Elephant Yin Yang

Pensive Pensées Pensieve for 2016

In this Age of Distraction who cares what anyone thinks? We are a long way from Michel de Montaigne, the first and greatest blogger. Why bother with yet another web-log? Good question!


After Buddhism : Agricultural Caress Brexit Community Doing Democracy Eye in the Sky : Four Dimensional Human Geek Heresy Mentoring : Mind the Gap National Magnificence Out of the night…

In 2016

2016-08-04: National Magnificence

Preoccupation with being great is the province of mean spirits, small minds, and shriveled hearts. Greatness creates winners and losers; it is destructive and divisive; it sets some over others; it foments instability and war. Greatness is jingoistic; it promotes stasis and decay; it is the stuff of dictatorships and mass rallies and manic unthinking crowds. History is a vast prospect of fallen empires and the shattered remains of great hubris.

Empty vessels make the most sound!

Being magnificent is far superior to being great, even though it is derived from similar linguistic roots. Magnificence connotes great good, excellence, beauty, to which I add open-hearted magnanimity of spirit, sharing, caring, and empathy. A culture that attracts people from the nations of the world becomes more diverse; it is this diversity of persons that combines, creating a synergy to produce cultural magnificence where the divide between rich and poor is narrowed to insignificance, where the majority of the population is prosperous, where the nation is united and more harmonious than not, and where the nation conserves its natural resources, and is a responsible steward of the Earth.

Cultural purity is like a mono-culture: prey to disease, narrowness, tunnel vision, inbreeding, tending to produce a population of vitiated homunculi.

Cultural diversity empowers a nation with a cornucopia of ideas and innovation and other ways of thinking. Diverse cultures produce a stronger people that are, as a whole, more vibrant, healthy, intelligent, and enduring. By standing united together as a welcoming rainbow-people we aspire to be a peacefully magnificent, magnanimous, and munificent nation.

Secret of Success

Dr. Joseph Henrich distilled his anthropological research into his 2016 book The Secret of Our Success, which describes how culture is driving human evolution, domesticating our species, and making us smarter. He has found that larger more interconnected societies are more innovative, productive, and technologically sophisticated.… Isolation causes cultural knowhow to slowly decline.

Henrich demonstrates that we depend on our collective cultural knowledge for survival, which is the reason why modern castaways are almost always unable to survive in a state of nature without the usual cultural supports. Our collective cultural knowledge is what Henrich refers to as our collective brain.

Open Source Everything

Free Open Source Software (FOSS) is the solution to last two bullets above. True FOSS is licensed using the General Public License (GPL) version 3, which ensures that the code remains open and cannot be closed. Why would a programmer expend effort writing FOSS code when there is no chance of monetary reward? Mainly, programmers do so for the prestige of being the author of the system and to become part of the distributed team that is pushing the project forward. Writing such code is a good advertisement for one’s programming skill and doing so fosters a community of people all cut from the same cloth, so to speak. FOSS has become so successful that even Microsoft, a bastion of closed proprietary software, has started dabbling in the technology, since the company has seen its share of the market shrink.

The other innovation that will improve our collective brain is the decentralization of the Internet infrastructure. As of this writing, the Internet consists in centralized servers under the control of corporations that mine personal data for corporate benefit. In version 3.0 of the Internet, users will connect peer-to-peer to share data via encrypted protocols; this encryption will preserve data, preventing it from being altered or deleted. MaidSafe and Solid are two projects working in this direction, though there are others with similar intent. MaidSafe is building the decentralized SAFE Network and Solid is working on a network of Socially Linked Data (SoLiD).


There is no charge to browse the SAFE Network, yet it solves the problem of free-loaders by requiring the use of Safecoin for network transactions like data storage. It encourages participation in the network by paying providers of data storage services in Safecoin digital currency.


Generally, we are better off when we work peer-to-peer and have more control over our information. Centralization of services puts us at risk of having our data misused and our identities compromised by security flaws. Naturally, decentralization isn’t Utopia either, but it does offer better protection when control is distributed rather than lodged in a single entity.

Though the data management protocols be distributed, the transport infrastructure is owned by a few very large corporations or national entities. At a stroke, it is possible to switch off the Internet to deny connectivity to populations, effectively lobotomizing the collective brain. Privately owned wireless mesh networks can mitigate this problem, but the collective brain would be running at a very small fraction of its full potential. Global interconnectivity is the weakest link in our Global Brain.

As with our data, we should decentralize our political organization to the local level. As someone once said: All politics is local. At the national level, what we see is merely a reflection of our collective selves. We must put our own houses in order at the local level to see real change at the national level. If we want to see change then we must become involved locally as individuals working together for a better collective life.


2016-06-26: Brexit

Outcome of the British referendum to remain in or leave the European Union (EU) is the end of an uneasy forty-three years. However, the referendum only asks voter views on whether or not to leave the EU. To actually exit the union requires invoking Article 50 of the European treaty, which must be done by the British government. I suspect that a lot could happen between now and then, once voters’ remorse takes hold and is fomented.

In the Beginning

It all started more than forty years ago with various trading agreements between Britain and other nations and a desire to join with the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1973 Edward Heath led the Conservative government, which was responsible for taking the country into the EEC that was known as the Common Market that eventually became the European Union.

