Friday, April 15, 2016

Democracy Is Failing: A Novice Revisiting of Nonviolent Communication

Democracy is failing. Some scholars and politicians suggest that democracy remains in name only as the stresses and strains of economic, political and environmental upheavals intensify. Democracy is dead. The necessary conversations either aren't taking place or fail to take the views and needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized into account. Problems resulting from inequality have a way of percolating up because they deny dignity of life (Al-Rodhan, 2015). As seen with ISIS, and police departments and BlackLivesMatter, extremism takes root and recruits when long-standing inequality and resentment are allowed to flourish. The long term harm and cost to society that result from fixity of view, blaming, and exclusion are incalculable.

For the last year I have been exploring alternative pathways for communication and negotiation -- pathways in which sociological concerns can be expressed distinct from the racial, religious and partisan politics that often infuse debate. Media have a polarizing effect and increase, rather than dismantle, affective resistance and bias so that cognitive positions become more extreme (Mock & Homer-Dixon, 2015). Especially in the absence of mechanisms creating a sense of citizenship and community. As a result, borders and biases are buttressed to reinforce partisan, institutional and system identities. The situation and debate over the state of the European Union is one current example. In addition, because media depend on market and attentional value, resistive posturing often shifts focus away from actual needs. More resources are often spent in maintaining brand and image than in redress for those without resources and most at risk. Institutions, think tanks and corporations have been created -- and many a publication and book written -- in avoidance of actual conversation and negotiation. The most recent trend towards algorithmic decision-making based on Big Data (Pasquale, 2015) threatens to devoid human agency of responsibility and enforce an artificial consensus based on habitual tendencies abstracted from their context rather than provide for equality of opportunity and cultural diversity.

Boundaries that have proved particularly problematic in public discourse concern (a) the divide between government and academic institutions and (b) the divide between academic institutions and the public (Macilwain, 2011; 2016). The rise in reactionary populist nationalism deepens these schisms by reinforcing racial, religious and partisan bias. Relying on populist movements to motivate change emphasizes polarization across race, gender, and the religions and institutions on which society depends. Populist emphasis of ideological biases in public discourse increases political instability since it reinforces exclusionary processes.

Humility in intellectual discourse is the opposite of reactionary populist nationalism. Nonviolent communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg (Rosenberg, 2003), is a good example that allows for agonistic pluralism as well as cultural diversity (Mouffe, 1999) while overcoming biases that can falsely frame perceptions of needs and solutions.

Nonviolent Communication is but one of several negotiation methods that differs from the western mode of election and governance. Indeed, the African Indaba Process was used during the recent Paris climate talks (Rathi, 2015). It can take years of practice to master the methods of Nonviolent Communication unilaterally and, in cases of persistent inequality, it can be difficult to persuade individuals to follow the process, which depends on identifying emotions, followed by linking emotions to basic needs. Identifying underlying needs increases the possible range of pragmatic solutions. People in positions of power often fail see the positive benefits of a nonviolent communication process that goes beyond the assignment of blame and/or dismissal due to ignorance. Moreover, giving voice to emotions is full of risk since emotions can be weaponized.

Neither politicians or corporations, and not even academics, have an accurate view of the various dimensions of any given problem in our society. All voices need to be invited and heard in finding dignified solutions to the multi-dimensional problems of our time. The largest oversight in negotiation, design and planning is that rarely are all affected peoples included at the table -- an oversight that typically results in partial solutions that exclude the concerns and needs of the most vulnerable. As observed by Cynthia Enloe and Annick Wibben the individuals most often omitted from negotiation processes, and whose perspectives therefore go unrecognized, are women. Inclusion of women more fully informs diversity in viewpoint and the range of possible solutions.

Al-Rodhan, N. (2015) Proposal of a Dignity Scale for Sustainable Governance, Journal of Public Policy (Blog), 29 November

Enloe, C. (2014) Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angles, CA

Macilwain, C. (2011) Science’s attitudes must reflect a world in crisis. Nature News 479, 447.

Macilwain, C. (2016) The elephant in the room we can’t ignore. Nature News 531, 277.

