Thursday, February 28, 2008

A sustainable culture begins with a healthy, sustainable attitude

What I fear is that some writers are trying to inspire a movement to actively cause a hard collapse

That's the beginning of one of the observations that grabbed my attention in Ran Prieur's recent essay, Beyond Civilized and Primitive. I think he sees something important, something hidden below the tip of an iceberg. Prieur goes on to explore one consequence of actively seeking a hard collapse. He writes about coercion as a strategic mistake, which indirectly suggests one answer to a question I posed a while back:

How would we live if beginnings justify means?

Over the years I've encountered a number of people who tell me (over and over!) that they're working for the greater good, but their consistently demonstrated behaviors look a lot like something else. Their behaviors look like they're trying, first and foremost, to fulfill their own personal wants and needs. A need for attention. A need for approval. A need for affirmation. A need to be "right". A need to have a crowd of followers who provide attention, approval, affirmation, and an award for absolute, universal Truth. (You know, with a capital T. The Truth.)

Thing is, for all the talk about big ideas and grand plans, what I notice, what a lot of folks notice, what we respond to, is consistently demonstrated behavior. Show me, don't tell me.

When I look around and find healthy, mature people who interact in healthy, stable social groups, I don't see a lot of attention-seeking behaviors. I don't see guys jockeying for position in the pack. I don't see competition to be declared smartest. Nor loudest. No one-upping. No tantrums. Nor do I see people who try to drag everyone around them into a black pit of despair. When I see healthy, mature people interact with each other in healthy, stable social groups, I see people who seem to share and appreciate a sense of community. I see people who become energized by mutually supportive, win/win, interactions. I see people who can see beyond themselves.

Of course, some big ideas and grand plans do overlap with attitudes and values that result in real, beneficial pro-social behavior. I'm happy to support those ideas and those plans. I strive to credit folks for imagination and innovation. But I refuse to endorse egotistic behaviors that cause harm to others. I refuse to endorse obnoxious behavior even if it's affiliated with someone's good idea. I refuse, because authentic, sincere prosocial behaviors actually create a healthy society.

Show me, don't tell me.


Some additional pieces that may fit:

Beyond Civilized and Primitive, Ran Prieur

Ideas, wrapped in behaviors

Circle of observers

Two questions

Being a good person despite bad outcomes

Tip of the iceberg

To be wise is to see

Arithmetic allegory #4

(links open in a new window or tab)

Some readers may recognize elements of Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" throughout this essay. I'm borrowing rather casually, and I haven't found an online resource that concisely associates Maslow's ideas about individual needs to prosocial behavior. Perhaps you can suggest something?

Misery creates company

Misery loves company.

Often, misery needs company.

Too often, misery creates company.

And that's a problem, don't you think?


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Show me, don't tell me

Some people like to stand on soapboxes and shout loudly at me. They like to proclaim that they have my best interests at heart.

Personally, I prefer consistently repeated behaviors by people who demonstrate that they have my best interests at heart.

Just sayin'

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Good writing, assembling important pieces, elsewhere

He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left.
(Douglas Adams)

Most models are wrong, but some are useful.
(George Box, paraphrased)

Ran Prieur seems like someone who views the world from at least three feet to the left of mainstream American culture. Recently he wrote an essay that assembles many of the same pieces I've been (slowly!) fitting together here: Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

I found Prieur's essay intriguing and well worth reading. Overall his assembled puzzle seems to look similar to mine (although he does include a few pieces that aren't part of my outlook). Most importantly to me, Prieur's essay synthesizes an attitude about our future that I consider beneficial. (Some models are useful!)

I've also recently encountered the online publication of Greater Good, a project of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. The latest issue explores the psychology of power and influence in several insightful articles. One of them, in particular, provides some further background to Prieur's essay: Political Primates

There's some good writing, and good reading, out there.



Friday, February 01, 2008

Idealism. Labelism. Bagism.

If it ends with -ism it seems likely to become a problem, for someone, someday.

That's been my observation and experience.

Ideologies. Labels. Imaginary boundaries. Is. Is not! An illusion of information.

We bundle up some things we know believe, slap a label on the bundle, and talk as if everything worth saying can be delivered in a bag with a label. Eventually Later Soon we begin to talk as if only the label matters, as if everything we need to know can be conveyed merely by the label. Sometimes we seem to forget what we put in the bag, we're so busy announcing its label.

I thought about calling that phenomenon “bagism”, but someone else got there first. Same with labelism. Even ismism.

Good grief, what's left?

Well, how about breaking that habit?