Systems Change – What Is It and Are You Ready?

SYSTEM

What is a system?  A system is a set of interrelated elements.  Elements that interact.  Another word for how elements interact is an agreement.  Human interactions form a field of agreements, an agreements field.  An agreements field engages the energy of people connected to a purpose, changes that energy into another form, a form that others want and are ready to receive.  From whom, how, to whom.  That is how systems metabolize energy: systems that are fields of agreements.

We distinguish four types of energy fields in an agreements field.

  1. EFA. Material energy fields (EFA) are the physical dimension we experience as tangible. Crystalized, mineral structures. We live in a world made physical through the structures of material energy fields, of which humans are also made.
  2. EFB. Accessing energy fields (EFB) are the reaching out within an energy field, as structures of access, to get the needed resources. As humans, we are also EFB, reaching out with accessing structures for resources.
  3. EFC. Relational energy fields (EFC) are the energy fields that relate one energy field to another. Mobile in space and time. Humans are also EFC, relational energy fields.
  4. EFD. Aligning energy fields (EFD) are the energy fields that align an entity’s purpose with what it experiences, what it remembers, and what it chooses. Humans are also EFD, aligning how they relate to other energy fields (EFC) with accessing (EFB) structures (EFA). EFABCD.  Human systems.  Agreements fields.

CHANGE

What is change? Change is a shift in behavior.  A shift in outcomes and in experiences.

Systems change is a shift in the outcomes and experiences of an agreements field, of its interactions in its four levels of interpenetrating energy fields, EFABCD.  A shift in its structures, its material energy fields (EFA), is a change in the amount of material resources it has.  A shift in its accessing energy fields (EFB) is a change in its capacity to reach out towards other resources.  A shift in relational energy fields (EFC) is a change in its ability to relate to other energy fields.  A shift in aligning energy fields (EFD) is a change in the ability to align the agreements field with its intended purpose, its relationship with other fields, and with its accessing structures.  A change in human systems requires a shift in all four energy fields, EFABCD.

READINESS

How ready is any given system for change?  How ready is the agreements field ready for a shift?  The agreements field’s readiness for a shift assesses its state of all four energy fields, EFABCD.

  • Added valuation. What is the current added value of the available resources (EFA)?
  • Network readiness. What is the current access to basic structures (EFB), to form a network of nodes?
  • Collaborative capacity. What is the current relational capacity, to collaborate with other energy fields?
  • Systems understanding. What is the current ability to align one’s own energy fields?

These four capacities SCAN form the Strategic SCAN, a strategic assessment of an agreements field’s (S)ystems understanding, (C)ollaborative capacity, (A)dded valuation, (N)wetwork readiness.

Where are you in your readiness for systems change?  The Strategic SCAN assesses the four energy fields (EFABCD) of your agreements field, to let you know where you are with what capacities you have, and what you need to do to shift to the capacities you need for the desired experiences and outcomes.

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Generating Value and Impact, for Whom?

A group’s impact, the value it generates, is a common measure of its success.  Groups that generate greater impact and value tend to have greater access to the resources they need to continue generating impact and value.

We can understand a group’s impact and value generated as the energy it is able to engage, transform, and transfer.  This energy engagement, transformation, and transfer is described by the geometries of the agreements field.  The transferred energy can then generate even more energy, a surplus.  Who ends up with the energy and the future impact it generates depends on the agreement about the energy transfer–the giver who engaged, transformed, and transferred the energy or the recipient to whom the energy was transferred.

  • Transaction.  In a transaction, energy flows towards the giver (payment) and towards the recipient (transferred energy).  Energy flows both ways, in the moment.  The giver no longer has a relationship with the transferred energy: the energy transferred now belongs to the recipient.  The recipient keeps any future surplus generated from the energy received.  The recipient now has the energy, and can use it to generate new impacts and value.  The giver receives energy, in another form, for having engaged, transformed, and transferred energy.
  • Loan.  In a loan, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient, for awhile, with the requirement that the amount of energy transferred plus some surplus be returned to the giver in the future.  Energy flows first to the recipient and then back to the giver.  The giver receives the energy and surplus for having let the recipient use the energy for awhile.
  • Gift.  With a gift, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient.  Any future surplus generated is for the recipient.  Energy flows to the recipient.  The giver receives the awareness of the future impacts the recipient generates and retains.
  • Reciprocity.  In a gift ecology, the giver transfers the energy to the recipient.  The recipient generates surplus value with the energy, and transfers it to someone else.  The energy transferred, plus the surpluses generated along the way, eventually are transferred to the initial giver.  The energy and accumulating surplus flows around, through the circle, with all participants receiving and generating more.

