American people, who are on the hook for that 3.5% interest - and lends back to the Fed through the purchase of government bonds.

How's that for one heck of a sweetheart investment deal? The banks take no risk, receive government guaranteed returns and bear no cost for the money they're borrowing to earn that guaranteed annual profit.

But wait - it gets even better! If you check your savings account or money market interest rate these days, you'll discover that the banks are paying us somewhere around .2% for the privilege of lending our hard-earned savings out to our friends and neighbors. At the same time, the interest rate on the average bank-issued credit card is pushing 17%, while the average home mortgage loan generates 5.5% interest for the banks. Those differentials amount to staggering profits for the banks' bottom lines, all coming courtesy of the general public - that's you and me.

Here's a thought: Why don't we just borrow all the money we need directly from the Fed at the same 0% sweetheart rate the big banks are getting from us? After all it's our money to begin with, since the money the Fed is lending out becomes a debt of the American people. If we bypassed the banks altogether and lent the money directly to ourselves, think how much money we'd collectively save in the way of annual interest payments! Plus, all those trillions the banks are investing in government bonds wouldn't need to be lent out in the first place, so that would save us billions upon billions in annual interest payments. That's more money we could use for our crumbling infrastructure, universal medical care, alternative energy exploration, education and a host of other real and pressing needs we face today.

Perhaps the "too big to fail" concept was flawed from the very beginning. Perhaps the real underlying issue we were terrified to face was what it would mean to our entire economic system if we actually had to do business directly with each other, without a mediator (a bank) to ensure we'd all play the game fairly. That's not a bad strategy, assuming we're still too afraid to trust each other and would rather put our faith in the integrity of a central mediator - at least until the mediator discovers the unfair advantage it holds by not playing fair itself, in order to turn a greater corporate profit.

When we see this, and transparency is becoming a blessing with the advent of the internet, we can perhaps begin to consider the value of remembering how to trust each other again. Certainly the placing of our faith in the integrity of our corporations hasn't benefited us overall. Can we stretch our comfort zones enough to consider helping each other without suspicion that we're being "taken advantage" of? Can we rise to the challenge and love each other enough to care less about the few bad apples we might encounter and focus more on the awesomeness of most people, when given half a chance to become the best they can be?

I suspect that's where the cosmos is pushing us, and it's where we need to go if we're to survive. Ultimately our elimination of both the mediator (the corporate institution) and the medium (money itself) would enable us to more freely exchange our infinite human creativity and advance our society in ways we've only dreamed possible. I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll head in that direction sooner or later. Here's hoping it happens before we all go broke!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wants versus Needs and the Profit Incentive

Lately it seems many of our businesses aren't genuinely doing the jobs for which they were chartered. For example, our insurance companies aren't covering those of us who may need to file a claim; they're only selecting those customers who aren't likely to use their services. Our pharmaceutical companies likewise aren't curing us of disease; they're merely treating our symptoms of illness for years and years. Neither are our banks making it easier for us to save money; they're actually making it more difficult by charging us exorbitant fees, fines, interest rates and monthly service charges. On and on it goes, causing many individuals stress and suffering in virtually every arena of social life.

Why is this happening? Something is clearly wrong with the way we've structured our economy when our businesses are being rewarded for NOT doing what we believe they're supposed to do. To find an answer we must examine the corporate structure a bit more closely. In doing so we discover that, in reality, we're financially rewarding companies that are most successful at making money. The corporate priority is NOT to provide something that benefits society, but to turn a higher profit - however that looks. In other words, the key to making more money in our world is to make more money.

That formula emerged out of the thinking that human beings would work harder and achieve more in life if doing so enabled them to acquire more material comforts for themselves and their families. When people achieve more, society benefits. Thus to inspire people to provide what they want for themselves theoretically benefits society.

Material comforts can only be acquired with money in a modern society, therefore money has become the main reward we offer for human endeavor. Those endeavors include not only our individual efforts, but our corporate (collective) efforts as well.

When our businesses provide society with a product or service people want they are rewarded with money, which they then distribute among their owners (stockholders) debtors (bondholders) and employees. Theoretically at least, if our businesses don't give us what we want we won't support them, and they'll be replaced by businesses that do give us what we want. The money they earn flows back into the system and encourages other companies and people ,to consume the goods and services they need, as well as to provide the goods and services others want. In theory then, this strategy sounds like a good one.

