Chapter 11: Polka Dots and Moonbeams

 

This chapter/essay seems to be the moment of departure to a new realm, but not unmentioned, linked to prior chapters and essays. Let me refresh the title of my blog/quasi-autobiographical accountings: This Moment In Timeless Change: From There To Now To Timeless Tomorrow. It seems that I’m ready to focus on “timeless tomorrow”.

Talking and writing about the future is, admittedly, a speculative journey. It’s filled with assumptions, closely held beliefs and values, operating norms and rules at this moment in time, societal structures, fears, doubts, hopes, and wishes. The only certainty is that it is thinking about and discussing uncertainty. The only constant in this journey is “change” which takes me back to my opening sentence in Chapter 1.   “The only constant is change”.

There are moments when I feel and believe I can see the future. But what I see are shifts in color, perspective, scope and intensity. I’d like to say “I have seen the future and it IS black and white!” I think you are like me and more of us who see it in shades of grey or perhaps a cacophony of color and sound and fragrances layered by the feelings that we bring to our individual paintings and representations. Much like the fiddler in the play, “Fiddler on the Roof”: on the one hand there are moments I see the future for our species ending. While on the other hand, I see that we can extend our future as long as the sun’s light and heat nurture our planet.

Depending on where I am standing in any moment with one of those “on the other hand” feelings, I am torn by thoughts that each scenario is plausible but one is not preferable if the choice were mine. I think the psychologists call my quandary “cognitive dissonance”.

So I am faced with confronting at least two realities and a whole lot more sub-plots and unknown realities which we haven’t yet agreed upon as a species. The words, concepts, and languages we have currently may not be sufficient and we’ll be inventing more as we go along. All of that may help to guide us to the continued survival of our species and, more importantly, to the womb we depend on to eternal re-birth along our journey.

The future starts again from this moment in time with an assertion: from the beginning of our species, survival is our central motivation and purpose. It was and is today. It will be tomorrow and forever. Unfortunately, we have come to take our survival for granted. We must all come to agree with that or the consequences are dire if we do not. Our survival, and that of the planet possibly, depends on us intentionally creating a collective consciousness that places protecting and rejuvenating all biological systems of our biosphere. If that does not become our collective will, manifested by our collective behavior, the current odds of our survival are strongly against us. That sounds like a doomsday ultimatum. It is not. That scenario is not inevitable. It is just a warning.

Nothing can prove a prediction, a hypothesis, a speculation until time and evidence becomes “proof” or refutation. So all I am dealing with is “evidence”.   Connecting the dots based on the science and research, not beliefs or values or philosophies, supporting the prediction of the possibility that the assertion comes true is what our species can do at this moment in time.

As I have gotten older, as have my friends and family peers, we often comment on our ailments or the threats we feel with age as we see life slipping away but yet unpredictable as to when. The trend is clear. The evidence of assured death touches us all, young or old. Friends with cancer or onset dementia or heart disease say, when I ask “how are you today?” often reply “not so good but it is better than the alternative.”

Aging, and living for that matter, tells us that we are not in control of our future. We may think we have a plan for continued living. We may think that we are indestructible in our early days. We move quickly beyond the death, sudden or expected, of friends or family members. We chose to live on, as we should. Why dwell on death and dying? We begin to realize as we mature that it can come at any moment for any cause: an accident, a fatal disease, the heart stops forever. Some unintended consequence of our actions or that of others brings our breath to a halt. We are robbed and killed because we had the bad luck being where we were. We die of a contaminant in our water system because the water authority ignored the safety of our municipal water.

But our special gift, our special ability as a species – that of choosing intentionally – is fraught with shortcomings.

Let me list some of the “evidence” then move on to how we avoid demonstrating, with finality, the “boiling frog syndrome”. I’ll give you a clue built around a simple word: choice. With the list below, it is clear that our choices guided our actions and behaviors and brought “progress” but also destruction along the way. So while we were individually and collectively “intentional” in those choices, there are long term implications we either couldn’t have anticipated or chose to ignore.

  • Acidification and chemical pollution of the oceans and fresh water bodies
  • destruction of our coral reefs
  • air pollution that harms our lungs, pollutes our waterways, and acid rain that kills plants and trees
  • our water resources diminishing rapidly and not regenerating because of human pressure
  • rapidly increasing extinction of plant and animal species globally
  • the death of marshes and wetlands, both fresh water and tidal
  • fresh water and ocean fisheries taking more for human and animal consumption than nature can restore
  • fracking that harms forests and their inhabitants, water supplies, and increases methane escape
  • rising ocean temperatures
  • rapidly melting glaciers and ice caps
  • the alarming release of methane from arctic tundra
  • unprecedented pace of extinction of animal and insect species
  • the organic and microbial richness of our soils is deteriorating widely
  • spiking CO2 to unprecedented historical levels
  • the damage to our ozone layers from airborne chemical pollutants

(edit the length of many above items add better ones)

So that is a glimpse at the bad news. Now comes the difficult part. It’s illustrated by the age old story of the boiling frog. How do we avoid ending up like the frog in water that hasn’t yet boiled? So if you don’t know that story, imagine that you find a willing frog, or dozens, or hundreds and they allow you to place them in a tub of pleasant water. What they don’t know is that you have a fire underneath that tub. The temperature starts at say 68 degrees. They swim around. Eat. Chase each other. Take space they protect. Mate if it is in their cycle. They seem like “happy” frogs. The temperature rises slowly, very slowly even. They seem content to stay in the tub. It is their temporary home. Their behavior, individually and collectively, stays pretty much the same. Maybe a little more competition and fighting. But generally harmonious for a community of like-creatures. And it is getting hotter and hotter. They have no way to escape but show no signs of distress, panic, although some try to escape. Contented they are. At some point the water becomes so hot that it kills all of them. You say, “but they are frogs, how is that relevant to humans. They don’t think!” But they feel. And they felt no threat or pain that caused a “flight” response. They got used to the heat. It became their “new normal”. Even if they could think, unless they’re feeling the heat caused a connection to their brains, they wouldn’t be prompted to think, to reason.

How does the evidence, and our denial of it and our inability and unwillingness to pay attention, differ from the “boiling frog” story? But, you are right, we are different, as we know and have seen in the essay on “Snowflakes and Fingerprints”. At the core of being different from other living things is that we are aware that we do and can change. We see, feel, smell and hear the change. We know we are experiencing life. We remember and anticipate change. We affect it intentionally and unintentionally. The feedback loop from outside us, to inside us, to back outside is endless, constant. But it isn’t enough to sense change. We must be aware of it. It needs to be processed “thoughtfully” in our brains whether in our conscious portion (the executive function) or our unconscious portion (our emotions or culturally acquired memes, automatic responses).

Back to the frog pond. The troubling thing is that many of us aren’t paying attention to our own water as it has moved toward boiling. Surely, there are voices and groups and some governments who have called out to the rest of us in the pond but are we listening? And, if we’re listening are we concerned enough to act. If you said “yes”, good for you. But I’m sorry to say, “that is not enough”.

We have to do more. And it starts with each of us. We have to make a choice and then a lot of choices. We have to take personal responsibility for turning down the metaphorical heat around us at all levels of our human-impacted biosphere. Individual actions are not enough until they align with collective awareness and action. And, while the “collective consciousness” of this challenge is growing, it needs to grow faster and bigger as do the collective actions aligned to effect change that reverses these alarming trends.

Reflect back on the journey I’ve been through and that, I assume, resonated with you. As a species we’ve been at this change game for about 10,000 years in the modern sense. We were tribally wandering for eons before but our cultural evolution was primitive comparatively and not unlike still occupying the womb. Today we have acquired widely shared knowledge, skills, fewer languages easily shared through translation (English, Chinese, Spanish), science, technology, similar pan-national and cultural governing and decision-making processes so that we are poised to pool awareness and collective action in concert with a bio-ethic to preserve and restore our global habitat.

If our global collective goal becomes “to restore and protect our global habitat”, we will need a widely shared set of principles and guidelines to allow us to create a roadmap fitting to that end and flexible enough to allow smaller collectives to experiment and devise more local but globally connected pathways and solutions.

Many of those principles and guidelines are there but not shared and known widely. Let me outline those that strike me as essential but while limited they are part of the human experience that has made us a successful species – UNTIL NOW. I used that phrase in the first 9 essays occasionally. I will also draw, in summary form, from those chapters and add a few as I go along.

One of the characteristics of the human species is that it has the capacity to hope and wish (essay #1). Other creatures don’t display that uniqueness. By being so enabled, we can chose to dream, envision, expect, want, desire, imagine and act on those. It seems easier to do those actions on an individual level. At the same time, we do not control the outcomes. We depend on others to share those hopes and wishes. And so we look for support and join those to help them and them to help us. We reciprocate. In so wishing and hoping we begin to realize that there are others who will oppose our wishes, will want something different, may feel threatened by such contrary desires, and act accordingly. On the one hand we have discovered that cooperation works to further our advancement. On the other ledger, that opposition can, in its gentlest form, be healthy competition. Both behaviors – cooperation and competition – when exercised collectively, have contributed to our survival, progress, and social success.

Hoping and wishing is a thought process of an intentional sort often. It is setting a goal. When it is followed by actions like cooperation and competition, the result is generally positive at the individual and collective levels. The process is largely an intentional one but not always. You don’t always know where acting on a goal will lead or what will happen. Some of your steps will result as planned and others will have unintended consequences. More on intentionality and unintended consequences a bit later.

(describe a few “unintended consequences” of our decisions – both good and negative; this may be a good place to insert fossil fuels and capitalism as examples of “intended/unintended”)

When did hoping and wishing begin to occur in our brains? We’ll probably never know the answer. Good chance is it can be time bound before the 10,000 year modern-era period. That leaves millennia before open to speculating on the answer. I’d speculate about how it happened but not when with any time certainty. As I wrote in the essay on “Monkey See, Monkey Do”, (go to beliefs and words then to MSMD or vice versa), we evolved as we have in part because we could learn from our experience, adapt and survive. And we learned a lot because we could copy behaviors, skills and methods or practices that appeared to provide individual improvement and success that, unthoughtfully, furthered survival and collective well-being. That success and learning organically evolved into more complex awareness and thinking. And progress accelerated always anchored in our purpose “survival”. That purpose for eons was absorbed but not conscious as we think of consciousness. For many, it still is not a conscious purpose beyond our family, loved ones, tribe and now, larger collective. Only recently, since the Cold War, in the 1950s, and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) by atomic warfare, has global survival become important to a large segment of humanity. It is planted firmly in our awareness. In large part, the firm planting happened because the world saw the incredible damage and death in Japan from two atomic bombs being dropped. Since then, much has been done to mitigate and prevent it happening again. At least, up until now. Behavior and action followed what we learned. However, we have not connected that “learning” dot to survival of our species and the planet from the threats of environmental degradation. In spite of the evidence. Nor on a large enough scale to change collective behavior and adapt as necessary. Do we need a violent tragedy like Hiroshima to connect the dots and shock us into action?

Yes, change is constant but how have we done as a species in creating change intentionally? Measured by our progress and success as a species so far, we have done pretty well. Many argue that the creative process that helps us learn, adapt, and survive is akin to the old adage of “muddling through”. It is a wonder we have gotten this far but we have. Others argue that we have been lucky to connect changes here and changes there so that they add up to more than 2+2. Today we can reasonably make a case for a lot of our muddling through as evidence that our human evolution has been “three steps forward and two steps back” as an old adage states it. Others would counter with: “we may be in a prolonged period of the opposite: two forward and three back.”

As we individually and collectively change, what is it that guides our choices to change anyway? My life and yours are microcosms of the perplexing nature and pace of change. And lessons we can learn from our personal awareness of change, and resistance to change, are reflective of the larger human experience and collective. Before attempting to explain this perplexity, I assert that the historic pace of change, while it has accelerated unimaginably in the last 300 years, may be on a course where “bad” change is racing ahead of “good” change. The potential cataclysmic results of “bad” winning, referred to above, raise all kinds of questions about the choices we make in the next few decades.

Back to the personal. Using myself as an example, let me see if some recounting of my experience “to change” is similar to your efforts. For many years, from age 20 to 35 or so, I was pretty sedentary. I developed habits of liking good food, alcohol at lunch and dinner, sweets, unhealthy snacks, sitting at a desk and in meetings, relaxing in front of the TV in the evenings and on weekends watching sports, etc.. Pretty typical of a single male (until 30) perhaps.

Around age 31 my professional work had me engaged with international nutrition planning and nutritional experts and planners. So I was reading and learning about human nutrition and related health issues. In that mix, I became interested in non-traditional diagnoses of health and nutrition. I also have a family history of male cardiac problems and heart attacks. Someone mentioned an internist who was specializing in holistic health so I decided to go have a physical check-up that included a hair analysis. To make a long story short, I started to pay attention to my diet (not dieting), exercise, and vitamin and mineral supplements. After marriage, and influenced by my wife, small changes in diet and exercise changes occurred. This pattern continued, and accelerated slowly (3 forward, 2 back) up to this day. Even after learning and changing, I found a period of relapse so it became 2 forward and 3 back. My professional “context” again had an influence but a negative one. I was in a senior executive role in a large corporation with long hours, work pressures, a great and social staff and colleagues, Belgian chocolates in the snack room along with other goodies, business lunches with a glass of wine or a beer, and less exercise and sleep found my weight going from about 180 to 205 in 5 years. After returning to running my private consulting business and taking control of my routines and reducing the “environmental” group/team pressures, was I able to get my weight back to 172 where it has remained for a number of years as well as more physical activity and daily exercise.

To generalize about personal change, we all know the stories about “New Years Resolutions”. And we know how hard it is to realize those promises. Many don’t get sustained execution. And the really hard ones even less: stopping smoking, weight that is lost and stays lost, getting more sleep, regular exercise, etc. Add yours.

So why is “change” so hard? Some of the reasons making personal change difficult, explain why collective change is also very hard and slow.

Let me blend the personal and collective to shorten the narrative. At an individual level our growth and development puts us on a path where most of us get comfortable with a set of beliefs, values, opinions, circle of friends (our own tribe beyond family), routines and habits. Popularly this is called our “comfort zone”. Others add to that notion the concept of “autopilot”. Research in neuroscience adds layers to that idiom: behavioral rules of thumb or “heuristics” (as mentioned in an earlier essay). As research looks closely at those layers and behaviors, we are increasingly informed that much of our behavior doesn’t happen as a result of reasoning and thought as commonly understood. In our daily lives we’re bombarded by stimuli that are taken over by those memes, the autopilot, rules of thumb that respond and cause the behavior. Some argue that these are deeply embedded from millennia of cultural evolution and supported or modified by this moment in time of that ongoing evolution. So “choice”, mentioned in earlier essays, may often be involuntary and still serve us well much of the time. And at other times it doesn’t serve us well. When it is “choice” arrived at by internal deliberation and reasoning in the Executive Function of our brain, we may be more successful at change but still the change may be slow because of natural resistance created by our chosen “comfort zone” and “autopilot.”

How does this relate to the larger collectives and the cultures around us? We, as individuals, are a reflection of the groups, communities, families, state, and nation surrounding us. They impact our beliefs and behaviors. They create the norms and rules we live by. And “I”, being a part of that collective, agree to live within those boundaries but can influence that milieu for better or worse. Of course, some collectives being more democratically inclined can have more reciprocal impact than those less or not so inclined. (Make reference to biological evolution linked to cultural evolution. A form of “hard wiring” as research shows.)

