Scientists find visions of a benevolent future society motivate reform

By Eric W. Dolan, Washington Post, March 21, 2013

Excerpt

Activists, take note: People support reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future character of society…people support a future society that fosters the development of warm and moral individuals…explore Noam Chomsky’s dictum that “social action must be animated by a vision of a future society” — a proposition they said had not been investigated by social psychologists… “On climate change, we have other research showing that support for action was higher when people focused on character, but also on opportunities for economic/technological development.”…“One challenge is to work out how to design policies to actually promote warmth/morality…“The whole idea may sound a bit implausible, but if you think of it as ‘community building’ (bringing people together to promote social bonds) then it becomes more tangible for policy makers, as this is something they are able to consider in policy design.”…“If you can communicate how a policy will serve its primary function and help community-building, our research suggests you will gain broader public support.”

Full text

Activists, take note: People support reform if they believe the changes will enhance the future character of society, according to a study published online this month in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Namely, people support a future society that fosters the development of warm and moral individuals.

“There are implications for communication, but also for policies themselves. The ‘easy’ answer would be to promote a policy or cause in terms of how it will make people more warm/moral,” Paul G. Bain of the University of Queensland, the lead author of the study, explained to Raw Story via email. “But I think for this to really work it needs to be authentic/real and not just rhetoric – the policies themselves need to promote this.”

Bain, along with four colleagues, sought to explore Noam Chomsky’s dictum that “social action must be animated by a vision of a future society” — a proposition they said had not been investigated by social psychologists.

The researchers conducted eight separate experiments to investigate how people’s vision of society’s future affects their willingness or unwillingness to support particular reforms. The eight studies asked participants to reflect on how society would change by 2050 if climate change was averted, abortion laws were relaxed, marijuana was legalized, or various religious groups obtained political dominance.

Using meta-analyses, a procedure that statistically summarizes multiple studies, Bain and his colleagues determined what particular projections about the future motivated people. The strongest common element that emerged was “benevolence.” In other words, people were willing to actively support policies that they believed would result in a future where people were more friendly and moral.

“While a focus on character is more likely to be effective, this cuts both ways – if someone can persuasively argue that legalizing marijuana will harm morality/warmth in people, this might effectively turn people against legalization,” Bain explained to Raw Story. “So the main point I’d make is that we’ve helped identify dimensions that people are most likely to respond to, but these dimensions can be used rhetorically by both supporters and opponents of change.”

Implications for the climate change debate

Visions of future technological progress and crime reduction also motivated people, but only in certain contexts, such as climate change and marijuana legalization, respectively.

“While benevolence (character) showed consistent effects across studies, other dimensions emerged in particular contexts,” Bain added. “On climate change, we have other research showing that support for action was higher when people focused on character, but also on opportunities for economic/technological development.”

Previous research conducted by Bain found that skeptics of climate change could be coaxed into pro-environmental positions if the issue was presented as creating a more benevolent society and increasing technological progress.

“One challenge is to work out how to design policies to actually promote warmth/morality, and I’m discussing this with academics engaged in policy design and advice,” he told Raw Story. “The whole idea may sound a bit implausible, but if you think of it as ‘community building’ (bringing people together to promote social bonds) then it becomes more tangible for policy makers, as this is something they are able to consider in policy design.”

Bain noted the success of a community-driven effort in the deeply conservative city of Salinas, Kansas. By changing the conversation from climate change to enhancing the city, the Climate and Energy Project was able to convince residents to conserve energy and adopt renewable sources of power.

“So my advice would be to incorporate community building into policy proposals, even if the policy concern is not directly about community building,” Bain said. “If you can communicate how a policy will serve its primary function and help community-building, our research suggests you will gain broader public support.”

The study was co-authored by Matthew J. Hornsey, Renata Bongiorno, Yoshihisa Kashima, and Daniel Crimston.

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/21/scientists-find-visions-of-a-benevolent-future-society-motivate-reform/

A Healthier, Not Endangered, American Society

By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed, 05 March 2013, truth-out.org

 Excerpt

I see that the economist Nick Eberstadt has written more about America’s moral collapse on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site…

What I think is interesting is that, according to his article, of the three terrible trends Mr. Eberstadt claims to see, he’s right about two: traditional families are indeed in decline; so is traditional organized religion (but growing dependence on government is mostly a myth).

From these declines Mr. Eberstadt concludes that we are in danger of social collapse. But what he somehow misses is that the notion that traditional families and religion are essential to social order is a theory, not a fact — and it’s a theory that is overwhelmingly refuted by recent experience.

I look at the United States in the 2013 of the Common Era — notice my war on Christianity — and see the healthiest society, in some key dimensions, of my adult life. Consider a couple of objective indicators: teenage pregnancy is declining, according to federal statistics, as is violent crime (see that chart on this page).

Weren’t we supposed to be in “Escape From New York” territory right now? Instead, New York in particular is a nicer, cleaner, safer place than anyone imagined possible a couple of decades ago.

And yes, I’m aware that this also means that inequality can’t be quite as corrosive as some liberals, myself included, sometimes imagine.

But back to Mr. Eberstadt: his whole argument is based on the presumption that society is doomed if the traditional — and, I think it’s fair to say, patriarchal — structure isn’t maintained without change…But now we’re a cohabiting, free-love, free-religion dystopia too — and it’s O.K.

Where Do ‘Facts’ Come From?…. for the past couple of days I’ve been seeing…the assertion that federal spending has risen 37 percent under President Obama — that specific number….Does anyone know where it’s coming from? Because if I look at the actual data, I see…a rise of 12.7 percent…it’s still kind of amazing how a totally wrong number can become part of what everyone on the right just knows to be true.

Full text

I see that the economist Nick Eberstadt has written more about America’s moral collapse on the American Enterprise Institute’s Web site. Eberstadt, readers may recall, was responsible for the “nation of takers” meme that did so much to ensure victory for … Barack Obama.