Mock, S. & Homer-Dixon, T. (2015) The Ideological Conflict Project: Theoretical and Methodological Foundations, CIGI Papers, v74.

Mouffe, C. (1999) Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism? Social Research, 66(3), 745-758.

Pasquale, F. (2015) The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA

Rathi, A. (2015) This simple negotiation tactic brought 195 countries to consensus. Quartz (Blog), 12 December

Rosenberg, M.B. (2003) Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. PuddleDancer Press; Encinitas, CA

Wibben, A.T.R. (2011) Feminist Security Studies: A Narrative Approach. Routledge - Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY

Friday, March 25, 2016

Über for Cat Sitting

Most of my Sangha has been gone for the week, attending a retreat at Rochester Zen Center, which means there have only been informal sittings here in the morning.

So this morning after coffee, I thought I'd check out the new Cat Cafe that recently opened:

The hours are a little odd, but perhaps I'll have chance to visit later...

I'm a little ambivalent about the Cat Cafe for a number of reasons: a) I wonder where the cats are from, b) I wonder where the cats are kept for the hours the cafe is closed, whether they'll get premium cat food and what will happen to cats if they get sick given veterinarian fees these days, c) I wonder what will happen to the cats if the start-up is one of the overwhelming majority that don't quite make it off the ground, and, finally, d) it won't be the same as if they were my cats or a friend's cats. A part of me thinks of the Cafe, as my mother might have said, as Tierquälerei on a small scale, since it seems somewhat like a petting zoo for grown ups.

On the plus side, the Cat Cafe might prevent local university students from getting their own cats and then abandoning them once they graduate, though it could have the opposite effect and encourage more cat ownership as well. For the adults that pay the entry fee, it might provide a few minutes of relaxation and calm in the hectic world we have today, though I'm not sure whether the effect will be more or less effective on customer's health compared to meditation and mindfulness. According to WebMD research has shown the benefits of pets on health, though obviously the circumstances of a cafe versus a home are different.

Getting back to sitting, I've been wondering if any members of my in real life Sangha read my last post and took offense -- a possibility that might be suggested by the content of the Dharma Talk that followed. The content suggested that Zen practice isn't meant to be a social practice. For a Zen Center without live-in, work-together sangha, I actually think the sangha does pretty well. In fact, things are much better than they used be, since the addition of monthly breakfasts and movie nights. There still isn't a book club like was suggested several years ago, but I don't think a small group needs to try to sustain a greater strain on their other obligations and responsibilities. Plus, I can find plenty of suggestions for reading online. 

My last post was a comment on the fact that I can't afford to stay retired and nor do I want to. I envisioned retirement as temporary -- with the economy going the way it is I can't afford volunteer work for an extended time since that won't help with actual retirement (in 14 or 15 years or so). My last post also was a recognition of my own failings in not investing a lot of time locally since I was hoping to find a research area more in keeping with my interests and to relocate.

I do wish I felt more encouragement for conversation over Sangha concerns when they arise. On the other hand, for this Zen Sangha, most all communication on serious issues is indirect. Unfortunately, I think that has been true especially for me due my choice many years ago to study the Shobogenzo.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Summer Office

This morning I decided to visit the Twitter web application settings page -- something I don't do very often since I don't have wireless. I wanted to adjust the new timeline settings and to shut down the automatic play of videos. I was also pleased to find a setting for sensitive images -- much like what I requested in my prior post. Thanks to Twitter. 

I'm grateful, though, as most people realize, not seeing a problem doesn't make it go away. And not seeing a problem isn't the same as resolving underlying conditions that create it: namely, societies that don't pay a living wage and that don't question the ethics of treating people as commodities and property. Those underlying conditions are a source of numerous difficulties throughout the world today.


In other news the lakes have thawed and my summer office is open suggesting a window for writing is approaching.

I've thought a lot on the subject of writing in the interim and realized that, although I don't mind thinking of blogging as a contribution, I do mind feeling as though none of my efforts are meaningfully directed towards improving conditions in the world. As such my blogging not only feels like a waste of time, it feels counterproductive. Speaking for myself, writing has typically been a byproduct of a different role or purpose. Writing for the sake of writing seems to require an energy that dies out when I'm as isolated as I am -- and will continue to be until I've figured out where I'm going and made a start.