If it is true, and I assert it is, that most people become anchored in their comfort zone and act largely on auto pilot what is the implication of that on change? Simple. If I like my life the way it is mostly, and usually that holds for a majority of people at all times until it doesn’t, change will be resisted. A couple of examples will help. Unions and collective bargaining were originally a good thing for many nations over a period of time. They improved working conditions, more job safety, job security, higher wages, and retirement funds to name a few. In the private and public sectors this has been a boon to the individual, their families and communities and the nations also. Without analyzing what went afoul and who’s to blame, in recent time the effect of the carrying costs of union obligations has resulted in organizations taking away or scaling back the benefits that were seen as contractual entitlements. So people resisted changes, often uncompromisingly when in the long term it may not have been in their best interests or that of the larger collective.

The same can be said for the good intentions of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Those payments, underfunded for years while costs increased and the working labor force decreased, have put tremendous burdens on governments to sustain the level of costs associated with well-intended and largely successful programs. Among the many solutions and corrections proposed is to cut back the benefits and payments of those programs. As we know, the resistance to change is tremendous even when most thoughtful people and experts believe the entitlements will have to be cut or reformed in some ways that will leave the beneficiaries with less money or services than they had become accustomed to. Object lesson: when you come to like something or depend on it, you’ll resist efforts to take that dependency away from you.

The last two paragraphs will likely spur disagreements at the core and margins of those assertions from some readers. At the core, I may have trampled on strong beliefs you hold: workers are exploited; they deserve better wages given disparities in salaries and earnings; the more they earn, the more they have to spend on products and services to keep economic growth healthy. Or, you hold a value – a moral imperative – that we take care of the elderly and infirm as a social obligation for social security and medicare/medicaid. Curiously, these are or have come to be seen as entitlements NOT to be taken away. So, in a sense they have become embedded in many of us as “rights” in our culture but, more importantly, as valued constructions in our collective consciousness that are thus even harder to change. So your reasonable and “reasoned” arguments are evidence of resistance to change. Even though evidence grows that unless we create something to mitigate their growing costs to the larger collective, the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies and programs may do great harm to our ability to sustain them and create rippling negative outcomes. These kinds of cultural habits are as hard to change as individual habits and comfort zones. I once had a mentor, a psychologist, who shed some light on this conundrum and she said: “you can’t just stop a habit, you have to replace it with something of like or substitute value.”

An important tangential assertion to provoke reflection: many economists, mathematicians, and “social engineers” emerged before those programs as “outliers” to the political and social wisdom supporting the underlying policies of the programs. They used “assumptions” different from the policy-makers and arrived at warning signs of the unintended consequences that went unheeded for decades. We may be forced to accept the programs’ unsustainability in their present form and make difficult decisions and reforms with anticipated and unpredictable social, economic, and political costs associated with those major changes.

These examples prompt a brief reference to (complexity later) intentionality and unintended consequences. Let’s assume, as argued above, that it is mostly true over our species’ history that most “intentionality” has had good consequences: we’ve learned, we’ve supported each other, we’ve adapted, and survived – UP UNTIL NOW. Let’s also assume that as a species we have difficulty anticipating or seeing where our decisions (thought-filled and reasoned) will lead until we have evidence or proof that the outcome was what we imagined, or nearly so. The good news is that those decisions are generally copies of past and successful decisions, creative modifications and improvements, or discoveries and luck. With many decisions, we see the result fairly quickly. With others, it may take years or decades to know what our decisions will produce. Let’s call these “feedback loops”.

I’ll assert another assumption or two. Decisions and actions don’t live in isolation or vacuums separate from other decisions or the human activity around them. If you believe the “meme” that “everything is connected to everything”, then the probability of one affecting another and causing changes in the original intended direction or outcome could be significant. As other actions bump into those, the altered paths and the residue of their contact can make a difference from those intended. In addition, our species is woefully inept, but getting better, at seeing or thinking very far into the future. The reality is that we will never be able to avoid the future surprises of our decisions and actions – unintended consequences.

However, current trends in science, big data, communication technology, rapid world travel, and information sharing, to name a few, have shortened our learning curve. (hold this thought and expand upon elsewhere: Although the complexity of life on earth for our species may prove to lengthen the learning curve in terms of survival.) Part of learning, whether individual or collective, is that actions and behavior have “feedback loops” attached to them. Until the last 200 years, those feedback loops were slow to “loop back” to the source of the action or decision. So, knowing the outcomes of our actions and behavior lagged because of the slow loops. Thus intended outcomes may have taken longer to validate and unintended consequences may have taken even longer to witness, if seen at all. For the latter, years, decades and centuries may have passed before they appeared to our conscious awareness.

At this part of the narrative created in this essay and others, are you becoming a bit weary of absorbing and sorting all of this? If so, I suggest that what we now know about human behavior and our cultural evolution is overwhelmingly complex. If you believe that “everything is connected to everything” and many people don’t, you have just stepped into the modern and post-modern world of complexity. Believing that meme unleashes tremendous strain on our current psychological and brain capacity to grapple with what that really means. I love the expression “so what?” Which when you answer that, you have to answer “now what?” Enlightenment, or an individual “ah-ha!, is of little practical and evolutionary value unless it contributes to shared awareness, learning, and action: shorthand “change”.

I think we can agree that over time the process of change has gotten more complex. It was very slow early in our 10,000 years, gradually accelerated, and in the last 200 years seems to have accelerated almost to the point that many people can’t keep up, get disoriented, discouraged, and slow their adaptation. My lifetime and yours further validates the rapid pace of change. We feel it, see it and experience it. How it is experienced, of course, depends on where you stand in what time as it unfolds. There are exceptions, to be sure. You may have read elsewhere that countries and cultures that have lagged far behind developed nations, learn and adapt quickly to new technology when given a fair chance, the knowledge and skills, witness the good results, and access. A few examples: (put in the printing press…etc.)

I recall my parents back in the 40’s and 50’s marveling over the days when in-home toilets weren’t everywhere. So too with electricity. Having to walk long distances to school in the dead of winter with snow piled high. Phones were more common but we had a “party line” – shared by many neighbors – which my Mom would occasionally sneak onto so she could hear the latest gossip. Radios had been around a long time and certainly helped the nation hold together during WWII. I suspect that form of mass communication helped us cope with the Great Depression of the 1920’s. Then in the 50s, television made its debut and visual mass communication was off to the races.

When I was a young adult in college and then in the Peace Corps in the 60’s, I became aware of the impact and potential of television. It allowed us to share our culture more widely; to keep connected in good times and bad; to follow the latest in technologies of the future. Events like the modern witch hunt for communists throughout society and the injustice and lies associated with that. The assassination of JFK. Sputnik and the USSR’s lead in rocket science and space exploration. Our rapid ascent, literally and figuratively, to catch up and surpass them. The Cold War and unjust, tragic wars built around the fear of Communism. Mass entertainment but cultural learning also.

While in the Peace Corps, I witnessed the use of television to expand education to rural and urban areas where communities and families couldn’t afford wide access, if any, to the promise of television. The volunteers and Colombian government had a program to use TV for educational purposes in many of those places. I too saw how TV increased the expectations and aspirations of people for a better life. At the same time, I saw how TV allowed demagogues and authoritarians to spread their lies to win support and votes in a fledgling democracy. (Perhaps here a rant about Trumpism would be appropriate.)

Technology, science, telecommunications, mass transit and rapid transit (by rail, road and sky), made the transition to a unified, geographically wide dispersion of a large and growing population to change with a plausible chance for success. So far, so good in my lifetime. But can this level of complexity and mammoth size continue its collective success and contribute to the successful evolution of our species? While I have focused much of my narrative on my culture-centric, American experience I suggest that our American experience is, UP UNTIL NOW, the driving model for the world in many respects. I’ll explore the answer to my question ahead in my writing.

Complexity has brought with it a dizzying array of choices to be made by each of us individually and, more importantly, collectively. How do we experience complexity today in our daily lives versus 75 years ago? Examples from my own life and era may suffice to illustrate daily complexity. I was born and raised in a city of 50,000 in rural western Wisconsin on the Mississippi. The city stayed that size over many years because the jurisdiction was never redrawn. Now the population has spread on the outskirts to perhaps another 50,000. Smallish town feel in the 50’s. Lots of bars. That’s not changed much. But joining the folks to the larger community now are more restaurants, sprawl shopping areas, small businesses and light manufacturing, two nationally prominent hospital systems, increased tourism and conferencing events, a bigger state college now wedded to the University of Wisconsin system with a large student body and PhD programs, and year-round entertainment options galore. It used to be simple to get around and in little time. Not as much anymore. What to do at night and weekends offered little choice. Now the social opportunities out of the home are numerous. Cable TV with hundreds of channels versus the few major networks set our heads spinning to make a channel or program selection. Laptops seem glued to the laps of this modern couch potato with folks fooling themselves about multi-tasking. The town/city was pretty homogeneous back then – white, of European descent, one or two black families, and small numbers of forgotten Indians. Today it is more diverse ethnically and religiously but still white/European mostly.

Seems manageable and not overwhelming. However, it isn’t hard to extract from those recent changes – just 75 years – that the options for use of time, energy, conversation, reflection, learning and “choice” of “what to do”, are far greater than one might have imagined when the recent “change train” left the station.

The choices I make on how to spend my time is not a trivial matter. Most of us know that but we don’t give much thought reflection on the implications of those choices. To illustrate this and then discuss it further here is a disclosure by a 12 year old to her classmates during “community time”.

“OK, so imagine there is a bank account that credits your account with 86,400. It carries over no balance from day-to-day, which means is won’t be there anymore tomorrow. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance/money you have failed to use during the day. What would you do? Of course, you’d draw out every remaining cent if you were going to lose it. Each of us has a bank like that. Its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off as lost whatever of this you have failed to invest in a good purpose or opportunity. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft each day meaning you can’t add to that remaining amount. Each day it opens a new account for you. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against “tomorrow”. You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it and use it to get the most in health, happiness, and success. The clock is running. Make the most of today. I’ve got to do better with the account given to me while in school, with my friends and classmates and with my family.”

Granted, we in the West view time differently than many cultures and peoples. Some criticize that we are obsessed by it. But time does not stand alone as we make our way through the moment and weeks, months, years ahead. Time is joined by other limited “resources” and meaningful opportunities we happen upon, create or chose. Energy has long struck me as a key physical, mental, and emotional resource.

Over the years, in my work with groups and individual learners, I became aware of and struck by how we can be differentiated as individuals by the “energy” we bring to our life encounters. I am a relatively “high energy” person at work and play. I have a lot going on and options to choose from. (elaborate?) However, I have friends and colleagues whose “energy” operates at a higher level in terms of the enthusiasm, focus, and time they devote to many tasks and challenges – even to those that seem mundane or uninspiring to me. Then there are those who move and act and interact with lower apparent “energy”. They seem to focus on fewer things, perhaps take more time and deliberateness to each task, and put less affect and emotion – visible at least – into them. None of this characterization is meant to be judgmental. Those I speak of are competent, healthy, successful, and happy people generally. While daily “time” has a measured limit, energy is measured in all kinds of ways but usually it is not a limitless resource. Money, as a resource, merits a brief mention as it is weaved within and around time and energy. For most of us, money is limited and that limitation creates constraining boundaries on our choices.

(do I need to rearrange and cut paragraphs from the foregoing and preceeding..? Repetitive?)

To keep this simple, I’ll work with those three as givens (time, energy, money) as we do a daily, monthly and yearly sort on how to use those resources in a world more complex than ever just using the gauges of stuff acquisition, entertainment, work, family, friends and community activities/service.

Contrast a shopping experience for me back in the 60s with shopping today. Then we had a couple of “department” stores, a “downtown” retail outlet area, some specialty stores elsewhere, an IGA, A&P, Safeway, and few places to shop but not nearly to be called “malls”. Buying selections were limited by comparison with the enormous selection of world-wide goods in the Walmart or the Home Depot or the 3 or 4 big Super Markets. As you know, “back in the day” most “stuff” on the shelves was made or grown in the USA. We had 3 or 4 major car manufacturers and a few import brands. So now, on cars and a lot of other “stuff” we spend considerable time “researching” the lowest prices and the best deals. Time lost to do other things. Expand the list of things we research on line – not even really big purchases – and you begin to learn how much time “in the pursuit of material happiness” we use in our day for rather trivial outcomes.

Soon many of these retail outlets, rather than expanding in real space as then, will disappear and surrender to Amazon and other e-commerce sites. Not a surprise as we look at the trends and comprehend the power and potential of the internet, data storage in clouds, search engines, and profiling algorithms. So the array of choices available to us will increase and, thus, make life more complex.

(perhaps I link to IT and computers/iPhone being the “opiate of the masses” as Marx described religion that moved to the media, movies, TV and now global IT. Describe the addicted user. Our first experience of mobile phones in Hong Kong back in the 90s.))

Granted, some of the technology innovations will make life simpler in some ways. But how we use that time and energy will have competition as we decide how best to use the limited reserve of energy, time and money available to us each day. There are “drivers” infringing on what we focus on as we spend those resources. And the implications of those “drivers” are connected to wider societal, global and environmental issues we face. This also loops back to what we expect from life on a daily basis and our wants and needs in the moment as well as the future. Lurking in the shadows of that sentence is our sense of “entitlement” to the reality of the past 200 years and the dreams we are creating daily about the future. Big among them is the “American Dream”. In the next few paragraphs, we’ll explore that dream and a couple of the “drivers” that go hand-in-hand with the dream.

I recall sitting recently at a political dinner with a British woman, now US citizen, and the phrase “the American Dream” was mentioned by someone. She is about 8 years my senior, very well educated, steeped in the arts, and a world traveler, and married to a well-known American lawyer. I hold her in high regard. She, in uncharacteristic style for a Brit of her class, blurted out “What is the American Dream anyway? I’ve never understood what that means to you.” At first I thought “that’s kind of a strange question. We all know what the American Dream is.” As I pondered my response briefly, I wondered how my forming answer would resonate with many other Americans. As I got into my response, it dawned on me that mine was one of many variations on that theme. It has become a cultural “meme” which, in its broad-brush stroke, has a uniting energy for most Americans and many, many aspirants to citizenship. We have come to take its meaning for granted and see it as a core “entitlement” of pledging allegiance to the constitution and the flag.

At its base, I think it represents the best that we’ve created so far in our effort to survive in a huge collective that largely holds the same hopes for each other as well as our families, friends, religious communities, etc.. The following expectations in the “dream” are essential to our survival as a tribe of 330 million:

  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Religious freedom and no persecution for our beliefs
  • The right to vote
  • Unencumbered mobility
  • Access to good education
  • Job opportunities
  • Basic human needs achievable: housing, food, health care
  • The rule of law and a fair justice system
  • Community safety and fair law enforcement officials
  • A strong national defense (edit and add others)

(note: come back to Warren as a leader who people followed because we attached/projected our dreams and hopes onto the business mission and purpose that he initially shaped)

Many of those listed go hand-in-hand with the words and concepts embedded in our Constitution, Bill of Rights and Amendments. In addition, much of the American Dream is wrapped up in the economic development model most citizens embrace: Capitalism and free enterprise. What does that mean to what “I”/you expect from the Dream?:

  • To join the middle class or better
  • To have access to “easy” money – credit
  • A nice home, well furnished
  • An automobile or two
  • Vacation time
  • Money to travel
  • TVs and internet, mobile phones
  • Live in the suburbs, city, or near your job
  • Leave the drudgery of farming or rural life
  • Wide choice and access to “things” to buy and possess

That’s a relatively short list and may not incorporate things you see embraced by the American Dream. You can add or modify as you imagine what that dream has come to mean to you. While many of us feel passionately about some more than others, I bet I have hit upon many that apply to all of us.

