Notes from the Underground

It’s election fever in the United States. The country is swept up in the business of politics.

It’s a frustrating time for those of us who don’t necessarily identify with any powerful political group. It’s difficult for me, personally, to internally justify the Republican or Democrat agenda in their respective entirety. And it seems, sadly, that those are my only choices.

Furthermore, these respective agendas, at their core, seem to essentially be the same thing—that being of course, to make individual politicians and their friends rich and powerful, despite their supposed lofty ideals.

Just look at the new Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan, for example. While consistently claiming that the government needs to stay out of business’ business, he voted in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Fund, which pumped hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into private companies, companies that Ryan himself owns shares of.

 Oh, those dirty Republicans, you might say.

Well, Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, while championing strict government oversight over Wall Street and the economy, took advantage of a little-known law immunizing politicians from insider trading practices (practices forbidden to “normal” American citizens)—and made millions!

Oh, those dirty politicians, you might say, get the bums out! Bring in a group of honest folks! I’m disgusted! Appalled! Flabbergasted!

But why? It’s your fault, after all. And mine.

Follow me. Politics, the entity, is rooted in matters of ethics. And if history, philosophy, and THEE can show us anything, it’s that what is and what is not ethical is determined by the social acceptance of what is and what is not ethical.

Our society is currently at a point where what is considered ethical revolves around the advancement on one’s adopted or given social group as it competes with other groups in society. That might include Democrats, Republicans, Wall Street Investors, bankers, Ivy League alumni, black people, Muslims, Mormons, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, drinkers, smokers, non-smokers, children, small business owners, union workers, managers, the elderly, veterans, families, park goers, motorcycle enthusiasts, etc., etc., etc.

Think about it, here’s a couple of examples: Latin American immigrants are hugely in favor of the DREAM Act, a piece of legislation that would give illegal immigrants a pathway to legal residency in the U.S. And gun owners fight tooth and nail against firearm regulations.

 Of course, right? Why would it be any other way? It seems so perfectly natural because that’s the ethical system our society has accepted as right and good and normal and everything else—and you and I accept it as well (well, I’m only assuming that you accept it). Politicians are operating under the same ethical umbrella, if you will. They do what’s best for politicians—their little elite social group.

It stands to reason that the only thing that will change this is a complete shift in society. Seems impossible? Don’t worry, it’s happened already numerous times.

 This time, rather than focusing on what’s best for individual groups in society, we can look forward to focusing on what’s best for society as a whole.

Beyond that, we’ve got to foster a social environment of integrity, responsibility, and awareness if we ever hope to see a political system that reflects these values. But, personally, I think that’s already happening. We’re calling it the 21st Century Enlightenment.

But like the 18th Century Enlightenment, beautiful ideas and principles will bloom and those in power will fight bitterly against them. But never fear, just like in the movies, goodness always prevails because people are good and they want good things and they don’t stand for bad things forever.

 I guess, in the end, this message will be ultimately disappointing to you if you’re reading this hoping for some guidance during an election year. My suggestion: don’t worry about it, it’s quite meaningless, get on with your life and enjoy yourself. That’s what I’m doing.

Experience Matters

THEE respects observations and experience. I like that.

We live in a society where in a courtroom, for example, somebody’s experience won’t weigh against the testimony of an “expert” because the events in question don’t fit into their disciplinary theory. We live in a society where academics, politicians, and economists influence public policy. But the people such policy affects know from their experience and observations that it simply won’t work. We live in a society where science is gospel—even bad science.

 Doesn’t it make sense that what you observe and experience is probably true? That’s not to say that I’m a hardcore empiricist (in the philosophical sense) and all reality is only what you register with your five senses. There’s plenty of stuff out there we can’t see. It’s just that you should trust yourself when it comes to what you know to be real and true.

There’s a lot that I’ve seen, experienced, and learned about through conversation that supports the idea of an emerging enlightenment amongst us all. Some of it is in the work I do, some I just hear about through the grapevine, and some of it I witness during my travels. Here are some of my favorite examples:

  • The word “integrity” is quite popular on Twitter. I was surprised. I was looking up good hashtag words to use in the THEE Online Twitter feed and I found that a lot of people had a lot to say about integrity—something that would be a major, important feature of the 21st Century Enlightenment. 
  • People are coming up with their own solutions for their society’s/community’s problems: 
-I was talking with a colleague who lives in Thailand part of the year. He said that in the city he lives in, the lack of a good public transportation option forced private entrepreneurs to provide cheap and effective transportation without public support. Who needs government, right?