So it goes.

In the meantime, try 'Get Along with your Co-workers' gum while you can:

Sunday, December 27, 2015

One Kind of Change

Yesterday I wrote my first petition for instead of just signing them. It's a request to invest effort to reduce conditions that result in reactivity and seed distrust and suspicion in people and conversations online and off. To make the online environment of Twitter a kinder, safer place to be for all ages.

I wish the suggested changes would eliminate online reactivity altogether. I know they won't, though it would be a welcome addition to recent policy revisions in response to complaints. For example, see Online sexism is so out of control that we can no longer ignore it by Yvette Cooper in the Guardian. It remains to be seen how Twitter will enforce the new policy.

Consider signing my petition. If people can design drones, driverless cars and send spaceships to the moon, the minds that created Twitter should be able to find a way. For #HumanRights. For the sake of each individual on the planet.

The text of the petition:

Petitioning Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

Request Twitter Clean Up its Problem with Pornography

There are real men, women and children behind Twitter accounts. Twitter's environment should be safe for all ages. Yet, as already was noted by Mashable in 2009, Twitter has a porn problem. Porn bots and pornographic photos can appear unbidden out of nowhere and subvert conversations and reputations. In view of the increasing ways Internet users are monitored by the National Security Agency and corporations, we do not have reasonable navigational control over what we and our children encounter.

Relying on users to block accounts with explicit pornographic material only corrects the problem after harm has been done, especially in the case of children. Even for adults the prevalence and haphazard encounters with pornography can be anxiety-inducing, cause blaming of and incite volatile reactivity among a variety of groups, including women (whether feminist or not), men's right advocates, and men and women of other countries with different moral boundaries.

Either block pornography altogether or make changes to allow for user preferences. Child-safety locks and account preference settings, similar to movie ratings, needn't interfere with free speech and could easily be factored into search results, along with context specific interpretation of hashtags, and preference settings for accessibility to other accounts to reduce or avoid unexpected encounters with sexually explicit material.

It's time for Twitter to make an effort to fall in line with common sense standards instead of risking our children's mental stability, increasing the potential for misogyny, and increasing the risk for, if not silencing, women.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Road to Paris and COP21

There's only one point.

There's only one point is the nineteenth of fifty-nine mind training slogans -- the Dalai Lama trained and practiced with these slogans most of his life. The honorable Garchen Rinpoche practiced and taught these slogans to fellow prisoners in a labor camp in China.

There is only one point. I was reminded of Garchen Rinpoche's story as I was reviewing the first chapter of Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication, which opens with quote from Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman from Holland that died at Auschwitz. Her writings have been compared to Rilke and her practice, like that of Garchen Rinpoche, was one of understanding and compassion until the time of her death.

Disturbed life: Monument for Etty Hillesum

There is only one point. Like many passages in the Bible and Koran, the slogan has passed through centuries of Buddhist tradition.

It's so easy. So straightforward. So simple, it's almost too easy to forget. The primary message of the slogan is one of a shared reality. A world we all share — whatever we're experiencing and whatever our individual stories are. All the other slogans can be rolled into There is only one point.

View from the top of the Musée d'Orsay.

Right now, the reality we share threatens the extinction of many lives and life forms, including ours. There is only one point: Right now, the point is global warming and the approaching talks in Paris.

Without doubt, horrid things are happening in our world and in my own country. Many have been neglected and need immediate attention. People have every right to be impatient and angry because economic giants and politicians of our world haven't listened: Inattention and a lack of compassion and empathy are replicated from one circumstance to the next as efficiently as genes.

To the politicians of our world: Is bombing a country that already has been demolished listening? Does further bombing represent a change of heart? How is it that "When all we have is love" gets translated into more bombing?

Are those that remain in Syria and Iraq able to continue life with integrity, caring for their families as a normal person would? President Francois Hollande is horrified at the attacks on Paris, as am I. But our countries have treated those countries, these people no different than you or I, to the same destruction thousands and thousands of times over. What choice do they have? Whether it's refugees from Syria or the Daesh, our world can only expect more of the same shock-and-awe. The same in droves, as the conditions of our world deteriorate: There is only one point.