People often label what they are doing as a gift, a loan, a transaction, or reciprocal.  Sometimes it is what they say it is.  Other times, they are not. For example, what is labeled a gift might have expectations of return, thus it is a loan.  By looking at what the giver receives back and who receives future surplus the energy transferred generates, you can see what is actually happening.  All four forms are valid.  The point is to be clear on the intention, and what is actually flowing.  Who do you want to benefit from the value/impact generated?  Who do you want to end up with the energy generated?  It is a choice.

Your Unique Contribution

Collaboration.  The impacts of a group’s efforts seem to be much greater when people collaborate, as compared to when they cooperate with shared resources or compete with each other.  A key to collaboration is engaging a set of unique contributions with everyone involved, towards a deeper shared purpose.  This collaboration drives the synergistic harmonics, the new resulting wholeness, everyone seeks.  This working together, by respectfully engaging the best, unique contributions of everyone involved is the simultaneous expression of freedom, equality, and solidarity.  Working together, for the health of the whole (solidarity), by respectfully inviting and engaging with each other (equality) the best, unique contribution each has to offer (freedom).

A big part of this is your unique contribution.  What is a contribution?  The word “contribution” comes from the Latin for “to bring together,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” and  tribuere “to allot, pay.”  The root seems to come from the Latin tribus for tribe, possibly derived from the place from where one comes (PIE root *treb-).  One understanding could then be that a contribution is what is given to the group.  Another understanding could be that a contribution is what flows with others into a larger body, like a tributary river.  Yet another understanding could be that a contribution is the act of being with (com) sacred space (tribus, treb), connecting with one’s own creative source and flow, with one’s own expression of purposeful energy.

Everyone seems to engage more when they are invited to contribute something that is uniquely theirs to contribute, a creative act.  When people are completely replaceable or not even needed, they tend to engage far less, everywhere.  Working with all three uses of the word, maybe your unique contribution is when you engage your own creative process, letting your creativity flow through you, with the creative flow of others, for the benefit of the group, of everyone in it, and of everyone impacted by the work of the group.  You can choose to make this contribution–the flowing of your unique creativity–or not, it is your choice.

3 Keys to Unlocking Impact

Everyone talks about impact.  Social impact.  The impact they have on others.  What is impact, and how does it work?  Impact is the energy received.  “A strong effect on someone.”  In physics, impact is the force that is applied when an object comes into contact with another object.  Impact then is the shift of energy from one object to another.  Impact requires energy coming in, a transformation of that energy, and that energy being released to or received by another (depending on your vantage-point).  Most people seems to minimize their impact–the energy they engage, transform, and transmit to another–by keeping these required energy forms locked away.

When people are disengaged, they do not connect to the energy, the creativity available within themselves.  When our agreements are weak, we transform and scale very little of the creativity and energy engaged.  When we don’t actively know or engage the people we intend to impact, we transfer very little of the energy that we transformed.  Along the way, of all the energy and creativity that was available, little was engaged, less was transformed, and even less was transferred.  Not very efficient or effective.  Why do we do this?  Is it hard to do otherwise, to engage, transform, and transfer high energy?

3 keys can unlock this energy.  Over the past two dozen years, my colleagues and our networks of colleagues around the globe have found very straightforward, intuitively-obvious and seldom-used-in-coherent-ways tools for unlocking this energy for far greater impact.  We have found it in groups around the world, and we have learned how to see it, understand it, and develop it.  We found that the doors–the floodgates for this energy flow–have specific keyholes, requiring specific keys.  That’s part of the problem–the wrong key cannot open the door.  And, the doors all need to be opened together, with the right keys.  What are the 3 keys?  One key for unlocking the energy of engagement.  A second key for unlocking the energy of transformation.  A third key for unlocking the door to the energy of transfer, of impact.

