Monday, January 5, 2015

My Response to the Question: "Is Spirituality Still Important?"

Russell Brand posted a video today entitled "Is Spirituality Still Important?" This is my response to that question...

..."Spiritual" is such an ambiguous term, very much like "love". Everyone has their own idea of what it "means" and/or what it "feels like". They almost always link it to something "higher" or "better" than what they otherwise experience on a day to day basis as an ordinary human being. In the past few years I have begun to associate it more with what Robert Pirsig refers to (in his book, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals) as "Dynamic Quality" - something that one experiences in contrast to the more "static quality" of day to day existence. When people refer to "freedom" - yet another loosely defined term - I think they are also referring to various ways in which they feel "free" from the more "static" quality of ordinary experiences.

From a neurobiological perspective, what one "feels" at any given time is expressed in their bodies as various biochemicals floating around and linking up with receptors on their cells. Some chemicals may make you feel more ecstatic, others may make you feel more calm, or horny, etc. As Candace Pert explains in her book, Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine and in the movie What the 'Bleep' Do We Know?", all of our emotional states are communicated through our bodies with various combinations of biochemicals.

Also as illustrated in What the 'Bleep' do we know?, a "radical shift in perspective" or a moment of "awakening" (especially one that is rather permanent; i.e. you really cannot go back to seeing things the way you did before) also has a neurobiological correlate - neurons in the brain literally re-wiring themselves and making new associations.

Of late I have come to associate "transcending the ego" with a shift in dominance between the lower mammalian part of the human brain, otherwise referred to as the "Limbic Brain" and the more recently evolved part of the human brain, the "Pre-frontal Cortex". As I learned from Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky in his Human Behavioral Biology lecture series - if properly trained to do so (in the first 25 years of life), the pre-frontal cortex can mediate the impulses of the limbic brain, impulses that tend to be more self-gratifying and self-survival focused - or to use an often bantered "spiritual" term "ego-centric".

Consequently, if "appealing to a higher power" means "appealing to your pre-frontal cortex's higher capacity for reason and emotional self-regulation/impulse control (of the limbic brain)" (through "transcending the ego" or engaging "self-discipline", etc.) then I'm all for it no matter what the "source" of that instruction, religious or secular. At the end of the day, such emotional self-regulation is critical to cooperation and especially the creative negotiation necessary to meet the often conflicting needs of individuals and groups.

However, appealing to forces that are characterized as being "outside yourself" or in any way "other than" yourself is a double-edged sword. Either a person accepts Full Responsibility for their feelings, thoughts, and actions or they don't. I'm afraid anything that discourages that or has the potential to discourage that is just as likely to be detrimental as it is to be helpful and at least part of all of the problems we see in the world today are a result of that very "double-edged" nature of "appealing to a higher power" in the religious or "spiritual" sense.

Maybe it would be better to live with the understanding that we already exist, not only as the most highly evolved biological organisms on this planet - and, like Pirsig, I qualify this by saying we have thus far expressed the greatest capacity to interact "Dynamically" with our physical environment - but, furthermore, we have evolved some of the most complex Interactive Systems of individuals as part of our many Social Groups and our evolving Global World. That is what is truly "higher" about our existence in that it is a "higher" level of organization compared to how we might otherwise exist as individual organisms.

Just think about it... More truly individual organisms might be the Single-Celled kind, and those are recognized by most people as a "lower" level of life or Life form. Thus a "higher" level would be one that reflects a "higher level of organization" i.e. a "collective" or "colony" of individuals that routinely coordinate their activities. Humans as well as many other species have been at that "higher" level for a long time now, with humans expressing the "highest level" so far in terms of geographical coverage and socio-cultural variety and complexity.

In other words, It Should Be Perfectly Obvious that we are all Part of a Greater Whole - the greater whole of our "society" or "social organism" as well as the Greater Whole of this Planet and even the Universe. There are certain ways that we can act as individuals that can contribute or detract from the functioning of that larger whole, and therefore positively or negatively impact all the other individuals who are a part of that whole. In truth, there doesn't have to be anything "spiritual" about it. It is what it is as a matter of biological evolution. Furthermore, our current level of development or organization is a reflection of the same patterns of evolution that have been patterning for millions of years! And...from what I can tell, we have actually made a huge leap in that process of evolution since we have started to develop and more effectively utilize our new "central nervous system" - The Internet!

Yeah, Life!

