A brief history of social economy

Our needs are simple: food, shelter, security, comfort, leisure to create.  But historically, there has never been enough to go around.  The basics of life were available only to those who could command the labor of others on their behalf.

There has always been a struggle to determine who shall toil and who shall live in leisure.  Comfort was linked inextricably to oppression.  Because we were either slaves or masters, we have a long habit of distrust, and have learned to regard each other as competitors in a struggle for power and pursuit of scarce resources.

In the 21st Century, mankind for the first time has the potential for sufficiency.  Machines substitute for labor.  Technology has given us the horn of plenty, and no one’s comfort need depend any longer on the suffering of another. 

Habits die slowly.  The mental orientation toward scarcity is deeply ingrained, and the hunger for power will not die in a single generation.  But reality will free us in time from resentments and struggle.  As the basis for our fears dies away, so, too, will the fears, and with them our constrained habits of thought.

We shall be freed to regard one another as sacred souls all, reflections of ourselves and companions on our voyage into mystery.

— Josh Mitteldorf

1 March 2009

Bertrand Russell

was an aristocrat who used his status to challenge the establishment.  He was a humanist deeply committed to peace, with values derived with autonomy, and an ever-present sense of humor.

Born in 1872, Russell lived long enough to protest the Vietnam war, and to be dragged into jail as a 95-year-old practicing nonviolence. 

Watch John Freeman interview Russell in a 1959 BBC special, now on Youtube  

2 March 2009

Tomorrow’s Child

What is hope?

It is the pre-sentiment that imagination is more real and reality is less real than it looks.  It is the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress us is not the last word.  It is the suspicion that reality is more complex than the realists want us to believe.
That the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual; and in a miraculous and unexplained way, life is opening creative events which will light the way to freedom and resurrection.

But the two  — suffering and hope — must live from each other.  Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair.  But hope without suffering creates illusions, naïveté and drunkenness.

So let us plant dates even though we who plant them will never eat them.  We must live by the love of what we will never see.  That is the secret discipline.  It is the refusal to let our creative act be dissolved away by our need for immediate sense experience and it is a struggled commitment to the future of our grandchildren.  Such disciplined hope is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints the courage to die for the future they envisage.  They make their own bodies the seed of their highest hope.

— Rubin Alves

3 March 2009

A Scientist goes to an Ashram for a Personal Retreat

How does all of this validate the views of someone who does not believe in a personal God, but who has a strong sense of being one with the universe and possibly losing a sense of self in the experience. The transcendent and the numinous can be accessible to the most materialistic of scientists, without positing the supernatural. At the same time, there is no reason to mistrust the same experiences in believers simply because they posit a supernatural source. The question is not, “Does God exist?” It’s irrelevant. The question is whether believers and nonbelievers can rejoice in the same experiences and not denigrate the other’s explanation as to the origins of very powerful human responses.

Norman Costa, writing at 3QuarksDaily/a>

4 March 2009

My Father

my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height

this motionless forgetful where
turned at his glance to shining here;
that if(so timid air is firm)
under his eyes would stir and squirm

newly as from unburied which
floats the first who,his april touch
drove sleeping selves to swarm their fates
woke dreamers to their ghostly roots

and should some why completely weep
my father’s fingers brought her sleep:
vainly no smallest voice might cry
for he could feel the mountains grow.

Lifting the valleys of the sea
my father moved through griefs of joy;
praising a forehead called the moon
singing desire into begin

Scorning the Pomp of must and shall
my father moved through dooms of feel;
his anger was as right as rain
his pity was as green as grain

his sorrow was as true as bread:
no liar looked him in the head;
if every friend became his foe
he’d laugh and build a world with snow.

My father moved through theys of we,
singing each new leaf out of each tree
(and every child was sure that spring
danced when she heard my father sing)

then let men kill which cannot share,
let blood and flesh be mud and mire,
scheming imagine,passion willed,
freedom a drug that’s bought and sold

though dull were all we taste as bright,
bitter all utterly things sweet,
maggoty minus and dumb death
all we inherit,all bequeath

and nothing quite so least as truth
–i say though hate were why men breathe–
because my Father lived his soul
love is the whole and more than all

e e cummings

5 March 2009

Cold storage for genes

There is mounting evidence that genomes are like wardrobes, containing not just the currently useful genes, but also ancient genes that haven’t been used in millions of years, but also haven’t been lost, just in case environments change and they become useful again to some distant descendant.

Natural selection is supposed to be blind.  Natural selection has no foresight.  How did genomes learn to stash away ideas that might be useful, say, another million years from now?