What I think is interesting is that, according to his article, of the three terrible trends Mr. Eberstadt claims to see, he’s right about two: traditional families are indeed in decline; so is traditional organized religion (but growing dependence on government is mostly a myth).

From these declines Mr. Eberstadt concludes that we are in danger of social collapse. But what he somehow misses is that the notion that traditional families and religion are essential to social order is a theory, not a fact — and it’s a theory that is overwhelmingly refuted by recent experience.

I look at the United States in the 2013 of the Common Era — notice my war on Christianity — and see the healthiest society, in some key dimensions, of my adult life. Consider a couple of objective indicators: teenage pregnancy is declining, according to federal statistics, as is violent crime (see that chart on this page).

Weren’t we supposed to be in “Escape From New York” territory right now? Instead, New York in particular is a nicer, cleaner, safer place than anyone imagined possible a couple of decades ago.

And yes, I’m aware that this also means that inequality can’t be quite as corrosive as some liberals, myself included, sometimes imagine.

But back to Mr. Eberstadt: his whole argument is based on the presumption that society is doomed if the traditional — and, I think it’s fair to say, patriarchal — structure isn’t maintained without change. Let people co-habit, maybe even marry others of the same sex, choose their faith or choose not to have any faith, and we will degenerate in a Hobbesian nightmare. We used to point to Scandinavia as a counter-example, but the reply would be that their homogeneous societies (not really, but that was the legend) were nothing like ours. But now we’re a cohabiting, free-love, free-religion dystopia too — and it’s O.K.

Why do they hate America?

Where Do ‘Facts’ Come From?

Just a quick observation: for the past couple of days I’ve been seeing in a lot of places, including the comments on my columns, the assertion that federal spending has risen 37 percent under President Obama — that specific number.

Does anyone know where it’s coming from? Because if I look at the actual data, I see federal spending rising from $3.475 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2008 to $3.917 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2012 — a rise of 12.7 percent.

Obviously this is coming from somewhere, and being broadcasted by Rush Limbaugh or somebody. But it’s still kind of amazing how a totally wrong number can become part of what everyone on the right just knows to be true.

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14931-a-healthier-not-endangered-american-society

What Does It Mean To Be Literate In The 21st Century?

By Sheila Moorcroft, Shaping Tomorrow, posted on Alternet.org, June 19, 2012

Excerpt

Our economies have for many years been moving away from old style manufacturing to services. That transition is set to continue, and requires new skills sets. Meanwhile, traditional and digital technologies are converging and becoming more integrated; and changing how we find, use, present and understand information….All of these will require new literacies not only for work but for living a fulfilled life, coping with the new complexities of our societies, and engaging as a citizen. Literacy refers, traditionally, to the ability to read and understand printed formats. Transliteracy has been coined to highlight the need to be able to ‘read and understand’ concepts and ideas across a growing range of formats and platforms – oral, print, visual, digital – as technologies merge and integrate, enabling radically new approaches to presentation, verification and distortion of content. They focus ever more on critical thinking, the ability to question, analyse, challenge; seeing arguments from different perspectives; articulating ideas…It is almost certainly a case of both and, not either or nature and nurture. With social mobility, unemployment and the need for growth all hot political topics, new literacies could be the key to opening new routes to success. 

© 2012 Shaping Tomorrow All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/155975/

Full text

Our economies have for many years been moving away from old style manufacturing to services. That transition is set to continue, and requires new skills sets. Meanwhile, traditional and digital technologies are converging and becoming more integrated; and changing how we find, use, present and understand information. Robots are becoming ever more intelligent and have been forecast to be capable of replacing millions of lower skilled, and increasingly higher skilled, jobs in the USA alone in coming decades.

All of these will require new literacies not only for work but for living a fulfilled life, coping with the new complexities of our societies, and engaging as a citizen.

Literacy refers, traditionally, to the ability to read and understand printed formats. Transliteracy has been coined to highlight the need to be able to ‘read and understand’ concepts and ideas across a growing range of formats and platforms – oral, print, visual, digital – as technologies merge and integrate, enabling radically new approaches to presentation, verification and distortion of content. They focus ever more on critical thinking, the ability to question, analyse, challenge; seeing arguments from different perspectives; articulating ideas.

As with all skills, the need for these skills can be seen as a continuum from the functional – enough for day to day life, through socio-cultural to enhance life chances through to transformational which can underpin high levels of innovation.

Practical life skills are in short supply.  A recent survey in the UK indicated that 45% of children under the age of 13 could use a DVD or iPod but not tie their shoelaces – not in itself a problem given the availability of Velcro and slip on shoes, but tying a knot is important.

Another item highlighted 27 essential literacies under six headings, – financial, thinking, success, social, practical, happiness – which it claimed were not being taught in schools.  These ranged from critical thinking to knowing how to mend things, listening skills to budgeting.

Science literacy is also a growing necessity. Issues such as addressing climate change and the benefits of new technologies, feeding growing populations all require an understanding of science. In order to understand the complex trade-offs and underlying issues, cause and effect.

Why is this important?

On one level, these discussions are not new. Howard Gardner discussed the idea of multiple intelligences as early as 1983. Daniel Goleman had a best seller in the 1990s with Emotional Intelligence. Work related profiling systems such as Myers Briggs examine individual capabilities across different skill sets. The discussion of ‘new literacies’ could be seen as little more than rebranding of old ideas, but in doing so it may focus attention and gather momentum for change and new solutions for our new economies.

Countries in the OECD face a double whammy: high unemployment and skills shortages. 23 million people aged 15-24 – about 17% on average are unemployed and not in education or training across the OECD; youth unemployment in Spain and Greece rises to 50% and over. At the same time, 40% of employers across the OECD complain of skills shortages affecting their ability to grow. The new OECD skills strategy aims to help identify and best enable the development of the skills needed to support economic growth. The question will be what skills, taught where, when, how and by whom? Soft skills and the new literacies will need to be part of the process.

