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.


How Influence Spreads Through Human Interactions — Recommended Readings

Centola, Damon. How Behavior Spreads: The Science of Complex Contagions. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Ferguson, Niall. The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook. New York: Penguin Press, 2018.

How do networks work?  How does influence spread amongst people, through human interactions?

Historian Niall Ferguson digs into the archives, exploring how people have spread influence for thousands of years.  “Social networks have always been much more important in history than most historians, fixated as they have been on hierarchical organizations such as states, have allowed–but never more so than in two periods.  The first “networked era” followed the introduction of the printing press to Europe in the late fifteenth century and lasted until the end of the eighteenth century.  The second–our own time–dates from the 1970s, though I argue that the technological revolution we associate with Silicon Valley was more a consequence than a cause of a crisis of hierarchical institutions.  The intervening period, from the late 1790s until the late 1960s, saw the opposite trend: hierarchical institutions re-established their control and successfully shot down or co-opted networks.  The zenith of hierarchically organized power was in fact the mid-twentieth century—the era of totalitarian regimes and total war” (p xxv).  Professor Ferguson explores why different forms of human interaction are just different forms of networks–an arrangement of interrelated people.

Communications researcher Damon Centola explores the dynamics of how behaviors spread through social networks, mapping the pathways of network diffusion to accelerate social change.  “Diffusion, like schooling, is a collective social process that unfolds through the complex interactions of many independent actors” (p4).  The network dynamics that are required are quite different than what most people think: who is in the network, how they are connected, and how their influence flows, sustainably.

Resilience at Scale — Recommended Readings

Coleman, Peter T. The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts. New York: Public Affairs, 2011.

Homer-Dixon, Thomas. Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2006.

Rose, Jonathan F.P. The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life. New York: Harper Wave, 2016.

Thompson, Michael. Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value. New Edition ed. London: Pluto Press, 2017.

West, Geoffrey. Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back, when the context changes.  Scaling is the ability to maintain a level of interaction while growing the volume of interactions, often by orders of magnitude.  Being resilient at scale is the ability to bounce forward even while scaling beyond known boundaries.  The five authors in these highly recommended readings share their deep observations about what resilience at scale is and how to achieve it.

Physicist and complexity theorist Geoffrey West provides a rich journey through an understanding of how nature scales and what that means for the challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.  Looking for nature’s principles of growth, research on scaling shows that animals ranging from a mouse and a small bird to a dog to an elephant scale logarithmically in the relationship of their body mass to their metabolic rate.  With this ratio and many others (i.e., patents to population, income and assets to number of employees), Geoffrey West and colleagues suggest there are “a few simple rules that all organisms obey, indeed all complex systems, from plants and animals to cities and companies” (p2).  “When an object is scaled up in size, its volumes increase at a much faster rate than its areas…This has huge implications for the design and functionality of much of the world around us” (p41).  Nature does not scale linearly, rather nonlinearly.  “For every order of magnitude increase in strength, the weight that can be supported increases by one and a half orders of magnitude” (p45).  This ratio of areas and volumes lies at the foundations of nature’s scaling, maximizing metabolic rate by maximizing surface area.  The book shows how this logic applies to the scaling of resilient infrastructure.

Urban planner Jonathan F.P. Rose applies complexity theory to the urban setting, starting with its metabolic boundary, the area of food production it requires to feed the people in the urban setting.  He finds examples through history of cities where the metabolic boundary grew to support urban development with more and more people producing things other than food.  The metabolic boundary grew to be far greater than the boundary of where these people lived, and that requirement of building food production and transport systems far beyond the city boundaries lowered the city’s resilience, leading to the city’s eventual demise–more and more of its energy went into generating enough energy, a disastrous feedback loop.  For an urban setting to survive, as it scales, it must increase the coherence of, the circular flow of its metabolism of the energy, information, and materials flowing through it, the harmonic interaction of the community of citizens, compassionately balancing the health of the individual and the collective.  The book provides many examples where cities are developing these capacities.