-This was particularly poignant to me because in my town of Boise, Idaho, mass transit is sorely needed and no one seems to have thought about a private option. We just assume the local government should take care of it—but of course no one wants to pay. I just hope this Asian attitude crosses the pond. 

-Also, check out how folks in Africa are handling their governments’ and social institutions’ failure to get them up to speed with the global tech revolution.
  • People are standing up against tired, irrelevant, cumbersome, damaging social institutions. From the Arab Spring to Occupy to protests in China (a scary prospect, but encouraging nonetheless) to two very interesting Czech men I talked to in Prague recently, there’s a worldwide attitude that “we’re not going to take this much longer.” Let me elaborate on my Czech friends. One was rather old—a man who had experienced Soviet oppression, the Velvet Revolution, the rise of capitalism, the European Union, and the rebirth of his city. The other was a young man, still in his early years of college. I talked to these guys separately and they both said the same thing: “The Czech government is corrupt, they are in the pocket of the EU, which is corrupt, and we’re not going to stand for it.” (A surprising number of Germans, French, and Italians I ran into echoed their sentiment.) 
  • I saved my favorite example for last. Look at the photo at the beginning of this blog. It’s on the side of a building in Berlin. I noticed it coming from the train station recently. “Thoughts Become Things.” It’s beautiful, simple, elegant, and so true. In fact, it basically summarizes THEE’s entire Personal Endeavor framework. It screams: “We’re the rulers of our destiny, each and every one of us!” 
It’s shocking how you can watch the world change in front of your eyes if you’re on the lookout for it. And as I returned to the U.S., turned on my favorite radio program this morning, and listened as two authors were interviewed about their book, The Death of the American Dream, I thought: “Forget these guys and their pessimism. Who cares about their PhD’s? I know what I see and what I see gives me hope.”

The Multidimensional Person

It’s probably a safe bet to assume that you agree when I say that’s it’s in our best interest to know ourselves and those around us. I and the other folks here at the THEE-Online Project (TOP) are all about figuring people out.

It’s not all so easy, though. It’s not like we ask someone a few questions and decide whether or not they are a “Type A” or a “Type B” personality. In fact, personality and “personality types” are vague, almost meaningless words used to ambiguously describe a wide range of psychological traits and features.

No, there are many layers to people (even before you factor in their social context). A few examples:

  • How people interact with others, explained in detail in the Interacting for Benefit framework. 
  • How people make decisions and achieve their goals, explained in detail in the Deciding and Achieving framework. 
  • The particular quest any given person is on—their purpose if you will, explained in detail in the Your Better Self framework. 
Still, these are not everything a person is—and in the interest of full disclosure, these frameworks are simply the ones I’m most familiar with. But once you get a handle on these frameworks and begin applying them to someone in your life, the multidimensional person begins to emerge.

Every person is truly unique and the infinite number of possible factors that go into creating an individual are the reason for that. I personally don’t think it would be possible to ever truly understand another person in their entirety, but we can make a lot of headway when we begin considering just the three previous typologies.

For my part, I am a cause-centered, community-centered person in terms of my interacting for benefit mentality. I’d like to think that I drift higher up the self-development axis into perspective-centered, reality-centered at times, but that might be my ego. However, I do know I show tendencies of those two mentalities at times—particularly perspective-centered.

Regarding how I make decisions, I’m a pragmatist, which can sometimes be frustrating for my rationalist wife. As for my overall purpose, my primal quest? I have it narrowed down to meaning, creative, or enlightenment. I’m not sure, but that probably means I’m on a meaning quest.

Now, if you go and figure out exactly what I’m talking about, (which is as easy as clicking the links and registering for you’ll have a pretty big chunk of me figured out—which is probably not too high on your priority list today, but think of the implications for your own life.

As I’ve been learning about THEE frameworks over the last 9 months or so, I have been able to both use the information to my advantage when dealing with many of the people in my life and successfully advise others in their interactions.

For example, I quickly identified a client as being on an enlightenment quest and, as a result, knew that perhaps accuracy in our work would be of the utmost importance to him. Furthermore, we developed a good rapport because I knew he’d like talking about what is wrong with society and possibilities for real solutions.

