Imagine America – crises and opportunities

Crises

When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. We are heading for a crisis-driven choice. We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.” Paul Gilding

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves… The question is: What are people doing about it?It’s not because the population doesn’t want it…It’s institutional structures that block change.  Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one…It’s not that there are no alternatives.  The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous.  So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture.  Unless people do something about it.  We always can. Humanity Imperiled — The Path to Disaster by Noam Chomsky, Huffington Post, June 4, 2013

The World Grows More Complex

 Opportunities

…biologically speaking, we are just as likely to be peaceful as we are to be violent…charts a new course for rejecting the old paradigm of war’s inevitability and finally releasing mankind from its destructive grip….Why War Isn’t Inevitable: A Science Writer Studies the Secret to Peaceful Societies by Brad Jacobson  

…….As consumers, employees and entrepreneurs, Millennials are shifting the norms of corporate America’s conduct, ethical imperatives and purpose…A new generation of employees, consumers and entrepreneurs is stepping forward with a better way of doing business — putting its bets on the goodness of people rather than loading the dice in its own favor. Millennials to business: Social responsibility isn’t optional By Michelle Nunn 

…A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civilityReweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades

what I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world…Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world…Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power…The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history…We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable…This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened before…Healing or Stealing? by Paul Hawken

 

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’

by Andrea Brower, Friday, January 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above socially constructed economic “laws” — is presented as unrealistic, as the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and democracy?

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs — food, water, healthcare, education. Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability…

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility…

Full text

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above socially constructed economic “laws — is presented as unrealistic, as the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and democracy?

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs — food, water, healthcare, education. Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability. Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “There Is No Alternative,” no longer need to be spoken, they are simply accepted as normal, non-ideological, neutral.

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility. We can’t leave this task to the pages of peer-reviewed journals and classrooms of social theory — these conversations must enter also into the family dining rooms and TV screens. Here are some thoughts on conversation starters:

Alternatives could never work. Does capitalism “work”? Even by its own indicators, as we’ve become more capitalist (i.e. neoliberalism), economic growth and productivity has actually declined.

Today’s globalized world is too complex to organize things any differently. Of course the world is complex — each of us is a bundle of contradictions and we need look no further than the dynamics of a single relationship to make a case for social complexity. But things are also quite simple — we live in a world where one billion people go hungry while we literally dump half of all food produced. Can we not come up with a productive socio-economic system that also meets people’s most basic needs? The gift of today is that we have the ability to reflect and draw-upon many forms, past and present, of non-capitalist social organization, and to creatively experiment with blending the best of these possibilities. The fact that we are more connected than ever before and have advanced so far technologically gives us more possibilities, not less.

Because of our “human nature,” we can only create economic systems based on competition, greed and self-interest. This is not only utterly pessimistic, but plain wrong. Again, we can start by remembering all sorts of societies that have existed through history. Then just look around and ask the question, what motivates you and the people you know? Fields as diverse as neuroscience and anthropology have mounted evidence showing humans’ incredible capacity for cooperation and sensitivity to fairness. We are actually all quite capable of anything; but it is up to us to decide how to use our capabilities, and of course that will be dictated by what our social systems encourage and teach us to value. If there is one thing that can be said about “human nature,” it is that we construct ourselves from within our societies and we are incredibly malleable.

Freedom is only realizable through a free-market. Attaching our values of freedom to the market is not only de-humanizing, but it also fails to recognize how one person’s “freedom” to economic choice is another’s imprisonment in a life of exploitation and deprivation. There is no possibility for freedom and emancipation until we are all free, and this will only come through a much richer and deeper conception of human freedom than one that is premised upon going to a grocery store and “choosing” between 5,000 variations of processed corn.

Capitalism is the only system that encourages innovation and progress. Progress towards what? And how does enclosing common knowledge through intellectual property rights, or excluding most of the world from quality education, or depriving half of humanity from the basic life-sustaining goods needed to function healthily, lead to greater innovation? Just begin to imagine the innovative possibilities of a world where all people had access to everything they needed to live, to think, and to contribute to the common good.

Things could be worse. Of course they could, but they could also be better. Does the fact that we’ve lived through bloody dictatorships mean that we should settle for a representative democracy where the main thing being represented is money?

Things are getting better. Can we really say that things are getting better as we head towards the annihilation of our own species? Sure, we may have our first black president and be making small gains in LGBT rights or in women’s representation in the workforce; but let’s not neglect the fact that capital is more concentrated and centralized than it has ever been and that its logic now penetrates into the most basic building blocks of life. I think we should give ourselves more credit than to settle for this “better.”

Change is slow. Slow is not in the vocabulary of the corporations who are stealing our common genetic heritage, or their buddies who are getting rich playing virtual money games that legally rob us all. The enclosure of our commons and the concentration of capital is not happening slowly. Whether we acknowledge it or not, change is happening — what is up for grabs is the direction of that change.

The best we can hope for is “green” and “ethical” capitalism. The logic of this belief is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that within capitalism, businesses can prioritize anything above the bottom-line. In actuality, businesses that commit themselves first and foremost to being truly and fully ethical and green will find it very difficult to stay in business. Of course there are great models of ethical business — worker-owned organic farms, for instance — but these cannot thrive and become the dominant norm when they are functioning within an economic structure that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of Monsanto. And while we should support these alternatives that exist within capitalism, we need to recognize that it’s way too little, way too late — structural change must (and will) happen, one way or another.