In practice though, what we find is that this strategy has developed multiple flaws. For starters, what companies offer isn't necessarily what people want, but what they NEED. That fact alone eliminates the only power we have to vote against corporations with our wallets, which was supposed to be the "check and balance" part of the equation. I can ignore a want in order to punish a company for not behaving in a way that serves society, but I can't ignore a need. If by law I'm required to have auto insurance in order to drive a car, I must buy it even if I detest the way every company that offers it prices their product. Likewise if I need medical attention I can't quarrel over the doctor's price for the surgery I require. Nor can I argue with the banks over their high mortgage interest rates if I need a place to live and raise my family.

When companies are relieved of the burden of having to provide people with what they want in exchange for public support of their goods and services, they are free to force people to do whatever they demand in exchange for what people need. That grants companies enormous power to "squeeze" their customers for the sake of higher profits. The more money companies make the more they earn for their owners (stockholders) so the more support they get for their endeavors. Once one company has figured out a new way to "squeeze" its customers, other companies in the industry follow suit. Their motive is to stay financially competitive in the short run so they can survive, not to provide a better level of customer service in the long run so humanity and society can thrive.

As modern society has advanced, more and more of what used to be "wants" have become needs. If we hope to contribute anything of value to our society we must have access to advanced education, automobiles, computers, health care, groceries, water and electricity. The more who become disenfranchised from those needs the fewer who will have the capacity to offer the best they have to give to our civilization. Companies may therefore be growing richer, but the evidence is piling up all around us that our society is becoming collectively poorer.

The present recession we're in is a reflection of the fact that companies can't thrive (turn a profit) for very long when they're collectively making life harder for their own customers. Ship jobs overseas to cut your costs, and you've reduced the amount of collective wages available to buy corporate goods and services. Raise prices on your customers, and you hinder their ability to adaquately care for the children who will be your next generation of corporate employees and customers. Deny adequate health care to your customers, and you make it more likely the entire social base of employees and customers will either fall ill or be required to take care of someone who is. Clearly then, businesses that thrive on screwing their customers by withholding their needs or making them harder to acquire are ultimately screwing each other as well as themselves.

The moment we collectively convert an item from a want to a social need, we've surrendered our power to get along without it. Without a bank account, for example, we can't cash our paychecks or pay our bills, so we become marginalized by society. That pressure grants undue power over people to the corporations that provide us the necessary service. Our economic structure doesn't yet reflect this changing nature of human society, which is why so many of us are suffering because we're no longer able to meet our basic needs.

The first step toward repairing this problem would be for humanity to come together and discern what exactly are the things we consider needs, and which are wants that most of us can do without. To then reflect this difference in our economy by mandating public access to all the things we consider needs would help us to shift the incentives in the system and alleviate much of the suffering we're experiencing today.

The moment we differentiate between human wants and needs it becomes apparent that we need to shift corporate incentives. To profit off the needs of another is inherently immoral. How ethical is it for me to deprive a starving person of the food he or she needs to survive, in order for me to make more money so I can satisfy more of my wants? Needs and wants can never be equated, nor should they be. No business should ever have the power to turn off an elderly couple's electricity and cause them to freeze to death (or slow roast in summer) because the people can't afford to pay their bill. It's not a question of "efficiency" or "profitability;" it's a question of our inherent humanity.

What we choose to be, and how we choose to behave toward each other is the measure of our deepest human values. As Jesus once said, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." That statement is a powerful pointer toward a single human ethic we could all live by. If every person in every encounter they have during every day would check himself by asking that simple question before he acted, imagine how swiftly the world around us would change!

What are we waiting for? If we wait for the "other guy" to act morally before we're willing to commit ourselves to the task, it'll never get done. We can each become the change we wish to see in this world by demonstrating the ethic that says every human being is entitled to have their basic needs met by society, and work toward that goal.

If we ask the question, "How may I serve the needs of my fellow man?" and let that be the guide to our actions, our corporations WILL change along with us, because they ARE us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Brief History of Capitalism

I have lately come to realize that capitalism has been collapsing virtually since its birth. That's because the main premise of capitalism, which is that in order to succeed every human being must take out more from our economic system than he or she puts into it (i.e. earn a profit) is flawed at its very core.