British membership was blocked for several years by Charles de Gaulle, president of France. As a young man, I didn’t think that joining the EU would be good as it would result in a loss of sovereignty and cause a break with our Commonwealth trading partners New Zealand, Australia, and others. It was loss of sovereignty that bothered my young mind; I didn’t like the idea of our country being ruled by faceless bureaucrats even farther away they already were.

In 1973, we weren’t asked if we wanted to join the EU. We were dragged into it by the Conservative government. I think that the reason why they didn’t hold a referendum was because they knew that they would get the answer they didn’t want to hear. A majority of people would vote not to join.

In 1974, inflation was high and the Conservative government was struggling against a miners’ strike. Eventually, Edward Heath called a general election, failing to secure a majority. Harold Wilson and the Labour Party returned to power and fulfilled a promise in 1975 to hold a referendum on continued membership of the EU.

It was all backwards; the referendum should have been held before entry into the EU, not afterwards. Result of the referendum was an overwhelming vote to remain. I suspect that most thought that since we were in then we might as well stay in. Since then the British relationship with the EU hasn’t been smooth. People resented some of the seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations.

Between Then and Now

Labour unions in Britain were strong, perhaps too strong, and confrontation between the Trades Union Congress and the government wasn’t infrequent. Also, the economy was weak in the 70s. All of which contributed to the fall of the Labour government and a change to Conservative party power led by Margaret Thatcher.

Thatcher broke the power of the labour unions and gutted the manufacturing base of the country. A similar thing happened in the United States under Ronald Reagan. Net effect of this is that today the social conditions are similar on both sides of the Atlantic. Unemployment is high in the old manufacturing heartlands and global corporations have transferred operations to countries where labour is cheap and regulation is lax.

Since the Thatcher-Reagan era there is far greater inequality between the rich and poor. In Britain, I don’t know how young people are able to make a start in life; the cost of living is extremely high. Housing and other basic necessities are out of reach of most ordinary people. Employment is erratic and precarious. In Britain there is now a class of employment call zero-hour contracts that mean a person is on-call for a potential job, which means that it is impossible to plan or manage one’s life—you don’t get paid unless you work and you must be available to work at all times—it is a vile way to be forced to live. It is also the age of the gig economy when few people have steady employment.

Outside the main metropolitan area of London and Southeast England, social conditions are grim. Successive governments and elected representatives have ignored the needs of people struggling to survive from day-to-day, and are sadly ignorant of the reality of life at the bottom. As one person is reported to have said to The Guardian newspaper: If you’ve got money, you voted to remain; if you haven’t got money, you voted to leave.


Outcome of the referendum on the question of whether to remain in or leave the EU was a killing blow to an uncaring political elite by an alienated electorate. It expressed a desire to grab back control of destiny from distant bureaucrats. It was also a failure by the Establishment to communicate the facts about membership in the EU. Even some areas that received a lot of development investment from the EU voted to leave, despite those areas being signposted as receiving European Union financial support.

Overall, it’s an ill-conceived mess that will imperil the state of the United Kingdom as Scotland will seek to secede. It is also a chance to do something positive for the future, but it is more likely to result in instability due to ineffective, wastrel leadership. Still, despite a period of political turmoil, it isn’t a done deal until Article 50 is invoked.


The Brexit vote is an indictment of neo-liberal economics. Elites will attempt to protect themselves at the expense of everyone else. It is all just another part of the ongoing blow-back against the global political and corporate establishment. With reference to William Gibson’s post-jackpot world in his book The Peripheral, this is it and it just getting started. Welcome to the Jackpot!


2016-06-24: After Buddhism

Buddhism has many variations on a theme, just as all the major religions in the world are variations of a single theme. It seems that what was once simple becomes complicated. It is an inevitable process that began even before Siddartha Gotama died. His followers wanted certainty in an uncertain, changing world. Our human mind tends to complicate what is simple. Buddhism started out as a sleek, clean-bottomed craft that quickly became fouled by dogmatic barnacles, metaphysical weed, and other wishful encrustations of various kinds.

In his book After Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor has done for Buddhism what Jefferson did for the Bible. By stripping away the superfluous, retaining only the material that can be directly attributed to Gotama, Batchelor makes what I think is a successful attempt at refactoring Buddhism for our secular age, producing a good contrast between dogma and a more flexible, practical approach to life.

After Buddhism is a book I recommend highly. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to extract value from its reading; it is a book for anyone. You don’t need to read further either; however, below I try to show the essence of Gotama’s discovery.

Enlightened Way

2,600 years ago, Gotama lived a sheltered life of pampered luxury. After being shocked by seeing the suffering of the common people he went in search of the meaning of life. After years spent mortifying in various ways his flesh and spirit, he concluded that suffering results from our reactivity to our condition arising from birth, aging, sickness, and death. This is the context for a fourfold task.

Fourfold Task
  1. To comprehend suffering,
  2. To let go of the arising of reactivity to suffering,
  3. To behold the ceasing of reactivity, and
  4. To cultivate an eightfold path that is grounded in the perspective of mindful awareness and leads one to become self-reliant in the practice of the path.

In other words:

  1. Embrace life.
  2. Let go of what arises in reaction to life.
  3. See its ceasing.
  4. Act! By skillful living that engages the world as it is by cultivating the path.