I also bet that when you answer the question posed by my British friend, your articulation of an answer relates more to those items in the second list rather than the first. How can I be so sure? Because, up to now, capitalism has delivered the opportunity for all of us to access the tangible acquisitions of relative economic prosperity reflected in that list.

So, if I’m right, what are the implications of our dependency on achieving the dream as illustrated by the second list? And where did that “drive” come from? By drive I mean a near-burning, unrelenting motivation to achieve those symbols of success. Its origin is really quite simple when you look at the sweep of modern human history. Answer this key question: who historically had within their grasp the equivalent symbols of the second list? A clue: it’s class-based. Too easy! Answer: the upper class. And before them, the rulers, monarch’s, high priests. The middle class didn’t really become significant as a class until the expansion of world trade (merchants, traders, lenders) and then the industrial revolution about 200 years ago.

Many years ago it dawned on me that the lawn, flora, and adornments we aspired to in our suburban home – as well as the home itself – were reflective of those with more money and status. This reveals the influence of Great Britain on our culture since most cultures don’t promote lawns and gardens. I think we and most Americans once-upon-a-time aspired to those symbols. If not relevant to you as you read, look around you and ponder how your possessions and aspirations are a reflection of mirroring the classes above you. That is probably not even intentional. I think you’ll see that we still practice “Monkey see, monkey do”. Or if “keeping up with the Jones’s” is easier to accept, it is much the same thing. Generally, that behavior, often unconsciously expressed, has preceded us through time immemorial. Largely it has contributed to our success as a species. But not surprisingly, this success brings with it unintended consequences.

First, I think it’s important that we acknowledge a human drive to acquire things for the sake of acquiring them – human acquisitiveness. I spoke of the distinction between “needs” and “wants” in an earlier essay. Without recounting that, ask yourself the question as you look at your possessions, do you really “need” them? My view is that we have achieved superabundance most of which we don’t “need”. As I survey the “stuff” surrounding us in our home, I think we may need to have an estate sale before we die because our children are “anti-stuff” and have plenty of good memories of our family to carry forward with them. Much of our stuff has wonderful memories associated with it but they fit our reality and history, not theirs.

So, we’ve acquired all this stuff. What are the implications of that on us today and going forward? More importantly, how did this drive and urge to possess come about? Adding to the “monkey see, monkey do” notion, I would say that somewhere along the line of our evolution, the need to acquire things became heavily imprinted in our biological DNA. So much that it operates out of conscious, thoughtful awareness. Oh sure, we can say that a purchase was done for this or that reason and we’ll make a rational, reasoned case for it. We needed it! A close friend, on hearing my long, reasoned explanation for the purchase of a special car (to me), said “So you really WANT it but you don’t really NEED it.” He was right.

There are other patterns of behavior and decision-making that support our impulses to acquire things. And mind you, this and other impulses have largely contributed to our success (survival) as a species “up till now”. I mentioned in an earlier essay the concept of “curiosity”. Other mammals are curious creatures. Monkeys, apes, all primates. Porpoise. Crows and ravens. Observe children and one of their behaviors that we praise and delight to observe is their natural curiosity. I recall how much fun it was to take toys apart and try to put them back together. Now how does that work? Or building model airplanes. (In my case, I frequently ignored the directions and only returned to the directions if I couldn’t figure it out on my own.) And then, after my youth, along came Legos to name one of many toys that challenged our children’s curiosity. Couple those thoughts with our seeming innate creativity noted in an earlier essay as being special to our species. Those drivers feed our acquired need to possess and gather things, stuff.

I’ve long thought that there must be a modern supporting motivator to this almost addictive set of urges. Something powerful that loops into the process that for so many millennia had generally supported our survival imperative. I don’t know how or when it dawned on me what that might be. Certainly, as I was maturing and aging clues started to enter my awareness as I pondered the uniqueness of our species’ behavior, starting with my own. So what else feeds our “wanting” impulse?

My conclusion, tentative at first, that solidified as I began to pay attention to nutrition, personal health, and prevention was advertising. Advertising is a conditioner. It conditions us to pay attention to some things and messages as opposed to others. It fights effectively with our limited energy of attending to life’s stimuli around us. It focuses us on the more trivial in life mostly. And, remember, one of my “mantras”: what you focus on expands.

A couple of personal experiences that were mini light bulbs flashing that I recall. We watched TV programs as young adults – probably too much. But, to save face a bit, I usually would multi-task during some types of programming such as sports or blah-blah and local news programs. I’d have a book, magazine, or newspaper in my lap (now it’s become my laptop) which when an ad came on allowed an off-ramp from the busy audio-visual highway. I began to note that I became increasingly annoyed with the volume level of the TV at those moments. Ah ha! I was beginning my ad rebellion. The media psychologists had figured out that if you increase the volume they might keep your focus on the products and services they were selling which, of course, paid for the other 48 minutes you are glued to a program. So, theoretically, that left 12 minutes or so each hour I could do something else. I once commented to my wife that I wish I had the training to invent an automatic shut off mechanism that would stop that intrusion and free my focus to efficiently attend to something else albeit for 2 minute segments. How wealthy we would have become. I am sure it was invented many times but media, advertisers, and the commercial sectors bought up those patents.

Another reinforcing example that advertising is a conditioner of our attention, demonstrates an even more deleterious result from ad hype, whether those be their unsubstantiated claims or – at a more primal level – the visual presentation and display such as color, music, movement and composition. Start with a box of cereal. The colors, pictures (remember Tony the Tiger or the famous athlete of the month), and printed claims. Claims such as “fiber rich”, “full of daily vitamins” and more were easy to see and scan. Lower in sugar. Or fat. Or bad fad. Lower sodium. These were added later as it became clear that there was ??? little truth in advertising and diet, nutrition, diabetes, etc., became more important to the buying public.

In summary, if I’m right that copying (Monkey see, monkey do), curiosity, creativity, and an acquisitive need were a genetically hard-wired part of our species from birth, we have culturally, through inventions like advertising, solidified and altered how they impact us and our environment. These behaviors are part of a loop that reinforces much of our success but has contributed to negative consequences also.

How so? I’ll bundle the above summary into one word: consumerism. Over most of our 10,000 years most of us had few choices and options to possess and acquire “stuff”. That was reserved for the privileged few. As we began to invent more stuff in the last 500 years or so, we found more resources to do so and spend on increasingly for commercially available items. As our population has grown to 7 billion, the resources to make things have increased almost exponentially. It took more workers to produce goods and services to meet the demand and supply. And with productivity innovations (examples?, machinery, automation, cheap energy through use of fossil fuels), workers could produce more and less cost so that prices were lowered. Relatively, our resources (income) to act on our impulses to buy, increased also.

Acquisitiveness may have two competing sides as a culturally hard-wired human characteristic. Its negative face is consumerism. Let me explain. We errantly too often lump the notion of consumerism under the labels of Western-inspired capitalism and globalism. Those are the engines and processes that feed our legitimate needs to acquire and consume life-sustaining products and services like food, housing and health care. Those same engines feed acquired and induced “wants” we perceive as “needs”. These become insatiable “wants”; some would say addictions – bigger homes, stuff to fill them, rich and large food portions, sweet and salt enhanced diets, over-the-counter drugs/medicines, etc…  The West is often blamed or honored for introducing capitalism to our entire species. Whether or not you agree with that, it is a deeply embedded part of our culture and, now, maybe our species – for better or worse. At least until it changes and we create a new model.

That model, let’s call it that, of production and consumption to both create and meet human “needs” has largely been adopted by the vast majority of our species. I often comment when I hear pundits, ideologues, and critics bemoan the growing prosperity of the Chinese and the imbalance of trade, for example, that “they learned from us”. Their so-called “Marxist/Leninist” system has adapted that ideology to incorporate much of what you see in Western capitalism and global trade. Remember MSMD. If something useful “seems” to be useful and works to advance our “success”, others will eventually adopt the practice. Adopting and spreading a practice that enhances our “success” at survival is qualitatively and quantitatively different from “acquisitive success” driving consumerism. Virtuous versus reprehensible.

So when you hear the growing mantra these days that “the American Dream is disappearing”, or some variation, what does that mean?   For some in the world, the aspiration and rising expectation (Walt Rostow) modeled by the West – and not just America – seems within their grasp. At least on the economic side but not necessarily on the American-style democracy side. Keep in mind the Chinese political system is an expanding and visibly successful alternative model. Less understood in the disappearing act is “why” that may be so.

My view of the disappearing has its roots elsewhere. Underpinning our geo-centric culture, is our – and the world’s – dependency on raw materials as resources to drive economic and social development as our recent historic model. Some of those resources are diminishing at a rapid rate, especially precious minerals. Recapture and recycling may help slow the decline but at current production and consumption rates the day may come that some goods may no longer be produced. Those are the esoteric raw materials most of which the average person has never heard of. (list a few.. see Tom’s book).

Equally alarming to me is a notion that I first heard of when talking with cattle ranchers and farmers. I recall visiting a friend’s 20,000 acre ranch in south eastern Montana. I expected to see vast numbers of cattle and sheep across the fields and up to the buttes. I was in for a revealing surprise that applies to us as well as cattle. My good friend when I asked “why so few cattle?” responded that it takes, in that part of the country, about 10 or more acres to feed each head of cattle. Wow! I later found that in Virginia where we live it may be 1 or 2 acres per head. My friend called it “carrying capacity”, I believe.

Well a similar notion – carrying capacity of humans – may apply to our planet regarding the number of our species. This is revisiting Malthus who went out of vogue after his prediction about mass world starvation back in the 18th century. It is returning for other reasons today.

Granted the “green revolution” and large scale, industrial farming became possible so our dependent masses of people in urban areas could be fed. Today about 60% of our 7 billion live in “cities” near oceans, lakes and rivers and the percentage increases rapidly. Farmland as we knew it has been abandoned for better opportunities elsewhere. Small farms could no longer keep up; and with that demographic in mind will probably never come back.

The green revolution was made possible by inputs like fertilizers, herbicides, hybrid seeds, pesticides, mechanized farm equipment, improved storage, processing and transportations systems. When I worked as an Associate Director of the Peace Corps in Costa Rica I had first hand experience working with the agriculture extension and research station service. This program, and its allied technologies, were an import and adaptation of the US agriculture extension service developed decades before. They too had created a ministry of agriculture akin to our Department of Agriculture. What seemed to work quite well in the US, was copied in part by that country and many countries around the world. I also learned later in my career working with nutrition planners that adequate supply to feed the world was then and is not today the problem. Constraints and blockages such as poor transportation and distribution, high food prices, corruption and food as a political weapon were some the contributors to malnutrition and starvation.

All those inputs, along with increased demand and commercialization reaching more farmers, increased production significantly. This success took a relatively short time and especially considering that, for good reason, farmers are conservative in the adoption of new practices, inputs and technology. Risk in changing carries a heavy price if there is a bad growing season, a crop fails, markets get saturated, etc..

Finally, discouragement that the American dream is disappearing has strong roots in modern globalism. I use the word “modern” because globalism has been with us for centuries. Animal drawn carts, row and sail boats, ocean going vessels, motorized vehicles and trains brought us over hundreds of years to the airplane of the last century. Trade was happening along that line of mobility and has only grown by big proportions and leaps in the last 100 years or so. Now we have the internet which is reshaping international trade and finance. All this means jobs increased in trading countries; even in those exploited by trade. As employment and jobs increased, incomes for more than the basic needs grew and became disposable for “wants” induced consumption. Industrialization and product specialization created goods that needed markets/buyers. Henry Ford set the example for business and industry: if you wanted workers to buy cars, you had to pay them a wage which made that “want” achievable. All of this built what we call the “middle class” which meant bringing workers to that socio-economic platform.

You might ask, what has this to do with acquisitiveness? First, it is the accumulation of consequences accelerating over the last 500 years that makes the notion of the earth’s “carrying capacity” magnitudes greater than how many cattle can you feed on 20 acres or 2 acres. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet today compared to just millions 5 centuries ago, the consequences of our “success”, while seeming to be stellar today, could be fatal to tens of millions of our species in the following centuries.

This brings me back to the unintended consequences of our success as a species. I’ll elaborate more with more examples here to magnify the importance of the concept and bring its importance to, hopefully, a continuing central concept underlining where we’ve come from, where we are at this moment in time, and where we may be going in the future.

Let me re-start with a list of evidence and facts that point to the downside of our curiosity, creativity, acquisitiveness and consumerism. First, a question to be answered after you read and ponder the list: do you believe that the Earth – as we currently occupy it – can survive so that we survive – can sustain more than 7 billion people as we currently expect our life-styles to continue? Here are the environmental facts and supporting evidence:

  1. Seas and oceans are rising at a rate unseen in human history’s last 2,000 years;
  2. Temperatures are climbing at unprecedented rates – the earth is warming dangerously;
  3. CO2 and other warming gases are accumulating in our atmosphere at a rate not seen or found in scientific measures from prior millennia;
  4. Glaciers, which feed the rivers, lakes, and stream, and provide water for millions of people downstream in villages and cities are disappearing;
  5. There is little to no evidence that rainfall is increasing upstream in those glacier-dependent areas;
  6. Aquifers, both slowly replenish and unrenewable, are vastly stressed;
  7. This and other evidence points to a planet facing severe draughts and wild fires that will diminish our capacity to fight fires or prevent their more frequent eruption;
  8. Smaller civilizations have collapsed because of severe, recurring water problems causing a series of catastrophes (large population decrease, food shortages, starvation, migration, increased violence and warfare);
  9. Pollutants from the chemicals and products derived from oil and natural gas are contaminating our oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, drinking and irrigation waters;
  10. Airborne pollutants from burning of fossil fuels and trash contaminate our air which come back to our water and land through rainfall, further contaminating our soil, fresh and salt water;
  11. Oceans are becoming acidified which harms and kills saltwater organisms causing the seas’ forests – coral reefs – to die thus destroying the breeding areas of millions of aquatic creatures that we depend on directly and indirectly;
  12. Trees that we depend on for absorbing carbon and providing oxygen die from acid rains;
  13. Our soils micro nutrients likewise are harmed by the acidic rains;
  14. Add that to the decay in soil health because of inorganic treatments (fertilizer, insecticide, herbicides) to increase production and support industrial agriculture, and long term food supplies are likely to diminish significantly;
  15. Precipitation patterns and volumes are shifting rapidly across geographic areas and changing the plant-life and habitat thus altering food production potentials;
  16. More frequent and extreme flooding is causing more erosion which accelerates loss of topsoil already negatively impacted by industrial agriculture;
  17. Both increased and wide-spread droughts reduce the amount of arable land for food production;
  18. Increased dependence on irrigation from aquifers exacerbates the rapid reduction on limited aquifer supply;
  19. We, humans, are the primary cause of non-human species’ extinction throughout archeologic history and the diversity of plant and animal life has decreased in alarming numbers. This historic trend has increased greatly in the last 500 years;
  20. Because reduced inability of rural living to sustain families and livelihoods, more than 60% of humans live near water and many of those cities are threatened to disappear or be reduced in size due to rising seas and oceans triggering vast and, in some cases, relatively sudden migrations of millions of people;

While some of the forgoing list may seem repetitive, it further illustrates the interconnectedness of our actions’ impact on each other and rippling out to other components of our bio-sphere, our personal and collective lives. Again, the looping process and overlapping of those loops to create the soup and stew of life as we have known it and now are more able observe its changes and the probable causes for the change – good and bad.