So, in answer to the question "Is Spirituality Still Important?" I'm not so sure. Helping the pre-frontal cortex fully develop so it can mediate the "ego-centrism" of the limbic brain - definitely! Have various religious and/or "spiritual" practices in the past helped to make that possible? Probably so, but not without the opposite result as well, i.e. a heightening of self-centeredness in the form of self-righteousness, judgment, rejection, and even murder of "others" because of differing beliefs, etc. In other words, it is a very mixed legacy at best.

Consequently, at this point, I am perfectly okay with discarding "spirituality" and opting for a new approach that acknowledges our inherent biological and social interconnectedness instead. In truth, this evolving collective of human beings, regularly cooperating with one another throughout the course of history, has progressively afforded more and more human beings more and more opportunities to experience "Dynamic Quality". Think about it: Human beings now have more options for having a "new experience", for exploring almost every aspect of living and relating with each other and with the environment in a "Dynamic" way than they ever have before! Granted, there have been challenges and conflicts as well, and there still are, very significant ones, but OVERALL the opportunities to experience "Dynamic Quality" have expanded over time.

With respect to how it helps us mediate our behaviors in a social group, the development of our pre-frontal cortexes has been a critical part of that overall evolutionary process and I am convinced it is actually even more critical today than it has ever been. In many ways I feel we have "devolved" somewhat socially by discouraging self-discipline and self-responsibility in the last few decades. (A problem I have addressed more thoroughly in this previous post.) The other thing our rational pre-frontal cortexes have allowed for, seemingly at the behest of our self-serving limbic brains, is the development of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Ironically, these weapons threaten ALL of US and ALL of our Self-Serving Limbic Brains as well, which should be a testimony to how much we should Not be Catering to Them in the first place!

From a biological perspective, it's quite obvious to me that my routine association and cooperation with other individuals is a higher level of order or complexity and functioning than my existing as an individual alone. My opportunities to experience "Dynamic Quality" (what others might call "awakening" or "freedom" or "enlightenment" or "love") are far more abundant as part of this social system than they would be apart from it. I hope after reading this, it will be obvious to others as well and that they will also be motivated to enhance their functioning at the biological-social level through greater self-discipline and emotional self-regulation - i.e. the development of the capacities of their more highly evolved pre-frontal cortex to regulate the functioning of their less highly evolved limbic brains (heretofore referred to in "spiritual communities" as "transcending one's ego"...).

And finally, rather than aspiring to achieve some "spiritual ideal" that may be only a projection of our individual and collective early developmental experience as human biological beings, I hope more people will begin to concentrate their attention here, in this truly amazing world we live in, and help to make it a better place for all beings, including the non-human ones. This will require that we respect our particularly unique status as highly evolved biological organisms and social groups with the greatest capacities for Dynamic Creation as well as Dynamic Destruction!

As many "spiritual" types like to say: "The Power Lies Within!" - And I couldn't agree more! The power really does "lie within" the already present capacities and potential capacities of our human brains - especially our Pre-frontal Cortexes. But those will not develop on their own. They need a Human Society to help them develop. And so, once again, we are "all connected" in this venture as individual parts of the Greater Whole!

Friday, October 17, 2014

You Get What You Play For!

Robert Pirsig is the best selling author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. He is also the author of another book, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. I've read both books. Most recently I finished reading Lila... for the third time. I can't say there are many if any other books that I have read three times in my life, but this one was definitely worth it.

Furthermore, as I have a much clearer intention of writing my own book, in this reading of Lila... I allowed myself the freedom to underline and write comments in the margins. Because of this, I feel I digested these ideas much more thoroughly than in the first two readings. In addition, over the past couple of weeks I have been very intentionally bringing these ideas into conversation wherever appropriate, and I am finding more and more instances where Pirsig's perspectives do have relevance.

So, to offer a brief summary:

In Lila... Pirsig challenges the "subject-object" metaphysics of scientific materialism replacing it with his "Metaphysics of Quality". In this "Metaphysics of Quality" he sees the first division of reality being between "static" and "Dynamic" Quality. Furthermore, he sees reality sub-divided into what he calls "patterns of value" that exist at different levels; i.e. there are Inorganic Patterns of Value, Biological Patterns of Value, Social Patterns of Value, and Intellectual Patterns of Value. There is an implicit evolutionary hierarchy here as well as "moral codes" that exist at the interfaces of each level. For instance there are certain "moral codes" that guide the interactions of biological patterns of value with inorganic patterns of value. As expressed by various cultures around the world, there are "moral codes" that guide the behavior of individual biological organisms within various societies (and this could actually be said of non-human as well as human societies, although human societies tend to be the most diverse and complex). As exemplified in our "Bill of Rights", there has been an advance in recognizing the place of "Intellectual Freedom" even in the midst of a Society - for instance, with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion.