Political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon looks at the energy return on investment, looking at the ratio of the energy produced and the energy required.  Pulling from many examples, the ratio must be “much greater than  1 to 1..to run a society” (p51).  Like with the metabolic boundary, if more energy is required to run the society than it produces, it loses resilience.  A change in its context, which continuously happens, leads to catastrophic failure.  There are many systemic stresses on an urban setting, and when they combine, the system can fail catastrophically, as the interrelated elements kick off nonlinear overload.  The more interconnected a system is, the more likely this is to happen, and the more the system has to be designed to be resilient to these shocks.

Michael Thompson frames catastrophic failure as an unexpected event in the mix of groups of people trying to evolve a system and those attempting to maintain a system.  The system can be experiencing continuous change, meaning the change happens smoothly, when all of a sudden it experiences discontinuous change, an abrupt, often massive change, which the system is often not resilient enough to survive.  This dynamic inevitably occurs in urban settings, generated by the dynamics between what some call the durable and others the transient.

Psychologist Peter Coleman explores the terrain of “intractable conflicts,” which seem to emerge in this space of scaling urban settings, where multiple stresses converge and lead towards catastrophic collapse, dramatically reducing a city’s resilience.  To address these complex problems, most people seem to oversimplify them, generating the conflict traps that Michael Thompson also described.  An initial step to resolve these conflicts, according to Peter Coleman’s work, is to conceive of the social phenomenon as a field of attractor forces, seeing the relationships among these attractors, and embracing the conflict, looking for evidence of what is actually happening.

The rich histories and case studies provided by these authors show the importance of embracing the complexity inherent in a network of interactions, understanding the deeper shared purpose that holds the interactions together and drives the desire to scale growth, for more to share in the deeper purpose.  It is possible to come together to see the shared purpose, the dynamics generating the boundary issues, the agreements that could generate new dynamics and sufficient resilience, avoiding catastrophic collapse while scaling growth.  It is also possible to agree on the evidence that supports the testing of these hypothetical shifts and measures the progress along the way.  This requires shifting from a theory of change to a principle-based, theory of impact resilience.  From looking at only the local, short terms needs and actions to address them, to looking at the local and overall needs, short and long term, and the dynamics that generate them.  This shift is a choice.

The Power of Choice Is Everywhere in the Field of Agreements That We Are — Recommended Readings

McTaggart, Lynne. The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. New York: Harper, 2008.

Braden, Gregg. The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Space, Miracles, and Belief. New York: Hay House, 2007.

What are we made of?  What is real?  From cosmologies as varied as the physics of string theory or quantum theory, the wisdom traditions, modern psychological research, and your own experience, they all point to a reality of interpenetrating dimensions of energy, generating a field of purposeful energy.  This energy is everywhere, always.  It is a field.  An agreements field.

These two authors describe current efforts to describe this field, from physics, chemistry, biology, psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives.  These descriptions converge on the existence of the field, that humans are part of the field–made up of the field–and therefore able to work with the power of the field.  Consciously or unconsciously, we are made up of energy, which Einstein described over 100 years ago [m=E/c2], and which quantum theorists proved over the past 90 years, and we align our cognition, emotion, and volition with this energy towards a purpose, our purpose.  We can do this because it is a field, a resonant field.  We are also that field, it is us.  Knowing how to use our energy is a matter of being human, of resonating with that field.  Deciding to use it is a choice.  A choice you have to be able to see.  The agreements field makes it visible and, thus, available to you.

Great Places to Work or Great Spaces to Shine? — Recommended Readings

Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press, 2003.

Mankins, Michael, and Eric Garton. Time Talent Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2017.

Zak, Paul J. Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies. New York: American Management Association, 2017.