Action of the fourth task is to travel along the eightfold path by cultivating:

  1. Complete view,
  2. Complete thought,
  3. Complete speech,
  4. Complete action,
  5. Complete livelihood,
  6. Complete effort,
  7. Complete mindfulness,
  8. Complete concentration.

Batchelor says: I translate sammā as complete rather than as the more usual right. It is what the term literally means; the phrase sammā sambuddha, for example, means a completely awakened one, not a rightly awakened one. Complete lacks the moralistic overtones of right and suggests how each element of the path can become an integral part of a whole (integral is from the Latin integer = entire). The eightfold path is a model for a centered life, which is balanced, harmonious, and integrated instead of imbalanced, discordant, and fragmented. It is not a recipe for a pious Buddhist existence in which the practitioner does everything right and gets nothing wrong.

He continues: The goal of the fourfold task, I would argue, is to lead an integrated life. It is perhaps for this reason that cultivating the eightfold path is presented as the fourth facet of this task, even though it is already implicit in the other three. Logically, an integrated life is the outcome of having embraced the suffering world, let go of reactivity, and beheld reactivity’s ceasing. From this still and empty space one then responds with intuitions, thoughts, intentions, words, and acts that are not determined by reactivity. In practice, though, the moment in which reactivity ceases is also the moment that allows a complete view (the first branch of the path) to emerge.

Eightfold Path

Half the struggle is recognizing that there may be a better way of doing things. Gateway to a better way is the fourfold task. As Batchelor says: a person’s view of himself is determined by that to which he is dedicated. If a person is dedicated to worldly things, only talk of that interests him, it is all he thinks and ponders about, and he associates with similar people.

Having passed through the gateway, a journey begins. You enter a stream, a free-flowing life between the banks of the eightfold path…. Stream entry, like conversion, is a shift in one’s core perspective on life rather than the attainment of a degree of enlightenment or holiness. The eightfold path is an ongoing, continuous course of training to help develop and maintain equanimity that results in peace and tranquility, even when surround by turmoil.

Complete View

Once started on the fourfold task, one begins to open to new vistas, new associations, and a more complete view.

Complete Thought

Main reason for the violence of our culture is the incessant glorification of violence that becomes ingrained into our psychology. It is a continuous task to rid our minds of various pollutions that taint our psyche. Once evil is seen, it can’t be unseen. Once evil is heard, it can’t be unheard. Once evil is spoken, it can’t be unspoken. Once evil is done, it can’t be undone. Once evil gains a foothold within our mind it has a tendency to grow and ooze from us at unexpected, unguarded moments. We can purify our minds by turning away from greed, hatred, craving, and delusion by cultivating embodied attention, mindfulness, concentration, empathy, and compassion.

Complete Speech

Skillful speech is about avoiding the use of foul language and saying hurtful things to other people. When we use psychoactive drugs or alcohol, we are more likely to say things we later regret. When we allow anger to become ascendant, we are more likely to utter spiteful language.

Complete Action

Action or inaction depends on our forethought. The only thing that matters is whether or not you can perform a task. When the inclination to say something cruel occurs, for example, can you resist acting on that impulse? If you can, you have succeeded. Whether your decision to withhold the barbed remark was the result of free will or not is beside the point.

Complete Livelihood

Complete livelihood is one in which we have means of securing the necessities of life. It is not a life of conspicuous consumption nor one of grinding poverty. It is a life in which he have enough to meet our daily needs with contentment. Obviously, complete livelihood for hunter-gatherers is completely different to that needed for someone living in a modern city. Still, it is a life with enough, a middle way between poverty and excess.

Complete Effort

Effort relates to how we approach each task. Complete effort is what one needs to do a good job. It is summarized by the adage: If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Give every job your full attention and complete it to the best of your ability.

Complete Mindfulness

Batchelor says that: Mindfulness means empathizing with the condition and plight of others as revealed through an enhanced reading of their bodies, which comes from the stilling and brightening of one’s own awareness through meditative discipline. Making mindfulness other-centered disrupts the innate tendencies of egoism and thus contributes to the second task: letting go of self-interested reactivity.

He continues: As a pragmatist, what ultimately mattered to Gotama was not whether this or that opinion about reality was true or false but whether the opinion supported or impeded the practice of the fourfold task. Far from impeding the practice of the task, the world-view of modern science provides it with a sound and fertile foundation. The practice of mindfulness, for example, is liberated from the dogmatic constraints of India metaphysics and afforded new possibilities that extend its benefits beyond the narrow context of the Buddhist religion.

Complete Concentration

Concentration requires us to calm our turbulent minds, creating enough headspace to establish mindfulness so that we can pursue our goals in the world.


Everything begins with the recognition of a problem followed by meditation that enables us to clearly see ourselves as we react to the effects of the world on our senses. In seeing how we react, we can consciously choose not to react with spastic lurches and, instead, observe our non-reactive response. All of which is followed by skillful response to our world in which we choose the wisest and most compassionate thing to do.


2016-06-12: Agricultural Caress

Keep me from Thelma’s sister Pearl!
She puts my senses in a whirl,
Weakens my knees and keeps me waiting
Until my heart stops palpitating.