A report from the Work Foundation in the UK bears this out. It looks into the issue of those young people not in employment, education or training. Its conclusion is that many of them lack not only formal qualifications, but the ‘soft skills’ needed in today’s economy such as communication. It makes a range of policy recommendations on how to develop these skills.

The nature versus nurture debate in achievement and life success is a longstanding one. Recent research may indicate that soon we may be able to untangle some of the intricacies. A research team has identified small but significant links between 200 (of out 25,000 or so) human genes and ability in maths and language. It is very early days, but they think they may be able to develop genetic tests which are predictors of ability.

Elsewhere, nurture continues to focus strongly. Research into levels of early communication by parents with their childrenunder the age of 3 demonstrates a link between the numbers of words heard and later achievement. A difference of about 23 million words heard separated the highest from the lowest achieving. This includes not only the number of words, but also the type of communication – discursive and exploratory or repetitive and narrow.

It is almost certainly a case of both and, not either or nature and nurture. With social mobility, unemployment and the need for growth all hot political topics, new literacies could be the key to opening new routes to success. 

© 2012 Shaping Tomorrow All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/155975/

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us — Are You Ready for a New World?

 by Terrence McNally, AlterNet, January 27, 2010

Mini-excerpt

…Many of the ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down — and that’s a good thing…today’s crises are part of a natural process — clearing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being…We can no longer afford to indulge outdated worldviews. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new realities and understandings revealed by science…Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution….Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Excerpt

Bruce Lipton: …I saw that genetically identical cells put into different environments have different fates…How an organism perceives the environment or, in the case of humans, what an organism believes about the environment, actually controls its genetics. If we change our perceptions or beliefs or attitudes about life, we actually change our genetic read-out dynamically. This revolution in science empowers you to recognize that your health is under your control…

Steve Bhaerman: … I’ve been exploring spiritual paths…and seeking ways of making our great ideas congruent with actual reality…about healing the body politic, applying a biological or medical metaphor to the wider world. …For the last few years Steve and I have been crafting an understanding that says we’re in a transition. Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution….Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Full Text

Economic meltdown … environmental crises … seemingly endless warfare. The world is in critical condition. Bad news? Good news? Or both?

Many of the ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down — and that’s a good thing, say Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. In their new book, Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There from Here, they write that today’s crises are part of a natural process — clearing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being. Are they cockeyed optimists or do they see things others miss?

Reality is alive, dynamic and interconnected. Science has been saying so for nearly a century, and we experience it every time we walk on a beach or look into another’s eyes. Yet most of our cultural, societal, political and economic structures act as if it’s not so. We can no longer afford to indulge outdated worldviews. In order to deal with the crises we now face, we’ve got to act on the new realities and understandings revealed by science.

A cell biologist by training, Bruce Lipton taught at theUniversityofWisconsin’sSchoolofMedicine, performed pioneering studies at Stanford, and authored The Biology of Belief. Steve Bhaerman has been writing and performing “enlightening” comedy in the character of Swami Beyondananda for over 20 years. He is the author of several books.

Terrence McNally: Bruce, you first, a bit about your path to the work you do today?

Bruce Lipton: When I was very young I looked into a microscope for the first time and saw cells moving around. That vision ultimately led to my becoming a cellular biologist and teaching in medical schools. I was a pretty conventional biologist who thought of the body as a biochemical machine run by genes. I was teaching the genetic control of a molecular body to medical students, but at the same time I was doing research on muscular dystrophy and cloning stem cells starting about 1967.

My research proved so mind-boggling that it led to my leaving the university. I saw that genetically identical cells put into different environments have different fates. I’d start with genetically identical stem cells, change some of the constituents of their environment, and the stem cells would form muscle; change the environment a little bit differently and genetically identical cells would form bone; change it yet again, and another group of genetically identical cells would form fat cells.
I was teaching medical students that genes control life, yet my research said that the genes were actually controlled by the organism’s response to the environment.

That work ultimately led to The Biology of Belief, and presaged epi-genetics, one of today’s leading areas of research in biomedicine. Epi is a prefix that means above. Epidermis means the layer above the dermis. Epi-genetic control literally means “control above the genes.”

How an organism perceives the environment or, in the case of humans, what an organism believes about the environment, actually controls its genetics. If we change our perceptions or beliefs or attitudes about life, we actually change our genetic read-out dynamically. This revolution in science empowers you to recognize that your health is under your control.

TM: Now Steve, your path, which I assume may be even more circuitous than Bruce’s?

Steve Bhaerman: I was a very idealistic young teacher inWashington,DCteaching during the late ’60s-early ’70s. I found some really fabulous ideas about how things could be, but how to put those ideas into practice escaped most people. I remember meeting a world-famous expert on communal living, but nobody could stand to live with him. For the last 30 or 40 years I’ve been exploring spiritual paths, learning about myself, and seeking ways of making our great ideas congruent with actual reality.

I thought it would be interesting to write a book about healing the body politic, applying a biological or medical metaphor to the wider world. When I read The Biology of Belief and met Bruce, I realized that he was the guy I was meant to do this book with. In Spontaneous Evolution we hope to help people see that many of the beliefs we’ve been living by are now burned-out stars, yet we keep trying to navigate by them.

TM: Steve, you left out the fact that a big part of your path has been humor.

SB: For the last 20-something years I’ve been performing and writing as Swami Beyondananda, the cosmic comic. Humor is a great way to allow new ideas to infiltrate, and I’ve learned a lot cohabiting with the Swami. As soon as I put the turban on [with Indian accent], oh then we’ve got a whole different set of wisdom coming out.

TM: Bruce, how did you decide to take on this collaboration?

BL: I got so caught up with cellular biology and the biology of belief that I kept putting the biological understanding of civilization on the back burner — until Steve and I started talking.

Most people get caught up in, “Oh my God, crisis here, crisis there. What are we going to do? The sky is falling!” For the last few years Steve and I have been crafting an understanding that says we’re in a transition. Rather than focusing on what’s coming apart, we want people to understand that this crisis makes it possible to move to a much higher level of evolution.