This is part of a far richer reality than evolutionary scientists have imagined, and if we have courage and an open-minded posture to embrace it, then we will be rewarded with a deeper appreciation of nature’s wonders.

New Scientist article by Alison Motluk

6 March 2009

Sing God a simple song

Sing God a simple song, lauda, laude
Make it up as you go along: lauda, laude
Sing like you like to sing.
God loves all simple things,
For God is the simplest of all.

In 1971, for the opening of the Kennedy Center in DC, Bernstein took the traditional Catholic mass and embedded in a theater piece that explores the contradictions and ambiguities in the role of the church in a rapidly-changing, pluralistic America.  The believer confronts the counterculture, the warriors and the war protestors, the scientists and the businessmen, and is challenged the find the core of his faith.  In the end, the value that emerges is community. 

Orchestration includes marching band, bongo drums, electric guitars, organs, electronic keyboards, childrens’ voices, in addition to 20 solo voices, 2 choirs and an orchestra.

Listen to Simple Song from the theatrical Mass by Leonard Bernstein
Listen to Marin Alsop talking about the Mass in an NPR interview

‘Half the people are stoned and the other half are waiting for the next election.
Half the people are drowned and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction.’
         — Paul Simon

7 March 2009

A brief history of political civilization

Leaders dehumanize the other tribe, sow hatred and misunderstanding in order to make their subjects feel threatened and afraid.  Thus they consolidate their power. They propagandize to overcome resistance to conflict, and drag their constituents into wars for their own aggrandizement. Leaders in competing tribes mirror this strategy, and the stage is set for tragedy.

In the 21st century, at long last the game is up. Global travel, intermarriage, and wider communication has made it harder to maintain the illusion that we are good and they are evil, impossible to hide the horrors of war from the people whose participation is enlisted.

Though change may seem agonizingly slow, the warriors’ game is in its last throes, and the pace of progress is blistering compared to human history of the past.  War and oppression are coming to an end in our lifetimes.

– Josh Mitteldorf

8 March 2009

Der Schauende — The man watching

Wie ist das klein, womit wir ringen,
was mit uns ringt, wie ist das groß;
ließen wir, ähnlicher den Dingen,
uns so vom großen Sturm bezwingen, -
wir würden weit und namenlos.

Was wir besiegen, ist das Kleine,
und der Erfolg selbst macht uns klein.
Das Ewige und Ungemeine
will nicht von uns gebogen sein.
Das ist der Engel, der den Ringern
des Alten Testaments erschien:
wenn seiner Widersacher Sehnen
im Kampfe sich metallen dehnen,
fühlt er sie unter seinen Fingern
wie Saiten tiefer Melodien.

Wen dieser Engel überwand,
welcher so oft auf Kampf verzichtet,
der geht gerecht und aufgerichtet
und groß aus jener harten Hand,
die sich, wie formend, an ihn schmiegte.
Die Siege laden ihn nicht ein.
Sein Wachstum ist: der Tiefbesiegte
von immer Größerem zu sein.

Rainer Maria Rilke

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and nameless.

When we win its with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler
s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated,
decisively, by ever greater beings.

—tr Robert Bly

9 March 2009

Pharmaceutical help for the insufferably cheery

Are you insufferably ebullient? Do you beam if a stranger so much as looks your way? Do you see the silver lining in even awful situations? Well, there’s help for you! The FDA has recently approved a new depressant called Despondex. Although alternative natural treatments exist (TV, high-fructose corn syrup, sedentary lifestyles), these therapies put the onus on the victim.  Medical help is available now that de-stigmatizes joie de vivre.  Yes, even you can be socially appropriate.

video from TheOnion

10 March 2009

Auto graveyard

As a dominant form of transportation, the automobile is dead...The financial crisis now enveloping the world is grounded in the transition from the automobile (and the fossils that fuel it) to a brave renewable world of reborn mass transit and green power...

Franklin Roosevelt took GM over in 1943-5 to make the hardware to beat the Nazis. Barack Obama should now do the same to beat climate chaos...Hybrids are too little, too late, with problems of their own. Solar-powered electric cars will help phase out the gas guzzlers. But in the long run, the automobile itself needs to be dismantled and re-cycled, not retooled or rebuilt...

We need to dig up roads, not build more. We need rails and coaches, bio-diesel buses and self-propelled trolleys, Solartopian super-trains and in-town people movers, not to mention windmills, solar panels, wave generators and geothermal piping...

Our true challenge is to envision, engineer and build a Solartopian transportation system that moves people and things cleanly around a crowded planet with diminishing resources and no margin for ecological error.