Getting rid of capitalism means abandoning markets as a tool of social organization. This is not necessarily true, although perhaps we would do best without markets anyways. Societies have existed that have used markets but restrained oligopoly capitalism, and many brilliant thinkers have envisioned a transition to a society structured by norms of equality and sharing where markets do play a role. I’m not advocating for or against any specific proposals here, but the point is that this assumption is historically inaccurate and we have barely begun to give serious thought to other possibilities.

People don’t care. People may be distracted by consumerism, may only have enough energy to struggle to pay their bills, may be fearful, may lack access to good information… but none of these things mean that they don’t care. Show anybody an image of a starving child who works in the cacao fields but can’t afford to eat (much less taste chocolate), and they will feel disgust. The charity industry is thriving precisely because so many people do feel implicated in the revolting manifestations of capitalism. But people’s sense of outrage has been channeled away from collective political action and towards ethical buying and holiday-time charitable donations. Without an honest and sophisticated society-wide conversation about the structural issues we are facing, people’s care is reduced to individual guilt and disempowerment.

People won’t stop consuming, plus all the poor people want what the rich people have. Of course they do! Doing away with capitalism doesn’t mean resorting to primitivism, or abandoning all of our washing machines, or leaving the poor destitute. While of course there are limits to the earth’s resources (fossil-fuels in particular), this doesn’t mean that we can’t organize a productive, equitable and sustainable social order that includes many of the comforts of modern life and excitements of technology. We need not abandon desire with capitalism. In fact, getting rid of capitalism gives us the best chance of having time to organize a sustainable system of consumption before it is too late — staying hooked into capitalism may actually be the quickest route to primitivism.

Capital’s enclosure of our commons — our common resources, genes and even intellect — has been accompanied by an enclosure of our imaginations. We need to re-claim and re-orient what it is to be “realistic” from the falsehoods of There Is No Alternative. This is not a call for pure imaginations of some future utopia. It is not a fantastic plea for a sudden and complete dissolving of all the social structures that currently pattern our lives. Instead, it is a call to take what is already going on all around us, all the time — cooperation, sharing, empathy — and let these aspects of our humanity that we most cherish guide our future. To begin to re-direct and re-structure our social systems towards the things we most desire and value — caring for and cooperating with one another, true participation and democracy, human freedom and free time, peace and co-existence — and in doing so, to watch these things begin to flourish.

If it is naive to believe that we can structure society to reward goodness instead of greed and prioritize people instead of profit, then I’m fighting until the bitter end to maintain my naiveté! Things become possible when we believe they are possible; so let’s start believing.

Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has been very active in alternative food and global social justice movements, and spent several years co-directing the non-profit Malama Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/25-2

Florence and the Drones

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times

This winter I’m taking part in a great course at Yale called Grand Strategy. We’re reading strategic thought from Sun Tzu and Pericles straight through to Churchill and George F. Kennan. This week we read Machiavelli.

Machiavelli is a tonic because he counteracts the sentiments of our age. We’re awash in TV news segments celebrating the human spirit, but Machiavelli had a lower estimation of our worth. “For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain,” he writes in “The Prince.”

“It needs to be taken for granted that all men are wicked and that they will always give vent to the malignity that is in their minds when opportunity offers,” he adds in “The Discourses.”

The conventional view is that Machiavelli believed that since people are brutes then everything is permitted. Leaders should do anything they can to hold power. The ends justify the means.

In fact, Machiavelli was a moralistic thinker. He wrote movingly of his love for his city, Florence. His vision of a great and unified Italy was romantic and idealistic. He barely goes a page without some appeal to honor and virtue.

He just had a different concept of political virtue. It would be nice, he writes, if a political leader could practice the Christian virtues like charity, mercy and gentleness and still provide for his people. But, in the real world, that’s usually not possible. In the real world, a great leader is called upon to create a civilized order for the city he serves. To create that order, to defeat the forces of anarchy and savagery, the virtuous leader is compelled to do hard things, to take, as it were, the sins of the situation upon himself.

The leader who does good things cannot always be good himself. Sometimes bad acts produce good outcomes. Sometimes a leader has to love his country more than his soul.

Since a leader is forced by circumstances to do morally suspect things, Machiavelli at least wants him to do them effectively. Machiavelli is full of advice. If you have to do something cruel, do it fast; if you get to do something generous, do it slowly. If you lead a country, you have more to fear from the scheming elites than the masses, so you should try to form an alliance with the people against the aristocracy.

When you read Machiavelli, you realize how lucky we are. Unlike 16th-century Florence, we have a good Constitution that channels conflict. We have manners, respect for law and social trust that softens behavior, at least a bit. Even in the realm of foreign affairs, we’ve inherited an international order that restrains conflict. Our ancestors behaved savagely to build our world, so we don’t have to.

But it’s still not possible to rule with perfectly clean hands. There are still terrorists out there, hiding in the shadows and plotting to kill Americans. So even today’s leaders face the Machiavellian choice: Do I have to be brutal to protect the people I serve? Do I have to use drones, which sometimes kill innocent children, in order to thwart terror and save the lives of my own?

When Barack Obama was a senator, he wasn’t compelled to confront the brutal logic of leadership. Now in office, he’s thrown into the Machiavellian world. He’s decided, correctly, that we are in a long war against Al Qaeda; that drone strikes do effectively kill terrorists; that, in fact, they inflict fewer civilian deaths than bombing campaigns, boots on the ground or any practical alternative; that, in fact, civilian death rates are dropping sharply as the C.I.A. gets better at this. Acting brutally abroad saves lives at home.