In nature, all living systems are created such that wholes must always be greater than the sum of their parts. This is particularly true if they hope to be self-sustaining. A system in which the whole is perennially bled dry for the benefit of a few individuals cannot sustain itself indefinitely. It must continually draw in new energy from new sources if it hopes to rejuvenate itself. Capitalism, with its for-profit formula, is therefore the opposite of a self-sustaining system. If everyone puts in X and tries to take out X + 1 (or X + 12, 15 or 3000!) we can never evolve into a system that works for everyone, because there can never be enough to go around. History supports this; so we must learn from our past so we're equipped to shift our system into something intentionally supportive rather than unwittingly exploitive of life.

Capitalism emerged to replace an ancient, agrarian form of economics that depended on class privilege by dividing people into nobility (the haves) and serfs (the have-nots.) The birth of a merchant middle class appeared to be a good thing, because by exchanging creativity through barter, people were able to lift themselves out of the endless cycle of poverty that had been caused by those "birthright" systems.

The problem with capitalism, however, was that the invention of paper money to facilitate barter generated the added incentive to extract more money from each other than was fair, setting up win-lose exchanges rather than win-win exchanges. Once we notice that the makers of products (labor) have only their wages, less taxes, to purchase the very same products they've just produced at their now marked-up for profit prices, we realize the labor force in its totality will never have enough cash to purchase all the products available for sale in their totality without constantly borrowing cash to keep them afloat. If laborer and consumer are one and the same, how can labor EVER afford to consume what it makes AND pay a profit to business, using only its own wages as its means?

Slavery and colonialism supported capitalism during the 1800's by enabling wealthy merchants to exploit cheap labor and ship foreign goods backto Europe, where enough money already existed to buy them. The end of both colonialism and slavery however, led to shortages and poverty in Europe. Poverty triggered social unrest and revolution abroad, and eventually led us into WWI. The various national war machines and their ensuing national debts created massive cash infusions for the various economies that jump-started capitalism for a time, culminating once again in the concentrated prosperity we observed in the Roaring 20's. That was followed by the Great Depression because wealth concentration led to massive poverty in the U.S. WWII and its federal debts conveniently eased us through the depression era, though at a terrible price.

The 50's were again a time of general prosperity as the U.S. reaped the benefits of all the added technology and industry generated by WWII, and Europe reaped the benefits of rebuilding its shattered cities and infrastructures. When family budgets once again began to grow strained toward the end of that happy decade, we abruptly inserted women en mass into the workplace. Suddenly families could sell 80 hours a week instead of 40! That new spurt of family prosperity held for a time, until prices caught up to the rise in wages by the late '70's, which is when foreign competition came knocking at our door and "stagflation" became a household word. Cheaper wages overseas meant cheaper products competing with US goods. We couldn't afford to buy what we were making here anymore, but we could still afford to buy what less developed countries were producing for our sake.

U.S. companies then made a huge push for labor productivity gains, which meant people had to do more in less time so our price per unit could fall to match those of overseas competitors. Unfortunately for us, our technological improvements could be imitated by our overseas competitors, so our ability to improve our productivity wasn't enough to hold our competitive edge over their consistently lower wages. Since we couldn't beat them at the lower price game, the '90's and 2000's brought a period of increased foreign exploitation as we began to ship US jobs overseas to those same low wage workers. Meanwhile, Americans lost buying power when we lost the ability to negotiate living wages from companies that needed to earn a profit more than they needed to support their local labor force. (That business seems to have forgotten that labor and consumer are one and the same is the delicious irony of that decision.)

What happened next was predictable. Debt skyrocketed as Americans were induced to continue to consume ever more, even as their buying power plunged and their jobs disappeared overseas. When we ran out of room on our credit cards and out of equity in our homes, the banks belatedly discovered they could no longer squeeze us for profits on that debt and the whole mess began to unravel. Our government then wound up inserting a massive amount of cash into the banking system to support the debt crash and burn that was triggered by our loss of buying power, to ensure people could continue to borrow more and continue to consume - never mind that no one can pay any of it back! (Don't even get me started on the corruptive influence of inflation, because that's a whole different blog for another day.)

Sooner or later we're going to run out of new people to exploit, new hours to sell and new sources of money with which to save a totally flawed system that deserves to fail. It deserves to fail because it is designed - however unintentionally - to endlessly exploit human life for the sake of money, rather than support all life for the sake of love and joy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ownership or Stewardship

Human beings, more than any other creature on Earth, have been gifted with the power to create or destroy. By virtue of our brains and hands we can either build cathedrals or massacre millions with weapons of mass destruction. Which acts we choose seem in large part to be dependent upon our personal beliefs. Change our beliefs then, and our behaviors will naturally shift.