Work.  A word people use a lot, which means different things.  Maybe they are different.  In worker-employer relations, work is the labor power–the work done per unit of time–that the laborer sells to the employer, who applies that work to getting something done. In thermodynamics, work is the amount of energy transferred from one system to another.  In physics, work is the application of a force over a distance, transferring energy from one place to another, or one form to another.  The word “work” comes from the PIE *werg-o-, suffixed form of root *werg- “to do.”  Maybe they aren’t different.  The common thread of these perspectives then might be work as doing something, setting something in motion.  That seems straightforward.  We work.

Work is measured in energy terms.  Compensation is measured in energy terms.  Common terms for measuring energy include metric joules, British Thermal Units, kilowatt-hours, and calories.  This suggests that work is measured in the energy we bring to the labor we apply over a period of time, measured in some form of joules or calories.  The word calorie comes from the Latin calor for heat.  We give our calorie energy to our employer’s activity in exchange for money with which we pay for the calories that nourish us (food) or for the protection from excessive waste of our heat energy (shelter and clothing), which are both defined as our basic human needs.

It is nice when work is pleasant and engaging, though recent global surveys show that work is not pleasant for most people.  Maybe part of the reason so many people around the world are disengaged at work is because of the way we define the very activity.  Maybe the problem is that it is seen as work.  The labor contract pays me for my work, my energy, my calories applied for a period of time.  What if, instead, we saw that I was invited to contribute my creative expression towards a deeper shared purpose, integrating my head (thoughts), heart (passions and relationships), and hands (will, intention, and action).  The unit of measure might then be the creative energy that flows through and from me–lumens–the light we see in the creativity of another’s expression.  These recommended readings explore this other worldview, where creative people most express their talents in the form of energy when fully engaged in spaces of trust.

Expressing lumens energy in terms of calorie energy, to make it easier for business leaders to apply, management consultants Michael Mankins and Eric Garton find that, “talented people show up for work every day, but then something happens and they can’t get as much done as they believe they could or should.  We think of that something as organizational drag, a collection of institutional factors that interfere with productivity yet somehow go unaddressed.  Organizational drag slows things down, decreasing output and raising costs.  Organizational drag saps energy and drains the human spirit…While the level varies, nearly every company we’ve studied loses a significant portion of its workforce’s productive capacity to drag” (p12).

Psychologist Jim Loehr and journalist Tony Schwartz suggest that, “The ultimate measure of our lives is not how much time we spend on the planet, but rather how much energy we invest in the time that we have…We have far more control over our energy than we ordinarily realize.  The number of hours in a day is fixed, but the quantity and quality of energy available to us is not.  It is our most precious resource.  The more we take responsibility for the energy we bring to the world, the more empowered and productive we become…Human beings are complex energy systems, and full engagement is not simply one-dimensional…To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focus and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest” (pp4,5,9).

Neureconomist Paul J. Zak finds that, “Managing people as human resources to be exploited for maximum gain produced workplaces that confirmed economists’ claims that work provides disutility.  Or, in the vernacular: Work is a drag.  Except sometimes it wasn’t.  There are organizations in which employees love what they do, where they are satisfied professionally and personally by their work…You have humans at work, not machines…It turns out that both trust and purpose activate regions of the brain that motivate cooperation with others, reinforcing behaviors essential to meeting organizational goals…Trust acts as an economic lubricant, reducing the frictions inherent in economic activity” (pp4,5, 10,11).  “A Deloitte/Harris Poll shows there is a serious worldwide Purpose deficit.  Sixty-eight percent of employees and 66 percent of executives said that their organizations do little to create a culture of Purpose” (p175).

While we would prefer to spend our time in great places to work than being disengaged in awful places to work, it seems that we would far prefer to fully engage our creativity in spaces of trust, great spaces to shine.  Which do you prefer?  It is a choice.

How Natural Is Our Relationship with Nature? — Recommended Reading

Hartmann, Thom. The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. [Read an excerpt.]

Cahoone, Lawrence. The Orders of Nature. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2013.  [Read 1st chapter.]

Thomas, Chris D. Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. New York: Public Affairs, 2017. [Read an excerpt.]

Latour, Bruno. Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regine. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2018.  [More about the author.]