1 — Key to Energy of Engagement.  This key has three prongs.  A prong of purpose.  A prong of unique contribution.  A prong of trust.  This key is the quest, “To what purpose do we invite your specific contribution, in a vibrant space of trust?

2  — Key to Energy of Transformation.  This key has three prongs.  A prong of tangibilization.  A prong of leverage.  A prong of resilience.  This key faces the inquiry of, “How do we integrate and leverage this energy engaged efficiently with resilience into impactful products and services, into relevant forms of energy?

3 — Key to Energy of Transfer.  This key has three prongs.  A prong of acceptance.  A prong of intention.  A prong of inclusion.  This key addresses the exploration, “Do the intended recipients want this transformed energy, and can they receive it?

Imagine the impact when not unlocked.  When these 3 doors–to energy engaged, transformed, and transferred–remain closed.  Not engaged, not transformed, not wanted or received.  You have probably experienced many situations like this, or at least on this end of the continuum.

In combination, these 3 keys unlock far greater impact, engaging and transforming purposeful energy that others want and are ready to receive.  Those who are engaging, transforming, and receiving the energy resonate with it.

Where have we seen this work?  The people of Vermont have taken on a radical shift, from complete dependence on external sources of energy for electricity, heating, and transportation to complete autonomy in their energy future.  Through a state-wide process over the past 10 years, people from many different vantage points (utilities, businesses, local and national government, communities, networks) have come together, each bringing their unique gifts to shift their whole energy system.  You can see what is happening in this work in Vermont by clicking here.  The people of THORLO work towards the preventive foot health of everyone, bringing more life to your everyday interactions.  Through decades of work on their culture, structures, and processes, they have found ways of interacting with each other and with their communities to bring greater creativity and vitality to everything they do.  You can see them tell their story by clicking here.  In New England town meetings, the people of each town meet annually to discuss and decide on their budget, together.  Their local governance structures bring the information needed to decide,  the people are informed, and come together to decide.  This model has existed for centuries.  You can see more about town meetings, as they are evolving and still practiced through New England, by clicking here.  Three examples, from civil society, business, and government, of how people use all 3 keys simultaneously to unlock the purposeful energy of impact.

While few people see and use these 3 keys, everyone has them.  They are right there, and there are many examples, in all walks of life, of how to use them, and how to measure them.  You have them.  You can use them, if you so choose.

Spaces as Collaboration Enhancers

Space.  We occupy it, move through it, and have a really hard time understanding it.  While humans have debated what space is and our human relationship to it for at least as long as we have recorded history, we do know some important things about space.  There are spaces that make it much easier for us to experience our fuller humanity, where it is much easier to be fully engaged.  There are also spaces that make it much harder to engage, to work with others.

While there are many researchers exploring our relationship to space, we each know, from our experience, what kinds of spaces invite more from us, engage us more deeply, and which kind shut us down, disengaging us.

As the types of problems that humanity takes on increase in complexity, it has become critical that people come together, each contributing their unique capacities to a collaborative effort.  When people try to solve complex social problems on their own, they find that they are often lacking capacities that are key to shifting the dynamics inherent to the problem.  Sometimes it takes a village, a collaborative effort.

Much of what is written today on “collaborative spaces” refers to social media or office arrangements for letting people work in the same space.  Only some of it focuses on how the nature of the space affects the collaboration.  We do know that most people prefer windows, comfortable temperatures, fresh air, and connection with nature.  We also know that people prefer spaces where they can more easily align with their deeper purpose, the energy that motivates their love for the future, and where they can more easily relate with others, and have access to the vital structures and substances they need.  Said in the opposite, spaces are deadening when they make it hard to be physically comfortable, when they disconnect people from their deeper purpose, when it is hard to relate with others, and vital substances and structures are inaccessible.

People need to be able to experience themselves in the space, physically.  That is because people are physical beings.  When people are deprived of their senses, not sensing where they are, they can go crazy.  People need to have access to air, water, food, movement.  That is because people are also biological, living, and they need access to vital substances in their space.  People need to relate to other living beings.  That is because people are also social beings, they need to be in relationship with other things and people.  People need to be able to choose how they align their intentions, their deeper purpose, with their creativity, their thoughts, their feelings, their intentions, their action.  That is because people are also choosers, they need to have certain freedoms to express themselves.  There are spaces that engage more of this physical, biological, social chooser and there are spaces that disengage it.

