wired for intimacy and sociability
December 1, 2011, 4:15 am
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , ,

People are naturally competitive.  True statement.  Everyone I know, from my earliest days until now, including parents and siblings, my oldest friends, people I studied and worked with, pretty well everyone, is naturally competitive.  But surely competition can’t be a person’s defining characteristic, they must also have other qualities.

When someone says to me ‘people are naturally competitive,’ I tend to think he doesn’t mean that competition is one of  many valid human qualities.  Rather he means that competitiveness is a dominant characteristic in all people.  Depending on who is saying it, he may even mean that being competitive is a fundamental characteristic, that competition is at the very heart of being human, to the exclusion of other characteristics.

Continue reading

freedom: deep participation with others

I wonder what is the ratio – in the world of politics and culture etc – of diagnosis to prescription. I would guess it is heavily weighted toward diagnosis: everyone and his dog is talking and writing about how bad everything is and I’m not convinced there are as many who are coming up with viable solutions.  One exception to this rule could be our self help culture of talk shows and books but they’re more about personal fulfillment than geo politics.

We’re in a post solution world, so that doesn’t help.  Statesmanship is all but extinct; we’re a country of editors and responders.  Stick your neck out and risk losing it along with your head.

Here is an unusually prescriptive set of ideas taken from an essay by Jeremy Rifkin who writes on empathy among other things.  In it he describes two worlds, the first called the old geopolitics and the second the new biosphere science.   Continue reading

rational detached acquisitive utilitarian
March 12, 2010, 1:22 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

Is there exclusive virtue in doing or should we also plan?  People don’t like planners, and heap praises on doers.  She’s a hard worker, they say.  He doesn’t do anything they claim of managers and administrators.

At my last job this system of belief was ritualized and absurd.  People who were unclear but could produce mountains of unclarity in hours that seamlessly flowed into days and nights and weekend days and weekend nights, were demigods in the system.  People like me, who thought there should be a guiding principle, were tolerated but mostly ignored.  This state is epidemic in the places I have worked.

I am reminded of ants when I see people merely working.  Only they achieve less.  The specialist is one who never makes small mistakes moving toward the grand fallacy, says Marshall McLuhan.   There’s always a grand fallacy, in my experience, and if you bring it up people look at you like you’re from mars.  How dare you disrupt our lunatic preoccupation?

What about life, should we make a plan for that?  Or should we forget about the big picture, shun those who would help us see the grand narratives and merely … work?  There could be a better way, if we would just stop and think about it, and maybe make some goals that are a little more thoughtful than putting in 50 hours 52 weeks a year, shunning thought and planning, and striking out on our own, and shopping.

In the quotation below, Rifkin suggests naming what we want — companionship, affection, belonging — identifying these qualities as meaningful and fulfilling, and making goals that help us to achieve them.  Damnation!  You mean my life can be about more than my isolated and narcissistic state and the freedom to work and then shop?

Freedom in the nation state era has been closely associated with the ability to control one’s labor and secure one’s property, because that is the way to optimize pleasure and be happy. The classical economists argued that every individual is free to the extent he or she can pursue their individual self- interest in the material world. Freedom, in the rational mode, is the freedom to be autonomous and independent and to be an island to one’s self. To be free is to be rational, detached, acquisitive, and utilitarian. The role of government, in turn, is to safeguard private property relations and allow market forces to operate, unfettered by political constraints. The conventional American dream is personal opportunity to succeed in the marketplace.

The empathic approach to freedom in the emerging Biosphere Age is based on a different premise. Freedom means being able to optimize the full potential of one’s life, and the fulfilled life is one of companionship, affection, and belonging, made possible by ever deeper and more meaningful personal experiences and relationships with others–across neighborhoods, continents and the world. One is free, then, to the extent that one has been nurtured and raised in a global society that allows for empathetic opportunities at every level of human discourse. The new dream is the quality of life of humanity.

–Empathic Civilization:  Why Have We Become so Uncivil? Jeremy Rifkin

the european dream
February 8, 2010, 7:32 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

The American dream is only a dream after all.  I had a suspicion.  There were so many red flags chief among them grandiloquence, bombast:  if we keep telling ourselves we’re the best, then we’re the best.  Peddlers of the big lie everywhere:  that to tell monstrous falsehoods will breed credulity.