Ownership, which is a purely man-made concept, confers upon us the right to exploit this world for our personal ends. That was certainly true of slavery, which is why we've abandoned the practice. It may have taken us thousands of years, but eventually our values matured beyond the belief that any human being has the right to possess and exploit any other. Where once the ownership of people was commonplace, today it's considered shockingly immoral.

What then, of the right to own private property? Might that too be a practice humanity one day looks back upon with feelings of revulsion? While it may seem an impossible change given where we are at present, there are reasons for us to hope this may be the case.

The difference between land ownership and land stewardship is a profound one. Where property ownership conveys rights, property stewardship conveys responsibilities. Ownership declares this land is "mine" to do with as I choose, regardless of whether my choices do damage to my surrounding community. Stewardship, on the other hand, declares this land to be "ours." Therefore it must be tended with love for the benefit of all who share that space with us, including all other species. Stewardship means preserving and protecting the land for future generations, as well as maintaining awareness of our environmental impact beyond any man-made borders we may have drawn. It also means knowing how to gracefully let go of our hold on the land when we die, trusting in those still alive to decide the best usage for the space we once occupied.

A mere hundred years ago there still existed vast tracts of land to which the poor and downtrodden could freely migrate. People with nothing but hopes, dreams and a dash of courage could put down roots and provide for themselves and their families. Today, there isn't anywhere human beings can go that hasn't been sold or deeded over to someone already. A person who can't afford to buy land has no choice anymore but to become a vagabond, marginalized by society and forced to live in fear and perpetual lack. What does that say about us, and about our so-called spiritual values?

Take, for example, the inhabitants of the island nation of Tuvalu, whose very existence is now being threatened by rising ocean levels. These people are living in a waking nightmare, watching their country disappear more every day. Their peaceful fishing and farming lifestyles are not the cause of the climate change that threatens to sink their world, but theirs is a land that is suffering the most. Since they own nothing else will we allow them to sink beneath the sea?

It remains to be seen.

Despite America's fervent proclamations about the importance of the "right to life," there's nothing in our social system that guarantees anyone the right to space. That's a bizarre situation which pits our deeply held conceptual beliefs against an unforgiving reality; for without the right to actual space, of what value is our conceptual right to life?

For thousands of years property ownership has sliced and diced our world in a piecemeal fashion. It's created generations of a wealthy few and a far larger number of poor. It separates neighbor from neighbor, tribe from tribe and ultimately nation from nation. While the rules for human behavior differ widely from place to place, what happens in one locale has the power to cause lasting harm to others. One country's industrial productivity is another nation's acid rain.

The false separation of man-made boundaries and limited piecemeal thinking will no longer work in our global reality. Nor will the false belief that I can do whatever I want with "my" piece of land, despite the cost to our planet. Land isn't a toaster or car or television to be used and thrown away once we've sucked it dry; it's a complex living reality, replete with its natural rhythms and cooperative interspecies living arrangements. It doesn't recognize borders, dams, fences or walls; it doesn't acknowledge humanity's ownership rights. It breathes, grows, shifts, bends and folds according to its own geological pace and timescale, impervious to our selfish, self-serving beliefs.

To acknowledge that truth, to elevate the rights of land itself on par with the rights of humans, would empower us to be stewards instead of exploiters. It would free us to generously share our space with those less fortunate, granting them their divine rights as planetary citizens to occupy Earth's lands and to participate in her bounty. It would further encourage us to set aside our short-term interests for the sake of our higher collective and long term interests. Last but surely not least, it would render us thoughtful and moral ancestors for future generations to revere rather than abhor.

The choice is ours to make; the minds ours to change.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Asking the Question

The political spin and questionable rhetoric swirling around Washington these days has become downright dizzying. Depending on who we hear speaking on any given day, health care reform either offers salvation for the masses or represents the first step toward federal euthanasia of the elderly and infirm. When political opinion is that oppositional in nature, what in the world are we supposed to believe?

It's all too easy to simply attach ourselves to the opinions being spouted by the members of our own political party, absorb them and regurgitate them without giving them deeper thought. We must, however, remain cognizant of the fact that virtually all politicians direct their loyalty toward their campaign donors first, their party second and their local constituents third. Therefore, we musn't assume the language we're hearing on cable TV or reading in the newspapers is truly for our benefit - more likely it's meant to sway our opinions in support of the hidden agendas of politicians: getting reelected, supporting the corporations and individuals who fund their campaigns and ensuring their party will continue to back them for reelection in the future.