TM: Let’s pull apart some of the threads that you deal with in the book. You say 1) there are three perennial questions that any belief system needs to address; and 2) that the answers to those questions have changed. What are those three questions?

SB: Why are we here? How did we get here? And now that we’re here, how do we make the best of the situation?

TM: And how have those changed?

SB: If you look at recorded history, we began with animism — simply “I am one with everything.” There wasn’t much of a distinction between the spiritual world and the material world, and indigenous people were able to navigate these two worlds fairly easily. Had we stayed at that point, we would be little more than human animals in a cosmic petting zoo. But we ventured out to explore.

We then began to see that there are many forces. We recognized the “me” and the “not me,” and we began to assign powers to various gods. So we had polytheism. Then came the monotheistic view that there is only one God and one power. The institutionalized version of monotheism through Christianity was very powerful throughout the middle ages.

TM: You single out the institutionalized version of Christianity, not Judaism or Islam?

SB: Christianity is most powerful in terms of its impact on Western society. Christianity’s worldview eventually gave birth to scientific materialism as a challenge to the institutionalized version of the infallible church.

The first little chip to fall: Copernicus recognizes that the earth actually revolves around the sun. It takes over 100 years for that belief to be integrated throughout even the thinking world.

As the church loses its infallibility, we see the rise of the current dominant paradigm: scientific materialism, the material world is what matters.Newton, Descartes and the rest say that the universe is a machine.

We are now at the threshold of a new understanding which we call holism, in which what we call “science” and what we call “spirit” are part of the same thing. Yet our institutions are still based on scientific materialism, on beliefs that have actually been disproved by science.

TM: You point out myth perceptions: unexamined pillars that support modern thought. In science, some of these have been proven wrong, but the public hasn’t been let in on that yet.

BL: When the general population accepts particular answers to perennial questions from some group or entity, they tend to turn to that same source for other truths about the world. When the Church was running the show, if you wanted to find out about health or what’s going on in the future, you turned to the priest or the Church for answers.

TM: Or prior to that, the medicine man.

BL: In animism.
When science took over, we started saying, “You want truth? You don’t go to the Church anymore. Now you go to the science people.” The flavor of the answers flavors culture and character. When the answers change, civilization changes.

In the current vision of scientific materialism, belief in matter is primary. The Newtonian belief that the universe is a physical machine takes our attention away from the invisible realm. We focus on material acquisition as a representation of how well we’re doing in our lives. We take the earth and the environment apart seeking more matter. The more matter you have, the more effective you are in this world. He who dies with the most toys wins.

Over 100 years ago, quantum physics said, “The invisible realm you ignore is actually the primary shaper of the physical realm.”

 

TM: I hear you expressing a kind of duality: “We were paying attention to matter, now we’ve got to pay attention to the invisible.” But holism doesn’t pay attention to one or the other, it realizes they are in fact the same.

BL: Exactly. That’s the conclusion we come to. If it sounded like we were emphasizing the spiritual over the material, it was only because that’s the piece that’s missing in today’s world: the piece that says “Wait there’s more to us than this physical plane.”

Look over history. The primary differences between civilizations is whether they emphasize the spiritual or the material. With animism, both were the same thing. We’re coming back to that. After taking civilization to the spiritual realm under the Church and then into the material realm under the sciences, science and spirituality are coming back to a midpoint, recognizing that they are both critical.

TM: What is the old belief and what is the new belief?

BL: The old belief: Genes predetermine our fate and control who we are. We didn’t select our genes and we can’t change them, so our lives are beyond our control. That kind of science says I’m a victim, so I need a rescuer. As victims, we turn over our healthcare to other people. But the new biology reveals that our thoughts and beliefs and how we interact with the environment control our genetics.

 

TM: Until fairly recently I thought that I was born with a blueprint that would play out for the rest of my life. I think that’s a common misconception. You’re saying that, though we’re born with a particular genetic structure, it’s not a blueprint or a done deal. Again, not a simple either/or.

BL: The scientific story we’ve been living says we have no power. But we say we are all active participants in the unfoldment of our own genetics, our own health, and the health of the world that we live in.

TM: You say that from a position of science, not from a position of belief. We’ve talked about two of the false beliefs: Newtonian physics, and the belief that genes control our lives. What are others?

BL: The premises of Darwinian evolution: that random mutations got life going and that life is based on a struggle for survival of the fittest. Those are beliefs that influence our culture well beyond the realm of science. As a consequence, we live in a world based on competition and struggle. But we have to ask: Is the world really that way or did our beliefs create that impression?

Now we learn that the entangled community called the biosphere is driven not by competition but by cooperation and community. This means our competing has been anti-evolutionary.

Humans evolved over a million years ago. What’s evolving now is not the individual human, but the living superorganism called humanity. We are all cells in the body of one living thing. So we need to come together and recognize our unity.

The cells making up humanity will keep killing each other — as in an autoimmune disease — until we realize that we’re all part of one organism and cooperation is key. The way we live in our world today mimics some of our biggest health issues: autoimmune diseases like arthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The fundamental underlying issue in almost all illnesses today is stress. When stress hormones are released into your body, the same hormones that get you ready for fight and flight, also shut off the immune system.

TM: In the old days, fleeing or confronting a tiger, you didn’t need immunity or digestion or much intellectual capacity. You needed speed and force. And so the body turns off certain things and turns on others. In modern society, however, those stressors are often symbolic and constant. What about the notion of random evolution?

BL: “Why are we here?” If you start from random mutations, we’re just an accident, a genetic crap-shoot. That belief disconnects us from the biosphere and all the other organisms on the planet. But the fundamental nature of evolution is that every new organism emerges into the biosphere to bring greater harmony and balance to the environment.

 

TM: You’re saying evolution is not about individual organisms, it’s about larger and larger ecosystems.

BL: We started this whole cycle of civilizations with animism and we have to return to that kind of awareness. Belief systems that allow us to pollute will go away when we realize we’re part of an intricate and delicate network and web of life.