When I traveled to Paris the trip I took was 'Paris by alone'. Paris by alone, with hundreds of stories as my companion. In some ways, much like the Daesh, Paris with all its stories represented a life I wanted but never had. My days in Paris were a sadness. Beautiful Paris, beautiful sadness for days and chances that had passed through my life without my knowing.

There is only one point. If empathy exists, if compassion exists, take that sadness, that beauty, that desire we all have for belonging, that love for friends, family and country, and reach agreement on carbon emissions.

There is only one point: When all we have is love.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Four Pillars and economic Yoga!: Saving the World is More Than an Idea


= The Four Pillars of True Power in Respectful Confrontation. An important caveat when referring to power:

"a distinction needs to be made between true power and brute force... [The] old-fashioned view of power is not what I would call true power but rather a strategy to use brute force to impose one's will and ensure one's success at the expense of others. George Washington, ... said, "Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused by licentiousness."" - Joe Weston (link to the program website, which I highly recommend in order to feel and and experience the technique.)

As an electrophysiologist, the Four Pillars brought to mind a mechanical model I'm familiar with: the vibration isolation tables that are critical for stable recordings of ion channel and neuronal or muscle fiber activity. (Another intuitive analogy might be the shock absorbers and tires on a car.) When one of the four pillars is overinflated, the vibration isolation function is compromised. A truck or train going by outside, or even someone closing a door down the hall, rapidly spells disaster for the experiment.

Building on meditation and martial arts traditions, the Four Pillars were designed with the intention of improving communication. That is to say communication in conventional linear mode — those times in face-to-face conversation when it's important to be heard.

For the purposes of this post, I'm expanding the model to include the world as described by the parameters presented in "on a World that isn't Round," namely, the Earth (grounding), politics (focus), the global economic system (strength), and all of us (flexibility).

Using the Four Pillar model of the world it's easy to see what the majority of us intuitively know. The economic 'pillar' of our world is overinflated (1). The non-linear model of Mitra et. al. (2015) is undoubtedly, a more accurate descriptor for the complexity of cause and effect, though computing power is required to use it.

No amount of fiddling with human behavior to adjust health, effectiveness, satisfaction and the meeting of needs will be successful at bringing the world back from precipices of crisis, climate or otherwise, without simultaneously reducing the over-inflation of economics. It is only in the context of changing the nature of the economic system that individual efforts to improve communication and life will begin to change the dynamics of our world. No matter where specific needs are situated on Maslow's hierarchy, due to economic stressors individual needs aren't being met and inequalities continue to be reinforced.

"It is the very 'nature' of alienated labor that one has no choice but to work against the interests and needs and desires of one's own being." - McKenzie Wark in Anthropocene Denial Bingo

My prescription for our world based on the above observations is economic Yoga.

economic Yoga is individuals and, more importantly, institutions and governments slowly and carefully releasing 'air' out of the economic system ― the over-inflation of which has disabled function of our politics, institutions, individuals, and the planet.

Because they are working from within the economic 'pillar,' efforts of Wall Street, big banks, and the Fed aimed at keeping the economical system and corporations 'afloat' have done little to correct the height of the economic pillar relative to the others. That's because of the basic assumption that our current economic system is the only way to manage the exchange of goods and services. One result: over-compression of other pillars and not enough 'air' in the cogs and joints of individuals for individual efforts to correct the imbalance. Another result: depriving 'third world' countries of the richness of their own resources by forcing them into the existing system.

As things are, because of our dependence on the inanimate indifferent intermediate of the dollar, individual efforts and the decisions and actions of politicians, institutions and the global aid industry often exacerbate, rather than heal, existing inequalities and imbalances between nations, races and genders.

My vision of what economic Yoga looks like isn't The Man Who Quit Money, Daniel Suelo, giving up money entirely and living alone in a cave ― however laudable the individual asethetic effort may be. When I ask myself what the end point of economic Yoga might look like, I am reminded once more of Donna Haraway's imaginary of the Chthulucene:

"the dynamic ongoing sym-chthonic forces and powers of of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake." Because "Right now, the earth is full of refugees, human and not, without refuge."