Harvey Wasserman, writing for FreePress.org

11 March 2009

‘Full understanding can come to you
 only through an inexpressible mystery.’

Huang Po (c 800 AD)

12 March 2009


‘The time has come. We know how to build peace; we just have to do it...

‘I write these words now to all of you who know this and in one way or another are doing it already, especially if you are in despair or think you are doing it alone. Human evolution is the story not of war but of cooperation, and the creation of a National Peace Academy, possibly in conjunction with the establishment of a cabinet-level Department of Peace (H.R. 808), would push human cooperation to a new level, because it would require the convergence of so many activists, educators, artists, scientists and philosophers.

‘And the time for this to happen — as flawed national and international systems based on fear, greed, injustice and endlessly cycling retribution break down or spin out of control — is now.’

Reversing the Cycle of Violence
     Robert Koehler, CommonWonders.com

The day will comewhen, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

13 March 2009

Stop trying to change

In order to change we must quit trying to change and simply be who and where we are.  The Gestalt Therapy notion is that awareness and contact bring natural and spontaneous change.  Only by being who we are can we begin to grow into something else.  Self-discipline can be as counter-productive as externally-imposed coercion. 

‘By rejecting the role of change agent, we make meaningful and orderly change possible.’ — Arnold Bessler

Transition does not require that you reject or deny the importance of your old life, just that you let go of it.  The process begins with surrender (of avoidances), awareness (of who and where we really are) and release (of the old ways of being).

article by Reg Harris

14 March 2009

Stop trying to create change

Yesterday’s DI proclaimed the sufficiency of self-acceptance as a basis for personal transformation: Know and accept yourself thoroughly and change will take care of itself.

I speculate that the same is true of social change: That spreading truth is both necessary and sufficient for the transformation of society.

It is said that ‘Truth is the first casualty of war’. The converse is that exposing lies can create peace. When we understand the truth about foreign peoples and ways of life, they are no longer threatening to us, and we cannot sustain hatred for them.

Every despot has had his propaganda machine, saturating the channels of communication with myths and distortions. He knows that his hold on power hangs on the success of his lies.

The Quakers practice ‘bearing witness’ to injustice. The only thing Gandhi was ruthless about (in his personal discipline and in his political stance) was the truth.

Today’s revolutionaries and utopians may forgo the strategy debates: all that we need do is to study what is actually happening in our world, and to get the word out.

— Josh Mitteldorf

15 March 2009

Saying ‘no’ to numbness

We are born equipped to experience a complex array of diverse emotions. Many of us, however, are uncomfortable confronting our most powerful emotions. We may shy away from delight as well as despair, and deny life’s colors by retreating into a world of monotone grey. We may numb ourselves to what we are truly feeling. It’s easier to suppress our emotions than to deal with them, so we may momentarily turn to diversions such as alcohol, food, sugar, shopping or television. Work, too, can be misused as an anesthetic.

We may even numb our hearts. While it’s normal to temporarily seek distractions as a means of coping with intense emotions, numbing yourself habitually can block the action of discomfort as an impetus to learning and growth. When you are numb, there is no pain or powerlessness, but there can also be no joy or healing.

The activities that numb you may seem harmless or pleasurable, but turning to them habitually diminishes the quality of your life. Numbing yourself so that you don’t have to feel intense emotions can often satisfy a surface need while blocking your awareness of a deeper need. You may find solace in food or shopping when what you really need is spiritual nourishment. The less you feel, the less alive you feel. Your feelings add vividness to your experiences and serve to connect you to the world around you. It is possible to disavow yourself of numbing behaviors a little at a time and once again taste life’s rich flavors. When you sense that you are engaging in a particular behavior simply to deaden your emotions, stop and ask yourself why. Examining the feelings that drive you to numb yourself can help you understand what is triggering your desire to emotionally fade out.

With each numbing activity that you cut out of your life, you’ll find yourself experiencing a greater emotionally acuity. Senses once shrouded by the fog of numbness become vivid and sharp. Traumas and pain long hidden will emerge to the forefront of your consciousness and reveal themselves so that you can heal them. You’ll discover a deeper you—a self that is comfortable experiencing and working through intense emotions with courage and grace.

— Madisyn Taylor, The Daily Om

16 March 2009

‘In the Confucian tradition it is said that the mark of a golden era is that children are the most important members of the society and teaching is the most revered profession.’

— Peter M Senge, Society for Organizational Learning

17 March 2009

40% more — FREE!

A new, improved, protein-rich pea is set to launch a new Green Revolution. This new variety of pigeonpea, called Pushkal, is the first commercially available hybrid legume in the world.