The debs may turn disdainful backs
On Pearl’s uncouth mechanic slacks,
And outraged see the fire that lies
And smoulders in her long-lashed eyes.

Have they such weather-freckled features,
The smooth sophisticated creatures?
Ah, not to them such limbs belong,
Such animal movements sure and strong.

Such arms to take a man and press,
In agricultural caress,
His head to hers and hold him there
Deep buried in her chestnut hair.

God shrive me from this morning lust,
For supple farm girls, if you must,
Send the cold daughter of an earl—
But spare me Thelma’s sister Pearl!


2016-06-11: Out of the night…

Out of the night that covers me
   Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
   For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
   I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
   My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
   Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
   Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
   How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate:
   I am the captain of my soul.


2016-04-23: Doing Democracy

Civilization is a thin veneer. Democracy is the varnish on the veneer of civilization. Both democracy and civilization require continuous maintenance to balance light against darkness; left unattended, greedy megalomaniacs will subvert democratic government for their own selfish ends by any means.

Only by eternal vigilance can we prevent the balance from tipping in favor of darkness. At present, we live in a period of hypocrisy and imbalance of power. Our civilization and democracy are crumbling; public goods are being stripped away and sold to the highest bidder. Whole populations are poisoned by wicked disregard for public health. Earth itself is being wasted by the unwholesome pursuit of profit at any cost; the rights of people crushed beneath corporate juggernauts that have been given trans-global rights greater than nations.

Individually we feel impotent and insignificant, unable to check the forces arrayed against us. Individually! As individuals, we are divided and conquered; it’s an ancient and effective strategy. United we stand and together we can keep power honest and push back against the more egregious infringements of our liberties. But what can we do?

Jim Hightower offers some answers that you can read in full here or here, excerpted below:

In my travels and conversations this year, I’ve been encouraged that grass-roots people of all progressive stripes (populist, labor, liberal, environmental, women, civil libertarian, et al.) are well aware of the slipperiness of victory and want Washington to get it right this time. So over and over, Question No. 1 that I encounter is some variation of this: What should we do!?! How do we make Washington govern for all the people? What specific things can my group or I do now?
Thanks for asking. The first thing you can do to bring about change is show up. Think of showing up as a sort of civic action, where you get to choose something that fits your temperament, personal level of activism, available time and energy, etc. The point here is that every one of us can do something—and every bit helps….

What this means is to be actively, creatively, engaged with your world instead of being a passive consumer chasing after the next big thing. Remember, we get the government we deserve. If we’re sitting watching sport, drinking beer and eating pizza, caught up in the latest celebrity scandal, or fascinated by the latest Weapon of Mass Distraction then we’re not watching what is being done in our names in shadowy back rooms off the less frequented corridors of power.

Through being inattentive, we are shocked to discover that our land has been seized through the legal stratagem of eminent domain, allowing a corporation to lay a pipeline, pollute the water and destroy the ecosystem. Inattentive, we discover that a public park that was purchased with public money is to be sold in a sweetheart deal for commercial development at nominal cost to the developer. Inattentive, we discover that an international trade agreement has been negotiated in secret and passed into law thus subverting our sovereignty, allowing global corporations to have more rights over the way we live than we do.

But what can we, each of us do?

Seek refuge in community: a church, a lodge, a cooperative association. Involve yourself helping others. Find something that you are comfortable doing. By turning up and being present, you will eventually find something that you can do to help us all. Once you are comfortable working with others, there is the model for organizing social movements developed by Bill Moyer, who spent his life as a full-time theorist, writer, organizer, consultant, educator and participant in social movements focused on a wide variety of issues on three continents. He created the Movement Action Plan (MAP), which he turned into a handbook with JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley, and Steven Soifer; it is published by New Society Publishers at www.newsociety.com under the title Doing Democracy: The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements.

Doing Democracy is a valuable book. MAP assumes:

  1. A chief cause of social problems is the concentration of political and economic power in the few elite individuals and institutions that act in their own self-interest.
  2. Participatory democracy is a key means for resolving today’s awesome societal problems and for establishing a just and sustainable world for everyone.
  3. Political and economic power ultimately rest with the majority population; the powerholders in any society can only rule as long as they have the consent or acquiescence of the people.
  4. The most important issue today is the struggle between the majority of citizens and the individual and institutional powerholders to determine whether society will be based on the power elite or people power model.

For those actively interested in social justice, Doing Democracy describes a plan of action for the four roles of social activism, and the eight stages of social movements:

  1. Stagnation: It is a time of standstill and decline. The political and social environment is corrupt, insights or ideas from people of principle will be met with apathy or rejection, but they must remain true to their principles.
  2. Difficult Beginnings: The birth of every new venture begins in some confusion, because we are entering the realm of the unknown. It is our duty to act, but we lack sufficient power; we must take the first step.
  3. Assembling: This is a time of gathering together of people in communities. Strong bonds must be maintained by adherence to appropriate moral principles. Only collective moral force can unite the world.
  4. Critical Mass: It is a momentous time of excess of strong elements. One takes courageous acts not by force, but by seeking true meaning to accomplish the task, no matter what happens. Maintain alliance with those below. It is like floodtimes, which are only temporary.
  5. Retreat: You may now be suffering from an inner conflict based upon the misalignment of your ideals and reality. It is time to retreat and take a longer look to be able to advance later. Vengeance and hatred could cloud your judgement and prevent the necessary retreat.
  6. Changing: The forces at work are in conflict, leaving the path open to change. Far-reaching clarity about the future and great devotion are required. The transformation should be made gradually, nonviolently, without discordant and excessive behavior. The results lead to a progressive new era but are not evident until the change has already occurred.
  7. Success: Victory seems to have been achieved. Everything looks easy. Just there, however, lies the danger. If we are not on guard, evil will succeed in escaping and new misfortunes will develop. You cannot fight for righteousness with corrupt motives, self-serving interests or deceit.
  8. Continuing: Success now comes through long-standing objectives, traditions and enduring values. Apply just enough consistent force to affect the situation. The movement turns into a new beginning.

At each stage, Moyers summarizes the status of each facet: the movement, the power-holders, the public, the goals, the pitfalls, the crisis, and the conclusions reached at that stage.

Finally, Doing Democracy explains why you can believe in the power of social movements, supporting its arguments with analysis of each stage of five of the most recent major social movements in the form of case studies:

  1. The U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
  2. The Anti-Nuclear Energy Movement.
  3. The Gay and Lesbian Movement.
  4. The Breast Cancer Social Movement.
  5. The Globalization Movement.

Moyer draws attention to an important corollary that human society is made up of three interconnected and interdependent parts: individuals, culture, and social systems & institutions—the I, we, and it. They are different aspects of the same whole; consequently, one can’t be transformed for long without the requisite changes in the other two. Therefore, even if a society’s social systems and institutions were transformed to the peaceful paradigm, the change would not last without a parallel transformation of that society’s individuals and culture. Similarly, the good society is unlikely to develop without individual change because, outside of dictatorships, social system and institutional change usually follows personal and cultural change on the part of at least some of the population.

In short, our government and cultural institutions are a reflection of our collective selves. We must lead by example.


2016-04-09: Eye in the Sky

ReasonTV Interview with Director Gavin Hood

This morning, I went to see the 2015 British thriller movie Eye in the Sky directed by Gavin Hood, starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi and Aaron Paul; it is excellent, tense, understated, and a world away from the usual Hollywood pabulum.

It is a movie that realizes the moral and ethical dilemma posed by the philosophical thought experiment of who to kill for the greater good—is it better to kill one person to save many? The movie packages the questions raised by Reverend Barbara Prose during her 7 June 2015 talk entitled NoRisk, No Reward.

Technology amplifies existing conditions, good or bad. I hope it is true that technology imposes the psychological and emotional pressure portrayed on the upper echelons of the kill-chain. People who start wars should certainly see and feel the consequences of what they wreak.

We who condone the actions of the imperium reap what the imperium sows: the imperium sows dragon’s teeth with every new technological advance in warfare, with every launch of Hellfire or other advanced weaponry. Nothing changes. When I was young, the news of the day was of political squabbles about the balance of power in the construction of dreadnought-class battleships; a decade later, nuclear weapons and submarines; then space-based weapons; now robotic warfare and mass surveillance in a global panopticon. It is a history of failure at peaceful coexistence. It is a history of profiteering by warmongers and overlords. We can’t afford the costs of war.

We create new, more fearsome dragons. If you do see Eye in the Sky, imagine the consequences of the final scenes on the ground. Who helped care for the collateral damage? What will replace the grief? Will the consequences for the Imperium be good or bad? What happens to all those individual links in the kill-chain? What is it like to live in a landscape of fear?

Terrorism and general unrest in the world are symptoms of failed and failing social policies and imperial ambitions. Governments like those of the UK and US keep doing the same thing expecting different results, only to make the world a less safe and more brutal place to live.

Instead of attempting to treat the symptoms with medieval remedies that never have and never will work, why not try something completely different that creates a more equitable, healthier environment in which the inhabitants have no motivation for revolution or terrorist activity?


2016-03-03: Geek Heresy

It is good that we give to help others, yet there is often corruption along the path from donor to recipient, sometimes so bad that the given resource doesn’t reach those in need. Our charitable institutions can grow until the bureaucratic vested interests of the operation consume unreasonably high percentages of the charitable resources. Charity comes with strings attached, especially foreign aid. Packaged interventions fail to work as well as they did when the pilot program was managed by committed program designers; or they fail because the intervention is ill-conceived and totally inappropriate for the local circumstances. In some instances, packaged interventions can’t work because they rely on infrastructure both social and material that doesn’t exist.

Technological Amplifiers

In his book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology (Public Affairs, 2015), Kentaro Toyama explores the problems with packaged interventions and the delusion of quick technological fixes. He discovers that technology doesn’t fix; what it does is act as an amplifier for existing conditions, a force multiplier. Technology is agnostic; it amplifies dysfunctional processes as well as it amplifies efficient, effective operations. Having reached this conclusion, Toyama investigates the root causes of successful interventions, discovering the Three Pillars of Wisdom, the magic that makes things work.

Three Pillars of Wisdom

  1. Heart, or Intention.
  2. Mind, or Discernment.
  3. Will, or Self-control.

The Three Pillars of Wisdom apply to persons, groups, and organizations.