Donna Haraway recognized the need to reconstitute refuges:

"to make possible partial and robust biological-cultural-political-technological recuperation and recomposition."

Like the name Chthulucene implies, Haraway offers little practical beyond the idea of returning to cultural habits more appreciative of the Earth and "making kin," which does appear to being happening on the Internet in a perverse sort of way (2).

My vision for economic Yoga addresses problems most of us face in the way our economic system and lifestyles are currently structured. It provides an alternative with which to augment existing social services (or Universal Basic Income). economic Yoga would reconstitute community, provide opportunities for training in multiple disciplines, and prevent some of inequalities the pursuit of a single career path and the definition of success in our society encourage.

economic Yoga is a reawakening of the practice of apprenticeship. The idea is an extension from community gardens, 'family projects' from my younger years, and house and barn building projects from days before I was born, as well as my time at Antaiji and Green Gulch Farm. As previously recognized, there aren't enough monasteries in the world to accommodate all those involved in meditation practices, nor should religion, philosophy, or race be a requirement. Moreover, the types of apprenticeships in typical monastic settings — the few that remain — are limited in the type of training and a greater diversity is necessary if apprenticeships are to be more broadly applicable.

Some proposed details for economic Yoga include shifting to a three-week work month, the fourth week to be spent on a community apprenticeship project. It should begin at an early age (12?) and represent a service payment towards social services including housing, food, health care, day care and an additional contribution to retirement. economic Yoga should also provide a path distinct from higher education and/or military service for some of the same types of positions. Community projects could include gardens, projects and services approved via small grant applications; apprenticeships could include apprenticeship employment with a variety of institutions and firms. People in high level positions should take time to work at more manual, though different tasks; unemployed or underemployed should be given priority for institutional and corporate apprenticeships - in this way we all benefit from interacting with a broader range of people.

In addition to reconstituting community, economic Yoga increases opportunities for interdisciplinary innovation both between individuals via the creative flux inherent in interactions across disciplines, and within the same individual because of exposure to a greater diversity of thought and life modalities.

(1) My definition of inflation and deflation are intuitive and do not necessarily correspond to the classic definitions.

(2) I consider the possibility that the 'sense' of perversity is an emotional reaction to the limits of our cognitive capacity to 'grasp' the non-linearity of cause-and-effect which via the Internet is increasingly perceptible. Those with strong ties and responsibilities in daily life perceive these identities and events as correlations because of the focus of their attention. Those with weaker ties in daily life have cognitive space in which to perceive the sometimes-visible-sometimes-not shimmering strands of cause-and-effect.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

of a World that isn't Round: My ActionPlan For How To SavetheWorld (II)

I'm looking at you from what may as well be the opposite side of the Universe. The realization I need to share is that our world isn't round.

Our world isn't even round plus time.

The conglobulate world we live in is an amoebic shape stretched along a multitude of dimensions we often only gain awareness of when things go wrong.

In fact, right now, a lot of 'things' are wrong. The perception that things are 'right' is the delusion. And one of the most problematic features of the delusion is that it's being manufactured by the corporate powers that increasingly control our lives. No one has to be a buddha to perceive the truth behind the delusion. We each momentarily perceive the delusion of 'rightness' with each new disaster ― whether that disaster directly and immediately affects us, or not.

Some of the parameters that define the world we live in include: (A) planet Earth, distances, time and the climate crisis, (B) the global economic system, (C) politics* and (D) our individual lives and perceptions.

* In fact, B and C are so entangled as to be inseparable; so B and C should logically be combined into one variable: C/B.

In this world of ours:


One of the biggest disasters getting news coverage, especially with the Paris talks right around the corner, is climate change ― marked by scientists as the onset of the Anthropocene. As recognized increasingly by politicians and the media, the prospects for the human species and the rich diversity of life on planet Earth will be terrifying within a generation if we, as a collective human species, fail to change course. In fact, amoeba or amoeba-like organisms could end up being one of the few life forms left.