So, while the human connection to space is still not well understood, clearly the spaces where we interact make a difference.  Interacting in spaces that enhance the collaboration that we so deeply need today is a choice.  If you know the difference, it is your choice.

Two Views of Value Destruction, Extraction, Creation, and Regeneration

Value.  What something is worth to you.  I just finished reading the book The Value of Everything: Making and Taking in the Global Economy by professor of economics Mariana Mazzucato.  The book explores how the understanding of what value is and the implications for our daily lives of that understanding has evolved throughout history, how the evolving discourse of what we value has fallen off, with most people blindly accepting economic values as given facts, and with many people saying that they are creating value when they are extracting it.

We know, from the framing of the ecosynomics of abundance, that the cultural lens we use for our agreements focuses on what we value, in outcomes, in developing relationships and capacities, in potential, and in the interweaving of these perceived levels of reality.  We also know that much of what we accept in life leads us to low-value traps, to many sets of agreements —agreements fields–that extract value, some that create value, and a few that release potential.

We also observe that there are at least two ways to see these value processes.  In exploring Mariana’s focus on how value extractors have appropriated the value-creation term, I realized that the value-process terms of destruction, extraction, creation, and regeneration are slippery, because they can be used to mean multiple things, some of which seem to increase value and others which seem to decrease value.

Value destruction—when a value-giving substance is taken out a system.  Its value is no longer accessible.  Value destruction can be seen negatively as destroying value in the current system.  What was valued is no longer valued.  It has become rubbish. Seen positively, new interactions have been generated, which made the old interactions obsolete.  Think smart phones as one device replacing five devices (cellphone, voice recorder, camera, PDA, GPS).

Value extraction—when a value-giving substance is shifted from one system to another.  Value extraction can be the appropriation of value away from someone else.  One group generated the value and another group took it from them.  Negative connotation.  And, for someone to take on a higher risk in how they use their resources, they expect to receive a greater return for that risk, extracting more of the overall value generated than others.  They might also see that they need to protect the value of something, like a forrest, so they take it out of the realm of real estate development.  Extraction from one value set to another.  A positive connotation for some.

Value creation—when a new value-giving substance is realized, made real, in relationship to one or more systems.  Value creation can be the generation of something new that is valued, which is now accessible.  Think of the Internet or a new highway, which everyone can now use to do something new.  Value creation can also be the imposition of hidden structures of access that extract value.  Think of the new highway access, with an imposed toll paid to a private company.

Value regeneration—when a system is able to generate its own value-giving substances.  Value regeneration can be seen positively as the capacity of a system to self-generate the resources it needs to survive.  Think of partially open ecosystems like rainforests or self-sufficient communities.  Self-sufficiency in value regeneration can also be seen negatively, with one group of people excluding others from their self-focused resources, such as systems where money generates money for those who have more than they need, extracting it from those who do not.

Each of these value processes can be seen positively or negatively, depending on your relationship to them.  It is not that one is necessarily better than the other, rather it depends on how you relate to them.  What you can do is to be clear on the dynamics in each value process and on the perspective you take.

If You Had the Time, Could You? — Recommended Readings

Barbour, Julian. The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Carroll, Sean. From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. New York: Dutton, 2016.

Skow, Bradford. Objective Becoming. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015.

If I had the time, I would…  How would you complete the sentence?  Why does it seem like time can go by very slowly, at times, and sometimes it can go by very quickly?  How do we get lost in time?  How can we have such different experiences, and often different from others having the same experience, with this thing we call time?  What is it?

The short answer is that nobody knows.  What time is and why it exists have perplexed people for as long as people have asked questions.  We know that we can measure it.  Until we can’t, because it is relative to the observer, as Einstein taught.  At least we know it exists.  Until we don’t, as physicists have taught us.  So, what do we experience, why do we experience it, and is this experience useful?  Or does this experience mislead us?  In these recommended readings, two physicists and a philosopher explore these questions.