For the sake of the discussion, let’s assume that the dominant cultural paradigm we have created is largely a product of Western thought and experience over the last 2,000 years. So, looking at where we are as a species there are many measures of our success. This is not to overlook the influences of our species up to then but to suggest a trend that prevails and dominates today. In a few words, that paradigm is “the American Dream”.   Look around you and you’ll see the evidence everywhere: in your house, parked outside, the highways, jet travel, cities, vacation spots, and the aspirations that drove you and your neighbors to achieve the symbols of affluence – of having made it. Expand that view to what you see to be the aspirations of millions and billions of people around the world. The communists may not like this lumping together but their growth and ascending consumerism is rivaling the story cultivated by Western capitalism which has thrived under competing and conflicting political and economic philosophies for centuries. As many point out, these shared aspirations come at a price – unintended consequences as a reminder. We have learned to adapt to achieve. Our invented tools served us well. We learned how to use our habitat and environment to create, provide, and build yet more to fulfill our basic human needs and created “wants”. In large measure, we discovered how to exploit the conversion of “resources” to satisfy our basic needs and build an inventory of goods, services and products to meet our often “invented wants”. This adaptive ability required discovery of how to use resources to satisfy our wants and needs. A key resource, dominant most would say, was the discovery of oil and natural gas. Well before that, we found more industrial uses for, and sources of, coal to fuel this economic Renaissance. What you see and possess around you is largely dependent on their use, conversion, and the science behind their and our adaptation.

What will happen if that key resource, fossil fuels, can no longer feed our desires for affluence or, in short, the American Dream? At the risk of being called a xenophobe, I chose to use that theme and metaphor to summarize your thinking about its benefits and costs. If anyone reading this doubts that the Dream is built on that currently preeminent resource and that it is inevitably going to disappear or diminish significantly, you might as well stop reading. It will no longer be the “fuel” that drives this bus across the deserts it, and we, are creating with the human induced changes in our environment. (Note: imagine “deserts” as another encapsulating metaphor.)

Let me describe a picture painted every day by traditional economists, business people, political leaders and most institutions all of whom see today as if it will go on unimpeded into the future. Their mental and strategic models all see the potential of a world where poverty decreases and more and more boats are lifted by the economic progress made possible, up until now, by the engines of commerce, trade, and consumption of goods and services. That progress creates jobs so that incomes allow more and more to participate in the American Dream, or at least hang out on its fringes looking up the ladder of success. It’s become conventional thinking and the models for the future are conventionally mirroring the past to predict the future. A friend of mine said years ago: “Imagine a billion Chinese and Indians driving a car.” He wasn’t expressing hope. To him it was incredulous. Years later he added, “Our next wars will be over scarce resources already dwindling because of the demand for them to drive the engines of progress is outstripping their availability.” He was talking about water. Yes water! Now you can add key minerals such as _________,________,_______.

Many of us in the West, and many citizens of the World, would like there to be more social and economic justice for a greater share of our human brothers and sisters. This wish is part of the human heritage that has gotten us to the success we see around us as we compare today with the past. It is driven by our basic humanism, values rooted in the religions of the world, and the philosophies of enlightenment so instrumental in our ability to “love thy neighbor” and to care for one another even though we are mostly strangers among 7 billion other faces. That interdependence was, and is, romanticized by the sense of “community”. Then it morphed from small, rural areas with a “town or village” hub, to teaming cities of increasing anonymity, but yet “communities” carved out among the mass sprawl of “neighborhoods” inside and suburban. Thus a sense of “identity” and familiarity was and is preserved for many.

Since World War II, there has emerged a growing sense of and need for a world community and order. Many national agencies and international bodies and organizations were formed to bring this new “sense of community” together. Classic symbols of this move to what would become known as “globalism” were embodied by entities like the United Nations and it specialized sub-sets. Also institutions like the World Bank, IMF, World Court, and Regional bodies, emerged to further create more interdependence among nations and bring them within a growing world order cemented by the rule of law, treaties, trade agreements, etc.. Businesses, financial institutions and international trade both joined, led, and reinforced this chosen trend. In part, for this revolution to work, it required that each subscriber to new rules and norms give up some of its claim to sovereignty and free-lancing to receive the broader benefits of cooperation and collaboration. This seemed to have worked in an ebb and flow, sometimes contentious, that achieved those benefits. But where do we stand today?

Just as with the trends demonstrating severe environmental decay and increasing, accelerating degradation surrounding us, a similar rot and withering seems to have been growing over the last 20 years and is poised to capture us as we scratch our heads about the future direction of human affairs driven by our creativity, curiosity, and adaptability.

The rot and withering is within the very principals and norms that governed philosophic and intellectual thinking, and considerable action, for the last few centuries. Aside from terrible world and regional wars over the last century (1915 – 2018), Western thought had created what is referred to as liberal democracies in many countries. The principals and norms within that construct reflected the intention of the majorities and their leaders to create societies striving to live “our better angels.” We would cooperate broadly within the nation state and across boarders more and more. That would contribute to a widely shared peace and prosperity. Competition would be less violent and lead to new discoveries and their shared results. A statement seeming at odds with the wars, it can be said that the two World Wars helped, for all their terror and destruction and death, ensure that liberal democracy could survive and grow.

So what may be dramatically changing to reverse this course for a large portion of humanity? Simply, it is the relatively rapid growth and spread of a new dogmatism of a nature defined by authoritarianism and autocracy. Fearfully, for a host of reasons, leaders who are capturing that flag received tremendous support by smaller and then larger groups of activists so inclined out of fear, anger, alienation and mistrust of the very institutions and values that had brought them liberal democracy. They are seeing their interests promoted and protected by autocrats at the expense of “them”. This newly powerful “us”, intends to exclude or mute those seen as “them” often defined by skin color, differing religious embrace, language, and cultural traditions. Rather than an expansive and inclusive humankind defined by liberal democracy, they see tight-fisted rule along narrow and regressive reasoning to solidify and perpetuate rule by fiat. A new and more dangerous fanaticism has grown from the rot festering over those 20 years at least.

The causes of this trend are many and complex and hard to grasp for the majority. And there is a deep irony in this. Hard to explain is why the oppressed are often buying this new form of leadership and governance described by autocracy and authoritarianism? Their actions seem radically contrary to their interests.

Two main reasons seem to dominate. And there are many others associated with each. The first reason is that a growing number of people, certainly in the US, have lost faith in, and trust of, their core institutions: government, the courts and rule of law, schools, religion, communities, many corporations, and leaders in the public and private sectors alike. The second reason is that the poor or near poor are often most resistant to change, especially when it is happening at dizzying speed and the fruits of that change are not available to them because of cost or class. For many of those positioned to adapt more quickly due to educational level, income, zip code and life experience, they too are feeling overwhelmed with rapid change. And that feeling leads to stress, fear of the unknown future, and alienation from themselves and once tolerated people of difference. The social fabric which once held us together starts fraying and consuming its hopeful and positive core surrendering to the dark corridors of our fear.

More specifically and mystifying is why the growing anger and rage among the underclass or the otherwise marginalized and downtrodden, exploited populace, does not burst forth in response with a more forceful shift to promoters of their interests. The evidence for this shift to happen should be clear in one set of indicators: economic injustice. For a few decades, the gap in income and wealth between those who have a large share and those who don’t is growing. Some measures suggest that historically we are in a new “Gilded Age” only seen before over a hundred years ago.

Social injustice experienced by minorities, women, the LGBT community, and non-Christians is indisputable and well documented. These groups have a stronger and stronger voice and are acting for their interests and, at the core, for liberal democratic values and principles. They also strongly support reversing the disparities and injustice embodied by the wealthy and uber-wealthy class. Their fear, anger and rage is directed at reforming the institutions and leadership that perpetuate the anti-liberal status quo. But this liberation of creativity and energy is adds to the fears through an imagined threat it poses to the economic underclass and many in the middle class. The resurgent outcasts seem to have values and beliefs that are contradictory and threatening to the potential allies of the less educated and less affluent in the quest for social and economic justice.

This societal breakdown is more easily exploited by authoritarians as they acquire more recognition and power. Their advantage is that the existing fear allows them to simplify the language defining problems, reducing their complexity and nuance, manipulating the vulnerability of their followers and advocating anti-liberal solutions. Lies become believable and acceptable with their frequent and immediate publication. They confirm simple and oftimes conspiratorial but erroneous biases. Such rhetoric plays on those who need and want strong leadership without the complications of democracy as we know it. Those followers generally, to start with, are opinionated, see life as black and white, are rigid and less flexible, and are more tribal in their social groupings and affiliations. They start their adult lives leaning to that extreme which has its champions in the extremes of liberal and conservative parties in the US and many other countries. There is often a longing to return to the past, the “good old days”, where life was simpler and understandable. Living with ambiguity and uncertainty is not their comfort zone. They, when confronted with the new “them” dressed in such a great variety and diversity of symbols, feel increasingly threatened and seek harbor among their growing “us” affiliations. A primitive but still usual reaction of the “them” affiliates is to get defensive and construct its own set of barriers and see those “thems” as an enemy. This action and counteraction begins to be a perpetuating cycle that only causes the cultural gaps to grow. Extremes will always exist philosophically, politically and culturally. Characteristic of extreme belief and behavior is that the room for cooperation and compromise diminishes and can become a life-threatening hardening of the societal arteries. In spite of the fact that our representative democracy is designed to optimize a governance that seeks common ground and cooperation, it is struggling mightily to regain its balance and center.

There is likely a Western myth surrounding this apparent Westernizing of the global community signified by the American Dream. While the mantra of liberal democracy and capitalism is that they will enhance the reach and sharing of rewards to more and more of the masses, there is growing evidence that, even as liberal democracy and capitalism are preached and practiced, this is not happening. In fact, the gaps between rhetoric and practice are growing.

In the US, home to over 300 million people we have been in a new “Gilded Age”, as noted above, where more and more of the wealth and income growth has move to the top 5% of its population. That chasm has not been witnessed since the early 20th century. China and India’s combined populations of over 2 billion people have large numbers living in poverty. While they modernize, the gap grows between those at the top and bottom. Some progress in expanding the middle class has happened there as it has in Latin America, other Asian Countries, and parts of Africa. But the extremes are still significant. The Arab countries seem to be the most abandoned by their leaders in ability or willingness to join the modern world economy except for a few resources like oil.

A striking political and governance structure in the majority of those countries is the adoption and adaptation of liberal democracy and a mixture of capitalism and welfare-state principles. However, their constitutions and democratic processes are constantly manipulated by ruling parties and the ruling class to perpetuate or protect their dominance. That need to control negates the cooperative and competitive free-play needed to have more culturally and economically vibrant societies. Add to that the rampant corruption and diminished allegiance to the “rule of law” mean the presumed benefits of liberal democracy and capitalism shared by a majority of citizens is not being achieved. So that leaves billions of our fellow beings marginalized at the low rung of the social and economic hierarchy. And the likelihood of that improving much over the ensuing decades is doubtful because of the powerful force of entropy/inertia benefiting the “haves” versus the “have-nots”. Here’s some evidence to substantiate that claim. Many experts have researched the rolling benefits accruing through life to those citizens being born and raised in certain “zip codes”. Being surrounded by learning in and associated with the affluent and privileged in your neighborhood confers life-long advantages and opportunities to them. That is largely the opposite effect for those from the “wrong zip codes”.   Historically, that metaphor was once said to label a person as being one of
“them” for the “wrong side of the tracks”.

What are some other advantages available to the affluent but less to others? No need to expand on this list but just to note some is sufficient: better medical care, better schools, broader life experience, technology that’s affordable and renewed frequently, more discretionary income, a network of people who link you to more networks and opportunities because, unconsciously often, “you’re one of us”.

As this social and economic fabric seems to be unraveling and rotting as is the material, living world around us might, the latter’s imminent collapse also may be about to happen separate from or in parallel with the other?   If collapse is on its way, how broad will it be in both domains of our human habitat? The natural and the human constructed. If it is total, in spite of what we do to prevent and reverse it, then we will have acted in vain. If otherwise, what can we do to mitigate the negative descent toward collapse of some kind? Of course we won’t know until we get there – wherever “there” is. Our drive for survival pushes us to do whatever is necessary under any foregoing circumstances as we witness threat. We’ll only know the answer to “too late or too little?” as the evidence presents itself.

How? First, the causes of this decay and rot are multiple, in varying degrees of effect, interrelated, nuanced and dizzingly complex. To add to this headache, solving one problem or cause may create, here’s that phrase again: unintended consequences. An easily understood example: when many thought the world’s population would shrink because of mass starvation, science and industry created fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides to protect and increase crop production. Today we see the unintended effects of those poisons to our habitat and to our bodies.

But it could be argued that the very science and technology that fed business, industry and consumers offered a whole new way of life that, for many, lifted their material well-being and life opportunities. As mentioned above, this evolution, from the past 500 years, came wrapped in economic and political garb mostly dominated by supposed enlightened and democratic capitalism. And as we each pass through its “temporal” images and touches, it seems the best and only way to go for are progeny while we ignore and avoid the damage caused down-stream in time’s flow away from our temporality. I don’t experience it therefore it didn’t happen. Our imagination and foresight is time bound and limited to short term for most people. This short term horizon greatly inhibits our ability and willingness to alter course, to reform our institutions and organizations, to modify our belief systems, and to change behavior on a collective scale large enough to radically alter our behavioral and decision-making course.

The promises of the American Dream, as metaphor, are too attractive to cause discouragement and course reversal, presently. But yet, more and more evidence shows those may be the root causes of our plunge to collapse of some sort and degree. Until we abandon our contrived needs from unlimited desire to acquire and possess material goods at the expense of their contribution to our deteriorating world-wide ecosystem, the trends written about above will continue, intensify and accelerate. That is a conclusion supported by more and more experts across many disciplines and an increasing number of leaders in politics, government, associations, foundations, and the private sector. And on a growing scale they are acting in spite of so many governments unable to move beyond rhetorical support for the cause to save our planet and our species.

The clearest road to survival is to extremely limit our huge habits to CONSUME and acquire. What and how much we consume, almost as an addiction, triggers the exploitation of our environment, including people, to maintain our habits. This addiction then unleashes negative and unintended consequences that are far greater, perhaps exponentially greater, than we could imagine or imagined. Imagine this: we will have to reinvent society at all levels to rebalance the impending decline and chaos. What would that look like? How would you spend your day? Where would challenges to your creativity come from? How would your curiosity be satisfied? What would religion and organized society look like? What behavior would be substituted for the purging of our needs to acquire?

Let’s start with the concept of “work”. Over time it has come to mean what many people do to survive, put food on the table, care for children and provide resources to live a comfortable life including housing, education, and health care. In a mostly rural society years ago it meant families and small communities lived on and off the land. As urban areas increased, they provided the food and materials for building, fire wood, clothing production, etc.. And the changes flowed from there to get us to a current picture almost opposite of that history. But work still is a central activity to define who we are and our purpose. You worked for the income or barter to provide for yourself and loved ones. If progress as we know it today (internet, technology, robotics, artificial intelligence) redefines the concept of work, what will it become, will it be as central to our lives, and how does our self-image and interrelationships in “community” change?

What follows is based on a number of assumptions. First, that the current fall toward environmental cataclysm will be halted and reversed gradually (50-100 years). Second, that this major disruption will be the eventual ending of the capitalist, consumption driven, natural resource depleting exploitation of our biosphere. Third, it likely means that an international recognition of, and actions to create, new forms of governance, cooperation, and economic and social models to regenerate and sustain humanity, and life itself, that will lead to the creation of those processes and structures. Just uttering those words engenders a deep recognition and worry about the climb ahead.

To set us on the road to envisioning the future we may want to create, I’ll start with “work”.