Changing intention is hard to do, but it’s the heart of social progress. The world’s most meaningful social shifts—from slavery toward emancipation, from racism toward equality, from routine warfare toward routine peace, and from women-as-property toward gender parity—reflect ongoing mass changes in human intention.
Knowledge is one requirement for discernment…. But discernment also requires the ability to make shrewd judgements about people and opportunities that go beyond bookish erudition…. Discernment—or prudence, judgement, practical wisdom, Greek phronesis—is not easy to teach or specify, yet we all know people who are sagacious decision-makers.
Self-control allows us to follow through on what we intend or what we discern to be the best course of action. It’s one thing to yearn for the security of savings; it’s another matter to muster the will to save. It’s one thing to recognize the need for a vocational skill; it’s another to expend time and effort to obtain it. It’s one thing to know that collective action can overcome repression; it’s another thing to risk imprisonment to organize.

Will-power becomes stronger the more it is exercised successfully. The Three Pillars of Wisdom underpin the intrinsic growth of the individual, group, or society.

Intrinsic Growth

Intrinsic growth [is] about improving intention, discernment, and self-control of the individual, groups, and ultimately society. For example: No amount of educational technology makes up for a lack of focused students, caring parents, good teachers, and capable administrators. So what is it among the latter that matters? Focused students have the intention to learn; the discernment to listen (selectively) to supervising adults; and the self-control to study. Caring parents intend to nurture self-sufficient children, recognize good schooling, and intervene just enough to hold educators accountable. Good teachers have their students’ best interests at heart, make hundreds of small judgements every day to enhance learning, and do all this without losing their cool in a potentially adversarial classroom. And capable principals intend, discern, and act to manage schools well.

Hard Work

Nurturing intrinsic growth is hard work. ...for anyone wanting balanced progress, for anyone with self-transcendent motivations, for anyone genuinely seeking social change, the most meaningful efforts are those not boosted by technocratic values. Packaged interventions are relatively easy. Nurturing individual and collective heart, mind, and will is hard.

The hard work is mentoring with patience and engagement, be it one-to-one between mentor and mentee or as a team mentoring a group of people to become self-sustaining agents of their own destiny.


Kentaro Toyama has written a page-turner of a book that identifies the root causes of successful intervention amply supported by research, data, and example programs that accomplish what they set out to do. Reading Geek Heresy will fill in the background behind this short summary.


2016-02-18: Mind the Gap

Capitalism in its current form of endless growth is unsustainable and a danger to our overcrowded planet. It is made worse by conservative politics in shape of the U.S. Republican party, British Conservative party, and neo-liberalism in general that forever tries to maintain the status quo, struggling against anything that isn’t business as usual seeking maximum profits at minimum expense, damning the consequences. It is an evolutionary dead-end, similar to giant jewel beetle, Julodimorpha bakewelli, that is deluded into mating with beer bottles; the male giant jewel beetle can’t see beyond the shiny dimpled brown surface of the bottle and recognize that it isn’t the biggest most attractive female beetle. And so it is with rutting neo-liberals, they will rape and pillage anything that looks like it could turn a fat profit, thereby feeding their greed for more, more, more, causing ever greater environmental destruction as they look after Number-1 at the expense of everyone else.

In his book The World We Made, Jonathan Porritt imagines a sustainable world in a story told through the eyes of teacher Alex McKay and reaches the conclusion that a divided world is a world lacking in empathy and that empathy is what is needed to bring people together to work for a sustainable future. Empathy doesn’t work if everybody is too busy looking after Number-1 at everybody else’s expense. The more unequal a country is, the less content, settled and sharing its people are. Injustice corrodes the human spirit; it always has done, and it always will. The United States is an extremely unequal society that generates a lot of social unrest and discontent.

Finally, Porritt says through his character McKay: When I was training to be a teacher, we had a brilliant psychology professor who was part of a pioneering movement at that time to focus public policy on the early years of a child’s life. His words about what children need have stayed with me throughout my life as a teacher: Limitless love, total security and lots of fun and games—forget the rest! If it’s a better world we’re after, just make sure that every child reaches the age of six feeling radiantly happy. This chimes with the conclusions reached by Michael Marmot, president of the World Medical Association, in his book The Health Gap: social injustice and inequality has negative effect on everyone in a population from plutocrat to pauper.

There will always be inequality; it is impossible to eliminate entirely. However, it is possible to reduce extreme inequality and achieve a more harmonious balance between the rich and poor. Marmot’s book, The Health Gap is both descriptive and prescriptive.


2016-02-03: Community

  1. Synergy
  2. Alleviating Poverty
    1. Partners In Education
    2. Community Resource Bank
    3. Community Dinners
  3. Doing More
  4. Communities of All Souls

Poverty is like an oubliette, a pit into which the fallen find it extremely difficult or impossible climb out. As an entrepreneurial friend once remarked to me: The only thing standing between me and disaster is a sack of money. Our lives and living are ever precarious. My doctor once said that: Life can turn on a dime. Both poverty and depression are no respecters of persons, from which recovery is fraught.

What can we do to help those who are less fortunate to make ends meet and enable them to attain to better-paying employment? Obviously it would help if people were paid a living wage for their labor and we enjoyed a healthier environment in which to live and that we developed a more caring, nurturing society than exists in the tattered remnants of these United States of America where life is cruel for a large proportion of the population.