Take the case of Senator Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania. Because Senator Spector, being of high moral standing and independent mind, chose on multiple occasions to oppose his party's platform and instead vote in ways that seemed more in alignment with what made sense for his constituents, he lost the support of the Republican power machine. Ditto for Senator Joe Lieberman. These men, however we might feel about their "politics," exemplify what happens to men of conscience if they resist the machine that is their political party. What happened to them - stripped of their committee memberships, marginalized in Washington circles - stands as a "cautionary" tale for all other members of Congress. Dare to oppose your party's agenda and you risk losing the power to stand for anything.

What are we, the people, supposed to make of the political mess in Washington today? How can we know when our politicians are making decisions for the benefit of us, the regular people, or if they're merely supporting the dominator/power structure that enables them to hold power? When they're talking are they telling the truth, or saying what they want us to hear so we'll fall in line and support their hidden agendas?

There is a question we can ask ourselves to help us "cut through" all the rhetoric, politics and hidden agendas that obscure what's really best for regular people. Unfortunately, the question requires us to set aside our easy attachment to the words of partisan politicians and actually think for ourselves. I recognize that in these days of 24 hour cable news, thinking for ourselves has nearly become obsolete, and that highly paid pundits are willing and eager to do that hard work for us. We shouldn't let them. They too are motivated by money, power, fame and the support of the corporate establishment whose interests don't necessarily align with ours.

What is this question then, that enables us to dig down deep for truth? The question, should you choose to ask it, is this: Does this program/bill/law/idea being proposed support life in all its many and varied forms, or does it exploit life so a few individuals or corporations can profit?

Health care reform presents us with an embarrassingly easy answer. To bring millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans back into the health care fold supports life - particularly the lives of those least able to care for themselves. The wealthy will always be able to afford the best health care our system has to offer, so they're basically undamaged by the proposal. It may cost them a little more in the way of taxes, but they can afford it.

On the other hand, opposition to health care reform seems designed to incite fear and division among the American people. Who's funding it, and why? Of what benefit is it for us to oppose better health care for more people in support of life, with government managing the process to ensure nobody gets left behind? The answer is, it isn't to anyone's benefit - unless they're part of the pharmaceutical or medical insurance machinery. That machinery exploits the needs and fears of the ill and infirm...for money; not out of love and with reverence for life. If you're still unsure about the motives of the health care industry, consider the insurance company policy of rejecting the claims of those with "preexisting conditions." A lover of life would ignore such a label and treat the ill with compassion. A lover of profits rejects the person in favor of the bottom line.

We hear statements from the right these days implying the government is going to "ration" healthcare and people will be denied needed treatment. Laughable really, given the millions who are already being denied the most basic and decent of treatments due to their inability to pay or to their insurance company's greed. We also hear that our deficit will skyrocket if we try to take care of everyone; again laughable, given the many trillions we've just invested to keep the banking industry afloat - for whose benefit? Has your credit card rate declined or your mortgage gotten easier to pay since we gave the banks all that money? Last but not least, we hear that government can't do anything half as efficiently as can private corporations. I ask you this: have you tried to reach anyone in customer service at a private corporation lately? Have you managed to resolve a business dispute with ease, been treated kindly and humanely or been allowed to "work out" a reasonable payment plan if your life became upended by the bank-induced recession through which we're suffering?

It's a simple question really. Does what I'm looking at support life, or does it exploit life? The moment we drop our attachment to our conceptual ideologies and allow our hearts to feel, the truth comes easy. It's why the exploitive game is to generate fear and division; fearful hearts are too constricted to open enough to feel for the lives of others. They're too busy fearing for their own survival.

Don't be fooled by the "divide and conquer" game being played in the political arena. Morality - true morality - doesn't spring from our belief in a set of ideas. It springs from opening our hearts to love and knowing what feels right for us to do, then doing that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The 2012 problem

I'm sure many of you are by now familiar with all the hype surrounding the supposed importance of 2012. The problem I'm finding with all the chatter is that there are as many ideas out there surrounding what's "supposed to" occur in 2012 as there are people imagining they know the truth of it. For starters:

The Mayan calendar "end date" falls on December 21, 2012. Or it falls on October 31, 2011. (Take your pick. The two main calendar researchers - Calleman and Jenkins - have long been engaged in a flame war over this.)