Today work is largely an exchange of individual efforts for income to be exchanged for a comfortable life for ourselves and family or those we are responsible for. Much evidence exists to suggest that those incomes may continue to shrink and be harder to achieve thus leaving more and more people under or unemployed with work as we defined it. These two changes alone will require radical shifts in our thinking, our family relationships, our communities and our collective approach to cooperation and governance.

So what might we envision to be an outcome, however temporary, of this major transition? The word work itself may have to be abandoned or reframed. We may have to think and conceive of how we live a life-style where work is secondary. Our life styles may have to include more time with family and friends; to be more egalitarian in responsibilities surrounding our spousal/partnership relationships; to engage in intellectual, artistic or recreational pursuits; to spend more time and activity in the natural world; to attend to our mental and physical health and wellness; to take more time in community affairs; to return to barter exchange of our talents with others’ talents – there will still be lots to do that AI and robotics can’t do in the micro tasks of daily maintenance.

My hopefulness about the future implied from that paragraph is embedded in what we know about the evolution of our species up to this moment in time. It seems, as science has revealed and philosophers have argued, we are – at our core – driven by the need to be social creatures like so many animals. Corollaries to our social needs are both cooperation and competition. They fuel the change process If these have not been with us as a primal biological stamp, they certainly have become glued to our cells through cultural evolution over hundreds of thousands of years. So, unless that stamping is stamped out of us in the millennia ahead, we will always gravitate to recreate what has driven us to adapt and survive as a species. What the “re-creation” will look like is unknown but not unimaginable. Once we begin to “imagine” it, in bits and pieces or big slices, we will change personally and collectively over time. Our ability to be intentional about the purpose and new behavior, and to continue to learn and improve on what we are learning, and to spread that to our family, our tribes and to a larger community is what defined civilization today and will do so going forward.

But back to the basics of the immediate social world we have become and which shapes us every day as we eventually shape it. Today “work” is a central driver of us individually and collectively. It generates “income” in a metaphorical modern sense represented by currency whether physical or electronic. Whereas, it was trading physical goods or crops or labor for shelter centuries ago. So where does the “income” come from to support us and our families in the future? First, if work is redefined and life-style becomes more important, (minimalism vs endless abundance)……..

Chapter 10 – Consciousness and the Brain

 

Like many of us, I have been fascinated by the brain and human consciousness for many years. While the general structure of the brain has been understood for nearly two centuries, we learn more every year about its complexity, what is connected to what, how it’s connected, and how stimuli set it to action. Sadly, we may know more about “outer space” – that which surrounds us on earth – than our “inner space.” In the last 50 years or so, various disciplines of science and sophisticated tools have allowed us to begin to explore and understand how the brain functions. Among those disciplines are biology, chemistry, physics, cultural anthropology, neuroscience, and cognitive science. Technologies such as computers, MRI, micro-surgery and lasers, non-invasive surgical instruments, electronic probes, etc. have gone way beyond the microscope and post-mortem dissection to open doors leading to the treasures of our brains and close others whose mother loads of information were long depleted.

While we know vastly more fact and information about the brain, we are still in an infancy of sorts over how it really works to form our daily consciousness. I have had insights recently that may answer questions about the brain that others have raised and are answering scientifically. What is consciousness? Or a variation: Where does it reside? Or yet another variation: How does it work?

At this moment in time, no one is quite sure or in agreement about the answers. And there are many. They are old musings by philosophers, writers, poets, and early scientists. They are brought into the debate today by new biologists, evolutionary science, physicists, and neuroscientists, to name a few. They gather in that chat room referred to as the Executive Function (EF) – the frontal lobe that’s been labeled in brain mapping and research.

One historian and professor of philosophy, provides a current example of where we are in collective science regarding consciousness. Not as answers but more about the evolving theory and credible speculation. He refers to Francis Crick, a physicist and biologist, and Kristof Koch, a neuroscientist, as being on the cutting edge of this arena. Crick was looking for where consciousness might reside and how it happens. He believes that science is the way to discover the answers. That is probably true. So far his hypothesis and study fall short but open interesting speculation for further research. However, he does discuss a concept and a process which, to me, gets close to an answer to “how” but not “where”. They call it “binding”. It is that instantaneous moment in time that all the stimuli we receive are bundled in order for us to understand, differentiate, translate, decide and act or not act (probably ignore and forget). Not acting, as we think of that word, may still be an “act” if we store that “bundle” from that moment in our amygdala or hippocampus.

I believe he and Koch have the answer, for the near term anyway, but can’t see it because Crick was a “materialist”/physicist who assumes that consciousness resides somewhere in the brain. Or could it be in the millions/trillions of cells and neurons throughout our physical and nervous system? Others may address that so I’ll have to read further.

However, my answer to “what, where and how” is likely, and arrogantly, too simple. It is based on the notions of randomness, chaos, and interdependence. As important, it builds on the evolution of our species’ collective uniqueness mirrored by our individual uniqueness. I referred to this in an earlier essay as “snowflakes” and “fingerprints”. Underpinning this is a core process of our universal drive, to us and other living creatures, which is survival. It is primal and primary. (For you Star Trekkies, it is “the prime directive”). Layered on that and enmeshed inextricably are the processes (all now involuntary) of learning, creativity, and adaptation (innovation). Also, but within the boundary of collective cohesion, we accept and struggle with conformity which limits individual instincts that define our consciousness. That, as an example, creates a tension or competition within, that fires creativity. So the loop of this entire process is one of continual feedback guiding both conscious and unconscious behavior always aimed at individual and collective survival.

Survival is too immense a word, perhaps. Think of the individual who is trying to cope with the stimuli bombarding his or her senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing, smell) with sight and hearing being the prominent filters we use every day. It doesn’t trigger our “survival” imperative accept when we sense immediate danger and threat. Rather it triggers our coping mechanisms. We can’t respond to every stimulus. We can’t even admit through our senses most stimuli that approach our perception of what’s near us and out there. Our brains have evolved to “filter” what we do at any moment. In many cases we just block “it” without any awareness that we’ve done so. Or if we allow “it” in, we process it in ways that distort, flip, turn this way and that, reconcile with past “similar” experiences, shape it to conform to pre-coded or learned and remembered templates many outside of conscious manipulation. Automatic. Short-cuts. Heuristically determined. Memes that bind culture at this moment in time. Or we allow it, by choice or default, to enter the “EF” and another process of manipulation begins leading to a decision or an action – some behavior that helps us “cope” and, occasionally, “survive”.

This process is individualistic but roles up to cultural behavior patterns, norms, rules, behaviors, beliefs leading to coping or surviving results. And those have built over the eons much the same way we understand the brain having evolved in layers from the reptilian through mammalian to the neo-cortex with all the folds and mass (weight and size) we see today.

“Coping” is an ambiguous word. Culture bound as we have come to use it over the decades. A meme having passed the test of time versus a popularization of a word today that will fade away as faddish. It is often seen as a pejorative. I don’t mean to use it that way. It also should imply getting through the day successfully, generatively, happy, and satisfied having solved problems and behaved acceptably to yourself and others around you.

Let me come back to “consciousness” as Crick, Koch and others have explored it. A big part of the debate and inquiry is what is it? My simple view is that it is what I define it to be for me. This gets confused by the philosophical debate through the ages as to “who am I?”, “who are you?”, “can I know you, you know me?” and “what is self?” Answers to these profound and perplexing questions all turn on one core notion: each of us is truly unique. You are who you think, feel, and believe you are – contradictions, inconsistencies, unfathomables, unknowns – bundled in your brain and body. So if you are unique and are bundled differently, I can’t possibly know in the fullest sense who you are. (Star Trekkies: there is, as yet, no such thing as a “mind meld” and why would we want one anyway?) So, yes, in our relationships even of the most intimate and longest lasting, I sort of know you and you me. But if I have “blind spots” or hide some awareness from myself about myself, I don’t know me fully either. So “knowing each other” becomes all the more improbable. Finally, self then becomes “who I am”. And from soon after birth that “who” changes and hits one key stage about age 6 when the brain is fully developed at that moment in time. If you believe, as I do, that our nature is to some extent defined at conception and in the womb, what follows in our personal “who am I” development is many variations on a theme.  Our DNA is largely set but that initial hardwiring can be altered by the culture around us and the nurturing or tragedy that touches us. We learn, create, adapt to cope and survive.

So, if we are unique in many definable ways, (I’d assert – infinitely so) it stands to reason that the wiring of our brain and bodies plays a big role in how consciousness comes about. I don’t believe there is one or a few physical places in the brain/body where consciousness happens or exists. That is scientific reductionism in the extreme. While it may one day be discovered, I am not impressed with the evidence to date.

For me, the fact that the wiring of our brain and nervous system is so complex and barely understood, there has to be an answer in and among that jumble of neurons, chemicals and synapses that explain how we bundle or bind our experience of the world around and within us. Imagine millions and trillions among that jumble. Yours must be, by definition of our uniqueness, different from mine. If so, how about the process that fires yours into action? It too must be different since many studies show how we react differently to similar sets of complex stimuli.

Enter chaos theory and randomness. The process that develops our consciousness through the functioning of our brain and body are explained by those words, concepts and theories. So it isn’t a place or a physical structure in a limited sense. It is a process that is wrapped in a physical structure – our brains and bodies.

Given our infinite uniqueness, chaos and randomness are ultimately purposeful which seems a contradiction. But is it? We can never be sure how the process of consciousness will lead us but it seems to reach moments of stasis or equilibrium only to go out of balance again before it returns. Remember, consciousness in the human species can be seen as driven by learning, creativity, adaptability and, ultimately, survival – individually and collectively to repeat myself. I think it is fair to say that all living creatures have a built in coding to aspire to survive. They do so differently than we do because we are emotional and thinking creatures who can, but don’t always, act in our best individual and collective interests. Evolution shows countless species that survive over swaths of time and those that didn’t or couldn’t or weren’t allowed to adapt and, thus, survive.

And while we are a part of our larger global environment and a seeming infinite universe, there are no guarantees that the larger randomness and chaos “out there”, external to us near and distant, will not shorten our species’ “consciousness”. The extinctions we know of on our planet, thought to be 5 over millions of years, were unforeseen and unpredictable because there were no “intelligent” beings around then. While we think of ourselves as intelligent, aware, rational, purposeful, destiny-shapers, and all-around good guys, we have no control over unforeseeable events. Not yet anyway. But we will, in our infinite “wisdom” keep trying to “control” and shape our future along with the earth’s.

A fatal flaw in our intentional attempts to shape today and tomorrow is our inability to see very far out and predict the future. So we are left to try this and that; to do the best we can and to muddle through. We are learning, hopefully not too late, that much of what we do today and plan for will have unintended consequences. That is a rule that we have introduced to the consciousness that we create internally and project externally that then loops back to affect the next individual and collective steps of our evolution and that of the earth’s.

Chapter 9: From Collective Consciousness to the Collective Unconscious

 

Following chapter 8, it seemed appropriate to move to the unconscious side of our individual and collective lives. I must assume that you have followed the path I’ve been describing and that it generally makes sense to you. On that path were signposts for the emergence of words and language that derived from behavior. That interplay among the triad cycled forward and back in a continuous movement through history to this day and will likely continue on our evolutionary journey. Put another way, behavior shapes words and language and is impacted by them, endlessly.

When unraveling the concepts embedded in words, language and behavior it may seem obvious that behavior preceded words and language as I maintained in Chapter 3 “Beliefs and Behavior”. Some might argue that assertion by making a distinction between “behaviorally inspired” words and those pronounced by various religions and belief systems. Behavior is observed. Religious and spiritual beliefs often deal with the unseen, unobservable and require the projection of our creative thought and imagination to be manifest in our reality. I would contend that behavior still led the way in shaping those belief systems because much of the teachings reflect the better angels of our species and because of their contribution to our survival. We find words for the unexplainable good and bad of human behavior because we want to hold onto the unexplainable good and reject the destructive bad. More on that later.

Simply, observing the success of others in the struggle for survival, paved the way for communication as we know it across cultures. Words had to be created to express what was observed, validated to be useful, and copied not just through mimicking but, eventually, describing and explaining, whether in words or graphically. As this became entwined with our genes, we then had more capability to assign language to the images, sounds and smells which registered on our brains. We also began to create words and language to describe emotions which were likely with us from birth. We created core words to express these emotions: sad (down), happy (buoyant), angry (annoyed), fear (scared), hopeful (upbeat), insecure (unsure), jealous (envious), love (lust). Then over the eons we developed nuances (in parentheses) to those words which often require us to translate back to the core emotion to understand what is meant.

Standing where we do historically in time, most of us probably have the impression that what we see as “language” happened fast. How could something so pervasive and taken for granted have not been within humans long ago? Most of us probably think of words and language as always a part of the human experience. In some form yes, as noted in other chapters. But just as computer language started with the simple combinations of ones and zeros, its sophistication, speed, growth and change has been on an almost exponential growth path compared to our cultural languages. For better or worse, that sub-set language is now in the mainstream and, more than English, has the potential of being a world-wide language that binds our human species’ culture as we move through the new ages.

The lexicon of words and language grew but not as rapidly as computer language has. Wrapped around and within those words and language is the behavior that triggered the need for an accepted and widely used form of verbalization and, eventually, writing or iconography. It took millennia for hundreds of “languages” to form and be shared by groups of people. They were shared because they were useful to creating a collective consciousness that hardened and embedded the culture. And the shared culture helped them adapt, survive and succeed. Imagine that process extending across subcultures so that “language” mutated, was reciprocally shared and assimilated, and allowed for the larger society to emerge. As cultures intermingled more and more across geographies and relationships were sporadic and as contact was growing, translation became necessary in order to communicate. People started to learn each other’s language and, consequently, their culture, practices, and paths to success. This process happened because it was reciprocally beneficial to both and then to the many cross-cultural encounters as mobility and speed of travel increased.

An anecdote from my life will illustrate this. My wife and I were in Sienna, Italy many years ago and visited a Catholic church built in the 14th and 15th century. Massive, ornate, awe-inspiring building exterior. I was a bit overwhelmed but enjoyed taking pictures of all the sculptured icons, symbols, creatures, angels, and saints. When we joined the crowds of folks entering, the beautiful floor seemed welded to my feet immediately. I almost felt like I was violating an immense painting filled with its symbols and religious stories – themselves needing translation rich with historic and religious meaning. It had lessons to be observed. It celebrated life but warned of our potential for sin, decay and injustice. While not a part of my tradition or knowledge of religious history, and the Empire it sprung from, I stood transfixed observing the huge mosaic circle I was confronting. As I looked and contemplated, I noticed that many of the painted tile represented not just what I knew about Catholicism but incorporated Pagan icons representing the Pagan belief system. Walking away and to this day, I continue to ponder the lessons of what I saw there and recalled from my studies and experience with Latin American Mayan, Aztec and Inca cultures. The dominant or conquering culture embraced some of the beliefs and “language” (pictoral or sculptural) of the assimilated or conquered culture. A challenge to the “conquerors” was to translate the “spoken language” (and otherwise written) to make the conquered’s language meaningful so it would connect and further absorb the defeated. This visual representation of the blending of the old with the new in the Church, is a gesture to inclusion, interdependence, and valuing. Rest assured that old beliefs continued to be practiced because they “worked” for people – old and new alike.

Leap to today where English is the main and preferred cross-cultural language. Some fear that Chinese (mandarin or Cantonese) will share the linguistic stage with the US and England in the next hundred years or so. Others regret that their “native” language is fading and may disappear as have many tribal languages. This is cause for concern because it is a “language border” which some want to close and may fight to protect. It is also cause for celebration because, frankly, human survival requires that language, whether one or a few major ones, help us to cooperate more and more given the urgency of many global problems.