TM: You conclude that the crises and breakdowns we’re facing are in some ways a good thing that will allow the rise of new and better systems. That may not be such good news to a lot of people who are hurt in the process.
SB: Survival of the fittest is a dominator belief system. We must move to “thrival of the fittingest” where we disperse resources in such a way that everybody benefits and we build a common wealth.

When we allow every individual to thrive in a local garden, we allow them local energy, local autonomy, local sustainability. All of a sudden, every group makes a contribution, and we spend less time, energy, money and attention protecting ourselves from one another and fixing things that could have been prevented.

Underneath our skins we have a 50-trillion-cell, highly functional community with technology that far outstrips anything that we’ve invented with our human minds. When we’re healthy, this system is so impeccable and harmonious that within us we have full employment, universal health care, no cell left behind. The organs cooperate with one another so that the whole system can thrive. You never hear about the liver invading the pancreas demanding the islets of Langerhands. It just doesn’t happen.

We need to begin to imagine how to put these ideas into practice in our lives, our communities and our world. Awareness is the first step. Every phase of evolution involves expanding awareness and expanding connection.

TM: Are you saying that even evolution that appears to us to be simply physical, arises through awareness and connection?

SB: When single cell organisms “decided” they didn’t want to be single any more, they combined in community. And the process of combining as a community enhanced the awareness of each cell. Each now had access to the information that was being gathered and used by other cells. Then we had specialization of cells, and some cells would never see the light of day but would get signals about what was happening out in the world.

Each of us is a community of 50 trillion cells working in concert. At this stage in human evolution, we don’t need to grow another arm or a bigger brain. We need to grow greater awareness and connection in community.

What are the implications of that? How do we live our lives? How do we relate to other people? Politically we’ve been divided — as if the liver said, “I’m not talking to the heart, to hell with him!” Can we begin to recognize that every nationality, every cluster of human cells, is an organ in this one body of humanity?

What would it be like if our systems — the organization of money or health care or the law — actually worked in concert with one another rather than in competition? These are important questions to begin to ask as we take the first steps of new awareness, as we lift ourselves outside the matrix of invisible beliefs that we’ve mistaken for reality.

 

TM: What would a person want to know or learn or do to begin to participate in this spontaneous evolution?

BL: We have to start recognizing that our belief systems are controlled by our mind, and that most of our mind is not under our control. We have a conscious mind, the creative mind, home to our wishes and desires, and we have a subconscious mind, a habit mind with programs downloaded. We generally believe that we’re running our lives with our creative minds. A lot of people say, “We’re facing a crisis, let’s create answers and solutions.” But 95 percent of our life comes from the habit mind, programmed primarily by other people and our culture.

 

TM: So even with the best of intentions, we miss 95 percent of where the action is.

BL: Absolutely. That’s why we struggle so hard to get to where we want to go. We’re operating from invisible beliefs about how life works that were programmed into us before we were six.

In the first six years of your life, you see the stresses and struggles your parents go through, and that becomes a behavioral program in your subconscious mind. Then when you’re older, you say, “Let’s have a life that’s wonderful and joyous and happy.” But 95 percent of your life is coming from behaviors downloaded from your parents.

Until we become aware of these invisible programs that undermine us, we look like we’re victims to the world. If we want peace and love, harmony and health, and we don’t get it, we may conclude that the universe is against us. But from the perspective of the new biology, we undermine ourselves with the acquired beliefs of our culture. We have to rewrite those beliefs to re-empower ourselves.

TM: I knew we were facing lots of crises. Now I learn that 95 percent of what I do is out of my control. Where’s the good news?

BL: The good news is if we become aware of it, we can do something about it. Being forewarned is being forearmed.

TM: What can I do about the 95 percent that’s habitual?

SB: Once we recognize how much of our reality is programmed, we can begin to forgive ourselves and forgive others. We can begin to recognize that one thing we have in common is that we’re all programmed. That recognition is a first step outside the matrix of controlled beliefs.

I’ve been told that a person out there is my enemy. We’ve both been programmed, but with different programs, therefore we disagree. So the first step is to recognize that we are all programmed.

The reality we have in common is not in our heads, it’s in our hearts. Scientific studies have shown that we can walk into a room and begin to entrain with one another.

McNally: We begin to have similar heartbeats?

SB: Like a tuning fork, we begin to harmonize. When you create situations where people can communicate and listen in a respectful way, an interesting thing happens. We begin to focus on what we have in common as humanity. We begin thinking like a species instead of like individuals.

We’re in a similar situation to a caterpillar in the process of transforming into a butterfly. Most of the news is about the caterpillar that can’t be fixed. Our book is about the emergence of the butterfly. While still a caterpillar, the imaginal cells of a new butterfly begin to communicate with one another, allowing new structure to emerge as the caterpillar collapses.

We face a choice of focus. Do we focus on the Titanic sinking or the party boat doing fine?

 

TM: The premise of all of this is holism, yet out of habit we end up with dualism. I don’t accept that it’s a choice between this or that. I’m not going to be satisfied focusing on the party boat and ignoring the hunger and inequity around me.

SB:It will take a new structure for that hunger to be solved. We can’t solve it at the level that we’ve created the problem.

 

TM: So you’re not saying to focus on where the goodies are, you’re saying focus on the possibility of evolution and transformation.

SB:We’re not saying to ignore the problems in the world. We’re simply putting our attention on what we’re building instead.

BL: Today we write off whole populations because they don’t fit into our economic models. There’s hope in our future, because the breakdown is necessary to build a more sustainable foundation. Some people will have terrible problems and others will have great success, yet they’re both part of a community.

In your body, no particular cells go hungry. Every cell must be fed for the body to be in harmony. When we begin to treat all humans as cells in one body, and make sure that they all get the basics in life, we create the foundation on which to build an exciting future.

Every cell counts. Every human counts.

Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7FM,Los Angeles and WBAI99.5FM,New York (streaming at kpfk.org and wbai.org.). Visit terrencemcnally.net for podcasts of all interviews and more. He also advises non-profits and foundations on communications. Visit terrencemcnally.net for podcasts of all interviews and more.