Another example:

My wife was having some trouble with her boss. He couldn’t see the benefit of a new tool my wife had developed for the company. She tried to convince him in the usual way—talking about how it would be easier and more efficient and faster than the previous method, whatever that might have been. I don’t know her boss, I’ve never met him. But just from her descriptions of him, I knew that he is about as market-centered as they come. So I told her to stop talking to him in terms of time and efficiency and start talking to him in terms of money. The new tool was implemented shortly thereafter.

I’m not trying to pat myself on the back here. I’m trying to illustrate just one of the many ways understanding various aspects of THEE can actually help you.

I’m going to end this blog with a fun little challenge. We’ll call it the THEE self-evaluation challenge! Here’s how it works:

  1. Take one hour out of your life (not much in the grand scheme of things) and quickly scan the Interacting for Benefit framework only through the 7 mentalities. 
  2. Determine which mentality you think you are. This is easy. It’s just the one you agree with the most. 
  3. Come back and leave a comment saying which one. 
  4. I will respond with one descriptive sentence about you. 
  5. You can either be shocked and amazed by my accuracy or you can ridicule me unmercifully for my lack of insight. I will appreciate both. 
See you in the comments!

Where Science Fails

My culture (maybe yours too) seems to have all but adopted science as its religion.

People with degrees in fine arts are excitedly discussing the latest discovery in cognitive neurology or nanotechnology or particle physics or some other hip, sexy science with absolutely no personal understanding of how these discoveries are made, their validity, their implications, or anything at all about them.

They take the word of scientists on faith even though the experimental process and scientific contexts of these discoveries are so esoteric and arcane that only the scientists who stand to gain by making some revolutionary discovery can understand it.

I get it, though. I was there too at one point. I took a class on the philosophy of communication and inquiry a year or two ago. A lot of the material sought to show that science was not an all-knowing, infallible approach to inquiry. I was quite offended. I even had one or two heated debates with the professor—which he loved and asked me back the next year to help him teach the class. The second time around, it started to make sense to me:

  • Any hypothesis is a leap of faith. 
  • Findings that are not well-understood (or understood at all) are sold to the public as axiomatic truth. 
  • What is and what is not studied and researched is subject to political, financial, and disciplinary pressures. 
  • Unpopular ideas are ignored, marginalized, politicized, vilified, etc. (Seriously, read the article I linked to with an open mind. It’s well-cited and might just blow your mind.) 
This doesn’t mean I’m anti-science and by no means do I mean to disparage the entire scientific community. It does a lot of valuable work and is quite valid in its areas of expertise. Hey, there’s a good chance science could save my life someday—and already has a couple of times actually. And I think a lot of the communication and computing technology happening right now is just amazing. So it’s far from all bad.

What worries me is the attitude that scientific explanations that are half-baked and uncertain are being used for personal and social purposes. Someone might ask, for example: What is the explanation for (insert some deviant human behavior)?

Scientists would say in their nasally voice, as they re-arrange their pocket protectors and push their taped-up glasses up their nose: “Well, we’re not quite sure what exactly causes that particular behavior but it probably has its root in the survival instinct of ancient man when life was either violence or death. Either that or the chemicals in said person’s brain are not present in the correct proportions.”

Ok, seems relatively logical, but what about the other side of the coin? What is the root of altruism or service or sacrifice? Regarding these issues, Mr. Scientist is going to say either:
  • These people are anomalies. They are perversions of the real human nature. 
  • Altruism and sacrifice is just self-interest in disguise. What’s really going on is that this “altruistic” person is really hoping the beneficiary of his kindness will be indebted to him and be obligated to help him somehow at a later date. 
So here science has painted humans as brutish, selfish, violent, self-absorbed creatures that are slaves to their biology and the survival instincts of their most distant ancestors. Really, the opposite is the truth.

People are natural cooperators and a largely peaceful bunch if you can separate them from the ideologies of their greedy, self-serving leaders. Just look at friendships, families, neighborhoods, communities, cities, and societies. These are all innately cooperative institutions and they are pervasive, old, and ever-present aspects of the human condition.

Furthermore, there are things science simply isn’t equipped to handle. It’s has really tried to understand human thought, behavior, emotion, choice, intuition, interaction, and the host of other inner state-related phenomena that are the focus of the social sciences, but very little has come of it other than some interesting conversation and bitter debate between “scientists.”