MIT philosophy professor Bradford Skow guides us through frameworks that describe our experience of time with the block universe and moving spotlight theories.  These theories provide possible ways of understanding, robustly, what it means to experience the passage of time.  Is time moving, or are we moving?  Is there one time or branching time?  Why does time seem to speed up or slow down?  Professor Skow invites us to explore the rigor of the underlying philosophical claims that these frameworks bring to these questions about our experience.

Physicist Julian Barbour invites us to explore time as a series or set of “nows,” where “time is nothing but change…change is the measure of time, not time the measure of change” (p2).  How can we understand our experience of time, if “time does not exist at all, and..motion itself is pure illusion” (p4)?  Building on Einstein and Mach, Barbour suggests that “The proper way to think about motion [change in space over time] is that the universe as a whole moves from one ‘place’ to another ‘place’, where ‘place’ means a relative arrangement, or configuration, of the complete universe…the universe…does not move in absolute space, it moves from one configuration to another…History is the passage of the universe through a unique sequence of states” (p69).

Cal Tech professor of physics Sean Carroll provides a relatively user-friendly exploration of the physics of the arrow of time, through an understanding of entropy, Einstein’s special and general relativity, quantum theory, and black holes.

For me these readings have opened up my awareness to what I am experiencing when I think it is time.  Seeing choice points, choices that otherwise I tend to lose in time.

What Did We Know About What Is Real in 1929? — Recommended Reading

Eddington, Arthur Stanley. The Nature of the Physical World. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929.

In a set of lectures, given in 1927, astronomer Arthur Eddington described an emerging understanding of what was known, at the time, about what was real–the nature of the physical world.  Eddington’s journey to the west coast of Africa to observe the 1919 solar eclipse provided initial proof for Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  One of the first in the English-speaking world to begin to see the new picture of reality suggested by Einstein’s work and the emerging work in quantum theory, Eddington used his ability to explain very difficult concepts and mathematics in simple analogies, without losing the rigor of the shift in perspective.

In this very accessible set of lectures, Eddington explores the new reality, where there is simultaneously perceived forms that extend over space and time and nothing there.  He walks us through the framing and consequences of special relativity, general relativity, matter, space, time, entropy, gravity, and quantum.  He then explores what this shift in perception of what is real in nature means for consciousness.  While many scientists in the 20th century began to define reality as only that which is physically observable, Eddington who worked with the people who initiated the physics revolution suggested that the physicist is describing some dimensions of reality and the explorers of consciousness are describing other dimensions, of the same reality.

Having read dozens of books on these topics, I find this to be the best entry point into these difficult topics.  I now have a much clearer map with which to enter this exploration, for which I am grateful to an astronomer from ninety years ago.

 

Is It A Mission or A Mess-ion?

When most groups start up, they begin by defining what they intend to do in the world.  They use this defining exercise to bring others into their doing, whether these are people doing the work, people funding the work, or people impacted by the doing.  Many of these groups call this their mission.

Is it a mission or a “mess-ion”?  Saying that one is trying to achieve some impact for someone by doing something in a particular way is a form of a mission statement.  The statement might seem to be clear.  The who, what, and how.  The more fundamental question is whether this statement brings coherence to a group of people, in service to the impact.  This coherence, over time, requires a deeper set of agreements about what is being achieved, one’s connection to that purpose, one’s unique contribution to that purpose, the relationship one experiences in expressing one’s creative forces with others towards that purpose, and the efficient effectiveness of the group’s processes, structures, strategic focus, and invitation to include those being impacted by the work.  It requires a strong agreements field.  A field of agreements that clearly invites and connects people to a deeper shared purpose, to which they uniquely contribute in a trusting environment.  That is a mission.

That is not what most groups have.  Most groups have a mess-ion statement.  A mess is a set of interrelated problems that are treated as separate, unrelated issues, according to systems theorist Russel Ackoff.  A mess-ion provides misguided clarity for the direction of a weak agreements field—low engagement, transformation, and release of energy.  It might seem to be clear, but its just a jumble of wires going in every direction.  No coherence.  With a mess-ion there is no deeper shared purpose, no harmonic from combining unique contributions, no engagement and trust in the experience, no use of the engaged energy.  Little energy comes in and less goes out.