About half way through the book, Pirsig points to the Victorian era as representing the last point when "Society" was seen as the highest expression of human development. To know if something was moral, all one had to do was answer the question: "Does society approve?" With this guideline, both biology and intellect were seen as subservient to the prevailing social moral codes.

However, during WWI this "virtuous and noble" Victorian society saw fit to send millions of its young men to their deaths. With the introduction of the Gatling Gun, the casualties were enormous and gruesome. Those who survived were left to question how such a "virtuous and noble" society could be so willing to sacrifice so many of its members. In addition, there was an increasing shift away from those social moral codes as the perspectives of scientific materialism framed the world as not having, nor needing any kind of moral codes to guide it. Everything was seen to be happening by "chance," or the seemingly random assembly of molecules that eventually led to the appearance of complex human beings. Furthermore, since neither a "moral" nor a "society" could really be studied, like a scientist studies a microbe under a microscope, then these were essentially disregarded as having no real "existence" at all, let alone any "value".

Therefore, the generation that followed WWI embraced Intellectual Freedom over social moral codes and traditions. In order to determine if something were "good" one needed only to appeal to one's intellect and the "proofs" provided by science, including anthropology. For instance, if free sexual exploration as teenagers was "good" for Samoan society, than it could be "good" for every other society as well. Pirsig sees the shift of the power base from the Old Victorians to the New Intellectuals exemplified in the election of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the first president to have also been a university professor.

It is from the rising Intellectual Class that the ideas of social engineering via socialism and communism came into vogue. And from Pirsig's point of view, WWII was really a war between the Old Guard of social moral codes and social authority (represented by Fascism) and the New Guard of Intellectuals and scientific materialism dominating society. And the New Guard ultimately won that battle.

From my point of view, the development of the atomic bomb, though pursued for military reasons, was also a pursuit of the intellectuals and the scientists, again without any regard for the moral implications of their work. It was only after their success, and the use of the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that those moral implications became much more obvious, especially to Robert J. Oppenheimer. He became a voice against the use of the weapons later in his life, a challenge to the New Intellectual and Scientific Elite, and he was branded a traitor as a consequence.

(Even to this day, many people question the MORALITY of ever developing, let alone using the atomic bomb. But keep in mind, scientific materialism cannot consider morals. The scientific method provides no tools for observing or studying morals. Morals are beyond the purview of science as we currently know it. The "morality" of creating atomic weapons was never at issue, only the facts of the science of creating them, and who could discover those facts and implement them first. If we are going to let the assumptions of scientific materialism guide us, this is logically where they lead.)

By the '60's and '70's a new rebellion took place. This time it was initiated by fairly well-off and fairly well-educated young men and women who not only continued the attack against "society" and "social moral codes" started after WWI, but also began to attack the Intellectuals and Intellectual Institutions that had grown up since then. The new answer to the question "Is it right?" or "Is it good?" - became "If it feels good, do it!" Interestingly enough, as Pirsig points out, many of these young people began to steer their lives towards adopting the social patterns of Native Americans; i.e. more gentle rearing of children, simplicity, speaking directly, and being closer to nature, among other things. However, he also goes on to point out, that this kind of "laid back" approach to day to day life does not "fit" well in an urban setting, where there are other expectations - like being on time to do a job where other people are depending on you.

I guess the most important take home point I got from reading this chronicle was this: The revolutionaries of the '60's and '70's made no distinctions between biological freedom and intellectual freedom. I have realized that "If it feels good, do it!"is the most primitive motto of all individual biological organisms. However, even within the first colonial organisms, some of that individual biological freedom had to be sacrificed for the benefit of living more safely and securely within a group of similar individuals.

That most basic pattern of sacrifice of individual biological freedom for the benefit of being part of a collective has replicated itself throughout the evolutionary tree. In other words, some of the most primitive single cells that organize themselves into colonies "understand" that complete "biological freedom" is not "moral" if you want to live in a group with others like yourself. And yet, back in the '60's and '70's this "moral code", that even the members of a Volvox colony could understand and value, got thrown out the window and was replaced with the idea that every individual should be free to do whatever they want, no matter how it affects the people around them. In other words..."If it feels good do it!" and following that - "survival of the fittest"...