Still, there’s another aspect of Machiavellian thought relevant to the drone debate. This is a core weakness in his thought. He puts too much faith in the self-restraint of his leaders. Machiavelli tells us that men are venal self-deceivers, but then he gives his Prince permission to do all these monstrous things, trusting him not to get carried away or turn into a monster himself.

Our founders were more careful. Our founders understood that leaders are as venal and untrustworthy as anybody else. They abhorred concentrated power, and they set up checks and balances to disperse it.

Our drone policy should take account of our founders’ superior realism. Drone strikes are so easy, hidden and abstract. There should be some independent judicial panel to review the kill lists. There should be an independent panel of former military and intelligence officers issuing reports on the program’s efficacy.

If you take Machiavelli’s tough-minded view of human nature, you have to be brutal to your enemies — but you also have to set up skeptical checks on the people you empower to destroy them.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/opinion/brooks-florence-and-the-drones.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130208&_r=0

A Matter of Life and Debt

By MARGARET ATWOOD, Op-Ed Contributor, New York Times, October 22, 2008

Excerpt

…we’re deluding ourselves if we assume that we can recover from the crisis of 2008 so quickly and easily simply by watching the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the broken moral balance that let this chaos loose.

Debt — who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid — is a subject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fairness, a sense that is embedded in all of our exchanges with our fellow human beings.

But at some point we stopped seeing debt as a simple personal relationship. The human factor became diminished…The whole edifice rests on a few fundamental principles that are inherent in us.

We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit

Is there any bright side to this? Perhaps we’ll have some breathing room — a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our relationship to the living planet from which we derive all our nourishment, and without which debt finally won’t matter.

Full text

THIS week, credit has begun to loosen, stock markets have been encouraged enough to reclaim lost ground (at least for now) and there is a collective sigh of hope that lenders will begin to trust in the financial system again.

But we’re deluding ourselves if we assume that we can recover from the crisis of 2008 so quickly and easily simply by watching the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the broken moral balance that let this chaos loose.

Debt — who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid — is a subject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fairness, a sense that is embedded in all of our exchanges with our fellow human beings.

But at some point we stopped seeing debt as a simple personal relationship. The human factor became diminished. Maybe it had something to do with the sheer volume of transactions that computers have enabled. But what we seem to have forgotten is that the debtor is only one twin in a joined-at-the-hip pair, the other twin being the creditor. The whole edifice rests on a few fundamental principles that are inherent in us.

We are social creatures who must interact for mutual benefit, and — the negative version — who harbor grudges when we feel we’ve been treated unfairly. Without a sense of fairness and also a level of trust, without a system of reciprocal altruism and tit-for-tat — one good turn deserves another, and so does one bad turn — no one would ever lend anything, as there would be no expectation of being paid back. And people would lie, cheat and steal with abandon, as there would be no punishments for such behavior.

Children begin saying, “That’s not fair!” long before they start figuring out money; they exchange favors, toys and punches early in life, setting their own exchange rates. Almost every human interaction involves debts incurred — debts that are either paid, in which case balance is restored, or else not, in which case people feel angry. A simple example: You’re in your car, and you let someone else go ahead of you, and the driver doesn’t nod, wave or honk. How do you feel?

Once you start looking at life through these spectacles, debtor-creditor relationships play out in fascinating ways. In many religions, for instance. The version of the Lord’s Prayer I memorized as a child included the line, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” In Aramaic, the language that Jesus himself spoke, the word for “debt” and the word for “sin” are the same. And although many people assume that “debts” in these contexts refer to spiritual debts or trespasses, debts are also considered sins. If you don’t pay back what’s owed, you cause harm to others.

The fairness essential to debt and redemption is reflected in the afterlives of many religions, in which crimes unpunished in this world get their comeuppance in the next. For instance, hell, in Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” is the place where absolutely everything is remembered by those in torment, whereas in heaven you forget your personal self and who still owes you five bucks and instead turn to the contemplation of selfless Being.

Debtor-creditor bonds are also central to the plots of many novels — especially those from the 19th century, when the boom-and-bust cycles of manufacturing and no-holds-barred capitalism were new and frightening phenomena, and ruined many. Such stories tell what happens when you don’t pay, won’t pay or can’t pay, and when official punishments ranged from debtors’ prisons to debt slavery.

In “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” for example, human beings are sold to pay off the rashly contracted debts. In “Madame Bovary,” a provincial wife takes not only to love and extramarital sex as an escape from boredom, but also — more dangerously — to overspending. She poisons herself when her unpaid creditor threatens to expose her double life. Had Emma Bovary but learned double-entry bookkeeping and drawn up a budget, she could easily have gone on with her hobby of adultery.

For her part, Lily Bart in “The House of Mirth” fails to see that if a man lends you money and charges no interest, he’s going to want payment of some other kind.

As for what will happen to us next, I have no safe answers. If fair regulations are established and credibility is restored, people will stop walking around in a daze, roll up their sleeves and start picking up the pieces. Things unconnected with money will be valued more — friends, family, a walk in the woods. “I” will be spoken less, “we” will return, as people recognize that there is such a thing as the common good.

On the other hand, if fair regulations are not established and rebuilding seems impossible, we could have social unrest on a scale we haven’t seen for years.

Is there any bright side to this? Perhaps we’ll have some breathing room — a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our relationship to the living planet from which we derive all our nourishment, and without which debt finally won’t matter.