You can have a mess-ion, which will not do much, or you can have a mission.  The difference is huge, in what can be invited, engaged, and transformed for a far greater impact.  The difference is a choice.  You choose.

What Do We Mean When We Say Something Is Political? — Recommended Readings

Berlin, Isaiah. Liberty. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Cahoone, Lawrence. The Modern Political Tradition: Hobbes to Habermas. Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses, 2014.

Fukuyama, Francis. State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.

Keltner, Dacher. The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence. New York: Penguin Books, 2016.

Leys, Wayne A. R. Ethics for Policy Decisions: The Art of Asking Deliberative Questions. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Revised ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003.

Smith, Steven B. Political Philosophy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Woodward, Orrin. Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life. Flint, MI: Obstacles Press, 2011.

We participate in political systems, when we vote, and when we talk about our favorite politicians and about our least favorite.  We say that decisions that we don’t like were made politically.  What do we mean by this term “political”?

The word comes from the Greek polis, which means city, state, people.  Interesting that people, city, and state come from the same word.  Aristotle used the word as the title of his book Politics, where he describes the decision making process for the principles, standards, rules, and actions of a people.  Political then just means “who decides.”  Who decides how to allocate resources and how to enforce those decisions.  Who has the power to make those decisions, who gives them that power, and what backs up that power?  Big questions.  Ranging from philosophical to practical, theoretical to empirical, valuing freedom, equality, or solidarity, these eight authors provide different avenues into these questions.

Evolution of Political Frameworks

What we mean by a political process varies greatly over spacetime.  Over space, every culture has a different perspective on who decides and enforces, and how they should do it, with practically every individual everywhere holding different views on the particulars of how it is applied within their specific culture.  Over time, every culture’s political process has evolved, dramatically, often experimenting with political systems based on royalty, church, military, individuals, small groups, large groups.  None are exactly the same, over time and space.  Interestingly, most of us seem to assume that our system is the right one, now and for everyone, extending our current system infinitely over time and space, though our own grandparents might have disagreed vociferously, as they lived in a different space and time.

Political scientist Steven B. Smith and philosopher Lawrence Cahoone map out large swaths of time in the development of western political systems, ranging from the Greeks with Sophocoles around 441BC, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to the Christian bible in the early 100sAD, the Italian Machiavelli in the early 16th century AD, the English Hobbes and Locke in the mid to late 17th century AD, and the Genevan Rousseau, the German Kant, and the French Montesquieu and Tocqueville in the late 18th and early 19th century AD, coming to today with modern political philosophers.  A broad sweep, showing the dramatic changes in western political philosophy over the past 25 centuries.  Professor Smith frames the evolution of political philosophy, “The proper subject of political philosophy is political action.  All action aims at either preservation or change…[A]ll action presupposes some judgment of better and worse…The oldest, the most fundamental, of all questions of political life is ‘What is the best regime?…Every regime shapes a distinctive human character with distinctive human traits and qualities'” (p5-6).  Political systems change, according to the context of their own here (space) and now (time) because there is always a “tension between the best regime and any actual regime…[the] zone of indeterminacy between the Is and the Ought, between the actual and the ideal” (p9).  People have always ended up giving the decision and enforcement power to someone, because cooperation and agreement are required to establish predictable order, and people seem generally incapable of doing it themselves, reliably (p11).  Hobbes, in the mid-1600s, brings in to the design of political systems the question of what the human being is like in a state of nature.  Were it not for this state of nature, humanity would not need to be governed, to have decisions made and enforced for them.  This logic runs through to the middle of the 20th century.  Professor Cahoone shows how each new political philosopher borrowed and built on earlier philosophers, carrying some elements forward, disregarding others, and adding some new ones.