Individually we do make a difference; our actions ripple outward. Action as a community has greater effect than it does at the level of the individual. All Souls Unitarian Church is a diverse community of more than 2,000 individuals; it is a large village comparable in size to Hingham in Norfolk, England. Effect of All Souls is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Alleviating Poverty

Yes, there are inevitable inequalities in all societies, but in unenlightened societies the gaps are much, much wider than they should be for the health of everyone from the ultra-rich to the ultra-poor. To improve the economic and physical health of everyone, we must provide social support and opportunity for every person to improve physical and economic well-being. Ultimately, we must reduce the gap between rich and poor—greatly reduce, not eliminate.

All Souls works in many areas. One important focus is on alleviating the pernicious effects of poverty on our community.

Partners In Education

Partners in Education make a positive difference in the lives of children, mainly children in less affluent parts of town where the need is greater. Volunteers work on special projects and participate in activities that enrich the lives of children:

Due to short-sighted politics, schools are often overcrowded, under-staffed, and under-funded. Partners in Education work to mitigate these negative effects. But, even in the best of worlds, PIE would still be necessary to improve the lives of children who are our future.

Community Resource Bank

All Souls Community Resource Bank exists to directly face and respond to the causes and effects of poverty on our communities by building relationships and working together to fulfill immediate needs by collecting resources in the form of material goods, so that they can be systematically and efficiently redistributed in an effort to serve our members, our outreach programs, and the larger community.

In a place like the United States of America that touts itself as Number-1 and the Leader of the Free World why on Earth would a community need a Community Resource Bank. Well, here’s why:

Indeed these are dismal statistics for the wealthiest nation on the planet! Worse, this is only one aspect; the US is a leader for all the wrong reasons in other areas of social injustice.

Community Dinners

During the regular church year, September through May, Wednesday evenings begin with a shared meal with special attention paid to dietary needs. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options are always available.

The Jackson Family Dinners program is a partnership between Iron Gate, Partners in Education and the Community Resource Bank. Every third Tuesday of the month, volunteers come together to serve dinner, bag and distribute groceries to Jackson Elementary School families-in-need.

Doing More

Each year All Souls does a lot of good in the community, but is it possible to do more? Instead of treating symptoms we need systemic change in the nation. To achieve change in the system we must lead by example, which means we must work locally to improve our community by showing what is possible.


By asking the question: Is it possible to do more? we envision that we can improve on the status quo because the answer is usually: Yes we can. We begin by imagining a different way of living, one that is spiritually warmer, more embracing and caring yet respectful of personal autonomy and individual dignity. We’re not imagining utopia, which is an impossibility. We are imagining a middle way to better communities in which the inhabitants know each other.

I was started along this train of thought by recent articles in the parish newsletter from persons who live precarious lives trying to make ends meet each month. I wondered how persons with low income could improve their lives while maintaining their autonomy, dignity, and sense of self-worth, Accepting charity is socially awkward, but a helping hand is welcome when it is offered unencumbered.

Community dinners help to dull the sharp edge of hunger during the lean period each month; these are provided free by the Ministry to those who really need them. All Souls also provides child care and a safe environment.

So, I wondered if these evenings could support a time of study; a study-group for persons working towards higher education degrees; a chance at better employment and professional improvement. All Souls is richly endowed with professionals of many kinds, school teachers and university professors who might be able to donate time as tutors and guides to those who need help with their homework beyond that offered by their peers. Even studying in a group is better than doing so alone; Wednesday evenings provide the opportunity of being together for these purposes.

Thinking about this possibility led me to wonder what a more formal community of All Souls might look like.

Communities of All Souls

All Souls church is big, where it is difficult to know everyone. Smaller satellite communities of All Souls might work to bring like-minded people together in affordable living of no more than seventy-five tiny houses or cabins around a community center. By affordable, I am thinking of very inexpensive that would be suitable for persons of limited means.

The community center would be a more substantial building, the place for group activities and the place containing the shelter from violent weather; it might even support a small library and office area with computers, printers, and scanners. Everyone could know each other and if there were a mix of retired persons, working persons, and young persons there would always be someone to keep watch on the neighborhood.

It may even be possible to use the community center as a day school so that children of school-age wouldn’t have to go far from home. My father was a lecturer in education; he noticed a marked difference between church and state schools when he administered the practicum for his students. Staff of church schools seemed to provide better service to their students because they had more altruistic motives. State schools were more impersonal and overloaded. Schools for All Souls would be funded by the community, perhaps staffed by retired teachers and volunteers, and, because it is a school for community children, the class sizes could be kept small and operated similar to the Montessori method of instruction.

Ideally, it would be best to have an All Souls neighborhood integrated with trees, green space, and community gardens. If ideal isn’t possible then mobile homes or tiny houses on reclaimed industrial land might work. Property taxes are usually lower for mobile homes, as they would be for a four- to five-hundred square-foot tiny house.

By bringing willing people together in a neighborhood we eliminate isolation, encourage mutual support, and village life within the impersonal city. By succeeding, we show what is possible, leading the way for others to follow. Naturally, it won’t all be plain sailing; there will be tempests and troubled waters to navigate. By respectfully working together, the inevitable difficulties will be resolved eventually. Successfully operating communities of All Souls can then be replicated in other places, particularly if the process is documented, warts and all, for others to use as reference.