 Lets take economics for instance, and I know from experience that this will be a controversial position. (Where’s the fun in taking the mainstream route, anyway?) Economics is a science? Really? Good science is, by nature, predictive. You take the date, analyze it, and say with a high level of confidence what will occur next. Well, no economists that I heard of predicted the financial crash of 2008—but plenty of non-economists using nothing but common sense did. Plus, anything with three major theories, each constantly being disputed by the disciples of another, is just not a science.

 This doesn’t mean that human thought, behavior, emotion, choice, intuition, interaction, and the host of other inner state-related phenomena that are the focus of the social sciences cannot be grasped in some way. Most of the answers are already within you. If you want to see them laid-out in front of you, get into THEE; start with the 21st Century Enlightenment. It picks up where science left off.

The point is, we’ve got to start questioning the old paradigms if we want to have any hope of moving forward in our quest for a better world, better societies, better families, better interactions, and better people. It wouldn’t be wise to accept current science’s assessment of human nature. There’s just no hope there.

An Optimistic Future

Graffiti Alley, Boise, Idaho
In my town (Boise, Idaho, USA), there is an empty lot and an adjacent alleyway where graffiti artists have been given carte blanche to practice their art form.

 I’m not quite sure how this came about. I’m assuming a building was demolished, leaving an empty space between two businesses in the unusually pristine and aesthetic downtown area of Boise—something typical of midsized western-American cities where growth, expansion, and zoning have been largely well controlled.

So this little oasis of colorful, artistic chaos seems oddly out of place and has subsequently become an attraction of sorts.

What’s particularly interesting is what these artists have chosen to do. Most of the time, they are forced to practice their art in the proverbial and literal shadows, and quickly so as not to attract the attention of Boise police officers—of which there are many.

But here, there is no hindrance. They are completely and utterly free to do whatever their little artist hearts desire. So what have they done with their freedom? They talk about freedom.

A significant percentage of these individual pieces reference “freedom” in some way or another, be it to express the feeling of freedom they feel in the surrounding mountains or to honor freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi or to point out the lack of freedom they perceive in their society.

Clearly, this concept in its many forms is at the forefront of the hearts and minds of many a young person in my city and I would venture an educated guess that it is something of a phenomenon outside of Boise as well.

THEE addresses “freedom” more than once. It is an ultimate value, to begin with, something sought by people everywhere. But it is also a driving force, a motivator for growth and change and is addressed as such in the Spiral of Political Maturation. Freedom motivated a transition, for example, from the Legitimist mode of politics with its focus on democracy and rule of law, to the Individualist mode of politics in which prosperity is sought.

Freedom was a major rallying cry for the harbingers of the 18th Century Enlightenment. These folks really wanted to get out from under the constraints of the church, the monarchy, and their stratified social hierarchical structure. Back then, if you were born the son of a blacksmith, you were all but destined to be a blacksmith and your life, including where and how you would live, whom you would marry, and many other aspects of social life that are now taken for granted as individual prerogatives, were set out in front of you before you could even walk.

Now it seems that every few generations—the last one being the youth movement of the 1960s—re-evaluates their freedom and asks the question: “What to do with our freedom?”

 I would submit that this is happening again. The millennial generation that is coming up right now is starting to question if they really live in a free society. Their reliance and creative use of technology is spreading these sentiments at light speed in what is almost a collective consciousness.

But they won’t come up with the same solutions that the great thinkers of the previous Enlightenment did. Of course, giant political, religious, and commercial organizations place hurdles on the path to freedom, but the newest generation will look inward and the change that will result could be itself be called an Enlightenment—the 21st Century Enlightenment.

But rather than focusing on socio-political ideals like democracy and science as a route to knowledge, these folks are turning inwards for awareness and outwards for acceptance. With communication being what it is, this techno-generation cannot avoid clashes with different cultures, ideals, ideas, and perspectives and they want to cooperate and learn they may even find a way to get together and take responsibility for what politicians do in their name.

To again use the microcosm that is Boise, the music scene has become a community, not a free market. If you listen to the stories of old Boise music scene veterans (whose ranks I will likely be joining soon as I am now in my 30s—read “ancient” in musician terms), they tell how they would “accidentally” trip over a fellow band’s power cables so competing bands would have a bad show because the view was: “someone else’s failure is my success.”

Now such antics would be condoned as bad form, totally unacceptable. We Boise musicians are a community and the success of one artist is a point of pride for all. There is the prevailing sense that “we’re all in this together” and help is offered and accepted.

 It’s rather encouraging, all in all. We are an optimistic bunch, we millennials. And there is no limit to the great things we can achieve together.