Margaret Atwood is the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and, most recently, “Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/opinion/22atwood.html?_r=0

The Moral Animal

By JONATHAN SACKS, New York Times, December 23, 2012

London

Excerpt

…Religion in the West seems alive and well. But is it really? Or [is the] West’s newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?… the United States remains the most religious country in the West, 20 percent declare themselves without religious affiliation — double the number a generation ago…in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith. That, in an age of science, is what is truly surprising…Superpowers tend to last a century; the great faiths last millenniums. The question is why.

[Charles] Darwin himself suggested what is almost certainly the correct answer. He was puzzled by a phenomenon that seemed to contradict his most basic thesis, that natural selection should favor the ruthless. Altruists, who risk their lives for others, should therefore usually die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism, and something similar can be found among social animalsNeuroscientists have shown how this works. We have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We are hard-wired for empathy. We are moral animalswe survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain…The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational.. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained…religion…remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions…Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology…

Full text

IT is the religious time of the year. Step into any city in America or Britain and you will see the night sky lit by religious symbols, Christmas decorations certainly and probably also a giant menorah. Religion in the West seems alive and well.

But is it really? Or have these symbols been emptied of content, no more than a glittering backdrop to the West’s newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?

At first glance, religion is in decline. In Britain, the results of the 2011 national census have just been published. They show that a quarter of the population claims to have no religion, almost double the figure 10 years ago. And though the United States remains the most religious country in the West, 20 percent declare themselves without religious affiliation — double the number a generation ago.

Looked at another way, though, the figures tell a different story. Since the 18th century, many Western intellectuals have predicted religion’s imminent demise. Yet after a series of withering attacks, most recently by the new atheists, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith. That, in an age of science, is what is truly surprising.

The irony is that many of the new atheists are followers of Charles Darwin. We are what we are, they say, because it has allowed us to survive and pass on our genes to the next generation. Our biological and cultural makeup constitutes our “adaptive fitness.” Yet religion is the greatest survivor of them all. Superpowers tend to last a century; the great faiths last millenniums. The question is why.

Darwin himself suggested what is almost certainly the correct answer. He was puzzled by a phenomenon that seemed to contradict his most basic thesis, that natural selection should favor the ruthless. Altruists, who risk their lives for others, should therefore usually die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism, and something similar can be found among social animals, from chimpanzees to dolphins to leafcutter ants.

Neuroscientists have shown how this works. We have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We are hard-wired for empathy. We are moral animals.

The precise implications of Darwin’s answer are still being debated by his disciples — Harvard’s E. O. Wilson in one corner, Oxford’s Richard Dawkins in the other. To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s phrase, between thinking fast and slow.

The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.

If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past — and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

No one has shown this more elegantly than the political scientist Robert D. Putnam. In the 1990s he became famous for the phrase “bowling alone”: more people were going bowling, but fewer were joining bowling teams. Individualism was slowly destroying our capacity to form groups. A decade later, in his book “American Grace,” he showed that there was one place where social capital could still be found: religious communities.

Mr. Putnam’s research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.

Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology. This may go to show that God has a sense of humor. It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God.

Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/opinion/the-moral-animal.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121224

Did the Dalai Lama Just Call for an End to Religion?

Well, not exactly—here is what the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism actually told his four million friends on Facebook earlier this fall:

“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.” 

It is easy to sympathize with the Dalai Lama’s frustration. After millennia of being preached at by priests and prophets, humanity is still addicted to war; we continue to lay waste to the planet’s fragile ecosystem; we torture animals, repress ethnic minorities, and ignore the plight of the poor.

Worse still, religion has often in service of the very sins of intolerance that its prophets have railed against. Abortion clinics are bombed to support a “pro-life” agenda; religiously inspired hatred in the Middle East have fueled ongoing war—religiously inspired hatred everywhere have led to countless horrors. 

In the past, such moral failings, while contributing to human misery, did not put life itself at risk. But that has changed. Our once-marginal species is now the dominant life form on the planet numbering over seven billion souls. Granted, there are still more microorganisms in a shovelful of prime agricultural soil than human beings on Earth. But bacteria don’t have brains, and the crux of the problem is that we do.

To call the brain a “problem,” of course, is only half of the story. The human mind has created art, science, philosophy, government, education, and the miracles of modern medicine. Religion, with its exalted ethical and spiritual teachings, is another example—whatever Richard Dawkins might say—of our human capacity for creating good.

The New Atheists are right of course when they fault religion for not living up to its own ideals. They would get no argument from the Dalai Lama on this. But His Holiness would be quick to point out that the moral principles themselves are not to blame—it’s our failure to act on them.

The Dalai Lama recommends a radical new approach: a religionless religion, if you will, stripped of myth, superstition, and narrow dogmatism, and focused on the practical work of transforming human behavior. He wants to incorporate the insights of the hard sciences as well as psychology, philosophy, and sociology into a broad-based new discipline to address our current moral crisis.

But can religion be rationalized into a pure system of ethics without losing its (historically) persuasive power?

Some have pointed to Buddhism itself as an example of just such a system. Western practitioners like to think of Buddhism as a methodology for self-cultivation rather than as a religion per se. But Tibetan Buddhism, with its pantheon of deities and arcane practices, certainly looks familiarly religious to those of us brought up on Western religious myths and symbols.

I suspect that His Holiness would agree that these religious elements are not a bad thing. Because religion, for all its faults, seems to have an unrivaled capacity to move us, and to motivate us.

Perhaps that has something to do with stories—we want to know how our private stories fit into the greater cosmic narrative. The Dalai Lama seems to be saying that religion needs to work harder to bridge the gap between the story that it tells and our actions in the world. It is not enough to provide believers with a comforting world view; religion should give people tools to act upon the sacred ideals that it preaches.