So here we are roughly 50 years later, and if you judge by that particular moral code; i.e."if it feels good, do it," and "survival of the fittest", then the Big Corporations and the Big Governments and the Most Powerful Countries are also the most "moral". Hey...they're just "playing by the rules"! Everyone has decided those old Victorians were idiots and didn't have any clue about how to be part of a society. Furthermore, the intellectuals got off track since they could not see a "moral" or see a "society" in any kind of meaningful way, and, consequently, they had nothing to offer to replace the social moral codes of the Victorians.

Now our technology has completely outpaced our Moral Maturity as far as evolutionary progress is concerned. As I listened to Noam Chomsky speak recently on "Security and State Policy", I completely understood why, when it comes to Security of the Society - i.e. the Majority of the People living in this country (for instance), none of our leaders really care if we get blown up by terrorists, as long as They don't get blown up by terrorists, as long as any of their financial backers and corporations do not get blown up by terrorists. They have no sense of being Part of a/Our Society, or accountable by any "moral social codes" that include all of the rest of us. They are just doing their own thing for themselves, while they feed off the rest of us, and off the rest of our labor and intelligence.

However, if you can imagine that a "society" is a real thing. That we are part of a society that is simply a different level or type of "organism" or "pattern of values" to use Pirsig's term, then the 1% are like a cancer that has been growing and growing and growing, building more and more avenues/blood vessels through which to channel the resources of this society/organism to themselves.

There are some people out there who are thinking, like many medical doctors think about cancer, that we're going to have to "radiate the entire body" in order to kill off the cancer. Those are a lot of your violent revolutionaries and apocalyptic thinkers. Of course, such a violent and radical approach risks killing the body itself. Violent revolution can be that kind of "chemotherapy", in that it can destroy the "innocent/healthy" cells as well as the "cancerous" ones, and there is a very good chance that the patient will die - that the patient will not have enough functioning parts left to survive after the cancer is gone.

In his books, Paul K. Chappell writes about violent approaches to resolving major conflicts as being similar to using amputation of a wounded leg to prevent infection rather than antibiotics. He asserts that the key is better understanding. Just as medical doctors have made progress in understanding how the body works, so they know it is better to give antibiotics rather than cut off a leg, so the populations of the world must better understand the nature of conflict in order to find a more precise way of dealing with it that does not involve violence.

Interestingly enough, (and I think without really knowing it) Chappell has offered a new version of a "social moral code" that we might aspire to, especially in his book, Peaceful Revolution. And knowing Chappell somewhat personally, I'd say he would have probably been quite comfortable in Victorian society! I will not say that he has All of the Answers, but a lot of his work certainly points in a general direction that I feel needs to be considered seriously, especially in light of Robert Pirsig's ideas as well.

One of the strategic instructions of Chappell's work centers on the teaching of Sun Tzu in The Art of War: Never attack your opponent at their strongest point. Our government in combination with the current corporate powers, has the most highly trained and technologically advanced military and police forces in the world. Consequently, to try to dismantle any of that through violent revolution would be devastating for all concerned. Again, that is more like the "radiate the entire body to destroy the cancer" approach. And in this case, the cancer has a much stronger immune system than the body itself. Instead, as Chappell suggests, we have to attack them at the level of their Moral Authority, where they are weakest.

However, in order to do that, as a society, we have to be functioning with a Higher Moral Code ourselves...and that means we have to understand the difference between "biological freedom" and "intellectual freedom". We have to fully understand that we cannot have total "biological freedom" and be part of a stable, sustainable, society or world for that matter. Consequently, when we say we want more "freedom" we are going to have to be very, very clear about what that means. From my point of view, that needs to mean we want more "freedom" to create new forms of society and community that are not at the mercy and threat of the political and financial "cancers" that have grown up in our midst.

Think of the movie,The Wolf of Wall Street. This movie epitomizes the ideas of "survival of the fittest" and "if it feels good, do it". Those ideas make up the (biological) "moral code" we are actually functioning under, especially here in the West and it is the same "moral code" we have been exporting throughout the world for decades now. However, if that really is the "moral code" we have (mostly unconsciously) agreed to in this society, ever since the revolutions of the '60s and '70s, then those who manage to survive the longest and make the most money to "do whatever makes them feel good", are the MORAL VICTORS here!!!! And we have NO RIGHT TO BE COMPLAINING about them!!!