As a metaphor, the “language border” speaks to other borders we build to separate our “collective consciousness” and separate my tribes CC from yours. But there is an invisible border we each may not be aware of, individually or collectively, which is also different from tribe to tribe and is cross-culturally unique. For the West, Freud and followers elaborated on the notion of the unconscious. Some of what they identified and studied was, as far as I know, limited to the Western tribe of humans. In Freud’s scheme, the unconscious could be unearthed and revealed into the awareness of each person with varying degrees of effort and treatment. So too with Jungian theory but through different approaches to revelation and registering in our awareness.

So how does this unconscious dimension of our human experience connect with the collective consciousness? To answer that, I first want to explain the unconscious more fully and, perhaps, bring it up-to-date from “Freudian” times.

I have become fascinated in the last 15 years with the revelations of neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Part of my growing fascination came from a struggle I had with the polarity implied by “rationality and irrationality”.   I could make those distinctions when I sorted my own thinking and behavior. I could assume I understood their difference when I observed the words and behaviors of others. But I was often troubled by the feeling that there was something missing from a fuller appreciation of what I observed and experienced. Similarly, “logical”, “reasonable”, “facts” versus “opinions”, “truth and untruth” were words that kind of hung in the shadow of my overall discomfort with humans as “rational” actors.

Two anecdotes may help to explain the quandary I was in. The first, that I recall vividly, happened over a lunch with some colleagues back in the 70s. I was a Vice President in a small international consulting firm. I was with the founder and President and two other VPs. We got into an animated conversation about the direction of foreign developmental aid to less developed, poorer countries. One of my colleagues, a former Episcopalian minister and highly regarded professional in our field, kept coming back to his rationale for the case he was making of how foreign aid should change. There was quite a bit of agreement but there was one area that a couple of us disputed. He added to his rationale, we countered with ours, his was repeated in a bit louder voice and so it went on. We had kind of dug in our heels in a collegial way. I was getting frustrated because we each were citing “facts” and “data” to bolster our rationally presented “cases”. One colleague began asserting that his data and facts were the “truth”. I finally said “Lew, there is no truth until we agree on it!” Mind you, this wasn’t a math or science debate. It was filled with “reasonable” assertions and opinions bolstered by data but we weren’t agreeing on those.

That statement was a “show stopper” for the moment. I recall there was a long pause as people dealt with their surprise, contemplated a response, or absorbed the implications of my declaration, or just wanted the bill. Lunch was about over anyway and there was work to return to.

On the way back to the office I thought about my declaration. Where had that come from? Was it reasonable? Or was it a wild assertion that couldn’t be justified and was worthy of easy dismissal? I concluded I was on to something that I had never before conjured so clearly. However, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. So I filed it away in a memory folder as a future filter to use as I observed and experienced life’s unfolding amidst my fellow beings. And it came up in an unsuspected moment in time but with a different twist.

The second anecdote happened while I was still with that same company and in the early 80s, I happened to pick up a book with an intriguing title “Reality Isn’t What It Used To Be” by Walter Truet Anderson. I believe it was about that time that I became interested in “socially constructed” reality. It is fair to say that the book became a seminal articulation for understanding my unfolding life experience and the reality I had constructed and was still constructing.

Now an argument could be made that I already believed and knew, that for me, my reality was unique as is reality as it changes for all of us. We are both changed by its changes and effect its change. This book merely finished a part of the construction already in place. It put in cohesive and sensible but alluring colors; a novel perspective I could embrace, visualize and share cogently, and a reasonable explanation at that moment in time. Some would say that I was, and am, drawn to that as evidence of “confirmation bias”.

Confirmation bias takes me to an area of cognitive psychology and neuroscience worthy of considerable examination as we look at collective unconsciousness. It is put into a category referred to as a “heuristic” (commonly called the Familiarity Heuristic). It is an example of mental short cuts that kick in automatically to guide or dictate our behavior at any moment in time. It gets tapped because of our emotions that then fires neurons that seek stored information that validates the opinions, beliefs, ideas, and values that we have been prompted to defend. We align past experience, memories, information and, yes, knowledge that supports what we want them to. Our conclusions aren’t baseless. They just may be indefensible if closer examination of contrary or different information, knowledge, and evidence or fact were allowed to enter.

Imagine what might happen if for many of the triggers to your emotions or reception of a stimulus, be it avoiding a pedestrian while driving or a challenging statement by someone you disrespect, you stopped to reason “how do I handle this?” Without a heuristic to guide you to action (swerve) or a decision (shall I argue?), you would have to move into that noisy committee room known as the “executive function” to deliberate and assess the situation before deciding and acting. Without knowing, in the sense of reasoning, you intuitively know you have more to lose than gain by arguing; a heuristic probably got you there.   Swerving may avoid an accident that might bring harm to you or the pedestrian.

While these are situational events, research on the mind, body, and heart connection are revealing that more of our decisions and actions are determined in this manner. Increasingly, because of this and other evidence, our species is differentiated from others as “the emotional animal” on our planet.

Depending on who you read about heuristics, there are around twenty plus of these shortcuts that, individually or in some combination, can lead us to decisions and action. They serve us well, often, because they reflect our culture and norms that generally help us cope collectively with complexity and immediacy of need that, otherwise, may leave us stuck in indecision and confusion. However, those short cuts also lead us astray both individually and collectively making incorrect analysis based on wrong assumptions, or believing errant data, or succumbing to the expedient but incorrect, often pre-conditioned, response.

That happens quickly and unknowingly at an individual level. And, today we have come to learn and understand that it happens quickly at the collective level. We align ourselves socially, politically, and even geographically in tribes that are likely to join us and affirm many of our biases. We find comfort there. We find strength and support in numbers there.

When a heuristic, or short cut, begins to govern the behavior of larger and larger numbers of a collective of humans, or our species, it has risen to the level of a “meme”. In that category it helps define culture in that moment. Over a long swath of time (centuries, millennia) it is, supposedly, now deeply embedded, or hardwired into our species.

A meme that has emerged over the last two centuries has become essential to understanding the brain. So this meme is associated with the science and mapping of the brain. It is, among other brain parts, a function called the “executive function” (EF). Evidently, as far as we know today, in the frontal area of the brain it holds residence. That is where reasoning and many decisions theoretically take place. So the mention of executive function usually takes our understanding of it and its location to that visual area.

While I was out walking one day, my mind and imagination wandered into visualizing the brain. I started to think of where the fear response to a stimulus originated. That was easy. Then I asked, “where does memory reside and how is it accessed?” A bit more complicated and less known to me and neuroscientists even. Am I more “right brained” (creativity impulses) or “left brained” (linear, fact driven)? And what stimulus predicts the path of decision-making and action (behavior) will move along? All of this being done with the great liability of bits and pieces of knowledge about the brain, its architecture, and its functioning.

But finally I conjured my way to the EF. My fantasy said I was about to open a door and get my imagined issue resolved through reason, evidence, and analysis. What a surprise I was in store for. As I opened the door it was a noisy room filled with much debate, opinion, reasoned assertions, evidence and all the things – and more – than I had imagined. Frankly, it seemed I was in a committee meeting of peers that looked like me and were reminiscent of mentors, writers, friends and a few respected antagonists.

How to sort through all that? It was engaging to be sitting for a time in the committee but as with many such meetings, it became tiring and frustrating. I recall that I began to look at “rules of thumb” to guide my thinking as I listened and openly participated. I relied on past learning. Similar situations where I’d had success or failure. Prior advice I’d received that had worked. There were a couple of voices masked as authorities that I noticed I heeded more closely. So as far as I could tell, my EF, was acting “executively”.

Relatively soon – after all I was just on a walk – a decision popped out that I anointed with a “that’s it!” Now to finish the walk and act accordingly.

After implementing the decision from that walk, I reflected on “how did that result turn out?” “What did I think of the process?” What would I do differently next time?” “What might I hold onto and repeat under similar conditions in a similar situation?”

What I didn’t know then but am clearer about today is that the process is really quite different when one enters the EF room. It is noisy, can be messy, and often doesn’t lead to the outcome you “rationally” were supposed to achieve in that room. Also, the outcome may be a pleasant surprise for which you construct some rules of thumb for next time.

The assumption too many of us make about the EF is that it is a room dominated by our rational selves and we leave emotion at the door. I strongly believe that is not so – even if the EF room really exists. I have come to accept the notion, that as a species, we are the “emotional animal” in our known universe on earth. And that in the domain of the emotional (some would say we reside there most of the time), we are barely aware of the heuristics and memes that mostly govern our choices and behavior.

Are there overrides to this potentially, and often, chaotic process? Yes. But it too is messy and unpredictable. The evidence of more good outcomes than devastating outcomes is simple: we seem to muddle through by following our better angels than the forces of darkness. (Yes, rejoice! “The Force is With You! [us] ).

The interplay between our collective consciousness and our collective unconscious seems to work in relative harmony over the aeons to further our learning and success as a collective species to continue our adaptation, progress and survival. Is that history a guarantee that this journey will keep us on a transcending path toward greater success into our infinite future. Or is “infinite” a meme that we created to give us motivation, optimism and hope that our history is mere prologue to the future?

Chapter 8 – Change, Adaptation, and Collective Consciousness

Chapter 8 – Change, Adaptation, and Collective Consciousness

Trite and oversimplified as it may seem, I come back to the examination of the age-old saying: “Monkey See, Monkey Do?” You might exclaim, “what in the world does that have to do with the title of your chapter?!”

A simple example as an explanation may suffice. Imagine the scientist, engineer, philosopher or inventor who introduces a change in a formula, a production process, creates new language clarifying a complex belief and idea, or sees new applications for wheels and gears. The change takes hold among a few followers and then more. They begin to use those changes to make adaptations to their processes, language, and useful products. The cycle continues with new adopters joining until a critical mass of converts and users are “on board”.

When this happens and is increasingly sustained in behavior, understanding and belief, there is a shift in collective consciousness from what was to what’s new.

Over the decades of my work with people in groups and organizations, what I oversimplified above happened frequently; sometimes with minor results and change and sometimes, over a longer time span, with culture-shifting implications.

Perhaps a couple of examples would help that are drawn from the world I live in or, if you wish, “my collective consciousness” domain. Back in the late 60s and early 70s when I became a manager in the US Peace Corps, there were some senior manager-leaders who introduced the words and concept “program planning and budgeting system” (PPBS) to our agency. The definition and processes for action which came with that phrase were greatly resisted at first. The system wasn’t totally new and embodied words, concepts, and sub-processes that were familiar to many. They and other “early adopters”, for a host of different reasons and some more quickly than others, got on board, learned the system and began applying it. In a relatively short time as these changes go, PPBS, became an agency-wide way of doing business in the area of planning. Short, perhaps, because we were a small agency and staffed by young professionals compared to most other government agencies. This “change” reflected a shift in our culture’s collective consciousness to a planning system devised in the Pentagon which needed modifications when applied to a “peace” organization versus a “defense” institution.

Later in my career working with individuals, teams, departments, and full organizations, “strategic planning” became “au currant”. In some ways this major innovation in planning had threads laced back to PPBS. Over the time of its ascendency as a system-wide, future-oriented planning methodology it took on many stripes and flavors in color and taste. The books written, research done, articles passed around, enthusiasm for and resistance to it grew relatively rapidly. To many critics and practitioners it was wedded to a Western need for quicker results. The “silver bullet”. When applied wisely and pragmatically, with sustained leadership and follower buy-in, it could produce improved results in many measurable areas: financial bottom line; efficiency; employee effectiveness and job satisfaction; innovation; in hiring the best and retaining them longer, as examples.

For strategic planning to be successful, it, as with all change, had to bring about converts to the language, concepts, and processes necessary for this new toy to work effectively. Each person, group and organization used the discipline as a model which underwent modifications and adaptations to their markets, product line, public service responsibilities, current internal and external realities as perceived at planting and growing time. From that wide model there flowered a plethora of variations in color, tone, longevity, popularity and practice.

A final example of change, adaptation and collective consciousness is drawn more broadly from my life and experience. I select it because in many ways you are steeped in it too but may not recognize it were I not to draw your attention to it before telling you this story. Simply, it is a shift in collective consciousness consistent with but different from our heritage as a democracy and republic. That means, at one level, that it crosses into the lives of 330 million people in some form. It also links to words as colors from my palate that I’ve reference in earlier chapters. (Note: next chapter on the collective unconscious?)

I formally joined my profession when I reached my 30s. You could also say I joined a loosely formed professional tribe. We shared many values: commitment to life-long learning for ourselves and others; helping others; affirmation and personal growth; harmony as a counter to conflict; individual empowerment; inclusion versus exclusion; team work; (refine and simplify). The “field” or profession had grown in recognition and acceptance by leaders and organizations since the 50s but it was still a marginal methodology under construction and evolution. It lived under many headings like group dynamics, sensitivity training, team building, organizational change and development, human resource development. Its aim was to make individuals, groups and organizations more effective and healthy through improving personal awareness, communications and interactions, group dynamics, conflict resolution and participatory decision-making. In one guise or another, this “field” or profession is strong and vibrant to this day. Back in the 70s you could then get an advanced degree in organizational development or behavior, for example. Today there are advanced PhD programs in those as well as sub-set degrees and professional certifications available.

How does this go back to our birth as a nation? Underlying my profession are strong adherence and commitment to democracy, freedom of expression, individual and group liberty, collaboration and compromise, civility, opportunity, and human potential. Life today, collectively in organizations, is radically different from the oppressive and authoritative norms and rules of organizations before WWII. The collective consciousness has dramatically shifted in 70 years. It is reinforced by the adoption of key words and concepts that have demonstrated behaviors and results that are seen, practiced, repeated and modeled by more and more of our citizens.

Where it was hardly noticeable outside our professional tribe and those who would hire us, it is widely seen today. I witness it in small communities, schools and learning methods, non-profit boards, churches, college and more course offerings, in local and state governments. Its adoption and practice was more widely seen since the 50s in business and industry, as well as the federal government. (Of course, this reality is not free from regression to their more primitive expressions as witnessed today in our politics and so many of our leaders. But that is another chapter, perhaps.).

And while we may slip and backslide a bit on our cultural evolution pathways, I will always recall what a mentor once said that helps me keep my faith in the foregoing description. “Once you have had a long experience with a high performing team you’ll know its power and satisfaction and wonder why it can’t happen more often. And, in some way, you’ll wish you could work that way all the time.”

Think of the narrative above as providing some color, lighting, perspective and shape to this emerging impressionistic painting. With a stretch of your imagination you can envision how the unfolding of life experiences along other, even dissimilar brush strokes (paths?), take us from some experience we see accepted and played by other tribes, groups of citizens and communities elsewhere here or in other cultures. Those are the definitions of normalcy for that moment in time. Joining that moment in time someone stumbles upon or intentionally introduces an idea, a behavior, a practice, a skill that gradually catches the attention of others. Its currency grows and grows, probably because it is copied or practiced more widely until some critical mass of adherents is reached. It adds some value to our reality, progress and success. Thus future moments are changed and adapted continuously until something seems to settle into our collective consciousness as words, concepts, descriptions, recipes that become widely accepted and practiced. And the cycle goes on.

It is my hope and intention that we can agree that “collective consciousness” can be seen and appreciated as having dimensions that are micro and macro. Families have a collective consciousness that, while operating out of thoughtful awareness often, have routinized and habitual practice. Their CC is tied to the communities, tribes (imagine churches, religions, ethnic and racial groups as tribes) and larger society around them. If this weren’t so we hardly could have, in this moment in time, what we know as towns, cities, counties, states and nations, or a somewhat functional United Nations. Those collective groupings require a CC that is imprinted by language and words and associated images in our brains. But not real unless validated by collective behavior which must largely support our current construction of reality.