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/145394/

 

War or Peace?

Biggest Threat to World Peace: The United States, Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams, December 31, 2013

Why War Isn’t Inevitable: A Science Writer Studies the Secret to Peaceful Societies by Brad Jacobson, AlterNet, March 18, 2012…bio­log­i­cally speak­ing, we are just as likely to be peace­ful as we are to be vio­lent…dis­pelled mul­ti­ple myths about the impe­tus for war [that] sus­tains the insti­tu­tion of war despite ratio­nal thought and an over­whelm­ing human aver­sion to killing…charts a new course for reject­ing the old par­a­digm of war’s inevitabil­ity and finally releas­ing mankind from its destruc­tive grip….this view that war is really ancient and innate has become dom­i­nant in sci­ence…you’ve got this really dra­matic, con­se­quen­tial claim about human nature and about war, this great scourge of human­ityWar really should be seen as a meme, as a self-perpetuating idea or behav­ior that becomes very per­sis­tent and deep-rooted once it emerges in a given region… 

We’re Number 88! US Ranked Low on Global Peace Index — Common Dreams staff, Com­mon Dreams, June 13, 2012 -The just released 2012 Global Peace Index (GPI) from the Insti­tute for Eco­nom­ics and Peace shows that the world has become slightly more peace­ful over the last two years, with Ice­land rank­ing as the most peace­ful coun­try and Soma­lia rank­ing as the least peace­ful place. The U.S. ranks 88 of 158.

5 Ways to Achieve World Peace and Prosperity — 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together  …One of the most pernicious myths is that peace and prosperity are hopelessly complicated and unattainable…This is untrue. Peace and prosperity can be attained through the realization of five basic fundamental freedoms, for all people, everywhere in the world. They are: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom for the environment, and freedom from fear…The problem is those who are presently profiting…have an interest in maintaining the status quo. It is time for the human rights community to have the strength and daring to band together so that we have the clout to stand up to this narrow-minded view…Awareness can be created with … only 1% of humanity to share the news…This 1% of humanity already exists…now the Internet and 2048 are bringing all these communities together…

Iraq War excerpts updated 3–30–13

Tony Blair [and George Bush] should face trial over Iraq war, says Desmond Tutu


Us vs Them: A Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming By James Rohrer

AlterNet.org, July 27, 2012

Excerpt

…We humans are by nature social creatures, even the most introverted of us, and we tend to trust and follow the thinking of the groups with which we identify…Our groups define “us” and exert powerful influence on how we think, even how we feel, and how we behave in society. By definition, of course, every group creates “Them”— they are all the ones who are not in our group…most groups have some set of outsiders—some particular slice of the vast population that is “them” –that serves a very special symbolic function in their cosmos. These are members of other groups that believe things or advocate things that our group opposes. They are the enemy.

Many groups, in fact, are formed specifically in opposition to some other group, and thus are defined precisely by their competition or conflict with “Them.” In this case, between “us” and “them” there can be nothing but implacable hostility.

Conflict, often low level, but sometimes violent, is endemic to human social life….Throughout history, political elites have manipulated social groups to achieve and maintain power…. in the last two generations Republicans have masterfully used wedge politics– pitting us against them — to gain and keep power and to implement policies that a clear majority of the populace dislikes, but apparently cannot find any effective way to change….Although we live in an irreducibly pluralistic world, we have yet to learn how to function as a pluralistic democracy…

To restore civil discourse and bring down the level of polarization, we need to learn new ways of relating together as us and them……..The fundamental questions need to be raised, because what we imagine—no matter how inchoate it may be—influences the way that we act and the choices that we make every day. Nothing is more immediately practical and political than imagination……We have a lot of rehumanizing to do. There are powerful political and economic interests that want to keep us fragmented and at one another’s throats rather than working together to establish a more inclusive democracy. They will do all they can to stir continued discord between groups and to use wedge politics to defeat our aspirations for meaningful change. Can progressives of all persuasions, no matter what our primary interest groups may be, at least agree that we will stop doing their job for them?

 Full text

My Uncle Richard did not need to die prematurely. He was a victim of the most relentless killer the world has ever known: Us and Them. This assassin can slay victims in countless ways. In my uncle’s case, it looked like either a stroke or medical malpractice. But it really was Us and Them.

Richard had left our Appalachian family farm at the tag end of the Great Depression. He moved to a big city in New York, got a job with a rising company, and soon he became management. He made a bundle, joined a country club, had a good life, but got burned out. When I was about ten years old, he decided to take early retirement and move back home to the farm. He wanted out of the city, out of the rat race, and back to nature. Soon after he returned, he went to our local small town doctor for a physical exam. He felt fine. But the doctor told him that he needed immediately to stop taking a medication that his family physician in New York had prescribed. Uncle Richard derisively ignored the advice. His New York doctor was an old friend—a member of the country club in fact—while the small town doctor was a refugee from the Soviet Union. This was during the Cold War, when most Americans imagined that nothing in the Soviet Union could possibly be up to American standards, and certainly not medical training. The last time I ever saw my Uncle, he was fuming about the “damned Russkie.” “Can you imagine the nerve of that damned Russkie, thinking he knows more than my doctor?”

Two weeks later Uncle Richard was dead. The coroner’s report made it clear: he should have listened to the Russkie.

My uncle was not particularly stubborn or foolish. He was just being human. We humans are by nature social creatures, even the most introverted of us, and we tend to trust and follow the thinking of the groups with which we identify. Some of these groups are small and select, like the country club or the gals we meet at the bar every Wednesday night. Others groups are bigger but still rather specific, like Orlando Magic fans or the members of the ACLU. Still others are larger yet, “imagined communities” like America or Great Britain. Others are transnational, like Christianity or Islam (also imagined communities). Our groups define “us” and exert powerful influence on how we think, even how we feel, and how we behave in society.