The Mayans themselves were predicting:

1) The end of the world
2) a cataclysmic decimation of our planet and a massive loss of human life
3) a harmonic shift in human consciousness that will elevate our species
4) the apocalypse
5) the close return of our sun's twin star and its accompanying gravitational disturbances
6) our planetary alignment with the energy field in the galactic center
7) the ushering in of a new world order
8) an instantaneous resolution to all our social problems
9) the arrival of higher-dimensional visitors from other worlds: i.e. alien contact
10) the division of our species into "enlightened ones" and those who are "left behind."
11) nothing much at all - it's just another date
12) the conversion of material-bodied humans into immortal, ethereal light beings
13) a dimensional shift in our reality
14) nobody knows

Of course, not all of the above can be true. In fact its quite possible that none of them are accurate predictions of what we might experience when 2012 does roll along. These proposals are kind of like religion in that way. People have cherished many thousands of religious dogmas over the eons (most of which have long been abandoned by now.) So what are the odds that the beliefs of any current religious system will prove to be 100% correct? Why, for that matter, must we "believe in" anything at all? Why can't we just embrace the unknown and allow cosmic reality to unfold in its own sweet time?

What troubles me most about the whole 2012 thing is this: once again it looks like humanity is placing a bet on our hopes of an outside trigger to impel us to "fix" or change what needs to be done here on Earth. If 2012 is the "end times" for this incarnation of human reality, what's the point in doing any work to fix things in the here and now? I fear we place too much emphasis on messiahs, saviors, alien beings, cosmic vibrational tones, etc. and too little on turning within to discover what we can do to alleviate human suffering right now. It's a childlike approach to life, which served us well as children but doesn't do much to solve the problems we're creating as troubled juveniles.

I respectfully suggest that it's time for us to take some adult responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in, to let go of our wishful thinking about being "rescued" from ourselves, and to roll up our sleeves and decide what kind of a world we wish to build. Then we should build it and become it NOW - not wait for 2012 to bring it about so we don't have to.

It's wonderful for us to have a vision of a new humanity, but it's also imperative that we actively take steps toward creating it ourselves in this, the real world, rather than wait longingly for the universe to provide it all for us. After all, the universe has given us arms, legs and strong healthy backs; minds, hearts and a powerful intuition. These tools can be found in all our respective tool belts, and we have the skills and energy to wield them. So what on planet Earth are we waiting for?

If 2012 comes around and nothing significant happens, the tendency of the perpetual dreamers will be to come up with an alternative date for the next messianic arrival of cosmic salvation. I say instead we pull together today and begin creating the world we want to share anew. If something significant does happen in 2012, wonderful! Let's greet it with open hearts and embrace the change. If not, at least we'll have moved toward a better future for ourselves and our living planet. All this new-age business about us being able to "mind manifest" what we want doesn't work; not unless we put our shoulders to the wheel and actually do what reality reequires of us to create what we want. At least, that's the limitation we're stuck with until the cosmos decides we're ready to play with some brand new tools. I suspect it'll evolve us after we've demonstrated adequate mastery over the many and amazing tools we've already been gifted.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Right to Life?

When it comes to the United States Declaration of Independence, the following sentence is the line we most often hear quoted:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

My heart soars whenever I hear those words, for they are truths that resonate down to my very soul. The unalienable right to life - what a beautiful acknowledgment of the preciousness, the sanctity, the exquisite wonder of life itself. Why then, do we not honor that fundamental belief by acknowledging that every human being on the face of planet Earth is entitled - endowed by creation itself with the unalienable right! - to their own little slice of tangible space in which they can actually live?

The right to life is not merely a lofty ideal to be admired - it's the founding principle of a nation that supposedly values life above all else, including profits. The capitalistic society we've constructed however, has tilted that scale in favor of profits over the rights and needs of living human beings. When banks foreclose on distressed families, it forces them into the streets where it's illegal for them to even lay down and sleep. Vagrancy (homelessness) is against the law in most cities in this country.

How fascinating that is. We've actually made it illegal for people who can't afford to buy space to occupy any space at all. What options do we suppose are available to such people? Do they have magical anti-gravity tethers that enable them to float above the ground, so as not to "disturb?"

I surely can't be the only person who sees the nonsensical disconnect between what we as Americans say we value, and what we're doing to each other for the sake of money.