The way to accomplish this, according to the Dalai Lama, is spiritual practice. “We are now in the twenty-first century,” writes Tibet’s leading monk.

“The world is also facing a lot of new problems, most of which are man-made. The root cause of these man made problems is the inability of human being to control their agitated minds. How to control such a state of mind is taught by the various religions of this world.”

The Dalai Lama advocates prayer and meditation as an antidote to the mind’s capacity for mischief. But he insists that we need not limit ourselves to traditional spiritual techniques. He has written a book on the convergence of views between Buddhism and science and he helped to organize conferences where religious thinkers meet with scientists to explore their common ground. This is because, in his view, science can help religion to fine tune its own methods. (Neurology has already gone a long way toward validating the reality of spiritual states by documenting, for example, similar changes in regions of the cerebral cortex in Cistercian monks during prayer as it has shown in Buddhist monks during meditation.)

The Dalai Lama believes that the fundamental ethical discoveries of religion are scientifically verifiable. When we actually live religiously—and don’t just profess a set of beliefs—we become more forgiving, peaceful, tolerant, attentive and inspired. This in turn leads to profound psychological and physiological changes which can be studied—and even measured.

It is time, the Dalai Lama says, to take the discoveries of spirituality out of the monasteries and into the world. While mindfulness meditation has been introduced into schools, hospitals, and even corporate boardrooms as a technique to lower stress, improve concentration, and help resolve conflicts, Tibet’s religious leader is acutely aware that none of this is enough. “It is all too evident that our moral thinking simply has not been able to keep pace with such rapid progress in our acquisition of knowledge and power,” the Dalai Lama told a group of scientists in 2005. 

The bottom line is that taming the mind creates more peaceful and contented human beings. This is the crux of the Dalai Lama’s message—because, as his urgency suggests, we are running out of time to get it right.

Richard Schiffman is a spiritual author, poet and journalist. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Christian Science Monitor and he is a regular blogger on The Huffington Post.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/6647/did_the_dalai_lama_just_call_for_an_end_to_religion

Moral values and the fiscal cliff

By Jonathan Haidt and Hal Movius, Washington Post, November 27, 2012

Excerpt

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner …have to reach a deal themselves, and then convince majorities in the House and Senate to go along…What can they do to improve their odds of beating the clock? Moral psychology can help.

Human beings are “super-cooperators,” the only species on the planet that can form cohesive teams out of non-siblings. Part of our evolved mental toolkit for teamwork is our ability to make something sacred… enhance their cohesiveness by generating heroes, taboos and pledges to uphold certain ideals or commitments.

But the psychology of sacredness makes it harder for negotiators to execute tradeoffs in a utilitarian way. When the Republican presidential candidates all said they would walk away from a deal that offered 10 dollars of spending cuts for each dollar of tax increases, they revealed that tax increases had become a form of sacrilege for the Republican Party—though the recent moves by several Republicans to disavow Grover Norquist’s tax pledge suggest this might be changing.

Sharing moral commitments helps teams to function cohesively, but it also blinds them to reality. They select arguments and narratives that support their preferred policies while denying facts that threaten or contradict their commitments. They sometimes vote for symbolism over substance, even when it harms their material interests or long-term goals. High-stakes negotiations are hard enough, but when sacred values are in play, the odds of success go way down….

So what can our political leaders do to convince their supporters to accept a deal averting the fiscal cliff?

First, they should negotiate—and describe their progress—only in terms of overall packages of options across spending and revenues…

Second, they should jointly call for shared sacrifice…

It may seem counterintuitive, but our political leaders should avoid using the word “compromise” too often. When moral values are at stake, those who compromise may be seen as morally compromised. Compromise will be essential, but it would be more effective for each side to describe its determination to find common ground, and its flexibility and openness in finding novel ways to achieve its long-term goals.

Finally…each side can calm partisan passions by invoking the virtue of humility...

The agreement ultimately reached on the fiscal cliff will not be as exalted as the Constitution, but it can be presented to Congress and the nation as a test of whether we the people are still able, 225 years later, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Full text

The fiscal cliff negotiations remind us of the long-running game show “Beat the Clock.” Couples had to perform a stunt, such as tying their shoelaces together using only their left hands, before a large clock ticked down to zero. The host would often introduce a twist at the last minute, something like, “Oh, and one more thing, you have to do this while members of the audience throw tomatoes at you.”

President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner must do something far harder than tying their shoelaces together before the clock ticks down to January 1. They have to reach a deal themselves, and then convince majorities in the House and Senate to go along. Oh, and one more thing, they have to do this while being pilloried by their respective bases. What can they do to improve their odds of beating the clock? Moral psychology can help.

Human beings are “super-cooperators,” the only species on the planet that can form cohesive teams out of non-siblings. Part of our evolved mental toolkit for teamwork is our ability to make something sacred—a rock, a tree, a flag, a person or a principle—and then circle around it, literally or figuratively. It’s not just religions that do this. Sports teams, fraternities, political parties and nations at war all enhance their cohesiveness by generating heroes, taboos and pledges to uphold certain ideals or commitments.

But the psychology of sacredness makes it harder for negotiators to execute tradeoffs in a utilitarian way. When the Republican presidential candidates all said they would walk away from a deal that offered 10 dollars of spending cuts for each dollar of tax increases, they revealed that tax increases had become a form of sacrilege for the Republican Party—though the recent moves by several Republicans to disavow Grover Norquist’s tax pledge suggest this might be changing.