“With 40 percent higher yields than the best local varieties, Pushkal is truly the magic pea,” exclaims Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Pigeonpea is a high protein dietary staple in many semi-arid tropical countries of the world. It is especially important in India, eastern and southern Africa, the Caribbean and Myanmar, areas where high protein foods are scarce. Pigeonpea provides 20 to 22 percent of the protein in most of the countries where it is grown extensively ( India, Myanmar, Nepal, China, south-eastern Africa)...

The new hybrid thrives in drought conditions and has greater resistance to diseases than the best varieties. It also creates a strong root system which aids greater nitrogen fixation to keep soils fertile.  For poor farmers, it comes during a global pigeonpea shortage which has caused prices to soar, creating misery among millions of poor people who cannot afford them.

ICRISAT press release

18 March 2009

Solomon Asch and the Power of Dissent

 Solomon Asch, with experiments originally carried out in the 1950s and well-replicated since, highlighted a phenomenon now known as ‘conformity’. In the classic experiment, a subject sees a puzzle like the one in the nearby diagram: Which of the lines A, B, and C is the same size as the line X? Take a moment to determine your own answer...

The gotcha is that the subject is seated alongside a number of other people looking at the diagram - seemingly other subjects, actually confederates of the experimenter. The other ‘subjects’ in the experiment, one after the other, say that line C seems to be the same size as X. The real subject is seated next-to-last. How many people, placed in this situation, would say ‘C’ - giving an obviously incorrect answer that agrees with the unanimous answer of the other subjects? What do you think the percentage would be?

Three-quarters of the subjects in Asch’s experiment gave a ‘conforming’ answer at least once. A third of the subjects conformed more than half the time.

Get it so far? People tend to defer to what the herd thinks.

But here’s the good news:

Adding a single dissenter - just one other person who gives the correct answer, or even an incorrect answer that’s different from the group’s incorrect answer - reduces conformity very sharply, down to 5-10%.

Why is this important? Well, it means that one person who publicly speaks the truth can sway a group of people away from group-think.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, blogging on the Overcoming Bias web page

19 March 2009

אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם

We are loved by an unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we avert our gaze.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled,
Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.

Rami Shapiro, inspired by Ahavat Olam

20 March 2009

Change should breed change

NEW doth the sun appear,
The mountains’ snows decay,
Crown’d with frail flowers forth comes the baby year.
My soul, time posts away;
And thou yet in that frost
Which flower and fruit hath lost,
As if all here immortal were, dost stay.
For shame! thy powers awake,
Look to that Heaven which never night makes black,
And there at that immortal sun’s bright rays,
Deck thee with flowers which fear not rage of days!

William Drummond (of Hawthornden)

I study myself more than any other subject; it is my metaphysic, and my physic.

21 March 2009

Ten Commandments

Thou art enjoined to enjoyment,
Exhorted to exultation.
Thy responsibility is to be responsive,
and impishness be thy imperative.

So cherish thy good cheer,
and be not judicious in jubilation –
Rather exude exuberance,
For to revel is a revelation, and
it is on pain of death that
Thou art obliged to Live!

— Josh Mitteldorf

22 March 2009

painting of Kirsten Koko

Higgs Boson

As physics grew more ambitious and more complex during the 20th century, it also grew harder to test.  Increasingly, great mathematical abstractions were pieced together with only a few points where they were able to touch experiment.  Experiments to test the theories came to require billion-dollar particle accelerators.

The particle physics community has been fairly complacent for 30 years now as the ‘Standard Model’ has been found to predict everything it can predict with fair accuracy.

But a piece of the program has been AWOL all these years:  Why do some particles have mass, while others don’t?  The Standard Model’s answer involves a particle which is supposed to be ubiquitous, but entangled and hard to pull apart from ordinary matter.  To do so requires huge amounts of energy, more energy than is available in any accelerator — until last year when CERN’s Large Hadron Collider opened. 

Now the LHC is producing data and the Higgs Boson has yet to show its face.  I’m rooting for it not to exist.  We need some impetus for new and stranger theories, and we need to renew our lease on awe and mystery.

About.com article by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
Scientific American article
Discover article
What is the Higgs Boson?  - An amusing explanation by analogy

23 March 2009

Was there life before cyberspace?