Unfortunately, even if the Paris talks meet with success and countries promise to reign in carbon emissions to minimize the duration of the worst effects on our environment, the promised changes will likely fall short of their target because, as recognized in the recent paper by Burke et. al. (2015), not all dimensions of the true nature of the world we live in will have been integrated and therefore the root causes of global warming will not have been addressed.


As with global warming, we have already passed the threshold for economic collapse. Every dollar has already been 'promised' over ten times between different interdependent coorporations and institutions that are the drivers of industrialization and technology. It is only by juggling the promise of this false money -- which almost might as well be monopoly money -- that corporations are managing to convince most of us that 'business as usual' is possible.


Whether referring to gridlocked governance within or between nations, political collapse occurred when corporations gained control of our governments and governments ceased serving citizens. Politicians are dependent on corporations for their election. National and international negotiations no longer serve either citizens or nations because corporations have vested interest in multiple countries for materials, labor, and logistics. The means of production that contribute to the Anthropocene are the same, whether for the 'individual' or for the 'state', so differences in existing political ideologies and philosophies cannot be held solely accountable. Furthermore, whether via corporations buying-off politicians and media for elections, or via petitions asking for donations from citizens already experiencing economic hardship, we as citizens are subsidizing the inseparable entanglement of corporations, governments and nations through a transference of cost.


We are being assimilated.

We are being assimilated by a technology that, in the best of our imaginations, was intended to give each human being equal voice. However, the desired equality has already been compromised by propogandic manipulation, biased algorithms, and technological warfare. Moreover, increased quantities of data are accompanied by increased risks for misinterpretation, misrepresentation and falsification.

The invasion of privacy that has accompanied the increased reliance on the technologically-driven Internet is a continuation of the chain of events that began with the disruptive effects of industrialization on community and family. But is an increase in technology-mediated communication an adequate substitute for community, friendships established through experience, and family, given that so many cues to normal communication are absent? What happens when individuals chose not to respect even direct long term interactions? The intrusion on privacy that may initially seem like nothing more than a pin-prick of irritation in exchange for convenience reaches more serious proportions when combined with the mentally stressful effects on attention span and the decreased opportunities for and effectiveness of interactions in real life. Yet most all of us are already invested.

The methods we, in first world countries, are relying on for self improvement, stress reduction and increased efficiency are methods that have already sold out to, been co-opted by, the stress producing systems the methods are supposed to counter-act. For example, just think of all the pharmaceutical companies and psychoanalysts that would go out of business if corporations and governments produced reductions in war induced post-traumatic stress disorder, gun violence, violence against women, and family and work related stress and depression. (Dear Twitter, I imagine changing the favorites symbol from a star to a heart was probably well-intended, but the change adds insult to injury when either rude commentary or reports on violence are favorited, may place women of other cultures at further risk, and is not adequate compensation for the harm individuals belonging to oppressed groups currently may experience as result of using the service.)

The whole world
In a dewdrop not knowing
It's overdue.

Whether people believe in climate change or not, the bigger problem is that the 'patches' our governments and corporations have been negotiating and designing to provide solutions isn't taking enough of complexity into account. Whether the solutions have been temporarily effective or not, the solutions have increased the overall complexity of the world we live in — the result being a further increase in the difficulty of producing changes in momentum due to inertia. Up until now, the 'patches' have been linear solutions attempting to resolve the problems inherent in a nonlinear, multi-dimensional system.

This post has been a non-data driven attempt to provide further definition to the variables suggested by Mitra et. al.'s model (2015) in order to use the model to address climate change. On first reading, L, latitude describes the flexibility of individuals; R, resistance, describes our political-economic system; and Pr, precariousness, describes the climate crisis.

Because multiple crises exist in the world we inhabit, it seems dangerous to solely rely on promises made by governments regarding carbon emissions. In my next post I hope to suggest a method that might be used affect each of the parameters in a concerted beneficial way. Possibly scientists with access to the necessary resources can use existing data to determine whether the suggestion would have a chance in hell of producing the desired effects overall.

Special thanks to David Chandler who, even though he doesn't follow me, happened to miraculously reference Mitra et. al. (2015) as I was writing this post.