Sharing moral commitments helps teams to function cohesively, but it also blinds them to reality. They select arguments and narratives that support their preferred policies while denying facts that threaten or contradict their commitments. They sometimes vote for symbolism over substance, even when it harms their material interests or long-term goals. High-stakes negotiations are hard enough, but when sacred values are in play, the odds of success go way down. (Just ask the Israelis and Palestinians.)

So what can our political leaders do to convince their supporters to accept a deal averting the fiscal cliff?

First, they should negotiate—and describe their progress—only in terms of overall packages of options across spending and revenues. Taken alone, any single issue such as tax rates is likely to trigger diametrically opposed responses and invocations of moral duties. Yet taken together, each side can find specific moral victories. In this case, that could be reining in the growth of government, for Republicans, and making taxes more progressive, for Democrats.

Second, they should jointly call for shared sacrifice. When Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940, he told Britons that he had nothing to offer except “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” In doing so he activated a powerful psychological mechanism that makes people willing to bear burdens and pay costs when the group’s survival is at stake, and when everyone is called on to pull together as a team.

If our leaders want to be statesmen rather than panderers, they need to do the same. Pledges to protect this or that group from all sacrifice are as counterproductive as pledges never to raise taxes. President Obama and Speaker Boehner should develop shared language to convey to the American people the severity of our problems and the need for all Americans to make some sacrifices.

They can also start using contingent agreements to break impasses. Each side has its own experts, facts and forecasts that yield different conclusions about, say, whether tax increases will slow growth. This invariably stalls policymaking before it even gets a real start. One way to break the stalemate is for negotiators to structure some of the key provisions in the form of “if…then…” statements. In the case of tax increases, an agreement might stipulate that if growth falls below a 2-percent rate for three consecutive quarters, certain revenue-increasing measures will be scaled back for a specified period.

It may seem counterintuitive, but our political leaders should avoid using the word “compromise” too often. When moral values are at stake, those who compromise may be seen as morally compromised. Compromise will be essential, but it would be more effective for each side to describe its determination to find common ground, and its flexibility and openness in finding novel ways to achieve its long-term goals.

Finally, when the clock has ticked down nearly to zero and an agreement is near, each side can calm partisan passions by invoking the virtue of humility. Benjamin Franklin weighed in on the last day of the constitutional convention with these words: “I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”

The agreement ultimately reached on the fiscal cliff will not be as exalted as the Constitution, but it can be presented to Congress and the nation as a test of whether we the people are still able, 225 years later, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business, and is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Hal Movius is the president of Movius Consulting, and is the author of Built to Win: Creating a World-class Negotiating Organization . They are both contributors to CivilPolitics.org.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-leadership/moral-values-and-the-fiscal-cliff/2012/11/27/a7c0d46a-38be-11e2-8a97-363b0f9a0ab3_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

5 Things to Make Large-Scale Behavior Change

by Joe Brewer In Human Behavior, Social Change on April 6, 2011

Addressing the biggest challenges like global warming, political corruption, and a broken economic system will entail significant amounts of large-scale behavior change.  As Change Makers we will have to learn the basics of the cognitive and behavioral sciences in order to design campaigns that result in significant changes in social norms, community priorities, and personal behaviors.

I believe it is finally possible to intentionally design campaigns that result in significant behavioral change.  Here are five things I’ve discovered that lead me to this conclusion:

#1: We now know we were wrong about human nature.

Throughout most of the 20th Century, research into the foundations of human nature was dominated by a series of what philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn called “scientific revolutions”.  Every decade or so a new theory would arise that pulled the foundations out from under the one that came before it.

  • In the early 20th Century, focus was on behaviorism with the assumption that it wasn’t possible to measure aspects of subjective experience.
  • This was challenged by the work of Sigmund Freud when he demonstrated that influences from subconscious experience could be measured (and were quite significant).
  • Later came the “cognitivist” period dominated by formal arguments about the “abstract logic” of human thought.
  • This was challenged by studies into the emotional influences of intention and belief for altering behavior throughout the latter part of the century.

The dominant theory that persisted throughout this entire period has been the Theory of Rational Action that claims human beings are abstract symbol manipulators (much like a calculator or computing machine) that seek to maximize their self-interest.  This theory laid the foundation for most of the major institutions of society today, from stock markets to government agencies.

And we now know that this theory of human nature is wrong.  The first step to bringing about large-scale behavior change is finding the errors in our ways from past efforts that didn’t work.

#2: We now know how REAL human nature works.

While many puzzle pieces are still missing, scientists have pieced together enough of the picture to know that human beings are embodied creatures.  This means we work the way we do because of the kinds of brains we have, the kinds of bodies we have, and the typical experiences that pervade our evolutionary history.

The basic picture is that human nature is:

  • Profoundly moral: Our behavior is shaped by value judgments, deeply held beliefs, and assertions about right and wrong;
  • Profoundly social: We are influenced by the behavior of those around us through shared stories, common expectations, and the need for cooperation (and competition);
  • Deeply emotional: Contrary to past assumptions, we reason with our emotions.  Just imagine trying to ask someone out on a date without those important emotional cues about alertness, enthusiasm, and appeal;
  • Rational in context: Decisions are made via context-based logic determined by how we understand the situations we find ourselves in;
  • Informed by the interplay of body, brain, and environment: All of these factors arise at the junction of bodily experience in the world where we interpret, plan, and act.

#3: It all comes down to good design.