 

Chapter 7 – Free Will, Habit, and Addiction

 

“Free Will” was popped into the last paragraph of Chapter 6. At first I thought it was a throw-away expression. As I thought about it in preparing to write this chapter, it grew in prominence as a color of perspective. It is one of those expressions that is wrapped around or within so many of our ruminations about our species in the last 2000 years and has gained center stage on and off again in the last few hundred. While not a central discussion piece in most gatherings, it is often one of those “taken for granted” beliefs and assertions. Many philosophers in the West wrote, reasoned, and debated whether or not we have free will. Western and Middle Eastern religions had their variations on the concept made to fit within a larger belief system. Eastern thought was less concerned with the debate seeing so much as driven by fate and karma.

How did that concept come to such prominence and continue strong to this day? I suspect it goes back to the way we have learned and adopted ideas, beliefs, skills, and behaviors over the eons. While observing, debating and reasoning, converts grew because the results to one’s self, to the group and, ultimately, to the community of mankind seemed to work for our betterment and our survival. It proved superior to other forms of behavior and thought.

Let me go out on another limb here to support the last paragraph. Travel back in time when monarchs, royalty, and the Catholic Church pretty much “ruled” our behavior. For our families, tribes, group, and individual survival that made sense for many centuries. Certainly, when things were good in the kingdom, it was reasonable to “go along to get along” and live. When things were “bad”, it is likely many individuals felt and knew that there had to be something better for them and the survival and progress of the masses. They felt powerless and chose, wisely perhaps, to conform to their inherited regimen in life. Resigned to their fate and station, they remained committed to the preaching and majesty of their church which bestowed divinity on their ruler. Free will was intertwined with an omniscient power and thus encumbered by it.

But the inkling of awareness that things could be better was nascent in spite of all. The notion that “I” can make a difference if given the chance and taking the risk was there but dormant. Eventually, the “I” grew to become a greater “We”. Skipping a lot of history, this phenomenon inspired philosophers to revive the debates on “free will” and the responsibility of each human to exercise that gift in their own life and that of the community. Catholicism split into new tribes and new “churches” emerged. While they continued the marriage of free will with their teachings of Jesus and God, their act of separation demonstrated the power of free will’s exercise collectively. A sort of liberation was achieved. As this happened, free will was viewed differently; the free will to make risky choices to bring about change in the wider system. The “god within” was released. At one level, we freed ourselves to have a personal relationship with god. That instilled the power to view life as more within our control rather than ceding that power to old authority. So we went about creating new authorities and collective structures and processes which supported individual choice and free will to a greater degree.

Free will brings with it the notion of taking personal responsibility for our beliefs, choices, and behavior. How those beliefs become internalized, how we make those choices, and what prompts and motivates behavior is increasingly studied and unveiled, especially through neuroscience and the behavioral sciences. And old concepts and words take on new meaning as those sciences mature.

It may be premature but it may be expeditious to make more leaps in reasoning. Let me start with reviving the debates on “nature/nurture”. I don’t see them as “either/or” concepts. They are “both/and” to me. However, I would simplify the nature discussion by saying that, as it relates to habits, our different “nature” likely limits the choices, or expressions of free will, available to us. We have preferences for different behavior – actions, reactions, beliefs, values, etc. We don’t follow those rigidly but the patterns of our life affirm my statement. So, we don’t “reason” or make choices in that way but rather find ourselves fairly automatic in how we live our life. This is not a rigid construct because we haven’t accounted for “nurture”. It also doesn’t mean we are locked into the involuntary preferences of our nature.

Before I talk about nurture, I imagine you have heard parents say that each child was different from birth and if somewhat similar in temperament, how they seemed to have different actions, reactions, preferences, and “wills” to similar stimuli and living conditions. You may have had the joy of experiencing those differences and wondered “how could that be? They are only a few days old.” Or, why is it that boys seem to be more physical and curious about some things than other things like cars, trucks, toy guns, digging, taking things apart etc.… And then you hear the refrain: “Aww, he’s just a boy.” While young girls mostly are attracted to, well, female things: dolls, playing house, less “rough-housing”, more quiet and subdued play. “Aww, isn’t that cute how she hugs her doll?” And this all is happening in front of the parents before there has been apparent “socialization” along gender lines. Behavioral studies confirm this with infants.

So what is nurture in this emerging painting now differentiated by colors that define preferences whose origins are not fully known? In my view, nurture may be the more evanescent of the two concepts. It is the one that changes more with the passage of Time, versus time in your life’s moment, as well as the life situation each person is born into and lives through.

Let me simplify that statement which covers a vast area. I think we can all agree that each family introduces each child to a set of unwritten rules, many of which may be outside of the awareness of the parents. Let’s call them “norms”. They are the informal structures that influence and define individual, family and collective behavior. (Formal rules may be found in biblical or religious writings and verbal guidance that parents adhere to.)

Agreeing on that, those norms are influenced by the norms we see around us in our tribe, neighborhood, social class, etc.…. Going up another level to a higher order collective, villages, cities, states and nations have a set of “norms” peculiar to them which we all, more or less, consent and decide to abide by. Those are in addition to codified laws, ordinances, legal decisions or constitutions.

With a broad brush stroke of rainbow colors, evolutionary psychologists and cultural evolutionists would say that nurture and nature define who we are in the temporal moments that are the boundaries to our lives. It has and will be on into the future as we have discovered it has been over the eons.

So to link that line of reasoning with free will it means that there are also boundaries around it defined by the above. Our decisions, choices to act and the acts themselves are restricted by societal norms, rules and laws of the time we live in and pass through and inherited. To make it easier on our brains, reasoning and energy, some good news is that those boundaries and restrictions set in motion routinized behavior or “habits”. At this higher level of analysis, it means we don’t really “think” much about what we do each moment or day. It is comfortable and sane and right “to go along to get along” without the sense of submission to a monarch or ruler for fear of our lives or shunning or being ostracized. And “free will”, inherent to all of us through time, is available to kick in when conditions demand that response to enhance our individual and collective well-being and group survival. This has played out through our cultural evolution. And if millennia tell this part of the story, we can feel relieved that the pattern will continue on for millennia.

But changing habits or routines to confront our personal or collective demons is, as they say, “Easier said than done”. Whether those demons are imposed from outside our physical space or undeniably self-destructive and self-imposed, the will to act when presented with, and aware of, new truths and possibilities often presents a mountain of personal and collective resistance to changing our circumstances.

On a personal level, look at the routines in your day that you are comfortable with or habits that you’ve had for decades. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions to change. What has been on your list over the years? How many have you executed and sustained by stopping or replacing them with new behavior? For me, for example, at age 75, I have times routinized to go to sleep and awaken every day. Now that I’m writing these days, I know that I am at my best earlier in the morning and then again in the early evening. But I have my “comfort zone” of life where that pattern and other habits that fill that time space have been hard to change. I am getting better at it but still submit to the old pattern.

For many people in our affluent, acquisitive society, losing weight is a classic “New Year’s resolution made, resolution failed or abandoned” habit change intention overruled by old habits – and not just eating too much. The reasons we gain weight, the habits that sustain that, often underpinned by neurosis make that resolution a daunting task given the challenges, behaviors and unconscious impulses to conquer.

And if you are unconvinced by the reasoning I use, think of the many simple habits and routines that, if you wanted to or tried, were hard to change. Things like: morning bathroom habits; what you do with dirty dishes; how clean or messy your bedroom or house may be; how often you clean your house or the mess in your car; letting go of your need for household order when that drives your spouse or partner nuts. Name some of those you’ve thought about for yourself or wished your loved ones would change.

So, why is this important? If from a “time usage” analysis, you will see that much of our lives aren’t occupied by thinking, reasoning and choice-making. We are on auto-pilot much of the time. Thus, free will may have come into play when these habits and routines started but, in the realm of intelligence differentiating us from other species, we suspend its use to cope with what would be an overwhelmingly complex daily existence. Or it may be simply a case of “monkey see, monkey do”: behavior that is repeated and habitual was copied from those around us who have made a lasting impression. But we are not trapped in that picture. The good news is that “free will” can change those conditions in our momentary lives any time we individually or collectively choose. But there are exceptions we know about and others that we are discovering through science.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate those exceptions, and there are many, let me focus on addictions.   There are the classic ones – drugs, alcohol, nicotine – that most of us wouldn’t argue about. We acknowledge their empirical existence and scourge to much of society. I think it is also indisputable to assert that once we are “hooked” by an addiction, using free will is very hard to invoke and sustain. Our reasoning, in the face of scientific evidence and personal, observable misery (our own and those we know), is often insufficient to break the addiction. Some other force like hitting rock bottom as desperation or religious conversion is necessary to exercise free will. Or a sustained commitment to a multi-step program with the support of a group of addicts or addict-guide are reliable exit doors to pass through to the other side.

Less agreed to are addictions to food and, especially sugar and salt. Believe it or not, Columbus and 1492 facilitated the production, trade and distribution of sugar to a ready global market that has grown with increase in our wealth and the changes in our diet. Most people have some access to both but heavy consumption was by the ruling, elite classes. This addiction has been supported by a number of factors. The food industry has diversified into prepared foods requiring boxes and containers to preserve their shelf lives. This was affected by urban and mass markets being further from agricultural sources easily accessible for daily purchase and home processing of fresh foods. The changes in demand and location necessitated using food science and packaging to make foods safe for medium and long term storage. Ground staple grains (corn, rice, wheat) needed preservatives and chemicals prior to packaging. They required seasonings of many kinds but the big culprits leading to addiction were sugar and salt. Both ingredients made flavor tolerable and pleasant that eventually triggers the brain to need and want more. Throw in advertising, food store shelf presentation, “monkey see, monkey do”, “keeping up with the Joneses” and other societal pressures and you have decisions taken out of the zone of intelligent reasoning and free will and into involuntary addiction. Simple test: just try to stop eating sugar or even cutting intake significantly. Same goes for salt.

At a societal level, these addictions have a price and cost we all bear. Even for those who are flaunting laws and norms by succumbing to their collectively recognized addictions, we don’t insist they bear full responsibility for the consequences that spills into society. We have spent billions on reducing smoking because we know the personal health damage and costs to society for the related illnesses. We do the same for drug addicts and promote preventive education to reduce its occurrence. The money spent on preventing drug crimes and the trafficking is enormous. Alcoholism is a more tolerated addiction but has huge attendant health and monetary costs to individuals, families and society also. Research explains addiction and the penalties we all pay for it but yet we have not, and probably never will, reduce those addictions to near zero.

For the more socially accepted addictions, we are coming to understand their costs to many people, their families and our larger collective, both here and globally. We also will face for decades the realization that the difficulty of shedding those addictions at the individual level is magnified for the rest of society. You would think that history and science would enlighten us to use our collective will to greatly minimize the damage they do to us all. Until our norms change, and the expectations we have of ourselves and supported by others, the costs of maladies like obesity, hypertension, cancer, and heart disease will be with us for a long time. I did not say: until laws change. We have tried laws with drugs, alcohol and, to some extent, smoking but they generally have not worked accept as they might influence norms, expectations of each other, and education.

The good news is that, in spite of all the costs and anguish surrounding reduction and eradication of addictions, we are committed to caring for those suffering, in the end. That, as we’ll see, is important to our adaptation and success as we evolve.

Chapter 6: From Uniqueness to the Unknown

 

In the last chapter (Snowflakes and Fingerprints), I marveled at the uniqueness of our species and each of us as individuals. Also, in an earlier chapter, I wrote about “Beliefs and Words”. This morning after I awoke I sat and reviewed some of my notes collected over the years. I came across a page containing a string of words that had occurred to me in the past: curiosity, creativity, competition, acquisitiveness. As words they likely have shown up in other chapters but in a form different from what I will express here.

Over time, words have evolved in different forms across all geographies and among all peoples, no matter how small their collective beginnings. Words were ways that people communicated for a myriad of purposes. Words describe the reality we construct. At the core is and was the need to express something important. Imagine the small group in the caves or forest homes expressing pain or joy or amusement or confusion. At first all of the “words” may have been non-verbal sounds or facial and bodily motions: the howl of anguish; the smile and bright-eyed look upon holding a newborn; the involuntary laughter from watching the play of monkeys; or the furrowed brow and drawn face of a hunter hearing a strange noise in the forest. These “words” communicated something to others and as that something was repeated over and over, it took on meaning that lasted and continued to be conveyed over the ages.

John Locke wrote that the use of words “is to be sensible marks of ideas”, though they are chosen “not by any natural connexion that there is between particular articulate sounds and certain ideas, for then there would be but one language amongst all men; but by a voluntary imposition, whereby such a word is made arbitrarily the mark of such an idea”.[

In late Neo-lithic time, shaman, priests and priestesses found ways to communicate their beliefs and predictions through drawings, carvings, arrangement of bones or stones before language was common, we now know. Skilled community members found ways to pass on their knowledge and skill to others who likely watched how they did things.

Whether a spiritual leader or a skilled craftsman, whatever you did or said took hold because it proved to be useful to others in the community. It served a purpose as perceived and judged by the observers and members of the community.

I assume that words then language followed those repeated actions and continue with us to this day albeit in much more complex constructions. Amazingly, today we don’t have to reside in the same village but create, convey, apply, adopt, and adapt skills and knowledge across time and space using electronics to send “word waves” around the globe.

Having leaped the millennia and oversimplified our uniqueness as a species by focusing on words and language, let me continue the leap and mention some words that seem to drive where we are going and why they have pushed and pulled us from the past as we grapple with their impact on us and our world in the present.

Why these words? They keep popping up on my palate of paints as I reflect on my life – beliefs, opinions, knowledge – as the mosaic I have created so far. Words have power which we give them as individuals and collectively. These seemed sufficiently and broadly understood by most readers and easily translate into other languages. They hold my attention, thus they have power for me. I also believe that they capture behavior common to our species. So concepts and definitions, combined with observable actions, give them wide acceptance and believability.

Curiosity. If you have continued to read this and, perhaps, have read other chapters, you likely are demonstrating an act of curiosity. Something caught your attention. As I angled for appealing to potential readers, what you were reading “hooked” you. Another demonstration of the power of words and our language.

If you have been to a zoo, you know how our “curiosity” about those unfamiliar creatures captures our vision, our hearing, our sense of smell and our imagination.

Going into an art gallery with friends and standing quietly in front of an abstract or impressionist painting to observe the image conjures very personal reactions that, when expressed, can show how our “reading” of the artist’s work can mean very different things to you and your friends. These images evoke all manner of contrivances. And when you hear them, you have likely thought “isn’t that a curious” interpretation, you may then have asked, “how did you see that?”

You can recall your high school English teacher, or college literature professor, asking what you thought of a poem written by an iconic poet. More likely, he/she asked what you interpreted the writer’s message to be. The teacher was curious partly because he/she knows how differently we each can and will interpret the same words. If the writer’s message is known by scholars or told by the writer, there may be a more “correct” interpretation.

As with art and poetry, meaning or beauty is “in the eye of the beholder”. A curious statement on its own. Once “words”, as expressed verbally or graphically, have caught on and are used commonly they come to have an accepted “intended” meaning. Seems simple, but not so simple. Once directed at another person, the word can be misunderstood from its intended meaning. The “eye of the beholder” always enters the process. When the process works – intended meaning is generally the perceived meaning – we have the beginning of language. Thus language comes to define and communicate life as we know it at that point in time.

I remember an expression, or adage, told me as I was growing up and invoked when my parents thought I was being a bit too “exploratory” or “questioning” of rules, as they intended them to be understood, as my need for discovery or rebellion. I was reminded that too much “curiosity kills the cat”. In fact, we took in a stray cat and one of its repeated behaviors was, while wandering the house, its apparent curiosity. We noticed that early and my Mom asked what we should call the cat. Probably recalling unconsciously a recent warning about my behavior, I said loudly “SNOOPY”!