2016-01-24: Four Dimensional Human

Laurence Scott’s book The Four Dimensional Human is an exploration of the ways of being in the digital world. Our hyper-connected lifestyle detaches us from here now more thoroughly than reading has ever done, for example. Additionally, we are in thrall to our network interface. Reading Scott’s book evoked feelings of horror and the importance of knowing how to work the off-switch. Connection to the network is simultaneously convenient, beguiling, and insecure. I’ve seen the addiction in full spate and so have you.


2016-01-09: Mentoring

How to feel love beyond belief: In this sense, love is the strong affection for the well-being of all persons within our community. In particular, it is the warm, affectionate feelings that arise when we assist those around us to grow and become fulfilled human beings. In practice it is easy to feel love beyond belief by becoming mentor to a young person. Well-being of our children is the responsibility of us all. By mentoring our children, all of our children no matter what ethnicity, we are building a strong foundation for the future of everyone. In giving of ourselves to help others get a strong start in life we receive intangible reward more valuable than gold, a love beyond belief rises glowingly within to shine through all our days.

How to be a Mentor

To be a mentor is both easy and difficult. Starting is difficult; it is important to set oneself up for success. After the horror of the shootings at Columbine High School, I decided I needed to do something. I chose the school-based program of the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America (BBBS). Working under the aegis of BBBS ensured that I was protected by their background checks, policies and procedures, and ensured the protection of the child mentee. In the school-based program we meet during school hours in full view of school staff. Also, it limited the weekly meetings to an hour, an easy commitment for me to make. Commitment means being consistent and reliably doing what you say you are going to do for at least a year, hopefully longer.

Even easier is to become a partner in education at a local school. Again, this only requires the commitment of an hour or so each week while school is in session. Reading Buddies help children to read more fluently. Lunch Buddies visit and have lunch with their mentee; eating together is a very social activity that builds friendship.

Any kind of consistent mentoring has a strong positive influence on the child. Just paying attention, listening, chatting with the child, exhibiting a genuine interest in the child’s feelings and doings helps to build their confidence and promote their self-worth.

Mentoring is very easy. All one needs to do is to be wholly present with attention focused on the mentee. Even silence can be companionable and most mentees are quiet and reserved at first; time is required to build a relationship. Useful activities are reading or drawing, playing chess, checkers, or Scrabble. Sometimes I have used portable projects.

In an electronics suppliers, I saw a printed circuit board cut in the stylized shape of a Christmas tree with a kit of parts to add flashing lights. I bought two kits. One I assembled at home to ensure that it worked, the other I took to my mentee along with my toolkit. We spent an hour together as I showed him how to place the parts. I did the soldering to avoid the risk of him burning himself or overheating the components; he cut the excess wire from the components using diagonal cutters. When we attached the tree to the 9-Volt battery, the red Light Emitting Diodes flashed on and off. He went away clutching a completed project. I had the spare electronic Christmas tree in my bag as a backup in the event our joint effort failed to work.

My mentee was very keen on soccer. I don’t know anything about the sport other than it employs a ball. He explained the rudiments of soccer to me. I made a video recording of his instructions and practical demonstrations then turned it into a DVD that could be replayed on a television.

On other occasions, I use a set of Choose Your Own Adventure books to help develop reading ability. These books are illustrated by line drawings. One day, I took a set of colored pencils with me and encouraged him to color the pictures; he said that he was given school supplies by the school for Christmas that included colored pencils and that he would color the other pictures with the help of his younger sister. He read the book to me. Sometimes I read to him while he ate his lunch. As he reads, I correct his mistakes—it is very important to be calm and even-tempered; I never sound angry or impatient. As we read, I ask him questions about the story, about what he thinks some of the more difficult words mean. Before smart-phones, I carried an electronic dictionary with audio pronunciation. Now I have the Oxford English Dictionary on my Android, so that we can check the meaning of words and hear the correct pronunciation. At the end of our reading sessions, sometimes I tell him that I’m going to give him the book and write inside the cover: From the library of John Doe, replacing John Doe with his full name. He can have his own book that becomes the foundation of his own library. I’m not supposed to give tangible gifts, but I think it is important for children to have books of their own, especially if they come from impoverished families who can’t afford to spend scarce money on non-essential items. I don’t just read the text, I act with my voice to catch the tenor of the story and actions of the characters. When we encounter words that are hard to pronounce, I break them down into their component parts by slowly sounding them out then direct him to try the pronunciation. If he can’t quite manage it, we try again, and again. Usually, he has it after three repetitions. Sometimes I stop later on and ask him to pronounce the difficult word again. When there are pictures, I ask what’s happening in them and ask him to point out specific features. When I ask a question I wait for an answer; if it isn’t forthcoming, I ask the question in another way or use a similar example. I treat my mentee as I would were he my own son.

I have found meditation useful. I endeavor to project an aura of calm relaxation. I am open to any question and strive to be without judgment. And I am ever watchful for unusual behavioral signs or inappropriate knowledge. When we meet and part, I always extend my hand for a handshake in greeting or farewell. Fortunately, children and animals seem to like me.