Attempts to change human behavior will depend on knowledge like this.  We have to design new modes of interaction (such as social media platforms like facebook and MySpace), better structures in the built environment (to change the patterns of experience), and more human-oriented organizational forms (that take REAL human nature into account).

With positive knowledge both about where we went wrong in the past and what we now know that is right, we can engage in system design to promote socially desirable outcomes like reductions in environmental impacts and greater sensitivities to the needs of others.

#4: This includes how motivation works.

One of the most important areas to consider good design is in the incentive structures that drive much of human behavior.  The assumption that humans are self-interest maximizers has led to many pay-for-work models that reward selfishness and greed in order to rise up the ladder.  This theory has been deeply critiqued and challenged by studies into human creativity, as seen in this overview by Daniel Pink.

The key to behavioral change is understanding how motivation works in different environments.  Then one needs to observe how people are using the environments they find themselves in now.  The combination of these two knowledge sources will provide insights into how new environments should be designed.

#5: It’s been done before (many times).

History is filled with examples of Change Makers successfully driving large-scale behavioral change.  Guided by contemporary insights we can dissect past success stories and cultivate systematic methods for designed change.  A few case studies that might be particularly enlightening are:

  • The first televised Presidential debate and its impact on voting behavior;
  • Inspirational social movements like the Civil Rights Movement or events that led to the creation of the Endangered Species Act;
  • Transformational events like the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the bombing of Pearl Harbor;
  • The rise of public relations and modern advertising.

This small sampling, if properly analyzed, can be exceedingly insightful.  I often share some preliminary results of my analysis for these and other related topics in the workshops I’ve given on how to design for social change.

So, in conclusion, I believe it is finally possible to design campaigns for changing large-scale human behavior because of the solid foundations we now have from the cognitive and behavioral sciences.  I will share more of the practical implications of this knowledge in future works — and continue developing the tools necessary to put it to work for NGOs, education and research institutions, government agencies, and socially-conscious businesses in the days ahead.

http://www.chaoticripple.com/2011/5-things-large-scale-behavior-change/

What is civilization by Will Durant

Excerpt

Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end.

Physical and biological conditions are only prerequisites to civilization; they do not constitute or generate it. Subtle psychological factors must enter into play. There must be political order…some unity of language to serve as medium of mental exchange. ,Through church, or family, or school, or otherwise, there must be a unifying moral code, some rules of the game of life acknowledged even by those who violate them, and giving to conduct some order and regularity, some direction and stimulus.Whether through imitation, initiation or instruction, whether through father or mother, teacher or priest, the lore and heritage of the tribe — its language and knowledge, its morals and manners, its technology and arts — must be handed down to the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from animals into men.

The disappearance of these conditions — sometimes of even one of them — may destroy a civilization. A geological cataclysm or a profound climatic change…the failure of natural resources, either of fuels or of raw materials…a pathological concentration of wealth, leading to class wars, disruptive revolutions, and financial exhaustion: these are some of the ways in which a civilization may die.

For civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation, and any serious interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end. Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization…

 

Full text

Civilization is social order promoting cultural creation. Four elements constitute it: economic provision, political organization, moral traditions and the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. It begins where chaos and insecurity end. For when fear is overcome, curiosity and constructiveness are free, and man passes by natural impulse towards the understanding and embellishment of life.

Physical and biological conditions are only prerequisites to civilization; they do not constitute or generate it. Subtle psychological factors must enter into play. There must be political order, even if it be so near to chaos as in Renaissance Florence or Rome; men must feel, by and large, that they need not look for death or taxes at every turn. There must be some unity of language to serve as medium of mental exchange. Through church, or family, or school, or otherwise, there must be a unifying moral code, some rules of the game of life acknowledged even by those who violate them, and giving to conduct some order and regularity, some direction and stimulus. Perhaps there must also be some unity of basic belief, some faith — supernatural or utopian — that lifts morality from calculation to devotion, and gives life nobility and significance despite our mortal brevity. And finally there must be education — some technique, however primitive, for the transmission of culture. Whether through imitation, initiation or instruction, whether through father or mother, teacher or priest, the lore and heritage of the tribe — its language and knowledge, its morals and manners, its technology and arts — must be handed down to the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from animals into men.

The disappearance of these conditions — sometimes of even one of them — may destroy a civilization. A geological cataclysm or a profound climatic change; an uncontrolled epidemic like that which wiped out half the population of the Roman Empire under the Antonines, or the Black Death that helped to end the Feudal Age; the exhaustion of the land or the ruin of agriculture through the exploitation of the country by the town, resulting in a precarious dependence upon foreign food supplies; the failure of natural resources, either of fuels or of raw materials; a change in trade routes, leaving a nation off the main line of the world’s commerce; mental or moral decay from the strains, stimuli and contacts of urban life, from the breakdown of traditional sources of social discipline and the inability to replace them; the weakening of the stock by a disorderly sexual life, or by an epicurean, pessimist, or quietist philosophy; the decay of leadership through the infertility of the able, and the relative smallness of the families that might bequeath most fully the cultural inheritance of the race; a pathological concentration of wealth, leading to class wars, disruptive revolutions, and financial exhaustion: these are some of the ways in which a civilization may die.

For civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation, and any serious interruption in its financing or its transmission may bring it to an end. Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization.

Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul. As family-rearing, and then writing, bound the generations together, handing down the lore of the dying to the young, so print and commerce and a thousand ways of communication may bind the civilizations together, and preserve for future cultures all that is of value for them in our own.