Modern Frames

Philosopher Isaiah Berlin brought focus to the language we use and how it confuses our understanding of what we are supporting.  Two different people can both say they support freedom, and mean contrasting things.  “Almost every moralist in human history has praised freedom.  Like happiness and goodness, like nature and reality, it is a term whose meaning is so porous that there is little interpenetration that it seems able to resist” (p168). In this set of lectures, he distinguishes between negative liberty and positive liberty, where the negative is the freedom from and the positive is the freedom to.  Freedom from the interference of others in an individual’s decisions.  Freedom to pursue one’s own potential.  Freedom from what limits what we can do, the freedoms we must lay down, to not interfere in another’s freedom.  “I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interferes with my activity” (p169). Freedom to describes what we are allowed to do.  “I wish to be the instrument of my own, not of other men’s, acts of will” (p178). Very different decision making and enforcement processes emerge, based on which definition of liberty one uses.

Philosopher John Rawls framed a different path by exploring a different inquiry.  He explored “‘justice as fairness.’  The central ideas and aims of this conception I see as those of a philosophical conception for a constitutional democracy…a reasonably systematic alternative to utilitarianism, which in one form or another has long dominated the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political thought…I do not believe that utilitarianism can provide a satisfactory account of the basic rights and liberties of citizens as free and equal persons, a requirement of absolutely first importance for an account of democratic institutions” (pp xi-xii).  Professor Rawls sets up that “the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation” (p6).

Building Political Systems

Political scientist Francis Fukuyama maps the terrain of “the state,” what it means, what dimensions are missing in weak states, and how state weakness influences the international system  The role of the state is contested, with some wanting to give more power to the state and others wanting to reduce the power of the state.  “The essence of stateness is..enforcement: the ultimate ability to send someone with a uniform and a gun to force people to comply with the state’s laws” (p6).  Professor Fukuyama’s assessment of states distinguishes “between the scope of state activities, which refers to the different functions and goals taken on by governments, and the strength of state power, or the ability of states to plan and execute policies and to enforce laws cleanly and transparently…We can array the scope of state activities along a continuum..from necessary and important to merely desirable to optional, and in certain cases counterproductive or even destructive…Strength..includes..the ability to formulate and carry out policies and enact laws, to administrate efficiently and with a minimum of bureaucracy; to control graft, corruption, and bribery; to maintain a high level of transparency and accountability in government institutions; and, more important, to enforce laws” (pp7-9).

Philosopher Wayne A.R. Leys explored the ethics of policy making.  Within the framework developed above that politics is the arena of decision making and enforcement, Professor Leys finds that, “The study of standards of decision making is the part of philosophy that has been called ethics” (p4).  He maps the development of ethical frameworks with their practical tools, from the Greeks to modern times, for good judgment, utilitarian, morals, state of nature, precedents, consistency, and policies as means or ends.

Psychologist Dacher Keltner explores what power is, what it does, where it comes from, how it is given, how it is abused, and how to develop it.  “Power [is] the capacity to make a difference in the world, in particular by stirring others in our social networks…Power is the medium through which we relate to one another” (pp3-4).  With power comes the power paradox, “we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst.  We gain a capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others, but the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.  How we handle the power paradox guides our personal and work lives and determines, ultimately, how happy we and the power we care about will be” (pp1-2).  “The experience of power destroys the skills that gained us power in the first place” (p100).  “Power makes us blind to our own moral missteps but outrages at the same missteps taken by others (0131). “People resort to coercive force when their power is actually slipping” (p21).  Professor Keltner’s fivefold path to power is: (1) be aware of your feelings of power; (2) practice humility; (3) stay focused on others, and give; (4) practice respect; and (5) change the psychological context of powerlessness.

Author Orrin Woodward takes us to the workshop, looking across the ages for wise tools for developing a healthy process for deciding and enforcing in our daily lives.  These tools group around the development of one’s character,  wisdom, and humility.  The human being “is a wonderful creature..[it] is mind..heart..and..will.  Those are the three main constituents of [the human being]…Transforming one’s life, then, requires the whole person to be involved..mind..heart..and..will must be engaged in the process.  True change isn’t just a mental (mind) assent, isn’t just a emotional (heart) experience, and is more than just regimented (will) learning…It’s only with a mind that understands, a heart that generates passion, and a disciplined will to follow through that change inside a person is generated” (pp22-23).

“We the people” are the polis, the people.  We are the decision making and enforcement process.  In all of its forms, in all of its contexts, over all of space and time, it is a human endeavor.  That makes it an agreement, whether we unconsciously accept it or consciously choose it.  Our participation in political systems is our choice.