Raworth, Kate. Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2017. [Read an excerpt.]

Suzuki, David, Amanda McConnell, and Adrienne Mason. The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature. Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2007. [Read an excerpt.]

How do you relate to nature?  Do you love it or are you indifferent to it?  As humans, are we separate from nature, part of it, or is it part of us?  While seemingly simple questions, they have troubled philosophers and practitioners for millennia.  And, the perspective you take directly affects how you engage with nature.  The six recommended books in this post all explore this relationship and the deep implications for our resilience as humanity of that relationship.

We depend on nature.  In The Sacred Balance, David Suzuki reminds us that, “It is nature that cleanses water, creates air, decomposes sewage, absorbs garbage, generates electricity, and produces food, but in cities, these ‘ecosystem services’ are assumed to be performed by the workings of the economy” (p12).  Through our reductive approach to science today, we have reduced the whole of nature into pieces, “and as the world around us is examined in pieces, the rhythms, patterns, and cycles within which those pieces are integrated are lost” (p13).  “Looked at as biological beings, despite our veneer of civilization, we are no more removed from nature than any other creature, even in the midst of a large city.  Our animal nature dictates our essential needs: clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy” (p18).  David Suzuki then frames and explores our current understanding of the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (oceans), lithosphere (mineral), where they all mix (soil), the biosphere (fire), and what makes us human in our relationships (kin, love).  We need to be aware of the interweaving of these spheres we depend on: “With consciousness, we are able to perceive that there is a relationship between our environment and ourselves” (p267).  “Each of us has the ability to act powerfully for change; together we can regain that ancient and sustaining harmony, in which human needs and the needs of all our companions on the planet are held in balance with the sacred, self-renewing processes of Earth” (p330).

In The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, author Thom Hartman reminds us of our intimate relationship with nature.  “Sunlight radiating heat, visible light, and ultraviolet light is the source of almost all life on Earth…Every life form on the surface of this planet is here because a plant was able to gather sunlight and store it, and something else was able to eat that plant and take that sunlight energy in to power its body” (p7)  In the final analysis, “survival and prosperity both hinge on how much sunlight energy is under your control” (p35).  Thom Hartman then explores our relationship with current and stored sunlight.

Nature is dynamic and resilient, whether humans are in the mix or not.  In Inheritors of the Earth, biologist Chris Thomas explores the ecological and evolutionary dynamics and resilience of the biological realm of earth.  “Ecological and evolutionary changes are both of great importance.  Ecological success will determine the species that will live among us in the short term, and evolutionary success will alter the future direction of life on Earth” (p29).  While species come and go, the number of species is growing (p62), and human environments are influencing which ones spread and grow, with species finding new niches where they survive, often different from where they originally evolved (pp79,118). Nature is resilient, with new species adapting to ecological and evolutionary changes.

We are nature.  In The Orders of Nature, philosopher Lawrence Cahoone provides the context and a current state of understanding for five orders of nature that constitute the reality we humans perceive: the physical; material; biological; mental; and cultural.  We exist as an integration of all five orders, partially in relationship with the minerals, plants, and animals that share some of these orders.  Students of each order have a different way of making sense of what is real, rarely understanding the logic of another.  This leads to difficulties in defining what is real, across orders, which influences the ways in which we interact with the order of our reality.

We better take care of the nature that we are.  In Down to Earth, philosopher Bruno Latour suggests that to deal with the level of ecological challenges facing humanity, it is time to shift our underlying understanding.  “Saying, ‘We are earthbound, we are terrestrials amid terrestrials,’ does not lead to the same politics as saying, ‘We are humans in nature.’ The two are not made of the same cloth–or rather of the same mud” (p86).  “The Terrestrial reorganizes politics.  Each of the beings that participate in the composition of a dwelling place has its own way of identifying what is local and what is global, and of defining its entanglements with the others.  CO2 is not spatialized in the same way as urban transport systems; aquifers are not local in the same sense as bird flu” (p93).  In this reorientation towards the terrestrial, our home of which we are an integral part and which is an integral part of us, Bruno Latour suggests a shift in political focus from the dichotomy of either local-based or global-based to earth-based, which is both local and global.