I stepped off the boat (actually it was a plane) over 12 years ago.  My first reactions were that it seemed … communist, incredibly.  I’ve never heard anyone else who has moved to the US describe it that way, but I hold firmly to the description.  Streets and buildings were shabby, shops forlorn, people up to their necks in groupthink speaking in clipped and thuggish phrases, options that initially seemed abundant proved narrow and restrictive, city centers were abandoned and shuttered on the weekends and evenings, a general joylessness pervaded, the design of products and streets and consumer goods was utilitarian at best.  No babushkas or bread lines but pretty much everything else you wouldn’t expect if you watch a sitcom or a hollywood movie.

Here is an excerpt from a review of Jeremy Rifkin’s book The European Dream written over six years ago.  Look at that list of quality of life indicators that Europeans enjoy:  longer life, less poverty, less crime, less suburbs, longer vacations, shorter commutes!  Why?  I must be policy and policy comes from ideas, so their ideas of living must be very different than ours.

I have written posts about the difference between continental and Anglo attitudes to living based on the writing of the English philosopher Simon Critchley.  (Essentially, the continental, or European, tradition is to use wisdom to look for better ways of living; and the Anglo way to merely search for and implement functional solutions.)  I think this is why Europe enjoys a better standard of living than us:  they use wisdom to secure a good life, we use technique to get ahead.

Everyone is talking about what we need to dig ourselves out of the messes we’re in.  I say we need good leaders.  I say we smoke out the ones who look merely for short term fixes, and replace them with ones who have broad and bold and daring visions of good living.  Either that or lobby the government for easy options for emigration.

Here is the excerpt:

The European Union’s GDP now rivals the United States’, making it the largest economy in the world. The EU is already the world’s leading exporter and largest internal trading market. Moreover, much of Europe enjoys a longer life span and greater literacy, and has less poverty and crime, less blight and sprawl, longer vacations, and shorter commutes to work than we do in the United States. When one considers what makes a people great and what constitutes a better way of life, observes Rifkin, Europe is beginning to surpass America.

More important, Europe has become a giant laboratory for rethinking humanity’s future. In many respects, the European Dream is the mirror opposite of the American Dream. While the American Dream emphasizes unrestrained economic growth, personal wealth, and the pursuit of individual self-interest, the European Dream focuses more on sustainable development, quality of life, and the nurturing of community.

We Americans live (and die) by the work ethic and the dictates of efficiency. Europeans place more of a premium on leisure and even idleness. America has always seen itself as a great melting pot. Europeans, instead, prefer to preserve their rich multicultural diversity. We believe in maintaining an unrivaled military presence in the world. Europeans, by contrast, emphasize cooperation and consensus over go-it-alone approaches to foreign policy.

All of this does not suggest that Europe has suddenly become a utopia. Its problems, Rifkin cautions, are complex and its weaknesses are glaringly transparent. And, of course, Europeans’ high-mindedness is often riddled with hypocrisy. The point, however, is not whether Europeans are living up to the dream they have for themselves. We have never fully lived up to the American Dream. Rather, what’s crucial, notes Rifkin, is that Europe is articulating a bold new vision for the future of humanity that differs in many of its most fundamental aspects from America’s.

–Jeremy Rifkin, The European Dream

author:  Jeremy Rifkin

Simon Critchley
book:  The European Dream, Rifkin

Continental Philosophy, Critchley
organization:  The Foundation on Economic Trends

February 6, 2010, 5:21 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

How civilized!  The Brit in me likes to fling that phrase around, every once in a while:  a label for someone drinking tea from a dainty cup with his pinky up, playing tennis in whites, snacking on smoked meats and vodka, being versed in opera.  Or slaughtering the natives.  Civilization, a complex topic, and one that leaves a decidedly mixed taste in the mouth.

Jeremy Rifkin’s definition of civilization below is smart because it addresses the foible of both of our political extremes.  On the right:  blood ties aren’t enough, to civilize your associations must extend beyond mere blood; and on the left:  you must develop as an individual to engage properly in society.

Here is the excerpt —

A heightened empathic sentiment also allows an increasingly individualized population to affiliate with one another in more interdependent, expanded, and integrated social organisms. This is the process that characterizes what we call civilization. Civilization is the detribalization of blood ties and the resocialization of distinct individuals based on associational ties. Empathic extension is the psychological mechanism that makes the conversion and the transition possible. When we say to civilize, we mean to empathize.

We frequently hear political conservatives argue that empathy is a code word for collectivism. They fail to realize that empathic maturity requires a well devolved sense of selfhood and individuality to flourish. Political liberals in turn, are likely to associate “individualism” with uncaring narcissism, again, not realizing that a well formed self identity is required for empathic extension and compassionate behavior.

–Empathic Civilization, Jeremy Rifkin

author – Jeremy Rifkin
book –  Empathic Civilization:  The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, Tarcher 2009
organization – Foundation on Economic Trends