Furthermore, if the people who want to challenge them only want to displace them so a New Group can continue to survive at the expense of the rest of society, then that means that those "displacers" are Not Representing a HIGHER MORAL CODE. Such displacement of the current powers that be without a Change of Moral Codes is NOT GOING TO MAKE FOR ANY FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE for society, and that means for Most of the Rest of Us and for the World!...

Really take some time to think about that...

...However, if each of us is willing to recognize that, no matter how loosely we may be held together right now, we are already a part of a Society of Humankind. And to actually make those bonds stronger, we have to recognize that there is a Different Moral Code to guide our behaviors as part of this Society. That Moral Code means giving up at least some elements of our "individual biological freedom"; i.e. to "do whatever makes me feel good," or "reproduce as many babies as I want to, with or without a partner, with or without the means to support them," or to "eat as much crap as I want to even if my bad health negatively impacts the people around me and the medical system that supports us," or to "consume all kinds of resources that I really don't need just because I can," or "Let me speculate in the stock market for short-term gains at the expense of long-term financial stability", etc., etc., etc. If we can collectively move beyond the biological moral code of "if it feels good do it" and "survival of the fittest", and once again find our path to a new, and actually, More Intelligent "Social Moral Code" then, and Only Then, will we be in a position of Moral Authority over those elements of our society that are currently in power - elements that are clearly not functioning with anything like a Social Moral Code except maybe "Honor Among Thieves"!

And, maybe, hopefully, we can turn this mess around in time, and help to renew the other critical component of our survival here - the Earth itself, upon which ALL biological organisms and societies and free thinkers depend.

To Summarize...

You cannot have Biology without the Earth, you cannot have Society without individual biological organisms working cooperatively to sustain it, you cannot have Intellectual Development without a Society that is there to educate its members and to give them the tools of self-discipline to regulate their biological drives so that they can be productive and contributing members to that society, and you cannot have Intellectual Freedom without a Society that understands that without it, there can be no New Ideas that help to keep Society moving forward.

I am grateful for the society of which I am a part, in spite of its obvious problems. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had for gainful employment that have allowed me to sustain my biological needs and to further my education. I appreciate the technology that is available to me to continue to expand my knowledge of others ideas and to communicate my own.

And I am grateful for all of the people in my life who read my blogs, who are critical thinkers and communicators themselves, and who are doing whatever they can to make the world and this society a better place for all of us to live and grow and develop our full potentials as human beings, both individually and collectively.

I have hope for the future, knowing what I know now. But I do feel a certain Urgency in spreading these ideas, as the clock is ticking for how long we can keep going down the path we are on. I would hate to see all that we have managed to create here "go to waste" when so much of it can be salvaged with a fairly simple shift in understanding; part of which again, is understanding the difference between biological and intellectual freedom and the critical role a healthy, functional, society plays in mediating between the two.

I welcome your questions and feedback...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Giraffes" vs. "Jackals" - Marshall Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication

My friend Eleanor Kuser posted this on Facebook and although it took me a little while to find the time, once I did watch Nonviolent Communication Basics (2000) I was deeply affected by it. I wanted to share it on this blog because I feel what Marshall Rosenberg is offering is another solution-oriented "gift" of profound wisdom.

Furthermore, in response to watching this video, I feel compelled to confess that I, too, am a product of "Jackal" culture: 1) I am inclined to think in terms of "right" and "wrong" rather than needs and feelings, and 2) I am all too quick to jump to a diagnosis, a psychoanalysis of a person and their motives, or whatever I think might be holding them back rather than "listening with Giraffe ears" and hearing the deeper needs and feelings they might be trying to express. I also acknowledge that these violent communication habits are hard to break, but, having watched this video, I can see the error of my ways and I am going to commit myself to developing new habits.

All I ask is for patience from those particularly sensitive friends of mine who have been negatively impacted by my being more of a "Jackal" than a "Giraffe" in my language and behavior, even when I feel my heart really has been in the right place. From now on, I am going to work harder on letting the heart-feeling and desire for connection, rather than correction, motivate me.

In the above video, Rosenberg points out that the purpose of non-violent communication is to create an environment where "natural giving" can take place.

I hope this video "gift" moves my readers Naturally to consider their own communication habits and to become more non-violent in those habits as well. I also ask that they hold me accountable for my own commitment, should I slip into old habits any time in the future!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Getting to the "How" - What this Blog Is All About!