In Doughnut Economics, economist Kate Raworth frames an “ecologically safe and socially just space for humanity…point(ing) towards a future that can provide for every person’s needs while safeguarding the living world on which we all depend” (p39).  To develop this balance between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling, we need to move from an economics of “endless growth to thriving in balance” (p45).  Kate Raworth works through the basic tools of endless-growth economics, replacing them with tools of thriving-in-balance economics: from GDP to social and ecological limits; from self-contained markets to embedded economies; from rational economic man to social adaptable humans; from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity; from “growth will even it up” to distributive by design; and from growth addicted to growth agnostic.

Returning to the starting questions, how do you relate to nature?  Do you love it or are you indifferent to it?  As humans, are we separate from nature, part of it, or is it part of us?  These six authors provide updated, easy-to-approach explorations of these questions.  They each show that the perspective you take from these explorations directly affects how you engage with nature, and your life depends on it.  It is your choice.  I recommend the journey.

The Costs of Empathic Inaccuracy — Recommended Reading

Tashiro, Ty.  Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome. New York: William Morrow, 2017.  Read an excerpt of Chapter 1 here.

When it is appropriate, most people like being seen.  Seen for who they are, for what they contribute, and for their creativity. Appropriateness depends on the context.  In contexts of trust and support, people tend to like to be noticed and supported.  This seems obvious.  And, in many situations, people do not experience being seen.  They are disconnected from others in those contexts.  Recent global surveys seem to indicate that where people spend most of their time, at work, is one of those contexts where many people experience not being seen.  What is the cost to creativity, to innovation, to organizational resilience and impacts when people are not seen?

To experience being seen, someone else has to be doing the seeing.  What capacities are required for this seeing of another?  What happens when people lack these capacities or fail to use them in specific contexts, like at work?  In his recent book on awkwardness, psychologist Ty Tashiro explores the world of empathy, those who lack capacities for seeing another, and how the particular ways that they look at the world bring other gifts.

The World of Empathy.  “Empathy is defined as the ability to understand another person’s emotional state and to deliver an appropriate response” (p71).  To be seen is to be in relationship, a basic need of humans.  Research finds that “humans’ psychological drive to maintain a few gratifying relationships was as fundamental as physical needs such as food and water…When we satiate our need to belong we feel a surge of positive emotion…The strongest predictor of happiness is not our job, income, or attaining our fitness goals, but rather the presence of gratifying social relationships…People with gratifying interpersonal relationships have better physical health and longer life expectancies” (pp9-10).

Specific contexts, and the ways that we agree to enter them, are making many of us more awkward.  That we are always plugged into our devices, completely oblivious to what is happening around us, we become socially awkward, in a high percentage of the interactions we have with others.

The Costs of Empathic Inaccuracy.  Empathic accuracy is the agreement between (a) what you think another person is thinking and feeling and (b) what they are actually thinking and feeling.  How well are you perceiving what is actually happening in the other person?  This is a critical capacity for being able to interact with others, to seeing and inviting their unique contributions, to being able to collaborate on creating something unique together.  The lack of empathic accuracy leads to the costs of empathic inaccuracy.  When we ignore others or talk at them, we have no idea what is actually happening inside of them.  When this happens, none of their FREEE energy is being engaged towards the purpose we are inviting them into.  Despite the obviousness of this, most people in most processes in most interactions seem not to do this.  It requires curiosity, inquiring into the other, which most people, especially at work, seem not to do.  The costs of this are huge.  The potential energy that is always there does not engage.  People get exhausted, contributing nothing.  The lack of innovation and learning decreases resilience and increases the likelihood of becoming obsolete.  The problem, and the resulting costs, do not seem to be a problem with the individuals, per se, rather with the ways people consciously choose or unconsciously accept to interact–the rules of the game, the agreements field they interact in with others.  This is the good news, because we can agree to change our agreements much more easily than we can agree to change the basic nature of who we are and how we function as individuals.