Let us, before we die, gather up our heritage, and offer it to our children.

http://www.willdurant.com/civilization.htm

We’re All In This Together

The Commons Moment is Now – How a small, dedicated group of people can transform the world—really by Jay Walljasper, CommonDreams.org, January 24, 2011- Introducing the Commons Paradigm -
There are emerging signs that market fundamentalism has passed its peak as the defining idea of our era….a group of activists, thinkers, and concerned citizens around the world who are rallying support for the idea of a commons-based society…These commoners, as they call themselves, see possibilities for large numbers of people of diverse ideological stripes coming together to chart a new, more cooperative direction for modern society…
In the truest sense of the word, the commons is a conservative as well as progressive virtue because it aims to conserve and nurture all those things necessary for sustaining a healthy society…
Now is the time to introduce a decisive shift in worldview. People everywhere are yearning for a world that is safer, saner, more sustainable and satisfying. There’s a rising sense of possibility that even with our daunting economic and environmental problems, there are opportunities to make some fundamental improvements. Everyone deserves decent health care. The health of the planet should take precedence over the profits of a few. Clean water, adequate food, education, access to information, and economic opportunity ought to be available to all people. In other words, a commons-based society. Let’s transform that hope into constructive action.

Five Lessons in Human Goodness From “The Hunger Games” By Jeremy Adam Smith
YES! Magazine, Posted on AlterNet.org, June 28, 2012

How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World by Douglas LaBier, HuffingtonPost.com, October 17, 2010

 

The Social Animal by David Brooks, New York Times, September 12, 2008  …Barry Goldwater, “The Conscience of a Conservative” Goldwater’s vision…celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe. The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong. Over the past 30 years, there has been a tide of research in many fields, all underlining one old truth — that we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion…What emerges is not a picture of self-creating individuals gloriously free from one another, but of autonomous creatures deeply interconnected with one another…

A Matter of Life and Debt by Margaret Atwood,Op-Ed Con­trib­u­tor, New York Times, Octo­ber 22, 2008we’re delud­ing our­selves if we assume that we can recover from the cri­sis of 2008 so quickly and eas­ily sim­ply by watch­ing the Dow creep upward. The wounds go deeper than that. To heal them, we must repair the bro­ken moral bal­ance that let this chaos loose. Debt — who owes what to whom, or to what, and how that debt gets paid — is a sub­ject much larger than money. It has to do with our basic sense of fair­ness, a sense that is embed­ded in all of our exchanges with our fel­low human beings. But at some point we stopped see­ing debt as a sim­ple per­sonal rela­tion­ship. The human fac­tor became diminished…The whole edi­fice rests on a few fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples that are inher­ent in us.We are social crea­tures who must inter­act for mutual ben­e­fit…Is there any bright side to this? Per­haps we’ll have some breath­ing room — a chance to re-evaluate our goals and to take stock of our rela­tion­ship to the liv­ing planet from which we derive all our nour­ish­ment, and with­out which debt finally won’t matter.

Reweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades Most of us agree that D.C. dynamics have got to change for the U.S. to solve the real challenges we confront and to retain our leadership role in the world. Political leaders and the media are failing us on so many levels…all Americans have a great deal in common. But our understanding of politics, economics, science and even basic facts is increasingly disparate. We cannot afford to continue on this path. A healthy democracy requires an educated electorate that shares basic truths and values — or at least is willing to sit down and listen to one another with an open mind, with mutual respect and civility…While the traditional media loves fights, the new and emerging social media loves connections. We can leverage the wisdom and creativity of crowds to find win-win solutions to our common problems. We can scale our efforts to tens of thousands of conversations, giving individuals the power to begin to reweave the social fabric of our communities…

The Prerequisite of the Common Good by Jim Wal­lis, Huff­in­g­ton Post, Novem­ber 9, 2012The results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion showed how dra­mat­i­cally a very diverse Amer­ica is chang­ing; peo­ple are long­ing for a vision of the com­mon good that includes every­one.…peo­ple of faith aren’t going to be entirely happy with any polit­i­cal leader, and they shouldn’t be. Many of them feel polit­i­cally home­less in the rag­ing bat­tles between ide­o­log­i­cal extremes. But they could find their home in a new call for the com­mon good — a vision drawn from the heart of our reli­gious tra­di­tions that allows us to make our faith pub­lic but not nar­rowly par­ti­san. That requires a polit­i­cal engage­ment that empha­sizes issues and peo­ple above per­son­al­i­ties and partisanship.…Whether gov­ern­ment is serv­ing its bib­li­cal pur­pose of pro­tect­ing from evil and pro­mot­ing good, is more impor­tant than ide­o­log­i­cal debates about its size. How can we move from an ethic of end­less growth to an ethic of sus­tain­abil­ity, from short-term prof­its to longer term human flour­ish­ing, from the use and con­sump­tion of the earth to stew­ard­ship and cre­ation care? Pro­tect­ing “life” can no longer be restricted to a few issues, but must be con­sis­tently applied to wher­ever human life and dig­nity are threat­ened. The fail­ure of stri­dent and par­ti­san efforts by peo­ple like Franklin Gra­ham and Ralph Reed to nar­row those issues in the final stages of this elec­tion was very evi­dent and sig­nif­i­cant. More and more Chris­tians, espe­cially younger ones, now believe our con­gre­ga­tions will be finally eval­u­ated not merely by their cor­rect doc­trines, but by whether their mis­sions are serv­ing the “parishes” of this whole world; here and now, not just for the hereafter. The pre­req­ui­site for solv­ing the deep­est prob­lems this coun­try and the world now face is a com­mit­ment to a very ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the com­mon good.…