Creativity. One dimension of our curious nature is our quest to know, to learn, to explore, and to discover. Generally, the more curious we are, it may happen that we’ll enquire within a range of thinking within our normal boundaries, may wander outside those boundaries and become challenged to expand them, because of our “curiosity”, and seek to stretch ourselves.

I’ll assert that our capacity to be creative is increased if we are more rather than less curious. I’ll also assert that every human is “creative” and has the capacity to be more so if they choose to be.

Children are, it seems, naturally creative and, certainly, curious. How early did your children or grandchildren start inventing games or fantasizing creatures, playmates, and stories? About 3 or 4 years old? Then as they get into primary grades and begin to work with the plastic arts, drawing, painting and finger painting you are joyfully impressed with their expression of art. I remember fired clay pieces that our daughter brought home. We still have some. Faces, mask-like, impressionistic objects. Colorful and playful. The drawings and paintings sometimes told stories which were not always pleasant and happy. That ability is permanently there but diminishes with later adolescence and beyond the teens for most children. Have you ever asked yourselves, “why”? There are good, reasonable answers but some are troubling.

I mentioned in the chapter on our Snowflakes and Fingerprints, the story of a composer friend and his now life-long commitment to post-modern classical music. He came through a rough adolescent and teen period that, for a host of cultural and institutional reasons, could have destroyed his creativity. But he persisted and found his true self. His creativity seems boundless.

The good news is that creativity, while diminished widely during our early years, is never suppressed totally and has benefitted all of us in the past, is currently afoot and, rest assured, will bring us value, beauty, health, and abundance in the future. More creativity would be expressed were it not for societal norms, rules, structures and processes that discourage creative acts. Those may be appropriate in all collective human groups to ensure group unity, order, and sufficient group conformity. But they have their “downside”.

Competition. When and how did competition begin? We’ll probably never be able to put a “time” to it. For many who read this, the word is a pejorative so it may trigger the negatives associated with it. I have to remind myself that it is not a “good/bad” concept or set of behaviors but just “is” and has been with us from the beginning of human interaction. Let’s take a journey back in time, however briefly, to support my answer.

In the Chapter 3, Beliefs and Words, I referred to the role that women “spirit guides”, priests, and shaman played in China 5000 years ago. They created the beginning of belief systems and found symbolic ways (“words”) to convey that meaning. Their curiosity and creativity led them in a direction that produced ideas, thoughts and conclusions that they felt compelled to share. The results of their process as a group member became valued. It answered questions. It explained observable and experienced phenomenon for people. It was often accurately predictive. It made sense and became adopted for the continued use of others and group cohesion.

I can imagine that there were a number of “spirit guides” that emerged in the group with time and size growth. I further imagine that there were divergent ideas presented and communicated through symbolic representations (carving, hand and facial signs, laying of bones or stones). This mix of ideas could be seen as competition for, example, the attention and support of others. Ideas would rise or fall as acceptable if the people found them valuable and helpful. So, in this way, competition was demonstrated.

Move over in your mind’s eye to the more mundane, practical flow of daily life. We don’t know exactly when “tools” were created or invented that helped with the struggles of survival. Archeologists have been discovering and revealing answers over the last few hundred years. We know that we were largely hunters and gatherers for millennia. When the tribe’s hunters killed an animal that initiated a process, however primitive, of striping the hides to get to the meat. Eaten raw at first, and likely directly from the bones, you can imagine lots of waste. There was always plenty left for the scavenger creatures.

Somewhere along this survival journey, someone realized you could use a sharp piece of wood, of bone, or a rock to strip the bones and supply more meat to the tribe. Others observed this and copied. Perhaps, the innovator was good at discovering other practical, useful tools or techniques. Let’s assume that the person’s stature rose in the eyes of the tribal members. Eventually, it became apparent that “inventing” tools or techniques was a good thing for many others but also for the inventor. Esteem and envy probably grew. And with those so may have competition.

This organic process of curiosity, creativity and competition strongly affected our cultural evolution over the eons and continues today in many forms.

On the pejorative side of the word, we all know that an extreme form of competition is warfare. While many of us would like to imagine “the noble savage” as our ancestors, truth is that intergroup competition between families and small tribes was likely created in or near the beginning also. That form of competition shouldn’t be dismissed as all bad. Many scholars argue and provide reasonable evidence of the “good” to come out of warfare.

A simple modern-day example from recent history illustrates that contention. Think of the portrayal of “good guys” and “bad guys” in movies. Pictorially that is but a manifestation of classic portrayals written since BCE. I think we can agree that throughout time the “bad” challenged the “good” to all forms of combat to become rulers of the day. Which could last for centuries. Inarguably, the “good” have, so far, continued to ascend to and reclaim “rule”.

Assign adjectives to describe the “bad guys”. Now assign adjectives to the “good guys”. What do you come up with? In sum, your “good guys” adjectives paint a comforting picture of “our better angels”. Those will continue to rule unless our acquisitiveness takes us down a road that will play in the hands of the “bad guys” and much more.

Acquisitiveness. What does acquisitiveness have to do with curiosity, creativity and competition? This certainly isn’t the only word that can be associated with the other three. However, it does seem to me to fit the flow, the patterns, the defining colors and brush strokes referenced in Chapter 1, “Timeless Change”, and my introduction to the blog.  Here’s how. And, if that makes sense, so what?

If curiosity spawns questions seeking answers and information. If creativity of thought, expression and action provides answers and ideas and possibilities. And if competition inspires a search for, evidence and proof of a better, more useful result for the group or community as it struggles to survive and adapt to life’s challenges, it seems that the variety of options and choices our ancestors had back then to be successful and continue the journey through time paints a clearer picture for one portion of our species’ mural.

Acquisitiveness is a brush stroke that explains much to me. Its beginning as a force for change, adaptation, and, PERHAPS, our eternal survival, is revealed for all of us to ponder and examine.

This small leap requires you to recall the messages of my chapter “Monkey See, Monkey Do”. Copying may have been in our DNA from “the get go” as they say. And it may have been reinforced in our DNA over a vast swath of time as our species saw the value and result of copying.   Think learning! This force of our nature, or nurture, will explain the emergence of its close blood relative, acquisitiveness.

How so? You don’t have to look far back in time to get the profound origin and implications of the concept and now permanent behavior. It will be easier to work backwards from myriad examples in your and our lives as we look out from our chairs at the touchable, observable environment around us at this moment in time. The evidence won’t disappear in the next fleeting moment because it is about as permanent as it can be in “Timeless Change”. It will move imperceptibly at the fringe of our socially constructed realities. Unfortunately, we can’t see that far and our power of prediction and future vision are woefully limited.

Look at the room around you. Even if it is austerely furnished, it is a mosaic of “things”; furniture, books, artwork, painted walls, adult toys, technology, etc… Amazing variety, no? These were all created because of someone’s curiosity and probably involved competition to get within your sedentary view shed.

Close your eyes for a moment and reflect on the experience of going into a Super Walmart or any super hardware store, or a three story Macy’s in New York City. Everywhere you look or whichever way you turn you are dazzled by a feast of “things” to examine and, perhaps, buy. Overwhelming when you think about it. But, we in the affluent cities and Western world have grown perhaps unimpressed by this visual and auditory (and olfactory) cacophony. Measured Baroque music has given way to contrapuntalism and punk rock long ago. It is our evolved culture, our new “habit world” as comfort zone. We take it for granted and pile it on top of whatever we mean, in our country, as the American Dream.

 

I’ve always been fascinated by pondering a really simple word construct, a phrase, created by sociologists, I believe: “needs versus wants”. Business lingo would say “must haves” versus “nice to have”.   The former is about survival whether life or business. Human life needs: food, water, shelter, clothing, learning, health. Wants: now that is more complicated and requires a lot of multicolored ink. People have probably written books about those terms and the distinctions among them. But really, is it so hard to see that acquisitiveness is a root that sustains the evolving tree above?

I vividly recall a recurring observation during my two years as a Peace Corps volunteer working in Colombia. I was to help workers and families improve their economic lives so that that might be a lift to better provide their basic needs and have discretionary income to buy “things”. Many that I worked with were not the poorest of the poor – a phrase of that era. We might say lower middle class: blue collar workers, artisans, craftsmen, wives doing laundry, a window of their small home selling confections or basic supplies.

When I would go into their homes, I was struck by how little they had spent on acquiring what their growing local economy was increasingly offering that they “should”, and would come to, want. How did I know the direction this was headed?

I also had the privilege of socializing with members of the middle and upper middle class. Their class was characterized by similar “things” in my life and my home in Wisconsin. Not things that we needed but rather wanted. Things our friends and neighbors and the better classes had… Yes, my family and my friends in Colombia were “keeping up with the Joneses”. Or trying to leap ahead. A variation on the theme of “monkey see, monkey do”.

Whether this is a deeper philosophical and neuropsychological, unavoidable impulse is for another chapter perhaps. What I’ve described as result – the acquisition of “things” is hardly disputable. Their motivational source perhaps more so. We are supposedly empowered by “free will”. And the combination of curiosity, creativity, competition and acquisitiveness have achieved an offering of abundance and options and possibilities which probably exhausts our wisdom and use of reason to sort through those options very thoughtfully. So the option of near limitless choices may have the evolved result of cancelling or disempowering our presumed power of free will.

Chapter 5 – Snowflakes and Fingerprints

 

In the last chapter I marveled at our curiosity and creativity as a species. I would add our uniqueness especially given that we seem to be the only species with brains that allow for complex thinking, language and reasoning.

I have long been fascinated by the uniqueness of my fellow beings. Perhaps it started with my religious roots planted in Christianity but just a small, unusual root called Christian Science. I was aware of how different the writings of its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, separated core beliefs, and me, from those of the mainstream.

A primary belief was that we should forgo modern medicine and rely on prayer, of a sort, and contemplation to help our bodies restore health that was our natural, spiritual endowment. It was, I now know, a precursor of modern and fashionable self-healing practices using personal imaging and guided imagery. Healing energy was brought to bear from outside and from within the sick person.

Its power stemmed from the belief that we are the reflection of God. Being so, if God is perfect, therefore we are too. We were spiritual beings in that sense and our time on earth was a mortal manifestation of life. As mortals, temporally, we could succumb to mortal temptations and earthly practices like hate, harm to others, self-induced doubt and pain, etc.… Those projections and internalizations made us vulnerable to the ills of those thoughts, images, and behaviors which were then evidenced by mental illness and physical sickness.

So the process involved, sometimes with the help of a guide or counselor, to reimagine our innate perfection as God’s reflection. Through sustained imaging and outside prayer-like energy, a person could restore their spiritual perfection thus combating the mortal pitfalls to be navigated while in this mortal realm.

What motivated Mary Baker Eddy to create this unusual version of Christianity? The history of her life will reveal that but let me generalize and surmise using her as an example of humankind’s curiosity, creativity. As a product of the times, in that moment, she was living through the industrial revolution when modern science was at an early stage. She read, experienced, and thought deeply about religion, Christ, and humanity’s needs and shortcomings. She felt that she could prove that her paradigm for faith and religious practice was a superior alternative to the existing Christian sects created over the last 200 years or so.

Placing her fingerprint on humanity and the snowflake she created is testimony to our uniqueness as an animal species. Broadly, her actions were similar to the fracturing of the hegemony of the largest Christian religion – Catholicism – over the centuries. Similar fracturing or branching or enhancements happened across all belief and religious systems over the nearly 2 millennia up to the 19th Century.

More snowflakes emerged. The origin of the word in my life is traced to growing up in Wisconsin. Snow was a given experience not to be avoided throughout a lifetime lived there. More importantly I recall a grade school teacher who I loved, once told us that Eskimos had words for different snowflakes, while we had one, and that no two snowflakes were alike. True or not, I took it to be true on faith and trust in her.

So perhaps that part of the title is coming into focus as I try to explain my awe and fascination with our species and its uniqueness. What about the “fingerprints” notion? Without giving examples of the power of that word to me in my life experience leading up to the snowflake metaphor, I can be brief. Again, I recall a person I trusted and believed once said with legitimate authority that there are no two people in the world, in the world mind you, with the same fingerprints. So what greater evidence did I need to bolster my awe than to now know our uniqueness can be shown through our fingerprints? Again, I was young, impressionable and didn’t have the internet to facilitate a quick research effort to disprove the assertion by a mentor. I guess that is more a small leap of faith than a reasoned conclusion.

But that “faith” has been bolstered in a number of small ways personally. Over the 35 years or so of my career, I traveled a lot around the world. I passed through many airports in the US, Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Far East. So many people. So many faces, colors, hair styles, sizes. At times it seemed a lonely experience to me. However that changed. I don’t remember when. The loneliness diminished and I started to feel a part of the unfamiliar but, strangely, familiar masses and crowds. In that moving herd I started to see “familiar” faces. Not that I knew them or thought they looked like friends and acquaintances. Now many seem, well, vaguely familiar.

That feeling stays with me to this day. More truthfully, however, it has morphed to a new exercise of my imagination. As my wife and I travel in our retirement days, I often find myself pointing and saying: “Doesn’t that person look like our old neighbor?” Of someone from our current life in the country. Or a deceased friend. Or…..it could become anybody who seems to match my mental fingerprinting file.

These personal anecdotes may affirm the titled: Snowflakes and Fingerprints. And raises this question: other than identical twins, is it conceivable that our evolution has found a way to ensure that we are all undeniably and, provable by science, different?

 

 

In closing this chapter, let me ask you to walk with me a bit longer on the path of our creativity as more evidence of our limitless uniqueness. I’ll start with music and a living example of creativity that is a current and living example of uniqueness. As you read it, I invite you to think about people you’ve known or admired or read about that are your life’s examples of your unique life path.

Born in the mid-70s, our friends’ son Michael joined our two families. All children of your loved ones are special. However, neither we nor the parents truly noticed how unique and creative their son was and would become. Michael had a rough adolescence and teen years. Perhaps contributing to that was the usual rebelliousness and then expressing it through music. He’d never shown much interest in any instrument but took up the guitar and, you guessed it, rock music. On the edge rock. He also essentially was self-taught both on guitar and composition. You may think this a familiar story. Its start, yes. Its progression, not likely. From rock to classical music it progressed rapidly. It was questionable that Michael could get into a music school given his college credits to that point. However, he got accepted to a less than mediocre school. Note that he never had a course in composition but amazed his professors. It wasn’t long before he wrote his first classical composition for full orchestra. And he was in his early 20s! That new beginning for a troubled teen catapulted him to becoming a world renowned and awarded composer who taught himself the piano and violin. His compositions span pieces for solo instruments, to ensemble groups, to many symphonic works, and, most recently an opera for one voice with piano and string accompaniment. Premiered and widely acclaimed, that composition is currently being made into a documentary movie.

Michael is an extreme example of a theme of this chapter: our creativity and uniqueness. But outside of classical music, the world’s music is replete with proof of our limitless creativity and uniqueness. Even if a folk song is sung by someone other than the composer, it is unique. Paintings, poetry, novels, histories, automobiles, boats, etc., demonstrate my point. And the list can be extended widely across life as we know it.

Were we chatting and I asked: “Give me examples of creativity and uniqueness that you know about?”   “Or from your family and friends, or you personally, no matter how small they may seem but you still remember them”.

Ah yes, what our minds are capable of conjuring. These – some would call them mental games – keep us linked to our memories and thus our own fingerprints and the unique snowflake defining who we are. And this is all done in this moment in time.