Other Gifts.  While social awkwardness seems to be increasing rapidly, and its costs are huge, we should not be too quick to judge all awkwardness.  Some types of awkwardness bring other skills.  “If you think about the vibe that characterizes your interactions with awkward people, there is often an agitated energy that underlies the interaction, which can make them appear nervous, irritated, or generally upset.  But if you view the awkward person as someone who is experiencing the interaction as particularly intense, then the unusual vibe they give off starts to make more sense…Avoiding eye contact helps them avoid the strong emotional cues conveyed by faces and especially the eye region” (p75).  This type of awkwardness results from a high capacity to focus, on very specific, reduced sets of information.  One term for this is “localized processing style, which describes people who tend to narrowly focus on some of the trees rather than the entire forrest.  When people are disposed to a localized processing style, they tend to create social narratives that feel fragmented and incomplete…Although awkward people are missing important social information that falls outside of their narrow aperture, what they do see is brilliantly illuminated and this gives them a deep nuanced perspective about things that no one else takes the time to notice.  The parts of the world they can see are seen with remarkable clarity.  They become experts in all things stage left and their clear, focused view on their specialized interests give them a unique view of that part of the world” (pp21-22).

Whether the social awkwardness we might experience in ourselves or in others is due to the way the person is or to the way we agree to interact, greater empathic accuracy can help us.  More accurately interpreting what is happening in the other person’s thinking and feeling has great benefits in both cases, and it greatly reduces the costs of empathic inaccuracy.  It is a choice.



Huge Hygge — Recommended Reading

Russell, Helen. The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country. London: Icon Books, 2015.

Hygge.  Danish for something cozy, charming, or special.  It is also the art of creating intimacy.   Author Helen Russell explores how hygge might be one of the secrets of Denmark’s perennial position in the top ranks of the happiest countries.  To understand her experience, over a year-long journey of living in Denmark, she shares many funny anecdotes of her daily life, and she uses her journalistic skills to meet and interview Danish experts in the many aspects of daily life that she explores.

She uncovers widespread attention to the environment one creates in one’s home, to being comfortable on one’s own, to being honest with and supportive of others, to respecting and supporting the many contributions people can make to society, to the creative process and getting feedback about what one is learning, and to celebrating the creativity that is everywhere, if one looks.  In ecosynomics terms, these are co-hosting the five primary relationships.  The global Agreements Health Check survey (from 124 countries) shows that as people get better at co-hosting the five primary relationships, they experience greater vibrancy, more hygge.  I highly recommend this fun, well written discovery of the secrets of living vibrantly every day, even where it is very cold.

Honing Our Axiology of Homo lumens — Recommended Readings

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. New York: Penguin Books, 2004. 1689.

Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 1797.

Lewin, Kurt. Principles of Topological Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1936.

Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000.

Bartow, Jef. Resolving the Mysteries of Human Consciousness: Volume II God, Man and the Dancing Universe. Sarasota, FL: New Paradigm Publishing, 2016.

What is a human being?  What does it mean to be a human being?  How do we know?  How do we know when human actions are good, beautiful, or true?  Big questions.  Questions the answers to which guide what human beings do–everyone, everywhere, everyday–whether they are aware of this guidance or not.  If these questions so deeply and continuously impact everything, maybe it would be good to be aware of what they are, who is asking then, what answers people are coming up with, and how those answers impact each of us.  Maybe.

The above books, in chronological order, provided a highly recommended excursion through the development of a way of looking at these big questions.  In his political philosophy, Locke provides an early view, in the 1600s, of human beings capable of making healthy decisions on their own, without divine guidance from the king or church.  Locke’s Essay provides the moral-philosophical foundations of this view of the human being–what a human is, how humans understand the world, and how this knowledge influences what humans are capable of deciding.