By definition, of course, every group creates “Them”— they are all the ones who are not in our group. They may not be hostile to us; we may be peacefully disposed to them. In that case we will be friendly when we meet them; heck, we may even invite them to sit at the table with us or join us at the bar. We may even actively seek to recruit them, to convert them into “us.”

But most groups have some set of outsiders—some particular slice of the vast population that is “them” –that serves a very special symbolic function in their cosmos. These are members of other groups that believe things or advocate things that our group opposes. They are the enemy.

Many groups, in fact, are formed specifically in opposition to some other group, and thus are defined precisely by their competition or conflict with “Them.” In this case, between “us” and “them” there can be nothing but implacable hostility.

Conflict, often low level, but sometimes violent, is endemic to human social life. It is built into the sociology of groups. “Us and Them” cannot be totally eradicated without eliminating human social groups altogether. Although conflicting social groups need not be bitterly oppositional, they often become so. And when they are in clear opposition, they do not necessarily turn violent, yet the violence springs up all too easily.

We all know this. Those who have taken courses in sociology or political science have studied it in school. Others only need to watch TV for ten minutes or reflect thoughtfully upon their personal experiences.

We take “us and them” for granted and fail to reflect upon the terrible political implications for everybody when groups are not playing nice together. Throughout history, political elites have manipulated social groups to achieve and maintain power. Turning “us against them” has sadly been a primary tactic employed by rulers or would be rulers since the dawn of history. Near the start of Europe’s colonial age, colonizers constructed “us and them” categories called races that have become a terrible permanent part of human culture. Throughout the industrial era, factory owners have pitted “us against them” to divide workers so that they would not organize unions. And in the last two generations Republicans have masterfully used wedge politics– pitting us against them — to gain and keep power and to implement policies that a clear majority of the populace dislikes, but apparently cannot find any effective way to change.

We cannot reverse corrupt policies that benefit only a powerful few because our society is fragmented into rival competing groups of us and them. Too many of us care more about the beliefs and agendas of our particular group than the common threats to all groups. To be sure, we are likely to say (and probably even believe) that our primary loyalty is to humanity; that our group is not exclusive; that WE are trying to make the world better for everybody dammit but we cannot because of THEM. But the truth is, when we actually confront the difficult task of finding common ground between us and them, we tend to throw in the towel rather quickly. Sometimes it just seems easier to fight “them” than try to break through our differences in order to build a more democratic and humane political system for everybody. Perhaps some of us even fear that if we sit down at the table to make peace with “them,” the very reason for our group’s existence will dissolve and we would no longer know who we are.

That a mere 400 individuals in this constitutional republic could possess as much wealth as 150,000,000 fellow citizens, and that the government would protect their right to keep it, would be unimaginable in any other context. Our fragmentation is an almost insurmountable barrier to effective political action that would move us toward a significantly more democratic reality. There are so many different contending groups—so many different varieties of us and them—that forging a cohesive majority seems all but a hopeless pipe dream.

Although we live in an irreducibly pluralistic world, we have yet to learn how to function as a pluralistic democracy. Sadly, even those of us who belong to groups that are pledged to tolerance and inclusiveness can drop the ball as readily as those who are self-consciously exclusive. Many commentators of various ideological stripes have lately been sounding the alarm about the apparent erosion of civil discourse in our society, about the toxic negativity of our media and our elections. The level of social polarization — and the shrillness of our rhetorical warfare — seems to be escalating. We all feel it. Many of us worry about it. Most of us say that we want it to stop. But too often we ourselves contribute to it–including me.

To restore civil discourse and bring down the level of polarization, we need to learn new ways of relating together as us and them. If we want to preserve any vestige of democracy, we will need a fast learning curve.

I recently posted an article suggesting that secular progressives hurt the cause of progressive social change by stereotyping religious believers and using needlessly offensive language when they write about “them.” I knew that I was challenging perhaps the most volatile example of the “us and them” dynamic (and the one that Republicans have exploited most profitably), so I fully expected the kind of response that the article elicited. I received many grateful emails from other readers who shared at least part of my point of view, but of course I also drew many negative criticisms.

Using the comment thread as a primary source document — evidence of where our society stands at this moment in history—is sadly instructive. It demonstrates that people who belong to groups that are committed to rational analysis and social tolerance are nonetheless capable of verbally abusing others in language that can reasonably be defined as bullying or even “hate speech” when they imagine that they are addressing some hated “them” and when they are shielded by the cloak of anonymity.

But the Web by its very nature is public, global, and open to all of the countless social groups in the world (unless our corporate elite manage to gain control of the Web too). Unless you have privacy filters in place (which would defeat the whole purpose of a political site like AlterNet), even a website that is owned by your “own kind” and dedicated to your own agenda will still be accessed by people who are “them.” Others will check you out and what they find on your site will influence their opinion of the cause that is so dear to your heart. What you post on the Web, and the language that you employ, has inescapable political consequences. This is true not only of bloggers and writers who publicly sign their names, but equally the case with the countless nameless folk who contribute comments.

In Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2003), Julian Baggini makes this very pertinent point. “I am not convinced,” Baggini writes,

that a strong case can be made that religion is essentially and especially harmful. Nor do I

believe that a firm belief in the falsity of religion is enough to justify militant opposition to it.

At root . . . my opposition to militant atheism is based on a commitment to the very values

that I think inspire atheism: an open-minded commitment to the truth and rational enquiry. These are rightly called values because they express not only claims about what is true but about what we feel to be most important. Hostile opposition to the beliefs of others combined with a dogged conviction of the certainty of one’s own beliefs is . . . antithetical to such values. Reason and argument are not just tools to be used to win over converts. They are processes that need to be engaged with, and to engage in them with other people one needs to be open to their alternative viewpoints.

 

Baggini concludes with the warning that reason and argument cannot be engaged properly “if they are seen as battering rams to destroy the edifice of religious belief.” (p. 106)

There are too many battering rams in the blogosphere. I am not pointing my finger at every militant Atheist. I am not pointing my finger at every Progressive. I am certainly not denying that “they” (whoever they may be) are also guilty. But given the commitment to democracy that progressives typically profess, it is disappointing that we do not do a better job at keeping our discourse civil.