Inside, outside, there’s a conversation going on today that wasn’t happening at all ten years ago and hasn’t been very much in evidence since the Industrial Revolution began. Now, spanning the planet via Internet and World Wide Web, this conversation is so vast, so multifaceted, that trying to figure what it’s about is futile. It’s about a billion years of pent-up hopes and fears and dreams coded in serpentine double helixes, the collective flashback deja vu of our strange perplexing species. Something ancient, elemental, sacred, something very very funny that’s broken loose in the pipes and wires of the twenty-first century. There are millions of threads in this conversation, but at the beginning and end of each one is a human being. That this world is digital or electronic is not the point. What matters most is that it exists in narrative space. The story has come unbound. The world of commerce became precipitously permeable while it wasn’t looking and sprang a leak from a quarter least expected. The dangers of democracy pale before the danger of uncontained life. Life with the wraps off. Life run wild.

— from The Cluetrain Manifesto
A dramatic history of open source

24 March 2009

Twelve Virtues of Rationality

The first virtue is curiosity. A burning itch to know is higher than a solemn vow to pursue truth...

The third virtue is lightness. Let the winds of evidence blow you about as though you are a leaf, with no direction of your own. Beware lest you fight a rearguard retreat against the evidence, grudgingly conceding each foot of ground only when forced, feeling cheated. Surrender to the truth as quickly as you can. Be faithless to your cause and betray it to a stronger enemy...

The fourth virtue is evenness.  Beware lest you place huge burdens of proof only on propositions you dislike, and then defend yourself by saying: it is good to be skeptical.

The fifth virtue is argument. Those who smile wisely and say: “I will not argue” remove themselves from help, and withdraw from the communal effort. In argument strive for exact honesty, for the sake of others and also yourself:...

The eighth virtue is humility. To be humble is to take specific actions in anticipation of your own errors. To confess your fallibility and then do nothing about it is not humble; it is boasting of your weakness...

These then are twelve virtues of rationality:  1-Curiosity, 2-Relinquishment,           3-Lightness, 4-Evenness, 5-Argument, 6-Empiricism, 7-Simplicity,                        8-Humility, 9-Perfectionism, 10-Precision, 11-Scholarship, 12-the Void.

read the entire list, by Eliezer Yudkowsky

Note 1:  This means me.  Smug as I am in my world view and my basic beliefs, some of my most deeply-held convictions are just wrong.  Learning which ones is probably the most important thing I can do.

Note 2: It’s fine to say that in the end each of us is our own arbiter of truth, but we simply don’t have time to explore every challenge to our beliefs.  Most of our knowledge comes not from direct experience but second-hand, from others.  So, in practice, we decide which challenges to our beliefs we will examine by looking to their source: how much do we trust the person or institution that is offering this disparate information?

It gets more complicated: most of us surround ourselves with people who share our basic beliefs.  That’s a good thing for working relationships, and it’s a comfortable way to live.  But if we are going to subject our fundamental beliefs to challenge, it is essential that we seek out people who are credible advocates for very different ways of thinking.  How can someone be credible when he is saying such strange things?  How can we even judge whether he is credible as we suspend disbelief over his pronouncements?


25 March 2009

There is only one story.  You already know the plot.  Live it now.

Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time.

Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out.

This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. 

Joseph Campbell, born this day in 1904

Follow your bliss.

26 March 2009

No choice in the matter (of full choice)

Due to circumstances
     beyond my control,
I am master of my fate
     and captain of my soul.

Ashleigh Brilliant

L’homme est condamné à être libre.— Jean-Paul Sartre— Man is condemned to be free.

27 March 2009

The poem that took the place of a mountain.

There it was, word for word,
The poem that took the place of a mountain.

He breathed its oxygen,
Even when the book lay turned in the dust of his table.

It reminded him how he had needed
A place to go to in his own direction,

How he had recomposed the pines,
Shifted the rocks and picked his way among clouds,

For the outlook that would be right,
Where he would be complete in an unexplained completion:

The exact rock where his inexactness
Would discover, at last, the view toward which they had edged,

Where he could lie and, gazing down at the sea,
Recognize his unique and solitary home.

— Wallace Stevens

28 March 2009

Belief and Action

‘God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.’
attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr

The counterpart in the realm of faith and reason might be stated:

‘Let me seek always for understanding, never tiring of the quest for rational underpinnings in the workings of the universe; and all that I cannot understand, may I regard with divine wonder, even as I guard the hope that this, too, may someday be tamed by reason.’
— Josh Mitteldorf

29 March 2009

Recipe for musical appeal

A simple, engaging melody on top, with a rich complexity of counter-rhythms and unexpected harmony below the surface.

Listen to the Andante from Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds
    by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
    recorded yesterday at Amateur Chamber Music workshop, Darlington PA

30 March 2009

History of human rights: a one-way street

‘Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.’

Cesar Chavez, born this day in 1927

31 March 2009

Queen of Hearts — Archive of past entries. Bullfrog Design