Kant provides a very logical structure, in the 1700s, for understanding what a human being should do, based on reason, an expression at the end of the age of enlightenment, furthering the idea that human beings are completely capable of developing their own moral philosophy.  Kant explores, through reason, the emerging terms of freedom, the rights and duties of people and of the state, and their relationship to the law.

Lewin applies the emerging concepts of energy fields and topology in the early 1900s to the behavior of human beings, finding that there is both the inner experience and an outer structure or environment, which mutually influence each other, and, to a great part, influence the behavior of the human being.  The human being has its own internal processes and is influenced by and influences its external environment, a region around it, and this interplay influences the human’s behavior.  This takes the purely rational human or the purely influenced human and blends them.

Bauman in the new millennium brings the fluid nature of reality into the question of what humans are and what they are capable of, finding that both the descriptions of humans and the structures that support them are based on static, stable frameworks, whereas reality is fluid, and so should be the understanding of humanity and structures of the individual, work and the community.

Bartow brings back the questions of long ago to today, developing a picture of the human as the natural manifestation of spirit, conscious and unconscious of the reality the human being interacts with and as part of.   This framework blends what is known from modern science and the wisdom traditions about what makes up reality and the role of human beings in it.

Building on the foundations placed by the lines of this evolution of thought about human beings, we are developing today a picture of the human being, of Homo lumensas a being full of potential, a potential that the human being can choose to manifest.  Homo lumens experiences value in life through the vibrancy of five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit).  We know this from our own experience.  We can also see, from our own experience, which we can validate with external evidence, how well our agreements support the experience and outcomes we want from our efforts together.   We see that most of these choices are unconsciously accepted, and they can be more consciously chosen.  The start of a moral philosophy based on the abundance of potential in humans and nature, towards a more vibrant experience in more harmonic interactions that lead to far more interesting experiences and far more impactful and resilient social forms.  

While these are challenging reads, they are well worth the effort, to see where we have come from in our understanding of being human, where we are now, and where we might be heading.  Honing our axiology of what we are, and how we can live the life available to us.

4 Strategies for Tangibilizing Societal Agreements — Recommended Reading

Waddell, Steve. “Four Strategies for Large Systems Change.” Stanford Social Innovation Review 16, no. 2 (2018): 40-45.

To achieve societal outcomes for everyone, everywhere, everyday within any given social system requires bringing together peoples with access to different economic resources, different political decision making and enforcement systems, different values, and different organizing forms.  It requires uniting in collaboration at a whole new level.  Long-time action researcher of societal change, Steve Waddell, shares in the reading referenced above what he observes in how people end up weaving together four large-system-change strategies to achieve a desired societal impact resilience.

In ecosynomic terms, the first step in any societal effort to change the agreements at the foundation of human interaction is to understand the deeper shared purpose, the love for a future to which people give their will. The second step is to bring together the people who are necessary for realizing that deeper shared purpose.  Dr. Waddell finds four strategies for who is necessary to change societal agreements to achieve that deeper shared purpose.  These four strategies are based on two continua: from confrontation to collaboration; from destruction to creation.  One can work to shift agreements working apart (confrontation) or together (collaboration), and generating new agreements (creation) or removing old agreements (destruction).  The article provides two case studies of large systems change, where all four strategies played out in the system over time.  A key insight is that changing major systems of agreements probably requires a range of pathways to tangibilize the deeper shared purpose–different ways to achieve the same impact.  These different ways require different capacities, ways of interacting, ways of seeing the world.  In large-systems change, the entrepreneur, the warrior, the missionary, and the lover–the four archetypes Waddell identifies with the four change strategies–all bring their particular worldview, organizing forms, and energy at particular times.  One form is not superior to the others, rather they each bring a part of the overall game.

The ecosynomic strategist, tangibilizing agreements field potentials, pathways, and outcomes, would do well to appreciate and embrace these four forms, seeing how they weave together to change foundational societal agreements.