A couple of years ago I was teaching a college class on American Democracy. I sent my students to various political sites, including AlterNet, to get a range of viewpoints on the issues that we were discussing in class. I encouraged my students to share their own opinions online, to leave comments on any articles that hit a chord. One of my students, an eighteen year old from a small Nebraska town who was raised in the Catholic Church and a member of the Catholic student group on campus, responded to a post on AlterNet. The particulars of the article and the nature of her views are not relevant; her comment was thoughtful, polite and (unlike many thread comments) actually focused on an important point raised by the original article. Although I did not share her opinion, I thought that she had successfully raised legitimate questions, and of course I believe that she was engaging in a process that is fundamental to democracy.

In response to her thoughtful comment, she received a stream of terribly hurtful messages, including “Catholics can fuck themselves.” In any moral universe, this is not rational discourse. It is simply intolerant meanness. To try to justify it by an appeal to freedom of speech is absurd. I am a member of the ACLU, and I will defend to my last breath the right of a fool to speak foolish things, just as the ACLU has defended the right of the Klan to spout hatred. But let’s not kid ourselves. It IS hatred, it is not moral, and I repeat my caution that such remarks do indeed harm the cause of progressive social change.

What kind of democracy do we who call ourselves “progressives” imagine? We know that we are a diverse constellation of groups (and we also know that many of our fellow citizens would never call themselves progressives at all). Some of us are especially committed to racial justice, and others more deeply involved in the struggle for gender equality. Some of us exhaust ourselves in the fight for a cleaner environment, and others are more involved with LGBT issues. Nobody has the time and energy to be deeply invested in everything, and we each choose our own place to fight. The only common denominator is that all of us are in some sense dissenters from the current power system, and we dare to imagine that our world could be more peaceful, more just, and healthier if we could change the system.

But change it to what? Have we really dared to imagine what a new system would look like, or are we so intently focused on the advancement of our particular agendas that we do not have time or inclination to ask fundamental questions?

The fundamental questions need to be raised, because what we imagine—no matter how inchoate it may be—influences the way that we act and the choices that we make every day. Nothing is more immediately practical and political than imagination.

What sort of society do we imagine? Have you ever wondered what we might do if we ever managed to get enough votes to control the White House, the Senate and the House, change the Supreme Court and keep power long enough to implement fundamental changes? Do we even have the foggiest notion what sort of society we could realistically expect to create?

Here is part of my imagined progressive future: a community of communities. I have to confess that I did not come up with this myself. The term was suggested to me by Diane Eck, a marvelous scholar of religion at Harvard who has written much about the nature of religious pluralism and democracy. If readers are not familiar with Eck’s work, I urge them to run (not walk) to their library or bookstore and get reading. In her beautiful meditation entitled Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Beacon Press, 1993), Eck writes the following:

“In developing a sense of we that is wider than the we of culture, religion or clan, it will be important to have an image of what kind of human relatedness we wish to bring into being. People of each religious tradition have dreams of what the world should ideally be and how we should all be related to one another even though we are not all the same. Glimpsing one another’s dreams is an important step in beginning to reimagine the we. Do we imagine ourselves to be separate but equal communities, concerned primarily with guarding one another’s rights in a purely civic construction of relatedness? Do we imagine ourselves to be related as parts of an extended family, or as many families of faith? Do we imagine ourselves to be religious communities competing in goodness and in righteousness, as the Qur’an puts it? Imagining a we does not mean leaving our separate communities behind, but finding increasingly generative ways of living together as a community of communities. To do this, we all must imagine together who we are.”

To imagine together who we are will require us to loosen the boundaries between Us and Them, to take seriously the need to move past diatribes and to engage in genuine dialogue with people who are truly different from us and who are not about to relinquish their convictions simply because we wish they would. After two thousand years of evangelism, Christians have still not converted the entire world to faith in Jesus, and they are probably not going to do so in another two thousand. And Atheism, which has been around longer than Christianity, is not likely going to win the world over either. But Christians and Atheists, along with members of many, many other social groups, must have confidence that we will welcome them and fight to protect their secure place in the community of communities that would constitute any authentically democratic we.

Is genuine dialogue between groups with deeply opposed beliefs possible and can some sort of common ground come out of such dialogue? Yes and yes, but not easily. Anthropologist Jack David Eller, who is an Atheist, has written the most comprehensive study of religious violence yet published: Cruel Deeds, Virtuous Violence: Religious Violence across Culture and History (Prometheus, 2010). Like Baggini, Eller rejects as “ultimately unhelpful” the proposed eradication of religious belief: “Religion is nowhere near disappearing in the modern world, and attacks on it only tend to strengthen and mobilize it.” Despite their philosophical differences Eller suggests a future that is remarkably similar to Methodist Diane Eck’s, one in which the presence of many groups with conflicting worldviews is respected and people work cooperatively to minimize the “group effect” by intentionally seeking to establish more “porous” boundaries between “Us and Them.” It is crucial that members of every group come to see that what we hold in common is far more vital than what differentiates us. Warring groups who have caused each other pain will especially have a difficult time learning to “rehumanize” each other. Reconciliation and Trust will not be achieved without much effort, struggle and mutual commitment to one another. Ironically, perhaps, Eller the atheist admits that promoting such an enlarged vision “is something that religion can do better than any other human thought system.” (p. 363)

We have a lot of rehumanizing to do. There are powerful political and economic interests that want to keep us fragmented and at one another’s throats rather than working together to establish a more inclusive democracy. They will do all they can to stir continued discord between groups and to use wedge politics to defeat our aspirations for meaningful change. Can progressives of all persuasions, no matter what our primary interest groups may be, at least agree that we will stop doing their job for them?

 

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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/belief/us-vs-them-simple-recipe-prevent-strong-society-forming
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[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/faith