I have not been a fan of Adam Kokesh. I was not enthusiastic about his posturing, and potentially threatening if not outright violent behavior. Early this year he was calling for "The Final American Revolution," including an armed march on Washington D.C. This demonstration was ultimately reduced to his simply carrying and loading his own shotgun at Freedom Plaza and then posting a video of it on YouTube. He was later arrested, and then spent a couple of months in solitary confinement in Fairfax, VA, followed by another couple of months in solitary in Washington, D.C., and yet another two months with the general population incarcerated with him in D.C.

Today I watched this conversation between Adam and Stefan Molyneux and at the 1:34:00 point, Stefan questions what the benefits were of his being incarcerated.

I'd like to pose an answer to that question: It gave him a lot of time to be alone and think, hard. And although I have not familiarized myself with everything he might of said before, I appreciate a lot of what he had to offer in this interview. I see him looking much more globally at how all kinds of different people are going to be affected by the kinds of changes so many of us want to see in the world. I see him cognizant and very reasonable about both immediate and long-term possibilities and goals. And, now, I am quite happy to include this video as part of my offering of ideas here focused not on just "describing the problems", but on actually coming up with solutions; i.e. the "How" that Adam discusses in this conversation with Stefan.

I still think they both should be taking a look at Paul K. Chappell's work, because Paul offers a much clearer perspective on the violent/aggressive vs. cooperative nature of human beings. I will be bringing that to their attention whenever I can.

In the mean time, I offer this video dialogue For Your Consideration as well. Enjoy!

How to Move Forward to Create a Peaceful Society Based on the Principle of Non-Aggression - A Discussion between Adam Kokesh and Stefan Molyneux

Monday, October 28, 2013

Russell Brand, Dylan Ratigan, Stefan Molyneux, Paul Chappell

This video of Russell Brand went viral recently: NEWSNIGHT: Paxman vs Brand - full interview.

And then Dylan Ratigan posted this article in response to another of Brand's videos: The Unoffendable Brand

For this post I'd like to also draw attention to another of Dylan Ratigan's recent articles that, among other things, presents an option for changing the way candidates are elected by giving every person a $200 voucher with which they can funnel their support:  Thousands of Stories of Hope, One Barrier and How We Can Overcome It

Then there's this video from Stefan Molyneux: An Open Letter to Russell Brand - Let's Start a Revolution

And, another recent post of a previous article written by Molyneux: The Stateless Society - An Examination of Alternatives

What I am offering here are perspectives on "the problems" as well as some "solutions" being offered, with more or less detail, by all three of these people.

I think in some ways at least, these perspectives do represent many of the different points of view from which people might see the problems and imagine their possible solutions.

(I guess the one I have not included is anything from Adam Kokesh as his aggressive posturing is archaic to me as well as simply being strategically foolish, and besides, haven't seen much of him lately anyway.  Gee, I wonder why?)

There is also the ongoing work of Paul K. Chappell, former Army Captain and now author and Peace Leadership Director for the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Although he does not offer any specific solutions to the problems outlined above, he does offer guidance for how we might resolve these problems and conflicts non-violently, in part by learning to respect one another and communicate more effectively with others, including those who oppose our point of view.  He puts a lot of emphasis on empathy in his writing and this is also highlighted in another recent piece  by Ratigan and in two podcasts by Molyneux:  Negotiation Part 1: The Opportunity, and Negotiation Part 2: The Challenges.

I am offering all of these links here because I feel all of these men are deep thinkers, eloquent communicators, and clearly passionate about their work in the world. They are, however, looking at the problems and seeing the solutions, or trying to contribute to the solutions in different ways. I am in the process of considering all of their contributions, and I want to present these ideas to others as well here on this specifically solution-oriented blog.

I will leave it up to my readers to come to their own conclusions about the plausibility and actionability of their recommendations, with the understanding that there are many conflicts to be resolved both on the interpersonal, community, national, and global levels.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Thoughts on Negotiation

Over the past several months I have tried as often as I could to tune-in to Stefan Molyneux's Sunday Call-in Show via his website Freedomain Radio. It is kind of a cool format, you can listen to the broadcast and add comments or discuss other things that come up in the chat room.

During one of these broadcasts, Stefan made the point that by having very rational discussions with his still very young daughter (I think she may be three now), he was giving her lots of opportunities to practice negotiating.