As a citizen, I've paid taxes for as long as I can remember. Those taxes have gone to support many government programs I agree with, and many more I actively dislike - including the massive banking bailout now known as "Tarp." It's an appropriate name, given that trillions of our tax dollars have been tossed beneath a blanket whose corners are being held by AIG, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America. Those dollars then disappeared before our eyes, in a rather magical "now you see it, now you don't" kind of way. Meanwhile, those same financial institutions are conducting themselves in a "business as usual" fashion. They've raised our credit card interest rates, lifted our mortgage interest rates and added fees and fines to the bills of those who are in financial trouble. Their earnings are therefore coming back to profitability, but it's happening at the expense of the same living beings who just spent trillions to keep their businesses afloat. What were we thinking? Were we thinking? We saved the very institutions that are pressing their weight upon our necks. Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen that made us do so. But in any case, it's time we reconsider that decision for the good of us all.

I say we simply repossess the banks, cancel everyone's debts to them and redistribute all the foreclosed homes in America to those who are still in need. We can also take over the many hotels that have gone into foreclosure and are now bank-owned due to the recession, and install some homeless people in their empty rooms. Last but not least, all the national parks we currently pay to support could be turned into temporary refugee camps for the downtrodden, at least until we figure out how to provide them all with a place to live.

If we truly support and believe in the inalienable right to life, how is it possible to divorce that right from actual space to live in? On the other hand, if we'd rather continue to put private enterprise profitability before the right to life, perhaps we should write a constitutional amendment that goes something like this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men must find the means to afford to live, that our banks have been endowed by their Creators with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are the right to pursue a profit at the expense of Humankind, to deprive people of their right to utilize our public spaces and to cut short their pursuit of Happiness unless all their bills are paid."

Think about it...please.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome to the Universe Project

Welcome friends, to the Universe Project website. UP, if you're into acronyms, which we kind of are because they're mostly silly and fun. (For what it's worth, UP sounds a whole lot better to us than DOWN or OUT or HEY, so there you have it.)

Although our name may sound ambitious, the only mission of this website is to encourage people from all walks of life to come joyfully together for a single, common purpose: to do what we can to encourage our species to move more deeply into alignment with the trajectory of universal creation.

What, you ask, is the trajectory of universal creation? Good question. And the answer is...UP, at least the way we see it. You may disagree. If so, feel free to start your own website with your own acronym and ideas. We're not attached to being right, we just enjoy feeling really good about life. If you too like life then you've come to a welcoming place. Sit back and relax.

Next, over there in the red t-shirt. Yes, you. Come on now, don't be shy.

How, you ask, will we know if we're stepping into the cosmic flow, or if we're stepping into something, well...much smellier and worse?

For starters, being in the cosmic flow feels good! To embrace life, to honor nature and its movement toward higher order and greater consciousness, is to recognize what we've been evolving toward since humankind took its first, stumbling steps upon this planet. It's to know ourselves as part of an infinite and eternal process, connected to all that has ever gone before us and all that will ever come later. It's to let go of the need to know all the answers, and instead be free to ask questions, like: who the heck am I, and why on Earth am I here?

It's a good idea not to strain our brains by trying to answer those questions. Any answers we come up with at this early stage in our development will only limit our capacity to change. And if there's a single constant in this immense and awesome universe of ours, it's change. So we mustn't be afraid of change, of stepping into the vast, uncharted unknown of our tomorrow. After all, there isn't anything out there but the unknown. (Another word for it is reality.)

Being afraid of reality doesn't serve much purpose. It's like being afraid of breathing. There's no percentage in fearing what we must do. Life's going to happen whether we like it or not, so we might as well figure out how to enjoy the ride, and perhaps make it better.

What we're proposing here is this: anyone who has a curious mind, an open heart and a desire to connect with others who also don't have much clue as to what it's all about but who too feel an impulse inside themselves to seek out answers - just swing by our home page now and again and offer into the mix what it is you're experiencing or wish to know. We're here to learn from each other, to share our thoughts and feelings and perhaps to teach...but mainly to learn.

Whatever comes of this endeavor, be it magnificent or the mildest of whimpers, I believe our universe is smiling down on us all, the way an indulgent parent might gaze upon its not-too-bright (yet still promising) young child, in hopes that the child will someday outgrow its obnoxious, awkward phase and come into its own - whatever that is. While we may not have an answer yet, let's hope we will make our parental unit proud.

For now then, it's over and UP.