This really intrigued me and I have recently listened to a two part discussion he presented on the topic:

Negotiation Part 1: The Opportunity

Negotiation Part 2: The Challenges

Sometimes, I think Stefan can be a bit rough in the way he presents his material, but, as with these talks, he really left me with some things to think about.

First of all: Most children are raised with a "win-lose" perspective/experience of "negotiation", in that, they are usually at the mercy of their parents' will, with or without any kind of rational justification or guidance for each incidence of conflict. As Stefan explains, this is, therefore, the "equation" they internalize.

Furthermore, although they may not have much choice in these matters as children, by the time they start to become adults, part of their accumulation of power, whatever form it takes, is all too often primarily directed towards "turning the tables", so that where they were once on the "losing" side of the "win-lose" equation, they can now cross over to the "winning" side. (But, of course, that means other people with whom they relate have to become the "losers" which ultimately does not support long-term, healthy, functional relationships.)

As Stefan points out in Part I of this talk, negotiation occurs in the context of certain realities: a) Everyone has needs and wants they wish to fulfill, b) The needs and wants of individuals do not always coincide, in fact, they very rarely coincide. In addition, from his point of view, negotiation is ultimately a creative process; i.e. two individuals come together, one is focused on accomplishing "Plan A" the other is focused on accomplishing "Plan B" and these two plans do not coincide. In order for negotiation to be truly effective, the two parties have to be able to come up with "Plan X" which is a New Plan that turns out to be better and ultimately more desirable to both parties than either "Plan A" or "Plan B". This is what he defines as a truly creative, "win-win" negotiation.

He goes on to explain how critical one's capacity for empathy is to being able to carry out these kinds of "win-win" negotiations. For instance, if you do not know what is really motivating someone to want "Plan A" or "Plan B", then you will have difficulty coming up with a suitable alternative, something that might meet their needs even better than "Plan A" or "Plan B". In some ways, you have to know them better than they know themselves to come up with a "Plan X" that is going to appeal to them beyond what they have already come up with for themselves.

Stefan also points out how people with low self-esteem, people who have internalized the "win-lose" scenarios of childhood, almost always feel threatened when faced by the challenge to negotiate with others in this creative way. First of all, "losing" for a child is traumatizing and humiliating, and adults who have not worked through those experiences are likely to feel the threat of "losing" or being humiliated that much more, in part because they know they are adults and that they should be over such concerns already, as well as because it does not take much to shift them into that place of feeling vulnerable and helpless, just like they were as children. Secondly, trying to engage them in truly creative negotiations with which they have little if any experience, quickly brings to light their inabilities, their inadequacies in this area. And finally, it is simply very difficult to give up the deeply internalized "win-lose" equation, as it feels like one is giving up their power for which they may have been working to gain all of their adult lives, ultimately to have power over others in the same way their parents had power over them.

I've never been a big fan of Thucydides, who authored the time-honored maxim of international relations when he wrote about the Peloponnesian War and characterized all such conflicts as a "struggle for power". But, if Stefan is right, and the seeds of such struggles are planted in childhood, where the child is so often forced to play the role of "loser" to their parents and other adults as "winners", then I can see how his observations are "true" in that they reflect this pattern that is being unconsciously repeated from generation to generation.

However, that doesn't mean it Always has to be that way. With enough understanding, with enough education, with enough adults learning to more effectively deal with their own childhood traumas before passing that legacy onto their children, we could learn to become better negotiators, and we could teach future generations of children to be better negotiators as well.

In that case, the struggle would be to challenge our individual and collective capacities to solve conflicts more creatively, to negotiate to find "Plan X" where we only start out with "Plan A" and "Plan B". First and foremost, though, it really is important to see how pervasive our "win-lose" thinking and politicing is right now, both on the national and international fronts as well as closer to home. How quickly do activist groups fall into chaos because each individual is working from that internally driven "win-lose" equation, of which they may not even be consciously aware?

Nevertheless, human beings are obviously some of The Most Creative Beings On This Planet! If anything, that is our Shared Power and it increases synergistically when people are able to combine their creative problem-solving efforts. That, too, is happening all the time, especially in fields of industry. However, it is in the field of closer, interpersonal relationships, that our most human frailties and vulnerabilities are accentuated. Consequently, where our technological development has raced forward, there is still much more work to be done if we are going to move our human socio-cultural development forward as well, and it starts with parents and other adults giving children more opportunities to practice the skills and art of Creative Negotiation.